Sunday, March 2, 2014

Making Homespun Yarn for knitting - A beginner's adventure

One of my great personal accomplishments of the year was something that people have been doing for thousands of years, making homespun yarn.

If you have read any of my posts, I wrote last summer on how I processed the wool, cleaning it, sorting it, pulling it, dying it and finally carding it into fluffy batts ready for spinning.

The final step, which took much longer than it should have, was spinning the batts into yarn. 
I had a friend who taught me the ropes of hand spinning, even gave me a hand spindle, but she also gave me a great book which was an invaluable tool for reference when she wasn't around. 
It is called "Spin Dye Stitch - How to create and use your own yarn" by Jennifer Claydon  and I would highly recommend it if you want to start your own adventure of making yarn. Here is a link to it on Amazon.

So I am one of those people who just dive in and try something out, trying to learn it myself. I am sure there are also great classes out there at your local knitting store, but I really think we shouldn't be afraid to try something on our own. I mean maybe you make a huge mess, who cares? that is half the fun!  And we learn so much more by our failures then when we get something on the first try.

The book I recommended starts off with instructions on how to spin with a drop spindle or a wheel.  I used a drop spindle. You have to start with carded or combed fiber; I was lucky enough to have wool from my sister's sheep that I had processed and carded, but you could easily pick up some fun fiber at your local yarn shop. 
I learned to spin using the park and draft technique.  Spinning has two parts, the twist and the pull. 
The pull or draft is what makes your yarn thin, the twist is what keeps the fibers together. The park and draft helps separate the two processes and I found was really great for a beginner.  Basically, you put lots of twist in a short piece of yarn, and then release that twist as you pull your fiber. I am sure I am doing a terrible job explaining it, but I bet there's at least two dozen youtube videos about it.

Once you spin some yarn, you have to take it off your spindle, to spin MORE yarn.  My friend gave me the great idea of buying those little plastic practice golf balls with the holes in them.  You slip the end of your spun yarn into the hole and then unroll your yarn onto the ball. And then spin out more fiber.

Now that you have all these golf balls of yarn, you will have to ply your yarn.  I guess you don't have to make two ply yarn, but I think it makes for a better and more stable yarn for knitting

The book I recommended gives great  instructions on plying the yarn.  I thought the most useful tip was to use coffee mugs to hold your balls in. Trust me, if you don't keep your yarn balls contained, things can get tangled up pretty quickly!  And make sure you have time when you sit down and do this. It is not something that you can put down and come back to later. And remember, whichever direction you spun your yarn, you have to go the opposite direction to ply. If you spun clockwise, ply counterclockwise.

After you have plied your yarn, it has to get put onto a niddy noddy to make a skein. What a cool name for such a strange thing!  I have heard they are expensive, but you can easily make one yourself for a few dollars getting pvc from the hardware store.  The book explains how to use one, but I confess I always get mixed up and have to look it up online too.  Here's a good site I found that explains how to make and use a niddy noddy

Here is my yarn all wound out onto the niddy noddy.

Once you have made your skein, you have to wash it in warm water and then let it dry so that it will 'stabilize'  Be careful when washing it, you don't want to agitate it or it will felt.  What I did was use a Tupperware with a small amount of soap meant for wool washing. Shampoo works pretty well too.  After the water has been filled, put your skein in.  Make sure you have tied 4 bits of string around your skein to keep it from tangling up.  Let it soak for ten minutes, then pull it out. Fill the Tupperware with warm water; let it rinse, then dry it by rolling it carefully into a towel.  I then hang mine over a plastic hanger, and weight it with 3 plastic hangers (the weight is very important) and let it dry for a day.

And you have a skein of yarn.  The last step, is to put your skein into a ball. If you have ever bought a skein of yarn at the store, you know how important this step is. If you try to knit from a skein you will soon have a tangled mess.
I used a yarn ball winder from Knit Picks and my husband who had the great joy of holding my yarn.
They are a great resource for all things knitting 
Here is the winder and my finished yarn. 


Now the fun part comes, knitting a sweater for my niece from home spun yarn that came from her family's sheep. What a great feeling and a great connection to our roots.

Happy Knitting!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Scrap Yarn Knitting - Newborn Baby Hat

New born hats are a fun and useful gift to make for a new baby.  They are easy, quick, and can be made with any worsted weight scrap yarn you have on hand because they really don't take much yarn. I personally think knit hats are great for babies because they are a more stretchy than those cotton hats they sell in the store. Just make sure whatever yarn you use is soft and washable.

Here's the pattern I use for making this newborn hat

Things you'll need:
Size 5 Needles
Worsted Weight Acrylic or washable wool. I usually use Lion's brand baby's first yarn because it is very soft and comes in cute colors, though this hat was a soft washable wool I had in my scrap bin

Cast on 54 stitches
Knit 1, Purl 1 across the first row, ending on a purl
Knit 1, Purl 1 across the second row, ending on a purl
Continue the k1 p1 ribbing pattern until your work is 1" (about 6 rows)

Now switch to stockinette stitch. Knit 1 row, purl 1 row for 3".  End with a purl row. Your work will now be 4" long

Now you begin decreasing.
Knit 2 together across the row, (27 stitches)
Purl Across
Knit 2 together across the row, ending with k1 (14) stitches
Purl Across
Knit 2 together across the row (7 stitches)
Purl Across
Knit 2 together across the row (4 stitches)

Cut the yarn, leaving a long tail for sewing the seam.  Thread the yarn with a large needle. Pull the needle through the remaining stitches and then remove them from the knitting needle. Pull the stitches tight.  Sew the seam down one side of the hat and then work your ends in at the bottom rim of the hat.  

Happy knitting!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Suburban Chickens

This spring we decided to get chickens!
We live in the middle of a higher density suburban neighborhood so chickens may seem like a crazy idea, but  with a good chicken house and run I am feeling very positive about the whole adventure.
Now I could probably go on for at least three pages trying to explain why it is becoming important to me to eat food that A. I know where it's coming from B. I know that it hasn't been genetically tampered with and C. has some level of humane treatment for the animals, but I'll just say that it is and so I thought in my one small step towards that we would get chickens, feed them organic GMO free food and then at least one of our protein sources I can feel really good about.  And the chickens are so much fun to watch!!

So anyways, I set out on my chicken research, consulted my wise sister who has her hobby farm, went to which has a vast store of knowledge all things chicken, went to a Chicken 101 class at Murdoch's the local feed store, and finally on March 4 we got chickens!!

We planned to get four of them because we really have a small back yard, but somehow came home with five.  If you've ever seen a chick in your life I am sure you can imagine how easy it is to get a few extras. They are seriously the cutest things.  Here's the first week they were home

We got an Aracuana (they lay turquoise colored eggs and have very interesting facial feathers) , a Buff Orpington (she is the buff colored one of the bunch and is probably going to be the biggest in our flock), a Barred Rock (she is our high flier who loves to climb up and sit on your shoulder), and two Partridge Rocks.   My verdict is still out on the partridge rocks.  One is really sweet and is my favorite of the whole flock and the other goes crazy if you try to hold her. They are smaller and slower to develop then the rest so I don't know how they will end up.

They lived in a rubbermaid for a couple weeks until they outgrew that and now they live in a dog crate with the sides enclosed to help with drafts.  They eat chick feed almost exclusively though I've started giving them chick grit and half a hard boiled egg every day. I've tried to give them little bits of lettuce and strawberry tops and they just aren't interested in them yet but they LOVE eggs. It seemed wierd to me to feed a chick an eg but I have read and heard that its been done for ages and the extra protein is great for them as they grow their feathers.  So they are growing and squawking and pooping and pecking and foraging and in general are just cute and fun creatures. Soon we will put them in their newly built chicken coop, but I will save the coop adventure for another post.  In the meantime I will leave you with my four week old, somewhat silly looking, chicks roosting for the night.