Monday, July 6, 2015

Starting out

Shortly after taking a spinning class with Judith McKenzie, I decided it was time to spin, dye and knit a sweater.

I'd always taken a much looser approach before to spinning smaller quantities, aiming for general weights and not worrying too much about the details. I'd often not have a specific project in mind when spinning a braid or two. I'd just think "Hat", "mitts", "cowl" based on how much fiber I had or the colors.

Once I decided to spin a sweater quantity of fingering-to-sport weight yarn, I also came to the decision that I would do this 'properly'. I put properly in quotes because I decided this was the correct way for me to do it for the results I want. That's one of the beauties of spinning your own yarn - you get to decide what kind of yarn and final project is right for you.

My goals are to spin a 3 ply yarn that is approximately fingering or sport weight once all is said and done. I want it to look as even as possible, i.e., as close to commercial yarn as I can get it. To me, and for this project, that is my challenge: to spin and ply consistent singles to get a uniform yarn over the approximately 2,000 yards I'll need.

I'm keeping track of my progress and details using Ravelry's handspun page feature. To get consistent results I'll need to be diligent about tracking things like ratios used, wpi (wraps per inch), and even, yes, doing test yarns and sample swatches. When I'm on my 4th or 5th bobbin of singles, I want to know I'm using the same whorl and spinning the single to the same wpi as I did for bobbins 1-4.

I was eager to get started. As with most projects, I wanted to start and finish it right! away! And see results!

But I reined myself in and committed to spinning and plying a test amount first. After all, why fill a whole bobbin (or more) full of singles without knowing if I was getting the results I needed?

So, I spun what turned out to be 31g of singles at approximately 40 wpi. (Did I mention I bought a scale that measures down to .1g so I could get really detailed measurements?) Then, I split that as evenly as I could among three weaving bobbins - that's where the really accurate scale comes into play. One of my Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival purchases had been a bobbin winder, allowing me to easily wind singles off my Lendrum bobbins and onto the smaller, plastic weaving bobbins.

With the singles evenly distributed, I switched from my fast flyer (12:1 whorl) to the regular flyer and used the smallest whorl (10:1). This was among the suggestions given by Judith McKenzie in her spinning class - to use a whorl 1 bigger for plying than you had for spinning the singles. You want your singles to have lots of twist and ply them with slightly less (removing some of the twist). I'm paraphrasing and hopefully not distorting the message too much.

I plied the 3 singles until I ran out on the first bobbin. Happily, there wasn't too much of the singles left of the other bobbins. I'll use the leftovers later.

I have to admit, the 3 ply looked pretty darn fantastic on the bobbin. I let it sit for a day or two, as general wisdom recommends. Then I let it soak in cold water with some Soak and gave it a rinse. I always give my plied yarn a good whacking to even out the twist. Generally, I hold the skein and whack it (overhand) 3 times against the side of the tub, give the skein a quarter turn and whack some more, until I've given the skein a full turn. Then I hang it to dry, unweighted.
3 ply, on the bobbin.

I ended up with approximately 67 yards of 3 ply yarn that was approximately 18 wpi, which according to Ravelry is close to fingering weight.

What I did next was even more against nature than spinning and plying only 30g of fiber. I swatched.  But that's a tale I'll tell next time.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Into The Great Big Blue

I've had this Spirit Trail Fiberworks fiber since 2011, my first year at Rhinebeck. I don't recall having a plan when I snapped up the braids, but when I took stock last year, I had 4 braids of Polwarth/Silk, a braid of Merino/Cashmere and a 100% Superwash BFL all in similar shades of blue. That's 24 oz of fiber!
Lighter Merino/Cashmere single in this skein.

I began spinning it up last year but then life got in the way. I picked it up again in May and finished spinning all the singles, then began to 3 ply them. To balance out the slightly different colors (the cashmere blend was considerably lighter), I decided to ply 2 strands of the Polwarth Silk with the Cashmere blend, then 2 strands of the Polwarth Silk with the BFL. When I knit it up, I can alternate skeins to even out the color.

Jumbo skein
I started plying on my regular Lendrum flyer and soon filled up a bobbin that way. Then, I decided to try out a tip I'd garnered from Ravelry to make plying with the Lendrum Jumbo Head easier. And it worked (more on that in another post). So I finished plying on the Jumbo Head, which resulted in a 797yd, 13+oz skein!

After plying up the remaining singles, I ended up with a grand total of 1226 yards of 3 plied yarn. That should be enough for a lacey cardigan.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

An Ambitious Project

I've been on a bit of a spinning kick ever since returning from Maryland Sheep and Wool in May. Where, among other things, I got it into my head to spin the yarn for a sweater of my own design.

Since then, I've somehow accumulated about 5 sweaters worth of fiber to spin. Along with spinning up (or finishing the spinning on) a bunch of fiber from previous festivals.

With that in mind, I thought people might be interested in following along in my journey to spin, dye and knit a sweater in several different kinds of fibers. This will be a long journey for sure. After all, I do have a day job in addition to a family. But I know I'm always looking for stories of what others have done, when I start a new-to-me technique. So maybe this will help someone in the future. (If only in a don't-do-it-it's-crazy kind of way!)

So, what's on my to-spin list?

  • 1 lb of lovely Merino/Rambouillet from Roclan's, purchased at MDSW 2015 (supplemented with 1 lb of Rambouillet from The Homestead Hobbyist on Etsy
  • 6 lbs of Merino/nylon roving from The Black Lamb, a local(ish) yarn shop
  • 3 lbs of Merino/cashmere/silk roving from The Black Lamb
  • 3 lbs of Merino/cashmere/nylon roving from The Black Lamb
  • 1.5 lbs of misc. fibers from Spirit Trail Fiberworks 
I'm not a monogamous spinner, so I'll likely switch between fibers somewhat to give myself the occasional change of pace.

Here's a sneak peak of some of my early results:
merino/nylon 3 ply

Spirit Trail Fiberworks 3 ply

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Pom Poms Ahoy!

Got a yarn winder? Like pom poms but hate the fuss of making them? Want to know how to get your finished pom poms nice and fluffy?

Check out this article: Make Perfect Pom Poms using your Yarn Winder.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Following my North Star

Polaris Mitts, photo from the Ravelry
project page (c) bewilderbeasst
Despite the promises of slightly warmer temperatures this week, I've cast on for another pair of stranded mittens. This time, I've paired up some souvenir yarn I bought in Montreal over the Christmas holidays with Polaris, a pattern by Rebecca Blair.

I have a lovely skein of Dragonfly Fibers Dragon Sock in "Karen's Blue". For the contrast color, I'm using an undyed skein of Dorset wool by Renaissance Dyeing.

I've modified the cuff a bit. The original pattern calls for knitting a stocking stitch hem for a few inches, which gets tucked under and tacked to the inside of the mitt. However, I quite liked the icord cast on I used for my Fiddlehead mittens, so I'm using that for my Polaris mitts.

I also have some lovely black baby alpaca yarn to use for the lining. Of course, by the time I'm done these, I'm hoping they won't be needed until next winter. But I'll still be able to admire how pretty they look.

In progress. A good bath will even out the stitches.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Made in Britain: Working for half minimum wage?

It was with great interest that I read an article which popped up in my Twitter feed about labour exploitation in Britain's textile industry.

Made in Britain: UK textile workers earning £3 per hour

It seemed a timely article after my blog post earlier this week about fair value for knitting patterns and books.

One quote really stood out for me, in the news article:

“If you get something cheap, there is a reason for that – what has made it so cheap? Ultimately, businesses need to cut their costs, and where do they cut their costs – it’s usually with labour,” says Patel.

The article talks about how immigrants are the most commonly exploited in this "race to the bottom" to produce goods cheaply. “Through talking to the workers we found out that many of them were paid less than £3 per hour,” she said. “This factory was one of the better ones, yet it had no contracts, paid less than the minimum wage, health and safety breaches were widespread and the workforce had little or no awareness of what they were entitled to as employees.”

I'm not trying to equate the fashion industry's exploitation of immigrant or even offshore labour to the debate over what a reasonable price is to pay for a knitting pattern or book. But what interests me is this drive to get something cheap.

Businesses naturally want to maximize their profits by reduces their expenses. And consumers want to pay the least amount possible. Or, perhaps perversely, pay the most amount possible for designer labels to show their affluence or to be "on trend".

But at what cost? At what point should we as consumers vote with our dollars by putting them in the cash registers of companies who source their products responsibly?

I'm not suggesting we all weave our own fabric from locally source, ethically tended animal/plant sources and then sew our own outfits or pay someone local to sew it for us. I'm just suggesting we think about what we buy and how the employees are treated. And perhaps, where we can and when we're financially able, to make a point of supporting companies who are local, or who run their businesses in a sustainable, earth-friendly and/or employee friendly manner.

I like buying from my local farmers' market when I can. I love the local festivals with food and craft vendors; browsing through the stalls is like an adventure, seeing what people are creating. I don't mind paying a bit more for a knitting tool made out of wood by a craftsman, because then I have something that is beautiful as well as functional, and I've supported someone who is doing something he or she loves.

Awareness is a good start:

“If you get something cheap, there is a reason for that – what has made it so cheap?


All photos (c) Invictus Yarns, taken from the Etsy shop.
An indie dyer I've been dying (pardon the pun) to try out has shown that she truly understands how to connect to potential customers.

I've been eyeing up the goodies in Invictus Yarns' Etsy shop for some time now, after having her yarns recommended to me by a friend. But a couple of things have kept me from taking the plunge.

First, the Canadian exchange rate. Right now, the Canadian dollar is really low. It's like adding 25% to any purchase from US shops. But that has nothing to do with the actual yarn.

Second, and I'm sure many of you can relate to this, it's hard to take the plunge and buy something based just on some photos on a website. Like most crafters, I like to see and touch the yarn before I buy to get a sense of how it will meet the requirements of the kinds of projects I like to work on.

I have some standard criteria for yarn I buy, requirements I've mentally compiled over the years based on my project successes and failures. I like softer yarns. I really won't wear the scratchier yarns, especially for sweaters - even with a shirt underneath. I like yarns with a tight twist, yarns that with great stitch definition for the twisted stitches and cables I adore. And I like rich colors, They don't have to be bright, just have depth.

Invictus Yarns, based in Sacramenta, California, has now given me just the push I need to try her yarns. Yes, I said yarns plural. You know why? Because she's just made available the perfect sampler kit.

Samplers, or mini skein kits, aren't a new idea. Go to any fiber festival and you'll see mini kits on a majority of vendors' tables, thanks to things like the sock yarn blanket, Beekeepers Quilt and color work projects.

But what makes Invictus Yarns' latest offering unique (in my experience) is that her sampler is a Yarn Base sampler. That is, she's offering 6 min skeins, each in a different base of her yarn. Most mini skein sets I've seen are all the same base. Invictus Yarns' sampler lets you touch and compare:

  1. Teal:  (80% SW merino/ 20% nylon sport weight)
  2. Lavender: (75% SW merino/ 25% nylon fingering- light fingering weight)
  3. Orange:  (80% SW merino/10% cashmere/10% nylon fingering weight)
  4. Yellow: (100% SW merino fingering weight)
  5. Green: (75% SW merino/20% nylon/ 5% stellina fingering weight)
  6. Burgundy: (80% SW merino/ 20% silk fingering weight)

The different bases are cleverly distinguished by color, so you won't get the bases mixed up. And I like that there's even a sport weight yarn in there. I prefer to make my cardigans and sweaters out of fingering or sport weight yarn. So I'm eager to get a sense of the different yarn weights too.

For $10, I'll get 4-5g of each base. That's 25-30g total over the 6 bases. That's plenty to do a mini swatch to see how the yarn knits up. Sure, it won't be a full swatch size. But I'll be able to get a sense of the yarn (is it a round, plump yarn, or a loosely plied one) and how it might knit up. Ten dollars is an enticingly low amount for everything those mini skeins will be able to tell me. And I'd rather spend $10 than $20-$30 for a full skein and find out it doesn't do what I need it to do. $10 will give me the confidence to place larger orders and know I'll get yarn that is perfectly suited to my project. That's a lot of peace of mind for $10.

What I also look forward to checking out, is how the different bases take the dye. Different fibers respond to dye differently. Most notorious is silk, which doesn't absorb dye as readily as wool. You can dye merino and silk with the exact same dye and the finished skeins will be different colors. Not every color in the sampler is one that I might pick out for myself, but I can look past the specific color to see what the yarn does with the dye.

Another interesting benefit of the sampler is that I can compare the yarn that arrives at my home with the photos of the yarn I see on my screen. This will give me a sense of how the two relate. This is particularly relevant to me given my recent experience with a shop that provides a lovely product, but what arrives at my home is always much, much darker than what I see on my screen. I no longer buy from that shop because I just can't trust that what catches my eye online will be something I'll like when it gets into my hands. I'll wait and buy from their booth when I see them at Maryland Sheep and Wool or Rhinebeck.

I've asked other dyers why they don't offer samplers like this and they say it's too much work. I totally get this. But with the mini skein craze sweeping the crafting world, and the sheer number of dyers out there competing for people's yarn budget, I think yarn base sampler kits are a great way of reaching potential new customers. I hope more dyers pick up on this great way of offering a low-risk introduction to their products.

So, one of the Invictus Yarns 'Yarn Base Sampler Kits' will be winging its way northward any day now. I can only hope it brings some warmer weather with it too!