Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Linen. Who Knew!?

Awhile back, my friend Carol S. started weaving some linen kitchen towels. Carol is a most talented weaver. And her towels are works of art. I am lucky to own two of her towels.

I love linen kitchen towels. I always have. I often get them at garage sales or second-hand stores. Sometimes my sister, Meg, finds them for me at such places. Linen is very absorbent, and it dries very quickly. A good combination for this practical household item.

For the same reasons, I like to wear linen during the summer. Much more comfortable to me than cotton.

Anyway, after seeing some of Carol’s towels I wondered if I could weave some on my rigid heddle loom (an Ashford Knitter’s Loom). I posed this idea to a number of my weaving friends. The consensus was NO. But by then, I’d gotten this bug of an idea to weave my own linen kitchen towels. I would not be denied!

It was suggested that I rent the loom from the Northland Weaving and Fiber Arts Guild (for which I am the secretary). So I did. Before now, I’ve only woven on an inkle loom and a rigid heddle loom. This loom is a floor loom, with 4 harnesses and 4 treadles. (Thanks to the fantastic book by Rachel Brown, The Weaving, Spinning, and Dyeing Book, I now know what these terms mean!) Quite sufficient for weaving towels. Here’s the loom:

But I did not have any appropriate linen yarn for towels. I put out an email request to my local spinning group for some yarns – to trade for “a player to be named at a later date”. Marty F. came through. She brought over a basket full of linen yarns. She strongly urged me to first weave a narrow and short sample. She said starting with full size linen towels as a first weaving project was like teaching someone to knit by starting out with lace. Ok. I agreed to try a sample. Marty then showed me how to use a warping board. I wound a 2-yard length for 24 wraps. A few days later, Marty helped me put the warp on the loom.

First important lesson learned: It’s hard to warp a loom when you’re wearing bifocals.

Marty showed me the treadling for plain weave. And she showed me a type of hem stitch. And she gave me good tips on how to beat (where to put my hand on the beater) and how to arch the weft yarn before beating.  And she lent me a boat shuttle.  Cool tool!

Then she said, “play”. So I did. I’ve been making bookmarks of a sort: with one inch or so of some wacky treadling pattern, then 6 inches of plain weave, followed by another inch of another treadling pattern. And I used a hem stitch at the beginning and end of each bookmark. Here’s what’s now on the loom:

When I was doing the warping, I wasn’t sure I’d like this process. But as I wove, I started to fall head-over-heels in love with linen. So crisp! So tidy! So easy to see the weave structure! I may well become addicted to weaving with linen. And I can see that I’ll get my own floor loom sometime in the future.

Some of you may remember the days when I said I’d never take up weaving….

Saturday, January 21, 2012


Last week I finished detangling the lace-weight cashmere yarn. It took approximately 15 hours distributed over the span of about six weeks. I calculated there to be 1300 yards total.

That’s an average of 86.7 yards detangled per hour.

To get an estimate of the total yardage, I took one ball of yarn and re-wound it into a skein (2-yard loop). I got 188 yards. Then I weighed that skein. It weighed .65 ounces. That averages to be 289 yards per ounce. Then I weighed the total amount of yarn that I’d detangled (4.50 oz) and multiplied by the average yards per ounce. Thus, approximately 1300 yards.

I now feel that I have a better understanding of how this lace-weight yarn behaves. I’m hoping that will make knitting it that much easier and all the more interesting.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Good Blogs

I’ve been writing blog entries since January 2010. And I’ve been reading other writers’ blogs since about that time too. There are some blogs that I check out nearly daily, and some I just check out now and then. Here are my favorites.

My all-time favorite blog (besides my own, of course) is “More Favorite Sheep”. Entries are written by the self-named “Crazy Sheep Lady”. She writes about life on her farm in Kentucky with sheep, horses, dogs, cats, chickens, and bees. Some of her ongoing stories will make you laugh or cry or both at the same time. But it’s not her writing that brings me back; its her photography. She has a great eye and equally great technical know-how, so her pictures are magnificent. And she provides a great deal of commentary about her photographing strategies: lighting, composition, depth of field, focus, and so forth. She posts nearly daily, so I check her blog site nearly daily.

I often check on Lucy Neatby’s blog, “Happy Stitches”. I have long admired Ms. Neatby’s knit designs (I’m still working on the double-knit “Bubbles Scarf” ). And I enjoy reading about her travels, her designs, her adventures and misadventures. It makes me long to spend time in Nova Scotia and other places in Canada along the Atlantic. I do hope sometime to meet this lady!

You are likely quite familiar with “The Yarn Harlot”, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee  . I enjoy her very entertaining style of writing. She has an admirable compulsion to always be doing something fibery. Yes!

Last fall I met Abby Franquemont. After that, I started reading her blog, “Abby’s Yarns” .  She has had -- and continues to have -- some interesting life experiences, which inform her approach to fiber. I like that.

A couple years ago I met Ann Budd. And then I started reading her blog, “annbuddknits”.  What I especially like about her blog is that she quite often writes about the trials-and-errors of knitting and knit designing. She allows her readers to learn from her successes and mistakes. Very informative. Very generous.

Now for a couple of lesser known blogs. Here’s one that was started in September 2011. “Knit.Write.Repeat.” The woman who writes this blog does not have her name posted on the blog. Her blog entries are especially well written with good insight into knitting, yet clearly from a personal point of view. I’m not as interested in her blog entries about music, but the knitting entries are a pleasure to read.

Kathy Lambert writes about life on her small fiber farm in Southern California on her blog, “Rancho Borrego Negro” . This is another well-written blog: I like her writing, and I like reading about a place that is very different climate-wise from where I live. I have lived in the southwest, however, and I can practically feel the dry air when I read her blogs. Since I don’t raise fiber animals, I do like reading about her animal adventures.

So, there you have it. The blogs I check out the most.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Good Books

It’s now really winter here. We finally have a good blanket of snow on the ground and the temperatures are in the teens (Fahrenheit). Light snow continues to fall.

This is a great time of year for delving into my fiber books. And I’ve re-discovered a couple of really really good ones.

I started reading the book by Jane Patrick, The Weaver’s Idea Book (2010, Interweave Press). I mentioned getting this book last September. I’m a novice weaver with an Ashford Knitter’s Loom  (rigid heddle). The title of this book is spot on! My head is spinning (pun intended) with all kinds of ideas to try on my little loom. The book got me to rummage through my yarn stash and re-examine knitting yarns with weaving in mind. I gathered up some linen yarns, some cotton yarns, and some bamboo yarns. Ideas ideas ideas….

I want to mention a couple of especially good knitting books too. In the past couple weeks, I’ve knitted 3 pairs of fingerless mitts as a commission for a friend of mine. All three pairs were knitted out of the same yarn that had been in my stash for many a year: Annabel Fox “DK Donegal” (100% wool, 50g, 130m, color “pebble” lot 001). I used Ann Budd’s The Knitter’s Handy Book of Patterns (2002, Interweave Press) to develop a mitt skeleton to which I added cable patterns for the back of the hand. I used a different cable pattern for each pair of mitts (and I reversed the directions of the cables for left and right hands to make them symmetrical). An excellent opportunity to peruse my stitch pattern books.

For the first pair of mitts I used a cable pattern from The New Knitting Stitch Library by Lesley Stanfield (1992, Quarto Publishing).

I especially like this book because it has tiny snapshots of all the stitch patterns at the beginning of the book. So, you can do a quick look-see before examining the stitches page by page. Here’s a prototype of the first pair of mitts using stitch pattern # 85 (with the cable not quite centered on the hand):

By the way, I scanned that mitt on my flat bed scanner; it’s not a photograph.

For the second pair of mitts I used cable pattern # 18.2 from The Harmony Guide to Aran and Fair Isle Knitting (1995, Lyric Books). This really is a great book. I love the way the cable patterns are organized by the number of row repeats. So, first there are 2-row repeats, then 4-, then 6- and so on. This is an especially good organization for designers. And it teaches you something about cables. If you run across a used copy of this book, get it!

For the third pair of mitts I modified a cable pattern (“Enclosed Cables”) from The Harmony Guides 440 More Knitting Stitches Volume 3 (1998, Collins & Brown Limited). I’ve used this book in the past mostly for its wonderful collection of slip-stitch patterns, but it does have some very nice cables too.

The last book I want to mention is one that I bought just a couple years ago but let languish in my library unread: Heirloom Knitting by Sharon Miller (2002, The Shetland Times Ltd.). It’s a substantial book about Shetland Lace. I grabbed it from my shelf the other day because I’m preparing to design a square shawl and I wanted to investigate the structure and lace patterns used in Shetland lace shawls.

What a treasure! As I often do, I first flipped through the book. Excellent diagrams and pictures; they made me want to read every word. So, I turned to the very beginning of the book and I was hooked. I’m even reading the history bits. I am quite confident that I will find the inspiration in this book that I was looking for. If you like lace knitting (and knitted lace), you must get this book. Worth Every Penny.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Mini Workshops Start Next Week

This is a time of year when I’m not travelling much. So, it’s a good time to offer small workshops at home. I’ve scheduled a series of mini workshops to start next Thursday. Each workshop will be at my house (in Lake Ann, Michigan), starting at 1pm, on Thursday afternoons.

The first workshop is next Thursday, January 19, “Spinning Balanced Singles”. Here are some details:

Spinning Balanced Singles: Do you like thick yarns? In this session we will practice making “lopi-style” yarns. These are singles yarns (not plied) with not too much twist. You will practice using a “point-of-contact” long draw to make the yarn. $10 fee (covers handouts and fiber for spinning). Bring your spinning wheel. 1-2:30pm, Thursday, January 19, 2012

Here’s a picture of the yarns in question:

If you’re interested in attending, contact me at atyler@centurytel.net

And here’s the list of the following workshop topics.
 January 26: Spinning with Locks, Part 1
February 2: Worsted Spinning
February 9: Woolen Spinning
February 16: Spinning Super Stretchy Wools, Part 1
February 23: Spinning with Locks, Part 2
March 1: Spinning Super Stretchy Wools, Part 2
March 8: Spinning with Locks, Part 3
March 22: Knitting Petoskey Stone Medallions

If you’d like details, again, you can email me: atyler@centurytel.net

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Ten Hours Later

I first wrote about my tangle project in November: a very big skein of lace-weight cashmere yarn that had gotten tangled by a fiber-loving pooch.

Little did I know this would become an epic detangling task. Here’s a picture after at least 10 hours of detangling work:
Now, you might think it’s not worth the time. I mean! The original cost of the skein (circa 2001) was probably around $25. Why would I spend more than 10 hours of my working time on this skein?

Early on in the detangling, I was tempted to quit and just chuck the yarn. But then I realized I was actually learning something from the process. I’ve done my fair share of undoing tangles so I didn’t expect this to be a new experience. But it has been.

This yarn, remember, is lace-weight. That means that the yarn doesn’t have much mass per length; the weight of a single strand does not have much umph (ie, force). And it’s a very big skein; I don’t know how many yards but I’m sure it’s well over 800. And this skein had been sitting around for years, gathering a bit of dust no matter how carefully it was stored, and the individual strands were a bit stuck to each other.

Because of these things (skinny yarn, lots of it, old yarn), I had to make a few specific adjustments to my detangling:

1. I used a small weaver’s bobbin for winding the yarn. Once the bobbin was full, I would wind off the yarn using a ball winder. The weaver’s bobbin was slim enough that I could snake it through loops in the tangled mess.

2. Work in chunks. Fortunately the yarn was not one big mess. It was more like several smaller messes. So, I would work for about 2 hours at a time. Some sections have been very slow going; others a bit faster.

3. I found myself putting down the bobbin to pull strands of yarn apart sideways. I quickly learned that pulling lengthwise on this yarn only produced a miserable snarly knot.

4. After awhile, I realized that I did not have to always loop the bobbin through strands. If there was only one strand over the winding strand, then I would loop the bobbin through. If there were two or more, I was able to unfold the tangle and not loop through. I gradually developed an intuition about whether to flip over the big tangle or flip part of it or loop through it.

5. For such skinny yarn, keep your eye on the point of work; do not look too far in advance of where your winding yarn is disappearing into the tangle.

6. Don’t drop the bobbin. Of couse I have dropped the bobbin now and then. And words would come out of my mouth that would make my dog leave the room…

7. Don’t be in a hurry.

I think I’ve got about 4 or 5 hours left. Then I’ll feel obliged to actually use the yarn! Perhaps it’s now time for that Orenburg shawl I’ve been meaning to knit….

Monday, January 2, 2012

SOARing into 2012

I just sent off my signed “mentor agreement” for Spin-Off Autumn Retreat 2012. That’s right! I was invited to teach at SOAR. This year it’ll be held at the Granlibakken Resort in Tahoe City, California, October 21-27.

 I’m scheduled to teach a 3-day workshop called “Spin-Knit Nexus”. This is the workshop that I taught last summer at the Midwest Weavers Conference. You can find blog entries about the content of the workshop and my experiences in Hancock Michigan starting in June 2011. Click here.

I’m also scheduled to teach four sessions of a half-day workshop called “Mechanics of Your Wheel”. I’ve taught this workshop at several venues and I always enjoy the experience; it’s a chance for me to call on my physics, biomechanics, and engineering backgrounds.

Of course, I’ll need to finally get a travel wheel. Up to now I’ve been mostly driving to teach and I can tuck one or two of my wheels in the car. For SOAR, I’ll be flying (no pun intended!).

So, which will it be? An Ashford Joy? A Lendrum Folding Wheel? A Kromski Sonata? A Schacht Sidekick?

Any advice?