Monthly Archives: March 2007

Good Mail Day

Dear Secret Pal,

I received my package last night! I got home after another blah workday, happy for the weekend but a bit out of sorts, and saw that there was a delivery slip in the lobby. Of course, I had no sooner let Dru into the house (a friend is staying the weekend here, and has his keys) and dropped off my stuff inside before I made us march right back out again to the post office for pick up. My nearest post office is located inside a Chinatown mall, so even that becomes somewhat of an adventure!

I was able to restrain myself from opening the package until we made it back home, though this was mostly due to the fact that something inside was rattling. “New yarn!” I kept telling Dru. “I can’t wait to see my new yarn!”

Well, didn’t you just fool me, O Mysterious One! When I finally did rip through the box (I also was able to restrain myself from reading the shipping slip, as instructed), what did I find but — not yarn at all! — 8oz new wool for spinning! And bright, sparkley Easter eggs, full of chocolates (one had burst: thus the rattling noise) and beautiful glass-bead stitch markers! The chocolate was swiftly divvied up between Dru and I, at least one plastic egg was requisitioned as a cat toy, the stitch markers were gathered and safety-pinned to the side of my WIP basket, and as for the fibre… well, I can’t decide whether to dye-then-spin it or spin-then-dye it! (Most likely I’ll spin it first, yielding more instant gratification and less “what if I screw it up?” stress.)

Thank you so very much, for the surprise, thoughtfulness, and sending of some very Good Mail. It completely made my weekend.

Happy Knitting and Spinning!
~ Em

P.S. As a bonus for Good Mail Day, Dru had found another package on our doorstep while he was waiting for me — my pre-ordered copy of the Yarn Harlot‘s new book Stephanie Pearl-McPhee Casts Off!



Filed under exchanges, SP10, Uncategorized

Back in the saddle

I had a really bad day yesterday. Not because of any thing that was said or done to me , but head-things-wise. I wish I could articulate myself better: perhaps if I could write out what I was working through, I could figure out what needed to be done. There’s a lot going on: I’ve got terrible body-image and worse self-esteem, coupled with high pride, over-education, and an unfulfilling non-career. These are things that do not mix well; I feel scattered and shattered.

Anyway, my day was so bad that not even spinning could sooth me — in fact, it had quite the opposite of the desired effect (I nearly threw the spindle across the room after the thousndth’s time the singles broke, and then collapsed in to tears). Once calmer, all my other knitting projects seemed hopeless, either too boring or too complex to tackle, but I knew I had to do something.

It was then I made a choice. I could stop, or I could move on, and I genuinely want to move on. So I picked up the last ball of pink merino, and cast on for that Gatsby Girl sleeve. This may lead to more tears and frustrations, but I can continue with that, and get it done nonetheless. I will knit it again, properly, and finish this sweater, and as it comes together, so too, I hope, shall I.


Filed under knitting, rambling

More Work for the Mailman

Furthering my chances of getting good mail, I’ve signed up for Domesticat’s Knitterly Letter Swap. You write two letters, you get two letters, and the possiblities of corresponding with you could actually be friends with have got to be better than those penpal projects we all had to do in grade 5. Bonus points for stationary addicts (like me — O, the joy of buying new pens!).

Now I realize that I might be getting a bit too enthusiastic about this whole knit-blog-swap thing, but darnit, I want mail, and perhaps there really is something to be said for “recipocity”. Speaking of which, I really nead to get off my duff and put my SP10 package together (Note to Self: get paid Friday, then buy yarn!) — I have some good thoughts, and would love to solicit for ideas as to what else would be nice to send, but am a bit unsure as to the policies of blogging about a package before it goes out. Hrmm.

This is all the more on my mind as I recently got an email from my Secret Pal, saying a package is in the post for me! I can’t wait!! (Ok, I have to wait, I just hope customs doesn’t make me wait until, like, August or something…)

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Filed under exchanges, rambling, SP10

I made yarn!!

Last night I Andean-plyed the spindle-full of singles from my drop-spindle. It had gotten to the point that the spindle was feeling “sluggish” and if I tried to spin as fine as I had been it would just break: I think this was from the weight of singles on the spindle. There really was a lot on there, and the Andean method took a long time just to wrap up (and beware you don’t cut off the circulation to your middle finger!), but I got it all sorted out. Then, remembering to spin the spindle counter-clockwise, I plyed the beginning and end together.

After plying, I wound the stuff on to a DYI niddy-noddy I got from my friend Mel, and after counting the wraps and trying to do math (I think I have about 60m), I pulled the skien off the niddy-noddy. And then it hit me.

“Dru”, I said quietly, in shock. “I made yarn!”

I wish I could show it to you!! It’s so pretty! Blues and greens and pinks and purples: most ended up plying with like shades, with some really cool candy-striping every so often. And it’s really, truly yarn. It’s over-plyed (or over-twisted?) and unbalanced, and I still have to wash it to “set” the twist (a prospect that deeply unnerves me), but ultimately I have taken prettily-coloured fuzz and turned it into real yarn with little more than a dowel and a furniture-caster. That’s pretty cool, don’t you think?


Filed under drop-spindle, rambling, spinning

Knitters Treat Exchange

I don’t entirely understand it, but I am more thrilled than perhaps is healthy at the thought of receiving mail that is good and sent just for me (as opposed to, say, boring Alumni quarterlies, or bills). I want letters, and postcards, gifts and treats to magically appear at my doorstep by way of the post. In the interest of furthering my chances of receiving more good mail, then, I signed up for yet another secret swap: the Knitters Treat Exchange. This one should satisfy my desires for more immediate gratification than SP10, too, since it’s just a one-off. Regardless, I’m very excited!

Knitters Treat Exchange Questionnaire

1. What’s your favourite type of yarn?
Currently, probably merino/silk. I love all natural fibres, though.

2. What’s your least favourite type of yarn?
Acrylic! No, wait, eyelash! Unnatural = yucky.

3. What’s the first thing you do when you visit a new yarn shop?
Stare about in wonder. Then I pet some yarn.

4. What other crafts do you do / would like to do?
I’ve just taken up spinning with a drop spindle, and love it. I’ve dabbled in tonnes, though, from embroidery to copper wire to woodworking.

5. What magazines do you currently subscribe to?
Subscribe to: none. Actually buy: Interweave Knits. May buy in future: other knitting or spinning magazines, folklore/literary journals, eoc-living mags, who knows what else? Have bought in past: neopagan journals, “Natural Home” magazine.

6. Put this type of magazine in order of preference:
Knitting / Crochet / Other Craft / Food / Home / Fashion / Celebrity Gossip / Garden
1. Knitting 2. Other Craft 3. Food 4. Home 5. Crochet 6. Garden 7. Fashion 8. Celebrity Gossip

7. What items do you like to knit / crochet?
More accessories than full-scale clothing. Lace shawls definitely. I’m also getting into socks, and fingerless gloves.

8. Are you allergic to anything?
Pets, mold, and other “environmental” allergens. (Does this keep me from having cats though? Nope!)

9. What do you like to* smell of?
(*This is not a typo. The question is: What do you like to smell of)
Resins (amber, sandalwood) or Citruses, mostly. Florals are tricksy.

10. What’s your favourite way to relax?
Reading a good urban fantasy novel, curled up on the couch (in bed, even better!) with a cup of tea and a purring cat.

11. You’re stood in front of a Victorian style sweet shop, an Italian cafe, an old fashioned bakery and a dainty tea room. Where do you go first?
Tough call! It would depend on my mood. Probably the Tea Room, for the romance and novelty or it, as well as the chances of getting both sweets and caffine!

12. What do you come out with?
A satified expression? Whilst there, however, I will have enjoyed a pastry and copious amounts of tea (and if chai was offered, so much the better).

13. Where do you go next?
The bakery, and then the sweet shop, so that I could re-create the teahouse experience at home!

14. Any other words of wisdom for your pal?
“Follow your bliss” ~Joseph Campbell


Filed under exchanges, knitting, Uncategorized

How-To: Two-at-once Toe-up Socks

I have become quite addicted to the “stats” page here on WordPress. Can’t get enough of it. Am thrilled when views in a day surpass 10, and wonder what I’m doing wrong when they’re less than 5. Am amused by which links people follow. And am intrigued by the searches people use to find me here.

According to my beloved stats page, many of you out there are looking for more information on how to knit two socks at the same time. And who could blame you?

Nothing is worst than the dreaded “Second Sock Syndrome” which afflicts so many knitters: the horror, the lethargy, the love-turned-to hate for a favoured sock pattern or yarn, all brought on by one mateless sock and a pile of empty dpns lying despondently before oneself!

The remedy for this cruel affliction? Two-at-once socks on the Magic Loop!

As it turns out I have just begun a new pair (oh, the joy of beginning a complete pair!) of Elfine’s Socks (pdf link), in beautiful Fleece Artist “Sea Wool”. Now unfortunately I am still camera-less* so I can’t show you what I’m doing. But I can point you in the right direction.

1) Find your sock pattern. I’d reccommend Elfine’s Socks (link above); WiseNeedle has a Simple Toe-up Pattern, as does this website; Elann’s “Sock it to me” Toe-up Chevron Socks was the first toe-up pattern I tried; and Widdershins looks very promising with a re-enforced gusset heel. Almost any pattern will do, though**: you just pass over the numbered-needle directions, and work the stitches divided over two needles, as even as possible.

2) Stitches over only two needles, you say? That’s right, with the Magic Loop method you’re only ever knitting with two points, and only ever on the “front” or the “back” (sole or instep, when it comes to socks). Check out here or here for instructions on how the Magic Loop works its magic.

3) Prepare your yarn! If you’ve got two balls of the same, great; if not, divide your large skien of sock yarn into two balls, one for each sock. Then stick your two balls of yarn into a ziplock bag (this keeps them clean, and cozy together!). I suppose you could just knit from both ends of a large ball, but I suspect that woud have you travelling swiftly down the road to tangles and frustration.

4) Cast-on for one sock with ball of yarn #1, and then cast on for the second sock using ball #2. Knitty has a “Figure 8” cast-on method tutorial which includes two-at-once socks (though it never seems that complicated when I’m doing it, so don’t get discouraged). Now I know some people hate the “figure 8”: that’s ok! Just remember the principals of Magic Loop when you’re casting on, and make sure that each sock has it’s frontside stitches on one half of your loop and the backside stitches on the other.

5) Knit your socks! As you make each round, you will be:
– knitting the first half of sock #1
– knitting the first half of sock #2
– turning you Magic Loop (adjusting the needles)
– knitting the second half of sock #2
– knitting the second half of sock #1

6) Yes, the heel is a bit of a sticky wicket. Follow the directions of your pattern carefully, and if you think it would be easier on your brain, you can always sub in a dpn. For short-row heels, you work the entire heel of sock #1, then the entire heel of sock #2.

7) Another advantage of toe-up socks is thatyou can try them on as you knit! This is especially nice for knitting the leg: you can go as high as you need to, or if you love taller socks you can pretty-much just knit until you’re out of yarn.

Enjoy! Knitting socks in this manner may seem like you’re making slower progress than more traditional methods, but remember: when you’re done, you’re done! No more Second Sock Syndrome.

If none of this made any sense to you whatsoever, try downloading this pdf: Two Socks on the Magic Loop.

*But we’re working on it. A usb cord has been aquired, and savings for non-crappy camera are underway.
**You can even use a cuff-down pattern! But then you don’t get to use a cool cast-on, like the “figure 8”.


Filed under how-to, knitting

A lesson in humility

Finished Object: Voodoo Wrist Warmers
Pattern: from Knitty
Yarn: Rowan “Tapestry” (70% wool, 30% soybean protien fibre), greys & tans colourway
Needles: 3.75mm Clover bamboo dpns

Sometimes I need to step back, away from my frustrations, my self-evaluations, and my preconcieved ideas about what I “should” be doing. Ideas like, since I can knit complicated patterns, then I must knit complicated patterns. Ideas like, my self-worth is based around the successes or failures of my creative output. Sometimes I need to be reminded that a success with minimal challenge is still an accomplishmenthat, and that what is simple can still be beautiful.

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Filed under FOs

The Dropped Spindle

This evening will mark a week since the spinning obsession began. I’m still intrigued, fascinated, perplexed by the whole notion of spinning, and expect to continue to be so for a long time (or until something else comes up).

Some things I have learned in my first week:

– It is not called a drop spindle for nothing. “Dropped” spindle would be even more appropriate.

– Knitting is much easier to teach your self than spinning, if you rely upon internet resources. Knitters share. Spinners hoard their esoteric knowledge: perhaps one needs to find the appropriate coven (guild?) before one can be initiated into the Way of the Spindle.

– Concensus appears to dictate that while it is easier to learn how to spin on a drop spindle, this is only to draw you into spinning on a wheel. Anyone who wants to spin on a drop spindle alone must be some flavour of crazy. Even knitters appear to support this, with most of the handspun “yarn prOn” displayed on knitblogs being the product of a Louet, Journeywheel, Ashford*, or whatever.

– If you really do want to learn how to spin on a drop spindle, most of the how-to articles available online appear geared to the casual crafter, or even teen/kid crafts. Not that this is inherently bad, (I think encouraging anyone, especially young people, is great), but if you’re trying to figure out why you should do x or the how x is the best method, there’s not much out there….

– … except for Spindlicity, which seems very promising. I’ve already read through pretty-much the entire archive of articles, and have picked up several good tips. I have hope that Spindlicity will become the Knitty for drop-spindlers.

– I think I’m spinning “backwards”: in that, while I’m rotating the spindle clockwise for my singles, it’s my right hand that holds the unspun fibres. I’ve tried it the other way lots, and just end up with really terribly drafted fibres, really slubby singles, and/or a dropped spindle. Why, if I can teach myself to knit English and Continental, and am right-handed naturally, can I not spin the way everyone does in the pictures?

– There has got to be a better way of holding lots of fibre than the bolster on my couch. That way has me constantly pausing to turn around an pick up the next puff, and contains the constant threat of one of The Horribles coughing up a brightly-coloured merino hairball. What is this elusive “wrist distaff”, and how do I make one?

– I like the BFL better than the merino. Is merino harder to spin for everyone, or do I just suck?

Drafting from the fold is so far the most successful drafting method for me. I can get a nice, relatively-even, thinner single with this method (& the BFL).

– Plying is hard. The two-jars method just ended up with me cursing a lot and possibly ruining my already badly-spun first two spindle’s worth of singles. I think I’m going to try to find a way to make a cheap DIY “lazy kate”, and transfer spindlefuls onto little bobbins rather than winding my singles into balls.

Despite all my bitching, I’m really loving this spinning thing. I’ m finding it even more relaxing than knitting in some ways, and am going to stick with it. I have this crazy dream that someday I can scoff at all those wheel spinners as I display my beautiful, even, spindle-spun yarns…

*I can talk the talk, but I can’t afford to walk the walk!


Filed under drop-spindle, how-to, rambling, spinning, Uncategorized

FO (both “Finished Object” and the other words)

This is not the post I wanted to make. I had expected that here I would be writing smugly about how I’ve finished all the pices of Gatsby Girl. Yet pride goeth before, right?

Instead of that post, however, I just get to write that for some horrible and inexplicable reason, despite following the exact same directions each time, sleeve the second, the last of unfinished pieces, is a very destinctive 1.5-2″ short of sleeve the first.

This is where the cursing goes. Lots. And some crying.

Jodi, I love you to bits but your sweater pattern just might kill me yet. I’ve already had to start and redo both front/back peices about 3 times each, and have ripped back countess rows. It’s not even the lace that’s done me in (that part went lovely), but the insipid, repetitive, magically-shrinking 1×1 ribbing!

There’s not really much else for it, though, is there? When I can stand to, l’ll rip out sleeve the first and knit a sleeve the second over again.


Filed under knitting, ranting

DIY Drop Spindle Saga

Or, How To Make A Drop Spindle For Under $10 Using Sheer Bloody-Mindedness

I have indeed become obsessed with the idea of spinning my own yarn. So much so, of course, that I had to do it RightNow, and went on that little fibre-binge the other day, bringing home four braided “slivers” of lovely, ready-to-spin wool. But what to spin it with?

I do not own a spinning wheel, nor can I forsee beign able to afford, beg, borrow, or steal one any time soon. (Heck, they’re so expensive I don’t even know if I could afford one at all!) However, many of the beginner spinner tutorials I’ve found suggest that learning to sping on a wheel is not the best method anyway, and suggest starting out with a drop spindle.

Sadly, I don’t really own a drop spindle, either. I had a soapstone whorl I’d carved at an SCA Arts and Sciences night years ago, but a quick stop by the art supply store for replacement dowelling soon showed me that this whorl was both small and heavy, and made for a spindle that was a bit off-balanced to boot (not a good combination for a beginner’s tool!).

Online browsing informed me that what I should be looking for was a spindle that was not too heavy or light (between 2-3oz), relatively wide (2.5-3.5″ diametre), and well-balanced. It also showed me vast numbers of beautiful turned-wood drop spindles that began at $30US and went up from there — neither affordable nor in my hands RightNow! The trip to my LYS offered plywood drop spindles for $15CDN and up — not a good value for the quality-cost ratio. My last recourse was to make one myself: lower quality, perhaps, but defintely for a lower cost, and it would get me going right away!

Somewhat grudgingly I made myself a drop spindle from old CDs (pdf link) and gave it, as they say, a whirl. Not the best choice, by far. Cheap, yes (about $2 for the dowel, little metal hook, and electrical tape I used, and dead CDs I consider “free”); effective, not so much. I still know next-to-nothing about spinning, but I’m fairly sure that the CD-spindle method yeilds a spindle that is both too light and too wide for a beginner’s tool. I spun up a bit of my fibre, and began plotting a better — if still cheap — DIY spindle plan.

What few other make-one-right-away instructions I could find suggested buying a wooden wheel, as for a toy car, from a hobby shop and affixing that to your dowelling (the idea being that hobby wheels are already well-balanced, and mroe likely to come in the right size/weight for a spindle whorl). This sounds like a good plan to me. Alas, trying to find “my local hobby shop” ended up with me lost in the brightly-coloured bowels of the Chinatown mall (must go back, but not for exploration, not crafting purposes). My second attempt led me to the Lee Valley store, which, while they do supply toy wheels, they are only in groups of six locked away in model car kits with scads of other useless wood bits. I would reccommend Lee Valley wheelie-kits to beginner spinners with friends — for $15-25 you can get enough wheels to make several spindles, and all play with fibre together (I’d guess defrayed cost of individual spindles would work out to under $10 each; I just don’t need 6 spindles!).

What recourse did I have left? I hied myself to a tiny, grungy-looking rathole of a hardware store and just out-and-told the guy what I wanted. I was looking for a wheel-shaped object about 2-3oz heavy and about 3″ diamter. He did not look at me kile a freak, but rather went into the back, rifled around for a bit, adn came back with replacement furniture casters! Excellent! A plastic/rubber wheel, designed to be well-balanced to rotate on it’s axis, about 3″ in diametre and about 2+oz heavy! And for $2.70, just what I was looking for!! For another $3.25, I also bought the 4″ size, and will probably try making my own Navaho thigh-spindle sometime in the future.

Here (finally!) is how I put it all together:

– 1 10″-12″ length of 1/4″ hardwood dowel
– 1 3″ diameter furniture caster (plastic/rubber wheel)
– 1 little screw-in hook (“cup hook”, only quite small, about 1cm around) — if you want a top-whorl or “reversable” spindle
– pencil sharpener
– electrical tape
– x-acto knife
– bit of fine sandpaper

First off, wash the caster (mine was all grimey) and trim any burrs with the x-acto knife.

Take your dowelling, and if you’ve got a full length you can easily get it down to size by deeply scoring all around with the x-acto and then giving the two sides a sharp snap (the break may have a few pokey bits from the centre of the dowel, but these are easily trimmed & sanded). Whether your shaft is 10″ or 12″ is up to you, really — I used 10″. Give your dowel a light sanding all around.

Make a slight point at one end of the dowel with the pencil sharpener (use your x-acto and sandpaper to round off the point). Round off the other end by giving it just a twirl of two with the pencil sharpener, or just with the sandpaper.

Using the x-acto blade, whittle out a small notch about 1″ down from the pointed end. This notch will have it’s right-angle edge pointy-side, and taper back out to full dimeter towards to length of shaft. (see illustration at this website). Sand the notch a little to make sure it’s smooth, since this will be where your yarn will be tied to the shaft when you spin. [Alternately, if you don’t feel comfortable with whittling, you could just round off both ends of the shaft and affix the screw-hook to your ‘top’ end, even for a bottom-whorl spindle.] The shaft is finished!

Now take the electrical tape, and prepare for the fiddly part. Electrical tape is slightly stretchy, which means that you can wrap it sticky side out and the tension will keep it pretty-much in place. So, sticky-side out, begin wrapping the tape about 2″ or so from the rounded (bottom) end of the shaft, until you’ve built up enough layers to make up the difference between the dowel’s diametre and the diametre or the center hole in your caster. Careful to not push down the wrapped layers (this means you’ve built it up too much, try trimming off a quarter-wrap before you re-wrap everything), slowlly push the caster onto the shaft and overthe taped zone. I twisted my caster on, like a screw. The sticky-side out will help it affix to the inside of the caster’s center hole, and the non-sticky side facing the shaft should allow you to adjust the positionof the caster slightly up or down the shaft as needed, and the rubbery-tapey-ness or the whole thing should keep it all in place!

Once the caster is affixed to the shaft, give the thing a spin (long end up, for a bottow-whorl spindle, or vice-versa for a top whorl). If it’s wobbly, check that the caster is as perpendicular to the shaft as possible. if it just doesn’t feel quite “right”, try adjusting the caster furrther up or down the shaft, and spin it again. If it spins happily with minimal support from you, hooray for you!

If you want a top-whorl spindle, you just need to screw in the small hook to the top of the shaft (the rounded end). This is where the yarn is held in place when you spin. If you’d like to have a “reversable” spindle, even if you notched your shaft for bottom-whorl spinning, you can attch the hook to the rounded edge, and spin top-whorl or bottom-whorl at your pleasure!

You’re done! You’ve made your very own drop spindle from materials available in any basic hardware shop, and all for under $10. Go spend that money you’ve saved on some fancy rovings and get spinning!

* * * * *

If you’re lucky enough to have access to a turning lathe, here are very complete directions on how to turn your own drop spindle.

Here is a good online article on beginning spinning with the top-whorl spindle (much of the advice applies to both styles, and I’ve found this one quite helpful).

Interweave Press also publishes Spin Off! magazine, which has several getting started spinning articles available online (though most are for wheel, not drop spindle, spinning).

There are a fair number of websites with really basic how-to spin instructions, some good, others not so good. Most only cover the introduction to spinning, so it seems like learnign really is a trial-and-error (O, the errors!) process. Have fun with it!


Filed under drop-spindle, how-to, spinning