Knitting with Roving, Part 1 ~ A Guest Blog Tutorial by Elizabeth

Zhenya here for a brief intro: When my sister told me she was thinking about knitting with roving, I dove into our Olympic Fiber Arts inventory and emerged with the perfect fiber and an assignment: write a guest blog for Aesthetic Entanglementz! I write about my sister often enough that it’s high time you got a chance to meet her, too. So without further adieu, I give you...

Knitting with Roving, Part 1 ~ A Guest Blog Tutorial

Like so many fiber enthusiasts, I always have a list of projects I’m dying to start even -- I must confess -- when feeling overwhelmed by my myriad projects already in-the-works. The fact that my crafting interests are so varied only complicates things. I have multiple projects at different stages of completion for each hobby: sewing, knitting, cross-stitch, spinning, and weaving -- just to name a few.

My current favorite? Fiber, of course! I especially love hand-dyeing wool. My favorite part is when I first place the fiber in water to presoak. The lanolin smell of the wet wool is so clean and earthy! Not that I’m yearning to huddle with a flock of sheep in a downpour, but then again I’ve never had the opportunity. If I ever do get the chance (or have the misfortune), I’ll be sure to guest blog it for Aesthetic Entanglementz.

Enough of me and back to fiber; in particular, roving. I realize not everyone cares to try spinning -- in truth, it’s not been that many years since Zhenya scoffed at the idea when I first gave it a whirl. But surely even non-spinning fiber lovers must, when standing before a fluffly fleece or a lusciously hand-dyed batt, sliver, or roving, pause to wonder, “What could I do with this?”

For some the answer is needle felting. Zhenya and her family have experimented with that, and maybe she’ll blog about it someday. I understand that her mother-in-law made an amazing sheep! In my opinion, though, if you’re not going to spin with fiber -- or cuddle it -- the next best thing is to knit with it. Even so, my own desire to spin fiber is always greater than my inclination to knit it. I did say "next best thing," right?!

Look at the roving Z selected for me: Olympic Fiber Arts' Sunset on the Sound.

It’s so pretty, with its muted tones of pinks, greys, and smoky plums. It’s almost a neutral. I can only imagine how beautifully the colors would have blended together once spun. Alas, my assignment was to knit it. Zhenya thought this would make great knitting roving because the muted tones would remain more distinct if knit than if spun and because the colors already harmonize (which is a glorious product of the spinning in more clashingly colored rovings). Plus, it's a durable superwash wool that's next-to-the-skin soft.

If you’ve never knit with roving before, the idea of it is kind of scary -- a bit like the first time you cut into the steek on a cardigan you spent two years knitting. Set aside all those images of fiber just pulling apart like wisps in your hands; you needn’t worry.

Here’s how it works:

Start by unbraiding the roving.

Zhenya puts up the OFA roving using crochet-like chains, which makes them really easy to “un-zip” (carefully) from the bottom!

Next, separate the roving lengthwise (yes, that means the long, skinny-wise) into 4 or 5 thinner strips, each approximately the diameter of a No. 2 pencil. The roving pulls apart very easily.

This thinner roving is aptly named pencil roving because, ideally... well, you get it.

Now, if you’re an extreme perfectionist (like me), you might find yourself getting frustrated that you can’t get each length to be exactly the same diameter. Indulge your perfectionism for no more than a few seconds; then accept that, as usual, you’re over-thinking it. It will be fine if it’s close.

This is the pencil roving I made. It’s been separated, but nothing else has been done to it yet:

Once you’ve separated the roving into four or five thinner strips that are as close to the same diameter as possible, draft them a tiny bit to even everything out.

Drafting, which simply lengthens and straightens the individual fibers so they all lay nicely together in the same direction, is easy. Hold the fiber gently with your hands a few inches apart; slowly and carefully pull your hands ever so slightly further apart and watch as the fiber straightens itself out. Be careful: If you hold your hands too far apart, or pull too hard or too fast, you will separate the roving completely. When your plan is to spin the roving, that’s no big deal; but if your plan is to knit it, you really want to avoid this!

So how do you know how far apart to put your hands and how far is too far to pull? Staple length. Yes, it’s jargon, but this, too, is a cinch to figure out. Before you start drafting the roving, pinch a tiny tuft at the end and pull it away from the rest. You’ll notice that it came off in little strands of about the same length. That’s your magic distance! We'll call it "MD." It translates in practice like this:

Place your hands farther apart than MD (so the fiber will slip easily) but don’t pull the fiber as far apart as MD or the roving will separate.

Here you see my pencil roving has been drafted:

Here you see the difference between my pencil roving in its pre-drafted state (bottom) and as drafted (top):

How much should you predraft? That’s your call. I choose to err on the side of caution and leave the fiber thicker. It’s always possible to draft a bit more as you’re knitting, if necessary -- but it’s not possible to un-separate the fiber if you pulled it apart completely.

Once you’ve drafted all your fiber, you may want to check grist. It’s not necessary since you’ll swatch for gauge anyways, but if you’re curious (or, as some of us have already confessed, a compulsive perfectionist), it’s not such a bad thing to do. You’re aiming for the pencil roving to be about the same gauge as a bulky (12 ply) yarn -- about 5 or 6 wraps per inch.

I wrap roving tighter than I normally would with yarn because the fiber is so squishy and pulls just a hair thinner as I knit with it.

While you’re drafting (or knitting), you may come across slubs. Slubs are little bits where the fiber hasn’t fully aligned. They feel like bumps in the fiber. Here's one:

Slubs are not a big issue. I take care of them like this:

I pinch them out!

Once you've pre-drafted the fiber strips, gather them together for safe-keeping. I wind them into balls like this:

If you opt to do the same, please, please, please do not make the balls center-pull! Just imagine the disaster that would cause!

That’s all there is to prepping your fiber for knitting. And, really, that is the hardest part of knitting with roving.

Stay tuned for my next guest-blog entry, when I walk through steps for prepping your pattern and knitting a simple hat with all that lovely, pre-drafted roving!

If you’re dying to try this but don’t have any roving in your stash, why not give our hand-dyed Olympic Fiber Arts roving a try?


Speaking of Mermaids

Those Mermaid With Golden Hair challenge socks reminded me of something: Back in February 2010, I dyed 4 ounces of wool/mohair roving that I described in a blog post at the time as having mermaid-like colors. Into my roving stash I dove to find it.

Things started innocently enough. I just wanted to look at it and pet it... but I guess I lost control. Things got heated... and one thing led to another... and...

Yes! I spun it!

It all happened so fast!

It's love, really. I mean, look at all those gorgeous colors that combine to make the beautiful, subtle, harmonious whole!

The singles looked so amazing on the bobbins that I decided to abandon my initial impulse to ply it. The yarn is a bit over-spun in places, which is deliberate since I had expected to ply it, which would have backed out some of the twist. See that little kink in the purplish strand near the bottom-right part of the image above? There are a few more like it. I can work with that, though! I just worried that if I plied this one it would knock down the colors just a little too far -- plus, it has such lovely sheen as a singles yarn.

My work yielded two skeins: one 144 yards; the other 148.5. I didn't weigh the two halves of the roving when I split it, and I haven't weighed them since spinning, so I'm not sure if the nominal difference is due to having slightly more fiber in one of the halves or due to a slightly different grist in the spinning. But I spun both halves in a single day, and I'm pretty confident in the consistency of the spin.

Fiber: Wool/Mohair Blend (80/20)
Hand-Dyed from commercially prepared top on February 20, 2010
Spun short-draw into singles on May 14, 2011
Total Yardage: 292.5
WPI: 14
Weight: Fingering

Now I just need to figure out what to make with it. Something that won't be subjected to much friction when worn. Something for the neck or head?

Perhaps what I need is somebody else's perspective?

If you have a great pattern idea, please send it my way! Nothing I've seen online this week has called out to me as a candidate for this yarn.

Or I could design something... but that will take longer, and I'm in the mood for a more instant gratification...


Challenge Socks #6: Mermaid With Golden Hair

I can't believe it's May, let alone mid May!!! April practically flew by, with C's big birthday party, a lovely and long visit from my mother-in-law, the start of a wonderful new job, and more bouts of viruses running through the family than we ever imagined possible in a mere thirty days! May, too, is flying, with Mother's Day last Sunday, my birthday last Monday, and J's birthday today. These are busy, busy times! And in case you were wondering about whether I was still making progress on My So-Called Sock Challenge, I do have something to show for my long-finished March efforts:

I call them Mermaid With Golden Hair because the first line of "Mermaid Song" from Andrew Lloyd-Webber's Aspects of Love ran through my head practically the entire time I knit them. I can't remember the last time I even thought about that musical -- maybe a decade ago?

With these socks, the story is all about the yarn. Oh... My... Goodness! I can't say enough about how I love it!

It's Lollipop Cabin's organic, single-ply sock yarn, from right here in the Pacific Northwest. From their own PR: "Organic Wool Sock Yarn, individually hand-dyed using rain water collected from a wee little cabin located in the Pacific Northwest Cascade Mountains." 

Quaint, no?! Makes me want to go cuddle up with my knitting in that wee little cabin and listen to the rhythm of the rain beating on what I imagine to be a perfectly musical little tin roof before it tumbles into a rain barrel to be collected for dyeing!

I stumbled upon this yarn back in January, when my Mom was visiting. We spent a few days driving around to yarn stores, hitting not only our old favorites but also spreading out to catch some we'd never been to before.

The biggest score happened January 7 at Country Yarn in Snohomish. The shop doesn't have a website, but here's a link to the basic business info. Country Yarn is a real treat for the spinner, as well as the knitter, with a more extensive spinning selection than I've seen locally anywhere but at The Weaving Works -- and certainly a larger and more interesting selection of hand-dyed spinning fibers!

Among other things, I picked up enough Lollipop Cabin yarn for two pairs of socks (the other will be in lovely peaches), and my Mom picked up enough for a pair, herself.

You can get a visual inkling of just how cushiony, springy, densely wonderful this yarn is by looking at the bind-off edge of my socks. See how nice and round and tall the edge stands up? That's all the yarn's doing -- no photo styling!

Compare to the pursed-lip bind-off edge on the Jealous Zigzag socks my sister sent me last month (Brown Sheep Lamb's Pride Superwash) -- which are still getting heavy wear in my sock rotation -- or the similarly flat Fascine-ation socks (Koigu PPM) finished in February -- these socks are positively bursting with body!

Plus they are soft, soft, soft. And as I knit, I enjoyed the slight stretch sensation. A thoroughly enjoyable knitting experience!

Be forewarned if you're a fan of the highly processed: you will encounter little bits of VM in your Lollipop Cabin yarn. No biggie. It's not enough to be a nuisance. Just pick it off as you go.

The angle of this picture really highlights the golden tones:

I love this stitch pattern. You've seen it before on Aesthetic Entanglementz with my Pink Pagewood socks back in December 2008. It's a simple, 1-row, twisted knit rib worked over a multiple of 6 stitches, and I know you'll love it, too, so here it is:

Twisted Rib: K3, P1, K1tbl, P1

You'll notice that although it's made up of a completely symmetrical stitch pattern, the rib looks asymmetrical in the fabric. This is because the twist effectively nudges its stitch to the left a bit. I think it elevates the interest of the humble rib to a greater sophistication. It works equally nicely in a sleek trouser sock or a thick jeans sock. And if you're not a fan of swatching, you don't need to swatch the rib separately from stockinette to be assured of fit!

As you know, I never tire of the Eye of Partridge stitch on my heels. It's so pretty, and the stitch feels even in the back of my socks rather than ridged, like you get with the slipped rib stitch.

I realized in putting this blog together, though, that my sister and I do our heels slightly differently -- even though she also uses my MUMTU pattern. Here's the link to a picture of the heels she put on my Jealous Zigzag socks. Can you tell what's different?

That's right: I put Eye of Partridge on the heel extension (that little triangle-shaped area on the bottom), in addition to the heel flap; she doesn't. There's no right or wrong here -- it's just an example of how people develop their individual ways of doing things. She wears her hand-knit socks every bit as often and hard as I wear mine, and as far as I know she's never had to darn a heel, either. 

One last thing about the Lollipop Cabin. Our County Yarn shopkeeper, who knows the dyer, said this yarn is guaranteed not too pool. You can be sure my ears perked up at that! Now, I am realistic. I know that pooling in socks is as much a factor of gauge and stitch count as it is of some property inherent in the dye work (although I also think hand-dyers can do a better job mathematically predicting probable round-repeats so as to avoid the most unsightly pooling for the majority of sock knitters). I know that some pooling is bound to creep in. I just hope that it's not obnoxious. How did Lolllipop Cabin do?

Pretty darned well! The patterning remains even -- without being icky-stripy -- in all but one area: the gusset. That's the only spot of pooling ... and it's not surprising that the color would sit differently in this area since it's where stitches get increased.

So a big thumbs-up to Lollipop Cabin!

Best of all, I think there's enough yarn left to make a follow-up pair for C, my own little mermaid with golden hair. She'll be thrilled!

My So-Called Sock Challenge Tally (through 4.14.11):

Total: 6 pairs in 4 months

The Details:

Pattern: Mash-Up Magic Toe-Up Socks (designed by me)
Started: March 1, 2011
Completed: April 14, 2011
Materials: Lollipop Cabin Softsock, 2 240-yard skeins, colorway 1804i
Needles: US 2 / 2.75 mm
Gauge: 7.5 st/in
Primary Stitch Count: 60