Thursday, April 22, 2010

I'm So Excited...

...and I just can't hide it!  I'm about to lose control and I think I like it.

Yep, The Pointer Sisters really summed up my mood today.  It's been a really exciting week around here.  Really!

On Sunday, I hosted the first Wood Buffalo Spin-in for the growing local spinning community.  It was such a hit that we're doing it again in about 10 days.  There were 5 spinners in my tiny little living room, spinning and talking and eating goodies and just having fun.  I'm so excited that this group has gathered together, and that we will be doing it again soon.  (Though, sadly, Robin has left us to go home to Australia.  I'm sure she will still spin with us in spirit!)

On Tuesday, the excitement was in the form of a nasty injury.  I broke my toe, tripping over the track on the sliding patio door.  I was trying to take my spinning wheel out onto the patio to take advantage of the fabulous weather, and, bang!  My poor wee toe never saw it coming.  Things are healing up, with my toe a spectacular variagated range of purples and greens.  It only hurts when I dance.

Which is a bit of a problem, because I have been breaking into spontaneous dance for the last 20 hours or so.  Ever since I received an email from Amy Clarke Moore, editor of Spin-Off Magazine.

Yours truly has been awarded a FULL SCHOLARSHIP to attend SOAR 2010!

Big excitement, indeed.

So that high-pitched squealing noise you have been hearing since last night is just me, realizing that I AM GOING TO SOAR.  Then bursting into dance.  Then screaming because my toe hurts.  And then squealing again, because sore toe or not, I AM GOING TO SOAR!

Sooner or later, I'm sure I will settle down.  Probably when I realize that I can only take
one of the amazing workshops.  I have no idea how I will choose. Putting each workshop description on  a wall and throwing darts seems too blunt.  Reading the correct workshop in chicken entrails seems a little, well, icky.  Logically working through the list to choose something that will be interesting and challenging for me seems like a plan, but logic escapes me right now.

I'm so excited....I'M GOING TO SOAR!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Why Wash?

So, I'm home and settled in and getting caught up on my emails.  I found this wonderful question on one of the lists I follow, and I just couldn't resist the opportunity:
Hi everyone - I have been thinking about washing yarn and setting twist, etc.. When you spin a yarn you always wash it to set the twist and also to get out any yuckies that are left. Then when you knit with this yarn, you wash or wet the piece again before you block. Could one save a step and just spin, knit and then wash? Has anybody done any experiments with this to see if there is a difference doing it one way or the other?
Well, it just so happens that I have done experiments, and here is what I have discovered:


Okay, so I'm shouting.  But with good reason.  You see, when we spin, no matter what fibre we use, we are stretching the fibre out to it's full length (drafting), and then holding it under tension as we force twist into those stretched fibres.  The stretched and twisted fibres are then pulled onto a bobbin, maintaining the tension.  As long as we keep those fibres under tension, they will hold the twist exactly where we put it during the spinning.  The fibres wills stay elongated, the twist will lay dormant under the stress of the tension.  All is good, right?

Well, as long as that yarn stays on that bobbin, yes.  Sitting there on the bobbin, that yarn looks all smooth and balanced and pretty.  But looks can be deceiving.  That yarn is under tension.  It is not ready to relax and cooperate just yet.  When you wind the yarn off onto your niddy-noddy to make a skein, you see what happens to that yarn.

A well-spun, balanced yarn should come off of the bobbin with some residual twist.  If your yarn comes off and makes a perfect U, your yarn is actually underplied.  You want to see this yarn twist up like this.

Why?  Because, in order to have enough ply to hold together in the working and create a balanced, smooth fabric,  you have to ply your yarns with 2/3 the amount of the twist that you put into your singles.  If you ply at 1/2 the singles twist, you will find that your yarn is unstable and that your fabric will seem uneven and may even skew.  Trust me, I've tried it.

"Okay, Ms Smarty-Pants," you say.  "I don't wind my yarns off onto a niddy-noddy, I use a ball winder."

That's fine, but what you're doing when you do that is maintaining the tension that the yarn has been held under on the bobbin.  Until you start pulling that yarn out and knitting or warping with it.  Then all that tension lets go and the twist runs rampant.  Little pigtails start snarling the yarn, and, invariably the yarn snarls inside the ball, creating a tangle.  Who needs that?

When you put yarn in hot water, something wonderful happens.  The individual fibres relax and try to return to their natural state, releasing the tension that we have tugged into them.  They fall into a softer arrangement, and create more space in the sideways direction.  The twist then finds more space to spread itself out and no longer tries to pull those fibres in it's own direction.  Balance is achieved.

Now your yarns have that perfect U. 

I did this little demonstration with two different fibres, treating them both exactly the same after they came off the bobbin.  The orange skein is Corriedale top (wool) and the purple skein is silk.  As you can see, the setting of the twist is vital for balancing the yarns in both fibres, but far more so for the silk.

When you go to work with the yarns, washed or unwashed, you will see a dramatic difference in the way that yarn feels and acts.

Let's look at the knitted samples before blocking.  The sample on the left is the unwashed yarn.  You can't see it in the photo, but it had a harsher hand and tended to snarl as I knit with it.  You can see, however, that the work curled and skewed as I knit it.

This effect was far more dramatic in the silk sample, which, let me tell you, was not fun to knit in the unwashed version!

Another interesting thing happens when you set your twist in hot water.  The wool sample came off the bobbin measuring 3 tpi and 14 wpi.  After setting, the same sample measured 4 tpi and 12 wpi.  The silk samples came off the bobbin at 6 tpi and 32 wpi, and was 9 tpi and 30 wpi after setting.  Ummm, the unwashed yarns are very different from the washed yarns.  Very.  And this will impact what they do in the fabric.

For one thing, the gauge of you knitting will be different.  The wool knitted up at 8 stitches/inch when it was unwashed, but 6 stitches/inch when washed.  The silk, 12 stitches/inch unwashed, 10 stitches/inch washed.
If you knit, you know what a huge difference 2 stitches per inch makes in the size of your garment.  If you don't knit, take my word for it--it's not good.

After blocking, you can really see the impact of washing and setting.  The top sample is the unwashed, the bottom is washed and set yarn.  I rest my case.

You will also notice that the unwashed samples are more open and less dense.  If I had a better camera, you would also be able to see that the stitches are not as tidy in the unwashed samples, showing uneven twist throughout and creating that notorious "bar" that happens when yarns with unbalanced twist are knitted.  And then there is the skewing...

So, does that answer the question? 


Monday, April 12, 2010

Some More Stuff That Happened

March is over, we are well into April, and my life is slowly regaining some semblance of what passes for normal around here...

What just happened?

I vaguely remember a trip to Arizona, then a blur of activity.  Perhaps some sort of hypnosis will bring back memories...

Wait!  There was a trip to Edmonton.  Medical appointments and shopping.  Many articles of clothing were purchased.  That would explain the bulge in my suitcase!  Hmmm...

Oh!  Then there was a frantic week of building and installing a set for Thickwood Theatrix's production of Honk! Jr.  Not a lot of sleep, and much crawling around on the floor with a paintbrush--no wonder my mind supressed the memory!  But the set turned out wonderfully, and the production was, as always, fabulous.

Fifty-four grade 4 to 8 students in an all-quacking, all-dancing spectacular.  Every year I am amazed by the dedication of the teachers who drive this production, and by the talent and determination of the students.  Valerie Gondek, Angela Fenton, Patti Zeglen, and the administration, staff and students of Thickwood Heights School, take a bow!

Then there is a blank spot, until I find myself on a bus two days later.  I think I may have actually slept.  I'm not sure.  There may have been some packing, because...

Suddenly, I was in Fort St. John, BC!   A seminar on recycling fibres, and two days of sock spinning with a wonderful, enthusiastic group of spinners...

...who look like they had a good time.  As always, there was much spinning and exploration.  I talked myself hoarse, again.  There was good food, and wine, and laughter.  And marvelous samples all around.  I sincerely hope the participants did have much fun as I did, because I had a great time!

So, weary and silent, I made my way southward to spend some time in Vancouver with the Miss Lexi, Miss Julia, Steve, and my father-in-law.  I arrived first and had a lovely day with Miss Lexi, then the rest of the gang flew out to join us for the Easter long weekend.  Once again, much food and wine was consumed, and there were hijinks galore.  A few of the highlights...

...include the big storm that blew in on Good Friday while we were in Stanley Park.  High winds and rain pummelled the park and the city, and we went walking on the seawall.  For about 3 minutes.  While we were warming up at Prospect Point, we noticed that there was no traffic on the Lion's Gate Bridge...

...which is pretty darned unusual.  It turns out that a tree had fallen across the Causeway leading onto the bridge, totally blocking it, and access to the bridge and Stanley Park had been totally shut down.  And the tourists from Alberta were blithely strolling along, watching giant Douglas firs sway above our heads.  D'oh!We got some awesome pictures, though, and had a lot of fun.

The next day dawned a little brighter, and we ventured out to White Rock...

...where my two beautiful daughters gamely posed out at the chilly end of the pier.  The weather was not warm, but we managed to stroll the beaches and consume ice cream, anyway.  There was an unfortunate incident with a fish and chips restaurant that we like to frequent near the beach, but, in the end, we found another place that we liked even better.  And Montgomery's had deep-fried pickles!  We have a new favorite spot, all thanks to some very poor customer service.  Funny how those things work out, isn't it?

We  ventured out to Steveston for an afternoon, too.  We had never been out there before, but we will definitely go back.  Still a working fishing port, there were fresh fish and shrimp for sale off the boats, funky shops, and lots of restaurants to explore.  But the high point was definitely the Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site.  We sort of went in with our tongues in our cheeks, and shenanigans abounded...

...but it turned out to be a wonderful museum, too!  Parks Canada has done an amazing job of preserving the atmosphere and recreating the working conditions in an early 20th-century salmon cannery, and of making the exhibits interesting and entertaining at the same time.

Then, of course, we had to go to the Vancouver Aquarium...

...where more silliness occurred.

A lot of silliness.

It was a fun vacation, with all of us throwing away our worries for a whole week.  We had fun, and that's what a vacation is for. Even if the weather is dreadful. 

And that's what family is for, too.

There were the usual twisted and incomprehensible travel arrangements made for the return trip, so the others left the next day, and I followed a day after that.  We had a day in Edmonton, then decided to head home.  Which turned out to be a good idea.  We drove into some rain and wind, pursued by the same storm we had encountered in Vancouver and got home safe and sound.  Only to wake up to this...

...the very next morning.  Over 25 cm of snow overnight, and it just kept coming all weekend.  Our back door was impassable...

...but we ran out of coffee, so I had to venture out.  Once was enough.  I have been holed up in the studio, sorting treasures and popping out to change loads of laundry all weekend.  And spinning.

Wow, now that I take a moment to remember, I realize I did a lot in last month.  No wonder I haven't gotten any blogging or knitting done.  Uh, oh.  Now I'm home, with no adventures to distract me.   I think I have some catching up to do!