Thursday, September 27, 2012

Old Romney Bird's Nests into a Balanced Navajo-Plied Worsted Weight

Taking up room in my stash were a bunch color-related bird's nests from dye tests I made years ago.  At the moment I'm focusing my spinning on targeting a predictable end result yarn grist after plying.  Much easier to do with a 2-ply, but with each additional ply, the thickness of the single becomes more and more critical.  And I'm also focusing on getting a really balanced skein which I thought would be harder to do with Navajo plying than with 2-ply.  
All these nests totalled 5.5 oz and I haven't tried out my jumbo flyer yet so not wanting to try it on a potential project yarn, I settled for doing it on 2 bobbins.  I've completed the first which goes from lower right in the above photo through one of the two medium-blue/green bird's nests (3rd color over from the top right). 

The ideal would have been to spin the entire 2 bobbins worth of single to keep my grist perspective on the single, and then Navajo 3-ply it all at once but with a full bobbin, there's no way I could wait to see if I'd end up with a worsted weight 3-ply, nor could I stand waiting to see how the color progression blended.  And also whether I could get a balanced skein with chain-plying, using my new-to-me twist control technique.

Well, it is balanced!  Here's the freshly chain-plied skein, right off the bobbin-->niddy noddy, then hung on a door knob.  Not wet-set.  Gheeeeeeeeeee!  
I started out with about 4 treadles per X distance from the orifice, and did the loop test initially to check the twist.  With just a tad of clockwise self-ply action (pretty feeble but enough to pay attention to), I shortened my X distance just a tad.  After a few more checks, I went with it, letting the swoop happen after 4 treadles and not counting the swoop.  Eventually I refined it to 3 treadles, swooping on the 4th and that seemed right.  It worked until the end of the bobbin (which is the first part of the spun single) and wowza, I'd sure started that single out with a crapload of twist.  Not wanting a harsher yarn than I was going to get anyway from these stale nests, I didn't increase my ply twist as it wasn't enough length to worry about.  I'm just making note of it.

I wanted to end up with a worsted weight after 3-plying and voila, I got it.  Yay. 
I've been after trying to gauge singles for a targeted final result grist ever since I started spinning, and with 3-ply, just the teensiest difference in the singles' thickness makes the difference between DK and bulky.  It's a really fine line.  This time I really focused on it though, and early on I sort of identified that spinning the single at 27wpi looked like it would get me there.  (I used my "I-Spin Tool Kit" Ipod App's grist gauge and that little sucker is terrific because each wpi thickness is represented by a white line with red borders so the goal is to see only red on either side of your laid-over yarn.  Much easier to do than that acrylic see-through wpi-marked ruler which I always found useless.)
A couple strand lengths came out bordering on DK and one or two small lengths a little heavier than worsted but for the most part, it's a pretty consistent worsted grist. 

I got 118 yds (less any stretch on the niddy which I tried to avoid this time) out of the first bobbin, total 81.7g, or 2,.88 oz.  That leaves 2.6 oz. left to spin, which I estimate would add another 107 yds. for a total of 225 yds. 

Spinning from stale nests made for some rustic single now and then, and the unwashed yarn felt scratchier than I remember this Romney being.  But with dye tests I would not have used my finest locks.  Maybe even would have used some semi-junk locks (from belly or leg flanks) since my staple length wasn't overly long.  I did, however (well, fairly early on, that is) remember to establish which way the fiber scales lay on each nest to spin from sheep's body to lock tips.  Re that, these were combed nests, not carded, and since I load my combs with shearing ends mounted so as not to peel (strip) the fiber's scales against the grain in the combing, spinning against the grain makes for a rougher yarn.  But the grain was respected and the yarn did soften considerably after washing (Eucalan) so inferior locks or not, stale nests or not, it's project-worthy.    

For later reference, the amount of ply twist was as above, but the amount in the single?  Recall says I got more than a lazy self-ply on loop tests but not multiple, aggressive sproings.  In the very beginning, yes.  I was coming from the merino/tencel "Shiver" colorway laceweight singles in the previous top.  But when I lightened up (pretty early on, before the green was finished), my recall says my loops were forming themselves into just one-stem self-plies that held themselves confidently, but not to a snitty, bratty degree that I had to struggle with to unwind.  Some did though, I did have to hold a few stems secured at tip end to pull apart on occasion but I think I drafted against those.  So I'd say a fair bit of twist, but definitely short of snitty-bratty stage.

I still don't know what twist gets added/subtracted after it goes through the orifice and onto the bobbin, that just remains a mystery because I haven't found anyone who seems to know.  I therefore pull my loops back out, off the bobbin, not just what's yet to go through.


Friday, September 21, 2012

Getting a Balanced 2-Ply

Well, one method, anyway...

When I first began spinning on a wheel, I would hold my hand in my lap, the two singles separated by my fingers and just ply away happily in one smooth continuum.  I got some very pretty 2-ply yarns, but they tended to be overspun on the ply side.  That over-twist made some of my yarns look like a string of perfect beads, but it was sadly overspun as yarns go. Soaking and/or thwacking would beat it into submission, but the overtwist gave some of my yarns a harsher feel. 

At some point, the niggly Caroltude in me began breaking down the plying stage into parts so I could analyze how to control the amount of twist I was putting in—the goal being to get a perfectly balanced yarn and to control how much twist beyond that point that I was putting in because sometimes I just like a little more ply. But to have any predictable say in the matter, I had to first be able to get a perfectly balanced yarn. 

Well, I left that experiment half done over a year ago and have been knitting lace shawls and shawlettes with purchased yarns since then.  But a couple of weeks ago, reminded how much I liked spinning by watching Cyndi learning to do it, I dusted off and oiled Wheel Annie and broke out a 4-oz. top of merino/tensel, hand dyed by Squoosh that had been tucked into my stash because memory said it would love to become a laceweight or light fingering yarn and end up as lace.  The original plan was to Navajo ply it so I could keep this most talented dyer's color changes, but dreamer that I was, there simply would not have been enough yardage 3-plied, Navajo or otherwise.  So back to 2-ply.  And my quest for a perfectly balanced 2-ply yarn because that was unfinished bidnez. 

This was also my first time spinning fine enough to get laceweight (2-plied) because my default spin has always ended up worsted weight which is what I mostly knitted with prior to the lace obsession.  So here's the yarn after 2-plying.

For newbie spinners, a "balanced yarn" is... well, technically, it's X counterclockwise twists per inch where X is equal to the effect of the combined clockwise twists per inch that reside in your singles.  Practically speaking, a super overplied yarn might skew after it's knitted.  So the general idea is to have it balanced.  And the way you can know if it's balanced is to pull a length of plied yarn (that you've let wind all the way onto your bobbin) back off your bobbin, back out of the orifice through which it went, and let a long length of it fall into a loop.  If it has too little plying twist to balance out what's in the singles, the yarn will try to balance itself by adding more clockwise twist.  You can see that because the long loop you're allowing to hang free will twist around itself counterclockwise.  All by itself.  If you have too much plying twist, the loop will twist itself clockwise, as though wishing to add more twist in the singles.  If it just hangs there in a long limp loop, it's a balanced ply.  It's not trying to correct anything.  (Note:  This assumes you spin your singles clockwise and that you ply by spinning counterclockwise.)

So here's what I do to get a balanced ply.  I stick my Lazy Kate under the table, to my left, and position my wheel at a comfortable distance away.  I hold my singles in my left hand, the two separated by a finger, and I pick a holding position that I can eyeball (e.g., lining up a table leg behind it) and mentally record that hand's position as my go-to "holding place."  And that's where I keep my plying hand.  To start ply-spinning, I watch the two singles close to my holding hand, not the part that's going into the orifice.  And keeping my hand there, I treadle.  Once the twist has reached close to my plying hand via traveling toward it from the orifice, in one swift but smooth motion, I pinch off the singles in my left hand and swoop that whole length into the orifice.  A big suckup, all at once.  My take-up tension is set so it's aggressive enough to gobble it up happily, but not aggressive enough to be tugging at my holding hand during this holding process. 

I do that a couple of times, then stop and pull out a long length off the bobbin, through the orifice, and do the loop test.  Just let the yarn dangle and see what it does.  Meanwhile, I've been counting my treadles between swoops.  If my ply isn't balanced in either direction, I either move my holding hand's place closer to the orifice (for more plying twist) or farther away from the orifice for less twist.  This part is trial and error until you find the magic place to keep your hand for the number of treadles you're going to make, the latter being based on your wheel's whorl size, etc.  For me, with my settings, it's 4 treadles.  This remains a constant whether I treadle fast or slow.  (The revolutions of the wheel are the same per treadle at any speed.)

And that's it!  My "swoop" happens fast enough so it doesn't add much twist because I don't stop treadling as I'm swooping, but I do try to keep the speed of that consistent too.  I do stop and check from time to time (more often at first) to make sure I'm right, and make little adjustments to my holding hand's distance from the orifice if needed.  Now as you get used to this, you'll start noticing that another way to gauge your twist is how long the V is.  (The top 2 legs of the "V" are your singles coming off the lazy kate with your separating finger in between the yet-to-be-plied singles and the bottom point of the V is where the twist has traveled up your 2 singles from the orifice so that your two singles are ply-joined).  Based on the distance from orifice of my holding position today, that yarn's balanced twist point had the bottom of the V about 1.5" from the two top legs of the V.  It's a visual thing, but fun to make bets with yourself as you refine your senses to include another way to tell how much twist is enough vs. too much.

This next photo shows the most balanced skein I've ever gotten so far, which is why I'm taking time to write this post.  Simply, I don't want to forget what I did because it's been about a year since I was doping all this out the last time, and I had to do some recall.  But this is one. very. balanced. skein.  And I'm proud of it.  Past ones have been close, but not like this.  This shot was taken with the yarn right off the niddy noddy.  No thwacking, whacking, no soaking, nada.  I didn't even want the hanging skein supported even to the extent of it lying against a flat vertical surface, so opened the cabinet door so the bottom of it was completely free to turn or twist.  Perfectly straight.  Yay!
I did go ahead and soak the skein to set the spin, and gave it a couple whacks for good measure, just because I entertain myself with the notion that it sort of marries the singles.  Okay, so it's also fun to watch my dog get excited when a human hauls off and slams a yard-long hunk o'stuff into the hollow side of the washing machine which makes a loud noise.  She always behaves even nicer after that.  And it's kind of like the punch down in yeast breads.  Kind of one of those things we just deserve to do.

Ignoring the stretch that happens on a niddy and having only counted one side, it looks like I have 308 yds.  I think the shawlette I planned to make this with needs 340 yds.  I have a little of one single left over which I'll ply on my drop spindle but I think I'm going to fall short of enough yarn for another English Ivy (the shawlette).  But oh so close!!  I'll do the match and see if I cut out one repeat that'll do it.  If not, I will probably walk around with my eyes in that pinched up look that happens when someone's pissed and feeling cheated.   

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Jogless Color Changes

After a year and a half of lace knitting, I got a yen to knit a pair of legwarmers for my precious, adorable, loveable, never-sits-still, determined, speed-crawling 1-year-old granddaughter.  Momma Jenny said she really likes stripes.  And bright colors.  My LYS recommended Plymouth Merino DK which throws in "Superwash" on the label, to boot.  This is a corded type, many-ply yarn with very high twist and it has no halo.  (That also spells frighteningly high stitch definition where any irregularity GLARES at you.)  All they had for "bright" was orange, but since Jenny likes orange and they had one lone skein left in a green that was asking to be paired with it, that was that.  Her colors. 

Okay, so in my 5 years of knitting, I've never done stripes that are narrow enough to keep two yarns active, carrying them forward.  Let alone doing that on a tube, knitted in the round. 

So at my first color change, I tried a simple k2tog which I'd been shown at the LYS but didn't like it.  Next, I tried TechKnitter's "jogless" method where you simply start knitting with the new color, but on the next round you slip that first color-changed stitch purlwise (without moving yarn to back I found out).  I still saw a visible jog.  Now, TK says it's minimally noticeable if seen on the fly, and her samples appeared to have been blocked which can make a huge difference, but I'm obsessive about stuff like this, in the raw.  So I then went to youtube and watched "jogless knitting stripes in the round" by knitpurlhunter, where she also just starts knitting with the new color but on her next round instead of slipping the stitch as TechKnitter does, she lifts the right leg of the stitch below, up onto her left needle and knits it together with that stitch.  I didn't like that one at all.  I did watch Eunie Jang's video on the subject.  Well, as always, I was so depressed watching how freaking fast she knits that I don't even remember how she did her color change other than that, again, I saw a jog.

So I went back to the TK's method.  Okay, so it does have a jog but admittedly it's not a bad jog.  And I do see that if stretched much at all, it shows very little. 

Ignore the top green-to-orange change just having been made on the needles, which I'll talk about in a minute.  The rest of the color changes are just as TechKnitter prescribes.   

Well, looking at it closely, it's that right leg that's the culprit.  That's the long-ish one from the slipped stitch.  The left leg lends itself to "unobtrusive slant" if it just didn't have that damned right leg sticking down longer. Still, it was the best I'd tried out of the lot, so I accepted it. 

After a couple of times though, just for the heck of it, I tried something of my own to modify it.  And Wow!!  NO jog!  There is still the slant, yes.  But knitting in the round is a continuous spiral, so you're going to get slant anyway.  But this had very minimal added slant. 

Here's the first color change with my little added trick, shown at the top of the green-to-orange color change just after knitting a few rows beyond the above photo.
So here's what I added to TK's method (my changes shown in red). 

Round 1 of a color change:  Knit 3 sts in old color just as you've been doing.  Then simply start knitting with new color starting on the next (4th) stitch.  Knit around with new color up TO that 4th stitch of the next round (your first new color stitch).

Round 2:  And having knitting the first 3 sts and now ready to slip the 4th (color changing) stitch, bring OLD color's yarn to front of work.  Slip stitch #4 purlwise (wyib).  Return OLD color's yarn to back of work again and drop it, and just continue knitting with new color.  (You'll have now wrapped the slipped 4th stitch with the old color.)

Round 3:    Knit 2 of the first 3 again, and knit the 3rd stitch somewhat tightly.  Knit 4th stitch (the one you've slipped and wrapped) as normal.  On 5th stitch, pull old color's wrap taut from the back so that its tension looks consistent with all else on the front of the work, and trap old color's yarn however you normally trap a floating carry-forward (OR see below note re trapping a yarn being carried forward vertically).  And just keep knitting with the new color.  At some point, give a glance to the wrap to make sure its tension remains right, and maybe trap the old (carried forward) yarn once again in another couple of rounds just to secure it more.

So what have we done here?  Not much!  TechKnitter's little jog is still there.  All I did was wrap the slipped stitch with the old color.

Here's a close up, face-on shot where it shows with the wrap pulled aside.

These next 2 photos are shot at the same angle, one with the wrap pulled loose, 
the next with it pulled closed.

So we've used TK's otherwise very excellent color changing method, however we've added an old color's wrap around TK's 2nd round's slipped stitch which simply covers up the bottom of that right leg that creates the jog.

Now what's fun about all this is that normally a wrap sits horizontally across the top of a stitch, just like a purl stitch's collar.  But because slipped stitches pull things off skew, fortunately the wrap itself gets pulled into a slant too, just enough to be really useful. 

So that's how I'm going to do my color changes from now on.  Using TechKnitter's very good method, but adding a simple wrap around her 2nd round's slipped stitch and securing its tension on the 3rd round.

Meanwhile, just a side note.  Many people do their color changes at the beginning of a round because that's where they do them at the beginning of a row when knitting flat. Well, when I first started knitting in the round, I'd already seen laddering from both magic loop and DPN needle changes and vowed I'd never get them.  I learned that when you change needles on either Magic Loop or DPNs, you do want to pull that first stitch tight, sure.  But it's the SECOND stitch that needs to be pulled tight also.  So that's sure not the place to be doing color changes!  So I just picked the 4th stitch of a color changing round arbitrarily because by then I'm done with pulling the first 2 sts tight after a needle change, and I do like to snug even the 3rd one a bit. 

One last thing about color changes followed by a slipped stitch done on the next round.  Techknitter points out that if you do the color change repeatedly on the same column (e.g., in my case on the 4th stitch), especially on narrow stripes, you'll very likely start to see some pulling up, because you have repeated cases of slipped (not knitted) stitches in the same column.  She suggests moving your first stitch of the color change over to the next stitch each time.  So my first color change took place on the 4th stitch of the round as outlined above.  The next color change after that, I did on the 5th stitch.  And so on.  The last color change on this particular legwarmer took place on the 11th stitch of that color changing round. 

Trapping a Carry-Forward yarn while knitting with the alternate color:  Okay, since carrying another color yarn vertically was all new to me, I was really watching everything closely because I wanted this first legwarmer to be the only place I see any messes.  It's my learning piece.  Well, I found that when I wanted to anchor (trap) my old color's yarn every few rounds to avoid long snag-worthy floats, I've only known to twist the old yarn once around the new yarn every now and then to trap it, and keep knitting.  One time it worked fine, it all stayed behind the scenes.  But another time, the old yarn peeked through so that there, right in the middle of my subsequent nice clean knitting, there was this unwanted peek-through of the unused color.  Awk??  I had no idea what I'd done differently.  Well, oddly enough, on the good traps where it did not show through, I'd twisted the yarns counterclockwise.  The one where it showed through, I'd twisted them just the same, except I'd done it clockwise.  Now don't ask me why this would make any difference, but the ugliness happened twice and both times I'd twisted the yarns clockwise.  So while I'll just plan on making my trapping twists counterclockwise from now on, if you have any idea why there's a difference, please leave a comment because I'd love to know.

Techknitter's article on color changes:
...and in getting the link to include here, I just happened to scroll down farther on her page only to see that she has a sample with the exact same green/orange color combination that I'd used for these legwarmers!  So hey, not being an orange or green fan, at least I know I picked 2 colors that have some universal appeal.  :-)