February 29, 2012


I watched a subtitled movie while knitting on the sock cuff.  Distracted by the need to read the screen and follow the plot, I managed to skip over a needle, creating a long float at the back.  Four or five rounds of knitting effort were wasted before I realized.  The feeling is like when you break a winning streak.

Am onto the mindless stockinette part now.

February 28, 2012

A Little Gulf Coast Native Wool

Here's a little Gulf Coast Native wool top I'm spinning.  The yarn will go into a group project done to promote public understanding of handspun.

The past half year, I set out to focus on making useable handspun items for myself and it's laughable how little the stuff I've done meets the criteria.  I set this large goal and then consequently got even worse at meeting it.

Not that this is the Gulf Coast wool's fault.  Plus, extra spinning is a bonus: I get the fun of turning my spindle and none of the responsibility for making yarn into cloth.

I'm spinning this wool (rather than wool of my own for me) because there is a deadline for turning in the yarn so the project can go on to the next stage.  And so it was with the Christmas hat and the card weaving samples: people were expecting them.   Maybe it's helpful to think in terms of due dates for deliverables.

February 22, 2012

Knitting from the Netherlands

I read Henriette van der Klift-Tellegen's Knitting from the Netherlands about fisherman's sweaters from about 1860 to the present day:
For the original fishermen's sweaters an all-wool yarn called sajet (pronounced sah-YET) was used.  Sajet was very popular among the fishing population....Stockings, underwear and sweaters were knitted from it, because in addition to being inexpensive it was readily available....Opinions as to the quality and durability of sajet differed.  With wear, sajet acquired a sheen, which was not to everyone's liking....
Farmer's wives brought the fleece of their sheep to the spinning mills to sell for yarn making....
The wool of a sheep bred for meat, such as the Dutch Texelaar, from the island of Texel, is short and fairly rough.  To spin good yarn from it, it must be tightly twisted.  The technical term, in Dutch, for this firm twist is sajet.  Because this wool was grown domestically and was available in large quantities, the price was low.  As long as people had to be thrifty, sajet was popular.  After World War II the standard of living improved and people were able to afford more expensive yarns.  The sajet disappeared.
-Henriette van der Klift-Tellegen, Knitting from the Netherlands: Traditional Dutch Fishermen's Sweaters, (Asheville, NC: Lark Books, 1985), p. 18.
I like to understand how people used to get things done.  There is so much packed in this passage about local fibre.  The way low price, budget constraints, and ease of availability drove the use of domestic commercial yarn made from regionally-produced materials.  The engagement of women, farmer's wives, in the paid economy when they sold fleece to mills.  How the form of sajet yarn was a function of its properties, its short staple.  The way knitters abandoned the cheap, rough local product once they could afford to spend more.

The author also states that cheaper synthetic yarn helped sajet yarn fall from popularity, so aspiration may not have been the only reason people switched.  Or, perhaps the synthetics looked modern and progressive.  She hints that there was stigma in some regions over certain colours of sajet yarn.  The colours were "worn only by poor people."

I've heard of Texel sheep being raised on Vancouver Island in Canada and the raw wool offered to spinners at a very low price.  The sheep were either for meat or dairy, I'm not sure.  According to the handspinner who found the shepherd, the farm used to sell fleeces to be made into Cowichan sweaters.

February 21, 2012

Arts of the Pennsylvania Germans

I like drop spindles and I wish that living history museums would interpret the use of spindles more often so that people can see them in action.  The decision to exhibit spindles depends on the museum being able to collect authentic spindles or prove that spindles were used during the time period the museum portrays.  Therefore, I keep on the watch for passages in books that might offer proof, such as this:
The small wheel, usually used only for flax, allowed the spinner to sit while she worked.  The large wheel, primarily for wool or occasionally for cotton, required her to walk backward and forward while the shorter wool or cotton fibers twisted onto the spindle.  (The use of the simplest spinning tool of all, the spindle, did not appeal to the Pennsylvania Germans, although it was common in other areas of Pennsylvania and the country.)
Spinning occurred in most households.  By 1810 Montgomery County had one spinning wheel for every three people, a ratio that is probably typical of the other Pennsylvania German rural counties.
-Susan Burrows Swan, "Household Textiles," Arts of the Pennsylvania Germans, ed. Catherine E. Hutchins, (New York: W.W. Norton, 1983), p. 222.
And, having found the passage, I am left with questions.  Why didn't spindles appeal?  In which areas were spindles common?  What types?  Which sources did the author draw on?

February 20, 2012

Black Dye from Peat Bogs

I was wondering how black dyed was obtained before synthetic dyes were derived from fossil fuel.  According to dye artist India Flint,
In parts of Scandinavia, the traditional thick woollen skirts of regional costumes were dyed by extended immersion in peat bogs.  The process sometimes took up to two years, as the cloth was immersed in the bog, left to soak and occasionally aired, possibly to encourage oxidisation.  The acidic nature of the bog would have acted as a wool conditioner, helping to soften the coarse fibres as the cloth turned from a warm golden brown to (eventually) a rich black.
-India Flint, Eco Colour: Botanical Dyes for Beautiful Textiles (Loveland, CO: Interweave Press, 2010), p. 22.
It's interesting about a bog soak used to condition wool.  As a handspinner, I am concerned about getting wool that is soft before I spin it, wool from flocks bred and raised for good quality.  I assume that the qualities of the wool will stay the same once it's made into fabric.

Most fibre artists today want soft wool.  Most people who wear clothes prefer soft fabric.  And then there I am, half a year after purchase, scraping pills off a store-bought lambswool sweater.  It's a tradeoff.  Maybe bog water gets you fabric that's both durable and softened.

Two years to wait until you wear a skirt.  What a different mindset from today.

February 18, 2012


I've made enough of the sock for it to get heavy and therefore I'm trying (unsuccessfully) to keep it on my lap as I work in order to take weight off the needles as recommended in June Hemmons Hiatt's The Principles of Knitting.

Looks like the revised edition of that enormous book is out this week.

I can borrow a copy of the old edition.  I should look again and see if it teaches how to do lever knitting or just mentions it.  Lever knitting is supposed to take the weight of knitting and support it by setting one needle under the arm or in a belt and sheath.

I read an online preview of the new edition.  Hiatt talks of two changes since the original book: the Internet and knitting events, by which I guess she means conferences, workshops, and festivals, developments which "sustain [knitters] in this craft..."

I talked last week with half-a-dozen people I know socially, folks I would describe as cutoff from this support or partially cutoff.  All of them wished to go on further with knitting but had, they told me, impediments in their way.  Sorry I can't go into specifics about what was holding them up.  I want people to talk to me freely and not worry that I will repeat what they told me.

I am fine when someone says they don't want to knit but when they say they want to knit and they don't, that makes me want to prod them into doing something about the situation.  It's a question of determining how serious they are and being able to prod them in a useful direction.  However, there is only so much you can do when they're holding a coffee cup and a muffin and you've gotten together for a different purpose.

February 17, 2012

Have Turned the Heel

I have turned the heel on my first sock.  What once lay flat became something of a different shape, awkward to manage as I knit the gusset but hopefully wearable once I'm done.

I think I can take "learn to knit socks" off my list of goals, since from this point onward there are only decreases to make in the right places and some Kitchener stitch.  Nothing new in the way of skills.

No, I can't strike it off: it's not there on the list.  I checked and what I have written down is "knit a pair of socks."  That requires me to finish this sock and knit a mate for it before I give myself a gold star.

Never mind, the texture on the eye of partridge heel flap is consolation enough.

February 16, 2012

Saved Snippets and Sample Books

I've been saving the little ties off used skeins of my handspun for the purpose of creating a sample book.  It's time to chuck them and the project.  A sample book filled with old handspun snippets sounds clunky and useless.  Moth bait.  There's very little yarn there I would ever want to replicate or review.

Let me review my current list of goals.  Right, "make a sample book" is not there.  Must ditch well-meaning intentions and focus on what I really want to make.

February 15, 2012


I had been putting supplies away little by little as they accumulated, then got a little fuzzy on how much I had and where.  Since I plan to do something eventually with it all, the storage method was unsatisfactory.  I was doing well with unspun fibre but not with my handspun.  I had placed skeins higgledy-piggledy into a couple of white cotton pillow slips and put them in banker boxes in a closet.

Now the skeins and a few other fibrous things are inside individual zippered plastic bags lined up on the shelves of a solid wood bookcase.  The photo shows the shelves partway done.

I got the bookcase recently for very little money at a second hand shop.  It's a lightweight bookcase, I got it home by myself.  It's a shallow style, the kind that safety-minded people avoid because it can tip over.  I propped up the front legs with thin shims of cork to ward against tipping.

BFL gets its own shelf, third from the top.

I dislike the use of that much plastic.  I prefer to store things out of sight but am going with this, at least for a bit.

While sorting I found some misplaced stitch markers.  I can scratch "find markers" off my mental list.  Also on the topic of organizing and finding homes for things, the stitch markers are now in a sturdy little cardboard box with a frosted plastic cover that slides like a matchbox's.  On the topic of keeping things in matchboxes, I am now singing the "Alexander Beetle" song.

February 14, 2012

Tablet-woven Sampler

Happy Valentine's Day!

I warped with two strands each of pink and white per card, threaded adjacently, then did as many tablet weaving variations as I fancied.  There are still a few left to try out.  Descriptions are taken from Peter Collingwood's The Techniques of Tablet Weaving.

Below, left to right.  "Twisting the long axis of the band, the right half in one direction and the left half in the other so that the undersurface becomes the upper."  "Transposing warp by crossing threads" in groups of three on the righthand edge only, difficult to see.  Would look much better on a warp with cards threaded with all one colour, each group in a contrasting colour.  "Warp-faced plain weave double cloth" with pattern-making: in the centre, I interchanged pink with white.

More warp-faced plain weave double cloth, some with the weft connected only at one side to create a pocket, some with the weft connected at both sides to create a tube.

"Omitting wefts" to make cords of twisted warp.  "Plain weave and hopsack, combined with floats on both sides of the band."

I can't remember exactly what this next section is, but I do know the section on the left of the picture has the colours changing in straight lines, and the section on the right side of the picture has the colours changing in diagonal lines.  The cards are threaded S and Z, and there's a reversal line in the middle.  There's an error at the top left of the photo which I liked and left as it was.  The messy selvage, the loops on the edges, could have done with some attention.

The cards on the righthand side of the band are threaded one way (Z?) and have the colours changing to make diagonal lines going one way, and the lefthand side of the band is set up the opposite way to give a chevron.  Partway through the direction of the cards is reversed, creating a lozenge or diamond.  Before that, to the right of the picture, the cards were all threaded for diagonal lines going the same way.  The bend in the diagonal line is made with a reversal in direction.  Here I did make a nice selvedge.

More diagonal lines, but made with cards threaded alternately S and Z.  Easier to turn the cards with alternate threading but the line of the pattern is visually broken and distorted.  The loop is where I started weaving.  "Woven loop, starting at one side of a continuous warp."  You start in the middle with a pack of cards on either side, weave one way, weave the other, then bend the warp in half and weave with both packs of cards.  It's slick.  Double weave (above) was even more fantastic to do, because you turn the cards on their points and weave through two sheds.

February 13, 2012

The Setons

I came across a recommendation on Ravelry for a series of books, the Scottish novels written by O. Douglas.  The author has a droll way of sketching characters through dialogue.  Here's a knitting-related excerpt, where a mother talks about her trouble getting a good nurse for her daughter:
They were all nice women, but somehow they just didn't suit.  The first one had an awful memory.  No, she didn't forget things, it was the other way.  She was a good careful nurse, but she could say pages of poetry off by heart, and she did it through the night to soothe Phemie like.  She would get Phemie all comfortable, and then she'd turn out the light, and sit down by the fire with her knitting, and begin something about 'The stag at eve had drunk its fill,' and so on and on and on.  She meant well, but who would put up with that?  D'you know, that stag was fair getting on Phemie's nerves, so we had to make an excuse and get her away.
-O. Douglas, The Setons, 1917 
I could have picked a better excerpt, perhaps.  There's the knitting that a woman takes to work on when she goes to Shakespeare readings.  The stocking the heroine knits while the hero tries to court her and the stitch she drops when flustered.  A down-to-earth mother who knits while her pretentious daughter does fancy work.  The mother who copes with her son's enlistment by knitting socks and the "frenzy of knitting into which the women threw themselves, thankful to find something that would at least occupy their hands" in August, 1914.

Douglas dresses the heroine in "a soft blue homespun coat and skirt, and a hat of the same shade crushed down on her hair," but of course homespun is not necessarily the same as handspun and there is no mention of a spinning wheel in the house.

Many chapters of The Setons start with a quote from a Shakespearian comedy.  Every so often in the narrative a Biblical phrase or allusion pops in, as with this description of a guest who is difficult to please, "You stay her with apples and she prattles of nectarines."  Cats and sausage rolls appear in the story too.  It's my sort of book, even if I did cry in places.  I know it's commonplace to say this, but Ravelry is good for letting you run across interesting things.

Then there is this quote from Penny Plain: "It is wonderful how much news there is when people write every other day; if they wait for a month there is nothing that seems worth telling."  A true thing, of correspondence and of blogs.

February 11, 2012

Eye of Partridge

I am knitting socks–my first pair, so exciting–with some store-bought yarn, Kroy, so that I don't have to wait until I spin proper sock yarn to get the wool handknit socks whose fit everyone tells me will irrevocably and fundamentally change my life.

Why no, there is no peer pressure when knitters get together.  Not a sausage.

I've started in on the heel flap.  The stitch here is eye of partridge.  I am pleased with the look and texture of the fabric.  It takes four rows to make one repeat of the stitch.  In the evening I did three repeats, enough to get the effect.  In the morning I went and picked up the sock-in-progress just so I could admire the eye of partridge.

eye of partridge stitch, DyakCraft sock needles

I like the thickness of the fabric too, compared to the stockinette on the leg.  It's meant to stand up to abrasion.

February 08, 2012

Long Lock, Short Lock

I flicked some more Romney locks and discovered that some of them are longer than others.  I rarely handle individual locks since I'm used to spinning top and the difference was interesting to note.

February 07, 2012

February 06, 2012

Reasons for Owning Wool Combs and Hand Cards (Or Not)

Early on when I took up handspinning, I was set on acquiring hand cards and wool combs so I could prepare fibre.  I talked to experienced spinners about the options.  I noted what brands and designs they use and recommend, and I tested as many as I could.  I read books and window shopped for a while before taking the plunge.  Even with all that, well, it's amazing my capacity to try before I buy and still not know until later if a tool is a keeper.

I've watched other handspinners go through the same careful shopping process.  Hand cards and wool combs cost a fair bit.  The action of carding and combing, the ergonomics of the particular design, and the resulting arrangement of fibre can match your taste or not.  Hand cards and I still don't get along, and I greatly prefer the design of one of my sets of wool combs over the other.

I've noticed that the people who keep and like their hand cards and wool combs do so for a number of reasons.  Here's the list.  It might help you decide whether you have a practical reason to own cards and combs.  

They keep fibre animals that produce enough fibre to process by hand but not enough to send to a custom mill.  They want fibre that is not commonly commercially milled and stocked in stores, such as rare breed wool.  They want a blend of fibres or a multi-colour blend they can't buy ready-made.  They prefer to pick a fleece by judging the look of its intact locks, and they think commercially-blended roving or top has lost the character of the original.  They enjoy the feel of spinning rolags from hand cards or sliver from wool combs.  They spin woolen and worsted yarn with rolags and sliver respectively, yarn structures that cannot be obtained so well from commercial preparations.  They interpret historical methods of handspinning as a job or hobby.  They have been given unprocessed fibre for free.  

That last reason pulls in beginner spinners.  Tantalizing, to have fibre but be unable to spin it in its tangled state.  If that's you, at this point how do you know you'll go for more after you finish processing the pile of free fiber?  There are stop-gap options.  Rent hand cards, combs, or a drum carder from your guild.  Get by with a cat comb or dog comb, or a relatively inexpensive flicker sold by handspinning supply stores.  Put the pile away and spin prepared roving and top for a while.

None of the stop-gap options would have swayed me.  I could not be told.  I suppose this blog post is sort of a message to my earlier self and to my future acquisitive self too.

February 03, 2012

Some Hampshire Wool, Spun

This Hampshire wool I combed is as pleasant to spin as I expected.  I've combed a third of what I have and decided that was enough to start spinning.

I spun it tighter than any yarn I've done to date in order to try and get hardwearing sock yarn qualities.  I drafted as usual, then held the strand and spun the spindle for an extra count of twelve before winding on.

I aimed at 40 wpi and got a little thicker than that most of the time.  I suppose the finished yarn will be thick as sock yarn goes.  I don't actually know how sock yarn goes.  Hardly any experience with sock yarn, myself, and even less with hand knit socks.

February 01, 2012

Flick Carding

These scratches are from a mini doffer flicking Romney hogget locks held over a scrap of leather.  (Don't know what flicking is?  You flick a lock of wool to prepare the wool for spinning into yarn.  You draw a comb or flick carder through one end of the lock while holding the other, then turn the lock around and draw the comb through the rest.  Since the tines of the flicker can be scratchy and you hold the lock of wool on your leg, a scrap of leather protects your pants from being shredded.  I don't have a flicker; I'm using a mini doffer tool instead.)

I'm not sure how I feel about flick carding yet as a way of preparing fiber.  It feels more comfortable than carding with hand cards and wastes less than combing in my experience.  Each short, crimpy lock goes from a tight squiggle to an airy mass.  However, drafting from a lock and joining it with the next is tricky.  I'm getting lumpy joins and an inconsistent gauge of singles overall.

I expect that if I were preparing longer locks, I could get a better handle on them and keep the strands aligned but I don't know.

Romney hogget lock at top left,
mini doffer tool at top right,
lock after flicking at bottom