Doubleweave Mug Rugs

Last year I finally got a copy of Jennifer Moore’s *Doubleweave*, and have been working my way through parts of it. One of the things I made was a set of mug rugs (always convenient for trying out new techniques at small scale) in a windows draft. I had some blue yarn from an early batt blending experiment that I needed to find a use for, so I designed my project around that.

mindowpane mug rugs 0817175994I’m a big fan of complementary color schemes. I planned five columns of windows, narrower at the sides and increasing towards the center. These columns would use a progression of yellow-orange and orange at the sides, with red-orange as the center column. This color order would be repeated in the weft.

doubleweave mug rugs 1116176025I was very happy with how they turned out.

red-orange-blue twill yardage 0817175995I ended up with quite a bit more of the oranges than I needed, but I ran out blue weft early. Rather than scrap additional foot of weaveable warp, I cut off the mug rugs and re-threaded for a straight 2/2 twill, planning to weave it off with the leftover oranges in plaid-like stripes.

I was pleasantly surprised by the resulting fabric. I had expected the color-and-weave effect of two complementaries to be muddier, the way they are in the plain weave stripes on the back of the mug rugs, but the twill lines reduced that effect considerably. doubleweave mug rugs 1116176029

I ended up with just enough yardage to make a small tote bag.tote bag 1116176040

tote bag 1116176035




Bag Yardage

Now that I’ve got a handle on what to do with all this drum-carded wool that I’ve got, I’m working on handwoven yardage made from it.  I’m thinking small project bags, tote bags, journal covers, etc.

I have started with an undulating twill that I’ve always wanted to try, and am very pleased with the results. I’m using a 10/2 commercial cotton warp in a very dark forest green with a handspun 2-ply weft using the drum carding technique I described earlier.I really like the way the variegated yarn that results works with this draft.


The pattern is a little less distinct after wet finishing, but it’s still beautiful, and an appropriate weight for the projects I have in mind.

Now that I have the yardage, I need to start working on patterns.  I know there are a lot of patterns for bags and journal covers out there, but none of them are really what I’m looking for.  Fortunately I have a good stash of fabric remnants in a variety of weights, so I have plenty of supplies for design and experimentation!

Second Iteration, Part Two

This is the second part of my second round of batt color management experiments.  Last post I made better fiber choices, and got results closer to what I was expecting when making a striped batt, then dizzing the fiber from the drum carder. This is the result from using the same fiber and technique with a layered batt. I used the same wool in the same proportions as my striped batts, and dizzed a roving off of the drum carder, working back and forth and using the largest hole on my diz.magenta yellow and blue layers of wool on a drum carder

This time the fiber distribution was much more consistent, and I got all three colors going the whole length of the, yellow, and blue striped wool roving

I found, though, that when I spun the singles I was still ending up with long segments of first one side color, then another, with the center color mostly blended. I realized that this was due to a combination of staple length (about 4″) and the tendency of fiber to draft first down one side of the roving/top, then across, then down the other side, especially when dealing with a fairly thick roving or top. I wanted to see if a thinner prep would decrease this effect, so I made another identical batt, but this time I dizzed off through the smallest hole on the diz, resulting in a longer, thinner yellow and blue striped roving

This actually made the single-color segments longer


Lesson learned – making a thinner prep does not result in more even color distribution!


Crockpot Dyeing

I spent a good part of the summer figuring out ways to dye wool in my crockpot.   I know that the oven dyeing method that I have been using will allow me to dye more wool at once, so there is more efficiency in terms of scale, but it takes a great deal more space and it means that no one else can use the oven while I’m dyeing wool.  Because I need to schedule my dyeing around when other people want to use the oven, I am able to do it less frequently.  With the crockpot I can only do about 4 ounces of wool at a time, but the only space I’m using is the tiny footprint that the crockpot takes up on the counter.  I can dye much more frequently, so the result is a higher level of production.   It’s one of those “slower by the hour, but faster by the week” things, like spindle spinning versus wheel spinning.


I documented a lot of these experiments on my Facebook page this summer. I figured it was time to get some of them written up into a more sensible format as blog posts.

In essence this is a form of low water immersion dyeing. The unpredictable results are one of the features of this dyeing method.  When I dye in trays I lay the tops out in neat rows and can apply the dye very precisely exactly where I want it. When I dye in the crockpot I need to be able to fit the wool in one layer at the bottom of the crockpot. To do this, I pack the top into the bottom of the crockpot by pleating it.

This acts as a natural resist and prevents the dye from reaching all the way down to the bottom or inside the folds in some places. I can control this effect to a degree by how much liquid is in the crockpot.

I choose colors that I know will create something reasonably attractive in the finished product, and instead of mixing all of the colors of dye together for one solid color I sprinkle them randomly over the surface of the wool so that individual colors stand out and combine in different ways. If I want more dye penetration and less white space, I add more water to the crockpot.

Yarn that is spun from tops dyed with this random crockpot dyeing method still have some variation in color, but the transitions between colors are much smoother and more gradual with little to no striping.

Individual spots of color that blend together as fibers in the yarn give the impression of a solid color due to optical blending while at the same time giving greater visual depth to the yarn.

So what’s the deal with this handspinning thing? Part 1: Wool

I recently had a conversation with my father about my new Etsy shop, AliCat Fiberarts, where I’ve started selling my handspun yarn and hand dyed wool for spinning.  He was wondering about the market for such products.  He wasn’t being critical – just curious.  It was one of those conversations where I need to explain something to an “outsider” – in this case not only a non-spinner, but a non-fiber person!  I’m going to attempt it again here, drawing some parallels to food and gardening, as those topics have become more mainstream.

Welsh Hill Speckled Face Sheep:  Photo by Pete Birkinshaw

Once upon a time, when most people grew most of their own food, it mattered what type of tomato you were growing or what breed of chicken you raised.  It wasn’t so much a matter of Good or Bad, more of Good for this purpose and Bad for that one.  With the advent of Industrial Agriculture (among other things) that idea had largely disappeared.  Now, with the current trend toward Farmer’s Markets, home gardens, and heirloom varietals, these topics are in the news, so that many non-foodies know something about them, even if it’s not a personal interest.

Karakul Sheep:  Photo by Patricia Longoria,

What does this have to do with spinning?  The same idea that The Variety Matters also holds true for sheep and other fiber-bearing animals.  Just as there are hundreds of varieties of tomato, there are hundreds of breeds of sheep (and yes -to the already-spinners out there – I know there’s a lot of stuff to spin besides wool, but I’m leaving that for another post!).  Unfortunately, the average yarn-user’s knowledge and understanding of sheep breeds has followed the same path as the supermarket produce shopper.  Aside from the “brand recognition” of Merino and Shetland (both breeds of sheep), wool is wool, right? That itchy stuff that you have to wear a heavy turtleneck under?  Well – not really -no!

Lock from Merino fleece:  Photo by Lisa Dusseault

All sheep have wool, but different breeds have slightly different wool.  To vastly oversimplify things,  all sheeps’ fleeces fall somewhere on a spectrum of fine to coarse, and short to long.  Fineness is based on the diameter of the fibers.  Length is the length of the fibers (usually one year’s growth) – wool parlance for this is “staple length.”  The finer a wool is, the softer it is.  Conversely, the coarser a wool is, the rougher and more prickly it feels, and it’s this “prickle factor” that gives wool a reputation for being itchy.  Wool, from an industrial perspective, is a byproduct of the lamb industry.  With the exception of Merino and other specialty breeds, ranchers make their money off meat.  Most sheep need to be shorn annually for health reasons, and in most cases the shepherd sends all the wool to the local “wool pool” which will have fleeces from several breeds, all of varying quality, all mixed together.  This is where most generic “wool” for the textile industry comes from.  Naturally it’s likely to be itchy!

Merino Ewe:  Photo by nzsheep

Merino is the Gold Standard in soft, fine wool.  Most people could wear Merino underwear and be perfectly comfortable and non-itchy.  At the other end of the spectrum there are breeds like Lincoln, which have long, coarse staples, and make excellent rug yarn – but you wouldn’t want it in a turtleneck.  And here you see your tradeoff.  Merino is nice and soft and comfy – but you certainly wouldn’t want to make a rug out of it.  The fine fibers that make it so soft don’t stand up to that kind of wear.  You’d have holes in your rug in no time.  The nice sturdy fibers that wear like iron (the “rug wools”) would be way too itchy for clothing.

Crimpy Wool:  Photo by Kara Brugman 2010

Wensleydale Sheep: Photo by Eadaoin Flynn

 Here’s where we get back to the original subject.  Why spin your own yarn?  Because there are lots of sheep breeds that fall in different places all up and down this spectrum of fine-to-coarse.  Just like growing your own vegetables or sewing your own clothes, when you spin your own yarn you can tailor it to the end use in a way that’s difficult to do with generic off-the-shelf wool.  Sure it’s easy to find Merino yarn – that’s one of the few breeds available by name.  But suppose you want to crochet a hearth rug or make potholders?  Pick a coarser longwool breed.  Knitted and felted clogs, slippers and handbags are also becoming popular – you can choose something in the middle that’s not too prickly on your feet, but will still survive being walked on. Sure you can use Merino for socks – it’ll be comfortable, but I hope you like darning! Pick something like Blue-faced Leicester, which is a longwool breed, but still very soft.  Once you start exploring the characteristics of different breeds it can be hard to stop!  You start giving the classic spinner’s justification of “Yes I know I have ten fleeces in the closet, but I don’t have that one yet!”  In the end it all becomes useful stuff.  The more we know and understand, the more useful and long-lasting our stuff will be!

Things to do in the dark

Being without power for extended periods of time means finding things you can do in poor light.  I can spin pretty well in the dark, and I don’t usually have to look too hard at my knitting if it isn’t something too complicated.  Unfortunately the knitting project I was working on when the power went out was these:

Not really something I could work on in the dark!  I managed to finish them the day after the power came back on.

I really needed something completely mindless, so I decided to knit swatches! I had two full-sized skeins and two samples in different colorways.  I decided a while ago that I wanted to post photos of knitted sample in my Fiberarts Etsy, because there’s so often such a big difference in what a multicolored yarn looks like in the skein and how it knits up.  How many times have you had a multicolored yarn that you loved in the skein, but that you really just didn’t like in the knitted object?  

The same thing happens in reverse all the time – you see some knitting with colors that you love, then see the yarn it was knitted with, and think “I would never have pictured this yarn coming out like that!”

Spinners experience this all the time.  See how bright and almost garish the different colors look in the unspun wool?  The colors become much less intense in the finished yarn because of the the blending that occurs during spinning.  Because of this blending, it can be hard to see from the yarn that it will create subtle stripes when it’s knitted up.

The striping is more prominent in the first example because I used colors with strong contrast. In this second example the colors are much more closely related, both in hue and value.  Here, you don’t get strong stripes so much as a subtle shading.

Of course, the final effect will always depend on the size of your knitting.  Smaller projects like socks will end up with much wider and more prominent stripes.  Sweaters and shawls will have narrower stripes – sometimes maybe only one row before the color changes enough to be noticeable!  Still, it’s always nice to at least have a ballpark idea of what a yarn is going to do before you plan your project.

Back to More Important Things!

Now that I’m done whining about having to replace my computer I can get back to the fun stuff!   I was very, very lucky recently.  A good friend decided to “invest” in my business(es) and gave me enough money to really start to get some things off the ground.  I’ll be able to start a wholesale account with a fiber supplier, so that I can buy my wool at wholesale prices, which will give me a broader selection and a slightly higher profit margin.  After waiting forever for Etsy to come through with the promised ability to manage more than one shop from the same account, I finally just went ahead and started a second Etsy account to sell the yarn and spinning fiber in.  I’m not putting the link out there yet because the shop is still empty.  Writing up Etsy listings is more like writing ad copy than a classified, and that’s never come easily to me, so the listings are going through lots of revisions before I make them public.  I’m hoping to have the new shop up and running by Thanksgiving!

Here’s what I’ve been working on:

 I’m starting to work on colorways outside of single color families – these are some of my more successful attempts. 

 I’m also working on increasing my spinning speed.  I expect the dyed fiber to be a bigger percentage of sales, but since much of what I spin ends up sitting around waiting for a project, it may as well be available for purchase while it’s waiting!

These first two colorways came out beautifully the first time!  I love it when things work right!

This last skein is just for me 🙂  It’ll go nicely with this yarn.  Right now I’m thinking of hats and leg warmers, because this yarn is too “soft” for socks.  It would pill terribly, and I’d probably get holes faster than I’d like.


Not terribly fashionable perhaps, but I’m planning on wearing them under skirts with the actual aim of keeping my legs warm! 

A different kind of dyeing experiment

Having spent the bulk of the summer working on painted roving, I decided to try a different method for achieving Color in Yarn.  Painted rovings are fun to spin, and they can be a lot of fun to knit with, but solids are nice as well.  Plus, I have a lot of raw fleece that I can’t process into roving at home, and I need to find something to do with it.

Rather than mix my chosen color and then dye the wool, I decided to dye the wool in the individual base colors I use, then blend them together in the proportions called for in that color formula.  Say I started with 100g of fiber – if my “recipe” was 68% color A, 20% color B, and 12% color C, I’d use 68g of wool dyed in A, 20g in B and 12 in C, and blend the individual colors.  This process takes advantage of optical blending, in much the same way pointillism does.  It creates the appearance of a solid color, but with greater depth and interest, especially when seen from up close.

Here’s what I did.  I weighed out the fiber for individual colors into gallon zipper freezer bags (labelled, so I would know what color went in which bag), added a solution of water and Synthropol (a surfactant to ensure the fiber wets out evenly), and let the wool sit for a couple of hours.  Then one bag at a time, I carefully removed the wool and added the appropriate  amount of dye & other chemical assists, then returned the wool to the bag.  I found it important to remove the wool before adding the dye, otherwise most of the color would end up in one spot on the wool, rather than evenly dispersed.

I then put the plastic bags full of wool/dye in a large stockpot with a rack at the bottom, and filled the stockpot with water.  I slowly heated up the water bath, monitoring the temperature with one of those nifty probe thermometers that provides a constant readout, and kept it at about 180F for about two hours, then left the bags to cool to room temperature in the water bath.

When they had cooled, I rinsed the wool and hung it to dry, then blended the separate colors on my drum carder.

It spins up into a wonderfully lofty DK/Worsted weight 2ply!  I’m very pleased with the results!  One of the things I like about this process is that it allows me to turn what would normally be a flaw into a “design element.”  This particular fleece is fairly fine, and despite my best handling is prone to neps.  These little clumps of fiber are generally considered undesirable in an undyed or solid colored yarn, but when the colors are dyed before being blended, the neps make nice little flecks of color in the finished yarn that I find I rather like!

My next question in this process:  Do I card the wool before or after the dyebath?  If I dye before, the fiber gets a little compacted by the process, and I need one or two more passes through the carder than I would otherwise.  On the other hand, if I dye after, I still need to do almost as much carding, but would no longer have the choice between very thorough blending (as in the example here) or a streakier, less uniform batt.  If I wanted that effect I would have to card all the colors separately anyway, so would it really save that much time?  I’ll work on that idea on my next round!

And some more handspun yarn!

I’ve been spinning up my color tests at the farmer’s market.  I can usually get about two 2oz rovings spun and plied in one 4-hr farmer’s market.  I finally got around to taking pictures of the finished yarn.  Some I’m happy with, some need to be tweaked a bit.

This was my first shot at purple which turned out to be more of a blue-violet.  Still very nice, so I’ll probably use this colorway again.

This is my second shot at purple, which is more what I was going for the first time.  This is another that I’m happy with.

 I also finally took photos of the finished yarn from the green roving I posted here.  It still reminds me of Brobee!

This last I’m still not happy with.  It’s supposed to be orange, but the dark orange ended up being too brown.  There’s too much contrast in the finished yarn for what I want. 

Aside from this last, I’m gotten most of my primary & secondary monochromes about where I want them – now I need to work on some multicolor rovings.  What I really need is a few undisturbed hours with a lot of light, eyedroppers, paintbrushes, my jars of dye, and some sheets of paper! I guess I won’t be working on those until September when Scarlett goes back to school.  Oh well – at least it’ll be cooler by then!

Some more finished yarn

These 2oz combed tops I’ve been using to test colorways spin up very quickly!  This is the red from the top I showed you here.  This one is a one-off – I messed up while I was mixing the dyes in such a way that I knew I’d made a mistake, but couldn’t tell you exactly what I’d done wrong, so sadly, this mistake is not repeatable.

This is the yarn from the yellow top that I forgot to take a photo of.  Rather, I thought I had already taken photos of it.  I try to wait until I’ve got a pic of the dyed fiber before I spin it up, just for record-keeping purposes.  Oh well – I guess I’ll have to take the roving photo next time I dye this colorway.

This is what the red at the top of the page was supposed to look like.  Now that the top has a photo I can spin this and see how I like the yarn.
This is my first shot at “purples,” but it’s turned out more blue than I wanted.  I have another version cooking right now (along with “oranges”), so I should have something less blue and more purple to show you next time.