rainbow fish cuffs

I finished knitting the Crofton cuffs from my handspun 15.5 micron merino yarn. I ended up working the pattern backwards, because I knew I wanted the blue-green yarn to be on the cuff part, and that was the only way I could assure that it worked out that way. I also knit quite a few extra rows throughout, since i have enormous hands, and I wanted them to fit me, well, like a glove. I really love them, but I must admit that they look a bit like rainbow fish, both because of the color gradient and the seedstitch “scales”, and I’m not sure how I feel about that:

handspun, knit rainbow crofton cuffs

And the fishy lookalike:

520_Boesemani_Rainbowfish_Melanotaenia_boesemani.e

However, this merino is SO devinely soft, especially on the stockinette portion covering my hands, and I’m really craving a sweater that looks and feels just like this:

sweater-cuff

But spinning that much yarn, and making the color changes come out so well, especially across 2 sleeves, feels pretty daunting. Not to mention the fact that I have yet to knit an adult sweater. But, oh, I want one so very much. You just have to feel this yarn to know what I mean. It’s like smooshy, fluffy velvet. Maybe I should do a poncho with a turtleneck instead? That would be less ambitious, and I wouldn’t have to worry about color changes.

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

peach melba australian merino

This has been a very busy month, so I haven’t really had time to blog… and I also haven’t wanted to give up any of my spare crafting time. I have some secret Christmas projects going, but I just had to take a tiny bit of time to post about this amazing fiber from Woolgatherings that I am spinning at the moment. I am absolutely in love with the hand-painted colorway, and it’s very surprising to me, since I’m not usually an orange / yellow person, but I really find this combination deliciously mouthwatering. It reminds me of something like a peach melba, and I’m having a hard time not putting it in my mouth… I feel like a toddler! Plus, the fiber is Australian Merino, at 15.5 microns, it’s even softer than superfine merino. It feels like velvet, and I’m very glad I didn’t try dyeing it myself… I’m sure I would have felted the whole batch in a heartbeat.

woolgatherings hand-painted australian merino being handspun

Something about the colors just make my heart happy, like a gorgeous sunrise or sunset, and it’s been brightening my dark, cold, December days just to spin it! Maybe it also helps that it’s from Australia… where it is Summer now… as well as reminding me of the flower arrangements at my sister-in-law’s wedding this summer. As my mother-in-law was arranging them, and my other sister-in-law was putting the finishing touches on her bouquet, the beauty of it all almost brought tears to my eyes.

Here it is as a single.

woolgatherings hand painted hand-spun single

I had a hard time deciding whether to leave it single, try to keep the colors together when plying, or to mix up the colors as much as possible as a 2-ply. I decided on the last option… with a little help from the kids: “mix it up!” And Mae helped spin some of it, as well as a ply quite a bit of it. So here’s our Australian merino peach melba velvet tiger! What should it turn into next?

 woolgatherings hand-painted australian merino handspun 2-ply.

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!

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

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. 🙂