L’s Vest

Posted in FO, knitting by tchemgrrl on August 27, 2012

This is a new little vest for my new little niece.

L's vest

I started working on this early in the summer, but set it aside in all the Tour and Games fun. When her mom went to the hospital and was then sent home with the baby still in her, I got back to working on it in earnest, with the goal of being able to tell the universe that everything was ready and that baby L could show up Any Time Now.

She arrived after the knitting was complete, but before I’d woven in all the ends. The Universe was listening, but also impatient with my procrastination.

The pattern is Just a Little Undershirt from the summer ’09 Interweave Knits, with a few minor mods for gauge. I swore up and down that I owned this particular issue of IK, but I ultimately needed to borrow it from a knitting friend (thanks dearmary!). The drawstring is designed so that it can fit babies at various ages. Tighten it and shrink the neckline to fit a newborn, loosen it or remove entirely for a larger baby.

The pattern was fine, perfectly straightforward, and the FO turned out cute. It’s a good alternative to a baby sweater for a summertime baby, and a good not-first-child alternative to a blanket (which I’m sure my stepbrother and stepsister-in-law have TONS of from their oldest).

The purple yarn was some unlabeled sock yarn that I got in the yarn swap, the lighter color was some white Dale Baby Ull that, thanks to the slight crocking of the sock yarn, is now a lovely very pale pink. This might be the first case I’ve ever seen of bleeding yarn leading to an improvement in the FO!

Without a Net

Posted in knitting, WIP by tchemgrrl on August 21, 2012

It seems that this is a year for doing things I don’t normally do, craft-wise. I knit two of one pattern, I shed some old unpleasant possessions, I did a ridiculous amount of knitting and spinning for various games this summer.

And now I’m joining a Mystery Shawl Knitalong.

This is usually not my style at all. I like having lots of control over what I’m making (if this organizational picture doesn’t convince you, nothing will.) I’ll join a thing like the Tour de Fleece and then noodle my way independently through, teamless. So this is a stretch for me; hopefully the good kind!

The mystery shawl in question in Laura Nelkin’s Trapeze. Laura’s a local, and I love the look of her beaded patterns but just haven’t ever gotten into beads before. And really, that was about all the analysis I put into this. “Hey, I like Laura, and her patterns, and here’s a wacky thing she’s doing. Okay!”

Again, very unlike me.

A little stash diving brought up this yarn, a cone of Louet Euroflax linen yarn:


I’ve ordered beads but they haven’t come yet; they’re a sort of amber color that I think will be a nice contrast to the slate blue.

Here’s a bit of clue #1:

Trapeze Clue 1

Casting on took a few tries; smartypants me brought it to the Saturday knitting group for socializing. Mmm-hmm. Laceweight linen with an unfamiliar cast on and slippery DPNs while chatting. Right. Fortunately, Laura happened to be there this week, and helped me limp along. For this particular yarn and pattern, moving to Magic Loop was definitely required. I’m now a little more than halfway through the first clue, and at this point it’s perfectly straightforward. Fingers crossed that the other bits will go as smoothly.

How do I get started with spinning?

Posted in spinning by tchemgrrl on August 16, 2012

I see this question a lot (the impetus for this entry was a question to my spinning guild’s email). Lots of other spinners have answered this question, but I thought I’d make my own personal stab at it, too.

(First, some starting assumptions: I am assuming that a typical aspiring spinner is a person of modest-to-moderate means, without any unique physical problems, without immediate access to fiber animals, but with a general curiosity about the spinning process. If you have questions about a situation that doesn’t fit that profile, please leave a note in the comments and I’ll try to help.)

The short version, aka, “just tell me what to buy already”.

Okay, you’ve pressed me into action.

-A 1-2 ounce top whorl spindle.
-A pound of fiber in varying breeds and compositions, in 2-8 ounce units. Make at least one an undyed medium wool if you can, and start with that.
-A lesson. Or at least a good-faith Google search for “handspinning [zipcode]”, “weaving guild [zipcode]” and “fiber shop [zipcode]” before getting Start Spinning or Respect The Spindle.

Where to buy stuff:

Go looking for local sources, first of all. “Local” for something as specialized as a spinning shop is not the same as “local” for, say, groceries or gasoline. I’m fortunate to have two small spinning shops within 30 minutes’ drive, but the nearest major shop to me is probably the Mannings or WEBS depending on traffic (4.5 hours for each). Obviously I wouldn’t go that far just to make a casual day of it, but if I was about to make the couple-hundred-dollar purchase of a wheel, you can bet that I’d be down there trying a bunch of things, seeing how I felt about them. When I learned to spin, I was living in Madison WI, 20 minutes away from Susan’s Fiber Shop, and I still kick myself over the fact that I only went once (that once after I bought my first wheel. After never having touched a wheel before. It turned out okay for me, but oh, I could’ve made an expensive mistake.)

But brick-and-mortar stores aren’t the only options. We’re coming up on fiber festival season, and within 3 hours of me I know of at least 3 or 4 places to look at a whole bunch of fiber and tools at once. Even a modest fiber fair is often larger than some of these large spinning shops, and it’s a great opportunity to see what’s available in your region.

If you’re in a rush, or if you have a less expensive purchase in mind, or if you really don’t have any nearby fiber people, there are online options as well. I usually warn people away from Etsy because it’s a very low barrier to entry; it’s hard to know, as a new spinner, if the person whose fiber you’re looking at has a good reputation in the spinning world. I’ve done business with The Spinning Loft, The Fold, Susan’s Fiber Shop, and Spunky Eclectic, and have heard nothing but good things about all of them. Those are the big guys with the full page ads in Spin Off who you’ll see mentioned over and over again on the spinning boards.

If you’re in Central New York, my local sources are Susan’s Spinning Bunny* in Danby (her husband Jim is a spinner and woodworker and his spindles are some of my favorites, and a good 75% of what I spin is Susan’s hand-dyed fibers), and Spun Right Round in Cortland (Renee is really nice, knowledgeable, and her shop is quite new, so go and keep her business going, please!) (Update 2/27: I’ve now spun some of Renee’s fiber and can really truly recommend her. She does great stuff.)


I’ll list out the main options from least to most expensive, since price is usually a big issue for people new to a craft.

Most beginning spinners choose to use a spindle to spin, because of its mechanical simplicity and more easily accessible price point. That doesn’t mean it’s purely a stepping-stone tool, but it’s a reasonable starting place for many. If you do research you’ll hear a lot of stuff about top vs. bottom whorl, center vs. rim weighted, etc. Don’t worry about that stuff, for now, for the most part. You may have a preference later but it’s pretty hard to tell what that is without a little spinning practice. They’ll all make yarn.

You can make a spindle with a wooden toy wheel, a dowel, and (maybe) a cup hook, all of which can be found at big-box craft places for just a few dollars. The only downside of that process is that if there’s a problem with your setup, it may be hard to know if it’s the spinner or the tool. But! It’s damn near free to learn from your mistakes. Grab one of the larger toy wheels if you see one–the 2-inch diameter ones that are most common are a little lightweight for a beginner. It ought to look a little like this when it’s done:

silk spinning

Ready-made spindles from reputable fiber shops will range from ~$25-50 dollars for a decent-quality plain spindle. If you’re spending more than that, you’re paying for the pretty, not the function. If you’re paying less than that, you’re probably buying a toy wheel spindle as described above, and I haven’t been thrilled with the quality of the toy wheel spindles that I’ve seen compared to what a non-mechanically-inclined person could make. Ask the shop owner what they recommend for a newbie, or look for one in the 1-2 ounce or 25-50 gram range. If there’s one that your hand goes right to, get that one, even if it doesn’t quite fit into the recommendations. You’ll be spending a lot of time with it, may as well use something that pleases you.

Some people want to go right to a wheel, and that’s fine too. There’s such a huge range of options that that’s an entire other entry. Fortunately, that blog entry has already been written, by someone else. Abby Franquemont’s article on choosing a first wheel is widely cited and with good reason. Prices on most commonly-encountered functional wheels will range from ~200 (used wheel that might need a little elbow grease) to ~1200 (top-of-the-line, brand-new, hand-crafted wheel).


Buy at least 4 ounces of your first fiber, and buy 8 ounces to 1 pound of fiber with the expectation of it being a learning experience. Expect to go through somewhere between 4-16 ounces before spinning starts to make sense to your hands.

While I want a new spinner to make the assumption that the first pound will be crap, I do NOT want you to go and buy the cheapest fiber you can find simply because “it will go to waste anyway”. Crummy fiber can make you think spinning is harder than it actually is. Don’t make it hard on yourself! Find one of those sources I mentioned upthread, have a friendly chat, ask questions. They’ll set you in the right direction if they’re worth their salt.

Everyone has their favorite fiber. There are people who have learned with every type of fiber out there, even dryer lint (though dryer lint is… not ideal.). In other words, if you come across something that you absolutely CRAVE, then go for that, because you’ll be so happy playing with it that you won’t care if you make a lumpy mess. That being said, though, I’d also say that an undyed medium wool roving or top is the likeliest to be a gentle lead-in to the world of spinning. Some common breeds you might see that this would apply to are Blue Faced Leicester, Corriedale, Shetland, and Falkland. There is some stuff out there labeled as “Colonial Wool”, “Wool pool”, or just plain old “Wool”, and that stuff is almost always fine as well. I say undyed because the dyeing process can sometimes do odd things to fiber. Again, if you are allergic to a lack of color, find a reputable dealer and get him or her to put the right thing into your hands.

I also said “roving or top” up there. What are those? They are two different types of commercial preparations–in both cases, the fiber will look like a wrist-thick rope of wool, and you shouldn’t NEED to do ANY OTHER PREP to it before hooking a spindle or leader into it. There are differences between roving and top, but this is another area that’s a whole other blog entry. Suffice to say that either is fine to learn on, and you might like one or the other better once you’ve had some practice.

Some new folks find raw fiber inviting and want to learn how to do fiber processing. Like making your own spindle, there are some really cool aspects of doing this, but my only warning would be that if you are getting frustrated, to try a commercial prep to figure out if it’s the spinning or the fiber that is a problem.


Those local spinning opportunities I mentioned at the top? They probably have someone that gives lessons. Take advantage. This is another “do not do as I have done” situation; I bought a book and struggled on my own for a good long time, when I was literally living in the middle of a huge fiber community full of great resources. Stupid, stupid.

There are tons of online sources; I’m pretty active on the spinning groups on Ravelry, for example (as a soon-to-be-finished blog entry will attest). The best recommendation I have is to play for just a few minutes every day. It’s more of a muscle-memory skill, and for most people, it will be frustrating and hard and make no sense for a week to a month of daily practice, and then the light bulb will come on.

*Disclosure of Potential Conflict of Interest: I help Susan out at occasional fiber festivals. But anyone who knows me knows that my opinions are my own, and I’m not getting paid to do this. (I’m actually a terrible salesperson, I’m not sure why Susan keeps me around.)

Games Finish Line

Posted in Knitting Olympics, made with handspun, Organization, Ravellenic Games by tchemgrrl on August 13, 2012

All the knitting was completed, the inkle band was completely woven, a zipper was purchased, it’s blocking, but is not assembled. It’s not every week that both husband and child have Hand Foot and Mouth disease and I teach two workshops. Call it a silver medal, tripping on my shoelaces 3 feet before the finish line. Pictures soon. My primary goal, as for the TdF, was to reduce my time online, and I did an even better job of that the past two weeks than I did for the Tour. It feels great to be making things and feeling productive; please remind me of this sensation the next time I start living on Metafilter.

Somewhere in the middle of the muddle, I started in on organizing and cleaning my yarn and stash area (again/more). I basically haven’t done much except throw things into a different corner since 2009, and it’s really starting to show.

I’m partly dealing with the mess through stash reduction; I finished off a lot of bits during the Tour de Fleece, which opened up my Spinning WIP basket considerably, and was able to pass along another pound or so of fiber at this weekend’s fiber workshop, so I can play Yarn Tetris and figure out how everything fits together neatly. I’m a bit surprised to find myself eyeing my sewing machine, too. A few of the projects laying around are sewing ones, so I may make up some little Olympics-like goal for myself but with sewing, now that I’ve had my fun with spinning and knitting. Maybe do some sewing for 15 minutes every day for two weeks? Something along those lines. But first I need to fit all the pieces together in their respective locations.

(My real-life friends are doubtless laughing at me talking about my out-of-control stash right now, because it’s a lot smaller than a lot of people’s. But it is very messy. Before and after pictures might be in order.)

Now that the random unfinished bits are beaten down to a dull roar, I can concentrate more on figuring out the best way of organizing what’s left. We moved a little over a year ago, and the craft corner is still arranged in a very temporary way; it’s basically the same setup I had in the last 3-5 apartments, but more spread out so that what I want is never where I want it to be. It’s my goal to not move out of this house for a very long time, and that means that I can stop converting my yarn tub into a coffee table, and find a place where the yarn belongs and keep it there.

Anyone have any blog or pictures of stash organizational schemes?

Day 12 Part 2

Posted in Uncategorized by tchemgrrl on August 8, 2012

…and then I finished the knitting, looked at the hood, and realized it was way, way too small. Redo time.

Games Day 12

Posted in knitting, Knitting Olympics, Ravellenic Games, WIP by tchemgrrl on August 8, 2012

Hanging at home today with a sick-but-improving little dude, and am nearly done with the sweater knitting. Just have a few more rows of the hood, another inch or two of weaving, and then the finishing. Yippee!


Posted in knitting, Knitting Olympics, Ravellenic Games, WIP by tchemgrrl on August 5, 2012

Hokay, so sleep training now out the window because little dude has a fever; doesn’t mean that mommy’s getting any more sleep. Pictures, but little commentary, because I’m going to go to bed early in preparation.


As you can see, I finished the yoke (and was WAY off on my yarn estimates, worse than any of the other ones, but at least it was overestimated and meant I didn’t have to knit as much pink). I’ve just barely started on the hood. All is progressing as it should and I just have to stop knitting and admire it every few stripes.


A) this was me playing with the new camera–it seems great so far. B) I like how you can see the different colors of the individual plies in some parts of this one.

I continue to be way ahead of schedule–something like 2.5 days, now. The sweater’s getting a little big to transport on the bus, and my little niece is going to be showing up any second now (they’ve already gone to the hospital only to have labor peter out), so I gotta finish her vest so she knows it’s okay to come out. Sympathetic magic, y’see.

Games Day 8

Posted in knitting, Knitting Olympics, made with handspun, Ravellenic Games, WIP by tchemgrrl on August 4, 2012

Omigod this is the best sweater in the world. I might need to knit one for myself.

(Camera arrived today! Is charging. Good pictures tomorrow! Sleep training toddler=overtired, bad-sentence making momma.)

Games Day 6

Posted in knitting, Knitting Olympics, made with handspun, Ravellenic Games, WIP by tchemgrrl on August 2, 2012

More inkle-weaving, more progress on the back of the sweater, and finally did something a little different than what I’ve done for the past 4 pieces–I put T’s initials and the year on the inner hem of the sweater–a little hidden message for him.

Games Day 5

The thing that inspired this was a retrospective on Elizabeth Zimmermann’s work at the University of Wisconsin that I saw a few years ago (I believe the occasion was the 50th anniversary of Schoolhouse Press). The gallery had a wonderful variety of things, including correspondence, bits of patterns she’d written with many scribbles and codes, clips from her PBS show, and of course tons of knitted objects. Some were knit by her, others were her patterns knit or interpreted by others. There was one example of a sweater that she knit, in the round (of course), with a hemmed bottom so as to avoid purling (of course). They displayed the sweater with the hem flipped up so that you could see that she had knitted the year in a contrasting color yarn. The notes next to the sweater said that she often did this, and it’s a charming detail that tells me a lot about he as a person.

I’ve done similar things on a few other projects, now, including knitting my husband’s initials in moss stitch into the gussets of a gansey I knit for him, and incoporating my initials into the sides of a Fair Isle sweater I knit for myself. It’s a little thing that feels very important when I do it. People try to express their individuality through their clothing, and yet their clothing isn’t individualized–chances are, it was manufactured half a world away in batches of thousands. Lots of people make beautiful things that lool like many other beautiful mass-produced things, because the aesthetic in our culture is for a relatively mass-produced type of style. (Sometimes I do, too; I’m not calling anyone out here.) So it feels very important, in a deep-down hard-to-verbalize place, to make a small addition that explicitly says “this thing belonged to this particular person, at this particular time. Every bit of it was made just for them. Other people might wear it in the future, but this fact will never change.”

Games Day 5

Posted in knitting, Knitting Olympics, made with handspun, Ravellenic Games, WIP by tchemgrrl on August 1, 2012

I warped the inkle loom and wove a bit for the edging of the sweater. I’ve finished the fronts and decided to take some time to weave in ends now (partly because I couldn’t find my size 4 needle before the bus came this morning). And I’ve cast on for the back of the sweater.

My original schedule for this sweater was for the sleeves, fronts, back, and yoke of the sweater to take 3 days each, and the hood and finishing to take the final few days. I’m one day ahead of schedule if I don’t count the inkle weaving and the start on the back. Not too shabby. I probably won’t get much done tonight though–the Toddler had a rough, Mommy-requiring night last night, and I’m bushed.