Friday, November 02, 2007

Dribs and Drabs

Dribs and Drabs

Work is interfering with my fiber life to an incredible degree right now, and I don’t like it! However, work is necessary to pay the everyday bills as well as underwrite the fiber things, so I can’t complain too much.

I have made two interesting fiber-related trips in recent months. First, there was The Seattle-Tacoma-Olympia-Silverdale Washington area over Memorial Day week. The primary reason for the visit was to see the two older children. A secondary reason was to have a ‘family’ vacation – Mom and Dad were going out to see the older children and their spouses. But another secondary reason was to find some of the fiber-related things in the area that I’d missed on my trip in January!

We had a wonderful time! We visited Mt. Ranier in a snowstorm, saw our first black-sand beach, and wandered the Peninsula during various times that week. Sage Book Store in Shelton (beginning spinner Sage herself!) showed us the way to Fancy Image Yarns, where I bought the makings for a fall sweater. Allyn Yarn Shop yielded a spindle and some lovely hand-dyed merino-silk roving.

Poulsbo was beautiful, and if you ever get the chance to see this quaint Norwegian-village transplant, you should grab it. A lovely way to spend a morning or afternoon of shopping or just browsing, including at least one yarn shop – Wild & Wooly ( on Front Street!

Next was a business trip to Albuquerque (for the Particle Accelerator Conference 2007). I found Village Wools ( on my last day in town and stocked up on some lovely bamboo roving, various wools, including a lovely purple fine-wool, and a locally-made drop spindle from mesquite wood! I can’t believe how heavy it is – about three times the weight of most of my spindles!

Jut off the wheel and onto the needles is some lace-weight merino-clun forest cross dyed in rainbow pastels plied with another single of natural kid mohair. This was spun with a shawl in mind. I’ve started the Shetland Garden shawl and am currently at the beginning of chart F of that pattern.

Just off the wheel and needles is some slightly less than fingering-weight in the same merino-clun forest cross that was made into a baby sweater for a brand-new baby girl among my work friends. I usually do an EZ baby sweater, but this time Sharon Miller’s lace-trimmed garter-stitch baby sweater in her Heirloom Lace book seduced me. I enjoyed the knitting – garter stitch is soothing – but kept changing my mind about the edging. The one in the book didn’t thrill me, and I decided to try to find something that wasn’t so directional – starting at the center neck back, knitting around to the center back, then going back and picking up stitches just to do the whole thing over and graft things together doesn’t sound like fun to me. But I bit the bullet and did it anyway, and now I’m glad I did – the finished sweater is nice!

Also on the needles is a vest for a Christmas gift from some commercial yarn. Lovely blue color, and a simple pattern – Mona Schmidt’s Tweedy Vest pattern from knittingdaily at Interweave Press. Changed the yarn, of course, which changed the gauge and needle size, so the initial set-up was a challenge, but now the pattern is modified and the knitting is going quickly.

Otherwise, I’ve been working – on actual paying work, as opposed to fun stuff! One new thing that has proved a distraction from fiber fun – a new plucked psaltery - is taking up some time. I’ve also decided to get the house organized, and that’s turning into a major endeavor. It’s amazing what five people can accumulate in 20 years, especially if all of them are pack rats! But I still knit a bit most days, and a half-hour here and there does add up to finished projects! I haven't forgotten my teaching promise when I started this blog, either - but life does sometimes interfere! I'll get back to more explorations of spinning and knitting design soon!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Fiber for Knitters

I received an email the other day from a local knitting group asking me to talk to a group of knitters about spinning. They didn't really want a spinning demonstration (it couldn't be that easy!), but rather a discussion of what knitters need to know about fibers to help them make more successful projects.

So I started looking at what I call “Fibers 101,” a course that I’ve added to this blog in the past (see and, with a view to revising that material for these knitters. I didn’t find much that needed to be changed.

So I went off to do my presentation, said my piece, handed out copies of the material to the 20 or so attendees, and invited questions. That’s when the true learning experience of the day took place - for me!

I’ve commented in the past that many young folk don’t get any sort of fiber education. First, let’s define “young” as less than 40 years of age. To my mind, anyone over 40 had a pool of cultural knowledge on which to draw that included some basic fiber knowledge of the “cotton comes from a plant and wool from an animal” sort. At least, I thought they did! But obviously we’ve been an industrial, non-agricultural society for longer than I believed.

The knitters in this particular group ranged in age from 14 to over 70, but most of them were between 25 and 50. So the large number of questions regarding the harvesting of various animal fibers came as something of a surprise. I did NOT expect the old, “Do you have to kill the sheep to harvest wool?” chestnut from this group – although I got it. Also unexpected were questions on which animal produces polymid (???) and why cotton, flax and silk fibers were all shorter than any animal fibers (again, ???).

Needless to say, I backed up. Obviously, I had thrown a lot of information at these folks quickly, and some of it just hadn’t sunk in. I explained that animals may be killed to harvest fiber, but usually aren’t, because top-notch fiber produced year after year pays for the cost of keeping that animal alive and in good health. I again went over the various types of manmade fibers, including polymid, and talked about the relative lengths of cotton, flax and silk fibers. And assumed we were finished with those sorts of questions.

I was ready to move on to why you choose woolen-spun fibers for baby sweaters and fuzzy shawls and felted mittens, and worsted-spun ones for gloves and outerwear sweaters and soft, fine wools, and how to look at yarn labels to find out this sort of information. I had quite a few samples of current yarn labels to help. I also wanted to expound on the affordability of fibers versus yarns, and the satisfaction you get from doing a project from the fuzz to the finished object –adding to the ranks of new spinners is always fun.

But the next questions were about the high price of natural fiber yarn, and why acrylics weren’t considered to be superior to any natural fibers. I mentally threw up my hands at this point, consigning all my carefully-prepared yarn labels and handspun natural fiber and yarn samples to the storage bin in which they normally live. I then spoke passionately about the feel, breathability, insulating properties and environmental friendliness of natural fibers; the ease of finding a perfect natural fiber for any project and the satisfaction of using natural fibers. I tried to explain a bit of the cost factor as a return on the investments in land, equipment, livestock, feed and health care needed to produce those fibers. I’m not sure anyone bought the message.

I suppose what I’m asking is whether I’m completely outmoded in my liking for natural fibers? Are most knitters these days primarily interested in manufactured fibers, or was that strictly this particular group of relatively-new knitters? And is there a correlation between the length of time you’ve been knitting and your fiber preferences? I’d like to have some feedback on this, gentle fiberpeople, before my next “Fiber 101” presentation. Which is set up for early June…to a local group of museum curators…who are probably going to be primarily interested in the pre-polyester era… Do I sound as confused as I am at this particular moment in time?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Playing Catch-Up!

“Some days you get the bear, some days the bear gets you…” is one of my husband’s favorite remarks. Lately it’s been apt for me, particularly since I feel that the bear has been winning most of the time!

I’m oh-so-slowly spinning up 5 ounces of merino-clun forest rainbow space-dyed roving from a dye-in last fall. Progress is being measured in yards, rather than my usual multiple ounces. I’m still deciding whether to Navaho-ply the resulting singles or two-ply them with a black merino or more of the undyed merino-clun forest (which would also have to be spun). And I’m knitting three projects from commercial yarn, all of which are also going at a pace a snail could beat easily.

The knitting projects are:

A hat, scarf and glove set for my husband from Plymouth Boku wool and silk blend in their Color 11. He chose the color himself, by the way, and I’ve been tempted to take the yarn away from him – the color is beautiful! The hat and scarf are done, the first glove is done, and I’m at the point of starting the gusset increases on the second glove. The resulting FO’s look lovely, and wash up into soft, wonderfully-wearable garments, but I don’t care for the feel of the yarn while knitting it. It seems very rough, and I have had to force myself to work on these very necessary items. I’m not sure if it’s just me, or the yarn itself – after washing and blocking everything feels soft and lovely!

A “Shoulder Shawl” lace shawl from Victorian Lace Today from KnitPicks Elegance alpaca-silk blend yarn in Wild Rose. The shawl is turning out slightly heavier than I expected, but looks beautiful, and the drape is perfect. I started the edging as shown in the book, but didn’t proceed with it. The joinings were utterly counter-intuitive and I didn’t care for the garter-stitch lace edging on the stockinette-stitch ground in the least. I thought I’d be smart and finish it off with simple garter-stitch rounds picked up from the edges – now I need to rip out and come up with a better idea, since it binds terribly. Perhaps a row of purl between each “pattern” row of the edging given would fill the bill. Or I may simply choose another edging, either from that book or from another.

A summer short-sleeved sweater from a cotton-silk-nylon blend – Classic Elite’s Classic Silk - in Rhubarb. Lovely, soft fabric with a beautiful drape on size 4 KnitPicks circular needles. This one is also going slowly, although not because I don’t like working on it. I injured my shoulder recently by working long-term at a work-station that was configured for someone else, and the recovery is hindering my knitting, spinning, blogging and almost everything else!

Monday, January 29, 2007

Winter Knitting - Gansey Workshop!

Winter Knitting – Gansey Workshop!

My winter (post-Christmas) knitting has been perhaps a bit unusual for me. Socks, socks and more socks, along with a sweater or two! It's been COLD in East Tennessee much of the last month - I mean the kind of cold that takes me back 40 years to my childhood.

On the bright side, this should kill off some of the beasties and might mean that you can actually stand to be outside without insect repellent on occasion this summer. On the down side, most of my warm hand-knit socks hadn’t survived last winter’s wear all that well, being of sock-weight wool and having been worn way too often in steel-toed shoes. So when those first few really cold days hit post-Christmas, I felt it. And going out to Washington State didn’t help; the coast around Seattle is quite cold this time of year, with snow on the ground most days and the wind off the water biting.

I did get to visit a couple of yarn/fiber shops while on the peninsula at Poulsbo – Amanda’s Art Yarns and Fibers for some yarn and a bit of fiber, and Wild & Wooly. Both stores were fun, and I immediately started some socks from the lovely worsted-weight hand-painted mohair/wool yarn I bought at W&W. Lovely, muted colors of green, pink, taupe and orchid, much like the area itself this time of year. Amanda’s was a bit of a disappointment, as there wasn’t as much in the way of fiber as I had hoped and no spindles to be found anywhere – but any day you spend several hours poking around a small, waterfront town with more than one fiber shop is a good one!

I returned home and to work just after the New Year, plunging into total insanity at work. In addition, something (the stress?) caught up with me and I had the most incredibly bad month – lots of pain and one cold after another culminating in a massive respiratory infection. I have basically gone to work and then come home and piled up under a blanket for most of January!

On the up side, I’ve been playing around with Liz Lovick’s Gansey Workshop on the EZasPi Yahoo group. Why is a group dedicated to EZ’s Pi shawl in all its incarnations doing a Gansey workshop? Because it sounded like fun and it’s an absolute shame not to take advantage of a group member of Liz’s stature! I love this group – I’m always learning new things from them. The workshop sounded like such fun, and Liz has a wonderful knack for teaching. So I bought several (13 each) skeins of red and cranberry Wool of the Andes from KnitPicks along with several of the new Options needles (yes, I know I don’t like metal needles – more on this anon) and started practicing gansey patterns.

The first project was a pincushion. No big deal, no problem – it was done in a couple of hours and blocking on the ironing board. Sewing took just a couple of minutes, and now it happily holds my blocking pins close at hand.

Liz, being her usual wonderful self, posted several possibilities as second projects. Cushion covers looked nice, but I just made a cushion cover for my couch, using up most of my stash of naturally-colored handspun leftovers in the process, and didn’t want to make another right now (repainting is on the list of spring projects in my household). The socks looked quite intriguing, and I already had the yarn for the sweater plus some extra, and that dearth of warm socks – a matching pair of socks was just the ticket!

Liz’s instructions were for sock-weight yarn, calling for 64 or 72 stitches at a gauge of 8 stitches per inch. On size 1 needles the worsted-weight WOTA I chose had a gauge of 6 stitches per inch. 64 stitches would have fit my DH, perhaps, but not me! So I went to work to modify the pattern. It’s always easy to change modular patterns – just shuffle the modifications between the separator stitches. On this pattern, there were three main elements – a 7-stitch diamond motif at the center front leg, flanked on either side by a double-line of 7-stitch zig-zags. Between each element (the diamonds and zig-zags) were three lines of basic K1P1 ribbing. All I did was remove the 7-stitch zig-zag elements from the back, adding an extra purl stitch to take up the 2 extra stitches. Voila! A 48-stitch repeat with the central diamond motif at the center front and center back. And the resulting socks look rather spiffy, if I do say so myself. The extra purl stitch on each side only shows up if you get your nose down and look for it, and nobody is going to get that close to my socks!

Another thing that this pattern did was push me out of my usual top-down comfort zone. The pattern was written for toe-up with a short-row heel, and it had been quite a while since I’d done that. All in all, I enjoyed the experience and like the fit all right. But my current pair, cast on just last night, is again top-down in sock-weight yarn. I wanted a mindless sort of project for between-times, and I can do these in my sleep!

Now that I’ve got my feet wet, so to speak, I’m considering the gansey itself. Being, as I’ve stated before, vertically-challenged and fluffy, horizontal bands don’t appeal to me. But vertical bands with moss- or seed-stitch between motifs has definite possibilities. I love the idea of various-sized bands of diamond shapes, and perhaps some very narrow cables in one or two places. I’m also considering knitting this in the round and then steeking it into a cardigan. Despite our current cold spell, I know I’ll get severely limited wear from a pull-over here, but can see myself wearing a cardigan quite a bit.

Other than socks, I’m plugging away on my EZ Fair Isle-yoked sweater. I finished up the boring stockinette stuff this weekend, have joined the sleeves to the body, and have only one more row to go before starting the colorwork. In a fingering-weight yarn at 6 stitches per inch, I’m currently dealing with 420 stitches in a single round, so the going is a bit slower than I like. And now that I’ve typed that out, I’m beginning to wonder about the math. I’ll definitely put the whole thing on a ribbon and try it on before I get any further along…

Oh, yes, the Options needles. I know I've said my piece about metal needles before, and I still don't think they're a good idea for beginning knitters. But for experienced knitters (and I now consider myself experienced), they can be helpful. The same slide that drives a beginner crazy helps a veteran fly along. And I've been pretty much converted to one or two socks on a single long circular needle - it makes them so portable! So the two things together have helped me see a use for metal needles. However, I still use my beloved bamboo and wood needles for most of my knitting, especially lace. I've modified the points on most of them so that they're nice and sharp, perfect for lace stitches. Curiosity was involved in the Options purchase - everyone has been raving about the points on these needles, and I thought it was worth a try. So far I've been happy enough - the nice sharp points and cords with no real memory are nice to have around!