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.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Used Spinning Wheel for Sale

My friend, Sylvia VM, has several lovely wheels. She even has a Reeves upright castle wheel just like mine. She has too many wheels. And she wants me to help her sell one of them.

She bought a Schacht-Reeves wheel new in 2005. This wheel was made by the Schacht Spindle Company . It’s serial number is #1-0170. It’s got a 24” drive wheel with the flyer on the right, it’s double-treadle, and it’s made of cherry wood. It comes with 2 whorls (for 4 drive ratios), a lazy kate (in ash), the owner’s manual, and 5 bobbins (in cherry). The original orifice hook is missing, but I’m contributing an original Reeves orifice hook (in cherry). The wheel can be used in either double drive or Scotch tension. It is currently set up in Scotch tension.

This wheel is very handsome, beautifully engineered, and in very good condition. I’ve just oiled it, and put new leaders on all the bobbins. It treadles very smoothly. New, this wheel and extra bobbins would cost about $1600. Sylvia is asking $1000 (other reasonable offers will be considered). I would rather not ship this wheel, but if I did, the buyer would cover shipping and insurance costs. I am willing to drive a bit to deliver or meet. I live in Lake Ann, MI.

If you are interested in buying this wheel, you can contact me at

A Note on Left Versus Right

When Sylvia ordered the wheel she asked the folks at Schacht whether she should have the flyer on the left (most typical for a Saxony-style wheel) or on the right. They asked her which hand she uses in front, closest to the orifice. She uses her left hand in front. They then suggested she get the wheel with the flyer on the right.

Some folks would argue that the location of the flyer matters, but I don’t agree. Whether you use your left or your right hand forward, or whether you are left or right hand dominant, I think you can get used to – and become skilled with – whatever spinning wheel setup you have. It may take awhile; facility and skill do require practice.

I understand that a spinner might have a preference. I’m ok with that. However, I’m pretty well versed in the scientific literature of neuromotor control and motor learning (MS and PhD), and I know of no evidence that would suggest there is a physiological or mechanical rationale for location of the flyer on a spinning wheel.

I can say that I had no trouble spinning on this wheel, even though I mostly spin on upright wheels, and the Saxony-style wheels that I have owned in the past have all had the flyer on the left.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Into Darkness

Sometimes I buy fiber just because it is unusual. That’s what happened in September at the Interlochen Fiber Arts Weekend. (Expect to see more fiber events at Interlochen in 2015.) There was a handful of vendors at this inaugural event. I did my best to buy from many of them. The vendor that was closest to the entrance is a friend of mine, Tracie Herkner. Her business is It’s Sew Ewe . She had some lovely carded rovings that were blends of Huacaya alpaca and wool. I got 4 ounces of a medium brown, luxurious blend of 85% alpaca and 15% Finn (a.k.a. Finnish Landrace) wool. Sounds like a match made in heaven. This roving may well become a cowl or scarf or hat and mitts that I will keep for my very own self. I expect to spin it up sometime in the next couple months.

I also got 4 ounces of a dark brown blend of alpaca and Babydoll Southdown wool. Now, this blend seemed unusual to me. Huacaya alpaca is characterized by a silky feel, with some crimp, a reasonable staple length, and not much in the way of elasticity. Babydoll is pretty much the opposite: not overly soft, seriously crimpy, short staple length, and loads of elasticity. Spring, sproing, sprang, sprung! My immediate urge was to make socks from this fiber blend: taking advantage of the elasticity and strength of the Babydoll and the softness and warmth of the alpaca.

A couple weeks ago, I pulled this roving out of my to-do-in-the-near-future bin. I’ve been spinning it. And, well, it is unusual. I’ve spun a lot of different fibers and fiber preparations, but this one required something new from me.

I tried to use my default short draw (worsted) technique, where I draft untwisted fibers then allow twist to enter. I was having a heck of a time getting a consistently thick singles. The roving behaved like alpaca: silky and somewhat slippery. And the roving behaved like Babydoll: super elastic. My drafting strategy just wasn’t getting the most out of this weird combination.

And, I was having trouble seeing what I was doing. I was spinning a thin singles (expecting to make a fingering weight 2-ply yarn suitable for socks). And my eyes aren’t what they once were. I’m experiencing very typical age-appropriate changes in my eyesight. But I don’t have to like it. I really don’t like it. I really don’t. I need “cheaters”, and good light. Dark fibers are just plain harder to see and spin than they used to be. D**n it.

I got out my Ott floor lamp. I turned on all ceiling lights in the room. I even started using a white lap cloth (a sweet kitchen towel that my sister had given me for Christmas one year).

But I struggled. So, I changed my drafting. I let some twist enter the fibers I was drafting, rather like a version of point-of-contact long draw. Something was still not right. I then started drafting the fibers forward instead of my typical backward. That helped a bit. Then I allowed more space between my front hand and my back hand. Way better.

Near the end of the filling the first bobbin, I finally found my groove. I don’t think the change in drafting technique was the key. I think it’s more likely that all the things I did to be able to see better helped more, especially increasing the distance between my front hand and my back hand. I realized that my front hand was casting a shadow on the lap cloth and that shadow was right under the drafting triangle. Once I put more distance between my front and back hands, the shadow was no longer an issue. I could see a bit better, and that made my drafting much easier to control.

Into – then out of – darkness. The second bobbin is half full. I expect to have some lovely sock yarn – for my very own self – next week sometime.

I am thankful. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.