Washing fleece with soap nuts

I have been using soap nuts to wash our clothes for a while now. I am really happy with the results; it cleans the clothes, takes out the sweat smells without adding any other scent and removes most of the stains. I also don’t have to rinse, therefore saving 50% of the washing time and water. I wanted to transfer those benefits to washing/scouring fleece for spinning, so I went googling of course (when did ‘googling’ become a verb?). There was only one reference to using soap nuts to wash fleece (that I could find anyway); Sheep Cabana blog. The post says to use them in place of the usual squirt of detergent. Another adventure begins.

I have MANY bags of fleece to spin. I always seem to collect more than I can comfortably spin in a year, even though I promise myself I won’t get any more until I spin what I have. Recently I looked at Eli (Freida’s companion, and best friend now) and saw that he has a good long fleece, all ready for a spring shearing. He is a Merino/Dorset cross, which means his fleece is fairly strong with a good crimp, but it should be soft enough for socks and gloves.

My go-to book when learning about new fibre types.
Eli will, hopefully, have wool that is slightly on the fine/soft side of this scale, thanks to his Merino ancestry.

Spring is only three months away, and with the spring comes usable fleeces from my sheep. I am setting myself a challenge; to clear some of the fleece piled in my craft room to make room for them. Usually, I wash, card and spin small, manageable lots. This time I’m trying my hand at bulk processing; I will wash a lot of fleece, then card or comb a lot of fleece, and finally spin, ply and wash a lot of yarn.

First, the washing;

This is the brand of soap nuts I buy. I hope to grow my own one day though.
I put a cup full of soap nuts into a saucepan with about two litres of water and bring it to the boil.
The resulting liquid; after I strain off the soap nuts. I use about half a cup of this liquid to wash clothes in but I think I will use a full cup for washing wool.
This is the pile of fleece to be washed; about a kilo in total.

Scouring fleece is a matter of simply making a fairly hot bath with detergent of some kind (in this case; soap nuts) and soaking the fleece in it. I use lingerie washing bags to hold my fleece because it makes fishing the soaked fleece out so much easier and I can just hang the whole bag on the line to dry. The trick is to avoid felting the fleece; I don’t agitate it at all, just push it under the water and I try not to change the temperature of the water quickly. This fleece took two soaks in the soap nut solution to come clean (it was a very greasy fleece), but it did come clean. After it is soaked, I throw the bags into the spinner of the washing machine and spin out the excess water. The bags are then hung on the line to dry.

A close up of the dirt and lanolin in the fleece.
A close up of the fleece after washing and drying.
There is now just over a kilo of fleece sitting in my ‘to-do’ basket waiting to be carded for spinning.

The soap nut/fleece scouring experiment is a success. I can now wash piles of fleece using soap nuts and not have to feel guilty about releasing all that detergent into my environment. I would definitely recommend using soap nuts for washing clothes and/or fleece.

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making little fulled knitting bags

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I have been spinning a lot lately (whenever there is time), mostly from a coloured merino fleece I picked up  somewhere. The yarn is lovely and fine, but what to do with it all? So I decided to make some little knitting bags; the kind you can hang over your wrist and knit from, or stick your needles into and shove in your handbag when you realise the bus is pulling over at your stop (or is that just me?). I will spin the yarn, knit and full the bags then pop a ball of my yarn and some knitting needles into it and sell my ‘knitting starter kits’ at the markets (offering a free knitting lesson at point of purchase). I don’t know if anyone will take me up on it given the heat at the moment, but we will see.

My little bags don’t really have a pattern, it’s more of a knit-by-feel affair, but I will try to explain the process (with photos of course). First I find some spare homespun wool that I have been wanting to use for something and turn it into a neat little ball by putting it on my yarn swift and winding it off with the ball maker thing.

 

 

I then cast on some stitches, enough to make a decent square. For this bag I used 20 stitches and knitted a square base using garter stitch (knit every row). The square has to be big enough to fit a ball of wool on plus about 40% (to allow for shrinkage when fulling).

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A knitted square. I just love this yarn; caramel alpaca plied with gold thread

I pick up stitches around the sides of the square, trying to pick up the same number as my cast on side. The number of stitches on each side is not really crucial to success, but it does make things neater and easier to finish.

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I knit in rounds to make the sides until the bag is deep enough to hold a ball of wool, bearing in mind that fulling (or felting) makes the piece shrink, so adding about 40% to all measurements.

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My bag is coming together

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Now comes the tricky bit; handles. I have just discovered the Japanese knot bag design, and it suits the knitting bag design I have in mind. All I need to do is knit handles with one being shorter than the other…right?

This photo from the internet shows the design I mean

My little bag is a mini version of the one in the photo (knitted rather than cloth too), so the longer handle only needs to be long enough to loop around the wrist. I knit the handles by casting off until I reach a corner, knit some handle stitches (in this one I made them six stitches wide) then slip those stitches onto a stitch holder. Now I continue casting off until I reach the next corner. I do this all the way around until there are four sets of handle stitches (on stitch holders). Then I knit back and forward on one set of stitches using garter stitch until it is long enough to loop over to the handle stitch set beside it (that is the next set along tracing around the perimeter). I graft the handle onto the handle stitches using the three needle cast off. The other two handle stitch sets are done the same way but this handle is long enough to go over a wrist (plus 40%).

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Now the knitted part of the bag is finished, it is time to full or felt it.

 

 

Fulling is easy; just throw the bag in the washing machine with some detergent (I use shampoo actually) and let it wash for a few minutes. Fibre felts at different rates, so the fulling process may be really fast (if I used Icelandic wool yarn), or it may be very slow (if I used Suffolk wool yarn), but it will felt (as long as the fibre is wool and is not super wash treated). Alpaca is a medium speed felter, so it took about 15 minutes.

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The bags I have made so far in the washing machine ready to felt

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The finished bbag with a ball of wool and needles inside, ready to go. As you can see the bag shrunk quite a bit.

So now it’s back to spinning more wool from that merino fleece.

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Spinning Icelandic wool

For my next adventure into rare and/or old breed wool I decided to give Icelandic a spin (pun intended). I bought about 200g from a lovely lady on Facebook, it arrived as a neat little plait of combed roving with a picture and some breed information on the label. The skein smelled delightfully of sheep; warm, earthy and somehow mouth watering (the artist in this article had the same reaction to the smell of Icelandic wool).

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The good old Vikings seem to have really loved their sheep and took them everywhere they went. It seems that once they landed in Iceland they had very little contact with the wider world (the sheep not the Vikings, they went on to conquer other countries and found more sheep breeds) and the breed has remained ‘unimproved’. The Icelandic is known as the oldest and ‘purest’ breed of sheep because cross breeding has been banned in Iceland for many generations, keeping the genetics the same as they have been for the past 1100 years (except for naturally occurring mutations of course).

The tops in my little plait is a mix of both inner and outer coat (or tog and thel if you prefer) making my yarn a lopi type yarn. Lopi yarn is made by blending both layers of Icelandic fleece together and lightly spinning them to produce a soft, airy but long wearing yarn. The yarn I produced is not particularly loose-spun, I tend to make firmly twisted yarns, but it did blend into a lovely uniform grey and is fairly soft.

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I decided to card the tops again to blend the colours together a little more

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The rolags are very springy and soft

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Icelandic spins up into a hairy yarn. I did try to  spin with less twist, but my instinct is to add more

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I plyed my yarn loosely and ended up with a lovely soft grey yarn

I did discover that Icelandic wool felts very easily; I carried my plait of tops around with me to various locations while I was spinning and it seems that rubbing up against the plastic bag felted some bits of the outside. The felting carded out…thankfully, but it did remind me to be extra careful when washing my finished yarn.

 

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I don’t know whether to sell my yarn on my stall or…

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knit it into something to sell on my stall

 

Spinning Gotland wool

I have developed a bit of an interest in spinning different breeds of wool (especially rare or old breeds). So in keeping with my habit of using my blog as a brain dump; I have decided to post about my adventures with different types of wool here. Unfortunately we don’t have many rare breeds of sheep in my local area (that I know about) so I have had to buy some fleece or tops to experiment with.

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My first excursion into the wilds of sheep breeds/wool types is with Gotland locks. When I received my little package of 400g Gotland locks in the mail (Found online at Australian Spinners and Weavers on Facebook) and opened it to discover some very well scoured locks with a beautiful crimp (thanks Gary Sheen). My initial impression was it is a lovely, soft and stretchy wool that reminded me a little of mohair.

The Gotland sheep is a rare breed which originated on the Swedish island of Gotland when the Vikings bought Karakul and Romanov sheep back from expeditions into Russia and bred them over Gute sheep which were native to the area. The resulting sheep were used for just about everything a sheep can be used for; wool, pelt and meat. The wool is supposed to be curly and soft with a long staple (the length of single locks of wool is the staple length) of up to 30 cm. The locks I got in my package are more crimped than curled, but they are wonderfully soft and about 20cm long. There are many different colours in the package, from silver white through several greys to a dark chocolate brown.

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This is a picture of Australian Gotland wool from http://www.granitehavenllamas.com.au/gotland-fleece

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Some of the locks I got in my pack

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Some more colours from my little pack

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I wish photos could convey just how soft this fleece is.

I decided to hand card the locks in their individual colours so I can later knit something in a fair isle style (in keeping with the general Norse theme) using the different colours. The locks fluff up a lot when carded, in fact I have learned to put just one lock on the carders at a time so the fluffy mass stays manageable.

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The soft, fluffy rolags spin up into a lovely fluffy single which I will ply loosely into a woolly two ply yarn.

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I think I will make something for next to the skin wear with this yarn.  I almost want to go and buy myself some Gotland sheep after this experience.

 

Update; This is the resulting three colours from my Gotland wool. All ready to be washed and knitted into mittens.

Making peace silk- Turning cocoons into silk

Most of the moths have emerged now and are busy mating and laying eggs for next spring. I have processed a few more of the cocoons and remembered to take photos this time. So here is the process with photos.

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These are the cocoons before cleaning. The rough silk around the cocoons can be harvested (by picking the bits of leaf and poop out) and used as silk noil.

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The cleaned cocoons, these have all emerged and are ready to be processed.

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This is what silk noil looks like before processing. There is a surprisingly large amount around each cocoon.

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I used about half a teaspoon of my washing gel in a saucepan.

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Which I heated in water until it had disolved.

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Then I added the cocoons and let them soak for a while.

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I tried to unravel some of the cocoons a bit, but soon gave up because it was a lumpy mess.

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When the water had cooled a bit I squished the cocoons and worked the seracin (the yellow stuff) out of the fibre. Then I rinsed the mass under the cold tap, gave it a squeeze and lay it out to dry.

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Once it was dry I carded my silk into a beautiful rolag.

I am looking forward to washing out all the cocoons and having a day  of carding and spinning my home produced silk. I wonder what I will make from it? Any suggestions? I don’t think there will be much of it.

Producing peace silk- the moths are emerging

After only two weeks of cocooning the moths are beginning to emerge. At the point of writing this I have two male moths with many more to come. Males are easy to identify because they have well formed wings and smaller bellies, they also hold their bottoms in the air and flutter their wings regularly to attract females (they make a sort of twerking motion with their bottoms too). At this point I am just trying to keep the remaining worms fed and find a place for the emerging moths, but I did find I couldn’t resist processing just two of the now empty cocoons.

This is the hole in the end of the cocoon  made by the emerging moth

Many more cocoons waiting to be emptied.

I got so excited that I didn’t take photos, so words will have to do.
First I made sure the cocoons were empty by checking for the hole in the end. Then I heated some water on the stove in an old saucepan. I added a teaspoon of my home made laundry gel (more on this recipe at a later date) which is basically pure soap and washing soda with a few drops of eucalyptus oil. The teaspoon was more than enough for my two cocoons, I will add more cocoons to the next lot I  process.
I let them simmer on  the stove for half an  hour (alongside the steaming veges for tea) then turned the heat off and let the water cool until I could reach in and scoop out the mass of silk. The two cocoons turned into a mass of tangled fibre in no time. Next I rinsed this mass under the tap until all the gel was removed and the yellow colouring had left the strands, I also picked out the left over skin and stuff from the cocoons at the same time. I haven’t organised a frame to stretch the cocoons onto yet so I just spread the fibre out as best I could and left it on the sink drainer to dry.
When it was dry and a bit fluffy I took the opportunity to admire my first bit of peace silk fibre. Then I wacked the little mass on the carders and carded away for a few minutes until I had a passable rolag.

My first silk rolag

A close up of the fibre

Of course my moths are now busy mating and laying eggs for next year.

Next years silk worms.

The whole silkworm story is fascinating; from the huge effect silk has had on world trade, politics and even exploration to the interesting fact that there are at least three genus of silk moth and not all of them eat mulberries and the many myths surrounding the discovery and production of silk.

Here is an interesting article about the effect silk had on world trade in history.

I am finding this journey of discovery very interesting; silk is an amazingly beautiful fibre and like all fibre sources it requires a bank of specialised skills and knowledge to produce. There is so much more left to learn. Once all my moths have emerged and lay eggs I will be experimenting with processing the cocoons, I might even try to unravel some hatched cocoons in the traditional manner and see why it’s not considered to be viable.

Producing peace silk- from eggs to hankies

Lately I have been thinking about learning to spin silk. I bought myself a small lot of beautiful roving and spun it up on my wheel. It was smooth and easy  to spin, it produced a gorgeous, lustrous yarn that took the bright orange dye so well it looked almost glowing. So I decided that silk is my new love (when it comes to fibre) and ordered some cheaper silk hankies, because the roving is anything but cheap.
Me being me, I wanted to do the whole process from scratch, not just buy roving and spin it. I want to be the whole machine, not just a cog in it. First I had to find out the details…

I did my usual research and read heaps of books and articles, watched how-to videos and discovered that the beautiful roving I so badly wanted to make came with a price even bigger than money; the pupa are boiled alive so they don’t damage the cocoons when they emerge as moths.That put me off the whole deal, until I discovered that there is a movement called ‘peace silk’ who’s practitioners let every moth hatch and process the cocoons into silk hankies or slubby (rough) roving.
While the peace silk method does sound better as it doesn’t involve boiling babies it does leave me with another quandary; what to do with all those eggs. If every female moth mates and lays up to 500 eggs, then those eggs will either need to be destroyed or given away. I thought long and hard on the subject and decided that letting the moths emerge and lay eggs then destroying the eggs is more ethical as science does not consider eggs as living things (they are considered to be non-living things with the potential for life) although there is a lot of contention about this classification. Maybe this train of thought is just hair splitting, but I have to form an opinion one way or the other in order to proceed. Who knows, a better method may present itself in the future.

I found a listing on Gum tree for free silkworm eggs so my silkworm adventure began. The eggs came in the mail and as it had been a warm few days they immediately began to hatch. Luckily I had also ordered some silkworm chow (dehydrated mulberry leaf mush) as our mulberry tree was only just beginning to put on leaf. I made up some of the chow and fed the early arrivals.

The new babies are so tiny they are hard to see.

They grew fast, eating day and night until they were in danger of exploding out of their little box. When my tree had full leaf I began to feed them real leaves instead of the mush, they loved it and grew even faster. I found that the worms are more active and healthy when they eat leaves. So began a period of feeding twice a day on a big pile of mulberry leaves.

As you can see there are different ages in this lot. The eggs took a total of two weeks to hatch.

They are voracious eaters

Just when I was congratulating myself on keeping them all going…disaster struck. Stray cattle ate my mulberry tree down to the bare branches (including a very promising crop of fruit). Which left me begging friends and neighbors for leaves from their trees. Luckily this stage is almost at an end as my poor tree is growing more leaves. The worms eat about a shopping bag full of leaves per day, which is not small amount. I think I will have to plant a few more trees to keep up next year.

Some worms began making silk about eight weeks after the first hatching, this is a very long time to stay worms and I can only guess at the cause. Apparently the worms should start to spin after four weeks (or there about), but not having enough to eat and or colder weather can slow down the process. Maybe the silkworm chow was not enough for them, or maybe the weather was too cold. Possibly they have been bred to be worms for longer as they are now considered as pets by some people. Either way, they have begun to spin cocoons, so I built a spinning retreat for them.

My spinning retreat box. The toilet rolls are perfect for worms to spin in.

New residents getting ready to spin.

One worm decided to spin in an already occupied tube, but it’s best not to disturb them once they start to spin.

You can see the sheen on the cocoons

The sheen or glow stays with the yarn

I don’t know why my worms spin yellow cocoons, but apparently it washes out.

So far the silk making adventure has been fun and very satisfying. Once the cocoons hatch and I can process them the learning will really begin.

Making resin drop spindles

I have been wanting to try molded resin for quite a while now; I see all those gorgeous You Tube videos about embedding wood or flowers or dead butterflies in resin and it gets my creative nature going. So off I went to order some resin online…

I did the usual internet search for tutorials and such, You Turn TV had the best information and explanations I could find about how to choose, mix and embed items in resin. Armed with this information, my resin kit, a few molds I bought on a whim on Ebay and piles of otherwise useless junk from around the house I set about making some resin stuff…

The resin and hardener that came in my kit.

Too short pencils, beads and glitter, my test embedding materials.

Resins all have a two part mixing system; you add a chemical hardener to a resin base to make a liquid which will harden to a solid over time. The time it takes to harden varies wildly due to resin type (there are three main types), brand (many, many brands) the weather (faster setting in hot weather) and quite possibly the way you hold your mouth while mixing it (from my own experiments). My kit said to mix two parts resin with one part hardener, all the kits I looked at had a different ratio or measurement method; some measured by volume, some by weight, the one I bought measured by volume so it was easy to do. Epoxy resin (which is the kit I bought), has a long pot life, meaning it takes a while to harden once the resin and hardener are mixed together, this allows me to fuss around with it quite a bit.

My first step was to find a few molds to hold the resin while it sets. I had a couple of pendent molds and a set of ring molds that I bought on a whim so I dug those out of the overflowing craft room. I also found some round takeaway containers that had formerly held tartar sauce; these little beauties sparked the idea of making spindle whorls because they were exactly the right size and depth. So I now had a project in mind…resin drop spindles.

Second step was to prepare all the junk to be embedded, I just cut up some pencil stubs and mixed some glitter and stuff. I collect the pencil stubs from work (schools use a huge number of pencils every year and when they are too short to be sharpened again they are thrown out, unless I’m there), the glitter and bits were saved from craft activities I had done with my daughters in the past. I then mixed up my resin and hardener; this took a while as you have to make sure the two are well combined then wait for the bubbles to clear, it took about five minutes to do this part.

Third step was to pour the resin into the molds with the embeds in them. I made some spindle whorls with pencil stubs, glitter and beads in them.

That is one of the little takeaway pot filled with pencil stubs beside my resin ready to be poured.

Some filled molds, yes I did spill some resin and make a HUGE mess of the table. The little round things are the ring molds.

I tried the bottoms of plastic cups as molds too.

 The next morning….after the resin had all set I took everything out of the molds. Only breaking one whorl in the process. I also scrapped up all the bits of resin left sticking to the table after I spilled one of the molds. It had embedded the newspaper onto the table top (luckily nobody here notices a new scar on the table) but it peeled off eventually. I ended up with three usable whorls, five rings and a couple of pendents.

I borrowed my partner’s drill and drilled some holes in what I thought was the middle of the whorls. As it turns out they are all slightly off center due to my poor measuring skills, but that has worked to my advantage as the finished drop spindles keep spinning for much longer than my more balanced ones (that was a happy accident). I stuck some dowel through the holes and screwed in a tiny little cup hook at the end, I also strung them up with a leader thread so I could test them.

All the pieces I made had to be sanded down to get rid of any sharp edges or lumpy bits, but it didn’t take too long. I just used the sanding attachment on the drill.

Drilling a hole in the whorl

 They work really well and look kind of pretty too (at least I think so). I will be selling these little spindles at the next market stall, or maybe on Etsy. Making resin whorls was so much fun I just might include it on my list of permanent craft activities. It uses up all those little bits and pieces of stuff that I seem to collect, like too short pencils and a half cup of mixed glitter. It makes a surprisingly beautiful whorl for a drop spindle and it’s a lot of fun…on the down side though, it can make a mess, it’s basically plastic and needs constant purchases of resin and hardener. Still…it is a lot of fun.

What do you think?
I will post pictures of the rings I am making in another post. I’m trying to figure out how to embed fabric scraps and feathers into rings and bangles.

Matching the wine to the fibre

Recently while wandering about in Etsy (in a cyber sense), I found a shop that sell wine holders for spinning wheels. I immediately wanted one of course, given that I have recently learned to make wine and I love spinning it seemed a perfect match.

I know it’s not a wine glass, but one would fit in the holder.

That started me thinking about matching wines to fibre types. We match wine to our meals, why not other sensory feasts? I thought about it for a while and came up with the following list. You may find it useful if you purchase one of those wine glass holder things for your spinning wheel.

Chardonnay– One of the most common white wines, chardonnay should taste oaky, fruity and have a velvety feel in the mouth. This sounds like good old merino to me. Match your chardonnay glass with some hand dyed merino tops for spinning and you have the perfect spinning binge.

Pinot noir- This is a light red wine which is fairly common, it should be high acid, low tannin and taste of fruits and roses. One of it’s defining characteristics is it is hard to make and is very easy to get wrong. This one sounds like cotton to me; both are difficult to get right and require exacting concentration. Spin up some naturally coloured cotton with a glass of pinot noir and see if I’m right.

Shiraz- This is one of the strong flavoured red wines, it should taste of peppers, cherries and maybe chocolate. It is known as a very long lasting wine as it remains stable and drinkable in a wide variety of conditions. Because it is such a strong, opinionated wine I think it would go well with border Leicester wool as both are strong, hard wearing and lustrous.

Riesling- This light flavoured white wine should taste of fruit and be generally sweet. Riesling is a high acid white wine making it long lasting, meaning it can be aged for a long time and still be drinkable. This quality makes me think of flax which is spun into the long lasting linen yarn. Linen also improves with age and is both sweet and crisp. 

Cabernet Sauvignon- This strong flavoured, high alcohol wine is one of the most common reds around, it should taste of vanilla and red currants. It is a very long lived wine and can be aged for centuries. This wine pairs very well with Lincoln longwool fleece which can also last for centuries in the right conditions. Grab a bottle of cab’ sav’ and some lincoln longwool fleece and get spinning.

Merlot-  This (relatively) light flavoured red wine is said to have a plum and herb aftertaste. It’s low tannin makes it easy and soft to drink. This softness makes me think of silks. Sit down to spin some silk tops with a nice glass of merlot.

This is not a complete list of course, there are so many wine types and so many fibre types it could turn into a book, don’t even get me started on blends (both wine and fibre). Can you add a wine-fibre pairing to the list?
CABERNET

Hawser ply yarn- An accidental discovery

Sometimes happy accidents happen, and this is one of them.
I am currently completing the last two units of a Bachelor of Education (primary), these last two units are hard and require a lot of brain space. I usually spin, weave or knit in the evenings (after a long day at the computer) to relax and do something productive. So last week I decided to try a new plying method for making fingering weight yarn (plying is when you twist two strands together to make a stronger and thicker yarn). The usual method is to spin singles in a clockwise direction and then ply two together in an anticlockwise direction. My new method involved winding the singles into a centre pull ball and plying in the usual anticlockwise direction from both ends of it to make a two ply yarn.
This time I was distracted by thinking about my current assignment (teaching fractions) and plied the whole 100 g of singles in a clockwise direction (without even noticing; yes I was that distracted). The result was a really twisty yarn that could not be used for anything and looked sort of wrong. So I went looking for advice on the internet (as I always do) and found that other people have made the same mistake (unsurprising really) and decided they liked it better that way. This plying method is called Hawser ply and it is used to make super stretchy yarn for knitting cuffs on sleeves, socks and hats. The catch was that I had to make another 100 g of clockwise plyed yarn then ply them both together in an anti-clockwise direction.

The first skein of twisty yarn.

I found some great tips and pointers in a The Spinners Book of Yarn Designs; keep the yarn tight while it is plied and give it a good hot wash when it’s done.

Two balls of mistake yarn ready to ply up. You can see how twisty it is.

After I made my mistake yarn again (on purpose this time) I plied them together in the recommended anti-clockwise direction and got a very stretchy DK weight yarn. I can’t wait to knit something up with it now to see if it does make better cuffs.

 

Hawser yarn on the swift

 

The finished Hawser plyed yarn

 

I ended up with 200 g of  Hawser ply yarn

It’s exciting to make mistakes and discover new things isn’t it. I think I will make more of this type of yarn in the future, just because I can. It has also got me interested in exploring different plying methods (there are so many) and getting a bit more variability into my yarns.

Oh and I did eventually get to making some fingering weight yarn.

My second attempt at fingering weight yarn; merino this time.