Time for a bit of knitting and spinning on this knitting/spinning blog, what do you think? I bet I’ll wander around as I usually do, however, so let’s see where my tapping fingers take me…
I was going to do a post about the three projects I’d finished in January, because I’m still riding the high of finishing three! projects! in! one! month!
However, I realized that two of those are late holiday gifts, and their owners-to-be read the blog. Thus, I’d have to call the post “Spoilers About Your Christmas Gifts, So Sorry,” and that just didn’t seem like such a great idea after all.
I’ve now reworked the post so there are no revelations ahead of their time. The one project left to blog about is a project which took eighteen months to complete, and is rather near and dear to my heart. Or more accurately, to my feet.
They are just humble socks. There is no fancy lace pattern; there are no intricate cables up and down the cuff. The actual knitting wasn’t all that difficult. Yet, these are one of those efforts that make you feel like taking off your shoes and putting your feet up on the table to show off the wonderful things you made. (Yes, I have actually done this; last week in fact. Only once though. So far. No one called either the police or the environmental control officials, so it seemed to come out OK in the end.)
I designed the yarn, choosing the fibres carefully for colour, texture, and function. I hand-blended the batts on my drumcarder, I spun the yarn and plied it (sport-weight, 3-ply), and then I adapted Cat Bordhi’s wonderful Tibetan Sock recipe in New Pathways For Sock Knitters to make socks that fit me like no other socks I’ve ever worn.
I’m a proud sock mama.
These are, in fact, the end result of a sock-yarn designing class I took from Sheila January at the 2011 Sock Summit. She taught us how to consider all the different properties of each fibre, and to combine them in proportions that would get us the sock yarn we wanted. One of the best things she did was to help us break out of the rut of merino/silk/cashmere or merino/silk or the other standard blends. She encouraged us to choose each fibre deliberately, and to widen our search parameters, if you will, to include nearly all the fibres there are out there. She spent time going over the properties of different fibres, and what that meant in terms of spinning yarns for specific purposes.
I was fascinated. I’ve spent much of the time since that class experimenting with different blends and fibres, based on the things she presented in class, and I have learned SO MUCH. (Thank you, Sheila.)
Luxury Batts, or What if you don’t want to blend your own fibres?
There’s a lot of folks who either don’t want to “blend their own” or who don’t have access to the tools to do so. For you nice folks, there are entire Etsy shops and fibre-show booths filled with “luxury batts/braids” out there. These hand-blended-in-small-batches batts (braids, whatever) are gorgeous, and soft, and oh-so-seductive. I admit to having quite a nice little stash of bumps and balls and loops and coils and braids and puffs myself, of all shapes and kinds.
Unless you are spinning these purely for pleasure, you might want to start looking a bit more closely at the ingredients, and their proportions, in such batts. I once saw a batt that had merino, pygora, cashmere, camel, angora, alpaca, silk, and yak in it.
Pretty. Luxurious, no doubt about that. But what’s the point? Is the point to have just a bunch of luxury fibres in a single yarn? Was the batt-maker choosing for colour and these just happened to be the fibres in her stash that gave her the particular colour blend she wanted?
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with putting whatever you want into a batt, or buying a batt that is made of bits and bobs of all kinds of things. One of my favourite batts to date was such a batt; it had been blended for texture and colour, not for fibre properties. It was huge fun to spin. Even as I spun it, however, I knew that I was not going to be making anything with that yarn that “needed” to have particular properties.
There wasn’t much of the batt, so I ended up blending two-thirds of the singles with a solid singles from elsewhere, to show off the crazy colours and highlight the textures. The final third I plied with itself.
Fingerless mitts with fancy trim, anyone?
If you’re buying batts for a specific purpose, make sure the fibres (both in composition and proportion) the batt is made of will be good for what you have in mind.
And the flip side of that is: If you are a batt-maker and sell your batts, maybe think about labelling the batts with “serving suggestions” in terms of final project usages. Unless, of course, it’s a batt meant simply for the joy of spinning.
About the socks
I have Raynaud’s Syndrome, which means my feet don’t hold heat due to poor circulation. Sometimes in winter, they get so cold they hurt. (You may now commence the playing of the world’s tiniest symphony made up of the world’s tiniest violins. Together now: A-one, and a-two, and a-three…)
Oh yes, and of course, we ended up living in Canda. Brilliant. Thus, warm socks for me are essential.
Determined to take care of my tootsies, I chose to base my sock yarn on one of the warmest fibres on earth: Angora bunny. I mixed that with a Shetland lamb base, because the particular fleece Sheila had as a class supply choice was incredibly soft, and had a wee tiny crimp. When carded and spun (Look ma: I sampled!), the Shetland produced a lofty single that would hold air in the pockets formed by all those lovely crimpy wavelets.
Because I appear to have velociraptor-like claws in my heels which poke ginormous holes in my socks,
I added silk for durability (I considered adding a stainless steel blend like the ones sold by Habu, but had none on hand and thought that might be taking things a titch too far). So, because I don’t just like silk, I am a silk junkie, I went ahead and added a second different kind (and colour) of silk.
Finally, Sandi being Sandi, I also added just the tiniest bit of sparkle (angelina). I say the tiniest bit, because angelina can make yarn scratchy, and no one wants scratchy socks. Fortunately, angelina is also pretty powerful: A little goes a long way!
Here are the ingredients, in their proper proportions (somewhere, I even have the actual numbers written down, but for now, the visuals will have to suffice):
Clockwise from the brightest colour at top left: Rose tussah silk, brown Shetland lamb, two colours/types of Angora bunny fluff (one English, one French, if memory serves), and a small sample batt. Center: Purple bombyx silk, white angelina.
Here’s what the batts looked like after two passes through my Strauch Finest:
The singles in progress:
And finally, the finished 3-ply yarn:
The cat tail is for scale, of course.
Those photos are from November of 2011, so I took the class in August of 2011, just for timeframe reference. I finished the first sock fairly quickly; then put them down to work on some for-pay projects that needed attention. (Silly money.)
Unfortunately, I hadn’t taken good notes. I usually take great notes, but I think I got cocky, and assumed that since Cat’s instructions were so super-awesome, and since I had a skeleton pattern written out, that I would of course just magically be able to re-create everything for the second sock right out of my monstrously amazing brain.
Not. (I must have been thinking of someone else’s monstrously amazing brain. Darn. I really could use a monstrously amazing brain, truly I could.)
I spent quite a bit of time re-generating the pattern, primarily by literally counting the stitches in the first sock. (Always fun, that method.)
Despite the delay, on Thursday, January 24, 2013, I finished my very own 200% custom-made socks. I love them. However, I’d better make a second pair QUICK, because otherwise I’ll wear these every day and me and my velociraptor heels will wear them out before summer comes around.
And yes, this time I wrote down all the numbers 🙂
Great project, and so satisfying. I learned so many things about designing yarn (thank you, Sheila!) and about making yarn, just from this one project.
Ever seen a Tibetan sand prayer mandala being created? Here you go. There are no words.
(From the sublime to the uh, down-to-earth.) Speaking of sand, I used to love beach-combing as a kid, spending summers in Carmel, California. Even so, I just never thought of looking for whale spew.
Cute animal pic of the day: Lambs less than a day old!
There’s a bit of marketing at the very end, but the rest of the article is very thought-provoking: On Being Lonely. This article resonated with me. A lot. Your thoughts?
And one more link full of laughs for you: Cats and Water.
There’s so much more I want to talk about, so much to share. Of course…I could BLOG MORE OFTEN. ::laugh:: Yeah, yeah. Working on it.
Till next time, me hearties.