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!