Alpaca Handspun Wrap

Forgive me, fiber darlings, as the golden falling walnut leaves and the true approach of autumn sends me into paroxysms of nostalgia – you see, I’ve completed a very long personal fiber art project, and will not hesitate to use it as an excuse to wax sentimental 😉

Translation: This is a long personal reflection post and a project with no patterns. 😉

It was almost 4 years ago exactly that I decided to give my still new (to me) Ashford Traveler Double Drive spinning wheel a good workout by ordering several pounds (!!) of Alpaca fiber that I got on sale.

I had already been working with drop spindles at this point, but I was excited to take advantage of the larger, faster batches one could produce with the wheel. I dug into the first pound with vigor, producing a tight and even dark brown set of yarns… but like lots of large projects, the initial momentum got lost and it took me several years to finish spinning the rest of the fiber.

In the mean time I learned and experimented with lots of other things, and even added more alpaca fiber to the hoard, including a raw fleece gifted to me by a friend (not much of that one went into the final product – hand carding is a workout!!)

The fleeces followed me, like a little herd of alpacas themselves, though many phases of life in the past four years. I spun and played with them, dreamed with them. They reminded me all the time of the farms and ranches I worked at when I was younger and traveling the United States, work-trading as a farm hand at communes and eco-villages. Every fiber of them passed through my hands eventually, to twist together on the wheel or spindle – how many thoughts are in these fibers? How many dreams?

At once point I got exuberantly experimental about natural dyeing again (my first forays consisted of tea, coffee, turmeric, and a failed pokeberry batch way back in 2009-10 or so), so I started collecting the vegetable waste from my day job in the produce department and brewing up a big batch of avocado dye from the pits and skins. Raw material, collected and transmuted again. How many hands picked the fruit? How many dreams did they dream?

When I dive, I deep dive. I want to know the parts of a process like I know the breathing of my lungs, intrinsically, so that my fingers can read the dreams. To me, that is the way to respect – respect what, I don’t know. The energies it took to create everything around me? Maybe. It is gratitude, definitely.

When the fibers were carded and dyed and spun and plied and washed and dried, I took them to my fatter knitting needles: the 9.00 mm circulars from my interchangeable set. (I remember the super long knitted scarf from a decade ago, and how I tried to cram so many stitches of recycled cotton onto a cheap plastic yard sale needle and snapped it into oblivion, losing hundreds of tiny knit stitches to my cold-sweating terror…)

Good thing my tools have evolved with me.
I knit and knit and knit, practicing my speed-purling, practicing my yarn overs, dropping stitches and switching to garter occasionally. I never got the bug for delicate knit patterns, I like my knits huge and stupid and chunky and easy.

I knew it was going to be a big folded rectangle essentially, with two arm holes. Simple. A large serape-like shell could be worn over other winter layers, since not all of the yarn I used is next-to-skin soft – but holy heck is it warm! Alpaca fiber is also naturally water-resistant, enhancing this wrap’s qualities as outerwear.

I played up the textural aspects of this piece, letting my big dumb rectangle be the blank canvas for every nuanced lump in the fiber. It was handspun; it was messy, chunky, uneven, perfectly imperfect. I did not want it to look sleek, cosmopolitan, curated. It was my glorious mess. So I did what I learned to do best in the grueling hours of the windowless rooms in studio art at Indiana University – turn imperfections into advantages.

(Mostly) planned dropped stitches provided visual breaks vertically, and lines of garter stitches complemented and accented the color changes horizontally, creating a weathered and distressed texture that plays up the lumpy, bumpy, mismatched yarnscape. The large needles allowed plenty of looseness in the stitches to give the otherwise square shell garment a flattering bit of drape. The rough visual style belies the incredibly squishy loft of the bulky alpaca yarns.

I can’t believe I spun 100% of this garment – it is my first large project to be entirely handspun. Some parts are a little scratchy, I’ll admit, and it certainly needs a second wash (it’s fragrant in a strongly camelid sort of way at the moment) – but this piece will warm me now in a special way, because so much of my story is now shared with it.

I get really excited when I finish a piece that’s taken me years, to me they feel like a victory! Previously, the Stump had been my longest-held project (3 years), but now the Alpaca Wrap (4 years) is the record holder 😉

And here’s my advice to every artist who may have had the tough moments, like me, that make dreams feel like impossibilities: Patience, patience, patience.

-MF

Alpacalypse Now

Guys, I’m really sorry about that pun. Sort of.

You see, last Saturday I turned in my final assignment for my Bachelor’s degree, so I’ve been bursting forth with renewed energy on all the ongoing craft projects laying around my home. And exuberant art energy requires puns.

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So that’s my segue into my post today, talking about one of the things I love to do when I have a little extra time – spinning! Well, it’s also just an excuse for shameless yarn porn.

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I’ve been spinning periodically, although I haven’t really made a blog post about it recently. I did a silly thing a while back and ordered a massive amount of beautiful alpaca fiber from Alpaca Direct. I resolved to spin it all, and wrote a whole post about it –  which, now that I look at that post, was over two years ago. Slow art for the win!

Because, I totally did spin it all! Yep, all of it. Some of it even made it into projects for my friends along the way. This is me, plying together the last bit of the natural white alpaca fiber, on my trusty wheel.

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Her name is Mystic.

I made it through the pound of natural white, the 12 oz of dark brown, and SOME of the 8 oz of lighter brown (from Valentina) that I purchased at a later date. I eventually gave up on spinning it all consistently, and went in for the fast and wacky approach for the last half of the natural white. I love the variation in textures I got!

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For the white yarn, some skeins were consistent, some were chunky, and some were singles. The dark brown (being the first batch I did) was pretty even, and the light brown is a bulky, fluffy affair.

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I am really loving these natural tones, which is a good thing because my beautiful friends sometimes give me secondhand fiber.  Last summer I was gifted a big bag of RAW alpaca fiber in a beautiful pecan brown color; the catch is, this fiber is really unprocessed.

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Which is actually not a catch at all, since I finally had an excuse to purchase some carding equipment! Hand carders (still not enough resources to justify a drum carder 😛 ) were acquired and now I am clumsily learning to use them.

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I’m not great at it yet, especially since I have to keep switching to my left hand so that my right arm doesn’t end up noticeably more beefy – this activity is a WORKOUT. But as you can see, I’m producing a few silly looking rolags from the raw material so I can spin them, bit by bit, on the drop spindle.

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Excuse my awkward fiber sausage

Its tempting to build a pile of rolags and then spin them all on the wheel for speed’s sake, but for now I am enjoying the process of drop spindling them, so that I can learn how the fibers act when they are hand carded like this. I’ve been favoring the spindle lately anyway, after a period of neglect. Its simplicity and portability is really attractive and valuable, even though wheel spinning is more efficient, so I’m glad I learned both.

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The real question is, what the hell am I going to make with 4 pounds of handspun alpaca fiber? Stay tuned, maybe I’ll know in another two years! 😉

UPDATE 9/2020: It did, in fact, take me another two years.

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Here’s a picture of my moon lamp, for no reason other than its pretty!

-MF

Fiber Review: Polworth Tussah

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about spinning here, but not because there’s been a lack of spinning – most of it has been powering through giant piles of alpaca because, after I finished the first batch I had ordered from Alpaca Direct, I ordered more 😛

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I plan on coloring the copious amounts of natural white handspun with some liquid natural dye extracts at some point – but it’s been a busy busy summer. More on that later.

At any rate, the fiber I’m talking about today is the Polworth Tussah 60/40 blend that I dyed last year – the other half of the braid I worked with PLUS a big booty 6.75 oz braid of the same colourway are both available (separately) in my Etsy shop.

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The braid I split to spin half – “Celtic Teatime” Polwarth Tussah 60/40

Polwarth is a breed with wool that has a long staple length and a fine fiber around 23 microns. Combined with Tussah, or wild silk, which is also fine, soft, and lengthy in the staple department, what struck me about spinning this fiber was how EASY it was.

As I’ve mentioned before, the long staple length of 100% Tussah silk is balanced by how slippery the fiber is, making it easy to spin but also very easy to lose control of, resulting in lots of rejoining. The combination with Polwarth, which like all wools has more “traction”, totally solves this problem.

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The 2.25 oz skein set on a backdrop of way too much alpaca yarn

I opted to spin this fiber as a 1-ply thick & thin slubby style. Silk always makes dyes look just amazing, retaining vibrant color and sheen, so I wanted to keep the focus on the colors by not plying them against another strand and possibly muddying their appearance.

This was where the fibers’ shared virtues came in handy – I don’t think I had to rejoin that single ply once the entire length! Very handy, and since I was aiming for primitive looking, I spun it at top speeds. Done in under an hour – awesome.

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The silk gives this yarn strength and definition and the wool makes it pillowy soft with a slight fuzzy halo. I plan on using this yarn for another crazy pixie belt – prepare for cuteness!

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Here’s some of the elements of said pixie belt so far – both the mushroom pouch and the shamrock pouch also have handspun in them – you just can’t beat it for giving your projects a totally unique look.

-MF

Roving Color Bomb

There’s been a color explosion over at my Etsy Shop recently as I listed some beautiful rovings that I dyed over Spring Break – along with some other new summer goodies!

This was the largest dye session I’ve managed yet, and I’m happy to say that my process has come a long way since my first foray into fiber dyeing. Here’s a peek at the madness I unleashed on my poor kitchen! It all starts with coffee, of course.

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And here’s the results!

I dyed 4 braids of that earthy multicolored green and brown; it’s a generic wool blend from Dharma Trading Co. – no wool breed listed, but it spins up super nicely. The other three or so braids became faux dreadlocks using a combination of spinning and felting.

I also split the “Mango Punch” colorway BFL braid into thirds and spun one of the thirds for quality control purposes and also because I couldn’t help but play with some of that luscious color after all that work! It spun really beautifully paired with a deep emerald BFL roving from my stash into a bright art yarn I call “Jungle Juice.”

The other 2/3rds of that braid is listed in my shop at a discount since it’s already split!

As much as I am enjoying classes, I’m antsy and anxious as hell for the freedom to keep dyeing and spinning and stitching without other obligations. But I need to buckle down and finish the semester.

Well, maybe just one more row.

-MF

Fiber Review: Targhee

Thanks to a combination of schoolwork and holiday traveling, I haven’t written very many substantial posts for the past few weeks, but I’ve been eagerly awaiting a chance to sit and write some fiber reviews.

A while back I became very interested in spinning Targhee wool: Targhee is a breed of sheep developed in the U.S in the 20th century, with Rambouillet, Corriedale, and Lincoln ancestors. I had spun a sample earlier in my spinning career and loved the cushy quality this wool has.

So of course I ordered more from Corgi Hill Farm. I split the roving into quarters and spun two batches of end-to-end 2-ply. (Each quarter of the split roving spun as a single length of ply, then each pair plied together… mostly. But we’ll get to that)

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Here’s what I learned:

First, I was WAAAAY off when I split one half of this roving into two strips. My bobbins came out so uneven that I had to do some frantic fiber rearranging in order to make the two batches come out with similar color progression once plied and stitched. That doesn’t have anything to do with the specific fiber, but it’s good advice – if color length and progression matters to you, weigh your roving fractions so you can pair the most similar weights together to get the most closely matching lengths of singles for plying.

The fiber itself was just as soft and squishy as I remember. With a 21-25 micron count, Targhee wool has the friction and grabby nature that makes pure wool rovings fun to spin, but the Targhee I worked with was exceptionally dense and springy. One might say marshmallow-esque.

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In fact, it was so dense and marshmallowy that I had trouble spinning at first, even though I split and fluffed (i.e- jerked it around like a whip to make the factory-and-storage compacted fibers open up and loosen). I don’t always predraft, but predrafting was a must with this fiber.

Knitty, my primary source for amazing spinning advice, has a good article about treating roving before spinning.

Once I predrafted, spinning this yarn was pretty easy. Not as easy as Merino, but easy enough that I sat through a shameful amount of Vikings episodes continuously spinning. Like you seriously don’t want to know how many episodes I watched in one go while doing this. Don’t ask.

As I mentioned the first time I spun Targhee, much of the pillowy nature of this fiber is lost in a one-ply, so plying was had, on a drop spindle for my larger skein and on the wheel for my two smaller skeins. Once plied, the Targhee’s true nature was revealed to me – soft, warm, with enough resistance to shout “I’m Wool!” but also fine enough for hats, gloves, and other next-to-skin garments.

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I think this will be a lovely pair of woodland style armwarmers, my all-time favorite (so far) thing to make with handspun yarns!

~*Mf*~

 

Into the Mystic

Um…. so this happened.

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Meet Mystic, my gently used secondhand Ashford Traveler. She was sitting just so prettily on display near the front entrance of my LYS, Yarns Unlimited, at a price that I wasn’t going to be able to beat online or elsewhere.

The helpful woman behind the register told me this beauty was once the wheel of one of the spinning instructors that operated out of the store, given up because the owner couldn’t take all of her wheels with her in her recent move to assisted living. The story struck a chord with me. Not only was I getting a machine that had been kept up by someone who knew what they were doing, but I was getting a piece of someone’s life.

This connection with the past and with the shared experience of artistic expression through generations is one of the most meaningful insights into what makes fiber art so popular and moving for so many. Some may only practice stitching once a month, some may only work in the cheapest and scratchiest of acrylic yarns (more power to you!), some may insist on the most luxurious equipment (bamboo needles and teak yarn bowls galore!) some may only ever learn one or two techniques, some may be a techie fiber artist with a massive dictionary of stitches. It doesn’t matter, because we are connected by strands of a heritage, one that moves our hearts because it warms our families, and one that dictates through necessity our meditation on what it means to carry out work in the name of love.

…what it means to work in love, and to work on love.

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-MF