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.

Weaving a scarf on an old teaching loom

My interest (or obsession) in a new craft is often blocked by a lack of funds to buy or build the equipment I need to explore it, but I never let that stop me. My current obsession is weaving. I love the feel of hand woven material and it is such a useful skill. However….looms range from expensive to ‘you’ve got to be kidding me!’ so I have as usual sourced some make-it-yourself websites and such. I came across the clip below and decided I love the design so much I have to make one (with a few modifications of course).

The basics of loom design come down to having something to hold the warp taut (the warp is the threads that run up and down the loom) and a system for lifting warp threads in a specific order to pass the weft through (the weft are the threads which run from side to side). After that the designs are all refinements.

In the mean time…..I have an old and broken teaching loom. I have warped it up with recycled fingering weight yarn that I bought from a Lifeline shop, and decided to try my hand at making a scarf (classic beginners project). To add a degree of interest, and because I have no idea what I’m doing, I decided to make the scarf using a Brooks Bouquet stitch pattern (See the clip below).

My pattern is 19 picks (rows) of tabby weave (plain weaving) and one row of Brooks Bouquet stitch and repeat.

I plan to finish the ends using a hem stitch and have a plain (yellow) but elegant (hopefully) scarf to wear to work next winter.

This is my progress so far;

So far, it’s been a lot of fun and I can’t wait to build my loom. I am saving up for the materials.

Spinning and plying cotton – part one.

Spinning cotton is hard but not impossible.
Most of the reading I have done leads me to believe you need cotton carders, a takhli or Charkha spindle and immeasurable patience. Having none of these things I just used what I had and did it anyway.
I spin my cotton without all the traditional equipment; no cotton carders; no supported spindle or  Charkha. I use my wool carders to prepare the fibre and spin it on my old faithful traditional spinning wheel.

The first part of the journey is to prepare the cotton. I am lucky enough to have a sister who grows cotton so she occasionally brings me a garbage bag of bolls (the ‘fruit’ of the plant; a lot of seeds with a cotton ball attached). These bolls need to have the vegetable matter and the seeds removed before being carded into submission ready for spinning.

Removing the seeds and the vegetable matter is not a process that can be rushed; I sit and pick the seeds out of each boll individually along with any large bits of vegetation. It takes about two full bolls to ‘charge’ the cards (charging the cards is a fun way of saying ‘put enough on one carder to make a rolag’). The cotton is then carded or combed from one carder to the next until all the vegetable matter has fallen away (some has to be picked off) and the fibre is smooth.

The usual method is to make punis from the carder cotton by wrapping the little mat of fibre around a stick really tightly to make firm rolag of fibre. I prefer to make mine into nests of soft and fairly airy rolags (a rolag is the mat of carded fibre from the carders rolled up into a cylinder).

Carders and cotton, ready to go (and a drop spindle that photo bombed the shot)

The cotton boles; the brown stuff is vegetable matter

The lump in the middle of the cotton ball is the seed; there are between two and ten of these in every bole

The cotton all loaded onto my carders and ready to be tamed

I don’t make traditional punis, I just make the usual nest, the same as wool.

It takes 26 nests to fill a bobbin on my spinning wheel, so the preparation takes a long time. The next step is spinning the cotton, which has its difficulties too.

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.