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.

A new yarn swift – home made

What is a yarn swift?
Well…you know when you are watching a movie in the evening and decide to ball up some yarn for a new project you are just dying to knit? The inevitable problem is to get someone (partner, visitor, small child, family dog) to hold the skein while you ball up the yarn. Nobody wants to do it so you end up trying to ball from a skein hung over two chair legs or over your own feet (which is a bit like yoga) leading to knots and snarls (knots in the yarn, snarls on your face). A yarn swift is a mechanical helper who will hold the yarn steady for you whenever you like while you make cute little balls of knitting materials.

I guess my mostly absent partner got very tired of being met at the door by arm loads of skeins because he made me a swift.

First we did a bit of internet research to find the right design;

Then the building began…

He built pretty much to the instructions in the clip (the difference between us… I can’t follow instructions).

The base is a piece of spare ply

Finding the centre to drill the hole

Drilling the hole

The bolt thingy in the base for the arms to swing around.

A spacer so the arms aren’t too close to the base.

Sawing the arms to the right length

The arms are notched so they sit level with each other


Drilling the hole right through the middle

A bit of copper pipe in the middle holds it all together

Yes…it spins

The finished unit. Thanks Hon

From fleece to tote bag and all stops in between – part five

This is the final step in the making of a tote bag from scratch; felting (or fulling). First let me explain the difference between felting and fulling; felting is the actual process of entangling fibres tightly together to make a solid material, raw wool is felted. Fulling is the process of partially felting knitted items to provide a stronger bond between stitches, knitted items like my bags are fulled. The process for felting or fulling is the same; everything your mum told you not to do with knitted clothing in the laundry.
If you are interested in wet felting wool, follow the link to a good tutorial.
If you are interested in fulling pure wool knitted (or crochet) items, follow this link to a good tutorial

My licorice allsorts bag, all ready to be fulled.

The bag is knitted up and looks just like licorice allsorts to me, so that’s what I called it. The exciting thing about fulling knitted items is that you can never be sure how much or how fast the felting process will go, so the results are infinitely variable.
So here’s how I go about it…
First I fill the washing machine with cold water and add some shampoo (which seems to make fulling go faster) I only just cover the items to be fulled so the water level is low. Then I switch the machine on (after fueling and starting the generator as we have no 240v electricity) and let it wash for a while. In the meantime I boil a big pot of water on the wood heater. Once the water is boiling I carefully carry the pot into the laundry and tip the hot water into the washing machine, this temperature change is generally enough to ‘shock’ the wool into felting. I then spin out the item and hang it to dry while stretching it into the shape I had intended as far as possible.

My bag after fulling, hanging in the sun to dry.

An example of the unpredictability of fulling; the dark blue and black stripes didn’t felt as much as the other colours.

That is the end of the journey from fleece to tote bag. As you can see; it takes a while to get there, but the results are worth it.

Did you enjoy this series?
Should I do more of them?
What else would you like to read about?

From fleece to tote bag and all stops in between – part four

Now I have some dyed skeins of homespun wool to knit with, its time to cast on and start.

When I have an order for bags I ask the client some questions;
What bag shape?
What colours?
What stitch pattern?

In this case, my client has chosen the petite bag, in black and rainbow colours with the Asthore stitch pattern. So I dug out my bag of reclaimed embroidery wool and saved scraps of pure wool and spliced them together using the Russian join to make two rainbow balls of wool.

My reclaimed scrap wool pile.

Joined together to make…
Huge balls of rainbow wool
Now I have everything I need; black homespun, reclaimed rainbow, circular needles and coffee. Away we go.

My favourite bag pattern of the moment is the petite felted bag.

I begin by casting on eight stitches (four on each needle) using a ‘figure 8 cast on’

I then knit the base of my bag by increasing stitches every second row., as indicated by the pattern.
Once the base is big enough I choose a slip stitch pattern and start knitting.
So far I have used these slip stitch patterns to make bags;
Dog’s tooth cross
Yin Yang
Fretted mosaic

The base of my bag is started. Eight stitches on each side have been increased to twelve.

The entire base is done; a total of 154 stitches. I am using the Asthore pattern so I needed to add a few stitches to make the number a multiple of 16 (Asthore is a 16 stitch pattern).

And the colour knitting begins. 

The pattern is beginning to emerge.

This is the quickest part of making felted bags, I can take my knitting anywhere and fill in free moments and I can settle down to a quiet evening watching a movie while I knit too.

Next step; felting. Stay tuned.

Note; I do apologise for my photography, most of the photos are taken in the evening with my phone so they don’t show true colour and are not well focused.

From fleece to tote bag and all stops in between – part three

Time to dye my skeins of wool….

I love using natural dyes, they give such varied results and each pot is unique.
However, for making my tote bags I need large amounts of the same colours so I use commercial acid dyes.

Using acid dyes is so easy and  the results are beautiful.
Here’s how I do it (I’m sure there are easier ways).

Here is my washed and set skein. No dye.

First the skein gets another wash (there is a lot of washing in spinning)

Then I gather the ingredients I need for dying; vinegar, the dye and a big fork for fishing the skeins out of boiling dye.

A damp but clean skein of wool

The dye is mixed with water in a stainless steel pot and bought to the boil. I added a good dash of vinegar to the mix too.

The wool is added to the pot, which is still on the stove being heated to a low simmer. Smelling strongly of  vinegar and wet wool now.

When I judge the wool is dark enough…I fill the sink with clean, hot water and rinse the skein. Then I rinse again, and again until the water is clear.

The finished skein, dyed black (even though it doesn’t look it)

A close up 

A finished skein.

Next I begin to knit a bag………..see you then.

From fleece to tote bag and all stops in between – part two

I have carded up a 100g batch of washed wool into cute little rolag ‘nests.
Now for the spinning…..

Spinning can be seen as a science, an art or a craft. I like to think of it as a craft; I don’t get too scientific or precise about it, I just spin.
So..I sit in my crafting nest in the lounge room and spin while I watch a DVD or just sit and enjoy the quiet. It takes me about four hours of spinning (broken up into movie length lots) to fill a bobbin. Then it needs to be plyed into a strong yarn.

All ready to spin…coffee; check….rolags; check…..spinning wheel……

Spinning wheel; check
A half spun bobbin of singles.

A full bobbin

There are so many ways to ply yarn, it would take me all day to explain them. I usually use a Navajo ply method which uses a single bobbin rather than two or three bobbins.

Once the yarn is plyed, I wind it onto a niddy noddy to make a skein which is then tied together and washed again to set the twist. This part is fun as I take the yarn out of the bath (as described in part one), squeeze the water out of it somewhat and then whack it against a post with some vigour. This gets my dogs all excited (maybe they think I’ve gone mad) and they all start barking like loons and jumping around.

A bad photo of me plying

Half a bobbin of plyed yarn
My niddy noddy
The finished skein (badly over exposed, but you get that with the flash)

Once the excitement dies down, I hang the skein on a contrived rack (on my wool cupboard) to dry, or I may decide to dye it first.

Part three is the yarn dying process…. see you then.

Ply- Twisting two or more strands of yarn together to produce a stronger, thicker yarn.
Single – A single length of yarn, spun onto a bobbin, prior to plying.
Niddy noddy – A tool used by spinners to wrap wool around when making a skein.
Skein – A neat parcel of yarn, made by looping yarn in equal rounds.

From fleece to tote bag and all stops in between: part one

From raw wool to….
A hand knit and felted tote bag.

Lately I have been selling a few of my hand knit and fulled/felted bags and I have run out of pure wool yarn in base colours (black, brown and grey). Looking around my bomb site of a craft room I spied my fibre cupboard and found about half a fleece of old merino (probably from a sheep long departed) and decided to clear some room for more fibre, spin some yarn for knitting bags and tie up all available free time for the foreseeable future in one neat package; I will wash, spin and dye the old fleece.

So I invite you to join me in the adventure.

The process is as follows;
Pull the bag out of the cupboard………

Dusty and dirty bag of wool. A memory of a sheep long past.

Merino wool is known for its crimp, or the number and size of the waves in the wool. Before wool diameter could be measured with lazers (microns) it was common to judge the quality of a fleece by the number of crimps.

Close up you can see the crimp in this fleece (and the dirt and vegetable matter). This was obviously an aristocratic sheep.

 I wash the wool before spinning, although many people spin ‘in the grease’ and wash the yarn after spinning. I like the feel of the clean, soft wool slipping between my fingers so it’s worth the extra work for me.
Washing or scouring wool is easy; all you need to do is soak the wool in detergent (I use cheap shampoo) and fairly hot water. At this point you have to be careful not to felt the wool by changing the water temperature suddenly or agitating it too much. I use a small tub and wash about 100g at a time. That way I don’t waste too much water as I wash the spun wool yarn from the last batch first (to set the twist) then I soak the next lot of wool for spinning. I spread my wool out on cake racks to dry before spinning.

A pile of washed wool, ready to card and spin.

You can still see the crimp in the locks.

Now it’s time to card the wool into usable rolags (a rolag is a little roll of carded wool). I got my carders second hand with my wheel. They work really well and probably will continue to be usable for several more decades.

Loading the carders

Carding involves moving the wool from one carder to the other while combing out the vegetable matter and knots.

The carded wool is then rolled up into a rolag

And finally curled up to be stored as a ‘nest’.

Next step is to spin up a reel of singles….but that’s a story for the next post. See you then.

Desperate times call for desperate measures…or shearing sheep with scissors.

The extreme heat of the last few weeks has driven us to take our sanity to the edge in regards to our sheep.
They have been shedding their wool very slowly over the summer and I have left them to it as shearing in the middle of summer can sometimes lead to sun burnt backs (for the sheep as well as the shearers), but now they are beginning to grow their winter wool underneath the old fleece it is time to tidy up their haircut (woolcut?) a bit. We discussed getting someone to come and shear them for us or buying/hiring some shears but in the end decided that money is just too tight, so out came the scissors. We looked at a few ‘how to shear sheep’ sites and decided to have a go at shearing them while they were standing up.

First we haltered one of the girls, in the handling pen with her sisters. That way she was calm and happy to be played with. Then my eldest daughter and I took turns cutting the old fleece off while the other held the lead rope. The sheep were surprisingly patient and calm while we did it, which helped matters immensely.

We sheared (clipped?) two of the four girls each one taking about an hour and a half to do. We had originally planed to do one a day as it its hard going and very frustrating work, but when we let the one shorn sheep go her sisters butted her and chased her from the herd (she looked different) so we caught the worst bully and gave her a clipping too. This seemed to even out the odds and they all got along again.

I managed to salvage two shopping bags of usable wool from the two girls, the rest had started to felt and is too matted to use. Next year I will have to clip them in the spring so I can get better wool. I got shedding sheep so that I didn’t have to worry about shearing if I had no use for the wool,  but it seems I will have to shear them anyway. However, this is only their second molt, so it is possible their shedding will improve next year (I hope so anyway).

This is Gaia before her clipping

You can see where they have been shedding…and where they haven’t.

This is Gaia after her clipping, somehow she looks smaller.

She really appreciated the cool breeze on her skin, and being able to scratch every itch.

This is the usable wool from Gaia and Kraken (sorry about the terrible photo), after I took all the felted stuff out and the really dirt stuff around the edges.

This is the wool close up, it looks like clouds to me.

I hope I can get enough usable wool from my girls to make something to wear (it’s been a dream for a long while). The girls (Gaia and Kraken) certainly appreciate the new coolness, now to do the last two; Nut and Kore.

What do you think I should make from their wool?

Wiltipol sheep

Let me tell you the story of our sheep………………
Four years ago I began to worry about bush fire danger to our humpy so we began to mow around the general human habitat with a push mower; laborious and boring work (I can tell you). The procedure involved having my two daughters walk in front of the mower and clear a 10 meter wide strip of bush of sticks, rocks and clods while my partner and I took turns pushing the mower (with a catcher) and emptying the wheel barrow of clippings from the mower.
Although this process yielded lots of kindling for the fire (sticks) and mulch for the garden (clippings), we soon got sick of it as it needed repeating on a monthly basis over summer and it took a whole weekend of 8 hour days to complete. So after two years; a new plan was hatched……
We decided we needed to let animals take over some of the work as they didn’t have to go off and earn a living and study too. After a lot of research into suitable animals for the purpose of fire hazard reduction we settled on sheep as the most useful; horses are too delicate and browse branches in preference to grass and ground cover; goats are the love children of Houdini and an old world daemon and will escape a maximum security enclosure in order to eat your favorite shrub; geese are too susceptible to predators, eagles, foxes and dogs; cattle need more feed than we can provide on our poor land, so sheep it is.
I didn’t want a breed of sheep that required tail docking, mulsing and shearing so I looked around at the older varieties of sheep who shed their wool and are capable of surviving without massive amounts of human intervention. I came up with Shetland sheep and Wiltshire horn sheep as my preferred breeds because both have usable wool but don’t need a lot of attention.
As it turns out, Shetland sheep are impossible to obtain in Australia so I began looking at Wiltshire horn sheep and discovered that they are wild and wary creatures who never tame fully. I kept asking around and talking about the idea until I ran into a local lady who breeds…Wiltipols.
Wiltipols are a newish breed of sheep made from crossing Wiltshire horns with Dorpers (another shedding breed). They are reasonably docile, shed their wool and do not require a lot of care or intervention. I asked the local lady; Evelyn, to let me know when the next lot of lambs were ready to go. Meanwhile we began to save for fencing and managed to build two smallish paddocks by the time our babies were weaned and ready to come home.

They eat everything and anything; lantana, bladey grass, native grasses, the lot.

You can see the old wool gradually shedding and the new fleece below.

 give them a handful of mixed grain of a morning to keep them coming to me and so I can check them over

They came when you call them and I love their playful yet gentle natures.

We eventually moved to electric fencing to make paddocks for them as that has proved to be the most flexible method of getting the firebreak mown.

They do a brilliant job of clearing the fire breaks and they are just going into their first moult. I believe that getting our four girls (and the later addition of Kitty, another story) has been the best labor saving initiative we have ever instituted.
I have yet to figure out how to collect the shed wool in any useful amount, but it will happen if I keep thinking about it.

Wool spinning advice

If you read this blog regularly, you will have noticed that I am somewhat hyperactive (adult ADHD) and so Like to skip from one thing to another constantly. I have many hobbies that I keep returning to after long breaks. One of the things I like to do is spin…..sheep and alpaca wool, cotton and hopefully one day silk. I just found a great post about how to spin sock yarn that I thought I would share with you.

Knit Better socks Blog

If you are interested in spinning at all, please have a read.

Some of my home spun wool; from left to right- Suffolk cross, natural – merino, chemical dyed – merino, natural.

My old Scotch tension Ashford Traditional spinning wheel.
The start of a reel of cotton; very slow preparing and spinning.

What I like to make from my wool. I didn’t spin the red and green wool for these socks; unfortunately.