July 2005 Archives

Homely but Soft


One of my favorite places to stop at MS&W is the booth for the American Cormo Association. Cormo sheep are relatively rare (from what I can tell) and are a cross between Corriedales and Merinos. I'm not very familiar with the former breed, but I've come in contact with enough Merino wool to know how soft and wonderful it is. However, I've been told it's very short staple, and that can make for frustrating spinning for a novice like myself. I don't think Cormo is considered to be a long staple yarn, but it's incredibly soft. I just couldn't resist getting three bags of hand-dyed Cormo-Silk blend roving to stash away for when I was ready to try something special.

Of course, the problem with having something wonderful like that is that you really don't want to leave it buried away, at least not if you're me. You want to get it out and revel in it a little bit, even if you know it's not exactly the right time for this particular party. So I started this spindle-ful when I was doing my dying experiment with Julie, continued to work on it in Ann Arbor over Father's Day weekend, and finished it up tonight.

Cormo Silk Blend Single

This picture is a bit deceptive. This last bit I spun without spinning and parking and it's much finer and more sophisticated looking than most of the rest of it. But having had my success with the Blue Faced Leicester, I wanted to see how I would do with the Cormo (I also wanted to get that spindle back so that I could try some more Cormo spinning using the same technique all the way through). After another Andean plying bracelet and some quality time wiht my tulipwood Bosworth, I had this sitting on my itty bitty niddy noddy.

2 Ply on a Niddy Noddy

It doesn't look so bad from a distance, but it's pretty rustic looking stuff.

A Homely But Incredibly Soft Little Skein

Rustic, but very, very soft. It's a bit on the homely side (especially compared to yesterday's yarn) but so nice to the touch it's almost hard to put down. It also taught me something. Creating a two ply from an unevenly spun yarn (from the perspective of the variation in the diameter of the single over time) made it a lot harder for me to balance the stuff and ended up in what I consider to be a relatively loosely plied yarn.

Have a great weekend, everyone! I probably won't be back until after the 4th of July. And I most certainly am likely to be spinning!

Easter In July


Towards the end of our dying adventure a month or so ago, there were some odds and ends of Blue Faced Leicester roving that we just didn't feel could be allowed to remain un-dyed. Julie decided that this was a great opportunity to try out some colors that we normally wouldn't be all that interested in. For both of us, this seemed to mean yellow. She opted to go for more solid warm yellow dying test, while I, perhaps not surprisingly, ended up with a cooler yellow with what I hoped would be complementary colors: green and purple. The result, for me, turned out like this:

Spring Pastels

As an aside, I want to mention that it's still very interesting to me that two people can start with the same exact set of dyes, but come away with fiber with very different color palettes and temperatures. Although yellow doesn't normally float my boat, I really liked this little bit of fiber and decided that I would hold onto it until my spinning actually got good enough so that I could turn the resulting yarn into something knitted. Over the weekend, I decided that I'd reached that point and, since it seems wrong to have an empty spindle laying around, that it was time to see what this collection of colors would do as it moved from roving to yarn.

Spring Pastel Single

The yellow shows up here as the dominant color because of the direction in which I spun from the roving (I've discovered that rovings seem to draft better from one direction... I think that has to do with the structure of the wool shaft and the way the scales align), but there's definitely a good deal of green hiding out in the background as well. The light purple/lavender is much more subtle.

I'm going to let this single "rest" overnight on my spindle before I ply it, but I'm extremely curious about how the colors will look once plied. Will the purple in the mix just cause muddy brown regions or will it give the purple and yellow some interesting pop? The thought has also occurred to me to try to learn how to do that Navajo 3-plying technique, so as to maintain the regions of color in series, but I'm not sure I'm up to that particular hand-eye co-ordination challenge quite yet.

Any experienced spinners have any guesses or suggestions? From the perspective of controlling the fiber diameter, I think this is probably my best effort to date, so I'd like to see that it gets finished off well.

Phildar Clapotis

Phildar Clapotis Swatches, Colourway Lotus

Sometimes what you buy yarn for and what it ends up becoming are two very different things. This Phildar Clapotis was supposed to be one of three components in a project, dubbed by Phildar, to be a "Chanel-Inspired Jacket". Yet when I did the swatch for this project (shown bottom center in the photo), something just didn't grab me the way that I wanted it to. Not only that, but it just seemed like the addition of the Sunset yarn made the whole thing a little too sparkly for me. While I didn't want the yarn to go to waste, I also didn't want to make something that wasn't going to become a loved part of my wardrobe.

So I set everything aside for a while, until this weekend, when I realized that I just don't have much in the way of new summer tops for work, and I started to wonder if the Clapotis would be better off on it's own. Sure enough, there are some simple and summery designs for it in the Phildar Tendences Printemps 2005 book that also contains the jacket pattern.

Phildar Raglan

Don't worry, I'll be avoiding the short skirt and the belly baring part of the experience. I selected this design because tt has light shaping and simple raglan sleeves, so it should be both flattering and relatively easy to make and assemble. It also doesn't call for more yarn than I have, so I can get started right away. Always a plus in my book.

After a few test runs, I finally got a swatch that came out at gauge (the swatch in the top right corner of the first picture). Even with big frou frou yarns, it seems that Phildar and I have wildly different tension expectations from 6mm needles. Want to know what this funky tape-style yarn looks like up close? Of course you do...

Clapotis Swatch Up Close

Enough color and texture to be interesting, not so much as to make someone think that I have molded actual cotton candy onto my form. I'm hoping this will be a win-win situation for both me and the yarn.



A bit of a pictoral tour through my plying process with the Easter Egg colored Leicester.

Andean Plying Bracelet with Easter Egg Single
Plied on the Spindle Post
Prepared for a Bath
True Colors
20050706_EasterEggFinished.jpg 20050706_EasterEggUnbalance.jpg
Left: It's Not Easy Being Green
Right: A Little Unbalanced

It's surprising how green this little skein looks to me now that it's all plied up (it's a little bit greener in real life than it appears in the picture). I was hoping that the yellow would come to the fore a bit more. But I'm pleased with the overall effect.

The last two pictures were taken after a good bath and being hung with a weight. The skein still has a definite twist -- meaning that in contrast to my last effort, I got a little overzealous during the plying. This skein will likely be something I enjoy looking at, but I suspect if I tried to knit with it, it would probably bias a bit. In spite of the tight twist, however, it's still quite soft. One more thing to like about Blue Faced Leicester.

Not Such a Good Morning


Just wanted to say that my thoughts and hopes go out to all of you in the London area and all of the UK today. What terrible news to wake up to on this side of the pond.

I know that there are a number of people who "dropped by" my blog and let me know they were from the London area. Stay safe, friends.

A French Confection


It a pink confection, coming to life:

The Back of the Lotus Clapotis Pull

Gotta love size 10-1/2 needles and big yarn sometimes. It can make a girl feel like she's accomplishing something.

Spring Flowers


One thing I am trying to change in my life is my need to have a book before I jump off into something. This statement should not be taken to mean that I don't think books are valuable, or that I don't love books in general. It's more a statement about me and how I do things. I often look to books to get instructions on the "right way to do things" and then I just religiously follow the recipe. There's nothing truly wrong with this approach, but for me, once I establish some protocol in my brain, I stop thinking about what it means or what the instructions represent. I know how to do something, but I don't know why I'm doing what I am doing.

I've been trying to change a little of that way of operating as I learn to sping. Certainly I have bought books and I'm using them as a reference as I go along, but I am also trying to understand spinning as a process that I am learning by doing as opposed to simply following a recipe. I hope in the long run that will mean that I can be more creative about what I am doing because I understand more of the principles of why things work the way they do.

I'm still working on spinning the Blue Faced Leicester rovings that Julie and I dyed up. This weekend I started on one that might actually yield enough yarn to do something of reasonable size with. I'm referring to it as my "Spring Flowers" roving, because the colors in it remind me of the vivid reds, purples and greens of spring crocus, tulips and hyacinths.

Spring Flowers in Blue Faced Leicester

One thing that I've learned on my own is that I just am not very good at spinning from big thick pieces of roving. So I've taken to dividing my rovings into as many smaller, but still manageable to spin from pieces as I can. Then I spend some time pre-drafting them by yanking on the piece of roving, moving from one end of the roving to the other in 3-4" intervals. The result is that the dense roving above turns into the cotton candy below.

Separating and Pre-Drafting

The pre-drafting also softens the colors a bit. They maintain that softer look on the spindle. I tried to divide the roving as evenly as possible so that the color intervals would be fairly regular. It will be interesting to see how they all blend together when I ply the yarn.

In comments to my post about the "Easter Egg" roving, Natasha asked:

is bfl soft? i hate spinning with anything that isn't really soft. i am a wuss.

I'm a wuss too, which is why I put the indigo dyed roving away for a while. I would definitely consider BFL to be soft. Not as soft as merino or cormo, but softer than some of the longer staple wools that I picked up at MS&W. Its definitely a nice wool for a beginning spinner like me because the staple length is long enough to make it easier to control, and it's not too coarse or rough on my fingers, so you can spin for a long time, and it seems to me that the best way to get good at spinning is just to do a lot of it.

A Spindle Full of Flowers

The Weekend's Labor of Love

Love's Labor Lost


I guess I was due for a bit of a come-uppance with my spindling. I was hoping that I could turn that reasonable bit of roving into a two-ply that I would actually have enough of to knit a little something with. It was quite a bit of yarn, but I thought I would just make another one of those Andean plying bracelets (albeit a big one) and ply up a nice robust skein.

But it was not to be.

One Starting Single, Three Sets of Results

The Niddy noddy contains the small amount of yarn that got plied before I encountered a tangle I just couldn't deal with. Okay, I clipped it and tried again, but came upon another tangle. It seemed like too much to deal with easily, so I thought I would just wind it off onto something else and try plying it in a smaller batch. I got some of it (the single skein to the left). But then I encountered another tangled mess that I couldn't defeat. I just couldn't find a way to deal with it that wouldn't end up in far too many un-pliable fragments.

Tangled Mess

It may not look like much, but I think it's over a third of what I spun!

In the trial and error learning spirit that I talked about yesterday, I am just going to keep it as a remembrance to not get carried away with trying to ply too much yarn from an Andean plying bracelet. I think I just tried to wrap too much too tightly. Especially for a tiny thin yarn that has a tendency to want to twist on itself, tangle or otherwise bond with itself. Much better to start from two separate center pull balls, I think.

The question for me now? How do you experienced spinners get two balls or roughly equal length to ply together. Do you measure out the roving into pieces of equal weight? Do you spin and then measure the length and divide in two? Do you just guess an hope it all works out?

More Spindling

Spinning Up Stuff From MS&W: Cormo/Silk and Corriedale

When the going gets stressful, the stressed get spinning. I never thought I would find spinning so relaxing and tension releasing. There is something incredibly centering about watching fiber become yarn. Just letting my fingers do something. I have to keep my eyes on the fiber, but there's no counting, no shaping, no stitches. Just gentle tugging and sliding and the occasional need to wind on the yarn or sent the spindle into motion. Both my eyes and my fingers are satisfied and my brain just has to admire the progress.

I have to say that the BFL and the Cormo/Silk rovings that I have been spinning have got me a little bit spoiled. I really liked spinning that Corriedale when I first got it. Now it seems a bit rough (although I love the cochineal coloring and the shine in the yarn) and my fingers would rather be working over the Cormo/Bombyx silk blend.

A Little Bit Slubby

One thing I've found about this blend is that the silk seems to cluster in areas and you get these little slubby bits going as you spin, places that I just can't draft out the same way as the wool fibers. It creates a very pleasant texture in the yarn. Interestingly, the Cormo/Tussah blend that I bought doesn't behave this way at all. I don't know if that is a difference between the two types of silk or just how they've been blended together, but it's quite noticeable in the final product.

I've made a few more discoveries while spindling along -- spin the spindle as fast as you can feel comfortable doing. It tends to wobble less and it goes longer. It also gives you more twist and for thinner singles, more twist means less chance of breaking. I think that both my spindles are probably a little too heavy for the singles that I am spinning as occasionally I have spindling wipe-outs (where my poor spindle ends up on the floor) that increase in frequency as the spindle accumulates more yarn.

A big thanks to everyone who left suggestions for me about plying. I think now that I am spinning more fiber onto my spindles, it probably makes sense to try plying from a center pull ball. We'll see how this works when I get to a good stopping point with the red Cormo/Bombyx!

The Fold


On Saturday, Julie and I took a much needed trip out for some fiber therapy and visited The Fold in Marengo, Illinois. Believe it or not, the Fold is probably the closest store to Chicago that focuses on spinning and spinning supplies -- and it's over an hour and a half away from where I live. This is one store, however, that would be completly worth the trip even if it were three hours away. You can't help but fall for the incredible fiber and the warm welcome that you get when you go there.

My first mission was to find another drop spindle -- something a little lighter than my two wonderful Bosworths. The problem at the Fold is that there is so much choice, it's almost hard to know where to start. However, on a recomendation from the lovely proprietress, I tried out a Charis Yarn spindle -- it's a 1.2 oz spindle with a padauk whorl and a birch shaft.

Charis Yarn Spindly and Matching Niddy Noddy

In case you're wondering, I've been spinning up some BFL on this spindle and it spins like a dream. It is very well balanced, at least in my hands.

I also decided that since I was spinning a bit larger batches of things, that I could probably justify a second niddy noddy. This niddy is also from Charis Yarns and has bloodwood heads on a maple body. Simple and beautiful. And it almost matches the spindle!

Did I get any fiber?

Of course I got fiber. Lots of fiber.

Blue Moon Handpainted Goodness: (starting top center and moving clockwise: Wenselydale in Jewel of the Nile, Cashmere and Tussah in Cobalt Bloom, Cashmere and Tussah in Alina, Undyed Superfine Merino Top and Targhee in Mermaid

I did focus on one specific handdyer. I hadn't planned on this, but all the types of fiber I wanted to try were present in her collection. After knitting Sigil in Targhee, I really wanted to see what it was like to spin. That very large roving is 7.25 ounces and should give me enough to do something special with.

Mermaid Targhee

A blog reader recommended Wenselydale as a good fiber to try if I liked BFL, so how could I say no when I saw some dyed in colors that I adore? I have 6 ounces to play with, and I'm imagining a lovely winter scarf.

Jewel of The Nile Wenselydale

The cashmere and tussah skeins are just a little treat. It's really too bad that you can't feel things through the internet. Just one touch would tell you why I bought those two special little hanks!

Cobalt Bloom Cashmere and Tussah
Alina Cashmere and Tussah

The undyed superfine Merino Top was a special gift that both Julie and I got to take a little of to try spinning. This stuff is almost like silk, it's so incredibly soft and fine. It will be a while before I even attempt to think about spinning it.

And for those of you who might be wondering when I am going to get to that incredible Spinner's Hill top that I bought at MS&W... well, as soon as I get that piece I need to fix my mom's Ashford traditional, I'm sure it won't be too long... I'm supposed to get a phone call as soon as the order arrives at the Fold.

In the meantime, I've gotta run. I've got an awful lot of fiber I want to play with!

MIT Weblog Study

Because I can't resist helping a scientific cause...

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A progression of handspun...

All the Spinning That's Happened So Far

These little skeins of yarn show how my spinning skills have progressed since the beginning of May. The first two skeins are from rovings I bought from Handspun by Stefania. The third skein is a tussah/cormo blend, the fourth, fifth and sixth skeins are from my dying projects with Julie and the seventh skein is the Bombyx/cormo blend that I've slowly been working through on one of my Bosworth spindles. I weighed it to find out how much I'd actually spun up and I think I have about 1/2 an ounce. At least that's what my Ikea scale tells me. It seems right given that that I started with a four ounce bag and there's still a whole lot of fiber left to work with.

To get it to this photoshoot, after plying it from a center pull ball (which worked better than the Andean plying bracelet), I soaked it and allowed it to hang dry to set the twist. And it seems pretty balanced. And very soft.

Bombyx Silk and Cormo Wool Blend Close Up

The Bombyx silk lends this yarn a little bit of extra texture. I found it hard to keep the singles even when I came across the silk. It seemed to prefer to become these little slubs. The yarn is a little more rusty than the luminous red that shows up in the picture and should be a nice color for a fall garment.

I've been pretty unmotivated to knit so far this summer, but running my fingers over my own handspun is getting me a little more inspired to get back to it. Based on a wraps per inch measurement (about 16 wpi) this yarn looks like it's sport weight. This seems like an idea weight for something lacy -- I'm hoping that it might be a good candidate for a a flower basket shawl, but I am figuring that I better spin up a little bit more of it before I start on a project with it, just to be sure that I get enough to actually complete the project I start.

Rainbow Leicester


From this:


To this:


To this:


Close up, you say?


This is the last of the BFL rovings that Julie and I dyed up. Saturated jewel tones were the order of the day for this one. I'm glad I saved it for last, because I think I'll get something lovely out of it. I did all the spinning over the last few days using my new spindle. I think I can say without hesitation that the Charis Yarn spindle was an excellent acquisition. This spindle definitely spins a long time!

I went from the spindle to the niddy so that I could get this yarn into a hank and give it a little bath and air dry to help set the twist before I ply it. But, depending on what it's like after it dries, I may just keep it as a single. I kind of like it just the way it is. Do singles have to be plied? Deb Menz Spinning in Color book suggests not, but I'm worried about bias. How do I know that my singles won't bias when I knit with them? Is just not seeing visible twist in the hank after drying enough? Or are there other magic tests?

Look Ma, No Twist!


First off, thank you for all your kind words and compliments yesterday. Like most folks who read this blog, I live in more than one world and my spinning has been doing a lot towards helping me deal with problems that aren't part of my fiber world. To get so much nice feedback about my Rainbow BFL really made my day.

I decided to take the advice of those of you who suggested that it would be okay to leave this yarn as a single. I gave it a nice warm, Eucalin-rich bath to help it relax and get comfortable. It exhausted some more purple dye, but otherwise seemed to like the bath. Then I hung it to dry with a weight at the bottom to keep tension on the skein while it dried.

Rainbow Lace Weight After a Wash and Set

I tried to get some good pictures with the skein hanging, but my new niddy noddy creates bigger skeins and it was hard to get it all in one picture. You'll just have to trust me when I say that this hank doesn't twist in either direction. Another very pleasant result of the bathing process is that it is now very soft. Not sure if that's the Eucalan or just some relaxing on the part of the wool, but it's a very pleasant result!

I weighed the hank and I have somewhere very close to 1 ounce of yarn. When I used my newly acquired wraps-per-inch tool (yes, I know you can use a ruler, but this little tool is ever so handy and keeps things in place while you're wrapping) I came up with something in the neighborhood of 30 wpi, which makes the yarn somewhere between fingering and lace weight. It's pretty close in diameter to Kid Silk Haze, though it has many more irregularities.

All Skeined Up and Waiting for Inspiration

The nice thing about this yarn is that it has relatively long stretches of one solid color that repeat because of the way that I split up and joined the roving. I'd like to make something lacy with it that will show off the stripes. Maybe something with with a little bit of a wave that would create a nice undulating edge. I'm thinking that a simple, not very wide scarf would probably be the ticket -- a nice accent piece to wear with a turtleneck in the winter. So I spent a bit of yesterday evening looking through Barbara Walker's first treasury of knitting patterns in search of the right thing.

(This is definitely one of those books that I keep going back to for inspiration. If you only have one book of knitting charts in your collection, this is the one to pick. The pictures are all in black and white, but everything is photographed well so that you can really get a good sense for the patterns.)

I'm currently leaning towards the good, old standard Feather and Fan stitch pattern (p. 205), a combination of 6 and 8 stitch Razor Shell (i.e. two 8 stitch intervals flanking a 6 stitch rib, p. 206), or the Horseshoe Pattern (p. 209). None of these patterns are too intricate and I think they would all work nicely with the striping. Any other suggestions? I'd like to find something really nice for my first knitting project with my own handspun!

From Single to Scarf


Last night, for the first night in what seems like decades, I got a chance to go to the KIP at Letizia's on Division. My rainbow handpun and my copy of Barbara Walker's first edition came with me. While I discovered one thing that I already know -- that I cannot talk and knit lace at the same time -- I also settled on a pattern and got enough started to that I could see whether my striping idea was going to work out.

The pattern I chose with help from the folks at KIP (which will be completely unidentifyable from the picture below) was the HorseShoe Lace pattern (click here for the best example I could find quickly). I wanted something not too complicated, but something that undulated a little bit and would show off any striping that occurred.

Rainbow BFL Handspun Gets an Identity in Lace

This is roughly one interval of color progression in my handspun and 4 intervals of the lace pattern. I've got 3 intervals of the lace unit across. For the sake of jogging my memory later on, I cast on 31 stitches (the pattern interval is 10 stitches + 1) on us size 7 (4.5 mm) needles. Why that size? Because I don't have bamboo circs size 6 or size 8 that I can find right now and I wanted to have a surface that wasn't too slippery.

I'm still trying to decide whether I think it's going to be garish or wonderful. The colors in the photo are pretty true (thanks to my trusty old Nikon CoolPix). I have a feeling that no matter what pattern I pick, it's going to be a little lost in the color since the colors are fairly saturated.

I know to make a real judgement, I should block it, but I'd love to hear opinions, suggestions, etc. Should I keep going? Should I turn back? Should I use a smaller needle? There's still plenty of time to revise this plan.

And a little pseudo-blocking doesn't hurt either!

Rainbow BFL and Horseshoe Lace Pattern

First of all, can you spot the obvious error in the lace pattern? (I hadn't noticed this at all before taking the picture).

While I do still like this pattern, and I don't dislike the pattern with my handspun yarn (gosh, I like saying that, "my handspun yarn"), this wasn't quite the effect I was looking for. I really wanted something that make the bands of color undulate a little more to create something more like a zig-zag or sine wave effect. Here the bands of color extend straight across.

I guess this definitely qualifies as a live and learn sort of event. Time to go back to the drawing board (or perhaps blocking board, as the case may be) and test out another idea.

Knitting Symbol Font


So, over the weekend, as I was thinking about lace charts and browsing through the early treasuries of Barbara Walker's stitch patterns, I realized that my life would be made a lot easier if I could convert these patterns (which are all written out in words, line by line) into a visual representation, which tends to help me understand and memorize the chart better. I'm not sure what it is, maybe my inner programmer is showing, but when I can see a lace pattern in symbol form, memorizing it is a breeze.

Initiallly, I thought I would create my own symbols in Visio and over time add to that template as I needed to convert more charts. As I started to look at Barbara Walker's abbreviations (found in the 4th treatsury of her work) I thought that some of them were a little non-standard from what I was used to working with, and I decided that I needed to search and refresh my memory about symbols and their standard meanings.

As happens so often when I do this sort of thing, I realize that someone else has done something far better and much more handy than what I am embarking on that can save me a lot of time. In this case it turns out to be the Aire River Design Knitting Font a True Type font which can be downloaded for free for personal and professional use and thus is at your finger tips when you open up your favorite word processing program.

How cool is that?

Note, added after receiving some comments... Anne provided a link to another knitting font, the one used by Knitter's magazine. Although I haven't looked at it myself yet, Ariel comments that it's a fixed width font and may be easier to use for those of you who don't like to deal with setting up tables in Word or Excel. I'll definitely have to take a look at the Knitter's font sometime soon.

When I used the Aire River font, I created a table in Word with as many columns as were required for the number of stitches in the pattern repeat and set the column widths to be determined by the cell contents. Then I configured the columns so that all the symbols were horizontally and vertically centered, which overcame my need for a fixed-width font. It looks like the Knitter's font may create a grid automatically.

Pearl Barred Scallops


So what did I finally decide on for my laceweight single?

I actually experimented with a couple of different patterns, including the seafoam pattern which had a drop stitch and a tilting block pattern that had alternating bias lines that I thought might get me my zig-zagging. No pictures because neither of them really got me to where I wanted to go.

Then I thought I might try the Pearl Barred Scallop pattern (from Barbara Walker's first treasury) along with a 4.0 mm needle. And I got exactly what I was looking for.

Pearl Barred Scallops Unblocked
Pearl Barred Scallops Blocked (Almost)

Curious about what it might look like close up?

Pearl Barred Scallops with Bars Clearly Visible
Pearl Barred, Almost Blocked

These two photos are of almost the same reason. Makes it pretty clear why blocking is a good thing -- or at least why it can make a significant difference.

It may not be the most complicated or sophisticated pattern (there is really only one pattern row, alternated with a simple purl row) but that actually makes it a more user-friendly project for me right now. And given how far I've gotten on only a couple of color cycles, it's clear to me that this scarf will be quite long when completed. It's 20" in the "blocked" state and I've got well over 2/3rds of the single left to go. Ahhhhh... 6 feet of rainbow zig-zaggy stripeyness. My wardrobe will never be the same!