The Knit Knack's Blog

my handspinning, knitting, natural dye, weaving fibre home


Spinning in public: a waiting room story

My hands have given me a bad scare this winter.  The flashpoint came after weaving on my class towels one day back in mid-December.  My left wrist just ached that night, and I was not close to being done the weaving.

Rest, bracing and conscious thought (prayer, inclusive) helped but the pain was nagging each time I worked even a little – okay, for me a little is still quite a bit.  It started to dawn on me that my laptop computer work was also problematic.  As in, neither comfortable nor reducing my risk of hand injury.

Once we got past the fact that I do this much but do not in fact have an Etsy shop my family Doctor examined the hands.  She was soon intoning, “carpal tunnel,” and “both hands.”  In the 6 weeks that it has taken for me to get in for an E.M.G. test, I have been quietly having kittens.  After all, the scheduling letter with its HOW IT IS DONE (emphasis, theirs) rubric was loud & clear.

The scheduling letter also closes with this half-truth:

*** Be prepared to stay at least 60 minutes for this test.

Naturally, I wanted a project for this ordeal and its waiting room.

Spindle spinning merino dyed fibre

Hospital exam? Bring your spindle

The waiting area was small, and shared with patients going in for Geriatric Assessment.  The spinning time was closely watched by all parties.  Finally, one gentleman in a wheelchair broke the ice.

We laughed; I explained.  A lady took up the thread.  She does other work with her hands, embroidery and crochet mostly.  Arthritis has been difficult but she can’t imagine sitting and watching TV without using her hands.

With each back & forth she opened-up more, asking questions and sharing.  Another lady was in between us, listening closely as was the first gentleman.  I reminded her of her childhood in Czechoslovakia.  They grew cotton, and flax.  She remembered her Mother preparing the fibres in the creek.

I slyly said, “And weaving?”

“Oh yes! My Mother wove on a big loom!”  The memories came quickly now because I understood.  She helped her Mother spin because she had a bad foot for the treadling.  They would spin in the mornings before school.  She remembered sending wool to a mill, and getting it back cleaned.  She dropped her voice, and said that the soldiers came.  They helped themselves to everything as they passed through an area, and they took it all.  The lady in between us said, “OH!  Why?”

Quietly now she answered, “It was the war.  That’s what happens in war.”  I told her about my friend whose family was burned out of their home in Slovenia.  A neighbour kept a length of handwoven linen that survived the fire, and my friend received it from her years later.  I told her how wonderful it was to be shown such a cloth, and she agreed.

She said, “Yes, Slovenia.  It is the same.”  Then she said even more quietly and with feeling looking me straight in the eye, “We are in Canada now.  We are safe now.”  I nodded yes as she repeated the words again.

The gentleman’s name was called, and she went with him.  We all parted the better for the talk, I think.

Folks have largely similar responses to my spindle spinning (“I don’t have the patience” ring a bell?).  I love when they ask, and always thank them.  The best times are when they share their stories; are transported back to their own spinning culture.  It’s a privilege to listen and to have sparked that fire.

My tendons are irritated

The Physiatrist determined that the damage is not at the nerve level – the readings were normal.  I do have De Quervain’s Tendinosis, and will do non-surgical treatment.   They said that I speak like spinning, knitting & weaving are sports!  Well, yes, Doctor.  The idea that I can use my hands with thumb splints is really not on.  We can all agree that opposable thumbs are needed for all of our material culture, right?

I left with good news, a spinning story, and the Czech-Canadian lady’s acknowledgement.  Her last words were that she could tell I was ‘the real thing’ and would do well.




Weave on: First handwoven Towels in asymmetrical plaid

Handwoven cotton asymmetrical twill towels

First stack of kitchen towels!

Weaving is here to stay, friends.  The 3+ months as a student with MargaretJane Wallace & Joyce Newman have been wonderful.

The awe is a little less immediate a few weeks into having made useful somethings – now I can write about the process.  It’s time, and then I will pack Mom’s towel up with another special project, and mail all to Jamaica.

Sewing machine stitching handwoven cloth

Why yes, I do own a sewing machine.  It came down from the closet shelf for the occasion of sewing 3 lines of stitches to secure the cloth for later cutting.  I would not call any of these lines straight but no needles were broken that cold January day!

Handwoven kitchen towel unwashed

First woven end of the towels

The first weft was protected by my machine stitching here.  It’s the edge with my sampling for the towels.  Peggy Osterkamp says in Weaving for Beginners that the cloth at this stage is called “greige” or “gray goods” or in the loom state (p. 137) as it is still unwashed.

Handwoven towel warp unwashed

Unwashed, and uncut – this part is for Mom

Even at this stage, I could tell that Mom’s towel would come out well.  The sewing-in of the ends process took a good long while but it wasn’t too tedious.

As instructed by MargaretJane, it was fine for the washing machine (cold water) & dryer.

The Finished Goods

Little did I imagine that hemming would be its own learning process but it was!  Mine are hand-hemmed with a slipstitch.

Handwoven asymmetrical plaid cotton towel

Plaid to the left

When hemming went correctly as it did for Mom’s towel the plaid is on the left.

Handwoven asymmetrical plaid cotton towel

Plaid to the right

Same day, same person sewing.  All I can say is thank goodness for the balanced twill – it really does not matter which side the hems swung.  Except to yours truly who will always know.

Handwoven cotton plaid

I love the plaid

My twill lines (45° angle) show the merit in practice making perfect.  I used my protractor in the first towel, and it helped me pay attention to my beat as I wove.

Handwoven blue cotton broken twill towel

Last past the post

The last towel is a shorter 19½” x 15″, and is woven in broken twill.  It has the most mistakes because I was so anxious to finish weaving.  I really like the left-side stripe.  There is no plaid in this towel but I like it lots.

Hemming the second towel showed me the weave is slightly looser at the bottom edge.  When folded in half you see the exact spot where I adjusted my weaving beat – the selvedges are not even end-to-end.

It’s great to see the mindfulness in the cloth.  After using the protractor, I kept an even beat for the rest of the warp.  There are also some treadled mistakes in the twill sequence.  What does not show is the early struggle to even throw each shuttle 22″ across the race.

Cat climbing into Schacht Mighty Wolf weaving floor loom

Melvin the weaving keener

My class warp is for a gamp – 4 new twill threadings are now done and all 5 are almost sleyed.  The warp that Tuesday Melvin was admiring is a small sampler.

It’s still very much a learning curve but I am so happy with these towels, and proud to send one to someone who didn’t laugh but sent me a book and wrote, “Weave on!”