Thursday, June 5, 2014

SPAKAL, TdF, and Hackle & Diz, oh my!

Hey everyone! The weather has finally turned here in New England, which means that a fair chunk of my potential blogging time is now taken up by family barbecues, parties, holidays, and gardening time (or else I'd have to give up crafting to write, which doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me).

All of these are good things, so I'm going to be lax about trying to get a post out every week over the summer months. I'll still plan on posting, but posts may be shorter and have a higher quantity of iPhone photos. If you want more of a play-by-play of my crafty goings-on, do follow me on Instagram. I'm very active over there and I've been enjoying a fabulous community of spinners (and knitters too, but I'm totally geeked out on spinning right now).

Which brings me to the topic of this post: All Things Spinning.


I've recently re-discovered The Knitmore Girls podcast. I listened to a few episodes ages ago, and I must have been out of my mind but I didn't like it. Lately a lot of my favorite knitting podcasts have been fading out so I've been on the hunt for new ones, and I realized that I LOVE this podcast. I always learn something new, it doesn't ramble, and Jasmin and Gigi are hilarious. 

Anyway, I've been geeking out on spinning lately and it's been mostly in a vacuum. I don't know any other spinners locally, so the internet has been my guide and inspiration. The Knitmore Girls are both enthusiastic spinners. They have a whole segment of the show devoted to spinning, and each summer they encourage their listeners to join a spin-a-long/knit-a-long (SPAKAL) where you spin for a sweater. Yup, a whole, adult-sized sweater, from fleece to yarn to garment. Knitmore-a-longs are open-ended, so there's no stop date, but there's a ton of support and camraderie.

Sure, to-date, I've only spun about 10oz, and I don't have a wheel so I'm a bit slow, but this sounded like the perfect challenge. I recently finished knitting a shawl out of hand-dyed roving that I spun into 2-ply fingering-weight yarn, and I love it so much. It is the proudest thing I have ever created. "This used to be a pile of white fluff!" I feel like shouting to everyone I meet. It is also exactly what I wanted. No compromises - the perfect yarn is too expensive, I couldn't find the right color, etc. The thought of having a similarly perfect sweater was just too cool to pass up. So I'm joining in! 


Now, if the Ravellenics wasn't nerdy enough, the SPAKAL kicks off on the same date as the Tour de Fleece. This is an event where yarn-spinners unite to challenge themselves to spin the most yardage possible during the Tour de France cycling competition. There are prizes, but the big draw is that it's an opportunity to publicly set a spinning goal, join in with a bunch of like-minded people on Ravelry forums, push my spinning abilities as far as they'll go, and just have some fun. My goal is to spin 10oz of my SPAKAL sweater singles (plying will come later). I'm not sure if that's crazy, so my secondary goal is 6oz and to spin every day of the Tour de Fleece (the spinning event adheres to the race's rest day schedule). 

The Plan

I'm spinning for the Lempster sweater pattern, from Knitty. I've wanted to make it for ages, but I feel like part of the beauty of the sweater is the cool, tweedy yarn that they use. Usually, cabled sweaters are done in solid yarns, to show off the cables most clearly. But these cables are beefy enough that they manage to stand out even in a textured yarn. So cool! I balked at the price of the pattern yarn, though, and as it was also a singles yarn it seemed like a nightmare waiting to happen in the pilling department. In the back of my queue it's stayed since it's release, but no more!

The Knitmore Girls suggest a really fascinating method for spinning a large quantity of even yarn, which I'm going to try out. Spin singles in small, 1oz/25g increments, and wind them onto miniature 'storage' bobbins. 

These are sold for weaving shuttles, but work just fine for this purpose as well.

Spin all the singles in one go. Leave plying for the end, and number your mini bobbins as you fill them. Once all of them are done, ply the early singles with the later singles and all of your inconsistencies (or improvements) will be blended together to create a cohesive sweater quantity of finished yarn. Brilliant, right? 

In order to make this as difficult and time-consuming as possible, I ordered 24oz of white, natural roving and decided to dye 4oz increments and blend them together via combination-drafting.  

Initial experiments were promising, although too bright:

Some over-dyeing ensued, the yellow was removed, and this was my final selection of roving:

Combination-drafting also turned out to be very challenging. I'm not sure if it's easier on a wheel, or with better-prepared fibers, but if I didn't do a ton of pre-drafting each of the colors would draft differently, and I'd end up with chunks of one color and chunks of another. It was finicky and difficult. But, I own no fiber prep tools, so - what to do?

Hackle & Diz

The answer came to me while I was perusing spinning books at Barnes & Nobles. The book I had selected had whole chapters on making your own spinning tools, and one of these tools, which I had never heard of before, was called a hackle

It's basically a row of tines, bolted to a table. Already-prepared fiber (either roving or top) is applied by 'lashing' it against the tines, which catch some of the fiber and leave the rest. Layers of different colors and materials can be built up. Once done, you pull off the fiber using a 'diz' (basically, a small disk with a hole in it) and the result is a puffy, fluffy, beautifully-blended roving. 

There are many online tutorials as well, but the principle of building one of these is incredibly simple. Purchase a bunch of sturdy combs, screw them to a board, and clamp the board to a table. Easy!

My dad helped me with this, as he's got a whole woodshop in his basement and he was keen for a quick project. Here's the result - I'll try to get some pics of the hackle while it's empty later so you can see how it's put together.

If you're interested, I highly suggest building one and giving it a try. My one suggestion is don't overfill the hackle. In order to diz off easily, the fiber can't be packed down onto the combs. It actually helps if you push it upward towards the top of the tines to loosen it. But, if you've filled the combs to the top (which I did), you can't do that and the wool likes to stay put. 

You can search YouTube for videos on how to diz. I found the Blue Mountain Handicrafts videos to be the most helpful, but keep in mind that they are using a very fancy hackle with 5" tines. Your home-made version will not be fillable in the same way, and probably shouldn't be put under the kind of pressure that theirs can be.

Here's the roving I produced! 

This is not as strong as commercial roving, because it's not compacted. So, to store it should be wrapped gently into a circle or ball, rather than braided, as that might cause it to fall apart. What this means for spinning, however, is that it drafts like butter. It's wonderful! 

The TdF officially kicks off one month from today, so I'm trying to stick to prep efforts for now, but the Knitmore Girls are pretty loose with deadlines so I may start early anyway. It's just so exciting! 

Til next time,


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Oh, Canada

Last week I got to go on a business trip to the great city of Toronto, Ontario Canada.

Skyscrapers, construction. It felt like most of the city was getting a facelift. 
"Ripple Deck" at the Waterfront - beautiful area.
It is a beautiful city, but it is also home to a vibrant knitting and spinning community. Whenever plan I travel to a new city, one of the first things I do is a quick Google or Yelp search for "yarn store near [city name]". Usually I might expect to find one or two shops.

In Toronto I found this:

10 actual LYS's, and that's just the first page. Notice that they all have reviews on Yelp, too - as in, people actually go to these stores and care to rate them. The scale on the map is hard to see, but these stores are all within about a 5-mile radius of downtown Toronto. Many of them are cafes, serving coffee, tea, and various treats; most of them carry spinning supplies as well.

For perspective: I have no LYS's within 5 miles of my house, and the sum total of shops that are within reasonable driving distance (less than 20 miles) is 3. They are all in different directions and none of them carry any spinning supplies.

Once I got over the shock, I started scheming. Could I take an extra day in Toronto, after my business was concluded, and do a yarn crawl of the city? It turned out that I could! I wanted to explore the city, too, but those are complementary aims and I had time on Sunday afternoon and all day on Friday to explore and shop.

I started with grand schemes to hit as many stores as possible, but I quickly realized that I would need to prioritize. On Sunday I had from about 2-5PM (after which, stores would close). On Friday, I had from 10AM-5PM before I had to head back to the airport. That's a total of 10 hours: with a 30 minute travel time between stores (I didn't rent a car, so I was relying on my own two feet and public transit), if I wanted to truly take in a store and spend an hour there, I'd only be able hit 6 at the most over the two days.

My top contenders were:
  1. Romni Wools: by some accounts the largest yarn store in Canada? Perks: bargain basement full of discontinued yarns, their own store-brand yarn line, loads of spinning supplies, vast array of brands represented, very close to my hotel.
  2. The Knit Cafe: fun local shop, with spinning supplies, and a built-in cafe. On the same street as Romni and Americo.
  3. Americo: stand-alone branded store producing their own line of luxury yarns. I've never heard of any other LYS's like this.
  4. The Purple Purl: further away, but by all accounts delightful. Specializes in local Canadian hand-dyers, has a cafe, and carries spinning fiber.
In the end, I got to three of these shops: Americo, Romni, and The Purple Purl. The Knit Cafe moved shop the week I visited, and their new location didn't fit into my plans as well. 

My goals were simple: 
  • Procure 2 or 3 colors of spinning fiber to combination-draft, according to Felicia Lo's Craftsy class (I mentioned the class here), to make confetti yarn for a sweater
  • Get representatives of as many local Canadian dyers & yarn companies as possible
  • Only purchase things I can't get at my own LYS's
  • Find a 3rd yarn for my Color Affection shawl, to match two of my own hand-dye experiments


Americo is a yarn company and design studio with a single store on Queen St, and it was the first shop I visited.  

Americo is quite unique. It's a luxury brand - the value of the yarns they carry is actually very good, but their fiber content pushes their prices into higher arenas. Americo understands their brand and definitely caters to a discerning clientele. The store is beautiful: yarn lines the wall in loose hanks, creating tactile rainbows of color that begged to be touched and inspected. Full-size sample garments hang next to every yarn base, along with a pattern printout and yardage requirements. The lighting is soft, cozy leather chairs fill knitting nooks in the corners, and the (helpful, friendly) staff were all wearing hand-knit sweaters out of Americo yarns each time I stopped in.

Here's what I bought:

Sedoso in 'Nude Blush': 60/20/20 baby alpaca/cashmere/silk; 100g/765yds; 2 skeins
Abrazo in 'Rococo': 45/55 pima cotton/bamboo; 100g/1028yds; 1 skein

And here is the sample that compelled me to buy it:

I wish you could feel it. This is a 3/4-sleeve pullover knit with the two yarns held together, at a very loose gauge. Between the baby alpaca, cashmere, silk, pima cotton, and tufts of silky bamboo, it slips through your fingers like water. Soft as a cloud and surprisingly warm. It's hard to see when looking at the two skeined yarns, but when combined they create the most delicate, soft blush of pink. It is stunning. I've been wanting to knit a sweater like this for years - I had a similar but terrible-quality top for a while, which I wore to death. I always dreamed of re-making it myself in something nicer. I think this fiber combo will do, don't you?

I wound and swatched in my hotel room that night, but I only had tiny needles with me and it came out too small. I ripped it out, and now that I'm home I'm exercising amazing restraint and NOT allowing myself to swatch until I have some WIPs cleared up. I don't care that summer is almost here. I can't wait to knit and wear this.

Final Take: If you want excellent, personal service, love to see & feel sample knits, don't mind paying for quality, and want to add bit of luxury to your stash, definitely check Americo out. Hop over to their website for prettier pictures and information about their yarn line.


Romni was my first stop on Friday, after my work conference was concluded. I got there right as they opened and was amazed to find it full of people. People working, shopping, admiring hand-knit sweaters... I met Sachiko Burgin, who works at Romni, and is the cover designer for KnitScene's Summer 2014 issue. She was wearing this amazing sweater, and several ladies were there admiring it. We chatted for a bit, but she was really shy about all the attention everyone was pouring on her, so I left her alone and went to explore the store.

Oh. My.

Main floor (about 1/3 of it). Yarn stacked to the ceiling.

Fingering weight/sock yarn section, included this whole aisle and the wall-o-sock-yarn behind me
(apologies for the blurry photos, I was using an iPhone and trying to be inconspicuous)

One of the many corners in the bargain basement, overflowing with discounted discontinued yarns
A small portion of their spinning fibers
I know people say WEBs is overwhelming, but I've been there, and it was nothing like this. I was OK at WEBs. This store actually made me dizzy. 

In fact, it was so overwhelming, that I bought NO YARN. I looked at all of it, but only came home with 2 skeins of Malabrigo Nube spinning fiber.

Malabrigo Nube in "Baya Elektra" and "Whale's Road"; 100% Merino; 4oz

Malabrigo is not Canadian, but I can't get any spinning fiber locally, and for this project I wanted to see colors in-person. I'll share more about what I'll be doing with this later, but meanwhile you can check out my spinning Pinterest board to see my inspiration.

Everyone I met who worked at Romni was delightful and helpful. I was floored by the number of fellow shoppers I encountered while I was in the store. Here in Massachusetts, it is quite normal for me to be the only shopper at my LYS. Maybe 1 other person, but no more than that. But in Toronto, there are enough knitters that the shops are always full of people. How weird and cool is that? I had a blast.

Final Take: Romni carries almost every yarn I've ever heard of, except for some indie brands. The staff were all friendly and helpful, and although the store is huge and overwhelming, their stock is well-organized. I'm sure you could find anything at all that you were looking for within their shelves. Probably a lot more, too. 

The Purple Purl

Last but certainly not least, I went to The Purple Purl

This was by far my favorite part of my entire week in Toronto. I had such a lovely time at the Purl that I took no pictures, besides the one above - I was too busy having a lovely time. To get a feel for the shop, try a Google Image search. You'll see that all of the pictures are full of people. Happy, smiling, friendly people enjoying a good time. 

The Purl is a smallish shop. Yarn lines the walls, much of it from local Canadian producers, and there is a small barista station in the back corner where hot beverages are made to order. Cookies and pastries line the counter next to the register. The center of the room is all comfy chairs, knitting books & magazines, and a large table to spread out on. When I walked in, once again there were already people there. Just hanging out, sitting, knitting, drinking tea. The owner greeted me with a smile, told me I could take off my coat and stash my things on a chair, order a beverage, and stay a while. My initial thoughts to hunt down the TFA and Sweet Georgia and move on vanished. 

I unloaded my things, and two knitting ladies introduced themselves to me. I'm horribly sorry to have forgotten everyone's names, but they learned mine and pulled me right into their conversations. I took out my color card with the two yarns I had selected for my Color Affection, and everyone joined in helping me choose a third color (answer: Tanis Fiber Arts 'Velvet'). The owner gave me a tour of the shop and pointed out all of the indie Canadian dyers, which was exactly what I was looking for. I hunted out some Sweet Georgia fiber and a few other things, got myself a 'Purly Fog' (steamed Earl Grey tea latte with a shot of vanilla), and settled in to knit for a while. 

I must have spent 2 or 3 hours there. It was wonderful. We talked, and laughed, and knitted, and admired each other's work. More and more people came in and joined the crowd. All the stress of being at a busy work conference for a week, and traveling in a strange city, completely disappeared. I was blown away by their kindness and friendliness. I know it's a stereotype that Canadians are super friendly, but this was unreal. This does not happen in New England. 

This skein of Handmaiden, which was not on my original list, was staring at me the whole time. It's simply gorgeous.

It eventually found its way into my bag, along with a skein of SweetFiber (which was on my list), because they matched perfectly. It's not a random single-skein if there are two of them...right?

Here's my haul:

Tanis Fiber Arts Blue Label in 'Velvet': 80/20 Merino/Nylon; 115g/420yds
sweetgeorgia polwarth + silk in 'tavern'; 85/15 polwarth/tussah silk; 100g
Handmaiden Casbah in 'Mineral': 81/9/10 Merino/Cashmere/Nylon; 115g/355yds
Sweet Fiber Yarns Super Sweet Sock in 'Smoke'; 80/20 Merino/Nylon; 115g/415yds
'knitter' stitch marker; unknown brand

Eventually I did have to leave. I didn't feel like going to any more yarn shops, even though the ladies there said I really should check out LettuceKnit (maybe next time). Nothing could top this and I didn't want it to. 

Final Take: I want to live at the Purple Purl. If you're local, please go, shop, hang out, and support this wonderful establishment. The real highlight is the local content, but they have plenty of workhorse yarns as well (Cascade 220, Shelridge Farms). The owners are helpful and friendly, even to random non-knitters who are just trying to get out of the rain (I saw this first-hand). A must-visit, for sure.

The Distillery District

The Distillery District is part of historic "Old Toronto", and it was my last stop. Mills and distilleries were built here in the 1830s, and preserved until 2001, when the city decided to overhaul the since-closed factories and re-open it as an arts and entertainment village. 

The village is pedestrian-only, so ancient iron gates were left intact to block cars from entering. Inside, cobblestone streets and Victorian architecture make it feel like you've stepped back in time.

I walked through artists galleries, saw numerous boutiques, and went to a real British bakery where I got my very own authentic Eccles Cake.

I was famished by the time I got it, so I'm very sorry but I don't have a better photo for you. However, I am happy to report that it looked exactly like mine, and my version tasted a bit better (more citrus). Success!

Time was short, so I didn't have much of it to explore the district. I got myself a tasty dinner at the Mill Street Brew Pub...

I couldn't fit this burger in my mouth. It was a beautiful thing.
bought an adorable handmade sheep pin from the galleries...

and hastened back to my hotel, to finish packing and fly home.

For more pictures and history, do check out the Distillery's website. It is a truly unique area, and if I'm ever in Toronto again I would definitely go back to explore some more. 

So long, farewell

Back to the airport in a drizzly fog, and my Toronto trip was over. The city was a lot of fun, but I have to say it has been nice to be back home in the woods of New England.

It was a bit of a culture shock to go from all of this to Alpaca shearing the next morning...but that's a blog post for another day :-) Talk to you soon!


Thursday, May 8, 2014

Still here

Time flies. Two weekends ago, I was on a plane to Toronto and didn't have a chance to write. This weekend was consumed with Alpaca shearing (YES) and a friend's wedding (Congratulations again!). Today, I'm finally back home and settling in to a routine. Lots of exciting things have happened since I last posted, and I have tons of fun things to share with you. However, pictures will take a while to sort through and process, so I thought I'd pop in today to say Hello! and give you a sneak peek of what's I've been up to.

Since we last spoke I:

Finished my Cotton Candy Fractal Handspun, and began a shawl which I have no pictures of (but it's almost done, so you'll see it fairly soon!).

Went to Toronto...

CN Tower
Unexpected waterfront beach
 where I toured several local knitting shops...

Romni Wools

Americo Original
The Purple Purl
and came home with a fabulous yarn and fiber haul.

Oh Canada! Besides the Malabrigo, everything here is from Canadian indie dyer/yarn/fiber companies.
Helped with the Spring alpaca shearing at Plain View Farm...

and left with the promise to return in a few weeks to help process alpaca fiber, and teach the farm-owner's wife how to spin.

I also built a wee drop spindle:

0.8oz; standard-size spindle in the background for comparison (2.2oz)
and can finally spin cobweb-thin Merino. I'm a little worried about the logistics of spinning copious amounts of this (can I spin 4oz of 2-ply laceweight this way?), as the weight of the spindle will grow as I spin and I may need to spin each single in sections, and then graft together to ply...?

I'll be back soon to share more about my yarn tour of Toronto. I am insanely jealous of the knitters who live there and get to have these shops as their LYS's - they were absolutely delightful, and I only got to 3 of the ones on my list because the ladies at The Purple Purl were so nice I decided to knit and chat with them for a few hours (!!).

Talk to you soon!


Friday, April 18, 2014

So you want to be a knitter...

Lately, I've been getting lots of requests from people who see all the fun I'm having with knitting (and knitting-related things), and want to know how to join in. So you've decided you want to learn to knit - how do you get started? I thought I'd put together a blog post, so I can point people to the same place and keep it updated. Here it is!

First Things First

Why do you want to learn how to knit?

This is an important question.

Like many learned skills, knitting can be easy, relaxing, and stress-relieving - once you know what you're doing. It is a wonderful creative outlet, which also has an air of practicality to it: I'm cold, and a store-bought wool sweater is quite expensive - if I knit it, it could be cheaper, will serve as hours of enjoyment, and produce wearable warmth with which I can clothe myself and my family.

Recent neuroscience research has studied how repetitive crafts like knitting can help individuals recover from trauma. It can reduce stress and improve recovery from eating disorders, improve cognitive function in elderly adults, and calm mothers of hospitalized children (summary here). It may produce a runner's high, and there's even a world record for running a marathon while knitting.

It can be as artful, practical, fast, slow, expensive, money-saving, public & communal, or private & reflective as you wish. However, like any learned skill, depending on your background and natural inclinations it may be more or less difficult to learn.

So, why do you want to learn? I won't go into my reasons; you need your own. Hold on to those reasons, and remember that this is supposed to be fun. Nobody's first knitted thing is perfect, so give it a go and see if you want to continue. If you try it and hate it, then don't fret. In the words of Elizabeth Zimmerman:

        "If you hate to knit, why, bless you, don't; follow your secret heart and take up something else." -- Knitting Without Tears

Learning styles are vital to understand here. I've arranged resources below by type. If you already know, for example, that you like learning from books, go straight to that section and skip the others. If you're not sure or you want a more balanced approach, give a bit in each section a try.

Knitting Books

"Knitting Without Tears", by Elizabeth Zimmerman
If you love a good line drawing (as I do), a hearty dose of sarcasm and wit, do not find old BBC shows dull, and have no patience for modern marketing, this is the book for you. This is very no-nonsense and has everything you need in it to get started. Originally published in 1973, it is no more out-of-date than Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." 

"Knitting for Dummies", by Pam Allen et al; latest edition updated in 2013
For a modern take on clear, no-nonsense instruction, the "For Dummies" series is a good place to start. Includes online resources. I used a previous version of this book that was quite good, and the authors on the latest edition are veritable giants in the industry today. 

"Stich 'n' B****", by Debbie Stoller. 
Published in 2004, this book launched a bit of a revitalization in knitting among young people. (Don't let current news articles sway you - the "knitting revolution" already happened.) It is quite rude and snarky and the use of profanity bothers me, but underneath all of that is actually a very good learning reference. It covers the basics of material & tool selection, hand positions, step-by-step stitch instructions, and works from a beginner's first scarf up to a knitted bikini and a hat with kitten ears or devil horns (your preference). 

Knitting Magazines

People tell me this is extremely odd, but I learned to crochet (which then lead to knitting) primarily through the instructional section at the back of craft magazines. Your nearest bookstore likely carries several of the titles below. Each will have a section at the back that goes through the basics of casting on and forming various stitches. For some, this may be enough instruction to get you started, and the patterns and articles in the main portion of the magazine are excellent for inspiration. 

KnitScene - my favorite of the bunch; fairly trendy. Great for beginners and seasoned knitters alike.

knit.wear - modern, minimalist knits designed to be worn today. I adore this magazine but it is probably geared towards more advanced knitters. Also one of the most expensive of the bunch.

Interweave Knits - classic & timeless patterns. 

Knit Simple - this is a great beginner's magazine.

Creative Knitting - also a good beginner's magazine.

Love of Knitting - feels out-dated to me usually, but check it out and see for yourself. 

You'll also see Vogue Knitting, but I can't recommend that publication. The patterns are usually fairly avant-garde, and (similar to their sewing pattern line) they publish very technically difficult patterns which can be hard to follow. 

Online Video Courses

Craftsy is a really neat platform. For each class, you get a "home-room" front page where you can track your progress. There are high-definition videos for each lesson, which you can reply and add notes to at any time. Video notes can be added at particular timestamps so you can bookmark pieces you want to review later. The homeroom also includes forums, where you and your class-mates can interact with the instructor directly. I've taken several Craftsy classes before and they were all fantastic. This one goes from basic how-to-knit all the way up to advanced stitch patterns and lace. 

Rather than a full class, here you can enroll in individual mini-lessons. Each individual class is $9.99, or you can buy a 'class pass' for a month of access to as many classes as you wish. NewStitchADay has a lot of free online resources as well, and hosts live "knit night" Google Hangouts. I have used a lot of their free materials, but have not purchased any classes. From the free materials I'd say the classes are likely of very high quality - if you try them, please let me know what you think!

Online Resources

There are tons of other resources to check out; so as to be not overwhelming I will highlight just a few things.

The Simple Collection by tincanknits
Tincanknits has put together an excellent (free!) compilation of tutorials, short videos, and highly annotated patterns that can walk you through a simple first pattern all the way up to a custom-fitted adult sweater. I made the Rye Socks from this collection (blogged here) and found it to be an excellently written pattern. Pattern PDF's contain links to instructional videos and tutorials related to the section at hand. I highly recommend this as a way to get started.

Begun in 2002, Knitty is a free online knitting magazine. They publish 4 seasonal issues each year, along with mini-issues here and there. Issues contain editorial articles and free patterns, ranging from beginner-friendly to highly advanced. They've also recently begun covering spinning. 

Begun in 2008, Twist Collective is a stunning online magazine that can be read for free. Patterns can be purchased individually. Issues are published quarterly and feature many excellent articles and inspiring photographs of beautiful knitwear. Patterns are usually advanced, but if you'd like to be inspired to further your craft definitely check it out. 

Local Yarn Shops (LYS)

Search Google maps for "Yarn shops near me" and you will likely find several in your area. These specialty shops are the place to go if you want hands-on instruction but don't know any local knitters (yet). Your LYS will offer regular classes and project nights, where fellow knitters gather to knit and socialize. 

These shops are an excellent resource for knitters, but as a new knitter I will offer two caveats:
  1. It is an unfortunate truth that small-shop owners may have poor attitudes towards new knitters, or anyone who asks for help. Popular media has tried to turn knitting into a fad, and seasoned knitters who "knit before it was cool" may look down on those trying to enter the craft for the first time. It's unwarranted and frankly, bad for business, so I don't know why this continues. Sadly, it does. Read online reviews, and engage the shop owner first thing when you walk in. Say hello, tell them you're new and would like to learn, and if they sneer at you try another LYS. 
  2. "Big-Box" chain stores such as Michaels, Jo-Anns, Hancock Fabrics, etc carry a very different selection of materials than an LYS. Items available at an LYS will be more expensive, which is assumed to be higher quality. This is not always the case, but you may encounter an attitude of "yarn snobbery" and be encouraged to spend more than you'd like. Understand that this is a very material-dependent craft. Working with poor materials can certainly degrade your experience as a learner, but that doesn't mean you have to learn to drive in a Rolls-Royce. Be firm about your budget. 
A quick note on materials
You will need two things to begin knitting: a pair of needles and a ball of yarn. 

Needles can be made of many materials, ranging from cheap to more expensive: metal, plastic, and bamboo are the most common. Go to a store and feel them in your hands. Needle material is a very personal preference and may change as you advance, but the key thing is that they feel comfortable when you pick them up. I suggest US size 6 or 8 needles for learning. If you have small hands, smaller-diameter needles may be more comfortable. 

The cheapest yarn is made of acrylic (basically, plastic). Big-Box stores carry a lot of these. It may be appealing to choose the cheapest material possible to learn, but (as you may have experienced in ready-to-wear clothing) synthetic materials behave very differently from natural ones. If you do not have a wool allergy, please begin your knitting journey with wool. Patons Classic Wool is available most everywhere, and is quite reasonably priced. Acrylic yarn does not stretch or breathe and can be uncomfortable to work with. Wool stretches and bounces back, making for a much better, more comfortable knitting experience. 


Last but certainly not least, is the social network for knitters, crocheters, spinners, and other fiber-crafters alike. They recently celebrated 4 million active users. You'll need to sign up for an account, but once you do so a whole world of wonder awaits. Ravelry hosts groups and forums, for connecting with other crafters; an extensive, searchable pattern database, cross-linking patterns with the knitters who have made them and the yarns they've used; searchable yarn database, including reviews and pattern recommendations; extensive documentation options for tracking your own work; and news. My username is AmandaLynA and I will happily connect with you if you'd like. When you join, a member of the Ravelry Welcome Squad will friend you right away and offer to help introduce you to the site. Check out their tutorials and explanations of what you can do on the site here

I hope this set of resources is helpful. If it is, I'd love to hear about it! If you have other resources to recommend please let me know and I can update this list. Best of luck to you as you begin your knitting journey!


Saturday, April 12, 2014

Cotton Candy Fractals

I mentioned on Instagram that I've been going through Felicia Lo's (of SweetGeorgia fame) "Spinning with Dyed Fibers" Craftsy class.

It's a wonderful class, and terribly inspiring. So inspiring, in fact, that I took out my new drop spindle and began a second spinning project.

Ages ago I produced this roving in a kitchen dyeing experiment. I split the 4oz fiber in 2 rough halves and braided them together in a 4-stranded braid. I then coiled the braid in a pie plate and started applying dye and squishing everything around. I was going for a sunset-y colorway, using Wilton's icing gels in Burgundy, Brown, Copper, and Golden Yellow. I tried to keep the red/pink concentrated towards the center, with the brown, orange, and yellow on the outside. Once it was fully saturated, I covered the pie plate with cling-wrap and microwaved it to set the color.

The end result looked a bit like a sick giraffe. I was not smitten.

1/2 of the braid; showing the patterns produced by dyeing while braided
It's been sitting in my fiber box for months, as I've been a bit apprehensive about how it would turn out. But it's been a long, grey winter and I was tired of spinning white fiber on my other spindle, so I broke this out and started spinning the first half. I split it vertically once, and did a fair amount of pre-drafting and spreading width-wise as the dying process had severely matted the fiber (my inexperience, not a fault of the method I used).

After beginning to spin, I was very pleasantly surprised!

It looks like cotton candy. No sick giraffes in sight. Phew! The mottled fiber doesn't look like it would produce very different stripes of yarn, but there is definitely a pronounced pink section and a peachy/mottly/brownish section.

After watching Felicia's class, I decided to try a fractal spin on this braid. We can think of the fiber itself as being dyed like this:

Splitting the fiber lengthwise and re-combining produces shorter striping sections. I started by splitting it in two, to make a 2-ply final yarn. Both of those two sections looked like the color repeat shown above. For the first ply, I further split it in half once more and spun one batch after the other, to produce the color repeat shown below:

To produce a fractal yarn, I split the second portion into 8 equal pieces, by splitting in half lengthwise 3 times (1 into 2 into 4 into 8). This repeat is shown in the top portion of the image below. Lining it up with the first ply in the bottom half of the image, we get this result:

The idea of fractal spinning is that these color combinations produce interesting effects in the plied result. As you can see, there will be portions where the pink and coral ply together, making a barber-pole effect, and other places where pink & pink will line up and coral & coral will line up. Felicia showed some stunning examples in her class. Her examples were on a much more pronounced color shift (from lime green to dark purple). This dye-job is more subtle, but my hope is that it knits up in a pleasing way where both colors are apparent but not competing with each other.

Here's the splitting process on the wool itself. First, I spread out the matted fiber down the length of the roving.

It looks a bit more like a batt rather than roving now. But that's OK; it means it will split quite nicely.

In half and in half and in half again...

After I finished the last split, I pre-drafted each section just a bit so that it was smooth, before rolling into tidy little balls for storage.

Wound up and ready to spin!

To spin these, I'll simply start with one ball and join another when I reach the end.

I'll be sure to show you guys the finished product once it's complete. For in-progress shots, you can follow me on Instagram.

Happy crafting!


P.S. - all of the photos for this post were taken with an iPhone camera, in my living room, at night, with various (yellow) artificial lighting. I am constantly amazed at how capable that little device is, even if the colors are a bit off. I promise to take real photos when the spinning is complete ;-)