The Jade Sweater: An Adventure in Spinning and Knitting My First Top

As they say. when it rains, it pours! No blog posts in 9 months, and now two in one day? The woman’s gone mad!

On Monday, my new spinning wheel arrived; an Ashford Joy 2. It’s a dinky little thing, intended to be very portable. It even comes with its own backpack to be carried around.


She joins her sister, Maya, an Ashford Traveller into my very small herd of spinning wheels.

I’ve already spun a lovely braid of Texel wool from Hilltop Cloud, from this…


into this lovely woolen-spun two-ply yarn.


I bought my spinning wheel from Wingham Wool Work in South Yorkshire (same as my previous wheel) and the kind folks there include either a voucher for £15 of free fibre, or credit you £15 on any fibre you purchase with the wheel. I decided I’d take on the ultimate spinner challenge: Spinning a whole sweater worth of yarn, then knitting my own sweater.

Now, before I show you the amazing fibre I picked, I’ll just clarify the term “sweater”. It’s an all-encompassing term knitters seem to have agreed on to represent all pullovers, cardigans, jumpers and other usually long-sleeved tops you wear to keep warm. I don’t yet know whether I’ll make a pullover or a cardigan that opens at the front, but either way I need to spin roughly the same quantity.

The fibre I picked is a lovely blend of 70% merino and 30% silk in teal blue, with a bit of darker blue and white silk. It’s a gorgeously soft blend and I’ve got 500g of it to play with! And yes, the fibre matches the cushion… :P


And so begins the Jade Sweater Adventure.

Rainbow Dyeing Experiment: The Long-Awaited Tutorial

Before I begin with my tutorial, I’ve been meaning to post this since last year, but back when I first spent a few hours putting the post together, the dog ate my homework Squarespace ate my blog post. Disheartened as I was, I never got around to re-writing it. Thankfully, I’ve now switched back to WordPress, which is far smarter than I am and saves my drafts as I work on them!

This is a fun rainbow dyeing tutorial for those who like experimenting with colours and creating their own colours with yarn or fibre to be spun, knitted, crocheted, woven to your heart’s content afterwards. It was a brilliant fun afternoon, heavily documented with poorly-taken photos and I highly recommend trying it.

The objective is to create a wheel of rainbow-dyed fibre by using just the three primary colours (or your choice of three colours). It’s particularly effective with raw fibre; sheep fleece that is still coated in lanolin, the natural greasy coating produced by the sheep. Of course, you can use commercially purchased fleece or undyed yarn if you don’t have a sheep handy.


Gathering your materials

Most of the materials used for this experiment are readily available, but it’s important that you keep these utensils and pots separate from the ones you cook food in. The acid dyes I use are not food-safe and should be kept away from curious kids, pets and used according to safety instructions.

  • A large cooking pot with a lid (glass lid is ideal)
  • Undyed yarn or fibre of your choice (more on choosing your fibre below)
  • A bottle of dish soap (Fairy, Dawn, etc)
  • A plastic spoon or two
  • A pair of plastic-tipped tongs (optional, but very useful)
  • A plastic tray or container for your wet fibre
  • Somewhere to lay or hang the fibre
  • An old towel
  • Fibre dyes (I use Landscape Dyes, but you can use Ashford, Kemtex, Eurolana dyes and more)
  • Vinegar if you’re using dyes that aren’t all-in-one (see your dye instructions for any extras you might need)

Choosing your fibre or yarn

Different fibres react differently to dye. For example, fibres like wool and silk (protein-based fibres) can take on a deep, rich shade when dyed with acid dyes. Meanwhile, acid dyes won’t take on bamboo and other plant-based fibres.

If this is the first time you experiment with rainbow dyeing, I would suggest getting a good resilient fibre that doesn’t felt too easily. I used long, curly locks of Gotland fibre. Sheep like Southdown, Ryeland and plenty more will cope with relatively rough handling without felting.

As I said above, if you fancy using superwash yarn (which is yarn that has been chemically processed so that it doesn’t felt as easily), go for it!

Preparing the fibre

If you’re using raw sheep fibre as I did (it had been lightly washed but still had lanolin in it), you’ll need to split the locks into manageable chunks.


If you’re using yarn, you’ll need to tie loops around your skeins at regular intervals to avoid creating a spaghetti mess once you drop it in the water.

Getting the pot ready

Pop your non-food cooking pot on the hob and fill it with enough cold water so that it’ll cover your fibre later. Mine was about 10cm full. Add a couple of squirts of dish soap and swirl it around.

Lay out the fleece or yarn in a circle. For the fleece, I put all the tips together in the middle and the cut ends towards the outside (like a sun or the hands of a clock). For yarn, I’d suggest making two overlapped circles with it. Very gently push the fibre down under water so that it’s wet through. If need be, top up with a bit more water.


Turn the heat on to medium-ish so that it bubbles very gently – and get ready to start making a rainbow!

Creating your rainbow

I picked three primary colours of Kraftkolour Landscapes Dyes, which you can get in the UK from Wingham Wool Work. The colours I used are Chamomile (yellow), Marine (blue) and Plum (magenta).


Before we start putting dye on, here’s a tiny primer on how acid dyes work: The quantity of dye used is relative to the amount of fibre you want to dye, not to the amount of water you use. When the fibre and the dye meet, the dye will set onto the fibre. If you’ve used the right quantity of dye, you’ll see your water eventually becoming clear again.

Lay a towel on the countertops to avoid getting any dye on your kitchen. Use a spoon to pick up a small amount of dye from the first colour. Don’t sprinkle directly from your pot of dye, as you’ll get steam inside the pot which isn’t good. You’ll also have much more control over the quantity of sprinkles with a spoon!

Imagine you have six pizza slices, you want to sprinkle three of the slices, leaving almost a full blank slice in between each one. At first, it looks like some areas will remain white, but given a bit of time, the colours will spread and mix, creating your three secondary colours; orange, green and purple.


At this point, you want the water to be bubbling very gently. Furiously strong bubbling will mess up the fibre and might felt it, or you might burn the bottom fibres on the bottom of the pot. Pop the lid on and leave it about 20 minutes. Resist the urge to stir – Stirring can felt fibres and will muddle up your rainbow.

After 20 minutes, use a plastic spoon to gently move some of the fibre to the side. How clear is your water? If it’s clear and you’re satisfied that your fibres have taken up enough colour, you’ve gauged your dye quantity very well! If there’s too much undyed fibre, you might want to verrrry gently move fibres and sprinkle more dye on.

If there’s a bit of colour left in the pot but it’s getting there, you can squirt a little white vinegar into the pot. This will help the final bits if dye exhaust onto the fibre.

When you’re happy with the depth of colour and the white pizza slices are now nice and colourful, turn off the heat. Set a timer for an hour or two to let the water cool down.

Draining, rinsing and drying the fibre

Once the water’s cooled down enough, use your tongs to pick up the fibre and lay it out on a tray to cool further. While the fibre cools down, fill the sink or your pot with water and gently swish handfuls of the fibre to get the superfluous dye off. Again, gentleness is key – you don’t want your fibre felting now after all the hard work’s done!

Lay the fibre out on a rack or mesh to dry. I use a drying rack with old cotton fabric pinned to it into “hammocks”.

When dry, split off the dyes and arrange into a rainbow. Admire your magical work :D


What’s next?

If, like me, you’ve got fibre, it’s time to spin it. You can either spin it into a neat gradient yarn or use the locks in really wild tailspun art yarn! Even though my rainbow is imperfect, the locks that had blue and yellow on them appeared greener once spun as the colours mix together some more.

If you’ve dyed yarn, start knitting or crocheting with it!

The next tutorial (which hopefully won’t take me a year to publish!) will cover a few ways of spinning yarn I really enjoy, from lace to art yarns.

If you experiment with rainbow dyeing, I would LOVE to see your results so please do share your own photos! :D

[Credits: Thank you to Sally aka Castlemilk on Ravelry for the original stove-top rainbow dyeing experiment.]

Getting Ready for Tour de Fleece 2013

While you might associate knitting and fleecy activities to the depth of winters, to me, it’s a year-round activity.

Every year, Ravelry members organise an event that follows in the footsteps of the Tour de France. Rather than making a bicycle’s wheels spin, we make our spinning wheels spin. (And to date, the Tour de France haven’t come by to tell us we’re denigrating the sport.)

It’ll begin in two weeks, on 29th June, and end on 20th July. How many miles do you think I can spin during that time?


It’ll be my first year taking part and I’ve also been spinning for under a year (which I find hard to believe sometimes, as I’ve learned so much already), so I’ve joined the Rookies team.

I’m gathering my supplies, choosing what to spin and what my goals will be. I’m taking it fairly easy because it’s summer after all, and my nerves are still reeling from the insane-schedule year we’ve had around Alfred v2.

Here’s what I have in mind:

Art Yarn Experiments

I recently started playing around with art yarns. Since realising that art yarn isn’t necessarily a veiled insult when talking about a new spinner’s inconsistent yarn, and doesn’t strictly have to be crazy “wtf do you do with this?” yarns, I’ve started enjoying experimenting with it.

To date, I’ve made a few thick-and-thin yarns which should knit up into cozy cowls or hats, and I’ve attempted cocoons, which look… butterfly cocoons wrapped around yarn. Here’s what it looks like on the bobbin:

Looks like a mess, but I swear it'll be cool when it's done!

Looks like a mess, but I swear it’ll be cool when it’s done!

A Little Spindling

When I started last year, I first bought a spindle. The starter kit I picked up for £15 contained a spindle, instructions and three different prepared fibres.

I quickly progressed to buying a first spinning wheel from a friend, then a second one by Christmas, once I knew what I wanted. (I now want a third one to make big art yarn on, so please do tell Santa) However, the first love was spindling.

During the Tour de Fleece, I’ll try to rekindle that love by finishing the pink Bluefaced Leicester I started in September.

My lovely IST Crafts spindle with some pink fluff

My lovely IST Crafts spindle with some pink fluff

The Unusual Suspects

As well as the above, I’ll tackle some of the more unusual fibres I’ve acquired over time…

I dyed these silk hankies a few months ago so will most likely spin the gold and moss one (third one in this stack) into some fine silk laceweight singles. Silk hankies are made by stretching a silk cocoon over a square frame. Do it over and over again until you have many layers and it makes a hanky. You peel one layer at the time, stretch it out and spin it nice and thin.

Spinning these takes patience, but most of all, it takes incredibly smooth hands. The silk catches on scratchy fingers or cuticles and can drive you completely ’round the bend. However, it’s so lovely when it’s done and makes very strong yarn!


I may also brave the gorgeously soft cashmere I bought last year from La Chèvre d’Oeuvre in Canada. I haven’t dared yet as I’m worried I’ll ruin this posh fibre or fail to do it justice, but I’ll have to do it someday!

Another, ahem… special fibre… is my cat Jack’s soft duvet-like fur, which I’ve been brushing and saving up for about a year. I’ve got 20-25grams so may blend it with something like baby camel or angora before spinning. I still don’t really know what to make with it though! :D

Handspun Yarn: How I started and some recent creations

In the rare stolen moments of freedom I’ve had these past few months, I’ve found great enjoyment in yarn spinning; taking fluffy stuff and turning it into usable, knittable yarn.

Over the past 9 months, I discovered the art of spinning. In July, I ordered a spindle kit from Hilltop Cloud on Etsy. It looked something like this, but with fibre in blue & white combinations.

In fact, I highly recommend this kit if you’re just curious about spinning but don’t want to spend a lot to get started. The spindle is accompanied by three different fibre preparations to give you a chance to get your head around the basics, and Katie provides some instructions on drafting and spinning. Having said that, I really “got” it through watching YouTube videos and practice, practice, practice!

HilltopCloud Learn to Spin kit

HilltopCloud Learn to Spin kit

I took the kit to our Fairford Airshow week away, which is a lovely opportunity to spend a week watching planes go by and not do a whole lot else. It gave me time to learn to “park and draft” (where you stop, draft the fibre to the thickness you want, then pick up your spindle and spin until it holds together) then progress to drafting without stopping.

Eventually, I realised that I fancied giving wheel spinning a go and purchased a wheel… which quickly became two. But that’s a story for later where I’ll introduce my two wheels.

You’ll have worked out by now that I’ve fallen in love with this meditative and calming, yet creative and colourful art.

Here are a few of the recent creations I’ve made since the beginning of 2013:

Each picture contains details of what fibres I used, but generally speaking, these are fairly standard fibres; British Bluefaced Leicester wool, merino wool, Wensleydale curls (dyed in wonderful colours) and a bit of a quirky mix of merino, soya fibre and sparkles.

Today, I also worked on some black alpaca with silk noils, which was fantastic fun and so much easier than I’d expected. Once the few mini-skeins dry out, I’ll be sharing pictures.

On Friday, I’ll be picking up a large quantity of raw alpaca fleece – two whole bags of it! That’ll no doubt be picture-worthy too. :)

For fun, next time, I’ll try to document in more details the numerous kinds of fibres I’ve acquired and whether I’ve enjoyed spinning them. I’ll also let you in on a secret about the single fibre type I’ve been too much of a wuss to dare spin because it’s so wonderful that I don’t think I can do it justice yet!

Hooked on Granny Squares: Baby Blanket

In October, I attended a workshop on “Granny Squares and Beyond”, a crochet workshop by Joanne Scrace of Not So Granny at the Sheep Shop in Cambridge. It’s always lovely popping by the Sheep Shop, where the owner Sarah always has a smile and some great new squishy, lovely yarns. In the back of my mind, I had a slight concern that signing up for a beyond-the-basics course without having ever tried crochet was a bad idea, so I spent Wednesday night fiddling and teaching myself double crochet and treble crochet. Turns out, it’s fairly easy to learn, and I wasn’t the only one cramming in a last-minute lesson (as Daisy, who also attended, decided to teach herself using YouTube at midnight the night before the course!)

Joanne patiently walked us through the various types of crocheted squares (or triangles, dodecagons or whatever shape you wish!), how to connect them and finish up the blanket. As a nice small group, we all progressed quite quickly and I had three squares done by the end.

Once I got home, I couldn’t resist making “a few more”. A quick calculation showed me that 100 squares would make a perfect cot or stroller baby blanket for friends who have just had their first baby. Despair! After a few more calculations and swiftly measuring the squares I had done, I worked out that 56 squares would be sufficient for a baby blanket that won’t drag everywhere!


As the stack grew, I started deciding on layout. By the end of November, I could move on to attaching the squares together. I made long strips of 8, then attached the strips together.


Lots of loose ends to sew in and little bits to snip, but for a first blanket, it seemed to hold together wonderfully well. The recipient also seemed quite happy with it!


​I’ve since started another acrylic blanket using Stylecraft Special DK in the Lucy colour pack, inspired by the lovely Lucy at Attic24. I used to dread acrylic, but this feels nice and effortless to use and will last a lifetime! It may also take a lifetime, but I view this as a very relaxing TV project if I’m not currently working on something interesting. Very much a no-deadline project :)

Having said that, the next project is likely to be another granny squares project and I’ll most likely treat myself to some Debbie Bliss Cashmerino instead…​


Andrew & Roy in Antigua

Last week was pure bliss. A week away from work (almost), cooking and cleaning.​

​As the wonderful Antiguan resort staff said, “the only lifting you should be doing this week is lifting your cocktail glass or your fork!”

Andrew took Roy out on a Hobie Wave little sailing boat and filmed their outing. Looks like fun, doesn’t it?​

November Store Cupboard Challenge: Lentil Door Stops

I was inspired by The Yarn Yard’s post yesterday, where Natalie mentioned the Store Cupboard Challenge. You know how you open the cupboard at 6:30pm, look into it. It’s reasonably full, yet “there’s nothing to eat”?

The challenge is to focus on using up what’s in the cupboard over November. Sure, throw out (or use up, see below) things that are truly out of date, donate tins and cans to charitable Christmas food banks if they’re still well within date, or use them and make something a bit more creative than usual.

Over November, I’ll try to document a few times what I end up making out of the stuff that’s in the cupboard that is still edible. But for today, I’ll start with a crafty tip for those dry lentils, chickpeas and pulses that you bought during your last health kick and are now out of date. And no, I won’t make you eat them. We’ll make them into a door stop!

It’s so nice to open the windows and let fresh air in, but it can cause bedroom doors to slam shut in the breeze! We also have cheeky cats who’ve been known for locking themselves in the bedroom, so we tend to put doorstops in every room. Yet, the rubbery wedges are horrible and don’t slide easily on the carpet.

These weighted door stops are easy to pick up or move with your foot, and can look quite funky! They’re also super-quick to make. I used the tutorial on the Bake & Sew site to guide me, but did wing it quite a bit! It’s great for using scraps; the brown pyramid was made with a shirt I didn’t wear anymore, and the bottom was made of old jeans for both.

These are both filled with red lentils, but use whatever you have at hand, so long as it’s dry and doesn’t spoil!

Later this week, I’ll tackle the cupboard and work out some tasty recipes out of what’s in there.

Spinning: Blink handspun yarn & Finest Polwarth

While the weather’s been a bit grim and grey, I’ve been enjoying spinning some new fibre. This latest one is a Bluefaced Leicester, about 60 grams, 120 yards, DK weight two-ply yarn. The fibre was called Time Lord, but I’ve named the finished yarn Blink, since that’s the episode we were watching as I finished plying and the greys and woodsy greens remind me of the Weeping Angels, alongside the Tardis-blue.

When the sun decides to shine, I’ll take a few more pictures to show off the colours better but this was a pleasant spin.

The photo above is my fibre bag, which I keep by the wheel; The green is superwash BFL from Hilltop Cloud, which I’ve spun but still needs plying. The pink fluff is the “Sugar Almond” Polwarth I’ll be spinning as lightweight as possible, then ply with another Polwarth in a “Decadent” pale purple. Let’s see how far that can stretch. All I know is that I don’t expect this to be a quick-finish project AT ALL!

It’s not particularly even but should give me a light fingering weight when I ply two together, and it’s fun to see how I can get it finer, more even while enjoying working with Polwarth from The Fibre Fairy for the first time.

Today might be the day I take my Ashford Traditional wheel Maya apart (well, not completely, I won’t pretend I know what I’m doing!) and give her a bit of maintenance, since she’s about my age and has seen better days. Hopefully swapping a few bits and oiling a few key spots will make her work smoother.

I’ve also been having lots of fun dyeing my own yarn and fibre. I haven’t had the opportunity to do much dyeing yet, as I need a lot of time and space (wibbly wobbly, timey wimey) when I do this. Before my Landscape professional dyes arrived, I tried overdyeing some pale boring yarn with Kool Aid, which was fun and made the house smell rather fruity but was nowhere near as satisfying as the eye-searingly-pink fibre I dyed with the pro dyes:

The photo doesn’t even do the colour justice; it’s a really bright and hot pink with some darker burgundy patches and still just enough white to introduce a little lightness once I spin it. It was a blast to dye, even though the microwaving process (which sets the colour) had my heart pounding in fear that it would all go BOOM all of a sudden!

So there you go, that’s what I’ve been up to lately, spinning and dyeing-wise. Want to learn how I did any of this? Just shout and I’ll either point you to tutorials or write up my own. Looking for techy stuff? Sorry, my brain’s taken a break from tech on the weekend lately, and it’s been rather pleasant.

Revival? Perhaps!

It’s mad how time flies, isn’t it? After nearly 10 years of blogging regularly, it was like an overnight switch where I no longer felt the need to publish my thoughts online constantly.

That’s not to say I’ve been idle. Andrew and I are now both full time on Running with Crayons and our own software, cookin’ up some interesting things (and no, I’m not telling yet.) and I’ve spent every spare moment either knitting, spinning or spending time with friends and family. It’s been a good 2012 so far.

That being said, I’ve decided to start posting again, ad hoc as it may be. I don’t know what shape or form my writing will take, it may be less work focused and more crafty, or it may a false start. We’ll just have to see!

For now, these are some of the things that have taken my attention this year. Many more to come :)

Top row: My new Ashford Traditional wheel, which I picked up yesterday, and a box of hexipuffs for my future Beekeeper’s Quilt.

Middle row: Drop spindle with my second spindle-spun attempt.

Bottom row: My Wine Berry Heaven shawl (like the 198 yds of Heaven but in sock weight so more like 350 yds), and a little Tama top for my sister’s new baby.

Orange things

Last night, I started reading “The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making”

She smoothed the lap of her now-wrinkled and rumpled orange dress. She liked anything orange: leaves; some moons; marigolds; chrysanthemums; cheese; pumpkin, both in pie and out; orange juice; marmalade.

Orange is bright and demanding. You can’t ignore orange things.

No, you certainly can’t ignore orange things. :)

Oh hello there!

I'm Véro - a crafty, knitty, spinny gal who enjoys making (and drinking) a cocktail or three. If you've stumbled here, you might enjoy browsing some of my older posts with the tags over to the right or finding out more about me.

Say hi in the comments or on Twitter! :)



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