Monthly Archives: May 2013

On with the story…

After my knitting related bruising earlier in the week I decided to get on with a project that can’t go wrong, and with one that is a big one, but a good one.

Firstly, I have started using the first bit of yarn that I spun. You can tell I hadn’t spun anything before – it’s pretty knobbly and uneven and I thought it wouldn’t be good for anything. Then I decided it is good enough for something low key. Which is to say, a cushion cover for a car cushion. I get a sore back sitting in the car and also got myself a new pillow last week so I have an old pillow and three small skeins of knobbly wool. The kind of project that can’t really go wrong, given that my plan is to use what I’ve got even though it doesn’t really all go together and do my own design because this item is going to sit in the car and when it’s being used you won’t be able to see it anyway. It is not destined for a glamourous life. It’s been really satisfying to knit with what I’ve spun and has also given me the opportunity to see what unprepared yarn straight off the wheel is like. Bits are clearly over spun and there’s been no washing to even things out. Makes it interesting to knit with and the effect is fairy uneven but that’s ok, it’s a car pillow…

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I made up the design myself. There’s not much to it…

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For a first ball of hand spun, I’m really quite pleased with how it looks…

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…but not nearly as pleased as I am about how this looks:

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This is my first skein of yarn made from my hilltop cloud roving, two ply and a pretty thin weight, not sure how thick. A rough estimate of yardage is around 350 yards, so with less than a third spun I reckon I have plenty for a jumper, for a jumper is what I have planned.

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I have prepared this one, giving it a good wash yesterday and hanging it out to dry. Next to wind a ball and then to swatch. That lesson has been learned…

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Alas! Alackaday! Woe is me!

I’m trying to keep things light hearted with that title. It’s only knitting after all. But HOOOOWWWL! My beautiful Dark and Stormy cardigan is beautiful no longer. It is about the right size for a child of about two. Fortunately I will have one of those within the next six months (Myrtle is currently approaching 18 months old).

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After I finish a knitted piece I block it. Always by giving it a soak in some lovely smelling stuff called Soak, unless the yarn advises otherwise. The yarn did not advise otherwise. It said it was suitable for hand washing. I wouldn’t have bought it if not. I always feel aware that when you knit the yarn passes through your hands, rolls around on the floor a bit, gets handled by small children, sits in my bag for a while. I try to be clean about it, but if someone offers me a chocolate whilst I’m knitting I’m neither going to say no, nor am I going to get straight up to go and wash my hands. It seems like a nice clean thing to do, to give it a good wash. And I noticed how much it helps. It straightens everything out, makes it hang better, gives you nice sharp edges if you pin it out. It really makes a difference.

Except when it makes all the wrong kind of difference. After the wash, Dark and Stormy was everything I hate about the wrong kind of hand knitted garment. Didn’t fit really at all, all misshapen, hanging odd and looking worse. Everything that justifies the position that says ‘isn’t it better just to buy a jumper from a shop’. I don’t think it is better to buy one, but I also don’t think it works to wear something that is all wonky and looks awful.

I felt things were fairly dire at this point. There wasn’t a lot to salvage. I’m not anything like skilled enough to be able to steek and remove yards of fabric from the right places, which is to say, most places on the cardigan and even if I gave it to an enormous person (I don’t know any big enough) it would still be really wonky and dreadful and they might feel obliged to wear it.

I had a go at giving it a wash in the sink with warm water, then hot water. Nothing happened. So I just shoved it in the washing machine on quite hot. I had asked for advice in a ravelry group and basically was getting the impression there really isn’t much you can do with any success and also that this is happening to other people with this yarn. That is really, really annoying. It’s lovely yarn. It’s mislabelled. They should fix that. And I should swatch.

I’ve learned some things from this.

1) Swatch. It’s not a waste of time. It’s how you get to know your yarn so you know what it will do. If I had thought this yarn was not washable I would not be making a cardigan with it because cardigans need to be washed fairly often, especially when you have small children, but also if you are a human which I am.

2) Listen to that really tiny voice that was saying, ‘this will grow in the wash’. Somewhere inside I thought this could happen but the Optimistic Knitter inside me said it would be fine.

3) Sleep on things a bit sometimes. I’m thinking I dived into shoving it into the washing machine I think because the ordeal would be over sooner. If I hadn’t done that, I could have salvaged the yarn. Maybe even one day I would have come back to it and made something else with it. That’s £50 of yarn all squished in to a tiny jacket that I’m pretty sure Myrtle will hate. Ok so right now I never want to see that yarn again but I could have gifted it..

4) I’ve wondered a bit whether I’m actually just a terrible knitter who should try a new hobby. I have had a few disasters. But not that many and I’ve had some good successes so I’m sticking to it, in
the belief that you shouldn’t let one time of getting knocked down put you out of action forever.

5) I was right, I’m not a process knitter. Just because I’ve been able to find a few things I’ve learned (there are probably more..) I’m not sure it was worth it. I want a beautiful cardigan!

Well, on a more positive note, my dream of hand spun, maybe own design beautiful cardigan is moving forwards. I’m half way through plying my first two singles and I’m really excited by the yarn that’s coming out! I’m hoping that while I plan my design the painful memory of Dark and Stormy will fade. Maybe one day I’ll even find it funny…

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A story begins

I mentioned in my last post that I had ordered some roving that I hope to use to make a cardigan or jumper for myself. Today it arrived. I bought it from hilltop cloud

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I think it is completely beautiful. The colours are complex and subtle and the blend is soft and squooshy.

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It’s 70% blue faced leicester and 30% baby camel. I wasn’t too sure what that would be like to spin. I’ve found merino wool slightly more tricky than shetland and I’d say this is probably somewhere in between. I felt I got the hang of it pretty quickly though and I’m finding it really satisfying to spin. I’m going for basically as thin a two ply yarn as I can manage and I reckon it’s coming out fairly fine, and pretty consistent. After all, When a yarn is hand spun you’re not looking for a completely uniform finish. I was thinking about this, how you can buy a £3 ball of acrylic yarn which is completely homogenous and feels like a machine produced it. Untouched by human hands. And to me, kind of cold and impersonal. Then you can get yarns that are hand dyed that feel like they have a bit more life in them. Sometimes you get patches where the dye has taken less and there are some inconsistencies. I don’t mind that. Then you get hand spun yarns. Quite a bit more knobbly bobbly I find. I guess when you add a bit more human you get more lumps and bumps. I feel like there’s something good about that. It feels like there’s some soul in it. Not perfect, but the best we can manage. Maybe it reflects the patience, time and thought that was involved in making the yarn.

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I’m going to need a bit of patience to see this project through from this beginning to the end I’m looking for. A bit like life perhaps. Shouldn’t be too hard though, with something so lovely to work with.

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Discovery

This has been a week of the most fabulous discoveries for me. Firstly, I have discovered that spinning is really not that hard. And it is really, really relaxing. And I can make yarn. I didn’t think I’d be able to make yarn for months. I had expected that this blog would be full of amusing anecdotes about me finding it difficult and making coils of springy tangles and getting cross and trying to pretend I wasn’t cross.

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This may be less amusing, but it is a lot more enjoyable for me! I have found that Shetland wool seems easier to spin that merino, but that with a really small amount of perseverance it all comes together nicely. Spinning has a lovely rhythm to it and spending a little time with some wool allows you to turn it into yarn that already has a bit of story to it. My ambition is to make a cardigan or maybe jumper for myself, made with yarn I have spun myself. I ordered the roving yesterday 🙂
It might not be that long until I can begin that journey. And I’m confident now that it will be a fun one.

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I know, it is a little knobbly bobbly, but for a first attempt I think it’s not too bad…

The other wonderful thing I have discovered is that my children like helping me spin. My son complained yesterday that I’d done some plying without him and please could I save it for when he’s around because he thinks that’s the most fun part. He likes to give the wheel a push to get it going, towards the mirror for spinning and towards the little chair when we are plying. What a joy it is to be able to share this with him! My daughter, at 16 months is a bit less actively involved at this stage. She likes to sit in the chair next to me and hold a toy dog. She also quite likes to grab bits of the wheel so we have some work to do with her. I don’t think it will be that long until we are fighting over the use of the wheel. Which will be an entirely excellent thing.

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My best of Wonderwool

At Wonderwool there were hundred of thousands of beautiful yarns and fibre related products to wipe out our bank balance on. Fortunately I didn’t buy enough to wipe out the bank balance so the things I chose were all carefully considered and so, I think, worth writing about.

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I didn’t buy anything until about 2pm having arrived around 11.30am. I wanted to buy circumspectly and to adore the things I chose and I’m feeling like that was a great philosophy to go with. I definitely worked for me. I didn’t buy loads, mainly because my stash is fairly full, and fairly full of some really nice stuff that I want to use within the next year. And also because the spinning wheel has been on the horizon for a while and I knew that that would detract from my knitting time and also that I would need to waste some fibre getting the hang of it. I’m expecting lots of over twisted squiggly stuff that probably won’t ever get knit with. And the first thing I bought when we got buying at Wonderwool was a spinning wheel.

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I bought it from Ann Fisher Rhodes. I had already figured out by reading blogs and forums that I wanted to get a wheel with a double treadle and had identified Kromski as a make that gets talked about for both it’s quality and it’s good value. My husband and I had talked about it quite a bit and felt that we didn’t want to go for something cheap if it compromised on how nice it was to use or how long it would last, but we also didn’t want to pay for a name or to assume that the most expensive available is the best. I hunted through the list of stall holders on the Wonderwool website and found Ann and emailed her. When she was so helpful in her response and on the day, I felt like this was a great place to purchase my wheel.

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Having made such a big purchase I was quite aware of not getting tempted by every stall carrying yarn. Quite quickly though there was a stall that really stood out for me. The yarns were really lustrous, beautiful colours. Vibrancy and brilliance shone out from every strand of yarn with some gorgeous colours. And small dye lots. This really looked like yarn that had been loved in creation and it was back to this stall that I headed once I had had a good look round. The yarn is from Juno Fibre Arts and I chose a fingering weight had dyed yarn, 50% silk 50% merino wool.
On making my purchase the feel I had about the stall was reinforced. The lady selling the yarn seemed so pleased that I liked it so much and had chosen to buy it. I don’t know, but I suspect she was the dyer. As you can imagine I was fairly effusive about the whole thing which made her beam which made me beam too. That thing again, of noticing the bit of soul inside..

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I made one other purchase (see, I really was restrained!) at a fibre stall that Sam the Inspiration recommended to me. I wanted to buy a reasonable quantity of a couple of different types of fibre to begin spinning with. I didn’t want anything too special as I’m aware that the fate of at least some of this will be to become tangle but I also wanted something that I would enjoy working with. And something fairly flexible. Which is to say, undyed so that I can ply it together in various combinations, do some experimenting without feeling that I’m going to get something at the end that I wouldn’t really want to to knit with anyway. Like a mixture of blue and yellow or something. So I bought 400g of white merino wool and two 200g plaits of Shetland. we have yet to see what becomes of it but I’m sure next year at Wonderwool I’ll be heading to various fibre sellers looking for something special to spin. I’ll have got the hang of it by then. I hope…

Loooopy…

Dark and Stormy is coming on well. There was a blip; I didn’t pick up enough stitches for the collar but didn’t realise until I had bound it off and then found it was really wonky when I tried it on. A learning process.. So I did one of the sleeves in the in between and have now picked up what I think will be the right number of stitches to get the collar done. Then one more sleeve and a good wash. In fact, it might be time to hunt out some beautiful buttons. I’m thinking dark wooden ones. Think I’ll be heading over to etsy to have a look.

In doing the sleeve of the cardigan I decided it was time to learn a new knitting technique which I have been wondering about for a while. Time to learn the magic loop. I have usually used double pointed needles for sleeves before which I get on with ok. I’m always slightly aware of the potential for eye gouging particularly with the small people in my house and sometimes have problems with train tracks showing up where the changeover between the needles comes. But my main issue with dpns is having to buy a new set every time I make a jumper or cardigan. Somehow they rarely seem to be a size I’ve used before, or if they are I’ve usually lost a couple of the needles along the way. Not that they are expensive or hard to get hold of. It just seems wasteful and frustrating to have to buy a new set of needles for every project. Also I’d seen a couple of pictures of people using magic loop and even without close inspection it looked pretty straightforward. And so it turned out to be. I watched one tutorial on YouTube and then headed out to my local knitting group, tried it out and knitted a sleeve. No train tracks. No eye gouging. No buying extra needles and then losing them.

The premise is that using a long circular needle you can split the round of stitches you are working with onto the two needles with the cable pulled through between the split. So you work half the stitches and then pull the cable through and work the other half, creating a tube. It’s explained much more clearly in the tutorials on YouTube of which there are several. It’s kind of faffy having to pull the cable through each time but not more than jiggling around on a set of dpns particularly. I also found I quickly got into a rhythm with it, and because you can divide the stitches slightly differently each time there’s no issue with getting looser stitches at the changeover.

Magic loop is one I think I will use again, probably regularly. One of those things that I can’t help feeling I would definitely have invented myself if only it hadn’t been invented already. And if my brain wasn’t gently unwound into a pile of tangled yarn by ‘Wind the bobbin up’ a hundred times a day…

Inspiration

I wanted to write a post about how I got started with knitting and what it has done to my life. That sounds like a grand entry but then this has become quite a big thing for me.

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Sam teaching knitting

I have the usual “my grandmother taught me” line to begin with, although I’m not sure she quite managed it. She taught me to do the knit stitch. But not to purl or to cast on or off. I guess maybe as a seven year old I just wasn’t interested enough. More fool me. I hadn’t really thought that about it much since then until I was pregnant with my son. There were some long, sick months with that and it occurred to me that maybe although I couldn’t get up off the bed, I could perhaps sit in bed and knit. I was wrong. I couldn’t. So I didn’t.

Then when my son was a year old we went to the Cotswolds for a weekend with a group of friends. There was a couple there I hadn’t met before. And on the Saturday evening Sam casually got out of her bag a beautiful book of knitting patterns and a pretty blue hat she was working on. Several of us eyed up what she was doing, flicked through her book, chatted about knitting and the fact that we didn’t, and then carried on with our weekend. I spent quite a bit of time that weekend thinking about Sam’s knitting. I hadn’t seen knitting books like that before. It was a Kim Hargreaves one. And the yarn she was using. That looked nice. And squooshy. I like squooshy. A couple of weeks later I picked up a book and some acrylic yarn and within six months I had completed a strange roll neck sleeveless tank top thing, a shawl and a cardigan. Admittedly the sleeves of the cardigan were several miles too long but I had the bug, and the more I experimented the more I discovered. Things like ravelry, online patterns, knit companion, and beautiful yarn. A whole world of knitting.

And from that point I have never really had problems with feeling down and blue again. And that is what knitting has done for me. I had interests before, things I still enjoy now – playing and listening to music, reading, writing – but not a hobby that was a real passion. I didn’t often feel down and blue but it came up every now and again. Now, if I feel any of that coming on I know to head straight for my needles, which isn’t hard. They are never far away.

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Last week I went to Wonderwool and there I met up with Sam and her lovely husband and beautiful children. We had corresponded quite a bit since the weekend in the Cotswolds but hadn’t actually seen each other. It was fantastic to see her again, talk about our projects and the projects we are dreaming of. I will always be grateful to her and her Kim Hargreaves book for giving me a glimpse of the delight that comes from a gorgeous pattern paired with the perfect yarn.

Wonder wonder wonderwool!

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At the weekend I went to my first fibre festival – Wonderwool, held at the Welsh National Showground in Builth, Wales. I was very excited! The kind of excited where you can’t sleep for dreaming of what’s coming up and also the kind where when it’s over you can’t sleep for excitement of remembering all it turned out to be.

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It was a fair drive for us, around two and a half hours, and the family all came along for the ride which was nice. There wasn’t loads of stuff for kids which was understandable although it would be a good avenue to explore: finding fun stuff for children to do to introduce them to the wonders and variety of working with natural fibres. There was a whole heap for any kind of yarn lover though: hand dyed yarns, fibre, felt, buttons, tools, notions, nicknacks.

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I had a class booked in Woolschool for 12pm. We arrived at around 11.30am and I really needed to grab some food before trying to learn some stuff so we headed straight for the food court. It was a good start – I chose some tasty curry which provided me with good lasting fuel for my drop spindle class. They definitely have a good catering set up.

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I bought my drop spindle maybe six months go and used YouTube, my excellent friend, to get the idea of it. Turned out not many people in the class had done that. Maybe it’s the demographic. For me that’s the first place to go when I want to learn something new. I’m going to be going there a lot in the next few months… The drop spindle class was fun and also interesting to note the differ teaching styles of the tutors. One was very clear about what she thought was the right way, another very clear that there isn’t a right way. It was a good combination. And it was reassuring to feel like I had kind of got the hang of it, because the reason I wanted to try it is that I’ve been thinking a lot about making my own yarn and about reaching further back in the process of making garments from wool. So having finished my class I hunted out the Krowski spinning wheels stand!

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I had emailed the stand owner, Ann Fisher Rhodes, prior to the day and she was willing to let me try some wheels and gave me some direction about how to get started. It must have been quite stressful for her trying to teach me – entirely a beginner – and helping out other customers. I was really grateful for her patience and encouragement. First I had a go on a portable wheel which was good, then I had a go on a Krowski Symphony and that was great!

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This was the one for me. A quick dash outside to the man with the money (I will be forever grateful) and the wheel is on its way to me. Hoping for its arrival any day soon! I’m sure it’s going to take some time and patience to get the hang of it, but I’m feeling so excited for this new venture to begin. Once I’ve mastered it, maybe then it’s time to get some sheep….

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