Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

A Barbershop Yarn

The final Thursday evening Spin to Knit class will be a bit of a catch-all.  We thought we'd do a bit more on plying, including chain plying and auto wrapping, plus a bit of colour work.  Susan will talk about preparing fibres for controlled colour spinning (e.g. fractal spinning).  I will be taking the lead on what happens when you just take things as they come. (Surprise!)

When you spin variegated singles and ply them back on themselves, you get what is known as "barber pole yarn." Knitted up, this yarn can produce a lovely, heathery fabric. Problems occur with control: if your original colours are complements, they will blend optically and look like mud.  Yarns in hot colours plied together can be so bright that they make your eyes burn.  (I've seen an orange barber poled yarn that would meet the legal requirements for Hunter Orange.)

My best results with barber pole yarns come when I spin analogous or monochromatic colour ways.  There may be hints of other colours in the roving or top, but for this kind of spinning, I avoid anything that contains equal amounts of primary colours or complements.  I spin the colours and fibres as they come, then ply them back on themselves (cover your eyes, Beginning Spinners) from a centre pull ball.

These yarns can be difficult to use; they often look far prettier in the skein than in fabric.  When they work, I love the effect, which reminds me of watercolour paintings and landscapes. 

It's been cold and wet here, one of those months when nothing goes as planned and things get pretty rough and disheartening.  I've been doing some comfort knitting the past few weeks, making myself a "down and dirty sweater," a basic pullover, no plan, using a bag of BFL 2 ply yarns from the stash, in a couple of colourways.  I didn't know if I had enough yarn to finish, but it looks as though I'll make it, although I'm not sure what I'll do for cuffs and collar.  I cast on a random number of stitches, guessed at the gauge and, as luck would have it (and it was luck all the way), the sweater fits.  I added new colours by working in random rows as I knit.  There is that dark stripe on the left arm that leaps out at me a bit too much, but it's just a reminder of what happens when you don't have a plan. (I may tink that bit and make it less conspicuous.) I like what's happening here:

Hey, Phyllis!  Those white strings in the sweater are lifelines.  I really do use them!
Working in the new colour stripes was more than enough planning for me with this yarn, on this sweater.  Most of the time, I just knit and see what happens. This can end in spectacular ugliness, producing something that even the animals are embarrassed to use as bedding.  Then again, rule-breaking with intent can work pretty well:

My simple shawl, knit in hand spun 2 ply BFL top, hand dyed at Golden Willow. 
The sun has come out, as it always does. Things are starting to brighten.  I'm looking forward to seeing what Susan has planned for class.


Thursday, 24 May 2012

All You Need Is Love: LovingKindness Meditation

Sarah led us through a lovingkindness meditation class yesterday. Sarah pointed out that we often treat the ones we love with less thoughtfulness and courtesy than we do strangers in the street, so she took us through a process that began with loving ourselves unconditionally, expanding this love to someone we care for, to a stranger, to someone who has irritated us and, finally, sending our love out to a person who has harmed us, someone we dislike.

This is not easy practice.  We think of ourselves as "Me/I," as separate entities, when we are actually all of the same stuff.  That sense of separation makes us forget, makes us behave badly. Things fall apart.  It happens to everyone; how we handle the times when things are just not right is what leads us back to peace, contentment and love.  So, it pays to do a little work with lovingkindness, even when we get stuck and can't immediately find forgiveness and love in our hearts.

When everything around me comes crashing down, I turn to my wheel, or my spindle.  As I draft beautiful, simple fibres through my hands, I feel the flow of peaceful energy that comes as the fibres slip and slide, twisting into a single string that, with all its imperfections, is still beautiful.  I send my best thoughts and wishes through every bit of yarn I spin.  I feel the connection with all spinners who have gone before me and who share my passion now. 

Once I am able to find lovingkindness for other spinners and fibre workers, it is much easier for me to send that same emotion out to the world.  The hum and buzz of the wheel reminds me that we are all simply trying to find our voices, to connect with one another.

"I am here," we say, "I am someone worthy of love."  In sending our love out into the world, we are creating love for ourselves.


Monday, 14 May 2012

Spin to Knit: Small Experiments in Twist Direction in Knitting Yarns

Knitters sometimes find that their yarns untwist as they knit.  This can occur to varying degrees, depending upon whether a knitter works Continental or Canadian/British style, how the yarn is spun and plied and the direction it’s taken from the yarn package as you knit.

I find that commercial yarns untwist when I use them, but I don’t have that problem with my hand spun.  I set out to investigate why this might be by sampling a favourite commercial knitting yarn and my own hand spun wool.

To begin, let’s avoid knitting style terms such as Canadian/British, American and Continental.  These terms mean different things to knitters.  Besides, there are many ways to manipulate yarn with knitting needles, both culturally and personally.  For this discussion, I’ll be talking about whether or not I wrapped the yarns:

·         Clockwise around the working needle or

·         Counterclockwise around the working needle

My swatches are worked flat over 21 stitches, with a border of 3 garter stitches around stockinette.  Each section has 21 rows of stockinette fabric.  In each sample, the bottom section is worked with the yarn wrapped clockwise (Z); the top section is knitted with the yarn wrapped counterclockwise (S).  You can click on the photographs for a more detailed view.

The first 3 samples are knitted from Custom Woolen Mill’s 2 ply wool yarn, a softly spun S spun/Z plied yarn which is popular for knitted soakers and longies.  The fabric knit from this yarn is slightly irregular, fulls well and softens dramatically when washed.  As are many commercial yarns, this one is spun and plied opposite to the direction I use in most of my hand spun yarns.

The yarn for Sample 1 was taken from the middle of a centre pull ball (my preference).  The bottom section, worked in my usual counterclockwise (S) wrapping style, gives me a loose, irregular fabric.  The yarn untwisted as I worked and the stitches are uneven.  When I switched to wrapping my yarn clockwise (Z), the stitches appeared more consistent, and felt firmer.

Sample 2 (bottom) shows what happens when yarn is taken from the outside of the ball in a clockwise (Z) direction and wrapped counterclockwise (S). The top portion is taken clockwise (Z) and wrapped clockwise (Z).  The stitches in this swatch seemed more consistent to me than those in Sample 1.

Sample  3: Here the yarn comes from the outside of the ball counterclockwise (S) and is knitted (S) in the bottom section, then Z in the top section.  The fabric seemed more consistent than that in Sample 1, but less than Sample 2.

I washed the samples together in hot water with dish soap and fulled them (agitation, rubbing, but no dramatic temperature shifts).  The swatches were dried flat, unpinned:

The variations among samples are apparent when they're placed side by side. The yarn colour is more accurate in this photograph. 

The finished gauges are as follows, with the first set of numbers in each row being the bottom section gauges and the next set the top section gauges:

·         Sample 1: 4 stitches/6.5 rows per inch; 5 stitches/8 rows per inch

·         Sample 2: 4.5 stitches/7 rows per inch; 5 stitches/7.5 rows per inch

·         Sample 3: 4.5 stitches/6 rows per inch; 5 stitches/8 rows per inch

My final sample is a Z spun, S plied yarn from a Romney roving, fulled severely in the yarn (hot and cold water baths, agitation and whacking).  This swatch (in progress) shows how the yarn untwists on the needle when I wrap the yarn clockwise (Z):

My conclusions? Twist direction and the direction you throw your yarn do affect your fabric.  The samples show why it’s not a good idea to switch knitting styles mid-project.  What you do from there is your choice.  The loss of twist and its effects may not concern you.  If they do, you can compensate by changing how you throw your yarns, by switching needle sizes for firmer fabrics, by adding or subtracting twist as you spin and ply or by changing your twist direction when you spin. I discovered that my knitting style maintains the twist direction in my handspun yarn, subtracts it when I'm using many commercial yarns and that I can tighten my gauge considerably by changing my yarn wrapping style, along with changing needle sizes.

The most important lesson I take from this?  This small experiment in mindful knitting reminded me how minor actions affect outcomes in our knitting or our lives.  Being mindful is not about changing anything, but changes do come whether you are mindful or not.  How you handle the changes, whether you ignore them, resist them or choose to work with them is up to you.

Whew! Are we dizzy, yet?


Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Spin to Knit: A Critique

Nice gloves, are they not?  They were made for an art show years ago and I'm still pleased with the knitting.  They're an original design, fairly intricate, each one fits, well, like a glove and they're a matching pair (always a bonus for me).  They're soft, warm and pretty things.

I was focused on my knitting here.  As a result, I didn't pay enough attention to the yarn I spun for the gloves, so the yarn itself has many flaws.  I spun from a Merino roving, a low twist yarn, with 2 plies, gently fulled.  Merino isn't particularly durable even when strongly finished; these gloves are certainly not.  Using a lightly plied yarn can work well when knitting lace, but a more tightly twisted yarn would have shown off the bobbles and twisted stitches in the pattern.  A 3 ply yarn would have been rounder, also helping with stitch definition.

A 2 ply yarn doesn't fill the spaces between stitches in stockinette the way a 3 ply will, especially if you're a loose knitter as I am.  You can see this on the palms of the gloves, which also show the inconsistencies in my singles, as well as the under spun/plied areas of the yarn.

It can be difficult to step back from our work and take a hard look at problems.  It can be even more difficult to hear those things from others, but open-hearted examination of what we do helps us improve, bringing us closer to that next goal.

That's the difference between criticism and critique.  Criticism brings us down.  It's designed to make us feel small and inadequate; sometimes, it becomes personal attack.  A fair-minded, knowledgeable critique will raise our game, by pointing to areas which need attention and which we may not be able to see for ourselves, whether it's in a yoga pose or a fancy pair of gloves.

I often miss the problems with my yoga stance until a teacher points them out and makes suggestions for corrections.  It's a little easier for me to see problems in my fibre work because I've learned to be dispassionate about fibre critiques (well, sometimes).

A less than perfect yoga pose or flawed knitting is not a reflection on my character or an indication that I should stop trying.  Critiques are rest stops on my path to perfection, that goal I'll never reach because, if I somehow did achieve perfect poses or always perfect projects, there would be nowhere left to go.  Now, that would be a problem.


Sunday, 6 May 2012

A Brief Interlude About Nothing in Particular

No notes for the Spin to Knit class just yet because Coleen N. will be demonstrating silk reeling in the class on Thursday.  I will make an effort to post pictures of the evening.

It's raining, cold and dull here and I have a bit of a mood to match it, so I'm off to do some sorting in the fibre room, organizing needles and yarns and looking for more stash to clear.  It seems to be a day for reflection and problem solving and it's a good day to stay indoors.

I've been playing on Ravelry over the weekend, answering a few questions and making an effort to be helpful. I went on a bit of a rant because sometimes it seems to me that people want all the answers before they start a project and I think this can really inhibit one's learning experiences.

Questions are very, very good things.  I hope that people ask all the questions they need and I hope no one ever hesitates to ask me those questions as many times as necessary. Still, I believe that mistakes are where it's at: messing up helps define your limits, teaching you where you can and cannot go, forcing you to think critically and creatively about your problems.  What works for someone else, amateur or expert, may not work for you, so once in a while, I deliberately give very little information about something I'd like class participants to do because I want them to discover the solutions through personal research.  Sometimes, you have to just jump in and see what happens.

Ravelry is an excellent resource, but like every other playground, not everyone plays nice.  Over the past two days, I've read discussions that have become arguments which have descended into personal attacks on other Ravellers.  Some behaviour is quite childish--code words used to insult other people?  Really? 

It's too bad, but the fact that some people attempt to silence and intimidate others is good reason to speak up.  Everywhere I turn, in Internet forums, in business, in the press, in all our levels of government, people use personal attacks, deceit and dirty tricks to strengthen whatever agenda they're championing.  No matter which side you're on, this behaviour should worry you because when someone else (or you) behave this way, when we're all expected to be in lockstep with one another, we're well on the road to losing our freedom of speech, among other democratic rights.  If you think these behaviours don't affect you, think again.  If they don't now, they will and that should scare us all. 

The next time someone challenges you this way, don't return the favour.  Continue to speak up, let your voice be heard, as loudly as you need, but refuse to be silenced.  Most of us want to be kind, good people (even bullies often realize that their behaviour is unacceptable), but sometimes, you have to "whack someone hard with your umbrella with all the lovingkindness you can manage."