Category Archives: Spinning

Cotton Roving – braiding, dyeing, spinning and knitting

I have some photos to share from a “cotton study” project I did quite some time ago. It was always my intent to do a write-up with the pictures, but you know how intentions can sometimes go by the wayside. Here I am many years later looking through my photo albums and was reminded again of that short article that I still wanted to write. Well, here it is finally!

Unfortunately I don’t have any photos of the step-by-step process I used. I will just have to talk it through. For those familiar with dyeing and spinning, you should be able to follow along well enough and surmise. For those unfamiliar with these, maybe you can just enjoy the pretty colors and inspiration.

Stages of cotton dyeing, spinning, plying and knitting
Stages of cotton dyeing, spinning the singles, plying and knitting

The above photo shows

  1. the braided un-spun roving after dyeing
  2. the singles yarn
  3. the singles plied with fine rayon sewing thread to make the 2-ply knitting yarn
  4. and the result of using the 2-ply yarn to knit the HeartStrings Reversible Lace Cables scarf pattern

Dyeing the cotton: I started with un-dyed white cotton roving. I broke off lengths of roving about a yard long each and braided them. Then 3 colors of fiber reactive dyes were applied to the braid. After the dye was set and rinsed, I let the braids dry completely.

Spinning the singles: I undid each braid (sorry I can’t remember how many I had, but the total weight was 1.75 oz / 50g) and spun each length of dyed roving separately into an S-twist singles. I used long draw from the “wrong end” of the roving on my Lendrum spinning wheels highest speed whorl. For you spinners, you know that cotton roving will draw out more smoothly in one direction than the other. I intentionally used the other direction to produce a lump, bumpy textured singles strand of spun yarn. (this is harder to do than you’d think after you’ve spun for a while!) I wanted a yarn that when knitted into the lace, would produce a casual, somewhat rustic look.

Plying: I plied the spun singles Z-twist with fine rayon sewing thread to make a 2-ply knitting yarn.

Here is a photo of the knitted scarf that I took recently with a different camera in different lighting (the original picture above was taken in the 90’s! — my, how digital cameras have advanced, haven’t they?)

Reversible Lace Cables Scarf in hand-dyed, hand-spun cotton
Reversible Lace Cables Scarf in hand-dyed, hand-spun cotton

Here’s a bit more of a close-up so that you can see the texture of the yarn in the stitches.

Detail of the textured yarn knitted into the lace stitch pattern
Detail of the textured yarn knitted into the lace stitch pattern

p.s. Do you recognize this scarf as having been knit from the same pattern in last week’s blog article Spinning a 2-ply laceweight yarn for a scarf?

Spinning a 2-ply laceweight yarn for a scarf

Reversible Lace Cables Scarf
Scarf in handspun yarn from hand-painted silk roving

Sometimes I am asked about the laceweight yarns I have handspun and used to knit scarves or shawls. At the top of my list of favorites, I like to spin a laceweight 2-ply yarn from hand-painted silk, cotton or fine wool blend. Here’s how I approached spinning the yarn used in the above scarf (which was knitted using the Reversible Lace Cables Scarf pattern).

I particularly like the hand-dyed silk rovings by Nancy Finn of Chasing Rainbows Dyeworks, and that of Nancy Ballusteros of Treetop Harmonies. For the scarf shown above, I unfortunately do not have a picture of the Treetop Harmonies roving before it was spun into yarn. But here is a photo of a similar colorway from Chasing Rainbows.

Hand-painted silk roving
Hand-painted silk roving

Notice how the roving is dyed in sections of colors. What I find particularly appealing for lace knitting in the Treetop and Chasing Rainbows color pallets are their close tonalities.

For a scarf like that shown above, you’ll need only 2 ounces of fine top or roving to make a finished size of about 10″ by 72″. Choose a subtly varicolored or multi-toned fiber for added interest in the spinning as well as the knitting.

Divide fiber lengths into strips narrow enough for spinning a very fine thread — about 50 to 60 wraps per inch (wpi), and so that color changes in the spun thread will be in random lengths of every few yards or so. Spin worsted-style to produce a smooth, strong thread. My plied yarn is in the 30 wpi range at about 200 to 250 yards per ounce, depending on the type of fiber.

The 2-ply laceweight yarn
The 2-ply laceweight yarn compared to the size of a US quarter

When plying, I don’t try to keep the colors together in any particular order. The fineness of the threads and the subtle tonal variations produce gradual color changes that are further enhanced by the texture and movement in the knitted pattern stitches of this scarf design.

I hope you are inspired and motivated. Don’t hesitate to share what you’ve created with your handspun yarns as well. I invite your comments here on this blog or contacting me directly through my heartstringsfiberarts.com website.

Scarf in handspun yarn from hand-painted silk roving
Reversible Lace Cables Scarf

p.s. To see and read about another favorite method I like to use for spinning laceweight yarn, see Moody Blues, hand-spun pima cotton plied with silk.


Lacie Blankie, a pattern in the making

Cotswold Lace Blanket It’s been over 8 years since my Cotswold Lace Blanket (a.k.a. Lacie Blankie) was selected as one of the winners in Interweave’s Save the Sheep contest and went on tour around the country. For the many admirers of the blanket who have waited patiently for me to publish the pattern instructions for Lacie Blankie, your wait is nearly over!

It’s not that it really should take me 8 years to write instructions, but I’ll give the excuse that there have been many interruptions along the way. You know … those ‘life’ things.

I was pleased and excited that the blanket had won, but that also meant I did not see it again for several years while it went on tour around the country with the Save the Sheep Exhibit. Although I had kept some notes, the knitting had gotten quite rushed near the contest deadline and I was not confident that I had everything needed to complete the instructions without referring to the original blanket.

Over the years following the return of the blanket, I began working on the pattern instructions several times. Since the original blanket is made in handspun yarn, I also wanted to re-knit the blanket in a commercial yarn to show that option.

I think that these creations of ours have a life of their own, and sometimes when something ‘seems hard’ it just means that the right time has not yet come. I think that is what was probably happening, because although each commercial yarn I tried was ‘ok’, nothing yet really gave the excitement and pleasure I had when making the original blanket in my handspun Cotswold yarn. It’s very difficult for me to commit the great deal of time and effort there is in quality writing and layout, proofing and marketing a pattern, if I am not really excited about it. Otherwise it just feels like ‘work’. If I can have a choice, I’d rather be doing something I am enjoying, and such was not the case here yet.

THEN, a confluence of events …

Georgia O'Keeffe's mountain A vacation late last summer took me through Abiquui, New Mexico where I gazed upon Georgia O’Keeffe’s mountain. Do you see the mountain in the background to the left of this photo I took? I am sure you recognize it from its iconic flat top being included in so many of her paintings.

The colors of the miles and miles of desert southwest at first glance might appear to be quite boring – sand and sagebrush and more sand and sagebrush. But on closer inspection, there is wonderful color all around, and Georgia O’Keeffe was a master in capturing this. I gained so much more appreciation of these desert colors and they imprinted themselves in my mind as I drove across miles and miles and miles of open land.

Later in the fall, I was in touch with Laura Nelkin, the design director at Schaefer Yarns who informed me of two of their new yarns. One was Judith, a 100% Prime Alpaca yarn. Umm … the undyed version of this yarn had been one of the commercial yarns in which I had started a blanket, so I already knew the worked and how wonderful it felt.

Judith colorway Georgia O'Keeffe from Schaefer Yarns A batch of colorful Judith yarn was the motivation I needed to put Lacie Blanket back on the active list of pattern publication projects! Laura was excited, too, and we conferred back and forth about which colorway to select for the sample model. My subconscious mind must have kicked in, without initially realizing, I had picked Schaefer Yarns colorway Georgia O’Keeffe!
Lacie Blankie in process The knitting of Lacie Blankie in the Judith yarn is proceeding wonderfully and I am planning the pattern for release later this month. Stay tuned!

You can read more about my original Cotswold Lace Blanket and other collected works from the Save the Sheep Project in the book from Interweave Press – Handspun Treasures from Rare Wools.

Moody Blues, handspun pima cotton plied with silk

Besides the hypnotically soothing relaxation I feel when spinning, I think that a great joy in handspinning your own yarn is practiced control over the creative results. There often is the serendipity, too, and this leads to even more adventures and exploration. Moody Blues, handspun dyed pima cotton roving plied with silk, has been one of those examples. Here is the completed yarn –

Moody Blues handspun cotton yarn plied with silk Do you sense the ‘slightly washed-out faded denim jeans’ look? I am so pleased with this yarn even though in buying the dyed roving, I thought it might have been a mistake!

I was really attracted to the lovely grays and blues of the dyed roving. Upon more detailed inspection, Continue reading Moody Blues, handspun pima cotton plied with silk