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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.

Sheep shearing

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:

Sheep shearing

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:

New hand spindle and new hand cards

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’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.

Merino

(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.

moebius cowl 022

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).

cowl FOCOWLFO

*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.

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).

I’ve read several places that it is useful to have a wristaff/wrist distaff for spindle spinning. A wrist distaff is a tool which sits on your wrist and hangs down, on which you can coil your strip of roving or fibre. This keeps the fibre organised and away from the spinning spindle. It takes about two minutes for the beginning spindler to see the attraction of this gadget, when the loosely flapping roving is sucked into the path of the spindle and you end up with a huge cloud of fibre half attached to the single. I have seen some wristaffs that are knit or crocheted, but I thought the fibre would easily get stuck on those. Then I saw an ingenious solution on Spinning Spider Jenny’s blog. She’s using a yarn keeper bracelet as a distaff. The piece holding the yarn (or in this case, fibre) rotates, so the fibre feeds off easily. It’s slick, so the fibre slides well, but the arms keep the fibre from sliding to the floor. The yarn keeper bracelet is available online, but I’m impatient and loth to spend money on shipping from the US. A trip to the hobby store later, and voila (or “woe la”, as I recently saw it spelled on a blog):

Wristaff

The wire is not quite as large-gauge as in the original, so it looks a little fragile, but the wire is holding up surprisingly well. I’m amazed at how well it works. Not only does it eliminate the risk of my fibre being “snarfled” (that sounds like it should be a word, doesn’t it) up by the spindle, but my wrist is so much more relaxed and rested when I have less fibre wrangling to do. Also, I can spin longer lengths of roving, because I can fill up the distaff with more roving than I could hold on my arm.

In case you want to make it, I used a pack of 0.8 mm silverplated wire (my pack holds ten metres, but you won’t need nearly that much), four Czech glass beads, a swivel hook, some universal glue and a pair of jewellery-making pliers.

I received my long-awaited package yesterday:

Bosworth

Two Bosworth midis, the top in maple (25 g/.81 oz) and the bottom in bocote (39 g/1.34 oz) and 500 g of BFL Humbug – a striated blend of three natural colours. I love them! I ordered from P&M Woolcraft, which I can heartily recommend (the delay in receiving spindles was not due to them, but to an earlier order with another firm, which fell through due to a backorder).

Bosworth 009

I started trying out my new spindles immediately, and I got to thinking about something. If a viking-era woman were to enter my home, chances are she would be completely mystified by it. Nothing we have would be recognisable to her (we don’t even have a fireplace) – except this little tool, with its tail of unspun, fluffy fibre. For some reason I like the feeling of having something, even so little as this, in common with my foremother. Spinning is a fairly obvious source of symbolism, and the Norse mythology is no exception. I was very fascinated with Norse mythology when I was younger, so you’ll have to excuse a little lecture:

In Norse mythology, the ash tree Yggdrasil is considered the centre of the earth, and its branches encircle the heavens. Its three roots run from three different well springs – one from Mime’s well, one from the Norse hell Helheim and one from the dwelling of the Norns (Urd’s well). The Norns are Urd, Verdande and Skuld (the past, the present and the future). They spin the life thread of every newborn baby as well as the gods (who are not considered immortal in Norse mythology). Skuld spins the thread (birth), Verdande plies it (life) and Urd cuts it (death). Considering that the Norse myths were mainly told by and for men, it is interesting to consider the power which was attributed to the Norns and their spinning. Were women and their activities considered mysterious and incomprehensible by the men at the time?

I still haven’t received my learn-to-spin kit from Webs. That hasn’t stopped me from experimenting with spinning, however. I’ve been using a homemade spindle and some 3- and 10 gram packages of needle felting fibre from the local hobby store. It’s clear to me that drafting is the real crux of spinning technique, but it is perhaps the part that is least clear just from watching video clips online. How far apart should your hands be, how much force should you use, etc. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but I think maybe the drafting part clicked for me yesterday.

handspun click

These two skeins were spun over the last few days, using the same fibre. In between the two skeins, I tweaked my spindle (removed the sewing thread bobbin I’d been using as a whorl and added a cd) and it went from 1.5 oz to 1.2 oz. The increased spin time allowed me to concentrate on my drafting. I specifically paid more attention to staple length and became more conscious of trying to draft the same amount of fibre with every new length of fibre I pulled. I also lightened my grip, which is a double-edged sword: It made it easier to draft, but I sometimes let the twist escape into the roving. The bottom yarn is (consciously) overplied, inspired by a comment on Ravelry from Abby Franquemont, who argued that twist can sometimes be lost when the twist is set, and slight overplying helps even out unevenness in the singles.

I’m still not too impressed with my homemade spindle, and I can’t wait for my proper spindle and instruction book to arrive, but something has changed, because the whole thing has gotten a lot easier in the last two days.

my spindle

Before:

minisweater 010

During:

minisweater 001

After:

minisweater 008

Lately, I’ve been obsessed with Stefanie Japel’s minisweater/boobholder. I noticed that the gauge on the pattern is the same as on the Alfa yarn, of which I had plenty of leftovers from my first cardigan. HOWEVER… I used a smaller needle for this than the cardigan, which meant the fabric was unpleasantly stiff, and the first try-on of the minisweater revealed that the fronts were too big for me. There are several of these on Ravelry, and I like the ones that fit tightly better, the ones where the fronts overlap are just a little too obviously not the right fit. Also, and not least, I was beginning to realise that I didn’t have enough yarn left. So here’s my new plan, and I would like to know if it sounds crazy:

I want to make a striped minisweater in brown and teal (chocqua, perhaps?), using the Alfa leftovers and (and here’s the crazy part) three strands of some cheap fingering-weight brown superwash wool that I have knocking around, maybe with one strand of laceweight mohair as well, to mimic the mohair content in the Alfa. I will go up one needle size and cast on fewer stitches for the fronts.

Yeah. Don’t be surprised if you don’t see any new FOs on this blog in the next few weeks.

moss stitch

The first, now frogged attempt at a neckwarmer from the three leftover balls of DROPS Silke-Alpaca. I love moss stitch, it looks so neat (even the edges!) and lies so flat. And the yarn is marvellous – especially when it catches the sunlight like this. The only problem was that it was too wide.

My first attempt at seaming the shoulders on my Sandnes Design 0705-15 Vest* this weekend:

vestsomvarmer 007

I don’t even know what stitch I intended that to be, possibly some sort of backstitch. I’m less of a perfectionist about my knitting than I should be, but it was clear that shoulder seam would have to be ripped out. The second attempt:

vestsomvarmer 006

This significantly improved effort was the result of a tutorial on the Knit Simple web site. I must say I felt a little bit let down by my Montse Stanley here. I tried every relevant keyword and couldn’t find anything in the index. I looked through the entire chapter on seams and joins, and couldn’t find anything that seemed right. Her only recommendation on shoulders that I saw was the three-needle bindoff, which didn’t work here. I have ordered Vogue Knitting’s Ultimate Knitting Book, which I’m hoping will be slightly easier to work with when I have questions like this.

* We Norwegians really know how to name a design, don’t we? The Stash & Burn girls have been having a lot of fun with the DROPS design that’s sweeping over the knitting blog land – inspiringly named 103-1 

Inspired by KnitLit, I thought I would do a quick summary of last year’s knitting and crocheting.

1. your best FO of the year

I had a long blogging and knitting hiatus during the first trimester of my pregnancy, so I’m not so happy with last year in terms of crafting. But I think it would have to be the Shetland Triangle that I knit for my mother.

Shetland Triangle FO back

2. best FO of the year made by a blog you link to

I think maybe Maude Louise from Knitting Kninja, or maybe that was from 2006? I like it very much, and I also really liked reading about Kninja’s design process and her struggle to write a good pattern.

3. best yarn you tried

There is a very limited yarn selection where I live, it’s mostly acrylics and blends. I mainly buy yarn in Norway when I’m home on holiday. And even in Norway it’s hard to find several types of yarn which American knit bloggers seem to take for granted, such as tweeds, worsted weight yarns (Norwegians generally prefer fingering or sport weight) and handpainted yarns. When on holiday in London last January, I bought five balls of Rowan Tapestry, a wool/soy blend with long colour repeats. While the yarn is something of a pain to knit with because it sticks to itself, it’s wonderful knit up. I used it for my sister’s Argosy. In terms of tactile pleasure while knitting, I think Trekking XXL has to be the highlight of last year.

4. best new book/mag/pattern of 2007

This is hard. I *love* books, and started buying knitting books as soon as I started knitting. I have a sizeable collection already, after only a year and a half. I like Strikk til Nøstebarn very much, and plan to knit several things from it. For inspiration and beautiful photography, though, I think it will have to be Crochet Me: Designs to fuel the crochet revolution.

5. best new knitting technique or gadget you tried in 2007

Two socks at once on magic loop, without a doubt. Especially if its toe-up socks using the magic cast-on. Everything about it is magic…

6. top 5 inspirations–what five things inspired you the most over the past year?

Ooh, difficult. Great knitting blog photography is one, like January One or Brooklyn Tweed. This year I started subscribing to Interweave Knits, and that’s been another important inspiration, even if I haven’t actually knit anything from it yet. The new crochet books have been very inspiring, such as the above-mentioned Crochet Me. Also, the knitting podcasts that I’ve recently discovered, mainly Stash and Burn and Cast-on. That’s only four, I know.

7. designer who most amazed & inspired you throughout the year

Norah Gaughan! I don’t know when I will finally work up the courage to try one of her designs, but I love her style. Knitting Nature was one of the first knitting books I bought, and I love leafing through it.

8. knitting resolutions for 2008–what’s next for you and your blog?

More knitting for myself, especially sweaters and other garments. More crochet, mainly garments. Also, I’d like to blog more often and not just use Ravelry for my documentation needs. I spend a lot of time on Ravelry and like it a lot, but it is no substitute for blogging about the progress and setbacks of my various knitting projects.

About

I knit and crochet. This is my log of ongoing and completed projects, mistakes made and lessons (hopefully) learnt. You can contact me at ceecrochet (a) gmail.com

My patterns

Airy Baby Blanket Tiny Party Clutch Notions and Trinkets Bag One Skein Baby Set First handspun felted coin purse

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Rings etc.