Lovely Louet

Well, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that I LOVE my new Louet spinning wheel! She arrived safely, and is absolutely gorgeous. So modern and streamlined, with beautiful solid wood construction that’s sure to last for a very long time. She was easy to assemble, and I just want to stare at her and run my hands over her smoothly finished wood. The cats, of course, were curious about her too:

Louet S10 DT spinning wheel

Louet S10 DT spinning wheel

The bad news is that I feel like I’m having to learn to spin all over again… and it’s much more complicated this time around. It took me forever to just figure out how to attach a leader yarn that wouldn’t slip on the bobbin, and of course the footwork is going to take some practice. I’m not sure what I was expecting, I knew there would be a learning curve involved, so I’m probably just being silly and putting too much pressure on myself, but I can’t help but be disappointed that it didn’t really start feeling more natural by the end of the evening. How long does it usually take to get accustomed to a spinning wheel? I’m guessing probably more than a few hours, so I’m sure I’m being silly, and shouldn’t let myself get so frustrated. Here are my tragic first attempts. For all of you who have been tempted to believe that I’m a quick learner, you can feel free to laugh now:

louet spinning wheel first attempts

What even is that? It looks like I tried to wrap the sheep itself around the bobbin! I don’t think it helped that the practice wool they sent with the wheel is so hideously scratchy and rough. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very glad they sent it, I didn’t want to ruin any of my other beautiful fiber, and it won’t be wasted regardless… I’m thinking dryer balls, whatever the end result. But I’ve just been so spoiled with all of my lovely, soft fiber that working with this didn’t help my frustration level. After about 3 hours, I was able to occasionally start to feel a bit of rythm, but then something would happen to throw it all off again. Mainly I think I’m not used to working with my hands this way, and timing them with my feet. I kept letting the twist enter the main fiber, and then I wasn’t sure about the timing to let the fiber wrap around the bobbin, etc. It feels like it should all work together eventually, and I’m still hopeful that I’m going to eventually get it… it’s just going to take longer than I’d hoped. I think I got some better results by the end of the evening, but I’m not really sure how it happened, and there are tons of kinks and weak points:

louet spinning wheel first attempts

I know I should probably just relax and be OK with this learning process… I’m sure that would only help my cause. It just feels so much more out of control than the spindle right now. I really want to master both tools, and use them as I feel the whim. I’d love to use this to make a lot of yarn quickly, and the spindle when I’m feeling more leisurely, or want to be more portable. I really am in love with the design, and I can tell it’s going to be very comfortable eventually. I especially love the double treadle, and the detailing on the bobbins. Let’s just step back and admire that for a minute:

louet s10 spinning wheel top

louet bobbins

I’m excited to get to know my lovely Louet better. I can tell we’re going to be great friends. Any beginner’s advice from my fellow spinning wheel users would be very welcome… and may help me relax a bit. 🙂

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Angelic Angora

I could no longer keep myself from the angora in my luxury sample pack. The fiber itself is incredibly soft and sleek with an angelic halo. It has a longer staple length than cashmere and it spins very gracefully. But you don’t really want to bury your face in this one (unless you like breathing hair) while you are working with it. I remember breathing in a lot of the tickly, tiny hairs when I’ve knitted with it in the past as well. They are so light and fluffy, they just want to fly around like tiny angels! But once the finished piece has been washed and worn a few times, and the hairs have decided to reside peacefully in your knitted piece… bury away! One of my favorite garments I’ve ever made is an angora cowl. I basically leave it around my neck all winter long… it’s stood the test of time. It’s so soft, silky and breathable, not itchy at all, and many times warmer than wool. I wrap it around my face when I go out on a cold day for instant insulation, like a bunny burrowing under her mama rabbit. And it’s so light, I’d hardly know it is there, were it not for it’s soft, warm embrace… an angelic presence enfolding me.

Here’s my single:

angora single on a drop spindle

And 2-ply:

angora 2-ply on a drop spindle

angora 2-ply on a drop spindle

And washed & thwacked (very important for the halo to properly bloom, and to remove some of the loose hairs):

handspun angora yarn

I can’t wait to make something with it. Maybe a new cowl? Or a hat? Or mittens? The possibilities are endless, but it definitely needs to be touching my bare skin somewhere. 🙂

dyeing disaster recovery

Thanks to ilikecolors I now know that merino (especially superfine) is one of the most difficult fibers to dye, because it is the easiest to felt, of course! So I feel slightly less abashed at my cavalier efforts to dye it. But the pink roving was actually not quite as felted as I thought, and I was able to pull it apart and salvage some of it for spinning. Not the easiest drafting/spinning I’ve done so far, having to work around/with the felted parts, (velcro is right!) but still worth the effort, I think. The color is very fun, anyway… cherry kool-aid, 1/2 package per ounce of fiber.

hand spun and dyed merino yarn

I got about 35 yards of worsted weight out of it, which is not going to be enough for Mae’s slippers. Thanks to all of my lovely readers’ excellent advice, especially Empress Fibers, I decided to try again on another 2oz. of the roving left. I knew I couldn’t get the colors exactly the same, but maybe close enough that one could be used for the soles or the straps, etc. I didn’t have any more cherry kool-aid left, so I used tropical punch instead, and I tried to touch the roving as little as possible through the whole process, slowly and gently pushing it into the bowl that already contained the dye, only microwaving it for 1 minute, then 30 seconds, gently placing it in a container of warm water to rinse, only slightly squeezing it to remove some of the water, then draining it in a collander, before hanging it to dry (with a bowl underneath to catch the drips… there were a lot of drips!) I also did all this after the kids went to bed… to avoid more sets of playful fingers, mine were bad enough! Two days later it was finally dry, (I’m so tired of waiting for wool to dry!) and here are the results:

kool-aid dyed merino wool

Not bad! No real felting to speak of, just a tiny bit here and there. But the color didn’t soak in as much, I guess less agitation will do that. So maybe next time I will let it sit longer before heating up? I think it will be a close enough match to the yarn though:

kool-aid dyed merino roving and handspun yarn

As for the purple roving, I’m still not sure what I’m going to do with that… probably a purple felted scarf. I pulled off some of the roving to make thrums for the slippers, but I don’t think there will be enough.

Meanwhile, Jonah has informed me that he wants REALLY long thrummed slippers. And his feet are getting enormous, almost a mens’ size. That means probably I will need around 400 grams of merino roving to make them. The thought of trying to dye all of that successfully and evenly has made me chicken out, so I’m going to cheat and buy pre-dyed roving. I found this really cool multi-colored English Garden merino (he wears a lot of blue and green) at Alpaca Direct. I’ve been wanting to give them some repeat business anyway for giving me that gorgeous teal merino for free with my drop spindle order. I’m hoping a pound will get the job done, with some left over for practice on my spinning wheel when it gets here (Monday!!!). And while I was at it, I thought I might as well take advantage of their free shipping offer and buy a pound of this amethyst color for Mae… either for her thrums, or even for her slippers as well if the pink doesn’t look like it’s going to work out (or if she commandeers it to knit with, as she has hinted) … or just for her to enjoy spinning with! Plus, I think just studying this will provide some dyeing knowledge/inspiration… it’s so interesting how there can be so many different colors, but it can still have one main color overall… like pixels in my Graphic Design day job. Color is SO fun!

Cashmere Caresses

I was really trying to save this particular fiber experiment from my luxury sample pack for last, in order to give it the respect (experience) it deserves, but I just couldn’t wait any longer. I had to know if it was as wonderful to spin as it is to knit and wear. I was a bit daunted by the short staple length, and advice from others that this is not a good spinning fiber for beginners, but I’ve had enough successful skeins under my belt to bolster my courage… how difficult could it be? The answer: not as difficult as I thought. And SO WORTH the extra trouble. Working with it is like petting my cats; it doesn’t get much softer than this. And my cats have short hair, so that should tell you something about the staple length. I had to be EXTREMELY careful drafting it, only pulling the fibers apart a tiny bit, and also careful joining a new piece. If I wasn’t holding them together properly, I experienced the “drop” spindle. But other than that, it spun just as easily as the other fibers I’ve worked with. And SO extremely soft slipping through my fingers, far and above the other fibers I’ve worked with… and those have been completely dreamy themselves! Once again, I was experimenting with the thickness I liked best, so I got a wide variation in ply like I did with the baby suri alpaca, but overall I’m pretty proud of my first cashmere mini-skein. Here’s the single (complete with a fiber caress):

cashmere single on a drop spindle

And the 2-ply:

cashmere 2-ply on a drop spindle

And just to prove my point about the similarity to my cats… they love to cuddle up to the very softest thing around:

cashmere single on a drop spindle with a curious cat

I understand, Butterfly. I want to bury my nose in it too… and have several times. 🙂

cashmere 2-ply on a drop spindle with a curious cat

Here it is washed and dried, and this one definitely needs to be “thwacked” to bring out it’s bloom. I couldn’t decide which of these photos I liked better, so I had to show them both. My ply looks a lot more even in one, but the other is a more interesting photo. See if you can tell which is which. 😉

cashmere handspun 2-ply

cashmere handspun 2-ply

I could definitely get used to this. OK, I admit it… I’m head-over-heels in love! Of course it is pretty much the most expensive fiber on the planet, because of its richness and the fact that cashmere goats only produce about 4 oz (112 grams) a year. Barely enough for a hat or a pair of socks. Nowhere near enough for a sweater. But I still want a goat… or a few, (don’t freak out, Sweet Prince… probably not going to happen) even though it would be cheaper to simply buy the fiber once a year (probably going to be a little more often than that). But it’s still less expensive than buying cashmere yarn by at least half, so look how much money I’m going to save by learning to spin!

Alpaca Enchantment

After my blissful spinning experience with the superfine merino, I dipped into the baby suri alpaca to see what working with that was like. Turns out it was also quite heavenly, but very different. First of all, it’s MUCH hairier. The staple length is literally almost twice as long, and it very much wants to explore your environment when it gets drafted. I started drafting it in long thin pieces, like I did with most of the wool I’ve spun, but it broke apart very easily, so I drafted the rest a little thicker. Therefore, I got a bit of a thick/thin effect when I plied it. But it seemed to spin fairly smoothly and easily with both weights, and it felt so soft and silky slipping through my fingers. I think it will be a good fiber for the spinning wheel (in my imagination, anyway) since I won’t have to draft it vertically in large quantities… therefore minimizing the amount of hair loss… hopefully. I also plied it fairly thoroughly at first, like the merino, but I wasn’t sure I liked the look of that as well with this fiber, and since I am still very much in the experimental stage, I let the ply relax to about where it wanted to go. It just seemed like it didn’t want to be so confined… it wanted to feel free! I think it looks simply gorgeous… like long, loosely braided hair.

handspun alpaca yarn

And it seemed to knit up fairly well with the looser ply, I didn’t experience any separating. It also has a much higher luster than other baby alpaca I have knitted with, which I guess is typical of the Suri breed… thus the extra silkiness. It is a bit too thick overall, though. I think it would feel nicer in a thinner weight, as it gets pretty heavy. But, oh, I wouldn’t mind a sweater made entirely of this!

alpaca-swatch

I also knit a joyful swatch with the merino yarn I made. It seemed to be begging to turn into a seed stitch, which I haven’t done in quite some time, so I obliged.

merino-swatch

Holding these 2 swatches was like holding my 2 children. Both equally amazing, while completely different personalities. The merino so thick and bouncy and fluffy, like marshmallows, and the alpaca so silky smooth and drapey, like combing my daughter’s hair. I can understand why they complement each other so well when spun together; alpaca/merino blended yarn has been one of my favorites to work with, so I will have to try that eventually. But first I will need to do my research on how it is done!

alpaca-merino-swatches

dyeing disaster

My first attempt at dyeing wool was… interesting to say the least. Keep in mind that I’ve never dyed anything except Easter eggs before, but I assumed it couldn’t be much more difficult. I was so excited to get started because I received the fiber package from Woolgatherings, and it was even more incredible than the photos on their store site! They didn’t do the actual fibers justice. Even the superfine merino felt almost as soft as angora. What a difference 3 microns can make! And this wasn’t even their softest Merino, they had another from Australia that was 3 less microns… at double the price of course. Mae and I also happened to be spending the whole day together, and one of the things I wanted to make with the merino was a pair of thrummed slippers for her for Christmas…  but I couldn’t keep it a surprise, because I couldn’t resist the fun of having her dye it with me, and pick out the colors herself. So we skipped off to the grocery store to purchase some kool-aid. I was expecting to see a wide assortment of flavors, as I remember that aisle holding many as a kid.  Our needs weren’t great, just some purple (grape)… and maybe some red to add a slightly different shade of purple. Alas! Imagine our dismay when we only saw 2 flavors in that aisle! Cherry and wild berry punch… both red. I can hardly believe I live in America right now!!! Maybe it’s because we live in Portland… we are too snobby “weird” for kool-aid. There were many other drink mixes in the aisle, but all of them with some sort of fake sugar added, or some vitamin enhanced nonsense… not gonna work for us. We quickly came up with a backup plan: food coloring. It would be a little more tricky, as it would also require vinegar and more soaking time, but they just happened to have some in purple, so we grabbed that along with the cherry kool-aid.

We decided to dye half of the merino, 4 oz., hoping it would be enough, and also not wanting to do all of it at once in case something went wrong. We were going to do it all purple, but given the unknowns of the differences in the colors, we decided to do half in pink (a lighter shade of the cherry) and maybe use that for the thrums. I had read many blog posts about dyeing with both options, but it was a bit confusing as to which method would work the best. We ended up soaking both in water first, and the food-coloring version in vinegar as well. Then we slowly added the colors until we liked the way they were looking, then microwaved them for 2 minutes each, rested a few minutes and did another 2 minutes. Then we let them sit for almost 2 hours to cool.

dyeing roving

I wasn’t sure the best way to get them from the sink after rinsing them, to the drying rack I set up in the laundry room. I knew that I shouldn’t wring them out completely… but it seemed crazy and messy to go from sopping wet to the rack. I assumed it was a bit like drying wool yarn, to squeeze it gently, then roll it gently but firmly into a towel. But when I did this with the pink fiber, it looked like I had just felted it! Oh no!!! So with the purple I didn’t squeeze it at all, and barely pressed on it with the towel. But I also had to spend more time rinsing it, because it was bleeding a lot of color from the food coloring. The pink from the kool-aid didn’t bleed at all, and it soaked up the color completely. When I hung both up, they definitely looked felted. I must have been too rough with the rinsing, or maybe the water temperature wasn’t cold enough? I didn’t want to shock it, so I tried to match the temperature of the fiber, which seemed lukewarm. Or maybe our problems started earlier when Mae was soaking the fiber. She couldn’t resist swishing it around in the water, she enjoyed the feel of it so much. At the time, I didn’t think of what she might be doing to it, she was having so much fun. Also the colors are not as dark as they looked before rinsing… not enough dye? Here it is, partially dried:

dyed-roving-felted

As it was drying, I felt pretty disheartened, do I decided to console myself by spinning up some of the undyed merino we had left. It drafted and spun like a dream! I have hardly ever felt anything so soft… almost as soft as my chickens’ fluffiest feathers. And it spun so smoothly as well, so different from my first merino… and I thought that was incredibly soft at the time!

Here’s what it looked like as a single:

drop spindle single superfine merino

And plied:

2-ply drop spindle superfine merino

Washed and drying:

handspun superfine merino hanging to dry

I really like the way it looks overall, but I’m wondering if I may have plied it a bit too tightly in some places. Thoughts?

handspun-superfine-merino-skein

I have never felt merino this soft in the stores. I can’t wait to knit with it! Is it partially because it is undyed? Does dyeing change the amount of softness, or the feel of the fiber in general? If so… I’m very hesitant to try it with the rest of the fiber I bought. Believe it or not, the baby alpaca feels even softer… if a bit denser and shinier, and it has a much longer staple length than any of the other fibers. And don’t even get me started on the luxury fiber sample packs. I’m so excited to try spinning all of them! They are an even higher level of heaven to sink my fingers into… especially the cashmere and angora… far beyond what imagined they would feel like!!! I pulled out a tiny bit of each fiber to compare their staple lengths: superfine merino, baby suri alpaca, cashmere, angora, baby camel, yak, cultivated silk, and kid mohair. Then I couldn’t bear to throw them away after, so I twisted them all up into a little ring I can play with on my finger while I dream of spinning it all. I wonder what it would be like to spin all of it together? Or would that even work?

fiber-ring

Meanwhile, the dyed roving had been drying away… for 2 days, and this is the final result. I tried fluffing it out a bit, and I was able to finally tear it open to get to the insides:

felted-roving-opened

I may be able to salvage a tiny bit of it, but this might be about it… not really enough to make slippers:

felted-roving-salvaged-pieces

So, dear expertly dyeing friends… where did we go wrong? Was it just too much agitation? Any tips before I give up on dyeing completely? And what shall we do with all of this felted merino roving? Is there any way to salvage it, or maybe a felted project we could use it for? It actually looks like they could almost be scarves… just like this:

felted-roving-scarves

mini-skein spinning experiments

After diving headlong into my first handspun yarn, with somewhat mixed results, I’ve decided to step backwards and take a more scientific approach before torturing another big skein. I purchased an assortment of multi-colored 1/4 oz. balls of roving and on each I’ve tried some different techniques. So here are my 5 mini-skeins, all properly washed and thwacked and dried overnight. (Thanks for the tip pdxknitterati! I didn’t even know “thwack” was a word… sounds more like a sound effect.)

hand spun drop spindle yarn differences

#1 is the dk weight yarn I made on my second attempt. I’m still pretty proud of it, it’s fairly even overall, and the ply seems pretty balanced.

#2 is more of a worsted weight, and I wanted to push the limits of how tight I could make the twist, without letting it kink. Ugh, it’s way too tight. It feels like rope. 😦

#3 is also a worsted weight, but I tried a little less twist. I think it’s pretty good, but there are a few places that are still a bit too tight.

#4 ended up more of a heavy worsted / aran weight, and it might be my favorite, in terms of softness and it seems like a good amount of twist.

#5 I actually drafted out very thinly, but added very little twist, so it looks pretty thick, but there is not enough twist, because it doesn’t seem very strong… it actually broke when I was plying it.

Then I knitted them up into swatches, and these pretty much confirmed my feelings about the skeins. It’s amazing how different they all turned out, when they all started as the same little balls of wool:

knitted swatches from handspun wool

#1, #3 and #4 were my favorite to knit with, and they feel like pretty soft, even swatches. I didn’t like working with #2 at all, it was way too rough. #5 was very soft, and I can’t believe how big a swatch it made, but it doesn’t feel like strong enough fabric. So this was an EXTREMELY educational experiment, not to mention good practice!

The fiber I used was just some basic sheep’s wool, I’m not sure which breed, but it was not as soft as the merino I started with. I’m such a glutton for the softest, most luxurious fibers. I really want to just dig my hands into some cashmere and angora, but those will have to wait until I’ve mastered longer stapled fibers. I found this Etsy shop, Woolgatherings, that sells reasonably priced fiber, and they are also fairly local up in Washington, but I mostly just fell in love with their photography. My photographer husband has made me a sucker for quality photography as well. I ordered more merino… super-fine this time, and some baby alpaca, which will be my next adventure after the merino, and I’m planning to try dyeing both of these as well, but I just couldn’t stop myself from ordering a sampler package of luxury fibers  to play with as a treat once I’m feeling pretty comfortable with spinning (I mean… wow… just look at that photograph, can I be blamed?) . I’m justifying these purchases by telling myself they will all go towards Christmas presents of some kind… hopefully!

Also, it turns out Mae is a natural with the drop spindle! She needed very little help spinning her first single, I just drafted it out for her and helped her join the pieces:

mae-spinning2

Fortunately, she is not as critical of her work as I am… she said she likes the “fuzzy” parts. Just look at her graceful form!

mae-spinning4

And here she is making her 2-ply:

mae-plying

mae-parked

And her finished yarn, all washed and hung up to dry:

maes-finished-yarn

And my most exciting news is that my very own Sweet Prince Charming is buying a spinning wheel for me! He’s been doing some photography work on the side to save up money for it, and he wanted to surprise me for our anniversary last week, but there was a vendor error, so that one didn’t work out, but he ordered another from Etsy for me yesterday. I can’t believe it!!! I’m so excited!!! I thought it would be years before I would be able to get one! And of course he did his research and found what he thought would be the very best, easiest to use model for me: a Louet S10 with a double treadle. I can’t wait!!! 🙂