I designed Gimble with longish, close-fitting cuffs and a Scandinavian thumb. The cuffs go a few inches up under your coat sleeves because oh, mama, do I hate cold wind and snow on my wrists. I went with a Scandinavian thumb because I find that the thumb gusset — that ‘V’ shape at the base of the thumb that comes out from the mitten — tends to fit better, providing extra room for the ball of your thumb. This shape can be a bit trickier to design for, but it’s worth it.
These mittens are designed to go with Gyre, though in fingering weight rather than DK. I used Quince & Co.’s Tern for this pattern, and wow, do I love this yarn. Definitely wooly, with a nice sproinginess to it, softened by the 25% silk. Plus, the colours have a quiet loveliness to them that really appeals to me. I’ve been doing some swatching, and the corresponding colours of Chickadee would work for Gyre, if you wanted to make a matching set. A thousand thank yous to my doughty testers, Heike and Jerrica.
Coming off the high of last week’s get-it-done-athon, I decided to treat myself. I mean, look how productive I’d been, right? Surely I could do something small. For variety. As a palate-cleanser, if you will, and a reward. “Oh, I know!” thought I, “There’s that 2 oz of delicious cria alpaca waiting to be spun! It’s tiny. It won’t take long. I’ve got two bobbins free…ish. A couple of evenings, tops, and then I’ll get back to finishing ALL the things.”
I was right, up to a point: the alpaca — rose gray cria roving (the first real shearing from a baby alpaca) from North Star Alpacas — did spin up quickly. I’d never spun alpaca before (apart from a sample at spinning lessons) and was a bit nervous that I’d screw it up, but the carded prep was smooth like butter, and made for some of the most effortless spinning I’ve ever done. Even worsted spun, the singles were nicely fuzzy, and the softness…oh, the softness. Plus, Maple had put a lavender sachet in the bag, so I’d get these delightful wafts of lavender as I spun it up. Even Chicken-Leg Al the Wonder Cat was powerless against it: he took about 3 seconds to go from, “Hmmm, what’s this new fluffy thing?” to full-on drooling alpaca faceplant. About halfway into the first ounce, I went back to the site and bought another 4 oz. You can see where this is going.
Around the same time, I realized that we had a 6 hour road trip coming up — 3 hours each way — and none of the projects on the needles would make for good car knitting. They all require charts and/or concentration, which is a recipe for nausea and much ripping out of mistakes. Why not cast on something with my newly made yarn? Something simple; something that didn’t require charts; something I could knit without looking at it too much; something to show off the handspun-ness of the yarn. So I did some swatching and came up with a stitch pattern I liked.
I got about 250 yds/229 m of 2-ply from a generous 2 oz/57g of roving, so I’d end up in the ballpark of 750 yds/687m, which might be enough for a shawl, if I made it narrower than my usual giant wrap. If not, I could always spin some more. Perhaps I should order another 2 oz to be safe. A shawl, yes. That will take rather more than 6 hours and require the spinning of another 4-6 oz of roving.
Oh, the things I shall do when I do all the things. All these things that I dream, I shall do.
But probably not today.
That’s kind of been my mantra for the last couple of weeks. So many ideas; so many projects I’d like to do; only two hands and a mere twenty-four hours in a day, not all of which can be devoted to projects.
About two weeks ago, I reached a point. Whether or not you’re a knitter, you know the point I’m talking about: when the thought of adding one more thing to the pile of things to be done makes your face go all squinchy like an overwhelmed toddler’s and you start to wonder whether standing in the middle of the room and stamping your feet would make it go away. “That’s it,” I decided. “I shall finish ALL the things! Or, at least, I shall finish some of the things before I start more things, lest the part of my brain that keeps track of projects starts emitting smoke and making those alarming ‘gzzt gzzt’ sounds.” So I put my head down and I worked on things. I did not finish them all, but Serious Progress Was Made. Here are the things I’ve been working on:
Note: this is not two weeks’ work. Most of these things were started over the summer, but in the last two weeks I have worked on them solidly, so that now those that are not finished are at least well on the way there. The almost-there things are:
An oversized baby blanket version of Anne Hanson’s Hourglass Throw, in Plymouth Baby Bunny. I started this in July for my cousin’s new baby, choosing red because we didn’t know its sex and because I like bright colours for babies (the better to hide the puke stains, my dear), and making it oversized because one thing we did know was that the baby would be tall. Or long. I guess they’re not tall until they can stand up. With two former basketball players for parents, this was not exactly a shock. So I’ve added an extra pattern repeat on the side, which should balance out the extra repeat or two I’ll add to the length. This will also act as insurance in case I don’t finish the blanket until the baby is too big for it. But of course, that’s not going to happen, because it’s on the list of Things To Be Finished.
A shawl for me: Semele by the very talented Åsa Tricosa, knit in some soft, rich Squoosh Silky Sock. I have a Thing coming up this Friday about which I’m a bit nervous, so I wanted something stunning to wear: something that I had made and was proud of and could wrap around me to remind myself that when I put my mind to it, I f$#king rock. Also something that could cover the tattoo on my chest, if need be. I didn’t have time to design something (and sometimes you just want to follow someone else’s pattern, you know?) and I think this design is ingenious. It’s just past the half way point, and stands a fair to middling chance of being done on time.
That baby camel down I posted about a while back. I’ve done the first singles (yes, it’s plural, even though there’s only one. No, I don’t know why. Eventually it will stop looking weird to me.), so just need to do the same again and ply it. I could fill the bobbin, but decided that this was enough to get started with, so I can play around with the finished yarn and see how well it works and what it wants to be.
Now for the finished things.
The stripey sweater! It’s late for nephew’s birthday and probably a bit big, but I don’t think he’ll mind. I’m so pleased with how this turned out, though I must remember that even in little sizes, sock yarn sweaters will take longer than you think. Also, no matter what the pattern says, I always, always, always need to go down a needle size for the edging. Why I forget this, I do not know. Next time.
The second skein of Gotland wool. This one came in at 576yds/527m to 5.35 oz/151g. Hopefully it works with the other skein and between them I have enough for the giant winter wrap I have in mind, because I think I’m done spinning this stuff for a while.
Mittens! I finished this sample a couple of weeks ago, and now the last test knitter’s feedback is in. Today we’ll get the photos done and I’ll give the whole thing a final polish and send it off to Kate the Wonder Editor, so I can release the pattern soon. Ahhhhhh. It feels good to get that (almost) done.
Also finished are the charts and swatch for a design that’s been niggling at me since the spring. Yes. No photos yet, though.
Being Part II of the tale of the handspun spinning slippers. Part I is here.
So I have my lovely yarn:
and I want to turn it into slippers like these. There are a few complications, though: the handspun is probably a bit heavier than the recommended yarn (which I would know for sure if I had a gauge to measure wraps per inch, or even a wooden ruler that was less than a yard long. I don’t. It’s on my list.); I don’t have a lot of it, and don’t want to use any of it to make a gauge swatch; I’m impatient — this is my first usable yarn, and dammit, I just want to make something; the pattern is ‘one size’, and I can guarantee you that size will not accommodate my rather large feet. I was going to have to wing it.
At this point in the story, I run into a quandary, dear reader. I would love to say exactly how I made the slippers, but I won’t. The result is too much like the original design, and I can’t in all conscience post detailed instructions for making them here when Reiko has gone to a lot of trouble to write a pattern, especially since she is using the proceeds to help people. Also, did I mention that I didn’t do a gauge swatch? So I won’t be providing numbers here; you’ll have to buy the pattern for those. It’s two and a half bucks.
In my humble opinion, the best way to make socks or sock-like foot coverings when you’re short on yarn and/or can’t be arsed to swatch is to do them from the toe up. You run the risk of getting to the heel and finding they don’t quite fit right, but then you haven’t done much more knitting than the swatch would have taken, and you can always rip back. It’s probably a bad idea to do this for yarn with more than about 10% silk (which might grow with washing) or with yarn you’re not that familiar with (again with the post-washing surprise potential), and if you’re planning to machine wash the finished object and haven’t used that yarn before, for the love of all the work you’ve done, make a swatch and wash it the way you’ll wash your socks. That said, there’s something freeing about seat-of-the-pants, toe-up, swatches-be-damned sock making. We’re living on the edge, here.
The Comfort Slippers pattern is top-down, so I’d have to work backwards. I took the end stitch count from the pattern and added a couple of stitches for extra foot width, grabbed two circular needles of what was probably the right size and cast on with Judy’s Magic Cast On. What’s the right size? Well, you’re shooting for a dense fabric, so whatever needle will give you that. If it doesn’t feel right after a few rows, try again. It’s only a few rows; better to redo them than to have drapey socks or socks that stand up on their own.
I increased where the pattern had decreases, trying them on as I went, until they seemed about wide enough (i.e., a bit too loose, as the knitting would pull back once the needles weren’t holding it out). Actually, my increases are a bit closer together, and I wish they weren’t. The next pair, I’ll separate the increases more to make the toes more like the original. When the toe was a bit short of where I wanted it (to allow for edging), I cast off the number of centre top stitches that the pattern had you cast on, did a few more decreases to open up the foot, then knit straight until I was a couple of inches short of the heel. Now, these slippers weren’t going to be worn in shoes, and I was not feeling very mathy, so I just did a short row heel instead of the reinforced heel. More edge decreases to open up the heel, then straight knitting until the back heel was about the height that I wanted it, minus a bit for the strap. Then I picked up stitches around the foot and, ignoring the heel stitches, did three rows of 2×2 ribbing on the picked up stitches, decreasing on the second row where I wanted corners (on each side of the toe and at the turn for the ankle), and binding off in the same rib, leaving the one remaining bind off stitch on the needle. Looking at the pattern again, this is not at all how she did the edging, and I like hers better, so that’s probably what I’ll do next time. I picked up one stitch along the short side of the foot edging just worked, knit across the back, picked up two stitches on the other edge, then cast on stitches for the strap until I had the same number as the pattern. (My ankles are narrower than my feet, so between that and the slight difference in gauge, I figured that would work.) A few rows of 2×2 (until it was about as long as I wanted it), bind off in rib, and voila!
They say that you don’t really learn what your handspun yarn is like until you knit with it, and they’re right. This yarn was pretty in the skein, but a bit hard. Knit up, though, it softened and opened up even before the final wash. (I knit English style — with the yarn in the right hand — which opens up the twist a bit.) After a light blocking, by which I mean give the thing a bit of a soak and dry flat, they were soft and cozy and a bit fuzzy and everything I’d hoped they would be. The slight difference in each single made the colours flow nicely into each other, though I’d had to cut out a fair bit of the darker blue to get the light blue in. And just as I had imagined at the beginning, whenever I get frustrated or bored with something I’m spinning, I look down at my slippers and remember how rewarding the whole process will be.
I haven’t been doing much spinning this week, because…well, I cracked my whorl and it took me a week to get around to fixing it. For those who are wondering, the whorl is the grooved bit on the end of the flyer, which the drive band goes around. It’s the bit on the right end of the flyers here. For future reference, do not drop this thing on a tile floor, because if it lands the wrong way, it will crack and make you sad. Fortunately, they have invented wood glue and sandpaper, and hopefully I have managed to return the whorl to a usable state.
I do have something to write about, though: my first knitting project from my own handspun yarn. (Look! Actual knitting content! In the next post, that is.)
Right after I got Mustang Sally, my trusty Traveller, I went on a little shopping spree. It was the Tour de Fleece, you see, and I hadn’t a thing to spin. Well, I did have some rather nice wool to spin, courtesy of my mum, but it wasn’t new and shiny and I am never one to pass up an excuse for stash enhancement. The very first thing I bought was this rather lovely gradient-dyed mixed BFL braid from Wool Therapy:
BFL (or, to give it its full name, Bluefaced Leicester) is a soft-ish wool that makes for some excellent socks. It would probably be perfect for mittens and sweaters, too, though I haven’t tried that yet. It’s no merino, for sure, but then it doesn’t have merino’s drawbacks, either: it wears well (as far as I can tell), tends to have some lustre to it, doesn’t felt if you look at it sideways, and though it fuzzes up a bit over time, it won’t pill the way merino does. It’s also very, very nice to spin, as I was about to find out. At 3.4 oz, the end project would have to be fairly small, so what about a pair of slippers to wear while spinning? Something like Reiko Arato’s Comfort Slippers — for Japan? Pretty, small, quick, and not only is the pattern a deal, it’s for a good cause. Plus, whenever I got discouraged while spinning, I could look down and see what all that work could become. Win.
I did some reading about spinning for socks, and decided on a 3-ply (for durability), worsted spun (also for durability, and because it was the only way I knew how to spin) heavy fingering to sport weight yarn. So for matching(ish) slippers I’d want six reasonably well-matched singles for two mini-skeins, one skein for each slipper. I split the roving in half lengthwise, then split each half into three, pre-drafting sections, coiling them up into bird’s nests, and lining them up so the colour flowed as it did in the braid. (This is where I perfected the lining-things-up technique mentioned in last week’s post, though I didn’t have a tray. It was also before I started this blog, so there are no photos of my stellar lining-things-up work, alas. You will have to use your imagination.) Then I started spinning. Here’s where the quality really showed: newbie though I was, I could easily spin this fibre into fine, even singles. It was such a pleasure to work with, I almost didn’t want it to end. That’s saying something — when it comes to spinning one fibre for any length of time, I have the attention span of a gnat on a caffeine jag. As I was spinning every day for the Tour, I had the first skein done in less than a week. Yeah, yeah, a week. Look: worsted spinning is the slowest spinning, and I was new, okay? Washing this yarn was straightforward: just a warm bath with a bit of wool wash, a couple of snaps between the hands to straighten the strands, and a night hung up to dry. Here’s the first skein:
and the second, with some green 2-ply left over that I’ll use for colourwork at some point:
Oh, the blues and greens and fine, even loveliness. The yarn softened up nicely in the bath, too. I was as proud as a very proud thing, let me tell you. Next: the slippers themselves. Actual knitting content, I swear.