The Gotland Vest

I completed a project with the Gotland wool. This was my vacation knitting project, the one I took with me to Ottawa when we went to visit family over Christmas.

Here are some bobbins of singles, glowing as they do from the wonderful sheen and depth of the fibre:
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I tried and tried to decide on which colours of the Gotland to use, and in the end I just spun them all and figured I’d sort it out later. I spun up one and a half pounds of undyed and 8 braids of dyed, and they came out to about a sport weight. I couldn’t decide what colours to do when it was in fibre form, so I thought it might be clearer to me in yarn form.
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What was clear when I laid them all out was that I wanted to use them all. I had decided to render this project on Ravelry, which was the body strategy of one pattern and the chart of another.

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Here is the finished vest:

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Now I have a whole lot of leftover handspun Gotland, and no project in mind, and not enough of any one colour to provide the background for another sweater. I may have to spin yet more Gotland to make use of what I’ve already spun -(this is how I end up with bins and bins of handspun yarn to deal with.) I’m most tempted by the Schoolhouse Shetland sweater by Meg Swansen, or maybe the Ram’s Horn.

As a last note, I’m gonna come clean. This wool is itchy. I made the neck tight enough that I’d need a turtleneck to fully protect my skin against the pickiness, and I do spend a bit of time while I’m wearing it tugging it away from the delicate skin of my throat, pulling up the underlayer and tucking it between wool and skin. I possibly should invest in a turtleneck of two. That said, it’s so worth it. The sheen on this wool, the cozy look of the halo on the fabric, and the warmth it provides – it’s wonderful. This is a light-as-anything vest, but it provides an amazing degree of warmth. Wool that itches carries significant benefit, and we’re good to not forget it. Give itchy wool its due – it’s warm, beautiful, and enduring. It’s much better to go buy a couple turtlenecks than to never use it.

Gotland

I’ve been meaning to spin up some Gotland for ages, ever since I first got my hands on some back in the summer, but it actually sold really quickly, and I had other fish to fry so to speak. When I got more, I determined that some of it would be mine.

Gotland is a funny thing, not what many spinners or knitters would consider to be a desirable wool. It’s not soft. It’s not all that easy, and it makes a yarn that you probably wouldn’t want to wear next to your skin.

But do you really wear woolen underpants? Honestly, why does everything need to be next-to-the-skin soft?

Here’s what Gotland is. It’s long, and so won’t fuzz up all to heck if you need to reknit something (not that I ever make mistakes, of course), and the garment will wear well. It’s shiny, and shiny needs no argument in its favour. It’s light, hollow, and so should keep its warmth well even when it’s wet.

I live in Raincouver. This is a serious consideration.

Before I did a test spin, I read up on what the more experienced spinners on Ravelry had to say. a) They agreed that it needed to be spun woolen, as spinning it worsted would result in twine. This makes sense – it doesn’t have much crimp, more of a wave like BFL or Icelandic. A high crimp wool will still puff up if you spin it worsted, but a wavey wool doesn’t have much body to start with. b) They suggested a lighter weight yarn for the same reason. c) They said don’t expect to wear it on your neck.

I wanted to use it for colourwork (I want to use many things for colourwork). In particular, a yoke style cardigan with a Fair Isle motif or something similar. I’ve had Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Fair Isle Yoke Sweater on my to-do list for ages, and given that the instructions are essentially to do an EPS sweater and put the charted yoke pattern on the top, it seemed a good fit for handspun yarn of uncertain gauge.

I’m ready. I have dyed 22lbs of Gotland in 11 different shades, several of them in varying strengths of related shades. I have done a test spin, and it came out to a lovely and knittable (not twiney) sport weight.

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And now, I’m choosing colours. I’m not being haphazard about this process like I often am. I have learned my lesson. Colourwork is not just about the right combination of colours, its about the placement of those colours, the overall effect, the minor combinations that occur within the larger whole. This takes time, consideration. Natural light. And the absence of determination to cast on that very day.

I laid out some options, I took some pictures. Here they are:

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The majority of the sweater will be the natural grey, which is why I included it in the picture. Which one do you like the best?

Where Even Is That Horse?

It’s been a heck of a week here at Casa Del Two Sisters. Me and the girls have taken turns being sick – mercifully there was only a little bit of crossover there. For the last 12 days, the house has gone to heck, dinners have gotten increasingly boxed and processed, and my production level has dwindled to nothing. The capper on the week was me being sick, so sick I couldn’t even muster the energy to sit up and knit, for yesterday and today. Well, yesterday. Today I managed to knit, and I’m nearly done on my Caller Herrin’.

Today, my box of Polwarth (a full bump) Teeswater (about 8 lbs) and Alpaca/silk (or something similarly lovely and fine, I can’t entirely remember right now, about 2lbs worth) arrived. Tomorrow my studio assistant/nanny comes, and I Get Stuff Done.

Before the Great Illness, I had gotten some wonderful spinning done. I was commissioned to do some chunky weight Shetland, undyed. I don’t normally do chunky weight because it’s not my favourite to knit with, the but crafter wanted to use it for some nalbinding, and apparently a heavier weight is better for that.

It turned out GORGEOUS. I’m totally willing to toot my own horn on this one. It’s so squooshy that I want to sleep on it.
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The commissioner only wants three of the skeins; I’ll be listing the rest, about 235 yards, in the Fall, when knitters are buying yarn again. July, not such a busy time for yarn sales.

I also finally got around to spinning up some fibre that’s been sitting around for ages. It’s the remainder of the fibre that was commissioned for this project.. I had 225g left, and I spun it into a DK weight (maybe a sport)? I got 670 yards out of the fibre, and it is also so squooshy I want to wear it on my naked body. Rambouillet is a merino variant, and it has the spring that you should get out of a merino (but more body, which is why I prefer it). The spring on the skeins – you can actually stretch these skeins. I’m so proud. Airiness, springiness, these are the things you want in a good knitting yarn, and they’ve taken me some practice to achieve.

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Dinner is on the table now – an actually cooked from scratch dinner. Tomorrow, I’ll get some dyework done, and Friday I should finally, finally be able to make it to Three Bags Full to deliver the fibre they asked for two weeks ago.

Shetland cowl

I never get to spin as much of my fibre as I’d like to, nor knit with as much as my yarn as I’d like; that’s the nature of being busy. It doesn’t matter that my business is spinning and knitting. I still lack leisure time, same as you.

Now and then, though, something is too wonderful to give up. I dyed some grey Shetland wool last month, and I was pretty chuffed at how it turned out. I got a better result with strong, clear tones than I did with washes of colour, which tended to pool into deeply coloured bits and uncoloured bits, due to the water-resistant nature of the Shetland wool. My first batch was a golden green, and just by fluke, I think the first batch was the best. It came out to this spectacular array of tones that looked just exactly like the sunlight hitting the moss on a wet tree. Unreal.

I snagged a braid, spun it to a fingering weight, and cast on for a hat. I tried a Wooly Wormhead Windward hat, but didn’t really pay too much attention to gauge, cause it was a hat, you know? Mistake. Not always a mistake, but definitely a mistake here. What should have been a slouchy beret was turning into a tube off the back of the head, not so cute. And the pattern wasn’t really bringing out the best in the yarn, either. This was a substantial yarn, it had bounce, and sheen, and the hat was just kind of meh.

I went hunting for a good cowl pattern and found the Wavy Feathers wimple, available here. It was a lace pattern, good for leavening up a heavyish yarn, but a simple one, good for carrying around to be my take-along project (the one I carry around the house, and in my purse, as I go about my day and/or follow kids about).

Superfast knit, and while I didn’t make it quite long enough to be a wimple, it makes for a terrific cowl. Here it is on me:
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I’ll be honest with you, it’s not not-itchy. I’ve worn it for several days now on my bare neck, and once an hour I do find myself reaching up to scratch. But me, I don’t have a problem with that. I’ll take beautiful, lustrous wool that occasionally picks over the Wonderbread blandness of Merino any day, me. And the lustre, you can’t beat the lustre here.

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So that’s my new cowl. I still have lots of Shetland available in my Etsy store in my “Other” category, and Three Bags Full took a bunch and probably still has some left. I have vague plans to spin up the Old Wagon and the Lichen colourways, but I probably won’t get the time to do it before they’re gone. And don’t think I’m being maudlin here. The wonderful thing about what I do is that there is always some new fibre about to drool over (but not on!).

On Being Neither Fish Nor Fowl

The knitting world is an interesting one. The craft seems to attract people with consistent personality traits. In particular, knitters seem often to be a bit obsessive. *cough* Okay, more than a bit obsessive. And I can see how obsessiveness, which is really the ability to not become bored with a really very great deal of the same thing, and knitting go together.

Take your average sweater. Lets assume a medium size, and a worsted weight yarn, knitted to a gauge of 20 stitches to 4 inches. Allow some ease, and you’ll be casting on about 200 stitches for the body. Knit a tube straight up to the neck, about 20″, and two half-size tubes from wrist to armpit (17″ on me), at a row gauge of 25 rows to 4 inches, and you’ll have knit, wait for it, about 46,000 stitches.

Forty-six thousand stitches. In through the front door, dance around the back, down through the window, and off jumps Jack, until you want to cry from the boredom, and throw the needles straight out the window. Wait, no, down through the window, and straight INTO JACK’S STILL-BEATING HEART.

Except knitters? They don’t do that. They FREAKING LOVE IT.

They’re obsessives. It doesn’t become boring.

Some will do the same pattern more than once. Some will happily work with the same yarn more than once, or even exclusively, for some months or years. Some will never get enough of making hats. But a lot of them are driven by novelty, too, and these weird little avalanches occur all the time.

There’s this herd mentality, too, and I can’t quite tell if it’s innate or accidental. Are knitters essentially followers? Given how much each individual knitter who made a Clapotis back in 2004-2005 actually liked doing it, and liked the finished items, I don’t think so. I think it’s actually a herd mentality brought on by novelty seeking. It seems contradictory, but that’s my best guess based on the evidence.

And so, if one makes yarn, like I make yarn, there is a great temptation to make something that is not, in fact, one of a kind. If you sell a OOAK skein to someone, and their neighbour at Knit Night sees it and, as often happens, instantly wants some, do you want to lose out on a sale by not having another one? Do you want to take a chance that you won’t have anything else that pleases that potential customer?

If you’re me, you said Heck No to that scenario, and set about trying to make yarns that were consistent, knit to a standard gauge. For most of the time I’ve been in business, I’ve made basically two yarns, a soft-spun, Aran weight in Corriedale wool, and a 2-ply worsted weight (give or take) in BFL, and lately in Falkland too. I have knit dozens and dozens of skeins of these yarns. The soft spun sells reasonably well, the 2ply less so, most likely because it’s more expensive. And with all my yarns, I seem to sell more, the more choice I have available. I try to keep a critical mass on hand at all times, because if someone makes it to my online store, I want to have as good a chance as possible of them seeing something they like.

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The other week, though, I sat down to make some more of the Corriedale yarn. It wasn’t working. I try for a fair consistency (I always read “Thick n Thin” as “I don’t know How To Spin”), and I wasn’t getting it. The fibre was coming out in lumps, then thready bits, then overspun and then underspun, it was a mess.

The problem was that I was bored.

I’ve been bored for awhile, but the nice thing about this yarn in particular is that it doesn’t take too much time to make, so there’s a limit to how much I have to resent my time spent spinning it, and it sells rather well, so it usually seems worth it. All of a sudden, though, that wasn’t enough to keep me concentrating.

So I have decided to stop. I will no longer be making that yarn. Unless I feel like it, and then I will, but if my stocks dwindle down past that critical mass point, then they do.

Because here’s what I realized: I have been trying to compete with commercial yarn. I have some repeating colourways, I’ve tried to make known patterns with my yarn and sometimes offer pattern support, I’ve tried to spin hundreds of skeins to exactly the same thickness, and believe me I’ve lost sleep over the fact that I can’t.

It’s crazy. I’m not a machine. In fact, some of the major appeal of buying handmade is that it’s not made by a machine. So why have I been trying to spin something that could be instantly substituted for Manos, or Mission Falls?

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Wrongheaded, that’s what that plan was. I couldn’t really compete with mass production, and I wasn’t really embracing handmade.

So I have a new plan. I will spin what I want. I may well try to make larger quantities of a single yarn — in fact I have a 2lb batch of Corriedale waiting to be turned into a single batch of yarn for sale — but it will be a batch-by-batch decision. My guess is that someone who is buying handspun yarn is probably already pretty competent at making yarn substitutions into existing patterns, or at knitting without one. And for a potential customer who isn’t already good at that, I have book recommendations I can make.

I’m excited. I think the spinning is going to get fun again.

Repetition

Here’s the Persian Poppies shawl as of a few days ago:

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Three repeats done.

The work is starting to ease up now that I’ve done a few inches of decreases and the stitches aren’t so very crowded up along my cable, but it’s getting heavier in the lap. I had to take a few days off because I was getting some tendonitis, and if there’s one truism when you work with your body, it’s don’t risk your body’s fitness to do its work. A little pain means make a change, take some time off.

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Very crowded stitches.

Okay, I didn’t entirely stop knitting. I switched to a hat.

I’m home from my trip now, and hopefully in a day or so I’ll get back to some proper work. The first two days after the trip are, of course, devoted mostly to laundry and assorted housework. It’s not that my husband made the place especially messy while I was away, it’s just that it was no better than when I left (which was pretty bad), and being at my (very neat and tidy) mother’s place for two weeks has left me sensitive to the disorder.

A Beautiful Beginning

I have this project I’ve been wanting to do for awhile. It calls for DK weight yarn, and it works best when done with many, many colours. It’s done in stranded knitting, my favourite for relaxing. I wasn’t going to pick up the project just yet, as I have two others in progress and I try really, really hard to not have more than a couple project in progress at a time.

However, I’m going on vacation, and my big WIP isn’t portable (that’s the Adult Tomten done in the Beaverslide Dry Goods 3ply tweed yarn), so I declare it to be New Project Time!

Here is the yarn I have chosen:
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Here it is, wound into cakes and in its new home, this cool basket/bag I found at the thrift store:
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And here is one more shot of the yarn, just because it’s pretty:
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The oranges and reds will be the foreground, and the blues and greens will be the background. Do you wonder what I’m making? Stay tuned for a swatch.

When the sweater is ready, the baby appears

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One of the things that I like about knitting is the sheer usefulness of it, and so I usually knit with a purpose in mind. My kids need mittens, my couch needs a blanket, my mom’s birthday is coming up and she likes socks — a purpose. A person and a need that I can fulfill.

One of the things I’ve found about knitting Elizabeth Zimmerman’s patterns, though, is that it’s often better to give up on the idea of a specific recipient and just follow the instructions. The first time. The Baby Surprise Jacket says cast on 50 stitches, you grab some yarn and matching needles, and you cast on 50 stitches. The second time you do it, you can decide that you want a BSJ for a newborn, and you want to use fingering weight yarn, and so you knit a gauge swatch and discover that you’ll need to cast on 76 stitches to make that happen. But the first time, it’s a bit of a discovery process.

I had 110g of yarn. Sport weight, 2ply Rambouillet, handspun. Green, and rather lovely. I’d spun it as a second trial run. I had a commission for 1500 yards of this yarn, for the talented artist who did my logo, and I didn’t want to screw it up. (And the yarn turned out to be simply marvellous.)

The February Baby Sweater had been on my to-do list for awhile, as part of my project to Knit All The Zimmerman Ever. The pattern as written in the Knitter’s Almanac called for 110g of fine yarn, so I just cast on and went for it. I figured, if it turned out to be a short sweater, the design was such that it would look smashing as a bolero.

It was a quick knit, and just the right size for a purse project, and the lace was wonderfully forgiving of the slight unevenness of the yarn. It did turn out a little short, but not desperately so.

I never did know who the sweater was going to be for. I thought it might be for my 21 month old, but when I put it on her it was definitely too tight in the shoulders. I had some dear, old friends who were expecting around now, but I didn’t know if they were having a girl. I got asked a lot “who is it for?” and I always replied, “Sometimes you just knit the sweater. The baby always shows up eventually.”

On Thursday, I sewed seams, wove ends, attached buttons, and wet blocked it. On Friday, it was dry. I checked my email, and my friends had just had their baby, a girl they named Regan.

The baby always shows up eventually.