Archive for February, 2009

I fly out next Wednesday for Australia, heading home for most of March. For a long time, the trip was ages in the future, now suddenly it’s a few days away. I have counted up and I have 5 days to get everything done, and every one of those days has an interruption in it - eek! I’ve also had a look around and realised that I should probably devote Monday to housework and laundry, so, 4 days.

I have pics in the camera to share with you, and knitting to document, and mindless wittering on Rav that’s calling to me… But sadly, it may just have to wait till my inbox is clear (really clear this time, not just clear of ‘urgent’ emails).

I’ll snatch a moment this weekend to say goodbye properly and put up those pics. I’m starting to consider upping the caffiene intake so I can get more awake hours out of the day.

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I was hoping to review a new book today for you, but RM didn’t deliver on time I’m afraid, so it’ll be next week’s post. Instead, I thought I’d share my workspace at home.

I snapped this picture a week or so ago after a particularly messy day, the kind of day where you rush from one thing to the next, digging through boxes and dragging out stuff you forgot you had to spin a couple of yards. I can hear you giggling - but yes, I do tidy up each night before Neil gets home.

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The window is the focus of the room, it faces southish and there’s loads of light. The stool behind the spinning wheel is where I do almost all of my photos, and you can just see the sheets of white card standing there that I use to reflect the light back for a shot. In the corner behind my spinning chair is a standard lamp for the evenings - not as good as natural light, but still adequate. If I’m knitting, I’ll sit at the window end of the sofa to make the most of the light as well.

It doesn’t make for the tidiest room, but I really like everything to be where I can get at it. The bookshelf behind my spinning chair holds equipment: lazy kate, charkha, spare bobbins, maintenance tools, prep tools etc. There’s boxes of buttons and sewing kits and knitting needles. On top of the bookcase are baskets with ‘current’ (ish) spindle projects in them. The bookcase used to also hold all my craft books, but it was overflowing and they were very hard to get to, so I have a new bookcase now which you can’t see, it holds all the books and baskets full of handpainted fibre. On top of the bookcase are neatly stacked 10 11litre plastic boxes full of yarn, and jars full of spindles stand next to the books.

The black suitcase under my desk holds the undyed fibres, bulk lots of BFL, alpaca fleeces from the farm, other class supplies. It’s amazing what you can squash into a huge suitcase! Also under the desk are a couple of project bags with wips in them. The little boxes on either side of the TV hold the overflow, one’s full of cotton, one has dyed mohair, another has silk supplies for the luxury fibres class. Spin-Off magazines live on the shelves under the TV, also easily accessible and they like to lie flat.

The latest addition to the room is the basket by my wheel. I bought it at a country fair last year and I absolutely love it! It’s the dumping ground for anything in the categories ‘working on at the moment’ or ‘hoping to get to this very soon’. At the moment (I cleaned it out a bit) it holds the yarn and pattern for the current Sock(topus) Club socks; a couple of balls of handspun which I am thinking of knitting something with, but probably should put away; the second half of the gold silk that I’m spinning for the next Spin! series - it’s been languishing there for ages while I get distracted by other stuff; the next fibre for the SoFA fibre club, and also, an odd sock and its yarn - never going to be finished I’m fairly sure!

Last but not least, my loom lives under the coffee table. You can’t really see it, but it’s behind the box, which stores all the bits and pieces that I need for weaving. I’m standing at Neil’s desk to take this photo - it’s his only corner of the room, poor guy. But he doesn’t really seem to mind. Luckily, we have a separate eat-in kitchen (not common in a 1 bed flat) because there’s really not much more to the living space than you can see here!

So what’s your space like? Do you take over everything like me? Or pack yourself neatly into a little corner :-D I’m pretty sure Neil secretly longs for the days when I had a whole other room upstairs away from him…

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I can’t get over this yarn. Squishy to begin with, it is even more so after plying and a nice bath. It stretches at least 15-20% of its length again, and springs back again, Sproing!

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Sadly, It’s supposed to be a big, thick cosy hat and I really don’t think it’s going to be cold enough again to need it. (This would not be the first time I started a winter project in February and then shelved it cause it didn’t get finished in time. Or the second for that matter).

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Fibre: Oceanwind Knits Merino, colour ‘Galvanized’ from Socktopus.
Spin style: Short forward draw with twist in the drafting zone, not smoothed down (pretty much my default no-think spinning method), 3-ply.
Yardage: Sorry, haven’t measured it yet - I will though.

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Yarn is not the only thing I’ve finished this week:

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The last pair of Sock(topus) Club Socks were jinxed for me - I ripped back half a sock at one point because of a HUGE mistake that I failed to notice for about four hours of knitting. Then, I made them too short and had to rip out the toes and reknit them. Finally they’re done though - before the deadline, woot!

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Pattern: Tear my Sole (with some adaptations) by Louisa Sisson
Yarn: Hazelknits Artisan Sock in ‘Sugar Maple’ (love love love this yarn!)

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This is what I’m spinning right now (literally! New laptop means I can blog from anywhere as long as I’m sitting down. Well, ok, I’m not actually spinning right now but you get the picture):

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It’s lovely fine Merino from Oceanwind Knits, the same fibre I used for my Flower basket shawl. This one I’m spinning up with a short forward woollen draw though, and I’m nearly finished after just a few hours. I should have time to ply it after dinner and then can knit up my thick cosy super-warm hat in time for the (alleged) drop in temperature due Thursday.

This picture doesn’t quite do the colours justice - Lori puts in a wonderful subtle mix of all sorts of tones and I love the way they all play off each other. Check out the original fibre pic for a more accurate idea of the gorgeousness.

Well, back to the spinning! New-miniature-laptop lives on the stool next to me now so I can Tweet while I spin! (I’m dianemulholland on there btw.)

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Part 2: Angora

Angora Rabbits, like the goats of the same name, originated in Turkey near Ankara, the city for which they are named. They are large and docile and extremely popular as pets, as well as being the source of a luxurious silky fibre. It is said that they were a favourite of French royalty in the 18th century, and frankly, who wouldn’t want one of these funny-faced fluff-balls around?

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Harvesting
Depending on the breed, Angora hair can be either shorn or plucked, usually four times per year. During this time the coat of some breeds can grow up to 4 inches in length. Naturally shedding fur is gently combed or plucked from the coat, leaving behind any longer guard hairs which may be present. Some breeds, including the German angora, need to be shorn, and this also occurs four times per year. Angora fur is very clean and doesn’t usually need any other preparation before spinning, in fact, it is very common at fibre festivals to see a spinner with a bunny on her lap – spinning straight from handfuls of the coat (pluckable only I hope!).

Fibre Characteristics
Angora is soft, smooth and silky, and depending on the breed, can vary in length from around 1 – 4 inches. It is very light and fine, usually around 13-15 microns, and is quite inelastic. Much of the finest Angora is very short and slippery and it is often blended with other fibres to make it easier to spin. Angora is also incredibly warm, eight times warmer than wool, meaning that even a small amount will add a lovely warmth and halo to a blended yarn. Use a larger size needle than usual for knitted garments to allow space for the halo to develop.

Varieties
There are many breeds of Angora rabbits. The American Rabbit Breeders’ Association recognises four main ones: English, French, Giant and Satin, which also have many varieties within the breed, each with differing characteristics. The English and French breeds are very common. Also very popular, but with its own association is the German Angora, like Billy pictured above. German Angora is generally not quite as fine as the French or English, and is shorn rather than plucked. There is also an Asian breed, which accounts for a growing commercial industry in Nepal and surrounding regions.

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The three samples above are (clockwise) clipped German Angora, sent to me by Billy’s owner, Heidi Kim; plucked grey Angora, I picked this up in Australia and don’t know the origin, but it is quite different to the other two; plucked English angora, from a local fibre retailer.

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When looking at the individual locks, it is easy to see the remarkable differences between each one (top: German; left: English; right: grey).

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Heidi also sent me this gorgeous skein of handspun Angora yarn, pop over to her blog for more pics of her bunnies and say hello from me!

Do you have questions? What are your experiences with Angora – like it? Love it? Leave a comment or come by the Lingr chatroom on Sunday evenings.

Sources/further reading
Albright, Barbara. “The Natural Knitter? Potter Craft 2007
Field, Anne. “The Ashford Book of Spinning? Shoal Bay Press, revised 1999
Wikipedia.org “Angora Rabbit?
http://www.arba.net/ American Rabbit Breeders’ Association
http://www.himalayan-healthcare.org/
http://hifeed.org/angora_2.html

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First Among Sequels (Thursday Next, Book 5) First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde

My review

rating: 2 of 5 stars
After devouring the first four, and impatiently ranting at Amazon for not delivering them quickly enough, I found book 5 of the series to be a miserable disappointment. Yes, I know it’s hard to be hilariously funny all the time, but what about patching up some of the gaping plot holes, big enough for the Hesperus to fall into.

At frequent intervals during the book I found myself wondering ‘Was this written by a different person?’ and then, ‘If so, have they even read the other four books???’. A cute twist towards the end did a little to redeem it for me, but I had to make myself finish chapters, and as far as I’m concerned the series ended with book four.

Two stars.

View all my reviews.

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Thankfully, the situation for my folks is still good, and there has even been some rain. Good weather conditions (i.e. much cooler) have been prevailing this week, and many more of the fires are under control. If you looked at the fire map last time, and want to go have another look now, you’ll see that there is significant improvement.

The losses have come a little closer to home though - Neil heard this week that the wife of an online buddy of his lost both her parents in the fires, and he is still waiting for news of a colleauge who lived in Kinglake. I very much doubt that there will be many people in Victoria left untouched by this awful event.

Please consider making a donation to the Australian Red Cross Bushfire Appeal for the relief of victims of the Victorian fires. Even a small amount like £5 will make a difference, it all adds up. And if you forward your donation receipt to Jacqueline, you’ll be entered into a draw to win some fabulous prizes she is offering. Jacquline has already reached her original target and extended it, a tribute to the caring hearts of knitters all over the world.

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Last Tuesday I popped into Stash and took about 5 mins to fall deeply in love with the newly-in Malabrigo Silky Merino. It is luuurvely! Yarn bought to knit presents with doesn’t count, and luckily I managed to think up a very deserving friend so two skeins came home with me and I made this:

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Pattern: Gretel, by Ysolda
Yarn: Malabrigo Silky Merino, 1.5 skeins (slouchy style), colour ‘Cloudy sky’
Made for: Stephanie (and I pinched her photo btw, I forgot to take any!)

Stephanie has cancer and although I only met her a couple of months ago, it feels like we’ve known each other forever. Stephanie’s take on the whole thing is so fresh, and funny and and endearing and I love that her blog posts are more likely to make me spurt coffee all over the computer than shed tears. Go read her blog and you’ll see what I mean, and have some kitchen towel handy for mopping up coffee. Oh, and don’t believe everything she says about me. I think it’s the meds talking :-P

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Second FO: I managed to cast off and block the shawl - always tricky over a weekend as Neil sleeps in too late. I must get me some of those jigsaw mat thingies for blocking on. I’m rather pleased with this :-D It’s a perfect size and I can see myself wearing it a lot.

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Pattern: Flower Basket Shawl by Evelyn Clark
Yarn: Handspun Merino 2-ply, from Oceanwind Knits, via Socktopus, colour ‘Elderberry’
Made for: Mememe!

Next up? Hmmmm. Maybe finish one of the lurking wips? Doesn’t sound that much fun. I might get cracking on the Deep-V Argyle I think.

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Thank you so much to everyone who has left messages for me expressing their concern about the folks at home. It’s pretty crazy and confusing the way it’s being reported here in the northern hemisphere, but luckily Australia’s a pretty big place so it is possible for a lot of it to be burning down while still leaving other bits relatively safe (I say relatively because, with wild fire in these climate conditions you really can never know what will happen. I’m not relaxed yet).

This link will take you to the fire map for Victoria. You can see that the fires around the east and north east of Melbourne are pretty bad, this is where most of the casualties have been I believe. When I first checked the map I was concerned for my Dad, who lives not far from Warragul. I called him and yes, the fire had got to within 1km of the town, but no closer. He had to watch for burning embers falling most of Saturday, but they’re reasonably calm now.

My Mum is up a little to the north of Bairnsdale, and you can imagine my relief when I saw how clear the map is around that area. The danger is not past yet of course, and they know many people who have been affected by the fires to the north of them and near Orbost.

Luckily, temperatures have been much lower the last day or so and are forecast to remain so for a little while. Hopefully this will give people a good chance to prepare for another bout of bad weather if there is one, and for the fire-fighters to get the worst of it under control.

If you wish to leave a message for anyone in my family, then please feel free to do it here - Mum and Dad both read the blog and the comments and I know they will be very glad to know you are thinking of them. And please, if it’s your way, keep all affected Australians in your thoughts and prayers this week.

x

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I can’t claim the credit for this idea, I learnt it from my lazy kate, but it’s become my favourite method so I thought I’d share.

When I teach my brand-new spinners how to ply their very first yarn, we use a ball-winder to create a centre-pull ball. This is fine for that first yarn which is not long and usually pretty thick and lumpy. But finer yarn, fuzzy fibres and high twist can all cause disasters in a centre-pull ball so we soon move on to this more reliable method.

Once your spindle cop is all wound on you have to decide what to do with. Perhaps you’re happy to andean-ply it on itself, or wind it off onto a holder of some sort while you spin a second singles. Winding off is crazy boring though, and there is a much better way.

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Find a straw - not any old drinking straw, it needs to be a bit fatter and a bit stronger. Fast food ones work well, and the ones you get with bubble tea are fab. The straw needs to be thinner than your spindle shaft but not too much thinner. The straws shown came with my Katie-a-go-go as part of the kit.

Set the end of your spindle shaft in the top of the straw and start sliding the cop down. This will be scary. The important thing to remember is, do not squeeze. If you squeeze the cop, you will squash it onto the top edge of the straw and the strands of yarn will get caught up. As long as the straw is thinner and you don’t squeeze it will slide right on. Do practice with some un-loved yarn first.

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Once your cop is on the straw, give it a good squeeze so that now the middle collapses slightly and it won’t slide off again. Your spindle is now free for the second cop, or third, or however many plies you want to do (I’m actually doing six cops, then will be 2-plying them all in a row. Must drink more bubble tea).

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When you’re ready to ply, simply slip the straws with the cops on them over the rods of your lazy kate. A yarn guide next to them is helpful, you definitely don’t want the yarn spiralling upwards off the straws as it could tangle or pull them off the rods.

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You don’t need a fancy lazy kate for this method, my doctored shoebox works equally well, although is a little less convenient to carry around. NB: I just noticed that the straws don’t show much in this picture, but the cops are still on the straws and they slide onto the kebab sticks.

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If your spindle has a bit of fancy carving at the end, be aware that this will catch the strands of yarn. It is simple to overcome though, just wind a little piece of tape around the carving and slide the yarn over that, then take the tape off again straight away or it might leave residue on your spindle. It’s very unlikely that the carved area will actually be thicker than the shaft, but in this case the method won’t work on that particular spindle. I love the Bosworth spindles - they have a perfect tapered end. I had my class spindles made that way too for this very reason.

And yes, of course, if you are of the thinking-ahead persuasion, you can dress your spindle shaft with a layer of paper before you start spinning and then simply and safely slide that off at the end. But really, who is ever that organised!

Have fun spinning today, I’ll catch you on Lingr tonight between 8 and 10.

x

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