Two Left Needles

Knitting, spinning and dyeing
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The knitted swatches are the fun part! But first...

Below you can see the skeins in their relaxed, un-set state. You can see there is a little twist in the short draw skein and about twice as much in the from the fold skein:

silk singles - twist
left: short draw; right: from the fold

I think you can also see that the short draw skein is pretty darned fuzzy. Cheryl observed that the halo on the short draw skein diminishes the luster/shine. I think she's right. It's quite a bit fuzzier and a little more "matte" looking.

Super closeup:

silk singles - twist comparison

I wanted to compare twist angles here with the "control" skein, purty blue ArtYarns Regal Silk gifted to me by Maria (hi Maria!). Unfortunately, the super sunshine made that pretty tough. I did notice the Regal Silk didn't have much of a halo at all. How did they do that??

The next day I steam set the twist under just a little bit of tension. It worked nicely:

silk singles - steam set
left: short draw; right, from the fold

I think it helped a bit with the halo, but it's hard to tell:

silk singles - twist comparison
left: short draw; right, from the fold

(I did try to compare twist again but I started going blind.)

Knit swatches

Woohoo! The fun part! Look at this gorgeousness:

silk singles - swatches
left: short draw; right, from the fold

2 swatches, stockinette and lace, for each method. Unfortunately, I wasn't clever enough to do them in the same sequence, so we need a few photos to compare them sufficiently.

Color comparison

First off, you can see the color gradually shifts from bottom to top. Nice stuff. Of course, a sweater will never be this narrow, so the stripes would be a lot narrower. This particular dyed top is dyed in a loop, however, so instead of using one loop at a time, you could use 2 loops at the same time to make each stripe twice as wide. Or 3. Or n. Or mix them up. Oh, the possibilities.

Looking more closely (and strictly looking at color):

silk singles - color comparison
left: short draw; right, from the fold

The color shifts in the short draw swatch is subtle and gradual. You can see it below as well. The from the fold swatch, on the other hand, jumps between colors erratically to achieve a more mottled, complex look. Both are beautiful, just depends on the look you're going for. Honestly, the color blending in the bottom right swatch is one of the things I love about spinning. 

If you're using the short draw drafting method I demonstrated yesterday, you can control some of the color shifts by choosing how many tufts you pull, which colors you allow in your bunch, etc.

The short draw swatches look a little muted, as noted earlier with the yarn. (The color difference in the gold/peach below I have to attribute to dyeing differences.)

silk singles - color comparison
left: short draw; right, from the fold

Stitch comparison

Now let's look at the stitches themselves. I shoulda zoomed in more.

The from the fold swatches have better stitch definition for both the stockinette and lace pattern:

silk singles - stitch comparison
left: short draw; right, from the fold

It's a bit harder to see in the lace pattern, since:

  • they're not blocked
  • the colors of the from the fold swatch and the carpet work against the stitch pattern
  • the short draw swatch happens to use the portion where I spun thicker so this lace pattern really needed to be on the next size up needle

20/20 hindsight. My opinion, since you ask: when I stretch the two swatches out, and allowing for some of the above factors, the lace pattern shows up crisper on the from the fold swatch. Also, as before, the fuzziness obscures the short draw stitches a little bit.

silk singles - stitch comparison
left: short draw; right, from the fold

What you can't see

All four swatches are verrry soft. I just want to squish them all day. Naturally, the short draw swatches are softer than their counterpart because the yarn has less twist.

When it comes to handle, short draw is pure drape while from the fold has more structure. It still drapes nicely, but short draw verges on limp. Again, which one works for you depends on what you're going for.

Also, I just noticed that from the fold stockinette has a very slight tendency to bias to the left. You would either need to account for this in your design, or spin with less twist.

Knitting with the grain

If you're spinning then knitting singles, it's smoother sailings to knit starting from the beginning end, the first bit you spun. Why? Well, as you spin, you smooth the fibers down. If you knit from the beginning of the yarn, the yarn is going through your fingers "with the grain", smoothing down in the same direction as when it was spun. If you start with the other end, you'll rub the yarn "against the grain". You can test by rubbing your singles; one direction will cause the fibers to get all jumbled up. You want the smooth direction to be towards you, from the ball to you.


Spinning singles with handdyed silk is fun and the color possibilities are endless. The luster, softness, drape and incredible color all make it wonderful to spin and knit. Singles also preserve the color sequence better than plied yarns (with the exception of navajo-plying). I played with spinning short draw and from the fold, sequentially followed the dyed color, and compared only 2 stitch patterns. There are plenty of ways you can vary the spinning (and knitting!) to get different results. The longer staple length and faster drafting do take getting used to, but as with all spinning, practice will get you far. I hope I've encouraged you to try it out for yourself!

Thanks for the suggestions on shawls. Several of you suggested Folk Shawls, and frankly, I'm surprised I don't own it. I'll definitely check it out.

Making the Happy Things list yesterday was harder than I thought. But here's an easy one for today:

Happy thing 1: I've met some really great folks through my blog and I really appreciate that. When I started blogging I read about people who made all these friends through blogging and I thought, that sounds cool, how do I get that? It doesn't come overnight. But when you realize it's happened, it's pretty darned groovy.

Enough with the happy mushy talk. Let's talk fiber.

I hope I didn't build up the silk thing too much. I've just had a lot of fun with it and have been impatient to show what I've been working on and get some feedback.

For months now I've been wanting to spin silk singles, similar to the Tilli Thomas silk, or ArtYarns Regal Silk. I bought a bunch of handdyed Interlacements silk top on eBay. I started playing.

loverly Interlacements silk
pretty Interlacements silk top

I spun 2 samples, ~1 oz each, using regular short draw, and spinning from the fold.


For short draw, I gently predrafted to unstick the fibers. No length-wise splitting. The top looks like the pink end in the photo above.

For the fold, here's how I used to do it:

I would grasp the end, put my other hand further than a fiber length apart and pull:

how I used to pull a fiber length

This method results in pulling off more than a fiber length. With other fibers, as I spun, sometimes I would have "holes" in my fold (if you've done this, you know what I mean).

The way I do it now takes a smidge longer, but is worth the effort and pretty much eliminates the "holes". I learned it from Barbara C-V at my spinning lesson.

I grasp the very end of the top with my thumb and first finger, put my other hand just beyond a fiber length, and pull:

how I now pull a fiber length

The pulled portion is a fiber length long, but not as thick as the full top.

a fiber length pulled

so I place this atop the top so the ends line up, and pull again:

placing the fiber length over the top

and repeat two or three times to get a thicker bunch:

several pulled lengths

Here's the next bunch:

another batch of pulled lengths

As you can see, this method allows for cool color blending to take place. You'll be able to see this in the knitted swatches.


I believe conventional spinning wisdom states that spun singles should not have more than a 28 degree angle of twist. I don't have a spinning protractor to measure that, but I'm working on it. Meanwhile, I eyeballed it.

I really struggled spinning short draw. The three things that made it hard for me were:

  • the longer fiber length (6-8") made it harder to maintain an even thickness
  • it was really hard to draft fast enough to maintain low twist in the singles
  • my natural instinct was to spin finer than I wanted; I'm either used to spinning finer or I'm used to thinking in terms of 2 plies

Bottom line: I just need to practice. I improved as I went, but the first stuff is a lot thinner and you can definitely see it in the knitted swatches.

Spinning from the fold, on the other hand, was pretty smooth. The only concern I had was that, in order to effectively spin from the fold, I had to allow more twist. It shows in the yarn and the swatch. It doesn't appear to bias the swatch, though. 

The main difficulty I had was the long fiber length. Occasionally the fibers would get twisted up or the long ends would get caught. I learned to keep the ends out of the way.

Oh yeah, also, I spun the wheel in the "plying" direction. Since most yarns are spun with Z twist and then plied in the opposite direction, I figured I'd skip the Z twist step and spin in the opposite direction, ie, with S twist. As it turns out, ArtYarns Regal Silk has a Z twist, so I think I overthought that one.

On the bobbin:

silk singles: short draw and from the fold
top: from the fold; bottom: short draw

Notice there are more mixed color portions in the from the fold yarn. Also, the from the fold yarn looks more sturdy.

The yarn

As I wound the short draw singles off the bobbin and onto a niddy noddy, I worried the yarn would break. It definitely felt more delicate so I was more gentle (and stressed) with it. I also noticed it had much more of a halo.

Yardage-wise, I ended up with ~80 yards of short draw singles, and ~90 yards from the fold.


loverly silk singles
top: from the fold; bottom: short draw

Are ya getting used to the green picnic table yet?

What? You want a close up?

silk singles close up

Tomorrow I'll talk about and show you the knitted swatches!


Only happy news allowed this week.

Happy thing 1: The humidifier works great. In a week it's brought our basement humidity down from the upper 60's to a comfortable 50. I spent a couple of hours sweeping, reorganizing, designating for trash and recycling. We still have a ways to go, but it's a good start.

Happy thing 2: I plied 4.2 oz of the rambouillet/silk last night, it came out to 520 yards. 520 yards!

Rambouillet/silk 2 ply

That's a lot of freaking yardage!

Rambouillet/silk 2 ply

The singles sat on the bobbin for a while and I haven't set it yet so it's still kinky.

Rambouillet/silk 2 ply

With 5.4 oz left to ply, that's more than enough for a nice shawl. It'll be my first handspun shawl. Any suggestions?

Happy thing 3: I joined the Northeast Handspinners Assocation and am signing up to attend The Gathering this fall. I doubt I'll get any of my first choice workshops, but it'll be fun to go. I hope they're not full!

Happy thing 4: I nearly forgot - I'm signed up for a dye workshop this weekend! Wheeee! It's taught by Linda Whiting, the same person that did the dye workshop for Erin, Cheryl and co. I'm looking forward to it.

Okay. Let me show you the shawl and get that out of the way. Tomorrow I want to start showing you the silk samples I've been playing with. Fun fun.


Finished: 7/21/06
Pattern: Flower Basket Shawl by Evelyn Clark, Interweave Knits Fall 2004
Yarn: Hand Maiden's Sea Silk in Rose Garden
Needles: #7
Notes: I loooooove love love this yarn. Love it. Love. It. It's soft, has incredible drape, that awesome silk sheen, the colors are gorgeous, it photographs like a mo-fo in the sunlight, man, what more can you want? The pattern shows nicely, it feels good wearing it, it was nice to knit with. Do you really want me to go on? Lovely lovely stuff. AND, I'm so glad I got it at half off. Just one more thing to love about it. ;)

I was worried that I'd run out of yarn. I did run out. Rather than frog back and lose a whole bunch of yards, I decided to throw the dice and try to maximize the shawl size and yarn use. I ended up casting off in pattern on row 9 of the edging. I could have used about 20-30" more yarn to get a looser cast off, but I'm happy with the end result:


It blocked bigger than I expected. After completing only 6 of the 7 main pattern repeats I thought I'd have a smaller shawlette, but the finished wingspan is ~54" and it's ~27" high, same as the pattern specs. Good stuff. On my 5'2" frame, it's a perfect fit. If you want a larger shawl, you'll definitely need a second skein.


Obligatory window shot:


Well, I wrote it a few weeks ago, and I've learned a couple of things since then, but here are some things I learned from my spinning lesson with Barbara Clorite-Ventura last month. Better late than never, right?


My previous method of checking the twist was to take a small section of plied yarn, say 6-8", and bring the ends together. If the yarn doubled on itself it was under or overplied. If it hung loosely, it was balanced. To figure out if it was under or overplied, I took that same section and either added or removed twist and retested. I had also begun to sample when starting to ply, and pulling off a plied section from the bobbin to see how the finished yarn would look.

When plying, to get a balanced yarn you want the fibers to be running parallel to the yarn. I had heard that before, but we actually inspected the yarns under a magnifying glass. If the fibers are angling right or left, you need to add more or less twist.

I learned that, when it comes to looking at tiny things up close, I can see much better without glasses.

You can also examine the look of the plied yarn. If it looks kinda thin and stringy, then it probably needs more twist. When it looks more round, it is probably more balanced.

To check your results, you can pull some of the plied yarn from the bobbin. If you're a purist, you will only pull the section between the bobbin and the hook, and not let it go off the hook. When you're done, you can roll the bobbin to rewind so as not to add more twist.


My main methods to now have been:

For worsted: keeping my fingers pinching the point of twist and separating my forward and backward hands to include the amount of fibers I want, and then bringing my forward hand back to allow the twist in and smooth down fibers. This has worked well for most prepared tops and rovings.

For woollen: point of contact, allowing twist to enter the drafting triangle and pulling fibers with the forward hand; this works well for batts and spinning from the fold. Something I've been doing automatically was to slightly unroll the spun yarn prior to pulling, making it easier to draft. I was told this was a good thing.

A new method I learned was what I call "pinch and pull", and it sounds like what Judith MacKenzie McCuin recommends. You don't allow twist to enter the drafting triangle, and you pinch the amount of fibers you want and pull them out about 1/3 fiber length. To get a true worsted, you want to work from the entire top width and not split it lengthwise, so you will have to angle your pinching and pulling to the right and then left to work your way across the top.

The pinch and pull was tough for me because my right thumb wanted to act as a brake on the fibers, and that caused little bunch-ups to gather in my right hand. If I didn't brake, then I felt the fibers getting away from me. Maybe I needed to adjust the take-up to be even less.

With the seemingly inevitable bunch-ups I was growing, a bit of drafting helped straighten them out. And when that didn't work, or when I was at the end of a piece, I could chuck the bad parts.

Chucking bad parts has been tough for me to learn. Veggie matter I've always taken out. But in much of my spinning, I've let little bumps, bits and neps go by unchecked. I figured they added "character" to my yarns. But as I progress and attempt finer and smoother yarns, I've started taking the time to take out those bits, neps and bumps. When spinning laceweight, those little neps really change the look of your yarn! What I'm learning is that everything you do, or don't do, affects your final yarn. Given the amount of time you spend making it, and the fact that, once made, you can't really re-spin it, it makes sense to put a little extra care or work into making the yarn you want, that you'll be happy with when you're done.


I didn't stab anyone. Yay!

Let's see... the whole thing was pretty new to me, so I was happy to learn how to do it.

The coolest part was dizzing off the fiber and creating soft cloudy top. The hardest part was throwing away the shorter bits that were left on the combs after dizzing; it seemed like such a waste. The thing is, you have to expect waste because you're working from fleece. With prepared roving or top, they've already thrown away the waste and you don't have to see it. I guess it's like skirting a fleece, too. Why hold on to subpar bits? Garbage in, garbage out, right?

Thanks for the nice comments on the NC spun yarn! The magical transformation that is spinning, gotta love it.

Two things I did differently with these yarns:

I (mostly) didn't draft the fibers or split them. I used to separate combed top into narrow strips that were closer to the finished single, and then pre-draft the whole thing. For thin yarn, that took a looooong time. After reading Spinnerella's notes from her spinning lesson with Judith MacKenzie McCuin (paraphrased from memory: it's only a true worsted if you don't split the top and if you work from the whole width, moving side to side), after my spinning lesson with Barbara Clorite-Ventura, and after reading somewhere that there were 2 "camps", those that pre-drafted and those that didn't (before I read that, I didn't realize people didn't pre-draft!), I decided to try this not-pre-drafting thing out.

I split Calico Cat into 2 strips so it wasn't so unwieldy. But I didn't pre-draft. And I did a little pre-drafting on the primaries dyepot, but only because it was felted.

I kinda like it. It's less prep time, and esp in the case of dyed top which will stick together more than undyed top, I feel like I have to pull the fibers out, which, while more work for my fingers, also means that the fibers aren't slipping out of my fingers, either. More control. If it's very sticky, though, I would probably do some light attenuating (I'm not even sure if I'm using that word right). Eg, last night, while trying out some silk, I didn't split the top but I did do some gentle pre-drafting to open up the top a bit, allowing the fibers to move past each other better.

The second thing I did differently: whack that yarn! I read on the Knitter's Review Forums (sorry, can't find the link now...) that you should abuse your yarn to finish it, even out the twist, etc. I gave it a try. It made the merino fuzzier, not sure I want that. But it didn't affect the BFL the same way. I don't have a before and after, but I think it made a positive difference. I'll be (selectively) abusing my yarns from now on.

It's steam sauna hot today. Even at 11:17 pm, the heat has not let up much. We have 2 window A/C units in our basement from our previous apartment dwelling life. Back when windows went up and down and A/C units fit logically. Our 30+ year old house has casement windows, the kind that go side to side. We haven't found our solution yet. Meanwhile, life without A/C, not so fun.

On the plus side, the Mosquito Magnet we bought for a terrific price at season's end 2004, which we finally got up and running a few weeks ago, magnificent. We used to get eaten alive. No hyperbole. Eaten. Alive. We used to run from car to house, house to car. They waited for us, swarmed and attacked us. No more. Hardly any mosquitos in our yard now. It's wonderful. We might get some yard work done now. If the incessant rain and raising heat let up. Or, more accurately, if I can tear myself away from the wheel.

We also bought a humidifier for our basement, it's much too damp down there (the unit tells us it's ~65% humidity, at what % does it start raining indoors?). We have a full unfinished basement that serves as storage and that icky place where the washer and dryer live. Well, sort of storage. No books or yarn, of course. We're hoping to one day finish it and make it liveable. It's at least 15 degrees cooler down there now -- if only it weren't so buggy (spiders) and damp and ill-lit, we could beat the heat down there. One day.

Meanwhile, we picked up a new shower head (with 8 fancy settings) and a new hallway light (which Scott already installed). Before: 20 year old showerhead and bare bulb (okay, I exaggerate on the showerhead). After a few dual paychecks, we're starting to edge away from tight-belted frugality and starting to look at improvements around the house. We even picked out paint colors for the bedroom! 2 1/2 years and we've only painted the bathroom. This is a huge step! I may even shock you with a new living room set one day. But don't hold your breath.

I went to Knit Club at Fabric Place in Framingham last Friday and made this startling revelation: a lot of knitting can be accomplished if you sit down and knit! Shocking, isn't it? Because I sure wasn't getting much done while spinning this:

A Touch of Twist rambouillet/silk

9.6 oz of rambouillet/silk from A Touch of Twist (MDSW). 3 oz were spun way back when, the rest finished since returning from NC. It'll be a little slubby and textured when plied. It's soft, has a nice sheen, and was pretty nice to spin. Don't be surprised if I bring back more from Rhinebeck. Just sayin'.

Knit Club knitting helped get me to a finished Trellis back:

Trellis - back finished!

The shaping looks a little wonky (wide below 'pits, narrow after), but I know it's just the way it's designed, so I'm trusting.

I also combed the rest of the cormo with the pet comb, but I think I'll leave that for tomorrow. Time to peel myself from the desk and chair and melt somewhere else. Preferably in front of a fan.

The skies continue to mock me, but I did my best taking photos in the lunch room. Oh, and I found out I was hasty in blaming them for my missing drum carder. Turns out it's been delayed a few weeks. 6, to be precise. Man, I got my hopes up, too, got all excited. I suppose there's no harm in telling you it's a Patrick Green 2 speed Fancicard. It's not like I can keep the secret to myself another 6 weeks.

Alright, that out of the way, let's look at some handspun.


No seriously, gotta catch you up. But here's a preview so you don't think me too cheeky:

Spun yarns hanging out at work, waiting for their closeup
hanging out at work

Back in April, I did some random casserole dyeing. I soaked 8 oz BFL, layered it in 2 casserole dishes, added water and vinegar, and then added dyes. In one, I chose pink, purple and black. The dyes migrated more than I expected and it looked pretty dark:

Purples in the casserole

In the other, I chose brown, orange and blue. (Yeah, I know. What was I thinking? I think it I was inspired to add striking contrasts after reading Deb Menz' Color in Spinning.) The orange dye was gloopy and thick. It seemed to just sit on the surface. I wasn't sure what would happen. The brown looked murky and spread a lot, leaving very little white area. I added blue stripes, but screwed up the placement. It didn't look prety.

Calico Cat in the casserole

I added about an inch of water to the roaster, then stacked the casseroles so they were staggered and let it cook for an hour and cool overnight.

The purple/pink roving came out darker than I hoped, but interesting:

Purples and Calico Cat

Drafting didn't inspire me to spin it, though, too dark and flat:

Purples drafted

The other roving shocked me. All I could think was Calico Cat:

Purples and Calico Cat

Only the top half got any dyes, the rest stayed undyed. I was very disappointed. Enough so that I didn't want to post about it. I didn't want to draft it, let alone spin it. I knew I should just try it: you never know how it'll come out. But with so many other wonderful fibers around me (think MDSW), I hid it away.

A month ago, while dyeing the knitted blanks for Dye-O-Rama, I also soaked a pound of BFL. Dyeing Pink Panther wiped me out, so I left the BFL soaking. For a week. Before I finally realized it might have gone bad.

It had that funky smell that water has after flowers have been sitting too long. Stale and murky. A pound of BFL. Wasted. Ugh. So I washed it. Twice. And dyed it anyway.

Into the roaster with stripes of red, blue and yellow and enough water to just cover. Out of the roaster:

Primaries Luck of the Dyepot


Primaries Luck of the Dyepot

Not what I expected. I was somewhat curious to see how it would spin, but again, with so many wonderful fibers around me, it sat.

When packing for NC, I decided to take things to try out, that I wasn't worried about messing up, that wouldn't require the thought or care of a cormo laceweight or a merino/silk. Something I could spin while hanging out with my sister. I took Calico Cat and 4 oz of the primaries dyepot, as well as 4 oz of Ashland Bay merino in Cassis that I bought at Mind's Eye Yarns during their summer sale.

I spun Cassis in the Providence and Philadelphia airports while waiting, and was surprised that just as many guys were interested in the wheel as women. In fact, they were more likely to come up to talk to me. (By the way, the Ashford Joy fits very nicely in the overhead compartments.)

Cassis was spun from the fold without too much attention. I was spinning to be spinning, and to see how the colors would come out. I haven't done much spinning from the fold so it was good to get some practice.

Cassis was soft and fun to spin. The colors dancing were pleasant and vaguely hypnotic. The finished yarn is bouncy and soft:

Ashland Bay Cassis

I think I'm in love.

(Funny story: at the spinning demo, I passed around a small piece of Cassis so the kids could feel another type of fiber. They all remarked on how soft it was. One of the kids asked why I didn't give them all samples of that stuff. My reply: "Uh, 'cuz it costs a lot more?")

Next up, Calico Cat. I was more than surprised. The singles didn't look at all as I expected:

Calico Cat

It drafted nicely and I really enjoyed seeing how it developed. Plied it still has Calico Cat characteristics, but is much more interesting. I was very happy with my plying on this one, though after a bath it looks like it has a slight bit less twist.

Calico Cat

You can still see distinct bits of blue and orange:

Calico Cat

And the primaries dyepot, well, not as much fun to spin because all that handling did cause some felting. It was hard to get an even single and I didn't try too hard. I soldiered on and was surprised with how green it came out:

Primaries Luck of the Dyepot

Green with splashes of red and blue:

Primaries Luck of the Dyepot

I don't love it, but it's interesting enough that I'll tackle the remaining 12 oz.

All in all, I was very happy to bring home 3 skeins of spun yarn, and to use up some dyed fibers that had been sitting around. I hope I learned that, even if roving doesn't look attractive on its own, it might spin up in totally unexpected and cool ways. I suspect I'll have to learn it a few more times before it sinks in... I think I'll try the purples again, this time less dark; and Calico Cat as well, perhaps with other unexpected combos.

Thanks for your nice comments about the spinning demonstration! I felt a little guilty as I was leaving my now-spinning niece, wondering when she's gonna want a wheel... sorry, sis!

I was driving home from work a couple of days ago, it was sunny and nice. The closer I got to home, the darker it got. Why? Trees, lotsa trees. I realized we need to cut down our neighbors trees so we can get more sunlight. (Not just for blog photos. Really.) Do you think they'd mind?

I threatened before to start taking fibery projects to work to photograph if I couldn't find any good sunlight at home. I finally did. Yesterday. When I left home it was sunny. Wouldn't you know: when I took my lunch break it was overcast; and when I went outside to take photos, it started to rain. Barely. Spitting. Taunting. As if the skies were laughing at me, mocking my futile attempts. Shortly after, it really rained.

Lucky for me Scott has a good view from where he works so he let me know when the sun came a-peeking. I ran outside and got a few photos (below).

If I were a glass-half-full kinda gal, maybe I would see the spitting as a gentle, nay, kind, warning of impending rain. If the skies had wanted to be spiteful, wouldn't they have opened a deluge on me, suddenly and without notice?

This weekend as I was leaving the house, I knocked over a glass-totally-full of orange juice. All over my spinning area. Luckily, only a few drops got on my wheel and most of my fiber was in bags. Still, plenty of fiber got sprayed, including a generous slosh on my newly washed cormo. It took an hour to clean the mess. When I was in high school I went through a period when, just as I was leaving home I'd guzzle down some orange juice and somehow spill it on my shirt. Off I'd go to change. The next day, the same. And the next. What is it with me and orange juice??

Hard won photos

Winterhaven Farm cormo

That's dyed cormo roving from Winterhaven Fiber Farm bought at MDSW. I had spun a sample of it back in May, but was not so happy with it. It was tough to draft evenly and had bits of veggie matter in there. I decided to be okay with irregular spinning, and the portions of roving that are on the inside of the ball are a little easier to spin, but the VM is still annoying. I pull out bits every foot or so of spinning and usually have to stop spinning to get them out. Not so fun.

Below is shetland from a fiber sampler I got in a swap, spun on the Joy. I'm keeping it low twist to keep the softness. When I'm home the Joy doesn't call to me so this bobbin may sit mateless for a while.


I'm also working on some more rambouillet/silk from A Touch of Twist, also purchased at MDSW. Photo soon. I spun up a bobbin back in May (last photo). The prep is not conducive to regular smooth singles, so again I'm being okay with irregular spinning. Still loving this fiber, though.

I managed to get a little knitting done in NC. Almost at the armpits on Trellis:

Trellis - in progress

I wrote a draft of this at work, and, surprise, surprise, I lost the post. It's the skies. I know it's the skies. They're being spiteful! When I left work, it was raining. They knew I didn't bring an umbrella. As I drove home, it got progressively heavier until it was pouring when I got home. Scott came out with an umbrella for me (awwww), foiling their attempts to drown me. Now that I'm safe inside, no rain. Coincidence? Unlikely! In fact, I begin to suspect that the skies have something to do with the fact that my drum carder is not yet here! It's related, I tell you. I know it is, I just don't know how yet.

Tomorrow I'll show you the yarn I spun in NC. If the skies allow.

A few hours after landing in NC, I went to my niece's school to do a spinning demonstration.

I've never done a spinning demonstration. I've never been in front of a bunch of kids as an adult. When I was about my niece's age, I did a short "play" that was videotaped for class. I think I was supposed to be a farmer's wife. When I watched the video, I noticed I had my hands clasped over my head for most of my scene. I still do that sometimes, it's comforting. (Thankfully, I grew out of the habit while a theatre major.)

I might have wanted to clasp my hands. I was nervous. I had butterflies!

My niece's teacher gathers up the kids right up close to me. I ask, "how long do I have?" She tells me 20-30 minutes, but don't worry if I don't need it all. I'm thinking, don't need it all? I could use more!

I begin, "My name is Monica and I'm here to demonstrate spinning." A hand shoots up.

Me: "Yes?"

He: "Um, well, um, my, um, my question, um, is, um. I have a cousin whose name is Monica." He smiles.

Me (smiling, and thinking, heh, he got you, noob): "Really? Well, I think it's a great name. I like it."

I start handing out 8" of roving to each kid, and ask if anyone knows where wool comes from (sheep!), mention there are a lot of different kinds of sheep, list a few:

handing out wool

It's taking too long, so I give a pile to one kid and say, "take one and pass it along."

Ha! Instant chaos: "I didn't get one!" "Give me one!" "Wait!" "Do we get to keep this?!" "I didn't get one!" I am in awe.

The teacher settles everyone down and I'm chuckling inside.

I tell them to hold the ends of the roving and gently pull. See how easily it comes apart? Then we twist the roving a few times and pull. Aha! The twist is what makes yarn!

learning about twist

I show them how to gently draft the roving to get yarns of different thicknesses, just by pulling and adding twist. They begin to do the same on their own roving.

I move to the spindle, and show them how the spindle does the twisting work, but everything else is just the same.

I move to the wheel, and show them how the wheel does the twisting work, and everything else is just the same. The kids not in the first row are craning to get a good look.

demo-ing the wheel
the chairs, so small

I draft thin, I draft thick. I answer a couple of questions. And then, I realize, I'm done. Demonstrating. It's been 10 minutes. Maybe 12. I'm sheepish. So much for needing all that time! Then I think, what fun is a demonstration without getting to try it?

"Who would like to try spinning on the spindle?"

Hands shoot up! I think the teacher's heart rate picks up. I pick the first person to raise their hand.

spinning the spindle

She spins the spindle while I hold the fiber, then we switch and she drafts.

Me: You've just made yarn!

She smiles.

We switch a couple of times, and then I ask for another volunteer.

Hands shoot up! It's a little overwhelming. How do you choose? 

My niece stands next to me, working on her roving. She's quietly making yarn, fairly even, too. I tell her it looks really good!

she's making yarn

She: Is this a 2 ply?

Me: No, that's a one ply. A single. (I know, I know, it's not called one ply.)

She: Is it now?

By jove, if she hasn't just folded it and let it twist on itself.

Me: Yup, that's a 2 ply.

Kid after my own heart.

I let 4 kids try out the spindle, 2 girls, 2 boys (they were just as enthusiastic to try, thankyouverymuch). I've hit my time limit and pack up to go. I'm jazzed up, excited to share, thrilled that they were so enthusiastic to learn and try something new. Who knows, maybe there's a spinner-to-be in the bunch?

*     *     *

Besides my niece, that is. When she came home from school, she was excited to try the spindle again. Her first time was in January on my last visit, but she mostly enjoyed spinning the spindle and left me to do all the drafting. We started out with the 2 person spindling as in the demo, but then I moved to twisting the spindle and letting her draft. She was so fast I couldn't keep up. Out came the wheel.

(No photos, not with a 13 month old trying to touch the moving parts.)

Over a couple of sittings, she spun up the rest of the practice fiber I had brought. The night before I left, I plied it with what was on the spindle, and then gave it a quick bath:

Bahia's 2 ply

My niece's first yarn. Yup.

I couldn't believe my eyes. Sunshine! I even managed to get these photos this morning between cloud cover:

Washed cormo lock (the top end is the slightly felted cut end):

Washed cormo lock

Based on feedback the other day, I'm trying to comb it with the Forsyth combs. We'll see how it goes (initial attempts are so-so).

Clover Leaf Farms silk/merino, 4 oz spun up:

Clover Leaf Farms merino/silk

Love the colors. The plan is to spin the other 4 oz which is a different (hopefully complementary) colorway, and then ply them together.

Pink Panther socks, just started the heel:

Pink Panther sock - in progress

The second pink band had much less black dye drool on it. I think both bands are interesting.

And last, a new project, Trellis from, in Rowan All Seasons Cotton:

Trellis - in progress

The yarn feels soft and squishy while knitting. It's the actual yarn called for in the pattern, which is so rare for me. I bought a few skeins specifically for this project at that yarn closing sale back in April. Anyone know if the All Seasons Cotton stands up to the washer and dryer?

It didn't rain at all, all day. I looked for pigs, but didn't see any. I wouldn't have been so shocked.

(Warning: Lots o' pics)

Soooo excited.

Remember that fleece I bought at MDSW? Remember I wanted to spin laceweight with it?

Ya, ya, ya, spun the laceweight. Tonight.

Well, just a bit. A sample.

And to do that, I had to wash it. And figure out how to prep it.

Ya, ya, ya.

Took a while to screw up my courage, eh? Almost 2 months? The experiment washing the corriedale fleece last month went so-so. Well, not so great. The majority went into a net bag and got a bit felted up. A few locks were washed in an experimental, painstaking way and came out fine:

experimenting with fleece washing washed corriedale locks
Left: tools used for sandwiching fleece; Right: results

When Barbara came over for my spinning lesson last month, I learned to use my forsyth combs, combed up a small lock and dizzed it:

corriedale nest

A few weeks ago, I spun it:

corriedale sample

Spinning stuff you've washed and combed is SO different than spinning commercially processed top. For one thing, you've still got all this crimp and energy in the fiber, it's not stretched out and flat like top. For another... well, I don't have another. It's a lot sproingier, not as slippery. It's nice.

I was going to find another way to wash the corriedale, one that didn't require a lot of work and didn't felt the fiber, before attempting the cormo. Barbara said she used water baskets (that's warter (war-der), to you non-New England folk) to wash her fleece, so I found some at Loews. It's got holes allover, except two squares on the bottom, so I thought I'd be clever and drill extra holes in to improve circulation:

adding holes to the warter basket adding holes to the warter basket

Man, love the drill, but it's so darned heavy. I only had the strength to do one side... and then I realized I couldn't file down the raw edges on the other side. Not so clever. (My pain is your gain.)

Uh oh, I'm crashing from the caffeine (from my decaf iced coffee; I'm a weakling)... better get focused...

I saw this article on washing fleece a few weeks ago and bought some tulle. Didn't use it. Thursday, I read Spinnerella's post on washing fleece and decided it was time.

I don't have the sink or baskets she does, and wanted to try the warter basket method anyway, so I did that first.

Locks o' fleece:

Washing cormo - locks

Locks sandwiched between baskets, sitting in hot water and Dawn:

Washing cormo - nested warter baskets

Locks rinsed x 2:

Washing cormo - in the warter basket

I only did one hot water wash, and it wasn't quite enough, as I could feel a little stickiness in the tips. It wasn't easy to remove the excess water, the wet locks on their own were a little awkward to handle. Also, they kinda stuck to the warter basket a bit where the basket's sticker had been. For a coarser fleece, it probably wouldn't be so bad, but for this superfine, easy to felt stuff, not good. I thought, a netting barrier ought to help. But, the size and shape of the fleece severely limited how much I could stick in there.

Instead, I placed some fleece in the netting, rolled and tied, and placed in the bucket.

Following Spinnerella's instructions, 2 hot washes with Dawn:

Washing cormo - soapy soak

2 rinses:

Washing cormo - rinse

The vinegar in the first rinse was KEY, it cut the suds big time. The use of baskets in her post, also KEY. Too bad I couldn't do that this time. I had to lift the netting sausage out by the ends, and that made the fiber slide around a bit. Upon later inspection, the cut ends of the locks got a bit felted from rubbing against the netting. Next time, I will orient the locks parallel to the sausage. Or use baskets.

(Also, I used a chopstick instead of the wooden spoon. 'Cuz, you know, I'm biased that way.)

Clean locks:

Washing cormo - almost dry

Man, stuff is SOFT. Soft, soft, soft. Sproingy. Soft. Did I mention it's soft? I kept going back to touch it. Pre-wash, it's got so much lanolin, you wouldn't know this was underneath.

So... prep? At MDSW at the Cormo Association / Foxhill Farms booth (this is a Foxhill Farms fleece), I overheard someone saying it was best to comb this stuff. I was thinking I'd use my forsyth combs, but Barbara was saying they might not be suited to fine fiber, since they only had 2 rows and the tines weren't as thin or closely spaced as a set of 4 row combs she had. On the plus side, my combs had good sharp points... but...

I also worried that the super sproingy-ness would not work well with the combs. I thought the fibers might stretch out and spring back into little knots and neps. It might be a mess.

Then I made a connection. My brother bought me some awesome spinning DVD's for my birthday (woohoo!) and in "Handspinning: Advanced Techniques", Mabel Ross combs some merino with an actual comb. What if that's what those Foxhill Farms people meant?

Off to the pet shop to pick up a lice (ewwww) comb:

pet comb for combing the cormo


Washing cormo - combing
(actually, this is me combing the second lock; the first one was half the size and I didn't do it like this)

The ends did sproing a bit, but overall it went fine, if a little slow (esp on the slightly felted end). I created a ... roving? by pulling from one corner and gently stretching, similar to in the DVD. And spun. Laceweight. With the cormo. Ohhhh yeaaaaahhhhhh.

cormo sample

It's evener than the bombyx/merino laceweight from the last post. And finer. For comparison, Jaggerspun Zephyr laceweight on the left, and my cormo laceweight on the right:

Comparing cormo samples

And comparing to some of the other stuff I've been sampling -- the brown stuff is a sample of the Foxhill Farms cormo/alpaca from MDSW; and the blue stuff is the laceweight from the last post.

Comparing laceweight samples

The cormo I washed was not hard to spin. There were bits that bunched up, but for the most part, it went pretty smoothly. Comparatively, the cormo/alpaca was a little tougher to spin, but not bad. I definitely liked spinning my preparation better. The bombyx/merino was toughest of the three to keep consistent, but I didn't really pre-draft it. It's more handled than the other fibers from the dyeing, maybe that's part of it; maybe it's the silk.

The cormo sample is about 8 yards, spun from a small portion of a lock. I think I'll spin up a larger sample at about the same grist and then knit up a swatch to see how it behaves. My eventual goal: to spin enough laceweight to knit a shawl. Ohhhhhh yeaahhhhhhhhhh.

I've wanted to spin lace for a while, since before MDSW. Lately, I've been spending some time here and there doing a bit of spinning, mostly samples, mostly thin stuff. I've been frustrated because I've got little to show for whatever time I spend spinning.

A couple of nights ago I started spinning some of the Chasing Rainbows Dyeworks bombyx/merino that I bought at MDSW. I bought 4 oz with the intention of making a lace scarf and put off using it until I was "ready" (you know, when you hoard lovely yarn or fiber, waiting for the perfect project or improved skills to do it justice). After sampling the optim last week and seeing how little I actually used and how helpful it was to get a feel for the fiber, I decided to sample the bombyx/merino. Just to see/feel.

I spun about as thin as I could get it, and I spun for a while. Two small bumps appeard on the bobbin, and that's about it. I stopped because I thought it might be too thin for knitting. I'm not much of a lace knitter and I've never knit with anything so thin before, so who's to say I'd like it? Better to knit up a sample before going any further. Before going to bed I wound it onto my trusty water bottle so I could ply it later. It took a LOT longer than expected. It looked so darned itty bitty:

Chasing Rainbows Dyeworks silk/merino

Last night I plied it. I plied by sight, visually checking the amount of twist before winding on. Besides having trouble seeing it (not the best lighting), I struggled with the plying-from-both-ends-without-ending-in-a-tangled-mess thing. Here's what I ended up with:

Chasing Rainbows Dyeworks silk/merino

40 yards of ... less than laceweight? I had trouble getting it to register on my scale, it might be ~2 g. The plying's not particularly even, and I definitely need to practice the spinning, too. But it's laceweight, and relatively consistent (when you squint or hold at armslength).

I made laceweight!

After gently holding the lace and marveling at its itty bittiness, I sat down at the wheel again and started spinning Clover Leaf Farm silk/merino, also from MDSW. I bought 8 oz to make a shawl type thing. I aimed for a dk/light worsted yarn, and BAM! Instant progress on the bobbin! Fiber flowing through the fingers! The pile, it doth diminisheth! It hit me like a ton of bricks.

The laceweight, she take very very very little fiber. The fiber pile, she does not much diminish when you're spinning the laceweight. The bobbin, she does not fill much when you're spinning the laceweight. The laceweight, she is itty bitty. She takes lots of time. And care.

If you want to see the progress, do not spin da laceweight. If you want to see the stash diminish, do not spin da laceweight.

*     *     *

I love the colors of the Clover Leaf Farms merino/silk:

Clover Leaf Farm merino/silk

I haven't been in a spinning mood but I've been wanting to spin. Not sure how that works.

I've managed it by spinning small samples of different fibers, playing around. Mostly MDS&W stuff, spun thin, fingering to laceweight.

Buffalo from Little Barn came in fluffy batts which were harder to spin, with fibers going every which way:


It's very soft and short fibered. I sampled it in 2 weights:

Buffalo samples

Hoh boy, that's itty bitty stuff. I think my spinning and plying have improved quite a bit! I'd like to try carding (when I get cards) to line up the fibers, see how that works.

I tried a bit of the Blue Moon Fiber Arts merino/tencel:

Blue Moon Fiber Arts merino/tencel sample

I'm not sure I liked spinning it, and I definitely overplied it. I'll have to revisit it some other time.

I also tried some of the Happy Hippy optim:

Happy Hippy optim sample

It's a thin fingering to lace weight. I started out thicker and gradually spun thinner as I got more comfortable with the fiber. Of course, when plied to itself, the thickest parts meet up with the thinnest parts.

The optim is very soft, and kinda limp, which I'm guessing will make a very drapey knit. I kinda liked spinning it. The fibers are very fine, but the staple is pretty long. At this weight a little goes a long way.


It's the first weekend in a long time that we've had the luxury of really lounging and enjoying a full day. We tried out a new breakfast place, wandered the mall, saw our first full price movie in years (The DaVinci Code, courtesy of a wedding gift certificate), and then went out for dinner. Sea bass. Yum. It's been a while since we've had a day like that. I was thinking it's been since finding out we were gonna be laid off about a year ago, but more likely it's been since we bought the house (2.5 years). Mortgages change lifestyles, eh?

At the mall, they had posterboards announcing new residences/condos they were building next to the mall and the new Neiman Marcus. Residences. Practically in the mall. Who would want to live next to the mall??? It boggles my mind.


We visited Gram before the wedding. I mentioned that my birthday was coming up and she asked how old I was gonna be.

Me: I'm gonna be 34.

Gram: Oh, you're getting old!

Hahaha, thanks, Gram.

It's been a while since we took photos with Gram:

us n gram

One with her almost smiling (with a hint of mischief):

scott and gram

Gram's been doing a lot better recently which has been great. We asked Gram to take our photo, and this was the best one:

ready to party

We cracked up. She kept cutting Scott's head off. She'd start out okay but then her arms would slowly lower while she was taking the photo, or they'd angle down when she clicked. Scott said she was always cutting something out of photos ever since he's known her. Hehe.

Scott was happy to sneak in these with his suit:


He hates "shoes" (dress shoes) and has been trying to wear sneakers with his suit for as long as I've known him. He wore shoes for our wedding but then changed to black sneaks for the reception. You pick your battles, right?

The wedding was for a family friend that I haven't seen since high school. His family surprised us by driving 2 hours to come to my high school graduation! The next day we moved and I then went off to college and between one thing then another, I haven't seen them since. Fast forward 16 years. What a trip! The youngest was 4 when I last saw him; it took a while to get over the fact that he and his next older brother were adults, all grown up! Time warp, my brain had trouble catching up. Surreal. In the midst of all the change, some things haven't changed. They're still a great group of people, good hearts.

They told me I haven't changed at all. Dude, I so don't get carded (all the time) now! :P

Just one photo from the wedding:

chocolate fountain

Chocolate fountain. 'Nuff said.


I spent more time frogging than knitting this weekend, turning the White and Black Merino Sweater into this:

recycled yarn

The yarn is a very soft and cushy merino that was a shame to waste. Because of the stripes, though, many of these bundles are pretty small, and I had to toss at least a full ball's worth of yarn. Still, I have hopes of giving this yarn purpose.


I had my first spinning lesson Monday morning. It's one of the few things for which I would sacrifice getting to sleep in. (If you don't know me, that's saying a lot.) Barbara Clorite-Ventura from BASD spent a couple of hours with me. We covered a lot of ground, which is probably best left for another post. Almost as helpful as all the tips and new things I learned  was hearing that I'm doing pretty well.

Spinning is an inherently tactile endeavor. I think it's harder to communicate qualities of fiber and spun yarn through photos than it is knitted items. Maybe it's because we have a broader base of comparison for knitted items and commercial yarns. Not only can we compare fit and style to other garments, but we have a fairly common vocabulary in many commercial yarns. We've touched that Debbie Bliss or Noro or Brown Sheep yarn, we know how it feels, we've probably seen sample swatches, knitted garments, or even used these yarns ourselves. We can take photos of someone's knitted project and imagine it three-dimensionally, and possibly even tactilely.

On the other hand, we have less experience with spun yarn. How does it feel? How does it behave? Or even, what is good spun yarn? What is better spun yarn? What makes it good yarn? Without a basis for comparison, a common vocabulary, or perhaps, years of experience, it's harder to gauge through a photo. Ergo, harder for me to know how I'm doing. Maybe it's just me, though. What's your experience?

I'm glad to see I'm not the only one trying to move things. hpny is right, though, knitting by thought does bypass the tactile enjoyment. Just because you can doesn't mean you should. I should have said cleaning dishes by thought. Or mowing grass by thought. Doing laundry by thought. Building SQL Server Reporting Services reports by thought. Oh wait, that last is mostly true...

Working on the sample batt opened me up to working on the A Touch of Twist rambouillet/silk (left):

Rambouillet/silk, Grafton Fibers merino

When I finished a bobbin (close enough, I was getting stir crazy), I decided to play with the merino Grafton Fibers batt I bought at Spa Knit and Spin in February. I had been wary of it all this time, not knowing how to spin it. I searched for examples online and found few photos. I think the answer to how is: however you want. Me, I tore strips about 2" wide and spun from one end, moving left to right across the end, pinching and pulling (short draw?). It mostly worked fine, though the ends of the strips and joining new strips got kinda hairy. Once I finish the second half batt I'll be ready to ply.

And by ready to ply, I mean ready to apply my new plying skillz (well, probably still 'skills' at this point).

I was frustrated with my last plying attempt. Carole had directed me to Claudia's post on plying and I found it very helpful.

What I needed, though, was practice. I had 2 skeins of laceweight singles from that I was not digging.

HPY laceweight yarn

I decided to ply them to make a sturdier yarn that I might like.

(The astute among you will be doing some quick mental calculations. 2 skeins, 850 yards each. That's a lot of yards. That's a lot of yards.)

I ran each skein through the wheel to add twist. I had a lot of fiddliness problems with my wheel, which frustrated me and made me generally unhappy. Also, my drive band broke and I think it was my third attempt at replacing it that worked. I also went a little crazy after a while. Spinning fiber into yarn is one thing. Usually soft fibers, usually relaxing. Methodically passing (not especially soft) yarn onto a bobbin very slowly while my wheel stuck its tongue out at me is quite another. It's a good recipe for mild insanity.

Plying said yarn, though, on same fickle wheel, that's a great recipe for total insanity!

I will say this: It gave me a lot of practice plying. Without the work of making a lot of singles. And I do think I like the plied yarn better:

HPY lace, plied
Skeins were plied from right to left; I think there is some improvement

The skeins need to be washed to relax the singles into their new configuration. I can't bear to (look at them) do it just yet. Soon, we shall know if the mild twitches I've acquired were worth it.

Enablers all! Hehe. My eye is on a Patrick Green Fancicard, which is even more expensive than the Fricke/Strauch I had been looking at. My reasoning: I'd prefer to buy one carder that will last me a good long while. I'm afraid that if I got a Louet I will want to upgrade too soon. I'd like to card in silk with merino, cashmere, alpaca, yak... and the Fancicard is supposedly very good at handling the exotics. Gotta save those pennies. I might be picking up some part time programming work, though. And my birthday is around the corner (2 weeks!) so if I have any discipline (not likely) I might be able to put a few bucks towards one.

The sun is out today (yay!!!) so I took a few pictures.

At the spin-in last week I spun my sunfires blue faced leicester:


The plan is to navajo ply and possibly make socks.

Progress on Honeymoon Cami is slow because I can't knit while spinning:

Honeymoon Cami - in progress

I added a few inches at The Fabric Place Knit Club last night.

Last night I also wanted to start the Flower Basket Shawl with this:

Hand Maiden Silk/Seacell

but forgot to wind it before leaving home. Doh. It's Hand Maiden silk/seacell, and it has a lovely soft hand with nice shine. I bought it (and a coupla other goodies) half off at a yarn store closing sale a few weeks ago. Skeined up it looks like:

Hand Maiden Silk/Seacell

I love seeing the transformation from skein to ball to knitted item in handpainted yarns.

The beginnings of FBS:

Flower Basket Shawl - started

I'm hoping that this one skein will be enough (~550 yards) but I think a shawlette would be fine, too.

Off to a wedding!