Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Fiber Artist Review: Esther's Place

Hey all! I'm going to continue on with making these fiber and artist reviews, since so many of you find them useful. I know I keep saying it, but I really will. :) Here is a review I did back in June 2012 about Natasha's fiber shop in Illinois. If you ever have the chance to visit the Chicago area, make your way to her place and stock up on locally grown wool.

Originally posted on June 11, 2012:

Three posts in a week?! What crazy world is this? :) So, when I have plenty of time to get things done, I get them done. Funny how that works. Several months ago, the Champaign Weaver's and Spinners Guild had a special guest from Big Rock, IL. That was Natasha Lehrer, a young, powerful, and small framed woman who owns and operates Esther's Place. I think it's sweet how her business started, so be sure to read how it all started. Be sure to stop by her adorable and cozy store if you're close. Lucky for me, it was only about a 15 minute drive.

After viewing one of Natasha's fabulous silk collages (which has also earned her an Honorable Mention), I grew fascinated and inspired by her sense of color depth and organic style of crafting. I wonder how much time she spends thinking about each piece--perhaps she's just one of those amazingly talented people who can flow through a piece without structured form. For the scientific person in me, all I can do is make mental imprints of her stunning work and test and experiment to achieve something "close." So, if you have a chance to work with her and/or visit her shop in person, prepare to be enlightened.

In addition to her own work, she runs a fiber co-op in her store which is supplied by local wool. It's a great source for wools that are tough to find, and her shop helps the local economy. I landed my hands on one wool in particular that I've never heard of before, and 3 more "rare" wools that I've heard of but never tried. You'll be sure to see those in the upcoming fiber reviews. Let's talk now about the beautiful batts I bought from Natasha several months ago. And there's lots of pictures. Like this one:

The first batt I bought was mostly cheviot wool, with a sprinkling of angelina and probably some other things too. I used most of it in a tote I made for my mom for this past Christmas, but there was still about 15g left over. I wanted to make a fat, funky yarn that would really show off the colors of the cheviot. What better way to do that than by making a corespun yarn? I give you 7.5 yards of ultra chunky, cheviot wool corespun yarn:

A quick note about corespinning. If your yarn keeps turning out hard and cord-like, I have a tip: LIGHTEN YOUR GRIP! I made that huge mistake on my first few attempts, and it was solved by letting the wool grab the core yarn naturally. Hold your wrap yarn hand a few inches away from your taught core yarn and allow the twist to enter the wrap point when you release tension on the wrap fiber. There should be air spun into the yarn, so try not to force the wrap fiber too tightly around the core--the result will be a hard, cord-like yarn (which has applications, but probably not your goal). I haven't decided what I want to make with it yet, so it'll hang out in my finished handspun yarn sack until I can decide.

This next batt was entitled, Natasha's Crazy Batts. I've definitely seen crazier batts, so I'd like to alter the title to be: Natasha's Refined Textured Batts, since that characterizes that flavor of this batt better, in my ever-so-humble opinion. There is texture and color and a hint of spice--and it's all put together so as to not be displeasing to the eye. Here's the batt I chose, though I wanted all that she brought to our guild meeting so many months ago:

The ingredients include: merino, corriedale, alpaca, angora, bamboo, and angelina sparkle. I pulled off strips from one side of the batt to the other, since there was already a semi-established color gradient. I predrafted the wool and spun it in order, with very little drafting while spinning. It turned out to be a low(ish) twist thick and thin single that had a lot of potential. I decided to spin a single of bamboo at roughly 12 WPI (wraps per inch) and ply the two together. Then I decided I wanted to incorporate some Leicester locks Natasha had dyed by incorporating them into the yarn during the plying phase. Here they are:

I separated out the prettiest and most colorful of the locks, and lined them up next to me so I could just grab one when I wanted to ply it into the yarn. I don't know how often I put them in, but it was probably around every 4-5 yards. I learned quickly how to lock them in place such that they wouldn't easily escape the yarn. When you're ready to insert a lock, wrap the lock around one of the yarns (best with locks at least 2 inches), place the wrap yarn (in my case, the bamboo) at the start of the lock and continue plying as normal. The bamboo should wrap around the lock section a few times to fully secure it. A good wash and beating should cause the surface fibers to felt together slightly too. Here's a close-up of the lock in the yarn:

And here's the final yarn:

When I got to the end of this particular skein, I didn't have enough handspun to finish one more 2-yard loop. Instead of cutting it short, or leaving the ends super long, I came up with this easy solution:

I just used a plain 'ol acrylic yarn to tie the two short pieces together. Waste not! :D I got a grand total of 44 yards, and it'll probably knit up at 4-ish stitches per inch. I'm also not sure what to do with this yarn yet either. Maybe if I accumulate enough of this bulky thick and thin yarn, I can make a fun scarf or cowl. Or mittens. Fringe is a good possibility too. Anyway, I'll probably make my way back out to her place before we leave the States, and perhaps to take a class or something..who knows!

Last thing. I failed to mention all of the goodies that were in the Kiss-O-Gram batt from my last post. The ingredients are: corriedale, merino/tencel, oatmeal BFL, sari silk, lamb locks, alpaca, BFL locks, lincoln locks, and glitz. Talk about jam-packed! That said, I didn't really have any issues with predrafting and spinning this batt--there were just a lot of interesting textures and nothing too harsh for next-to-skin items. I'll be back with a mini fiber review tomorrow (hopefully)!