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gradient set to make a pretty shawl

gradient set shawl

This shawl is a really fun one to make. It  is a shallow crescent shape. It can be worn in so many ways from over your shoulders or backwards like a cowl.  It is made with my Corrie Sock yarn. The kit includes a 5 mini skein gradient set, beads for the edge and the pattern.  The mini’s do all the work for you, most of this shawl is garter stitch and at the end there is some lace stitches for interest.  This is a good project to take to the soccer field or swim meets. All you need to do is add needles and you’re ready to cast on. There are 5 colors to choose from, so go grab one in my online store.

5 mini skein gradient
Cherry set
5 mini skein gradient
Purple set
5 skein gradient set
Brilliant Blue set
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color combos for making the Camau Shawl

kits to knit a shawl
shawl for alpaca wool blend yarn

I have some beautiful color combos to make this fun shawl. It is a crescent shaped shawl with short rows of eyelet in a contrasting color. The main color is all garter stitch and it easy vacation knitting. It makes a nice light shawl for summer nights. The kits include 4 skeins of Cirrus yarn and the pattern. Just add needles and you are ready to get knitting. Grab one or two kits in my online store. It’s currently on sale for $45 per kit.

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Sock Blanks: What Are They? Why Would I Use Them?

Hot Fuschia Sock Blank

Let’s talk about sock blanks.

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.

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Finding Your Joy!

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. 

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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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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.