New Pattern: Silent Waves Cowl

silent_waves_cowl_3

I am thrilled to announce the release of my very first independently-published knitting pattern! Although I have several sweater designs in the works, I wanted my first independently published pattern to be something smaller in scope. A cowl would be the perfect candidate, since I really needed one since I started taking the bus to work. It can get chilly in the  mornings waiting for the bus to arrive, so several months ago I began designing, knitting, ripping out, and re-knitting a prototype of the cowl, as well as designing, formatting, and writing the pattern itself. I also did all the photography and graphic design. The latter was almost as much fun as knitting the cowl itself! Working full time made the entire task quite challenging; finding time to sit down in front of the computer to work on the pattern after spending an 8-hour work day at the computer was not easy!

SilentWavesCowl1

Two lovely people helped me pull this project together: Lisa Bogart (www.lisabogart.com), my test knitter, and Sandy Chandler (www.sandrachandler.com), my lovely model during the photo shoot. They made my job much easier. A heartfelt thanks to both of you!

The cowl is designed to fit fairly closely around the neck, at 20 inches in diameter. On my (apparently thick) neck it fits nice and snug; it will have some ease on the average woman’s neck. It can be made twice as long by doubling the number of stitches (and correspondingly doubling the number of stitch repeats). A longer cowl means you can wrap it twice around for a snug fit that will keep all the chills away.

The cowl is knit out of a lusciously soft and silky yarn, Traveler Sport by The Plucky Knitter (320 yards). Any sport-weight yarn may be substituted, such as Madelinetosh’s Pashmina. If you opt to make a longer cowl, you’ll need double the amount of yarn. The depth of the cowl is about 9 inches, just enough to shelter your neck from the cold. Again, if you have more yarn you can knit more rounds to make the cowl deeper and cozier.

The pattern requires knowing how to knit in the round and how to handle making simple one-stitch cables (ie. traveling stitches).

silent_waves_cowl_1

It’s a fun an interesting project; because the instructions for the stitch pattern are both written out and in chart form, it’s not hard to follow.

The pattern is available for download on Ravelry for $5. Let me know what you think!

Read more about the Silent Waves Cowl on Ravelry or buy now.

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Spinning for a Sweater, Part 3

English Shetland Wool Top in color ‘Spice Jar’ from Meat Sheep Industries

My first sweater-spin project is coming along nicely. The bundle of Shetland wool above is gradually turning into the skeins of yummy yarn below:

‘Spice Jar’ spun into a 3 ply yarn.

Up close, you can see the slight variation in color between the three plies that make up this yarn.

Close up of Spice Jar 3-ply handspun yarn

The effect is subtle, as you can see in the following photo of my first swatch! How exciting.

Stockinette swatch knitted from Spice Jar handspun

So far I have about 5 skeins. I have yet to measure my yardage. It will be very interesting to see how much yardage I get out of 24 oz. of spun fiber.

Next time I will talk about color variations in the unspun fiber and how that can translate into very different skeins of yarn.

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Making Friends with My Drop Spindle

I first learned how to spin using a drop spindle – one of the most ancient of fiber tools. A local hand dyer (Kristine from A Verb For Keeping Warm) taught me the basics at a trunk show she and her friends presented about 5 years ago. I fell in love with spinning. After creating finer and finer singles, I tried plying on the spindle. I fell out of love. Plying (ie. twisting two or more singles together to create a multi-ply yarn) on a spindle was too clumsy for me. I stopped spinning until I acquired a spinning wheel several years later. The Schact Hi-Lo spindle on which I first learned how to spin lay forgotten until January 2013.

English Shetland top on a Schact Hi-Lo Drop Spindle

Recently I found the need to pick the spindle up again in order to give a demo during a holiday knitting potluck. During practice, I fell back in love with the drop spindle. I managed to spin up a bunch of English Shetland top in a pale peachy-salmon color (a much lighter version of Spice Jar which I’ve blogged about before) which I will overdye to deepen the color.

Here is the unspun fiber:

Shetland Top in ‘Spice Jar Light’

Magically, within a few short weeks, it turned into this 4 oz. skein of 3-ply sock yarn:

3-Ply Fingering weight Shetland Wool Handspun on a drop spindle

What do I love about spindling? It’s so immediate. I can pick it up and spin for 5 minutes or an hour. Making coffee and waiting for the water to boil? Spin. Waiting for dinner to cook? Spin. Kinda bored and not sure what to do because you don’t have a lot of time on your hands? Spin on the spindle.

With wheel spinning, you go to the “spinning place” in your home, sit down, and spin for a period of time. Maybe your spinning place is a the corner of a room where the wheel is all set up. Maybe you have to pull out the wheel from where its hiding, set up your spinning chair, and spin. There is preparation involved – a ritual. You need to be sitting at the correct height. It’s location-specific. Sitting down to spin implies a commitment of time; if you’re going to all the trouble to make spinning preparations, you feel obligated to put in some quality spinning time – a half hour, an hour, an afternoon, whatever.

There is no commitment implied when spindling. You just grab the spindle and some fluff, either sit or stand where you are, and spin. Store your spindle & fiber in a small project bag and take it with you wherever you go. Keep it in the car. Standing in line? Spin. Going on a long walk? Spin. Sitting on a park bench enjoying the sunshine? Spin. Only have five minutes to spare? Spin!

Spindle spinning may seem slower than wheel spinning. Even so, all those little in-between times during the day in which you can pick up your spindle add up quickly. You’ll find that the spindle fills up more quickly than you’d expect.

How joyous is that?

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The Birth of a Cowl

Cowl using Plucky Knitter Traveler Yak/Merino/Silk blend

Normally I’m a disciplined knitter; I finish what I start before beginning a new project. Because I am currently suffering from multiple project idea disorder, I find it hard to stick to one project for very long. Case in point: 2/3 of the way through designing & knitting a vest for myself, I felt compelled to stop and design a cowl out of yarn that had been calling out to me from my stash. I was at a point where I had to stop knitting the vest in order to make decisions on how to handle the neckline. Cowls don’t have necks per se; just knit a cool tube! So I set aside the vest and designed and knitted my first cowl project in Plucky Knitter Traveler Sport, a sport weight yarn made of merino, yak and silk. The color is a lovely silvery grey called ‘Barely Birch’. Unfortunately I neglected to write out certain details of the pattern, so I had to knit up another cowl, this time taking careful notes and verifying the accuracy of the pattern. The second version is knit in Plucky Knitter Primo Sport, a sport weight blend of merino, cashmere and nylon. This  cowl is in a color called ‘Well Preserved’, a deep rich purple. I have yet to snap a photo of the second cowl.

Happily, the pattern is done and it was recently test-knitted by a dear friend. The next steps will be formatting the pattern, then photographing the cowl on a real person. If all goes well, this will be my first self-published pattern!

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Spinning for a Sweater, Part 2

English Shetland Top on the bobbin

For my Spinning For a Sweater Project, I chose English Shetland wool for my fiber. Why, when I could have chosen Merino or Blue Faced Leister, two of (possibly) the most widely spun (and knitted) wool fibers in the hand spinning world? As a spinner one cannot help but get curious about all the other breeds of sheep in existence, and how their unique characteristics can make for a unique spin. These differences also translate into unique knitting experiences as well as different end products. Merino sweaters tend to be luxuriously soft, drapey and delicate; they also have a tendency to pill easily. BFL garments wear better, are very soft but not as soft as Merino, and have a bit of a luster to them.

The Shetland sheep have called the Shetland Islands, an archipelago of a hundred-and-some islands off the northern tip of Britain, their home for more than a thousand years. As various breeds of sheep moved from south to north across the British Isles over the centuries, the gene pool of the Shetland sheep grew diverse. As a result, Shetland wool comes in a wide variety of colors and textures. Fleeces can either be extremely soft and fine with a well-defined crimp or they can be more coarse and less crimpy. Some claim that the softest Shetland wool ranks among the finest wool grown by any sheep breed in the British Isles. So fine, in fact, that a large lace shawl spun from the finest Shetland wool can be easily pulled through a wedding ring. To say that Shetland wool is scratchy is a gross generalization. Some Shetland wool is indeed coarse and scratchy; Shetland wool from other fleeces can be super soft. Yarn spun from the softer Shetland fleeces makes great sweaters that are lightweight, warm and sturdy.

Shetland is a wonderfully ‘wooly’ fiber and is great fun to spin. It loves to be spun in the woolen method but because I have combed top, I’m spinning it from the fold using a long draw. By the time I’ve completed this project I’ll (hopefully) be an expert at spinning from the fold! I’m much better at “short-forward draw”, which yields a smooth worsted-spun yarn, but it  has shortcomings. Short-forward draw uses more fiber (because the fiber is compressed during spinning) as well as it being a slowish process. By utilizing the long draw, I hope to maximize the yardage I get from 24 oz of fiber. It will also yield a lightweight yarn due to the air that gets trapped within the spun fibers. Finally, and most importantly, long draw is a relatively speedy spinning method: one experienced spinning expert claims that she spins up to 7 times faster using long draw vs. short forward draw.

Here I am holding the fiber while spinning from the fold. Unlike others, I prefer not to wrap the fiber over my index finger. This feels more natural:

Spinning From the Fold

Here is another view:

Another view

I’m enjoying spinning this Shetland top immensely. It feels lively, springy, and a little bit more toothy than Merino or BFL. I don’t expect the garment to be quite as soft but then again this will not be worn against the skin.

Next time: a 3 ply yarn emerges!

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How Knitted Wool Fabric Loves Water

Life is a bit crazy-busy right now which is why I haven’t been posting much. Hopefully I’ll be posting more in the near future!

I’ve been reading a lot of online messages lately asking the seemingly age-old question: “I’m knitting a [insert pattern name here] using [insert a popular wool yarn here] and the fabric is feeling really stiff. Will it soften up after I wet-block it?”

Based on 20-plus years of knitting garments, I can answer with  a categorical “YES” to the  question, regardless of the yarn, as long as it’s 100% wool (or close to it). The more synthetic fibers are blended with the wool, the less ‘wooly’ your yarn will behave. Wool loves to get wet. Fibers that have been twisted and put under tension during the knitting process will relax after a good dunking. When dry, some wools bloom, meaning the yarn puffs up a bit, changing the gauge. Sometimes the yarn develops a slight halo of very fine fuzz. In the case of Merino wools, they almost always develop a drape. This is even true of superwash wools, although changes in the before and after fabrics may be less pronounced. Your mileage may very depending on the breed of sheep, too. Sometimes, the wool doesn’t change a bit after a thorough wet-blocking – although I rarely find this to be the case.

A great case-in-point is Plucky Sweater, a terrific DK-weight yarn offered by indie-dyer The Plucky Knitter. This yarn is a 90% Merino wool / 10% nylon blend and in my experience, knits up a bit on the stiff side. This yarn has a tight twist and a ‘hard’ finish, meaning it’s not a fluffy, fuzzy yarn in the skein – it has a smooth almost cottony feel. After a simple dunk in lukewarm water, however, it transforms into a fabric I can only describe as ‘buttery.’ Not OMG-cashmere-soft mind you, but very lovely, smooth and soft. It also gains a nice drape not apparent pre-bath. In my experience, gauge did not change after blocking.

The lesson to be learned here? Whenever trying a new yarn, and especially when substituting in a pattern that requires something different, MAKE A SWATCH and give it a bath. Even if you don’t bother measuring the gauge (but you should, mind you), blocking your swatch will give you a heads up on how your eventual project will turn out.

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Rug Making – The Coolest Video EVER for fiber lovers

I stumbled upon this video moments ago, courtesy of Fab.com, my new favorite shopping site. They are currently having a sale of rugs by nanimarquina, a contemporary area rug manufacturer based in Barcelona, Spain. Their rugs are designed by talented people in their offices and then hand made in India and other neighboring countries. One of their goals is to reinvent the rug trade by eliminating child labor. Anyone who is enamored with fiber will find this video fascinating and inspiring. Near the end of the video is a shot of designers playing with tiny bundles of wool in hundreds of colors – it makes me salivate. When it came to rugs, I never really knew what “hand-tufted” or “hand-knotted” meant – until now that is. Enjoy.

ps: I highly recommend clicking the ‘full screen’ icon in the lower right corner of the video; the footage of India is quite beautiful to watch.

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