Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Handspun, handwoven, green and brown scarf

This was an exercise in making lemonade from lemons!

I had some grey Coopworth combed top, which I handpainted. Unfortunately, I was (and am) still pretty new to dyeing, and the fiber got somewhat felted.

So I pulled it apart into color chunks, and combed the different sections to produce a very little bit of combed top which was lovely to spin up into a small quantity of semi-worsted 3-ply using a spindle.

Because the fiber had been felted, there was a lot of combing waste. I needed something to practice wheel spinning with (because I had some fiber I wanted to spin on a wheel for the Tour de Fleece), so I drum carded the waste, knowing full well that I'd end up with lumpy-bumpy thick and thin yarn. Which I did, and then I plied it with some very thin bouclé that my friend had. I liked it, but it was bulkier than I usually like to use, and besides, it wasn't really quite my style.

two very different yarns

So I decided that the two yarns put together would make a project, and bethought myself of using a backstrap loom for the purpose. Now, I've put together another backstrap, but haven't finished the project. Also, it's been over 20 years since I did any serious weaving.

I am therefore pretty damn pleased with the result! It's a fairly consistent width and the selvedges are not too blobby.

Monday, November 9, 2009

the English Cast On, illustrated

I originally posted a different version of this on the Advanced Knitting community on Livejournal. I hope I have learned from my mistakes; I certainly appreciate the commenters over there for making me reformulate my thoughts on the subject!


Sometime in my teens, I learned this cast-on, which has remained my favorite. I might have learned it from my grandmother; I can't remember, and my grandmother's memory is unreliable at best at this point, so I'll never know for sure. I'm a little sad about this, but so be it.

I didn't know a name for it until recently, when I checked Nancy Bush's Folk Socks out of the library. It was the first place I had ever seen it described. Armed with a name, I searched on Google, and found only two sets of instructions for it, both text. Here's the links, just in case they help clarify the instructions I'm providing: Britt Scharringhausen, Lord Gazmuth.

But there's no illustrated instructions online that I can find, and I'd like to show other people how to do it, as I think this cast-on has a number of advantages:

  • It's quite stretchy. (I can usually use it for sock cuffs.)
  • Because it's knit onto the needle, you can cast on in pattern. I only show casting on with knit stitch here, but you can also knit and purl (handy when you're about to do ribbing), and I imagine you could do the first row of a lace pattern with it.
  • I think it's attractive.
  • At the end of casting on, you'll have completed your first row of knitting.

There are some potential disadvantages:

  • If you aren't comfortable with throwing the yarn around the needle with your right hand when knitting, this isn't for you. (So if you're exclusively a Continental-style knitter, this won't be comfortable.)
  • You need to remember that you've completed your first row of knitting after casting on. Note: for some stitch patterns, if knit in the round, you may want to purl your cast-on instead of knitting.
  • If you are using the tail as a marker for something, it might be at the opposite end from where you're used to.
  • As with the more usual long-tail cast on, you'll need to allow enough tail for the cast on (or else use a separate length of yarn, in which case you'll need to weave in extra ends).

This is a long tail cast on. It's not the usual method that's called "long tail" by default. There's an extra twist in each of the loops created by the tail. The result is identical to the Twisted German cast-on; it's a different method for arriving at the same result.

First, figure out how you're going to do the tail. I've seen suggestions for the long-tail cast on of leaving a tail that's four times the width of your first row of knitting. I've also seen the suggestion of 1" per stitch in thicker yarn (worsted) and 1/2" per stitch for things like lace weight. Alternately, you can leave about a yard of tail, cast on 20 stitches, mark the ends of the tail yarn used in the cast on, unravel it, and figure out how much yarn you used per stitch. Also leave some extra for weaving in once you're done knitting. Or you can use a separate length of yarn* from another ball of the same yarn, a contrast color, or the other end of a center-pull ball.

First, lay the yarn over your palm so that the tail end is trailing off the pinky side of your palm (it's usually much longer than I show here; I'm just trying to make it clear which end is which) and the ball end is lying over the base of your thumb.

Close your fingers over the yarn. (I usually leave my index finger pointing up, contrary to this picture, but it doesn't really matter.)

Loop the ball end of the yarn around the tip of your thumb so that the ball yarn is between your index finger and the tail yarn.

With your index finger, reach over the ball yarn and under the tail yarn.

Here's another, closer view.

Straighten your index finger.

Drop the yarn off your thumb and pull the loop tight around your index fingertip. You now have what is essentially a twisted backward loop on your index finger. I kind of think of my finger as a flexible knitting needle when I do this cast on.

I did a little fiddling with two yarns so that you can see the structure of the loop more clearly.

Pick up your knitting needle, put it knitwise through the loop on your finger, and knit the stitch off your finger, tugging gently on the tail yarn to pull the stitch snug. (Note that the first stitch is a slip knot, so if you'd rather do that as the beginning of your cast-on, you can. Also, you can insert the needle purlwise if you want to cast on a purl stitch.)

Now repeat the procedure. I generally keep the tail yarn held beneath the fingers of my left hand as I cast on. You need to be careful to put the correct yarn under those fingers if you put everything down to do something else.

Here's several stitches on the needle, after I stopped casting on.

I realized that the fuzzy yarn makes it hard to see the structure of the cast on, so here's a couple more views with different yarn:

The tail yarn part of the cast on is a series of backward loops twisted an extra time. They lean to one side (from bottom left to top right).

Here's a video:

*If you want to use a separate strand of yarn instead of a tail, make a slip knot in the end of it and put it on your needle. Don't count it as a stitch. Cast on the number of stitches you want. When you can, drop the slip knot instead of knitting it.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

New geekery in progress

Somehow I ended up starting a new group on Ravelry: Textile Texts, for discussions, reviews, and lists of books having to do with the technical aspects or history of textiles.

So far we've just started up by setting up topics for book lists, but we'll also be discussing a book a month (like a book club) and I hope people will post reviews of random books or journal articles as they find them.

If it gets off the ground, I think it's going to be pretty nifty. Not to mention geeky.

And it's led to me finding this nifty website: On-Line Digital Archive of Documents on Weaving and Related Topics ...just going there to get the link got me started browsing. What a resource it is! Most of the texts are not in copyright anymore; some of them have been posted by permission of the author or the publisher. Amazing stuff.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

That's my boy.

T just turned five. We'd done some minor weaving stuff together (and a bit of spinning and knitting) before, so I got him a pot holder loom made by Harrisville Designs (our local toy shop carried it). In one day, we have finished one potholder and done all the weaving on the second (we still need to finish the edges). There's two loops left over, so we clearly need to get more--in bulk. He doesn't want to weave by himself, but he clearly understands the over-under-over-under aspect and the process for finishing the edge.

Also, my Spin Off magazine arrived today, and he insisted on sitting on my lap while I browsed through to see what was in it. At one point he asked me to go back several pages so he could "look at the cute drum carder again".


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Persephone deconstruction

I spent a while yesterday taking Persephone apart. T got to help take some of the screws out after some of the trickier bits got done. (That is, things weren't in imminent danger of falling on him.) All the small bits (screws, pulleys, still-functional cords) went into a bin, and everything else got stacked in the library.

After T went to bed, I started wiping the boards down with diluted Murphy's Oil Soap. I got about a third done. I rinsed them with a damp rag, and then dried with a soft cloth. We clamped the piece with the worst crack in it in hopes of keeping the crack from getting worse before I get a chance to glue it--after all, the worst damage to the loom was water damage.

I expect to finish washing the wood bits today. While the boards are drying I'm going to dig out our sandpaper (I'm looking for 100 and 150 grits, at S's recommendation) and see if I can find our sanding block. I am seriously wondering how much time the previous owner spent on the sanding the manual recommends. I don't mean to impugn her. Well, I do a little, I suppose. After all, Persephone did get left upside down on a dirt floor!

I have some plans for some detail work which I hope work out. It's nice to have S around as a resource: his grandfather was a professional carpenter, and S spent a lot of time hanging out in his workshop.

I'm glad that I've gotten moving on this project. The way I work, I need to get the refinishing done as soon as possible or else it won't happen for another five or ten years. And if I'm not going to do it, then someone else should get the loom. No sense having her go to waste.

I also spent a little time yesterday staring at some crochet edging that was passed down in my family to figure out how it was made. It's one of the nice kind that doesn't require a horribly long chain for a foundation. You start at one end and keep repeating the whole pattern until it's the length you want.

In the process, I might have come up with a crocheted scarf pattern based on the edging. Which, really! I need to jot a few notes and finish the patterns I'm supposed to be writing.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Persephone photos

I borrowed a camera from a friend, and so here are some pictures of Persephone!

Thursday, August 20, 2009


Edited slightly from a post I made on Ravelry on 8/17/2009:

So I was driving up the street this morning when I noticed a jumble of wood boards and stuff on someone's curb (where people leave stuff when they are willing to let people just take it away). I drove half a block further when the nature of some of it sunk in and I screeched to a halt.

Two minutes later I had a trunk full of two warping boards (one of which doubles as an inkle loom) and was inspecting a rather dilapidated old floor loom.

Five minutes later I was walking downhill holding T's hand while the guy who had put his mother's old loom out carried the loom down to my house.

I have to inspect it more closely and it clearly needs a lot of loving care - a good wipe down, oil, new belts, new cord to hold some of the bits on, and who knows what all. I hope it can be put back in working order and that I can find somewhere to put it in my house.

If I can't make it fit I bet I can find someone who'd love it...


More details:

It's a 22” four-harness, four-treadle floor loom from Harrisville Designs. I think it was stored upside down on a wood floor. I think many of the metal bits (the reed and some of the rods) are going to need replacing due to rust. Some of the heddles are rusty too. It needs new belts (or whatever they are) so the harnesses will go up and down. The manual and the parts catalog are going to be My Friends, and fortunately, they arrived in the mail yesterday.

It's going to be a slow process getting her back in order.

She's named Persephone.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Sock Summit!

Well, I'm exhausted and all peopled out, but I had a great time.

First, let me say that I highly recommend the HI Hostel in Northwest Portland. It's inexpensive and pleasant with good service, and it's within walking distance of everything I needed, including free public transportation.

I got to Portland on Wednesday, checked in at the hostel, and then took the train over to the Convention Center, where I arrived shortly before they started registration. Everything was well organized - they had three lines (depending on last name), but when they saw how many people were there (and figured out that they had enough volunteers), they allowed people with any last name to form a fourth line in front of the Information desk. This speeded things up immensely.

Once I was duly registered, there wasn't anything else scheduled for the Sock Summit on Wednesday. I could have stuck around just to be part of the crowd, but I'm enough of an introvert that I knew that I needed to go spend some time alone so as not to wear myself out before the weekend even really started. So I headed back toward the hostel. I think that was the day I stopped at a food stand and got a sort of Greek-style grilled cheese sandwich (spinach, feta, tomato, and something else I don't recall). In any event, it was tasty.

I took note that Powell's City of Books was on what looked likely to be my daily route, made it back to the hostel, dropped off the registration materials, and then walked over to Trader Joe's for basic supplies. Then back to the hostel, where I puttered around online and read books and forced myself to stay up to 10 on the theory that even if I had insomnia, perhaps I could wake up at 4 am Portland time instead of 4 am Eastern Time.

And indeed, I was up at 4 am Portland time. Alas. At least I could make myself tea and access the internet and work out what time I needed to catch the light rail to get to my first class.

My first class was one of the short sessions. Chrissy Gardiner taught us her three favorite bind-offs for toe-up socks. I was familiar with a couple of them, as it happened, but hadn't ever tried the third. I'm not sure I'm likely to use it much, but I do like having more knowledge, so it's all good.

I went back to the hostel for lunch, and then made a stop in Powell's. In any case, my afternoon class was with Star Athena, and covered a combination of methods of sock designing, how to write sock patterns, and how the knitting pattern publication process works. I think this was the class I took that had the most information that was new to me. It was extremely encouraging to me, and I've got a fire lit under me to get my Inset sock pattern finished. Not that far to go, folks, and then I publish on Ravelry.

Following the design class, the Marketplace opened for people who were registered for classes. It was overwhelming and amazing. I had some missions in mind, and so I headed straight for Carolina Homespun, where I nabbed some Abby batts (mmmmm) and the class pack for the spindle spinning basics class. Then I went up and down the aisles, spending friends' money and a little of my own. I'm still not certain I made the best choices, but I think they were pretty good ones. And oh, there was so much beautiful stuff there.

Friday morning I got to the Convention Center before 7 so I could get a ticket for the World Record attempt. I am still bemused that I did this, but it seemed like it might be fun. And it was. A few hours later, the attempt started, and I had a good time chatting with the people around me while we knit. Then back to the hostel.

Saturday morning I walked down to the Rose Garden. I was really hoping for a visit to the Japanese Garden, but it wasn't open yet, and seemed to have an entrance fee to boot, so I skipped it. It was a lovely walk regardless. Then I gathered up my supplies for the spinning class and the books I'd bought and already read. I stopped in at Powell's, where I sold the books back to them and picked up another for the plane. (This was really quite convenient.)

Then off to Sock Summit again.

I wandered through the marketplace one more time, and then it was off to "Spindle Spinning Basics" with Abby Franquemont. I didn't actually learn all that many new techniques, but it was a wonderful class nonetheless. Abby & Denny are very funny! But best of all, I loved watching Abby start with some history, and then move from the techniques used to teach children in the Andes (this was new to me, and I hope to use it with my son) to teaching park & draft spinning. Somehow she made the transitions effortless. I wouldn't say that people found the actual spinning effortless; I mean that the shifts between techniques were natural.

After the class I was almost entirely wiped out. Back to the hostel, with a stop for dinner on the way. I got up the next morning, finally found out that there were other Sock Summit attendees there (we'd been on different schedules), then packed up, checked out, and headed off to the airport.

My flights were pretty much on time (which meant that I got home past midnight). I was exhausted, and seem to have managed to leave the camera on the plane. This means no pictures, alas.

It was an excellent trip, all in all.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Current spinning project

I have some scrumptious tussah silk top that I started spinning shortly before I decided to sign up for the Tour de Fleece, so it is my current work in progress (as opposed to something that's been languishing in a dark corner).

Sanguine Gryphon tussah silk for spinning

Sanguine Gryphon tussah silk for spinning - shiny in the sun

The shaded picture of the braid shows the colors more truly (on my screen, anyway), and the sunlit one shows just why I called this "ooooh shiny" on my stash entry for it on Ravelry.

I'm almost a third of the way through spinning it on my beloved Bosworth spindle:

Stereotypically me

(the photo was taken before I did quite a bit more spinning yesterday afternoon.)

It's being a dream to spin up - I'm having an easy time drafting it (I'm doing something more on the worsted end of the things) and don't have a lot of waste. I bought the braid from the Sanguine Gryphon during a charity fundraiser she had going more than a year ago, and while I was scared of the silk at first, I'm having a lovely time of it.

I'm either going to not ply it, or I will ply it with a silk thread. It's laceweight, and I'm considering making either the Aeolian or Laminaria shawl from it, if I have enough. On the other hand, it's coming out a little paler than I had hoped, so it might end up being a color I'd be unlikely to wear.

I guess I'll have to wait and see the finished yarn!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Challenging myself to finish some old spinning projects

I've joined the Tour de Fleece (the Ravelry one, that is).

The challenge involves spinning every day that the Tour de France is riding. (We spin while they do. This is not my bad pun.)

I've been a little lacklustre about spinning lately, but am already feeling more excited. I'm spinning a lot more on my current project already.

For the challenge, I've decided that I'll pull out three works in progress that I haven't touched in months and do my best to finish all three. Then I will have more yarn and more space for more fiber!

We're putting together a "team" from String Thing, which I think will be fun: we can egg each other on.

Here's some pictures of the fiber that I'll be finishing spinning for the Tour:

Some silk hankies I dyed last summer and started spinning last November. My hands were too dry to work with silk over the winter and then I never went back to them.

Some silk given to me by my Ravelry friend debolsillo blended with some Ashland Bay merino I bought from the Woolery. This one will be the challenge: I'm spinning it thick and even, and I'm better at thin and even.

Some handpainted Blue Faced Leicester top from Three Waters Farm, which is local to me. I don't think I'll be spinning the rest up the way I started, so this will kind of be a new project.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


It figures. I get my sock pattern all written up and partially edited, when I discover that there might be a better way to do the most difficult part. I think it would not only improve the appearance but be easier to knit.

I'm working up a quarter-scale version of the sock, and it's looking promising!

Fortunately, I can use the experience from writing up the first version to improve the write-up on the new one.

I still have hopes of getting this done by Sock Summit!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Translation from sock to pattern

This last month has taught me that translating my designs into written patterns is hard work.

Fortunately, I have friends who are or will be acting as beta testers. One of them has gotten a good start on the whole thing, and has been doing a good job of knitting what I wrote, not what I meant to write. She's also told me when my instructions are flat-out confusing. Very helpful!

I'm also glad that I will be taking a class on designing and writing sock patterns at Sock Summit--I hope it will help me learn the language.

Part of my problem is that I learned sock basics eight years ago, and haven't used written patterns since. Furthermore, this particular sock has a very unusual construction, and so converting the abbreviated summary in my head (which partly uses a three-dimensional understanding of the structure, only not a visualization*, instead of verbal description) into something that someone else can follow is extra tricky.

I think I have a decent draft of the trickiest bit, but we'll see what she makes of it!

*This is very hard to describe. When I "visualize" things, I often don't "see" them in my mind. I have a kind of kinetic feel for spatial relationships instead.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Sock Design Progress

Well, I finished one sock of this pair, and will be working on writing up the pattern in segments as I knit the second. I'm finding that the bottleneck with patterns is the actual writing. I've found some test knitters, and will be giving them instructions as each part is written; I hope this will make a difference in my actually finishing writing the pattern.

I also need to do the same with the Winter Solstice socks I posted about before.

Hard work!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Design setback

I was just about to post that I was making really good progress on one of my sock designs and that I'd finished half a sock, when I realized that I had half again more stitches than I should on the instep. Then I realized why, sighed, and ripped back most of the way. Fortunately, I had used a lifeline right before the critical row, and so it wasn't hard to pick up the stitches again.


Friday, April 17, 2009

Barn Raising for Doctors Without Borders

A community project which has arisen from the planning for Sock Summit 2009 is the collection of Barn Raising Quilt squares to be sewn together and auctioned off. The fundraiser will benefit Doctors Without Borders, one of my favorite non-profits.

Since I inevitably have some leftover sock yarn, I'm going to knit some squares for the project. The pattern is temporarily available for free for charity knitting.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Stretched thin?

I'm now working on four different pairs of socks, which might be a mistake, or might not. We shall see. I'm also spinning up some lovely, dark brown Romney locks. I'm planning on making four-strand, cabled sock yarn.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Twisty brain

All of a sudden I found myself doubting how this sock that I'm knitting will come out. I stopped and thought about the oddities involved, did some math, and still felt dubious.

Then I thought, "What's the worst thing that could happen?" and decided to forge ahead with my original plans. If I have to frog some knitting and start over a bit, well, that's part of designing!


Each new design I knit seems to spark at least one new idea. I suppose this is a good sign, but it's hard to keep up! (I'm making sketches so I don't lose track of the brainstorms.)

Design progress

I'm pleased to say that my designing enthusiasm is continuing - now if only I can actually get myself to write things up!

I'm about a third of the way through one full-size sock from one design and have knitted up most of a prototype of the second. (The prototype involves just knitting a small version of the portion of the sock that has the unusual construction.)

A while ago I also started to write up the pattern for some other finished socks, and I need to sit down and finish them. It's very easy to see what the bottleneck is!

These are the socks that I've started writing up; it's a more conventional pattern, which I call Winter Solstice:

Winter Solstice socks

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Getting Going!

There's two things I've been meaning to do:
  1. Get started on using this blog.

  2. Actually try knitting and writing up the patterns for some sock designs I have in my head.

With Sock Summit coming up, I'm feeling more inspired. I don't yet know if I will be able to afford to go; however, there's no reason not to work on the socks in any case.