Thursday, August 10, 2017

Getting the Gist of Grist

I have been spinning not quite 4 years.  I have spun miles of yarn and enjoyed every inch of it.  I have knit with it and woven some and am pleased how forgiving the yarn seems to be.  All my hiking socks are knit from handwoven.  They fit well, breathe well, I get far fewer blisters and they last.

BUT there is one thing that eludes me.  In all my reading and video watching, the following statements are made: handspun is more dense than commercial and if you want to make a specific yarn you have to pay attention to grist.  These statements are contradictory AND no one really seems to address how to really control grist.

Grist is basically yarn density and is usually described in terms of length per weight, such as Yards Per Pound (YPP) or Meters per Kilogram.  Since I have knit decades more than I have spun, I prefer to express grist as meters per gram, because I can then relate that more easily to skeins, which usually come in 25, 50 or 100 gram weights.  (M/Gr = YPP/496.5)

So after I have spun, plied and washed a skein, I measure the length in meters and divide by its weight in grams.  Unfortunately, although it looks and measures perhaps as a fingering weight (16-18 wpi), the grist more often tells me that it’s more a sport or even a DK weight.  Fingering weight usually is somewhere between 3.5-4.5 m/gr, sport weight is more like 3-3.5 m/gr, DK ranges from 2.5 – 3 m/gr and worsted weight is 1.5 to 2.5 m/ gram.  These are approximate and don’t totally jive with the Yarn Council numbers, but they work for me.  The problem comes when knitting with yarn.  The gauge and resulting fabric behaves more according to grist than according to yarn diameter.  Makes sense – you can only compact fiber down so far.  So basically the novice spinner substitutes twist to achieve diameter rather than concentrating on grist.  I have come to the conclusion, if you spin to grist, the diameter takes care of itself.

So how do you achieve desired grist?  The McMorran balance often is mentioned, but that is only a spot sample.  I have done something similar – created a little balance from wire, put a length of a sample yarn of desired grist on one side and the same length of my project yarn on the other.  If they balance, their grists are the same.  But that’s only a spot sample.  Not really useful over the course of a project.

So here what I have been doing.  I haven’t done this enough to know if this consistently works, but it should. First I decide what grist the final yarn is to have.  For example, I want a sport weight of 3m/gr.  It’s to be a 2 ply, so 3*2 means the singles grist should be 6m/gr.  Since I prefer a backward draw – whether short for worsted draft or long for woolen – I can measure a comfortable make – like 45cm (about 18 inches).  If 1 gram of fiber is to measure 6 meters, then 600cm/45 cm per make = 13 to 14 makes. I am aware that final length won’t be what the stretched length while spinning is – I figure at least 10% length reduction.  So I shoot for a slightly higher number of makes to take that into account – 15 makes would probably be better.  If you use a forward draw for worsted, you'd have to measure about how much you draw out each time and go from there.

  I play with this until I understand what this grist looks and feels like.  I repeat this every so often to make sure I am staying more or less at this grist.  I then worry about twist and do ply backs to see if I like what I see.  I adjust pedaling rate and/or whorls if I don’t.  I do not worry about diameter – I figure the grist will take care of that.  

The question is, if this is a reasonable approach or not – feedback most welcome!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Row Counter

It has been a very long time that I wrote anything here.  Not that I haven't had anything to write about - I have been doing so many different things - but I am lazy.  This entry is motivated from some questions some folks had about the row counter I use when knitting.

Liz Upitis in her book about Latvian mittens talks about using a loop of yarn that is tied into subloops.  Each time you knit a round, you slip your needle into the next loop down.  Say you need to cross a cable every 8 rows.  You create an 8 loop counter.  After going through all 8 loops, you do the cable cross and start over.  Recently I saw a blog post that shows doing the same thing with locking stitch markers.

As a forester I often had to lay out boundary and cruising plot lines using a handcompass and pacing.  To keep track of my paces I used either a clicker (much like the clickers knitters use) or pacing beads. Pacing beads consist of two cords linked together on a loop or carabiner.  One cord carries 9 or 10 beads and the other usually about 5 beads.  You slide one of ten beads to the end of the cord each time you have paced a certain distance (every 20 meters, every 50 meters - whatever).  After counting ten of these, you slide one of the five bead set to the end of these cords.  Then you start over with the 10 count.  That way you can count at least 50 - technically 60 - such distances.

The Upitis method got me to thinking that I could make a mini pacing bead set and accomplish the same thing. Additionally you could use them to count 2 different things - like decreasing every 3 round while cabling every 8 rounds, etc.

I use a split ring that works with the needle size.  Cotton crochet thread doubled works well with the small beads - they slide only when you want them to.  Split rings also work well as stitch makers.  They are thinner than standard stitch markers and don't mess with your gauge as I have found the fat plastic ones do.

Anyway, try it and let me know if you like it!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Darning by Knitting

I changed the name of my blog, because I think it better reflects where I have been going these past few years: from almost exclusively quilting to all sorts of fiber fun.  I still quilt, but knitting, spinning and weaving take bigger chunks of my creative time.  I still climb, but much more modestly, and so I felt Quilting Climber was inaccurate and maybe pretentious.  I hoped to blog more because of the name change, but I obviously haven’t been.  However, this topic came up in a forum on Ravelry and rather than clutter up a thread, I thought I’d post this technique here.

This isn’t necessarily new but certainly doesn’t show up in any of my resources.  I first started doing this, because a young friend of mine ripped the heck out of a sweater.  He guides hunting trips in Montana, when he isn’t a backcountry wilderness ranger.  He got jumped by a grizzly while gutting an elk and ripped one of his sweater sleeves in several places during his hasty exit through the brush.  It’s a his favorite sweater and after some thinking, I decided it would be best to flat out knit the patches and graft them into the knitting as I went.  The results were excellent and I have used it on some other items, including socks with good results.  It’s fast, easy and I think better than anything else I have tried.

Before I explain this technique, I want to share my thoughts on darning socks.  Socks tend to get holes where you also tend to get blisters. The rubbing action that wears out socks also is hard on your skin.  A patch will only aggravate that area, possibly causing worse blisters.  And there’s nothing so miserable than having to work all day (I was a field forester) or hike out of the backcountry with blistered feet.  I relegate mended socks to knocking around town or to in the house status where I am not likely to walk enough to get blisters.  In the field, I wear good, perfect socks to protect my feet.

Here are the steps to a knitted patch:
You will need:

  • At least 2 dp’s – preferably slightly smaller than what was used to create the item.  This makes picking up the stitches easier and the patch denser and durable.
  • Yarn identical to the item, or of a thickness equal or possibly thinner than the item.  You don’t want the patch to be too bulky.  I try to save a small ball of all items I have knitted for this purpose.  Not that I can find it when needed…  You might add a strand of wooley nylon or the like if this is a high wear area.
  • A tapestry needle for grafting and weaving in the ends.
 The procedure:
  • About 2 rows below the lowest extent of the hole, pick up the right hand leg of each knit stitch, starting 2 columns left and ending 2 columns right of the hole’s width.
Picking up initial stitches.
  •  Knit that needle and turn the work, and knit back, using the stitches that match the item.
  • Pick up a stitch in the column above with your right needle.  Knit the first stitch from the left needle and pass the picked up stitch over it.  Finish that row.  And turn your work.
  • Repeat the step above each way until the knitted patch extends two rows above the highest point of the hole.  End with a RIGHT SIDE row.
  • Cut the yarn, leaving a tail 3 times the work width plus a bit.
  • With the free DP, pick up the stitches 2 rows above the hole and of equal number as in the patch.
  • Holding this needle in front and the patch behind, graft the patch to the picked up stitches.
Getting ready to graft.  See that the edges barely show the passed over picked up stitch.
  •  Bring the starting and ending yarn ends to the wrong side and weave in.
Finished patch.  The orange is a patch done by Swiss darning and it looks awful.

The cool part, besides looking nice, is that you can maintain the stitch pattern or even the stranding pattern in the patch as should have been in the item there, creating a very seamless repair.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Measuring Yarn Thickness

I often check my wpi during spinning because I want to end up with a specific yarn thickness – usually fingering or sport weight, occasionally DK or worsted weight.  The rule of thumb is ½ the wpi of your singles will be the wpi of a 3 ply; for 2 ply it’s 2/3.  I developed a card that shows the various wpi diameters as solid black lines and I hold my singles up to that along with a sample I have made. I also let a fresh singles self ply and check that thickness.  This approach seems to work fairly well.   I have learned to spin a bit finer than what I want, because of the way wool blooms after washing.  If my goal is 16 wpi, then I aim for 18.
After washing and drying the final skein, I want to see if I met my goal before I start swatching.  I have used the dowel method and the ruler method but each has problems.  It’s hard to do with a skein and on a wound ball, you can really only sample the 2 ends.  My spinning isn’t quite that consistent.  The visual comparison method on a skein works okay and you can sample several strands from across it.  But today I hit on something you could do on a skein that samples more strands and gives a more representative value.
Take 6 to 8 strands (or whatever seems appropriate) from across the skein – something that looks like at least ½ inch.  Lay them over your index forefinger, pushing the strands together to they touch but aren’t crammed.  Try not to stretch the strands. Measure how wide they are with a ruler.  The number of strands divided by their width gives you the yarn thickness – wpi if you measure in inches, wpc if in centimeters.  The strands can come from across the skein and if you do this with several sets and average, I think you end up with a far better idea of how thick your yarn really is.
In the picture below, there are 8 strands that measure 1/2 inch –> 8/.5 = 16 wpi.  The angle in the picture is funny because I was trying to hold everything in place with one hand and take the picture with the other. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Spinning DIY: Bobbin Winder

After you spin your singles, they are usually plied into the final yarn.  Many advise putting about 10 feet between the kate your bobbins are sitting on and your spindle or wheel so that the twist in the singles can even out and create a more consistent yarn.  My studio isn’t arranged to be able to do that.  You can’t do that if you are ball plying.
However, I read several blogs that showed you could achieve the same thing if you transferred the singles from your bobbin to a spool and then plied from the spools.  That’s what I do.  I use the spools that weavers load into shuttle boats.   Especially on large projects, it's recommended that you spin all your singles and then mix up those singles so that the yarn is more consistent across the whole project. At 20$ per ten 6 inch spools, spools are much cheaper than using $35 bobbins!

My wheel is a Schacht Matchless, which can be rigged 3 ways, but I prefer Scotch tension.  I rigged my brake with a hook, so I merely unhook it and the bobbin spins freely.  I transfer the singles from bobbin to spool directly from the wheel.  It takes less than 5 minutes, then I rehook my brake and I am ready to go for the next singles.  I prefer to have each singles on its own spool and find for a two ply, 40 grams of fiber per spool will fill a bobbin after plying.  If I am doing a three ply, then I usually spin 25 to 30 grams per spool.  I find that if there are any issues with the singles, I can deal with them during spool winding and not during plying.  I think my yarns look and perform much better since I started transferring them to spools before plying.

When I looked for a bobbin winder, I was surprised how expensive they are – and they are manual to boot.  BUT with a variable speed drill and a dowel, you can make one for under 20$.  

What you need:
1) A variable speed, reversible drill with power cord.  There was consensus that a rechargeable doesn’t have the oomph and longevity to wind a whole spool.  I got mine at Harbor Freight for 18$. Since so many of my DIY projects require a drill, I can use this drill for those projects as well.  If you already own such a drill, then this project is going to cost you less than 5$! 
2) A 9 inch length of 3/8 inch dowel rod.  This is for a 6 inch spool, which fits in most kates.
3) A 2 inch length of metal tubing that fits over one end of the dowel rod.  An old ball point pen casing might work.  I used part of the screw on lid from a broken thermometer.  A hack saw will needed to cut this to length.
4) Epoxy.

How to make:
1) Sand one end of the dowel rod to a very slight taper so that your spool will slide on, but only until about ¼ to ½ inch of the dowel end sticks out.
2) Epoxy the tubing to the other end of the dowel.  Since dowel wood is soft, this protects it from the clamps in the drill.

Tapered dowel with epoxied metal end
How to use:
1) Make sure the bobbin can spin freely.  Depending on the kind of wheel you have or if you are using a spindle, you may need to mount it in a kate to do this.
2) Set the drill speed to the slowest setting.
3) Put the dowel into the drill and screw it in snugly.  Slide the bobbin over the dowel far enough to be snug.

4) Manually wrap about 1 foot of the singles onto the spindle.  Stand about 6 to 10 feet away and make sure that the singles runs perpendicularly off the bobbin and perpendicularly onto the spool.  Otherwise you will change the twist in your singles.
5) Hold the drill in one hand and start it slowly.  Use your other hand to guide the singles back and forth along the spool so that it is loading smoothly and evenly under slight tension.  Keep an eye on the bobbin to make sure it is spinning smoothly and to anticipate when it is empty.  

6)  When the spool ends look full, concentrate the singles around the middle so it looks football shaped.