Sunday, February 21, 2016

Elementary, My Dear Watson

Meet Dr Watson, the cutest alpaca cria (baby) in Cape Town. His affectionate nature has won many hearts of friends and family of my dad and Merle. Their indigenous garden on the mountainside is home to a few alpacas. They are not all as sweet and tame as Dr Watson. 

This is some of Dr Watson's third grade fibre from his first shearing. His blanket is a rose-grey colour, varying from pale grey to deep chocolate brown. 

I love my dad's studio. A few months ago I set out to spin some of Dr Watson's fibre on their lovely Ashford Traditional spinning wheel which is different to my wheel at home.

While I spun, my dad painted in oils that day and we listened to classical music. 

 Pickle, the parrot joined us and watched over the first oil painting ever painted by my son that day in the studio. Arran spent two inspiring days learning the skill of oil painting from his grandpa.

I sat in the corner spinning while my father and my son painted with classical music in the background, accompanied by a silent parrot. 

This is the wobbly beginning of learning to spin Dr Watson's fibre which is very different to Lucy's merino fibre. It is also the beginning of learning to use a different wheel. 

After a little practice it became easier to spin a more even single of Dr Watson's fibre. This darker portion of Dr Watson yarn is spun back on the farm on my own wheel. 

Dr Watson's singles were fairly thick, so I plied them into a two-strand yarn. The natural variation in his blanket gave a barber-pole effect to some of the yarn. 

This is the bouncy-soft double-plied skein of Dr Watson's yarn. 

I washed the skein to set the twist and hung it in the bathroom to dry. 

The skein is 82m long and 118g of luxurious bulky squishy soft alpaca yarn. 

The skein rolled into a beautiful big ball for knitting. I used a circular needle and knitted over a few evenings sitting in the lounge with my farm men. 

I found just the right pattern to knit up a beanie to make the most of the plushy warmth of the yarn. The pattern is the Gridiron Hat by Argyle Sheep on the knitting and crochet website, Ravelry. Thankfully the yarn was enough. All I have left is 12g. 

The beanie is warm and super soft and snug. I love the way the lighter fibre ended up on the brim. It is a satisfying thing to journey with fibre all the way from a snuggly greeting from Dr Watson to wearing a Dr Watson Beanie on my head. So my first journey from fibre to finished product was, surprisingly, not with Lucy Lamb's first fleece. I still have a long way to go preparing all of Lucy's fleece for spinning. It has been great fun to dabble in a bit of alpaca spinning in the meantime. 

Its much as I love it, it is not for me to keep. I wrapped it up and sent it to my dad to keep warm in the Cape winter; to remember me; to enjoy precious Dr Watson's fibre as a hat; to remember that day in his studio where three generations created art alongside a parrot; when Beethoven was playing; and we were happy. 

Friday, February 19, 2016

Lucy's First Fleece - Part 4

Since mastering the basics of spinning, and loving every moment, I have been experimenting with the inferior bits of my precious Lucy's fleece.

By the time I reach the best wool, I will hopefully have discovered the easiest way to wash the locks without felting them; pick out the vegetable matter without leaving tiny spiky bits to be spun into the yarn; comb or card the softest fibres and spin the loveliest type of wool.

I have spun 'in the grease' where the lanolin stays in, but so does the mud. I have washed the fleece so squeaky clean that it feels chalky to the touch. I have combed the fibres into the airiest puffs of lock which I have spun individually into a shinty smooth semi worsted yarn and I have carded clouds of rolags which spin into a fluffy woollen yarn... all this on one bobbin. 

Most importantly, my skill is slowly improving as I am spinning a little more evenly each time I try. 

Decadent Dad turned  two drop spindles on the lathe for spinning on the trot. The first, most beautiful one is rather heavy and rests on the floor while I spin 'park and draft' style, but the second is a dream to spin 'on the fly'. 

The unspinnable (is that a word) fleece is fun to play with. Two delightful little girls and I have made felt balls which we dyed with food colouring and then threaded into Rainbow Lucy Necklaces.

 It was a lovely opportunity for learning the names of colours in English and Sesotho, opposites like wet/dry, dark/light, rough/smooth and counting words in both languages.

I also experimented with home made mulberry dye.

The resultant pinky felt looks like carpet-underfelt. I haven't found a use for it yet but, in true Elastic Mom style, I will. 

An internet exploration led to my discovery of the craft of needle felting which has the potential to produce magnificent works of art. I managed to create a simple little flower with my sharp felting needles and some Waldorf-dyed fleece.

Now I am ready to start with the superior sections of Lucy's fleece. Last weekend I washed half of it. I am in no hurry. A little sorting here, combing there and spinning when I can and eventually I will have enough wool to knit into something lovely. I find the whole process relaxing and after all these years I understand the nursery rhyme my mother taught me as a child:

Cross Patch draw the latch
Sit by the fire and spin
Take a cup and drink it up
Then call the neighbours in