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What were your favorites in 2008?
knitting book: I hardly bought any new books last year. I find most new pattern books are really not that useful in the end, particularly because suitable replacement yarns are often all but impossible to find. The closest I can get is probably Start Spinning, by Maggie Casey, which I gave a less-than-completely-favourable review, but which I now, when I am a wheel spinner, is quite fond of. Ironically, this book contains no knitting patterns and precious little knitting info.
pattern (regardless of whether you have any intention of knitting it): The Cloisters Sweater from Spin-Off fall 2008, without a doubt! As with many of my favourite patterns, I suspect that the colour is a big part of the attraction. Sarah Swett, the designer, used plant colours to dye a grey handspun yarn, which gives the sweater an amazing, rich heathered colour. But apart from that, I love the lace details on the sleeves and the wearability of the pattern.
yarn discovery: my handspun! Knitting with handspun yarn is so much fun! Other than that, I liked the Twilleys of Stamford Freedom Spirit that I used to knit my daughter’s cardigan.
FO (your own): The February Lady Sweater, I think. I wear it constantly to work and in private.
new knitting technique or other discovery/experience: Spinning, absolutely! I started spindle spinning in April 2008 and bought a used wheel in November. I spin a couple of times a week, and I love it.
One of the real pleasures of spinning is knitting with your own handspun yarn. I haven’t yet gotten to the point where I can consistently spin to my own project requirements, but my handspun is more and more usable. My latest handspun project gives me a little thrill every time I see it because it is just.so.cute:
Pattern: Djevellue/sweet baby cap (it’s free! and so simple!) I knit the two-year-old size. I started knitting on 3 January and finished 7 January.
Yarn: My own handspun, BFL handpainted by Jeni from Fyberspates. I spun it using the 5.5:1 ratio on my Ashford Traditional and two-plied it at the same ratio. It’s about 14 wraps per inch. I got 260 metres from 106 grams.
Needles: 2.5 and 3 mm needles, Knitpicks and Addis respectively (I like them both equally, but will not contemplate knitting with anything else. It’s a shame really, because I’ve inherited a large collection of assorted aluminium needles that I just can’t use).
Unfortunately, I can’t say the same thing about this week’s knit. I decided to try knitting the Three-Cornered Hat, one of the May projects from Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Knitters Almanac. I didn’t have any bulky yarn like the pattern calls for, so I decided to recalculate the stitch count for a worsted-weight yarn (the leftovers from my February Lady Sweater). Either my gauge math or my measurements (or both!) must have been wrong, because about halfway through the top decreases I could no longer ignore that nagging little voice at the back of my mind asking if this hat didn’t seem just a tad… big?
What annoys me the most is that with the worsted-weight yarn and the ridiculously inflated stitch count, there is actually quite a bit of knitting in that knitting disaster. I’ve ripped in disgust and am contemplating casting on for a lace beret.
After a small hiatus due to a dishcloth knitting spree over the holidays, I’m now back to my spinning wheel. I’ve started spinning some lovely handpainted superwash BFL from Allspunup:
It’s a very nice spinning experience. I’ve always liked BFL, and was surprised at how nice this superwash version feels. I’m a little worried that the colours are too dark for any variegation to really show up. I have another braid in the same general colour scheme in merino which is significantly lighter. I’m very happy with the service and products from Allspunup, but I’ll probably not shop there again due to the inconvencience and cost of having to deal with customs.
This first try will be frogged, as I’m not sure it will turn out big enough. I’m starting over with a new pattern. There are dozens of patterns out there for more or less similar designs.
This is ten balls of Garnstudio’s possibly (?) new yarn Lin (100 % linen). It’s a single ply and the shine is amazing. I also love the colour, it’s quite close to the colour of my FLS. The yarn is sitting, coincidentally, inside one of the baskets my kids got me for my birthday to hold all my spinning paraphernalia. I’ve been daydreaming about how I want my summer top to look. I need it to have a slight a-line shape and to cover the shoulders. Here is an idea I drew up very quickly:
I’m not sure I’m up to the challenge of designing it myself, but at least it gives me some idea of what I’m looking for in a pattern. I think I’ve exaggerated some of the details a little, and I’ve had a rethink about the suggested waist ribbing, but I think the general shape would be cute.
Cross-continent moves are not to be taken lightly, I now understand. I cannot understand what possessed me to sign up for the Spinning Olympics. I didn’t even look at my spinning things while the Olympics were on – they were all securely packed in boxes that were far less important to unload than others – such as those containing our kitchenware and our clothes. Now, however, things are settling down just a little, and an event last Sunday reignited my interest in spinning.
Our local folklore museum held its annual(?) sheep-shearing day, and invited children to watch the shearing, then learn to dye, card and spin the wool. Unfortunately, my camera’s battery gave out after only the shearing, but we had a good time nonetheless.
I’m not so sure about the sheep, though. They had to be dragged reluctantly over to the little shearing platform, and whenever a new sheep was due to be sheared, the other ones circled it anxiously, looking an awful lot like a father-to-be in a delivery room:
Afterwards, we visited the workshop where kids learnt to card and spin wool. I was very happy to have my son with me, so I had an excuse to sit down and try the hand cards – a completely new experience to me. I didn’t do very well, and the instruction was less than perfect, but at least I tried it. And touching the wool and trying out the boat-anchor spindles reignited my enthusiasm, so I went and bought one of the hand spindles sold at the museum. Also, my mother-in-law recently gave me a pair of old hand cards, so I’ve been slowly getting back into the swing of spinning:
I’ve bought some cheap wool in a grey heather, a brown heather and some solid colour red, and I’m experimenting with colour-blending through carding. I’m shooting for a tweedy yarn, and so far it’s not going so bad. I’ve looked up some carding videos online, and they’re more help than the museum demonstration.
I listened to the latest Yarnspinners tales podcast, and she encourages spinners to issue themselves an Olympic spinners’ challenge (most knit blog readers probably know about the Yarn Harlot’s immortal knitting olympics, which, as far as I know, will not take place this year but only at the next winter Olympics in 2010). The Olympic games will take place from 8-24 August. I’ve decided that my challenge will be to spin up one of the packages from the Fyberspates fibre club. They are about 4 oz each, and my choices so far (by the start of the Games I’ll have received one more) are:
This doesn’t sound like much, but the explanation is that the days of the Olympic Games, 8-24 August, will be the busiest period of my life for several years. I will move into a new home and start a new job. If I manage to spin anything at all, let alone 4 oz, it will be a pretty good indication of how important this new hobby is to me. If I do manage to meet my challenge, I will consider (gulp!) getting a wheel. Wish me luck. If you do decide to make yourself an Olympic spinning challenge, I’d love to hear from you!
Speaking of spinning, I have a couple of new WIPs:
I started this a little while ago, but haven’t posted a picture before. This is Fyberspates silk hankies in plum and gold, on my Bosworth mini (17 g) in zebrawood. Silk hankies are fully drafted before you spin, and require a great deal of pulling and tugging, much more than I’m used to from wool. The colours in this fibre are absolutely glorious.
This is some carded wool bought at a hobby store when I first started experimenting with spinning. It was natural-coloured, so I dyed with some bags of Kool-Aid grape. I divided the fibre, all 250 grams, into several pieces of different sizes, wet them and put them into different microwave bags. I mixed up different amounts of the Kool-Aid, poured into the different bags, closed them and steamed the packages for 40 minutes. I’m very excited to see what the finished yarn looks like. I’m spinning it on my Bosworth midi in maple using what I think is long draw. Since this is a carded fibre, and the dyeing process compacted the fibre a little, I thought that woollen spinning would suit it nicely.
I’ve blogged before about my newfound love of reds and oranges. When I started spinning, I was immediately drawn to a small box of red, orange and burgundy felting fibre at our local hobby store. I started spinning it up, and in those first few weeks of spinning I managed two small skeins. They had all the problems of first yarns – they were thick and thin, had wiry bits where one single had made very tight coils and had big, unspun slubs. The colour, however, was glorious. I started dreaming about a cowl. A long cowl, long enough to cover my ears and the back of my head in really cold weather. I didn’t have enough yarn, and so, after a couple of months of intensive spinning, I tried to replicate those first skeins of badly spun yarn.
I’d read on the Ravelry spindling forum that it is relatively easy to spin thin on a handspindle, but as you become better, it gets harder and harder to spin thicker and to spin yarn with a variable texture. I won’t pretend it was easy – I had some false starts, where instead of spinning a roughly worsted weight textured yarn I spun a smooth, even fingering (!), but I did manage.
(The successful skein is on the left, the unsuccessful fingering weight one is on the right. The two balls are the nøstepinne-wound skeins from my earliest weeks).
How did I do it? I did several things. I spent some time looking at the overall thickness of my previous yarn, to try to emulate the general weight without copying the structural weaknesses. I realised that my heaviest good spindle was too light, and so went back to my earliest homemade CD spindle. After adding an extra CD, for a total weight of 47 grams, the spinning went very easily. The texture I achieved by letting twist escape into the drafting zone and occasionally pulling fibre from inside the drafting triangle. Not too far inside, because I didn’t want huge slubs, just far enough inside that I didn’t draft an even amount of yarn with every drafted length. When you start doing this, you quickly realise how much the exact placement of your fingers in drafting affects the look of the final yarn. By pulling on the drafting triangle just a couple of millimetres above where I usually would, I got a much more rustic-looking yarn. I think realising this will make it easier for me to achieve a very smooth yarn.
After finishing the spinning, knitting up the cowl was but a couple of days’ work. Knitting with your own handspun is so rewarding. I cast on 71 stitches and knit in 1*1 rib for 29 centimetres, then cast off in rib, twisted the cowl lengthwise and sewed up the side to create a “fake” moebius*. And I love it.
It is warm, soft and stretchy, and will warm both my body and my soul come the long, dark winter. That’s why I call it my antidote cowl (Ravelry link).
*Well, it’s not fake, because the definition of a moebius is a continuous strip that’s twisted 180 degrees so it only has one side, but lovers of Cat Bordhi like to claim that this is not the proper way to knit a moebius.
“I really can’t say enough about the pleasure of using your handspun. First you have the enjoyment of creating the yarn and then the satisfaction of turning it into fabric. Using your yarn to create a garment or other article of useful beauty completes the spinning process. Just as a chef needs to taste the dish to see whether the ingredients are in balance, using your yarn will make you a better spinner.”
– Maggie Casey in Start Spinning
Being liberated from the Great White Socks has me all giddy with creative possibilities. The little unassuming skeins of handspun BFL called me, and I’ve cast on for my Faroese shawl. Now, I have nowhere near enough yarn spun up (only about 280 metres so far, and part of that is a very inconsistent sample skein), but I figured that starting the project would give me added incentives to finish the spinning, and also, that knitting with the yarn would let me see if any changes need to be made to the spinning. I’d rather have a shawl with changes in the yarn than a whole shawl with crappy, unsuitable yarn.
My thoughts so far: Mostly, I really, really like this yarn. It is VERY soft and just slightly elastic, and creates a lovely, springy garter stitch fabric. I’m knitting on 4.5 mm needles. I want to spin more consistently, not because I mind the occasional fluffy bits, but the slightly stringy bits are a little too thin and detract from the soft springyness. Also, in the beginning I was very careful to split the fibre to maintain the equal blend of all three colours. I now find that I really like the parts where there are slightly darker and slightly lighter stripes, so I will be less diligent about splitting and predrafting the roving into strips with equal amounts of each colour.
A close-up of one striped section:
Speaking of this picture, can I just say how great nøstepinner are? The centre-pull ball on the right is wound entirely on a nice and heavy ballpoint pen that my husband gets at work. Winding is so easy, and at the end you have a nice, flat-top centre-pull ball, which won’t roll around on the floor. Also, I like that nøstepinne is a Norwegian loan-word into English. Usually, it’s the other way around.
My current spinning project is 500 grams of Bluefaced Leicester in “Humbug” – a blend of the three natural colours white, oatmeal and brown. I’m planning to make a fingering-weight two-ply yarn and knit it into a shawl, preferably a Faroese. I thought it would be fun to document the process I use, and maybe it will be useful to some beginning drop spindler. Here is a slideshow which shows all the steps in my spinning process for this yarn (click on the “i” for comments to each picture).
When plying, wrap yarn the OTHER way around the hook.
Whenever I get a new obsession, I go book shopping. My book cases reflect an eclectic mix of intellectual interests going back to junior high, but lately, my crafting book purchases completely dominate. Since good spinning books are so hard to come by here, I buy them whenever I can find them, and as a result I have perhaps not been critical enough in my purchases. The below reviews are written very much from the perspective of someone who only uses drop spindles. Please keep that in mind!
Maggie Casey: Start spinning: Everything You Need to Know to Make Great Yarn (Interweave Press 2008)
Lee Raven: Hands on Spinning (Interweave Press 1987)
I got Raven’s book first, and then when Casey’s book came out I heard so many good things about it that I got that one too, but I could definitely have made do with one of them. These are basic, introductory spinning books. Both cover the drop spindle and the spinning wheel, but both focus heavily on the latter. Raven’s book has mostly black-and-white illustrations, and not all essential steps are fully illustrated. On the other hand, Casey’s book has full-colour photographs showing every step of the process. While the chapter structure in Casey’s book is a little hard to grasp, the material covered in every chapter is very clear and easily understood. Raven’s book has five patterns (knit and weave) for handspun yarn, but the patterns clearly show their 80’s origin. Casey’s book instead has a small chapter devoted to pictures of projects using handspun. No patterns, but plenty of inspiration!
In conclusion: Either of these books would do very well if you want an overview of spinning with an emphasis on the spinning wheel. They’re not nearly as satisfactory for a spindle spinner, but will get you started. The Casey book has better pictures and a cleaner, more modern look, but if you can only find the Raven book it’s a reasonable substitute.
Priscilla A. Gibson-Roberts: High Whorling: A spinner’s guide to an old world skill (Nomad Press 1998)*
Connie Delaney: Spindle Spinning: From novice to expert (Kokovoko Press 1998)
*Please note that the Gibson-Roberts book has recently been updated and republished as a paperback under the title “Spinning in the Old Way”.
I’ve only recently received these books, so my review can’t do them justice, but I will point out that these are much better starting books if you think you will mainly use a spindle for your spinning. As the title suggests, Gibson-Roberts book is solely devoted to the magnificence of high-whorl drop spindles, and a very opinionated book it is, too. I like reading passionate and opinionated books, even if I don’t always agree, but keep that in mind about this book. It is useful for its discussion on spindle anatomy. Delaney’s book covers almost the whole world of spindle spinning: top whorl, bottom whorl, tiny support spindles and the large navajo spindle. Guides to making your own versions of these spindles are in there, as well beginner’s and advanced instructions. I especially appreciate the tips on increasing your spindling speed.
These are both good books for people primarily interested in spinning with drop spindles. They are both older books and cheaply produced, but both contain masses of interesting information and will be useful beyond the rank beginner stage.
Deb Menz: Color in Spinning (Interweave Press 2005)
WOW! I love this book. The only word for it is exhaustive. I’m not good with colour and have never worked with colour theory before, but after reading the opening chapter in this book I got out my son’s paints and worked up some tints and shades. It covers the theory, the dyeing, the blending and the spinning of yarns for different colour effects. Arguably the best part of the book is the project gallery towards the back, where all the different techniques are displayed with a subtlety that is just stunning. There’s very little, if any, wheel-specific information in the book, and I’ll use it even for non-spinning projects, because of all the general colour theory in the book.
Diane Varney: Spinning designer yarns (Interweave Press 2003)
I have a feeling I’ll come back to this book again and again as my spinning improves. It is packed with different techniques for making designer yarns, without being crazy novelty yarns like those in Pluckyfluff or Intertwined (not that there’s anything wrong with those yarns, they’re just not my style). While being opinionated, Varney gives a thorough introduction to the different techniques, how they look, what uses they are suited for and how they are executed. Although very inspiring and interesting, this book would have benefited greatly from an aesthetic overhaul with more colour pictures and more lavish illustrations.