WnS Color and Breed Study Winter 2017-18:

I am on a roll with the blogging at the moment. I’ve discovered that while it takes two hands to knit, and a whole body to spin, thanks to mobile technology, it only takes one hand to blog. It’s nice to have a creative outlet – I find post-baby is a time with lots of swirling thoughts, and it’s lovely to catch up on expressing them.

Speaking of catching up, today I finally want to record my results from the Wool n’ Spinning color and breed study from Oct. 2017-March 2018. I took these pictures nearly two months ago, but finally made a few minutes to get them off my DSLR so I could share them with you.

The color subject was combination drafting/spinning, and the fibre was Finn wool. I’ve not blogged about it at all, but I discussed my spinning process in the ravelry group here. In this post I’ll focus on the finished products, both yarn and knitting.

Background: Katrina dyed three quite different colorways, and I ordered the package with two ounces each.

As I watched others spin their fiber, I was most interested in the samples which compared combination plying and combination drafting. [For the uninitiated: in a combo spin, the different plies (strands) are each a different colorway. In a combo draft, each of the plies is made from all three colorways held together.] I wanted a closer look. To learn a little more, I added another variable: whether the top was stripped very thin or not.

This looks like a hot mess, but it is in fact a Plan. I planned four samples, and spun them in ascending order of difficulty:

1. Combo ply, stripped thin (1/16 top)

2. Combo ply, stripped thick (1/4)

3. Combo draft, stripped thin (1/16)

4. Combo draft, stripped thick (1/4)

In all cases, each strip was the entire length of the top.

I’ll use these numbers to refer to the samples throughout; hopefully that’s clear enough.

Here are the finished samples in that order:

I knit them up into the Escarpment Cowl. It’s a similar sillouette to a plain triangle shawl, which starts small at the top, and grows with decreases at the centre and sides/back. I interspersed my bands of handspun with some sock yarn in garter stitch, so I could have clear borders between the different samples.

Samples were knit top down: #2, #3, #4, and #1.

#1: Combo Ply w/ Thin Strips

For #1, I spun thin strips, three colors to three bobbins, and plied them together. I should say this was all worsted draft at 11.5:1; I put all the really nitty details on the project page. It made a fabulously bouncy three ply. No two sections of the yarn are the same. It’s so fun to see all the colors play together differently.

This was the bottom band of the triangle shape, so even though it had the most yardage, it was the thinnest band. I’ve here put two parts of it together so you can see a bigger area of fabric.

A frequent comment about combo plied yarns, and an issue for combo spinning in general, is that they stripe. In this case, having three plies and three colors involved made some difference, and stripping the top quite thin made the stripes as thin as possible. Of course they are even thinner here because I put them at the bottom of my triangle shape. If you want to combo ply and want to minimize striping, I think this is the way to manage it. And striping is an issue with any wildly multicoloured handpainted top, I should think, even when only one colorway is involved. It’s not at all necessarily a bad thing, just something to consider when you’re designing your yarn.

#2: Combo Ply w/ Thick Strips

#2 used thicker strips of fiber the same way. You can see that this resulted in longer runs of color in each ply, meaning very noticeable striping in the finished knit.

This sample was a bit of an oops technically: because of my own user error, the singles ended up rather thicker but I put in the same amount of twist, which meant they were overtwisted. The yarn didn’t spring back and bounce when plied, but stayed very ropey. Still, that was a good mistake to make in a way, to see how a fiber acts with too much twist.

Also, the overtwist made plying very unmanageable, resulting in a lower twist angle than I had intended. It made for a good illustration of how twist angle can change color: lower ply angle = bigger dots of color.

I decided to exaggerate the striping of sample #2 by putting it at the top of the triangle. It’s really very complex and beautiful with the colors shifting through each other at different rates (the color runs in the different colorways were all different lengths).

At the same time, the overtwist made the stitches very jagged. As a fabric, it’s thick, pebbly, and almost stiff. I knit it down on smaller needles than it wanted, because I wanted it go cohere with the rest of the samples, which were a fair bit thinner. Really what I should have done is put this sample at the bottom and knit it on larger needles, letting it flare a bit. But then it also would have been a very thin stripe. Oh well!

In this picture you can see how different the two combo ply fabrics are:

#3: Combo Draft w/ Thin Strips

#3 changed things up dramatically: I held three thin strips together for each single. It wasn’t as difficult as I thought, since the strips were thin. The singles were so beautiful and interesting to spin. There was striping in the singles themselves, and I think the next step in this exploration would have been to chain ply singles like these.

Interesting that there are stripes in this finished section. Or is it pooling? I did spin all three plies exactly the same – three strips going together on three bobbins – so it could be an accident of alignment? That would be odd. It’s hard to tell what’s going on.

Still, I think it’s gorgeous. The dots of color are so much smaller than in the combo spins that it’s close to optical blending. Even the stripes look like clouds of separate, deeply complex shades moving past each other.

#4 Combo Draft w/ Thick Strips

This was the most difficult spin, because I was trying to manage three wide strips held together for drafting. I managed it by predrafting them together, but this was not easy either. At this point, I had spun the same singles enough that I was able to achieve a surprising amount of consistency (for me), and I did that by just accepting that when one of the strips took over for a while, that’s what it had to do. So you can pretty much tell that the individual plies have larger chunks of single colors, while other parts are more blended. All in all, it made for an even more complex yarn. Maybe because of those irregularities, it’s the one knitted sample in which I can’t really detect any striping at all.

Still, it’s very very similar to #3. I’m not sure any improvement in #4 is worth the additional hassle of spinning that way.

#3 above, #4 below. You can see that #3 is more blended; #4 has larger dots of color where one colorway frequently took over in one ply.

The Escarpment Cowl itself, into which I knit these samples, is a free pattern that makes a great canvas for handspun. The original is quite a bit smaller, but it’s top down, so you can use up all your yarn, and you can really use any weight of yarn. As you can see from my picture up above, it’s basically a big ol’ triangle. It’s actually an identical shape to those 70’s ponchos that had a comeback maybe 10 years ago. Those were formed by casting on a circle, then had two mitered increase points at the front and back. (By contrast, a top-down raglan sweater yoke has four mitred increase points.) The Escarpment Cowl ends up in that same shape, but because of how it’s constructed, the neck hole is shifted back. So, logically, if you had a lot more yarn and just kept knitting and knitting at this, it would become a front-heavy poncho. This is getting close.

I made the neck hole too big, and putting the thickest yarn/fabric portion at the top creates an odd structured effect. I am accepting it as it is, though. I like the extra color interest near my face. This is an indoor garment for me, so I don’t need it to sit higher in order to be really warm around my neck.

Stretched out to it’s full almost-poncho-ness

I’m finding this a surprisingly wearable garment for me. It provides the extra warmth of a shawl without constantly falling off me. (I just can’t figure out how people who run after kids all day wear shawls. If you have any tips, please lay them on me.) This doesn’t fall off, and it’s actually proved to be a handy sort of modesty-cover when nursing with v-neck or crossover shirts. I pull those shirts down to nurse baby, and while this doesn’t exactly cover, it does let us do what we need to without exposing my entire decoletage. (Not that I’m suggesting you should nurse with a cover if that’s not your bag. I don’t use a cover per se, but I do dress strategically when I go out so that I am covered an amount that I feel comfortable with.)

I learned so much from this study. I made some beautiful yarns with a lot of nuance that I would use differently in different instances. Katrina made three colorways that were very different, but were cohesive enough that it would have been almost impossible to make them look bad together. I learned about speckle-dyed tops and those with white space, and how they make for delicious surprises. I learned so much about twist, and about how different dots of color might make very different looks in a fabric. And I learned that combo drafting is not so scary; I could totally spin a sweater quantity holding two or three thin strips together.

Thank you Rachel and Katrina for a memorable and helpful study!

Birthday by Post

Yesterday I got a special box in the mail. My birthday was April 6th, but the box was not at all late.

Back when I wrote about my stash, I realized that I was getting the most use and creative mileage out of the stash I didn’t choose. I tend to buy for myself projects so big that they loom, and then I don’t get around to starting them for a ghastly long time. But the random yarn – usually the old castoffs of friends with good taste – those get used. When I’m shopping my stash for a project that fits my life now, I don’t pick up an idea I had years ago; I come up with something new with yarn or fiber that’s just kicking around.

After writing about that, I began to see a certain practical appeal about fiber clubs. A small amount of fiber, chosen by someone whose tastes I trust, arriving regularly, unmarried to some grand scheme. A sort of scheduled injection of creative freedom between one’s regularly scheduled major spins.

This came up in discussion with Mum when she asked what I wanted for my birthday. The idea evolved between us that, for a birthday present, she would get me the Mum’s Fiber Club. She went to the Maryland Sheep and Wool festival and picked me a year’s worth of spinning surprises. It feels as if I got to go to the festival vicariously, and Mum supported a variety of different artists this way. It seems to have turned into a very generous present!

Martha’s purple hat was not part of the package; I guess I was too excited to notice it had jumped into the picture.

I’m unreasonably excited about this. She spaced it out very sensibly considering my current limitations. Basically, what you’re looking at is a year’s worth of inspiration.

Care to see the first installment? Of course you do.

Ooooh dear. It has been on my spinning “bucket list” for a while to try a Loop batt, and this is a really nice one. 50% merino, 25% cashmere, 25% silk. I don’t think I’ve ever spun cashmere before.

I count three distinct shades of blue, and four repeats of color. Lots of interesting options for color management, though I’m pretty sure it’s meant to be spun from the centre.

Thank you Mom. Here’s to play.

I promise, this will be my last post about gifts and acquisitions for a while. Also yesterday, the next Color Studies for Wool n’ Spinning was announced, and I put my order in for that as well – I couldn’t help it; I got the fibre kit and the battlings. That’s probably all my new fibre for the year in one day! I had to breathe into a paper bag a bit; too much excitement for me.

Suddenly I am spinning away on my merino/yak with more motivation than ever. Only 1/8 of that spin left, but more on that another time.

Tie Off and Tune Out

The Olympics have been very fun to watch this year. Whether early in the morning or late at night, with a few catch-up sessions in the afternoon, I caught a little bit of every sport, all the figure skating, and a whole lot of Canadian happiness. I also, incidentally, finished N’s duffel socks.

So happy for the Shibutanis! They made me squee with delight every time they skated as well. Oh dear me, Ice Dancing is the best!

I did decide to cut new legs to go with the new feet, and so made two pairs of aliqsiik in the time allotted to one. But they will be warm, they are constructed properly, and they should last a nice long time. Easy does it.

N was the one who decided she wanted grey, when we had to return to the store for more duffel wool. I had my doubts about the color, but the final result was gorgeous. She picked all the yarn colors as well.

I doubled the embroidery around the hem to make sure it stood out enough, blue-on-grey. And after playing with several types of flowers to give N a choice of style, she said “I want the same kind as Martha’s.” Well fine. I made a different leaf at least.

I stayed up way too late on the last night of Olympic coverage to embroider all the flowers from start to finish. This is why I wanted to do these aliqsiik right after M’s; it was still familiar enough that I could do it almost on autopilot, drifting to sleep during those last french knots and bobsled runs.

This is all the sewing I completed during the 2018 Olympics. Layer 1 complete, Layer 2 assembled but not embroidered (I will have to resize the openings). The blue slippers are an additional unplanned inner layer that N can use this spring so these duffel socks are not too big, and she should be able to take them out and still wear them next winter. See? Strategy! I cut out Jared’s layer 2 and started sewing it together, but didn’t get far. I didn’t start on anyone’s layer 3.

But this is close enough that I am content. It’s a good stopping point. I can come back to layer 3 later. (Who knows; it might not fit!) If I go get myself the right help in time, I can go ahead and start on the layer 4 next – the most difficult, outside layer – for myself and N. That’s what I really want to get done in the next 6-7 weeks.

Speaking of the next 6-7 weeks, that’s how long I have to wait for baby #3 to arrive. (Though if her temperament is anything like her sisters’, it’ll be closer to 8 weeks.) Before she comes, I wanted her to have something of her very own.

#3’s Tomten jacket, an Elizabeth Zimmerman classic pattern, was made entirely from scraps from my ample worsted-weight scrap bin. I had lots of fun playing with simple slip stitch patterning in garter stitch, watching how the dots of color interacted together when I did different things in the color changes.

In The Opinionated Knitter, the inset page – you know, the paper that attaches the pages to the book cover; I used to know what that was called – pictures a pile of Tomten sweaters. The one that inspired me from p. 44 is conveniently central, and gave me a really good view of the sleeve. This was important, because the sleeve shaping starts right away on this infant version, to fit stubby infant arms, and to prevent me running out of yarn at the shoulder. It was worth the annoyance of ripping out half a sleeve to make these proper, smaller ones.

Inspired by this sweater, every time I started a new color, I did either sl 1, k 1, or sl 1, k 3, then knit all the way back. Sometimes I threw in an extra stripe of the previous color. I didn’t run out of permutations before the sweater was finished, though I did run out of yarn. But my scrap bin didn’t fail me, and I rather like the big eggplant-colored cuffs.

After staying up too late on the last night of the Olympics, I got up too early on the last morning of the Olympics. The finish line was at 9:59 a.m. our time, so I got up early, watched the closing ceremonies, and powered through the last couple inches of sleeves. The above is what the sweater looked like as the torch was extinguished: a mess of ends, sleeve seams yet to sew, but bound off. I neatened it up a good bit after church (below), though I still haven’t even purchased a zipper yet.

I earned my gold medal from Bobicus Maximus, and had such a nice time that I cast on a new Tomten sweater the same day. This one is for N, and the main color will be this fractal handspun that I don’t think I ever got around to blogging about. N has gotten very attached to these colors, and I shall not complain, because I do not think there is any way I could get them to suit me.

I did enjoy watching the Olympics, though as usual it involved watching a lot more TV than is normal or healthy for our family. There was one massive standout moment, though. I watched over a hundred ice skating programs, and though the competition was excellent, most of the actual skating went in my eyeballs and fell out my ears. But skate one stuck with me.

Image source: Getty / Maddie Meyer. Click for link to article from which this was borrowed.

If you haven’t seen Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir’s gold medal ice dance skate, go watch it. Their skate was everything that I have ever loved about figure skating. It was every bit of passion and expression in the music (the way they landed their twizzles on that gutteral “Roxanne…” I squee every time). When I watched it live, I cried when it was over. I cried the next day when I watched the replay.

It’s so much more than beautiful figure skating. It’s performance art. The absolute best of it. And the way Tessa and Scott make it possible is the incredible intimacy they obviously share, after 21 years of working together, and express to the edge of the audience – even around the world to lil’ old me. Other nights that I watched figure skating, I went to bed dreaming about what-ifs of my past: what if I had had the emotional maturity to pursue more figure skating excellence when I was a tween? When I watch Tessa and Scott, it makes me want to go work on my marriage in the present. I’ve been married to my husband for nearly ten years, and if it takes another eleven years of hard work to be an image of love that shows the world what is possible in a committed relationship, it will be completely worth it. They reminded me of that in a way that nothing has in a while.

The Olympics were fun, and I’m pleased with what I accomplished with my hands. But that was a lot of TV, during a time of transition for our family. I had fun, but I will be happy to hand back the cable receiver, turn off the screens, and devote myself not so much to crafting, but more to love. That’s what I want to do with these years. That is worth disciplining my flesh like an Olympic athlete disciplines their body.

Fifteen Minutes

I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions. I am enough of a perfectionist, with enough experience of my own failure and unnecessary self-criticism, to recognize when I’m setting myself up for failure. But I have signed myself up for a sort of daily thing, sort of starting at the New Year, and I am determined to make it as helpful as it can be. It’s a hashtaggy thing, and it’s called #spin15aday.

It’s exactly what it sounds like. You commit to yourself to spin for fifteen minutes every day. The idea is, fifteen minutes isn’t that hard to carve out, and you’ll see more progress on your spinning if you work on it a little every day than if you wait and only spin when you have larger chunks of time.

I saw this idea at the same time I was reading Teaching Godly Play by Jerome Berryman. It’s a book about a Montessori-style religious education curriculum; I had been slightly exposed to it in seminary and was reading the book to see if it was something I could do at home with my kids. I did learn some things that will help me with at-home religious education, but I learned a lot more about interacting respectfully with children, entering and encouraging the creative cycle, and contemplating the presence of God.

Berryman recommends that the teachers spend some time after the class quietly cleaning up and setting things in order, then contemplating what happened in the class. This struck me as incredibly sensible, and something I could apply immediately. When I am at home with the kids, I usually get a short break in the afternoon when N is at preschool and M is playing quietly by herself. It’s often not more than an hour, and it’s been increasingly difficult for me to give up part of that time for quiet reflection. So often there’s chores to do, or I just want to escape and read a book or cruise Facebook for an hour. But I need that quiet reflection like I need oxygen.

How can I get myself to do it? By giving it fifteen minutes.

I still can’t believe how fast this stuff got carded once I got motivated.

This has evolved over the turning of the year into a daily practice that has been very centering. I clean up the living room and dining room from any major mess with the kids, reflecting on the activities we did that morning. I take fifteen minutes to spin, setting a timer once my wheel is oiled and new fiber attached. Then I spin. No other stimulation: no sounds, no sights. When the timer goes off, I finish my rolag and put the wheel away, the pull out the Bible and the commentary I’m reading. If I don’t have any time constraints, I’ll just read a large section, knitting away,* or I’ll take a break to journal any insights. If I have other pressing matters – bathrooms to clean, dinner to start – I’ll set another fifteen minute timer.

It usually happens in that afternoon space, though sometimes I wake up early and have it in the morning, and sometimes days explode or I’m working in the afternoons, and I do it in the evenings instead.

I started before the actual turning of the year, so it’s been almost two weeks now. And it’s been really nice.

I imagine I’ll reflect on this more as the year continues, but in the interest of completing the creative circle, I want to record my observations so far. Blasting out my thoughts on IG every day is cathartic, and scratches the social itch, but it doesn’t give me any closure on the ideas. So here we are. In no particular order:

  1. It makes me prep for myself. I’ve been doing a lot of prep lately,** but it’s mostly having activities ready for the kids. But when I only have fifteen minutes a day that I know I can spin or knit, I want to make sure those fifteen minutes are not wasted or delayed in winding off a bobbin, fussing around with a complicated part of a pattern, or something like that. I’ve become very conscious of when I’m at those transition points, and I find time the day before to set myself up for the next day’s time.
  2. The spinning time is not really reflective time. After sampling a good bit, the number of treadles I give each length of woollen spinning is 11. Meaning I am counting to 11 over and over again for fifteen minutes. This doesn’t leave room for a lot of reflection, or even prayer. It’s just counting. This is actually quite good, as other times that I am by myself without watching or listening to something, I tend to talk to myself, which helps me process, but doesn’t quiet my mind. Just counting helps by brain stop spinning (as it were), and the motion of supported long-draw feels a lot like slow breathing.
  3. This is the obvious thing that everyone in #spin15aday notices, but fifteen minutes a day is really enough to see progress. In fifteen minutes I can spin three rolags, and I’ve worked out that I can fit 30 rolags on a bobbin. That’s ten days to a bobbin! Normally I might go ten days in between spinning just because it takes that long to find a bigger chunk of time. That little bit of daily progress then further motivates me to find other times to spin, because I know how productive a whole half hour or hour really is.
  4. It’s the same thing in the scripture. I’m reading a commentary I really like, but I have to read a little bit of God’s Word every day. There’s something different about it, even in the weirder bits of the Old Testament. I spent the last year reading up to four chapters a day, and I got the big picture again that way. Now I’m reading maybe a chapter over two days, taking my time and really chewing on it. There really is grace in every story, though maybe you have to read it with eyes of faith to see it. (Some solid historical perspective helps too.)

I also got glitter gel pens for Christmas. Glitter gel pens were pretty much the best thing about being 14.

I’ve done everything I can to make this a positive, affirming practice, rather than a perfectionistic one. I made a habit tracker in my bullet journal, but I fill the squares with patterns instead of solid color, so that the inevitable blank skipped days don’t feel lonely. Failure should hold no threat in something like this. And perhaps because of that, I haven’t missed a day yet.

How about you? Have you found any ways to make a discipline more positive instead of threatening (if you struggle with that at all? Some people just don’t.)

First two bobbins complete. As of this writing, my total is at 3.5 bobbins, meaning I have crossed the halfway point for the singles on this project. I am very happy about that.

*Oh have I ever been knitting! I have a big project to show you, and hopefully I’ll get to that soon…

** Yeah so my new obsession is homeschooling. Not really homeschooling as my kids are 2 and 4 and the 4 yo is in half-day preschool, but more organized homeschool-type activities to give us something to do. I’ve been putting a LOT of time and effort into this, and I should really write about that too…

Made of Blendlings and Learnings

Have you ever noticed that big projects tend to wrap up around the same time? In that vein, I finished a sweater last week.

Remember the Blendlings? My blazing re-entry into the spinning world in January and February of this year? (First post here, last post here) These wee skeins mean a lot to me, hand and heart, and they deserved to be used.

This was a leisurely project. It seems odd to me now, in my present state of urgency and indecision, but this was a project where I took my time, followed my gut, and persisted until I got it right.

My basic plan was to make Elizabeth Zimmerman’s “Scandinavian Ski Sweater” from a very early issue of Wool Gatherings. I was inspired by this sample sweater from The Opinionated Knitter, a book which fills me with nostalgia for a mid-century midwest I never remotely knew:

I considered my contrast yarn very carefully. I went with Imperial Stock Ranch Columbia 2-ply, because it was one of a very few 2-ply worsted yarns I could find. It’s woolen spun, so it’s a lot lighter than the dense worsted-spun Blendlings, but in the end that meant the sweater is a lot lighter than it could have been, and it was very adaptable to the varying gauges.

I knit a swatch in which I measured each yard used in different rows of fair isle, so I could estimate the yardage of a given band of stitch patterning, and choose a Blendling with sufficient yardage. These estimates were very successful.

It traveled with me at first- even to the dentist.

I kept hearing that the best way to learn from your handspun is to use it – in my case, to knit with it. Boy was that true.

This project could even be decent company for a card game – if the stitch pattern was simple enough.

The Blendlings are all 2-ply, some kind of nondescript British wool (likely BFL), and somewhere in the remote vicinity of worsted weight, but that’s about all they have in common. Some were underspun and overplied; some looked dull but were soft and balanced; some were tightly spun and plied into a plump, colorful rope. Some were noticeably thicker than the contrast yarn; others were so thin that I had to double them. I got to see them all knit up, and how they each acted in a fair isle pattern with woolen-spun yarn.

Gotta love the wrong side of a piece of fair isle.

The long and the short of it is that handspun is very forgiving. My least favorites were the ones that were so ropey that the stitches looked like jagged teeth, or so underspun and overplied that you could see a visible lean in the band of patterning (see the sage green S pattern below). But honestly, both of these came out fine in the wash. Colorwise, I learned that the yarns with the highest amount of color contrast within themselves (see the Xs below, and the flowers below that) were the most ungraceful in a fair isle pattern. But these complaints were exceptions. Overall, I was happy with how the yarns performed, independently and together.

Pre-steeking. I briefly considered leaving it as a tube top…

Now, the really great thing about Elizabeth Zimmermann is that she encourages the knitter to be an independent thinker. She gently chides those who ask for very specific directions by addressing them to “mindless followers.” I was looking forward to trying one of her sweater patterns and embracing the spirit of her work by putting my own spin on it.

However, I overdid it a bit. I got so excited about being an independent, knowledgeable knitter… that after a certain point, I didn’t actually read or follow any of her directions. (So much for my caution of the early stages.)

I thought to myself, “I know how to make a hemmed collar.” So I did. Then I thought, “I know how to do a steek.” So I did one. Then I thought, “I know how a sleeve is shaped.” So knit two of them. Without reading a word of what the actual pattern said about them.

Apparently, I know none of those things. Hold your breath, then look below at the horrible tragedy that was the initial steeking attempt.

I have steeked before, but apparently it was so long ago that I quite forgot how to do it. My crochet chains were too loose and too close together, but my really big mistake was that I picked up stitches (thinking to knit the sleeves top-down, since I’m oh-so-independent) right next to the crochet chain. That pulled the short cut floats right through the crochet chain and turned my neat cut into a gaping wound.

I did recover, but only after hours of delicate work that could have been avoided. EZ, it turns out, sewed down her steeks three times with a sewing machine before taking scissors to her work. Good grief.

The sleeves were… well.

I wanted to knit the sleeves top down, so I could use up the largest amounts of yarn on larger stitch patterns near the top. Fair enough. And I thought, reasonably, that I knew what a sleeve should be shaped like; I have enough sweaters and have knit (and designed!) enough of them myself. Well, first off, I did not have an accurate idea of my row gauge, so I was not decreasing fast enough. Second, I know how a sleeve is shaped on a fitted sweater… but this is a bag sweater. My mom is a bag-sweater master, so I grew up in and around the things, but it never occurred to me: have never made a bag sweater before. In a bag sweater, the top of the sleeve has to be enormous to be comfortable.

As a result, after two weeks of careful two-at-a-time work, I had two perfectly matched sleeves which squeezed awkwardly on my upper arm, and flapped stupidly around the wrist, while bunching up from being four inches too long.

I took my medicine. I ripped one out entirely (except for the cuff, which I had forcibly decreased down to the correct size), and followed directions this time, knitting from the bottom up. Increasing every four rows still sounded drastic, but I complied, and barely came up to the correct number of stitches at the top! What do I know, indeed.

It went very quickly, though. It turns out knitting one sleeve goes much faster than knitting two. I left the other sleeve intact while I was knitting the first over again, and used it as a pattern. It helped a great deal that I had already made my decisions about what patterns and colors to use, and so wasn’t stopping every half-dozen rows to dig through my bag of Blendlings and leaf through the pattern book.

Old sleeve on the left, new on the right. I also got the chance to flip those blue birds around which I had inadvertently knit upside-down.

The second sleeve was re-knit in a trice. A hearty blocking evened everything out, though it took a full four days to dry through all those layers. I had to deepen the steeks for the wider sleeves, but a couple evenings of careful work had it all put together.

This sweater is so… wearable. I don’t wear handknit pullovers much because I get sweaty, then the thing has to be handwashed, which means it never gets worn again. But I threw this on over a long sleeved shirt on a mild arctic August day, and wore it comfortably all day. There isn’t a gram of acrylic in this thing, and with all that woolen yarn mixed in, it’s so light.

About the hem collar – I didn’t follow those directions either, and made the hem all the way around the top, rather than just around the collar (which is what EZ actually describes). As a result I have a much thicker area at the shoulders where the doubled portions were sewn together. It creates a very shoulderpad-like effect. But I think I can live with it, as a reminder to pay at least some attention next time.

I love it. Both because it works, and because it is doubly made of learning experiences. I hope I wear it to bits.

A Priest Crafts: Episode 4, How TDF Went

Slightly belatedly, here are my reflections on Tour de Fleece 2017 – my first time participating. I focused on one big (for me) spin, which challenged me in a couple of ways. I’m happy about how it went, and hope you’ll check out my thoughts about it, and that you share your thoughts as well!

Show Notes

These original three braids are all one-of-a-kind braids from Woolgatherings. For easy reference I call them “blue,” “orange,” and “pink.” They were purchased in May 2010, at the Cloverhill Yarn Shop booth at the Maryland Sheep & Wool festival. (OK true confessions: I think they were actually purchased at the shop, before the festival, when the box arrived and we started unpacking it.) I had actually always envisioned putting them together in some kind of massively multicolor gradient.


Spreading out the top. Isn’t that floofy BFL crimp just gorgeous? I was actually surprised at the amount of VM still present. This was quite comforting; I hope this means it was processed in a relatively low-impact manner. The silk was, for the most part, well-blended in, though there were cut bits of silk I had to pull out at times. There were some nepps as well, but I blame that on how long I left these poor dears in my stash. Two thumbs up; I would definitely recommend woolgatherings! They’re still doing handpainted tops, but have branched out into some interesting color blends and breed specific rovings.


Stripping away on a hot June day in Maryland, while getting eaten alive by mosquitoes.


Top left: Ply #1: 4 bumps blue, 3 orange, 2 pink.
Top right: Ply #2: 3 blue, 3 orange, 3 pink.
Bottom: Ply #3: 2 blue, 3 orange, 4 pink.

I absolutely filled my instagram and ravelry accounts with bobbin shots of this spin, so I will not re-post them here. If you’re interested in more details, here’s the ravelry page for this spin.


The Nerd Numbers:

  • Total yardage: 884 yards
  • Total weight: 11.7 oz
  • Grist: 1208 YPP
  • Finished by soaking and snapping
  • WPI (finished): 12 WPI, or about DK-weight
  • TPI (plied & finished): 3.5
  • Twist angle: ~35 degrees


Thanks so much for watching and reading.

In Depth: Striped Top Color Study Analysis

In my second video, I explored spinning a striped top with different drafting techniques and 2-ply plying arrangements in order to achieve different color affects. I was only able to flash the yarn up at the time, and talk about it a little, but I promised a more in-depth analysis of the yarn to come. I knit the samples up into a swatch-scarf (swarf?) over vacation, and I’m finally ready to share my analysis! Get ready to get down into the weeds with me, folks. I hope you like gettin’ nerdy with me.

I won’t go over the details of the singles again here; if you’d like your memory refreshed, please check out the video. But for the sake of reference, here are the four types of singles I made, with brief notes:

A. All Colors: whole top was predrafted together; spun short forward draft. I wasn’t exactly spinning all the colours together at all times, but pretty close.
B. Across the Top: attempted to spin across the top with short forward draft; found that I was generally taking from one side of the top (green-blue-red) or the other (purple-orange-red) and so had alternating sections of these colors combo-drafted.
C. Stripped: divided the top into equal sections lengthwise, then stripped each section into four, spinning each set of four in the same order. This made for very consistent color repeats of only 2-3 colors drafting together.
D. Over the Fold: Tore off short sections of the whole top and spun them over the fold, drafting off the end of my finger. This made woolen singles, much airier and longer yardage for the same weight, and interestingly, most isolated the colors from one another.

I plied three different ways: traditional 2-ply, center-pull ball, and plied A against each of the other colors.

The original top:

These are presented neither in the order that they were knit, nor in the order that they were spun, nor in the order they were plied, but in the order that it makes sense to me to talk about them.

Sample #1: All Colors against Itself

This first sample served as a sort of “control” for the experiment. Pre-drafting the top meant that I was drafting as many colors as possible at any one time. With the many hues in this top, blending them together as much as possible would make as much mud as possible. This is not as blended as it would be if I had, say, carded it together, but the optical blending is pretty thorough. This way we can also see the overall tone of the blend, which is a greyish purple-red.

Sample #2: Stripped in Traditional 2-ply

This was the sample I was most excited about. Since the drafting method made for very consistent stripes in the singles, and I plied them together starting at the same point in the color repeat, the colors matched up beautifully. There’s still a ton of complexity in the yarn, due to the fact that I was still drafting at least two colors at any one time, and the colors did not line up absolutely exactly. Who knows how this would work on a larger project, as the consistency in color repeats would drift eventually. But if there were a way to keep it exact, that would rock, because this is a really neat self-striping yarn!

Sample #3: Stripped in Center-Pull Ball

This is the exact same single, but plied out of a center-pull ball. What a dramatic difference. There are still stripes, but they are much shorter and more subtle, because the same colours that were lined up in the last sample are folded in half against each other in this sample. It’s interesting to me that the blues and greens really popped out more in this one than in the other samples, while the red receded a little bit.

Sample #4: Stripped against All Colors

The stripes in this sample are the same length as in the traditional-2ply, but much more subdued, since the second ply was the purple-grey All Colors. I appreciate the subtlety of this effect, and the overall purple tone comes through. Note also that because the variation is only in one ply, this would be very easy to replicate in a larger project, because I wouldn’t have to worry about lining them up!

Sample #5: Over the Fold in Traditional 2-ply

As mentioned above, spinning over the fold did the best job of isolating the colors – meaning I often was spinning only one color at a time. Thus, you see that the colors pop most of all in these samples. However, not much of a pattern comes through, because the colors were quite short and inconsistent. I could not be very consistent in the lengths I was pulling off to spin over my finger, and I did not really try. What I got out of the plying, then, was a bunch of bright barber poling. I love it in the skein, and find I’m ambivalent about it knit up.

Sample #6: Over the Fold in Center-Pull Ball

Since the colour repeats were inconsistent in the singles, the center-pull ball yarn is nearly indistinguishable from the traditional 2-ply. I did always spin from the same edge of the top, so the colours are in the same order, if not the same length. That means the colours in the center-pull ball sample are a little more scrambled than in the traditional 2-ply. But the difference is so slight I wouldn’t even look for it outside this experiment.
(Interestingly, you can see the dramatic yardage difference as well. I measured the exact same length of top for each type of drafting, but the samples made from this woollen-style spinning are much longer. It’s the same exact quantity of wool, and the same thickness, just with more air.)

Sample #7: Over the Fold against All Colors

(Skein shot lost, sorry)

This sample preserves the short pops of colour, but with much less barber poling, and a subler tone. I find it more pleasant than the previous two, and again very purple. For maximum subtlety, compare to #10 below – you can see stronger variagations in this than in #10.

Sample #8: Across the Top in Traditional 2-ply

Spinning this across the top was an exercise in frustration, because I’m inexperienced in the technique, and because the top was too narrow to see much distinction. The colours I drafted together were inconsistent and unpredictable. This means that most of what I see in these samples is mud, albeit less blended mud than sample #1.

Sample #9: Across the Top in Center-Pull Ball

Again, since the colour changes were of inconsistent length, there was no obvious difference between these. Even more so since going back and forth across the top makes for palindromic colour changes, so direction is irrelevant. The colours lined up more in this sample, giving a few pops of blue, but I’m pretty sure that’s a mathematical coincidence.

Sample #10: Across the Top against All Colors

This final sample hardly differs from the other two, as both singles were really quite muddy. Some gentle emphases come through, because when a colour was occasionally strong in the Across the Top single, it was reinforced by its presence in the other single. This reinforcement of pop colours means that the yarn almost never looks barber piled. There’s not enough contrast. It’s got a little more visual ebb and flow than sample #1, and is definitely less uniformly purple.


When I started this project, I thought this kind of top very unusual. But I’m seeing it turn up in different places, mostly in wider tops custom blended for sellers like hipstrings, woolgatherings, and regenbollenwolle, to name a few. (Please name others in the comments; I still haven’t found the name of this wools source.) The colours are usually more blended in those tops and less boldly distinct. But I hope for those who enjoy such tops, that this shows some of the variety available for the colour conneseur.

I would love to repeat this experiment on a wider top with brighter colours. The dark value made some of the differences harder to see.

When it comes down to finished objects – and I am shamelessly product-oriented, you know – what spinning really offers is the chance to design a completely unique fabric. I found it very rewarding to discover how much subtle control I could have over the look just by playing with a few variables!