Friday, August 26, 2011

The Predicaments of Pattern Production, or, The Frustrations of Fashioning a Finished Fiber Fabrication

After working all year on the same two patterns, I finally got both of them self-published.  You may wonder why it would take over half a year to get two patterns written up; I am asking myself the same question.

I guess the simple answer to this is modern technology (more specifically, computer programs, and my own ineptitude with them!).  In trying to create a pattern that looked “professional”, I had begun creating knitting charts in Excel, using the Aire River Knitting Font, and pasting them into my Publisher file as I created the pattern.  This works great, but I found earlier this year that when I would make a pdf of the chart, some of the lines on the chart would come out with uneven thickness (See the example below).

 This is not horrible, but it bugged me that when I designed the charts in Excel, they looked fine, but when made into a pdf, they looked different.  This seemed to happen randomly, with different results at different times.  Adding to this problem was the fact that, in order to create the charts the way I wanted them, I needed to paste them into another program to tweak a few things before inserting them into my Publisher file.  This seemed to create even more problems.

It seemed like the three programs I was using didn’t interface very well with each other.  I tried many different ways to save the files and many different ways to insert them, but remained unsatisfied.  But eventually I found that, though my charts didn’t look perfect on the screen, they did seem to print up reasonably well.  So I decided to use the best ones, even though they still irritate me.

Another problem that hindered the production of these two patterns was that I decided to make some changes in the design as I went along.  Each time I made a change, I re-knitted the pattern, to be sure that I had written the instructions clearly and accurately.  This took additional time, effort, and focus.

In the first pattern, the Bavarian Twist Stitch Christmas Stocking,

Bavarian Twist Stitch Christmas Stocking

I decided to use a ribbing for the bottom of the foot, instead of stockinette, after designing and writing up the pattern.  The instructions had to be rewritten, and some of the charts had to be redone, as well.  Then I realized that because the two sides of the sock were mirror images of each other, I needed two separate charts, rather than one repeated chart where the gusset is decreased.  Then I tried creating a pdf file from my Publisher file, and discovered that my charts looked wonky because of the uneven thickness of the lines on the chart!  But I finally got the pattern published.

The second pattern was the Collared Knitted Capelet.

Collared Knitted Capelet

 I had thought this one would be easier to chart than the previous one, because it contains no cables.  But these charts also gave me trouble because of the uneven thickness of the lines.   And I kept finding “hidden” objects in my chart that didn’t show up in Publisher, but jeered at me from my pdf’d chart, saying,  “Catch me if you can!”   To make matters worse, I came up with a “better idea” for the crocheted edging.  This meant that I had to knit the pattern again to try out my idea.  Unfortunately, after re-knitting the garment using my new idea, I discovered that the old way actually looked the best!  But in the process, I had discovered a way to keep the front edges from rolling so much.  So I started knitting again, to check out my pattern description of this technique.

Now that these two patterns are completed, I am breathing a sigh of relief.  I am hoping that my next pattern can be written up with much less trouble.  If only I weren’t such a perfectionist!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Preparing a Raw Fleece: Flick Carding the Locks

I was recently given some raw Romney fleece, and thought it would be a good opportunity to share how I prepare a fleece for spinning.  Many thanks to Andy and Pam Walton of Lake View Farm, who donated the fleece, and to our friend Tyson for setting aside the best of the fleece for us.  You made this post possible!

A raw fleece consists of many locks of fiber.  A lock is a group of fibers that "hangs" together, much like a lock of hair.  Here is a lock of fleece:

The upper left end of the lock is the butt end.  This is the end that was attached to the sheep; hence, it is usually cleaner than the other end.  The end at the lower right is the tip end.  Often (though not always) this end comes to a point.  Technically, I guess this would be two locks, since I see two tips here.

To prepare a fleece for washing and carding or combing, I first separate out each lock and (when necessary) remove any foreign material, such as hay, seeds, dead bugs, dung tags, and even on rare occasions a flap of skin that came off with the fleece.   Here you can see some hay in the fleece.

Next, I flick card it to separate the fibers and release the dirt.  This is the tool I use for this procedure:

As you can see, this tool has prepared many fleeces.  Working with raw fleece is by nature a dirty, greasy job, and my flick carder reflects this.  The flick card has many wire bristles that brush through the fiber to untangle it.  I start by holding the butt end of the fiber tightly between my thumb and fingers; then I use the flick carder to untangle and separate the tip end of the lock.

See how the fibers fan out and become much less dense?  Next, I turn the lock around and grab the tips tightly with my fingers and thumb.

I then use the flick carder on the butt end, to complete untangling the lock.

Here are the flicked locks, ready to be washed:

I will wash them by soaking them in hot water and dish detergent in my washing machine, being careful not to let them agitate.

Preparing fleece is a time-consuming pursuit, which probably explains the numerous as-yet-untouched fleeces in The Barn (aka our garage).  I have learned that, if I don't do this right away, I will probably not get to it...ever.  But I do enjoy getting my hands into the greasy fleece and creating order from the chaos of the unflicked locks.  And there is nothing quite like taking the raw fleece all the way through to a finished product!