Friday, November 30, 2012

Some Catching Up

So in my last post, I ran out of time to talk about all the fun I've been having the last month or so.

Received a shipment of knitting machine equipment for the Studio 360 knitting machine:  ribber, intarsia carriage, automatic linker, rib transfer carriage, 4 color changer, garter stitch transfer bar, lace carriage, shadow lace transfer tool, seven sets of punchcards and some blank ones, a few assorted books, and a punch machine.  I have no idea how to use most of these things but hopefully the classes  I have scheduled with Newton's will educate me.

The PM-10 punch machine is really cool, and if I ever get to the point that I'm ready to punch my own design cards, will sure make it faster than using the little punch tool I already had.  Rather than trying to explain it here, I found a YouTube video that shows exactly how it works.

Spent one Sunday taking a lesson from a local spinning teacher, Ruth, a.k.a., the Dizzy Ewe.  My friend Susan made the arrangements and we held it at my house (hooray - I didn't have to drive anywhere!).  There were just five students plus Ruth, and we had a great day.  Ruth offers several different classes on different spinning techinques, dyeing, carding, and combing.  She put together a custom workshop for us on selecting fleece, several methods of preparing it for spinning, and a little bit of spinning technique.

After the Dorset Debacle, I needed the instruction.  Ruth brought six raw fleeces (or parts thereof) and we learned the etiquette of evaluating a fleece at a show, how to look for breaks or canary stains, and how to divide the fleece into locks or clumps for washing. 

Washed CVM Locks
We then moved on to actually washing some of each fleece - either by the lock or in clumps.  We started with HOT water with just a few drops of Dawn dishwashing liquid.  For the locks, we held each individual lock by the tip, swished in the water a few times, took hold of the other end, and swished again, then laid on a rack to dry.  I was working with some CVM (California Variegated Mutant) fleece. Rather than going into breed characteristics here, since I would only be quoting others and not speaking from my own knowledge, I'm linking each breed name with a website that tells a bit about it.

I learned that I do not have the patience to wash a lock at a time and will opt for the clump method in future.  For this, we spread a smallish clump of fiber as evenly as possible in a thin layer in the lingerie bag, placed it on a rack, and set the whole thing in the sink or a tub.  Then walked away.  No poking, not swishing, no wringing.  Nothing.  About 20-30 minutes later, we lifted the rack out of the water and let it drain.  Again, no handling the fiber!  Repeated this until the water in the sink was clear, then gave a final bath in HOT water with a dash of vinegar added.  Then we spun the bag in a salad spinner to remove excess water and laid it out to dry in the sun. 

Unwashed CVM Clumps

Each of us worked at her own pace, and with so few students, Ruth was able to answer questions, lend a hand, and share information as we worked.  I have to confess that I did not get a lot done other than the washed locks because I was so busy seeing what everyone else was up to.

After lunch, we learned about combing and carding fleece.  I'm already a so-so carder, but I've never used woolcombs.  I bought a set of  used single pitch Viking combs a d few months ago and never found the time to try them out. Found out I LOVE combing wool.  Even with the fear of skewering myself on those lethal looking tines.

Ruth provided some washed  CVM/Wensleydale X fleece.  I spun up the combed fiber before I thought about taking pictures, but the result was just lovely.  This was also the first long-wool fiber I've spun and it was so much fun -- it pretty much drafted itself and I've never spun anything so fine before.  I didn't get around to spinning the carded fiber -- it came off the cards in puffy clouds and I think it will make a lovely woolen if I can get over my worsted habit.

Carded CVM/Wensleydale X
Spinning Combed Fiber

A few other breeds of wool we discussed (ok, fondled) were Mohair (our only non-sheep fiber), Shetland, Texel, Navajo Churro, and Romney.  We received samples of each type in varying states of washedness.  Ruth also gave us each a large portion of pin-drafted CVM/Romeldale


Romney Locks
Navajo Churro



So we had a wonderful day, packed with information and filled with laughter. And soaked up enough lanolin from the raw wool that I didn't need to use hand lotion for the next two weeks.  I have at least a day's worth of washing and some serious spinning to do now.  Oh, and last weekend I got rid of the demolished Dorset fleece without the least bit of compunction.

By the way, fleece comes with all manner of unsavory biological matter in the raw state and if you're squeamish, you may want to stick to already prepared roving and top.  But you're going to miss half the fun that way.  If you do process fleece at home, be aware that any sink you use needs to be thoroughly disinfected afterward.  And please don't use any containers or tools you use for processing fleece for cooking afterward.  Ever.  You might also want to make sure your tetanus booster is up to date.   

In other spinning news, I want to give credit to the HansenCraft folks for excellent customer service.  I was spinning at my class Wednesday night when my miniSpinner suddenly stopped turning.  After a few minutes of panic over potential motor failure, we figured out that the join in my drive band had come apart.  Of course I had to post immediately on the Ravelry group asking what I might have done to break the band.  By the time class was over, Kevin had replied that the join was probably defective and offering to send me a new band gratis.  Got notification last night that it has already been mailed.  Now that's customer service!

In the bonehead department...  I signed up for a class at Newton's to take place today (November 30).  Put it on my iPhone calendar, but the entry disappeared.  This is not the first time I've had this happen and I learned recently that it's a common problem that's supposed to be solved by updating the device OS, which I did just last week.  But that's beside the point. 

So I THOUGHT I remembered signing up for Friday, November 30, and emailed Newton's a few weeks ago to check.  They confirmed Friday, November 30.  I proceeded to enter the appointment on my desktop calendar for Saturday, December 1.  And have looked at it several times since wondering why I thought I was scheduled for Saturday, since I had wanted to take the Friday class.  And not thinking to check my email.  Because it was on my calendar and therefore it couldn't be wrong. 

Just called Newton's a few minutes ago to make sure my Studio 360 is all ready for me to work on (it is) and was asked why I wasn't in class.  Hunh?!  Yes, I was supposed to go today and I have been blissfully ignorant of the fact.  They were very nice about it and rescheduled me for another class in mid-December.

But I also got some good news from Newton's.  A piece of the plastic needle bed for the MK-70 (this machine has no spongebar and the needles are instead supported by plastic) was broken when I took it in to be checked out.   They were able to find a replacement part so the machine can be fixed! 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

I Get to Review Stuff

It's been a great month!

I was invited to join Saturday Spinners, a small spinning guild in my area, after attending a meeting a few months ago, and recently went to my first meeting as a member.  What a lovely group!  Most of us had our spinning wheels and were able to spin throughout the meeting.  Everyone brought things to show -- handspun yarns, finished knitted and woven items (mostly) made from their handspun, and some works in progress.  Everyone but me, that is.  I may be the slacker in the group but I hope to be able to share next time. 

Today I'd like to brag on behalf of one of the members of the group.  Michelle is a talented fiber artist, and a wonderful teacher.  I took a basic spinning class from her when I was just beginning to get back into spinning and it really helped me get a good start.  She just opened an etsy store called Textile Sanity where she is currently selling covers for hand cards.  She takes custom orders and I can testify to the fact that her work is excellent.  In fact, she made these covers for my handcards from fabric I had left over from my Joy spinning wheel cover.

I like them so much, tonight I'm going to send her the odd-sized carders that came with my Moswalt Hammer and have her make another set of covers for me.  

Michelle is also one of the organizers of the Studio 66 Retreat which takes place in Southern California every two years.  Next one is in May 2013.  Spaces are limited and going fast so if you're thinking about going, sign up now!  I'm not an organizer of the retreat nor do I profit from it - except spiritually.  It's a great way to get away from televisions and technology, meet fellow fiberistas, learn a few things, or just relax in a beautiful mountain setting.  Someday I'll share the story of the stowaway that came home with me from the first retreat.

As long as I'm bragging on behalf of others today, I would also like to talk about a new (to me) iPhone/iPad app, YarnU by Mary Beth Klatt.  This is an database of (mostly) high-end yarns, with links to shops where they can be bought, photos the yarns and frequently projects made with them, and discussions of the pros and cons of each yarn.  Full disclosure:  I received a free copy of the app for review purposes.  I don't know Mary Beth except for a brief conversation we had on Ravelry about the app and her plans for it.

I think Mary Beth has done a nice job putting together the info in this app.  And it's a great concept -- you can filter by one of several different categories:  Aran, bulky, crochet, DK, fingering, hand-dyed, hand wash, lace weight, links to free patterns, machine wash, novelty, sock, sport, superwash, video URL, worsted.  I wish the app had multiple filters -- one for yarn weight, one for fiber content, one for treatment, one for extras, so you could, for example, search for a DK weight hand-dyed wool yarn with free patterns.  But unfortunately, the app is supported by a framework supplied by Sutro Media, and only one generic filtering mechanism is available.  Perhaps as they grow their list of titles, they will get a bit more sophisticated.

"Browse" View
There are several views available in the app.  The main view (browse) is a list of yarns by name (includes a thumbnail of the yarn or a project made from it), brief description, and distance to a store carrying it). You can also sort the same view by distance.  Since most of the sellers listed have on-line presences, distance is not a big problem unless you need to fondle the yarn before you purchase it.  Or you can sort by manufacturer, in which case you get a list of the manufacturers with the number of yarns listed for each, then you drill down to the individual yarn "snapshot" by choosing the manufacturer.

Individual Yarn View
In any of these views, if you select a yarn, you will get a photo of the yarn or project, a map showing the location of the store carrying it, a description of the yarn, specifications, pros and cons, price, comments, and links to projects, videos, or website carrying it.  If you flick on the screen (the iPhone motion for turning pages), you will see pages that may be attached to the yarn.  For example, I'm looking at Homespun Goodness from New Hampshire right now.

Yarn Thumbnails
Flicking right to left started a slide show with several full screen shots of projects and yarn.  You can stop the show by touching anywhere on the screen, and then slideshow controls will popup at the top of the screen.  From there you can replay or tap a button to see thumbnails of all the photos. You can also enlarge the map by tapping on it.

"Photos" View

The "Photos" view gives you a collage of all the photos in the database.  I could spend hours just drooling over the yarns and projects on this screen. Tapping on a photo lets you view it full-screen, with the name of the yarn at the top.  Tapping on the name takes you to its data page.  Or you can flick through full-screen photos page by page or use the controls at the top to start a slide show.

Map view shows you the locations of all the yarn stores currently listed in the database.  Most are located in the northwest and northeast United States, with a smattering in the United Kingdom.  Tapping on a store icon pops up the name of the yarn and info about the store.

Finally, there is a comments view where app users can share info, ask questions, or talk about the app or yarns.  It looks like Mary Beth monitors this frequently because I see quite a few answers from her there.

When I first downloaded the app, there were about 300 yarns listed.  Mary Beth tells me she aims to update it every month or two, and indeed there has been one update in the two weeks since then.

 I'd like to see some help on using the app.  I've found most of the underlying features (so far) by blundering around in it.  Makes me wonder what other features I haven't found.  And whether a couple of reviewers who were unhappy with the app would have thought different if they knew how to navigate it.

The only reservation I have about the app is one of volume.  There are so many wonderful high-end yarns being made these days, I don't see how Mary Beth can include more than a small sampling in the database.  To grow the project, she would have to involve more people gathering information and writing reviews, which has the inherent risk of diminishing the quality of the information.   And frankly, at only $2.99 for the app, I don't see how she could compensate good reviewers for their time, let alone make the current project worth her while to maintain.

That said, I love the concept, and I love being able to get to the information through different paths.  My personal favorite today is the photo collage, because it's an easy way to look for a project then find out what type of yarn could be used. If you're expecting Yarn U to be a database of every yarn available, you're going to be disappointed.  Not to mention more than a bit unrealistic.   I personally think the app is more than worth the $2.99 if you look at it as an inspirational tool.  We drop more than that buying a single magazine with far less content.

I have more to say about my month but it will have to wait for the next post.  Darn it!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Studio update and WeFF!

FINALLY!  The studio cleanup is all done. It has only taken me six months or so.  After a few false starts - my studio tends to be the place where I dump everything when company is coming - I bit the bullet and took several vacation days and weekends to buckle down and get the task done.  As a reminder, here are a pair of before pictures from last April:

The van is full of things that are still useful to go to Goodwill next weekend.  And sitting on my curb as we speak are a recycling bin packed to the gills and a garbage can full of non-recyclables. And here, courtesy of the Photosynth iPhone app, are some panoramic views of the cleaned up studio:

This is the library. Loads of books (still need to do some paring down), and non-fiber craft supplies and tools. Plus the treadmill. I lost interest in using it a couple of years ago when my dog, Bungee, died, and it became a dandy junk storage device. Now I have no more excuses for not using it and in fact I just renewed my iFit Live membership so I can create and download new walking trails. Plus I can gaze at all the skeins yarn stored in tubs around the room and daydream about all the wonderful things I'm going to make with them.

The library has also doubled as a guest room in the distant past - although no one in his right mind would have stayed there in the last couple of years. Now it's cozy and has a surprisingly comfortable daybed and I'm tempted to sleep out there myself. Almost.

This is my workroom as seen from the doorway.

And this is a 360 degree view of the workroom. The stitching of the photos got a little wierd around the big loom and the file cabinets but it does give you a pretty good idea of what the whole space is like.  I still have some decisions to make about some of the stuff stored under the table and would really like to get rid of the file cabinets and all their contents.  Somewhere I need to make room for the knitting machines and that corner would probably make a good storage place for machines and all the related tools.

Yesterday, my friend Holly and I went to WeFF,  the Southern California Handweavers' Guild Weaving and Fiber Festival.  It's an annual event where they exhibit their handwoven work, sell surplus library and donated items, have a HUGE raffle, and a fashion show. Plus three large rooms filled with vendors of all kinds of lovely fiber-related stuff.  I actually won something in the raffle:

It's a set of beautiful Schacht stick shuttles in four different sizes.  I couldn't seem to get truly representative photos - each is made of layers of at least three different dyed wood colors.  Can't find them anywhere on the web to show you just how pretty they really are.

I always look forward to this festival - it's large enough to have a good selection of vendors, but small enough to still seem intimate.  As shy as I am, I seemed to spend the whole time talking with people - loads of friends and just as many strangers.  There's just something about fiber arts and the people who practice them that makes for easy friendships.

You might have noticed a tree loaded with cones of yarn in one of my studio photos above.  I've been puzzling about how to store the growing collection of yarn on cones in my stash.  Then a few weeks ago, the teacher in my Wednesday night class, Marie, was talking about wanting a tree for storing cones in her new studio.  Eureka!  So I started searching the web for trees and found Doc and Rosalie Holub of Doc's Wood Stuff.

Doc builds yarn trees and several other items, and Rosalie does the marketing.  After emailing back and forth a bit, they told me they would be at yesterday's show, so I made their booth my second stop (always have to visit the guild's book/magazine corner to look for bargains before they're gone).  They turned out to be just as nice in person as they were in their emails.  And the trees look even better in person than they do in photos.  Made of oak, they are solid without being too heavy to handle.  I was worried about dowels breaking but they are quite sturdy and made it home in my car and through several gates and doorways without incident.  I think my tree is going to be around long after I'm gone.

These trees were popular items -- they were selling them as fast as Doc could bring them from his home.  Takes one trip in his SUV to carry just one tree.Lucky for me the seats in my Prius fold down and the tree is made in two pieces for transporting easily.  Doc made one last trip home to pick up my tree, and soon after Holly and I were on our way home from WeFF.   Here's my new tree all set up and waiting to be loaded with cones. 

Looks like it is going through the ceiling.  Silly me...  I made sure I had enough floor space for a fully loaded tree, but I didn't think to measure the ceiling height.  The ceiling in this room is very low and we had just enough room to fit the tree in.  Seems like yesterday was my lucky day.