Sunday, 26 February 2017

Hand spun Self striping Yarn

Handspun Socks

If you are a spinner and sock knitter, then why not combine the two?

Planning your project.

1. First, choose your fibre, pure wool, wool and synthetic fibre blend, or man-made vegetable fibre. There are several appropriate fibres from which to choose. Each has their merits. My samples are 75% merino or wool and 25% nylon.

Taking a close look at sock yarn shows it to be quite round and have many twists per inch. These features ensure long lasting, even wear with little pilling but the yarn is still fairly ‘lofty’ and comfortably soft. Un-dyed yarn bought for the purpose of dyeing may not at first seem as ‘nice’ as commercial yarns but it ‘fulls’ and softens in the dyeing and washing process, as does hand-spun. Both will shrink a little in length.

2. Spin your yarn. You will need to decide whether you are to make one large skein of 100g or 2 of 50g. I would suggest two of the same weight, to be dyed in the same sequence so they match.

If you prefer woollen spun from the fleece you may find a breed that makes good sock yarn without any added supplementary fibre. Or, you may decide to add a synthetic fibre to increase the wear and life of your yarn. In this case, to produce a yarn that wears evenly depends upon the careful measurement of proportions of each fibre in the rolags.
I spun 2 50g skeins of semi-worsted 2 ply yarn with 9 twists per inch and 9 wraps per inch. (See pic. blue and brown socks)

            Once spun,  as I used commercial tops and intended to dye with acid dyes, scouring was not necessary.

            3. Tension swatch. When the yarn was dry and wound into centre pull balls I knitted a tension square. After 3 trials I decided that 3.25mm needles gave me the fabric I wanted with 24 sts in 4” width; 6 sts per inch.

            4. Sock tube trial. As the widest part of me foot is 9” round I cast 54 sts on 3 dpns and knitted a circular sampler to try around my foot. The first was too big, so I reduced the number of stitches by 10% and tried again – success.

            To calculate the length of yarn needed for each row of socks. After the cast on and one row of knitting I marked the yarn at the beginning of the next row by tying in a short length of another yarn. Then I knitted 20 rows and marked the yarn again. After which I undid the knitting, measured the length of yarn taken for 20 rows and divided by 20 to give me the length of yarn needed for each row. This helped me to find the correct distance apart to put the skeining posts. (See previous blog for skeining & dyeing instructions.)

             I realise that there may be some difference when the yarn has been dyed but I'm not sure how one can make allowances for this!

             Once the above calculations had been made, again, the big decisions, dye colours to use, width of stripes - all equal or varying?

        I’m not exactly sure how much yarn is used in the heel of a sock so I wasn’t sure how far the hand-spun yarn would go so I decided to knit them toe up, because the length of the leg section was not so important to me.

The finished socks

Gauntlets for a friend.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Striped Sock Yarn Using a Skeining Board

            There are many attractive self-striping yarns in the market place, so many that it can be difficult to choose from the numerous colour ways and stripe patterns. It is interesting and relaxing just to sit and knit, watching the patterns growing on your needles, but for a hand-spinner, what could be even more satisfying and exciting than to choose your fibre mix, spin your own yarn, dye it to produce your chosen pattern in your favourite colour way and ending up with a unique pair of very comfortable footwear.

            I first used this method of creating self striping sock yarn, with very definite, well defined stripes, several years ago. This led me to preparing a workshop for Bedfordshire Guild WSD.

The first, most important, piece of information that I gleaned is that an average sock size – ladies shoe size 6 – takes 30cm of commercial 4ply yarn to knit one row using 2.5/2.75mm needles. Armed with this fact, my husband helped me design and make adjustable skeining boards.
There is now a deal of information and advice online describing methods of producing self striping yarn, but many of them make use of chairs and other pieces of furniture around which the yarn is wound. Some, more sensible, more practical methods use weaver’s warping frames. (See Ashford’s site

I have long wondered if a niddy noddy could be used to produce yarn with 2 to 4 stripes.
The Skeining Board

There are three horizontal rows of holes in the board that give the possibility of up to six skeins, each of which begins at one of the six positions in the centre of the board.

Depending on the length of yarn needed to knit one sock row, up to another six posts can be positioned in the relevant positions on the board by being screwed from underneath with longish countersunk screws. The distance between the posts, from skein to skein, is as short as workably possible.

N.B. The length/circumference of a skein is measured around the outside of both posts, not just between the centre points of the post positions.

Now the big decisions…  
a. Colour scheme,
b. Number of colours,
c. Number of stripes,
d. Colour sequence repeat. Is this to be continuous – red, blue, green, red, blue green or mirrored i.e. Red, yellow, blue, green, blue, yellow, red, yellow, blue?
e. Are all the stripes to be the same width?
I find coloured pencils and lined paper useful in planning and making these decisions.

Decisions made, you can get the board ready.

Winding the skeins

            It is a good idea to ‘plan your route’ on the board and whether you want a different number of rows of any colour in your sequence, then it is a good idea to make a note/list of the sequence so you can cross it off as you progress.

            Always start your skeins at a post in the centre of the board. This ensures economic use of the yarn and the shortest distance between skeins.

I start with a slip knot at post A, *, and take the yarn below and around post B anti-clockwise to above post A for skein 1.Then down under C anticlockwise around D to the top of C to make skein 2. Then taking the yarn down below E to F and back to the top of E is gives the pathway for the third skein.
For the next three skeins, the yarn travels from E above G, anticlockwise around H, back to G, up to and around I, over to and under J, back to I and up to and around the top of K, over the top of L and back to K, *, – a complete circuit of 6 skeins.
The next ‘move’ depends on whether you want to repeat the same colour sequence or mirror them.
To continue the same colour sequence, whether or not the number of knitted rows is to be the same, the yarn continues from below K, over to A to repeat the above instructions from * to *
To mirror/reverse your colour sequence, *1, wind the yarn as described above, from * to *, but you then have to wind the yarn completely around the last post, K, taking it to the right of I and wind the next skein clockwise around I and J. After the desired number of circuits/rows you take the yarn down to below G and again wind the skein clockwise. Moving to the right side of the board the next skeins at positions 3, 2 and 1 are wound clockwise and the yarn has to be wound completely around post A, (*2) to repeat the above sequence * to *, followed again by *1 to *2 and so on, until all the yarn is used.

As a weaver, when warping, I am used to putting a length of crossed yarn between each group of threads, depending on the number required in an inch or cm. of warp width. This can be useful when counting the number of rows of sock yarn laid down for each colour. It also helps, after dyeing, to know which way up the skeins should be placed on the posts so they can be easily unwound.

 For my 4 ply yarn, I decided upon a mirrored sequence with 6 colours. I began the skeins at post A, as described above. I continued winding my yarn in this way until it was all used, then tied it off at the nearest post. I repeated the sequence for the second 50g. yarn. Then I tied each skein with figure of eight ties in four places, i.e. at each post and on each side of the skein. I also put ties around the yarn leading from one skein to another. I left the cross ties in place and knotted them loosely.     

Once the skeins were tied and taken off the board I put them to soak in warm water. When thoroughly wetted, the dyes mixed and work surface prepared, they were squeezed to remove excess water and laid on cling film. Before putting any dye on the skeins I wrapped each one in cling film to protect them from any splashing of unwanted colour. I also used plastic bag grips, on the yarn that ran between skeins, to prevent dye from migrating to adjacent skeins.


            After the acid dye was applied I wrapped them again in a second layer of cling film and steamed them for 45 minutes. Once cooled and rinsed I put the yarn to dry hanging it on a broom handle which went through each skein. When dry I replaced the skeins on the frame to remove the ties and then unwind the yarn. As you can see, the skeins don’t easily go back onto the posts but this can be rectified by moving the outer posts in one position on the board. The cross ties in the centre of the skeins were a useful way of showing whether the skeins are the same way up as before. I also checked that there were no twists between the skeins and, thankfully they unwound easily.

This shows the six colours of 4 ply yarn dyed for the second pair of socks. Again I used acid dyes but either project could have been dyed with natural dye extracts.

Knitting the socks.
The socks with 4ply yarn  my preferred way of cuff down using the basic ‘Regia’ yarn pattern which can be found at The Ashford website – – also has a basic sock pattern, along with a ‘Spiral Sock Pattern’ and funky pattern for ‘Dreadlock Socks’, all of which are freely downloadable. You can see from the photo that a lace or indeed any textured stitch tends to distort the stripes.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Spin to weave project

At last - Spinning to Weave!

        My last post has urged me to begin a long awaited project, making something from my handspun yarn.
        In my 'stash' I had several 100g plaits of a special blend of fibres, 50/50 Silk and wool well blended (5x), ordered from World of Wool over a year ago and hand dyed by myself to sell.
   I had no two plaits alike, but these three had colours in common and it seemed to me that they could be combined for such a project.
   Could I spin it evenly enough, was it to be a singles or plied yarn? How was I going to combine the three colourways?  Decisions, decisions!

    I took the plunge. Spinning on 4 bobbins would give me the option of plying at a later date, should I change my mind on the weight of yarn needed - I had decided to spin a fairly fine worsted type singles and was unsure if I could keep to a consistent diameter.

   First, I gave the fibre time to relax. I undid each plait, held it along its length with hands 12 - 16 inches apart and 'snapped' the length to open it out across its length. Some spinners suggest 'whacking' the tops on a hard/firm surface along its length to do the same thing.
 Each plait was divided into four lengthwise, so giving me 4 x 75g. produced from 25g of each of the original plaits. Fine, that would fit onto my bobbins. Should I decide to ply then this could be done on a larger bobbin.
   I proceeded to divide each 25g across its width into 6 to ensure shorter runs of each shade and to aid drafting. I do believe in pre drafting tops, especially if it has been dyed and you want to spin a consistently fine yarn. You can keep the spinning rhythm going more easily and it also provided you with a much more relaxed experience. Any debris or 'snaggles' of fibre can more easily be picked out at this point!

  I soaked and lightly washed all of the skeins together and, after rinsing and wringing out as much water as possible, hung them to dry on a broom handle with a second weighted broom handle through the bottom of all of them to take out some of the kinks. I moved each one regularly to help with drying........
  I have ended up with 4 skeins of singles yarn, each 70-75g and a total of 1800 yards which wraps at 30 ends per inch.

 Sorry, this picture was taken on a sunny day!