The Daily Skein

All the craft that’s fit to make.

Hot Off the Wheel April 12, 2011

Filed under: spinning — Cailyn @ 11:42 am
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Not much going on here right now.  So here’s the pretty yarn I just spun last weekend.




This is the Hanks in the Hood batt that I tore into rolags in this post here.  It’s 3 oz, 50% merino, 50% bamboo.  I had trouble getting the right colors in the photos; the yarn is really a cool combination of grey-green and teal.




I spun this with a woolen long draw on my wheel, which gave me a nice poofy squishy yarn with great drape.  Very similar to the yarn I made in December, which was the point.  It varies between a DK and sport weight yarn and I think I’ve got about 80 yards of it.  I forgot to keep count of the turns around the niddy-noddy, so the yardage is a very rough estimate.


Did I mention that woolen long draw is fast?  I spun up the singles in just a few hours and plied in half the time.  But I like using worsted yarns better.  I think I’m going to spin up some worsted laceweight on my wheel next.


Madrona Was Fun February 22, 2011

Filed under: Musings,spinning — Cailyn @ 11:23 pm
Tags: , , ,

As you may have guessed from my little ditty last Thursday, I spent some time at the Madrona Fiber Arts Winter Retreat.  I actually didn’t spend much time there, just most of Thursday.  You would think that I wouldn’t forget about a fiber festival all of one hour from my house, but I did.  I remembered it far too late to sign up for regular classes.  I thought I would just go down for the marketplace again, like I did last year, but then I noticed the mini-class list.  The mini-classes were an hour and half (as opposed to three or six hours) and they spanned all kinds of topics.  Most importantly, I was in time for registration.  I signed up for a mini-class on hand cards on Thursday afternoon. 


I arrived about two hours before my class.  I went straight to the marketplace, as any reasonable person would.  After all, some of those fibers would go fast!  I took a walk around, looking at everything (and I do mean everything!) before doing a second round to actually buy things.  It was a hard decision!


IMAG0439   IMAG0440


The fiber that opened the floodgates was this one, a merino/tencel blend.  It was buried under some silk blends, but the colors of this one grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go.  Seriously, it tried to eat my hand.  I love the lighter streaks of tencel in the wool.

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Then I spent a long time looking at silk hankies (also known as mawata to avoid confusion) at the Blue Moon Fiber Arts booth, along with a 100% silk colorway that was gorgeous.  But ultimately, I decided that I preferred the colors at another booth. Mawata is made by soaking and stretching a silkworm cocoons in layers on a frame so that it looks a little like a handkerchief (hence the confusing name “silk hanky”).  You can spin from them or stretch them out and knit with them unspun or a million other things.  Recently, the Yarn Harlot wrote about knitting mittens out of unspun mawata.  I wasn’t the only one to think that this idea looked fun; silk hankies were the hot item this year!  I got 14 g (about half an ounce) of mawata for $5 at the Wolf Creek Wools booth.  Like most silk, the color is incredibly intense in person.



I also bought some “Panda” merino/bamboo/nylon yarn in a nice spring blue, because well, why not?  I really like the yarns from Wolf Creek Wools.  I made a little shrug out of some merino/tencel of theirs that I bought at the Sock Summit in ‘09.




Then, I was admiring the spindles at the Carolina Homespun booth- they had a great selection.  I’ve made no secret of the fact that I love Cascade Spindle Company spindles; I have four of them now, even if two are technically the same model.  I really want the Little Si spindle, not so much because I want to spin on it (although I bet it spins great) but because Little Si is only a few miles from my house.  I’m always on the lookout for it.  Long story short, Carolina Homespun didn’t have one, but they did have some other wonderful things.  I ended up getting this pretty “wristaff,” which isn’t from Cascade Spindle Co but from a woodturner in Canada.


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After that, I thought I was done shopping.  Except that I had a $5 coupon for any vendor that you got for registering for a class.  With that coupon burning in my pocket, I was torn between some knitting needles, some undyed silk, or some fiber from Hood Canal YarnsLast year, I bought some alpaca/silk fiber from Hood Canal Yarns which I really enjoyed spinning, even if it did take me half a year to do so.  I couldn’t decide which fiber to get there,until I noticed that everything I had bought so far was a very specific blue.  So, of course I bought this lovely blue fiber.  To stick with the theme.




The best part was, this fiber was just about $5 an ounce.  With the coupon, I basically got an ounce free!  3 oz of 75% Blue Faced Leicester and 25% silk.  Yummy.


Oh right, I also had a class!  I finished up shopping just in time to go to my class, be a little early, and chat with some of the other students.  The class I took was on using hand cards to make rolags and punis.  A puni is essentially the same thing as a rolag, but made smaller and denser and almost always with cotton.  Using hand cards looks so simple, but for some reason I just couldn’t get it.  All you do is brush one card across the other a few times, transfer the fiber to the other card, and repeat until you’re ready to roll.  Simple, see?  Why did it take me almost an hour to be able to do this thing that people have been doing for thousands of years?




I really have no answer.  Except that I wasn’t the only one to have trouble, so I guess that makes me feel a little better.  I did eventually get it, which made me really happy because spinning from a true carded rolag is awesome.  And so fast.  I see much more woolen spinning in my future.  I can’t wait to try these rolags with my Russian spindle!  In the picture above is a merino rolag (blue) and a cotton/silk puni.


I love going to these fiber festivals.  I don’t usually go with anyone, unless Lowell tags along, because none of my friends are quite as obsessive as I am about these sorts of things.  But it doesn’t matter.  You can sit chat with anyone there, knowing that they share in your passion for fiber.  I had a woman sit with me while I was practicing my carding and we chatted about her alpacas and I showed her what I could of carding.  It’s wonderful, even for an introvert like me, to just be around all those people who don’t look at you funny when you talk about the sleeve construction of your Central Park Hoodie.


Next year, I’m really going to try to remember about the registration day.


Madrona Song February 17, 2011

Filed under: spinning — Cailyn @ 11:11 am
Tags: ,

Madrona (to the tune of “Peaches” by The Presidents of the USA)


Goin’ to Madrona, gonna spin me a lot of fiber

I’m goin’ to Madrona, gonna spin  me a lot of fiber

I’m goin’ to Madrona, gonna spin  me a lot of fiber

Fiber comes from a drum, it was put there by a thumb

In an indie studio

I had my little way I’d spin fiber every day

Soft wooly rovings in the shade


Turning a Batt into Rolags February 11, 2011

Filed under: spinning,Spinning Tutorial — Cailyn @ 2:25 pm
Tags: ,



Rolags are a woolen spinning preparation.  Because of their structure, the fibers wrap and twist around each other and keep a core of air in the yarn.  This makes the yarn super warm.  It’s also very soft.  Rolags are usually made on hand cards, but if you don’t have hand cards you can tear up a batt into rolags.  You could roll up the batt into one huuuuuge rolag, actually.  A batt is what comes off of a drum carder, but it’s really just a big version of what comes off of a set of hand cards.  As far as I know, you can make rolags any size you want them.




Unfold and unroll your batt onto a smooth surface, like a wood table.  You don’t want to do this on carpet!  The first time I did this, I was sitting on a hardwood floor.  The surface pictured is a laminate table from Ikea.


Notice how the batt has a “grain”?  The fibers aren’t perfectly aligned, but they are generally pointed left to right.  Turn the batt so that the “grain” is pointing towards you.  We’re going to strip the batt.


115_5428  115_5430


Decide how wide you want your strips.  The width of the strip will become the length of the finished rolag.  Last time, I used the width of my closed hand as a guideline (about 5”), but I found those rolags to be a little short especially when had to switch to my wheel instead of the spindle.  This time, I used the width of my spread hand (about 7”).  You can, of course, use an actual ruler or a book or anything for this step.  Once you’ve got a width decided on, gently strip the batt upwards along the “grain.”




You should end up with a strip of fiber in your desired width.


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Turn the strip so the grain is horizontal again.  Place your hand or a straight edge on the strip about a staple-length in.  Make sure that you’ve got all the fibers under your hand or straightedge (you may have to scrunch the strip a little) and press down firmly.




Grasp the end of the strip in your other hand and pull gently.  If the pulling takes a lot of force, try moving your pressing hand forwards or backwards- likely your hand is not at the staple length.  Now, you don’t have to have the rolag be one staple length wide- you can put your hand two staple lengths in (just don’t pull from the end to tear the piece off), or just roll up the whole strip!


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You should end up with something like this.  The ends might be kind of raggity.  Unless it’s really ugly, don’t worry about it.  (I pulled that little bit of green fiber off the last piece there.)


115_5465  115_5466  115_5468


Start rolling the fibers up in the direction of the grain, from left to right.  This way, when you spin, the fibers will tangle around themselves- in a good way!  (If you roll from top to bottom, you get a semi-worsted preparation where the fibers are mostly aligned- I just learned that!)  Keep rolling until you get to the end of the piece, trying to keep the ends from flaring out too much.  Use a gentle touch.  I like to give my rolags a light roll against my pants when I’m done with them to smooth down any stray fibers.  Be gentle!!  You don’t want to squish out that core of air.


115_5469  115_5470

Sometimes it’s easier to roll the fiber around a knitting needle or dowel with slippery fibers.




That’s it!  You can spin directly from these or attenuate/draft them into roving to spin.  I like to make the batt into rolags, then divide the resulting pile into the number of plies I want (in this case, two).  You could also split the batt ahead of time and keep the rolags separate. 


Rolag power!


Bat, Bat, and Batt February 7, 2011

Filed under: Knitting Projects,spinning — Cailyn @ 4:26 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

This is a bat.



This is a bat.




And this is a batt.




A Hanks in the Hood batt, to be exact.  The beauty above is half merino and half bamboo.  The shiny light blue fibers are the bamboo; the greenish fibers are the merino. 

Batts are made by putting fibers through a drum carder.  The process is similar to hand carding but is less time-consuming because of the large surface area of the drum.  Carders can blend fibers or colors together or allow them to be layered. 


Batts can be intimidating.  When unfolded, a batt is a big (seriously big!) rectangle of combed fibers, completely unlike the wrist-thick snakes of roving or top that are so common.  There are lots of different ways to spin batts- for example, you can pick a corner and start spinning, or strip it into roving and spin it that way. 


Usually I buy strips of top and spin them worsted.  I really value stitch definition in my yarns, so I didn’t think I would ever want to spin woolen which is softer but lacks definition.  But I started to get interested after I bought a Russian spindle.  It’s physically impossible to use a worsted short draw on a supported spindle like that!  (Ask me how I know.)  Having searched all over Russia (story coming later) and finally getting a spindle, I really wanted to use it.  And to do that, I needed a carded fiber, ideally one in the form of rolags.  I would have liked to make my own (I have plenty of “experimenting merino”) but I don’t have any hand cards and those things are expensive!


Wait, what was I talking about?  Oh right, batts.  I took the plunge and bought a batt when I realized that I could make a batt into rolags and spin them with a woolen long draw.  Ironically, I didn’t use the batt on my Russian spindle.  I decided to use the batt to spin and knit Lowell’s grandmother a birthday hat.  (Not a party hat, just a hat given to her on her birthday.)  This sounds like a lovely idea, right?  Especially since I had never used rolags, never spun with a long backwards draw, only had two weeks to spin then ply and then knit the hat, and I was travelling for one of those weeks.


But I did it!  I spun half the batt, which was the same as the one above in every aspect except color, on my Cascade Mt. Baker spindle.  The spindle broke just as I finished the first ply, so I had to spin the second single on my Matchless.  Don’t worry, a little wood glue has fixed the spindle right as rain, plus I got two more spindles for Christmas.  I was shocked- I loved spinning long draw.  I loved the little rolags, even though I had to join a new one every few minutes.  Do you know something- spinning woolen is fast.  I mean, seriously fast.  I ate up rolags like they were chocolate truffles.  I was done spinning and then plying the 4 oz batt in just over a week, even including spindle malfunction and travelling.  I even got the two singles to match up in length with only a five inch difference!  I swear, this was a magic batt!


113_5365   113_5364


The yarn was beautiful.  It was soft and squishy, the drape was lovely, the bamboo made little shiny highlights, it was warm.  I was in love with this yarn and so was everyone else who touched it.  It was so nice that I’m kind of afraid to spin the other batt- what if it doesn’t come out as well?  Now, to be fair, the making of this yarn was not entirely without trouble.  I rolled the batt into rolags with the merino on the outside and the bamboo on the inside.  Often what would happen when I spun them is that the merino would pull off from the outside, leaving me at the end with a core of pure bamboo which was slippery and hard to spin long draw.  It also ruined the look I was going for, which was a mostly blended merino/bamboo yarn.  But, I still love how it turned out and, in retrospect, if I hadn’t been so stressed to finish in time, the bamboo wasn’t so bad.


Next post, I’ll show you how I made the batt into rolags as I prepare that blue batt up there to turn into a hopefully luscious yarn.


Oh, and here’s the finished product:




A simple beanie style hat with a garter brim and a wavy, lacy pattern.


IMAG0302  IMAG0305


In the one on the right, you can really see the long runs of bamboo, even though the color is all off.


Grandmother's 80th Birthday 2010-12-03 129

The happy recipient!


Plying Advice January 7, 2011

Filed under: spinning — Cailyn @ 12:02 am
Tags: , ,

I used to hate plying my handspun.  Plying adds strength and durability to a yarn, so it’s worth doing in theory.  I love knitting with a good two-ply yarn better than a singles yarn.  (Malabrigo Worsted or Crystal Palace Mochi are commercial examples of singles yarn.  Knit Picks Palette is a commercial two-ply.)  So, why did I hate plying and what changed my mind?


Lots of spinners dislike plying.  Most dislike it because it takes longer to complete the yarn (you have to spin twice the length of singles and double them up to make a two-ply.)  I don’t mind the extra time; what I disliked was that the finished yarn never turned out the way I wanted it too.


Now, when you’re spinning the singles, you’re supposed to pause occasionally and perform a “ply back test.”  You let the strand twist back on itself, producing a short bit of two-ply yarn- a preview of the finished yarn.  If the little bit doesn’t look or feel the way you want the finished yarn to look or feel, then you can change how much twist you’re putting in to achieve the right properties.  I do the ply-back test often enough and generally end up with a sample that I’m happy with.  If you’re smart, you clip off a good sample section and attach it to something near your wheel or spindle to remind yourself what you’re aiming for.  (I’ll admit, I’m usually not that smart.)


You perform a similar test on the plied yarn as you ply  (let’s call it a “twist test,”) but this time you don’t want the yarn to twist on itself.  You want it to hang down nicely straight.  If it twists on itself, that means you have too much or too little plying twist.  You want a “balanced” yarn that doesn’t twist when you’re finished.  An over-plied yarn can distort your knitted fabric.  I did this test too and adjusted my twist to achieve a balanced yarn.


But then why did my yarn always look under-plied and nothing like my pretty ply-back sample?  If I plied to the sample, the yarn twisted back on itself like crazy- theoretically leading to a poor knitting yarn and a waste of time and fiber (for me, anyway; you can do interesting things with over-active yarn, but it’s not my thing.)




Then I came across this post about good-looking two-ply yarns on Ask the Bellwether.


When you’re done spinning your singles, the standard advice is to let them sit for a few days.  This lets some of the twist energy go “dormant” and makes the singles easier to manage.  The other reason is that you never finish all of your singles at the same time (it’s more of a sequential activity,) so one single is always older than the other.  Letting them sit for a few days evens them out so that you’re not plying a fresh energetic single with an older dormant one.  You ply with stale singles, if you will.  But when you do the ply-back test, the twist is still new and energetic. See where I’m going here?


The ply-back test, which you used to figure out how you wanted the yarn to look, used fresh singles.  The twist test on the plied yarn uses stale singles.  So, as the Bellwether points out, if you insert just enough twist to get a balanced yarn when plying the stale singles, you’ll actually under-ply.  Every time.


Once I read that, I couldn’t wait to finish spinning some singles to try this out.  I plied to my sample (which had been made with the ply-back, fresh single) instead of to a balanced yarn.  The finished skein twisted something fierce, but I dropped it in it’s hot bath anyway.


IMG_0513  IMG_0516


It bled quite a bit (took three rinses to get the water to be only tinted purple!)  Yes, there’s another skein in there with it, which luckily was brown so didn’t get any dye on it.  I need to remember to always wash skeins separately.  I just know I’ll put a red skein in with something white sooner or later and then I’ll be sorry.


What came out of that sink, though, was beautiful.  The dried skein didn’t twist back on itself at all and I finally had a yarn that looked and felt right.  It knits up lovely.


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I have since replicated these results with three other fibers:

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So, what have we learned?


Ignore the twisting skein.  Follow the sample.  The sample will set you free.


Camping and Spinning August 18, 2010

Filed under: spinning — Cailyn @ 1:19 pm
Tags: , , ,

I’ve been on a big spinning kick lately.  Sadly, not in time to participate in the Tour de Fleece.  I’ve been spinning up a storm nonetheless.  Partially I think this urge is because I’m between interesting projects right now.  I’ve submitted a number of designs to places but now I have to wait until I hear back (and they give me yarn) to actually knit these designs.  So, I’ve been spinning (and procrastinating on blogging).


This spinning jag even led me to bringing my spindle with me on a camping trip instead of my knitting.  I’m still working on the alpaca/silk fiber that I bought at Madrona and started spinning in North Carolina.  We camped in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, “near” Mt. St. Helens (not near enough to actually see, though!)


White Salmon camping trip with Dave and Jen 015


I’m using an LED headlamp (Petzl Tikka 2) that my dad got me a few years ago, which is the best crafting tool I have.  It’s incredibly useful- it gives me just the right amount of light on my project without disturbing people around me too much.  I use it at home, in the car, for knitting, spinning, reading- and it’s great during blackouts!  I look like a total dork, but what else is new?  At least I can see my fiber!  Firelight may be romantic, but it’s not very good for detail work. 


White Salmon camping trip with Dave and Jen 061 


I discovered that there is a narrow range in which wine is helpful to the spinning process.  Just enough to loosen me up so that I’m not stopping every five seconds to fix a section that is just slightly thicker than the rest, but not so much that I forget how thick I’m trying to spin my singles. I was very productive and spun almost an ounce of fiber; once I spin the remaining ounce, I’ll be ready to ply.  (And yes, that singles in the ball does smell like camp smoke, but it’s not that bad and I think it will disappear when I wash the final yarn.)




Back at home, I’ve been spinning on my wheel.  I finished some fiber that I’ve been working on and off since Christmas (a reddish-brown merino) and set the bobbins aside to rest while I spun up some fiber that I got for my birthday.  The pictures make it seem much bluer than it is- it’s really an interesting blue/purple/green with some marling (aka barber-poling) and slow fades between the colors.  I didn’t realize that the colors would shift so slowly and so I didn’t divide the fiber very symmetrically when I was setting up to spin.  I don’t really predraft, but I split the fiber into the number of plies I want (so far always two) and then split those piles into workable chunks.  That works great for solid or semi-solid top, but not as great for preserving the color changes/order.




Anyway, I spun the first bobbin with no regard to color order.  To add insult to injury, I also divided the fiber in half and then left the second half alone while I spun the first.  So I didn’t even sub-split the fiber in the same sections.  I have decided that this is not going to bother me.  My first bobbin has color changes frequently and the second has color changes vary rarely.  I will have a very pretty and unpredictable yarn.


Just yesterday I finished up the second bobbin of the blue/purple/green fiber.  I took the bobbin off the wheel and reached down to my lazy kate to get an empty one to ply the reddish merino, proud that I have two full bobbins of each fiber.




And then I remembered that two plus two equals four.  And I only have four bobbins.


Aaaaargh.  I need another bobbin to ply!


Lowell suggested that in the future I need a “Break Glass in Case of Bobbin Emergency” case next to the spinning wheel.