Working with Handdyed Fibers Part 6: Chain plying

Posted in handspun, knitting, made with handspun by tchemgrrl on September 12, 2013

A number of common questions from both new and experienced spinners involves the use of those pretty, colorful braids of fiber that indie dyers sell. What do we do with them? How do we prevent them from turning to mud? How can I make it look the way it looks in my head?

Over the next few weeks I’m going to work on answering some of those questions. Taken together, they should add up to a handy little workshop on working with a particular fiber.

Previous posts:

Part 1: Deciding on some fiber
Part 2: Color
Part 3: Splitting and Breaking
Part 4: Lazy Rolags
Part 5: Fractals
So this is kind of a funny way to define color-management; this is the sort of thing that someone would normally put with plying techniques. But it’s still super relevant. Chain plying.

Chain plying seems to be the source of much Rav Group angst. It’s weak! It’s strong! I hate it! It’s the only thing I ever do to my yarn! It is technically true that it’s not a “true” plied yarn. This technique involves taking one length of a singles yarn and creating large loops, similar to a crochet chain, and then adding twist. (Note: Chain plying is also called Navajo plying, as it was inspired by a technique that Navajo weavers use in making a corded edging on their weavings.) Youtube video with a wheel spinner, Youtube video with a spindle spinner for examples on how actually to do it.

From a color management perspective, the fact that the whole yarn is made from a singles being slowly looped back on itself makes for some pretty seductive options. It allows the spinner to maintain a particular colorway without spinning three plies and hoping that each will line up as he or she wishes. This is particularly nice with fiber preps with irregular splotches of color which do not lend themselves easily to color matching by splitting the fiber. For example, check out this batt:


It’s lovely, but it would be difficult to get the colors to line up without doing more organization than I was interested in doing.


I spun up all the singles in one continuous go, and then chain plied the singles.


I’ve just shocked myself because I don’t have a picture of the final yarn here (I ALWAYS document! That yarn as been in my stash for AGES!) but I do have a picture of this little swatch, which shows two things. 1: The colors are lining up with each other, because each segment of chain-plied yarn is composed of singles made of the same bit of fiber. 2: Chain plied yarn doesn’t actually explode on contact with knitting or anything.

Here’s another example. I’ll be talking yet more about fiber splitting later and bring this sweater up again, but for now, suffice it to say that my goal was to spin a yarn where the stripes on the sleeves were about the width of the stripes on the body. I wasn’t quite ready to go whole-hog of splitting each smaller piece into equal pieces and getting them to ply together correctly (if memory serves, I started this project while at a fiber festival and wanted to just spin, without a ton of access to scales and laying things out into little baggies and such.) I split the sleeve fiber into narrower pieces because the knitting itself was narrower, I needed less yardage per stripe. And then I just spun and chain plied so that I didn’t need to concern myself with getting a bunch of singles to come out perfectly.

clematis closeup

If you look closely you can see a few of the little lumps formed by chain plying.


But look, the yarn didn’t explode! And the stripes came out kind of equal!

Okay, so there are some downsides for chain-plied yarn. The workflow is totally different than making a more traditional plied yarn, and personally I find it a pain in the tuchus and avoid it unless I have a particular effect I like. But some people hate more traditional plying and love chain plying. So play with it a bit before you decide.

The transitions between stripes in a chain-plied yarn are somewhat harsher than they would otherwise be, lacking the soft in-between section that occurs when the colors in a normally-plied yarn do not line up perfectly. I usually LIKE that softness–if I want hard stripes I’ll just use multiple yarns–but you may have a colorway that looks ugly when barberpoled.

The jury is out as to whether chain-plied yarns wear as well as their more traditionally-plied counterparts–the spot where the chains intersect does appear to be a weak point on the yarn itself, but no one agrees on how much effect this has on a knitted fabric. The fact that the argument exists leads me to suspect that the differences in wear are negligible in practice compared to the effects of fiber, singles twist, and plying twist.

It is true, though, that variations in thickness are not masked as well as they are in a traditional plied yarn, and this may affect your wear, if your spinning is not very consistent. This is more noticeable if you’re someone who tends to drift in thickness from session to session *raises hand*, less so if your inconsistencies are on the foot-or-less scale.

I also think this is a good way of keeping like colors together if keeping track of fibers and weights and stuff is irritating to you. Which is why a lot of people use this technique, I think. But I wanted to use the baby sweater above to point out that just because you’re chain plying doesn’t need to mean that you turn your brain off completely. You can still do interesting things with splitting the fiber.

Aqualime Cowl

Posted in FO, handspun, knitting, made with handspun, spinning by tchemgrrl on February 22, 2013

I spun up this yarn last fall:

aqualime batt

I did some new-to-me things with the color so that one ply of the two-ply yarn would shift slowly from blue to lime, while the other ply would be more random. I really wanted to see how it would come out! (Plus, I’m running a spinning class soon for which this would be a good sample.) So I knit up a quick little cowl, and finally I can see what it did!


Pattern made up on the fly, just a razorshell pattern with a 10-stitch-wide repeat, knit over 150 stitches. I had less than a yard of yarn left at the end, so I really used every bit of the skein.

The center section is a little more green in person, more of a true halfway point between the two colors. It does have the overall effect I was hoping for, that of an obvious unidirectional trend while still maintaining some visual interest. I’d highly recommend the technique as being a way of controlling the colors in a spun yarn while still leaving some room for spontaneity.

If I were to do it again, I’d probably use fibers that weren’t quite so high-contrast to make the shift more subtle. I’d also put more of an effort into getting some of the intermediate batt layers that went into the slowly-shifting ply to have a better mixture of lime and green so that the transition between the two was slower.

Matchin’ Mittin’

Posted in FO, knitting by tchemgrrl on February 6, 2013

I knit some mittens to go with the hat from the previous entry:


These are a standard mitten layout with an ungusseted afterthought thumb. J really liked the hat pattern and asked that I designed the mittens so as to look as similar to the hat as possible.

I started by playing around with the bottom border. The X’s around the hat were wide enough that I could have fit 3 around the mitten with minor tweaks. However, the idea of 3 pattern repeats going around a hand didn’t seem right to me. I thought that the difference between the front and back would look unintentional and odd, and I also thought that the X pattern might look more similar if it was scaled down in size relative to the hat, because the mittens are so much narrower. So I did several doodles until I came up with something that allowed 4 pattern repeats to fit around the mitten. I then centered an X across the back of the hand to more clearly display the common genes of the two items.

Symmetry! Huzzah!

jan 27 2013 053

(The X’s on the mittens are squarer because the fabric hasn’t spent as much time stretched by an enormous head.)

As you can see the final result is thematically but not precisely matching. If I’d done the mittens first I probably could have adjusted the hat more easily so that they were an exact match. But, I also think that this set tells a nice little story to someone who is looking carefully and knows handknits. Sometimes, I like having little “tells” of provenance, and these mostly-matching items have just that.

J’s review of the mittens is that they are soft, warm, match his already-beloved hat, and fit in his coat pocket, though they’re not as windproof as his thick snow-shoveling gloves. They are excellent for posing.

He's taken, ladies.

(I love this man so much.)

Colorwork Hat

Posted in FO, knitting by tchemgrrl on January 31, 2013

I know, I said last week about how I wanted to knit more big scale projects, and the next few posts will be accessories. But I have pulled out a few skeins of the yarn that will become a sweater for J, which means the sweater is practically done, right? Ah, well.

hat and mittens

If you ever make hats and don’t have the book “Hats On!”, I’d highly recommend it. I’ve knit several of the patterns and have enjoyed them all. One nice thing about the book is that Charlene Schurch did such an excellent job of making each hat in various sizes. This makes it pretty easy to mix-and-match patterns, because you can look through the book to find something that will work with, say, 140 stitches for the particular head and yarn that you’re using. This hat is a mixture of two patterns from the book, with further minor adjustments for the tighter gauge I used. The earflaps and crown shaping are from the Danish Earflap Cap, while the X pattern is the alternate colorwork pattern for the Lusekofte Hat, which J preferred over the snowflake pattern on the earflap cap.

I really like the way the earflaps are constructed. The stitches you cast on form the inner hem, and the earflaps are formed one at a time using short rows. If you’ve ever done a short-row toe or heel on a sock, it’s exactly the same thing. Then after you knit the remainder of the hem (some of which is colorwork here), you pick up stitches from the cast on edge and knit them together with the live stitches to seal up the hem. It’s a technique I learned about in this book and have used on a number of other projects.

I used navy Dale Falk left over from the toddler rainbow sweater, and bought a skein of gray Falk to coordinate. I knit it at a somewhat tighter gauge than listed on the ball band–I think I was using US 2’s, since I wanted it to be fairly windproof.

The end result was very successful. J had expressed interest in having a tassel on top and ties for the ear flaps, but I didn’t have a chance to make either, or even to wash and block the hat, because as soon as I wove in the ends he put it on his head and pretty much hasn’t taken it off since. (He’s since decided that it doesn’t need them.)

He likes that the fabric is stiff enough to allow him to do this with the earflaps when he’s indoors:

He really wears the hat like this.

When he walked into knitting group like that I could see several people trying to figure out how I had shaped the earflaps so as to get them to stick out like that.

2012 in review (Knitting)

Posted in knitting, made with handspun, Organization, planning by tchemgrrl on January 21, 2013

A chance for me to see a bigger picture.

I go through phases where I feel like I’m spinning my wheels in terms of craft. Toddler has been going though a phase of un-awesome sleep combined with a phase of all-Mommy-all-the-time, and I haven’t been getting much creative work done as a result. It’s a good time of year to actually assess output and see where I could go in the next year.

A hat for J (He started wearing it immediately off the needles so I haven’t had a chance to block and photograph it yet, but a post will be coming soon.)

5 Mason Jar covers (4 pictured, one more was knit and given too fast to take a picture):

Mason Jar sleeves

Eze Shawlette:

120512 009

Never-worn Rainbow Sweater (not that I’m bitter):

squash sweater

Paxton for Hunter:


Vest for Lydia:

L's vest

Vest for no one in particular:

Little vest

Hitchhiker v.2:

Handspun Hitchhiker

Braided ball:

cool toy

Hitchhiker v.1:


Hoodie for Charlotte:

Charlotte's Hoodie

Springsteen-inspired hat for Unca Billy:

springsteen hat

Year of the Kid Sweater, I think. And shawls.

That’s an average of one thing (or set of things) per month, which is actually way more than I expected to see. There are a lot of gifts that were sent out almost immediately upon completion, which may be why it doesn’t feel like much, because I don’t *see* them all the time. There are also a lot of smaller items–all those one or two skein projects, and I often don’t give those the same level of consideration that I do to a large shawl or sweater. More than half of them involved a significant contribution from my handspun, though, and I only bought commercial yarn for one of the projects. This seems about right.

Looking through the group does clarify some things that I’d like to do this year. I have several sweater-scale quantities of handspun. Both the larger scale of a full-size sweater and the exclusive use of handspun in a big project appeal to me.

Also, what the heck, it’s been a ridiculously long time since I’ve knit socks. I got some really lovely sock yarn at the yarn swap this summer, so maybe that’ll happen.

The baby sweater craze is not likely to abate anytime soon; I actually have some yarn balled up and another baby project for another baby of friends is next on my list.

And someday, though maybe not this year, I’d like to knit something that the Toddler will deign to wear. (He’s been getting more interested in the pointy sticks recently. “Mommy knittin’,” he’ll say, and wave his arms in a fair approximation of what I’m doing.)

Quick Gift

Posted in FO, handspun, knitting, made with handspun by tchemgrrl on January 17, 2013

My knitting group has been going through a certified Cuppow craze. Cuppows are small plastic lids that turn wide-mouthed Mason jars into travel mugs. They’re convenient and cute and ecologically minded and cleverly-named, and so are just about the most Ithaca thing imaginable. (There’s even now a locally made version made of metal being sold at the co-op, for those who avoid plastics.) Their use spread like wildfire in the knitting group, to the point where we all went in on a large wholesale purchase together.

It being a knitting group, within a few weeks, everyone had designed their own way of protecting the jar and displaying their knitting. L’s had no bottom, K’s and a different K’s had bases and started from the bottom, but involved different numbers of yarn strands, needles, and stitches cast on, and at least one other person’s made some but I don’t see them in her projects. I worked mine top-down and played around with various stripe and stitch patterns so as to use up leftovers.

I was able to complete a whole one of these in a single knitting group session, so they’re a ridiculously quick knit and are GREAT for very small bits of leftovers. The gray stripe in the last cozy came from a ball of yarn about the diameter of a quarter and ended up looking perfectly at home.

The stitch patterns and yarn combos were made up more or less totally on the fly. I was really happy with how they came out, and the recipients seemed to enjoy them too. I also think this would be a good project for beginner handspun, where you could actually handle it and enjoy it all the time. A winner all around.

Combined with a Mason jar full of tea-making supplies and a Cuppow, they’re a quick, inexpensive, homey gift. We’re always trying to make the holidays more homemade, and these fit in pretty well with the Apple butter and the local wines and the handsewn gift bags.

Mason Jar sleeves

Mason Jar Sleeve

Fits a standard wide-mouth Mason jar.

-Ability to do, or willingness to learn: knitting in the round, decreases, colorwork (optional).
-Between 0.5 and 0.75 ounces of worsted weight yarn, or about 50 yards.
-Size 8US needles, either double-pointed or an appropriate combination of circulars to deal with small circumferences. (Gauge about 4 st/inch, 6 rows/inch, but it’s pretty forgiving.)

Cast on 36 stitches, and join without twisting.

Knit 5 rows of garter stitch, then begin stockinette section. The stockinette section can be a chance to sample a colorwork pattern you’ve been thinking of, or simply knit a plain or striped stockinette pattern that is pleasing to you.

Knit for about 4 inches.

Purl one round, then knit one round even. (This will form a neat turn for the base of the sleeve.)

Decrease 4 stitches evenly across every round until you have 8 stitches. Cut a long yarn tail, thread it through the last stitches, and pull tight. Throw it in the wash for a cycle to full slightly if it seems loose.


Posted in FO, handspun, knitting, made with handspun by tchemgrrl on January 11, 2013

In early November I went on a short business trip that involved about 10 hours on a bus and plenty of downtime in between.

I usually turn to shawls when this happens, and this time was no different.

The Eze shawlette was in the holiday issue of IK that I’d picked up shortly before my trip, and the short but still non-repeating pattern appealed to me. The Yak-merino that I spun up this past spring seemed like it would go well, so on the most total of total whims, I grabbed the skein, the copy of IK, and a pair of needles that seemed about right on my way out the door.


Working on the project provided was exactly what I’d hoped for–a pleasant layer of complexity, but very easy to work on in little bits of time or in long stretches on the bus between naps. The yarn doesn’t shed as much as I’d feared, though the yak does obscure the lace just a bit.


I made a slight modification to the pattern by repeating one section of lace because I wanted to use up all of the yarn. Of course, then I had been about one row over-optimistic and needed to end the lace pattern one row before the end. Not too bad, though–the droplets look like hanging bells instead.

This was a really fast knit. I started it on a Wednesday and wove in all the ends at the next Saturday’s spinning guild meeting. Amazing what 48 hours more-or-less to oneself will do, even when one is spiraling down into a bad cold. (Maybe because of that; I was all on my own in NYC and went to bed at 6pm. Plenty of cozy knitting time.)

120512 009

The shawl seemed very small when finished, but opened up enough after blocking to be okay, though still quite small. If I were to knit it again, I’d start with more yardage and plan on adding a few repeats in.

What Happened?

Posted in Black Sheep Handspinners Guild, handspun, knitting, made with handspun, spinning by tchemgrrl on January 4, 2013

I blinked and suddenly hadn’t posted in 2 months. Partly working on holiday-related projects, partly the spate of birthdays and Hannukahs and Hogswatches and Festivuses, partly a family-wide cold that lasted approximately one geologic age.

(A conversation with the toddler’s pediatrician 3 weeks in, a point at which Theo got mildly wheezy:)

Me: “We all have that cold that lasts forever right now.”
Her: “Ugh, everyone has it. Nobody can kick it in less than a month. What’s up with that anyways?”
Me: “When the medical professional is talking like that, you know it’s a special virus.”)

Now that gifts have been given and wellness is returning, I may actually be able to post regularly, again. In the mean time, enjoy the gift of a 37.5 pound vegetable that volunteered in a friend’s garden, enjoying a sweater that a 35 pound toddler refuses to wear:

squash sweater

And enjoy the gift of shameless promotion.

Roc Day, our guild’s annual fiber festival, is happening next Saturday, Jan. 12th. Info here. I’m in charge of the committee this year, which means that if you go and see a wool-ensconced blur, it’ll probably be me running around to make sure everything’s running smoothly and everyone is happy and verifying that the vendors are not sharpening their knitting needles in preparation of a turf war. You should come! Just don’t take sides in the turf war.

Festival recap

Posted in fun, handspun, knitting, spinning, travel by tchemgrrl on September 26, 2012

The Finger Lakes Fiber Festival was the weekend before last, and I have now recovered enough to talk about it.

First off: Perfect weekend. Mild and crisp and partly sunny, great energy in the crowd, everyone cheerful and chatty and enjoying their surroundings. There was an incredible thunderstorm on Friday evening, but we managed to set up just before it started, and by the time it was going in earnest, we were safely at the hotel eating dinner. The storm cleared the air for the rest of the weekend, and though some things got a little damp overall it was excellent timing.

For the majority of the weekend I was helping out friends with their booth, restocking and answering questions about spindles and spinning and how much yarn was needed for such-and-such a pattern. It was super-busy, but in a cheerful fun way, never in a “oh god so crowded MUST ELBOW THIS PERSON AWAY THAT’S MY YARN YOU WENCH” sort of way.

On Saturday at the FLFF, I took a class on tape weaving, which was really interesting, and which I’ll talk about in another entry.

I won some prizes:


4th and 2nd for my spinning. (The 4th, I will tell you, was out of 4 entries, so save the standing ovation.) The judges gave detailed, useful feedback, though, which I really appreciated. I already have some ideas for submissions next year and ways to improve.

I spun on one of Susan’s batts with my spindle all weekend while helping out, and in spite of the fact that I didn’t feel like I picked it up all that often, I still managed to spin and ply most of a 150 yard, 2-ply, 2-ounce sportweight yarn.

aqualime batt

The evenness is all over the place thanks to the hustle and bustle, but hey. Significant yardage under the circumstances. I have more to say about that yarn, but I’ll save it for later.

Fun weekend, good time. For anyone who’s anywhere between Rochester and Ithaca, I highly recommend going next year. It is my Platonic Ideal of a fiber festival–right size, right number of vendors, right crowdedness, right mix of people. I’d like a few more fiber animals, but as it’s put on by volunteers from the Genessee Valley Handspinners’ Guild, I figure that if something needed to give somewhere then showing animals would be the thing I’d choose too.

Baby Sweater

Posted in FO, handspun, knitting, made with handspun by tchemgrrl on September 20, 2012

I mentioned last week that a Baby Sweater Emergency jumped on me recently. A coworker is going to be a first-time grandmother soon, and I had some yarn I spun up a while ago that I thought would be just perfect for this particular little dude.


The pattern is Paxton (Rav link) in the newborn size. I’ve actually knit this pattern before, when the Toddler was in utero: this seems to be the Year Of Knitting From the Same Pattern More than Once for me. As I did with Hitchhiker, though, I made some changes the second time through. I put cables along the raglan decreases, and then from the underarm to the hem. Not only is it decorative, but I felt like the added density of cables at places where hems usually are would add some stability to the garment.

The yarn is a handspun, chain-plied merino-tencel blend that I apparently never blogged about, being spun in the very early days of the Toddler’s life (mostly in the brief moments he happily laid on his diaper changing table, amazed by his mobile oh my GOD how was he ever that small.)

baby sweater yarn

One interesting thing about the yarn was that I specifically spun it for a baby sweater. I knew from my experience with the other Paxton that a newborn size sweater would use about 4 ounces of DK weight handspun, and that the sleeves would take up a little less than a third of the total fiber. I also knew that the sleeves would be about 1/4 the width of the body. Because I wanted the stripes to be of roughly equal width, I spun the singles for the body from the full width of the dyed top, but split the top destined for the sleeves into 4 equal-sized pieces. The length of each color for the sleeve yarn, therefore, was about 1/4 the width of the length of each color for the body, making the sleeve stripes approximately equal.

This was a fun experiment, and a successful one. (It’s also the one that I thought about when I started working on the rainbow cardigan, and one of the reasons I was thinking about this yarn at the moment I realized that this soon-to-arrive baby was Dangerously Undersweatered.) One thing I didn’t fully account for was that I should have adjusted the length of my chains as I plied to minimize color mixing–you’ll notice that there aren’t as many distinct light areas in the sleeves compared to the body, and that’s because they were so short that they ended up getting mixed with the colors to either side. I’d certainly consider doing this again, and would try to remember to adjust chain length accordingly next time for better matching between sleeves and body.