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.

Friday Night Light Spins

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I’ve been lax about spinning, knitting, and blogging. Maybe it’s because I haven’t figured out how to balance the two sides of my brain. When I’m working hard, there doesn’t seem much mental space for spinning,  knitting or even blogging. In the past few weeks, however, we have been watching Friday Night Lights after Little A goes to bed, and it’s given me a little time to catch up on some spinning.

When Friday Night Lights first aired, I had dismissed it as a teen drama along the lines of Beverly Hills 90201 meets football. But when my colleagues raved about this show, V and I decided to try it out. Having now lived in Texas, especially near where the show takes place, I feel a personal connection to that cultural landscape in which football is the center of gravity. But, more than that, the writing is really good. We’re only on season two, but I like the compassion with which the characters are presented. On some level, they are high school stereotypes: the jock, the cheerleader, the nerd, etc., but they seem aware that these are precarious roles in the tumultuous high school social order, subject to sudden change.  The two parental figures–the coach and the high school counselor–are married, and despite their strong marriage, their dedication to their jobs means that they sometimes have competing ideas about what is “best” for the students. It’s pretty clever to have a high school counselor as a character. Through her, the show offers commentary and analysis about the characters’ motivations in a way that seems to be a natural feature of the plot and doesn’t sound too contrived or out of place. And, it is very eerie to watch these episodes, which aired in 2006-2007, against the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement and the football players’ strike at the University of Missouri to protest against campus racism.

I could go on and on about this show, but suffice to say, this show has increased my spinning output!

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This skein was spun from fiber dyed by Woolgatherings.  They are a regular vendor at my favorite fiber festival, The Flock and Fiber festival in Canby, OR and I bought this 70% oatmeal BFL/30% silk braid last September. I had been waiting a while to spin it and knew that I wanted to make it lace-weight. I didn’t quite expect to get so much–604 meters! I will admit that there were times when I was so over this and wanted it to be done so that I could move onto something else. I think I started spinning this earlier this spring…

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This is my first ever Southern Cross Fibre spin, and yes, it was heavenly. I had signed myself up on the fibre club wait list the spring or summer of 2013, and finally, this summer, I got in!  I must have been needing something different from the lace-weight yarn I had just spun. This corriedale is about 180 meters, and it is squishy and crisp.

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This is probably my new favorite–“Esmerelda” in bond from Southern Cross Fibre. I love the surprise combinations of two and three ply yarns, but right now, there’s nothing more satisfying than plump singles. I am going to be spinning more singles.

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Last but not least, another Nest favorite. This is targhee, and is about 350 meters. I’ve never spun targhee before this and I was amazed but how much it plumped up after I set it. I took this photo a little while ago, otherwise I would have placed it beside the other skeins for scale. It’s only 4 0z, but it’s got bulk.

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.

Kidlet Knit Part II (Or, the Gateway Sweater)

I’ve been lax in posting my recent projects. I blame the end of the term grading madness, the beginning of the term disorientation and the deeply satisfying and lazy holiday break in-between.

This project, which I made for a certain Little L, is made from my go-to-pattern. I’ve now made three of these sweaters, and it was also the first sweater I made that got me back and knee-deep into knitting. This is probably the easiest sweater to make for those looking to dip their toes into knitting garments. It’s a top-down construction, seamless and easily adjustable. Prior to making this, I was knitting scarves and all I knew were purl and knit. But the ease of the garment and the realization that sweaters need not be so intimidating hooked me in. If ever there was sweater that is the equivalent of a gateway drug, this would be it.

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And while comparing this sweet little sweater to banned substances might be a bit inappropriate, especially as I imagine adorable Little L, with her plump rosy cheeks sporting this sweater in the natural beauty of Vancouver Island, my husband V–in looking at our bank account, the neglected state of our home and my constant distracted state as I count my stitches–might find the comparison completely apt.

Now that I’ve taken up spinning, it’s opened up a whole new world of things to learn and obsess about.

Below is my first ever hand-dyed and hand-spun skein, which I used to knit Little L’s sweater. I’ve wanted learn how to dye fiber ever since I started spinning. In fact, that was one of the reasons we drove as quickly as we could to San Antonio last year. I needed to get there in time to take a percentage dyeing class for fabric (which was one of the most informative and amazing classes I’ve taken!). It was a nice bookend to our time in San Antonio that in the last couple of weeks we were there, we drove to Austin so that I could take a fiber dyeing class at Hill Country Weavers, an amazingly stocked yarn store.

This time, I got to just play with color and focus on how to prep my fiber so I don’t felt it. Luckily, I also had some blue-faced leicester top which doesn’t felt as readily. And so I just used whatever color combinations were provided. What I ended up with is the color of a Disney Princess, a connection I didn’t make until we went to Disneyland on our road trip back to Portland.

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Dyeing my own fiber has made me also realize the importance of color placement in a way that I didn’t quite appreciate. As you can see the dyed colors of the top are more distinct, and after I spun the top, the colors became slightly less vibrant. The fact that the yellow was next to the gray/blue resulted in a slightly green tint to the yarn. I am going to be more mindful next time about how I spin as well as what color combinations I will juxtapose against each other.

In any case, I can’t wait to try my hand at more fiber dyeing. Next up for me is working with natural dyes!

 

 

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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Un-accessory kinds of “accessories”

I’m not an accessories kind of person. I rarely sport earrings. I don’t wear my engagement ring, and V and I have yet to buy our wedding rings (Yes, we’re married). There have been a few times I regretted not wearing a belt, one of which involved a long line of parents in their cars waiting to pick their children up from school, and me walking by carrying something big and unwieldy while wearing baggy pants.  But enough said. I don’t need to cite all my scenes of humiliation as proof that I’m an accessories-deficient gal. That mutant gene, however, to V’s dismay, does not seem to apply to knitting and spinning.

Perhaps the problem is with the word “accessory” itself, which suggests that it is merely an adornment, an addition, an afterthought, and not something absolutely vitally important, without which you are incapacitated, unable to do your thing and lost at sea.

Therefore, I think all those shops out there that offer spinning supplies–these items should not be listed under “spinning accessories” but under “your right hand” or something like that. So, without further ado, let me share my  [*insert new terminology here that captures how super duper essential these items are]:

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Woolee Winder: The devotion to this ingenious invention is no hype. I don’t know how I can go back to spinning the regular way at all. I never realized how disruptive moving my yarn up and down the hooks was to both my spinning rhythm and to the yarn’s diameter. My spinning has become more consistent since getting this, and it has also helped with evening out my plying, which I still need to work on.

Unlike most folks, I chose to buy only one bobbin because when I bought my used Matchless, it came with some extra bobbins and I didn’t want them to become obsolete. This is the only spinning item that I bought totally new, and I have no regrets. Nada. It was worth every penny.

 

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Bobbin Winder: This item might be perceived as a nice bonus, something you treat yourself to if you happen to find some cash on the sidewalk. I disagree. It is indispensable if you 1) have a woolee winder and only one woolee winder bobbin; 2) want to line up the colors of your singles from the beginning end when you ply; 3) want to redistribute and relax the twist of your singles before plying; and 4) tend to be anal retentive.

Judith MacKenzie McCuin in The Intentional Spinner and Alden Amos in his tome,  Big Book of Handspinningrecommend a bobbin winder to redistribute the twist. They write that it also offers another opportunity to quickly scan your singles for errors before you ply them. And, since I am a bit of a sheep, if the spinning gurus say it’s important to get, I am compelled to follow.

I decided to get the Schacht double ended winder because I wanted to have as many options as possible, and I was lucky to buy this used from another Raveler.

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Someone once asked me about how I spun this shawl. It was because of the bobbin winder that I was able to line my colors up like this, so that the two singles spun from the divided braid were plied from the beginning end, which ensures that the colors line up better than if you were starting to ply from the tail end of the spun yarn.

 

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Styrene Spool/Bobbin: Even with the extra bobbins that came with my used spinning wheel, I needed more bobbins. Unlike the Matchless bobbins (example on the left) which cost around $38, these ones (example on right) are made by LeClerc and cost $3.75 each at The Woolery. The only minor complaint that I have about this is that LeClerc advertises this as being able to hold up to 8 oz. Perhaps if you are using really thinly- and tightly-spun yarn or thread it’s possible, but I was only able to wind 2 oz onto each. Still, it’s a great deal, and I plan on getting more so that I can have enough to start spinning adult-sized sweaters. A couple of other things to note are 1) that you can’t tension them and 2) I don’t know the difference between a spool and a bobbin.

 

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Spinner’s Control Card: This card keeps me in check, and often confirms, despite my intentions to vary my spinning, that yes, I’m spinning yarn that is 28 wpi.

 

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Digital Scale: I bought this small cheapo item shortly after I took Kim Eichler-Messmer’s class on percentage dyeing. A digital scale is absolutely necessary to measure the amount of dye powder in the dye solutions. However, since we’re currently living in a tiny apartment and I haven’t had a chance to break out my dyes, I’ve been using it to make sure that I’m dividing my fiber up evenly. I don’t mean to totally brag (just partially), but since using this scale to divide up my fiber, the length of my singles are usually no more than a few meters apart, and I am able to ply virtually all my yarn without much left over. If I had planned ahead and realized it was also going to do double-duty and also weigh my fibers, I probably would have purchased a slightly bigger scale.

There are probably other things out there that I *absolutely* need that I haven’t yet discovered. It will be a paradigm shift when I do. I just know it.

What about you? Do you have something that you can’t do without–that enables you to turn straw into gold?