Skeins

Ribbons from the Fair

Charlotte’s Web was one of my favorite books when I was a kid. My daughter Carly is actually a Charlotte. It’s a family name, but I’ve always felt that I named her after that beautiful spider. When I brought Tori home from the hospital, Carly immediately started calling her Wilbur. They’re adults now, but sometimes I still think of them as Charlotte and Wilbur.

We had a fair nearby when I was a kid, but it was nothing like the fair in Charlotte’s Web. There’s just not a whole lot of “country” in the middle of the California desert. Oh, how I wanted to go to a real live country fair!  Now, I look forward to the Evergreen State Fair every summer.

After our first trip to the fair, I decided I was going to enter something. We’d only lived in the country a couple of months, so I had no idea what I would enter, but I was going to enter SOMETHING. The truth is, I wanted a ribbon. I didn’t care what color, any ribbon. (The only thing I didn’t want was the little sticker that says, “Thank you for entering. Please try again next year.)  I’ve never entered anything in anything, and I when I played sports as a kid participation trophies weren’t a thing. The kids had shelves of ribbons and trophies from years of soccer, baseball, baton, swimming and water polo.  Is it wrong for me to want just one ribbon?

Well, last year I didn’t pay attention to the deadlines, AND I didn’t really have anything to enter. The fair came and went, and I still admired all the pretty ribbons. THIS year was going to be different. I’ve learned to spin and crochet. I’ve also learned to make jam and jelly, and can all kinds of things. Not only was I going to get to enter the fair, I had choices!

I started checking and double checking deadlines in June when the fair entries were first published. I really thought I would enter my pickles and green beans in canning, but changed my mind. For one, they require a lot of information on recipes and canning methods. Two, they don’t even taste the canned product. They’re just judging canning technique. To me, that meant I would be judged on how well I followed directions. I’ll probably enter some canned goods next year, but for this year it just didn’t sound like much fun.

Ever since we got Spike and Tajo, I knew I wanted to spin their fiber and enter it in the fair. Because they’re rescues, I really wanted to show how awesome they are. We’ve had them for a whole year now. Because we got them shortly after shearing last year, I felt fully responsible for this year’s fiber. Whatever I produced, good or bad, was 100% on me.

003 (800x465)After shearing, I washed (and washed and washed and washed) their fiber.  Alpacas love rolling in the dirt, so this is a big job. I then dyed Spike’s fawn fiber with cherry Kool Aid. I would have liked to enter both boys naturally, but you can only enter one skein of yarn in each category.  With the natural shadings of Spike’s fiber, the yarn came out a really pretty rust color, with lots of different subtle shades. Then, I carded both batches of fiber. Twice! I wasn’t going to have any tangles or matting or grass interfering with my yarn. I’ve realized that after all the prep, spinning is actually the easy part. I was really happy with the results!

SkeinsOn entry day, I drove into town with my skeins carefully tied and twisted in the passenger’s seat. I’ll admit, I was a little afraid the people collecting the entries would laugh at my attempts. I kept seeing those stickers from previous years: “Thank you for entering. Please try again next year.” I would be so sad if I got one of those. I was absolutely tickled when asked if I was entering in the Master Class. Me? No way. Spike’s yarn got entered first. When she looked at Tajo’s she asked what method I had used for dying his fiber. She was amazed when I told her that was natural. He really does have fabulous, shiny, inky-black fiber! And with that, I was in!

EntryI had to wait nearly two weeks for the fair to open, to see how I did. The first day of the fair was free entry, so I picked up Carly and the kids and we went to check things out! We went straight to the yarn exhibits and I scanned the entries for my name. I would have been happy with “Some Pig.” Just please, please, please not a try again next year sticker.

Guess what!

1st Tajo     1st Spike

Yep. I got ribbons!

 

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Felting Crocheted Items

It has come to my attention that I’ve written about some of the more work-intensive felts, but have neglected to write about another easy method of felting. You can actually crochet any item you want, and then felt it. This makes the item more solid and more sturdy.

I’m still improving with my spinning, which means some of my yarn still comes out pretty crummy. I wrap these balls of yarn in a different colored yarn to remind myself not to use it in something that needs “good” yarn (like my alpaca blanket I’m crocheting). This yarn is over-twisted, under-twisted, thick, thin. In other words, what fiber artists would call “art yarn.” What that really means is they can charge you more. This type of yarn is great for felting. The process is going to make it felt together and get fluffy, so all the goofs will be absorbed in the process.

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If you don’t spin your own yarn, you can use any animal fiber yarn. I’ve used both wool and alpaca, and they give two very different looks. Anything you can crochet or knit, you can felt. I used alpaca for this project.

 To make a basket, you just make a beanie-type cap.  Start with your circle, and continue to crochet in the round, increasing with each row. You can see here how lumpy and uneven the yarn is.0224150850 (500x402)

(Note: I start with 4 chain stitches, connect them in a loop with a slip stitch, the crochet 12 double stitches through the center loop. Connect last stitch to first stitch with a slip stitch at the end of each row. 2nd row: 2 double stitches in each stitch. 3rd row: 2 double stitches in first stitch, 1 double stitch in the next stitch, continue all the way around. 4th row: 2 double stitches in first stitch, 1 double stitch in each of the next 2 stitches. Continue in this manner with each row, until you have the size you desire.)

Continue with your increases until your circle is a little bigger than you want the bottom of your basket to be.

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When my base is the size I want, I like to crochet the next row into just the front stitches. This just helps to make a defining line between the bottom and the sides, but it’s not necessary.

I’m really bad about slip-stitching the ends of each row together, so once I’m working my way up the sides, I keep on going in more of a spiral. I used my whole ball of less-than-perfect yarn and my basket wasn’t as high as I wanted it. I had about a half-ball of a different color and decided to use that to finish up. I like it.

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Now for the hard part. Ready? Throw it in the washing machine. Yep, that’s it. It works well to throw in a pair of jeans to help with the agitation. (Don’t use a towel because off the towel fluff pills up in the felting) Use a little squirt of Dawn liquid, set the washing machine on hot water and high agitation and let it do its thing. After the first round of washing, you’ll notice a good amount of felting, but still be able to see the individual stitching. This is fine, if it’s the look you’re going for. I usually run my items through 3 times to get them good and felted. After each round of washing, check your item to make sure it’s holding its shape and not felting onto itself. I’ve never had this happen, but I’ve heard it can, so I check. Once your item is felted as much as you want it, run it through a cold water rinse, let the water spin out, and set it out to dry. I set basket shapes upside down, over an upside down bowl to help them dry into the desired shape.

When felting alpaca it gets really furry. I’ve done this with a few different items, and it fluffs up every time.

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I thought this one ended up looking like a bird’s nest, so that’s exactly what I decided to use it for. Eggs!

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I made another piece out of alpaca, but didn’t want it quite so fuzzy, so I just gave it a haircut. Using scissors, carefully trim off the extra length you don’t want. Come to think of it, beard or hair trimmers may work well for this.

I’ve also made a basket out of wool yarn, and then needle felted an alpaca on it. You can see that this isn’t nearly as fuzzy as the alpaca yarn basket.

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You can find animal fiber yarns at most fabric and craft stores. If you want something handspun, you can find this at local fiber shows, and sometimes at farmer’s markets. If you’re city-bound, you can always hit up Craigslist.

One of my projects this next year will be slippers that are crocheted, then felted. I’m not sure how much bigger I’ll need to make them, in order for them to end up the right size. I’ll be experimenting with that.