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Gradient-spun yoked sweater 1Anyone who knows me on Ravelry even a little bit well, probably knows that I have a fondness (well, more of a passion) for transforming variegated spinning fiber into a continuous color progression or gradient, and then, if possible, knitting a sweater from it.

This isn’t nearly as complicated as it looks, or sounds: it just takes a little planning and preparation before you start actually spinning your yarn.

The sweater shown to the left here is actually a bit of a cheat – I forgot to plan the sweater, and only planned the gradient. I paid the price, as I had to knit the both sleeves and the body simultaneously, breaking and rejoining yarn all the while, in order to get the progression to travel evenly up the entire garment. Normally, that can be managed rather more elegantly, as we’ll see later.

Anyway, let’s use this sweater (because I just finished it, and I am super-proud of it and think it’s about six kinds of awesome) to show off the process of making the gradient yarn.

I started off with three bumps of fiber (12 oz) from two of my favorite dyers – Southern Cross Fibre and Hello Yarn. The colorways were the HY/SCF collaboration Lazy Eel, on Falkland, and HY Bristling, on Shetland (I had two lots of this). This what they looked like to begin with:

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First, I pulled the fiber apart into into color sections, and then I made fauxlags, using a dowel and the technique David (of SCF) documents here, although he uses a rolling pin. My dowel is a lot smaller – only about an inch in circumference – but I find it easier to handle. If you want to play with this for yourself, I don’t believe there is any right or wrong – all you are doing is finding an easy way of tearing off a staple length at a time and wrapping it loosely around itself – so just experiment and see what works for you.  There’s no need to make a fetish of having the “right” tool.

 

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Full disclosure: I am a lazy long-draw-ish type of spinner, and I like an airy woolen two-ply for sweaters, and spinning from faulags gives me that, so it suits me very well, in addition to providing nice little bite-size chunks of color I can manipulate easily.

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You don’t need to make fauxlags, however.

The yarn I am spinning at the moment is Polwarth, and I want a smoother, more worsted spin, so all I did was pull my fiber into chunks. The sections of darker/ lighter/ a.n.other color on the edges of each strip will produce some subtle variegation through your yarn.

 

 

If you just want a gradient yarn, all you need to do now is arrange your fauxlags in the order that pleases you, and if you are making singles, or navajo-plying, you’re good to go.

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If you want a traditional plied yarn, there’s one more step before you start spinning: you will have to divide your fiber into equal piles corresponding to the number of plies you want in your finished yarn.  This is pretty easy, and there is unlikely to be much difference in the amount of fiber in each pile, especially if, like me, you use smallish fauxlags, or shortish strips of fiber. (If I’m doing a two-ply yarn, I simply divide each strip in two. Voilà! There’s never more than a few yards difference between the bobbins at the end of the day.)

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And there you go. You should now have gradient yarn. All that’s left is to pick a pattern, pick a needle and knit. Enjoy. Admire.

 

But wait, I want to knit a gradient sweater

No problem. This just requires a little more fiber organization before you spin. I’m going to assume here that you are happy to let the pretty yarn do the talking, and knit a plain, simple raglan or yoked sweater. Anything else will require more calculation, but for a plain sweater, of standard length, you can make some rough-and-ready assumptions based on Elizabeth Zimmermann’s percentage system.

Here’s a project constructed on this principle. First, the fiber – again, a mix of Hello Yarn and Southern Cross Fibre (this time on Bluefaced Leicester).

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This was turned into a nice tray of fauxlags, arranged by color.

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I assume I will need approximately one third of the total fiber for the sleeves, and one quarter for the yoke. So, 2/12 for each sleeve, 5/12 for the body up to the armpits, and 3/12 for the yoke. It’s important to remember that ALL of the yoke color comes AFTER (or BEFORE) the sleeves (depending on whether you are knitting bottom-up or top-down), so the yoke section is an an unbroken quarter of your total, at one end of your progression. You don’t need to separate this part other than for your plies.

If I am working with fauxlags (which is the easiest option, in terms of dividing the fiber evenly) I lay out my remaining fiber (three quarters of the total), and just divvy it up – two here on the one side, then five in the middle, then two more on the other side, then another two-five-two, and so on, until it’s all shared out. If you find it easier than taking 25% off before you start, in every round of divvying you can take three off the (top) end for the yoke at this stage.  I like to lay the whole thing out on the floor as I go, keeping the progression so I can look at it as I work, and swap things around if I think they need it. Remember to make any adjustments at this stage, if, say, you don’t want to use the entire progression of colors on your sleeves. Then, I decide how many plies I want. OK: I lied about that. I have always decided that two is a good number. It gives me a yarn I like, and doesn’t make my head go too splodey when I do the final part. Because, yeah, you’ve probably guessed by now: I divide each of my sections – each sleeve – the body – the yoke – according to my total plies. For my two-ply sweater, I now have 8 piles of fauxlags (two for each sleeve, two for the body, two for the yoke). Granted, they are small enough piles, but it’s still quite a bit to keep track of.

Behold the master-stroke. Kebabs.

Sleeve "kebabs"

I call these “kebabs”, but I actually use straight needles in the small sizes. (When I started knitting, before I even knew about circular needles, I ordered a cheap set of bamboo straights off eBay. This turns out to be almost the only thing I use them for.) I run each progression onto a needle (or three), so I know what order to spin the fauxlags in for each ply and each section. Shown here are the “sleeve kebabs” for the BFL sweater.

Note. I only do this if I’m feeling super finickety about the color progression. If it’s more  organic, I simply put each section into its own bag, and pull bits out and spin them at random (or for a two-ply yarn, I often spin “pseudo-fractally” – one ply random, and the other ply dark to light). In that case, the only important thing is to mark your bags and not get sloppy, or you will (if you’re like me) start off convinced that you know what’s where, and end up, well… finding out that you, er, don’t. Do yourself a favor: label the bags.

So, sooner than you know it, you should have four yarns:

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This was not exactly divided as per the technique described, so the sleeve skeins are clear to see, but don’t follow the full progression of colors along the body, and the “yoke skein” (the gold to blue) is larger than it would be if divided in accordance with the instructions, incorporating as it does about half of the body section. I ended up not using the dark blue on the outside of the last skein at all.

It honestly isn’t anything like as fiddly as it sounds, and it has some benefits. I find I enjoy reducing a big, potentially intimidating, sweater spin to a series of discrete – and much less scary – units. Another really nice thing is that you also get clear and early feedback from your yarn about whether you have enough, or too little, or too much. You can chop out sections of yarn if you want, or spin up something extra if you need to. Knowing your yarn proportions acts as an early-warning system, alerting you to trouble. Having the yarn divided up appropriately even has the bonus of making it a more travel-friendly project (I carry a sleeve around instead of a sock, and no more yarn than I need. I take more pleasure out of that little economy than I should perhaps admit.)

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So, give it a go, and if you do, I’d love to know. Good luck, and happy spinning. (And any questions, just ask.)

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So, yes, a whole new year. And no posts for months. Mostly, because if every post is novella-length, it’s hard to find the time to sit down and write one (and also hard to justify taking that time). But maybe I should just check in a bit more often, with not quite so many words, and perhaps a few more pictures? All the more so, given that what I’ve been doing is fairly photogenic. I have changed my spinning wheel (and acquired a second one) and done a lot of spinning in the months since I left this poor blog for dead. (There may be a correlation here, of course, because spinning is both distracting, and often feels somewhat more productive than throwing lots – and lots, and lots – of words into the gigantic Black Hole of the Internet).

But oh my, handspun yarn is attractive stuff. Even not-very-good handspun.

So, here’s what we’ll do. I’ll introduce the wheels today, and then jump back into a bit more posting from next week. First, my very lovely Majacraft Suzie Pro, Thompson: Thompson

How he came to be called Thompson is both very simple, and something of a mystery. Hs predecessor never had a name, but it was clear from the outset that this wheel – this beautiful thoroughbred – was going to be needing one. We batted names around for a few days, and each suggestion was too arch, or too abstruse, or just too plain wrong. And then, the Middle Child suddenly said, “Why, that’s Thompson!” and it was so random, and so perfect, and so clearly correct that I went with it. I also, very resolutely didn’t ask where the name had come to her from (the answer could only be a disappointment). Anyway, he and I have been getting along famously ever since, and I’ve been gradually purchasing all the bells and whistles (and extra bobbins) a wheel could possibly want (OK, not quite. The ideal number of bobbins is probably infinite. But we have a lot. And they’re big.)

And here – briefly – is the other wheel, a pretty little Haldane Shetland. This was spotted in a charity shop by a friend of mine, who kindly alerted me to it and I immediately rushed over and bought it. A very small amount of TLC was needed (and provided, handily, and generously by the dazzlingly competent husband of a friend who volunteered him for the job), but now that too is up and running sweetly. I wanted a wheel I could transport and demo with, and let other people have a go on, and not be precious about, and this is perfect. Unlike Thompson, it’s lightweight, and easy to transport, all the more so with the (in)famous Haldane “design feature” of falling-off legs.

Haldane Shetland

Next time, maybe, a round-up of some of the pretty handspun handknits. But not today, because my New Year’s Blog resolution is little and often rather than sparse and overwhelming.

Back soon…

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Sticking to my knitting

So much happening, and so little show-and-tell. I think maybe I’m abashed at how many different directions my mind has been going off in lately. So, for today, I’ll fall in with the old cliché, and ‘stick to my knitting’. Because, sometimes, simple is best.

Look at this, will you?

I picked up a couple of braids of this Bluefaced Leicester/silk blend from All Spun Up in a swap on Ravelry, months ago; fell in love; bought some natural oatmeal BFL/silk to go with it, and eek it out, and began spinning.

I got this:

At this point, it occurred to me that I needed MORE. A lot more. Enough to make a sweater with. But it was a club braid, and therefore not obviously available. So I scoured destashes until I found someone with some to sell/trade, and proceeded to trade for dyeing services (since I also like dyeing, that is practically the definition of win-win).

Every now and then, over a couple of months, I would spin a bit more of the beautiful, intriguing, but resolutely brown yarn, and dream of the garment I would make. And then, I did other things for a few months. Many other things, of which I will speak again. And then, it came finally time to knit the beautiful (but resolutely brown) yarn into um… something.

It was supposed to be a large hooded cardigan/coat-like thing, but that was just going to be too large, and too brown, and besides, I decided that the gauge was going to be off for the pattern I had in mind. So I did a little swatch, and it told me it wanted to be an awesomely simple sweater. Not, as I’d imagined, a cardigan (with a steek), not a big, hooded thing, but a plain sweater. With, um… some kind of simple edging, but probably not ribbing, and er… sleeves of some kind, and presumably, at some point, a neckline.

As you can tell, I’m winging it.

I started with a provisional cast-on, for superior procrastination, and just knit for a bit. The fabric is, frankly, amazing. Not because I’m any great shakes as a handspinner, because I’m surely not, but the combination of fibers is a delight to touch, and – for once – I’m knitting at a tight enough gauge for it to retain some body. There is something about the texture of handspun (imperfect stuff like mine, anyway – I know it’s not an intrinsic quality of handspun) that is appealing. It’s somehow very deeply, movingly alive. It occurs to me that I should have made a three-ply rather than a two-ply yarn, but I didn’t, and I don’t care. if it wears badly/pills horribly, then I shall care, but for now, I’m just too much in love. (And as you can see, I eventually decided on the edging – it’s seed stitch. Or do I mean moss stitch? Whatever. How much? Enough to not curl… I think.)

I’m using one of my favorite stitch-markers too, as it harmonises with the yarn, and is the right size. This was once a pendant, picked out for me by a very wise and spiritual Navajo friend as an appropriate totem-animal for me, and while I love it, I don’t wear it as a pendant any more. A few months ago, I converted it (along with most of the costume-jewelery I inherited from my mother and also don’t wear, but can’t bear to discard). Now I have a diverse range of eccentric stitch-markers I love and use, and that carry history, or meaning, or both.

 

 

 

 

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A few months ago, I read a Yarn Harlot blog post about knitting directly from some unspun, undyed silk hankies – mawatas – and thought, “that looks interesting” and “I must get hold of some of those in my next yarn/fiber order”. Then, a few weeks ago, they came up again, in a Ravelry conversation, and I remembered that I was going to, and set about placing my order. Well, it turned out that she’d blogged about them again, only not in plain black and white, but in full color, and this time, the knitting world had – as one woman – apparently gone crazy. I find that interesting: truly, color speaks. Suppliers were suddenly running out of stock left, right, and center, and the company she bought hers from was even forced to pull their listing from the online store in the face of frenzied demand. (As an aside, sometimes I think I would love to have that level of popularity, either as a dyer, or a blogger, and then, I read through as many of the sycophantic comments on any of her posts as it takes to make me change my mind. Turns out, not as many as you’d think.)

Anyway, to cut a long story short (for once: am I quite well?), my first supplier was out of stock; my second supplier claimed to have stock “but we’re running low for some reason” (I knew the reason, if they didn’t), but turned out not to; then my first supplier got them back in and I was able to get my hands on some.

Oh, swoon – the delights of playing with pure silk. The tactile pleasure. The colors. The sheer sensuous feast.

There’s a good news/bad news aspect to this in that I’ve sold the first batch already. I’m not even sure I have any left to play with myself, which was all I ever expected to do. So, my ‘good problem to have’ for today is, do I order some more, while the dyeing’s good? Because, I sure loved dyeing them, and I would totally love to sell a few more, and hey, I’d still quite like to try knitting/spinning some, actually. And they take a pretty photograph, too.

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It occurs to me that I make a lot of things, and think I’m going to blog about them, and then don’t. Either because the moment seems to have passed, or because I’ve been busy making other newer!shinier! things instead. So, it’s suddenly struck me that No, it’s not ‘Cheating’ to show them off when they are past some strange number-in-my-head, like, 24-hours old. So here, we go: the first in what might possibly be a series.

This particular One I Made Earlier really does have some kind of seasonal time-limit on getting showed off, so I figured it makes sense to start with the ‘November Spinning Challenge’ thing.  Alright, it’s not November any more, that much I grant. But bear with me.

One of my friends on Ravelry has been throwing out challenges in the spinning group we both belong to. The idea is to get people trying some new things, extending their range, and generally exploring and experimenting together.  Her big idea for November started with distributing portions of some of the worst and most unpleasant spinning fiber known to man. No-one ever quite worked out what this was, and all I can say was it felt like plastic, tested as wool, was the most lurid colors imaginable, and gave severe rugburn while being plied. (Some minor rugburn was also reported by several individuals at the spinning stage.) All I can say, rather terrifyingly, was that the person who gave it to her, had originally been planning to spin and knit a sweater from it. I shudder to think.

So, everyone got given 120g of this stuff, and the brief to spin at least half of it, and use at least some of each color (plus not more than one other yarn/fiber) to make a seasonal ornament of some kind for our assigned partner.

My partner honored the original sweater plan by making me a miniature one (as well as a handful of cute aliens, from a completely different yarn she’d spun either on another occasion, or merely as an antidote, I’m unsure which):

And so what did I make? I have to say, I love it. I knew my partner had two small kids (and celebrated Christmas, as she knew I didn’t), so I thought a holiday puppet might be fun. I’ve never knit a puppet (or any kind of toy, in fact), but inspired very loosely by the Estonian Sheep puppets from Interweave (available here), I decided to have a go at making one up as I went along. (Note: if you intend to try this, and I do encourage you, please use nicer wool: this hideous stuff was too much of a pain to even contemplate swatching properly. It was so horrible, I don’t even make any apologies for not swatching. My recipient almost certainly had issues arising from this that she was too polite to mention, but between ourselves, I’m glad it came billed as a puppet for a seven-year-old and a three-year-old. That’s all I’m saying.)

I started with the decorative two-color long-tailed cast-on I learned at Knit Nation this summer (which deserved a whole post on its own), and continued with some rather desultory colorwork on the body. ‘After a bit’ (when I thought I might run out of green yarn) I decreased for the neck, did some fairly random shaping for the head (pretty much a lucky guess based on the most cursory glance at the sheep pattern above) and then went to town with lashings of i-cord. Darned on some eyes and a nose, and I give you —

Kippi’s Bright i-deer –

 

You can probably tell how much fun I had posing the little guy before I sent him away. The rough wool made really sturdy i-cord, and I was able to get it to stay in various positions without the use of the pipe-cleaner I’d planned – and failed – to run down the middle.

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Actually, not just spinning, but also knitting, dyeing, glassworking, messing with silver, printmaking… I’ve been fairly busy, with some pretty mixed results. As I finally clear a few things off my plate, I’ll try to pluck up the courage to show some of the good, the bad, and even the plain old ugly in the days to come. Meanwhile, yesterday I discovered that a large piece of high-quality cartridge paper cunningly laid over my open laptop makes quite a decent photo backdrop:

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I love my wheel (even if I’m still not sure what it’s called – possibly ‘Wheel’ or ‘hey, you’, both of which are good enough for a spouse, or a child, or a cat, so why the hell not?).

I love that I have lots of cool new things to learn, and that I’m improving noticeably every time I sit down to commune with it.

I love that it came with a nice padded bag (to pack it out of the way of enquiring little fingers).

I appreciate that it came with a handy little aerosol can of (rather disconcertingly labeled) gun spray, for ministration to its squeaks and laments.

I adore that it came with a £25 voucher for fiber of the very highest quality (and that’s quite a bit, if you buy the undyed stuff).

I am singularly less happy about the fact that it did not come with the one thing I really, really need. Time.

Not much. Even half an hour would be nice, or I’d happily settle for the ‘ten-minutes a day’ of legendary utility when learning any new skill. Where did I think I was going to find those extra bits of time in which to become properly acquainted? No wonder the poor thing has no name: we aren’t getting any quality time together. And I can’t really see how that’s going to change.

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