How to Use a Gradient

This is a basic tutorial on how to incorporate one of our gradient yarn sets into a pattern. The basic idea is to have a brief overlap section between skeins so as to create the illusion of one slowly changing color. (Credit for this technique goes to The Unique Sheep.)

Scroll down to see a gradience version of the Weaver’s Wool Mini Shawl. (The original pattern is by Peggy Pignato. The pattern below was reconstructed without a pattern, as it was unavailable at the time of writing.)


When incorporating a gradient yarn into an existing pattern, you can use your own judgment as to how many sets you will need, depending on the colorway. Depending on the pattern, you may wish to calculate the number of rows or stitches and divide them into five or six (depending on the colorway you choose) in order to evenly space the colors, or you may decide to wing it. It’s your choice!

The transition section is 12 rows. The color you have been knitting with, I will call the “old color.” The new color you are transitioning to, I will call the “new color.” Work the transition section as follows:

  • Work 2 rows of new color.
  • Work 4 rows of old color.
  • Work 4 rows of new color.
  • Work 2 rows of old color.

You may now cut the old color and continue in the new color only.


 * * * * *

Weaver’s Wool Mini-Shawl in a Gradient Yarn

 original by Peggy Pignato; reconstructed and adapted by Rebecca Osborn



  • One 5-skein Gradient Set from Osborn Fiber Studio (545 yards total), either base (worsted or aran weight).
  • US 10 needles, 32″ or 40″ circular recommended.
  • 4 stitch markers

Gauge is not too important in terms of the pattern, but if you are using one of our gradient sets, you will want to make sure your blocked gauge is not larger than 3.75 stitches per inch. (i.e. 4 st./in. is okay; 3 st./in. is not okay). If your stitches are larger, you will run out of yarn before the color transition is complete, which will annoy you greatly.

Size after blocking is approximately 60″ wide and 22″ deep. (Of course, if you do not use one of our gradient sets, you may use whatever yarn you like and it can be any size you like.)

Techniques and abbreviations:

  • K – Knit.
  • YO – Yarn over.
  • K2tog – Knit 2 together.
  • Sl 1 – Slip 1 as if to purl, with yarn in front.
  • PM – place stitch marker.
  • SM – slip stitch marker.
  • RS – Right side.
  • WS – Wrong side.


  • During a transition section, do not cut the two yarns as they switch back and forth, but carry them up. When four rows are done in the same color during the transition rows, you will want to wrap your working around the unused yarn once to continue carrying it up on the wrong side.
  • To avoid having a line of floats very close to the edge of the shawl, do not start a new color with the first stitch. Instead, do the first two stitches of a new color row with the old color (this is always Sl 1, K1), then start using the new color.
  • Keep these carries loose. 
  • You can always tell the right side because the right edge has a stitch marker. You may also wish to place a locking stitch marker on the right side to help you keep it straight.
  • New colors always start at the beginning of a right side row.
  • For the purposes of this pattern, two rows of garter stitch are called a “ridge.” Counting ridges is easier than trying to count rows, especially at the beginning.

Work each color transition section as follows:

  • Work 2 rows of new color.
  • Work 4 rows of old color.
  • Work 4 rows of new color.
  • Work 2 rows of old color.


Cast on 29 stitches (any cast on will do).
Row 1 (WS): Sl 1, K to end.
Row 2 (RS): Sl 1, K2, PM, *YO, K5, YO, PM, K1* 4 times; K2.
Row 3: Sl 1, K to end.
Row 4: Sl 1, K2, SM, YO; K until 3 stitches remain (slipping all other markers); YO, K3.
Row 5: Sl 1, K to end.

Continue as follows for the first four colors:
Row 1 (RS): Sl 1, K2, SM, *YO, K to next marker, YO, SM, K1* 4 times; YO, K2.
Row 2: Sl 1, K to end.
Row 3: Sl 1, K2, SM, YO; K until 3 stitches remain (slipping all other markers); YO; K3.
Row 4: Sl 1, K to end.

AT THE SAME TIME, follow these directions for changing colors.
After working 43 total rows of the first color (23 ridges), begin the transition section into the second color.
After working 8 rows (4 ridges) of the second color only (after the transition section is over), begin the transition section into the third color.
After working 6 rows (3 ridges) of the third color only, begin the transition section into the fourth color.
After working 4 rows (2 ridges) of the fourth color only, begin the transition section into the fifth color.

After the transition section into the fifth color is complete, continue as follows:
Work 2 rows as established. On the second row, remove all the stitch markers as you work across.
Row 1 (RS): Sl 1, K2, YO, K1, *YO, K2tog* until 4 stitches remain; K1, YO, K3.
Row 2 (WS): Sl 1, K to end.
Row 3 (RS): Sl 1, K to end.
You should now be on a wrong side row. Bind off all stitches loosely. (Binding off on the wrong side will create one last purl ridge.) Block and enjoy!


The Wonder of Apples

My life is divided into 2 seasons, and if I’m going to be optimistic about it, I would title them:  Happy   Fall/Winter and Joyous-Busy Spring/Summer.  But in reality, September through February is fun.  The new school year starts and I can realistically look forward to some interesting homeschool reading with my little daughter (now in 6th grade!), a new class that I teach at church, and endless knitting.  However, March through August is TOO INTENSE!!!  No matter how I pre-plan or gain experience, I cannot seem to get through 5 birthdays, Easter, Sheep and Wool Festival, co-leading VBS, and summer vacation without feeling wiped out.  (By now you have figured out that this post is written by Mom and not Rebecca.  Sorry about that . . . I like to check in now and then.  If you fall asleep reading it, I cannot apologize.  She is a better writer than me and I can’t . . . help . . . it!!  I’m . . . just . . . the mother . . . zzsszzzsss) – Don’t be silly, Mum. You get a little excitable about punctuation, but this is a great post. Read on, all! – R.

This year in particular, many things were put on the back burner to get through all those wonderful events.  A post about apple dying is one of them.  And here it is!  Dying with apples is one of my favorite ways to dye yarn!   For starters, I have always loved trees. They GIVE so much of themselves and take almost nothing from me.  They make their food from the air, and clean it at the same time.  A miracle!  They also dye some magical yellows and greens.

It took me a year of experimenting to get the hang of exactly what to do, because reading all the material I could find did not explain much.  My dear husband bought me 8 books on natural dying two Christmases ago, and they got me started.  But in the end, one has to DO the thing oneself to “get” it.  (If one is lucky.  Things I have not managed to master even after reading about them and trying:                                                             Running on a regular basis – I always got shin splints and finally took up aerobic dancing instead; Making my mother-of-the-bride dress in a purple lace – I bought an outfit; Getting RED out of madder root – I got a lovely orange only. I could go on, but I won’t. Ick.)

Happily, I did master dyeing with apple bark!  It’s lovely stuff, and it is light-fast as well as holding well in repeated hand washing.  Once upon a time (1980-ish), my parents planted an apple tree in their yard. 15 years later, they gave us their back property and we built a house there.  Another 15 years later and I bought a puppy which I had to walk 5 times a day.  I wandered all over our property and my parents’ property and read my dye books . . . hmmm . . . dyeing with apple bark?  What does that mean?  Do I strip the bark?  How do I get the bark OFF????

I finally figured out this means you plunk branches, leaves and all, into a bucket of water to soak.  You leave them to soak for several days, then you simmer the branches in a dye pot, let it cool, strain it, then ta-daaaa:  some gorgeous yellow.  I love using it instead of turmeric or golden rod or any other yellow because I can get a LOT of it easily.  This one tree will yield all the yellow I could ever want for the rest of my dyeing days.

Now of course it’s trickier than it sounds. And mixing it with black beans to make green is another learning curve. And learning what it does on alpaca/wool compared to merino/tencil is a whole other adventure.

PLUS it turns out that if you strip the bark, you get a much brighter yellow, which is extremely helpful in some cases, but not always.  SO:  here’s what I do now:

If I want to make our “Golden Delicious” color in either yarns:

 1) Fill a bucket with branches (include leaves if it’s that time of year) to soak for at least 3 days.  No more than 6 days or it will get slimy and smelly.  This does not hurt the dye color, but it does make it nastier to work with.

2) Next, strip the bark.  (You can see from the third picture that I don’t entirely strip the bark, taking about 1/2-2/3’rds off is enough.)

3) Simmer the stripped wood in my dye pot for an hour.  Let it cool overnight.

4) Pour the liquid into a bucket, straining it through my sieve with a bit of cheese cloth I laid in there to catch the tiny bits.  Rinse the dye pot.

5) Pour the lovely dye from the bucket back into the dyepot.                                                         6) Add the yarn and let it sink into the liquid.  Simmer for an hour.  Cool it down overnight.

If I want to make “Sprout Sage”,  the next step is to let the yellow yarn dry, then put it in the black beans’ dye bath for 4 days.  Now there are ways to dye the yarn fairly solid or make it variegated, but that’s another story.

The “Groovy Green”, sold only in the Kirby Meritime, is a more forest green color, and that can only be achieved using turmeric for the yellow.  For some reason, the Merino/tencil yarn yields a completely different green in this process.  That’s why we decided to offer 2 greens in that yarn.  The green in the alpaca/wool is such a pretty color in itself, we left it as our only green.

Now to make a lighter yellow, it’s best to leave the bark ON the branches and twigs.  We did this for one customer who preferred a softer yellow.  Plus if one does not mordant the yarn, and one doubles the amount of bark, one gets our gorgeous tan which we call “Naked Apple.”

Here’s what the colors look side by side, so you can see what a difference it is to leave it ON or take it off.  This is the Merino/tensil yarn.  The one one on the right has no bark removed.  The yarn in the middle has some bark removed.  And the brightest yellow on the left is achieved by removing as much bark as I can.

If you do want to try this for yourself, another piece to the puzzle is how much to use.  I don’t weigh the bark like I do the black beans or the pokeberries.  Instead I “measure”  buckets.  One of those 5-gallon buckets full of apple pieces fits into one dye pot, if I don’t pack it too tightly.  So after they soak, I simply transfer them from my bucket to my pot.  And I know that will dye 2 hanks, each 250g.  One of the wonderful things about using apple bark is that it is available 12 months of the year!

This is the time of year to enjoy eating fresh apples!  I hope you also think of the  amazing apple tree bark as you enjoy their lovely taste.




Spin Retreat ’12: Bead Away

After the disappointments recounted yesterday, I want to end the review of our little spin weekend on a high note. Yarn with beads in it is mega cool stuff, almost universally expensive, and gorgeous nigh unto irrisistability. Tilli Thomas and Art Yarns are among the most mainstream producers of such goodies, and they are on the very highest end of specialty yarn. The only other access to such delights is handspun. And by golly, I was going to try it.

I pulled out a gem to be the main ply; 2 oz. of completely gorgeous merino/silk acquired (evidently) from the Cloverleaf Farms booth (I’m pretty sure that link is the right Cloverleaf Farms; the pictures of her display of top looked the same).

I split it in half and dashed it off into completely gorgeous singles in no time at all. I was spinning thick and thin, semi-woolen, and fast; this top was loose and open, so it was easy as pie.

Next, I took the ample leftovers of white singles I had spun up for the horrible tailspun, and endowed it with all the leftover beads from Rachel’s Tears. I have no idea where my beading needle is, so I just threaded a regular sewing needle with sewing thread, tied the thread to my yarn, and off I went. I spaced the beads about 2″ apart, which meant I had to continuously slide the rest of the beads down the single. Predictably, this led to a deal of breakage and frustration. This also meant that I could only put on as as many beads at a time that I could slide down without too much headache. If I do this again, I will put the beads on a thinner, more stable yarn; maybe even a thread.

This is a very effective way to eat up beads in a hurry. I was only a third of the way through the red singles when I ran out, so I spun the rest of it together. The result – two glorious little yarns, probably heavy-worsted-to-bulky-ish, about 60 yards each.

Sizeable in girth, but delicate in composition. I am in love, but you probably knew that. It’s hard not to love something that has passed through your own fingers so many times, especially when its final destination – a garment – remains a mystery of potential.

And this was so easy! I should over-order beads every time, so I can make more fun stuff like this. It’s a lot less work than knitting with beads, let me tell you.

This brings the recounting of our spinning retreat to a close. Appearances to the contrary, I have been knitting… and more. Much of it is still on the DL, as I have an unaccountable aversion to showing future designs while they’re still WIPs. At least for “the series,” as its come to be called around here. But there’s other knitting on the go, a bit, and we’ve been gardening, and enjoying things like sunshine. Speaking of sunshine, happy solstice! Engage in some redeemed paganism. I think I’m going to go sit on the porch, under the dappled light through the maple, and read Sigurd and Gudrun and Made from Scratch.

Spin Retreat ’12: Cormolicious Combing

Even though I’m taking forever to wash the silver fleece, both Mom and I opted for the speedy route when it came to washing our Cormo cross. And during our spinning retreat, Mom showed me up close and personal how she uses her new combs to process this fine, short-stapled fiber into perfectly spinnable top. (Mom got her info from a couple of videos, like this one. But as is our mantra, why not add a photo tutorial to the mix of overinformation on these here internets?)

Combing, according to mum, is most appropriate for short-stapled, superfine wools like cormo and merino; perhaps also pure ramboullet or finer corriedales.

Because Mom was careful to preserve lock structure when she washed this fleece, it’s easy for her to pull out a few locks. She slides the butt ends onto the comb that she’s clamped to the table (be careful, those points are sharp!) until the comb is about half full.

She then uses the other comb to gently pull the locks off the clamped comb. Here she demonstrates the sideways motion required; you can move the comb any direction but straight down.

When most of the fiber is on the free comb, there’s a little bit left on the clamp comb. She’ll use these leftovers to make her first bit of top. She starts at one side of the comb and pulls it off, moving slowly toward the other side.

A wee strip of soft perfection remains, ready to be spun quickly, easily, and deliciously.

The one downside of combing is that it produces more waste than carding. Here are some of the useless bits of butt leftover on the comb. Generally, these are the bits you wouldn’t want in your yarn anyway, containing nepps and other unpleasantness. If you were so inclined, I imagine you could save these bits to make felted dryer balls, which friend A turned me on to and I haven’t gotten around to trying yet.

After that initial tuft is taken care of, you can use the free comb, still full of fluff, to reload the clamped comb.

Now you have a new wisp from which you can pull off another wee bit of top.


I cannot say enough how delicious the results looked to spin, and how I felt just a little bit covetous the whole time. (Like I have time or room for another piece of equipment… wait, in our new house, I kind of do.)

Mom spun up some lofty singles from both the lighter and darker parts of the fleece, and plied them in such a way that we could see all different color combinations. It’s so cushy and soft and smooth! I’ve decided I’m going to finish with the silver first, but boy-o… am I excited to take a whack at this sometime in the not-so-distant future.

Spin Retreat ’12: Locked on Target

So on Thursday, I wrote a bit about core spinning. An even more basic way to core spin is to just hold some fiber perpendicular to your core, and as it spins, it will grab ahold of it and create a wonderful light fuzzy something of a yarn. You can also do this with locks.

I had a lot leftover after the tailspinning escapade I showed you earlier, and I thought this would be a little easier. So I took all the light blue locks, held their butt ends (that is what they are called) up to the core as I spun, and let the core grab as much of the lock as it wanted.

I found that, after the butt had secured itself around the core, I could move the lock up and down the core to make it grab the whole lock.

When I started to run out of light blue, I mixed the last of the light blue locks with the dark blue, then did the rest of the dark blue.

When corespinning locks in particular, Amy King recommends following up the corespinning process with a binder thread to secure things in place. This means that you take the yarn you’ve corespun and put it through the wheel again, plying it in the opposite direction it was spun with a thread. I just used some white sewing thread. You also do this when making boucle yarns, which I tried forever ago.

I experimented with holding the thread and yarn at different angles to the oriface, but I found I had to change my technique based on whether I was trying to secure a fat lock or a skinny bit of wrapped yarn. Eyeballing it was good enough, for the most part.

The end result is pretty flippin’ cool. It looks much more like boucle than the last time I tried, and plying it with the binder thread made it almost perfectly balanced. I’m not clear on how you’d balance a corespun yarn otherwise.

I’m trying not to think about whether this yarn would be good for anything; I’m just admiring its qualities instead. Play doesn’t always need a purpose.

Spin Retreat ’12: Locks in a Tailspin

So while we’re on the subject of ridiculous yarns, let’s get even weirder.

I received these bags of hand-dyed locks as a destash gift from the incomparably lovely B.W., and every now and then I would run into them and wonder what to do with them. One could always just card and spin them up normally, but these locks are special, and resist such plebian treatment.

Why are these locks special? I know nothing but what I’ve seen browsing the fairs, but some breeds (I know at least Lincoln and Cotswald) grow their wool in a unique lock structure that holds together into thick strands. I’ve seen demonstrations how to just knit with locks, though to be honest, it looks a little ridiculous. But lately I’ve had a lot of exposure to Jazz Turtle, who seems to be the master of a technique called “tailspinning.” The idea of this technique is that the base of a lock is, well, locked, onto a core yarn, with the rest of it left hanging.

I could have read a book on the subject, or I could at least have taken ten minutes and found a couple you tube videos on how to do it. But you know how it is when you get in a rush of projects… a couple of pictures in Spin Control and I felt enough of an expert to give it a whack.

The first step was to spin  up some singles – way too much, of course, but white singles always come in handy. This is more dorset from Aunt K, who gave me a few pounds of it when Doris first came into my life.

Next, I prepped some locks, to make the flow of spinning them a little easier. You can see how most of them have a very clearly defined tip and a fluffy, indistinct base.

To get the locks attached to the yarn, the basic idea is to trap them between two plies. I placed them every 8″ or so.

After dividing the plies. I placed a lock between them, and let a few more twists go into the plies.

But I couldn’t just let it stay like this, because the locks will just pull out. So next, I split the plies again, forcing the twist to scrunch up close to where the lock was positioned, and dragged the lock through again. That, ehem, locked it on place.

There’s no denying, both on the bobbin and off, this is easily the most ridiculous looking yarn I’ve ever made.

I should probably have admitted to myself before I started that all the colors I was given don’t quite go together.

Mom learned from my trial attempt, and drew a few colors from her own extensive collection of lincoln locks to complement some fuscia singles she spun up. She picked smaller bits of lock, positioned them closer to each other, and instead of just attaching the base, she centered the lock across the plies. The shorter, fuzzier yarn she made looks a little less like traditional tailspin, but looks a lot less like the barf of a deranged, wool-obsessed clown.

Again, my equipment got in the way; this is going on the list of things I won’t try again without a bulky flyer. But I also have a huge amount of respect for what Esther at Jazz Turtle does, and I have a lot of reading and experimenting to do if I ever want to do this again. But quirkiness is still the point of this technique, and I have no doubt that my tailspun will make some exceedingly quirky boot toppers.

Spin Retreat ’12: Softcore – or soft, with a core.

From the sublime to the ridiculous, my silk hankie thread was next followed by my first-ever intentional novelty yarn. Core spun yarn, that is; specifically core spun singles.

The singles in question were 1.6 oz. of “fine wool,” a takeaway from 2011’s spin in. And, I thought, very nearly Kirby colored.

I wish to picture this fiber also with our bible for the weekend: Spin Control by Amy King. This book is perfect for the spinner just budding out of the beginner category, answering most basic-to-intermediate questions with clarity, conciseness, and excellent pictures. It ends with a short chapter on novelty yarn. Entire books have been written on spinning novelty yarn, but this is just that for me – a novelty – and I don’t know that it will stick. Definitely a one-chapter level of commitment. But I would commend this book to anyone; I was particularly converted by her chapter on sampling.

Also, we moved outside. The weather was perfect for a little porch spinning!

But I digress. This Kirby-Colored “fine wool” was true to its name; it was whipped up into some gorgeously imprecise Kirby-colored singles in about half an hour. Why don’t I spin for sweaters out of fiber like this? Oh yeah, because it’s prohibitively expensive and would pill like the dickens, probably even in a 2-ply. But it’s so nummy.

Step the next: dig through the stash to find a core. This little ball of crochet cotton has quite the story. My dear in-laws, on one of their international adventures, actually called us from Scotland to see if there was anything we would like for a souvenir. My first wool-related association with that country was, at the time, Shetland lace. Could they possibly maybe find some Shetland lace? Not that I knew where it is produced or where they could find it, nor that I had yet discovered that Shetland lace is more a historical phenomenon than a current one. They did manage to find some kind of yarn-etc.-selling store, although the sales girl had no idea what they were talking about. She thought maybe I meant this.

I have long treasured this little ball for their efforts, imagining the day that I would be overwhelmed with the desire to crochet tiny pineapples. Mercifully, the day came a little sooner that I was told by Ms. King that crochet cotton makes an excellent core for core-spun yarns.

What is core spinning, you ask? The basic idea is that you have some very durable core, and you hold it so it’s coming directly out of the wheel’s oriface. (That is absolutely a technical term, and I can almost say it in mixed company with a straight face.) The wrap, which might be existing yarn, or just fiber, or locks, or whatever, is held perpendicular to the core and wrapped around it by the twist going into the core.

In the case of a singles core spun yarn, the singles just wrap themselves around the core with nary a care. I had to push them up to bunch them into beautiful coils, and I found it helpful if I occasionally pulled on the wrapping yarn. In its eagerness to be wrapped around the core, it sometimes jumped on too loosely, making slubs out of looseness instead of out of irregularities in the yarn. I wanted the slubs, but I also wanted the yarn to be at least kinda stable.

Easy peasy, right? Well, yes, if you have the right tools.

See the coil stretched out just before it reaches the first hook? My flier isn’t really meant for bulky yarn, let alone novelty yarn. So with this, and with all the novelty yarns I spun this weekend, my delight was marred by the fiber getting continually stuck in the oriface. (yes, yes.) Not to mention it getting stuck on the hooks, which happily turned every which way and made a mess of things. I had to wind the yarn onto the bobbin by manually turning the bobbin in relation to the flier, and the final yarn isn’t as even in its wrappiness as I had hoped.

But you gotta admit, it looks pretty flippin’ cool. The variation in the fiber between light and dark enhances the shading effect of the coils, making them pop even more.

It looks even better now that I’ve blocked it; it’s quite energized in these pictures. I can’t imagine knitting with it; I’ll probably just wear it as a cold-weather necklace next time I have a snazzy evening engagement. I promise I’ll wear it with a more appropriate outfit than below. And I’ll probably comb my hair.