Saturday, February 10, 2018

Bird’s Nest


I finished up this skein of handspun sock yarn last weekend. It is made from Southdown (one of the down breeds I was so excited to discover last year) prepared as top. The colorway is Bird’s Nest and it is dyed by Sheepspot.

I knew I wanted the colors to barberpole, so I basically did a fractal spin. This is what the fiber looked like when I got it:20180114_192113

I pulled it apart into thirds (roughly). I spun the first third as it was. I stripped the second third into two long pieces (so the color runs were shorter). I stripped the last third into lots of smaller pieces and arranged them so that the bright green bits were evenly distributed. Here they are lined up on top of the piano by my spinning wheel:20180127_200253

I spun all the singles on one bobbin and surprised myself by using the 12.5:1 whorl instead of my usual 14:1 whorl. I found that the draft length was a little too short for me to draft evenly on the 14:1. So I went to a slower whorl and a shorter draft to get the same amount of twist. It seems to have worked fine. I spun the singles a little on the loose side (to preserve softness) and made up for it in the ply (which I did at 16:1). 20180202_080127


My finished yarn is 422 yards (I’m so happy with this number!) and 93 grams. My first skein of Southdown sock yarn was 352 yards and 94 grams, so the new skein is finer. Hooray!20180204_114054


Sunday, January 21, 2018

“his mother knitted for me the most beautiful pair of heather colored socks that you ever saw…”

I’ve been slowly working on a project that is quite different from what I usually do. It’s a historical recreation of these handknit socks, which are part of a collection in Gettysburg College’s Special Collections and College Archives. IMG_3106

The recipient of the socks, Fritz Draper Hurd ‘16 (that’s Gettysburg College Class of 1916), served in the Army during World War I, including some time in the Medical Reserve Corps. In his memoir, he describes the socks:

“after the War, in 1919, his mother knitted for me the most beautiful pair of heather colored socks that you ever saw.  When you put them on and they stretched you could see holes through to the skin and still they were the warmest socks that I ever wore.  I have worn them only once and I am sure that they are about the house now and I propose getting ahold of them and you see now, they are over fifty years old, and I want to get a hold of them and attach the letter that she wrote to me when she sent them in 1919, saying that she credited me with saving her son’s life. Well, that is not quite true.”

IMG_3110You can see that they are in wonderful shape. The archivist told me they had never been worn. But when she had her back turned, I carefully turned them inside out, and discovered signs of wear at the ball and heel of the foot. You know how wool felts up a bit there when you wear handknit socks… Trust me, the socks are no worse for my handling! I examined them and scratched out a pattern.

The yarn is finer than our sock yarn today, closer to a laceweight. The CO number is 78 and it is worked top-down. The leg begins with a K2P1 ribbed cuff and then goes into the main stitch, which is a very simple lace pattern:

  • Round 1 – *K2tog YO*
  • Rounds 2-4 – K
  • Round 5 – *YO K2tog*
  • Rounds 6-8 – K

The laciness of the pattern surprised me for a man’s sock. Fritz noticed it, as well (“they stretched you could see holes through to the skin”). The heel appears to be an eye-of-partridge stitch (my favorite for heel flaps), and the gusset stitches are picked up in a familiar way.IMG_3108

The toe decrease is a regular wedge toe until the last 6 stitches or so.IMG_3120

The final bit is a 3-needle bindoff rather than the kitchener-style graft we are accustomed to today. Knitter’s lore has it that Earl Horatio Herbert Kitchener developed a sock technique with a grafted toe because it was more comfortable for the soldiers in his command. Supposedly, this technique was popularized during WWI… so maybe it hadn’t yet reached the maker of this sock. IMG_3115

The sock’s construction is pretty straightforward. The sock YARN, however, is not.

I wanted to source yarn with these characteristics:

  • wool, or at least mostly wool
  • heathered or at least semi-solid color (though I didn’t care about the exact color)
  • fine enough to allow me to cast on 78 stitches and make a well-fitting man’s sock
  • 3-ply (or more)

I didn’t find ANYTHING like this at MDSW last May. I was looking for yarn, but I also kept my eyes open for fiber that I might be able to spin into the right yarn (I was bolstered by my positive experience spinning a down breed into sock yarn). It turns out that down breeds are hard to find in fiber form, as farmers mostly know them as meat breeds. Since I was looking for prepared fiber (not a raw fleece), my options were few. I brought home some Clun Forest roving (yellow) and Dorset roving (green) from Solitude Wool, and a 90/5/5 Clun Forest/Romney/Alpaca roving blend (blue) from Singleton Fiber Mill (more on these purchases on my MDSW17 wrapup post). Note that all of those fibers were ROVING, not top. Ideally, sock yarn is made from top. But I was happy to give it a try.


I spun the Clun Forest blend last summer. Even though I spun it worsted style, I could not get it fine or even enough to serve as sock yarn.  IMG_3428

As we traveled through Maine during our summer vacation, I popped into every yarn store I could find. In desperation, I purchased some Berroco Ultra Alpaca Fine. It seems finer than most sock yarn (at 433 yards per 100 grams) and comes in beautifully heathered shades, like this one called “Blueberry Mix.” It is 50% wool (good) – but also 30% nylon/polyamid (not historically accurate but adds strength) and 20% alpaca (adds drape… but will it make the sock droopy???). I wasn’t sure.IMG_6335

I still hadn’t cast on the socks when I went to WEBS in September for the Spinning Summit. I spent a long time scouring the shelves of the “fingering” area, and came up with another contender –  this Swans Island Sterling Collection yarn:IMG-4498

It is even finer than the Berroco stuff, at 525 yards per 100 grams. It has 3 plies. It is 85% organic merino and 15% alpaca, so nothing from the petrochemical world (I assume that’s more historically accurate). And it’s made in Maine, USA! While I was at WEBS, I also picked up some new needles. I normally knit socks on two, 2.0 mm circular needles, but I knew I would need to go smaller for these. I bought Addi Sock Rockets in the 1.75 mm size.

I’ve been working on the socks slowly. It turns out that they are not ideal travel companions for a road trip, as even slight bumps in the road cause this fine yarn to pop off the needles. I also don’t think they are great office knitting. And I can’t work on them for long periods, because these fine metal needles are hard on my hands. So I’ve got myself on a regimen of working 15 minutes a day… and little by little, progress is being made. The sock looks suspiciously poofy when it’s on the needles:20180121_090339

But it fits better when it’s on a leg. This is my leg, but these socks aren’t for me – so if you notice it’s a bit loose, don’t be alarmed! 20180121_090309

(And yes, that is my ZickZack blocking in the background… more on that soon.)

Monday, January 15, 2018

Everything’s coming up rainbows


I am so excited about my latest skein of handspun. It’s had a long gestation period, but it was totally worth it. This yarn started way back on October 1, 2017, when I took a class called “Handcarding the Color Wheel” with Beth Smith at the Spinning Summit. We started with combed top in red, blue, and yellow, and then we blended it to make 30 colors. IMG_6727


I got 2/3 of the carding done in class and finished making the last rolags at home. Then I admired them longingly for a long time. Earlier this month, I pulled out a little leftover fiber to make another rolag for sampling. I spun it long draw on my 14:1 whorl and chain-plied it. I had an easier time chain plying because I moved to a slower whorl (10.5:1) and really slowed down my treadling. I washed my little sample and decided I liked what I saw:IMG_7045


Then I started spinning my singles, carefully lining up my rolags so as to preserve the gradient. I feel like this project spun itself; I never wanted to stop because there was always something beautiful just beginning to appear on the wheel. Here are some shots I took as the singles bobbin filled:







And here is how the bobbin looked after chain plying:


So pretty! I pulled out my skein winder:20180113_101859


And then this skein had a nice, hot bath. The finished yarn weighs 87 grams and is 212 yards. Grist is 1105 yards/pound (not sure why I need that, but there you go). It is light and fluffy and beautiful. I don’t know how I’ll use it – maybe as part of a sweater. But if I want a specific amount of gradient yarn, I am now confident that I could make it if I started with dyed fiber!


Saturday, January 13, 2018

January knitting

It’s January, which means there’s a whole lot of pink yarn around here again. There will be many Women’s March Anniversary events next week, including a march in my tiny little town! I was in Washington, D.C., last year and am very excited that there is still enough energy to sustain an event right here at home.

Pink yarns from The Hendon Stash (it really deserves a proper noun) were bequeathed to me, and I started knitting. First up, a hat for a friend in Atlanta. This one used some very special Neighborhood Fiber Co. yarn, and I wanted to use every last inch of it. A kitchen scale allowed me to do just that:IMG_7064

Then I got to work making hats for my kids, who didn’t go to the big march in D.C. but will be marching at home this year. I’m almost certain that this was Cascade 220 Superwash, leftover from a blanket that our knitting group made for Caitlin a few years back. I ran out of the dark pink on the second hat, so I started striping some very pale pink. More stash consumed! IMG_7092


Then I heard about a colleague at work who needed a hat, so I knit him one. This is from Knit Picks Wool of the Andes, which jumped into my cart when I ordered some needles I needed:IMG_7094

I’m just going to keep on knitting pussyhats until 1/20. Someone will want them.

Before I turned to the pink yarn, I was making great progress on my ZickZack scarf. It is very hard to photograph in progress, but you can get the idea from these photos.IMG_7046


That yellow bit is really pooling around. I don’t like it! But fortunately, my mother (who saw it over Christmas) DOES like it, so she will be the recipient of this scarf when it is done. It won’t take long to finish it if I just devote some attention to it. If it weren’t for our President, it would have been done by now. (Of all the things to blame on him, haha!)

Next up will be an update on my rainbow yarn, which I finished this morning. I’m in love with it.

Sunday, January 7, 2018


If you’re a spinner and you’re on Instagram, there’s probably no way you don’t know about #wemakeyarn. Participants post daily in January and respond to these prompts:wemakeyarn

I’ve been playing along, and it’s a lot of fun.

There’s ANOTHER Instagram thing called #spin15aday2018challenge, which is exactly what it sounds like. I’ve been double dipping on these and challenging myself to spin a little bit EVERY DAY no matter what. We’re only a few days into the year, but I’m doing fine so far.

Here is my first handspun skein for 2018:IMG_7041

It’s made from Corriedale roving from the Sheepspot Fiber Club, The color is a dreamy purple-grey, hard to photograph but really beautiful in actual life. Roving begs to be spun long draw, which I love… but I did not love this particular fiber. It looked so innocent when it arrived:IMG_6955

But it just didn’t draft well! It was lumpy and sometime sticky, and just wouldn’t behave for me. I don’t know if these lumps were nepps from the commercial carding process, or second cuts perhaps… but I did not like seeing them.  Can you see them in this photo? IMG_7023

I pulled out my hand cards and worked at the fiber a bit more, thinking perhaps another round of carding would open it up and make it easier to spin. IMG_7025

I made a bunch of these, and that was fun… but the fiber was only a little bit easier to spin. In the end, I just worked through it. Here are my singles before plying:IMG_7034


In the end, I got a 3-ply skein of 136 yards and it weighs 85 grams. It’s a little more bumpy and lumpy than I would like. Oh well, it just looks extra handspun-y. IMG_7044

And now I can get started on the next project, about which I am SUPER excited. Rainbow rolags!

Friday, January 5, 2018

Ms. Fix-It (since 1981)

IMG_7058Recently, Boy 1 and I were perusing my old badge book from my days as a Girl Scout “Junior.” Back then, “Junior” meant grades 4-6 (I think).  He was really interested in some of the badges, including the one shown above. The range of topics covered by these badges is really impressive compared to the list of Boy Scout badges I see today – and it’s mind blowing when you consider that the edition I worked from was published in 1980. (This is an interesting and related read: Things Boys Could Learn at Girl Scouts NYT 10-13-17.)

Anyhoo, I have fond memories of working on Ms. Fix-It. That’s when my dad showed me how to change light bulbs, what everything in the fuse box meant and how to reset circuit breakers, what all the dials and lights on the car dashboard meant, and how to turn off the water in the house. I think he gave me some bonus lessons, as well – like how to check the oil in the car using the dipstick, and how to top it off if necessary. We were a “fix it yourself” family.

Late in the fall, I set myself a couple of knitting fix-it tasks. The first one was a simple toe replacement on a sock for Boy 1. I knew that darning a big hole near the toe would result in uncomfortable bunching when worn in a shoe, so I decided to just cut off the end and knit a new toe. I had to use contrasting yarn, though, since I already used the leftover blue yarn in my I Love Leftovers blanket!20171218_075731

The second fix-it was more involved. Remember this sweater? I knit it from special yarn that a friend got at a mill in France, and it was my first CustomFit pattern. I made it in 2014.grey1

Take a look at the sleeves. They are supposed to be 3/4 sleeves, but they are pretty short. They look okay in this shot, but every time I wore it, that turned hem nestled into my elbow crease and was uncomfortable. I found I wasn’t wearing the sweater, and that was a shame.grey6

But wait! I can fix it! The sweater was worked from the cuff up, so I couldn’t just unravel the cuff and knit the sleeve longer. Instead, I prepared for sweater surgery. First, I knit new cuffs (this time in 2x2 rib) and the lower sleeve. I CO 42 stitches and increased every 6 rows to get to 54, which is the number at the bottom of the old sleeve.

Next, I carefully ripped out the turned hem on the existing sleeve and took out some of the seam (the sleeves were worked flat originally – luckily, I seamed from the armholes down to the cuff, so this was pretty easy to undo):IMG_7028

Then I snipped a single stitch on the turning row (which was a purl row). I did this in the middle of the sleeve, not near either edge of the now-flat fabric:IMG_7029

I was able to unravel that entire row (half in one direction, half in another) using a tapestry needle for help. I placed the new, live loops on a needle. Ready to attach:IMG_7030

Then I worked kitchener stitch over those 54 stitches. I found that it was easier to get it right if I didn’t try to get it right at first. In other words, I intentionally worked the kitchener stitch a bit loosely, like this. IMG_7031

I came back around and tightened each stitch to ensure that the tension matched the fabric on either side perfectly. IMG_7032

Then I had to block the new sleeve extensions, so the fabric would match even better. This also helped with the re-seaming that was necessary, as the edges were curling quite aggressively. I didn’t wet the whole sweater, just the new parts of the sleeves:IMG_7033

And then I seamed up that last bit using mattress stitch. Done! Now this sweater is much more wearable. Sorry, no photos of me with it on. It is WAY too cold to go outside for a photo shoot (and way too sunny, too). Just trust me. The sleeves are the right length now!IMG_7057

That’s the cabinet where I keep my sock yarn, by the way. It is visible and accessible, right in my living room. I love seeing it all the time.