78) Shawl-based geekery, and the Maths of Completion

It's been a slow week for the Peacock Shawl; I'm on row 157.  Given that I was on row 147 last time I posted, that's around 2 rows per day.  Since the shawl now consists of 234 rows (plus crochet bind-off), I have 77 rows remaining – and only 38 days until the last Rampton meet of the year, when it is 'due'.

Well, 38 x 2 = 76, so we're good, right?

Maybe not.  For a start, that plan contains zero contingency, which is not a comfortable scenario for us planny types.  Then, there's the blocking and drying time.

But, most importantly, there's also that wretched increasing-row-size thing.  A row currently contains 314 stitches; by the time I finish, it'll be more like 470.  So, the rows are getting longer as we speak…

So I made a spreadsheet.

Well, what else are you gonna do?  It worked for my Dad's Fair Isle, right?


So, allowing 30 days to finish the knitting allows for a few days contingency, and a few days to cast off, and to get round to washing and blocking the thing.  Terrifyingly, I've worked out that there are 30,420 stitches remaining (not including the cast off), so I need to average 1,014 stitches per day to finish on time.

I haven't done too well on production knitting over the last year or two; what do think the odds are for this project?


77) One bobbin full, and a sparkly spindle started

I'm done with my first bobbin of the current wheel project!  (DK-3 ply from drumcarded batts, for Sandi Wisehart's knit-to-fit cardigan KAL).  I think this is the most perfectly filled bobbin I've ever produced; three batts fit to perfection.  And there are no nasty surprises inside, either; the filling is smooth and even throughout:


I'm still experimenting with the iPhone, but I think I like the actual camera better.  That first shot wasa taken without flash.  This next, otherwise-identical one, with:


Amazing how the flash saddens the blue but intensifies the yellow, isn't it?  Also, I think this is the only camera I've ever used where the flash actually results in a picture that is darker overall.

Since it's currently all about the batts here, I've also started spinning some of my own merino/angelina blend, in Titania, on the spindle:


I'm aiming for a heavyish laceweight.  I really, really want to see how the angelina works up in a fine yarn.  Will there be too much sparkle?  Not enough?  Will the ends of the angelina stick out?  Will it make the yarn scratchy?  We shall see!

76) The garden roundup

It seems appropriate that I post the close-of-summer garden post today; last week, we had the first plant-killing frost.  It didn't kill everything, but the bush beans have definitely had it, so it counts.  And this morning, a harder frost; when I set out for work this morning, de-icer was called for (not my favourite thing in the world)

Executive summary:
My gardening has been diverse and varied this year; I've had successes and failures in probably equal measure – and it's notable that last year's successes have been some of this year's disappointments, and vice versa.  Most notable, though, is that I haven't actually followed through on a lot of my gardening commitments.  If I'd committed to less, and invested the same total amount of effort into that smaller goal, I would have reaped a much larger harvest.  This is something to think about, in the context of my life as a whole, not just the garden, and something to remember for next year.  I'm probably not ready to take on that allotment just yet, eh?


  • Peas – I grew dwarf hatif peas, green telephone peas and golden mange tout.  The hatif I think have potential, but I planted them too late in the season for them to have a good chance.  I'm not sure that it's worth trying to grow your own green peas (except to harvest the pods, which make excellent wine!), and this year the telephones were particularly disappointing.  I planted two 'pyramids' of mange tout, but one would have been plenty – or two, but not at the same time
  • Soy beans – Like the hatif peas, these went in too late and got swallowed by the one successful squash plant.  I wasn't paying attention.
  • Chick peas – These were fun!  They were victims of my erratic attention span, though, and I missed the harvesting window.  They went from 'green' to 'gone' in what seemed like a blink of the eye.
  • Bush beans – I'm a total convert to these.  They take up so little space, start producing quickly, and crop and crop and crop for aaages.
  • Pole beans – Cherokee Trail of tears and Rhinegold (I think).  The Cherokees were not bad, but given that I planted the others very early in the year, its sort of a shame they're just coming into their maximum productivity now – because they were badly affected by the (very mild) frost this week.  I will probably grow the Cherokees or a similar variety for drying next year, but skip the others – the bush beans were so much better for a French/runner type
  • Broad beans – I planted some of my Dad's seed for these, and they were delicious – but the third and onwards 'layers' of pods rotted off.  I'm not sure why, but fungus seems to have been a recurring theme in my garden this year.


  • Onions – unfortunately, a lot of my onions got crowded out by volunteer tomato plants, which I decided to let grow because hey, if it's a good year for tomatoes, then I want all I can get!  Even more unfortunately, the tomatoes all succumbed to blight, so I got nothing from the onion bed.
  • Garlic – one of this year's success stories!  Albegensian wight, Chesnok wight, Lautrec wight, Picardy wight.  The Albigensian Wight variety produced the biggest bulbs – but no scapes (we really enjoyed the scapes!) Planted late last year, we have enough garlic that, with care, we might manage to be self-sufficient in garlic next year.
  • Leeks – another crop lost to my erratic attention span, early in the year.  I'm sorry about this; I've had some pretty good success with leeks in the past, and I miss them.

Root vegetables

  • Beetroot has been a raging success this year, with much bigger roots than last year's efforts, and luscious, prolific greens.  I've only grown one variety – the white ones from Real Seeds – which I picked specifically because the greens, as well as the roots, are supposed to be good to eat.  I love the roots chopped and roasted in olive oil, with dried rosemary and salt.  I'll definitely grow these again next year.  Phased growing seems to work well with these, too, so you don't get all your crop at once (I still have a few in the ground!)


  • Carrots have been pretty much a non-event this year.  The first carrot bed was overrun by weeds due to neglect, and a downpour washed all the seeds in the second one to one side of the patch!  We do have carrot fly in this area, but haven't suffered with it too badly this year.
  • Potatoes – mixed success.  Actually, we got quite a good crop, but I wasn't very interested in cooking when the best new ones were ready, so we sort of missed the best bit.
  • Parsnips – slow to germinate, we got overgrown with weeds before the plants themselves were up.  These definitely need a better prepared plot for next year.

Belladonna fruits

  • Tomatoes – a range of varieties, including a vast number of volunteers.  Some were wonderful (especially the yellow centiflors):


But I lost a lot to blight:


The blight was such a problem that I plan not to grow any tomatoes next year, to give the land a rest.

  • Peppers – One variety, Sweet Kaibi.  I grew these in my little poly-greenhouse, and I'm really impressed.  It's not as if I've come close to meeting our annual pepper requirements, but these have been sweet, crunchy and impressively thick-walled compared with shop bought ones.  Definitely one to repeat for next year.
  • Chillis – two varieties, Rotoco and Lemon Drop.  The Rotocos haven't fruited yet, but the Lemon Drop have done pretty well.  We ate one in a stir fry last night, and it was pleasantly hot, with a distinct lemon scent (not sure about flavour, though).
  • Aubergines – Two beautiful plants grew from seed, but didn't set a single fruit.  Next year, I break out the tiny paintbrushes and give them a helping hand.

Leafy stuff

  • Lettuce has been a washout.  I tried red iceberg for the second year in a row, but I find it very slow growing, and a couple of heads rotted off, seemingly from the inside out, before I got to eat them this year.  I think successional sowing of 'baby' greens might work better for my work lunches, at least.
  • Rocket needs to be sown more often and in window-box style pots, not in the raised beds
  • Chard – Swiss chard, aka perpetual spinach, has been another real win this year.  J's favourite pizza topping has been sauteed 'spinach' with blue cheese and walnuts, with an egg on top.  This is a major coup, since a) it contains no meat, and b) he's been a lifelong greens-hater thus far.  We've had three chard plants, and they've cropped all season long; a fourth would mean we have some to freeze, too, if I was diligent about it.
  • Herbs – eh.  So many herbs (basil and coriander, I'm looking at you!) seem to need diligent succesional sowing in order to give a useful crop without killing the plants.  I'm working on it, but it's another thing I either need to really, really commit to, or just don't bother.
  • Amaranth – I grew some!!  I've been trying to grow this from seed for years, and the seedlings have just been dying off.  This year, I succeeded – but I've not done anything with it.  Heh.

All the brassicas have been impossible to grow to eating stage in previous years, due to intense predation by butterflies and snails.  This year, I got the better (mostly) of the butterflies by growing under mesh, and picking off the caterpillars that got in anyway.  Next year, I need to do something about the molluscs.

  • Broccoli – for the first year, I got some that was worth eating!  We had five plants (I think), but still, most of our broccoli was bought in.  Is this one worth it in a small garden?
  • Cauliflower – all lost at the seedling stage, this year
  • Kohl Rabi – we love this in coleslaw, but haven't eaten much this year.
  • Swede – lost the whole crop to various insects.  Bah.
  • Rapa senza testa – this one cropped well, but I was having a lazy spell, and didn't actually get around to harvesting it.  Wasted effort!
  • Broccoli raab – we tried this as a quick-to-crop alternative to broccoli; it 'works' just fine, but even I found it bitter.  Not a favourite with J.
  • Brussels sprouts – still in the ground, and, since we've had the first frost, I could technically consider them ready!  I hope to have some at Christmas.
  • Cabbages – I have a head!!  This is a major win, given my past experiences.  Now to make sure I actually harvest the thing, instead of letting it go to waste…

Squashes and curcubits

  • Cucumber ('Parisian Pickling' variety, another dual-purpose plant, with fruit good for pickling and for salads) has been an oddly mixed success.  I gave up on these plants after the general squash-failure early in teh year – only to find that they'd struggled on regardless.  With absolutely zero attention from me, these little plants have straggled their way through the beds, in the shade, and have produced about as many fruit per plant as they have leaves.  I have no idea how they managed it:


I'll definitely plant these again next year – I'm really keen to find out how well they do if they're actually tended.

  • Melons and summer squash – all my seedlings died after I planted them out just before the last cold snap of spring.  I re-sowed seed, but the second crop of seedlings failed to thrive, and I didn't have a single plant.  Not to worry, though – Geodyne has provided us with more courgettes, patty pans and other summer squas than I can count!
  • Winter squash – one vine (a Thelma Sanders Sweet Potato) survived the tragedy that took all the summer squash and melon plants.  It has multiple fruit, and I must pick them.


  • Strawberries – I planted 10 plants from my parents' place this year.  We got some fruit, though it was a race between us, the snails and the birds; not bad, for year 1.
  • Raspberries – Again, this was their first year in the ground, so I didn't expect any – and I wasn't disappointed.  Maybe a scant handful of fruit; a very promising 'watch this space'.
  • Blueberries – enough to keep me in breakfasts for a month or so!  I only bought these bushes last year, so I was very pleasantly surprised here.

If you're still with me, you deserve a prize!  But sorry not today – come back later in the week.  😉

75) The Peacock’s Progress

It's been a slow but intense couple of weeks for the Peacock Shawl.  Two important milestones in a shawl's growth have been met:

  • It now looks like an amorphous blob on the needles (though the colours are still just lovely; and yes, this is another Bad iPhone shot – both overexposed and out of focus, sorry!):


  • Each row now takes Quite Some Time to complete.  Getting 'just one row' done in an evening is no longer a feeble effort.

It's a hallmark of 'increasing' shawls that they seem to go almost too quickly at first, but slow down exponentially as you continue.  When you've finished half the rows, you're only a quarter of the way done – which is one of the reasons why estimating the yarn requirements can be so tricksy.  (The other is that this is handspun, and therefore not guaranteed to have the same grist throughout).

I did a careful weigh-and-calculate when I got to the crunch point, and found that, far from having nearly enough yarn to complete the shawl, I had about the right amount if I cut two rows of feathers from the middle section.  So that is what I am doing – I am now on row 147 out of what will be 234, so I'm about two fifths of the way there; reassuring, because I haven't started the second (larger) ball of yarn yet:


(An almost acceptable iPhone photograph?  Actually, I think it just looks half decent in comparison to the others.  It's still very flashy, not exactly in focus and has a strange yellow/green colour cast.  Ahh, well…)

The transition into the next shawl section has been slow going.  This is partly because I'm having to invent the edges of each row.  Because I've 'skipped' sixteen rows, and the pattern is a twelve stitch repeat, the motifs aren't in the same place, relative to the edges of the shawl, as they are in the original design.  In short, I have four (or is it five?) extra stitches to deal with, four times in each pattern row.  Four times because there is the beginning and end of each row, plus the pattern is interrupted for the central 'spine' in the pattern.  I could just knit them, but that's not my style; I'd rather incorporate them into the pattern in the best way possible.

In at least one case, I got it completely, spectacularly wrong (well, I was out by a stitch), and had to tink back three quarters of a row and re-knit.  I'm nearly back where I was.

Last night I dreamed there was a third ball of silk to use. I was quite disappointed by the time I woke up.

74) That dratted website

It's probably not news that I've been meaning to set up a (proper) website for yarnscape for quite some time now.  Currently, the domain just points at my yarnscape blog (which is on blogger, and is in a state of serious neglect), and the blog links to my Etsy shop.  I like having an Etsy shop for various reasons, but I'd like to have my own shop, too.

But…  I've been resisting actually doing anything about it.  Sure, there are about a million things that are clamouring for my attention at any given moment, and sure, a lot of them are more fun than hacking code, but this website is an important stepping stone to the life I would like to be leading, so I should be prioritising it, don't you think?  More, I should be excited about it.  But I'm not.  I'm stressed, and anxious, and resisting it like crazy.

Enter Havi.  I know I've mentioned her a few times before, but seriously, she is a special kind of genius.  I read her blog avidly, though I've not yet infiltrated the community of commenters there.  She gives me many things to think about.  And this time, I'm going to try asking the help of  Metaphor Mouse! – a sneaky-superhero kind of technique for investigating the things that are not working for you in an idea, and, hopefully, finding the qualities that you want to associated with the idea (or project, or…) and helping you to build a metaphor that allows you to approach the whole thing with less resistance.  Clear as mud?  OK, in steps (the italicised bits are taken directly from Havi's blog, which I strongly recommend reading.  This is a great Metaphor Mouse post):

1) List the qualities, aspects and attributes of the thing that isn’t working (including what *is* working, if anything).

Right.  What does 'setting up a website' mean to me?

  • Intimidating
  • Don't know how
  • Stuffy
  • Grownup
  • Boring
  • Serious
  • Frustrating
  • Must be perfect first time
  • Permanence
  • Public exposure
  • Point of no return

ooh.  Now you put it like that, I can kind of see why I'm avoiding working on it.  There's pretty much nothing in there that sounds good, to be honest.  About the only thing I even slightly want to keep is the 'public' bit, because a private website wouldn't be all that much use.  The 'exposure' bit, though?  No, thanks.  It reminds me of those dreams I got when I was a kid, where I'd showed up to school in only my undies, and spent the entire day shivering with cold and trying to hide behind my briefcase.  (As an aside, I did once walk out of the school changing rooms wearing only my vest and slip.  I was about 8, and I realised before I was back in the classroom, but the memory is still vivid.  Different story.)  Bring on the next step!

2) What sort of qualities, aspects and feelings does the thing I want contain?

  • Fun
  • Excitement
  • Adventure
  • Inspiration
  • Performance!
  • Flexibility
  • Safety
  • Support
  • Hiding in plain sight

3) Reminds me of?

Being on stage.  My website is a stage??  No! – it's a whole theatre.  With costumes and rehearsals and greasepaint and people shifting scenery and sorting out the lighting, and being front of house.  And of course, it has a stage.  Where I can perform to my audience.  Where rehearsal is not only OK, it's necessary. 

4) So, do we have our metaphor?

Without a doubt.  I love this idea more than I can describe.  I love it so much I kindof want to cry.  I'm not making a website, I'm running a theatre (and I think I'm probably the director/producer, too).

5) What needs to happen next?

I need to ask for help.  A theatre doesn't run on a one-man team, and neither does any kind of performance, even if only one person is on stage.  Luckily, I know a few people I can call on for this.

And I need to keep this fun.  By:

  • Staying light and easeful;
  • Sharing (and celebrating!) my progress with you;
  • Remembering that websites can change.

Also, I need to listen to Havi more. 

[Final note: I had intended to publish this on Saturday, but I'm changing my mind.  It might sound crazy, but I'm so excited about this that I have to publish it today.  Happy Friday, everyone!]

73) General update: the Very Bad Photos edition

Well.  My phone was fine for five days or so, then I started getting SIM card errors.  On boot up, or randomly in the middle of a conversation.  I made a not-very-convincing investigation into possible fixes, and then leapt with unseemly haste towards my local iPhone vendor.

I am starting to love the thing, but also feel that I should be doing absolutely everything with it.  I've been taking photos sporadically during the week, but it's taken me until today to get the things off the phone and onto my computer so I can document what I've been doing.  Unfortunately, I'm not yet impressed with the iPhone camera.  So!

Spinning:  This is the start of the yarn for Sandi Wisehart's Sweater KAL (available on Ravelry). I'm definitely very behind on this, as lots of people have knit up to the armholes already.  It took me a while to get the right sort of thickness for the singles – I want a DK weight 3 ply, and my fingers are now used to ultra-fine-laceweight – but I think I've got the hang of it now.


The photo is sort of hazy and blue.  I know why this was – something was occluding the flash and flaring it onto the lens.

Dogs:  Woody doesn't approve of the current cold snap in the weather.  However, if it means he gets extra sofa time, and a blanket, he's prepared to live with it.


He would like to point out he's not quite that yellow in real life, though.

Fibre acquisition: I bought this little lot from SpinGirl's destash – and one of the dogs (I suspect Kita) killed it as soon as it entered the house:

009 It isn't actually too badly damaged, and I was thinking of carding it anyway, so I'll let her off this time.  The exposure on this photo is about right, but it's much more pink in reality.

Then, I recently passed J's Nan's old sewing machine to a member of the Cambridge KTog knitting group – and in thanks, she gave me this lovely fibre!


It's not really that dark.  Let's try again:


Hmm.  Not a lot better.  The fibre – which is Corriedale – is lovely, though.  And has inspired…

A bit of fibre dyeing!  This is also Corriedale, and has dyed up to a lovely stormy grey.  This is the first time I've dyed Corriedale, and I'm impressed with how well it stands up to the process (read: no felty bits, even in this dark shade):


Exposure and colour: not too bad.  Focus: bah.

I have more very bad iPhone photographs to share with you, but I'll save them for another post.  I'll be trying a few more times, see if I can get a consistently good acceptable photograph with the New Technology, but it might be back to my old camera if the learning curve is too steep.

72) That was the week(end), that was…

Recently, time does not seem to be flowing smoothly.  One afternoon seems to hang around forever, stretching out into infinity – then four days seem to be go past in a single lump.  This makes for sporadic blogging.

Nevertheless, the last week has been rather productive, all things considered.  I have:

  • started seaming coppertop (ravelry link) – my two-week sweater, haha;
  • finished plying the spindled silks;
  • finished plying the Sweetgeorgia BFL/silk, featured mostly in this post;
  • started spindle spinning some of my own batts ('Titania' – mixed purples with holographic angelina – here);
  • made copious notes about what has and what hasn't worked in the garden this year.  However, these are all currently on the back of an envelope, so I can't share them with you yet;
  • reached the crunch point on the Peacock shawl. I will be omitting one full repeat from the middle section.

Several of these items deserve blog posts of their own, but I am rather fond of the plied BFL/silk photos I took on Sunday, so I'm sharing those now:

That is a UK 5 pence piece tucked behind the yarn; that's slightly smaller than a US nickel (18mm as compared to 21mm, according to Wikipedia).  That's some pretty fine spinning!  In fact, this is the first time I've managed to get over 1000 metres of yarn from 100g of fibre, so it's a genuine milestone.  I'm not interested in spinning ultra-fine thread, but I am keen to spin true laceweight knitting yarns, and also yarns that could be woven into garment-weight cloth.


The glamour shot.  This yarn is one ply of silk and one ply of blue faced leicester (a lovely, soft, fine wool).  The flash on these shots really shows off the sparkle of the silk against the more matt texture of the wool – click for bigger to see it properly!

And don't you love that little wooden bowl?  It's maple burr, turned by a local craftsman, and I'm hoping it'll work well as a bowl for using with a support spindle.  It's taller and narrower than the ones I've seen in use, but I love it anyway.

I bought it on Saturday, at the Willingham Feast Market, where I and several others from Rampton Spinners were demonstrating spinning.  Geodyne originally organised the event but unfortunately couldn't make it on the day.  I'm pretty sure a wonderful time was had by all four of us who did make it, even though I dropped my phone down the loo (oops! – time for an iPhone, perhaps?)

DSC05287 This is the demo area as it looked just before the marked opened – we had wool, flax and silk on display, including a progression of flax from dried plant to spun fibre, and a lot of interest was shown by the public.

DSC05288 The left hand side of the display, showing Jo's range of spun and dyed fibres, plus tools and fabrics, (and books!!  I never thought to bring books..) along with my new toy (wool picker) and a bag of clean but unteased wool, and my Rampton bag from last year.  The wool picker deserves another post of its own, but was quite the hit with young boys; it relies heavily on long, black nails for its function, and looks like a mediaeval torture device on the inside.

Inadvertent amusement – and education – was provided by the nice man who came round offering us tea and coffee before the event opened.  I told him I'd brought my own, but thanked him for the offer.  Jo only drinks hot chocolate, so he talked her into that – then, when she finally agreed, informed her that that would be one pound, please.  Both of us were …slightly gobsmacked.  Bear in mind that we were 'working' at this event for free, and a free cup of tea or the like is a nice (and relatively common) way to say thanks.  It was a funny experience rather than an unpleasant one – but it's a lesson in customer service/expectation management, too.  I don't think that either of us would have minded paying if the price had been clear from the beginning – especially as the proceeds go to charity.  But both of us – even me, and I wasn't the one getting a drink! – felt slightly .. what?  Affronted?  Cheated?  Tricked, I think is the best word.  And the sad part is that I'm sure he didn't mean to make us feel like that.

The really notable part, the one that anyone who deals with customers of any kind should note, is that this is the experience, out of all those I had that morning, that I've chosen to write about here.  They say it takes five positive experiences to outweigh a negative.  I suspect that is a conservative estimate.

71) Travels through time: a 15-minute musing

Several months ago, there was the Tour de Fleece1.  Since the major goal of this is to spin, even a little, every day, I started giving myself 15 minutes spinning time first thing in the morning.  Oddly, I started getting to work earlier as a result – but that's a musing for another day.

Usually I spin on my wheel in this time, but this morning I grabbed the spindle I'm using to ply the tussah weft for my spindled silk scarf project.  I was working on this last night at spinning group, and was so close to the end of the plying ball, I thought I'd try and get finished.

I don't usually use a plying ball (which is where you wind your singles, together, into a multi-stranded ball, so that all you have to do is go back through the ball and add twist when actually plying).  By default, I've been using plying bracelets, which are a kind of magic, and haven't caused my any significant problems.

But then, it's always worth trying new techniques, and this one comes recommended by Abby herself.  So, each time I finished a spindle full of singles, I wound it off into a neat, tight ball (bo-ringgg! I hate winding!).  Then I picked the two balls that were closest to the same size, and laboriously wound them, together, into a double-stranded, extra large ball. (Booorrrr-ingggg!!!).  At this point, I'm not loving the plying balls.

I didn't love it when I started plying from them, either.  I didn't know what to do with this squirrely, bouncy little ball of tightly wound silk.  Eventually, I figured out that I can hold it loosely in my fibre-control hand (my left, for me), and just let it unwind in a cage of fingers.  After that, this proved to be a really fast way to ply.  Really fast.  I don't know if it's faster than the bracelet overall, what with all that winding and re-winding, but the spindle sure fills up fast when you get going.  And it is much easier to pick up and put down your work using a ball rather than a bracelet.  You can take the bracelet off, but you need to have something else to put it on when you're not wearing it, and you do have to be a bit careful with it to avoid tangling and subsequent swearing.

But what does this have to do with journeying through time?  Well, this was the spinning project that I took up to visit my folks a couple of weeks ago.  And all that winding has some strong memories associated with it.  As the plying ball unwound, I felt as if I was travelling back to the moments when I was winding the ball.  I was transported to conversations with my parents; to the giant box of chocolates on the coffee table; to stopping at a motorway cafe and boggling the other patrons by pulling out a spindle whilst I waited for my coffee to cool; to the smell and feel of the air that weekend (mostly damp.  But it smelled of the sea).

Those memories were a definite bonus.  Oh, and I finished the plying ball:

(the little balls are the mismatched ends from my four balls of singles.  I'll make a mini-plying-ball with those, and bracelet ply anything left over.)

I think I *will* be using plying balls in the future, but I will see if I can find a storage mechanism for my singles which does not involve winding everything twice.  It should be possible to slide my finished cops of singles onto short needles, or something.

1 Note for non-spinners/people who don't hang out on Ravelry:  The Tour de Fleece happens at the same time as the Tour de France.  It's an opportunity excuse to spin every day, to challenge yourself, to try new things.  Frankly, it's fun.

70) The peacock shawl and the joys of handspun

I mentioned that I'd finally got started on the Peacock Feathers shawl, right?  I snapped this quick picture before I travelled off to North Yorkshire, knowing that it was the end of the first section, and that the work would grow pretty quickly from here on:


Excuse the horrible overexposure: this is one of the first shots taken with my new camera (thank you, eBay), and the flash options are different to my old one.

Anyway, I was right: the shawl grew quickly-quickly and I'm now nearly through the second section, which uses a motif which more closely resembles feathers, and which uses a double yarnover:

This is definitely a pattern which will benefit from a good blocking.  Two stitches are worked into the top of the double-YO, and they slip and slide and close up the hole a bit.  Experimentation proves that they will sort themselves out nicely, though, especially in this slippery silk.

Speaking of silk, I'm really enjoying knitting with my own handspun yarn (as always).  It's not as slippery as some commercial silk yarns I've used, but it is soft and drapey and luscious.  It's not perfectly even (not at all!), but somehow the fabric takes in all the yarn's imperfections and evens them out – or at least, transforms them into interesting 'features'.

I have to decide, soon, whether II've got enough yarn to try for the whole pattern, as written, or whether I'm going to drop one (or two?) of these middle-size motifs.  I have less yarn than the pattern calls for, but I'm working on smaller needles.  The quarter-point weigh in (after knitting half the rows – the magic of surface area vs. linear dimension) suggested I'd have enough yarn to work 249 rows, out of 250-plus-crochet-cast-off.  The middle section is probably the best place to omit a repeat, because it's a simpler pattern at that point, which makes me think maybe I'll drop one row of feathers from here – 8 rows.  However, that will mean the last motif lines up differently with the rest of the shawl, and with the centre-back point in particular, because the rows of mid-size feathers are staggered.  Even dropping two repeats wouldn't necessarily work, because the spacing of the feathers relative to the 'spine' of the shawl changes, repeat by repeat.

So.  The shawl finishes with about six rows of fagotting, and the aforementioned crochet bind-off.  Maybe I can drop a fagotting row?  Or the two plain rows that come between it and the bind-off?  I'm not 100% comitted to the crochet bind-off, either; it's pretty, but I'll bet its a bugger to block, and liable to catch on things, too.

So.  I think the long and short of it is that I'll weigh everything again when the crunch point is reached, and see how the numbers stand.  Because this *is* handspun, the grist isn't totally consistent throughout, which makes things somewhat unpredictable, but…  We'll just have to see!

69) My First Flax

I mentioned back in this post that I'd dressed my Traveller with a strick of flax for the Tudor demo.  With the costume taking right up to the last minute to finish, I didn't get time to practise much on the flax spinning before the demo, though I had made sure I could basically make it 'go', just so I wouldn't embarass myself too badly.  Here's what my newly-dressed distaff looked like, in case you've forgotten:

  Flaxwheel (Geodyne is right, by the way.  It looks huge because it is huge.  Actually, the cone for holding the flax could have done with being a bit bigger still; it was a bit short for the lovely, long, line flax I had.)

The day after the demo I sat down to have a proper play with the flax, and within half an hour I had improved so much that I could spin it from the distaff one-handed, with either hand.  This isn't *quite* such a difficult feat as it sounds, because the fibre is held and, to a certain extent, controlled by the distaff and the binding, and all your other hand has to do is draw fibre down at the appropriate rate and thickness.  I wish I'd figured this out before the demo, because it looks very impressive!  I'm not sure I could manage the trick of spinning on a 'gossip wheel', though.  A gossip wheel (or double-flyer wheel), has two flyers, which allows you to spin two threads at once, one hand each.  Very cool:

Anyway, flax is traditionally spun wet.  That is, you dampen your fingers (rather than the fibre) as you spin, which allows you to smooth down the fibre and produce a better thread.  I had decided to spin at least some of this first strick dry, because of the logistical difficulties of adding a water-pot into the demo, and also because I didn't want to have to keep wetting and drying my hands as I demonstrated various other things.

About halfway through spinning the strick, my first bobbin was full.  It was also very, very hairy looking:


…which was the point at which I started to add some water into the equation.

I never really got the hang of spinning one-handed with wet fingers, though I think a better-prepared distaff would have helped.  I needed one hand to draft (dry), and another to do the smoothing.  It seems that flax is sort of sticky when damp, and trying to draft with wet fingers was mostly messy.

The second bobbin, spun damp, was much less hairy looking:

IMG_5279 Hardly perfect, but a definite improvement.

I rewound each bobbin into two sections, and plied them against themselves (i.e. wet with wet; dry with dry).  Interestingly, the flax spun dry seemed much more brittle; I lost count of the number of breakages I had when rewinding and plying.  I don't think I had a single one with the wet-spun.  That alone is probably more than enough to make up for the inconvenience of spinning with wet fingers!

After plying, I compared the two methods:

Picture 001
(The dry spun yarn is in the top part of the photo; the wet spun yarn is below)

Both yarns seemed much less hairy than I'd expected when looking at the singles, and they were remarkably similar.  There is a definite difference though; more evident in person, but reasonably clear when looking at separate strands against a dark background (my jeans).  First, the dry spun:

Picture 003

Next, the wet spun:

Picture 002 So, what's next?  Well, the yarns should be scoured before they're really considered 'done', to remove the waxes and other stuff still left in the fibre.  I'll probably weave these samples into a cloth of some sort; teatowels or breadcloths, perhaps.  Given the way the yarns behaved in plying, and the fact that it's so much hairier and will catch on the reed, I'll probably use the dry-spun as weft.

I could also knit the wet-spun into a top similar to Gretel, from cocoknits.  The texture of the yarn would be perfect for this sort of semi-sculptural cloth.  But then, I have several more stricks, so there's no need to fret; I can always spin more.

Yes, this has been my first flax, but I don't think it will be my last.


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