My Fade, Found

This post has been a good long while in coming. For those who aren’t aware, the Find Your Fade phenomenon revolves around the Find Your Fadeshawl pattern released by Andrea Mowry in December of 2016. It’s taken the knitting world by storm with knitters raiding their stashes and shops doing up kits all to make this one gorgeous, ginormous shawl. Notorious for how its colors melt into one another, it seems as knitters we just can’t resist this shawl. I knew straight away that I wanted to make one, but I think that feeling was pretty universal across the knitting world.

At first, I thought that maybe I’d snap up a kit from a fave shop. I have to admit I’m actually really a sucker for kits. These days, if I buy commercial yarn it’s often a kit for a specific design. It’s a way to try new yarns or to see color through someone else’s eyes. Plus, everything I need is neatly packaged all together and the ease of that fact is just really… it’s relaxing for me. As I browsed kits though, nothing really spoke to me. I decided to turn to my stash to find my fade. As I looked over my stash, I realized that it would be pretty amazing to do a Find Your Fade shawl entirely in my own handspun.  And since that moment, that’s the only fade I’ve been seeking.

The handspun fade definitely did not just leap forward fully arranged and perfect. I pulled things out of my stash and laid them out in order, but nothing. I’d spin new yarns up and add them to the stash and then I’d pull things out (again) and squint really hard to try to see my fade, but to no avail. Two months passed while I searched unsuccessfully. And then, on February 28, 2017, while I stood in my living room doing yoga, staring at my stash displayed in a shelving unit in front of me, there it was. find-your-fade

I’d found my fade with these 7 skeins. They are from Left to Right:

I was so excited! I had just a couple quick projects to finish before I could cast-on. And then less than a week later we found out we’d be moving. I managed to cast-on and work on it a bit in mid-March while the kiddos swam at our annual trip to the waterpark, but I never really hit my groove with the knitting because we were all over the place. I nipped at a couple stitches here and there after the move and then summer rolled around and it was big enough to be impractical to both carry around with me and knit on (it’s large and in summer, that quickly translates to uncomfortably warm).

So my fade hibernated until late last year.

Thankfully, no THANKFULLY(with all sorts of bells and whistles and shouts of joy!), I’d taken good notes for once. Even though I had to rip back a bit where I’d — ahem — pulled the needles out when I was showing it to someone and lost a few stitches, it was easy enough to recover and get back into it. And once I started back in on it, there was no tearing it out my hands. I cast-off the night we got back from our little cabin adventure earlier this month.

As I mentioned earlier, it’s a very large shawl. I mean, this thing is like 8 feet long! Taking a photo of the entire thing is kind of a challenge, so I thought I would share snippets of it before I share the entire project. I’m convinced there’s no great way to do this, so I just  snapped a series of photos that will serve as kind of a pieced panorama of detail photos — I hope that makes sense! It was the best I could come up with for photographing such a substantial piece of knitting, especially in winter when my outdoors and lighting options are somewhat limited.

So here we go!

This was the cast-on edge…

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You’ll notice that this yarn (as well as a couple others) were spun a bit heavier than the rest. Since I didn’t spin specifically for this pattern, my yarns aren’t exactly the same weights. Personally, I think it works fine. This one — more than the others – I definitely could have blocked out more aggressively, but my blocking was very crude on this piece — again, due to the size and a utter lack of low traffic areas in the house. So I wasn’t too particular with things like convincing the lace section here to open up.

You can just catch that cast-on yarn at the far left below…

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And you can see the next four colors as they melt into each other.

And here is where the pattern reaches its widest point. You can — again — tell the blocking is a bit lacking along the edge, but I am going to worry about that another, warmer day. If you look at the more yellow section in the middle here, this was the section that was the nail-biter for me.

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That yellow yarn just freaked me out. It really didn’t look great next to the teal & orange to the left of it, BUT years of working with color has taught me that how a color looks depends a whole lot on all the colors that surround it. I knew my skeins looked good all in a row, so even though I had serious reservations, I kept knitting through the yellow to the next color.

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Once the reds and oranges and greys of the second last color started working their magic, I relaxed. I knew it was going to look good. In fact, I knew it was going to be truly special. The melting and blending were working as I’d planned to incorporate that worrisome yellow.

This is all fine and dandy and the different melting colors are lovely, but this is a project that you simply can’t appreciate fully in pieces. Because the magic is in the putting it all together…

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And this project, more than any before, takes my breath away. I think knowing that I spun all the yarn with my own two hands definitely gives me a feeling of accomplishment with it, especially considering how much knitting this project is as well. Beyond that fact, though, the idea that it is essentially made up of 7 random, misfit skeins that each plays an essential role in bringing the piece together… I don’t know, it just feels like such a wonderful life lesson, too. The idea that the independent elements of a project or a team don’t all have to get along to work effectively together. All you have to do is find the right position for each piece, and the arguments will fade and the complementary aspects will be able to sing. So say the colors, so says life. Am I just waxing philosophical now and projecting onto my knitwear? Perhaps. But what can I say? I do like it when my knitwear philosophizes. That’s just how I roll.

In any case, I am delighted that my fade has been found. Delighted that the months of searching and spinning and rearranging finally led me to this finished project, where the colors that don’t always get along sing in beautiful harmony and I, I am one warm, colorful woman on a cold, cloudy day in the middle of winter thinking about the power of finding ways to convince misfit pieces to fade into their complementary counterparts.

Mastering Stand-Alone Singles

I’ve spun stand-alone singles in the past, but it was always kind of stressful and scary. If you’ve ever had a dream (or experience in reality — no judgment!) where you find yourself in public having forgotten your pants, that’s what spinning stand-alone singles has always made me feel like. Exposed. That’s it — they make me feel exposed. Plying forgives so much — you can work out that section that had too much twist or coax your yarn into a nice balance by convincing it to play nicely with its other ply/ies or get that thick and thin to finish a bit more evenly when you’re plying it. Singles though, you’re laying it all on the line. There’s no second or third ply to hide behind. It just is. You’re out there. In public. Pants-less.

But after spinning the Spring Lamb skein I last wrote about I realized that for the first time ever really, I wasn’t really stressing while I was spinning. I was just shooting for relatively uniform low twist yarn. And it turned out. No really, it turned out! The finished skein was a nice balanced single. The question in my head begged to be answered: Was this a fluke, or had something fundamentally shifted in my spinning? There was only one way to answer that question — spin some more singles & see what happened!

And that is what I did.

I walked up to my stash and grabbed a braid of Three Waters Farm 85/15 Polwarth + Silk in the Hot & Sweet colorway…

 

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I’d purchased this braid in a destash sale and it was a little compressed, so I took a few minutes to open the braid back up. This is the “before” picture — you can see there’s not a lot of air in this fiber.

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If you have a compressed braid where the fibers are a little tight, don’t worry! It’s totally normal. The air often gets smooshed out of the fiber in storage if the fiber is handled a lot or packed tightly. It doesn’t take long and it’s super easy to fluff it back up. I just gently open it up width wise and then gently draft the fibers out a bit — not so much that you pull the fibers all the way apart and break the braid (unless you want to for handling or color distribution purposes), but just enough to let the air back in.

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In this photo, the left side has be “pre-drafted” (air back in — whew-hoo!) and the right still needs to be. Spinning it is a night and day difference. You can pre-draft fibers for plied yarns, too, but especially with singles, personally I want my fiber to be super airy and easy to draft so I can focus on how much twist I’m using and the diameter of my yarn. I pre-drafted the whole braid, breaking it a few times totally by accident. I did keep it all in the original color progression though, so I spun it as if it were left as one.

I spun away comfortably, anxiety and worry free. I got to the end of my braid and…

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Hey now! Those looked like some not bad singles… again!

The morning after I finished this braid I wound it off…

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Oh, I was feelin’ this braid — in the late January winter, these colors were not just calling to me, they were screaming my name.

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I think it turned out so nice.

 

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It is about a DK weight yarn at roughly 11wpi and 260yards and it is a nice, balanced single. Again!

 

So, was that well done stand-alone singles skein I last wrote about a fluke? I’m thinking no. Something has definitely changed in my spinning. Have I been studying how to make singles yarns? Not explicitly. But what I have been doing is spinning daily for a very long time. And while I was spinning all those yarns I was spinning every day for so many days and weeks and years, I was subconsciously learning how to exercise better control over my wheel, getting stronger with my drafting skills, gaining a more intimate understanding of twist, and how to make more uniform yarns. Through curiosity and attention to detail, I unraveled so many handspinning mysteries and in kind, I learned all the skills necessary to spin a really nice singles yarn. So, even though I wasn’t studying to spin a good stand-alone single, I was practicing the skills I needed every day, even though I wasn’t really thinking about that. And then one day, it seemed that out of no where I had the skills I needed and beautiful singles yarns were coming off my wheel. Of course, it wasn’t magic or luck. In fact, I’ve been working toward mastering the stand-along singles yarn for a very long time. I just wasn’t aware I was doing it.

 

 

Spring-y Felted Singles

We got a fresh 4 or 5 inches of snow last night, so it seems only fitting that I share something spring-y today. No, I’m not to the point of the winter where of I’m ready to see GREEN again. I’m still totally digging the winter palette I’m surrounded by. I don’t think that’s a universal feeling though as I’ve seen a lot of green starting to creep back into everyone’s spinning and knitting images lately. So today as the snow continues to fall, I’ll share something spring-y.

Every now and then Mary Ann at Three Waters Farm accepts a request to create a colorway for a special group or event. Earlier this month, she posted a couple colorways created for the 35th anniversary of the North Country Spinners guild in northwest New Jersey. One of them was called Spring Lamb.

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Photo courtesy of Three Waters Farm

I don’t know what it was about this colorway that made me buy it. It’s not really a palette I usually go for, but I was so curious about how it would spin up that I couldn’t resist it. I ordered 4oz on the Rambouillet base — I just had to see it spun up.

I’ll be really honest. Because it wasn’t really in a palette in my comfort zone, I was really indecisive about what to do with it. I stared at it for a good long while. And then when I decided I wanted to get a feel for the largest whorl on my Schacht Reeves (I hadn’t yet tried it out), so I grabbed my Spring Lamb and started spinning straight from the braid with a relatively low twist, hoping I could make passable singles.

I’m not the most skilled at singles, but I really wanted to focus on speed control with the big whorl so that when I went on to attempt to learn long draw (the ultimate purpose of the ‘getting to know the big whorl’ exercise) that I would have a good feel for that speed control. Plus, I really didn’t want to muddy these colors.

At one point I panicked, thinking I had too much twist for singles and pulled all the yellow out thinking I could do a gimp with the yellow as the lighter ply, only to later add the yellow back in (sort of in the right place) when I finally decided that I would indeed stick with the singles idea.

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Suffice to say, the indecision ran deep in this one.

When I went to wind off the yarn onto my niddy-noddy, I was pleasantly surprised with the results. It wasn’t super uniform, but it was better than I expected. Because it was a single and 100% wool and there were some areas that were kind of lightly plied, I opted to do a felted finish with this yarn as a sort of insurance policy that it wouldn’t fall apart. I learned this trick a few years back and I like to use it for singles sometimes. It basically shocks the fibers into lightly felting to make a slightly stronger yarn. If you’ve ever knit with Malabrigo Worsted, this process makes a yarn kind of like that.

So how do I do it? Let me tell you! Unfortunately, I don’t have pictures this time around — next time, I promise! — but I will go ahead and give you step-by-step instructions for the process!

First, I tie off the skein in about 6 places to make sure I can easily straighten it out and hang it when done. I hate it when my skeins get tangling in the bath and I have to sit there and re-situate it all. Also, it’s an active enough process and hard enough on my hands with the differing temps that the last thing I want to be doing at the end is hunting for how to make it hang properly.

Then, I fill one side of my kitchen sink about 3″ deep with hot water (like kinda hurts my hands hot) and the other side with about 3″ ice cold water. My tap gave me a big enough contrast that I didn’t need to add water for the kettle or ice or anything — in the old house I usually had to augment my tap temps, but here I used just very hot and very cold tap water.

Next, I dunk my skein in the hot water and gently swish it around. Let it sit a minute. Lift it out (carefully with your hands or a wooden spoon) and squeeze out as much water as you can (get creative if the water is hot on your hands — for heavens sake, don’t hurt yourself!).

Then, I plunge the skein into the ice cold water and gently swish it around. Let it sit a minute. Lift it out and squeeze out as much water as you can.

And repeat, 2 or 3 or 4 times. I amend the hot and cold water to keep the temp contrast strong — you will lose some temperature contrast as you alternate. When I feel like my yarn is felted to my specifications, I pull it out and squeeze the extra water out one last time.

Finally, I give it a couple good snaps, rotating the skein to a new spot each time to even out the twist.

And voilà!

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You’ve got yourself a lightly felted skein of singles, all ready to be knit or woven or crocheted!

I love that depending on how you look at this skein, it looks different. From pinks and brown and yellows…

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To greens and yellows and greys…

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To yellow and pinks and greens…

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So many fun combinations! I can’t wait to see how these colors translate into a knitted object — I am just so glad I indulged my curiosity by buying and spinning this fiber. Sometimes you just have to follow that curiosity and see where it takes you because clearly it can take you marvelous places!

The finished yarn is about 340yards of a 12wpi sport weight yarn. It’s lighter than I anticipated when I was spinning it, but I really smooshed a lot of the air out of it during the felting and snapping process so it’s not exactly a surprise. I am very happy with the results though, especially considering I was undecided through 75% of this project. I think it’s going to be super fun to knit up. I just need to track down the perfect pattern!

An Ordinary Extraordinary Week

Sometimes you go into a week a with the best intentions of accomplishing a particular list of tasks. This week my crafty to-do list looked like this:

  1. Finish Fairbanks Pullover
  2. Finish Top of the Month Club singles from Three Waters Farm
  3. Start plying purple handspun weaving project (on Lendrum)
  4. Make fauxlags and start learning long draw
  5. Wash, dry, and photograph handspun Find Your Fade

And, my friends, I completed one and a half of these tasks!

It was the first week back to school for us, so that always makes for being extra busy organizing and convincing at least one of the kids at any moment to focus and stay on target with studies. That in turn changes my energy levels by the end of the day and often results in a little improvisation on the crafty front. It’s knitting and spinning in real life, you know?

After school, the first distraction I had can be summed up in one word: spindles. Upon returning from vacation and checking out all the AMAZING posts in the #wemakeyarn event on Instagram, I found a couple people who had taken up the issue of the “wheel” prompt as being a little exclusive of those who spin only with spindles. Of course, that was not our intent at all. In fact, my partner in this endeavor, Mary Ann at Three Waters Farm, was actually the person who encouraged me to pick up the spindle again after only moderate success and helped me to find the right spindles for me and really, truly find my spindle love. And now, I carry a spindle with me almost everywhere I go!

In any case, I’d only brought my spindles on vacation and was kind of on a roll. Add to that the conversation about spindle spinning on Instagram and I was inspired to just kept going…

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Spindle spinning is perfect for so many situations and school with the kids is one of them. I did go back and review Abby Franquemont’s Respect the Spindle DVD, just to see if there was anything I was forgetting or anything I could glean since I now have a little more experience. It can be a challenge to find really good quality spindle instruction if you don’t have access to a teacher locally, but this video is definitely quite good.

I also became curious about Turkish spindles again. I’ve used them in the past, but I’ve just never found the Turkish spindle for me. I’ve tried 3D printed ones and larger wooden ones and teeny tiny wooden ones and while I could spin with them and they are absolutely fine tools, they just weren’t the right fit for me.

I’ve always wondered about Jenkins Turkish spindles as I have only ever hear raves about them and noticed that The Woolery carries them now. Granted, these don’t have the sweet little individualized designs on them that many Jenkins spindles to, I thought it was worth trying. I hopped on the online chat with The Woolery and picked the brain of one of their resident spindle spinners to see if they could offer any advice on these and help me crack the code and find a “turk” that really fit me.

And these two were headed by way shortly after…

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On the left is a 0.63oz Bigleaf Maple Aegean and on the right a 0.77oz Rambutan Lark. I’m still getting a feel for them, to be sure — the inconsistent yarn is a testament to that fact — but I’m really enjoying getting to know these lovely, well-balanced spindles. I think I can see a future with them — hooray!

The one item I did check off the list was finishing the Top of the Month Club singles.

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I’ll be chain plying them shortly with my Lendrum after they’ve had a nice rest (and I get the wheel set-up).

The other item I sort of half finished was I did wash and dry my Find Your Fade. I’ll admit, I’m seriously taken with this project. I mean, there are not only a lot of hours knitting in it, but also it is wholly handspun and it turned out so much better than I ever hoped it could. I will try not to get too precious about the photography, but it’s going to be very hard not to because I am compelled to do it full justice.

In other distractions, istead of prepping fauxlags so I could start the harrowing journey of teaching myself long draw, I decided I would start first by getting a feel for the Schacht Reeves’ big whorl.

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I have only done light weight plied yarns with this wheel thus far and it’s time to start branching out! Again, this is not the most consistent — it’ll definitely be a thick & thin — and I’m concerned there’s too much twist to leave it a single, but I think I’m going to go for it anyway.  The fiber is 100% Rambouillet from Three Waters Farm in the Spring Lamb colorway. It is positively spring!

I set aside my Fairbanks Pullover for a spell to work on another pair of Snowfling Mittens.

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Tanis LaVallee’s stranded, lined mittens are hands-down (ha!) my favorites. I love them so much, I’ve made 2 sets and I have yarn for two more pairs not including the ones I’ve started here. They are actually my mittens of choice even in our sub zero winter temps…

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As you can see in this snapshot my hubby grabbed of me out at Necedah Wildlife Refuge last week. They keep my fingers nice and warm always, even when in these extremely cold snaps we’ve been having.

They served me yesterday, as well, when we went down to the Buena Vista Grasslands hoping to catch a glimpse of Short-Eared Owls. The thing about viewing Short-Eared Owls is there is a really short window to see them each day — they come out at dusk and you just have 45minutes to an hour to see them before you lose the light this time of year. But to see them, in my opinion, is one of the beautiful events to witness in nature.

I’ve seen them once before, also in the dead of winter, in a field a half hour or so from our old house. We saw 3-4 birds. At Buena Vista last night, this was the scene as the sun set in the West…

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And night rose in the East…

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And on this quiet dirt road, 3 vehicles quietly pulled to the side of the road, their occupants grabbed their optics or cameras and exited into the 8°F air careful not to slam any doors, and watched the graceful, lilting flight of 8-10 Short-Eared Owls as they hunted, courted, and scanned the fields on either side of that otherwise unassuming dirt road, sometimes flying close enough that I could see them without the help of my optics. My husband tried to snap photos, but he doesn’t have equipment to catch birds in motion…

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So this will have to do for you, my friends.

Maybe it’s because the only time to really see these birds is during the Golden Hour so they positively glow. Maybe it’s because their flight is like a dance — their wings shaped almost like a bat, but they exhibit so much grace and agility in the air that it’s hard to believe they are of this Earth. Whatever the reason, to see this many individual birds so surrounding us, with many more in fields further away was… it was as it always is, breathtaking.

And just like that, another week has passed. Full of distractions and changes in plans, the simple pleasures, the new challenges, the breathtaking beauty these are the thingsthat make up this life I lead. All in all, it’s been just another wonderfully ordinary extraordinary week in the life of Knitting Sarah.