What to make with handspun yarn

I’ve been contemplating a What to make with handspun blog post for a while now, but since I haven’t quite fallen down the spinning rabbit hole yet, I decided to ask Anne of Middle Brook Fiberworks, my fiber and spinning guru, for some suggestions. She ended up sending me a terrific write-up to share with you. Please include your additional suggestions in the comments!

“What can I make with this handspun yarn?” is a question I answer at every show. I can see why: skeins are usually one-of-a-kind, with not a lot of yardage and the texture is often irregular. It’s certainly possible to find sweater quantities of beautifully consistent handspun yarn, but it would be a significant investment. Shawls and other accessories that require less than 400 yards are great for handspun because any irregularities won’t matter — unlike in a sweater or socks, where you don’t really want unfortunately placed lumps of thick slubs. Plus, woolen-spun handspun yarn (spun with a low twist from loose clouds of hand-prepped fiber, rather than a compacted commercial combed top), knits up into a thick fabric that is not only exceptionally warm, but is remarkably lightweight and lofty. My handspun hat knit from woolen-spun CVM under my rain jacket hoodie is integral for my winter farm chores!

Another option is to combine millspun yarn with smaller amounts of handspun yarn as a highlight–for a pop of texture. The Dragonwell Cowl, pictured above, which I designed with Jolene Mosely, has a section of consistent 2-ply yarn, and a small section of highly textured art yarn in a coordinating color. I’ve used handspun yarn for both sections, but millspun yarn would work just as well.

One of my favorite handspun projects is my Handspun Hansel, a handspun version of Gudrun Johnston’s Hansel. The pattern calls for 550 yards of a main color, and less than 100 yards each of four contrasting colors. I made mine with all handspun, but I think it would be terrific with a millspun main color, with handspun contrasting colors.

My next project is going to be Laura Aylor’s Between Oceans. I’ve spun four skeins of aran-weight organic Polwarth in Cirrus for the body, but because I won’t be spinning a fifth skein only to be cut into fringe, I’ll be dyeing a skein of millspun Targhee wool to match.

IU on the road: Spinning fiber into art

1

Spinning 1

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!

Spinning 5

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 post shared 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: Mini break (and skeins)

carder

If you’re looking to get away this Memorial Day weekend, take a fiber-filled vacation at the A Plied Yarn Lab from Middle Brook Fiberworks. Founded by fiber artist Anne Choi, formerly of A Little Teapot Designs, Middle Brook Fiberworks is housed in the restored 1800s barn on Anne’s sprawling property in peaceful Bedminster, N.J. The two-day workshop will include instruction on washing a fleece, preparing locks and spinning, with special guests Laura Spinner of Rainbow Twist Fibers and Ginny Tullock of Fat Cat Knits. 

SparkleMiniMardiGrasIndie

Peggie of ColorPurl has put out some beautiful mini-skein sets inspired by nature, and a drop of coffee. The five sets range from subtle to bright, and include two that are colored with natural dyes. The skeins are 87 yards each, made with 75% Superwash Merino, 20% nylon and 5% Stellina, for a hint of sparkle. 

Update-basket

Head over to the Spencer Hill shop and check out Barbara’s Lalo base, an amazing-sounding DK-weight 80/10/10 blend of single-ply baby alpaca, non-superwash Merino, and silk.

british-dr-who

Keya of Cedar Hill Farm Company has come out with new large project bags with a detachable handle. They’re available in 14 different fabrics, including the Tardis one above.

yello2

The new polymer clay stitch markers from The Knitting Artist have a Skittles look to them, perfect for standing out in colorful yarn (or matching perfectly if your yarn is candy colored).

IMG_7333

My Mama Knits has some new bases, including British-sourced and spun BFL and Merino in aran and DK, along with Superwash Merino Sock and High Twist Superwash BFL Sock.

Get your creative juices flowing: Indie Untangled newcomer MollyGirl Yarn is running a Name The Color contest, with the winner receiving the new colorway on their choice of base, plus a surprise goody bag.

Pre-Rhinebeck Untangling: Jacey Boggs of PLY magazine

2

PLY Jaceyheadshot

As a journalist with an extensive background in print, I always get a little excited — and, also, very intrigued — when someone starts a non-digital publication. Jacey Boggs took the print plunge last summer when she launched PLY magazine, which is dedicated to the art of spinning, offering smartly-written stories and beautiful photos.

Before PLY, Jacey taught spinning all over the world (there are still some spots open in her Saturday workshops at the NY Sheep and Wool Festival) and also produced a spinning DVD and wrote a book. Before that, Jacey sold her handspun, spinning six hours a day, five days a week, and supporting her growing family. Still, Jacey, who’s studied Japanese, economics, political science and journalism, says she considers PLY her first “grown-up job.”

There will be an opportunity to win an issue of PLY as part of a raffle prize package at the Rhinebeck trunk show, of which the magazine is a media sponsor.

What made you decided to start PLY and why did you go the print route (I ask this as a very interested, mostly print journalist!)?

I started PLY because I saw that the spinning community needed it and I thought that I could do it well. Of course, if I’d known how big of a job it would be, I may have hesitated or thought I couldn’t handle it. Ignorance is bliss and I’m thankful I didn’t have more knowledge at the time. I decided print simply because I like print magazines. I want my fiber magazines on my shelf, I want to see them, smell them, feel them. I want to hold them. I know that fiber people are tactile so I figured they wanted the same.

PLY first cover

What are the best things that you’ve learned while running a magazine?

That it’s possible to do something great. That people make the world go around. Even the biggest projects, the most ambitious goals, are accomplished by individuals, either alone or working together. We shouldn’t let grandness intimidate us. Success is attainable if you are true and honest and good and you create a product that embodies those qualities. Drama and negativity poison creative projects. Look straight ahead and do what’s right, always.

Also, lists are invaluable.

How did you get into spinning?

Like most spinners, I was a knitter that wanted to save money. It didn’t really work.

Are there certain fibers you particularly love to spin? Any you are intrigued to try spinning?

I love all fibers. Honestly. As I get further into my spinning career, I realize that every fiber is good for something, has a use, is perfect for some project. Except Karakul, I just don’t like that stuff.

PLY Community cover

What does the future hold for PLY?

More of the same, I hope. Bigger and better with every issue! I’d like to reach every spinner and I’d like to have everyone that wants to be heard, say something on our pages!