Slow fashion is… really slow

 

We arrived in San Antonio in the summer of 2013 so that V could attend graduate school. I was excited to get away from Portland and from the stresses of work. Though we were only going to be there for a year, we sold a lot of furniture on craigslist, down-sized from a three-bedroom house and moved into a one-bedroom apartment. I was at a crossroads about work and life, and San Antonio offered the chance to get away from the physical and emotional clutter that I felt buried under. I knew no one, and there was something exhilarating that. Just shortly after we arrived, however, Little A had a severe allergic reaction to something she ate. I also found out that someone I had once worked with, a most lovely, kind and good-hearted person, had suddenly died of an undiagnosed brain tumor at the age of 35. Suddenly, the freedom that I had craved made me fearful, exposing a fragility that stress and routine had dulled, and so I turned inward, finding comfort in the tangibility of handwork.

It was there that I started spinning for this sweater, almost three years in the making, spanning time spent in San Antonio, Portland and Washington, DC. I had only just learned to spin the year before and didn’t have any idea of where to buy fiber and what kinds of independent dyers were out there. I was still finding my way through Ravelry and learning the ropes about destashes, fiber clubs and the like. I bought two bags of Portuguese Merino dyed by Hello Yarn through a bulk destash.

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I split each bump into thin strips, and I worked on spinning this, on and off. After a bit, I saw someone destashing another bump of “Silt” and the idea that I might possibly have enough for a sweater began to emerge.

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Fractally spun, I made sure that I did pair the first spin with my last one so that the unevenness of my spinning would somehow even or cancel each other out.  Portuguese merino staples are short, and that made for an uneven rustic yarn with a bouncy crispness.

I finally finished spinning 12 oz this spring. By then, we had already returned to Portland and had also moved twice! All that chaos made it hard to see the project through, and I also found myself with less time for knitting and spinning now that I had returned to full-time work.

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That year in San Antonio had been clarifying. I realized I love my job. I am incredibly lucky I am to be able to do something that is intellectually satisfying and always unpredictable. I’ve also come to grips with aspects of the job that I’m not so good at, and being honest about my limitations and being willing to say “no” has helped scale down the stress tremendously and enabled me to focus more on my writing and research.

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I didn’t know what to knit and I had forgotten to record the yardage. I was going to Washington, DC this summer for work, and I wanted to make sure I had a knitting project to bring along. This cardigan, Praline, by Gudrun Johnston was a last minute impulsive decision. I got gauge and threw the skeins into my suitcase and hoped for the best. I began knitting on the flight to DC, and I worked on it during the evenings, after a long and satisfying day spent at the Library of Congress. I worked on it during the train rides to New York City and Philadelphia, and I finally finished it back at home in Portland.

img_7677So much has happened between when I first started spinning and when I finally sewed those little buttons on.

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Handspun Estuary

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Usually, I can’t wait to finish blocking a project, especially one that involves lace. It is so satisfying to watch the lace bloom in water, and for the knit to surprise me with its actual form and pattern. The past few months of living in limbo with our things in storage made it hard for me to block this shawl. I couldn’t find the blocking wires, and frankly, there wasn’t much space to properly lay it out. I finished knitting this Estuary Shawl designed by Tin Can Knits a while ago, and it’s been so long that I don’t remember what size needles I used and when I even started it. I do remember that the beginning wasn’t that intuitive for me and I had to unravel many times. But, look at it now. So totally worth it.

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I fractally spun this yarn, and the fiber comes from Hello Yarn. One of the things about fractal spinning is the way the colors become separated and then repeated. I divided the top into many thin strips and so the color shifts are more frequent.

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This lovely BFL and silk blend is “Slither” and is from the November 2012 club, and I was lucky to have purchased this from someone on Ravelry.  I love BFL and silk blends and spinning them finely to create a thin yarn with a soft haloed sheen. With BFL blends, I’ve learned to relax and let the yarn be loosely plied. It gives a lovely drape that is perfect for shawls.

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Here it is: BLF/Silk “Slither” from Hello Yarn. I love the little bits of light blue hidden in the vortex of this extremely poofy skein.

Little me

Hi there! Down here. IMG_5417

That’s it. Come closer. IMG_5404

I won’t bite. IMG_5387

How lovely to meet you. IMG_5394

I’m so glad to be here. IMG_5390

I know I may not look like much, but I’m a momentous thing.

Don’t let appearances fool you.

I’m what you would usually call subpar merino. You know the kind: second cuts with lots of neps. But that also makes me the perfect kind of wool for experimentation. I’ve been dipped in an alum mordanted logwood dye from a natural dyeing class. And because I was in a pot with all sorts of other fibers, the excessive handling got too much and I closed in on myself and became resistant to drafting. A drum carder, recently purchase on craiglist, helped to revive me. I even got carded with some of my undyed merino friends. And after three passes, with neps and all, I became a fluffy rolag ready for spinning. Here I am, all two by three inches of me. IMG_5378

Look at my deep blues and my tweedy texture.

I’m becoming a natural dye convert. IMG_5395

Here I am with my yarnie. IMG_5411

I can’t wait to explore all the possibilities.

I could totally knit that…

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Ever since I started knitting more regularly, my relationship with store-bought knits has taken a nosedive. We were already having some communication issues, namely their refusal to be loose in areas I need them to be loose and tight in areas I need them to be tight. Now that I have more in my knitting repertoire beyond stockinette and garter stitches, we are no longer on speaking terms.  Whenever I see knits on display, my smug response is, “I could totally knit that.” Mass-produced sweaters seem more flimsy and poorly made. Plus, they’re cold and impersonal. Why buy something I can make myself? I could totally knit a warm, colorful and durable sweater that has the distinction of being made with love. Yes, I could totally knit that and do it better.

This attitude, however, does have a down side.

The truth is, though I have the ability, I don’t necessarily have the time. Now that the weather is colder and V and Little A are forced to venture out hatless or mittenless while awaiting prophesized knits, my DIY, anti-consumerist, mother-earthing ethos is starting to look like stubborn idiocy and misguided cruelty.

I have been promising V a hat for weeks. He walks a good mile from the bus stop to work in the chilly morning hours. But, with my current piles of grading, I have only been able to knit a few rows or inches a night. I had bragged that I could finish this brier toque in two days. Caught up by my over-confidence, he even assured his bus driver, a sweet maternal older lady who pays attention to these things, that he will be warmly dressed soon. And yet, each morning, when she pulls up and he comes running up into the warm belly of the bus, she asks, “When is this hat going to be ready?”

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There’s nothing like the mild disapproval of a bus driver to spur on your knitting. All I can say is that this hat is going to get done. Even if it kills me a little.

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The other day V asked about mittens, but I told him that he was going to have to wait. There’s a queue. My fingers are freezing.

Fiber: Nest Fiber Club, “Fernweh” October 2014 (organic polwarth), worsted spun 2-ply.

Top down handspun

I’ve been trying to figure out how to knit a V-neck cardigan from the top down by reading Barbara Walker’s Knitting From the Top. I wanted to design and knit my own cardigan, but I couldn’t figure out crucial steps in the construction process. While her book is brilliant in presenting the structural formula of top-down knitting, for someone like me who has not done a lot of sweater knitting, it was a bit too abstract; I needed a more detailed step by step explanation. In looking for a simple V-neck cardigan prototype, I found exactly what I was looking for: Audrey’s First Day Sweater designed by Elizabeth Smith. It’s a great pattern to start learning about top down raglan cardigan construction. And what’s even better is that it’s free.

I finished this cardigan in a couple of weeks, despite a very hectic schedule. And it’s thick and warm–just in time for fall!

(This toque, which I spun and knitted in San Antonio, has been getting a lot of use recently. Little A and I both take turns wearing it.)

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The yarn is spun from two 4 oz bumps of  Spunky Eclectic falkland that I had purchased from a Ravelry destash. The yarn is worsted weight and I had a little less than 400 meters so I knew that I couldn’t have long sleeves.

I spun the two bumps slightly differently to give some variety in the color shifts. One bump I split in half cross-wise and spun each half across the top. The other bump is fractally spun. I split it in half cross-wise and spun one half across the top but split the other half into 8 strips lengthwise. You can see the different effects in the two halves of the sweater. The top half, which has thinner band of colors, is knitted using the fractally spun yarn. As with my previously spun sweater, I’m partial to having striping changes.

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Given that this was a top-down sweater, I wanted the sleeves to be knitted with the fractally spun yarn so to match the upper body. Shortly after I knitted the yoke, I decided I had better save the rest of this yarn for the sleeves so I set it aside and then continued knitting the body with the other skein. I then weighed the yarn I had set aside and divided it into two same-sized balls to make sure that my sleeves would be roughly the same length. I knitted the sleeves till I ran out of the fractally spun yarn. If I had initially spun this 8 oz with a plan to make a sweater, I probably would have probably followed this awesome PDF explanation from Gizometer on Ravelry. Though the instructions are for a gradient sweater, I love the breakdown of the ratio between the amount of fiber needed for sleeves and the amount needed for the body. These instructions present the division of fiber and colors with easy to understand diagrams.

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I modified the sweater a bit so that as Little A grows, it can be worn as a bolero. It’s cropped and wider around the chest. I added four extra stitches under each arm.

Spunky Eclectic “Field of Screams” (May 2010 club fiber) waiting to be plied.

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Handspinning Jag

I work in spurts, moving back and forth between intensive knitting and intensive spinning. I’m now in the thick of knitting, but I wanted to share some recent spins that I’m now furiously transforming into sweaters and hats. IMG_4631

IMG_4635This kaleidoscope of pinks, oranges, and purples is from Two If By Hand in “Indian Summer.”  It is a mix of merino, cashmere and nylon, and it is probably one of my favorite color combinations at the moment. It is being turned into a Kina baby sweater right now, and it is gloriously stretchy and strong. While I was plying this into a two-ply, I nearly cut my finger because the yarn was so thin and strong. This would have made decadent socks because of the hard-wearing nylon and the cashmere. This skein is 268 meters.

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IMG_4644Nest Fibers never disappoint. Gorgeous colors and fabulous prep, which make for really enjoyable spinning. This is 2-ply organic polwarth skein is “Fernweh” from the October 2014 installment of the Nest Fiber Club. It is a worsted weight yarn that I’m going to make into a hat for V. He doesn’t get a lot of handspun because I’m usually drawn to colors that he doesn’t feel comfortable sporting up at the Veterans Hospital where he works, and so the moment I saw this fiber in the mail, I knew it was going to be for him. (As an aside, he wants me to state that he has no problems with his masculinity and to let y’all know that he recently wore one of my purple cowls to work. However, he did have to field a lot of questions about “cowls” and what they were.)

IMG_4661These monster skeins are from Blue Moon Fiber Art Sock Sheep to Shoe Kit, a large 8.5 oz bag of super wash merino. I got this kit from the woman who sold me her Matchless on craigslist back in the spring of 2013. I’ve been pretty much working on this ever since! The packaging didn’t state what color way this is, but I think it is “Twinkle Twinkle Little Vampire.” I decided to spin this fiber into a 3-ply but I spun each single so thinly that I was overwhelmed. It hibernated for a long while. Now that I’m finished, it is really satisfying to just grab these skeins and squeeze them!

IMG_4668This largest skein is 555 meters. I ran out of space on my bobbin and had to ply onto another bobbin. The smaller skein of regular 3-ply is 274 meters. I still had quite a bit left over on my two other bobbins (this was before I started weighing my fiber), and so I decided to chain-ply the rest. IMG_4665This resulting chain-ply is 214 meters. I love how different the effects are, and I’m hoping that the beauty of this fiber will help me overcome my dislike of sock knitting.

IMG_4658This last skein is from Three Fates Yarn, which is based out of Salem, OR. I purchased this super wash merino at the Flock and Fiber Festival this past fall though I know that they also sell Three Fates Yarn at Twisted, my favorite yarn store.  I loved the cheerful color combination and was looking for something I could spin to donate to Little A’s school. A lot of the children in her class are learning to knit, and I wanted them to be able to work with fiber that had energy and life. This two-ply is 174 meters.