These socks are finally off the needles, after about six months of working on them! They're basic stockinette socks - the stripes are due to how I dyed the yarn. Worked form the toe-up with a short-row heel, there's nothing really different about these socks than the dozens of other pairs I've made over the years.
Except that they took so long to make! Normally, a pair of socks takes me about 16-20 hours of knitting, spread out over a few weeks or a month.
I dyed the yarn in April, at a dye workshop with my local guild. I cast on sometime last summer, and was delighted to find I'd inadvertently created a self-striping colorway!
One of the reasons these socks took me so long was that when I started working on them, I was also suffering from a lot of fatigue in my hands. So even though I was loving the colors, they didn't get worked on much. I know that I was close to finishing the first sock in September. By the end of December, I was halfway through the cuff of the second sock, and decided the ribbing was the last thing I wanted to work on.
Last week, I finally finished the ribbing, and then it sat for yet another week waiting for the bind off (tubular bind-off, my favorite), weaving in ends, and blocking - a silly wait, since all those tasks took me less than twenty minutes.
Besides the literal pain in my hands when I first started working on these, I think one of the reasons this pair of socks took so much longer to make was that I didn't really need another pair of socks. Over the last couple of years, I've knit more than 20 pairs of socks. Adding that to a collection of SmartWool socks that I bought almost 10 years ago when I was working at a shoe store, I have a sock drawer that is pretty well-stocked. At this point, having socks on the needles is less about filling the need to put socks on my feet, and more about having a simple, portable knitting project ready to go at all times.
Which brings me to the question....
Should You Kon-Marie Your Works in Progress?
I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up way back in 2015 when it was just a book and not a Netflix sensation. Now that Marie Kondo has been invited into the living room of just about anyone with a Netflix account, there are lots more people talking about tidying up. Which isn't a bad thing. One of the things I took away from reading Kondo's book was that I really needed to be more thoughtful about how and why I acquire stuff - including yarn and knitting projects.
It's easy to take Kondo's "spark joy" approach and twist it into a consumerist excuse for throwing away too much, with no regards for the consequences.
When my hands hurt, these socks didn't spark joy. They made me feel a little hopeless, really, that one of my favorite hobbies was bringing me pain.
When I had ten rounds of ribbing left to knit, these socks didn't spark joy. They made me downright bored.
But when the socks were finally finished, that sparked joy!
Here's the thing about creative projects - they're not always joyful all the way throughout the process. There are challenges in every project, no matter how small or simple. Sometimes those challenges are draining, and sometimes they're fun. But they don't always "spark joy" immediately. Sometimes that joy is delayed, like with these socks.
As fiber artists, it's really up to us to think deeply about the projects we take on, the ones we hold on to despite the challenges, and the ones we decide to let go. Each of us has different priorities and needs, and we should all take those into account when we are considering our works in progress.
Sometimes, like with my socks, a period in "hibernation" is exactly what the project needs. Sometimes the knitter needs some time to think through the challenges, to heal sore hands, or time to work on other more pressing projects.
Sometimes, as Felicia Lo of Sweet Georgia Yarns said in this excellent video, casting on for a new project might just be about learning a new technique and not making the thing itself. Or a sweater that you started a year ago might not fit with your wardrobe now. It's perfectly fine to let these projects go. The bright side - it's just yarn, and can be easily unraveled and re-used!
How do you decide whether you should tidy up your works in progress?
This month I have been steadily chipping away at this spinning project - a merino/silk blend that I made on my drumcarder. The original colors were very bright and saturated - purple, hot pink, orange, and blue. I added lots of white, and because orange and blue are opposite each other on the color wheel, that brought the blend into a lavender/pink range.
In total, there are about 30 ounces of fiber in this blend, and I estimate that I have about 4 or 5 ounces left to spin. The goal has been to spin at least 4 ounces of fiber each week. Some weeks I just barely cross the finish line, and other weeks, like last week, I manage to do lots more than that, plus ply.
My original plan for this yarn was to make a cabled sweater. When I ply, I'm making 3-ply yarn, which knits up into well-defined cables. From a distance, the colors all blend into a pinkish lavender, but because the yarn is quite variegated, I'm not 100% confident that this yarn will actually end up as a cabled sweater. That's a decision for another day, after all the yarn is spun, finished, and swatched, though!
Ravelry project page here.
Have you ever put something in the washing machine that wasn't supposed to go there? My list stretches back decades, and every incident was life-altering in its own way. There was a pair of Mom's dry-clean-only linen shorts that turned an entire load of laundry hot pink and led to everyone in the house doing their own darned laundry from that point on. There were too many tubes of lip balm to count, especially in high school. There was a cell phone and an iPod (you'd think I'd learn). And then there was this sweater.
Waaaaay back in 2016, I finished this sweater - made from some of my early handspun yarn. The sweater is far from perfect, but it's warm, it's mine, and it has POCKETS. Plus, it's a shade of beige that goes with just about everything in my closet, making it an essential piece throughout fall and winter.
Unfortunately, just before the turn of 2019, my husband put it in the washing machine (by accident). I've talked about this fiasco a bit in my newsletter and on Instagram. The point is that it shrank some, mostly lengthwise, making it look silly when I wore it. It was felted, but was it felted beyond saving?
What is wool felt?
Felt, quite simply, is a non-woven fabric that is made of matted fibers. It can be made of just about any material.
Wool felts because it has microscopic scales on the surface of each fiber. When the fibers are subjected to a mixture of moisture, heat, and agitation, the scales lock together like Velcro. Unless the wool has been through a superwashing process that removes or smooths down the scales, wool will always be at risk for shrinkage due to felting.
As heat, moisture, and agitation are applied to wool those scales lock together and the fabric can shrink. A number of factors combine to determine how much the wool can shrink, including:
Usually, when working with non-woven wool felt, the felting process has been carried out to the maximum extent possible in order to create a strong and durable fabric. This process cannot be reversed once it's carried out to the full extent.
Felting can also occur when spinners dye fiber prior to spinning it into yarn. Usually this happens because there's extra heat and agitation in the dye process (especially if the water boils!). For most fibers in this situation, the wool is only slightly felted, and it may be possible to mitigate the effects of felting.
What is Fulling?
When wool has been made into a woven, knitted, or crocheted fabric, the process is called fulling. The same things are happening with the scales of the wool, but because we're dealing with something that's already fabric instead of loose fiber, it technically gets a different name.*
As heat, moisture, and agitation are applied to wool fabric those scales lock together and the fabric will start to shrink. As with wool felt, sheep breed and how much heat, moisture, and agitation are applied will determine how much the fabric shrinks. With fabric, though, another factor comes into play - how tightly the fabric was knitted, crocheted, or woven. A loose and open fabric has more room for the fibers to move around, meaning more agitation is possible, and therefore more shrinkage is possible. A tight, dense fabric, on the other hand, doesn't have much space for the individual fibers to move, making shrinkage less likely (but still possible).
Generally, wool that has been felted or fulled can shrink by as much as 30%, which is a lot. There are plenty of patterns on Ravelry where you'd intentionally full your knitting - think bags and slippers. But most of the time, fulling is something we want to avoid. And when it does happen, it can feel a little disastrous. (Like my cozy sweater that accidentally became a crop-top.)
So, Can You Un-Shrink It?
Depending on how much the wool shrank during the felting or fulling process, it may be possible to pull the fibers apart from each other. If the fibers are only a little bit felted or fulled, the more likely this will be an option. However, if it's felted/fulled "all the way" or even a good percentage, you're never going to get your wool back into its original state.
When pulling fulled fibers apart, it's best to be gentle - those scales have locked together, and using lots of force can result in fiber or yarn breakage.
For my handspun sweater, it was only slightly fulled. In the first image, before fulling, you can see very crisp stitch definition. In the second image, after fulling, you can see that it's definitely fuzzier (partly because of a couple of years of wear, and partly because of the fulling). But you can still see the stitches fairly well - it hasn't completely morphed into a beige blob!
Following some suggestions of helpful instagrammers and the internet, I soaked the sweater in a bath of warm water and about 1/3 of a bottle of Unicorn Fibre Rinse. Some people use hair conditioner, but I had the Fibre Rinse on hand and wanted to see how it would perform in this situation. I rolled my damp sweater in a towel, the laid it out on a blocking mat, gently stretching the body out to try to give it some extra length.
Then came the hard part - walking away to let it dry for a couple of days. In the end, my sweater wasn't quite as long as I'd want it to be, but it's no longer a "crop top cardi" and it's wearable again.
This process works to some extent because wool fibers are more elastic when they are wet. I'm not sure how much the Fibre Rinse helped, but since it's formulated for use on wool, it certainly didn't hurt. And, since it also acts as a fiber softener, my sweater is a little bit softer for the experience!
Note that this fix will only work if the fiber isn't felted/fulled all the way, and even though it's possible to stretch the fabric back out, your garment will probably never be exactly as it was when it was new.
As for my husband? All is forgiven, but not forgotten. ;)
Ravelry project page here.
*You'll often see this process referred to as felting anyways...I'm guilty of it too!
Have you heard of "spinning in the grease"? It's a term that spinners use to say they are more or less spinning the wool straight off the sheep. The "grease" is lanolin - the natural wax sheep secrete from their sebaceous glands.
As a sheep grows its fleece each year, it is also secreting lanolin, just like our skin produces oil. Just like some people have more oily skin and hair than others, some sheep produce more lanolin than others. Lanolin can account for anywhere between 5-25% of the weight of a sheep's freshly shorn fleece. Lanolin helps sheep protect their fleece and skin from sun and moisture. In addition to being useful to the sheep, lanolin has lots of other uses in cosmetics, lotions, and even shoe polish.
When it comes to spinning wool, however, there are lots of opinions about spinning in the grease. Some people love it, some people hate it. Some people only spin in the grease, while others only spin with scoured (cleaned) wool.
So why would you spin in the grease? Why might you prefer to spin with cleaned wool? This post will walk you through some the pros and cons of spinning in the grease, so when you find a fleece at your next fiber festival, you'll have a better idea of whether you want to scour or spin in the grease.
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