Lackluster Spree

The increasing heat, moving to Chicago, and starting a new job have taken their tolls on my motivation to do anything productive lately which really bums me out. I’ve been thinking less, making less, and doing less which really is not so positive. I think it is an adjustment period that will dissipate soon but it is still pretty odd and annoying. And of course at the beginning of every summer it can be tough to reintegrate your body to the warmth so many things crafty fall to the side.

In hopes to reverse this lackluster spree of existence I’ve set some goals and bought some tools. This summer I want to make at least five really and truly wearable garments including one pullover sweater, one cardigan, one skirt, one dress, and one top. Sewing my own clothes is something I have been wanting to work on for a while and right now I just need to jump in and do it.

 

These two patterns are the top contenders for the project.

As for the two sweaters I’ve just upgraded my interchangeable knitting needles from the flimsy and melty plastic Denise needles to the sleek and pretty Knit Picks Rainbow wood set. These new needles have me itching to make something lovely but I’m lacking specific direction at the moment.

DSCN9984I’ve also completed spinning about 200 yards of springy thick and thin (bulky to dk) 2-ply Polwarth yarn so I am on the hunt for a pattern that will highlight the texture of the yarn. Any suggestions for what to make would be amazing! I haven’t knit much with thick and thin yarn so I’m not sure what it will look best as.

For now, I’m slogging through some boring projects in order to clear my WIP conscience so I can purchase some new patterns and materials and rekindle my drive to create.

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For the Love of Texture: An Origin Story

My mom in her natural habitat, surrounded by texture

My mom in her natural habitat, surrounded by texture

There was a span of about three years when my mom used to say, “I come from a long line of chiefs,” a quote from the movie, Whale Rider. I don’t really know why she said this all the time but I assume it was just one of those things that got stuck in her head and wouldn’t remove itself from the surface of her brain. The point is that I think of her saying this whenever I think of the women in my family who have proven their crafting prowess through the generations. I come from a long line of crafters and that is almost as important as coming from a long line of chiefs. The women in my family have passed on their crafts to the next generation for as long as that new group would listen.

My great-grandmother, Monelle Huckaba, was a prolific and multi-faceted craftswoman who, when she had an idea for something to sew, would, “throw some newspaper down on the floor and trace exactly what she wanted and come up with a working pattern to make her idea from,” as reported by my mom. She embroidered, sewed, hand quilted, and cross-stitched well into her not so great years of life.

My grandmother, LaVerne Huckaba, had three girls, my mom and her two sisters, all extremely close in age that she had to dress for cheap. She made a lot of their clothes and a lot of those clothes matched. From a spectrum of pastel Easter dresses to totally rad 70’s ponchos, my grandma slaved over the sewing machine in order to master the art of dressing three opinionated girls.

Mom is a tactile person. She spent a lot of her childhood in the depths of her grandmother’s and mother’s fabric stashes and that influence took her through college where she studied Textiles and Design. She taught me how to shop and appreciate clothing and the best way to do these things is to reach out and touch whatever thing you might be walking by. As a picky teen I’d grab items off the racks and coo over how cute they were and my mom would reach out and swish it between her fingers, “Yeah, but it’s scratchy you don’t want to wear that.” The best and probably worst parts about knowing how to make your own clothes is that you become excessively picky about their look and texture.

Amazing aesthetic, terrible texture

Amazing aesthetic, terrible texture

Texture is transformative. The most heinous piece of clothing is still salvageable as long as it feels great on the skin. Texture controls a lot of our behavior whether we realize it or not. For example, babies love the silky tag on their blankets, children love the fuzzy fur of their stuffed animals, adults gravitate towards plush furniture or smooth leather. Texture makes something more than its function. The most inane object becomes sensually interesting once you discover its texture beneath the pads of ridged fingertips.

My first memorable experience with texture came when I was about five years old. My mom sewed a lot when I was young and I usually found myself around her as she hunched under the light of her trusty sewing machine and maneuvered the seams of quilts and dresses. I must have been bothering her while she was trying to work because she passed me a booklet of silk swatches in every color my mind could have imagined and told me to play with them.

That little book of a hundred colors kept me entertained for hours while my mom worked beside me. I remember laying the small rectangles out on the floor playing with the color combinations all while swishing a couple of silky pieces together between my fingers. The slick fabric sliding across itself was soothing and the colors were mesmerizing. Mom handed me a needle and thread so I could practice sewing the pieces together.

I found some of these pieces many years later while I was looking through my fabric boxes and was embarrassed by the inch long stitches all around the little pieces. A set of rectangles, one light blue and the other navy, were sewn together with crooked stitches and stuffed with polyfill to make a pincushion.  I threw those pieces away in disgust at the lack of ability they showed but now I really wish I had kept them to remember that first experience by. I have yet to find a fabric that felt the way those little rectangles did and doubt that I ever will.

Mom taught me how to crochet when I was eight. We sat together in our ratty brown, gold, and green armchair with her feet propped on the matching stool, mine barely passing the crevasse between the chair and the stool. She demonstrated the looping motion of grabbing the yarn with the hook and it slid through the motions so quickly, so easily that I had no idea there was even a possibility of someone being incapable of performing the motion. She handed me the hook and yarn, wove the yarn around my fingers in just the right way so I could attempt the motion.

My wrists and fingers couldn’t perfect the synchronized motions of the rolling and tugging the hook needed to make a stitch. I let the blue aluminum hook fall to my lap in defeat. Mom left me, the chair, and the hook to our misery. After hiding the hook and yarn from my sight and spending some time in anger at my lack of skill, we tried again a few weeks later and the stitches came easily. Crafts are gained through muscle memory. If you try it once, it is easier to pick up the next time around. Creating that muscle memory makes your body hunger for more, making the repetition and furthering of creativity a necessity.

Recent crochet swatches

Recent crochet swatches

From knitting to quilting to embroidery to weaving, as I grew I tried it all. Some of it stuck. Some of it didn’t. What did stick was a love for the knowledge of these crafts, as well as the love for the tools these crafts necessitated. My shelves are filled with how-to books accumulated from years of Christmas gifts and inherited from familial generations who either gave up their skills for store bought items or couldn’t hold a needle between their arthritic fingers anymore. I gained tools the same way and am left with more knitting needles than I could ever have projects for and crochet hooks from the circumference of a sewing needle to a hefty man’s thumb.

Once I began college, I found myself gravitating towards textile crafts again for two reasons: I had a lot of extra time freshman year because I’m not so great at meeting people and my roommate was interested in the modest stash of yarn I had brought along with me to school. I busted that yarn out and started crocheting again. The rhythm of the stitches returned to me in a rush and I was hooked.

I threw myself into yarn and learned more about crochet and knitting in the three months of the first semester than I did about whatever my classes were focused on. I channeled all the distress I felt about being away from home and my high school sweetheart into yarn things in an attempt to stay positive. For the most part it worked out pretty well. I gained some skills and filled the time that I would have spent being lethargic and moody.

I’ve continued to foster my textile obsession at every chance I get. In my art history courses I’ve studied Indian saris and ancient Chinese silken burial shrouds. In my English courses, I’ve found ways to make my creative project about needlework. I am continually hungry for more information on textiles and am pretty damn grateful that my institution has afforded me so many opportunities to incorporate my interests into my degree in some unconventional ways.

Besides my intense curiosity about the history of crafting and collection of skills I keep coming back to textiles because the act of creating is grounding and pure. These crafts are ancient, with spinning being nearly as old as humanity itself and knitting and crochet being a bit younger but still as pivotal to our clothing histories. Being a part of this greater narrative of creativity is rewarding and fulfilling. It is so easy now to be totally disconnected from the world while being intensely connected to an artificial existence. Craft has kept me on Earth, the real Earth, and has made me more conscious of my decisions on consumption.

Crafting keeps me close with the women in my family who have passed down these skills to each other. The passing of skills bond the teacher and pupil in a way that connects them for life because they now have something interesting and ever-changing to discuss and gush about whenever they are together.

IMG_20140426_174054Though I never really got to meet my great-grandmother, the master seamstress, I feel connected to her in a different way. I use her embroidery needles and snoop through her quilting books to gain inspiration. I am connected to her, my grandma, my mom, and sister through these skills. I am even connected in some small way to all other individuals who hold these skills.

I hope to perpetuate and heighten the prevalence of craft in modern life because I think it is so important to happiness to be doing something tangibly productive with our hands. That tangible item can foster relationships, make you happy, and even keep your head warm, what more could you ask for?

A Serious Series

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2014’s pile of pieces thus far

I’ve been working on a few short essays about certain aspects of craft and textile based skills as part of one of the final courses in my major, “Writing Towards Publication.” I think these essays will work best as blog entries because they touch on a lot of things that a lot of my readers and fellow bloggers (you guys) talk about as well and I think it is good to have a hearty mix of opinions out in the open for other people to judge and examine.

I have three or so in the wings ready for posting and hope to get them all out this week. Hopefully, they won’t be too droll. I really want to post these items here because I want to gain some feedback from other crafters, artists and skilled workers so feel free to comment or e-mail me about your thoughts on the subjects. I really want to get to know the people who read this blog and that includes your opinions.

So a little warning of what is to come:
For the Love of Texture: An Origin Story
Gendered Crafts
Art vs. Craft and Cultural Perceptions

I have a few more ideas brewing but these are the main three that will definitely be making an appearance here. I’ve got a few project updates and book reviews as well that will peep through the essays throughout as usual.

Documented Failure

I am afraid of failure. Terrified actually. I also abhor the possibility of other people knowing about my failures. But I think it is time to confront this fear and show off my most recent disappointment.

So even! I love this half and it looks eerily similar to the Cascade sport-weight in my stash.

So even! I love this half and it looks eerily similar to the Cascade sport-weight in my stash.

Behold the yellow merino of my nightmares.

So. I began spinning this four ounce bump on my trusty drop spindle. The first half went well, fantastic even. The first two ounces yielded nearly 300 yards of mixed fingering and lace weight yarn. While I spun this first half I noticed that yes merino needs a higher spin and tended to react better when I moved through the process as quickly as possible.

UGH. Look at all of those horrifying nubs.

UGH. Look at all of those horrifying nubs.

Then came the second half of the bump. For some reason I couldn’t keep the spin fast enough, the fiber was constantly breaking, the plying process resulted in tons of little twisted bobbles that I cannot get rid of, and the fiber continued to break as I plied so I ended up with a multitude of tiny overhand knots holding the fragile fibers together. There are a few stretches of unmarred yards of usable yarn but I am so angry at the sight of all of those little knots that this skein may be going directly into the garbage can.

Here are some more up close shots of the disappointment skein.

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Now what to do with 300 yards of nice yellow yarn and 300 yards of garbage yarn?

Masterpiece

This journey began way back in November 2013, in Dublin, Ireland. I picked up this glowing bit of BFL wool and started daydreaming about what it could be.

While with my family in Wyoming I began spinning the fluff into a simple fingering weight two-ply yarn. Each full wrap of the cop showcased a new hue of purple encouraging me to spin faster.

DSCN0058After a couple of weeks of intensive spinning I ended up with nearly five hundred yards of amazingly soft yarn. I let it adorn my desk area so I could pet it whenever I wanted.

I spent weeks searching for the perfect pattern that would stretch the labored yarn as much as possible. I landed on Henslowe, a popular pattern with a lot of detail. I cast on in March and the shawl kept me company through the homework, work, and interview speckled weeks.

DSCN9919On April 6 this piece was complete. This is my first real spin to finished product project and every second of it was completely satisfying. The final project is luminous with a fuzzy halo of comfort in person. There are a few mistakes in the lace and a few places where the yarn thickness changes drastically but I think those mistakes make it that much more exciting. This shawl feels like a masterpiece.

Details
Yarn: handspun fingering 2 ply 490 yards
Pattern: Henslowe
Measurements: 53″ in wingspan 18″ deep
Mods: added two repeats of the lace pattern

DSCN9916I ended up with about 4 yards left of the yarn and made it into a tiny skein and hung it on my bulletin board as a souvenir of the process.

 

 

 

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A Personal Homage to “Our Tools, Ourselves”

My absolute favorite thing to read blog-wise are Karen Templer’s posts from her blog, Fringe Association with the title “Our Tools, Ourselves.” It is such a great idea and a perfect look into a creator’s world. My favorite thing about crafts and making is all of the specialized tools. Tools are both visually enticing and of course functional.

Because I love “Our Tools, Ourselves” I wanted to lay out all of my main tools. They are simple and spare but I love them just the same.

I’d have to say my favorite tools out of everything would have to be my collection of aluminum straight knitting needles. They were passed down to me from a great aunt who was a frequent knitter and my great grandmother who was apparently a crafting genius.

What are your favorite tools? I’d love to see them!

On Spindles

I’ve written a lot about spinning since I picked up the hobby early last summer because it is something that has burrowed itself deep in my mind and will not let go for a lot of reasons. Spinning yarn is something that most see as an archaic activity made useless by all of the technology that is in use everyday. Though in a practical sense that may be true, the act of spinning is not useless. Spinning is a centering activity. It both produces a useful product and creates a healthy mindset in the spinner.

Tibetan Puyok Support Spindle from Malcom Fielding on Etsy

Tibetan Puyok Support Spindle from Malcom Fielding on Etsy

Spinning can be done using a spindle or a wheel and what I am most curious about and often think about, are the differences between the two tools. After spending nearly a year working from a spindle I find myself wishing for a wheel some days and cursing the idea of them the next. Spindles are so personal, so delicate, and so variable that there is an infinite amount of information and techniques related to them. Spindle spinning is also one of the oldest handcrafts in existence. The connection to the past and the wealth of human history experienced when spindle spinning is comforting to me as a modern spinner.

 

 

Russian Orenburg Support Spindle from Russian Lily Designs on Etsy

Russian Orenburg Support Spindle from Russian Lily Designs on Etsy

The spindle is a tool that has been a staple in cultures for centuries and I love knowing that I am doing my part to keep it somewhat alive and present in the current culture. Spindle spinning offers you the opportunity to experience different cultures and styles of creation through a simple adjustment of the tool type. You can spin as a Tibetan craftswoman when you use a Tibetan support spindle or a Russian spinner with the Orenburg supported spindle. These tools are similar but immensely different when their origins are explored.

Cassandra Spinning Wheel from JMSwheels on Etsy

Cassandra Spinning Wheel from JMSwheels on Etsy

Wheel spinning is also doused in history but of a different kind than the spindle. The wheel signifies to me a step closer to industrialization. This form of industrialization specifically is obviously more personal than the massive factories that came soon afterwards but you cannot deny that the personal spinning wheel helped pave the way to a mass-produced society. The spinning wheel took many forms before it reached the treadle version that is most common today but no matter what its form it still signifies a shift in culture and the attitudes towards creating items for use. The wheel no matter what its form called for a dedicated amount of time to the craft because it was not and is not as mobile as a spindle. I believe this immobility solidified craftswomens’ roles in their societies too much. The wheel needs a dedicated spinner to sit and spin where the spindle allowed for the spinner to travel with the spindles and partake in other activities or chores while still being able to create materials necessary for living.

Heavenly Handspinning "Fidelis" from Heavenly Handspinning on Etsy

Heavenly Handspinning “Fidelis” from Heavenly Handspinning on Etsy

Quality wheels from traditional manufacturers are now so expensive that it is a challenge for modern crafters to experience them regularly. The increase in independent wheel producers and designers draws me and many others, based on the multitudes of sales these people have, closer and closer to the world of wheel spinning. I’m interested in assisting this designers who are making an effort to design a usable, visually interesting, and affordable tool like the Etsy sellers (some have also branched out to distributing their wheels to vendors like the WooleryBlue Bonnet Spinning, JMS Wheels, and Heavenly Handspinning. I appreciate the work that these people have put into making wheel spinning more accessible for a wider audience.

 

 

Bumble Bee Wheel from Blue Bonnet Spinning on Etsy

Bumble Bee Wheel from Blue Bonnet Spinning on Ets

 

Though the wheel presents a powerful argument as to why I should whip out my wallet and cough up a few hundred dollars for a quality tool, I want to cling to the spindle and all of its variations because there is so much that I don’t know about them yet. Someday when I wish to produce more material in a shorter amount of time and wish to commit myself to the immobility of the wheel craft a wheel will find its way into my house. For now I will keep spindling and acquiring the histories of different cultures through their individual methods of textile creation.

 

I want to know what others think about the spindle versus wheel debate. What do you use? What brand or style of wheel or spindle? Are you a practical use spinner or an art yarn spinner? Why do you spin at all?

Keeping Cozy During the Never Ending Winter

I swear I have some real content a-brewing but for now I’ve got project updates galore. I’ve gotten into the habit of always having a pair of socks on the go for travelling/at work during downtime and I just finished a pair for my sister and promptly cast on another for my brother.

DSCN0084They are both in a dk weight acrylic knit on size 4 needles. Although I have come to see that knitting with acrylic really isn’t the most luxurious of experiences, it is a hard-wearing and cheap material that is great for making things that are likely to be lost by (relatively) small siblings. The purple stripes are for my sister and the blue for my brother.

 

DSCN0092After completing the Beurre shawl I began the infamous French Cancan shawl. I have had this shawl pattern on my radar for at least two years and finally decided to conquer it. I am using a soft grey wool/acrylic blend that I had left over from a Christmas sweater. Though this shawl won’t have quite as much drape as the original it will be incredibly cozy and perfect for wrapping tightly around your shoulders.

IMG_20140301_153952Moving beyond knitting, I finished the first half, about two ounces, of the Lemon merino. I ended up with 294 yards of fingering weight yarn. It is my most even spin to date and highest yardage from two ounces of fiber! I’m going to begin the other half this evening.

I have a question for other spindle spinners out there, have you ever used a Russian support spindle? What was it like? What fiber did you use? What fiber would you recommend? Do you recommend a certain spindle maker? I am really interested in trying a new spindle breed and am captivated by the action of spinning supported. Let me know if you have any tips or tricks!

Speed Knitting and Slow Spinning

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My Beurre

So my last post detailed the beginnings of my Beurre shawl. I started this shawl on February 2 and completed it February 10 and sewed in the couple of ends last night. This shawl is not a small piece of fabric with its final measurements being 68″ long and 17″ wide. It incorporated miles of garter stitch and should have taken me much longer to complete. What’s my secret weapon? Massive amounts of stress and uncontrollable business. It seems that on my busiest days I find the most time to knit because I need that time to take a step back from whatever I’ve got going on and just breathe. So stress+minimal time to spare=a giant shawl in eight days.

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Organic Polwarth

Since my life has been a little more hectic than usual due to class, homework, and preparing for the real world (resumes and applications) I crave simplicity when I need a craft to work on. Spinning fills this need perfectly. The repetitive motion and need for precision allows me to focus my energy and worry into something that I can control one hundred percent. Last week I purchased two new to me types of fiber to spin on as the semester winds up towards midterms. I bought a 4 oz braid of merino wool in the colorway lemon and a 4 oz braid of organic polwarth in its natural color.

 

Lemon Merino

Lemon Merino

I’ve begun working on the merino braid and am taking it slowly and am just enjoying the calm that washes over me as a work and think and sort out my life. I’ve not spun merino before and I am really loving the look of the singles. The staple is a bit shorter than I am used to but its still lovely to work with. I can’t wait to see what the finished yarn looks like when I complete this project but I’m definitely not rushing to finish.

Adventures in Handspun

DSCN0058I just recently finished spinning the purple/blue fiber I acquired at the Knitting and Stitching show in Ireland and it is so soft and rich that I’ve been keeping it near my desk so I can occasionally pet it when the mood strikes. I ended up with one 50 gram bundle being 210 yards of fingering weight yarn and the other 50 gram bundle being 235 yards of fingering weight. The smaller bundle turned out much more blue than the larger one but they still coordinate really well and should make a lovely garment.

I’ve decided to make a shawl but I can’t decide which shawl pattern to choose. I feel like this is a really momentous decision because I have not made a usable garment from my own hand spun yarn before. I have made a small pair of rainbow hand spun mittens (child size) but they adorn my yarn board as decoration rather than a functional item. I’ve picked out a few patterns I might use and will spend the week deliberating. Let me know which one is your favorite because I need all the help I can get with this decision!

IMG_1366Henslowe by Beth Kling

I adore this delicate shawl and apparently so do 1562 other knitters. With so many projects it is easy to tell that this pattern is one worth making. The crescent shape of the shawl is really sweet and really compliments the soft lace edging.

 

 

 

 

The Birthday ShawlThe Birthday Shawl by Kate Twirl

I really dig that the lace edging is knitted onto the main triangle piece of the shawl because I am a newbie to lace work so the thought of ripping back, in case of a likely accident, a few stitches as opposed to hundreds is really appealing. It is also a really traditionally shaped and designed piece so it would be a nice addition to my collection of knitted items.

 

IMG_1610Momijigari by Beth Kling

The size of this shawl is great because it can be worn draped over the shoulders or as a scarf with minimal awkwardness. Shawls can be hard to pull off in an everyday setting because of their shape but this shawl would not be a challenge to wear at all. The lace pattern is also really intriguing.