I’ve been at this fibre arts gig long enough to tell you a few people I don’t argue with anymore. If Judith MacKenzie tells me something about how my wheel works , I don’t argue.  If Lisa Kobeck tells me something about how to put a loom together, I’ve got nothing to say, and if Deb Menz says something to me about colour in spinning , I just do it. What ever she says.  The woman’s brilliant.  So it came to be a few years ago, that I was sitting in Deb’s class on using wool combs to blend coloured top, trying to do something to improve my skills so that I could both use wool combs and let my tetanus shot lapse, and the class was great, and when I was leaving, Deb said to take a bunch of the top. A little of each colour. A really little bit of each colour.  I asked why – and she said  "It will come in handy some day." So, because it was Deb Menz, I did as she said, and brought home this big zip lock full of tiny little virtually unusable bits of top.  It’s sat there in the stash for a couple of years, bugging me.  I could think of lots of reasons why Deb Menz would want that zip lock, but not very many reasons that I would, and I’ve only barely resisted the urge to give it to a spinner like Denny about a thousand times, but still, Deb said it was a good idea, so there it was.

Last week, I fished this batt from Hanks in the Hood out of the stash.

I spun it, and got pretty, pretty yarn that was just what I was hoping it would be..

I warped the little loom with it. (In response to many questions, my loom is a simple little rigid heddle loom.  A Cricket.  Quick, easy, fun. I have two reeds for it, an 8 dent and a 12 dent.  For this project I used the 8.)

As soon as I got the loom warped, I knew I had a problem.  I picked up what was left of the ball of yarn, and I got that feeling.  You know the one.  Where you’ve got a half a sleeve to go and you pick up the ball and get the heebies, because that ball of yarn isn’t the right weight to go the distance? I knew right away that it wasn’t enough, but I’m an inexperienced weaver, and so I hoped that I was wrong.  Lisa (one of my many weaving mentors) told me that a good thing to remember is that the weft (the yarn that goes side to side) will probably take about 60% what the warp did.  (The yarn that goes front to back.)  I probably could have used that rule if I’d weighed the yarn before starting, or if I hadn’t starting weaving while I was thinking I didn’t have enough – but I didn’t, and I did, so I just was sitting there with this sinking feeling.  Another few shots with the shuttle, and I realized I had to face it.  Not enough yarn.  The batt I spun it from was gone, and Oregon’s a bit of a ways to go to get another one, and even if they would mail it to me this project had a deadline, and so – I decided to stretch the yarn, sort of the way that you stretch a stew when two extra people arrive for dinner.  I started to think about what I could use as potatoes.

I considered looking for a yarn that matched or contrasted prettily, one that would look good as stripes. If I put in a 2cm stripe every 10 centimetres, that would probably give me the length I needed.  I looked through the stash with that in mind and discovered that I had no yarn that was appropriate.  Now, I have enough yarn that there’s no way on earth that there isn’t something good for this in there, so that meant that I really didn’t want stripes.  I accepted that, and wondered what my other choice was? I only wanted the scarf out of that multi-coloured batt, but I didn’t have more of the multi-coloured batt and didn’t have time to order it… I was thinking that I was doing that thing I do again.  I bet you do it too.  That thing where you don’t want to change anything that you’re doing – but you also want a different result?  (My favourite is "I don’t want to stop buying yarn, but I wish the stash would stop growing.")  I was just wondering if this was one of those times, when my eyes settled on that bag of bits of top from Deb Menz.  I got an idea.  I could make a little bit of the rainbow batt.  I could fake it. If I could could create a yarn that looked a lot like what the one I was using looked like, then I might be able to phase it in and out of the weaving, like I would do if I had two yarns of different dye lots.  They wouldn’t be exactly the same, but I started to wonder if I could magic a yarn that was close enough.  I grabbed the little bag of bits and my hand cards and went downstairs to the loom.

I started looking really closely at the yarn I had made, and picking those colours out of the bits, and putting them on my cards in what I thought was the right proportions.

Then I carded them together until they seemed blended enough, ran to the wheel, spun, plied, wound it off the wheel onto a shuttle, and came back with my several metres of potato yarn.

Whoa.  Way too purple.  The batt clearly had that purple in it, but that was way, way too much.  I tried again, and this time when I had the bits carded together, I felt like it was going to be spot on.

Back to the wheel – then back to the loom.  (For all you spinner/knitters out there, you should know that unlike yarn for knitting,  if you’re using your handspun for weaving, you don’t wash it/set the twist until after it’s woven, so it was okay to do this. Don’t freak out.)

That’s my new yarn on the shuttle, and the old yarn on the loom. Looks pretty good, right?  I worked back and forth, a little of the potatoes, a little of the original, switching here and there to phase it in and out.  Luckily for me, the original yarn is stripy and changes colours often, so I didn’t have to be too careful. 

By the time I’d done it for a while, even I couldn’t tell where I’d used the potatoes yarn.  The original batt had merino, bamboo and sparkle – and the potatoes yarn was just merino, so I never used it alone for too long, thinking that the texture would look too different, but of course, the warp was the original yarn, so there’s always some bamboo/sparkle around.  I saved a chunk of the original yarn to do at the end, so that both the start and the finish of the scarf would match, and whammo.

Done like dinner. I gave it a wash, and now even I can’t tell where I put in the fake yarn.

I think it totally worked, and I can’t believe that Deb Menz gave me that top, and that I kept if for this long, just because she said it would come in handy. I mean, she was right, absolutely right, and maybe 2g of each of a million colours of top is just the sort of thing that all right minded spinners keep in their emergency drawer, but right now it feels like Deb Menz knew this day was coming, and she pressed that bag into my hands so that I would be prepared when it came.   It could be that I read way, way too much fantasy and sci-fi, or maybe watching all those reruns of Sliders on Netflix was a bad idea, but right now I have to tell you the truth.

I think Deb Menz is not just a textile artist.  I’m pretty sure she’s a time traveller, or at least folding time a little bit on weekends.

163 thoughts on “Potatoes

  1. Whoa Nelly! You’re really that good. And the recipient will be warm and gorgeous and loved all at once! Learning to weave is on my bucket list, and the urge to scratch that itch gets stronger each time you do one of these magical things…

  2. OK – now that I’ve gotten over being dizzy from being first to post – and now that I’ve actually READ this – here’s what I thought if doing as I read this, not that your solution wasn’t completely brilliant. Spin a little bit of solid coloured yarn in each colour and woven in a few stripes here and there. Trouble is I don’t spin. Though this is inspiring me to dig out my old loom.

  3. Oooooh, this post makes me want to learn how to weave! And I can think of a few family members who would be fans of me taking up that hobby as well:-B

  4. Outstanding! Love the scarf. I am looking forward to the day I finally take a spinning class and a weaving class. For now, I’ll stick to my knitting and admire your work..well done!

  5. Clever woman! You may even inspire me to finish the baby blanket that’s been on the Harp since this time last year. My first weaving endeavor. I got side tracked.

  6. Lovely, lovely scarf. Sigh. This makes me want to spin and weave… and find clever solutions to weaving problems like you just did.

  7. I’m amazed and very impressed that you got such a close match. And Deb doesn’t have to be a time traveler. Maybe she just has precognition!

  8. Great job! And smart thinking… and now you have to collect little bits of more so that you have a backup for a future issue (should it occur).
    Add me as another who loves “fake yarn”. That made me giggle.

  9. I can only look at the pictures and not too carefully. I don’t dare get sucked down the rabbit hole of weaving, though if I did, I’d love such a pretty scarf to go down with me.

  10. Brilliant and beautiful. None of it is fake yarn but the potatoes reference makes it very clear what you mean. Like I said, brilliant – both the weaving and the writing.

  11. Life becomes much simpler, in my opinion, when a person has identified the people in her life that are worth listening to…and the ones that aren’t! 🙂 Lovely job on the scarf!

  12. WOW it did work great!! Isn’t it nice when things like that happen. Its really pretty and you did a wonderful job. I don’t have a cricket loom yet but plan on getting one. Its small so I can handle that for sure. Thanks for sharing.

  13. Love it, love time travelling, love finding just the right thing at just the right time, love the scarf, love the whole thing so much I think I’m coming down with the cupid virus.

  14. You make me want to add spinning and weaving to my to-do list when I can’t keep up with what’s already on the list. That scarf is some very fine workmanship.

  15. A Spinning Time Lord, I love it! They ought to work that into a Dr. Who episode.

  16. I love the way that you made it work. I have been wanting to learn how to weave and now I want to learn to weave even more

  17. You never know when you’ll get a clever tip that will turn up to be useful later! Your solution was fantastic and your FO is amazing. What a clever combination of all your weaving/spinning skills. It’s definitely inspirational. 🙂

  18. F***ing BRILLIANT!!!… I love the term ‘potato yarn’…thank you for sharing your ingenious thinking….

  19. Yet another persuasive post that is leading to my purchase of a rigid heddle loom. Since I am a spinner too, this is clearly a case of need rather than want.

  20. Lovely, just lovely! Though I’d like to protest the term “fake yarn”! That yarn was every bit as valid as the original 🙂

  21. I just spent the first part of this afternoon spinning. I haven’t spun since grade 3 so my results are as lumpy as should be expected. I am not worried though – my Cricket will still turn my first adult-hand-spun yarn into a pretty scarf! Spinning and weaving must be in the air today 🙂

  22. I’m a firm believer that you will realize you need something the day AFTER you throw it out. Kudos to you for listening to Deb and keeping that bag tucked away until the right moment. Your scarf is truly lovely.

  23. Nice potatos!
    And I’d like to point out that I think it’s amazing that you can spin yarn to match what you had so perfectly. Not that I think you’re particularly special, because I know any spinner that works hard enough can develop those skills, just that I think it’s amazing. 🙂

  24. What a great match! I couldn’t see any changes either.
    Spinning stash saved my butt when I ran out of Wisdom Poems yarn with 25% of my cast-off row to go. And it was a lace shawl with a wide border pattern; I couldn’t just rip back a small repeat. Hunted through the fiber stash and found the nearly perfect match in Ashland Bay Endicott merino. An hour later I had spindle-spun just enough to finish the job and cast off. I did my best to match the grist of the original single-ply yarn, and the new yarn blended in pretty well.
    Yay for stashes! (And now I want a loom. Drat.)

  25. Breathtaking to watch you spinning, inventing yarn to match, weaving, see the beautiful scarf that resulted, and read you writing about it so cleverly. I especially like the concept of folding time on the weekends.

  26. It’s a little comforting to read that others have a “fear” of being “sucked into” weaving. It’s like Avert Your Eyes, but then I’m peeking through my fingers…

  27. I had the same kind of experience with Deb Menz last summer. She told me I should spin three different tops together and I bought them. Because she said so.
    Still working up the courage to actually spin them. Three years of spinning and I still don’t trust my skilz.

  28. Beautiful, beautiful scarf! I really want to learn how to weave. I was thinking of buying a Kromski Rigid Heddle loom because it comes with everything but the tote bag. Maybe the cricket would be better; any suggestions?

  29. Gorgeous! In fact, so lovely that I don’t even mind you’re a couple days late for my birthday. I’ll be hounding the postman, you know….

  30. You inspire us all. My stash is too big to even think of spinning, but perhaps I’d find a use for a little loom…hmm?

  31. “Potato yarn” is just another example of why there should be “Witticisms of the YH” t-shirts.
    I’m also wishing for some super power now — particularly as the only thing I fold on the weekends is the laundry.

  32. I’m not ruling out time travel. I could totally hide a TARDIS in my yarn stash — and it’s not even that big. (Hush. I refuse to think otherwise.)
    So I’ll bet a textile artist could have two or three tucked in there (in coordinating colours to the particular time emergency, perhaps) and really knew you need this scarf to work.
    Either that or I have to admit I keep a portion of every roving/batt/top I spin “just in case” too. And I’m not going to admit that, even though it’s totally true.

  33. You turned me back into a spinner because of the lovely, lovely yarn you’ve been making lately. Nice, thanks a lot; I welcome the creativity but my bank account hates me now.
    To address that whole weaving thing. I have never been patient enough to weave large projects, or make fabric from which garments are made like some weavers I know. Nope, small projects with quirky individualistic touches, like scarves, tray cloths, wall hangings etc. My loom met an unenviable end, getting lost when we moved house; and now I have to go and buy another one, or have one made for me. Sigh. Like I don’t already spend enough time plotting how to quit my day job so I can spend more time with fibre….. (Actually, THANKS for the inspiration. I’m completely thrilled that I’ve resumed spinning again after a hiatus of almost 25 years!)

  34. I love it when you bend a project to your will. Time for a Mick Jagger strut around the living room, and a trip to the pub with the scarf prominently displayed. It is freakin’ awesome!!

  35. Wow, another cool scarf! Love how the spinning & weaving work so well together. I hope the Schacht people are giving you a commission as I just bought my Cricket Loom after your last two weaving posts:-) And you’re right, Deb is a genius.

  36. Dang, I’m impressed. If MacGyver spun or wove, that’s how he’d do it. (although i like the woo-woo factor better) Love the potato analogy!

  37. Love it! Very creative solution! I can’t tell you how much I wish that scarf was for me, or how much I wish I had a loom right now!

  38. Move over,Monet, this woman is color-awesome! That scarf looks like an impressionist painting.

  39. Today, for the first time, I think I would really like to learn to weave. I’m sure I don’t need one more fiber habit, but that scarf was quite inspiring.

  40. …now if I could just get my Kromski Harp warped properly…I might just get something like that off my loom….
    I will try again after a homemade beer….or two.

  41. Don’t you just LOVE it when a plan comes together and you outsmart yourself! Well done, it’s a gorgeous scarf.

  42. I strive to “keep a clean tongue in my head”…

  43. Alternative hypothesis: Deb Menz is psychic and can see at least parts of the future. Does she do readings separately, or only as part of one of her classes?

  44. Wow. Fantastic. But my very favorite is that “folding time a little bit”. And on the weekend, yet.

  45. WHOA! Stephanie for all sorts of win! This is just a big bunch of awesome. Hurray for you. I have no idea why I’m so happy about this, but very happy I am.

  46. Beautiful and inspirational once again! And exciting for me because I about to become the proud owner of a Leclerc 8 harness floor loom! I can’t wait to weave my handspun! Yippee!

  47. Deborah @6:20 ~ I, too, try to hold my tongue, but in this situation, having been spinning myself for 10 YEARS, looking at that “fake yarn” that matched so perfectly you can’t even tell, all I could think was,
    I know how difficult it can be to match the same weight and grist (spinning angle) even when using the same exact fiber. This was just phenomenal! A little too phenomenal. A nearly unbelievable story, Harlot (narrows eyes suspiciously)…well, okay, maybe it could happen, IF we blame it on Deb and her time-travel!

  48. I love stories like this! A little bit of magic in the universe coming together to finalize another beautiful project. Serendipity is great!

  49. Well, of course it’s the time traveller thing, but it’s also magical. Such a beautiful fabric. You needed the potatoes to make that scarf dinner.

  50. I’m a spinner and beginning weaver and I did not know that you don’t wash and set your handspun till after weaving it. Well I still plan to use my washed handspun on my loom – what could possibly ho wrong?

  51. That is incredible. But you better get some more little bits of fiber into your stash, quick! You don’t know when this will happen again! (I was a Girl Scout.)

  52. Careful of that fake yarn. I read someplace that, unlike real yarn, fake yarn will disintegrate into dust bunnies or some such. Potato yarn sounds much more substantial (and filling, too).

  53. Hi there. 🙂 I’ve been lurking around for a while, rereading the old archives and enjoying all the knitting advice and everything. This post was great, because today has been pretty crap so far, and this post made me smile. So thank you.

  54. When I had that happen to me… I ripped out back to ends and added in several repeats of leno stitch – it chews up length and looks VERY nice in the finished project. (I have pics on my Ravelry page – Third Weave..)

  55. Absolutely brilliant with the yarn fix. And I love the thing about the potatoes. My Mom was a master at adding stuff to the dinner table when unexpected guests appeared.

  56. I’m a weaver and I know how to spin (but wouldn’t call myself a spinner), and I’m quite impressed with both your weaving and how well you managed to match the original yarn. And that you remembered to save enough of the original yarn to finish the last end so it would match the first.

  57. Wow, I love it! I have a floor loom that I’ve yet to use, and have been wondering if a small, portable, rigid heddle loom might be just what I need to get weaving with some of my handspun … thank you for the inspiration!

  58. I’m all for the time traveller theory. It is the ONLY explanation, I think……plus she saw your talent shining through. You have done a marvellous job. I keep telling myself I don’t need any more hobbies……that I don’t need to learn how to spin or weave…..then I hear the little voice whispering in the back of my head somewhere, saying….”Resistance is futile.”

  59. Great yarn, great scarf and great selvages! I’ve always thought that Deb was the Color Goddess myself. Now I learn that she’s a Time Traveling Color Goddess and my awe of her just keeps on growing. I could so see her traveling in the Tardis. I also have assorted Deb bits in my stash from a couple of classes that I’ve been fortunate enough to take with her. The last time I went stash diving I came a crossed them and wondered what I was going to do with them. Now that I know that someday they might rescue me from certain disaster, they are even more precious than before so they are staying right where they are. Thanks for the reminder. What a nice scarf!!!

  60. Amazing. Simply amazing.
    But it wasn’t “fake” yarn, just a different yarn.
    And this whole post makes quite a yarn – so to speak.

  61. Potatoes! I love it. Also, this really really makes me want to learn to weave but maybe I should take a time bending class first.

  62. I’m so glad you posted this. I collect the scraps from my spinning and now I know why! The scarf is beautiful and I’m feeling called to get a loom. You might be getting me into trouble harlot!

  63. I can’t tell at all where the potatos yarn is. What an awesome outcome! I see lots of little balls of top in your future…. you will need to restock the potatos yarn for sure!

  64. My word, she’s a Time Lord! The scarf is lovely, and you absolutely can’t tell where you went from one yarn to the other. Brilliant.

  65. Wonderful mix of the two. You really can’t tell the difference and once again, you’ve come away with such a pretty scarf!

  66. David Copperfield ain’t got nuthin on you!!!
    Freakin GOR-JUS scarf!!! Dang you for making me want to take up weaving now (shakes fist)

  67. Carrie @10:10 ftw – “time WARP” – you beat me to it, and I’m still laughing!
    Seriously, Stephanie, you almost have me ready to learn to spin and weave. But I’m leaning toward embroidery as well, and can’t spread myself too thin. I don’t have enough time for knitting as it is!

  68. Totally flipping brilliant potato yarn. Of course they’re complicated potatoes – like Adrian Belew or pomme duchesse….

  69. Wow! The scarf is so pretty, and you are so brilliant! How very clever you must feel. This post is the perfect example of why I will always read your blog. You just keep finding new ways to impress us.

  70. Phenomenal 🙂 Between you and my friend Julianna, I am quickly losing the battle against learning to spin (I live in a small apartment with two children… I can’t afford to bring any more stash into the house until I make a sizeable dent in what I’ve got! I certainly don’t have space for a wheel!)

  71. I had a bag of many colors from my first spinning classes. But that’s the fiber I used up first, playing with colors, before I bought any. Now I’m worried.

  72. Also, thank you for talking about not needing to set the twist before you weave, I am a spinner/knitter thinking about getting a loom, and that’s good to know.

  73. Beautiful! It doesn’t make me want to weave but it does make me want to watch Dune again.

  74. I was a little worried about how that yarn would work up but it totally works in that scarf. If you can Kinnear someone with a camera, I guess you can Menz a project.

  75. I was a little worried about how that yarn would work up but it totally works in that scarf. If you can Kinnear someone with a camera, I guess you can Menz a project.

  76. brilliant moments. i very much admire the fabric you made…beautiful beautiful.

  77. somedays the universe is just like that. I have often found that the harder you work at your craft, the luckier you get with your finished products!

  78. I was lucky enough to take a 2.5 WEEK class with Deb at Penland School of Craft several years ago. She had 150 different balls of color for us to play with. I took home many, and have added many colors to that stash. I have 3 very large storage containers full, sorted by warm/cool. It’s magic to be able to match a yarn like that. I love it. Yay for spinning!!

  79. I’m a newish spinner and I plan someday to use all the handspun that I’ve made (before I get to sock level handspun) for weaving. I’ve set the twist already though. Should I worry about using it for weaving?

  80. You are so right. She knew what would happen and together you kicked that problem’s butt.

  81. Just plain awesome. Now I want to spin & weave along with 3/4 of your other groupies.

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