How do you weave on a potholder loom?

By Amelia © August 3, 2014

It's been an eventful summer here with relatives and friends visiting, remodeling happening, and on and on. I had a very creative time with the young son of a friend playing with knitting looms and potholder looms. He wanted it all done faster, so being the kind to take comments to heart, I slept on it.

The next morning, I found he had inspired an idea ... my potholder loom reminds me of my weave-it loom, square with pegs all the way around. Why couldn't we load it with loops the same way we wound yarn on the weave-it?

Turns out, we could. And with that, Micah was mightily entertained loading loops on looms for a variety of color-and-weave inspired potholders, then ran around outside while I zipped through the much quicker weaving phase at the end.

Step 1: put loops on every other peg in one direction:

Step 2: put loops on every other peg in the other direction:

Step 3: put loops on the empty pegs in the first direction:

Step 4: weave loops through for the empty pegs in the "other" direction. I find this is easiest done by weaving an afghan crochet hook through all the loopers:

then pulling the new looper through and catching it on the pegs at the start and end:

Do this all the way up. There are only half as many to weave this way!

So now that I've sorted that out, of course I'm playing with yarn on the loom as if it were a weave-it on steroids. And considering making more potholder/looper squares with texture and weave ideas.

If you are interested in small looms, is a terrific website for more information, and Meg Stump's new book Pin Loom Weaving: 40 Projects for Tiny Hand Looms has some fun projects in it.

Happy weaving!

© August 3, 2014 by Ask The Bellwether, posted at

What do you use singles for?

Common spinning philosophy is that you "have to ply" so that your yarn is balanced. After all, if singles are unbalanced, and intrinsically they are, then they are hard to work with. Right? Well, yes-and-no. Like all things in life, the philosophy has its nay-sayers. There are folks who only learn to spin singles, never ply, and work with their singles quite happily. They get confused when other spinners walk up to them and tell them their yarn is "wrong" because it isn't plied.

And, I agree -- it isn't wrong to not ply. The key is to understand what you are working with. My bestie, D, spins singles and crochets up a storm. Her crochet is lovely and her singles are gorgeous, strong yarn.

So, how do you work with singles? what do you use them for?

First off, if you want your singles to behave when you work with them, you have some options. You can block your yarn -- hang a weight from it while it dries to stretch it out. This keeps the yarn calm while you work with it, though since it is at maximum stretch it isn't very elastic. If I did this with knitting or crochet yarn, I would use a slightly larger needle with the yarn and then I would wash the item in warm water so the yarn could relax and puff up, regaining some of its elasticity, after I made the item.

Singles in knitting can bias. If blocked beforehand, you may not be aware of it happening -- in fact, they won't bias until you wash the item in warm water. And, there are stitches you can use to avoid bias from singles. Seed stitch, moss stitch, garter stitch -- any knit stitch that puts purls above knits repeatedly will prevent biasing from the active twist in the single.

Another way to make singles behave and prevent bias in knitting at the same time is to full the yarn. Wash it repeatedly in warm and cold water, agitating it. With fine wools or fibers (merino, cashmere, angora) it takes very little effort to full the skein. With long wools or smooth fibers (cotswold, suri alpaca) it takes more effort to full the skein. So, test the skein as you are fulling it and stop before it turns from a skein of yarn into a fulled yarn-necklace. Re-skein it while it is damp or as soon as it dries, to separate the strands. Fulled yarn has the twist locked in place, so although it isn't technically balanced, it also no longer exhibits kinkiness from active twist. It will knit calmly and the fabric will not bias.

Weaving with singles is exciting -- all that active twist has to do something. It's fun to explore with mixed-twist fabric, stripes of S singles and Z singles in the warp. To keep warp singles calm, it's standard practice to douse them in a "sizing agent" -- basically a rinsable starch to keep them stiff while weaving but rinsed out when the item is done so their active twist reasserts itself.

When you weave S singles and S singles against each other, they lock in place (similarly with Z and Z), and do not buckle or bias as a fabric. The fun happens with S singles against Z singles -- the combination puckers and buckles, creating a very textured fabric. Combining singles and balanced plied yarn gives you something partway between the two -- a mild texturing to the fabric similar to the "tracking" you can see with some yarns.

My bestie D tells me that crochet doesn't bias with singles, and she should know :-) I think that's because crochet goes up and down, left and right -- all the different directions keep the single's active twist at bay.

I tried embroidery with singles recently...ummm, it was a brief, unhappy experience. I haven't heard of people using singles for embroidery, but I also hadn't been cautioned against it. So, I tried. I now see why all my DMC floss is plied, and my next handspun embroidery project will use a balanced plied yarn.

That said, I have been doing a fair bit of Nalbinding lately, now that I am offering it regularly at Bazaar Girls in Port Townsend. Traditionally, wool Nalbinding is done with singles. It's great for separating the yarn into the yard-long lengths used in Nalbinding, and also for the felted joins that make it seem like Nalbinding is one continuous yarn.

Those are the needle arts I have explored with singles yarn. I'd love to hear if you have experience with singles yarn in another needle art, and if you would recommend it or not. How would it fair in: tatting, sprang, punchneedle, rug hooking, kumihimo, or your favorite needle art?


There are quite a few entries about singles yarn on Ask The Bellwether. These are a few of my favorites:

© January 1, 2014 by Amelia of Ask The Bellwether, posted at

What is your knitting nemesis?

By Amelia © December 1, 2013,

Seed stitch has always been a challenge for me to knit. So much so, I sweet-talked my mother into knitting a booth sample sock for me because the leg was all in ... Seed stitch! Ouch! I learned that my mother didn't enjoy seed stitch, either.

But somewhere along the way, my hands have apparently made their peace with the yarn-to-the-front-and-purl, yarn-to-the-back-and-knit pattern that is seed stitch.

It all started with a little class on speed knitting from Stephanie Pearl-McPhee at Madrona a few years ago. She taught us lever knitting,where one needle is stationary, the other does the work, and you minimize the distance yarn has to move. Very efficient.

One of my take-aways from the class is that the yarn is basically making the same motion all the time, which I can simplify down to a flick of my index finger when it is tensioned correctly. The second key take-away for me was that I can often combine movements: take the old stitch off the left needle while at the same time, bringing the yarn to the front to be ready for the next stitch, a purl; or bring it to the back while removing the old stitch if the next stitch is a knit. That made seed stitch as many beats as stockinette, rather than the doubling it used to be for me due to separating that yarn-to-front, yarn-to-back motion from the others while knitting.

When we learn a new skill, often it's about breaking down actions into individual steps so we can understand what is going on and have more control over the process. But mastering a skill can be about figuring out how to combine separate actions into one fluid motion to be more efficient.

Take a look at your next seed stitch project, or K1P1 ribbing, and see if you already have the combined motion down, or if your knitting can be helped by that like mine was.

My little project-in-process here is Steampunk Washcloth (based on from charka-spun Peruvian mauve cotton. I picked this pattern due to the edging: less than perfect handspun tends to have wriggly edges, so by having a little edging on the work, I can even out that roughness. Worked like a charm!

© December 1, 2013 by Ask The Bellwether, posted at

How do you tie a skein?

© November 14, 2013 by Amelia of Ask The Bellwether

A post on tieing skeins, really? Yes, really. As a spinner, this is something I do a lot. Every time I have a full spindle or bobbin of yarn ready to be finished (with a gentle wash, usually), I have to skein it up.

That skein has a lifespan with chapters: first, it needs a wash. After washing, it is reskeined for storage. It might then be reskeined in preparation for the county fair or dyeing.

In this video, I show the skeining of the spindle-spun singles that are destined for the county fair:

Here are some skein facts for you:

  • For two ounces or more, I wind 2-yard skeins. For less, I usually wind an arm skein (like winding an extension cord, around your arm).
  • I will tie most 2-yard skeins, sock-weight or thicker, in 4 places. Skeiners such as the one in the video, and niddy-noddies, conveniently wind skeins with 4 posts in the skein. So it's easy to decide where to tie it.
  • For finer yarned 2-yard skeins, I will put 6-8 ties in. the last thing I want is for the skein to get disorganized in the sink.
  • For arm-skeins, I use 3 ties for most yarns, 4-5 ties for finer yarns.

As shown in the video, the first skein winding, of to-be-washed yarn, uses self-ties. The inner end, at the start of the skein, is self-tied around the skein: wrap the end around the skein and tie it to itself the way you tie a shoe or a ribbon before making a bow; not pulled tight, not loose, just so the yarn wrap rests on the surface of the yarn it goes around. The outer end is then taken and unwrapped as far around as it needs to be, including pulling it out from under the first tie, to put ties on the other three sides (the extra lace weight ties I will add after with cotton string). For those three sides, the first two ties are simple half-hitches around the skein, snugged up to the surface of the skein but not pulled tight. On the final side, the end of the skein is self-tied.

Why so precise? To be efficient, actually. I am going to have to rewind the skein to make it tidy and separate any clingy strands. Experience has taught me that it is easier to rewind a skein if I start from what was the outside the first time I wound it ... basically, reverse the winding. that's because strands collapse in and disturb the inner wraps as you wind a skein.

Starting with the inside end, strands tend to be more likely to tangle and be difficult to separate. Starting at the outside, I am pulling off the strands in reverse order. To be extreme, it's a bit like unstacking a cord of wood, where do you start? At the top, taking wood off in the reverse order you put it on the stack (more or less, since the pieces aren't strung together like the fiber in your yarn is). I don't know anyone who unstacks woodpiles from the bottom.

And, with how I have tied the skein, I can easily tell which end is the outside end: the one that makes three ties.

And and: The inner tie only has to undo a short length, so it won't get discombobulated or be in the way as I rewind. I can tuck that short end back under the skein.

The longer end is the end I wind from. Very obvious which one to use, and I have a nice long run to run between my swift (holding the skein) and my skeiner, which I wind the skein onto.

Whew! So, how do I tie the reskeined skein? For storage, I will grab the nearest cotton string and put on 4 ties (or more, for fine yarns, or fewer for small skeins). For those, I usually use the "classic" figure-8 tie as described by Spin-Off Magazine. Here's the picture from my book Productive Spindling showing a 3-tied arm-skein:

Notice that I have not used the skein yarn itself in these ties. The ends lie flat within the yarn of the skein.

When the skein is prepared for the county fair, I will cut lengths from the skein itself, or if it is very precious, find an inobtrusive yarn in my stash of similar color and the same thickness or finer. These lengths are used to replace the cotton ties when the skein is retied for the fair.

When the skein is prepared for dyeing, I use very obvious ties in a material that won't take up the dye: white or cream acrylic, usually. I may put on a few extra ties for dyeing, as I need them to be loose enough for water and dye to make it through the tied area. Those pale acrylic ties are easy to spot in the dyepot, allowing me to lift out the skein without turning it into a pot of spaghetti yarn.

The style of tie on my skein tells me what its status is, another benefit to my thoroughly thought-out skein-tyeing philosophy.

That is how I tie a skein. How about you?

© November 14, 2013 by Amelia of Ask The Bellwether, posted at

How do I spin for a sweater?

By Amelia © November 1, 2013

A ravelry member contacted me recently: she had the perfect sweater pattern, and wants to spin the yarn for it. Her question was: How do you make sure your handspun yarn will work, and that you have enough?

To spin yarn to substitute for a commercial yarn, there are several things to measure: fiber, yarn thickness, yarn construction, and amount of twist. Most of them lead you back to grist.

Ahh, grist. I didn't get what grist was about as a "young" spinner. It wasn't until I started spinning tapestry yarn on commission that I realized how important grist was.

Grist is a measure of yarn density, relative to yarn thickness. It is measured by yards-per-pound. It's a bit of a tricky duck -- I can have two yarns with different thicknesses and the same grist. The thicker yarn has more air in it, or a less dense fiber. How can fibers have different density? Easily. Angora fiber, for example, has a hollow core. So it has a definite lightness to it. Alpaca fiber is quite dense, so it drapes really well,  almost flowing over whatever it is placed on -- its own weight pushes it down. That's part of why alpaca sweaters "grow".

First, if the pattern lists a commercial yarn, then look at the fiber content of that yarn. If it's acrylic, medium to fine wools should spin up with a similar grist. If it's a wool/alpaca blend, then start there, with wool and alpaca. Then, look at the yards in a ball of the yarn relative to the skein's weight. If it's 400 yards in 8 ounces, then multiply by two to get the yards in a pound: 800 yards in 16 ounces. So, that yarn would be 800 yards per pound (ypp).

So, choose a fiber similar to the fiber in the commercial yarn. This is so you have less issue spinning to match both the thickness of the yarn and its grist. It's important to match yarn thickness so you can match the gauge it calls for -- if you don't match both stitch and row gauge, the shaping in the pattern as written won't work. That would mean figuring out how to redo the shaping.

Then, see if you can find out the yarn construction of the commercial yarn. 2-ply? 4-ply? a 6-ply cable yarn?  The yarn construction tells you a bit about the roundness of the yarn, as well as its toughness. As a straight plied yarn (not cabled), the more plies there are, the rounder the yarn is. A single, though, is the roundest yarn (obviously...). If the yarn is 3 or more plies, I will usually spin a 3-ply yarn and call it good enough. I only spin a 2-ply when matching a commercial yarn if it, too, was a 2-ply. That's because 2-ply yarns knit into a flatter fabric -- my row gauge is likely to be off if I use a 2-ply in a pattern that calls for a 4-ply yarn. I spin a single when the commercial yarn was a single, or one of the faux-singles which are actually an odd 2-ply with the same direction in the singles and the ply.  

Cabled  yarns are very strong. Usually, a commercial cabled yarn is cabled due to the fineness of the fibers -- many thicker cotton yarns are cabled yarns. Some sock yarns are cabled for strength. If I'm just not up for spinning a cable, I will add strength to the yarn by  spinning with a high twist. Cabling also compresses down the yarn quite a  bit, so I will also pick a denser fiber if I  am choosing not to cable the yarn.

Many commercial yarns just say "wool", without providing a breed. And different breeds will have  different densities in yarn. From more  dense to left, we have longwool,  medium wool, and fine wool. There are some outliers -- high crimp down breeds are less dense than other medium wools, as their high crimp keeps a lot of room in the yarn for air; and Shetland, a fine wool, has less crimp than other fine wools, so spins into a denser yarn. It will be up to you, to decide what to use. If you can feel the commercial yarn, you can decide what class of wool might work best. Or, you might be spinning the yarn because you need to use merino for softness or want to use a superwash so it will be washable.

When yarns provide percentages for fiber content, those are by weight -- so a 60/40 wool/alpaca yarn is 60% wool by weight. That means when you blend fibers to match the yarn's  content, you would weigh out 6 ounces of wool for every 4 ounces of alpaca.

Finally, you need some idea of the thickness of the yarn. If you have a sample, you can measure the wraps per inch (here's how: ). You can use the Craft Yarn Council of America's standard yarn sizes to determine what wraps per inch range should work, as shown on that link. Or you may find WPI information about the yarn on's yarn database. 

The last piece of information is the amount of twist in the final yarn, and any information about finishing that might be discernable. There is no general inclusion of twist information on the yarn ball band. However, pictures will give you a general idea of low twist or high twist. Low twist yarns tend to look  puffy in the ply; high twist yarns look shiny due to the smoothness the high twist puts on the surface of the yarn and how compressed the singles are in the ply structure. The item itself may give an idea about twist amount: socks are best knit with durable yarns, which typically have high twist. Sweaters with cables need fairly crisp yarns, so a moderate to moderate-high twist might be appropriate.

So, you have your blend, you have your yarn construction, your grist, your twist, and your thickness. Next: sampling. That's right, you need to spin some and measure it. 

The first sampling hurdle is determining singles' size to get the desired plied yarn thickness. The general guideline I use is that, with moderate twist, a 3-ply uses singles that are half the final wraps per inch; and a 2-ply uses singles that are 2/3 the final wraps per inch. I start there, and adjust the singles as needed to get the plied wraps per inch that I need. I have some tips on sizing singles for plying here:

If you are having trouble getting yarn thick enough, you'll either need to spin thicker singles, or add more singles to the ply. If you are having trouble getting yarn thin enough, you'll either need to spin thinner singles, or take some singles out of the ply. I have some other tips on how to get more (or less) out of plied yarn here: 

You use a McMorran Yarn Balance (or the new Yarn Yardage Tool from ) (and there is a DIY one on )That will give you the yards per pound, to compare to the commercial yarn. If the grist is too many yards per pound, your sweater would be lighter than one from the commercial yarn -- it also likely will not be as drapey, something to keep in mind for a Kimono Swing Sweater but less important for a waist-hugging ribbed fitted sweater.  To get the grist lower, a more worsted style of spinning, pinching as you draft, helps make the yarn denser at the same wraps per inch. 

If the grist is too few yards per pound, your sweater would be heavier than one from the commercial yarn -- this could cause stretching of the sweater from its own weight, especially with inelastic fibers like silk and alpaca. To get the grist higher, a more woolen style of spinning, allowing more air in the yarn, helps make the yarn less dense. Another thing to examine is the fiber content -- if it has wool,  perhaps a crimpier wool, or if it is a blend, a larger percentage of wool in the blend will help get more air in the yarn.

Whew! Once you have grist close, it's time to knit a gauge swatch. Remember, we don't want to have to rethink the shaping, so row gauge is as important as stitch gauge. Altering your needle size up or down from the recommended size can help adjust row gauge without overly impacting stitch gauge. Remember that finishing the swatch is an important step here -- it lets the knit stitches wriggle as they can a little so your final fabric is more consistent.

If your row gauge is too low, you may  find a thicker yarn at the same grist helps get you to row gauge. To keep grist the same and increase yarn thickness:

  • use crimpier wool
  • use a woolen prep -- carded batt or rolags
  • don't use commercial wool top, as it is so compressed that it tends to result in more compressed yarns (be sure to wet-finish the yarn before meassuring its grist, so the top can open  up in the finishing)
  • use more of your less dense fibers: fine wool, angora, cashmere
  • use less of your dense fibers: alpaca, llama,  long wools, mohair, silk, rayons
  • use less twist in the singles (so plying also uses less twist, letting the singles be puffier in the final yarn; this is even true in cabled yarns).
  • use a more woolen spinning technique

If your row gauge is too high, you may find a thinner yarn at the same grist or a 2-ply helps reduce it. To keep the same grist and decrease yarn thickness:

  • use less crimpy wool
  • use a worsted prep, or if drum carding, keep all fibers aligned for smooth batts
  • don't use roving, as it randomizes the fibers and keeps air in the yarn unless spun to a very high twist
  • use less of your less dense fibers
  • use more of your more dense fibers
  • use more twist in the singles (and thus have a higher twist final yarn)
  • use a more worsted spinning technique

Whew!  If you can work through all of that, then next you need to figure out how much fiber to start with. The pattern will give you the number  of balls; and should provide the ball weight -- if not, the yarn manufacturer's website, the yarn database or the yarn library on

number of balls * ball weight = total weight of fiber

If the yarn was a blend, or your sampling led to blending, then you need to use your final percentages rather than the ball band's.

So, a sweater calling for a pound of a 50/50 wool/alpaca blend means I would want to have about 9 ouunces each of wool and alpaca.  It would be hard to buy all the fiber up front correctly since you don't know if the blend will spin to the same grist for you, or if you might adjust it. If you had to get it all up front, then I'd recommend that you get about 25% extra of each fiber to have room to make adjustments. And, have some "adjusting fiber" ready in your stash so you can adjust grist if needed.

You can stop spinning when you have the yardage the pattern calls for. Again, look at the number of balls the pattern calls for, and this time, the yards per ball:

number of balls * ball yardage = total yardage

Most patterns, especially if they use multiple colors, will have excess yarn, which means if you spin to that yardage, you will also have some wiggle room.

If you can get your hands on a sample of the yarn the pattern uses then you can see its number of plies, how tightly or loosely it’s spun, and possibly even knit a gauge swatch to see drape and hand of the yarn … All useful if you plan to mimic it.

I prefer to mimic drape, so the garment behaves like it would if the commercial yarn had been used. If you get more ypp in your handspun than the commercial yarn has, your item will be more drapey -- that may be good, or it may be too floppy. If you get fewer ypp, then yours is denser yarn, and your knit item is likely to be stiffer and heavier.

Also, if your ypp is less than the commercial yarn, you will need more fiber by weight than the commercial yarn’s total weight.

Sampling and swatching is important when using handspun. Knitty had a good piece on yarn substitutions in general, with commercial yarns, which also applies here:

I enjoy using my handspun yarn for many handcrafts: knitting, weaving, crochet, Nalbinding, and even embroidery. With an understanding of fiber and grist, I can substitute yarns with great results. Here is an early substitution, handspun 2-ply used to make Fiber Trend's felted clogs pattern (pre-felting):

If you'd rather work things the opposite direction: spin first, then pick what to use the yarn in, see my post on choosing knitting patterns to match handspun yarn: 

© November 1, 2013 by Ask The Bellwether, posted at