Playing With Art Batts

I love art batts!  Since I feel a bit frightened of them at times, I invited Carla Hanson of Purple Lamb Fiber Arts to give an overview of batts and how to prepare them for spinning.  Take it away, Carla!

I’d like to thank Sandy of Indigo Kitty Knits for kindly inviting me to be a guest blogger on her blog this week. She asked me to talk to you about working with art batts. I’d like to talk to you about types of art batts and how to get them ready to spin.

For the first couple years after I started spinning, when I wanted to make multicolored yarn, I would do it by switching back and forth between different colors of top. Eventually I invested in a set of hand cards which made it possible to combine different kinds of fiber in a reliable way, but it was slow going because the hand cards can only do a fraction of an ounce at a time, so it took more time to card than to spin.

A couple years later, I ordered my first art batt off Etsy. It was like hand-carded fiber only better. The carded batt was thick enough and big enough to combine lots of different types of fibers and colors. I was sold! A few batts later, I started looking for a drum carder of my own and eventually purchased a used Ashford carder.

Using a carder is like creating from an artist’s palette, and spinning from art batts is like making a beautiful painting. It goes beyond that, though, because handspun yarn is not only a work of art in its own right, it’s also a work of art waiting to be made into another work of art–the finished project that is woven or knitted or crocheted from that yarn.

If you are just moving into the realm of art batts, you may be wondering how in the world you take this big rectangle of fluffy fibers and turn it into yarn. It’s not as hard as it looks! If, on the other hand, you’ve been spinning from batts for a while, it might be nice to take a look at a few techniques that may be new to you. There are lots of options to choose from depending on how you want the yarn to look and what type of batt you have. Let’s talk about types of batts first.

Types of Art Batts
There are really just a few basic types of art batts to spin from in terms of how they are made, and there are as many variations within those types as there are batts. The main types are layered batts, striped batts, and gradient batts. Let’s talk about each one.

Layered batts – These batts are made from layers of different fibers that generally go all the way across the batt. When I make a layered batt, I try to ensure that each color and fiber type covers the whole surface of the carder’s teeth. My daughter Mary, who is my batt-making assistant and has a great sense of color, prefers to divide each ingredient into thirds or quarters and make multiple thinner layers of each ingredient. Some people take a more spontaneous approach to layered batts and layer different materials in different areas in a more-or-less random fashion. That will create a more varied yarn, which can be great, but it will also be a less repeatable or predictable yarn, which may or may not be what you are looking for. Ultimately, there’s no wrong way to make or use a batt–it’s just a question of what you prefer and what kind of yarn you want to make from it.

This is a layered batt seen rolled up

2 desert in bloom batts
Desert In Bloom Batts

Striped batts – Striped batts are made with each ingredient laid on in vertical stripes in different areas on the carding cloth. When I make striped batts, I like to make the stripes thin, and I often make 2 layers of each ingredient so the yarn has more color variety within each area, but other people make them one color deep, which makes it easier to make a predictably striped yarn like one you would use for self-striping socks, for example.

Gradient batts – Gradient batts are another type of striped batt, and they are made the same way gradient yarns are made. One side of the batt has one color, and then the colors fade or transition from one side to another. Usually there is some overlap where the colors meet each other, which helps the batt hold together and also creates subtler transitions in the yarn.

How to Spin from Art Batts

Let’s talk about the different ways to prepare them to spin and why you might choose one way over another. I’m going to go over all the different methods in the section on layered batts since every option works with layered batts, and then we’ll talk about which of those would be appropriate to a striped or gradient batt.

Spinning from a Layered Batt – Layered batts offer the most options for methods of spinning. I’m going to give each method a letter name so I can refer back to it. You can do any of these when you’re spinning a layered batt:

A. Pull off hunks of fiber at random and spin them.
Pros: It’s really easy and takes no preparation.
Cons: It’s not repeatable if you want repeatable, and the colors will be really random in the yarn.

B. Pull the yarn into a roving and spin from one end. To do this, you take the batt, fold it into half or quarters along the length of the fiber, and gently pull until you feel the fibers move just a bit. Next, scoot your hands down the length of the batt and do the same thing. Continue doing this all the way along the length of the batt over and over again until the fiber is just a few inches wide. I learned this technique from one of Deb Menz’s wonderful videos on color blending. By the way, if you break it at some point in the process of thinning and lengthening the fiber into roving, don’t worry about it. Just think of it as a new piece of roving that you join on as you spin.
Pros: This makes a really consistent yarn where all the colors are blended all the way through the batt.
Cons: It’s a lot of work. It takes a long time to do this, and it’s really only worth it when you want your yarn to look the same from end to end.

C. Tear strips off the batt about as wide as you like to spin from. If you’re not sure how wide to make them, try starting by tearing the batt in half and then in half one more time along the length of the fiber. You can then spin directly from the strips, or you can thin them out further by gently pulling them into roving using the same technique as in letter B–just not as much. I don’t usually do this. I just spin right from the strips since the fluffiness of batts makes them sort of like predrafted fiber anyway.
Pros: If the layers go all the way across the batt, this will be almost as consistent as the roving method but with almost no work.
Cons: This is the method I use most of the time, so maybe I’m a little prejudiced in its favor, but the only con I can think of is that it’s not quite as consistent as the roving method.

D. I’ll call the next method the W method because the fiber looks like a W when you’re done. Lay your batt on a flat surface and carefully divide about a 2-inch-wide swath of fiber, dividing until you are about 2 inches from the bottom of the batt. Now turn where you are tearing, heading back up to the top of the batt. Continue doing this, basically turning your batt into roving. If it breaks along the way, no big deal. Just start again and keep going until you get to the end of the batt. Here’s a fun video from Atomic Blue showing this technique and much more.
Pros: It keeps the colors in the order they were in the batt, and it’s a little less time consuming than method B. Also, it’s really good if you prefer spinning from a nice long roving.
Cons: You can accomplish almost the same thing by tearing off strips like #3 with less hassle.

E. The last method we’ll talk about it the rolag method. Roll the batt up using a dowel rod or a knitting needle. Carefully remove the dowel, and pull the rolag gently to make it thinner just like in method #2. Spin from the end like you’re spinning from a rolag. Here’s a great video showing this method from Grace Shalom Hopkins.
Pros: You have the potential to spin a very consistent yarn this way, and it’s a straightforward way to keep all the colors in the order they were in the batt. Also, this will feel more familiar if you are used to spinning from rolags from hand cards or from a blending board.
Cons: It’s a little more work than some of the other methods.

Here is the same batt as above, shown unrolled to see the layers.

Inside Desert In Bloom
Inside Desert In Bloom

Spinning from a Striped Batt –In the case of a striped batt, you really can spin it any way you can spin a layered batt, but the method you may want to choose depends on the look you’re trying to get in your yarn. Here are some options with that in mind:

1. If you just like the colors and don’t care about the stripes, go for any of the above methods that you like.

2. If you want to make yarn that keeps the stripe pattern that was in the batt, you have two options really. The first is to use the W method I discussed in Method D above. The second is to tear off strips as in Method C above. Either way works just fine, but if you go for the tearing off strips method, make sure to start at one edge of the batt and keep tearing strips off the same edge, or else tear them all at once and lay them out in the order that you plan to spin them.

3. If you want the colors to blend more thoroughly so that all the colors are throughout all the yarn, I suggest the roving method discussed in Method B above or the rolag method from Method E.

Spinning from a Gradient Batt
Really there’s not a lot of different between spinning from a striped batt and spinning from a gradient batt. Once again, if you just like the colors but don’t care about keeping them in order, then use whatever method you like best. If, however, you want to take advantage of the gradient to make a gradient or ombre yarn that starts with the color on one side of the batt and ends with the color on the other end, then here are the methods I find work best:

1. Use the W method discussed in Method D under layered batts. If it breaks in the process, just make sure to keep the colors in order by laying them out in the order you intend to spin from them.

2. Tear the batt into strips as in Method C under layered batts, always going from one side to the other. Again, I find this method the easiest to use.

3. Use the rolag method from Method E under layered batts.

A yarn spun from the featured batt.

One of the many beautiful yarns you can spin from this art batt.
One of the many beautiful yarns you can spin from this art batt.

Hopefully this post will make it seem less and not more intimidating to spin from your first batt, or if you have spun from batts many times before, hopefully this will give you some additional options to play with. No matter which methods you decide to try, I wish you lots of fiber fun!

Carla Hanson is the mother of a large, busy homeschooling family. She devotes every spare moment to playing with fiber, most of which makes its way to her Etsy shop,.  The batts shown in this post where created by Carla.

When she’s not at her spinning wheel or her carding table, she can be found at any of the following:

Facebook
Ravelry
Pinterest
Her Websit

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The Book That Changed The Way I Think About Fear

I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book Big Magic last month, and it has changed the way I think about many things.

Before I start talking about this book, a word about her earlier books, just so you know I am fairly objective.  I read Eat, Pray, Love – or more properly, I should say I tried to read it.  I just could not connect with it.  So, I’m not a huge fan of all her work.

big magic

One of the most intriguing things she talks about is that fear we all feel from time to time when we try something new, or meet someone new, or think in a new way.  She points out that fear actually does serve a very important evolutionary purpose.  Our ancestors who paid good attention to their fears survived to reproduce.  Life was chancy and danger was everywhere – people who were cautious lived longer lives than careless risk takers.  The ones who put every unknown berry in their mouths lived a shorter life.    Since evolution weeded out risk takers, we’ve inherited that fear mindset.

Life is much safer now in general, when was the last time you met a tiger in your back yard, after all?  But fear doesn’t understand that.  And when you try something new or undertake a project with an uncertain outcome it can easily take over the show.

Ms. Gilbert explains all this in much more detail and more elegantly than I can, but additionally, she gives a great tool for overcoming fear.

She says we cannot and should not eliminate fear entirely, it’s purpose is still important at times.  It keeps you safe when something really is about to go south.  But undertaking a new art project is not terribly dangerous.  So, she gives you one way to put fear in the back seat where it belongs.

She advises talking to fear as if it were a person, and telling it that it’s not going to get to drive on this road trip.

Now, that may sound silly, but I’ve been doing this and it’s made a big difference in the amount of anxiety I feel at various times, especially when beginning a creative project in an area in which I don’t consider myself very expert.

Acknowledging the fear and putting it in the back seat helps me feel safe enough to move forward with things that seemed overwhelming in the past.  I don’t worry so much about what people will think about my work or even about me.  Fear seems to cooperate and sit quietly watching the scenery.

I liked this book so much I copied a section into my journal and read over it several times a week.

I recommend every artist and creator (and that’s all of us, isn’t it?) read this book.

If you are reading my blog hoping for juicy pictures of fiber, this picture of a new handspun yarn is for you.

Hanspun Silk And Wool Yarn
Hanspun Silk And Wool Yarn

If I Knew I Could Not Fail

I recently joined a class on marketing and was required to answer this question –

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After some initial resistance, I dashed off some quick answers, and surprised myself!

If I knew I could not fail, I would…

  1.  Become #1  in revenue of all outside vendors in the consignment shop I sell in at the Indiana State Fair.  I don’t know how I would actually know I was #1, of course I don’t have access to other vendors’ revenue numbers.  Perhaps this isn’t such a  great goal.  Goals are supposed to measurable, right?  Maybe a better goal would be – sell $XXXX at the Fair.  Or double last year’s sales at the Fair.  So, I’d double last year’s revenue at the fair.  My revenue was $1,162.50, which means my goal is $2,325.00  That’s a big, scary goal!
  2. Have a functional website with a sales page.  Lots of learning to get to that point.  Seems a little overwhelming.
  3. Create more patterns for sale.  That will take a big time investment that I didn’t think I had available.  More about that later.
  4. Dye more yarns in slightly larger groups, instead of so many one off yarns.  That’s doable.
  5. Create a well organized dedicated dye studio, instead of having supplies here, the dye area there, fiber storage somewhere else in the house.  I was reading this list to my daughter, and she said, “What do you need?  Water?  Electricity? Shelving? Lights?  Oh you can easily create a dye studio, you should have Daddy move his weights, push that bunch of tools here, move those shelves, rearrange the laundry area, move that table and you’d be all set.  Sometimes it takes a fresh eye!

About time availability – one of the assignments  was to create a morning routine and policies.  Mine include a commitment to a certain number of hours dedicated to work, in little 1-2 hour chunks throughout my day, which is quite a change from my previous method of squeezing it in here and there, allowing my mind to get distracted by whatever I notice, and basically getting little done.  This idea of going “pro” and having an actual work schedule now looks like genius to me, of course.

I now dedicate about 4 hours per week day to work, working around the other things I need or want to do.  I still spend plenty of time outside and get my errands done.  But, I have accomplished more in the last two days that I did in a week before I had an actual schedule.  So I can see that I have a lot more time than I thought I did, and I’m committed to finishing a class on pattern writing I began long ago, and then I’ll start writing up a pattern or two that have been rattling around in my brain for a while.

Another benefit of this dedicated time I’ve noticed is that I’m much more organized, my office space is tidy, and I have time to think and plan.  Quite a remarkable change.  At the end of my last work period, around 5pm, I start to think about the next day and get set up for that.

For example, tomorrow I will spend some time working on setting up my dye area, and by the end of day I’ll feel like I made some real progress.

How would you answer the question?

For the folks who come here looking for pretty pictures of fiber, here’s something for you.

Pegasus Fingering Weight 100% Wool Yarn
Pegasus Fingering Weight 100% Wool Yarn

Until next time.  Happy knitting or whatever makes you happy!

Rolag Q&A


We get a lot of questions about one of our newest product, rolags.  I thought it would be helpful to have a post to point people to.  Hopefully I’ll answer all your questions, if you have more please let me know and I’ll update the post!

1.  What the heck is a rolag?  A rolag is a specific type of fiber preparation, especially created to be super easy to spin.  Here’s a little eye candy.

IMG_5056
Merino Wool, Silk and a bit of Sparkle

2.  What’s the advantage of a rolag over some other type of fiber?  Rolags are blended fibers, usually custom dyed (ours are), with the fibers all running in roughly the same direction. You can blend any fiber you care to.  So, we may use something pretty “standard”, like merino and silk – and sometimes we use something unusual, like rose fiber or yak fiber.  Strands of glitter can be included if you like it blingy.  Rolags can be used to make color and fiber combinations that are hard to achieve by just dyeing.

3.  Are rolags easier to spin than roving or batts?  It depends.  For me, batts can be more challenging to work with, because their fibers can be a bit more disorganized.  You can see from this picture how the fibers are looser and the fiber is in a bigger piece.  Rolags can be less intimidating because they are smaller and easier to hold.

I almost always spin using a top whorl drop spindle, because the cats won’t leave my spinning wheel alone if I leave it out, and I’m usually too lazy to go drag it out and then put it away.  I personally prefer rolags over batts for the hand spindle.   More expert spinners can spin batts with no problem at all on a hand spindle.  I’m just not there yet.

It can be harder to get a smooth yarn, especially if you are a beginning spinner. Sometimes a lumpy art yarn is what you want, so batts are certainly useful.  And, no argument, they are very beautiful!

purple lamb battThe gorgeous batt is from Purple Lamb on Etsy. It’s called Precious Metals and is a combo of Mulberry Silk, Alpaca, and Bamboo.  It’s really spectacular!   You can find it here. There are lots of other gorgeous fibers there too!  Go take a look.  I’ll wait.

Batts are very versatile and can be handled in a number of ways (that’s for a future post).

4.  Why are rolags more expensive than batts or roving?  There is more work (and time) involved.  To create rolags you need fiber (dyed or undyed – someone has to dye the fiber), a special blending board, and plenty of time.  The fiber is blended, then pulled of the board to get all the fibers running the same direction.  Typically a board of fiber is made into 3-5 rolags.   One way to think of it is that a batt is the whole board of fiber rolled up and folded, and the rolags are the same board of fiber pulled and stretched out into small tubes.  Obviously that takes more time and work.

5.  Do I need a spinning wheel to spin rolags?  Absolutely not, we both use hand spindles to spin rolags.  Cheryl doesn’t even own a wheel!  Hand spindles do a great job with rolags and they are very inexpensive.  Why spend money on a tool you may not enjoy using?  Start with a low cost spindle.  You will soon be quite good at spinning.  It’s like any other skill you’ve learned during your life.  Remember learning to ride a bike?  I thought I’d never get it, one day it just happened.  Practice is the key!

Give rolags a try, you don’t need any spinning experience at all to get a nice thick and thin yarn that you can make into a beautiful headband or baby hat.

I leave you with some more beautiful rolag photos.  Because we all love fiber eye candy!

silk and wool rolags
Hand Dyed Silk and Wool

 

Hand Dyed Alpaca, Yak and Silk
Hand Dyed Alpaca, Yak and Silk

 

Wool And Sparkle
Hand Dyed Wool And Sparkle

 

Give rolags a try – I’d love to see what you create with fiber spun from rolags.

Hand Dyed Fibers – Brights

Last week I competed four new hand dyed rovings. I love them all and secretly halfway want to spin them all myself. But, I’ve decided to list them in my Etsy shop and share the fun.  As you see, I was having a brightly colored kind of week.

Here’s Acid Spring.

Acid Spring

This makes me think of a Tropical Getaway.

Tropical Getaway

Here is a tribute to Semi-Precious gemstones.

IMG_1530

I also made a roving I called Citrus Explosion.

Citrus Explosion

I also finished two skeins of worsted weight 100% wool yarn.  The colorway is Hydrangeas.

Hydrangeas

Soon I’ll be taking a short trip to Western Michigan where the hydrangeas will be sensational. They’re one of my favorite things about summer on the Great Lakes. I’ll be keeping my eyes open for other color ideas while there – watch for more nature inspired colorways in the near future.

Friday Finds for May 31, 2013

Today’s blog post shows a couple of Etsy treasuries I made this week.  Here is the first one, entitled “Yarny Goodies I Love”.  Find the other images and links to the products here.  This one has a very loose color theme, which I find interesting, because I certainly didn’t set out to create it that way – but I love the way it came out.

Yarnie Goodies I Love

The second treasury is less organized and really mostly for spinners, but I love it!  “Just A Little Eye Candy for Spinners” is here.

Just A Little Eye Candy For Spinners

Etsy makes it so easy to find gorgeous things.  I’m going to try to show my treasuries every Friday that I can, so keep watching.  More beautiful stuff next week!

Spring Knitting, Part 2

People ask me how they can wear hand knit accessories in the spring and summer.  Here are some examples that I think work well.

This frothy lime shawl is knit in 100% pima cotton, so it’s light, soft, airy – just right for cool summer evenings or chilly movies.  It’s an asymmetrical triangle, so it’s a bit unusual, not like anything commercially produced, perfect if you like to be just a bit different. 

Lime Shawl
Lime Shawl

Lime not your thing?  How about coral?  This is a rectangular scarf,  it makes an excellent sarong.  It’s cotton, so it dries in a flash.

Coral Rectangular Shawl
Coral Rectangular Scarf

Perhaps cooler colors are more to your taste?  Noro Nobori knits up into a gorgeous blue and purple rectangular scarf.

Noro Nobori Fishnet Shawl
Noro Nobori Fishnet Shawl/Scarf

Looking for a gift?  Finding it tricky to buy colors for someone else?  Teal looks great on almost everyone, and this 100% cotton is soft, fluffy and generally fabulous.  This is another one of those rectangular scarves that you can wear in several different ways. Doesn’t it look great with the seahorse shawl pin?

Teal Rectangular Scarf
Teal Rectangular Scarf

Spring Knitting, Part 3 will be coming soon.  We just keep creating the beautiful stuff!