The Daily Skein

All the craft that’s fit to make.

How to Use a McMorran Balance for Fun and Profit August 9, 2011

Filed under: Spinning Tutorial — Cailyn @ 4:23 pm
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I am addicted to spinning lace yarn right now.  I don’t know why.  I’ve always been attracted to tiny crafts- I used to make little tiny sculptures from polymer clay.  Before that, I would “miniaturize” anything I learned, like “god’s eyes” (I think I was about 8 when I learned that one).  Once I got the hang of making one with popsicle sticks and worsted yarn, I started making them with toothpicks and embroidery floss.  So I guess it was really just a matter of time before I found the tiny singles of laceweight.  Before I left for Sock Summit, I finished up this pretty skein.




It’s spun from a 70% merino/30% silk blend that I bought a few years back, one of my first fiber purchases!


Weaving Works Merino-Silk  115_5646


I don’t knit much lace, though, so I offered this skein to a friend who loves purple.  Since I wanted to know how much I was giving her, I pulled out my McMorran balance.  A McMorran balance is a nice, inexpensive little piece of equipment made from, basically, an acrylic box with some slots in it and an acrylic arm that wobbles.  The magic is in the calibration.  It’s calibrated to measure 1/100th of a pound.  (Metric versions can be purchased if you’re not down with the inches and ounces.)  Here’s what I did to measure my handspun (using some green Cascade 220 as the yarn, because lace yarn doesn’t show up well in photos):




Here’s the McMorran balance sitting on the edge of a book.  You’ll see why it’s on a book shortly.  See how the notched part of the arm is tilted up?  That means the weight of the notched end is lighter than the solid end.  Let’s add some yarn!




Cut off a 6-10" piece of the yarn you’re measuring.  The thinner/lighter the yarn, the longer the piece you’ll need (laceweight might need a much longer piece, or several pieces).  This piece is much heavier than the solid end of the arm.  You can see that the ends of the yarn are below the bottom of the balance- that’s why it’s a good idea to place the scale at the edge of a table, so that the yarn can hang freely.


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Cut off a little bit of the yarn, then let the scale settle back.  Is it balanced (is the arm horizontal/not tilted)?  If not, trim off another little bit.  The key here is to trim off just a tiny bit each time.  You can always cut more off, but it’s not easy to fix if you overshoot!




When the arm is horizontal, remove the piece of yarn and measure it with a ruler.  Don’t stretch it out so it’s taut, but you want it to be straight.  Let’s say this piece is 6” long.  Now for a little math:


Multiply the length of yarn by 100.  (6 inches x 100 = 600)


The resulting number is your “yards per pound” or ypp.  (600 ypp)


Chances are good that you don’t have a full pound of yarn, though!  Divide the number above by 16 (the number of ounces in a pound) to get the “yards per ounce” or ypo.  (600 ypp/16 oz = 37.5 ypo)


Now weigh your skein.  Multiply the weight of your skein by the ypo.  (2.3 oz x 37.5 ypo= 86.25 yards)


The final number is how many yards are in your skein.  (86.25 yards)


The instructions are the same for a metric version, but the math at the end is a little different.  I haven’t actually found the calculation online anywhere, but the balances come with the formula.


So, in the end, it turns out that I have about 400 yards of my handspun laceweight.  Not bad!


Make a Clock! April 5, 2011

Filed under: Patterns,Sewing Projects — Cailyn @ 5:48 pm
Tags: ,

I had some time between sock designs recently and I didn’t want to start a new knitting project before my yarn arrived for my Tangled sock.  So, I decided to make a clock with an embroidered face!



Pretty, yes?  I think I’ll put it in my guest room.  And so easy to make.  Here, I’ll show you how:



  • Wooden embroidery hoop
  • Fabric to embroider on
  • Embroidery floss
  • Needle
  • Cardboard or foamcore
  • Glue
  • 1 1/4-inch clock movement kit (found online or at general craft stores)




I used a 6 inch embroidery hoop for my clock.  Use a bigger or small hoop for a bigger/smaller clock. 


Design your clock face.  I used MS Publisher to lay it all out but you can do it by hand too.  I made a 6 inch circle, then placed a free embroidery design in the center and found a fun font for the numbers.  Here are two of my finalists; I chose the one on the right, although I made some minor changes to it as I embroidered.


Clock Face  Clock Face2


Transfer your design to your fabric however you’d like.  I used the window as a light box and traced the design on to some muslin.  Although I didn’t actually use the wooden hoop while I was stitching.  I can only embroider using the seafoam green plastic hoop that I got as a kid when I did cross stitching.  I can’t get any other hoop to work for me- they’re always too awkward.  Early conditioning, I suppose!




Embroider the clock face.  I marked the center hole for the clock mechanism and surrounded it with a buttonhole stitch- the clock mechanism is about 5/16 inch diameter.  I satin stitched the numbers with three strands of floss.  The little accents are either a single stitch with one strand or a French knot with three strands.  The main design is done with three strands of floss in stem stitch with some lazy daisies and satin stitch for accents.  Only the lazy daisies are done with a full six strands of floss.


Once that’s done, take care of the fabric like you would any embroidery (a gentle handwash, maybe a light pressing, what have you).  Hopefully however you transferred your design comes off easier than mine did!  Make sure it’s dried before putting the clock together.


Use the inner circle of your wooden hoop and trace the inside of it on the cardboard or thin foamcore.  I used some white cardboard.  Make sure that whatever you use doesn’t show through your fabric.  Cut out the circle and test to see that it fits snugly in the inner circle.  Trim or cut another one if it doesn’t.  Find the center and cut a hole for the clock mechanism to go through.  You can also do this part later, cutting through both the fabric and backing, but I think that’s more annoying.




Place the fabric back in the wooden hoop and tension to your liking.  Place the backing piece into the inner circle, pressing it up against the fabric.  Once everything’s perfect, you can trim off the extra fabric with scissors or an X-acto knife and use a little glue to keep the edges from fraying or tack them down on the wrong side of the clock.


IMG_5063  IMG_5064


Assemble the clock hands according to the clock maker’s instructions.  (As you can see, I assembled the clock then trimmed my extra fabric.)




Put in a battery, hang on the wall, and enjoy!




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.)


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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.


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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!


Purl Cast On January 26, 2011

Filed under: knitting tutorials — Cailyn @ 12:38 pm
Tags: , , ,

It’s no secret that I love the long-tail cast on.  It’s a nice mix of firm and stretchy.  It doesn’t mutate into extra-long loops as you work the first row.  It’s pretty fast to do.


The long-tail cast on is essentially a cast on combined with a row of knitting, done at the same time.  That’s what gives it those wonderful properties.  That means that the long-tail should count as the first right side row of any work.  The long-tail cast on looks like a row of knit stitches, which is great if you’re working a piece of stockinette.  But what if you want your cast on to match the ribbing at the bottom of the sweater and are a relentless perfectionist?


If you can cast on and knit simultaneously, then you can cast on and purl simultaneously too.


Let’s review the knit long-tail a bit:



Hold the working yarn (coming from the ball) over your thumb.  Hold the long tail over your index finger. (Or vice-versa.)  Let the loose ends drape down your palm and grasp them lightly in your other fingers.  This forms two loops, one over your thumb and one over your index finger.


115_5406  115_5407

The needle moves around and under the outer strand on the thumb and comes up in the middle of the loop.  Then the needle goes under the closest strand on the index finger, from outside moving inwards.  The strand is pulled through the loop and the resulting stitch is tightened up. 


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The right side and wrong side of the cast on.


For the purl long-tail cast on, the set up is the same.  Hold the yarn as if to do a regular long-tail cast on.


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The needle moves around and under the outer strand on the index finger and comes up in the middle of the loop.  Then the needle goes under the closest strand on the thumb, from inside moving outwards.  The strand is pulled through the loop and the resulting purl stitch is tightened up. 


115_5415  115_5417

The right side and wrong side of the cast on.  See the purls?


115_5413  Snapshot 1 (1-25-2011 4-16 PM) (2)

Make sure that the needle goes under the strand from behind.  If the needle goes under from the front of the strand, the stitch will be twisted.


Look, a video!  There’s no sound, just real-time cast ons.  Exciting!


Chainmaille Pt 3 April 5, 2010

Filed under: Chainmaille Tutorials,Tutorials — Cailyn @ 2:14 pm
Tags: , ,

I don’t have anything interesting to say about knitting today.  So here’s a chainmaille tutorial!


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These balls are really fun to make.  They’re also impossible not to play with.  People simply cannot walk by without picking one up and fiddling with it.  When I sold jewelry at craft fairs, I always sold more of these balls than anything else.  When I realized that I should just be making balls and nothing else for the fairs, I decided to stop selling my chainmaille.  I just couldn’t churn out hundreds of these balls all the time- it wasn’t very creative, I wanted to make jewelry.  Luckily, this decision coincided with my starting to design knitting patterns, so it was okay.  You can see the sad remains of the ball-basket at the end of a fair day in this picture.


Booth Close Up  


The balls in the pictures are made from anodized aluminum, which I bought from the Ring Lord.  Made with thick gauge rings, they’re good for juggling, keychains, paperweights, and just plain old playthings.  My friend, Trina, makes some stunning pendants and earrings with these balls in precious metals and tiny rings.  She also makes lots of other stunningly beautiful pieces of jewelry!


100_1084   100_2321 (2)


From my previous posts on chainmaille:

To make chainmaille, you need two pairs of piers. Most chainmaillers use needle nose or chain nose, but I like to use a pair of bent nose pliers and a pair of flat nose pliers. Pliers without teeth are best if you’re going to be making silver or gold jewelry.  You’ll hold a pair of pliers in each hand, using them to open and close jump rings by twisting them towards and away from you. (Never pull jump rings from side to side! It’ll weaken the metal and mess up the shape of the ring.)

The jump rings can be made by hand by wrapping wire around a dowel to get a coil, then cutting the coil with snips or a jeweler’s saw to get individual rings. Or, my favorite method, save yourself the hassle and let a machine do all that coiling and cutting for you! Trust me, it takes forever to get enough rings for a large project like a necklace. Some of my favorite jump ring suppliers are the Ring Lord (great prices and variety, but terrible shipping time) and Spiderchain, a very talented chainmaille artist and of course, there are many suppliers on Etsy (including my destash!)

Chainmaille rings are “named” using the gauge of the wire used and the diameter of the dowel used to make the rings. For example, if I were to wrap a 20ga wire around a 1/8″ dowel rod, I would have a 20ga 1/8″ ring. Some ring sizes are better than others for certain weaves, like suggested needle sizes for knitting. You don’t want to knit fingering weight with size 7 needles (most of the time) and you don’t want to make a Byzantine weave with 18ga 1/8″ rings. Unlike knitting, though, where you can still knit with non-recommended needles, if you have a ring that is too small the weave will just not work. You just won’t be able to fit all the rings together. Most weaves have an “aspect ratio” that works best. The aspect ratio of a ring is the mm or inch measurement of the ring’s inner diameter (the space inside the ring) divided by the width of the wire (the mm or inch measurement, not the gauge). This is a great article about the effect of aspect ratio (or AR) on chainmaille: Aspect Ratio on Maille Artisans.


Download the tutorial here: Chainmaille Ball (PDF)



Want more chainmaille?

Chainmaille Pt 1: Byzantine Weave

Chainmaille Pt 2: European 4-1 Weave