“Almost” Weaving

Back from the Midwest Fiber and Folk Art Festival. My classes were so much fun! I got to hang out with Gale Evans of Gale’s Art and watch the shoppers drool over her beautiful rovings. In the next booth was Red Fish Dyeworks. They had dyed silk yarns in almost every color of the rainbow. Truly awesome colors! I bought some blue and ordered a particular color of gold to be shipped to me in a few weeks for a project I’m in the process of designing. I had my beautiful merino/silk singles with me to show my spinning class and took them to the booth. I bought a purple silk thread to use as warp to my singles weft for a scarf.

Yesterday I actually wound the thread into a ball with the ball winder. I will have to double the thread for warp, but there is plenty to do that. Now I am ready to warp! Since this will be a skinny scarf, the warping shouldn’t take long and then I can begin weaving. This is the closest I have been to a weaving project in eight months and I am really excited. I will keep you posted on the progress/outcome.


Too Much Ravelry Reading

Ravelry is absolutely wonderful – IF I could stop spending massive amounts of time reading all the cool information there. Today I was perusing, as usual, the spinning sites and got to thinking about finishing singles. This is something that came up several times at my CT workshop. It seems that several folks were plunging their singles in hot water, then plunging them in cold water, then thwacking them against the deck railings to finish them. WHAT??? Well, after several people told me that they do it this way, I started asking questions and the answer I got most often was “because Judith says to do it that way.” Don’t get me wrong, I really, really, really admire Judith McKenzie McCuin. In fact, I have been chasing her all over the country, keeping up with her teaching schedule in the hopes that she will be giving a workshop close enough for me to attend. I’m sure that any class she teaches will be a wonderland of information. HOWEVER…. why go to all that work when you can finish singles more simply and still get great, useable singles to make into a fabulous project? If I were going to weave with my singles, I would be tempted to finish them Judith’s way. They should end up slightly felted and would probably better withstand all the banging about that accompanies weaving. I don’t usually weave with my singles, though, I knit with them or crochet with them. For that, I simply soak them thoroughly in whatever temperature water comes from the tap, spin the water out in the spin cycle of the washer, pop my hands around the inside of the hank to straighten it out, and hang the hank from the kitchen cabinet knobs to dry. If there is a bit too much twist, I might hang a dishcloth over the hank to keep it a bit straighter, though not anything heavy because I want the elasticity to stay in the singles.

This brings me to Spin Off Magazine. Again, I have great admiration for the information that is so generously given in that magazine. I have learned a great deal from reading it every quarter and often wish that it would be published more frequently. HOWEVER…. if all I want to do is replicate a hat that is made from two-ply yarn spun to equal a worsted weight yarn, do I really need to know how many twists or bumps per inch I need to have? I would go mad trying to stop and start my wheel to keep track of my twists per inch. I spin for the relaxation of it and to see what happens IF…. My classes have all come from my experiments of what would happen IF I did such and such. I am the eternally curious spinner. I’m not saying not to take such things into consideration if it matters to you, just that there is no Spinning Police (SP) that will come and take your spindle or wheel away if you don’t happen to know off the top of your head what your twist count is.

Another thing I noticed in CT – there were a LOT of spinners there, so it was easier to notice things – was that many spinners would get in some kind of spinning or plying bind, the wheel or the fiber would be getting out of control, and they STILL KEPT TREADLING!!! There is no rule, law, or Spinning Police motto that says “Once you begin treadling on a spinning wheel, you can never stop the wheel until you finish spinning/plying.” Nope. I checked. No such thing. If the spinning is getting away from you, STOP TREADLING!!! When I noticed this most was when I was teaching Navajo-plying. I was amazed at the first-time Navajo-pliers who felt they had to keep the wheel going and ended up with the most awful mess. From my perspective, learning to Navajo-ply is best done with the wheel working almost not at all. I showed a few folks how to do it with minimal wheel involvement and the sighs of relief should have been heard all the way to Georgia.

So what is the point of all this? K.I.S.S. Keep It Simple, Spinner! Yes, if you are learning a new technique, learn it properly. Yes, if you are going for your COE in Handspinning, count those twists per inch. If, however, you are spinning for the joy of it and what you are doing is getting the results you want, keep doing what you are doing in the simplest possible way. Spinning has been happening for hundreds of thousands of years. To finish cotton, do you think the ancient Egyptians boiled it after wrapping it around a pvc pipe with holes drilled in it? There were no pvc pipes!!! Folks did what worked in the simplest possible way to get the end product they wanted and needed to use in their finished weaving, netting, whatever. BTW, I’m not big on adding more heat to my Georgia home, so I usually finish my cotton by boiling it in the microwave in a Corning Ware casserole dish. It’s simple, easy, takes little time, doesn’t heat up the house, and gets me back to the spinning wheel in record time.

What quick and easy tips and tricks do you use with your spinning? Or are you doing something with your spinning that has you constantly saying, “There has to be a better way.”? Let’s hear it for simplicity!

Weekend With The Nutmeg Spinners

I just returned from my weekend with the Nutmeg Spinning Guild on the CT/MA border (sounds like an immigration nightmare!). What a fun time! As always, I learned as much as I taught.

On Saturday, I was embraced by over 100 spinners all in the same room with spinning wheels whirring, knitting needles clicking, and vendors, vendors, vendors! Whew! It was a wonderfully overwhelming experience. I was so, so tempted to buy, buy, buy, but Charlene had my wallet tucked firmly in my bag under her seat and kept getting her feet in the way so I couldn’t get at it. It wasn’t that she didn’t want me to buy more fiber – knowing that there is no more space in my studio (but, hey, there is still the guest bathroom that needs to be “accessorized”, right?) – but she already knew the boxes and bags that I needed somehow to get back to Georgia were already going to fill her car on the way to UPS. (Did I say that she and I visited yarn shops on Friday???) I did manage to purchase one roving in almost fluorescent colors – I had to buy it because I used it to demonstrate stripping! I couldn’t give it back after that, could I? Chris of The Painted Sheep dyed rovings in several different colorways for the workshop and every one of them was awesome! The Magic of Spinning Handpainted Fibers workshop was really fun and I got to see some award winning yarns of the spinners while walking around assisting with the various techniques. I think it is correct to say that “a good time was had by all”.

Sunday was a smaller, but no less fun group. We were on the upper floor of a fire station and had plenty of room to spread out for the Spinning The Sun, The Moon, and The Stars workshop. Again, I learned as much as the wonderful women who came for the workshop! And these women definitely know the rule that “eating and fiber arts are kindred spirits”, having brought all my favorite foods to share for lunch. After the spinning portion of the workshop, many stars were started and one was completed having each point a different color. Beautiful!

Bobbie, an alpaca farmer and the guild’s librarian, rode with me and Charlene to the meeting after which she took us on a tour of their small farm. All her alpacas are so people-friendly and I got nuzzled over and over again. Then we visited her farm store and she gave me some alpaca yarn mill-spun from the fleece of Berto, the bad boy of the ranch (he is such a bully that he gave another of the boys an ulcer!). I am going to make something that will definitely “kick butt” so Berto will be proud. Check out these cute alpacas at www.summerbrookalpacas.com.

I got so many new ideas from the great conversations with this group of awesome spinners that I will be busy with them for months to come! If you want to meet some of these wonderful women, you can visit them on Ravelry in the Nutmeg Spinners group.

So what are you working on? I will let you know my projects next time!

I’m Back – Almost

Sorry to be so slow getting this out. I have been “otherwise engaged”. I will begin posting again in the next day or so. In the meantime, I want to update you on the NE Georgia Fiber Arts Guild.

Sunday, June 1, is the next meeting of the guild. We will be meeting in downtown Monroe, just one block from the courthouse on West Spring Street. The lighting at the Homestead is not optimal for fiber arts projects and if we all were there at the same time, we would no longer fit. Directions to our new meeting place are below.

The May meeting was fun, though it was good we got there in “shifts” or we would not have all fit in the space. In June, we will be meeting in a larger space with better lighting, so be sure to bring some “show and tell” and projects you might want to work on/show off.

Welcome to all our newbies who came in May. We hope you will continue to join us! Pam (bittybee) was so very generous with her spinning wheel, giving Dixie and Michelle each a turn so they could get the feel of the difference from a spindle to a wheel. I see wheel SAFF purchases in their future!

For the June meeting, we are going to have a “program” of sorts. We are asking everyone to bring their favorite fiber arts books and magazines with them so others can peruse them and see what is available. It really helps to be able to skim through a book or magazine before committing to a purchase. So choose a book or two or more that is a favorite or that you feel has great information and bring it along to the meeting.

Meeting directions:

From 316: take Hwy 11 south into Monroe (Hwy 11 becomes Broad Street). When you get to the Spring Street traffic light downtown – the courthouse will be across the street on your left – turn right onto Spring Street. Go one block and turn left on Wayne Street and then make an immediate right into the parking lot (across from the back of Mike Cash’s place). As you face Spring Street, there is a short row of businesses under one roof. We will be in the last space on the left – with curtains in the window.

From I-20: take Hwy 11 north into Monroe (Hwy 11 becomes Broad Street). When you get to the Spring Street traffic light downtown – the courthouse will be on your right – turn left onto Spring Street. Go one block and turn left on Wayne Street and then make an immediate right into the parking lot (across from the back of Mike Cash’s place). As you face Spring Street, there is a short row of businesses under one roof. We will be in the last space on the left – with curtains in the window.

From Atlanta on 78: take the first Monroe exit (Spring Street). Stay on Spring Street until you pass the library and come to the traffic signal on Wayne Street. Turn right on Wayne Street, then make an immediate right into the parking lot (across from the back of Mike Cash’s place). As you face Spring Street, there is a short row of businesses under one roof. We will be in the last space on the left – with curtains in the window.

From Athens on 78: take the second Monroe exit (Hwy 11 to Monroe/Winder). At the top of the exit ramp, turn left and continue on Hwy 11 (Hwy 11 becomes Broad Street) into Monroe. When you get to the Spring Street traffic light downtown – the courthouse will be across the street on your left – turn right. Go one block and turn left on Wayne Street and then make an immediate right into the parking lot (across from the back of Mike Cash’s place). As you face Spring Street, there is a short row of businesses under one roof. We will be in the last space on the left – with curtains in the window.

See you there!

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!

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

Spin-Off Has Arrived!

My copy of Spin-Off arrived at the same time the UPS driver arrived with the box of all the projects that are in the articles. Hurray – now I can show them off at the guild meeting in a couple weeks. For those of you who do not spin, but knit or crochet, there are lots of great projects in this issue. Though the projects use handspun yarns, the “generic” size of the yarn is given so you can use a commercial yarn instead.

Today I had fun at JoAnn’s and Michael’s gathering more beads and threads to finish the snowflake samples. There are some beautiful new threads from DMC (Jewel Effects) and I chose several to use since all the shops have them now making them easy to find. What? You never thought of knitting with embroidery thread? It is awesome stuff!

Have you read The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner? I am almost finished with it and it is a great read! He sets out to find the happiest country on Earth by starting with a trip to Rotterdam to visit the World Database of Happiness (WDH) – no, I am not making this up. Weiner’s insights into the various cultures he visits are eye-opening. He has traveled extensively as a journalist for NPR, but even he finds surprises on his quest for the happiest nation on Earth. Worth a read – I have been laughing out loud, so maybe that is the point of the book. Read book, feel happy! Works for me!

Excitement Happening!

The Little Box of SocksCharlene’s new book, The Little Box of Socks, arrived today and I have already taken the Zigzag Slip-Stitch Socks pattern and put it in my sock sack to do next. These patterns are really great – and there are many that deal with hand-painted/variegated sock yarns. Too many to choose from, so I will just have to knit one of each (though you know I am not going to put novelty yarn around the top of the felted bed socks – I’m just not a novelty yarn kind of person). This box of patterns is definitely worth having, even if you have all the other sock books.

Today’s mail also brought the contract from Leisure Arts for my new book, Dazzling Knitted Snowflakes. You know that will get signed and returned asap along with the new sample snowflakes! No pub date yet, but I will post it as soon as they let me know. In the meantime, here are a few of the snowflakes to whet your appetite:

bellatrix-min.jpg capella-ii-min.jpg mira-ii-min.jpg

(For those of you who know I am a Harry Potter fan: no, I did not name the Bellatrix snowflake after her evilness. These are all names of stars in our galaxy. The first book’s snowflakes were all named after rescued dogs.) If you have the first book, Knitted Snowflakes, you know that they are all made out of crochet cotton. The snowflakes in Dazzling Knitted Snowflakes can all be made out of crochet cotton, but I chose to make many of them out of the Kreinik metallic braids/threads to jazz them up a bit. Also, many of them have a plain version and a beaded version (to give them even more pizzazz) and several have mini-versions that only take about 10 yards of thread so you can knit a veritable blizzard in no time. Watch this space for the upcoming date of release so you can be one of the first to get your book and have samples knitted to show off at your next knitting get-together!

NE Georgia Handspinners have a home! We will be meeting at the William Harris Homestead, a restored, 19th Century, antebellum farm. The grounds are beautiful and our fiber arts will fit right in with the ambiance of the house and grounds. Stay tuned for the date of the first gathering.

AND, I have been invited to teach a week-long class at the John C. Campbell Folk School. I am excited because the class will be the first to experience all the tricks, tips, and techniques of another book I am working on – yes, I am keeping it a secret until closer to the time it may be published.

In the meantime, I am still waiting for my Spin-Off to arrive, have finished a project for Interweave Press that I am not allowed to talk about yet, am packaging the snowflakes to send, and have been working on my “logo”.  Anyone else come up with their personal symbol yet?

Spin-Off Almost Here

Just got an email from a Cormo shepherdess asking me if I am the Margaret listed in the Spring issue of Spin-Off. I was elated and devastated at the same time. Elated that the issue is out and devastated that I don’t have my copy yet! I went on the Interweave web site and my article and pattern are listed – though there is some kind of funky orange shawl where the photo of the baby sweater should be. There were some great online articles, too, so I spent some time reading up on wraps per inch and twist in plying and discovered another cool blog to read in my spare time.

The spare time issue is getting more and more dire as I get myself involved in writing more designs/books and studying for my latest venture. Today I went to check out an historical site and was invited to become part of the team who give demos to the public. I am studying the scripts for the spinning, weaving, medicinal gardening, dye gardening, candle-making, and maybe some food preservation (though I no longer cook, so I may give that one a pass). The William Harris Homestead is only 7 minutes (yes, I clocked it this morning) from my house, so it is a great commute! While I was there today, they said they were having difficulty with one of the spinning wheels, so I took a look at it. A bit of fiddling and an assessment of “not being used enough” got it going again. I brought it home with me to give it some oil and spin on it to loosen it up a bit. Actually, I think it was lonely sitting in a corner and already seems to have perked up in my studio where it is surrounded by fiber and my own two spinning wheels.

Check out the William Harris Homestead web pages (www.harrishomestead.com) and see what you think. Today I tagged along with a group of fourth graders and we saw: arrowheads from the grounds left by the Creek Indians who used to live on that land; how far the well was from the house for getting water; the lands of the property along the river from a hayride; the garden used for medicines; how to preserve food; the smokehouse; how to make candles; naturally dyed wool hanging on the line; how Civil War soldiers dressed and walked into battle and the machinations they had to go through to load their muskets; and, a working Border Collie putting the sheep through their paces. Oh, and all the kids got to pick cotton from the teeny-tiny cotton patch. It was a full day expertly placed into two hours.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Charlene, for the comments on the cast on vs. the first row. The more people who can give insight into these ideas/techniques, the better we will all be able to perform our wonderful knitting.

Margaret Passes It On

When I teach, I get asked a lot of questions that aren’t directly related to the subject I happen to be teaching at the moment. I get to do a lot of “thinking on my feet” and I don’t always have an answer. Then I give suggestions for finding the answer. If I can, though, I will share any information I have to answer the question. Since I get similar questions asked at different venues, I decided to put the questions and answers here so they can help out those who might have been wondering the same things. Feel free to pass this information on to others. So here’s the question and answer of the day:

Does my cast on count as my first row?

The answer: it depends (that’s usually the answer to fiber arts questions).

The answer in detail: (a) Look at your pattern. (WHAT!!!! You haven’t read through your pattern before you started knitting? Shame on you!) If you are told to cast on a certain number of stitches and the pattern instructions (after joining for circular knitting if you are doing that) begin with “Row/Round 1”, then your cast on does not count as your first row.

(b) If you get instructions that tell you to cast on and then work so many rows/inches of ribbing, then you can decide for yourself if your cast on counts for one of those rows. Margaret’s Rule for Ribbing: no matter how many rows, rounds, or inches of ribbing the pattern calls for, I am only going to knit ribbing until I can’t stand it anymore – this usually means LESS than the pattern calls for. I mean, who is going to knit three inches of ribbing if they don’t have to? Not me, that’s for sure.

(c) The pattern – and I have seen this only twice in all the thousands of knitting patterns I have seen in my lifetime – may tell you that your cast on equals your first row. If that is the case, they will spell it out very explicitly and the instructions will begin “Row/Round 2”. This could happen for any number of reasons, all of them in the hands of the designer of the pattern. [If you are a designer, please do not take this as permission to start a new “No More Row 1” craze.]

So there you have it. Pass on this information to those who ask and share the wealth of knowledge in knitting.

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