I am asked all the time about whether my yarns are color fast and wash fast. And my usual answer is yes. But I need to clarify that answer. And I’m going to try to not sound like too much of a chemistry geek, so here goes.
The dyes that are made to dye protein fibers are called acid dyes. There are many different formulations of these dyes but they all work the same way.
To be totally washfast, the dye molecules need to hold on to the fiber like you would hold onto your child on a busy street. You have a strong grip on your child and he or she won’t be able to get loose. But acid dyes don’t work that way. They have a very loose grip, more like holding someone’s hand with your pinkie. In the right conditions, that pinkie can slip away. Wool, silk, mohair and alpaca fibers hold the dye particles very weakly.
If you wash or rinse your yarn or your knitted garment in HOT water, the dye will fall off and you can have bleeding into other colors that are nearby. This is especially true with reds and turquoises.
If you are buying roving there is another layer to the story. With roving, dyers need to be very careful not to felt it when dyeing and rinsing, so there may be more loose dye particles in roving. When you are drafting and spinning your roving into yarn, you can be dislodging these tiny particles from the fiber and so when you rinse your yarn to set the twist you may have more dye run off. So be mindful of that. Again, rinse your newly spun yarn with cool or cold water.
Good dyeing technique makes sure all the dye in the pot is now on the yarn or fiber. It’s called exhausting the pot. Good dyeing technique makes sure that there is plenty of time for the dye to attach to the fiber at the correct temperature. And finally good dyeing technique makes sure that the yarn or fiber is rinsed and that the water from that rinsing is clear without any dye particles in it. And know that all my of yarn and fiber has gone through these 3 steps.
Now if you are spinning the roving and your hands are becoming pink or blue, that roving hasn’t been properly heat set and rinsed. That’s a bad dye job. If you get a roving like that I would urge you to wet the fiber, wrap it in plastic wrap or put it in a plastic bag and steam it for 10 minutes. Then you can let it cool and rinse it out. That should fix the problem and this should have been done by the dyer.
So how should you wash your garments or yarn? If you are making a fair isle or other colorwork item, rinse the yarn before you do all that knitting. You will be able to tell if the yarn will run and you will mitigate the problem before it is a problem. And each time you wash your hand knit or crocheted items, you should wash in cool or tepid water. Use a nice wool cleaner, I use The Laundress Wool and Cashmere Shampoo and then lay flat to dry.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what all those ways that yarn manufacturers, including myself, categorize the yarn. There are so many ways of speaking about the size of the yarn. The standard yarn weight information is set up in a table with discreet squares. But I’ve been studying this lately and I’ve noticed that there is overlap, a lot of overlap among the yarn weights. So it seems to me that this is really a continuum. Just look at the info about YPP, yards per pound, the overlap here is really large. Why is that? It has to do with the spinning process.
Was it spun in a woolen way with lots of air and softly spongy and so it has a bigger diameter? Or was it spun in a worsted way which compacts the fibers and aligns them all in one direction and so it appears thinnner. These two yarns could have the same YPP but a different grist or appearance and they will behave very differently. So use these as a guide, but the ultimate test is your own swatch. These two yarns were both supposed to be a DK weight. But the diameter is SOOOOO different. They knit up differently too. The green one knits like a lace weight yarn. It is our Heritage BFL yarn. And the turquoise yarn is Fingal’s and truly knits like a DK yarn. It is also made with BFL wool and both were made at the same mill. Go figure!!
This really comes into play when you are wanting to make that special sweater. You are wanting to use yarn from your stash, not go out and buy the yarn that the designer used. Or maybe that yarn isn’t available anywhere near you. This is when those standard yarn weights become important. And even more important than that, is to knit up a swatch. Not only a stockinette swatch but also a swatch in pattern.
But is a swatch important when it is for a garment that doesn’t fit your body, like a shawl or a cowl? Well, I think getting the gauge close is important so that the stitches look the same. You may not need to get it “exactly” right if it isn’t going to “fit” your body. What is important to do is to check the size of the finished project, because many times the photographs used in the pattern, may be on a mannequin and not a person. It may be made for an extremely small or large person, someone whose body is vastly different than yours. Sometimes making a swatch seems like wasting your time and a waste of yarn. You will probably only need 25-50 yards for a swatch. It will reduce the chance that you would need to frog your project. I think it is important to make sure that the stitches look right. You may be a looser knitter than the designer or vice versa. So changing your needle size will be just what you need to get your swatch to look like the picture. Those are important questions to answer and it is worth the time to figure this out before you jump into your garment.
Mohair is an incredible fiber: strong, brilliant, resilient, warm, breathable and renewable. It does do better when it is blended with another fiber. Mohair in yarn can add a nice halo or fuzziness to the yarn. It also gives off it’s brilliant shine and luster. But by itself it can be a bit heavy. In the wrong kind of garment or the wrong kind of stitch it can be too slinky to keep the structure you intended. Many other writers have said that mohair has elasticity. It may have some, but it does not have the memory that wool has. Once it has stretched out, it is nearly impossible to get it back. You see, mohair wants to stretch out to its original somewhat straight shape.
When I design a yarn for my mohair, I go two routes. I make a 100% mohair that is tightly spun and a little less tightly plied. That way the mohair is stabilized, the sheen is apparent and the hand (the way it feels) is soft. I only use kid or yearling fleeces for this kind of yarn. This yarn is great for garments or accessories that call for drape, like a shawl or a scarf.
For a great tapestry yarn, I have my adult mohair spun in a fingering weight that is pretty tightly spun. This fine yarn will do well for tapestry weavers who want to blend colors for shading. Because it is a singles yarn, there are no ply shadows and the luster shines through. It is a very strong and durable yarn as well.
My blended yarns are designed in two veins as well. One yarn I blend uses adult mohair as a substitute for nylon in sock yarn. Adult mohair is lends it’s strength and durability to the fingering weight yarn. This sock yarn is totally renewable and natural without using man-made materials.
The second way I blend uses kid mohair with my crimpy, squishy Cormo or BFL fleeces to make lovely worsted weight yarn. The mohair gives a little halo and some shine to the wool. This yarn is fantastic to use for sweaters, hats, and mittens. It shows off beautiful lace patterns and your cables will pop out from the background stitches. We currently have many colorways of Fingal and Fernham in the shop.
If you are local, you can see our yarns in person at the Homespun Yarn Party Sunday 3/22 from 12-5pm in the Savage Mill Ballroom. Click here for more information.
What mohair blends do you have in your stash?
Effective yarn designers take many factors into consideration: fiber price, feel, structure, weight, and staple length to name a few. Why make a blend with wool and a plant or man-made fiber? It depends. Each of these blends starts with the incredibly versatile wool fiber and adds properties of luster, strength or temperature control to the resulting yarn. Adding rayon/Tencel/Viscose/Lyocell gives yarn the look of silk without the price of silk. All these processes were developed to mimic the silk fiber with it’s high glossy look. Adding nylon gives strength, while adding cotton reduces the warmth of the end garment. We’ll look at each of these.
Wool-Tencel: Tencel is a trade name for a particular rayon. It is made by breaking down woody plants and even wood into small molecules of cellulose. It is then extruded in the same way that spaghetti is extruded. The manufacturer can make any length staple length to match a wool staple that it will be blended with. Since there are no scales on the skin of each fiber, it is highly lustrous. But the flip side to that is that it is inelastic. It also lends incredible drape and softness to any fiber it is blended with.
Wool-Bamboo: Bamboo is just another type of Tencel/Rayon/Viscose. In these yarns, the plant is bamboo. It is hyped as a eco-fiber based on the fantastic growth and proliferation of bamboo. In fact, large areas of food producing land in other countries is being planted with bamboo. It is important to know that the making of bamboo fiber (yarn and textiles) is not as environmentally friendly as the photo above would have you believe. The digestion process uses toxic chemicals like sulfuric acid and large amounts of water. Some bamboo textiles claim to be organic, they may have been grown organically, however the manufacturing process would not be able to meet organic standards. In fact, many of the characteristics of bamboo such as its anti-bacterial property are lost because of the process used to make the fiber. There are some manufacturers who use mechanical breakdown which uses less chemicals and water to break down the plants. At this time there is no labeling requirement, so you can’t really tell which yarn would be produced in this more environmentally friendly way.
Wool-Lyocell: Lyocell again is just a type of tencel. But the manufacturing process used involves less chemicals and so is less ecologically toxic. This system is also on a closed loop, meaning that the chemicals and water are reused rather than just dumped into the local environment.
Wool-Cotton: There are a few of these blends available in the commercial market. They are sturdy yarns that can be used for projects for warmer climates where 100% wool would be too warm. The wool and cotton are both “breathable” and the cotton tends to stay cooler against your skin.
Wool-Nylon: These blends are typically found in yarn intended for socks. Nylon is a man-made fiber that is extremely strong and durable. Since socks get a lot of abrasion, nylon helps them last longer. Nylon also returns to it’s original shape after being stretched.
Wool-Acrylic: These blends tend to have wool as a lower percentage (20-30%) of the yarn than the acrylic. Sometimes nylon is added to this mix as well. These yarns all claim to be machine washable and can be put into a dryer as well. They are great for easy care garments and especially for infant or child items. The yarns are also designed to be very soft which is a characteristic that most people want in their garments. These blends are the entry point for new knitters. Hopefully after knitting basics are mastered, knitters will moving into more adventurous yarns.
Do you have any of these blends in your stash? Do you have a favorite to use? What projects have you made with it? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.
I am asked all the time about making yarn from the fleeces of our animals. It all begins with the animals. A fiber farmer chooses what animals they will raise. Some are looking purely at fleeces, others research the general health or thriftiness of the breed itself. You can read about my choice of breeds: Blue Faced Leicester, Cormo and Angora Goats here.
Growth and maintenance of fleeces is a year round task. Many fiber farmers cover their sheep year-round to minimize the dirt and hay that can end up in fleeces. Some long wool breeds and angora goats don’t tolerate the covers as the fleeces felt under the covers. Covers themselves can be tricky when the animals are in between sizes, like my yearlings are right now. The covers are either too small and restrictive or too loose so they fall off. So we need to also look at how we feed hay so that the sheep and goats don’t pull hay on top of themselves.
Shearing can be done once or twice a year. It is important to shear carefully so that their aren’t second cuts. These are small usually less than 1/2 inch staple length pieces that result from the shearer making a second pass on the fleece. I am so lucky to have the services of an excellent professional shearer, Emily Chamelin. She shears quickly so the animals are not traumatized and with very few second cuts.
photo by Kelsey
After shearing, we need to skirt the fleece. This means that the nasty and really dirty bits are removed from the prime fleece. At this point, I make the decision about the fate of each fleece. Is it clean enough to be sold to a handspinner? Is the character of the fleece consistent throughout the fleece? If so that fleece can be set aside for our prime yarn. Or are there neck and leg parts that are not the same quality? If this is the case, I take off those pieces and collect them from all the fleeces to be made into a different kind of yarn or roving.
When I have a sufficient quantity of prime Cormo or Blue Faced Leicester, I can then make my design decisions about the yarn. What weight? Blended with what? What kind of ply? Which mill to use for which processes? Collaborate with another fiber farmer to increase the quantity?
I choose to use a mill because I have limited time available to do the rest of the processing myself. The mill will wash, pick, card, comb, spin, ply and skein the yarn for me. Each process adds a cost to the end product. Whether it is the machinery, the operator or both, I have found that each mill has adds character to the yarn as well. My understanding of what the mill adds is part of my yarn design process. One spins and plies more tightly, another has a looser ply resulting in a less structured yarn.
My newest custom farm yarn is Cirrus. It is a 3 ply Fingering weight blend of wool and alpaca all locally grown and custom mill spun. Each skein is 600 yards. The wool and alpaca are fine with a lot of crimp. The alpaca does not take the dye to the same saturation as wool, so there is a heathery or tweedy appearance. There is enough yarn in each skein to make a beautiful shawl that will be soft, warm and lightweight. To buy this yarn now, click on the photo and you will find it in our webstore.
So next time you look at a yarn from a fiber farm, you will understand all the individual tasks and decisions made by that shepherd: breed, feed, shearing, skirting, processing all goes into making that yarn that you will use to make a beautifully crafted item that will be cherished for years to come.
Like cousins, woolen and worsted yarns have the same genetic profile, but look and act completely different from one another. Woolen yarns are generally the least expensive industrial yarns to make. This is because there are fewer steps in the manufacturing process. They can also use shorter fibers so many mills even use reclaimed or recycled fibers left over from other yarn making processes. The mills tend to spend a lot more time carding these fibers in order to get a more perfect blending and a better end product. During carding, the fibers are aligned somewhat, but when they get the the spinning step, they are still disorganized. The resulting yarn that is lofty and springy and less dense and smooth than it’s worsted cousin. The spinning is often quicker, producing a yarn with a thicker diameter that has less fibers and more air pockets inside.
Woolen yarns have a more matte finish. They are very absorbent, making them great for soakers (like these). But they also tend to collect more dirt on the outside, so frequent gentle washing may be needed more often. They tend to be the yarns that felt well, but they also can produce pills when abraded. They are very warm and insulating primarily from those air pockets. Woolen yarns are good for warm, winter outerwear, like cowls, hats, scarves, handwarmers, mittens, gloves and sweaters. These yarns are very elastic and tend to be easier to break. This quality makes them useful for knitting, crochet and weft, but not a good candidate for warp threads in weaving. Because they are so lofty, hair and squishy, they do not have good stitch definition, so don’t use these yarns for fancy lace or cabled knits.
Worsted yarns are more expensive to manufacture because there are more steps involved. Wools that are usually made in a worsted or semi-worsted style are long wools with staples from 4-8 inches in length. Fleeces from breeds such as Leicester Longwools, Wensleydales, Lincolns and Teaswaters, are typically spun in a worsted style. After carding, the worsted process proceeds to combing. In this step, short or damaged fibers are removed from the web or batt. The fibers are also aligned longitudinally producing a highly organized and more uniform product called top or combed top. During spinning, the yarn becomes highly twisted and extremely strong. The yarn is more dense and heavier than woolen spun yarns with the same diameter.
Worsted yarns have a lot of luster. The wool scales are all aligned and are able to reflect light from their uniform surface. This quality makes them a great yarn to choose when knitting lace. The yarns are smooth and tightly twisted which means they can show off your fancier stitches such as cables. They are strong and durable so projects like socks will last a long time without abrading or pilling from use. Because they are so dense, they are not very absorbent, however once wet they take a long time to dry.
How do you find these yarns? If you are buying commercial yarns, the labels do not tell you how they were spun. So use your senses. Is the yarn smooth and tightly twisted? Then it is a worsted type yarn. Is the yarn more loft and bouncy? It is a woolen type yarn. If you are buying yarn from fiber farmers, ask them! They should know how their yarns were processed and what specifications they mill used to make the yarn. If you are buying handspun yarn, the spinner will surely be able to tell you if she spun it in a woolen, worsted or semi-worsted style.
What about the term worsted weight in yarn patterns and labels? That term is totally different than worsted spun. Worsted weight is a term coined by Craft Yarn Council o It refers to the diameter of the yarn. You can find woolen and worsted spun yarns in worsted weight. These yarns have a number 4 on the label and are considered the medium weight yarn. It is the most popular yarn weight because it can be successfully used by makers of all skill levels. It is also a good all around weight to use in the most popular handmade items such as garments and blankets.
Now go and look at your stash with new eyes! Do you have a preponderance of bouncy, squishy woolen type yarns to make into soft winter warm items? Or do you have a lot of highly twisted smooth yarn to make into durable socks? Or maybe you have a combination because you love to make all kinds of items. Leave us a note about what you find.
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Do you swatch? I hear all the time that people do not like to swatch so they don’t swatch. I suppose if you are making a shawl or scarf that doesn’t need to be a particular size you don’t need to. Or if you buy the yarn that the pattern says to use, you don’t need to. Or if you have a head, feet or hands that are “normal” size for most hats, socks or mittens, you wouldn’t need to. But if you are making a fitted garment, like a sweater or using custom spun yarn from a farm or if you are “shopping” in your stash, you need to swatch.
But if you are like me, swatching can save you time and heartache in the end. I do have a small stash, but more importantly, since my yarn is custom spun, I have yarns that aren’t the same as the yarns you can get at your LYS or craft store. I want to use it and I want to share it. So I need to make sure that I know what it will do and how it will knit up. Sorry crocheters, I really can’t figure out crocheting. I need to know what special mojo my yarns have so that I can share them with the world. So I must swatch.
For my famous Celtic Cardigan, I wanted to use my Fernham’s Choice yarn. It is a 80/20 blend of Blue Faced Leicester and kid mohair. It is a wonderful squishy worsted weight yarn, perfect for a warn cardigan. The pattern called for 18 stitches/26 rows + 4 inches on size 8 needles in the stockinette stitch. and each cable had it’s own gauge as well. I swatched and swatched until I got that gauge, but the needle size was different. If I hadn’t figured that out, I would have ended up with a sweater that was totally the wrong size. Even with this swatching, when I started knitting in earnest, my gauge loosened and I ended up about 6 inches too wide. This would have been devastating if I wasn’t already having to take out the sweater for the million other things I didn’t like about my knitting.
The lesson for me is to swatch before I make any larger project. I will also be swatching for my customers, in order to get a good idea of the gauge for my custom yarns. What I like to do is to make a 5 inch square that is surrounded by about a half inch border of seed stitch with a 4 inch area of stockinette. To determine needle size, I use a spinner’s control card to get an idea of the WIP (wraps per inch) which I can then translate to the standard yarn language of lace, fingering, sport, dk, worsted, etc. That gives me an appropriate needle size to use for my swatch. If I start to knit and find that the needle size isn’t quite right, I simply take note of that for my swatch tag and change the needle up or down.
So when you see my gauge on the labels that is your jumping off place. Each knitter has their own “gauge” as well. Are you a tight or loose knitter? So you throw (English) or pick (Continental)? After some time knitting, you will know your knitting “handicap”. At the trunk show recently, a group of knitters came into the shop. They began to talk about going up or down a needle size (or two) from the posted gauge of a yarn. I haven’t gotten to that point yet. I do know I’m on the tighter end of knitting.
I hope you are inspired to do some swatching before starting that sweater or using that luxury yarn like our Zephyrette. What have you learned about your knitting style through swatching? Do you have a swatching (or not swatching) story to share? I’d love to read your stories and learn for you too!!
This is the last of my exercises in the Munsell Color book. I have learned a lot doing these exercises. Probably more importantly is that these exercises have trained my color “eye”. There were three exercises, “purple”, “red-purple”, and “blue purple”. You can see from these photos that there are various concentrations of red and blue in these 3 color exercises. Here is what I started with today.
Next,I sorted out the most gray of the chips. These belong on the value scale. Next I matched the color chips to the saturation of the gray chip. Unfortunately, I’m missing one chip….I did look and look, but it vanished….
It all started with too many snow days in a row. I had this knitting book that I bought last summer and it’s been sitting on my shelf. I had opened it a couple of times but just looked so complicated that after flipping through page after page of beautiful hand knit tunics, hats, scarves and sweaters, it would go back to the shelf. Last Friday, I took it off the shelf. I armed myself with post-its, a highlighter and the desire to learn more about knitting. The book is Artful Color, Mindful Knits: The DEFINITIVE guide to working with Hand-Dyed Yarns but Laura Militzer Bryant.
Hand-dyeing is what I do. It is my passion. I love when the colors make a pattern similar to ikat weaving. I did have an understanding that the patterning was a result of the number of stitches, but I thought it was a fluke or serendipity. Well, it’s not. This book teaches you to understand the way a yarn has been dyed, whether it is dyed across like stripes on the skein or whether it has been dyed around where the skein is dipped into successive dye pots to achieve color. Of course there are many more techniques to get color on the skein but these two are the ones that produce the most noticeable patterning. Sometimes when you buy skeins the dyers have kept the skein as it was out of the pot. There it is easy to see the color transitions and to understand how it was dyed. However there are other dyers, myself included, who reskein the yarn to show the interactions of the colors.
Very simply, to determine the magic number of your yarn, you need to determine the repeat. Then you need to swatch. This will help you determine how much yarn you use in each stitch. Of course this number will change with needle size and yarn weight. You do a simple calculation to get your magic number on that yarn, with that stitch and those needles. A knitter can stack colors, make the colors zig-zag, or spiral with a few minor tweaks to the magic number.
Here is my yarn: it’s magic number is 73. This is our BFL DK yarn in Amsterdam Tulip colorway using a size 8 needle about 4.5 stitches per inch.
In the first experiment I used half magic number of 36.5 +1.5 for 38 stitches across. I used a fisherman rib (k1, p1). The result was different on each side and really striking. The fabric was a bit heavy though and I knew I wouldn’t be happy with it, so I ripped it out.
Then I decided to do a ribbed lace pattern with 8 rows of stockingette between the ribs. I used double the magic number + 2 and knit in the round. The pattern is a bit more mixed, however there is a spiral pattern going on in the colors. This cowl actually took 1.5 skeins about 300 yards. When you start your next skein, you need to match new yarn to the same place in the repeat, so that you don’t disrupt the pattern. This took me a bit of time but I was really pleased with the results.