home again, yay!

Posted on 20 CommentsPosted in book reviews/events, lace/shawls, projects, spinning and fiber

don’t tell david, but on the drive home today, i periodically broke the tedium by taking photos from the dashboard. our secret, ok? he just hates it when i do things in the car that he perceives as dangerous, like i’m some kind of barely-contained cowboy or something behind the wheel, haha.

i’ve been talking and talking about how much rain we’ve had, but it’s all the more real to show you the effect it’s had on the landscape—every shade of green under the sun . . . i mean, under the sky.

besides, virginia is just too pretty not to share; what beautiful countryside there is. it’s been many years since i drove through the shenandoah valley and blue ridge parkway areas regularly and dang—it is still as pretty as ever. you don’t see that very often . . .

anyway, i got home in very good time and when i pulled up, david was outside working in the yard; look what he got done for my homecoming

the dirt is turned in the garden—which means i can plant this weekend, woo-hoo. we were starting to wonder when we would ever be able to get out there—with the constant rain we’ve had, it was way too wet to work up til now. finally, he decided to turn the dirt by hand instead of using the tiller and that worked out well.

which means i’ve got my chores cut out for me this weekend . . . no blogging til the plants and seeds are in the ground (but i promise i’ll take pictures). i also have an absolute mountain of bookkeeping to catch up on, but i should be able to hold off on that til the plants are in.

but let’s not dwell on what hasn’t happened yet—let’s talk about all that has happened this week, since i blogged last.

we finished up our lace spinning/knitting retreat by spinning up seven exotic fibers during our last class session—shetland, mohair, pygora, cashmere, tussah silk, bombyx silk, and quiviut. all premium prepared fibers provided by beth and available in the spinning loft online shop (if you’re curious—and i know you are)

which was a little more than i could handle; i got through just six of them, skipping the bombyx to save for later. and even so, i just spun a little sample of each. but that turned out to be plenty as you will see . . .

a couple of our exotic fibers were new to me. the pygora feels like mohair and cashmere combined; it’s hard to describe. and it has an unusual white color, tinged with green that i like. however, i actually preferred spinning the pure mohair, though i can’t explain why . . . i usually don’t like spinning mohair but this one was very, very nice.

then there was the quiviut, which i hadn’t spun before, but which i loved working with. it’s a lot like spinning yak, but so much better. if i didn’t have a ridiculously small amount of spinning time in my week right now

i’d have bought some quiviut from beth’s onsite “shop” to take home and spin (but i know where to get it if the urge strikes me, heh).

by the end of the three hours, i had all my singles spun up by railroading them one after the other onto two parallel bobbins. i ate lunch as fast as i could gulp it down in order to ply them before the afternoon knitting session began.

that evening i wound the plied yarn onto a single skein and washed it up to take along to my next stop, where i’d knit it into a sampler swatch.
but for our last knitting class, i had other yarn to swatch.

my knitting class was designed to provide a short teaching segment each day with quite a bit of time for project knitting afterward, in order that participants could A) absorb the teaching material a little at a time and

B) get a good head start on a complex project so that by the time they headed home, they’d be in good shape to knit amid everyday activities.

that’s allison’s my next pine and ivy shawl in allison’s handspun. look how pretty that yarn is, all knit up

the colors are SO beautiful; won’t it look great on me??

that meant that i also had knitting time during class, which i spent on knitting my sample swatches each day. by the end of the four days, i had good-sized swatches in merino and cormo (you saw those)

plus one each in wensleydale (left, a long, luster wool) and
polwarth (right, another fine, springy fiber that we hand-prepped)

i worked each of them in pine cone lace and stockinette over the same number of stitches and rows to accent the differences between them as much as possible. for instance, you can see that the long, relaxed wensleydale makes looser, less defined fabric with bigger holes and beautiful sheen, while the fine wools make a springier, denser fabric.

i worked my sampler skein in one continuous piece over the next three days at my virginia teaching gigs.

that’s almost the whole thing, with all six fibers knit in. some of them are overlapping in the yarn, where one singles was a little longer than the next, which created some fiber blends. from bottom to top there is shetland and shetland/mohair (not in the frame), mohair, pygora/mohair, pygora, cashmere (the very white one that is nearly dead center), cashmere/silk, silk, silk/quiviut, quiviut.

i love how the cashmere, cashmere/silk, and silk have a color difference that is very distinct; you can see that the pygora at the bottom of that frame has the greenish tinge i mentioned earlier.

i have tiny amounts of leftovers that i may knit into a stockinette swatch, just to complete the set (and to add to the newest wing of my traveling swatch museum, which is devoted to handspun samples).

cool, right? i am so glad i was asked along on this adventure; i had a wonderful experience at this retreat, thank you beth!

on to virgina now, with a pause to visit my nephew james and his fiancee diana in maryland. we had great afternoon, which began with a visit to lotte grocery in ellicott city, our favorite lunch spot, where i like to get seafood jampong. it was awesome.

we hung out and watched a movie and then had a sushi dinner before i got back on the road to richmond. a quick visit but tasty (and it’s always great to see james and diana).

in richmond, i taught once again at the yarn lounge in carytown on monday—i love this shop and i love the knitters who call it home.

look at them—they are all lace knitters now, yay. we had an all-day beginning lace class where we sampled various types of lace stitches in the morning, talked about fabric, lace knitting tips, chart reading, and (of course) yarn for lace knitting. then in the afternoon, we worked on a simple little nothing scarf—rivolo—which got everyone off to a healthy start so they could go home feeling confident about finishing on their own.

after class, katj picked me up and we met lou for dinner down the street at can can, a neighborhood french bistro.

we had fun and it was mighty good too.

the next two days were a little different, but very good—since i had my daytime hours off, i took advantage of the quiet isolation of my hotel room to catch up on email, pattern work, and swatching for new projects. oh yeah, and sleep, haha. i loved the weird hours—i slept at odd hours for me and was up at 4 am each day; delicious.

i taught another project workshop—bittersweet vines—over two evenings with the hanover knitting guild. once again, i enjoyed my time with this lovely, lovely group—they are the nicest guild i’ve ever spent time with. if you live nearby, you should check it out.

unfortunately, i had so much fun with them that i completely forgot to take any photos. suffice it to say that things went swimmingly and we had lots of fun together again.

oh, and tammy, that pad thai place i said i’d try on the way back to the hotel? it was awesome—you should go.

much as i enjoyed this whole trip, i’m really glad to be home. time to swing into summer and enjoy staying put for a while—aside from one tiny little excursion to TNNA in june, i’ve got no big travels planned til july . . . when i go back to britain.

crooked little scarf

Posted on 38 CommentsPosted in patterns

i designed this scarf as a companion piece to the crooked walking shawl, for those that like a simpler shape. and as i worked along on it, i realized it was the perfect manLace as well—an abstract pattern, not at all frou-frou, light but warm—all the things i know david appreciates in a scarf.

and sure enough, look how well he wears it. it’s just great for spring, with a light sweater and not much else. but i know he’ll use it in winter, too, wrapped a few times ’round and tucked inside a jacket or heavier sweater.

and don’t laugh but . . . i was thinking this morning that the shawl and scarf together would make a nice gift set for a special couple. i’ve been asked several times now about patterns that coordinate, for this very purpose. it’s such a thoughtful idea for a handknit gift and a little offbeat from the usual afghan.

and even if coordinates are not on your mind right now, this is a terribly fun standalone project for summer—plenty of texture and pattern to keep things lively and interesting, balanced by an easy-to-learn motif with mindless rest rows for great portability.

or feel free to change the yarn weight for a bolder, warmer scarf suited for winter wear (is already time to start talking about getting ahead on christmas??)

shown here: size large scarf, in great northern yarns yak/mink/merino/soy blend, a merino/cashmere/nylon blend, in colorway heathered charcoal. or check out craig’s mink/milk/merino blend, which knits up to the same gauge. this is true luxury for a great price; i can’t say enough nice things about working with these yarns.

to purchase pattern or view complete pattern information, please click here to visit the product page in the knitspot pattern shop.

i knit this scarf over the course of several trips this year (beginning on the train to scotland in february) and i can attest to its companionable attributes—it lends itself beautifully to being shared with distracting scenery and wonderful conversation with friends.

my friend craig at great northern yarns has the most incredible array of fibers and is always so generous about sharing his wealth of information about them. though not a knitter, he is quite knowledgeable about the fibers in his yarns and the way the yarn is made. luckily for me, he is also very generous about supporting independent designers and enthusiastic with yarn offerings. these newest additions to his selection of products have been especially nice to knit with and have opened my eyes to a different type of lace knitting yarn; thanks craig!

i don’t think an hour goes by that i don’t thank my lucky stars for having david in my life, but the fact that he will model handknits for our shop releases will always feel like a bonus on top of everything else he does. and lucky for us, he’s also super cute, right?? and for that, we’re all grateful (!)

worth the work

Posted on 8 CommentsPosted in book reviews/events, lace/shawls, projects, spinning and fiber

if you ask beth smith, she will tell you that prepping your own fleece by hand is the best way to achieve a beautiful spinning fiber. it’s not the nicest job—being comprised mainly of removing poop and dried sweat from the shorn locks, then teasing out the matted, tangled clumps—but it’s not the worst job ever, either.

and to entice us into doing our own at home once in a while, she met us halfway on some of the fibers we are spinning here at the spinning loft spring retreat. in our supply bag were several packets of cleaned locks which were ready to be flicked and/or carded in order to get them in shape for spinning.

on the second day, we started working with these, beginning with the brown/gray merino. the first step is to open up the ends of the lock a bit by tapping it with the flick (above, left).

then each lock needs to be brushed lightly, but firmly, to detangle and remove any junk.

after which, it is transformed from what it looks like on the left, to something like the one on the right, above. amazing, isn’t it?

you can do one at a time or rack up a few; whichever way suits your taste. heh—you can imagine how nice they are to spin . . . mmmmm.

doesn’t robin look content??

the clean, flicked locks spin like a dream; with all the waste removed beforehand, it’s easy to spin very fine and to use every last bit.

and here’s the 2-ply result, before washing.
after this, i started the whole process over again with the white cormo locks in my kit

they are the most brilliant white—it’s hard to believe they came from a stinky herd animal; amazing what a little soap and water can do, along with a good brushing . . .

that evening, while we sat in our cottage, knitting and gossiping with andrea, i soaked and rinsed the yarns so i could play with them further and they were almost dry by the time we went to bed, but i waited til morning to photograph them for you

just look how those fine, springy wools poof up after a bath.

now, beth says that we’re not done sampling til we’ve knit with the yarn and since this week is all about spinning for lace and making laceweight yarn, the obvious choice for swatching is a nice lace stitch pattern, right?

i picked the good old pine cone pattern as my standard to swatch from with all my samples. while the rest of the group worked on their shawl projects in class that afternoon, i started my swatches.

fast forward to last evening, when i was able to soak those and lay them flat to dry . . .

i did a couple of repeats of the lace pattern, along with a couple of inches of stockinette, just to compare; don’t they look pretty?

i think it’s so interesting how the yarn behaves in the lace patterns versus the stockinette. i like both yarns in stockinette, but i like the white cormo much better in the lace pattern—and not because of the color.

the white yarn lays more evenly throughout the pattern and is pretty similar to the way it behaves in the stockinette segment. but the inconsistencies in the dark yarn show up a lot more in the lace than in the stockinette (though i’m not exactly sure why).

yesterday, we spun up some commercially prepared wensleydale and some hand-prepped polwarth. i washed those last night and swatched them this afternoon during knitting class (they are soaking now; i’ll blog about them next time)

you should see the awesome shawls everyone is making—many lace-knitting breakthroughs were achieved this week as well. it’s been a really wonderful retreat—thank you beth for inviting me to teach; i’ve enjoyed every minute of it (and i mean that from the bottom of my undercarriage).

BTW, beth has all of these incredible fibers, along with a huge bounty of handspinning treasures (both unwashed and commercially prepped), in her awesome online store, the spinning loft. if you like fiber and spinning, you must go take a look . . . and say hi to chelsea while you’re there; she’ll appreciate that.

and although the spring retreat is over for this year, beth offers great classes with highly esteemed teachers in her brick and mortar shop in howell michigan, which is centrally located for many of us. or catch her at SOAR or one of the many venues she will be teaching in the near future.

tomorrow i head off to richmond, VA, where i’ll be teaching at the yarn lounge and at the hanover guild. on the way, i’ll visit with my nephew james and his fiancee diana for a nice sunday afternoon lunch; i can’t wait to see them!

it’s classy, alright . . .

Posted on 5 CommentsPosted in projects

one of the downsides of teaching at events is that i rarely, if ever, get to take classes from my esteemed colleagues. but here at the spinning loft spring retreat, things are different. i get to take beth’s spinning class each morning and she gets to take my lace knitting class each afternoon—a real win-win.

i am so thrilled to be spending four. mornings.—in a row—at the wheel, i can hardly stand it; i haven’t spent that much time spinning in a long, long, time.

and not only that, but you’ll never guess who is sitting right next to me at the louet wheel here . . .

it’s our good friend anne marie, yay!
i’m so excited to be spending this week with her at the retreat, whee!
and look, she’s wearing her new crooked walking shawl.

let me back up just a bit and tell you where we are . . .

we are staying and working at the pheasant field bed and breakfast in pastoral carlisle, PA. the area is just lovely—not completely rural as it once must have been, but far enough off the beaten track to provide quiet nights and great walking in the morning (if you get up before rush hour begins).

today in spinning class, we mostly worked on tweaking things about our wheels to achieve comfortable spinning of very fine yarn. armed with a nice-sized little bump of white polwarth top

we each explored various adjustments to make the takeup as light as possible, in order to spin ever-thinner singles without breaking it or losing control.

pretty good, huh? not as thin as some people can do, but not too bad . . .

even at that, it’s going to take me a while to fill the bobbin, haha. that amount was the result of almost three hours of spinning time; i didn’t take many breaks.

after lunch, we gathered in the dining room for an advanced lace class. we are doing part of my usual curriculum each day and the rest of the session will be devoted to a shawl project—either pine and ivy or LOVe.

as you can see, everyone is working pretty hard—not a lot of talking and goofing around with this group; they’re serious. but lots of fun, too.

of course, there is plenty of time built in to relax—after class we spent a glorious hour or so basking in the sun on the patio. honestly??? never thought i’d see the day, this year.

i worked on my second sign of four sock; i’m really getting somewhere with this now. a few more inches (well, maybe six or so) and it will be done, yay.

last night and at lunch, i worked on my oval lace lace in sweet georgia cashSilk. beautiful, right? i’d give you a yarn link, but apparently, i can’t get into he server right now to navigate pages. , , , ,

and with that, i think i need to go to bed; my eyes are drooping and 5 am will roll around really fast. more later; i’m hoping to be back on friday with more.