2021 in Review – and My First Handspun Pattern!

Happy New Year!

I took some time off during the holidays to be with family, and since coming back I’ve been doing the work of closing out 2021 and planning for the upcoming year. In 2021, I published 6 new patterns and 15 blog posts, and taught my first ever online class! Teaching the class on breed-specific yarns was one of the highlights of the year for me, and I hope to do more teaching in the future – maybe even in person.

This year I have some new designs planned, of course, but I am also focusing on updating some old favorites. I’ve mentioned before in my newsletter or on Instagram that I want to update the Suora tee pattern to include larger sizes, and will hopefully be testing and releasing that in the coming months.

A cream-colored, handknit cabled hat rests on a wood surface next to an evergreen bough and pine cone.
The Towline Hat. Photo by Matt Graves for Spin Off Magazine

I’ve become confident enough in my spinning now to begin designing patterns from my handspun, and my first effort, the Towline Hat, was published as a subscriber exclusive on the Spin Off website just before New Year’s. If you follow me on Instagram you will have seen a teaser there. It’s a cozy, squishy cabled hat knit in woolen-spun 3-ply yarn. (Spin Off subscribers can find the pattern here.) The pattern features Tunis lambswool fiber from Tarheelbilly Farm (she has just updated her shop with both fiber and yarn, so do have a look).

I will be publishing this as a downloadable pattern once this exclusivity period ends, and it will include a commercial yarn version for those who don’t want to spin their own.


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Spinning Dorset Horn Roving

It’s been awhile since I’ve finished a Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em project – the last few months have been a bit of a whirlwind and haven’t left me much time for spinning. I’ve been working on this lovely natural gray-brown Dorset Horn from Covered Bridge Fiber for several months, and finally finished it off last week.

According to The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook, Dorset Horn sheep originated in Dorset, a county in southwestern England, and have fleece with a regular, fine crimp with plenty of elascticity. The micron count is typically between 26 and 33, which puts them in the medium wool range. The Livestock Breed Conservancy lists the breed as Threatened; you can find a fiber profile on the Conservancy’s website. They are usually white but can occasionally be near-black in color. Lucky me to have found this gorgeous shade of fiber!

After spindle spinning just under an ounce of the fiber for my blanket project, I set up to spin the fiber on my wheel. While Dorset Horn not a Down breed, this fiber did have a bit of that spongy feel that’s characteristic of the Down breeds, so I assumed this fiber would be amenable to spinning londraw. I had visions of a hat or mittens in a lofty thicker yarn.

But I had trouble initially spinning it as fine as I wanted with longdraw, perhaps because the staple length is a bit longer than other breeds I’ve spun longdraw, such as Clun Forest. I don’t often take the time to actually measure staple length of fibers I’m spinning; I just pull out a staple and eyeball it. But this time I got curious and actually measured – the staple length was around 3 inches.

I found myself wanting to spin the fiber semi-woolen with a short forward draw. It seemed to want to spin relatively fine that way, so I settled on a fingering weight 2-ply. I figured it could be used to knit a sturdy pair of mittens or even as a weaving yarn.

I started spinning the singles at a 12:1 ratio with about a 2-inch draft. But I found I wasn’t enjoying this project over the long haul, and about 3/4 of the way through I gave long-draw another go. This time I was able to spin fine enough to match the singles I already had, so I went with it and finished the bobbin that way. Needless to say, this spin isn’t going to win any consistency awards, but I’m satisfied with the end result. Oddly enough, the skein spun completely with a worsted draft seems to have fluffed up more after finishing than the skein where I switched to long-draw halfway through. Go figure.

The resulting yarn is pleasantly soft, if not next-to-skin soft. I could see buying a sweater’s worth of this fiber and spinning it for a fingering-weight sweater.


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Two skeins of handspun Florida Cracker yarn next to a stamped SE2SE passport page.

Spinning Florida Cracker Wool

I recently finished my 5th Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em spinning project – 4 oz of Florida Cracker roving from Flock Ewe Florida Fibers. Florida Cracker is one of a group of ‘feral’ breeds, descendants of sheep left behind by the Spanish that adapted to the heat and humidity of the Southeastern United States. Until 1949 they were allowed to range freely and rounded up twice a year for shearing. There is no entry for Florida Cracker in The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook, so my information on the breed comes from the fact sheet provided with my fiber and The Livestock Conservancy’s website. Florida Cracker is listed as a Critical breed by The Livestock Conservancy.

The wool is in the medium softness range. I didn’t measure the staple length, but on inspection it was in the range where I could have used either a worsted or woolen draft. Since I have been enjoying practicing my unsupported long draw, I decided to go with woolen and make a 2-ply yarn. I used my Ashford Traditional wheel with a ratio of 9:1. I found it didn’t want to spin terribly fine, and I ended up with a yarn in about the DK range at around 14 wpi. I also had quite a few thick spots – they were noticably fewer when I spun from one end of the roving versus the other, however, and I got a relatively even yarn after plying.

The finished yarn is softer than I was expecting based on how it felt to work with. It could easily be used for hats, mittens or a sweater. I also think it could be nice to dye for tapestry weaving.

Here’s a roundup of my first five projects. I’ve already purchased wool for two more projects – next up are Gulf Coast Native and Dorset Horn.

Images of handspun rare breed yarns with their SE2SE passport stamps.

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Sampling CVM for Cables – Woolen vs. Semi-Woolen

I’ve been sampling some CVM fiber (from Heelside Farms) for my next Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em project. I’ve been thinking I might want to knit a cabled sweater with this fiber, and I was wondering if my drafting method would make a difference in the cable definition. I would expect that, since worsted-spun yarns are often touted for their cable definition, getting closer to that with a semi-woolen yarn would give me cables that ‘pop’ more while retaining the softer, rustic look of a woolen-spun yarn. But a woolen spun yarn would likely be faster to spin, so I wanted to make sure the extra time for a worsted draft was really worth it. So I did a little experiment.

I’m starting from roving, so my options are to create a semi-woolen yarn using a short forward draft, or go for a fully woolen-spun yarn using longdraw. I pulled off a small amount to sample each way, and attempted to spin yarns with approximately the same diameter and ply twist. Both yarns came out to around a DK weight, and with similar ply twist. The woolen-spun sample came out a bit more uneven, and has a bit of a thick and think quality to it. I also had some areas that were underspun in the singles, so breakage was a problem. I would want to spin a more careful sample before I decided to use this for a sweater, but for my comparison purposes I assumed it would suffice. Unsurprisingly the woolen-spun sample had slightly less twist overall in the singles.

Yarn butterflies of CVM - woolen-spun and semi-woolen.
Left: woolen-spun CVM (spun longdraw); Right: semi-woolen CVM (spun with short forward draft)

I cast on and knit two swatches on US #7 (4.5mm) needles, using a simple 3×3 cable as a test. The woolen-spun swatch came out slightly bigger for the same number of stitches as I would expect – it measured about 3 3/4″ over 20 stitches vs about 3 1/2″ for the semi-woolen swatch. And the cable does appear a bit flatter and less three-dimensional, which I suspected might happen. The semi-woolen swatch also has better stitch definition overall. What surprised me a bit, though, was in that the swatch spun with a short forward draft the stitches appear a bit puffier and seem to fill in the space better. That could be because of my inconsistency in spinning the woolen swatch, though. The other thing that surprised me was the difference in weight of the swatches. I know woolen-spun yarns tend to be lighter, but I was surprised that the two swatches spun from roving were so different. The semi-woolen swatch weighed 4.5 g versus 4.3 g for the woolen-spun – not a huge difference in a swatch of this size. But it made a noticeable difference to the feel of the swatch in my hand. It might be worth sacrificing a bit of cable definition to get a lighter, cozier feeling sweater. I like the look of both cables, and even though the draft did make a difference I’m not sure it was enough to prefer one draft over the other on that basis.

Two handknit cable swatches comparing woolen-spun vs. semi-woolen CVM.
My two cable swatches: woolen spun using longdraw (L) and semi-woolen (R) using short forward draft.

I haven’t decided yet if I will knit a sweater with this fiber – I would need to purchase more of it – or, if I do, which draft I will use. I also want to test how these swatches will stand up to wear – maybe a topic for another post. But I do have an idea of how my choices will affect the final yarn and what I might use it for.


Spinning Round Up – Shave ‘Em To Save ‘Em ProJects

I recently completed my second and third Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em project. So far I’ve done Clun Forest (which I wrote about in this post), Tunis lambswool, and Leicester Longwool. If you’re not familiar with the Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em (SE2SE) program, it’s a program run by The Livestock Conservancy to promote rare and endangered sheep breeds. You can learn more by visiting rarewool.org.

Now that I’m knitting my hexagon blanket ‘squares’ for each breed it’s given a bit of structure to my breed sampling. For each new breed I take around 1/2 an ounce to an ounce of the wool and spin a ~DK-weight 2-ply to get a gauge that will work for the blanket piece. Most of the time I spin with a short forward draft, but sometimes another draft just works better, as with the Clun Forest. If I have more than about 2 oz, as for the SE2SE projects (the minimum purchase is 4 oz), I spin it however I think will be best based on my sampling. I have to admit I haven’t been great about keeping fiber or plyback samples, but I do record the WPI, weight and yardage of my finished skeins, so that I can figure out the grist for selecting a potential knitting project. Note that I record my grist as yds/ 100 g for easier comparison to commercially-spun yarns.

My second project was American Tunis lambswool roving from Tarheel Billy Farm. I didn’t really know what to expect from this breed. The information I have from the breeder and The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook tells me this is a dual-purpose breed (bred mainly for meat) and that the first Tunisian Barbary sheep were sent to North America when a few sheep were sent as a gift to the government in 1799. Tunis lambs have a reddish color to their wool when born, which fades to a creamy white over time. The breed is well adapted to hot, humid climates and is popular throughout the Southeastern US.

This lambswool was lovely and fluffy, and after spinning a two-ply sample for my blanket square, I decided to spin the rest into a 3-ply woolen yarn using a long draw technique. I think the resulting yarn will make a lovely hat and/ or pair of mittens.

Two skeins of woolen-spun Tunis lambswool next to a SE2SE passport
Tunis lambswool 3-ply, woolen spun

Final yarn: grist 152 yds/ 100g; ~11 wpi

My third project was Leicester Longwool spun from washed locks. I bought this wool from Fuzzy Ewe Farm after seeing a photo of the dyed, millspun yarn on Instagram – it had so much depth sheen you’d swear it was silk! While I had worked from raw wool before, this was my first time working from washed locks. Since I don’t yet have wool combs I decided to use my flick carder to maximize the sheen. After sampling I also decided I needed to re-wind my bobbins and ply in the same direction that I spun in to make the yarn as smooth as possible.

I divided the flicked locks into two groups by color and spun separate skeins. Although washed, the locks still had a fair amount of grease in them, and I found the fiber somewhat tricky to spin. I probably would’ve been happier if I’d given the wool another wash before prepping, so I did wash the leftovers from flicking before carding it. For the carded batch I blended the colors together at random. I was pleasantly surprised by how soft and fluffy the leftover fibers were. Since the fiber lengths varied a lot in the carded preparation, I decided to try spinning it with supported longdraw. It came out rather uneven, but I decided to knit my blanket ‘square’ from this carded preparation.

(L-R) An knitted hexagon from carded longwool; two skeins of Leicester Longwool yarn.
Leicester Longwool spun from washed locks.

Final yarn: grist 220 yds/ 100g; ~17wpi

This project confirmed my sense that I don’t love spinning longwools. I’m still fascinated by their sheen, and I just might have to buy one of the dyed millspun skeins and knit up a project with it. I also really liked the color variation in this fleece. I’m not sure yet what I’ll knit or weave with the yarn I’ve spun, but I think maybe some lace knitting or incorporating into some free-form weaving might work well. If you’ve worked with longwools, what have you knit or woven with them?