Category Archives: Spinning

Book review: Yarnitecture

YarnitectureI’m often sent books to review, and I find myself thinking ‘nooooo’. Many don’t make it onto Woolwinding; they are either inappropriate or just uninspiring, or maybe they are reinventing a wheel which doesn’t need redevelopment – or maybe they are just dire. But sometimes I open a parcel and find myself doing a little dance round the room. This is one of the latter occasions.

Excuse me. Ahem.

What can I say about this gem by Jillian Moreno? it is a spinning book written, hooray, from a knitter’s perspective. It focuses on spinning ‘a yarn that fulfils a purpose’: one that works its best for whatever knitted project you have in mind.

Once upon a recent time, handspinning was almost an end in itself, and it still can be, of course. Once upon a recent time, it was assumed in books about spinning that the spinners were inevitably dealing exclusively with fleece. Raw fleece. Fleece possibly from their own sheep. And, also of course, some people do work exclusively with fleece (I love it myself, except on days like today when the wind suddenly gets up and blows most of my freshly washed Cheviot x BFL fleece away, possibly taking it as far as England). But many of us are not purists: we buy prepared fibre, maybe hand-dyed, delicious fibre; maybe undyed but fully processed and still delicious fibre. And some people – I know several – actively dislike working with anything else. Very many of us spin fibre in order to knit with it, to produce something unique, something we control from (almost) start to finish. This is our book.

It starts with a basic vision; goes through fibre breeds and the impact choice there can have; explores prep, drafting, plying, working with colour, finishing… and, ta dah, knitting with handspun. It’s beautifully illustrated. And it even has some patterns.

Ok, let’s have a look inside. Take this page: it illustrates the different effects you can get by blending colours at plying or blending those colours before spinning:

colour spinning

It is often good to do things intentionally, instead of accidentally. Intentional, and you can get the same effect again, should you want to do so. Accidental? You might be lucky…

Or take finishing a spun yarn. I almost always whack my finished yarn to set the twist (I find it helpful; I can imagine I am whacking the person at the Fibre Fair who said ‘I could do that, but I wouldn’t want to, it’s so boring’). But what about the alternatives? There’s snapping, swirling it around like a cowboy with a lasso, even fulling it. What difference would a different process make, and what impact would it have on a particular yarn?

finishing

Here four different yarns are compared – merino, corriedale, BFL and silk – after having undergone eight different approaches (menaced, incidentally, doesn’t mean you sitting in front of the yarn like Michael Corleone confronting the men who tried to kill his father; it means felting it deliberately).

And how about ply affecting what you want to knit?

plying

That’s covered at length; above focuses on singles, but there are equally detailed examinations of two- and three-ply yarns. It’s excellent, and the ‘knitting with your handspun’ section is invaluable, covering things like ensuring you will have enough yarn (been there), and simply planning a project from a pattern which specifies a commercial yarn.

Finally, there are twelve patterns. There are two cardigans, a moebius cowl / shawl, four more varied but normally constructed shawls (of which this, by Romi, is one),

pattern

socks, two sweaters, a necklace and a pair of mitts.

I have been waiting for a book like this – thank you, Jill Moreno!

 

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Spin it!

There’s this thing, you see. It’s this big cycling race thing. This insane thing called the Tour de France, to which I am slightly addicted. And then there’s this other insane thing: the Tour de Fleece. Really.

It’s a Ravelry thing, and I joined it last year but got swept up by the spinny equivalent of the voiture balai, the broom wagon, and had to give up as my hands didn’t let me carry on. Not this year. This year I may not be wearing a spotty jersey, a green jersey or a yellow one (I am, in fact, wearing a black polo-neck as the weather is pretending it’s October), but I am spinning or plying every day:

on the bobbin

I’m doing at least 30 minutes every morning, before work, while my porridge is cooking and cooling (yup, it’s porridge weather; should be croissants or a tartine but I need something warming).

Right, so what is the Tour de Fleece?

Apologies if you already know, or indeed if you are already participating… essentially it’s a challenge for spinners. You spin every day the Tour riders ride; you can have rest days as the Tour does – there are two – and you can also do something especially demanding on the challenge days, if you wish. You can join one of the main Rav teams, or you can join what’s known as a ‘wildcard’ team, and some of them are pretty wild. You share what you’ve done, either just with your team or on the various stage posts in the Tour de Fleece group. It can be really inspiring, and really motivating, and if you’re stuck with your spinning, it’s a great way to get going again.

I needed, for instance, to press on with the lovely Haunui I’ve got. Judging by the current weather – my heating has clicked on; this is JULY, for heaven’s sake – my need for the big sweater replacement will hit sooner rather than later, so I need to stop being distracted by colour. I’ve got about 900g which needs spinning up now, and though I know it won’t all get done before the Tour ends, I will be able to make a serious dent in it. First two bobbins of my Tour:

bobbins and mag

which, after taking things carefully for once (I swear I can feel the voiture balai behind me after last year), turned into these:

skeins

Spinning a consistent yarn for a garment is interesting – I think I’m getting there; I’ve got my little sample tied to the wheel, and keep stopping to pull the thread back on itself to see what it will look like when plied. Of course, if I’d taken better notes in a Guild workshop on ‘spinning to the crimp’ I’d probably have a better, more methodical way of doing it – but then again, maybe I wouldn’t: the workshop presumed you’d know the fleece in its unwashed state. Anyway, it is a thickish DK or a fine Aran, in most places – sport weight, in fact. Yup, I’m sharing the passion, as the poster says. Only not the unpleasant habits (really – my last year TdF, with details, ergh).

TdF route

And the Tour rides on. In glorious weather. Hrrumpf. Wouldn’t mind sharing a bit of that.

Three for the bookshelf?

Right, that’s it. No more long projects until at least September. I know I suffer from Freelance Disorder – a tendency to accept any job you are offered, on the grounds that it might be the last job you are offered – but I’ve got a summer full of craft pop-ups and fairs and I do not want to be nailed down in front of the laptop. And while I’ve been bogged down in editing books, I’ve also been sent some to review. But these are on woolly matters.

Cable bookThe first, Cable Left, Cable Right by Judith Durant, is a real winner. As it happened, it landed on my doorstep as I was doing some cabling (fingerless mitts, for sale), so the timing couldn’t have been more appropriate.

I do have stitch pattern books which include cables along with other things, generally. But I don’t have anything which purely concentrates on cables apart from one book which also has patterns for garments. In that book the cable patterns are often very elaborate and on a large scale; here there are everything from the simplest rope cables to elaborate banded cables in two colours. Like the other books in this series (which I also rate), this does not include any patterns for finished things – and that, to my mind, is an asset. First, I often don’t like the patterns for the garments / cushions / strange unidentifiable things which come with the selection of stitch patterns; second, just concentrating on the the stitch patterns gives much more depth.

It allows you to look at the basics clearly and in more detail,

pages 1

and to then understand things properly when you get to more complicated issues:

pages 2

And that highlights another point. This book uses charts, not written instructions. Writing these instructions out would have taken pages; the chart is clear and quick. And in case anyone isn’t used to charts for cables (I am one who generally prefers written instructions), there are full and clear directions, and plenty of help. I think I’m converted.

(Someone said to me that she had problems working out which row she was on with charts. I looked at her pattern – written out, complex cables – and she was using a clip-on ruler thingy as a marker. I use something like that for lace charts, which I’m perfectly comfortable with, so why not these? I am a convert.) Yup. A definite recommendation, as is the next one.

IMG_5184Just a quickie; a little book on spinning, How to Spin, by Beth Smith.

It’s basic, it’s clear, it’s not photographic but there are line drawings to clarify things from basic drafting and attaching fibre to the leader to other issues like making a woollen-style join. Beth Smith is the author of The Spinners’ Book of Fleece, and both knows her stuff and has the ability to explain what she’s talking about. I recently sold a wheel to someone who was completely new to spinning, and I wish I’d had a copy of this at the time (it’s OK, she’s near a mutual friend who’s a very good spinner, so she’ll get help there). But this would be very useful for anyone in that position – and I’ve found it useful myself!

page 3Ah yes, the third book. I nearly didn’t review this, but patterns are a matter of personal taste. Also, I do not crochet. But had I ever felt like crocheting – and I might, given that there are some amazing crochet patterns and projects out there to inspire me – then the Crochet One-Skein Wonders for Babies book would put me right off. Incidentally, it had the same effect on some of the expert crocheters who saw it, too.

This elephant is cute, I’ll give it that. And there are a couple of hats and some bootees that I like. And, of course it comes down to the question I raised right at the start, of personal taste in patterns. But a diaper cover with a flower decoration on the bum? A vest which is quite rightly described as ‘unforgettable’? The Zucchini sleep sack and cap? Yup, it’s a bag shaped like a courgette in which you stick your baby.

Ok, there are some nice blankets; if you’re into crochet baby blankets, then it might be worth having a serious look at this. But the majority of the patterns look so old-fashioned beside some of the things people are crocheting now, and many of them are deeply impractical (and frightening, in the case of the more surreal toys). This book tries hard to be cute (‘little bottoms’), but maybe it just isn’t one for the somewhat cynical British market. Or the somewhat cynical me.

A lesson learned?

Hm. A lesson learned is a a lesson which will probably be forgotten. But maybe not, who can tell?

I am now in the first period without a scary work deadline or three that I have had since, oh, September last year. I don’t want the Freelance Gods to think I’m complaining, because I’m not, but it has been a bit hairy in parts. To start the days off and to try and keep some sort of perspective, I decided to work on my spinning for a minimum of half an hour each day as well.

haunui spun

My hands are a whole lot better, but my spinning was not: too out of practice. So I settled down, spun a few small quantities of fluff I had in my stash and then, when I felt confident that things had indeed improved, I settled down to a big project. Replacing the giant sweater.

giant sweater detail

Anyone who knows me in the real, as opposed to the virtual, world also knows that during winters I am seldom seen without this huge, snuggly, comforting, impossible-to-photograph garment. I love it, and it loves me back. To such an extent that it has even been injured in the course of its duties (and let me just say that it’s a good job it’s reversible).

I know, I thought, I’ve got a shedload of Haunui fibre that I bought from Winghams a million years ago (2013); I’ll use that. It’s gorgeous, soft, soft, soft; lovely natural dark-chocolate colour, and the sheep – specific to one farm on New Zealand’s South Island – are bred and farmed to give a wonderful fibre for spinning. And, boy, is it wonderful; really, really special.

Went to spare room aka stash store, dug out fibre, smooshed it considerably, then spun up and plied 200g at roughly worsted weight (that’s it, above). Nice. Went back to stash, got out next 200g, realised only had about 500g left. Not enough.

Called Winghams. They’re not carrying it any more. Called friend. She is no friend at all and refused to give up her stash, for some reason. Huh. Asked on Ravelry if anyone much nicer had any they were willing to part with; they didn’t. Lots of helpful people did refer me to a UK importer who is even relatively local, but she imports finer fibre, and I needed to match what I’d got. Then, out of the Ravelry blue, I was contacted by the wonderful people on the farm. That’s right: all the way from a remote farm on one side of the world to a remote (no, it isn’t, except according to various couriers) village on the other. A few deliberations, some discussion of whether a complete match could be made (it could), whether the economics would work out, given carriage and duty (they would, especially after another friend who also failed to buy enough became involved), and we were on.

Soon a parcel arrived (after more discussions, this side of the world, about delivery times and exactly where they were going and no, they couldn’t rely on their sat nav and no, there wasn’t a house number and yes, they had been here before). It was surprisingly small, but bound about with lots of tape. I managed, very carefully, to cut the tape and it began to expand…

fibre

So I carried it to the bench and allowed it do do its thing:

woooooo

and finally revealed two kilos of the most wonderful fibre:

perfect!

I know what I’m going to be doing for the next few weeks!

And the next time I think I might be spinning for a garment, I’ll do some advance planning, honestly I will. Really. Oh yes, and I’m not buying any fibre at Wonderwool Wales tomorrow. Nothing. Dim (byd). Rud. Rien. Niente. Nowt. I have enough fibre now, and by next winter I might just have a new big sweater.

Massive thanks to Fiona and John at Taranui Farm; to their postman and to the delivery man at this end, who didn’t bat an eyelid when I came over all excited about receiving a parcel full of fleece. It’s been a real pleasure.

2015, a year in wool

I hope everyone had a great Christmas, and that 2016 proves to be a wonderful year. What more can I say, except for BAAAAA!

Baaaaaa

(Was tickled by this slightly louche Shetland matriarch, wearing her ear tag like a clubbing accessory)

Now the festivities – and other events – have settled down a bit, I’ve fired up my trusty MacBook Pro for the first time in a few days (never thought an iPad would change my life, but hey ho) and have taken a look through the year’s photographs. Two things struck me: a) that I’d actually fitted quite a bit in, despite being really busy on the work front, and b) that photographs don’t always reflect what’s really happening in your life. Not even if, like a friend of mine who is way too old to know better, you are the world’s most obsessive taker (and, yawn, yawn, sharer) of bad selfies. But I’m going to talk about the knitting which has marked this year out, and not the fact that it’s been bookended with funerals. Plus there’ve been deaths in between – mostly of the older generation, but still.* Back to wool!

I started the knitting year with turquoise, and I’m ending it in the same colour,

admittedly, turquoise with other colours but still unusual enough to be remarked upon.

The wooly highlight had to be another journey north: Shetland, and first stop Jamieson’s in Lerwick as I’d heard great things of the revamped shop. They were all, unfortunately, true. Rats. I just had to spend money. Plus there was the museum and the excellent taatit rugs exhibition, and the Bod of Gremista, from which I think these two shots come,

and what with one thing and another I came back with the makings of a Fair Isle cardigan. It’ll be done when I’ve finished the one currently on the needles (also in yarn bought in Shetland, cough, cough).

My hands have been so much better, and I’ve really enjoyed knitting for things like the Harlech Fibre and Fabric Fair in the summer, where I also got a chance to talk about natural dyes with people. Er, once the Fair was actually open, that is. Prior to that it was a frenzy of sorting out signage and bunting and pricing and labels and craftspeople and people doing the teas and, and, and thank heavens I wasn’t doing it alone. Many thanks to Julie. Many, many, many thanks!

woolwinding

I’m not the world’s most expert dyer – by a long stretch – but I still have the daft enthusiasm that allows me to be fascinated by the fact that rinsing a skein dyed with elderberry in water at a friend’s house – on the wool winder – could have a completely different result when I rinsed the next one at my own place (all the colour leeched out – it was most alarming, but did allow me to overdye the wool).

High summer – we did have one, briefly, I have more photographic evidence – saw me spinning in public with some members of the Llyn Guild. It was a completely delightful day, even if we were all quite hoarse by the time we were winding down.

sip

In fact, it was so good that we’re not spinning in public on the official day – towards the end of September – any more. There are so many more people about in August, and the weather is more predictable, plus we can return here. Where there is also cake.

Along the way I’ve opened a twitter account for a cat,

Bramble

who thinks she runs a wool shop (thinks?) – she’s at @WoolShopCat, naturally – and saw her followers increase in both numbers and interaction in the first twenty-four hours way more than my own (it’s settled down now, which is more than can be said for Bramble, currently in Christmas-catnip mode). I’ve been in a pop-up craft shop during the summer, which was fab, and had a very successful time at the Harlech Craft Fair at the end of November. The problem has been keeping pace but, as I said, my hands are much better. I’ve even fitted in some knitting for me.

And now I need to go and lie down for a bit. But I just have this sleeve to finish, you see, and…
Best woolly wishes to everyone for 2016!

*why this year should have been particularly bad on the funerals front, I don’t know. Except, that is, for the fact that several people were either in their 90s or nearly there, so not entirely unexpected. But why do deaths come in flurries? My grandfather used to get quite wary if there’d been two until there was a third, and it’s not as though there was a geographical factor at work – they ranged from the highlands of Scotland to South Africa. Very odd.

Intermissione… is that a word?

In any language? Probably not, but this is one. Ar hintermission. I will get back on the decision I made about Fair Isle colours, but for the moment I am frantically trying to finish an editing job. Well, I need the work to pay for more wool, sillie billies!

(And food. And bills. That sort of thing.)

And, for variety, I’ve entered the Tour de Fleece. Yes, there is such a thing – if you don’t know already – and the idea is to set yourself a spinning challenge and spin your wheel each day the riders of the Tour de France spin theirs (only – happily – wearing lycra, pissing in your pants, and not just pissing*, is not involved).

wheel

It’s been ages since I could spin properly, and I seem to have lost the knack. Time to get it back. So I’m allowed to spin for ten minutes a day – twenty if my hands behave – and no more. The aim was to use a chocolate-brown Manx Loaghtan fleece I’ve had kicking around since pre-hand-injury days. I got it out, I prepped it, it was disgusting, I put most of it in the compost.

Don’t get me wrong – it wasn’t that I’d left it unwashed for three years. That would be an ERGH almost comparable with what happens to some of the Tour riders when they get caught short. But it was full of second cuts and straw and scurf and it was not pleasant. So I’m using what I prepped before I became too nauseated by sheep dandruff, and am going to ply it together with some white Lleyn which is much, much nicer.

IMG_2949

Except with all the typing I now need to rest my hands again, and with root canal work I also need massive painkillers (I love dentists). Never mind, it will get done – and I’m much heartened by my progress. On all fronts!

*Really. Croyez-moi. I’m a bit of Tour nerd – and ERGH. Double ERGH. Let’s just say you wouldn’t want to cycle behind some people.

Book review: The Spinner’s Book of Fleece

book coverI suppose it’s highly appropriate, really, that I should get a copy of this book by Beth Smith just at the right time. It’s the right time because I’m celebrating the return of summer – or summer’s last flourish, perhaps – by washing fleece. Up to my arms in sheepy water while also baking bread and working. You’ve got to make the most of the weather at this time of year, and in my book that means washing the fleece of the biggest Lleyn lamb on the surface of the planet. Heaven only knows how large the animal was; or maybe it was tiny, but in a huge fleece.

I already have the magisterial Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook, which I use a lot, so I wasn’t entirely sure what Beth Smith’s book would add. The answer was detail, and for me that’s extremely useful. It doesn’t have the same range of breeds as the F&FSB, but then it doesn’t intend to. This book looks at how to get your fibre choices right, and for me that’s vital: I’m a sloppy spinner and could do with being a whole lot more considered.

fleece parts

I could also have done with this double-page spread before I sorted my Lleyn. (It took me ages to work out – once unrolled on the lawn, and once Next Door’s Cat had been removed from it – that I was actually looking at it sideways, but I digress.)

Smith looks at twenty-one different breeds (as she says, ‘my choices were also determined by what breeds were available to me’). My first reaction, a hasty one, was that there were too many which I was unlikely to encounter, living this side of the Atlantic. In fact, there are probably only three or four – Polypay, American Karakul, California Red – and, the spinning world being what it is, I could doubtless get hold of some to sample if I wished to do so.

However, to some extent the breeds don’t matter: what matters is the categorisation. Let me quote again: ‘You don’t have to spin the actual breeds I am talking about. You can compare the characteristics of the fleece you have to a similar breed covered here and feel confident that you can successfully work with it using a similar approach.’

Baaa

Fleeces are divided into four basic types. These are fine wools (Merino, for instance), longwools like BFL and Wensleydale, downs and down-type breeds (that pensive Black Welsh Mountain fits in here) and multicoated breeds like Shetlands. There’s also a catch-all ‘other breeds’ group, which includes Jacob.

Each is treated differently for the best effect, and there’s a good basic introduction to sorting and scouring, too. There’s some coverage of tools and terminology which is good for people who are newish spinners or just plain lazy (that would be me), and there’s a very useful part on buying a fleece. Note the ‘buying’: free fleeces, as I have learned, are usually free for a reason

I’d not really thought about what I wanted to do with a fleece before I spun it; I just spun it. But look at these two illustrations from the part about spinning for lace knitting:

compare and contrast

They’ve been spun in the same way, and the pattern is also the same. On the left is a Lincoln, a longwool, and on the right a Suffolk, a down. I’d just thought of lace spinning as spinning very finely, not particularly in terms of exploiting the characteristics of – or even considering – a particular type of fleece. Dur.

And then there’s the processing, even down to using different washing techniques for different types to achieve the best results (my ‘shove it in very hot water with green Fairy Liquid and wait until the flies go away’ method doesn’t feature, surprisingly, though it is remarkably similar to her ‘bulk washing process’ for longwools). My Lleyn – though it doesn’t feature either – is, I think, almost a mixture between a down-type and a longwool (the staple length is great, and there’s good crimp), so I think I’m doing the right thing so far.

BWM samples

As a down-type, she recommends carding – hand- or drum-carding – something like a Lleyn; if I were to treat it as a longwool, she would prefer me to use combs. That’s tough, because I’ve not got combs – but when I see the difference they make, I think I ought to invest in some even though I am currently swearing that I will never, ever process a raw fleece again.

But of course I will. Look, for instance, at the appearance of these two BWM samples (definitely a down type, so there are no hard and fast rules). They’re both beautiful, but the bottom one has been combed. Plus I’ve a Teeswater waiting for processing and, boy, is that a longwool.

So, what do I think, overall?

Well, I think This book is a worthwhile addition to any spinner’s library and, for new spinners, the sections on fleece prep are invaluable. I wish I’d had something like this when I first got up to my elbows in fleece straight off the (mucky) sheep’s back. I relied on telephone calls to friends, blog posts from other spinners, and an old book – a very good old book, but one without illustrations apart from a small line drawing of a fleece which looked nothing like the skanky object I’d just unrolled in the garden. As it is for me now, The Spinner’s Book of Fleece will persuade me to be a whole lot more thoughtful about how I choose and prepare fleece. It may also cost me a large amount of money, because of course I now need a set of wool combs. Of course I do.