Sunday, 26 October 2008

Fibre fiddling

I've noticed that there are an awful lot of skeins of handspun hanging around in my house at the moment. I do try to have a project in mind when I start spinning but the process is so compelling that as soon as I've made the yarn for one project I'm thinking about making the yarn for another. It's taken my always problematic startitis to a whole new level.

This week I took myself firmly by the scruff of the neck and got out the stitch dictionaries for the mitts I have been spinning Shetland roving for. I wanted something simple that would make the painted roving really pop from the natural black background. As is often the case it was Barbara Walker who had just the thing in her original Treasury of Knitting Patterns, the simplest of slip stitch patterns called Chain Stripes.

Here is a front view of the mitt - excuse the gardener's hands - the nails really aren't dirty but those craggy old knuckles need some serious hand creaming this winter!

And here is the identical palm side but it does give you a view of the fact that I managed to run the pattern up the thumb, something that I'm particularly proud of.

Here is a gratuitous closeup of the stitch pattern.I love the way that the colours graduate through the stripes and the clean look that the Navajo plying gives to the yarn.

Now all I've got to do is finish spinning for the other mitt... The spindle is a Bosworth midi in Red Oak for the spindle fanciers amongst you and it spins beautifully.

And finally, the pink spinning is almost at an end. I have about 400 metres from 80 grams of yarn with another 110 grams of fibre to go so I have made something thinner than sock but heavier than lace weight. To be honest, I'm not much of a lace weight knitter so I think it will be just right for me. Now to decide what to knit.

What do you think I'm going to ask you now?

Have you?

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

A career in advertising

I have recently realised that I would not have had a successful career in advertising. October, being Breast Cancer Awareness month I decided that rather than turn my blog pink and constantly extol the virtues of self examination that I would be all subtle and grown up.I would spin pink yarn and at the end of every post show you a photo with the words 'Have you?' underneath. What a grand and rather sophisticated plan I hear you say... I have noticed, however, that I have had several comments of the 'Have I what?' variety because my grand plan had one fatal flaw. Blogs are read backwards, starting with the newest entry so anyone who hadn't read the posts from the beginning of the month wouldn't know what on earth I was talking about - ho hum - will try and do better next year. In the meantime, here is a gratuitous glamour shot of the pink yarn after its bath.


Moving on to my other topic du jour - socks! This month's parcel from the Yarn Yard sock Club was particularly beautiful - gorgeous shades of purple and green and turquoise. One of the particularly good things about this club, apart from the fabulous colours is that Natalie takes the trouble to let us into the secrets of the dyers arts in explaining the effect she is trying to achieve in the finished sock so that we can choose a design and techniques to get the most from it.

This month's yarn is designed to fall into stripes that form on the diagonal, the width of which depends on the number of stitches and the size of needle that you use. These stripes go completely to pot if you use a flap and gusset heel construction as the stitch count changes so radically as you work your way down the gusset decreases. I knew, therefore that I had to come out of my comfort zone and confront toe up and short row heels....

I decided that as the toes and heels would throw the striping all over the place they would look best in garter stitch as it further jumbles the striping and creates a nice textural contrast to the body of the sock.

I also quite liked the idea of putting in a little stitch pattern that would make the stripes wave up and down a bit, just to add a bit more interest. I love Jan Eaton's book, 200 Ripple Stitch Patterns as they do just as it says on the label. The stitch pattern that I used is called Jolly Waves which I think suits it perfectly.

One of the fascinating things that I discovered was just how sensitive the stripe sequence is to stitch count. For the foot part of the sock I added a stitch at the end of the instep just for pattern symmetry. I got rid of the stitch for the leg of the sock and you can clearly see that the leg stripes are noticeably wider than the foot stripes. It's a good job that I rather like the effect.

That Natalie - too clever by half!

Sunday, 19 October 2008


As a very young child I have a vague recollection of strange little television programmes called 'Interludes'. The only one I remember clearly was 'The Potter's Wheel' which was,as you may imagine, a film of someone working at the potter's wheel. These brief films served a very practical purpose, filling gaps in programming in the days before videos but also had a very restful, mesmeric property. Apparently there used to be a 'Spinner's Wheel' interlude but I have no recollection of it.

So, in a break between programmes I am offering my own spinning interlude. Recently, I treated myself to something that has turned out to be rather wonderful - a Spinners's Set from Spindlefrog. This consists of six two ounce plaits of fibres which are a little 'off the beaten track', not the usual merinos and blue faced Leicesters. These are a fabulous idea for a new spinner such as me as they are both a spinning challenge and hand painted in a rather gorgeous colourway called Autumn.

This is my first interlude, two ounces of over dyed mid grey Jacob.

This is also a great opportunity to get out one of my favourite books.

Everything you want to know about sheep and their wool - including my friend the Jacob.

I have chosen to use a drop spindle for these mini projects as I find I have more control when discovering the properties of a new fibre. Jacob is a coarser fibre than those I usually use and spins up into a sturdy, woolly single. The spindle that I am using is a 54 gram Bosworth Maxi in Morado wood which feels equally seasonal as it reminds me of freshly fallen conkers.

I am planning to Navajo ply this single in order to keep the colours as clear and bright as possible. The yarn I am hoping for will be a heavy sport weight or light double knit.

The notion that I have in my head is that I use each of these two ounce / 50gram fibre tasters to make a pair of fingerless mitts of some description, depending on how the fibre behaves. Some may be heavier and shorter, some lacier and longer - we shall see.

Finally, I haven't entirely abandoned my current projects. Here is the pink spinning, 100grams, plied but not set yet. It has turned out to be a light fingering weight which is just what I wanted.

Have you?

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Fidelity, sloth and avarice

First of all, thanks to everyone for your useful advice on the magic loop. I have been doing what you suggest and there has been a definite improvement. I found Kathryn's advice on not over tightening the first stitch particularly useful.

Moving on to the business of the day it's been a bit of a funny week. The good news is that I have been extraordinarily project monogamous. I have done nothing but knit away on my sock outside the house, my Honeycomb vest in the evenings, with bursts of pink spinning just to break things up. I would like to say that this is a virtuous development but that wouldn't be entirely the case.

I have loads of things that I would like to do. Plenty of design ideas running around in my head for designs and projects but to be quite honest my working life has been so challenging and stressful recently that all I have been capable of when I get home is to throw myself on the sofa and grab the nearest piece of unchallenging knitting in a pattern that I have memorised.

But look, all this knitting means that I have now finished the back and have started on the front. It's just possible that I could have a wearable garment in a couple of weeks! Crikey... I am enjoying working with this yarn, the fabric moves beautifully and has a lovely balance between rustic and luxurious.

I love the colour and also noticed that it makes a perfect backdrop for this month's Yarn Yard Fibre Club, some inviting Shetland in colours inspired by a blackberry crumble.

This week saw the annual Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace. I remember a few years ago that this used to be the highlight of the London Knitter's calendar. I know that I used to spend as much of the four days as possible hanging around, chatting with friends and browsing the stalls. I also remember being frustrated by the crowds and big box commercialism.

Maybe its because we have so many wonderful events like Woolfest and IKnit whose orientation is much more towards the modern, independent supplier and knitter that I haven't been able to generate the enthusiasm for Ally Pally this year.

I am quite fortunate in that I work very close to Alexandra Palace so was able to take a couple of hours off and pay a quick visit on Thursday afternoon. This was quite enough for me. It was quite quiet towards the end of the day which meant I has the chance to chat with stall holders and have a good look at what was on offer.

I know that you might find this hard to believe but I didn't buy any yarn. No, not a shred. I did, however, come home with a little bit of fibre...

There aren't a lot of stalls who have cottoned on to the resurgence of spinning but there was some lovely stuff to be had if you looked hard enough.

This beautiful, natural caramel and cream New Zealand corriedale roving from Black Hills Wool was so soft and inviting I bought a whole kilo. A kilo of combed fibre is a formidable force which needs to be wrestled into two large carrier bags. I must have been a real pain in the backside when I fought my way onto the rush hour tube.

Here is 100g of silk roving from Oliver Twist Fibres whose colours were so inviting I just had to bring it home with me. As a spinner, I am, however, a little scared of it. It plopped out of the bag with the texture of a piece of raw liver, quivered a bit and told me that silk spinning was not for the faint hearted. We shall see.

I had to go and visit Alice at the Socktopus stand as she had promised exciting fibre from suppliers we only ever hear squealed over on Lime and Violet such as Pigeonroof Studios so I had to investigate.

As you can see it is very pretty.

However, Alice is very clever and isn't entirely seduced by hype. She knows quality when she sees it and is keen to support less well known local suppliers. Look at this glorious roving from Spindlefrog.
In terms of quality and price I think it more than gives the Pigeonroof Studios product a run for its money. The colours are gorgeous and the rovings are not just the usual merino and blue faced Leicester offerings with Falkland, BFL and silk amongst the opportunities for new spinners to try. I may have slipped one or two more into my bag but I'll show you them another time.

Finally, here is my pink spinning progress. 50g spun reasonably evenly and finely. I'm now keen to finish the other bobbin so that I can see what it is going to look like plied. I think it might just be pretty.
Have you?

Thursday, 9 October 2008


Over the last three Saturdays I have been teaching a beginners' sock class at IKnit. I really enjoy these classes as it gives me the chance to really get to know the students and to spend several hours rabbiting on about one of my favourite subjects - socks! This class was no exception,Andy, Veronika and Jennifer were a pleasure to spend time with. I hope that they came away from the class sharing a bit of the sock love!

As a conscientious teacher I made sure that I had plenty of examples to share so there has been a lot of vanilla sock knitting going on chez Yarn Archive HQ recently. Here is my class sock, knitted in Austermann Step. Infused with aloe vera apparently. We used Brittany birch needles which up until now I haven't been particularly keen on due to my capacity for snapping them. I'm pleased to see that Brittany have made a couple of improvements by adding a sixth needle to the pack and not stamping the size on the middle of the needle so as not to weaken them. I had no trouble at all knitting this sock with them.

I also worked on a sock in parallel in case anyone struggled with their 'homework' and needed a spare sock to work on in class. These are in Koigu which, I have to admit feels so nice to knit with I galloped away and finished them in double quick time.

I was also asked to demonstrate the magic loop method of sock knitting so I am working on this one in Yarn Yard merino which is knitting up very nicely. I still can't work out how people feel that this is a faster method than working with dpns - all the pushing and pulling of needles seems to take me twice as long.I also seem to get much more noticeable ladder at the point where the stitches are divided - anyone got any advice?

Last Saturday, once class was over there was much excitement at Iknit when Erika Knight paid us a visit and gave a very interesting talk about her design influences and to launch her new book 'Men's Knits'. She also brought along the original jumpers which really brought the collection to life.
She is very friendly and approachable such that I forgot my normal reserve and after she had admired my new entrelac scarf lured her and her lovely expert knitter into the basement teaching room to discuss the joy of socks. She very graciously inscribed my book thus:

I can see myself knitting several patterns in this book and how could I resist when they are modelled like this by our lovely IKnit proprietors!

and Gerard.

Finally, I am making up for my deficiency in the previous post by showing you the Shetland roving in its unspun state. It's intriguing isn't it?

And here's a little pink predrafting.

Have you?

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Up close and personal

First, I'm going to get personal. As I'm sure you know, October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Now, I'm not going to launch into a lecture on how important it is to check your breasts, you hear and read that all over the place so I know I don't have to ask you if you have checked.

This month my reminder will be more subtle - I'm going to Spin Pink. Here is my roving, some lovely merino silk from the Yarn Yard which I'm going to spin as finely as I can on the wheel every day this month. That way, in all my October posts I can show you a pretty picture of pink spinning.

The only words will be 'Have you?' I have.

In the meantime I've been doing some spindle spinning. If I had had my wits about me earlier today I would have taken a 'before' picture of last month's Yarn Yard fibre club offering. Beautiful, rustic brown and white Shetland, over dyed in all kinds of autumnal shades. Not one of those fibres that jumps up and down screaming, 'I'm gorgeous and bright and colourful - spin me!' This fibre has quiet dignity that took its time in letting me know what it could be. I got out a medium weight spindle and started to spin and was enchanted by the way the colours resolved themselves into a spectrum of heathered tones. It's actually turned out to be one of my favourite fibre club parcels ever. I wanted to keep the integrity of the colours so I navajo plied them.

Shetland yarn is, of course best known for use in Fairisle designs. Wouldn't it be great if I could use this yarn, with its range of beautifully toning colours all laid out for me in some sort of stranded knitting which would look like I'd done something way more fiendishly difficult than it really is. What I needed was a good, plain contrast fibre.

When I first started spinning I was advised that Shetland is a really good fibre for beginners because of its 'stickability' which is true, so I bought a few small bags of fibre to practice with before moving on to the hand painted stuff. One of these bags contained some gorgeous natural black Shetland, which is, of course a fabulous, deep chocolaty brown so I have spun a small skein of this and here is the result twisted up with the painted roving.

If I use these for a stranded or mosaic knitting project I think I can get a really interesting effect which will be much simpler than it looks.I haven't quite decided what it is going to be but I think it will be pretty. You won't tell anyone my little secret will you?

Finally, in a shocking departure from my current knitting projects I was thinking that I really should be making some grown up clothes with fronts and backs and armholes and suchlike. I have a few of these on the needles but to be honest I am a bit stalled and need a livener to refresh my appetite for these pesky garments.

Thanks to the lovely Coldspring Mills, I have more Elsebeth Lavold Silky Wool on cones, (purchased for a ridiculously cheap price several years ago I might add), than I care to admit to. It really is lovely stuff with a great texture and drape.

I have had Honeycomb from Knitty on my list for a while so thought that now the autumn has put a bit of a nip in the air, a little tank top might be just the thing. The lack of sleeves was also attractive as I should have it finished before I succumb to project fatigue and wish I was several sizes smaller.

I have just got past the waist shaping and so far I am pleased with my efforts. Its an easy pattern to memorise and the fabric feels lovely as I knit it. It's at this point in a project that I fantasise about having half a dozen of these all in different colours.

But we all know that I will be going well if I finish this one.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Photo Finish

One of the prices that I pay as a 'parallel' knitter, which is a euphemism for someone who has more works in progress than she cares to admit, is that I can be knitting diligently away night after night and not really have much to show for it. Curiously, I quite often find that I finish several projects all around the same time in a bit of a flurry.

So today I have quite a bit to show you.

First is the hand spun entrelac scarf made from Yarn Yard merino silk in a combination of a leafy green called Menthe and a recent Fibre Club offering inspired by a stormy landscape. I'm really pleased with the way this scarf turned out. I managed to spin the Stormy fibre a lot more thinly than the Menthe unfortunately but the pattern is very forgiving and absorb the inconsistency into its rustic looks.I used about 150 grams of Menthe and 100 grams of Stormy.

I didn't block the scarf as I think it is enhanced by its slightly three dimensional quality, particularly on the back where the ridges formed by the picked up edges really stand out. I think it's actually my favourite side. I wore it to work today with a green jumper and a long denim skirt and received compliments!

I also managed to finish the Spring Forward socks that I was working on in Italy. I really like this pattern and think it suits the yarn, Sanguine Gryphon Eidos very well. I have to confess that I used the pattern more as a rough guideline which is shorthand for saying that I misread the rib instructions, then messed up the lace pattern then lost the pattern altogether and did my own thing from the heel onwards.

My hand spun Crown Mountain Farms Sock Hop socks are also finished. I can confirm that these socks are much better spun than my first hand spun socks which you can see on my avatar. They don't stand up by themselves for one thing and the striping is much prettier. I have some more of this fibre so perhaps I'll do another pair this time next year and see if they are better still!

Finally, I am working on another hand spun project with the Rockpool Candy yarn. It's a bit wilder than my usual projects but it makes me smile.
One small clue.... does anyone remember Adam Ant?