Tag Archives: spinning

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.

Spinning the time away

I didn’t have a lot on my Christmas wish list last year, Mostly because I wanted to make sure I got the thing I really wanted: a spinning wheel.

Ashford spinning wheel
No idea what I’m doing, but it’s fun!

And there is was on Christmas morning, unwrapped and waiting for me to get my hands on it. Adam/Santa gave me a previously enjoyed single treadle Ashford spinning wheel.

I confess I knew nothing about spinning  fiber into yarn. But I knew I wanted to do it. I had lots of misconceptions, but YouTube set me straight. There was no needle to prick my finger upon and fall into a one-hundred-year sleep (this is still the first thing people comment

Handspun yarn
My first balls of handspun yarn

about when they see the spinning wheel in our living/dining room — Where’s the needle? Don’t prick yourself!) . The yarn also doesn’t go around the big wheel (as I thought for some reason), it goes through a little hole (called an orifice) and winds onto a bobbin after being twisted.

The kids were at their Dad’s for Christmas, so I had time to play. I quickly whipped up a few balls of chunky yarn from my original roving stash (the one that started this whole new obsession). And then I was out! What to do!

Fortunately, Eugene Textile –where the spinning wheel came from in the first place — came to the rescue and I bought myself the first of many hanks of roving.

Sock yarn.

That hand dyed roving became sock yarn with which I eventually knitted a pair of socks for Adam. Nice, warm, woolen socks. I’ll blog about them sometime in a knitting projects roundup post.

And then I was off, moving from one spinning project to another. I like to think I get successfully better with each new fiber I spin, but the jury is still out on that.

Hand dyed top roving (a little more than I intended).

Lately I’ve gotten into dying the fiber, either before or after I spin it.  That’s a learning adventure as well, but it’s fun.

I don’t have as much time to spin while kids are home and the craziness of everyday life is going on, but when I do, I enjoy the meditation of it. It’s a zen-like zone out, even in the midst of family life. The single focus of fiber drafting through my fingers, the quiet monotony of the treadle, the pull of the bobbin twisting and spooling the yarn. And something beautiful emerges — yarn to knit into something new, created with my own two hands.

A year of knitting, a year of learning

Note: I started this post in April 2013. Yes, more than a year ago. What happened to posting every time I finished a knitting project? Oops.

So here’s what I knit last year (12 months of knitting is all I can manage in one post.)

First up, in January 2013 I finished this Child’s Library Cardigan for Berry who was still sweet and little with long hair and sparkly gold boots. How old was she then? She turned 7 in 2014, so she must have still been 5.

It’s knit in Cascade 220, which I loved working with. It’s so soft and felt great to knit with. She still wears it, even though it’s missing a button and has become 3/4-length in the sleeves.

Duncan’s turn

Isn’t this how you dress every day?

Then came a basket weave scarf for Duncan made with some leftover yarn from other projects. Why is he modeling it in his footie pajamas while wearing kitty ears that we made at the Asian Celebration? I don’t know. It was taken in February 2013. So he was 7-years-old or something (he turns 9 on Sunday and he’s still trying to fit into those PJs).

From what I remember, I made up the pattern, quickly deciding that changing the colors for every block of four knit/purl basketweave thingies (I’m feeling very technical today) was too much trouble and progressing into stripes of red and blue.

Unfortunately, the result of this scarf was that I barely had enough yarn to later lengthen my nephew’s sweater that I originally bought it for.

A scarf for Berry

Beautiful, but itchy (the scarf, not Berry).

Berry, then, needed a scarf as well. So we went to the yarn store and she picked out some yarn to go along with a pattern from my stash. This took a while to knit as she chose a fingering/sock weight yarn that she later decided was too itchy. Fortunately, I had to sit through a lot of meetings at work, so it kept me occupied and awake and gave me lots of time to knit.

Sadly, I can no longer find this scarf in the hat/glove/scarf closet, so it may have been lost at school. Perhaps a less itchy child somewhere is enjoying it.

And then?

And then I discovered wool roving and the drop spindle. I won them at a silent auction and, thanks to YouTube, learned to spin my own yarn. This is my first effort, some sweet little handspun wool.

Once the obsession had me in its clutches, there was no turning back. With time, the drop spindle stopped dropping on the floor and I became relatively good at it.

A “baby” dress

Knit top on the London subway
A very tired Berry, insisting we only have one more stop on the London Tube before we get to our hotel, models her new top.

Our long-time babysitter, Jessica, had her first baby, so I decided to knit her a little sometime (for the baby). Duncan picked out the yarn and I dug out one of my mum’s patterns that she knit for me when I was little.

At some point, I realized my gauge was way off. I swear I checked it. But, you knit, you learn.

So, as I knit away on our holiday to England and France last summer, we decided that the baby dress would become a top for Berry.

The Moshi Monster sweater

Duncan decided it was his turn for another knitted project and somehow convinced me to make him a Moshi Monster sweater. (He probably just said, “Moshi Monsters” in response to my question of “What would you like me to make you next, Duncan?” and I ran away with it from there.)

The one thing he really wanted was all six Moshi Monsters on the sweater together.

So I found a website to turn digital images into intarsia knitting charts (can’t remember what it was now, though) and plotted the pattern.

One of the things I enjoy about knitting is that I learn new things all the time. Like reading the pattern properly. In this case, I completely misread the pattern and didn’t realize I was making the front and back in one piece. This threw off my measurements just a little.

And the placement of the Moshi Monsters. I’d originally planned to do three on the front and three on the back, then realized belatedly (when I started reducing for the sleeves) that I’d knit both the front AND the back.

And yet, I wasn’t about to let this minor issue stop me! I managed to fit all six monsters on the sweater and finished this miracle of intarsia knitting. By the time Duncan was able to put it on (this one took a while) it was a bit snug, even on his skinny frame. *sigh* Still, this sweater is so awesome that it deserves three photos.

A sweater for the baby

Lesson learned with gauge and following patterns, I chose new yarn and a new pattern and knit this little number for baby Avery. I realize it probably fit her for about 5 minutes (even though I made it in a bigger size than she was), but it was fun to knit and good practice actually following a pattern, unpicking when needed.

Then I bought another drop spindle and hand spun some more yarn. And added a spinning wheel to my Christmas list.

Handspun shawl

My pound of roving finally spun and skeined, I decided to knit something for myself.

I loosely followed Stephen West’s Daybreak Shawl pattern — although with a completely different yarn and needle size (I did say, “loosely followed.”)

I added some yarn overs for a bit of lacyness and ignored some directions here and there that seemed like a good idea at the time.

I was very pleased with how it turned out but, being allergic to wool and no longer working in an over-airconditioned office, I really haven’t used it. It adorns my office chair downstairs, though, and Berry sometimes plays with it.

Another baby sweater

Wrapping up the year were a few more knitting projects, including a sweater for my newest nephew, Finn who we visited over the summer (along with his my brother – his Dad, sister-in-law and nephew).

Finn’s sweater came from the same book of patterns as Avery’s sweater. It took forever to knit with such fine yarn. And I modified the pattern to remove all the complex cabling in the middle. It seemed too much combined with the striping yarn.

Berry made the stuffed bear and we shipped them off to France for Christmas.

A Christmas cap

Also on the Christmas knitted gift list was this cap for Adam.

The yarn had come home with me from the silent auction along with roving and drop spindle. And the man needed a hat.

I think I found the pattern online…I no longer recall where. The thing I remember most about this project is that I had to knit it in secret.

It’s easy to knit surprises for the kids as I do most of my knitting at night in front of the TV or at church on Sunday mornings. But Adam sits next to me at night (often rubbing my feet, lucky woman that I am). So that was out.

So this secret project was knit in furtive spurts at home and at church on Sundays. Fortunately, I managed to finish it in time, with him none the wiser. It’s a good feeling when you can pull off a pleasant surprise.

Berry’s winter scrap yarn sweater

As my yarn stash grew — what better souvenir from your travels than local yarn? — I felt compelled to use up leftover yarn from other projects. I had this thick, chunky yarn left over from a crocheted blanket (which disappeared at some point in one of our moves) and it looked like the perfect amount for a child’s sweater.

I’d recently found an amazing book in the library, The knitters handy book of sweater patterns, which bestowed on me the knowledge to make any sweater from any yarn. No more hunting for patterns that fit the idea and the yarn I had in mind!

Instead: decide on the basic style (crew neck, v-neck, turtleneck) and sleeve type (raglan sleeves, drop sleeves, etc.) knit a gauge swatch, decide on the finished size, look it up on the chart and off you go! Amazeballs, people. Amazeballs. (I know, I’m over 30 and not supposed to use that word, but whatevs.)

I used up most of three leftover balls of yarn for this and Berry got a soft, comfy sweater that she loved.

Christmas wonder

And what did I get at the end of the year? I must have been a good knitty girl because Father Christmas (aka my lovely husband) got me an Ashford spinning wheel.

The little kids were at their Dad’s for two weeks, leaving me the option of pining over them during the holiday season, or losing myself in the hypnotic medication of spinning yarn. I pined a little. But mostly I spun yarn — the rest of the roving won at that silent auction back in June and more that I purchased at our local textile and fiber arts store.

My journey into spinning is another post in and of itself — as are the 2014 project completed to date. So I’ll end here with a year of knittyness. Out of 11 projects, only one was for me — and I can’t even wear it due to its wooliness. That’s usually how my knitting goes, but that’s OK.

I do it because I enjoy creating. And it keeps me from fidgeting when I’m supposed to be sitting still and paying attention. Plus people get presents, made with love. And I get to keep learning new stuff. A win for everyone.