What are they? A sock blank is a pre-knit fabric that is then used in an entirely different way than it’s first rendition. It is not a sock. It is not in the shape of a sock. It is a rectangular shape. Does that make sense?
Why are they call “sock blanks”? I think this name was originally coined by the manufacturers of these fabrics. They were made with sock weight yarn for the hand dyer to dye, paint, or print onto. And there simply hasn’t been a change in name and really there should be. I think there would be less confusion that way.
How do they come? There are “double” sock blanks and “single” sock blanks. Doubles are made with 2 threads in each stitch. Singles have just 1 thread in each stitch.
What can I do with a double? With a double you can knit Two at a Time socks. This way you will get matching socks. You can also just reknit the blank, holding the yarn double to make a cowl or scarf. If you don’t know how to make socks TAAT, then you can knit with one of the threads and you will ball up the other one as you go along. And if you do this you can make socks, scarves or shawls with the single thread.
What can I do with a single? You can reknit this fabric into anything you desire; a cowl, scarf, shawl or even a cardigan.
How do I work with the blank? There is a “live” end that unravels and the cast on edge that doesn’t unravel. So work from the live end. Unravel the stitches as you knit your new garment.
Why would I do this? I hate to rip out knitting! Well the fun part about knitting with sock blanks is that it is a mystery. Your finished product will NOT look like the original. If the sock is dyed in a gradient fashion, it will stay a gradient but will have some striping in it. If it is printed or dyed with a pattern, that pattern will not be maintained. You will have a more spreckled, freckled look to your finished product. What I love about these fabrics is that as I knit, the new fabric is coming into focus. It is becoming its own new fabric. This mysterious nature keeps me knitting. I want to see what will happen next.
Joy is not the same as happiness. Joy is in the small moments. It is in the smell of cinnamon almonds and kettle corn. It is in the turning of the fall leaves. It is in the light playing off the Potomac as you are crossing over it. It is in the feel of a great yarn like our Zephyrette. It is in the feeling you get when you start a new project OR when you finish one. It is in the sound of the trick-or-treaters at your door, the cute ones, not the teenagers (LOL). It is a feeling of connection with other people and with nature. It is the feeling that all is right in your world, right now.
Last week, I wrote about overcoming overwhelm at these shows. I realized just recently, that I need to regain my joy at fiber shows. And I am writing today because I have come to understand that maybe you need to find that joy as well. And while I don’t know if I have all the answers for finding joy instead of overwhelm, I think this is a start.
Before I was a vendor, I would go to these shows as a buyer and a looky-loo and a participant. And it is true that there are a lot of people and a lot of activities and a lot of things to buy. There are things to eat and drink and there are animals and fleeces, too. There is a lot.
Now that I am a seller at these shows, my perspective is a little different. There is all of that still and there is my color work that I have up on my wall for you to look at and hopefully to take home with you. But, I think today I will peel back the curtain and let you know that I have felt myself losing the joy at shows. You know that’s hard to write, because I love what I do. I love to make beautiful color combinations. I love packing up the yarn and roving and putting it up on the grid wall. I love to have you look at what I’ve been making for you. But I feel my joy starts to dissipate as I respond to people telling me that they are overwhelmed or that they just got here and have to look around first or that they are on a fiber diet. I start to take on those feelings too.
My message to you today is this: when you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed at a show, stop and take a moment. Maybe go outside and sit for a minute. Maybe go into that empty booth instead of the one with the line and take a moment to appreciate the work that artist has done. Even if it isn’t anything you want or need, that person has brought it there for you to admire.
I’m asking you to do something not only for me but for all the other artists at the show. Just tell us something good. Tell us that you love our colors. Tell us that you appreciate what we are doing. Tell us that you love that shawl. That kind of interaction will build us up.
And I promise to you that I will do the same. I will complement your sweater or shawl. I will appreciate the colors you put together. Together we can spread that joy throughout the show. We, artists, don’t expect you to buy something at everyone’s booth. Of course, I hope you will find something that you love in my booth. But don’t make an excuse, just say thank you.
And what about that family that is walking too slowly or that person who just stopped dead in her tracks? Spread the joy with them too. Complement them, don’t get angry. It’s supposed to be a fun day not a stressful one. Say a kind word to that person or admire their hat or sweater or shawl that they have made. Feel that connection to the artists, fiber farmers and creatives who are out for a day of joy at the fiber festival. And of course, come by our booth and say Hi! It will be one of the joys in my day!
Rhinebeck is in just a few days on October 21 and 22. There’s nothing like Rhinebeck and we can’t wait to be back again this year. We are in Building A. The weather is usually fantastic! Everyone is out in their special Rhinebeck sweaters. The food is good and diverse. If you haven’t gone, you really need to put this festival on your bucket list, because it is just that good.
New shawl kit includes 5 mini skeins and pattern $35 This the Summer Berry Gradient Set
And if you can’t get to any of these festivals and you see something here that you want to add to your collection, just send me a message and let me know. I can send you a skein or two. I won’t be putting these skeins up on the website until after these shows.
If you are like me, you have many, many hand-dyed yarns in your stash! I am just so drawn to bright, vibrant colors and it is hard to walk away from a beautiful skein. The question is what kind of garment should be made with these yarns to really show them off. I have learned a couple of lessons the hard way and I wanted to share these with you so you will be pleased with your knitting, crocheting or weaving results.
There are 2 categories of hand-dyes: semi-solid and wild color. The skeins below are what I would call wild color. They have multiple colors sitting next to each other in the skein. They can be manipulated to pool if you like seeing spots of color, or they can appear like random color.
When you use a wild color skein, use simple stitches and simple shapes to really show off the colors you so love. Let the color itself do the work. A pattern like Hitchhiker would be wonderful to use. When you use a pattern with more complex shapes or patterns you might get an epic fail, like this shawl I made with a 2 color skein. You can barely see the lovely leaf shapes.
I also love wild color for socks and cowls, because I like to get pooling, stripes, argyles and spirals.
I also like to use the inside and outside of the yarn cake so that each sock has a little different pattern.
Because the wild color skeins have different color placement, for larger projects you may have a pattern change when you switch skeins. You can minimize the jarring effect by knitting from two balls as you end one ball and begin the next. To go even further, you can compare your skeins to determine if the repeats are more similar from one end or the other of your skeins.
The skeins above are semi-solid. They have variable saturation but are all one hue or color. For semi-solid skeins you can use all kinds of fancy stitches and patterns. They are great for cabling and for lacy shawls. They really show off your knitting expertise.
My one big caution is this, even if the skeins were dyed in the same dyepot, at the same time, they still may not match perfectly. Small batch kettle dyeing is just like that. So for bigger projects, like a sweater, you should absolutely knit from 2 balls when you are switching skeins. I would also suggest that you pick your skeins carefully to make sure the ones you get match well. If you don’t do this, you will most probably get a definite line where you changed skeins and after all the work you just put into making this sweater you want to be totally happy with it. Believe me I speak from experience! Another epic fail that I fixed by frogging and redoing is this sweater below. I reknit the entire sweater using two balls. I was so frustrated that I didn’t even take a picture of the failed rendition. Now that sweater gets raves by everyone who sees it.
Wool is so diverse and so can be used for so many different projects with different looks and different hand (they way it feels). To recap, there is a wool out there for all of your projects from soft next to the skin cormo for shawls, scarves and hats to tough lustrous Leicester Longwool for warm rugs or blankets. Wool has memory to spring back when stretch with wearing. It also is very insulating yet it is breathable wicking moisture away from your skin. Next week, The Year of Stash Appreciation will continue with an indepth look at mohair.
What is your next wool project? Post your answers in the comments to share what’s on your needles.
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.
After reading all the previous wool posts, I hope I’ve convinced you that wool is a great all purpose fiber that can be used for all kinds of finished products from hearty rugs to lacy, delicate shawls. Wool blends are designed to combine all the fantastic characteristics of wool with those of other fibers. Designers combine fibers together to make a yarn that solves a problem or serves a niche.
Wool-Mohair Blends: Mohair adds luster to the more matte finish wool. Wool provides the mohair with memory so that your garment will bounce back to it’s original shape. My Fernham yarn is 75% wool and 25% kid mohair. The mohair adds just a touch of light and softness. Mohair dyes vibrantly and gives the blend rich tones.
Mohair can also add strength. I designed our Perendale (wool) and adult Mohair sock yarn blend. The mohair takes the place of nylon in other sock yarns. The Perendale wool gives the sock structure and spring and memory.
Wool-Cashmere Blends: Cashmere gives that incredible softness to the wool blend. It also provides a lot of warmth without adding a lot of weight to the yarn. Cashmere is almost always a shorter staple length than the wool. So it will add a halo to the yarn. It may also migrate out the the yarn and provide a pill factor.
Wool-Silk Blends: Silk lends incredible luster and strength to the wool fibers. Silk is stronger than steel. And there is an undeniable luxury factor when silk is added to wool. Silk also dyes vibrantly with rich tones.
Wool-Alpaca Blends: There are many alpaca wool yarn blends on the market. Many of them are also “baby alpaca” or cria. Just like any baby animal, cria fleeces are very fine and soft, so yarns made with it are also incredibly soft. Alpaca is also very warm and can be heavy. Wool in the blend provides the structure and memory to the yarn, so the yarns will bounce back into shape and not keep “growing”. Alpaca dyes in softer saturation than either silk or mohair.
Wool-Angora Blends: I am just not all that familiar with Angora rabbits and I don’t want to mislead you. I do know that it is incredibly soft and warm. Every angora yarn I’ve seen has almost a brushed appearance. So I wonder if angora is a bit like cashmere, in that, it will migrate out of the yarn and shed. In these blends, wool is definitely adding the structure and stability to the yarn. If you, dear reader, have more info about this add it to a comment and share your knowledge.
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.
What’s the fuss? Should you care about whether your roving or yarn comes from a specific breed or specific individual sheep? What about cross-bred sheep? Is knitting with a breed specific yarn any different than knitting with commercial yarn made from mixed wools?
I raise 2 breeds of sheep: Blue Faced Leicesters and Cormos. They and their fleeces are like night and day. BFL’s are a longwool breed. They grow fleeces that are fine, lustrous and long. The staple length of this wool is usually 5-6 inches. Their fleeces grows in lovely ringlet locks. They are leggy and regal looking with a roman nose. They are also the loudest sheep in the pasture. They are the ones who signal the others when they spot us coming to the barn. Cormos, on the other hand, as shorter and more compact. They grow heavy, fine, crimpy wool that is kind of like a thick blanket all over their bodies. Staple length of my sheep is 3 1/2 to 4 inches.
I chose these 2 breed because I wanted to make some yarn that was lustrous and other yarns that were more squishy and soft. Both of these wools would also be great complements for my mohair for nice yarn blends.
Last year was my first sheep breeding year. I borrowed Finegal from Grindstone Ridge Farm. I made the decision to breed my BFL ewes and 2 of my cormo ewes to see what a cross would be like. About half way through breeding, the open ewes decided that they wanted to be with Finegal too….including a small Icelandic ewe. In fact, she was the instigator. We were able to separate them out after about 2 hours. But 2 hours was enough to get more sheep bred than I wanted.
Last year’s lambs were Purebred 4 BFL’s, 4 BFL X Cormo, and 1 BFL X Icelandic. The cross bred fleeces are fantastic. The BFLXCormo fleeces are longer than their cormo mom’s fleece, but it is denser and crimpier than their BFL dad’s fleece. They don’t have the lock structure of the BFL breed standard. The Ice-Leicester lamb fleece grew as quickly has her mother’s fleece. It was not double coated, but rather a consistent fine fleece. It also didn’t have the BFL lock structure. Her current fleece has grown in differently than the first. It has lock structure. It is extremely dense and soft. It is still a single coat. It will be interesting to see how she continues to develop. I am excited for shearing day in March. I am looking forward to have those cross bred fleeces made into beautiful lustrous, next to the skin yarn.
So back to the original questions. What’s the fuss? Should you care? It depends on your goals. Breed specific yarns and roving can be fun to work with and very educational. You can see and feel the differences between the breeds and pick projects that complement the characteristics of the breeds. Will your knitting be different with these yarns? You may find yourself beginning to be more mindful of your yarn and project combinations as you begin to learn about the different breeds. You will also feel great about supporting individual fiber farms and maybe even your local fiber farm.
Do you have a favorite breed fleece or yarn to work with? Leave us a comment to share your opinion.
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.
Wool is wonderful to dye! It dyes easily. Dyed wool can be lustrous or matte, depending on the type of wool you are using. (see previous post). It can be vibrant and rich or it can be soft and pastel, depending on the amount of dye you use. Wool can be used for all of your creative color schemes and whatever mood you are in. Wool is a protein dye so it needs to be dyed with an acid dye. There are many kinds of acid dyes on the market: Sabraset and AcidWash from ProChem, Cushings, Gaywool, Country Classic and Jacquard Acid Dye, just to name the ones I am familiar with.
There are some principles that you need to know when you are dyeing wool.
1. Wool has scales on the outside of each fiber that protect it. You need to soak the wool in warm to hot water in order to open these scales up. When they are open, the dye can penetrate into the fiber and attach more readily to the dye receptors on the fiber. Give it at least 20 minutes before you add dye, so that this can happen.
2. Not all wool is created equal. Superwash wools have been processed under heat and pressure to remove the scales of the wool. That makes the wool good for people who are sensitive for itchiness and for people who want to wash and dry their wool in machines because it won’t felt. Superwash takes up a lot of dye and in a hurry. This is because those scales are gone and the dye receptor spots are open and available. So you will have very saturated colors that may appear blotchy and uneven.
3. What about felting? I have never felted yarn by agitating it too much in the dyepot. You should take care and move the yarn in slow smooth movements, just to be on the safe side. My only felting disaster, so far, was when I was washing out in the washing machine. I forgot that after you fill up the tub of the washer is starts spinning. I put in the yarn and went out to do chores…when I came back I remembered….DUH!! That yarn was one big mess. I was able to separate it out and use it for my projects. Yarn is a lot more forgiving than say roving. Roving will felt with too much agitation, so don’t touch it or move it a lot when it is in your dye pot. The technique that I use when dyeing roving is to fill the pot with the dye, water and whatever else you need for the dye you are using. Then add the dry roving to it, pushing it into the warm, not hot water. The pushing action gets the dye all throughout the roving without excessive white spaces. Then If I want to add a second or third color I add it after that and move it gently with spoon handle.
4. In that same vein, temperature during dyeing is important. Bring the dyepot up slowly to the simmer, then hold it at that temperature for the entire time that the dye instructions tell you. Many sources will tell you a specific temperature and you may think you need to have a thermometer to monitor that. I don’t think you need to be that fussy about it. Hold it just under a simmer, no boiling for the allotted time and you should be fine. Then cool it down to room temperature before you wash it. The water temperature for your wash out should be about the same temperature as the yarn.
5. To improve the hand, or the way the yarn feels after it is dyed, you can add a softener to it. Wool is a type of mammal hair, so use hair conditioner on it. Fabric softener is fine for cottons, linens or silk, but use hair conditioner on hair.
Where to find us
Open June 16th 2:00-5:00pm
9/14-21 Black Sheep Yarn Shop in Timonium MD
We are at the following fiber shows:
June 1-2 Fiber Art Studio Tour here at the farm
August 10th Fibernate Fiber Farmer’s Market, Vienna, VA 1-5