Plying Ball

Here’s my bit of fluff, ready to ply.

I’ve wound off both ends from the Kuchulu onto a small ball before plying from it. As you can see, the ball is too big. I will have to find something smaller.

Just for scale, here is my plying ball sitting next to a regular sized tennis ball that I use in the dryer to fluff things up with. (Excuse the fuzz that is stuck to tennis ball.)

What is that thing? It’s a little catnip infused “tennis” ball I picked up at the pet store. I was desperate while traveling at one point and went into a grocery store and picked these up. They were so cheap that my catnip addicted cats weren’t even interested in them. It’s a good thing since I don’t want them to play with my fiber tools.

I think I will have to use some of the same fluff and make a small felted ball for this.

On Toes…

Kim was curious about my basic sock recipe, especially how I’m starting my toes these day.

I use 2 circular needles. The cable is flexible enough for the manipulation of the small number of stitches. I’ve tried it on 4 dpn, and drove my self nuts. I just wanted to break those needles from sheer frustration.

Step 1: Make a slip knot and slip it on one of the circular needles, and start wrapping the yarn around both of the needles.

Step 2: Slide the stitches on the bottom needle to the cable. Knit the stitches as they are presented on the top needle with the other end of the top circular needle.

Here’s a picture of the completed first side.

Step 3: Turn the work upside down, so that the newly completed row is on the bottom. Slip the completed row to the cable part of the circular needle. You can see which is the recently worked row because the working yarn is at the end of the row. Slide the cast on stitches on the second needle onto the needle part of the circular needle, with the needle point on the right side, and cable on the left. Start knitting as the stitches are presented.

That’s all there is to it! You start increasing 1 stitch in from the edge, every other round until the sock is of the desired width. What’s the desired width? I find that by the time the knitted toe is deep enough to completely covers my little toe, it’s wide enough. At this point, you can start your desired pattern, if any.

There are several tutorials on Turkish cast ons on the web. There’s even a YouTube video.

Okay. I’m off to drill holes in my boat. In the meantime, Ellie will continue to amuse herself with her sheep toy.

On Snow Fall and Heels

I can’t resist. After seeing Abby’s post today, I had to show my own version of a snow fall — I present you, the Petal Fall…

Petal Fall

I returned from Washington to spring, or so my sinuses tell me. The days are balmy 70+F with a light breeze. The breeze is just strong enough to shake the petals off of the trees in my backyard. This was the view greeted me this morning, as I walked outside. (Abby, don’t you miss Palo Alto?)

Sigh. I sure don’t miss my years in the snow country. (Although, I didn’t really have it that bad, since we chose to live as close to the ocean as possible to minimize the snow fall amounts.)

Now, back to my socks. In my last post, I said that I was going to continue to work the yarn over short row heels and see if practice makes perfect.

Heels - p2tog Heels - k2tog

On the left is the seam created by p2tog as I start to nibble back the short rows. See how pretty that line is? It makes me happy.

Now, on the rightthat does not make me happy. This is caused by the k2tog on the other side of the heel. I remounted the yarn over so that it is mounted correctly before executing the k2tog.The last 2 rows, I tried the ssk instead. That looks a bit better. It’s no longer sloppy looking, but I’m not too fond of how the yo stitch is wide open. I might skip the remounting and keep it twisted in the ssk.

I’ll play around with this on the second heel. Stay tuned.

Editor’s Note: I know some of you are wondering why I’m being so anal about these details, especially in light of this post. Well, it’s one thing to consciously let mistakes be as they are, mistakes. It’s completely another thing to have things happen and you have no idea why it is happening. That’s not a mistake. That’s an unknown. I’m not a passive sort of person. I need to know why. I think I must have been that annoying kid who asked “Why?” constantly as a child.

Socks Binge

If you haven’t noticed, I’ve been on a sock knitting binge lately, and it doesn’t appear that it will slow down anytime soon. (I’m averaging 2 pairs of finished socks a month!) I guess it makes up for my ennui towards socks in the past several months.

What’s the cause of the (current) binge? Several factors, but it all comes down to experimentation.

I can get a little obsessive (stop laughing) about things. When I first started knitting socks, I bought Nancy Bush’s Folk Socks: The History & Techniques of Handknitted Footwear. I read that book forwards and backwards several times over. Then I methodically went through and tried every variation of the plain socks using all the different heels and toes she described until I found the “perfect” fit for me.

I didn’t like heel flaps. This was back when I still had to wear dress shoes for work. The heel flaps felt bulky and awkward. So those went out very quickly. But if I had to choose one, it would be the dutch heel. I like the way it cupped my heel. The winning heel? The peasant heel, also known as the afterthought heel, minus the cutting of your work. You just use waste yarn.

Toes? I like my wedge toe #2, thank you very much. Plain wedge toe required me to remember where I was and whether I was decreasing every row or every other row. #1 required me to count to 3. #2 was easy to remember. It was either a decrease round or a plain round, and you can see that very easily in your knitting.

The heel and toe worked for me really well until I was sailing around the San Juan Islands one summer. I didn’t have any waste yarn with me. I ended up using the opposite end of the yarn ball for my waste yarn. Then, I had to put it down when I finished the toe. I couldn’t graft while under way. I didn’t want to lose my needle somewhere. I couldn’t really graft at night under oil lamp. I was tired. There was wine. There were deep philosophical discussions about world peace and education. And the lighting wasn’t all that great.

So, the search was on for a better solution. I started to experiment with short row heels. It’s similar to the peasant heel in that there is no heel flap. It’s even smoother in appearance than the peasant heel, because there isn’t that band of stitches between the decreases on either side. Although you don’t feel the band, it’s visually disruptive. And you know how I feel about visual harmony.

Heel - wrap and turnI read up on all the different short row techniques — wrap and turn; no wrap and turn. And if you wrap, do you pick up your wraps or don’t you? Which way do you wrap? My head was spinning. So I decided to make up my own wrap and turn technique, based on the research. I still don’t know if it is right or not, but it works for me. (click on image for larger picture)

For a while, I had these nice pretty “lines” going up one side of the heel but not the other. Someone from my guild in Seattle suggested that it was the way I was wrapping (front to back or back to front). If I were to do it the same way on both sides, they would match. But what’s front? The side facing you as you turn? Or the right side of the fabric as you are wearing it? As you can see, I also tend to over think things. I just focused on consistency.

No holes. Each side of the heel was the same as the other. No waste yarn. I’m a happy camper.

But sometime in January of this year, while I was experimenting with my tennis sock recipe, that I decided to shake things up again. While I was trying out different cuffs, I decided to play with my heels also. This was when I tried the heel over 60% of my stitches instead of my usual 50%. (I’m sticking with my 50%, by the way.)

heel - no wrap heel - yarnover

On the left is the the no wrap, just turn, method. I also slipped the first stitch after the turn purlwise. My thought was that this would minimize the step ladder effect of the increased height differential. I don’t know if this is true or not, but it’s my rational. I’m not sure how I feel about the peekaboo effect of the line of holes. I think it would work well into a lacy sock as an effect. I don’t think it’s something I want in my everyday socks.

On the right, is the yarn over short row method, where you work the yarn over with the next adjacent stitch when you pick up stitches again. As you can see, my wraps are still a little loosey goosey, but I think that will go away with practice. I think this holds promise and merits more practice to see if the loose stitches go away.

If you want more information about short rows, Nona has written several treatises on the subject, specifically, wrapped stitches, and yarn over short rows.

While I was shaking up my comfort zone with the socks, I decided to revisit how I start my toes as well.

I can’t remember when I started making toe up socks. I know it was part of making my socks completely knitting accessories free — just a set of needles and some yarn. No needles for grafting. No waste yarn and crochet hooks for provisional cast on (for the short row toe). Just you, sock yarn, and knitting needles. Kinda Zen, doncha know. It also comes with the freedom of just casting on when you find a new sock yarn that you can’t live without while you are out wandering around. No swatching necessary. Just increase until it fits.

Several years ago, at Madrona Fiber Arts Winter Retreat, I complained to Sarah Hauschka about how ugly and sloppy my toe starts were, and how clumsy it was to work on double points. She sat down with me and patiently taught me her magic loop technique for socks. While I had long abandoned the magic loop in favor on 2 circulars, I remembered how wonderfully easy the figure 8 cast on was on flexible circular needles. And I haven’t looked back since.


Figure 8 cast on is the sock on the right. You can see that the cast on creates a bit of a hash mark, as if a bird had made tracks across your toe. This has never bothered me before. I thought it added some interesting detail.

But last month, I started to ask myself why that had to be? Why can’t my toe up sock look like my top down socks with an invisible cast on, just like kitchener stitch is invisible?

So, I started to experiment. Luckily, my first variation, the turkish cast on, led me to the answer I wanted. The sock on the left was made with the turkish cast on. You really can’t see the cast on stitches!

Will my sock output slow down now that I’ve settled on improvements to my toe up sock recipe? No. You see, I bought this…

CSM - Legare 400

Yes, there will be a huge learning curve before I actually crank out (get it? crank? I crack myself up sometimes) a wearable pair of socks, but I may actually be able to work through that huge stash of sock yarn.

I leave you with a picture of my newest gadget — a sock drying carousel. I bought this for a couple of dollars at the hardware store. I like how it displays my handknit socks! There is enough to hang 4 pairs of socks.

Socks Caroursel

I placed each sock of the pair on opposite sides so that the weight is evenly distributed and the hanger won’t be lopsided. Did I mention that I can be a bit obsessive?

Spinning a 3-Ply Yarn

Or, “How Ann makes use of every last inch of her singles.”

Disclaimer: This is not intended to be a tutorial for how to create a 3-ply yarn. I am just showing you how I use up all the yarn on my bobbins. My plying technique is not new nor unique, but a compendium of things I have learned elsewhere. Nor is my technique a pure representation of any of my spinning instructors. I have taken what I was taught and tailored to what works for me. In fact, some of those very people that I quote here may cringe at what I am about to show you.

First of all, I am now a huge fan of 3 ply yarn. HUGE, I say. They are absolutely lovely to work with as sock and mitten yarn. I’m sorry that I ever scoffed at Judith MacKenzie-McCuin (heresy, I know), but 3-ply yarn seems to be a lot of work, and my 2-ply seems perfectly adequate, thank-you-very-much. But I am here to tell you that working with 3 ply yarn is simply lovely. So, Judith, I offer you my apologies for ever doubting you.

So, now that I’m spinning for 3 ply, I try to split my fiber “evenly” into 3 piles, one for each bobbin. Evenly, as anyone who has tried to split fiber evenly onto 2 bobbins, is a challenge. I have tried to weigh out my fiber into even balls. I have tried to measure lengthwise into even balls. You always have one bobbin with more yarn than the other, just because you can’t spin evenly. No matter how much experience you have, no matter how close attention you pay to your drafting, it happens. You always have one bobbin that empties out sooner that the other. (Aside: The closest I came to was about 6-12″ remaining on the 2nd bobbin of a 2-ply. I couldn’t stop my happy dance for quite a while on that one.)

With 3-ply, it’s even more challenging. So, the following is a pictorial on how I deal with the inevitable partial bobbins and make the most out of my singles. (Click on the pictures to see them in full size.)

3 bobbins across the roomFirst, place your lazy kate across the room. (Please ignore that furry, feathery thing in the lower right. Ellie has been bringing me all her toys during this photo shoot.)

Alden Amos recommends that you put it at least 6′ away. I put as much space as I have. Most of the time, I can only manage 3′ or so. The reason for this is to give as much distance from the point of plying to the point where it is coming off of the bobbin. This gives your singles a chance to even out the twist. (Remember your physics. The twist will go where there is the least resistance — where there is less twist.) This space allows the twist to move around a bit and even themselves out.

As you can see in the full sized photo, I have my lazy kate turned around. I’m not using the wire loop to feed the singles through. This is a Judith MacKenzie-McCuin thing. By not using the loop, it allows the singles to travel to you independently. If you use the loop, the singles will want to start wrapping around each other, and it can become a snarly mess.

tension the 3 singlesI’m also not using the tensioner on the lazy kate. Again, per Judith, if you keep your back hand steady/constant, there is no need for the tensioner since it is the movement of your back hand that creates the fast bobbin twirling and the over twirl. (This is a bit convoluted to explain, but if you’ve tried plying from untensioned bobbins and lots of movement, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Again, it’s physics. The bobbin will keep twirling, even after you’ve stopped pulling, from the momentum.)

So, if you keep the tension in your back hand (left, in my case), and draw forward with your forward hand, you won’t have that wild bobbin action going on (or not as much).

Even tension is created by putting the fingers from your back hand down through the singles, as if you are combing it it, and turning your hands 90 degrees. Allowing your fingers to keep the singles separate.

one empty bobbinAs you can see here, no matter how well I weighed my fiber before hand, I still came up with one bobbin that emptied out before the others. Another one that is a few feet shy of empty, and one with much more singles in it.

Break off the single from the leader on the empty bobbin, and ply up to within 4″ from the end of the single.

Andean PlyNow, break off the single from leader of the bobbin that is almost empty. Take that single and wrap it around your hand for Andean Plying.

The result is that two of your plies will come from the single in wrapped in your hand (Andean Plying), and the third single will come off of the last remaining bobbin.

Chain PlyContinue until you come to the end of the single in your Andean Ply (blue circle: the loop of yarn around my ring finger is the last of the singles, since both ends have been plied into the 3-ply).

The red rectangle shows the remaining single that is still attached to the bobbin.

Pull the single through the loop and chain ply the remainder of the last bobbin.

Voila! You’ve used up every last inch of the singles that you’ve spun for your 3-ply yarn.

As I’ve said, there are probably many ways of doing this, but this is how I am maximizing my handspun singles.