The Knit Knack's Blog

my handspinning, knitting, natural dye, weaving fibre home


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Summer dye baths – avocado now; Queen Anne’s Lace then

Early Sunday morning, I took a knife to some of the stored avocado pits.  It was a way to think of my spinning friend Mary before her memorial service that day.

Extracting natural dye avocado stones by irieknit

Avocado dye, Day 1

The bowl includes 4 pits from Jamaican avocado pears brought by my Mother-in-law – they gave colour instantly!  It’s no rush, and is just a moveable feast around the backyard as I seek the sun.

Extracting natural dye from avocado stones by irieknit

Avocado dye, Day 3 (boiled)

This is after 1 boil, and cooling on Tuesday morning.  While it sits, I am debating using ammonia again to boost extraction.

Handspun BFLxShetland lamb's wool by irieknit

Meet the target – handspun BFLxShetland wool

Slated for the dye-pot is this approximately 285 yards from 100 g of roving from Hopeful Shetlands.

I carded the roving before spinning.  The rolags hit the CPW at a good clip in the month after our houseguests left.  It is spun supported long-draw, and plied on my Watson Martha also in double-drive.

Throwback to last August

We took a walk last Emancipation Day to gather Queen Anne’s Lace.  T was game, and now understands about dye-plants.

Ontario Queen Anne's Lace prepared by irieknit for dye extraction

Thrilling 2017 Queen Anne’s Lace

We gathered 204 g in a local ravine.  I might have been more into this than young T-ster.

Canadian Targhee wool preparing to mordant for natural dye by irieknit

First we soak the wool top

The target was 98 g of Saskatchewan Targhee wool top from Sheepspot.  Mordanting with alum & cream of tartar is where T lost a good deal of interest.  Luckily, Mom was on hand to keep him occupied.

Handdyed Targhee wool top with Queen Anne's Lace, carrot tops by irieknit

Dry, beautiful top, dry!

After a first boil, I got 145 g of carrot tops from the supermarket, and added them for a 30 min boil.  The wool cooled in the pot overnight.

Handspun natural dyed Targhee wool yarn and Watson Martha spinning wheel by irieknit

We quickly had yarn

By the notes taken, I had approximately 173 yards of 3-ply by the end of that week!  It was spun and plied in double-drive on my Watson Martha.  It is a 690 yards per pound yarn.  That would be in an aran-weight range but the wraps per inch is 12 or worsted-weight range.

A small facelift

There are subtle changes for the TKK blog appearance, and I also re-worked the About page.  The break that I have taken this year from the Tour de Fleece is as much for focusing at home as it is for this re-tooling.

Spinning Targhee wool dyed by Sheeptime Knits on Bosworth Blue Mahoe skinny Midi by irieknit

Another Targhee spin in the park, yesterday

The memorial for our friend, Mary, was small but very touching.  I went with our “not a teaching group” friend, Nancy, and other spinners were able to join as well.

On Sunday night, I started a new 3-ply project on the Martha spinning wheel.  It was Mary’s custom wheel before she surprised me with her offer to sell.  I hope that her family knows how much her spinning life’s work mattered in the community.


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Celebrating with knits

Whichever stars have aligned, we are in the midst of much change.  A lot, actually.  Only one fell to be met with knitting, and it is the happiest of them all!

Welcome to the Flock baby cardigan

He is now just over 6 weeks old, and oh, joy I am an Aunt!  The design is Welcome to the Flock by Julia Farwell-Clay.  All variations of this sheep cardigan are adorable.  It was so much fun scrolling through that I did it twice!

My version is knit heavier than the pattern suggests.  The yarn is Diamond’s Luxury Collection fine dk-weight yarn in superwash merino.  With 3.5 mm needles, I got 21 stitches & 26 rows per 4″.

Welcome to the Flock baby knitted cardigan yoke detail

The substitution made for yoke changes. The single row of sheep ends with a 7-row open heart in black.  I added a 3-row peerie from Alice Starmore’s Book of Fair Isle Knitting (page 49) into a 1-row peerie pattern.

Handspun-worthy boy

It wasn’t all blue but nearly so!  How could I not spin for this? Seriously.

Targhee handdyed wool on Watson Martha spinning wheel

This Targhee wool top is from Corgi Hill Farm, and was spun in just a few days at the end of March.  It was 5 oz/ 140 g in her “Frozen Fjord” colourway.  Spinning was on the Watson Martha in double drive on the larger whorl for a 2-ply yarn of 382 yards.

Knitted Mario the Artistic Rabbit stuffed toy in handspun yarn by irieknitSome gifts are just a joy to make.  A first Mario the Artistic Rabbit by Jenna Krupar in Noro Silk Garden yarn went to my cousin’s 2 year-old this Christmas.  This second version used approximately 130 yards of the handspun Targhee wool.

Knit Mario the Artistic Rabbit stuffed toy in handspun yarn with mohair locks in tail

Needle-felting for a tail with kid mohair locks was my favourite part.  The new parents agree, and are keeping the toy well out of their dog’s reach!

Knit Mario the Artistic Rabbit in handspun Targhee wool by irieknit face detailIndefensibly perhaps, I knowingly went with these mis-matched button eyes.  Let’s chalk that up to character.

Give the baby a vest!

Maybe you are starting to see how my hands were a little full with the baby knitting?

Stripey knit boy vest by irieknit in Sirdar Baby Bamboo

Shopping the stash resulted in a lot of ends to sew in!  This is a pattern from Sirdar’s baby bamboo knits pamphlet 323B.  After some other tries, I decided on this as the best colour sequence:

A =  Neutral:  col. 141

B = Dark blue:  col. 150

C = Kelly green:  col. 122

D = Light blue:  col. 138

It was all going fairly swimmingly (literally – four colours to juggle) when I realized about the square armholes.  They ought to have been shaped… With a shortage of yarn & patience that mistake took it to a very preppy level.

Summer blooming clematis

We are planning our trip to meet this little one & celebrate his birth in person.  It means a second short trip in 2 months but will be more than worth it!

The clematis is in full bloom now but you see, I was thinking of posting in June but just got swept away by all the things.


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When plying sings

Plying the 980 g of natural white Romney lamb’s wool is making my week.  You may have heard me use the word, ‘obsessed’ when I posted this picture on Twitter?  It has come as a surprise.

Plied hand-combed Romney lamb's wool on Watson Martha spinning wheel

Plying two good things together

For one thing the singles flow evenly from the plying ball.  Both strands feed together to my hands.  The holding pen for the ply ball is a tall Piroline cookie tin to my right.  Quiet, gentle, stream-of-spinning time.

This is the smaller whorl for my Watson Martha wheel.  The larger of the two ratios is working well with the Scotch tension braking the bobbin.  The rhythm slows a little as I get to the bobbin’s capacity of around 110 g of the yarn.  It’s just a matter of paying closer attention to the winding-on since the yarn can jump out of the hooks as the bobbin gets full.

Winding handspun wool yarn on an antique wooden click reel

Antique yarn reel in action!

My blue click reel from the Ramer Collection has made winding-off, and counting such a breeze.  The click still makes me jump (and Melvin glower) but she has a beautiful logic!  Each round is 90″, and the click is at 120 revolutions.  That measures 300 yards or a linen weaver’s lea!  One lea in the yarn count system is 300 yards per pound.

Cleaned wood antique click reel from the Ramer Collection

Brace that elbow!

A small hurdle after cleaning her up lightly with diluted Murphy’s Oil soap was the floppy jointed spoke.  My substitute collar is 3 strips of Velcro.  It’s yet another application of Janet Dawson’s floor loom weaving class on Craftsy!  So far with the braced reel’s help, I have around 1,500 yards of 2-ply with more to come.

Plying with Andean pushkas

The medium and large size Andean turned low-whorl spindles are my plying tools of choice for my spindle projects.  With practice, I am getting better at using them comfortably with larger cops.

Finished handspun yarn from blended Shetland, Merino, Tussah silk

Mulled cider set in skein form

This is the plying that I started in early September.  It was a 3.2 oz set of batts from Enting Fibercraft (shetland/merino/tussah silk blend), and I made 497 yards total here.  The larger skein at the top is 304 yards.  This yarn measures 24 wraps per inch or what I class as a light fingering weight.

Melvin the cat with tulipwood Moosie and handspun Shetland wool yarn dyed by The Painted Tiger

Hello, Moosie spin

The leisurely spin of The Painted Tiger’s hand-dyed braid of Shetland wool with my new Moosie came out at over 2,900 yards per pound!  The first plying ball gave around 249 yards.

Handspun Shetland wool yarn dyed by The Painted Tiger

A full-for-me plying Pushka

The second skein came in at 494 yards!  I was also giving a high plying twist because I would like to weave with the yarn.

I launch these spindles in the Andean style that Abby Franquemont taught me in her “All Spindles All Day” class.  Winding is more efficient as the cop grows, and the spindle goes amazingly fast as well.

Handspun Shetland wool 2-ply yarn dyed by The Painted Tiger

Cherry Fudge in yarn form

Fast-forward these few years, and my set-up is still very simple.  I place the plying ball in a small clay flowerpot that is on the floor behind my left hand.  I ply standing-up on an anti-fatigue mat.  When I came to Abby’s class, I was (barely!) able to butterfly with my non-dominant left hand.  Switching the butterfly was key, and Abby taught me the next steps:  set & release the half-hitches with my right hand; and the launch for my typical Z-ply twist.

To compare a large shawl project that I spun with spindles, and is on our current TKK banner, above – the largest skein measured 366 yards.  It is the fluidity that has improved.  This is what I look at with expert spinners.  Even watching another spinner’s motions can give your practice a subtle shift.

Getting to the place where plying sings is helping me complete even less-focused projects.  At least these past few weeks it hasn’t been akin to watching paint dry!

Speaking of seeing spinners, are you going to the Woodstock Fleece Festival on Saturday?  It’s a great consolation for not going to Rhinebeck.  Hope to see some friends, and to succumb to fibrey temptation!


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Ten bobbins towards a blanket, and Toby thanks

Over 5 days of work this month the remaining prime Romney lamb’s locks met my Forsyth Fine wool combs.

Handcombing Romney ewe lamb's wool on Forsyth Fine combs and diz

Last of the longer Romney ewe lamb’s locks

Most of the more defined locks had already been combed.  I hunted for the still distinct tips, and pulled away.  When even those weathered tips were disorganized, I did Margaret Stove’s trick of moving the locks between fingers to find that tip grain.  It took more time to load for each new pass but they were still in the tips-out orientation.  As you can see from the stationary comb here only a few are showing the lock crimp.

Blanket project worsted spun singles in Romney ewe lamb's wool

Basket full of Romney worsted singles!

State of the blanket specifics as shown in my basket are:

  • Each single worsted spun on my Watson Martha in scotch tension using a short forward draw with 18 lengths of hand-combed top each.  Last singles shown on bobbins are 4 lengths of top each.
  • Four plying balls = 537 g or just over 1lb.
  • Singles all spun right with “Z” twist.  I will ply for a “S” twist yarn.
  • That right there is 18 days of varying amounts of work from Saturday, July 19th to Saturday, September 20th, 2014.

I could say this was therapeutic in the month that we lost Toby.  It was but what I want to tell you is that going back to the combs was difficult in such a quiet house.  He used to sit at my feet (and I will show you where, down-post) while I did this work.  A little piece of old knitting helped me overcome this feeling of sad silence.

Knitted mobile device cozy by Irieknit

Oldie but goodie knit – hands-free combing

It held my phone, which played Neal Gaiman reading his “Neverwhere” (sound effects and all).  It wasn’t long before I hit my stride, and got those last 6 bobbins all spun-up.  Audio books, the fibre-worker’s friend.

No headphone cords were harmed in the combing.

Wait, we are not plying yet

The wheel is still in singles-production mode.  Thoughts occur to you while a project comes together.  Some are crazy pants and best not discussed too soon.

Hand-combed seconds from Romney ewe lamb's fleece

Fodder for the hand cards – Romney lamb’s combing seconds

For each bout of hand-combing, I separated the actual trash from what looked like seconds.  Over the years, I have learned (yes, the hard way) not to be precious about this.  You keep what you can keep, and the rest is compost.

The cotton cards were not good for this job.  I have found my standard cards with 76 tpi are giving nice rolags.  It’s easy work with the hard prep work behind me.  I also have un-combed locks left in another pillow-case.

Best guess? The existing singles could knit up on their own into a lovely circular or Shetland-inspired blanket.  What going the extra mile does is to open the door for a possible woven item.  These rolags spun in the same way could make a lofty weft for example.  Alternatively, I could make more worsted yarn from another fleece.  At this point in my spinning career, I know that more options for sampling is optimal.  If ever there was yarn that should hit an optimal mark it is this local Romney lamb’s fleece!

It really has been the spinning project that I hoped-for this year, and is still going strong!

Deepest thanks 

Thank you for everyone who has kept us in their thoughts, and who reached-out to me after my last post.  Your support meant so much.  I was only able to thank one of you in person but each comment was so very touching.

Toby and Melvin in peaceful kitchen co-existence

Brothers at rest, Toby & Melvin

This was Toby’s spot by my kitchen combing station.  Since Melvin loved the fleece-drying rack so much last summer, we threw his bed in for the duration.  They both liked it this way.  N suggested another picture of Tobes for everyone here, and this is a favorite of ours.

All of your comments, and replies helped me when this was still tremendously raw.  Many thanks to you, friends.  We are all adjusting but miss him a lot.


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Spinning on a blanket

Am I ever happy that I took the plunge on a made (by me)-in-Ontario wool blanket!  How could you not love having this to work with?

Hand-combing station for Ontario Romney lamb's wool

Value add: combing local Romney lamb’s wool

Love, however, gets you only so far with a project like this.  Fine-tuning my process has helped tremendously, and I am sharing the tweaks with you, today.  Simply adding denim under the comb’s clamps has been great.  It not only gives huge grip & protection but also gives me visual contrast.  That indigo is a welcome relief from white wool seen against the white ceramic floor tiles!  Getting a clean combing is so much easier now.

Another tweak is with the flick card sitting there on top of the waste bucket.  With clean & largely sound tips, I am just flicking the cut-end of  most locks before loading the comb.  It speeds things up.  As does flicking while standing – I hold locks tightly twisted, and flick into thin air.  No lap-cloth; just bouncing and slightly combing against the grip.

By using the flicker again on the waste from combs, I keep the seconds for the hand-cards (later, much later!) and compost the rest.

Hand-combed Romney wool dizzed top by irieknit

Resulting wool top for spinning

My focus is to do same-day spinning.  Two passes in the combs is good for this wool.  I use my lignum vitae Tabachek diz (see: the 1st picture, lower left) to pull the top.  It is 3/32″, and is so cool for this job.  Smooth, strong, and a pleasure to hold.

As gleaned from Robin Russo’s video, I am now using a clean sheet on top of my anti-fatigue mat as I diz the wool from the combs.  Catching it cleanly has helped the spinning too.

Spinning hand-combed Romney lamb's wool top on my Watson Martha

This Tuesday’s fibre prep

The main challenge is to keep moving forward.  This is intensive work – both in terms of time and labour.  My 6th bobbin has 7 lengths of top so far.  It is logged on a project sheet that I keep on the dining table.

Keeping it real is key here.  My Watson Martha wheel is the spinning tool, and it will be on this exclusively for the duration.  Although the bobbins are larger, I am spinning 18 lengths of top for each single using Scotch tension, and a cotton knitting yarn for the drive band.  There is a small sample from my first spinning that keeps me mindful not to draft the top too thin as is my wont.

The Spinner's Book of Fleece by Beth Smith autographed for irieknit

Motivation in book form: Beth Smith is helping

Nothing that I have described here is beyond my ability.  Everything is unless I stay the course.  This is why I am thrilled to have my friend Beth Smith’s new book, “The Spinner’s Book of Fleece” land just at the right moment.  Beth gets fleece to yarn, and then to the projects that she maps out methodically.  As a former workshop student with Beth, I knew that the technical side would be well and gently covered.  On my chosen breed, I learned at p. 135:

Romney wool is considered to have demi-luster, which means it has some shine but not as much as some of the Leicesters or Teeswater…

What leaps off the pages are the projects and samples.  They are light at the end of a tunnel.  Here I am working 5 days to get one of these 2-ply balls of yarn for my project.  It weighs 105g.

First plying balls of Romney lamb's wool for a blanket

Preparing for a family blanket of Romney wool

Having Beth’s voice reinforce truths like, “Spinning is not an end in itself,” on my coffee table is that special help.  Her handwoven images and notes are invaluable as I inch towards my goal of weaving with my handspun yarns.  This élan of working in unique but logical ways with fibre is egging me on.  Beth is the friend who asked why I had more fleece stash than projects.  I am glad that I could listen to quiet urging, and for the kind words in her autograph!

 

Before I go back to the combs – big thanks for all the support about Toby that poured in after my last post.  He seems to be doing better this week but occasionally has seizures now.


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Spin Seekers – workshops with Deb Robson

Here is how a border agent tries to work out the situation of 2 spinners and a driver-spouse going to “spinning workshops at a shop” in Michigan.  He leans forward, and asks:

 And what do you plan on doing while they are in class, Sir?

The correct answer was a wry, “I wish I knew.  Is there anything I can do in Howell?”  End of questioning.  Enjoy your stay.

Our classes were held at  The Spinning Loft with superb materials, and were taught by Deb Robson.  Saturday was a focus on “3 Ls”:  Leicester Longwool, Border Leicester & Blue Faced Leicester.

The 3 are now more than tongue-twisters to me.  Deb’s presentation on their histories & distinguishing features went deeper than data from The Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook.

Yes, I took notes but really what I took away was Deb’s essential passion for her work.  She fielded every question, helped anyone in difficulty, and spun happily on her Trindle.

My classmates were just as engaged.  How many of us introduced ourselves by saying we were signing up for the classes no matter the topic – a Spinning Loft/ Deb Robson collaboration?  Yes!  It was an awesome group of spinners.  I especially enjoyed dinner with Sasha, thecraftyrabbit and Karen, CallMeK2 on Saturday night.

My butternut Martha was very pleased to meet her twin – Beth’s walnut Martha.  Any giggles in class on Sunday were entirely Beth’s fault.

The 3 Cs portion moved us from the UK to Australia & New Zealand:  Coopworth, Corriedale & Cormo.  The fine Coopworth we worked with was downright soft.

My hands-down favourite was a 3L wool, the ‘strong’ example of Border Leicester.  The smart money was on me loving Cormo but there you have it.

Three walls of fleece as your classroom, and you would leave with some too.  This is CVM that Beth suggested for my, “crimpy for a sweater project for Lara” bill.  It’s beautiful, 2 pounds full.

I called this post, “Spin Seekers” based on something that Deb said to me over the weekend.  I had asked about fan-fare, and she answered that it is a distraction from her work that she does not encourage.  “We are all seekers,” she said, “just on different stages of the journey.”

Her classes embodied that philosophy, and I know I cannot be the only one uplifted by the experience of her teaching.  Three weeks out, I am still moved and empowered in my own work.

N really deserves thanks for making the road trip possible.  He knows why.  Thanks, Love.  To answer the border agent’s question – he read on his Kindle much of the time.

(edits for some typos)


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Sunday switch-up

Days 1 – 8 of the Tour de Fleece were all about spinning the lace project for my friend, Teresa.  The progress was starting to go to my head and I wanted to give my hand muscles a new set of movements.  Repetitive stress is not a syndrome that I want raining on my parade.  So, I set the spindles aside, temporarily and sat at my new (to me) wheel.

This is a Fibre Garden ‘sock blend’:  ¹⁄3 each of mohair, merino, alpaca.  I have 103 g, and have already spun half to 113 yds of 3-ply.  Today, I spun these 2 bobbins and ½ of the 3rd.

What is the wheel you ask?  A Watson Martha that I loved before I even had touched a single spinning wheel.  Her previous owner was ready to change to a more modern wheel, and in a great act of friendship offered to sell her to me.  I got her shortly before Stringtopia at the end of April.  There was a lot of pinching of self involved.  My dream wheel:

She is custom Butternut from a tree that Mr. Watson had on his property in Ontario.  My friend loved the colour, and the lighter weight of this white walnut wood.  I cleaned her with a solution of Murphy Oil, and then rubbed her down with a tung oil.

As my friend always said to me, “This is not a wheel for a beginner.”  It could be for ease of treadling, and stopping on a dime, and minimal oiling.  The drive wheels need to be carefully aligned with the bobbin & flyer array.  If anything’s off this wheel makes a noise.  If all is well, she sings.

I have the 4 original matching bobbins, and have now used both whorls.  The maker has taken a brilliant old design of using 2 smaller drive-wheels to be equivalent to having a single large, space-sucker-upper drive wheel.  He didn’t just reproduce that.  He made it as a beautifully-crafted modern wheel.  It has sealed ball bearings.

My last spin on this wheel was this 2-ply from a Chasing Rainbows Dyeworks silk/merino blended braid:

I have hopes it will make a good Helix Scarf.