Monday? MONDAY?

Yeah, definitely Monday. I can’t wake up yet it seems, and I clearly need to refill my coffee.

The coffee’s on the right, next to the chocolate-covered strawberries Chad made me yesterday (that’s right, I’m keeping him, no you can’t have him, don’t even think it, I’m a dangerous woman, make your own strawberries). As for the coffee, it’s strong, diluted only with heavy cream. And yeah, I definitely am going to need more of it today. I’m not sure I support this earlier daylight savings time thing — actually I think daylight savings time is silly in general — and I swear that as I age (yeah yeah, just stick me in a rocking chair on the front porch with my knitting and a cane to shake at the passing kids, already) even small time changes have a bigger impact on me than they used to. All the more when it’s back to waking up in the dark. I hate waking up in the dark. It’s uncivilized.

That said, changes in the schedule for daylight savings time being hyped as the new Y2K with respect to information technology bemuses me at best, and causes eyerolling. Please.

But indeed, coffee. It’s going to take coffee for me to get everything done today that I’ve got on my list of bright ideas. I’ve got boxes to pack and a subsequent post office run and sundry other errands while I’m at it. I have at least 4 loads of laundry to get done, and the inevitable folding-and-putting-away backlog from last week as it is. I’ve got to edit photos for my cabled yarn tutorial and finish that up, I’ve got a plying video I want to make while I have some thinner yarn ready to ply, I need to do some more batts, I’ve got batts from last week I need to get listed for sale, vis:

I’ve got a fearsome backlog of email and comments that I actually need and want to respond to, a handfull of balls to wind for my personal projects, I need to make Gert a chart of that edging for the Falling Leaves Isosceles, I want to chart my changes on the elaborated print o’ the wave, if I’m smart I’ll chart some of that other improvised shawl I’ve back burnered till I finish some other things, and I’d really like to do some straightening in the yarn room, plus I need to do drum carder cleaning and maintenance… okay, we’ve exceeded the scope of today again. I think we did that a while ago. I think I say “we” here in hopes of cloning myself with the power of words alone. Hasn’t worked yet.

On the sad side of things, as of yesterday I’ve survived three whole entire years as a fatherless child. The second week in March is always hard for me, ever since the year he died; but at least now that the date is past, I won’t be thinking about how it’s coming up. I think the world changes forever when a parent dies; I’m no stranger to death and loss and all that sort of thing, but man. As Hope said, it doesn’t really get any easier, just familiar. So it’s good to have chocolate-covered strawberries, and plenty of good, strong coffee with heavy cream. In fact, let’s see that again just for good measure:

Yep, still looks good.

I did stretch out the rassafrackn pink scarf on the floor last night to see how big it is now, and how many more repeats I really need, and if I want to put an edging on it. Here’s the montage of progress from a couple of days ago:

Did I really think it was long enough? Or needed an edging? Well, in all honesty, no. But this scarf — well, there’s a reason it’s not done. That reason is, I chose everything about it for the sake of it being travel knitting, an in-the-car project, a memorizable and straightforward pattern that’s easy to read, easy to remember, and not horrific to execute, but using small yarn and therefore also not hard to take with me places. And then I didn’t finish it on a trip, with the net result that I’ve been stuck with a travel knitting project to do while not traveling; and that bores me.

I clocked it last night; 2 rows, a down-and-back, takes me 3.5-5 minutes. So it’s about 90 minutes for a 35-row repeat, so for around 12 repeats or thereabouts, it’s a mere 18-20 hours of knitting total… but I’ve been at it since September, because I put this thing down and stop working on it so often, since it’s travel knitting and boring the crap out of me if I do it while I’m not also otherwise engaged. And what happens then is that I start thinking, “I wonder what mad flight of fancy and departure from plan I could throw into the mix now to spice this up a little.”

The truth of the matter is none. The right thing to do with the project is knit till I’m out of yarn and the project is completed as per plan. I simply keep losing focus on this project. Which is why it must be completed.

Once it’s done, too, I think I’m also going to wash my two main winter scarfy objects that I actually wear, the Creme de Menthe one and the purple mohair/silk triangle. They’ve both been worn all winter and are in need of washing and re-blocking. And probably new and better pictures. With warming weather, perhaps some outdoor good-light pictures may be forthcoming.

Yesterday, a total of 8 out of 30 bulbs that my son planted last fall could be seen to be sprouting! Surely that’s a sign of spring, along with warmer weather which I’m sure can’t possibly really be here to stay. But I’ve got no real gut sense of winter here; certainly it’s been milder so far than anywhere else I’ve lived that had winter, despite being a record-setter on occasion. It’s a mystery. But soon! Soon, there’ll be lilacs, and that I await eagerly. Lilacs don’t really grow particularly well to the West of the Mississippi, apparently, which means I had none in California; and for many years before that, my urban Chicago lifestyle didn’t feature much in the way of lilacs either. But yet in my childhood and teens, lilacs were the surest sign of true spring and they’re my favourite flower. It’s been seventeen years since I really had lilacs.

Of course, I mentioned my lilac anticipation to my mother yesterday, and she gently reminded me that lilacs may not bloom the first year after you plant them. Damned ethnobotanists with their knowing stuff about plants! “Even if ours don’t,” I argued, “there’ll be lilacs here in Ohio.”

A Few Thoughts on Woolen and Worsted

Do You Prefer To Spin Woolen or Worsted?

Totally depends. Some things I simply must have be worsted, and others I want woolen. For the most part though, it’s sort of a spectrum depending on what I think the yarn will be for, and which technique I use with what prep is decided by what I think the use will be.

A few generalities…

Socks: Woolen prep, worsted technique, or worsted prep with woolen technique. I want a little bit of bounce and give that I don’t usually get from a pure worsted.

Weaving: worsted. I don’t care about bounce or stretch or fluffiness; in fact I don’t want those things.

Sweaters: Woolen prep, woolen technique, or worsted prep and woolen technique. I probably want a bit of memory and bounce, but the exact amount doesn’t matter. Since it’ll be a lot of fabric, odds are I also want a fatter yarn.

Lace: almost always worsted technique, but prep can vary. I consider the fiber combination when thinking about how much it’ll stretch in blocking. I want it to stretch, but not stretch forever. My favourite lace yarns are usually just slightly lower-twist than weaving yarn, and sometimes less exacting about perfect smoothness.

From commercial top: depends on the fiber, and if I want fuzz or smooth. Either result can be achieved from commercial top.

How Do You Like To Mix and Match Techniques With Prep

1. Commercial top spun with woolen technique:

Spin from the fold with long draw or supported long draw. When I spin this way, I move as fast as I can, keep the wheel going really fast, and stay as hands-off as possible. The goal is to, regardless of prep, draft the fibers against the twist, with twist in the drafting zone, correcting slubs not by adding more fiber from the undrafted mass, but by pulling harder on the existing yarn. What I try to allow for is the maximum amount of air in the fibers as they’re being spun, without me squeezing any out. This produces a much loftier thick yarn than the predrafting methods in my experience, and would be worsted prep, woolen technique.

In some cases, with some fibers or variants on commercial top, this requires some double drafting, where an initial long draw of 18-20″ leaves slubs that must then be resolved directly with either another draw out to 30-36″ inches, evening the slubs, or by going back over that length and correcting the slubs from the spun points at either side. If I have to really get into the slub and manhandle it, a lot of the woolen-ness is lost, and I deem the prep sub-optimal for spinning with woolen technique.

2. Carded Preparations Spun With Worsted Technique:

Taking carded roving or sliver, drum-carded batts, or rolags produced with handcards, and spinning short draw (not more than about 6 inches on a draw), keeping twist out of the drafting zone by making sure it stays downstream of my forward hand. I then slide my forward hand tightly along the drafted portion of the fiber, smoothing the fibers and pushing air out, while allowing twist in slowly.

For me, whether or not there’s twist in the drafting zone and whether or not you compress the yarn as you let the twist in and/or before you wind on, define the most important distinction between worsted and woolen techniques.

Twist in the drafting zone, no compressing of the yarn = woolen technique

No twist in the drafting zone, smoothing the yarn as you go = worsted technique.

A note: If I’ve got a true combed top, I’m going to spin it true worsted. A real top combed by hand is labor-intensive and I do it for specific results.

Thanks to Mr. Jimbobspins for asking the questions about this on the Knitty forums.

Related Items

Fiber Geek Questionnaire, belatedly

This questionnaire comes from Fiber Femmes, a fiber arts webzine which consistently has great content (if I say so myself, as author of one article in a recent issue).

1. Do you raise fiber, animals or plant, or are a fiber user only? If you raise animals/plants…what do you raise?

I don’t raise fiber animals or crops. Livestock is a huge commitment and I have my hands plenty full as it is!

2. What’s your favorite fiber & why? Which fiber do you like the least & why?

There’s no way I could pick one single favourite fiber! They all have different strengths and weaknesses and allures, and I’m prone to the wiles of one or another in cycles. And I could ask, favourite in what sense? To spin? To use as yarn? To wear? For utility purposes?

I absolutely love to spin blends of fine wool and tussah silk, which I produce myself, and I love the resulting yarns as well, which can be fine and strong, big and lofty, and anything in between. From fall through spring, I love to wear things made from those blends as well. But for all-around miscellaneous usefulness, I would have to rate cotton very highly. Cotton is a tremendous workhorse fiber, and most of my clothes are storebought, mass-produced cotton (jeans, t-shirts, that sort of thing). I sew almost exclusively with cotton, the exception being when I sew with silk. I use cotton towels, dishcloths, and rags; cotton pervades my life, even though I almost never spin it. In fact, I really don’t like to spin cotton — cotton and I are not at peace with each other in that respect. Whereas protein fibers, I feel, want to be made into yarn, it always feels to me like cotton does not, and it fights me every step of the way, succumbing to yarn form only when tricked into it.

If I were going to pick a single least-favourite fiber, I’d have to go with corn-derived plastic fiber, ingeo. Unpleasant to spin, impossible to dye, with a melting point that suggests structural failure is possible with as little heat as could be generated by being left on the patio on a hot summer day, ingeo is totally inexplicable to me. I just don’t get it.

Seriously, what is the point of this fiber? “Oh look,” the hype about it says, “A fiber from renewable sources!” Well, huzzah — now with extensive industrial technology we’re able to create a fiber from renewable sources, finally! Thank heaven! What would we ever have done without a fiber that grows back? What, do you think cotton or linen grows in fields every year? Or fleece-bearing animals regrow their wooly coverings? If you want a sustainable product, what’s wrong with a natural one? What are we trying to accomplish here with ingeo? A more expensive, less functional, and nastier-feeling variant of acrylic yarns which is somehow superior simply because it’s corn-based? Where’s the value in that? Give me a nice regenerated cellulosic if we’re talking industrially-produced man-made fibers, and leave the oddball plastics to non-textile applications.

3. What’s your worst habit relating to your fiber?

Hrmmm. Most likely it would be not finishing projects I’ve started, or as Pippi puts it, lack of project monogamy.

4. In what ways does your fiber habit make you a better person?

Habit? It’s not a habit, it’s a lifestyle. To be honest, I don’t really know; I’ve been involved with fiber all my life and although I realized in my teens that not everybody else was, it still never occurred to me until maybe 2 or 3 years ago that I might not have been. Other people not engaged in fiber pursuits? Okay, I can see that; me? Never occurred to me that such a thing was really possible. Might as well ask me how I’m a better person for being able to read, make change, tie my shoes, speak, or use silverware. I’m aware that there are people who can’t do some of those things (and I even know some), but I can’t really picture being one.

5. How would your life be different if you had to give up fiber?

Well, for one thing, I’d have to go back to working for The Man, and I don’t think that would make anybody in my life happy; although I did reasonably well with a computer career for a while, there came a point when I simply was no longer content to be “a resource” stuck at a point beyond which it was clear I’d never advance, performing mindless and repetitive tasks for people who had no idea what they actually were, didn’t care, and leaving absolutely nothing tangible done for years of work.

Fiber work is tactile, real, and provides eternal growth opportunity and challenge; and being my own boss, I make the calls, instead of resenting that they’re being made by middle managers who don’t even understand what’s involved in doing the work, don’t understand the product, and value nothing but their own progression through a world of intangibles and doublespeak.

If I had to give up fiber, and go back to that lifestyle, I think consequences would be drastic for my sanity, and as a result, for my family. There are many reasons why I quit my computer career, but simply put, it was destroying my life to work constantly at absolutely nothing. I had to face facts and recognize that my entire life has been largely about fiber, and trying to make it not be so was madness.

6. What tools, yarns, books or gadgets can’t you live without?

Tough question, that I could take in two polar opposite ways. In the most literal interpretation with respect to fiber, the answer is a good knife or a multi-tool, and a means of starting fires, because using those and assuming I can find some wood or bone and some fiber, I can build a textile enterprise. I can make the tools, get the job done, and teach others to do the same; I’m a human textile mill thanks to heredity and environment. Are there tools I would miss, and that I could not recreate? Absolutely — but the lack of those tools would not stop me from practicing the fiber arts.

I didn’t use a book to learn a textile or fiber thing until I was in my 20s. Early in my life, I was trained to learn textile skills from other people very, very quickly, in a largely illiterate environment where, as it happens, the textiles themselves were tools for communication, record-keeping, and so forth. Even now for most things, I’d rather look at the textile object as a reference, than a written thing about it — even for things which eventually, I did learn to do from books. Mostly though, I spent my childhood and young adulthood never passing up an opportunity to learn a textile skill directly from a human. That said, I’m adding “make a list of my favourite textile reference books” to my to-do list, because I do have a long list and there are absolutely books and publications I’d miss very much.

As far as yarn goes, I think it would drive me absolutely nuts not to be able to spin my own yarn, and to live a life where I truly had no option but to seek out mass-produced yarn and choose from pre-fabricated alternatives that don’t really do exactly what I want. I suppose I could live with only the products of mills to sustain me, but it would be like living on fast food, TV dinners, and takeout.

7. What was your first fiber project?

The first thing I remember was learning simple braids (3 strands, 4 strands, and 5-stranded flat like shoelaces) when I was 2 and 3 years old, playing around in the weaving studio my father had then. I don’t remember learning to do the 3-strand braid, but I do remember him teaching me 4 and 5 strands. At 3, I remember getting my first one of those potholder looms with the elastic loops, and my mother teaching me to use it, and at 3 and 4 I remember both of my parents teaching me to do inkle loom weaving. My first real finished object was a Peruvian jakima at age 5.

8. Do you have any fiber mentors? Who are they and why?

I guess the only ones still living and still really actively mentoring me are my mother, and Nilda Callañaupa. Although you could probably count “the entire town of Chinchero, Peru,” really. Why are they active mentors for me? Well… because they’ll hold me to things, judge me, critique me, and because they already know what I ought to be doing that I’m not, and they’ll argue with me about it all, and what’s more, like me, they know what would be said by the fiber mentors in my life who’ve passed on.

There’s also quite a list of folks who’ve known my parents since I was a baby, who worked with both of them or with my father, who have done (and still do) a lot to keep me on track and encourage me to go further. There are so many of these fine folks it’s hard to make a list.

9. Are you a member of any guilds? If so, which one(s)?

My membership’s lapsed since I moved, but I plan to reactivate it; Black Sheep Guild in California, who all but came and got me and wouldn’t let me go, a few years ago, and who’ve uniformly been incredibly supportive.

There’s a problem with a lot of guilds, in that many of them meet at times when someone with a day job can’t go; I think this causes a generation gap and cultural gap between certain fiber scenes, in fact.

I’ve often been hesitant to go become involved with guilds as well, because at one point early in adulthood I grew tired of hearing people ask me “Oh are you Ed’s daughter?” and I felt like a hanger-on or something. Since my father died (three years ago this week), it’s been tough in some respects because, well, I miss my dad; and so do a lot of people in the fiber world, and sometimes it’s just sad to end up talking about him. For the first couple of years, I mostly couldn’t handle the emotional load.

10. What’s the most exciting fiber project you’ve undertaken?

Every single one, at the start of it. None of them, by the middle. By the end? Usually about one a year.

I know, that’s facile — but it’s true. Looking back, I’d say that my most technically exciting projects have been the bag I wove when I was 13, learning Palma y Ramos in Pitumarca, work on documenting intersecting warp hair ties in Accha Alta, and chullu knitting. The largest project is Chad’s poncho, which is likely to take me all summer this year, if I’m diligent and lucky; otherwise it’ll be another year.

The most emotionally charged project is one I’ve undertaken, but not done, yet. For many years, my father spindle-spun tussah silk, with the intent that it would be woven by Sara and then made into a tailored sportcoat for him. But he died before he was done, and the course his illness took left him unable to finish many things. My mother gathered up all the silk he’d spun, some plied, some unplied, none washed and set, none measured, and sent it to me. I’ve got to finish it and get it to Sara. My progress so far has been to look at it several times, and move it with me to 2 new homes.

And the single most extensive, biggest, complex, and consuming fiber project I’ve ever taken on is without a doubt Franquemont Fibers. I expect it’ll take my entire life and never be done.

11. How many people have you mentored? In which fiber arts?

I guess it depends what’s mentoring. I’ve taught lots of people; really mentoring? I’d say 2 or 3 in “Abby’s Holistic Yarn Geeking,” and 3 or 4 in spinning.

12. Do you consider fiber crafts to be functional or artistic?

Yes, I absolutely do.

Oh, you wanted me to pick one over the other? I can’t; part of the thing that really speaks to me about textiles is that when well-executed, they are the ultimate marriage of form and function, one so brilliantly done that both elements can become completely invisible, utterly ubiquitous, and essential to our lives in ways most of us have never even really considered.

13. What, mainly, do you make? Do you keep, or give away, most of your projects?

I make all sorts of things. Anything that strikes my fancy, and anything I want or need. Ultimately, I give away far more than I keep. I almost never make anything that isn’t intended to be used.

14. Are fiber crafts an avocation or vocation for you?

Both, without a doubt — and a lifestyle and an identity.

15. How many people are you committed to being a mentor for in 2007?

I’ve no concrete mentoring commitments for this year at this time; I’m planning on putting really serious efforts into myself and my business this year, working up to some real teaching plans.

Yarn Measurement

Renee asks:

You mentioned that you usually keep track of the length of fiber spun. I was wondering how you calculate that?

I usually keep a notebook handy and log my spinning in various ways, and I measure and write down several things about the yarn, then tag the yarn with what I guess you could call its associated metadata.

I like to keep track of how long it takes to spin and ply the yarn to some general degree, though sometimes it’ll be no more detail than “an evening watching TV.” If there’s anything particularly unusual about the fiber or the technique, I also jot that down. I also generally try to keep track of what the fiber was in case I want or need more, and so I can tell people if they ask. So my little notebook next to my spinning will have things in it like:

7 Feb 2007

Chasing Rainbows Merino/Tencel – African Savannah 2 oz

Split space-dyed top down center, 1st half /1 bobbin, 2nd half / next bobbin

3.5 hrs

8 Feb 2007

remaining CR merino/tencel on bobbin 2, 1.5 hrs

plied same, 2 hrs

Once the yarn is done, I take the bobbin and go skein the yarn, using my trusty counting skeiner, a Fricke freestanding floor skeiner with inbuilt counter (Fricke’s Winding Items). Mine is several years old now, and it’s been through a lot with me. The first thousand miles or so of yarn we skeined loosened the base a little and so now it has attractive Gorilla Glue detailing there. One arm of the skeiner was broken during the cross-country move last year, and reglued and secured further with wire. And the original counter gave up the ghost last fall, and had to be replaced! Now you might be thinking, “Wow, what a lemon,” but that couldn’t be further from the truth. You have to think about just how much yarn I skein. There are many days where I skein several miles of yarn. The thing has taken quite a beating, and it keeps going.

Anyway, thanks to the magic of the counter, I know how many yards there are immediately. In some cases, I choose to stop at a certain point and tie off the skein, removing it — if I’m putting things up in 100-yard or 200-yard skeins for a specific reason, like for sale, for instance. In other cases, I just keep going until the whole bobbin is empty. Then I add in the yardage — usually rounding down to the next 5, so if there are 178 yards, I call it 175 — in my little notebook, and take the skein(s) to be washed.

Once they’re completely dry, I weigh them in grams and ounces, and add that to the notebook as well. Usually, I calculate the yards per pound (ypp) at this point as well. And supposing I’m not being lazy, this is when I measure wpi, by wrapping the yarn around a ruler.

When all is said and done, I have the following metadata available to me about the yarn:

  • 660 yards / 600 meters
  • 2 ounces / 56 grams
  • 38 wpi
  • 5280 ypp
  • Spinning Time: 7 hrs
  • Material: Merino/Tencel handpainted top from Chasing Rainbows, African Savannah

That lets me describe the yarn in post like this one, and keep a record of it with the post as well, including photos. If it’s yarn that I plan to sell, I can determine my cost to produce it and establish pricing, and I retain the ability to reproduce the yarn at a later date without having to keep the yarn itself to crib from. What’s more, this lets me get a sense of how long it takes me in general to produce certain kinds of things, and discuss the minutiae with other people who can’t see or handle the yarn.

I don’t always measure angle of twist or twists per inch, but sometimes I do; usually if I have a picture it’s apparent to me what the twist is like in the yarn. Similarly, sometimes I write down minutiae about prep and spinning technique, but sometimes it’s obvious to me and I don’t.

What I should do is actually produce sample cards with samples of the yarn and all this information on them! That would be truly principled and orderly… but instead, mostly I use digital photos, my photo gallery, and my blog, to track things.

If you don’t have a counting skeiner, a simple, quick-and-dirty way to figure your yardage is to skein the yarn, wash it and dry it, and then stretch the skein out next to a yardstick and see about how long it is. This won’t be perfectly accurate, but you’ll be close! Suppose it’s 24 inches long; one loop of that skein is therefore 48 inches of yarn. Now, count the loops (I like to count ‘em in pairs to make it go faster, or in threes). If you have (for example) 37 loops, then 37 x 48 = 1776 inches, and 1776 inches divided by 36 inches in a yard comes to 49.3 yards. I would round that down to 45 yards; I would always rather have underestimated the yardage I’ve got than overestimated it! I would rather be surprised by leftovers than a shortage.

I always recommend weighing your yarn after finishing, and once it’s well dry; personally, on a long skein of yarn, I always lose a couple of grams of weight in the wash, that are actually oils from my fingers when I spin, little bits of dirt, and so forth. Similarly, you want to measure your wpi after finishing, as yarn will generally change a bit in the wash. In fact, ideally I would reskein my yarn after washing it, and sometimes I do — definitely if I’m going to enter it in a competition, in which case I skein it meticulously for that purpose.

I think that’s about it for what I usually track about a given yarn, and how. To sum up, I have a little spiral-bound notebook in which I record the key things, and then I transfer that to my photo gallery notes and/or my blog when I write up the yarn, as well as to a tag on the skein (even if I don’t write up the yarn and take pictures). Why do I do all of this? Because it’s a matter of seconds here and there while doing the work, but long and annoying steps to have to take later if I don’t track it when I have the chance to do it easily! It saves me from having a skein of random yarn in my stash that I’d like to do something with, but I’ve got no clue how many yards there were, or where I got the fiber if I want to do more, and that sort of thing.

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.

A Couple of Questions Answered

I’ve got two questions to answer today, both from Melanie at Pink Lemon Twist. Let me take a moment also to say that Melanie does some beautiful work, and I’m particularly a fan of her lace designs. Besides, she and I share the delight of having taken Darth Vader places on Halloween; surely this means something, though I’m not sure what.

Anyway, Melanie’s done some wonderful lace patterns that I like quite a bit, and I’m very much an admirer of her stuff; and her Hanami shawl, one which I’ve read about on her blog as she worked on it, is the first pattern I’ve purchased in at least a year.

Question the first: have I ever considered getting a custom wheel built for me?

Indeed I have! I’ve dithered endlessly on the subject as well. Some years ago, I told my father that I had decided to start spinning on a wheel and see if I liked it (as opposed to only using spindles, and viewing wheels as “cheating,” which I did when I was a kid).

“Hrmmm,” he said. “Well, if you’re going to do that, you should talk to my friend Alden Amos and have him build you something.” I looked around briefly, discovered that Mr. Amos’ wheels were not cheap and came with a wait measured in years and would take up a lot of space in the very very small California tract house where we lived at the time, and like any rotten kid, totally ignored my father’s advice. Then I dithered and dithered even further about whether or not I, in fact, wanted to get a spinning wheel at all.

While I was dithering, my better half gave me an Ashford Kiwi for Christmas. Within two weeks, it was clear to me that I did, in fact, want to be spinning on a wheel, and within three weeks it was clear to everyone that the Kiwi was not enough wheel to keep up with me, and I was going to need more wheel power. The net result of that was that I performed exhaustive research into what wheels I could get now, at whatever price, that would fit my lifestyle and have the broadest range of capabilities, and by the first week in February I’d bought a Majacraft Suzie Pro.

That Suzie has stood me in very, very good stead for several years now, and has been extended in just about every imaginable way. Indeed, the wheel has without exaggeration spun enough yarn for me to string from here to the Majacraft factory in New Zealand and back… loosely. In 3-ply at least. The long way to New Zealand. There’s nothing I haven’t spun on that wheel, either. It’s a very, very versatile workhorse of a wheel.

I’ve also acquired a number of other wheels, numerous of them quite exceptional, such as my Journey Wheel. I’ve spun on practically every wheel I run across at a shop, show, event, you name it. I’ve read up on wheel history and obscure wheel designs and theorized about what I wanted and how it could be done. I’ve discussed wheel mechanics and my wants and needs with anybody and everybody with whom I ever discuss the subject of wheels. I’ve made up totally fictional wheels with capabilities that border on the absurd.

But even so, no matter what, every wheel has its limitations. When I get to spinning fine and high-twist, alas, none of my flyer wheels ever seem to be quite fast enough, quiet enough, and so forth. Plying super-fine high twist yarns, I am forever yearning for my parents’ great wheel, except I want it to use bobbins and work while I’m sitting on my butt, too, of course. And my Roberta is too noisy at high speeds. And for spinning fine, it’s bobbin lead single drive. Oh, the list just goes on and on.

So finally I came to a point where I had to say to myself, “Self, you really do need to just have someone build you something.” I thought a lot about who. There are some fabulous custom wheels out there and some fabulous wheelbuilders… and finally it dawned on me that, you know, if I had taken my father’s advice years ago, and just gone and talked to Alden Amos, instead of saying “Well it’s expensive, and there’s a long wait…” I’d have an Alden Amos wheel by now. What’s more, talking to lots of people about it over the years, one of the things I’ve heard about him is that he’s told people “That’s not what you want. This is what you want.” Upon reflection, I realized that this is exactly what I need: someone to whom I can lay out all my absurd wants, who’s able to say “You may think this is what you want, but here’s what you really need,” and then build it.

So, presently, I’m going through Alden and Stephenie’s wheel and spinning questionnaires, evaluating my entire spinning lifestyle, and asking them to Solve My Problem(tm). No more dithering; I could dither about this forever.

Another thing I have to confess about the custom wheel situation: the same deeply ingrained, Chinchero-bred arrogance that caused me to say “I don’t need anything but a stick to do high-quality spinning, forget all this fancy equipment,” causes me to have a knee-jerk tendency to say “I really don’t require super-high-end equipment in order to do really good work!” Well, maybe I don’t; but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t use it and I wouldn’t like it and there’s no reason whatsoever for me to want it.

So, anyway, here I am in the throes of the custom wheel question!

Second question: What do you spin when you just spin?

I’m not a big fan of knits using bulky yarns either, but I was wondering, what weight yarn do you find yourself using the most? I realize that you (like most of us) probably have a range, but is there a default weight you spin to when you are just spinning for fun? –Melanie

This actually falls right in with the questionnaires about my spinning that I’m working on for the custom wheel. To some extent it depends on the specific fiber; but the bottom line is that I spin fine when I just spin for fun. “Fine” in this case means a laceweight 2-ply, fingering to sock weight 3-ply, depending on the fiber and the prep. All of those fine yarns a couple of entries back, ranging from 40 wpi to 52 wpi in 2-ply, were comfort spinning (though on the thin side).

But I have moods… and I also really really try to make myself shake things up a bit now and again. Last fall, I had a 2-week boucle binge, which combined very fine silk singles for binders, with a thick-and-thin wool/silk single, where the thin parts were about 15 wpi and the fat parts were about 8.

But, okay, let’s force me to nail this down here. As evidenced by what knitting needles I have the most of, I think I mostly seem to randomly churn out 2-ply and 3-ply yarns that would get knit up on size 3 needles. And I actually think part of this is equipment related; if I had a faster wheel I’d probably go finer. On a spindle, I reflexively tend to yarn for Peruvian weaving, at 50-60 wpi in 2-ply.

The absolute bar none largest needle project I have going right now is for size 6 needles. The green sweater I think’ll be size 7 needles:

That’s thicker than I usually spin just to spin. So, I dunno, I guess 15-30 wpi in 2-ply is probably my default range on a wheel. And that’s actually one of the reasons I really wanted the sock machine, was to eat all the smallish quantities of rather random yarn in not-fast-project grists.

I generally don’t sell anything finer than sock yarn; it spends too long sitting around waiting for a lace knitter to want it, a lot of weavers don’t spin and have misconceptions about handspun yarn and weaving, thread crochet folks don’t think of using handspun yarn mostly, and none of it’s cheap. I’d love to sell handspun lace yarns, but it wouldn’t be cheap to do so, certainly not compared to the commercial options out there.

But yeah, I guess I like laceweight yarn and sock yarn as a default. I think, too, that I feel like yarns of that ilk have strong “turn into something magically” potential when marinating in the stash.

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