How Setting The Twist Can Change The Yardage of Handspun Yarn

I’ve been trying to knit more with my handspun as skeins move from being a finished project in their own right to knit-able yarn. The length of time for this transformation varies. For the skein that became Dotted Rays that was about a year and a half.  Recently plied and freshly skeined, I had about 512 yards to work with. That’s about 200 less than the 700 required for a small Dotted Rays Shawl. I plowed on anyway with the thought that I could bind off at any time; the pattern is fairly forgiving that way. After blocking, the shawl was absolutely beautiful but it seemed small. Did the skein really measure 512 yards? 

Had I stretched the yarn when I was winding it?

Did the yarn plump in the bath when I set the twist, gaining in diameter but losing length?

Did plying twist affect the yarn differently after I set the twist in a bath?

Had I just miscounted the wraps?

There’s no way to know for sure now, but I have other skeins to put to the test. The guinea skeins you see before you were spun during Spinzilla 2014 which makes them perfect candidates. Since the challenge of Spinzilla is to spin as much yarn as possible in a week, I was meticulous in measuring the yardage of these 4 skeins. The kicker, the yardage was measured before I set the twist in a cool water bath and snapped between my hands. The plied skeins also got a few good thwacks on the shower wall.  None of the skeins were felted or weighted during washing or drying.  

Here are the steps I followed to remeasure their yardage:

  1. Check to see if the skeins still fit around the swift. 3 of the 4 skeins were wound to have a circumference of 72”. The fourth, the hot pink single, was wound to a 60” circumference. I used the same windmill-style swift that they were all wound on to remeasure. 
  2. If a skein did’t fit over the swift, I loosely rewound it to its original circumference. If I stretched the yarn, I wouldn’t be able to get an accurate number.
  3. Count the number of wraps and do the math to get the new yardage. 

Fiber: Mountain Colors Targhee - Gold Rush

Initial Yardage: 286 yds

Drafting Method: long-draw

Construction: 2-ply

Did it fit on the swift? Nope.

Yardage After Setting The Twist: 238 yds

Yardage Difference: 48 yds or 16.8%

Notes: This skein wasn’t even close to fitting on the swift at 72”. Of the 4 skeins I measured, this one had the most drastic and unexpected before and after. 

Fiber: Mixed Blue Faced Leicester

Initial Yardage: 184

Drafting Method: long-draw

Construction: 2-ply

Did it fit on the swift? Nope

Yardage After Setting The Twist: 168yds

Yardage Difference: 16 yds or 8.9%

 

Notes: Rewinding this skein was a trying process because I had to spend an hour untangling it. While sorting the strands, I thought it might not have fit because I didn’t put it on the swift correctly. After measuring and finding a 16 yd difference I know it wouldn’t have mattered how I put in on the swift.

Fiber: Abstract Fiber Targhee - Laurelhurst

Initial Yardage: 330

Drafting Method: long-draw

Construction: 2-ply

Did it fit on the swift? Nope

Yardage After Setting The Twist: 316 yds

Yardage Difference: 14 yds or 4.24%

Notes: I can’t really pinpoint the exact reason this skein of Targhee didn’t lose the same amount of yardage as the first skein. It could be how the fiber was prepped and dyed, the length of my long-draw, or plying twist. 

Fiber: Spun Right Round Polworth - Color Bot

Initial Yardage: 133 yds

Drafting Method: short forward draw 

Construction: Single

Did it still fit on the swift? Almost.

Yardage After Setting The Twist: 128 yds

Yardage Difference: 5 yds or 3.6%

Notes: Compared to the plied skeins, the single lost very little yardage which I’m chalking up to how it was drafted and the fact that is was’t plied. The single was spun with a short forward draw from combed top which resulted in a smooth and dense worsted style yarn. Had the single been spun long-draw, my guess is that the lighter and airier yarn would have more potential to lose yardage while setting the twist.

The lack of plying twist is probably the main reason the single only lost 5 yds. Plying compresses the singles as it wraps them together because now they’re positioned at an angle instead of a straight line.  


The numbers of my test are all over the place with one skein losing just 3.6% of its yardage and another losing 16.8%. What’s the same across the board though is that all 4 of the skeins “shrunk”. The skeins that lost the most yardage were plied which points to plying twist as the main force behind the change. Another possibility is that I simply wound the skeins too tightly around the swift and they relaxed to a much smaller circumference. There’s no way my yardage counts would have been correct if that’s the case. 

Realistically, it’s probably a bit of both. I haven’t done the best job of always loosely winding my skeins. Some I couldn’t put them back on the swift if I tried. I’m not saying this to discount how setting the twist changes the plying. Finishing a yarn affects its surface, diameter, final twist, workability, and, yes, even yardage.

I wish I could just give you a formula to estimate how much a skein will “shrink” after setting the twist. That’s just not possible. I spun all 4 of those skeins in a week, 3 with similar methods, and none of them lost a consistent amount compared to another. Calculating how yardage changes after setting the twist is something that has to be done on a skein by skein basis. But is it worth doing every time? Probably not. 

So, what’s a spinner to do? 

Wind skeins loosely. Plied yarns with high twist are going to be stretchier than skeins with less twist. You’ll get a better estimate of yardage this way.

Don’t take the measured yardage before setting the twist as a definite number. It’s a high estimate. 

Spin a sample. I’ll admit that I don’t do this but I’m usually not spinning for than 4 oz at a time or for a particular project. Sampling before before spinning a large quantity or because you want to make a specific kind of yarn lets you test your methods and figure out how much you need to spin. 

Spin more than you think you need. You might need those extra yards. 

When you’ve finally work with that one precious skein of handspun, pick a pattern that calls for less yardage than you have. This is assuming that you haven’t measured the yardage after setting the twist. Plus, there’s less chance you’ll run out of yarn 6” before binding off the last stitch. 

If you’re working with a lot of yardage, it might be worth using a McMorran Balance or a scale instead of counting wraps. Either device would let you calculate yardage by weight instead of relying solely on wraps and skein circumference. 

Say Hello To Señor Squid

Señor Squid was hanging out on the ocean floor and he was feeling kind of bored. 

Swimming through the inky depths wasn’t much fun and he wanted to see the sun.

He said good bye to his tentacled friends and quickly began to ascend. 

He waved hello to sea snails and avoided passing whales. 

Being eaten for dinner wasn’t part of the plan.

He swam and swam until he found a patch of clams.

They pointed him to a seaweed grove hidden in an underwater cove. 

He kept swimming after a nap even though he didn’t have a map.

He passed sharks, submarines, and fish as it was starting to look like he’d get his wish.

The water was brighter now and he was far from where he began. 

He’d reached the surface and was only just a little bit nervous.

With one eye above the waves he decided to keep being brave 

because the beach was within his reach.

Soon he touched the sand and gave the land another scan.

There was an octopus with an umbrella and he looked like an interesting fella. 

They said hello and got to know each other in the sun’s glow.

At this time, I walked by solo and they asked for a photo.

After the shot, Señor Squid let me in on his plan. 

I was only too glad to show him around as I picked him up from the ground. 

Between seeing the sights and the city lights, 

Señor Squid became a good friend and I’ll be sorry to see him descend.

When I cast on for Señor Squid, I’d just finished another project and was in the mood to make something fun and frivolous. The yarn had been wound and waiting for months along with the pattern, Inkling the Squid by Cate Carter-Evans. Then, once I started I just couldn’t stop. From the tip of the mantle to the last tentacle tip, I knit and assembled the whole thing in 8 days.

Knitting the squid was definitely fun, but also really finicky once I got to the tentacles. There were 2 strands of yarn at all times, an ever increasing number of almost-tentacles, and DPN’s sticking out all angles. Would I knit it again, knowing what I do now? Of course. The challenge of corralling DPN’s, seaming things just so, and learning basic intarsia was part of the fun. 

Oh all the things I’ve made during #yearofmaking, I’m most proud of Señor Squid. Knitting him required me to take my knitting skills and knowledge to another level of patience and detail. Looking forward to taking that step again with Horatio the Nautilus and Opus the Octopus

The Pattern: Inkling the Squid by Cate Carter-Evans

Yarn: Done Roving Yarns Frolicking Feet - Chartreuse (Body) and Knitted Wit Gumballs Fingering - Carbon (Underbelly and Tentacles)

Needles: 2.5 mm 

Dates: April 25 - May 3, 2015

@Ravelry

Let’s Get Ready For Tour de Fleece 2015

Tour de Fleece, the grand summer spin-along to the Tour de France, is coming up on July 4th. I am so excited to spin more yarn for my fourth Tour! Part of the why I look forward to it every year is that I add lots of new handspun to my stash. I haven’t knit it all up yet but that’s okay. The reason I’m most excited for Tour de Fleece though is that I use it as a time to learn new techniques, try different fibers, and level up my skills.

Before the 2014 Tour I wrote a post with 5 training tips for Tour de Fleece. This year I’m taking my own training advice which means the first thing to do is empty all my bobbins. I only have 3 bobbins that I can use on my Sidekick and one of them is a Jumbo for plying. My current project, 4 oz of hand dyed falkland,  has been on the wheel for far too long and I finally finished spinning the second single last Monday. Tuesday, I started plying. I’m still plying today, but I’m always happy to see how much faster the bobbin fills up. One more skein before Tour de Fleece! Well, at least one more.

I’ve also set my goals for 3 weeks of dedicated spinning. The first and most important one, don’t hurt myself. My shoulder wasn’t pleased after I spent so much time drafting long-draw last year. I had no choice but to take a spinning break. My second goal involves this yarn I’m spinning right now. Before I started drafting I watched the second segment of Jacey Boggs’ Craftsy class, Drafting From Worsted to Woolen. The difference in my worsted spun yarn before and after watching the 23 minutes of this segment is incredible. My singles are smoother, more consistent, and much finer. So, for Tour de Fleece I’m going to spin and ply my way through the rest of Drafting From Worsted to Woolen. This is going to be fun. 

Happy spinning and training for Tour de Fleece!

Knitting Fail

I had to count on my fingers to figure this out, but I have been knitting for about 10 years. Over those 10 years I have learned a lot about the art of knitting and worked with a lot of yarn. I’ve knit small things, big things, geeky things, comfy things, and completely frivolous things. I’ve also knit things that I am incredibly proud of. Even with all that experience under my belt I still make silly mistakes. Example A, these socks.

They look the same, right? The stripes match, except for the heels. They’re the same length from cast on to bind off. But they’re different.

The first sock I knit on a 2.5 mm needle. I knit the second sock on a 2.25 mm needle, thinking that it was the 2.5 mm needle. I didn’t realize the difference until after the bind off when I had to cajole it on to my foot. The first sock is a half inch larger and much more cooperative. 

This week’s knitting public service announcement: If you ever have to snag your sock needles for another project between the first and second sock, do yourself a favor. Use your trusty needle gauge to make sure you’re using the same size needle for both socks.

After leaving the pair to its own devices for a night, I came up with two options for how to fix it. Option 1, unpick the bind off and rip right back to the toe. Nope. Option 2, wash the socks and stretch the second sock into shape over a sock blocker. That’ll happen as soon as I get my hands on my blockers, but it’s not as necessary as I’d first thought. In the few minutes I wore the socks to photograph them, the tighter sock (on the left) relaxed enough to be comfy. Snug, but comfy. All those stitches were not in vain and I still get a pair of socks!

So this knitting fail wasn’t a complete lose. Plus, I’ll get the added bonus of seeing how long each sock holds up. Will the looser knit but better fitting sock outlast the stretched sock with the tighter gauge? Only time and steps will tell. 

Pattern: Full pattern notes on the Ravelry page.

Yarn: 2 balls Patons Kroy Stripes - Spring Leaf Colors

Needles: 2.5 and 2.25 mm circulars

Date: January 29 - May 27, 2015

Spinning Yarn With Sweaty Hands

There’s no way to say this without relying on a host of cliches, so I’m just going to come out and say it. My hands sweat. Sometimes a lot which makes it hard to do things without messing them up. Half the time I’m writing with a napkin under my hand to keep my notebook from turning into a soggy mess. Damp hands make knitting almost impossible without a fan. Spinning yarn, especially drafting singles, isn’t much easier, but I have stumbled upon a helpful trick to keep the working end of roving/top from turning into a mangled clump. 

Instead of holding the roving in my hand, I drape it across my fingers and palm. The tail of the roving is held between the bottom edge of my hand and my thigh. Since the bottom of my fiber supply hand is securing the fiber, those fingers don’t have to do anything. When I do have to use my thumb, it is inches away from the tip. Only the hand I’m using to draft touches the working end of the roving which keeps the fibers aligned in one direction. Holding the fiber this way still gives me plenty of to work with and keeps me from unconsciously putting a death grip on my roving.

Since the fiber supply hand doesn’t move at all, this tip won’t help if drafting backwards or long-draw. So, stick with drafting styles that favor the forward hand. Also don’t forget the fan and a cold drink. 

The Second Frisson Shawl

I don’t often knit patterns more than once, but Frisson has made it on to that short list. The first one I knit was a gift, but the second was all for me. I would even have used the exact same yarn if I could have gotten my hands on a skein. Instead, I lucked across a skein of Cephalopod Yarn’s Traveler during my first and only visit to the now closed yarn shop. 

The months I’d waited to cast on for the second shawl made sure that pattern was familiar but not boring. No second sock shawl syndrome here. Starting out at the tiniest point and seeing it grow all over again was still really fun. My only annoyance was that I didn’t buy 2 skeins. I was only able to get 10 points so the shawl is more of a shawlette. That said, I can still wrap myself up in it just fine, but I’ll pick something bigger for the windy days.  

As small of this shawl is, it’s been with me for a lot of big, awesome things. I started knitting it on a trip visiting family across the country. Blocking and pinning it out was the first thing I did for #yearofmaking. I wore it to Stitches West this year when I met Stephen West. In the future, my Frisson is small enough to fit into my bag and bring along on adventures. Can’t wait. 

The Pattern: Frisson by Brittany Wilson

Yarn: Cephalopod Yarns Traveler - Red Palace

Needles: US 6 (4 mm) circulars

Dates: December 13 - 26, 2014

@Ravelry

Review: Knit Picks Hawthorne

The Yarn: Hawthorne Fingering Multi 

Company: Knit Picks

Price: $10.99 US


TL;DR: One pair of washed socks later, I’m impressed and will definitely buy Hawthorne again. 

Yarn Weight: Fingering

Knitting Gauge: 7 - 8 sts = 1" on #1 - 3 needles (2.25mm-3.25mm)

Crochet Gauge: 21 – 32 sc = 4'' on B - E hooks (2.25mm-3.5mm)

Yardage/Weight: 357 yds/ 100 g

Suggested Care: Machine Wash Gentle/Tumble Dry Low

A good friend of mine has knit me several comfy pairs of socks and I wanted to knit a pair for her. Even if they have small feet, sock knitters appreciate all the work that goes into a good pair of hand knit socks. I didn’t have anything in my stash that I thought she’d love so I went shopping for a nice skein of sock yarn. I was looking for yarns for other projects on the Knit Picks site and decided look over their sock yarn. One Hawthorne’s colorways, Vancouver, seemed like the perfect choice and, after checking how it knit up on Ravelry, it went in the cart. 

My first impression after carefully cutting open the box was good. The colors were as saturated and true as they appeared on my screen. As for the yarn, it was soft but still seemed strong enough to be made into a pair of socks. The good impression continued when I wound the hank into a ball/cake. I didn’t have to untangle any of the strands and didn’t find any knots or weak spots. The only thing left to do was knit. I cast on for a modified version of the Smokestack socks which you can check out here.

At 357 yards per hank the yardage is on the low side when compared to other put-ups; however, the 2-ply yarn is on the thicker side of fingering weight which is a major bonus for me. Hawthorne is spun to high twist suitable for a sock yarn and held up well to repeated ripping. I couldn’t see or feel any difference between the yarn that I worked with several times and the yarn I’d only knit once. The other bonus of the twist was that it created strong stitch definition. Cables popped and garter ridges stood out. Even with this twist, the yarn isn’t wiry and it didn’t hurt my hands while I was knitting it.

Hawthorne is hand painted and the Vancouver colorway is a combination dark earth tones - green, purple, brown, burgundy - and a bright sky blue. Looking at it directly, the majority of the colors are muted but saturate the yarn. There are no white spots nor muddying between colors. The full color repeat is several feet long while the length of individual colors varies. Thanks to the blended nylon and the smooth tight twist, Hawthorne has a slight luster which really shows up on camera.

Knit Pick’s care instructions say that the yarn can be machine washed on gentle and tumbled dried low. I didn’t machine wash the pair since I didn’t need to do laundry and wanted to save my $3.25 in quarters for another day. The socks got a 30 minute soak in cool water with a bit of unscented Eucalan. I dried them by squishing them, rolling them up in a towel, and stomping on them to get out the last of the excess water. Then I hung them up to dry.  The socks stayed the same size and the colors didn’t bleed at all. 

Since my friend has small feet, I had ~150 yards leftover. I loved working with this yarn so much that I’m going to pair it with a skein of the kettle dyed Hawthorne to make socks for me. The Broken Seed Socks seem like the right pattern. 

Smokestack Socks

I’m pretty sure that hidden away in all the math that is knitting there’s a simple equation which reads: give hand knit socks = get hand knit socks. I’ve gotten a few pairs of comfy, well-fitting socks as gifts from one particular knitting friend, and it was past time I equalized the equation. 

Step 1: Buy sock yarn in her favorite colors. I took a chance on Knit Picks Hawthorne and picked up a skein of the Fingering Multi in the Vancouver colorway.

Step 2: Snoop through her Ravelry queue to find out what she likes in a sock. Cables popped up quite a bit which lead me to pick the Smokestack Socks by Tanis Lavallee. The pattern has been in my queue to knit for myself for awhile but I also picked it because of the cables and how easy it looked to modify the stitch count. Just as important was how the pattern looked with variegated yarn which, thanks to Ravelry, was quick to see.

Step 3: Wind the yarn.

Step 4: Actually knit the socks. This is easier written than it was done because of how many times I ripped out. Not the patterns fault at all; it was all me. The Smokestack Socks are written to be knit from the cuff down, but I worked them toe-up as I knit all of my socks. The first ripping came when I found out how small knitting friend’s feet are. The rest of the sock was smooth sailing asides from the moments I tinked back to add the purl ridges or cross a missed cable. 

The second sock was not as forgiving. I cast on, knit the toe, worked the foot, increased for the gusset, turned the heel, and was working the heel flap when I noticed that it was too long. By almost an inch and there’s no fudging that. I measured and my gauge had increased by 1 row/inch; nothing else changed except the speed I was knitting. That’s what I get for rushing. At least I had the company and sympathy of a few knitting buddies when I ripped all the way back to the toe. Thankfully, my gauge cooperated for the second attempt. 

Step 5: Wash the socks. No problems here.

Step 6: Mail the socks. The package arrived over the weekend and I got a photo of the socks on her feet. Social media is pretty awesome like that. All the ripping and re-knitting was worth it because they’re a perfect fit. #knittingwin The equation is equal, and now I get to knit a pair for myself in green. 

The Specs

Pattern: Smokestack Socks by Tanis Lavallee

Yarn: 204 yds Knit Picks Hawthrone - Vancouver (204 yds)

Needles: 2.25 mm circulars

Dates: April 3 - 21, 2015

Full modificaitons listed @Ravelry

Free Download: Handknit Handspun Wallpapers

I started the #handspunchallenge because I’ve spun lots of yarn and only knit a few skeins of it. Grab your handspun and knit, crochet, or weave it up! Handspun is too precious not to use. Read about how the #handspunchallenge got started here.

For #handspunchallenge this week, I’m picked out my favorite photos of handspun in action to make into desktop and mobile backgrounds. The first is of my Dotted Rays Shawl and the second is of my Present Cowl. Since we’re talking about handspun, the first wallpaper set I made featuring Texel singles is a perfect match to this set too. 

I’ve also got plans to cast on for a handspun hat but I haven’t picked out the lucky skein yet. Or a pattern. Yeah….

Handspun Dotted Rays

I started the #handspunchallenge because I’ve spun lots of yarn and only knit a few skeins of it. Grab your handspun and knit, crochet, or weave it up! Handspun is too precious not to use. Read about how #handspunchallenge got started here

Dotted Rays wasn’t the first shawl I knit out of this handspun skein. The first was a pattern of my own design that I’d sketched and knit a mini sample of. I happily cast on, knit several inches of it’s crescent shaped body before deciding the edge increases just weren’t quite right. Rip it. Rip it. On my second attempt, I got a little farther before I needed the needles for another project. When I came back to the shawl again, the love was gone. If I wasn’t enjoying my own design, I couldn’t expect anyone else to either. The to be frogged shawl went into a bag that went under the bed to await it’s fate. 

Scrolling through new patterns on Ravelry, like one does, I found Stephen West’s Dotted Rays. The more I looked at the combination of the crescent shape, short rows, and eyelets I knew that it was the perfect pattern for the fractal handspun hiding under the bed. Because I wanted Dotted Rays to be a treat, I didn’t actually frog the ill-fated shawl and cast on until months later when I needed knitting for the train ride down to Stitches West. 

By the time I got to Stitches, I’d worked enough the pattern to rock my knitting world. The short row treatment was ingenious and completely different from what I expected. Just that one instruction was worth the cost of the pattern. And when I saw Stephen West at Stitches West, I made sure to tell him exactly that.

I could not put this shawl down. Turns out that you can finish something rather quickly when you work on it everyday (Thanks #yearofmaking!). The fact that I only had ~500 yards instead of the recommended 720 for the small size might also have had something to do with it. After my last full wedge, I worked as many rows I could get way with before started the i-cord bind off. Even after blocking, the shawl is on the small side but still big enough to be cozy. I’m glad it matches my favorite jacket because I’m going wear it all the time. 

Pattern: Dotted Rays by Stephen West

Yarn: 2-ply fingering weight fractal handspun; fiber dyed by Yarn Geek Fibers 

Needles: US 4 (3.5 mm) circulars

Dates: February 19 - March 15, 2015

@Ravelry

Handspun Present Cowl

Once upon a time, I got a text message from a friend of mine. We live on opposite sides of the country so texting is the main way we keep in touch. Most of the time we talk knitting and yarn. She also reads this blog. After reading so many posts about my spinning and my ready-to-knit skeins of handspun, she asked if I had ever knit with any of it. A perfectly valid question. I referred her to Exhibit A, a pair of mitts knit from my first 3-ply yarn, and a shawl I was ripping out. Out of the dozens of skeins I’ve spun over the years, I’ve only knit with 2 of them. After I hit send, she threw down the gauntlet. Knit with my handspun or face the consequences. I’m not really sure what those consequences were, but I’m sure they were dire.

I choose a freshly spun skein and went looking for a pattern. I had enough yardage for a cowl and eventually picked the Present Cowl by Mademoiselle C. The cowl was a quick knit where the handspun was the star of the show. I knit it up last year but took my sweet time to block it. Still wore it though with the ends tucked out of the sight. When I flew back to Birmingham for a visit, the cowl came with me so I could prove that I actually had knit my own handspun. Consequences averted. Whew.  

When I dunked the cowl into the water, I was curious if blocking would change the gauge and drape of the piece. Before knitting, the handspun got it’s own bath to set the twist when it came off the bobbin. Would that soak be enough to prevent changes in the knitted fabric? Nope. After blocking, the stitches noticeably relaxed. The fabric had more drape and the cowl grew taller and wider. It’s still the right size to wear without collapsing so I’m happy. The moral of the story is swatching is important whether you’re working with commercial or handspun yarn.

The finished cowl is warm, comfy, and looks great with my favorite coat. It’s also good protection from all the wind whipping through my neighborhood. Now I just have to wait for the temperature to get cold enough to wear it.

Since knitting up this skein, I’ve knit one other project with handspun which I’ll be sharing soon. I also have my eye on another handspun skein that I wound but never knit. So, I’m passing the challenge on to you. Have tons of handspun that you’ve never knit with? Grab a skein and knit it up! The consequences of #handspunchallenge will be fun, wooly, and anything but dire. 

Pattern: Present Cowl by Mademoiselle C

Yarn: 2 ply handspun Malabrigo Nube - Arco Iris

Needles: US 8 (5 mm) circulars

Dates: August - September 2014

@Ravelry

How To Make A Blocking Board

What happens when you have to block your knitting (shawl, lace, mitts, color work, what have you) and are completely lacking in pin-ready space? You make your own blocking board. After finally binding off a small shawl I was ready to block it, but I’d just moved to a place without carpet. I couldn’t take over the bed or furniture either with wet garter stitch and pointy pins. Foam mats weren’t in the cards either. The good news was that moving left me with plenty of boxes that I could use instead. If you’re in a similar spot, here’s what you’ll need:

 One large cardboard box (mine was 41.5” x 27” flattened)

A towel large enough to cover the box

Packing or Mailing Tape

Scissors or Knife


Step 1: If you can still put stuff inside the box, it’s time to change that. Cut the tape holding it together and flatten out the box. 

Step 2: Tape the box’s edges together like so. The two layers of cardboard will be thick enough to support pins and stretched out knitting. 

Step 3: Wrap up the box/now board in the towel. If the towel’s bigger than the box, fold over the edges and tape them in place. 

There you have it! One DIY blocking board ready for pins and knitting. Mine seemed no worse for wear after a couple of days with a shawl and a cowl pinned to it. Can see myself getting a fair bit of use out this blocking board before I need to upgrade. 

How To Make and Spin Fauxlags

What are rolags and what are fauxlags? The answer to both of these questions is happy little burritos of fiber. They look the same, spin the same, and create the same kind of yarn - an airy woolen handspun. These preps also have added benefit of being quick to spin since the speedy long-draw or a variant is a must to easily draft them. Plus, they’re fun to to make and spin.

The giant difference between the two is how they’re made. Traditionally, rolags are made on hand cards or blending boards and rolled off into a tube. Or they can come straight off a drum carder. Fauxlags are generally made from pre-made batts, carded roving, or top. The only tool you need to make a fauxlag is a long smooth stick-like object such as a dowel, a knitting needle, or a chopstick. Fauxlags are easier to make than rolags because you don’t have to learn how to use hand cards. Plus, a simple dowel is much cheaper than a drum carder (I still want one though), a blending board, or hand cards. Making fauxlags is also an inexpensive way to see if you like working with this prep before investing in dedicated tools for rolags. 

Let’s get rolling!

To make fauxlags, you’ll need fiber - roving, top, or a batt all work - and something long and smooth to wrap it around. Dowels, knitting needles, and chopsticks all work. 

I’m using an 8” dowel and a Fantasy Batt from GwenErin Natural Fibers.

Before we get down to tearing and rolling, we’ll need to prep the fiber. If you’re working with a dense, thick batt, loosen up the fiber by pulling on the sides. We’re not trying to tear it into strips yet (unless you want to change up the colors or textures), just thin out the batt so it’s easier to work with. Fluffing up the fibers helps with roving/top too if it’s compacted or slightly felted. 

Before we start striping the batt, pull out a few strands to measure staple length. If the fiber is 3” long, you’ll want to space your hands at least that far apart. Any closer and the batt/roving won’t separate because you’re holding both ends of the staple.

Batts can be difficult to tear evenly and the dowel lets you hold the batt evenly across it’s width for a neater edge. Hold down the dowel with one hand and pull the batt into strips with the other. It’s totally okay if the strips don’t have a clean edge or come away in clumps. Before you roll, you can stretch and pull them into a uniform piece.

If you’re working with roving, you can skip the dowel for this step. Just grab the fiber between your hands and start pulling it into chunks.

This is the same piece that was torn off in the above photo. I tugged and pulled it out to even the edges and make it easier to roll. When you’re happy with the shape and distribution, put the dowel on the bottom edge. Wrap the edge around the dowel and start rolling. If you're having a hard time holding the bottom edge, you can use a second smaller dowel to hold it in place. 

After the fiber is all wrapped up, I like to roll it a few more times with a little extra pressure. Those last few rolls secure the outside edge of the strip and create a firmer fauxlag. I’m not trying to create a super dense prep - that would be hard to draft. The right amount of pressure keeps the fauxlag squishy yet firm which stops it from collapsing during spinning.

The last step is slipping the rolag off the dowel. Now repeat these steps to your heart’s content.

Here’s my finished batch. I got 9 fauxlags from this 1.1 ounce batt. The first two I made are a little thicker because I didn’t roll them as tightly - didn’t make any difference when I spun them up. 

Time to spin!

Pick an end and slowly pull it out to pre-draft the fauxlag like so. I draft just enough to join a piece to the leader or the previous fauxlag. Since the fibers are all rolled up together, long-draw is the best way to draft these beauties. 

Thanks to the magic of tripods, cameras, and video editing software, I was able to put together a video of the spinning process. I hope this helps answer any questions about how to spin fauxlags and rolags. It’s my first video tutorial so let me know what you think!

My Kitchen Table Is My Studio

Abby Glassenberg posted a photo of her work space, her kitchen table covered with legal pads and her laptop. The shot was taken at night and wasn’t styled to be “Pinterest perfect”. The first comment asked, “Where is your inspiration?” Her response and thoughts on the imagined requirement of inspiring studio space are worth a read. What stuck with me most from the entire piece was her closing statement: 

“If [you] believe you need inspiration, or a beautiful space, or just the right environment in order to make creative work, you’ll never begin.”

I often imagine my perfect studio. The room is always well lit and bright thanks to big windows with a lovely view. There are shelves and cupboards for yarn, fiber, books, and every possible tool. There’s a desk for writing/getting lost on the internet and a drawing table with a parallel bar. The remaining wall space is covered in art, including this Alpacalypse! print I’ve already squirreled away. I’ve got the space for every creative thing, both work and hobby, that I could ever want to do. 

Here’s the thing though, it’ll be years before I have anything remotely like the space in my imagination. That Alpacalypse! print is rolled up in a tube waiting for a place on an imaginary studio wall. Like Abby, I do most of my work at the kitchen table. It’s covered in yarn, notions, paper, and notebooks by the end of the day. My supplies are stashed wherever there’s room for them. As much as I want that studio because I have the far-flung idea that it’ll just make working so much easier, I don’t have the luxury of waiting. I have to make and do and challenge myself now for my own sanity. If I don’t, that far off in the future studio won’t need to exist at all. 

There's a bike in my spinning nook too.

There's a bike in my spinning nook too.

While churning out these words, some of which came easier than others, I’ve realized how silly it is to put a print away for a studio wall that hasn’t been built. I’m getting it out, putting it in a frame, and finding a spot for it now. Also, while that imagined studio would be amazing, all I really need is somewhere to keep my supplies in one easily accessible spot. Wandering the apartment and shuffling boxes to look for one specific thing is already old. I can get shelves and keep working from the kitchen table. 

What's In Your Notions Bag?

After years of knitting I’ve got my required notions down to a science so I’ll have what I need whether I’m at knit night, on a plane, or just hanging out on my couch. 

I love getting little peeks at other people’s desks and studios. A knitter’s notion bag is the same thing in a much smaller package. So, what’s in your notions bag? What are the absolutely necessary tools you use to make knitting and crochet easier? Post a photo to Instagram with the hashtag #mynotionsbag or tell me in the comments. I can’t wait to see!

Without further ado, here’s what I keep in mine.

  • About the bag itself. I used to carry around everything in a metal tin but it rusted and was hard to open. I went to Etsy when I couldn’t stand it anymore and found this great pencil case from Silke Jacobs. It’s just the right size to hold my notions while not taking up too much space in my project bags. Plus, I’ve got the room to hold interchangeable needle tips and an extra cable too when I need them.
  • A simple retractable tape measure.
  • Kitty snips! I got a pair to replace collapsable and embroidery scissors when I fly and decided to use them all the time. 
  • Tapestry needles in different sizes. I won the set of two smaller Chibi needles last year and was surprised at how nice they are. Added a larger needle as well so I can weave in ends from lace weight up to bulky.
  • Stitch markers. Lots of stitch markers. I’ve got locking stitch markers, fancy stitch markers, and plain rubber rings in the bag at all times but the selection varies with the project.
  • Needle keys and cable caps. These things are here to keep my interchangeable needles tight and happy. The key makes sure that the needle and cable aren’t going to twist apart. The caps keep my knitting on the cable when I need the needle tips for another project. 
  • Lotion and a nail file. The nail file is a recent addition to the group. After growing out my nails, I got tired of snagging them on my yarn every other stitch. It’s nice not to have to go digging to find the one file that may or may not be in my purse.  

Notes On Felting Handspun

In the weeks before I packed up and moved, I had the urge to finish up a few lingering projects. One such project was finishing a Texel single that had been hanging around the place since January. The Texel was a special skein since it was the first I’d spun of that breed (Click to read the full breed review). Because it was a first, I wanted to get the most out of the 4 oz and preserve the color which meant spinning a single. An added bonus was that I get to try an idea I got from Hedgehog Fibers, intentionally felting handspun. Why felting? Singles aren’t the strongest of yarns and felting would make the yarn more durable and pill resistant. My less technical reason was that I’d never done it before and wanted to experiment.

First thing to do was set up. I filled the sink with the hottest water I could get out of the tap, 131º F. The cooler on the left was filled with cold. Both had enough water to fully submerge and swish the yarn around. Both also had a generous helping of soap. I used unscented Eucalan because that’s what I had and didn’t want to over felt the yarn washing out dish soap. A few guides I’ve read also recommend shampoo which is probably easier to rinse out than dish soap as well.

Prep done, the skein went into the hot water bath to soak before I went to work on it.

Once I was happy with the yarn’s level of sogginess, it got a vigorous stirring. I used a straw to spare my hands and somehow managed to stay dry during the process. My kitchen started to smell like lanolin too. 

After 20-30 seconds of agitation, I plopped the skein in the cold water. Lots more squishing and swirling was had.

The yarn got another hot and cold water dunk with plenty of swirling and smooshing. After the third trip through the hot water, I decided to see how the felting was coming along. I pulled out the skein and squeezed out some of the water. The skein hung straight with few curls and looked firmer - I know, an exact description. Individual strands were sticking together but weren’t difficult to pull apart. What really convinced me to stop though was the complete lack of stretch when I snapped the skein between my hands. Before going into the water, the skein had stretch and give, but, now, there was none at all. 

The yarn got one last dunk and swirl in the cold water before I wrapped it up in a towel to squeeze out excess water. After snapping the yarn a few times more between my hands, it got several good thwacks against the kitchen floor before being hung up to dry. 

The left photo is what the yarn looked like before the snapping and thwacking. The photo on the right is after. Big difference.

One interesting thing I noticed before draining the water was the color of the two baths. The hot water in the sink barely changed color at all, but the cold water turned reddish-yellow. I’m not really sure why the different temperatures affected the dye differently. 

3 baths was just enough to lightly felt the yarn which was exactly what I wanted to happen. The thwacking did roughen up the finish a little but I like the finished texture. It’s hairy, but not too hairy, and I can pick out the kemp, AKA guard, hairs if I want too. If Texel had luster like Merino, thwacking would probably have dulled the skein but that wasn’t an issue here. 

Part of the reason I lightly felted the yarn was because I didn’t want to massively reduce its diameter. Before felting, the skein was ~12 WPI which makes it sport weight. After felting, I was surprised that the yarn was still ~12 WPI. What did change though was the yardage. The skein started with 304 yards and ended with 286. Had I kept felting, both the WPI and yardage would both have changed drastically.

I’m calling this little felting experiment a success. The process was easy and relatively fast. Felting singles is something I’m definitely going to do on a regular basis. Plus, I love everything about the finished yarn. It’s not often that I have a plan for my skeins as soon as they’re dry but this one is different. It’s going to be a pillow once I decide on a pattern. Maybe something with short rows a-la Lizard Ridge

Free Download: Handspun Texel Wallpapers

Texel-Review-8.jpg

Of all the handspun and fiber photos I've taken recently, this one has stood out the most. It makes me happy. So, I spent a few minutes in Pixelmator resizing the image to use a desktop wallpaper. While I was at it, I cropped it down to make a mobile version. Download and enjoy! You can always use a little more fiber. 

The Spindle And The Wheel

Sunday, I was cleaning up all the browser tabs I’d left open from the past week. Most of them were longer articles I wanted to read, not skim, and videos that actually seemed worth watching. One of those unwatched videos was a 10 minute talk by Clive Thompson, The Pencil and the Keyboard: How The Way You Write Changes The Way You Think. He details the differences in how handwriting and typing affect your brain and why each is suited to different tasks, say note taking vs writing an article. It’s worth a watch. Near the end of the speech, around 9:25, Thompson says, “There was no individual tool that is perfect for any situation. What we really need is a lot of different cognitive tools in our tool kit. We need to be able to move back and forth between one mode to another…”

A week before watching said video, I felt the urge to spin. Not on my wheel, but on my turkish spindle which is a bit of a change. Since I got the Sidekick in September 2013, I have spun zilch on any of my spindles. Zero, nada, zip. Why the sudden change of heart? One of my spoils from Stitches West was 0.7 ounces of roving from Wonderland Dyeworks. The fiber was soft with beautiful color, and I wanted to enjoy spinning it for more than an a tv episode. So, out came the spindle instead of the wheel. This afternoon, I finally finished the single. Tomorrow, I’m plying back on itself with a spindle of course.

Looking at this single after taking such a long break from spindle spinning, I am very sure of one thing: the yarn I make with a spindle is entirely different from the yarn I make on a wheel. My spindle spun yarns are much the same, smooth and shiny, while my wheel-spun yarns are hairier and lacking the same luster. This all comes down to drafting. The only drafting method I’ve used with the spindle is the inch-worm forward draft because it’s only one that kept the spindle in the air. It isn’t called a drop spindle for nothing. The wheel let me try other drafting methods until I settled on a hybrid long-draw as my default. Just like in writing, in spinning there is “no individual tool that is perfect for any situation.” Sure, the wheel allows me to spin lots of different yarns - bulky or fingering, dense or airy, smooth or haloed - but I haven’t been able to replicate the yarn I spindle spin. To be fair, this is probably more my doing than the wheel’s. 

The reactions I get from both tools are fundamentally different. When working with a spindle, there’s an immediate knowledge of whether or not there’s enough twist. With the suspended spindle, either the single holds together or the fibers pull apart and the spindle hits the floor. There’s not much warning. Sometimes though, as the fibers slip, enough twist builds up in the thinned section to keep the spindle in the air. I’ll take it. Spinning at a wheel, the single is pulled away from me instead of towards my feet which makes the question of twist a little harder to answer. I’ve spun plenty of yardage that had enough twist to make it onto the bobbin but too little to actually hold together. Some of my most frustrating spinning moments have been pulling a single off the bobbin only to have it to fall apart over and over again as I’m feeding it though the orifice.

I once read a blog comment but where writer said they couldn’t wait to upgrade to a wheel from a spindle so that they could be a “real” spinner. With all the tutorials and articles focusing on wheels over spindles, I can understand where they’re coming from. Still, don’t discount the spindle. It’s been a valid tool for millennia, and it’s not going away any time soon. Just like the pencil and the keyboard are suited to different tasks, so are the spindle and the wheel. Being able to use move between them and use both, will allow us to do so much more than we could with just one.  

The 5 Reasons I Went To Stitches West

I got up bright and early Friday morning to go to Stitches West. I was wearing one of my favorite knitting cat shirts and a small matching scarf of my own making. In my backpack, I had knitting for the round trip train ride, extra shopping bags, a snack, and all my usual purse accoutrements. So, was it worth the almost 4 hours I spent on Caltrain and the Santa Clara VTA getting there and back? Yes. Absolutely, positively yes. Will I be going again next year? Definitely.

Stitches West is a like a yarn shop combined with a spinning shop, both of which are on steroids. This was the second time that I’d been to a Stitches event, the other being Stitches South, and both times were enjoyable. What’s more, these two events make me want to go to other festivals because they give me an idea of just how much amazing fiber goodness is out there. Here are the 5 reasons I went and why I try to go to other fiber festivals. 

All the yarn and fiber you could want. Even knowing what to expect, I was still completely overwhelmed when I walked through the doors. There was yarn to my left and yarn to my right. It came in every color of the rainbow and any weight you could want. I didn’t know where to start so I just walked the aisles trying to keep my mouth from falling open. I went with the intent of restocking my stash of spinning fiber and was completely spoiled for choice. A sweater’s worth of wool from Miss Babs, a brand new tote bag, and buttons came home with me too.

It’s easy to find new yarns and dyers. Once I had my wits back, I was able to start picking out individual booths that interested me. Many of these dyers I might never have found if I only had the internet to rely on, such as Wonderland Dyeworks. The second I walked by her booth I knew I couldn’t leave without some of that delicious fiber.

You can touch everything. Seriously, you are encouraged to feel yarn and fiber to gauge it’s softness and quality. There’s different breeds of wool, alpaca, llama, silk, and various plant fibers to get your hands on. 

There’s the chance to meet your favorite designers. The night before, I printed out Dotted Rays by Stephen West and cast on so I’d have some knitting for the train. The shawl pattern is a pretty straightforward knit with an ingenious treatment for the short rows. When I walked past the Mixtape booth, I had the opportunity to tell him how much I loved the pattern which was great to do face to face. 

Inspiration is everywhere you look. If you’re in a making funk, inspiration is all around you. Maybe it comes from a particular skein of yarn in a booth. Maybe you see an amazing shawl on someone’s shoulders. Maybe a bump of fiber gives you the jumpstart to spin for a sweater. Inspiration to knit, crochet, and spin is hard to miss.

Lessons From 50 Days Of #YearOfMaking

During the last few months of 2014, I started hearing about #yearofmaking from Kim Werker. As I become familiar with the one rule behind the project - just make something everyday - I started seriously considering taking on the 365 day project. The only thing holding me back was my previous attempts at a daily projects. I’ve tried daily drawing and photography projects that topped out at 31 days but rarely kept up. 

So, why commit to 365 days of making then? Besides from reading about Kim Werker’s creative adventures, I also read about Crystal Moody’s. Her blog, documenting her daily attempts at drawing and making art, was the only one that I went back through the archives and read from the first post. Over 2014, I saw her art steadily improve and her thoughts about making art mature. I wanted to gain similar improvements for myself. I also just wanted to make stuff since I spent way too much of 2014 distracted by video games and stuff on the internet. I needed to knit, to spin, to draw, to make, and to learn again. 

On January 1st, 2015 the only rules I set for myself were to make something every day and post of a photo of to Instagram to keep myself accountable. I could make anything I wanted. On Day 1, I blocked a shawl. Day 4 saw me stacking cairns at a park in Arizona. Over the past 50 days I’ve knit socks, added inches to a cabled scarf, started doodling again, made lots of tasty food, practiced photography, and spun yarn. I haven’t missed a day so far, not even while I was sick, and it’s been an amazing part of my year.

Besides from making stuff, I also wanted to learn new things. So, what have I learned?

  • Making stuff is awesome and I rather like it. Simple? Yes, but I forgot during the funk that was 2014.

  • Accountability is key. If I wasn’t tracking my progress with Instagram and my Bullet Journal, I’m sure I would have slacked off and skipped a day here and there. Since I’m creating that record and making it public, I’m always thinking about what I’m going to be making which has been liberating instead of stifling. I’m not waiting for inspiration to find me, I’m going looking for it.

  • Variety is the spice of life. Looking through my photos, there are long streaks where I just knit on a pair of socks for a week at a time before getting bored. I don’t feel tied to any one project or craft. When I was bored of the socks, I switched over to spinning and got some lovely alpaca handspun when I finished. A few days ago, I felt like pulling out my sketchbook and doodling so that exactly what I did. Not tying myself to a specific craft is why I’m going to be able to make something 365+ days in a row. 

  • Keep learning. Once finished, that new pair of striped hand knit socks is going to be great. I’m also rather fond of the meditative process involved in knitting ribbing for that long but I’m not learning anything new. After the sock knitting excitement wore off, it felt like I was just calling it in. Tired? Don’t want to do anything? Knit on the sock, post a photo, done. Sometimes you need that but it gets boring day after day. Push yourself to try a new technique or a new skill. Doesn’t matter if that day’s making isn’t perfect. You still tried, made, and learned something new. 

  • Making is more than you do with your hands. Most of what I see when I search for the #yearofmaking and #yearofcreativehabits tags are physical items. There’s painting, knitting, soap making, scrapbooking, dinner, crochet, pottery, and the list goes on. What I don’t see are word counts for essays & stories, photography practice, or other less physical things. Are those things lacking because they’re harder to photograph? Is it because there’s a different group of people doing them? Is there a hashtag I haven’t heard about? I don’t know. What I do know is that making is an intention and a thought process. While the end result is different, whether I’m spinning alpaca or fiddling with the ISO and aperture on my camera, the creative drive is the same.

What am I going to learn in the next 50 days of #yearofmaking? No idea, but that’s what makes it exciting.