Spindle spinning silk hankies / mawatas

One of my many purchases from Wonderwool Wales 2018 was this beautiful silk from Sealy MacWheely. I only bought a small pack but it goes a long way, Sealy had a scarf on display made from one of these packs.
The silk is in the form of hankies / mawata. You separate the thin layers (each made from a single cocoon, which in turn is in theory a single strand), poke a hole in the middle of the hanky, streeeeeetch it out almost to the thickness you need and add twist. I've long wanted to try stretching and then knitting / crocheting without adding twist, which does work.

In this case I did spin it, and then navajo plied (my first go at n-plying with a spindle, I think). The picture isn't great. It looks a bit neater in real life than in this picture.

If you're interested in trying this, here's Sealy's own video showing everything I've just said.

Review: Spin + Knit 2017, a Spin-Off special issue

Although it's a year or two old now, I learned about this collection of patterns via Kate Larson's blog post about her visit to Shetland, which is a good read.

During that visit she bought a pack of Shetland wool in various shades, which she spun and made into the North Road hat, her own design. The hat is featured on the cover.

I don't generally buy pattern books but I have a few. Usually there are only a few patterns in each that I would actually make and only one or two that I end up making. But it's unusual to find a collection of designs specifically for spin and knit and as usual there were a few that I could see myself making. I almost always spin for a project.

The print edition is sold out, but the digital edition is available. However, it's $14.99 which seems very pricey.

It contains 20 patterns and a number of articles. You can see all of the patterns here. There are hats, mitts, scarves, cowls and shawls. They tend to be smaller projects, which you'd expect in a handspinning collection, but there are a couple of bigger projects too, a colourwork bag and a cardy. I really like the Basketcase Cardigan and it's one of the projects that I have firm plans for.

It has 120 pages and the articles that accompany that patterns are well-chosen for a spinner/knitter. Or maybe even a knitter who's curious about spinning, because there's a good 'Spinning Basics' article by Maggie Casey. There's plenty for the more experienced too including several 'How to's and a long run-down of sheep breeds.

Here's the link to Kate's blog post once again, and here's the link to buy the digital issue.

Twelve Months of Plant Dyes 2019 calendar

It has been two years since Fran's first calendar, Plant Dyes for All Seasons 2017. Each page showed a different dye and activities appropriate for that month.

It has taken Fran two years to prepare her second calendar, Twelve Months of Plant Dyes. It contains details for extracting and using particular plant dyes, along with ideas and advice for growing your own plants, harvesting and using them and saving seeds.

The photography is better, there's more information and the print quality is better (while still claiming FSC accreditation and some other initial letters pertaining to environmental impact.)

The calendar is a brilliant idea, well-produced and is available in plenty of time for Christmas shopping. Use the link below to see more pictures of the pages and find the 'buy' link.


Finished project - Dragon Wing Cowl

This is an image-heavy post, because I didn't post any pictures here of the fibre, the spinning or the knitting.

At Wonderwool earlier this year I picked up this batt from Louise of Spin City, and some beautifully fine merino tops from Andy at Wooltops, which I thought would all ply together nicely.

 Not sure how to tackle the batt, I decided to pull off handfuls and spin from the fold (nice and quick - gives good results) working across the batt for nice short colour changes.
 The entire batt fitted onto an old-style Ashford standard bobbin. At this point I wasn't sure that the merino would really match - the green is much bluer than the greens in the batt.
 It spun from the fold more nicely than anything I've used before. So nice.
 No worries - the greens all looked great plied together. Two plies of the darker green, one of the multi-greens.
 The Dragon Wing Cowl pattern starts with acres of garter stitch.

 The shape is interesting, and everyone loves making the ribs - you drop some stitches, run them all the way down, then use a big crochet hook to work them (4 strands at a time) all the way up again.

Project on Ravelry

Pattern is Dragon Wing Cowl by Jessie Rayot. It's available for free, or for a small price if you want an ad-free PDF version (I recommend this, the designer deserves a little reward for such an amazing thing.)

Fibre came from Spin City UK and Wooltops.

Review - Hand Spinning - Essential Technical and Creative Skills by Pam Austin

My first impression was that the book undersells itself. The cover certainly could be more eye-catching.

But it's a very well-produced book. 10.5" x 9", glossy, hard-covers with 144 pages and 200 illustrations.

It is aimed at the beginner, with some value for the intermediate spinner too.

Pam runs the Spinning School www.spinningschool.org; she gave me an impromptu lesson in longdraw spinning once at Fibre East and I like her very much.

I associate her with longdraw (woollen) spinning so it's no surprise that there's an emphasis on this technique. It's the first draft that she covers in the book, followed by several others; worsted, short forward, semi-worsted, core-spinning.

I asked myself whether it would be possible to learn to spin using the book and the answer is yes. It begins with an exercise in spinning a small piece of yarn without using a spindle, which helps you to understand how the fibres hold together when twisted and the construction of yarn.

It then proceeds to teach you how to spin using a spindle (which I believe any good teacher would do before going to a wheel) with plenty of pictures.

Much that you'll need to know is covered; the anatomy of a wheel and choosing the right one, recognising a good fleece, other fibres, animal and plant, carding, plying, Andean plying, colour theory, dyeing. It finishes with the spiritual 'Mindfulness and art'. The list of chapters below doesn't tell the full story, for example, carding is well covered; rolags punis, hand carders, flick carder, blending board, drum carders. But this is within chapter 4 and not mentioned in the chapter title.

While imagining myself as a new spinner, I did notice that it may be necessary to skip around a little bit. As I mentioned, the book begins with the first steps toward producing your own yarn. But it's then necessary to move forward several chapters (or read them) before finding plying.

Colour theory has a whole chapter. Dyeing has a chapter too. It covers commercial dyes and some techniques, and then two natural dyeing techniques: indigo and walnuts. Pam explains at the end of the chapter "The techniques in this chapter were chosen for their ease of use and satisfying results."  This desire to convey the magic of the craft is clearly something that Pam feels, and I did feel that running through the book.

"Bewitched and bewildered" is an intriguing chapter title. She says (quite rightly) "It's so easy to become bewitched by beautiful wheels and bewildered by conflicting advice." The chapter aims to help steer you through all of this and make the right decisions for you.

The style is reassuringly formal. Not too matter-of-fact and not too casual. Something that I found satisfying is that each chapter begins "The aim of this chapter is..." and ends "In a nutshell..." with a summary.


1. One thread at a time
2. Bewitched and bewildered
3. Essential spinning techniques
4. Sheep fleece: nature's best
5. Fibres for hand spinning
6. Plying and finishing yarn
7. Colour in spinning
8. Dyeing to dye
9. Yarn structure
10. Mindfulness and art
Further reading

Natural colours and natural dyeing are part of Pam's outlook but I'm sure that it would have been possible to have conveyed this with a more eye-catching cover. This goes for some of the photographs in the instructional section, which lack a bit of brightness and clarity.

That aside, it's a large, glossy, hardback book It would be a good companion to a new spinner, Pam's attitude as a teacher is evident and she aims to inspire mindfulness, art and creativity in her readers.

I've tried to be objective. I have a copy which I'm giving away in August's Hand Spinning News.

You can buy a copy of the book directly from Pam's site:

Nudibranch socks in hand-dyed yarn

I think this is my first project in a very long while which uses commercial yarn. Having said that, it is hand-dyed, an indie collaboration between babylonglegs and riverknits in a colourway they called 'Shlurple' (yes the name helped me to make the decision to buy it).

I wanted a pattern with lace over the foot and up the leg. It had to be toe-up (so that I could divide the yarn in half and knit until it ran out) with a heel flap and gusset. The pattern I chose is Nudibranch, which happens to be free. It was a very easy knit, with charted lace patterns.

Blanket from Zoom Loom squares

As a spin-off (see what I did there?) from last year's Spinzilla, the Hand Spinning News team have been taking part in a 'treasure chest' game which will ultimately raise money for our chosen charity.

It worked a little like a 'pass the parcel' where one team-mate would provide / prepare the fibre, the next would spin it, the next dye it etc.
 This particular yarn reached the 'make' stage but fell back into my hands. As organiser of the game I shouldn't really have taken part, but loved the dyed yarn so much and could see what I wanted to make from it, so commandeered it!

When I saw the yarn it had been balled, and so these contrasting colours were criss-crossed and looked amazing. It was clear that it should be woven. I decided to make squares with the Zoom Loom, which is fast and addictive.
Happily the yarn made exactly 60 squares, perfect for a blanket.
I learned to crochet the edge using a video by Benjamin of Schacht.
The yarn for the edges is Shetland spun during a previous Spinzilla.
 Stitching the edges and crocheting them together took as long as making the squares!

Postcard from Wonderwool Wales 2018

As usual, the three halls are filled with delights for the knitter, spinner and felter. Tools, materials, patterns and finished items. 

The selection of food on offer seems particularly good. My only complaint is about the temperature (which is no-one's fault). I'm pleased that I put on as many layers as I did, and wish I'd put on more. 

 The Blyth tall ship / williams gansey project is setting out to re-create the discovery of the Antarctic land mass 200 years ago. The gansey project aims to knit a gansey for each of the crew.
 This crocheted crocodile was made by Bristol volunteers and is shown for the first time at Wonderwool. He was inspired by a legendary Bristol crocodile.

The 'sheepwalk' fashion show is set against the backdrop of this amazing curtain of poppies which has been made in support of the Royal British Legion in this the 100th anniversary of the end of the first world war. The young man in WW1 costume doesn't look very impressed!

Makers' Month at Norwich Forum

Makers' Month at the Norwich Forum has become an event to look forward to each year.

The forum has a very large open space with a gallery and also within the building are places to eat and drink, BBC Radio Norfolk's studios and the library (remember those?)

During Makers' Month it's filled with demonstrations, 'have a go', bookable workshops, art and craft exhibits and this year the Woman’s Hour Craft Prize Exhibition. They sometimes have fibre contributors such as alpacas for you to meet but there were none there on the day that we visited this year.

Here ares some pictures that I took this time.

On the theme of 'nostalgia', the centrepiece is a life-size sculpture of her Majesty (coronation era) in mixed media (mostly knitted).  She was made by Petal and Purl, a craft group from Caston, Norfolk. The dress was originally white satin and included seed pearls, crystals, silks and gold and silver thread. This replica has been crafted from knitted strips, fabric painted emblems, crocheted leaves, pearls, beads and threads of many sorts. The facial features are needle felted.
 This knitted scene contains characters of all sorts, good and evil!
 This huge crocheted mandala topped the roof of the 'Nudiknits' cinema. Yes, they were showing the Nidiknits film and there were many of us old people giggling at that. The mandala was best viewed from the gallery.
 Also from Petal and Purl on the theme of 'nostalgia' this mixed media 1950's scene has flowers, cakes, sandwiches, even flying ducks on the wall

Second Beatrice Gansey - major setback!

Mistakes can be so costly in terms of time.

Which is absolutely fine if you're into knitting for the journey rather than the destination. But in this case I wanted to present this jumper to my Dad as an anniversary present. With a week to go I started to spend whole days knitting and then one night I went through all the way through the night till 6am!

I presented it to him 'unfinished' but blocked and it was mostly all there. Something wasn't right with the neck which I wanted to take out and work again. The sleeves were different lengths (a long story) and I decided to let him try it on before deciding whether to make one shorter or the other one longer.

The fitting was a little disappointing. The length wasn't quite right. They're not meant to be long, but this did need an extra couple of inches in order to look right on my Dad. The sleeves were a little tight. Yes, these jumpers are worn tight but there should have been a little more room in the sleeves, particularly at the top of the arm.

Only after performing some surgery and correcting what I thought I'd got wrong with the shoulders and the neck did I spot what was really up. I was looking at an old blog post about my red one and realised that I'd missed a whole section of the pattern on the front and back! Can you see it?

What an idiot.

Well, I'm not going to do any more all-nighters on it. I'll work on it as I would any project, ie a little each day, and it'll be done when it's done. Maybe before his birthday in August!!