new spinning territory

I’ve ventured into new spinning territory on 2 recent projects. The first was a challenge to myself to spin it as finely as I could, for my weaving friend who also likes to dye her own yarn. I used superwash merino and I even spun it traditionally worsted… no predrafting… using a forward short draw drafting method. The result was about 250 yards of 2-ply yarn, somewhere between lace and fingering weight. I’m quite proud of it, but it felt like it took forever. I stretched out the process over a couple of weeks, because my fingers would get quickly tired of holding back such thin singles.

handspun fingering superwash merino yarn

As soon as I got it off the wheel, I moved right into a treat for myself that I’ve been very impatient to start spinning… some hand-painted Australian merino from Woolgatherings that my sweet Papa gave me for Christmas. He’s been reading my blog, so he knew EXACTLY what I would like. ūüėČ I don’t know if it’s because I was more excited about the fiber, or if it was more interesting to spin because I couldn’t wait to see how the colors turned out, or if it’s because I’m realizing that I just enjoy spinning thicker yarn more, but this took me less than two days. I decided to leave it as single-ply, another first, so that also cut the time in half, and I spun it mostly with a short backward draw. I felted it a bit on purpose during washing it, since I heard that will help give singles more strength. The result was about 210 yards of DK/Worsted weight, which I can’t wait to knit into these Crofton cuffs for myself. I like the version with the seed stitch tops, and I’m excited to see how they will stripe.

single-handspun-austalian-merino

Now, for a little small talk about the weather: We were the lucky recipients of a layer of freezing rain on top of our 5 inches of snow last night, and it’s like an ice-skating rink out there. No snow play for the kids today I’m afraid. THEY are telling us it will start to melt this afternoon, and then we’ll have constant rain in our foreseeable future… so we are getting very nervous about flooding. But at least the chickens will be happy to come out of hibernation. They’ve got to be getting stir crazy up there in their coop. But they are still laying eggs for us, so I guess they can’t be too miserable. Sweet little chooks.

frozen-snow

Secret Christmas Projects Revealed

Happy New Year!!!¬†For all of you who thought my whole crafting world revolves around spinning yarn right now… well… you’re not completely wrong, but I have been actually making some things out of some of that yarn as well, so it’s time to share with you the Christmas presents I’ve been working on:

First, here is what the handspun “imperfect” suri baby alpaca yarn turned into: an infinity scarf for my lovely bestest friend since elementary school. I used a free pattern from Ravelry, but I can’t find the link anymore, so here are the basics:

size 13 (US) circular needles w/40″ cable
CO 108 stitches, join in the round, add a stitch marker
odd rows: *YO, k2tog* repeat to the end of that round
even rows: knit to the end of the round
the pattern calls for 200 yards bulky weight yarn, which will give you about 35 rows but I only had about 150 yards, and I got 25 rows. So I think you can just keep going to make it as wide as you want…. just make sure you have enough yarn leftover to bind off.
Bind off VERY loosely. I did *k2tog through the back loops, slip the right needle stitch back to the left needle*, repeat to the end.

It was a very quick, fun knitting project, and I think it looks gorgeous on her (or maybe it’s her that makes it look gorgeous?):

handspun suri baby alpaca infinity scarf

Next, another crochet pokemon character, Umbreon and Ultraball (pattern adapted from this one) for my niece who loves all things Pokemon as much as my kids. I’m especially proud of these because I handspun all of the yarn out of merino, dyed the yellow and red wool myself with food colors (not the black… I had an Anne of Green Gables moment trying to dye black… it turned out green!), and needle-felted the eyes and yellow details… a new experience for me… so fun and easy! And I love how it makes the detailing look like it was “painted” on with thick fuzzy paint. Lola decided to photo bomb this one:

crochet-pokemon-umbreon-ultraball

And finally, here is my third Pixie doll I’ve made for another of my nieces… who has been coveting her sister’s. I made her hair a bit more layered, and used “shimmery” Suncatcher green eyes. She has a pink leotard peeking out under her dress, so she can dance a ballet at a moment’s notice!

knitted-pixie-doll-green-eyes

And now back to my current spinning endeavors: I’m learning to spin long-draw woolen yarn! After my experiment with “messy” spinning on the baby suri alpaca, I wanted to explore the best method for the softest, lightest yarn possible, in order to bring out the best of this 50/50 superfine merino and angora handpainted roving that I bought from The Fiber Imp on Etsy. My Sweet Prince gave me some hand carders for Christmas, so I’ve been learning to make rolags, which are really the only way to achieve a true woolen long-draw. I’m definitely still a beginner, but I’m finding it SO fun, and very quick to spin this way. And the results are so soft and light and airy. Since I’m learning to embrace the whole imperfect process of spinning, I’m feeling much braver, and having a lot more fun! Here are my first attempts. Maybe I should treat myself to my own infinity scarf now?

handspun woolen long draw merino and angora yarn

Mae’s happy feet

Mae’s yarn, which I spun from the “Amethyst” multi-colored merino, didn’t take nearly as long to make as Jonah’s. I’m not sure why, but it could have been the combination of making 2 larger skeins instead of 4 smaller ones, and more experience on my part. Each skein was almost 100 yards, and I had a lot of yarn leftover. Mostly because of her smaller feet, I’m sure. Also, finishing the slippers went faster because she helped me. She knit quite a few of the straight knit rows while I made thrums, and then we switched. So now she no longer has slipper envy. I think her feet look pretty happy:

mae-slippers

thrummed-slippers-long

Jonah’s slippers of many colors

Jonah’s handspun thrummed knitted slippers are finally done! It took longer to make the yarn than the actual slippers, but it was worth it! I feel really good about how the yarn turned out. It was mostly evenly spun (Jonah even helped to spin some of it on the wheel!), and I made 4 fairly full bobbins’ worth, about 175 yards of bulky weight worsted spun, 2-ply merino. I used about 12 oz. of fiber for both the yarn and the thrums. That seems like a lot, but they are very thick and sturdy, (but still soft) and I made lots of thick, fluffy thrums, probably 3-4 oz. worth. I think it’s interesting how they just blend into the stitches on the outside… since the fiber is full of so many random colors. I used the thrummed bunny slipper pattern, but minus the bunny stuff, and where the pattern started the ribbing rows, I just kept going, decreasing in the front for several more rows until I had the leg thickness and height I wanted. At the top, I added 2 rows of 1×1 ribbing and used a super stretchy bind-off. Jonah wanted them pretty snug and high around his skinny legs, but the first one I made too skinny…he could barely get his foot inside… so I had to go back and re-knit it. But the end result was a success! He loves them, and doesn’t want to take them off. And Mae can’t wait for me to make hers too… but she’s going to have to… probably a couple more weeks. ūüė¶ Hopefully she won’t get as jealous as Joseph’s brothers did about his coat and sell him into slavery in order to claim them for herself!

handspun thrummed knitted slippers

handspun thrummed knitted slippers

handspun thrummed knitted slippers

plying, pre-drafting and feathers

I finally finished my spinning wheel practice yarn that I’ve been working on all week. Actually, I just decided to be done with it, already! I was a little nervous about plying it, since it would be a first for me and my lovely Louet, but it turns out she plies like a dream! I actually started using the brake band for this as it felt like more tension would be helpful, but the whole process was very quick and fun and felt almost effortless. And It’s a good thing I stopped when I did, because I don’t think I could possibly have fit any more plied yarn on this bobbin:

full bobbin with plied swaledale yarn

Here it is finished:

handspun swaledale yarn

handspun swaledale yarn

It’s OK, I guess. Uber-chunky for sure (love that phrase, willowcreekfarm!) and very all over the place in terms of thicknesses. But I’m sure I’ll think of something to do with it. I might try some experimental dyeing with it. I think it would be interesting to see what the heathered color does with dye on top of it.

My biggest motivation for finishing it was the fact that I just received the multi-colored merino that I ordered for Jonah’s slippers and I was excited to start spinning that instead. I decided to try pre-drafting this time, as I didn’t want to waste the fiber and I thought I might get smoother, more consistent results this way. Boy, was I right! I really wish I would have started learning on my wheel this way, and I highly recommend it for anyone transitioning from spindle to spinning wheel. It takes a bit more time, but not too much, and I was reminded that this was actually one of my favorite parts of spinning on the spindle… more hands-on time with the fiber! And SO much easier than trying to draft at the wheel when there is so much else to learn at the same time. I’m sure there are other ways that people prefer to do this, but I thought I’d share my method for anyone interested, as it’s worked so well for me.

First, I tear off a piece of typical roving… about 2 feet… and separate it vertically in half, then those in half, etc. until I have 16 even pieces. I’ve found that more than 16 ends up being a bit too breakable, and less than 16 ends up with very bulky yarn.

separated merino roving

Then I start at one end with my fingers a few inches apart, and carefully draft it apart a tiny bit at a time along its length until I see the fibers aligning nicely together. Just a little bit of drafting creates a medium weight yarn, but if I want a thinner yarn, I draft it out a little thinner. When I’m finished, I lightly run it back through my fingers in the other direction to see if there are any thicker places to draft out a bit more. I then lightly wrap it around my fingers to make a little spiral. I do this for all of them, and then set them aside and start spinning. This also usually seems like a good amount of fiber to spin before I need to take a break. When I get almost to the end of one piece, I stop spinning and overlap it with the next piece, trying to align it so it creates the same amount of thickness as the rest of the fiber.

pre-drafted merino fiber

Here is my first single with this fiber on my lovely Louet. I think it looks SO much nicer and was so much easier to spin than the other drafting methods I used with the swaledale:

merino single on bobbin

I’m really liking this multi-colored fiber. I’ve been studying it to see how it was made, and it looks like they just took several separately dyed batches and then carded them together. Here it is plied (also super quick and easy on the spinning wheel this time):

2-ply multi-colored english garden on bobbin

And here it is finished. I think it’s going to make lovely slippers for Jonah, and I’m excited to see how the thrums look with this fiber as well. But first, I’m going to have a lot more spinning to do…

finished english garden 2-ply

Meanwhile, off in chicken-land, Gloria has decided to molt a TON of feathers at once. I’ve been a little worried because she hasn’t laid an egg in over a week. She’s usually more sporadic than Cleo, and she’s seemed happy and healthy, but it’s good to have a known reason now.

free-range hen in backyard

She doesn’t really look like she’s been molting, but these are all from today.. and not even half of the amount I found in the coop and yard, just the cleanest ones (plus one nice brown one from Cleo):

molted feathers

I decided to start collecting them because of a very inspiring photo in one of my library books: Spin Control by Amy King. I’m going to try making yarn out of them!

Spin Control book - feathered yarn sample

I wrote a poem once about spinning yarn out of feathers, but I had no idea that it would actually be possible! How cool would that be… to have a scarf made out of my chicken’s feathers?

I’ll leave you with a photo that my Sweet Prince took of me spinning… and Gloria out the window in the backyard watching me:

spinning on a Louet S10

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. ūüôā

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‚Ķ therefore minimizing the amount of hair loss‚Ķ 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‚Ķ 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

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. ūüė¶

#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!!! ūüôā

handspun cowl

My first handspun project is now complete: a cowl that just happens to fit Mae perfectly, so it should keep her cozy this winter. I used this Ells pattern on Ravelry, which seemed to work well with the “character” of my first spinning attempt, but I modified it to be narrower and shorter, and it can also double as a headband. She had fun modeling it for me, and the chickens had fun photo-bombing her:

mae-cowl-neck

mae-cowl-cleo mae-cowl-head

Both Jonah and Mae helped me to knit a bit of it, and they enjoyed working with the super-bulky merino yarn and big needles as much as I did. ūüôā

too much twist

One of my favorite Beatrix Potter tales growing up was The Tailor of Gloucester, a story¬†about some mice who help a tailor during the night. They finish everything but one button-hole, so they leave a note that says “no more twist.” I’m not even sure what they meant by twist (anyone know? was it thread?), but I found out the hard way that the opposite can definitely happen with a drop spindle. I was feeling much more confident after my first attempt with my handspun yarn… I guess a little too confident… assuming I was only going to get better from here on out, so I started going faster, moving on from the “park and draft” method to actually letting my drop spindle do it’s “drop spinning.” It was exhilarating, so I was being much less careful, and I guess I also wasn’t taking as much time to make sure my drafting thickness was even. Along the way, I started seeing these little kinks at the thinner yarn, but I assumed they would work themselves out in the end… not so. Once they were plied together, they were there to stay. I was very bummed, and had to keep telling myself that I got this roving for free, I’m still learning, etc… but I decided to make it up into a cowl anyway to see how it knits overall. It’s pretty fun to use these size 15 needles for the first time.

hand spun yarn with too much twist

I knew I had to redeem myself quickly before I gave up spinning entirely, so I started on a little bit of much thinner yarn, and spent more time making sure there were no kinks, and that the ply was more even. I’m much happier with the results… it looks much better, and it’s a fairly even dk weight… so I’m back to being excited about spinning again.

handspun drop spindle dk yarn

I also took a break during my spinning attempts to make this little hedgehog (free pattern by Amy Gaines… the same designer as the penguin) for Mae’s friend’s birthday gift. She wanted to give her a pet (of course), but I told her that wasn’t the best gift coming from a friend, but she could give her a stuffed animal pet. I asked her what she thought her friend would like… maybe a dog or a cat? But she said “a hedgehog”, so I got excited because I had this cute hedgehog pattern in my library. It reminds me of my other favorite Beatrix Potter story, The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle.¬†It was meant to be a joint effort… Mae made the scarf… mostly. ūüôā

knitted hedgehog pattern by Amy Gaines