Exploring Handspun Sock Yarn

Since the Rhinebeck Sweater is still in the same state it was on Monday, I’ll chat a bit about the other crafty thing occupying my attention right now: handspun sock yarn.

Exploring Handspun Sock Yarn | Woolen Diversions

My view at Slater Mill.

Over the weekend, I took a sock yarn spinning class at Slater Mill with the Rhode Island Spinners Guild. The focus of the class was to experiment with different amounts of twist and plying structures to discover your personal ideal sock yarn. Amy King (of Spunky Eclectic) gave us lots of fibers to play with in class (green = Polwarth wool, gold = Falkland wool, handpainted autumn tones = Corriedale wool) as well as some samples to experiment with on our own (red = Wensleydale wool, white = generic wool roving, purple = Panda blend (superwash Merino, bamboo, nylon)).

Exploring Handspun Sock Yarn | Woolen Diversions

Spunky Eclectic fiber samples

We discussed three key things to think about when spinning your own sock yarn:

  1. what kinds of fibers make a good sock yarn, considering aspects like elasticity (different high-crimp wools), warmth (silk, camelids, luxury fibers), and strength (silk, nylon, bamboo, longwools),
  2. what types of prep are best for sock yarns (combed prep, worsted spinning), and
  3. most importantly, the amount of twist needed in the the singles and in the ply to make a yarn that is springy and strong while still feeling soft and comfortable.
Exploring Handspun Sock Yarn | Woolen Diversions

Plyback samples.

We did a whole lot of spinning. I am not accustomed to spinning for 6 hours straight, so that was definitely an endurance run for me! We practiced making low twist singles that barely held together and very energized singles, and measured the twist per inch for each. For the first ‘typical’ 2-ply sock yarn, we spun our singles with an amount of twist somewhere between the low and energized samples we made. Then, during the plying step, we plied the singles as if we had spun them with the energized amount of twists per inch. So if our energized sample was 20 tpi, then our plied yarn measured 10 tpi (tpi in singles / # of plies). We also navajo-plied those same singles, and since that yarn had 3 plies, the plying tpi was proportionally lower (20 tpi / 3 plies = approx. 7 tpi).

Exploring Handspun Sock Yarn | Woolen Diversions

Polwarth sock yarn samples, 2-ply and n-ply.

If you’re confused about all of this, don’t feel bad, I think many people in class were lost. It was advertised as an intermediate class but you could be spinning for years and never get so technical about your yarns as to actually the measure the twists per inch. I think some of these concepts could have been explained a little more thoroughly, the only reason I understood the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ behind a lot of the instructions is because I’ve read up on all of this stuff before. That said, it was really beneficial to go through the steps of the exercise with some guidance.

The second half of the class focused on making opposing ply yarns, which are basically yarns where one or more of the singles is spun in the same direction as the plying twist, instead of the opposite direction as usual. Opposing ply yarns have a lot of extra energy that contributes to strength and elasticity, which can be really beneficial in sock yarns. I admit, however, that I am not a fan of these samples. It could perhaps be the fiber (I don’t love Corriedale) but even while swatching, I didn’t enjoy these yarns. They are crazy strong, though, I tried breaking the thread with my hands and nearly cut myself! For opposing ply yarns we plied everything in the S direction and made a 2-ply (gold = low twist S single, multi = high twist Z single) and a couple of 3-plies (2 gold + 1 multi, and 1 gold + 2 multi). I liked the 3-ply with two high twist Z singles and one low twist S single the best, likely because the amount of opposing ply in this yarn is quite low since the S single was low twist to begin with, so it feels the most ‘normal’.

Exploring Handspun Sock Yarn | Woolen Diversions

Opposing ply 2-ply, 3-ply, and ‘normal’ 2-ply.

I’ve swatched the n-ply Polwarth (not pictured, I forgot it!), 2-ply opposing ply yarn, and the 3-ply opposing ply yarn that I liked best (I didn’t bother with the other one) and then began to actually knit a little baby sock out of the 2-ply Polwarth that we first made. I really like the way this yarn came out. Polwarth is such a  springy, fluffy fiber to begin with, and with the extra ply twist the final yarn plumps up in such a satisfying way while still remaining soft. My 2-ply is a thicker sport-weight yarn, but it’s making a nice little sock and I’ve already got the rest of the sample fiber on the bobbin to spin more.

In conclusion, I’m really glad that my spinner’s guild arranged for Amy to teach us. The guidance for experimentation was really valuable and I am looking forward to spinning some more sock yarn! Now I just need to get my singles a bit thinner so I can spin a 3-ply yarn that comes out near fingering weight, as all my 3-ply samples were closer to worsted weight. Have you tried spinning your own sock yarn before? Do you have any favorite tips or tricks?

Orange Rosemary lotion bar

In preparation for Squam this weekend (squeeeeee!) I’ve been busily re-stocking the shop with some sold out lotion bar scents, including: Orange Rosemary, Lavender, Smoky Patchouli and have brought back a seasonal favorite, Pumpkin Spice. Check them out!

As for reading this week, my kindle is still dead (the horror!) but I picked up the largest John Irving book I could find and am slowly working my way through it: Last Night in Twisted River. Linking up with Yarnalong and Stitch Along Wednesday.


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?

How To Find A Spinning Wheel

I’ve been on a whirlwind search for a new spinning wheel because A) I’m a compulsive researcher and B) timing. Here’s how it’s been going.

Step 1. Realize that for one reason or another, your current equipment is no longer meeting all of your needs. Man, this merino is being a major pain in the ass to spin. I’m kind of hating it. Isn’t this supposed to be fun?

Singles of frustration.

Step 2. Understand why your current equipment isn’t cutting it anymore. Use these reasons as guidelines for your search. Ahha! Irish (bobbin-lead) tension systems often have strong takeup and are not the best for fine spinning (thought they’re great for longwools and plying). I need a Scotch (flyer-lead) or double drive (some kind of physics magic) tension system.

Step 3. Research, research, research.

Step 4. Start a spreadsheet. Totally not joking, it’ll help sort through all the information out there. Here is a list of all the info I compiled for the wheels that I was interested in (where it was available) so I could better compare between them:

dataStep 5. Narrow it down! I looked into about 15 wheels, but narrowed it down to only 5 that I’d like to seek out and try.

Step 6. Seek out and try! (Hover over photos below for captions, click to enbiggen.)

The Fiasco and I made an impromptu visit to Madison Wool (in Madison, CT) over the weekend to give a few wheels a try. I cannot stress enough the importance of trying out wheels in person! They are all so different and there’s no better way to get a sense of what you want than to actually feel how the wheels work. The main reason I visited was to try the Majacraft Pioneer. Majacraft wheels have outstanding reputations and the Pioneer is supposed to be the ‘entry-level’ version of their more high-end wheels and it is the one the shop owner herself uses. I really, really liked the way the Pioneer treadled. It was smooth and effortless and ‘zippy’. I was not a big fan of the delta orifice (see the triangular metal piece at the front of the flyer). This shape made for a weird skip/bump with every rotation since I tend to hold my fiber supply off to the side when I spin. I could probably adapt my spinning style if I end up with this wheel, and I do believe the company offers a more typical orifice in their lace flyer, but it’s an important thing to know about the wheel nonetheless. I was pleasantly surprised with how nicely the Ashford Traveller spun, but have decided that I do not want a wheel designed for travel since some concessions must be made in sturdiness to allow for easy portability (usually). I also tried a Louet S10, and we did not get along. Part of it was likely because that model was a single treadle wheel, while I’m used to double treadle, and the wheel also has an Irish tension system, which I know I do not want.

Step 7. Find an incredibly good sale with an inconveniently short deadline that you absolutely cannot resist. Ok, this step is optional, and probably counterproductive.

Copyright Webs.

Webs yarn store is participating in the Northampton Bag Day event this coming weekend (22-23) during which they are offering 20% off a single item (spinning wheels included). The kicker is that orders for large items (like equipment) need to be placed by Friday for in-store pickup over the weekend. Since the store only has so many wheels, they could feasibly be all sold out by the weekend, which could mean no wheels for me to try if I waited until the weekend to head up. I am now debating whether or not I should make two 3-hour-roundtrip drives: one to visit the wheels earlier in the week to give them a try and decide on one in time for the sale, and another to pick it up over the weekend. Sigh. I don’t want to be pressured into making a decision just for this sale, but 20% is a lot of cash to pass up! The wheels I’d like to try at Webs are the Lendrum DT, Schacht Ladybug, Schacht Matchless, and Louet Julia (if they have it, the site says backordered).

And that’s how you find yourself in a spinning wheel conundrum… wait, that wasn’t the title of this post, was it? Woops.

Finding Time

Last week was a whirlwind and this weekend was no different. I’ve been having difficulty finding time for everything that needs attention. I completely missed my intended Inspiration Saturday post (a followup to part 1 of our Costa Rica trip) because I haven’t had a single second to devote to processing the rest of the 1200+ photos we took on our trip. Instead I was making lotions, working on my business plan, developing a household budget, doing some scientific soul-searching, and finally (FINALLY!!!) cleaning up and organizing my office, which had been a hopeless mess since May and full of no-longer-necessary wedding junk. Since that task alone took me about 6 hours, I rewarded myself with 20 minutes to try out the new hipstrings tahkli cotton spindle I purchased at the beginning of July.

Finding Time | Woolen Diversions

Cotton tahkli from hipstrings, click for Etsy shop.

I’ve noticed a lot of Etsy sellers making punis on Instagram lately, they appear to be all the rage.  Punis are basically just tightly-wrapped rolags, a carded fiber preparation. They are traditionally used with cotton spinning (and other short fibers) but can be made with any fiber and are typically made with wool blends by Etsy sellers. If you’ve never used them before, they are incredibly easy to make.


Charging the carder.

First, you need to load your fiber onto a hand card, this is called ‘charging’ the carder. I am using Strauch cotton hand cards in the child size. These carders have 255 teeth per inch (many wool carders have between 70 and 100) so they are particularly suited for fine, short fibers like cotton, angora, yak, quiviut, fine merino, etc.  The truck is to place just a small amount of fiber on the carder, you don’t want to use too much at once.


After a few passes.

The idea behind carding is just to open up the fibers, get some air in there, and straighten them out a bit. Carded preparations are usually spun woolen style (with the fibers aligned every-which-way instead of straight like worsted) so I don’t fuss over keeping the fibers neatly aligned. I just work on getting them fluffy. There appear to be a ton of different ways to card and after watching a video and reading a book, I basically just do what feels right to me (though those resources are good ones to get you started).

Finding Time | Woolen Diversions

Rolling the puni.

For the next bit you need a dowel or a thick knitting needle. You place it near the edge of your card with the teeth facing away from you and roll the fiber up around the needle. This lets you get the edges tucked in neatly and gives you something to manipulate during the rolling.

Finding Time | Woolen Diversions

Tidying up the puni.

Once all the fiber is lifted off the card and around the needle, you can lift it off and bring it down to the front edge of the card to roll it up a few more times. This compacts the fiber around the needle and neatens up any stray fibers.

Finding Time | Woolen Diversions


Then you spin! While I love spinning with supported spindles, the tahkli took a little getting used to. It’s extremely lightweight and does not stay vertical or spin for very long because of it. However, it does spin extremely quickly so it adds twist to the fiber at a fast enough rate to keep it all together. It’s a very different feel than spinning with Russian or Tibetan supported spindles but I’m enjoying the exploration so far.

How do you like to reward yourself after a lot of hard work?

FOFri #30: The Things We Do For Friends

I had the hardest time figuring out what to make for gifts for my bridesmaids. My initial thought was shawls, but, well, there were 6 of them and even though I got engaged waaaaaay back in 2011 and therefore theoretically could have knit 6 shawls in that timeframe, I didn’t know how long our engagement was going to be but I did know that my fortitude for non-selfish gift knitting tends to be limited, so it was not likely to happen.

Copyright Eskimimi. Click for pattern page.

Then I saw this cute little coin purse and thought oooh! I could make this bigger, get a fancier purse frame, and make little clutches! The thought of all that linen stitch was a little daunting, so I figured I could perhaps make squares on my Zoom Loom and make patchwork bags. Then I hurt my wrist back in March and using the loom was a little too painful.

Copyright kateclysm. Click for pattern page.

So then, I was thinking I’d maybe make these cute little bangle bags, which would still require sewing a lining onto the back of knitted fabric (which worried me) but at least wouldn’t involve sewing into a purse frame. But still, I wasn’t totally thrilled by the idea and didn’t really know where to get the bangles.

Copyright Lion Brand Yarn. Click for pattern page.

I finally stumbled across this quilted lattice jewlery frame, and knew this would be perfect! Since I had already ordered purse frames I went back and forth debating for a while. It was a difficult debate since most of the people I usually consult for knitting advice were in the bridal party! I had to rely on my friend Jeremie, who was not particularly interested in either purses or jewelry frames. I kept coming back to the frames, though, and decided to go for them.

IMG_6701I finally started knitting them at the end of May, and finished them up in the first week of July. So, I had to knit one of these each week. I used my swatch to determine how many to cast on to fit in an 8×10 frame. It’s a good idea to underestimate how many stitches you need as your yarn will likely stretch and you want the fabric to be taught. I used a totally luscious yarn for this: BMFA Marine Silk Sport, colorway Oceana.

IMG_6702The frame requires a little work before you attach the knitting. We (I say we, since the FiascoHubs helped) used the matting from the frame as a base, then cut out quilt batting to the same size and plain fabric about an inch larger. Then you make a little batting sandwich and use double-sided tape to fold the fabric over and secure it to the back of the matting.

IMG_6703Finally, you do the utterly unthinkable and take a stapler to your silky, luxurious knitted fabric. You carefully staple all around the edges of the piece to secure the knitted fabric to the fabric backing. Not gonna lie, this part was painful.

IMG_6709But the results were so worth it! I love how these little frames turned out and I know at least one of my friends is already using hers. I didn’t want to just give these frames, however, so I also made some earrings to go with it (no, I don’t know what came over me).

IMG_6694These things came out better than I had expected and were surprisingly easy to make! Here is the super helpful tutorial I followed. I was so encouraged by my success with these earrings that I decided to make my own wedding jewelry.


I looked at a few wire jewelry photos for inspiration but basically just winged these designs and am really thrilled with how they came out. I love the little pop of color they added to my wedding ensemble, too. That’s the last of my crazy wedding crafting! I’m making one more frame for myself right now but then it’s back to knitting whatever-the-heck I want! Have you ever surprised yourself with your own crafting abilities or been suddenly struck by the desire to make something that you couldn’t quite explain?

Check out more FOs at Tamis Amis.

Twist Experiment Results!

After a weekend of ungodly tooth pain (not cool), a total and complete showering of love and generosity from my friends and family (awesome), an indescribable circus show (odd-but-cool), and a couple of really silly hats (a bridal-shower-ribbon-tophat-extravaganza and a bachelorette tiara), this Monday has been rather a rude and exhausting return to reality. But no matter! We’re going to perk ourselves up with some KNIENCE! (Ahem. Knitting science…of course. You like it.)


Twist experiment yarns.

If you remember, our experiment consisted of spinning 4 yarns:

  1. Normal 2-ply yarn, with singles spun clockwise (Z) and plied counterclockwise (S),
  2. Normal 2-ply yarn, with singles spun counterclockwise (S) and plied clockwise (Z),
  3. Opposing ply yarn, with one S single and one Z single plied counterclockwise (S), and
  4. Opposing ply yarn, with one S single and one Z single plied counterclockwise (Z).

For  quick summary of S & Z twist, check this blog post out. Basically, the letters represent the direction of the angle of the twist in the yarn (the middle bits of each letter match the way the yarn spirals) and S twist yarns are the commercial standard. Our objective was to determine if and how the direction in which a yarn is plied affects the way it knits up. For reference, I knit ‘English’ style, where I ‘throw’ the yarn around the needle in a counterclockwise motion (when viewing the needle from the tip).


Experimental swatches!

I knit each yarn on the same size needles (US 6) in the same pattern: 7 ridges garter stitch, 10 rows stockinette, and little bit of lace ribbing just for fun. There were some rather obvious differences during the knitting itself and a few more that became clear after blocking. I’ll go through each yarn and swatch one by one.

1) Normal 2-ply, with S twist (plied counterclockwise):

IMG_6449This yarn was the least remarkable to knit, which probably makes sense since it’s similar to how most commercial yarns are spun. Nothing in particular stood out about it, honestly. (But as we say in science: zeroes are data, too!) The yarn was around a worsted weight, measuring in at 10 wraps per inch on my wpi tool, somewhere between 10 and 12 wpi on my spinner’s control card, and 700 yards per pound on my yarn balance. The swatch measured 4.6″ wide by 5.5″ tall with a gauge of 4.5 sts/in and 10.0 rows/in in garter and 4.5 sts/inch and 7.0 rows/in in stockinette. The fabric feels both cohesive and fluid at this gauge and the ribbing seems relatively elastic, the yarnovers fairly distinct.

2) Normal 2-ply, with Z twist (plied clockwise):

IMG_6451This swatch doesn’t look much different from the first. However, while knitting, I noticed that the yarn did indeed slightly unply due to the way I wrapped it around the needle (counterclockwise).


See how for some of the stitches the plies look nearly parallel, rather than twisted?

However, unlike the impression I get from the way twist is talked about, I found this slight unplying to be more pleasant to knit. The first swatch felt kind of ‘meh’ while I was knitting, while this one was decidedly pleasurable. The yarn felt more relaxed to work, which I suppose it was with the untwisting. Like the first 2-ply, this yarn was a worsted weight, measuring in at 11 wraps per inch on my wpi tool, somewhere between 10 and 12 wpi on my spinner’s control card, and 750 yards per pound on my yarn balance. The swatch measured 4.4″ wide by 5.2″ tall with a gauge of 4.3 sts/in and 10.0 rows/in in garter and 4.5 sts/inch and 7.0 rows/in in stockinette. The fabric felt similar to the first swatch, but the yarn was a bit finer and more consistent so the stitches were more even.

3) Opposing ply, with S twist (plied counterclockwise):

IMG_6453I noticed two major differences between the opposing ply and normal 2-ply yarns straightaway: the opposing ply yarns were far more elastic and fluffier/thicker than the normal 2-ply yarns. This, I’m sure, is due to the excess energy that was all wound up in the single originally spun in the ply direction, while the other single was somewhat unspun during plying, allowing those fibers to relax and poof up as their energy was released. The most interesting difference became apparent after blocking: the stockinette portion of the swatch was biased to the left! It would be more obvious if the section were larger but if you look closely you can see how the stitches all lean leftward. This is another artifact of excess energy in the yarn. The S-twisted opposing ply yarn could be classified as a chunky weight, measuring in at 8 wraps per inch on both my wpi tool and spinner’s control card, and around 400 yards per pound on my yarn balance. The swatch measured 5.0″ wide by 6.3″ tall with a gauge of 4.0 sts/in and 9.0 rows/in in garter and 4.0 sts/inch and 6.0 rows/in in stockinette. The fabric is much thicker and sturdier than the previous swatches, as the yarn was thicker and knit on the same size needles.

4) Opposing ply, with Z twist (plied clockwise):

IMG_6455This yarn had many of the same characteristics as yarn #3 except for one distinct difference: after blocking, the stockinette portion of the Z-twisted yarn biased to the right! This was really exciting because I’d only ever read about energized yarns and how they affect fabric, and never intentionally spun one before to see it happen firsthand.  Like the previous yarn, this one could be classified as a chunky weight, measuring in at 9 wraps per inch on my wpi tool, between 8 and 10 wpi on my spinner’s control card, and around 450 yards per pound on my yarn balance. The swatch measured 5.0″ wide by 5.8″ tall with a gauge of 4.0 sts/in and 10.0 rows/in in garter and 4.3 sts/inch and 6.3 rows/in in stockinette. The fabric was much thicker and sturdier than the normal 2-ply swatches, but also seemed much neater and more cohesive than the S-twisted opposing ply swatch.


  1. Opposing ply yarns are super duper bouncy, elastic, fluffy, and fun. I like them.
  2. Opposing ply yarns will bias either left or right in plain stockinette stitch.
  3. Opposing ply yarns made with the same singles as normal 2-ply yarns will be much thicker than normal 2-ply yarns when finished.
  4. I noticed a slight unplying of Z-plied (clockwise) yarns as I knit them.
  5. I prefer the look of my Z-plied swatches for both normal and opposing ply yarns. My stitches seem neater and the fabric looks smoother and more cohesive.

Interesting note: of the 10 people who commented on how they like to spin their yarns, 7 people plied Z, 2 people plied S, and 1 person plied S for all fibers except linen, for which she switched directions because it is standard practice for linen to be plied Z (which I do remember reading somewhere else but cannot find a reference for it at this time). For the curious, I used the Spinning Daily yarn standards (pdf) to compare wpi to gauge, etc. I also just came across this blog post detailing a different kind of twist-related experiment that I didn’t even touch on here.

Overall, an interesting exercise, no? I’m glad that most of my wheel-spun handspun yarns are plied in the Z direction, now that I think my fabric looks nicer with Z-plied yarns. Although the commercial standard is S-plied and my spindle-spun yarns tend to be S-plied, too. I’ll have to pay  more attention from now on to see if I can spot any real differences while knitting S- or Z-plied yarns in larger projects.

Have you paid attention to how the twist of your yarns affects your knitting?

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.


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!


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 #59: Weaving Explorations

A new toy came in the mail and completely derailed my morning’s plans.


Schact Zoom Loom

Weaving is one of those arts that I’m not sure I could really get into since so much of it seems like set up to me (wrapping the warp) and so little of it seems like actual weaving. However, I’ve been wanting to give this little Zoom Loom a try for a while, and I’m glad I did. It was easy to learn, you essentially just wrap yarn around the pins along the edges in different ways for three layers, then you take a long pin and weave the remaining yarn over and under the established strands. I found the instructions to be really clear up until the point where you actually start weaving. Before that, the booklet was very specific about which pins you go between, but then it wasn’t.


Illustration of where exactly to weave.

In case anyone else was confused by this, here’s a little diagram. Notice that the pins are arranged in sets of 3 up and down the left and right sides of the loom. This photo was taken in the middle of a weaving action. The yarn came out on the right hand side below the pin marked with a pink circle. It was then threaded between the two pins marked with green circles and woven over, under, over, under, etc. the strands of yarn until it reached the left side. This is the important bit: the tip of the needle should be placed to the outside of the pink pin (below it). You can think of it as going around the outer edge of the group of three pins. The next step will be to pull the yarn through, then thread the needle from left to right between the two green pins, once again going over, under, over, under, etc. all the way across. If you look at the finished section below the needle, you’ll notice that the yarn wrapping around the sets of 3 needles should look kind of like an ‘m’. Hope that helps someone!


Left: Socks that Rock Lightweight, Right: SG Traveller

I did two squares. The left square was with a fingering weight yarn, BMFA Socks that Rock Lightweight. I kind of messed this one up a bit and I think it’s curling because STR is a very high twist yarn, but hey, it was my first. The right square was done with a DK weight yarn, Sanguine Gryphon Traveller. Both are 100% Merino wool but the Traveller is thicker and less tightly twisted, which made a nicer and more cohesive square overall. I timed myself, the second one took me 25 minutes to weave. They both measure about 3.75″ square. The real test will be whether I like sewing these little squares together into a larger project!


BMFA Socks That Rock Lightweight, colorway Comfort & Joy

In other news, I finally perfected my sock toe! It took ripping back 3 times, but I’m happy with it now. At first I tried regular linen stitch to match the heel, but it was far too tight and pulled the fabric in too much. I frogged back further to begin the toe earlier and at Audry’s suggestion, I tried a plain knit row in between the linen stitch rows, which I think makes this technically a half linen stitch.


Regular linen stitch on the heel.

It’s bothering my OCD tendencies just a tad that the heel and the toe do not exactly match, but the different fabrics are both pleasing in their own right, and quite frankly I’m just not going to knit that toe again (well, until I reach the second toe). The fit is right, the proportions are right, so I’m just going to let it be.

Have you given weaving, or knitting ‘woven-like’ stitches, a try? What’s been inspiring you lately? Leave a comment below to share!

IS #51: Holiday Pom-Poms

Happy 10-more-days-til-Christmas! I’m moving right along with my holiday gift knitting list, mostly by doing things like crossing out “handknit socks” and replacing them with “purchased alpaca socks” instead. (I am actually getting a ton of knitting done, too, more on that later in the week.) Another time-saving stroke of brilliance was when I crossed out “handknit tree ornaments” and replaced it with “pom-pom ornaments”!


Seriously, how cute are these?!

I saw this photo (I have no recollection of where I found it originally) and was totally inspired to try my hand at pom-pom ornaments, myself. I ran out to JoAnn’s, grabbed a jumbo Clover pom-pom maker and some red, green, white/sparkly, and silver/sparkly yarns, and got to work. I was initially really confused by the little contraption so here’s a short mini-tutorial.


Steps 1, 2, & 3.

Step 1: The pom-pom maker has 4 arms (blue parts) that swing out, 2 on each side. Wrap your yarn around 2 of the arms on each side. Wrap a lot more yarn than you think you need to get a nice, full pom-pom. (My first one was so sad and skimpy.)

Step 2: Keeping the arms folded in, snip along the groove between the arms to cut the yarn for your pom-pom.

Step 3: Admire how nice the neat little pom-pom sandwich looks against the fabric of your pajama pants (classy).


Steps 4, 5, & 6.

Step 4: Loop a fairly strong piece of string or yarn through the groove that runs between the arms and tie a knot to secure the pom-pom. I worked out a little method I like: tie once tightly, wrap the yarn back around the other side, tie another tight knot, then wrap back around the other side and tie a double knot to finish (kind of like when you secure a package with twine). Then tie a knot in the ends of your dangling yarn so the pom-pom can be hung.

Step 5: Open the arms of the little contraption.

Step 6: Pop the front and back pieces of the contraption apart, releasing the pom-pom. Fluff it up and trim any stray bits of yarn to neaten it up.

DONE! The 6 of those took me maybe 45 minutes to make. Experiment with different color combinations, wrapping 2 or 3 different yarns at once, or different colors on each side. Go pom-pom crazy!

Lee Meredith recently posted about a pom-pom book and a pom-pom wreath she made on her blog. After making these little ornaments, I could totally see making more pom-pom projects. If you want to be not lazy and actually knit something for your tree, check out the lovely tree-topper that Audry of the Bear Ears blog knit for her tree. And if you want to be super awesome, take a look at the hand-sewn felt ornaments and handmade chocolate holiday cards (yup!) by Joanna at the Knitlit Twit blog. Have you seen any neat holiday projects? Please share and/or link along to your own Inspiration Saturday post in the comments!


My First Time, Part 1

I realized when I talked about watching the video on fleece processing yesterday that I never shared my own fleece-washing experience with you! I started this post way back in mid-August but things got busy with my manuscript and here we are. Like many new things, my first fleece-washing experience was mildly terrifying, kind of confusing, and a little bit messy — but overall, it was just fine. There is a plethora of information available on how best to wash a fleece. I suspect that they all work equally well and whichever is best depends on what you are working with (equipment-, fleece-, and patience-wise). Now that I’ve seen Judith’s video, I’d recommend watching that first because I was a bit of a nervous wreck thinking I would ruin the thing at every step and she very calmly talks about the whole business in a way that make it seem much less daunting. For reference, here’s what I did for my first fleece.

Click for photo source.

Breed: American Southdown. Obtained: Fresh off the sheep at a farmer’s market in June 2013. The shearer picked it up, felt it, and said something like “this is probably about 3 or 4 pounds” then stuck it in a bag and I took it home.


Fresh off the sheep!

Pre-washing prep: I sorted through the fleece and took out the really nasty bits since it had not been skirted. The short fibers near the legs are usually covered with dung tags and other unpleasantness, so it’s best to get rid of them. I also laid mine out on a garbage bag in the sun for a day or so to let it dry off because it was humid from the animal and the heat. I’ve since read that fibers can be damaged in direct sunlight, so this might not have been the best idea and I believe it allowed a lot of vegetable matter to settle into the wool from nearby trees, so I likely will not be doing this next time. I sorted the fleece into paper grocery bags and stored it in a shed until I had the time and the right weather  to wash. I did the paper bag thing on the vague notion that wool likes to breathe but I think it probably runs the risk of attracting critters this way so I wouldn’t recommend it for long-term storage.


After two months in storage — that yellow is likely lanolin that has crystallized (which is hard to get out) but could also be something called canary stain, which is caused by a bacteria.

Cold soak #1: I live in an apartment building with a bit of grass outside. My Fiasco uses a neat connection hose to fill his fish tank from the kitchen sink so we used the same thing hooked to an outdoor hose to fill two 18 gallon tubs with cold water. I split the fleece roughly in half, pushed the wool under the water gently, and let it soak for a half hour.



Drain: Next, the Fiasco tipped the tubs while I rather inelegantly held the wool back with my arms to drain. This was trickier than it sounds. The water was tipped directly into surrounding flower beds, which is supposed to be great for them. We then used a handy window screen upon which we spread the wool to drain while we refilled the tubs.


Draining, and much cleaner already!

Cold soak #2: Repeated the first cold soak, this time breaking the wool up more and swishing it around a bit as I put it back in the tubs. Drained again.

Cold soak #3: Out of paranoia of clogging my washing machine with dirt, I decided to cold soak the fleece once more for another half hour and drained. I then prepared for the hot wash by sorting the fleece into about a dozen small-ish lingerie bags. (I did the bags initially, then realized they did not really help at all. Too much fiber in the bags, too many clumps not getting clean enough. I DON’T recommend using the bags.)


Hot soak, in bags.

Hot wash #1: According to Spinderella, water needs to be around 150 degrees F to remove lanolin from the wool, and should not drop below 100 deg F. I have no idea what temperature my water was but others have just used the hottest water that came out of their washing machines so that’s what I did, too. I filled the machine with hot water (on soak) and mixed in a bit more than 1/2 cup of Dawn liquid detergent. Then I placed half of the bags of wool in the water and let it soak for 20 minutes.  Avoid agitating the wool at this point because it can cause felting. (I suspect I could’ve done the same thing with hot water from the sink in the tubs outside but didn’t feel like sticking my arms in scalding hot water to drain.)


Spun out.

Drain: Your washing machine should have a rinse and spin cycle. Make sure you SKIP the rinse cycle and go straight to the spin. This will drain the water out. You don’t want to rinse as that will agitate the fibers, plus if your machine rinses with cold water it could felt the wool.

Hot wash #2: Removed the wool from the washer, wiped the wash basin clean, and refilled with hot water and this time a bit less than 1/2 cup of soap. Placed the wool back in and soaked for another 20 minutes. Drained as before.

Hot wash #3: At this point, my wool still looked pretty dirty and this is when I realized that the lingerie bag plan was crap. So I refilled with hot water, used about 1/4 c of soap, then removed the wool from the bags and put it in the machine, gently breaking up clumps as I went. I also swished the wool in the water a bit (with gloves on since it was hot!), felting be damned. Drained as before.


Cold-soaked wool on left, wool that’s been through the hot soak/wash process as well on right.

Vinegar rinse: Removed the wool from the washer, wiped the wash basin clean, and refilled with hot water and this time 1 cup of white distilled vinegar. Waited 15 more minutes, then drained as before.


That’s a lot of wool!

Drying: I bought three cheap sweater-drying racks and placed these outside, out of direct sunlight this time. (Also, by this point it was early evening. Ha! Note to self: begin wool washing before noon.) I spread the wool out and fluffed it up a bit to dry and left it outdoors overnight.

After all that work and worry, my fleece is clean and unfelted, so yay! It still has some yellowish coloring to it and there is a heck of a lot of vegetable matter in there but there is not much I can do about that. I’ve learned from the video I watched (see resources below) that I probably could’ve sorted my fleece better beforehand and saved myself some trouble only washing the best bits. But considering I completed the process without 1) felting the wool or 2) breaking my washing machine, I’m calling it a win.

Fleece-washing resources: