Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Scouring raw fiber

Last October, I posted about being gifted three bags of raw wool. I decided that mid-winter was a fine time to process one of those bags. Not one of my better decisions.

I selected the bag labeled "Lazarus 2015" and dumped the contents onto my dining room table (after covering the table with an old sheet). Each bag must hold an entire fleece, and an entire fleece is ginormous. It is also kind of stinky. I decided the other fleeces can wait until it is warm enough to work on them outside or at least in the garage.

This fleece (and I assume the others) was filthy. There wasn't much sheep dung or vegetable matter (VM) in the fleece, but there was a LOT of caked on mud. The underside looked fairly clean, but the ends of the locks were solid dirt.

Sometimes a fleece is not worth processing (there is a reason it is free), but the fiber had a nice crimp. I showed it to my fiber friend Betty and her opinion is the source may be merino because the fiber is very fine. And soft.

I took a look at a YouTube video on skirting a fleece, which was helpful in deciding what to just discard. I also performed the "ping" or "snap" test - hold a lock of fiber at each end and tug, to make sure the fiber is strong and has no weak spots. This fiber passed the test.

For the actual scouring, I relied a lot on this post by Beth Smith. While the directions on the bottle of Power Scour recommended 2T per pound of wool, Beth uses half that. I followed her example and that seemed to do the trick. I also started out processing just one pound at a time, but by the end, I was working two pounds per soak. On the one hand, one pound is easier to handle; on the other, there is a lot of fiber to process and I became impatient to get that fleece off my dining room table.

Needless to say, my house is not really set up for processing a fleece. Many years ago I purchased some aluminum screens from the local ReStore shop (for a gardening idea that never came to fruition). They are handy for drying wool even though they don't really fit anywhere convenient. Again, if it were warm outside, they could be in the garage.

I'll post separately about subsequent processing steps. Needless to say, ALL my fiber tools are going to get a work out and I will get LOTS of practice using them. Quite the learning experience!

Monday, January 29, 2018

Gap prevention for top-down gusset-heel socks

I know I knit top-down socks with a gap solution other than the usual pick-up-stitches-below one, but I did not quite understand what I was doing nor did I take very good notes. So I knit up a quick sample sock in worsted weight yarn, to try to figure things out.

I think the most important step is to start heel flap on the wrong side, slipping the first stitch purlwise. This makes the first stitch a continuation of the last round, which in turn prevents the creation of an extra row.

For this sample sock, I slipped a stitch purlwise with the yarn in front and purled the WS rows of the heel flap, and (sl1 purlwise with the yarn in back, k1) repeat across the RS.

When the heel flap was long enough, I ended with the WS.

When working the heel turn, I STOPPED before last purl row. I've always had trouble getting the same number of gusset stitches on each side of the sock. I think not working the final back-and-forth on the heel turn helps prevent this. I'm not sure it is necessary regarding the sock gap, though.

Then I picked up gusset stitches, worked across the instep, picked up the same number of gusset stitches on other side of sock. Crossing the heel turn, I K2tog the remaining "gap" there before continuing across the heel.

Finally, I worked the gusset as I would normally, decreasing one stitch on each side every other round.

Depending on your sock pattern, you may have to adjust these instructions. Remember: the important thing is to not create an extra row.

My current pair of socks on the needles are toe-up, but I'll knit the following pair top-down and update this post if necessary. Again, if you have questions, please leave a comment and I will try to make this more clear. Hope this helps!

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Joy, joy, said Mrs. Malloy

As I mentioned in a previous post, I was in the market for a portable spinning wheel. I went down to my neighborhood enabler spinning shop and tried out both the Ashford Joy2 and the Kromski Minstrel, both double treadle. I would have been happy with either as far as "feel" goes, but I decided to stick with the Ashford because 1) it seemed simpler to assemble/disassemble, 2) the bobbins from my Kiwi2 fit it so I wouldn't need to buy separate ones, 3) the design is more familiar.

The package includes a carrying case, a threading hook (which has its own hole in the frame), three bobbins, and some sample fiber as well as spinning instructions.

The wheel comes finished and (mostly) assembled. The only thing I had to do was fiddle with the flyer and Scotch tension.

Folded, the wheel takes up very little space. The flyer fits into the middle of it all, nestling into that opening.

Here we are, all ready to go. I did spin the two fiber samples, then plied them together, just to try the wheel out. (I forgot to take photos, though.)

One difference between the Kiwi2 and the Joy2 is the number of ratios. The Kiwi2 has two: 5.57:1 and 7.25:1. The Joy2 has four: 6, 8, 12, 14 to 1. I have never played around with the different ratios, but my understanding is the higher ratios are for finer fibers. At the angora spinning workshop, I had trouble getting enough twist into the fiber; maybe this wheel is the solution.

When I purchased my first wheel, I never imagined I would want to haul it around. Now that I am doing just that and now that I understand more about spinning, if I could have only one wheel, I would go with the Joy2 over the Kiwi2.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Avoiding the dreaded sock gap redux

(Ed. note: I modified this post to limit the fix to toe-up short-row heel socks. I will write a separate post for top-down gusset socks. Sorry for the confusion.)

A while back (March 18, 2014, to be exact), I wrote a post about a technique I created to avoid the dreaded sock gap that invariably appears when turning a heel. That was a so-so solution. Now I have a better one, at least for toe-up socks, if I can explain it in a way that makes sense.

What causes the sock gap is the final purl-back-knit-forward of the short-row heel turn. This creates an extra row, which creates a gap, which leaves a hole if one doesn't pick up some stitches from below. This solution is to not create that extra row. I accomplish this by not purling back to pick up the final wrap but knitting forward and picking up the wrap on the next go round.

Picking up that final wrap going forward can be fiddly and you may decide it's not worth it, but it satisfies my need for a logical and balanced solution. Left brained and a Libra am I. Also, some say wraps don't need to be picked up, but since the heel receives so much wear, I'm afraid to skip picking up wraps.

When knitting a short-row toe for a toe-up sock, the toe always seemed a bit skewed to me. Not enough to make a big difference, but just enough to bug me. It turns out the same trick may be applied here: instead of purling back to pick up the last wrap, knit forward and pick it up when you get to it. Now my short-row toes lie flat.

Flat toe!

If you try this trick on either heels or toes, let me know whether it works for you or if I can explain it better.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Tools new and used

I stopped by the Little Shop of Spinning to try out a couple of portable spinning wheels (more on that later). Since I was there, I purchased an Ashford lazy Kate. The shoe box solution was fine in an emergency but there was no easy way to add tension to the bobbins. Also, I am attending Ply Away in March and need a lazy Kate for 3-plying in one of my classes.

The tension system on this model is just like the Scotch tension on my spinning wheel, so no learning curve there. A little bit of tension keeps the bobbins from over spinning and tangling the yarn. I think this new tool will do nicely.

The lazy Kate was brand new, still in the box. Not so the mini-standard Clemes & Clemes drum carder that just happened to be for sale in the shop. Betty had posted it on FB earlier, but so far no takers. That meant is was for me.

We ran a little Romney fiber through it to make sure it worked okay and for me to learn some tips on how to get the best results from this device. Betty threw in a doffer, a tool for removing the batt from the drum.

Betty recommended removing the belt when not in use, BUT FIRST take a photo of the belt configuration. This sounded like excellent advice, one learned from experience. Since this item is pre-owned, there was no documentation with it.

I have used drum carders in several workshops, but didn't feel the need to spend $500-$650 for one. But I now have three bags of fiber sitting in the garage, just waiting to be processed. That is a lot to hand card, so this used mini is just the ticket. And at a reduced price.

Saturday, January 20, 2018


I finished the Pine Forest baby blanket. While photographing it, I thought something was wrong with the light in the room. Alas, it was not the light but me. I neglected to check dye lots, so the first third or so of the blanket is a bit lighter than the rest.

Pattern: Pine Forest Baby Blanket, by Ingrid Aartun Bøe
Yarn: Cascade 220 Superwash, in colorway 905 ('Celery')
Needles: US8
Modifications: None except to slip the first stitch of each row knitwise

While one might expect a major yarn manufacturer to have their process down pat and produce more consistent colors, I should know better than to ignore the dye lots when selecting yarn. I feel compelled to point out this flaw to the recipient, as I don't want her to notice it later and think it was something she did. And once this blanket is wrapped around an adorable baby, who is going to notice?

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Nothing lasts forever

Despite my knitting attempts, the sock collection is becoming depleted. It seems the life span of a pair of knit socks is directly related to the yarn used. Lesson learned!

The yarn for these baby cable socks consisted of wool, bamboo, and nylon. I liked the gradient color so am disappointed they are wearing out, not just at the toes but across the soles as well. My SO has a pair like these, same pattern, same yarn, that are also fading.

Knit in 2011

I liked knitting socks with Cherry Tree Hill sock yarn because of the stitch definition. BUT the yarn is 100% merino wool, no nylon or other reinforcing fiber, so the fabric doesn't just wear out, it rips. There are two other pairs that also have died, one remaining. Since the tops are still good, I may recycle parts of these socks.

Knit in 2009
I can't find a reference to these socks in Ravelry, but I think they are the "Clara Barton" socks. The yarn is merino, silk, and nylon. The red color runs when wet, even after years of washing. There is no way I will try to salvage any of it.

Knit 2007

Most of my remaining socks are self-striping, which means they look great with jeans or solid colored pants but not so much with colorful leggings. The self-striping sock yarns lends itself well to knitting plain socks, but I think I'll knit some solid colored socks in more interesting patterns. At least, that is the plan.