Eli Whitney Is My Hero

One gallon zip-lock bag of field cotton, one pair of hands, and FIVE HOURS = very little to show for all that time. And I haven’t even finished!

My original idea was to take some of the cotton from the Homestead and spin up enough to knit something small – a bookmark or snowflake – so folks could see how nice cotton feels and show something made totally “from the land” like they did in the 19th century. I wanted to time this little project so I could explain to the kids who come on field trips how long it takes to make something without using modern machinery. Well, that was the plan. Originally, I had thought I would spin the cotton directly from the seeds; however, I tend to end up with sewing thread when I do that and I really wanted a laceweight or fingering weight yarn. So the next step was to take out the seeds so I could card the cotton and spin from a rolag or puni. So far it has taken five hours of pulling seeds and I still have about half of the zip-lock bag to do.

On the positive side, this very time-consuming method of taking the seeds out of the cotton has left me with pure, white, fluffy stuff. It looks just like a bag of clean Cormo fleece – absolutely beautiful! Unlike commercially processed cotton roving, there are no little bits of leaves or seeds in my cotton; this will spin up to a pure white cotton yarn and I am thrilled. However, I don’t think I will be doing this as an ongoing process. I am all for the cotton gin idea. Okay, so I have to pick out a bit of leaf or seed – at least that won’t take me the length of time I have to spend pulling all the seeds out. Makes me appreciate even more Eli Whitney and his cotton gin. Eli rocks!

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Getting To Know Yarn

If, like me, you are a knitter and/or crocheter, then you probably have a stash of yarn: under the bed, in the closet, or, like me, a whole room devoted to yarn! [YES!] Here’s the big question: how well do you know your yarn? Oh, I’m not talking about the brand name, the content (wool, cotton, acrylic, etc), or even the color. No, I’m talking about how the yarn is made and why you would want to know this. For instance, I really like Lion Brand Microsoft – it is so, so soft, BUT-I try to find a suitable replacement for it at every opportunity because it is made from about a gazillion plies and if you don’t get every ply caught up in every stitch, it shows – forever! Unlike Brown Sheep’s Lamb’s Pride Worsted or Bulky, which is a single ply yarn that holds texture beautifully, felts like a dream, and there is little chance of splitting the yarn while knitting.

So how did I come about this knowledge of “plies” or strands of fiber put together to make a yarn? I learned to spin. Actually, I picked up a lot of information simply by hanging out with spinners, but when I began making my own yarn, then the wheels started turning (figuratively and literally). Much of what I have learned through spinning has helped me when choosing “yarn shop yarn”. There is a tiny yarn shop in New Orleans, Bornside Yarns, that has the best “benefit” for shopping there – if you want to try a yarn that they carry, just ask for a length to try. Since I no longer live in New Orleans, I now call up Bette Bornside and simply ask for a length, she sticks it in the mail, and I knit it up into a tiny swatch. This tells me a lot about whether I really want to use the yarn in a project – or not. If not, I can call up Bette, tell her what the yarn did that I didn’t like, describe the project I want to do, and she and I can intelligently discuss the properties of yarns that could work for me. (BTW, the website is www.bornsideyarns.com.) If, however, the yarn does exactly what I had hoped it would, I call her back and order the yarn.

This ability to “try before you buy” is invaluable. It will tell you if the yarn is round or flat, cabled or whatever. So how does this relate to knitting? Well, some yarns hold texture better than others. If you are going to make an all-over cabled sweater, better to get a yarn that will show off the cables; otherwise, why bother doing all that work? Some yarns drape well and some too much. If you are knitting a short vest that begins (or ends) at your waist, doing a loose knit in cotton won’t get you there (but you will have a lovely nightshirt that will touch your knees by the end of the first day you wear it!). Yarn content and plies can tell you a lot about how your project will turn out.

So how do you get this invaluable knowledge? Glad you asked! Right now, there is a thread on Knitting Daily (www.knittingdaily.com) about spinning for knitting. Check the archives for previous posts on this topic because there is great information being given. So, do you have to become a spinner to appreciate yarn? Nope. In fact, I feel it is my duty to inform you that spinning is a major fiber addiction (and I am a major fiber pusher – you have been warned!). Today’s Knitting Daily post refers you to a link where you can learn to spin by making a simple CD hand spindle. These are very inexpensive to make – I just made 9 for Sunday’s guild meeting for a total of $7.17, so they are less than a dollar each. I have spun some great yarn on CD spindles, and it is always a thrill to knit with yarn I spun myself. Give it a try and see how your yarn knowledge grows exponentially!

For those of you in the area, I will be bringing CD spindles to the NE GA Handspinners (which may be changed to Fiber Arts) Guild meeting tomorrow, April 6, from 1 – 4 p.m. at the William Harris Homestead (www.harrishomestead.com). Bring your knitting, crocheting, or whatever and join us for an afternoon of fiber fun. I will have spinning fiber available for anyone who wants to try their hand at spinning. Come join us and leave with your own little spinning kit! ( I TOLD you I was a fiber pusher!)

Here is a project I made from my handspun yarns: Nessie, the Loch Ness Sea Creature Hand Puppet