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Making A Tweed Blend

Well, let’s see if I can’t get this one online before dashing off to the dentist — yep, the dentist again! But it’s nothing new; just a checkup (hopefully the last one) on how my dental implant is doing, after which hopefully we schedule further work towards the elimination of the gap in my mouth that was a broken crown with broken root. It’s been since Thanksgiving with this round of battle with that tooth, which has a long and storied history… though it’s gone now, replaced by an implant, which sometime this summer will sport an attractive and functional crown. The gap has been there since January and I’m growing mighty tired of it.

Anyway, today we’re talking a little bit about how one makes a blend to spin up into a tweedy yarn. First, what’s a tweed?

A rough, irregular, soft and flexible, unfinished shaggy woollen named for the tweed river that separates England from Scotland. It is made of a two-and-two twill weave, right-hand or left-hand in structure. Outstanding tweeds include Bannockburn, English, Harris, Irish, Linton, Manx, Scotch and Donegal.

Fashion Dictionary

A tweed yarn, in brief, is a yarn one might use to create such a fabric. Like the fabric, it should be rough, irregular, soft and flexible. A tweed yarn can have tweed elements which add texture, tweed elements which add colour, or both.

It’s interesting to note that some textile experts say tweed fabrics are not named after the Tweed river, but are instead so called because the Scots spelling of “twill” was once “tweel” and a misspelling happened on an invoice. Actually, there’s all sorts of interesting debates one can have about the notion of “tweed yarn,” but we’ll leave those for another day (or in the comments). True tweed fabrics are one of those things like champagne — the grapes have to come from the right part of France, or it’s a sparkling wine. So there is a lot of discussion to be had about the subject, and I won’t claim to be a True Tweed Authority.

Moving along, I decided to produce a blend for a textural and colour-based tweed 2-ply yarn, using some smallish amounts of assorted fibers that I had lying around.

Some superwash wool top…

..to which I added some bombyx silk seconds…

…and then more superwash top in a bright red that doesn’t go with the greens or the purple at all…

…followed up with some yellow superwash (are we talking crazy and clashing here or what?)…

…and then, let’s ease back off the shocking contrasts here for a second, and tone things down with some gray alpaca, which will also feel very nice in the resulting yarn…

…and smooth out the colours with white tussah silk. I remember when I started learning to paint with acrylics, I learned you always need 17,000 more tubes of “Titanium White” than any other colour, because white evens things out.

So here are our tweed ingredients:

The greens are our base colour, which will dominate. The red and yellow are contrast elements, as is the bombyx silk, which will clump somewhat in this blend. The alpaca and silk are there for feel, and for smoothing things out colourwise as they’re gray and white.

We start by carefully feeding small bits of pale green onto the carder.

And then the darker green.

Then some pale green again.

Now let’s throw on the bombyx silk seconds!

Look how much those clump up initially!

Next, the alpaca. I know that the alpaca and silk will be happy next to each other and play nice with static in this particular blend as we go.

After the alpaca, the tussah silk, red and yellow superwash, and a bit more of the greens gets added to the mix. By the time all is said and done, we have a horrible looking main drum:

and totally unspinnable, ugly mess of a batt:

So clearly, this needs another pass in order to turn into a spinnable preparation and to mix colours and fibers more.

Breaking the first-pass batt up into smaller pieces, we carefully feed those pieces in until we have a somewhat neater-looking main drum…

See why this needs more carding? Look down into a piece of batt as it lines up for its second pass, and observe the clumping of fibers.

At the end of the second pass, you can see the main drum looks much better than after the first blending pass, but let’s be honest — this is still not a spinnable state.

I mean, you could spin it, but I don’t like it. You’d get novelty effects of course, see…

…but here’s the real problem, that shows up when we split the batt up to prepare for the third pass.

Yes, if you like clumps, you’re done now. But then I rate it a novelty batt and not a tweed batt. Speaking of novelty batts, you can save these bits of carding waste and use them there if you like:

Coming up on pass 3, you can still clearly see clumps everywhere.

If you look closely at the main drum, and see things going kinda diagonally, you’ll know there’s at least one more pass coming up after this, to make sure this spins nicely.

Since colours are also not exactly evenly dispersed, and the batt’s actually too full for one batt, I split it in half…

…and then split those halves in half again…

And I’ll take one from each pile and turn that into a batt, then do it again, for pass 4. Also on pass 4, I add in a little more of the yellow and red contrast elements.

I do this even though I know it consigns me to a fifth pass. This is the only way to get clear bits of contrast flecking in the final yarn. Here’s how things look after that fourth pass.

There are still clumps of the bombyx, too. Bombyx really likes to clump, which is why we set it up to earlier. We want it to clump a little.

What we have now we absolutely could spin, but it’s not up to my standards for a tweed blend yet.

There are still fibers clumping and running crazy through the batt.

This won’t spin up nicely. You’d be chugging along and then BAM…

See? See what I mean? Here it is going in for pass 5, and just look at that ugly snarly bit.

That must be destroyed. Okay, now we’re talking.

Observe how there are still clumps of bombyx silk, though the tussah and alpaca have spread out evenly. Observe how there are still streaks of contrasting colour here and there. These will produce our tweed elements when we spin it up.

First, let me take a moment to say that this is five passes with a carder that really, really does a lot of work with a single pass, and which features fine cloth and brush attachment. Absent these features, the blend would either not be possible, or would take more like 8-10 passes. Tweed blends are nothing if not labour intensive.

Well, so we (and by we I mean “I”) spun it and plied it and here it is, hanging in 2-ply form before washing. I want to take a second here and point out that yes indeed, before washing, this skein kinks up on itself a bit and looks to be twisting. Some people say this is unbalanced. Those people, while entitled to their opinions, are also entitled to yarn which wears like Kleenex. Trust me, this is a soft, drapy, low-twist tweed.

After washing and hanging to dry unweighted, we get this…

Which is also this…

And here’s how it looks up close in direct sun…

So what are the stats? Well, I haven’t measured the wraps per inch but I’ll ballpark ’em at around 15. See? I’m lazy sometimes. This is 590 yards, from 154 grams or 5.25 ounces. Machine washable, too.

From garish contrast and dissonance, we have achieved a yarn which is irregular, yet soft and supple, comfortable but with adequate wear properties for use in lasting garments — a tweed.

Making A Tweed Flickr Photoset

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The Salmon Electric

This counts as a Finish-A-Thon project, because I set this top aside to spin for example purposes last fall, and hadn’t spun it yet:

It’s one ounce of tussah silk top, dyed with acid dyes using low water immersion — a stock technique for my hand-dyed silks.

June asked about striping in a previous yarn — did the yarn stripe, and how did I do that? The answer is, yes! I split the commercial top straight down the middle as evenly as possible, and spun each half onto separate bobbins trying to carefully preserve the colour sequence.

This tactic works best with a handpainted top rather than one dyed with low-water immersion; in a top where the colour shifts are pretty even across the whole width of the top, rather than having occasional randomness to it or parts where a colour shift is longer on one edge than the other. So, I knew I wouldn’t be able to get a totally striping yarn in this case, just one with closely related shifts in colour and a handful of surprises.

I spun these tugged-off tufts of yarn using my Majacraft Suzie Pro at its top accelerated ratio of 32:1, with worsted technique; specifically, forwarding drafting using a 6-8 inch make or draw. Depending on the colour saturations, though, in some cases I spun from the fold while in others I spun from the end of the top, trying to control the drafting with more of an eye towards colour than anything else.


Spinning fine also makes a big difference in how defined colour shifts are when working with a multicoloured fiber. The finer you spin, the fewer fibers in your yarn, and the less the likelihood of muddying up the colours completely.

One bobbin layer into plying, you can see that although there are some barber-pole spots and some muddying, there are still distinct colour shifts in the 2-ply yarn.

It’s unfortunate that the depth of field isn’t better on this plying flyer shot, or you could see that on the right flyer hook, many miles of very fine yarn, much of it silk, over the years have in fact sliced a small groove in the brass. My resident brass expert tells me there is no real solution save replacement. It’s mostly not a huge problem, but it can affect the takeup a tiny bit here and there, and when you’re spinning really fine, that’s annoying.

Whenever I split top down the middle, I wonder, oh yes, I wonder — just how close to even am I really? Then when I finish the first half, and start the second, I invariably think, “Crap, this is not as thick as the other one,” and experience has shown me I’m right about that at least half the time. So I do a gut check — just how confident do I feel about that? I pull off a few tufts of the top, and think about whether or not they really do contain less fiber than their prior counterparts. If I’m pretty sure they do, I thin down the second single a tiny bit — not so much it’s really noticeable, but to about as much thinner than the first as I think I can go and still have them seem even in plying. And when I get down to that final layer on the bobbins of singles, I’m always thinking, “Oh hell.” But at the same time, the colour shifts are usually lining up allright in the plied yarn, so I keep going.

I also know that experience has shown me that for whatever reason, my first layer on the second bobbin is always deeper and thicker than the first layer on the second bobbin. It just is. So even though it looks flagrantly obvious that there’s not nearly as much on the bobbin at right, I can’t be 100% sure. Like I say, I’m only right about the uneven split about half the time; as often as not, instead of running short on the second bobbin, I’m running long. If I’m within 10 yards I figure that’s running even and pat myself on the back for being so great.

As a side note, when they are clearly not lining up, sometimes I’ve been known to break the single that has too much of whichever colour it is, and remove some yardage, setting that aside on a storage bobbin of some sort (like an empty toilet paper tube or one of my 12o-some-odd antique pirns). I then splice that single coming off the bobbin to the point going onto the wheel where I broke it off, and proceed until there’s a spot where I can cram those removed yards of single into the colour sequence how I want. In other words, I cheat.

When all was said and done, this time, in fact, there was less yardage of singles on the second bobbin — by about 30 yards. Since that 30 yards had one more colour shift in it, I opted to discard it rather than use the Andean plying bracelet technique to stick it on the end of this skein, as I didn’t really want a barberpoled end. Plus it was past my bedtime, and I’m known to have a bad tendency to say “I’ll just finish plying this, there’s not that much here, and…” So Chad was tapping his feet and clearing his throat reminding me that, as someone complaining of tiredness and difficulty adjusting to DST, I really shouldn’t fall prey to that one.

So, I didn’t skein it or measure it or any of that sort of thing either, reserving that for the morning. It took me at least 4 tries over my coffee this morning to get a decent semblance of a WPI count, and even longer to get it to settle on a ruler to try taking a photo (silk can be slippery). It ended up at 42 wpi. I never did get it to stay settled on the ruler for a photo that would actually show it clearly, alas.

Oh, and it came to 520 yards, thus bearing out my theory that “about 500 yards” is the most I can get out of an ounce of tussah on the wheel I’ve got now.

And now we’ll just look at pictures.


(and next, the other side of the skein)


I guess I should be piling up a list of really fabulous projects for about 500 yards of 40 wpi silk.

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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.”

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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.

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Finish-A-Thon

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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Do you know anything about Andean chullu knitting?

I mentioned chullu knitting on the spin-list, and was asked for a little more information. Here’s my reply, and a repost of something from 2005 about learning to do it, with pictures.

The Question and Reply

I’d like to know more about the Chullus you mentioned. Do you know how they are “knitted differently”?

In fact I do. 😉 The basics are that they’re stranded colourwork with 3 and sometimes 4 strands carried and secured with sort of a braid methodology between stitches; the “working side” that you look at is the purl side, and all the work is purled. All the strands are carried around the neck and tensioned that way. I’m told it’s similar to an old Arabic knitting technique, and it’s believed to have made its way to Peru via the Spanish at the time of conquest. They are knitted bottom-up, starting with a rather complicated braided cast-on and typically a zig-zag pointed edging. Traditional patterns are the weaving patterns, but worked horizontally rather than vertically and sometimes with some variations as well.

Are those the “bowler” type hats?

They’re the pointed earflap hats. The form factor is very popular and is often used in hats that are knitted via more European means, but the traditional Andean chullu (sometimes spelled chullo) is a form of knitting that came very close to disappearing in most regions. It’s a significantly steeper learning curve than other forms of knitting, and demands weaverly yarn-management hand knowledge in order to perform with any reasonable rate of speed. A skilled chullu knitter can make on in about 2-3 nights, or one really really long day. They’re knit with the smallest metal needles that can be found (the yarn is small), and the needles are often made from bicycle spokes.

Really interested in the knitting technique, and more about the tightly spun yarn that is used to make them.

The yarn is simply Andean weaving yarn. It’s a 2-ply yarn, spun and plied very very tightly; so tightly that European and US textile traditions view it as hopelessly overspun, both in the spin and the ply. When I learned about it a couple of years ago, we weren’t able on short notice to find small enough needles to work with my stash of Peruvian weaving yarn, so my example was done on size 2 needles with some baby yarn or another that I had lying around.

Part 1

Years and years and years ago, before kindergarten and all, before I spoke Spanish or Quechua, I made friends with a girl — or she made friends with me — even though at the time, we had no language in common. Because when you’re a kid, you don’t need that, and it comes eventually. She was a little older than me and she could talk me into anything. We got older and learned lots of things together, competing with each other to show off our spinning and weaving skills, chasing her family’s sheep around when taking them out to pasture, walking several km to school when it was schooltime… and then I’d go back to the US, and have no friends to play with and no yarn stuff competition with my peers and all that. Then I’d go back to Peru again and there would be my friend, just like before, and we’d pick right up where we left off. I remember being in 3rd grade and thinking about my friend and saying that it was like we were part of the same pattern, except she was the one in Peru and I was the one from the US and so someday, it was going to be nice to have her come where I lived and that would make everything balance out right. She was a lot more competent and accomplished than I was, and quicker, and stronger, and faster, and she kicked my butt at pretty much everything. I had all kinds of chances and opportunities and stuff that she didn’t — just by chance, and all, because I happened to have been born in the US and whatnot.

We got older and stuff, and somewhat more serious and somber in our competitiveness. Eventually we were teenage peers. She could still talk me into anything. I was an inch taller than her. She was way better at math and could do more things at one time than I could. When the woman who was like a grandmother to me died of pneumonia and we walked to her burial in a cold, steady rain, we shared her heavy shawl and I sobbed on her shoulder and she caught me when I slipped and almost fell into the graveyard mud. She had a ewe that bled to death lambing out on a terrace, and we took turns carrying the bloody little lamb back to her house and tried to save him, but he eventually died anyway. Her mother and my mother have the same name. She was as much a daddy’s girl as I was. But she worked harder and did more things than me, and she did them better. I knew we’d be friends forever and she’d always edge me out on pretty much everything. I never grudged her that, or envied her, or anything. She deserved everything in the world and she worked for it all.

But, one day back in the US, I learned she had just died of typhoid at seventeen. In some respects I still haven’t come to grips with the fact that she died and I lived. In my heart of hearts I think I still feel like it’s the most unfair thing I have ever personally been party to in any way. Oh, there’s other stuff that’s up there or tops it for heartbreak, but it’s not as unfair as her dying so young. Her death is the one and only thing I’ve never been able to think about and say “Yeah, but you know, tragedies happen and life isn’t fair, just deal.” I mean I deal, and always have, but I still think, UNFAIR.

My Peruvian godmother once told me that, so long as you can in any way cry a tear for a person who’s dead and gone, you owe that person a debt. It took me a while to think of what debt I might owe my dead friend Angelica and eventually I concluded that, among many other things, I owed it to her to live a worthy life. Because, you see, I got to keep mine and she didn’t. And if it would have been me in her shoes… well it couldn’t have been, really, because white American girls from Ivy League families don’t die of dehydration while recovering from typhoid in a third-world hospital. She even might not have died if she’d gotten sick while we were there. For my whole adult life I have lived with that, without ever a week going by but that I think of her, and wonder what she’d be doing if she were still alive.

Well, time passes. She had a little sister named Carolina. I never knew Carolina well — she was several years younger, and she didn’t spend so much time running around with the kids our age. She was a kid sister, just like I had. But you know… as time passes and people grow up, it’s funny. She looks a lot like her older sister looked, but she’s a bit shorter. She’s doing a lot of the stuff I think her big sister would have done. And right now, she’s in the US and I get to have her stay with me for a few days… like I always thought her sister someday would do. I’m so glad she can come hang out with me and my family and know what my life here is like. She is here in the US studying English and doing some lectures and demonstrations about weaving, for CTTC.

I never learned how to START a chullu, the Peruvian hat, only how to continue one once started, and *that* was 25 years ago. So, since Carolina was going to be working on hers last night I pleaded with her to show me how to start one. And it’s pesky! Which is why you don’t have an 8-year-old start it! 😉 I was never anywhere near as interested in knitting as weaving, so… I can’t say I tried very hard to learn it before, either. But now, I must achieve victory over starting the chullu! Even if this one is a small example fella and not a real one.

Part 2

More work on the chullu knitting last night — which is actually a coin purse type object, so as to be small.


Raki-raki


Cutij Kh’eswa


Inside. See? No floats at all, up to 3 colours carried at a time, this tactic is the real meat of this style of knitting… except, so’s the cast-on. And understanding Andean patterns… and knowing how to work with yarn under tension and… well anyway. My mission now is to increase sufficiently that I can do Jakaku Sisan. And that will probably be coin purse sized, so that’ll probably get followed by another cutij-kh’eswa and raki-raki, if I know anything at all about the RULES.

Also, again I vow, the next one of these I make is not going to be sport weight floppy superwash wool. No. It will be high-twist 2-ply handspun.

The finished pouch!

Shown with small pockets (sort of like glove fingers) which will be obscured by the fringe when that’s done being applied.

Totally Unrelated

And also, this being the date that it is… happy birthday, Ed, you’d have been 62 and I still miss you every day and extra on your birthday.

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A Swatch, Some Comfort Spinning

Well, I finally managed to snap a few photos of the autoknitter swatch of that Crown Jewels colourway yarn:

Crown Jewels Sock
Crown Jewels Sock Blend

It’s really a challenge to catch a picture that shows both the colours true, and the sheen that the yarn has — it’s just plain the wrong time of year for good natural light. So these photos are truest for colour, but don’t do justice to the incredible sheen that the superwash/silk blends produce.

That aside, I did a little bit of fine spinning this week. I had a problem, a silly one: I had been leaving one of my two Majacraft lace bobbins tied up with some spun yarn on it from before we moved — since last January or February actually. That’s right: a year of sitting on the bobbin. Why? Because it was this 50/50 merino/cashmere blend that I knew I had another several ounces of somewhere, but it hasn’t turned up yet. So finally I just said “Aw, forget it,” and spun a roughly similar amount of plain ol’ merino to ply it with and clear the bobbin. Plus I bought another pair of lace bobbins so as to not engage in such stupidity again. So I figure with one ply merino and one ply merino/cashmere it’s a 75% merino/25% cashmere yarn. Amazingly, it ended up being just about an ounce — 28 grams. It’s 315 yards, 45 wpi (wraps per inch) in 2-ply form, and so about 5,000 ypp (yards per pound). And pretty much impossible to photograph, being white:

75% Merino / 25 % Cashmere 2-ply

And it seems I’m presently bingeing on the yarn that is screaming “Would you buy a macro lens already?” This is what I cleared off the lace bobbins to get to: a 2-ounce thing of Chasing Rainbows merino/tencel that I picked up at Stitches West last year. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there are those of you who call me an unrepentant enabler (and you’re probably right), but I’m in no way immune, and particularly to Nancy Finn’s work. She chooses exceptional fiber, and does some of they finest dye work around… and I have never, not once, walked away from a vendor selling her wares without purchasing some. Seriously, not once.

Chasing Rainbows Merino/Tencel, African Savannah, single on the bobbin

But I really feel no remorse about this whatsoever. Spinning her fibers is always incredibly enjoyable, and it was what I decided to treat myself to doing to balance out the lows in a rather long week — did I mention I caught a nice cold, I presume from extra time outside in the chill fixing that garage door?

Chasing Rainbows Merino/Tencel spun fine 2-ply

I split the entire length of the top as close to the center as I could, just eyeballing it; and then I spun it slowly end to end preserving as much of the colour separation as I could, one half to a bobbin. And if I’d had those two more lace bobbins I’d have rewound the singles onto them and plied directionally, but they weren’t here yet. It still came out nice, though…

2-ply merino/tencel

In the final analysis it made for 662 yards, and a 38 wpi 2-ply yarn, which is reasonably even for a little bit of comfort spinning, and with the colour shifts working out fairly nicely throughout the yarn. It’s just got a tremendous shine to it, and the drape is going to be stellar; crocheted lace, I think. But I’m undecided. And I even got lucky with a happenstance beam of sunlight pouring in and hitting the stairs today! I grabbed the skein as fast as I could to snap a few pictures of it.

Merino/Tencel 2-ply

More pictures and closeups and whatnot are here:

Abby’s Handspun Yarn: Fine Yarns

With the acquisition of some fine anti-static graphite powder, I think I’m going to be able to get the lace setup on the Suzie Pro a little bit slicker, and do some really fine yarn soon. But right now… well, right now, I’m going to do another one of those Chasing Rainbows merino/tencels.