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

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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!

 

 

Pulling out the knits

We had a nice sunny but cold spell in Portland recently so I took advantage of this anomalous weather to take photos of knits I finished back a while back. (As a side note, we’re back to wet, cold and grey so everything is right in the world again.) I tried cajoling Little A to stay still. Taking photos of this little ham is a crap shoot. One minute she’s smiling, laughing and pulling out her moves. The next minute it’s meltdown. IMG_4725

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The top-down cardigan, Hibbis, is a test knit, but the testing process was less about pattern modification and suggestions so much as it was about identifying grammatical errors in the translation from French to English. I was really drawn to this pattern because I liked the simple lace flowers at the yoke. But now that I’ve knitted it, I would definitely recommend modifying this pattern. The collar is too wide and keeps slipping off Little A’s narrow shoulders. Not only would I cast on fewer stitches for the collar, but that would have allowed me to raise the collar and give me space to have another row of the lace pattern. For Little A’s sizing, there were only two rows of this lace, which which seem a bit off balance to me. I like my patterns to fall on odd numbers. Despite the loose collar, Little A loves this sweater, which is knitted in Cascade 220″Fuschia.” This just goes to show at the end of the day, the wearer’s opinion counts the most.

The squishy cowl she is wearing is knitted from handspun superwash merino from Nest Fiber Studio. The colorway is “London Jupiter.” This was a fun and easy knit to show off handspun yarn. It is an easily adaptable pattern for children and adults. And as the name of this pattern highlights, it is really squishy. I got these darling buttons from Mom’s Buttons.

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What can I say? I love Nest Fiber.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

Plied at last

In preparation for our move back to Portland, I felt compelled to spin as much fiber as I could. You know, uh, cuz fiber is so heavy.

I didn’t ply my singles, however, because I wanted to let the singles relax a bit before plying them together. So when we got home, I found myself plying like a madwoman. We haven’t completely unpacked yet so I don’t have all my notes on these recent spins. Oh well.

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Nest Fiber Club, “Primavera” in superwash merino. Chain-plied.

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This is Hello Yarn’s “Slither” in BFL/silk. This was spun fractally and loosely plied.

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This is from A Verb for Keeping Warm in “Octotillo.” One piece was superfine merino, and the other was 80% merino/20% silk. We stopped off at this store in Oakland on our way home. Most of it is a two-ply, and the grapey purple is the leftover, which I then chain-plied. More details about our visit to this awesome store later.

What writers can learn from knitters

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I admit that this a broad generalization, but so many knitters I know or meet online are incredibly well-read. For some, an audiobook, a knitting project and a cosy chair is nothing short of bliss. But besides my anecdotal observations on the reading habits of knitters, many of our metaphors about storytelling come from the world of fiber arts, reflecting our collective desire for a good yarn.

But what about a more literal translation, in which the craft of writing draws more directly from the world of knitters and spinners? In other words, what might writers learn from knitters and spinners? As I struggle with my own writing these days, I’ve decided to take a page from the community of knitters and spinners and remind myself of the following:

  • First and foremost, most knitters I know have multiple WIP (works-in-progress). But, seldom are these projects the same kind. That is, they are not all socks or intricate shawls. You have different kinds of projects for different scenarios. You may have a quick knit that you can do in an evening. You may have a knit that satisfies your desire for focused concentration or challenges you with its complicated lace patterns. Then there is the project that is rather repetititive and boring but results in elegant simplicity. All these projects have their roles and places. If I can knit multiple things at one, why am I wedded to the idea that I can only be focused on one writing project at a time? Surely there is a place in one’s writing basket for writing that is like a swatch, a short ten-minute writing exercise written down by hand as well as the kind of dense difficult writing that, like a shawl, requires a flow chart.
  • Experimenting with a variety of fiber and tools enables one to learn about the range of their effects. There is a visceral difference between knitting with the warm smoothness of bamboo circulars and knitting with the slick clicks of metal needles. Pairing different kinds of needles with different kinds of fiber not only produces different knitting experiences but also different kinds of knits. So then, why do I only write at the computer, where the plastic keys bounce back with dutiful enthusiasm beneath my fingers? I need to branch out. What kind of sentences emerge when I swirl ink with a hefty fountain pen on thick milky pages of handmade paper? And how is that different from writing with a stubby marker on a yellow lined legal pad?
  • Being a good writer means being a good reader. The more I knit, the more I realize that I’m learning to understand another language, another code that allows me to translate either charts or abbreviations like k2tog into something 3-D. That you can then wear! (This point totally blows my simple mind.) And the more conversant I become in reading this other language, the more fluent my fingers and hands. Learning to read a pattern and understanding the architecture of a sweater–how it is constructed from the ground up–has made me a better reader of literature. I’m more aware of a story’s architecture and how its technical elements work together.
  • Writers should get together and write. What makes knitting fun is sharing our work, being a part of a knit-a-long or asking each other for tips and advice. Writing can be very isolating, and I think that there should be more WALs (write-alongs) in which you are in a room and write with others. Recently, I’ve been sharing my work with S, and we check in with each other weekly about our progress and offer feedback on each other’s work. S occupies a special place in my heart because 14 years ago she and I spent a wonderfully productive summer writing together in a windowless room in the caverns of the university library. We were immersed in ideas, each writing to the soundtrack of the other’s tapping keyboard.
  • Spinning is about letting go and giving in to imperfection. Or maybe it’s about abandoning the idea of perfection and imperfection altogether. I’m such a critical writer, the kind of person who goes over and over a sentence fragment before moving onto the next. Such perfectionism is debilitating. With spinning, the goal is not to produce commercially spun evenness–but to create energy through twist. And finding that balance between generating enough twist in the yarn and then letting it go is a lesson that all writers could benefit from. Hold on too tightly or for too long and you end up with twine, not yarn.
  • When I hit a writing block, I spin.