Thursday, August 28, 2008


I was meaning to post earlier, but then we kinda sorta bought a house, and things got exciting. But now that we're moved in*, it seems like a good time to revisit the blog.

(* By "moved in", I mean the same thing some knitters do when they talk about a "FO" that hasn't been blocked, and still has ends hanging out. Boxes? What boxes?)

We spent a lot of time painting. Alex more-so than me. And we still have a bit left to do, in addition to some finishing I want to do on a built-in storage unit in my office closet. Things aren't all settled and in their place yet, and I don't have any photos of things as they are now, but I do have a couple of photos of my office, from when I just started to move into it. My office with beautiful, beautiful handpainted walls. (It's really too bad you can't use the crock pot method on walls...)

moving in

wheel with blue

Okay, that second one was just a silly shot. But I love that oil lamp, and it goes so well with the walls. I find the blue very calming, and I'm quite pleased with the colors I chose. You can't tell all that much from the photos, but there are actually 2 different shades of blue on the walls. If you want to copy me (and I highly recommend it, because these are very, very good blues), I used Sherwin Williams paint in the colors "Honolulu Blue" and "True Blue".

I'm going to do a photo dump of other stuff I've been saving up, because it's just been waiting too long, and I need to get around to blogging about it!

First up is my first real longdraw project. I bought 4 oz. of rambouillet roving at the NH Sheep and Wool festival in May. When I say roving, I mean it. A lot of people (sometimes me, I admit) call commercially combed top "roving", but roving technically refers to a carded fiber. This stuff was roving, which made it ideal for that longdraw, woolen spinning.



This skein is 84 grams, 346 yards, and 16.5 wpi untensioned (20.5 wpi tensioned). It's a 3 ply, and I consider it about a sportweight. Notice the yardage! Now, I lost a lot of the singles because of some uneven spinning, and probably uneven splitting of the top. I had a lot of singles left on two of the bobbins, after the first one ran out. If this skein weighed 4 oz., it would have had about 450 yards, which sounds solidly like a fingering weight yarn. But thus is the magic of longdraw woolen spinning -- you tend to get more yardage for your buck, probably because the fibers aren't as densely packed in there, giving you a lighter, airier yarn, really stretching the yardage you can get from a given amount of fiber. I'd heard of this phenomenon, but I didn't quite believe it until I made it happen with my own two hands.

I have tried longdraw and other woolen techniques before, but I never had much success until working with this fiber. I think part of it is the fiber -- rambouillet is very crimpy, and seems well suited to "spinning without training wheels", which is what longdraw feels like. The prep was also important. While I've tried longdraw with drum carded merino batts, it didn't work really well, probably because merino is so fine that carding it doesn't really get it in the same jumbled up state as carding a fiber like rambuoillet. But this is only speculation. There might have also been a learning curve on my part.

My other somewhat recent finished spinning project is perhaps my favorite of my handspuns. (Though it's so hard to choose.) Practice really does help, because this yarn is chain plied (Navajo plied), and I feel that it was my best effort at that technique, to date.



The yarn is South African Fine wool, and was dyed by Adrian at Hello Yarn. It's 94 grams, 300 yards, and 20 wpi, for a fingering weight. Aren't those colors just amazing! I love Adrian's dyeing, and feel like it makes my yarns that much better. You all should try her stuff, though please don't jump in front of me in line when she opens her fiber club back up. ;-) (Really, her stuff is the only stuff I'll haunt to try to snatch up, as it sells out within minutes. Nothing else is worth it to me like her fiber is. And I promise she's not paying me to say this. It's just that pretty and unique.)

There's not much more to say about that yarn, partially because it's been so long since I've spun it, and partially because the colors temporarily shut off all parts of my brain not dedicated to "oooh.... pretty...." when I look at it. It will be socks. Possibly plain stockinette socks, so the colors can just do their thing, completely uninterrupted.

That will be it for now. There is still time to enter the contest (see previous post). I will take entries until at least the end of September 1, but if you feel like entering late, feel free. I'll probably just accept any entries that come before I get around to doing the drawing for the winner. I have some stuff (of the non-pleasant sort) going on for a lot of next week, so look for the entry announcing the winner (and probably some more knitting/spinning bloggy stuff) the weekend after this coming weekend. Maybe earlier, if next week goes better than planned.

And thank you to all of the people who have already entered. You guys have some awesome plans, and it's been a blast reading what you have to say.

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Monday, August 04, 2008

Q&A, plying, new spinning, and CONTEST

This is a very long blog post, starting with some Q&A, including a large section on how I ply. If this stuff isn't interesting to you, scroll down for a spinning FO, as well as details for entering a contest for a skein of handspun.

I tend to star incoming emails that contain questions, and I apologize for the times I haven't gotten to them in a timely matter. Or, *gulp*, at all. Blogger doesn't allow me to reply directly to commenters, so things tend to get lost in the shuffle. But here's an attempt to answer some recent questions. I hope the information is still useful to those of you who asked, and not boring for those of you who didn't:

Auntiemichael asked about what WPI charts I find to be most realistic. The short answer is that I like the chart that came with my Nancy's Knit Knacks WPI tool. I don't find it to be perfect, but it's convenient, and pretty close to my idea of what a certain wpi means. Of course, everyone is different, and I think the best way to go about things is to spin a whole lot, do very accurate wpi measurements for everything, and then knit a lot of your handspun.

Segwyne flattered me by asking if I'd ever consider selling my handspun. I could go on and on about my very torn thoughts on this. The short answer is that I don't have any plans to sell my handspun on a regular basis, 1. because I spin too slowly, and 2. because I find the going range of rates for handspun to be dreadfully low, and wouldn't sell my hard work for that little money unless I really, really needed the money.

The long answer is that I would consider selling my handspun if I got faster at it, and if I felt there were an audience of potential buyers who would actually pay a much higher rate for it. I have very, very vaguely toyed with the idea of opening an Etsy shop, as my drawer of handspun has started to fill, and I realize that some of the perfectly good and pretty yarns I've spun might not be things I would adore knitting with. If I did this (a huge if), it would probably be sporadic -- I'd continue spinning for my own pleasure, and just sell things that turn out nicely, but not quite my style. For the moment, I'm very content giving beautiful but not-me yarn away to friends. And I have more friends who need some handspun before I'll really start to think about asking anyone to give me money for it.

Mel wants to know if my Francie sock pattern is toe up or cuff down. Sorry to say (for Mel's sake) that it's cuff down. My socks were to fit my 8.75" foot, and I used less than 3 oz. of the 4 oz. skein of smooshy, or somewhere in the ballpark of 340 yards. So if you're worried about running out of yarn, I recommend a yarn like smooshy, that has generous yardage!

Molly asked if I could give more information about how I ply. I don't currently have a good setup for taking photos or videos of my spinning or plying in action. What I have found to be very successful is careful use of my tensioned lazy Kate. Enough tension that the singles don't come off of it too quickly and get tangled, but not so much tension that I'm fighting with it. I want things to flow smoothly and steadily. This means adjusting the tension as you go, as you will need less tension as the bobbins empty.

Tension in the yarn coming off of the Kate gives me control. It makes the singles behave, as there is little to no slack to get into twisty, tangled trouble. For a 2 or 3 ply yarn, my strategy is to ply a section at a time, letting the twist build up until I like it, and then feeding that section smoothly onto the bobbin. This means strong intake, though not so strong that you are in a tug 'o war match with your wheel! So I tie the ends of the singles on to the loop of my leader, and let the twist build up in the leader, pinching it off, and then running my fingers smoothly up the singles. I have the singles threaded through separate fingers of my left hand, so they don't get in each others' way. The entire process, for me, is unrushed and controlled, and feels kind of like a worsted longdraw technique - my left hand, holding the singles, is back, and my right hand is pinching off, and allowing the twist to slowly go up the singles. I've found it's important to feed the newly plied sections at a moderate or slow speed onto the bobbin, or else things can get messy. Basically, just let the pull of the bobbin pull the newly plied yarn on, keeping a little tension on it so it doesn't fly out of control. This helps keep your bobbin neat, and helps the yarn wind on tightly, so you can fit more of it on the bobbin. Make sure to periodically check out the yarn on your bobbin, to make sure you like the amount of ply twist in it. Yarn can lose some ply twist as it goes onto the bobbin, so you may find that you want to slightly overply it, to compensate.

The technique I currently use for Navajo plying (or chain plying) is somewhat different. I do Navajo plying in two steps. My goal in the first step is simply to get the chains made, with minimal twist, and to get them neatly onto the bobbin. I use my largest whorl with fairly high takeup, so the twist introduced during phase one is minimal. This lets me concentrate on making good, neat chains, instead of fretting about both the chaining and the ply twist at the same time. Unlike a traditional 3 (or 2) ply, I keep my singles on my right, and control them with my right hand, leaving my left hand to control the twist. I do this because I find it easier to make the chains with my right hand. I treadle very slowly, not being afraid to stop treadling when I need to. (This is where having a responsive wheel that you are familiar with helps a lot. Practice stopping and starting on a dime, if you're not comfortable with it already.) My left hand is always controlling the twist, as you would do when spinning worsted singles. I make the chains as large as I comfortably can, without them getting messy, which means my chains aren't super long, but that the final yarn is nicer looking than if I tried to get the chains super big. The key is not letting two of the three "plies" (even though it's really a chained, twisted single, not a plied yarn) to twist around each other, without the third. You want all three "plies" to twist around each other together, not leaving the third one to have to twist around 2 already twisted plies, if that makes sense. I think this is the biggest problem area in Navajo plying, and is why I make my chains shorter than I used to, and why I keep tight control over the twist with my left hand.

When you have chained your singles yarn, and have it successfully wound onto the bobbin, you get to add your ply twist for real. Switch out bobbins, and simply feed the chained yarn through the wheel again, on a smaller whorl (faster ratio), controlling the twist as I described above for a 2 or 3 ply yarn. The chains are already made, and if things are properly tensioned, they should stay nice and neat. This is the boring, easy part. It's obviously more work to ply twice, but unless you're really, really good at this stuff, I think it's the only way to get a really neat chain plied yarn. Because chain plied yarn isn't as forgiving as a traditional 2 or 3 ply yarn, in that the ply twist can't really re-distribute itself beyond the chain it's in, I think it's really important to concentrate on making the plying as perfect as you can from the get-go. There just isn't as much wiggle room with this stuff. Of course, not everyone has the same standards for how they like they're plying to look, and I'm not trying to imply that everyone needs to strive for perfection. I'm just giving you my take on the matter.

I hope that was somewhat helpful, even without visuals. At some point this summer or fall I may try to get visuals to go along with all of that. I've tried to do stuff like this before, and it's really hard to get good photos or videos of your own knitting. But it could be a fun challenge! I also hope that it's not too repetitive -- I know that I've done my Navajo plying spiel at least a couple of times in a couple of different Ravelry groups, but I don't remember if I've done it on the blog. If you've seen it before, I trust that you skipped over it with ease.

And now on to the dessert. First, some more yarn I made:

Spring Mix merino/bamboo

Spring Mix merino/bamboo

This is a bamboo/merino blend named Spring Mix, from Muzzlepuffs, on Etsy.
400 yards, 111 grams 18wpi untensioned / 24 wpi tensioned

The mix wasn't all smooth going for me, though I got used to it eventually. It was a pretty good spinning experience, but I'll be more likely to go with merino/tencel in the future, when I want a shiny, silky merino blend. I'm not sure what this yarn will be, but I'm thinking a cowl/smoke ring of some sort. It's very soft yarn, and I think it will be nice to knit with.

And now on to the C. O. N. T. E. S. T.

As I mentioned above, I sometimes find myself with handspun that is perfectly lovely, but just not me. I have one such skein at the moment, don't have a friend I think it perfectly suits, and so might as well use it for a contest! (Not that my friends can't enter the contest -- I just don't think this particular yarn is destined for any particular person, and I prefer my yarn gifts to have a better fit with friends, if that's what I'm using them for.) First of all, the yarn, which you've seen before:

Surprise Party end

This is a chain plied fingering weight yarn, spun from superwash merino I bought from Crazymonkey, on Etsy. It is 110 grams, 382 yards, and 18 wpi (maybe a bit more). This yarn isn't perfect -- I was definitely still working on my chain plying technique at the beginning of the skein. But still, it's pretty darn nice. Just don't expect a perfect millspun yarn. It is handmade, after all. Here's another view of the yarn.

If you want the yarn, here's what you have to do: Tell me what you are planning (or at least hoping) to do to challenge yourself creatively in the next year. You don't have to have had anything in mind before now, as long as you come up with something that you honestly want to do, and think you honestly will at least try to do within the next year. And when I say creatively, I mean creatively. Stashbusting, and trying to knit a very large, complicated sweater straight from a pattern in a 2 week period is quite the knitting challenge, but I don't know that I consider that a creative challenge. When I say creative, I don't mean quantity, but I do mean quality. Tell me about something you want to design, or are designing. (Be cryptic, if necessary, if you plan on submitting it for publication!) Tell me about the perfect sweater pattern you are planning to completely rework, and why, and how. Tell me about the techniques you want to learn and experiment with. Tell me how you're going to explore, and expand your horizons, and challenge yourself to think and do differently than you have thunk and done before.

This doesn't need to be limited to the fiber arts, or to crafting. I love creativity and innovation, wherever it can be found. Scientists, tell me about the awesome new theory you want to test out, regardless of whether you think I'd understand it. Writers, tell me about the story you're submitting to a literary magazine. Musicians, tell me about your latest composition, or your foray into playing a genre of music completely outside your comfort zone.

Even better, blog about it, and tell me you did. (You do not have to link back to me -- I'm not looking for publicity. Of course, you are free to link to me if you wish. Just no bonus points for it.) I think that being public about your creative aspirations can only make them grow, and can help inspire others.

To enter, leave me a comment on this post. To keep things simple, I will only be counting comments left on this post as entries in the contest. (This does include comments that are links to *specific* blog posts of your own, where you have answered the challenge.) When you comment, please make sure there is a link back to your blog, so I know how to find you if you're the winner. If you don't have a blog, please leave a name that is sufficiently unique, so there is no confusion if you are the winner. I reserve the right to give "extra" entries to people whose answers I really, really like. But everyone who enters, following the above guidelines, will get at least one entry in the contest.

I am moving this month, so am going to keep the contest open until the end of the month. That way I'll be unpacked before I need to find the yarn and send it out. I'll choose winners on September 1, and will do it late enough in the day so that midnight, September 1 has had a chance to make a complete circuit of the globe. (In other words, enter by August 31 your time, and you're in.)

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