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One of the questions that often arises for me is how to make the best use of handspun, bulky, and novelty yarns

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These yarns are often expensive, detailed, and bulky, and there is often not enough to make anything of any great size. I want to make something with these yarns, large enough to be useful, and that shows the artistry in their making.

I find that many crafters approach knitting from the perspective of a spinner or approach spinning from the perspective of a knitter. I think spinners who come to knitting often want ways to use their handspun yarns and want to knit something very simple, which makes sense when using many novelty yarns, but the detail of the yarns can get lost in the stitches.

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Knitters who come to spinning often want simple yarns in fabulous colours and fibres to use for more knitting focussed projects.

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I have tried both, and both have appeal, but I would like to propose a third way – there are techniques and styles and projects that can make use of beautiful handspun yarns of every description and show them to advantage, and here I must confess that many of my ideas in this area are heavily influenced by Debbie New.

I bought both these yarns from Milkyrobot’s Etsy Store

Girls Throw Snow (40 yards / 36.5m):

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And Earthworm (46 Yards / 42m):

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When they arrived I was really unsure about what to do with them. I was worried that they were too intricate to show all their detail and too short to make much if knit by themselves. Every centimetre of these yarns is beautiful, and I would hate to hide whole sections of them behind cables or on the back side of something.

For the Girls Throw Snow yarn I mixed it with some grey fingering yarn I had lying around that matched one of the accent colours, and knit it in an irregular version of Debbie New’s squiggle lace using large needles (pattern):

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For the Earthworm yarn I wanted to make things more interesting and combined several yarns:

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In a long strip:

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That I crocheted together into a scarf at the end using Debbie New’s labyrinth knitting technique (Ravelry link):

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I especially like the way the mohair lace weight makes transparent sections.

These projects show these yarns as I wanted them to be shown and have enough knitterly interest to keep mine.

I could probably be induced to produce a pattern for the Earthworm scarf too, if enough of you leave comments on my blog here.

I have invited Shawn O’Hagan of Island Sweet (blog, Etsy shop) to tell us about her fibre art.  I enjoy her yarns and knitting so much, and I thought that it would be great to ask her a little abut her process:

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Can you please tell me a bit about yourself?

I was a painter for 30 years. I have a Masters Degree in Painting. 10 years ago I decided I didn’t want to paint anymore. I no longer enjoyed the “art scene”. I felt I had nothing left that I wanted to paint. In the summer of 2000 I did an artist residency in Terra Nova National Park in Newfoundland, Canada (where I live), and took only fabric and thread and needles. I began making “fabric collages” – just playing with colour and texture. I wanted to make things that people could use – not just hang on their walls, so my collages became pillow covers and quilts. A few years later I picked up a rug hooking kit and began rug hooking with a passion.

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How long have you been working with fibre, what induced you to start and what craft did you start with?

I have always been a knitter. I was selling my knitwear (mostly hats and baby clothes) in shops and through the Craft Council. 2 years ago I was in New York City, and at PurlSoho, I picked up a skein of yarn from “Ozark Handspun“. I didn’t know that this kind of yarn existed! I knew immediately that I wanted to knit with that kind of yarn but couldn’t afford to buy it, knit it, then sell the product for a profit. So I needed to learn how to spin.

I am especially inspired by your spinning: can you give me some idea of your creative process?

I began spinning with a drop spindle in January 2008. I used this (along with hand carders) for 6 months. I used this early spun yarn for accent in my handknit scarves. In May I purchased a wheel (the Ashford Kiwi). In June I went to the Spinner’s Loft in Nova Scotia and took a wonderful 5 day workshop on the basics of spinning (I wanted to learn how to do it right, and then make it my own…) and in Oct I got a second hand Louet drum carder. By then was I confident enough about my yarn, and spinning in large enough quantity, to begin selling it.

Do you work from the fibre to your idea or from your idea to the fibre?

Sometimes I start a skein of yarn with an external inspiration – for example – a flower in my garden. Or a work of art (I still draw on my art background). Or a colour combination I see in a dress in a fashion magazine. I keep a sketchbook for ideas – colour combinations, titles etc.

Sometimes I just choose colours almost randomly and after the skein is finished I decide what it reminds me of. Often one skein of yarn leads right into another with just a slight variation.

Where do you find your fibre and how much of the processing do you do yourself (dying, carding, etc.)? What do you look for in fibre for your work?

I buy most of my fibre undyed from Louet in Ontario. I use it in its natural state – white, grey, cream, brown, black. For colour I use natural plant dyes. I use what is around me – dandelions, lily of the valley leaves, goldenrod. Or I buy natural plant dyes in powder form from Maiwa in Vancouver. I have just purchased their Cipa dyes (they are acid dyes but with fewer chemicals in them) in order to get brighter colours. I buy colourful roving from other etsy spinners. I use all types of fibre – wool – shetland and blue faced leicester are my favourite. Mohair fibre locks for texture. Plant fibres such as bamboo and hemp. Soysilk is my all time favourite. I add angelina or firestar often for a little glitter.

Can you give me more information about your spinning technique? Do you spin from batts or roving? Do you bring in locks and other materials as you spin or do you incorporate everything you will include in the yarn when you process your fibre in preparation for spinning?

I lay down a “base” colour (usually with shetland or blue faced leicester). Then I start adding more fibres for colour and texture. I then run it all through the carder one or two times depending on how much blending I want at the end. I may add more fibre locks to the batt as I am spinning so the locks will stand out even more.

What kind of spinning equipment do you use? Is there anything you want, but don’t have yet or that you have, but feel wasn’t worth the money?

I’m happy with my wheel and equipment. I’d love to have another wheel that is more portable (like the ashford “joy”). I take my wheel to craft shows and markets, and to the cabin, so more portability would be great. But a second wheel will have to wait…

I always want to make wonderful singles like some of your yarns like this one:

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But I always end up with the single being too over spun to use that way — do you have any advice on how to fix that problem?

I almost only spin singles. Plying is too regular for me. It somehow feels that it encases the yarn, binds it up, and doesn’t allow it to breathe. To avoid over spinning I think just play with the tension.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to start spinning and is inspired by your yarns?

If you want to start spinning – start with a spindle. It’s easy and cheap (I bought mine on etsy for $12.00). You learn the “feel” of the yarn. You get used to drafting. You’ll know soon enough if you want to get deeper into it. And don’t aim for perfection if that’s not the look that you want.

Your knitting is also lovely.  I enjoy your style of knitting, but I have trouble taking the full plunge into being as freeform as your work is:

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Do you have any advice on how to overcome timidity in relation to colour and how to loosen up?

I sell my knitwear. Because of this, the pattern can’t be too complicated because it would take too long to knit and I wouldn’t be able to make any money. I’ve simplified all my patterns to very basic shapes (for example, my baby pullover is basically 4 rectangles – 2 large and 2 small). The interest lies in the yarn. Be brave with your colour choices. Keep an eye out for what colour combinations are exciting to you and make note of them.

Finally I have a mundane question that always fascinates: do you make a living from your fibre art? How close are you to it? Is it a goal for you?

And yes – I basically make a living from my fibre. I teach 1 art course in the winter term at the local university but aside from that, it’s all fibre. I live in Newfoundland where it’s easier to live simply and cheaply. I sell my yarn and knitwear on etsy ( I sell in craft shops and at craft fairs [such as the Toronto One of a Kind]). I work hard. Being self-employed, and working with fibre, it’s rare for me not to have fibre in my hands from 8:00 in the morning to 11:00 at night. I’m trying this summer to cut back…

Here is the next step towards my yarn from these batts I made:

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I haven’t done any yarn with curls before. I am very excited about how it will turn out, but not ironically excited enough to ply it yet. Perhaps today will be the day.

Sorry to be incommunicado for the last few days. I have been traveling again. Here is a bit of carding I did before I left:

Until now I haven’t done any carding with different colours and fibres which makes the glorious batts I really admire – perhaps I was lazy and perhaps I was scared and perhaps I just liked doing one thing for a while. This is the time I decided to take the plunge; here is the fibre I used:

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Here is some carding in process:

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And here is a bit of a close up of the batt and locks (I haven’t spun with locks yet either):

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Pictures of what I did with them tomorrow.

I am still not good at winding yarn onto my ball winder:

I must say that there is something special about a skein of yarn that a ball of yarn doesn’t capture. They have that wonderful slightly floppy heaviness that speaks “yarn” to me, and makes me so tempted to acquire them, but winding them on the ball winder is tedious.

I was trying to wind a 1600m skein of 90% alpaca, 10% silk a few days ago and the knot above is what happened. It was so frustrating, as the ball on the winder got bigger it would suddenly fly off across the room and I had several small balls in sequence:

In the end I got it wound, but I had to break the yarn in several places, so I have two good sized balls and two little ones and one clump of forever knotted mess that I have thrown into the pillow case of fibre I am putting aside for future art yarn spinning projects.

I suppose that result is acceptable, but I can’t bring myself to believe it is optimal.

Sorry to have been neglecting you and the blog for the last week. I have just got back from the lovely city of Halifax, Nova Scotia. I didn’t get anything much done on my fibrous pursuits, but imagine my excitement to walk two blocks up a hill from my hotel and see this:

Yes, it is a yarn store (see here for The Loop’s website).

Then, just in case you had forgotten, the stark and honest truth:

I wonder if other religious festivals require panicked feats of knitting to make loved ones happy? For example, does anyone have to knit for diwali? But back to Halifix.

Halifax was beautiful and fun:

Though the wind does whip off the water in a rather startling way.

I think this sign on the Citadel was the funniest thing I saw:

Ahh, the universal language of imagery. Sometimes a picture really says everything it needs to.

I was most restrained and only bought some fancy tights and spinning fibre (very small amount of spinning fibre, larger amount of tights). The spinning fibre is in the form of mohair locks, which I want to figure out how to use. The tights are in different neutral colours and various combinations of lace, wool and fishnet.

I recently spun these batts I bought on Etsy from Evonne Wee (her blog is here):

I was quite smitten with the colour and texture and wanted to see how it would spin up and how it was put together. I also commissioned some red batts, about which more later.

I spun up the fibre by pulling off strips as Jess Rollar suggested in her guest post on her guest post here, and I spun it up thick and thin, which approximately filled three bobbins (I have learned not to fill the bobbins completely as the yarn is thicker when plied and you end up with even short lengths than you would otherwise).

I then checked out the yarn I bought from Jess to see what she did with hers, and it appears she plied it with sewing thread, which I thought would likely be just the ticket for me too.

This is what I ended up with:

I am completely smitten with the results. I think I will try to knit Urchin by Ysolda Teague with it.

I think these kind of batts would be good for a beginning spinner as you don’t need to do anything fancy to make something unusual and there is no reason to ruin the texture by trying to spin something smooth. The fibre is also sticky and is not as prone to breaking if your yarn gets too thin.

I couldn’t wait anymore, and I have cracked out my drum carder this weekend. I didn’t know what fibre to start with, but I finally chose this coloured knot:

I wasn’t really sure what it was — I was completely winging it. When I untied it, it turned out it be several rovings tied together. The yellow and the purple were in equal proportions and the red, orange, and brown were about equal to each of the other two. I wasn’t sure what to do with it, but I decided to card the yellow and mixed colours together and the purple separately.

If you have a carder and spin already, please bear with me, but if you don’t this is so cool:

Here it is when it is almost ready to come off the carder:

Here is my processed purple batt:

And the multicoloured:

Finally here is the yarn I spun from it:

I found this fibre to be a little over-processed for my taste: I like it to have more springiness. This was like over-processed hair. I also need some practice working with the batts because I have only spun from roving so far, and I found that the fibre is not as firmly in the right direction as it is in roving, but overall I would say the venture was a success.

While I was in Kansas we went to Harveyville to see the Harveyville Project and buy a drum carder from Nikol Lohr of Naughty Needles and Disgruntled Housewife fame. First of all Harveyville is such a small town that where I was staying in rural Kansas no one had ever heard of it, except for my boyfriend’s step father who knew a saucy story about the minister’s wife leaving him 25 years ago or so.

The school building looks quite fun — not quite fun enough for me to want to live in it, but that is a moot point as no one is asking me to, staying there long enough for Yarn School would be an entirely different matter and that sounds great.

I wanted to go there to pick up a drum carder, which I could have got from Nikol’s Etsy Store, especially as she offers free shipping, but this way I wouldn’t have to pay duty, and how often am I in Kansas anyway? I discussed it with her and I ended up getting the Strauch Petite with the brush:

I haven’t taken it out of the box yet as I have not had time to spin, and we are planning to move some furniture around shortly.

When I told Nikol I had never used a drum carder before she was very gracious and showed me how it works, she even let me make a batt myself, which I am inordinately proud of:

She also gave me enough fibre for another matching batt, so I can make another:

I am so excited because I was wondering about what to do with certain fibres I have and wondered how to spin them as they are so dense, and I have had problems spinning some fibres because the roving was clumpy. It was not really apparent to me how to deal with these problems, but now I get it, and the possibilities make my mind reel — you put it through your drum carder.

I am so very smitten with my yarn and my spinning and my wheel.

This is the alpaca I wanted to spin, and I wanted to have a yarn kind of pull up from a ball something like this when it was being plied, but when I started touching the fibre it seemed too loose and liable to pull apart to do that with, so I spun it in a thick and thin single:

But I felt that leaving it to untwist as it went back through the wheel it would fall apart, so I wanted to ply it with something to help it stay together. I raided my stash and came up with some brown Sisu from some gloves I knit my mom about five years ago:

I am running out of Sisu, so I will have to find some other brown yarn and just hope it isn’t too different, but how could one not be proud of oneself to have created this:

My mind is running a mile a minute trying to figure out what I want to do with it. I am thinking it would be fun to knit it all on one size of needles, but switch to larger ones for the bulky sections. I figure that would make a really textured knit, but the only problem is that you would almost certainly need to make it into a scarf — surely I can come up with something more exciting than that.

February 2017
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