I’m still having fun knitting my blanket of mitered squares, though it’s a challenge to knit when the temperatures rise. I’m adding the squares in somewhat of a circular fashion around the initial square. At some point, I’ll need to plan for the finished dimensions, but for now, I’m just adding squares randomly.

4-5 progress

The piece is now big enough that I can get a good sense of it’s drape. It’s going to be great! The slight difference in gauge between the different yarns doesn’t seem to be a problem. The garter-stitch structure seems to be very forgiving.

I’m having a blast knitting mitered squares!  I decided to work two sizes of squares–small squares made up of 25 stitches and large squares made up of 51 stitches. I’m using the colors and sizes randomly and I’m trying to alter the orientation of the decrease diagonals for a patchwork look.

3-29 progress

This type of knitting is truly addictive. As soon as I finish one square, I want to start another. I sat down to knit one square, and look where I got!

3-30 progress

I learned to spin a few years ago and, since then, I’ve spun some of my own alpaca yarn and I’ve purchased handspun alpaca at various retreats and festivals. But now I’m wondering what to do with this assortment of yarn. It ranges in weight from fine sport to worsted and includes a variety of natural colors. I’ve been disappointed in enough alpaca sweaters that sagged and dragged after a few wearings so I’ve been reluctant to knit another. I had planned to make a shawl out of my own handspun, but what to do with the rest?

The answer came to me one evening when I was snuggled under a woven alpaca throw that my sister had given me. I can combine the assortment of yarns in a blanket! To take advantage of the various colors, I plan to follow Vivian Hoxbro’s mitered square technique outlined in Domino Knitting, which was published by Interweave back in 2002.

yarn

The garter-stitch structure of the mitered squares should help minimize stretching and mitigate some of the gauge differences. I plan to use size U.S. 8 (5 mm) needles for all of the yarns and hold two strands together for the finest yarn.

It figures that I didn’t get this idea until the end of winter. The biggest challenge will be keeping my hands from sweating while I knit. I think this will be a late night and early morning project.

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!