purposeful yarn

Before We Proceed…

I’d like to wish my sister Liz a Happy Birthday. Lizzie, don’t believe anyone when they tell you how old you are now. Just pull up a walker beside me and have some tea. They’re all just too young to count properly.

Liz and Sandi, circa 1973

And no, your sweater isn’t finished yet.

Yup, see? It’s still me. Not a Pod Sandi, the real thing. 

Tour the Fleece

It’s TdF Day 4, and there have been no idle hands in this spinner’s house.

Nor idle toes:

Ahem. Those are butterflies. (Work with me here.)

Not All Yarns Are Created Equal

This may be obvious to yarn folks; however, I know that some of you are not spinners, nor are you knitters. You’re clearly here for the witty commentary and insightful dialogue (coughcough).

I’ve been concentrating on two things the past year or so, in my spinning life anyway: Colour blending, and Yarn With A Purpose. What both of these have in common is Intent: I have a vision of what I want in my head, and I choose my materials and methods according to which ones I think will get me the yarn I want.

Spinners don’t always do this. Many of us spin for meditation, for pleasure, for relaxation, for a sense of connectedness that is profound at times, yet difficult to explain to a non-spinner.

Much of the time, our purpose in spinning has little to do with the specific yarn we are making and everything to do with the fact that Making Yarn is in and of itself a worthy use of one’s time.

Nicholas, SpindleMaker Jesh, and Brendan (looking dubious)

The yarn we spin when we turn off our brains and just let our fingers do what they do best is referred to as our “default yarn.”

Nearly every spinner has a default yarn; some default to a worsted method, where the fibres are controlled, and all march into the twist in neatly organized parallel lines. Others default to a woollen method, where one lets the twist run up into the fibre supply, grab whatever it wants to grab and toss it around, no matter which way the fibre is oriented. The first is generally smooth and tightly twisted; the second is generally fluffy and less tightly twisted. (Huge Sweeping Generalizations.)

My default yarn, spun from silver-speckled roving from Holiday Yarns

My default yarn is a semi-worsted, combining bits of both techniques; thus, the results are somewhere between extremes. It’s great yarn, but if I used that technique for every yarn then all my knitting would start to look and feel the same.

For the TdF project, I envisioned a somewhat fluffy, tweedy, heathered yarn, medium weight, possibly 3-ply. To get this yarn, I had to decide what sort of fibre would work best, how to prepare it, and then how to spin it so I would end up with what I wanted.

It Depends: Go Sample Four Pounds

That’s the spinner’s version of “you never know what you’re going to get until you try it.” Just because I’ve been spinning for twenty years, and working with yarn all my life doesn’t mean I magically know how to make a heathery, fluffy yarn with what I have on hand. I can’t just grab some random fibre and go, and expect to hit the mark on the first spin. I have to sample. I have to try different things until I find out what works.

Because it depends. Fibres can feel soft in the hand, but end up prickly in the yarn. That grey might be lovely, but when paired with certain colours, it might look more brown.

This is not chemistry,  where precise instructions give you a reliable result. This is the land of Sometimes, and the city of Some People Do Go Both Ways. So I have to be willing to make mistakes, to take roads that may turn out to be dead ends, even to get lost along the way.

Oh, and “four pounds” is a semi-serious answer to spinners who ask How Much Fibre Do I Need To Spin A Sweater. Well, it depends. Are you a size 30″ chest or a size 50″? Are you going to spin thin yarn or thick? It is a long-sleeve sweater with cables, or a lace sweater with cap sleeves? See? It Depends. AND: Four pounds will most likely be enough for most people to spin 1 sweater. (Actually, for most folks, it may be enough for 2 sweaters.)

(Q: “How much chocolate do I need to buy to make this cake?” A: “Four pounds.” There. You get the idea.)


In my head, I can see The Perfect Colour: grey-brown-green, mostly grey; heathery, tweedy, interesting to the eye. I picked the Romney fleece because my friends love it, even though I’ve never worked with it before. It was also a great base colour. I then went and found all the green stuff I had. Then I spent three days making sample batts with varying proportions of Romney Grey to greens.

I did six batts, the first (far left) with 14 parts Romney to 3 parts green; the last (far right) with 40 parts Romney to 3 parts green. The others form a gradient: 16, 18, 20, 26.

I like that last one best–at least I like it as it appears in its fuzzy batt form. But I am not making a batt sweater; I am making a yarn sweater. Sooooo…I have to make some sample yarn out of the best sample batt to see what I get.

My one concern throughout the batt sampling process is that the Romney is a bit coarser than the fibres I normally work with; in batt form, it feels a bit scratchy. I don’t like scratchy. I wonder if perhaps I overwashed it, stripping it of its last bit of protective lanolin, and thus drying it out. While sorting and weighing it, I used gobs of lanolin on my hands, hoping this would transfer to the fibre. I also used my own version of combing milk, spraying it on the fibre before carding. Even so…scratchy.

Last night, I sat down with Batt Number Six and spun it all up, varying my technique every few yards and then looking at the results. I made thin yarn, thick yarn, worsted, woollen, long draw, short draw, spun from the fold, from the end, the whole enchilada. This morning, I chain-plied it, soaked it, agitated it a bit to do a smattering of fulling, whacked it, and it’s now hanging to dry.

Sample yarn, before washing and whacking

(Yes, I whack my yarn. For you non-spinners: Whacking means whacking. Hold skein by one end, thwack yarn on counter or other hard object, children and spouses being out-of-bounds. This helps the yarn open up, be fluffier, and evens out the twist. It also helps the spinner resolve Certain Emotions if things are not going her way.)

It’s wet, so I can’t say what the final result will be. But: It still feels scratchy. This does not bode well. I’m becoming convinced that it isn’t my techniques, it’s the Romney itself. Maybe this isn’t sweater yarn; maybe it’s something-else yarn.

What to do….what to do…

I shall have to sit in the Thinking Chair and have a think about this for a bit.


World’s Oldest Recording Resurrected. Golly there are some smart people out there.

In honour of Pride month, some unicorn bandages, which I believe were a one-off and are not really for sale. I just report the news, folks.

Oddest visual-as-clue packaging ever. There are no words.

I like this treehouse. Slides are cool.

Did you know that the San Francisco Fire Department uses hand-built ladders custom-made for them? Wow.

Mandatory cute animal content: Dear Bird: I do not think you are where you think you are.

About sandi

Knitter. Spinner. Quilter. UFO Wrangler. Sometime bead artist and weaver. Two toddler-age kittens, 1 permakitten, 2 grownup cats, 1 beloved dog angel, 1 spouse, 1 crazy life. I suppose that the 5 cats make me 1 crazy cat lady; OTOH, apparently, yes, I do need that much feline supervision.
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15 Responses to purposeful yarn

  1. InJuneau says:

    Happy sampling!

    Oh, I HAVE to show DH the thing about the oldest recording; he’ll flip!

    Love that treehouse too.


  2. Sandy says:

    Thanks for a wonderful post. Now, I wanna go home and do some blending and having fun with wool!


  3. teabird says:

    Oh dear lord. The pig – uh – foodstuff package? No. I refuse.


  4. Barbara says:

    the only time I’ve spun Romney and liked the result was a loosely spun single with slightly more twist in the ply and then a true 3 ply – not chained. I knit my sister a vest and it’s worn very well over the years and it does not prickle.

    I prefer the softer wools for almost every purpose – if I use a long wool, it’s BFL for fineness and length.

    great post,



  5. Barbara Bonn says:

    That article came at exactly the right moment: I am just beginning to think about actually designing the yarn I spin instead of just putting ready-made top or roving or batts through the wheel or spindle and seeing what emerges. Very helpful; thank you.

    Hey, my sister Judy’s birthday is also today! Happy birthday to her and to Liz..


  6. Carol Ann Burden says:

    I’m with you as far as scratchy is concerned! My mother used to have to line my wool trousers with cotton when I was younger and wool was the only game in town. Might I suggest you spin a heavy yarn and make a couple of really great shoulder bags or shopping bags? They will look great and you won’t itch!! Really enjoying your posts, nice to hear from you so often and see how the project is progressing.


  7. Jesh says:

    Unicorn bandages! I’m so sad those are not a Real Thing.

    As for the Romney, could you maybe spray it with some lanolin/water mixture before or as you blend it? I’ve done that for stuff that’s staticky before; no idea if it will help soften significantly but might be worth a try before abandoning all hope.

    And while we’re at it, your toenails are great.


  8. limijas says:

    Thank you so much for the birthday greeting!!! However, about that picture. . . surely there was some picture that you could have found to post instead of the one of me at my most awkward age!!!!

    Hey I want to hear your actual voice some day soon, maybe I will call in a day or two!


  9. Nora says:

    I like Romney, but I can imagine that in batt form it would be really hard to spin a non-prickly yarn. You could get really crazy and blend it all on combs or with a hackle. That would keep the fibers aligned so you can spin closer to a true worsted yarn.
    Romney wouldn’t be my first choice for a next to skin item, but it is still a great wool.


  10. molly says:

    totally awesome that san fransisco fire people build and maintain their own ladders – craftsmanship of a different kind!


  11. Kim says:

    I think those are dragonflies on your toes. Indigo ones 😉


  12. Naomi says:

    I agree with Kim re. the dragonflies on your toes. And oh, how I’d love a treehouse like that.


  13. Romney can vary, and yes, I’d consider it scratchy. Also, you really don’t need to make me a sweater. 😉


  14. Natalie says:

    I just finished plying up my first ever Romney yesterday and have been putting the skein around my neck on & off wondering what the heck it’ll be when it grows up because it feels a bit scratchy, but only a very little. It’s 740 yards of 2 ply and I’m stumped for now. Into the handspun bin it goes. Can’t wait to see how you sort out your Romney.


  15. Tamara says:

    Um, the pig evoked slack-jawed staring. Loved the robin and his/her introductory PB parody.

    It just amazes me how much time and care and thought your process takes. I wish I had the patience, though I think I’m beginning to have more. I’ve been fussing with seed stich on a sweater, and now I know that I can fix an issue several rows back without ripping back, but also that I will rip back if I need to. Baby steps, but they feel like big ones.

    And a big Wow! Cool! on the toes.


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