Some people call it a spinning wheel; this week I’m calling mine a coping mechanism. As yet another horror unfolds in the news, I’ve taken to my wheel for calming monotony. I’m working on fleece that I started spinning during my class on spinning for knitting at SOAR this fall. I’m planning a three-ply yarn that will likely become some type of vest if I can every bear to wear something that currently represents such sadness.

As I spin (or knit), I’m grateful for the process and again I think that the world would be a much more peaceful place if everyone spent a bit of time in quiet contemplation.
I wish you all peace.

Here it is — about 180 yards of three-ply from my Enchanted Knoll Farm Polwarth/Silk blend. It only took me a couple of hours to ply it, but it took days to find time to snap a photo.

I had planned to use this yarn for socks, but, given all the socks I’ve knitted in the past year,  I’m wondering if it might not be more fun to knit some sort of shawl/cowl thing.
Right now, I’m happy just to admire the skein.

I’ll be teaching at SOAR (SpinOff Autumn Retreat) next month–Spinning for Knitting a sweater, Socks at any Gauge, and Sweater Design Basics–and I started to get nervous that I haven’t sat at my wheel for several months.
To get reacquainted with my wheel, I decided to spin up the Enchanted Knoll Polwarth/silk top that I bought at SOAR last year. It’s a gorgeous combination of browns, burgundy, blue, and purple called “haunted.” I bought it with the intention of spinning three-ply yarn for a pair of socks.

It took a while for me to figure out how much tension to put on the break band and to get into a rhythm, but once I did, the fleece seemed to spin itself! I forgot how much I enjoy spinning. I divided the fleece into thirds and spun each third onto a separate bobbin.

I hope to ply the singles tonight.

I really should stop feeling so clever every time I knit something out of my handspun, but I just can’t help it.  If I had known how wonderful handspun is to knit with, I would have taken up spinning years ago. Now I feel I have to make up for lost time.
I just finished a hat for my oldest out of “barn blend” fleece I got from Stargazer Ranch Alpacas last June. I was afraid that pure alpaca wouldn’t hold its shape so I carried a strand of Marianne Isager fingering weight wool (Wool 1) along with my handspun. Worked in a modified k2, p2 rib, the hat is lusciously thick and, no doubt, warm.
My son only takes it off to sleep. Talk about gratification!

One of my son’s has asked for a hat (he lost the one I knitted two years ago, but that’s another story). They don’t often ask for something knitted so I’m going to jump on it.

This will be the perfect opportunity to use the yarn I spun from the alpaca “barn blend” fleece I bought last summer. I bet handspun alpaca is really, really great to knit with!

Early this summer I visited the alpacas at Stargazer Ranch in Loveland, Colorado. I left with some fleece from Arwen.

I’ve blogged about my trials in cleaning and carding the fleece, but now my efforts have paid off. I have 875 yards of sportweight alpaca in a luscious chestnut color. I photographed this yarn while waiting for a wardrobe change at a recent photo shoot for an upcoming book that will be published by Interweave Press. (I’m the editor of this book but am not allowed to disclose information about it yet.) Encouraged by the amount of yarn I produced, I’ll probably knit it into some sort of warm lace shawl.

The photographer’s assistant, Scotty, was suitably impressed with my yarn and modeled it for me.

Now, there’s an fashionable look!

Two weeks ago (has it really been two weeks already?), I had the good fortune to attend Interweave’s premier spinning retreat SOAR (i.e., SpinOff Autumn Retreat) on scholarship. This year, the retreat was in Manchester, New Hampshire, and although the trees weren’t quite yet at the peak of fall beauty, my breath was taken away by all that I learned in five intensive days of spinning. I’m quite certain that I will continue to spin until I’m too feeble to sit upright and hold fleece.

For the first three days, I took Blending and Spinning for Superior Socks by master spinner Michelle Boyd. The most striking things I learned in Michelle’s class are:

  • Socks are more durable if knitted from yarn spun in the worsted method, which is slower than woolen spinning but results in a stronger and smoother yarn that is less likely to wear out or pill.
  • Socks are best if knitted from yarn that has NOT been treated for washability. This is because in making a yarn superwash, the scales on the individual fibers are smoothed down (so they won’t felt). Although this makes for a soft hand and easy washability, socks (and any other garments) knitted from superwash wool have less inherent elasticity and tend to stretch out. I guess that’s why my socks tend to “grow” on my feet by the end of the day.
  • Socks should be knitted with three-ply yarn, which is smoother and more durable than two-ply yarn. Three-ply yarns are also more round when viewed in cross section, which adds structural strength and insulation. They also help prevent shrinkage, as the close-set plies allow little room for fiber compaction. This probably explains why my favorite sock yarns have always been ones with three or five plies.
  • For durability, sock yarn should contain about 20% of a strong extruded fiber such as nylon, rayon, or silk.
  • Socks knitted with the ideal yarn may feel a little stiff on the needles but with will soften and form to the foot after being washed and worn, and they will last longer than socks knitted from softer yarns.
After three days, I was able to produce a fairly consistent three-ply worsted-spun yarn out of a variety of fiber combinations, including blue-face leicester, merino, alpaca, nylon, bamboo, and silk.
And I got reasonably good at chain-plying my samples. Here is a sample of spaced-dyed fleece that I spun, then chain-plied to maintain the color blocks. Thanks to Michelle Boyd for taking a photo of my hands holding the precious yarn.
I also took four half-day workshops.
In South American Camelids by Robin Russo, I learned a bit about camel, alpaca, guanaco, and vicuna fibers and I tried my hand at spinning an assortment of them.
From top to bottom: two samples of natural alpaca; lavender alpaca blended with gray Cormo; pin-drafted Suri alpaca; Suri alpaca top; mixed llama hair and down, combed; distinct double-coat llama; homogeneous llama; guanaco top; blend of llama and alpaca; baby Suri alpaca:


In An Overview of Rare Breeds by Deborah Robson, I test-spun a variety of wool fibers not widely available but worth looking for.
From top to bottom: Hog Island; North Ronaldsay, Wenselydale, American Jacob, Manx Laughton (my favorite!), Clun Forest, and Black Welsh Mountain:


In Navajo Spinning and Handcarding by D.Y. Begay, I tried my hand at using a four-foot Navajo spindle. In addition to twisting some singles, I learned enough to know that I’ll leave this technique to the experts.


In Spinning Singles from Commercially-Prepared and Dyed Top by Deb Menz, I learned to make intentional color sequences from dyed fleece. This was a great way to wrap up the retreat–I broke out of my mud-color rut and played with bright and exciting colors. My vibrant skein of over-twisted singles still makes me giddy.


When I wasn’t in class, I enjoyed meeting some of the most welcoming and interesting people in my life. Unlike the stereotypical hippy throw-backs to the 1960s, spinners include people from every walk of life. And judging from the people I met at SOAR, they are the most fun-loving people on the planet.
Sign me up for next year!

Back in June, some friends and I visited a nearby alpaca farm and I got the bonehead idea to challenge my friend Sarah to a friendly competition where we’d split a fleece and each make something with it. We chose the first cut of a fleece taken from a cute Huacaya named Arwen (you can see photos of farm and Arwen on my post for June 26, 2011). Here’s my share of the fleece.

The fleece looked clean at the farm, but when I prepared to wash it I discovered a lot of sand, dust, and bits of grass. I washed it a few times but couldn’t shake the sinking feeling that this was going to be a bigger job than I thought, especially once I started picking through the fleece to open the fibers in preparation for spinning. I worked on it on and off since July and finally have collected the “clean” fiber. I think I discarded nearly a third of the original.

When I bought the fleece, I didn’t stop to think that I don’t have carders. And I didn’t realize that alpaca requires different carders than wool. Fortunately, I have friends that spin and one of them (thank you Maggie!) loaned me a drum carder appropriate for the fine fleece. I set up the drum carder on the back deck and got to work.

Unfortunately, this particular drum carder is quite old and the drive band wasn’t up to the task. Three times the plastic band snapped and three times I tried to melt the ends back together. On the last try, I wrapped the join with packing tape as well. But it was no use. The darn thing wouldn’t hold together.

So I ended up rotating the small drum manually with my right hand as I used my left to turn the crank to rotate the large drum. It took a couple of days (and a few puncture wounds) to get through all of the fleece. There is still more grass and dust in the fleece than I’d like, but I’ve made it this far and I’m determined to finish. I have about 40 batts, each weighing about 6 grams, which means that I have about 8 ounces of prepared fiber. I have no idea what I’ll make. Whatever it is, it will have to have a rustic feel. Suggestions anyone?

Because KnittingDaily is posting my comments about knitting my way through Sock Knitting Master Class (it’s one of the forums), I’ve been asked to slow down until people have a chance to get the book and search their stashes for yarn. I never expected people to actually join me in this crazy venture, but I’m delighted to see that it has drawn some attention. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a whole group of us knit every pair of socks in the book?!
To keep my fingers busy while I take a break, I’ve started spinning some of the alpaca fleece I bought from Stargazer Ranch Alpacas a couple of weeks ago. (Every morning I log onto their website to watch the live cams of the mothers and babies.) So far, I’ve spun half of the “barn blend” I bought and I love it! (I apologize for the blurry photo–I must have been shaking in my excitement.)

I don’t know how much I’ll end up with yet so I’m not sure if I will ply it on itself or with some luscious wool/silk blend (I’m thinking Jaggerspun Zephyr). This has the makings of a gorgeous scarf or shawl.

Yesterday some friends and I took advantage of an open barn at Stargrazer Ranch Alpacas in nearby Loveland, Colorado to meet their Suri and Huacaya alpacas. We were allowed to go into the field with the animals, which had been sheared a few weeks ago.

Once I got over my shyness, I got close to the alpacas.

Alpacas give birth year round. Here’s a beautiful 3-week old Suri. What a gorgeous chestnut color!

My friend Sarah bought a skein of yarn from this handsome dude (I forgot his name, but I’m sure Sarah hasn’t). As far as I know, Sarah hasn’t decided what to do with the yarn but she couldn’t resist it’s softness and deep brown color (notice how it matches her hair).

Not to be outdone by Sarah, I bought a bit of roving to spin. Here’s 13 ounces of  fleece from Cutie Pie (who has since left the farm) on the left and 8 ounces of barn blend (an assortment of fleeces) on the right. For now, I’m content to just rub the roving against my cheek.

As we were getting ready to leave, we noticed the bags of fleece in the storeroom. Sarah and I couldn’t keep our hands out of the bags and ended up buying the part of the fleece that came off of a mahogany alpaca’s back (reportedly the best part of the fleece). We split the fleece evenly and each came home with 1.1 pounds. We’re thinking we’ll process and knit the fiber as a sort of “group” project. I’ll let you know how it goes.

I took another trip into the field to snap this photo of Arwen, the grand dam who produced that lovely mahogany fleece. The pink collar around Arwen’s neck indicates that she’ll be having a baby soon–it makes her easier to spot in the field in case she needs help.