Saturday, March 31, 2007

Fleecy Pictures!

This is the dark Coopworth fleece I wrote about, spread out on the living room floor. Just looking at it makes me want to go to The Fiber Event and pick up another one (or two) from Hidden Valley Farm. There's not a speck of vegetation in this fleece and very little dirt. The staple length is about 4 inches.

This is an assortment of the other fleeces I have waiting for me. The sample in the bottom middle actually washes up to be white. The bottom left is a pale gray. The bottom right is a dark gray/brown.

Decisions, Decisions.....
Which spinning project or fleece I'll tackle next seems to change every day. Heck, so does the next knitting project. Since I was traveling this week for work, I got very little knitting done and I don't feel much like knitting or spinning this weekend. I'm tired enough, mentally and physically, that I just want to sit in my comfy chair and drool on myself in front of the TV.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Fleecy Goodness!

Since I'm nearly done teasing apart the light gray Coopworth fleece, I decided to get out the dark gray fleece. I unrolled it on the floor to have a look at the color. There's not a speck of veggie matter in the entire fleece, hardly any dirt and not much grease either. This sheep was clearly a neat freak who avoided mud puddles. Then again, all the Hidden Valley fleeces seem to come from neat freak sheep. A photo of the dark fleece will come soon, I promise.

Now that I've gotten the dark fleece out and started playing with it, I feel the urge to actually work with one of the cream colored fleeces. I have a cream colored Coopworth also from Hidden Valley Farm, plus two fine-wool crossbreds, a long-wool of some sort and a Shetland. I found some washed Cotswold locks and some washed Romney too. I don't know how they washed the Cotswold, but the tips are still full of dirt/mud even though the lanolin has been removed. Unfortunately the dirt seems to be eating the fiber and the lock structure is somewhat compromised. I may soak the whole lot to soften up the mud and see how much of it I can wash out.

I had a look at the two Romney fleeces I got from some 4-H kids a couple of years ago. These fleeces are fairly clean and not at all greasy, but they got packed hard into the shipping box. It feels as though the compression and probably some heat (from being stored in a non-climate controlled area) has started to felt them together (or else they were washed before I bought them). The lighter of the two fleeces has some veggie matter in it (crushed leaves from hay), but that ought to fall out when the fleece is picked. The darker of the fleeces looks very clean and no second cuts.

If the weather is nice over the weekend, I may take one of the darker Shetland fleeces outside, unroll it and shake out the second cuts and veggie matter. One of them has some VM in it. The other one is clean. The less than ideal fleece is from a less experienced grower, but it's got a nice color and good length.

Speaking of less than ideal fleeces, I had purchased several Friesian fleeces via E-bay some time ago. I think there were two or three of them. Not at all well skirted and full of VM (mostly on the surface rather than worked into the fleece). I had done a cursory sorting job when I first got the fleeces and have several bags of not-so-nice wool waiting to have something done with them. I have decided that the not-so-nice wool will become mulch in the garden. Apparently wool works very well as a mulch for strawberries and for fruit trees. I will definitely be using some of the dirtier wool for mulch.

Anyway, I ought to have the rest of the first Coopworth fleece teased apart by the end of the weekend and then wash it over the following week. I had initially planned to comb it, but I might card it instead since that will go faster (once I get the drum carder, that is). Of course, I can comb it now whereas the carding would have to wait on the arrival of said drum carder which is, as yet, unpurchased.

As far as the knitting goes, I haven't done any in the past few days. I'm out of town for training for three days this week, including two nights in a hotel--always a good knitting opportunity. I'll be taking a sock and possibly the Kiri with me. I might even finish the sock, if not the Kiri. Speaking of socks, I should find the yarn for the second blue sock. Not that I need wool socks here any more. (On that note, a co-worker said she'd had to put on the air conditioning at home because it was hot. It was 73 degrees out today. I can't imagine what she's going to do in August when it's 95 degrees out and she grew up here!!!)

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Fibery Rants

Washing wool
*Stop* calling wool a "living fiber". The fiber is actually dead when it leaves the follicle on the sheep. That's why you can cut it off without injuring the sheep. In that respect it's just like hair. The only part of the hair fiber that is alive is the follicle.

Yes, wool is sensitive to extremes in pH, but so are most things. Soap, however, is not evil. Soap is not unbalanced in terms of pH. When soap is made, sodium hydroxide (a strong alkali) is mixed with fats to create the soap. The amounts of alkali and fats are balanced so that all the alkali is consumed. In fact, many soaps have excess fats in them to provide for a more emollient feel. These fats can be left on the skin or whatever is being washed, but are usually rinsed away. In any event, using a soap does NOT automatically result in pH imbalance in whatever is being washed. If a soap was a harsh alkali, it would burn your skin. Not just dry it out, but actually produce a chemical burn. I've used Ivory soap for years (it is 99.99% soap) and haven't had a burn yet.

The choice between soap and detergent depends to some extent on your water supply. Hard water and soap do not work well together. That combination produces soap scum, not only on your bathtub but also on your clothes and the fiber you are trying to clean. In that situation, you can either use a softening agent in the wash water or use a detergent. Detergents were developed to work with hard water situations and do a much better cleaning job than soaps in that situation.

Yes, washing wool to remove the lanolin, dirt and other contaminants can result in the fiber feeling dry. It feels dry because the lanolin and other natural oils have been removed. Your hair does the same thing. You have two options: either don't remove all the lanolin/oils or to replace them with some sort of emollient or oil. In any event, the fault does not lie with the cleaning agent, but with the application of that cleaning agent to the fiber.

On protecting the environment:
Occasionally the bashing of acrylic fibers is done under the guise of protecting the environment. Acrylic is bad because it is not "natural" and is made from petroleum products. These folks advocate cotton or wool because they are better for the environment. Have you ever looked at what goes into cotton production and its impact on the environment? Do you realize that cotton is one of the most chemically treated crops on the planet? Cotton production uses 11% of the pesticides and 25% of the insecticides produced in a year despite being only 2.4% of all the crops grown in the world (Source). The plants are sprayed repeatedly to kill weeds and insects. Prior to harvest, defoliants are used to destroy all the leaves so the cotton won't be contaminated by leaf matter. Some defoliants are organophosphates and have neurological effects on birds, mammals, fish and invertebrates. (As an aside, organophosphates are also used in nerve agents.) Non-organophosphate defoliants are still highly toxic in the environment even if they don't have demonstrative reproductive or neurologic effects in humans. Field runoff still kills fish, plants and aquatic invertebrates.

So perhaps cotton isn't as environmentally friendly as you might think.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Wool Allergy Rant

A topic which comes up regularly on the various knitting list is allergic reactions to wool. A person asking the question "What shall I knit my hat with if the person I'm giving it to is allergic to wool?" is inevitably bombarded with messages telling him or her that said person cannot be allergic to wool because either true wool allergies don't exist or that people aren't allergic to wool itself, but only to the chemicals used in processing or dyeing it. In either event, the knitter is advised to use wool anyway in whatever he or she is knitting.

This aggravates me. A LOT. I post here a rant on this very subject.

Does it really matter if the recipient of the gift is truly allergic or "merely" sensitive to a particular fiber? They have expressed a preference. I would think that disregarding that preference because you think you know better than they do what they like or dislike
serves only to guarantee an unsuccessful gift. This person, in expressing their preference (or their restriction) is giving you a clue on how to come up with a successful gift (eg something they will use, wear or otherwise enjoy). It may not make any sense to you that someone might find the finest, softest Merino processed in the gentlest manner to be completely irritating and scratchy. That doesn't mean it isn't real to *them* and it doesn't mean they don't
have the right to avoid such an unpleasant encounter, particularly since they made sure you were aware of the limitation. Personally, I think it's borderline rude to just ignore someone's assertion that wool (or whatever fiber) is a problem for them.

I've seen a contact dermatitis rash on a toddler that was cause by the wool blanket that someone gave his mother "because babies aren't allergic to wool". (Mom was unaware that the blanket was wool since she had told the knitter that wool was a problem.) It may not be a full-blown anaphylactic reaction (where your airway swells up and your eyes swell shut, etc), but it's certainly the overactive immune response that is generally referred to as an "allergic reaction". Regardless of what you want to label it, the blanket and that child are *never* going to be happy together. I know the toddler was miserable. I have no idea how guilty the knitter felt or if they decided that the parents were rude and ungrateful because the child was never going to use the painstakingly knitted blanket he was given.

This brings me to the gift end of the equation: Every year, just before the winter holidays, people begin to ask what to knit various people who are either picky or have stated that they don't like whatever it is hte knitter loves to knit the best. ("My doesn't like or wear hats, but I want to knit him a hat so s/he doesn't get a cold head. What pattern do you recommend?") Shortly after the holidays there will be the ever popular January topic of "The Ungrateful Knitted Gift Recipient" in which the recipient is bashed and the knitter wails about how all their hard work and time and emotional involvement was just shoved into a box and left in a corner. I have often wondered how closely these two things are related.

Why would you knit someone an item you *know* they aren't going to enjoy? Why waste that time, that energy and that yarn? I have seen many people on various knitting lists talk about the horribly ungrateful person who was given an intricate handknit sweater but never wore it. Yet we all laughed about the sweaters Mrs. Weasley knit for Harry and his friends in the Harry Potter books/movies. Somehow that's not nearly as funny when *you* are the knitter, is it? Why set yourself up for failure?

If you *do* knit something that the recipient does not like for whatever reason (and they may never tell you why they don't like it so as to spare your feelings), do NOT get crabby and resentful when the recipient doesn't wear it. If you are going to knit something and have any number of strings attached to it, including whether or not you will consider that person to be worth any sort of civil treatment for the rest of your lives, why bother? Isn't the process of giving and receiving a gift supposed to bring joy? Why not get a head start and give something which the *recipient* might like, not just something that you would like if someone made it for you or something you've been meaning to knit but didn't have an excuse to knit until now? There was one year where I knit hats and sweaters for charity (and donated them in hte names of my family members), then gave NOBODY in my family any gifts other than a small gift card
for each person. They *loved* that idea and everybody was happy. (I do realize this does not work for most families and certainly not with kids, but it's an idea. Feel free to come up with your own creative solution and develop your own tradition.)

I do not deny that there are ungrateful gift recipients out there. There are those who don't like presents unless they have the "right" labels in them (from the "right' designer or store, etc). There are those folks who simply do not like handmade/homemade *anything*. These people may or may not be gracious in their receipt of a gift which is not to their liking. Some people truly do not understand how much time and effort goes into a knitted gift. Some of them really don't care. Let it be. There are plenty of things in the world that each of us doesn't care about that others find to be of the utmost importance. Do NOT just blast people for that or for not liking the gift you gave them. It doesn't matter how long it took you to knit that queen-sized lace bedspread if it's not something that suits your grown son and his wife. Wailing about how long you worked on it and how they refuse to use it is only going to generate hurt feelings on both sides. Think about how women feel when their "clod" of a husband gives them something romantic like snow tires for Valentine's Day. Is it any different to give someone a knitted gift that isn't actually something that suits the recipient?

What I recommend is something I am going to term the "Gift Swatch". Most knitters use swatches to make sure they're achieving the correct gauge so that the resultant item will actually be the desired size. A "gift swatch" is something of a test to find out what sort of knitted item a potential recipient will like. Knitted presents aren't really things that you can just give blindly. You need to have some idea what the recipient will like, if you expect them to ever use it, assuming that USING the knitted gift is your actual goal. You can be sneaky and ask generic questions about hats or sweaters or just ask them to feel a particular ball of yarn. You can tell them that you'd like to knit them something but want to make sure it's something they'll enjoy. Someone else who posted recently suggested giving the recipient a list of possibilities and ask them to pick something out. I have taken my sister to the yarn shop and had her pick out yarn and a pattern for a sweater. It wasn't a complete surprise when she got it, but she still squealed with joy when she opened it because it was *exactly* what she wanted. Someone else several years ago said that in her family one person is chosen each year to receive a handknit sweater. Everybody else gets store-bought gifts that year. I believe the recipient chose the color and had input into the design. There is no rule that a gift must be a complete surprise in order to be successful. I would argue that for some gifts having it be 100% surprise is a great way to have
an unpleasant gift experience on both sides.

Anyway, it's something to think about. I'll get off my soap box now and go back to finishing my socks. :o)

Monday, March 19, 2007

More Knitting!!

Believe it or not, I actually knit on both Saturday *and* Sunday this past weekend. I'm even going to knit tonight!!! I finished up a repeat on the Kiri and fixed that lace boo-boo from last week. Tonight I hope to get one more repeat done and then I think I'll just put on the border. I know I keep saying that, but this time I really mean it. I will have leftover yarn that I'll have to make a scarf or something else with. I don't like having odds and ends of yarn. It seems wasteful somehow to me for stuff to be leftover like that and then I have to go find some other project to use the leftovers in. I'll just have to deal with it.

While I was being productive this weekend, I also washed up the bin full of teased Coopworth and part of a fleece from 2002 or 2003. It's got lots of curl to it, but I have no idea what it is. Some sort of long-wool. The Coopworth is one of three fleeces I have from Hidden Valley Farm, which was featured in SpinOff not too long ago. I have at least one other gray fleece and one or two cream colored ones. My intention with the two gray fleeces (one dark and one light) was to spin and weave myself a Lord of the Rings cloak. I don't know that I'll actually do that, but I might.

I also came to the conclusion that I need to buy a drum carder. I'm not going to ever get around to shipping the fleeces off to be processed, at least not without worrying the entire time about whether or not the fleeces are being handled how I want them handled. Frankly, with the shipping costs both ways, it's not that much more expensive to get the drum carder and then I can amortize the cost over all the future fleeces I'll bring home since I doubt I'll quit buying fleeces. I would also have the option of blending fibers much easier with the drum carder. Right now I'm restricted to hand cards or my English combs. I do have several ounces of soy silk and Ingeo that would be lovely blended in with some fine wool. Conveniently I have just a couple pounds or so of merino roving....

Sweater Picture!
No, I didn't knit on this sweater. I just finally got a picture posted of it. All it needs is the shawl collar knitted onto it and I can call it *done*! I even managed to find the pattern for it this weekend! It's Mexicali Baby Ole from the Summer 2003, Knitters'. I'm using Socknitters' Rainbow from Lorna's Laces. This was the colorway which was going to be sold exclusively to members of the Socknitters group, but somehow ended up going into general production once it became popular. The purple for the collar and center stripe is Socka.

And on that note, I'm going to logoff and knit while watching I, Robot. :o)

Friday, March 16, 2007


I got to knit!! I got to knit!!

I went to the local knitting group that meets at the library once a month. I sat and chatted for about 90 minutes. There were three other women there. One has been knitting for over 40 years and was working on a baby sweater. Another had been knitting for three weeks and was teaching herself how to do yarn overs. The third is an advanced beginning knitter and was working on a hat. I did a couple of rows on my Kiri shawl. I think I might have goofed up the last row, however, so might be pulling that out later this evening. It was quite comforting for the beginning knitter to see that I had to stop and fix some mistakes. She was convinced that "real" knitters don't do things like that. I was able to reassure her that even knitters with 14 years of experience make mistakes and we laughed about it.

Fiber Weekend Plan
I dragged out one of the Coopworth fleeces last night and started teasing the fiber apart. I am much farther along in the process than I thought I was. There are only a few pounds left to tease apart and then I can just wash it all and comb it. The latter two steps won't happen this weekend, but I can at least get the fiber ready for washing and possibly even get a start on the washing process.

Tonight I'll either tease more fleece or I'll tear out that row of the Kiri. I haven't decided which I want to do.

YAY for me!!! I fixed the error in the Kiri *without* ripping it out!!! The error involved an area with increases next to a column of yarnovers and I was able to figure it out and make the side with the error match the other side of the mirror point of the repeat unit. The stitches are a bit uneven, but that will sort itself out with blocking. I am on the last row of the repeat. I have decided, given the amount of yarn I have left to do at least one more set of repeats. I could probably do two or three more, but I don't want the shawl to be too large. Tomorrow I need to put it on waste yarn and pin it out. That will require purchasing some pins. I have been completely unable to locate my sewing pins or my measuring tapes. I don't know which box they ended up in, but they're not with any of the sewing stuff.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Still No Knitting

Life has simply interfered in my evil plan. I have completed exactly NO projects and we're now in to March. I won't get anything done this weekend either. I am so far behind at work (and in getting the routine life chores done) that I won't have any chance to get any knitting done. Perhaps, if I get caught up on work this weekend I'll actually be able to knit next week. I can't actually remember when I last did any knitting. Or anything else for myself, actually.