Three Bags Full

It was a bit like the nursery rhyme when a white sack arrived from Wingham Wool Work full of wool. After unpacking I had bags of lovely colourful fiber. Wingham were great to deal with, they have a fantastic selection, the prices were good and the shipping to Ireland not to steep.

Right to left we have blue faced leicester in white, pink merino silk blend, emerald Merino, silver grey merino, alpaca in tangerine.

All put together like that the colours clash but I'm not planning on using them together or anything. There's 100g of each apart from the blue faced leicester of which there's 300g. I also got some dye and a simple wooden drop spindle for plying. The blue faced leicester feels like you'd imagine a cloud to feel.

I decided to spin up the silver grey merino first as I loved the colour. I'd heard it said that merino is a bit harder for the beginner but it's working out ok for me. Here's a photo of that beautiful Golding spindle.

Here's my kinda summary of spinning. Sorry to anyone who actually knows about this, actually you should probably head to Wikipedia or google it if you really want to know.

When a sheep is shorn the locks of wool have a certain length called a staple. This depends on the breed of sheep. Things that aren't sheep have a staple length too, linen has a long staple and cotton has a short staple length. The wool is cleaned and washed. It's then combed or carded which aligns all the fibers and cleans it further. The fiber is then drawn out into a long piece. The fiber is now called a top in the UK or roving in the US though there's some confusion about the two terms.

Spinning basically puts twist into the fiber so that it can't fall apart. When you pull the roving you'll find that at about a distance slightly longer than the staple length the fiber begins to pull apart. If you pull gently it will come apart, if you pull it when the distance is shorter than the staple length it won't come apart.
So when spinning the idea is to put twist in while pulling the roving apart to make it thinner. There needs to be enough twist to hold the fiber together. The pulling is called drafting and this determines the thickness of the yarn. You can leave lots of fiber into the twist to get a thick yarn or just some fiber and get a thinner yarn. It gets more complicated than that but that's the basic idea of spinning, it's kinda interesting physics but that's a whole other boring post for another day.

I have decided that spinning is quite an old fashioned thing to do so I've been listening to a lot of rap and new music while spinning. Damn it feels good to be a gangsta spinner...
I have also decided I must have The Knit Kit which looks like a swiss army knife for knitters, the sort of thing MacGyver might have had if he was a knitter. I'm sure he could knit, as a kid I was convinced he could do anything.

Cake and Blind Ale

Over at Tangelled Angel Sweensie posted the best brown bread recipe ever. So I had to try it out, I can report that's it's really tasty and easy to make. Give it a go.

While I was in the baking mood I also made this lovely Lemon Cake from the joy of baking website. It's really nice, I have to stop myself eating the whole lot of it. The icing is lovely and it's just icing sugar mixed with lemon juice. One of my new years resolutions is to make more good food and baking is definitely part of that.

Oz and James Drink to Britain was on last night and the Irish Craft Brewer section they filmed at the Bull and Castle last year made it onto the show. It showed home brewed beer in a good light I thought. It was nice to be described as the future of brewing in Ireland. Though I hope it's because we all go set up micro breweries and not because the only way to get good beer in Ireland will be to brew it yourself. The Bull and Castle got a great plug which it should as it's a great pub. Thom's beer as presented by The Beer Nut was the deserved winner. My friend Ed's beer was second due his to his tasty beer and great blarney.

The home brewers who appeared on the show gathered at The Bull and Castle to watch the programme last night. For extra amusement we did a blind taste test on five english ales. We had to taste the five ales blind and identify them. The five were black sheep ale, fullers london pride, fuller's esb, abbotts ale and bishops finger. I surprised myself by getting three right. The abbotts ale and bishops finger both tasted light struck. The abbotts really wasn't pleasant at all. I could spot black sheep as well. I mixed up the two Fullers beers. In the unmarked beers the one I thought was london pride was my favourite. It was actually ESB which is the beer I prefer most so I don't know why I didn't spot it. It's an interesting thing to do. It makes you think about what it is you like about a beer.

Finishing things and my first design

My blog was featured in the Irish Independent! Thanks to Marie Boran for featuring it.

January seems to have been a month of finishing off various projects so that when the end of month comes I'll have no works in progress and can decide to make any new project I want. I finished the alpine frost scarf which worked out nicely. Radcliffe the bear volunteered to model it. It's very soft and lovely to wear.

I hope this scarf goes with the ceangealtas mittens I made a while ago but I'm worried now. The Yarn Harlot says her daughter asked her to make her a hat and mittens but that it wasn't to be too 'knitty'. She's right, I'm marked as a knitter with my mismatched hats, scarfs and gloves.

To remedy this I have been knitting a hat to go with the mittens from the same wool so they are definitely going to match. The Brown Sheep Lamb's Pride is a lovely wool with a nice fuzziness from the 15% mohair. I don't think I mentioned this hat before even though I've been working on it since before christmas. It's my own design and well I'm quite proud of it.

I used to have a hat with bits sticking out the top so I wanted something like that. I also wanted to try a bit of fair isle stranded knitting. I found a chart of a snowflake so decided to put a ring of them around the hat.

I cast on in the round and did a few rows of ribbing before starting the snowflakes. I even managed to do two handed fair isle knitting. I used this knit picks video to figure it out. I decreased a bit at the top of the hat then I stopped working in the round and knit all the pointy bits back and forth. I french knit a tie for the top to keep them all together while on.

One thing I didn't account for was that the fair isle part of the hat didn't stretch as much as normal knitting would. When the hat was finished it was a bit tight and it needed a bit of aggressive blocking. I found a pudding bowl in a shop that was the same size as my head, yes I tried on the pudding bowl in the shop. I hope nobody saw me, they would rightly conclude I was a lunatic. Anyway I blocked (this is where you wet a piece and dry in the shape you want) the hat on the bowl for a while and then pinned it out to dry completely.

It came out really well and I'm pleased to have a one off hat. Also it may save me from looking too knitty when out and about. I now have no old projects that I need to finish off lurking in my knitting bag. It's exciting thinking about what I'll do next. I have some plans but that's a whole other post.

Oz and James Drink to Britain

The series Oz and James Drink To Britain has started on BBC 2 at 8pm on Tuesday nights. The first two shows have been very entertaining as Oz Clarke and James May drive around in their Rolls Royce and Caravan taking a light-hearted look at drinking culture in Britain and Ireland.

A sneak peak at the book accompanying the series shows that the evening filmed in the Bull and Castle didn't end up on the cutting room floor after all. There I am at the left of the picture in my luminous orange brewing t-shirt. The slot on the show will be called Strictly Come Drinking and is a homebrew competition. Look out for me on the show though I should be recognizable with my day-glo t-shirt. Here's the link to the shop if you want one, it helps support the Irish Craft Brewer website.

It would also seem that I am being cyber stalked by the James May Fan club. They seem to like my Brewing T-Shirt. I'm not at all sure about this. The Beer Nut told me about this thread, how he found it is a whole other question.

Secret Santa Goodies

The Irish Knitters group on Ravelry had a Secret Santa swap for Christmas so of course I joined in. It was great fun finding out about and then shopping for a fellow knitter. None of my friends or family knit except my Mum so I don't get to buy many woolly presents.
The swap was started late so it was decided the presents would be sent for Little Christmas or Nollaig na mBan. This was a nice touch as traditionally it's the day women get spoiled after Christmas by their husbands and children.

I received my present and spoiled I was! Loads of wonderful goodies. Lovely yarn which with it's lovely summer colours might make a lovely lacy crocheted scarf. Lots of sweets which are now gone, the percy pigs didn't make it past the first hour. There were even doggie biscuits which Westley was very pleased about.

There's a pack of roving which may be spun into yarn or maybe needle felted into a cool accessory for a bag I'm planning to make soon. There's a pack of very nice, very very handy stitch markers. Those purple buttons are fabulous, I'll have to find something special to put them on. The little dog and cat are very cute.

Lurking there is some hand cream which is great as I have no hand cream left after this week. My allergy caused a lovely rash on my hands which has lead to them peeling. I can't crochet or knit at the moment as my hands get stuck in the wool. So the hand cream is great.

Thanks a million Secret Santa!

Spinning and Twirling

The Fat Bottomed Santa left a Learn to Spin kit under the tree for me.

It's the Golding Learn to Spin Kit. I did give Santa some help by suggesting a few kits but this one was top of the wish list. I'd heard a lot on the Ravelry Spindlers group about Golding spindles and so was delighted to get one. It's a Tsunami 1.9 oz top whorl spindle. It's a middle weight spindle and top whorl means the flat disc bit (the whorl) is at the top when it spins.

There are loads of websites with great information about learning to spin. A really good one is The Joy Of Handspinning, it has videos too which are great for learning how to spin which is hard to describe in words. I Can Spin also has good videos. Interweave's Spin Off magazine has a lot of very helpful free PDFs. Abby Franquemont's blog is very entertaining and she seems like the kinda person who has forgotten more about spinning than I'll ever know.

I'd read a lot about spindle spinning so was really looking forward to trying it out properly this time. My previous attempts to spin with a heavy homemade bottom whorl drop spindle were terrible. I couldn't get the hang of it at all. I was ok with the spinning wheel but not with the spindle. At the moment I can't afford a spinning wheel and I want to see if I really like spinning before I get a wheel.

The spindle came with Spin It by Lee Raven which is a great introduction to how to spin your own yarn. There was also 2oz of grey Coopworth wool roving to spin.

I found that the secret to spinning on the drop spindle was to draft the roving before spinning. I split the roving in two then in two again. I then pulled each of these lengths out before spinning them. I practiced and to my delight I started getting the hang of it. I started with the park and draft method of spinning where you spin the spindle and stop it by parking it between your knees. You can then let the twist run up into the fiber at your own pace. By the end I was able to draft while the spindle spun and dropped.

There's a photo of my singles on the spindle. I wound the twisty singles off the spindle into a ball. I then spun the other length of roving into singles as well. Since I got this far I decided I might as well try ply the two singles together as well. A photo of my low tech solution to not having fancy things like a lazy kate is below.

When you make the singles you twist the spindle clockwise. When you ply the two together you twist the spindle counter clockwise. Something magical then happens, the twisty singles become well behaved 2 ply yarn that doesn't twist.

I wound the finished yarn off the spindle onto a picture frame, a low tech solution to not having fancy things like a niddy noddy. I tied it up then soaked it in hot water to set the twist. After it dried it was different than before it was soaked. The yarn became even less twisty and softer with a nice halo of wispy bits.

There's more shots of my yarn, mine! It's a bit uneven in places but with practice hopefully it'll get more even and consistent. I have no fiber left now and I want some more. I can feel some shopping coming on. I've resolved this year that I won't buy any more yarn until I've used up the stuff I have. But making my own yarn is different... isn't it?

Hopefully I can get a good selection of different fibers to try out. Currently on the list to try is blue faced leicester, merino, silk hankies and alpaca. I'm really excited to try spinning silk. Silk is my favourite yarn and silk mawatas are much cheaper than silk yarn.

A&E Ale

Happy new year everyone!

My 2008 had an interesting end. I ended up in hospital on Stephen's night. A&E isn't a great place to be as you get tests and wait for a bed at three in the morning. They thought I had a lung blood clot so they kept me in to do some tests. A CT showed I had pneumonia. Last time I went to hospital I ended up staying there for two months so to get away with pneumonia really wasn't so bad. The hospital had an outbreak of the winter vomiting bug so no visitors were allowed. That was as bad as it sounds. Relatives could leave food parcels and supplies at the front door. It did feel like a scene from a Dickens novel. The nurse felt sorry for me as I had no chocolate as my bag of supplies hadn't arrived so she gave me some emergency Roses from the nurses supply.

Luckily my Mum delivered my latest crochet project along with books and proper food. It's the Alpine Frost Scarf from Interweave Crochet Magazine which I subscribed to. It's a good price for the year and as a bonus it was delivered just in time for Christmas. The patterns are lovely, some crochet patterns aren't great but the ones in this magazine are gorgeous. I had a skein of Lorna's Laces Lion and Lion in the colorway purple iris so I decided to make it into the scarf. Since Lion and Lamb is worsted weight and the pattern is for lace weight yarn I modified the pattern to give the width scarf I wanted and used a bigger hook.

One of the old ladies on the ward was very impressed with the scarf. I think in this yarn and colour it looks like seaweed or something. The Lion and Lamb yarn is an expensive treat but I'm not sure it's worth it. The start of the scarf has gone a bit fuzzy and I haven't even finished it yet. It might not wear so well. Manos del Uruguay silk blend is the same type of yarn with beautiful colours and it's cheaper. I know it wears well since a cowl I made from it a year ago is still going strong despite constant wear.

The hospital food was awful as usual but was made all the worse knowing I was missing all the lovely christmas leftovers. At tea time I was so glad I'd been sent a bag of cheese and onion crisps as it livened up the plain cheese sandwich and tea. This is the first year I didn't eat christmas pudding every day for a week. I suppose it's a head start on the new years diet.

On christmas day I did have some nice christmas beers. The Anchor christmas ale was lovely and went very well with the turkey and ham. I think the Samichlaus was maybe a little heavy with the pudding. Though at that stage I was pretty full so maybe I should try that combination again.

I got home on the monday but had to go back in to hospital on tuesday as I had an allergic reaction to the antibiotics. I've had anaphylaxis from antibiotics before so I was taking no chances this time. I've resolved not to get sick again after this so I don't need antibiotics anymore. Thankfully by wednesday evening I was ok with my new antibiotic and was sent home. I had a very quiet new years eve with no beer or parties but it was nice all the same. My christmas ale stash is quite intact. I'm with Boak and Bailey in thinking that january is a ludicrous time of year to contemplate giving up beer. We need something to cheer us up in this dark cold month.

I decided to name my Kolsch A&E Ale after my adventures. Unfortunately when I got back to Dublin I discovered that the better bottle I was storing it in had leaked. There is some left but it doesn't look very good, it's turned brown. The bottle leaked as the valve wasn't closed properly. Lesson learned: make sure you hear a click when you close the high flow valve.

Better luck in 2009 eh?