Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Icelandic Souvenirs, Part II

Well, this post has absolutely ZERO to do with socks. Or knitting, even.

You see, a year ago or so, I decided I needed a way to get rid of some stash. Like most knitters - and especially now that I am spinning, and a member of a fiber club, which ensures a steady input of wooly stuff - I have a seemingly endless supply of yarn.

I took a weaving class. Yes, I know, I used to be of the opinion that I'd never be caught weaving. My mother had a huge floor loom and at age 14 I helped her with it - once. The adolescent me was bored beyond belief. That's what I remember, anyways. But after visiting various friends who have small looms, I thought....well....maybe....

So, this weaving class. It was using a so-called "knitter's loom", which is a small "rigid heddle" loom (20" width of fabric, handles about 3m maximum length) that sits in your lap and uses knitting yarns. One day in, I was hooked. Bought the thing and took it home. This is a device that simply eats yarn. You can whack out a length of fabric in about 8 hours, a little longer if you do complicated patterning. But boy is it fast!!

So, I've been playing with this thing. It's a new toy, so of course I'm neglecting all my sock-projects to spend time with my new love.

Back to Iceland...I got some Lettlopi, which is the DK-ish version of the icelandic wool. I let myself be inspired by the colours of the Iceland landscape I remember from our hike along the Laugavegur trail:

[ Laugavegur Landscape ]

I ordered 3 colours: green, black, and light grey. The yarn is a double-ply construction, very lightly spun and plied, and then felted for strength, so it stands up fine in the loom. I didn't break any threads. The wool is hairy and has a tendency to stick to itself, so it's not the easiest thing to weave with, but quite do-able with only a little bit of patience required.

And then I made a scarf, with the simplest design possible - a random set of stripes in both length and width. I finished it by giving it a warm bath, followed by a quick spin in the dryer to get it to the "damp" stage, and then a hot steam iron and a prolonged and very, very stiff brush. This treatment fulled the wool ("fulled" = very slightly felted), and the brushing made it fuzzy, in the same way that I remember the lopapeysa sweaters were (in fact, the higher-end sweaters I saw in Reykjavik came with their own little brushes!). Speaking of lopapeysa sweaters, here's a fascinating article about them. They are a post-WW2 invention and have taken on almost mythical status.

The end product is very lightweight, fuzzy, and very warm. It is not soft - Icelandic wool is not a fine wool, it's tough as nails, like the sheep it comes from - but I find it quite pleasant to wear. I only get itchy from wool if I get too warm; in cold weather, even coarse wool around my neck doesn't bother me at all. Just lucky, I guess.

my Icelandic Memory Scarf ]

I'm super-pleased with this result! It deserves my Icelandic Badge of Approval!

[ souvenir badge ]

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Icelandic Souvenirs

So during our epic trip to Scandinavia this summer, my younger son and I visited Iceland. We had spectacular weather, which no doubt contributed to the very positive experience we had there. It's a lovely country - expensive though - with absolutely amazing scenery. And of course, lots of sheep. And woolly sweaters. And very tasty lamb!

[leg of lamb ready for the BBQ on our last day in Iceland]

During our 6-day trek (the Laugavegur, which is quite famous), we saw quite a few semi-feral sheep on the hillls around us. The sheep are tagged - they aren't "wild", but left to run loose in the country. In September the farmers collect them all, in a sort of public roundup called Rettir, which naturally involves a lot of drinking!

The sheep we saw were usually in very small groups of 3-6, apparently a mother or two, her lamb(s) of the season, and a ram. They eat their way through the landscape. They were shy so I couldn't approach very closely. While there were white sheep present, not all were white - not by a long shot! Unlike in Canada, are no natural predators in Iceland. The biggest predator they have is the arctic fox, which can't down a full-grown healthy sheep.

[icelandic sheep in natural habitat]

[these were 2 days' walk from anywhere]

We visited an open-air museum, a sort of pioneer village affair where they had collected old houses and people in costume did traditional crafts. You know the type. They had sheep there too so we could get up close. These sheep struck me as smart, independent,  tough little "four-by-four" types. The ewe (below), was using her foot to pull the fencing down so she could get her head through. The ram - with 4 horns!! I didn't know Icelandic sheep could have 4 horns! - followed us around after we fed him apparently much tastier grass from our side of the fence. 

[icelandic ewe attempting escape]

[BFFs now that we have fed him]

Iceland has been experiencing a tourist boom since their currency crashed in 2008 (thanks to the global  financial crisis), although the prices have come back to eye-watering levels by now.  Like most of the tourists,  my son and I both bought sweaters - not the full-on traditional round-yoked ones - those are much too warm for Vancouver winters - but slightly lighter-weight ones in non-traditional patterns. There is so much choice in wool wear in Iceland! I found the prices reasonable, too - CD$175 or so for an excellent-quality 100% wool sweater is not bad. I mean, Norwegian Dale sweaters will cost you double that! The sweaters are very, very light and very warm. They aren't particularly soft but they are very fuzzy. Some of them come with a little bristle-brush to keep the fuzz looking nice. I've been wearing mine a lot, now that the fall rains are here.

I did not buy any knitting yarn, I didn't have much room in my backpack and I can get this stuff online (there's only a single yarn mill in Iceland, so it's all the same yarn) at reasonable prices. I do have some ideas in my head, inspired by the country!! Apparently, thanks to the offshore demand, there's a yarn shortage now!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Socktacular Experiment

A while back (several months) I ordered a batch of "medium wool" single-breed rovings from a mill in Carstairs, Alberta. This isn't exactly a local mill - Carstairs is about 1000km away from me - but I thought I'd give Canadian sheep a try.

I was able to get a taster pack of 7 different breeds (all wool comes from SK, AB, and BC). The prep is carded ropes, not pindrafted. All the wool is white and I got 2oz (ie. 50g) of each - which is enough for a single sock. Heheheh...yep, I'm going to make 7 single socks, same spinning, plying, and knitting for each, embroidered with an ID marker, and then I'm gonna mix and match while wearing them. Ha. That should sort out the best breed, don't you think???

[taster pack of sock breeds]

[breed number 1 on the wheel]

The breeds I got are: texel, romney, dorset, cotswold, suffolk, clun forest, and southdown. As I said, all from Canadian sheep, and none of them bred for their fiber. Canadian sheep are mostly meat sheep, especially in commercial flocks (of which there are only few, Canada's not a big sheep country - too many predators). The mill I bought from is profit-driven and not a hobby or co-op operation, so they buy cheap fiber in bulk. They are not in the business of buying single fleeces from hobbyists.  The only trouble with buying roving from this mill is that the shipping is extremely expensive - thank you Canada Post. That means I won't be doing a lot of it. 

Anyways, I thought this might be a fun thing to try. Spinzilla is coming and this is going to be my project - see if I can get through a bunch of this roving. I've started on the Texel and it is a very different spinning experience from all the commercially combed prep I've been using - it's got a few blebs so takes some attention, but it's possible to spin fine, wooly singles. Man, are they wriggly! The Texel is extremely springy. I'm keen to compare the Canadian southdown with the stuff I've used from the UK. Also I 'm curious to see how the Romney fares, as that's my current favorite!

I'm aiming for 4-ply socks. We'll see if I'm able to do that - lately I've been slipping to 3-ply as I'm finding that the knitting makes a huge difference (as in: very tight gauge knitting can compensate for the lack of the 4th ply).

[ Texel single with commercial sock yarn as comparison]

I'll keep you all posted with how these spin. It'll be some time (as in, months!) before I can make any conclusions about how the socks wear...