The Forest Or The Trees: Lessons In Consistency

It seems quite appropriate that as I awoke to 6 inches of new snow and subzero temperatures that today should be the day I share my Frosted Daybreak results with you.

img_5185

Each month the colorway featured in the Three Waters Farm 2019 calendar will be available for pre-order in the shop and this fiber happens to be  January’s Calendar Colorway (available through January 31st). I’ll be using the Calendar colorways each month in conjunction with the Skill Builder SAL hosted in the TWF Ravelry group and this month’s theme was none other than the elusive consistency.

I shared the prep for this spin back on January 4th

img_5194

Splitting my fiber into 6 equal nests, my plan was to spin a traditional 3ply yarn matching the colors as I went with the theory that equal divisions of fiber would produce similar color runs throughout my singles.

Remember how I said no plan survives contact with reality? Well, the same was true in this spin. Near the end of my second bobbin, I opted for a 2ply instead of a 3ply — and instead of using 2 nests per bobbin, I added 3 per bobbin. I made this choice for a couple reasons. First, I’ve never tried to match color runs outside of chain plying and as I got spinning I had a feeling starting with a 3ply might be a bit chaotic. I also was spinning my singles rather thin, to about 28 wpi, and I know for a fact that I am not as consistent with lighter singles as I am with those that are closer to 22-20 wpi. I was pretty sure my color runs would not be synced up as well as I would like and that would lead to some waste in my spinning — amplified by the 3rd ply — as I pulled out parts of my singles to keep the colors lined up.

As you can see if you really look closely, these plies are just not as consistent as you would hope for a consistency spin.

img_5543

Don’t get me wrong, they are pretty darn consistent, but when you are trying to pin that 28wpi down so 4oz of fiber matches that measurement on the nose… well, this just is not that spin. 2-ply it is, I decided!

I will say that the plying was… it was more nerve-wracking that I’m used to. The truth is, I probably lost 3-5yards (maybe a bit more) of singles trying to keep the color runs synced. It was never as much yarn as I felt like I was losing, but it was always more than I’d hoped I would have to pull out to keep colors lined up. As I got to the end of the plying though…

img_5562

I could see that even if each and every length of yarn I measured wasn’t consistent, overall, it was pretty darn good. This led me to ask: What are the components that play a role in consistency and — ultimately — what are we really talking about when we talk about a consistent yarn?

Is consistency in handspun hitting a perfectly matched wpi at each place measured across an entire skein of yarn? Is it plying to the same angle and hitting a specific tpi (twists per inch) across the whole spin? Is it spinning a skein that on a whole knits up at a consistent fingering (or sport or DK or worsted or bulky) weight? After this study, I’ve come to believe the answer is complicated.

If I look at my finished skein, it’s easy to see that I did not hit a perfect wpi on each and every length across the entire skein.

img_5602

Don’t get me wrong, it’s pretty good. And it’s definitely one of the best 2ply skeins I’ve created with regards to consistency, but you can see here and there where plies are uneven. So, if I’m using the yard stick of “perfectly match wpi in each length of yarn” I’m off the mark.

If we start talking about TPI, or twists per inch, I’m probably a bit closer. Samples taken throughout are between 6-6.5 twists per inch with a few outliers where I got a little flamboyant. When the diameter of the 2 plies diverge. I tend to adjust the angle of the twist in this spot to really play-up that little poof.

img_5604

That, to me, is art. That’s why I handspin yarn. So while it may adversely affect the overall mathematical measurements in my spinning, I would never want to sacrifice that for technical perfection. That’s just me.

What about consistency in weight across the spin? A-ha! Well, there I did a good job.

img_5600

Across the skein, this yarn produces a consistent 14wpi. So, despite the fact that where you take individual pieces of the yarn and find the measurements will be inconsistent, the bigger sample set, 1″ at a time, gives me 14wpi, every time.

img_5601-1

And, at least in my opinion, it also gives me a really beautiful yarn.

So where does that leave me with this study in consistency? Did I succeed in creating a consistent yarn?

img_5599

If spinning consistently means you have the control to spin the yarn that you want, then I have to say the answer is no… and yes. What I was working toward was consistency across the board complete with 28 wpi singles across the skein. In dissecting the skein and the details of the yarn, I was not as perfect as I was aiming for. BUT the goal was also a fingering weight 2ply yarn in which the color runs synced up. And I have in my possession a skein of Frosted Daybreak that is a 2ply fingering weight in which the color runs match up quite well. So are we looking at the forest or the trees? Which ultimately defines a consistent yarn?

Where I land, at least for now, is that consistency is more complicated than I originally thought. Who would think that minor inconsistencies across a skein would lead to a consistent skein on a whole? It feels so counter-intuitive and yet I have a skein of Frosted Daybreak in my possession that says it’s wholly possible. Like so much in spinning, all the elements involved in a spin interact and play a vital role and somewhere in the mix of it all yarn is born.

I’ll continue to study the individual elements and work toward mastering a greater level of perfection across them. Clearly there is room for improvement. At the same time, though, I’m quite happy to know & to celebrate that even if my skills are a work in progress, it doesn’t detract from my finished skeins. I’m of the opinion that while the trees are all important, even if they aren’t all perfect, on a whole the forest still makes quite a pretty picture.

Skill Building for Spinners

This year I’m very excited to be taking part in and helping to lead the Three Waters Farm Skill Builder Spin-along. Each month we’ll be focused on a different skill, providing helpful links, q & a, encouragement, and troubleshooting along the way. Not only is this an awesome way to spin some of my beautiful Three Waters Farm fibers, it’s also a fantastic way to really spend some time spinning intentionally, with the goal of gaining a better understanding of my spinning and becoming a better spinner.

Most spinners you talk to will say their #1 goal is to spin a yarn that it could be mistaken for mill spun, or at least something that looks like the control involved could not possibly have been executed by human hands. I’ve got opinions on that as an ultimate goal and how to define a good handspun yarn, but those are for another day. Today I want to start to talk a little bit about how we make that could-be-mistaken-for-millspun yarn.

Consistency, you see, is really the cornerstone of spinning, but contrary to what you might believe that’s not just because it enables you create that elusive mill spun look. Consistency is an indicator of something bigger. The fact that you can spin those nice, even, regular yarns means you have the ability to control the yarn you’re making — you understand the drafting process, how much twist you are adding, and all that good stuff and you can churn out the yarn you want, when you want it.

Most people start by getting really good at one type of yarn and that’s the perfect place to start. Once you learn how to spin a consistent yarn, though, it’s not a huge leap to move on to spinning consistent yarns are varying weights and styles on demand. With practice, you’ll find you have control of the mechanics involved and that you can create any yarn — from something that looks like that mill spun skein to the craziest art yarn you can imagine to the perfect little sock yarn you’ve ever laid your hands on.

That’s kind of a big deal.

And that’s why I’m so super excited that this month in the Skill Builder SAL we’ll be exploring Spinning Consistent Yarns.

As a moderator in the group, I’m very happy to share that I’ll be spinning the featured TWF Calendar Colorway each month, based off the beautiful TWF 2019 Calendar.  Participants are welcome to order the featured colorway for themselves or spin any TWF colorway of their choosing.  It’s going to be a blast!

This month’s colorway is Frosted Daybreak on the Merino/Bamboo/Tussah Silk base.

img_5185

Confession: I actually have a sweater quantity of this colorway in my stash. It’s pretty freaking awesome and I can’t wait to get going on this!

But I digress.

Today I prepped my fiber. Something that really helps to get a consistent yarn while you spin is fiber prep. Even with a beautiful bag of fiber that is like butter right out of the bag like this, it’s usually a good idea to prepare the fiber before you spin.

img_5188

Different dyers dye different ways, but most Three Waters Farm fibers arrive dyed with three repeats across the entire length of the fiber. Now, I’m aiming to spin a 2-ply and I want to split the fiber down the middle lengthwise to have 3 nice long color treats in my yarn. Some spinners are superheroes and have no trouble just picking it up, splitting it, and making two even halves.

I am not that spinner.

I do this instead. First, I break the three repeats.

img_5192

And then, always starting in the middle of each repeat, I split each of the three strips lengthwise.

img_5193

Why start striping in the middle? Someone along the way gave me that tip and I find it really does work magic and makes it much easier to get even strips.

Now, if I wanted to make the strips smaller here, I could keep splitting. Splitting further can make it easier to spin lighter weight yarns. It just gets you that much closer to your finished yarn and gives you less margin for error as you draft. I’ve split my fiber into as small as 1-2gram strips at times and it’s true – it certainly does help you to reach a lighter weight yarn. Especially for new spinners interested in honing lighter consistent yarns, this is definitely a tip I would recommend.

I tend to be a spinner who splits for color, not to help me achieve a certain yarn weight. I spin across the top of my fiber regardless of the weight of yarn largely because I have never been particularly patient with my prep and I also tend to like larger color repeats. That’s just me.

I could split the colorways even further for color effects like to do something fractal-y — it’s really totally personal preference and what you want the yarn to be. I just want to spin these 6 strips, one after another. 3 on one bobbin, 3 on another. You know why? Because there is nothing scarier to me than trying to match up colors as I ply and I wanted to reach beyond my own comfort zone for this spin. I’m a believer that it’s these little experiments, the subtle forays into the “scary” makes me a better spinner. As long as my spinning is consistent and my fiber is split accurately, theoretically they should match up well. We shall see!

In any case, having broken my fiber up, I wrapped each strip into an easier to store nest (all starting with the same color, of course, because that’s how I intend to spin them) and then weighed each of them. If you don’t have a kitchen scale you can use for fiber prep, I highly recommend getting one. It’s one of my favorite tools! This one a friend got me and it has it’s own bowl that’s perfect for weighing fiber.

img_5196

When I weighed each, I found that I had 4 that were 19 grams, 1 that was 22, and one that was 16. It made sense because one I managed to split while splitting it (if that makes sense!) and I could tell right away my split was wonky. I took a stab at pulling 3 grams off of the 22 gram piece and managed to nail it. I matched the colors up to the light strip and wrapped them into a nest as one.

img_5194

All ready to spin now!

I haven’t yet decided how heavy I want to make this yarn, I’m going to mull that over while I work on a knitting cast-on. I’ll report back soon on it though!

Only So Many Days

Happy New Year! 

It’s taken me a while to figure out how to start today. The truth is that between the normal hectic holidays stuff and the addition of Bear to our family, New Year’s kind of snuck up on us and I was even more thankful than I usually am to spend a quiet night at home.

Bear, in case you were wondering, is doing very well.

img_5099

He is a very happy pup who loves to be outside. In fact, when he figured out that he could ring the bell on the door or cry a little at it to go out and that we’d praise him for it, well, he was pretty sure he had hit the new home jackpot. It really didn’t matter that we put the bell there with a certain purpose in mind. He is definitely a pretty smart dog and has selective hearing/learning skills when he wants! We’ll leave out the parts where he routinely trips over his own feet and somersaults or accidentally face-plants instead of making it up that one small step and just stick with the idea that he is pretty smart. In any case, he has really settled in to rhythm of our family in the two weeks since we brought him home.

We’ve been doing our best to teach him manners, something for which Moose has been a huge help…

img_5100

I’ve never had two dogs at the same time before and it’s amazing to watch Moose teach Bear. If Bear gets caught chewing on something he shouldn’t and we redirect him, Moose will run over, toy in mouth, and drop it on Bear as if to say, “Here, chew on this instead. This thing is ok.” If Bear doesn’t take the hint, he picks it up and drops it on him again. And again. Until the pup gets it. He’s been teaching him to play chase nicely as well as where the perimeter of the yard is. I didn’t think I could love Moose more, but I do. I am totally humbled by his kind, thoughtful, patient soul.

img_5105

He is also getting lots of one-on-one love, of course, because no one deserves it more.

We’re also learning all the things that make Bear happy…

img_5131-1

Like chewing sticks on our balcony. He LOVES the cold and LOVES chewing sticks, but occasionally I need to do things like laundry or clip Moose’s nails (that was today’s challenge!), so he gets to go in his “puppy playpen.” He thinks it’s just the bee’s knees and doesn’t even realize that he’s letting us get actual things done.

As you can plainly see, most of my thoughts are on random dog training things or what the latest adorable thing the dogs are doing or — you know — how I’m dying because Bear is sleeping sooooo sweetly with his paws in the air, making little “sleep woofs.” Yeah… it’s kind of all dogs all the time right now. As it should be though. As Mr. Knitting Sarah says, there are only so many days in your life you get to spend with puppies and they are all special. Almost all other plans have flown the coop.

I’d hoped to have my bobbins empty and new yarns to share today. Instead, I have a bin of full bobbins…

img_5169-1

There are actually two more full bobbins than this which I set over by my wheel in a moment of wishful thinking where I thought I’d blow through 2 plying projects last night.

img_5167

I got through one… almost.

I also made a bit of progress on my Kickapoo Socks

img_5168

I am totally in love with this yarn. I wanted to get through the ribbing last night and I managed to do just that.

It’s the new year, though, and I do want to set some goals for myself. I’m a habitual goal-setter, before finishing one project I like to have the next set up, so I’m continually setting new goals, always. I do find the new year, with its clean calendar, is a fun time to set some new ones though, you know?

After years of setting fiber arts goals of all sorts and sizes, I’ve decided not to set any specific project goals for this year. I’m at a place in life where I need flexibility and my hobby needs to respond to whatever else is happening in life. I want my goals to reflect that, to be more general, more organizational, and more about setting priorities than checking boxes on particulars. Maybe it’ll prove too nebulous, or maybe it’ll be just the right fit… we will see!

So here, in no particular order are some of my 2019 fiber arts goals:

  1. Participate in the Three Waters Farm Skill Builder SAL this year
  2. Spin 15 a day with my friends in the Friends of Knitting Sarah Group
  3. Continue to improve how I evaluate and talk about my spinning so I can help others to become better spinners (this folds into #1)
  4. Do a better job of keeping  Ravelry project pages for my knitting & spinning projects
  5. Knit some of my stash’s sweater quantities, preferably into sweaters
  6. Find a way to revive my sock knitting
  7. Tag my handspun yarn as I finish it
  8. Make notes for future blog post ideas to make sitting down to write more efficient
  9. Figure out my loom warping situation and do some weaving
  10. Set-up a yarn winding station somewhere in the house that I can leave up

That all seems reasonable, right?

What are your fiber arts goals this year? 

(Oh, and one more gratuitous Bear photo, because you only get so many days with a puppy!)

img_5155

Counting Blessings.

The kids and I decorated for Christmas yesterday. I know, I know, it’s early! I don’t really have any Thanksgiving decor though so putting up Christmas felt like the festive thing to do. As soon as I started bringing up boxes, the kids went bananas for it, so it was a total win.

Having done most of the cleaning yesterday, I took an hour or so this morning to dust and give a little shine to my spinning wheels and spindles. My holiday company will start arriving today so this was my last opportunity to do so before things got busy. The sun slowly came up. Big, fat snow globe flakes of snow started to fall. In that quiet moment, I took a deep breath and counted my blessings. I am thankful. For family. For friends. For my home. For the cold November blue skies. For the sun shining. For the big, fat snow globe flakes of snow. For my beautiful spinning wheels. For the friends I’ve made through craft and all I’ve been able to learn from it. For all the experiences of the past year. I’m just so very thankful.

This Thanksgiving I hope that you each get a quiet moment to take a deep breath and count your blessings, too. Some days they are harder to see, some days they are as blinding as the morning sun, but they are there. And they are many.

img_4505