Friday, September 18, 2015

Spinning for Knitting

(Gourmet Stash Fibery Tribbles being knit into a hanspun sock)

Hi, Knitters,
I was contacted by Liz Gipson, one of the founding members of Spinzilla, to contribute a blog post for the upcoming Spinzilla 2015 event. Ahhh, Spinzilla! How I long to be of part of this thrilling spinning adventure someday. Due to my travel and teaching schedule this fall I am unable to participate but it is my goal at some point to be a Spinzilla participant! I will be watching and cheering on all of the spinners this year and I hope all of you run to sign up if you haven't yet on Last year I was so inspired by all of the Spinzilla participants. 

Liz asked if I would write about the topic Spinning for Knitting. I said yes to Liz's request because although I don't consider myself to be an expert spinner I do think I have something to offer to this conversation. I have suggestions that may help others with this topic because the main reason I spin is to knit the handspun yarns I have created.

If you don't know what Spinzilla is here is a message from Liz Gipson, one of the founding committee members of Spinzilla:

Spinzilla is a global challenge to see who can spin the most yarn in a week. Teams and individuals take to their spinning devises to make as much yarn as possible in a very short amount of time. The event is designed to get spinners to push past their fears and to raise money for the NeedleArts Mentoring Program to foster the handspinners oftomorrowSpinner registration is open for just two more weeks. There is a team that needs and wants you. To see the complete list of teams, FAQ, and blog posts about how to get ready, visit Spinzilla's website at

You can still sign up to participate so be sure to check it out if you are interested. Click here!

First and foremost I am a knitter so when I look at any yarn, commercial or handspun, my mind immediately starts thinking about how I would knit the yarn. When I started spinning about 4 or 5 years ago all I wanted to do was knit with my handspun yarn. Right from the start I would knit with all of my handspun yarns, I had no hesitation at all. I was proud of my handspun, no matter how lumpy and imperfect. In fact, I made a design and pattern out of my very first handspun yarn called Sweet Sheep. The quality of the yarn was questionable for sure being my first but by knitting it into an adorable sheep the imperfections became somehow even more charming than I could have ever imagined. It felt like magic.

In my eyes there is no reason not to knit with ALL of your handspun from the very start. 

Right from the start I would spin and spin and spin all sorts of weights of yarn and use different plying and spinning techniques. I couldn't get enough of spinning and then knitting my handspun yarns. I think the word some might use is obsessed. The excitement still runs high while I am waiting for a new handspun yarn to dry when it is just fresh off my wheel. It never gets old to think about what I will knit with my handspun.

Part of the allure of yarn is trying to figure out that perfect project that will make a match made in heaven. It is like a puzzle challenge. I'm always asking myself, is it the right weight, the right yardage, will it drape or be light enough, will it hold up to wear and tear...... the questions go on and on. But if you don't try and experiment you won't ever figure out how to use your handspun and knit it into beautiful, wearable pieces. 

(A pile of handspun socks using the free pattern, How I Make My Socks)

Since I started spinning I have knit everything under the sun with my handspun yarns. I have knit shawls, socks, hats, mittens, fingerless mitts, a cardigan, toys, scarves, etc. Each project I work with handspun is somehow more satisfying than when I knit with commercial yarns. There is a different feeling you get from working with handspun especially when you've spun it yourself. 

Here are 8 tips for the Spinning Knitter:

1. Have Fun!! Just cast on with your handspun yarn and KNIT! Don't worry about the imperfections in your hanspun yarn because often much of it will disappear when it is knit into fabric. To me little imperfections add to the fabric and make the project even better. Your finished object will be one of a kind and that's the best.

2. Spin the yarn, then pick the project. I always just spin away first, really focusing and enjoying the process of spinning. Sometimes I have an idea in mind for the future yarn I am making and sometimes I don't. Sometimes the yarn turns out completely different than I initially intended. I never want to get caught up in trying to be too exact when I'm spinning to knit because that zaps the fun out of it. There are a million different things to knit with handspun and your yarn, no matter what, will work great in some project out there.  

3. Keep it simple. When selecting projects for your handspun simple projects are often better. If the yarn is busy with lots of color or barber poling, stockinette stitch, rib or garter stitch will usually look best. Basic hats, mittens, shawls, scarves and socks are often the best choices for a wide variety of variegated or striping handspun.

4. Combine your handspun with commercial yarns. This can help to make up for smaller yardage. My favorite knitting project combining handspun with commercial yarn is this cardigan (see the photo below). I combined a Loop Bullseye gradient bump with Cascade 220 in black. It turned out wonderfully. The gauge for the handspun wasn't always exactly the same as the Cascade 220 but it didn't matter at all. This is one of my all-time favorite projects.

I've been adding commercial sock yarn for cuffs heels and toes in my handspun socks lately and I love this combination. The pattern I use for my socks is the free pattern called, How I Make My Socks.

5. Experiment! Experiment with the needle size for knitting your selected handspun and be prepared to switch needles and swatch until you get the gauge that will work best for the yarn at hand. Knitting with handspun is not an exact science. For me there are often thicker and thinner moments throughout the yarn and I expect this and it doesn't bother me. I often have to try out different needle sizes when starting a handspun project. It is a different beast than commercial yarns.

6. Be Flexible. You may start out thinking you are spinning a fingering weight to knit a pair of socks and then you end up with a worsted weight perfect for a hat. That's fine! The part of spinning that is so interesting and fun to me is that things change during the process and it can keep you on your toes. It is exciting and adventurous.

 7. Don't force the spinning or the knitting. "Let the fiber be what it wants to be." I used to hear this all of the time from spinners and I didn't get it. Now I get it. What this means to me is that while you are spinning don't force the fiber to be something that it isn't meant to be for your technique. Through experience I know that for me Polwarth Silk blends can comfortably be spun into very thin singles. If I am spinning a straight up Falkland roving it works well for me to spin a worsted or bulky weight yarn. When you first start spinning different fibers you will find out how they spin up best for your personal techniques.

On the same note don't try to knit your handspun yarn into a project where it won't work. Maybe you'll even have to design something on your own to make the perfect match for your special skein of handspun. I did exactly this with the 50 Row Shawlette (see the photo below).

50 Row Shawlette ~ roving was from Unwind Yarns

I had 250 yards of a worsted weight handspun and I couldn't find the perfect pattern for it. That's when I decided to just cast on and make up a fun shawlette that would use every inch of the beautiful handspun yarn. The 50 Row Shawlette was designed in a snap. It was a perfect match.

Another project I designed when I couldn't find the perfect pattern is called, Lost Banner Hat (see the photo below). 

Here is an example of a gradient yarn I had spun where there wasn't enough yardage to create a larger project like a shawl but I wanted to keep the gradient colors intact. I needed a simple knit with stockinette stitch and rib. The Lost Banner Hat takes about 200 yards of a worsted weight yarn, either handspun or commercial. This hat knit in handspun feels so good on my head. I love it.

The name of the hat pattern was because the hat was lost and then found a long time later.

(Handspun socks knit with Friends in Fiber Gradient Rainbow)

8. BE FEARLESS! Knit your hanspun yarn into beautiful, treasured things. Don't just let it sit on a shelf or in a bin somewhere. Show it off to the world. There is really nothing like knitting with handspun yarn and you won't know until you try. It is pure magic! Really.

Lastly, be PROUD of your handspun yarn. And be proud of your knitting with your handspun yarns. How amazing is it that we can create our own yarns through the process of spinning and then make one of a kind originals with that yarn? It's the best.

By knitting with your handspun yarn you are tying your knitting in a more direct way to the wool, the silk, the cotton, the yak, the sheep, the earth, the farmers....  that's a powerful thing

Handspun is cool! Knit with it.
xo ~ susan