N=4

A day off wool blogging because this little looney toon turns 4 today. 


That’s right, 4! My wiggly snuggler is a kid. It’s not so much that the time has flown as that I’m shocked the time passed at all! But here she is, and I enjoy her more every day, and the person she’s becoming. My crafty lady. 


Happy birthday, Naomi. 

Owning It: Goals for Spinning 2017

As I’ve been stumblingly re-learning old skills and learning new ones, guzzling down new information and finally practicing ideas I’d only understood abstractly, I realized something.

I didn’t think of myself as a spinner.

I felt like a poser – I had the stuff, but not the love. It’s been so long since I’ve made time for spinning that I’d taken it for granted that I couldn’t make time for spinning. The truth is, it’s been a long time since I loved it, since I really connected with it, though I’m sure I must have at some point. I’ve seriously considered selling my wheels and stash, just because unused useful things are oppressive to me.

But now, as I’ve started making yarn again, I’ve suddenly had so much joy in it – in the learning process, in all the variation in a series of tiny projects, in the experimentation and trial and error. Along the way, I’ve come to accept that I am a spinner. I have been a spinner. Actually, I’ve made some pretty lovely yarns over the years. I was critical of them because they weren’t always what I expected, and they didn’t always do what I wanted them to. But they were dang fine yarns. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I did it pretty well!

I go through pretty intense phases with things sometimes. I make spreadsheets. I make plans. They’re often about escapism: am I really going to celebrate all the holy days in the church with the kids? no. Do I really want to write a cooking blog? no. Am I ever going to live on a farm? no. Am I really going to read the entire works of C.S. Lewis? Being a third of the way through his first volume of letters, I can say no. Usually, I burn myself out after a few weeks, figure out what I’m avoiding and deal with it, and if I’m lucky I haven’t bought anything.

But this…. this is different. Yes, it’s definitely subconscious – I have a big work thing that is awesome but intense and it takes something intense to keep me from being stuck on it, and this is serving that purpose. But I don’t want to burn out on this.

There’s no pretense here: I am a spinner. I own three wheels. I have enough stash to keep me spinning for three years. I don’t have to buy anything. This is an avocation that is allowed.

With that in mind, I’m going to embrace the melding of intention and creativity, and set some goals for this year. Not rules, not grand plans – just guidelines for how I want to spin this next year.

GUIDELINES FOR 2017

  • DO spin during any free alone time – don’t feel like you’re not allowed to spin just because you have other crafts on the go. 
  • DO knit with handspun
  • DO make sweaters or other big projects with handspun as an accent
  • DO bring up a ton of fiber stash from Mom’s house this summer (Enough for Spin-the-Bin next year)
  • DO participate in Tour de Fleece
  • DO spin lots of small quantities
  • DO practice lots of different techniques
  • DO sample every time and make sample cards
  • DO spin ONE sweater quantity (after August, if you’ve spun at least 6 projects)
  • DO spin only one project at a time.
  • DO instagram and ravel it up – these communities are very inspiring and motivating if I don’t overdo it
  • DON’T buy more fiber until 2018
  • DON’T spend time shopping when you would rather be spinning
  • DON’T plan to join any more big spin-along events (but go for smaller ones if they come up and don’t require buying anything!!!)
  • DON’T plan too far ahead
  • DON’T spin any lace or large quantities of fingering
  • DON’T choose any long projects (aside from maybe 1 sweater if you’re ready)
  • DON’T do any fleece prep this year

I think if this is going to be sustainable, I am going to have to seriously resist getting bogged down in any long projects or grand plans. I love making plans, but unlike with knitting, if I lose the love on a spinning project, I’m stalled. It’s much harder for me to power through a spinning project gone wrong than a knitting one.  Still, I do have a ball winder. If I need a break and to start something else, it’s possible, and I should give myself permission to do that if I really need to. But for this first year back, I want to avoid that kind of situation. It’s happened to me so many times!

Received some wonderful wool-related mail in the last 24 hours!


That is all a very long way of saying, I am owning this. I can absolutely make time to spin, if that’s what I want. Maybe because I’ve finally gotten my knitting WIPs reliably under control, I feel like I can have spinning WIPs that actually go somewhere. I just get to choose whether to spend my free time spinning or knitting. (Or sewing or writing.) Realizing this – and realizing the whole world of learning about spinning  that is open to me if I apply myself – gives me a lot of joy and excitement about spinning as a creative outlet.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ve only spun 13 oz.

One sample at a time, one lesson at a time.

And seriously. NO more stashing!

Unless I see that qiviut at Malikaat again. That’s different.

Blendlings: Conclusions and Reflections

By now I’m sure you are all sick of hearing about my precious Blendlings! If you’ve stuck through all this reading, all these nerdy ramblings and color speculations, thank you. It means a lot for me to write about this learning journey in this little corner of my life. The work/spiritual side of my life is very intense right now, so it’s been therapeutic to balance that with some intense delving into something purely material – but no less beautiful for being so, as God created all this stuff too, and made us his little sub-creators, even as we learn to hold things lightly in the light of eternity. 

Total yardage: 562.8
Total weight: 13.2 oz
Average grist: 681 YPP

When I tagged them and lined them up, the majority of the skeins were in the 8.5 WPI – 10 WPI range, with a couple outliers each at 8 and 11, and one each at 6 and 13. The average, at least, landed at the target 9!

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What I’ve learned about spinning could probably be summed up like this: I’ve learned how much I don’t know about spinning! Especially in the realms of sheep breeds, drafting, and plying. I look forward to the many spins ahead of me as I slowly add to my knowledge. If I can do like my husband did with knitting, and try to learn one new thing with every spin, I’ll have years of learning ahead of me before I’m even a competent beginner! So exciting!

This time, I think my biggest “aha” moments were about:

  • BFL, and how it acts with its 2 crimps per inch. (At least, I think I was working with a mostly-BFL blend.) Those ropey early yarns I made? It’s not that you can’t make singles that twisted, it’s that BFL can’t handle it! It only has like two crimps per inch, so it does much better when more softly spun. I’ve ordered Beth Smith’s Spinners Book of Fleece and am awaiting it patiently to consult when designing future yarns.
  • Balance is… well… optional! And a lot of things come out in the wash. I had no idea I could be so flexible about how much ply twist goes into my yarns. (I basically didn’t understand how singles yarns were possible. I figured they were just voodoo beyond my ken.)
  • I have a long way to in being to emulate my samples in my spinning. Being sufficiently awake helps (another lesson: don’t spin very late at night!), as does preparing my fiber well, but I hope I can improve on this quickly. I mean, I have a long way to go in consistency, too.
  • I have to do something to mitigate the age of my stash and how compacted it is. I think giving my beloved stash a little extra TLC in preparation will make me a lot happier in spinning them.

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About color: I had a ton of fun experimenting with these twelve different colors. I was amazed how much I loved blending different shades and analogous hues, and what a difference they made to a blend that I would have just called “solid” otherwise. I can see now how much fun it would be to dye, blend, and combo draft your own unique colorway, even if it was all the same for a whole sweater.

For color mixing, my biggest takeaway is how important value is. (By “value” I mean how light or dark a color would be if you put it in greyscale, not its monetary worth or its moral worldview!) Deb Menz said something along the lines of how, from a distance, a difference in value stands out more than a difference in hue. In other words, the dots have to be smaller for optical blending to occur with big value differences. Some blends I put together went really sideways because their values were so different. All the places where you see distinct dots below would have looked quite different if carded up, while other blends look like a solid color in the picture because their dots are small enough to blend their internal differences.

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I think my nineteen blendlings do play well together, though it will be a challenge figuring out how to turn the variety of weights and quantities into a design feature. I do have a plan for how to use all (or at least most) of them together, but it’s going to take some serious swatching first. Hopefully their contrast color arrives in the mail soon.

Remember how I said I didn’t think these blendlings posts would continue being daily? Well, not only have I posted every day so far in 2017, but I actually finished these blendlings on Feb. 4th. That’s 13.2 oz in 19 days. I think I’m bit pretty hard, youse guys. 

Blending Adventure: Intro Part 2

Yesterday, I explained my inspiration; today, I explain my plan.

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A few years ago, a friend of mine was destashing, moving on to do more weaving than spinning, and gifted me all kinds of goodies. Many of them I passed on to those who will use them sooner, but for some reason, I held onto this set of twelve one-ounce balls of dyed top (two already spun up).

The source is Haltwhistle Fibers, and I haven’t the foggiest idea if she’s producing fiber any more, though I’ve messaged her on Etsy and I’ll update you if I find anything out. The bag calls this the “Haltwhistle Fibres Color Sampler Kit.” It gives the dyer’s information, the names of the colors, and says it is “medium/fine 100% wool imported from England.” Statistically, that means it’s probably largely Blue-Faced Leicester. They all seem to be the same blend, anyways, except for the light teal, which is much crimpier. My examinations show me the staple length is about 4-5″ (I am less than confident about my measuring methods).

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These twelve one-ounce balls are all beautifully heathered, cool, natural shades. Every single one of them is a color I would wear in a one-colored sweater (save maybe that bright purple). I adore them. They already have a good bit of complexity and nuance in the way the colors were blended into the top. (I think it’s top and not roving. I think I understand the difference, but again, I’m not super-confident on the subject.)

I brought them up to Iqaluit from the larger hoard in Mom’s basement because I thought, in those little 1 oz quantities, I’d be more motivated to spin it up.

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For my reference, I am calling these colors (left to right): orange, salmon, pink, light teal, beige, medium teal, dark teal, blue, bright purple, red, dark purple, and green.

Of the twelve colors, when I received them, two had already been spun up into a sort of messy aran-or-heavier two ply. My plan for this wool has always been: Spin the remaining 10 colors into a 2-ply worsted or aran to match those already spun, and put them together with a commercial natural white 2-ply to make a sweater with stripes or small bands of fair isle.

I was not, however, as motivated as I thought. My knitting calls to me, and spinning is a little inconvenient. My wheel and things are ensconced in the study, away from the ranging toddlers. I have to really want to spin in order to forego the comfort of the couch and TV in the living room. Six or so months ago, I spun up about a third of an ounce of the pink, then forgot about it.

But boy-o. Reading Ms. Menz’s chapter on combination drafting made me really want to spin.

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My attempt to sort the colors by value. Below, the same picture is in black and white picture below. You can see I was almost spot-on. Only the darkest two should trade places; the purple is darker in value than the green.

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All twelve colors in their relative positions on the color wheel. There's really a much bigger gap in the warm colors; the dark red and dark green should be across from each other.

All twelve colors in their relative positions on the color wheel. There’s really a much bigger gap in the warm colors; the dark red and dark green should be across from each other.

Here’s what I realized: Instead of making 10 colors of uniform heathered yarn, I could make more like 20 colors of much more nuanced yarn. Along the way, I could experiment with color theory, and learn combination drafting. Also, working in such small batches (half an ounce at a time), I could do something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time: figure out how to make a consistent thicker yarn. Each little skein would be the size of a sample, after all.

So here’s what I did: I took each color and made pencil rovings, stripping them down until they threatened to fall apart. I got between 10 and 14 strips out of each color, made each into a little nest, and stored each color of nest in a different ziplock bag. Then, each time I make a ply, I pull three nests out of a bag, make sure it weighs in at .3 oz on my little postal scale, predraft, and away we go. I generally plan out the color scheme of the whole two-ply at once, at least in my head.

Nests of stripped fiber.

Nests of stripped beige fiber.

My goal, as far as spinning skills go, is to make a consistent, balanced 2-ply worsted-weight yarn (~9 or 10 WPI) with a high angle of twist. To get there, I’m going to spin worsted so I can be as controlled as possible, and make records of exactly what I’m doing as I go so I can make adjustments.

In one sense, such small quantities could slow me down. Each ply is only 3 oz, and after each one I have to stop, change bobbins, pre-draft, and start again. Then when two are done, I have to stop, ply, take lots of notes, finish the yarn, and wait for it to dry before starting the next one.

But this is perfect for my life right now. I only have one- or two-hour periods of time to work with right now, a few times a week at best. It’s incredibly motivating that each time I sit down, I can see a different combination of colors spin up, even if I only have 45 minutes to squeeze out one ply. Also, I’m seeing my spinning improve with each mini-skein, and that’s very exciting.

That, in the shell of an oversized nut, is the plan. On the blog, I will document my progress with each mini-skein, indulging in all of the nerdy details. I have a few done already, so the posts will be daily for a while, but I’ve no anticipation it’ll continue that way, because life. But that regular sharing helps with the motivation, and makes it more fun!

As always, thanks for reading, for commenting, and for sharing your thoughts. Do you have any creative sparks under your bum right now?

Sock Yarn Longevity: A Few Reviews – Socks that Rock

Over the last several years, I’ve knit a lot of socks. Like, a lot of socks. Over 30 pairs since June 2010, and more before that. As I knit them, I blogged about them, and gave some opinions on the yarns I was using. (You can see most of these posts and socks if you look in the category “Self-Imposed Sock Club.” Or just say you did, so I can feel like there was a point to making categories on this blog.)

It’s one thing to have an opinion on a yarn while you’re knitting with it; it’s another thing entirely to have an opinion on a yarn after you’ve been wearing it for a while. My opinions have evolved on these yarns, sometimes changing drastically, and I feel a little beholden to update the reviews I’ve been giving you.

First: I only included the socks I kept; many were given as Christmas presents. Second: I’ve only included those made with yarns that you might encounter; In other words, I’ve excluded anything discontinued or intensely local yarns.

You should also know that I’m pretty hard on my socks: I put them through the washing machine on handwash or gentle cycle, and I lay them flat to dry, but I Do Not Handwash. It just doesn’t ever happen. These pictures are all taken after a fresh wash and dry, and were taken on my phone, so you see them rather at their worst, but I think that’ll give you a more accurate idea of what to expect after years of wear. All of these sock patterns, with a single exception, are by Nancy Bush. Pattern name links to my previous review; yarn name links to ravelry page.

So I give you, A Few Reviews, in No Particular Order.

Socks: “Unst” from Knitting on the Road by Nancy Bush
Yarn: Socks that Rock Lightweight by Blue Moon Fiber Arts

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Years Worn: 1 (yes I knit them in 2013. I didn’t wear any of the Knitting on the Road socks ’till last winter. Don’t judge me; I’m neurotic.)
Opinion: I don’t wear these a lot because I knit them too small, but they’ve gotten a fair number of washings, and the yarn seems to hold up like steel. It was a slight pain to knit with since the yarn seemed overtwisted, but even the stockinette doesn’t seem to have a skew to it (maybe it was offset by the lace?). Maybe the overtwist makes it a more sturdy yarn. It has a bit of a halo to it, but next to no pilling. Two thumbs up. I’d buy it again.

Come back for the next one tomorrow!

Two Pairs of Kid Socks

This, the penultimate, the Eleventh Day of Christmas Knitting, brings us down to the number two. Two is the number of feet most humans are born with, and also the number of children I have, and ergo squares to the total number of socks my mother knit my children for Christmas.

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Mum has began an adorable tradition when N was born: every year she knits her a pair of socks and writes her a little letter. The letter goes in a binder, and when the socks are outgrown, the socks go in too.

Double the kids meant double the work, and their feet only get bigger. I keep wondering if she’ll regret her commitment when they suddenly sprout adult-sized feet as preteens. So far I’ve managed to rescue all the letters, though I have to hide the binder or the outgrown socks get strewn about the room on a daily basis. Not for any reason I can find – they aren’t used for dolls or anything – just, every day the binder is in N’s room during rest time, the socks end up strewn about the room. I think most things that N does during rest time are motivated by spite. (I guess I’m feeling a little cynical about this at the moment. N just woke M up early from her nap by discovering how to play with the fan switch in the bathroom. I’m only blogging with the help of Daniel Tiger. ANYWAY.)

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This year’s entries are very sweet. Lightly variegated or semi-solid sock yarn, jazzed up with tiny stripes of two other colors. A ruffle tops the ribbed cuff.

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They both seem to long enough, though M’s have a little trouble staying on. I’m guessing that has something to do with her still-chubby baby feet. Her feet are still slimming down from becoming a walker a few months ago, so maybe they’ll fit better later.

Best of all, together with their other knitted gifts from Deedee and the other clothing gifts she sent, they have complete Deedee outfits.

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Yup, these little girls are loved. Do you have any annual knitting traditions? Does anyone else in your family?

Nine Sweater Sock Stripes

I am in sight of catching up on these twelve days of Christmas; I won’t stop now! Like the previous post, the number nine belongs to Mum, and numbers horizontal bands of color. Mum’s gift to the junior princess in this household was a cozy sweater in nine colors of sock yarn.

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M is a deserving recipient. She loves to wear sweaters, even when she’s too hot, being the little hot water bottle of the family. Offer her a chance, and she’ll ask for “New fwetah! New fwetah!”

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Why yes, I will chew up a chunk of candy cane with just my front teeth.

Mom will correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe these many stripes are from a little kit she got at the late Yarns Unlimited? She can tell you about the yarn and pattern in her own words; if she gets the chance to do so, I’ll add them here later.

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M is such a winter, just like her Deedee.

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Happy (still belated) feast of the Holy Innocents. I thank God for my two rainbow babies today, dress them in a rainbow of stripes, and remember my little ones in heaven.