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Spinning

Here is a very very specific intention.

2015 Intention #3: Process my Australian fiber into finished garments.

What does this mean? I was thinking about some of my fiber that I have on hand. And, I’ve come to realize that I may have a bit of a “thing” about Australian sheep and Australian dyers.

Here’s what I mean.

I recently had a chance to get my hands (well, and purchase) this.

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Meet “Agitator”, a ram that lives in Tasmania with the Venters family, owners of the Liberton Correidale flock. Or rather, meet the Grand Champion Fleece from the 2014 National Agricultural International Livesotck Expo (NAILE) held in Kentucky in November. “Grand Champion Fleece” means that this fleece beat out every single fleece that was entered in the show. Not so shabby. It happens that this fleece came to the US via Geof Rueppert, of Rueppert’s Corriedales. Who I happen to know, and who happened to have gotten charged with selling the three fleeces entered into the NAILE show. Sensing a once in a lifetime-like opportunity, I jumped on it. This fleece needs to get spun. And knit. (…and spun and knit and spun and knit. There is A LOT of wool here.)

Combed, he looks like this:

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And of course there’s this:

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As you all know, I have a special place in my heart for cormo. I’ve spun beautiful cormo from a flock in Maryland, and I’ve spun beautiful cormo from a now disbanded flock in California. But cormo is from Australia. So, when I asked Kylie Gusset of ms.gusset/TON OF WOOL if she would dye some fiber for me and she agreed…I was very happy. First of all, not only is it cormo but it is CORMO from the Downie family in Tasmania. Combed top. Custom dyed. And it is dyed not some flat color, but a complex multi red (gasp, it’s not orange!?).  I know exactly what needs to happen to this fiber. I need to make squishy, round sweater yarn. And knit it.

And let’s not forget this:

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I happened on Southern Cross Fibre because (don’t laugh) the logo was a border collie with a boomerang in his mouth. When I started bopping around the Internet and Ravelry to see if I could sample some of this fiber — because, I reasoned, who would have a logo like that and not be a killer dyer — I learned that David’s colors are one of the most sought after. Luckily, I have been able to buy some fiber through the monthly semi-solid updates, Ravelry destash (for non-Ravelry people — this is a person-to-person trade/sale of fibers and yarns through Ravelry, it is a great resource for some very specific yarns or hard to find items), and other avenues. I am most excited to try spinning David’s colors on Australian Bond — which is an Australian Merino/Lincoln cross which should be very similar to Corriedale.

Or this:

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I met this ram, Martin, as a yearling ram at the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival in May 2014. The fleece on the hoof was absolutely gorgeous. Grey, springy, fine crimp. And when I asked Terry Mendenhall about him, she mentioned that she had his hogget fleece still for sale. Well? Can’t you imagine what happened? I bought it. You may be asking, “why is this an Aussie fiber”? This merino ram is a result of genetics imported from Australia. The Mendenhalls have imported the genetics because they like the characteristics of a particular merino flock in Australia — long staple length, excellent yield. And I thought, absolutely gorgeous. The fleece was pin drafted into lovely coils by Shari at Morro Fleeceworks.

So you see. I have some beautiful Australian fiber to play with this year!

Tour de Fleece is currently ongoing.

What’s Tour de Fleece (TdF)? It’s the fiber world’s answer to Tour de France. Spinners all over are pedaling on their spinning wheels as world class cyclists as they tackle Tour de France. We mimick the rest days, the “challenge” days, and set a goal of basically spinning every day during the month of July.

I’ve been spinning along, although I’m not sure if I’m consciously spinning any more or less than normal. I have been trying to do something different everyday, switching up fibers and methods of spinning, and trying to really consciously spin. Which is my goal for this TdF — I am trying to get closer to being able to visualize the final garment, pick the right fiber, and spin the right yarn.

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Believe it or not, this is a lot harder than it seems. I am still feeling my way, and still cannot look at/handle a fleece (raw or prepped), and have confidence knowing what it should become.

There are many kinds of fiber crafters. People who identify themselves as Spinners, Weavers, Knitters…and there are those who can do it all.

I am most definitely a knitter first and foremost. I love the whole process. Handling yarn and knowing what it needs to be….or visualizing a garment and going in search of the perfect yarn. I do, most definitely, over complicate the process, but for me, there’s nothing like creating THE perfect knitted garment for the intended wearer.

Spinning fits well into this because it gives me the illusion of being able to dictate this process just a bit more. There are now fibers and preparations that I think are better suited for a mill produced yarn. I have become even pickier (if that was possible at all) in my yarn purchases. It excites me that the yarn market seems to have started the process of evolving into breed specific yarns and I think there are more knowledge out there, thanks to people who are passionate about this writing about it and producing very special yarns.

Back to TdF. I’ve been spinning!

Of course, I’ve been spinning some of the lovely cormo/cashmere. I’m trying to spin about 900+ yards of 3-ply sport weight for a Stonecrop. I think the garter lace body on this would be perfect for a round, squishy heaven of a nicely spun cormo. Add the cashmere and I can feel snuggling into it as it starts to get nippy outside.

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I have also spun some Romeldale-x fleece from Shepherd’s Hey Farm. The ewe’s name is Molé, and I’ve washed and hand combed her fleece (she was much smaller than Cambridge!). So far, I’ve spun some 2-ply fingering.

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…and I’ve cast on. It is going to become a Hitofude (by the way, this is pronounced He-Toe-Foo-Day, and means  “one brushstroke” in Japanese). I couldn’t decide whether I wanted a shawl or a sweater first out of this yarn, and I think this is a nice compromise. This pattern is a runaway hit, and there are 1,522 of these swingy cardigans on Ravelry, one of which is on my needles:

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I also finished spinning from a corriedale batt from Hedgehog Fibres that I began spinning last month. This was a big spin, and will be the topic of my next post. It’s the green/gold/lavender yarn that is pictured at the top of this post, and this has been cast on into a large square shawl which, I am hoping, will fully showcase the glorious colors of this fiber.

And, I’ve also spun some 3-ply aran weight yarn, spun woolen, in happy shades of orange. I spun this to have a bit of a break from the skinny stuff I’ve been spinning, but it will make a nice warm fluffy hat.

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I met Brooke Sinnes from Sincere Sheep at Madrona in 2013. You can read more about what she does and her philosophy here, but I would say she was one of the early birds in bringing the whole “local” thing to yarn. I’ve knit with one of her yarns, Equity Sport, which is 100% Rambouillet (the dark grey background is Equity Sport; the stripes are Cephalopod Yarns Bugga) which is bouncy and wearing well so far.

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I was chatting with Brooke about whether she had dyed rovings in stock, and she just happened to mention that she had some beautiful natural colored rovings. And then she said the magic words.

“I have some cormo cashmere blend from California.”

I almost fell off my chair. She said two of my favorite words next to each other…cormo and cashmere. I had to get some, of course.

And it came, recently (there may have been some charcoal grey merino/mohair fiber in my box too. What can I say? Fiber is cheaper than shoes):

Mmmmmmmm.

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I love how Brooke tells you exactly where her fiber comes from. The cormo in this yarn is sourced from Cormo Sheep & Wool Farm in Orland, CA and the cashmere from Cashmere Kids in Castro Valley, CA. The fiber was processed at Morro Fleece Works. This fiber is as California as it can get.

It went immediately on the wheel. I wanted to make a bouncy yarn that would give me great stitch definition — I knew exactly what I wanted to knit with it, and I just needed to create the yarn.

I knew this was easier said than done. I am a much more experienced knitter than I am a spinner, and I get in trouble when I know EXACTLY how I want the yarn to turn out. One of these days, my hands will catch up with my brain.  I knew enough, at this point, that I wanted to spin this fiber worsted, and I wanted to make a 3-ply, sport weight yarn.

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I am very glad that I have some cormo-mileage under my belt. I have also spun a little bit of 100% cashmere, enough to know how the fiber feels as it is going on the wheel. The cormo, I know, needs a lot of twist in it, as it needs to contain the “POOF” energy that the fine crimp in the fiber will exert on the yarn. This cormo/cashmere roving is spinning like cormo, which should not be surprising, but my hands also detect the fine down-like feel of cashmere as i am creating the singles. It’s divine.

I let the 3 bobbins of singles rest, and the yarn is finally plied. I probably should have spun all the singles that I wanted for this yarn first, but I couldn’t help it. I needed to see the yarn.

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And here it is. It is squishy and bouncy. I can definitely feel the cashmere, especially if I feel this yarn along with some 100% cormo handspun that I have. Cormo is wonderful, but the bit of cashmere in the fiber makes this yarn absolutely special.

I have told myself that I am not allowed to cast on with this until the entire 900 yards for the intended project is spun….it’s going to be hard…I might have to swatch…..

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I was recently asked whether I had ever finished the sweater I was knitting out of Cambridge’s fleece.

I thought I had posted these photos! The Kingscot cardigan is finished!

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Here it is, on a “photo shoot” with the ewe herself. I love this photo not only because it’s kind of cool that I’m holding the sheep that gave me the beautiful fleece, but because of the onlookers in the background. Makes me laugh every time!

I saw Cambridge recently, and she is very busy growing my next fleece. You can already see, I think from above, but it’s looking a bit lighter in color. She is just CRANKING out the fleece, after a bit of a tough start I’m guessing because of the harsh winter, and I would not be surprised if her fleece was close to 10 pounds. (…of platinum to grey and GORGEOUS. Can’t wait.)

Yes, hawk-eyed friends, that IS a double pointed needle holding the cardigan shut.

Since then, I purchased some buttons made out of deer antler (as an homage to Lucy’s Great Adventure).

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The sweater is softer than I imagined it could ever be — Cambridge’s fleece has been a big surprise on that front, I must say — and it almost looks shiny because the fibers are so lustrous.

I still have another big batch of her fleece left, which was just washed recently —

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— and I am contemplating what I should be making with this fiber. I’m wondering if I can engineer a zipped vest with pockets that will take the place of the felted merino vest that I wear all the time to walk my dogs….to the drawing board….

I am, most decidedly, a lover of the color grey. Almost every article of clothing, yarn, fiber — the first thing I reach for is grey.

And in the ocean of grey, there is another color that makes a pretty frequent appearance in my wardrobe. (No, not black — that’s just another shade of grey.) I love orange. I think it’s such a happy color.

And, it goes well with grey. Of course.

I must be missing an element of happy recently, because I’ve finished two projects in my happy color.

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First, Carpino, by Carol Feller. It is a sweater from the Wool People 6 collection — the collection that I had a bit of a preview of, at Knitter’s Review Retreat last November. Of course, I promptly fell in love with every single piece of that collection, in a way that I never would have had I seen it in only in print, as beautiful as the Wool People Look Books are.

This little sweater is very flirty and a little bit retro. It has an i-cord edged ballet neckline, 3/4 length sleeves which are fitted. The front is a fun bubble like lace pattern (which is very easy to memorize).

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I knit this sweater in a singles yarn. I knew even before I cast on, in my brain somewhere, that this is probably not the greatest strategy for a long lasting, well wearing sweater. But I did it anyway. Why? Because it was the perfect color, Del Rey from Neighborhood Fiber company.

I have already worn the sweater a couple of times…so far so good. As long as some naughty canine that I live with does not hook her little paws into the lace in front of the sweater!

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Have you ever had a “O.M.G. I have to spin this/knit it right now” moment? Of course you have. The second project was one of those things. I purchased a beautiful commercially processed Shetland top from the UK at the Feederbrook Farm booth at Maryland Sheep & Wool. It is charcoal grey (surprise!) in a way only nature can produce, I knew exactly how I wanted to spin it, and as I was spinning the fiber — I knew exactly what I wanted to make with it.

I spun the fiber woolen, from the fold. I wanted lofty, squishy, and light in weight…a shetland version of LOFT.

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The urge was so great that as soon as I plied a skein and the twist was set, I wound the skein and cast on — while the rest of the yarn necessary to complete the project was still sitting on the wheel.

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Then, for contrast, I wanted a bit of….Orange! And I looked in my Pigeonroof Studios non-Superwash grab bag that I had in my stash…and voila. A few little bits of rusts, oranges and yellows. I wasn’t sure what the fiber content was (I think it is Polwarth/silk but I’m really not sure.), but I only needed a bit over 100 yards so I was sure it was going to work.

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The shawl that this yarn was destine to be? Kelpie, by Jared Flood (Who else?).  It’s a take on the Classic Shetland Hap Shawl, a bit citified. My gauge was bigger than the stated gauge of the pattern, so I knew this would be a large shawl.

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It is large, 74″ across with a 37″ drop. I didn’t think the shawl would grow to quite this size, but it is soft, light, very squishy, and the orange in the feather and fan border makes me smile.

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I am looking forward to wearing this often. (It sort of matches the sweater too!)

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I think I’ve gotten the Orange out of my system for now! Better go find some grey yarn.

I love wearing socks that are knit out of handspun yarn.

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(These are a pair knit out of Pigeonroof Studio merino/nylon in “Mystere”, n-plied.)

This creates a little bit of an issue — I have to spin the yarn, and then I have to knit the socks. And, as someone who is very hard on socks (for some reason, within the last month or so I have basically walked out of multiple pairs of hand knit socks — we are not talking small holes here, these are just heels that completely gave out!), the thought of walking through a pair of handspun, hand knit socks is very tough.

Yes, of course I can be vigilant about darning my socks…. and I think I will, once I learn how. (Note to self: Research different methods of sock darning.)

I decided to see if I can make a sock yarn that would withstand my tough wear. I had some Coopworth fiber from Shepherd’s Hey Farm (Hannah), and I had some Polwarth fiber from Blue Moon Fiber Arts. What if I ply 2 singles spun out of the polwarth with 1 single of the coopworth? Would the single ply of the long wool fiber make an other wise soft yarn stronger? Would it make the overall yarn very “wooly” or would the polwarth make the yarn softer?

I spun both fibers with more twist than I would normally spin these fibers with. I also plied with pretty high twist — to balance the yarn and because I thought this would make for a harder-wearing yarn. This was a little bit tricky, because the polwarth and coopworth were spun with different amounts of twist…but the resulting yarn ended up being balanced, and I thought, looked pretty.

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The grey is the coopworth, undyed, and the blues to yellow is the BMFA polwarth. I was excited to see how this yarn would knit up. And I had just the pattern for it. Cookie A. Sock Club‘s February 2014 pattern called Possibly Maybe.

I skeined the yarn and set off on knitting the socks.

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I cranked away. I had 330 yards of this yarn, and since most of my socks were 300-320 yards… I thought that I had spun enough yarn.

However….

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Oops!

So.. the solution here? I had a few people weigh in. “NEON PINK”!!! Someone said. (I almost did it, too!) “Try to match one of the colors so it will not be so noticeable.” “It won’t show because you can keep your foot in your shoe…”

I decided, since I had a little bit of the polwarth singles left over, that I would ply that with something (unfortunately, I was out of the coopworth fiber!) to make the Toe Yarn.

Luckily, in the fall, I had spun some Wensleydale that had been dyed navy blue. the single was a little bit thicker than the ply of the Coopworth, but I thought that since Wensleydale is a long wool breed, that this would be close enough for the socks.

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The yarn felt similar, but clearly, it was a lot more blue-dominant than the original yarn.

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…But, the socks are done. The yarn, knit up, feels like wool hiking socks. I think that is what I will be using them for. Let the wearing phase of the experimentation begin! I will report back.

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I had fun processing Cambridge’s fleece. (My first full raw fleece!)

I had fun spinning Cambridge’s fleece.

I had fun making Cambridge fleece into a delicate wisp of a shawl.

How is Cambridge coming along as a sweater, you ask?

Well, splendidly. (I think; so far, etc. with all the caveats.)

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The dark bits of Cambridge that I processed and spun into the grey yarn of a million shades, I was convinced, needed to be a swingy cardigan. I didn’t spin the yarn with too much twist, mostly because her fleece didn’t need it, but also because I wanted to try to make the yarn as airy as possible…there’s nothing worse to me than a sweater that is so heavy in weight that it hangs like a sack from the shoulder seams no matter what you do…and I didn’t think the long wool would be best served spun woolen. (Which I actually may change my mind about, see the P.S. below.)

I wanted a pattern that had a bit more going on than just a plain stockinette sweater, and I made up my mind that Norah Gaughan’s Kingscot (which appeared in Twist Collective Winter 2008) was just the thing. It’s got a very pretty cable and bobble pattern on the front in a diamond pattern, and while the shape was swingy, the back was ribbing which I thought would provide a better fit.

I knew somewhere deep in my brain that the stitch pattern may not show as well with this yarn, and if I wanted the cardigan to be all about the cabling motif, I was better served using a crisper yarn with tighter twist.

Of course I ignored this instinct because I wanted to make this cardigan with this yarn. “Want” in this case totally trumped the logic.

I’m not sure if I am right, or if, ultimately I’m going to be not so right. Not yet, anyway.

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I have a vision for what I want this sweater to be. My gauge was wildly different though, and as this was handspun, so I knew it wasn’t going to be as consistent in gauge as much as a commercial yarn would be. And, I wanted to make sure that while I kept the major design points of the garment, I wanted it to fit me well. This all meant some big modifications. Don’t be scared! This can be done.

So…what were the important things about this sweater for me?

1. The A-line of the body of the sweater. This shape, in my opinion, can be really difficult. I have seen the fly away cardigan that is too tight on a body, and that is not very flattering (unless you are pregnant. I love fly away cardi’s on pregnant women). I needed enough fabric in the front so that even if there were only 3 buttons on the top that it would not gape open in the middle. I trusted that Norah, who has designed gazillion sweaters, had this in mind and that there was a reason that the back was ribbed….so I kept the ribbing pattern in the back.

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2. I did modify the stockinette to ribbing ratio all over the sweater. I could see how, with a tighter twist yarn that you’d need the dramatic decreasing between the ribbing and the stockinette, but I didn’t think I needed quite so much with my yarn. (And I tested this with swatching.)

3. I loved the design on the front of the cardigan. While I toyed with changing the size of the bobbles (to something a bit more pronounced), but in the end stuck with the instructions as written. I’m not sure why I thought I needed to fool with this.

This is where I am now. I couldn’t “see” the sweater as it came off the needles, so I ended up blocking it to the schematic for my size to see how the fabric looked.

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I think I am cautiously optimistic.

Some people, I think, would be bothered by what appears to be subtle color blocking within the garment. I actually am not bothered by it much, because Cambridge is pretty spotty and I love that one sheep can produce so many shades of grey. The sweater is so…HER! So much so that if Cambridge were a human, I’d give her this cardigan.

I am knitting the sleeves now, and I don’t envision any changes except that I may have to do some math to make sure the sleeve cap fits properly…not a big deal. Knit fabric is really flexible!

I also envision changing the button band from as written. While the knitted then sewn on button band is a beautiful, elongating detail on the sample sweater, my seamstress hands (or lack there of) started twitching so I will most likely be picking up the button band along the edge of the sweater and keeping that in a 2×2 rib as the most of the ribbing on the cardigan. And, don’t be surprised if I change the 1×1 twisted rib on the neckline to a 2×2 rib as well for consistency.

Hopefully, the next Cambridge update will be about a finished cardigan!

P.S. As many of you know, hand combing takes out all the short fibers out of the fleece as you create top (the ice cream fluff in the first link at the top of the post). We did take what was left over and put it through a drum carder to create rolags, which I spun woolen and 3-plied into an aran weight yarn.

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It was really soft, and really airy. Soft enough for a pair of wristlets, which has been keeping Cambridge’s Shepherdess warm this past winter.

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You know, this is all to make sure that Cambridge was always on Lee’s mind so she got some good grain this winter! And, it looks like she’s getting a bit lighter so I will be looking forward to what her fleece looks like come shearing in November! (Of course I will be peeking a lot sooner than November!)

Of course I have a photo:

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