August 31, 2010

Scarf Growth Spurt

The K2P2 scarf is having a very satisfactory growth spurt.

Our spinning guild held a knitting meetup, and part of the scarf's growth happened there. I am sure I have said it before, but it really does a spinner good to spend time with experienced, chatty fiber people.

August 30, 2010


Got a chance to watch a film production of Shakespeare's Cymbeline. The character Posthumus Leonatus describes the king's sons' actions as they compelled the retreating army to stand and fight: "their own nobleness, which could have turn'd/ A distaff to a lance."

A distaff to a lance, that would be quite a change.

When Imogen says, "Would I were/ A neat-herd's daughter, and my Leonatus/ Our neighbour shepherd's son," I wasn't quite sure what a neat-herd is. I looked it up. I think I know what neatsfoot oil is now too.

August 28, 2010

seventieth skein

I present to you my seventieth skein, spun out of Ashland Bay merino in the colour ruby.

I spun this skein to match the thirty-fifth skein which was sitting out, reproaching me for not giving it a friend.

The yarn nicely matches my DyakCraft spindle too.

August 27, 2010

Sheep May Safely Graze

I caught a broadcast of J.S. Bach's piece, "Sheep May Safely Graze Where a Good Shepherd Watches" on Performance Today, rebroadcast from the BBC Proms.

Love the title, such a lot of spiritual meaning in a simple statement. Pretty piece too and a nice arrangement. When I heard it, I remembered the tune, so I must have heard it before somewhere.

I went looking for more about Bach day at the Proms on the BBC site. Didn't find that, but did discover that there are online streaming concerts from the Proms available for a very limited time.
When Jesus went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things. Mark 6:34 NASB

August 26, 2010

Skeins May Be Smaller Than They Appear

I recently used a yarn swift, the sort that sits flat on a table top. It looks like a propeller with pegs sticking up to hold the yarn, and the pegs go in slots that correspond to circumferences of 72 inches, 60 inches, and so on.

I use a two-yard circumference niddy noddy to create my skeins, and every time I've given the yardage of a skein here on the blog I have counted the number of threads, divided by two, and called the result the number of yards.

After using the swift, I realized I should really make up a unit of measurement to attach to the results of my math, because whatever I have been getting cannot be derived from a full two-yard circumference. Not according to the position of the pegs on the swift. I knew that yarn wrapped around a niddy noddy is under tension and that a wool skein contracts somewhat when removed, but I never dreamed my skeins were quite so far gone. I don't even think they measure a smoot.

August 25, 2010

She Loved It

Got a call from my elderly relative. She says the handspun Old Shale Smoke Ring arrived in the mail. She is very pleased with it and with my progress in learning to knit.

August 24, 2010

Reknitting the K2P2 Scarf

I am reknitting the frogged K2P2 scarf.

I've gone down four needle sizes from what it was originally. Much better.

August 23, 2010

Knitting a Wee Circle From the Inside Outward

Even though I've decided not to knit a circle-shaped cardigan with my peacock merino handspun, I knit the first several rows of a Pi shawl to see if I could do the technique.

I think perhaps the needle size is too large.

August 21, 2010

Now I Know What I Don't Like

Tried the peacock merino on metal needles and decided the needles' length and slickness were not for me.

August 20, 2010

Back to Stitch One

That's half a pound of handspun Ashland Bay merino in the colour peacock sitting there, all the yarn I had knitted into the defective K2P2 scarf plus the yarn I hadn't. There are two Goldilocks balls in there, one spun too thick and one spun too thin.

The needles I used on the erstwhile scarf were just too big to create the proper fabric texture. I am toying with the idea of knitting the K2P2 scarf again. I have smaller slick needles now, some pairs of metal straight needles I got at an estate sale that I came across while out for a walk.

Knitting the K2P2 scarf again won't let me try out any new skills, but I can live with that.

August 19, 2010

sixty-ninth skein

If you can stand the irony, I have spun the last scant ounce out of my half pound the Ashland Bay merino in the colour peacock just at the very moment I have admitted to myself that I do not want to wear anything made of matte-textured yarn.

I give you my sixty-ninth skein, spun to match the others I spun in this fiber.

August 18, 2010

Contemplating a Sweater Pattern

I went looking on Ravelry for sweater patterns trying to find one that met my requirements.

I want one that is a good fit but not form-fitting, so I will only have to knit once and not rip out stitches because the size is wrong. I want one where it doesn't matter if one skein doesn't match the next exactly. I want one that could use different colours but not require colour-work, since I don't yet know how to knit anything but alternate rows of colour. I'd like something stunning that you can't get ready-made for love or money. I want to knit with the needles I already own, and I want to use up the peacock-coloured merino yarn I have on hand as well as more fiber from my stash.

I thought these were impossible qualities to find all in one sweater. Actually, I found a type of cardigan sweater that would do, except it would require new needles, which is not an insurmountable problem.

There are a number of pattern variations for this sweater out there. It can best be described as a very large circle of knitting with two holes where you make armholes and put sleeves if you want them. The sweater drapes attractively like a piece of bias-cut woven cloth.

Armed with this vision of a sweater, I pulled out more colours of merino fiber from my stash to see how well they would go in combination with the peacock handspun.

Turned out I was asking the wrong question. The question I should be asking is, do I ever want to wear the peacock-coloured merino? No, I don't. The colour is fantastic. The quality of my spinning is fine. The matte texture repels me. I cannot make myself like the yarn. I want glossy, lustrous clothes. I want Blue Face Leicester, and there is no use forcing the point with merino.

August 17, 2010

Celtic Gift Shop

I am in need of a little inspiration, as I try to plan my first sweater. I dropped into a gift shop that specializes in Celtic products to see the sweaters there.

I suppose this visit to a Celtic shop is also due to the fact that it is August and in August when I was young my parents and I would look at sweaters imported from Scotland. We shopped for shoes and clothes in Victoria, British Columbia. On Government street, the main tourist area which is lined with good quality shops, there was, and still was the last time I checked, a store full of plaids, tartans, and wooly sweaters, and we would always stop in and look.

Sadly, I am far from Government street. I am in Virginia, and the clerk in the Celtic shop here tells me they stock very few sweaters nowadays since the climate is warm and people don't buy them.

August 16, 2010

Hospital Gift Shop

Happened to go into a hospital gift shop while I was in the building to shop at a fundraising rummage sale. Quite a lot of crochet and knit baby booties and sweaters for sale there. Good to see people still do that.

August 14, 2010

The Wool-Pack

Got to read Cynthia Harnett's The Wool Pack and thoroughly enjoyed the novel. Great details about life and wool in the Cotswolds in the 1400s. Satisfying plot. Published by Puffin, which took me back to my childhood when I practically lived at the library and so many of their kids' books were from Britain.
The fine spring evening had brought all the women to the doors of their cottages, each with a distaff tucked under her arm, busily dropping, twisting, and winding up a spindle as she gossiped. (p. 31)

August 13, 2010


Yesterday I sounded all resolved about knitting a handspun sweater out of the ailing, incomplete scarf so I can be finished with the yarn.

The first step would be to frog the scarf.

Have I frogged the scarf? No.

I still like closure, I want closure. And to go off on a tangent, I watched a recent film version of a stage production of Hamlet and was irked that Fortinbras didn't show up at the end. As the commentaries say, he is the only one in the unabridged version out of the three young men, Hamlet, Laertes, and Fortinbras, who gets any closure on the death of his father. Also, if Fortinbras doesn't show up, Horatio can't fulfill his promise to Hamlet and tell Fortinbras what happened, thereby getting closure himself. How unsatisfying.

But back to my plans to knit my first sweater and the reason I am stalled. I am afraid of messing up, of having to redo a lot of work, of getting a tideline where a dyelot ends, and of creating a sweater friends call interesting.

August 12, 2010

Contemplating Yarn for a Sweater

I am contemplating making a sweater, my first sweater. Since I am a handspinner, this means starting by making the yarn, and since I spin on a drop spindle, this means spinning will take a lot of time.

My only work in progress right now is a scarf. Call it the albatross, with apologies to Coleridge. Not because it hangs around my neck, as it's not done so it can't. Call it the albatross because the scarf lingers and reproaches me. I started spinning the yarn at the end of August last year, I cast on the K2P2 scarf in November, and it is summer now. For one of my projects to have so little progress and no resolution for that long, you have to believe that there is deep internal reluctance and conflict going on. Me, not the scarf. But due to the scarf, I assure you.

I really prefer resolution. The worst thing about Coleridge's poem is that part at the end where the ancient mariner says,
Since then, at uncertain hour,
That agony returns:
And till my ghastly tale is told,
This heart within me burns.
(The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, 582-585) and you know that the poor blighter has to keep reliving the horrible experience because now he is a prophet and people must be told. And you had such high hopes a few lines before where he talks about running across that hermit, having a therapy session, and the tale leaving him free. I want my sense of resolution and completion.

Back to the sweater plans. I want to spin and make something grand and impressive that I can wear to the upcoming fiber festival. The partially-finished scarf is not it.

Even if the scarf were completely finished, I would still be unhappy with it. I tried it on, draping it around my neck with the needle carefully held out of the way. The fabric feels wrong. I don't know what the reason is but I can ignore the state of things no more. I am poised to frog this scarf. Ripping out the work will mean the reproachful scarf is gone, but even better, if I repurpose the yarn for a handspun, spindle-spun sweater, I won't have to spin so much.

Normally I want to spin as much as possible, but this is August and who knows how long it will take me to figure out how to knit a sweater to wear at the festival, never mind how long to spin for one.

The scarf is more than half as long as I am tall, and it is knit in K2P2 rib. In my scheming and plotting, I am trying to estimate how much stockinette sweater I could eke out of it. Add to that the two skeins that haven't been knit yet and the one skein that I ripped out for being slightly too thick, along with the remaining 20 some grams I haven't spun yet. I like doing inventory, yes, and marshaling my resources.

I am trying to anticipate handling a dye lot problem if I order more Ashland Bay merino in peacock. I am trying to imagine what people would say if I knit a sweater in both peacock and magenta handspun Ashland Bay merino. I have magenta in my stash. I love the colours and for all of my high school photos I alternated between wearing one or the other, but there is no denying that together they really knock your eye out. Perhaps I could put a line of dark navy to separate the blue and pink. Perhaps I should get a bit of navy and a lot more peacock and separate dye lots with the navy.

How much wool does a sweater take? I know the answer to that is, "It depends." I believe the way I'll get the answer is to start doing. For that I will need a pattern.

August 11, 2010

The Old Shale Smoke Ring is Done and In the Mail

I tried on the Old Shale Smoke Ring before sending it off. It's true what everyone says, knitted lace changes for the better after it is stretched and blocked.

The brilliant thing about this gift is not that the colour is perfectly suited to the recipient. It is not that I made my first piece of knitted lace and posted it with the sort of satisfaction I imagine a cat must have when leaving a bird on the doorstep.

No, it is brilliant because the parcel cost only $2.27 to mail from Virginia to British Columbia.

This yarn-spinning business is great for an expat like me. Every gift I send to family has to be sent across the border, and while I like posting parcels, I like the contents to be worth more than the stamp. Doesn't always happen. Chocolate bars are heavy. But handspun yarn handknit? That Romney watch cap I spun and knit, I sent it to my dad and it fit beautifully in the envelope and weighed little. Very gratifying.

August 10, 2010

Reading about Sprang Combined with Tablet Weaving

I got to page 169 of Marta Hoffmann's The Warp-Weighted Loom and was interested to run across her diagram and explanation of tablet-woven borders on sprang fabric.

I have not plaited sprang, as of yet, and have done the barest amount of tablet weaving. Knitting still has me occupied, but I hope to do these techniques sometime.

Near the back of Peter Collingwood's book on sprang, he shows how it is possible to get from a sprang frame two pieces of identically-shaped fabric for clothing. Back when I'd seen the diagrams, I'd wondered how the bottoms of the pieces were finished. The bottoms must be secured since sprang comes apart otherwise. With a bag, you are supposed to take the loose strands between the pieces of fabric and knot them into a bottom fringe. To create parts of clothing, these loose strands are cut. A tablet-woven border would secure them in the weft.

I don't think these methods, either creating sprang clothing or weaving the border with tablets, are something I could describe here, but the diagrams make sense if you see them.

Ah, I just went and checked Collingwood's sprang book, as he is thorough in his approach, and sure enough I found a reference there to tablet weaving for sprang borders. Must have missed it when I looked through the book the first time. I didn't read it all the way through: I read until I no longer understood the text and then skipped ahead looking at interesting parts. I had the feeling that I would have to physically do sprang to mentally follow Collingwood's instructions.

His writing reminds me of university lectures I once took from an instructor who spent the first ten minutes of a lesson teaching us a principle and, before we'd really digested that part, spent the rest of the lesson giving us all the ways to break, bend, and vary that principle.

Collingwood's books are wonderfully grounded in particulars, though. I got to flip through a copy of The Maker's Hand: A Close Look at Textile Structures. In it I saw a photo of a Middle Eastern shepherd's slingshot. I grew up on stories of David and Goliath without ever knowing what the slingshot would have looked like.

August 09, 2010

Inured to Knitting Lace

I am making headway on the Old Shale Smoke Ring and I am daring to hope that the end is in sight.

There was a point early on where I had to force myself to knit the lace, telling myself that I didn't ever have to do lace again if I didn't want to but I had to finish this first piece.

I am inured now.

The cowl got out and about a wee bit. I got to talk with a very pleasant Scot who helped me in a shop with a non-yarn purchase. As we checked a model number on my shopping list, I let a comment drop about yarn-spinning supplies being on my list too, and I waited to see if her eyes lit up. Yes, she was interested in yarn, she had learned to knit in school and kept it up. When I had to go back to the shop later, I brought this work-in-progress to show her.

August 07, 2010


I read John Mercer's The Spinner's Workshop: A Social History and Practical Guide, an earnest consideration of the meaning of handspinning. The topic is set within the context of social change in 1978 and the movement for transforming society through personal responsibility toward it, beginning with scrutiny of one's own way of life.

Unlike modern authors who write about how to spin yarn by hand and get fuzzy feelings, Mercer writes about all the reasons why one would and should spin yarn to save the world. He challenges me to examine the validity of both my current material culture and the means by which I get my needs met.

While the book is new to me, I've examined these questions before.

You might remember from my introductory blog post that I took up handspinning partly as risk management. I believe it is possible that, in my lifetime, the conventional system for getting clothes might suffer interruptions, decline, or become expensive to the point where the economic advantage tips toward those who know how to make clothes from the fiber up.

I am not so much trying to save the world as ensure that my wardrobe carries on, but I get what Mercer is driving at.

The benefit of this book is the degree of focus the author brings, and his credibility as someone living out his convictions.

Mercer considers handspinning primarily as production work, not a hobby or an outlet for artistic expression. He includes statistics on workshop output. He writes on page 118 that historically the "normal range for spindle-spinning is 60-120 yards" per hour for fine yarns, including fiber preparation.

My output cannot be anywhere near that, and I cannot think how I would have to change my technique on the drop spindle to achieve that much. Not and retain quality.

August 06, 2010

Counting Assiduously

Counting assiduously seems to be the solution to progress on the Old Shale Smoke Ring. Much better than ripping out work, both practically and emotionally. I have about four inches of cowl done.

August 05, 2010

Flax Hackle Sighting

I saw a coarse flax hackle at an antique shop. The tines were rusty and bent, and the wood was weathered and missing chunks of itself, so I couldn't imagine anyone buying it to use the thing as a working tool. Still, seeing it was a bit of a thrill.

As far as I know, opportunities to buy working flax hackles are only to be gotten through custom order from the rare person who knows how to make them.

I wonder, when the antique dealer found that flax hackle and put it in the shop, whether he or she thought it was a thrilling object or merely something that would sell.

Instead of hackle, it is labelled as a hetchel. I think that gives it some class, like it's a flax hackle from the Old Country or at least a flax hackle that got to go backpack around Europe after high school.

August 04, 2010

Advance and Retreat and Pass Me the Chocolate

Knitting the Old Shale Smoke Ring is a combination of advance and retreat. I am thinking of putting in life lines for the next time I have to rip back rounds. I am also thinking of obsessively counting my stitches in every single repeat as I knit.

The second bout of frogging drove me to chocolate. Now, I like chocolate very much and my family's motto could be "Nothing chocolate, nothing gained," but I object to being goaded by knitting to consume the stuff.

While I had the needles out of the stitches to rip back, I tried the piece out for size, wimple style. The fabric ringing my face looked like one of those bandages in funny old illustrations of children with mumps. Should be better once blocked.

August 03, 2010

Being Careful Not to Twist

"Join, being careful not to twist" is a common direction in knitting patterns for items knit in the round. Neglect this, and you blight your project. I did so when I tried to knit my first hat.

Compliance takes some doing. When I cast on to double pointed needles, my needles hang and twist so I have to straighten them out before joining them. This task feels something like doing those questions on intelligence tests where you have to mentally rotate and match or extrapolate complex shapes.

To cut down on the aggravation, I've taken to inserting a stitch marker into the fronts of two stitches at the ends of adjoining needles. The marker prevents the needles from rotating out of alignment and also gives me a visual clue as to what side is what.

August 02, 2010

Mulling Gift Suitability

Happy B.C. Day!

I don't know if you ever look at the right-hand column of my blog here, but there is a list of projects I anticipate doing at some point.

One of these is to make one gift in handspun for every family member. Production could take me years, so if you are related to me by blood or marriage, have patience. Better yet, just forget about this project so I can surprise you someday.

I thought it prudent to start with the eldest members of my family. I am fortunate to still have family members two generations older than me.

I've already given one of them a hat.

Another elderly relative will be getting my first lace project, which will be an Old Shale Smoke Ring in my Long Time No Sea Blue Face Leicester laceweight yarn, which is pictured above.

I still have to determine what to spin and make for the other elder family member.

I asked the advice of a fellow guild member and she helpfully pointed out that the item ought to be easy to wash since the person has the washing done by someone else. I guess if superwash wool is called for, then I will spin superwash. I would rather not. For one thing, I prefer untreated wool. For another thing, I want to limit myself as much as possible to spinning what I have on hand in order to reduce my fiber stash.

I thought of felted slippers, as there is no way that I know of to ruin felted slippers by washing. I've neither made a slipper nor felted yet and such a project would allow me meet another long-term goal, trying new skills. However, I would probably get the size wrong and floppy slippers would be a safety hazard when walking.

Hot water bottle cover? Noro/Wurm hat? Miniature knitted wool Christmas ornaments that would not need washing? I have some silk I can spin into yarn. Silk would not felt but still might need special washing care. Must think some more.