Four years ago, I lost this shawl. This is the last picture I have of me wearing it. I suspect I lost it getting off a tour bus somewhere in Tuscany.
I've been trying to replace it ever since.
It was my first experience in charted lace, and it was a lesson in how much lace expands when you block it. It was huge, and I loved it.
Of course, being the overachiever I am, I want it to be the same but different. Mostly, I want the same colors, a blend of browns, greens, and aqua that reads as mostly dark green.
When I started spinning, I decided I just HAD to handspin the replacement yarn. I started with this yarn, loving the colors in the braid but thinking the colors were just too light in the finished yarn. Then I tried again, plying a darker green with a merino/silk combination. It was darker, but I had long bright green stripes popping up all over the place, even though I tried to blend the colors together while spinning. It just wasn't what I was going for.
This time, I decided to try something different.
I took ten one-ounce braids of combed BFL top and blended the colors together. The colorways are "Mallard" and "Outlaw" from Greenwood Fiber Works and purchased at two different fiber festivals over the last year. After I bought Mallard, I did some sampling with "confetti" spinning and realized I would be getting much more color differentiation than I wanted. Later I bought Outlaw, and decided to comb the two colors together.
I used my wool combs because I find them faster than hand cards. Even though I usually spin with a woolen draw, I love spinning combed top because it's so smooth. I made sure to leave the combing waste at the back of the combs - maybe it will be incorporated into another project, but not this one. And, of course, I pulled the top through my very favorite Sheepy Diz.
Since that bright green was the offending color in my second attempt to make this yarn, I paid close attention to what it was doing as I combed the colors together. Ultimately, I chose to use about half of the bright green, so that it stands out much less in the final yarn. Plus, as I was spinning, if I came across a section of the bright green that I determined to be too big, I pulled out a big section of it.
Spinning took me several months and lots of bobbins. When each bobbin was about half full, the wheel started to protest. I was using my fastest whorl on my Ashford Traveller, and when a bobbin starts to get heavy, it takes a lot more effort to turn. So I wound onto storage bobbins (with the wonderful help of electricity!).
I had been hinting and hoping for an electric wheel to help me with plying, but one has not materialized in my house yet. Wanting to cross another project off the list, I decided to face the music and just do it the old-fashioned way.
And here it is - 9 skeins, 7.5 ounces, and roughly 2,000 yards.
Maybe I should have knitted a swatch before I spun so much to see if I'd like the final yarn, but I do think this is much closer to what I had in mind than any of my previous attempts. There's only one way to tell. On to knitting!
Ravelry page here
This month, I'm giving a short program at my Guild's spinning group on spinning fractal yarn. Fractal spinning is a way to control the color of handpainted top or roving in a way that creates subtle self-striping yarn. The short video linked above goes through all the basic steps, but I'll elaborate a little more here.
This isn't the first time I've done fractal spinning, but it is the first time I've really delved into the details of it. Apparently I haven't blogged about it before, but Instagram tells me I was playing with fractal spinning in May of last year, and with very similar colors to boot.
Fractals are found in nature, mathematics, and art. They are never ending patterns that repeat themselves at different scales or sizes. Fractals look complicated, but they are created by repeating simple processes.
Fractals reappear over and over again in nature as branching and spiral patterns. The branching of a tree, or the shape of a river network, the shape of our lungs, the shape of a hurricane, and even the shape of our galaxy are all formed according to fractal patterns.
So what exactly is fractal spinning?
Fractal spinning takes the idea of repeating patterns at different scales and applies it to yarn. Once it is spun up, the finished yarn will have two (or more) different scales of the color repeats found in the dyed fiber. Usually we accomplish this with two plies: one ply is at a large scale, and the second ply is at a smaller scale. This results in a subtle self-striping yarn that has smaller color repeats within larger ones. And it looks fabulous in the skein!
Here's how to do it:
Start with dyed fiber. Braids with clear color repeats instead of random splotchy colors the best. If there's some splotchyness in the color within a single section, that's fine - it will create a heathered appearance within your color repeat. (I happen to really like that effect, and used it here.)
Divide your fiber lengthwise into two equal strips. This is usually pretty easy to do, since most combed top has "slivers" that want to split apart from each other naturally.
Set one half aside. With the other half, split the fiber lengthwise again, as many times as you'd like. In the video I split the second half into four sections, but you could do more or less. Each lengthwise division shortens the color run (take a look at the two bobbins below for a comparison).
The only limiting factor besides your imagination is how thick you want your yarn to be. The thinner your sections, the thinner your yarn is likely to be. I tend to spin pretty thin yarns, so this isn't an issue for me, but if you're going for a thicker yarn, it's a good idea to start with 2-4 sections instead of 6-10.
Be sure that you're keeping the fiber aligned so the color repeats are all going in the same direction. Jillian Moreno recommends tying a loose overhand knot on the end you intend to spin from. For these, I wrapped the fiber into loose balls with the end I wanted to spin from on the outside. Just do whatever works for you.
Now comes the fun part - spinning!
Spin the half that you first created onto one bobbin, and the other half that you split into small sections one after the other onto the second bobbin. (In the picture above, the long repeat is on the right, and the short repeat is on the left.)
Ply the two bobbins together, and you have fractal spun magic! The short color repeats flow through the longer color repeats. Sometimes they match up, and sometimes they combine in unexpected ways to create totally new colors! You'll still get a self-striping effect, but it's a gentler and more harmonious than the hard self-striping effect we associate with chain ply.
Of course, you'll want to set the twist just like you do any time you spin yarn. This one I set with a soak and some light snapping.
That's not all, though. I still have to explore the differences between knitting with fractal spun yarn and weaving with it. Stay tuned...
Happy New Year! A progress report on what's going on at chez Fiber Sprite.
First, here's what I managed to finish from the December list:
And fiber-related, but not on the original list:
There's plenty more on the want-to-do list, and I'm doing everything I can to resist the startitis in favor of reducing overwhelm. What do you have going on?
I guess this isn't your average knitting post. It's more about organizational techniques and conquering the overwhelm that comes with wanting to do all the yarny things. One of my goals over the last few weeks has been to reduce the number of projects I'm working on so that I can focus better and feel less stressed. I'm sure that will always be a work in progress, but here's how I'm doing it so far.
Last month, I decided I ought to do something to get my pile of works-in-progress under control. It turned out to be a good tool for managing my stress levels. After I wrote the list of to-dos, I created a modified Scrum/Kanban board on the whiteboard in my craft room. That wasn't my plan, it just sort of happened. As these things do.
Scrum and Kanban boards are part of "agile" workflows, often used in the software development world. I first heard about them in Jeff Sutherland's book, Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time. To oversimplify, the boards break down tasks into small chunks, and are designed for teams to optimize their productivity and efficiency. The point isn't to turn people into robots, but to remove the blocks that slow us down. In short, it's a visual organizational tool.
When I first read the book, I was still working in the corporate world and looking for a way to do it "all." (Whatever that is.) I tried applying the idea to my life and projects, and used it for a couple of weeks before chucking it to the curb, probably to test out ideas from the next efficiency book I laid my hands on.
The reality is that I'm very picky about my planning tools, and I wasn't exactly sure how to modify the idea to suit me. This time, though, I think I have something that makes me happy.
My board looks something like this:
The original scrum method has you moving post-it notes across the board. Each element of a project has its own post-it note, but that felt too messy to me in the original iteration. So instead I put it all on a whiteboard and can erase things as needed.
And the original scrum method suggests a separate board for every project (and maybe only doing one project at a time), but my personal projects aren't as complex as programming computer software, I'm not working on a team, and I tend to have several (many) projects going at once. So each row of the board is functioning as a miniature board on its own. Often, I don't put descriptions in every box, but simply move a big "X" from column to column as I work on the project. Anything that I'm working on that takes a significant chunk of my time or mental energy gets its own "project."
The normal life of a project on this board would something like this:
The "Done" column on the far right isn't just for when the whole project is finished, but also for when elements of a project are completed. For a spinning project, that might mean that when I finish spinning the singles, the word "Singles" goes into the Done column, and I add "Plying" to the to-do column. The Done column is a place for victories, and every win counts.
Since I'm not working with a team, it's not critical that I update the board every single time I pick up or put down a project. It's more of a big-picture way to see what I have going on, and to consider whether or not I really need to add another project for myself.
When one project is stalled for too long, it usually means there's a hidden project-within-a-project, and that I need to figure out what that hidden project is before I move forward.
For example, "make yarn labels" sounded like a simple project. But really it looked like this:
Sometimes I think a project should be simple and just take one afternoon. It might, if it's something I've done before and already have a workflow or template for. Often, though, something brand-new involves lots of unexpected steps, learning opportunities, and opportunities for refinement along the way. Sometimes it's overwhelming. The project board is just a visual reminder that helps me figure out a way to complete the project instead of wasting my energy on starting projects but never finishing them.
Two keys to my modification are in the very first column. They're really marginalia, but make a big difference to me in the usability of the board.
The To-Do/Done tally is yet another way to remind myself how much I have to do, and a reminder to pare down the number of unnecessary projects. The number of "Done" projects reminds me that I am capable of getting things done. (Unlike the "Done" column on the board, this tally is only for projects that are completely finished.)
The stress level meter is modeled after the fire danger signs you see in national forests. It was something I always wanted for my cubicle when I was in the corporate world, but didn't want clients or the higher-ups to see. If I had no stress at all, that must have meant I wasn't working hard enough. But if I was too stressed out, that would have meant I was inadequate. Now the meter is just for me, and I'm glad to have it. My meter usually hovers somewhere between yellow and orange (that's just who I am), but if it were to creep over to red or purple, that would be another reminder to assess how much I've got going on.
I'm currently thinking that I'll re-do the board each month in conjunction with writing my WIPs posts. Hopefully as time goes by, that will help me recognize what's realistic to get done in a month.
How do you manage your works-in-progress?
For Christmas, I wanted to make something special for someone who loves orange. Orange is one of those colors that creates a visceral reaction - most people either love it or hate it. Having done time in a blaze orange velour mini-cubicle, I tend towards the hate it camp.
So what to do?
I put on a warp of one of my favorite hand-dyed colorways, "Bursting Berries,"* in a merino/silk blend. It's a most decidedly pink/purple color, with a few hints of orangey red. But still not orange. I threaded my loom in a simple point twill (1-2-3-4-3-2-1), set at 15 ends per inch, and got ready to experiment.
I had dyed some orange yarn in the same merino/silk blend, and wove it in three different ways. First, I did a 2/2 twill, which came out looking like this:
As I'd predicted, it came out mostly orange with just a few hints of warm purples and reds. A 2/2 twill looks pretty much the same on both sides.
Next, I wove lots of plain weave, and got what you see in the top picture. I liked this even better, since the orange was toned down some more.
For the last bit of orange, I wove a 1/3 twill. This type of twill is different on each side of the fabric. While I was weaving it, it looked very, very orange (left image below), but I fell in love with the "back" side of the fabric (right image below).
I ran out of weft yarn before I ran out of warp, so I decided to experiment with another color. I had just a little bit of purple sock yarn left over from a previous project (Tough Love Sock in "Grape Jelly"), so decided to use that up. I wove this one in a 1/3 twill. The results:
I loved the very pink/purple combination most of all, but unfortunately, there wasn't enough fabric to make anything out of it. Of course, the whole point of sampling new ideas at the end of your warp is to get an idea for next time, and I definitely have a few new ideas percolating around in my mind!
I wet-finished the fabric once it came off the loom. The wool felted a bit, as expected, and the silk didn't shrink, creating an interesting boucle effect. The superwash sock yarn weft in the purple sample didn't shrink at all, but the warp did, and I ended up liking this fabric best of all.
I ended up using the different orange fabrics to make a trio of project/notions bags, one of which made its way to someone else's Christmas tree before I could photograph it. The contrasting fabric is felted wool fabric (store bought).
Even though I loved the 1/3 twills the most, they were the hardest to sew with. Like stockinette stitch in knitting, 1/3 twills tend to curl, and this was difficult to work with in the sewing up. And the fabric itself was thicker, making turned loops harder to make.
It was really fun to see all the different possibilities I could create with different colors and textures in just one warp. I can definitely see more color experiments in my future!
*Not the same yarn base as the link, but the same color. And yes, that's my Etsy shop!
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