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!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Those Fingerless Mitts I Mentioned...

Those were truly a fun project - and one from which I learned a lot (again) about spinning for a specific purpose! But let's start at the beginning of the story. Picture me climbing into the passenger seat of a very high full-size van en route to do something undefined at that strange place where I earn the money I put into necessities like fiber and yarn.

My partner in staving off tedium threw a red blob in my general direction. "Hey, you knit, right? Can you make these? I go through about five pairs a winter cleaning out the barn."

Well, that's a challenge! What are these necessities for the horsey...good grief - these are just fingerless mitts!

"Why on earth do you go through so many?" I questioned.

"Because hay and pitchforks are tough on dime-store mitts," he replied. "These are crap!"

I took a closer look. While probably not literally dime-store mitts (anybody got a dime-store around these days?), they weren't what I would expect to see as working wear. Loosely-spun and -plied acrylic yarn, knit at a gauge that, while perfect for a sweater, isn't too good for something you're planning to wear while actually working. The palms were abraded by the pitchfork handle, the ribbing at wrist and fingers too short and also abraded, and the backs of the hands picked almost to pieces by the hay.

I cogitated for a couple of weeks. It is summer, so I had plenty of time. Every once in a while, my brain would throw out a question for my partner in the effort. "Does color matter?" "Put your hand down on this piece of paper and let me draw around it." I threw a couple of swatches (knit in the round from various handspun samples) in the right general direction and asked, "Is this OK, or is it too prickly?" We both withstood the teasing that came our way from our co-workers.

The result of this was a two-ply sport-weight yarn worsted-spun from about 2 ounces of gray Corriedale top purchased from somewhere or other several years ago that's been marinating in my stash. Bradford count on this was low for Corriedale - about 52 - so it was a good, sturdy yarn. I did try three-plying, by the way, but the mitts were more like armor (too stiff and too heavy for East Tennessee), so I dropped back to two-ply. Firmly spun and firmly plied. Final yarn is 16 wpi. Then I started swatching again, wanting a firm fabric that wasn't so stiff it wouldn't move with the hands. A final gauge of 6 sts and 8.5 rows per inch on size 2 needles worked out quite well.

These are simple, fingerless mitts. Patterns abound, and I won't post another one here. I did "modify" them to fit the needs of the wearer with longer cuffs (3.5 inches to slide under a barn jacket) and tighter fit (negative ease of about an inch) to keep them from sliding around on the pitchfork. The gauge was firm enough to keep hay from scratching through the mitts. I kept it simple despite an impulse to make a button-back mitten over the fingers.

I tossed them on my buddy's desk last week. He was totally delighted! But he's a Minnesota boy who appreciates warm, well-made knitwear. Otherwise, despite the intriguing nature of the challenge, I wouldn't have bothered. Just goes to show that a challenge (and appreciation) can come from the most unlikely places...

Monday, August 10, 2009

Teaching thinking knitters...

I'm having such fun right now! A new LYS has opened up right down the road from my home, and I'm happily teaching my first knitting class in almost a year. Socks are fun to teach, fun to learn, and such a wonderful summer project! I have five wonderful students, all at different stages of their knitting life, and they're providing both a challenge and a camaraderie that I've been missing recently. Work has just been interfering too much with my fiber life!

I'm a bit of a shock to these lovely knitters in several ways - hopefully a pleasant shock, but nonetheless a shock. I announced first that we wouldn't be using a pattern for their socks - they would have to create their own pattern. At least two of the students had taken the class specifically because it would include design elements, and the newest knitter is wonderfully courageous, so that's settled. Next was the announcement that I didn't care what knitting method they used; any system that gets a knitted fabric is fine with me.

We talked about fiber. My Fiber 101 lecture has been given here before, so I won't repeat. Some of these students have been knitting for decades, but strictly by pattern, and know surprisingly little about the raw stuff of yarn itself. One of my goals for this class is to teach them how to intelligently choose a fiber. Yes, this is a sock class - but this is basic information that all knitters should learn, and too many of them don't! Superwash has different characteristics than untreated wool, nylon and acrylic blends have yet other characteristics, and a good gauge swatch will tell you so much more than you think at first glance!

The next shock? Measuring their foot as an aid to assist in creating the sock design. The difference in six (with my own) individual feet was a surprise to everyone in this time of standardized sizes. Almost everyone will have a different cast-on number, some will need to decrease down the leg, others will need additional gusset decreases to fit properly...light bulbs started to pop, and I became almost giddy!

The final shock for this class? To look at their gauge swatch as a method of playing with different design elements. Swatching as play? Absolutely! It's the best place to try out the different ribbings you might want to use, see how those flow into the leg patterning you want, see how things change between the patterning and the stockinette you'll use on the bottom of the foot, check out if your stitch pattern will show up in the yarn...of course you're playing!

Many thanks to Sandy and Robin for opening Clinch River Yarn Company - a lovely haven for knitters in the East Tennessee area. Please visit their website at for directions, hours, class schedules, newsletters and updates. New yarns are arriving for fall, new classes are being formed, and a welcoming, peaceful fiber oasis is in the process of creation. Please stop by - they would love to meet you! My thanks to them for giving me an opportunity to do what I love most - teaching!

Wednesday, July 01, 2009


Many thanks to everyone who has continued to visit this blog, and leave me lovely comments about what they've learned or enjoyed.

What have I been up to, and why has it been so long since my last post? Well, things change during our lives, and sometimes they change in most unexpected ways. As you can see from the photo above, I've done a little travelling this last year. Italy was an education in many ways, and my time there was much too short. It was a work-related trip, and I did indeed work hard for the first portion of the trip. But the second portion was pure pleasure - a solitary trip across from Genoa to Venice via Trenitalia and four days in a beautiful city before another crossing delivered me back to Genoa for the flight home.

The trip grew out of a change in my daytime job. A promotion of sorts and much-changed responsibilities and duties have kept me learning steadily. I'm finally (16 months later) beginning to feel that I know more or less what's expected of me, and have a routine in place to meet those expectations. The change has been good for me, letting me stretch myself in unexpected directions, and changing my focus. Change is indeed a good thing at times in our lives... I have no time to be anything but grateful about our recently emptied nest!

From a fiber standpoint, I've been learning, and applying, some...not new lessons, but new applications of old lessons. When you have little time for spinning and knitting, you tend to make that time count. I've concentrated on project planning as the path to that. I don't have time or energy to expend on failed projects right now. That sounds a bit arrogant, I suppose, so let me explain. I've gone from 10-20 hours per week for knitting and/or spinning to less than 4. Failed projects are certainly learning experiences, but analysis is often required to extract that learning. Analysis takes time. Since I'd rather spend as much time playing with fiber as possible, I've concentrated on designing "successful" projects. How on earth do I guarantee (within limits, of course) that a project will be successful?


I think about what I want, first of all. I've been working on lots of sweaters this year, mostly for summer or three-season wear. I've actually only completed one, but I have three others at various stages from barely cast-on to finishing up sleeves. I'm quite pleased with all of them. Let's see if I can go back through the planning process so you can see what I'm talking about.

East Tennessee's central valley is a moderate climate. We have little in the way of snow, and temperatures range from a high of the upper-90's in July-August to the upper 30's and low 40's in January. Humidity levels are quite high during the summer, and compared to someplace like the desert southwest, fairly high year-round. That means we wear lots of cotton, some linen, rayon, and silk, and lace- to sport-weight wool. Even lace-weight alpaca is for the rare one or two days per year it actually stays in the teens and 20's - except for caps and gloves. But cotton is a year-round option. Wool-cotton mixtures are three-season wear.

My usual routine is work, gym and home, with occasional forays for an evening out for dinner, at a theatre performance or concert. Making my own gym clothes...doesn't appeal to me. Occasions for "dressy" clothes in my life are few - it's a relaxed part of the country where even high-end restaurants find jeans and a nice top, perhaps with the addition of a jacket, sufficient. My work clothes are, for electrical safety reasons, non-conductive natural fibers. Mostly that translates to khakis and a knit t-shirt during the summer and jeans with a t-shirt topped by a sweater or vest in the fall, winter and spring. The clothes I wear to work, with minor changes in accessories, will go pretty much anywhere I do.

Like most others, I live within a definite budget. While good yarn isn't completely outside my means, I do have to shop carefully. Some of the changes I talked about involve income changes linked to the current economic recession. While our overall income has dropped only a bit, any drop makes a difference. I still get sticker shock from paying as much for a week's worth of food for two people as I used to pay for a family of five. Which is a long-winded way of saying that I want value for my dollars. So I think about which yarns will give me the look and weight of fabric I want while still standing up to more than a single year's wear. And while I don't mind hand-washing, I must admit that I love machine-washable convenience for most of my everyday clothes.

Styles that will carry over multiple years are another part of the planning. I don't knit that quickly, so I look for well-fitted, timeless styles that flatter my body, in colors that suit me well. How do I know what colors and styles suit me well? Folks, I'm well into my fifties. By now, I've learned what colors work with my skin and what colors don't. Ditto styles - collars, silhouettes, lengths. If you haven't figured that out yet, schedule a shopping trip with a really good (and truthful) friend - or almost any female teenager. Try on a variety of styles and colors, asking for an opinion each time. You'll learn a lot in a hurry. Oh, did I mention you should leave your tender feelings behind on this expedition? Never ask for an opinion if you don't want to hear it...

By the time I'd worked my way through this process a handful of times with my daughter and/or mother, I had a pretty good idea what works on me. I have an hourglass shape that is short-waisted and heavy-breasted. Sounds great - but I'm only 5 feet tall. So standard natural waist shaping with ribbing works well on me; so does a high hip-length with close shaping at waist and bust. Princess lines are good on me, as are v- or crew necklines. I stay away from tunic-length tops unless I plan to wear them as a dress substitute; boat necks don't flatter me at all; and turtlenecks only work as a layering item. Even then, mock turtlenecks are better. Cowel necklines...don't work.

Waist shaping is easy, and can be incorporated not only on the "side" seams, but also at the back (center or 3-4 inches either side of the center), included in the stitch design (cables, ribbing) or however you can make it work. While I've tried vertical bust darts once, I didn't like the look with the other pattern elements in that design, and ripped it back out to go back to my usual short-row bust shaping. (I'll try it in another design, though.) Sleeves...I wear almost every style of fitted sleeve (short bell sleeves aren't good with a heavy bust), but fitting sleeveless styles so they don't gap can be a challenge. I usually meet it with a set of decreases between the high bust in front and lower shoulder blade in back, oriented on a tangent to the binding.

So now you have my personal "standard" styles, and some guidelines about the type of fiber I will find most wearable. So it's time to shop for either fiber or yarn.

I do like cotton, and I like to spin cotton. However, my previous knitting projects with my handspun cotton were only moderately successful. The yarns pilled and wore too fast to suit me, even when spun with a great deal of twist and plyed to balance. The cotton yarns I like to wear are soft, but with body enough to stand up to wear - in other words, multiple plies. I don't really have any desire at this time to spin 8-ply cotton yarns. That may change, but right now it doesn't appeal. There are plenty of commercially-spun possibilities available, and some of my favorite include cotton/silk and cotton/linen blends. I've also used cotton/modal and cotton/rayon blends with some success. Cotton is practical for my climate, offering year-round wear, and if lace, fingering or sport weight, moves well on my body. So cotton is almost always a component in yarns I choose.

I'm a spinner - I LOVE wool. It breathes, it moves, it cushions, it bounces...a wonderful fiber. But in this part of the country, it's at best mid-winter wear. Oh, you can get away with a fingering-weight wool vest from perhaps mid-November through mid-March (more likely mid-December through mid-February), but whatever you're wearing underneath had best be summer-weight! I already have a couple of sweaters that fit this bill, and a Fair-Isle vest on the needles...wool is out. I want something I can wear a lot.

I like knitted linen...the texture, the colors, and the drape always scream "summer" to me. And unlike woven linen, knitted fabrics don't wrinkle whenever you glance their way. It's only soft after considerable washing, though, and I promised myself after my last knitted linen project I'd never knit something big from it again - my hands hurt for months, both during and after I'd finished. Perhaps a blend of linen and cotton? there anyone who doesn't love the feel of silk fabric? Whether textured or smooth, knitted or woven, crunchy or soft, silk is the fiber I feel defines the word decadence. It's fairly easy-care, in lace or fingering weight you get a lot of knitting for your fiber buck, nothing else drapes like it, clings like it, moves like it. It's one of my favorite fibers to spin, especially from caps or handkerchief preps. Dyeing silk is pure pleasure. Silk is always on my list of possibilities. But designing with silk yarn takes careful work to make sure the cling and the stretch which sometimes comes along with wearing is controlled. I'll never forget the handspun silk t-shirt I knitted early in my knitting life. It hung straight from the bust, and the longer I wore it, the longer it became. A mid-hip length with a crew neckline was a knee-length scoop-necked dress after only 3-4 hours! But I've learned a lot since then, and silk is definitely a contender.

All right, I have some ideas about design, and I've narrowed my fiber choices some. Now comes the next big decision - purchase fiber and spin it, or buy yarn and get straight to the knitting?

I love spinning. The feel of my feet moving in a gentle rhythm with my hands, fiber slipping through and gathering on the's was these moments of peace that got me through raising three teenagers. Fiber is less expensive than yarn, which is always nice for the fiber/yarn budget. Time spent spinning is always pleasant, spinning the yarn myself lets me completely control the design process...time to explore some options. I'll start with the fiber stash.

Let's see...I have plenty of silk caps. I could dye either before or after spinning, and it would be fun to spin the yarn myself. But it will take a lot longer, meaning I'll not wear the top until at least next spring, and time spent spinning will definitely cut into my overall fiber time. What about silk yarn? Hit the internet and yarn catalogs. Ouch! Silk would definitely need to be spun from fiber already on hand. Final decision: it's a great idea for a project, and I'd love doing it, perhaps spinning during the winter or during our vacation in the fall. But for now, let's put a handspun silk sweater on the back burner.

That pretty much leaves cotton. While I can certainly spin cotton (and do!), I still have the drawbacks outlined above. It's a much less expensive yarn purchase, wearability is great, you can usually machine wash and frequently machine dry. Let's see what's out there...nothing online strikes my fancy. I'll wait. An impromptu day-trip led to a 'crawl' of yarn shops that aren't quite local, and... Oh, this is nice! A variegated "ocean"colorway in fingering-weight 8-ply cotton that's fairly soft, yet with enough body for ribbing and/or lace designs. Not too dear, since 100-gram skeins are about $18 each and I can do a short or cap-sleeve design with three skeins. Even better, I'm getting a definite "picture" of a sweater that would be wonderfully wearable on me.

Needless to say, I bought the skeins. No guilt at all, since my DH was along on this trip and absolutely pushed me into it (he loved the colors). Now for a swatch! The size 4 mm needles recommended on the skein band gave a terrible fabric - stitches too big and floppy, fabric sleezy, washing and blocking just made it worse, gauge for me was 4 sts/inch instead of the recommended 5.25-6. I ravelled it back out to save the yarn and cast on again - to a size 2.75 mm needle! Within a dozen rows, I knew I had to find a happy medium - the swatch was waaaaay too stiff! I moved up to a 3.25 mm needle, and found the right balance. A nice fabric, gauge 5.25 sts/inch, stitch definition in the pattern I wanted was lovely, with lace holes that were just right. Washing softened the hand, 'set' the stitches, and made the final decision easy.

The 'picture' I'd formed in my head wasn't complicated. A high-hip length top, with a modified horseshoe lace pattern at the bottom, and 2 purl stitches between lace repeats forming ribs up the fabric. Sleeveless, or cap sleeves? Cap sleeves, if there's enough yarn; if not, I can wear it as a top in the summer and a vest the rest of the year. Waist shaping, short-row bust shaping, and a slightly-scooped neckline. Neck finishing...probably pick up and knit a 'collar' of the lace, or just an i-cord edging. Let's see when I get there. A little basic math later, and I cast on and began knitting from the bottom in the round.

The knitting on this one is going quite well. I did tink back about a dozen rows when I decided that the vertical bust darts just wouldn't work within the ribbed patterning (yep, this was the one!) and that I'd be better served by my usual short-row bust shaping. I'm through that now, and almost ready to start the decreases between the bust and armholes. It fits beautifully (yes, I do consider time spent transferring a couple of hundred stitches to a ribbon, then trying on the garment in process, and slowly slipping all those stitches back to the needles time VERY well spent), the colors aren't pooling unpleasantly, and it just feels good!

Of course, I won't be wearing it too soon...I got a request for a pair of fingerless mitts from a friend who does a lot of barn work, and that sidetracked me into designing a wool yarn for those, and now I'm knitting. I don't usually knit for someone outside the family (and not all of them!), but this particular friend both knows and appreciates the effort.

So now you have it - what I've been doing, and perhaps a few things to think about next time you start a new project. Hopefully I'll get back to posting on a fairly regular basis now... Till next time!