Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Knitting History

     Over the past few weeks a couple of the podcasts I listen to have featured stories about how the pod-caster's started knitting.  Honestly, most of them are fairly new to knitting, and really new to spinning.  On the other hand, I have been knitting for many, many years, probably at least 55 years, maybe longer.  I don't quite remember ever not knitting.  I came from a family of knitters.  My mother was an exquisite knitter, knitting beautiful, all-over cabled sweaters, lovely socks and really nice earflap hats.  Obviously she knit during the decades that knitting was not particularly fashionable, the 40s and 50s.  There were yarn shops around, and a few magazines and books, but several of her patterns were hand written, and others, I believe improvised.
      I am not sure where my mother  learned to knit.  I don't believe that her mother knit, but possibly another relative taught her as both her grandmother and great grandmother lived in her house when she grew up. Every summer my grandmother and my mother and her siblings traveled back to Brantford, Ontario to visit my Grandfather's family.  It is also possible that she learned to knit during the years she lived in remote parts of Canada with her first husband, or when she lived in Gotenburg, Sweden during the Second World War.  I am pretty sure that knitting was a bit more prevalent in both Canada and Sweden than in Lynn, Massachusetts, where she spent her first 13 years, and as the wife of a Royal Canadian Air Force Officer she may have belonged to a knitting group in some of the places that she lived.
     But, my mother did not teach me to knit.  She was an absolute perfectionist, and would have never tolerated the inadequacies of a small child learning to knit.  My Aunt Irene, one of my father's sisters, taught me to knit when I was about 5.  I clearly remember sitting on the couch in our living room , with Irene beside me, and knitting first a garter stitch strip, then a little hat, and eventually small sweaters for dolls.  They were all knit in the same grey yarn, which as I recall was a Shetland type wool, probably sport or fingering weight.  I remember knitting mittens with Fair Isle-ish snowflakes, but I think Aunt I knit the thumbs for me.  I continued to knit, and believe me, knitting was totally NOT cool in the 60s, but I think it may have become a bit cool in the Hippie days, when I was in college during the late 60s and early 70's.  As a cross-country skier in college I had plenty of opportunity to knit and wear Scandinavian type hats and gloves for myself and for friends.
    When my children were born I started knitting pretty obsessively, in fact I have two big plastic bins of small knitted items that I made for them, and I can think of a number of items that I made as gifts or items that I knit for my own kids and gave away.  In the early 70s I started quilting as well, but quilting is not as portable as knitting, so I usually had a hat or mittens for travel somewhere handy.
     I got my first drop spindle in 1974 as a gift from an old boyfriend.  We had a small yarn shop in Canton NY that had some spinning items, and had really lovely yarn as well.  I never learned to spin very well, though I would get the spindle out every so often and give it a try.  When we moved to Vermont in 2002, I met a few spinners, signed up for a class at Fletcher Farm Craft School in Ludlow, VT and bought my first and second wheels, possibly the same week.  Wheel One is a tiny upright "cottage" wheel, probably locally made, that I got in a little, kinda junky Antique mall.  It was certainly not a good beginner wheel, though I enjoy spinning on it now.  Later the same week I saw an ad in the paper for a spinning wheel in a yard sale not too far away.  I went up to check it out, but it was a very large, ornate Kromsky Saxony wheel.  Not something I could sneak in the house easily. It was obvious by the amount of yarn and looms, etc in the yard sale that the woman was an obsessive knitter and spinner, so I asked if he had, perhaps, a smaller wheel for sale.  She took me downstairs into her cellar bathroom, which held three very large, very furry, and very energetic Australian Shepherds, and one Majacraft Rose Spinning wheel.  She quoted a price that I though was exorbitant until I went home to look up Majacraft wheels on the internet.  I called her right back and drove back up to her house and bought the wheel.  The Rose is still my workhorse wheel, the wheel that I use every single day.  Of course I now have more wheels, and enough drop spindles of every sort to sink a ship, but honestly, I am not a drug addict or and alcoholic, so what harm is there in having too many wheels?

Thursday, August 4, 2011


Tour de Fleece spinning
    This year I decided to join the Tour de  Fleece on Ravelry.  Generally speaking, I am not much of a joiner.  I like to do my own thing at my own pace and I don't particularly like rules.  TdF is pretty straight forward.  During the Tour de France, this year from July 2 until July 24 one makes a spinning goal and tries to attain that goal.  There can be rules, lots of them,  and there are also prizes for  following those rules and reporting to Ravelry about one's progress; but I decided to just set a goal and try to reach it.  There are also teams, lots and lots of teams.  Although I seriously considered the HelloYarn/ Spunk Eclectic/Southern Cross Fibers Team, because I belong to both the HY and Spunky fiber clubs,  instead I joined Team Trindle.  I have a couple of Trindles, a rather innovative top whorl spindle, and I really enjoy spinning on them.  Also I planned to be on vacation in Rhode Island during a good portion of the TdF, so wheel spinning was out of the question.
Trindle spinning, merino silk

Jenkins Kuchulu spinning, cormo...for a sweater!

Navajo Churro

Spunky Eclectic Periwinkle , organic Merino

Hatchtown low whorl, not sure what fiber

   My goal was pretty straight forward.  I wanted to finish a couple of projects that were currently on spindles; to finish the current wheel project, a Spunky Club project, and to learn to  spin silk caps and hankies, using my trindles.  Did i meet those goals?  Well, in a word, no.  But I did spin A LOT, and I did spindle spin, A LOT. Did I learn to spin silk caps and hankies?  Not a bit.  Much of the time I concentrated on knitting the wedding shawl, particularly the technical difficulties that I had with the bride's shawl.  But I enjoyed my TdF spinning, and I accomplished quite a bit.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Canadian Production Wheel

  Last week a Canadian Production Wheel came to live at my house.  She is a beauty and she spins like the wind.  I have been fascinated by these lovely wheels for over a year; they are relatively available, reasonably priced and spin well.  Finding a wheel is not  a problem, I see them at The Merlin Tree booth at fiber festivals, on Craig's List and on Ebay.  This particular wheel came from the long time owner of the wheel who happens to own a small Antique shop in a nearby town.  The wheel was not actually for sale, it was just in the shop so that the owner could spin while the shop was quiet.  And she had spun on it for may many years, I am guessing since the 30's.  Over a year ago I was in the shop, which is rarely open, and I asked about the wheel, she let me spin on it, and honestly I was not impressed.  I asked if she would sell it anyway, though I was not seriously interested, and the price was, honestly, unbelievably low.
Tilt tension

Wheel hub

Mother of All

  Over a year went by, every time I went through the small town the shop was closed, and I thought perhaps that the woman had passed away.  Then, early last week the shop was open so I went in.  The wheel was still there, still not really for sale, and was a lot dustier; in fact, part of a plaster wall had collapsed in it, so we had to dig it out.   I asked if it was for sale ( and I knew it would probably be the only sale that week, if not that month) and the owner quoted the same low price.  I bought her, brought her home, bathed her in Murphy's Oil Soap and made a new drive band.   Then I sat down to spin and I am in heaven.  She's fast and smooth and spins fine, smooth yarn in a flash.  I posted her picture on Ravelry and within minutes found out that she was built by Fred Bodura in St Hyacinthe, Quebec, probably in the early 20th century.  She is an unmarked wheel and a tuplet ( past a quintuplet and sextuplet...) there are many just like her attributed to  the same family of wheel makers.  Since many CPWs have names, hers is Annette.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The finish line

Three of the bridesmaid's shawls
     THE WEDDING is fast approaching, and lest anyone doubt my ability to knit 5 shawls in about 5 months, including the spinning of the yarn for one of them; as well as the total destruction and reconstruction of one, I am on the home stretch.  They are gonna happen.  The wedding is gonna happen ( I hope) and the bride as well as 4 bridesmaids will be wearing hand knit shawls.  I will not bore you with the harrowing events leading up to the completion of the shawls; the two emergency, last minute trips to Webs, the washing and rewashing the silk/cashmere shawl to get out that silk cocoon smell, the total change of patterns, twice, and the current conundrum of two of the bridesmaids shawls being considerably larger than the other two ( never fear, they will be ripped back to the 10th pattern repeat and the lace edging reapplied.)  Traumatic, yes, appreciated, I damn well hope so.  Will I ever knit another shawl?  Actually, I took a break from wedding shawl knitting while I was on vacation and knit a small shawl for myself as well as a baby sweater for one of the bridesmaids.  Will I do this again?  Yep, and I will most likely have that opportunity sometime  in the next few years.  Pictures, you betcha'
Blocking bridesmaid shawl # 3

Blocking the edge

Beads instead of nupps on the lily-of-the-valley pattern
After blocking

Friday, June 10, 2011

Squam Art Workshops

    I spent June 2 through 6 at Squam Art Workshops at Rockywold/Deep Haven Camps in Holderness, New Hampshire.  What an amazing few days!  Between the splendid natural beauty, the creative and stimulating people, the great classes, three meals a day served in a dining hall and free beer each evening it was just an outstanding experience.
   SAW happens twice a year, Spring and Fall, and the Spring workshops are mostly fiber related.  Along with the full gamut of knitting classes there was printmaking, embroidery, pattern-making, sewing, a bit of carpentry, Yoga , spinning and crochet.  The teachers were all rockstars in their fields and everyone I spoke with thoroughly enjoyed the classes.  I loved mine!  I took two days of Printmaking classes, a day of linoleum printing with Lizzie House and a day of botanical prints using freezer paper stencils with Maya Donenfeld.  The third day was an all day class with Ysolda Teague on The Perfect Sweater.  It was a class about fitting and adapting sweater patterns so that they will both fit and flatter.  It was a long and uncomfortably cold class, much of it spent huddled around the fireplace in the Playhouse, but it was totally awe inspiring.{Interestingly, my class the following day was in the same building, and we discovered there is a HUGE electric space heater there, and we were toasty warm!}  I was able to purchase Ysolda's  brand new book Little Red in the City, which we used as a text for our future sweater endeavors.
My porch
Greenwood Lodge

My room, very monastic, but cozy
Greenwood living room

Happy Hour and Knitting do mix!
   My cabin was called Greenwood.  I was there because I requested a single room, and what a room it was; a room with a balcony overlooking Squam Lake.  The cabin slept 20 people and we had an amazingly diverse group, first timers, mothers and daughters, friend, total strangers.  We also had two people staying off campus, Judy and Gretchen, who adopted our cabin as a place to hang out.  Most everyone knit and our cabin was used for classes by Gudrun Johnston during the day, and also one afternoon for a discussion of writing and knitting by Barbara Delinsky, who was a Squam attendee

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Sunday, April 3, 2011

And the beat goes on, and on and on.

    I am on the very last row of shawl number 2.  Next I have to crochet about 9,000 edge stitches and block this baby.  It has been a fun  knit, and though it is close, I don't think I am going to run out of yarn.  The brides shawl yarn is spun, skeined and washed.  It is really lovely, and I think I will knit that shawl next, partly to get it over with, and partly because I need a challenge in my life right now.
     The real problem with knitting 5 of one thing is that I miss the variety of knitting a bunch of small projects; socks, hats, mittens.  I started 3 little things in my Nancy Bush Estonian knitting classes, but I haven't allowed myself to finish any of those items.  When I see the finished projects of my classmates on Ravelry I get really jealous.  But I suppose some of them would like to be knitting wedding shawls. This is just a quick post to let some of you know I am still alive.  Pictures of Shawl 2 tomorrow!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Monoganomous Knitting

     I am a pretty big fan of monogamy.  I have been married for many, many years, and find it hard to imagine my life otherwise.  I have been married long enough to have a 29 year old daughter who is getting married on 9-10-11.  I almost always drive a Subaru (though not at the moment); Pink Ladies are my favorite apples, Newcastle my favorite beer, and I love Vermont Cabot Seriously Sharp Cheddar Cheese, though it no longer likes me very well. It is rare for me to deviate from my favorite things. But knitting monogamy has not really entered my life until recently.  I am knitting wedding shawls.  Six of them.  One for the bride out of cashmere/silk handspun which has been be spun by the bride's mother- who would be me; and five others for the bridesmaids.  There are only 4 actual bridesmaids at the moment, but I am making 5 shawls, in case of some unforeseen emergency.
     The way I usually handle my knitting projects is pretty simple .  I have stay-at-home projects and on-the-go projects.  Stay-at-home projects are those that are either too large and unwieldy or to complicated to knit when I am away from home.  Right now the stay-at-home project is  Girasole which is a lovely circular shawl designed by Jared Flood based on Elizabeth Zimmerman's Pi shawl.  It is knit in Green Mountain Spinnery Alpaca Elegance in the color Cappuccino.  It is a wonderful yarn and a great pattern.  But the damn thing is going to be about 70 inches in diameter and it is very heavy.  Not only that, one must count every stitch and every row. Currently there are about 600 stitches on each row and I am about half way done.  Not a traveling project.  In fact it is upstairs in my sewing room (where I rarely sew), resting.  Then I usually have a travel project.  This is something pretty small, preferably that fits in my purse, requiring no mental acrobatics and not on size 000 needles.  It is usually a sock, a plain vanilla sock, knit on size 2.25 needles, in some self patterning sock yarn.  Recently I knit 5 Koolhaas hats as holiday gifts, and after the first hat, they became travel items.   It is rare for me to have more than 2 projects on the needles at a time.  It happens, usually only after taking a class, when I start a couple of projects and am anxious to finish them before I forget what I learned.  I recently took 3 day classes from both Ann Hanson and Nancy Bush.  I started 3 projects with each teacher, and haven't touched any of them since I took the classes.  That is just how devoted I am to these wedding shawls.  My current on-the-go project is a 6th Koolhaas hat.

     The first problem , of course was choosing both the yarn and the patterns for the shawls.  After several false starts on both accounts I settled on the Icarus shawl in the Aracaunia Rialto solid yarn .  I bought 2 skeins of each of five colors at Webs in Northampton, MA and I was pretty sure that I would have enough yarn for each shawl.  But no, I ran out of yarn on the first shawl 14 rows from the end, so ordered another skein of  3 of the 5 colors.  Two colors where out of stock, so those shawls will be slightly smaller.  The first shawl is complete and blocked and I'll show you a picture of the colors as well:
     The bridesmaid's dresses are champagne, so I wanted to add a bit of color, but not too much.  Because theses colors are tonal as well as hand dyed they look fairly similar.  Though each color says that all 3 skeins come from the same dye lot, they do vary a bit.  We are calling that a design feature.  The lavender one has about 20 rows of each skein alternated, and that makes a nice transition.  I completed the first shawl in 10 days, but the second is taking longer because I went off to Burlington, Vermont to take a 3 day class from Nancy Bush on Estonian knitting.  And ski season is wrapping up as well, so I have to get in all the hours that I can on the slopes.  The yarn for the bride's shawl is complete.  It is Antique white, as is her dress, so the combination should be lovely.  Natalie's shawl is in the Swallowtail pattern by Evelyn Clark.  I had originally planned to make Nancy Bush's Summer shawl, but Nancy thought the silk/cashmere was too heavy for her pattern.  It is a heavier yarn than the Rialto, but Natalie's dress is strapless and she is always cold, so we are going with a more substantial shawl for her.  Knitting these shawls is not just a labor of Love, but a real lesson in perseverance.  At this point I am still enjoying the process.  I just hope the bride appreciates the results.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Knitting Podcasts

    I think that over the past two years I have listened to almost every knitting podcast out there.  And I really like very few of them.  Not sure why.  Maybe I was lucky to discover Brenda Dayne's  Cast On early in the game, and that set the bar really high, so consequently much that followed has been disappointing.  Maybe I just don't really like the genre, and I keep trying to find the perfect podcast, but in actuality I just don't like listening to short dis-jointed productions about other folks knitting frustrations.
    There are several things I do know about the podcasts that I enjoy.  I like single person podcasts.  I have tried some that have two  participants and I never like them, even though according to iTunes they are extremely popular.  I like good music.  Not all podcasts have music, but many have music that really sucks.   Sticks and Strings, about a bloke who knits from Australia,  has great music, as does Cast On, and it has good variety as well.
      If I am listening to a knitting podcast I want it to be about knitting. Both Cast on and Sticks and Strings have a lot of knitting content and just enough personal content to make the podcaster human without divulging every deep dark secret about their personal life.  I know that David Reidy teaches at a secondary school and has two cats named Tigger and Tiger and I know Brenda Dayne lives in Wales with her partner Tania.  Do I need to know more?  No, not really.  Coincidentally both podcasts often have book recommendations along with knitting content, and I am usually not a fan of their book choices.
     I like a podcast that is easy to listen to.  It needs good quality sound and a podcaster who can pronounce all the words they are saying.  I once, and only once, listened to a podcast by a youngish woman somewhere in the mid-west.  It was obvious she never even attempted to find the proper pronunciation of anything.  Not only that, she didn't really have a good grasp of the English language.  It might have been funny if it had not been so very sad.  Though it was excruciatingly awful to listen to, I got as far as the fifth time she used the word "tutoral" for the word "tutorial".  This particular episode was about on-line tutorials of knitting processes.  It had the potential to be pretty interesting as there are many on-line tutorials and youtube videos, and their quality varies considerably. But I just could not listen to all of it, and I would not have trusted her judgement. 
    Perhaps my current favorite podcast is Fiber Beat.  It is by a guy from California called WonderMike.    This guy has it all.  Great sound quality, fiber smarts, good connections and knitting videos.  He usually interviews some knitting/fiber rockstar and, though the interviews are obviously a bit staged, they are always interesting and fun.  And the music is to die for.  I do not know how this guy digs up the sound bites that he has on the show, but they are always great.
    I need to mention two other podcasts that I listen to regularly;  Spin Doctor and The Electric Sheep.  Spin Doctor has improved over the past year.  The first time I listened I almost said never again... but I persevered and the show quality, sound quality and content has improved.  I even joined the Ravelry group and plan to participate in a spinning exploration of rare breeds over the next year.  The Electric Sheep is pretty silly.  It has some knitting content that is interesting, but it is the voice that I like.  This woman was in one of my classes at Knit Camp in Scotland and she just has the voice of an angel; a very refined British accent, crisp and clear and you can bet she never mispronounces anything.
     I am not here to tell you about the podcasts that I do not like.  Quite honestly one of the things that I dislike about some podcasts is the "reviews" of fiber related items.  I think the knitting world is just too small to do that.   The person whose fiber or equipment you are reviewing is apt to be listening, and to be really offended if you give it a bad review.  I'm not here to "review" podcast, just to tell you about the ones I like. Some of the most popular knitting podcasts are among the ones I like the least.  After all "one man's trash is another man's treasure".

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A New Year

     2011 looks to be a good year.  Last year was just fine, as years go, and I am hoping that all goes well this year.  I have some exciting knitting and spinning plans for 2011; classes to take, projects to complete and events to attend.  Maybe I will even keep my blog updated so whoever reads this can come back at me in December and remind me what I had planned!
    Classes to take...  At this time the only ones I have on my schedule are a three day Nancy Bush class at Northeast Fiber Arts in Williston VT which is happening in March and Squam Art Workshops in June.  I have long been a fan of Nancy Bush.  Because I love history, particularly textile history, she is my superstar.  I own all her books and have knit many of her patterns.  I particularly love her articles in Piecework Magazine. When I was at Knit Camp last summer I got to have breakfast with Nancy a few mornings, and we reminisced about our long phone calls when I was in Alaska and I called her for yarn and patterns, and well... conversation.  It was in the days before knitting was popular, and not too many people on the island where I lived actually knit. So I am pretty excited about those classes.  And in June I am going to Squam Art Workshops for the first time.  I have read about it in the past , but it is a kind of pricey event so I never really investigated too too seriously. This year I decided to just do it.  I actually visited the Rockywold/Deephaven Camps where Squam Art Camps is held last Fall when I was investigating locations for my daughter's wedding.  Although it was a perfect venue, our date was not available. I am taking three classes, and surprisingly, they are not all knitting classes.  I am taking Block Printing, The Perfect Sweater with Ysolda Teague and Botanical Printing.  I actually have a college degree in Printmaking, but haven't done anything with it in the past 40 years, so I guess it is time to plunge back into it!  In addition to these fun events I am looking into a class with Cookie A and Anne Hanson that will be held in Albany in February.  Since we are in the middle of a big blizzard I have not heard whether there is space available in that class.
     Projects to complete... I'm kinda screwed on this one.  My daughter is getting married in September (9-10-11) so I am knitting shawls, one for the bride, for which I am spinning 2000 yards of white silk/cashmere roving which is to become Nancy Bush's lily of the valley triangle shawl.  Then I am knitting 4 different rectangular lace-weight champagne colored shawls for the bridesmaids.  Screwed?  Yep, for certain.  No other knitting or spinning projects for me this year, at least until September 11!  If I do knit anything else it will be from my own handspun.  Progress so far:  I have spun about half of the silk/cashmere, plied none of it and I have chosen and received approval for all four bridesmaid's shawls, though I have only acquired yarn for one shawl so far.  For anyone who has ever knit for a bride, you know that is one serious obstacle overcome.
   Events... Well, I will undoubtedly attend fewer fiber events than last year. Or maybe not.  New Hampshire Sheep and Wool is a for sure even though the weather is apt to be miserable, and several of my favorite vendors no longer attend, I'll be there.  Maryland Sheep and Wool; that's a thought because my son now attends college in Maryland, but no, I don't think so. Massachusetts Sheep and Wool...for sure. Vermont Sheep and Wool, oh yea...  Last year was great, it's on my birthday, and the new location in Tunbridge, Vermont is wonderful.  Southern Adirondack Fiber Festival; yep, on the List.  Rhinebeck;  nope, not again.  New England Fiber Festival at the Big E in Springfield Mass.  I'll be there.
    2011.. looks like a very good year.  Now I better get back to that damn white roving.  At least it is a dream to spin.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

More 2010

Koolhaas hat by Brooklyn Tweed, knit in Green Mountain Spinnery mystery yarn

Cedar Leaf Shawlette Mountain Colors Bearfoot

Detail; Cedar Leaves

Clapotis for the Clap-o-Tea

Citron in Ball and Skein Lace

Tea Leaves Cardigan  in Madelinetosh Worsted

Upstairs... in Poems Sock Yarn
End of May Hat; Merino/Cashmere , lined in merino/cotton

Wee Shetland Shawl in Smith and Jamieson Spindrift

Handspun/ Navajo Plyed Three Water farm BFL
 Handspun yarn for a sweater 1 lb. mystery roving

Handspun Merino/tencel Spun on Ashford Traditional