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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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!

A ‘Stylish’ Option

In my last post I shared that I was ready to start my handspun sweater! One more indulgent look at the handspun? Yes, please!img_4396

Of course, as is old news by this point, I’ve been spinning this yarn to create my own handspun Tecumseh SweaterAs it snowed and rained and sleeted Sunday morning I finally buckled down and got it all wound and then I got to knitting another swatch.

You may remember I swatched earlier with the first skein of Sunshiney Day when I was making sure I was close on the weight of the yarn. So why do another swatch, right?! Well, it’s simple. I wanted to do another swatch with the main color to double check where the remainder of the skeins were with regards to weight. I’d aimed a bit lighter after the initial skein and I was hoping that despite doing the math to accommodate the heavier yarn, maybe I’d lightened up the yarn just enough to be able to use the pattern without my calculations. Sure enough, a quick swatch with just one needle change got me right on the listed gauge and with a fabric that with which I’m quite pleased. Perfect! 

Having set my swatch aside, Mr. Knitting Sarah finished up some work and we dashed out for a quick drive through the rain and sleet and snow to see what we could see. We didn’t see much of anything because — let’s face it — not much wildlife likes to be out in that kind of weather, but what we did see was pretty fantastic…

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We saw 3 Whooping Cranes. As Mr. KS — who took this photo said — it’s always a special day to find one, let alone three, in the wild considering that at one point they numbered just over 20 living birds in the world. Now, while they are still listed an endangered, there are 757 living Whooping Cranes. This was by far the closest I’ve seen them in the wild. We spent a good long time just watching them rooting around in the fields for food, looking mostly undisturbed by the unpleasant weather. They are always such a regal, magical sight.

After this sighting, we turned and headed for home as the temperature fluctuations were wreaking havoc with our tire pressure sensors and — being in the middle of nowhere — we did not feel like getting stuck with a tire issue in 30 degree rain and sleet. We got back to town, dealt with the tires, and headed home for a warm cup of coffee.

It was then that I grabbed my freshly wound handspun so I could cast-on (for real!) my handspun Tecumseh sweater. Now I did wind all 11 skeins of yarn and needed a place to keep all the yarn, of course. Thankfully I’d just gotten my brand new Stylish Hermit Project Bag in the mail at the end of last week!img_4411

This fabulous bag comfortably fits all 11 skeins plus my project on the needles!

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I absolutely adore the size, first and foremost. Big enough for a sweater project, but thanks to its deep V design, you can easily tie it down to smartly accommodate a much smaller project, too. The luxurious linen folds down very neatly as well to create an open basket feel for knitting in action.

Having dabbled in sewing myself, I find the seams a really elegant way to present a no-catch project bag…img_4414-1

They are as beautiful as they are practical.

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Thanks to this bag, but sweater is ready to travel anywhere! In addition to knitting projects, this bag will also be perfect for holding prepped fiber for spinning projects. I may need to pick up more!

Stylish Hermit bags are currently available in two autumnal hues — Moss Green and Bordeaux Red —  through Three Waters Farm.

 

The designer-seamstress behind these lovely project bags is none other than Mary Ann & Stephen’s daughter, Liliana Pagano. Liliana has a BFA in Costume Technology and these project bags are her most recent collaboration with Mary Ann. Combining the talents of these two talented women, it’s no wonder these project bags are so wonderful! I for one can’t wait to see what they dream up next!

In the mean time, I suppose I’ll keep knitting on my Tecumseh Sweater. It might be a drag to tote around such a large WIP, but thankfully I have a ‘stylish’ option. It makes all the difference — there’s definitely no better way to carry around a sweater knit in the making!

 

 

 

Dear Readers…

Dear Readers,

I’ve been writing this blog for quite a long time. I can tell you the archives here go back to the end of 2010, but I honestly had to look that up because I don’t spend a ton of time looking that far back over the years on content I’ve posted. I just know it’s been a very long time. August is the month when I first transitioned from more of a photo journal to a blog, though, so it’s this time of year that I tend to spend time reflecting on the labor of love that is my collection of projects and stories here.

I inevitably contemplate the evolution of this space. Initially this blog started — as I mentioned above — as more of a photo journal and project log. It eventually grew into a means of reaching and staying in touch with my knitting students once our classroom time had ended; to inspire and be inspired by a knitting community that I could not access easily. I had young children at home and not a lot of time or money for babysitters to give me the freedom to get out of the house on my own (largely because I like being home with my family and babysitter money can also go a long way to fund projects) . When I left teaching, this space became a place where I could continue to connect with fellow knitters and spinners, to fill the void left by the loss of my classroom community. It allowed me an outlet to talk about my projects, the things I was learning, and in little ways to continue to teach which is something I have always loved. It was at this time that this space grew to allow me to write about and share a glimpse of my other passion, my family’s adventures, as well.

Over the years, I’ve found that it’s pretty normal to go through periods where I write more or write less, where I am very good about keeping up with daily snapshots and then not so much — it’s much like the ebb and flow of the tides. There are times I ponder where my writing should go, if I’m failing to reach some larger potential, or if I should bother to continue writing at all. It all used to really get under my skin and, in truth, sometimes it still does. I’m someone who craves order and reliability, who is very much all-in or not-at-all and when I’m off my game here, it is easy to let the doubt creep in and for me to question if I should keep tapping away on the keyboard.

At the end of the day though, the point I’ve come back to time and again for the last 8 years is that writing and sharing here is an important creative outlet for me. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always written and I’ve always been compelled to share what I’m writing. Frankly, I might be a little lost without it.

Today, after a summer that felt as though it sailed past, of which I barely scratched the surface here with the stories of life and updates of my fiber-y exploits, I find myself back at my desk, still tapping away. Even though I wonder if I should or if the time might be better spent, I will continue to share when I can because I don’t know how nor do I want to let it go. Still compelled to keep tapping, I’ll relentlessly ride the tides of inspiration and the flux of time and keep on sharing my photos, techniques, stories, thoughts, dreams; successes and failures as life and coordination of thought allows.

And with these whimsical thoughts, I’ll embark on the next year here in my little space. I think I will start by winding some handspun yarn into skeins.

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So. Many. Pretties.

Tour de Fleece 2018 finished a little less than 2 weeks ago, so I suppose I could be farther behind in sharing my final spins. Alas, I can share them in sparse detail because I’ve yet to properly measure and label them (of course), but I can wait no longer! Today is the day!

Let’s dive right in!

As a co-captain of Team Three Waters Farm, I spun exclusively Three Waters Farm fibers during the TdF. It seems appropriate that I first share the special Tour de Fleece inspired colorway and its companion tonal, both on Falkland and both spun as stand alone singles.

Racing Through Puddles…

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And Race Splash…

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Oh, humor me with a couple detail shots….

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I think this one is just stunning!

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And this is just a lovely thunderstorm-y blue.

I plied my Flying Home singles which I’d spun just before the start of the Tour de Fleece…

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I chain-plied this 100% Corriedale and am considering using it for socks, so I plied with a higher twist for good measure.

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The camera just does not do this one justice. It’s just a true beauty.

The bulk of my spinning was 2-ply worsted weight silk blend yarns destined, hopefully, for a Vivid blanket.

There was Mighty Incentive…

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This on the Merino/Superwash Merino/Tussah Silk 40/40/20 base.

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And then Living Color…

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On a Polwarth/Tussah Silk 60/40 base.

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And then there was Summer Heat…

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Again, on that lush Merino/Superwash Merino/Tussah Silk 40/40/20 base.

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I want to say this one is my favorite with those pops of cool turquoise, but honestly, then I turn to the next color and think the same thing. So “favorite” is meaningless in this group!

Next was Cave at Hug Point…

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This one is on the delicious BFL/Silk 75/25 base. I have a serious infatuation with spinning this base.

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And then there was Reversal…

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This one I got from a destash and is on a Merino/Tussah Silk 80/20 base.

And the last of this group, Gilded Complements…

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This Polwarth/Silk 85/15 one was very stunning ever step of the way…

img_2276 And did not disappoint in the final yarn at all, of course

As I said, these are all in the worsted weight realm. They aren’t exactly identical, of course — I’m not that skilled, but I did use my control card religiously throughout each spin. I believe they’ll be close enough to work together for the blanket with only minor adjustments on my part. I’ve got a long way to go before I have the colorway variety I’m seeking, so I’ll just have to keep it up!

And finally, my July Top of the Month Club, Shade Tree Revival…

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This is on a 100% BFL base and I chain-plied it, thinking that one day they might make some funky socks.

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This turned out a smidge heavier than I’d have liked, but I was kind of winging the singles so the fact that it didn’t turn out exactly as I’d hoped is not really a surprise. I’ll adjust my gauge and it’ll knit up just fine. I’m not worried. In fact, I’m quite pleased with how it turned out.

I still have these 4oz of Still Water that I spun the singles for that are still waiting… ahem… to be wound off the bobbins…

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Oh, I’ll get there one of these days!

I’m not sure my yardage total, but counting the Flying Home plying and the Still Water singles as a full 4oz spin (because, you know, for the work involved that’s accurate), that’s a full 40oz spun during Tour de Fleece 2018! It’s not a record for me, but it’s not half bad!

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So. Many. Pretties.

Maybe the real reason I’ve been putting off posting this is it’s given me an excuse to keep this basket of beauties on my desk. Alas, they’ll be moved to my handspun shelf to make room for other work. Let’s hope there’s room over there!

 

Today on my wheel…

I’ve been quiet this week as energies have gone toward homeschool planning, getting ready for a landmark birthday this coming week, and, of course, Tour de Fleece. Today I’ve been working on three spins.

Upstairs…

Spindle at the park…

And downstairs…

Zoom zoom!

Simply Brilli[g]ant!

Last October I started out on a project. Over in the Three Waters Farm Ravelry Group, we held a designer based spinalong + knitalong dedicated to the work of Nim Teasedale. She’s a brilliant designer and just a very awesome human being in general so it was a real treat to participate. I picked her design, named Brillig, and two braids BFL + Silk Three Waters Farm fibers, African Sunset and Iron Blue, which I spun into two chain-plied fingering weight skeins.

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And I started knitting…

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And I kept knitting despite this nagging feeling…

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Something wasn’t quite right with the edge. Finally I couldn’t take it, so I went back and read the instructions more carefully and realized that when slipping a stitch on the saw-tooth edge I was holding my yarn in the wrong spot.  Note to self: when your gut tells you something isn’t quite right, something probably isn’t and you should dig deeper, preferably before you spend a month knitting on and questioning a project.

So about a month later, I found myself here…

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Starting over. Sure, I could have just kept going doing it the wrong way so it was all the same or I could have left what I had and worked it correctly going forward. There was a fair bit of soul-searching involved in this choice. At the end of the day, though, having spent that much time spinning the yarn and as much as I loved the color combination, I just had to rip it out and do it right.

So frog it I did.

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Ribbit! Or shall I say, “Rip-it!

Thankfully, once I make this kind of choice in my craft, there’s not a lot of post-decision hand-wringing. As the motto of Wisconsin dictates, I just move “Forward.”

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And forward I did go, with so much relief and happiness in the improved edge. Totally worth it, totally the right call.

I got it re-started and then the the SAL + KAL ended and I lost momentum. I worked on some holiday gifts, spun a lot of yarn, picked up my Find Your Fade and finished that, made a couple pair of mittens, and then I came back to my Brillig.

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It’s a pattern I really enjoyed, so it was easy to come back to. Somewhere in the knitting it became evident that I was going to run out the Iron Blue I needed…

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Because this saga was not dramatic enough yet, I suppose. In any case, I managed to pick up an extra 4oz of the fiber that I needed and I got right to it.

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I didn’t mind the extra spinning. I love this colorway.

Meanwhile I kept knitting toward the end…

 

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I finished up the spinning and came to the end of the first skein of Iron Blue…

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And in a few short days, I was done.

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I adore the color combination.

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And I think the whole shawl is just so elegant.

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Totally worth the extended hours put into it — the spinning, the knitting, the ripping, the knitting, the extra spinning, the knitting — just 100% worth it. It is simply Brilli[g]ant!