Thursday, May 08, 2008

The Epic Honeycomb Adventure

The Epic Honeycomb Adventure
or, How far I will travel just to keep on knitting.

The day started with a visit to Whippletree Junction. We arrived before everything was open and the tourists began to buzz about from shop to shop like little bees fluttering from flower to flower. I like early mornings in soon to be busy places. People slowly walk around as if in their sleep, the coffee has not yet taken hold, and the air vibrates with potential of what the day will bring. Whippletree Junction always has this feel to it, even when it is at it's busiest. It is a nexus where the past and the future join and when you visit there, you can see history all around you and this make one even more aware of where they are in their life and where they are going.

Whippletree has a small collection of shops with a lovely pub restaurant which makes it an excellent afternoon treat. The yarn shop there, The Loom, is overflowing with yarn and yarn related goodies and entering it's doors is always an adventure in itself.

But that was just a pit stop on our main quest. The reason why we went on a road-trip was one little vest: The Honeycomb Vest by Sarah Castor.

I had fallen in love with this pattern right from the start. I realized that this was the pattern that would finally inspire me to spin a yarn specifically for this pattern out of that divine alpaca-silk blend that I had been conserving for something extra special. This is a big step in the life of a spinner, especially a new spinner like myself. I was nervous, I was even scared, but I wanted to knit that vest and I wanted to knit that vest out of yarn I spun myself.

So I spun, and I spun and I spun some more; every few moments stopping to check my yarn against the sample I wanted to imitate. Eventually it came time to swatch, so I knit a swatch. Imagine my delight when the yarn I made knit up exactly to recommended gage. I danced around the house for hours in a state of pure bliss. The time had come to finish the rest of the yarn and to discover just how much yarn the fibre made.

I thought I had enough fibre. I thought I had more than enough fibre. When measured by weight, I had plenty. But when I measured the length of the yarn, it was a hundred meters short. Ten meters I could deal with, even twenty, fifty meters would have been pushing it, but I think I would have pressed on and knit it anyway. But a hundred meters shy? An entire century of meters was too much for me to go on. I put the yarn aside, disappointed by the lesson I had learned: that alpaca is heavier than wool and even though it was the right weight, it failed to spin up to the necessary length.

That was a month ago. Spring had finally arrived in this fair land of ours, and summer vacation had established a foothold in these parts. So we piled into the car, Y, my father and I, tiffins filled with curry in one hand and Righteous Orbs in the other. And we went North. We traveled North until we arrived and were greeted by these darling sheep and their care taker, Anna. Owner and operator of Qualicum Bay Fibre Works.

Qualicum Bay Fibre Works is a fibre mill. It is one of those magical places where that fluffy stuff that comes off animals like alpaca and sheep gets transformed into yarn. It goes through many many stages before it is ready for the knitter, weaver, crocheter or the yarn collector. A spinner can purchase the fibre at the pre-yarn stage when the fibre is in its batt or roving form. After giving us a tour of her mill, Anna and I set to work trying to find some fibre that would match what I had already spun for the vest. It took a bit of work, but we eventually found some alpaca-wool blend that was an excellent colour match. She kindly blended it with silk for me right there while I watched. It was far better than any magic show because at the end of it all, I brought home some lovely and soft, future yarn.

Can you guess what this is? It is where the fibre is fed into the carding machine. This machine is over 130 years old and still working it's magic.

This is the machine that blended my fibre and put it into pencil roving for me to take home and spin.

And this, this is where yarn happens.

I think that this must be what heaven is like for a fibre lover.


Josiane said...

What a great road trip! I'm glad you could find some fibre that was a good match to what you already had. I can't wait to see your progress on that project! As a new spinner myself, I find it very inspiring.

curlysalamander said...

I think this is a case of "persistence has its own rewards." I just made that up. I'm having a similar experience making an aran knit out of the raw wool I shared with you. Somehow it's the effort itself that is the reward, although on one level it seems ridiculous to be washing drying picking carding and then spinning, plying, setting and drying before ever knitting. But it gives me great joy.