A sweater for a baby Lion

Posted in FO, handspun, made with handspun, spinning by tchemgrrl on March 14, 2013

Some very dear friends of ours are having a baby soon. When I was laid up with my ankle without any knitting, I decided that a baby sweater for them was just the thing to do.

Our friends are vegan and eminently craftworthy, so I used my first handspun cotton yarn, a 3×2 cabled DK-to-worsted weight yarn.

cotton postwash

I had two skeins of that size, about 170 yards all told. Just enough for a sweet little spring baby cardigan.

I used my old baby sweater standby of Paxton, making almost no changes to it except to space out the increases slightly differently. I even kept the buttonholes. A day and a half of sedentary living and Downton Abbey watching had it complete. On the weekend, when I was doing well enough to get upstairs to the button stash easily, I finished it off. Having so little uninterrupted knitting time, I forget sometimes how fast things can go when you work on them for more than 5 minutes at a go.

Sweater for Lion

It being my first cotton handspun, the fabric is a bit more rustic and knobbly than usual, but it’s soft and washable and is slightly variegated due to my switching between colors of the naturally-colored cotton on several of the plies, which will help hide baby dribbles. And having knitted it up, I’m now pretty confident that it will wear well. (Well enough for the 5 minutes that newborn clothes are worn, at least.)

I hope that baby and mamas get some good use out of it!

More not-explicitly spinning thoughts

Posted in Uncategorized by tchemgrrl on March 14, 2013

This essay speaks truth, and I’m putting it here because I need to come back to it later after thinking about how much time I spend advocating for a simpler life while accreting stuff.

A few brief things it’s making me think of:

The accumulation of stuff is a way to make it through to the next payday in case of minor emergency. If you’ve got extra groceries, extra clothes (even crummy stuff), there’s still that safety net, for yourself and also for your friends. Even though I’m not living paycheck-to-paycheck, I still have my working-class approaches.

Cleaning and sorting and winnowing and reassessing, all that needs to pretty much be a constant thing, to maintain a more minimal kind of lifestyle. The factors that play into poverty often mean that people don’t have the spoons to fight that constant fight.

It doesn’t mean that there’s not a value to getting rid of things that have no use, or things that need to be maintained that no one in a family derives pleasure from. But it’s giving me pause about some of my judginess.

A brief thought

Posted in Uncategorized by tchemgrrl on March 8, 2013

Brief because work has been high-intensity lately, and my brain’s about to leak out of my ear.

Easy and simple are not the same thing.

I was doing a spinning demo at a local yarn shop a few weekends ago, and I had a a lot of curious people asking thoughtful questions. One particular person stuck around for quite a while, and was asking the sorts of questions where I just know she’ll be a capital-S Spinner the next time I see her. Towards the end of the conversation, she sat back and sighed happily. “Now that I know how it works, it seems really simple! I just can’t do it, is all.”

And it’s true. It is simple. I’ve successfully explained spinning to four year old children, and children younger than that can grok it perfectly well, I just don’t need to explain it with pesky words. But knowing how it works, and actually doing it, are really different things.

It’s simple, but it’s not easy. At least, not at first.


The difference between simple and easy seems useful for my life in general right now. Doing right by everyone in my life–the actual behaviors are pretty obvious. But that doesn’t mean that the implementation is straightforward, or that they can be done in fewer than 24 hours per day, or with a still-imperfect ankle, or that being surrounded by people happy with me will mean I’m happy with myself. Just thinkin.’

Doin It Rong

Posted in Uncategorized by tchemgrrl on March 5, 2013

Some things you’re probably doing wrong.

Peeling bananas.

Tying your shoes. Another about shoe tying.

Drying your hands with a paper towel.

Cutting up a mango.

Personally, I enjoy being one of Today’s 10,000. Any of these types of things you’ve encountered before? I just saw the paper towel video, which is what reminded me of the others.

Aqualime Cowl

Posted in FO, handspun, knitting, made with handspun, spinning by tchemgrrl on February 22, 2013

I spun up this yarn last fall:

aqualime batt

I did some new-to-me things with the color so that one ply of the two-ply yarn would shift slowly from blue to lime, while the other ply would be more random. I really wanted to see how it would come out! (Plus, I’m running a spinning class soon for which this would be a good sample.) So I knit up a quick little cowl, and finally I can see what it did!


Pattern made up on the fly, just a razorshell pattern with a 10-stitch-wide repeat, knit over 150 stitches. I had less than a yard of yarn left at the end, so I really used every bit of the skein.

The center section is a little more green in person, more of a true halfway point between the two colors. It does have the overall effect I was hoping for, that of an obvious unidirectional trend while still maintaining some visual interest. I’d highly recommend the technique as being a way of controlling the colors in a spun yarn while still leaving some room for spontaneity.

If I were to do it again, I’d probably use fibers that weren’t quite so high-contrast to make the shift more subtle. I’d also put more of an effort into getting some of the intermediate batt layers that went into the slowly-shifting ply to have a better mixture of lime and green so that the transition between the two was slower.


Posted in Uncategorized by tchemgrrl on February 12, 2013

Let this be a lesson to all you fine crafters out there.

This morning, I was running for the bus in A Lot, as one always does. I stepped the wrong way and found myself horizontal, with an instant, very impressive, swelling about the ankle. I then got the opportunity to chat with the university EMS squad about all the interesting things you chat about to prove you didn’t bonk your head on the way down. (The EMS kids, by the way. They are very helpful but VERY ADORABLY YOUNG and insufficiently concerned with their own health. “Young man, you are wearing a short sleeved polo shirt and it is below freezing out here. You’ll catch your death,” I might have been heard to say if I were not paying so much attention to all those pain-management techniques I learned during childbirth.)

Blah blah urgent care blah x-ray blah. *Very* sprained ankle. Possible chipped bone, but no real break. Through most of this I was too busy managing pain or texting work and J to have any interest in crafty pursuits. Crutches, Ace bandage, taxi home, a brief foray around the house for essential supplies (laptop, ibuprofen, water, snacks, purse), and I found myself very comfortably ensconced. I’m not in any pain, as long as I don’t do a damn thing.

And guess what? I do not have a single project on the needles right now. None.

This is the sort of thing all those TKGA-funded 80’s after-school specials warned you about. “Don’t be caught without knitting. Ever.”

(I said this to a friend who linked to this and asked me if I would be moving on to caffeine pills in my continuing downward spiral.)

Matchin’ Mittin’

Posted in FO, knitting by tchemgrrl on February 6, 2013

I knit some mittens to go with the hat from the previous entry:


These are a standard mitten layout with an ungusseted afterthought thumb. J really liked the hat pattern and asked that I designed the mittens so as to look as similar to the hat as possible.

I started by playing around with the bottom border. The X’s around the hat were wide enough that I could have fit 3 around the mitten with minor tweaks. However, the idea of 3 pattern repeats going around a hand didn’t seem right to me. I thought that the difference between the front and back would look unintentional and odd, and I also thought that the X pattern might look more similar if it was scaled down in size relative to the hat, because the mittens are so much narrower. So I did several doodles until I came up with something that allowed 4 pattern repeats to fit around the mitten. I then centered an X across the back of the hand to more clearly display the common genes of the two items.

Symmetry! Huzzah!

jan 27 2013 053

(The X’s on the mittens are squarer because the fabric hasn’t spent as much time stretched by an enormous head.)

As you can see the final result is thematically but not precisely matching. If I’d done the mittens first I probably could have adjusted the hat more easily so that they were an exact match. But, I also think that this set tells a nice little story to someone who is looking carefully and knows handknits. Sometimes, I like having little “tells” of provenance, and these mostly-matching items have just that.

J’s review of the mittens is that they are soft, warm, match his already-beloved hat, and fit in his coat pocket, though they’re not as windproof as his thick snow-shoveling gloves. They are excellent for posing.

He's taken, ladies.

(I love this man so much.)

Colorwork Hat

Posted in FO, knitting by tchemgrrl on January 31, 2013

I know, I said last week about how I wanted to knit more big scale projects, and the next few posts will be accessories. But I have pulled out a few skeins of the yarn that will become a sweater for J, which means the sweater is practically done, right? Ah, well.

hat and mittens

If you ever make hats and don’t have the book “Hats On!”, I’d highly recommend it. I’ve knit several of the patterns and have enjoyed them all. One nice thing about the book is that Charlene Schurch did such an excellent job of making each hat in various sizes. This makes it pretty easy to mix-and-match patterns, because you can look through the book to find something that will work with, say, 140 stitches for the particular head and yarn that you’re using. This hat is a mixture of two patterns from the book, with further minor adjustments for the tighter gauge I used. The earflaps and crown shaping are from the Danish Earflap Cap, while the X pattern is the alternate colorwork pattern for the Lusekofte Hat, which J preferred over the snowflake pattern on the earflap cap.

I really like the way the earflaps are constructed. The stitches you cast on form the inner hem, and the earflaps are formed one at a time using short rows. If you’ve ever done a short-row toe or heel on a sock, it’s exactly the same thing. Then after you knit the remainder of the hem (some of which is colorwork here), you pick up stitches from the cast on edge and knit them together with the live stitches to seal up the hem. It’s a technique I learned about in this book and have used on a number of other projects.

I used navy Dale Falk left over from the toddler rainbow sweater, and bought a skein of gray Falk to coordinate. I knit it at a somewhat tighter gauge than listed on the ball band–I think I was using US 2’s, since I wanted it to be fairly windproof.

The end result was very successful. J had expressed interest in having a tassel on top and ties for the ear flaps, but I didn’t have a chance to make either, or even to wash and block the hat, because as soon as I wove in the ends he put it on his head and pretty much hasn’t taken it off since. (He’s since decided that it doesn’t need them.)

He likes that the fabric is stiff enough to allow him to do this with the earflaps when he’s indoors:

He really wears the hat like this.

When he walked into knitting group like that I could see several people trying to figure out how I had shaped the earflaps so as to get them to stick out like that.

Learning to Unlearn

Posted in spinning, toddler by tchemgrrl on January 29, 2013

There’s this concept in educational psychology that sometimes an apparent backsliding of abilities is actually linked to having taken a big step forward in understanding the conceptual framework behind the thing you’ve been doing. (There’s even a word for it, which I wish I could fish out of my head.)

Over the weekend, Toddler apparently figured out a general rule of plurals–that you can add an S to the word and then it means more than one. (I even tried the Wug Test, which he passed after a few minutes of thinking about it.)

If English wasn’t so darn complicated, he’d be done with plurals.

The only reason I noticed this developmental leap is that last night, while brushing his teeth, he looked in the mirror and pointed into his mouth. “One, two, three, foh tooth-es. Five tooths. Teeth-es. Mommy, five tooth-es?”

My brain just about imploded with developmental geekdom.

The most interesting thing, to me, was that he tried not only “tooths” but “teeths”. Which means that he already knows the correct plural of “tooth”. A week ago, he would have used the word “teeth” grammatically. This week, teeth-es. A mistake, but a mistake that lays out the workings in his head really clearly, and shows that he just learned a rule that will apply to about 95% of the nouns he’ll use. Before, he had separately memorized tooth/teeth and cup/cups and dog/dogs and deer/deer and box/boxes and spoon/spoons and all of the other nouns he knows. Knowing that there’s one rule and a few exceptions is easier to remember in the long run, but now he’s got to learn the exceptions all over again.


This being, in theory, a fiber-arts blog, I’m thinking about the ways this hooks into things I’ve seen from folks learning to spin. I think the important takeaway is this: Our brains love rules, but rules often fail us in unexpected ways.

For example: a person learns one way of putting twist into fiber to make yarn and posts a video that only demonstrates that way of doing it. Beginning spinners get that far, try it, get the idea, but then come up against various limitations of that technique (a few examples: denseness of final yarn, inability to spin thinner, being comparatively slow and unwieldy, and the fact that the technique only works for top or batts, not any carded preps like roving or rolags that can’t be stripped in the same way.)

In order to get over those obstacles, the beginning spinner needs to develop the ability to draft while there’s already twist coming at them, which is a hugely more flexible technique. Getting the hang of dealing with active twist is related to figuring out a whole bunch of spinning things–it’s the equivalent of figuring out that most plurals consist of the base word with an “s” on the end. But the first attempts, like “teeth-es”, are probably going to be more wobbly than keeping drafting and twist insertion as totally separate entities.

Grownups don’t get to spend as much time in the “beginner’s mind”, and often have a really hard time trusting in the fact that the short-term setback in quality will lead to a longer-term gain in overall ability.

Another example: The last time I remember hitting on a fiber-related stumbling block like this was when I got my charkha and started spinning cotton. The leap to one-handed double-drafting was pretty ugly, but it meant that I could spin cotton WAY faster, and led to being able to draft wool faster on a flyer wheel, in spite of the fact that I still can’t reliably do one-handed double-drafting with wool on the flyer wheel. But my brain and hands somehow translated SOMETHING from one to the other.

Anything that you’re unlearning in your life now?

2012 in Review (Spinning)

Posted in handspun, spinning by tchemgrrl on January 24, 2013

Same idea as the knitting review, but for spinning. Here’s what I’ve finished spinning in the past year, and what I notice when looking at it in aggregate.

-Aqua/Lime Batt, 2 ounces, 150 yards:

aqualime batt

-Spot Hollow Jacob, 8 ounces, 300 yards:


-Trillium, 4 ounces, 415 yards:


-Lobba, 4 ounces, 225 yards:

TdF day 4

-Silk singles, 225 yards, 2 ounces:


-Rainbow yarn, 300 yards, 4 ounces, and various plied scraps, of 45, 40, 180, 50 yards respectively (and another 100 yards not shown):

Final TdF Tally

-BFL, about 400 final yards out of a sweater-sized lot:

Black and Bluefaced closeup

-Tartan, 4 ounces, 210 yards:

tartan yarn

-Silver Batt, 4 ounces, 270 yards:


-Yak/merino, 3 ounces, 195 yards:


-Superwash wool, 3.8 ounces, 315 yards (no completed picture yet):


And some shop samples that haven’t been washed or photographed. And a bunch of samples from Abby Franquemont’s class in November (which I should talk about here because it was wonderful.)

Hot diggity. Apparently I spun about more completed yardage than I knit. That may explain the relatively low knitting output. A few of these things went into knitted projects or were given as gifts, but most of them are waiting for me in the stash. I thought the fiber box was looking a little thin, and now I know why.

Here’s where my spinning goals and knitting goals may interface a little funny. I had mentioned in the last entry that I’d like to knit a few larger-scale projects, but the handspun I’m the most excited about is the colorful, smaller-scale skeins. I did a lot of experimentation with color and how to control handdyed fibers this year, and I want to know how all those things came out before I go spouting off too much about good ways of doing these things. And I have a few more of those experiments to go before I’ll REALLY be ready to write or teach or communicate about them.

I did a lot of what I’d think of as “comfort zone spinning” this year; same as the knitting. 2 and 3 ply sport to worsted weight stuff that is fun to spin while not adding much to my repertoire. I did enjoy the experimentations with color that I did, but I mostly kept the spinning to stuff I’m pretty used to. I have a singles-heavy project that I just started working on that should expand my horizons a bit. I’m okay with what I’ve been making, though, so my main goal may be to knit up more of my handspun and learn more about it from that end. I’m okay with having a knitting-heavy year.