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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.

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.

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!

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!

Hate weaving in ends?

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One of my least favorite knitting tasks is weaving in ends -- but I almost never have more than two ends to weave in. How? Wet splicing.

spit splicing.jpg


Wet splicing is a way to join yarns while knitting. It is essentially felting two pieces of yarn together. It only works with yarns that haven't been treated not to felt (like superwash wools). Since Sheepspot is a superwash-free zone, you can use wet splicing with all of Sheepspot's yarns.

Wet splicing is very simple. If the yarn has multiple plies, you untwist the ends of your yarns carefully and break off about an inch or so of one of the plies. Then, you get them wet (I use a little bit of water, but some like to call this "spit splicing"). You overlap the two pieces of wet yarn together and rub them quickly between your palms until the overlapping pieces are the thickness of the rest of the yarn.

That's it! Now, you'll have two fewer ends to weave in, and a perfectly smooth transition between yarns.

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!

More ways to use your tablet as a knitting tool

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This is the last post in a series on the tools I use to make my knitting life easy as pie. In the earlier posts I talk about my needle stash and how I store it, my knitting tool kit, and how I use my iPad to store patterns.

Last week I wrote about how I use my tablet to store all of my knitting patterns, so that I always have them with me in case a bout of startitis sets in. In response, Tracy wrote "I skip the scanner and use the app DocScanHD on my iPad to copy any paper patterns I have. It allows you to size, correct and store pdfs, no more scanner needed, just the iPad!" Great idea! 

In addition, Kat wrote, "The best tool ever for knitting patterns, especially charted patterns, is knitCompanion (available in the Apple Store). . . You can sync it with Ravelry, so you have your entire Rav Library with you. It keeps track of where you are in the pattern (even when you close the app, or put the project in your project bag and forget it for several months). You can highlight increases, decreases, things you need to keep track of (in different colors). It makes charted lace (with patterning on the knit side and the purl side) simple. It is seriously a knitter's best friend."

I haven't tried knitCompanion (yet), but I have used another app for the iPad called JKnit. JKnit definitely has a learning curve, but once I figured it out I found it pretty easy to use. Once you've put in the pattern information, it both counts your rows and gives you row-by-row instructions. It doesn't support charts, though.

If you're interested in exploring knitCompanion and JKnit further, this handy blog post reviews them both—and it talks about GoodReader, which I mentioned last week, as well.

You may also be interested in this list on Ravelry of all the third-party apps that you can connect to your Ravelry account to provide mobile access to various kinds of information. 

Huge thanks to Tracy and Kat for getting in touch!

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!

Your tablet as a knitting tool

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My iPad with a current WIP in  Rambouillet Sport

My iPad with a current WIP in Rambouillet Sport

In the last installment of this series on knitting tools (I talk about needles here, needle storage here, and my knitting tool kit here), I'm going to talk about how I use my iPad to store my knitting patterns

First, though, a couple of you contacted me about the fact that I omitted stitch markers from my tool kit. Since I don't use stitch markers for every project, and I'm a little maniacal about keeping my knitting bag as lightweight as possible, I keep my stitch markers in a separate pouch. I'm considering revising this policy, though, after getting this impassioned (and informative) communiqué from Carolyn:

In every one of my knitting bags: at least half a dozen locking stitch markers - an absolute necessity!  For so much more than just when the pattern calls for one.  For securing a dropped stitch while you go find your crochet hook to repair it, for marking increases or decreases or any thing else that you need to keep track of but might be hard to spot, for marking a starting point for when the pattern says "continue in pattern for X inches"; lots and lots of uses!

Yes! The dropped stitch thing! Brilliant! Locking stitch markers going into tool kit!

Now, about that iPad . . . 

In the past ten years I've done my best to eliminate as much paper from my life as possible. This includes paper knitting patterns. At this point I pretty much only buy patterns as PDFs. I keep these in a folder on Dropbox (my cloud storage, so I know it's safe and I can access it from anywhere), organized into subfolders by type of projects (hats, cowls, pullovers, cardigans, etc.) Then I use a fabulous program for the iPad called GoodReader that easily syncs with the Dropbox folder and allows me to annotate PDFs to my heart's content—in order to, for example, highlight the size I'm knitting, or to underline all those tricky spots that say "and at the same time . . . "

If I want to keep a pattern that I've found in a book or a magazine that I own, I make a copy, scan it to PDF with my small desktop scanner (most copy shops will scan things for you if you don't have a scanner), and then recycle the copy and, with rare exceptions, pass the book or magazine on to a friend. Then I put the digital copy into the appropriate folder in Dropbox, sync the folder with GoodReader, and voilà! All my knitting patterns on my iPad, conveniently accessible wherever I go. And no paper clutter!

I love knowing that no matter where I am, I can access any pattern I have, which means that if I have a bout of startitis while traveling (which, weirdly, happens more often than you might think), I'm ready. 

How do you wrangle your knitting patterns?

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!

My must-have knitting tools

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In this series of posts about knitting tools, I've talked about my needle stash and how I organize and store it. This week: my knitting tool kit.

I keep a small kit of essential tools in my knitting bag. It has what I need to deal with pretty much any knitting problem I'm likely to encounter on the go, but it's deliberately minimal and lightweight. It contains:

  • a small pair of sharp scissors
  • a retractable measuring tape
  • cable needles
  • stitch holders
  • several big, blunt embroidery needles for weaving in ends, housed in a Clover Chibi
  • a needle sizer in the shape of a sheep (of course)
  • a set of cheap, lightweight aluminum crochet hooks, for picking up dropped stitches
  • a 24" circular needle, US size 0/2 mm, for picking up or holding stitches, or as an afterthought lifeline when ripping back

I actually have two of these kits all made up and ready to go; I've kept an extra one as a backup ever since leaving one in my rental car at SFO after visiting the Knitmores! This little pouch from Namaste (below) is perfect. I also like these bags from Tom Bihn.

I have a larger bag with post-its and highlighter tape (for back in the day when I used paper patterns; more on that next week), a small notebook, and other odds and ends, but I don't ever use it. My tiny little tool kit does the job!

Do you have other must-have knitting tools? Let me know and I'll do a follow-up to this story. Just hit reply!

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!

How to deal with needle overload

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Needle storage should be pretty!

Needle storage should be pretty!

Last week I shared all the details about my needle stash. This week I want to share the tools I use to create order from what could be a chaos of circulars, interchangeable tips, and cords. First up: the interchangeables:

I use these lovely interchangeable cases from pokdej on etsy. I have two of the extra large ones, one for my Knit Picks sets and one for my DyakCraft ones. Because I have a lot of the Knit Picks cables, I also had pokdej make a custom case for those as well. Her work is absolutely lovely; these are well-made, sturdy bags, and she uses lovely modern fabrics. You can choose already-made cases or choose your fabrics and zipper colors and she'll make a custom one just for you. And she's fast. I highly recommend her shop.

For the fixed-length circulars, I use a somewhat less elegant but sturdy solution, the Namaste Double-Wide Circular Case:

Yes, it lists to the side a bit, and yes, I did have to create all those labels myself, but I can find what I need quickly, and that's the point, right?

Next week, I'll show you what's in the tool kit that I keep in my knitting bag at all times.

How do you store your needles?

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!

Do You Have a Needle Stash?

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My straight needles. I don't knit with them, but I love to include them in product photos.

My straight needles. I don't knit with them, but I love to include them in product photos.

This is the first post in a series on knitting tools. Today: needles!

I knit everything on circular needles (I even use the magic loop method for socks); I find it's more comfortable for my wrists. When I started knitting seriously in 2009, I had some needles, mostly bamboo, that I had collected over the years. Even that small collection of needles presented a storage problem, though, and I could never remember which needles I had when I was shopping for a project. I quickly decided to get an interchangeable needle set, because I wanted to know that I had at least one of every possible size of circular needle. That way I was prepared for any project.

I had also learned that I like a long, pointy tip to my needles (oh, how my knitting life improved when I learned this crucial fact about myself!), so I decided on a set from Knit Picks. I know that folks have very strong feelings, pro and con, about these needles, but they've worked well for me. I haven't had a lot of quality issues with them (I broke one once, and Knit Picks cheerfully replaced it), and, though there are things I don't like about them (like the fact that you need a paper clip to secure the joins between the needles and the cords, and the fact that you can't tell what size they are without a needle sizer), I've used them for lots of projects and I'm pretty satisfied. I have both the wooden and metal sets, though I rarely used the metal ones; they're too slippery for me.

Later, when DyakCraft was making interchangeable needle sets in wood (which, alas, they no longer do) I got one of those as well. I always have at least five things on the needles (really, that's a very conservative estimate), so I was constantly running out of the sizes I use the most. Therefore I "needed" the DyakCrafts. Obviously! They are wonderful, wonderful needles. They have beautifully tapered tips, joins that secure without any tools, and very nice, flexible cords. I wish I had bought another set while I could. If you like metal, their needles are absolutely worth checking out.

Truth be told, though, I sometimes am too lazy to deal with the putting together the tips and the joins, finding a paper clip, etc. When I have start-itis I want to get going, like, yesterday. So over the years I've collected a good range of fixed circulars, usually with 24" or 32" cords. Some of these are Signatures, which are super-spendy, but which have the best cords and the smoothest joins in the biz, IMHO. The rest are from DyakCraft. 

Those are the needles I knit with, which may leave you wondering about the ones in the photo above. Those are the various vintage needles I've collected to use in Sheepspot product photos. I love them, and I'm always on the lookout for more. 

Next week I'll tell you about the organizing solutions I've come up with keeping my needles safe and accessible.

What needles do you use?

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!

5 reasons to start a breed study now

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A Jacob lamb from Cindy Ghent's flock here in Ontario.

It makes 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.

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.

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!"

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.

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 here, here, 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 spinners who just don't have the time to work from fleeces. Members get wool from a new breed every other month, complete with information about the breed's history, characteristics, and wool. 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 22. You can find complete details about the club, including prices and options (and there are lots of 'em) here. Be sure to sign up to get an email reminder so you don't miss out