Making My First Circle Skirt

A circle skirt is irresistible. I have always loved “twirly” skirts, but I never remember owning a circle skirt. I’ve been making more of my own clothes recently, which constantly leads me down pattern rabbit holes. When I found the Sense and Sensibility circle skirt tutorial I knew the time had finally come to make a circle skirt of my own. I bought 3 yards of a lovely plaid wool flannel on sale from Denver Fabrics and got started.

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The first part of any project is planning. I had a vision of wearing this deliciously warm skirt with a cream long-sleeved T-shirt, my bomber jacket, and my wedding boots. In addition to buying the fabric for the skirt, I also needed to by a cream long-sleeved shirt and some leggings for a bit of extra warmth.

That done, I focused on fabric care. Since my fabric was wool I wasn’t sure how friendly it would be to laundering. I wanted a skirt that was easy to care for, since that makes it more likely that I will wear and enjoy it more. I followed in Morgan Donner’s steps, and tested my laundering methods on several swatches.

Swatch number 1 was my control – it didn’t get laundered at all. Swatch 2 was handwashed with Eucalan wool wash. Swatch 3 was washed in the washer on my normal cool water setting. Swatch 4 was washed with swatch 3 and dried in the dryer on my normal low heat setting. Each swatch shrunk a little more than the last, but the difference between swatch 1 and swatch 4 was minimal, so held my breath and laundered my whole length of fabric. The fabric came out of the dryer fluffy and wonderful, not the ruined felted mass I secretly expected. That bit of suspense over, it was time to draft my pattern and cut everything out.

I used wrapping paper as my pattern paper. It’s pretty and whimsical on one side, and has a very helpful grid on the other.

Once I had my pattern drafted and cut out it was time to cut out my fabric. In Jennie’s tutorial she mentions that the width of your fabric will determine the length of your skirt. I wanted a mid-calf length skirt, rather than just below the knee as my fabric would have allowed me. Since I am the boss of my sewing I chose to piece the bottom of both the front and back of my skirt. I made sure to piece along the plaid lines as much as possible. This is an excellent way to disguise piecing, but it can be a bit tricky to sew just right.

Because of this decision I had barely enough fabric. Another departure I made from Jennie’s tutorial was to cut my fabric on the selvedge. I did this because I wanted openings on both sides of my skirt – one for the zipper, and the second for a large pocket. Using the selvedge meant that I had to sew both seams (Jennie recommends sewing the full seam anyway), but that I didn’t have to finish the seams since there is little chance of the fabric fraying.

On to the construction! I started by piecing my front and back panels. I wanted this to be very exact, so I basted before sewing the panels with a running back stitch. Once the panels were complete I cut out my pocket and sewed that in with the corresponding side seam.

Then I mustered my courage, pinned, pinned again, and sewed the invisible zipper in with a back stitch. If I can sew an invisible zipper in by hand, I can do anything!

At this point I put the skirt away for a few weeks while we went to Phoenix for Thanksgiving. I came home with a sewing machine, so finishing the 2nd side seam and attaching the waistband were a breeze. I used a whip-stitch to attach the inside of the waistband to the skirt because I didn’t want any visible top-stitching on the outside. Then I began the long process of hemming the skirt. I started by making sure my hem was even when worn, which actually means that if you measure the length of the skirt it’s longer in the back than in front. My fabric doesn’t fray much, so I turned the hem up once by about half an inch and whip-stitched it into place over the course of several evenings.

The last thing I did was sew a button hole and button on by hand. The skirt was now complete.

Now that I’ve worn the skirt there are a few changes I want to make.

  • The waistband seems a bit big. I need to figure out how to shorten it without causing gathers in the skirt at the waist. When I do this I may add some interfacing for additional stability.
  • I have not yet finished any of the interior seams. I plan to do this like the hem by simply whipping the seam allowances into place.
  • The pocket is gloriously large, but about an inch too low. I plan to take this out and raise it.
  • I may want to take another stab at leveling the skirt.

I love how warm this skirt is. It’s like wearing a blanket! And I love twirling in it. I will forever love twirling. I definitely see more circle skirts in my future.

Spin Together

Early this month my spinning group joined a friendly competition called Spin Together. The goal was to spin throughout the week. Some people are very competetive about these things and spend gobs of time to spin loads of yarn. I was not in a situation where I could do that (even though I am a very competetive person), so I took a more laid back approach. My goal was to spin every day and to finish some projects I had started.

I spun 5 out of the 7 days, so I didn’t quite meet my goal to spin every day. But I did finish 2 projects, and ended up with some very lovely yarn.

The first project was a handful of Jacob rolags. Deb from Merciful Hearts Farm is part of our spinning group, and she generously shared some sample fleeces with the group. Jacob is a peculiar breed: their fleeces are mottled and splotched with different colours. I had never worked with Jacob or with unwashed wool before this spin. I separated the locks by colour and carded them up into rolags.

I spun the rolags in colour order from darkest to lightest. In order to preserve the colour order in the finished yarn I chain-plied it. I have a hard time getting enough twist in my woolen singles, so they quite often break. To combat this, I started the plying stage with a simple prep step: I chained the singles around a book without adding twist. This allowed me to control the chain length and twist better, and my handling of the delicate singles was much more careful.

You can see that I used my newest toy to spin this sample: it’s the Electric Eel Wheel Nano. The Nano did a great job spinning the yarn, but the fuzzy wool caught on the yarn guides quite frequently. Also, when plying after the bobbin was about halfway filled it stopped wanting to wind on. I will need to play with the Nano more to see how these issues can be worked out.

My second Spin Together project was a skein I started back in April. I used my Majacraft Pioneer for this spin. The fiber was a blend of Targhee, Rambouillet, and Columbia wools from Apothefaery Fibers that I bought at SAFF last year. The colours reminded me of fire and of a clear Autumn morning.

I had spun the singles quite fine, and plied them end to end with a lot of extra twist. This took me about 2 months, then I went to Manila, and didn’t return to my project for over 4 months. My goal was to make a crepe yarn, so at this point I was about 2/3 of the way through the project. In late September I started spinning another singles, this time in an undyed BFL/silk blend. During the week of Spin together I finished spinning these singles, and plied the singles with the 2-ply to finish the crepe.

I knew I was pushing the boundaries of how much yarn my bobbin would hold. The original 2-ply was 4 oz, and the crepe ply was at least another 2 oz (most bobbins hold 4oz or less). In the end the yarn was finished in a very dramatic way. I had gone to our spinning group meetup, and was plying away, hoping against hope that the yarn would all fit. I got to the very end of the bobbin, and my wheel wouldn’t wind any more on. So I enlisted some help: I treadled while another friend walked the plying yarn out behind me, and another friend watched to make sure the yarn didn’t come off my bobbin and get wrapped around the drive shaft!

We worked together to finish this yarn, it all miraculously fit on the bobbin, and I was rewarded with 580 yds of a beautiful sport-weight crepe yarn. Just look at it!

If you need me in the future, I will be spinning all the crepe yarn. I love the roundness of the yarn and the very visible, unusual construction.

SAFF 2018: Part 2, The Haul (and Sheep)

It’s been a while since SAFF, but I bought too many beautiful things to not show them to you.

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The Tools:

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I have been wanting a Turkish spindle for a while, so I bought this beautiful beech spindle. Her name is Tigris (like the river, which I learned has roots in Turkey). Also, I bought a pair of Schacht curved-back hand carders (112 TPI). I’m learning to spin woolen rather than worsted, but it’s so much easier to find combed top than woolen preparations like rolags and batts. With these carders I can convert top to a woolen preparation so I have more spinning options.

The Yarn:

I only bought 1 skein of yarn this year (I know, who am I??), but it’s so beautiful! This picture doesn’t really show the soft rose colour off properly.

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The Fiber:

Since I took a spinning class at SAFF I went a little fiber crazy. Abby was so inspiring and she made me want to spin all the things RIGHT NOW! I bought a lot of combed top, since worsted spinning is my default method and I have the tools to change a worsted preparation to a woolen preparation now. This silver/grey fiber at the top is a yak/silk blend, and the plain white at the bottom is a BFL/silk blend. I’m completely in love with BFL – it’s such a lovely fiber to spin!

I did buy 1 beautiful batt, and my first locks! I have no idea what to do with locks, but they were rainbow dyed and I couldn’t resist.

I also bought my first cotton, and I’ve been having a fabulous time learning to spin it (tip: cotton makes it so easy to spin a superfine long-draw single!).

SAFF is not just about shopping and classes, though. There are also all sorts of fiber animals to see and pet.

So if you have a chance to go to a fiber featival, especially if it’s SAFF, go!! You won’t regret it.

Breed Study: Targhee

The materials in this post were put together by my friend Jenn for our spinning group’s fiber study.

Targhee is one of America’s youngest breeds, having been developed this century. The Western sheep industry around 1900 was based on Merino and Rambouillet sheep with the emphasis on raising wool. Shortly after the turn of the century a demand began for lamb and this led to a crossing of the fine-wooled sheep to develop a better lamb producing animal. The most popular method to achieve this goal was the crossing of an English longwool breed with the fine-wooled breeds that were the basis of the Western sheep industry.

To fill this need, the US government began a program of crossing Lincoln rams on Rambouillet ewes, which was the foundation that developed into the Columbia breed. While these crosses were quite popular, many sheepmen felt that the ideal sheep would be 3/4 fine wool and 1/4 long wool, or what was commonly known as a “comeback” sheep, a name that signifies coming back to the Rambouillet from the first coarse and fine cross. To meet this demand, the US Sheep Experiment Station was begun in the fall of 1926 to lay the foundation for such a breed.

The foundation was a group of cross-bred ewes, consisting of Rambouillet, Lincoln, and Corriedale blood that were bred to 9 of the station’s smoothest, thickest Rambouillet rams. After 3 years of the program, 201 first-generation ewes were carefully selected and bred intensely. After 3 generations (about 1938) it had become apparent that a desirable breed had been developed and a larger genetic base was needed. New breeding schemes were developed, using the same original breeds, and the number of Targhees was boosted to over 1,000 sheep. The breed was named Targhee after the national forest where the animals grazed during the summer.

Each ewe will average a 10-14 lb fleece that has a micron measurement of 21-25 and a staple length of 3-5″ with a yield of 50-55%.

Jenn provided us all with a handful of Targhee fiber, and it was luscious! I spun a fine single on my drop spindle, wound it into a butterfly, and plied it back on itself for 15 yards of a fingering weight 2-ply yarn. I will definitely try this one again!

handspun Targhee

 

Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’…

This year I am challenging myself to try new spinning techniques. I learned to spin almost 2 years ago, and until this year almost all of my spinning has been using short forward draw and commercially prepared top to make a Worsted style yarn. When I bought 12 oz of Southdown wool a few weeks ago, I decided the time had come: I would perfect my long draw and learn to make my own rolags.

Rolags are the most “woolen” of any fiber preparation, woolen referring to preparation and drafting techniques that lead to an airy, fuzzy yarn (as opposed to a sleek and shiny yarn made from “worsted” preparation and drafting). Rolags are made by hand with hand cards. I don’t have cards of my own, so I borrowed some from a friend (Thanks, Jenn!), and now I want carders of my own. How many more weeks until SAFF?

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To make a rolag, you start by pulling off a handful or so of your fiber and placing an even layer over the tines of one of the cards so that 1/3 to 1/2 of the fiber length hangs off the end of the card. It doesn’t have to be pretty or aligned. We’ll work on that in the next step.

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Once you’ve got some wool on your card, grab it in your non-dominant hand with the tines facing up. Grab the other card in your dominant hand with the tines facing down and with a gentle sweeping motion just barely catch the ends of the fibers with the tines. Do this again 2-3 more times, working your way up to the edge of the card. The tines of the 2 cards should never scrape against each other.

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You can see in the picture how some of the wool has transferred to the second card (that was in your dominant hand). Now comes the tricky part. You need to transfer the wool from the first card (non-dominant hand) onto the 2nd card (dominant hand). Start by switching which card is in which hand. The 1st card will now be in your dominant hand and the 2nd card will be in your non-dominant hand. Hold the cards horizontally so that the tines are face up and the handles are facing out. Move the 1st card (dominant hand) so that it is about half a fiber-length from the edge of the 2nd card (non-dominant hand). Rotate the 1st card so that it is vertical, hold down the edge of the fiber, and rotate the card until it is horizontal again with the tines facing down. The fiber should all by lying on top of the 2nd card. Congratulations! That’s as hard as it gets!

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Your fiber won’t be perfectly aligned yet, but it will be more aligned than it was at first. Continue carding until your wool is as tidy as you want it to be. I used combed top for this project, and it took me about 3 passes to be satisfied.

Once you are happy with your fiber prep, it’s time to roll it all up into a rolag. You’ll start with all the wool on one card. Take a pair of straight knitting needles (any gauge or material will do) and slide one below the end of the fiber hanging off the edge of your card and the other over the wool to sandwich the fiber in between them. Roll the needles and wool toward you in a burrito until all the wool is off the card. Move the rolag back to the far edge of the card (with the needles still in the center) and roll toward you again to lock the fibers in place. Remove the knitting needles. Voila! You’ve made a rolag!

I have had so much fun making these rolags over the last few weeks. I hope you have a fantastic time, too! Warning: Making rolags may be addictive.

Southdown Rolags

P.S. If you ever need a judge wig, rolags make a pretty good facsimile!

rolag wig

Breed Study: Southdown

My spinning group is doing a breed study this year and June is my turn to present. I decided to highlight Southdown wool because I think it’s pretty fabulous. “Down” breeds come from the “downs” in England and consist of Southdown, Suffolk, Dorset Down, Hampshire, Oxford, and Shropshire. There are a host of other breeds that are considered “down-like,” but these 6 are the true downs. Southdown is the original down breed. The Suffolk, Dorset Down, Hampshire, Oxford, and Shropshire breeds were all created by breeding Southdown with other kinds of sheep to maximize different qualities.

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Photo from BillingsFarm.org

What’s so great about Down wool? It’s springy with a diorganized crimp, the wool doesn’t have a lot of kemp (chalky, brittle fibers) or hair, and is resistant to felting (this is my favorite part). It’s also important to know that most Down breeds are raised for meat, so often their wool is inexpensive (I get mine here). Southdown wool has a micron count of 23-31 and a staple length between 1 1/2 – 4 inches. Because of the springy nature of the wool and the shorter fiber length, Southdown is best when carded and spun woolen. As with any wool, though, you can use it however you like.

I first spun commercially combed Southdown top as a new spinner over a year ago. I had a spindle and some wool and I wanted to learn everything, so away I went, spinning the wool Worsted (short forward draw). I loved how this yarn came out. The wool was so easy to spin with – just enough drag to draft nicely, but not enough to make me really work for it.

Spinning Southdown wool on a drop spindle

Later, I spun more of this same top when as a learning exercise (I wanted to be able to spin thick singles). The yarn ended up delightfully thick and thin.

thick and thin singles yarn - Southdown wool

I was curious about how resistant this wool is to felting, so I knit up a few swatches to do some very scientific research.

Southdown swatches

The first swatch was my control: I washed it with wool wash in hot water, squeezed out as much water as I could, and laid it flat to dry.

Southdown swatch 1

For the second swatch I let it soak in hot water for a few minutes, then shocked it with cold water. I continued shocking the swatch back and forth between hot and cold water several times and rubbed the swatch to maximize any felting that would take place. Other than a little fuzziness, this swatch looks almost exactly like the first swatch.

Southdown swatch 2

With my third swatch I decided to go all out. I washed and dried it with the rest of my laundry. After going through the wash, the swatch looked exactly like my second swatch: a little fuzzy, but still in great shape. It shrunk lengthwise and widened width-wise a little in the dryer. This was the most dramatic change of the 3 swatches, but I still wouldn’t say the wool felted.

Southdown swatch 3

I’m wearing a swatch under my shirt as I type this, and it is a tiny bit itchy. If you have sensitive skin I wouldn’t recommend Southdown as a base layer, but it would make an excellent and hard-wearing sweater or jacket. Conversely, because of the springiness of the wool, Southdown would make great socks!

Now that I’ve done a little more study on the breed, I’m taking commercially prepared top and carding it into rolags to see the difference it makes in the yarn.

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Look at that loft! I can’t wait to knit this up!

Well That Took Long Enough: Finished Project

Early this year I made a goal to finish my small mountain of WIPs. I then promptly cast on a new project because Ooh Shiny! I’ve thought about this subject a lot over the last few months: my desire for a new exciting project every so often contrasted by my desire for finished things and the resulting space in my stash. I haven’t come to a conclusion or made any world-changing discoveries, but in between all the castings-on I have finished a few things.

I must have started my black wool vest in November. I originally bought a few yards of black wool crepe to a make a Henrietta Maria top, but when I got this vest pattern (Very Easy Vogue, V8926) it seemed like a better option for the thicker fabric.

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I wanted a hybrid of options A and C – sleeveless, but tunic length and with bias-bound edges instead of a collar facing. I cut out my fabric and pretty quickly finished the basic construction. Progress ground to a halt when I realized I needed to finish all my edges. I started whip-stitching, and quickly felt like the vest was sucking the life force out of me, so I put it in a shoe box, put the box into a cupboard, and started something new.

A few weeks ago I traveled to Arizona to see my family and be in my best friend’s wedding. My mom has a sewing machine and a serger, so I packed the never-ending vest in hopes of finishing it before it finished me. I am happy to report that I emerged the victor (this time). I serged the remaining unfinished edges and used the sewing machine to stitch on the binding and do some other finishing work. I do wish I had been more careful top-stitching the bias binding down, but at that point I was so ready to be done with the project that I didn’t care much. I just keep reminding myself that sometimes done is better than perfect (and I can always go back and do it again if it bothers me that much). At some point I may add a pocket since I have some extra fabric left over.

The vest is an odd mixture of hand- and machine-stitching, but it’s done and it fits and I love it. And can we just take a moment to admire the new yellow pants I’m rocking in this picture?