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


Finished Fractal


My Tour de Fleece yarn is finally finished. Only took 1 extra week, 2 skeining attempts, 2 washes, and 3 days of drying time. Seems like I could have saved a few days if I’d had the patience to re-skein the yarn correctly the first time around. To reiterate, bicycle handbars are not the best option for skeining yarn. Over turned laundry baskets, on the other hand, do a decent job.


All that extra time working with the yarn did have some benefits though. Not only is the yarn well blocked and balanced, I really want to knit it. NOW. Usually, my handspun likes to marinate in the stash for a bit since I don’t spin with an eventual project in mind. The yarn, itself, is the project. If I want to spin a fingering weight yarn, I spin a fingering weight yarn. That’s all there is to it. Any potential pattern comes much later. With this yarn, I just wanted to try my hand at fractal spinning for Tour de Fleece. Spending double the time finishing the yarn, let me better appreciate the final yarn and absolutely fall in love with the colors. Sometimes the colors stripe, sometimes they barber pole, and sometimes they create an amazing gradient. Knitting this skein up is the only way left for me to truly appreciate it. 


 What was it like spinning a fractal yarn? No different than spinning any other yarn. Certainly nothing to be afraid of. The hard part is finding a bump of fiber dyed just the right way. Splitting it and spinning it are the easy parts. Just remember that you might have to pre-draft the undivided half of the fiber to get a matching single for the divided half. 


The Finished Specs

Fingering Weight Yarn with 18 - 22 Wraps per Inch

512 yards

4 oz of Bluefaced Leicester 

Dyed by Yarn Geek Fibers

Colorway: Big Yellow Taxi

512 yards is a lot to work with and I really don’t want to split it up in a bunch of smaller project. Shawl, it is then.


Tour de Fleece Complete


 Tour de Fleece is over and done for another year but I don’t have any finished yarn to show for it; however, I do have some lovely, almost yarn. Half of it is plied on the spindle and the other half is still wrapped up in a plying ball. All of that last minute plying just wasn’t enough. 

Despite my lack of finished yarn, Tour de Fleece 2013 was a big success. Thankfully, I skipped any yardage requirements and stuck with 3 simple things: spin everyday, practice new techniques, and spin in public. I thought spinning everyday would be the easy goal but I didn’t manage it this year. Still, spinning almost everyday got me a lot of proto-yarn. As for practicing new techniques, I just stuck with one and tried out fractal spinning. I’ve never attempted to spin yarn or affect color this way before. We’ll see if I pulled it off once I actually finish the yarn and knit it. I also bought pencil roving which I’ve never spun before. Totally counts towards practicing a new technique.


The one goal I made, that I was 90% sure wouldn’t happen, was spinning in public. I’ve spun at knit night before and at fiber guild meetings but none of that counts. All of those people understand the attraction of yarn. Out in the knitter sparse public, who knew what the reaction would be. Last Friday, I sucked up my potential embarrassment, packed a towel, and headed to the beach with my spindle. I enjoyed the sun and the sound of the waves. I got quite a bit of plying done and got quite a few stares too. Once I found the rhythm of spinning, I was too relaxed to be embarrassed. If anything, people were embarrassed when I noticed them staring at me. Who knew? One man stopped fishing to watch but quickly went back to the fish when I looked in his direction. At least no one came up to me and commented that spinning was a “dying art”.

How did your Tour de Fleece go? Meet all of your challenges are you still plying, like me?


Just Plying Along


There are 3 more days of Tour de Fleece and I’m just started plying. It’s highly improbable that I’ll have a finished skein by Sunday night but I’m going to try anyway. If only the yarn would expertly ply itself while I’m asleep. 

To make the whole plying process run a lot smoother, I’m falling back on my favorite technique, the plying ball. It does take longer to start since you have to wind the singles together around a core but it’s worth it. A plying ball is portable, doesn’t require a Lazy Kate, and makes tensioning the singles during plying so much easier. Plying balls also give you one last chance to fix any breaks or weak spots before they snap during plying. One extra, added bonus is that you get to see how all the colors line up which is great if you’re spinning a fractal yarn, like I am. For more info on how to actually wind a plying ball, check out this tutorial.


All wound and ready to ply! My attempt at dividing the fiber for fractal colors seems to have worked. I was also exceedingly happy to see that one single wasn’t much longer than the other. It’s the small things in life. 

I’m a few yards into plying and seeing the colors change as they move through my fingers is wonderful. When I first picked out this fiber and my lightest spindle, I was aiming for a fingering weight yarn but, so far, it looks more like a lace weight. Maybe a bath and a good thwacking will bulk it up a bit. If not, that’ll teach me not to spin samples first.


Still Spinning Along With Tour de Fleece


Somehow, I was under the impression that Tour de Fleece is a lot longer that 3 weeks. I read the dates and wrote them down but my mind kept telling me that I had months and months to spin. I had this same mistaken thought last year too. So, I let myself be distracted by Steam Summer Sales, new video games, and long walks on the beach. So much for my goal of spinning everyday of the Tour. Well, Tour de Fleece ends this Sunday and I’m still spinning the second single. It is for a fingering weight yarn, in my defense, but I’m still got to get my butt spinning, spinning, spinning.

Spinning the second ply for a fractal spun yarn turned out to a bit harder than I thought. I spun the first ply from all the small divided chunks of fiber. My hands adjusted to all that thin fluff and switching to the bulkier, undivided roving threw my hands for a loop. It was hard to spin a matching, consistent single to match the first. My spindle kept dropping and my frustration kept rising.


The only solution was to break down and predraft, aka thinning without adding twist to, the roving. When I first taught myself to spin, I always predrafted the fibers. Once my hands learned the motions of drafting and I could keep up with the spindle, I didn’t have to predraft before spinning anymore. Not predrafting became a source of pride. I thought that if I had to predraft fiber that I was taking a step backward and would lose all my spinning cred. The truth is that predrafting is just another technique in the spinner’s tool box. Sometimes you’ll need it and sometimes you won’t. When you’re first learning to spin, predrafting can be be a huge help but it isn’t strictly necessary. Using it later down the road to create consistent, matching singles won’t get your spinner’s license revoked. Just like there’s no knitting police, there’s no spinning police either. Do what works for you and the yarn you’re creating.


There are just 5 days left in the tour and I’m going to make the most of them. I’m going to finish the second single today and then there will be ALL the plying. It’s definitely a race to the finish. How’s your Tour spinning along?


A Fractal Tour de Fleece


Tour de Fleece spinning continues with one single down and one to go for my first skein of fractal yarn. I’m pleasantly surprised that it’s only taken me just over a week to spin 2 oz of what’s essentially a lace weight single. Let’s hear it for daily progress and getting stuff done! I hope I can keep up the pace since Tour de Fleece waits for no one. Part of what made the spinning go so quickly was because there where 3 little chunks of fluffy goodness to work with. I’d finish spinning one section, feel accomplished, and be raring to go with the next one. Seeing the beautiful colors rush through my fingers didn’t hurt either.


Turns out that the hard part of Fractal Spinning is all at the front before you actually start turning wool into yarn. It’s in picking out the batt or top or roving with the colors arranged just so.  It’s in splitting the fiber evenly to get the best color repetition. It’s in rolling all the split fiber to start at the same color or end.  Once you begin spinning, it’s just like spinning any other 2-ply yarn. Nothing scary about that. Makes it easy to focus, find a rhythm and, maybe, zone out a little too. Might even be easy enough for me to go spinning in public. Let’s see if I don’t wuss out on that goal this year.


Tour de Fleece 2013


Tour de Fleece has officially begun! How’s your Tour going? I got a late start on Day 2 and was finally able to prep my fiber and get to the business of spinning. Today, Day 3, I’m just enjoying the process and putting a few more yards on my spindle between mundane tasks. Washing all those dirty dishes  really cuts into my spinning time. 

I’m keeping my goals short and simple this year. 

Spin everyday.

Spin in public. 

Practice new techniques.

Spinning everyday should be easy as long as I don’t have to spend another day acquiring and assembling furniture. Spinning in public will be something completely new and strange for me but doable. Learning and practicing new techniques is something I try to do all the time and have a long list of things to pull from.



Near the top of spinning techniques list is Fractal Spinning which I’ve wanted to try since I first read about it. Fractal spinning is a way of dividing fiber to spin for self repeating colors. Knitty published a helpful article on the process in their Winter 2011 issue. Whenever I open up a bump of fiber, I check to see if the colors were well arranged for fractal spinning. This happy bump of yellow, grey and white fiber from Yarn Geek Fibers was the first to really fit the bill.


I spit the fiber lengthwise in half and then split one half lengthwise three more times. The smaller strips are working their way onto my spindle first. Since I’m aiming for a fingering or sport weight yarn, this is probably going to probably going to take me the entire Tour to spin. Such a difference from last year and its 5 finished skeins!

We’re just 3 days into 3 weeks of Tour de Fleece and there’s lots of yarn to spin. I wish you the best of luck!