The Knit Knack's Blog

my handspinning, knitting, natural dye, weaving fibre home


Leave a comment

August chase

It was a simple enough idea that came while pressing the handwoven blankets… what if I brought T out for a trip to Kingston?  Calls were made, very strong yeses were heard, and here we are!

My cousin had us over on our first day in the island, and we were thrilled to meet her 8-month old boys.  The great news is that the hem colours made them easy to assign – one has always been wearing/using greens, and the other blues.

Morning light in Kingston Jamaica by irieknit

Beautiful morning light

It is a short trip and we will head straight into T’s school year when we get back.

Jamaican sugar cane and guineps

Kindness and yum!

Arriving in guinep season is a decidedly good idea.  T now calls them, “You mean the juicy fruit that you can’t get the juice on you because it stains?”  He is a fan of both these guineps and the sugar cane in the plastic bag!

In lieu of a beach day, I opted in for the Jah-3s Hash exploring a beautiful old estate in East St. Andrew, Dallas Castle, on Sunday.

Cane River in Dallas Castle St Andrew Jamaica

Hiking down the Cane River, Dallas Castle

It was the best kind of challenge day, and T made it with the help of his walking stick!  “Mom, I am going in the river again!”  We got through the paper chase with no major slips or slides.

He was really brave!  As for me this was so much fun I could burst.  It was also T’s first trip into the Blue Mountain Range.

Estate ruins at Dallas Castle St Andrew Jamaica

Waterworks ruins at Dallas Castle, St Andrew, Jamaica

The property that became Dallas Castle was purchased in 1758 as a working estate by a Dr. Dallas.  After what sounds like a run through sugar cane, coffee plantation profit to high debts it was sold eventually to the father of George William Gordon, National Hero in the early 19th century.  This planning site for the Morant Bay Rebellion of 1865 is now privately owned.

After hike cool-down

This first ever hike is being followed by more visits with family & friends.  We miss N but have been enjoying ourselves thoroughly.  Yesterday, T answered, “How are you liking Jamaica?” cheerfully:

It’s hot.

True but not as hot as August can get here, kiddo!  I am loving sleeping with just a fan on.

Travel sock

Another sock is already on needles but I cast this on for T when our tickets were booked.  The chief reason is that his foot has grown since the first pair.

Knitting a child sized sock in Sheepytime Knits yarn by irieknit

For the sockworthy T!

Seeing him struggle with a slipping heel convinced me to pause my own.  The yarn is from the Sheepytime Knits Middle Earth Yarn Club, November 2017.  Mandie dyed “The Great Sea” and it is a superwash merino/cashmere/nylon blend.  The pattern is a modified basic sock from “Tiny Treads” by Joeli Caparco.

Progress on handknit child sized sock by irieknit in Sheepytime Knits handdyed yarn

Good choices make for good knitting

For spinning, I am excited to visit my birthday gift, a Tyrolean spinning wheel right here in Jamaica!  I have my cotton project on the African clay bead whorl spindle (look up – it’s the one in the TKK header) as well.  It’s the best for downtime.

This is my first ever post from Jamaica!  The new light machine is making a huge difference – I am so glad that we were able to get it for many reasons but this is particularly sweet.

 


2 Comments

Spindle spinning along – in progress jar

This week, I answered a question about spindles – what if any pause is there between spinning singles (first elements) & plying.  It’s a great question!

Glass jar with handspun singles yarn by irieknit for spindle projects

Mostly function; part decor

The original Q&A is in the Ravelry group, Spindlers in the decade-old Stupid Questions thread (post no. 8,515 starts) if you want to check it out.

You can imagine my jar in its usual home of our fireplace mantle.  There are 5 singles balls of Targhee, the bright blue in this jar that are an example of a 2018 work-flow with a single spindle.

Blue Mahoe blue Targhee project arc

My last TKK post had this project’s 6th cop shown on a park bench.  Let’s go back to the beginning, a very happy mail day in January.

Bosworth skinny Midi in Blue Mahoe delivery

Two happy deliveries

A wonderful ending to a long & at times frustrating search was being quietly offered this good-as-new Bosworth skinny Midi 22 g spindle in Blue Mahoe.  Thank you, kind Raveler!

When I decided to add a second wood-whorl Bosworth it had to be one of their Blue Mahoes.  This tree, Hibiscus elatus is indigenous to Jamaica, is our national tree, and we planted one at our childhood home.

Spinning Targhee wool on Bosworth skinny Midi top-whorl spindle by irieknit

Impulsive thy name is new-to-me spindle

One short skip later, I was spinning from the 8 oz of Targhee dyed in “The Water” by Mandie at Sheepy Time Knits for the Hobbit Club.  The notes have my timeline, starting January 9, 2018 wind-off dates & weights are:

  1. February 9 – 24 g;
  2. February 19 – 26 g (prize for most spinning!);
  3. March 28 – 26 g (aquas showing);
  4. April 30 – 25 g
  5. June 13 – 27 g

No top is being weighed and parceled out.  I am just spinning by feel – when my hands feel a difference in the spin, I wind-off.  The how is by balancing the spindle in a shoe-box, pushing it away, and winding myself a ball.

Handspinning Targhee wool on Bosworth skinny Midi in Blue Mahoe by irieknit

Spinning the 5th cop this May; bag by Knit Spin Quilt

Using a single spindle for a longer-term project takes an important bundle of skills.  It means managing those singles tangle-free over time.  Developing different paths from a full spindle to re-filling the spindle to completion is a personal journey.  It boils down to achieving consistency.

Here, I kept my options fairly open with separate singles balls.  After lunging to start, I pretty much had to.  Besides, winter is not my best planning time.

The current idea is to move towards a 3-ply yarn when I am finished with singles.  The yarn is under tension, all in one spot, dust/pest-free, and encourages me to keep going.   The outside of each ball is the first-spun of that batch.  You can even change that if you please.

Late summer blooms by irieknit

Also in progress

One point in my answer this week was that it’s worth noting our whole process.  All of the singles in my jar have been “resting” – some all year.  When I get to the last of this fibre it will get some “rest” too, typically overnight.  When I get to the plying steps – there will be more than 1 skein for sure – is anybody’s guess.  I can pace that too as the boss of my own yarn!

 


Leave a comment

Months of making… quietly

It is fabulous to sit down placing words in TKK’s editor this morning.  Over the long stretch we did live with those new challenges I mentioned (words “cancer patient & break-up”) but were knocked back by a sudden loss mid-November also in our immediate family.  That side had just buried another older family member the month before.

Kingston 8 sunset Jamaica

 

This is one of the new views we enjoyed from a balcony overlooking St. Andrew & Kingston but after the most difficult day.  The grief meshing with a long-delayed trip was tough, and we all have needed the comfort of time to reconcile these very different feelings.

North Coast shore, Jamaica

At the North Coast, briefly

One night on the North Coast was with rough seas.  The reason for leaving Kingston at this point was also a painful but necessary chore that was handled well in the end.

It absolutely did not help that N was sick or that almost everyone was overwhelmed.  In addition to explaining this TKK break the pictures are helping me to re-think my assumption that at least 1 image can go in on T’s big school project.  Pausing to reflect is a good thing in such a busy week.

Handspinning cotton on African bead whorl support spindle by irieknit

African bead whorl spindle in the island

The clay bead whorl spindle from West Africa came with me in the carry-on bag.  Cotton is basically what I love to spin in Jamaica but this combination was the best plan yet.  As of today, I have a 12 g plying ball from this project + a fairly full new cop.  The dish stayed behind but is by a Jamaican artist, and was surprisingly awesome as a support bowl.  I have asked for one!

When I started learning to spin cotton, I had no clue that it is SO very good for the exhausting, emotional seasons of life.  That should be said loudly enough for those of us in the back to catch-on.  It’s SO GOOD, everyone.

Looking forward

Irieknit's Kissing Cousins handknit socks in Tiberius yarn by Turtlepurl

Irieknit pulls her socks up

We have now finalised the formal family steps, thrown our first birthday party (T is 6! It went well!), and are planning a new event with family visiting us for June aka the best month.

Of course, the grief is still with us but its edge has lifted a little.  The prognosis for our cancer patient is thankfully encouraging.  The other difficulty of the break-up is still unfolding but as well as can be expected.  I am making my way through the to-do list logically, and that’s also a good thing.

Weaving with irieknit handspun Gulf Coast Native wool yarn on Louet Erica table loom

New year; new small loom!

This January brought the wonderful gift of a new Erica table loom kit from Louet NA.  Shafts 3 & 4 are on order.  The threads for this plain weave are handspun Gulf Coast Native dyed in the wool by Sheepspot.  The combing portion appeared on TKK here and gave a lovely 164 yards of 3-ply.  The warp is 9″ wide in the reed, 2.5 yards long.

Let’s skip my back beam mistake because it worked out, and Warped Weavers’ members were ready with good explanations for me.  The weft was the carded waste (yes, I have a Pat Green blender/carder!) spun on spindles for the Tour de Fleece last July.

Carded wool/silk blend handspinning on top whorl Tabachek in Holly and Wildcraft bracken spindles by irieknit

Tabachek Holly, and Wildcraft spindles in July 2017

The combed waste is blended with white Polwarth X Port locks & Tussah Silk for 151 yards of 2-ply.  It was a great whimsical spin, and I wanted them both together in a project.

Weaving with T on the Erica was the most special part of the weekend project.  This was in January, and tiring but totally joyous.

The Devil has been in the last steps for projects, weaving & otherwise.  This cloth & 2 scarves that I wove a week ago on the Mighty Wolf are in queue for pressing.  I wet-finished all 3, and have other projects working on.

Some WIPs finish quickly, especially the utility knits like mittens, spinning.  The pulling-up of new socks is to tighten that drift, and to write more often.

Handspinning Romeldale/CVM wool by irieknit on a Wee Peggy spinning wheel

Night is the spinning time – Romeldale/CVM from Spirit Trail Fiber Works

Shorter bursts are an option I don’t quite stick… This was after all going to be a short post & look at the time!  We have renewed TKK’s no-ads purchase, and I am considering the angles.

It is true that the fibre work has trimmed itself down but the same categories are full of promise.  Dye gift from N & don’t forget the fleece to be cleaned!

Botanical Colors natural dye kits for home dyeing

Right up there with washing my October fleece!

The larger projects are still WIPs and not sleeping even though I fell behind on sharing as a log of that work.

For today we have a post, and the socks on my feet/in the post are the Kissing Cousins pattern by one of my favourite designers, Sarah Jordan.  They are ingeniously conjoined!


2 Comments

New year, inspired!

Happy new year!  Our holidays were spent back home in Jamaica.  It was the mix of what we call Christmas breeze, friends and family that made this trip extra-special.

coconut tree in Jamaica's north coast

Christmas breeze in Jamaica, defined

Inspiration came by more than sheer natural beauty.  The island is still dealing with the Chikungunya virus outbreak.  It is transmitted by mosquitoes, and last October the government declared ChikV a national emergency.  We are not infected but close family members are still coping with serious joint pain, and other symptoms.

In meeting ChikV, the economy, and not to mention personal challenges, I am inspired by the strength & creativity of people back home.  Things are difficult for so many that we know & love.

Blue Mountains view in Newcastle, Jamaica from Eits Cafe

View at Eits Cafe, Newcastle, Jamaica

Any view of the Blue Mountains is beautiful.  This was on the patio after lunch at Eits Cafe in Newcastle.  I grew up with a similar tree-line view from the bedroom that I shared with my brother.  The land is green.

Whole fish dinners in St. Mary, Jamaica

Speaking of eating

Our waitress at dinner in St. Mary on the north coast came back to make sure we understood how the snapper would be plated.  “That’s what we want!  Whole fish!”  She smiled, approvingly.

Cut stone staircase and Georgian fretwork at Harmony Hall, St. Mary, Jamaica

Harmony Hall, St. Mary, Jamaica

Returning to visit the first art gallery I ever loved.  The old great house, Harmony Hall is just as lovely as ever.  We enjoyed our visit & the freshly-squeezed limeades immensely.

Sea Grape tree shade St. Mary, Jamaica coast

Happy old sea grape tree in St. Mary

Every good beach no matter how small needs good shade.  The best seashells came home with me to Canada (hints:  look under the seaweed; use a stick; avoid sand-flies).  These two saw immediate love with the cotton spinning!

Spinning cotton supported spindle with seashell whorl

Seashell vacation cotton spindle

Just looking down at the beach, sometimes you might find fossilized coral.  This one survived the area’s blasting.

Fossilized sea coral, St. Mary, Jamaica coastline

Coral fossil on Jamaica’s north coast

We spent less than 48 hours on the north coast this trip.  Even so, I have happy thoughts about the Art Gallery of Burlington’s curated show this year.  It is “Colour of Water.”

Morning sun St. Mary, Jamaica private beach

My shadow casts colour too

This is 1 of 6 handwoven towels that I finished in time for Christmas.  Taking the other 5 home for hand-hemming was how I got them all done!

Handwoven Keep it Simple KISS cotton kitchen towel

Keep it Simple kitchen towel gift

I rushed to weave more towels in this 2/8 cotton using the denim colour for warp.  The progress story & were surprisingly popular with friends & family, so I had to make 2 extras!

Weaving cotton Keep it Simple kitchen towels on Schacht Mighty Wolf loom

Christmas gift towels on the loom!

The towels were all loved.  A little too loved since I found myself saying over & over, “No!  You totally should use them!”

These are the Keep it Simple towels by Mary Ann Geers.  Diane helped me fix a sleying error after the first towel, and she flagged what I soon discovered was a silly tie-up error.

Another friend, Margaret, has enabled me into some excellent weaving pattern books just this week.  Lots to learn this year about structure!

Bougainvillea in bloom, St. Andrew, Jamaica

Christmas morning Bougainvillea

 

Luckily, there is still more inspiration in baby form.  My brother & sister-in-law are expecting!  We are so thrilled, and this is the launch of All The Plans!

Craft books for future irieknit projects

Laying good 2015 plans

The top book here is very important:  “Knitting Counterpanes” by Mary Walker Phillips.  I think my handspun Romney yarn may be perfect for a small-sized knit counterpane.

See the two folders above the backstrap loom book?  They are pick-up patterns recorded by Catherine A. Stirrup from designs of Peru & Mexico.  A weaver kindly sent them to me with the backstrap weaving books in her destash.

Top whorl drop spindles by Jonathan Bosworth and Edward Tabachek

Welcome to the herd, Tabachek spindles!

To much fan-fare, I opened a superbly packed box with the 2 Tabachek spindles (right, above) & a surprise.  This was late last year.  When my friend, Devin, offered the spindles to me, I was so thrilled!  They are a favourite make, and holly was a quiet dream as well.

Devin, they are loved, and see regular use both at home, and at spin-ins!  The grey fibre is yak/merino/silk top.

Jennie the Potter thrown stoneware jar with drop spindles by Tabachek, Bosworth, Jim Child, CTTC

Spindles! Progress!

Cheers for 2015, everyone!  Looking forward to lots of projects, new friends, and especially becoming an Auntie!

 


3 Comments

Building the yarn flavour

This story happened on one of those rare summery fall days, September 5, 2013.  Life runs far more smoothly now that I, daughter of Jamaica, have learned to never take fair weather for granted in the northern hemisphere.  “Make hay while the sun shines” seriously resonates here.

Extraordinary gift – Black Walnut dye liquor

When September 5th spoke, I listened.  It said, “Grab Evil Michelle’s Black Walnut from this June, and have at it!”

Natural dyeing is not for everyone, I know.  As Sasha (thecraftyrabbit) put it on Saturday at the Woodstock Fleece Festival, “It’s too much like cooking!”  YES!  And we laughed.  N’s take is that I really did not get enough science in school.  They are both correct.

Finnish Landrace wool top, wet

Taking the jar on the left, i.e. 15 oz of “first soak,” I appraised mine stash.  Turns out, I had lots of candidates to get in on this half of the Black Walnut gift.

Handspun, not to be left out of dye day

It was a carefully weighed plan.  The dry weight of fibre totaled 15 oz to equal the glorious Black Walnut dye.  L→R we had variety: flax/wool blend; a silk hankie’s worth and; wool/mohair/alpaca blend handspun yarns.  They all soaked in water for an hour.

Heating the Black Walnut dye liquor

It’s true that the (so not) Evil Michelle let me sail past the messy part of preparing the husks.  Still, I heeded the words of Elizabeth Fahey in the Fall 2010 issue of Spin-Off:

…As we handle the fresh nuts and husks, our hands are stained dark brown and our fingernails are black.  The substantive dye in the black walnut husk is ready to ooze out and stain anything it touches.  This is the dye that is my delight…

Between the family wedding, and my formica counters, I decided the best plan was to dye outdoors for once.  The aha! moment was when I realized the gas BBQ was my heat source!

Walnut dye magic in the making

Now, my patience has its limits.  I needed something else to do outside while heating, dyeing and cooling was under way.  That’s how I came to:

Add value to an eBay Purchase

Vintage line flax from Pennsylvania

Hidden deep in my stash was this 6.8 oz/ 192 g of vintage flax.  You know when you make “just one bid” late at night on eBay?  That.

Naturally, my ears perked up when Harriet Boon demonstrated how you improve on flax this June at the Ontario Handspinning Seminar.  Putting not-great flax through a hackle helps immensely. Traditional processing involves 6 – 10 passes between finer & then finer hackles (The Intentional Spinner, p. 14).  Did the Pennsylvanian farm have access to so much equipment before this flax got bundled and hung in an attic?

Before re-hackling: vintage Pennsylvania flax bundles

I came away from the Seminar understanding better than before these 2 important principles:

  1. Short of mold or fire, sound flax never dies – it is a timeless fibre; and
  2. Well prepared fibres offer a better spinning experience.

It was worth a try – this flax had not been through industrial equipment, and took a huge amount of labour over time to be produced.  Plus, my Forsyth fine stationary comb looks a lot like a hackle.

A mini hackle!

Warning:  don’t use a kitchen chair with any array of sharp, stainless steel tines.  Really.  That would be unsafe.  I don’t recommend it at all – ever.

The how:  I lashed each bundle of flax by hand, and pulled through the tines.  The moving comb is just pinning that bundle down.

First, second and third pass vintage flax

What happened was stunning.  Each of 3 passes sent chaff, dust, and brittle pieces of stem flying.  The fibres literally lightened and shone.  The first pass gave the longest fibres, and yielded 4.9 oz/ 127g.  The second pass gave 18 g, and the third 12g.  Tow that didn’t fly away was 27 g, and I kept that too.

Grades of line flax with tow after re-hackling

The Black Walnut dyeing was so fantastic that I decided to finally tackle the onion skins next.  I soaked 160g of skins overnight.  The 50 g of handspun merino, and 31g Tussah silk top got alum & cream of tartar mordant overnight as well.

Walnut dyed Finn wool, and onion skin dyed Tussah silk

The onion skins gave a surprisingly vibrant colour but spots of the silk top resisted the dye in its bundle.

Walnut dyed handspun skeins

The Horned Dorset skein (right, overhang) was 48g dry.  I dyed it a few days later in the exhaust bath.

Onion skins helping merino along

This was my first time dyeing commercially prepared fibre.  The Tussah silk top looks a bit compacted but should be spinnable.

Jamaican Yellow Ginger root (turmeric)

Dad brought me this bag of lovely yellow ginger.  As long ago as August 2012, I worked with a small amount of this dye with really strong results.

It is first cured by boiling, dried for a week, chopped and then ground – a lot of work!  I got a granite mortar & pestle from a local Home Goods store.

Horned Dorset handspun, natural dye

The Horned Dorset yarns are slowly making their way into a colourwork project!  I started the dye process this Monday by curing the new batch of Jamaican Yellow Ginger.

Curing Jamaican Yellow Ginger (turmeric) for dyeing

The roots are so fragrant.  Sasha’s right:  this is like cooking.  I am learning how to build the flavour of my yarn in different ways, that’s all.


2 Comments

An Irieknit Design

My commissioned lace stole is overdue for her reveal!  What began as a serious inquiry last Boxing Day on broad specs grew into an original stole design with beautiful Helen’s Lace yarn and light beading.

Although knitting for hire was a bundle of new challenges, I knew early on that my label as it were would be Irieknit.  This is, after all, the way that many of you know me as a spinner & knitter on both Ravelry and Twitter[.com].  My ‘irie‘ designation dates back to birth.  In full-flush of First Time Dad excitement, I was announced to the world (via a Gleaner classified ad) in all caps as born that day “one IRIE GEMINI…”

Then as now, some got it; others not so much.

‘Sea Grapes’ knitted lace stole

The colourway of this 50% silk/ 50% wool yarn is Berry.  The stole used 950 yards or 85g of the yarn with the body and border knit with different sized needles.

Body detail, ‘Sea Grapes’ knitted lace stole

The centre is the Melon pattern from Victorian Lace Today with repeats added to the panel.  Thinking of my Jamaican client as I knit lent the motif a decidedly Caribbean feel.  One thought led to another and soon I had a doubly-wide border of soft waves.  The VLT techniques pages were very empowering.  They helped kick me up a notch to lace design.

The client’s wide brief is what also allowed me to go farther.  Following my muse often takes me back to poetry.  This 27″ x 88″ stole is named Sea Grapes after Derek Walcott’s 1976 poem:

…for the sea-wanderer or the one on shore

now wriggling on his sandals to walk home,

since Troy sighed its last flame…

The classics can console.  But not enough.

People often ask, “How long does it take to knit that?”  In this case, I have an answer based on a focused lace knit.  The knitting time was 30 hours for the body; 17 hours for the border.  It was made over 17 days.  This does not include 2 hours for blocking or added prep time & design work.

On the blocking mats, ‘Sea Grapes’ knit lace stole

Producing knitted lace of this scale for hire changed my work days, and lifted my game.  In the end, I was happy to deliver an item that can not and does not exist elsewhere.  It came as much from our relationship of many years as from my skills, time and materials.  We are both happy.

Supporting handmade matters.  I’ll be happy to collaborate again in the future.


Leave a comment

From our Yard

There are 2 things to know when you land in Kingston, Jamaica:  the entire plane claps the pilot; and you step out into the fresh harbour air.

Kingston Harbour.  It’s the 7th deepest natural harbour in the world.  Beautiful as seen from a sandbar called, Maiden Cay.

A rather soused me had the sense to take a few pics.

I was on a food break from the rest of the BYOB-to-Maiden-Cay party.

Adult beverage marketing, Caribbean style.

Best plying ever – St. Mary, Jamaica

Lest you think it was all vodka-Tings, I did spin and ply in glorious comfort.

The few days in the country were wonderful.  We might have high-fived at the tv reports of a snowstorm back in Canada.

This kind of “cold front” was way more satisfactory.

The windy weather did make finishing DH’s socks less of a hassle.

Already well worn!  It’s my basic sock knit in The Painted Tiger‘s “Bands of Autumn” colourway.  430 yards of her Safari base – 75% superwash Corriedale; 25% nylon.

I loved knitting them and he loves wearing them!

In other Knit Unto Others Good Karma news

Mom, and you have heard me say this before, is a huge supporter.  She now has a handknit shawl.  It’s the Shoulder Shawl in Cherry Leaf pattern from Victorian Lace Today by Jane Sowerby.

The size is great (and I’ll give the caveat in a sec) – it’s Handmaiden Sea Silk.  The body is knit on 4.5mm needles, and the point border on 3.75 needles.  It also has a Japanese seed bead for each leaf, and point.

Everyone is happy.  But smug I am not!  That gauge killed my skein of yarn.  You might have followed my live tweet freak-out?  Yea – 1.5 points short on the right edge.  Brilliant.

That’s a GIZZADA to you, friends.

Not unlike this gizzada.  Yum even if the label is not technically correct.