I’m going through a rough fibro patch. Everything is achy, my hands can’t grab things correctly and I have reduced sensitivity in my fingertips, and my energy levels are about equal to sitting in a chair and not doing much else. There are other crappy things going on, and I’ve had to drop cello lessons and stop going to orchestra for a while as well, so I don’t get my one evening away from the house. I’ve just handed in another work project that was fun but draining, since it was a book of home DIY renovation projects and all the measurements needed checking and formatting, and I have been handling a yucky sinus cold through it, too.
So I thought I’d share some of what’s been interesting me lately.
Last fall my friend Stephanie bought a couple of fleeces at a fibre festival, and asked if I wanted to share some. I bought a pound of brown Corriedale fleece and some white Lincoln locks as well, and she shipped them up to me in November. They sat in their ziplock bags till this month, when the Ravellenic Games launched in concert with the Winter Olympics.
As you know, Bob, The Ravellenic Games are a fun event where you challenge yourself to do something fibre arts-related between the opening and closing ceremonies of whatever Olympics are being held. There are fun categories for knitting, crocheting, spinning, and weaving, and permutations thereof, and the point is to really challenge yourself somehow: do colourwork for the first time, teach yourself a new skill, or plan to do a huge project in only two weeks. My online knitting group of mums decided to call ourselves Team Coconut Two-Sters this year (long story, but the name partially came about because one of our awesome mums is a graphic artist, was bored at work one day, and started doing deliberately bad Photoshopped images of our two-year-old kids in coconuts), and this is my team avatar!
One of the events is the Fleece to FO (finished object) Long-Track, where you spin your yarn and then knit it into something. Stephanie and I decided this was a great occasion to each process some of our fleece and do something with it. Since the timeframe was limited, I decided to spin a bulky yarn and knit a pair of mittens. (Since I’m knitting mittens, they also qualify for the Mitten Moguls event, hurrah!)
Processing fleece means washing and prepping it for spinning. The fleece I started with was exactly the fleece that had been shorn from the sheep, greasy and dirty. I started with a cold water soak to dissolve most of the basic dirt, which sank to the bottom of the dishtub I was using. Check out that dirty water. And this is just a water soak, no soap! The silt at the bottom of the dishtub was icky.
Then I did a hot water wash, with original Dawn dish soap. (It’s a classic for washing fleece, because it really goes to town on the lanolin and grime.)
I did two washes, and I think I either washed too much at once or didn’t let it soak long enough, because after the fleece dried it was still somewhat sticky. I wasn’t sure this was wrong, though, since this was my first go, and I carded up a bit and tried spinning it longdraw from a wee rolag. It didn’t draft well, and I didn’t know if this had to do with the stickyness of the fleece or my carding technique. Figuring a second wash couldn’t hurt, I gave it another soapy bath, and when it dried it was much softer and fluffier.
Here’s what it looked like as I began to separate out the locks from the dried fleece.
I carded about two-thirds of the clean fleece in the week leading up to the Olympics. Since I don’t have hand carders or a drum carder (someday, someday) I used a pair of dog slicker brushes. I left a lot of the nepps and second cuts in, because I wanted a tweedy, rustic yarn. (Also, I didn’t want to lose any more weight/fibre.) I picked out a lot of the vegetable matter as I carded, but I’m only human and some got left in, to be picked out as I spun.
I had a pile of rolags, ready to go on the day of the opening ceremonies!
I spun two bobbins’ worth of singles, and plied them that first day. It turns out spinning bulky yarn goes really quickly! I’d done some sampling before I began and I’d originally wanted a bulky single, but that wasn’t working well for me, so I spun slightly lighter singles and did a two-ply yarn instead. When I measured my yarn I discovered I only had about 60 yards instead of the 100 I needed, so I spun up the rest of the rolags over the next day, realized I’d need even more fibre, and spun the rest of my clean fleece. I didn’t want to waste time carding them, so I just teased the fleece with my fingers till it was loose and even more fluffy, and spun right from handfuls of that.
It worked just as well, and I got the added bonus of the yarn having tiny little bits of curly crimp popping out here and there. I was done spinning by the second evening, and cast on my mittens the next day.
Here’s what the yarn looks like! I love how the paler tips of the locks contrast with the darker fleece from closer to the body of the sheep, and when spun it creates a beautiful variegation. That’s a bulky yarn at 4 WPI (wraps per inch, as marked on my handy little WPI tool, there).
I’d decided to knit mittens because I’d never tried before, though I’ve knit socks and so I figured the sock-knitting basics would carry me through the cuff and hand of the mitten, and only the thumb gusset would be new. (For those of you keeping score at home, that’s processing fleece for the first time, carding it for the first time, and knitting an item I’d never knitted before in a limited timeframe. Optimistic!) I found a pattern and began, frogged it and tried again, then found a different pattern because it still wasn’t working for me. The second pattern was wonderful, and I knit the first mitten in two evenings, and the second in another two evenings. And I used just over half the yarn I’d spun; I’d panicked for no reason after all.
So then there I was, halfway through the Olympics with my goals reached, and this extra yarn. I should use that up, I thought, and looked for a hat pattern on Ravelry that used less than 100 yards of bulky yarn. I found one and cast on. The brim is knit separately on straight needles, then seamed together to make a tube, stitches picked up along one side, and the crown is knitted in the round from there. Here’s what I’ve got so far:
Part of that big brim gets flipped up and pinned in place with a brooch or a button.I have the perfect button for it, I think. If I finish in time, this will qualify for the Hat Halfpipe event.
Knitting bulky things goes quickly, so this should be done by the closing ceremonies, no problem. Mittens are easy, I have discovered, and I will knit more. (Not right now, of course, but in the future, certainly.)
So that’s my adventure with processing my own fleece and working with quickie handspun. I can’t get any closer to doing it all myself unless I actually shear the sheep.