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Once upon a time, I tried to spin a yarn to represent the dashing and improbably perfect Captain Carrot Ironfoundersson. Remember what happened? I decided it wasn’t up to snuff, and ended up relegating it out of the Project and into general stash circulation (go over here if you want to find out its eventual fate, if you haven’t seen it already). It’s funny how plans sometimes just don’t quite go according to … er, plan. (Wow, English fail there, Kat. Well done.)

Happily, though, I evened up the score a couple of weeks back. It was a stunning winter’s day, and my girlfriend and I took our spinning wheels into the backyard to spin in the sunshine and soak up the rays. I planned to spin something quick, wild, funky. I was in the throes of multiple long, fine, endless spinning projects that were sapping both my energy and my enthusiasm, and I was over it. Also, our adorable teapot needs a teacosy, so I resolved in an uncharateristically spur-of-the-moment decision to spin a yarn for a teacosy. (Teacosies, in my opinion, should be extravagant, gauche, and shameless. Thus you can picture the sort of yarn for which I was aiming, right?)

I selected a set of batts I got from AtomicBlue while I was getting her club shipments a while back (brilliant club – get thee hence!!! I mean it!), as well as a “sample” that came with another Etsy order, from Leanan. I say “sample” because this thing was huge! Pink, purple, blue, with tons of sparkle indiscriminately heaped in, it was the perfect sugary foil against the organic texture of Sara’s club batt. This baby was a revelation of fibre. Nary a sparkle came into it, but lots of snips of rainbow-coloured sock and novelty yarns, neps and scraps and drips of various and sundry fibres, ribbon and all sorts of other deliciousness. The batt actually didn’t seem to look like much before I opened it, but then…oh, the goodness. The dazzlement. I tried to get pics, but the brightness of the day and the fractious breeze conspired against me and they are horrid…nonetheless, I want to share. Here you go…

The whole spin took under two hours, I’d say, and for some reason as I was pondering its future name, my thoughts turned to the Unseen University’s compost heaps in Reaper Man, which come to life due to a combination of an overabundance of life hanging around (after the sacking of Death) and their inherent liveliness. The “upcycling” of materials into these wonderful batts made me think of making the most out of something, of life created where there was only waste, of unexpected directions. And so, it seemed inevitable that this become the next Pratchett Project yarn. I haven’t measured yardage yet, and this is still destined to become a teacosy…but not for our teapot.

Mischievous Old Lady

Why, hello there! It’s so lovely to be back. And look, I have a finished yarn to show you! Here is the first skein of Topsy-Turvy, as dyed by KnittyandColor, and double-chain-plied by me. I don’t mind telling you, I’m very excited to see how this knits. I think the fabric will be very exciting, and I’m toying with different ideas to really show off the spun-in stripes.


The technique went well, on the whole, except that I had difficulty spinning the black Ashland Bay merino with a worsted draw, so ended up doing a mix of semi-worsted and supported long draw throughout, which led inevitably to a considerably finer single than the coloured blue-faced leicester single. This caused me some problems during plying, but leaving aside the dozen or so breaks in the black single that I had to repair at some cost to my spinning serenity, I’m pretty pleased with how it worked out. And how fun is this yarn? It’s quite fine – about an 8-ply weight, I estimate – and ever so bouncy-squooshy.


And yes, that is a technical term.


Spinning for Stripes

So you remember last time we spoke I was about to launch into an adventure in plying? Well, I’ve finished my practise run today, and I’m over the moon with the result! I don’t know that you’ll be able to see the effect as it’s very subtle in the yarn and the swatch, but it does prove the concept (and more importantly, proves that I’m capable of doing a double chain-ply!).


I chose two samples of Ashland Bay for my practise run; one in a charmingly background shade of bleige, and the other in, I believe, the “Daffodil” colourway. I’m not generally a fan of AB top, because I find it to have a “dead” feeling in my hand and it clumps together strongly during spinning and gives the kind of dense yarn that I generally try to avoid. But the AB line fills what I think is an important niche, catering for the batt-making artistes whose work I enjoy so much, and anyway, for the purpose of this exercise it was adequate.

I won’t go into detail on the process – chain-plying (also and erroneously known as Navajo plying) is well-documented on YouTube and the only point of difference here was that I was pulling alternating singles through the loop as I plied, carrying the unlooped single along with the loops. Boring, no? No big pitfalls – have a tensioned Kate, set yourself and your wheel up before you start, and try to keep your loops the same length.

Now to the interesting part – the pictures!! Singles, plied yarn on the bobbin, washed skein and blocked swatch. It’s probably hard for you to see the striping but it is most definitely there, albeit both shorter and more subtle than I intended. The four-ply yarn came out to an 8-10 ply sort of weight, or DK to worsted.






Topsy Turvy

I’ve reached the end of the Discworld books.

I know. It’s tragic and sad and now that I’m forcing myself to read things other than Pratchett, I’m hating reading again. But never mind, all will be well.

In one often more recent books, we meet a colourful, winsome character dubbed Topsy Turvy. She’s an older dame, the widow of the manager of the Ankh-Morpork bank, and we intersect her life right after his death. She’s wildly eccentric and yet sharp as a rapier, and she sees through our favourite shyster, Moist von Lipwig, right away.

She cracks me up, because she swings violently between unutterably strange and terrifyingly perspicacious. One minute she’s playing up the soft old lady image, doting on her spoilt lap dog (who has, through the cruel whimsy of the newly late Bank manager, become the present Bank manager), and the next she’s cutting intellectual and ethical swathes through the serried ranks of lawyers and bankers breathily gagging for their mouthful of the corpse that is the Bank.

When a friend of mine gave me the above braid (from Knitty and Color, fantastic shoppe) of my favourite fibre, blue-faced Leicester, for my birthday last year and I saw the name of the colourway, I knew this had to become a Pratchett Project yarn, and I knew I had to pay homage to this lady who had such a keen grasp on the finer points of Life, the Universe, and Everything (if I may cross-contaminate my British literary giants, thank you very much).

Now, clearly, anything but a chain-ply or a single would likely end up with the yellow and the purple lining up with each other at some point or another, and we simply cannot have that; Topsy was eccentric, certainly, but far from chaotic. So I want to ply it against some black merino, and just for the sheer fun of it, I’m going to add a giant challenge in, which will also be a nod to Molly’s favourite technique of plying.

I’m going to chain ply the two singles alternately. By that, I mean I’m going to do a chain of the biffle, holding the merino alongside, and then pull a chain of the merino through, and then go back to the biffle, and so on. That should give me a yarn where I move slowly through the colours and they don’t mix, and where I get stretches of intense saturated purple or yellow alternating with stretches of milder colour toned down by the black, and now and then an almost entirely black section. The striping will be incredible.

I’m going to do a test sample, though. I don’t want to spin the whole lot up only to find that I can’t manage this funky technique, and be forced to settle for a 2-ply yarn ( I don’t like 2-ply yarns for knitting – of you’re curious about why, see my post today on my other blog).

Not Forgotten

It’s been a while (I know, but I do honestly have a whole series of excuses that do truly add up to a reason, I promise) but apparently we’re not being forgotten!


Through the magic that is NaNoWriMo, I found a new friend – Tracy of Snagglewordz, who just today included this humble blog on her list for the Versatile Blogger Award. Now, my Google-fu is non-existent so I can’t find the actual genesis of this whole thing, but in a nutshell it’s a peer-based way of spreading the love and recognition of the work it takes to blog about something.

So, there are some rules, apparently. I’m shamelessly glomming these from Tracy’s blog, so thanks luv…

!! Thank the blogger who nominated you. THANK YOU TRACY!!!
!! Add the Versatile Blogger Award pic on your blog post
!! Share 7 random things about yourself
!! Award 15 recently discovered blogs you enjoy reading
!! Inform the bloggers of their award

Seven Random Things About Me

1. I’m allergic to mangoes, and that makes me sad.
2. I collect hobbies.
3. Once, when I was at boarding school, I snorted WizzFizz on a dare – that totally cured me of any desire 4. I might have had to snort drugs.
5. I love post-apocalyptic movies but I hate movies with cannibalism in them.
6. I have a really big gap between my two top front teeth
7. I have a phobia of water, particularly swimming in the ocean.

Blogs I’m Awarding

Disclaimer: I don’t keep up well with blogs, and I don’t read a great many. So my list is a bit shy of fifteen, and for that I do apologise. Think of it like this – all the aweomeness of the empty spaces on the list is still contained in the spaces I did fill! So, in no particular order:

1. Kilcowera Station – This is my mother’s blog, where she talks about not only current events in life on the station where I grew up, but where she also crusades to educate the masses about life in the middle of nowhere.

2. Little Farm In The City – I was close friends at high school with Emily, the charming author of this wide-eyed experience of a blog about the road to sustainable living in a city environment. (Her adventures make me feel more than a little inadequate about my own abortive efforts at DIY stuff…)

3. Eine Saite – Another Tracy, this one is a fibre artist like me but a much more talented and accomplished one. I am in awe of her abilities with a spindle.

4. Backstrap Weaving – The author of Award-winner #3 put me onto this blog, and while I don’t understand about 90% of what I read there, I love reading about the deep and rich history and geography of this tiny corner of the fibre-craft world.

5. StoneLeafMoon – Linda is another online friend from the Ravelry ranks, and another of my spindle-craft heroes. The blog’s worth the read for her forthright opinions on the subject of “art” yarn alone.

6. Neil Kramer – Neil is a philospher with an occult-ish bent, but even if you’re not interested in that particular facet, his writing is charming and inspiring and worth reading purely for its own sake.

7. Occult of Personality – Greg does a podcast during which he interviews respected, infamous, controversial and legendary names in the occult community. I admire his dedication to being even-handed and open-minded, and his interviews are always entertaining and by far the most informative podcasts I’ve ever listened to.

8. Marieke Hardy – I’m inking this not because I think Ms Hardy needs more followers, but because she is an amazing writer, an entertaining face and voice in modern culture, and because quite frankly I have a pretty hardcore girl-crush on her.

9. The Yarn Harlot – Again, I don’t think Steph Pearl-McPhee lacks followers! But her sense of humour and mild self-depracation make this blog truly endearing to read. She’s also very prolific, which I admire more than I can possibly tell you!

Finally! I got my Octarine yarn plied up, and now it’s washed and dried and ready to show you!

While we’re at it, though (and in case you’re at all interested), here’s a little about my process. Bouclé is a 3-ply yarn, sort of. It’s got three strands, but one of those doesn’t get along with the other two, which makes it loopy. I call them, for the sake of having a point of reference, the loop strand, the core ply and the locking ply.

For the loopy strand, I spun a Z-twist single of Wensleydale with slightly more twist than I would for a singles yarn. The core ply was next – I did an S-twist single in the silk/merino/firestar batt with as little twist as I could manage, slightly finer than the Wensleydale single.

The next bit is the bit that takes practice. You have to get the two strands to ply against one another, and get the loopy strand to … well, loop. So you tie the two strands to your leader yarn, and then slowly begin to ply in the same direction as your core ply was spun. While you’re doing it, you push the loopy strand up, towards the orifice, along the core ply, to get those lovely curls and loops. The difficult part is getting your timing right, and getting a rhythm happening.

Your wheel setup will need tinkering with, you’ll have to get your treadling to the sweet spot, and you have to work close to the orifice so that you don’t crank too much twist into the core ply, so your yarn has to go onto the wheel pretty fast. But it’s important to keep your takeup light, because otherwise the flyer assembly will tug all your loops to one place and ruin your lovely wriggly yarn. I’m so lucky to have my beautiful Majacraft Aura, because being able to balance the speed of the takeup against the strength of the takeup is the only way I could have made this yarn happen. While you’re plying this time, you’ll see the loopy ply untwist and become much softer. This is why it’s important to use a fairly strong, long fibre, such as silk, mohair or a longwool like Wensleydale.

The locking ply is pretty easy. You spin another S-twist single, with approximately as much twist as there is in your core ply after plying with the loopy strand. Then you simply ply the locking ply (in the Z direction) against the core ply plus loop strand, working at getting a nice balance between the core and locking plies. The structure of the yarn is in these two plies, so try not to get hung up on what the loopy strand is doing. It’s really just there for decoration. You might have to wrangle it a bit during this second plying pass to make sure the loops are fairly evenly distributed along the yarn, but that’s it.

I finished my yarn the usual way – a hot bath with a little lavender-scented shampoo, then squeezed in a towel and thwacked on the back patio. It didn’t get too hairy, which is good, but it did fluff up and it’s now really light, airy and springy. While it’s not exactly what I envisioned (I was going for something more delicate, not a super-bulky yarn), it illustrates perfectly what I was trying to do. I could have driven myself mad getting it much smaller, but in the end I’m glad I didn’t. I’m glad it’s as fat and delicious as it is. And that’s yet another yarn chalked up!

Shall We Try This Again?

As of my last post here, I was struggling with the Octarine yarn, remember? Well, I found the perfect braid of Wensleydale on Etsy, dyed by the charming Marilla of Moonlight And Laughter.

Wensleydale top from Moonlight And Laughter

It arrived last Wednesday, and I spun it into a single on Thursday. I’d forgotten how fun and easy Wensleydale is to spin – it was such an enjoyable and fast experience.

Then yesterday afternoon I sat down to figure out the other plies of my bouclé yarn. The directions I’m following say to spin your core ply quite loosely, because you’ll tighten the spin when you ply the loops against it. But the batts I’m using, while stunning, aren’t making it easy to spin loosely, so I’m just spinning it and will likely wind it off the bobbin onto a spindle, taking some of the twist out while I’m about it.

I’m spinning extra angelina into the core ply as I go along, and I’m loving the yarn I’m getting (even if its terrifying resemblance to fairy floss is making my teeth hurt) – it reminds me of My Little Ponies and Barbie dolls and all that jazz. The result is going to be a truly unsubtle evocation of the idea of the Colour of Magic, that’s for sure.

Corgi Hill Farm "Aurora" batts with extra angelina

Hopefully this works out. I’m a bit nervous of it, to be honest, but we’ll see. If it does, when I show you all the finished product I shall explain the method of making bouclé that I’m using, but until I get it to work there’s not much point!

Nope, just…nope.

I finally sat down at the wheel to try and spin a nice boucle ply from those pretty Teeswater locks today. And nope. They’re just too tangled, too matted, and it’s just too, too hard. Now I’m shopping for an alternative for my boucle ply. Wish me luck.

I’m torn between feeling really annoyed at myself for failing at the challenge of spinning from those locks, and liberated for having made the decision to move forward with it, even if that means a change of plan. It’s difficult for me to admit defeat like this, but I knew going into this whole farce I mean, lofty and noble project, that there’d be times that things wouldn’t go quite according to plan. I guess I’ve been pretty lucky so far, so I’m taking this in good grace 🙂

Off to shop!

It’s just so much larger than life. It’s pretty, it’s ugly, it’s daring and bold and utterly uncaring about what you think. It was such fun to spin something quick and fun and huge! The instant (or almost, anyway) gratification really boosted my optimism after getting a bit bogged down in the other two that are ongoing.

The two batts seemed to dance with one another in a really special drama – the foppish Frog Prince evoking overdressed, bewigged, powdered, gold-braided lords and the ladylike, coquettish Peeps batt, with slashed sleeves revealing hot pink, royal purple and teal underskirts and lots, and lots of cleavage. I spun them with a sexy, stately, decadent waltz in mind, the rhythm of the dance creating thick and thin spots in the yarn that twined around one another, each one showcasing the other at the turns of the dance.

I ended up with just over 50m of 2-5wpi, super super bulky yarn, 250-ish grams in total. And I just love it so much, in case you couldn’t tell. One of these days I’ll figure out how to put in a photo album, rather than subject you to all these shots in the post. But what the hell – the photos are what it’s all about, huh?

When I began reading Witches Abroad, I was delighted to find that the city-nation of Genua is based loosely on the Southern US city of New Orleans. About eighteen months ago, I was lucky enough to travel for two weeks in the US, spending half that time falling unreasonably and irredeemably in love with Louisiana and New Orleans and its people, culture, food, scenery…the list goes on. The atmosphere and aesthetic of the mildly, gracefully decaying dame that is The Big Easy inspired every sense, and continues to do so.

Being able to spin a yarn that evoked that, within the framework of this story that I love so much, was an opportunity too good to pass up. And the conspiracy of circumstances once again assured me of my purpose. Two of the batts that Esther Jazzturtle sent me in the time I subscribed to her batt club, named “Frog Prince” and “Peeps”, seemed to play off against one another perfectly. They were full of sparklies, and based on a purple, gold and green palette that nods to the colours of the New Orleans party scene but tones the glaring crassness down to make it more…fantastical. Otherworldly. Discworldly, not to put too fine a point on it.

The finishing touch was a packet of these strange streamer things I found in an op-shop about a year ago. I saw them and instantly saw art-yarn fodder, but it’s taken me till now to figure out how to use them. They’re plastic, purple, and intended for Easter decoration, or some other such nonsense.

Peeps batt from Jazzturtle

Frog Prince batt from Jazzturtle, with Easter streamers

The yarn is plied, washed in super hot water and is hanging to dry. Call this a cliffhanger – I’ll get you photos when I can get home at a decent time of day. Promise. In the meantime – here’s the teaser:

Ladies on the left, lords on the right. Bow, and... dance...

The Octarine yarn is languishing. This is due to two things – I’m really quite sort of beguiled right now by the idea of something approaching knitting/spinning monogamy. I seem to be getting great results when I focus most of my knitting or spinning time on just the one WIP – and what’s most surprising is that I’m enjoying this approach.

That means, though, that I’m well and truly stuck on the yarn that was meant to be the Captain Carrot interpretation. I finished one skein of it back in mid August, and it’s such a wonderfully delicious yarn that I just want to get the rest spun. I’m doing well, but it’s very fine and there is rather a lot of it. But it does mean that I haven’t made it to the Octarine yarn yet, unfortunately.

The other reason is that I’m mumble mumble kind of scared of this yarn. Yep. I said it – I’m scared of it. I had a tinker with combing those locks I dyed, and the waste I ended up with was truly heinous. The herpes I mean, firestar turned up in the mail and I promptly put it away in the Pratchett Project box (which is huge, might I add) and haven’t touched the yarn since. I’m scared of it. I don’t know how I’m going to manage to get those locks into a spinnable state.

I sort of wanted a really fine, feather-light, delicate boucle. But having pondered the technicalities of the boucle beast, I know now that that would be nigh impossible to do by hand – certainly for me, anyway. This is because of the amount of twist that I’d need to put in my first core ply – the finer the yarn, of course, the more twist that is needed to make it hang together. But also, the more twist that is needed to ply it, and when you’re talking about plying it against a fine boucle ply … well, I just think it won’t end up being viable. So I know I need to go for a larger yarn that I originally thought.

Unless I go for a 2-ply as the core, and a 2-ply as the locking ply? (I’m thinking out loud here, people, you’re along for the right with me!) But that’s madness. I’m so sick of spinning ultra-fine yarns that going for a thicker one would be a welcome change. So let’s aim for the thicker, loftier boucle.

But I’m still stuck on how I’m going to prep those locks…I might end up cutting them in half. ‘Twould be a travesty, such stunningly long staples, but the length is making them nigh unusable for me.

Following my last post here, I put the call out to lots of my friends to donate their “thcrapth” for my Igor yarn. True to form, they fully stepped up to the plate and this yarn is thusly dedicated to them. In no particular order, (and no doubt forgetting someone) Ruth, Michelle, Mandy, Sarah and Nicole all chipped in to some greater or lesser extent, and I now have a veritable treasure trove of goodies with which to create this yarn. (I’ve gone a bit photo crazy coz this bundle is just so freekin’ photogenic. Click on the pics to get the full width – bits are hiding in there!)

Ribbons, yarn scraps, necklaces, wire...

...samples, buttons, leather thonging...

...string, raffia, broken chains...

...linen, cotton, wool, hemp...

...jute, silk, angora, cashmere...

I started it as soon as I had a good variety of thcrapth, and straight away a few things were apparent to me.

1. Chains do not spin well.

2. Things are not always as easy as someone else makes them look.

3. This will take a long time.

But here we go – what I’ve got so far! I do love it, truly, and I’m really looking forward to making something with it. I think I’ve decided on a tote bag of some kind. I think that would suit the Igor theme really well, don’t you?

Have you met Igor? He’s a character that plays an important part in a couple of the Discworld books, notably Carpe Jugulum and Thief of Time. I say “he”, but really I should say “they”, because they are a sort of tribe or underclass of servant-industrialists who aid mad scientists, inventors and the undead in their endeavours. They’re based largely on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein creature, and are characterised by their motley physical appearance, their skill as surgeons and laboratory technicians, and often a strong sense of tradition and inheritance. They have a horror of letting perfectly good body parts go to waste. Oh – and they lisp. One of my favourite Igors had a dog he’d sewn together from bits of many dogs … and this uber-dog was, of course, called “Thcrapth”. Reading the Igors’ soliloquies always has me in stitches…

No, seriously. I didn’t mean that. I am stalked by inadvertent puns, I swear.


Igor seemed like a fantastic theme around which to base a yarn. I attended a fantastic workshop this weekend just gone with a lovely dyer and fibre artist called Trudi Pollard, who taught me a new technique of finger spinning/plying. Well, it was new to me. It’s old as the hills, even the Australian ones.

So I got very excited about the idea of making a yarn entirely from (oh god) thcrapth of bits and pieces. I want it to be really rough, really strong and functional and serviceable but ultimately, visually ugly. In my mind it doesn’t consist of spinning fibre, but rather already woven/spun pieces of fibrecraft, featuring broken zippers, maybe some handstitching or buttons or broken jewellery chains…I want this yarn to be the steampunk offcuts and outcasts!

But the most important aspects are going to be fibre content and colour. The fibres must be, primarily, natural. Hemp, ramie, silk, cotton, linen, wool, even hair. For my treatment of the colour issue, I thought I’d attempt something I’ve never done before and do a colour study. I pulled out my Derwent watercolour pencils and scribbled a few of them on a bit of paper. I’ve done a bit of very limited photomanipulation to get the more muted tones I want, but here it is:

Igor yarn colour study

I still have to decide on a perfect name for this yarn. I just loved the Igors’ lines so much that I want to paraphrase one or take a tiny excerpt, so I have to revisit a couple of the books. But right now I have to run to knitting, so I shall talk to you soon!

This is a quick one. I pulled this together today, after having the batt for a while. I wanted to thread-ply this sucker but didn’t have the right sort of plying yarn, so when I went to the Guild meeting on Saturday I kept a lookout, and sure enough, I found the perfect cone of tencel laceweight in a beautiful peachy-pink colour. So today, having got somewhat sick of spinning brown laceweight (ugh, it’s beautiful but there’s so much of it!) I thought I’d have a break and whip this sucker up.

The Discworld pantheon has some really interesting divine figures, such as Blind Io, who is the boss-man; Bilious, the Oh God of Hangovers; and Petulia, the Goddess of Negotiable Affection. Of course, she is the patron goddess of prostitutes, and while she’s not described in any detail, I’ve always got a distinct impression of the sort of blonde bimbo goddess played by Alexandra Tydings in the tv series Hercules, in her role as Aphrodite.

The yarn had to be pink. It had to be curly, and frivolous, skittish, silly and nigh on bloody useless. So when I saw this fantastic batt (called “Rosebud”, in, once again, Bohoknitterchic’s shop) I knew it was absolutely perfect for this yarn. And of course it had to be thread-plied, to emphasise the curls.

Bohoknitterchic batt with tencel laceweight

I spun the single roughly, with some effort to preserve those incredible locks so they’d come out and simulate the ridiculous hairstyle I was seeing in my mind’s eye. Then I plied with the tencel, keeping quite a lot of tension on the tencel ply and letting the single wrap around it generously (really, do I need to explain why?). I spun and plied on my Aura, which just takes almost anything I throw at it … I love this wheel. The result – a bulky weight yarn, 4-5wpi, and around 40m. See? Nigh on useless. But I adore it, and it’s making me grin every time I look at it. Success story.

Sucker For Punishment

As if this whole project wasn’t enough of a hare-brained scheme, I’ve had an idea that will make one of the next yarns a bloody ridiculous task.

Bouclé. Real, true, push bouclé, not faux-clé like you get when you thread-ply something (I’m going to thread-ply the next yarn, but that’s another story, for another post).

One of the yarns I’ve been really keen to do for ages now has been one based on the eighth colour of the rainbow in the Discworld, the colour of magic – octarine. The whole mythos surrounding the magical element in the books really appeals to the occult scientist in me, because there’s something approaching intellectual rigour in Sir Terry’s treatment of it, and the idea that magic has a colour, a colour that is beyond the reach of the normal human eye, really got my mind and imagination working.

Shortly after I started this project, I snagged a set of batts from Corgi Hill Farm, the colour of which seemed to totally encompass my mind’s-eye image of octarine.

CorgiHillFarm "Aurora" batts

AnnaMarie’s batts are stunning – smooth, generous and intricately layered, and her colour sense is impeccable. But I wanted my vision of octarine, of magical energy, to have a bit more texture than the ultra-smooth CHF batts allow. I wanted bubbles, I wanted haziness, I wanted complicated.

So…bouclé? What makes a good bouclé coil ply? A strong, inflexible, shiny fibre like mohair or Wensleydale does it really well, and it really has to be in top form rather than a carded prep (at least for a less experienced spinner like me). But I’m allergic to mohair, and I didn’t want to go with Wensleydale this time, as I work with it so much and I’m a little over it. Lately I’ve been trolling the usual suspects for a suitable substitute – I wanted a longwool in a multihued mix of purples, blues and aquas, with a touch of pink … and wouldn’t it be just ideal if I could have some sparklies in there too?? But nothing was just the right thing.

So, to cut this TL;DR* post shorter, I have decided to make my own combed top. I have combs. I have Teeswater locks, and I’ve already dyed them myself with food colouring (what an experience! Talk about magic!).

14-inch locks! Shiny and gorgeous!

Dyed with food colouring - can't believe I got *exactly* the colours I was going for!

I have ordered sparklies (at a prohibitive shipping cost, from a clearly misinformed seller).

I thought to reveal this grand scheme only when my attempt at making top had succeeded, but that’s not what this project is about. I want to share the journey with you all. So I’ll get on making it when I get the sparklies in the mail, but I wanted to bare my soul on this count. Wish me luck!

*Too long; didn’t read

It’s done! That has to be a record, no? Okay, not quite, as the Discworld yarn was a quick spin, but this is really great, to be done already with this lovely yarn! I’ve got 150m or so of 8-12 ply-ish (worsted-bulky) weight yarn, from a 3.25oz batt. I’m pleased with how squishy and lofty it is, in comparison to so many of my yarns which are (if one’s being generous) quite solid. I just love the long bits where the whole yarn is GLITTER!!!! Ahem.

I wet-finished it, and some patches of the yarn have gone a bit funny where the wool in the batt shrunk and the alpaca core yarn didn’t – also, it’s still a bit overplied, but all in all a really fun yarn. I guess I’ve just got to keep practising corespinning before I get really really good at it.

So, without further ado… here is A Wizard’s Staff Has A Knob On The End!

A Wizard's Staff Has A Knob On The End

See the funny bits?

And for a bit of bonus photospam… click here for a panoramic shot of a whole skein!

Okay, so no one wanted to guess, so I’ll tell ya! The batt in the previous post was a special request, and I wanted it to represent the wizards in the Discworld books.

These guys love their comfort. Lots of meals, lots of sleeping and wine and beer and general slothiness. And they have an inexplicable love for what we would term “bling”. But they’re not without their strengths, too – the kind of single-minded butt-headedness and brazen idiocy that seems to miraculously get them through sticky situations. And let’s face it – they can toss spells around like hand-grenades.

(So, there was meant to be a picture here, but it didn’t come up. This link might work. If not, I give up.)

Thinking of all that, I decided that a corespun yarn would not only show the batt off to its fullest, but it would symbolically represent the wizardly person – soft frou-frou fluffiness and garish shiny (not to say a complete lack of taste) on the outside, but with a strong core hidden beneath all that frippery.

So I started it yesterday. And the rhythm of the corespinning is well and truly entrenched now, and I’m about a quarter of the way through the batt and halfway through a giant bobbin. There will be A LOT of this yarn – which is a great thing, no? I’m using Jacey Boggs’ “The Awesome” corespinning innovation, and even though she said it’d be ok for me to talk about it here, I still don’t feel right so you’ll just have to buy her book when it comes out (don’t ask me, I didn’t even know she was doing one till ten days ago) and find out there. Suffice to say, it’s exciting. You’ll love it.

And I’ll post pics of the yarn when I get it done – which should be soon coz I’ve got three more days of work then NINE DAYS OF BLISS before I have to go back.

So, I know. I’ve been gone a long time, huh? At the risk of sounding like I’m making excuses – there have been a series of damn good reasons! First there was Tour de Fleece, at which I sucked MIGHTILY. But I didn’t want to try and rush the Pratchett yarns so I kept clear of them while I was spinning madly. Then I went to Adelaide on a business trip (and never again will I make fun of people when they’re sent on a “junket” for work – that was hard, hard going, I tellz ya), which I enjoyed a great deal but left little time for spinning. After I got back, there were the fires to be put out at work, as always, and then I got myself in a frightful excitement about Jacey Boggs of Insubordiknit fame) coming to Perth to do a workshop. That was last weekend, and right now I’m embroiled in spinning for my entries into the Perth Royal Show. I’ll show them off before I send them in, over on the Hammer & Tongs blog. And after the show, there will be NaNoWriMo! I hope to keep the spinning up while I’m doing that, but it does demand a great deal of time – I know that from experience.

But to keep you all interested (or maybe I have to interest you all again!) I wanted to post a pic of the incredible batt that Brittany of Bohoknitterchic made for me, at my special request for a particular Pratchett Project yarn. My instructions to her were centred mainly on the colour scheme I wanted – maroon, gold, purple, mahogany – and admonishments to avoid my fibre dislikes. But I had to add one particular instruction for this batt – “LUDICROUS amounts of firestar”.

Custom batt from Bohoknitterchic

Why am I telling you this? Because I want you to guess the “theme” of this yarn! Chime in, if you can be bovvered, and tell me what this batt reminds you of from the rich tapestry of life in Sir Pratchett’s Discworld? I love the batt – it’s simply incredible, and I can’t wait to get moving on spinning it. I think corespun, to show off the colours (and SHINY) but I haven’t got much further on my plans than that.

What do you think? Don’t you love it?

See the firestar?? It's blinding!

Something tells me this should have been either the first or the last yarn I did – but never mind. I’m pleased with it, so I want to show you guys now! I dizzed the batts (what? me, in a fibre prep rut? never!) and stripped some undyed top into narrow pieces about 30cm long – shown with my hand for marginally helpful scale.

Dizzed rovings

Undyed wool top strip for puffs/clouds/coils/whatever the correct term is

As I was spinning the single, I would periodically stop and trap the twist “upstream” of my fingers while I split the fibre supply “downstream”, then insert the undyed strip and let the twist trap it in the single for a little bit, then twist the strip manually and little by little, treadle it onto the single. Then I’d twist it lots more and split the fibre supply again, and insert the end back in. I used about half of each strip for each cloud. Some worked well, some not so well – hey, it was my first go at this technique!

Beware – photo spam.

On the bobbin

I just love the variety and depth of colours in this yarn

There’s just over 100g and 56m in this lovely skein. I think it will knit into a remarkable piece – and it’s soft enough to be a really lovely cowl or slouchy hat. But that’s down the track – for now, it’s an art piece in and of itself and I love it!

It’s Tour de Fleece time at the moment, and I wasn’t wise and made some rookie errors in my planning for the great event. I planned to “get out of the way” a whole heap of “boring” spins, including interminable 3-plies and pounds and pounds of Wensleydale for a rug I’m going to weave. I’ve managed to get myself pretty down in the mouth about it, as things weren’t going according to plan; plus, I really felt the lack of thinking about, keeping up with, and generally plotting for this Project.

So I got home tonight and stood in front of the stash cupboard the way men stand in front of the fridge. You know, when they yell out to you, “Honey, what is there to eat?” while staring at the makings of any number of delicious things. Yep, that was me. All that gorgeous fibre (and I do have a lot, and it is beautiful), and not a yarn to spin.

Until, that was, my eye lit upon the batts I carded a while back, that I posted about on my other blog. They look, to me, like nothing so much as an impressionist landscape; all that blue and brown and green with the floofy white angora highlights.

I simply had to use them to illustrate the Discworld, even though I love the batts and want to keep them for myself (and the PP yarns are destined to be knit into FOs that I ultimately want to sell). Sir Terry’s intros into so many of the books start with “This is the Discworld…” and there is that vivid sense of scale, vastness, scope and perspective, of zooming in and seeing the wondrous sight of a flat world perched on four elephants that stand on a giant space turtle (yes, it will get its turn on the wheel ;)). I really wanted to spin it, and try to do it justice. I hope this has done that.

And just for an extra challenge, I wanted to insert “clouds” by making little twists of undyed top and coiling them around the single. I’m not sure if these are technically called “coils” or what – Jacey Boggs teaches them in her DVD, Sit & Spin, but I just lent that to a friend so I had to try and guess at the technique! I was really inspired by Carrie craftypuppylover‘s “Unicorn Farts” (rainbow yarn with white coils).

Soooo, anyway, after all that – no pics. Srsly, it’s nearly 11pm here and not only am I just Not Equipped Emotionally for camera -> puter -> internet -> blog, I just can’t get a good shot anyway. I’ve got the yarn draped on the heater to try and dry (freezing temps overnight here last night, and I reckon the same will happen tonight, so drying takes a bit of effort) and I’ll try for a good one sometime tomorrow, even if I have to take the yarn to the nice park down the road from my office at lunchtime. Promise. Well, I promise to try.

I just dunno…

So, I thought to sample the yarn as I wasn’t sure the three batts were going to coordinate as well as I first thought they would. I’d spun half a bobbin of each of the Eliade roving and the Enchanted Knoll batts, so I dizzed the Oldsheep batt with some natural brown alpaca (to give it some extra softness and also make it go a little further – this batt was smaller) and spun a quick sample on a Bristlecone spindle, then plied on a Tilt-a-Whorl spindle.

Left bobbin: Enchanted Knoll batt. Right bobbin: Eliade roving. Bristlecone Spindle: Oldsheep batt and alpaca

Plied yarn on Tilt-a-whorl spindle

Before washing

Then I skeined it up and washed it with a little shampoo in hot water, whacked it and set it to dry in the brisk wind.

Washed skeinlet

What do you guys think? I’m over the moon with the yarn itself – it’s about a sock-weight but very light and airy. The different colours have really come together well and the variation is so rich and deep. I just don’t think it gels right with my “vision” of what I wanted to say about Carrot. I think I need something less complicated, larger and perhaps chain-plied.

Please let me know what you think!

Confession time

Ten days later, I’m back! Sorry. I’ve been working on the newest yarn, I promise. Life exploded and went nuclear on me last week, so I’ve barely had time to photograph the fibre, let alone compose a post about this yarn.

So, it’s confession time. Most of my good friends know me well enough to know that I have a rather unhealthy fetish for attraction to redheads. Yup, true story. Particularly if they’re short of stature and left-handed, but that’s another story. So. When we were introduced to Carrot Ironfoundersson in Men At Arms, I was head over heels in love straight away! I can’t help myself, what can I say.

He’s a stereotypical character. He’s a kind of repository for all that is ideal, or simply stated, or obvious. Nevertheless, he’s a paradox in that he appears completely naive while inside he actually understands in great detail the complexities of every situation . . . and then he goes ahead and behaves as though he’s naive anyway. And everyone goes along with it.

Clockwise from top - Oldsheep batts, Enchanted Knoll batts, Eliade roving

To represent his simplicity and naivete, I wanted to do a basic 3-ply yarn, straight and plain. The colour scheme is dominated by reds and oranges, because I can’t help myself. There are more types of fibre in this yarn, though, than I can name – including various types of wool, silk throwster’s waste, sari silk threads, firestar and others. I like this mixture – quite apart from the fun of spinning such varied textures, I think it represents Carrot’s strange patchwork upbringing as well as the melting-pot of Ankh-Morpork where he came of age. I particularly like the streak of that sort of faded, tired royal blue through one of the batt sets – I think that particular blue is synonymous with policemen and having it really ties the idea of Carrot to the city in the visual appeal of this fibre.

So there you have the fibre. I’m halfway through a bobbin of the roving braid, spinning quite fine with a supported long draw on my Ashford Traditional. It’s fun to spin and I hope to have some yarn to show you guys before long!

That’s where I’ve been, and I’ve come back with this yarn. You saw where I’d got up to last time, right? Well, here we are with the finished product.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the nature of the yarn got into my head and bred and multiplied and grew, and before I knew it I’d started spinning these amazingly shiny grey Gotland locks into a thick, ugly, barely-holding-together single to ply with the batts I started with.

Grey Gotland locks

The thing with the creatures of the Dungeon Dimensions is that they only have the shape that magic can afford them. Perhaps, then, we could see my focus and attention and intent as being the equivalent, because the more I focused on this yarn the bigger and more out of control it grew. I had to consciously stop it from growing any bigger (and I’m only half done, might I add). I spun about fifty grams each of the batts and black alpaca into a blobby, uneven single and wound a giant plying ball from it; then turned around and did the same with the locks. I carded the locks very roughly, just enough that I could get purchase on the slippery fibre, as the locks wouldn’t spin as they were.

Plying balls

The plying, done on the same Navajo spindle as the singles, was interesting. To get that feeling of the Dungeon Dimensions’ inhabitants’ tenuous grip on physical existence, I spun both singles quite loosely, trying to get *just* enough twist in for the plying phase and have the yarn be soft, soft, soft. I ended up having to tie a few knots in the yarn as I was plying, because the slippery Gotland just wouldn’t play the game. But as I was skeining it, I realised that the knots really did add to the feel of the yarn.

Plied yarn on the Navajo spindle

I washed the skein in very hot water and agitated it viciously – the fibres include almost nothing that will felt readily so I wanted to get as much felting action out of it as possible to help it hang together. It’s come out surprisingly nice. I sewed the “eyes” – the silk cocoons – on when it was dry. Here it is, all 212g and not quite 30m of it!! Sorry for the photo spam, but I really am so in love with this one.


How's those locks???

My absolute favourite shot of this yarn

I’m so pleased with this yarn. I think, as an “art yarn” – i.e. a long piece of spun fibre that illustrates an artistic concept – it is my most successful to date. It’s hideously ugly, barely structurally sound, uneven and quite possibly unusable. But it captures my vision perfectly. I think it would weave really well, given a lot of patience and a gentle hand at the loom. But for now, it is an art piece, and one of which I’m immensely proud.


So, weeks and weeks later, I’ve finally got the Notional Serpent yarn done. I finished it last night, washed and whacked it, and tried to reserve judgement till it dried. But it’s not much use, really; I’m just not that happy with it. I’m only halfway through the fibre but I’m going to put the rest aside and practice more with spinning smooth-ish yarns from mixed batts. I might come back to it one day and do Notional Serpent Mach II. But for now – here it is.

Notional Serpent

It’s not that bad, really. It’s just not as even or smooth as I wanted. I think, though, that being knit up will really forgive its shortcomings, and since this yarn was always all about the knitted object rather than being a piece of art in and of itself, perhaps I should be happy with how it turned out.

The Notional Serpent Yarn is kicking my arse, something fierce. I’m still working on it, slowly, but the focus that I need and the patience to spin that gentle single creates a need to release. I think there are different types of of creativity, or at least different modes of creative expression. The serpent yarn needs slow, steady, focus, careful . . . and I was feeling the need to let go and get a little bit wild.

To that end, what better vision to tackle than the Dungeon Dimensions? Pratchett’s treatment of the formless nightmare that underlays human consciousness captured my imagination immediately, snagging on the dark, tangled and malformed parts of my self. But the horror of those oily, seething tentacles is but a mask for the fear we have of possibility. The denizens of the Dungeon Dimensions are potential incarnate, force without form. This is nothing to be afraid of, but rather something to tap into and channel. Therein lies our power, if only we should be so brave as to seize it.

First, of course, there had to be black. Luckily I just attended a knitting retreat, during which I was lucky enough to visit an alpaca mill, Fibre of the Gods, run by the lovely Michael and Hazel, and I bought 200g of their stunning black alpaca roving. It’s so fine and soft and beautiful, and perfect for this yarn because it’s not curly and has a lovely sheen to it. Perfect for black tentacles!

In order to express the “rubbish-soup” idea I had about this yarn, I seized on the opportunity when a fibrey friend offered to customise a set of batts. She was so kind and generous in working with me to make the batts, and the finished result was a deliciously fermented brew of superwash merino, corriedale, merino, carbonised bamboo, silk throwster’s waste and shredded jute. Here – look:

Monica's batts

But you know what? She didn’t just send me the batts – she put in a packet of amazingly beautiful dyed silk cocoons, which I hope to put in the yarn as well.

Silk cocoons!!

And fortuitously, a whole new spindle arrived today! I’ve been so excited to try out a Navajo spindle after RoosterRick was kind enough to work with me to send one all the way here to Australia. Here it is, naked before I put anything on it!

Navajo spindle from RoosterRick

Just quickly

I know I keep disappearing, and it might seem that I’m not spending as much time on this project as it warrants. That’s because that’s true. Thing is, I feel kind of accountable to you guys and in a way, like I should be explaining myself to you! It’s not because I’m a slob, it’s because I’m overcommitted – so in the spirit of adding more commitments and explaining myself, I’ve started another blog. Hammer and Tongs at the Wheel will be a lot freer and wider in its focus and if you’re at all interested in the other fibrey things I’m doing, I’ll be posting about much of it as I go.

Stripping Batts

It never ceases to amaze me, how many different ways there are to muck around with fibre. See, I could, if I wanted, just spin straight from these batts. But it would be more difficult to get the effect I want, and to get a nice even yarn (not that it’s turning out to be all that even anyway – singles I hate you!).

So. I have found that for what I’m trying to do, it’s easier to spin from rovings than batts – they’re airier and come out less lumpy. To this end, I sat down to process half the fibre I’ve got set aside for this yarn. First I stripped the batts, tearing them lengthways into narrower batts. Then I pulled them through my dodgy DIY diz, drafting as I went to loosen the fibres and get more air into the rovings. Each roving was then wound into a little rosette.

Stripped batts, diz and rovings

One of the batts had fairly pronounced sections of different colours and textures. Because I’m spinning quite a fine yarn, and it’s going to be a single-ply, this could result large sections of my green being either bright shiny bamboo, or dark brown wool, or annoyingly tufty camel down. I want a more cohesive, mixed yarn, so I stripped that batt quite widely, into only four pieces.

Roughly carded batt - I need the colours to mix a bit more

Then I dizzed them extra carefully, stretching out the sections of bright bamboo or dark wool etcetera, as best I could, to end up with a more mixed roving.

Carefully dizzing the wide batt section

Fairly well mixed roving

And voila! Lots of little parcels of rovings, all ready to spin. But for today, I’ve spent hours chained to the wheel already so I’m not going to start on it just now . . .

Fluffy little roving flowers

Warm Fluffy Snakes??

Now, sampling is something I don’t like doing. I feel like I’m wasting – wasting fibre, wasting time, over-committing to something because once I get on a track I find it really hard to change my mind. But this sampling story is one with a happy ending! I guess I could have been slightly more stringent about it, but I’m not planning a fitted garment with this yarn so I’ll give myself a bit of leeway.

I am planning a single-ply yarn that will knit, in an open lace stitch something like Kieran Foley’s Sound of Waves stitch pattern, into a snakeskin-like colour pattern. In order to get this, I know I need to spin alternately from the three different batts. My only real questions are what weight single to spin, and how long to make the colour repeats.

The first answer is pretty arbitrary – I don’t want anything too thick because that would make the patterning clumsy, while fine laceweight is categorically out of the question, after the Ptarmigan experience. Because the two green batts are quite similar in colour and the green thus dominates the mix, I feel that the yellow will be the counterpoint or feature colour in the mix.

I got a new spinning wheel yesterday, and was fool enough to try and spin my sample yarn on it! Silly me – but there was no stopping me, of course. It’s a Majacraft Aura and I love it, but it’s a bit of a learning curve, so my yarn was a bit . . . well, shit. It’s yarn, by the most generous definition, but it definitely needs improvement, chiefly to get it more consistently in the sport/5-ply weight range I decided on. The respective lengths of the colours varied between about thirty centimetres and about sixty centimetres. I think I panicked a little in the green sections and ended up not making those as long, so it’s a bit shy on the green. Here is a crap night-time bobbin shot that hides the imperfect single nicely:

Notional Serpent sample on the bobbin

I whipped it off the bobbin and onto the niddy-noddy, thankfully without it drifting apart at any point, then gave it a quick wash and hung it to dry overnight. When I came home today, it was dry and ready to knit up!

Serpent sample, wet-finished and dried

I cast on 33 stitches using 4mm needles, and just as I got to the end of the first knit row, I had a brain fart.

Short rows.

Out went all the fancy lace stitches, and I went with erratic, crazy short rows in plain garter stitch. My aim was to pool the yellow in a matrix of green, so I ended up with spots and splodges of bright yellow standing out against that wonderful rich multi-toned green background. And I love what I got. This is my little swatch, which is about fifteen centimetres by eight centimetres. I can’t tell you how much I love it.

Snakeskin swatch

I think I’ll go up a needle size when it comes time to knit, as this is very scarf-like and doesn’t have a lot of drape and I definitely want some drape in the FO. But this is a great start, very very encouraging. It’s highlighting so many things to me – that not only is there endless scope within the fibre arts for creation of a particular effect, but that fibre and knitting are very forgiving crafts that will express your vision very truthfully, if only you have the courage to give something a go.

Notions of Serpents

So what is next? Yes, I’m still with you all, I’m still thinking madly about Pratchett yarns and still well and truly enmeshed in the whole Discverse. So, what is next?

Much of the stories seem to be occurring in the Year of the Notional Serpent. This is yet another quaint, slightly absurd phrase that tickled all my funny bones, and you have to admit, serpents and yarn share a great deal in terms of shape! So my vision for this yarn, to be called Notional Serpent, is to make one that looks like a snake. Not difficult, let’s face it. So, how to add a challenge? I thought on this, and since one mad brain cell still insists that I’d like to knit and exhibit pieces from all these yarns one day, I began to think of a stole . . . a stole that looks like a coiled serpent . . . and its skin, like a python’s, is flecked with a beautiful pattern of greens, golds and browns. Camouflage, modular effects, sinuosity, optical illusions . . . that’s what I want this yarn to look like.

This all happened in my mind a while back, and it happened at just the right time for me to snaffle the perfect batts for my Notions of Serpents. The incomparable Brittany aka Bohoknitterchic updated her shop and I bought three of her smooth carded batts.

I’m still planning for the best way to make this happen, so I’ll be back in a day or two when I’ve planned my spinning technique out.

I’ve had a couple of questions about how I steam-finish my yarns – which is a little funny to me because I only just sort of muddled my way into it out of necessity for this project! So I thought I’d take some photos and explain my process in case it helps anyone else. This is the good process, by the way – not the one that resulted in scorch marks!

First, make sure your yarn has room to breathe. Don’t be too tempted to put lots and lots of yarn into your steamer in one go, because then the steam won’t make it to all the strands, and additionally if you’re steaming to bring out the bloom, you want to make sure there’s room for the strands to expand to their fullest potential.

I used a stock pot with a couple of inches of water in the bottom, and a pasta colander. Make sure your yarn isn’t going to be sitting in water; but also, you want to be sure that the pot won’t boil dry. Now, the colander doesn’t sit snugly in the pot because of the handles, so I had to seal the gap with a couple of tea towels and a couple of tissues. (Yes, they were clean, hehe.) This is the setup:

The yarn I was steaming this time around was the Hedgehog yarn, which I needed to puff out as much as it possibly could. So I spun the 4oz of polwarth in 1oz lots, then plied them into two lengths of yarn that were about 55g each. That left plenty of room in the colander:

Then I brought the water to the boil and popped the yarn into the colander. With the lid back on, the steam bath was all a go, and I let it sit in there for three or four minutes. Then, wearing rubber gloves!!!, I turned the yarn over and put the lid back on for another couple of minutes. Done! And here’s the result – these two skeins started out the same size. The skein on the bottom of the photo has been steamed, the one at the top hasn’t.

After having to wait for a while for my leg to recover, I’ve finally managed to complete the Sudden Hedgehog! I eventually decided to tie the hedgehogs on with crochet cotton, after everything else was done. So this is a really good example of the miracles of experimenting and sampling, because I learnt so much during the making of this yarn. I really set myself free from the “lust of result” and allowed myself the room to make mistakes and let things just happen. And here is the result – the perfected (well, almost) Sudden Hedgehog.

And the gratuitous macro shot:

I never want to see this yarn again.

That’s not to say I’m not proud of it – to a point. It’s beautiful – smooth, incredibly consistent (well, it does have six plies, after all!), ridiculously strong. Visually, it does what I wanted it to do. It’s flecky with white and multi-dimensional, rich browns, and it does have a certain grace to it. But on the other hand, I’m really disappointed with how fine it turned out. I wanted a bulky-weight yarn – or at the very least aran-weight. Instead, I’ve got DK!!! It’s so fine! In a way this is a great achievement, but then again it wasn’t what I was going for. So in that sense it isn’t a successful expression of my vision. It’s 200g and approximately 200m, and it’s going at the very back of my stash until I have the wherewithal to face it again.

Without more ado, please welcome – Reversed Ptarmigan.

On the bobbin - bulky Ashford flier

Reversed Ptarmigan

Reversed Ptarmigan

Sorry to be a bit down on this one – it was a challenging yarn to spin, and I’m just a bit demoralised by the whole thing. I think I feel kind of like it beat me up! I still have to complete the final draft of the Hedgehog yarn, and then I am planning a beautiful, coloured single ply! But all that has to wait till my leg recovers, so bear with me!

I’ve been plying madly and spinning like a demon, to try and get some headway on the Ptarmigan yarn. I’ve done so many miles on my (single drive, single treadle) Traddy over the last few days that my right leg is injured! I’m so close to getting the second plying pass underway, but I’m afraid that I’ll have to wait a day or two until my leg isn’t so damn sore! I can’t even walk properly!

Adventures in Plying

Ladies and gentlemen, I am still here! Really, I promise. I’ve been working on the yarn, but it’s just slow going on this one. I hope the next one is a bit faster and a little less tedious. But this will be pretty, it really will.

The undyed wool I’m using to coordinate with the atomicblue batt is merino that I got as raw fleece. It was my first foray into scouring and it was really good – it came out so fluffy and white after going in all greasy, grey, dull and nasty. I was so encouraged! I then carded it all by hand because I’m strange and love hand-carding. My rolags leave a little to be desired mostly because the fibre was too fine for the cards I have; also, I packed too much onto them and came up with things that resembled German sausages more than fluffy confections of amazingly fine beautiful wool. But it’s still fine to spin and comes up beautifully. I’ve learnt a lot in this process; don’t be afraid to pick the short cuts out because they’ll only fall out when you spin anyway, don’t put too much on the cards, get fine-fibre cards . . . yep, the depths of my ignorance continue to astound even me. But it’s still yarn. Isn’t it great, how forgiving this is as a craft?

I bought a photo collage program today so I can post photos without annoying you all to pieces. Now, I know there’s a whole lotta brown and white here, and I’m sorry for that. I promise, the next yarn will have colour! Promise! But for now – feast your eyes on my first (brown and white) collage – there is one there of one of the plied strands that will go into the cable. See – I am making progress!

Reversed Ptarmigan plying update

It's been a LOT of work, but we're getting there!

Note To Self

Never spin cabled yarn again. Ever. You hear me, Kat? This is your inner wisdom speaking.

And if you really must (because I know you’re rebellious and will do exactly the opposite of whatever I tell you), then at least pick a decent weight for your singles. This simply Will Not Do.

Those are centimetres, by the way, not inches.

Dizzy Ptarmigans

Well, they would be, if you spun them, wouldn’t they?

I’ve started spinning the brown ply of the Reversed Ptarmigan yarn. I’m pretty confident on this yarn as it’s not as demanding artistically as the (ongoing) Hedgehog yarn, so I’m going all out. I’ve divided my brown mixed fibre into two equal halves by weight in order to come at the cabling from the right sort of angle. I wasn’t too fussy on how fine it was to be spun but I wanted the final result somewhere in the 8-ply (DK) to 12-ply (aran/bulky) weight range. Plenty of wiggle room. I’m toying with the idea of some funky plying in the first plying pass, but I’ll see when I get there. Long way to go yet, as once I started spinning the brown it kind of wanted to be spun pretty fine; I’ll probably end up on the finer end of my target range.

Sayra’s batts are really lovely and chunky; I admire her work so much because of the incredible texture she manages to maintain in her batts. However, for this yarn, I really needed something smoother, so I had to do something with the batt. This is what it looked like when I started:

Fieldmouse batt as received from Sayra (ignore the random bit of pink fluff)

Now, I prefer the results I get when I hand-card fibre, but my big hand cards are currently on loan to a friend and I was NOT going to use the little ones or I’d be there forever. So I got all brave and used the Ashford drum carder I’ve got on hire from the Perth Handweavers’, Spinners’ and Dyers’ Guild. Because this carder is quite small and I frankly suck at using it, I made sure and split the batt into small bits in order to get a smooth result. What came out was actually quite nice:

Re-carded batts

For the record, I felt a bit bad carding the batts again. I sort of felt like I was running roughshod over Sayra’s work, but I hope she understands my intention and the need for it.

One of the most ridiculous, hilarious, enjoyable and endlessly delightful aspects of the Discworld books, for me, is the naming system for the years. Unfortunately, there don’t seem to be many of them actually floating around, but the ones I have found have inspired visions of yarn, and inspired my own brain to think up ridiculous pairings of words in the same style.

So my next yarn, which I’m planning and prepping at the moment, is to be called Reversed Ptarmigan. I didn’t know exactly what kind of bird a ptarmigan was – I had a vision in my head of a fat, plump little speckled brown and white thing, that maybe didn’t fly all that much. So I had a loose idea of a fairly tame yarn, brown and white, probably a 2×2 cable. (For the non-spinners, that means taking your single ply that’s spun directly from the loose fibre, twisting it with another one for a 2-ply, and then putting that against itself and twisting again to make a 4-ply.) I wanted the brown to be rich and gorgeous, the white to be immaculate. I wanted the cabling to suggest the “Reversed” nature of this particular Ptarmigan. I wanted it to lofty and squishy and oh! so soft to evoke the plumpness and roundness, the low-to-the-ground sedentariness.

Turns out, I was kind of close in my assumptions about ptarmigans! They change colour with the seasons, white in the winter and brown in the summer, and transitioning in the in-between-times. Here’s a picture, supposedly of a Willow Ptarmigan (aka Willow Grouse):

I have the perfect batt for the brown; the most amazingly rich, shiny, treasure-filled treat from my lovely crack-dealer fibre-supplier, Sayra at AtomicBlue. She calls it “Fieldmouse” (because I think she didn’t like that I wanted a fully brown batt! sssssshhhh!) which kind of sells it short – it has loads of the most gorgeous rufous-brown silk, soft-soft-soft wool, incredibly fine and lustrous mohair (and I don’t even like mohair!) . . . It’s gorgeous, I tell ya. And I’ll post pics and continue the story in my next episode!


I won’t inflict more photos of undyed polwarth and jute on you all; suffice to say I had another go at this yesterday and it came out better, if not perfect. I deconstructed the twine and made pompoms out of it that way – they were much lighter and softer and less . . . unwieldy. I affixed them during the plying pass with white crochet cotton, but I’m thinking I should use some sort of anchor technique to make them stay put. Not sure how I’d go about that with the spindle. I don’t want to have to give up and tie the hogs on after plying, but it’s still a possibility. It could turn out to be the most structurally sound way to get them in there.

Then I put the new yarn in the steamer to finish it . . . and wouldn’t you know, it wasn’t as easy as it seemed the first time. I scorched the yarn in four places – not terminal, as I can always pull them out and rejoin the yarn, but I’m still annoyed at myself. I always seem to accidentally get things right the first time, then stumble on the second or third or fourth go, on something that you’d think would make itself pretty obvious the first time you try whatever it is.

But I’m learning to experiment with fibre, and feel a little freer to play around and make mistakes. This is a lesson that I needed to learn, and it’s coming hard, but I do feel a bit more relaxed about it than I would have expected.

I still have 4oz of polwarth to mess around with, and I do want to end up with at least 150g so I can make . . . the thing I want to make (mwuhahahaha!)

Before finishing:

Before finishing - nice, but a bit lifeless.

After finishing:

After steam finishing- WOW! Look at that bloom!

Yep, the biggest lesson I learnt this time around was how to finish polwarth top! I’ve done the 2-ply with thick and thin before, and I recall that the finishing was pretty brutal on the soft fibre (that was South African, similar in feel to polwarth). So this time I thought I’d try steaming it, rather than a hot bath. I put it in my veggie steamer with just enough water in the bottom of the pan to produce steam but not to touch the yarn, gave it five minutes then turned it over for another five minutes, then pulled it out – it was so so so puffy! I can’t believe how much it’s bloomed with this finishing! I wish you guys had Squoosh-O-Vision! It’s stunning.

But all in all I’m not happy with it. The hedgehogs just aren’t sticking properly and they need to be lighter-weight. I’ll tie them up with some fine crochet cotton next time, and deconstruct the twine to make fuzzier, lighter hogs.

Hedgehogs! See!

Jute Twine "Hedgehog"

I like it but they are a bit bigger and heavier than I wanted. I might have to deconstruct the twine . . . there’s an idea.

So yesterday I sat down to ply. My plan was to put the hedgehogs in during plying, but I sat down at my wheel and was all ready go when . . . I realised that the hedgehogs won’t be fitting through my orifice! Dammit! Plan B. Out came my big Forrester plying spindle and away we went. Not an easy task on a spindle, very difficult to put the hedgehogs in and have them be stable.

Spindle plying from lazy kate

And I just couldn’t resist how wonderful the yarn looked on the spindle when I was done, so here’s a gratuitous eye-candy shot.

Forrester spindle

It has begun!

Last night I started my first Pratchett yarn! It was just a thick and thin undyed polwarth single, but it was still exciting!

I had some trouble at first rediscovering the technique for thick and thin, so the first ten metres or so will be a bit lacklustre, but after a while I was cranking out giant fat sections between itty-bitty thin bits. I’m a bit uninspired by the Ashland Bay top, which feels “killed” in my hands, as compared to polwarth I’ve handled before which makes a whole career out of the word “squooshy”.

The yarn was spun on my Ashford Traditional (single drive), using the bulky flyer on the largest whorl (4.5:1) and reeeaaaaalllllly slow treadling.

The phrase that really kicked this off was perhaps that msot elusive of writing achievements – an innocent afterthought of a pairing of words that seemed to be off-the-cuff but could have taken days of agonising . . . or maybe it arrived in a flash of divine inspiration.

Pratchett was speaking, I ?think? in the book “Wyrd Sisters”, of the pros and cons of covenly witch activities performed sans clothes in the open air. He spoke of the danger of “sudden hedgehogs” – and that image anchored itself in my imagination in the most tangible of ways. I laughed out loud, in sheer delight at the thought!

So how does one spin a “Sudden Hedgehog”? I thought of pom poms, as dealt with in Lexi Boeger’s Intertwined – pom poms in rough, spiky jute or hemp twine, that would be a tactile shock in much the same way that a hedgehog would be underfoot! The book’s image seemed to evoke warm summer nights on deeply-grassed hillsides, with hidden grey stones and glinting stars overhead . . . but somehow spinning that didn’t really take my fancy. So instead I played with the idea of snowdrifts, and the play of texture between snow and hedgehog! What if I spun a thick, fat, soft, barely-twisted single and included the jute tufts?

What if . . . !! What if I put two thick/thin singles together, as I’ve done once before, and plied the tufts in at odd intervals just to make a statement? Here’s the one I did before; I made a few mistakes, mostly in the finishing, but overall I loved this yarn and really am keen to try it again.

South African top from Crown Mountain Farms in club colourway "Celtic Glow"

That settled it for technique – now, what fibre? Jute or hemp is going to be hard, rough – and I wanted something really soft and squooshy to counterpoint against that. The stash reveals a choice of merino in carded rolags – not great for thick/thin – targhee top, or polwarth top. Hmm. Being that I will probably muff at least one attempt at this yarn, let’s plan on trying both!

This blog is meant to document and share my process as I explore the creation of yarn as an interpretation of a richly-imagined fantasy series – the Discworld books by Terry Pratchett. Many of the themes, elements and even phrases in the books have captured my (dormant) writer’s imagination, and I feel the need to express my impressions through my current medium of choice. So. Here we are.

At this stage, most of the yarns I have planned are probably going to be wheel-spun; however, as I do prefer spindle-spinning to wheel-spinning, I may well be using my growing spindle collection towards this project. Some – if not all! – of the yarns will have multiple iterations/incarnations, both to practice and perfect technique and to tweak the visual and textural elements to more accurately portray my inner vision of what I’m trying to create. And if all goes well, perhaps . . . just perhaps, I may move to Phase Two of The Project . . . but that is a long way down the track and Let’s Not Get Ahead Of Ourselves.

I’d like to quickly mention Ravelry; the guys and girls there have been instrumental in taking me, in the space of a year, from being an unimaginative and very unaccomplished knitter to being a wide-eyed, constantly impressed spinner-who-(sometimes)knits. I have learnt so much, I have made so many friends, and the input from so many Ravelers has indirectly had much influence on my embarking on this Project.

Please join me and comment, critique, add thoughts. Whether you’re here because you love the books, or because you love yarn, or because you love me (ha!) please make yourself known.