Tuesday, April 3, 2018

I Made a Hat

Yes, this entire post is just about one hat.

I haven't done much knitting lately. And it's not because I haven't had time, although I guess when you break it down I've actually been kind of busy since I got back, between family things, traveling, blogging, nights out/away, Shabbats, holidays, etc.

Still, there's certainly been a lot of TV time as well and TV time is knitting time. Yet I haven't been knitting much. I made a scarf for my mom a few months ago, as I discussed in my last post, but I never put on the finishing touches, nor did I make the accompanying hat I promised (there wasn't enough yarn to make a matching one. Instead of finding a solution, I just gave up on the whole project).

I have, however, completed a different hat, this one selfishly designated for my own head. I love her.

I bought the yarn at a shop in Ithaca a few weeks ago. I hadn't been to a yarn shop in many, many years. I usually buy at Michaels now. It's cheap, and most stuff from there is washable, and since I've mostly just been making baby blankets, it was sufficient.

But definitely for the past little bit I've been feeling the insufficiency of Michaels. The selection never changes. Most of their yarn is acrylic. And it's always the same, the same colors, same colorways, same brands, whenever I go. It's boring. No longer exciting to buy yarn there. I don't go to shop, I just go to get something specific when I need it. The selection is so generic.

There was a notions shop I sometimes went to in Jerusalem that had an okay yarn selection, but it was very small. And they didn't have luxurious handpaints, or mouthwatering textures. It certainly doesn't count as an LYS (local yarn store).

So when I walked into Handspun in Ithaca, I was suddenly overcome by the colors and the choices. I had forgotten, almost, what it was like to browse a collection of lusciously dyed merino sock yarn, to rub a skein of alpaca against my cheek, to choose from a brilliant wall of deeply saturated color one or two that I could take home with me.

I don't know how long I was there. For a while, it was just me and the owner, who seemed to be on the phone with a credit card company, but then two other women came in and stood at the back of the shop, talking and gossiping, so all of the attention wasn't focused on me. (I like to shop very incognito, gently ignored by all sales staff.) I stopped at every shelf, squeezed every skein, marveled at the color, the rich, deep, wild, gorgeous array of COLOR!

I hadn't had a project in mind when I went in, but I developed some ideas as I shopped. I decided to buy a skein of brilliantly teal sock yarn to make socks for my dad's birthday, coming up in May, and then, when I found some beautiful handpainted Malabrigo (I am a sucker for anything Malabrigo - I LOVE their colorways) sport weight, I spontaneously decided I needed a slouchy hat for spring. I also purchased a hank of Malabrigo roving to try spinning with, a material that obviously was never available in Israel.

All this set me back only $45, which was really pretty reasonable for a yarn store, and I walked out happy with my hour's work. Soon after I got back to Syosset, I scouted out a pattern for my spring hat and got to work.

I decided to use the same simple pattern I had used years and years ago to make another slouch that I subsequently lost. I wrote a lovely eulogy to this pretty hat in an ancient blog post, here, about Hats I Have Known.

The hat was made of a merino-silk blend, in a silky lavender colorway, and it was the prettiest little slouch you ever did see. It was too big on me and had no stretch, however, so when I wore it, I always had to use bobby pins to keep it on. But I really liked it and I've never stopped thinking about how weird it is that is just literally vanished into thin air.

Anyway, I decided the time had come for another Gwen Slouch, especially when I found the perfect colorway at Handspun in Malabrigo Arroyo's Indiecita - a sort of green/blue/purple that epitomizes the beauty and potential of the hand-dyed yarn. The color could  never really exist anywhere else, and it's so freaking gorgeous.

I did a little calculating to adjust the size - I wanted to ensure a slouchy fit - and got knitting. Like with my first slouch, it was extremely quick and fun. I LOVED the yarn. I finished it in two days and quickly blocked it so I could start wearing it. But once I had blocked it, I realized that, like everything I knit, I had also made it JUST too big. The ribbing wasn't snug enough on my head, though it should have been, and it already seems stretched.  Probably because I did a twisted rib, rather than a plain k1, p1. Maybe it would have been stretchier if I had done a plain rib, but we'll never know now because I'm not the type to unpick all the woven-in ends and rip back to the beginning. And the hat itself is... a bit too floppy. It's almost more of a snood than a slouch. I can't seem to get the "slouch" bit quite right. If I were sticking all my hair into it, snood-style, it would be perfect, but if my hair is down, it's kind of a flat drape on the back of my head.

Works as a snood.

Kinda flat.

Anyway, it does fit, but not snugly. If the ribbing were maybe 10 stitches less, it would have been almost perfect. When I push it back from my hairline, which is how I like to wear hats, it's only a matter of time before it starts sliding off and I have to pull it back up. I'm contemplating now how to counter this propensity. There are a few options. I could pick up and knit on another, snugger ribbing band, and sew them together to form a double band with elastic inside (This was just an idea that occurred to me, not any kind of technique that I've heard of. Most people just rip back and start again.) I could sew an elastic band on the inside of one layer of ribbing. I could just wear it with bobby pins and clips all the time. I could pinch in an inch or two of ribbing and just sew it into a little flap that I'd hide underneath.

I do want to do some kind of fix, because I want to be able to throw the hat on and not have to worry about it sliding off.

I don't know. All of this writing and thinking and photographing has me thinking maybe I should just rip it out and do it over, exactly like with my first Gwen Slouch.

Knitting is a wonderful yet annoying hobby.

Sunday, January 21, 2018


After another year-plus absence (year and 2 months to be exact)....

Yeah, my bad. I did actually do a lot of knitting in the past year - two more baby blankets, four pairs of socks, a hat or two.... But I just didn't get around to writing about it.

Anyway, since then I've quit my job and winged my way back across the world to adventure and travel in the land of my birth, my beloved America!

I'm not sure how much knitting I'll be doing here, but quite possibly a lot more than formerly, since I will in theory have a lot more time.

Quick look at various projects from the past year:


1. Eitan


[Late, of course] Present for my friend Noa's firstborn, Eitan, last January. Made it with cotton, my new fave for baby blankets - light, versatile, machine-washable! Simple, cute pattern.

2. Dina


Pretty hearts for Sarah's second baby girl, born at the end of the summer. Also cotton - I wanted to try out this new yarn, Caron Cakes, with long color changes. I chose a hearts pattern since Sarah really likes hearts, and the color changes ended up matching pretty well with the hearts.


1. Dad

Dad's birthday socks. I HATED THESE SOCKS! The pattern was okay, but the yarn (Paton's Kroy) was SO AWFUL. Never, ever using it again. The color changes didn't match up, and there wasn't even enough yardage so I had to use a supplementary yarn for the heels and toes. And the pattern repeats didn't match up either. One of my least favorite sock projects.

2. Mom


Present for my mom. Also made with Kroy - never again! Once more, the colors did not match up! Not even close! The pattern was cute, but the second sock, with the pattern mirrored, didn't turn out as neatly as the first.

3. Brian


Hanukkah present for my future brother-in-law, Brian. Used Loops & Threads Woollike, which is really thin, but very soft - it's not my favorite sock yarn, but I have a lot of it. I liked the pattern - simple, but just a little different from the classic rib. And I always love the contrasting color touches on socks. However, I made them too big.

4. Jill

Pretty lacy socks for Jill - it's been a long time since I made her a pair. Also in Woollike. They took me months to complete, though, because I was so busy with my move. I began them at the end of October and didn't finish them until I got back to New York in December. 


1. Mittens

I got super bored while home sick in October, and decided to make this useless pair of neon-coral mittens. Luckily, my friend Susie liked 'em, so they're hers now.

2. Baby stuff

My cousin Alexa had her baby three weeks ago, and I quickly whipped up a few newborn pressies before his bris. I didn't make him a blanket because my Nana, of blessed memory, who taught me to knit, made him a beautiful one last year. I merely provided cute accessories, including this newborn set of hat, mittens and booties, and another hat for when he gets a bit bigger.

Going forward, I have a list of projects, but I'm not that excited about them because I have to use stash yarn (😣). Oh yeah, that was a fun interlude - when I casually mentioned I didn't think I had any yarn left in the attic, my dad went up and dragged down three enormous plastic bins full. Whatta mess! 

What I found in the bins.
I went through and sorted out most of the Red Heart garbage that I'll never use, along with tons of bits and leftovers I don't want, and I plan to donate most of it. I have one bin left of yarn I want to keep for my stash, but not really enough of any of it to make the things on my list, including:

1. Entrelac hat for my aunt
2. Scarf for Mom
3. Scarf for Dad

Since they each already HAVE many of these necessary winter articles, I'm less motivated to get started. I decided to make my parents scarves instead of socks as late Hanukkah presents when I realized they were both using ancient, ugly scarves from my first few years of knitting, in weird colors and lame patterns. 

I want to make them nice classic scarves that match their winter coats (probably black, ugh) but the only yarn I have enough of for that kind of project is Red Heart! And it's not only crappy acrylic, but it's also rough and not soft or comfortable. Kinda want to sneak over to Michael's and get more yarn... just not sure how to justify that considering the quantity of stash I have rediscovered. Sigh.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016


So, yeah. I haven't written in, oh, I don't know, um, like.... a year and a half or so?


Truth is, for the vast majority of that time, I did not knit anything. I got an actual, paying job about a week after my last post. Sadly, as is so often the case in our modern world, my hobbies fell by the wayside as I became absorbed in the daily grind. I found that I had neither the time nor energy nor willpower to knit, or spin, anything, really, anything at all, and when I did take up the needles, I was just bored. Sometimes you go through phases - knitters know this. Months when all you can think about is knitting and yarn and buying new yarn and finding new patterns and starting new projects and you gleefully abandon one project to start another and you finish twenty things in a matter of weeks. When you finish one thing it's on to the next. And then you have those long stretches of time when the feel of needles in your hands is wearisome and you're apathetic about finishing that project you started and so you start putting them to the side until you have a pile of barely-started projects and all your needles get tangled up and lost and you stare, glassy-eyed, at the television, hands idle, for hours on end.

Oh, just me? Well, nevermind.

At any rate, I did a few projects here and there - a few pairs of socks, a hat or two - but nothing worth blogging about. But now, finally, finally, I am getting back in the groove with - you guessed it - a bazillion baby blankets!!!

Yep, all my friends are having babies now. Let's not think about that for too long.

The first I made (forced myself to make, as I was still in my I-don't-wanna phase at the time) was this:

I made it for my friend Sarah, who had a baby girl last May. It was my very first time doing REVERSIBLE CABLES which was seriously a revelation. A revelation, I say! No wrong side. No ugly side. No unseemly side that your well-meaning family and friends can't actually tell from the seemly side because they are not knitters (no offense, philistines).

At first it was an incredibly frustrating project and I went through about three or four different patterns, knitting up a few inches and then tearing it out, until I finally hit on this one. It took a month to do, and according to my Ravelry post, it was "the slowest project I have ever done. Ever. I feel like I will never, ever finish."

The post notes concluded with, "FIIIINAAALLLYYY DONE! Ugh." So you can tell I really enjoyed that one.

I also made Sarah's baby a little pair of booties:

Then I made some fake tweed socks for my dad's birthday, which I really liked:

I gave them to him when I met my family in the French Alps in July, along with a mug from my work. He liked the socks, but to be honest he seemed more excited about the mug.

(However, note that he is wearing a different pair of socks I knit for him. Credit where credit is due.)

Next project was a blankie for my co-worker's baby, born in August. I started it two weeks after he was born, but I actually only ended up giving it to her two months after it was finished... whoops. But it's okay because when he was born it was still hot as heck outside and only now is it starting to get cold. She really liked it and snuggled him into it right away.

What a smush!

I actually really enjoyed that project, which I think represents my actual Return to Knitting (as in WANTING to knit). I had been waiting for a yarn shipment but was so impatient to start a project that I went to an Israeli yarn shop (I know, I know) and bought some baby yarn. They only had one ball of the blue, so I ended up getting three of the gray and creatively incorporating it into the basketweave block pattern. I think my method of using intarsia to knit stepping blocks was pretty ingenious, and though it was a simple project, I liked knitting it, which inspired me to use my momentum to leap into the next one.

And the NEXT one was much more complex. I ordered yarn from KnitPicks, after spending several weeks deliberating over fibers and colors and shipping methods and doing hours of research on Ravelry. I ordered two different types of yarn so I could experiment. For this blanket, I ordered 10 balls of Shine Worsted in Pistachio because I didn't know the sex of the baby (still don't, as it hasn't been born) and I wanted something bold, not generic neutral baby colors, but also unisex, and I think the color was perfect.

The yarn was also quite nice. I've used Shine Worsted before, so I knew what to expect. What I didn't expect was the sheer heaviness of the fabric, which made for a very warm and durable winter blanket (and a lot of pulling and rearranging on my lap). I made most of it while working my way through "Miss Fischer's Murder Mysteries" on Netflix. However, I ended up missing a lot of important plot points as I concentrated very closely on the pattern, which included four different cables of varying complexity. Here's a picture of the chart, just to give you an idea of what was going on.

It probably seems a lot more overwhelming than it actually is, despite the seven different cable panels. As you can see, panels one, three, five and seven are very simple - just braids, with one cross every five rows. And panels two and six are complex, but short, only 20 stitches each. But panel FIVE... Well. Let's just say there was a lot of replaying of various scenes of "Miss Fischer" while I valiantly attempted to keep the 52-stitch cable straight on panel five.

So yeah, the chart looks intimidating at first glance. Once I meticulously and carefully color-coded it, it still looked intimidating, but colorful. I did such a smart thing - I used tons of stitch markers, obviously, placing them on each side of the six purl-three columns, and I color-coded them as well, and then colored the corresponding columns in on the chart so that I could know where I was with a glance. See the system in action:

Brilliant, yeah.

So the theme of the blanket is hearts. Lots of hearts. And while I was annoyed at the pattern at first, once the blanket started to grow I really began to love it. It ended up being one my favorite blankets ever, I think, and I'm really proud of it.

Color, texture, pattern, everything - it all came together. (It's machine washable, and so soft!) I did make three mistakes (can you spot them?) but I am no perfectionist so I got over it. None were MAJOR. Okay, I missed one crossing. And it kills me a little inside. Shh...shhhh. I gave it to the parents-to-be and they loved it. That's all I require, really - a little appreciation and the knowledge that it will be used. As long as wrap their baby in it, and then it becomes his/her very favorite blanket that he/she won't go anywhere without, and then it turns into a family heirloom they keep for generations, I'm happy.

I started the next blanket while I was still working on Pistachio, because I needed a break from the intense cables. The next pattern I chose is a geometrical but very pretty and fairly simple lace pattern using Knit Picks Comfy Worsted in Marlin AND IT IS MY FAVORITE THING EVER AND I DON'T WANT TO GIVE IT AWAY TO ANYONE EVER.

Ahem. Yes. First, the yarn color is ridiculously gorgeous - this deep blue-green marine color that is like a spa treatment for your eyes. And the yarn is a cotton-acrylic blend, so it's soft while still being hardy and machine-washable, and it has great stitch definition. It's smooth and light in my hands, and basically the best thing ever. Despite also being worsted weight it's not nearly as heavy as Pistachio and it is really kind of a spring blanket more than a winter one, so it'll be versatile and they can use it year-round. Plus it's so freaking pretty that nothing else really matters. WELL ENOUGH TALK, YOU WANT TO SEE IT ALREADY!!

I can't even, it's so beautiful.

Look at those crisp stitches! That clean, sweet lace repeat! ::Swoon::

TBH, the pictures don't even do the color justice. It has a bit more of a green/jade tint IRL. At any rate, it's so beautiful that if the person I am giving it to does not go on for at least two full minutes about how gorgeous it is, I will snatch it back and squirrel it away in my lair where no one can ever see it but me.

JK. Sort of. I'm making it for my cousin, who is due in January with her first, a boy (obvs) and who appreciates the finer things in life. I'm sure she will love it, and I hope she uses it. Did I mention it's machine washable? 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

How a Sheep Becomes a Yarn

Today we will learn about the process of changing pieces of a barnyard animal into a yarn suitable for use. In other words, how to make a sheep's sweater into YOUR sweater!

As you may recall, this all started about five years ago when I was living on a kibbutz in one of the hottest places in Israel. The kibbutz had a small petting zoo, with a bunch of goats, some sheep, some rabbits, some turtles, etc. A few times a year the sheep were shorn of their fleece, which is rather uncomfortable to wear in that particular valley. A close friend of mine, Ayala, also a knitter, had the idea of taking the fleece and making yarn out of it. I thought this was an amazing idea.

At the kibbutz petting zoo.

We received a garbage bag full of dirty, smelly fleece, and we researched what to do next. We sat for cool, comfortable hours on the cold tile floor of the volunteers' air-conditioned rec room, snipping little pieces of "organic matter" (i.e., dung) out of the fleece. This process, by the way, is called skirting, and is highly scientific when done by professionals, but pretty haphazard when done by us. But it was okay because we weren't working with high-end materials. In the first place, the fleece was not particularly suitable for spinning, as the sheep were not raised for wool, and in the second, the sheep weren't sheared professionally, as the fleece was never intended to be used. But we were armed with curiosity and creativity, and we wanted to start from scratch. So we snipped and cut and pulled and picked until we had a bag of relatively dung-free fleece. Next step was washing, which took place in the ulpan moadon (general hanging-out room). I liberated some special delicate soap from the laundry, where I worked on the kibbutz, and we washed, and rinsed, and washed, and rinsed.


We washed... and washed. And rinsed... and rinsed. This stuff was dirty. It took a lot of water and soap and some time, but eventually the water ran clear-ish. We laid it out on a laundry rack to dry. 

We drove to a nearby town to purchase some dog brushes, which were the closest things we could approximate to carders, and Ayala had the kibbutz woodshop make us each a drop spindle. 

Our improvised carders

Drop spindle

We carded a bit of the wool, and watched some videos on using drop spindles, but that's pretty much as far as we got. I left Israel, and the whole project fell by the wayside.

Cut to five years later. I've scheduled my first spinning lesson. I dig out all those ancient artifacts from under my bed-- a big Ziplock full of wool, the little carders and the drop spindle. I put a few of the carded rolags into a bag and bring it to show Paula. She compliments me on the cleanliness of the wool, but the quality is less than can be desired. We decide to put it away until I have learned to spin properly, and then I can make something with it.

A few months pass. As you know, I fully master the spinning wheel and become an expert spinner. I decide it is time once more to tackle the bag under my bed. Actually, I try it twice. The bag of wool is made up of mainly two grades-- a pure white, scratchy, hairy fiber, and a softer, yellow fiber. My first attempt, done earlier in my spinning career while waiting for my English wool to arrive in the mail, is made with the white. Since it looks cleaner and nicer, I think it must be the better fiber. Only weeks later do I look at it more closely and realize that I was totally wrong. Not only that, but my spinning skills were not yet so polished, and the yarn was fairly uneven, as you can see in the picture-- thick and thin, snarled in some places, bumpy.

 First attempt at spinning the kibbutz wool.

I plied it, to make it a bit stronger and more even. It didn't improve it much. (This was also during my beginning attempts at plying.) It was the hairiest, scratchiest, most uncomfortable yarn I'd ever touched. I learned from my wise spinning books that those long white hairs are called kemp: "Coarse thick whitish hairs in a sheep's fleece." Penny Walsh, author of "Spinning, Dyeing, and Weaving: Self-Sufficiency", asks us to "think of the bristly white hairs that stick out of your grandpa's tweed jacket." However, I am not planning on making a tweed jacket or a tweed anything. So this was a bust.


Disgusted, I hang this up on the yarn wall and move on. In the meantime I receive my package of proper roving ("top") and you have seen the results of those glorious experiments already. After some time passes, and my skills improve, I start thinking maybe it's time, once more, to break out the old wool. So I do. Here it is, fresh from the plastic bag under my bed:

Skirted, washed wool.

You can see the different sections of white and yellow. This time, I carefully picked out the softer yellow pieces. I spent quite some time "teasing" the fleece, pulling it gently apart, picking out the kemp and larger pieces of dirt, and taunting it about its mother's weight problem. I was left with an airy pile of even cleaner fleece:

 Teased fleece.

Finally I carded it, a fairly strenuous process. I'm pretty sure I'm doing it wrong, but I don't know how to do it better. All the websites and the books say the metal teeth shouldn't interlock. I don't know how to prevent this or how to properly card without the teeth touching. I carded and re-carded and carded again.


And finally I had a bunch of "rolags", which are basically just long rolls of loose fiber you produce from carding. Some were smoother than others. All were filled with these awful little pills of fiber that I didn't have the patience to pick out, though I had a feeling they were not supposed to be there.


All of this preparation took some time. I picked out as much usable fiber as I could. And then finally it was time to spin. I hauled Elizabeth outside and set her up, and off I went. After spinning with the top I'd bought-- remember, "top" or "roving" is a rope of loose fiber, and when it's commercially prepared all the fibers are aligned parallel to each other, which makes spinning and drawing very easy-- spinning with THIS fiber was NOT so easy. The little bits of dirt and grass and grit that I hadn't managed to card out all went right into the yarn if I couldn't pick them out in time. Those little pills made little lumps in the yarn. The draw wasn't nearly as smooth as with the English top. But I enjoy a challenge, so I did my best and spun a fairly long, continuous, fine fiber. 

Second attempt at spinning the kibbutz wool.

You can see all the mistakes, all the mess-ups. The little bits of plant matter, the snarls, the rogue hairs I didn't catch. But for all that, it's not nearly as bad as my first try. In fact it's pretty respectable considering the source of the fiber.

I plied this one too, except instead of splitting the single into several singles of equal length (a long and annoying process requiring lots of equipment) I used an amazing new technique I taught myself from YouTube called Navajo or chain plying. It's impossible to explain, but not actually very complicated when you're doing it. The long and short of it is that you use loops to make a chain while you spin to create a three-ply yarn from one single. I will give you more details in future posts as I continue to iron out the kinks of this method. As you can see from the picture below, I have not yet perfected it.

 Three-ply kibbutz yarn.

It's far from even and not that pretty. In fact it's pretty knobbly and UNeven. This method, while simple in theory, is difficult when you're plying from a center-pull ball rather than a bobbin-- the yarn doesn't feed out as easily and the tensions get screwed up. Plus I had just learned how to do it. 

The result.

At the end I had spun approximately 16 yards of approximately DK-weight three-ply wool. (Meaning I had spun a 48 yard single.) It is certainly scratchy. You wouldn't want to wear it against your skin. But let's compare it to the first attempt.

Both kibbutz yarns.

On the right: The first yarn I spun, from the scratchy, hairy white fibers. 32 yards of two-ply, bulky weight yarn. On the left: Second yarn, made from the softer yellow fibers. Three ply, DK weight. You can clearly see which is the better yarn. Also the fact that the first yarn, which is only two-ply, is BULKY (thick), whereas the second yarn, which is THREE-ply, is only DK (thinner), shows that I am now able to spin a much smoother, finer yarn. It definitely still has a LOT of flaws, but the general differences are pretty vast. I'm open to suggestions on what to make with either yarn.

So, I'm improving! And now you know how a sheep becomes a yarn. Till next time!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015


Hi buddies!

Now that we've gotten through the highlight reel of the last few years and the exciting acquisition of my spinning wheel Elizabeth, I can tell you all about the Joys of Spinning.


I can pass long, peaceful, quiet hours sitting in my backyard spinning yarn. When I'm spinning I don't need to think. I just need to move my hands and my foot in a calm, practiced, soothing rhythm, with only the rhythm of the wheel or occasional scream of a neighbor to break the quiet.

It makes sense that spinning is so enjoyable for me. I like making order out of chaos. Folding a clean load of laundry, for example. Neatening up the kitchen counter. Don't get me wrong-- I love chaos as well. But sometimes I like to take a little piece of the chaos and organize it. Spinning gives me another way to do that. I can take raw materials and make something out of them. And I mean RAW. Straight off the sheep in some cases. My friend Adam likes to rank his friends in order of their usefulness come the apocalypse. My knitting and sewing skills got me on the list, but now I would be an even MORE valuable addition to our post-apocalyptic society. Give me a sheep and I'll make you a sweater with know-how and manpower alone. I'll clothe every last Mad Max.

Paula, my spinning teacher, told me that it takes approximately 40 hours of practice to perfect the art of spinning. I haven't clocked my time on the wheel, but judging by the quality of the yarn I've made over the last few months, it's taken me about fifteen skeins to get from clueless beginner to fairly proficient spinner. And today I am going to take you on that journey with me.

First, we need to cover exactly what these raw materials are. Yarn is generally spun from animal and plant fibers. The most common material used is sheep's wool. If you have access to a sheep's fleece, you can prepare the fibers yourself by cleaning the fleece and then carding it, using a pair of brushes with metal teeth to comb the fibers into usable rolls of wool.


You may have tried this during a childhood visit to one of those restored nineteenth-century villages where they show you how to churn butter and make candles. (Best field trip ever.) If you don't happen to have a fleece or if you don't feel like spending hours of your life snipping little dried pieces of dung out of the one you do have, there are plenty of commercially available fibers, pre-cleaned, pre-dyed, and ready for spinning, that you can buy. This is called roving or top.

I started off using some crappy roving I found in a knitting shop here in Jerusalem. As I got more into spinning I started shopping online to find quality wool. I ended up ordering a shipment from a British supplier (to no one's surprise, Britain is kind of where it's at sheep's-woolwise). Not knowing exactly what I was doing, I ordered a little of this and a little of that-- ending up with a package of almost two pounds of wool of varying types and colors. Here are a few:

French Merino wool in natural brown

21 micron wool in assorted colors

70% merino/30% silk blend

This is what roving looks like before it is turned into yarn. It's just a rope of fairly loose fiber.

Okay. Now you know what we're dealing with here. We begin at the beginning. This is the first yarn I ever spun on Elizabeth (bear with me if you've seen these images before):

I had not yet gotten Elizabeth into perfect working order when I made this. The yarn is a mess-- even a non-knitter can see that. It's kinked, meaning that it's overspun, and also wispy-- underspun. The weight (thickness of the thread) varies wildly from ultrathin to ultrathick. It's uneven, unbalanced, unusable. I class it as part of my "hopeless beginner" stage.

That stage quickly progressed into "slightly more confident beginner" and I began to make yarns like this. I've never been very patient, so I was eager to experiment with combining different colors before I actually knew how to spin well. So this happened:

I didn't realize at this time that I was not understanding the very basic principle of spinning. Spinning is the act of feeding loose fibers into a mechanism which twists it into a hardy string. That, I got. But what I didn't get was that very instrumental "feeding" action. I was drafting the roving (i.e., splitting the rope down the middle into quarters or eighths or what have you-- manageable pieces) and simply feeding them straight into the orifice (yes, that's what it's called, I know, I know) of the spinning wheel without paying any attention to the principle of DRAWING the fibers out as I fed them in. My Urethra* moment came as I began to spin some of the French Merino roving I had ordered. But in the meantime I was making bulky yarn with bumpy, awkward joins (the point at which you attach a new piece of fiber to the yarn you're spinning to make a continuous thread) and I was running out of fiber strangely quickly, with not a lot of yardage to show for it. Clearly I was doing something wrong. But I put that thought on the back burner because, as I am rather impatient, I wanted to start learning fancy new skills before I had mastered the basic ones. That led to PLYING!

Plying is the act of spinning several single threads ("singles" in the spinning lingo) together into a stronger, thicker thread. This can be done on a drop spindle or on a spinning wheel. Here's my first attempt, done on the drop spindle (which I have never exactly gotten the hang of, by the way):

Yucky. But I don't have to tell YOU that. You can see how unevenly twisted the yarns are, how unbalanced the plying is, and how generally disappointing the whole endeavor turned out.

I plied a few more yarns, with okay results. I continued to progress in my yarn-making. During this period I made this, which wasn't too bad:

It wasn't too great either, but it was respectable. I tried plying on the wheel and got this:

Eh. I had used one of my earliest yarns, so it was not impressive-- and plying on the wheel turned out to be a hassle. You ply in the opposite direction of spinning. In other words, when you spin a yarn you turn the wheel to the right; when you ply, you turn it to the left. This is very counter-intuitive, and it confused Elizabeth A LOT, poor thing. She's getting on in years, and if I use her for a few hours without giving her a break, she'll start getting a bit cranky-- squeaking in protest, refusing to turn smoothly, popping off her drive band. She's a bit temperamental. It's why we get along so well.

Anyway. Everything was about to change. It happened one Sunday afternoon while my roommate was photographing me spinning as part of a "Behind the Scenes" theme for a photography group she is in. Some of her shots:

Left: drafting the roving into smaller pieces. Right:spinning.

Left: attempting to correct the mistake of letting too much twist into the wool (the correction itself incorrect-- I figured out a better way). Right: action shot.

It was then that the sudden understanding of how spinning works flashed into my head. URETHRA!* You don't just feed the pieces into the orifice (snigger). You DRAW out the fibers slowly, letting them catch each other and pull each other smoothly onto the bobbin. I hadn't been able to make a smooth yarn with a consistent weight because I was feeding in the drafted pieces as-is, without drawing the correct amount of fiber through my fingers as I worked. It's hard to explain. At any rate, it was a watershed moment. I understood why my yarn thus far had been bumpy and uneven and ugly. From then on everything was different.

I practiced my new skill on some of the roving I had ordered and got this. I call it my "legit" phase, though not exactly a triumph. Before washing and drying, a process which removes a lot of the kink and curl from yarn, it looked like this:

Left: yarn spun during urethra* moment. Right: first yarn spun using the proper principles of spinning.

Both yarns were far from perfect. Each one had short tightly coiled sections, which meant I had spun the yarn too fine and too much. And each yarn was irregularly weighted (i.e., of varying thickness).

After washing/stretching/drying:

It doesn't look too bad. It's still not perfection. I know that because I have ACHIEVED perfection since I made these. Okay, maybe not perfection, but pretty damn close.

Continuing on. "Pre-perfection" phase. I made this. It was my longest continuous yarn ever, and it was a carefully designed, strategically made marbled single using both the brown merino and white wool. It wasn't so easy drafting both of these fibers simultaneously-- and you can see where I messed up. It's not perfect and not totally even. But it was the best thing I had made so far. (Admittedly, each yarn I make is "the best that I have made so far.") I named it "Tweedy":

So pretty!

I was proud of this. I spun it very finely, intending to make another single and ply them together. But I had run out of white wool by the time I finished. This yarn was 160 yards long, which is the longest I've made yet! I still had a lot of brown merino left-- so I made another single. And oh, oh my, it was GLORIOUS. Feast your eyes upon it:

LOOK AT THAT! I MADE that! It's so uniform! So even! So thin! SO BEAUTIFUL! I couldn't believe my own powers of creation. It still wasn't perfect, though. There were many points at which I had spun the yarn too finely, and when I was winding it onto the niddy-noddy the thread broke in several places, which is a shameful thing, but I soldiered on.

Preparing to ply was a long and annoying process involving tons of equipment. I had to first wind each single from the bobbin onto the niddy noddy, tie the skein, let it sit for a day, then use the Swift my dad made for me and my ball winder to wind each single into a center-pull ball. Most people ply off of bobbins, but since I only possess one bobbin, I have to use this alternative method, which is certainly less efficient and possibly less effective, but it does work. I ended up with these guys:

They don't look to be the same size, but Tweedy was a slightly heavier weight-- fingering-- whereas the newer, more perfect single was light fingering, so it appeared smaller even though they were almost exactly the same length (go me!). I prepared Elizabeth and plied like the wind. Though plying is much faster than spinning, this took a surprisingly long time because of the yardage. I filled the bobbin completely and had to wind the yarn off twice, cutting and tying the ends together. Here's a blurry picture of what plying looks like:

You simply feed the two threads together into the orifice, using the same method of damming and releasing twist that you use for spinning. I haven't perfected this yet-- the plies are not uniformly even. But they look pretty damn good. Here's the finished product in all its glory:

Ta da!
Approximately 155 yards (5 yards or so were lost from each single through the plying process) of two-ply, DK weight yarn. Though I did wash and dry the skein, it barely needed it. My theory is that plying uses up the yarn's extra twist and significantly evens out any kinky areas. Ain't she a beaut! This is a viable, usable yarn. Not sure yet what I'll make. If I use this in combination with one of the other yarns I could probably get a hat out of it.

But I STILL haven't even gotten to the crowning glory. The TRIUMPH. The PERFECTION. Now, I I fully expect that in the course of time, as I become a better spinner, I'll look back at this and think: yeah, that was okay. But at this moment, I am bursting with pride. 

I wanted to try something funky and colorful. I laid out my assorted colors and chose a few that seemed to go together. Then I split each piece in half. I split each half into quarters, and laid them out like this, repeating the color sequence four times:

Then I spun. I spun into the night. Brown--orange--maroon--green--blue. I'd tried to split them up evenly so that each section would be similar lengths, roughly. The colors lined up prettily on my bobbin.

I tried to make the yarn uniformly fine. I was pleased to see that there were no hard, tightly coiled sections-- meaning I hadn't overspun-- and I was careful to avoid lumps and irregularities. I've mostly figured out now how to correct those things. (It's all in the draw.) Once I had used up all the pieces I'd laid out, I took a short-cut and instead of moving the yarn from the bobbin to the niddy-noddy to the swift to the ball winder I simply wound the yarn straight from the bobbin onto the ball winder. I intended to ply it right away, so there was no need-- or time-- for it to "set" on the niddy noddy. Then I repeated the whole process with the second halves of each color. My original thought was that each section would be about the same length so that when I plied, the sections on each single would match up neatly, but that wasn't the reality. There was a lot of overlap between colors. But it ended up looking awesome so I didn't mind. And when I was done plying, I had 100 yards of this GORGEOUS, smooth, even, beautifully spun, beautifully plied, multicolored yarn. I can't stop looking at it and touching it. 


Okay. It's not PERFECTION exactly, but I'm not a perfectionist, and this is REALLY FREAKING GOOD. I love it so much. I don't know if I can even knit it. I might just have to leave it in this beautiful form and admire it and force other people to admire it for the rest of its days.

...At least until I make the next perfect yarn. ;)

*I realize that urethra is not the word you shout out at the moment of revelation. This is a reference to a hilarious Netflix show. I hope you got it.