Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Monday, 30 April 2012

A Twisted Tale: Spin to Knit, Energized Knitting Yarns

I love hand spun yarn for many reasons, but the thing that draws me to it most of all is its twist energy.  No matter what fibre preparation you use, adding twist as you draft gives life to your yarn in ways that no commercial yarn can do.
I’ve talked about the technical aspects of twist energy in past posts, particularly in the Art Yarn discussions, so I won’t revisit twists per inch, etc. here.  There are many, many resources, in books and on line, which explain how to add the twist you want to your yarn; you can be as technical (Mabel Ross, Alden Amos) or as free (that would be me and many other spinners) as you like with your twist count.  The focus here is how to play with twist energy in your knitting.

The Queen of Twist Energy in singles yarn is Kathryn Alexander, who has spent her fibre career exploring what yarn will do when it’s highly energized.  Kathryn loves to play Z and S spun yarns against one another to pattern her fabric.  You can also vary your fabric patterns and textures by using yarn spun in one direction.  In this photograph, I used Z spun Merino singles and alternated stockinette stitch bands with reverse stockinette.  Neither resembles conventional stockinette:

My favourite scarf, shown here, is knitted in Merino/Silk singles, in garter stitch with occasional dropped stitches and small nepps thrown in just for fun: 

The yarn was very tightly twisted and corkscrewed as I knit it.  The scarf doesn’t look like much, butwhat I love about it are its tactile qualities.  Every time I wear it, I find myself playing with the fabric, fondling the beads and generally enjoying its texture.  It also has amazing elasticity:

When you work with energized singles, use them straight from the bobbin.  (Winding them into balls virtually guarantees snarling, on your part and the yarn.)  Use larger needles than you normally would for that yarn, because the yarn has to be able to move in the fabric and it will shift in the finishing.  Stay with simple stitches, such as garter stitch, stockinette, seed or basic lace patterns; allow the energy to determine the look of your fabrics.

High energy yarns are not limited to singles.  This little bag, knitted in 2 ply hand spun, naturally dyed Romney, was an attempt to make a durable bag which will withstand abrasion and hard use.  I knit it in the round, twisting the stitches by alternating knitting in the back or front of the stitch.  This adds strength to the fabric, which was then  machine washed and dried:

If you want hard wearing, high twist yarns that don’t corkscrew, add the twist in increments.  In this case, the Romney singles were spun Z once on my Ashford Traveller, at a ratio of 6: 1.  I left them on the bobbin overnight to rest, then added more twist, carefully coaxing out any corkscrews, using my Majacraft Pioneer wheel at a ratio of about 8: 1. I followed the same procedure and re spun the yarn a third time.

Each colour was rewound on two bobbins for plying under tension.  The process of adding twist to the 2 ply yarn was the same as for the singles.  I wound the yarns into skeins and gave them a hot wash and rinse, with lots of hand agitation.  The bag has a very hard hand compared to a typically spun Romney.  It would be torment to wear a fabric from this yarn, but it’s perfect for a bag, or anything else requiring durability.

Playing with twist allows the yarn to do much of the work of producing interesting fabric.  Adding and subtracting twist (because, of course, you can go the other way) extends the range of fabric you can knit.  Besides that, twisting is just plain fun.


Saturday, 28 April 2012

Different Strokes for Different Folks: On the Value of Disagreement

Doglover and I are team teaching the Golden Willow spinning classes this session.  We'd discussed doing this a while back, but for various reasons, the actual team teaching was rather spur-of-the-moment.  We didn't have much time to map out our plans, so the "team" part of the teaching is quite fluid.

Susan is a much more technical spinner than I.  She's a "worsted" gal; I'm more "woollen."  She loves to spin multi-plied yarn for socks.  I love to play with over spun singles.  I think Merino fibres have no place in hand spun socks; Susan loves to knit socks from softer wools.  We even disagree about the value of the "disagree" button on Ravelry.

Neither one of us hesitates to jump right in when we disagree with something the other person says or does, nor are we afraid to say exactly why.  Both of us do what we do as adaptations to physical abilities, learning styles, fibre preferences and our approach to teaching.  Sometimes, we do things "just because."  Neither of us "do it wrong."

That's the beauty of spinning: it adapts to our needs and preferences and becomes very personal.  There is always a way to achieve the yarn we require.  Susan and I can have as many debates as we like about yarn and still end up on the same side - the passionate world that is hand spinning.  We learn from each other and our students.  (Well, I learn more from her than she from me, unless you count "how not to put a wheel back in its case.")

The lesson for the upcoming week is about twist, how to control it, how to use it to produce any yarn you need, how to play with twist energy.  We haven't discussed our twist techniques yet, but I'm guessing that we approach our twisting very differently from one another, and that neither one of us gets ourselves twisted into knots about that.  I'm looking forward to discovering our differences.

For all my friends who are going through tough times:


Thursday, 26 April 2012

Mix It Up: Swatches for Spin to Knit

Here we are at the end of Week One of Spin to Knit, drafting techniques.  I’ve shown you my process for drafting samples.  Once the samples are wet finished, knitting swatches will give me an idea of how each yarn behaves as fabric.

All three samples were knitted on 2.5 mm 40 cm Addi Turbo needles.  Samples One and Two are worked over 21 stitches; Sample Three was knitted on 15 stitches.  Each sample has a 3 stitch garter stitch border and each has a sample of stockinette and a simple YO, K2Tog lace.  The first two samples contain seed stitch and all three are cast off differently.  The samples were washed together in hot water and Eucalan; I agitated them by hand a bit, but not vigourously.  They were rolled in a towel and dried flat—no pinning.

From the left: the yarn in Sample One didn’t full and the stockinette stitch is rather non-descript.  The combination of short forward draw and high twist meant that the stockinette section biased when wet and you can see a bit of skew remains in the sample.  On the other hand, I prefer the crisp definition of the lace and seed sections over those in Sample Two. 

The yarn in Sample Two fills the spaces in stockinette nicely.  There are underspun and plied spots that I will have to watch if I spin the yarn with short backward draw.  The lace and seed sections are a bit limp for my tastes, but the overall hand of this swatch is nice and what I usually expect of Merino. 

Sample Three—yes, it’s from the same batch of fibres—has a pretty stockinette section, but the acute twist angle may make a larger piece too firm and crunchy for Merino fabric.  Again, there’s the added problem of having to spin this top from the fold, so I will probably not spin yarn using these techniques for this project.

The second photograph shows all samples tied together.  This batch would hang on or near my wheel as I’m spinning for the project.  That way, I’ll have my control cards handy and I’ll remember the look and hand of the the end fabric.

People have asked me why I place so much emphasis on displaying less-than-perfect samples and why I insist on pointing out flaws when I discourage others from doing so?  Simply this: we learn much more from mistakes than we do when we achieve “perfection.”  Mistakes are interesting; they keep me focused and humble.  Students, especially beginners, sometimes expect flawless work from the beginning, partly because they often see work from their instructors and think that they should start at the point where their instructors finished.  The problem with that is they seldom see all the steps these instructors took to get to their final fabric. 

As a free form person, people don’t often get “perfect” fabric from me.  Instead, they are able to see that I work the way I do by choice.  Happy accidents are great things and we should cherish them when they appear, but the more effort you put into a project, the more happy accidents will appear. 

What is the project?  Well, I’m still not sure, but I have something in mind.  Of course, it will be something simple, something uniquely flawed, something far removed from perfection because I’m a process person.  The journey is what interests me; it’s great to be able to share the trip with others.


Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Decisions, Decisions: Spin To Knit Two

My first samples, short, wound on cards and unfinished, are not things of beauty, but that’s not their purpose.  I use these bits of yarn to narrow my choices for a project.  I notice that I will have to pay attention to my drafting, because the soft Merino will clump a bit if I lose focus. There’s no reason for me to recard this fibre—it drafts fairly well, despite the fact that it has been dyed.  (This removes it from the true worsted category, because dyeing disturbs the fibre preparation.)  If the fibre had been matted or if I had wanted to change the colour dramatically, I might recard a top, but, otherwise, I use it as it comes to me. 

This leaves me to decide which of the short draw techniques will suit me best.  In Step Two of my sampling, I spun three skeins large enough to knit small samples.  The wheel, ratio and treadling rate remain constant and I assume that I want a two ply yarn.  These skeins are shown below, before finishing:
L to R (Merino Top): Short Forward Draw; Short Backward Draw; From the Fold

I’m unlikely to spin this preparation from the fold because it produces a more textured yarn than I’d like with this fibre.  In this case, spinning from the fold makes it more difficult to control my drafting.  The short forward draw sample is nice, but doesn’t have the bounce that the middle skein does.  It’s no surprise that Skein #2 is my favourite because, when it comes to spinning top, I’m a short backwards kind of gal.  Spinning long draw doesn’t make the cut because the parallel fibres lock up when I allow twist into the fibre supply.  This produces a dense, heavy, stiff yarn, which isn’t really the way to go with Merino, at least in my book. 

I’m not committed to a final yarn just yet, because I want to see what happens when the yarn is wet finished.  I know that soaking these yarns in hot water and a no-rinse wool wash product will improve the look and hand of the yarns, so off I go to the kitchen sink.  I fill a bucket with hot water and Eucalan, drop the skeins in, swish them around about and walk away for about 30 minutes (for small skeins).  I roll the soaked skeins in a towel to remove some of the moisture, give the skeins a snap or two between my hands and hang them to dry.  (Don't use weights for knitting yarn.  It stretches the yarn, which can produce unwelcome surprises in the knitted fabric.)

Here are the finished skeins. The top skein has approximately 7 twists per inch; skeins #2 and #3 have 6 tpi.

My favourites are still Skein #1 and #2, although I prefer the slightly higher twist per inch count of Skein #1.  Skein #3 is nice, but requires fighting the fibre preparation, which clearly prefers to be spun using an aligned drafting technique, rather than being spun from the fold.  The angle of twist is more acute on Skein #3, and, although it's not exactly overtwisted, it's "crunchier" than I like for Merino.

By the way, do you notice how the yarn has improved from those first samples?  Never judge your yarn until you've spun and finished a sample.  (A few metres will do the job.)

We’re not quite there, yet.  It’s time to do some knitted swatches.  I don’t have a specific project in mind, but making a few swatches will tell me a lot about how this yarn will behave and that will help me decide what I want to make with the remaining 100 grams of fibre, enough for a small project—a hat, scarf, cowl or other “next to the skin” piece.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Spin to Knit: Fibre Preparation and Drafting for Yarn Control

In the current Intermediate level spinning class at Golden Willow, we are focusing on controlled spinning of knitting yarns, so I’ll be posting class notes on line here for the next few weeks. 

I’m a “free form” fibre person—I like to pick up spindle, needles or sit at my wheel and let things happen.  This is a perfectly fine way to approach spinning.  I almost always get usable yarn; when I don’t, it’s usually because I’m concentrating on spinning as meditation practice. 

When I’m looking to spin for a large project, or I discover that a project that isn’t working because of my yarn quality, I take a more consistent approach, examining  the variables that make a hand spun yarn suited to a particular purpose.

Let’s assume that we’re using prepared wool fibres as top, batts, roving (or another carded preparation).  Each preparation behaves differently when spun, even if the spinner uses exactly the same drafting techniques for all her fibres.

The woollen/worsted debate is a hot topic among spinners, and it’s a bit like arguing about the number of angels dancing on a pin.  When I began spinning, there were two basic types of hand spun yarns—worsted, made from combed preparations using a short forward draw  to maintain the alignment of the fibres, with no twist allowed into the drafting zone and woollen, spun from carded fibres using long draw techniques.  Now, spinners debate the merits of a range of drafting styles and there are few agreed upon definitions for what we call worsted, woollen and everything in between.  I’m going to set some boundaries here in order to clarify our discussions; other spinners may use different definitions and will have solid reasons for this.    

In general, top, composed of combed parallel fibres of the same length, produces a worsted-type yarn which will be denser, smoother, and more lustrous than a carded preparation (composed of varying lengths of fibres, which are webbed and airy) spun the same way.  If your wheel is set at a specific drive ratio and your treadling rate is constant, and all other factors are equal, you can expect the following:

·        Combed top: spun with short forward draw, no twist allowed in the fibre zone, keeping fibres aligned, produces worsted yarn, good for highlighting stitch detail and lustre, adding strength to your yarn

·        Combed top: spun with short backward draw, no twist allowed in the fibre zone, keeping fibres aligned, produces worsted-type or semi-worsted yarn, for good stitch definition and  yarn strength

·        Combed top: spun with long draw techniques or from the fold, twist allowed into fibre zone, produces semi-woollen yarn which is denser than yarn from a carded preparation spun the same way; good for fulled fabric, warmer than a worsted yarn, but stitch definition will not be as clear as in a fabric knitted from worsted spun yarn

·        Carded preparation: spun with short forward  or backward draw, no twist allowed in the fibre zone, produces a woollen-type yarn which tends to be heavier and denser than a conventional woollen spun yarn, but with similar warmth; stronger than a woollen spun yarn

·        Carded preparation: spun with long draw techniques, twist allowed in fibre zone, produces woollen yarn, wonderful for warmth, great for heavily fulled fabric, but may have poor stitch definition

Remember, if you can control your spinning and produce the yarn you need, you are “doing it right,” even if Expert Spinner Ms. X tells you that what you should be doing with that fibre preparation is a semi-worsted/woollen double drafting long draw with one hand tied behind your back.  Still, it’s a good thing to shake things up once in a while.  Changing your drafting techniques will change your yarn, so give it a whirl.  

These samples were spun using a Majacraft Pioneer Wheel, Fine Flyer, Ratio 16:1. I attempted to treadle at a steady rate, but didn't count my treadles or weigh out even amounts of fibre, as this is not something I would do, even in a planned project.  (You will get more consistent yarn if you count treadles and weigh fibre.) The singles were plied on a Tabachek 28.5 gram Compact Deluxe Spindle.  The yarns were wound, unfinished, onto the sample cards:  

L to R (Merino Top): Short Forward Draw 23 wpi; Short Backward Draw 20 wpi; From the Fold 18 wpi; Long Draw 19wpi

L to R (Carded Merino): Short Forward Draw 14 wpi; Short Backward Draw 4 wpi; Long Draw 12 wpi

Finishing techniques for these yarns would vary, depending on the fibre preparation, drafting method and yarn purpose, but in all cases, wet finishing will help to redistribute the twist and make the yarn look more consistent.  (Don't count on finishing to rescue a poorly spun yarn!) 

The yarns here are far from perfect, but I don't mind some inconsistency. If you are looking for perfectly even yarns, fibre preparation and drafting techniques are just two of the variables to be considered when planning your knitting project. 

Happy Birthday to my perfect son, Matt, and good luck with your final exam!

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Whorling Along: More Road Trip Show

I promised to show you my haul from down South, so here are these two beauties:

Both spindles are KCL spindles, made by Ken Ledbetter.  The top photo shows my baby, 30 grams of Maple whorl with Candy Pyolite inlay.  It has 3 interchangeable shafts, intended for plying, but I'm hoping to use it as a travelling sample spindle.  I can switch out shafts when I want to change fibres.

The bottom photo is a 24 gram spindle of Sycamore and Dyed Maple.  She is simple, but beautiful and spins well.  (Any KCL spindle I've tested spins well.)  Susan Z. has claimed her.

The spindles came from TempeYarn and Fiber, a lovely yarn store right next to the hotel where we spent our first night.  (Coincidence?  I think not.)  The owners and staff were very friendly.  I was there a few times and joined the local knitting group for a few minutes before heading out.  Along with the spindles, I bought some locally dyed silk roving, organic cotton, in prepared punis and bolls, plus 2 small balls of yarn for road trip knitting.  (I am unhappy with my handspun trip knitting and suspect it will be binned shortly.)

I also visited Jessica Knits in Scottsdale, AZ.  Again, everyone was welcoming.  I picked up a skein of locally hand dyed silk noil yarn, some sale needles and moisturizing products for knitters.  This shop didn't carry any spinning products, but carried Atenti and Lantern Moon Bags.  Somehow, I managed to resist those.

I was surprised at the amount of wool yarn in both stores.  The people At Tempe Yarn and Fiber told me that wool was their most popular fibre, even in the Arizona heat.  They do sell more cotton in the summer, but "wool is just so nice to knit with," it's always in demand.

I've spent the last two days recovering from travel time, submitting my Yoga Course Final Exam and catching up on local news.  Beginners' Spinning Class started last night and, with Susan's and Sharon's help, I muddled through, despite my fatigue-induced goofiness.  (Yup, that explains it. This time.) 

We had 3 brand new spinners, 1 refresher student and we hope to have two more newbies next week.  After suffering through all my spinning blah, blah, blah, we got everyone started with toy wheel top whorl spindles and some Romney roving which Sharon donated.  Everyone was spinning yarn within twenty minutes and, by the end of the two hour class, everyone had impressively consistent yarn. Everyone learned how to prop a spindle elegantly between their knees in order to Park and Draft.  They also discovered why they should wear blue jeans to class. 

I love teaching people to spin.  It's fun to watch as they learn how simple it is to make yarn and how interesting string can be.  I never stop my efforts to lure people into the art - I had Gwen, one of our housemates, spinning on a yo-yo spindle while we sat by the pool in Phoenix.  (She was too shy to pose for a picture, but her spinning was very nice - fine, consistent and evenly twisted.)  She resisted my offer of a spindle loan, but said she'd stop by the store when she was home to see what we were doing.

So, I'm back on the wheel, readjusting to daily routine after our mini-break.  Morris was delighted to see his Dad; Mickey was delighted to see me and Richard, the wonderful brother-in-law, was delighted to return home, minus squirrelly bull terrier and demanding twenty pound cat.

Life is good.  Namaste. 

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

It's a Wonderful World: Home Again

We had a great time in Phoenix.  I relaxed by the pool, reading and writing my yoga final exam while the others shopped and partied.  (Really.  No, I swear. Ask anyone.)  I did manage to visit two yarn shops, more about which will follow in a later post.

With all the driving and airport waiting time, we spent 14 hours travelling yesterday and I have a spinning class to teach tonight, so for now, I'll leave you with these images:

A Grand Canyon View
Some of the flowers were so bright, the colours hurt your eyes!

I'm told the white powder on the cactus is cochineal.

I've never tasted lemons straight off the tree.  They were amazing!

Phoenix residents landscape their homes a bit differently than we do.

We didn't get up into the mountains, but did see desert.  Desert land is much different than I thought.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Phoenix Rising

Last week, we were dressed in summer gear as we enjoyed this:

This morning, the street outside our living room window announced a blast from winter's past:

The weather is a physical reminder of the constant of change.  We think we are trapped or blessed with something; in the blink of an eye, that thing which seemed so fixed has gone, to be replaced with another. 

Next week will bring another change.  It's the end of the semester, the end of my yoga class and I'm off to a hockey tournament in the 35 degree Celcius weather of Phoenix, Arizona.  No, I will not be playing hockey.  My knowledge of the sport consists of recognizing when a goal is scored.  Instead, I will be working on my final exam, editing my booklet, spinning and knitting, while I enjoy the luxury of air conditioning and cold beverages at our lodgings. 

We're staying in a motel the first night of our arrival.  Coleen taught in Tempe recently and recommended a yarn shop to visit.  As it happens, the shop is down the street from the motel where she had a pleasant week's stay, so I booked Mr. DD and myself a room there. (At the motel, not the yarn shop. Store owners discourage you from overnighting in yarn shops, unfortunately.)  Even better, the store is open daily, most days until 8 p.m., which should give me plenty of time for at least one good browse.  (Browse, yeah, good luck. This place carries gorgeous KCL spindles, people!) 

I've packed a couple of spindles in my carry on bag, along with some trip knitting.  I'm working on a wrap, using rather poorly spun silk and wool 2 ply and annoyingly twisty circular needles.  This is deliberate: although everyone assures me that they've had no problems passing through security with their fibre work, I seem to attract the attention of airport security on a regular basis.  (The last time involved a full pat down.  That was fun.)  In view of this, I think it's wise to work on something I don't mind losing:

I'm taking my mp3 player, but no computer, so there will be no postings while I'm away.  By the time I return home, my exam should be finished, my work up to date and I hope to have photos to post and stories to tell.

Enjoy the spring blizzards and think of me as I suffer in the horrid heat. 

Thanks to Richard for house and pet sitting.  (I will owe that man SO much yarn!)  And Happy Birthday to my nephew, Christopher David W., this Sunday.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Laughing: April Fool's Day

Laughter Yoga is popular these days. I'm not a follower of this practice, but I do know that laughter can act as a wonderful medicine.  It stimulates your immune system, helps to flush out impurities, exercises your lungs and diaphragm and has many other benefits.  Laughing in a group of people, without malice, leaves you feeling refreshed and more optimistic about yourself and the world. 

We saw Danny Bhoy here just recently.  I laughed so hard, I had to get the tissues out.  For your April Fool's enjoyment, here's one of his routines from past years. I picked this one because of the bat on his T-shirt.  Seemed like reason enough.

(There's some slightly rude language here, so don't click if that bothers you.)

Happy Birthday to my nephew, John!