June 04, 2016

The Urge to Show and Tell

A couple of women were sifting through the bowl of my yarn-themed pin back buttons at a market a while back, laughing and pointing out the sayings to each other.  "That's so X!" they said about the "freshly handknit, please admire" button, referring to someone in their knitting group they found overly enthusiastic about show and tell.

"Is she a new knitter?" I asked.  When I first learned to spin and knit, I would bring my finished items to the attention of the more experienced handspinners I knew.  It was a way to say, I heard what you said to do, I applied it as best I could, and it's very exciting.

When I show and tell now, I'm more saying, this is possible, this is a result I'm after for these reasons, this is a benefit I'm trying to get through yarn, you can do this too.  Here is a display I did at a local farmers' market recently:

display for handspinning, knitting, weaving
It wasn't a patch on the other handspinner's display, though.  She had a piece of brown un-dyed cotton cloth she grew, spun, and wove.  She also had flax on a spindle.  Sometime I have to get a photo of her in her homegrown, handspun, handwoven green cotton vest.

homegrown un-dyed cotton handspun and handwoven into cloth
I am still working out the dynamics of traffic flow and weather for public demonstrations of fibre arts.  I really should have put up a tarp wall on the sunny side.  We were at the rear of the tent avoiding the sun and it was awkward to greet passersby from back there.  Shade might have helped us bear the humidity; hot weather makes it hard to spin wool.  The tables should have been in a line off to the side rather than an L at the front of the booth.  Sound is also an issue.  We were set up across from a dozen ukuleles with amplifiers.  So, fun but challenging.

May 28, 2016

Map of Yarnia

This is a letter I wrote to someone recently, about what I'd want people to know about yarn and the fibre arts.  

There are many benefits to having a hand in the production of textiles, whether it's knitting, weaving, handspinning, dyeing, processing fiber, or raising fiber.  You can know your clothes were produced with fair labour.  You can boost small-scale independent producers and family companies.  You can increase biodiversity and conserve endangered breeds and species of plants and animals that give fiber and dyes.  You can reduce pollution such as carbon from shipping or dye runoff in rivers from factories.  You can get more excellent technical qualities such as glossiness or reduced pilling, and more variety of colours and textures, and a better fit than you get in ready-made.  You understand more of the world's cultural heritage.  You can tinker and experiment.  You can take a project from plan to finished object, and have it just the way you want it.  You can stimulate or soothe your mind and body through the rhythmical motions of using the wheel or loom or needles.  You can repair a landscape by harvesting invasive species for dye.

But most people don't have the skills, don't even have the vocabulary to describe what they know from seeing textiles all their lives, and don't know where to start and who to ask.

Therefore, I recommend two routes.

The first route is for people who want the benefits but don't want to do the work.  You can find and buy from shepherds and knitters and weavers who sell finished goods to the public and who make things to order.  (But don't ask a hobby knitter to make you anything!)  You can find such folks in business by asking at yarn stores, art galleries, shepherds associations, and living history museums, or you can search online on places like Etsy and Local Harvest.  Ask for features like naturally green cotton and wool from black sheep.  Ask for real wool, linen, and cotton.  Moreover, you can give so others can do the work.  Give gifts of equipment, materials, and lessons to children in your extended families and local school classrooms.  You can donate to places dedicated to preservation and education such as The Livestock Conservancy, or any local arts education center that offers weaving, or therapeutic arts programs in prisons and hospitals.  You can do microloans or contribute to fundraising campaigns for local wool mills to buy new equipment.  You can pay for young people to learn how to shear sheep or keep sheep or build a spinning wheel.  Your vacation can be spent touring studios and farms in Peru or the Shetland Islands or New Zealand or your own region.  You can go talk to elderly people to see what they remember about their mothers' knitting.  You can let a dyer come pick your marigolds or gather your black walnut hulls.  There are guilds, which are groups or non-profit organizations that promote weaving, handspinning, or knitting, and you can volunteer your time to help these guilds apply for grants to educate the public.  Or you can provide public space for exhibits and demonstrations of a guild's work.  You can also challenge ready-to-wear companies to produce factory-made goods with integrity rather than stuff that rips off and poorly imitates the qualities of beautiful, labour-intensive, traditional handmade goods.  For example, recently a printed fabric has been widely sold that imitates the look of ikat and is sold as being ikat.  This is a deceptive practice.  Ikat is a type of hand-dyed and handwoven cloth.

The second route is to learn the skills and make stuff with yarn yourself.  You can, you really can.  There are how-to books and videos and blogs and the highly useful website Ravelry, there are suppliers out there, there are teachers and workshops and festivals, and there are many local guilds for handspinners, weavers, and knitters where you can go, get mentored, and see what's possible.  Look hard and you will find them.  Getting the skills will take time, money, effort, and grit.  Getting the tools and supplies will take up room and impact your family or housemates.  It will be as much effort as learning to drive or read.  It is worth it.

I should say, after they ask me how to spin basic yarn, almost all fibre arts newbies have the same two questions: where to buy fibre to spin and how to pick a spinning wheel.  The answer is, it depends on your goals and tastes.

I hardly ever advise knitter newbies or weaver newbies.  Interestingly, compared to finding materials and choosing tools for handspinning, with knitting it is much easier and usually cheaper and with weaving it is harder and usually more expensive, for a number of reasons.

When I knit or spin in public in front of non-fiber artists, after they ask me what I'm doing, their question is almost always, do I keep sheep.  Most handspinners I know don't.  I should start asking why they want to know.

So, that was the letter.

It's funny how newbies want to know where to find fibre and how to pick a spinning wheel.  They always ask the questions in that order.  They rarely ask me the reverse, how to pick fibre and find a spinning wheel.  I think that once they find fibre for sale, they find spinning wheels, and they are more confident about picking a fibre on their own.  There is more information published to follow about picking fibre.  Fibre is cheaper and simpler than spinning wheels are, so it feels like less of a risk.  Actually, a bad fibre choice can cost you a lot in lost time, wasted materials, and regret.  A spinning wheel can be reasonably easy to resell.

One additional way people can be a patron of the fibre arts is to rent meeting space to a guild at an affordable rate.  You'd be surprised how much this is needed.  Even better, rent space and provide secure and accessible storage space for the guild library and equipment.  For a meeting space in a commercial or religious building, expect nothing of the guild beyond the rental fee; that is, no expectation members will buy or buy in.  Let the guild secure their dates in advance, and do not mess with the schedule once set.

From my position of observing the fibre arts for years, it has been fun to draw conclusions in terms of sets and subsets.
For example, some knitters spin yarn.
Some knitters aspire to spin yarn and see that as the next logical step.
Some knitters see handspinning as the path to doom and getting overwhelmed.
Almost all handspinners knit; a few of them don't really like to knit but will do it, more for the product than the process.
Some handspinners weave.
Some weavers spin yarn but they weave far more with commercial yarn than they do handspun.
Handspinners buy a surprising amount of commercial yarn.
Handspinners usually know how to process fibre, that is, wash a fleece and comb or card it; however, most of the time they start with commercially-prepared fibre.
A lot of handspinners have tried dyeing yarn or fibre; a small number dye often but also work with commercially-dyed or un-dyed materials.
Some weavers dye their yarn after they wind the warp and before they dress the loom.
Most handspinners use a spinning wheel, many of them can use a spindle but see the wheel as primary, some use both, and a few use spindles only.
Handspinners who use spindles have usually tried most of the different types and have a clear preference for one of them.
A small number of handspinners own (or are owned) by great wheels.  A great wheels is about six feet long.  These handspinners find that getting a great wheel is sort of like catching an alligator.
Owning two or more Saxony or castle spinning wheels is common, and it's often because the wheels function differently.
It would be highly unusual for a handspinner in a Western country to spin yarn only on a charka or electronically-powered spinning machine; these usually go along with a collection of wheels.
Knitters often get leftover supplies dumped on them, handspinners do somewhat, and experienced handspinners often give samples of fibre to newbies for experimentation.
Weavers from time to time buy yarn and looms secondhand from elderly weavers who call it quits.
The average age of a weaver is older than a handspinner, comparatively few people start weaving, and succession planning is getting to be a concern.
The typical longtime weaver has a large, heavy floor loom and one of every other type of loom too.  When I say large, I mean the size of a small car.
The trend has been to smaller floor looms that can fold up even though it sacrifices some functionality.
Most weavers prefer using a floor loom over all other types and like 4 to 8 harness, though a few, the complex weavers, want far more harnesses.
A small but hardy band of fibre artists are fibre artists because they are doing experimental archaeology or historical re-enactment.
Some fibre artists raise fibre animals; some of them dream about doing that.  Many shepherds are not fibre artists.
The re-enactors want to raise fibre animals because they could have historically-accurate breeds and that would be cool.
Some fibre artists are gardeners or gleaners of materials for dyeing and spinning.
I was going to write that it is more common to see small finished objects at show and tell than large objects because the greater amount of necessary grit makes larger items more rare, but actually the numbers might be more even than that.
Small finished objects get admiration, large objects get admiration and respect.
Some fibre artists teach.
Some fibre artists go away to workshops, retreats, and festivals, even in other countries, and some (probably more of them) stay home.
Most fibre artists are curious, add to their knowledge and skills, and have goals for what they'd like to try.  Breadth of knowledge is admired.
Knitters in the past often made things according to standard rules of thumb and a cultural bank of combinations and arrangements of line and colour.  Now they are adapting and modifying patterns, trying patterns from many sources, grafting aspects of one pattern onto another, and trying to figure out handknit styles that no one does anymore.
Some knitters design and publish patterns, and work with other knitters to test the patterns.
Some knitters sell their knitted items and will take on commission work.  The first tend to be one-size-fits-all accessories, and the second tend to be customized.
Some weavers sell their items.  These tend to be either one extreme or the other, either art pieces or cotton towels.
Some handspinners sell their knitted or woven items but rarely sell handspun yarn or items made with handspun yarn.  If they do, the items tend to be things that only a handspinner could do, incorporating slubby yarn, tailspun yarn, or colour-blending.
Hand-dyers are much more likely to sell their items than knitters, handspinners, and weavers.  Usually a hand-dyer will either do fibre and yarn or they will do finished goods like cloth bags and pillow slips.  The techniques are different and the markets are different.
There are those that prefer natural dyes, those that prefer synthetic dyes, and those that prefer to go to a workshop where someone else sets up the pots and they take whichever is on offer.
Some guilds can mount a sale of members' works but in other guilds, members sell on their own or not at all.
Many fibre artists will give finished items as gifts to family for special occasions.  This is in contrast to generations ago where, I hear, getting a finished knitted item was rather expected and on the level with getting a packed lunch box.
A knitter of the past would have knitted for direct descendants.  Today, knitters feel the urge to knit for extended family, because their nieces, nephews, cousins, and whatnot might lead lives blighted by feckless parents who do not supply them with handknits.
Knitters label people as knit-worthy or not; that is, worthy of getting a knitted gift.  The key qualities to maintaining knit-worthy status are saying thank you, using the item, and washing it by hand; I'm not sure which is most important.  Some gift-giving knitters go to a lot of trouble to study a person's tastes and will knit with an easy-care yarn they dislike.

Of all the lofty benefits I listed in the first paragraph, most fibre artists go after about half of those benefits.  Mostly we mess with yarn because it's cool and makes us happy.  We like doing it and we like the result.  I'm not sure there is a number one reason why people do it.  A lot of them gush about the colours and softness of the materials.

For the people who look but never enter Yarnia and the fibre arts, the feeling I get from them is that they don't trust it would work out for them if they got into it.  This is probably why I like to make maps, as it were, and do public demos.

April 23, 2016

Silver Earrings for Weavers

So this week there is Earth Day and Fashion Revolution day, both good, and I am contemplating them for a moment then letting it go by in a blur because I have my head down making fibre-arts themed jewellery to sell at Powhatan's Festival of Fiber next week.

Weavers complain that festival vendors don't sell products for their craft.  So, I cast some silver earrings in the shape of tiny boat shuttles.

silver earrings for weavers by Rosetwist LLC

I recently found the podcast Conscious Chatter by Kestrel Jenkins and the article "Finding Local" by Niki Taylor in Seamwork magazine's April, 2016 issue.

I did order the linen knitting yarn, two sample balls of it.  It is the same gauge as the Bockens linen weaving yarn I have; the Bockens is much more tightly spun and plied.  I selected the natural white and natural grey, in my desire to avoid synthetic dye, and the shades appeal to me.

April 02, 2016

Oh, for a Linen Sweater

I have set aside the first grey mitten because there is something wrong with the gauge.  I need to fix it and just haven't.  Actually, I haven't made anything at all for three weeks, fibre or metal.  I have been resting and procrastinating on non-maker tasks.

I like to browse the online listings of a local auction house.  I like secondhand things and also material culture: it interests me to see what people had.  There is an estate sale up right now that includes something like ten storage tubs full of unfinished quilts.  Let this be a lesson to us all!

I've also been browsing Ravelry's project search function for finished sweaters, finished sweaters in linen, finished sweaters in undyed yarn, lace-weight finished sweaters, and handspun finished sweaters.  Many of the handspun sweaters were stockinette with thin stripes in multiple colours that were blurred and indistinct as they changed from one colour to another.  I would guess their owners spun the yarn from those 4 ounce bags of of roving dyed in multiple colours that have been so popular the last while.  There was a dainty Waterlily sweater, which is a solid colour in mostly stockinette stitch with some knitted lace at the yoke, knitted with the most beautiful linen yarn.  I went so far as to look up where to buy the yarn.  And then I thought of all the supplies I have already.  I may lack linen knitting yarn (and a nice linen sweater to wear) but there's a fair bit of linen weaving yarn, wool yarn, hemp yarn, wool roving, and raw fleece waiting for their turn.  I also have a 1990s thrift store linen sweater that might yield some knitting yarn some sweet day in the future.

Speaking of linen, and keeping in mind that I aim to get as much linen in my life as possible, I treated myself to a purchase of linen placemats from my favourite furniture and housewares store.  I don't know why I waited so long.

You may remember I had a booth at the Fiber Farmers' Market for the first time.  It went alright.  The best moments for me were when I talked to someone who was thinking about buying her first spinning wheel and to someone else who had an antique spinning wheel that needs restoration.  This probably makes me a terrible salesperson, because none of this has to do with the fibre arts-themed jewellery, tools, and supplies I sell.

Selling at a market is a very immediate thing, you have to focus on totting up prices and taking payment.  It is very different from the weeks before when you are planning ahead and watching products take shape under your hands.  I pushed myself to produce before the market.  I got some extra help from one of my metal instructors which enabled me to complete two necklaces with silver coins, one of an Australian sheep and the other of a handspinner with distaff and spindle.  I also finished a necklace with a silk cocoon pendant that I cast in silver.  I still need to get that one up for sale on the website.  Anyway, it put me in a good position, stock-wise, for my booth at Powhatan's Festival of Fiber which is coming up at the end of the month.

March 05, 2016

Just Keeping My Hand In

I am just keeping my hand in, as it were, by knitting a new mitten in grey store-bought wool for a family member.  Nothing big, nothing complicated or ambitious.  But hopefully useful.  I like usefulness.  The mittens are meant to coordinate with the hat with Fibonacci stripes I did.

One pair of my Susie's Reading mitts is complete and the others are sitting in a project bag with a little bit of work still to go.

My production efforts are in metal right now, making fibre-arts themed jewellery to sell at my booth, Rosetwist LLC, at the Fiber Farmers' Market in Vienna, Virginia on March 13.  I plan to have supplies and tools for sale as well.  If you look at the stock on my Etsy shop, I plan to bring all the wool-related items.  Please come and shop!  I've been to the market a number of times as a shopper and am glad to be going as a vendor this time.

knit purl earrings by Rosetwist LLC


January 09, 2016

Kitchener and Kitchener and Kitchener Again

When last I posted, there were two pairs of identical handknit fingerless mittens whose tops needed to be folded over and Kitchenered.  There are three pairs of mittens now and I've just started to Kitchener.

I have read another book on getting things done that advises a person to eliminate, automate, and delegate tasks as much as possible.  Apparently the rule is to do tasks that can only be done by you, and nothing else.  Sounds like a rather expensive and sterile way to live.  

The white Romney wool has been machine-spun into yarn for me and is awaiting pickup the next time I go to B.C.  I hear the mill's financial situation has improved.

The Egyptian coin earrings I made sold immediately and I am waiting on more of the same coins to arrive from Poland.  I have coins coming from Italy and a small packet of jewellery components coming from Singapore as well.  It is a rather cool feeling to source from exotic places.  It entails a lot of waiting, though.

earrings made from Egyptian coins showing a handspinner
If you like, you can now put in your email address and have a post from this blog sent to you automatically whenever I publish one.  Just find the little field and type.  I am not sure if I get to see your email address or not.  If I can, I won't use it for anything else.