Monthly Archives: February 2014

WWW: Knitting songs & other history, knitted nests for baby birds

Easy to knit, yet very powerful in their ability to help.

Wildcare, an urban wildlife rehabilitation center based in San Rafael, California, has put out a call for help. They collect knitted nests for rescued orphaned baby birds. The birds start arriving at the rehab center in June, and they need a lot of nests to care for these delicate creatures.

Stick to your knitting, kitten…

Singer, knitter and podcaster Melanie Gall of The Savvy Girls has released a second collection of knitting songs. This second release focuses on knitting songs of World War II. I love this project, keeping alive a small piece of ‘domestic’ history that might otherwise have been lost. Melanie is a professional opera singer, and her lovely voice is just right for these songs. The instrumentation is true to the period, and brings to life these little stories of life and knitting during the war, knitting for sweethearts and family members and servicemen abroad, knitting while you wait, knitting because it might the only thing you can do to contribute to the war effort.  At the same time, these songs tell universal stories of knitting, stories we’re all familiar with… “She started on a sock but kinda lost her nerve; shock followed shock for she couldn’t make the curve” – yup, we’ve all been there.

Image courtesy the Stroudwater Textile Trust.

Speaking of history, the Stroudwater Textile Trust has just launched a new website. This UK Trust is dedicated to telling the story of the Gloucestershire woollen industry, restoring and demonstrating historical textile machinery at two sites in the Cotswolds. The website has a wonderful history section, and hosts many historical images of wool mills in action.

Looking to the future: Kim Werker alerts us to news of an Open Source knitting machine.

“In the model of 3D printers and the online platforms that host open-source plans that anyone can print, some folks have developed OpenKnit, “an open-source, low cost (under 550€), digital fabrication tool that affords the user the opportunity to create his own bespoke clothing from digital files.”

And from technology to mathematics: wonderful eye-candy (although not entirely about knitting) in this slide show from Scientific American magazine, showcasing “The Stunning Symbiosis between math and knitting“. The article provides more detail on the craft-related events from Joint Mathematics Meetings held in Baltimore last month.

We’re pleased to announce two giveaway winners: the winner of the Dreaming in Shetland book is Lisa in Maryland and the winner of the class with me! is Debra, in Ontario.

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Jillian’s Spinning: Working with commercial yarn

I love commercial yarn, I love buying it, I love knitting with it, nothing makes me happier than going to a yarn store and touching all the yarn. I never leave empty handed.

When my son wanted a hat, red and cozy, I went for Cascade Eco Wool.

Eco Wool and hat

Eco Wool and hat

My son said it was the perfect red and really soft. It knit up fast,but I noticed something. It had less ply twist than I would use if I had spun the yarn.

Balanced ply twist

Balanced ply twist

Because I am a curious spinner, I added some ply twist.

Added twist left, regular right.

Added twist left, regular right.

I knitted a swatch for comparison.

Added ply twist left, regular right.

Added ply twist left, regular right.

I really like the little bit of extra twist in the knitting, it adds some sproing. My son likes the version with regular twist.

I love the idea of altering commercial yarn to make a yarn I like just a little better.





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WWW: YO, YFWD, YRN, oh my! On codes and coding.

I hope everyone is enjoying all the excellent knitting-appropriate TV that the Winter Games provides… I have a bit of a weakness for all the figure skating/ice dancing events. I adore the artistry and athleticism, yes, but also the silly music, the slight frisson of scandal (score fixing?!) and the fantastic overuse of sequins… The Olympics this year have caused much debate, controversy and concern because of host country Russia’s stated policies towards members of the LGBT community. Friend of Knitty Bristol Ivy kicked off an initiative to give back. She decided to donate a portion of her sales proceeds during the run of the games to a human rights organization that supports those in that community. Other designers have joined her. More details here.

Not quite like this… (a still from a 1958 film adaptation of A Tale of Two Cities.)

An urban legend, confirmed… knitting has been used at least once as a code, to record information. Apparently, during WWII, the Belgian resistance recruited women whose windows overlooked railway yards to record the trains in their knitting. I do also adore the tid-bit that the British Office of Censorship banned people from sending knitting patterns through the mail in case they contained coded messages. It makes me want to design knits that contain hidden messages.

For lace knitters, knitting historians and those interested in the technical details: a fantastic discussion kicked up yesterday on Twitter between Susan Crawford, Knitty columnist Donna Druchunas and some others about historical lace patterns and the various ways to represent the yarnover stitch. Both Susan and Donna have blogged about it. I agree with them that the modern catch-all instruction “yarnover” isn’t ideal, as it loses some of the finer detail about how to actually work it in various situations.

Lots of lovely eye-candy: the Twitter account @HistoryNeedsYou has been tweeting an awful lot of knitting-related pictures of late. I think this one is my favorite.

Helping hands.

Knitter Rita Gallant has been named a “Caring Canadian” by Governor General David Johnston, to recognize her work over the past 28 years making and donating baby clothes to hospitals. She has made donations all over North America, and also sold her handwork to raise funds to support the care of premature and at-need babies.

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Jillian’s Spinning: Spinning Wheel Spa – Schacht Matchless

By far my favorite spinning tools are my wheels. Every so often, probably not often enough, I give them a mini spa treatment. I oil, condition their wood and change their drive bands. Just a little spiff up.

What usually happen while I’m doing this is that I think about how the wheel came to me and all of the classes and adventures we’ve been on together.

It has been past time for me to show my Matchless a little love. Here she is, I’ve had her for at least 20 years.


Schacht Matchless

I bought her at Lambspun in Fort Collins, Colorado when I worked at Interweave Press. I barely knew how to spin, but as soon as I saw her I was in love. I haven’t used her much for the past year or so, even though she’s the wheel I can adjust with my eyes closed, I’m so familiar with her.

She has aged beautifully. When she was new she was closer in color to my Lendrum.

Side by side with my Lendrum

Side by side with my Lendrum

She was a little dusty

schacht dust-1

Dusty treadles

This is the wheel I really learned to spin on thanks to Maggie Casey. It’s also the wheel I stuck in the basement for many years becasue  I was obsessed with knitting. She was patiently waiting when I decided I needed to spin.

Here’s my mini spa kit:

mini spa-1

Mini spa kit

I like Wood Beams to condition the wood, it soaks in fast and has almost no smell. I use chalk line for my drive band replacement. It was recommended by Beth Smith as a good basic drive band for my Schacht. She does say that I ‘ll have to tighten it every few bobbins since it’s polyester and will stretch. I actually consult the wheel’s manual before I oil. Almost all of my wheels have their manuals on-line. During my mini spa I take my WooLee Winder apart and clean it according to the manual. There’s usually a lot of fluff stuck inside. I like a WooLee Winder, not everyone does. I use it most of the time on my Matchless, but not all of the time. I check my wheel for loose bits. Carrying my wheel around in my car, vibrates screws loose. I treadle the wheel by hand and attend to any weird sighs and squeaks. Then I am done.

after schacht

My girl after her spa

She looks happy, doesn’t she? Now it’s time to spin!

How do you take care of your wheels?





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Cat & Felfs & Kindness

Friend of Knitty and innovator extraordinaire Cat Bordhi, has announced her next book: The Art of Felfs: Felted Footwear for Families.

So inspiring!

A new book of Cat patterns is always worth getting excited about, and this has a lot of typically wonderfully Cat ideas… although all the styles seem to have been knitted in the round, they are actually all cleverly constructed strips of garter stitch that are felted and folded in various ways to make a myriad shapes of comfy warm slippers.

Love them!

And what makes this book even more special is that Cat has chosen to donate 100% of the proceeds of the sale of the e-book to a cause close to her heart: the cancer treatment research of Dr. David Krag at the University of Vermont Medical School. To quote Cat, “Dr. Krag, who pioneered sentinel node location, which has been used by over a million women with breast cancer, is now on the cusp of starting clinical trials for a cancer treatment that is as gentle as chemo is violent, and likelier to result in a complete cure.” Cat has made a video to introduce Dr. Krag’s work, and to tell you a little about the folding of the felfs.

Love ’em!

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WWW: Extreme Knitting….

Warm, stylish and educational!

So much to love: two Norwegian high school teachers have made particle physics-themed sweaters as a thank you gift to scientists at CERN for hosting their students on their annual visits.

Wonderful: historical illuminated manuscripts showing women spinning, carding and weaving.

Pic from @CBCOlympics twitter feed.

The knitter-verse was abuzz Saturday morning with news that there was a knitter spotted at the top of one of the Sochi snowboarding runs. Turns out it was Antti Koskinen, a Finnish snowboarding coach, and the scarf project is, quite literally, a team project. Members of the winter Finnish Olympic team will work on it, and then hand it off to the summer team before they head to Rio for the summer 2016 games.

A nice feature courtesy of the Craft Yarn Council of America about the health benefits of yarn-craft. Others are coming to understand what we’ve known all along: that knitting can calm stressed nerves, can provide opportunity for quiet meditation and mindfulness, and provide an important sense of physical accomplishment and reward. The article discusses the research work of two oncology nurses who studied the effects of knitting amongst their co-workers.

Glorious, glorious eye-candy! A video on the production of a Chanel sweater-jacket. It’s steeked! The care and attention to detail is entrancing.

With tongue firmly in cheek, blogger Amy offers 10 reasons why knitting is an excellent skill-set for the zombie apocalypse.

A challenging work, in many ways.

A retired teacher in China spent 11 years knitting her husband a hat and coat. From her own hair. Her motivation was to preserve her often-complimented hair. As far as we can tell, she didn’t spin the hair, but rather just held 15 or so lengthy strands together to make a sufficient strand for knitting with.

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Jillian’s Spinning: More Stitching with Handspun Thread

A couple of weeks ago I talked about stitching with handspun thread on knitted fabric.

Since the stitching was successful on knitting I decided to try it on some linen fabric. I love linen, the heavy, swishy-ness of it. I have a lot of linen clothes that I’d love to stitch motifs on.

So here are those same handspun threads:

Front to back: tencel, alpaca/silk, merino/silk - all Lisa Souza fiber

Front to back: tencel, alpaca/silk, merino/silk – all Lisa Souza fiber

stitched on purple linen

Handspun cloud

Handspun cloud

I used the blue merino/silk and stitched a wobbly stem stitch cloud. It behaved wonderfully with the linen, not splitting or pilling. I would spin it finer next time for fabric stitching. My joy on this little project is the Tencel raindrops. I can’t get over how shiny it is stitched. I had much better luck spinning the Tencel this time. I relaxed, used smaller pieces that I shook waaay open and spun from the end with lots of twist and barely any take up (thank you Beth Smith!). I spend a silly amount of time smiling and petting my little rain cloud.

I want to spin more Tencel and start experimenting with different silks. But first I think I’ll try some different wools and fiber blends all spun similarly and stitched side by side for comparison. I feel like I can have grand spinning dreams for embroidery yarns because I’m only spinning about 25 yards at a time.

I want to point out how easy it was for me to leap out of my spinning comfort zone with spinning embroidery yarns. I’ve wanted to make better friends with worsted and fine spinning. I’ve put both on want-to lists over and over, but all I needed was a little new obsession to learn to love spinning both worsted and fine yarns.

What’s new and wonderful in your spinning life?

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A Knitting Cruise

A couple of weeks ago, I had the very distinct pleasure of going on a Caribbean cruise. Given the winter we’ve had, it was just the ticket – to see the sun, to feel the warmth on my skin, and to be able to go without socks (and a hat, and mittens, and a scarf, and a parka) was a pleasure.

Making it even more fun was the fact that it was a knitting cruise!

Well, for clarity, a group of knitters gathered on a 3000-person cruise on the Celebrity Reflection as it (she?) toured around the Eastern Caribbean.

Organized by Linda Sokalski, herself an avid knitter and teacher, the trip included all the usual delights of a winter cruise – sunshine, companionship, and fun – plus classes from myself and lace designer Anna Dalvi.

The entire experience was a delight.


Linda, Anna and two of our students. Look at the color of the water!


Knitting in the cafe on a sunny afternoon.


Much needed sunshine. San Juan, Puerto Rico.


Really, what more could a girl want?


Knitting socks, but not wearing them.


Anna and Kate.

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WWW: Thinking Locally & Globally; Olympic Knitwear-spotting

Simple and very effective!

A cute and clever yarn-bomb on a statue of former US first-lady Lou Henry Hoover, in Waterloo, Iowa. I’m just as amused by the name of the group of yarnbombers: they call themselves the Waterloopers….

Good to hear: Ralph Lauren, the official outfitter of the 2014 Winter Olympics team, has announced that all the items of apparel will be made in the US, from US materials where possible. The wool for the sweaters comes from Imperial Stock Ranch in Oregon.

On a related note, Deb Robson writes about the concept of “terroir” as it applies to wool. To quote from Deb’s post,

We hear about terroir with regard to foods, for the most part: the concept began, I think, with wine, and refers to “the complete natural environment in which a particular wine is produced, including factors such as the soil, topography, and climate.”

Deb asks, entirely reasonably, why this couldn’t also be applied to fibers and yarns?

A modern spin on a classic Dale design.

On a different but equally related note, I do get rather excited about the winter Olympics, if only because of the wonderful knitwear that the Scandinavian teams inevitably wear. This year’s official Dale of Norway design for the Norwegian team is lovely.

LoveKnitting in the UK has launched a new contest. They are seeking “Britain’s Next Top Knitwear Designer“. Entrants must design a pattern for an item of men’s or women’s knitwear and send in the finished pattern with two photographs of the final item; the prize includes £1000 cash, but perhaps more excitingly, mentoring from Debbie Bliss, and a work experience placement with UK fashion designer Emilio de la Morena in advance of his S/S London Fashion Week show in September. Details at the link.

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Spinning with Deb Robson and a Dreaming of Shetland Giveaway!

Dreaming of Shetland

Dreaming of Shetland

Deb Robson is one of the people I most admire in the spinning world.  For as long as I have know her ( is it 20 years?) she has passionately championed rare and endangered breeds of sheep.

Yesterday, the Rare Breed Survival Trust in the UK updated their Watchlist. The Watchlist covers  cows, horses, chickens, pigs as well as sheep. Of all of the animals listed on the RBST Watchlist sheep have the most positive numbers. Deb Robson has had a hand in this. She has helped to bring an awareness to spinners and knitters and other fiber folk about different breeds and their properties that just was there before. The fiber world is richer for it.

Deb’s North American Teaching Schedule

Deb is teaching 3 four-day breed intensive retreats this year, and that’s all she’s teaching in North America 2014. Here’s some information:

Using individually selected and prepared fleeces, in each retreat she’ll lead a small group of participants in a relaxed, information-rich exploration of fibers, history, and spinning skills. All of the retreats accommodate a wide range of skill levels, from those who have recently gained confidence making a two-ply yarn to those with a great deal of experience.
Deb spends the year preceding a retreat sourcing and preparing the fibers. Her goal is a combination of featured materials that provides a variety of experiences—and that result in a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

The retreat days combine presentation of materials and techniques with independent time for rest, further fiber work, and exploration of the local area. There’s lots of time for visiting and informal, personalized instruction.

Dates and locations:
* Explore 4 Fiber Retreat, a potpourri of fibers, March 17-20, 2014, Friday Harbor, Washington
* Explore 4 on the Eastern Shore, focusing on locally sourced fibers, October 13-16, 2014, St. Michaels, Maryland
* Wild Card Fiber Retreat, featuring an array of Shetlands in 2014, November 10-13, 2014, Friday Harbor, Washington
For each retreat, participants arrive the evening before and depart the morning after.

For information on the Washington retreats (March and November), contact Deb directly,, with “Explore 4 Spring 2014” or “Wild Card Fall 2014” in the subject line.
For information on the Maryland retreat (September), organized by Blended Threads, visit the retreat announcement or contact

April 5 – 6, 2014 – Iowa Federation of Handweavers and Spinners, Waterloo, Iowa (a one-day rare breeds workshop and a couple of talks)
May 1 – May 5, 2014 – Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival  (a one-day Shetland workshop and a two-day 3Ls and 3Cs, with the three Leicesters and three Australian/NZ breeds), plus the two half-day barn walkabouts)

Dreaming of Shetland

Several designers, editors, tech editors and knitters got together last year and donated their creativity, time and money to publish Dreaming of Shetland. It is an e-book in seven sections (four have been released so far)  of knitting designs inspired by Shetland. All of the proceeds go to a fund to keep Deb doing her fiber and sheep research on the Shetland Islands. Deb talks about it here.

We have one copy of Dreaming in Shetland to giveaway, retail value $20.00.

Regular contest rules: leave a comment on this post between now and midnight eastern time, Friday February 7th. One comment will be chosen at random to answer a skill testing question. If the commenter answers correctly they will win the e-book. If you have already won a prize from us in the past year, please do give other spinners and knitters a chance.
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