Now that I'm finally done with the semester, I am working hard to get things going in my shop again. You can expect to hear about additions to the shop here. In the meantime, for my dear readers, here is a little peek:
One of the things I love about the fiber arts is that they are all connected and they all support each other. I began primarily as a knitter and sewer, but have grown to love many other fiber arts, including spinning, weaving, and dyeing. I have been especially excited about spinning lately. During the last month or so of the spring semester, I spent most of my free time spinning. I have a wonderful Louet spinning wheel that my great-aunt has lent me, but I have been rediscovering the wonders of the drop spindle (largely thanks to this book).
Often people begin their spinning adventures on a spindle, but once they decide they like to spin they switch over to a spinning wheel. There is a sense that serious spinners use wheels, and that drop spindles are too slow and basic. Partly the spinning wheel is touted as a faster and more efficient means of achieving yarn. And this is usually the case. But the spindle has its own advantages to offer the spinner.
For one thing (and very very importantly), the drop spindle is far more portable than the spinning wheel. The implications of this portability are not to be underestimated; whereas a spinning wheel is large, heavy, and somewhat fragile (thus unappealing to carry around from room to room or from errand to errand), a drop spindle is small, light, and fairly hardy. You can tuck a spindle (or two) inside your bag or even your pocket and spin away all day, while walking, talking on the phone, waiting for appointments, watching television, and so forth. By the hour a spinning wheel may spin more yarn, but because of the spindle's portability, the spindle spins more by the day.
Furthermore, the spindle is almost always inexpensive. A spinning wheel generally costs hundreds of dollars, but a decent spindle only costs about ten or fifteen dollars (and even less if you make it yourself from wooden pieces found at the craft store, as my boyfriend and I did with the little spindle in the above photo). Many advanced spinners end up with several spinning wheels because no single wheel can spin every type of yarn that is ever desired. If you're going to need several spinning devices eventually anyway, why not buy several small and affordable drop spindles that are just as effective?
People often consider the spindle to be a child's or beginner's tool. Why? If you switch to a wheel without fully mastering the spindle, you will not gain as complete an understanding of, and control over, the yarn-making process. I find the spindle to be a more challenging and exciting tool. It need not be abandoned as one proceeds further into the handspinning world; rather, it can enhance and progress the spinner's knowledge of the craft.
Spinning, of course, starts with the sheep. This is a Babydoll Southdown lamb. I would love to have a few of my own someday! They have such sweet teddy bear faces.
Once the fleece has been shorn, it must be washed carefully. Here is a Coopworth-Cheviot fleece that I washed about a month ago. Look at all the beautiful, naturally occurring shades of brown and gray.
Once it was dry, I carded the wool into rolags with a pair of Ashford handcarders. (I don't have a drum carder, but I'd certainly love to get one someday.) Carding is a process of aligning the individual hairs so that they are basically parallel. There are many different ways of carding and combing fibers; often spinners purchase roving or some other preprocessed fiber. I do a bit of both, though I am growing to love being able to be involved in the whole process, so I'm kind of phasing out of buying preprocessed fiber.
Having carded my fleece into a nice basket of rolags, it was time to spin, which I did. I spun some of this fleece and some of the other fiber I had lying around. Once I had spun a bunch and plied what I wanted to ply, I set the twist (essentially by giving the new skeins of yarn a bath) and hung the skeins out to dry. Here, then, are some of the skeins I have spun recently:
I've also begun to experiment with dyeing my yarns. My first try was with a singles yarn that I stuck into a big glass jar with alum and a bunch of cut-up beets. I set the jar outside for a week. Thus I solar-dyed the yarn. I didn't do it perfectly, but it came out a pretty gorgeous pinkish-lavender color:
My next dyeing experience was even more exciting. I collected a basketful of dandelions from our yard and let them dry for a week. Then I mordanted my yarn with alum and rinsed it, separately simmered the dandelion heads in water to extract their dye and strained out the dyestuffs, and finally simmered the yarn in the dyebath for a while. I did it all outside with a hotplate, which took forever and ever and ever. (Meanwhile, I spun on my drop spindle.)
But look at the beautiful yellow that resulted:
Success. How satisfying to follow the fiber process from fleece to rolag to skein to dyed yarn! Now I have to figure out what to do with the sunny yellow yarn that's sitting on my shelf. Hmmm...
I'm not sure just how many of you readers are knitters, but I most certainly am! I love to knit, and to talk about it, and to think about it, and to read about it, and, of course, to write about it.
Some of my favorite things to see and read about on other people's blogs are their work spaces. I always feel like I can learn a lot and find a lot of inspiration from these glimpses. Today I thought I'd share a bit of my space with you.
I keep all my knitting needles--straight, circular, and double-pointed--in a clean paint can. I know there are many clever and often complex ways to organize needles, but this tends to work for me. I can see what I have fairly well, and it is an attractive, abundant sort of thing to look at. I am inspired by beautiful materials and tools, so seeing my lovely old wooden knitting needles sitting there on their shelf never fails to get me thinking about exciting potential project ideas.
Every knitter develops strong opinions about knitting needles; I am no exception. If I can choose, I prefer to work with wooden needles--bamboo or some other, harder wood--because they are warm and quiet and beautiful. I always feel like I'm making something really special when I'm using wood needles. There are some gorgeous old ones to be found in thrift stores and at flea markets, and they provide the additional thrill of the past--who did they belong to? what sorts of knitted items grew from the needles? where did they go and what did they see? The main trouble with wooden needles is that they tend to be the most expensive. That said, if I'm going to be knitting a sweater for a month or two, I like to spend those weeks and weeks working with needles that will enhance, rather than compromise, my enjoyment of the experience.
My brother is a professional ship builder who has always made incredible gifts for me and the family, and he has made me several amazing pairs of wooden knitting needles. He designed them with intricately carved or laminated elements; when I work with those needles, I find myself slowing down each stitch to make the process take as long as possible.
Most of the needles I find in thrift stores are metal ones, and there is something to be said for the ten-cent pair of knitting needles that turn out to be just the size I needed. These needles are often several decades old and can come in rad colors. I like to see the different colors, sort of Easter-egg-like, smiling blissfully from the paint can. I highly recommend snatching up any cheap bundles of secondhand knitting needles that you are able to find; one can never have too many, and having extras also means you can give them away to new knitters. Now we come to the question of needle type: straight, circular, or double-pointed? My answer: all of the above. In other words, it depends entirely on the project. I like to have all of them, and in as many sizes and lengths as possible. (Or really, in more sizes and lengths than are probably financially possible...) I think my most frequently-used needles are probably as follows:
16" circular needle, sizes 6 and 8: I use these all the time. They are just right for knitting hats (up until the decreases) and sleeves (up near the underarm), but also random projects like pillows, cowls, bags, and so forth. Anything that you can knit with straight needles, you can knit with circular, so if you must choose between the two, go with circular. As a devout EZ (Elizabeth Zimmerman) knitter, I appreciate the freedom and sense of control that circular needles provide when working color patterns and lace patterns and even plain old solid-colored stockinette stitch. I also believe that the ideal beginner project is a hat knit on circular needles, not a scarf knit on straight needles (as most tend to think). Therefore, 16" circulars in size 8 are, I find, the absolutely most important needles to have.
double pointed needles, sizes 2 and 6: Master the double pointed needles and you are ready to conquer anything. It doesn't take much time or brainpower to figure them out, and once you do, you will be able to knit hats, socks, mittens, toys, abstract works of art, pillows, legwarmers, wristwarmers, baby clothes, and just about anything else you can think of. Size 2s tend to be perfect for socks knit with thinnish yarn; size 6s are perfect for socks and mittens knit with worsted-weight yarn. Double pointed needles eradicate seaming, which is lovely. I find my size 6s to be in high demand, so although I only have two sets, I would probably do well to have about four sets of double pointed needles on hand. I also find around holiday times that I use my set of size 13 dpns a lot for quick-knit hats, socks, slippers, and so forth. If you're going to try to knit hats with dpns, you probably want to have a 16" circular in the same size, as the main portion of the hat tends to be a bit wide, and consequently fussy, for dpns.
straight needles, size 6 and 8: Again, these will carry you through many different types of projects. Stock up on cheapie old ones and have them on hand--they will always be used sooner or later, and if not, give them away to appreciative new knitters (or to houseguest knitters who forgot theirs at home).
Then there is the notions basket. In addition to large collections of needles and unwieldy masses of yarn, knitters tend to end up with hordes of bitty notions that are vital to projects but don't lend themselves to easy storage. I keep mine in this fabric basket--check out my tutorial for it and make your own here. It's a sweet little place to store: crochet hooks, stitch markers, Eucalan wash, cable needles, yarn needles, a tape measure, point protectors, a small ruler, and all other knitting paraphernalia.
I also store my small, absolutely indispensable items in a clear plastic pencil case that I take everywhere I take my knitting projects. This case generally holds: a 6" ruler, a pencil, scrap paper, lengthy bits of scrap yarn (useful as stitch holders, stitch markers, etc.), a cable needle, a yarn needle, scissors, and a set of 6" dpns.
How do you store your supplies? What are your favorite types of needles? Please feel free to share in the comments section below.
Enjoy the day!
There have been two months of schoolschoolschool and holidays and making things since I last wrote. So I am returning now, a bit shame-faced but as nonchalantly as possible, and wish to convey how excited I am to be back with you all. These months have been busy and wonderful. Lately I've been especially enjoying thinking about my future, as every self-respecting twenty-year-old does now and again. But more about that some other time.
I was pondering topics for this entry and began to browse through scads and scads of photos I've taken over the past couple of months (with my beloved camera). What showed itself to be abundantly clear was the fact that it has snowed. I invite you, then, to enter the snowy wonderland that Connecticut has been this season. Towards the end of my photo browsing, I came upon a collection of fibery photos that were so welcome and warm after the austere grays and whites of the snow photos. The contrast between the two sets of photos, both beautiful, reminds me of how much warmth the fiber arts can offer, even in the severest chill of winter.
At the end of October, my mother’s rabbit Lochry arrived. He is a large white New Zealand house rabbit found through the Hoplineorganization. My mom fell in love with Lochry when she found a videoof him joyfully binking around his playroom at a rabbit rescue shelter. Having entered our home, he continues to make his way softly and ever more deeply into our hearts.
At nearly eleven pounds, Lochry is, as a veterinarian exclaimed upon meeting him, “a hunk!” We certainly think so.
Of course, no one in my world can entirely escape the Louisa Knitting Glow; it became clear to me that I would need to design and knit Lochry a stocking of his own for Christmas.
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