Knitted cowl made with hand-dyed, hand-spun yarn

hand dyed yarn Knitting and writing are alike in that both take a long time to create something from scratch that’s worthwhile when it’s finished.

And when you decide to not only spin the yarn by hand but also dye it yourself, it takes even longer. I have no writing analogy to go along with that — fortunately, even if I want to write in a wacky new form, I don’t have to invent the words.

You may have noticed by this point that I love knitting. At least if you’ve spent any time with me when I’m sitting down for an activity that doesn’t require my hands or you’ve visited more than 3 pages of this blog (other interests being writing, reading books, cooking, gardening and raising children: so words, food and love). I also enjoy spinning yarn and dyeing it. Adam jokes that next I’ll want a sheep, goat or alpaca to trim the grass.

silk and alapaca handspun yarn knitted pillow
Berry’s alpaca and silk pillow

The irony is, despite my love of fiber, I can’t wear animal fibers. They make me itch. I can spin and knit them, but if they touch my forearms or neck…itchy itchy itchy. True, I can buy acrylic or cotton yarns and knit myself stuff to my heart’s content, but I can’t wear the stuff I spin. And, with the exception of Berry’s alpaca and silk pillow, I don’t think the kids (or husband) wholly appreciate socks and hats made with hand-spun yarn. Sad face.

Fortunately, I’ve learned it’s possible to spin non-animal fibers. I learned this a while ago. But it took me a really long time to complete the process of selecting fiber, dyeing it, spinning it and knitting it into something for myself. But I did it. (I may have mentioned writing a book as well. That took a long time and I did that, too. Happy face.)

I didn’t take nearly enough photos of this process of dyeing, spinning and knitting my awesome yarn, but I clearly remember the conversation going on in the kitchen while I chose dye colors — green, blue and purple — and dyed my hanks of fiber in the microwave. Sam had come home with some sex-ed homework and sat at the kitchen table with Adam, asking questions about relationships and health. He was in 9th grade (he’s going into 11th in September), so it was late spring 2014. We talked about the emotional ramifications of sexual relationships while I applied dye, covered my dish of fiber with saran wrap, popped it into the microwave and urged him to always use 2 forms of birth control.

My fiber blend was a mix of faux cashmere, silk and soy silk. I had no idea then I needed to do a different dye process for the soy silk. It didn’t take the color well, barely at all really, but added a shimmer and lightness to the finished yarn.

After it was dyed and dry, I got to work spinning, quickly learning that faux cashmere — an acrylic fiber — was a bitch to spin. Soft, elastic, slippy, it didn’t want to hold a twist without the encouragement of other fibers.

I added in some silk hankies, to add some substance and strength, but they caught on every rough spot on my fingers and I slowly peeled them off my hands in disgust. (You can’t throw them down in disgust, they just stick to you.)

I stopped and started with the spinning, getting frustrating and giving up. I’d switch to a new spindle and an easier merino wool or alpaca, for a while, but wasn’t willing to pack it in completely.

hand carded acrylic fiberThen I got hand carders in January. I had the bright idea that blending the fibers together would give me a more even fiber to work with and easier go of it during spinning. I was right. After many sessions of blending together chunks of the different fibers — often while chatting with the kids during bath time — I had mounds of ready-to-spin fiber rolags.

Spinning the rest was definitely much more fun. And so it went more quickly. Almost like doing proofreading edits rather than revision.

Finally, I was done. I plied the yarn with a navajo 3-ply and forgot to take pictures of the finished product.

It was time to knit. But knit what? I’d envisioned and warm, comfy cowl to keep my neck warm in the winter. Something soft and pretty that matches most of the coats I owned.

I had a stash of patterns I’d found at yarn stores over the past year-and-a-half while I planned this project but, unphotographed yarn in hand, none seemed right. I searched online and found this Stockholm Scarf pattern (free on ravelry).

And then I knit. I knit while watching TV at night, during church services, through meetings and weddings and waiting for appointments and any time I have to sit down and my hands aren’t otherwise occupied. I’ve even been known to knit at restaurants while waiting for my food.

hand spun man made fiber scarfWhat emerged wasn’t what I envisioned. The pattern confused me one night during a particularly dramatic scene in Outlander or Orange is the New Black or Downtown Abbey, and I got one stitch off pattern. But it seemed to complicated to undo. And I didn’t want to start over from scratch. Fortunately, knitting isn’t book writing and my one missed plot point wasn’t going to undo the work that went before and came after if I ignored it. So I ignored it and kept going, the pattern soon integrated into my brain and fingers.

knitted handspun cowlThe colors mostly weren’t what I imagined. I pictured mottled shades of green, blue and purple, merging and fading. What I got were stripes. Huh. A different pattern, knit width-wise instead of length-wise may have given me thicker bands of color. But what I got is what I got. I didn’t have a strong idea of what it would be, just not quite what it turned out to be.

It’s soft, light, warm. It goes with my coats and jackets. And I made it, from fiber, with my own knitty little hands.