June 2009

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Yesterday I sent off my very first crochet pattern submission.  It feels like such a plunge.  It is also my first submission in hard copy — it had a swatch attached and everything. If any of you have any understanding of how you are supposed to attach your name and contact information to a swatch without pasting or stapling it, I would be most grateful to be enlightened.

I am so proud of myself to have my application put together and mailed on time.  I consider every submission to be a great personal triumph against the demons of self doubt and procrastination.

It doesn’t matter at this point if my design gets accepted or not, I have won in the battle against myself.

All the same, if you have a chance, put down your knitting or crochet or whatever you have in your busy hands, and cross your fingers a moment for me, because I am pleased as punch with my design and the thought of getting it published in the unnamed venue.

One of the questions that often arises for me is how to make the best use of handspun, bulky, and novelty yarns

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These yarns are often expensive, detailed, and bulky, and there is often not enough to make anything of any great size. I want to make something with these yarns, large enough to be useful, and that shows the artistry in their making.

I find that many crafters approach knitting from the perspective of a spinner or approach spinning from the perspective of a knitter. I think spinners who come to knitting often want ways to use their handspun yarns and want to knit something very simple, which makes sense when using many novelty yarns, but the detail of the yarns can get lost in the stitches.

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Knitters who come to spinning often want simple yarns in fabulous colours and fibres to use for more knitting focussed projects.

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I have tried both, and both have appeal, but I would like to propose a third way – there are techniques and styles and projects that can make use of beautiful handspun yarns of every description and show them to advantage, and here I must confess that many of my ideas in this area are heavily influenced by Debbie New.

I bought both these yarns from Milkyrobot’s Etsy Store

Girls Throw Snow (40 yards / 36.5m):

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And Earthworm (46 Yards / 42m):

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When they arrived I was really unsure about what to do with them. I was worried that they were too intricate to show all their detail and too short to make much if knit by themselves. Every centimetre of these yarns is beautiful, and I would hate to hide whole sections of them behind cables or on the back side of something.

For the Girls Throw Snow yarn I mixed it with some grey fingering yarn I had lying around that matched one of the accent colours, and knit it in an irregular version of Debbie New’s squiggle lace using large needles (pattern):

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For the Earthworm yarn I wanted to make things more interesting and combined several yarns:

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In a long strip:

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That I crocheted together into a scarf at the end using Debbie New’s labyrinth knitting technique (Ravelry link):

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I especially like the way the mohair lace weight makes transparent sections.

These projects show these yarns as I wanted them to be shown and have enough knitterly interest to keep mine.

I could probably be induced to produce a pattern for the Earthworm scarf too, if enough of you leave comments on my blog here.

I must take a moment to recommend this book:

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A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table by Molly Wizenberg of Orangette

It is so charming.  I have it out of the library — it is overdue and have finished reading it, but she had me at the stewed prunes and chocolate bread, and I can’t bear to return it.  This is juvenile I know, and fines are accumulating daily.

I have called the bookstore, and they have one on hold for me.  I just can’t go through life not cooking those recipes and reading her stories, and they have eight copies, so I don’t have to.

Unfortunately Molly is taking a break from her blog.  I am looking forward to new posts and reading the backfiles.

I have invited Shawn O’Hagan of Island Sweet (blog, Etsy shop) to tell us about her fibre art.  I enjoy her yarns and knitting so much, and I thought that it would be great to ask her a little abut her process:

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Can you please tell me a bit about yourself?

I was a painter for 30 years. I have a Masters Degree in Painting. 10 years ago I decided I didn’t want to paint anymore. I no longer enjoyed the “art scene”. I felt I had nothing left that I wanted to paint. In the summer of 2000 I did an artist residency in Terra Nova National Park in Newfoundland, Canada (where I live), and took only fabric and thread and needles. I began making “fabric collages” – just playing with colour and texture. I wanted to make things that people could use – not just hang on their walls, so my collages became pillow covers and quilts. A few years later I picked up a rug hooking kit and began rug hooking with a passion.

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How long have you been working with fibre, what induced you to start and what craft did you start with?

I have always been a knitter. I was selling my knitwear (mostly hats and baby clothes) in shops and through the Craft Council. 2 years ago I was in New York City, and at PurlSoho, I picked up a skein of yarn from “Ozark Handspun“. I didn’t know that this kind of yarn existed! I knew immediately that I wanted to knit with that kind of yarn but couldn’t afford to buy it, knit it, then sell the product for a profit. So I needed to learn how to spin.

I am especially inspired by your spinning: can you give me some idea of your creative process?

I began spinning with a drop spindle in January 2008. I used this (along with hand carders) for 6 months. I used this early spun yarn for accent in my handknit scarves. In May I purchased a wheel (the Ashford Kiwi). In June I went to the Spinner’s Loft in Nova Scotia and took a wonderful 5 day workshop on the basics of spinning (I wanted to learn how to do it right, and then make it my own…) and in Oct I got a second hand Louet drum carder. By then was I confident enough about my yarn, and spinning in large enough quantity, to begin selling it.

Do you work from the fibre to your idea or from your idea to the fibre?

Sometimes I start a skein of yarn with an external inspiration – for example – a flower in my garden. Or a work of art (I still draw on my art background). Or a colour combination I see in a dress in a fashion magazine. I keep a sketchbook for ideas – colour combinations, titles etc.

Sometimes I just choose colours almost randomly and after the skein is finished I decide what it reminds me of. Often one skein of yarn leads right into another with just a slight variation.

Where do you find your fibre and how much of the processing do you do yourself (dying, carding, etc.)? What do you look for in fibre for your work?

I buy most of my fibre undyed from Louet in Ontario. I use it in its natural state – white, grey, cream, brown, black. For colour I use natural plant dyes. I use what is around me – dandelions, lily of the valley leaves, goldenrod. Or I buy natural plant dyes in powder form from Maiwa in Vancouver. I have just purchased their Cipa dyes (they are acid dyes but with fewer chemicals in them) in order to get brighter colours. I buy colourful roving from other etsy spinners. I use all types of fibre – wool – shetland and blue faced leicester are my favourite. Mohair fibre locks for texture. Plant fibres such as bamboo and hemp. Soysilk is my all time favourite. I add angelina or firestar often for a little glitter.

Can you give me more information about your spinning technique? Do you spin from batts or roving? Do you bring in locks and other materials as you spin or do you incorporate everything you will include in the yarn when you process your fibre in preparation for spinning?

I lay down a “base” colour (usually with shetland or blue faced leicester). Then I start adding more fibres for colour and texture. I then run it all through the carder one or two times depending on how much blending I want at the end. I may add more fibre locks to the batt as I am spinning so the locks will stand out even more.

What kind of spinning equipment do you use? Is there anything you want, but don’t have yet or that you have, but feel wasn’t worth the money?

I’m happy with my wheel and equipment. I’d love to have another wheel that is more portable (like the ashford “joy”). I take my wheel to craft shows and markets, and to the cabin, so more portability would be great. But a second wheel will have to wait…

I always want to make wonderful singles like some of your yarns like this one:

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But I always end up with the single being too over spun to use that way — do you have any advice on how to fix that problem?

I almost only spin singles. Plying is too regular for me. It somehow feels that it encases the yarn, binds it up, and doesn’t allow it to breathe. To avoid over spinning I think just play with the tension.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to start spinning and is inspired by your yarns?

If you want to start spinning – start with a spindle. It’s easy and cheap (I bought mine on etsy for $12.00). You learn the “feel” of the yarn. You get used to drafting. You’ll know soon enough if you want to get deeper into it. And don’t aim for perfection if that’s not the look that you want.

Your knitting is also lovely.  I enjoy your style of knitting, but I have trouble taking the full plunge into being as freeform as your work is:

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Do you have any advice on how to overcome timidity in relation to colour and how to loosen up?

I sell my knitwear. Because of this, the pattern can’t be too complicated because it would take too long to knit and I wouldn’t be able to make any money. I’ve simplified all my patterns to very basic shapes (for example, my baby pullover is basically 4 rectangles – 2 large and 2 small). The interest lies in the yarn. Be brave with your colour choices. Keep an eye out for what colour combinations are exciting to you and make note of them.

Finally I have a mundane question that always fascinates: do you make a living from your fibre art? How close are you to it? Is it a goal for you?

And yes – I basically make a living from my fibre. I teach 1 art course in the winter term at the local university but aside from that, it’s all fibre. I live in Newfoundland where it’s easier to live simply and cheaply. I sell my yarn and knitwear on etsy ( I sell in craft shops and at craft fairs [such as the Toronto One of a Kind]). I work hard. Being self-employed, and working with fibre, it’s rare for me not to have fibre in my hands from 8:00 in the morning to 11:00 at night. I’m trying this summer to cut back…

When I was in Ottawa I enjoyed the food very much, and I ate breakfast at the Moulin de Provence, which was by my hotel and enjoyed my daily latte and brioche.  I ogled, but did not sample, the dessert case:

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I must say that Barak Obama seems to be doing a fine job as president from this side of the border, but I did doubt his judgment as he was there the week previously and only got cookies like this:

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What was he thinking? I am not altogether sure they even look like food.

While I was there I also had a bit of a run in with food poisoning and didn’t feel like eating much, but I would like to nominate a new perfect food for when you have a stomach ache:

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Blueberries make everything a bit better.

I recently got rid of one of the first sweaters I ever knit.  I loved that sweater and wore it all the time.  I was the asymmetrical cardigan by Norah Gaughan published in the holiday 2004 issue of Vogue Knitting (Ravelry link, unfortunately there is no photo).

It is knit by casting on the stitches for one side of the front, then knitting over the shoulder for the sleeve and down the back.  Then the stitches for the other sleeve are cast on and the sides are knit horizontally.  The two pieces are then sewn together and the stitches for the ribbing are picked up and knit.

It really is a brilliant design, and I loved the sweater, but I was not as good a knitter as I am now.  I think it was the third sweater I ever knit, and there are some issues with it (sorry about the quality of the photo):

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Yes, the right sleeve is about 5 inches (13cm) longer than the left — hmm.

I didn’t know then, as I do now, that knitting stretches a lot more long the stitches than the rows.  I followed the pattern, but sometimes that isn’t enough: sometimes you need to understand what is happening.

I didn’t get quite the results I dreamt of, but I still loved the sweater, and why would I want to go through life without experimenting?

I just spent a few days in Ottawa.  I found it very interesting thinking about how it compares with Washington DC.  Washington is so neoclassical, while Ottawa is Gothic:

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I was very careful to check on yarn stores in Google before I went and here is what I found when I got to the yarn store near my hotel:

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Yes, that is a for rent sign in the window.

Later I went with a friend to Yard Forward & Sew On and Wabi Sabi.  I probably have been too lazy buzy to get there by myself.  They are both quite lovely, but very different, but I didn’t buy anything.

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