Archive for the 'Tour de Fleece' Category

The First Day of the Rest of… mumble

Saturday, July 2nd, 2011

It’s July 2nd.

The Tour de Fleece kicks off today! I mean… HAS kicked off today!

Am I spinning? You bet. Have I started? Not yet.

I’m on the same three teams as last year: Abby Franquemont’s Team Suck Less, CPaAGg’s Team Bacon Cakewaffle (CPaAGg being, as eny fule kno, Ravelry’s Completely Pointless and Arbitrary Group Group), and of course my own Team Russian Underpants, devoted to Crazy Wheel Tricks and to the love and use of antique spinning wheels with a special side-order of CPWs. (I have some exciting plans for this Tour, too, though “plans” is hardly the mot juste. “Goals” would be more accurate, because at this point I can’t possibly actually plan. Honestly, if I told you which things I’m going to do and when… I’d be lying. I have no idea when they’re going to happen, except that I have the best possible intentions as to fitting them in around all the other more concrete stuff I have to do between now and… then. And you know what they say about good intentions.)

Some of my friends are having a kick-off party today in Connecticut, and I am… not there. Because I didn’t finish my homework in time.

To wit: Handout for Sock Summit class. Supposed to be sent off yesterday (so they can print it ahead of time); but at this writing still in the final stages of brain-marinating and idea-wrangling. I’ve got all the thinky stuff rounded up in my head and scribbled in the bit-bucket document, and I’ve even done all the infrastructure - all the graphical stuff, illustration, etc. - but I’m still struggling to wrestle the sequence to the ground.

There’s something meta about this: Being stuck at the point where I’m writing about stuckness. Here I am consulting and quoting Robert Pirsig (good old Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance), and at the same time I kinda feel just a leetle bit like giving him a good taint-kicking for telling me that stuckness is actually a GOOD and DESIRABLE state to reach in the course of a creative endeavor. Of course I know from long experience that he’s right - or I wouldn’t be preaching his doctrine to my students, would I. But I’m at exactly the point where that is NOT what I want to hear! Sheesh, I want my one-time exemption, my Get Out of Jail Free card. Let everyone else struggle with this stage of the creative process, and let me for once have the plain sailing: Think it - write it - do it - kthxbai. Hey, come on, Universe! is that really so much to ask?

Oh, right. It is. Sorry - forgot where I was for a moment. It’s way too much to ask.

And I suspect I’m also about at my threshold for cheating by way of displacement activities, too - there’s something amusingly beyond-meta about blogging about the stuckness encountered while trying to write about stuckness, though I note with some irony that the blogging itself flows freely, doesn’t it. Now if I can just get the bit-bucket of thinkyness to do the same.

But I will spin something later, if necessary by moonlight, though hell should bar the way etc. Meanwhile - back to work. Wish me luck.

A Question of Identity

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

Tour de Fleece, Day 19.

Ostensibly a Day of Rest.

Yeah, I’ve been kind of scarce around here since Day 8, I know. Most of what I’ve been working on has been either A) not too interesting because it was merely more of the same (I’m a little beyond the halfway mark with combing the CVM, and just how much grey can you stand to see?), or B) under a special temporary version of the Stealth heading (nearly finished with that, and hoping for a reveal before the Tour is over). Oh, or C) - late-night breakthrough craziness of the kind that leaves you too exhausted and bleary to post. I’ve been taking pictures, at least. Have every intention of doing a comprehensive round-up post at the end of the Tour - and you know what they say about good intentions.

Meanwhile, this.

The other day, in the comments to the gradient skein post, Dan said something that really got me thinking. (Don’t you hate it when that happens?)

To wit:

But yes, this is where you find that you are, in fact, a Knitter at heart. Just as I am a Spinner… and a knitter, not a Knitter.

It’s certainly true in part. There is no denying that I am a Knitter - have been one for nearly as long as I can remember. But I think the point made there - in my decision about the fate of the gradient skein - is not that I am a Knitter; the point is that it demonstrates which kind of Knitter I am. I know plenty of knitters AND plenty of Knitters who would happily and successfully knit with a gradient yarn like that - or with the gradient-repeat variant that I’m still contemplating. Me… not so much. Me… laid-back and slipshod about so many other things in my life… when I knit I design, and when I design I need to control. Unlike some Knitters and Designers, I can’t let my yarn be the boss of me. Mind you, it’s a perfectly valid way to work; it just isn’t mine.

(Incidentally, I suspect that in truth Dan himself is fundamentally more Knitter than knitter, or at any rate could be if he chose. No one who has heard him talk about the transparency of sock construction could doubt it.)

Sure, Knitter at heart - you bet. All those tsocks in their tserried ranks to prove it. But - as someone once said about a second marriage after widowhood - my heart is a garden, and there is room in it for more than one flower. Knitter at heart, yes; but Spinner at heart, too. They’re not mutually exclusive.

I put it to you that if I weren’t also a Spinner at heart, I would never have made that skein at all. I did not need to see it to know that I wasn’t likely to knit with it. I knew that about myself, and about this yarn, long before I began work on it. I needed to see it, needed to make it, for its own sake.

Marcy, a Spinner at heart if ever I met one, is fond of playing out the following semi-apocryphal dialogue between muggle and spinner:

     Q: What’re ya makin’?
     A: Yarn.
     Q: What’re ya gonna do with it after?
     A: Have yarn. Dur.

That’s the Spinner speaking. The spinner may make any number of sample skeins as part of the production process, but it’s only the Spinner who makes yarn purely for the sake of making yarn; who makes yarn just to see how a particular combination of techniques and materials will work; who makes yarn that will live out its honorable life as a Petting Skein or an Ogling Skein.

The other day I spun my first long bast fiber; actually I blended hemp with bamboo, so a long bast fiber combined with a rayon-process fiber. I spun one strand of that and I plied it with a strand of cotton I’d spun on the charkha. Why? Because. Because I wanted to see how that combination of fibers would work together in that configuration. Because I wanted to see what it would be like to spin. Because - like the mountain - it was there.

I got my answers. I learned that I like spinning hemp, and that it’s a whole new and different experience from any spinning I’ve done before. I learned that those fibers work well together; I learned something about how to spin them and how to ply them and how to finish them. And I came away from it with 130 yards of yarn that may or may not ever be anything other than a Petting Skein, a trophy and memento of this particular spinning lesson.

I might make something out of it. I might make another yarn like it to make something out of. But I might not, and if I don’t that will be perfectly fine. Sometimes - often - yarn is made for a particular purpose, as a means to an end… but sometimes yarn is an entirely satisfying end in itself.

I put it to you that only a Spinner could feel that way about it.

More to the point, or at any rate equally so… only a Spinner, and a loony one at that, would make an 18-ply yarn purely for the sake of making an 18-ply yarn. Purely for the joy of trying. Purely for the satisfaction of figuring out how. Purely because the tools and materials are available and therefore it is imperative to find out whether it can be done.

And also, not so purely… on a dare.

You already know that I did exactly that for exactly those reasons. Now… gonna show you how.

Members of Team Russian Underpants, grab your popcorn.

Ken Burns, eat your heart out. From the same studio that brought you the Short-Draw Speed-Spinning Smackdown (oh, that’s right, you haven’t heard yet about the S-D SSS, have you), we now proudly present Fran’s inspired video production of the 18-ply Escapade - what Pam in the comments so aptly dubbed the Docu-Nuttery.

As for Fran - well, there’s no thanking her enough. And her work speaks for itself.

So without further ado, here it is, straight from the Oh!Zone:

Yeah. Tell me anyone but a Spinner at heart would do that. I rest my case.


Saturday, July 10th, 2010

Today was the second anniversary of my aspinneration (you know, as in “Resistance is futile” etc.); of the day when I failed to prevent myself from picking up spindle and fiber, and then promptly failed to force myself to put them down. Yup, it’s just two years now since the twist took me - and where and how far it has taken me since then, there is almost no telling. But not for lack of trying.

It’s fortuitous that the date happens to fall within the Tour de Fleece. Obviously Someone Is Trying To Tell Me Something, and this time last year I figured out that the Something was this: July 10th is my personal Challenge Day. Or one of them, at any rate.

For my first aspinniversary last year, you may recall, it was the day that I spun the Mile for Team Suck Less.

This year - as I mentioned the other day - the ante, she has been upped.

I spun my mile two days ago - 8 hours and 9 minutes. Sorry I haven’t posted about that in detail yet - I will, as soon as I recover, with statistics and pictures and everything.

Yesterday - Houston, we had wind-off.

Today - the Stupid Wheel Tricks Challenge: 18-ply. Yup, 112 yards of 18-ply yarn. Fer realz. I did it. Loaded Luke and the wheel and the bobbins and the swift/kate into the car, drove up to Fran’s, and did it there while she took seventy-’leven billion pictures and a metric buttload of video. It’ll take a while to process all this into the mega-mini-documentary coming soon to an internet server near you, so for now I leave you with this single teaser shot:

18-Ply In Progress

Incidentally, that thread-guide gadget I’m using to tension the singles? Fran provided that too, and I tremble to think what an unholy mess this whole attempt would have been if she hadn’t.

Kids, do not try this at home.

Or… on second thought… do.

You might learn something. I did.

Watch this space for exciting full-on mega-mini-coverage of this brain-breaking event… as soon as we get it together. Film at 11, as they say - but not 11 tonight because we all need our naps now.

And Read All Over

Tuesday, July 6th, 2010

Tour de Fleece, Day 4.

Some time around the middle of April, Teleknitter posted her spring clip of CVM for sale, and I promptly had a fit. Here were some of the most fascinatingly beautiful fine-wool fleeces I’d ever seen, and I couldn’t justify buying one, because I had just splurged on half a Cormo. (Oh, that’s right, you haven’t heard yet about the Cormo, have you.) Which was also insanely beautiful, as you might expect from a Cormo bred by Alice Field… but it was also WHITE. And I have a lot of WHITE fleece. And I’m a sucker for naturally-colored fleeces, especially in shades of grey. And I was drooling drooling drooling over Florence’s gorgeous silver-grey and Rifle’s fabulous variegation. But seriously. I already had an attic full of fleece (Oh, that’s right, you haven’t heard yet about the Attic Full O’ Fleece, have you). I had just spent very nearly top dollar on the Cormo, and the CVM was in the same price range - and mind you, both of them are worth every penny. But there was something about buying one after the other that would have added insult to injury and overshot my guilt threshold by a country mile.

So I sternly told myself, “No CVM for you this season, my girl. It won’t hurt you to wait. The sheep will make more.”

And that lasted… oh, I dunno… maybe an hour?

I kept going back and looking. And looking. And looking.

Finally I couldn’t stand it and I compromised: I bought Rifle’s neck wool and seconds.

Rifle's Neck Wool

Not a bad compromise at that. A more modest quantity, a more modest expenditure - but I still got all of those colors and all that soft crimp. And a pound and a half is enough to DO something with.

The fleece on arrival was even more marvelous than it looks in Sarah’s picture. I couldn’t believe how soft it was, and how many different colors I was seeing in it.

It’s been waiting for an opportunity, and a couple of days ago it struck me that the Tour de Fleece was exactly that. So I broke it out, semi-sorted it, bagged it up, and scoured it.

While I was waiting for the tub to fill for the first soak, young Fosdick had his very first-ever wool-huffing experience.

By the time it occurred to me that at only two months old he’s probably too young for the hard stuff… it was too late. Don’t tell on me, ‘K? (Friend of mine looked at this and said, “Yup, that’s YOUR kitteh, all right.”)

I am madly in love with this fleece and its symphony in greyscale.

Sorting CVM

I’ve been sort of on the fence about how to spin this, but I’ve never doubted that I wanted to keep the colors distinct and use them to set each other off. I’ve been having fantasies of gradient effects, either in the spinning or in the knitting as the case may be. So obviously the first thing to be done with the clean fleece was to sort it by color.

I wasn’t sure how many colors I was seeing, so I started by picking out all the really WHITE white bits - those went into Bag #1.

Bag #2 is where it started to get interesting.

Sorting CVM

Bag #2 is the home of the pale blends. The locks that are partly or mostly white but are so intimately streaked with grey that it would be insane to try to pick them apart. I’m not being too scientific here, and what I want is to reflect the natural blending that’s already occurring in the fleece. So a lock like this one

Sorting CVM

gets to stay in one piece and it goes to live with its friends in Bag #2.

From that point on it was pretty plain sailing. Bag #3 is a soft and fairly uniform medium grey, with occasional streaks of paler grey. And so on, up until Bag #7, the darkest near-black grey of all.

Yes, sir, yes, sir, seven bags full.

Sorting CVM

(Incidentally, Fosdick is not the only feline in this household with an appreciation for fleece.

Sorting CVM

Not by a long shot.

Sorting CVM

Ptolemy and Juliet don’t insist on spinning theirs in the grease, though. And please do note how I color-coordinate my animals with my stash.)

With seven shades identified, I set out to experiment - those visions of gradients dancing in my head, I wanted to see how they would play out.

I broke out a handful from each bag, and combed each into a little nest of top.

CVM Gradient

I knew I wanted laceweight - I’ve been picturing a big lace shawl in graduated shades of grey, you know the kind of thing I mean - and I knew from my first pre-triage sample that it would be beautifully soft:

CVM Gradient

I broke each piece of top in half, and spun the same strand of singles twice over - all seven shades in sequence starting with the white.

CVM Gradient

Plied it together and wound it off.

CVM Gradient

It’s 84 yards, and it works.

CVM Gradient

Oh, how it works. It’s almost exactly what I envisioned - in fact, I can hardly stop looking at it and fondling it.

CVM Gradient

How I’m going to bring myself to unskein this in order to swatch it, I don’t know. I love it just as it is.

That said… am I going to spin the whole fleece like this?

I am not.

It would be a great parlor trick. And another cool parlor trick would be to prep and spin it as a gradient REPEAT. I can imagine doing exactly that for someone else’s use… but not for my own.

I look at this little skein in all its beautiful mesmerizing greyscaliness, and I realize: that is not the kind of knitter I am. As a spinner, I’d love to play with the color sequence. But as a knitter, I want complete control over what color goes where. It would be worse than counter-productive to make a huge single-gradient or repeat-gradient yarn and then have to cut and paste it into what I want it to be when I’m actually making it into something.

So here’s the plan. I’m going to prep and comb each shade separately, and I’m going to spin most - but not all - of each of them into a separate two-ply. I’ll have enough of each shade left unspun so that I can blend intermediate shades if I want them when the time comes. And when I knit it I will make it LOOK as if I’d spun the gradient skein of my dreams.

One way or the other - I have the oddest feeling that Rifle and I have not heard the last of each other.


Wait for me next year, big guy. I’ll be coming back for more.

The Innerness of the Outerness

Sunday, July 4th, 2010

    “Now, this third handkerchief”, Mein Herr proceeded, “has also four edges, which you can trace continuously round and round: all you need do is to join its four edges to the four edges of the opening. The Purse is then complete, and its outer surface—”
    “I see!” Lady Muriel eagerly interrupted. “Its outer surface will be continuous with its inner surface! But why do you call it Fortunatus’s Purse, Mein Herr?”
    The dear old man beamed upon her with a jolly smile. “Don’t you see, my child—I should say Miladi? Whatever is inside that Purse, is outside it; and whatever is outside it, is inside it. So you have all the wealth of the world in that leetle Purse!”

Lewis Carroll,
Sylvie and Bruno Concluded

So the question is… when is a sock not a sock, or indeed when is a tsock not a tsock?

Why, when its inside is contiguous with its outside; when, therefore, it contains both your foot and everything in the universe other than your foot - including, of course, your other foot.

And then - riddle me this, Batman - what happens if you make a PAIR of them?

Yeah… if that don’t give you no ringin’ in the ears between Being and Nothingness, as Leo Rosten might say - at least I hope it’ll be good for a laugh.

“This” being Tsock #3 for this year’s Tsock Flock Club: “Quantum Paratsox.”

Which is really PERFECTLY NORMAL. I mean, doesn’t every sock begin with a Möbius cast-on?


OK, OK, so maybe not so much. But really, I don’t see how I was supposed to resist.

I love to see two truths at once. Every good comparison offers this benefit to the spirit.

That’s Joseph Joubert, and he neglects to point out that the real benefit comes from the two truths being mutually exclusive. So I am kindly doing it for him with my weird little salute to paradox.

This is the sock that ties itself into a knot - so that you don’t have to.

Quantum Paratsox

It really does start with a Möbius cast-on, and you work the Möbius strip until it’s a couple of inches wide and then execute a fold that converts it into a fearfully and wonderfully made figure-8 thingy that goes around your foot and ankle kind of like an Ace bandage, if you see what I mean, with a twisty bit up top…

Quantum Paratsox

… that has an opening hidden under it, because of the whole inside being continuous with the outside thing. (Yeah, I’m sure there are some shoes that won’t fit over it. But there are others that will.)

And then… then you fill in the heel. And then you pick up the edges and start working down the foot, and/or up the ankle, and… well… that of course is when Schrödinger’s Cat makes his appearance. Or doesn’t make his appearance. Or both does and doesn’t make his appearance. Because this is the reductio ad absurdum where quantum physics meets slapstick comedy.

    One can even set up quite ridiculous cases. A cat is penned up in a steel chamber, along with the following device (which must be secured against direct interference by the cat): in a Geiger counter, there is a tiny bit of radioactive substance, so small that perhaps in the course of the hour, one of the atoms decays, but also, with equal probability, perhaps none; if it happens, the counter tube discharges, and through a relay releases a hammer that shatters a small flask of hydrocyanic acid. If one has left this entire system to itself for an hour, one would say that the cat still lives if meanwhile no atom has decayed. The psi-function of the entire system would express this by having in it the living and dead cat (pardon the expression) mixed or smeared out in equal parts.

Erwin Schrödinger,
article in “Naturwissenschaften,” 1935


Now, I don’t actually claim to know from quantum physics. But I know from paradox, and I know from surreal. According to how you interpret this…

Cat Alive The cat is alive.
Cat Dead The cat is dead.
Cat Alive and Dead The cat is simultaneously both alive and dead.

You may call that “thought experiment”; you may call it “quantum superposition”; you may call it “environmentally induced quantum decoherence”; me, I call it farce, and it gives me the giggles.

Alternatively, you can take a more Heisenbergian view of the problem, according to which there is simply no way to know whether the cat is alive or dead, because thanks to the “diabolical mechanism” the intrusion of the observer is enough to affect the outcome and invalidate the experiment.

So is the cat alive, or isn’t it? In fact… is the cat even present, or isn’t it?

Question We Just Don’t Know…
Question … no matter how we look at it.

But that doesn’t stop me from looking at it. And the lens through which I see it - or don’t see it, as the case may be - is a form of Illusion knitting. Only… done in the round, like Festive Intarsia. Which is why I call it Festive Illusion.

That’s what those contrasting stripey boxes are, here and there on the sock - representations of the steel chamber in the original thought experiment. Depending on how you look at it, each of them may or may not contain a cat that may or may not be alive or dead or both; or indeed it may or may not simply contain a question mark as a representation of the Uncertainty Principle. How many such boxes there are, and which of them contains (or doesn’t contain) which symbol, is up to you.

Look straight at the box, and you can’t see through it; it might or might not contain a cat.

Quantum Paratsox

Look at it from the right angle… and you might actually SEE the cat, and even be able to tell whether it is alive or dead or both.

Quantum Paratsox

Then again, even if you can see inside the box, you may not be able to see the answer to the question.

Quantum Paratsox

The medium is the message. That’s Illusion knitting for you: now you see it, now you don’t.

In case that isn’t twisted enough for you… there’s a cuff in angled ribbing that appears to twist in one direction…

Quantum Paratsox

… overlaid with another mind-bendy strip (you can make it a true Möbius or add further twists, as you please) which appears to twist in the opposite direction, although in fact… it doesn’t.

Quantum Paratsox

So… when is a tsock not a tsock?

Quantum Paratsox

Um… actually… I don’t know. Do you?


Tour de Fleece, Day 2

More spinning on the Abby silk. And I washed the Beauteous CVM, for which I’m starting to have big plans. And the day ain’t over yet. Pictures in next post. Promise.

PSA: The Karma Goose Flies for Abby Franquemont

So… Abby has been having a rough few months, lately. And a bunch of us may (or may not, as Heisenberg might see it) be plotting something extraordinarily cool that we want to do for her. In a secretive sort of LALALALALALAMOVEALONGNOTHINGTOSEEHERE sort of way, so as not to spoil the surprise, but it might have something to do with handspun, and it might be very compatible with the Tour de Fleece, and there might be a couple of weeks left for you to get in on it. If you’re on Ravelry you can learn more about this (or you could, if anything were happening which of course it isn’t LALALALALALALA) by reading as much as you can bear of this thread, or by sending a PM to westfaire, who would be the ringleader of this operation if there were any operation to ringlead. Or if you’re not on Ravelry but are still interested in participating, leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.

That is… I would, if there were anything to get back to you about. ;-)

Size Matters

Saturday, July 3rd, 2010

Tour de Fleece, Day One.

What a difference six inches can make! And it doesn’t even matter where you measure from.

What? I meant six inches of drive wheel diameter, of course. What did you think I meant, hmmmmmm?

Got off to a slow start today, Tour-wise. Which is fine - I had lots of other stuff to do, and I wasn’t aiming for volume at this stage anyway.

Spent the first part of the day at Lauren’s, and I knew I wasn’t going to get any production spinning done over there, but I did have a spindle project with me.

Abby Silk

That’s tussah top dyed by Abby, colorway “Brackish,” on my beautiful low-whorl Connie’s Mjolnir. Mmmmmmmm, Abbysilk. Mmmmmmmmm, Greensleeves. Mmmmmmmm, burl. Three great tastes that taste great together. I’ve been spinning on this, on and off, for mumblety-mumble months. I’d bought the last two ounces of this colorway (hey, I live on a creek, after all, so how could I not?), and I’ve been savoring it. There’s no hurry. But there is some progress. (And this is not the first copp - not by any means. Note to self: locate the rest of the singles for next photo-op.)

Then when I got home in the late afternoon I settled down to the serious business of the day: another time trial. I wanted to see just how much of a difference those six inches would really make - that is, how much faster I could spin for the mile on the 30″ CPW instead of the 24″ that I used for the warm-up.

Answer: Quite a lot faster.

In spite of the fact that I lost a little momentum to take-up adjustments at first, I bettered my time by approximately 20%. And that’s still at pretty nearly a default treadling pace.

That cuts my worst-case time estimate for the mile to somewhere around 12 hours, which is not too shabby.

Cheviot Singles

It’s a whole different dynamic. I really love that 24″ saxony (don’t tell the CPW, but actually the 24″ is my Desert Island Wheel) because I can fine-tune the drive-band tension on it to a fare-thee-well, and because it just, you know, fits me, somehow. I didn’t even notice until after that first time trial that I hadn’t had to cross-lace at all, not even on the first pass down the bobbin - unusual for me when I’m spinning this fine. On the CPW? Oh, I had to cross-lace, all right - in fact, for the first few yards I was double-cross-laced, until I got acclimated and got the tilt-tension behaving the way I wanted it. Still, there’s no getting around it - that beeg wheel, she is FAST. A 20 % improvement in speed? Nothing to sneeze at.

Altogether, not a bad first day’s work, I’d say.