It’s Fall — Color Me Walnut!

What do you do to enjoy the Fall colors?  I start cooking up all the walnut hulls that have been generously donated to me by my friends.  I like to let em get good and steamy (they’re pretty black and a little mouldy by the time I use em!).  Makes the color better.bushwalnut-1

Then — into the cook pot to make a rich, almost black dye liquor.  How does it smell??  Not bad, really, it has a nice earthy smell.  I feel like such an Earth Mother when I’m cooking up walnuts or dandelions (that’s the Spring blog!).

I use yarn and roving in the pot, sometimes together.  They seem to rub along together quite nicely — who would da thunk!

There is this new trend in shawl making to use hues of the same color in your shawl.  A few great examples are Brooklyn Tweed’s Quill, The Aranami Shawl (I’ve also seen this done with Jacob Fleece) — and The Yarn Harlot’s project shawl with Jacob Fleece and the Damask Pattern.  Really you could take ANY shawl pattern and apply a graduation of color to it, but it looks especially good when the pattern has a shift in texture — time to change colors!  Keeping it all in the same family makes a stunning piece.

Walnut dyeing is pretty cool.  I swear it almost conditions the fiber.  It feels softer to me, maybe even happier.  You WANT happy yarn — then when you pick it for a project, you get the maximum cooperation and a flawless execution of form, color and texture.  Remember — happy fiber is good fiber.bushelofwalnuts

This year I took my walnuts — gosh I had almost forgotten them — collected last Fall and sitting around in my garage for – well – almost a year (oops).  Cooked em up, and Dyed some Wool superwash roving from the Sheep Shed Studio (Brown Sheep Wool over runs), some super fine lace weight wool from the Cleveland Woolen mill (he told me it was Merino) — we’re talking 5200 ypp here folks, and some lovely superwash Merino Lace weight (2000 ypp) from Henry’s Attic.  There were 3 different batches.  The original strength and cook for 45 minutes, soak over night in the left over, and another batch after that — cooked for about 30 minutes.  I have 3 very nice shades for each fiber, and YES they all took the dye slightly differently — each according to their tastes.  It IS a wonderful life, isn’t it???

Check out the Gallery below for more pictures!

What is handspun all about? and why does it cost so much???

Years ago, it seems like a lifetime now, I wanted to take up knitting again.  I was just married, just out of college and really poor.  We just barely had enough to scrape by — thank God we lived in San Diego, where several nights a week we could go get a meal for under $5.00 at one of the beach front restaurants.  (Taquitos and salad at Tugs Tavern was the best!)

I had one really bad experience knitting with acrylic.  After several hundred hours of fisherman knit cables and designs, I could not stand the touch and feel of my new fisherman knit pullover.  That cured me — it was wool or nothing (certainly not anything “synthetic”)  30 years ago we did not have all the cool new combinations of fibers that we do today, so I just swore off anything that was not natural.

Wool was above my price range.  Then one day, while attending a free fair in Old Towne, I saw a woman spinning on an Ashford Traditional Spinning wheel.  I was captivated.  We spent about an hour or so, watching and asking questions.  The kit wheel was $75, a whole POUND of fiber was $6.00 (New Zealand — raw fleece) and carders were abut $20.00.  Once I realized that wool was $6.00 a pound I was sold, hooked, ready to get on board … I could finally afford to make a wool sweater … eventually.


The gal directed me to the only store in San Diego that had the supplies I needed.  I bought a drop spindle, carders, a pound of wool, and a book “The Joy of Spinning”.  Anytime I wanted to learn something new, I would say “Hey, I’m a college graduate, if there is a manual, I can figure it out!”  I read the book cover to cover (it’s really an entertaining read), then tried the primitive, bottom whorl drop spindle.  Here’s a thoughtif you are going to try something like spinning your own yarn — get the BEST tools you can afford — right from the start.  There is nothing more frustrating than trying to learn a new skill with substandard equipment.  You’ll never know if your lack of success is due to ineptitude, or just bad workmanship!

I looked over at my new husband, and he watched me struggling with this $&#()^% spindle and suggested we go get the kit wheel.  He has always been that way — “get the right tool from the start” — I was the one trying to save a few bucks.  I finished the wheel, put it together and then sat down with my basket full of rolags and just started spinning.  Sure I lost the thread now and then (it just gets SUCKED onto the bobbin before


you realize what’s going on) and it wasn’t SUPER smooth — but it looked like yarn by golly!


I loved the entire process.  Put a towel on your lap, card out the raw fiber (which, gratefully, was really VERY clean and only smelled of yummy lanolin), making little sausage rolls called rolags.  When you’ve got a bunch of ’em, then sit down to the wheel and start it spinning — Here’s a good one; I’m right handed, but dyslexic, so when I read the directions on which hand to draft with I got it backwards, and I draft with my left instead of my right, turning my body to the left.  Oh well — it worked out great later when I wanted to learn to spin on a great wheel.

It was a slow process at first, but eventually I started to get the hang of spinning and the yarn was looking pretty good.  My first couple of 3 oz skeins went to making a baby sweater for my first child.  I couldn’t find fiber reliably, so spinning was a hit or miss affair, along with taking care of our son. Once we moved to Ohio, I could get fleece from local sheep farmers — but that is another story all together (see The Lure of Lanolin).  Thank goodness I found Earth Guild — mail order (an actual CATALOG and SAMPLES) but at least I could now get fiber — and fiber that was cleaned and ready to go (whew, what a relief).

I would put the baby in a basket of warm laundry, and then sit and spin on the wheel — the motion of the wheel and the soft whosh and whir sound it made captivated little Jimmy — he soon went to sleep.

So what makes handspun yarn cost $50 or MORE for a 4 oz skein???

  • First you have to decide on the fiber, raw or uncombed/uncarded is cheaper, but you will have to do the carding — it takes me about a minute or two to make a rolag, and it takes about 2 dozen rolags to fill a 2-3 oz bobbin (maybe more) That looks like about an hour of carding for a 4 oz skein
  • Then you have to spin the rolags into your “single” — that’s 1 ply of a 2 or a 3 ply yarn.  Now that I’ve spun for a long time I CAN do it fast if I want to, but still it’ll take 2-4 hours to fill up 2 of those small bobbins.  Some wheels (production wheels — they have large drive wheels) can spin fast very easily, that’s good, cause it get’s tiring treadling like a speed demon.
  • Once you have filled up 2 bobbins, then the yarn has to be plied.  I usually do 2 ply, unless I want to have a thicker yarn, or I want to preserve color striping, or I want to have a stronger yarn that will pill less — then I’ll do 3 ply.
  • It only takes about 45 minutes or so to ply up 4 oz of yarn.
  • Then it needs to be skeined off, washed and reskeined — another 45 minutes.

Lets do a little adding now.  But First, most spinners can buy their fiber ready to go, they’ll pay $2-$5 per ounce for those beautifully processed, dyed and mixed batts of ready to spin fiber — but it’s worth it.  We won’t add the carding time — we’ll just keep in mind that the spinner has spent a little money to bring you this nice yarn.

  • Spinning time: Take the average 3 hours / 4 oz
  • Plying time:      3/4 hour
  • Skeining/Washing time:   3/4

That looks like 4.5 hours 4 oz skein from start to finish.  The spinner might like to make minimum wage $7.75/hour ~$35.00 plus the cost of materials (let’s say $15.00) and you have $50.00 — that’s if she is going to sell to you directly.  Selling to a shop owner means she has to take less for her product so the owner can make some money too.

I didn’t even include if the spinner hand paints the roving or yarn — that’s an entire new process.

Why do you want handspun?   A skein of handspun yarn has been prepared by someone, personally.   They have used their sense of Art to create a product from scratch.  If you are a knitter, you’ll love handspun, it is basically magical. The Spinner has put a bit of her soul into the yarn with which  you are knitting.  Her energy is in there!  So far everything I have made with handspun has turned out beautifully.  I like to cogitate on my handspun, and let it tell me which project would be best — then the magic really kicks in.

Spinning on a Canadian Production Wheel

Spinning on a Great Wheel

A HandSpun Gallery