Sunday, August 30, 2009

Them's Fighting Words

There are few sentences in the English language that enrage me more than this one:
 "You can't do that." 
The instant I hear those words spoken, I have an immediate urge to run off and Do That. Or figure out a way that It Can Be Done.

I would guess that about 80% of the time, You Can Do That, although doing so might turn out to be expensive, awkward, or embarrassing. Or all three.

One of the biggest Can't Do That's around in Fiberland is the myth that you can't spin long fibers, such as silk and alpaca, on a charka. For those unfamilar with this device, it's basically a compact spinning wheel originally designed for spinning cotton. Closed, this size of this elegant machine is a bit smaller than a hard-backed book, hence its name book charka.

Spinners use charkas for other short fibers, such as cashmere and camel, but the First Law of Charkaness states that for longer fibers, You Can't Do That.

Having received this gorgeous cherrywood Bosworth charka as an early birthday gift, I dutifully spun the enclosed sample of mindnumbingly boring white cotton and then fooled around with some cashmere and camel. Okay, got the concept. Now on to the You Can't Do That fibers.

Out comes a lovely silk/merino batt from Corgi Hill Farms. These batts are not carded to homogeneity. Instead, the long, lush silk fibers are layered in between the beautifully dyed merino.

Contrary to expert opinions, not only can silk be spun on a charka, it spins beautifully with nary a blob.The stuff was just meant for long draw. It spins thick, it spins thin, it spins any way you like your yarn.

Here are some samples--medium, thin, and really thin.

 And while we are busting myths, we might as well explode the Second Law of Charkaness: You Can't Spin Thick Yarn on a Charka. Sure you can, and here are some thicker samples to prove it:

Of course, the spindles on the Bosworth are small and delicate, so spinning yarn of this weight would fill them up in a few minutes. However, I have a Babe charka too, which sports a spindle fashioned from a nice, big knitting needle (courtesy of a fortuitous swap with Janice in Georgia).  That spindle can hold almost as much as a clunker drop spindle. So there.

I figured I was on a roll, so I pulled out a one-ounce spindle and spun some gossamer laceweight from the batt. Current opinion is that you can't spin gossamer-weight on a spindle that heavy. I went up to the heaviest weight spindle I own, a 1.2 ouncer. And spun gossamer on that too.

All this, by the way, was accomplished in my round kitchen, which, when we requested this eccentric design from a herd of architects and builders, were told: "You Can't Do That."

Friday, August 21, 2009

We Interrupt This Blogcast for an Important Announcement

Finally and at last, I have set up my Etsy store. It isn't complete, by any means, but there are enough seductive yarns, fibers, and tools to at least look mostly like a Real Shop.

All of the yarns were custom-spun specifically for fine lace knitting--giving crisp-looking stitches, but blooming with a little halo after a wash-and-block. I hope to increase the number of custom yarns to eight or so. For now there is a lot of:

  • Love Potion #3: 36/2 cobweb lace yarn; 35% cashmere, 35% silk, 30% merino
  • Sheherazade 36/2 cobweb lace yarn: 50% camel, 30% cashmere, 20% merino 
  • 30/1 plying silk for spinners
  • Folca boxes

Harry is working hard at adding other items and as soon as he returns from his karaoke bartending class, I'll make sure he uploads some more stuff.

I hope you at least enjoy looking at our shop. Of course, both of us would be especially delighted if you bought something, but I refuse to follow Harry's suggestion that I whine, wheedle and beg. Until later. If needed. Do take a peek and have fun!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Silly Season

Traditionally, silly season is the period starting in late summer, sometimes called the Dog Days of August. History tells us that this is the time when newspapers, lacking in substantive news, publish stories about three-headed watermelons, alien-infested knitting magazines, and sightings of purple fungi growing on Capitol Hill.

I don't have anything that exciting to report, although we did have a bear wander up to the back door in search of a snack. Who knew that bears could give you puppy-dog eyes? Being of sound mind, we did not open the screen door and toss out any bear kibble. Barnabas then proceeded to strip our fig tree of fruit and then wandered up the hill to have dessert at our neighbor's plum tree.

My personal silly season began with boredom. I have been working on two interminable projects--the King Bat shawl and the Iris stole. I am sick to death of both of them, but know that if I put them aside, they will slowly mutate from WIP to UFO. I have invested too much knitting time in these two objects to condemn them to UFOness.

So, in the spirit of Silly Season, I present Douglas, the Extremely Happy Giraffe.

This charming pattern, and may others equally adorable, are available for free from Bobbi Padgett. I have an urge to work the hippo, but haven't decided what color it should be. Pink and purple hippos are so common, gray is so dull, and green seems a little too peculiar.

Douglas here will become the personal pet of Nina, the daughter of a friend living in Japan. Let's wish him bon voyage and hope he enjoys sticky rice!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

A Rare Perfection

Spindles are much like sock yarn--there's always another one you have to try (at least for sock knitters) Other knitters might crave the next Noro colorway, brushed cashmere yarn, or the newest knitting needles fashioned from string beans. And non-knitters might yearn to acquire the complete works of Phillip Parker. As he has written over 200,000 books, that particular passion is even more profoundly time-consuming than spindle acquisition.

Anyway, having caught the spindle bug, I set out to test-drive spindles from a variety of craftspeople. I firmly believe that every quality spindle has a sweet spot in terms of fiber and yarn thickness. Some of my spindles are still in the drawer, awaiting their perfect mate. But of the eight spindles I now own, two spindles stand out as the epitome of perfection.

They are exquisitely made, perfectly balanced, beautiful to look at from all angles, and simply wonderful to use for a variety of different fibers.

And I shall tell you about them another time.

Just kidding.

These two stunning beauties are from Spindlewood. The left whorl is camphorwood (smells spicy!), and the right whorl is bloodwood. They both weigh about 18 grams. Now take a look at the lovely workmanship on the shafts.

The ebony shaft on top goes perfectly with the bloodwood; the flamewood shaft on the bottom makes a lovely foil for the camphorwood.

The camphorwood is now Number One in my Spindle Hall of Fame. Because of the perfect weight ratio between the shaft and the whorl, it feels much lighter than 18 grams and spins gossamer weight with grace.

Customer service is perfection too. During the creation process, Connie emailed me pictures of the whorls, then pictures of the shafts. When I asked for a darker shaft wood for the camphorwood, they graciously made me another spindle. And the spindle comes with a cover for the hook--a clever little touch.

And Then There Is The Golding...

The front of this spindle has a sweet and charming face made from a Russian brooch I found on eBay.

I sent it off to Tom Golding with a request that the spindle be made as light as possible. I also emailed, phoned, and lettered him about my personal dislike of walnut. No walnut. No walnut. Please, no walnut.

I eagerly opened the package to find a 22-gram black walnut whorl and a walnut shaft. Hmm. As soon as the yarn comes off the spindle, I will dye it black with a juicy permanent marker. This little fix was recommended on several woodworking sites. I tried it on another spindle--the ink is permanent and even shows the grain.

It must be me, because the whorl so overbalances the unadorned shaft that the spindle wobbles like a drunken Klingon (and spins about as well). It works perfectly fine for plying, however, so I didn't return it (Tom will give you a refund if you aren't happy). I am sure there will be some fiber in the future that will happily spin on this spindle, but for now, it remains a disappointment.