Sunday, April 22, 2018



I picked up this beautiful Falkland batt from Into the Whirled at MDSW 2016, and decided to spin it up before this year’s festival. I’ve spun one of these batts before and really loved it, so I didn’t really resist the temptation too much. This is a big batt (about 4 oz) and this is what it looked like when I opened it up:20180404_075123

I didn’t think much and just started spinning from one end. If I had it to do over again, I might have put all the gray at one end rather than have the skein both start and end with the same color. On the other hand, this might be used to advantage in just the right cowl pattern, knit so that your circle starts and ends with gray.

I failed to photograph the bobbin in progress, except for this one shot which was really about me pondering the placement of my sock yarn squares on the living room floor:20180411_203542

I chain plied the singles, remembering this time to use a much slower whorl so I wouldn’t have to move my hands so quickly to create the chained loops (singles spun 14:1, plied at 10.5:1). I ended up with 332 yards of 3-ply yarn, and the skein weighs 127 grams. I took a quick photo before I wet finished it – I think you’ll be able to see how much this fiber poofs up after finishing. Here’s the “before”:20180418_180653

And here is the “after”:20180422_135908

It’s not the most even yarn I’ve ever spun (sometimes I had to fight with the fiber where the colors overlapped)… but it’s squishy and springy and it’ll be great as something someday!20180422_135738


Sunday, April 15, 2018

Hermione’s got the blues

Since I reached my goal of knitting 200 sock yarn squares for the I Love Leftovers blanket a few weeks ago, I needed a new small project for my portable knitting bag. No surprise – I started another pair of socks.IMG_5661

I grabbed this gradient yarn that I picked up at the Frederick Fiber Fest in nearby Maryland last June. It spoke to me because I’ve been wearing a lot of blue socks this winter, and there were many days when there wasn’t a clean pair in the drawer.

First, I had to decide if I wanted the light blue or the dark blue on my foot. After briefly considering knitting the second sock in the opposite direction as the first sock (I knew it would drive Barb mad), I decided to make them match … and I put the dark blue on my foot. Since I typically work socks cuff down, that meant rewinding the balls. 20180322_083744

I used the simple stitch pattern from Hermione’s Everyday Socks, which is one of my favorites for every day, too. This is the fourth time I’ve used this stitch pattern. (Kris, have you done this one yet?) I worked a basic sock: CO 64, work 2x2 rib 20 rounds, repeat stitch pattern on leg 20x, work eye of partridge heel, work rounded toe, graft at tip. 20180415_121616 crop

Here’s the result – simple, nubbly, well-fitting, and perfect for everyday wear. Also note how perfectly they match – I was wondering how close the two balls of yarn would be and they are spot on. 20180415_121425 crop

My only complaint is that the gradient could be more gradual. In the ball, the yarn appeared to move gently from light to dark. I hoped it would be as gradual as Bonnie’s Hitchhiker, but it’s not. As I knit, it appeared that the dyer used three distinct shades of blue. There is a more gradual shift from the light blue to the medium (and a little bit where they overlap), but the shift is much more abrupt as I moved to the darker blue. 20180415_121548 crop

This had me reflect on the wide range of yarns that are labelled “gradient” these days.  To me, a gradient is a colorway that shifts gradually from one color to another. The colors can be hues, tints, or shades of a single color, or they can shift gradually from color to color – but no abrupt changes! I see so many yarn cakes labelled as gradient that look like bull’s eyes of different colors. Those are NOT gradients – they are self-striping yarns with very long stripes.

Be that as it may, I am happy with these socks and look forward to wearing them next fall and winter.

In other sock news, my friend Jess has just released her first sock pattern in Ravelry – and it’s free! Crossing Cables Socks was designed to support an exhibit in a fashion archives where she worked as a graduate student, and it is inspired by a pair of socks from 1830. Take a look and be sure to download the pattern to read all the excellent notes she wrote. I’ve seen the sock in person and it’s stunning. She’ll probably add more photos when the second sock is done. If you’re looking for a fresh take on cables, this might be it.

Sunday, April 8, 2018


Y’all know I’ve been working on my I Love Leftovers sock yarn blanket for a while now (since October 2015, to be exact). It started with these 3 squares: 23290121802_aa5c2d4875_k

I knitted in fits and starts for a while. By August of 2016, I only had 26 squares done. By July of 2017, I was at 121. As I finished them, I blocked them (so they lay nice and flat) 20180204_115737…and stowed them away in these boxes. It turns out each box can hold 50 squares neatly. 20180408_134851

20180408_135443These make for excellent travel knitting. You can pack a lot of balls of leftover sock yarn in a very small project bag, and the squares are about 4.5-5” square. A couple weeks ago, I hit 200. That was my goal… it seemed like the right amount.

Today, I vacuumed the carpet and got out ALL my squares. First, I sorted them roughly by color:20180408_140912

And then I started fussing with layout. My initial idea was to make a ROYGBIV wave that travels from red in one corner to violet (well, I extended violet to pink) in the opposite corner. I’ve been fiddling with a few squares here and there, but this is what I have right now:20180408_181609

The grid is 12x16, which you’ll note only requires 192 squares. My leftovers blanket has leftovers! I’m still trying to decide if I like that rainbow square in the top left corner or not. The multicolored squares look more muddy in this photo, but are more lively and interesting up close.

I did some practice seaming on a couple squares and I think it’s going to be mattress stitch – miles of mattress stitch. I’ll sew rows and then attach the rows. And then… I’ll see about picking up stitches on the outside to work a garter border in black. I’ve made a ton of progress but this project is far from done!

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Great War historian wears replicated historic Great War socks

My epic sock project has come to a close.20180404_172228 crop

I only blogged about this once even though I’ve been working on it since last October. Do pop over there if you want the full backstory. The short version is this: a grateful Scottish mother handknit a pair of socks for an American medic who cared for her son in France during WWI. The medic was a graduate of Gettysburg College (where I now work), and those socks stayed with his papers which were donated to the College Archives after his death. I studied them a bit and recreated them with modern yarn. They were made for Dr. Ian Isherwood, a local historian who specializes in memory and the Great War, who wore them for a lecture he gave yesterday. The lecture was in support of an exhibit mounted for the centenary of the war’s end.

I think we can agree that Ian is a very dapper sock model!20180404_172320 crop

These socks took a loooonnnnggg time to knit because working on 1.75 mm needles was hard on my hands. The tips are especially pointy and if I worked with them for a long time, I got pin pricks on my fingertips that quickly became wounds (perhaps fitting for this recreation). My solution was to put myself on a quota of four rounds per day. This meant they were slow going, but my hands thanked me. I was surprised t what a difference a quarter of a millimeter can make. I make socks on 2.00 mm needles all the time with no problem, but 1.75 mm is a whole new world.20180324_161351

I searched for thin enough sock yarn for a long time, and I’m still not thrilled with the result. This is 85% merino and 15% alpaca, and the alpaca contributes some sagginess to the final garment. However, if any man on this planet will wear sock garters with his dressy, hand wash-only socks, it is Dr. Isherwood! (Well, he’s probably a close second behind Franklin Habit.) He also knows how to hand wash a delicate wool item.

I worked the toes just as the historic socks were made, with a 3-needle bindoff at the tip. It’s weird to my 21st century eyes, but the recreation is true. The heel is good old eye-of-partridge stitch, which is my favorite heel flap stitch anyway. I use it all the time. It has the same strengthening effect as the regular heel stitch that looks a lot like ribbing, but it creates a much thinner fabric:20180324_161359

More notes are on my Ravelry page if you want to make these. The stitch pattern is very simple. The hard part was working at this scale with modern materials.

I just started another pair of “regular” socks on 2.0 mm needles and they feel like they are flying off the needles by comparison. Everything is relative…

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Batts in the Belfry

Hello again,

I know it’s been a long time. I was wondering if my blog had slowly wound to an end, but then I decided to reallocate some time and recommit. Specifically, I unsubscribed to some email lists and unfollowed a bunch of instagram folks. I am reclaiming the time I spent looking at what other people make and redirecting that time to making my own stuff. And that stuff includes this blog. I enjoy documenting my making process, and I reference my posts more often than I expected to. So here we go again! 20180403_174931

My latest spinning project took about 6 weeks from start to finish. The riotous pile of color above is six skeins of yarn made from the six batts I received in Jillian Moreno’s Batts in the Belfry class last fall. I wasn’t at all sure how to spin them but I knew I had been encouraged to play, so I just looked at them for a long time (thank goodness I have a baby grand piano that doubles as a fiber table). Ultimately, I decided to separate the colors (some batts were layered or striped) and card analogous colors together into rolags. I spun those into singles, and then plied the singles together in different combinations.

Here are some of the rolags I made. This was great practice for me to use my hand cards. You can see that some of them have a more homogenous color, while others are more lively:





The content of the batts was not consistent. the labels said “Batts definitely contain mostly wool. They may also contain Alpaca, Mohair, Silk, and/or Nylon.” Different colors drafted differently. I spun these with a long draw technique, but my singles weren’t super consistent because different colors drafted differently. Some were stickier than others, and some were more delicate.

I also did not end up with equal amounts of each color. I knew this would happen and I tried not to let it bother me (but of course it did, a little!).

I wound all my singles onto storage bobbins and decided to make two 3-ply yarns, in these combinations. The top one is “hot” and the bottom is “cool”:20180322_082529

Want to see the results?

Here is the “hot” yarn – a total of 288 yards and 106 grams:20180403_174516


Here is the “cool” yarn – a total of 396 yards and 127 grams:20180403_174404

I still had some singles left, so I made a little 2-ply skein of orange and green together (very sherbet-y). This is only 60 yards and 13 grams:20180403_174624


And then I still had more orange left, so I wound it into a center-pull ball and made a 2-ply from it. I got 94 more yards and 20 grams:20180403_174810

I have a tiny bit more singles in a deep blue and a deep purple, but not enough to mess with.

As usual, I don’t know what to use this yarn for. I thought it might be interesting to try some two-color brioche with the hot and cool skeins of 3-ply, so maybe I’ll look at patterns for that.

I have been reflecting on how uncomfortable I felt that I had all these little batts with little control over color choice and no plan for how to use them. I’m generally okay making a yarn for which I don’t have a project plan, but making a yarn out of material that I didn’t intentionally choose was a new level of discomfort. I find I’m relieved to have turned this into yarn, and also a bit chuffed that I solved the puzzle of how to handle them. Stash no more!

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Bird’s Nest


I finished up this skein of handspun sock yarn last weekend. It is made from Southdown (one of the down breeds I was so excited to discover last year) prepared as top. The colorway is Bird’s Nest and it is dyed by Sheepspot.

I knew I wanted the colors to barberpole, so I basically did a fractal spin. This is what the fiber looked like when I got it:20180114_192113

I pulled it apart into thirds (roughly). I spun the first third as it was. I stripped the second third into two long pieces (so the color runs were shorter). I stripped the last third into lots of smaller pieces and arranged them so that the bright green bits were evenly distributed. Here they are lined up on top of the piano by my spinning wheel:20180127_200253

I spun all the singles on one bobbin and surprised myself by using the 12.5:1 whorl instead of my usual 14:1 whorl. I found that the draft length was a little too short for me to draft evenly on the 14:1. So I went to a slower whorl and a shorter draft to get the same amount of twist. It seems to have worked fine. I spun the singles a little on the loose side (to preserve softness) and made up for it in the ply (which I did at 16:1). 20180202_080127


My finished yarn is 422 yards (I’m so happy with this number!) and 93 grams. My first skein of Southdown sock yarn was 352 yards and 94 grams, so the new skein is finer. Hooray!20180204_114054


Sunday, January 21, 2018

“his mother knitted for me the most beautiful pair of heather colored socks that you ever saw…”

I’ve been slowly working on a project that is quite different from what I usually do. It’s a historical recreation of these handknit socks, which are part of a collection in Gettysburg College’s Special Collections and College Archives. IMG_3106

The recipient of the socks, Fritz Draper Hurd ‘16 (that’s Gettysburg College Class of 1916), served in the Army during World War I, including some time in the Medical Reserve Corps. In his memoir, he describes the socks:

“after the War, in 1919, his mother knitted for me the most beautiful pair of heather colored socks that you ever saw.  When you put them on and they stretched you could see holes through to the skin and still they were the warmest socks that I ever wore.  I have worn them only once and I am sure that they are about the house now and I propose getting ahold of them and you see now, they are over fifty years old, and I want to get a hold of them and attach the letter that she wrote to me when she sent them in 1919, saying that she credited me with saving her son’s life. Well, that is not quite true.”

IMG_3110You can see that they are in wonderful shape. The archivist told me they had never been worn. But when she had her back turned, I carefully turned them inside out, and discovered signs of wear at the ball and heel of the foot. You know how wool felts up a bit there when you wear handknit socks… Trust me, the socks are no worse for my handling! I examined them and scratched out a pattern.

The yarn is finer than our sock yarn today, closer to a laceweight. The CO number is 78 and it is worked top-down. The leg begins with a K2P1 ribbed cuff and then goes into the main stitch, which is a very simple lace pattern:

  • Round 1 – *K2tog YO*
  • Rounds 2-4 – K
  • Round 5 – *YO K2tog*
  • Rounds 6-8 – K

The laciness of the pattern surprised me for a man’s sock. Fritz noticed it, as well (“they stretched you could see holes through to the skin”). The heel appears to be an eye-of-partridge stitch (my favorite for heel flaps), and the gusset stitches are picked up in a familiar way.IMG_3108

The toe decrease is a regular wedge toe until the last 6 stitches or so.IMG_3120

The final bit is a 3-needle bindoff rather than the kitchener-style graft we are accustomed to today. Knitter’s lore has it that Earl Horatio Herbert Kitchener developed a sock technique with a grafted toe because it was more comfortable for the soldiers in his command. Supposedly, this technique was popularized during WWI… so maybe it hadn’t yet reached the maker of this sock. IMG_3115

The sock’s construction is pretty straightforward. The sock YARN, however, is not.

I wanted to source yarn with these characteristics:

  • wool, or at least mostly wool
  • heathered or at least semi-solid color (though I didn’t care about the exact color)
  • fine enough to allow me to cast on 78 stitches and make a well-fitting man’s sock
  • 3-ply (or more)

I didn’t find ANYTHING like this at MDSW last May. I was looking for yarn, but I also kept my eyes open for fiber that I might be able to spin into the right yarn (I was bolstered by my positive experience spinning a down breed into sock yarn). It turns out that down breeds are hard to find in fiber form, as farmers mostly know them as meat breeds. Since I was looking for prepared fiber (not a raw fleece), my options were few. I brought home some Clun Forest roving (yellow) and Dorset roving (green) from Solitude Wool, and a 90/5/5 Clun Forest/Romney/Alpaca roving blend (blue) from Singleton Fiber Mill (more on these purchases on my MDSW17 wrapup post). Note that all of those fibers were ROVING, not top. Ideally, sock yarn is made from top. But I was happy to give it a try.


I spun the Clun Forest blend last summer. Even though I spun it worsted style, I could not get it fine or even enough to serve as sock yarn.  IMG_3428

As we traveled through Maine during our summer vacation, I popped into every yarn store I could find. In desperation, I purchased some Berroco Ultra Alpaca Fine. It seems finer than most sock yarn (at 433 yards per 100 grams) and comes in beautifully heathered shades, like this one called “Blueberry Mix.” It is 50% wool (good) – but also 30% nylon/polyamid (not historically accurate but adds strength) and 20% alpaca (adds drape… but will it make the sock droopy???). I wasn’t sure.IMG_6335

I still hadn’t cast on the socks when I went to WEBS in September for the Spinning Summit. I spent a long time scouring the shelves of the “fingering” area, and came up with another contender –  this Swans Island Sterling Collection yarn:IMG-4498

It is even finer than the Berroco stuff, at 525 yards per 100 grams. It has 3 plies. It is 85% organic merino and 15% alpaca, so nothing from the petrochemical world (I assume that’s more historically accurate). And it’s made in Maine, USA! While I was at WEBS, I also picked up some new needles. I normally knit socks on two, 2.0 mm circular needles, but I knew I would need to go smaller for these. I bought Addi Sock Rockets in the 1.75 mm size.

I’ve been working on the socks slowly. It turns out that they are not ideal travel companions for a road trip, as even slight bumps in the road cause this fine yarn to pop off the needles. I also don’t think they are great office knitting. And I can’t work on them for long periods, because these fine metal needles are hard on my hands. So I’ve got myself on a regimen of working 15 minutes a day… and little by little, progress is being made. The sock looks suspiciously poofy when it’s on the needles:20180121_090339

But it fits better when it’s on a leg. This is my leg, but these socks aren’t for me – so if you notice it’s a bit loose, don’t be alarmed! 20180121_090309

(And yes, that is my ZickZack blocking in the background… more on that soon.)