Yarn

Behind the Scenes

Hey internet, sorry I’ve been a little MIA lately! I’ve been working crazy hard to get something finished in time to submit it somewheres for (online) publication — eep, so exciting even if it’s not picked! — and getting some new embroidery patterns ready. I can’t really show anything just yet, but here’s a little glimpse of what’s been going on for the last week or so …

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Day Three: Yarn Heroes

Today we’re supposed to talk about our knitting or crochet heroes, and I really gave this one a lot of thought. A lot. Some discussion with my mom. A lot of browsing and sifting through my favorites on Ravelry. About a hundred browser tabs open. But you know, I think I realized that I don’t actually have a knitting hero at all. There’s a few knitters I really admire, knitters with the kind of skill that leaves me speechless: most notably, the amazing Jared Flood (of Brooklyn Tweed amazingness, but I prefer the Ravelry link so you can see just how many of those amazing designs are actually Jared’s, not just published under his brand) and Monika from Smoking Hot Needles who never fails to produce knits that are perfectly paired with the most amazing yarns, flawlessly blocked, beautifully photographed, and always knit in warp speed. Those two are the knitters I’d most like to be like when I grow up.

But that’s admiration, a little touch of worship even, but not necessarily inspiration. While they both – and others, I’m sure – do, in a sense, inspire me to greatness, I mostly look at their knits and want to knit the exact same thing, exactly as they did. Inspiration is more about letting your imagination run wild.

In embroidery, I’ve talked about being inspired by the stitches themselves, not necessarily what they are illustrating – I just look at them and can see a world of possibility. And I think that’s true for me and knitting as well, except that instead of stitches inspiring me, it’s all about the yarn. I can’t imagine anything that would capture my imagination more than a room full of beautifully handmade (dyed or spun) yarn, just allowing myself to daydream about what it might all become! If I’m not sure what to do, I will always find myself browsing for yarn on the internet, window-shopping. I’m sure people who catch me doing it must think I’m such a stash junkie, but I swear I’m not really shopping. Just browsing is more than enough to get me thinking about all the ways various yarn might be played with.

So maybe I don’t have knitting heroes exactly, but I definitely do have Yarn Heroes. Dyers, spinners and blenders who I go to most often to admire, who’s yarn or wool I could happily play with for the rest of my knitting life.

FCK semi solids for Old Forge # 3-2
(photo by Monika, on Flickr)

I’ve already mentioned Monika from Smoking Hot Needles, who is not just an amazing knitter, but a truly remarkable spinner as well. Every time I see one of her yarns, my fingers itch for my wheel. I don’t get to spin as much as I wish I could, but if anything can get me sitting at my wheel, just looking at those handspun yarns will do it every time.

(photo by Hilltop Cloud on etsy)

I’ve also mentioned Katie from Hilltop Cloud, who’s shop I could easily get lost in. She’s the first dyer / batt-maker I’ve found in the UK who’s sense of color really matches what I’m looking for in a spinning fiber. Subtle and rich; I love to imagine how I would spin her wools and what I’d knit them into. I do have some in my stash, so I’m sure they’ll make an appearance here eventually.

(photo by pigeonroofstudios on etsy)

I don’t know if I’ll ever be lucky enough to get my spinning hands on some fiber dyed by pigeonroofstudios – it’s not that easy to come by and I’ve never seen a UK stockist, but a girl can hope. I did knit a pair of socks from pigeonroof yarn, and it was as amazing as I’d dreamed it would be. As far as I know, pigeonroof yarns and wools are kettle dyed, which produces a really special and unique effect – every skein seems to have a million colors all blending into one glorious cacophony of color. These are just about the only multi-colored yarns that make me daydream – others mostly just make me worry about pooling and flashing and pattern obscuring. But these, sigh. Even if I can’t get them right now, I still love admiring them.

(photo by DyeForYarn on etsy)

Lastly, one of my very favorite inspirations, a shop I visit regularly just to take it all in, Dye For Yarn. I haven’t yet been lucky enough to knit any Dye For Yarn goods – yet! – but these are colors like no other, absolutely worth admiring even if it’s just online for now. I could visit daily just to get lost in the colors, textures, and amazing photography.

There are more, but these are the most inspirational to me at the moment. I hope I will be lucky enough to touch, feel, and knit all of these yarns one day but, for now, it’s enough just to dream.

Day One: Color Lovers

At the very last minute, last Friday, I decided to join in on Eskimimi’s Knitting & Crochet Blog Week event – I didn’t realize it had snuck up so quickly, but it seems like such a fun thing to take part in! I love the idea of all these knitters and crocheters blogging about the same things, all sharing their unique perspectives at the same time. Lovely! So check out Eskmimi’s blog for more information or to quickly join in yourself!

Today’s theme is, simply, color – which really speaks to my favorite part of planning a new project or putting together a design: matching yarn to pattern. This can be an insanely infuriating task when it comes to gauge and yardage and other evil vital details. Trying to determine wether the yarn in your stash will be enough to make that cardigan you love but also lengthen the sleeves is something that fills every knitter with dread. You know it’s true.

But picking a pattern and then searching for the perfect yarn for it – both in color and the yarn’s other unique woolly characteristics (I know this post is supposed to be about color, but for me they can’t be separated) – is something that I relish! At the risk of sounding immodest, this is something I think I do pretty well; when people say they think I’m a good knitter, I know that really I’m just good at matching yarn to project. I knit just about the same as anyone else. But going that extra mile to get the combination just right really makes handknits look just that little bit more professional, more ‘handmade’ than ‘homemade’. So I’m going to take a little look at some unused yarn in my stash and examine it to see what it might grow up to be one day.

Thursday + Friday Loot

Let’s start easy. Here’s a simple Opal 4-Ply sock yarn – for socks, I really have to have nylon in my yarn because the carpeting in my house will rip them to shreds. 25% nylon makes a massive difference, so I grab skeins of Opal and the like when I come across it. So, in theory, this is just the simplest of sock yarns and can be used for nearly anything. But the color – it’s bright and peppy, almost child-like. It doesn’t want to be a delicate lace pattern, but something simpler or bolder, maybe with a little texture to make up for the flat-ness of the commercially dyed color. Something like Sinusoida by Louisa Sisson, or Honey Badger by Irishgirlieknits:

Honey Badger 4
(photo by Irishgirlieknits on Flickr)

Here’s another sock yarn, but a slightly tricker one. This was a commercial yarn, but because its pooling seemed to obscure every pattern it met, I overdyed it to get a more solid color.

Overdyed commercial sock yarn

Now it’s a wonderfully rich dark-blue-almost-black semi-solid, but that ply of bamboo – which doesn’t take the dye that covers wool – will still have to be taken into consideration. To be honest, I’m not exactly sure what will happen, but I suspect it will still need a simple-ish pattern to be most effective. But because the yarn is also very dark, it can’t be anything that relies on contrast to show; cables, for example, look best in a lighter yarn because the depth of cables is made visible by the shadows they create. Shur’tugal (below) or Mince Pie, both by Alice Yu, have small-scale textured patterns that could work.

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(photo by Alice Yu on Flickr)

Though, honestly, that bamboo ply is really leaving me flustered. I think I’ll have to knit a little swatch of this one before I try any pattern, just to see what happens.

Here’s something a lot simpler, some Rowan Felted Tweed in a lovely warm – but bright – pink.

Rowan Felted Tweed - 162

I like to really look at the yarn and think about the qualities it has that will transfer over to a project. It’s tweedy, which immediately conjures a traditional feeling. It’s a particularly girly pink, so something a little delicate would be nice. Felted Tweed is wonderfully drapey, which is a lovely quality in a shawl or loop cowl. I’m totally cheating on this one, because I already have the perfect pattern picked out for this yarn: Lispenard by Kirsten Kapur.

Lispenard 4
(photo by Kirsten Kapur on Flickr)

It’s got cables (traditional), lace (girly), a loopy cowl wants drape, and the warmth of the shade will really suit all of those things. Yum!

Here’s a problem yarn that’s been in my stash for a long time:

Sunnyside Ellen - Spiked Cerise

I’m totally in love with this yarn – the colors are amazing! Flaming bright pink, with these tiny shocks of electric blue and green. It’s so exciting! But those little color spots will make finding the exact right pattern vital. I’ve done one test and those bits are about 4-5 stitches long. I’ll need a pattern that’s as bold and playful as the yarn, something exciting and fun – but simple enough not be obscured by the color changes. Honestly, I don’t have any ideas for this one – I fell in love with the colors and couldn’t resist them, but I suspect it’ll take quite a few failed matchings before I find the right one. I’m guessing something with slipped stitches will be best, in order to make a feature of the color splashes.

My last example is one of my very favorite stashed yarns, a prize.

Ravenclaw's Diadem handspun

This is my own handspun, somewhere between a laceweight and fingering weight, but what makes it amazing is the wool it was spun from. This started as batts made by Katie from Hilltopcloud on etsy – talk about color! Katie’s sense of color is incredible – and matches my own so perfectly. Browsing her shop is like browsing my brain, but being able to buy what I see! It’s the best. The loveliness of this yarn is all because of the colors in it – silver, sparkle, and a blue like jewels. (The batts were even named ‘Ravenclaw’s Diadem’, another reason I adore Katie’s shop!) This is the holy grail of yarns right here, because it could be almost anything, but I will almost definitely use it for lace. I’ve considered using it for the Cloud Illusions shawl (by Boo Knits), one of the next knits I plan to start, but lately I’ve been thinking it would make a perfect Cnidaria by Anna Sudo:

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(photo by cmuralidhara on Flickr)

So what do you think? How do you match your projects to yarns or pick colors for your projects?

Dyeing and Overdyeing, or: My process, shared

I did a little more overdyeing about a week ago, fixing up some more yarn I wasn’t completely happy with and, since a few of my lovely knitterly friends had recently asked about how I dye yarn, I took some photos as I worked. I thought there might be some other curious people out there, though I have to stress that this is only how *I* dye yarn; I have no idea what others do, or even if I’m doing stuff that might be considered ‘bad’ by people with more know-how than myself. My steps do not contain specifics because I really am just figuring out how this goes myself, and I haven’t worried myself with exact measurements and repeatable colorways just yet. So this isn’t a tutorial, just a general overview of my process – it works for me, is relatively low-maintanence, and produces yarns I like knitting with. Which is pretty much all I really want from the whole thing.

To start with, I like to re-skein my yarn in as big a loop as is manageable – I usually use the long end of my coffee table. Honestly, this step is kind of a pain in the ass, but it makes a thinner skein, which makes it easier for the dye to get into those hard-to-reach places. I soak those skeins in a tub of water overnight …

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… with nothing added, just water. Some people add a dab of dishwashing liquid, or even a little vinegar, but I don’t. No big reason, I just don’t. I let that sit overnight, to make sure the yarn is fully saturated. When it’s time do to the dyeing, I measure that same water into my two dyeing pots (which were on their way out and are now only used for this purpose) with the appropriate amount of vinegar. I get my measurements from The Twisted Sisters Sock Workbook, which I happily recommend to anyone looking to dye wool or yarn. Even if you have no desire to knit socks or do any handspinning, this book has the best, simplest, overview of the various dyeing methods. You’ll notice it open in a couple of the photos below – I always keep it handy when I’m dyeing in case I freak out and need some guidance.

So the yarn is now in the pot, with a water and vinegar mixture, which means it’s time to start heating it all up.

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I keep the heat pretty low-ish – I’d rather wait longer than accidentally ruin my yarn – and let it slowly rise up to where I want it. I’m being vague there on purpose, because the temperature depends on what I’m doing. The dye will start to strike at a certain temperature, so I might add it to the pot below that temperature if I’m aiming for a more solid yarn. That way, the dye will have time to disperse evenly in the pot before the yarn starts to really take it up. If I want colors placed right where I pour them, for a more variegated effect, I will let the water heat more before I dump it in. While the pot heats, I mix up my colors …

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I use Kemtex acid dyes and, again, my formula for dye mixing comes straight from The Twisted Sisters book. I am starting to understand how to create a repeatable colorway and a better way to mix colors but, for now, I just try to have an idea – especially if I’m overdyeing – of what I’m aiming for, and then work my way backwards. If you look again at the top photo, you’ll see that I started with two blue yarns. The one of the top originally looked like this – no way was that not going to pool. In that case, the goal was definitely to drown the pinks to create more of a blue-purple semi-solid. The other skein was actually a lovely color (more blue than the ‘before’ photo shows) but, surprisingly, had enough shade variation to obscure any pattern I tried. That was a little simpler, I just wanted to even out the shading.

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I mixed up some blue dye, which is quite bright, for the first skein to try and get those pinks as close as possible to the blues. I used navy for the second because it was an almost perfect match for the darkest blue already in there. Because I wanted good coverage in both cases, I added the dye before it was fully heated.

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I let the yarn bathe in the dye while it continued to heat, and waited until the water was clear. That’s it, really. When the water’s clear, it means that the yarn has taken up all of the dye. At this point I might carefully add more if there’s still more work to be done on the skein. If I’m happy with it how it is, I let it simmer very, very, very lightly for ten more minutes, then remove it from the heat. The last step is rinsing, and you want the rinse water to be the same temperature as the yarn to avoid felting, which is easiest to do if the yarn has cooled completely.

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I pour it out of the pot and then dump the water out once it’s stopped steaming. When it’s ready to rinse, I use another tip from The Twisted Sisters and use the yarn to create a barrier between the drain and the water.

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Just a wee drop of dishwashing liquid is enough for rinsing, and I just sort of lightly squish the water through the yarn on its way to the drain. When the water’s clear, that’s it!

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The best part is watching the skeins dry; the colors always look slightly different dry than wet. As wet skeins, I was slightly underwhelmed. I was happy enough with the left skein, and it looked even nicer as it dried.

Overdyed commercial sock yarn

But the other skein really bothered me – it looked so dull and blah. I should’ve known what to expect – the white is the bamboo content, which can’t take up acid dyes and has a vaguely gray-ish look when wet. But dry – what a difference! The white returned to full brightness and shininess, the dull grayish color turned into a deep midnight blue – it went from blah to beautifully dramatic!

Overdyed commercial sock yarn

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