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Some Recent Spinning


Yes, it has been a while since I updated this blog. Not for lack of doing stuff but because we've been working like mad on the house and there's been some house blogging going along with that. So how about a little incomplete update on spinning projects?

Brown Shetland from Gnomespun

This is some coloured Shetland that has been overdyed to a lovely brown with coppery highlights. I'm spinning it fairly fine, with no real objective for the finished yarn. Just, you know, yarn.

Spinning Fine with Judith

A bit ago I spent all weekend in Oakland (I know, big trip) at CNCH. I took a class with Sara Lamb on spinning silk, which has always frustrated me (I learned it was OK to throw out the slubby bits and it all came together), and one with Judith MacKenzie on spinning fine. As you can see from my class bobbin, spinning fine seems to have worked fine for me. The trick there was moving up to the fast flyer.

Class samples from Spinning Fine

This is my class sample set from Judith's class. I need to turn the samples from Sara's class into something like this. I have the pages to do it, just haven't gotten around to it. I like to save these with dates on them to see how my spinning progresses.

In February I went to Tacoma for Madrona, where I took some really interesting classes and one pure stupid class. See, I have consistently been a lousy hand carder. I hate it and find it painful and the results are never anything good. So I took a class with Carol Rhodes on hand carding.

Carding with Carol Rhodes

My first rolags. I ran out to buy a spindle to try them out I was so happy with how they came out. They were inspiring.

Carding with Carol Rhodes

We tried fibers of varying textures and lengths. Like this super short and fine wool.

More carding

And this longwool.

Color and hand carding

We blended colours of wool together.

Blending in coloured silk

And we blended silk with wool.

In all a really good class and I didn't feel as stupid in it as I expected. I probably will not cut down my addiction to Morrocrack, but there is one partial fleece I have washed and waiting for prep that I would like to try carding up. And maybe some of those unwashed wool samples Judith is always stuffing into my hands could get washed up and spun into something interesting.

At the end of the month I'm going to do something called the Masochism Tango, which is to say spin along with the Tour de France for Tour de Fleece, then use the finished yard to knit up a project for the Ravelympics (which is knitting along with the Olympics, not that I have the sort of TV you need to watch the Olympics, but it's the spirit of the thing)(I also never watch the Tour, for the same reason).

More on Turkish Socks


My mother asked me if I was knitting the socks shown in the last post. I'm not, but I designed my own pattern based on some of the things I've been learning from the sock books I'm reading.

Pervane socks

This is the first of the pair. I used the toe I like most, which turns out to not work so well with a Turkish sock design. The central motif (that looks like a weird spider; I have the sock tipped over so you can also see the side pattern) is called pervane, which means a moth that flies towards light. The word for a wool moth is actually something else entirely, which should tell you something about Turks.

The side pattern is a pair of variations on themes and ideas that come up often in Turkish sock knitting, though actually the curved lines I put into this design are rare. I was happy to start reading Betty Harrell's excellent (and again, out of print) Anatolian Knitting Designs, which is written by somebody who both spoke Turkish and spoke directly to the knitters. She also concentrated on one specific cultural group, Sivas women in an Istanbul shantytown, so in her book the same pattern does not have eighteen different names. When I make a scan of the appropriate page, I can also show you what the actual elma -- apple -- pattern looks like.

That book has a lot more detail on the development of patterns and how they go together on the sock. I'm nowhere near as relaxed about perfection as the villagers are, though, so I spent a week fiddling with the details of my design in Photoshop, making a perfect chart and resolving all the weird intersections of patterns. Definitely a first-world problem.

Anyway, in a couple of days of knitting I've gotten halfway up the foot on the first sock, and things are moving along rapidly. I've also learned why Turkish socks are structured the way they are. The common square Turkish toe, made from a strip of fabric knitted up and then stitches picked up to add two more sides works well with the usual structure of a front, side, and back pattern that each end up on their own needle.

My next challenge is to learn how to spin the proper yarn for socks, which turns out to also be the proper yarn for knotted-pile rugs, as they used the same stuff.

I discovered something fascinating last week, just by accident.

Noel and I take a weekly Turkish class, and I often have knitting with me to work on until class starts (at which point both brain and hands are actively engaged in the class). Anyway, we got onto the subject of Turkish socks, which are sort of notorious there in the same way that those foam cheese heads are famous here. Our teacher said, "we call them baklava socks."

And then it clicked for me. I have Anna Zilboorg's very fine book Simply Socks (also published as Fancy Feet). In it there is a pattern that confused me, because it is called "apple," but it looks absolutely nothing like an apple.



That's a photo of one of a pair of lovely socks knitted by Flickr user hiddimaus, and that big central diamond pattern there is the "apple" pattern. (The Ravelry project page for these socks is here.)

Now, Turks know their apples.

How about them apples?

This is Noel next to one of many many enormous piles of apples we saw while driving around in the countryside. No Turkish peasant would be at all confused about what an apple looks like. And other patterns that are meant to look like things like dogs or knives or mustaches actually kind of look like the thing in question. So why is the pattern called "apple" when it so obviously is not an apple?

As it happens, a native speaker of English (and most other European languages) may not know that in Turkish, you pluralize words by adding "-lar" or "-ler" (depending on the rules of vowel harmony that don't matter much right now), rather than by adding an "s" as we do. And for reasons that can only be full understood if you grow up with a Turk, there are a lot of words that look and sound similar that mean totally different things. So if a native English speaker looks up the word "elmas" in the translating dictionary, they are likely to stop at "elma" which means "apple," assuming the "s" just makes it plural, rather than continuing down to "elmas" which means, of all things, "diamond."

The pattern is a diamond. Elma means apple, elmalar means apples, and elmas means diamond (elmaslar means diamonds).

This is what can happen when you translate blindly with a dictionary.



A few years ago I got within two rows of the bind-off on the Swallowtail shawl when Goldie, in a fit of madness, grabbed my knitting from the coffee table and ate it (nobody was home, she was anxious).

This year I decided to reknit it, since I think the pattern is really lovely.

Swallowtail shawl

This is also a moment to show off my new modeling dummy. It's pinnable and the height is adjustable, so in theory you could use it as a dressmaker's dummy, but I got it for modeling finished knitted and sewn things I want to photograph. So much easier than dressing up the dogs or messing with the timer on the camera.

Shawl detail

While we're here, let me take a moment to tell you that nupps are not that hard to knit -- I find them quite fun, actually, and they really do look better than beads. The trick is to put two yarnovers instead of one, then let those extra yarnovers out when you go to purl the whole thing together.

This shawl was knit with one skein of Malabrigo lace, in "Sunset," of which there was a substantial amount left over. I didn't like the yarn, myself, but many people love it to tiny pieces and swear by it. I just don't like the feeling that the yarn might pull apart, it is so loosely spun. YMMV.

Recent Knitting


I haven't been doing very good logging of my knitting lately, or spinning, for that matter (though I've been doing less of that because when I try to spin at home I end up with cats in the wheel).

Scarf for Noel

This is a scarf I've been working on, very slowly, for Noel. It's knit from the Blue-Faced Leicester I spun at the Black Sheep wool judging last year, and I call it my $4000 scarf because of how much time has gone into it. I'm about halfway done, but the pattern is very fiddly (I'm using a couple of Alice Starmore cable patterns) and scarves are inherently boring to me, so it's taking forever. I've been carrying it around in my knitting bag while I work on other things, which does not actually work to get a project finished.

Red Button Gloves

This is a pair of gloves I knit up over a couple of weeks. I've been playing around with glove design and while my experiments were interesting, I finally just decided to just use a pattern, at which point it went much faster. I still need to weave in the ends on the right glove, and sew the buttons on, but they're pretty much done. I got the yarn at Madrona this year, and it is a much nicer colour than it appears to be in this photo. I like knitting gloves, and I have some nice orange yarn I will probably use for another pair, though not with the button detail.

New Swallowtail

This is my second go at the Swallowtail Shawl. Goldie ate a big hole in the first one I made several years ago, while I was working on the edging. This one is going much faster and I am keeping it well away from animals. The yarn is Malabrigo Lace, which I really don't like at all, because it feels too soft. I know it has its own strength but I dislike feeling like the yarn I'm using might not survive blocking. I love the colour, though.

Long sock toes

And last night I decided to play around with the Turkish cast-on, which is a seamless round cast-on for toe-up socks. I have several balls of Knitpicks Essential sock yarn a friend gave me, so I'm going to make a pair of knee socks. Since I'm going to Sock Summit in July, I felt like I should knit a pair of socks (I knit one pair when I was a teenager and was not enthralled). So far so good, and the cast on was nicely fiddly, but I am kind of dreading the dull expanse of the leg. I am liking theses little 4" needles, though; they are a lot easier to handle on small projects than 6" double-pointed needles. I bought a whole set of them from Knitpicks a while ago; I don't think they sell them any more.

The reason for all this productivity is that a month or so ago I spent some time organizing my piles of yarn (I inherited a bunch of yarn recently), and I hate having piles of unused materials hanging around. I decided that I should actually sit down and work on knitting projects more often to use up the yarn, and oddly that has meant I've been finishing projects rather faster than I was before (I'm not sure how that works, really). I want to use up an entire bin of yarn this year, but we will see how that goes.

Silk Reeling

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A couple weekends ago I took a two-day class on silk reeling with the Southern California Handweavers' Guild. The teacher was the inimitable Michael Cook. It's hard to write about a class like this because 1) Michael has already written quite a bit about reeling, much more than I could, and 2) a lot of what I learned was physical rather than intellectual. I can't show you how to flick your wrist just right to catch the ends of a silk cocoon in this post.

So this is going to be more about my impressions of the class than a post that could get you started on reeling yourself.

First, the equipment. Michael brought some hand reels -- the squat ones are from Japan, and the tall narrow one is made by Alden Amos. A silk reel should let a lot of air in, so the wet silk doesn't stick to the reel and make a mess.

Silk reels from Japan and Alden Amos

He also brought a couple of Zakuris -- Japanese silk reel winders.

Winding onto a zakuri

The mechanical zakuri was by far the easiest way to reel silk, but of course (of course!) zakuris are pretty much impossible to get; there is no US maker or supplier. (One side panel of this zakuri was taken off for some reason, but usually the reel is supported on both sides.)

Zakuri reel filled up

That's the zakuri reel, once filled up.

Some of the other tools are very simple household tools, like a little scrub bob to pick up the ends of the cocoons from the bath:

Using the brush to gather the ends of the silk

And this very simple thread guide that we used several times while winding off of reels or bobbins:

A very simple tool for guiding the silk thread

Tongs to push down the cocoons

A pair of tongs keeps your fingers from burning as you push the cocoons back into the pot.

The most obscure and unusual piece of equipment was one Michael made himself, the croissure, made of copper pipe, pulleys, and some specialized fiber handling parts. This is one configuration for the setup, for Laotian-style reeling (results in a slubbier thread).

Threading gathered ends through the croissure

The Chinese or Japanese style reeling, which produces a more even thread, uses a taller croissure.

Threading the croissure

The X in the thread there serves to squeeze water out of the silk and press it together; as you ran the silk through the croissure a fine spray of water flies off, looking a bit like steam.

OK, that said, some photos of the process.

We started on Saturday with Laotian reeling, which is simpler and produces a slubbier thread. I found it more sympatico, I admit.

Silk wound on a silk reel

There's my Laotian-style thread wound onto a reel and tied up to secure it for the degumming bath.

Reeled silk tied up for degumming

And the same skein, slid off the reel.

The gum makes the silk thread very stiff

Another reel of thread, just to show you how stiff the silk can be before the gum is removed. The seracin is actually used to stiffen fabrics like organdy or to make stiff lamp covers.

Strands of silk going into the croissure

Can you see those tiny strands of silk going into the eye? Those are each a single thread from a single cocoon.

Laotian reeling has one stage where you just lay the thread out on a towel

Laying out the thread is a characteristic of Laotian reeling.

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At the center of each cocoon is a dead silkworm.

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The finished product, not yet degummed.

Pile of bobbins

A pile of bobbins. We each got one to take home our reeled silk. Mine is hopelessly tangled.

If you don't want stiff silk, you need to put the skeins through a degumming bath. This is basically boiling it in soap, though there is obviously a bit more to it than that.

Getting ready for the degumming bath

The handful of class skeins about to be degummed. It makes sense to degum a bunch of silk at once, as it's as much work to degum one skein as it is fifteen.

My skein, degummed

My skein, after degumming. It felt more like what we think of as silk. With handling and showing it off, the skein has gotten pretty badly tangled up.

Silkworm eggs

And one of my take-homes. A little packet of silkworm eggs, lying on a mulberry leaf. I have no idea if they're doing OK, because I think it might be a little cold in our pantry for them. But it seemed worth a try.

More Weaving Workshop


OK, so when I bought the rigid heddle loom I told myself I had to learn to really use it, and not just for knotted pile. It's fairly expensive, a couple hundred dollars, and that's more than is reasonable for a single-use tool that is not a deep fryer.

(Deep fryers are totally worth it. TOTALLY.)

So I signed up to take a class with Syne Mitchell this weekend at CNCH (Conference of Northern California Handweavers; we shared the convention center with some kids doing some kind of ninja thing and a coin/stamp collector group).

Leno, Brooke's Bouquet, and filet

The class was pretty intense.

In the first part of the class, we did lace techniques. This sample is a couple sizes of leno weaving (more on that in a second) on the bottom, then a row of Brooke's Bouquet (looks like sheaves of wheat in boxes), then a couple rows of a modified Brooke's Bouquet which ends up being more like filet.

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Knotted Pile with Sara Lamb

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So one of the things we arranged our trip around was a class I wanted to take with the fantastic Sara Lamb. The subject was knotted pile weaving, which for the layperson means rugs.

But we used small rigid heddle looms and made tiny pieces for bags. For one thing, a much more manageable size for a class, and for another, wow, you can do a lot with one technique.

The class was held at the fantastic and awesome Spinning Loft, in Howell, Michigan. I recommend this store unequivocally. Not only was the class managed very nicely (Beth arranged a terrific lunch both afternoons, and coffee in the morning, plus all the wool you could sniff while she had her back turned), but the store is crammed with the usual goodies like wheels and prepped fiber, but also the exceptional, like an entire room full of fleeces. Worth a visit for sure. While you're in town, sign up for a class. There's a 24-hour donuts and ice cream place across the street. Can you beat that?

So, um, back to class. I'm going to refrain from trying to ID everybody in every picture, but that's Abby Franquemont's ear in this one. This is Sara showing us how to do soumak, which is a twining technique. I absolutely must make better use of that than this silly little bag project.

Sara shows us how to get started

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March Retreat with Judith, Part Two


OK, so that was the location. Now for the spinning.

The theme for this class was colour, and boy was it. I'd already decided I prefer spinning undyed fiber and dyeing it as yarn (and Judith agreed with me!), but it's always good to challenge yourself. It was clear there was going to be some good fun on the very first night, when we found this table stacked with goodies:

Class materials stacked up and ready to go

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I spent this last long weekend (Friday through Monday) at Point Bonita YMCA doing an intense three days of classes with Judith MacKenzie McCuin. In writing about the class and the weekend I decided to break it up into two parts. This first part is about the location, the environment for the retreat. The second part will be about what I worked on and photos of the stuff we did.

The retreat is held at the YMCA hostel at Point Bonita, in the Marin Headlands right on the Northern side of the Golden Gate. The scenery is lovely, and we had lots of time each day to walk around and look at things while recovering from very hard work.

Point Bonita compound

The hostel is in the old barracks, a sort of dismal Cold War kind of series of buildings with weird bunkers overlooking them. It's all open to the public, so random day visitors were coming in and out of the area the whole time (we were warned not to leave valuables or even remotely tempting things in the dorms; thieves seem to leave the spinning wheels and expensive fiber alone, thank goodness.)

That photo above is looking from the classrooms (the building on the very left) towards the dining hall (the two large windows ahead) and the dormitories (men's the furthest away at the far side of the parking lot, women's on the right side of the driveway). If you continued in the direction I was facing here you'd walk up a path on the side of the hill, up the road, and out to the lighthouse.

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