Saturday, March 28, 2015

Lucy, Knit Repair, and Re-Mastering a Technique

I’d like to share three vignettes today.


Every Spring since 2008, I have purchased raw fleeces from Marie Glaesseman. She and her husband have a small flock of mixed breed sheep. They live near Duluth. They care for their animals. The fleeces are sheared well. Then they are skirted well. The result is beautiful, healthy, fun-to-work-with wool.

Every Spring since 2008, I have purchased Lucy’s fleece. Lucy is a mix of Romney, Corriedale, and Border Leicester: a truly lovely medium grey fleece with wavy, long locks . But Lucy is no more. Marie informed me that Lucy died this winter. I am sad. I have spun and knitted a lot of Lucy’s wool. I have shared Lucy’s wool in many workshops. I have just a bit of last year’s wool left. I will make something special with it. For myself.

Knit Repair

My friend, Sylvia VM, recently asked me to get her out of a knitting jam. She’s working on a knit-in-the-round sweater with an intriguing cable pattern going up the front and back. Somehow, 8 stitches dropped off the needle. Those stitches unraveled about 6-8 rows. She wanted me to fix it. I said sure. I started messing with it and then started getting a headache. Some of the dropped stitches had unraveled just a couple rows, while others unraveled 8 rows. There were a couple of moving 3-stitch cables. Gah!

I very quickly suggested that she just rip out the sweater 8 rounds and re-knit. Now, this would not have been a problem for me. I’m a pretty fast knitter, and ripping out is not the psychological trauma for me that is for some. Sylvia was appalled. She pointed out that she’d added the sleeves, and that each round was now over 300 stitches. OK, no ripping.

I’m not sure what exactly happened next. Sylvia said something that woke up my brain. It instantly became clear to me that all I had to do was unravel all 8 stitches all the way down to the 8th round. Then I simply re-knit each horizontal strand, following the cable pattern, starting with the bottom most strand. It took less than 5 minutes to fix the problem.

And then it occurred to me that I could use a similar approach to mending a hole in an Aran cabled sweater that has been sitting in my To-Do pile for way too long. I will make the hole bigger, take some spare yarn, and knit the first row with one strand of yarn, leaving long ends on both left and right for weaving in ends. Cut the yarn. Knit the second row with a second strand. And so forth. Of course, this is currently a mental exercise. We’ll see if theory and reality agree.

Re-Mastering a Technique

I’m working on a couple articles for Spin-Off magazine for their Fall 2015 issue. One article is a how-to about a couple of gently textured yarns. These yarns are spun from regular Z-spun singles. The plying causes the texture.

I’ve been making these yarns for years. And I’ve taught these techniques in many workshops. And I use them in my knit designs. I thought I’d just sit down and spin a few new samples of the yarns.

For some reason, I could not make one of them work (I’m being vague on purpose). I ended up spinning and plying FIVE crappy skeins of yarn. Five! I tried changing all sorts of things: the thickness of the singles, the amount of twist in singles, the wheel I used for the singles as well as for the plying. I re-read my old notes. I looked at my previous samples and knitted items. Why was I able to make this yarn then but not now?

I am happy to report that I had a breakthrough and figured it out. The plying required a strong take-up tension, but I was going overboard. When I reduced the take-up tension a very small amount, all was right with the world. And this yarn. Thank goodness!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Out of Hibernation

This winter has been cold. Really, really cold. I love winter. I love snow. But as my friend, Sylvia, says, the cold has been “inconvenient”. So, I’ve holed up at home more than I normally would. I felt a bit frozen, figuratively speaking. But now is seems that Spring may actually arrive. It's time to wake up.

While it was so cold, I got a good amount of work done, but I wasn’t blogging. I am thrilled that I’m getting more teaching and writing work. Assuming this keeps up, I suspect I won’t be able to blog as often as I’d like.

Things are happening and I want to share. For one thing, I had another article published in Spin-Off (Spring 2015): “Rug Hooking With Stash. Something Old, Something New.” I blogged last November about this project. Here’s a picture of the rug. I took this one. I must say that Spin-Off did a much better job with the photography.


I’ve got more writing for Spin-Off to do. That’s a good thing. More on that later.

I do want to mention some upcoming fiber events. Yes, I’m teaching at these events. But so are many other wonderful fiber arts instructors. If you’ve got an urge to travel for a fiber fix, try out one of these:

Interlochen College of Creative Arts is sponsoring a number of Spring and Summer fiber workshops as part of their Adult Arts Programs. I’m teaching spinning in May and August, but there are also other workshops in knitting, weaving, felting, and dyeing. And, yes, there are classes in many other art forms. Check it out!

Spring Fiber Fling is a weekend event at a charming church camp in Pickford, Michigan. That’s in the Upper Peninsula. The event is held the weekend after Mother’s Day, May 15-17. You can find a pdf of the brochure on the Facebook page of the Country Spinners & Bridge Shuttlers Guild  I’m teaching two half-day workshops: “The Surprising Yarn-Over” and “Ply This Way, Ply That Way”.

Later in May, I travel to Burlington, Ontario to be part of “Panoply”, the Ontario Handweavers & Spinners Conference. This event holds two “firsts” for me: my first teaching gig outside the USA, and my first time as a keynote speaker. Oh, and I’m teaching a new workshop: “Spinning Wools of North America”.

June 5-7, I’ll be teaching at the Michigan League of Handweavers Summer Conference  “Spinning With Silk Hankies” and “Spinning and Knitting Goat Fibers”. While I’m there, I may well take the opportunity to take a class from the wonderful Kate Larson.

In July, I travel to Pennsylvania for the Mid Atlantic Fiber Association 2015 Conference. I’m teaching “Playing With Plying”. I’ve taught at MAFA a couple times and have enjoyed it. The line up of instructors this year is impressive. I’d be tempted to attend this event to take classes if I weren’t scheduled to teach!

August is the month for the Michigan Fiber Festival. I’m scheduled to teach “Spinning & Knitting Energized Singles”, “Beginning Spinning on the Wheel”, “Mechanics of Your Wheel”, and “Variations on Short Draw.” Registration is not open yet, but will be soon.

And September is the month for the Wisconsin Sheep & Wool Festival. I’m breathlessly waiting to hear what workshops of mine they’ve chosen.

In October, I travel to Chautauqua, New York for my first time at the Eastern Great Lakes Fiber Conference. I’m teaching “Beginning Spinning on the Wheel” and “Spinning With Commercial Yarns”. Hey, any festival with “Great Lakes” in the title has got to be awesome. Right?

So, you see I’m busy. I’ll do my best to avoid letting my blog languish.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Simple Series of Swatches

In January 2013, I drove up to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan (The “Soo”) to teach a spinning workshop and a knitting workshop.

And next weekend I get to make this trip again. The Country Spinners & Bridge Shuttlers Guild is hosting me. Classes will be held at Gloria’s Happy Hooker.

On Saturday, I’m teaching Spinning Super Stretchy Wools. I love love LOVE stretchy wools. And I love teaching this workshop.

On Sunday, I’m teaching a new workshop, Matching Yarn to Project & Project to Yarn. Here is the workshop description:

Which yarn should I buy for this sweater (shawl, socks, hat, afghan)? What would be a good knitting project for the yarn I just bought? Which yarn would be a good substitute for the yarn recommended in this pattern? We will address these questions as well as details about yarn properties (fiber content, yarn structure, softness, elasticity, strength, smoothness, sheen, drape, durability, wrinkle), how to read yarn labels, selection of stitch pattern and project structure, gauge, needle selection, and care/cleaning of your knitted projects. All this information will help you find the most suitable yarns for making the most suitable projects.

For one of the workshops I taught on my previous trip to The Soo, I went swatch crazy. I ended up knitting 53 swatches just for that workshop. It was a wonderful experience. I got all kinds of new ideas. I came to appreciate some stitch patterns that I’d previously overlooked. These 53 swatches sparked intense fiber creativity that continues to influence my knit designs.

And it’s happened again. To prepare for next weekend’s knitting workshop, I started knitting swatches. Oh, what fun! What bliss!

For the first series of swatches, I used three skeins of Cascade 220. This is a basic worsted weight wool yarn. I wanted to knit swatches to demonstrate the effect that needle size has on knitted fabrics. So, I knitted a bunch of swatches in garter stitch (knit every row).

All swatches were 30 stitches wide and 59 rows high, not counting cast on and bind off.

I ended up knitting 12 swatches, each on different size needles (all Addi Turbo): US 2 (2.75mm), US 3 (3.25mm), US 4 (3.50mm), US 5 (3.75mm), US 6 (4.00mm), US 7 (4.50mm), US 8 (5.00mm), US 9 (5.50mm), US 10 (6.00mm), US 10 ½ (6.50mm), US 11 (8.00mm), and US 15 (10.00mm).

This may sound like a monotonous task, but I found it intellectually stimulating. Of course I am well aware that needle size influences stitch and row gauge. But the actual knitting made many other things clear to me. There were changes in fabric elasticity, fabric drape, and stitch-to-row ratio. I could see potential design value in each and every swatch.

I encourage you to knit a similar series of swatches. Even if you are a longtime, highly skilled knitter, I think you will learn something new in the knitting of such a simple series of swatches.

I knitted other swatches too. I ended up knitting 21 swatches for next weekend. I am so excited to share them in the workshop.

And I’m so excited to be travelling north in January.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

2014 in Review

Ok. I just re-read my New Year’s Resolutions for last year . Some I kept, some I didn’t; just exactly like every To-Do list I’ve ever made.

Despite not living up to all the items on the list, I feel pretty good about 2014.

I did get several articles published:
“Spin It! Mastering Mawata/Spinning Silk Hankies” (2014) PLY Magazine, Issue 4, Spring 2014, pp54-57.
“Spin It! Best of Both Worlds Fingerless Mitts” (2014) PLY Magazine, Issue 4, Spring 2014, p58.
“Knit It! Best of Both Worlds Fingerless Mitts” (2014) PLY Magazine, Issue 4, Spring 2014, pp59-61.

“Quick on the Uptake” (2014) Spin-Off, Volume XXXIX, Fall 2014, pp56-59.
“Wool into Stone Afghan” (2015) Spin-Off, Volume XXXIX, Winter 2015, pp82-86.

“Spin It! Holiday Inkle Band” (2014) PLY Magazine, Issue 7, December 2014, pp62-63.
“Weave It! Holiday Inkle Band” (2014) PLY Magazine, Issue 7, December 2014, pp64-65.

I finished knitting the merino/silk “Curvy Corner Shawl”. But I haven’t written the pattern yet.
I designed and knitted a cardigan from some Briar Rose Fibers yarn. I’m mostly pleased with the design – especially the collar – but I’ll redesign the sleeves if I knit this one again.
I knitted 10 pairs of socks, all of my own design. I do plan to write up patterns for at least three of them.
I designed and knitted a linen tunic and wore it at my 40th High School reunion. The reunion was a blast and the sweater was a hit. I also wore it at the Wisconsin Sheep & Wool Festival and got several requests for the pattern. So, I may have to write that one up as well.
I re-knitted a charming wool vest. Not my design. From commercial yarn, not handspun.
I tried my hand at a few “firsts”:
I wove an inkle band with some handspun wool, recently published in PLY Magazine and pictured above. I’d woven bands before, but never with wool, and never with my handspun yarns.
I hooked my first rug. With handspun yarns. And it’ll be published in Spin-Off Magazine in the 2015 Spring issue.
I travelled far and wide to teach spinning and knitting: Alaska, Ohio, Minnesota, Wisconsin, New Jersey, and of course Michigan.
There will not be a resolution list for 2015. But I do plan to continue writing, spinning, knitting, designing, weaving, rug hooking, teaching. And trying something new. And enjoying every single minute of it.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Copyright, Copy Wrong

I am no expert on copyright law. I let one notion guide my actions: stealing is wrong.

I write knitting patterns. Not many, but some. And I sell those patterns. (You can find them on Ravelry.) I would hope that no one would make copies of my patterns without my permission. I would hope that if a knitter is interested in knitting one of my designs then that knitter would be willing to pay a modest fee for the effort I put into the design and pattern.

In the course of my knitting life, I have purchased many patterns. I mentioned one in a recent blog post: the Classic Elite pattern, Ruins of Dunstaburgh Castle vest. A few days later, a friend of mine told me she found the pattern quite interesting but she was having trouble finding a copy to purchase. She asked if I’d be willing to send her a copy.

I responded, “I feel uncomfortable copying the pattern, but I’d be happy to give it to you. I don’t plan to use it again.” So, I sent off the pattern to its new home. I’m thinking that I’ve at least held to the spirit of copyright if not to the letter.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

New-To-Me Stitch Dictionary

I’ve mentioned before that I volunteer for a couple hours on Tuesday afternoons at the Almira Township Library. It’s a small library. Anywhere from 0 to 10 folks will patronize the library on any given Tuesday afternoon. I typically while away my three hours by knitting.

A couple weeks ago, I finished my knitting and still had some time left. So I wandered over to the non-fiction section to see if there were any knitting books. There were a few books on needle crafts that included some knitting. But there was only one book specifically about knitting: Knitting Dictionary 800 Stitches and Patterns.

Jackpot! I love perusing stitch dictionaries. A good chunk of my personal library is dedicated to such books. The book I found on the library shelf is an older book. There is no explicit publication date, but it does say, “english translation and adaptation by Margaret Hamilton-Hunt (I.W.S. Knitting Design of the year Award Winner 1963) for MON TRICOT…”

The first 35 pages contain technical information. The rest of the book is filled with stitch patterns. Most of the patterns I’d seen before, many I’d knitted. But there were some that were new to me, or were variations I’d not noticed before, such as: Window Stitch, Wheat Germ Stitch, Slipped Granite Stitch, Swarm Stitch, Grain of Powder Stitch, Ladders, Fancy Zig Zag Stitch.

Not only were the patterns interesting to me, but I was totally charmed by the names of the stitches.

I had fun exploring this new-to-me knitting book.

The following Tuesday, when I arrived at the library, I chatted for a bit with the librarian, Shirley R. I mentioned that I’d looked over that book and that I had felt – and resisted – the urge to pinch it. (After all, this library is so small, there really is no card catalog, analog or digital. The last time the book had been checked out was 2005. No one would know…)

Her response was to ask if there were any other knitting books in the library. I mentioned the needle craft books. She then took the stitch dictionary off the shelf, blacked out the logo for the Almira Township Library, removed the library card from the back of the book, and handed me the book.

She gave it to me!

Oh boy oh boy oh boy!

I’ve already started swatching some of the stitches. And I’m finding some interesting tidbits in the technical section too. I love knitting books.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Old Dog, New Tricks

It must have been during my stint as a post-doctoral fellow in Ann Arbor, 1993-1995. I distinctly recall upon reading a certain scientific paper, I wrote on margin of the front page, “old dog, new tricks”. Although I remember my reaction clearly, I can’t remember the title of the article, what year it was published, which scientific journal it was in, or the authors’ names. I can’t even remember the methods, design, or results of the paper. (Ten years ago, when I was still in academia, this type of information would have been a breeze to remember.) I just remember that my quick conclusion was that new motor patterns can be learned even by the very elderly. It was convincing evidence to me that old dogs can learn new tricks.

My last blog post garnered a few comments about left v right, habit, and movement patterns. That made me think about issues of habit and motor learning. And about “rules” for spinning.

I may be a keen observer of rules of the road, but I am a scofflaw when it comes to rules of spinning. I do hold to just a very few rules:

  1. Don’t hurt yourself….or anyone else.
  2. If what you are doing results in what you want, then keep doing it.
  3. If you don’t like your results, change what you’re doing. (Yes, Dr. Phil.)
But to “change what you’re doing” can be difficult for some. Just know that it’s not impossible. To change movement habits is just like learning a new movement skill: it requires:

  1. A willingness to change/learn.
  2. Accepting that you will be clumsy, slow, and error-filled at first.
  3. A lot of mindful practice. Be aware. Pay attention. Adjust.
About a year ago, I read a post on Facebook about the issue of double spacing after a period in typing. I learned to type in High School and was taught to double space after a period. That was on a typewriter. Now, computer fonts allow for easy reading of sentences and it is recommended that only one space follow a period.

After 40 years of a well-learned habit, could I change? It took about two months of concerted effort, but now the single space is as natural to me as the double space once was. Two months of awkward hesitations in my typing. And a conscious effort to change. That’s all it took.

I will admit that I relish learning new movements. I trained as a dancer for 20 years. I immersed myself in the neuroscience and biomechanics of movement for another 20. I fundamentally value movement and learning new movements. I can accept that not all folks will have the same attitude about movement. That’s ok with me.

Here’s another perspective on the left v right sided flyer: My friend, Sylvia VM, who is selling the wheel, sent me an email today in which she commented: “Kinda like how to hold chop sticks? It’s about getting the food to your mouth.”

So, whether the flyer is on the right or the left, whether you’re right-handed or left-handed, whether you hold the right hand in front or the left….it’s about spinning fiber into yarn.