Monday, July 30, 2012

Lessons from a Lace Knitting Beginner

Yesterday I finished my first knitted lace--Laura Nelkin's "Skywalker" shawl, in a lavender alpaca from Frog Tree.   It's a lovely shawl, and I had the help of her Craftsy online class. (Good class, by the way.)

I've been knitting for a long time, but I tend to not gauge ("Gauge, Schmauge" is my motto) or--obviously--do any garments that required fitting.   In other words, I've done any number of spectacular afghans, scarves, etc.  (Oh, and one sock.  I really like socks and I swear I'm going to back and make the other one, and then some.)

My attention span is roughly equivalent to that of a 2 year old, but I am pretty left-brained and generally take direction well.

All of this is by way of background for lessons I can pass along to other beginning lace knitters, and perhaps a bit to designers.

1) Learning to read charts is a good idea.  Really.  I'm a librarian, so text and words have been my bread-and-butter for nearly half a century.  Most people are visual learners (I'm actually more kinesthetic) and, while I started out reading the text instructions, as I've done all my knitting life, it really is easier to keep track of where you are on a chart.

2) Better too many lifelines than too few.  I had never used lifelines before, but I can't imagine that you could do lace without them, especially if you're a beginner with lace.  Trust me on this.  Ask me how I know.

3) You can't multi-task on this one.  I know, women are really good at that and you probably all saw the woman knitting at Wimbledon but I can guarantee, without knowing exactly what she was working on, that it was not lace.   Maybe a designer can knit a relatively simple pattern of her own without paying close attention but fellow beginners, you and I cannot.   You might think you can slip in a TV show or an Olympic event, or a conversation with a friend but that's a big no.

4) Find a pattern for beginners.  Skywalker was designed specifically for beginners, for a class, and built stitches and skills as the pattern progressed.   Find some lace patterns on Ravelry (look for those that are for beginners) and take a look at them.  Does it look like a pattern that YOU could do, i.e., is it written logically and in a way that makes sense to you?   As with everything, some patterns are better for YOU than others.   When you find a designer whose designs make sense for you, get more practice by doing more than one design.  There are many terrific designers out there. Explore and have fun!  (And designers, please keep in mind that you can "recruit" beginners if you design a few patterns that beginners can handle.)

5) Use yarn that you'll enjoy working with for awhile, and will be something you'll wear or use often when you're finished.   Use a light-colored yarn, rather than a dark--it's easier to see your stitches.  Choose something that's beautiful to you; something of a similar content to what was used for the pattern sample is a pretty safe bet.

6) Lace can look, well, not like you think it should when it's on the needles.  It really becomes what it's supposed to be when it has been blocked.  If it looks less lacy than the finished sample in the pattern's photo don't be discouraged.  It will look better when it's blocked.

Here's what Skywalker looked like when it came off the needles, but before it was blocked.  It looked pretty messy when it was still on the needles, because it was all scrunched up.  (The toes are an added bonus in the photo.  I don't have a long enough attention span to give myself a pedicure.)

7) Most of all, enjoy the learning.  Lace really is beautiful and it can be relatively simple or quite complicated.    If you're a perfectionist, cut yourself some slack and let yourself enjoy learning.


Saturday, July 28, 2012

Settling in for Olympics and Ravellenic Games

Today I am just back from visiting a friend in Grinnell, and from more shopping than we had anticipated we would do.  :-)   We visited 3 quilt shops--more about those projects later--and several shops in the Amanas, including the Amana Woolen Mill, where I picked up these wonderful spindles.  (Doesn't that one with the dark wood look a bit like the black sheep of the wool spindle family?)

This woolen mill is the last of the 7 mills that existed when the Amanas were the Amana Colonies, of the communal Community of True Inspiration and each village  had a mill,  kitchen etc.  Things have changed a great deal since the 'Great Change" in the late 1930s, but this mill continues.  On my way, I mentioned that I was also a weaver and they noted that I can buy cotton and wood by the pound from them.  I'll have to think about  a trip back there it check that out in more detail.

But now that the Olympics are in full swing, it's time for me to settle into some serious knitting and crocheting for the Ravellenic Games--while ideas for art quilts are dancing around in my head.  At some point I'm going to have to take some time to sketch ideas in the sketch book, lest I lose track of them.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Ready for the Games!

The Ravellenic Games are approaching, and I'm making plans for what I will be knitting/crocheting/spinning/weaving.

Just now I finished the Planet Stitch section of the Skywalker shawl, so the end is in sight!   I'm excited to be getting closer to finishing my first lace piece, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it looks off the needles and blocked.   During the course of the shawl I've learned some tips for keeping my knitting on track, and not get so far past a mistake that I can't go back and fix it.  (Which is not to say that I haven't used the lifelines more than once....)

There are some other projects that are waiting in the wings, and the challenge will be deciding which to do!  (I fear that I will end up with as many fiber UFOs as I have quilt UFOs--and that is a very frightening number!)

So, let the games begin!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Arctic Lace Luxury Yarn Club: Tour de Fleece Day Something

The "welcome aboard" package for the Arctic Lace Luxury Yarn Club arrived today!  I don't think I should show the content just yet; I don't want to have to do a spoiler alert.  :-)

I'm looking forward to the next few months of the Club; I'll keep you posted.

In the meantime, I'm plugging away on my Skywalker shawl, and have purchased yarn for the KAL for yarnaddictanni's Elegance scarf.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

BFL and Lace; Tour de Fleece Day Whatever

All right, I admit that I've lost track of the days.  It was a l-o-n-g week at my day job and I didn't get much spinning or fiber work accomplished. 

On the spinning side, I did do a bit of BFL on the wheel--some of my hand-dyed.  I'm almost halfway through that and if I would just sit down at the wheel again I could polish off at least that much!

Yesterday, as I was feeling a little "punk" I built a nest on the living room sofa and watched some Craftsy class videos.  I started with the lesson in Laura Nelkin's "Mastering Lace Shawls" appropriate to where I'm at with the Skywalker Shawl.  I was not looking forward to that particular section because I wasn't sure I understood what she was going to do with the extra wraps but as soon as I saw it (I love videos, don't you??) it was easy peasy.  The lessons moved on, I moved on, and I made more progress on the shawl than I had anticipated.   It looks positively ghastly on the needles now, as it's "stuffed" on the circulars, but here's a pic of it just before I started yesterday.

Last night I finished the "base" of the Pax shawlette.  I think I'll go back and practice the edging on my practice piece before starting it on the "real" shawlette; it has a series of short rows right next to each other, and some increases and decreases that confused me a bit when I first tried them.  We'll see how that goes!

I'll also be signing up for (or, at least following along unofficially) a KAL, starting in August.  More about that later.

Oh, oh.  I just saw that Craftsy has an online class on artisan bread making.  Now I'm hungry AND I want to take another class.  I'll be strong--I'm in the midst of an online class at work, and will soon be starting creativity coach training.   But I can still EAT artisan bread, right?  That won't take much time.  :-)

Happy spinning, knitting, crocheting, weaving, quilting, ...creating!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Plying, Dyeing, Tying....Tour de Fleece Days 8 & 9

Multiple sub-posts today:  plying BFL, dyeing Punta, and typing flax onto a hand-rigged distaff.

Yesterday was a plying day, finishing up about 400 yards of BFL from Fiber Fancy.  I'm pleased with the result--I liked the colors of the fiber, and I like it even more as a yarn; it's a sort of jewel-ish, autumn-ish sort of colorway.  (This photo is a bit deceptive; it is more autumny in tone.)   It has been soaked, and is now drying on the rack.

This morning I did a bit of dyeing, on Punta, with a citrus theme.  I didn't measure, I just mixed colors and diluted until it looked sort of right.  (It will be a very short entry in my dyeing journal!)  I'm pretty happy with it, I think.  There are a couple of spots that are muddy because I wasn't paying close enough attention to the green and orange when they were next to each other, and a little too close for comfort.  One of those spots is on an end, so if it still looks too brown when it's fully dried I can just "delete" that part of it.   I'm always surprised how different the saturation/density of color is when it is fully dry, so I'll try to remember to post a photo when it is fully dry.   My drying rack is going to be busy today!    (This is the first I've done with Punta, and I'm looking forward to spinning it, and getting some experience with yet another fiber.)

While the Punta was steaming I rigged up a make-shift distaff for spinning flax, and dressed it.  I think.  We'll see, when I start spinning--I may well have to make adjustments!

Preparing the flax for dressing.  As I was spreading it out on the towel I couldn't help but think that is probably what my hair will be like as I get older...."flaxen haired," indeed, and not in a good way.  It is definitely going to be an experience learning to spin such a long fiber--the length you see here is the length of the fiber.  When you're accustomed to a staple length of just a few inches, or an even shorter fiber with cotton, this will be...different!

For the distaff pole I'm using the handle for my push broom; the end is rounded and smooth, which I think will be a good thing--it won't catch the fibers.

Tying the fiber onto the pole; this is where I think I may need to make some changes/adjustments when I start spinning.  It's a start.


 And here it is, all dressed and attached to a camera tripod.  I used duct tape.  :-)  It isn't pretty, it isn't elegant, but it works!

Now, *I* have to get to work!

Friday, July 6, 2012

The distaff side; Tour de Fleece Day 7

Does gathering information for learning how to spin a fiber count for Tour de Fleece?  I hope so, but need to do some research, anyway.  (Have I mentioned that I'm a librarian by profession?)

In preparation for spinning flax, I've been watching more videos; this one was especially helpful for me at this point:

Margaret Tyler Spinning Flax

Now I can see that I'm going to have to dig up a distaff.  I do have a camera tripod I could use, but will have to scout out a dowel or broom handle or some sort of rigmarole for the top of the distaff. I wonder if I know any woodworkers I could con, er, talk into making something for me?

I consulted some other videos for how to dress a distaff, and then went in search of some ready-made distaffs.  (I know, and I won't buy one until I've learned whether or not I really want to spin flax, beyond the basic trial.)  Now, if I weren't already watching my budget after signing up for Donna Druchunas' Arctic Lace Luxury Yarn  Club (Hey, it's birthday and Christmas presents to myself for a few years), I might try to use this flax spinning experience to buy another Kromski wheel, this time with one that has an optional distaff attachment.  But I love my Sonata and really can't justify another wheel (sigh), so it comes down to free-standing distaffs, and there are some nice ones.  For now, however, I'm scrounging around in the garage and store room for an old broom whose handle I can saw off.

Wish me luck.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Tour de Fleece Days 5 & 6: BFL and...flax!!

Yesterday was more of the same--spinning the BFL that sort of grew on  me.  Tonight I'll likely spin another bit of BFL on my Golding drop spindle.

But the big news is the arrival of the two 8-oz stricks of flax that arrived today.  Learning to spin this is my main Tour de Fleece goal.  As I recall, it involves having a bowl of water handy, which could be a challenge to my coordination and dexterity!  I love to learn new things, however, especially related to all things fiber, so I'm looking forward to it!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Tour de Fleece Day 4: Digging up

While waiting a few days before plying the BFL I finished spinning on Day 2, I decided to start spinning 8 oz. of BFL that I dyed awhile ago.  I buried it away in a bin because I thought that I didn't like it much--it didn't turn out as I had envisioned it.   But on the off chance that it would look different (better) when spun and plied, I dug it out again.  And discovered that I liked it better than I remembered I had.  Now, it's not my favorite and I didn't say, "Wow!" when it came out of the bin, but I did dig around it a few times because I rather liked it, and it couldn't be what I was looking for because I didn't like the fiber for which I was looking.  When I finally realized that was it, I did say, "Oh!  Hmm."

And here's how it's looking as I spin it up.  It's going to take awhile, as I'm spinning a finer single than I usually do, so I hope I like it in the end!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Tour de Fleece Day 3: Giving cotton a spin on the wheel

One of my goals--for some time now--has been to do some cotton spinning on the wheel.  I learned how to spin cotton on a supported spindle (listen to me, talking as if I'm an expert at spinning cotton on anything!), but believed it would be easier and faster on a wheel.

So I tried it.  And:  not so much.

No, I didn't spend a long time practicing it, but remember that I have some experience on a spindle.  ;-)   So, I knew to be sure to put enough twist into, to let the supply just rest in my hand, and able to judge that short staple length.   And I could do it--even a pretty darn thin single, which is what I wanted to to.  (I'm a quilter at heart, and this whole spinning thing started with wanting to experience what our foremothers would have had to go through in order to get fabric for  a quilt.  It would have been quite awhile ago and my actual ancestors would have been more likely to do linen than cotton, but ...there you have it.)

If I could slow down the take-up even more on the wheel I would like it better, and feel that I have more control over it.   I don't do much in the way of long draw, and I suppose cotton might lend itself to long draw--except that you have to make sure there's enough twist in it.  I did play around a bit with pinching the thumb and index finger of my draft hand to act as a gauge that would let through just the right amount of fiber as the wheel did the drafting.  That actually has some promise.

So, perhaps I'll give it some more practice on another day.  I'd like to get a charka one day and try spinning cotton on it.  For today, though, I think I learned what I wanted to learn as my goal.

Oh, and here's a bit of it 2-plied:

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Tour de Fleece, Days 1 & 2

The TdF spinning has begun!  I didn't have a chance to post yesterday's pic and report, but yesterday's and today's spinning activity were the same, so this is more efficient, anyway.  :-)

Today I finished spinning the singles for Blue-Faced Leicester from Fiber Fancy, for a total of 8 oz on two bobbins.  I'm going to let this second bobbin rest for a few days before I do the plying--but I confess that I can't wait to see what it looks like plied.  This is the first I have spun with the Woolee Winder and it "feels" different in the spinning; I just hope the spinning has been good enough.  ;-)  The play of the color in the plied yarn should be fun!

I would do more spinning today, but my drafting wrist is telling me that it's time to give it a rest.  My new-ish spinning stool has done wonders for my back, though--it doesn't ache as it used to.   It does need a bit of cushion for the derierre, however.  The trick will be to make something that will still take advantage of the contouring of the seat.