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.

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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

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

Another Spinzilla in the Books

Before I get rolling with my Spinzilla 2017 wrap-up, I wanted to take a second to thank the ladies at Knit Like Granny/Crafty Like Granny who included my blog on their list of the Top 100 Best Knitting Blogs to Follow in 2018. It’s a great resource if you’re looking for knitting blogs & resources to check out. The post was even picked up and shared by Vogue Knitting’s Facebook page! So many thanks for including me and I extend the warmest of welcomes to anyone who is new to my little corner of the internet. I’m so glad you found me!

And now, on to a recap of Spinzilla 2017! This year was my second year participating in Spinzilla and once again I was captaining the Three Waters Farm team. Last year I spun through a whopping 28oz in one week, turning in a Spinzilla total (which includes a plying credit) of 6546yards.  It was a lot. The total was high for me largely because everyone in my house was sick that week except for me. Of course, spending a week with light on school and high on quiet screen time with kids, means a lot of spinning can happen.

This year, I had a later start due to visiting family and then the kids and I had school all week. The mister was kind enough to “enjoy” some quality time watching Downton Abbey with me while I spun on a couple evenings, but for the most part we just had a normal week at home. I fully expected my Spinzilla total to be lower and that was fine by me. I knew last year was likely to be an anomaly because of the whole illness thing. Before I share my totals, though, I think I’ll share my individual spins, sound good? Good.

First, I spun up 4oz of Maple Leaf Rag on a 60/40 Polwarth + Silk base.

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I just did a simple 2-ply because, really, with a braid like this I usually feel like I’m just going to spin as consistently as I can and let those colors do the talking.

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I’ll be doing a proper post-spa measurement and wpi check in the coming week as I tag it and send it to its new home, but I do believe it’s a fingering weight and should wind up in the 450-465yards realm. I home its new owner loves it as it’ll be a surprise and it’s a skein I think just turned out really to be a stunner.

Where do you go from there, really?!

Iron Blue! That’s where!

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This is my favorite blue of all time, Iron Blue from Three Waters Farm and this one is on the 75/25 BFL + Silk base, a favorite base on mine, too. It’s currently available as a pre-order item in the TWF shop on either this BFLTS base or Superfine Merino.

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I’m a blue fiend and this one just sings my song.

The plan is to pair it with African Sunset…

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My spin was in the same BFL + Silk blend as Iron Blue, but it’s currently available in Mixed BFL in the shop, a sort of moodier incarnation, I think. Perfect for this time of year.

In any case, the pairing…

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I think will be lovely and is destined to be knit up into a Brillig for the NimbleNim SAL+KAL taking place currently in the TWF Ravelry group. Mine will be a bit different as I spun for a lighter weight, but I think with some needle adjustment it’ll be just fine. Now both Iron Blue and African Sunset I chain plied and came out at about 325yards and 375yards respectively. Normally I wouldn’t fret over the discrepancy, but I do want to be able to use the entirely skein of African Sunset for the full color repeat effect so I’ve already got more Iron Blue on the way. It certainly didn’t take any arm twisting to convince me I should spin more!

And lastly, with the 12oz of fiber spun and plied that I’d hoped to finish, I spun up half the singles of this 4oz of Zinnias During Dusk…

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And I went on to ply it after Spinzilla had officially ended, but I couldn’t help but share the finished skein.

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It’s probably in the area of an aran weight and will likely be around 140-150yards once it’s washed and set.

So all in all, I’m very proud of my little Spinzilla pile.

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My total Spinzilla yardage (which includes the plying credit) is 4356yards. Honestly, that’s a lot closer to last year’s total than I expected to get! More importantly, though, I really enjoyed the spinning and Team TWF — as always — was wonderful to spin with. I’m hoping to wind Iron Blue and African Sunset here momentarily and maybe while I have all the equipment out I’ll get Maple Leaf Rag reskeined and labeled and ready to head out to its new home. Zinnias During Dusk, I’m not sure yet what’s in store there, but I assume a cozy hat for the fast-approaching cold weather.

But there you have it, another Spinzilla is in the books!

Socks Flambe

I’ve been a busy bee the past week! We started school with half days and I’ve been prepping for WI Sheep & Wool next week because of course I’ve set my sights on doing all sort of things BEFORE that. My favorite moment was when I woke up yesterday and thought, “Hey, I think I’ll re-caulk the upstairs tub!” Because that’s exactly what you do when you’re getting ready for an event away from home.

In any case, today I’m finally going to share my FO from our vacation — my handspun socks! They started over a year ago as the special Three Waters Farm Tour de Fleece colorway, Summer Jubilee.

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Photo courtesy of Three Waters Farm

This was the Superwash Merino + Nylon base — it’s not currently available, but at of the time of this post, there is one braid of this colorway on the fab Cashmere/Superwash Merino/Nylon base available. You can find it here if you’re so inclined.

In any case, I spun it up during the Tour de Fleece 2016

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And then I chain plied it into a 3oo yard (or thereabouts) skein.

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And I was all set to knit up some socks… but the skein sat for about a year because life has a habit of happening. A lot. And all over the place.

When the Three Waters Farm Ravelry group decided to have it’s Sock-along post Tour de Fleece this year though, I knew it was time and I cast on. Originally I had decided to do the toes & heels in a commercial yarn I’d purchase for the task, but unfortunately/fortunately the gauge wasn’t close enough.

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So I just went for it, even though I knew I was a little lighter on yardage than I’d like to be. I kind of winged the pattern using some combinations of pattern calculations and trying them on as I went to get a good fit. And I went with a simple Fish Lips Kiss heel (my latest little discovery, even though it’s not a new thing). Simple! I worked them two-at-a-time magic loop in order to work from opposing ends of the center-pull ball. I knew they would be on the road with me during vacation and weighing to know when I hit halfway was just not an option. And I’m way too lazy to measure & weight in the winding process — sorry, folks! That’s just never going to happen! Besides, I don’t mind fraternal twin socks and I also kind of prefer to knit socks toe-up two-at-a-time magic loop when I’ve got a potential yarn shortage. I always feel like this method gives me the most options when flying by the seat of my pants.

In any case, I knit away on them during vacation…

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And I kept going as long as I dared. In the end, I probably had about 3-5 yards leftover. I can live with that.

And the resulting socks are nothing short of… magical. From the toes…

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To the foot…

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To the Fish Lips Kiss heels…img_8059

Every last bit of these socks makes me happy.

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They are far and away my happiest socks to date. And because I’m a nerd, as I was writing about them here, I had to look up the word “jubilee.” As a noun, it’s a special anniversary or event. They certainly are special, aren’t they! A year in the making and oh so worth the time! Jubilee is also listed as an adjective though, “(of desserts) flambé.” Well I think that’s accurate, too. My summer socks, a year in the making and set alight with the magic that is handspun. They are indeed, my Socks Flambé!

What 6 Mini Skeins Taught Me

I’ve never been the most adventurous spinner. Like so many, I’ve spent the bulk of 5years I’ve been spinning just trying to get consistent yarn in the most traditional ways — 2-plies, chain plies, standard 3-plies — and repeat. I’ve played a bit outside that box and I have dabbled in different weights, but that’s about it.

Enter the 1×6 SAL with Three Waters Farm Ravelry Group. I can always depend on this group to nudge me out of my comfort zone, to take a leap. The idea with this spin-along was to take one braid of fiber and spin it six different ways, for six mini-skeins. The particulars were up to the individual — you could choose to focus mostly on playing with color or you could prioritize trying different techniques or a little of both. I chose to use the opportunity to challenge myself with new techniques. After all, that’s an area I’ve been intrigued, but intimidated by and it seemed like as good a time as any to just do it.

I started with this braid of fiber.

summer bouquetIt’s 100% polwarth from Three Waters Farm called Summer Bouquet.

I picked 2 techniques I am very familiar with — the standard 2-ply and the chain ply. I thought it would be good to have a something I know well to compare to the others. For the others, I selected a slubby single (yikes!), a regular mid-weight single (omg!), a gimp (breathing into a paper bag now…), and a cable ply (staring blankly with mouth hanging open in disbelief). For different reasons, I would consider these all outside of my comfort zone. I’ve gained a lot of confidence in my spinning over the last 6months or so though, so I researched each a little and just went to it.

First, I went with the slubby single. Let me preface this by saying that I’m not confident with singles. At all. I recently got and watched through Spinning Stupendous Singles on Craftsy though and I wanted to give this a try. I sat down to spin and I struggled. I was using my copy of Sarah Andersen’s The Spinner’s Book of Yarn Designs, but I sometimes have problems learning in-motion things in still photos and words, so I ran over to my phone and opened up the class and re-watched the portion on slubby singles. I really thought I’d just trashed my first mini-skein.

When I went to wind it though…

slubby singleHoly WOW! It turned out great! I am not 100% sure this was possible, but I feel pretty confident I understand the whole process now so I’ll take it as a win and move forward.

My second mini-skein was a plain single. Emboldened by the surprise success of the slubby single, I did not hold back…

singleWho knew I could do this?! I love this little skein!

From here I moved on to the plied yarns. I spun all the singles right away and then plied them all.

First, the standard 2-ply…

2plyAs I said, I do this all the time and it wasn’t stressful at all. Sometimes it’s important to throw yourself a bone when you’re pushing yourself.

Next, I plied the gimp. A gimp is a 2-ply yarn that has one ply that is half the diameter of the other creating a kind of spiral-y effect. I have never, ever tried to spin 2-plies for one yarn with different diameters that are supposed to be someone particular.

gimpTurns out, I really liked it! The singles were a little nerve-wracking, but the plying, was captivating. So. Much. Fun!

The chain plying I did I actually changed the order of the colors in order to have a sort of light to dark situation. Especially when it comes to Three Waters Farm colors, I generally don’t mess with the colors because Mary Ann has such a phenomenal touch, but in the interest of being a little out of my comfort zone I went for it.

chainplyI generally love how chain ply yarns looks — the nice, round 3-ply is unbeatable — but this one did turn out awfully pretty, too.

And finally, the Big Kahuna of this experiment. The Cable Ply. Now I realize I didn’t reinvent the wheel here or anything, but this method is by far the most involved spin I’ve ever undertaken. It goes like this:

  1. Spin 4 sets of singles with an S twist.
  2. Take those 4 sets and make 2 – 2-ply yarns with Z twist, putting in twice the twist you normally would.
  3.  Ply these 2 – 2-ply yarns together with an S twist, just enough, but not too much so that the cable ‘pops.’

I did start step three only to find that I needed substantially more twist in my step 2 yarns (even though I thought I’d added enough), so I followed the tip of just running those 2-plies back through my wheel. That fixed them up just right. And…

cableplyTa-Da! A cable ply yarn!

One more photo, ok?

cable detailI’ll admit that because I spun my singles so thin, I actually had a somewhat hard time seeing the cable ‘pop’ and I had real concerns that when I washed it it would turn out quite right. It did, thankfully!

Beyond the resulting yarns, the most important part of this exercise for me is what I learned form doing it. So what did these 6 mini-skeins teach me?

groupMy skills and abilities with fiber and my wheel have come a long way in the last year.

My spinning horizons are so much wider than I realized.

It’s worth it to step outside of my comfort zone.

Having a spinning group (whether online or in-person) can have a huge impact on not only on improving what you already know, but in showing you that you can do things you didn’t even imagine trying.

It’s true to say that this spin-along has fundamentally changed how I look at spinning. In some ways, it’s been slowly unfolding since the beginning, since I got my wheel, but in other ways this spin-along has reinforced and really hit home for me the fact that I have command of this skill. No, I’m not an expert by any means, but I’m not muddling through any more either. If these 6 little skeins could talk, I have a feeling they’d look me squarely in the eye and say, “You’ve got this.”

Oh, the places we’ll go now!

Geology, Ice Cream, and a Cycle of Spinning Inspiration

We are very much a family that believes in the idea of ‘making hay while the sun shines,’ so as yesterday was a beautiful warm (for this time of year) and sunny day we decided on a day that would include a lot of outside time. We started indoors, however, while the early morning fog burned off. We decided to spend some time at the UW Geology Museum to kind of wrap up a unit on “How the Earth Was Made” we’ve been doing in school. My son was absolutely fascinated by the huge globe out front and instead of snapping a photo, I found myself using my phone to look up a lot of questions like “what’s that big trench in the Caribbean?” (it’s the Caymen Trough, by the way, and it’s crazy cool and well worth a little study!) and listening and watching as my son tracked down notable points on the globe like Challenger Deep and the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the different subduction zones around the ring of fire. So much of teaching is just listening and not getting in the way of these bright minds around me.

Of course, we had to pose for a photo with the holly jolly fossils.

IMG_1587You can’t see it in the photo, but the mastodon has elf ears too that are pretty epic.

From there, we had a fantastic Chinese lunch at an restaurant the mister & I used to frequent when we were in school at the university and then we stopped at Babcock Hall for an ice cream treat before heading out on a hike. Now I’ve been very, very committed to the new leaf I turned over about 6weeks ago — watching my diet, exercising daily, and all that — but I’m a firm believer that moderation has to reign. At the heart of it my goals are twofold; I want to care for myself, but I also want to be a good role model for my children. And that has to mean that I have treats too sometimes. I want to make good choices and find balance, not just deny myself constantly. I opted for a sundae that ended up being huge despite ordering a small. The concoction involved a mocha macchiato ice cream, peppermint stick ice cream, some sort of minty chocolate on top, and whipped cream. I totally could not finish, but it was incredible.

From ice cream treats, we went straight on to a walk on Picnic Point where the kiddos and hubby climbed on everything imaginable and ran off their energy while Moose and I had a more traditional walk.

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Once home, I whipped through my advent calendar square.

IMG_1601It’s a bit hard to see here as I have it on the quilt I’d wrapped myself up in, but it’s coming along very nicely. Turns out, this advent calendar idea was exactly the jump start I needed for this project. My daughter has already offered to make up a little bag of yarns monthly for me to keep me going — I’ll definitely be taking her up on that!

In my spinning life, I’ve started in on my Three Waters Farm Top of the Month Club installment for December.

IMG_1565It’s 100% Targhee and it is absolutely incredible. Spinning this fiber ranks right up there with eating that amazing sundae yesterday. After adding some Three Waters Farm fibers to my stash…

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…And spinning up a couple over the past few months, I decided to join the Top of the Month Club because I’m pretty convinced that this is one of those dye studios that exclusively produces gorgeous colorways. A once a month delivery will clearly serve to both inspire and motivate me, especially considering there is always a flurry of activity and sharing that accompanies these deliveries in the Ravelry group. As far as I’m concerned, it’s an incredible cycle of inspiration.  For those interested, and I’d love if you’d join me and my friends in the Three Waters Farm Ravelry Group, sign-ups for the Top of the Month Club are open until the 15th so you still have time to get in on the new January shipment!

I’ve really found a home away from home with the Three Waters Farm Ravelry Group. This group focuses exclusively on the beauty of Three Waters Farm yarns and fibers and it is filled with such a brilliant, talented, knowledgeable, inspiring group of spinners and knitters. They are not only very active in the group, but some of the most helpful and positive spinners I’ve ‘met’. I was so very flattered to be asked to help moderate this group and incredibly humbled by how kindly Mary Ann of Three Waters Farm was willing to work with my rigorous & unpredictable schedule. I’ve been seeking an active spinning group for quite some time now and I’m so happy to have landed with these lovely folks.

Aside from the sunshine yesterday, we’ve had a lot of grey and cloudy days here making photography rather difficult for FO photos, but I’ve got a few lovely finished projects to share as well as an exciting new knitalong coming up here on the blog over the next week or so. Stay tuned!