Category Archives: Spinning

Another thing for the “life list.”

I once swore I wouldn’t post without photos, so I present the best photo I’ve taken all year:

Handspun Superwash Merino sock yarn, 550 yards

See? That was worth waiting for. 550 yards of a heavy fingering weight yarn, lofty and soft superwash merino from this fiber by AllSpunUp (still damp when I took this). I proved to myself that I can spin 100 yards of 2-ply from an ounce of fiber, so no need to worry from here on out about getting 400 yards of yarn from 4 ounces of fiber – what a relief. And it’s so pretty, too.

I have more pictures to take, including an FO photo for a finally-finished pair of Paraphernalia socks, and more to tell you about how preparing a presentation on sock knitting for my spinning guild this month may have put me off knitting socks for a good, long while. Am I sick of socks? Unless they’re handspun, right now, the answer may be “yes” – shhh!

Notes from the Tour de Fleece

California variegated mutant (CVM) 2-ply Though the last week of the Tour was filled with travel and a visit from my parents, I was still a productive spinner – this is 8 ounces of California Variegated Mutant spun up into about 175 yards of sportweight 2-ply. Of course, I thought this yarn was worsted weight, and I ended up using a size 8 needle, three sizes larger than my typical worsted yarn choice. So it’s probably more accurate to say some parts of it were worsted weight. The skein on the bottom was spun and plied during an incredibly fruitful spinning workshop I took with my guild in March, then I finished the skein on top (notably less overspun) during the Tour. I loved working with the CVM, and it softened right up after a bath, so it’s perfection in a skein as far as I’m concerned. I’m hoping to make the Sweet Fern Mitts with this yarn from the Knitters Book of Wool. Mitts of some kind, at least.

Handspun Hat Even though the Tour was for spinning, I also finished my first handspun, handknit item: a hat. This is the clever Top Down Ribbed Beanie from Charisa Martin-Cairn with the addition of a stripe of luxury yarn I carded, spun and Navajo-plied myself during the aforementioned workshop in March. There’s a little bit of sable, a little denim waste – surely the most experimental thing I’ve knitted with in quite awhile, wooly girl that I am. The luxury yarn has too much twist, since I am still a Navajo-plying novice – but I did it, and that’s what counts.

Laila Socks, Cast OnAnother thing I did recently (not related to the Tour de Fleece) was cast on for my first pair of colorwork socks, from stash, from a pattern I’ve had waiting for at least four years. These are of course, the estimable Laila’s Socks from the frankly awesome Nancy Bush – as you can see, this is a popular pattern, and it’s hard to make it look bad; I myself went with the “if girly is good, girly with bling is better” combination of Lorna’s Laces in Tickled Pink and white sock yarn with sparkles in it. Let me tell you a secret, which when I say it will be just as annoying as hearing “I lost the weight and I ate whatever I wanted.” Colorwork is easy.

I hold the contrast color in my dominant hand to make it pop, I hold the main color in my secondary hand, and I never vary that pattern. That one piece of information (plus a sock needle two sizes larger than usual to help ensure looser even tension) is all I needed to feel like I cracked the mysteries of colorwork and make myself into a two-handed knitter. I’m at the heel of sock one, trying to finish these for the Sock Knitters Anonymous colorwork challenge which ends August 31, so the odds are in my favor. I’m just putting this sock-related promise here in writing, because I may have cast on not one but two knitted toys this weekend – wait until you see the cuteness to come.

Never give up! Never surrender!

Corriedale/Mohair spun for Heifer International raffle For me, learning to spin has been an exercise in patience. I balanced the idea that every time I tried to spin it was hard and I sucked against the notion I kept reading about: it takes a pound of fiber to get any good at spinning. So if I gave up before I had spun a lot, I might miss out on the fun of really developing some skill and seeing that pay off.

As much as I try to be a “process” person, I am a “product” person. I see the fiber, I want the yarn. I see the yarn, I want the socks (or the sweater, or the scarf or the hat). So it was especially gratifying to cross the finish line with this, my first completely-stuffed-full bobbin of fiber, a Corriedale/Mohair mix spun as a fine single for my local spinning guild’s Heifer International fundraiser later this year – it will become part of a woven shawl that will be raffled off. I sold two winning tickets last year, but was too bashful to spin something for public consumption. Six months later, I sat down and did it like it was nothing, and as I said to someone while the bobbin was filling: “I never thought I’d get to the point where some parts of spinning are easier than some parts of knitting.” I’m now deep into the spinning of this fiber, about two ounces down, and a little over 3 ounces to go. Things seem less hard if you practice, is all I’m saying. And if you watch Galaxy Quest, where “Never give up! Never surrender!” comes from.

Leyburn, finished: full Meet the socks that are harder than some parts of spinning: these are MintyFresh’s Leyburn socks, in the Claudia Handpainted Fingering colorway Circus Dancer (more pictures here). I sailed along with these two-at-a-time on one needle, and then, during a particularly tense moment in Crazy Heart, I looked away, my hands kept going..and I goofed up the slipstitch pattern. And I had a devil of a time fixing it – I had to separate the socks, and knit, and reknit, and rip…and at some point while I was knitting with friends (in public! on Knit in Public Day!) I looked down and realized my hands knew what to do; they understood the pattern better than my thinking brain did. That was both good and weird, a knitting breakthrough of an entirely new kind for me, and one for which I’m very grateful. Sadly, they’ve gone to live with a knitting friend in Montana, but I did get a bodaciously good pair of beaded rib socks in Knit One Crochet Too TyDy in return – I would show a modeled picture of them, but it’s 90 here, so that will have to wait for later.

Fionn, up to the armholesAnd then there’s Fionn, up to the armholes and forsaken not due to the heat, but sock-related deadlines, so I’m due to pick it back up shortly. It’s turning out just as expected, and thus far has been a pleasure to knit, particularly when there’s air conditioning available. I have this fantasy that I’ll clear off my knitting needles, but even as I finish one project, others are calling to me – I have a small but mighty UFO pile, which includes a handspun hat (from my first plied yarn) and a pair of Paraphernailia socks that are so! close! to! being! done! But I might have started a new pair of socks this weekend instead…

Not for lack of trying.

Yes, there has been Olympic knitting chez knitonepurltoo, but my Olympic sweater was completed in the wee hours of March 1, long after the closing ceremonies were over. I am not as broken up about this as I thought I might be; I made a valiant effort, I tried some new things (first yoked sweater!), but I ended up with a garment that didn’t work out (which made staying up until 1:30 a.m. a bitter pill to swallow, let me tell you).

Modern Olympic Garden I knitted the Modern Garden Cardigan in DROPS Eskimo, colorway 29 (a spring green, which longtime readers could use to safely win bets on “What is Donna’s favorite color?“). That cardigan is super-cute and very knitworthy, but it ended up being a high-stakes project for a few reasons, chief among them the fact that I did not get row gauge, and even though I was just one row off, I ended up with a cardigan 3″ longer than I expected as a result.

I didn’t have a lot of maneuvering room in terms of needle size; the pattern calls for size 15 needles to give you a stitch gauge of 2 stitches to the inch, and I needed to go to size 17 needles to get that. I tried the knitter’s math trick of using the numbers from a different size to get the fit I wanted, but the Modern Garden sizing is fairly spread out because there are only so many number combinations that will allow for those beautiful, large leaf motifs. So the knitonepurltoo support crew (aka my husband) made a trip to Joann’s with me to get a big pink set of Susan Bates circulars, size 17.

And I knit the thing. Like any knitting story, there were setbacks (the large was too large, so I reknit in medium), and triumphs (the leaf motifs were easy to work and very pretty). But the spider sense that was tingling pre-Olympics, leading me to question my project choice and even write to Nordic Mart and ask if I could return the yarn, was accurate. Other knitters had gauge issues and several found the sleeve sizing small – me too. But I enjoyed knitting it, and was glad that I followed through to the end, even if I did feel like the guy who crosses the finish line last. My one regret? I turned off the Olympics after the (awesome) hockey game because I didn’t want to see the torch go out without having finished, and I missed William Shatner and the dancing maple leaves.

I also have no idea what to make with the yarn, once I’ve ripped it back – a baby sweater? A felted bag? Something crocheted? I’m mulling my options, because not being able to get the DROPS Eskimo out of my stash seemed roundly unfair after so much hard work.

Corwyn's Sock My Modern Garden mishap taught me nothing about knitting to a deadline, though – I picked my needles right back up and polished off a pair of birthday socks for my husband’s godson, finished the day of the birthday party during a spinning workshop offered by my local guild. These are the Yarrow Ribbed socks from Knitting Vintage Socks by Nancy Bush; I subbed in a garter stitch short-row heel for the flap and gusset style. He tried on my mom’s cashmere socks when they were close to the finish line, and asked for a pair with stripes – who am I to say no to that? So I didn’t medal in the Knitting Olympics, but to one seven-year old who may still be wearing his socks, I’m pretty cool. I can live with that.

Next up: I get serious about spinning, and progress is made on Fionn.

You never forget the first time.

Do you remember the first yarn you stashed? I do; I found a single skein of Paton’s Ballybrae in navy Black Forest Tweed at my (very) local LYS not too long after I first picked up the needles. It was already discontinued in 2003, so with my usual retail obsessiveness I set off on a hunt across the interwebs. After several well-timed requests to knitting swap lists, I have a total of 10 skeins. I always thought I would make Kathy Zimmerman’s The Very Thought of Him or Bonne Marie Burns’ Ribby Cardi with it, because I do like a monochrome tweedy cardigan as much as the next person, but fate intervened.

Fionn ProgressJust a few days ago, knitonepurltoo’s Pattern Review Staff (aka my husband) saw Jennifer Hagan‘s Fionn pullover over my shoulder, liked it and it took about 13 seconds for me to realize I could use my oldest yarn to make my newest sweater. As if that weren’t cool enough already, I’m doing that knitterly thing of using the numbers from the next-smallest size to get the (bigger) size I want. For those who are all “didn’t you just promise to knit from your queue?” I did, but I also thought I’d give myself an exception, just in case, and this looks like it. We are still proceeding with the “buy as little as possible, because you already have four bins of yarn” plan, but unlocking a sweet spot in the stash with the perfect pattern feels like a gift. Don’t you love that?

That alchemy is my favorite thing about knitting – older, less-loved yarn marinating in the stash becomes new, fresh and fascinating when it meets the right pattern. I knit slowly enough that I have plenty of time to change my mind about what I should make with a given skein of yarn, and sometimes waiting pays off, because a combination comes to light that I can’t help but love.

Corriedale fiber, Thunderhead colorway And get ready for “Waiting pays off, part two,” my first skein of handspun yarn (more pictures here). This is approximately 125 yards of 2 ply Corriedale from gwen erin/granolasuit; it took a shockingly long time to finish because I developed a throughly unreasonable fear that I would somehow wreck the yarn in the plying. So the bobbins sat, and I spun a little bit of other things, and then I sat down once more with the Start Spinning video and did it. Yay! The knitonepurltoo spinning wheel pit crew (aka my husband) has already called dibs on this for a hat; it’s going to be hard to wait to cast on until after I can show off the finished skein at spinning guild tomorrow, but I’ll try.

A wheel, and two spindles.

Some of you may have figured out that spinning has snuck into my life on little cat feet. I was seriously worried my brain would get rusty without the chance to learn something new, so for my 39th birthday last May, I gave myself spinning lessons at my LYS. I got it, I practiced, yet I never really got into it – so I figured I would wait to post about spinning until I had a real story to tell, beyond “It’s okay, and I really like A Fine Fleece.”

Then I got a wheel. The story of my Matchless is equal parts “It was a great deal”, “I think the Matchless is the most beautiful wheel ever”, and “I can do anything if I put my mind to it.” I was pretty certain it was crazy to try and spin a sweater’s-worth of yarn for a Fine Fleece pattern any other way than with a wheel, but learning to use the wheel has been hard, in part because I assumed it would be easier.

Wheelspinning feels exactly like when I learned to drive; before I learned the finer points of using hand controls, my driving instructor said he wanted me to try using the brake and accelerator pedals with my feet. Hand controls are simple: pull the lever down to accelerate, push the lever forward to brake. Adding my feet into the mix felt like there was way too much going on at once – and trying to treadle, keep the twist from traveling into the drafting triangle, draft, and allow the single to wind onto the bobbin…well, let’s just say I’ve been getting friendly with my orifice hook (and swearing a lot). I’m ridiculously happy to have the wheel, but the learning curve has been steep.

Camphor and Oak Spindle, top view I realized I needed a plan B – if I wanted to actually learn how to spin (and continue improving), I would have to set a goal. So in March, I wrote down “Finish knitting a pair of handspun socks” on my to-do list with a date of December 31. And when I said “My beginner spindle isn’t really working out for me” Knit One Purl Too’s spindle-crafting expert (aka my husband, the woodworker) made me one. For the curious, the finished spindle is just under an ounce, and this is a Corriedale/alpaca blend courtesy of Etsy – I ordered a whopping 8 ounces, so I’ve had plenty to practice with. I’ve also spun with a nice merino/silk blend from Ashland Bay – but that’s not for socks.

All Spun Up Merino This is. It’s the May spinalong fiber from Kristin at AllSpunUp; I told myself I was going to wait to spin it until I had more practice, but that lasted about 48 hours. Shockingly, this is just a tenth of an ounce (on a 40th birthday present .45 oz Golding Tsunami), so I suspect I’m spinning fine enough to get 2- or 3-ply sock yarn. They won’t be perfect, but I am going to end up loving these socks with the fire of a thousand suns – my brain and my feet will be happy, and if I spend the rest of my life learning to be a better spinner…well, wouldn’t that be fun?