Wednesday, April 20, 2011

My Bunny and Her Wool, Pt.1/2

Spinning: I never thought I would be interested in spinning fiber into yarn. Never. But yarny blogs and podcasts describing the process and the pleasure of it all have a way of creeping into my consciousness in a most compelling manner. And fiber festivals seem to further this process along the path of enablement. Yes, I was curious, intrigued. But not 100% convinced that spinning was something that I, newbie knitter, needed to do. But the best way to know is to get up close and personal, so last year I attended two festivals, The Midwest Fiber and Folk Art Fair in Grayslake, IL, and Stitches Midwest in Schaumburg, IL. I attended the MFFAF first, with the intent of purchasing a highly praised, and also highly-priced yarn that I had only heard about via the knitting blogosphere. I would stalk the online store and click on skein after skein of some of the most gorgeously hand-dyed yarn. Just a few clicks later, I'd view my cart, my eyeballs would pop out of my head, then I'd click off the site with the quickness. Now, I'd heard that this vendor offers good deals at festivals. I confirmed that they would be at MFFAFso off I went with an agenda-- err, budget, in mind. Yes, the yarn up close and personal was absolutely divine. The colors so rich, the yarns so lush--and the prices so, so very high, yet and still. The deals were apparently Oprah-type deals. People were buying the yarn, and plenty of it, but I would not be among them. But that didn't stop me from molesting a huge, velvety skein of a silvery teal lace-weight wool, cashmere and silk blend. My hand went to my purse and fiddled around for my wallet, but then I realized that if I bought this skein, I would have depleted about 80% of my budget. I immediately snapped out of my silky-wooly reverie, backed away from the stall and at that moment, felt determined to learn how to spin and dye my own yarn. And I would start right there, at the MFFAF

The Midwest Folk and Fiber Arts Festival 2010

Fiber fondling,  MFFAF 2010

I sauntered over to a nearby wooden spindle vendor to check out his wares. Pretty. Gorgeous. I saw another spindle stall not far away, and headed off towards that one. A man from another nearby stall, who had watched me looking at the spindles, came up to me and said, "You know, you can make your own spindle with a couple of parts from the hobby shop for two bucks." I made mental list of the things he told me, thanked him, and made a quick U-turn back to the area where a bunch of vendors were selling spinning fiber. I fondled all kinds of roving, batts, tops and locks, but my tactile senses came to a screeching halt when my fingers came upon something so soft and exquisite: It was an angora and wool blend. Expensive? Yes, kind of. But worth every penny. (Later I would learn that angora was an unsuitable choice for learning how to spin). Anyway, I reached for my wallet, and then recalled that one my way into the festival, I'd passed a lady leaving carrying a cardboard pet carrier, so I knew live angora rabbits were nearby-- and for sale.  

Now if you didn't know by now, I am quite fond of pets. I have several: Three domestic tabby cats, all from shelters, and two dogs, a black labrador retriever and a Cane Corso mastiff. I have never had a pet rabbit before, but always thought I would, someday, along with a parrot, cockatiel, pot-bellied pig and palomino horse. And of course, a small farm is on that wish-list, too. I was pointed in the direction of where the animals were being showcased and took off. First, there were the llamas. 

Llama pen, MFFAF 2010

And who doesn't want to take home a llama, right? Moving on to the rabbits, I spotted the star: a tiny, fluffy snowball of a baby red-eyed white (REW) English Angora. A small crowd had gathered around her and I patiently waited my turn to hold and pet her.

Baby REW English Angora Rabbit, MFFAF 2010

And like the group before me, I didn't want to let her go. But I had to. And she wasn't for sale. But there were a few English Angoras that were, and I chose a seven-month-old Fawn, and named her Harriet. The couple that sold me the rabbit let me know that her wool had only recently been harvested, but she still looked awfully wooly to me. They were really helpful with advising me of caring for my new pet, and made sure I understood to never, ever, contrary to popular belief, give her lettuce (it gives Angoras the runs). I paid for my Angora bunny and immediately left the festival, en route to the nearest pet store for supplies. Later, the girls were pleasantly surprised when they came home to find Harriet waiting to meet them.

Dakota holding Harriet for the first time

The above photograph is a recently plucked Harriet. Angora wool can be harvested by plucking, or shearing. Plucking Angora wool isn't like plucking one's eyebrow hairs, which is painful, to me, anyway. Rather, imagine combing through your own hair. You are apt to catch a few shed strands, yes? And it didn't hurt, because those hairs were already loosened in the follicle, or, were already released. English Angora rabbits go through stages of shedding their coats a few times per year, and that wool must be removed, or else it cold make the bunny very sick--or worse. This is because, like cats, they love self-grooming, but unlike cats, EAs can't gag up hair balls. These can cause wool block, which ultimately leads to sickness and death. Plucking is pretty easy, and the rabbit isn't bothered by it, unless I am working in an area she doesn't care to be touched. For Harriet, this is her bib, and inner hind legs.

Harriet with her wool grown in some

I have harvested the wool both ways because I have learned that plucking often can encourage the growth of guard hairs, which are coarser strands. However, sheared wool doesn't have the nice, long staple lengths one can get with plucking. I have only spun a small amount of Harriet's wool, and yes, it is a but tricky for a beginner because it is very slippery. I mixed a bit with some sheep wool, and found this much easier to control. The resulting yarn was very soft and lofty.

One harvest results in 1 full baggy of spin-quality wool
Harriet after her wool was harvested

Angora wool is so soft, so luxurious, and on its own is softer than cashmere. It's a hairy fiber, so it produces a halo after being worked up. One of my favorite vintage sweaters has been a beaded 100% Angora cardigan. 

I did end up making my own spindle using a wooden wheel and dowel from Michael's, for less than $5 total. I decided to try a bottom-whorl spindle, and instead of using a hook at the end of the shaft, I cut a small notch into the shaft. I am pretty certain that my spindle is woefully lacking proper balance, but doggit-- it's making yarn!

First plied handspun yarn, Corriedale fiber

I have lots more to say about this topic, so come again for Part Two. In the meantime, enjoy this pic of the Lady Maxine, our wonderful Black Labrador Retriever.

My Black Lab, Maxine

The difference between friends and pets is that friends we allow into our company, pets we allow into our solitude.           ~Robert Brault

No Sissy!

Sewing Book Review: The opening sentence from the preface of my 1967 revised and expanded edition of Coats & Clark's Sewing Book: Newest Methods From A to Z reads:

Dear Home Sewer, Dear Reader,
We know a man-- no sissy-- who made a dress for his wife.

 I think I heard your gasps. Indeed! A rather odd--and somewhat startling-- attempt to convince me that if "a man-- no sissy--" could follow simple directions from a book and pattern without making assumptions, guesses or modifications, then there was no reason why I, too, could not sew perfect, beautiful garments, provided that I adopt a man's no nonsense approach to sewing and pattern instructions. Well, I know why that's so, because men, real men, just love following written instructions, right? Probably just as much as they love stopping and asking for directions when they've realized they might be lost. Mmmmkay. So ladies, they are saying to me, just resist that urge to deviate, alternate, or substitute. None of that "sissified" mess will do! I must be methodical. Calculating. Strategic, even. If not, then don't go crying to Coats & Clark when the garments turn out ill-fitting and, well, not so beautiful. And you know what? They are exactly right. Need I count the times I overlooked, dismissed, fudged, ignored, altered, guesstimated-- only to some sort of detriment? If only I had taken the man's approach, I could have saved myself much time and headache, let alone materials. *Sigh*

Men, no sissies, sewing in 1956 for gags, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. 

Okay, I am being a tiny bit over-dramatic here, but sexist and bigoted language of the preface aside, Coats & Clark's Sewing Book: Newest Methods from A to Z is a wonderful little sewing tome that sewers, no matter their level, should check out or add to their library. 

I bought my copy from a thrift shop for next to nothing (books that day were six for a dollar), but never took the time to really read it until recently. It has black and white photos, step-by-step diagrams, and the two-color illustrations are just simply charming, very retro. Dainty, even. 

The instructions are concise and easy to follow. The overall layout of the book is pleasant. Not too wordy, but not shallow nor vague. The A-Z layout and index make concepts easy to find, which I love.

This book has become my go-to reference for looking up techniques on the fly. I highly recommend this book, which is available in a variety of prices and conditions at The pic below is of the back cover. 

Stay tuned for my next book review, where I will extoll the virtues of this lovely little book

I'm kidding. I've got several blog entries queued up and awaiting final touches, so visit again soon. But first, a random but slightly relevant quote from a feminist/womanist writer and seasoned rabblerouser:

Manhood coerced into sensitivity is no manhood at all. ~Camille Paglia

Friday, April 1, 2011

March Just Marched On By

March, where'd you go? That was the quickest "longer" month I've ever lived. It seemed like February would never end, then March just stepped in and ran right back out. Time is a very peculiar thing, isn't it?

Sewing: I'm just about finished with my pants. All that's left is to finish are the waistband and clasp. I laundered the pants and even though I pinked the seams, they were a frayed mess when I took the pants out of the dryer. Perhaps I should have zigzagged them? That, or I think I need a serger in my life. Until then, some fray check is in order, but if anyone has another suggestion, please, do share.

Future sewing project: A couple years ago I bought several yards of a durable cotton blended fabric from the $2.00 sale bin at Vogue in a wonderful dark gray. As soon as I saw it I heard the words "trench coat" in my mind. It was only very recently that I found the perfect pattern for the coat, McCall's 5525. I found the pattern at the Sewing Patterns online shop and to my luck, they had the pattern on sale for only $2.99. I'm making View E (largest pic). So now I've got my pattern, my fabric, my lining fabric in a lighter gray poly and some interfacing. I still need to buy the proper thread and the perfect buttons.

I just love a classic trench coat. This is one I have been wanting since forever and a day: the Burberry. They created the trench coat for military use around 1900 (a claim also made by Aquascutum, though theirs is dated earlier). I don't foresee having a Burberry in my closet any time soon, so for now, I'll just settle on having similar buttons.

Women's trench coat by Burberry

Why all this love over a trench coat? There's just something about the components that appeal to me: the clean, simple lines of the construction, the wide lapels and collar, the belt and the buttons, the tabs, the flaps. For more details about the Burberry trench coat classics, have a look at this blog entry from the late "I Am Fashion" blog. I was curious about trench-inspired styles for coats and jackets and found these little beauties over at  ModCloth:

Here is an example of a minimalist approach from Aquilano.Rimondi. I love the shape of the sleeves.

And who says this timeless wardrobe staple had to stay within the confines of outerwear? This trench coat-inspired skirt from ModCloth is simply darling and fun!

I'm going to plan this trench coat project very carefully. A bit of studying and practicing is in order, but yet I wonder if I can pull this off without a serger?

Knitting: I finished my Ravelry Malabrigo March Knit-Along Clapotis, right on the deadline. It hasn't been blocked yet, and at first I wasn't going to, but I decided to go ahead and block it. These are pre-blocking pics.

I'll post the blocked Clapotis pics soon. I really enjoyed knitting this pattern, especially while watching the now-canceled "Legend of the Seeker" television series.

Both seasons 1 and 2 are on Netflix Watch-Instantly and while I do remember seeing something for that show while it aired and thought it was interesting, I never tuned in. Many felt as I did, I suppose, since it was canceled for low viewership. The first few episodes weren't that great, but it got better as the story line progressed. Honestly, though, I doubt I'd have watched if I hadn't also been knitting. Plenty of "give me a break" moments and eye-rolls were had while I watched LOTS, for sure. But for some reason, "mindless" knitting and "easy" television shows or movies go so well together. The writing in LOTS wasn't half bad, and the action scenes were riveting enough to keep up my interest. The costumes were pretty boring but the ox blood leather outfits worn by the Mord-Sith were one of the show's highlights.

I ran out of episodes of the show before I could finish the Clapotis, so I switched my viewing over to the Masterpiece's "Downton Abbey", which was so brilliant for many reasons, but mainly for the arrogant and exasperating matriarch Violet, played by the inimitable Maggie Smith.

Knitting FO update: This was the first cowl I made, using Lion Brand Hometown USA yarn in the Washington Denim colorway. It's a little over 100 yards or 1.5 skeins, and I used US size 17 needles. The pattern is called My Kind of Cowl, perfectly named for staving off the bitter cold winds that punctuate typical Chicago winters (and late falls and early springs, for that matter). New to knitting? This is the perfect project for you. Grab some chunky yarn and this free pattern and cowl it up so you'll be prepared next winter.

Current knitting: Now that the Clapotis is done, I'm eager to get back to the Indigo Playmate cardigan sweater. Unfortunately, I broke one of the Harmony wood needles I was using so until the new tip gets here that project will be on hold. Plus, I had several projects on hold, so after serious thought--okay, really? It was a round of "eeny-meeny-miny-mo" that got my Kalajoki socks out of hibernation.

After finishing the one sock last July, I just ran out of steam with this pattern. I picked it up again the following September but whatever spark that was there fizzled out and gave way to something else. This project is knit from Patons Kroy FX yarn in the Cascade Colors colorway. It's a fingering weight 75/25 wool-nylon blend and comes in skeins of 166 yards and can be found at Michael's or Jo-Ann's for around $3-5 per skein. I find the yarn rather splitty when knitting with it, but other than that it's decent sock yarn that gives a pretty durable sock, so I've heard. I'm using a Knit Picks nickle-plated US size 2 circular needle, magic loop method. Here's to finally overcoming Second Sock Syndrome!

Spinning: Last summer I started spinning yarn on a spindle that I made using a wooden wheel and dowel I bought at Michael's for under $5. I made a plying spindle with a dowel and rubber door stop that cost $2 at Home Depot. Soon after that, I bought a pet fiber animal and named her Harriet. I'll talk more about her and the spinning next time. Until then, watch out for the pranksters today, enjoy the weekend, and...

...Why not make an origami rose :)

Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty.  ~Henry Ford