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The Health and Wellness Benefits of Knitting and Crochet

colorwork mittens

It’s a proven fact. There is research. Yes, knitting and crochet does in fact enhance your health and well being.  I know that when I am feeling low and tired, but still feel the need to “do” something, I take out my project bag and knit a few stitches or rows or repeats. I also take my knitting to meetings. Keeping my hands busy with knitting does keep my mind focused on during this meeting.  Thankfully my boss is not bothered by this, in fact she does put out crafts and fiddles to keep hands busy and minds available for learning.  I do have to say that I usually take “brainless” knitting that I can do without following a chart or thinking too much about what is being made. 

I’ve noticed an uptick in the number of women, children and men who are knitting and crocheting, especially in the age range from 25-35. We even had a young man (13?) search us out at 3 fiber festivals this fall to buy yarn and roving. I can’t wait to see what he makes with his collection. So you can imagin how really happy I am to see a great article and a new book on the subject. 

 

Here is what I’ve learned so far:

  • Repetitive motion induces a kind of relaxed state that is similar to the deep relaxation you feel after meditation or yoga
  • Knitting and crochet, after learned, will decrease your heart rate and blood pressure.  It also reduces your level of cortisol, which is the hormone that gets released when you are under stress. 
  • Studies are now showing that knitting and crocheting may reduce your chances of suffering from dementia. 
  • An added benefit is that you are making tangible object so that your feelings of self esteem and accomplishment are increased.  
  • Knitting and crochet are now being used in therapy programs for eating disorders and smoking cessation. These therapies work because of the relaxation and because your mind is focusing on something other than your addiction.  
  • Knitting and crochet groups are popping up all around as the number of fiber crafters goes up. The benefit of adding social interaction while knitting is another added benefit.
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Yarn Weights and Measures: What Do They All Mean?

grist1
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.

yarn weights

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!!

grist2

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.

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Why You Should Use The Good Stuff

“I’m just learning, so I’m going to use cheap yarn/roving until I know what I’m doing. I don’t want to waste it.”

goodyarn1

I hear those words all the time in my spinning and knitting classes. I even said it myself when I was learning how to knit socks. Before I had the yarn business, I wanted to knit socks, everyone was doing it. So I went to a craft store and bought yarn and needles and the book “My first socks” or something like that. I knit and knit and knit. I was just about to the heel, when I met Ellen. We roomed together at a SOAR retreat in 2007. She saw my sock and said, “You need to get good sock yarn. That yarn will just not do.”  So at the vendor booths the next day I bought a skein of really teeny sock yarn. I was totally scared. I had to buy smaller (#1) double pointed needles, too. Ellen shepherded me through the casting on of 62 stitches and making the K2P1 ribbing. But that was as far as I got that weekend. At home I again reached the heel. Ellen coached me online and I was able to get through the instructions for the short rows of the heel. I could pick up the stitches easily and finish up that first sock. I cast on the other sock and soon completed that sock. What I learned was that Ellen was right. The socks turned out so well.  I was kept engaged because the hand dyed colors kept changing through the socks. Yes, making those socks was more enjoyable. The colors were better. The end product was actually wearable, not 6 sizes too big.

goodyarn2

Since that time, I tell my students to use the “good stuff”. It is like taking out that silver and china and using it! Don’t save it for “later” and never, ever use it.  Enjoy what you have! Don’t deprive yourself until you are a better knitter or crocheter or spinner. Use it today! Because if you don’t and continue use the wrong yarn or roving, you may just give up before you get to be a better knitter (spinner or crocheter).  It becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. And you will think to yourself, thank god I didn’t use the good stuff when I had no business even trying to learn to ____ (fill in the blank with spin, knit, crochet). So pull out that beautiful yarn, buy that gorgeous roving and USE IT!!

 

P.S. I love those socks and wear them every year.

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Stash Appreciation–Alpaca Part 2

What about alpaca yarn?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Doc from Grindstone Ridge Farm

Remember I said it was really warm. When you consider making a garment with alpaca, consider the warmth requirements of the wearer. Don’t make a sweater for someone with hot flashes, just sayin’. But that same lovely person, may have cold feet, perhaps a nice pair of alpaca socks would be a better choice.

Alpaca yarn, when knitted, produces a drapey, dense, relaxed fabric. This is amazing with the right garment, but this characteristic can be challenging as well. Drapey and relaxed fabric can also stretch out of shape and a dense fabric can be too warm or too heavy.

nimbus group

What kind of stitches work with 100% alpaca yarn? In stockinette, it will show off any variability in your knitting. So if you are not a consistent knitter (I can be very inconsistent), you should consider paring this yarn up with textured stitches like moss or seed stitch. Because the fiber tends to be very heavy and dense, a pattern with cables is going to be too heavy and the garment may pull out of shape from the shear weight of itself. A lace pattern might be a better choice. Still because alpaca is not elastic and is not resilient, a garment made with 100% alpaca should have enough stitch structure to hold the fiber in shape. You are probably saying to yourself, I’ve seen lovely alpaca sweaters. Yes it can be done. You just might want to consider a yarn that is a blend of alpaca and loftier, more elastic wool. A blend like that will allow you to make your cables and reduce the density of the sweater in the end. And an alpaca wool blend yarn can help your lace stay in it’s original size and shape.

Finally washing, when you wash an alpaca garment, take care not to pull it out of shape. Support the weight of the wet garment, so that it doesn’t stretch. And block carefully. The fiber itself won’t spring back like wool will.

Nimbus in Deep Ocean Colorway
Nimbus in Deep Ocean Colorway

Flying Goat Farm has a 100% alpaca yarn called Nimbus. It is  2-ply, sport weight yarn. We sell skeins of 200 yards. It is made with superfine alpaca fiber grown and milled in Peru. This yarn is next to the skin soft. It has a slight halo to the yarn. It is perfect for a cowl, shawl or scarf yet strong enough for hand warmers, socks or a hat. It would look great as a luxurious shawl to wear to the symphony. It is light weight enough to provide just enough warmth on a chilly spring or summer evening outing. It is perfect for a complicated lace pattern, yet will look fabulous in a seed stitch cowl that you can wear on the ski slope. It is soft enough for a newborn baby sweater too.

nimbus baby sweater

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Using Hand-Dyed Yarns: Epic or Fail?

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.

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Stash Appreciation–Mohair Blends

white vs colored

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.

mohair samples

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.

naturally dyed mohair

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.

psock

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.

purple rain swirl

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?

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A Year of Stash Appreciation–Mohair

relaxed goat

Mohair is such a favorite of mine. Of course, I would love it since I have a fiber flock of angora goats with lots of mohair on the hoof, so to speak.  According to Clara Parkes’ book, The Knitter’s Book of Yarn, “Goats with silken hair” were referenced in the 14th century BC, but the angora goats that we know of today were domesticated near Ankara, Turkey in the 13th century AD. She writes that the word “mohair” is a variation of the Arabic word mukhayar, which means “to choose”. Perhaps because the European buyers were always “choosing” it.

carmela

Mohair grows very quickly, approximately 1 inch per month. Therefore the goats need to be sheared every 6 months or so.  The staple length is long compared to many wool staples.  The fibers themselves are long and hairlike, with large flat scales. This means that the fibers become highly reflective and full of luster.

microscopic mohair

Because of these characteristics, mohair takes dye beautifully. As a dyer I can achieve clear, saturated color that is very shiny.  Like wool, mohair puts itself out if it is set on fire. It is very warm and insulating as well.  It is very strong so it is used for textiles that get a lot of wear, like upholstery.

Kid mohair is the softest mohair.  As the animal ages, the fibers grow thicker and stronger. Mohair can be classified as kid for 2-3 shearings usually.  In some very good breeding lines, kid mohair classification can go on many years.

 FGF mohair

I use my mohair in various ways.  I love to blend it with my wools. I have a sock yarn that uses adult mohair for strength and luster instead of nylon.psock

I have also used soft kid mohair with my squishy cormo or my lustrous BFL to make a worsted weight yarn to be used in warm sweaters, hats, mittens, etc.  fingal sweater front

I have also had 100% mohair made into yarns. A single ply that can be used for tapestry weaving although recently many knitters have been buying these mini skeins for doll clothes or to create gradient cowls or scarves.tapestry2blog

 A 2 ply that is sport weight that can be used for outerwear garments or nice strong warps for woolen blankets.  I also love using 100% mohair roving with my new spinning students, since it is very easy to draft and makes a nice yarn for a beginner spinner.

During this month, I’ll be sharing what I know about mohair, its blends, fancy yarns and patterns in which mohair can shine.  Have you used mohair in your knitting, crocheting, weaving or spinning? Please share in the comments.

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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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I Love Wool

breeding group

Wool has a bit of a bad rap. So many people tell me they can’t wear wool because they are allergic or it is itchy. Yes there are some itchy wool yarns that shouldn’t be worn next to the skin. There are many wool yarns that have been treated gently and make fabric with lovely drape and softness.  There are many benefits to using wool. In my opinion, it is totally worth the time and trouble to find a wool yarn that works for you. Even my itchiest mohair wool blend sweater loses it’s itch factor when I wear a cotton turtleneck underneath and I get the benefit of beauty, comfort and warmth. In a future post, I will be talking about matching specific breeds to appropriate projects.

Wool is a totally renewable, sustainable fiber. It grows back year after year. Processing wool does not have a large carbon or chemical footprint.  Cleaning takes hot water and some soap.  The rest of the processing can be done totally by hand, but even if it is processed at a mill, there is just electricity used in most cases.  Superwash wool has the least “itchiness”. It has been highly processed to remove the scales on the individual fibers. But it also has the highest environmental impact. I do like to use superwash wools for socks, knowing that it is a little less ecologically friendly.

Wool is biodegradable. In fact, it can be used as an excellent nitrogen source for mulching. Some shepherds use the skirtings (dirtier wool from the bellies and legs) as mulch for their gardens or orchards.

Wool is flame resistant so it naturally defends against fire.  When exposed to a flame, the fibers extinguish themselves.

Wool is a great insulator. Some new “green” homes are using wool as insulation.  As insulation, wool wicks moisture away from the home and reduces the presence of mold and bacteria. It also acts as a filter for odors in a home.

 

As outerwear, wool keeps you warm in the winter by insulating and cool in the summer by being breathable. It wicks away moisture from your body, so the moisture is evaporated. It also repels water since the outer layer of the fiber is hydrophobic.

For garments, wool is very easy to care for. Of course you shouldn’t put it in the washer and dryer, but handwashing and air drying is all you need to do. Stains are easy to remove as well either with soap and water or dry cleaning fluid for oily stains.  It is highly durable so it is a smart investment for your wardrobe.

puck

 

Puck says “Try wool! Ewe’ll like it!!”

Do you love wool? Why or why not? Post a comment to share your thoughts on wool.

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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!!