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I was recently asked whether I had ever finished the sweater I was knitting out of Cambridge’s fleece.

I thought I had posted these photos! The Kingscot cardigan is finished!

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Here it is, on a “photo shoot” with the ewe herself. I love this photo not only because it’s kind of cool that I’m holding the sheep that gave me the beautiful fleece, but because of the onlookers in the background. Makes me laugh every time!

I saw Cambridge recently, and she is very busy growing my next fleece. You can already see, I think from above, but it’s looking a bit lighter in color. She is just CRANKING out the fleece, after a bit of a tough start I’m guessing because of the harsh winter, and I would not be surprised if her fleece was close to 10 pounds. (…of platinum to grey and GORGEOUS. Can’t wait.)

Yes, hawk-eyed friends, that IS a double pointed needle holding the cardigan shut.

Since then, I purchased some buttons made out of deer antler (as an homage to Lucy’s Great Adventure).

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The sweater is softer than I imagined it could ever be — Cambridge’s fleece has been a big surprise on that front, I must say — and it almost looks shiny because the fibers are so lustrous.

I still have another big batch of her fleece left, which was just washed recently —

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— and I am contemplating what I should be making with this fiber. I’m wondering if I can engineer a zipped vest with pockets that will take the place of the felted merino vest that I wear all the time to walk my dogs….to the drawing board….

I am, most decidedly, a lover of the color grey. Almost every article of clothing, yarn, fiber — the first thing I reach for is grey.

And in the ocean of grey, there is another color that makes a pretty frequent appearance in my wardrobe. (No, not black — that’s just another shade of grey.) I love orange. I think it’s such a happy color.

And, it goes well with grey. Of course.

I must be missing an element of happy recently, because I’ve finished two projects in my happy color.

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First, Carpino, by Carol Feller. It is a sweater from the Wool People 6 collection — the collection that I had a bit of a preview of, at Knitter’s Review Retreat last November. Of course, I promptly fell in love with every single piece of that collection, in a way that I never would have had I seen it in only in print, as beautiful as the Wool People Look Books are.

This little sweater is very flirty and a little bit retro. It has an i-cord edged ballet neckline, 3/4 length sleeves which are fitted. The front is a fun bubble like lace pattern (which is very easy to memorize).

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I knit this sweater in a singles yarn. I knew even before I cast on, in my brain somewhere, that this is probably not the greatest strategy for a long lasting, well wearing sweater. But I did it anyway. Why? Because it was the perfect color, Del Rey from Neighborhood Fiber company.

I have already worn the sweater a couple of times…so far so good. As long as some naughty canine that I live with does not hook her little paws into the lace in front of the sweater!

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Have you ever had a “O.M.G. I have to spin this/knit it right now” moment? Of course you have. The second project was one of those things. I purchased a beautiful commercially processed Shetland top from the UK at the Feederbrook Farm booth at Maryland Sheep & Wool. It is charcoal grey (surprise!) in a way only nature can produce, I knew exactly how I wanted to spin it, and as I was spinning the fiber — I knew exactly what I wanted to make with it.

I spun the fiber woolen, from the fold. I wanted lofty, squishy, and light in weight…a shetland version of LOFT.

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The urge was so great that as soon as I plied a skein and the twist was set, I wound the skein and cast on — while the rest of the yarn necessary to complete the project was still sitting on the wheel.

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Then, for contrast, I wanted a bit of….Orange! And I looked in my Pigeonroof Studios non-Superwash grab bag that I had in my stash…and voila. A few little bits of rusts, oranges and yellows. I wasn’t sure what the fiber content was (I think it is Polwarth/silk but I’m really not sure.), but I only needed a bit over 100 yards so I was sure it was going to work.

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The shawl that this yarn was destine to be? Kelpie, by Jared Flood (Who else?).  It’s a take on the Classic Shetland Hap Shawl, a bit citified. My gauge was bigger than the stated gauge of the pattern, so I knew this would be a large shawl.

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It is large, 74″ across with a 37″ drop. I didn’t think the shawl would grow to quite this size, but it is soft, light, very squishy, and the orange in the feather and fan border makes me smile.

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I am looking forward to wearing this often. (It sort of matches the sweater too!)

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I think I’ve gotten the Orange out of my system for now! Better go find some grey yarn.

I love natural colored wool yarn. But once in a while, I like not-so-naturally-occurring-on-sheep colors as well.

I have been “stalking” a sweater, Ravello by Isabell Kraemer, since it was published in August of last year. It’s striped, which I love, has a boat neck, which I find flattering, and the sweater looks nice and casual and cool. (Probably 100% due to the styling, but what can I say? I am gullible.)

I have been wearing my stripy sweater that I knit last year to death this spring. It’s Breton by Jared Flood, knit in Sweet Fiber Yarns Cormo, which was a limited run yarn. The cormo is light in weight, it is perfectly warm but not hot, and I have washed and re-washed (gently in wool wash) without too much effect on the sweater. (I have had to re-seam the arms a couple of times and have now re-seamed the arms on with sock yarn — the woolen spun cormo just isn’t strong enough for all the activity that this sweater is getting, I’m afraid.)

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I wanted to make another cormo striped sweater. I had the natural white and natural dark grey cormo in woolen spun fingering from Elsawool. Ideally, I think I would have knit the sweater in white and 2 shades of the natural grey. But how about color? What if I introduced a color in this sweater?

I decided that color was exactly what I wanted. And I wanted….RED.

I have dabbled in dyeing my own yarn periodically with food-safe dyes (Kool-aid and food coloring). I felt strange — a mix of trepidation and even a bit of guilt — for taking one of my favorite fibers, in its pristine creamy white, and introducing color from an artificial drink to it. But dye the yarn I did.

There are many resources on the Internet (Knitty article here, a palette of colors and formulae here). All the articles use 1 packet of unsweetened Kool-aid for every 1oz of fiber. Some suggest using a water and vinegar solution and some say that the citric acid present already in Kool-aid is enough for the color to set.

I presoaked the yarn in a vinegar solution, and I also added vinegar in the water bath….because I have, in the past, tinkered with the color on the fly using food dye. (The creamy cormo yarn is beautiful, isn’t it? Looks like the perfect Somen soaking in my sink.)

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The concoction for my precious cormo yarn was mostly Bing Cherry Kool-aid (which is a deeper red), with some Cherry Kool-aid (which is the color of the jug that comes crashing out of walls in commercials for Hawaiian Punch) to brighten the red a little, and a little bit of Americolor super red (the dye that’s in my cupboard for red velvet cake, a bit more brick than the kiddie red of the Kool-aid). The food coloring I added once the yarn was already in the dye bath, because in the past this has produced a bit of that “kettle dyed” effect.

I love watching the dye bath go clear as the color is transferred to the yarn. Here’s the concoction that sort of looks like some sort of a sick spaghetti!

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And here is the result.

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I will be using it along with the natural dark grey and the cream for the stripes.

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It sort of looks like Neapolitan ice cream, doesn’t it?

I love wearing socks that are knit out of handspun yarn.

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(These are a pair knit out of Pigeonroof Studio merino/nylon in “Mystere”, n-plied.)

This creates a little bit of an issue — I have to spin the yarn, and then I have to knit the socks. And, as someone who is very hard on socks (for some reason, within the last month or so I have basically walked out of multiple pairs of hand knit socks — we are not talking small holes here, these are just heels that completely gave out!), the thought of walking through a pair of handspun, hand knit socks is very tough.

Yes, of course I can be vigilant about darning my socks…. and I think I will, once I learn how. (Note to self: Research different methods of sock darning.)

I decided to see if I can make a sock yarn that would withstand my tough wear. I had some Coopworth fiber from Shepherd’s Hey Farm (Hannah), and I had some Polwarth fiber from Blue Moon Fiber Arts. What if I ply 2 singles spun out of the polwarth with 1 single of the coopworth? Would the single ply of the long wool fiber make an other wise soft yarn stronger? Would it make the overall yarn very “wooly” or would the polwarth make the yarn softer?

I spun both fibers with more twist than I would normally spin these fibers with. I also plied with pretty high twist — to balance the yarn and because I thought this would make for a harder-wearing yarn. This was a little bit tricky, because the polwarth and coopworth were spun with different amounts of twist…but the resulting yarn ended up being balanced, and I thought, looked pretty.

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The grey is the coopworth, undyed, and the blues to yellow is the BMFA polwarth. I was excited to see how this yarn would knit up. And I had just the pattern for it. Cookie A. Sock Club‘s February 2014 pattern called Possibly Maybe.

I skeined the yarn and set off on knitting the socks.

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I cranked away. I had 330 yards of this yarn, and since most of my socks were 300-320 yards… I thought that I had spun enough yarn.

However….

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Oops!

So.. the solution here? I had a few people weigh in. “NEON PINK”!!! Someone said. (I almost did it, too!) “Try to match one of the colors so it will not be so noticeable.” “It won’t show because you can keep your foot in your shoe…”

I decided, since I had a little bit of the polwarth singles left over, that I would ply that with something (unfortunately, I was out of the coopworth fiber!) to make the Toe Yarn.

Luckily, in the fall, I had spun some Wensleydale that had been dyed navy blue. the single was a little bit thicker than the ply of the Coopworth, but I thought that since Wensleydale is a long wool breed, that this would be close enough for the socks.

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The yarn felt similar, but clearly, it was a lot more blue-dominant than the original yarn.

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…But, the socks are done. The yarn, knit up, feels like wool hiking socks. I think that is what I will be using them for. Let the wearing phase of the experimentation begin! I will report back.

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I had fun processing Cambridge’s fleece. (My first full raw fleece!)

I had fun spinning Cambridge’s fleece.

I had fun making Cambridge fleece into a delicate wisp of a shawl.

How is Cambridge coming along as a sweater, you ask?

Well, splendidly. (I think; so far, etc. with all the caveats.)

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The dark bits of Cambridge that I processed and spun into the grey yarn of a million shades, I was convinced, needed to be a swingy cardigan. I didn’t spin the yarn with too much twist, mostly because her fleece didn’t need it, but also because I wanted to try to make the yarn as airy as possible…there’s nothing worse to me than a sweater that is so heavy in weight that it hangs like a sack from the shoulder seams no matter what you do…and I didn’t think the long wool would be best served spun woolen. (Which I actually may change my mind about, see the P.S. below.)

I wanted a pattern that had a bit more going on than just a plain stockinette sweater, and I made up my mind that Norah Gaughan’s Kingscot (which appeared in Twist Collective Winter 2008) was just the thing. It’s got a very pretty cable and bobble pattern on the front in a diamond pattern, and while the shape was swingy, the back was ribbing which I thought would provide a better fit.

I knew somewhere deep in my brain that the stitch pattern may not show as well with this yarn, and if I wanted the cardigan to be all about the cabling motif, I was better served using a crisper yarn with tighter twist.

Of course I ignored this instinct because I wanted to make this cardigan with this yarn. “Want” in this case totally trumped the logic.

I’m not sure if I am right, or if, ultimately I’m going to be not so right. Not yet, anyway.

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I have a vision for what I want this sweater to be. My gauge was wildly different though, and as this was handspun, so I knew it wasn’t going to be as consistent in gauge as much as a commercial yarn would be. And, I wanted to make sure that while I kept the major design points of the garment, I wanted it to fit me well. This all meant some big modifications. Don’t be scared! This can be done.

So…what were the important things about this sweater for me?

1. The A-line of the body of the sweater. This shape, in my opinion, can be really difficult. I have seen the fly away cardigan that is too tight on a body, and that is not very flattering (unless you are pregnant. I love fly away cardi’s on pregnant women). I needed enough fabric in the front so that even if there were only 3 buttons on the top that it would not gape open in the middle. I trusted that Norah, who has designed gazillion sweaters, had this in mind and that there was a reason that the back was ribbed….so I kept the ribbing pattern in the back.

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2. I did modify the stockinette to ribbing ratio all over the sweater. I could see how, with a tighter twist yarn that you’d need the dramatic decreasing between the ribbing and the stockinette, but I didn’t think I needed quite so much with my yarn. (And I tested this with swatching.)

3. I loved the design on the front of the cardigan. While I toyed with changing the size of the bobbles (to something a bit more pronounced), but in the end stuck with the instructions as written. I’m not sure why I thought I needed to fool with this.

This is where I am now. I couldn’t “see” the sweater as it came off the needles, so I ended up blocking it to the schematic for my size to see how the fabric looked.

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I think I am cautiously optimistic.

Some people, I think, would be bothered by what appears to be subtle color blocking within the garment. I actually am not bothered by it much, because Cambridge is pretty spotty and I love that one sheep can produce so many shades of grey. The sweater is so…HER! So much so that if Cambridge were a human, I’d give her this cardigan.

I am knitting the sleeves now, and I don’t envision any changes except that I may have to do some math to make sure the sleeve cap fits properly…not a big deal. Knit fabric is really flexible!

I also envision changing the button band from as written. While the knitted then sewn on button band is a beautiful, elongating detail on the sample sweater, my seamstress hands (or lack there of) started twitching so I will most likely be picking up the button band along the edge of the sweater and keeping that in a 2×2 rib as the most of the ribbing on the cardigan. And, don’t be surprised if I change the 1×1 twisted rib on the neckline to a 2×2 rib as well for consistency.

Hopefully, the next Cambridge update will be about a finished cardigan!

P.S. As many of you know, hand combing takes out all the short fibers out of the fleece as you create top (the ice cream fluff in the first link at the top of the post). We did take what was left over and put it through a drum carder to create rolags, which I spun woolen and 3-plied into an aran weight yarn.

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It was really soft, and really airy. Soft enough for a pair of wristlets, which has been keeping Cambridge’s Shepherdess warm this past winter.

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You know, this is all to make sure that Cambridge was always on Lee’s mind so she got some good grain this winter! And, it looks like she’s getting a bit lighter so I will be looking forward to what her fleece looks like come shearing in November! (Of course I will be peeking a lot sooner than November!)

Of course I have a photo:

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Cambridge. Remember her?

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Born 1/27/13 at Shepherd’s Hey Farm (she’s #1305), sheared in November 2013 with me stalking her fleece since May 2013?

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And remember that I took the silvery bits of her fleece and spun that up into a lace weight yarn to make a bit of a shawl?

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Well, another part of her fleece met the spinning wheel. The dark grey bits.

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I spun the singles thicker, being very careful not to over twist the singles. This beautiful fleece has a staple length of 6″, and a nice crimp but not as tight a crimp as…say, a Cormo or Merino. And while I wanted to spin these singles worsted for a smooth and silky finish, I wanted the fibers to twisted together but not packed together so tightly that the garment resulting from this yarn would be wool-armor.

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The yarn is a DK-ish weight 2 ply yarn. I wanted to make a 3-season cardigan with this yarn, so while there was a voice in my head that was whispering that I ought to make a 3-ply yarn (I love round yarns!), I thought that I would get a better draping garment with a 2-ply yarn made from this fleece. And we all know that I am quite opinionated about my yarns 🙂

One would think that because Cambridge is mostly Romney that this yarn would be too “woolly”, or “not next to the skin soft”. We will see what happens when this yarn is knitted into a garment. Granted, this is no Qiviut, but I don’t think I’m going to have to wear 3 layers of turtlenecks before I can put on a Cambridge sweater. It is fantastic fleece — and the spinner who got her grubby little hands on the fleece (that would be me) may be improving bit by bit in her spinning skills.

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I will let the photos do the talking on the color of the finished yarn. Whatever words I come up with will not do it justice. But I love it that this fleece is a million different shades of grey (no, not 50), something that I think only nature can create.

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I have a pattern in mind. Norah Gaughn’s Kingscot. I think Cambridge would love being a swingy cardigan that I can wear every day.

Next chapter….Cambridge Meets the Knitting Needles.

Happy New Year!!!!

What did you put on your needles on January 1? I cast on a few things, but I started one very special project. It’s very meaningful to me because it uses two skeins of my handspun, one that shows how the fiber won, and one that shows that I learned a lesson from the first mistake. Appropriate for the New Year, right?

IMG_9797When I first started spinning, this is what I envisioned: Pick out beautiful fiber from a top producer, spin it better than any machine could, and knit it into a garment that I would either wear forever or gift, beribboned and opened to lots of Oooos and Aaaahs.

THEY say that to be an expert at something, you need to put in 10,000 hours. (Malcolm Gladwell? Although it seems the 10k hours concept has been around a long time).

Having started spinning in earnest (OK, in a panic since I had signed up for a seminar with Maggie Casey at Maryland Sheep and Wool and didn’t want to appear like I knew nothing) in April, I am very far away from expert.

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Imagine, as a beginner spinner, encountering cormo combed top for the first time. It’s like ice cream, vanilla and chocolate. Combed to perfection, there it sat in beautiful coiled loops at the Roclans Farm booth at Maryland Sheep and Wool. I had just taken my first spinning seminar.

It really looks like it would be easy to spin. I mean, it’s practically spun! This was the state of my brain as I purchased my fluff from Kate.

I had big plans. So, when I started spinning the brown beauty, I wasn’t really held back by the fact that the singles would sort of pull apart relatively easily (first warning sign). I chalked it up to being a beginner, and mindful of the “one big mistake beginner spinners make is over twisting” lesson that I was taught, I spun lots of it. Over 3,000 yards of singles, to be precise. I plied it, the yarn looked OK. Maybe a bit uneven, but charmingly so. I was optimistic.

Then, it went though a soak. And the fibers went…..BOOOOOINNNNNG!!!!! I now had 1500 yards of loosely spun, loosely plied yarn. This was a total rookie mistake. Cormo has a tight crimp and once soaking took some of the spinning twist out of the yarn and “livened up” the crimp in the fiber, it became very obvious that I should have spun this fiber with a lot more twist.

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It wasn’t many weeks after this incident that I learned that cormo isn’t exactly a beginner’s fiber. I think one should try as many things as possible, and don’t let things intimidate. Perhaps not 1.500 yards worth though!

The imperfect spinning on my yarn did nothing to prevent me from knitting this yarn up, and I modified the original pattern to make sure that the delicate lace was framed in solid garter — I did not want too many areas on this shawl where the integrity of the shawl was dependent on too many single stranded sections on this garment. The resulting shawl is soft, bouncy, yummy, and warm. The shawl is a modified version of Gudrun Johnston’s Flukra.

IMG_9086I was a little wiser by the time I recovered from my less than perfect first cormo spin. I decided to make a 3-ply sport weight yarn, worsted spun of course from the white top. By this time, I had purchased a flyer for my wheel with higher ratios — so it was easier to make sure I was introducing more twist into the singles. I let it rest a few days, and made sure that when I was tying off the skein to leave plenty of room for the fiber to expand.

This end product definitely looks better, and I’m happy with this yarn:

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I knew right away that I wanted to use the white and the brown together in a project, and as I saw many beautiful versions roll off my knitting group members’ needles, I knew that I wanted to make a Brooklet by Cecily Glowik MacDonald. I wanted the solid portion to be nice and cushy, while I wanted the lace layer to be properly blocked.

It’s a long cowl, which I can wear as a single, double or a triple loop. I’m sure I will get a lot of wear out of it!

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