Fibers of Mass Destruction

So, imagine you were wandering through a fiber festival touching the fibers, sniffing the sheep, loving the shawl pins, the drop spindles and the yarn bowls and suddenly- out of the mist of yarn fumes you saw this:

Wouldn’t you want to buy it? I mean, based on the name alone I was hooked!!

“Ruthlessly blended” and “Handle with extreme care.” I was hooting!

Then I saw the names of the fiber colors – and my heart skipped a beat.  How incredibly clever and fun, and…dangerous?

How on earth can you make sheep’s fiber – one of the softest, warmest, and least harmful things in the world sound DANGEROUS? One super fun way to do that is to give them names like this:


And it was packaged so you couldn’t touch it.  As if even a touch with an inquisitive finger might mean a visit to a plastic shrouded hospital room with grave men and women in bright yellow plague suits shuffling around tutting…


Mummy for the win!

But, of course, there WAS some fiber on display that you could touch and it was the softest, sweetest Corriedale with accompanying fiber buddies – and I was pulling out my wallet…

When Mummy WON it in the raffle!

This has happened before.  It is true that I get to spin the best fibers because she wins it, or (shuffling feet and looking slightly sheepish) someone cleverly gives it to her for Christmas…

So, the Fibers of Mass Destruction came home with us.

I must admit I rather gloated over it for a few weeks, but as Tour de Fleece 2017 started to loom on my spinning horizon I began to contemplate…how did I want to spin it.

Mum said she wanted a scarf, but she isn’t really into super thin lace, she likes a scarf that is long and stout enough to really keep her warm, so a DK-sport weight would work best.  We knew that  7 ounces would never be enough, and after some discussion we decided to get some of the gray.  The gray is pure Corriedale and it shows up in each of the mixes.  We decided that I would spin the colors as one ply and the gray as the second ply.

The very friendly Ken at Homestead Hobbyist helped us order what we needed.

We need a plan!

It wasn’t until the gray actually arrived, right in the middle of the tour, that I decided that our spinning/plying plan was never going to work.

Weaving has taught me more about colors than I used to know, and it was clear that the light gray would dilute the color, rather than make it pop, so the plan was revised.

I spun the seven little fiber of destruction samples into little 150 yard long skeins (approximately).  See the transformation below!

I am so in love with these little beauties!

How could we use tiny balls of yarn to create serious pops of color?  We really didn’t want tiny blips of color, we wanted them to really sing.

We could do stripes of the color, but we really wanted them to stand out, and for the knit to be fun…then we had a brainwave – DIAGONAL! If we did the scarf on the diagonal, and worked the gray in simple garter, and the colors in a fun lace…And with that all our worries went away, we knew exactly what to do!

Mission Accomplished!

And here it is.








We are quite pleased with it.  Mummy’s idea of the idiot cord around the edge really pulled the whole thing together.  I really think it looks lovely on her.  (Yes, it’s true,  I promised not to use the picture of your face, Mum.  But honestly, you are so adorable I couldn’t help it!)

So it’s done, and so cheerful and very soft and warm. And just in time! Baby, it’s cold out there!


Socks with Long-tail Cast On

Let me tell you one of my favorite stories, one that only a knitter will truly appreciate, about socks with Long-tail Cast on.

Once up on a time, in  yarn store far, far away, my Mum and I were browsing the shelves and inhaling the fumes. You know, as you do.  This was not long after I had finally convinced my mother that knitting with a needle smaller than a size 7 US was not going to kill her, and her subsequent addiction to sock knitting.

It was also a week after I had had spend HOURS doing researching on sock cast ons. I was tired of my sock tops being too tight.  I had found an article (no link, this was YEARS ago, back when we used books  and I have NO idea where, sorry!) that said that hands down the best method to cast on for a sock was the Old Norwegian Method. Which I then learned and fell in love with!  I didn’t see my Mum as often back then so I had yet to share this revelation with her.

Favorite Cast On

Socks with Long-tail Cast OnSo there we were ogling yarn and Mum suddenly asks me, totally out of the blue  “What is your favorite cast on for socks?” Her question had been in a normal tone of voice, but it was a small shop,  a nice lady behind the counter and maybe three or four other patrons, and so everyone heard it.

You have to admit that that is a fairly sensible question. There are LOTS of ways to cast on, and some are better than others for socks.  It was a great question.

I have no idea what sort of an answer she expected, but my casual response “Oh, my favorite cast on for socks is the Old Norwegian.” Just about knocked her down.  We stared at each other in numb amazement – me that she would ask me that question so randomly (she had never asked my opinion on technique before to be sure) and she that I would answer with a cast on she had never heard of.

We both looked a bit stunned and then we guffawed!  Just about rolled in the isles. You know when something is terribly funny, but you can’t define why? Yes, that.

Of course, then we had to stop laughing as we had a little in-shop mini-lesson as I taught everyone in the shop this “new” cast on called Old Norwegian.

I should probably say here that while I do sometimes knit toe up, my preferred direction is top down, so cast on method is CRUCIAL!

New Socks

Socks with Long-tail Cast OnI thought of this story the other day when I was casting on a pair of socks at Knit Night at my LYS. (Local Yarn Store) Anyway, after I had cast on and was starting to knit someone gently touched my shoulder.  “Oh dear, you have started knitting with yarn end, not the skein.” She was quite surprised when I told her that was on purpose.  She was very interested in why, and I thought you might be too.


When I was in Baltimore recently I did some yarn shopping. Well, I tried.  Of the five shops I found on Google before I left, and only two of them were viable. One had shut down, and two were “by appointment only.” Not conducive to a good yarn crawl!, for sure!

Lovely Yarns is inside Baltimore (in Hampden) and that was were I got the sock yarn.  The color is called Blue Jay, it was from a local dyer and I am really in love with knitting with it.

Cloverhill (just outside the city, in Cantonsville) was even better!  At Cloverhill I was so comfortable I sat and knit for a while and then bought THREE braids of fiber to take home and spin!!

Long Tail Cast Ons

One of the problems with Long Tail cast ons is that one often finds that they have either not enough of a tail to cast on the number they need, or too much of a long tail left over at the end.  I know that there are methods to figure out exactly how much you need (1/2 an inch for every stitch you cast on) but honestly, that’s too much like hard work. I generally cast on about 60 stitches for a sock and so I usually measure out about a yard and a half for my tail.  (If you do the math, that’s too long)

And, big surprise, it’s always more than I need. I am OK with that.  I would much rather have more than I need than less than I need. What I am NOT OK with is wasting that extra yarn.  I am a bit of a miser when it comes to most things, and anything more than 6 inches is a waste in my book.

But here is what I do – rather than cut off that end I USE it.  Here is my process.

Start right

Normally if I used a non-long-tail cast on I don’t worry about the join.  When I sew my end in I will be able to massage the jog at the join. I can make it invisible when I sew in the end.  But as you will see, I do not have an end at the edge of my sock. I must do something else to make sure the join is solid. (There is a yarn end to sew in, it just won’t be on the edge.

To make my join more solid I cast on an extra stitch.  If the pattern calls for 60, I cast on 61.  Then when I get to the end of first round of ribbing I knit together the first and the last stitches that I cast on.  This reduces or eliminates the “jog” in the join.

Knit with the end

The is one other thing I do.  When I finish casting on I work my first round with my yarn end.

When you are a new knitter they say “Make sure you don’t use your yarn end!”  And that is absolutely correct.  However, I am rather fond of breaking the odd rule now and then, and I am NOT fond of wasting yarn.

I start ribbing with the yarn end.

If I get a whole round done with the yarn end then I continue knitting with  it.  However I knit the first stitch of the second round with both yarns.  One stitch with both the yarn end and the skein yarn together  will not be noticeable.  Then continue working with just the yarn end.  This is so that the skein yarn “keeps up” with the yarn end.

Eventually I will run out of yarn end.  And by “run out” I mean I will only have 6 or 7 inches left.  Then I stop. Slip my stitches around on the needle as necessary and restart that round with my skein yarn.

Wait, What?

Yes, I just stop in the middle of the round, slip my stitches so I am back to the beginning of the round, and start with the skein yarn as if nothing had happened.

I know what you are thinking.  First, you are thinking “you can’t just stop in the middle of the round!” and in fact, yes you can.  The ribbing for your sock is anywhere from 1.5 inches to 4 inches long depending on the pattern.  You are knitting with sock weight yarn – so pretty small yarn – and I promise you it won’t be enough to make your socks “lopsided.”

I have been doing this for years.  Frugal I cal it. Cheap others call it.  And now that I am on the cusp of knitting socks with my own handspun, you can be absolutely certain sure I will continue to be frugal with yarn when I knit socks.

This not only eliminates yarn waste, it also eliminates the slight bump on the edge where you weave in your yarn.  You still have a slight bump, of course. But it’s further down the ribbing and not right on the edge. This makes it harder to see and impossible to feel when you wear the socks. Or when you grab the opening to put them on.

Is this a bit unnecessary? Absolutely.  It’s just my inner OCD kicking in, and totally not something that will work for everyone.  But it works for me, and now you have the option to find out if it works for you!  Have fun! KNIT SOCKS!!!!



Yarn Cakes

When I was growing up we had “balls” of yarn, not cakes.  Mum would come home from the yarn shop with hanks of beautiful yarn.  I would stand with my arms outstretched and she would wind off the yarn into a ball. Yarn cakes were only something you bought in a store.

But nowadays around our house we have lots of yarn cakes. We have a swift (2 actually) and a ball winder (4 actually) and we make our own cakes. Big, small, handspun, commercial – all yarns are great in cakes.

Of course, I have met some knitters who don’t like cakes.  They say they get tangled and so they don’t like to use them. But that is a story for another day.

Today I want to talk about cakes that are wound in your local yarn store.

Buy a hank

I know I am lucky.  It’s just my Mum and I in the house, we don’t have any non-knitters messing up our yarn vibe.  Everyone around our house GETS the whole fiber addiction, and might even (dare I say it?) SUPPORT it!  The corollary of that is that we have lots of fiber toys. We have the toys, and we know how to use them.  Which means when I go into a yarn store and the wool or silk fumes overwhelm me I don’t have to worry about the put up of the yarn. (“Put up” is what they call the way the yarn is packaged: a skein, a ball, a hank, etc.)

No matter how they put up the yarn, I can deal with it.  But that isn’t always the case for everyone who works with yarn.  Some people don’t have ball winders, or swifts, or even adolescent children willing to stand with outstretched arms for ages and ages.

That means that many yarn stores are kind and generous enough to wind hanks of yarn that people have bought into cakes. This is a great value added to their purchase, and frankly the right thing to do.

Get a Cake

Yarn CakesHowever, here is where the cheese gets binding.  Sometimes, those lovely, kind, and generous yarn enablers who work in yarn stores don’t do what they should.  It’s not always their fault, maybe they don’t know, or maybe they are in a rush – they are doing a good thing by helping you – now you need to ask them to do one thing more.

When you buy a hank of yarn in a shop and they wind it into a cake for you, ask them to do it twice.

Now, I know that sounds like you are being a bit obnoxious, but I promise you it’s worth it – both for you and for them.


Let’s be clear here.  I am not talking about hanks of silk or cotton, or even alpaca or mohair (not as much, anyway). I am talking about WOOL.

Here’s the thing: wool stretches.  We like that about wool.  It’s part of what makes our socks fit so well, and our sweaters so warm and cozy.  We want wool to stretch, but we need to control that stretch.

When you make a cake from yarn on a swift there is tension.  When you turn the handle on the ball winder it pulls the yarn you have attached and the tension of the pull makes the swift go around. It’s a pretty simple mechanism.

However, when you wind that cake onto the ball winder it is being wound under strong tension.  Ball winders need some tension in order to create a cohesive and compact cake.  But when the ball winder has to pull enough to make the swift go around, and it does, then you have a LOT of tension.  And when wool, specifically, is wound under that MUCH tension it stretches.

One of the joys of wool is that when it stretches it will bounce back to it’s original shape.  But that happens when you get it wet – it doesn’t bounce back on it’s own. This can create problems.

Create a Treasure

Yarn CakesSo there you are – you get home with your lovely cake of yarn. You know exactly what you want to do with it, maybe it’s a shawl – no problem. Minor variations in size is relatively unimportant in a shawl.  But let’s say you want to knit socks or a baby jacket.

Your plan was to start that baby jacket RIGHT AWAY! That very day, but then things happened…you know, LIFE.  It sometimes gets in the way of our knitting!

You find yourself 3 months later finally able to cast on for the baby jacket.  That beautiful yarn has been sitting there wound into a tight firm cake for a while now and the 100 % wool yarn has stretched.  Imperceptibly maybe, but it has stretched.  And when you start knitting you are knitting with elongated yarn.

You create your little treasure and then you wash it and block it – and suddenly it’s not the right size! It’s a full inch smaller than you planned for.  You had your gauge right, you used the right needles, and the right stitch count! What went wrong?

What happened is that your lovely yarn got in your nice hot (or lukewarm, or cold) water bath and it relaxed.  Ahhhhhh…  No longer under the tension of the tightly wound cake, it relaxed and your 16 inch hem suddenly became a 15.

Or those amazing socks you knit with a really intricate pattern that you can’t wait to wear? They won’t go on over your heel.

Preventative Medicine

Yarn CakesOK, so I might have dramatized a bit.  (who? ME?) It might not be a full inch. And honestly, sometimes you don’t even notice it.

Maybe you think “Oh I am just a tight knitter.”  But stretched yarn DOES bounce back when you block it, and yarn in a tightly wound cake WILL stretch your yarn.

Yarn cakes MUST have some tension in order for the ball winder to work, but the tension created by the pull on a skein winder is TOO MUCH tension.

This is what I do with all my yarns. I wind them twice. And the GOOD yarn stores will do it for you, too!

I put the hank on the swift, and I wind the cake onto the ball winder.  Then I take the cake off the ball winder, put it on the floor and let it run through my hand (tension, but not too much tension) into the ball winder again.


This actually does a few things.

First I feel all those knots or tangles and can deal with them before they get embedded in the cake.

Second I can feel if there are joins in the yarn.

Can I just say that almost nothing annoys me more about commercial yarn than getting a skein that has 2 or more joins in it?

I know, things happen.  I can always sew the ends in, it won’t kill me.  But more than two “things happening” in  a single skein of yarn seems just plain incompetent to me. I am a lot more understanding in handspun. Although if I have ANY joins in my handspun you get a discount or I don’t put it up for sale at all!)

My feeling is that if you have chosen to do this commercially and your yarn sells all over the world (Malabrigo, Noro, Skacel: I am talking to you!) you should have the skill and the common decency to create a proper yarn.  OK. Got that off my chest. Thanks.

If I feel a join, I can break the yarn right then, rather than find it later as a surprise.  That way if there is a part of the project that only needs a smaller amount of yarn I can use one of the partial cakes. Then I don’t have to make a break where I don’t need to in a larger cake.

And finally, winding the cake again, with a steady, but not hard tension will create a beautiful cake that is NOT under so much tension that the yarn with stretch.  I recently wound two hanks of this beautiful Cascade Heritage Paints to knit a shawl with.  You can see in the pictures that one is bigger than the other.  The smaller cake was wound once, the larger was rewound.

With a correctly tensioned cake it doesn’t matter how long it takes you to get to work on it – the yarn is happy.  We all want happy yarn!

Just Ask

The next time you are in a yarn store and they kindly wind the yarn for you, stop and think.

Are you SURE you are going to start immediately?  The yarn won’t have time to stretch if you start immediately.  Well, as long as you pull from the middle of the cake it won’t.  Pulling from the middle not only means your cake or ball sits still, but it also makes your yarn happy!  As you pull the middle of the cake out you leave room for the  rest of the yarn to relax. Relaxed yarn is happy yarn.

Is there a line in the shop? If there are lots of other people waiting to have their yarn caked, then maybe asking them to do it twice (if they are doing it out of kindness) might be inconsiderate.  I have heard (although I am not sure I actually believe it) that there are yarn stores that actually CHARGE people for this service. If that is the case then you DEFINITELY want them to wind it twice, and it should not cost extra because it’s part of winding the yarn correctly.  Honestly, the really GOOD yarn stores will already do this for you automatically, but if they don’t and there isn’t a line, then just ask.

If you have a ball winder at home you can always take it home and do it, so you don’t need to ask.  But don’t forget to rewind it!

If you don’t have a ball winder, you might want to consider making a hand wound ball.  You paid a lot for that bundle of woolly goodness, wouldn’t you want to make it happy yarn?


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