The Eclectic, Right-Brained Knitter

How many people do you know who would check out In Search of Schrodinger’s Cat (quantum physics), The Mole People (sociological study of people who live under New York City), The History of Puppetry, Voices (book in the sci-fi Babylon 5 series), Ian Fleming: The Man Behind James Bond, Marionettes and How To Make Them, and the DVDs of Miss Congeniality 2, The Sound of Music, Ratatouille, and Hotel Rwanda – all at the same time? This is what happens to a right-brained person – me – when let loose in a library. Actually, I have six more books checked out that are mostly on black holes, quantum mechanics, and puppetry – my current interests.

Not a knitting book in the bunch! Or is there? Actually, a closer look at how my right-brain works will give glimpses into my knitting world. The most logical – at least to me – are the puppetry books. I have been knitting and crocheting puppets for several years now and have become increasingly interested in techniques I can use to create puppets that are not made of
wood, plasticine, fake fur fabric, or other such materials. Nope, I make puppets with two sticks and some string (or one hook and some string, as the case may be). Looking through books on making puppets using these other techniques has helped me hone my knitted puppetry skills. My
puppet heads are now a wealth of short rows, decreases, increases, and lace holes as I create them from start to finish in one piece. Hence, the study of puppetry.

Okay, let’s move down the line of subjects to a bit more obscure connection to knitting – science fiction (including the real science of black holes). I am a huge fan of the Milky Way. I live in the country where smog is not an issue and the night sky is so, so close. While reading such books, I got to thinking about how to recreate the Milky Way through knitting. First, I would need a
sparkly yarn and the shops just didn’t have what I wanted. So I decided to spin my own. What a revelation! This stuff is not easy to spin! There are all kinds of tricks to spinning with Angelina and Firestar. I tried this and that until I found the best ways to incorporate these glowing fibers into my spinning fibers and voila! My “Spinning The Sun, The Moon, and The Stars” class was born and I now have plenty of star-filled yarns to use in projects.

The right-brained person can zoom in on a new interest in a nano-second or less. That is my greatest joy while being my most dire nemesis. I love learning about new topics. I also tend to drop my current projects in favor of the newer, more exciting one – until the next bit of “new” whisks me off in another direction. I have learned to enjoy the ride, knowing that eventually the old will seem new again and I will be back to finish projects with even more enthusiasm than the first time around. There are topics, however, that pique my interest to such an intense level that they stay on for a long, long time. These are my knitting “comfort food” and are usually the basis for my books and my classes. It is all about thinking out of the box, or in my case, asking “What box?”.

Get ready – October is (and, no, I am not making this up) National Right-Brained People Month! Will you be celebrating with me?

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!

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.

Book Review

No Sheep For You by Amy R. Singer

This is a book that should be in your knitting library. It gives accurate information (in a very fun way) on the many fibers for knitting that are NOT wool. For those allergic to wool, they even have patterns for a Fair Isle sweater, an Aran sweater, and a steeked sweater – all normally made of wool.

The patterns are well-laid out, the yarn information is detailed, and every pattern comes in a wide range of sizes from the very small and petite to the more voluptuous.

The down-side to this book? Lots of worsted weight, though there are many DK weight yarns, too, that suit our Southern clime better.

Amy Singer is the proprietor of Knitty.com and she has gathered an array of designers to keep us all knitting fun garments in the yarns that are a lovely alternative to wool.