Thursday, May 29, 2008

Making Yarn While the Sun Shines

There's nothing like a warm, sunny day to make me want to pile a heap of wool in my lap and treadle away! I have a lovely little spot out on the patio with cushy chairs and a big market umbrella to keep the sun out of my eyes. Add a little music and away I go.

My hard work chasing the creepy-crawlies off the crab apple tree payed off this week with a lovely bloom on the tree, which in turn has led to an increase in bee traffic through the yard. This, combined with a great deal of pondering upon the topic of what I will be teaching at Olds in less than a month (!!), led to this yarn on Tuesday...

...Beez! The yarn is 60 yards of sportweight, 16 wpi or so, with, well, bees. The bees were made by inserting patches of yellow into one singles, then plying as a cloud or knot yarn whenever I came up to one of those patches. The whole exercise amused me greatly, and I'm pretty happy with the yarn, though I tend to find most novelty yarns fairly useless for knitting. Still, it gave me lots of pretty pictures...
...and added to the bee population in the crab apple tree! And I foresee a hilarious hat in my future.

I've also gotten the self-striping yarn that I was working on. I started out by laying out merino top in a color pattern...
...then spun it to be a sock-weight three-ply. I Navajo plied the yarn to keep the colors distinct and got a pretty, pretty yarn!

It came out at about 260 yards at 20 wpi, soft but firm enough to hold up. My favorite kind of yarn.
I am thinking that, even though it would make great socks, the colors span 18-20 yards and would look odd in a sock. Some sort of scarf would probably be a better option for this yarn, or even a baby sweater.

This is actually the first of a series of yarns in the same colorway. The plan is to make four or five yarns, all the same grist but with different color distributions and plying techniques to demonstrate the range of color patterns that can be achieved simply by manipulating dyed tops and rovings.

On other fronts, the knitting continues on the grey Phoenix sweater and the ever-present sock. Oh, and there is also a full bobbin of cotton on one wheel, waiting patiently for it's two friends to join it in a nice little sportweight three-ply for a summer top--that will probably be finished by October! I really need to fatten up my spinning! Back to that instant gratification thing again! (Pluckyfluff has an amusing take on the same topic, from the point of view of a chunky spinner spinning fine!)

I also bit the bullet and ordered materials for the Master Spinner course in Olds. I seriously think it is time for Olds College to review the material fees, because supplies for 7 people for 5 days set me back $350 yesterday, and that is only half the list! I don't think $45 per person will repay the $600 or so that I will eventually spend, especially when my materials fees for a 2 day workshop average around $25-30. Of course, I may get to the end of the course and find myself with 3/4 if the stuff I bought left over, but I'd rather have that than run out halfway through. I guess we will find out in July!

Aaaaand, I'm going to be at the Knights of the Northern Realm's Tournament in Edmonton on July 5 demonstrating spindling! I will have beginner spindle kits for sale, and you can get a free spindling lesson if you drop on by and say hello!

The noisy, stinky lawn crew has moved on, and my patio beckons. Time to make yarn while the sun shines!

Friday, May 23, 2008


Guess what I spent my morning doing?

Tent caterpillars is icky.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


I've knitted up a pair of socks on the new Noro Kureyon sock yarn, and I'm just not sure how I feel about that. I mean, who thought that a thick and thin single sock yarn was a good idea in the first place? Yeah, the colors are fabulous, but the yarn itself did not rock my socks.

My biggest beef: I don't think these socks are going to wear very well. Even as I was knitting, some of the thick parts were pilling and splitting. I shudder to think what will happen when I put shoes over them. And the thin parts look perilously thin to me...

...because, if you look closely at the pink toe, you can see my toenail polish shining through the flimsy knit. I fear there is a hole in my very near future.

And then I had color problems. I prefer the colors in my self-striping socks to more or less align on both socks, but I blew it big time on these puppies. Why? Because there was a big-ass knot in the middle of the ball that interrupted the color path about 1/3 of the way in and forced me to make the choice between aligned colors on the cuff and an awkward join at the arch or just random color. I chose the latter, then realized about half-way through that the color path and also been reversed at the knot, so I now actually have two perfectly reversed color paths on the two socks. WHAT?

So why, you ask, did I buy this yarn and knit these socks? Frankly, because I hoped to be proven wrong. Only time will tell...

It has been drawn to my attention recently that I am a stickler. Or perhaps a purist. Or just a plain yarn snob. Or maybe even a cranky old broad.

Whatever I am, I believe that a yarn should be spun well from a well-prepared fibre source. I believe that slubs and thin spots weaken the integrity and structure of the yarn and the subsequent garment, and I work hard to eliminate these faults from my spinning. I believe that a yarn should be firmly spun and slightly overplied if it is going to be used for knitting, because knitting, by virtue of the action of looping yarn over a needle, will undo ply twist. I am all about the structure and durability of the cloth. I do not want to spend days or months creating a piece that will skew in its first washing, or worse yet, pill and wear away.

I know that there is a legion of spinners and knitters who disagree with me. I see it all the time. People love cushy, fuzzy, soft-spun yarns that feel like a hug when they knit with them. I have been in any number of workshops where the emphasis on a "balanced yarn" straight of the wheel was almost oppressive ("Oh my God! Her yarn twisted! Her knitting will skew!!! Burn the Witch!"). I see commercially spun and custom handspun yarns that make me cringe being sold for exorbitant amounts of money. In some cases, it appears to me that mills are actually charging more for what I would consider inferior yarns.

Of course, selling yarns that will disintegrate after a wear and a wash can be profitable. The knitter will have to make a replacement garment, and he/she will need more yarn.

I also tend to knit quite firmly, which is beginning to look like a rarity, as well. I listened to a discussion last week about the importance of keeping your knitting loose so that your garment would have give and drape. Say what? I am still working to understand that reasoning. The knitted stitch has give by virtue of its construction, and drape comes from the fibre being properly spun. And there is such a thing as too much give and drape! It has been my observation that many loosely knitted items tend to grow and bag rather quickly, then the discussion becomes whether or not to felt it to make it fit better. (And don't get me started on that one!)

And then there is the argument that loose knitting is better for your hands--you won't get arthritis if you knit loosely. Huh? Yup, tight knitting leads to pain and suffering. Knit loose, knit longer. Okayyyyy.....

There is a big difference between knitting so tightly that you hurt yourself and knitting firmly. I am tired of being advised that I knit too tightly. I knit a firm cloth, one that will stand up to washing and wearing. Thank you for the advice, but my hands are just fine, thanks.

Now I realize that knitting is a hobby, a source of relaxation and happiness for most people who practice it. But how would you feel if a contractor took the same approach to building your house--"Let's just leave some space between the walls and windows so things can settle." or "It'll shrink once you live in it and those crooked walls will fix themselves." for example. We want our homes and vehicles to be well-constructed with good-quality materials, so why should we settle for less in our hobby crafting?

Keep your stitches relaxed. Keep your hands relaxed. Let your yarns relax after they have been plied. Relax, but understand the principles of good construction.

Lest I be taken for a Knitting Nazi, I would like to say that everyone is entitled to spin, knit, weave, cook, or tap dance in the manner that makes them happy. I do understand having a great enthusiasm for what you are doing, and I do understand the desire to share your experiences with others who share your craft. I'm just concerned by the perpetuation of bad advice and poorly designed yarns that seems to be becoming the hallmark of the ever-growing popularity of my craft. Not everything you read on Ravelry or on someone's blog (present company excepted, of course!) is gospel.

So share your experiences, but be open to other ideas as well. Explain why you think a thing works for you, and accept that there may be a differing point of view. Remember that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and never stop learning.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

So That's Where the Time Went!

No doubt you have been wondering where I went this time. Wellll, the honest truth is that I have not blogged because I thought I had nothing to blog about. And yet, this morning, as I pondered about where the last two weeks had gone and why I had been so busy and nothing had gotten accomplished, I realized that I had dozens of things to blog about. Well, okay, five or six.

Number one: I have started a new sweater, the Phoenix arising from the ashes of the DAAGBF Cardie. Yep, your basic four-piece square sweater in a pretty swell cable and rib pattern. I confess that I have not done a lot of cable knitting in the last 5 or 6 years and that I entered into this with misgivings, but, truth be told, I'm loving it a lot more than that cardie. And 12 inches in, I have only had to tink out half a row to recover a dropped stitch. Not a single wee froggie in sight (touch wood!).

I would love to make it a long tunic, but I suspect I shall have to stop at about hip-length due to yarn constraints. Still, it's great fun knitting and I am being veerry cautious about the measuring and the counting. This time I'm gonna get it right!

Number two: I have also been spinning up a storm. Well, okay, maybe a rainshower. I have been working on color-blending samples for my upcoming color workshop, and I spent an afternoon indulging in this little yarn...

...blended from Ashford's Merino top in "Bean Sprout" and "Cheesecake" and Louet's Corriedale top in "Fuschia". It's a rather subtle colorway, but I really like it. It's also unusually chunky for my spinning, which was deliberate. There are about 60g of fibre in about 50 yards of woolen yarn--super soft and cushy. I would have made more, but I ran out of "Bean Sprout". still, there's enough for a nice little hat there.

Number three: Meanwhile, over on the Kromski, I was spinning lace.

Ashford's Corriedale top (?) in "Purple", 210 yards, 47 grams. Way more than I needed to spin for a project I have in mind and disappointingly scratchy, but really nice to look at.

Number four: No pictures of this project, but I have also taken on the role of 2009 Fibre Arts Program Coordinator for Olds College's Fibre Week. Basically, this means I am on the prowl for interesting workshops and workshop leaders for Fibre Week next year. Lots of computer time. (If you have any ideas or suggestions, drop me a line!)

Number five: I have also been working on setting up a Master Spinner Off-Campus Level 1 class up here in Fort McMurray. There is enough interest to pursue the idea, with about 10-12 people ready to give it a whirl (whorl?), but the finding of a space that is not cost-prohibitive and/or consistently available has led to some frustrations and some interesting new contacts. I have reached a point where I actually have two workable options and I am just waiting for a few details to be hashed out before I make the final decision. Of course, I will be teaching, which will lead to a whole other panic once the class is confirmed. Which leads to...

Number six: I was hired yesterday to teach a second Level 3 class at Fibre Week this year!!!! Wee-hoo! The College decided to split the class because they had more than the maximum enrollment and Level 3 is a tough level. Fortunately for me, the brilliant Roberta Murray is the other instructor, and since she wrote the module, she knows the level inside and out. Still, I had better get myself up to speed on a few things that I haven't thought about lately (MATH!).

Whoo! So I guess things have happened in the last couple of weeks. And, of course, this is not including the whirlwind visit of the lovely and talented Miss Lexi, SOYA gatherings, yoga classes, the beginning of soccer season, the ever-present sock project, or the advent of an actual spring and all the garden work that portends. At least now I know why I'm so busy!