Thursday, December 26, 2013

It's time!

So Christmas has come and gone around here, it was a very wet day, heavy rain from Christmas Eve till Boxing Day, and we have a small house, so for two cubs, two parents, a grandparent, three generations, to be stuck inside for such a long time - it all went smoothly. Perhaps because the local geek tv station (prime) screened over six hours of back to back Dr Who Christmas specials. The few (two) who were not Dr Who fans were smart enought to stand back and let the rest of us indulge.

And as planned I had a new /old spinning wheel for Christmas, and being a sometimes organized kind of spinner I had prepared some fiber earlier all ready to spin. Photo to the right borrowed from one postd by Vintage Purls here because I am not clever enough to remember to make a photo before I divided up the fiber by shade and tone and made rolags.

I split the roving into two lengthwise, and then divided the lengths into bundles of simillar colour. Then I carded small batches into Rolags and laid them out in a gradient, two gradients - one for each ply.


Then I Spun it, woolen, and fine. The fiber is Vintage Purls, merino silk (80/20) in the colour way Drama Queen. One of the 2013 fiber club batches. Of course it was more fun than that, there was a sense of excitement with learning how to use the new old wheel. And there was an idiot/genius moment, when I discovered that the second bobbin was fitted so right the wheel was hard to spin on ... And I worked through all sorts of repair scenarios in my mind. I cleaned inside the bobbin shafts until they gleamed, they are brass so do gleam, I polished and measured and then asked my dad if he would make a steel reamer just the right size to clear any debris from the inside of the bobbin. Then I realized that if I moved the whorl out just a tad, it is a push fit, the the bobbin would have room to move. I feel so clever, to solve that problem, and yet so idiotic not to realize that earlier.

So half has been spun, 50 grams, and half to go.

And there has been knitting, Bears socks are done, and another negative pair on the way. The welsh country socks had grey toes and cuffs, and orange leaving enough of the two skeins of yarn to complete a second pair with reverse coloring. And since the first pair was already done in time for Christmas - there seemed to be opportunity to play with the second pair. Over on Ravelry there is a little bit of a buzz around a new sock heel pattern, the Fish lips kiss heel. I've seen the buzz, and watched the discussion and wondered if the heel was as amazing as the converts claimed.



So I've knit a heel, two in fact, and I'm most of the way to the end of the second sock. Once bear has tried them on and reported how they fit. I plan to review the heel, the fit, and the claims and report my experience. What I can say now is that usually I knit bear a sock on 2.25mm needles that has 68 or 72 stitches, using this method results in a sock of 60 stitches ... And all indicators point to it fitting. I'm intrigued, totally curious.

Hope your holiday was peaceful and full of good things

Na Stella


Monday, December 16, 2013


So ... A month or so ago A left town, a local knitter, who we tempted to the dark side (spinning). Her overseas spell is to be two years she divested. Bread books came my way, yarn, and fiber ... and strictly temporary one of her wheels. I may have hinted that I would be happy to look after it, who wouldn't? Any way the wheel came to live with me, and like many things started a serries of thoughts that spiraled away. I had arranged with A to maintain the wheel, even do a little spinning wheel maintenance, so I did. I worked out that one of the pins was in the wrong hole, and moved it, I changed the drive band cause I like the responsiveness and gentle take up of a finer band. The more I worked on her wheel - the more I grew to appreciate the wheel design. Long story short, I saved a search on Trademe, had them email daily what new listings were put up under the heading spinning wheel ....and there she was, a lovely little lonely Wendy. Trademe is an online auction site, like ebay, and so there was nothing to do but log on near the end time of the auction and bid. A little bit of a frantic flutter and the wheel as mine ... and in Wellington, so my neice collected her on my behalf, and last weekend Bear and elder cub flew to Wellington for a weekend of boys things and to bring back my new old wheel.

Wendy 1969 tired and dusty

This is the wendy as she arrived, faded, tired and dusty - pretty much like all travelers. I had asked the seller if the wheel had one or more bobbins, and they said just one - but look - they didn't recognize the two on the stand as bobbins. Score, three original matching bobbins, and none with splits, chips or breaks.

Tucked away at the side, an orifice hook.

The next surprise was the original orifice hook was still there, tucked away neatly under one of the stored bobbins. Of all the things that get lost as wheels are used, this is often one of them, so the orifice hook being there indicates maybe the wheel had a careful life. The close up shows how dusty Wendy was, the seller had left her as found, with the old yarn leaders, and such - which is way better than over zealous cleaning without knowledge leading to damage and breakages, and wreaking stuff that could be saved.


But, there were some bits that didn't look so promising, much of the metal was dull and brown. Metal can be cleaned, but doing so often involves much work, and the result can be less than 'new looking condition'. Oh well, everything was there, so I knew it would work well, she might just end up looking her age.

So the very next day, my second day of holiday leave, I didn't clean house or do household chores, no surprise there, I set out to refurbish a wheel. I set out a plastic mat, and laid an old worn sheet over the top to catch any drips. My cleaning kit consisted of a box of nitrex black plumers gloves, like surgical gloves but more protection from chemicals, worn green scrubbies (a modern equlivilent of steel wool), a variety of poky things, a soft clean cotton cloth and vintage wheel cleaner/polish. The polish is an old fashioned diy one, equal quantities of turpentine, white vinegar and linseed oil. If you google the mix you will find it is controversial and many report that used over thick varnish or polyurethane creates a sticky tacky build up. Just as many swear it is just the thing to clean and rejuvenate old, dry, wood. I've used it before on vintage wheels and been very happy, although I'd never use it on a modern highly finished wheel.


So the bits that I could remove I did remove, and I gently scrubbed each one with the cleaner polish and the green scrubby. Surprisingly the cleaner polish restored a gleaming shine to the brass, and a duller gleam to any steel, well as the wood.



I workd the cleaner polish with the scrubby over the flier supports, and look - the brown grime went away! I'd love to say it melted away, but no, I had to rub it away, and rub hard, and the ere tricksy fiddly corners and spots that were hard to get at. I cut one old scrubby into strips and pulled it up and over, back and forth, side to side to polish the brown away. I did remove each screw turn, which meant I could slide the metal ring stop away from the steel hoop and that gave me easier cleaning access. Then I replaced the screw and moved to the next one. I knew better than to remove all four at once.


The flier hooks cleaned up a little when I cleaned the flier, much of the brown was gone, or maybe it was just damp and oily so not so visible. Here I couldn't really tug and rub with the scrubby, I was afraid I would snag and bend or break a hook or damage it's seating. So I made use of the dremel, and used one of the soft wire brushes as gently as I could.


That workd and aft a minute or two on apache hook the metal gleamed and was blackened steel just like on my Pipy. What I love about the hooks Mr Poore used was how hard the steel is, I've seen so many Ashfords, Peggy's and others where the act of spinning has cut and worn a groove in the flier hooks, but I've never seen that on the Poore wheels.


Then I turned my attention next to the orifice, and to those favorite stand by tools of many a craftworker, disposable chop sticks and pipe cleaners. I knew having a slight addiction to sushi and stockpiling unused chopsticks were useful vices.


I wound the pipe cleaner around the chopstick, soaked it in the cleaner, and rubbed and pushed and pulled and twirled until the inside was shiny and clean.


Which left the axels, I know from past experience that one thing that slows down old wheels is fiber. Fiber caught around the orrifice, around the flier ends, in the bearings and aroud the wheel axel. In fact - fiber finds its way into all sorts of spaces of a wheel when you use it, the oild helps it stick, and as you use the wheel the fiber tightens and winds around the turning bits. I used a long needle, the kind that is sold for sewing on toy eyes to poke around all the spaces fiber likes to hide, and as I couldn't see shiny metal I suspected there was fiber wrapped around the joint. There was, I managed to free up one end, so I kept working until the feel of metal needle on metal axel told me that there was no more fiber there.


It's not a lot, but enough to make a wheel drag, this is the yarn and fiber I recovered from the axel. The other tool I tried was a dental pick, the kind dentists use, but it didn't reach far enough, and flossing with a pipe cleaner but seemed too soft, brushing the fiber into a soggy mat rather than working it loose. The 6" needle was best,the cork is the point protector ... without that protecting the point I'd do more damage reaching in the drawer to find it.


And finally I worked on the pretty bits, the brass at the base of the footman, with strips of green scrubby, an old tooth brush (I always soak them hot water and toss them I to the cleaning cupboard), and more pipe cleaners. This may have been the bit that was the most fiddly, probably as I could see the unpolished brass bits.

All that took around three or four hours, and the only repair we need to do is to a loose leg, an easy repair, just a little glue required. Nothing broken - just the fit is loose. I think for a wheel made in 1969 I can accept one leg working a little loose after 40+ years. I've now fitted a new drive band, although I think I might fit a slightly looser one, and I've spun a bit. In doing so I discovered one bobbin sticks a little, the other two run fine. So there is a little more to do, I had cleaned the inside of the bobbins as best I could with pipe cleaners, but suspect they really need something a teeny bit more abrasive to clear away 40+ years of dried oil. By the end my green scrubby was worn to seeds and not up to being cut into strips and flossed through the bobbins, so I've left that for another day. I've waxed the leather at the top of the footman, which may have been a mistake, it's much softer and bends when I treadle which isn't ideal, but I can easily replace it with new stiff leather. Then again, the Pipy has a cord footman and as long as I am in sync with the wheel, that is no problem, soft leather can't be much different to a cord footman.

Here she is, my very own Wendy, spinning, and working rather nicely. So now I have proof she is a working wheel ... Time to park her under the tree and wait till Christmas. After all she is technically a Christmas present ...

Take care

Na stella


The fiber prep continues, I've washed another batch of locks, dried them, and maybe more importantly processed the first batch of locks so they are ready to spin. Important for me, because as we all know I am easily distracted, likely to start something and the finally finish it in a year or two.

Washed lock

Washed lock, ready to process, sitting on a piece of veggy tanned leather, most people have a sturdy peice of vinyl, leather or plastic, even a clean dry dedicated chopping board would work. I like th leather, it's natural, thick (about 4mm) and ever so slightly squishy. The purpose of the leather is two fold, one to protect the work surface from the sharp scratchy wire tines of the flick carder, and two, to muffle the noise of flick carding.

Washed locks with tips cut off

The next stage for me, and this is entirely optional, was trimming away the sun bleached tips, I had two reasons for doing this first they were tinged with golden brown, and likely to dilute the soft mid grey of the fiber when I spun. And second, as bleached tips, these had had more environmental damage and were older than the rest of the lock, so more likely to break and pill - removing the bleached tips is kind of like extra optional insurance against pilling.

Lock with flick carder

Here is the flick carder, this one is an Ashford, but there are other brands out there. Some people use a metal dog comb ... but I'm not doing that here. Flick carder shown for scale.

A few bounces of the carder

The action flick carding is usually described as 'bouncing' not brushing or combing the fiber. It took me a long time to work out what was meant by bouncing or tapping the brush on the lock. A long time, cause I'm slow sometimes. And I might not be right about this, it's just what I've found works and what seems to fit with what I've been told and read.

Direction of flicking

This rather simple diagram shows the path of the flick carder, when I started processing this batch of fiber I looked on youtube, and found several tutorials showing people brushing the fiber. Brushing, they held the lock tightly at the cut end and pulled the flick carder through the tips. Then I consulted my small collection of spinning books and they most definitely stated to bounce the flick carder on the locks not brush the locks. So I played and developed a method that to me is bouncing or flicking. I hold the locks firmly by the cut end, and hold the flick carder lightly and bounce it near the tip of the locks. The bounce is diagonal, the downward stroke diagonally towards the tips, the upward stroke pulling ever so slightly away from the landing point. The slight pull or tug as the flick carder lifts away is enough to gently open up the locks a little. This shows the lock after four or five bounces.

After ten flicks

Here is the lock after another five bounces, ten in total, .. Note how fluffy it is, much more open.


15 flicks - all opened up

And after another five bounces, a total of fifteen bounces and the lock is really open and fluffy. This bouncing is very easy on the hands and wrists, as the flick carder is held lightly and there is no need to grip and tug and pull as one would do if brushing the locks.

Lock flipped, so cut end presented

Then the lock is flipped over, so the cut end is free, the bushy tips are bunched up and held securely under the fingertips.


Cut end flicked five times

The cut end is bounced, first five times, and this second flicking of the lock seems to go faster. I guess as the lock is already opened up, it is ' more ready'?

Cut end flicked ten times

After ten bounces ...

Cut end flicked fifteen times

And after a total of fifteen bounces at the cut end. Totally fluffy and ready to put aside and process the next lock. What I haven't shown is that flick carding knocks loose a huge amount of vm, and dirt, and small brocken fibers, it cleans the locks wonderfully.

I then stacked the locks in a box, keeping the tip end up, but that was overly cautious as I went on to drum card the first batch. Drum carding mixes the fibers up, and allows even more dust, dry dirt and vm to fall out. The flick carded locks were perfectly prepared for drum carding, all open and light and ready to feed in. As I worked I realised thee locks ar short, maybe two and a bit inches, so better suitd to a woolen prep - hence the decision to drum card.

And that concludes my mini photo tutorial on flick carding, ymmv, this works for me, and fits with what I know.

Take care, na Stella.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013


Ending, as that feeling that occurs when the year draws to a close and the overriding urge is to finish, to tidy, to end ...what ever it is one is doing so one can start anew with the new year.
Yet again another filler post, nothing much to show at all. I'm plodding along on the socks, the cardigan seems forgotten in the depths of the work basket, I have a needle with a join that snags and that isn't fun when magic looping. Every few days a new loaf of bread is made and consumed. The minor change this week, major maybe, is that the building I work in is being upgraded, so I'm working from home. E-mail and internet and portable devices, makes it possible, I check in a few times a day and other than that I've spent my days polishing my Adobe Illustrator skills. This year work arranged a school membership to, and so I have indulged in all things techno geeky and fashiony and am working through lots of the fashion flats tutorials. The students have access as well, and this is something I teach so the subscription will change my teaching a little, or maybe a lot. It's been good to have several entire days to play and learn and practice without interruptions. Really good.
A few months ago J who lives on a farm asked if I was interested in naturally coloured wool. Being a commercial farm white wool and meat is the goal, and so any dark fleeces are removed from the bundles at shearing time. I think the whiter and finer and longer (within reason) and cleaner the fleece, the more value it has ... So this bundle of fiber became mine, a slightly scary idea, in that until now I have happily left the fiber prep to others. But a gift fleece from a quality sheep is nothing to turn away. I have read that cats often looooouuuve fiber, raw fiber and are almost annoying around it, stealing it, guarding it, rolling in it, so I was surprised Yo-yo was standoffish to the point of having her back to me.
Last weekend, it was fine and sunny and I felt up to the task of tackling the fleece. I laid out a clean old sheet and dumped one third of the fleece in the living room. Truth is I assume it is a single fleece, but it don't really know. The colour ranges from dark grey to white grey with golden brown tips where the ends of locks have been bleached by the sun. The sheer volume of fiber was almost to much ...I'm the kind of spinner who thinks that a 200-300 gram batch is large. This is kilos!

I sorted out some locks, the fiber is fine, with a nice crimp, and clean ( aka not smelly) so I am pretty sure it was skirted before I got it. Skirted is the technical term for the act of removing all the gritty bits, the messy bits and let's be honest the bits with poop and pee on them. I'm so glad about that, I did kind of avoid dealing with the fleece for a long time because I wasn't ready to deal with poopy bits even though avoidance was risking making a problem worse.

Then I laid out three rows of locks on tulle fabric, and folded the tulle mesh over to hold the locks in place. I repeated this eight times and the set about washing the fiber. The mesh envelopes/packets of fiber were sized to fit into a plastic mesh basket that fits inside my sink. I stacked several packets in the basket, and submerged them in very hot tap water with a dollop of Eco friendly dish detergent. I let them sit and wallow in the hot water for ten minutes, then drained it, and repeated with more hot water and dish wash. Once the water wasn't yucky brown I rinsed the stack of wet fiber by soaking it for ten minutes in hot tap water several times, until the water was clear not cloudy. The mesh and basket method I gleaned from the internet, and stops the locks from tangling and felting. The universal internet hive mind is also where I gleaned ideas about using dish wash, and hot, hotter, hottest water to melt the lanolin and general dirt.
This is the aftermath, I ended up with eight flat packets of clean dry fiber locks. And at this stage it all looks weird and very flat, oddly flat as if the fiber has lost its bounce and crimp - which due to the weight of the water it holds. So I left the opened packets of fiber in the sun/dappled shade for a few hours out on the warm concrete path to dry. I did move the fiber around a few times, to a new non-damp patch of concrete, to speed the drying, and then I popped it on a rack inside overnight over the dehumidifier. Just to make sure it was totally dry.
The next stage is to flick the locks ... And wash more. And I'll post photos. So far I've done a few locks and learned that I can be very selective when sorting locks for washing, it's easier to avoid the shorter ones, as they are harder to flick card. I think I will also snip away the bleached tips ... although Bear thinks they add a little drama. I weighted my dry fiber and it was 110g ... which surprised me, as 100 g is enough for many things. So only another eleventy thousand more batches to do.
There is a kind of project in mind for this, other than increasing my fiber knowledge and skill set. I will fill in the details next post.
Many thanks, na Stella

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Sometimes it works ... And sometimes not

Today's post has a potential frog, I've not fully decied to frog ... but I'm almost certainly leaning that way. Maybe I have decided and I just don't realize it yet?. To provide balance there is a project that will not be frogged, and in fact may lead to a second pair of socks from the left overs. And there is bread, because I'm making bread every few days and learning lots, and loving that my bread looks like the kind that is photographed as an example of what bread should be. And being as it is December, work draws to and end, marked as always our graduate student show (spot the knitting, and the beading ....). Another link here to the finale images, but sorry to highly commercial site that wants to sell you images, we subsidize the show by selling rights - the downside is that it becomes commercial). Plus I'm spinning, adding to my lifetime heard of wheels (just a little), and enjoying spring.
So is is the potential frog, a circular washcloth, pattern by Sara Lamb, published in November/December 2013 Piecework. I love the pattern, and the construction, I even love the yarn, a linen I was gifted some years ago. What I don't like is the way it is knitting up on 2.25 mm needles, I want a firmer gauge and I don't want to go down a needle size ... So that means frogging and finding a slightly thicker cotton yarn. Best to do that now ... With only a littl section worked.
It is an entirely different story with these socks, I love these. The local knitter who I copied the idea from asked if I was going to work the Dutch Heel. That sounded like a challenge, a knitting challenge, but I was working toe up not top down and unfamiliar with the finer construction and maths of the dutch heel. Enter the amazing hive mind of ravelry and I had enough help to complete the heel. Not only that but I love the fact that this heel has a rather long heel flap, and that the lower edge of the flap curves under the ball of the foot providing the double stitch layer for where sock wear happens most.
Getting past th heel means that the leg was quickly knit and now I'm working the contrasting cuff. Bear chose the yarn and I think had a more textured sock in mind, but I'm knitting the sock and I love the drama of the colour block toe and cuff. He seems to accept that and has admired the sock several times.

In th background there is some spinning, blue toned spinning, my favorite kind. The little wheel is a Phillip Poore Wendy, designed to be portable. The urban legend goes that this is a wheel one can spin on whilst a passenger in the front of a vintage VW bug. I dont have the opportunity to test that., so I can't possibly comment. I can't read while a passenger so I doubt spinning would work with me and my chemistry anyhow. The wheel is on a two year loan from a local spinner/knitter/raveler who is headed stateside for two years. I love it, it's a sweet wee wheel, I've already done some minor maintenance, changed the drive band to something finer, adjusted the angle of the conrod relative to the wheel weights, and played with the tension. This weel has a rather unique (different, odd, weird, wonderful?) tension system, it is a double drive but the bands are tightened by turning a wooden globe that in turn raises or lowers a copper hoop that both supports and encircles the flier and whorls. The threads that the wooden globe turns on are fine, allowing minute adjustment, but I'm forgetful so never remember if I'm turning clockwise or anti ... I'm still firmly in the learning loop here. I have to confess that two weeks ago I bid on one for myself on TradeMe, and after some frantic last minute bidding and the auction auto extending won a fine example for myself. It's in Wellington, so Bear and eldest cub are heading out to collect it on the 13th. My Christmas present.
The bread is improving every session, I'm getting better at shaping the loaves, and realize that despite the book saying it will only need a final rise of an hour or so ... I get a better crumb if I leave it for longer. I'm still playing with the technique from artisan bread in five minutes a day ....
And finally it spring, or has been so for a wee while, but now it's properly spring and things are blooming. I couldn't resist these at the market this weekend ...,pink peony's which have opened up amazingly since we plopped them in a vase in the living room.
Take care, more next week, na Stella

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Copy cat

I'm just a copycat, a week or so ago I was at spin night when N was knitting a sock, a good looking sock a strikingly good looking sock. Then this last week I was at spin night again, and there was N knitting that sock again, or so I thought. I asked about the sock, but turns out that it was a second pair of the same design. This sock that N was knitting had been so admired she had cast on a second pair to share the love. The sock in question is Welsh County Sock by B. Walker.
Fast forward a few days, and Bear has chosen a sock yarn in Vintage Purls latest sock update, Tumeric, an orange that was slightly, ever so slightly dulled by brown. A quick fossik through sock yarn stash and the perfect complement was found, Lang Jawoll in brown grey. So inspired by N, I am being a total copy cat in that I've cast on for a new project, following the pattern, except for working it toe up. This sock is a little more fun this way, toe up means the colour work and the colour change happen quite soon after starting. And as if this was all planned, the ink in my pen just happens to be orange ...karma.
Being me, and being unable to follow instructions without overthinking the options and making changes ... I have also added a small panel of 2x2 rib to each side. I have a slight fear that a plain stocking stitch sock will have less elasticity and so require a more exact fit. By adding to small panels of rib I hope to provide a little bit of built in adjustment.

Here is the next installment in the artisan bread in 5 minutes a day. This dough was wetter, and as predicted harder to handle and shape. This mean that I didn't knock the air bubbles out, which is nice. I'm beginning to see that all those years of reading that I needed to be kneading bread for ten minutes is ok but results in a even, and finely textured bread, this method is the trick to producing this kind of open arty bread. Oh and the crust, the fridge storage, keeping the dough on hold for days in the fridge results in a thick, crispy chewy crust, and heaps of oven spring, nice round loves, not flat mean ones. I'm learning that just like knitting, with bread there are a whole host of options that all have distinct advantages.
So now I just have to knit the gusset increases, and think about if I want a contrast heel a shoe row heel, an afterthought heel, or a flap heel. Oh and I'm teaching zippy knit things next year at Unwind, along with a group of amazing crafters teaching other things, so if you are likely to be around and keen to be part of Unwind 2014 ... head on over and sign up.
Na Stella,