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Wool Love Wrap-up

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.

merinocloseup
Super fine merino showing the bounty of crimpy goodness.

 

 

What is your next wool project? Post your answers in the comments to share what’s on your needles.

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Stash Appreciation–Wool Blends Part 2–Cellulose and Synthetics

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.

Bamboo Textile Process

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.

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Stash Appreciation–Wool Blends Part 1- Animal

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.

provenceskein
FGF Fernham yarn made in collaboraton with Grindstone Ridge Farm. There are only a limited number of skeins left in this custom mill spun yarn. So if you love it, click on the picture to go to our store and buy as much as you need.

 

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.

psock
FGF sock yarn made with 95% wool from perendale sheep and 5% adult mohair for strength and durability

 

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.

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What It Takes to Make a Farm Yarn

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.

DSCN0624

 

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

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.

FGF mohair

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.

sweitzer's carder

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.

shawl 3

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.

 

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Purebreds, Crosses and Breed Specific Wool Yarn

5530249662_238e476cb1_z
Our Cormo and Blue Faced Leicester ewes

 

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.

purple rain group
BFL mohair yarn from our sheep and goats. This could be yours today!
sauternehills heritage3
100% BFL yarn from my Maryland flocks, including mine. This could be yours today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

fleece
Cross breed fleece

 

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.

 

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Stash Appreciation–Woolen or Worsted Yarn

Woolen spun bottom Worsted spun top
Top: Worsted spun shows more stitch definition Bottom: Woolen spun soft bouncy yarn without stitch definition

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.

Top: fulled Fernham yarn Bottom: unwashed, unfulled Fernham yarn
Top: fulled Fernham yarn
Bottom: unwashed, unfulled Fernham yarn

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.

top: woolen spun bottom: semi-worsted You can see more luster and less halo on the bottom sample
top: woolen spun
bottom: semi-worsted
You can see more luster and less halo on the bottom sample

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.

For more information:

ply worsted
http://plymagazine.com/product/worsted-issue-winter-2014/
ply woolen
http://plymagazine.com/product/woolen-issue-winter-2013/

 

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Dyeing Wool

carnival

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.

The middle fiber is merino and the other 2 are medium wools.
The middle fiber is merino and the other 2 are medium wools. From 1906 publication by Watson Smith.

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.palauandepths1

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.

 

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The Year of Stash Appreciation–WOOL

fleece

The theme of FGF blog this year is a celebration of your stash. I want you to get to know what is in your stash. I want you to be able to make good decisions about which yarn should be used for which project. So I will be writing about the types of fibers and what kinds of patterns and projects will match the yarn you have. You will find information about animal fibers, plant fibers, and fiber blends of all kinds. I also want you to know how to most effectively use your hand dyes and semi-solids.

So this month WOOL is the topic. It is a fascinating, diverse fiber that can be used for so many different kinds of projects.

So let’s start at the beginning. Even if you know a lot about wool, I hope you will learn something new! I learn new things about wool all the time.

Wool is the fiber from a sheep. Duh, right? Well, there are people who call any animal fiber wool. But that isn’t accurate.  There are over a thousand breeds of sheep and each breed has wool that is characteristic for that breed.  Then there are crosses of those purebreds and their wool is a combination of the breeds that they come from.

Wool characteristics are classified by the variables of crimp, staple length, fiber diameter and the mix of fibers within the wool.  Crimp is the zig-zaggy nature of the wool. Fleeces with a lot of crimp tend to be softer next to the skin. This is because when the fiber touches a barrier, like your skin, the fiber will bend and not feel prickly on your skin. Crimpy yarns are also more elastic yarns, so they are great to use for items where elasticity is important like hats or socks. Crimpy yarns also tend to be from fine wool sheep.

Staple length is the typical length of each fiber. It usually represents one year’s growth for sheep.  Shorter staple lengths can give a yarn that will pill, since it may not be twisted well enough in the yarn.  However, longer staple lengths can at times yield a coarser  yarn.  Fleeces that are in the range of 4-6 inches are usually the easiest to make into a nice soft yarn.

Fiber diameter is measured in microns. A micron is one millionth of a meter. Some producers measure micron counts for their fleeces. Micron counts are done on a 2 inch sample of the best fiber (shoulder area) of the animal. The report shows a graph of all the different fibers in that sample and what most people talk about it the AVERAGE micron count.  What you need to know is that 2 fleeces could have the same average micron count and yet FEEL different.  One could still feel softer than the other even though the average fiber diameter is the same. This is because the blend of fibers within those samples is different.

The last variable for wool is the mix of fibers within that fleece. Every fleece is made up of diverse fibers. However there are many breeds that are called double coated, where there are 2 very distinct fibers within that fleece. One maybe more hair like and the other a soft downy undercoat. Some breeds also have kemp fibers in their wool. These are hollow fibers that are shorter, coarser and more brittle. They take dye differently so can give the wool a heathery, tweedy look.

When buying a fleece, roving or yarn, you can use these variables to make your purchasing decisions. You can pull out a small sample or just look at the ends of the roving or yarn. You can “eyeball” the fiber. Does it look fine? Can you see any crimp in the individual fibers? Can you see some fibers that are significantly different? And finally, how does it feel? Put it next to your neck. Is it soft enough to wear next to your skin? If not, is it the kind of yarn that you would want to make a sweater or other outerwear item?  Or is it something that you would want to spin and weave into a rug, pillow or other home decor item.

What do you have in your stash? Is there yarn there that you bought because you loved the color but now you think is just too coarse? I have a few skeins in this category that I purchased over the years. If so pull these out, look at them and put them into a separate boxes marked wool–outerwear or wool-home decor.

Tell me what you found in your stash. What have you been collecting?

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Swatching and Stash Appreciation

stitch samples

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.

yarn 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.spinner's control card

 

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!!

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Magic Numbers, Pooling and My New Pink Cowl

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.

BFL DK Amsterdam Tulip 200 yd per skein $22
BFL DK Amsterdam Tulip 200 yd per skein $22

 

sample measuring repeat

 

 

 

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.

 

right side sample

sample back side

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

cowl3

cowl 1