I’m still down with the knitting bug. (This bout is lasting a while.) I made myself a cowl this week out of the yarn rescued from that ill-fated blue mitten:
I grew up calling these “neckwarmers” and thinking of them as fairly hideous cold-weather necessities, but now I can see why they’re so popular in the knitting community. It took just a few days of here-and-there knitting time, and it’s a cozy, useful item. Meanwhile, the knit-along shawl is still knitting along.
This was supposed to be done by the end of September, but I’m, uh, reevaluating my goals.
Otherwise, small-loom weaving has been the norm around here lately. I need to squirrel away my yarn for the winter! Here’s the naturally dyed color gamp that I mentioned planning in my last post, woven on the resurrected table loom:
I also set up the inkle loom for some tablet weaving. This was the first kind of weaving I learned, so it brings back fond memories, and the potential weave structures boggle my mind all the more now. I’m using a threaded-in draft from the Candace Crockett book that leaves some of the holes empty, producing interesting results. Photos to come!
Not much of note in the dyeing and spinning departments, though I picked up some indigo powder at Vermont Sheep & Wool, and I’ll be experimenting with that as soon as I get my hands on some washing soda. I’ve also been fiddling with some of my dyed wool on the spindle. But there’s another new project I’m excited about: learning to make hairpin lace! I got a secondhand Jenkins lace loom and am trying to get my hands used to a crochet hook.
I haven’t done much crochet of any kind before, but there are also a few non-lace patterns I’ve got my eye on. One is for a crocheted guinea pig, because of my new furry friends:
It would be tough to spin their fur, but otherwise, these little guys make the perfect pets: they sit tamely on your lap and make endearing noises while you knit. What could be better on a chilly autumn evening?
You may think I’m kidding, but the fiber arts can lead you down a perilous road. Mostly due to the interesting diversions along the wayside.
My friend chopsticknitter has already posted a batch of pictures from the Twist festival in her blog, so I’ll be brief in my review: it was lots of fun, and it has indirectly provided me with more potential blogging content than I know what to do with. In terms of fiber, I stocked up on Shetland, Cheviot, alpaca, and even a bit of bison. (For the sake of my dignity, this indecent haul will not be pictured.) My favorite, though, is the tiny sample of qiviut that is now occupying my supported spindle. This is shockingly beautiful stuff.
Of course, I have to mention our trip to the loom room. After the greedier other members of my group appropriated the most exotic looms, I found my way to a Fanny just like my own, but pre-warped and conveniently unattended.
We also passed a room that had clearly been occupied by a dyeing workshop, which would have been fun to take. I’ve always been fascinated by natural dyeing. After getting back from the festival, and having picked up all that springy Cheviot, I wound off a batch of ten-yard skeinlets for my schemlets.*
To date, I’ve experimented with lac, madder, cutch, logwood, pomegranate, turmeric, chamomile, and some rather unsightly black beans. Aside from the lac, these are all plant dyes. (Lac dye comes from a bug-produced resin, making it less icky than dyeing with cochineal, which involves grinding up bugs. I might not mind, but my significant other is concerned that we might find dried insects scattered around the kitchen. He’s probably right.) Anyway, I think the sample skeins will be perfect for weaving a color gamp or two.
“But, tintinnael,” you may ask, “how will you weave any gamps? Isn’t your loom already occupied?”
Well, yes, it is:
But on Saturday, my mother happened to come across this dainty creature gathering dust in the corner of a weaving shop in Vermont. As soon as I saw it, it was love.
It’s a two-shaft counterbalance table loom, toy-sized but fully functional. I’ve seen similar looms on Etsy and eBay, but usually in worse condition for higher prices. (Worthy of note: this one was twenty bucks.) It came intact with a wooden reed and two functioning ratchet-and-pawl mechanisms on the front and back beams. The only things missing: heddles and heddle bars, i.e., string and sticks. So I spend an hour tying string heddles and hacked some dowels to size. To stabilize my makeshift shafts, I tied the lower bars to one another, going underneath the roller at the center of the loom. I’m not sure if this is the originally intended configuration, but it seems to work just fine. And to change the shed, all you have to do is flip the lever on the top of the loom.
Here are some close-up shots of the riggings:
Although it looks delicate, I am pleased to report that the little loom holds up to a good amount of tension. I wouldn’t use it to make floor rugs, but tiny tapestry samples are not out of the question. (Also, I’m careful to take the tension off the warp after every weaving session, a suggestion I read somewhere and have internalized to the point of neurosis. Fellow weavers, is this good practice?)
So, my next project seems likely to be a natural-dye gamp on this little charmer. See how one thing leads to another? There’s no hope for any of us fiber folk.
If you’ve made it this far into my rambling post, you may be interested to see my brand-new Twitter page, also linked from the sidebar to your right. I’m starting to get into the tweeting habit: if you’re there, let me know!
My half-handspun Nightingale adaptation is now progressing nicely. I think the design is more succesful with this combination of yarns, at least on an aesthetic level, but I’m not sure the mittens will fit my monstrously large hands. I’m holding out hope for a bit of blocking magic.
Also on the Coffee Table of Crafting, a small piece of cross-stitch that I made from a kit picked up at the local Highland Games. Making something from a kit led to much rumination on the nature of creativity, and whether I was actually adding anything new to the world, and whether making a project from a kit is the same as using someone else’s pattern and following their yarn specifications, and whether there is any point to changing something just for the sake of changing it, and why it’s easier not to follow “recipes” in weaving (no shaping! …generally), and then– I decided not to worry about it. So here is my Wee Hieland Coo. (I kid you not, that was the name of the kit. This may have played a role in my purchasing decision.)
As it turned out, I did wind up placing my own personal stamp on the project. After a few days of carefully managing every last thread, I misplaced the whole glob of it just as I was finishing the cow’s head. Rather than wait until the weekend to go thread-hunting, I dug into my embroidery box for some close-enough floss. So, this is a blonder Hieland Coo than some– but according to Wikipedia, they come in all shades of orange to yellow! Of course, I found the missing floss immediately after completing the project. (It was stuck between the pages of my mitten pattern.)
Also on the coffee table, another knitting project has mysteriously appeared. I can’t figure out how this happens. I keep telling you, I’m not a knitter!
In loom-land, my warp is still… well, with another half hour’s work, I should be up and weaving again.
Now, on to the museum. This is becoming something of a theme on the blog. Last weekend I went to this delightful little museum, which fills up the floor of an old stone church with beautiful stained glass, various artisanal works, and a few artifacts of interest to textile folks:
My significant other thought it was funny to see a glass case full of things that I use all the time. (He’s learning to identify the different tools and even to recognize quality!)
Sadly, there were some errors in the labelling, in both French and English. This cute little artifact was identified as a spindle, though it is, of course, a distaff. I am considering contacting the museum to let them know.
But the real treasure of the visit was from the gift shop:
Yes! A book all about the ceinture fléchée, complete with instructions for finger weaving a number of different traditional designs. I think this is becoming a mini research project of mine. They had a nice example on display, too:
Already I’m eyeing my baskets of yarn bits and dreaming of inkle-loom adaptations. But it will have to wait for a bit: tomorrow it’s off to the races, by which I mean the Twist fiber festival, with friends chopsticknitter and starweaving.
And yes, the inkle loom is coming along for the ride.
Alas, the blue mitten is no more. I picked it up again this week and came face to face with a dismal truth: the colors just weren’t going to fly. The colorwork bird was completely indistinguishable.
Dismayed perusal of other blogs and various media led me to the conclusion that I should have used different colors in the first place. Other possible fixes– say, swapping the main yarn and the variegated yarn– wouldn’t solve the real problem: there just isn’t any contrast in hue or value between most of the colors (while the lime green contrasted rather too enthusiastically).
This time around, I’m trying the variegated handspun on a white background, although I admit that I didn’t rip out the sad blue mitten until I was well into the new version. It’s something to do with potential: I couldn’t bring myself to take apart the old mitten until I was more invested in it being a ball of string than an object, even a flawed one. (Does that make sense? Are you the same way?) At any rate, here’s how the colors look together:
As of this writing, I’m nearly at the end of the thumb gusset, and am pleased to report encouraging results thus far.
Despite my frustrations in the knitting realm, I seem to keep coming up with new reasons to knit. A few days ago I finished the last spinning project that was started during the Tour de Fleece, a hefty skein of 3-ply that’s really a knitting yarn. What would you do with a couple of hundred yards of strongly marled (say not barberpole!), worsted-weight merino?
Otherwise, spinning has slowed down to a more manageable pace. I rearranged the living room furniture last weekend so that I have a Weaving Corner and a Spinning Corner, but since my supported spindle came in the mail a couple of days ago, I’ve spent rather more time in the Couch Corner.
I have a chained warp sitting on the loom bench, just waiting to be beamed and threaded. I’ll tackle that as soon as I can, since this month may be the calm before the fluffy storm: I’m hoping to go to three of the fall fiber festivals this year, and to join the local weaving guild as soon as mysterious renovations to their location are completed, and embark on myriad small projects. If all goes well, some of them might actually get done.
One of the problems I’m having in the studio is pacing myself. I want to try everything, all at once, while simultaneously mastering every detail. (I think there’s a contradiction inherent to this sentiment.)
Lately, I’ve been drawn to the allure of fiber preparation. Not having any raw fiber handy, I consoled myself with combing together an ounce apiece of baby camel down and tussah silk. I took to my trusty Ashford spindle with the resulting globs of fluff. I think this will turn into a weft yarn for a warp of some leftover Tencel that I have lying around.
I used a dog slicker for the actual blending. Here’s a comparison of the fibers before spinning:
I’ve also been trying to learn different methods of drafting on the spinning wheel. Strangely enough, I’ve got my antique wheel to a point of relative stability, and it’s spinning well. I’m still planning to take the flyer in for a permanent repair as soon as possible, but with a little bit of shimming here and there, things are moving just fine.
I’m comfortable with a couple of different drafting techniques on a spindle, but the options for wheel spinning are numerous and new to me. I’m working my way through the techniques in the DVD A Spinner’s Toolbox, and discovered that what I’ve been doing naturally is actually a variant of woolen spinning. (When I heard Judith MacKenzie say that everyone is either a worsted spinner or a woolen spinner, it was as the footsteps of doom. Worsted spinning seems the logical choice for most of the projects I want to make. But this long-draw thing is… weirdly compelling.)
In fact, spinning with a short forward draw at all presents me with some ergonomic challenges. Why? Well, on my wheel, the mother-of-all on my wheel sits to the left, and I treadle with the right foot. But my hands are used to spindle spinning, where I hold the fiber in my left hand and draft with the right.
The technique I’ve slipped into could be classed as an attenuated long draw. It’s not ideal for what I want to do (spin warp yarn), but it should work.
I’ll still probably have to figure out how to draft left-handed– not a bad idea in any case– but I think it will take some time to get my hands coordinated.
This is the resulting yarn, before washing:
I did whip up a woven sample with some of the wheel-spun yarn. This was a one-morning warping job: 60 ends go fast. I took the opportunity to work on my plain weave, which is a surprisingly challenging thing. Any unevenness in the beat or selvedges sticks out like a sore thumb.
Since the warp was short, and I was weaving at ten picks per inch, I had the sample off the loom and into the bathtub in no time.
I can’t actually wear much wool (due to a strong inclination to sneeze), so this will remain in the Basket of Interesting Experiments, but I do have an official Finished Project to share. I’ve been knitting this hat on the sly as a gift:
I’m surprised to find that I really enjoy knitting stranded colorwork. Innumerable possibilities present themselves.
Now, it’s time to get ready for the Tour de Fleece. More to come!
You know that the Almighty Fluff has taken over your life when, on a vacation, the first thing you do is scope out the local yarn shop.
Naturally, when I went to Quebec City for a few days, one of my first stops was this store. I treated myself to some delicious (and affordable!) alpaca, which also happened to match the tea set in my hotel room. I think this justifies the purchase.
I also spent lots of time touring the touristy historical district, and found all sorts of handwoven goods to admire: napkins, placemats, and so on, but also some interesting-looking objects that I assumed were scarves. But after seeing them at a number of shops and booths, I started to wonder: they were everywhere, and each one had a different maker’s tag. Clearly, this was some sort of cultural… thing… that I wasn’t getting. (You know what else I didn’t get? Photos. In retrospect, I wish I had, but I found one on ever-useful Wikipedia.)
A bit of Google research has answered some questions as well as increased my curiosity. Apparently, what I saw were examples of the ceinture fléchée, a piece of folk costume with some historical significance. (Other useful keywords turned out to include Métis sash, Assomption sash, arrow sash, and voyageur sash.) Traditionally finger-woven (!), these seem to be commonly produced now on hand looms. Interestingly enough, one of the people (or the person?) responsible for re-popularizing the sashes in the early twentieth century seems to have been none other than the Edmond Massicote of my previous post. (In more recent years, this appears to be a responsibility of the terrifying Bonhomme Carnaval.)
Anyhow, I’m planning to do much morereadingaboutthese, so you can expect to hear more from me in future posts!
For the moment, back to the vacation. I found some other interesting craft-related goodies that I didn’t photograph: a spinning wheel faintly visible from the window of a closed antique shop, for one, that induced a number of hopeful visits until we finally managed to find the store open. It was a cute little Canadian wheel: unmarked, screw tension, all wood, looking to date from the early nineteenth century. Fun to visit, although I didn’t wind up taking it home with me. (This is not to say that part of my mind didn’t consider it. It would have fit on the train!)
My hotel also happened to have some especially endearing hosts in the breakfast room:
Now that I’m home, I’m itching to get back to the loom, but there’s just one more needly project in the works. In keeping with my goal to Enjoy Knitting, Dammit, trying out a knit-along seemed like the thing to do. Also, it’s a puzzle: you don’t find out what the shawl looks like until you finish it. I always liked a mystery.