Thursday, December 10, 2015

Knitting with Handspun Yarn - A Guest Post from Sandy of Indigo Kitty Knits

Many thanks to Sandy of IndigoKittyKnits for agreeing be a guest blogger here at Purple Lamb. She's talking about knitting with handspun yarn and has lots of great ideas to share.

Here's Sandy:

I’d like to thank Carla for very kindly inviting me to write a guest post on her blog.  She asked me to discuss knitting with handspun yarns.

We knitters love them, don’t we?  There are so many gorgeous kinds to choose from or spin yourself.  Have you ever looked at a beautiful handspun and wondered how to use it?  Or knit up a project and been disappointed with the result?  It’s maddening to start with a beautiful and perhaps expensive hand spun yarn and end up with something that looks terrible.

The most important factor in working with handspun yarn is pattern choice.  The right pattern will show off the yarn. Choose the wrong one, and your finished product may look like a dishcloth.

Chunky Headband, Hand Knit Headband, Headband, Wool Headband, Blue Headband, Blue Wool Headband, Blue Knit Headband, Hand Spun Headband
Handspun and Hand Knit Headband from Indigo Kitty Knits
In a project using handspun, the yarn is the star.  The perfect pattern lets it shine.  Chose the simplest pattern you can find.  Think garter stich, seed stitch and drop stitch to let the yarn take center stage.

Single Ply Yarns/Art Yarns
Your first yarns will probably be fairly lumpy – those pretty thick and thin types.  Smooth bulky and super bulky single ply yarns are included in this group too. I am absolutely in love with these. They show the colors in big glorious chunks and are very eye catching.  They knit up quickly, and we all love instant gratification.  The most important thing with these is to make something that will not get much wear or rubbing.  They will pill or even break if they get too much contact because they are not very strong yarns.  They are best in small projects like headbands or small cowls.  Be sure to experiment with needle size. These look their best on bigger needles!  Here is a nice headband pattern for handspun:

You can hold these yarns with another lightweight yarn to increase their strength without having to ply them.  Try a fingering weight yarn for strength without a lot of bulk.

Handspun Yarn - BIRD OF PARADISE - Extreme Squishy Bulky Thick and Thin Soft Handspun Yarn - 3.8 ounces and 108 yards - Merino and Silk
An Example of a Single-Ply Thick and Thin Handspun Yarn from Purple Lamb
Plied Yarns
These are a lot more versatile.  They can take much more wear, and are great for things like fingerless mitts and scarves.  If you have enough you can even use them for a large project like a sweater.

Soft Handspun Yarn - PEACH BLOSSOM - Silk, Alpaca, Merino Yarn - 3.5 ounces and 100 yards - made to order
Peach Blossom: An Example of a Two-Ply Yarn from Purple Lamb

Color is a critical factor.  You may have a barber pole, a gradient or a tonal yarn, or even a solid color yarn.
Barber pole yarns are so much fun.  You can knit them on their own or hold them with another yarn.  Try a contrasting yarn to make them really sing or pick a color you want to emphasize and make the second yarn the same or a coordinating color.

Gradient yarns are harder to find and spin – they take a lot of fiber prep, but if you have one look for a shawl or scarf pattern that will emphasize the color progression.  Hats that gradually change color as they move to the top of the head are gorgeous.  Mitts done in gradient yarns are striking, and I like them to coordinate rather than match.  For example, make the color change go the opposite ways on each hand.
Here is a quick and easy mitt pattern perfect for bulky plied handspun yarns.  If you don’t have a bulky yarn, hold your handspun together with itself or another yarn. 

One-color and tonal yarns are the most versatile. You can do just about anything with them.If you have a yarn that you are simply not in love with, don’t throw it out.  Try holding it with another yarn, or more than one.  A second yarn can smooth out color effects that you don’t love, hide uneven  textures, or enhance certain colors you want to emphasize.  To get an idea of how it will look, simply twist the two yarns together.  If you like the look, knit a small sample or begin the project.  You can always rip it out if you don’t like it.  Black, white, gray and brown can be good choices for this second yarn.  Try using a related color, like purple with a pink hand spun yarn. 

I’m a big believer in holding handspun with other yarns.  I often split a skein of handspun in two and hold the two yarns together to get a thicker yarn.  It’s easier for me to bulk up a yarn to suit a pattern than to do the math to change the pattern.  I also often hold two commercial yarns together, it adds interest with plain yarns and I hate doing boring math to make patterns work, when I can just pick up another pretty ball of yarn!  You can see lots of examples of these projects in my Etsy shop.
Brown Infinity Scarf, Brown Wool Cowl, Pink Wool Cowl, Hand Knit Infinity Scarf, Hand Knit Pink Cowl, Pink Infinity Scarf, Pink Wool Scarf
An example of a gorgeous cowl made with multiple yarns from Indigo Kitty Knits

There are almost always leftovers aren’t there?  There are lots of ways they can be used.
They can be combined with other yarns (handspun or not) in a striped project.  Use coordinated colors to keep things from getting too crazy, or go wild!  I prefer wild myself.  A cowl knit sideways and finished with a 3 needle bind off is a great idea for these yarns.  Vertical stripes are always flattering!

Another idea is to ply them or simply hold them together with another yarn (or two) to bulk them up and make them go farther.  You can use commercial or hand dyed yarn, or another handspun yarn.  Keep these projects small so you’ll have plenty of yarn. You can use them to tie on gift tags or care labels.
Wrap gifts with them.  Try wrapping a gift for a woman in a pretty dish towel and tie it all together with some handspun yarn.  It’s very eye catching!

I hope you’ve got a few new ideas about using handspun after reading this post.  I’d love to hear about other ways you knit handspun or use up leftover bits.  

Sandy Kemp is a fiber artist living in the Midwest with three daughters, one husband and a large clowder of cats.

Find her on Ravelry as IndigoKittyKnits.

Friday, November 6, 2015

How to Spin Silk Hankies or Mawata

Recently, I had the opportunity to dye silk hankies with my daughter and start spinning them up. Whether you decide to dye your own or start with some of the beautifully dyed silk hankies available on Etsy and elsewhere, I thought it might be helpful to see how to spin these beauties, so grab a cup of java and come join me!

Here are the silk hankies we dyed:

 Before dyeing them, I divided them into stacks of 9-10 grams each and let each stack soak in water with a few tablespoons of white vinegar overnight. The reason I used such a small amount is so the dye would go all the way from the top to the bottom without a lot of hassle. Next, I  weighted the hankies down with tin cans. It takes a lot to get them really wet. The next morning, we dyed them using a 1% dye solution of acid dyes. I get mine from Dharma Trading Company in primary colors and mix my colors from there. The 1% solution means we used 1 gram of dye in 100 grams of water. This is one area where the metric system is soooo much easier!

We removed most of the water from the trays the hankies were soaking in and dyed them using plastic spoons to apply the dye to the hankies. Another option would be foam brushes, which I use when I'm hand painting wool fiber or yarn, but I was a little worried that the silk would pull up out of the hankies if I used foam brushes. The spoons worked fine anyway.

To fix the dye, we put the trays of dyed silk hankies in the oven for about 40 minutes at 175 degrees. I checked them after 20 minutes to see if the dye had exhausted, but there was still dye in the water, so we continued for another 20 minutes. At that point, the water surrounding the hankies was clear.

The nice thing about silk is it doesn't felt, so we were able to wash them right away using warm water and a little Dawn detergent. Then we hung them out to dry.

A few days later, I was ready to spin the dyed hankies. Like I said, I'm working with stacks of 9 to 10 grams each. You can see that what I'm holding in the picture below is really a bunch of hankies together.

The first step is to pull off one thin layer. Each layer was one cocoon. Here I am peeling the single layer back from the edge. The edges are thicker than the center, so it's fairly easy to find one layer.

Now you could peel them all apart at once, but I decided to just peel one off as I was ready for it. Here I am peeling it off the rest of the way:

After the layer has been peeled off, it's time to get it ready to spin. To do that, you hold onto the center of the hankie like this:

Then you poke a hole in the middle and start pulling gently. Actually, it doesn't have to be all that gentle.

The goal is to predraft it like you do with wool. The difference is that the length of each fiber is really long. Here I am pulling it gently until it's almost as far as my arms will go.

Now, if you look back up at the top of this post, you can see three different stacks of hankies. I used the same basic colors for the two light ones, and my daughter dyed the other stack the deep rich greens and blues. I'm only using the first two. In order to make sure the yarn comes out looking fairly even, I decided to alternate between the two stacks as I was spinning. I came to the conclusion that it didn't really matter much, but I kept doing it anyway.

Here I am starting to spin.

Look at the rainbow of colors here:

As you can see, I'm using a long draw to spin these, and I'm able to draw back much farther than I usually can with wool. In fact, I usually prefer some variation of a short draw with wool, but I found the long draw worked the best with the silk.

I'm using my right hand to draw along the fiber as I spin to make the yarn very smooth. I'm spinning it with lots of twist because silk doesn't have the scales that wool has to hold it together with less twist.

 And as you can see, I'm spinning the yarn very fine. There is quite a bit of variation in the diameter of the yarn, but it's all in the laceweight range.

As I write this, I still have about half the hankies to spin, but here's what's on the bobbin so far. Here it is inside the house...

 ...and here it is in the sunshine where you can see how shimmery it looks.

I can't wait to finish it. Then I have to decide whether to ply it back to itself to make it a little thicker (and thus faster to knit, crochet, or weave with) or whether to ply it with something else or just let it be a single-ply silk laceweight yarn. Oh, the possibilities!

UPDATE: In case you're interested, the yardage from two stacks came out to over 400 yards of very fine laceweight that had about 36 wraps per inch. The final yarn weighed 0.6 ounces for all that yardage! We're in the midst of remodeling our kitchen, and I'm trying to figure out if I could use this to decorate pendant lights. If anyone has done this or can point me in the right direction, I would be very grateful.

Happy fiber artistry!

Saturday, October 31, 2015

I'm a Yarnie! Woohoo!

I am pleased to announce that I am now a "Yarnie" on Ravelry. Yarnies are hand spinners and dyers who can list their yarn creations in Ravelry's database of yarns.

Just in case you haven't heard of Ravelry, it's like Facebook for knitters and crocheters and so much more. It combines forums on practically anything you can think of with a fantastic database of knitting and crochet patterns, a database of yarn, and a place called projects where you can put those together as well as several places for storing ideas and plans for the future.

Here's a link to my PurpleLamb brand page so far:

It's definitely a work in progress, and as it isn't set up for the one-of-a-kind yarns I often make, I have had to come up with collections of similar yarns to be "bases" with info and pictures for each individual yarn within the collection.

In the meantime, I have an appointment with a local yarn store to see if they will carry my yarns. Wish me luck!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Spinning Supercoil Yarn - With a Twist

On Saturday I decided to make supercoil yarn out of a couple of my Spring Meadow batts. Just as I was starting, I thought it would be fun to invite you into my family room to see how I made it, so grab a cup of coffee, pull up a chair, and join me. :-)

First of all, let me start with a confession. I used to hate making supercoil yarn. The core yarn would get more and more overspun as I went until it was completely unusable--until I came up with a method for keeping the core yarn straight while spinning. I'll talk about it later on in this post.

Here is one of the batts I started out with. I made these last week and included a combination of merino, finn wool, alpaca, bamboo, mulberry silk, kid mohair locks, and angelina--in other words all the good stuff. I brought it outside so you could see it in the morning sunlight.

I started by tearing the batt into strips about 2 inches wide and then spinning it into a thick and thin yarn. I purposefully overspun it some because I knew I was planning on turning it into a supercoil yarn, which would mean plying it in the other direction using a technique that means more twist in the plying stage than the spinning stage. Here I am spinning it thick and thin.

And here's the bobbin after I've gotten part way through. I'm spinning two batts that total 4 ounces in all, so I went ahead and started by using my plying bobbin because I didn't think all 4 ounces would fit on my regular bobbin. In case you're wondering, I'm using a Lendrum wheel. I've had it now for nine years, and it's still going strong.

Here's the bobbin full. That's what 4 ounces of bulky thick-and-thin yarn looks like in case you're wondering.

Here I am winding it on to my lovely plastic center-pull ball winder. Well, it ain't pretty but it is serviceable.

And here is the whole skein on the center-pull ball winder. It's a good thing I didn't make any more, isn't it?

Next step is to start making the supercoil yarn. To do that, I'll need to use a core yarn. I chose a nice, strong cotton yarn for that. The color doesn't matter because I'll be covering the entire thing in the yarn, but it's not a bad idea to choose a coordinating color just in case a little bit peaks out now and then. The core yarn is a sage green, so while it's not in the yarn, it won't clash either.

As I mentioned above, I had previously sworn off supercoil yarn, and I think I may have sworn at it sometimes too. :-) Every time I tried to make it, I found myself with a disaster. The core would get more and more and more twisted as I went until it was completely unusable. I tried several techniques to help with that. The first time, my husband was kind enough to keep tossing the core yarn in the form of a skein (we had rewound it into a skein to try to help with this) up in the air. Think of someone tossing pizza dough, and you'll get the idea. Well, it helped some, but it was still a twisted mess, and I couldn't really expect my husband to toss my yarn every time I wouldn't to make supercoil yarn, now could I?

Next, someone recommended running the core yarn through the spinning wheel quickly to remove some of the twist before starting. I did this, but it didn't really help--at least not enough.

Finally, I came up with a technique that worked. I wound the core yarn onto my hand spindle, connected the end of the core yarn to the spinning wheel, and let the spindle dangle and spin in the opposite direction to release the tension on the core yarn so it would stay balanced as I spun the yarn on the wheel. I found it helped to stop and let the spindle spin until it stopped on its own now and then. It worked beautifully! I had finally come up with a way to spin supercoil yarn without torture.

Next confession: I couldn't find my hand spindle the morning I was spinning the Spring Meadow batts. Not only that, but this is what I had planned to do with the morning while my husband took our toddler and the other kids, and they would be back in just a couple hours. What now?

Well, in my desperation, I did what any spinning addict would do--I looked for something to take the place of the hand spindle. It had to be cylindrical so it would spin, it had to be long enough to hold the core yarn, and there had to be some way to keep the core yarn from coming off so I could control it. I finally found the mast to my son's Veggie Tales ship. Yep. I was that desperate. Here it is:

and here's a closeup of me winding the yarn onto it. See? I brought my coffee too. Would you like another cup?

Here's the mast (that should be a hand spindle ideally) hanging down from the spinning wheel. You can see the pen cap I used to keep the core yarn from coming off the would-be spindle until I was ready for it.

And here I am starting to spin the yarn around the core. Notice how the yarn is at an angle here. After spinning it onto the core at about an 80 degree angle...

...the next step is to push it up. I usually like to push the yarn up the core about every inch or two inches. Otherwise it gets a little mushy.

Here you can see the thick and thin yarn coming up from the the center-pull ball where I set it on the floor. You can also see the handy pen cap that I used to keep the yarn from coming off until I was ready for it. The trick with the Veggie Tale mast (should you happen to have one) or the hand spindle (should you happen to know where yours is) is to keep it dangling in the air so it can spin freely. That means that every 18 inches or so, you have to stop to unwind more of the core yarn and you also have to have some means of keeping it from unwinding on its own. More about that later.

Here's the bobbin with the supercoil yarn winding on. The thing that makes it so much fun to work with highly textured batts is the adventure of seeing what's coming next. The bamboo was super soft and silky, the mohair was soft and curly and feathery, the silk was, well, silky, and the wool was just soft and delightful as it ran through my fingers.

And here's a nice, big coil. When you get to the big fat parts of the yarn like this and see the potential for a nice big "seashell" as I like to call them, the trick is to push up fairly gently. Otherwise the shape is less appealing.

Oops. I ran out of core yarn on my spindle thingy. Since the core yarn will be completely covered, that's okay. I took out more core yarn and wound it onto my hand spindle substitute. I just held the old and new strands together and made an overhand knot. When I spin the soon-to-be supercoil yarn, I'll just make sure cover the knot well.

Next came the moment of joy. My husband and the kids came home, and on the off chance that someone had seen it, I asked if anyone knew where my hand spindle was. My daughter had decided to be Sleeping Beauty for Halloween this year, and she had absconded with it to use as part of her costume. She had actually asked if she could use it, but it had totally slipped my mind. At that point I was able to switch to the real tool, and my daughter helped me with the photos a bit too. It started to go quite a bit faster after that because I had something better than a pen cap that kept coming out of the mast.

This is a good photo for seeing the angle I held the yarn to ply it. This will vary somewhat depending on the yarn, but somewhere between about 70 and 90 degrees should work. Each time I needed more core yarn, I wound about 18 inches off the spindle and then wrapped the yarn around the hook at the top of the spindle a couple times so no more came off until I was ready for it.

Here it is again from a different angle:

Ta da!

I moved to the table on the back porch because it was such a gorgeous day outside and started winding the yarn from the bobbin onto my skein winder.

Here it is all on the skein winder. The single-ply yarn was 4 ounces (between 80 and 100 yards long), and the supercoil yarn came out at 44 yards long.

Here's a closeup. Again, the green at the bottom is bamboo, which came out so delightfully in the supercoil yarn, and I loved the soft curls of the mohair locks as well. After photographing it, I checked the wraps per inch (between 3 and 4) and then tied the ends together. I loosely tied some yarn around the skein in two different spots. I used to use four ties, but two seem to work just as well.

Before I washed it, I wanted to show you how much it twisted. Rita Buchanan (one of my favorite spinners and weavers) would say not to worry about how over-twisted something looks until after you have washed. Washing it gives the yarn a chance to relax.

Here's one of my sons holding it. He's sort of camera shy (which is silly because he's really cute, if I may say so myself), so only his arm is in the photo.

Next it was time to wash and set the yarn. FYI, I never use weights to set my yarn. As Jacey Boggs would tell you, if you weight it and then knit with it and then wash it, the stitches will get all funky. Setting the yarn unweighted means what you see is what you'll get.

Here I put the yarn in warm water with a little Original Dawn Detergent. I let it soak for a few minutes and then rinsed it several times to get the soap out. There was a little bit of dye left as well, so I rinsed until the water was clear. Now, normally I'm not all that gentle with my yarns, but in the case of supercoil yarn I am pretty careful. With each rinse, I held the yarn out of the water and refilled with fresh water and then set the yarn back in and gently swished it around.

Here is the yarn hanging when it was nearly dry. Notice how it still twists a little but not nearly as much as it did before I washed it. Given that it's a supercoil yarn and not a regular 2-ply yarn, I'm actually quite satisfied with just this little bit of twist. Our dog, Pfifltrigg (yep, that's his name), was coming to see if I was ready to play.

And here is the final product. I made the batts, spun the yarn, supercoiled it, washed it, dried it, and now it's ready to go. Now the big question is this: Do I keep it to make something from myself or do I put it in my shop?

There are two more of my Spring Meadow batts just like the ones I used here available in my shop:

In the next day or two, you'll find this yarn in the super bulky section of my shop which can be found here:

Meanwhile, happy fiber artistry!