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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 recently finished my first shawl of the year.

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I’m not exactly sure what is happening so far in 2014 (I think it’s called the spinning wheel), but I am surprised that it took me so long to cast on a shawl. I think I had forgotten that I love to knit lace, how just arranging well planned holes and twisted stitches transforms yarn into something so amazing. And how the spaghetti that comes off the knitting needles just metamorphosizes into glory once it is blocked.

For me, there is nothing that flies off the needles faster than a well designed shawl.

So, when I cast on Jared Flood’s Sempervivum shawl in a wondrous grey yarn from Hedgehog Fibres, a score of an experimental shade that was in the dyer’s personal stash, I could not put the needles down.

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And, as a bonus, this shawl is knit from the bottom up, which means that, the most stitches you’ll have on the needles is at cast on!

I am always careful about using variegated yarns on lace, as not to detract from the lace motif. However, I think this yarn worked out pretty well. No striping, no pooling… just hints of blues, greens, rusts in a wash of grey.

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I have been wearing this shawl nonstop. And yes, I’ve cast on another shawl!

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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I have no issues knitting through the summer. (Well, I have a few caveats like no big wooly project sitting on my lap for prolonged period of time even with the AC on). There’s nothing like the first hints of fall to get me excited about sweater knitting, though.

After what seemed like a heat wave that lasted forever, summer seemed to have gone in a flash and we had a relatively temperate end to August here in NYC.  Very conducive to sweater knitting. So conducive that I finally finished my June’s Favorite Cardigan, and I test knitted a lovely little sweater, Miranda, which should become a staple in my wardrobe this fall.

IMG_9177 - Version 2First the June’s. Or more like, as it ended up being, “INSPIRED BY” June’s Favorite Cardigan. The last bit of knitting, which took all of an hour or two, has been completed, the ends were woven in and the garment blocked. The sweater is knit out of Green Mountain Spinnery’s Green Mountain Green, a yummy yarn. (So yummy I just ordered another sweater’s worth for a pullover…). My sweater is oversized, the cable band has been doubled which has made the collar around the neck wider, and I can pull the cardigan closed around my body like a big wooly hug if I get cold.

IMG_9173The test knit was for Miranda, for the lovely  Josée Paquin. It’s a casual hoodie sweater, with a kangaroo pocket and short sleeves. The architectural cable panel in the front, which integrates into the pocket, is the dressy feature here. The hood is fully functional and fits nicely over the head….and not just another piece of knitted fabric that will keep my neck warm. I anticipate wearing this sweater quite a bit this fall. The bonus is that the yarn, Lorna’s Laces Shepherds’ Worsted in Cookie’s Deep Dark Secret, was a prize for a KAL for sweater out of Cookie A’s Shapes + Forms book!

I definitely am willing sweater season to get here quickly, and have a couple more sweaters on the needles…..Think I have stripes on my brain!?

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IMG_1963As my Adventure’s with June’s Cardigan would attest, I have a tendency to pick a sweater pattern, actually pay for said pattern, and proceed to tinker with the pattern beyond recognition.

That seems to be my modus operandi.

Why? Well, I think all of this is seeded in the fact that I believe that when I knit a sweater, I am creating the fabric AND the garment, so I should be able to make EXACTLY what I am picturing in my mind. It’s very much like cooking. A little of this, a little of that, I have in my mind what I want….and I go about trying to achieve it.

Well with sweaters, this could mean making many calculations. I’m not shy about making these calculations. In fact, sometimes like in cooking, I have a tendency to do this on the fly. Of course the intention as I am starting my bush wacking through a pattern that I’m going to remember my route with a few trail markers. If I’m plowing through a project (think deadline) then my memory is still relatively reliable. Should I put a project down for more than a few days though? UH…..not so much.

Just a bit about the math involved. I don’t have a particularly curvy body to fit. In fact, my body is basically a rectangle (sort of a plumper version of Jackie, who Amy talks about here). I have two pet peeves with sweater patterns. If I knit a stated size to fit my bust, it rarely fits across the shoulders. If I knit a size for my shoulders (note, not many patterns give this measurement!!!) I look like…well, a rectangle covered by knitted fabric. What I normally end up doing is monkeying with the yoke and upper arm/armhole area to make a sweater that is snug enough but not super tight. We won’t mention here that I think the sleeve cap and armhole is the one place on a sweater where calculating a length involves a curve (um, 12th grade math. This is calculus. That was a long time ago.).

I can usually get pretty close, and with a knitted fabric, which is forgiving, this usually is good enough. But I am never confident in sweater patterns, I start getting squirmish and itchy to modify patterns as I near the arm hole shaping, and I feel like each knitted sweater has an element of Hail Mary in it.

Enter Amy Herzog.

IMG_9130I met Amy last March when I attended the Green Mountain Spinnery Spring Retreat (one of my most favorite knitting retreats!) in beautiful Saxtons River, Vermont. She came to the class with 40? 50? sweaters. She came ready to demonstrate what a well fitting sweater, for your body type, could do for the shape of your body. It was fun, it was engaging, and I was full in. So full in that I decided that the sweater I was knitting was completely wrong for me, and I ripped out about 500 yards of knitting. The “new” version of this will hopefully be much better fitted, and much better suited for my body than the colorwork (yes, it was 500 yards of colorwork) body cozy I was knitting for my rectangular torso.

IMG_9132When Amy mentioned then that she was working on developing a software program that would generate patterns fit for your body measurements, given a swatch, my ears prickled. All I could think was, NO MORE SPREADSHEETS.

So, when Amy put the call out for Beta testers a couple of months ago, I raised my hand. I raised my hand VERY high and waved it around all over the place.

IMG_9128IMG_1954And guess what? Tada! A simple, but well fitting sweater in a killer yarn for me to wear every day (or until I can knit more sweaters to go into the rotation). It fits perfectly in the shoulders. The top seam for the sleeve hits exactly at the right place on the shoulder. The armhole is fitted, but not tight. When I swing my arms around, the sweater does not pull anywhere. But it is snug in all the right places, just enough to make my rectangle have some curves.

After all these years, I am conditioned to buy a certain yardage of yarn to make a sweater. The upside of a nicely fitted sweater was that I had plenty of yarn left over (yet another bonus) to knit a cowl. Presto change-o. The v-neck sweater can also play in my wardrobe as a cowl neck sweater.

IMG_1962The cowl is Circumnavigate by Heidi Kirrmaier. As with Heidi’s beautifully simple sweater designs, The cowl has just enough of a knit/purl stitch pattern to be interesting without taking away from the slight variegation I have in the yarn that I used.

As for the yarn…it is JulieSpins Silky DK in fluorite. I asked Julie how she would describe this color…and she says it is a “silver grey with a hint of yellow”. It is a strangely wonderful color. It’s grey but not really. It’s got bits of yellow and blue and in some lights the sweater looks green. Just like fluorite!

Now I’m just waiting for the weather to go my way so I can wear this sweater. Now you want a perfectly fitted sweater too, right? Well, Amy’s CustomFit software is still in beta test. But the software seems to be working, given the amazing finished object photos that are starting to pop up. I’m sure all the elves in the background who make these things work are hard at work. I will refer you to the Fit Diva’s website and link to her newsletter subscription for up to date news on the software!

PS. There are many who are finishing up their second and third sweaters….I, too, have cast on for a CustomFit-ized version of a relatively ambitious sweater in fingering weight cormo. More on this as I make progress!