Archive for the “fiber” Category

A few years ago, inspired by a blog post from Ashland Bay, I bought four braids of fibre with the thought of spinning a gradient three-ply yarn, changing out one strand at a time as I worked from the first colour to the last. My plan was to pick up a coordinating solid and then use the resulting yarn to make a sweater like this Painterly Pullover.

But the green on the left stood out too much. And I couldn't find a solid that I liked that would coordinate well with all four colours.

Four braids of merino spinning fibre in a gradient from sage green to dark blues/purples.

So... I replaced the green with a pinky-purple blend, and I like it a lot better. The coordinating solid is a pale pink, which unfortunately arrived smelling of cigarette smoke and Febreze, bleah! I put it in a plastic tote with some paper towels soaked in FreshWave IAQ (that stuff is a miracle) and then let it air out in the sun and breeze, and fortunately got all the stink out of it.

Here it is all together:

Across the top of the picture, four braids of merino fibre in a gradient of colours from a medium pinks/purples to a darker blues/purples. Along the bottom, a coordinating solid in pale pink.

I can use the green fibre as the test-spin for the bigger project, approaching the whole thing as scientifically as possible. My general dislike of loosely plied yarns has led to some really dense, overtwisted yarn in my handspun stash, so I'm going to do some swatching of twist angle and plying twist before I start spinning another sweater quantity...

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Current spinning project: SOCK YARN. I'm spinning eight ounces of superwash Targhee from Hipstrings in the "Invincible" colourway, which is burgundies and pinks and teals. This is what it looked like before I started:

Eight ounces of Targee wool in teal and pink

This post on Ask the Bellwether says, "For a three-ply, I estimate my singles at twice the WPI of the result; so for a result of 14 WPI 3-ply, I'd spin the singles at 28 WPI." Well, I'd like a fingering weight yarn, which is between 19-22 WPI... so I am aiming to spin these singles at 40 WPI. Super fine! Here's a bobbin full of singles and my chain-ply plyback test, with a penny for scale. It sure does look like sock yarn thickness.

A spinning wheel bobbin is one-third full with very fine singles in shades of pink, burgundy, and teal.

The two braids of fibre were dyed in the same pattern of colours. My first thought was to spin each, chain-ply, and get stripy yarn - but then I thought about the impossibility of getting the stripes to match up perfectly. Instead, I split each braid into thirds and spun those pieces end to end, then plied them together. Ultimately this should result in softly striped fraternal, rather than identical, socks.

Here's the first bobbin of plied yarn, again with a penny for scale:

A bobbin mostly full of three-ply fingering weight yarn in a barberpole stripe of burgundies, pinks, and teals. There is a penny tucked under one strand of yarn for scale.

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Because I like to get as much finished before the year ends as I can, I spent some time on December 31st plying and skeining yarn. First, two more skeins of The Fleece:

Two skeins of handspun, three-ply brown yarn.

I tried really hard to match the first set of Fleece yarn when I was spinning the singles for this. The good news is that I seem to be spinning less densely... and the bad news is that these two new skeins don't match the originals. Which means I have to spin even more of the stuff before I can consider knitting anything from it. Sighhhh.

In keeping with the "let's try to spin less densely" efforts, I spun this gray Suffolk from World of Wool to a fine two-ply and while it's balanced, it sure does seem underplied. So maybe it's also underspun? I don't know, and I'm not entirely sure how to fix it, but at least it's not twisting back on itself. I guess that's progress?

Two skeins of handspun, two-ply gray yarn.

My frustration with my lazy kate continues: the spindles on the Akerworks kate that I bought are not quite tall enough for the Kromski Woolee Winder bobbins, and so I cannot tension them. I think the solution here is going to be making my own arched kate. I drew up the plans for a plywood prototype that will fit the tallest and widest of my bobbins, and hopefully will find the time to cut it out and put it together soon.

A drawing of plans for a four-bobbin lazy kate. The drawing is held down by a selection of mostly-empty spinning wheel bobbins, a pencil, and a ruler. A shoebox full of bobbins is in the background.

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According to my records (haha) I bought this fibre in the summer of 2018...

Six round balls of spinning fibre sit on a stone countertop. Each one is made up of a combination of dyed fibre and natural browns and tans. They are arranged in gradient order: dark purple, medium purple, and pink on the top row; dark blue, medium blue, and light blue on the bottom.

...and spun it that fall into a gorgeous gradient...

A skein of handspun yarn sits on a wooden table. It is spun in a gradient of medium pink through dark purple and dark blue to light blue.

...which I've now knit into the "May I Borrow This, Please" shawl (available as a free download on Ravelry), and I am thrilled with it. The pattern is well-written, and I knit the whole thing in two weeks, even with adding another few repeats of the textured stripes because I wanted to use every last yard of this yarn. (Futon for scale, I guess? It was bigger than my towel when I pinned it out for blocking. Oh well.)

A handknit shawl of handspun yarn is pinned out on a towel on the floor to dry, underneath a futon with moon-and-stars sheets and a quilt hanging on the back. The shawl is a shallow triangle with alternating bands of texture and eyelets. It was knit from one narrow pink end through a gradient of purples and blues to a wide finish of light blue.

Here's a closeup of the bands of texture:

A closeup view of the "May I Borrow This, Please" shawl, knit in handspun yarn. The gradient of blue through purple to pink fades off into the background of the picture. Bands of different textures stripe across the shawl.

It's not cold enough to wear it yet, but I can feel that nip of autumn in the air!

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It's here, it's here! The Spinolution Pollywog that I won in their Tour de Fleece giveaway is HERE! Read on for lots of pictures and my first thoughts about spinning on it:

The corner of a cardboard box with a "Made in U.S.A." American flag sticker attached

Since they gave this tiny wheel to me for free, I thought it only fair to do an unboxing post and a review. Let's dig in! The red bag on top of everything held the warranty card, a ratio guide, and the drive band. Underneath it, the packing list and several bubble-wrapped bundles. One held the flyer with a bobbin installed, and a small bit of yarn that I'm assuming was from a test-spin before they mailed the package. Two more bobbins were wrapped together, and then the main part of the wheel was tucked into the bottom of the box. Everything fit perfectly into the packaging and nothing seems to have been damaged in shipping.

Looking into a cardboard box. There are several bubble-wrapped items and a red plastic bag, on which "Pollywog" is written in black marker

Here are all the parts set out on my coffee table. The two-step assembly process was so simple that they didn't even need to include instructions: the flyer goes on top and screws in, and the drive band goes around the 12" wheel and the whorls on the back of the flyer. The tiny treadles flip up and away from the center cam, so unlike my other wheels, putting the drive band on is incredibly easy.

An unassembled Pollywog spinning wheel on a wooden coffee table. The main part of the wheel sits to the left. There are two bobbins next to it, and a third bobbin on the flyer behind them.

I named this little guy "Chance," though I might have referred to him in conversation as "Mr. Tiny" - look at him sitting in front of the 30" Schacht-Reeves! He's so smol!

The new Pollywog spinning wheel looks very small in front of the 30" Schacht-Reeves spinning wheel. They are displayed on the living room rug in front of a pinball machine and one of the stereo speakers.

How about a bobbin comparison? From left to right: a Woolee Winder bobbin from the Schacht-Reeves, the new Spinolution bobbin, and a Woolee Winder bobbin from the Kromski Sonata. That Sonata bobbin holds a lot of yarn! The S-R bobbin is a little shorter than the Spinolution bobbin, but its diameter is wider and it doesn't have that extra chunk of wood taking up space, so I think (without doing any math) that they've probably got about the same overall volume.

Three bobbins, compared in length. The Schacht-Reeves bobbin on the left is the shortest; the Spinolution bobbin in the center is a little bit longer; the Kromski bobbin on the right is significantly longer.

Three bobbins, seen head on. The Schacht-Reeves bobbin on the left is the widest; the Spinolution bobbin in the center is the smallest. The Kromski bobbin on the right is between them in diameter.

Spinolution says that their bobbins hold four ounces of yarn - but the only way I'm going to know for sure is to spin and find out. The next fibre on my spinning list is 200g of grey Suffolk that I got from World of Wool. It's quite soft and with a longer staple than I'm used to spinning - nearly 7" (17.78 cm)!

This picture also shows the integrated bobbin holder. Just behind the flyer, there's a slot which holds three metal dowels. It's magnetized, so they won't fall out. You can (just about) see two of them poking up in this picture, and I've got the third in the centre position with a bobbin sitting on it.

The Pollywog wheel with a little bit of gray yarn spun onto the bobbin and a lot of gray fibre hanging down from the orifice hook.

So now, of course, the real question - how does it feel to spin on a Pollywog?

It's smoooooth. Treadling with just my toes is more than a little strange, but I'm getting the feel for it. It's easy enough to get the wheel going in the right direction with just a light nudge of the flyer; treadling is incredibly light. The treadling mechanism, and the way the whole thing rolls around, is just so cool to watch. (Spinolution does sell a 3D-printed "flipper" accessory that slides on over the treadle to give more of a platform... for $35.)

Pirate's toes on the tiny treadles of the Pollywog spinning wheel.

After about fifteen minutes of spinning, the wheel started to make a clicking noise. Michael and I watched the video about balancing the drive wheel and then gave it our best attempt. We loosened the cam and the two screws, but the wheel didn't get nearly as loose or moveable as in the video. So we aligned it as well as we could and tightened it up again. It still doesn't seem to be balanced, but it's not clicking anymore, so we'll call that a win. Perhaps the wood will shift a little as it gets accustomed to the humidity in our house, and we'll be able to adjust it better.

The only issue I have so far with this wheel being so tiny is that the orifice is really, really low. I don't spin right up next to the orifice in general, but for comparison, the S-R orifice is 25.5" off the ground and I've got the Sonata raised to about 32". The Pollywog's open hook is just 19.25" off the ground. (They do sell a 3" riser... for $55.)

I do like that there's no need to fish the yarn through rings and an orifice tube, but the large hook they've used sends quite a lot of vibration back up the singles to my hands. It's not the worst thing ever, but there's probably a smoother solution to having an open orifice.

Spinolution's user guide says, "Yarn is thumping as you spin: Be sure your yarn is coming from the center of the orifice hook toward your body in a fairly straight horizontal line. A slight angle is possible, but don’t put the yarn at a 45 degree angle up, down, or sideways from the center of the orifice hook." The thing is, with the orifice so low, there's no way for me not to hold the yarn at an angle from the hook? (They do sell a hook tube orifice bar, which they say is "highly recommended for an ultra smooth fine spinning experience"... for $29. The accessories are where they get you, apparently.)

If you want a larger capacity bobbin for art yarns, plying, or just spinning more without swapping it out, they offer a 12-ounce flyer plus one bobbin for $429, which is almost the same cost as the entire original wheel with the 4-ounce flyer and three bobbins at $440. This seems kind of strange, no?

Anyway, back to the good stuff - tension is managed with a spring-loaded block that screws into the side of the wheel, behind the flyer. Its brake is a felt pad that presses on the flyer's shaft. The user guide indicates that this is a reversible piece of wood, but mine seems to be the updated 3D-printed block. Neat! It's quite sensitive and easy to adjust.

In addition to being super smooth, the Pollywog is very quiet. There's no rattling, squeaking, or shaking. The bobbin has a star cutout which fits onto a nut at the back of the flyer and it's magnetized. It snaps together in a very satisfying way when changing the bobbins, but the magnetism isn't so strong as to make the bobbins difficult to remove. The front orifice piece is held on with magnets as well, and it's shaped so that there's only one right way to put it on.

Double picture showing the back of the bobbin with the star-shaped cutout, and the back of the flyer with the magnet and hex nut.

The Pollywog's ratios are 1:2.5, 1:4.5, 1:10, and 1:14 - which is a great starting range, wider than the Sonata's and just as fast at the top end, and I've never felt the need to get the fast flyer for the Sonata! (For $209 (ouch) you can get an accelerator wheel for the Pollywog that acts as a riser in addition to giving you more speeds.)

I admit that I'm a little spoiled by having Woolee Winders on my other wheels, but the peg system on the Pollywog's flyer is easy enough to use - I just have to remember to stop and change the peg every so often! (I should note that they do sell their own version of an automatic winder. Unlike the Woolee Winder, it doesn't require all new bobbins, which is a plus.)

Anyway, that's probably enough for a first impression. Chance and I are getting along pretty well so far, and I'm looking forward to many happy hours of spinning :)

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The surprise part has to come first, because I am just so excited about it - I put my name into Spinolution's annual drawing for a Pollywog wheel and... I won! I got this email yesterday:

Screenshot of an email from Spinolution Wheels telling me that I've won the 2021 Tour de Fleece Pollywog giveaway

And I've spent quite a bit of time since it showed up in my inbox alternating between dazedly commenting, "I won? A spinning wheel? Whoa!" and reading reviews of Spinolution wheels. I don't have an ETA on its delivery yet, but I will be sure to do a review of my own once it arrives! How cool is that!?

Yesterday should have been Virtual Knit Night, but no one could make it - so instead of working on a plain sock, I worked on seaming the Learning Sweater. I stitched up one sleeve and then got some very wise advice that I should quickly baste the rest of it together and try it on for fit. You guys! I've knit a sweater! (Also, just to note, it's very difficult to take pictures of oneself in a bathroom mirror while making awkward poses to illustrate the shape of a sweater around one's body.) Just a few more seams and a neckband to go... and weaving in all the ends, of course.

Pirate models the colourblock sweater, which is basted together at the seams and still missing a neckband.

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Some time ago, I was given multiple bags of alpaca "seconds" - fleece that couldn't be sold for a number of reasons, possibly that it's not soft enough, that it wasn't sheared well, or that the quality is really varied. The stuff I have is... all of the above! But it was free, and I'm having fun going through it to pick out the good stuff.

This bag of fibre came from an alpaca named Valdir, who is apparently part white and part tan:

I'm picking through the bag to find the best of the locks, flicking them open with my hand carder...

Neat rows of alpaca locks lie on a table next to a hand card that has some wisps of fibre stuck in its teeth.

...and putting them all in a box.

Rows of alpaca locks that have been flicked open at both ends and laid neatly into a cardboard box.

All the short cuts are going directly into the garbage, and the soft fibres that aren't in perfect lock formation will go through the drum carder to make floofy batts.

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Next up: 200g of white Southdown (from World of Wool) that is destined to be sock yarn!

Pirate's hand holds a very fine strand of single-ply white yarn next to a two-ply strand over a penny for scale.

The Corriedale singles are resting before I ply them, but this fibre has been calling to me for a while. I've heard that Southdown makes excellent yarn for socks - bouncy and resistant to felting - so here's to experimentation! I haven't decided if I want to make this a two-ply or three, yet. (Opinions? Advice? Input? It's a matter of yardage vs durability, I think?)

I've also heard that the wool from Suffolk sheep is good for socks, so I have 200g of that in a natural grey as well, and will probably spin it next...

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A friend sent me a braid of Corriedale from Into the Whirled, in one of their Firefly-themed colourways. This one is called "The Verse" and it's all sorts of colours - blues and purples, greens and yellows, oranges and tans.

Unspun fibre in vibrant yellows and tans, greens and blues and purples, is piled on top of a partially full bobbin of singles.

My original thought was to try a fractal spin with it, as that's a technique I've been curious about for a while, but then I opened up the braid and thought... you know what, I would really prefer not to mix up purples and blues with yellows and oranges. So instead, I'm spinning a medium-thick singles with the plan to chain-ply and keep the colour progression in stripes.

Considering how tight some of my other handspun is, I'm trying to keep this one a little less twisty. Hopefully that will result in a softer, more drapey yarn when I'm done.

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I had so much fun swatching the Unicorn Spit that I decided to wash and swatch one of the skeins of Fleece.

Well, really, it was mostly curiosity. The Unicorn Spit was so twisty and knitting up at a gauge much fatter than its WPI would have led me to guess, that I needed to know if the Fleece would do the same. So I gave a skein a bath, let it soak for half an hour, rolled it in a towel, snapped it open a few times, rolled it in another towel and thwapped it on the floor, and then hung it to dry.

It is SO BOUNCY. And again, despite the WPI, it's knitting up quite nicely on size 8/5mm needles.
(I'd originally swatched this last year on size 6/4mm needles at nearly 5 stitches to the inch, and now I'm thinking that was way too dense.) Apparently if I want yarn that's actually sport to DK-weight, I'm going to have to spin much, much finer.

I'm going to try a few more textured stitches before I wash and block this, but here's the swatch in progress:

A swatch of brown knitting with plain stockinette at the bottom and cables plus ribbing at the top.

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