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.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Vest Again

Years back I knitted a vest that quickly became one of my favorites. It was a Classic Elite pattern, #632, “The Ruins of Dunstaburgh Castle”, designed by Susan Mills. I distinctly remember seeing a knitted version of this vest in a yarn shop and being smitten. I asked to see the pattern. The photo of the vest does not do it justice. But the actual vest was quite lovely. I bought the pattern. And I knitted the vest within a couple months. That was in 1996.

Here’s a picture of the pattern. (I think the plaid pants are as charming as the sweaters.)

My vest went through thick and thin. So useful, so versatile, so … me!

But nothing lasts forever. Last year, the edge of the buttonhole band started to fray. I couldn’t find any of the original yarn in my stash for repair, so I tied knots. The fraying continued. I finally had to accept that it was time to retire the vest.

I still love the pattern, so I decided to knit it again. (It is most unusual for me to knit any design more than once ... except for socks.) After rummaging through my stash, I chose a tweedy grey Annabel Fox yarn, “DK Donegal”. This yarn has been in my stash for longer than the vest pattern. In fact, long ago I’d knitted the yarn up for a cardigan but I’d never gotten around to sewing the pieces together. I finally accepted that I really didn’t like the pattern that I’d chosen, so I ripped out the whole sweater and stuck the yarn back into the dark corners of my yarn drawers.

Now the old yarn and the old pattern came together. I dutifully swatched for gauge. Good thing I did, because this yarn knitted up at a different gauge than the pattern called for. I was obliged to make adjustments. No problem; my math is good.

I finished the vest yesterday, sewed the buttons on (quaint pewter buttons designed after the old buffalo nickels), and washed and blocked. It’s drying now. Here’s a picture of the vest in the construction phase. My crappy camera and the grey weather conspired to make the vest difficult to photograph.

I plan to wear my new old vest for Thanksgiving. And I plan to save some of the yarn for repairs – 18 years from now. And I plan to felt the first version vest for some as yet decided upon future project.

Everything old is new again.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Time Flies When You're Having Fun

So, you haven’t heard from me in awhile. September and early October were packed with teaching events, travelling to Wisconsin, then New Jersey, then two events in Michigan. At the end, I was pooped but happy. I met so many delightful and kind fiber folks. It was a wonderful wooly whirlwind.

Upon the heels of this teaching frenzy, I started – and finished – a new project and article. Earlier in the year, I’d proposed to write an article for Spin-Off  magazine for their “stash busting” issue, Spring 2015. Here is my initial suggestion to the magazine’s editor:

“I've got a bin of miscellaneous bits of handspun yarn. I'd like to use these bits to do some rug hooking. I've got the equipment for hooking, and a couple books, but I've never done it before. I've always wanted to. It could turn out great, but maybe not. It would be a gamble.”

You read right:  “…I’ve never done it before.”

My proposal was accepted. I also mentioned to the editor that my September was rather full, so they gave me until the end of October to submit the article.

I got home from teaching at Yarn in the Barn on Saturday, October 4. (What fun I had!) I allowed myself two days to relax.

On Tuesday, October 7 I started the rug project.

On Sunday, October 26 I finished the rug.

On Monday, October 27 I started writing the article.

On Thursday, October 30 I emailed off the finished article. I was so very proud of myself. I was so very relieved that I actually finished on time and the rug wasn’t horrible.

All I can remember about October is hooking, hooking, hooking. Then writing, writing, writing. I know that the leaves on the trees changed colors and then dropped, but I did not witness it. Other things must have happened too, or so I’ve been told.

After a few free days, I prepared for teaching at the Fall Fiber Retreat in Boyne Falls. This annual retreat is a sweet, relaxing event that almost always coincides with the first real snow fall of the season. Friends, fiber, and delicious food (especially the French lentil stew). My nerves were mending. Since then, I’ve experienced a more comfortable pace. I’ve been cooking and baking and knitting and spinning and thinking about new classes and starting new projects. (Oh, and I’ve been shoveling. We’ve had an amazing amount of November snow. Today is the first day in over a week that I have not had to shovel the walkway. It’s supposed to rain today and tomorrow. Bleh!)

I have some blog catching up to do. I look forward to it.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

September is Super Fiber Filled

It all started with the Wisconsin Sheep & Wool Festival. That was last weekend. And what a weekend it was! I taught, I shopped, I ate, I talked. This was the first time that I had a half day off from teaching so that I could get some serious shopping done. I bought fiber, of course (Bluefaced Leicester wool, Cormo wool, silk hankies), and I bought yarn. I was pleased to see so many vendors with breed-specific yarns. I got yarns made from Lincoln, Teeswater, Border Leicester, and Tunis. I’ve added these to my large bin of breed-specific yarns at home. Very satisfying.

And I got some hemp yarn. It was in a discount bin in the Interlacements booth. It’s very very skinny yarn. I had no idea what I was going to do with it until I saw a woman with a skinny inkle woven strap for her reading glasses. That’s what I’m going to do. Yes!

Another purchase was a small beaded purse kit. It was so cute! And I’ve not done any beaded knitting before. High time, then. I also got a couple of pieces of pottery: a very large mug/soup bowl with “buttons” on it from Alison Wheeler, and a “whiskey cup” from Jenny the Potter. I’ve already used both pieces.

But there’s more! I am busy this month. Really busy. Really. Here’s the schedule:

Fiber Fallout. This is a spinning retreat in Johnsonburg, New Jersey, sponsored by the North Country Spinners, Inc. It’s held every other year. The dates this year are September 19-21. I’m teaching Variations on Long Draw, Spinning & Knitting Energized Singles, and Spinning Marl Yarns. This is my first time at this event and I do look forward to it!

September ends with a bang! The weekend of September 26-28 contains multiple events of interest to the fiber enthusiast. I will be involved in a new fiber event, the Interlochen Fiber Arts Weekend. It will be held at the Interlochen Center for the Arts. I’m teaching multiple sessions of Beginning Spindle Spinning and Diversity of Wool. These are short workshops, only 75 minutes, just enough to pique your interest. This event also includes a panel discussion about growing a regional fiber-shed, some vendors, and mini workshops on spinning, knitting, weaving, and crochet.

In addition to Interlochen, there are other events that may interest you. The beautiful northwest corner of the lower peninsula is the site of the Greater Traverse Area Yarn Shop Hop, September 26, 27, and 28. Hours are Friday, 10 am to 7 pm; Saturday, 10 am to 5 pm; and Sunday, 12 noon to 4 pm. Passports are $5, The participating stores are: Yarn Quest, Traverse City; Lost Art, Traverse City; Plover Dunes, Glen Arbor; the Yarn Shop, Glen Arbor; Wool and Honey, Cedar; Warm Fuzzy, Alden; Thistledown, Suttons Bay; and the Yarn Market in Beulah.

If that’s not enough for you, the Crystal Lake Alpaca Farm is hosting National Alpaca Farm Day, Saturday, September 27, 1-5pm. Chris and Dave Nelson have a lovely farm and fiber boutique at 4907 River Road, Frankfort, Michigan.

But wait! There’s more! This very same weekend is the weekend of the Northern Michigan Lamb and Wool Festival, at the very lovely Ogemaw County Fairgrounds in West Branch, Michigan. Vendors, classes, shearing school, and more.

If you’ve ever wanted to spend time in northern lower Michigan, and you love fiber, this is the weekend for you. Take advantage. Do!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Summer Teaching Nearby

I get to stay home much of this summer. That means more time in the garden, more time at the beach, eating more local produce, and likely more mosquito bites.

But I will be teaching workshops reasonably close to home. Here are some places within my wonderful home state of Michigan where I’m teaching:

Great Lakes Ranch  is where Brad and Jandy Sprouse raise suri alpacas and Tibetan yaks. And they have a fiber, yarn, and fashion store that is open on Fridays and Saturdays during summer months.

I’ll be teaching Knitting Petoskey Stone Medallions, Thursday, July 17, 2:00 – 5:00pm. The fee is $25. Tracie Herkner is the person to contact to sign up for the class. Her phone number is 231-642-1414, and her email address is .

In August I make my annual pilgrimage to the Michigan Fiber Festival in Allegan, Michigan. I’m scheduled to teach Wednesday through Saturday. I sure hope I have enough time to shop! You can register through the Festival’s website. Here is a list of my workshops:

Creating the Yarn You Want, Wednesday, August 13, 9:00am – 4:00pm
Mechanics of Your Wheel, Thursday, August 14, 9:00am – 12:00noon
I Heart Duplicate Stitch, Thursday, August 14, 1:00 – 4:00pm
Beginning Spinning at the Wheel, Friday, August 15, 9:00am – 4:00pm
Seams to Be, Saturday, August 16, 9:00am – 12:00noon
The Surprising Yarn-Over, Saturday, August 16, 1:00 – 4:00pm

In October (ok, so October isn’t exactly “summer”), I am headed once again to Yarn in the Barn. This weekend event is sponsored by Briar Rose Fibers. I will be teaching spinning workshops and Anne Hanson will be teaching knitting workshops. And there will be a few vendors in addition to Briar Rose Fibers. You will find workshop descriptions and registration details on their website. My workshops are:

Spinning Silk: Brick and Hankies, Friday, October 3, 9:00am – 4:00pm
Variations on Long Draw, Saturday, October 4, 9:00am – 2:30pm

These three events are confirmed. I will mention that there are tentative plans for a fiber event in Interlochen, Michigan in September. If that materializes I will let you know!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Just Curly. No Moe. No Larry.

On my recent trip to Minnesota I got to drive through Michigan’s upper peninsula. I took advantage of that route to stop and visit with Sue Kapla at Fiddle Knoll Farm near Skandia.

She showed me some of this year’s lambs. All too cute for words. And she sold me some Romney roving; one pound of creamy white and one pound of light grey. I’ve already spun 2 skeins from this lovely stuff.

The sheep have not been sheared yet….way too cold. But she did tell me that I’ll be getting a fleece from a one-year-old CVM ewe named “Eve”. A very lovely light light brown. I can hardly wait!

I was expecting all this lovely woolness. What I was not expecting was her horse. I saw the horse in an area behind the sheep. She told me she’d gotten him last fall. She’d always loved horses but she’s allergic. Then she heard of a type of horse that is hypoallergenic. They’re called Curly Horses. They have curly hair. All over. Sue’s horse, “Boris”, is a lovely chestnut color. His mane and forelock were quite short, but curly.

This is the time of year for shedding, and Sue indicated she’d saved a bit of his hair. “Do you want some?” she asked. Of course I said “Yes!” So, she gave me a bag of about 5 ounces of Boris’s hair.

Today is a lovely late May day, perfect for washing fiber. Here is a picture of the hair in a mesh bag before washing:

I did one soak in the hottest tap water with some Orvus paste. And two soaks of only hot water. The hair is right now in the second soak. I’ll spin out the excess water in the washing machine and then I’ll put the hair on a drying rack. I expect it’ll be ready tomorrow.

I’m thinking I’ll blend it with some sturdy wool and maybe make some work mittens. Or, maybe I’ll weave something.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Now...Where Was I?

How could I have gone so long without posting a new blog entry? Well, I got busy. After the mad rush to finish some writing, I took a breather. That turned into procrastination. What’s another day going to hurt? Then, my mother died at the end of April. Then, I got busy again. Then, I was on the road for 8 days, buying fiber and fleeces, and teaching workshops at Shepherd’s Harvest. (Very fun, by the way.)

My mother’s memorial service is tomorrow in Midland. Although we were never close, I do have to thank her for teaching me the knit stitch and the purl stitch long ago.

I will get back to regular fiber-related posting next week.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Hankie Heaven Update

My copy of the Spring issue of PLY Magazine  arrived in yesterday’s mail. It’s all about silk. And there are three articles in it that I wrote, about silk hankies. Two of the articles contain spinning and knitting details of a pair of fingerless mitts that I designed. The other article is about technical issues of spinning silk hankies.

And today the sun is shining. It’s still cold here, around 20degF, and there is plenty of snow on the ground, but at least the sun is shining. Good for taking pictures. So, here’s a picture of my mitts. The pattern is included in the article (PLY Magazine, Issue 4, Spring 2014, pp 59-60).

Oh, here’s another picture I took today: the socks I finished during last month’s Dog Sitting Fiber Retreat.

Next week I’m doing another dog sitting fiber retreat. Seven days in a house with Bob (golden retriever) and Ted (Llewellyn setter) on the shores of Green Lake. Cable TV. And several fiber projects. What fun I’ll have!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Resurrection: Middlemarch Reborn

Marty works fast. Last month I handed off that dreaded sock yarn and unfinished pair of socks (My Middlemarch).  And last week, Marty showed me her solution.

She’d unraveled the sock-and-a-half. Then she took the yarn and added more Z-twist to it. Then she spun up a Z-twist singles from some Merino wool that she’d purchased from Stonehedge Fiber Mill. Then she plied the two together. A star is born! Here’s a picture of one of two skeins that she spun.

I am thrilled to see new life come to a project that I rejected. I don’t know what her plans are for this yarn, but I look forward to seeing what magic will happen.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

March and April Workshops in Lake Ann

March and April are typically quiet months for me; I’m not scheduled to travel next until late April. So, this is a good time of year for me to offer spinning and knitting workshops at my house in Lake Ann, Michigan.

The fee for each workshop is a very modest $15. All workshops start at 1:30pm and go to 3:30 or 4:00pm. (I purposely chose this start time so that anyone interested could stop for lunch at the nearby Stone Oven.) A minimum of 2 folks will be needed for each workshop to “go”. The maximum is 6.

If you are interested, please contact me by email, or by phone 231-640-4424. If there is a topic that interests you, but you’d prefer a different date, let me know; there may be some wiggle room.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014
The Surprising Yarn-Over: A “yarn-over” is a fundamental element in knitted lace, but there is more to the yarn-over than lace. The yarn-over is a surprising and versatile element in many forms of knitting. We will explore the use of yarn-overs to make beautiful edges, interesting cords, straight and wavy fabrics. In addition, we’ll cover variations on the yarn-over and how yarn-overs are created in a variety of knit stitch patterns.
Bring 100-200 yards of yarn and knitting needles appropriate for the yarn.

Friday, March 14, 2014
I Heart Duplicate Stitch: Duplicate stitch is one way of adding bits of color to knitting, allowing you to “paint” on your knitting. Other forms of multi-color knitting, such as intarsia and Fair Isle, may seem more “knitterly”, but there are times when duplicate stitch can achieve certain effects in a much easier way. When done well, duplicate stitch can add an expert air to your knitting. We will practice techniques for making duplicate stitch smooth and even. We will play with effects of yarn size and yarn texture and the knit stitches used for the background, so that you will come away with an appreciation of the special advantages of duplicate stitch.
Bring a swatch knitted in stockinette stitch that is at least 30 sts wide and 50 rows long (a solid light color works best), some yarn of the same type as used for the swatch but in a contrasting color, knitting needles appropriate for the yarn, a darning needle.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014
Creating Crepe Yarns: Crepe yarns are 3-ply yarns in which the twist direction and order of plying is manipulated. We will cover a variety of these yarns. We will do some spinning of singles, but mostly we will ply.
Bring 2 bobbins partially filled with Z-spun singles, 2 additional bobbins, your spinning wheel, and a lazy kate.

Friday, March 28, 2014
Q & A: Spinning: Here’s an opportunity for you to determine the content of the workshop. If you have specific topics or questions about spinning, preparing fibers, or finishing yarns, please supply them to me at least 24 hours before the workshop – BY EMAIL, PLEASE. We will cover topics as I receive them. Or, feel free to bring your projects or questions to class and we’ll cover them there.
Bring your spinning wheel, a couple of bobbins, and any projects or tools that you have questions about.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014
Spinning Wheel Maintenance: Do you want to get the most out of your wheel? A bit of maintenance will most certainly help. We will cover how to care for wood, drive bands, oiling/lubricating, and trouble shooting. Your wheel will thank you.
Bring your spinning wheel, oil, rag, and one bobbin.

Friday, April 4, 2014
Creating Cable Yarns: cable yarns are 4-ply (or more) yarns which require plying twice (or more). We will cover a couple different techniques for creating these yarns, and we’ll discuss color issues, twist issues, and fiber content issues.
Bring your spinning wheel, 2 bobbins partially filled with Z-spun singles of different colors, 2 additional bobbins, and a lazy kate.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014
Q & A: Knitting: Here’s an opportunity for you to determine the content of the workshop. If you have specific topics or questions about knitting, your knitting projects, understanding patterns, blocking, or yarns, please supply them to me at least 24 hours before the workshop – BY EMAIL, PLEASE. We will cover topics as I receive them. Or, feel free to bring your projects or questions to class and we’ll cover them there.
Bring some yarn, some knitting needles, and whatever project/pattern you’d like.

Friday, April 11, 2014
Knitting Petoskey Stone Medallions: In this workshop we will knit a medallion inspired by the state stone of Michigan, the Petoskey stone. The medallions are flat circles, knitted from the center out. When a series of these medallions are crocheted together, you can change the circular shape to 4-, 5-, 6-, or more-sided pieces.  We will cover a circular crochet cast-on, how to knit circularly with 2 circular needles, 2-stitch cable patterns, and crocheting medallions together. With this approach, you can make scarves, afghans, hats, pillows, and more.

Bring 100 yards or so of yarn (1 or more colors), 2 circular knitting needles of the same size (but can be of different lengths) appropriate for the yarn, a crochet hook similar in size to the needles, and a darning needle.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Roof Avalanche

Jill returned from Guatemala late last Friday, thus ending my dog sitting fiber retreat. It was a true winter wonderland getaway. I snow shoed at least four times a week. I got my fill of snowy blowy cold cold cold weather. I got some good dog time. I watched loads of movies. And I got a goodly amount of fiber stuff done.

I got most of my movies from either the Traverse City library or the Interlochen library. Interestingly, I ended up picking several American and British movies that focused on the Middle East: Lawrence of Arabia, Hidalgo, Munich, and Syriana. I’d seen them all before, and enjoyed watching them all again. Now I’m thinking I should watch a bunch of movies set in the Middle East that are made by Middle Eastern film makers. Any suggestions?

About a week into my retreat, the weather warmed to above freezing temperatures for just two days. This caused the snow on the metal roof to slide off. There is something charming to me about these roof avalanches…..unless they trap you inside. Which this one did. I was unable to get out of the garage, but I was able to get out the front door and climb over the pile of snow. The snow plow guy got me out a couple days later. Here’s a view of the front of the house before the warm up.

Here’s a view after the roof avalanche.

Did I mention that after only two days above freezing that temperatures plummeted? That they did. And it’s been very cold ever since. (By the way, it’s snowing today.)

As for my list of fiber projects, here’s the final tally:

Knit a pair of socks. Done. I modified the “Gentleman’s Shooting Stockings with Fluted Pattern” from Knitting Vintage Socks by Nancy Bush. I used a skein of “Foot Notes”, a yarn dyed by Kimber Baldwin of Fiber Optic Yarns that I bought at SOAR last October. The yarn is 80% superwash merino and 20% nylon. I picked a colorway of black, brown, and green: “Northwoods Batik”. Kimber mentioned that she devised this colorway for men’s socks. But my sock stash needed a pair of socks in this colorway. Yeah, "needed". 

Finish the Curvy Corner Shawl. I did it! It’s not blocked yet. I will get that done this month. And I will start writing up the pattern. I do love the shape, the drape, and the sheen of this shawl. Light enough for a summer evening, but warm enough for winter wear.

Weave a watch band on my little inkle loom. Mostly done. I need to put a twined edge at the end, then I can cut it off the loom and sew the hardware onto it. Here’s a picture of the band in progress:

Repair a sweater. Well, I did knit up a swatch to practice on. Just as many knitters are hesitant the first time they cut steeks in their knitting, I’m hesitating cutting a hole in the swatch. Soon. Very soon.

Spin some dog hair. This did not get done, mostly because it was logistically more challenging than the other projects. So, I must get to this now that I’m back home.

Stay warm, y’all!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

My Middlemarch

I really like reading. For most of my years, if I started a book I finished it. This strategy did me a great deal of good. One summer when I was a kid, I went to the public library every week and I picked books off the shelf at random. I read each and every one of those books from beginning to end. Some were exciting, some were stupid, some were weird. It was an interesting summer.

I held firm to my beginning-to-end approach until I picked up Middlemarch by George Eliot. This was maybe 20 years ago. This novel is supposed to be a classic. A classic bore, as far as I’m concerned. I tried four times to get past chapter one with no luck. I finally – finally – gave myself permission to not finish the book. An important turning point in my life. Really.

From then on, whenever I feel the need to surrender and accept defeat, I think of Middlemarch. Just as Napoleon had is Waterloo, I had my Middlemarch.

Now for some knitting. I have started many many knitting projects that for whatever reason I decided not to finish. I never really felt defeated by these false starts. It was usually a matter of taste or time. But over a year ago I started a pair of socks from some yarn that I was especially attracted to: black and teal, with very long color changes and nice gradation from one color to the other. The yarn, “ZauberballSock Yarn” by Schoppel Wolle, is 75% wool, 25% nylon. It is a “singles” yarn, not plied. And it is rather thinner than many sock yarns.  

My wardrobe could really use a pair of teal and black socks. I swatched. I preferred the fabric that resulted from the size 0 needles better than from the size 1 needles. I knew my aging eyes would not be happy with the black sections of the sock, so I decided on a relatively simple rib pattern for the sock. I had to wear my strongest reading glasses and work under the very best light. But it was still not easy. The black stitches were hard to see; the singles nature of the yarn made it very easy to split stitches; and dropped stitches seemed to disappear instantly. I dreaded the idea of having to unknit and reknit any section – something I expect and plan to do on nearly any knitting project.

In one of my project notebooks I wrote the following entry: “Jan 8, 2013. I started that sock on Nov 27 and finished it today. What a torment.”

At a workshop I taught later in January 2013, I was describing my less-than-enthusiastic attitude about knitting this sock. I really wanted the finished project, but I dreaded the actual knitting. How could I let a measly pair of socks defeat me??!! After all, I am an accomplished knitter. I’ve knitted dozens and dozens of pairs of socks. I love knitting socks. But I just wasn’t sure I could bring myself to knit the second sock.

Katy R., a young woman at the workshop was listening to me complain. She looked at me with her young eyes and a mildly annoyed look of disgust on her face and she said, “Oh, just do it!”

I was mortified. I decided then that I would not let a pair of socks defeat me. I would not surrender. I would just do it!

With determination, I started the second sock. I knitted the cuff. I knitted the leg. Then other fiber projects required my attention so the second sock languished. I mentioned in January 2014 that one of my fiber resolutions was to finish this sock.

But while I was flying to Alaska and knitting a different pair of socks, I had an epiphany. I simply have too many wonderful and fun fiber projects ahead of me to waste my time on a dreaded fiber project. In flight, I surrendered and accepted defeat: My Middlemarch. I planned to throw away the finished sock, the half finished second sock, and the remainder of the yarn. Just chuck it! A few days ago I told my friend Marty F. of my plan. She suggested that I give her the yarn instead of throwing it away. So, that’s what I did yesterday. Here’s a picture of what now belongs to Marty:

Oh, I finished the pair of socks that I started on my trip to Alaska. A lovely light heathered grey sock yarn, Schoeller Stahl “Fortissima Socka” yarn, 75% superwash wool, 25% nylon. I made some modifications to the pattern, “Gentleman’s Sock with Lozenge Pattern”, in Nancy Bush’s book, Knitting Vintage Socks. A fun knit and a pleasing pair of socks.

I will continue to enjoy my sock knitting. I will accept technical challenges. But I will not accept dread.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Third Annual Dog Sitting Fiber Retreat

Dick and Jill are in Guatemala. Jill will be returning in 2 ½ weeks. Meanwhile, I am house sitting, dog sitting, and cat sitting for them. This is the third year that I’ve stayed at their place while they vacation due south.

I love their place. It’s out in the country, very quiet. And this year very snowy. See?

I’ve been taking advantage of the snow by strapping on my snow shoes and heading out into the fields and forest, with Mari the dog following (sometimes leading). Daily snow shoe trips. What could be more wonderful?

I walk Mari three times a day, including the snow shoeing. We usually walk north along Hulbert Road and cross Stanley Creek. It is a very small creek, but delightfully northern and mysterious.

Dick and Jill do not have TV service so I am missing the Olympics (bummer), but they do have a DVD player so I am able to watch movies. I watched an interesting German film last night, The Lives of Others, set in East Berlin before the wall fell. It involves the Stasi’s spying on East German citizens. I recommend it.

A couple nights ago, I watched Prisoners, a recent DVD release with Hugh Jackman. It started out rather formulaic, but did not end that way. Jake Gyllenhaal was also in it. He was very good.

What else to do with my time? What to do….I know! I’ll work on some fiber projects! Yeah! That’s the ticket! Of course I made a list of fibery activities for this three week get-away:

Knit a pair of socks. I’ve already picked out the yarn and swatched for gauge. I’m thinking of modifying a Nancy Bush pattern, but haven’t committed to it yet.

Finish the Curvy Corner Shawl. Just a tiny bit of grafting left to do and weaving in ends. Then I can block it.

Weave a watch band on my little inkle loom. I selected 3 colors of linen yarn. I may only use 2 of them. And I’ll stick to a plain weave pattern for this. I’d like to warp the loom tomorrow.

Finish unraveling my qiviut tunic. Done! I discovered a weird thing about the tunic’s construction. The first panel I unraveled was knitted from bottom to top, so I started the unraveling at the top and worked my way down. When I tried the same strategy on the second panel, it didn’t work! So I examined the piece rather more carefully and discovered that this second panel had been knitted in the opposite direction. So I had to unravel from the bottom up! I’m having trouble understanding the rationale for the two different directions of knitting; it wouldn’t make them symmetrical. I wish I’d examined the piece closely before I started the deconstruction. Anyway, I wound the yarn into balls as I unraveled. Then I wound each ball into a skein. Today, I soaked the yarns in warm water with a bit of Eucalan. They are now hanging to dry. I’ve got a lot of fabulous qiviut knitting in my future! Here’s a picture of the skeined yarn, before washing.

Repair a sweater. I was asked by another township library volunteer to mend a hole in a classic Irish-made aran style sweater that he’d found in a second hand store. I agreed to take on the challenge. I’ve got a booklet about knit repair that I’ll use as a guide. And I bought a skein of yarn that is a reasonable – but not perfect – match to the sweater’s tweed style yarn. My plan is to practice first by knitting a swatch then cutting a hole in it then following the directions for a seamless repair. Tonight I plan to graph out the cable pattern that is part of the damage.

Spin some dog hair. A friend of my housemate asked if I’d be interested in spinning some of her dog’s hair and then knitting a scarf. I was leery. After we discussed all the costs involved and possible multiple steps, I tentatively agreed. She brought over 4 paper grocery bags filled with the undercoat of her Malamute, “Maxie”. I gently washed one bag of the fur with warm water and Eucalan. A very gentle wash. Susie, the dog’s owner, is sensitive to fragrances, but she approved of the eucalyptus smell (which I personally love). I’m going to try to spin some of it as is, and I’m going to try to blend some with merino wool on my drum carder. We’ll see…..

That’s it. Snow, snow shoeing, dog walking, movies, spinning, knitting, weaving. A perfect February.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Alaska: Workshops and Windshields

I got to teach my workshops in a marvelous space: a conference room in the ConocoPhillips building in Anchorage. Karen Williams works for them and she was able to arrange for the use of this space. Here’s a picture of some of the spinners during Sunday’s workshop:

I must say that the Anchorage Weavers and Spinners Guild is a swell group of folks. Among workshop participants, there was a wonderful range of spinning “ages”: from a month to multiple decades of spinning experience. Enthusiasm, generosity, friendliness, and sharing were in abundance in this group.

I got several requests for information regarding sources of the fibers that I brought along with me. I thought I’d provide that list here too:

Cormo combed top: Riverwinds Farm 

CVM (California Variegated Mutant) combed top: Fiddle Knoll Farm 

Coopworth carded roving: Hidden Valley Farm & Woolen Mill 

Corriedale/silk roving: Handspun by Sefania 

Handpainted targhee combed top: Abstract Fiber 

Did I miss anything?

I have to share a funny Anchorage-specific story. When I arrived in Anchorage, I was picked up at the airport by Karen. She drove me to Sandra’s house. I noticed that Karen’s windshield had a crack in it. I was polite enough not to mention it. The next day, when Sandra took me to the Musk Ox Farm, I noticed that she, too, had a crack in her car’s windshield. I said not a word. I was trying really hard not to generalize about Alaskans based on a sample size of 2.

A few days later, Sandra and I were comparing winter road strategies for our respective locales. I mentioned the use of sand and salt here in NW Michigan. She pointed out that in her area of Alaska they use pea gravel, and then she said, “That’s why so many people have cracked windshields.” Well then! We chuckled about this for a bit while I was privately feeling justified in my urge to generalize. On the last day of workshops, for some reason the windshield issue came up in my mind. I whispered to Sandra, “Is it ok if I ask the group about windshields?” She said, “Sure!” So, I mentioned my notice of the windshield issue and asked the group, “How many of you have a cracked windshield?” I was expecting maybe one or two folks would raise their hands. My eyes practically popped out of my head when more than half the folks there rasied their hands. I’m still chuckling about it.

I flew out of Anchorage very late on Monday night. So, I had a chance to see a bit more of Anchorage before my flight. Sandra was teaching a class that day, so another guild member, Carrie Ziecina, toured me around. We tried to visit the Anchorage Art Museum  , but it happened to be closed on Mondays. As we drove by the Far North Yarn Co. yarn shop, Carrie asked if I’d like to stop. Sure! But, I told her, “I have promised myself not to buy any more sock yarn until I knit up more socks from the ample stash that I already have.” So, what did I buy? That’s right: sock yarn – a lovely Rowan yarn of merino wool, kid mohair, nylon and silk. I do not feel guilty. Not one bit.

I rounded out my trip to Anchorage with a delicious salmon dinner at Simon & Seafort’s Saloon & Grill. Mmmm.

One more thing: Sandra Cook, who housed me during my stay, is a talented potter in addition to her fabulous fiber work. She works mostly with slab clay. As she showed me around her studio, I was taken by a “brick” she’d made using a rhubarb leaf to create the texture. I had to have it. We made a trade. I got the rhubarb brick and I offered to send her a box of dried cherries. I put the cherries in the mail on Monday. I hope she likes them. I sure love my rhubarb brick.

My flight home was marked by a couple hour delay in Anchorage – which gave me some time to knit – but all other connections were on time. I left a wet and warm Anchorage to arrive in a very cold and snowy Michigan. While I was gone, nearly 2 feet of snow had been added to the already loaded landscape. I got several days of shoveling workout from that.

And it’s snowing now.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Alaska: Matanuska and Museums

Palmer, Alaska was the center of the New Deal endeavor, the Matanuska Colony Project. In 1935, the federal government persuaded over 200 families from Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin to move to the Matanuska Valley to farm. In a very short time, a colony was established. Some of the Project buildings still exist in Palmer, and I was lucky to have Sandra to show me some of them. I was smitten with the tiny houses. I really, really want one. Sandra also showed me a new track of Colony-inspired houses that were equally adorable.

After our visit to the Musk Ox Farm, Sandra took me to the Palmer Historical Society Museum. It’s a small museum, but I really loved the chronological display of the development of Palmer, with artifacts and photos from the Colony beginnings.

I bought a couple goofy Alaska postcards.

So, that was Thursday. My workshop on Friday didn’t start until 5:30pm, so we had a good chunk of the day to explore Anchorage. I had a couple museums/galleries on my list of things to see, and Sandra obliged me.

I was intrigued to find out that Anchorage has exhibits in the most surprising places. Sandra first took me to the Alaska Native MedicalCenter. That’s right: a medical center, with primary care and hospital services. And with many exquisite displays of native Alaskan art throughout the hallways. Each display case held masterfully crafted works: basketry, beading, sculpture, clothing. I would happily visit again.

 And, there was a most amazing craft shop at ANMC. This shop is all volunteer run, with strictly native Alaska art. When I walked in, a gentleman at the counter asked, “May I help you?” I responded, “I want one of everything!” Before I left the shop, I did purchase two items: a small ivory and baleen container, and a pair of ivory and baleen earrings. I typically don’t (can’t afford to) spend money on such extravagances, but I was in Alaska. How often am I going to be in Alaska?

Our next stop was at a bank. Yes, a bank. There is a fabulous Alaska Heritage Museum at a Wells Fargo bank. This museum is free. And there are wonderful displays with nice descriptions explaining the history of events, craft techniques, tools. I was intrigued by a berry-gathering tool: it had fork-like prongs along side a large spoon shaped container, made of wood. It looked perfect for gathering blueberries.

We also made a stop at the Oomingmak Musk Ox Producers’ Co-Operative. This small store sells items made from qiviut, all hand knitted by native Alaskan women from various far flung locations in Alaska. They don’t sell fiber or yarn, just finished items. Lovely finished items.

After our tours, Sandra and I rested at a local bookstore so I could gather my thoughts before the evening’s workshop. That evening, I taught Spinning With Silk Hankies. The guild has some wonderful folks in it. I thoroughly enjoyed my introduction to them, although I’ll admit that by the end of class, it was dizzyingly late for me (8:30pm Anchorage time, but 12:30am Lake Ann time).

I’ll share more about the guild and its members next time.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Alaska: Musk Ox and More

What a fantastic adventure! There is so much I want to share that I’ve had a hard time deciding how to write about it. So, I’ve decided on the tried-and-true chronological narrative.

My flight to Anchorage involved two layovers: in Detroit and in Minneapolis. All my flights were delayed, but I managed to arrive in Anchorage only a couple hours later than expected (about 11pm Alaska Standard Time, or 3am Eastern Standard Time). On the leg from Minneapolis to Anchorage there were members of the Northern Michigan University hockey team. It’s been a long time since I last was in the company of athletes. Wow! They were, um, physically impressive. (I don’t know if they won their game, but I hope they did.)

I managed to make some progress on my travel knitting (a pair of socks), and I got about half way through the book I brought with me: The Master Butchers Singing Club, by Louise Erdrich. A good read.

I was met at the Anchorage airport by Karen Williams. She is the woman responsible for getting me this gig. I met her a few years ago at Rhinebeck. And I saw her again last fall at SOAR. A very nice woman. She drove me to Palmer, AK, which is about 1 hour north of Anchorage. That’s where Sandra Cook lives. And that’s who I stayed with for the next five days.

It was very late when we got to Sandra’s. She was gracious enough to let me go immediately to bed. Her guest bedroom has a very comfortable bed. I slept for over 12 hours, I think. Anyway, I slept well and comfortably. A few days later, Sandra let me know that the comforter on that bed is stuffed with silk. Sleeping under silk. What a luxury!

When I awoke, it was still dark. The sky was beginning to lighten, but it was far from sunrise. Regardless, I was able to make out the mountains nearby which had been obscured by complete darkness when I first arrived. The guest bedroom window provides a terrific view of Pioneer Peak.

Palmer, Alaska is in what everyone refers to as “The Valley”, the Matanuska Valley (rather like folks in Los Angeles referring to the San Fernando Valley as “The Valley”). It is a very flat area, which makes the nearby mountains look very in-your-face big. Pioneer Peak is about 8 miles from Sandra’s house, and it rises to over 6000 feet. Impressive, don’t you think?

I had scheduled a couple of days to be a tourist, and Sandra was kind enough to take me to a few tourist destinations. Our first stop was the Musk Ox Farm in Palmer. Although they are not officially open during the winter, they were kind enough to give us a tour. The young woman who toured us around, Ashley, was incredibly knowledgeable. She answered our dozens of questions with fabulous detail. This farm is dedicated to the domestication of musk ox, and to the production of qiviut, the amazing undercoat fiber of this animal. The domestication process involves getting the animals comfortable with human contact (so that the qiviut can be brushed off without incident). Several of the musk ox walked up to the fence to get a close look at us, and to let us get a close look at them. The youngsters are especially cute, cute cute!

Musk ox typically give birth in the spring, but the farm got a surprise baby last September. Here’s a picture of that babe with its mom:

You can't quite tell how cute the baby is, so here’s a copy of a postcard I got.

And here’s another picture I took of a musk ox with the mountains in the distance.

You might notice that there was very little snow on the ground. Right. While temperatures in Lake Ann, Michigan were kissing 0degF, temps in Anchorage and the valley were well above freezing. Highs in the 40s and 50s every day I was there. Most of the snow had melted. And I can tell you every single Alaskan I met was spittin’ mad about the warm weather and lack of snow. They take winter seriously!

At the Musk Ox Farm, there was a lot of ice on the ground. Karen had smartly provided Sandra and me with pairs of “yaktrax”-like cleats to put on our boots. How smart!

The Musk Ox Farm did have a bit of raw qiviut for sale. Raw, as in unwashed and not dehaired. I decided not to get any. Now, of course, I could kick myself.

But one of the reasons I did not buy any fiber is that I have a tunic knitted of 100% qiviut yarn. My mother had given it to me several years ago. I’ve never been crazy about the tunic shape/structure, so this lovely piece of Alaskan lace has languished in storage. I’d been thinking about unraveling the tunic and using the yarn for something else. Well, this trip got me going. When I got home, I pulled that tunic out of storage and started taking it apart.

And I feel good about it. Even though I did not get this qiviut yarn while on this trip, it will always be associated in my mind with my Adventures in Alaska.

On the way back to Sandra's house after our Musk Ox visit, Sandra pulled off the road to let me take pictures of the Knik Glacier. I'd never seen a glacier before. It's the small blue smudge way in the distance in the middle of this picture:

There was more to the day, but I'll put that in the next blog entry.