Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Why I love the Sheepspot Fiber Club

This post was composed for the Sheepspot blog and appeared on 6/15/16. I’m cross-posting it here. The club reopens on June 22, so get ready and join us!

IMG_9482Montadale in Fall Birch

When I heard Sasha Torres was starting a Breed Club, I was immediately interested. Sasha hosted a podcast called SpinDoctor from 2010-14, and those years coincided with my development as a spinner. My years of listening assured me she knew her stuff. I shared her interest in supporting farmers working to preserve smaller breeds.

I was confident Sasha would do the club well because she carefully queried her customers to learn about their prior experiences with clubs. I know, because I was one of many fiber fans who completed her survey. I hadn’t been in a fiber or yarn club in at least a decade, and I told her why!

The club options Sasha unveiled addressed every single one of my concerns:

  • You could choose to join for 6 or 12 months

  • You could choose yarn or fiber

  • You could choose dyed or undyed

  • If you chose dyed yarn/fiber, you would choose a colorway from two different options, assuring you would get something that you liked

  • You could choose the standard 4 oz amount, or double it

  • You could join the Breed School, which supported learning about sheep breeds with extra information in each shipment, as well as the opportunity to join an online chat about each breed

All of these options were mix-and-match, so you could customize the club (and its price) to fit you perfectly. This approach convinced me that Sasha truly heard what her survey respondents said and designed a club experience that would work for us. I was very tempted when I first saw the club announcement.


Coopworth in Amethyst

But what prompted me to commit to the club was the Breed School experience, emphasis on the word “experience.” I have a lot of yarn and fiber in stash already… you probably do, too! And if I want more materials, I can obtain them easily. But Breed School sounded like an opportunity to forge new connections with other fiber fans, which is something you just can’t order online. I also wanted to strengthen connections with one of my local spinning friends, Caitlin - so we joined the club together and scheduled a special spinning date every time we received a new shipment. For me, this club was about creating an experience that would nourish me rather than just purchasing fiber.

The Sheepspot club worked perfectly for me. Five of the six breeds were new to me as a spinner - Dorset Down, Montadale, Cormo, Perendale, and Targhee (the only one I had worked with previously was Coopworth). We received both combed top and carded roving, so I practiced different drafting styles. I kept up with the club and managed to spin each shipment before the next one arrived. I have even knit projects from two of the yarns I made with Sheepspot club fiber this year. One of my fiber goals for 2016 is to knit more of my handspun, and Sasha is constantly asking “what are you going to make with this?”

Fingerless mitts for my nieces, from Dorset Down in Sand and Sea

The club has been a huge win for me. My spinning has improved a lot this past year. Caitlin and I spun together six times that we wouldn’t have without the club structure. I have really enjoyed getting to know Sasha and Kat better through our online chats. We even met up at the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival this year, and they taught me how to evaluate fleeces. (I didn’t quite buy one...but maybe next year!)

Are we doing Breed School again? Where do I sign up?


Perendale in Bird’s Nest

Thursday, June 9, 2016

I inadvertently knit a snow pea


My Penrose Tile shawl is done! I wish you could touch it… the yarn is a woolen spun single, and the finished product is much lighter than you might think. crop

The construction of this shawl was unexpected. You start at the top center of this photo and increase on both ends while making garter stripes. Then you start working the purple lace section to its left… using short rows:IMG_0503

There were lots of short rows in surprising places, and the end result is that the shawl is not symmetrical at all. Take a look at it laid out flat. Does it remind you of anything?


Our first thought was “banana,” but then it became clear: this is the exact shape of a snow pea. It’s kind of blunt on one end and it curls on the other. Curious! I like the curly end better. The shawl sits very well on the shoulders and doesn’t slide at all (probably because it’s NOT a superwash merino type of yarn spun worsted). I think this will be a cozy addition to my wardrobe in the fall.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

A tale of five towels


Remember the kit I bought at MDSW this year? It was supposed to make four towels on two warps. After a rocky start on the first warp (in which I had trouble visualizing the “double ends” and only warped half as much as I was supposed to), I started weaving. IMG_0389

This pattern is “basket weave,” which is like plain weave but with doubled thread. The designer said to work the first 20 picks with a single strand instead of double, to make it easier to turn under and hem later. She did NOT specify to work the hemstitch at each end, but I did that because I like it. Here is what the very end of a towel looks like:IMG_0388

The pattern told me how many picks to work of each color and that was easy enough to follow. I finished the first towel, wove a little bit of waste yarn, and then started the second towel. It soon became clear that I was running out of warp FAST. Hmmm. I might have lost a little warp length fixing my initial mistake, but only a few inches at most (which isn’t much over 2.5 yards). When I pulled the cloth off the loom, it seemed that something was pretty wrong. Towel #1 was super long (31” x 14.25”) and Towel #2 was puny (18.25” x 14.25”). They also seemed quite loose. Washing is supposed to tighten up the fabric and finish it, but I wasn’t sure how much this loose web would tighten. I washed it on hot with maximum agitation, and dried it on hot. That’s when I realized that my waste yarn was not superwash wool! IMG_0390

But no worries. I cut out that waste yarn and finished the hems, which were oddly deep – a little over 1”:IMG_0424

I consulted with Julie about all this. She found it odd that the designer did not indicate the PPI (picks per inch) for the fabric. This is kind of like gauge in knitting – it tells you how many passes of the weft yarn you should have per inch. I know I have the same sett (EPI – ends per inch) as the designer because I have 120 doubled warp ends on an 8-dent reed, but I have no idea how tightly she packed her weft after each pass. I assumed I should weave to get a balanced weave, which has the same PPI and EPI. See where the stripes with four warp threads intersect with the stripes with four weft threads? Those should make a square – and they do!IMG_0425

So I was left feeling that I hadn’t really done anything wrong, but the pattern was deficient. Grrrr.

After washing, Towel 1 shrunk down to 28.75” x 13”, and Towel 2 shrunk to 17.5” x 13”. Towel 1 looks like a runner for a small table (which is how I may use it), and Towel 2 looks more like a placemat:IMG_0493

Then I pulled out a pencil and calculator and decided how to attack Towels 3 and 4. My plan:

  • Target size for finished towels: 21.5” x 13”, which meant that my unwashed length would be 23.5” (thanks, math!)
  • Work only 12 picks of single thread for the hem ends (rather than 20)
  • Be intentional about packing tightly
  • Add more weft stripes (because why only have 5 weft stripes when you have 8 warp stripes in 8 different colors?)
  • Warp 3 yards instead of 2.5, just to be on the safe side

So how did it work out?IMG_0495

Here is Towel 3. I’m not sure why it’s not perfectly rectangular. I chose to work the weft stripes in the same order as the warp stripes (which I made as rainbow-y as possible this time). You can see the green-green intersection in the bottom left, and the yellow-yellow intersection in the top right. This sort of order pleases me. The finished towel is 20” x 13”, a little shorter than I wanted. I actually mismeasured something along the way and my unfinished length was only 22”. My mistake.IMG_0496

Towel 4 is very similar… but I didn’t mismeasure, and I worked the weft stripes a little differently. The finished size is 21.25” x 13”.


And wait, what’s this?! I got a Towel 5 out of this warp. I worked stripes regularly, because I didn’t know when the warp would end and I would have to stop. I didn’t love the idea of a white center area that wasn’t centered, so this doesn’t have a white center area. But I had plenty of warp, so this towel is the exact same size as #4.

I like the hem depth much better, too (and notice the hem on the bottom towel in the second picture is much neater than the top one):IMG_0443


A few more things to keep in mind for next time:

  • I had trouble clamping my loom onto the tables available to me, so I went ahead and bought a Cricket stand. I haven’t used it yet (you have to take apart the loom to put it on, so I could not pop the loom onto the stand in the middle of a project), but it’s ready to go for next time.
  • I need to cut a new piece of craft paper to place between layers of warp. I had a very hard time jimmying two pieces, trying to reach the very edge of the loom, and sometimes I missed. I think this caused the warp threads on one edge to be tighter than the others, which contributed to my trapezoidal towel shape.
  • I like the hemstich / handstitched hem and will continue to do that. The pattern designer did NOT call for the hemstitch, but I’m glad I did it.
  • I will check patterns carefully for PPI info.
  • I might weave a sample to get a better idea of shrinkage in the finished product (just like working a gauge swatch for knitting)


One good thing about the kit is that it contained plenty of yarn. I got 5 towels instead of 4, and I still have this much left!IMG_0504

I don’t really know how much it is, because I didn’t weigh the cones before beginning, and I don’t know how much the cardboard cones weigh without any yarn on them.

The rainbow yarn is 5/2 mercerized cotton, which is a little on the thick side. When I ordered the loom stand, I threw some more yarn into the basket. This is 8/2 unmercerized cotton (I also got the color card, for future reference):IMG_0505

If you’re curious about the difference between 5/2 and 8/2, here is what it looks like:IMG_0506

I have the pattern for Yarnworker’s Color-and-Weave Towels, which calls for 8/2. That’s what I plan to use this new yarn for. But that project will probably wait until after my summer travels. I don’t love the idea of leaving a job half done before walking away for weeks, and I don’t think I can finish it in the time I have. But there will be more towels!

Monday, May 30, 2016

Socks are always happening

IMG_0422At one point in my knitting life, socks were the main thing. Once I mastered the basic form, I challenged myself with fancy stitch designs… the kind of thing that is harder to work during a meeting. But for the past few years, I hardly ever knit socks at home. The socks I do knit are plain and simple.IMG_0419

Here is the latest finished pair – these are Boy 1’s Vanilla Lattes I mentioned a few weeks ago. The finished pair weighs only 74 grams, so I have some extra yardage to add to my sock yarn blanket.

Oh, how’s that sock yarn blanket coming along? I try to work one square after finishing every project – as a palette cleanser and also to make sure I don’t forget about it. Sometimes I get excited and do more than one. Right now I have 16 finished squares:IMG_0435

I actually have a 17th square, but it came out too big so I won’t be able to use it in the final blanket. The yarn was just a teensy bit heftier than standard fingering yarn, and it made a big difference in the final square. (It was the Shelridge Farms Soft Touch Heather that I used for these socks, in case you’re interested.)

I’m going to Bali for 2.5 weeks this summer (!!!), and I know the cognitive overload will be intense and I won’t have a single extra brain cell to devote to my knitting. I’m thinking of taking the blanket bits. They pack up small and are totally mindless at this point. I might take something a little more complicated for the (very long) plane ride over… but from my travel experiences last summer, I don’t expect to long for a complicated sweater project.


This is the sock I started as soon as I finished the lattes… This yarn isn’t logged in my Ravelry stash because it’s not mine! This is the skein of Into the Whirled’s Bukavu Sock that Zakiya bought at MDSW. The colorway is “Rimfisher” and it is a 4-ply 75/25 superwash BFL/nylon blend – it’s the skein on the right in this photo: 20160507_180558

This is my most vanilla of vanilla socks. 64 stitches, top-down, 2x2 rib cuff, stockinette body, eye of partridge heel, and round toe. Notice how carefully the yarn has been dyed so that you get a nice one-round stripe. It’s very entertaining to work.

For my “challenge” fiber work, I’ve been working on weaving those towels for the past couple of weeks. I will have an update – and probably some analysis – for you next time. Weaving has been happening, too!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Starting new things


This is my current “at home” project. It’s a shawl made with two fingering yarns… but it uses a ton of short rows and is not conducive to office or social knitting. I’m using the Danish yarns that a colleague brought me earlier this year:danish crop

The pattern is Penrose Tile Shawl. The beginning is knit from end to end, like a scarf, except using short rows to achieve these sections of trapezoids: IMG_0376

Then the garter stripe section has very long rows. I’ve moved beyond this section now and am in another short row section that is also long, and lacy, and in general a little different. I’ve been a bit frustrated by the pattern errata, but I’m muddling through. The result is quite pretty!

The other project I began is a weaving project – remember the towel kit I got at MDSW earlier this month? Here is how my loom looked during the warping process. This is a rigid heddle loom (15” Cricket) so you use a direct warping technique. All those threads are connected to a warping peg at the other end of the room. IMG_0382

I worked hem stitch at the beginning and end of each towel to make the ends neat and tidy (though you won’t see that when I’m done, because I’ll turn the hems and sew them down): IMG_0384

Here is some of the weaving coming together: IMG_0389

I love the rainbow look! But I’m kind of frustrated because the work is too open and I don’t think it will look right even after it gets a vigorous hot and soapy bath in my washing machine (which is where it is right now). It is very hard to beat the weft tighter than this. The clamps aren’t holding my loom to my table. I’m getting pretty close to ordering the official Cricket stand to see if that works better. I visited Julie today for some weaving troubleshooting. I’ve already re-warped the loom for another set of two towels, and we’ll see if I can get a tighter weave on them. Wish me luck!

Friday, May 13, 2016


IMG_0147The fifth shipment of the Sheepspot Fiber Club was Perendale, a breed I hadn’t even heard of until now. When you look it up in The Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook, it’s listed in the “other sheep breeds” section toward the back. It’s a newer breed, developed in the 1950s in New Zealand for both meat and fiber. Perendale is notable because it’s a longwool, but not the sleek lustrous kind that the English longwool sheep grow… Perendale is springy and bouncy. We received roving, a carded prep.


This colorway (called “Bird’s Nest”) is smack in the middle of my happy place. I love blue and green together, especially this bright, spring, apple green with a bit of acidity to it. This braid adds both gray and brown, making it match almost anything I could wear it with.

I figured I would want to spin this woolen because of the carded prep. Sasha tried several approaches and combed some of her fiber… but I don’t own combs so I spun it straight from the braid. Because of Sasha’s spinning notes, I decided to try to spin more loosely than I usually do – I didn’t want this yarn to end up wiry. So I worked on my 10.5:1 pulley (Judith, did you hear me use the correct word? “whorl” no more!) and tried to draft the same way I usually do for woolen spinning.

I started by dividing the braid into two sections and noticed the colors were really long, so I decided to try a fractal spinning approach. I spun the first half of the braid as it came. But for the second half, I divided the fiber into four sections – and then split each section lengthwise into three sections. Like this:IMG_0237

Then I rearranged these little sections thusly:IMG_0238

And I carefully spun them in order. The result was that the color changes were much shorter on my second singles bobbin and much longer on my first bobbin. I hoped to even everything out in the plying.IMG_0240

You can’t really tell how long the colors are in the singles above, but there they are for proof!20160502_205406

My plying bobbin was packed to the gills. I was starting to have trouble and probably should have started another. IMG_0244

And here’s my finished yarn – about 234 yards and 107 grams. It is NOT wiry! It’s kind of soft and poofy, but not in a bad way. It will totally hold together (I plied it on the 12.5:1 pulley – I always ply one pulley smaller when spinning woolen). The colors look pretty mixed in the skein, but we’ll really tell when it is knit.

I finished this skein a few days before MDSW and I took it with me to show Sasha and Kat. It TOTALLY got the reaction every spinner/knitter wants to get – a loud, audible gasp that turned heads. Thank you, Sasha!IMG_2529

And now the eternal question… what will it become? I agree with Sasha – I think its future is a hat of some sort. But we will see. Suggestions always welcome.

And if you’re intrigued, she still has Perendale in the shop!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Clothing a teen

I’ve got a couple of projects for Boy 1 to share with you.

First, the fix is in on the Windschief hat. I could tell that he just wouldn’t wear it unless it came over his ears, so I ripped back the crown decreases. I added only 4 additional rounds before reworking the crown, but those 4 rounds make a BIG difference in his happiness level. IMG_0355

His eyes are closed in blissful appreciation and anticipation of colder temps again in the fall. (I’m pretty sure that’s what he was thinking about, anyway…)

I’ve also got an easy sock for Boy 1 on the needles. Remember this colorful Regia sock yarn I picked up at a department store in Munich last summer?IMG_8308

Now it’s a sock:IMG_0371

The lighting isn’t great here… it’s been raining or cloudy or both for about two weeks straight here, so you get what you get. I’m using the Vanilla Latte stitch pattern, which is dead simple:

Round 1: *K6 P2*
Round 2: K

There is no pooling in this yarn. In fact, it is VERY entertaining to work with. It is a four-ply yarn and each of the plies is a different color. The colors change after just a few inches, so you are almost never looking at the same combination of colors. Let me show you a little bit of the ball:IMG_0372

I’m not sure this would be the best yarn for a brand new knitter to use, but I am definitely enjoying it.

I asked Boy 1 what he saw in the fabric – because remember, he is red-green color blind. His response: “rainbows!” (and a big smile). I’ll take it!