Wednesday, September 23, 2015

successful combo plying, part 1

One of the biggest joys I've found through spinning is a new way to play with color in fiber. Dyeing yarn itself can be a lot of work: you have to have all the materials, mix your dyes, apply them the way you want, then create space for rinsing, drying, etc. I prefer to leave most of this work to the pros and buy a lot of pre-dyed fiber, but I've found that I don't need to miss out on the fun of mixing colors during the spinning process if I'm willing to play with combo plies!

What is a combo ply? Combo plying is simply combining two or more non-identical colorways together into a single yarn. This is a great way to stretch single four-ounce bumps of fiber so that you have more finished yarn to work with in a project (because you can only have so many mittens and hats!) I also love combo plying because it helps increase the one-of-a-kind feeling I get from my handspun projects. It's extremely rare to have any combo ply come out identical to another, even if you're using the same fibers!

There are only a few "rules" I follow with combo-plying and most of them have to do with fiber content -- I try to mix wools with similar staple lengths as much as possible. Other than that, the sky's the limit! Hopefully by sharing how I combo ply, I can encourage more of you to try it, too. I'm going to cover a few different types of combo plies on the blog in the upcoming months: Coordinating, Contrasting, and Tonal.

This first one is a combo I would consider in the Coordinating category. I used two Hello Yarn fibers -- colorways Bracken and Gorse (Targhee) and Very Small Creatures (Portuguese Merino.) You can tell when they're side by side what parts of both fibers were speaking to each other, and I knew going in that this was going to produce a very autumnal, primarily brown, yellow, and orange yarn. When pairing fibers for combo-plying, it's good to note overall tones. If I had been hoping to highlight more of the blues and greens, or get a 'darker' feeling yarn, I would have been very disappointed after plying these! In Coordinating combo plies, I look for fibers that have many similar colors and a few 'special' colors that will help the finished yarn pop. I broke them down in this image for you:
As you can see, the top fiber and bottom fiber have brown, gray-blues, golden yellows and orange all in common. That makes them coordinate well. The pop colors in the top fiber, Bracken and Gorse, are a lighter apricot orange and a camel brown. The pop colors in the bottom fiber, Very Small Creatures, are a pale mint, deep red-orange and a more tealy blue tone. I also can see some greenish yellows in this fiber that I didn't see as much of in the Bracken and Gorse. 

The next step in any combo ply is to determine how you want to spin it! Two plies will help color differences pop, while three or more plies will help mute the differences and create a more heathered, subtle yarn with an overall tone. I settled on a two ply for this one, and spun up both of the yarns on my Woolmaker's Bliss. Given that Targhee and Portuguese Merino are both extremely puffy, fluffy fibers, I spun these sort of 'loose and dirty', in that I wasn't aiming for a very particular gauge or project. I love how when you see the two bobbins together, you can really note the differences and similarities!

After plying, you can see how the yarn overall has great orange and gold tones! Sometimes, while plying, I get worried about sections 'matching up' too closely -- where the barber poles disappear and I only get long portions of colors that blend together. Usually, if I convince myself to keep going, these don't seem as apparent in the final skein. I was surprised by how the blue tones really popped in the final yarn:

When you know that you're keeping both skeins, it can be a good idea to wind them into the hank (on the niddy-noddy) together in succession, in reverse order for how the bobbins were spun to preserve color transitions. I tie a little knot or spit-splice the ends together so that my color change at that point in my project will be fairly seamless. If you aren't keeping both skeins, and are planning on being fraternal-skein buddies with a friend, lay them beside each other and choose your favorite! Each skein is an individual with this fun way of plying!

The finished yarn is probably around 350 yards of worsted weight, and I have combined the names of both fibers, calling it Small Creatures in the Bracken

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

back to baktus

It's been awhile since I knit my first Lacy Baktus. I used only 4 oz. of handspun yarn for my original one, which I do love and still wear, but my number one complaint is that it's not quite long enough to be a great winter scarf. So, when I took 8 oz. of handspun yarn off the wheel a few weeks ago, it seemed like a great opportunity to knit up a new Baktus in time for Rhinebeck! 

The fiber used in this is, of course, Hello Yarn. This colorway, called Girlish High Spirits, was one of the purchaseable colorways at Spring Yarn School 2015. I snagged two bags and spun it up as a standard two ply for probably somewhere around 600 yards. I don't think I'll use it all for the baktus, it's definitely enough. One of the hanks is probably a bit smaller than the other, so when I wound it into a cake I tied the ends together in the middle, winding so that the smaller skein would be in the center (so first worked.) When I hit the knot, I'll know to start decreasing as that will be my 'middle marker' for the scarf. 

So far, I'm loving it and think it will look great with my Modern Wrapper (of which I still need good pictures!) 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

wild blue yonder

Today, I have a new-old project for you and a new look!

Yup, you're seeing things right -- don't adjust your monitors, because my hair is BLUE! Also, purple, teal, graphite blue, plum and hot pink! I wanted to do something new and fresh and crazy to reflect some recent life changes, so I went to my pal Michael Jay at Local Honey in Nashville and came out a few hours later with hair that makes me feel like an awesome superhero, Jem from Jem and the Holograms, an anime character and/or a magical fairy. Pick your favorite!

I took some time today to have Andrew photograph a project I've been meaning to document for awhile - the Alicia Plummer Campside Shawl. I'm not going to lie -- the charts with this shawl didn't make a lot of sense to me and were kind of frustrating at first. What I ended up doing was just figuring out the increase rate and repeat (easy peasy) and going with that. The panels turned out great and I didn't have yarn overs on top of eachother (the main concern with following the pattern verbatim.) This was a fairly quick knit, only taking a few weeks, and the yarn is what really made it happen.

I used Julie Asselin Leizu DK. Julie is a great friend, an amazing dyer, and just all around talented, fantastic person. I was lucky to meet her entirely randomly at TNNA, then got to know her as my mom's shop, The Sheep's Stockings, started stocking her yarns. This year I'll be at Rhinebeck and Julie is one of my roommates! I could not be more excited!

Leizu is a stunning yarn -- Merino and Silk with a TON of shine and a wonderful hand. It's the recommended yarn for this pattern and based on the several versions of this shawl that I've seen, I'm in love with the choice. I could definitely make a sweater out of this yarn, too (hmmm, but which one!?) I have to say that if you can get your hands on some, try it out.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015


Awhile back, I made a gorgeous M.1 scarf in Maai, right when it came out. We used it as a shop sample for a little while before it went to its intended owner, our next-door neighbor back in Iowa. I have to say that I really missed that scarf! It was so soft and I couldn't wait to make one of my own, but I wasn't sure if I wanted to knit the same pattern twice, even though I loved the results. 

When The Purl Bee showed their Jasmine Scarf pattern I knew that it would be just as lovely in Maai, and maybe even softer than the M.1 scarf due to the fishbone-style cables and textures. I have to say, after 1.5 skeins in, that I was 100% right -- I love this scarf. The colorway is Pollen, a very pretty yellow with green undertones (the photo came out a bit more orange, which is probably closer to Shibui's new color, Brownstone, coming out this fall.)

Thursday, July 16, 2015

a TdF combo experiment

I've been all about the combo yarns lately. A combo, for those of you newer to spinning or who don't spin, is when you take two very different fibers, sometimes from completely different dyers or in different wool types, and spin each up as a single, then ply them together. This can result in some amazing color and texture effects that I love experimenting with!

Usually for combos I choose fibers that have a similar color tie-in that I want to highlight, and I choose wools to use that are similar in texture (for instance, Merino with South African Fine, or Polworth and Targhee.) For the Tour de Fleece recently, I thought about a combo featuring two very different textures - super-soft South African Super Fine, and Fine Romney.

Romney typically has a staple length of around 7 - 9", while the finer fibers can be as short as 2 - 3"! That's a big difference. My thought was that the colors of the two would look good together (both fibers had beautiful dark purples), and maybe the Romney would add shine and the SASF would add some softness. When experimenting with something this different and unusual, I always like to do a little test skein, so that's what I tackled with this project -- I spun up a skein big enough to knit a few swatches from, but barely enough to decrease the quantity of either fiber, just in case I didn't like the results.

As you can see from this photo, the finished yarn looks a bit hairy. This is because of the Fine Romney being a bit course, and having fuzzy hairs that stick out from the single. These fibers are what increases the 'prickle factor' and makes yarns scratchy. The ply that is the SASF looks smooth and matte, while the Romney is shiny and richer in color. In the skein, this yarn didn't feel very exceptional.

I wound it into a little ball (tiny Totoro for scale) to knit some swatches from. While winding, I felt that the texture of the yarn compared a bit to something like Brooklyn Tweed Loft or any Shetland tweed yarn that has a rougher hand. The ball itself felt springy and light.

The swatches themselves turned out... okay. The all garter stitch swatch reminds me of other rustic yarns, while the stockinette is beautiful and smooth, with jewel-tone aspects and a glowing appearance (mostly due to the Romney.) Unfortunately, I didn't feel that the end result was anything exceptional, and it certainly didn't show off the qualities of either fiber. Romney can be so beautiful and bright, but these characteristics were dulled by pairing them with the South African Super Fine. SASF is one of the softest fibers in the world, but you couldn't feel this next to the coarseness of the Romney. In the end, while it was an interesting experiment, I decided to spin these on their own.

Monday, July 6, 2015

playing with color

I have to say that one of my favorite things about my job is playing with color. When I go to a hardware store, I always have to look at the paint chips. I love seeing all of the colors arranged nicely, and reading the innovative names. The same thing goes for nail polish - one of my favorite polishes is Essie because the names are so clever and the colors are so great.

Now, I get to work with color almost every day for my job. Whether I'm picking colors from a larger color card (like the awesome one featured above) or choosing from a smaller selection to coordinate designers for a box, or simply picking the colors for a project of my own, it's one of my favorite tasks. Sometimes picking out what 2500 people are going to like can be a little mind-bending (that's what coffee is for), but generally it's a good time.

I feel very blessed by the universe today.

Friday, July 3, 2015


Swatching is growing on me, I have to admit. I love playing around with stitch patterns and swatching delicious yarns like this Pepperberry Cashmere DK. Heidi's colors make the think about all of those great 'sweater stacks' they show in J.Crew catalogs, and it makes me want to call her up and order a sweater lot of some luscious color like cherry red or bright orchid just so that I can knit the simplest, most standard pullover ever.

(These aren't for a sweater, but a scarf/cowl thing I'm designing in cream. The weight was just similar enough to do some swatches and fiddle with stitch counts and orientation.)