Jillian’s Spinning: My Best Spinning Habit

Last week I talked about my worst spinning habit, the thing that drives me crazy about my spinning self. This week let’s talk about the good.

Cart of samples.

Cart of samples.

My best spinning habit is experimenting, sampling, playing. I could spend all of my spinning time following the ‘what ifs’ that pop up in my head. I have piles and boxes and baskets of samples, some of them becomes articles for Knittyspin, PLY or Spin Off, some become classes, some just stay little piles of fun. That picture above? Each box, bag and basket is crammed with samples. The picture below? That’s one box full of plying experiments with variegated yarn. These experiments are a big reason why I need to break my worst habit of not labeling things, ” exactly what are these four tiny skeins and swatches?”. I love figuring out the things fiber and yarn can do, that even the smallest variation can make a big change. I hope I never get sick of experimenting!

What’s your best spinning habit?

Plying samples.

Variegated plying samples.



My friend Carla of cjkoho Designs started a Kickstarter to build a bigger studio, to dye and to teach. I have used her fiber and yarn for years and she does beautiful work. Take a look and contribute if you are interested, and if not, help spread the word. We need more beautiful fiber and yarn!

cjkoho Designs fiber

cjkoho Designs fiber

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A big anniversary!

Isn’t it funny how time passes online? We launched in 2002, and just 3 years later, the immensely clever Tina Newton (one of my favorite people) launched her Rockin’ Sock Club with her company, Blue Moon Fiber Arts. Tina is the woman that invented Socks that Rock. The yarn that has caused more hours-long lineups at Maryland and Rhinebeck than (possibly) any other. It’s pretty gorgeous stuff.

Holy cow, look at all the cool stuff you get!

Holy cow, look at all the cool stuff you get! And that doesn’t even include the yarn!

So yeah, back to the anniversary thing. 10 years. TEN YEARS, people! This is huge. To celebrate, the 10th Anniversary Rockin’ Sock Club is going all out this year! Members get a kit every other month, and you can read all about what’s in that magical package here. One of the things that caught my eye was the special bag Tina has commissioned from Queen Bee Creations — it’s an optional add-on to the Club, and as someone who is a proud bag ho™, there’s no way I’d miss out on that.

Here’s something I really liked reading on the site about the club — this note on the FAQ page. “Note: Before purchasing, please take a minute to consider very carefully about whether or not a Sock Club that chooses the yarn, pattern, and color is right for you. We promise to challenge your color boundaries and expand your sock knitting horizons.

I love how beautifully honest this is. Be prepared to relinquish control and wonderful things will find their way to your mailbox every two months. It sounds pretty good to me.

To find out more about the Rockin’ Sock Club and sign up for the special 10th Anniversary edition, visit the Blue Moon Fiber Arts website.

Editor’s note: We’re not being paid to write this blog post, and we’re not getting free kits, either. We just love Tina and what she’s created at Blue Moon, and want to share the news about her Club with our readers. That’s one of the cool things about running your own magazine. We get to do stuff like this for good people who make good products.

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Jillian’s Spinning: Spinzilla Sign Up and Swatches


After my happy success with Tour de Fleece, I ‘ve decided to do Spinzilla in October! I wonder how much yarn I can spin in a week? I’ve joined Team PLY,which is full now but, here’s a list of all the teams still available.  Has anyone joined a team yet?

I’ve been spinning and knitting swatches for my Craftsy class. I leave on Sunday and I can’t wait to film. I am equal parts nervous and excited, which seems about right.

Pile o' swatches

Pile o’ swatches

In Happy Camper retreat news Beth, Rita and I planned our goodie bags and door prizes today. Each camper will have 6 ounces of fiber plus other surprises in their goodie bag and go home with at least one door prize. It’s going to be so much fun! September will be here soon.  Are you signed up yet?

My kids are going mental because summer is almost over. My daughter wouldn’t look at the Target ad in the paper on Sunday because it was all back to school stuff. I will admit this summer has flown by, but I am determined to squeeze every last drop out of it!

What are you doing to squeeze the last fun out of summer?

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Uncharacteristically personal post from Amy

Life has gotten hard and complicated over the last while, and just after the New Year, something happened that I think it’s time I shared with you all. The husband and I decided we shouldn’t be married any more.

We’ve been together for more than 2 decades, so this decision was a hard one to make. But it’s the right one for us both.

As a result, you won’t be surprised to hear, I’ve been trying to get through the challenges this has presented. Life will continue to be complicated and challenging for a while longer, but I’m fine and want you all to know that. I’ll be staying in Toronto and moving to my own place shortly, with one very large box of ukuleles and two cranky rabbits. Excited for my new future.

I’m turning off comments because I know you’ll send love and I appreciate it. And that’s enough. I have some wonderful friends and am so grateful for their support.

If I’m slower than usual in answering email, my apologies. I’ve also decided that my already booked teaching gigs in 2014 are all that I’ll be taking on, and won’t be looking for new gigs until 2015.

I hope you understand that my current state is a temporary one and I’ll be fully back on the horse as soon as I can. Knitty will continue to be my primary professional focus and I’m grateful for the work, and the loving and supportive community that has arisen around Jillian, Kate, Ashley, Ruth and I. We all love you.

Thanks to you all,

p.s. Should you know of an amazing east-end (Leslieville would be ideal) 2 bedroom condo, apartment or part of a house to rent, please let me know. If it’s elsewhere but still amazing, I’d love to hear about it too. Tweet me @knittydotcom

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On Charity Knitting; Too Many Penguin Sweaters?

Boing Boing puts it best: The Internet may be producing an excess of penguin sweaters.

If you do want to do some charity knitting, consult local organizations in your area to see what they need… women’s shelters often take children’s items; animal shelters often take blankets and comfort items; hospitals, particularly those with neonatal ICUs, often accept items for tiny newborns; homeless shelters often take winter accessories like hats and scarves.

We all have the impulse to use our power for good – let’s just make sure we direct it in a way that it’s of most benefit.

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Jillian’s Spinning: Handspun Stitching on Handspun Knitting

I’ve been making progress on spinning yarn that I can stitch with, take a look:

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

Front to back: tencel, alpaca/silk, merino/silk – all Lisa Souza fiber. All yarns are 2-ply

The blue Merino/silk is about 18 wpi, the green alpaca/silk is 24 wpi and the tencel is 28 wpi. Regular 6 strand DMC embroidery floss is 22 wpi. I feel really good about these yarns. Of course there are different things I want to try and I want to spin finer, but that is why I keep spinning ,to keep learning!

I stitched with handspun on handspun. First I did a little feather stitch with a dk singles on a 2-ply chunky stockinette swatch.

Feather stitch

Feather stitch

This took about a second and was fun and satisfying. I immediately realized I couldn’t pull so hard with embroidery on knitting. The embroidery floats on the top.When I pulled tightly it sunk into the knitted fabric and disappeared.  I was a little disappointed that yarn that is variegated for knitting isn’t variegated for stitching. I need much shorter color runs for my yarn. More fun to ponder.

Then I used my freshly spun yarns. A little flower on a cabled swatch.

Blue Flower

Blue Flower

The yarns behaved beautifully (win!) and didn’t fuzz much with repeated pulling out and restitching. I like this as a first go at stitching on textured knitting. I am curious about different ways to stitch on already textured fabric. There is lots to sample and stitch in this realm.

I’m loving this so much I have to remind myself to go back to my regular work. It’s exciting to have something new – the embroidery and something old – spinning to pair up. It’s great to have a new technique to dig into with spinning – spinning fine. This is exactly why I never say never when it comes to craft. I didn’t want to spin fine in the past becasue I didn’t want to knit or weave with it, but now that I want to stitch with handspun, spinning fine is at the top of my spinning to-do list.

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Uke 101 for the holidays! (updated for 2013)

a little purple Mahalo started it all

I wrote this post a few years ago, and thankfully, interest in the ukulele is still strong! So I share again at the holidays for those interested in gifting or receiving a uke. My best tips are below with links that all work, and new gift tips for those looking for a uke-themed gift for a friend. Enjoy!

Ukuleles are experiencing a resurgence not seen since the 1950s, with movies like The Mighty Uke showing to packed houses, and musicians from Train to Amanda Palmer to Eddie Vedder reclaming the little 4-stringed wonder. I’ve been playing the uke since 2008, when I traded a skein of yarn for a purple Mahalo. It was this video that made me want to learn how to play the uke. [aside: yes, that’s Bret of Flight of the Conchords, 2nd from the left.] I have been very fortunate to find a ukulele community that meets and plays together weekly, and thanks to these sessions, I’m getting better all the time.

But what is the point of this post? It’s to tell you that you can do it too. The ukulele is absolutely the friendliest, easiest instrument to learn on this planet. Easy to learn, hard to master, sure. But you can learn 3 or 4 chords, and be playing along with a group in less than an hour. And with a little practise, your repertoire of chords will grow, just like mine did. With the uke, I have found it’s about enjoying music, not about being a kickass performer. It’s about F.U.N.

People ask me what kind of uke to start with, so that’s really the point of this post. This is my best advice for those starting out with the uke with zero experience. There’s no way to know if you’ll like the uke until you play one for a while. So I recommend you choose one of the colored Mahalo soprano ukes, like the purple one shown above, at a cost of around $30.

First thing, replace the crappy strings it’s wearing with a set of Aquila Nylgut strings. This will make a world of difference. If you’re new to stringed instruments like I was, don’t be surprised that the strings don’t hold their tuning for long. They’re plastic and they will stretch for a while until they settle in.

Next, download a chord chart, and learn some basic chords. C, F, G will get you a long way. Add A, D and E7 and you’ve got a lot to play with. Visit Chordie and type in some song names, and you’ll find things to start playing!

I’ll skip the part about playing as much as you can, because if you like the uke, you will do that. I’ll also skip the part about googling and finding [hopefully] a uke group near you. If you don’t find one, you can always start one, right? Think of it like a musical S&B night.

I meet my Pono Tenor at the now-closed Music Guy Mic’s…and fall in love at first sight.

You love the uke and are ready to upgrade? The next place to start looking is the $100-350 range. You can go up into thousands of dollars with ukes, but to get something really playable for a relative novice, you don’t need to spend more than $300ish.

Brands I recommend are Kala, Ohana, Pono. Kala is most affordable and has some fun models, if aesthetics are your thing [I like this plaid model]. Ohana is a factory-made uke with good quality control and really nice acoustics [my first really good-sounding uke was this Ohana Sopranino, which — because it’s so tiny — often travels with me]. Pono is the factory-made (but hand-finished) offshoot of the Ko’olau brand of Hawaiian ukes, and I love their quality. I have a Pono Tenor that I play all the time lately.

thanks to ukuleletricks.com for this great image

Who should you buy from? I recommend a uke-focused seller, because they will usually check and adjust the uke before they sell it to you. I have personally dealt with and would recommend the online sellers Mim’s Ukes and Uke Republic.

When in doubt, put your hands on the uke you want to buy and play it first. Does it feel good? Do you like the sound of it? That’s what matters. That’s what happened to me in the pic above. I had planned to JUST LOOK in the shop [stop laughing] and after a few strums, I was lost. I played a lot of ukes that day, most more expensive than this one, but this one felt just right in my hands and made sounds that made me happy.

image via Lamorinda Music (thanks!)

What about all the sizes? How do you choose? This is easy: play them all. Ukes come [from smallest to largest] in Sopranino, Soprano, Concert, Tenor and Baritone sizes. Baritone uses the same tuning as a guitar and has a really deep sound, but still just 4 strings. The others use either GCEA tuning [my preferred] or ADF#B tuning, and sound like you imagine: the smaller ukes have higher-pitched voices. The most important point, in my opinion, is how the fretboard feels under your fingers. Some are made wide or thick, some are thin and flat, and every model feels different. The one that feels best to you is the right one. It’s as personal a choice as the kind of knitting needle you like best.

Lamorinda Music has a great explanation of the different sizes of ukes here.

KoAloha Soprano ukulele, in solid koa. Ahhh.

If I had an unlimited budget, what ukulele brand would I buy? KoAloha, hands down. The sound these beautiful hand-made Hawaiian ukes produce is warm, like a tropical hug. There are more expensive ukes, but I don’t like them as well as I do the KoAlohas, and I’m not alone.

Gift ideas for your uke-obsessed friends:

One more thing: there are tons of online ukulele resources to help you along on your journey. I’ve spent a lot of time at the Ukulele Underground forums, reading back posts and asking questions when a google wouldn’t suffice. Lots of helpful people there. There are tons more places to explore. Some of my favorites:

Ukulele Hunt | Ukulele in the Classroom | Uke groups of North America |

Hana Hou!

What should you carry it in? Well, we’ve got a great pattern for a knitted/felted ukulele case, designed by the awesome Wendy Bernard!

Remember: ukes are happier in bunches. If you find you love the uke, teach someone else. Pass it on. Don’t be shy.

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Jillian’s Obsession Thursday: How I Know a New Thing Is Going to Stick

You may have noticed that I love to learn new things.

I never know what’s going to set me off, something in a class, something I’ve read or saw someone else do.

My latest fibery pursuit, embroidery, started with a spinning class with Sarah Swett in May. They I discovered Rebecca Ringquist and her beginning sampler class on CreativeBug.

But I do know when a new interest is going to stick and become part of my life for a bit.

It’s not the new stuff, though I love accumulating and researching tools and supplies.

Here’s my embroidery stash:

Lots of embroidery supplies can fit in a small space.

Lots of embroidery supplies can fit in a small space.

It’s the books.

Not just books from the library, though it always starts that way. Then I buy the most popular and interesting looking ones for my library.

I know I’m going to be doing whatever my new thing is for more than just a short time when I start buying older and out of print books. Older craft books tend to be more focused on techniques than projects and that is exactly what I want when I’m learning something new.

Here are my first embroidery acquisitions:

My (so far) modest stash of out of print embroidery books.

My (so far) modest stash of out of print embroidery books.


And I have a book coming from England any time now, publication date? 1901.


Art in Needlework by Lewis F. Day

Art in Needlework by Lewis F. Day

How do you know when a new obsession or interest will become part of your life?

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