Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Technology and Fiber

Generally speaking, folks don’t associate spinners, weavers and knitters with any technology more sophisticated than a small calculator – and indeed, you can easily practice these crafts with merely a piece of paper and a pencil as long as you possess arithmetic proficiency on a par with that of a third-grader. Addition, subtraction, multiplication and division will get you through.

But the deeper you delve into designing your own weaving patterns, knitting patterns and yarns the more useful you will find various mathematical tools and concepts – and the more sophisticated your tools for manipulating the variables involved become. This is where computers came in handy.

That’s the most common reason given for the early presence on what is sometimes called the ‘pre-internet’ of the weaving and knitting lists, bulletin boards and discussion forums. It’s also a common reason given for the relative sophistication of fiber artists’ usage of computer-assisted or computer-driven tools like computer-dobby looms and computer-assisted knitting machines.

Fiber folks entered the computer age early on. I’ve never thought of myself as a mathematician, and if I had any early urges or talents in that direction Mrs. Grubb, my sixth, seventh and eighth-grade math teacher back in the late 1960’s, quickly dissuaded me. She implanted quite a math phobia in at least two generations of female students! Yet I unhesitatingly utilize mathematical concepts in my weaving and knitting as well as my spinning. Fibonacci series for stripes both vertical and horizontal, undulating curve design, color progressions according to mathematical calculations of hue and shade – I don’t think twice if I want to use these and other concepts, happily utilizing algebra and calculus to help me design. Computers seem at first glance to have little to do with the ‘fuzzy’ arts. But look a bit deeper. We have programs to help us plan colorways, design three-dimensional constructs, determine warp and weft patterning and more.

We also have helped to drive the social networking parts of the modern world-wide web with our inclusive tendencies toward other fiber artists. We like to learn; we take classes within our geographic regions, but we also take classes virtually – and we discuss them! We discuss the classes, what we’ve learned from the classes, how we think we might modify what we learned, and where we think the teacher is full of baloney. We also travel the world for classes and frequently post photos, descriptions and videos of what we’ve learned – both about fiber arts and about the culture in which those arts originated.

Today the necessary computing power for much of our design work and social networking can be held easily in one hand. My current smartphone has more processor power than did any two of my first four computers. And thanks to the fact that only an extremely small percentage of the population had Mrs. Grubb for math, even over the 25+ years she taught, there are more and more applications (we seldom use the word “program” for these gems) available for these hand-held processors. I no longer need to sit at a desk, lug around a notebook or laptop computer – I can simply use my phone as a design tool!

Given that all of this has occurred within the last generation (counting a generation as 25 years), I’m awaiting the next 25 years with bated breath! As a long-time fan of Star Trek, I can easily visualize myself, within the next 5-10 years, simply talking to or showing my smartphone/pad (which in my imagination now looks something like the pads from Next Generation) to get a weave pattern, curve calculation, or knitted sample gauge and knitting directions for a specific garment to size. Is there a connection between fiber artists and computers? You bet there is! And this connection will only become more pronounced as time goes on.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Modifying Our Tools As We Age

Rather depressing title, this one – although modifying the way we do things does indeed come at some point in our lives. My modification stage has hit a bit early, based on a combination of heredity and environmental factors, and I’ve been receiving quite a few questions lately about how I’m managing to continue doing the things I do. So I’ve decided to document it here, in hopes my experiences will keep someone else happily working away at the things they love to do.

I’ve modified my knitting tools quite a lot this last year. My hands don’t work as well as they did; arthritis and overuse have begun to take a toll, as have some other physical ailments. I have no intention of ceasing to knit at this point in my life – my children are beginning to hatch grandchildren, and what knitter doesn’t love to knit for babies! But in order to do that, changes have been necessary.

My knitting tools are now well-organized – mostly because nobody raids them for art supplies these days. The stuff I carry along with me for classes or knit nights all fits into a Nantucket bag. That includes pens, pins, markers, stitch counters, measuring tapes, needle and stitch gauges, scissors, a laminated “how much yardage” chart, one large and one small crochet hook, yarn needles in a case, a set of fairly small DPN’s in a 6-inch length and several other handy tools. The pockets and a couple of small plastic fishing tackle cases hold these things nicely, leaving plenty of room for a small knitting manual, a couple of project bags and a tatting case.

Those project bags are of various sizes and contain the yarn, instructions, needles and anything else I need for a specific project. I love pretty project bags, and have several in small, medium and even one large-sized bag for sweaters or shawls. I need to get another large bag…but I’m fine on the other sizes.

I’ve recently switched needles again – or at least the type of needle I use. For years I used nothing but bamboo or wood needles – I loved the feel and they didn’t slip out of the stitches. Then I moved slowly to metal needles for wool yarns, finally becoming an expert-enough knitter to worry more about yarn slipping easily than about needles slipping out of stitches. But recently my metal KnitPicks, Hiyahiya, Addi or other brands have begun to hurt my hands when used for more than a half-hour or so. Switching back to my stash of wood and bamboo only gave me a few extra minutes of pain-free knitting. But then I tried the Kollage square needles, and I can knit for ages again (with appropriate breaks) without pain!

Luckily for my budget, I’ve also picked up a few other tricks throughout the years, and find that 32-inch circular needles suffice for most of my knitting needs these days, with an occasional pair of DPNs in sock sizes just for the sake of variety. Of course I magic-loop socks – but I don’t always TEACH magic-loop in a beginning sock class! So I’m slowly building a stash of 32-inch Kollage needles in sizes from 0 to 8. Because heaven forbid I should have only a single project going in a given needle size at one time!

My spinning tools have also shifted a bit. I seldom process raw fleece anymore, so I can manage with a single set of cotton cards and a set of mini-combs for almost all my processing needs. These live happily in a bin on a bookcase near my spinning wheel. I still own a pair of double-row Viking combs, but seldom use them. It’s easier on my body to send raw fleece out for processing – the cost in cash is less than the cost in pain of doing it at home.

So instead of large quantities of raw fleece, my spinning stash these days tends to consist of a great deal of top from various breeds and a bit of roving for those applications when carded fleece is preferable. Space for dyestuff is also well-organized and accessible – no longer is it necessary to bury my dyeing tools in a box in the basement in case the children should pick something up and take it in for kitchen use.

A fairly small cats-head basket made by a friend carries my spinning tools – oil, Vaseline, spare drive and tensioning bands, Allen wrench and wpi gauge as well as a niddy-noddy. But most of my skein-winding is done at home these days, thanks to a fair number of bobbins that I can actually locate! A skein-winder that I can crank and a new, tensioned ball-winder make winding skeins and balls relatively pain-free.

After years and years of very fine thread-work and lace crochet, I’m again taking pleasure in yarn-weight crocheted fabric. The fabrics are heavy and solid in wool, fluid and textured in many other fibers like silk and cotton-silk blends. There is no substitute for a well-crocheted table mat or potholder, for example – and nothing similar that can be purchased! But my hooks have become...let's say ergonomic. Much bigger around than my old steel hooks!

My large Toika has officially been retired. I simply can’t use it comfortably any longer. My primary loom these days is my 8-harness Schacht Baby Wolf. Not only is it a lovely piece of equipment that functions perfectly, even after more than 20 years of hard use – it’s relatively gentle to my aging shoulders and back. I can use a regular office chair to weave from, with all the support and padding my body requires these days. And I can warp and thread it by scooting a child’s chair left over from my children right up next to the warp beam or castle. I modified it for sectional warping years ago – also easier on my body these days, since it gives me a built-in ‘break’ period timer. Beam or thread 1-2 sections and then take a break. What can I say – it works and I weave fairly pain-free.
I haven’t yet moved to a dobby attachment for the Baby, but I’m fairly sure it will come eventually – or a small compu-dobby loom will move into the studio. I haven’t decided yet just which option will suit me best. For now, I can still treadle, and enjoy the rhythm of the dance between the treadling and shuttle throw.

I’ve also begun to weave more and more on small looms that fit on my lap. It’s amazing how many uses you find for inkle bands, and how beautiful inkle-band shoelaces look on my tennis. My family enjoys them in bright colors, too! Mug rugs that are actually small tapestries are welcome gifts, and can be done easily on small 4 x 6-inch looms. Small shed sticks let me do quite complicated weave structures on these small looms, and the weaving is quite satisfactory.

Let’s face it – tatting is fairly simple just as-is. Modification isn’t really necessary – as long as your hands will function to move the shuttle, you can tat. But I’ve discovered a new pleasure in some of the very old, very simple tatted motifs and patterns. I seldom use more than a shuttle and ball these days, although I’m still quite capable of multiple-shuttle work when I want to do it. There’s just something very soothing in constructing these simple patterns that have spanned generations of my family. I’m using different threads these days – I’m starting to gravitate toward the actual tatting cottons in size 50 and smaller and enjoying the beauty these simple patterns show in fine threads.

Bobbin Lace
My pillow is smaller, my tabletop is a bit larger and shorter so as to get closer to my body, and I’ve finally moved to a rotary-insert on one pillow. Again, I’m finding myself gravitating toward old Torchon lace patterns, with their simple, strong lines – but done in very delicate linen and silk threads!

I’ve finally reached the stage of my craft where I can actually make any type of fabric I can visualize from any thread or yarn I can spin or purchase. This is wonderful! I now have the skills and equipment – and patience – to create whatever vision I see. If I see a hand-embroidered light-weight blouse, I can make the fabric and do the embroidery. If I want a light, delicate sweater, I can knit it – exactly to my measure! Tatted edgings on small cloths for accent pieces or place-mats are a pleasure to make – usually from the same thread I’ve used to weave the cloths!

I enjoy doing these things, and I enjoy it even more now that I’ve figured out ways to do it without pain. So if you’re finding the things you like to do a bit difficult these days, or you’re avoiding things you enjoy because you don’t want to pay the price, stop just a minute. Step back, take another look and see what modifications you can make to existing equipment, or what new equipment is out there that might work better for you. Figure out a way to pay for it – not a trivial part of the equation. Then go back to doing the things you love!

Friday, December 03, 2010

Why Do You Do That?

Does anyone else have a set of stock answers to the perennial questions asked of a knitter and spinner working in public? I was sitting in a waiting room yesterday for several hours while my husband was having some minor surgery. As usual, I passed the hours working on a couple of projects, trading out as the whim struck or as my hands began to ache a bit.

I was working on the second foot of a pair of socks made according to Cat Bordhi’s Footprints method, and spinning on a silk cap I had dyed a few weeks back. It never fails (at least in East Tennessee) that doing needlework in this situation leads to conversations with complete strangers, and I tend to enjoy those spontaneous opportunities for proselytizing to the non-fiber folk around me.

However, I discovered yesterday that I was giving rote answers to a never-changing slate of questions. While knitting, the first question was invariably, “Are you knitting?” There’s not much scope for even a smart-alec like me in that one, so I answered, “Yes, sir” (or ma’am, as the case might be). But the next question, every single time, was “But that looks like a sock? You’re not knitting a sock, are you?” This was always in a rather hesitant tone of voice, as if leery of giving offense by not recognizing that I was actually knitting, say, a flipper cover for a seal or something equally unusual. My response, again, was almost word for word, “Yes, it’s a sock – I like knitting socks that fit me exactly and keep my feet nice and warm all fall and winter long.”

Now came the usual bit (this response is so frequent as to be annoying, actually), “But you can buy socks at Walmart for just a dollar or so a pair; why make your own? Isn’t wool yarn expensive?”

Now, let’s face it – people either get socks or they don’t. If they don’t, all you can do is feel sorry for them and hope they don’t sit there too long and give you whatever strange virus they’re carrying. If they do, you pull your foot out of your shoe or boot and let them “ooooh” and “ahhhh” over the pair you’re wearing right now. You next offer the address and phone number of your LYS, where they can learn to make their own lovely custom footwear. But I was polite, even to the ones who seemed to be carriers of that strange anti-sock virus, merely saying “I enjoy knitting things that fit me exactly and wear for years. And I don’t think $20 for a pair of wool socks that I can wear for four or five winters is all that bad a price.”

No fooling, I repeated these sentences, with no significant variation, often enough over a six-hour period that the receptionist was saying them with me!

The spinning conversation was equally repetitious. “What are you doing, making string?”

“Yes, I’m making silk string that I’ll knit with later.”

“Doesn’t that take an awfully long time?”

“It’s actually surprisingly fast. I make between five and ten yards of yarn a minute.”

“Oh. You do know that you can buy yarn already made, right?” Again in a hesitant tone of voice, as in ‘don’t upset the crazy hippie lady.’

“Yes, I do – but I enjoy doing it myself. That way I can control all the variables.”

“But isn’t it just yarn?” This time in a bewildered tone.

Again, a conversational stopper – how do you answer this? By this time, either the questioner has gotten the idea that what I’m making is quite special (hand dyed, hand spun silk caps spun to a specific grist of singles), or again they’re carrying some odd anti-fiber disease I don’t want to risk catching. So I turn the conversation to their hobbies, and try not to ask quite such asinine questions about them. And excuse myself as quickly as possible – they may be contagious!

The aforementioned receptionist was quite lovely, by the way. Not a knitter or crocheter, but her sister is a member of the club, and she herself is a grateful recipient of her sister’s handwork. Finally it was late in the afternoon, and it was just the two of us in the waiting area. Her comments were a bit more intelligent than had been the norm throughout the afternoon…and at last somewhat made up for the rote conversations in which I had participated to that point! She was the one who started me thinking, truthfully. I hadn’t realized that my KIPing and SIPing conversations were so repetitive until she mentioned it.

So now I’ll ask you folks: do the paragraphs above comprise most of your own knitting/spinning in public conversations? Or do folks in different parts of the country or world feel differently about what you do? I’m genuinely curious, by the way – surely the Southeastern US isn’t the norm?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Question for the Yarn Industry

Rant warning

I’m officially fed up. Fed up enough to swear off any yarn that’s dyed by anyone else! Which is bad news for my LYS and several on-line vendors. But (did I mention?) I’ve had it!!!

What has aroused my ire to such an extent? Yarns that bleed, and bleed, and bleed, and bleed – until the lovely colors for which you purchased them are pale. You buy a skein (or 10) of a beautiful, bright yarn, planning something scrumptious. You plan and swatch and knit. Yes, there’s a little color in the water when you wash your swatch, but not a lot…or at least you convince yourself there isn’t a lot. Then you wash the finished project. Within seconds the water is darker than the project, and a familiar sinking feeling in your stomach says, “Not again!” Heaven help you if you actually combined yarn colors within this project, by the way – especially if one of those yarns is (oh, no!!!) really light!

There doesn’t seem to be a reliable way to avoid these yarns. I’ve bought a dozen or more skeins in just the past year. Some are from small, independent dyers; some are from high-end yarn manufacturers. Some originated within the United States; other yarns originated in South America, Italy, or France. All are packaged for commercial re-sale; all come from reputable sources, whether the local yarn shops or internet shops. Some are solid colors; some are various dip-dyed or painted skeins. And all have roused my ire.

Dyeing isn’t that difficult – especially if you’re dyeing protein fibers! You measure the weight of fiber, measure an amount of dye powder (or dye-stuff if doing natural dyeing) exactly sufficient to dye that weight of fiber to your required depth of shade; mordant the yarn by soaking in an appropriate solution, and then dye. Set the dye according to the directions for the dyestuff – for protein fibers, that normally involves heat. Hold that heat at the required temperature for as long as the instructions direct. Let cool, and then rinse well. It’s simple, direct and fairly fool-proof, even if results can be surprising at times.

We did a dye-in at my LYS a couple of weeks ago; I was in charge of it. I knew how much yarn we were going to dye by weight, and that we planned to paint the yarns. So I mixed a carefully-measured 3% solution of acid dyes in various colors, soaked the yarns in a 0.05% citric acid and water solution overnight beforehand, and carefully microwaved the dyed skeins, using a digital meat thermometer to be sure the yarns stayed hot enough for long enough to set the dyes. There was a great deal of surprise on the part of the knitters/spinners involved when they could see no color in the rinse water. They shouldn’t have been surprised at all! But their knitting experience over the past couple or more years told them that the colors would bleed.

My question to the commercial and independent dyers of the industry is this: why can’t you be equally careful when dyeing your yarns? Excess dye is expensive for you, bad for the environment, and gives your yarns a bad rep among knitters. Use some basic equipment (scales and other measuring equipment) and do a proper job. It will lower your bottom line, and make your customers happier. You won’t even have to do as much rinsing, again allowing for savings to you!

Knitters want to knit. They don’t want to have to wash and rinse skeins before using them – they want to start knitting. They don’t want to have to become sophisticated about chemistry, deciding between Synthrapol and its equivalent or simple vinegar water to remove the excess dye you’ve left in your yarns – they want to start knitting. They don’t want to skein off and re-heat the skeins in an attempt to re-set the dyes – they want to start knitting. Again, knitters just want to knit! So please stop wasting your money, our money and our time, and allow us to knit with properly-dyed yarns.

Rant is now finished. You can come out of hiding.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Second Shetland Shawl for 2010! - Michael

Most of you are aware that 2010’s knitting plans were hijacked when first my daughter-in-law and then my daughter announced their pregnancies. Suddenly my self-appointed task of designing, spinning for and knitting a Shetland-type shawl for each grandchild became the total focus for ALL of my fiber time. However, I am happy to announce that both shawls are now finished!

Michael’s shawl was simpler in some ways than his cousin Mariah’s, but more complex in others. I chose to do Michael’s shawl on a stockinette ground, which simplified knitting the shawl in the round – no endless purl rows. I also chose to start this shawl from the center, so as to incorporate a star – important, since Daddy is a Texas boy! The 8-point star chosen also reflects Mommy’s family heritage; we’re all quilters of one sort or another and that knitter’s version of a star was a perfect choice.

Additional photos are available at

After that central start, however, I needed to switch over to knitting a square. And come up with a choice of what I wanted to place in the larger, central portion of the shawl. My son-in-law and daughter both come from Irish backgrounds. My daughter has always loved Celtic knots, and has requested other knitted items that incorporate this sort of design. I found this Celtic knot in the Meg Swanson book “A Gathering of Lace,” and decided that a triad of the knots was a pictorial way of showing the growth of the family. So I charted it all out in Excel and started knitting.

After the knots, I wanted to expand the lacey portion of the shawl just a bit. So far the “lacy” motifs of the shawl were quite isolated by stockinette ground, and I wanted something more ethereal as I approached the edges of the shawl. I flipped through a lot of books, and found, in both “A Gathering of Lace” and Barbara Walker’s “First Treasury of Knitting Stitches,” a lovely rose (yes, I’ve been singing “The Yellow Rose of Texas” a good bit this fall) surrounded by a curving border vaguely reminiscent of a twining, Oriental design – at least to my mind. Since part of the baby’s heritage is also Filipino, this seemed appropriate, as well as quite pretty!

Now for the border: I was most of the way through the bordered rose repeat before I finally settled on something. Michael was conceived on the West Coast, but will be born on the East. Both areas have lovely mountains and shorelines, and I wanted something to reflect that. My usual choice for that sort of thing is some variation on Feather and Fan, but I didn’t like the way that looked with the bordered rose design – at least, not in Excel. Again, I started leafing through various pattern books, and again Barbara Walker came to the rescue. Razor Shell grows beautifully from the top of the rose border design, and curves in an fashion that has pronounced peaks.

The handspun for this one was from top I bought from Jameson & Smith – their superfine Shetland. It was a dream to spin, even to a gossamer weight of 35 wpi at two plies. I knitted it on size 2 US 40-inch metal circular needles from KnitPicks, magic-looping the center portion of the shawl. Total yardage for the completed shawl was approximately 1600 spread over three skeins, and total weight is about 6 ounces.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Shetland Shawl Update – One Complete, One More to Go!

I have completed one of the grandchild shawls – one photo is above, others are at my Flickr account. You may recall that I blogged about this earlier this year on Shetland Shawls and Me.

As you can see, I changed the edging from the original plan – I simply decided that Feather and Fan would suit the design better. Completed on August 22; blocked August 23 with the help of my local yarn shop’s space (too many critters in my house at present); and photos taken today.

Now it's on to the second shawl for the second grandbaby - due in November! I've already decided that I can't possibly finish before Christmas...sorry, baby!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Knitting Bookshelf Must-Haves

I’m teaching another sweater design course – a summer version of the same Knitting to Fit course that I taught in the winter. It’s so much fun to see intermediate knitters ‘get it’ and take off into designing their own sweaters that incorporate exactly the details they want and fit them exactly!

One of the comments I make in the class materials is what I’d like to talk about. I take an entire box full of reference books with me to each of these class sessions. As I explain, the students wouldn’t be best served by my attempting to remember everything I’ve ever knitted, read, or seen about sweater design and construction, so I bring along my own favorite reference books. This gives them a chance to see that I’m not an expert knitter (I’m not an expert at anything except perhaps research!), and gives me a chance to recommend a few books, and bring a sizable chunk of my design bookshelf to each class so that we can investigate options together.

I sometimes think there was a golden age of knitting during the late 1960’s and 1970’s. Elizabeth Zimmerman, Barbara Walker, Maggie Righetti and others were opening knitters’ eyes to a very old concept – self-reliance. Since basic knitting information never goes completely out of fashion, their ideas are still as exciting today as they were when first published. They each wrote books that I find classic resources, and to which I return frequently. I truly do think these should be part of every knitter’s bookshelf, and that the money to purchase them is some of the best-spent of a knitting lifetime.

The writing style may be a bit old-fashioned to some of the younger knitters out there, and these books don’t have lots of pretty pictures and designs. What they do have is basic knowledge, easily mastered with a bit of thought and practice and endlessly adaptable to every single knitted object you’ll ever make.

Elizabeth Zimmerman is the grand old dame of knitting. “Knitting Without Tears” and “The Opinionated Knitter” are only two of her books, but to my mind are the most indispensible. Her ability to look at topographical contours and extrapolate clever ways to make knitted fabric cover them (a lá her Baby Surprise Jacket) was extraordinary. And her common-sense attitude toward knitting is still wonderfully freeing to knitters who are afraid to tackle anything without a pattern. Her percentage system bottom-up sweater and the modifications thereto are currently turning a third generation’s eyes toward knitting independence. EZ reminds me of my grandmother – always encouraging, but more than willing to deliver a gentle kick to the relevant portion of anatomy when necessary. I adore her writing style, finding it wonderfully readable. It sounds exactly as she did on her PBS knitting show, which I vaguely remember from my childhood.

Barbara Walker’s name will be enshrined forever in the Knitter’s Hall of Fame due to her stitch dictionaries; I love my “Treasuries.” But she was a talented designer who did other books as well. She was a perfect foil to EZ, since she preferred to knit from the top to the bottom of garments. Her “Knitting from the Top” gives concise instructions for starting at the neckline and knitting down on any sweater– set-in sleeves, yoked, raglan, or any other style of neckline and sleeve. She expands this concept to other garments, too – one of these days I will make a pair of slacks and skirt by her method, because they mimic the exact construction I like to purchase! She shows that you can, indeed, knit a top-down set-in sleeve at the same time as the bodice – in a couple of practically throw-away paragraphs that you’ll miss if you aren’t careful! This is more of a textbook than a read-in-one-sitting book, perhaps a bit dated in writing style but full of sensible, completely useful information.

Maggie Righetti’s “Knitting in Plain English” has sold and sold and sold. Somehow her companion book, “Sweater Design in Plain English” isn’t quite as popular. I can’t understand why for the life of me. It answers more of the hard design questions than any other book I’ve ever seen. She tackles how to determine a basic body shape, what styles look good on what shapes, how to use color and stitch patterning to fool the eye and draw it away from areas you want to deemphasize, color palettes and more. Most importantly, she tackles how and what to measure for a perfect fit; how and when and at what point to begin short row shaping; and how to recalculate vertical or horizontal increases/decreases for a custom fit. I seldom complete a sweater, for myself or anyone else, without consulting this book at least once.

I think I know why none of these books is tremendously popular these days though. None of them take you by the hand and lead you through; they aren’t a fun read; they’re more in the nature of textbooks, to be read thoughtfully and referred to often as you progress along your knitting journey. There isn’t a single mindless knitting pattern in any of them – instead you’ll find a wealth of information to challenge a thinking knitter. And to my mind, that’s their biggest strength. They all foster knitting independence and insist on a knitter’s responsibility for his or her knitting decisions. Taking responsibility for your knitting can be a little scary at first – but then it’s wonderful!

Will these books make you independent of patterns forever? Probably not. We will always see a pattern in a book or magazine and ‘just have to’ make it. What these books WILL do, however, is give you a set of top-notch tools to use while you’re knitting that “have to make it” pattern. You’ll know how, where, and when to tweak the designer’s instructions for a custom fit – not just follow the standard patterning instructions blindly. And if you do decide to design a sweater or sweaters, you’ll be able to proceed with confidence.

If you are the type of knitter who just wants to knit, have a feeling it is probably illegal to make changes to a design, won’t pick up needles and yarn without a commercial pattern in front of you, and are lucky enough to have a completely standard-sized body, these books aren’t going to appeal to you at all. But if you have a ‘normal’ body complete with fitting challenges, or if you knit for someone like that; if you want to know why you’re doing something instead of just blindly following directions; if you don’t necessarily trust some unknown designer’s judgment entirely; if you actually do want to design your own garments – these are the books that should absolutely be on your bookshelf. You’ll come back to them again and again. Eventually you’ll regard the authors as old and dear friends, the perfect companions on your knitting design journey.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Our Fiber Toolboxes

We have many tools in our boxes as knitters and spinners – some even duplicate each other! Let’s take a look at some of those tools, and talk about the possibilities of adding to our toolboxes.

As spinners, we have many tools. Fiber itself is our weightiest (pun intended) tool, of course. Most spinners collect fibers like any other collector – gleefully and with some measure of abandon – worrying about storage later. Fibers are definitely a fun tool, but one we should collect carefully; look for the best quality fiber and best preparation you can afford or find. It will pay off when you start spinning!

Other tools include our spindles and wheels, of course. Many of us are avid spindle collectors, with those collections second only to fiber to spin on them! Spindles come in myriad shapes, sizes, weights and configurations, and each has its strengths and weaknesses. I would be the wrong person to recommend restraint in acquiring additional examples of this particular tool – but I have become choosier about the spindles I collect. I now insist on a certain level of craftsmanship in the construction of my spindles; hooks must be well-seated, wood or metal smooth and free of any roughness that might catch fine fibers. I also will spend more willingly on artistic spindles - those that display not only excellent craftsmanship but beautiful use of materials.

Wheels…most of us have financial limitations that come into play, or wheels would be as much of an obsession as spindles! I know many spinners who have only one wheel – but that wheel is generally an all-purpose machine that can spin almost anything the spinner might want. Single-purpose wheels, although they show up from time to time, are generally short-lived in the spinning market. Our fiber obsession demands a versatile wheel that is capable of ratios or speeds of anywhere between 5:1 and 20:1.

Spinners are, however, rather traditional about their wheel choices. While wheels from materials other than wood are available, and many are perfectly functional, we still gravitate toward our beautiful, warm and graceful wood. Finishes are more individual, of course. I tend to gravitate toward maple and other light wood finishes, but also own two wheels that are walnut-finished.

Other spinning tools are carders, drum carders, combs, wpi tools, dizzes, lap covers, orifice hooks, drive band material, small screwdrivers and allen wrenches, oil bottles, water holders for spinning bast fibers, high-speed, low-speed or plying flyers, bobbins, and such, extra whorls for multiple speeds…the list goes on and becomes highly individualized to a particular spinner. For example, my own carding tools are minimal; I prefer combed fibers. So I have two or three sets of combs and only one half-size set of cotton cards. I sold my drum carder years ago after it had sat unused for more than two years.

A frequent, although sometimes overlooked, set of tools for a spinner is their dyeing equipment. We tend to keep dyes, mordants, masks, brushes, plastic sheeting and various containers corralled somewhere out of reach of anyone who shares our living space in order to avoid any inadvertent use in food preparation. So we forget about them until we need them. They are nonetheless essential tools, both for spinners and for knitters who like to play with dyeing their own yarns.

A related collection for many of us is spinning containers. I love baskets, and have many, in different materials and shapes, to hold my fiber and spinning tools and spinning projects.

Knitters love to collect tools. First and foremost, of course, is our yarn. We can’t knit without it! Some of our significant others may not quite understand how we can collect pounds and pounds of yarns (or fibers) for which we have no definite purpose in mind; just remember that you chose this person for what seemed good and sufficient reason at some pre-fiber point in your life, and try to have patience with him or her. Eventually a certain numb resignation sets in and questions either cease or become quite infrequent. I haven’t yet heard of a divorce caused solely by yarn and fiber addiction. Of course, if you chose this person post-fiber addiction, you’re on your own… Personally, I’m among the luckiest of fiber addicts – my spouse is not only supportive, he’s a complete and total enabler who knew all about my original sewing and crochet addictions when we married! Everything since (weaving, lace-making, spinning, knitting, etc.) has been given his firm support and prideful announcement to everyone around him.

As an aside: I’ve actually heard non-fiber folks question a spinner’s need for commercial yarn. Their argument is usually along the lines of, “You can make your own yarn; why buy it? Especially since you already have pounds and pounds of wool and wool-blend fiber at home?” See the above statement on the advantage of patience with these individuals if they’re important to you; if they aren’t important to you, it’s none of their business, and you should simply ignore such rude behavior!

A knitter’s secondary tools are, of course, needles. A knitter can’t make fabric without both yarn and needles. Multiple needle materials are necessary in the beginning as an exploration; how do you know what you prefer until you’ve tried all of them? As you continue in your knitting career, your preferred needle materials and types change…needles you wouldn’t have used in the beginning are now your favorites. And multiple needles in the same size are just logical – how can you possibly do multiple projects without needles?

What, work on only a single project until it’s complete?!?!?! While I know a handful of knitters who do this, it’s a scant handful. I can definitely count them on a single hand’s fingers. Most of us have a couple (at least) of pairs of socks on size 1’s, a worsted wool sweater on size 8’s, a fingering sweater on size 3’s, a hat or bag to felt on size 5’s, and a ‘travel project’ for those times when you get stuck somewhere unexpectedly with no knitting project at hand. We work on them in rotation, frequently beginning another project (and sometimes finishing it!) before the others are complete. No, we aren’t all suffering from some odd sort of attention-deficit disorder; we simply prefer to have projects for various mental states. Some knitting projects require the concentration of nuclear physics reaction calculations; others are mindless and perfect for tired or distracted knitters who simply want to relax for a few minutes.

Stitch markers are necessary tools that have been raised by some to an artistic expression. There are very utilitarian stitch markers, of course; but few knitters are able to resist a bit of bling for their projects on occasion! Needle tip protectors can be made in a variety of both practical and pretty (downright adorable, in some cases) shapes. Scissors have been made in a variety of styles that include beautiful decorative elements for at least a century or two. Crochet hooks can be made from sturdy metal, or beautiful woods. Calculators come in an incredible variety of shapes and styles and colors. Even utilitarian measuring tapes can be incased in entertaining, yet practical, packaging.

Tools that are part of both knitters’ and spinners’ boxes are niddy-noddies, some sort of skein-winder, and a ball winder or nostepin. Frequently we have several of each of these, purchased either by whim or necessity. Another practical tool that all fiber artists tend to purchase is a decent scale – preferably one that will weigh in both grams and portions of an ounce, frequently digital.

The final necessary element for knitters is yet another expression of collector’s mania for many. Knitting bags and/or storage containers are a perennial search for some knitters, as they flit from one container to another in search of the perfect knitting bag or organizational container. I must confess to a weakness in this direction myself, although after many years of searching, I do seem to have finally found my perfect carry-along containers.

Other tools, less substantial but just as necessary for our fiber pursuits as any tangible, wood or steel or fluffy tools, are just as much fun to collect. These are the various techniques we use to produce our yarns and knitted masterpieces.

Techniques are fantastic things to collect! You don’t have to store them, or justify their addition to your repertoire; they reside in your head and in your fingers – and anyone can invent (or unvent) a new one or a thousand that can then be passed along to millions of other knitters! Ravelry and the other fiber-related lists are incredible compendia of accumulated knowledge, not to mention books and magazines. Now storage for books and magazines, or a computer and associated hard drive, can require storage space and resources…but the return on the investment is practically endless!

Knitters: think about the number of ways you can discover to do something as simple as make the toe on a sock. There are so many! Shaped, anatomically-correct toes from either the top or toe end; simple round toes with increases spaced in various ways to make a cup; star-shaped toes for a bit of special attention for a very special pair of socks; and the old standby, toes shaped on either side of the top and bottom in a blunted triangular shape. There are even more ways to turn a heel, knit a tube, shape increases and decreases, make darts both decorative and almost invisible…and every technique you learn increases your options and alternatives for every subsequent project you make!

Spinners: how many tricks are in your bag? You probably can’t count them…and spinners are even more prone to unvent their own methods than knitters! Spinners can create dozens of yarns from a single fiber and preparation, mixing worsted, woolen, semi-worsted, short- and long-draw techniques to form yarns for very specific projects. You can use the same roving or top to produce lace-weight singles so fine that they can barely be felt skimming over the body as a spectacular lace shawl - or a sturdy sweater of bulky-weight 4-ply yarn that can keep the wearer warm in the coldest temperatures. Or anything in between…gloves, hats, mittens, socks, scarves, coats, skirts…yarns for all of these can be created from the same fleece or fiber in a array of colors restricted only by the skill of the dyer!

As you can see, our fiber toolboxes are packed with things. Techniques and tricks are added with every project we complete, if we’re the sort of adventurous fiber people that love to try new things and stretch ourselves. Even if you’re only knitting the same scarf pattern you’ve been making for 20+ years, you learn something new every time you change yarn or needle size. Tools (and projects) are tried, added or rejected, according to our perceptions of how they work for us. Knitting, spinning and other fiber pursuits are a pursuit. Like all pursuits, they have their successes and their failures. And the only person who can determine a success or a failure of a project, a technique or a tool is the person practicing the art and craft!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Gauge Swatch

Gauge, with or without the word swatch attached, is one of ‘those’ terms. I’ve heard knitters say the words as though they were spelled with four letters, and seen them written as ‘g*&#e’ or ‘s@#$%h’ more times than one. Every single knitter has an opinion about swatching, and they’ll defend those opinions with the same fervor they bring to the questions of needle material or continental vs. English vs. combined knitting styles. I’ve called swatching a necessary evil myself in my earlier days as a knitter.

But experience is a great (if painful) teacher, and the longer I knit, the more I find that much-maligned gauge swatch an incredibly useful tool. So let’s take a look at what gauge actually is, and what purposes that swatch can serve. I may even change a mind or two along the way…

Put in the simplest terms, gauge is the number of rows and stitches in any given inch of knitted fabric. That’s perhaps too general, especially given the wide variance between the number of stitches even the same knitter will have in different stitch patterns. But that’s the definition. So what use is it? Well, you can’t knit something to a specific size if you don’t know those numbers for that yarn and needle and stitch pattern.

Now, what makes a useful gauge swatch for a given project? That’s where the definition begins to narrow and the swatch itself becomes a very useful knitting tool.

A useful gauge swatch will show the number of stitches per inch in a particular pattern stitch – the stitch you plan to use for this specific project. A useful gauge swatch will also be knitted in the same fashion as you plan to knit your project.

Huh? A knitter’s gauge over a given pattern stitch (even plain old stockinette) may vary as much as 1-3 stitches per inch, depending on whether they’re knitting flat or in the round. So if you plan to knit your project in the round, knit your swatch in the round; if you’re knitting flat, knit your swatch flat. In order to keep from having to do a 24-inch around gauge swatch on a circular needle, magic loop is a life-saver. It’s a simple technique – add it to your repertoire!

Another point to consider for a useful gauge swatch: use exactly the same needles you’ll use for the project itself. If you do your swatch on bamboo DPN needles and the project on metal circular needles, your gauge may change, even with the same yarn from the same skein.

It should go without saying that you’ll use the same yarn for your swatch that you plan to use for the project – but I’ll say it, anyway. One worsted wool yarn isn’t always identical to another; yardages per pound can vary from as little as 5 to as much as 300 or more! And differences between fibers can make for even greater variation in the numbers. 50 grams of cotton will generally have fewer yards than 50 grams of wool, even though both may be worsted weight.

One more consideration: knitted fabric changes after it’s washed and dried. This is true of any fiber or combination of fibers. Some fibers bloom, some stretch, some shrink, some remain exactly the same. But you won’t know which your particular combination of yarn and needles will do until you wash and dry the swatch!

A swatch can, again, be an extremely useful tool – if you knit it thoughtfully. Start out by casting on some multiple of the pattern stitch. Work in stockinette or garter stitch for a couple of inches – whichever your pattern is based upon. Now switch to the pattern stitch itself, and work at least 2-3 repeats. That way if there’s a problem with the patterning, you’ll find it and be able to work it out before you start into the project. You’ll also get familiar with the stitch pattern - and many knitters’ tension changes after they get used to forming a stitch, thus changing their gauge over that stitch. If your first repeat is at 6 stitches per inch in pattern, but the third repeat is at 5 stitches per inch, which number do you think you should use for figuring your project gauge?

Before you cast off, are there any other stitches or patterns used in this project? If so, work a repeat or two. If one element flows directly into another (ribbing to pattern stitch, for example), try that out on your swatch. Does it look good to you? If not, tweak it here instead of on the project. You’ll rip out a lot less.

Last but far from least, are there instructions in the project pattern that aren’t clear to you? Perhaps short-row directions are different from what you’re used to doing, or directional stitches are a different type, or bind-offs at the arms or neck seem odd. Try these techniques on the swatch. It’s much easier on both knitter and yarn to do these types of tweaking on a smaller scale. Do you know exactly how you’re going to pick up arm or neckline treatment stitches on this patterning? Try it out on the swatch!

Have you tried out everything you have any question about? All right, then do another few rows of stockinette or garter and then bind off as recommended in the pattern. This is a final place to play – if the bind off on the swatch doesn’t look good, decide now on how you’ll modify the project instructions to make it look better and try it out.

Now bind off and measure your swatch. How many rows per inch? How many stitches and rows per inch in stockinette or garter; how many in each pattern? How many in the ribbing stitch? Write these numbers down and save them!

Now wash that swatch. If the yarn ball says to machine wash and dry, do that. If you plan to hand wash and lay flat to dry, do those instead. Don’t short-cut this step – you’ll negate a great deal of the usefulness you built into your swatch if you do!

One final thing before you get out your ruler or tape measure and that sheet of paper again: if your chosen yarn is cotton, silk, alpaca, mohair, hemp, superwash wool or acrylic (or any blend thereof), hang that gauge swatch up for at least 12-24 hours before you measure. Fibers other than plain old untreated wool sometimes stretch vertically as well as horizontally – and some of them stretch quite a lot! Better to know this now instead of two or three hours into the first wearing of your crew-neck tunic, after it’s become a knee-length dress with a scooped neckline!

Now measure the rows and stitches again. Make sure you measure over the stockinette/garter sections, each different stitch pattern, and any other places your swatch appears to widen or narrow. Write these numbers down. Now divide the pre-wash numbers into the after-wash numbers to get the percentages of shrinkage or stretch.

Now this is useful information! You know before you start knitting that in order to fit your 45-inch hip measurement you’ll need to cast on 250 stitches instead of 225; there was slightly over 1% shrinkage in your washed swatch. You’ll also know that you want to do 24 rows of ribbing rather than 26, and only 36 rows instead of 42 between the underarm bindoff and shoulder shaping – your washed and hung sample grew about 1% in length.

How much time will knowing this information before you start knitting save you? Think about this. Without a gauge swatch that contains all the stitches used in the project, that was then washed, dried and hung, you might knit the entire sweater, bind off and finish everything, bury all ends, then wash, block and try on before discovering that – horrors! – you have to take it all apart and start over, or find a recipient to gift with your hard work.

How long does it take to knit a sweater? The general amount of time is measured in weeks or months of spare-time knitting, isn’t it? And if you’d only taken an hour or so at the beginning to actually explore the variables, you’d have something that fits properly now instead of an expensive (both in terms of time and materials) boondoggle.

So you decide for yourself. As far as I’m concerned, especially since I pretty much design my own sweaters and other knitwear these days, I’ll continue to swatch. It’s cheap (in terms of time and materials) insurance that my precious knitting time won’t be wasted. Of course, wasted time is in the eye of the knitter – what I consider a waste of time you may not! But just for the sake of argument, next time you start a new project, take the time to do what I’ve described above as a useful gauge swatch and see if you find it helpful. Then make your final decision!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Shetland Shawls and Me

My knitting plans for this year were fairly simple. Make a summer sweater or two, socks for the winter, a sweater vest for my DH, and spin for a shawl for myself. Life, as it so frequently does, had other ideas.

Occasionally, like most knitters, I get ambitious. Six years ago when we were expecting our first grandchild, I wanted something quite special to welcome that new life into the family. Not considering all the possible repercussions, I pulled about 5 ounces of merino/clun forest fleece from the stash and spun most of it very, very fine, plying for a gossamer-weight two-ply yarn.

I then proceeded to knit a simple Shetland shawl – technically, a hap– with a garter-stitch center section and a wide border of Feather and Fan. That shawl was, to put it mildly, well-received; used for that grandson’s christening and then lovingly packed away to be used for his bride and their children.

Now fast-forward to the late winter/early spring of 2010. My Navy NCO son and daughter-in-law have announced that they are expecting their first child in October. And my darling son has made it clear that he would like for me to make another shawl for this baby. This is how traditions get started in our family…but I still think making an heirloom piece is a wonderful thing to do for a new baby, and I’m off and running.

First I put out the word for more fleece from, if possible, that same sheep. Why that particular sheep? My sons knew him! Luckily, the shepherd (a good friend) had some of the fleece, in roving form, stuck back and was willing to part with it under these circumstances. So I picked it up at a hastily-arranged luncheon in late February and took it home to start spinning.

Since I love designing things, I began designing the shawl as I spun. Again, I spun a gossamer two-ply of about 55 wpi. Definitely a bit on the fine side! But this particular fleece fluffs up beautifully, and the washed yarn is closer to 45 wpi. About 1200 yards and 4.5 ounces later, I was ready to start knitting. The plan I conceived was for a Fir Cone central square surrounded by a Tree of Life border and a Crest o’ the Wave edging.

The central square was planned as a Fir Cone pattern knit on the diagonal. I thought that pattern reflected the mountains of Western Washington and their covering of evergreens quite well, and would give a reminder of the family’s whereabouts when this child was born.

I did, however, feel the need for a large swatch, so I spun a bit extra and cast three stitches onto size 2 needles, then followed the Fir Cone pattern as shown below, increasing each row by K1, yo and inserting patterns as needed to fill the space. When I reached 8 repeats, I removed the stitches from the needle to a cotton yarn, soaked and then blocked to get some idea of the number of repeats necessary to reach the 24-inch square I wanted.

If you plan to use these charts, be advised that there’s a knit row between each pattern row. Stitch conventions are pretty standard as far as yarn-overs and single- or double-decreases are concerned.

This was something of a challenge to knit, since the stacked double-decreases at the exact top of the stacked yarn-overs makes for a popcorn-looking texture on the needles. I wasn’t at all sure that I wouldn’t end up pulling the entire thing back out if those decreases didn’t block flat – that was one of the reasons for such a large sample. The other reason, of course, was to have a ‘working copy’ on which to try out the other elements of the pattern.

Reassured by the blocked sample that the shawl would indeed block flat, I cast on again for the actual shawl and started knitting. When I reached the 17 repeats necessary for the 24-inch square, I began the decreases in a mirror fashion to the increases; K2tog, yo, k2tog at the beginning of each row, using up pattern repeats as I went.

After again reaching 3 stitches, I k3tog and bound off that stitch. Next step was to wash and block the square, since I had decided that it would make picking up all those stitches (140 each side = 560 total stitches) much easier – and it did!

I had originally thought to use a single, small 20-stitch repeat Tree of Life pattern followed by a larger version spaced between the small repeats. But I changed my mind while picking up stitches and reworked the chart to do three offset rows of trees instead. I decided that the large trees were just too large for a small person. The chart is shown below, rotated 180-degrees simply because I’m feeling too lazy to switch it around.

I’m presently at row 16 of the chart, beginning the decrease portion of the first line of trees. Other than the slow-seeming purl rounds, it’s going well – and the slowness of those rounds is strictly illusion. I clocked a pattern row and a purl row, and there’s no difference in the actual time required to knit them.

The shawl is shaping up just as I’d hoped – it appears as if the fir cones have fallen from the trees. Again, this is a reflection of the Washington coastline. On a visit a couple of years back, my husband and I drove up the peninsula, marveling at the way the evergreen-covered mountains tumble into the bay.

The final touch will be to knit on the edging. I thought Crest ‘o the Wave would be appropriate, both for the family background (my dad was also an NCO in the Navy) and the ocean surrounding the peninsula where the children live. I’m planning to use Eunny Jung’s variation from her Print o’ the Wave Stole pattern (, since I prefer it to the ‘standard’ Shetland variation. I’m debating whether to use a garter-stitch ground or the stockinette she shows in her pattern, but since I’ve chosen garter for the rest of the shawl, I’ll probably go with that.

Photos of shawls in progress are pretty bleah, but here’s one for those who can visualize the finished product from the cleaning rag it appears to be now.

Returning to the subject of family traditions, there’s a second installment to this story. Turns out I need to complete another shawl, for another grandchild, before year’s end. While another grandchild is always fantastic news, I must admit that as a knitter I’m a bit overwhelmed. A lace shawl every year or two (or six) isn’t too bad – you’ve got plenty of time to spin, design and knit, and I enjoy the challenge of doing so intermittently. But knitting two shawls in less than a single year is enough to panic even me just a bit!

I’m currently trying to decide whether to start spinning the superfine Jamison & Smith Shetland top I bought (as a possible fiber for a shawl for myself next year) or simply work on the design for the present and leave the spinning until the current shawl is complete. There’s a part of me that is leery of starting another spinning project while I’m still working with this yarn; what if 1200 yards isn’t enough to complete the shawl? I’m doing my usual ‘just in case’ on that possibility – spinning 20-30 yards of the merino/clun forest every couple of days so that I can match the yarn I’ve used to date.

But since designing can be done while knitting (even knitting a different pattern!), I do have a preliminary design in mind for this second shawl. Different parents, different personal histories, so a very different shawl. I’m considering a center star surrounded by Celtic knots flowing into a framed rose pattern for the border. Knit in the round, but with increases placed (after the star is complete) so as to form a square, or perhaps an octagon. I’ll likely continue the rose motif into the edging, unless I find a pattern I like better. Stockinette ground rather than garter. Yes, a very different shawl.

I can hear someone asking if there aren’t enough lovely patterns out there for me to find one that will suit me instead of going through the design process. The short answer is “probably.” The longer explanation is that I want these shawls/baby blankets to be absolutely unique, as is each of these children. These are to be heirlooms, passed down from generation to generation. Each will be accompanied by an explanation of the patterns chosen, and tell the story of how, why and by whom it was made. Luckily, my children grew up with the mindset that certain handmade things are quite special and worthy of protection from the rough and tumble of daily use. So I can count on them to keep these shawls in such a way that they will be available for future generations.

There’s also the fact that I have great difficulty following someone else’s pattern. I want my own individual stamp on anything I make. Otherwise, why spend all that time and energy?

So if you don’t hear much from me for the remainder of this year, now you know why. As happens all too frequently in life, plans for this year have changed drastically– and I’m trying to keep up!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

And The Wheel Spins ‘Round

It’s funny how our fiber journeys wind around and around. I started, 40-plus years ago, as a seamstress, quilter and crocheter. Give or take a couple of years, I added other types of sewing and pattern-making in my 20’s; tatting and four-harness weaving and needle lace in my 30’s; spinning, knitting, and multiple-harness weaving in my 40’s. Now I’m in my 50’s and teaching almost all of these things in turn to a whole new group – and not a few members of my own generation!

Teaching is something I’ve always done. As a girl, I was the oldest – so I taught my younger cousins the same things my great-grandmother and grandmother had taught me. As a teen in the 1960’s, I taught the other young people around me to crochet and sew the stuff we wanted. In my 20’s, 30’s and 40’s I taught sewing and other crafting techniques as an income supplement – and I’m still doing the same today. I’ve never really expanded my teaching focus beyond the local area, and have yet to write that book I keep thinking about. I don’t yet feel an overwhelming need to do those things; I’m happy with my local teaching gigs. They’re fun, fulfilling, and I’m always learning something new from my students.

And learning is also something I’ve always done. Most of my fiber arts techniques were learned pre-internet, largely from books and magazines and other artists. Learning intermediate weaving techniques and re-learning to knit more or less coincided with the surge in internet use, and I’ve learned a lot on-line. Ravelry and the Knitters’ Review Forums have taken on a life quite unlike the weaving bulletin boards and lists of the 1990’s! Regardless of the resources available online, however, I’m still a bibliophile – I collect books on all the arts I practice. When I die my children are going to have quite a chore just sorting through all the books in the house! Then they’ll need to decide what to do with them… Luckily I’ll no longer be around to see the long-suffering looks and hear the sighs!

You’d think that after years of practicing various fiber arts I’d have stopped purchasing new books. Nope! I have become more choosey about what I buy, though. My focus has never been on pattern books (I like to make up my own patterns!), but I’m still a sucker for design books. Take knitting, for example: I’ve got stitch dictionaries galore, all the “must-have” design books (Righetti, Zimmerman, Walker, Gibson-Roberts), including some of the newcomers like Wendy Barnard, and most of the lace design books out there. I have fewer spinning books per se (Alden Amos, Judith McKenzie McCuin, etc.), but literally decades worth of Spin-Off magazines.

I’ve always found books a wonderful repository of wisdom. They let you see what other people have done and how – and more importantly, why – and give you a starting point for your own explorations. I’d never have become much of a knitter if I hadn’t stumbled across EZ’s Knitting Without Tears in my local library. I would have drowned in knitting patterns and never gathered the knowledge and courage to strike out with my own designs! Ditto Spin-Off, which held my hand between spinning guild meetings and led me gently down the path to trusting my own instincts about fiber.

Creativity spawns more creativity. I think that’s why so many of us gather together within our chosen disciplines, and within related ones as well. Ideas come from so many sources, and one idea may generate another that bears little or no relationship to the first! Each of us brings our own experiences to bear on our art; but we borrow from the experiences of others, as well.

Fiber people are amazingly generous. They’re willing to share their knowledge, experiences, tips, tricks and failures with fellow travelers. As artists, we do learn from someone else’s failure; sometimes we try to do something similar while avoiding the things that made them fail. Many times this leads to a success; sometimes it leads to another failure – but from a different cause! And we get back together and share those stories, which leads to more experimentation, which leads to more successes or failures, which leads to more stories…you get the idea.

Books take this wealth or experience and distill it. Yes, you have only one voice in a book – but that one voice, if you’re lucky, brings decades of experience along with it, both the writer’s and that of those around her. I think the books that become classics in a given field do this particularly well. They generally have something else in common as well; they’re written in a very human fashion. We become friends with the author. Elizabeth Zimmerman is probably the quintessential example of this, but there are numerous others.

One of the things I hope I teach my students is that the knowledge they need is in many different places – not only online. Yes, the online community is a wonderful resource. But internet connections go down; computers break; cell phones are terrible web browsers. Besides, you may not have the leisure to wade through 3,000 links to find the one with the information you need. A book lives silently on a shelf until you need it, and it won’t disappear like the link you bookmarked five years ago. A fiber friend is a phone call or a short distance away. Inspiration is found in unlikely places; it works best coupled with a bit of perspiration. But it can be lost or diluted while you’re clicking on links – focus is necessary for fruition.

And the wheel turns around…From being a student, I’ve become one of the older practitioners – I’m now the “go to” person. Yet I’m still a student myself. I’ve signed up for a quilting class next month. Except for minor projects, I haven’t quilted in 20 years. But I have this idea for taking some of my wool hand-woven and hand-knit fabrics…

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Musings on My Current Class…

I’m finishing a sweater class right now at my LYS. I sweated over the class instructions for literally months, re-writing, editing, changing and re-writing yet again. Mostly because this class isn’t supposed to teach students how to make a single sweater pattern. No, this one is titled “Knitting to Fit” and is designed to show knitters how to modify a design or design a well-fitting sweater for themselves.

There are nine of us in the class, including me. We’re in all sizes; even the three or four of us who have a petite height and frame have widely-varying measurements. Including those who wear exactly the same size! Our body types are different, ranging from oval to hourglass to triangle to rectangular. And most of the class members are making different types of sweaters, ranging from set-in sleeves to raglan and yoked styles. A couple are going bottom-up, most top-down. Most are using wool or wool blends – one chose cotton. It’s definitely a challenge for the instructor!

Just to keep it interesting (I know I’m nuts), I set myself a task for the class, too. I’m using three-ply handspun Blue-faced Leicester in a fingering weight – about 2000 yards per pound – in natural gray-taupe and some white that I space-dyed at the roving stage. I’ve made several raglan or yoked sweaters from the top down for the grandkids, but not for myself, so that’s my challenge – a yoked/raglan combo sweater knitted on size 3 needles. I finished it up this weekend, and love it! It fits beautifully, and shows me as well as the class members that knitting, done properly, is indeed a beautiful thing!

Needless to say, we’ve made extensive use of reference materials in this class. I’ve been lugging a box of books by Zimmerman, Walker, Righetti, Gibson-Roberts and others to each class, and using them. Class members have purchased their favorites to use, as well. Several years back, by using bits and pieces from each of these knitting icons, I finally learned to make a sweater that fits well, not only for myself, but for anyone else I could measure. And that’s what I’ve tried to communicate to my students.

The knitting is almost incidental to this class, in a way. Learning about the different body types and what looks good on them, learning measuring and shaping techniques, discovering how to control your knitting and trust your instincts, planning your knitting and how to make a useful swatch are the most important things. Techniques for set-in sleeves that are knitted from the shoulder down, re-figuring raglan lines, learning provisional cast-ons and learning to incorporate stitch patterns into shaping options are second in importance. Doing the actual knitting is almost anticlimactic.

So why is everyone making a sweater rather than a single enormous swatch? Because nothing teaches like a successful project. Besides, swatches that go on forever are…well, boring…even if they are terribly useful! Part of making a sweater is falling in love with it - choosing the yarn and needles, choosing the fabric you want to make, transferring the measurements you have to the garment you want to make, knowing how to modify details so that you can change a shawl collar to a ribbed band without anguish. And all of that is much more fun to do in full-size rather than in miniature.

Could I have chosen a single sweater style (perhaps a set-in sleeve, fitted style with princess lines), designed the sweater and the pattern, and taught how to modify it? Yes, and I considered that. But I eventually decided against it, because my aim for this class is for everyone to make a sweater that they love. And not everyone likes to wear set-in sleeves and fitted, princess lines.

Did I perhaps bite off more than I can possibly chew? Perhaps. Although so far (seven sessions into the eight of the class), I don’t believe so. What I was hoping for is happening instead. Knitters are making different sweater styles, and are helping and learning from one another. Only one knitter chose to use a pattern – everyone else is designing their own sweater! This class is proving what I’ve always known about fiber folks – they’re unfailingly generous with their time, their expertise and their encouragement, and much, much smarter than they think they are!

This is indeed turning out to be a very successful class. As I hoped, my students now feel empowered to change whatever they like in a knitted design, with confidence that they won’t encounter any problems that can’t be solved with a bit of ingenuity, a willingness to rip as needed, and asking questions of other knitters! They have also gained the confidence to design and make their very own garments, which is a wonderful bonus. I’ve loved this class, and hope to do many more like it!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Why Do We Make It So Hard?

I’d like to start by saying that I know I’m not any smarter than my grandmother. Or you. My skill set is different from hers due to the time and place I live; I have no need to kill, pluck and cut apart a chicken to fix for dinner, for example, just as my grandmother had no need to learn to operate a computer.

Nonetheless, Grandma and I have some things in common. She was a gutsy lady who never gave up when she wanted to do a thing. It earned her the appellation “stubborn” from her husband and children on occasion, as it does me, my mother, my daughter and most of my female cousins. I’ve never understood why it’s ‘persistence’ when a man wants you to learn something, and ‘stubbornness’ when he finds your focus inconvenient, but that’s a rant for another time.

Grandma was also an accomplished analytical thinker, again from necessity. She had to plan sufficient garden each year to feed her family of sixteen, including an allowance for varmint depredations, weather variations, and other possible catastrophes like illness. There needed to be enough to share with those less fortunate, too. She needed to save enough seed for the next year’s planting, and devise critter-proof storage for that seed – otherwise her family would go hungry. Since canning and drying were the only preservation methods, she needed to know how many jars she needed and in what sizes, as well as how many seals and lids were required for those jars each year.

She needed to know exactly how much flour, meal, sugar and salt (not to mention other staples like baking powder and soda) she would require for 4-6 months at a time, that being the usual amount of time between visits to town. Ditto fabric requirements so that she’d have enough cloth to keep everyone covered and warm. How much yarn or fiber it would take to knit socks, mittens, scarves and hats for everyone for the winter, as well as occasional sweaters.

She needed to decide how many piglets to sell and which one(s) to keep, how many chickens to allow to sit their eggs rather than using those eggs for breakfast, and how much grain to feed the steer for proper fattening. All necessary skills, and ones she learned well enough to raise a large, healthy brood in an era when many people lost more children than they raised to adulthood. Grandma had to learn to plan ahead to manage that, so she learned.

Yes, we have it much easier day to day. Groceries come from a supermarket where we can purchase them fresh, frozen or canned in infinite variety and from all corners of the globe. Cooking can be as simple or as complicated as the cook desires. Vacuum cleaners are both faster and easier than sweeping and beating rugs. Central heating and electric or gas stoves beat a fireplace and coal- or wood-fueled stoves all hollow, even if you don’t include the mess involved in cleaning them. I’ll take indoor plumbing and hot-water heaters over an outhouse and water heated on the stovetop anytime. I prefer a daily shower to a weekly bath. If I want or need something from the next town, I can be there in 20 minutes, including putting on my good jeans and finding my car keys.

So why do we make it so tough on ourselves? We make that 20-minute drive twice a day instead of keeping a list and going once or twice a week. Our usual reason? ________ (Fill in the blank with husband, child, etc.’s name) needs it now. But why do they need it now?

I absolutely believe a sign I’ve had hanging in my office for years. It reads, “A lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.” I first saw that more years ago than I want to acknowledge, in the office of an office practices instructor at a local college. It made good sense to me – and didn’t only apply to the gentlemen (in most cases) with whom I worked.

An older lady who attended our church was horrified one afternoon to hear me tell my then seven-year-old, “I’ll take care of it as soon as I finish this.” She thought I should have dropped whatever I was doing to run and respond to a very minor request. I was astonished, and informed her that as long as the child wasn’t hurt, I considered what I was doing at least as important as his request. I’ve never seen any reason to change that attitude, and think that may be part of the reason my DH and I managed to raise three fairly considerate adults.

So I’ll reiterate: why do we make it so hard for ourselves? Rather than show and teach our children (or spouse) that they truly don’t need every single thing right now; that they can learn to plan ahead, thus saving time and resources and perhaps even fostering a bit of imaginative thinking; we jump and run. This leaves us all too often feeling exhausted, martyred, and inconsequential. Grandma may have felt the first two on occasion, but I’m fairly sure she never felt the last one! She knew quite well that her well-being mattered to the people who depended on her.
You may very well be asking what brought this on…and I can truly answer that I’m not sure. Perhaps it has something to do with having to work these past couple of weekends and not getting any of the usual Christmas stuff done; and then discovering that my DH is perfectly happy to take care of any of that stuff that matters to him all by himself. Perhaps it has something to do with my remembering how to say “no” to some of the chores I’ve always done - due to both a lack of time and a dislike for paying the price in pain and suffering.

Maybe those things are part of the reason I actually enjoyed Christmas this year. Instead of rushing around trying to do everything to make the holiday perfect for everyone near and dear to me, I sat back and reflected on the past 25 or so Christmases and the years between them. Discovering links in strange places, and abilities I’d forgotten I had, such as planning errands to all be done in a single afternoon on the way home from work. Perhaps it has something to do with combining an unplanned evening of Christmas shopping and a lovely dinner with my DH after work last Saturday. Or enjoying time spent around my son and his girl doing nothing much.

The only thing that’s been a constant is the phrase that’s been running through my head: “Why do we make it so hard?” And I can’t think of a single reason why we should. So I’ll close by wishing you a happy 2010 with plenty of time to simply enjoy the best things around you: warmth, food you didn’t have to raise (or that you did, if that’s your thing to do), and the company of the people you choose to love.

Monday, November 23, 2009

New Spinners...are wonderful!

The spindling class ended Saturday at lunchtime. I'm quite pleased - out of six students, I had three total fiberholic spinners! The remaining three students learned what they wanted from the class - a lot more about how yarns are formed and how to choose them for their projects. So I can call this one a success, I think.

New spinners are full of enthusiasm! They find everything about spinning fascinating, want to produce enormous amounts of various yarns in various weights as quickly as possible, and want to push the envelope as far as it will go. After learning spindling basics, dyeing is the next possibility, and the final class included quite a bit of information on that.

Spinning wheels are probably in the near future for all three of these students, although each is loving spinning on spindles. We talked about the way spindles can be stored, since they're already interested in spinning different weights. We have one crocheter and two who both knit and crochet; one wants to learn weaving immediately.

It was a good class, with lively discussions and lots of input from very bright folks who already knew a good bit about fibers. They'll challenge each other and themselves, and expand the frontiers of spinning knowledge a bit further during our fourth Saturday afternoon gatherings, which will be held at Clinch River Yarn Company beginning about 2:00 pm.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Rant Warning! In Defense of Designers!

All of you are well aware that I'm a total fiber junkie who explores odd nooks and crannies that might hold yarn and fiber wherever I happen to be. Most of you know that I teach various fiber-related classes. Some of you also know that I design knitting, weaving, tatting and crochet patterns, although I keep that fairly quiet. I prefer to help others design rather than have people making my designs.

Yesterday afternoon I was indulging my fiber junkie in a most unexpected way. I actually found a small local store that carries some basic (and decent!) yarns and was happily poking around in a back corner. This place does not advertise itself as a yarn store, and the only reason they carry yarn is that the owner's wife crochets and knits. I was there for a completely un-fiber-related reason, and the yarn was a lovely bonus.

So I'm poking around behind a pillar, happily fondling some skeins, when another customer enters. I carefully put down the skein I was currently cuddling to my cheek (some people simply don't understand yarn etiquette) and prepared to act like a normal person until she had concluded her business and left. The other customer seemed like a nice lady, probably a little older than I, and from her conversation an equally- doting grandmother. But then she made three comments that revealed her as a complete fiend! "I DID follow the pattern - and the sweater didn't fit at all!" To compound matters, she then commented that she never did get gauge with the recommended needles, although she used them for the entire sweater! Her final comment was "If I couldn't do any better than that, I wouldn't have the nerve to make people pay for the pattern!"

You would be so proud of me! I didn't know her, it wasn't my LYS, she wasn't a student of mine, and so I kept my mouth shut. I made none of the snarky comments that were clamoring for release, biting my tongue instead. But this overheard encounter festered through yesterday evening's sit and knit at my LYS; I actually dreamed about it last night; and this morning I've decided to have my say.

First is a sore point of long standing. Patterns are a record of how one (or perhaps two or three) knitters made a certain design to specified measurements. They aren't edicts from a higher power, and you can't leave your brain and common sense behind when you decide to knit that pattern. If all you want to do is completely mindless knitting, stick to knitting items where size doesn't matter. Scarves, shawls, dishcloths, bags, items to be felted later...there are many items at myriad skill levels that don't require fitting. They can keep a knitter happy for decades.

Second, if your actual measurements don't match those stated in the pattern, the resulting garment won't fit you. Don't whine about it and don't blame the designer. You are as your genes and your life choices have made you, and if those have culminated in a 5-foot nothing, 150-pound top-heavy grandmother, you can't logically expect a design created for a 5-foot 8-inch, 135 pound woman with a B cup size to fit!

Finally, if you DO choose to make a knitted item following a pattern marketed by a designer who (I guarantee!) sweated for hours over the details you love, engage your brain and common sense BEFORE you pick up your needles! Do a large gauge swatch in the same knitting technique (back and forth or in the round, in stockinette or in pattern, as specified by the designer) in a yarn identical to or as close as possible to the fiber and weight of the original design. (No, I didn't say color - color doesn't matter - only fiber type and yarn weight!)

Measure, then wash that swatch, let it dry, then measure it again. If your measurements differ from the gauge specified in the pattern, change needles appropriately, make another swatch in the same knitting technique (back and forth or in the round, in stockinette or in pattern, as specified by the designer) in a yarn identical to or as close as possible to the fiber and weight of the original design. Measure, wash the second swatch, let it dry, then measure it again. If your measurements still differ from those specified by the designer, change needles appropriately and do it a third time. Continue as required until your gauge matches the one in the pattern!

If you can't be bothered to perform this step as many times as it takes, don't whine about it when the garment doesn't drape or fit like the one in the photo! The fault isn't with the designer - it's with you! Ditto if you decide to use worsted weight cotton yarn for a design that was made with fingering-weight wool-silk blend. Don't blame the designer for your own choices!

All right, you did five gauge swatches in a fingering-weight wool-silk blend until you got gauge with a needle three sizes smaller than the designer recommended for that same yarn. You chose the bust measurement closest to your own, cast on and knitted as directed, decreasing, increasing, binding off, etc., as specified. The garment STILL doesn't fit. That can't be my fault - it's got to be a bad design!

When and where did you leave your brain, may I ask? There is more to a body than a bust measurement! Some of us are short-waisted, some are long-waisted. Some have hourglass figures, some are straight from hips to shoulders. Remember my second point above? "If your actual measurements don't match those stated in the pattern, the resulting garment won't fit you."

Before you cast on (while your gauge swatch(es) are drying?) sit down with the pattern, a (gasp!) calculator and a list of your own measurements. If the pattern has 6 inches (at the row gauge given) between the hip and the waist, and you have 4.5, make the necessary adjustments to the pattern! If the pattern calls for an 8-inch armhole and you need 9.5, make the necessary adjustments to the pattern! If you need short-rows to accommodate your bust, plan them out before you cast on - decide how many rows you need, how you'll incorporate them into the stitch pattern, and how far above the hem and below the armholes you need to place them.

Do this and any other planning before you cast on. Then knit, trying on as you go. If your plan isn't working, as demonstrated by trying the in-progress garment on your actual body, analyze why and fix it! Don't ever be afraid to rip out knitting - you like to knit, remember? If you rip out, you'll simply have more knitting to do!

All this ranting boils down to two simple points. Every single body is different. Every single knitter must learn how to make a plan for their own knitting.

Of course you can start with a pattern - designers themselves start with a general idea of what they want. Just don't leave your brain behind and allow someone else to make all the decisions for you! It doesn't work in knitting any better than it works in life.

Rant is now complete!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I'm So Proud...

My spinning class on Saturday got off to a great start! Of course there were the usual beginning bobbles and fluffs, but by the end of the class everyone was making yarn! I'm so proud of these ladies - they're truly wonderful and such good sports!

My ramblings last week appear to have borne something or other. I did indeed break down the spindling process to minimal bits, starting with fondling and dissecting the spindles, then moving on to the fiber itself. We pulled a single fiber to check length, pulled a couple more to check how easy it was to break them, pulled and twisted a few to see what difference that made, etc., etc., etc. Baby steps? Sure! But everybody learns to walk with baby steps!

We stopped with park and draft, and everyone promised at least 15 minutes of practice each day. For those who emailed me directly to ask, we're using Louet Octo spindles and Louet's BFL top. This is a nice top, with enough tooth to help beginners along, yet enough sheen and softness to keep knitters' fingers happy.

I do like Louet's fibers, although I'm not as crazy about their spindles, and the Octo spindles are a perfect example of why. These spindles came in very rough. Careful sanding was required before they could be used, so as to smooth the many rough spots without affecting the balance. Luckily, the spindles arrived enough in advance of the first class to allow this to be done.

On the plus side, the spindles could be individualized with permanent markers in various colors and a couple of coats of beeswax and lemon oil made the sanded wood feel warmer and much more pleasant in the hands. The spindles function well, with excellent balance and a long spin time. Also on the plus side, the hooks are very sturdy and seem to travel well. However, it makes me a bit unhappy to purchase a fixer-upper that isn't labeled as such.

Saturday we'll travel a bit further along the road to fiber addiction, taking a look at the various ways to wind a cop, plying options, and moving from park and draft to drop spindling. We'll talk about finishing yarn - washing, weighting to dry (or not) and some of the commercial fiber options out there. Creating new fiber addicts is so much fun!

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Spindling Class Begins Saturday!

A note to any of my students who read this prior to the class: you WILL succeed in learning to spindle - as long as you're willing to give yourself time to learn. Muscle memory isn't built in a single two-hour class, or even in three. It's built with patient practice, a little bit every day. It's akin to learning to play a musical instrument; in order to become proficient you must not only study theory (learn about fiber), but practice playing (spindling). Everyone knows that learning to play an instrument takes some time. So be gentle with yourself, and grant yourself the time needed to learn. The reward, as with music, is a lifetime of pleasure.

Now to the blog entry! I'm teaching a spindling class beginning on Saturday. My LYS is offering it because there's a lot of interest - partially engendered by my sitting and spindling or wheel spinning at Thursday evening work sessions and before or after my knitting classes. Not to mention showing off fiber purchases!

I'm looking forward to the class, especially since all the students have become fiber buddies, either through taking a previous class or sharing time at the shop. While I teach spinning one-on-one on a regular basis, it's been a couple of years since I taught multiple students simultaneously, and those classes are always fun. (I work hard to make them fun!)

I've been thinking a lot as I go about the studio and house getting everything ready. Not about the tools or the fibers, or even the instructional materials - I've been thinking about spinning itself. Turning it around in my mind, so to speak. Since I already know and like these folks, I'm investing a lot of myself in this class (even more so than usual). I truly want them all to succeed in learning this new skill so we can share that as well as our knitting and crochet. My thoughts have ranged widely, dissecting past classes and trying to incorporate lessons I've learned from teaching so many through the past fifteen-plus years. Since writing things out helps my thought processes, here goes!

The basis of spinning is deceptively simple - start the spindle going, pinch, pull, release the prepared fiber until the spindle is at the floor, then gather that make on your hand and transfer it to the spindle shaft; begin again. Children get it in no time - my grandchildren could spin usable yarn by the age of five, and my then pre-teen children were spinning wonderful yarn well before I was. Adults, on the other hand, find it more challenging. Perhaps because we've already built long-standing muscle memories for other skills; perhaps because we're not as tuned to our bodies as children. I have no idea. I simply offer it as an observed fact.

I've tried in several ways to communicate that to my students, with less success than I would like. They watch me demonstrate, listen to the steps, then many get discouraged when their muscles don't perform perfectly the first time - or even the tenth. Reminders that spinning requires muscle memory and practice to build that memory fall on already-discouraged ears. And at least one or two decide that they 'can't' spindle. (These are usually the same ones who want to spin enough to go ahead and invest in a wheel, practice even more steps on that until they have the muscle memory built, then come back to spindling a couple of years later to find that it isn't nearly as difficult as they thought. More on these students later.)

Perhaps it has to do with our initial monetary investment. A good spindle costs $20 to $60 - a couple or three of hours of work at most local jobs. So we expect to learn in a similar proportion of our time. A good wheel runs several hundred dollars or our salary for a week or more of work. So we work longer at mastering the instrument in which we've invested more hard-earned dollars. We have to justify the spending. I'm not sure this explains the motivations of everyone who gives up on spindling and goes on to wheel spinning, but I have seen it happen in about half of the cases of people who decide they 'can't' spindle.

Some students do spend the time to develop the muscle memory for the basic steps, but are unhappy with their beginner yarn. After they learn to spin, shouldn't they be producing perfectly even singles within a few hours at most? Explanations that practice is the only medium by which a beginner reaches intermediate or master status again fall on ears un-tuned to that wavelength. The spindle they bought gathers dust for a while, then gets put into a yard sale or tossed out with the trash during spring cleaning. Such a shame.

Still other students decide that spindling is too slow. They master the muscle memory, and make good yarn. But they don't comprehend the contemplative nature of the dance. The meditative pace of preparing fiber and then spinning, dyeing and finishing yarn distresses them rather than providing a sanctuary. Sometimes these students persist and eventually tune into the melody of history and nature, becoming dedicated spinners and even teachers themselves; sometimes they go back to buying all their yarns because spinning is 'just too slow.' Again, a shame.

The students who come to learn the dance, on the other hand, are frequently the ones who stay with spindling. Their expectations are simple and varied - to learn something new, to learn to use a tool they find fascinating, to make a connection with history or to make their own yarns from their own sheep. Or perhaps just to inject some calm and a semblance of control into their life. These students aren't always the ones who learn the fastest - sometimes they struggle long after the class ends. But they see something in spindling that appeals to them at a level they can't always express. They are the students who start out as spinners, requiring only the skills and practice to succeed.

Of course, there are the occasional students who pick up a spindle, hook it into fiber they've instinctively pre-drafted, give it a twirl, and begin to spin perfect lace-weight singles immediately. It truly is instinct for these lucky few - they seem to channel the spirits of spinners who have come before them. They make a teacher look good, and tend to earn the envy (at least) of their fellow students (grin).

I tend to feel for the other students when a student like this appears in a class. I struggled a bit myself in the beginning. And didn't have the luxury of doing so in private - I learned to spindle at a public demonstration, by demonstrating for the public! So all my first over-twisted singles, dropped spindles when I compensated by under-twisting, and lumpy, misshapen beginner yarn were observed by a couple of hundred strangers who all felt free to comment on my mistakes. After that sort of public humiliation, I simply HAD to learn to spin. So I practiced doggedly, learning mostly on my own, but watching other spinners at every opportunity. I was one of those spinners who 'couldn't' learn on a spindle, by the way. But when I invested a week's salary in a used wheel, I forced myself to practice until I mastered it all.

Upon coming back to spindling, I found something I had missed in wheel spinning - a level of contemplation and calm I found essential to my well-being. Now I spindle and wheel spin, and love both for different reasons, even though the final product, yarn, is identical in both cases. So identical that I frequently can't tell later which way I originally spun the yarn!

Hoping for a high level of student success as well as even more fun, this time I've broken the instruction down into the most basic single components. We'll complete one stage before we move to the next. We'll begin with fondling, investigating, and tearing apart a little fiber, then move on to basic drafting. We'll add finger-twisting, then hooked-stick twisting, and then team spindling. Only after we've done all those will we actually tie a leader onto a spindle, loop prepared fibers through, and begin park and draft spindling one at a time. This may not (probably won't) all happen the first week, but hopefully by the end of the third week I'll have seven new spinners to add to the fold, and three weeks of happy memories on which we can all build!