The Knit Knack's Blog

my handspinning, knitting, natural dye, weaving fibre home


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St. Andrew Tribute – twin handwoven blankets

These blankets are for my cousin’s twin boys – a tribute to her, and an extension of The Earl of St. Andrews district tartan to the parish of our birth in Jamaica.

The 1930 design is by A. A. Bottomley.  Having been created for the use of Prince George, it is a ‘royal’ district tartan.  The idea was not just what I thought Cat would like but also to weave a sett from “District Tartans” by Gordon Teall of Teallach & Philip D. Smith Jr.

mercerized cotton weaving yarn for plaid baby blankets by irieknit

Plaid in cone form

In January the Valley Yarns 5/2 mercerized cotton had arrived.  This is not an exact reproduction but I knew the shades would be key for the pattern to work.  The real work took several attempts – I needed to find a way to pivot the pattern, and fit my 36″ wide Schacht Mighty Wolf loom with the 3 lbs of cotton.

The sett that I chose is 18 epi, and I decided (wisely as it happens) to trust my colours without pre-sampling them.  In his “Handwoven Baby Blankets“, Tom Knisely gives a closer sett with this same yarn, so there was a clear choice.

Cotton baby blanket St Andrews Tartan warp on back beam by irieknit

Beaming at last! 

A summer day camp for T made this all possible but not easy.  I happily started winding the warp on Emancipation Day, August 1.  Hemming was completed last night, August 17.

Handweaving St Andrew District Tartan on Schacht Mighty Wolf loom by irieknit cotton baby blankets

Good weaving

The initial impulse was frankly hard to live up to on this project.  It’s not for a lack of feeling but the opposite.

Weaving a wide project that is also exacting stretched me.  This is only my second wider warp, and was 31.75″ under tension (I used a temple/stretcher).  As you may have heard me at nights on Twitter that straight plaid line was only after a re-start.

Rosewood backstrap loom sticks separating warp beam cotton layers Schacht Mighty Wolf loom

Backstrap sticks to the rescue

The warp needed some help on the beam by around the half-way mark.  I added tension in spots, fine-tuning all the while.  The darker sticks are from an Indonesian backstrap loom.  They were long & smooth enough to prevent further trouble.

Cutting handwoven baby blanket pieces by irieknit

Cutting to hem the baby blankets

As I have said before, finishing the weaving often (heh, always until now) gets pushed-back.  This time I paced the weaving better & kept going although T was with me at home this week.

Matching but not quite

The blue-on-blue blocks are my favourite.  The half-tones coming together this well had me practically leaping to give them a hard press right out of the machine.

Tags and hems for handwoven cotton baby blankets by irieknit

More differences!

The twins are fraternal, and so are their blankets.  The 2nd woven on the right has a green hem instead of the pattern blue of the 1st woven.  It is also slightly longer.

Ready for delivery by hand

Dearest Cat,

You have been very patient, and I am happy to be coming to meet your bambinos with our gift.  It all came together.  August has always been your month after all!

Love, Me

Making gifts to celebrate new lives is something I have stuck with through ups & downs.  The blog stopped hearing of them for the most part but this one feels extra-special.  Plus, I learned a lot in the planning and execution.  It wasn’t just booties and a cardigan!


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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!

 


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Cottoning on to cotton

The recent trouble with my hands brought me back to cotton in a big way.  Of everything else only my cotton spin had a gentle enough action for longer stints.

Takhli cotton supported spindle with shell

My friend the takhli

This composition says almost everything about what got me over a Learn to Spin Cotton phase.  Three of four things, in fact:

  1. A low stool:  sits in front of my couch, and under my lap level.  It is comfortable, and with pillows at the base of my back, I do not need to lean forward.  The new ergonomics awareness means that I don’t want to raise my drawing arm (left) above shoulder-level.  This set-up helps a lot.
  2. A big shell:  it’s from Michael’s.  I love the haptic feedback from shell ridges when the metal takhli tip moves, slows, stops.  It breaks through the concentration I have with drawing cotton back into each make of yarn.
  3. That cotton:  super-easy to spin.  It’s from the Cotton Clouds kit.  Please leave us a comment if you recognize which cotton it is exactly!  We wants more…

Number 4 of 4 arguably saves my wrist the most.  It’s my waist distaff that I got in last year’s Barbara Reid Auction:

Turkish waist distaff with cotton sliver

Distaff does the cotton lifting

The lower half is a carved blade designed to be tucked at the waist.  Slid to my left-side in between the couch cushion & arm it angles perfectly towards the stool set-up.  I first did this in another bid to focus on the twist, and fine-tuning with a second draw.  It’s also perfect for taking all weight off the injured left wrist.

One thing led to another

As I started to prepare 2-strand plying balls, I remembered some other incomplete cotton spins.  So much was just waiting for me to wake up!

Cotton yarn on Forrester Akha spindle

Plied cotton on the Akha spindle

By sheer co-incidence my copy of “Exotic Fiber Spindling” by Amelia Garripoli had just arrived in the mail.  To my delight, Amelia bases her discussion on the Akha spindle.  It is the style used by the northern hill tribes of Thailand, traditionally for cotton, and other short fibres.

Out came my empty Tom Forrester Akha spindle.  She came from Carolina Homespun last spring and is 20g with a lovely Sapele Mahogany whorl, and a Birch shaft.  Light enough for achy hands & fine cotton!

Handspun cotton yarn finishing boil

Five cotton skeins boiling!

By mid-March, I had 5 skeins of 2-ply cotton in a finishing boil.  The recipe is from Stephanie Gaustad’s “Spinning Cotton” Interweave video but is a 40-minute boil in an alkaline bath to clean & set the cotton.

Handspun cotton yarns

Quintet of handspun cotton yarn

The green yarn is the most special of the lot.  It came from Phreadde’s gift of home-grown seed cottons, and I have shown/thanked her in FOAY already.

It’s largely in the support

The metal tip of takhlis move at an amazing speed.  One light flick is all it takes.  Getting feel, noise, and skating all within good parameters has sent me searching out different surfaces.  I love the shells but dislike ceramic & wood.

 

Cotton takhli spindle in gourd bowl

All things bright & beautiful – takhli support bowl

This painted gourd is from Ten Thousand Villages, and seems to work fairly well with both takhli & African clay bead spindles.  It reminds me of calabash from home but is not made in Jamaica.

My next experiment will be a condensed milk tin.  It leaped off the page of the Spring 2014 issue of Wild Fibers Magazine.  The phang spinners of Pangong, India seem at-one with my people when it comes to loving ‘tin milk’!


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An irie snowflake, and January is happening

organic cotton handspun knit snowflake

Civilized Snowflake

Oh, January, I see your cold and raise you a handspun, Paper Snowflake.  This wonderful knit pattern is by Naomi Parkhurst was ideal (ideal, I tell you!) for my many hours-worth of 3-ply cotton yarn that I made with coin takhli spindles.

organic cotton handspun knit snowflake

A very wet Snowflake

As the pics show, this was made a while ago in better weather.  It hangs on my studio bulletin board, and is an awesome reminder that small amounts are not useless.

cotton handspun supported spindle coin takhli

It has taken time but cotton seems to be here to stay.  None of my cotton spindles is ever empty, and I gradually spin more.  Spinning with the seed attached is amazing but I also figured out that if the Turkish distaff holds a length of top then I can spin it that way too.

The fact of the matter

I am still getting used to this loss.  The tree had to be removed after the ice storm damage, and was a better candidate for the estate of my dreams than our suburban back yard, it’s true.

ice storm Norway maple tree removal

Hard work underway in bitter cold

I had a full two deleted sentences re: neighbour activity.  Let’s just say salt was rubbed in the wound shortly after I took this picture.

A woodpile from a giving tree

It has been a wrench.  Our home feels different with the new outlook.  We can work with it (new window treatments, please) but first there’s that unwanted bill to take care of.

N has made promises to chop the wood for the fireplace.  Now that would be a fun development and a first!

Bright spots

Of the many (as yet un-processed) things happening this month, I have a few to share.

handwoven cotton kitchen towel floor loom

A third woven twill kitchen towel!

Level 2 of weaving class started last week.  I am using all spare moments to get my twill towels woven.  For this third towel, I kept the yellow weft but learned how to carry the slate blue up the selvedge.  Most of the windowpane is 24 shots of yellow.  I am carrying up by twisting in every fourth pick.

Fourth and last twill kitchen towel!

The fourth towel is underway.  The weft is now light blue, and I am weaving it in broken twill.  It is nice to not be as concerned with keeping an even beat.

Wee Peggy spinning wheel handspun yarn Polwarth wool

Wee Peggy the friendly wheel

In between weaving sessions, I treated myself to a spin-in day at the Fibre Garden in Jordan.  My Wee Peggy wheel is perfect for these events – she travels well, and is easy for me to spin and participate.  I am spinning Waterloo Wools polwarth hand-dyed top in the Tidepool colourway.

There is also much spinning here at home.  This yarn is now all plied up & finished.  It is one ply of a lovely Entbatt, and one ply of bombyx silk – all spun on spindles.  I will give better detail and yarn pics in a later post.


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December weaving and more

It has been a very busy month.  With the 1st level of weaving classes ending, I signed-up for the winter session and tried to get as much loom time as possible.  My oh-so-fun twill sampler needed attention.

Weaving Twill cotton sampler

2/2 Herringbone Twill section of satisfaction

It has 6 twill structures in the 2 blues.  Even as someone who would skip sampling whenever she can get away with it, I found this to be an excellent exercise.  Just having the dark/light warp threads alternate in the middle gave each structure such a radically different look.  It’s not something I would have understood without doing.

Weaving Twill cotton sampler underside

Twill sampler, underside

Going to the studio in daytime was very cool.  The lighting is great, and whenever guild members were around they were friendly & engaging.

Weaving loom Guild studio view

Easy on the eyes, Burlington Guild’s classroom

The beauty of this class is that we didn’t stop at samplers.  We had a first project choice of tea towels or scarves.  After Beth convincingly said, “Go for it!” I chose the plaid windowpane towels that one of our instructors, MargaretJane Wallace designed.  Beth has seen some of these pictures already but that’s 5 colours plus 2 wound together!  

Cotton weaving warp on loom

First tea towels warp finally beamed!

Both winding the warp-of-many colours, and beaming gave me many lessons in yarn management.  MargaretJane helped me work past the tension issues.  It amazed me how well-behaved the darks were when the yellow & white warp threads barely co-operated.  There was tangling due to pills, sagging, and the left side was just fine.

Cotton warp threading counter-balance loom

Threading the loom

Around this period of taking real care to get things going in an orderly way, MargaretJane scared the wits out of me.  Says, MJ,:

I like what you have done there, Lara.  It’s going to make for lively towels.

What?!  She had spotted the sequence a mile away – I only had one warp stripe in light blue.  It’s true, you can see it too.  My towels won’t have the precise symmetry within a left-side only plaid’s asymmetry.  Oops!  We all laughed together, and it’s not a big deal.

Cotton tea towel handweaving

Testing, testing

The first step after threading was to experiment with weft colour, and twill structures for this plaid counterpane deal.

Detail experiment for plaid counterpane handwoven tea towels

Possibilities!

With so many colour-changes ahead, I decided on a straight 2/2 twill.  A warp-faced twill was tempting but I didn’t want to fight the counter-balance loom’s action.

Handweaving cotton tea towel counterbalance loom

Deep thoughts were thought

Back at home, I was pouring over a set of new weaving books for insight on plaid, twill, and everything weaving.  After much thought, I went with a white ground for the 1st (of 4) towel.  It wasn’t long before I decided to play with the counterpane, and framed the plaid with the poor, neglected light blue.

Handwoven plaid tea towel weaving

Lively plaid, white weft ground

This is much different to the knitting process but somehow it feels right.  I am reading, watching videos on loom maintenance & weaving well, and generally stretching myself.  What cut a lot of the effort short was the late fall weather.

You may have heard about our late fall weather?

First there was a massive snowstorm on December 14th.  Much shoveling ensued.

December snow storm

Still fall? Really?

Toby seemed happy for his hand-spun  4-ply Coopworth wool sweater.  It kept snow off his big-dog chest.

Papillon dog sweater handmade Coopworth wool

Toby, The Knit Knack blog’s mascot

Such was the snow that I used my new hand-spun (from fleece! spindles!) tam.  There is a maker’s story behind this but for now, I will just say 1 thing: ears are covered!

Warm enough, I promise.

All that snow was really just a chance to knit (more later when pics are taken).  Trouble hit with the ice storm a week later.  As in the weekend before Christmas.

Norway maple Ice Storm 2013

As the ice storm weighed in

It was my first experience of freezing rain, and an ice storm.  By mid-morning we heard a tearing crash, bang as our Norway Maple’s heavy side fell under ice & hit the fence.

Ice Storm 2013 Norway Maple damage

It pains me to see

We are still waiting for the arborist to arrive.  This Norway Maple tree dominates the backyard in all seasons.  She is in so many of my pictures for The Knit Knack’s posts.  It’s a wrenching sight, and impossible to avoid seeing.

Ice Storm 2013 Lilac bush

Ice-encased lilac

For that sadness we did not loose power as others did, and the house is intact.  The dangerous beauty has thankfully melted at last.  It could have been so much worse.

Ice Storm burning bush

Hearing the wind in the icicles was so very eerie.  It was perfectly quiet except for the chak-chak of the trees.

Norway Maple branch Ice Storm 2013

Sunrise on the night’s ice accumulation

Three days later on Christmas the world was still bent under the ice.

Ice Storm 2013 willow tree

Willow bowed down to the sidewalk

Rose of Sharon bush Ice Storm 2013

Rose of Sharon, iced

 

But still, a holiday was had with the boys

There were knitted gifts for others but this tweet was N happily modeling his newly felted wool slippers:

Melvin really liked my new batts from Enting Fibercraft.  We had to talk quietly about how cats are allowed to look but not touch even pretty fibre.

Ent Batts with Cat

He is a lover that Melvin

Friends & family have surprised us with baskets of treats – each wonderful in its own right.  This was the first through the door.

Fruit basket Christmas

Something for everyone (cat & dog, excepted)

We are still in stay-cation mode with a house guest.  Although a wheel would cramp everyone’s space, I am spinning up a storm on my drop spindles.

Wensleydale wool on Jenkins Delight carob Turkish spindle

Happy New Year when it comes, y’all!

 


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Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving!

A quick post before we get ready for a family celebration on the other side of the GTA.  These are a few of my favorite work and home things that I am grateful for, today.

Kilim gracing the studio wall

With much elbow grease and time, I used linen warp yarn to sew velcro strips across the top of my Christmas gift kilim.  Such a warm addition to the studio!  It’s just behind my Mighty Wolf loom. Tomorrow, I have my 4th weaving class in the fall term.

Many thanks in material form

A new commission has jumped off the wheel (Watson, Martha) and onto my needles.  It’s for someone special, and is making me ridiculously happy.

Mini-skeins of good memories

Clearing a bunch of singles.  Each was once a sample that came from a fibre event or with a spindle.  As a bonus, I got to practice the Andean plying trick while reliving good times.

Spinning cotton

Mahatma Gandhi was absolutely correct.  You do want to spin cotton each day.

I feel that the spinning wheel has all the virtues needed to make one’s life truthful, pure and peaceful and fill it with the spirit of service. I, therefore, beg of you all to give half an hour’s labour daily in the form of spinning.

Speech to students, Dinajpur, May 21, 1925

Prepping California Variegated Mutant wool

This is my start of the 4th round of singles for my CVM wool project.  I use the Louet flick card for each lock before charging the Schacht cotton hand cards.  The waste for 5 rolags is in the container on the left.

In this round, I am retiring the Tabachek top whorl spindles, and have introduced my now cleared Andina low whorls.  My hope is that using 4 low whorl spindles will even out the spinning phase.

Happy first trip to WEBS

I am blessed to be able to make visits to stores like WEBS, and to know that a Moosie and her tulipwood shaft are making their way to our home as we speak.  This article bounced out of my Twitter feed, today.  Reading reminds me again that each of these unwaged activities has as much value as my previous waged work.  As boneheaded as this lifestyle strikes many in my sphere of reference, I have tremendous support from my family unit.


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Helping hands

Last night, while plying lace yarn on my Watson Martha wheel, I thought about how solitary a practice spinning sometimes is for me.

Of course, 4.6 oz of lace can do that for you.

This is Yarn Hollow hand-dyed 80% merino/ 20% silk that is spun on Martha’s small whorl in Scotch tension.  The plying is now at the green (last-spun) portion of the braid.

Singles spinning time was January 19 – 21.  Including, happy spin-in hours at the Fibre Garden in Jordan.

On Monday morning, I had the wrong sort of help.  Toby tore through my re-winding job.  In hot pursuit of the cat, Melvin.  Both singles snapped cleanly.

Two quiet Elves

Onion skins for dyeing

Isabelle floored me last week with a PM that basically said, “I have onion skins for you.”  Quietly collected over a year – such an act of kind thoughtfulness!

I will use them with my own years’ long collection to dye fibre.  You need ½ to full weight of skins to fibre for golds, rusts, or browns.  No rush, folks.  No rush at all!

This skein was made possible by Sandi‘s gift of a batt that she carded herself.  I would love to show off said batt because it was a thing of beauty.  Except someone had camnesia.

This already-spun bombyx silk single served as my second ply for the Sandi Skein.  The spindle is a 20 g Pau Amarillo speed demon made by Houndesign.

Left: Plied Sandi Batt spin

My 12 g Greensleeves Ethan Jakob was perfect for Sandi’s fibre.  What none of the pics shows is the glint of angelina that she included in the blending.

Of Long Leases 

My spinning friend, Margaret, has generously loaned me her charkha.

This book-sized driven spindle wheel is just the thing.  No space sacrifice, and I can continue exploring cotton.  That far spindle is Margaret’s work – I”m still all thumbs!

Jamaican annatto awaiting my yarn dyeing pleasure

Many thanks to those of you who lend a hand, get in touch, and quietly read along.  It does sometimes take late nights at the wheel but that’s not the whole story.

Also, you guys are awesome.