How I spent my Christmas holidays

Happy, happy New Year to you all! In my prennially late fashion, my inaugural new year post is coming after 2016 has already kicked off for almost a week. And I'm afraid that I haven't yet settled down on my plans for 2016 - unlike many people, I have a very hard time making plans for the future until it actually arrives. In other words, my brain had a very had time even considering 2016 before it was 2016.

This tendency to procrastinate was not helped by my coming down with some true awful bug on Boxing Day, which left me feverish and miserable on the couch for three days, before morphing into a pretty horrible hacking coffee that is hanging on to my lungs for dear life. And just about the only crafty thing I felt like doing in the week between Christmas and New Year's was spinning. So I did....

First up was finishing off my "Mutable Loci" on Cheviot from the Lab Goddess Fibre Club November instalment (places still available for January - March!). I spun this as a true 3-ply, aiming for a plied fingering weight yarn to knit into socks.

I got pretty close to fingering weight on the final skein, but the skein is also pretty obviously overspun/overplied. However, seeing as this is destined to become socks, that is not a bad thing; they'll just wear better.

Next up was a bunch of 0.5 oz chunks of Shetland dyed in the original colours in my Vital Dye series. I spun these up semi-woolen, from the fold, aiming for an approximately fingering weight 2-ply.

From left to right: Congo Red, Ethidium Bromide, Yellow Fluorescent Protein, Oregon Green, Xylene Cyanole, Coomassie Blue and Crystal Violet

From left to right: Congo Red, Ethidium Bromide, Yellow Fluorescent Protein, Oregon Green, Xylene Cyanole, Coomassie Blue and Crystal Violet

These are part of my prep for Unravel, happening on the 19th - 21st of February (where I am very excited to be exhibiting AND giving a talk!) (gulp!). I'm planning to offer kits for a handspun, colorwork hat - these colourful miniskeins are going to be paired with a neutral and offered with a new pattern I'm working on. I'm thinking at the moment that I'll have at least 2 colourways on offer: a brown with the red, orange and yellow, and either white or grey with the blues and purples. I have a new blue that might slot in really well with the two colours on the right, so we'll see how that all plays out.  In the meantime, swatches are being swatched, and plans are being planned. Stay tuned for more details in a new edition of the Design Diaries starting next week.


The other exciting news I have is that I am going to be at the Waltham Abbey Wool Show in Essex on 17th January! This is a very new development, as they had a last minute cancellation and I've gotten in from their wait list. In any event, that means that the shop update originally planned for Saturday 16th January is going to be delayed by a few days. Stay tuned for the exact timing, or sign up for the newsletter to get notification of the update timing (and other newsy bits) delivered directly to your inbox.

Happy New Year to all, and here's to loads of woolly goodness in 2016!

Spinning singles for knitting

I've been experimenting with singles recently, and wanted to share some of my findings with you.

A few years ago, I was at a spinning workshop and the instructor was demonstrating how to spin a singles yarn. I asked a somewhat silly question: "How much twist do you add?" The (in retrospect) obvious answer was: "As much as you need to hold the single together." Seems pretty simple, doesn't it?

But this answer gets to the first, and in my mind, most important issue in successfully spinning singles: fibre choice. You want to start with a fibre that will stick to itself, so no silk or alpaca or plant fibres need apply. You also want a fiber that has at least a medium staple length, just for ease of spinning. If you're new to spinning singles, you'll probably be happier if you leave the merino aside for this round.

I started with some Corriedale in the Parakeet colourway.

Parakeet Corriedale prepped and spun up

Parakeet Corriedale prepped and spun up

I stripped the top into pieces that were approximately 0.5 in/1 cm wide and spun them using a short-forward draw. I find that the key to getting the right amount of twist lies in slowing down and using a lower ratio then I usually use. I had to make sure to treadle relatively slowly while I drafted, trying to insert enough twist to keep the single integrity without getting sections that were overtwisted.

This is the skein fresh off the niddy noddy - definitely not balanced! You can see that it's not the most even yarn ever - there are narrower sections with more twist, and puffier sections with less. This just shows how spinning a singles yarn is a really good way to see how twist gathers in areas with fewer fibers and jumps over thicker sections. If you are even a little bit interested in trying out art yarns, this is good practice!

Now, the next important step for ending up with a usable singles yarn for knitting is in the finishing process. I like to use a fulling finish to my singles yarns, allowing them to felt ever so slightly to help hold the single together. 

This process requires two containers of water - one hot and one cold, both with wool wash if you like (both containers in the picture have wool wash, even though only one is sudsy). Put the skein into the cold water and let it get wet.

Once the skein is wet through, transfer it to the hot wash and gently agitate the yarn. Now, I know that usually, as handspinners, we are doing everything we can NOT to agitate the yarn, but this is one time that you want to move the yarn around.

Give it a few stirs (with hands or an implement, however you like - my Speshul Snowflake hands don't like the hot water direct from my tap, so I use an old wooden spoon), and then pick it up out of the hot water and let as much hot water drain off into the bath as you can. Give it a squeeze if you like, then drop it down into the cold bath and gently agitate again.

You'll want to repeat this process from cold to hot to cold to hot to cold several times. As the fibres begin to full, you find the strands of the skein beginning to stick to each other a bit.

When you reach a point where the strands are clinging together but still easily pulled apart, it's time to stop. Put the skein into the cold bath and let it sit for a few minutes without agitation. Then take it out, squeeze or spin out the excess water, and let it hang unweighted to dry.

I ended up with about 100 yds of floofy singles from 2 oz of fiber (800 ypp) - about aran or worsted weight. I was hoping to have enough to knit up another topdown hat, but it might have to be for the kids instead of me.

I hope this has been helpful and/or interesting. Please post in the comments with any questions or experiences you've had with spinning singles.

Happy spinning!