Embracing the Sock Blank

Last month I went to the Estes Park Wool Market and scored some great additions for the stash; most intriguing were the sock blanks that I found in the Bonkers Handmade Originals booth. They were single stranded, so suitable for mismatched mitts and socks, or maybe for a little shawl. Hmm…  I bought two of them.

Sock Blank and Mitt
You know that I had to cast on right away. Look, look: a mitt! I started knitting right off the blank and thought that the kink in the yarn would contribute to the funkiness. OK, the fabric is wonky, but I like it. It’s rustic, right?

I have to be honest here. As soon as I had satisfied my burning curiosity about how the yarn would knit up I stuffed the project into a bag where it languished out of sight for a few weeks.

Then I went up to Shuttles, Spindles & Skeins in Boulder Colorado three weeks ago to get some more bobbins for my current weaving project and I saw these stacked in a pile of yumminess right by the front door:

Sock Blanks
Oh, my goodness. Look at those colors! These babies are from The Hummingbird Moon. You know that I was unable to resist casting on a sock right away since I am completely lacking in will power. Luckily I have several pairs of 2.25mm needles hanging out in my knitting bag.
Sock Blank
This sock blank was single stranded, so I knew that my pair of socks wouldn’t be an exact match, but after the first rush of knitting had worn off I took a better look at the blank to see if I could understand the dyeing pattern.  Hey, look at that! The blank had been folded lengthwise at the midpoint and the two halves are mirror images of each other. There must be a way to get two matching socks from this blank.
Cutting the sock blank.
I cut the blank at the midpoint, pulled out a long runner, cut it off and I had the two halves separated. Easy, peasy. I wound the bottom half into a ball using my ball winder.  Because of the way the blank was dyed the yarn that I wanted to start the new sock with (the bottom of the blank) was on the outside of the ball of wound yarn.
Ball of yarn and the blank.
Since I had already started one sock from the blank I had to cast on the second sock off the ball of yarn onto ANOTHER set of needles (hey, I’m an addict. I have lots and lots of needles…) and as soon as I had the second sock (from the ball of yarn) the same length as the first one I transferred it to the needles the first sock was on.
TAAT socks and patient cat.
Bam! I now had TAAT socks going on one set of needles. As always, MacKenzie was supervising my work.
Socks
From then on I worked off the ball and my half-blank. Look at how well the socks are matching up. I want to mention that if I had figured out the dye pattern sooner I could have wound both halves of the blank into balls; to make matching socks the trick would have been to knit from the outside of one ball and the inside of the other.

I did run into some issues when I got to the heel gussets; I had to use an extra needle (one for each sock heel) to handle all of the stitches during the gusset decreases. Once the stitch number was down to a reasonable number I was able to transfer stitches back to the original needles and finished up with no problems.

Finished Socks.
These are the first TAAT socks that I have ever done. I just love them! This simple vanilla sock pattern is Dave by Rachel Coopey. My Ravelry notes are here.

Flush with the success of the socks I pulled back out the mitts that I had started with the first sock blank that I got from Bonkers. This blank didn’t have a reversed dye pattern so I just went ahead and made mitts that are complementary but not identical.

Mitts
Here they are. These two will play well together but aren’t perfect matches. The fabric is a little funky so I put them into the sink this afternoon to soak for a while to see if the knitting will even out. They fit well when I try them on, so I’m sure all will be well after blocking. I haven’t woven in the ends yet as I thought that might be better done after blocking. My Ravelry notes are here.

I still have two blanks to play with, but as of today I have absolutely no projects on my needles at all; MacKenzie’s WIP basket is empty again. It’s kind of crushing. I have the yarn for three sweaters all lined up, but I’m torn about which one to start on. Should I start the artsy Stephen West Marled Magic sweater that will be very labor intensive, or should I just go for the easy knitting of another drijfhout in a single color? Then there is the crazy colored yarn that I bought for that I See Spring sweater by Joji Locatelli…

Time to start winding yarn. Good thing I am a knitting addict with a lot of needles on hand!

Crawling Along the Rockies…

It’s been a while since my last post. It has been really busy: more doctor appointments, a new drug (CellCept) to adjust to, and an infection that just refuses to die no matter how many antibiotics I swallow. I’m working hard at knitting up mitts and writing patterns for Alpaca Farm Days. The garden is suffering in the heat and cries to be watered. I’m way behind on my book reading. The cats are shedding in the heat and coating the house with hair. Then there was Yarn Along the Rockies

What is Yarn Along the Rockies you ask?

Just the biggest event of the knitting calendar year in this part of the world!  We are talking about  a yarn tour with a tote bag, a passport, free goodies and patterns. A chance to meet new friends, crawl along with old ones, and visit unique yarn stores with unknown, hidden but possibly fabulous treasures. If ever there was a time to learn how to use the GPS function of your cell phone, this was it!

The event is held over 9 days and involves 23 yarn shops up and down the front range of Colorado. One shop is up in the mountains. There are people who manage to complete the tour in the first weekend by driving like maniacs and dashing in and out of stores without really looking at the goodies. Whatever. I am not one of those folk. I wanted to savor the tour, discover new yarns and patterns,  make new friends, and locate some great stores. I split the tour into 4 different sections and drove a different section each day. Here’s how Yarn Along the Rockies works:

Passport.
Every participant of the tour carries a passport with them. Each yarn store stamps the passport when you arrive in their shop. Most of the stores had a free pattern for a knitted project and several also gifted us with goodies like stamps, stitch markers, and coupons. At the end of the tour the passport is left with the last store to enter it into the drawing for the five grand prizes. (Baskets with hundreds of dollars of yarns and notions!!)
Bag with buttons
Almost every person on the crawl had one of these canvas tote bags. Each shop gave us a button to put on the bag to record our progress. Cool! A lot of us bought things and stuffed them into the bags while we worked our way along the tour. Even more cool!!
Stitch markers.
You also received stitch markers at each 6th shop. The green marker was for completing the tour. If all this wasn’t enough incentive to lure knitters onto the tour there were also drawings for gift baskets stuffed with yarn, patterns and goodies at each individual shop. 

You can see how I got pulled into this. This isn’t a yarn crawl, it’s an adventure!! I tried to make a shopping plan for myself; I took patterns for future projects with me and decided on a shopping budget. Whatever. Sometimes it is best to just surrender to the experience. Here is what I ended up with.

Yarn
I found this Serenity by Zen Yarn Garden at Mew Mew’s Yarn Shop. This is DK weight cashmere/merino yarn that is just begging to become winter fingerless mitts. Can’t you just feel the cashmere through the computer screen? This yarn feels wonderful!! I feel better about winter already. 🙂
Shelter Yarn
I could not walk out of Fancy Tiger Crafts without some of this Shelter by Brooklyn Tweed. I’m going to knit a winter sweater for myself that will be warm and wonderfully comfy. I decided on the Daelyn Pullover for my pattern.
Yarn and mitt pattern
The cute pattern for Tea Time MItts was a free one at Needleworks by Holly Berry if you bought the silk/wool blend yarn. Of course I bought it!
Sock yarn.
My last stop on the tour was Shuttles, Spindles and Skeins in Boulder, Colorado where I found a big display of MJ Yarns. The display was enough to stop me in my tracks. This stuff is Opulent Fingering yarn. Cashmere, check! Nylon, check! Happy feet this winter, check! This put me over my budget, but I’m talking about my (poor, blue colored, Raynaud’s suffering) feet here, people! Socks happen!!

So that was the tour. 9 days. 23 shops. 2 tanks of gas and a shopping budget blown to bits.

What more could any shopping knitter hope for? Oh yeah. The drawing for the grand prize is tomorrow. What will I do with all that yarn if I win?

Hey everyone. I’ll have a big giveaway!! Keep your fingers crossed for me. 🙂

 

 

 

Spin the Camelids!!

Saturday was a huge outing for me and my spinning wheel. The wheel has been sulking for weeks, but when I strapped it into the car Friday night it perked right up. Saturday morning we headed up to Boulder, Colorado for a class in how to prepare, spin and blend camelid fibers. We started out with half an hour of travel time to spare. Right. We got caught in traffic (An accident? Construction? I never figured it out, but we were stuck on the road for more than a half hour…), struggled to find a parking spot with enough space to allow me to safely pull the wheel out of the car, and then when I finally got the wheel safely to the ground it immediately fell apart.  Parts rolled away across the asphalt. Sigh. Not the best of beginnings.

Look, any day spent in Boulder (which is right at the foot of the Rocky Mountains) is a good day.  I patched the wheel back together and rolled off towards the class with excitement in my heart. The wheel was almost besides itself in anticipation of meeting other members of its species. We were late, but Boulder is one of those places where time is sort of flexible. This was going to be a day in the shadow of the Rockies spent in a yarn store (Shuttles, Spindles & Skeins) spinning exotic fibers with other people who think it is more important to have cool homemade yarn than a new car. In other words, a seriously good time!! OK, I’m a little bit of a fiber geek, but let me tell you, on Saturday I was with my peeps!!

Spinning Book
This class was taught by Chris Switzer who raises these animals (with her husband) on their ranch in the mountains north of Boulder. In the class we learned how to prep, blend, and spin all of these fibers.
Camel fiber
Camel!! This was prepared roving as the fleece is FULL of nasty and pokey undesirable guard hairs. This camel was a dream to spin. I’m in love. I need to get me some of this!!

Chris also had bison fiber for us to spin. Very nice. Very soft. A ton of work to prepare as the original fleece is uber hairy. You will never look favorably on hay and vegetable matter again after a few hours struggling to get it out of the undercoat that is the spinnable fiber. Chris’s advice: if someone offers to gift you with a bison fleece, decline. 🙂

Fleece
Alpaca fiber prep entailed steps that I didn’t anticipate. You need to de-hair the fleece  before you open the locks for carding. Carding has to be done very gently using fine carders. Washing is optional before spinning unless it is obviously dirty (well, they are animals…) This alpaca fleece has some guard hairs that can be seen at the tips of the locks. If you grasp the hairs and hold the lock in your other hand they can just be pulled out.
Guard hairs from alpaca fleece.
Here’s the hair pulled from three of the locks. Once removed the fiber in the locks can be gently opened up from the base.
Alpaca
Look at all the colors of natural alpaca!
Me spinning
By the end of the class my spinning wheel had fallen in love with me again. New parts are now on order.

I really learned a lot. Suddenly I feel like I could successfully spin that paco-vicuna that I bought two years ago. My spinning wheel is practically hopping up and down to get started (even though it really needs its new part installed before we do that; right now the flyer falls off without warning). I felt so positive about all of this I pulled down the alpaca fleece that I had stored in the garage since 2007 (gasp!) and took a really good look at it.

Alpaca fleece
Look at these locks! There doesn’t seem to be very many guard hairs at all. Woohoo!! It is so clean that I won’t need to wash it before spinning. The locks I pulled out to open fluffed right out into a little rolag. I think I was very lucky in this purchase as I didn’t really know what I was doing when I bought this fleece.  

The fleece is mostly light caramel colored with some cream patches. I may even play with dyeing it. Chris really stressed being gentle in the preparation of these fibers since they are easily broken, and favored hand carders and spindles, but I’m going to made the drum carder work somehow. I’ll be using the spinning wheel, too, as with my scleroderma-hands the less I stress them the better it is. Still, I feel empowered to experiment and super-soft yarn of the paco-vicuna and alpaca variety is right around the corner. Thanks Chris! It was a great class!

Cat on fleece.
Of course I’ll have to spin while the cats are outside. MacKenzie moved into my fleece about 2 minutes after I pulled it from the storage crate. 🙂