textiles · exploration · misadventure


Victory, She is Mine

Close up of Corey's scarfA finished object. FINALLY.

This started months ago, when my massage therapist, Corey, asked me about a trade: massage for a handspun, handknit scarf. At first, I was diffident, but he convinced me he was serious. He’s a super therapist, and I’ll take all the work from him I can get.

We discussed and discussed, then he met me at Carolina Homespun, where he picked out his fluff, met the inimitable Morgaine, and Benefitted From Her Wisdom, as did I. He wanted am omber gradient, which I’d never done before, and blessings on her head, Morgaine talked me through production of said gradient on my drum carder, Matilda.

Weighing and Carding

I started out with two distinct fibers: a dark brown Merino, and a natural light grey alpaca, which I weighed and divided into 9 piles. The first pile was 100% brown Merino, the last pile was 100% grey alpaca. The 7 piles in between were carefully weighed amounts of both, gradating from brown to grey. For example:

Pile 1 is 100% Merino.
Pile 2 is 90% Merino, 10% alpaca.
Pile 3 is 80% Merino, 20% alpaca.
And so on, the last pile being 100% alpaca.

Matilda and I got to work, carding each pile separately, creating 9 batts of gradually lighter blends of grey and brown. I put the 100% piles through too, to maintain consistent prep throughout, and therefore a more consistent yarn.

When I finished carding, I had to wipe the drool from my face:

Handmade carded gradient blend where the colors shift from brown to grey by about 11% per batt.

Colors shift from brown to grey by about 11% per batt.


Prior to weighing out my nine piles, I sampled with only four piles, which created a striped look in the finished yarn. There are two ways to mitigate striping and move towards a smooth, seamless gradient.

One way is to use more piles, which is why I used nine instead of four. The slighter the percentage of change from one color to the next, the harder to tell where one color ends and the next begins.

After some thought, I realized another way to mitigate striping was for one single to have a longer first color than the other, which will act to offset the colors, creating even more of a gradient.

To create that offset, I split all batts in half by weight, except the 100% Merino batt, which I divided into one third and two third-size chunks. I lined up one set by my wheel and spun it, light to dark,ending with the Merino. Thus the Merino comes first in plying, making the offset work.

Ready to ply. Look closely at the back bobbin, and you'll see it has less dark brown, offsetting blends so they don't line up, and further blurring the gradient.

Ready to ply. Look closely at the back bobbin, and you’ll see it has less dark brown than the front bobbin..

That extra length of yarn on one bobbin will offset the remaining colors so they don’t align when plied, blurring transitions from one color to the next. I began with an 11% gradient; adding a 50% offset brings the gradient to something like 5% percent, or effectively something like 20 shades of brown-to-grey. (Sorry, humanities major here.)


Then we spin and ply like a maniac, and when we’re done we fall over giggling like a lunatic, because we have THIS:
Corey's yarn

Around the time I finished spinning this, I took Stephanie Pearl McPhee’s Knitting for Speed and Efficiency class. How fast I knit this scarf makes me cackle with glee.

In class, Stephanie timed the group to see how many standard knit stitches we each made in three minutes. I was at 16 stitches per minute.
Back at home, I timed my seed stitch knitting, as that was the stitch I was going to use on this scarf. I was at 11 stitches per minute. (Seed stitch is notoriously slow.)
After five hours of practice, my seed stitch was 14 stitches per minute.
After ten hours of practice, my seed stitch was 18 stitches per minute.
By the time I finished my scarf, my seed stitch was 29 stitches per minute.

Let me put that another way.

I nearly tripled my knitting speed in 20 hours. Who wouldn’t cackle with glee at that? I felt like a rock star.

HTF? Lever knitting. Knitting on 14” needles. With one of them shoved under your arm and the other feeding stitches to the other like a sewing machine. Here’s the beloved Yarn Harlot showin’us how it’s done. The audio is a little unclear, but if you listen carefully you can pick up a little bit of lore from Stephanie.

Here’s Corey’s scarf, as modeled by M. Pics of Corey to come soon. (Missing face by model’s request, not operator error):
M modeling
So, take the class, buy the needles, and get knittin’. Except don’t buy your needles in San Francisco, where I’m busily buying up all the 14” needles I can find at local thrift stores, thank you very much. (I already beat you to the 2’s and 3’s at Thrift Town, btw.)