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Math4Knitters, Crafty Living: Show 134

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Lara Neel - The Journal Gazette
I love sheep soap.

Math4Knitters, Crafty Living: Show 134

Lara Neel - The Journal Gazette
This is the thicker Romney yarn, before it was washed.

This week, I chat with Lisa Grossman, a.k.a. the Tsarina of Tsocks, talk about the Tour de Fleece, and share another Wash/Dish/Anycloth pattern. Also, how part of a garden hose could save your back, some day.

Tour de Fleece

I learned to spin just over four months ago, but the Tour de Fleece has really kicked my obsession up a few notches. I sneak in spinning time whenever I can. If I know I won't have any other time, I even spin as I'm waiting for the water to boil for my coffee - and spin again when I'm waiting the 10 minutes for the coffee to steep. I even hauled my wheel to my knitting group last weekend, which I never do.

On my lunch break, I like to look at other people's spinning on Ravelry. Messy bobbins are my favorite!

I'm enjoying the Tour de Fleece, but I also know it will be over on the day this podcast comes out. So, will I still be able to say, "I'm not going to clean the toilet today, I have my spinning goal to meet?" Do I want to make this a permanent thing?

Probably. I'll keep you posted. It makes me feel strangely selfish, but I don't think I'll be able to give up my 20 to 200 minutes of spinning a day. Actually, the most I've think I spun in one day was for about 4 hours on the night I heard my grandmother had died, only a month after I learned to spin. It was incredibly soothing in a way that knitting couldn't be.

This sounds a little strange even to me, but I've been knitting for so long that it's harder for knitting to distract me. Even relatively challenging knitting is more likely to just jump the rails and go wrong if I'm in a bad emotional state. I guess, since I don't expect my spinning to be near-perfect (which I DO expect from my knitting), I can still enjoy it when I'm distracted, sad, or just feeling a bit off.

Also, and I KNOW this sounds strange, when I ponder or touch my knitting, I often have very strong memories of what I was thinking or feeling when I knit it. So, I really don't like to knit when I'm TOO sad or upset, since I don't want that emotion to soak into my knitting. When I'm spinning, a lot of my attention is on the fiber and yarn. It almost crowds out everything else, like reading a good book. Sometimes I need that.

Getting Rough

Last weekend, I finished some long-draw yarns in a process I call "rough washing." I mentioned it briefly in my Tour de Fleece notes, but I want to share a more thorough version of it with you today.

I had some Romney I spun up last week before I could use my high-speed pulleys.

Lara Neel - The Journal Gazette
Do not be fooled, this yarn isn't nearly as balanced as it looks on the niddy-noddy.

I skeined it up using a niddy noddy and added some cotton yarn as ties to keep it orderly.

Lara Neel - The Journal Gazette
Everyone knows a single yarn is always active. (Er, just a little yarn humor for you, there.)

It wasn't balanced at all. How could it be? It's just a single.

Lara Neel - The Journal Gazette
I know you're jealous because my basement floor is SO SEXY.

I use rough washing to fluff up the fibers in long-draw yarns. (If you did this with a worsted-style yarn, it would probably be a disaster.) It gives them a really interesting texture. The first time I did it, I worried that the yarn wouldn't felt again, as in a felted project. But, I tried it with some and it behaved relatively normally. If I were planning a specific project, I would make a small test skein, swatch, and felt it, to be sure.

This time, I used rough washing to clean up a skein of random bits of leftover wool I've nicknamed Jabba the Hank and this singles yarn. I always try to work on more than one skein at once, because otherwise it's a lot of effort just to have one skein of yarn ready to go. I organize my washing so that my naturally-colored, cleanest yarns are worked first, followed by dyed yarns and dyed yarns that I think contain lanolin. This is to keep extra dye, dirt or grease from migrating out of some skeins and into others.

I washed the singles yarn first. I boiled a kettle of water and put that in the bucket on the right with a small amount of dish detergent. In the other bucket, I had cold tap water. I bought the plunger just for working with yarn and it is kept away from all of the other cleaning supplies in the house. I think it would be super-gross to have a plunger go from unsticking a toilet to washing my precious yarn!

Lara Neel - The Journal Gazette
This was the largest of a set of plastic mixing bowls. It's too big to wash easily, so I turned it into a "fiber washing" bowl.

I dunked the yarn into the hot bucket and agitated it, roughly, with the plunger for about 30 seconds or until I got sick of it. Then, I threw it into the cold bucket and did the same thing. I like to play The Gossip on my iPod to keep my tempo up. Bikini Kill will work, too, or whatever your favorite angry band happens to be at the moment.

I repeated the hot and cold routine, reminding myself of The Princess Bride, about 5 times. Then, I put the yarn into a white bowl of lukewarm water to relax while I worked on Jabba the Hank. It's white because a) It's what I have and b) I can pretend that it lets me know if a dyed yarn needs more washing.

Lara Neel - The Journal Gazette

I picked up the wool for Jabba at a guild meeting, and I guessed that he included some lanolin from the sticky feeling of him, but I KNEW when he hit the soapy water. The grease in the wool reacted with the soap bubbles in the water, hopefully removing most of both from the yarn. The water also looked murky and a little gross, but some of that could have been excess dye coming out.

Lara Neel - The Journal Gazette
You will just have to imagine how great I must look when I splash water and soap all over myself as part of this process. I'm holding the camera, so all you get to see is the yarn.

Since I wanted to be thorough, I put Jabba in the cold water and went upstairs to boil another kettle of water. I added a little more soap to this newly-hot water and rough washed Jabba.

Lara Neel - The Journal Gazette
This is after the yarn was nice and dry, a few days later.

When Jabba's rinse water ran clear, I put both skeins into the washing machine, spun out all of their extra water, and hung them to dry.

Lara Neel - The Journal Gazette
Jabba the Hank, after drying.

My basement floor is just concrete, as you can see. So, I don't mind splashing water everywhere. I clean it up afterwards. You may not be surprised to hear that it's just about the only time my basement floor sees soap and water, so I look at it as an extra benefit of this process. If you don't have a similarly nasty basement floor, you could just as easily do this in a bathtub.

Also, I thought of something on Sunday that I need as part of this process. About 3 feet of old garden hose would have saved me a lot of lifting heavy buckets of water, since I could have just siphoned the water into my basement sink instead. I didn't think of that, so I'm enjoying some fun reminders this week.

Some side effects/benefits of not carefully protecting your lower back:

- Walk with a dignity of carriage that belies your age (by limping along as if you are three times that age).

- Leave off the trappings of this vain world and celebrate comfort (by being unable to wear cute high-heeled shoes for a week or so).

- Reconsider your priorities (by not picking up things you have dropped, like pocket change).

I'm experiencing all of this joy and pleasure right now and, let me tell you, it's a change in perspective.

I did, at least, wear gloves. So, I didn't scald myself or get three-day dishpan hands. These are both good things if you enjoy spinning and knitting for fun.

Skeins treated in this way fluff up. Sometimes, they also become a lot shorter than they were when I wound them. I wind my skeins kind of tightly anyway, so they often aren't a full yard. I measure the skeins when they are on my swift, count the number of turns in each one, and use that to calculate approximate yardage. I'm not entirely in love with this method and I look forward to actually having a yarn measuring tool.

Behm Cloth 4

This pattern depends completely on self-striping cotton yarn. When the colors change, simply add some slipped stitches in for a little color blending. I'm really happy with it.


The Tsarina of Tsocks and I have a mostly Twitter-based relationship, so it was nice to be able to talk with her on the phone. We chatted about knitting, spinning, The Lord Chancellor's Nightmare and a bunch of other stuff. I hope you like it as much as I did.


Elizabeth Zimmermann founded Schoolhouse Press.

- Knitting Without Tears

- Knitty

- Lobscouse and Spotted Dog

- Patrick O'Brian

- The NYS Sheep and Wool Festival is in Rhinebeck, NY, so it's sometimes called "Rhinebeck."

- Ravelry


- The Lord Chancellor's Nightmare Socks

- Massachusetts Sheep and Woolcraft Fair

- Butterfly Girl Spindles

- Hitchhiker Spinning Wheel

- Tsocks 101

- Chakras Sock

- Knitty Article: Socks 101 was written by the lovely Kate Atherley.

- Stringtopia

- Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival

- The Massachusetts Sheep and Woolcraft Fair is in Cummington, Mass., so it's sometimes called "the Cummington Festival."