Thursday, May 28, 2015

Tinsel Art Yarn: Getting the Babe Tutorial Ready!

I had a backlog of things I needed to get done since I recovered from the holidays (and I'm here in Korea again with my Babe wheel), but now I've started working on 'What to do with leftover Christmas Tinsel?' which I talked about in this video:

My container of random bits of wool and silk and yarn (which I used to make pottage batts) was majorly overflowing, so I grabbed my hackle and threw on a bunch of interesting things. These rovings have merino wool, cormo/mohair/cotswold locks, silk, tencel, angelina, firestar, silk ribbons, yarn scraps, and, of course, tinsel. I have a diz (the tool used to remove fiber from tools like a hackle, and it produces a short roving), but it didn't have a large enough hole for all of this texture. To remove the fiber, I grabbed a small bit of fiber in my hand, gave it a half turn, then pulled a little. Short twist, then pulled. A long, fat, artsy roving about four feet long was the result. I did that twice to get two different rovings. Here's how they turned out:

The pink one had more shorter fibers than the blue one, so I pulled off the short fibers, placed them on the hackle again, then drafted them out into a lumpy roving:

As part of the tutorial, I will be showing you how to spin the pink one (my favorite) in real time, but I will also show you how I spun the blue one in time lapse. I've been thinking of adding time lapse videos to my tutorial series to show you more examples of how to spin various kinds of yarn (and for further examples of carding or blending or whatever else seems appropriate). The demonstrations I do are great, but I know that some of you just want to watch the process for longer. I think this is a good trade-off: I can give you the extra content you need without making you sit and watch a thirty minute video of me rambling while I spin. :)

I already filmed the first yarn, and I will be filming the second yarn on Monday. Here's a sneak peek at how the blue yarn turned out!:

I used the plying thread which had sequins already spun into the thread. Here's a better picture of my plying thread here.

I was a little concerned at first that the tinsel would feel scratchy against my neck, since it is designed to be haphazardly thrown over a tree, but it's actually quite soft. It reminds me of angelina fibers, which are designed to be soft and pliable.

I haven't completely committed to this idea yet, but I kind of want to use this yarn for a future weaving project. It'll provide a ton of interesting texture. Or, and this is why I'm not completely committed to the weaving idea yet, I might knit it as fringe on the end of another large shawl I want to make. I love how the striped Cora shawl turned out, and I like how the heaviness on the bottom stretched the stitches slightly so it looked more lacy, yet substantial. Here's the one I'm talking about:

If you would like to add in specific requests for this Babe art yarn tutorial, be sure to let me know in the next day or two so I can get it included in the video!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Tax Day Cotton Spinning Challenge: Results!

The Cotton Spinning challenge is over, and I'm really glad ya'll motivated me to try out cotton. Many of you who began with me were beginners, and we all learned something new: a love/hate relationship was formed, in some cases, and others realized that cotton spinning isn't for them (yet). This challenge didn't seem to breed any new cotton lovers, but I'll talk about that later.

First, let's talk about my rationale when I approached this topic. As I mentioned before, I didn't want to do much research about how to prep, spin, and set cotton yarn, since I wanted to rely on my spinner's intuition. You can read more about this in my first and second posts. When I combined my spinner's intuition and my research, I got my seventh (and final) sample for this challenge. It represents how I have implemented all the things I learned about spinning, but it also shows me that I was mostly on the right track from the get-go--I was just missing  a few helpful tips.

In the seventh sample, I started with a well-beat wad of cotton and rolled it up into a ball. The cotton beating whipped air into the whole mass, effectively separating the fibers (attenuating the fibers) so they wouldn't mass up together during the spinning process. To do the beating, I took the cleaned, hand picked cotton (last pictures of the second post) and placed a firm pillow between my knees. I grabbed a long dowel and literally just beat the cotton with it. When the mass got too big, I folded it over on itself and beat it some more. If you make things like pastry dough, you'll understand my process. Eventually, it became a smooth, even batting. I folded it into thirds and rolled it up into a ball.

The resulting yarn was a bit fuzzy, but still quite smooth and even:

Here's the 'cotton ball' I ended up making. Notice how clean it is? This beating method did an excellent job reorganizing the fibers into a disorganized mess. The drafting for this sample was the easiest of all and took the least amount of spinning time.

So, I spun a grand total of 1 ounce of fiber. Not a whole lot of fiber, but I learned much from it and I can apply this expertise to project-oriented goals. I still want to make a tea towel! :) Here's what cotton needs, but this is neither an exhaustive list nor the only way to spin it.

  1. Cotton likes twist like we like fiber. To wit, it needs a ton of twist. Do you think you have enough? Better add more twist. All of my samples improved when I added more and more twist. I spun and plied my samples very tightly and by the time I made it to my seventh sample, I finally grasped how much twist my cotton needed.
  2. Plies are your friend. If you want a thicker yarn, make it so by adding plies rather than spinning thicker singles (as a side note, though, Stephanie Gaustad talked about setting twist in the issue of PLY I recently reviewed, and the cotton sample they showed was a soft spun cotton single...which knitted up into a beautiful swatch). If you're having trouble working with your cotton yarn, try plies instead of thicker yarns first.
  3. Boil the yarn! That's right, cotton loves it hot hot hot! In my first samples, I set it like I would wool yarn because I wasn't sure what it needed. After further research, I learned that cotton needed to simmer in very hot, soapy water for 30-40 minutes, and only after that would it be considered set. As a side note, you could steam the yarn, though it would still take a bit longer than if you steam set wool yarn. It also brightens the color of the yarn.
Commence the slideshow! I was often frustrated with spinning cotton, but I also had a lot of fun too. I'll point out my favorite bit and worse bit of each sample--if I didn't have any fun, I probably wouldn't have stuck with cotton spinning this whole month. I made an effort to spin a little of it each day. 

Sample 1:

This sample was made before I did any current research. The stuff I learned several years ago was what I had to go by, but at least I succeeded in making yarn. :)

Thing I loved: It is an incredibly soft and squishy yarn. It would definitely keep you warm and snuggly if you had a whole bunch of this yarn woven into a blanket. Thing I disliked: It was hard stopping the spinning to remove the vm, so I spun it into the yarn anyway. It also likely weakened the yarn.

Sample 2:

This sample was similar enough to sample 1 (though it certainly has more twist!) for me to have the same likes/dislikes as sample 1. It's only slightly more tightly spun than sample 1...I was still very timid about the amount of twist it needed.

Sample 3:

This third sample is noticeably rounder than the first two samples, and that's partly because the singles are a bit thicker. I had a hard time spinning a thinner worsted spun single because it was difficult to keep up with the twist while I was drafting it thinner.

I love the smoothness of this sample, but it doesn't have the 'cotton' texture I come to expect from cotton doesn't look as organic as the above samples.

Sample 4:

It may not look like it, but this sample was spun with more twist than all the other samples so far. As for the drafting, it was easier to make it thinner than with the worsted technique, but I suffered from clumping as the cotton drafted from the puni. This is when I decided to experiment a little with the puni-making process. For this one, I carded a fair amount of cotton onto a small dog brush, then rolled it around 2 size US 5 knitting needles. Maybe the punis were just too big somehow?

I love the nubbly texture that this particular sample made, but it really wasn't what I was going for.

Sample 5:

This sample was also the one I chose to make larger, so I could see what spinning cotton for a larger project would be like. I also took this opportunity to experiment with rolling up punis. I finally settled on 1g of fiber rolled around a pair of US 2 dpns. Before I was done rolling, I would take one of the needles out of the puni and roll it tighter so it was just the diameter of the single needle. I was able to draft a little smoother from the smaller punis (though, I think for a different reason that I originally thought), so I concluded that puni density mattered at this point.

I love that I as able to make a larger sample and compare my skills throughout just this single sample, but you can tell where my cotton spinning needs more practice (the parts which look extremely loose). I thought I had spun the singles with enough twist so that I could ply it easily from a center-pull ball, but I was wrong. The yarn snapped in about three places and drafted apart in two places. I'm not sure what caused the yarn to snap because it would seem that it didn't have enough twist to cause a snap in the first place--maybe I yanked on it too hard when I was giving each single even tension?

Sample 6:

This sample was the first to combine the various techniques I had learned during this process. I went back to my organic cotton and set out to clean it really well so that I could make smoother punis and spin and smoother yarn. I also threw timidity out the window and went for broke with twist...This turned out to be the tightest of all the samples so far. It's cleaner, tighter, and even smoother than the other samples (except the worsted-spun sample). I still missed a few noils and bits of vm, so I think I could have done even better when I was scrutinizing the cotton before I carded it. Those bits are a pain to remove as you're spinning. I also switched to setting the yarn in roaring hot soapy water. The result was a soft, bright, and completely comfortable cotton yarn.

I love the nobbly texture of this cotton (and its whiteness), but I still wish I could have made it smoother.

Sample 7:

For this last sample, I spent much more time during the preparation stage than for any of the other samples. I think the result is telling. It's smooth, clean, and just looks like cotton yarn. I also opted to Navajo ply (chain ply) it because 1) I needed to have something other than a 2-ply in my sample book for cotton; and 2) my cotton bud Angela was having trouble with it. I think the key is to start with a smooth cotton yarn if you plan to N-ply with it. If it isn't smooth, the bumps will get caught on the crochet chain loops, and as you pull it through, it could snap more easily.

Using my spindle, I just literally stopped adding any twist, made about 3-4 chain loops so I could make the N-ply, then I added my ply twist to that bit. I found it extremely difficult to chain ply as the spindle was actively spinning, so this stop-and-go method worked well for me. It's probably the case that I'm just so new to working with chain-plying cotton that I encountered so much difficulty keeping the spindle turning. This stop-and-go method seems to be best for beginners.

I love how this sample turned out. It really is the culmination of everything I have learned this past month spinning cotton. Many of my spinning intuitions helped me along in this process, and what I couldn't just figure out on my own, I learned from reading and watching people use culturally different techniques. I'll continue working out how to make these cotton balls in the future so they don't take quite so long to make. If I can make them faster, then perhaps I'll always keep some cotton on a spare spindle.

I also wanted to share how different the white cottons I was using were. The top one here (sample 7) is made from the loose, organic cotton, and the bottom one (sample 5) was made from the combed top cotton:

The top one is considerably whiter than the bottom one, which is more pinkish-yellow. I have read that setting cotton yarn in hot soapy water for 30-40 minutes will also lighten the final color. Because the bottom yarn was set like wool (warm soapy water for 10 minutes), it could be exhibiting its original color. I should break sample 5 into two pieces and set one of them in hot water, then compare again.

I really have come far since sample 1. They look like they were spun by two different people!

There you have it, the Tax Day Cotton Spinning Challenge is now complete. I have a more intimate rapport with cotton today, and I couldn't have done it without the motivation from all of you, my friends and fans in the community. Thank you to everyone who spun a little cotton with me, and even if you found that cotton wasn't your thing, I'm glad you had the courage to dive in head first with me. Really, I appreciate your willingness to try new things with me!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Review: PLY Magazine Summer 2014 Issue

This issue was all about twist. I don't consider twist so much when I set about to make yarn. In principle, I do consider twist, but I don't actively think about twist as a primary aspect of my yarn. I tend to make my yarn organically, meaning that I just let the fiber speak to me and spin it so it feels right. That doesn't translate well to others, so it's important that we can talk about twist objectively. That's exactly what this issue does. Since I can't reprint the whole issue here, or write a summary which does the topic justice, I will say that you ought to buy this issue if you want to make consistent yarns, no matter what fiber you're working with--especially if your fiber preparation contains a whole slew of different fiber lengths and micron count. So, I will be talking about the articles which made me think the most.

First up, we have "Intuiting Twist" by Lexi Boeger. She challenges the reader to blend up (by hand or hackle) a wide variety of fibers. Don't hold back--anything goes, so long as it falls outside of your comfort zone. As you spin, pay attention to how much twist the fiber is willing to take, then allow it to be taken up by the wheel. The uptake won't be at a consistent rate--it's dependent upon the specific lock you're spinning...and it's okay if you can't remember which lock it is! The point is to observe how much that particular length of fiber wants to take and not overdo it.

I tend to do this when I have a carded batt which is made of long sari silk bits and shorter merino bits, but this is clearly an extreme example. I've been spinning fiber hackled from bits and bobs, including bits of yarn. Here's the art roving I made (will be part of a video soon!):

The next article I found most interesting was a collection of tips from Amelia Garripoli, of Ask the Bellwether, There are some incredible little bits which you learn along your path as you dig deeper into the mechanics of spinning. These tips are gold, and are often the kind of things you learn when you talk to master spinners (whether they have a certification or not--experience is the operative idea here) about specific topics. My extra little tip to add: Don't spin a difficult fiber when you're frustrated, angry, or upset. If spinning isn't helping to calm you down and relax you, spinning while you're agitated will only result in bad yarn and many regrets.

The last article I want to touch on is "Tame Your Yarn (by setting the twist)." At some point, we get into a routine: draft, twist, ply, wrap, set, knit. But what purpose does setting have in reference to yarn? Well, this article by Stephanie Gaustad delves into the reasons for setting, as well as pointing out reasons why you might not want to set the yarn. Additionally, she talks about setting the twist for different fiber types, for protein and cellulose fibers.

Setting the twist dramatically impacts the look and feel of the yarn, but it also affects the fabric it produces (as you can see in the incredibly biased swatch above). So, though you might be locked in a routine where you set your yarn before using it, why not look for projects which would look interesting with an unset yarn (Stephanie suggests: collapsed weave scarves, hemp/flax scrubbies, or even lace projects).

I probably won't consider twist much more than I already do, but I'll add it to my process when I spin large quantities of yarn which require consistency. I am tantalized by collapsed weave projects, so now I want to make some gauzy scarves that have a lot of visual interest...this time, the interest comes from the weaving process rather than just using textured yarn.

There you have it, another great reference magazine that ought to be on your shelf. At first, I was a bit skeptical that PLY would take my heart and run away with it, but I am truly smitten with them. I come away from each issue informed and eager to try at least one new thing. If you have been a contributor to PLY, I want to thank you for helping to build such wonderful reference material which is accessible to every spinner!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Woven Mohair: The Rug is Finished

I am done, and the results are stunning. Mr. IT Guy is going to set his feet on luxury:

I knew that the mohair fibers would lose more vm with the weaving, washing, fulling, and drying process. I was pleasantly surprised when I checked the rug for dryness--essentially all of the vm was gone!

The fulling process allowed the rug to develop some strength. I had originally struggled with weaving the weft too tightly, but this mohair has allowed me to practice beating the weft so it doesn't get too tight (and thus, too firm). When I first took this rug off the loom, it was extremely flexible and perhaps a bit loose. Here is the unfulled version:

Here is the fulled version:

You can see how the weft looks tighter, presumably because the warp shrunk just slightly. The bits of lock which stick out of the novelty mohair yarn have reached across to its neighbors to fill in the gaps, in a dendritic way. This fabric looks and feels more dense than the original rug without losing its supple flexibility. Further, it is obvious from these photos that the shine has not diminished much during this fulling process.

The mohair rug took on a slightly fuzzier appearance after the fulling, but it is more like a halo than an eyelash yarn. Again, is still looks like a Berber rug to me, in color and in texture.

My final thoughts. Weaving with mohair is a grand pleasure to work with. The extra work to remove vm at each stage along the way was worth my effort. This mohair is the opposite of 'less than stellar'--simply, it's stunning.

The next time I buy mohair, I will be discerning, as I always should be, but I won't be so allergic to seeing vm stuck in the locks. A little bit of vm is easily worked out of the locks without destroying its incredible texture and lock formation--mohair seems to naturally curl up together. You can bet that when I get my hands on one or two mohair fleeces, I will definitely make myself a soft blanket.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Knitting the Free Yuna Shrug: Companion Videos

I have finished making the videos for the Yuna Shrug companion tutorial series, which closes out this incredible project. It was wonderful working through this project with you guys, and I'm happy to do this kind of project again in the future (though, probably with shortcuts since you don't need to see the exact same thing twice, right?). So, let's start at the beginning! The pattern. The yarn:

I got the pattern started and worked it until I got to the first set of cables, then I made this video:

Here is the closeup of the first cable after I knitted a few more rows:

Then I posted a video about how I make the central 4x4 cable so it lays a little flatter:

Here is the closeup of the central cable after I finished knitting a few more rows. You can see how it is similar to the flanking cables:

This is how the Yuna Shrug looks when you have bound off. It is stretchy and looks a bit small. Washing will help the stitches relax and lay flatter--remember that this pattern doesn't require blocking:

Here's the 2x2 ribbing on the backside of the shrug:

Here is the shrug after it has been washed and dried:

You can really see how the central cable lays flatter in this photo. It's an extra detail, but given that it's an easy trick to get the cables to look similar, it's worth changing how you make cables so that they all look the same. When I make a typical cable, I keep those stitches quite tight so they really pop out of the fabric.

In the last video, I show you how I wove the silk ribbon into the bind off edge. It's optional, but pretty and can serve a function for this one-size-fits-most project:

To weave in the silk ribbon, find the side which is the least stretchy (for me, this is the bind off edge). You'll be weaving the silk between the bind off edge and the row just before that. I started by going into the fabric just before a set of k2 (to wit, insert the ribbon in the last purl before the k2 section):

Place the ribbon in the hole and pull it through to the back side of the shrug:

Then you'll pop out again through the end of the knit section, just before the purls:

Thread the silk ribbon through again:

Ta-da! Just keep doing that until you're all done:

Here's how the Yuna Shrug looks after the silk ribbon has been woven into the bind off edge:

I had about 40 or so yards left over when I was all done, so there was plenty to do a swatch if you like doing that. I think there's enough for me to use it as warp in a new weaving project. :)

Wash your Yuna Shrug again if you'd like, or simply throw it over your head and wear it! I will be altering the pattern to reflect the community additions. Feel free to mix and match ribbing styles to suit your personal tastes too. Don't forget to share your Yuna project with the Ravelry thread!