Andrea Mowry and Color Confidence

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Last October I took a class from Andrea Mowry, of the popular “Fade” patterns on Ravelry, called “Color Confidence”. The class was paid for by a scholarship from my Guild, one of the great benefits of being a member. Her color change patterns are similar to an ombre, but instead of going from light to dark, they go from one color to another. My hope was to learn through her color combination techniques, ways to use various 4oz braids that we all seem to purchase without necessarily having any plan for. Her patterns primarily use the speckled, hand-painted yarns that are so popular right now, but there is a lot of handspun that also ends up being colorfully variegated, so my thought was that handspun would be a reasonable substitution.

Speckled commercial yarns; hand-dyed handspun yanrs

The first part of the class was learning how to do two-color brioche knitting, which is one of her favorite techniques. Although it involves brioche-specific stitch names, once you get the hang of it it’s fairly easy to see how it works, especially if you are using dissimilar colors. It also helped that Andrea was a good, patient teacher! If you think you might be interested in learning the brioche stitch, I would recommend actually taking a class. You will end up with a lightweight, two-sided fabric, with the background color having the effect of “muting” the foreground color.

Brioche stitch side A

Brioche stitch side B

The rest of the class focused on Andrea’s techniques for combining color, or in her words, “painting with yarn”. The first technique she discussed was the marled effect you can get by simply holding two strands of different yarn together and knitting. This look seems to go in and out of fashion, but it’s been very popular in Vogue Knitting for the past several years, and it is an interesting way to do optical blending. This is also easy to replicate with a two-ply barber pole handspun.

Vogue Knitting Late Winter 2017

Vogue Knitting Late Winter 2017

She then discussed color pooling, and how she breaks up the occasional patches of color that can show up in odd places in your knitting. She is a big fan of using textured stitches, like garter stitch and lace patterns, to visually visually break up the pooling. We knit some samples of two yarns held together in garter stitch, and I chose a solid red and a red-with-lots-of-other-bits-of-color handspun, and I was surprised how much the garter stitch toned down all the other colors. Visually the swatch looked mostly red. After thinking about it, I shouldn’t have been so surprised: a yarn that’s 100% red combined with a yarn that’s 50% red will end up looking 75% red. Combining that with garter stitch, where you are basically seeing only every other row, and of course it will tone down the variegation dramatically.

We then talked about color value, or where a particular color falls on a greyscale. For colorwork such as Fair Isle or mosaic knitting, Andrea recommended having high contrast in value, otherwise the finished motif will look “muddy”. For her Fade technique she recommends using a low contrast in value. When considering whether the colors you like actually work together as far as value, she showed us that by taking a black-and-white picture of your fiber on your cell phone, you can easily see if you’ve got a high or low contrast, because the photo will take away the hue and leave only the value. When Andrea picks yarns for her Fade patterns, she is looking for a greyscale gradient.

Natural-dyed and ice-dyed yarns

The same yarns in greyscale

Finally, she discussed how she transitions from one color to the next. She recommends using yarn from the same dyer when you first start trying her patterns, because you will be able to find families of color combinations to help your Fade blend smoothly. If you are the dyer, so much the better! One of her techniques is to use the Fibonacci sequence to gradually decrease one color and increase the next color, rather than just dropping one color and starting the next.

An example of the Fibonacci sequence, Vogue Knitting Early Fall 2017

Reverse stockinette stitch will hide lines between color changes more easily than regular stockinette. Adding mohair or another fiber with halo will help blur or “fuzz out” color changes. And finally, you can always Fade into a neutral!

For me, the biggest tip was her advice, when choosing colors, to pick something that will look good with your skin tone at the part that’s going to be up by your face. That way your finished project will look good on you, and you will still have the freedom to experiment with colors that you wouldn’t normally think you can wear.

Taking this class really made me consider the role that stitch texture and the physical structure of the yarn being used plays in the perception of color, which I will definitely keep in mind for future projects. Added to that, Andrea was charming and generous with her knowledge: if you are a class-taking sort of person, I would certainly recommend her.

How To Cheat at Yarn Samples

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I’m a half-hearted swatcher at best. And I’m lazy. If I have a very specific project in mind then I’ll sample and swatch to make sure the colors, gauge and finished knit sample are what I want. But I will also admit to buying pretty dyed braids solely because I’m intrigued by the color combinations…and I will just sit and admire them without a plan to best showcase them. I hate doing spinning swatches with these braids, in part because I only have 4oz in that colorway, and if I don’t like the result I end up with less finished product once I come up with something I do like.

I bought these three braids last year, thinking they went together color-wise. I’m sure I could make a Knitty möbius shawl, or I could send them through the drum carder a little and they would blend together nicely. But I bought these braids because the colors are placed together as they are, and I’m interested in how plying can bring out the best (or not) in a finished yarn.

What to do with you braids?

What to do with these braids?

I had an idea: if I treat each braid as a macro single, I can get a reasonable idea of how any sort of finished yarn would look. It’s not a complete replacement for making sample yarn, but it gives a fair idea of how the end result will read. I simply put some twist into the roving and away I went. Here’s the roving on the left, plied onto itself:

Two-ply

Two-ply

All the white in that braid really shows up. It’s kind of busy. Here it is as a two-ply with the alpaca braid in the center of the first photo:

image

Two-ply with alpaca braid

This isn’t displeasing to me. The alpaca definitely cuts down on all the white.

Here are the three braids plied together in a three-ply:

Three braids...

Three braids…

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…three-ply

Now that I look at them like this, I can see that the sea-foam blue in the mostly-green braid really doesn’t look good to me with the other colors. What are you doing there, sea-foam?! The good news is, I haven’t spun any yarn yet.

Here are some more options, plying with white Shetland roving from my sheep:

Two-ply

Two-ply

image

three ply

I like the two-ply, I think the three-ply has too much white. However, with the right project it could be nice.

Some more options, with a natural brown ply:

Two-ply with brown

Two-ply with brown

Three-ply with brown

Three-ply with brown

Three-ply with alpaca and brown

Three-ply with alpaca and brown

I think if the brown roving was a little richer in color it would look fabulous. I could either over-dye that brown roving, or actually clean and card the lovely brown fleece from Charlie that’s sitting in the barn.

Here’s what I finally ended up with, and the good news for me is that it might enable me to start in on a project that I’ve had in mind for a while. I split the difference between the brown and the white roving, and tried a white with red-tipped Shetland lambswool fleece that I bought:

Brown and white heathered roving

Brown and white heathered roving

Two-ply

Two-ply

Three-ply with heathered roving and alpaca

Three-ply with heathered roving and alpaca

I really like this. The bright colors pop without being too garish. I think it will be a pretty, interesting yarn that I will be excited about spinning and knitting with.

Now for the green braid that didn’t actually go with the other two. I sort of assumed I’d ply it with black:

Two-ply with charocal

Two-ply with charocal

But that sea-foam is still a problem to me!

image

Two-ply with cyan

Again, the white parts just really stand out in a clunky way for me.

Here we have plied with a natural-colored merino blend:

Blended colored merino roving

Blended colored merino roving

image

Two-ply

I like this better than plied with the dark colors, which surprises me. If I’d been spinning to swatch I don’t think I’d have even bothered to try this. The other thing I like about this technique is that I can get an idea of how the barber-pole striping might look.

I also like this option, plied with a yak/silk blend:

Two-ply with yak/silk

Two-ply with yak/silk

For me, this is the winner. This might motivate me to spin up some Blue-the-goat mohair and do a boucle with this. In any event, I’m excited about this braid again, instead of feeling vaguely guilty that I haven’t done anything with it.

Update: here is that green braid actually spun up with the yak/silk. As I was playing it I felt disappointed in the result, but once I skeined it, it really loosks just like my quick sample, except much, much nicer:

 

Here is La Technique:

image image image

 

Add twist (in the same direction) to your “singles”. Hold them together, then turn them back around each other in the opposite direction until you have a nice ply. It took me just a little practice to get the hang of it, and now I can make mock-ups of all kinds of yarns. I’m pretty excited about this, because now I can make decisions without making any commitments.

But is it yarn?

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Art yarn?

Art yarn?

Ah the allure of Art Yarn. Behold its super-chunky sparkle, its beads, its coils and luscious locks. Resistance is futile. Or is it?

When I started to spin I announced to Sal that all I wanted to make was art yarn. I probably told her I wanted to explore colour and texture. I was making it up.

Sal told me something like this: If you’re ever planning to make anything like a sweater or a wearable garment you should think about making less-arty yarn.

She had a point.

These days I think about hand spun yarn completely differently. What I used to consider art yarn, I now classify as novelty yarn.

Most of the time I’m experimenting with new materials and techniques. I’m spinning to weave or to knit. My use of art yarn is sparse. That’s partly thanks to my fairly boring sartorial habits. Sal tells me that’s a trend now! Yay!

So what about art yarn?

Last month Alison Daykin gave my guild a talk on art yarn (see below). Beforehand I was curious what she would have to say and it got me thinking. What is art yarn? Is it yarn for yarn’s sake? Is it a novelty item? Does anyone actually use it?

I still make a lot of art yarn, but I call it handspun. Like most spinners I’m experimenting with colour, texture and gauge. Most of it isn’t sparkly or bejeweled. The excitement is in the color or the materials.

Here’s some sport weight yarn I made for a weaving project.

Blue yarn

Blue yarn

The blue colorway is a combination of natural coloured and dyed fleece.

The red is a blend of acid and natural-dyed fleece as well as natural coloured. To me these are rich in colour and texture. I’ve made little aesthetic decisions throughout the making process.

Red yarn

Red yarn

Is it art or is it yarn?

These are some examples of what are more commonly considered to be art yarn. There are the dyed locks, the thick/thin look and some bouclé-like yarn.

Bouclé, sort of

Bouclé, sort of

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Thick thin

Yarn or art? Both?

Lexi Boeger sees it this way: “I believe the onus is on the buyer to look at the yarn and be able to determine an appropriate project to use it for. This puts more work on the buyer, but ultimately it will make that person also more creative..” (See Spinartiste)

Boeger goes on to say that art yarn can help the knitter (or weaver for that matter) think beyond the pattern and become a designer. My reading of that is: art yarn can be a starting point. It asks the question: what can you make with me?

It’s worth pointing out that Lexi Boeger isn’t making art yarn anymore.

Locks

Locks

JazzTurtle has a long list of patterns that can use art yarn. But to me art yarn is perfect for weaving–especially saori weaving, which is all about experimentation and personal expression. It’s not really concerned with pattern or convention.

This saori-inspired piece uses some art yarn. For me this piece was a big departure from the norm. Here are colours and textures far from my comfort zone. It marks a step in a creative journey, but I’m not sure the path ends at art yarn.

Weaving with art yarn

Weaving with art yarn

[Sal here. I’m going to horn in on your post for a minute]

I would argue that handspinning is technology, and as such there is an intrinsically practical component to the resulting product. Some yarns take a good deal of skill to make well (bouclé for example), or have aesthetic consideration in their colors or textures (as yours do above), and this intersection of technical skill and aesthetic consideration I would call “craft”. Calling something “art yarn” is almost oxymoronic. Yarn for yarn’s sake, as you say, really makes no sense— like building a chair that you can’t sit on. But I know plenty of people who spin and never do anything with the yarn because they don’t knit or crochet or weave, and are perfectly happy that way. I suppose there is a Venn diagram we could make that shows the people who like to build chairs, but don’t actually sit down. I think one could certainly make yarn that’s an end in and of itself, and it could be considered art instead of artisanal, but I think the intention behind it is key, because it would be subverting the concept of yarn. The rest, as you say, is novelty yarn. I’m curious what your guild speaker had to say on the subject. And if they have any good patterns.

[Now back to our regularly scheduled blog post ;)]

Fancy Yarn and permission to spin

When Alison Daykin came down from Derbyshire to talk to the Mid-Essex Guild about art yarn, like Sal I was curious what she had to say about art yarn. One reason for that curiosity was I suspected [knew] many guild members were dubious of art yarn. Many–not all–take the view that art yarn is what you make when first learning to spin. “Don’t worry,” they tell new spinners. “You’ve just made art yarn!” And then everyone laughs.

Alison Daykin described what she makes as fancy yarn, not art yarn. Fancy yarn, Alison explained was any kind of yarn you made that’s non-standard–core spun, bouclé, crepe, thick/thin–that has some irregularity in the making. That irregularity could be introduced in any or all of the steps for making yarn: prepping fiber, color blending, spinning and finishing.

According to Alison, fancy yarn isn’t anything new,  in fact Mabel Ross, author of The Encyclopedia of Handspinning, was an early advocate of fancy yarn.  However, when Alison started spinning in the late 80s/early 90s she felt spinning non-standard or fancy yarn was discouraged. She was taught that the point of spinning was to churn out yards and yards of yarn that looked like it had been made in a mill.

“I wanted to make different yarn and I felt inferior, because I didn’t want to spin plain yarn,” she said. But after taking a course on spinning and dyeing for tapestry weaving from Bobbie Cox, Alison felt she had, “Permission to spin whatever I wanted. Once you know the rules, you can break them.”

Art yarn, Alison said, is a term that grew out of a trend of making yarn out of recycled materials like plastic bags and cassette tape. She did not see the point in putting yarn in a bowl or hanging it up to admire.

“If I can’t use the yarn, then I’ve wasted my time. Use it to make a garment look different. If you use a little yarn in a piece, it can look lovely. Art yarn has got to be practical as well as beautiful,” she added.

 

 

Many ways with warps on a rigid heddle loom

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Getting creative with warp yarns is a great way to make the most out of your rigid heddle loom. Using different coloured and textured yarns in the warp, ordering those yarns in a certain way or not at all will yield different, beautiful results without having to worry too much about pattern.

plain weave plaid

plain weave plaid

Let’s start with texture and colour. In this sample, I used two smooth yarns and two handspun boucle yarns in the warp. From right to left–  black, magenta, then the lighter

boucle and the darker one. For the weft I used the four yarns in the same order to create this nubbly plaid-like sample. Simple to weave, but lots of potential as a cloth. I could easily weave something similar and turn it into a Chanel-style jacket.

Randomly placed many-coloured warp

Randomly placed many-coloured warp

Next up is a piece I wove

recently entirely out of handspun. The plan was to make the warp yarns the feature. I randomly wound the three colours of yarn—pink, purple, green— onto the warping board. On the weft I used a single colour—a grey mohair and wool handspun with a few dollops of green and yellow as a feature. What I like about how this piece turned out is the strong warp colours slightly muted by the greyish weft. Also the slight unevenness of the handspun give the whole piece a subtle speckled effect.

Choosing handspun or many colours of yarn in the warp is one way to use colour and texture in the warp to great effect. A variation on this theme is the multi-coloured warp. Instead of using a few different coloured yarns in the warp, wind on a neutral coloured warp, carefully remove it and then put it the dye pot and apply colour.

Dyed warp

Dyed warp

In this sample, I used a commercial silk warp thread and dyed it with gold, purple, green and a little pink. Woven with a camel/silk handspun, with some saori-style accents, the warp still comes through, but this time with different colour pools.

Dyed warp, Saori-style accents

Dyed warp, Saori-style accents

You could take this technique further and go for an ikat-style weave by tie dyeing the warp or even painting a design onto it, then threading the warp onto the loom. Another approach is to take some self-striping or variegated sock yarn and wind your warp so that the colours sit together. There’s a great description of that technique here.

log cabin weave

log cabin weave

Log cabin weave is a rigid heddle loom classic. It’s simple, just alternating blocks of light and dark yarns (LDLDLDLD DLDLDLDL etc) in the warp and then weaving the same way. More about log cabin in my November post.

Using multi-coloured handspun or variegated sock yarns that have less contrast also create a nice effect. Check out this blog post on this variation on log cabin weave. I’ve also seen log cabin done with some saori-style embellishments that look fantastic.

One last technique that emphasizes warp is using the variable dent rigid heddle reed. It’s a reed that allows you to mix up the dent sizes in the reed to then use different weights of yarn. I haven’t tried out this tool myself, but apparently one of the effects you can achieve is a ribbed fabric.

All these techniques bring a lot of interest and texture without having to mess around with pick up sticks. Don’t get me wrong, pick up sticks are great, but don’t think you need to use them to get the most out of your rigid heddle loom.

Some resources for rigid heddle weaving:

Ravelry’s rigid heddle weaving group

Schacht spindle blog

Weavezine

Turning handwoven fabric into a garment

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Handwoven awaiting transformation

Handwoven awaiting transformation

Rigid heddle looms may not be fancy or complicated, but do not be deceived. You’re not going to weave acres of jacquard, but don’t think placemats, table runners, scarves and hand towels are your only options on a rigid heddle loom.

Two years ago when I bought my little loom I had no idea that with some experimentation, practice and patience I’d be able to make a garment from fabric I’d created. For one thing, the idea of cutting my handwoven cloth terrified me. Also as relatively inexperienced seamstress, I wasn’t confident I could create a wearable garment.

I took the small amount of fabric I’d woven on a 20″ (50 cm) Ashford Knitter’s Loom up to Clacton-on-Sea for a lesson in sewing with handwoven with Sarah Howard. Sarah, along with Elisabeth Kendrick, is the author of Get Weaving, which I blogged about earlier this year.

Sarah helped me find a pattern that would work with the 175cm of fabric I had. We used a commercial paper pattern to get an idea of size and shape and then made some modifications for fit and the fabric.

The next step was to make a paper pattern to use to then sew up a calico to see how the garment looked. I used some denim for the calico. It allowed me to see where changes were required (in the armpits!). Once that was done, I went a way with instructions to test out the pattern on store-bought fabric. Sarah says it’s important to do a trial run before diving into your handwoven. Lots of issues can be sorted out on the sample piece. For example, I found I needed to change the shape of the side pieces slightly. Making a sample made me think about bias binding and lining too.

sample garment

sample garment

My sample looked pretty good, but I realised I would have to do the pockets a bit differently on the final piece–ie with biased binding and the fabric backed by iron-on woven interfacing. I also decided that gold/black lining would not look good with the handwoven and went for a solid blue silk.

Here’s a couple things to keep in mind when you’re placing your pattern on your handwoven:

– Make sure all the pieces fit. Measure the length of fabric without the fringe.

– Think about the best use of your fabric’s selvedges and hemmed ends to reduce the potential for fraying and binding.

– Make a note of the direction of warp and weft in your fabric. How does that influence how you place your pattern on your fabric? You probably want all your pieces going with the warp.

My layout looked like this:

layout

layout

I was careful to place the pockets to match up with the stripes on the two front pieces.

The next step was to cut out the pieces.Once I did, I carefully applied strips of iron-on woven interfacing to the fabric to prevent fraying. Then I zig-zag stitched over that.

I sewed together the fabric pieces as well as the lining. I didn’t sew in the lining, but bound the piece together all at once with bias-binding tape. I made it myself, which wasn’t difficult, but it was time consuming. However, store-bought bias tape is pretty poor so I do recommend taking the time to make it yourself.

Et voila! Garment!

finished garment!

finished garment!

A few things to keep in mind when sewing with handwoven.

– Remember your woven fabric may be quite thick. How is that going to impact your seams? Will your garment work well with chunky seams?

– Use iron-on woven interface to prevent fraying. It also makes it easier to sew.

– Go slow! Once you machine sew handwoven fabric, it’s really hard if not impossible to pick out without destroying the fabric.

– Handwoven is stretchy. Think about how that might cause difficulties when sewing up or when putting in a lining.

applying iron-on woven interface

applying iron-on woven interface

Color Resolutions 2015

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It’s a few days into 2015, and I’ve found a couple of things that I want to do this year…maybe I will also finish last year’s projects, but who knows?

Pasture

Pasture

The first one I’ve actually started, based on the idea of this Sky-a-Day scarf. I’m calling it my “Grass is Always Greener” project. Using my drop spindle and hand cards, I’m going to color-blend and spin about 3yds of fiber each day, based on the color of the pasture out in front of our house. I’m hoping that not only will this make me better with the hand cards and the drop spindle (it should), but also show me just when it goes from being drab and winter-y around here to being so green that it hurts your eyes. And then in the summer when it starts to get brown again from the lack of rain, because every year these things sneak up on me. At the end of the year I’m going to chain-ply my singles into the continuous color order, and knit something.

Color blending on hand cards

Color blending on hand cards

Rolags

Rolags

 

The other project I want to try is based on these yarns I found at one of Portland’s finest LYS, which are both (I believe) sprinkle-dyed, but to an extreme. After my weeks and weeks of messing around with kool-aid dying, I’ve finally become interested in dying yarn, and not just locks or roving.

Commercial sprinkle-dyed yarns

Commercial sprinkle-dyed yarns

Sprinkle-dyed yarn, detail

Sprinkle-dyed yarn, detail

Here is a link to sprinkle-dying from Lotus Knits. It’s in three parts and very informative. Stay tuned in 2015 for progress reports!

Intentional Color Pooling: faux Ikat

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When the Early Fall ’14 issue of Vogue Knitting made it to my mailbox, I found a pretty interesting hand painted yarn creation that I wanted to experiment with:

Ikat wrap, Vogue Knitting Early Fall 2014

Ikat wrap, Vogue Knitting Early Fall 2014

It’s made using yarn from Prism, and the swatching process is pretty specific to get the colors to pool in the right places. Other than that it’s a pretty simple stockinette/reverse stockinette basket weave pattern.

Detail of Ikat wrap

Detail of Ikat wrap

I have quite a bit of white Shetland roving that I got back from one of the local mills here recently, and as soon as I have some free time I want to spin some of it up in order to experiment with hand painting yarn. I usually do single color kettle-dying fleece: I really love the depth of color I can get by blending on my drum carder, so single color batches just make sense. But this has never stopped me from buying hand-painted roving, or yarn for that matter, so I may as well make my own.

I’ve checked on Ravelry, and one Raveler has already hand painted some yarn in custom colorways to make this project, and not only did it turn out great, but there are great project notes. It got me thinking that I might be able to manipulate some commercial hand painted yarn that I’ve had forever, in a similar way.

indigonightowl's Ikat wrap

indigonightowl’s Ikat wrap

Malabrigo color Sotobosque

Malabrigo color Sotobosque

I bought this a long time ago, and in my mind it was going to end up as some sort of poncho, like the one Clint Eastwood wore in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. And the color way reminds me of Molly Ringwald. This is probably a weird pop cultural mashup, but it makes perfect sense in my mind. Unfortunately, when this yarn is knit up in a regular pattern, the color pooling make the garment look camouflage, which is not what I’m after at all. (Again, thanks to Ravelry and finished garment pictures!)

Deciphering dye patterns

Deciphering dye patterns

I think I can get a similar effect as the Ikat wrap if I keep the pink parts separated from the brown parts. And I will have my Molly Eastwood wrap. Stay tuned!

N.b. This a serape, not a poncho

n.b. This a serape, not a poncho