Falling Leaves Isosceles Scarf

Blocking has been completed for the Falling Leaves Isosceles Scarf. Like several other projects I’ve had taking up needle space and whatnot of late, this too is a Giant Swatch, which also had a learning goal, that of thinking through some things about triangular shaping.

Goal 1: Swatch hand-dyed merino/silk and merino laceweight millspun yarn.

To this end, I threw the short skeins that were left over after putting up yarn for dyeing, into the dyeing mix, using low water immersion and getting a variegated autumnlike effect with an overall brown colour containing flashes of bright red and turquoise shades. I had about 100 yards of the merino/silk, and 150 yards of the merino.

The center, with the falling leaves, is merino/silk, and the outside border with the improvised diamonds, is merino.

So, it takes about 250 yards to make a triangle kerchief.

The big challenge in this one for me was working the border in the round, trying to neatly make both 45-degree and 90-degree mitered corners. All in all, it was a success, and the next thing I do that with, I’ll actually feel confident while I’m doing it that I’ll get the shape I’m after.

The center was worked point-up, with increases at either side, 2 every right-side row, just inside a garter stitch border that was there for the sake of expediency. Then, I picked up stitches all the way around. I turned a stock mitered 90-degree corner at the bottom point, increasing on either side of the centerline stitch there, every other row; and on the other corners, I increased that way every single row.

And here it is hanging in the window to let light shine through. It’s very very light; probably under an ounce.


I’ve decided I’m going on a March Finish-A-Thon. That’s where you take all the stuff you have sitting around taking up needles, hooks, bobbins and other tools, with balls of yarn hanging out of it, wadded up in piles, stuffed in bags, and whatnot, and finish as much as you can. I’m including drafts in this! My folders of drafts are starting to pile up as well.

Last night, I finished my woeful little Falling Leaves Isosceles, another in the line of big swatches. The purpose of this one was to take a look at how some of the handpainted laceweight millspun I’ve done lately works up, plus to see if I remembered enough trigonometry to actually execute both 90-degree and 45-degree mitered corners. I remembered the math, but was stumped on the execution until I talked the problem over with my father-in-law, who pointed out I had it backwards and what I was thinking would work for decreasing, not increasing.

No pictures yet, save for this sad little in-progress shot, in which it looks like mud on some circs:

That’s the big problem with lace projects — the in-progress shots just all look godawful.

All in all, this one came out to be an isosceles triangle, even unblocked, and I think it’ll block out to a nice scarf or kerchief size, which in fact I need to go be doing right now so that I can leave it blocking while I’m off at the dentist. Yes, the dentist! Back I go. Hopefully this time it’ll only be fillings, but I’m a bit worried about one of ’em and half afraid I haven’t gotten to have the old, old filling replaced in time to avoid another root canal and crown scenario. But geeze I hope I have. All in all I hope to be done with the so-regular dental visits come June or July when my dental implant saga is finally over. I’ve always known that dental woes were a price I’d pay for my storied childhood and flawed brushing habits in early adulthood, but somehow I never expected the bill to come due and payable in full with terms of net 30 days, you know? Still, again I remind myself that if I lived in the third world, or many parts of the first world at that, I’d be outright missing plenty of teeth by now, and there wouldn’t be any of this 6 month long getting an implant process and I’d wish madly for root canals.

Anyway, yes, so I must block that triangle and see what it does. Continuing with Finish-A-Thon March, here’s what will be going to the dentist with me today:

It’s a little scarf in an elaborated Print o’ the Wave. Incidentally, is it obvious to anybody else yet that I haven’t unpacked most of my books since the move, and the only lace book I seem to be able to find is Sharon Miller’s? I’m doing stuff that is in her book, that I have memorized, or which I’m making up. I’ve got to solve the fiber book storage problem and really unpack them. Perhaps as part of Finish-A-Thon March I’ll try to do that.

Anyway, I started this sucker in September to take on a trip, since it’s a memorizable and easy to read pattern whose only tricky points are the fudging at the edges plus not spacing the turnarounds. And what with being worked back and forth across only 60 or 70 stitches or whatever it is, it feels like it’s working up insanely fast after the stuff done in the round and point-up triangles and all that sort of thing. The yarn is Belisa Cashmere that I picked up at Stitches West in 2006, and really liked (as far as I ever like millspun knitting yarn at any rate) despite its pinkness. In fact, this yarn marked the start of my resolution to come to peace with pink.

Although I really liked this yarn, it was actually a painful process finding a lace pattern that didn’t look like utter garbage with the way the colour variegation tended to pool. I think I tried four others before settling on this one with its sort of tiger-striping pooling effect.

I did not finish it on that trip in September, as it happens. I did very little with it on the trip, in fact. And it’s not hard enough to be engaging when I sit down to work on it, so even though it’s fast, I’ve been being pretty lazy about it, and here we are in March and I’ve done like 5 repeats. I need at least 12, then maybe some small edging. So off to the dentist with me it shall go.

Desert Flower Shawl

Huzzah, I have actually Finished A Project(tm). Its primary purpose was to show what one could do with a few of my Luxury Batts, spinning them in different ways. So here we go:

Phase 1: Fiber

40% camel down, 40% mixed silks, 20% superfine merino, with firestar added after that to give it a bit of sparkle. I pulled 2 batts out of the to-be-sold pile, and spun them up preserving the colour separations: the sandstone yellow, the painted desert pink, and then the surprising lavender. I put each batt onto one bobbin, and then plied those together into…

Phase 2: Yarn

2-ply fingering weight or so, and it looks like I recorded neither the weight nor the yardage in my little notebook! It was two batts, so probably the original skein was around 3 ounces or a little over.

Phase 3: Start Knitting

I started with some size 3 US straight knitting needles, and a small rectangular center made up of three Shetland-style lozenges worked in garter stitch, from charts in Sharon Miller’s Heirloom Knitting book. With the three lozenges done working back and forth, I switched to double pointed needles and picked up stitches around the three other sides. I put a zig-zag around the lozenges, still garter, then switched to doing it stockinette for some cats-paws (again from Sharon Miller’s book). After three rounds of cats-paws, I stuck in a round of ferny trees, again from the same book. Once it got too big for the dpns, I switched to a circular needle and placed stitch markers at each mitered corner.

By this time, I was into the last colour of the yarn, the lavender, which meant I’d used up two thirds of it, and it was just not going to be enough to make it remotely shawl-like — in itself not a huge problem since the objective was basically “giant swatch” — but there was’n’t going to be enough of the lavender to complete what I’d figured on putting at the outside, another round of lozenges, and cast off.

Phase 4: Spin More Yarn

What with running out of yarn, I had three possible options, all of which involved pillaging the sale inventory further.

  • Spin another long-length colour shifting yarn with only one repeat of each colour?
  • Spin just some more lavender?
  • Mix things up, and spin some heathered yarn to demonstrate an entirely separate option for spinning these 3-coloured batts?

I decided the third option was the most principled solution, and grabbed a third batt for this purpose, producing the following results:

Phase 5: Knit Till You Run Out Of Yarn

As I’d anticipated, I ran out of the first skein about halfway through the final pattern round in the lozenge border. I added in the second skein, and proceeded. Upon completing the lozenges, I started a batch of improvised diamonds, and upon completing those, threw in a zig-zag to go around the outside, leaving eyelets at regular intervals from the tips of the diamonds, to use for blocking purposes (I’m lazy).

I bound off with a simple crochet cast off that’s essentially the same as the decrease cast-off, and pretty stretchy (I used an H hook to do it, which is the counterpart to a size 8 US needle). That brought us here:

Ah yes, that always disappointing and somewhat horrifying moment when you’re done with a lace knitting project, and it’s a) far smaller than you thought, even knowing it would be smaller than you thought, and b) ghastly-looking in its unblocked state. What makes it even worse, of course, is something Sara Lamb talked about in January in Anatomy of a Project — The Letdown. You’re done, now what? It’s over. Except of course for…

Phase 6: Blocking

Here it is, pinned out on a large “bath sheet” (aka a big towel) on the floor of the master bedroom closet so the door could be closed and keep cats away. Why yes, that is a box of mothballs in the upper right hand corner, you’ll find things of that nature pretty much anywhere dark that I ever leave anything like a textile. But I digress.

I told myself I was going to pin it out and see if what I really needed to do was spin more and add length, so I didn’t get too worried about precision pinning it out. But then I looked at it, said, “Well, that’s the size of a typical bath towel or a little larger, so, fine, so be it. I don’t really need to drag this out any longer.” Could that be impending The Letdown talking? Maybe. Or maybe it’s simple acceptance of the fact that this was never meant to be a masterpiece, only a giant swatch. I closed the closet door and walked away.

I did not look at how there were 9 lozenges on one long side, and 8 on the other. No, I did not. I’d known I was off, and told myself to charge ahead anyway, as it’s a Giant Swatch, and not A Great Undertaking.

Phase 7: The End

Later that afternoon, I opened the closet door to see what had become of the thing. It was fully dry, and when I unpinned it, it didn’t totally collapse back into the fugly nightmare it had been the night before, freshly released from the giant circular needle. I quite liked the loftiness of the fabric. It was, however, a bit small, and the longer long side didn’t keep its pointiness as much as I might have liked; but it looks more or less in square. Er, rectangle.

Well… so that’s what one can do with a few of my Luxury Batts. Mission accomplished, Giant Swatch completed, and I’ll leave it be.

A Few Random Bits of Productivity

I’ve been felled by a cold. A stupid, nasty cold. It’s been hitting me fairly hard, and upon reflection, I think part of the reason why is that it’s the first real cold since the massive amount of dental work, and my left ear has sounded different ever since the wisdom teeth came out.

So I haven’t gotten a lot done lately. I did spin up some too-small-for-sale batt remnants into heavy laceweight yarn, though:

ABALONE: superwash merino, Falkland, camel down, tussah silk, bombyx silk, camel noil. 2-ply, 220 yards, heavy laceweight.

If I weren’t feeling sorry for myself about the cold still, I’d actually measure it for weight and wpi too. By “heavy laceweight,” I mean that eyeballing it, it’s on the “few wpi” end of laceweight, rather than the “really stupid insane fine” end of the scale. You know, “knit with size 2 needles” kind of small, rather than “knit with needles you can’t see” kind of small. Saved from “stupid fine” by the magic of Falkland’s poof.

WOOD NYMPH: 2-ply lace to fingering weight; 270 yards. Superwash merino, Blue Faced Leicester, Tussah Silk, Firestar.

I can’t get the photos of this one to stop trending to too blue. It’s the lighting and the weather and all that crap. Bring on April. February lasted too long. Let’s have March move at normal speeds, mmmmkay?

And I did get a bit of knitting done. I finally finished (by which I mean, used up all the yarn allocated for the project) the Desert Flower Shawl, which had better block out to much more massive than its unblocked state (I mean, it will, but I mean a lot bigger, please, so I don’t have to spin more of the heather and make it even bigger, though I’ll make it longer if I absolutely must).

In all its unblocked, flash-photo glory, on the media room carpet where I flung it last night upon finishing a crochet cast off that’s essentially the same as the decrease cast off:

Now I just have to come up with a block me huge! plan.

What I’ve actually been enjoying knitting — and it’s made the Desert Flower Shawl, which was knit on size 3 US needles, seem like the big needle project — is this improvised lace triangle piece of whatever it ends up being:

It started out like this, but then…

…that just looked like crap, plus I had two fudged places that were glaring at me and would have been annoying to fix, so I just ripped the one night’s knitting and started over. Two more evenings into it, we now have…

…which is composed of several q’enkos (zig-zags), which get bigger by one stitch per one going into the center; these are delimited by eyelet-based straight lines. But at a certain point, the thing was really shaping itself more diamondlike than I wanted, so I decided to split the outermost q’enkos off towards the sides, and shove a few cheap loraypus in there and plan on blocking the finished thing such that the q’enkos turn and start going straight up the centerline in the middle.

This does still leave me with shaping quandaries as I attempt to play with bias but keep a flat (or close enough to flat to be blockable to flat) piece overall, that is more or less triangular. And through which the colour changes in the yarn move in somewhat varied ways so as to cause hapless yarn dorks like me to stare at it and think “Huh, so that’s a row, and that’s a row, and huh, that sure does bias funny…”

This is using up this yarn here, but shows poorly in the photos due to the flash; the skein photo is accurate, while the in-progress carpet blocking (thanks June for the term, which I’m going to lemming onto from here on out) shots are definitely off for colour, and will long-term really only serve for a reference on progress.

Related Links

Updates on Handspun Yarn Pricing Post

I’ve received some terrific comments, in various forms, on my post dealing with the pricing of handspun yarn. I’ve incorporated feedback from these into a revision, now online — just follow the link! But I’m going to take a moment to reply to a few of the comments here.

…you have allowed no time for acquiring the fibres and any preparation before spinning. The costs of production space etc. What is more you have allowed no time for the marketing and distribution time or costs. This includes any advertising, time travelling to outlets, and all the time costs spent on accounting for your business. Unsold stock has a high rent cost. In my experience this is equal to a third of the final price, or 50% more than the amount you have calculated.

This is absolutely true. The example isn’t intended to help someone figure out how to handle all of the retail aspects as well as all the supply chain aspects, but rather simply to give people a starting point for figuring out what their baseline cost is to produce a given handspun yarn, and urge people to consider that it’s unwise to price their wares below their cost, which is something that can plainly be seen happening in many contexts. I find that when a lot of the folks on spinning mailing lists are asking for advice about how to price their yarn, it’s something that they have never considered at all, and where someone else may be asking them to consider selling their goods, without being aware of how labor-intensive handspun yarns can be.

I have revised the original article to explain this more clearly.

I am guessing that if you are charging 5 dollars for a 100 yard skein.. you are talking about singles. I am wondering how you would charge for plied yarn? Takes so much longer.. but does the average yarn consumer recognize that? Or are they just looking at the number of yards?

First, I’m not charging $5 for a 100-yard skein; “about $5” is my baseline cost to produce that skein in the originally-shown scenario (now updated, and featuring a second scenario as well). Baseline cost to produce it could be viewed as the rock-bottom wholesale cost, where if I sell the yarn for less than that, I’m selling it at a loss. About $5 is break-even for production alone; costs of doing business raise that price when we’re talking about bringing it to market. $5 is too cheap for a 100-yard skein produced by a handspinner of even limited skill, in my opinion.

Second, does the average yarn buyer understand the time and skill that goes into handspun yarn production? Probably not, and this is a problem. I firmly believe that when producers of textile goods persist in underpricing them, they allow people to go uninformed about the real value of those goods. I could buy a chair from Target for $19.99, or I could buy one from a master furniture maker for $750. What’s the difference? Both are chairs, right? Should the master furniture maker price her chair at $19.99 because Target can sell chairs for that? Absolutely not; and when someone who’s never seen a chair priced higher than $19.99 looks at the $750 price tag, one of the questions that comes to mind is “Why is it so expensive?” It is then the job of the person selling the handcrafted chair to explain why.

I would never suggest that yarn buyers are only interested in the lowest cost yarns, never interested in true handcrafted quality, simply won’t pay what yarn is worth; but in some cases they may not yet be aware of what those things are worth. That’s okay; I say, don’t price to the lowest common denominator, and be willing to not make a sale if making that sale actually costs you money.

I have to agree with Ian – this is a good start, but for a professional there are many other costs involved. I have a website which involves a lot of maintenance and constant updates, I regularly pay for advertising, I have boxes to pack and ship, I spend time procuring material, I do daily dye pots, and there is constant accounting. I put in well over a 40 hour week – often working 7 days a week to keep my website fresh. I spend a lot of time corresponding with my customers. I do very labor intensive yarns that require a lot of stop and go spinnning. I have energy costs for doing dye pots and spinning out and drying fibers. $10 per hour is barely above minimum wage. I could not live on $5/100yards of yarn produced.

And these are very important things to consider when you’re getting into a business selling your handspun yarn — there are many more costs associated with doing so than simply producing the yarn. Here’s an excerpt from an older post, talking about the hours I try to keep; as you can see, production is actually a small piece of the pie:

For January, leaving aside sick days, I’m figuring on something like this for a division of work:

* Production: 12-24 hours
* Operations: 10-12 hours
* Development: 12-20 hours

Total work hours in a typical week: 32 – 56.

Production is things like dyeing silk, or producing yarn and fiber for sale.

Operations is stuff like packing, shipping, inventory, accounting, routine correspondence.

Development is writing, patterns, product testing, market research, and some correspondence.

Both production and development have strong risks of slopping over into my personal life; in some cases this is acceptable and in other cases, it’s not — but that’s a whole new range of stuff to talk about, best left for another day. For now, suffice it to say I’m figuring a slack week is 30-some-odd hours of work, a busy week maybe as much as 60; with average weeks somewhere in the “around 40 work hours” range. The big tricky issue for me, really, is how to limit time and be focused; I have a tendency to just work nonstop, whatever I’m doing, and that’s what needs controlling most in my life.

I suppose that in my earlier article, I shied away from coming right out and saying this, so here goes:

I believe it’s unethical to pay less than a living wage for handwork. I believe that doing so for textile goods has a long and established history which people simply accept to a much greater degree than they do for other, non-textile goods. And I believe that in large part, this is possible because so many people will sell their textile goods at a loss. It’s my opinion that doing so is not only not a good business practice, but beyond that, actually harmful. Why? Because if you do it, you’re making products available for less than it costs to produce them, contributing to the problem mentioned above where people don’t know the value of a textile good, driving down prices, negatively impacting the market, and exploiting yourself. And that’s just for starters! So really think about your pricing and the market and your impact on it when you get to selling your handmade textile goods, and don’t just let a market of buyers for mass-produced goods talk you into treating yourself like a stereotypical “sweat shop” garment worker.