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I started with some handpainted Blue-Faced Leicester wool I received in a trade.

Spun it into a single and then chain-plied it to preserve the colors.
handpaint BFL spinning wheel chain plied navajo

Knit the yarn into these baby socks, based on Cat Bordi’s pattern.
hand spun knit baby socks

And this sweet hat, based very loosely on the Munchkin Hat, pattern by Jeanne Kubricht. See my project page on Ravelry for notes on my version.

newborn hat handspun hand knit

This hat does a great job of staying on our little gnomey’s head and keeping him warm!

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Spinning purists beware . . .

Months ago I was spinning some nice wool top and had the realization that my left hand was actually doing very little. Some minor tension, a little adjustment here and there—actually my right hand wasn’t doing that much either, I just had the tension on the wheel set a bit high and I was allowing that tension to draft the top right out of my hand. My mind raced ahead and wondered if it was possible to spin with just one hand. I immediately dismissed the possibility as I’d never heard or seen it mentioned anywhere. Being self-taught, I felt too silly to ask anyone online in the various spinning forums I have poked my head into virtually. I occasionally played around to see if I could spin without using my left hand and would manage a yard or two.

I didn’t really pursue it until several outside influences came together. My spinning godmother, Annie, unexpectedly sent me a book called Spinning for Softness and Speed by Paula Simmons. Within the pages was a section specifically about spinning with one hand! The technique she described was a little different from what I was doing but I was encouraged by the possibility that it could be done at all and her explanation helped my own process along.

The other influence that gave me a sense of purpose was a post on the New England Textile Arts (NETA) forum from one of the members asking about spinning with one hand. While she received many responses, no one had ever seen or tried it before. I reluctantly admitted I had tried it and recommended the above book. Several weeks ago I met Beth, a.k.a yarndemon, at NETA’s annual get-together in Freeport. (Go see Beth’s lace socks knit with one hand!) We had chatted via e-mail but she wanted to see how I was actually doing the spinning so I practiced quite a bit beforehand. We discussed various techniques, wool preparations and experiences pertaining specifically to spinning with one hand. She was encouraged that we were using a similar technique and achieving similar results. I was encouraged that I was able to spin with one hand (or at all for that matter) in front of strangers!

Since my discussion with Beth, I’ve been able to sort out a bit more about what was working and not working for me. I’d had several attempts that looked much worse than my very first spindle spinning. There were long thick barely spun sections and tightly overspun thin sections. What I figured out was that although I was spinning a woolen yarn, the best prep for my one-handed method was actually combed top. (Any purists still reading may now keel over.) I finally managed a soft single out of naturally black merino that was still thick and thin but with just the right amount of spin. In fact, it was not unlike a commercial thick and thin singles yarn from a popular manufacturer. The blue in the photo below is commercial Malabrigo Aquarella and the dark merino is my handspun.

Malabrigo Aquarella thick and thin single and handspun thick and thin black merino

My fourth attempt involved a merino/bamboo/nylon combed top from Spunky Eclectic. I had intended to spin this semi-woolen with two hands to a two-ply fingering or sport weight. It slid so well out of my hand that I decided to try spinning one handed and see if I could get a more even single with a smaller grist. Success! I did not hold myself to spinning the entire 3 ounces one-handed but I’d say at least half of it was spun one-handed. I haven’t wet-finished it but I’m going to guess I’ve managed an airily soft, fairly even sport/DK weight at 230 yards from 3 ounces. While I don’t have a reason to become fully proficient at this technique it has been an interesting experience and I have learned quite a bit about the way I spin from the attempt.

I know that some of you spinners out there are thinking this post is worthless without video. Sorry, while I can spin with just my right hand, my left hand could not manage holding the camera! And I think I’m going to need a wild handpaint to really show what’s going on. So please comment if you’d like to see video.

handspun two-ply yarn Spunky Eclectic PANDA blue chip merino bamboo nylon

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pastel pink purple handspun yarn

It began with the rather anemic looking light purple/pink handspun yarn above which has languished about the house for months, swatched and frogged more than once. The camera does lie, it looks worse in real life. The yarn started as an even less inspiring roving I received in a trade. Apparently I neglected to take a picture of it then. No loss.

30 minutes simmering in the pot exhausted the completely haphazardly mixed purple dyebath. I did throw in a little mini-skein towards the end there, you can see it floating on top.

dyeing wool yarn purple

A trip through the dryer in a net lingerie bag—I’m so impatient—and voila! This is yarn I want to knit!

hand-dyed handspun purple lavender yarn

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It just goes on and on and on . . .”

A slight change from a silly little song that used to get tossed around in the music department in college.

hand-spun yarn merino/silk light blue

But really, this started as 50/50 merino/silk mill end fiber that I bought for a great price from Susan at the Elegant Knitter at Goose Pond, a yarn and gift shop not far down the road. I bought a pound at New England Textile Art‘s SPA weekend in February 2010 and then visited the shop for another pound a few weeks later after deciding that I wanted to try spinning for a sweater.

Thereupon followed a serious of minor disasters of which there may be photos but it has taken such a long time to get to this point that I don’t even know where those photos are. Dyeing, carding and carding and carding, test swatching, etc. I decided that I would have the best chance of getting a relatively even yarn by just spinning what felt the most comfortable for the fiber which, not surprisingly for me, turned out to be quite fine. That was okay, my plan was just to fill all the bobbins and then ply three or four strands to make up a fingering weight. I made it through about three bobbins before I was ready to quit. Just not loving it. Fortunately I had traded for a jumbo flyer and it arrived about the time I was ready to give up spinning the singles. I usually really enjoy plying but it took forever! And there are quite a few knots, much to my dismay since the jumbo bobbin was able to hold the entire plied contents of the three regular size bobbins.

The result was nearly 800 yards of three-ply light fingering, about 16-20 WPI weighing only 5.8oz. I have not washed or swatched yet so those numbers could change a bit. I was actually surprised at the yardage, I could probably eke a sweater out of that. Or I could spin some more of the fiber and have more choices. Or I could spin it differently and/or overdye and make something completely different since there is still more than a pound left. At least the color is pretty much what I was attempting, a very light variegated icy blue. I’m reserving judgement on whether I really want to knit a sweater out of this yarn until after it’s washed and swatched.

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Some pics of recent spinning. Or not that recent. Apparently I started on this post almost a month ago. I somehow did not size down the photos, thought I double checked that, still couldn’t upload the photos, gave up for a while. Finally asked guru husband, then realized the photos were huge… I’m not computer illiterate. In my other life I was a graphic designer, really.

Anyway, both of these are around 4oz. The first is lavender and pink unknown wool that I received in a trade. To be honest it didn’t look like much before I spun it. I think there’s hope for it now. I don’t know what I’ll make with it though. Suggestions welcome.

handspun wool yarn

And the other is 4oz. of Neapolitan hand-painted Shetland wool from Spunky Eclectic spun to about sport weight.

handspun Shetland yarn gradient progression dye

This second yarn was intended for the 4! Ounce! Challenge! on Ravelry but was plagued with problems from the start.
I did choose the colorway and I did want to try Shetland for this project. I even had an idea for what I wanted to make with it. It did not occur to me until after I received the wool that I probably should have ordered the progression dyed fiber instead of the regular handpaint. Oh well, I decided I would just separate out the colors and lay them out in a progression and spin from there. That way it would have a little more variety to it anyway. Right. Well, that did work out okay except that I spun the thing into one two ply yarn of 400 some yards that goes from unnaturally pink on one end through cream to chocolate brown on the other. That’s when I realized that what I really needed was two balls of approximately 200 yards each going from pink to brown in each ball. Hmm. So that set me back awhile. I thought about other designs. I did end up thinking a lot about all the different ways you could spin a handpaint or a progression dye and how the plying and eventual knitting could take many different turns.

I finally started knitting today. I have a plan to still complete my original project and have it look pretty much like I intended. I have a schematic, I have a swatch, I have WPI, SPI and I’m not afraid to use them. And I’m trying to take notes as I go along so hopefully if it turns out well, I can repeat it. Yes, I’m intentionally not saying what it is I’m making. I haven’t seen anything quite like it, even slogging through the vast patternland of Ravelry. It is historically inspired so I can’t claim the idea as my own but, designing it for handpainted handspun fiber, that I will claim. If it works that is. If not, well, I’ll just come back and delete this post. Oh yeah, nothing you publish to the internet is ever really gone.

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The animal: Alpaca named Xena. Lives right here in Maine and I got to meet her and see her home: the most amazingly clean farm ever. The first thing that struck me was how consistent the shearing was on each animal. Like a work of art.

shorn alpaca

The fleece: Four pounds of it, minimal VM, a fair amount of dust but well skirted and easy to clean. Alpaca fleece does not contain lanolin as sheep fleece does. I had an interesting time unfolding this out of the bag as it wanted to drift apart. For now I have carefully put it back in the bag until I can come up with a plan on how best to wash it. The second picture shows a single unwashed lock, 4″+ staple length.

raw alpaca fleece

lock of raw alpaca fiber unwashed

The fiber: Lacking fiber combs, I used a hair pick to comb through the washed and dried lock, preparing it to spin. Now I understand the difference between commercially prepared top and hand combed top.

washed and combed alpaca lock fleece fiber spindle

The spinning: Hand spun and andean plied into a lace weight/light fingering yarn, about 20wpi I think.

laceweight alpaca single yarn hand spindle andean plying bracelet lace weight single into two ply yarn two-ply alpaca yarn handspun laceweight

The finished yarn: about 6 yards out of one lock. I did weigh it but I don’t remember how much it weighed. Oops. Deliciously soft and pleasantly springy.

two ply hand spindled alpaca lace weight light fingering yarn mini skein

I plan on blending some of this alpaca fiber with angora from my parents’ rabbits. I may also try dyeing some of it. I want to use the brown as an accent somehow to remind me of cute Xena’s spot. Perhaps a little scarf with a single large circle of brown?

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I know I’ve been busy crafting but I’m not sure what! Origami dragons and paper ballet dancer puppets, little doll blankets and perler beads. And laundry. This is the time of the year where we have all our various types of boots and coats out because we never know from one day to the next what the weather will be like. It seems to increase the laundry as well.

Off the spinning wheel: two ounces of hemp fiber spun into about 100 yards of DKish yarn. Or twine. It’s hard to call something like this yarn. It was quite rough so I kept a dish of water to wet my fingers occasionally as I spun. It was certainly interesting but I don’t plan on spinning hemp again. Maybe a hemp/cotton blend.

handspun hemp yarn

Off the knitting needles: one handspun hemp mesh and leather market bag. I had hoped to knit the hemp into the Ilene market bag pattern but there wasn’t enough yardage. So I improvised by cutting a piece of thin leather for the base and the handles and knitting the mesh pattern for just the body of the bag. I used a tiny scrapbooking holepunch to make holes 1/4″ apart all the way around the edge of an oval traced off one of my casserole dishes. I then used a crochet hook to pull loops through each hole, did a single crochet and then deposited that loop onto circular needles. I then knit up all the yarn in the mesh stitch and cast off. I punched similar holes in the bottom edge of the leather handle piece and used some commercial hemp thread to hand sew on the bag. The mesh stitch stretches easily to accommodate quite a lot of things despite not looking all that big.

handspun hemp knitted mesh and leather market bag

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Some months ago I joined in a little fun that I called
brown paper packages which boiled down to making and sending handmade gifts to other people just because. The nice thing about it was that you had plenty of time and you could make anything you wanted. My friend Krista sent me these lovely felted wool coasters. The images are graphic and organic at the same time and evoke elements of nature. Aren’t they lovely? Truth be told, they may end up on the wall instead of under a mug!

felted wool coasters

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hemp spinning fiber
I should have a contest and have you guess what all these are. Non-wool spinning fibers seems to be a theme this last week or so. I’ve received the one above in a trade with DudleySpinner. This looks a bit like a blond wig doesn’t it? It feels more like very coarse dog hair. It is neither. It’s hemp. I know you are probably wondering the same thing I am, why do I want to spin twine? There are a lot things that are worth trying at least once. And it was essentially free. When I’m done spinning I should have enough two ply yarn to make a strong, antimicrobial market bag such as the Ilene pattern (Ravelry link).

The following fibers came last week in a trade with FuzzyBunnyFibers. The one on the left is made from milk protein! Imagine that? Makes me feel like I need to knit them with my casein needles, casein is a plastic also made from milk protein. And the other fiber is bamboo. Both are quite soft and the two together should be enough to make a pair of soft but durable, moisture wicking lace footies for summer wear. I’ll probably do some experimenting with dyeing these fibers. The acid dyes that I use on wool and silk will also be ideal for dyeing the milk protein. The bamboo will best be dyed with fiber reactive dyes, the same ones Jan and I use to tie-dye cotton and occasionally hemp although I like the natural color of the hemp fiber so that will likely not get dyed.

milk protein spinning fiber and bamboo spinning fiber


felted wool rabbit with polymer clay vegetables

I guess I have bunnies on the brain lately. These needle felted rabbits range from 1.5 to 2 inches long. They are accompanied by an assortment of veggies we made from polymer clay. I was inspired by a picture of felted cats that Naomi posted a few months ago. My kids have been having quite a fun time with the bunnies, playing veggie market. If only that would somehow translate into them eating more real vegetables . . .

needle felted wool bunnies with sculpey veggies

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Would you guess this is the drainage ditch that runs through the wooded lot behind our house? Looks pretty in the snow doesn’t it?

Nice, soft snow and just a bit sticky. We got about 10 inches Sunday night into Monday so it’s not like we really needed more today but it was pretty and fun. Yesterday I took the kids to the big hill in the woods but today we stayed closer to home. First things, the girl and I attempted a snowman. Grapes for eyes, a carrot nose and a green pepper smile. I wonder if some squirrel or bird will be enjoying a little frozen fruit and veggies soon.

snowman with grape eyes, carrot nose and green pepper mouth

Back inside we were sad to discover that ballet class was cancelled so we consoled ourselves by putting on American Ballet Theatre’s Swan Lake and making origami animals, including a swan of course.

origami swan

Silliness broke out as I spun brown wool. The girl was giving me handfuls of wool as needed and then decided that I wasn’t moving fast enough for her. She started patting the handfuls of wool on top of her head! Now how do you like that ‘do?


When the boy got home we all decided to take a walk, waving to neighbors and kicking through several inches of new snow. Back at the house the boy went in to get the snow tube and I got the camera. The end of our driveway had a fairly good plow pile left from the last storm and Rich snowblowed even more on top last night making for a pretty good high spot to slide down from into the backyard.


And just a bit more silliness as we used up the last of the daylight.


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hand dyed, hand spun Romney wool potholder knit on bias and fulled

. . . that I did not take any pictures of it until I knit it up into this potholder. Did you know wool is naturally heat and flame resistant?

This yarn started out as a little more than an ounce of Romney wool that my mother had cleaned and carded. I decided to try dyeing it before spinning. Fail. I nearly felted the stuff. I spun it up thick which I am not good at so it was all over the place and overspun to boot. I threw it in the yarn bin and forgot about it until my mother asked. Sigh. I decided that I might as well try and knit it up since sometimes doing so improves its looks. I chose to knit on the bias and then crochet with natural Lopi around the edge to counteract the inevitable stockinette curl. I then washed it aggressively to full the wool a bit. Fulling is like felting but you start with wool that is knit or woven. Felting starts with the unspun fiber.

How about that? It looks pretty good now doesn’t it? It even softened up in the process. The girl claimed it as a picnic (blanket) for her dolls before it was done blocking. I had to sneak it back to take the pictures. This may be its only chance to do its intended job.

hand knit potholder  made from hand dyed, hand spun Romney wool and crocheted edge in natural Lopi

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I’d like to start an ongoing series where I show you a fiber or a yarn and track along in pictures as it gets spun/dyed/knit/crocheted etc. into a finished item. So we’ll start with something cute!

The animal: German Angora named Gabe. (I won’t generally have pictures of the actual animal the fiber came from so this is a bonus!)

german angora rabbit

The fiber: Minimally hand carded from brushed out fur. staple length about 4″? super soft. I think these would be called rolags but I don’t really know what I’m doing so maybe not but I can spin it easier. Although it was pretty easy to spin uncarded.

hand carded angora rolags

The spinning: Hand spindled into a lace/light fingering weight single. Spun on a DIY afghan hook/wooden wheel spindle.

angora spun on DIY spindle

The swatch: Swatched on US size 0 needles and blocked on my swatching cork board. Spinning got a little too thin there in spots. Can’t say I actually thought I’d be using those size 0 needles. Next time remind me not to knit angora on metal needles, slippery!

swatch of handspindled angora

And in this case the approximately 2×2 inch swatch is the final product as that’s all there was!

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Meet Gabe, the bunny, who lives with my parents. He is an 8mo German Angora. He has lusciously soft white fur which spins up into incredibly soft fuzzy yarn.

German Angora rabbit playing with grass ball

Gabe meeting the boy.

Gabe meeting the girl.

Name the author and setting of the title quote and I’ll send you something bunny! (fiber sample if you’re a spinner, yarn sample if you’re a knitter/crocheter, something else bunny otherwise)

(In the case that more than one person knows the correct answer, I’ll randomly choose one recipient.
ETA: comments are now closed. 1/25/10)

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Last week a large box appeared on the doorstep. It was after Christmas and I wasn’t expecting any more packages. It was definitely addressed to me but the return address was unfamiliar. I opened it up to find this chocolate cherry colored fiber!

unspun wool and card showing castle style spinning wheel

I had forgotten that a generous stranger on Ravelry had arranged to send me 2 pounds(!) of spinning fiber that she had decided she wouldn’t be using herself. A second large bag underneath the first revealed a lighter brown fiber. This one spins up easily but looks like it would also be good for felting. Doesn’t it look like a good color for baby animals?

light brown spinning/felting fiber, unknown breed of wool

And here’s a little sample of the first one on the spindle. The color is hard to describe but it also reminded me of red velvet cake. The only caveat is that my kind donor did not know what type of wool either of these are so if any of you spinners out there want to hazard a guess, I’m all ears! I’ll probably bring some to SPA with me in February, surely someone there will be able to tell me what breeds these fibers came from.

reddish brown wool on a hand spindle

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