Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Myth Busting

There's a myth out there that drop spindles, or as Abby Franquemont prefers to call them, "suspended spindles", are just for beginners. Wrong, wrong, wrong. As she points out in her book, "Respect the Spindle", spindles can be used to produce all types of yarn and were used for everything from rope to fine cotton until the advent of the wheel around 500-600 years ago. Spindles are especially good for making fine lace-weight knitting yarns. Shawl knitters, take note!
It does takes more practice to become a reasonably competent spindle spinner than it does to learn to spin on a wheel. I'm no spinning expert. I guess I'd have to say at this point, though, that I've moved from novice to intermediate in my skill levels. I seem to gave got to the point where not only can I make usable knitting yarn, but I can custom-spin the yarn I want to work with.
Yesterday, I used my shoebox kate to wind my singles into a two-strand centre-pull ball, which I then plied using a larger spindle.

2-strand centre-pull ball ready for plying.
Plying in progress.
The wool magically fluffs out after washing and drying.
The finished product.
I don't obsess about getting my handspinning perfectly even and smooth, although I do try to end up with a yarn that will work to a fairly constant gauge. If I wanted an even, smooth yarn, I'd buy something commercial. The point of handspinning for me, is to wind up with a unique and beautiful yarn to make a unique and even more beautiful piece of handknitting. I hope you'll give spindle spinning a whirl.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

In a Whirl

Wheel spinning is nice, but to me, spindle spinning is nicer. I like that I can do it in any room of the house (or even outdoors if there isn't too much wind), and that I can stand up and walk around. I spend enough time sitting and knitting! It's more physical, and perhaps that appeals to the musician in me. Especially toward the end of the day, when I might be feeling a bit of stress or fatigue, spindle spinning is relaxing, even mesmerizing. Do a little bit every day, and before you know it, you have enough yarn for a scarf, or even a Buttonbox vest.
I'm definitely in a spindling mood this week. I have some of Malabrigo's Nube, purchased on a whim at my my LYS, Wool on Wellington (so nice to have a shop only a 5-minute walk from my front door--dangerous too!) I've been spending my post-dinner clean-up hours listening to Ruth Downie's "Terra Incognita", while spinning up this richly dyed merino. Now, merino's not my favourite fibre to spin, but this doesn't seem to be giving me much of a problem, probably because I'm giving it this treatment. The results so far:
I always try to prop my spindle in something to keep it from rolling onto the floor.

Toilet paper tube as a bobbin holding singles awaiting plying.
A Harriet update:
Many thanks for all the kind things you have written to me in the last few days about this design. Here's my latest iteration of the jacket in Osprey.

I'm afraid the rich Marsh colour isn't coming across, at least on my laptop screen. In case someone is thinking of asking why the cuff looks a little odd, it's because I chose this time to knit it flat, slipping each first stitch knitwise to create these little bumps at the edge. I simply wasn't in the mood for garter stitch in the round.


Today I'll thread the leftover length from the casting on (I purposely left it long) through the bumps,

back and forth, to bring the cuff together in a perfectly interlocking and flat seam. See you later.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Out with the Old, In with the New

One of the sad things that happens in the yarn world is sometimes great yarns are discontinued. This is what has happened with Elann's Peruvian Highland Chunky. I loved it, and used it for both Harriet's Jacket and Petrova. Indeed, it was one of those great wools that could be knitted at two different gauges, firmly for Harriet, and slightly relaxed for Petrova. Well, it's gone now, so I'm making changes to the patterns with new yarn recommendations.
To celebrate the arrival of spring (OK, it's actually snowing outside, but over all things are getting better), I'm making myself a new Harriet in Quince & Co's "Osprey" in the colour Marsh, a rich olive green. For some reason, this jacket just looks so right in this colour. I hope to have it done by the end of April, when I will lend it out to Rosehaven Yarns for display at their booth at the Toronto Knitters' Frolic. Rosehaven will have Quince yarns at their booth,  and you can

 DOWNLOAD THE PATTERN FOR FREE any time from now until the end of March. This pattern has been a best-seller for me, especially in Europe for some reason. Enjoy!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Ravelry: A Double-Edged Sword

Just as it's difficult now to remember a pre-internet world (remember when you couldn't just "Google it"?), it's getting hard recall the pre-Ravelry knitting universe. I owe my own career as a very minor knitting designer to the existence of Ravelry and the tech geniuses who came up with the idea and then implemented it. Ravelry is fantastic, and as someone with substantial sales to the EU, I'm beyond delighted that Ravelry is going to start dealing with the VAT. I love that I can publish a design, hear back from knitters, make changes or corrections to a pattern, see what other knitters have done with it, what they like or don't like, etc. I love seeing what else is going on in the knitting universe, and talk about accessibility! I can sit in my third floor library on a day when it's snowing and the temp outside is -20C, press a button on my computer, and print out a copy of a pattern I've been admiring. Wow!
So what's not to love? Well, there is a dark side, believe it or not. Like all social media, Ravelry is a creature of the moment. It's very much about the latest, hottest item. Granted, it's amusing, even exciting, to watch as one's new design hits the "most viewed" page. But inevitably, a few days later it will be supplanted by the next new thing, which in turn will be replaced by something else. Of course, there are some wonderful patterns that linger in the top few "most viewed" pages pretty much eternally. The Hitchhiker Scarf comes to mind. But lately, I've noticed that designers and design companies are really pushing the envelope when it comes to getting attention. Take your pick from mystery KALs, photos of bare skin, photos of models with really, really unusual facial expressions, and yes, upside down photos. It's a crazy world out there when it comes to attention-getting tactics. And even worse is the pressure to constantly produce new material at an ever-increasing tempo to feed the need for the latest and newest. Does this result in quantity over quality? What does it mean for the quality of life of knitwear designers? Doesn't creativity also demand time for reflection? I don't know the answers to these questions, but these are important questions worth asking.
Let's dial back to the pre-internet knitting world of Elizabeth Zimmermann. For many years I used to receive Schoolhouse Press's Newsletters with their typewritten instructions and black and white grainy photos. The newletters came out twice a year. That's two, and only two, major published designs in each twelve-month period. And with instructions which by today's standards aren't much more than bare bones. (It should be noted, however, that Elizabeth was constantly unventing and producing astonishing knitted objects, many published posthumously.) Would EZ have survived and thrived in the whirl of the Ravelry moment? It's certainly nice to see the Baby Surprise Jacket is one of those designs that's an eternal fave on the "most viewed" pages. But my bet is that she would have made some entirely pithy remark to put all of us in our places, and got on with the things that mattered to her, without regard to whether or not they were "hot right now".

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Scaling Down (or Is That Up?)

Authentic 5-ply gansey (or Guernsey) yarn like this, and this, is a tightly spun sportweight that's knitted firmly at a fingering gauge. The fabric it creates emphasizes textural stitches and at the same time is quite windproof and water repellant. Over time, it softens and fades and, needless to say, it is very hard wearing. Problem is, I don't particularly enjoy knitting at such a firm, small gauge, and I generally prefer to wear garments with a bit more elasticity and... umm... softness. I say this, even though I'm not a softness freak and don't at all like to work with superwash wools. All this preamble is simply to make the point that I've decided to sample a bunch of gansey stitches with wool that is mostly knitted at a larger gauge and thicker than the original stitches were designed for.
Now, you can't just take the original gansey stitch pattern charts and work them on bigger needles with thicker yarn. The stitch patterns need to be re-scaled and re-proportioned so that your eyes can keep the pattern in proper perspective.
For example, in Buttonbox, the repeat of the original pattern stitch, "Grampian Steps", was 8 stitches across by 12 rows high. To make the boxes work in worsted weight wool at a gauge of 5 sts/inch, I scaled the pattern down to 6 stitches across by 8 rows high.


If I hadn't, the boxes would have been much too big, and our eyes and brains wouldn't register the pattern properly.
I've been doing something similar with a few other gansey stitch patterns over the last week. The next one below is knitted in super-thick "Puffin" from Quince & Co on 10.5mm needles. The original stitch  (the eye-catching "Slate" stitch worn by Stephen Hawker, Vicar of Morwenstow) was 10 stitches by 28 rows. Without any tweaking, there would be so few repeats across the coat this is intended to become that the result would look ludicrous. So, here I dialed it back to 8 stitches by 20 rows. BTW, I adore the way the very rectangular-looking chart develops these gentle waves after knitting and blocking.

The next sample shows several experiments with scale and proportion in Cascade 220 knitted at 5 sts/inch. This is the "Eddystone" pattern, named after the lighthouse of the same name off the coast of Cornwall. You can see how I gradually changed the spacing of the little triangles, both vertically and horizontally to find the right balance. Not sure which spacing I like best. The middle version?

And what is this intended for? I'm planning a new vest,

one with a double-knitted pocket on the right front and a tab in back, or possibly a ribbon tie--I need to play with that idea for a while.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

In the Pipeline...

Since last fall I've been doing a lot of knitting, but not a lot of publishing. I've got a backlog of stuff designed and knitted up in one size, with handwritten notes, charts, etc. Although there are pics of these items, they aren't of the type I'd use as "official" pattern photos.

So, so busy, and so little to show for it. Guess I'd better get to work!