Thursday, April 12, 2012


It's kind of funny. When I started dyeing yarn, I didn't really know all that much about chemistry. The last time I'd had any real interaction with it was Mr. Horner's class in high school. Then Lorna's Laces came into my life and terms like pH and acidity became all the rage in my vocabulary. I'm still no whiz and the folks at Pfizer don't need to worry about their job security, but I have a little better handle on things these days.

I chugged along for quite some time thinking that I was doing pretty well with my little corner of the science world and out of the blue came Outlast. A space age fiber that we've incorporated into two yarns, Solemate and Sportmate. I understand how they work but I've found it hard to articulate.

To my delight, the fiber world has its own textile engineer/rock star, Maura Kirk.She blogs about things here and you can find some of her designs here.

Maura understands Outlast on a level I don't and offered to write a guest post about it for us. I think she did a great job of explaining how it works. I may just turn into a science geek after all.

The National Needle Arts trade shows are an amazing sensory overload for any fiber enthusiast. However, I have never been more excited than the first time I saw Lorna’s Laces Solemate exhibited last June. I regaled anyone that would listen about phase change material! And the microencapsulation! As a textile engineer, I spent my days researching groundbreaking and innovative fibers, and as a knitter, I’d come home to entangle my fingers in unparalleled wool. All of a sudden, here was everything I loved converged in one gorgeous, hand-dyed skein.

Now Lorna’s Laces is expanding their line with Sportmate, a sport weight version of this incredible yarn. If you have warm hands like mine, the first thing you’ll notice is that it feels slightly chilled to the touch when you hold it. That’s the magic of this fiber blend. Outlast is a passive thermal regulator, meaning it’ll cool you when you’re warm and warm you when you’re cool. It is a viscose fiber, like rayon and bamboo. Spun into the fiber itself are microencapsulated beads of phase change material (PCM). A PCM is something that changes states from solid to liquid and back again. Ice is a really common example. Outlast’s PCM is proprietary, but it might be something like paraffin, a wax with a narrow temperature range.

All this talk of melting and solidifying sounds like it might get messy, but that’s where the microencapsulation comes in. Think of them like teeny teeny tiny Advil gel caps. They’re so small, you can’t feel them and you’d need a microscope just to see them, but they’re holding the PCM that’s going to draw the warm energy away from your skin to cool you and release it back when you’re a bit chilled. It’s not a coating or a finish, so it’s not going to change the way the yarn feels or wear away over time.

And wool! I think we can agree that wool itself is amazing, but do you know why? On a microscopic level, the fiber resembles a spring. The coils of the spring are linked by molecular bonds, so they’ll stretch, but bounce right back to their spring-like shape. This provides a lot of natural resiliency, keeping your handknit garments in the shape you knit them in to. Science and engineering can replicate a lot of wool’s characteristics, but fall short in some crucial ways. You can make a synthetic spring-like fiber, but those bonds holding the coils in place? It’s almost impossible! If you’ve ever knit a sock or a sweater in a manmade fiber and had it stretch out beyond recognition, you’ve experienced this first hand.

So you take the best of what nature has to offer and this amazing bit of new fiber technology, and you’ve got a perfect match. Wool itself is a great thermal insulator and fantastic at wicking, and with some cooling properties, all of the sudden, you can wear your handknit socks year round. You can make a hat for your hot-blooded Uncle Bob who wears tee shirts in an arctic chill. And, if you’re like me, you can geek out about this technological upgrade to wool’s natural near-perfection.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Knitting with Beads

Have you taken the leap and added beads to your knitting? I've always been a little intimidated by the whole idea. But over the past few months, the siren's call has been getting stronger and stronger.

Think about it...You get the trifecta of texture, color and bling just by adding a tiny piece of glass or plastic or whatever to your work. It doesn't really get much better than that.

So, when Laura Nelkin told me about her new Craftsy class, I decided to give it a whirl. The preview she sent makes it look easy. Even better, it makes it look fun!

One of the projects in the class, Accola, uses Shepherd Sock. It's shown here in 809 Midway.

Laura told me that she really likes the yarn for beading projects "as it is super tough and didn't mind the beads sliding down it at all. Some yarns really fuzz up!"

I'm trying to decide if I like the idea of having the bead be a very similar color like you see here or if I'd like to have more contrast. I think I'm leaning towards a little more bling...what do you think?

Have I sold you on trying beads? What if I told you I have a coupon for you? Yep! The nice folks at Craftsy are offering the class for half price. Join me!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Traveling Companions

I'm in the midst of the week before vacation. The one where you wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat panicking that you can't get everything done before you leave. And then go into work and dither and dawdle and do virtually nothing. Sound familiar?

So, let's focus on what's really important: Reading and knitting for the trip.

One day last week I posted on Facebook asking for book suggestions. I got lots of great ideas but nothing quite hit the mark. Then the mail came yesterday.

Inside was a note from the talented and delightful designer, Sandi Rosner, that read:

I bought this book with dreams of visiting Italy that, sadly, have yet to be fulfilled. I hope you can put it to more immediate use. Have a magical journey.

After the tears dried, I looked a bit more closely at the book. It's a collection of short stories about Italy written by Italians. They are arranged geographically so you can get a little more insight into your trip as you go along.

I can't think of a nicer surprise to find in the mailbox. I am so lucky to work in yarn.

The next task is to decide on knitting. We're packing lightly for the trip so I wanted to bring something that gave me a lot of bang for the buck, so to speak.

I decided on a Susan Pierce Lawrence's Fountain Pen Shawl.

I'm using Helen's Lace in one of our new colors, Kedzie. I just finished winding it into a ball, so I'm all set.

Under most circumstances I would never dream of only bringing one project on a trip this long, but since we're spending part of the trip here, I figure if I need to, I can always pick up a little something to tide me over.

So, the important things are all decided. I guess I need to get back to work.....