I may have mentioned that knitting time has become commute time. I can usually only knit for about half of the trip, since the second half is on a more crowded subway train. Still, I am getting quite a bit of knitting done. I’m thinking of counting my commute time in sweaters knit rather than hours. Behold the results of this week:

That’s the top of a raglan sweater, a little hard to see in its crunched-up on the needles state. This is the yarn spun from the Harriet fleece that I’m making for Mike’s sweater. I’m about half way to the sleeve split, I’d say. I ended up having to go down to size 2 needles to get the fabric I wanted, but the knitting is pretty fast anyway since it’s all stockinette.

So fast, in fact, that I need to get some spinning done before I can continue. All of the Harriet fleece is spun already, but I’m a little short on yardage and so decided to make a wide band at the shoulders with some of the leftover MacGyver yarn from Branden’s sweater. That was all fine and good, until I went and found the MacGyver yarn and realized that it was spun at a heavier weight.

I thought that the two yarns were about the same, but never did any sampling to check because I wasn’t originally planning to put them together. When I looked at the two yarns, they are very clearly different.

Comparing the gauge of the two sweaters, I am pretty sure I’d have distortion around the stripe if I were to use the MacGyver yarn directly. What to do?

Well, it occurred to me after thinking about it for a while that I’ve never tried yarn reconstruction. I’ve heard of others splitting yarns up into individual plies and respinning or repurposing them, but it’s not yet in my bag of tricks. It then occurred to me that it should be.

So, I unspun my three ply yarn by running it back through the wheel, and then wound the three plies onto separate bobbins. Then I took two of them and plied them back together, to make a yarn that really is very close to what I’m going for.

I now have one skein of yarn unplied, and am working on winding those live singles onto separate bobbins. It was a lot easier in my 6-yard sample than it is for a whole skein, but it is slowly progressing. I’m thinking I’d better hurry up, or I’m not going to have knitting for my commute next week!

The final countdown is on…we leave for the show on Thursday. I have quite a pile of fiber (about 150 braids) waiting patiently in boxes, a basket full of sample skeins and sweaters spun from hand dyed and spun yarn, and today I have one more sweater to add to the pile:

The striped shawl sweater (which really needs a better name) is done. I finally finished the zipper this afternoon, and now it just needs its second and final blocking.

I am mostly happy with how it came out. I like the design itself even more than I thought I would, but it came out a little bit too tight around the waist and hips because of a couple of extra decreases that would have been better left out. I tried it on after blocking for the steek and it seemed to fit just fine, but wearing it around the house today I can tell it’s still a little tight. Between that and the way this construction stretches, it tends to ride up just a touch. You can see that a little bit in the back.

There’s a tiny bit of a crease at the point of the triangle, and a bit of bunching under the arms. Both of those go away with a little bit of tugging, though, so I’m hoping that it will relax out with the second blocking. An extra inch would take care of both. Or, I could always just wear it open.

I very much like having the power of steeking in my toolbox. This is my second steeked sweater in a row now, and the first where I picked up stitches and knit a button band (the purple stripe around the zipper is picked up and knit). I’d show you close ups, but my camera ran out of battery and refused to take any more pictures, so that will have to wait for another day.

I wanted to try a crochet steek on this sweater, but found out that that method shouldn’t be used close to the end of a row. Since all of my color changes happened in that front band, I decided to stick with a machine-reinforced steek instead. I ended up using two rows of machine stitching, and then just folding it over and tacking it down. There’s a piece of grosgrain ribbon attached to the zipper inside to help protect the raw edge, and it looks very secure to me. I’m already working away on the next sweater design, and I suspect that it may also have a steek. I have quite a few pullover sweaters now, and am really looking forward to having these new cardigans in my wardrobe. (Bright lights has been getting a ton of use, now that the weather is starting to warm up a bit.)

I’m happy to have the striped shawl sweater finished in time, because I think it will make a fun sample for the show booth. It’s a good example of what you can do to mix different handpainted colors into a wearable garment. The sweater is one of the lightest I’ve made, weighing in at 1 lb, 1 oz. It took 5 braids of fiber because I needed just a little more purple to finish the body.

Linda and Walden have been knitting away at their test knits for the shawl version of this design. You should go take a peek; it’s really interesting to see how the different yarns and colors highlight the geometry of the increases. I can’t wait to see how the final versions come out!

I also finished spinning up a sample of the new Rambouillet for the booth.

I ended up with about 470 yards of 2-ply fingering weight. Somehow I am still having trouble breaking through that fingering-to-laceweight barrier. I’m not sure whether to blame it on the wheel or on myself, but my best attempts at a fine yarn have all been coming out in this range, even using the smallest whorl on the lace flyer. It’s just difficult to get enough twist into the yarn to keep it fine. Some sections of these skeins are in the heavy laceweight range, though, so I think there may be some hope of figuring out how to go finer yet.

This color isn’t one that I would usually gravitate toward on its own, but I am itching to use it. The words “leaves of grass” are all I can think when I look at those skeins, and I’m thinking it will turn into something lacy with a wheat-ear theme. Time will tell, though. The Rambouillet spins like a dream and puffs up into a beautifully fluffy yarn, and I have a feeling that it will bloom even more after it’s bath. It’s upstairs drying right now, so we’ll know soon!

…makes Jack a dull boy, right?

Since most everyone seemed to be leaning toward play (and since I had some pretty strong leanings in that direction myself), I decided to try spinning the second half of the gradient as a short repeat yarn.

As instructed, I kept it simple. No overthinking…not even a bit. (Who me? Overthink? Never!)

I split the top along its full length, making 10 very narrow strips.

Then I spun them, one after the other until I ran out. (I was also careful to keep the cats out of the pile while I was spinning. This was critical, and proved to require more attention than I expected. Apparently lots of little strips of fiber = warm nest in the mind of a cat.)

I chain plied the singles like I did for the first skein, and ended up with about 2 yard lengths of each color (compared to about 20 yards per color in the previous skein). You can see the difference in the color distribution here:

And the two skeins together:

True to form, I like the long repeat version better in the skein, but I’m really not sure which I would prefer in the knitting.

I’d started out spinning this yarn expecting it to become a pair of socks, so I spun a (slightly heavy) sock weight. But then I was thinking about it, and I wasn’t sure that I wanted that long a gradient along the length of just one sock. That’s where the possibility generator kicked in and suggested that shorter repeats would be nice, so that there would just be a few rounds of each color in repeating stripes.

For a sock, I think I’d much prefer the shorter repeat version. I’d guess that there would be 3, maybe 4 rows per color, and then the colors will repeat every half inch or so, for the full length of the sock.

If I were to knit this into a shawl or a larger garment, then the long repeat version would look really good striped with a darker solid color. Of course, you could also alternate sections of long and short repeats to get all kinds of interesting combinations, too.

Because this is me, I no longer want to use this yarn for socks. My brain somehow manages to take a sharp left turn every time I sit down to think about knitting socks. Sweaters and shawls and bigger things are just much more exciting for some reason. (Also, I like my socks to match, which might be hard with this yarn now.)

Last night, I was having visions of a stranded colorwork bag, with the bright yarn worked on a dark blue background. But today, a mischievous little voice is suggesting that they would look very nice woven.

I said I didn’t overthink the spinning. I didn’t promise anything at all about the using of the yarn.

(Of course, all these ideas just mean more decisions, but that woven idea is pretty sticky. I think it might win.)

The striped shawl sweater has been slowly creeping slowly forward with the same knit-rip-knit pace. I’m past the striped section and have been working short rows to transition into the main body color. I started out decreasing one stitch for every three rows that I knit, which looked pretty good at first, but looked less good as the fabric grew. I worked short rows for both of the sleeves and half of the body before deciding that it looked a little too puffy.

See how there’s a bump at the edge of the dark fabric? Well. It was bothering me. So I ripped it out, and reknit the short rows, decreasing one stitch for every 2 rows instead.

Isn’t that better?

I’ve since redone the short rows, and finished the main body section. I had to spin some more yarn to make it, but I am very happy with how it’s coming out.

I am to the elbows on the sleeves and I am running on yarn fumes, so I’ll need to spin up another hundred yards or so to finish it off. I hadn’t counted on the short row decreases to add so much shaping, and I added a few of my own, which turns out to have been unnecessary. The final fit ended up a tiny bit tighter than I’d like, but I think it will loosen up with blocking and I don’t think it’s enough of a problem to rip back again. This project may finally be in the home stretch. All that’s left is finishing the sleeves, and then steeking the front to install the zipper. It’s getting close!

While I’ve been knitting the striped shawl, I’ve been keeping my spinning wheel busy finishing up the green for the fall colors sweater.

It’s all finished now, and will be ready to go as soon as I settle on a design. I’d like to say that it will be simple to make up for the last, but somehow I think that’s unlikely. (I’m still leaning toward the last design in this post, which will involve both steeking and a little bit of tailoring, and I’m thinking it likely that it will also have some rather experimental colorwork going on. Never a dull moment around here.)

Amazingly, that brought me to the end of what had seemed like a very long spinning queue, and suddenly it was time to start spinning the wool for Mike’s sweater, months earlier than I had planned. He’s a close friend of ours, and I think this may officially be the first big thing I’ve knit for someone outside of the family (mostly I knit just for Branden and I). We usually stay at Mike’s house over Christmas, and he was especially taken with Branden’s MacGyver sweater this year. He kept asking how long it took to make a sweater, from spinning the wool through to wearing it. I didn’t know, but I’ve decided to find out by spinning up the rest of the Shetland that I bought from that farm. Since Mike is also of an engineering bent and loved the MacGyver angle, I’ll also work in some of the leftover MacGyver yarn, probably as colorwork or stripes around the shoulders. For now, I’m spinning some wool from Harriet:

Doesn’t she have a lovely fleece? I liked it well enough in the roving, but it wasn’t until I started spinning it that I realized how beautifully heathered the gray is going to be. I have to admit that I have been struggling to resist the temptation to claim this wool as mine (as it was originally intended to be), but I am going to stick to the current plan. There will always be more fleeces, and I am getting to have a lot of sweaters!

One thing that has been very interesting about this set of projects is spinning from three fleeces from the same farm. You’d think they’d be pretty similar, given that they are three sheep fed and coated the same way, living in the same flock. The wool was presumably sheared by the same shearer and processed by the same mill. But the fleeces are not the same. As a reminder, MacGyver’s is the light gray wool in the sweater, and Magnolia’s is the dark brown.

MacGyver’s wool was kind of downy, but had lots of heavier guard hairs in it. I tried picking them out as I went, but enough stayed in to make the sweater slightly prickly when worn on sensitive skin (fortunately, Branden doesn’t mind). As Branden has worn the sweater, the guard hairs have tended to poke out here and there, and we’ve been pulling them out over time. I’m not sure that it’s making much difference, but I like to think that the sweater is getting softer and softer with time. Either that, or we’re helping it to fall apart faster, but I’m sticking to the first interpretation. MacGyver’s was the first wool of the three that I spun, and it was full of little pills of short fiber, like the wool had been slightly tipped or there were second cuts in the shearing. I must admit that I was not looking forward to spinning three big bags of wool like that; pills in the spinning make me crazy. But the fiber was beautiful otherwise, and I loved the yarn, so I kept spinning.

Magnolia’s wool had none of the pills, and none of the guard hairs. It was a much thicker feeling fiber, very smooth and greasy, almost like alpaca. The pills must have been from MacGyver and not from the mill, since both Magnolia and Harriet’s fleeces are pill-free. Harriet’s fiber is different yet again. It is much lighter than Magnolia’s and very soft,  more like the downy fleece in MacGyver’s wool. There aren’t many guard fibers at all, though there is a lot of hay. Harriet loved to wear her hay. I pull little bits out as I’m spinning, and I can’t help but imagine this sheep standing by her hay bale, munching away, pulling it down on top of her shoulders. Fortunately, most of it pops right out while I’m spinning, so it’s not a big deal, but it does amuse me to think of how this sheep must have always been wearing her food.

While I knit one sweater and spin toward the next, I’ve also been taking advantage of the beautiful weather to get outside and comb some more of my Gulf Coast fleece from last year. It is slow going, preparing a whole fleece by hand. I spun up most of what I had combed at Christmas to give to a friend, and I’ve only done a few ounces since then. It will be quite a while before I work my way through the whole 2.5 lbs, but it is very satisfying to see my bag fill up with these airy little puffs of fiber.

So there we have it. Handspun wool in all its stages. (Now all I need is a sheep.)

I’ve been thinking for a while now about adding different breeds of wool to my Etsy shop staples. The last time I dyed, I ran out of BFL. And that means that it’s time to place a new order for fibers to dye.

And so I’ve been pondering: what other fibers to add?

I am loving the Polwarth that I just dyed up. I made it through the first 4 ounces of the spinning, and it is turning into the lightest, loftiest fiber I could have imagined. I’m trying to spin a laceweight, but I’m not sure I’m going to make it, just because the wool is so fluffy. So that’s on the consideration list.

Last weekend, Ellen casually asked in an email whether I’d ever considered dyeing rare wools. Why yes, I have, but I’ve just never gotten around to it. Actually, I haven’t even gotten to trying them out in the first place. Her question (and recent experiments, here, here, and here) moved this up the priority list in a hurry. Clearly, some research was needed.

On Monday, I ordered a sampling of fibers from International Fleeces. They were out of stock on lots of things, so I didn’t get many of the rare breeds, but I found plenty of things to play with anyway. And today, I got a box:

These are all fairly small quantities, with the exception of a pound each of Whitefaced Woodland, Portland, and Cheviot. In smaller samples, I have Manx Loaghtan, Black Welsh Mountain, and Norwegian Top. And then there are a couple of exotics, too: Banana Viscose, Soybean silk, and Ramie. Lots of things to play with!

Do you have a favorite fiber to spin? Are there others that I absolutely must try?


Last Monday, our spinning guild had an informal workshop on spinning art yarns led by Carrie (ravelry link, or here’s her Etsy shop). I barely got to try any of the techniques we covered at the meeting, because I was too engaged in sitting and watching her spin and hearing about all the details of the different techniques. So yesterday, I sat down to spin some samples in between packing boxes.

I started out with corespinning, where you spin your fiber onto another yarn “core.” Since all the strength of the yarn comes from the core, you spin very, very lightly and get a very fluffy yarn.

I have decided that I very much like corespun, though I have no idea what I will use it for. There is so little twist that it will probably be a pretty delicate yarn, but it is soft. It would be perfect for any garment where you want a halo, or just a very light fabric. It also uses a lot less fiber than traditional spinning, and it will keep long color repeats together when you don’t want a single or a chain-plied yarn. I also found that you can make a very tight corespun that is more like a traditional yarn (and probably more rugged), or you can go for loft, depending on the tension you apply while you spin.

Next, I tried thick-and-thin, which is supposed to be hard but I found to be much more intuitive than the “easier” corespinning. I think that’s because I usually spin long draw, and that’s pretty much what you’re doing when you spin thick-and-thin; you just let the twist grab onto a large bunch of fibers, draft out to get back to a thin yarn, and then start spinning normally again at the end of the staple.  It makes a very stable yarn, with very fluffy bits.

And here’s one of the “thick” spots all by itself. The trick is to make sure that the twist catches both ends of the staple so that the yarn doesn’t fall apart when you pull on it. I was snapping these hard enough to hear it, and they didn’t move at all. They are really long because I was using BFL as my spinning fiber. Shorter fibers will give you shorter thick spots.

Once you have thick-and-thin, you can start playing with coils. The easiest one is the supercoil. You ply your thick and thin with a core yarn, and then just scrunch the thick-and-thin ply up along the core. (I hear tell that this is very similar to what you do to make a boucle yarn, but I haven’t tried that one yet.) This looks like it should be a necklace or something, doesn’t it?

Since the coils aren’t really held down with anything, I found that mine move around a lot in the final yarn. Maybe I just haven’t practiced enough yet, but I think it’s in the nature of this yarn to move around a bit. Maybe it would be better with a binder yarn spun around it? I think it would also help to have a stickier core; I just used weaving cotton because it was a good color match. I’m not sure what I would use this for, but it was fun to make. I didn’t make much of it, because it requires a ton of singles to keep up with all that scrunching.

Next, I tried beehives. Again, you ply thick and thin with a core yarn, but this time you only scrunch when you get to a thick spot. This gives you long stretches of “normal” 2-ply yarn with the occasional beehive in between. This was a little trickier because you have to anchor the beginning and end of each beehive, but I actually like it better because they don’t really move around once they’re anchored in place. (You may have guessed by now that I generally prefer my fiber to stay where I put it rather than wandering around while I knit…)

And finally, I tried autowrapping. Basically, you add an extra yarn during the plying, but don’t hold onto it. You just let it hang there and “autowrap” itself around whatever else you’re doing. In this case, I used a silver metallic thread that Branden picked up for me at JoAnn’s fabric while he was out running errands. Since I had silver, I switched to a blue fiber instead of the butterscotch. I started out by corespinning the blue fiber, and then I plied it with some laceweight leftovers in the stash. While I plied those two together, I let the silver autowrap away. And this is what I came out with.

This is an incredibly soft, fluffy yarn with just a hint of glitter. I couldn’t get it to photograph well, but you can just barely see it there if you look closely. Still a fairly delicate yarn, but I think this will wear a lot better because the plying and the extra wrapping should help hold everything in place. I can definitely see using this, either for weaving or for knitting confections.

I also played around with cocoons in that skein. Here, you just insert a small amount of unspun fiber between your plies, and anchor it down. You’d also use something similar to put in beads and other foreign objects. I don’t generally care for lumps and bumps in my yarn, but it does add some interesting texture, and you wouldn’t have to make them as huge as I did. Again, perhaps for weaving, where I tend to like irregularities in the yarn much more than in my knitted fabric. (Ellen, I thought of cardinals when I was practicing this…)

You can see the autowrapped thread a little more clearly there; by letting it wrap on after you’ve plied, it becomes another ply wrapped around the surface of the other two instead of getting buried in the yarn.

In all, it was another fun set of experiments. I will definitely think about using the corespun and the thick-and-thin in the future, and possibly the beehives. I don’t know about the rest of the techniques, but it was fun to learn them, and it never hurts to have a few more ideas in your toolbox. I definitely learned a lot from this two hour (free!) workshop, and it was fun to try so many new things. Though I’m still not an art yarn addict, I’m really looking forward to coming up with ways to use these new yarns in the future; I think that they will give me lots of options that the more traditionally spun yarns don’t, especially where loft and softness are important, or when I’m looking for unusual texture to add to woven cloth.