Sheepspot

Another podcast!

behind the scenes, what we doSasha TorresComment
SpinDoctor Image.jpg

Hello, dear spinners! As many of you know, I hosted the SpinDoctor audio podcast from 2010–2014, just prior to launching Sheepspot. 

I'm so excited to announce that I'm starting a new podcast. That's right: The SpinDoctor is almost back in!

So what brings me back to this place? Well, many things. Of course, my love of all things spinning and sharing this knowledge with others. And many of you have told me that you miss my voice! And truth be told, even with the many crafting-related podcasts online today, all this time later, we are still lacking in spinning-centricpodcasts—particularly of the audio variety.

So I'm plunging back in with The Sheepspot Podcast.

Now, three years after SpinDoctor, lots of things in my life (and I'll bet yours too) have changed, so if you've been re-acquainting yourself with the older episodes of SpinDoctor (and please do!), be warned that The Sheepspot Podcast will be quite different from SpinDoctor.

The new format will be shorter (episodes will be 15–30 minutes long), with minimal editing. Each episode will offer one focused spinning lesson or one "behind the scenes" peek at what's going on at Sheepspot.

Most importantly, though, I hope to make The Sheepspot Podcast a valuable and enjoyable learning experience for every spinner who's listening. I know we're all way too busy, and I promise not to waste your time.

Is there a spinning topic that you'd like me to cover, or a spinning question you'd like me to answer? If so, please let me know. Contact me here and send it along. I'll do my best to get to it in an early episode!

Using a color wheel to find color harmony in your spinning

how to, what we doSasha TorresComment

On the left, an analogous colorway using yellow-green, green, blue-green, and violet. On the right, a split-complementary scheme using blue-green, red, and orange. 


In the last blog post, I offered some of my favorite "pro tips" on color management in spinning, culled from what I consider to be the best sources available on the subject. Today we dive deeper, as I talk about using a color wheel to suss out color harmonies, or color combinations known for yielding pleasing results, in the braid you want to spin.  

If you'd like an easily digestible lesson in understanding the principles behind the color wheel (and so much more), I recommend Felicia Lo's  book, Dyeing to Spin and Knit. Once you know a bit of color theory and understand how a color wheel works, then you can better decide what you'd like to achieve with the fiber you've got before you.

Due to a little something called "optical mixing" (the theory behind pointillist paintings like this one), our eyes perceive the tiny dots of color produced when we create handspun yarns as mixtures of the colors in question. Let's put this to practical use: First, you'll unbraid your fiber and take a good look at the colors and their alignment on the color wheel. Depending on these relationship(s), you'll then decide on your desired outcome. Here are some examples:

  1. If, as in the photo on the left above, the colors are analogous, or side by side on the color wheel, then you're in luck. These colors will play well together no matter how you'd like to spin and ply your fiber. Your next decision is whether you'd like to preserve the brightness of the colors, their order in the fiber itself, etc. Anything will work, even a fun barber pole effect. Your colors will not muddy.
  2. If the colors in your braid are complementary, or opposites on the color wheel, or even, like the fiber on the right above, split-complementary (one color or hue with the two hues adjacent to the opposite color), then you've got more to think about. These opposites can dim or muddy one another, depending on proportions and other factors. Or, they can also be used to create lovely colors on their own, again depending on proportions. Maybe you do want to tone down the brightness of this braid of fiber? Maybe you don't. Before you go and spin your default two-ply, think through the outcome. (Sampling is in order!)
  3. Don't write off or destash an overly-exuberant (loud) braid of fiber. Instead, spin it fractally, or even as a traditional 3-ply. The results will be a much more muted version of the colors in the original fiber and a highly knittable yarn. You won't believe the difference!
  4. Consider bringing a solid color to the mix, if you have one on hand. Whether it's black to deepen the tone, white to brighten, or a color similar or even complementary to what's in the fiber bump itself, you can completely transform your end results with this oh-so-simple addition to your spin.

The options are truly endless when it comes to spinning and using the color wheel and color harmonies as your guide, and knowledge is power, as they say. Learning more about color harmonies is a terrific way to become a more purposeful spinner!

Pro spinning tips on color management

what we do, how toSasha TorresComment
Managing Color.png

How would you plan this spin?


Hello, spinning friends! Do you look at a braid of boldly-painted top and immediately think of the dozen or so ways you could spin it, based on color management alone?

Not so much?

Well, I do, and I want you to be able to do so, too. That's why in the next few newsletters, I'll be highlighting some of my favorite theories, tips and resources on the topic of managing color in spinning. From face-palm simple to downright deliberate, there's a color-management trick or tool here to grab your interest.

First, a few tips culled from Jillian Moreno's Interweave video, "12 Ways to Spin Handpainted Top," perfect for those who enjoy bold color but prefer to spend their time spinning, rather than prepping fiber:

  • Color always appears brighter and bolder when spun at a thicker weight yarn.
  • Altering the outcome of your yarn is as simple as changing the order of the color repeats and/or the way you split the braid itself. Keep it intact or nearly so, by splitting it down the middle once for long color repeats, or rip it into thin strips for shorter runs of color (and anything in between). Try a fractal split, leaving one half of the fiber as is and then stripping the other half into shorter bursts of color runs, for the best of both worlds. 
  • There's no reason to abide by a dyer's color inspiration if it doesn't strike your fancy. Don't love a color in your braid? Pull it right out of the fiber bump and spin away.
  • Try tearing half of a braid into small chunks and spinning this bobbin against half you leave as is. Or, try "chunking" the entire bump of fiber itself and then spinning it randomly.

For a more thorough look at Jillian's love for spinning colored tops in different ways, there's more in her great book, Yarnitecture.

Speaking of books, Deb Menz's Color in Spinning is my go-to source for all things on color. Meticulous and yet relatable, Deb has been creating and spinning the blends and handspuns we now consider to be "on point," notably blended rovings and tops and even purposeful handspun that fades in intensity, and she's been doing so for more than three decades. Her optical blending process begins with the dyeing and goes through the careful pre-drafting of her fibers (if you've never been a fan of pre-drafting, this book will make you want to try it Deb's way), but her lessons are applicable to any spinner who wishes to better manage the way we see colors in our spinning projects.

You need this book. No spinner's library is complete without it.

If spinning is your zen, then time spent with Judith MacKenzie McCuin (even if she's in digital format) is nothing short of therapeutic (Franklin Habit once called her "the bodhisattva of spinning"). Judith still believes in putting in the effort to spin that "perfect yarn" for a project, and she gets there through employing the use of practical spinning theory--heavily influenced by 20th Century Swiss expressionist painter Johannes Itten. Watching her and hearing her soothing voice throughout her Spinner's Color Toolbox video never gets old . . . . If you've longed to take a class with a true Spinning Legend, this video is the next best thing.

And finally . . . how could we talk about spinning and color without mentioning Felicia Lo, founder and creative director of Sweet Georgia Yarns. If Deb Menz teaches us how to optically mix colors by being mindful on the front end of our spinning, then Felicia is our guide to managing optical mixing through spinning. Her book, Dyeing to Spin and Knit, is full of brilliant photos and talks about every topic from marling to barber-poling, even down to the nuances of taking control of color transitions. It's all in there, which means that no spinner never need fear a colorful bump of fiber again.
Hallelujah.

Above all, experiment. Use a few of your most colorful fiber bumps for the sole purpose of understanding some of these theories and practices, and make sure to keep a detailed notebook of yarn samples and knitted swatches for future reference.

Setting realistic spinning goals

what we do, behind the scenesSasha TorresComment
Spinning Goals Blog Post Photo.jpg

Since writing about Spinzilla in the last blog post, I've been thinking about spinning goals and self-acceptance. Basically, I'm talking about setting realistic spinning goals for oneself and feeling good about them. Or, sometimes, not setting any goals at all.

Here's a true fact: I've never participated in Spinzilla. And it's been years since I spun the Tour de Fleece. In September and October, I'm busy teaching a great big lecture course to 270 stdents at my day job (with, thank goodness, lots of help with grading from teaching assistants) and getting ready for—or recovering from— the fall festival season. And in July, getting the first shipment dyed and out to my new fiber club subscribers usually requires my full attention. 

All of this is completely OK with me. I love what I do—all of it—and I count my blessings every day that I get to do it. Running Sheepspot means that these days I spend most of my making time dyeing, though I do have a wheel in my studio and spin while waiting for dye to set or fiber to cool. I know that you, too, are juggling your making time with work, families, spouses, or other time-consuming life circumstances.

The more stressful our daily lives, the more I believe in the need to carve out a bit of quiet time for spinning. For lots of folks, group competitions such as Spinzilla can serve as reminders to ourselves that we need to create this time, whatever that may be, and bring it forward into our routines. For others, though, such events can feel like added pressure, like just another "should."

So practice self-compassion and let your spinning goals emerge from what makes sense for you right now. 
The time I spend spinning is meditative and replenishing, and for those reasons it's something that I do my best to make time for. It really doesn't matter how many miles you spin, only that you participate in the act of spinning itself.

Spinzilla

what we doSasha TorresComment
Spinzilla Post Image.jpg

Sasha here, to talk about what's got me excited, and that is the fifth annual Spinzilla (October 2-8, 2017)! As always, it's hosted by The National NeedleArts Association (TNNA), which is promoting "a monster of a spinning week."  

Spinzilla is a global competition in which spinners (either on teams, or as "rogue," or individuals) try to spin as many miles of yarn as possible in just one week, both for bragging rights as well as to bring visibility to our craft. Registration fees are donated to TNNA's evolving mentorship program, so that our kids can grow up and be fiber-loving spinners too!

"But Sasha, 'miles' of yarn?" you may be thinking. "Maybe I'll just sit this one out."

Aw, don't do that—at least, don't do it based on fear or intimidation. Instead, take that week as a gift to yourself and your inner spinner within. Feed your spinning monster. Below, I offer my key reasons why Spinzilla is an event well worthy of joining.

  1. Camaraderie: Not everyone has the good fortune of being able to belong to a fiber arts guild. For one week each year (even longer, if you join in the Ravelry forums in time to enjoy Spinzilla preparation and discussion), you can join ranks with spinners from all over the globe. Ask questions, gather intelligence, or simply enjoy the online companionship. It's a beautiful thing.
  2. Success: First of all, one mile is the equivalent of 1760 yards. That right there sounds a whole lot more attainable, doesn't it. Factor in the TNNA formula for counting yardage  [plied yardage] + [plied yardage x # of plies] = yardage for which you can claim credit, and a person's end results are looking a whole lot longer. Or, focus on attaining a goal during that week, such as becoming more proficient at core spinning or even spindle spinning. Tailor the week to meet your definition of success.
  3. Sustainability: By making learning accessible to the next generation, we can all be party to sustaining this craft as not just a hobby, but hopefully a lifestyle or means of support for decades to come.
  4. Inspiration: There will be bobbin and handspun porn galore during and just after Spinzilla and I, for one, cannot wait to lay my eyes on it.
  5. Prizes: I almost didn't add this one to the list, but I did. I am only human, after all. It's as simple as could be to be entered to win all kinds of incredible prizes, too. Just make sure to post photos in your team thread and to turn in your final yardage tally to either your team captain or to TNNA (if you go rogue) by the competition's deadline. You will be notified if you've won any extras.

Truly, whether your monster is a Godzilla or a Gonzo, I look at this competition as one that benefits all spinners, current and future. Registration is open through September the 30, so gather that fiber stash and get ready!

Goodbye to yarn

behind the scenes, what we doSasha TorresComment
goodbye to yarn picture.jpg

Have you ever noticed that the really important conversations are the ones we most often put off having?

This is one of those conversations, but here goes: as of the end of this month (September 30, to be exact) Sheepspot will no longer be dyeing and selling yarn online. Instead, we’ll be focusing 100% of our energies on providing our spinning customers with beautiful fibers and the information and support they need to make beautiful yarns with them.

I know this decision may be disappointing to those of you who don’t spin, and who have enjoyed knitting with Sheepspot yarns, so I want to be transparent with you about how I got here

When I first started Sheepspot in 2014, I really thought I was creating a yarn company. I wanted to give knitters who didn’t spin access to some of the wonderful wools I had discovered as a handspinner. And I was genuinely excited about sourcing wool and working with mills to realize my yarn-making ambitions at a bigger scale. 

I wasn’t prepared, though, for how travel-intensive and physically exhausting sourcing wool would be. Or how long it would take to see that wool turned into yarn. Or how unpredictable the results could be. (Remember the Ile de France Aran? Argh. It was so lumpy and unevenly twisted I couldn't sell it.) Or what all of the above would mean for Sheepspot’s cash flow. 

And along the way, something else happened. I started dyeing fiber. And I discovered how much I loved it. Because I am, at my core, a spinner. And, in my heart of hearts, I want to serve other spinners

Maybe that’s why I’ve always sold much more fiber than yarn. At any rate, I’m following my biz coach Tara Swiger’s advice: do more of what works

And crucially, not just what works in a what’s-best-financially way, but what works in a follow-my-heart way

Enough about me. Here’s what this means for you:

  • If you’re a knitter, September 30 will be the last day you can buy Sheepspot yarns online. Until then, and while supplies last, all yarns will be deeply discounted. Any unsold yarns will be available for purchase (again, at discounted prices) in person at festivals only. 
  • If you’re a spinner, stick with me, kid! Going forward, I’ve got even more delicious wools for us to sample and enjoy together. More preparations (including batts and more dyed locks). More videos. More learning. More spinning. 

I’m so excited about Sheepspot’s future. Here’s to growing forward. 

Sasha

PS: Starting this fall, I’ll be opening the Sheepspot Studio for live, in-person spinning events and classes. If you live anywhere near London, Ontario, head over to www.sheepspotstudio.com to learn more about what I have planned!

Do you pre-draft?

how to, what we doSasha TorresComment
predrafting picture.jpg

Hi, All. Sasha here to talk about a subject which is often debated among Big Name spinners, and that is pre-drafting. Pre-drafting is just what it sounds like—you take a strip of fiber and attenuate, or draft, it in advance of spinning. Some find it to be an extra preparatory step worth taking, as the fiber is not merely attenuated and ready for twist to be added at the wheel or on the spindle, but it can also be stripped into narrow, easy-to-manage parcels. There's now less to think about while actually spinning. Those who protest its use do so because this pre-drafting of fibers changes the original bump of fiber, particularly when it's been hand dyed. Here at Sheepspot, we fully support the use of any tips and tricks which may help spinners feel more in control of their own spinning and their end results, and I believe that pre-drafting is one such tool. By all means, do it if it helps! Let's get to it.

How to pre-draft your fiber for spinning

You can predraft the roving or top without stripping it, but, remembering that this is all about more easily managing a bump of fiber for spinning with greater ease and control (we're going to use combed top from my stash, though technically the steps are the same for roving and batts), the first step is splitting the fiber into more narrow strips. Think about what's easiest for you to manage, because this is personal preference. I don't like to make my strips too narrow, because they start to become equally difficult to handle if the fibers have trouble clinging together. Find what works for you.

Fiber-stripping tip: hold the strip of fiber up vertically, then poke your finger through halfway across, starting a few inches down from the top. Using quick, firm movements, tear up to the top, then all the way to the bottom. You should get two even strips of fiber using this method.

Now, we attenuate the fibers. One strip at a time and with your hands several inches apart, you will gently, sloooowly at first, draft out the fibers ... not so far that it breaks apart, just to the point that your see and feel (and if you listen carefully, perhaps even hear) the fibers begin to slip past one another. Your strip of fiber will become a fluffy pleasure. Carefully roll it into a nest, put it aside for spinning, and continue until you've completed your task.

What to do if you accidentally pull too far? Say "Oops!" and just keep going. It happens. (And it gives you an opportunity to practice your joins.)

Just in case anyone is wondering why someone would hate on such a peaceful method of spinning, I do want to mention that pre-drafting of hand-dyed fiber does slightly alter the intensity of the colors. If you attenuate in advance, you do lose a bit of the coloways' oomph, but frankly, I don't think most people would notice. As for purists' upset over the fact that we're splitting the top and breaking down the color runs, some of the greatest spinners I know do this every day because they want to experiment and play with color!

As always, I say to do what works for you. If pre-drafting is that, do so proudly.

Back again: Holiday Knitting

how to, what we doSasha TorresComment

Hi Everyone! Danielle, here, to talk about holiday knitting with Sheepspot yarn. 

Every year I tell myself not to take on so many projects for the holiday season, and every year I ignore my own advice. I really think there’s nothing better than a handmade gift, especially a hand knit one that someone made with you in mind. It’s also often something that you couldn’t get anywhere else, making it even more special. That’s why I choose to make a majority of the gifts that I give each year. In addition to gifts, I also make a few items for the annual charity silent auction at the YMCA, and I take on a few commissions from friends and colleagues. When I add it all up, it’s a LOT of knitting – which means I start planning now, and I’ll start knitting by the end of this month.
 
A large part of being prepared to make all of these things on a deadline is being organized ahead of time with yarns and patterns that I’m going to use for each project. This usually begins with a trip to my LYS and a search through Ravelry. If I can’t find what I need on Ravelry, then I have time to come up with a pattern. If I can’t find the right yarn at my LYS, or not enough of the colour I need, I have lots of time to order some online. One handy aspect of planning ahead is that you’re forced to think about how much yardage you need, which means you won’t have a scare a week before your deadline when you run out of yarn.
 
If you don’t have knit-worthy people in your life to give gifts to, the winter holidays are a great time of year to donate handmade items to charities, shelters, and hospitals. A lot of silent auctions happen in the winter, and they’re always looking for donations.
 
As you can see above, my list is small right now, but it will likely double (or even triple) in size within the next two months. Being organized this far in advance makes last-minute additions less stressful and more manageable.
 
P.S. This month’s challenge in the Sheepspot Community Facebook Group is to get going on your holiday gifts! There will be a free PDF download available in the group to help you plan your gift knits.
 
Happy knitting!

Suffolk Slippers

how to, product reviewsSasha TorresComment

Hi everyone! Danielle, here, back with another installment of knitting with Sheepspot yarn. This time, it’s a pair of slippers using Sasha’s Suffolk Worsted.
 
This yarn is bouncy and durable, and wears very well. I could tell right away from feeling the yarn in its skein that it would make excellent slippers. I’ve worn them most days since I finished them and they still look perfect! They’re very warm, and as you can see, extremely cute.
 
I used the Simple Garter Stitch Slippers pattern, which is a great (and free!) pattern by Hanna Leväniemi. I finished these in a couple of days of light knitting, but they could easily be finished in one day by a speedy knitter. It is truly a simple pattern, knit flat in garter stitch and then seamed together. If you don’t know how to crochet, don’t fret! On the last page of the pattern, Hanna shows you how to do the slip stitch seam, and this video is helpful for learning single crochet edging.

For my slippers I used a skein of the Crown Royal color, which are each one of a kind (OOAK) and look great with a white seam. For some other color combinations in Suffolk Worsted, here are some I quite like:

If you buy two skeins, you’ll be able to make coordinating adult slippers and have enough for some little ones as well (perfect if you know a baby or two). I hope you’ll pick up a skein or two and make yourself a pair of these slippers – they’re simply lovely.
 
Cheers, and happy knitting!

Spinning wool/silk blends with confidence

how toSasha TorresComment
A delicious blend of 80% Organic Polwarth and 20% Bombyx silk, new to the shop, shown here in Still Waters Run Deep

A delicious blend of 80% Organic Polwarth and 20% Bombyx silk, new to the shop, shown here in Still Waters Run Deep

There's a new fiber in the shop (right now it's just on a few colorways, but more are coming): a blend of 80% Organic Polwarth and 20% Bombyx silk. So I thought it would be timely to talk a bit about the challenges that wool/silk blends can offer. For one thing, silk is a lot more slippery than wool, which can be an issue if you've got the tension on your wheel cranked up too high. 

What's more, blending together a short-stapled, crimpy wool like Polwarth, and a smooth, inelastic, long-stapled fiber like silk is likely to create some subtle inconsistencies in commercially-blended top. And these inconsistencies can then find their way into your singles.

The question then becomes, “How much inconsistency is too much?” 

Some spinners find great beauty in this type of minor imperfection … a wayward slub or two of unblended silk can be a thing of loveliness to this spinner. Other spinners will meticulously pick out each slub as it appears. Regardless of which outcome I am seeking, I do prefer to be in control of my end results and so I always sample (drafts, whorls, plybacks, etc.) before committing to a spin. 

If you are seeking a smoother, shinier end result from a wool and silk blend, here are some ideas:

  • Try adding a woolen touch to that short forward draw by keeping your fingertips apart after drafting each length of fiber. Instead of smoothing down the newly-formed yarn, allow this twist of air between your hands to fill the plane instead. Inconsistencies will be less notable, especially after you finish your yarn.
  • Go with a plied yarn instead of a singles. More plies help to spread out any variances in structure.
  • Comb your top. It’s your fiber and you can do with it as you please, including processing it one step further.
  • Spin from the fold, in this case, specifically long draw or supported long draw (which will yield that same woolen vortex of air as suggested in No.1).

As always, take the time to get to know each bump of fiber by sampling using not only different drafts, but also by experimenting with different  whorls/pulleys, ratios, uptake, to make sure you are happy with the amount of twist in your singles. And of course, make sure that your posture is what it should be so that you can enjoy your spinning for many more years to come.

Katie's tips on getting the most from Breed School

testimonials, what we do, who we areSasha Torres1 Comment

Sasha here. It's a huge pleasure to bring you this guest post from Katie Mazaitis, one of the 2016-17 Breed School cohort. Here she shares a bit of her own spinning history, her experience with the Fiber Club, and the techniques she used to make Breed School an effective "learning space" for her. (Pro tip: you could use these tips to get the most out of any class you take, online or offline.)

Hello! My name is Katie, and I’m happy to have been invited to write a guest post for the Sheepspot Fiber Club & Breed School. This (2016-2017) was my first year in the club, and I’ve had a really excellent experience, not just with this year’s picks (Shetland, Whitefaced Woodland, Southdown, Rambouillet, Teeswater, and Polwarth/Silk) but with the whole concept of the club as a shared learning space. 
 
I’m an engineer by training, and currently work writing research software for a machine learning & search engines group at Carnegie Mellon University. My husband is a freelance technical writer who also teaches at CMU as an adjunct in the English department. We like to make stuff, and the hobbies rotate seasonally. In addition to spinning and knitting, I make soap, sew, and keep a vegetable and dyer’s garden.
 
I first picked up a spindle in February 2014, and hit the ground running. I bought a small antique wheel off a Ravelry destash that April, went to a fiber festival that May where I took my first class, bought my first fleece, and impulse-bought an antique CPW. I took a support spindling class in spring 2015, completed my first fleece-to-garment project in early 2016, and am about to finish my second if I can push through the rest of the body of this sweater before the summer heat sets in. I grew flax last year, aim to process and spin it this year, and am starting to get the hang of grasped spindling using a distaff. Fiber art has been my primary creative outlet and meditation for the past three years, and I get in at least an hour of practice daily from October through July. 
 
Before signing up for Breed School, I had already done a bit of breed study and fleece prep on my own. The current “Is The Club For You?” guide on the front page actually advises against the club for people with that level of experience. I might not have signed up had that recommendation been there a year ago, but I still got a lot out of it. So long as you come in to the club with your curiosity in gear, regardless of previous experience — well, we’ll get into that in a bit.
 
I care about Breed School as a learning space. I have a lot of experience thinking about learning: I’ve repeatedly wound up in schools that were brand new and/or trying out new strategies for education (junior high, community college, engineering school, masters program). New places expect to make mistakes, and the easiest way to rapidly improve in response to those mistakes is to ask for feedback from students. This extended familiarity with educational experimentation has grown into a general interest for me, and I’ve followed up on that interest with practice. I taught social dance for about ten years, designing curriculums for all levels of dancers; I wrote a paper during my master’s coursework on how teaching techniques for the creative disciplines differ from the traditional lecture-based approach; my job is in academia, and part of that is mentoring the undergrads and masters students studying with our lab, providing different kinds of support for them as they become more confident with the research process. I believe that teaching and learning are important parts of everyday life. Knowing more about what kinds of learning and teaching suit you best can help ensure you have a good experience no matter what kind of educational environment you find yourself in.
 
Breed study groups in general are a form of group independent study: a bunch of people, each working independently on a shared topic. There are many options available for this on Ravelry and Facebook. Breed School stands out in that not only are students working on a shared topic, they’re all using the same fiber as well. This noticeably enhances the social experience of the group, making it easier to share notes, and more exciting to see what other people are able to do with the same fiber. You don’t have to worry about anyone getting tripped up by a bad supplier. When everyone shares the same fiber, you have a reliable baseline for asking questions. Learning becomes something you can do as a group. 
 
A big advantage for me of thinking of Breed School as a learning space is that it becomes natural to bring along some of the tools I’m familiar with using in a more academic setting. I want to share three of them with you now, because once you know that Breed School is something you want to participate in, the techniques below will help you get even more out of the experience.
 
The first learning technique is something I picked up while writing dance curricula, designing computer science problem sets, researching design learning, and mentoring students through the early stages of deadline-withdrawal: assignments are almost never for the benefit of the instructor. Assignments are for students, because in order to learn, you have to practice, and until you know enough to practice on your own, you have to make do with assignments. Do the assignments. Breed School doesn’t have formal assignments with due dates or grades or anything, but it does work better if you put yourself in contact with the materials as early as possible. When you get your fiber shipment, (1) read the breed notes, (2) read the sampling notes, (3) pull out a staple of the fiber and spin it. Five, ten minutes, tops. If you wait until you have an hour to luxuriate in it and dream up a big sampling schedule, something will always get in the way and then *poof* the live chat will have come and gone and *poof* the fiber will be lodged in your stash and you won’t have learned anything. Bummer. 
 
(There’s an extra spoonful of sneaky here in that it’s way easier to start a 5-10 minute task and just keep going for an hour than it is to start an hour task, but even if you only get the 5 minutes, every bit of practice helps)
 
The second technique is something I’m ashamed to say I didn’t learn until after I dropped out of grad school the first time: Always go to office hours. Attend the video chats: live, if you can, taped, if you can’t. Even if you’re already familiar with the fiber, there’s always more to learn. Even if you haven’t had a chance to look at it yet, you may get the inspiration you need to get started. Even if you don’t have any questions, somebody else might ask something you didn’t think of. Even if you hate this particular fiber, you might learn something that connects to a fiber you do enjoy. 
 
The third technique is something I learned subconsciously as an inquisitive high school student, and have had to articulate as I’ve come to do more mentoring of adult students: Ask questions. There are two levels to this. The first level is, if you’re confused about something, or something doesn’t quite line up, ask about it. No question that comes out of confusion is stupid. Most of them aren’t even unique — your classmates are probably wondering the same thing. So: ask. The second level of “ask questions” comes when the opposite is happening, and everything your instructor says makes pretty good sense. I think most people just let that be the end of it. Instead, that should be your signal that you’re ready to go deeper and integrate what you’ve just learned with what you already know. Coming up with questions is a great way to start: 

  • Is there anything stopping you from applying this technique/topic, immediately, and with confidence? 
  • Does some of what you’re hearing sound familiar, maybe similar to another fiber? It might indicate a pattern.
  • If you were going to study this fiber closely enough to write a paper on it, what would you pick as uniquely meaningful or interesting about it? Or how would you decide?

Stretch your new knowledge until you discover something unfamiliar. The more connections you can make, the greater facility you’ll build with the new information.
 
These three techniques are great separately, but even better together. If you give yourself time to practice, you’ll be more likely to encounter places where questions might arise. If you go to the chats, you’ll get new ideas for things to practice, and hear questions from other people that might spark more of your own. If you engage deeply with the material in trying to brainstorm questions, you’ll come up with even more things to try in your own practice sessions, and be better able to engage with the group during the live chats and general facebook chatter. 
 
This is what makes Breed School such a phenomenal experience. The opportunity to learn independently, the shared experience and energizing support of a group of like-minded students, and access to an enthusiastic, knowledgeable instructor come together to make an impressive package. I came in to Breed School knowing some things, and I learned at least that much over again. I enjoyed having the opportunity to play around with new fibers and new skills, and have built some great new habits too. If you’re on the fence about joining the club, I hope I’ve tipped the scales for you!

2016-17 Fiber Club colorway round-up

dyer's notebook, what we doSasha Torres2 Comments

Every year I like to write a post chronicling what I sent out to the fiber club. If you're considering joining the Fiber Club this year, looking through these will give you some idea of the kinds of fiber I send out and the colorways I come up with.

When I'm thinking about new colorways for the club, I always start by making a moodboard. I just grab a lot of images from Pinterest that have similar colors and group them together. Below I've posted the moodboards and some pictures of the fiber (and in some cases yarn) that the moodboards became. 

Despite the fact that I took a huge number of photographs this year, I did not do a very consistent job of documenting the club fiber. There are lots of colorways I didn't photograph, for whatever reason. So lots of the pics below are club members' photos, from Instagram. I'm so grateful to them for giving me permission to use them here. And seriously, folks, go check out their wonderfully fiber-centric feeds.

Along with the multicolored colorways I design for the club, I also offer coordinating semisolids; some of those are pictured below, but I'm focusing on the multis here.

July 2016: Shetland

Austen

Austen

Bronte

Bronte

I was pleased with how both of these turned out. I love how the sweetness of the pastels in Austen is tempered by the cool gray; you'll definitely see this colorway on other fibers in the future. Below are two shots from Instagram to give you a sense of the fiber. 

Austen, by @knittyzen

Austen, by @knittyzen

Here's Bronte, with its coordinating semisolid, Aubergine, from @claudiachristinemeyer.

Here's Bronte, with its coordinating semisolid, Aubergine, from @claudiachristinemeyer.

September 2016: Whitefaced Woodland

Painted Lady

Painted Lady

Russian Squirrel

Russian Squirrel

These I have pictures of! I absolutely loved both of these colorways, and they are both going into the regular rotation. Love, love, love. (And the Whitefaced Woodland was dreamy.)

Painted Lady

Painted Lady

Russian Squirrel and its accompanying semi-solid, imaginatively called "Russian Squirrel Orange."

Russian Squirrel and its accompanying semi-solid, imaginatively called "Russian Squirrel Orange."

November 2016: Southdown

Cranberry Bog

I liked both of these quite a bit, though I'll probably tweak the lime green in
Mexico a bit going forward to make it a little greener.

Here's @owlcatdesigns' Cranberry Bog (plus an undyed braid).

Here's @owlcatdesigns' Cranberry Bog (plus an undyed braid).

Club member Laura Walters spun her Southdown into a three-ply yarn and knit it into these stunning socks.

Possibly the most beautiful socks ever. 

Possibly the most beautiful socks ever. 

January 2017: Rambouillet

Orion

Orion

Rosette

Rosette

OMG, guys, this was my favorite pair of the year! I loved them. And they both spun up beautifully. These will both go into my regular repertoire. 

Every time I look at this picture, my heart sings. These beautiful singles in Orion (and the gorgeous pic) are from @lschildress.

Every time I look at this picture, my heart sings. These beautiful singles in Orion (and the gorgeous pic) are from @lschildress.

March 2017: Teeswater

Lavenderia

Lavenderia

Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras

Finally, some of my own pictures! Because the Teeswater takes color so intensely, Lavenderia wasn't nearly as pastel-y as I originally intended. I'm excited to try it on a different wool. I wasn't sure about Mardi Gras until I saw Janelle's yarn (pictured below). Spinning this colorway as a singles was a brilliant choice, because the reds and greens aren't competing with one another, as they likely would in a plied yarn. 

Lavenderia

Lavenderia

Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras

Gorgeous Teeswater singles from @jlwinpa.

Gorgeous Teeswater singles from @jlwinpa.

May 2017: Polwarth/Silk

Nantucket

Nantucket

Cape May

Cape May

I always want to go with something summery for May. I loved the simplicity of the blues and yellow in Nantucket, and, as usual, threw in a bit of that de-saturated blue gray to complicate things a bit. And I love the combinations of the slightly desaturated not-quite-pastels in Cape May. 

@jlwinpa's Nantucket, which she captioned "Summer in Fiber Form."

@jlwinpa's Nantucket, which she captioned "Summer in Fiber Form."

Of course, if you're a white-wool purist like Beth Smith, you always have the options to get your club fiber undyed, like Penny, whose collection is below. ;-)

I love this picture from @pziarnik.

I love this picture from @pziarnik.

Five reasons to start a breed study now

how to, what we doSasha TorresComment

1. It will make you a better spinner.

We all get into ruts in our spinning, making the same yarns over and over again. Spinning teachers call these ruts "default yarns." Mine is two-ply, about a dk weight, spun short forward draw with twist between my hands. It's an easy, fast spin that I don't have to think about very much. 

But if my experience is any guide, spinning the same yarns doesn't make us better spinners. Every aspect of my yarns improve when I force myself out of my rut and try new things, whether they're new techniques or new fibers. 

There is an astounding range of breeds of sheep, and they grow an equally astounding range of wools. And each of them is best spun a little differently. That's how breed study makes you a better spinner: by giving your brain and your hands new materials to work with and new problems to solve.

2. As a spinner, it dramatically increases the range of yarns you can make.

Want elasticity? Choose a down breed, like Suffolk or Dorset Down. Want drape and sheen? Choose a longwool like BFL or Teeswater. Want something that won't make your neck itch? Choose a fine wool, like Cormo or Rambouillet. Want to spin a marled yarn in soft natural colors? Choose Jacob or CVM.

3. As a fiber artist, it lets you use precisely the right tool for the job. Every time.

If you walk into a yarn store, you're likely to find two kinds of wool yarns: the ones labeled "Merino" and the ones that give no indication at all as to the breeds that grew the wool (and usually no indication of where the yarn was made, or how, but that's a topic for another day). But as a spinner with knowledge of wool types and the breeds that grow them, you can match the yarn you make to the project you envision, with a precision non-spinners can only dream of. You can control both the hand of the yarn and how durable it is through your choices of fiber and technique. As spinning teacher Maggie Casey always says, with a twinkle in her eye, "Spinners can be the ultimate control freaks!"

4. It connects you to the real source of your materials. And it's not your LYS.

Spinning for a breed study links you to the shepherds who raise the sheep and the flocks that grow the wool. For those of us who want to live—and craft—in ways that acknowledge and celebrate our interdependence with the natural world, working with wool and other natural fibers can be a deeply satisfying part of making.

5. It ensures that those materials continue to exist

Breed study will require you to use kinds of wool that are likely not widely available commercially. So if you think that small, sustainable agriculture is important, or if you want to support North American mills and processors, breed study can be a great way to put your money where your mouth is

In addition, breed study will likely lead you to rare and endangered breeds, precious resources with wonderful characteristics that, for one reason or another, have been passed over by large-scale agribusiness. These rare breeds are the living repositories of genetic resources that may be crucial to us in the future. (To read more about threats to genetic diversity in livestock animals, see my posts herehere, and here.

As Deborah Robson and Carol Ekarius note in The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook, "in order to continue to have these irreplaceable resources available for our pleasure and delight, we need to support the living infrastructure of animals and people that makes their existence possible." 

Word.

What's stopping you?

Breed study usually means buying raw fleece. And that can be a daunting prospect. Where do you find the fleece? How do you know that it's high quality? How do you wash it without felting it?

Then there's the preparation. Do you have hand cards? Combs? A flick carder? Are your tools appropriate for the kinds of fleece you have? Do you know how to use them?

And do you have time for all this?

Breed study in the past has been expensive and time-consuming. Because I feel so passionate about its importance, though, I've come up with another way: the Sheepspot Fiber Club

It's breed study without the prep, for committed, inquisitive spinners who just don't have the time to work from fleeces. Members get wool from a new breed every other month. I also spin every fiber myself in lots of different ways, and include detailed sampling notes (about wheel setup, drafting technique, and which yarns I liked best) with each shipment to help you get started with the fiber.  

Memberships go on sale June 21. You can find complete details about the club, including prices and options (and there are lots of 'em) here.

And be sure to sign up to get an email reminder so you don't miss out.

CVM in the house (and a special free download)!

behind the scenes, how to, mission, what we doSasha TorresComment

CVM Worsted in Limestone

Sheepspot’s CVM Worsted: the new worsted-weight yarn from Sheepspot, spun in the US from the wool of a US flock of rare sheep, is available now.

But what the heck is a CVM?

CVM stands for “California Variegated Mutant.” Yup, for realz. CVMs are a colored strain of Romeldale sheep.

Romeldales are an American breed of sheep developed in the early 1900s, from a cross of Romney rams and Rambouillet ewes. They have always been quite rare. In fact, for many years, almost the entire population of Romeldales lived on a single farm, Stone Valley Ranch, in California. And the entire clip of wool from that flock was sold each year to Pendleton Woolen Mills, in Oregon. Like most commercial wool operations, Pendleton was not interested in colored wool, so colored lambs were culled from the Stone Valley flock. But in the 1960s, Glen Eidman, a sheep breeder who was working with Stone Valley’s owners to promote the breed, decided not to cull a colored ewe and then, later, a colored ram. Eidman bred the two colored Romeldales, and dubbed the resulting sheep California Variegated Mutants.

From the beginning, Eidman bred CVMs with handspinners in mind. But even with a small group of spinners enthusiastic (very enthusiastic!) about their wool, the numbers of both Romeldales and CVMs dwindled without a breed association to promote them. The Livestock Conservancy, a group that champions rare and heritage livestock breeds in the US, formed a breed association and registry for Romeldales and CVMs. Even now, though, the Conservancy lists them as “critically” endangered, which means that there are fewer than 200 Romeldale/CVMs registered annually, and that the worldwide population of these sheep is likely less than 2,000 total. 

CVM Worsted in Sandstone

The yarn

Part of Sheepspot’s mission is to support genetic diversity in the general sheep population by supporting the shepherds who raise rare sheep. We do this by educating our customers about the virtues of these unusual wools, and thus expanding the market for them. Since there are more knitters than spinners in the world (so far), getting these wools into the hands of knitters in the form of millspun yarns is an important part of creating more demand. So you can imagine that we were over the moon when a CVM shepherd in California contacted to ask whether Sheepspot was interested in buying wool—and when it became clear that she had enough wool to allow us to produce a millspun CVM yarn in several colors!

The shepherd in question, Rhoby of Rhoby’s Ranch, not only had wool for us. She was also willing to sort the wool for us by color.  So, after securing a sample, we agreed to buy the wool and Rhoby got started sorting.

After the wool was sorted by color, Rhoby shipped it to Blackberry Ridge Woolen Mill in Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin. There Anne, the owner, washed the wool and, based on the washed weights of the various colors, made a final determination that she could make three roughly equally-sized batches of yarn in three distinct colors. These became (from left to right, below) “Limestone,” “Sandstone,” and “Shale.”

From left to right: CVM Worsted in Limestone, Sandstone, and Shale

The lowdown

CVM Worsted is a two-ply, woolen-spun yarn that’s soft and resilient, with a slightly crisp hand. Its two-ply structure makes it ideal for patterns that incorporate lace and eyelets into their designs. The fact that it’s been spun using the woolen method means that it’s light, warm, and very elastic. Woolen yarns tend to be happy knit with a wider variety of needle sizes and in a wider variety of gauges than their worsted spun counterparts, both because their fuzzier texture will fill in the gaps between stitches and because they contain a lot of air, and can thus be compressed a bit at tighter gauges without distorting the stitches. We’ve found this yarn to be happiest at around sixteen stitches over four inches, knit on US 7 needles (4.5mm), but as always, it’s crucial to get to know this yarn by knitting a swatch to get your preferred gauge. You’ll find a lot more information about swatching with CVM Worsted over on the Sheepspot blog.

CVM Worsted comes in generously-sized skeins of approximately 280 yards, and is priced at $26 per skein.

CVM Worsted in Shale

OK, I gotta have some of this yarn. What should I knit?

We’re so glad you asked

We think CVM Worsted is a great sweater yarn, so we’ve made you a downloadable PDF with a list of eleven sweater patterns—five cardigans, and six pullovers—that we think would complement it perfectly, and that are knit in appropriate gauges. We’ve gravitated toward casual, classic designs that will suit CVM Worsted’s structure and characteristics. We hope you find something that you love. 

There’s a live link on every page that will take you directly to the pattern’s page on Ravelry, where you can learn more and buy the pattern. All the photos are copyrighted by the designers, and are used with their permission. Many thanks to Amy Herzog, ANKESTRiCK,  Yellowcosmo, Melissa Schaschwary, Hanna Maciejewska, Isabell Kraemer, Caitlin Hunter, Stone Wool, Hilary Smith Callis, and Bristol Ivy for agreeing to have their patterns included here.

We can't wait to see what you knit with this wonderful new yarn. 

Swatch-o-rama!

how toSasha TorresComment

I'm so excited to bring you Kat Christensen's first contribution to the blog. Kat (you can find her own amazing blog at askatknits.com) is my assistant, Sheepspot's community manager, and a much braver sweater knitter than I am. Here she describes the swatching process she uses to find the ideal gauge for a new yarn. Take it away, Kat! —Sasha

I was so fortunate to get an early treat from Sasha – she sent me several skeins of Sheepspot's newest yarn, the woolen-spun, DK-weight CVM that will hit the Sheepspot shop in February. I was excited to try it and was really hoping that it would be as nice the limited-edition Clun Forest I had gotten from Sheepspot a couple of years ago. That yarn became a sweater that I love, Vodka Limeade.

I was not disappointed – at all! The skeins are lovely. There is the faint smell of sheep and there is a hint of lanolin remaining on the yarn as well. To me, neither of these things is a drawback; rather they're pluses, as they tell me that the wool wasn't over-processed at the mill. 

I sat down with an array of needles and, starting with a US 6, I cast on 46 stitches. And then I just began to knit, adding 6 yarnovers to remind myself that I had knitted that section of the swatch with a size 6. I wanted a row that was long enough that I wasn't constantly having to turn my work, but not so long that it felt like I would never reach the end of the row! I knit big swatches, because the key to swatching successfully is to get into your usual knitting rhythm, which doesn't happen if you are only knitting a small swatch. Things looked nice with the 6, but I wondered what else the yarn could do.

After knitting a bit, I marked my change row and began knitting with a US 5. The 5 produced a much stiffer-feeling fabric, but knitting was not at all difficult. After knitting several more inches, I again marked my change row and picked up a US 7.

This is when the yarn really began to sing to me. The stitches had more room between them and, knowing that the CVM would bloom in washing, I was excited to see what fabric this would produce. I knit on for several more inches and then cast off. I then began to wonder, if the yarn was happy with a US 7, what would it do with a US 8? So, I got out an 8 and cast on the same number of stitches and happily knit more.
 
Now, swatches should always be measured after you have washed and dried them, but I also take measurements before washing so I know if I am knitting to my gauge as I knit the project. And I measure over 4 and 8 inches. I lay the swatch on a table and get out a straight ruler and some pins. And, really – a straight ruler is crucially important! I pin out the measurements and count the stitches. 

Here are my pre-wash measurements:

  • US 6 – 18 stitches = 4 inches, 36 stiches = 8 inches
  • US 5 – 18 stitches = 4 inches, 35 stitches = 8 inches 
  • US 7 – 17 ½ stitches = 4 inches, 35 stitches = 8 inches
  • US 8 – 17 stitches = 4 inches, 34 stitches = 8 inches

The stitch counts did not vary drastically between the needle sizes—that is, until I washed the swatch! I soaked the swatches in hot water with a bit of Soak, and I left them in the water for about 45 minutes. I agitated them manually and then rolled them in a towel to remove the excess moisture and laid them flat to dry. I did not pin them out, I simply laid them flat and gently smoothed out the edges. I did not stretch them at all.

Here are the post-wash measurements: 

  • US 6 – 16 stitches = 4 inches, 32 stitches = 8 inches (4 stitches per inch)
  • US 5 – 17 stitches = 4 inches, 34 stitches = 8 inches (4.25 stiches per inch)
  • US 7 – 16 ½ stitches = 4 inches, 33 stitches = 8 inches (4.125 stitches per inch)
  • US 8 – 14 stitches = 4 inches, 28 stitches = 8 inches (3.5 stitches per inch)

As you can see, there was significant blooming when the stitches had enough room to do so. 

The next thing I looked at was the fabric I created with each needle size: how did they feel, how did they look, and how did they wear? Sometimes, finding the best gauge for a yarn is just a process of elimination. In this case, the swatch knit on the US 8 is soft and has good drape, but there is too much room between the stitches for them to help each other stay in shape for the wear that a sweater would get. I might use this gauge if I wanted to knit a cowl with some drape, but this is not sweater fabric. 

The next swatch that was easy to eliminate was the fabric knit on the US 5 – it's just too stiff. The stitches seem crowded and don’t have the room they need relax and bloom. 

It was a little more challenging to choose between the remaining two swatches. They both look and feel very nice. Ultimately, I preferred the swatch I knit with the US 7. This gauge allowed the yarn to bloom fully, filling in the gaps between the stitches and creating a fabric with a nice hand and drape—but not so much drape that the finished sweater will lose its shape. In contrast, the stitches in the US 6 fabric were a little crowded, but if I needed to use the 6s to match a pattern gauge I would do so. 

Now that I know what gauge will give me a soft, cohesive, and sturdy fabric with this yarn, the pattern hunt is on!

To be continued. . . 

If you'd like more information like this, along with sneak peeks at upcoming yarns and fibers, delivered right to your inbox each week, sign up here to get my newsletter! You can also opt-in to get my e-course on choosing and using breed-specific wools as a special thank you!

OMG: Lambing Live

product reviewsSasha TorresComment

I need to tell you, as a fellow sheep nut, about a BBC program called Lambing Live that I found on YouTube.

Lambing Live is just what the title would suggest. BBC Two airs it live, on five consecutive nights in the spring. Hosts Kate Humble (above) and Adam Henson cover a different shepherding family in each season. They film as many ewes lambing as they can, filling in the slow periods between births with background footage that they've shot during other crucial periods in the shepherding year (choosing rams, breeding—or "tupping", scanning the ewes with ultrasound to determine how many lambs they are carrying).

In short, Lambing Live is television for sheep nuts. I am completely hooked, and am working my way through the three available seasons. The seasons stop in 2014, but the three seasons on YouTube are just amazing and the lambs!

Now, before you get all excited, one caveat: the videos on YouTube are not high definition, which is a shame. But they are good enough to provide us sheep nuts with plenty of adorable lambs to squee over. 

If you'd like more information like this, along with sneak peeks at upcoming yarns and fibers, delivered right to your inbox each week, sign up here to get my newsletter! You can also opt-in to get my e-course on choosing and using breed-specific wools as a special thank you!

Fibery plans for 2017

who we are, behind the scenes, how toSasha TorresComment
Kat's going to sample more.

Kat's going to sample more.

Do you make New Year's Resolutions? Do you make them about knitting and spinning? Here at Sheepspot, some of us do and some of us don't. My fabulous virtual assistant and community manager, Kat (above), does. This year, she wants to knit more with her handspun yarns. In order to do this, she's going to do more planning and sampling before she spins, so she knows she'll get the yarn she wants for her project and that's she's using the fiber to best advantage. 

Danielle wants to work from her stash and finish UFOs.

Danielle wants to work from her stash and finish UFOs.

My wonderful studio assistant, Danielle, has also made a few fiber-related resolutions this year. She wants to "1) work from my huge stash of fibre and yarn instead of buying new all the time; 2) if/when I need something new for a project, buy indie & local; and 3) finish all the projects I've started and haven't cast off."

Me with Mr. Sheepspot. I want to feel meditative, joyful, and unencumbered.

Me with Mr. Sheepspot. I want to feel meditative, joyful, and unencumbered.

I don't really make resolutions. But l love the process Danielle LaPorte describes in The Desire Map, of choosing some ways I want to feel in the coming year. In my fiber life, I want to feel meditative, joyful, and unencumbered. In other words, I want to remember how important working with fiber is for my mental health and do lots of it. I want to work with materials whose colors and textures delight me. And I want to let go of everything in my stash that I don't absolutely love. 

Are you thinking about your fibery 2017? I'd love to know what's on your mind. Hit reply and tell me!

If you'd like more information like this, along with sneak peeks at upcoming yarns and fibers, delivered right to your inbox each week, sign up here to get my newsletter! You can also opt-in to get my e-course on choosing and using breed-specific wools as a special thank you!

Product Review: Ply Magazine

product reviewsSasha Torres1 Comment


Oh boy. I may not have much time to spin, but I've been grabbing time to read about spinning every time I get a new issue of Ply. Have you subscribed yet? If not, run, do not walk, over to their website and do so. Really.

Full disclosure: two of my favorite people in the world, Beth Smith and Jillian Moreno, constitute the editorial board of Ply. And you know that I'm a huge fan of Jacey Boggs, the magazine's editor, as well as of her teaching, her writing and her fantastic if short-lived podcast, Insubordiknit. But really, the folks at Ply are bringing it. Ply is wonderful. Here are three reasons why: 

  1. Focus on intermediate and advanced spinners. Each issue looks at a single topic, like woolen spinning, or spinning for color, or silk, or plying in real depth, and each starts by assuming a reader who has some spinning experience. So the woolen issue assumes that its readers know what "woolen" means, what "worsted" means, and what the difference is. From that starting point, it looks at "woolen" a zillion different ways: Jacey, in an article called "Lying About Longdraw" shares how she "tricks" students in her classes into spinning long draw. Beth explores the elements of "true" woolen spinning—short fiber carded into rolags, spun long draw—but also talks a bit about her own journey from diehard worsted spinner to woolen aficionado. Amy Tyler writes about spinning lopi-style woolen yarns, Amelia Garripoli explains woolen spindle spinning, and Stephanie Gaustad describes double drafting. Also in this issue: James Perry on unsupported longdraw and Abby Franquemont on spinning from the fold. There are also articles by Esther Rodgers and Lacy Ziemkiewicz on preparing fiber for woolen spinning, and one by Jillian on nine ways to spin a batt. See what I mean? Real depth.
  2. New and diverse voices. Ply is doing a fantastic job bringing new voices into the conversation. I'm particularly delighted to see a regular column by ergonomist and spinner Carson Demers on the ergonomics of spinning; the "Tip Jar" feature, with quick tips from spinners on some aspect of the topic at hand; and archaelogist Christina Pappas' articles on spinning history. Two of the highlights of the color issue for me were articles by David Schultz of Southern Cross Fibre on choosing a color palette and Felicia Lo on combining colorways. As I recall none of these authors has yet been tapped by Spin-Off, and it's wonderful to hear from them.
  3. Debate, not orthodoxy. Because every issue of Ply is organized around a topic, with articles that approach that topic from many different angles, it masterfully avoids erecting or reinforcing spinning orthodoxies. As the list of articles in the woolen issue suggests, Ply is built on the notion that there are many different routes to making beautiful yarn. One of my favorite elements of Ply is "Hot Button," in which spinners debate something like predrafting. With opinions ranging from Michelle Boyd's "Predrafting is the devil," to Deb Menz's "I do what I need to do," the magazine manages to undo even the most doctrinaire positions by putting them into the context of a debate. Similarly, the magazine's "Stealth Reviews" section features three anonymous reviews of a single product. I suspect that anonymity makes it easier for them to say what they really think (ask me how I know), and, again, no one voice gets the last word.

I could list more reasons I love Ply: the lovely glossy paper, the highly illustrative photography, the diverse models that grace every issue, the truly lovely and inspiring projects. But the point is you just need to subscribe and join the conversation. As I said: run, do not walk.

If you'd like more information like this, along with sneak peeks at upcoming yarns and fibers, delivered right to your inbox each week, sign up here to get my newsletter! You can also opt-in to get my e-course on choosing and using breed-specific wools as a special thank you!