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Painfree stranded colourwork

IMG_20180319_131827807.jpgThis all began with Spinzilla 2017.  The fantastic Freyalyn dyed up some shetland fibre for the team.  The colours were so good, glorious golds/pumpkin/turmeric/greens/purples.  I really liked the colours and wanted to keep them intact in the yarn.  I had in mind another colourwork experiment.  This time with quite long colour sequences for a larger piece. I had a perfect neutral base to pair it with, a cone of unknown brown in the about the right weight (one of my charity shop finds). Another stranded colour work tank top with a sequence of large floral motifs in distinct bands.

I always find it easier if I have a finished design or end object in mind before I start any project. I am very in awe of creative folk who can just start on something with no particular end in mind.  I’m perhaps being deluded here as I don’t think this is entirely possible.  I find that if I am just noodling about with no particular aim it doesn’t go well. Its that blank page thing. I get crippling fright, feel a bit useless, it makes me unconfident in my abilities and anxious. Particularly when I start looking for inspiration on Pinterest or worse still Instagram…how on earth would anything I make ever be as good as that?

Once I knew what it was going to be I then knew what yarn I needed and how I needed to spin it.  A 4-ply (worsted) weight.  I had learnt from the Robin Pincushion project from the year before that trying to spin two plies to get a colour sequence was hard work! To keep my life simple it was going to be chain plied (3-ply).  I could spin away to my hearts content without the bother of trying to hard to keep consistency.  Plus this was going to be during spinzilla so I could spin using my default thin thin thin = fast fast fast!

And as it was spinzilla and speed was required it would be longdraw which meant rolags.

I split the tops into two.  Working my down the snakes I hand carded rolags placing each one in series next to its predecessor working my way:

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I span these rolags long draw onto two bobbins.  Making sure that I kept the sequence in order and numbered the bobbins 1 and 2.

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I chain plied 2 first and then 1.

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IMG_20180123_111428359.jpgI knitted a test peice as a swatch, a neckwarmer:IMG_20180302_140206709.jpg

Then spent some time working out the design.  Major headache with getting stitch counts and pattern to work.  I have learnt the value of the swatch.  More on this in a moment.

I also had a major conundrum with keeping the colour sequence right and how to split for the upper body.  Oh my god!  I was going make a tough choice.  Did I want to mess up the thickness of my colour transition by working upper front and back flat?  Or, if I wanted it to stay right  I WAS GOING TO HAVE TO STEEK.  CUT MY HANDSPUN YARN.  CUT IT???

My weirdness won out.  I couldn’t live with it if the colour sequence went off at the top.  No, really, I am that obsessive over the details. Drives me nuts if things are not right or balanced.

The knitting went smoothly, fairly straight forward:IMG_20180226_141011734.jpg

I’ve never worked a steek before.  I knew in theory what to do. So I had to do a bit of research.  Starting with the words of the wise, my fairisle bible (Alice Starmores Book of Fairisle knitting) and Elizabeth Zimmerman.  Meg Swainson wrote a really useful article for Vogue knitting here  I remembered  Kate Davies covered the topic with some good visuals over a series of blog posts resulting in what she called a steek sandwich. And the lovely and wonderous Hazel Tindall.

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This is the neck steek.  I used stitch markers and held the bottom stitch on asafety pin.  It was difficult to see the cutting stitch in the plain brown.

So armed to the teeth with the book learning I knew that I was not going to be happy with cut seams and loose ends.  I crochet a binding on the V-neck and armholes:

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It was difficult as I do this in the evening and the light is not so good particularly with the dark brown yarn being so dark.  I would definitely do this steeking in really good daylight tomake sure that one is working with the right stitches.

Cutting the knitting:

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Was not so bad once I’d got over it.

And then watched in horror as little wriggly worms of cut ends started to worm their way out of the beautifully worked crochet binding.  Horror horror.  I’ve already mentioned swatching.  Well wise words were given by Hazel Tindall “did you cut your swatch to see if it would steek ok?”… erm nope…. but I will next time….maybe…

However, always have a plan B to bodge things back into order!  Out with the sewing machine:

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I have a theory that it does take 10 years to master any skill.  Because this is how long it takes to make enough mistakes to learn enough bodges to make it look like you know what you are doing…

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I’m really pleased with it.  I like the flow of colour through the stranded colour work. Definitely will be repeating this at some point in the future.  As I hate the trauma of choosing colours in colourwork…analysis paralysis…

 

 

 

 

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Women and Worsted

My Norfolk Horn obsession is taking me to places I didn’t know I wanted to go but now I’m there I am loving it.  I have followed the Norfolks trail to Norfolks medieval and early modern textile industry.

England dominated the international textile trade, booms and busts notwithstanding, and Norfolk was the world centre for Worsted textiles. Textiles that were only possible to make due the production of vast amounts of yarn produced on what must have been an epic scale.

This is an extraordinary feat when you consider that until the introduction of powered spinning machines in the 1750’s, all yarn was spun by hand either on a spindle or on a wheel. And spun almost exclusively by women.

In the early medieval period spinning with a spindle and distaff was a ubiquitous activity of all women that transcended all classes.  For many women it the only way for them to provide their households with textiles. Spinning was so prevalent that it was not thought of as a skill or a craft that could be mastered but as some kind of natural ability inherent her gender. The spear side and the distaff side were terms to distinguish male inheritance from female inheritance. Spinster is still used today to describe an unmarried women. Chaucer’s Wife of Bath cites a proverb that holds that the natural endowments of women as ‘Deceit, weeping, spinning, God hath given to women kindly, while they may live.’

There are many contemporary images showing women spinning, or carrying her equipment, spindle and distaff visibly prominent as she carries out her other tasks, as a visual representation of her productiveness and positive wifely attributes.

My favourite is The Lutrell Psalter,an 14thC manuscript with illuminations showing depictions of everyday life on a manor through the year. Its wonderful, go take a look here. In it most of the depictions of women show them either directly engaged in spinning or undertaking other activities with distaff and spindle visible ready to whip out at a moments notice.

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Spinning on a great wheel and carding wool (source: Lutrell Psalter folio British Museum)
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a women attending her chickens, spindle and distaff tucked in her arm.

 

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In this image a women looms above a cowering man brandishing her distaff  with her spindle flying like a flail. I can’t help but wonder what his crime was.  Depictions of irate women brandishing distaff and spindle occurs alot.  Misericords in Malvern and Westminster also show husbands being chased by irate wives with raised distaffs.

 

 

And one of my personal favourites:

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Jousting.  Just another alternative use for a distaff  (source: National Library of France)

Women must have had their spindles and distaffs about them at all times, ready to whip out and put to use at every opportunity. It must have been an incessant unrelenting and all pervasive activity.

In Norfolk, doing different seems to have been a consistent thread through time. Whilst the spinning wheel was widely adopted elsewhere, in Norfolk, spinning ‘on the rock’ (as spindle spinning was known) persisted more or less until mechanisation replaced hand-spinning from the mid 1700’s on.

The simple reason for this technical.  A great wheel cannot spin a worsted yarn (I wont bore you with the technicalities of worsted and woollen – that is whole chapter all on its own). As a consequence, in Norfolk all the worsted yarn, for which its spinners were famed, used in the worsted textile industry were spun on the rock.

Yes, on a weighted stick.

By hand.

Whilst she got on with doing everything else as well. Hmm.

This got me curious about the time it might have taken and the quantities involved. So I did a very rough back of the envelope calculation. And please note this took about 10 minutes and I have very limited weaving knowledge. I would be really interested if anyone out there would like to put this to the test and work up some real data.

It’s easy for us to underestimate just how good the quality of English textiles being produced at that time were. We don’t have museum archives stuffed with bolts of cloth or clothing or household draperies to examine. But we are lucky that a few precious fragments have survived. These range in quality from coarse rough cloth woven from uneven yarns to very fine worsted that must have looked like silk.

So, M’lady wants a new dress.

Assuming she’s a bit of dandy and wants a reasonably priced good quality cloth and this cloth had an even number of warp and wefts [2]. Analysis of contemporary textile fragments show that the numbers of threads ranged from approximately 8 – 28 threads per cm[1].

So let’s assume our worsted cloth had a count of 20 threads for every cm. So, 1cm2 would need: 20 + 20 = 40cm of yarn. If our fabric was 1m wide, each meter of woven cloth would need: 0.40 x 10,000 = 4km of thread.

A women’s dress may have required between 3 -5 m of fabric, depending upon her status, size and cut. There would also have been wastage from the weaving process and shrinkage.

So if we assume 5m of cloth. This would require at least: 4 x 5 = 20km of yarn.

Geez! How long would that take to spin?

It is impossible to say how productive a medieval spinner was. She was likely to be very well practised and competent at her craft. I’m not a well-practiced spindler so I can’t really use my output for this. I do know that a competent spindler can spin between 35 – 50 m in 15 minutes competitively. I don’t think we’ve evolved much since the 12th Century so I think it is safe to assume this is a good match for your average medieval spinster. This output equates to between 140 to 200m an hour.

It would take over 20hours to make enough yarn to weave a single meter of fabric.

Therefore, to spin enough for m’ladies dress would take over 100 hours.

100 hours.

This is in addition to the time taken to wash and prepare the fleece before spinning.

In addition to all the other tasks the household required.

This goes some considerable way to understanding just how precious textiles were, given the amount of labour it took to produce them.

So there may well be a grain of truth in the  statement I keep coming across that it took seven spinners to keep one Worsted weaver going.  Without them Norfolks wealth and power would not have been possible. But these women made it happen. Sadly though, these women remain unrecorded, unrecognised and, mostly, invisible.

[1] Crowfoot, E., Pritchard, F., & Staniland, K. (1992). Textiles and Clothing c. 1150—1450 [Volume 4 in Medieval Finds from Excavations in London].

[2] Warp threads are the threads the loom is dressed with and run vertically.  Weft threads are the threads the weaver inserts horizontally running over and under the warps)

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The Norfolk Horn: Part 2

As promised, a second post on the Norfolk Horn. In this post I want to tell you a bit about its wonderful woolly fleece.

Facts first. Todays Norfolk horn is a medium sized, hardy sheep. With its distinctive black face, alert bright eyes, with magnificent strong open spiral horns.  Both rams and ewes have horns. Long black legs and a belly that is free from fleece. It is intelligent, inquisitive and friendly, and, relative to its ancestors, fairly docile.  Its docility is thought to be owed to the Suffolk part of the modern Norfolks genetic heritage.

If you can get your hands on a Norfolk horn fleece you will find it is a creamy coloured, down land type, with flecks of dark fibres, the amount of dark fibre will vary between fleeces.

The British Wool Marketing Board classifies its fibre as fine, with a given micron range of 32 – 34.  So not so fine.  But bear with me. It does have a soft to medium handle. It has a staple length of 7 – 10 cm. The lock structure varies from a longish pointed staple in Shearling fleeces to a short thick more blocky staple in older sheep.

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Shearling locks

The fleeces are quite small weighing in between 1.25 – 2.25 kg.  But the belly and legs are not fleeced. I have found that their fleeces tend to need little skirting so don’t generate too much waste. But they are greasy.  Very greasy.

Another factor in their favour, it is incredibly reluctant to felt.  So best avoided if you want a woollen yarn to full if you’re a weaver or felter. But great if you are a bit on the heavy/careless side with your finishing and washing. That’s not say they are impossible to felt…Here’s something from my research into the Norfolk breeds history: The poor felting of the Norfolk breed was one of the reasons why Norfolk developed a thriving Worsted yarn and cloth industry during the middle ages.

Surprisingly the lovely soft chocolatey brown fleece in this photo is Norfolk Horn.  The Lambs are born with dark fleece and this gradually grows through to white with time. If you are lucky enough to get lambswool like this, the fleeces are a beautiful, short stapled but very fine and wonderfully soft. You’ll find shades ranging from salt and pepper grey through to dark rich chocolatey brown/black.  The black fades out over time but some adults keep some dark fibres which gives an interesting colouring when it’s spun.

It is a great fibre to spin giving a bouncy lively yarn. The medium staple length and crimpiness make it a very tolerant fibre perfect for new spinners. It is not slick and slippery like over processed merino. It sort of sticks together and lets the spinner focus on keeping the wheel/spindle turning, whilst drafting the fibre and letting it feed in without having to concentrate too hard on keeping the drafted fibre.

I have found it spins up much softer than its fibres suggest it ought.  But it is definitely a tickly sheepy yarn with bounce and life.  The yarn seems to carry the character of the breed it comes from.

In general I card Norfolk horn on a drum carder. I used to painstakingly comb locks before feeding on.  Took for ever.  My hands raw, sore and blistering from combing.  I don’t do this now.  Now I pick up the locks, pull out any offending neps, noils, second cuts and other reject bits.  Lay the lock perpendicular to the licker in and then feed it onto the drum sideways.  Yes sideways.  No.  Not tip first.  Not butt first.  Sideways.  Brilliant.  I promise you try this once and you will be amazed at how speedier this whole boring slow boring and tedious process becomes.  I will then split these once carded batts and then card them another couple of times.  Picking out nasty bits as I go.

In general a woollen or semi-woollen spinning suits the fine character of the Norfolk the most.

 

This swatch was spun longdraw from the batt as strips that I’ve pulled into slivers.  Its about 15 wpi and knitted on 3mm needles.

I’m useless at hand carding rolags, always seems to be full of neps and lumps and bumps. The yarn is light,airy and bouncy.  It has a much softer hand than expected but is definitely tickly.  Don’t mock the quality of my spinning, I can never seem to get enough ply twist!

The longer staples make a great worsted yarn. Unlike the sample in this picture, which is not my best. It spun denser than the woollen sample, at about 13 – 14 wpi and is knitted on 3mm needles.

 

When combed and spun worsted the resulting yarn has a lovely lustre and an amazing memory. Although it has a crisper handle the stuff is like elastic! It just keeps springing back to shape. It makes a perfect sock yarn. I’ve wondered about adding blending in some mohair for a harder wearing sock yarn. Haven’t got around to it yet. Although you will also lose a lot of fibre through combing but this can be carded and spun into a lovely textured woollen yarn. This swatch is spun worsted short draw.  Sort of. I may have drifted of at points and forgot to keep with the inch worm…its firmer and a little harder hand that the woollen spun.

This cardigan is Norfolk horn.

I was in a silk phase so everything was being blended with silk.  Didn’t need it.  The brown pattern work is Alpaca.  Despite being light its incredibly warm.

Heres another example.  These are socks are Norfolk horn.  I knitted them from a two ply worsted yarn spun from combed top and then dyed. They never, ever sag or bag. And I really like the lustre and good stitch definition. They have also more than a few trips through the washing machine at regular 40oC cycle.  Did not felt. Amazing.  The pattern, if you are wondering is Sunshine by Cookie A.  Love love love her socks….

To sum up, its sheepy, bouncy, a full of life, versatile, dyes well and is virtually a natural superwash  fibre.

Hopefully that’s what you need to know. Go find some if you can and give it a go. I would love to know how you find it.

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We are the Ovaltinies

I’m feeling very smug. I’ve just finished my latest knit and I love it.

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The pullover is based on a Patricia Roberts pattern, Ovaltinie (Patricia Roberts Second Knitting Book p.72).

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I had been gifted a beautiful set of gradient mini batts in the colours of a Blue Tit by the lovely Mrs Biker(team mate in Spinzilla). These had been sat in the work shop waiting for that special moment of inspiration. I tend to act on impulse and am quite happy to wait for said moments of inspiration no matter how long. I have materials stashed that I have had for my entire adult life, and I am sure that I am not alone in this habit. I have learnt that forcing things creatively doesn’t often lead to good results. I digress. In one of those moments I was rifling through my book stash and remembered this pattern. I wasn’t enamoured of the colours used, totally 80’s clashtastic, but appreciated the design. I wanted to see how the fair isle design would work with more subtle colours. Keeping in with the Blue Tit theme I paired the colour work with a soft grey to act as the base.

I began the project on April 9th and finished it today.  80 days.  I could have gone around the world in that time.

I kept a visual diary of the process and thought you might appreciate it if I shared.

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April 9th fibre preparation

The batts were merino (hateful stuff but I worked through my ) and the grey was provided by the delightful Arabella who is a rare lady indeed, a beautiful black Romney.  For speediness the fibre was spun long draw from carded batts.  The original yarn is long gone, and I guessed the tension gauge of the yarn to be an old fashioned 3-ply or heavy lace weight.  I think a good modern substitute would be Jamiesons & Smith Shetland Heritage. I rushed it, so it’s came out a bit thick and thin but meh! Who cares it usually averages out ok in the end.

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April 24th spinning complete

I was also bit nervous that I would have enough of each of the colours as some of the skeins had more metrage than others. We will revisit this thought a bit later…

The pattern called for 1 main colour and 8 colours for the stranded colour work. I only had six plus the main. And this is what really slowed me up.  Whilst I wanted a subtle pattern I wanted the pattern to be visible.

I first worked out a rough colour arrangement for each of the separate design bands. Once I was happy with them I checked out that the colour values would also work. I was a bit suspicious that the values were a bit samey and the pattern would be a lost.

Here is probably the best tip I can every give for colour work: I always find it really useful to render the original design image and my chosen coloured yarns into black and white/greyscale. Working with colour value, rather than colours themselves, may seem a bit abstract. But trust me, it really helps. Particularly if you are using subtle colour shifts.

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original image in greyscale

This was a tip I had read about in Deb Menzes book Color in Spinning. There is also a wealth of resources out there. I recommend this excellent blog post by Jared Flood.

As you can see, I didn’t have a large range of colour values to work with.  This was particularly noticeable with the blues and the dark green (top left). I did wonder about including black but chucked it out of the mix as it was too jarring.  So, with fewer colours, little contrast and low range in colour value, I knew that this was going to be a complex challenge.

Even with the planning, some of my initial choices did not work out. There was lot of frogging and swearing. I reckon I knit a garment at least three times over by the time it’s done.

I also modified the pattern.  I like a nice deep rib.  I don’t like a deep armhole. And I wanted higher V neck – did not want boiling spuds if I wasn’t wearing a top underneath. And I only wanted one work through of the chart.  Fortunately, the row tension of my hand spun was bang on so I did not have to mess around with the chart repeats.

I calculated that if I doubled the rib length and increased the main grey colour banding to 4 rows then the single chart repeat would fit. It didn’t. I was about 5 cms too short at the shoulders. To overcome this, I repeated the first four rows of the chart and accepted that there would be a bit of a deep band of grey at the shoulders. It gave a nice symmetry to the pattern and closed it well.

What else? The original was knitted in two pieces flat. I wanted to knit the main body in the round. Knitting stranded colour work in the round is so much easier when following charts. My brain has difficulty ‘seeing’ the pattern on the purl rows. I didn’t use steeks but maybe next time I might, not sure if this would save any time.

Also, remember at the start, I was a bit nervous that I didn’t have enough of a couple of the colours…Top tip:  listen to your inner voice. Yup. I ran out of two of the colours…

Why do I always do this!

Luckily, two things. First I got the fronts finished and ran out on the back shoulder. Who cares about that – I can’t see it! Second, I had just bought in a lucky dip bag of mixed tops from Wingham Woolworks for a workshop I was running and it had a few colours that I could blend to get a sort of match as I only needed a teeny tiny bit. Result! Don’t you love it when the universe shines its happy face your way?

It took an age to knit. 80 days.  I had forgotten how much you have to concentrate when knitting stranded colour work. Let your attention slip and its abstract pattern time where everything goes on the huh. Frogging and swearing. So, I haven’t got a clue what was on TV for the past 80 days. Which is cool as it means I have the perfect excuse to re-watch American Gods and season 2 of Preacher all over again.

I am having a break from stranded colour work for a while. Give me something simple.

Suggestions welcome.

 

 

 

 

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Diary of a handspun cardigan: Part 2

I have finally got it together to finish writing the pattern and here it is:  Blakeney. A simple cardigan with a raglan sleeve and modern tapered fit designed for knitting with handspun yarn (weight 12-14 WPI (alternatively a commercial DK weight yarn).  Handsomely modelled here by Sean.

I wanted it to have a clean silhouette, with a tapering to the waist for a contemporary fit. With an unfussy plain knit fabric, I think the yarn should be the star here and not fancy-pancy technique or stitch-craftery.

It is knitted using a seamless construction, worked from the bottom up, with the body knitted in one piece. The sleeves are knitted in the round and assembled with the body for knitting onwards through the raglan. The button holes and a neat I-chord edge are knitted as the garment is worked. Thus avoiding any tedious after bands.  Which always take me at least 3 attempts before I get it right- and I have knitted many…you would think I would be whizz at them by now… but no.  I also spent some time playing with different buttonhole methods. but that is a whole subject in itself. So maybe a topic for a later post.  I finished it with a tape which gave the garment a very nice drape and handle. Hard to describe what I mean, but it really gave it a quality finish.

I worked on this design whilst I was knitting a particularly complex Patricia Roberts textured pattern, so I am wondering if the simplicity of stitch and construction was an antidote to this.

The yarn, a subtle marled 2-ply, in shifting blues and grey tones was inspired by the shallow seas of the North Norfolk Coast. I wrote of this in a previous post here.

In particular the pattern is named after Blakeney, one of my favourite parts of the coast.  Once a thriving port, Blakeney also had a colourful reputation for piracy, smuggling and general lawlessness. I’m not sure of the veracity of the claims but there are records of the men of Blakeney boarding ships, bringing them to harbour and stripping them of their cargo. As well as incidents of Merchant Ships resting in the harbour and finding their cargos mysteriously vanishing. Indeed the residents refused to supply a ship for the battle against the Spanish Armada. So it seems fitting with the Spinzilla Team HSNs Pirate theme.

I found writing the pattern out an odd process.  The act of writing and planning was a more rigorous approach than I am used to.  My normal approach is quite instinctive, usually involving a great deal of trial and error, much swearing and ripping and reknitting till I get the perfect finish I have in my mind.  Over time I have got better so there is less trial and error. Grading was also a new skill that I had not any experience of. hopefully I have it right (ish).  If you do have a bash at this pattern (and thank you so much if you do) let me know your experience of it, feedback is very welcome.

Pattern is now available in on Ravelry here.  10% of all pattern sales will be donated to MND Association.

The pattern is in 4 sizes: Small, medium, large, x-large (105 [108, 112, 115] cm (40[42, 44, 45] inches).  Shown modelled by Sean, wearing the large size.

Handspun isn’t to everyones taste nor accessible if you are not a spinner. I suggest a millspun alternative would be something woollen with a soft to medium handle.  The pattern would need a Double knit (DK) (US no 4 Medium) with a gauge of between 21-24sts over 10cm. Just a suggestion but something like Blacker Pure Shetland DK knitting yarn would do well.

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Diary of a handspun cardigan

Have you noticed how awful mens knitwear is?  Tragic!  Absolutely gopping! I live in a houseful of menfolk. None of whom wear knitwear. Is this the reason why? Who on earth thinks that men should wear these awful shapeless ugly patterned hideous body boxes?   So in a weak attempt to be bang on trend I wanted the perfect man’s cardigan.

This was in June 2016 by the way. It’s now finished. It is mid February 2017.  It is worth it. It will be with him until he leaves the house feet first.  Slow fashion?  Indeed.  Which is why I am often asked ‘seems like a lot of work.  Why don’t you just buy one?’  Which misses the point entirely.  Through the ‘work’ comes the pleasure.  It is pleasing to sink hands into beautiful lanolin rich pungent fleece, to prepare it and to spin it into yarn.  It is pleasing to think about the wearing during the knitting and the wearing or the gifting once it is done. And to remember those moments when the garment is in your hands over the years that follow.  So, my response is ‘why would you buy one.  Where is the pleasure in that?’

So, I thought you might be interested to see the process by which a hand spun cardigan is born.

For me it starts with the idea.  I find it difficult to spin for the sheer joy of spinning. I typically have a very clear idea in my head for a design.  In this case it was for a simple, fuss free, fitted cardigan in response to the sheer ugliness of mens knitting patterns out there.

The muse looks good in blue but I hate solid slabs of bright colour (especially blue).  I am reminded of those makeover programmes where ‘She doesn’t like orange’ so everything gets done in orange…Anyhoo, the answer was a marled yarn, in blues with a neutral base.  Grey is currently my favourite.  Or deep rich chocolate brown.  I digress…

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The tropical blue Top came from John Arbon Textiles. As a nice digression that I think you will like, John Arbon Textiles blended up a new top called Spin Fresh in honour of Spinzilla Team HSN 2016 Pirate theme, they donated some fibre to the team and made the remainder available for purchase exclusively at Fibre East 2016. I bumped up my Team HSN batch.  It is a glorious blend of 55% dyed Merino/33%Perendale/12%Zwartbles in the colours of a really tropical Caribbean blue sea. I send a big huge hug of thanks to the guys as John Arbon Textiles. I can honestly say it was just beautiful to spin.

For the grey base I used a natural grey whitefaced woodland/Jacobs fleece that I purchased at Ickworth Wool Fair – the result of a happy accident – happy for the Jacobs Ram less so for the Shepherd…I scoured, sorted and carded this in September.  About 6 hours work altogether.

John Arbon Top and hand processed grey batts ready to spin
John Arbon Top and hand processed grey batts ready to spin

The yarn was spun during Spinzilla October 2016. All  the fibres were spun separately and then plied to give the marled yarn.

Full bobbins ready to ply
Full bobbins ready to ply
Plied hanks of finished yarn
Plied hanks of finished yarn

Just over 1000m of plied yarn. The spinning took just over 10 hours altogether.  Lovely speedy longdraw.

Next, tedious yet vitally important – swatching. What can I say – don’t be lazy SWATCH! This was a happy couple of hours in front of the TV.

One of many swatches
One of many swatches

The first draft of the pattern followed from the gauge in the swatch. This was tested in the the knitting… and the frogging…and the knitting again.  Roughly 3 weeks of evenings (christmas came and went) and a few lunch times.img_20170112_140808756The finishing took about 2 hours. And here is a sneeky peek of the finished article.

img_20170215_151457624The pattern will be coming soon. Watch this space.  But these things can’t be rushed…

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Wasted? Part two

So, I’ve been working on the Wasted? thing.   In the first post I had drum carded the fibre into something that looked like it could be useable.  It was lumpy and bumpy and less than perfect.  Adopting the philosophy of true beauty and harmony comes from working with what you have and not how everyone thinks it ought to be I decided to roll with those neps and bumps.

I space dyed the batts with brown, orange and grey leaving quite abit undyded.  After dyeing, I ransacked my ‘bling’ box pulling out some dyed silk neps in turquoise, shocking pink and orange.

Batts post dyeing with silk neps in from
Batts post dyeing with silk neps in from

The batts had already been through the carder three times prior to dyeing but dyeing had compacted the fibre a bit plus I wanted to blend the blend the colours and add in the silk neps.  Plus the really chunky woolly bits were standing out so I could pick them out as I carded (or not depending on how lazy or bored I got).  Carding again also meant I could pull off the batt as rolags (or should I call ’em fauxlags to suit the pedants?).

carding to open out fibre, blend colours, add neps
carding to open out fibre, blend colours, add neps

The woolly chunks show up well don’t they.

fauxlags rolled of the drum carder all ready to spin
fauxlags rolled of the drum carder all ready to spin

I decided to pull of the batt as rolags because the fibre was so choppy and was quite short staples.  Drum carder rolags are quite tight compared with those from hand carders.  I like this as it puts a bit of tension on the draught.  I like to spin with a relatively high tension.  No particular reason other than its what I prefer.  I like to see the crimp and the fibres pulled nice and straight.  Heres a couple of pictures of the singles, the first as it was spun the second on the bobbin:

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singles
singles

The lumpy thick and thin nature is quite obvious. It was spun long draw – sort of some bits I went short worsted. It was a real joy to spin.  I just let it do its thing.  Some bits draughted smooth and relatively thin.  Other bits clogged in the rolag and draughted chunky and bumpy and thick.  I only pulled off neps if they offended me but mostly I ignored them.  I really didn’t do much quality control at all.  It was fast and fun.

And here it is plied:

plyed
plyed

 

Isn’t it lovely. Not my hands though, definitely not lovely.  I had been in the veg patch planting broad beans (too soon?) and went straight in to the workshop to get the plying done so excited was I to see how it was going to turn out.

The final stage was finishing the yarn.  As this yarn was intentionally neppy and would have loose bits that will pill or fall off I decided that it would need to be fulled to some degree.  Yes.  It needed a bit of felting.  On purpose.  And how do we felt wool.  1 heat.  2 soap.  3.  Agitation.  4 Temperature shock. So two bowls.  One seriously hot with some non foamy detergent (I use wool wash, but baby shampoo has been recommended) and the other nice and cold.  Plunged the skein in the hot soapy water and gave it a jolly good thrashing.  Pulled it out gently squeezing it and then throwing it into the cold bowl for a swish and rinse.  Repeat. You need to watch your yarn like a hawk.  Blink and you will miss the point where fulling becomes felting and you end up with a very lovely very thick dreadlock rather than the fully integrated lovely soft usable yarn you were aiming for.  I only did this twice before I felt the fibres begin to lock together.  a quick spin dry and hang and hey presto Isn’t she lovely:

finished skein
finished skein

I’ve just finished knitting up a sample:

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Its super soft and very textured.  Ought to have used bigger needles to really let it fluff up and show off its best bits.  I think it looks its best in simple stocking stitch.  So please with the outcome.  I have had a rummage in the workshop .  This one is Hebridean carded with silk neps ( I very nearly ruined it by over fulling it so it is not as soft as it was and i regret that a bit):

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And this one is some castle milk Moorit and Shetland with some soy silk fibres:

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the lumpy bits tended to spin out of the yarn in this one. Not my favourite.

I hope this has inspired you to dig out your ‘waste’ and have a go.  If you do I would love to know how you did it and to see the results.

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Makers Month Part two

Ericka Elckles spindling
Ericka Eckles spindling

Last day at Makers Month at the Forum today.  Its been a blast.  Have met so many wonderful enthusiastic people, too many to count.   Standouts have been ErickaEckles  who we spent many a happy hour chatting about crafting, knitting and life in general whilst she learnt how to spin with a spindle, road-testing different types and fibres.  It really clicked with the Bulgarian.  Something about all that twiddling.  Incidentally, one lady told me what craft stood for.  Can’t Remember A F***king Thing (I don’t know what the etiquette with regards to profanity is so excuse the infantile *’s).  That made me spray my tea…

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I am so very happy to report that there is so much interest in crafts like spinning, knitting, crochet and weaving.  Myself and my other Guild members (big hats off to Lizbeth, Susan, Carolinerine, Valerie, Jenny) have been talking non-stop for what seems like days from opening to closing teaching the whole world to spin.  Fingers crossed we have drummed up some new members for the Guild.

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Sadly I missed the talk on the Norwich Shawl but cannot complain.  A wonderful lady randomly dropped by with her family heirloom Norwich shawl.  She talked to us about some of its history including the time when her husband (or it might have been father?) was about to cut it up to reupholster an arm chair.  Yikes.  Anyway we managed to cop a feel of it – no gloves so flesh to flesh.  It was beautiful.

I also managed to wangle another go on the lovely Kims Saori loom – wants one wants one!  I now need, yes NEED a loom.  Practicalities like where would I put it or how would I pay for it clearly do not come into this.  The hanging donated by Saori Weavers from around the UK are beautiful so I recommend that you get to the Forum if you can to see them.  Really looking forward to seeing how the community ones woven during the past two weeks have turned out.

Today is the last day for us fiberistas.  So get along if you can and don’t forget to come and see us at the Mid-Norfolk Guild in the main atrium.

And thank you so very much to all the support given to my work, the response has been overwhelming and I am looking forward to seeing what people have done with the fibres and yarns that they bought. It has been such a boost to my confidence that I can do this.  So thank you so very much and do not forget to send me a picture of what you make.

PS was also fortunate to see Greg James of of the radio one finish his week of decathalons, the Gregathalon.  Way to go Greg!  Felt quite emotional….

Greg James at the finishing line. Honest. Tall chaps head  just to the right of center
Greg James at the finishing line. Honest. Tall chaps head just to the right of centre.
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Wovembers Robins Pincushion Pi

DSC04757It’s taken a year in the making but it’s finally complete. The Robins Pincushion project is done.  Spun for Spinzilla, knitted for Wovember, covering me up on the sofa whilst binge watching too much crappy TV in December/January/and or February.

As you may well be aware, I love walking my local woods and fields. On one of these walks I became completely obsessed with the Robins Pincushions that were infesting the wild dog roses. These amazing galls are caused by a gall wasp (Diplolepis rosae) which induces the most gorgeous distortion of an unopened leaf axillary on field roses or dog roses.

They have a spectacular appearance. All wild wind spun sugar in colours running from
gold through rose to brilliant scarlet reds and on to rusty dried blood reds and browns.

Bedeguar Gall or Robins Pincushion

Unsurprising these common galls have a rich dense folk lore attached to them. The Robin referred to here is the Woodland sprite Robin Goodfellow  aka the mischievous and malicious Puck, he of Midsummer night’s Dream fame. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, he is a jolly trickster who loves nothing better to “change shape, mislead travellers, spoil milk, frighten young girls and trip up venerable old dames”. He may also be a derivation of the great Norse Trickster Loki.  Although you wouldn’t think that from Cecily Mary Barkers 1928 very lovely and whimsical autumn fairy print:robins pincushion fairy cicely mary barker

From a technical stand point this was quite a taxing work. I knew it had to be circular, I also knew that it needed a colour graduation from the centre out changing from golds through greens, onto reds and finally to rusty reddy browns. The pattern structure also needed to spiral out from a dense and textured centre gradually become looser and lacier as it spiralled outwards. And points. It had to have pointy bits.

Never one to shy away from a technical challenge I wanted to make a 2-ply yarn rather than my usual low twist single. This was going to bring some major headaches on how to dye up the fibre so it would spin into two roughly equal singles that, when plied would match (or mostly match) colourwise.

The dyeing was solved by space dyeing four carded batts of Romney (each wieghing 65 g giving a total of 260g fibre).  These were laid butted up together in two strips (each two batts long). The dyes were then painted on in series across both batts:  Each strip was then rolled up in a cling film sausage and streamed.  These were hand carded in two roughly matching series of rolags to spin long draw:

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All this was done in preparation for spinning up the yarn for Spinzilla (you get credit for plying hence the two ply…er herm…embarrassed cough).  Spinzilla equals spinning fast.  Not very beautifully.  But fast.  Very fast.  My wheel blurred like a time machine.  The yarn turned out thicker than intended, close to a double knit rather than my usual 4-ply.  The total came to 767 meters.

I knew I wanted to use the great Zimmermans Pi circular shawl template as the starting point. But didn’t really have any fast and firm ideas for the textural and lace patterns. So I knitted up the lace patterns on the fly without much planning or forethought.  The consequence to this (very lazy) approach was that it certainly lived up to its namesake and was a tricky testing thing indeed. But that’s my own fault for not planning ahead but just rolling with where it wanted to go.

Starting with a 6mm circular needle and plain garter stitch for the first few sections. Then moss stitch for the next 12 rows.  Changing up needle size to 8mm.  For the following 24 rows I used pattern no 48 in Leili Reimann’s Pitilised Koekirjad.

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I hadn’t a clue for the following sections.  The lace patterns I thought I wanted to use didn’t knit up well.  So after much frogging and faffing I altered the original pattern (I turned it upside down and changed the starting row to give a distinctive flower on a stem).

DSC04761The final band a lace pattern I made up.  Which just about used up most of my yarn.  To get the open lacey edge I cast off using a crochet cast off.  Miraculously I had exactly the right amount of yarn.  So maybe Puck smiled on me in the end.
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You can find out more details on my Ravelry Robins Pincushion Pi project page if you are interested.  I might write the pattern up.  Do you think anyone would be interested?

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Sad its over

Spinzilla day one
So, last week saw me and so many others all over the world spinning like the very devil.  No idea yet as to the total yardage spun globally.  I am pleased and very proud to have been part of Team HSN UK.  Not only did we outperform every other team in chat (over 2500 posts, closely followed by Team Alaskan Yarn Company with a measley 1500!) but we also span a stonkingly huge amount of mileage.  So how did we do? Drum roll please……

The team’s total was146336 and a tiny bit Spinzilla yards. That’s 83.15 miles! Average 3.32 miles per spinner.  How awesome was that? And spun in every corner of the UK:

Team HSN UK location map
Team HSN UK location map

My own personal target was to spin a mile.  Smashed that with a grand total of 2.25 miles!  It was also to speed up but slow down (last post – seeking the spinners nirvana).  I think I also managed that. Up to a point.  By Thursday I was starting to experience odd out of body stuff – my limbs still felt they were spinning when I was doing other things.  Very odd sensation indeed.  Not sea legs so much as spinning legs…

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Yarn spun during Spinzilla 2015. Top from left to right: Romney and silk worsted spun 2-ply, Romeny and soy silk blended colour gradient woolen prep spun long draw, Castle Milk Moorit/Alpaca/Rose fibre blend carded batt spun longdraw. Bottom Corespun BFL top with feathers.

I managed to spin up the fibre for my next 2 projects.  The purple is for my Nieces birthday gift, the five skeins forming a colour gradient from pale gold through greens out to reds are for a circular shawl  (itching to get started on that one).  I only managed a couple of skeins of the castle milk for a jumper.  By this time I was so bored with conventional spinning and it was brown.  Bored.  Bored.  BORED!!!.  I’d been watching my chickens moult all week, their feathers were so downy and fluffy and gorgeous, calling to me: ‘spin me spin me’.  So on Saturday I just had to spin feathers.

'Spinning Feathers' Corespun BFL with chicken feathers
‘Spinning Feathers’ Corespun BFL with chicken feathers

I have to say it was my most favourite spin of the whole week.  I absolutely love it.  I’ve been wearing it around the house all week bringing out my inner rock chick and going total Stevie Nicks. I had to draw the line at rocking it up to Tesco’s in double denim – think the world is perhaps not ready for that.

But the fun goes on.  We are reconvening at Fibre East 2016.  The team is keen to keep the fun going.  We have decided to put that Shetland top kindly donated by Martin Curtis of Curtis Wools Direct to very good use.  Each of us is going to contribute a knitted a 30cm square which will form a blanket to be auctioned off for a good cause (yet to be determined).  There’s also the Back 2 Back challenge.  Taking a freshly shorn fleece, spinning it and knitting it into a garment in one day.  Hmmm.  Not sure about that one.  Neither a speedy nor consistent spinner and a very slow knitter…

So sad its now over.  I met an amazing group of people and had a really good time.  But its back to reality.  Till next year…