Continuing Color Play

Today’s post is a continuation of the theme from the last one – spinning colorful yarn from hand-dyed fiber.  (And for the record, no, we didn’t blow away.  We didn’t even lose power.  I think it’s because we were prepared for it to happen.  But really it’s because the second storm did a little wobble that spared us by moving inland at southwestern Canada instead.  So difficult to accurately predict nature.)

For this spinning adventure I chose a braid dyed in hues that make me think of Fall.  Teal green, rich blue, and golden orange.  The fiber base is a mix of Polwarth wool and silk – very luxurious feeling, even in the braid.


I broke the fiber in two across the length and spun each half onto a separate bobbin.  When spinning dyed fiber this way the progression of colors winding onto the bobbin is addictive – you want to keep going to see the next color.  Kind of like knitting with striping or variegated yarn.  You tell yourself you’ll just spin until the next color, then stop for a break…and several hours later you realize that break never happened and you’ve reached the end of the bobbin.


The finished 2-ply yarn has the same luxurious feel as the original braid of fiber.  The Polwarth is soft, light, and fluffy, and the silk adds another subtle layer of softness with a light sheen.  Like the earlier adventures, the colors in the two plies sometimes match and sometimes mingle.  This yarn would make a lovely cold weather garment – or two, as there is plenty of yardage.


I’m adding this yarn as a new ready-to-ship item in my Etsy shop.  This will be the first of many such listings I have planned for future spinning projects.  Why?  I have become comfortable with the quality and consistency of my handspun yarn and I thoroughly enjoy the production of it.  (And let’s face it, my stash just can’t support my spinning habit too.)  Which is totally a win for knitters, crocheters, and weavers who like to work with handspun but don’t want to spin for themselves.  Visit the product listing to find more information and to enhance your stash with beautiful handspun yarn.

For the spinners:

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Spinning Color

I’m sitting at my computer in the semi-dark middle of the day, with the rain pelting my house and the wind alternating between whipping around like a wild thing and falling eerily silent.  The lights and heating are on at the moment, but there’s no guarantee they’ll stay that way.  This is not typically how the rainy season works in the Northwest.  This feels more like a Southeastern or Midwestern storm.  But it seems to be how the changing of the fall season blows itself in here.  Like a lion.

This one is a double whammy though – one very strong storm, followed too quickly by the remnants of a typhoon.  Heavy rains, strong winds, downed trees, power outages.  We might even see a small tornado, or hear the boom of thunder.  Shocking occurrences for this part of the continent.

But, being the well-trained southern woman I am, this house is ready.  There are always a stock of candles and lighters around the house, water in the pantry, food that can be cooked on a camp stove or eaten cold, firewood stacked neatly, and knitting at the ready.  There’s a sleeping bag handy for every member of the household in case we need to camp in front of the fireplace.

Even my spinning wheel is no stranger to camping out.  Or in, as the case may be.


Lately the wheel and I have been playing with color.  It goes in spurts – sometimes I feel the need to spin natural, un-dyed fibers, and sometimes I need to spin colorfully dyed fibers.  This latest spurt is all about the hand dyed color.

Greenwood Heathered BFL Gradient

While we were in South Lake Tahoe this summer I snapped this photo of the surrounding mountains at sunset.  The smoke from the wildfires in California had blown in and settled a haze over the area.  I thought the gradient of blues captured there was just beautiful and it inspired me to try and spin some yarn to match.


Now, I love it when my stash contains exactly the materials I need when a particular creative mood strikes.  Being in the creative zone and not having the right materials at hand to feed that creativity is so frustrating.  I think that’s really why we have such large stashes – we never know what creative urge is going to strike and when.  In this case I was able to go right to the stash and pull out the exact fiber in the exact colors I needed for this project.  Hooray to past-me who bought this fiber on a whim, just because I liked it.


The gradient of the dyes were already a very good approximation of the gradient in my photo.  So I decided to divide up the braids for spinning to try and preserve the color shift as much as possible in the plied yarn.  Each half-braid was spun onto one bobbin, from lightest to darkest.  My hope was that when the two bobbins were plied the colors would match as much as possible in long lengths, then mingle just a little bit as lighter gave way to darker, match, mingle, match, mingle, match…


The spinning and plying on this project worked beautifully.  The long matches and shorter mingling in the finished yarn is spot on with the vision in my head.  My sunset photo come to life in yarn.  The yardage is sufficient for a lovely lace shawl too – to really show off the color changes – so that’s the plan for the next step.  Though that will have to wait until after the Holidays.


For the spinners:

Dyeabolical Shetland Thunderboom

I was riding high on the success of the blue gradient for this next project.  I still wanted something with color, but maybe a little more moody and with a toothsome feel.  Again, I went to my stash and pulled out just the thing for my creative urge.  A braid of Shetland wool in a hand-dyed colorway designed to evoke the feeling of a thunderstorm.

img_20150820_162848_trm_smWanting to keep things simple and let the colors do all the work, I stripped the fiber lengthwise into two, and spun each half onto a bobbin from end to end.  It was an easy, relaxed spin.  The perfect accompaniment to camping and shopping at a fiber festival at the end of the summer.


My finished 2-ply yarn is a lovely mix of matched and mingled colors again.  And the colorway is named well – shades of grey with moody greens.  I can see the summer thunderclouds gathering over the low hills.  My choice of Shetland wool for the fiber base means that the feel of the yarn is more traditionally “wooly” than luxurious, but I deliberately spun it using a technique that yields a softer hand so that it is squishy, airy, and light.  I love it, though it has yet to tell me what it wants to be knit into, so off to the yarn stash it goes.

For the spinners:

  • Fiber: Dyeabolical Shetland, colorway Thunderboom
  • Ravelry project page: here

The sky outside hasn’t developed that greenish tinge that signals an approaching tornado, so I think we’re safe for the moment.  I’m keeping an eye on the wind in the trees.  And saying a thank you for the power staying on long enough to get another blog post published.  Though the spinning wheel is calling me to make the next batch of colorful yarn…even if the lights are still on.

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Spinning Experiment: Alpaca – Round Three

For my third experimental sample of the alpaca fleece, I decided to drum card the fiber and spin it using my default worsted drafting method.  This is as close to commercially prepped fiber as I can get using hand tools.  It is also the method which typically produces the smoothest and strongest yarn for me.

To recap: In the first experimental sample, I hand carded the fiber then spun them long draw from the ends of each little fiber roll.  The fiber prep and the spinning method combined to make an airy yarn with a lovely halo.  In the second experimental sample, I hand combed the fiber then spun them with a short forward draw lock by lock.  The fiber prep and spinning method combined to make a weak yarn in this case, so this method will be saved for more toothsome fibers in future.

I borrowed a drum carder from a fibery friend for the third experiment.  I tried it out first on a braid of commercially prepped fiber that had encountered some storage issues, so that I could learn on something not quite as precious as my alpaca fleece.  Once I got the hang of things, I ran my clean alpaca through the carder.  The machine separates the locks and evens out the colors, so that the batt that came off the carder was more uniform than what I was able to produce with the hand cards.


I rolled up the batt along the length – running with the direction of the individual strands – and attenuated it a bit.  This approximates the commercial fiber I get from yarn stores and indie dyers.  Though in my case, the fiber is much less dense.  This allowed me to put my spinning on default and let my hands work the same way they’ve been working on spinning since I first got my wheel.


The two-ply yarn created in this experiment is soft, drapey, lustrous, smooth, and strong.  A complete success.  The only drawback is that the color is more uniform.  The near-white to dark cream colors of the individual locks were homogenized by the drum carder into an allover middle creamy color.  Though whether this is an actual negative varies with the individual knitter – some like the consistent color, while others enjoy the color variations.


So now the decision is which of the two successful techniques to use for processing and spinning the rest of the fleece.  Do I like the yarn from sample #1 or sample #3 best?  I’ve got 13 ounces left to play with, which should give me 1000-1200 yards of finished 2-ply yarn (based on the yardage of my sample skeins).

I’m leaning toward sample #3.  Which is your favorite?

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Cool Summer Knitting

There are only a few rules for summertime knitting: it needs to be portable and it needs to not make your hands sweat.  Preferably, it should also be quick and easy.  Because keeping up with a complicated pattern while also enjoying summery adventures is potentially crazy-making.

For this summer’s knitting pleasure I chose two lightweight sweater patterns.  And I threw in a pair of plain socks for good measure.  One can never go wrong with a plain sock project in their everyday bag.

The first sweater is one that you’ve met before.  This is the sleeveless top that I attempted last year, but goofed up on the gauge so that it was way too small.  I bravely ripped it all out and started over.


Not only did I get it right this time, but I finished it in enough time to wear it before the autumn temperatures swept in.  The yarn is a fabulously lush blend of merino, cashmere, and nylon.  Makes you want to pet it all day long.  Sometimes a gal’s got to splurge on herself.


The only stressful bit was there at the very end, when I thought I might just run out of yarn a few yards short of the finish line.  I ripped out my swatch and carried on, trying not to look at the dwindling ball of yarn.  But the knitting goddesses must have been smiling on me – I bound off the last edge with a nice tiny pile of yardage left over.  Whew!

For the Knitters:

The second sweater was a gift knit for Mom.  I’ve been coveting several of Anne Hanson’s patterns over the years, but hadn’t taken the plunge until I saw this one.  I showed Mom the photos and we both agreed that it was perfect for her.  So I went shopping for yarn and packed it with the other vacation knitting.


This pattern just begs for a cotton or cotton blend, despite what the designer intended.  I picked a blend: cotton for coolness in the muggy southern summers, bamboo and silk for strength and additional cool factor, and nylon to help it keep it’s shape.  (There’s nothing worse than a baggy cotton sweater at the end of a hot, damp summer day.)  Bonus points for getting a gauge I liked that also worked with the pattern.


Yes, it’s colorwork.  Yes, it has some lacy elements.  Yes, it has shaping.  Yes, these three things generally mean a more complicated knit.  Despite all of these elements, this sweater was a breeze to execute.  The color changes are regular and memorable, the “lace” is easily memorized after the first few stitches, and the repeats are fabulously simple to keep up with.  I hardly needed a row counter.  A few strategically placed locking stitch markers to note the major points might be all that’s needed next time.  Somehow the timing worked out that just when I needed to concentrate for a few minutes I found myself sitting on the beach or a couch, with just the right amount of peace and quiet necessary to work through it to another easy stretch.

A word about knitting sweaters in pieces – as opposed to knitting them all in one, without seams.  Most knitters fall in one of two camps: those who swear that all sweaters should be constructed in pieces and those who go out of their way to eliminate all seaming.  I tend to be more adventurous, and therefore fall somewhere in the middle.  Most of the time I fall to the side of eliminating seams where possible.  I typically knit with sturdier yarns that don’t bag and droop.  However, when it comes to a cotton sweater (despite the bamboo, silk, and nylon content), you bet I’m going to take the time to stitch all of those seams.  Again, there’s no love for a baggy cotton sweater.  But I have a confession.  I didn’t sew the seams on this sweater.  I crocheted them.  Look inside your favorite store-bought sweater.  They crochet them too.

For the Knitters:

  • Pattern: Janet Guthrie by Anne Hanson
  • Yarn: CoBaSi DK by HiKoo (Skacel), colorways #81 Navy and #37 Gun Metal Grey
  • Ravelry project page: here

Last on the summer knitting adventure list are the pair of plain socks.  I confess, I love my plain knit socks better than my patterned ones.  So I save the patterns for my sweaters, shawls, hats, cowls, and mitts instead.  Which I guess is why I choose such vibrant and expressive yarns for my socks.  This way they are not boringly plain.  It makes me happy to wear a bright pair of socks peeking out of my shoes with an otherwise quiet outfit.


These socks fit the “happy” criteria perfectly.  The colorway is decidedly spring-like – which, judging by the dyer’s choice of colorway name, was the point.  The yarn base I chose is a little more sturdy, which I also like.  These are getting use as boot socks and I want them to wear well.  So far, they are getting a fair amount of use in the sock rotation.

For the Knitters:

  • Pattern: my own vanilla sock pattern, sized to fit perfectly on my feet at my gauge
  • Yarn: Sturdy by Dyeabolical, colorway Hocus Pocus, I’m a Crocus
  • Ravelry project page: here

What’s next?  Deadline knitting!  Because the holidays are right around the corner.

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More Summertime Wanderings

Well, the summer vacation is over and it’s time to settle back into the regular routines of life.  Bummer!  But what have I been doing for the last month or two, you say?  Recovering.

Here’s the shortlist:

  • We decided to take a looooong driving and camping vacation – 18 days total – from Seattle to LA and back again.  We did not drive in a straight line there and back.  We took a very scenic and wandering route.
  • Stop #1 – Crater Lake.  We were very impressed; after the first hour, Son was not.  Teenagers!
  • Stop #2 – Coast Redwoods near Crescent City, CA, with a short visit to the Oregon Vortex (weird and a little bit circus sideshow) along the way.  We loved the Coast Redwoods so much we repeated the visit on the way back.  Pro tip: even teenagers love to climb into ancient hollow trees the size of tiny houses.
  • Stop #3 – South Lake Tahoe.  After so many nights in a tent, it was nice to sleep in a real bed and lounge on the beach for a few days.
  • Stop #4 – Yosemite National Park.  The main Giant Sequoia grove was being renovated, so we made do with a secondary grove.  I’ve decided that I like the Coast Redwoods best.  We also decided that the drive into the park from the northern entrance is the way to do it right – so many gorgeous scenic views!  Next time we’ll camp to the north of the park, rather than to the south, or go when it’s not still 90 F at 10 pm in the foothills.
  • Stop #5 – LA and environs.  Again, a real bed and Internet!  This stop was for amusement parks and visiting with Husband’s brother.  I finally got to play in Harry Potter World at Universal.  (Yes, I brought a wand home with me.)
  • Stop #6 – Morro Bay.  We were supposed to stay at a campground near Santa Barbara, but we discovered that it was not as advertised.  So we found a last-minute place at an inn in Morro Bay, had a picnic on the beach, and enjoyed a much better location and weather.
  • Stop #7 – Monterey/Pacific Grove.  Our campsite reservation near Big Sur was cancelled due to the wildfire, so we relied again on a last-minute spot in a local inn.  No one complained about touring Hearst Castle, walking on the beach, eating a seafood dinner, or touring the aquarium.
  • Stop #8 – San Francisco.  I toured museums and knit for a few days while Husband went into the office.  Still not getting tired of visiting this city.  We tried to stop at Muir Woods on the way north, but parking was impossible and we decided to just keep going up the coast instead.
  • Stop #9 – Leggett, CA.  A good spot to stop after driving up Hwy 1 and before continuing up Hwy 101.  Bonus: The town sits in a micro-climate that is similar to the coast, so it isn’t blisteringly hot and dry.  There is a small Coast Redwood grove with a drive-through tree nearby.
  • Stop #10 – Coast Redwoods near Crescent City, CA.  Yep, we love it there.  There’s a scenic gravel drive through a huge redwood grove that is worth doing over and over again.  I could totally just stay there forever.
  • Stop #11 – didn’t happen.  We intended to stop overnight in Portland, but made such excellent progress that we just kept going until we got home.  Yay, soft bed and warm shower!!!
  • I took a sock project, two summer sweater projects, a fingerless mitt project, and a stuffed toy project.  It was a long trip, with lots of hours in the car.  I didn’t want to run out of knitting.
  • It is impossible (not to mention inadvisable) to knit while driving.  It is also rather difficult to knit while ogling the scenery, or pitching a tent, or building a fire, or walking a hiking trail.  All of which means I didn’t manage to run out of knitting.
  • I did finish one of the summer sweater projects while on vacation.  I also got about halfway through the sock project, then finished it as purse knitting once I got back home.
  • The other summer sweater project just needed a few hours of work.  That one got finished in a couple of Knit Night gatherings once I got home.
  • The mitts and the stuffed toy never made it out of their project bags on the trip.  These will be long-term works in progress over the next few months, along with a small blanket.
  • The deadline knitting/crocheting has begun in earnest.  There is a spreadsheet with daily and weekly progress goals for each project.  I love a good spreadsheet.  I also love being able to tell myself (and anyone else who wants to know) that yes I have to be knitting right now, there’s a deadline.
  • The stuffed toy is composed of a million (not really, but close) little crocheted motifs.  This makes for an excellent purse project.  Remember how fast Husband’s last pair of socks were finished, because I had all that time spent waiting around?  Yep, you guessed it.  I’m knocking out motifs now.
  • There is also some spinning happening.  In between the deadline crafting, I’m processing the rest of the alpaca fleece to get it ready for spinning.  I also have a dyed Shetland project on the wheel.
  • The time since vacation has been spent in deep recovery mode.  No, not the usual couple of days’ worth to reinsert one’s self back into normal life.  I had oral surgery shortly after returning home, and it knocked me down more than expected.  I thought: I’ve had surgery before; I got this.  They didn’t tell me I wouldn’t be able to eat for 2-3 months!
  • I’m discovering that it’s hard to get enough calories to function properly when on a liquid diet.  Which means it’s nearly impossible to get enough calories to do much physical activity – the category my pay-the-bills work falls into at the moment.  I also get very cranky when I haven’t had enough to eat.
  • I feel a bit like a teenager again.  I’m grumpy all the time and my diet stinks.
  • The last few days there has been major progress on the eating front.  I’ve graduated to oatmeal and macaroni-and-cheese.  There might also have been a test of rice and meatloaf.  Pho has been a diet staple – sip the broth, slurp a few noodles, move up to gingerly chewing a couple of soft veggies.
  • Bonus: I’ve lost 5 lbs in the last three weeks.  They (rather cheerfully) tell me that most people typically lose 10 lbs after this type of surgery.  I am decidedly not impressed with this method of weight control.

Thank goodness I can still knit, crochet, and spin!  Otherwise, my sanity and the health of everyone in the immediate environment might have suffered over the past three weeks.

We now return you to the regularly scheduled crafty programming.  There is, after all, deadline work to be done.

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Minarets and Lace

About a month ago I teased you with photos of a lovely lace shawl on the needles, but never showed you the finished shawl.  Well, wait no longer.

This is the Minarets and Lace shawl by Mary-Anne Mace.  I knit this for a friend to gift to one of her family members.  My friend is a knitter herself, but her busy schedule couldn’t accommodate one more item.  So she provided the yarn and the pattern, and I provided her with a finished knit ready for gifting.  In the process, I had fun knitting a project I otherwise wouldn’t have done and I learned some new knitting tricks.  Wins all around!


I am very happy with how this project turned out.  Once I figured out my trick for finishing the nupps, the knitting went fairly smoothly.  I have eyed several lace patterns containing nupps before, but never tried them.  Now I’m confident enough to take them on.  The pattern was well written and clearly understood once I got into the work.  Reading the pattern through before getting started also helped to get the scope of the work to come.  That said, this is not a beginner or intermediate lace project.

Since I was working toward a hard deadline, I figured out how many rows I would need to complete each week and stuck to that schedule.  Some weeks I was able to get in more knitting time than in others, so I finished well ahead of schedule.


My only frustration with this pattern was the special stitch ‘5 from 5.’  Basically, you work a series of knit five together into the same five stitches.  It creates what resembles a little gather or bloom within the body of the knitting.  In this case it also created an uneven band in the work where the stitches pulled more than in the rest of the work.  I can see it in the pattern sample photos too, now that I know what I’m looking for, so it’s not just me.  I like the concept of the stitch, just not how it was executed in the pattern.

I loved the yarn my friend chose for this project.  It is a blend of merino and silk in a lace weight.  So heavenly to work with!  The blend is a little on the nubby side – with little silk bubbles every so often – a quality which my friend really liked, even in the lace.  We had a bit of a scare near the end regarding yardage though.  I used every last inch of one full skein of this yarn.  Seriously, there was no extra long cast on tail or anything like that.  So close!


For blocking, I followed the designer’s suggestion for where to insert blocking wires to pull the edge out into points that highlight the lace patterning.  This came out very well.  I like that the designer was very specific here – most patterns assume that the knitter can determine how to block the piece to match the photographed pattern sample.

In all, this was a good knit.  Relatively fast too, even with the complexity.

For the knitters:

  • Pattern: Minarets and Lace by Mary-Anne Mace
  • Yarn: Zitron Filisilk, colorway #3032 Brick
  • Ravelry project page: here


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Summertime Wanderings

July is typically our month for summer vacation.  This year we are mixing things up – a few of the same adventures in the area mingled with several new adventures.  Here are some of the scenes from our summer fun so far.

We took in a baseball game – the St. Louis Cardinals visiting the Seattle Mariners.  We received a few sideways glances throughout the game.  I’m not sure if they were objecting to my knitting through the innings, or us cheering for the Cardinals.

IMG_20160626_155955_smWe rode the Great Wheel again.  That morning was overcast, but you can see in the photo that the clouds were starting to burn off.  Typical Seattle summer day.  We ended up with spectacularly sunny skies for our afternoon.

IMG_20160629_135709_clr_smWe explored the Olympic Sculpture Park, on the north end of downtown.  This was a new adventure, and very much enjoyed.  By this point, my feet were feeling a little tired.  I tried to skip a few of the smaller sculptures, but was admonished by Son for doing so.  I didn’t know he liked art that much!  Maybe I should insert a visit to the art museum in a future adventure.

IMG_20160629_152320_clr_sm IMG_20160629_153014_smWe also made a visit to see the construction site of a new sculptural building.  To marvel at the amount of structural and architectural engineering work that went into the design, of course.  The steel is bent and shaped into fabulous forms, with the glass pinned to the steel and floating above it.  I love watching the progress on this building.

IMG_20160629_162258_smIn the garden, we’ve had regular twice-daily visits from the little lady in the photo below.  She nibbles on greenery here and there, with preference for the dandelion leaves and a few fallen green apples.  At the moment we have no shortage of either one.

IMG_20160706_200734_clr_trm_smThe veggies (protected from the local wildlife in their metal planter-boxes) are doing well.  I’ve got a healthy crop of red onions, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, and basil.  I’m trying out green beans this year, with my two tiny bushes producing a nice handful of beans.  I also finally got around to picking up some asparagus roots and finding a permanent space for those.  (The same roots will produce for many years.)  Two of the three roots have sent up shoots, so that’s a win as well.

The clouds have burned off again, and it’s time to get outside for the daily dose of adventure.  You go outside and play too!

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Randomly on a Thursday

I hear that summer is in full swing in most parts of the northern hemisphere.  We got a few weeks of summer-like weather, then it turned spring-like again.  That’s not stopping us from going outside though.  (More on that in an upcoming post.)  Which means that my current projects have gone over to the small and easily portable side.

I worked up a few swatches for a lightweight summer project that is my stealth knitting for the next few weeks.  I’m working with a medium weight cotton/bamboo/silk blend yarn that has a nice tight twist with lots of bounce.  But I also am hitting that my-gauge-is-just-slightly-different-from-the-designer’s issue again with the pattern I am following.  Both of my swatches are “close enough,” so it comes down to how I like the fabric and what that does to the size garment I’m knitting.  I want the finished piece to be airy and light, and I’d like the sizing to be non-clingy.  With both of those needs in mind, I chose the top swatch which was worked in a size larger needle.  I’ll show you the actual fabric in my project roundup once the stealth portion is over – the actual knitting is well underway now – but I can tell you that I’m very happy with my decision.

IMG_20160628_092235_clr_smFor the non-knitting snippets of time between adventures, I am revisiting my bag of spinning sampler fiber.  These little one ounce bundles are perfect for catching an hour or two of spinning during family movie time in the evenings.

Lately I’ve been trying out drafting techniques that are very different from my usual default style.  Again, the little fiber samples are perfect for this.  Just enough fiber to get the swing of things, but not a huge project.  So, three more breeds checked off the experimentation list.  I’m not a big fan of the longwool breeds (Wensleydale and Teeswater), or this Manx Loaghtan.  The textures are great for household applications, but that’s not something I’m interested in doing right now.

IMG_20160628_100232_clr_sm IMG_20160702_121834_clr_sm IMG_20160612_130557_clr_smI’m continuing to have fun with small embroidery projects too.  I came across an image of little french knot sheep on Pinterest several months ago, and lately decided that I needed to work up a small flock of them.  Here’s an in-progress photo, after several podcasts’ worth of work – about 1-1/2 hours.


(I’ve been knitting in public a lot lately, which leads to many discussions about how long a handwork project actually takes and valuing the work accordingly.  I use the example of the 184 hour knitted lace circular shawl quite a lot.  People’s eyes generally open wide when they hear about that one.)

Speaking of portable project containing many hours worth of work, I’m nearing the end on this pair of socks for Husband.  These are my go-everywhere purse knitting.  And since Son has been taking a robotics workshop for the last two weeks, I’ve had a few odd hours every day between drop off/pick up and work where I can finish several rows.  Plus a few episodes of ‘I just got paid to sit around knit for an hour at work.’


Which means I need to visit the stash and pull out another skein of sock yarn.  Hmmm.  What color socks should I make next?

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Spinning Experiment: Alpaca – Round Two

For my second sample skein of alpaca spun from a recently acquired fleece, I prepped the fiber by combing it.  (Find the first sample skein experiment here.)  This opens up the ends, separates the strands a bit, and disengages any leftover bits of hay that might still be stuck in there after skirting.  The strands are all still running in the same direction.

Here’s where I’m running a little bit of a risk.  With wool, having the individual fibers running in the same direction is generally fine.  Each strand has little barbs along it that grab onto neighboring strands, which helps them tend to stick together rather than slipping along each other.  Alpaca isn’t really a fiber known for it’s stick-together-ness.  This smoothness makes it really lovely to touch, but can be a bit of a hassle when spinning.  My first experiment worked because the action of carding the locks caused the strands to tangle with each other a bit, which helped them to hold together during the spinning.

Once I tried a few different techniques for drafting the fiber consistently, my singles spun up quickly.  Pre-drafting helped here – without it, I was either pinching too much or too little fiber with each pass.


Once again, I plied the singles back on itself to make a 2-ply finished yarn.  My first clue that there was a problem came when I wound off the singles to prep for plying.  As I was winding, the singles slipped apart in a few places.  Not breaking, kind of like fraying or unraveling.  Normally, I would look at this as a sign that there isn’t enough twist in the singles.  (Too much twist and the singles can snap, too little twist and the fiber separates.)  But that isn’t the case here – there is plenty of twist, including in the sections that were slipping apart.  I observed that the strands were simply sliding right past each other.  The fiber doesn’t have enough grip to hold itself together consistently.

I salvaged what I could to make the final yarn, and dropped it into the bathwater.  The finished yarn is light, lustrous, soft, and drapey.  Perfect, except for not being strong enough to use.


So I’m calling this experiment a bit of a failure, insofar as the end goal would be a usable yarn that I could knit into a garment.  Otherwise, the experiment taught me quite a bit – which is a win in my case, because I do love to learn new things.

Next up, the third and final sample experiment – carded, but spun worsted.  Will it be as fluffy as the first sample, or a little smoother?

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Leveling Up

One of the joys of working with already prepared fiber is that you get to skip the dirty work.  You just simply sit down with your wheel or spindle and start spinning.  But most well-advanced spinners will say that at some point you’ll want to start from a raw fleece.

Why?  Well, my understanding is that it all has to do with getting exactly the yarn you want for the project you have in mind.  For some knitters (and weavers), that’s why they get into spinning in the first place – to control the yarn creation so that it’s absolutely perfect for their finished projects.  So going one step further into the yarn-making process is just another way to control the outcome.

For me?  Not so much.  It’s all about learning a new creative skill first, then being able to control my output second.  I’m not exclusively spinning to knit at this point – though I have taken that particular track at least once, and have plans for more.  I’m spinning for the joy of making yarn and to explore each of the ways of doing that.

Enter the raw fleece.  An alpaca fleece, to be exact.  Why alpaca and not wool?  For the simple reason that it was a handy acquisition at just the time when I was interested in acquiring a fleece.  I could just as easily have waited until the fiber festivals this summer/fall and picked up a wool fleece then.  But it was right there, in my hands, and I couldn’t resist.  It was also just the right size – 1 lb – not so small that there wasn’t enough for a good experiment, and not so large as to be absolutely overwhelming.  (For comparison, some fleeces can weigh in the double digits.)


I pulled out a 1 ounce sample of the raw fleece to prep it for the first bath.  Skirting involves pulling out all of the bits of hay, grass, twigs, etc. that gets caught in the fiber during the everyday goings-on of the animal.  Then the fiber goes into the bath for a first soak.  Let me tell you, that is one dusty fleece.  So much sediment in the bathwater!  Then it is laid out to air dry.


I decided to try different fiber prep and spinning methods to see which ones I liked for this project.  I combed a handful of the locks, to test how the ends open up.  This makes the fiber really fluff up, while keeping the individual hairs running in the same direction.

I also tried carding the fiber.  This also fluffed the fiber, and the hairs mostly stayed oriented in the same direction.  My technique needs some practice.  The thing with carding is that you can either roll the fiber “mat” off the cards longways or shortways, with each one giving you a different result during the spinning.  I got a better roll with removing the fiber starting from one short end and rolling across to the other short end.  Alpaca has a hard time sticking to itself, so rolling the fiber off the card in the traditional manner (from long side to long side – to make what is called a rolag) just gave me a long skinny cloud that tended to fall apart.


Here are my prep experiments lined up for inspection.  On the top is the combed locks experiment, pre-drafted through a buttonhole to make it ready for spinning.  In the middle is the carded experiment where I rolled the fiber off the cards in the traditional way to make a rolag.  At the bottom is the carded experiment where I rolled the fiber off the cards from short end to short end.

I decided I liked the bottom version the best.  So I prepped the rest of the 1 ounce sample in that manner.  I also decided to spin this sample using a long draw woolen technique to deliberately add air to the yarn – in other words, preserving the fluff factor through to the finished product.  This also has the benefit of being faster to spin.

The 2-ply unwashed yarn was soft and springy, but had definitely lost the luster of the original locks.  There was just too much dust still in the fiber!  So I was happy to toss it into the bathwater to set the twist – it would also get rid of all that dirt.


Here’s the finished sample skein.  I wish you could feel it.  It is so squishy and soft and nearly weightless!  That single ounce of fiber spun into ~118 yards of a 2-ply light fingering yarn.

But the experiments don’t stop there.  Next up:  A sample of the combed locks spun in my default worsted spinning technique.  Will it turn out as smooth and silky as expected?

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