Colour Play 3: the zombie socks

The observant among you may have noticed a brand new knitting project at the bottom of my last post. “What’s that?” you may have wondered, “A new project? Does that mean she’s finished some of that giant, nagging heap of WIPs?” No. No, it does not, smarty trousers. What it means is that I have this compulsion to use every trip over half an hour long as an excuse to start something new. Preferably something that will require some spinning beforehand, to distract me from all that pesky laundry and packing and general making-the-place-not-look-like-a-rubbish-tip that should happen before leaving. (See also. That project? Still not done. But that’s an Atlanta project, and this was a trip to New Orleans. In entirely the other direction. You understand.) This time, we travelled by train, which meant about 7 hours of knitting time each way. Train travel offers some views not afforded by cars or planes: instead of seeing everything from above, or seeing the face that places present to the street, you see the back of things — the lumber yards, the storage sheds, the backs of the houses on the wrong side of the tracks — and I like that view. This project would keep my hands busy while I looked at the things that are not meant to be seen.

In this case, I had the perfect fibre, too: some 100% Polwarth top from Two If By Hand, in a colourway called Zombies*. How could I pass that up? I mean, look at this stuff:

8 oz. of loveliness. And braaaaaiiiiins. But mostly loveliness.

Now, the braids don’t match, I know. That’s because one of them (the one on the left, I think) was an off batch that the TIBH women sold me after I fell in love with the first braid and begged them for any leftovers they might have. It arrived labelled ‘Bad Zombie’, and it’s secretly my favourite of the two. The non-matchiness actually works in its favour for this project, too.

I already knew what I wanted to do with this fibre, and I was pressed for time, so I didn’t bother with sampling. I wanted clear, discrete stripes, without the blending/barberpoling that happens with a true 2- or 3-ply (which you can see in The Great Shetland Experiment). Unless you want to futz about with breaking and rejoining singles to match up the colours, the way to do this is by Navajo-plying, also known as n-plying or chain-plying. The Knit Girllls have a good tutorial on this technique, if you want to see how it’s done.  (They also have a bunch of other spinning tutorials that are worth checking out, including one showing how to 2-ply those leftover singles.)

I also knew the resulting yarn would become socks, which meant a fair amount of twist in both the singles and the plying. Most of these colour experiments seem to become socks, and here’s why: they’re small, so you can see how things turned out right away; they’re not a huge investment of time or fibre; and, well, they’re socks, so if they don’t look fabulous, who cares? Also, I really like handspun socks.

Since I find worsted or even semi-worsted spinning about as exciting as a Swiss documentary on the proper drying of paint, I went with my old stand-by technique, long draw from the fold. (Look! Another video tutorial! This is the Spindlicity video I’ve linked to before. It’s a good ‘un.) I split each braid in half lengthwise (one half for each sock); the first sock’s worth turned out like this:

Zombie socks on the balcony. Let’s just pretend it wasn’t too damn hot to knit outside.

This yarn is relatively un-busy-looking, so I decided to play around with the 3×1 rib that is my standard sock stitch. I also made them a bit big, as they’re not superwash (and Polwarth is a felty fibre), so they’ll full a bit with wear. Here’s where we’re at so far:

I have no idea where I’m going with this stitch pattern, but I’ve got the whole heel turning to figure that out.

Now, this yarn ain’t perfect. One flaw inherent to n-plied yarn (especially as done by relative newbies like yours truly) is that since you’re plying one single back on itself, there’s little possibility of the evening-out that happens with regular plying: the thin bits end up plied with thin bits, and the thick bits with thick bits. In this case, they’d often be right next to each other, leading to a sudden change in thickness from one loop to the next (and it looked so even when I was spinning it, too. Gah.) The other thing is that n-plying is a pat-your-head/rub-your-belly kind of process when you’re starting out: get a rhythm established and as long as you don’t think about it too much, it goes pretty smoothly, but dare to think about what you’re doing, and suddenly your hands think they belong to somebody else, probably somebody really clumsy, while your feet keep treadling like they know what they’re about, and next thing you know you’ve way overtwisted that section. When this happened, I’d keep looping without treadling, letting the excess twist into the new loops until I ran out of arm length, then wind a bit on and repeat if necessary. I also tend to wind the plied yarn at a distance of several feet from my wheel, which hopefully allows for some flow of twist along the yarn, but still, there were a few wiry sections, my friends. And when your Polwarth is wiry, well, you’ve done something very wrong.

So. For the next two mini-skeins, I’m going to pay more attention to the thickness of the singles, and I shall slow down with the n-plying. I may also play around with mixing up the colours; the last section of that cake up there has a loooot of grey all in the same place, so I may use some of it to break up the magenta and the blue. Because it’s an experiment. And they’re socks. And if they don’t match perfectly, who the hell cares? Not I, my friends. Not I.

*This was a special colourway dreamed up by the women of Two If By Hand for a spin-along in the Completely Twisted and Arbitrary spinning group on Ravelry. Maria at TIBH tells me it’s now available to the rest of the spinning universe, either as a custom order or, if you time it right, in future updates.

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