Spinning: Manx Loaghtan – Color Choices While Spinning

House is having remodeling done, so I’m a bit limited in my ability to dye right now. Should be done soon, I hope!

So, spinning! Color! A lot of people ask me, “How do you know how a fiber will spin up in terms of color?”

Like just about every question in textiles, the answer is a very clear, “it depends.” Depends on the length of the fiber, how you spin it, how you divide it, how even your spinning is…

But there are definitely guidelines. The most obvious being, as long as it’s not solid, you can probably spin it so it looks “tweedy.” But that’s honestly not all that helpful, now is it?

Manx Loaghtan:
Manx Loaghtan is a very English breed of sheep, with 4 horns similar to a jacob. They are native to the Isle of Man. Soft enough for most next to skin wear. With a soft loftiness, very warm! My favorite pair of fingerless gloves are made with Manx! It’s resistant to felting, though if you try it will certainly felt. This is a very “poofy” fiber, so make sure to spin it finer than the final result you want!

This fiber is naturally a fawn brown, and it takes dye well to make great rich earth tones. My next-to-skin tolerance is fairly high as things go, and this one (as I’ll talk about later) is quite susceptible to different spinning styles in relation to softness.

So I started with something fairly simple in the braid for a couple reasons, primarily to make it easy to show the process. For this we can only think about color in terms of what’s next to what.

A simple, two-color space dye. Red – Long Gold – Long Red – Gold.

Something you can quickly see from this photo is how it was probably dyed (hint: it was), folded in thirds, then half dyed each color. I’ve also shown the braid here so you can see what it looks like braided. This is a useful thing to remember, if you’ve got colors next to each other on different strands of the braids, they’re a third apart on the actual fiber. We’ll get back to that.

So here’s a super accurate schematic of what I’m working with:

If I spin a singles yarn, one end to the other, it’ll look exactly as is, and knit up in similar as stripes.

Another super accurate schematic:

Similarly, if I strip the braid lengthwise into more pieces and then spin and ply them back together, they’ll still be the same striping pattern… with a small margin of error for differences in spinning between the singles.

If instead I divided it in half shortways and spun/plied into a two ply…

This super accurate schematic:

Becomes EITHER this super accurate schematic:

or this one:

Which brings us to thinking about plying. If we again assume this second theoretically flawless schematic is spun by an equally flawless spinner, red will be next to gold for the entire length of the yarn once plied. You’ll get an even barber pole effect. Interesting, but not what I’m looking for.

If you go back to the one above, you’ve got 3 regions of color. Red next to red, red next to gold, and gold next to gold. So you’ll get three stripes of color when you knit it up, all red, then a barber pole red/gold, and then all gold. When knit up, barber pole tends to look like a tweed version of the brighter color. So solid red, reddish gold tweed, gold.

Interesting, but still not what I’m looking for.

Now we get FANCEH. Ok, totally not, but we talk about other options.

Relevant here is obviously what you’re making. If you’re making a series of small things, these big long color repeats are just going to result in say, a mostly gold glove and a mostly red glove. Now, I don’t have a plan for this yarn (or didn’t when I was spinning it) though I had vague hat thoughts, which show off stripes well.

Back to our original schematic:

I said originally if I strip it the long way instead of the short, it will spin up exactly like this, and knit up the same. That, obviously, assumes you spin both pieces from the same end. If instead you flip one, you get…

And we’re back to red always being next to gold… Two-ply obviously has limited options. Let’s see what three-ply has to offer! As noted before if you don’t move anything around, you just get a three-ply in the colors as is. But if you DO flip one of your strips…

Oh! Well now, that’s interesting… But what’s it going to LOOK like, you’re asking, I’m sure. Because these colors don’t just all sit next to each other in three lines, do they? From a quick and dirty perspective, you’ll get a striped yarn that goes from red tweed, to gold tweed, to red tweed, to gold tweed.

Another flawless schematic, this time a “close up” of the yarn, so you can see each ply going around.

Ok, I think this is interesting enough! Obviously, you could also split the whole thing into red and gold, and then do whatever you felt like with the two colors.

Time for spinning. Last yarn was a long draw to warm up that skill again, we’ll do a short forward draw on this one. Why not, right? Again, I decided I was focused on the technique itself, so I wasn’t going to obsess over having it be flawless in terms of evenness. So I tried ot keep consistent, but didn’t use a control card or sample or anything.

Important, once stripped longwise, make sure I’ve got one flipped.

Now, here it’s worth mentioning that roving and top can have direction. That is, they can be far easier to spin from one end than the other. This particular one didn’t have that problem, but if it had, I would have simply pulled off the whole of the next color, and spun from the other end of that color.

Ok, pretty fast spin, Manx drafts really easily because its so lofty. Nice fiber, my hands mostly remember the motions with periodic problems like realizing my position was making my hip hurt. Good good.

To keep the fiber I wasn’t spinning safe, I used one of the large wedge bags from Stitched by Jessalu (in a great Gnome pattern).

Spinning spinning… yay! 3 bobbins!

You’ll see even from this photo how it’s generally going to spin up, two of one to one of the other. Next, plying! I plied this fairly tightly. No particular reason.

Well, as you can see… my spinning wasn’t identical on all three strips. Though really, for stripping by eye, and spinning by eye with no control card I didn’t do badly.

So I don’t have my perfect schematic, quite. I’ve got some offset between the strips, so instead of

I’ve got something more like this

Where periodically all three plies are the same color. Well that’s not awful, I’ll get pure color stripes between my tweed stripes, but they’ll be short since it’s just the offset. Could be an interesting effect!

Ok, time to wind off the bobbin, and loosely tie it with figure eights.

Then a wash in hot water with some medium heavy beating. It was at this point I started to realize I’d actually used the short forward draw fully. I have a tendency to fall back into a sort of double-draw/supported draw hybrid thing. This was not that, even with beating, it had little halo, and was quite dense. Well, so maybe not hat material. A lesson for others, if you want to wear it, spin it with some woolen quality. Though as spun it will be lovely and durable.

But it did make a pretty yarn!

Pretty pleased with the color, which is what I was going for. And, while it wasn’t what I expected, I’m actually pleased that my short forward draw resulted in a very worsted spun yarn, means I can still do the two ends of the spinning spectrum.

Here you can see three of the four color sections. Red/Red/Red, Red/Gold/Gold, Red/Red/Gold. I couldn’t get a Gold/Gold close enough to get it on the dime.

Given the durability and other characters, this yarn has now gone off to undergo a very secret Becoming ceremony at the fabulous Creechure Shop. I think the yarn is hoping for the ceremony to result in a Dragon, but you never know with Becomings. It could come back as an Arboreal Octopus or almost anything! Stay tuned!

Next up, Gotland (probably)! That mysterious fiber of Hobbit cloaks and deceptive halo and softness!

Until then, The Princess demands more naps.

That’s all for now!

~The Gnome

Spinning: Romney and The Uncarved Block

It has been a long time since I spun. I mean a LONG time.

I recently plied a rideau arcotte two-ply that had been sitting, completely spun, on my wheel for at least 5 years, and maybe more.

So, I decided it was time to get back into it. I love it, and it’s good to know the fiber I’m dyeing in a more intimate fashion than just how it behaves in the pot. So, a taste for the future, I plan to do more of these blog posts. We’ll see if I succeed.

I have this lovely soft lofty romney I got from a local breeder and got processed by my favorite processor into roving (the same romney that’s in the shop). Romney is a medium wool that’s used all over the country for a lot of different purposes, leading to a significantly variant fiber characteristic. It can be SUPER long, or only moderately. It can be pretty coarse (think 70’s wool sweater prickly) or downright silky. This particular batch of small farm Romney was on the average length, extra fine ends of the spectrum, and quite clean. Once back from the processor, it begged to be spun into a nice lofty, fuzzy yarn. This made it perfect for my purposes of getting back into spinning. And along with getting back into spinning, a dose of spinning philosophy.

Why, you ask?

Because I am not very good at longdraw, and that would be a great way to spin this.

Wait, you’re saying, it’s perfect because you need to spin it a way you’re bad at?

Exactly! Using a technique I know I’m not an expert in lets me more easily hang onto a concept known as “P’u” or “The Uncarved Block” from Taoism. There is what I think of as an outgrowth of this idea, though it’s technically a separate Buddhist one, referred to as “Shoshin” or “the Beginner’s Mind.” Which is all a very long lead-in to say that when I am learning something, or RElearning something, I work very hard to be Pooh, and not Rabbit.

You’re giving me that look again. Ah, yes, I learned about the idea of P’u from the fabulous book, “The Tao of Pooh” by Benjamin Hoff, and the idea has stuck with me for my whole life as I’ve struggled, or not, to learn things. Basically, the idea is that you can’t overcomplicate things with expectations and assumptions and all the things something “should” be and how it “should” work. You have to approach each thing with a fresh mind, an uncarved block, and each task with a mind open to learning and working to learn new things, a beginner’s mind. In a word, be like Winnie the Pooh.

By default, I want to be perfect. I am very definitively… not. What this means, practically speaking, is that I don’t like it when things I make aren’t perfect or I am not skilled at things. I have figured out a way around this, purposefully make things hard for myself. By making things hard, I then can convince myself it SHOULD be hard, and therefor that it’s ok to struggle. Which brings us back to the Uncarved Block and Beginner’s Mind. (All pictures can be clicked to embiggen)

This is the first yarn I spun. It is three-ply, corriedale, spun on my Ashford Traditional. It is thick as my thumb in some places, so large that when spinning it I often had to literally shove it through the orifice to wind it on the bobbin. There are a thousand things wrong with this yarn, and if I wanted to, I could go through them all. But I don’t. I’ve been spinning (with obvious breaks) for 10 years, and I have never sat down and critiqued this yarn.

Because this is the first yarn I spun. The first fiber I took from a fluffy cloud, spun, and plied into an actual yarn that could, theoretically, be crocheted or knit with (given large enough hooks/needles). It is just over 2 ounces, and I MADE it. When I had almost no idea what I was doing, I made this thing.

I LOVE this ridiculous skein of yarn.

It’s soft, it’s squishy, and I MADE IT.

When I spin, I try (and often fail) to catch that sense of wonder and acceptance that things won’t be perfect. A great spinner and talented woman, Abby Franquemont, put it this way, “Let yourself suck.” Which is, of course, a restatement of the Uncarved Block and Beginner’s Mind mantras. When I spun that first skein, I was DELIGHTED. Whatever else was wrong with it, it looked recognizably like yarn, and it was magic. I wasn’t concerned with making it perfect, I was “letting myself suck” because I knew I was learning. There’s a bit of magic every time you make something, and by the time I broke off regular spinning, I could pretty easily spin super fine yarn on a wheel or on a spindle while walking.

But that first skein will always be special, which is why I keep it. As a reminder of where I came from, and the magic of that first moment of “OMG It’s working!” Which all finally brings us back to the Romney and my relearning to spin. I knew that my hands and muscles would be out of practice. So I purposefully picked a fiber that was well suited to a skill I had only been passable at when I went on break. The idea being that I could be patient with myself, get myself into the beginner’s mind and let myself suck a little. I also didn’t make plans on use or much in the way of an idea of fineness. Long draw would help keep the fluff in the Romney, and not compact it, since I really wanted to preserve its rare softness.

So I dyed up some muddy green/brown colors I loved and got down to business. I’ll do another post (or series of posts) later about how exactly I control colors, but that would be a bit much for this post.

I decided on a three-ply because… because. No particular reason besides I felt like it and three-ply with multicolor tends to maximize tweediness if I wanted to use it for something later. And then I finally started spinning!

It came back fairly quickly. Main challenges were getting enough tension on my Schact-Reeves 30 inch. If I was doing this more often, I would likely switch to a heavier drive band. But it mostly worked, and I did some experiments on compensating with additives that I’ll post about later as well. I still tended to default to a supported long draw, which gave me a little more control. I also quickly relearned that longdraw is WAY easier if you open up the fibers first, and that it was way easier to spin from one end of the roving (though by no means impossible).

Then it was time for plying, which is always fun! I tension with my plying hand, because I’ve never gotten a braking lazy-kate. It works for me, and resulted in… yarn!

4oz fits just about exactly plied on these Schact bobbins, which is always a bonus. And it measured up to… 134yds.

With some left over. I knew there would be left overs because I was carefully not worrying about that, choosing to focus on the technique to the exclusion of other things. This meant more leftover than usual.

Leftovers were plied into a two ply. STILL remaining leftovers (you’ll notice the leftover bobbins aren’t the same either) were plied back with themselves. All the yarns were measured, given a warm bath, snap, and light thwack to even out the plying. Much to my surprise, they’re pretty balanced (another thing I didn’t plan, I just plyed until I liked the look).

134 yds of three-ply
38 yds of two-ply
12 yds of two-plied back on itself

And the final yarn?

A surprisingly even dk/worstedish yarn, with plenty of flaws, but no monumental ones that would prevent its use. Which is pretty neat, since I was not worrying at all about those things. But when I let myself have an empty mind about it, I didn’t worry and overanalyze. So I guess I naturally evened it out instead of ending up trying too hard to control it and ending up with a thick-thin monstrosity. Yay!

And my goals? Definitely got better at supported long draw. Definitely remembered how much I love spinning. Definitely saved the softness and loft of the original fiber. It’s very squishy and enjoyable.

I call that a win.

Next up on the wheel is some Manx Loaghtan

And, as a bonus for reading this far… a sneak peek of a current Gnomespun project:

That’s all for now!
~The Gnome


Gardening: Raised Beds

During the haze of last summer, I never got a blog post done about this, but now spring is coming again and as I’m getting ready to prepare next year’s gardens, I thought I’d post about how we got here with this year’s garden!

I’m living in Northern VA. The ground here is garbage. Compressed clay that never ever drains, with very little to feed plants. Our roses required multiple-foot-deep (and wide) holes in order to not behave like we’d planted them in too-small pots. The drainage is an especial problem because water where we are is very… spotty. So if you plant dry plants they drown, and wet plants dry out (or drown too).

The solution, we decided, was raised beds.

I’ve got a little experience with these, as my parents built and then modified a set of them while I was living with them. So I sat down and figured out a good size and sketched it out on graph paper to make sure that made sense in terms of the yard.

And “roughly” what I was going to put in.

Then… the work started.

We had to buy a bunch of lumber, untreated since we didn’t want to leech the stuff they use for pressure treatment into my veggies. And other materials, like nifty slotted bricks for the corners and joints…

Since it was going to be in the middle of the yard, I didn’t really want it to be pasty white, so we stained the outside surfaces.

Since the boards were untreated and they were going to be outside and against wet soil, we had to seal them. We used a “spar varnish” which is specifically meant for use on outside stuff, sprayed onto the boards.

Then, of course, they had to dry, and we repeated with the back side!

Once it was all dry (for a third time) it was time to put it together.

Which took some time, but I got it done! The slotted blocks are totally cool.

Our ground is NOT very diggable. At all. BUT just in case, I lined the bottom with small gauge fencing. Because I really don’t want ot lose stuff to voles and gophers.

Now, as an added layer of protection to keep the soil in and as much moisture away from the wood as popular (I don’t really wanna have to rebuild this thing every other year) we lined the sides with Tyvek. This also helps keep the water from running out the sides too badly.

Finally, along the back, I put up trellis made from a section of goat fence cut in half. For those who haven’t heard of that before, it’s the same idea as hog or cow fence, just with different holes. Cow and hog have more at the bottom and large spaces at the top, goat has even smallish holes all over, perfect for beans and peas. Held up with standard fence posts.

And so, the structure was done!

Which meant… time to fill it up. We got some lovely compost from a local landscaping company for… not too expensive, because we were also regrading our yard at the time and working on several other projects so I got about 7 yards of compost, plus a big pile of topsoil. The compost (or rather, much of it) went into the garden.

Woohoo! We’ve got a garden! It’s got dirt and everything! And steps!

Ok, now plants… which… sort of went as planned. Quick, change the plan, no one will notice, right? Right?

And pretty soon, OMG IT’S GROWING. It’s funny, it’s not like plants that are planted in good dirt and cared for, are unlikely to grow. They may not flower, or bear fruit, but still when stuff started coming up from seed I was both overjoyed and relieved that it had “worked.” Brains are funny things.

And grow it did, fast!

Lettuce, beans, peas, and carrots

And by the end of summer… (yes, we also put down 2400 sq feet of sod, by ourselves, in this time)

Definitely had some flaws, but mostly in my planning on how close things could or couldn’t be and what would run over other things. Also discovered after the fact that the compost is low in calcium, so I fought blossom end rot a fair amount, though it only reduced my yields. Had some bug challenges, mostly arising from the fact that almost no one else in the area has a serious garden, especially a vegetable garden. That’ll be the biggest challenge with the upcoming year, keeping the squash bugs and cucumber beetles backed off enough they don’t kill stuff. I lost almost all my melons, a third of my squash vines, and all my cucumber plants to them this year. Sadness. Hopefully better luck with those this coming year!

More dirt coming to refill the raised bed early next month, and the peas will go in on the 20th of March, as will the early in-house seeding of things like tomatoes. I can’t wait!

That’s all for now!

~The Gnome

Shop Update: Polwarth, Montadale, Romney

Shop is here

Fibers: Polwarth, Montadale, Romney

Colorways: Brecciated Jasper, Cyanophyta, Fresh Grass, Heart of the Green, Night Haunt, Munstead, Nebula, Raspberry Pie, Rosy Finch, Tigers in the Night, Vernal Pool, Aurora, Bleeding Heart, Daylily, Gneiss, Leaves on the Sidewalk, Mediterranean, Mountainside, Old Copper Kettle, Orange and Cream, Paprika, Seaside, Silver and Amethyst, Snowmelt, Tainted Love

That’s all for now!

~The Gnome

Gnomespun, MDSW and Spring Fests


The spring has sprung, and The Gnome has a new job! Workin’ workin’ workin.

I’m now down in Virginia/DC for at least the next couple years.

This put dyeing on a stall for a bit, but new fiber is piling up again!

Additionally, I went to MDSW…



And searched high and low…



And found some lovely local fleeces for fabulous fiber for you all!


I also got to see some friends…


But didn’t get to see others. So I wore the tiara with my cowboy hat, because Tsocktsarina was there in spirit (and her booth was packed)!


As for other festivals: Gnomespun will be at NHSW and MASW! Check out the Holiday Yarns booth!

The online shop will be open again after that!

That’s all for now!
~The Gnome