Ply Experiment

A few weeks ago, I watched Jillian Moreno’s spinning class on #Craftsy called Ply to Knit: Spin the Yarn You Really Want. If you’re not familiar with Jillian, she writes and edits KnittySpin articles as well as a weekly spinning blog post on the Knitty blog. I enjoy her writing and her spinning very much, so when Craftsy had a sale I figured I’d give the class a try.

Screenshot from Craftsy.

Screenshot from Craftsy.

I don’t intend this post to be a thorough review of the class, but I will say that I probably would have been a little disappointed if I had paid full price for it. I think Jilllian is a great teacher and I love the Craftsy platform, I just don’t think there was enough material in the class that I didn’t already know for me to feel it worth the money. I would recommend it for an absolute beginning spinner. As a very beginner, or as someone who has only spun on spindles and just started on a wheel, it is always worthwhile to watch someone else’s spinning technique. You will invariably pick up little tricks and tips you never thought of if you are primarily self-taught. If you’ve never plied singles together before, the class will likely provide lots of little lightbulb moments all at once. Since I’ve been spinning for three years now (how did that happen?!) and I’m a voracious reader of spinning-related books, blogs, boards, and magazines, not much in the class was news to me. At one point, I thought she was going to start getting into some of the more unusual ways to ply yarns (for art yarns and such), but then she stopped and implied that those topics were for another class.

Ply Experiment | Woolen Diversions

Three bobbins of Falkland wool, ready to ply.

There was, however, one excellent nugget of information that I gleaned from the class, my own personal aha! moment that inspired this post. I’ve sometimes been underwhelmed by my handspun, feeling that some skeins lacked the oomph that other lovely skeins had, but I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why or what was different. I plied them to the point where they seemed balanced, I did the same to one skein as I did to another, but I didn’t really pay close attention to exactly what I was doing. This class taught me that the secret to great yarn is in the plying twist.

Ply Experiment | Woolen Diversions

(L to R): Ply 1, Ply 2, and Ply 3

You see, I knew that handspun skeins lost some twist after finishing, but I didn’t really understand how much, nor did I know how to tell how much twist was enough to add in the first place. Jillian does an excellent job demonstrating how to detect the amount of plying twist you are adding, and how to get a feel for when enough is enough. So I conducted a small experiment to see what difference the amount of plying twist really made in the finished yarn. I used the same Falkland wool singles for a all three 3-ply yarn samples (spun Z twist on a 8:1 ratio whorl), and I changed the ply twist as follows for each one:

  • Ply 1: ply ratio = 8:1 (same whorl), treadles per length = 5
  • Ply 2: ply ratio = 8:1 (same whorl), treadles per length = 3-4 (roughly alternated)
  • Ply 3: ply ratio = 6:1 (larger whorl), treadles per length = 4-5 (roughly alternated)

By adjusting how many times you treadle before you allow a set length of yarn (whatever is comfortable and consistent for you) wind onto the bobbin, you are adjusting the amount of ply twist that enters the yarn. You also adjust the amount of ply twist by changing your whorl or drive ratio, which determines how much twist energy is inserted with each treadle (higher ratio/smaller whorl = more twist, while lower ratio/larger whorl = less twist). Ply 1 seemed to have way too much ply twist, while ply 2 (not pictured above) had too little with 3 treadles per length, but too much with 4. So I lowered the ratio and aimed for roughly 4 to 5 treadles per length, which resulted in the nice easy loop on plyback that looked just about right, and this amount of twist is what I used for plying the rest of my singles.

I then took a series of notes and measurements about the different yarns. I measured wraps per inch (WPI), which helps classify the thickness of the yarn, and yards per pound (YPP), which you can think of as a measure of the density (or grist) of yarn. In the photo gallery above (hover for captions or click for closeups), you’ll notice that the sample strand for Ply 3 (to the right) is much longer than for Ply 1 or Ply 2. Those samples were strands that were cut until they balanced out on a McMorran Yarn Balance (one way to measure YPP). The Ply 3 strand is longer because the scale could hold a longer length before it balanced out, meaning that yarn had a much higher YPP. (Translation: you could spin more yardage out of a pound of wool at this grist because it is a thinner, less dense yarn.) I used a chart from an old issue of Spin-Off to help determine what the knitting weight was (classifications are not very standardized at all so it differs by source) but another chart you could use is here. The stats:

  • Singles: WPI = 25, YPP = 2,350, knitting weight = laceweight to fingering
  • Ply 1: WPI = 9 -10, YPP = 525, knitting weight = aran to bulky
  • Ply 2: WPI = 10, YPP = 625, knitting weight = aran
  • Ply 3: WPI = 10 – 11, YPP = 900, knitting weight = worsted
Ply Experiment | Woolen Diversions

Swatches, pre-blocking.

While the changes in measurements were subtle for WPI, I was a little shocked at how big of a difference small tweaks in the number of treadles per length or the size of the whorl made in the YPP measurements, or the grist of the yarn. More ply twist (Ply 1) lead to a thicker, denser, chunkier yarn while less (Ply 3) resulted in a thinner, fluffier, more pliable yarn. I commenced swatching each yarn on size US 8 needles in a variety of stitches.

From a distance, the swatches don’t look all that different and their stitch gauges were practically identical, but you’ll have to trust me that they each felt different to knit. Ply 3 (which I knit first) was delightful in every way: fluffy, soft, smooth, and it produced a cohesive, fluid fabric in all stitch patterns. Ply 2 was distinctly beefier than Ply 3, it was a tad thicker and denser and it felt it, but it had a pleasant ‘toothy’ feel to it and I could see adding a little extra ply twist to purposefully make an extra spring-y yarn. Ply 1 was the least pleasant to knit with, I would have wanted to go up a needle size to relax the knitting process. If you look closely, you might notice that the extra ply twist is much more visible in the stitches of Ply 1, making the fabric as a whole look less smooth. The extra twist created great 3D relief in the seed stitch sections, but is somewhat less desirable in the stockinette and garter stitches.

Conclusion: You could certainly not pay much attention to your plying and get a fairly serviceable yarn in the end. However, I did find that checking for the right amount of ply twist (and actually counting my treadles!) produced a yarn I enjoyed knitting with the most. From a practical standpoint, plying ‘properly’ also produced a heck of a lot more yardage than I would’ve obtained from overplying my singles: 375 extra yards per pound of fiber, in fact. Finally, while the stitch gauge or swatch appearance didn’t change much when using the same size needles, the thickness of the yarn and the feel of the fabric certainly did. All in all, I will certainly be paying closer attention to my ply twist in the future and I’m excited to explore its effects further.

If you spin, how do you usually ply your yarn? Do you keep track of how much twist your adding?

IS #77: Seafoam Inspired

My sweet and wonderful FiascoHubs (do we like the new nickname? he will forever be a Fiasco… but now that he’s a husband rather than a fiance I’m wondering if it needs the ‘Hubs’ addition?) surprised me with ‘souvenir yarn’ over our wedding weekend.

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He apparently went into the local yarn store and said something along the lines of “she likes crazy fiber, wild stuff like ox and quiviut, and she loves blues and seafoam greens” and he left with three skeins of that gorgeousness above. The yarn is a laceweight 50/50 yak/silk blend and it is divine. My fella did very well, but now what to make?

Copyright LachesisandCo. Click for pattern page.

The first thing that jumped to mind was The Mermaid’s Gift shawl designed by Tori Gurbisz. I’ve had this one queued for quite a while and I think the whole look and feel of this pattern would be perfect with the seafoam color of the yarn. My only reservation is that it would only use up a mere 400 yards while I have over 1200 yards of the yarn, but it would certainly be a great use of a single skein of luxurious laceweight you might have hanging around.

Copyright knitlab. Click for pattern page.

The next beauty that jumped to mind was the Seascape Stole designed by Kieran Foley. I’ve long admired the sinuous shifting lines of this stole, and it’s a free pattern on Knitty so that’s always a plus. My big reservation with this one is that the charts are rather large and unwieldy and I had hoped to take this project along on our honeymoon as travel knitting, so it might not be the best choice.

Copyright Kieran Foley. Click for pattern page.

Interestingly, the same designer has another sea-inspired stole that I greatly admire: High Seas. It sounds like this one has wrong side patterning and it on the trickier side, so it also might not make great travel knitting (though it is lovely).

Copyright joelle. Click for pattern page.

Moving on from the sea theme, we have the Echo Flower Shawl by Jenny Johnson Johnen which is based on the Laminaria shawl designed by Elizabeth Freeman. This shawl is chock full of complex Estonian stitches but it is really, truly gorgeous. I imagine in my silky seafoam yarn it would be pretty incredible.

Copyright stebo79. Click for pattern page.

Even though the sample for Morgain by Stefanie Bolf is all ‘dark and moody’ I can’t help but picture it in my yarn and think it would be glorious. I love the way the lace patterning grows in length and width as it cascades across the shawl.

Copyright Strokkur. Click for pattern page.

This is a gorgeous variation (drapier yarn, larger needles, beads instead of nupps) of the Shallow Waters shawl designed by Mia Rinde. I imagine my version would look much like this one. The more I look at photos of this shawl, the higher it is creeping up my list! It incorporates the undulating lines I like so much with the almost gothic, peaked edging that I find very pretty on triangular shawls.

What would you knit with up to 1200 yards of yak/silk lusciousness? Do you have a favorite sea-inspired pattern? Please share in the comments below!

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IS #75: Under the Sea

My apologies for missing my Inspiration Saturday posts over the last couple of weeks, I finally have a moment to breathe today! Let’s dive right into it, shall we?

I don’t know how it’s possible that I got to my 75th IS post without featuring Hunter Hammersen. I’ve mentioned her designs plenty of times on this blog but have apparently failed to write a comprehensive post about her work, which is ridiculous since I instantly purchase every book of patterns she publishes. I love her design sense and in particular I love the inspiration behind her Knitter’s Curiosity Cabinet series.

“Curiosity cabinets were collections of wonderful objects brought together to inspire, delight, and inform. I loved the idea of assembling a knitter’s curiosity cabinet—one full of fancy edgings and captivating stitch patterns and fabulous shapes instead of shells and fossils and seeds. These books are the result.” – H.H.

Curiosity cabinets (full of shells, bones, plant specimens, fossils, preserved animals, etc.) have always appealed to me… they encapsulate everything I love about museums, science, natural history, and the sense of wonder with which insightful people view their world. Marrying that idea with knitting patterns was a stroke of genius. Hunter has designed 2 patterns — one sock and one accessory — based on each vintage illustration in her books of either plants (volume I), butterflies (volume II), or marine life (volume III).

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My copy of volume III.

When I read that the third volume would be based on marine illustrations, I was particularly excited (my job involves researching marine organisms). I confess that after flipping through, I was a teensy bit disappointed with how some of the prints were interpreted into knitwear — but perhaps I had particularly high expectations. Some of the sock designs feel a little bit repetitive (many have a similar look) and there were a few designs for which I couldn’t really see the relationship to the print. I think some of the gorgeous prints could’ve been interpreted in different ways that might have made for more interesting designs. That said, the book is and admirable piece of work and is full of lovely things that I have already queued to knit someday. Here are some of my favorites.

Copyright Hunter Hammersen. Click for pattern page.

The cover sock, Zostera marina, is absolutely wonderful. I want it in my sock drawer right now. The color, the wavy lines, the BFL sock yarn it is knit from… sigh. I want it. The difficulty with a pattern like this (for me) is finding the right sock yarn. A vast majority of my stash consists of variegated colorways, which just won’t work well with all the vertical lines and stitch details in this sock. Looks like someone will need to enhance her semi-solid sock yarn stash! (Aw, shucks.)

Copyright Hunter Hammersen. Click for pattern page.

In truth, the stitch pattern used in this Padina pavonia sock is nothing new (it’s a variation of the Old Shale or Feather-and-Fan stitch) but it still looks really great in this sock and I think it’s one of the few patterns in the book that would actually play really nicely with variegated or stripey yarn.

Copyright Hunter Hammersen. Click for pattern page.

I really dig the funky stitch used in these Planorbis corneus socks. This is one where I don’t quite see how the pattern was inspired by the print, perhaps because the stitch used reminds me so much of rotifers (microscopic aquatic organisms) and that’s all I see when I look at it, not shells. However, it’s still a fine-looking sock with a basically simple pattern and really fun detail, so I’m bound to make it someday. It’s also available free on Knitty.

Copyright Hunter Hammersen. Click for pattern page.

I have nothing really to say about this Fucus asparagoides socks except that I am a sucker for lacy socks, thus, I love them.

Copyright Hunter Hammersen. Click for pattern page.

Finally, I am a big fan of this Pelagia noctiluca hat. It’s lacy, slightly slouchy, does an excellent job of evoking its inspiration print, has great crown decreases, and is knit with DK weight yarn which is a perfect weight for stylish hats. This one is very likely to happen.

Do you have a favorite Hunter Hammersen pattern? What’s been inspiring you, lately? Leave a comment and/or share your blog post with us below!

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Happily Handspun

I’m pretty sure I think/say this every time I finish a skein of yarn, but this one might just be my prettiest handspun yet.

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This gorgeous thing is the finished product of my brief drum carding experiment. I blended about 5 oz of undyed baby alpaca fiber with about 2 oz of blue/green silk and a sprinkling of firestar. I carded each little batt twice and the spinning was delightfully fluffy and easy.

IMG_6397I absolutely adore the way the little pops of color from the silk shine through the soft, white base of the alpaca. The carding blended the fibers enough so that the yarn has a bit of a heathered look from afar, but up close you see all of the variation. Guys, it’s seriously pretty. I almost can’t stand it.

IMG_6426I even broke out my yarn balance to try to take some more accurate measurements of this skein and my last skein of handspun (pictured above). To use a yarn balance, you cut a length of yarn about 2 feet long (possibly longer if it’s a thin yarn) and let it hang from the arm of the balance. Then you remove the yarn, snip little bits off the end, and replace it until the arm no longer slams down as soon as weight is added. On my balance, the arm didn’t exactly move into a balanced position at any point, I kind of had to help it along. I figured that if it didn’t slam down immediately and if I was able to lift it back up again while the weight of the yarn was on it, then that was balanced enough.

IMG_6427Once you have your balanced length, you measure it. In the photo above, the top strand measured 12.0 inches and the bottom measured 9.0. You then multiply the length of yarn (including any decimal places) by 100 to calculate that the grist of the top yarn is 1200 yards per pound and the bottom (alpaca/silk) is 900 yards per pound. This means that if I had spun up a full pound of fiber, I would have had 900 yards of yarn at this yarn’s thickness. What’s interesting is that I measured 344 yards for this yarn on my niddy noddy before washing. The ball of yarn weighs 175 grams, or 0.386 pounds. When you multiply 0.386 pounds by 900 yards/pound, you get about 347 yards, which is very close to what I had measured on my niddy noddy, so that’s a nice check!

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There’s a helpful chart in this blog post that compares yarn weight to wraps per inch and yarn grist. The grist for the alpaca/silk, and the fact that I measured about 12 wraps per inch, puts it in the DK/light worsted weight range according to that chart and one I have from a Spin-Off magazine. There was a handy article in KnittySpin recently that was all about measuring your yarn, if you’d like to read about this topic further.

This skein makes the 3rd finished of 12 planned spinning projects in 2014 for my Spin the Bin challenge. Not too shabby for April! I am pretty sure it needs to become a Morning Surf Scarf. What do you think?

IS #28: Fall Already?

Don’t worry, folks, the summer is still just getting into a groove, but that doesn’t stop Knitty from putting out its First Fall issue! It might seem a bit early but summer is actually a really good time to start planning ahead for those cooler nights and shorter days. Let’s see what we can find to inspire us, yes?

Copyright Jamie Besel

I was immediately drawn to Lewis designed by Jamie Besel. I love the lace detailing and deep V of the font, that draws a lot of attention up to the face. I also really dig the shirttail hemline, haven’t seen that too often, and I really really love the wide sleeves. I have a few storebought sweaters with wide elbow-length sleeves that I think are really flattering. Into the queue!

Copyright Kristine Byrnes

Sugar Stick by Kristine Byrnes is a very interesting design… exactly the sort of funky cool stuff that made Knitty famous. I’m not even entirely sure what’s going on in the pattern, seems like some colorwork and some lace and some twisting before it’s grafted into a cowl but it looks really neat!

Copyright Kirsten Hipsky

Finally, the Ginger + Wasabi gloves by Kirsten Hipsky use a very simple colorwork pattern to make the gloves extra thick and warm. I liked this pattern primarily for the thoughtful details that the designer described: the double thick fabric, the no-purl ribbing, the sizing information. At a quick glance, details like that tell me it’s a well-written and worthwhile pattern.

Did you find anything you liked in this issue? Anything else been inspiring you lately? Link along below and let us know!

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IS #14: New Knitty

I think one of the first online pattern magazines a new knitter encounters is probably Knitty.com — at least it was for me. The patterns are fun and funky, feature designs from a great mix of established designers and up-and-comers, and (probably most importantly to the newer knitter) are free. The spring and summer 2013 issue just came out so let’s see what we can find for inspiration, shall we?

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Now that I’m a spinner, I really enjoy the Knittyspin features. This scarf is Foliolum by Joanna Johnson and is knit from handspun yarn. She spun a 50% yak/50% Merino wool blend into a sport-weight yarn and then knit this lovely, simple scarf with a pretty crocheted edging. I tend to think that simpler patterns showcase handspun yarns the best (at least with my handspun!), so I could definitely see myself using this one in the future. I also just really love the styling of this photo: it definitely evokes bright, leafy springtime for me.

Copyright Jennifer Dassau

This little shawl, Lunatic Fringe by Jennifer Dassau, is super fun! It’s knit from the bottom point up asymmetrically, with those finger-like fringes created by casting on and binding off stitches along one edge of the row. I love knits that are creative with interesting results, but that are relatively simple to knit (busy lifestyle and all) so this one definitely fits the bill. Plus, it would work well in almost any weight yarn and probably great for handspun, too. I briefly met the designer at Stitches East last October because she is one of the diehard Malabrigo Junkies and she was super nice. I recommend you check out her patterns on Ravelry because she has lots of great stuff in there!

Copyright OneHandKnits

Aaaaaaand then we have the gigantic and impressive knitted item that I will probably never make but that I enjoy admiring from afar! This is the Easy as Pie blanket by Anna Richardson. For this blanket, the designer worked out how to make circles from garter stitch short rows and then again used short rows to square off the area around the circles… and then somehow joined them together. I love the design concept and the use of colors and I am just always awed when people write patterns for ginormous knits. That’s a lot of knitting to do and keep track of and translate for others!

Which pattern are you drawn to from the collection? Has something else been inspiring you lately? Please link along below and share!