Archive for the “spinning” Category

The absolute last thing I needed was to start a new project, except for the part where I've been having some downtime at work and there's an empty spinning wheel next to my desk. This work-from-home thing is pretty awesome. The desk that Michael and I built is nearly perfect: eight feet long, painted teal and yellow, room for my personal computer, my work computer, the letter I'm writing, and a sketchbook too. It's attached to the wall so it doesn't shake, and braced underneath so it should never bow in the middle.

Pirate's office: a long teal-painted desk on the right with several monitors and a laptop, sketchbooks, knitting projects. To the left of the desk is a window; under the window is a spinning wheel.

Anyway, I found this set of batts in my stash bins while I was moving them around. I bought the fibre in 2009 (yeah, it's been a while) as dyed locks of 25% mohair/75% Finn wool, and carded them into batts by colour so that I could spin a gradient.

A row of carded batts in a gradient from light green through purple through rusty red.

Since I have no idea what I'm eventually going to knit with this, and I'm not in any particular hurry to get the project done, I decided to aim for a light fingering weight yarn. It will take a long time to spin eight ounces of fibre this fine in just the pauses between work, but it might end up as a nice shawl if it's soft enough.

I pulled a strip off the first batt and started to spin, and... whew, the fibre is drafting nicely! It's got quite a bit of lanolin left in it, so it's a little sticky, but in a good way. In a not-slippery way. In a "this is easy to spin fine singles" way.

A very fine single, held over a penny for scale.

When I felt like I'd gotten a reasonably good consistency and thickness (thin-ness?) with the singles, I tried a three-ply plyback test - folding the single strand back on itself and twisting it up as if it were three separate strands going into one yarn. The pale green is my spinning; the bright yarn next to it is a strand of Trekking XXL, which is just slightly thinner than what I think of as "standard" sock yarn. I'm right on target.

Three-ply plyback test, next to a strand of commercial sock yarn as a comparison.

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That secret gift I mentioned in my last post is a neckwarmer/cowl for Grandma! I knit it with a yak/silk blend that I spun a couple of years ago, but didn't know what to do with it... until now. The pattern is Polyphylla, which is available for free on Ravelry.

A cowl, with a ruffled edge at the bottom, knit in handspun yarn. The colours are stripes of dark and light red, blue, and green.

I really enjoyed knitting this pattern, not to mention knitting with my own handspun yarn of silky warm softness. It's well-written, though I was a little bit unsure about the instructions to shift the stitch marker for the beginning of the round. Fortunately it's so easy to see where one is in the pattern by looking at what's already been knit, so I got around the confusion easily enough. The bindoff makes a really nice edge, but as I mentioned in my previous post, uses up a lot more yarn than I expected!

The cowl used one skein of my handspun yarn, and I am absolutely loving the self-striping effect that I produced! The only thing is, I had two... and they had slightly different yardage, and I don't know if this was the 118-yard skein or the 140-yard skein. I'll have to remember to re-measure the remaining yarn before I start another project with it, just to be on the safe side.

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This project is a gift, so I can't share pictures of the whole thing yet. But holy wow did I ever cut it close on the yarn! The project called for a long-tail cast on over two needles; I overestimated the amount of yarn I'd need and had nearly a yard of tail remaining. Laziness said "it's 168 stitches, you don't really want to start over - and besides, it's handspun yarn and super soft, what if it gets fuzzy when you pull it out and do it again?" I definitely didn't want that to happen, so I just started knitting.

The beginning of a knit project, showing nearly a yard of yarn trailing from the starting point.

You see where this is going, right?

I knit the project, convinced even up to the last round that I would have plenty of yarn. But then I came to the bind-off, which is a really nifty one that I hadn't tried before, and which took up A Lot more yarn than I expected. As I worked my way around, I started to get worried... so I worked faster, because that's how that goes, right? Knitting faster means you might outrun the end of your yarn.

I finished with five inches of yarn left over.

The end of a knit project, showing five inches of yarn trailing from the ending point.

I'll share more details about this one after the gift has been given!

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I have seven bobbins for Persistence, the Schacht-Reeves wheel, so after I'd fully filled six of them with Fleece 412 singles, I used the seventh to ply. And, very exciting, I used the prototype version of a box-style lazy kate that Michael helped me build! It needs some refinement, but it does function. The idea was to have a workaround for the annoyance of having to hold a bobbin in just the right spot while poking the skewer through first one side of the kate, then the bobbin, then the other side. That part of it works well, but I didn't think the tensioning mechanism through at all, so it's still not quite what I'm looking for. Here it is holding all six full bobbins:

Six full bobbins of singles sit inside a plywood box.

Ultimately I'd like to build one with thinner, nicer wood (this was knocked together out of scrap plywood that we already had in the garage) that has slots to hold four bobbins at once. Am I going to make a four-ply yarn? I don't know, but I'd like to be able to!

Conventional wisdom teaches to ply at low ratios, but I'm not sure why, as it goes so much faster on the big wheel with the fast whorl! I counted my treadles to make sure that I got the same amount of plying twist in each section of yarn, and plied all eight of these skeins in a weekend.

That gave me 848 yards of round three-ply yarn to just over a pound of fibre spun up, which is... not enough for the sweater pattern I've picked out. If I can get gauge, I'm planning to knit the Izel cardigan - I love the cable details, the ribbing on the back, and the hidden pockets.

Fortunately, I have enough of The Fleece remaining to spin another thousand yards if I need to, so I'm sure I'll eventually have spun enough yarn to knit a whole sweater. I'll start by spinning three more bobbins-ful and see how far I get! Meanwhile, there's really no reason why I can't wash and dry the yarn I already have, and get started on swatching and... (gulp) actually knitting a sweater for myself.

Eight hanks of brown three-ply yarn sit on a stone countertop.

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Much to the dismay of all my knuckles (which are rebelling, either due to July's heat and humidity, or to the annoyance of holding my hands in a particular position for too long) I've been spinning daily for the Tour de Fleece, and I'm up to three bobbins of singles!

An almost-full bobbin of fine brown single-ply yarn, still on the spinning wheel.

Some parts of the fibre are drafting a lot easier than others. Even though the sheep had been coated, the fleece didn't have zero vegetable matter in it. And it's very fine. Sometimes I have to stop to pick out a nep or a bit of straw, but for the most part it's going well.

I'm definitely leveling up my long-draw skills with this spinning project! Hopefully enough to make a lofty, airy three-ply yarn instead of a heavy, dense one. There's definitely enough fibre here to spin enough for a sweater (I have over two pounds of it) but I have yet more carded fleece in lighter colours that I may add to the project as a contrast colour. That will depend on what I want to knit, which I haven't quite decided yet. Of course.

While the Tour de France may have been postponed, I've been getting out for bike rides anyway. My goal is to ride at least 100 miles this month, which seems like a lot but really isn't. The real challenge is the hot and humid weather, not the biking!

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It's time. It's finally time to spin Fleece Four-Twelve, the one that Carrie and I bought at MDSW a few years ago. I was going to wait until the start of the Tour de Fleece on the 27th, but why wait to begin such an exciting project?

I spun up a quick sample, aiming for a DK-weight three-ply yarn, and I think that's what I've come up with. With my sample yarn washed and dried, I measured 11 wraps per inch and then knit a stockinette swatch on US 6 (4mm) needles, which got me 19 stitches/4 inches before washing. And then I ripped that out so that I could try some cables. Here's a picture of the swatch just off the needles, along with some of the carded fleece...

A cabled swatch knitted from brown yarn with a chunk of carded fleece.

...and here's what it looks like after it's been washed and blocked.

A knitted swatch with cables is pinned onto a green towel.

The fleece is quite crimpy and springy, so I'm trying to spin it long-draw to maintain its bounce and light weight. I don't want this to be a heavy, dense yarn at all. After washing, the swatch is rustic but almost soft enough to wear it next to my skin. Fortunately that's not my plan for it - I want to knit a cabled cardigan to wear when I go snowboarding! I haven't picked a pattern yet, but I think I have plenty of time to think about it.

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It's rare that I go to a yarn shop and don't sigh over a pile of Zauberball Crazy in all the colours, and now at last I have one of my very own! Friend Monica returned from a trip with this beauty as a souvenir for me: a ball of Zauberball in the "Tiefe Wasser" colourway, which coordinates perfectly with at least 75% of my existing wardrobe. I feel so loved. Next, I get the fun of deciding what pattern I want to knit with it! I'm leaning towards a small shawl - perhaps together with a navy blue, something like Dreambird?

A ball of "Zauberball Crazy" in greens and teals.

Meanwhile, Michael and I are working on plans for a lazy kate. The one I have doesn't fit my WooLee Winder bobbins, and anyway it only holds three. I'd like to be able to ply four singles together, so we're designing a box-style kate much like my current shoebox, but not made out of cardboard or tensioned with a binder clip. I've been admiring plans and pictures on Pinterest, which has, of course, given me more ideas than I have time to accomplish.

Hand-drawn plans for the construction of a lazy kate.

I'm sure the final version of our lazy kate will look a little different from the plans. We'll make at least one rough draft with plywood first as a test piece for both our skills and the design. Then we'll try it with the good stuff, though I'm a little nervous as my primary expertise in woodworking is in making large useful pieces of wood into small useless pieces of wood. We shall see...

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I have just one last skein of the Unicorn Spit fibre to spin!

Six completed skeins of yarn with a bundle of unspun fibre perched on top.

840 yards of finished (though unwashed) three-ply yarn and just over a hundred grams left to go. It's really neat to see how the big stripes of colour in the fibre get so blended into the yarn, which is exactly the heathery desaturated colour that I was hoping for when I chose the "ingredients" for the blend.

I really hope that I come up with enough for a sweater - and if not, I have more yarn (of course I do) that I can use as a supplement. I think a few navy stripes on the sleeves or around the hem might look really nice.

I finally figured out how to do the patterned crown decreases so that I could finish knitting my Passing Days hat, just in time for an unseasonable cold snap.

Pirate, wearing the new Passing Days hat, looking out the window of a moving train at autumn leaves.

It fits wonderfully and I'm so happy with the way it came out! Friend Stef came over earlier this week to take pictures of me wearing it, and we had a lot of fun doing the photoshoot. I'll be writing up the pattern for release in the next few days, so keep an eye out for it!

On the subject of cold snaps, I need a new pair of Fleeps (some people call them flip-top or convertible mittens). I'd like to use this Corriedale handspun for the outside, and line the wrists and mitten-top with this blue silk. I spun both yarns last summer with this project in mind, and I'm excited to get started. So far I've swatched the Corriedale:

A swatch of tweedy gray yarn

I like the drape of it on size 5 (3.75mm) needles, but I want my mittens to be a little more dense, so I tried again with size 4 (3.5mm). It's not much difference - 18 stitches/4 inches as opposed to 17 - but enough to be noticeable, and I think the finished fleeps will be better for it. Hopefully they won't be so thick that I can't move my fingers!

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An Etsy gift card, combined with a sale on some of the (discontinued) Ashland Bay multi-coloured top, combined with a little egging on from a friend, combined with the need to have a little bit of retail therapy, all came together and thwacked me over the head, resulting in a delivery of spinning fibre arriving at my house.

I bought these two braids of merino-silk in the "Del Mar" and "McKenzie" colourways, which may or may not end up in the same project...

Two braids of merino and silk spinning fibre. One is green-blue, the other mostly blue.

...and these four braids of 21.5 micron merino, in the colourways "Sage," "Granada," "Riverstone," and "Borealis" - which will *definitely* become some sort of a fade/gradient project.

Four braids of merino spinning fibre in a gradient from sage green to dark blue.

But I can't start those until I finish the Unicorn Spit, so to that end I set myself to spinning over the weekend, and now I have four completed skeins (adding up to 570 yards of three-ply, before washing) and three more to spin. This should add up to about a thousand yards all together, which ought to be about enough for a sweater, right? Here are the bobbins in my homemade shoebox kate before I plied them:

An unspun bit of multi-coloured spinning fibre sits on the floor next to a shoebox with several bobbins of spun singles.

It didn't take long before I got frustrated at the lack of tension on the shoebox kate, so I punched two more holes in it and made a brake band out of some scrap yarn. One end is tied to the box, the other is tied to a rubberband which I can hook to any of those binder clips, depending on how much tension I need. The plying is going much more smoothly now, thank goodness!

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"World of Wool Custom Blend" was too boring for a project name, so I was going to pick something more descriptive and fun. Every time I look at these colours combed together, all I can think is "Unicorn Spit"... so I guess that's what it is. Not too dignified, but certainly descriptive!

Combed fiber in a variety of greens and blues, with a streak of pink.

Since I haven't done a project this ambitious before, I thought it might be a good idea to be deliberate and careful about how I proceed. So I pulled off about half an ounce of fibre from the big bag and spun it into singles, then made a two-ply and a three-ply (actually chain-ply, but close enough) yarn to test. I even kept little samples of each step along the way, wrapped around an index card and taped on the back so it doesn't fall off.

Reference card with information about the fibre written on it and sample yarn wrapped around it.

Then I washed my tiny skeins the same way I'll eventually wash the full-size ones: by soaking them for fifteen minutes in lukewarm water with a bit of wool wash, draining and squishing the excess water away, wrapping them in a towel and thwacking them a few times on the side of the tub, and finally draping them over a drying rack. This resulted in 22 yards of 16 WPI (wraps per inch) two-ply, and 13 yards of 12 WPI three-ply yarn.

The three-ply is so much rounder and even, and at this point even without knitting a sample, I was already leaning towards choosing it. But being careful and deliberate requires swatching!

Samples of two-ply and three-ply yarn, spun from the same singles.

Once the yarn was dry, I knit small squares of it. First I tried the three-ply on size 6 (4 mm) needles, but that seemed a little stiff. I knit a row of k2, yo as a separator and tried again on size 7 (4.5 mm) needles, and that felt much better. Then I knit the two-ply on size 4 needles. It was quite nice but thinner than I want the eventual sweater to be, so I started playing around with cable crossings just to see what it would look like. The answer was "really good, actually," but it's still not the yarn I'm imagining for my sweater.

Knit samples and leftover bits of yarn.

Overall, I am absolutely thrilled with the dusty teal colour of the yarn and swatches. The different greens and blues all heather together beautifully, and the pink acts to mute the saturation but still pops out just enough to give it some real interest. It's exactly what I wanted it to look like when I chose the eight different colours that went into the blend.

It's not just the colour that I'm excited about, it's also that the feel of the swatch is perfect. It's smooth but not too soft; I don't think it will be itchy, but it should wear well and not turn into a felted pilly mess too quickly.

With the sampling and swatching done... it's time to start spinning for real!

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