Last week Marie Greene, Owner of Olive Knits and Knit Camp, came by the Mill on a planned visit. I showed her around and then we sat for awhile and talked (at a safe distance!). After she left I was filled with a new rush of energy. Talking with another business owner, a maker and creator was enough to give me new ideas and a renewed sense of creativity.
I have heard a lot of friends and customers talk about feeling in a bit of a slump creatively. Let's face it, back in March when Covid was just becoming a reality, a lot of us crafters thought "this is it, this is what I've been planning for." A necessary isolation and all the tools and extra time to focus on our craft. None of those silly distractions of meetings, commitments, and a lot less time spent driving. Am I right? And then it got real. We entered into a true pandemic.
Knitting and handspinning have always been a sort of therapy for the worry. Sit down, get into a rhythm and let my mind ponder it all. But I have found it increasingly hard over the past couple months to focus as injustice, illness and politics have cast a dark shadow on our country. I can say for certain I'm on my phone way too much checking the news and social media just trying to see what other people are doing and feeling. I suppose there is a depression and sadness that accompanies all that is going on and that can certainly zap the urge to create right out of you. So while I should have completed three sweaters given the free time over the last 8 months, it is just not happening.
I was talking to one of my friends and she mentioned that she felt like not having the festivals and group meet-ups was part of the reason she was feeling in a slump. And it makes sense! There is no singular place where I get more energy and inspiration than being surrounded by other makers. The knitting, crochet and spinning groups all have always given us the chance to sit with one another and not only be social, but also to inspire each other with the projects we are working on! And festivals, well don't even get me started. This is where it all comes together. The makers, the products, the wears and of course the energy.
So reality, it doesn't look like any of these events are coming back in the next couple months and even into next year is quite uncertain. In fact this winter is looking like it could be quite dismal as far as the virus goes and our need to be personally vigilant about masks, hand washing and traveling safely if at all. So knowing this is coming up, and trying to prepare ourselves I thought I would give you a list of where I find inspiration these days and a few places I should look to more but just haven't gotten there yet....
1. Get outside! Fresh air, walks, nature. All good things for the brain, body and creativity.
2. Podcasts/Vlogs. I have watched and listened to podcasts a bit but have definitely found more inspiration and connection in them than I have in the past. Some of my favorites are Fruity Knitting, Yarn, Fleece and Harmony and Grocery Girls. (Please share some of yours!)
3. Instagram. Instagram is the one platform I still seem to be able to connect and see what others are working on. I love seeing the pictures! And I definitely get a lot of dye pot ideas from others outdoor adventures. Don't get me wrong, it is also a huge distraction that I am constantly trying to balance out.
4. Zoom meet-ups. There are so many groups doing spinning, knitting and other maker meet-ups on Zoom. I hit this pretty hard early on but haven't been to a virtual meeting in quite awhile. Maybe its time...
5. Online classes. Being stuck at home more doesn't mean we can't keep learning! Between small yarn shops, YouTube, Bluprint, SewIt Academy and on, there are plenty of places to take virtual classes to help you learn a new skill or even a new craft!
6. Knit a longs. Ok seriously I'll admit I have never done a knit-a-long, but I think it is time!
7. Plain old good people. Don't let the bad overshadow some of the amazing good. Good people and actions are out there!
And then there will be the days when we are just zapped and staring at a show on Netflix becomes enough. Be kind to yourself on those days.
I would love to hear from you all about where you are finding inspiration during these more solitary and unsettling times. Please comment below and let us all know whats is keeping you going creatively.
Also a special note. I mentioned the Fruity Knitting podcast above. I find such inspiration in Andrea and Andrew's podcasts and they have recently let viewers know that Andrew has just been diagnosed with in inoperable brain tumor. They are researching and going to try all other available treatments. The podcast is their main source of income and for that reason they have reached out and asked for continued financial support. You can watch their podcast on YouTube, but more importantly is that you go to Patreon and join their group. There are different amounts you can contribute and it is well worth it for the amazing podcasts they put out. Here is a link if you are interested... Fruity Knitting Patreon
Thank you for reading and commenting. I always love to know someone has been here! Stay safe and get the votes in quick now!
This week I am working on the final stages of a new yarn, which means I am spinning it! I first spun this yarn about a year ago. A small batch, in two different weights - a worsted and a fingering. My original intent was to make a sock yarn out of natural fibers. No acrylic or other man made fiber. But then I got distracted while spinning up that first batch and wanted to see how the yarn would look and behave in a heavier weight. I sold most of the batch off and just picked up the last skein of fingering weight a month ago and decided to knit a sock with it. One sock. I had knit with the worsted weight and really like it but never quite got around to the fingering weight. General rule moving forward, I should probably knit with all the yarn I make because I really like this yarn!
Ok ok so what is this yarn exactly? It is a wool/mohair blend. More specifically Border Leicester wool and mohair. So why this sheep breed? To be honest, I bought it never having worked with it and liked it. It has a nice luster, low lanolin, generally scours (washes) easily, is strong and is fairly readily available in Oregon. The mohair originally was added as a substitute for acrylic as I was trying to make a natural sock yarn. I hadn't worked with a lot of mohair and certainly not a lot of good mohair so I asked around for the best and went from there.
So here I am circling back on this yarn with plenty of wool and mohair. After obtaining the wool, picking the percentages is the next step - this is an 80/20 blend (wool/mohair). In general, 20% is my happy place when I am adding to wool. I like the additional fiber to enhance the wool and yarn without taking away from the character of the wool. For a sock yarn in particular, 20% mohair is enough to add the strength, softness and shine that I am looking for. The strength is imperative in a sock given how much wear and rubbing this eventual fabric will endure. Most commercial sock yarns are wool blended with some amount of acrylic for this reason. Acrylic is a tough man made textile with a petroleum base. While mohair is not going to quite be as strong as a plastic, it is a strong fiber, it is better for the environment and allows more breathability and odor control.
So now we have the fiber and the blend percentages, the next pieces of the puzzle involve spinning and go as follows....
What weight will the yarn be? Since most sock patterns are knit using fingering weight yarn that is the weight I will aim for. Reality, I can spin a perfect yarn but if there are no patterns that will work for it, it is less likely to sell so I'm always trying to keep an eye on what designers are doing and what makers are responding to.
How much twist will each single of yarn have? I generally spin my yarn as lightly as possible because in general the lighter spun, the loftier the yarn will be. However I am making a sock yarn, so to get the extra strength I want in this yarn I will put a little extra twist. This will also make it a bit less likely to pill easily.
How many plies will this yarn have? After spinning comes plying, the act of putting the already spun singles into one yarn. You can have a single ply yarn, 2 ply, 3 ply and up. Most yarns are 2 to 3 ply. Generally speaking the more plies a yarn has (or single strands of yarn spun together), the stronger the yarn will be. So for the purposes of a sock yarn where that magical word "strength" keeps coming up I'm going to make a 3-ply yarn.
Finally I can spin now that I have the fibers, know the blend, the weight, the twist and the plies! So I spin and ply a sample bit and then I usually bring a bobbin home because I can't bear to be away from it overnight (truth!). For this particular yarn the first small batch came out a little heavier than I wanted and the yarn is a bit darker natural gray than I had hoped for. It is lovely but if I want to overdye it, I would ideally like it a little lighter. So tomorrow I will go in, adjust my natural color blend to lean a bit more on the white side and make adjustments to my spinning machine to draft the fibers just a bit more for a lighter weight yarn.
So there you have it! The main steps that go into designing a new yarn. This yarn in particular was a bit more complex. Lots of times I can let the fiber guide me where it wants to go. But for a sock yarn there are general characteristics I want it to have.
Thank you all for reading, commenting and taking the time! Hopefully you'll see this new yarn hit my social media and online shop next week! Stay healthy all.
I have missed you all and I am thrilled to finally have time to sit back down and write! So sorry for the delay. Fostering, the Mill and harvest got real over the last month. But alas the kittens have moved on to their forever homes, the Mill is humming along and harvest is at its tail end which means we can breathe a little around here again.
In this post I've decided to approach the age old question... does yarn have to be perfect? I have been mulling about this in my head for awhile now. As a wool mill owner the question is always hanging about and I strive to create the most consistent yarn. As a handspinner, I actually threw the question out the window years ago as ludicrous. Hahaha! Not to say there aren't perfect handspun yarns, it is just not a priority to me. I've listened to knitters talk amongst themselves about paying a premium for yarn only to find inconsistencies or a knot and some that have even made it very clear that imperfect yarn is unacceptable. I've also read conversations in our Mill owners group with differing opinions on how important it is for us to make a "perfect" yarn. And then there are those who think imperfections make yarn more interesting, fun and lively to work with.
Let me start with explaining to you one of the big processing differences between smaller fiber mills and the larger commercial mills that produce most of the yarn we purchase in stores. Besides the sheer volume processed, one of the biggest differences is a process called carbonization. For me, the small mill owner, I buy the wool, skirt it, scour it (washing it) and then pick and card the wool prior to spinning. For most commercial yarns, processing starts the same (be it on a much larger scale) but after scouring the wool gets carbonized. I didn't know a whole lot about carbonizing but was a bit shocked when I dove in on research. Carbonizing wool is done to remove excess vegetation and any remaining dirt left in the wool after washing but prior to carding and spinning into yarn.
Carbonizing involves introducing the wool to diluted sulphuric acid. The wool is then dryed and baked so that the excess matter becomes a dust of sorts. The dust is then mechanically removed from the wool. After removing the dust the wool must be balanced back to neutral as it is now more acidic from treatment. So the wool is then introduced to sodium carbonate and often times after that the wool is bleached to create a more consistent color and product. After all of these steps the wool is then moved along thru the carding and spinning process. So that's a lot of processing resulting in what you can imagine is a wool free of matter and more consistent in nature. I completely understand why this is done when processing enormous amounts of wool. They are receiving wool from all over the country or world from different times and often times different sheep breeds. For this reason they need the wool to be as consistent as possible to create a good end product. Heavier processing is going to create a wool that is easier for them to work with.
When you buy fibers and yarns from a smaller mill or farm they are much less processed. Of course this does lend itself to a few more inconsistencies. As a mill owner I am working my hardest to run a yarn that is consistent. But the reality is sometimes there are imperfections. Animals are animals and vegetable matter comes with them being happy and healthy. Other things that can lead to inconsistencies are fibers of different lengths, breaks in the fibers, uneven weights while carding and of course general mill equipment or operator issues.
So does yarn need to be perfect? The answer is really up to you!
I personally love that small mill run yarns aren't always perfect. I love the character that they have. I don't mind picking out a piece of hay here and there. To me it is in fact one of the qualities that makes it more appealing than your average predictable commercially spun yarns. And I can tell you that as a handspinner who does not always spin the most consistent yarn, it all tends to flush out once you start to knit, crochet or weave with it. I have knit sweaters with yarn that has varied in weight throughout and really you would never know when looking at the finished product. I like to think of it all as character. Yes there may be a piece of vegetable matter here and there, or a little wonky bit in the yarn, but in addition there is also life and the character of the wool is still in tact. In my crazy yarn world this all takes us closer to the wool, closer to the way our ancestors used wool and in reality closer to nature.
If you are interested in finding out how much processing your yarn is undergoing, a quick email to the company you purchased it from should give you an answer. And if you are looking for smaller less processed yarns with a whole lot of character, there are a handful of smaller mills in each state. A quick internet search should allow you to track some down in addition to seeking out small farms selling their own yarns. As you probably know by now, I will always encourage you to #knowyourwool
I love to hear from you all as it helps me know you've been here and I would love to hear your experiences about "perfect" and "imperfect" yarns. Thank you as always for reading and commenting.
Stay healthy, VOTE, and craft on!!!
I am Kim Biegler, the owner and operator of Ewethful Fiber Farm & Mill. I create hand spinning fibers from locally sourced wool and teach others online how to hand spin their own yarn.