Handspun Journal – free printable sheet

I am an obsessive weirdo fascinated with documenting things. A while after I started spinning, I realized it might be a good idea to keep track. There are so many variables to handspun yarn — what if I wanted to duplicate a particular yarn later and had no idea how I’d made it in the first place? The handspun section of Ravelry’s project notebook is great, and I use it to track ongoing projects, but I wanted to be able to save samples of yarn, etc alongside my notes.

At first I was using a wirebound blank book, but even though I was saving only small samples, it was getting pretty unwieldy. And I want to be able to save much more in the way of samples — not just finished yarns, but samples of the singles, the plied yarn before finishing, a bit of the unspun fiber, maybe a knitted swatch.

So I made up this sheet recently, and I’m in the process of transferring everything my old sample notebook and adding the things I never put in the notebook because it was awkward to use. I’m storing the sheet and samples for each project in 8.5″x11″ polystyrene magazine bags, and I’m planning on picking up some sort of storage box that fits them.

Handspun Journal

Here’s a link if you’d like to download a copy:

I’m considering trying out something similar for other types of big projects — embroidery and knitting mainly. Do you document your projects?

Helper Cat: A photo essay with bonus cat hair

This is something I posted on a Ravelry group ages ago in a discussion of Helper Cats. I came across it while trying to find something else and thought I’d put it up here, with a few extra photos from Instagram. (A few of these are from the very bad iPod camera era of my Instagram account — I seem to have a shortage of recent helpering photos.)

Vladimir is a most excellent helper. He helps me cut out and alter patterns — I handle adding the seam allowance and cutting, while he’s in charge of chomping scraps of freezer paper, swatting at raindrops on the window and attempting to make off with the scissors while I post photos to Instagram.
helper cat

He helps cause clear printer jams:
helper cat

and supervises photo shoots (he prefers to be referred to as Creative Director):
very pretty helper cat

He is an expert at bobbin changes and sewing machine maintenance:
helper cat

and he specializes in quilt basting, which he finds meditative and restful:
Thread basting with helper cat

Not that he confines his helpfulness to sewing. His bookbinding skills are legendary:
Bookbinder Cat

Yet even with Vladi’s many responsibilities, he still finds time for scientific inquiry. Here he’s just discovered incontrovertible proof that water-erase pen is also drool-erasable:
Vladi - drool-erase marker

High five.
High Five

Projects Begetting Projects

I’ve had the Central Park Hoodie pattern — and the yarn I’d planned to make it with — for something like eight years. I absolutely adore this sweater. But I felt seriously lacking in the confidence to actually make the sweater. I wasn’t sure about size, and then my gauge swatch was wonky, and I put it aside.

Recently, in the middle of a heat wave, I felt a weird compulsion to make this sweater. Possibly as a method of procrastination. When I need to get something done by a particular time (in this case my state fair entries) I nearly always develop an obsessive need to start a completely different project.

I dug out the pattern and the yarn and started a sleeve as a gauge swatch. It didn’t take me long to figure out that 1) I was not getting gauge or anything close to it in that yarn, though I hadn’t washed it to see if it changed after washing because 2) I was also making the wrong size and needed to go up a size in order to have enough ease in the finished sweater to wear it over anything heavier than a t-shirt. This revelation led to the sad but inexorable fact that 3) I did not have enough yarn to make the size I needed, and the color I had was discontinued. So. Bummer about that.

I regrouped and settled on a different yarn and started knitting. The gauge swatch was pretty close to being right on after washing — I got 17.5 stitches to four inches, and the pattern calls for 17. But since I’m making the bigger size, I think it’ll work out okay.

Russian Join

(In this photo, I was finding how just how many times in a row it’s possible to screw up a Russian join before finally getting it right. The long strand by itself in the photo? That was the one I got right but inadvertently joined the new yarn to a cut-off bit of the old yarn. I finally got it right just after the photo.)

The next thing I realized is that all the little zippered box bags I use for knitting projects are much too small for even a piece of a sweater plus a skein or two of yarn. I tend mostly to knit things like socks and hats, stuff that’s small and squishable.

So I needed to sew a bag. This was clearly the only sensible approach to the problem, right?

New knitting project bag

This is Betz White’s Stitch & Stash bag pattern, which is completely fabulous. You can snap in the top bits and cinch the bag closed to carry it/keep cats out of your yarn. And when you’re using it, you can fold the top down to make a little bucket to knit out of.

New knitting project bag

The large size has enough room for a sweater sleeve plus a couple skeins of yarn (and I’m pretty confident I can fit the back of the sweater in there if I don’t stash as much extra yarn in the bag) and there’s a pocket inside to stash my cable needle, a measuring tape and scissors:

New knitting project bag

I love this bag, both the design and the really fabulous Lizzy House whale print fabric. It feels pretty great when you make something, and then every time you use it you can feel little cartoon hearts of joy popping up over your head.


I got a spinning wheel recently (yay!) and have been playing with string a lot. I had a pound of undyed Polwarth top set aside for when the wheel came since I knew there’d be a bit of a learning curve even though I’ve been spinning on spindles for five years.

I spun up about an ounce of singles and then chain-plied them, just to get an idea what sort of yarn I was coming up with. Well, actually, no. First I spun about a half ounce of singles that started out wildly uneven and got gradually thinner and thinner, completely lost the end when the yarn broke because I was watching Good Will Hunting and got all weepy and lost track of what I was doing, and then I gave up trying to find the end after an hour and a half on the grounds that this was just practice and it was horribly uneven anyway. Then I spun an ounce of singles and plied it.

Anyway. Based on that test skein, I decided that what I was doing was working out okay for me (short forward draw, spun from the fold to make the yarn a little puffier) so I made a little control card with samples of the singles and of the yarn before and after finishing.

Three ounces of singles later, I started plying. I did not actually look at the control card while I was plying, even though that’s what the control card is for. It was upstairs and I was downstairs watching Netflix, and I developed a delusional belief that the yarn would magically come out the same without looking at it.

It did not. It was plied way, way tighter than the test skein, which became obvious when I was finishing the skein. I let it dry and knitted up a swatch and washed it to see what would happen.

Handspun Polwarth with swatches
(Chain-plied test skein on the left, second skein on the right after removing some of the plying twist. Next to the skeins, the control card is at the top, swatch of the super-tightly-plied yarn in the middle, swatch of the same yarn with some of the plying twist removed on the bottom. On the right is the swatch from the test skein.)

The swatch knitted from the super-tight yarn biased like crazy — it’s the parallelogram-shaped one in the middle. So I wound the whole skein into a big ball and ran it through the wheel again to take some of the plying twist out. That turned out pretty well. There are still some odd kinked bits that didn’t work themselves out when I re-soaked it, but overall it’s looking much better now (bottom swatch).

It’s also working up way differently now — I used a bigger needle but got roughly the same fabric density as the first swatch with the extra plying twist. And the stitches look different, too. One side of each stitch is twisted tighter in the parallelogram swatch, making it look like a separate column, rather than both sides being more or less similar little V shapes in the second swatch.

(As an aside, there’s a Knitty article that talks about that weird twisty column issue. For a few years after I learned to knit, I thought it was something I was doing wrong, but it’s the way the yarn interacts with the stitching. And this Knittyspin column goes further into the way both plying twist direction and knitting style (English/thrown vs continental/picked) affect the appearance of the stitches, with lots of swatch examples.)

The third swatch (on the right, made from the chain-plied skein) is mostly an exercise in why chain-plying isn’t always your friend. Or mine, at any rate. The singles in that skein were uneven, much more so than in the second one, and chain-plying tends to magnify any unevenness. With chain plying, you’re taking a single strand and making a big crochet chain with your hands while adding the plying twist. It looks like a 3-ply for the most part, and it’s super useful for stuff like keeping long runs of color in dyed fiber intact. But the thin spots line up with themselves, and so do the thick spots, whereas in a 3-ply it’s more random.

So the chain-ply swatch is pretty much crazytown. The bottom half is twisted tighter (causing the same effect as in the parallelogram swatch) and the stitches are bigger and feel sort of crispy, and in the top half there’s less twist, and the stitches are all happy and soft. This isn’t entirely the fault of chain-plying uneven singles — I’m pretty sure my plying twist was uneven as well.

I’m going on with spinning this stuff (I have something like 10-12 ounces left) and then dye the whole pile of yarn at the end.

In the meantime, though, I sort of cracked and started spinning something with a bit of color to it.

Yay longdraw!