Friday, March 27, 2009

Knitting with Handspun

Handspun iPod Cosy
Originally uploaded by Project Pictures
It's not every day you get to knit with handspun. So far it has been even more rare for me to knit with my very own spun yarn. I have a test-square knit out of the very first yarn I ever spun, using hand-carded rolags of unknown wool and spun on a heavy Ashford student spindle in the grease. It's not lovely, but it is my first and I really like having it. I have a couple little balls left over of this yarn and I have no idea what to do with them. I think they'll just float around in my stash indefinitely, as examples of where I started.

Hannah Hat
I also have a hat I knit out of a merino/bamboo blend purchased at Dyelots. I love this hat. The yarn is absolutely beautiful. It is an ultra-bulky single with very low twist. The colors and bamboo blend from one to the next in a soft heathery rainbow. To spin this, I basically just split the roving until I had the thickness that I wanted and then added twist. I didn't really even draft it very much, and what I did was pre-drafting what I had already split out of each length of roving. This is a very valid way of getting yarn! But it was very much a beginner's effort.

But unlike these first projects, my "Lady Violet" sock yarn from Drunkard's Dyelot roving is the first time I sat down and said, "I want to spin THIS way" and then did it. In between making the super-bulky and this first skein of 3-ply sock yarn, I worked my way through nearly eight ounces of plain brown wool, practicing drafting worsted and then woolen (not that I knew the difference at the time), and working towards thinner and thinner singles. I did it all on a 23 gram Bosworth spindle (instead of the big Ashford) starting with park-and-draft and graduating to suspended spinning. I spun bulky two-ply, DK-chain-ply, and fingering two-ply. I test-spun a small amount of my Drunkard's Dyelot roving and was able to get a fingering weight 3-ply (chain) and decided I was ready.

400 yards fingering
And boy was I! I spun that roving into 400 yards of 3-ply fingering weight yarn. Since then I have often pulled out the skein and squished it, petted it, sniffed it, and pondered--what do I make out of this lovely yarn? It's overspun and tightly plied to the point of being slightly "crunchy" to the touch, and not even a gentle bath in hair conditioner fixed that. It is also Romney and Corriedale, so it's never going to be Merino soft (nor would you want it to be). It should be great socks, although part of me winces at the thought of cutting my skein in half!

I had a golf-ball sized nugget of extra yarn. After winding my plies, I had two bobbins with singles remaining. I doubled one on itself and used that with the third to make this last bit of three-ply yarn. Still thinking about what to do with the big skein, I set about making myself a mini project. I'm so glad I did! The yarn knits up very nicely, but it's great to see the difference that handspun makes.

Handspun iPod Cosy - closeup
It's not perfect. I have some fuzzier spots. In places it's just a bit thinner or just a bit thicker. It doesn't make absolutely precise lines and rows like a mill-spun yarn can do. I love the effect, but it does mean I need to look at sock patterns that can stand up to these variations and not look sloppy. I don't think I want to go with an elaborate twisted-stitch pattern that you might see in a sock by Yarnissima or Cookie A. I want something that shows off the yarn more than the pattern.

I still don't know what that will be, but I hope I can think of something lovely and perfect. And if I don't, I'm still going to end up with an awesome pair of socks.

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