Saturday, January 7, 2017

Depilling Experiment

I tend to prefer "rustic" yarns over soft ones like merino, polwarth, cashmere, angora, and alpaca, because I find these fine fibers start to pill terribly after a while.

Here's an example. This is a home-spun, handknit cardigan I did about a year ago. It has about 50% merino in it - the blue colour, especially, has  high fine-wool percentage (75% merino/polwarth). The higher percentage, the bigger the tendency to pill.

[handspun, hand-knit cardi (my own design)]

After only a year of wear, the underarm areas (on sleeves and body) as well as the bottom blue band, are really starting to pill fairly badly:

[pilling under the arms...]

[...and along the bottom]

The sweater has lost its "dressy" appeal for me.

After reading up on pill removal, I did some experiments using:
1. a hair clipper (the kind I use for my husband's hair),
2. a battery-operated device that supposedly sucks in the pills and cuts them off,
3. a cheap comblike tool with a very rough metal surface, called a "d-fuzz-it" and I think made by Dritz, costs like $3, and finally,
4. a piece of pumice ("sweater stone")

[hair clipper]

[battery-operated defuzzer]

[D-Fuzz-It comb]

[piece of pumice stone - don't ask me how they made it blue]

The only one that worked well was item 3.

The hair clipper / beard trimmer is scary to use, you have to watch like a hawk that those blades don't get too close to the knitting. Then, the fluff that it does chop off just stays on the sweater (and sticks) so it doesn't save any work from just picking off the pills by hand.

The batter-operated vacuum thingy is worthless on bigger pills. It doesn't have the strength to remove anything. Don't waste your money.

The comblike tool  has a rough surface that collects the pills. It requires a firm hand, you scrape across the sweater and it collects fluff. It works extremely well. It takes a lot of stuff off, and yes, this wears out the sweater. "Pilling" is "wear". In other words, fine wools don't wear well. Which, I remind you, is why I'm not a big fan...

The piece of pumice (a type of volcanic stone that's also used to remove callouses from your feet, I got it from the manicure section of my local drug store for a few dollars). You rub it across the sweater. More expensive are "sweater stones", which are exactly the same thing in block form. I found this thing very effective as well, but it was much more awkward to hold and maneuver across the sweater. It also felt much more aggressive than the comb and seemed to remove more fuzz.

But, after once-over with the defuzzer, my sweater is looking much better.

[...after a go-over with the sweater "comb"]

[ more pills!]

[Here's the pile of fluff I took off the sweater]

I'm now going over all my "soft" sweaters with this little thing. It's going to live in my top drawer!

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!