What to stash this week: Perfect pairings

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Christine of Skeinny Dipping and designer Bristol Ivy have teamed up for Bristol’s latest pattern. Rillmark — an elegant pi shawl that depicts, in lace form, that spot where the water meets the shore — uses two skeins of Christine’s Alpaca/Silk Sport, a blend of 80% superfine alpaca and 20% silk. The yarn is available to preorder in the Skeinny Dipping Etsy shop.

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Sue of Invictus Yarns has teamed up with the ultra-talented Casapinka and created kits for Bronwyn’s new Koi Pond shawl, a gorgeous use of a gradient. Each kit contains one set of six 100-yard mini skeins and one 400-yard skein in a contrasting color.

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Here’s an unusual collaboration between an accessory maker and a dyer: Laura used artwork created by one of her favorite dyers, Julia of Pandia’s Jewels, to create bags, cases and stitch markers inspired by the film Labyrinth. They will be available to preorder today starting at 9 a.m. Pacific Time. 

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If the yarn above — the second installment of The Golden Skein’s 2016 Power of 3 yarn club, dyed by Eden Cottage Yarns, Dublin Dye and Triskelion Yarn and Fibre — gets your heart racing, then you’ll want to mark your calendar. Sign-ups for the third club installment open July 1.

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Ah, cupcakes and yarn, another winning combination. Sunshine of My Mama Knits has dyed up Cupcake Mini Skein Sets, a lovely pastel rainbow available with or without “sprinkles.” The sets of a dozen 10-gram mini skeins are available on a Superwash DK or 75% Superwash Merino/25% nylon sock base.

A reason for yarn

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Editor’s note: At TNNA last weekend, my friend Anne Choi of Middle Brook Fiberworks ended up hopping on the train from New Jersey at the last minute to attend the show and help out Dalis of Dancing Leaf Farm in her booth. Anne was also doing some research on the perfect fiber mills to help her create a custom blend of yarn, to include fleece from the sheep that would soon call her rural New Jersey property home. While our group was at dinner at Momofuku, Anne took out some fiber and a handspun prototype for us to pet and admire the natural creams, browns and grays.

This post originally appeared on the Middle Brook Fiberworks blog and I thought it was a fascinating exploration of the process of creating a custom-milled yarn.

I’ve been thinking about yarn lately. Don’t laugh; I’m usually focused on the front end of working with fiber, so this is actually a departure. Abby Sarnowski (Folktale Fibers) and I share a booth at Maryland Sheep & Wool, and we like to pass the time by asking each other questions along the lines of, “how could we breed a miniature cormo sheep?” and “what breeds would you cross to spin the ideal sock yarn?”

On the long drive home, I mulled over what fibers I would blend to produce the ideal shawl or sweater yarn. The Shetland Islands has been a leitmotif in my life this spring, so when I envisioned shawls, I had haps in mind. Unlike the intricate lace wedding shawls that, according to tradition, were fine enough to pass through a wedding ring, hap patterns were written with a simple lace design and knit with a thicker yarn, for everyday wear.

My yarn, I decided, would be lofty for warmth, durable–no wimpy pilling!, elastic because my hands are getting arthritic, and able to hold a lace pattern like a champ. The yarn would need to make a finished fabric that was lightweight, but have enough substance and body so that it didn’t just puddle around my neck. And on top of all that, it needed to be soft enough for my sensitive skin.

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The more I thought about it, the more requirements I kept dreaming up for my yarn. I wanted to be able to hand-pick each fleece from sheep I knew personally (or at least knew the shepherds), and I wanted a range of natural colors. But natural colors with depth and tonal complexity. And the last thing? I wanted heaps and heaps of this wonder yarn, which meant that I’d getting it spun for me. So it needed to be a blend of fibers that could be processed by a small fiber mill, and still retain its homegrown roots.

When I got home, I started weighing, carding, and blending some fibers together.

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For weeks, I played with percentages and color combinations, and I spun and knit several test samples. I took the yarn with me everywhere, showing it to knitting friends and asking for feedback. It wasn’t until I finished my Hansel Hap Shawl by Gudrun Johnston, and blocked it, that I was certain I got it right.

It was time to go mill shopping. I heard so many glowing recommendations for John and Lydia Piper at Gurdy Run Woolen Mill, and when I spoke with John, I could see why. I’ve never dropped off fiber to be processed before, and he was very patient about walking me through the process. We talked about the the fibers I’d chosen, and the best way to draft them individually and together. We talked about starting with a combination of combed top, carded roving, and raw fleece to end up with a yarn that had all the qualities I wanted.

Yesterday, I drove to Gurdy Run with my bags and bags of fibers. I met with Lydia, and we made the final decisions about colors, yarn weights, and put-ups. It was an incredibly educational trip.

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The process of mill-spinning is both more high-tech and at the same time, more hands-on than I’d thought. Sure, the machines do the actual carding, drafting, and spinning, but it’s not all one run-through. I didn’t exactly think that John and Lydia just dumped fibers into a chute, tapped a few buttons on their laptops, and enjoyed iced tea on the porch while they waited for the machine to spit out skeins of yarn. What did I know? Not much, apparently.

The raw fleeces are washed by hand, and the carding, picking, pin-drafting, and spinning are each individual steps, requiring human oversight and adjustment. They handle the fiber between each stage, to weigh and evaluate what went in, and what came out. There’s complex math involving weights and measurements, which Lydia explained and I nodded whenever I thought she needed the encouragement to go on.

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There are cool gadgets like an air splicer (I want one!), but the skeining and tying are done by hand. I hope to go back for a visit on the day they’re working on my yarn, and Lydia said if I’m lucky, she’ll put me to work tying up the skeins. I can’t wait.

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What to stash this week: Updates and intros

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Suzanne of Groovy Hues Fibers has a shop stocked full of awesomeness, including I Don’t Need Saving, her new Arya-inspired colorway that’s dyed to order, and Some Like It Hot kits that come with a spicy project bag and chili pepper stitch markers from Otterly Adorable Knits and sock yarn in Suzanne’s Buffalo Wing and Celery colorways. If that tempts you, you get 10% off of any Groovy Hues order with the code UNTANGLED10.

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IU newcomer Luba runs Blind Buck Farm in Salem, New York, specializing in unusual fiber blends. All yarn comes from the farm’s 25 purebred Angora goats, 30 Merino sheep, four Leicester Longwool sheep and seven Angora rabbits.

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You don’t have to wait until Christmas to wear Laura’s newest pattern. The lace tee is inspired by Violet Bick, the flirty character in Frank Capra’s holiday classic, It’s A Wonderful Life, and looks perfect for the summer.

You might want to keep tabs on The Wooliers, a new yarn company that two sisters are launching this fall, sourcing fiber from local and ethical farms. 

IU on the road: TNNA

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My decision to attend this year’s TNNA (The National NeedleArts Association) trade show was a very last-minute one. About a month ago, I saw a message on the forums for the Craft Industry Alliance (a fantastic trade organization started last year by Abby Glassenberg of the While She Naps blog and podcast and Kristin Link of Sew Mama Sew) that TNNA was starting up a new segment, called Business and Creative Services, which encompasses indie designers, tech editors, photographers and illustrators, as well as bloggers and social media professionals.

Since the show had been relocated to Washington, DC, instead of the usual Columbus, Ohio, it meant a $50 round trip on BoltBus. How could I not go? My membership swiftly approved, I snagged room on Air BnB and was all set.

TNNA is primarily aimed at yarn stores and other wholesalers shopping for stock, so I enjoyed the fact that I wasn’t there to buy yarn, but instead take everything in and make connections with small business owners. Some people do end up making non-wholesale purchases, but I was strict with myself about making this business only. Of course, that didn’t stop me from making a purchase (more on that in a bit).

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One of my first stops on the show floor was to Brooke of Sincere Sheep’s booth, which she shared with Kira Dunley of Kira K Designs. I was familiar with both of their work from their contribution to one of the rewards for Carrie Sundra’s Skeinminder Kickstarter campaign (Kira designed the SkeinMinderscopic Cowl and Brooke contributed one of the mini skeins for it). I wasn’t quite as familiar with the full range of Brooke’s yarn, and had a great time petting the skeins and chatting with her about sourcing yarn domestically and the availability of Made in the USA Superwash Merino.

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One of my favorite discoveries was JaMpdx, a Portland, Oregon-based duo made up of Jenn, the potter, and Meghan, a former cake decorator. Together, they create beautiful lidded yarn bowls, as well as mugs and other accessories. Meghan decorates many of their products with piping and rosettes, using a pastry bag filled with clay instead of frosting. Other pieces are hand painted with a tattoo aesthetic. This was where I made my exception to the no-buy rule, and placed an order for their ceramic shot glasses to sell at the Rhinebeck Trunk Show. At least some of the glasses will have the Indie Untangled yarn ball painted on them, but I’m also thinking about including some sets of their knitting drinking game, which have various knitting instructions. I suppose I could have sets with both the yarn ball and instructions? If you’ll be at the trunk show, let me know in the comments!

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I admired the patterns on display, including this fabulous dress in the booth of Maryland-based Dancing Leaf Farm (the owner, Dalis, is the creator of the hilarious Ryan Gosling meme sign at Maryland Sheep & Wool).

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I also got to meet Lydia Gluck and Meghan Fernandes, the editors of Pom Pom Quarterly, and gush about how much I love their magazine.

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And I finally met Kim of Kim Dyes Yarn in person. We chatted about her Gilmore Girls yarn club, as I’ve finally gotten around to watching the show, and she showed me some new designs featuring her yarn, including the cowl in her rainbow gradient mixed with black.

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I also said Hi to Heidi of Lux Adorna Knits (formerly Pepperberry Knits) and admired her striking braids of Cashmere mini skeins.

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Another discovery was Tika Bags, a Pennsylvania company run by Nan, who employs local women to help sew her products. She was displaying her latest release, these peekaboo project bags with a clear panel to let you show off what’s inside.

I was so glad I got to make the trip, which included a great dinner with the DC Yarn Hoars and the opportunity to chat with designers and shop owners. It has even got me thinking of a trip to Columbus next year — where I’ll finally get to pay homage to Jeni’s ice cream.

What to stash this week: Curves and color

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Rookwood is a collaboration between designer Mindy Wilkes and Jeanne of Ohio-based Destination Yarn. The colorways and Japanese stitch patterns in this two-color shawl are inspired by the colors and curves in pieces from the iconic Cincinnati company, Rookwood Pottery. Kits with a few different color combinations are available from Destination Yarn and the pattern is also available on its own on Ravelry.

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The crew at Slipped Stitch Studios has created a combination that will leave you dead of cute overload: Dia de los Muertos kitties AND puppies. Bags, needle and notions pouches and other accessories are available to preorder in the two different fabrics.

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The folks at Bijou Basin Ranch have teamed up with Colorado dyer MJ Yarns for a new palette of standard colors for their popular Lhasa Wilderness and Himalayan Trail bases. The 12 semisold colors are hand dyed, giving the skeins plenty of depth, but with no danger of pooling.

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The newest hue from ColorPurl is inspired by a certain provocatively-named cocktail made with peach Schnapps and cranberry juice. This tonal colorway has layers of fruity pink and sandy tan and beige, and is available in mega 1,000-yard skeins of worsted-weight Superwash Merino.

Sylvan Tiger Yarn has new gradient sets made with over-dyed British Shetland 4ply yarn. The set of four 95-yard mini skeins can be used for Sylvan Tiger’s new Baltic Gradient Shawl and Mitts, which is 25% off through Sunday.

IU on the road: A visit to North Light Fibers

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When my husband, Mitch, and I started planning our 10th anniversary trip to Block Island, he was the one who actually told me that there was a yarn mill there. I of course knew of North Light Fibers from Rhinebeck and Vogue Knitting Live, but (I swear) didn’t remember that it was based on the island off the Rhode Island coast until after we decided to go there.

Neither of us had been to Block Island before. In fact, neither of us had been to Rhode Island, aside from passing through it on the way to Massachusetts. The quintessential coastal New England landscape, which had the feel of Ireland, was the perfect backdrop for our anniversary escape.

I ended up making a couple of trips to North Light, which was conveniently located a 10-minute walk from the inn where we were staying. The first was on Saturday morning, while my husband got ready after breakfast.

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Before you get to the shop, you walk past and through the Abrams animal farm, a collection of exotic and domestic animals, including a yak, a pair of Scottish Highland bulls, camels, emus, donkeys and, of course, alpaca.

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I spent at least a half hour taking in all the yarn, samples and kits, as well as the beautiful woven wraps and scarves that were for sale, created for North Light by a weaving center in Hartford, Connecticut, that encourages people with low or no vision to engage in the craft.

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The yarn I admired included Water Street, a luxuriously soft blend of Merino and Cashmere. A few of the colorways had beautiful heathers, a product of blending the dyed fibers before spinning. The yarn was shown off in Marnie MacLean’s Flechir shawl, published in April’s Twist Collective and on display at the front of the shop.

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I ended up ultimately drawn to Atlantic, a worsted weight Merino from the Falkland Islands — soft, but wonderfully sheepy. The rich brown Sea Lion colorway particularly called to me, and I ended up buying two skeins for a cabled or lacy cowl.

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I was also wowed by the rugs on display — also woven by the center in Hartford. I snapped a couple of photos of ones I liked and plotted to get Mitch back there the next day to see if he’d want to get one for our soon-to-be new apartment.

As luck would have it, when we came back Sunday afternoon, one of the owners, Sven, was there. As he rang up the rug we chose, I told him about Indie Untangled and he ended up giving us a short tour of mill, a small space above the store packed with miniature versions of large-scale mill machinery — designed to process 40 pounds of fiber at a time, as opposed to thousands. Before giving us a quick overview of the milling process, he compared the scale of operation to that of a microbrewery, and I could definitely see the parallels to the breweries that we’ve toured.

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North Light is the only manufacturing on Block Island. While it imports the majority of the fiber that becomes yarn, the fiber from the alpaca on the adjoining farm does go into some of its products, like the rug that we bought. In fact, after I left the store on Saturday, the pair of alpacas that I had met on my way in were sheared while I was shopping, so I got to see them sporting their new haircut.

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Aside from running the mill and store, and selling yarn to shops and at fiber festivals, North Light also organizes annual retreats, including one this fall in collaboration with Vogue Knitting and one next May with Patty Lyons, Deborah Newton and Twist Collective’s Kate Gilbert. Mitch and I are already talking about coming back to Block Island, and I’m sure this won’t be my last trip to North Light Fibers.

What to stash this week: A yarn journey

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The unofficial start of summer means portable projects. Definitely check out the aptly named Traveler, the new base from Cedar Hill Farm Company. The 75/25 British BFL/nylon fingering weight yarn sounds perfect for socks, and with 464 yards per 100g skein, also excellent for shawls. Keya has dyed up jewel tone gradients that include the beautiful teal Elton, pictured above. Grab one for your next journey — even if it’s just relaxing in the backyard. 

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If you’re looking for some speckled yarn for one of the many projects I blogged about last week, look no further than Sunshine’s latest shop update. Colorways include Painting of Koi, Jezebel (pictured above) and Lipstick on Your Collar, available on a 75/25 sock yarn blend of Superwash Merino and nylon.

IU newcomer Sara’s Texture Crafts is not very new. To celebrate the company’s 10th birthday, Sara has created a OOAK colorway called Old Gold.

IU on the road: Spinning fiber into art

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I’m sure many of you spent your Memorial Day weekend away, or knitting (hopefully both). I spent this past Sunday afternoon doing a little — wait for it — spinning.

Well, let me backtrack a bit. My friend Anne, the owner of Middle Brook Fiber Works (formerly A Little Teapot Designs) invited me out to her sprawling property in rural New Jersey to observe a fiber retreat and gather material for a blog post and a possible longer story. I wasn’t able to attend her first event, on May 14 and 15, but I did end up coming out for the day last weekend to get a peek at the process of creating art yarn.

Before I met Anne, the term “art yarn” gave me visions of fun fur and feathers. Ideally, combining those two words, to me, meant a complex hand-dyed semisolid or variegated colorway, preferably on some combination of Merino, Cashmere or silk. As for spinning, I’ve always been keen to learn, but was cautious about taking up a hobby that would cut into my knitting time and add to the stash I try in vain to cut down (because that’s what we do).

But, leave it to Anne, and the two talented fiber business owners she invited over — Laura Spinner of Rainbow Twist Fibers and Ginny Tullock of Fat Cat Knits — to change my perspective.

Feeding the mixture into the drum carder.

Feeding the mixture into the drum carder.

The afternoon started off with a delicious lunch of kimbap, or Korean sushi that we hand rolled ourselves in the dining area of the gorgeous converted barn on Anne’s property. The meal was a bit of foreshadowing for what was to come. After we ate, the group moved over to the other side of the barn, where Anne had set out a few drum carders. The trio set to work, with Anne blending a colorful combination of hand-dyed, combed organic Polwarth and Falkland Merino top, kid mohair locks, silk sari fiber, silk roving and sparkle (pictured in the top photo).

Ginny of Fat Cat Knits removing her batt from the drum carder.

Ginny of Fat Cat Knits removing her batt from the drum carder.

After the mixture was fed through the drums, the combs pulled it all together into fluffy batts that were ready for spinning. I then watched as Laura and Ginny got to work at two of the several wheels that had been set up in the studio. Slowly but surely, Laura and Gunny transformed the batts into unique, vibrantly colored skeins. This was the kind of yarn you could easily wear around your neck, no knitting required.

It's a... batt!

It’s a… batt!

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From left to right, Laura Spinner and Ginny Tullock, at work on the wheels.

From left to right, Laura Spinner and Ginny Tullock, at work on the wheels.

While the spinning was going on, a couple of visitors popped by the studio and got quick beginner lessons from Anne at two of the other wheels. While she provided instruction, I set myself up at the Schacht Sidekick (a very compact, foldable wheel that Anne considers ideal for city folk like me) and practiced my treadling. After spinning some imaginary yarn for a while, Anne set me up with some Polwarth fiber. It took a little while to get the hang of drafting in just the right way without constantly tearing the fiber, and I took a stab at joining the yarn myself after spinning on my own for a bit.

She came, she saw, she spun. #yarnhoars

A photo posted by Middle Brook Fiberworks (@anne.choi) on

Not the prettiest, most consistent handspun. But mine.

Not the prettiest, most consistent handspun. But mine.

I think working on my treadling helped me get used it before I had my feet and hands doing two things at once. By the time Anne took a photo to immortalize the moment on social media, I actually looked like I knew what I was doing! I think I might wait a little while before going all (sp)in (at the very least until my husband and I settle in to our new apartment), but I enjoyed the opportunity to try it out for a bit longer than the quick demo I’d had at fiber events.

Knitting, and especially designing, can certainly be considered a kind of art, but the process of creating the yarn itself, and learning how different fibers work together, feels a little more expressive. Anne is looking into organizing more similar open studio events and I look forward to continue my exploration of fiber.

What to stash this week: Moving Day sale

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Laura and the crew at Slipped Stitch Studios crew moving to a new, larger space. Throughout this weekend, they’re holding a huge moving sale, offering decent discounts on some of their most popular products.

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Simone’s new design, the Upland Socks, look like the knitting equivalent of wiggling your toes in some thick green grass. Inspired by gnarled branches and twisting roots, the socks feature a cable pattern worked on the front, adding a little interest while not complicating the shaping.

Kettle Yarn Co. had a shop update yesterday, with new hues and lots of restocked colors.

What to make with speckled yarn

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Speckled yarns have been around for quite a while, but it seems as if they’re having a bit of a moment — I’ve certainly noticed an uptick in Funfetti-esque skeins around the internets. Like variegated colorways, it can be a little tricky to find just the perfect pattern to show it off. A simple canvas is generally best (I’m likely going to knit a Hitchhiker with the skein of Duck Duck Wool 80/20 Merino Silk Fingering, because it’s one of those patterns I think every knitter needs to have) but I’ve also spotted some beautiful patterns that incorporate it along with lace and stripes.

Here’s a selection from among my favorite speckled projects:

JaninaKallio's speckled Crescendo in Hedgehog Fibres Skinny Singles, colorway Monet and Handu Ilun Sinkku, colorway Turkoosi

JaninaKallio’s speckled Crescendo in Hedgehog Fibres Skinny Singles, colorway Monet and Handu Ilun Sinkku, colorway Turkoosi

Susanne/sosu's Chevron Fringe Shawl in La Bien Aimée Merino Singles, colorways The Hotness and Direwolf Graffiti

Susanne/sosu’s Chevron Fringe Shawl in La Bien Aimée Merino Singles, colorways The Hotness and Direwolf Graffiti

Kristen/k10's Dotted Rays in Skein Merino Cashmere Fingering, colorway Neon and Grey

Kristen/k10’s Dotted Rays in Skein Merino Cashmere Fingering, colorway Neon and Grey

Vanina/horsebike29's Pebble Beach Shawl in Skein BFL Sock, colorway Teen Angst

Vanina/horsebike29’s Pebble Beach Shawl in Skein BFL Sock, colorway Teen Angst

Claudia/himawari's Match & Move in REPUBLIC of WOOL Twist Fingering, colorway Tiny Dancer Speckled and Rohrspatz & Wollmeise “Pure,” colorway Feldmäuschen

Claudia/himawari’s Match & Move in REPUBLIC of WOOL Twist Fingering, colorway Tiny Dancer Speckled and Rohrspatz & Wollmeise “Pure,” colorway Feldmäuschen

Ryan/ryanpagehaas's Japan Sleeves in The Lemonade Shop Simple Sock, colorway Grey Speckled and The Plucky Knitter Plucky Feet, colorway Silver Queen

Ryan/ryanpagehaas’s Japan Sleeves in The Lemonade Shop Simple Sock, colorway Grey Speckled and The Plucky Knitter Plucky Feet, colorway Silver Queen

Kelly/kelbelmakes' Curtain Call Cowl in Lynai Superwash Sock Yarn, colorway Manic Speckled

Kelly/kelbelmakes’ Curtain Call Cowl in Lynai Superwash Sock Yarn, colorway Manic Speckled

Catrina/CatReading's Fluid Slouchy Beanie in Spun Right Round Squish DK Shock Star

Catrina/CatReading’s Fluid Slouchy Beanie in Spun Right Round Squish DK Shock Star

Sabrina/dasmondschaf's Doodler in Das Mondschaf Merino Singles, colorways Firefly, Bananaphone and Leela

Sabrina/dasmondschaf’s Doodler in Das Mondschaf Merino Singles, colorways Firefly, Bananaphone and Leela

knitsublime's French Can Can in Duck Duck Wool DK Limited, colorway Speckled Stone

knitsublime’s French Can Can in Duck Duck Wool DK Limited, colorway Speckled Stone