Monthly Archives: June 2014

Conversations In Newburyport


Yesterday I spent the day in Newburyport. The humidity has let up for the time being and I figured the temperature would be nice and cool down by the waterfront, so my sister and I drove up for a day. It was the perfect day to eat, shop and relax by the Merrimack River. We shopped, walked through some of the older streets to view the beautiful 18th- and 19th-century houses, and we ate popsicles on a bench overlooking the river. Newburyport is one of my favorite places to spend the day, and I mention it frequently on this blog. Yesterday  I didn’t have any particular goals in mind other than stopping into Newburyport’s LYS, A Loom With A View, for some sock yarn.  It turned out to be a day filled with, to say the least, unexpected fibery finds.

Our first stop was the antiques warehouse Oldies, which is never dull and always full of surprises. There is a vintage clothing section that often has a lot of old sewing and knitting things on the shelves, so I ventured into that room first. There were several pairs of old steel knitting needles, small cones of thread, and a lot of darning eggs. There were also three nearly identical rough wooden Russian-style support spindles.


Has anyone ever seen a spindle like this? It’s very plain, and it’s certainly seen some use.

They were $5 each. I picked out the one I wanted and gave it a twirl on a countertop. It had a pretty decent spin. Satisfied, I decided I would buy it.  A nearby dealer was watching me.

Seller:  Have you figured out what that is?  I thought it was some sort of knitting needle.

Me: I believe it’s a support spindle for spinning yarn.

Seller: You could be right. The vendor put her initials and the price on it but didn’t tell us what it is.

I give it another twirl

Seller: Whatever it is, it’s only five dollars.

Me:  O.K. I’ll take it home and try to spin yarn with it and see what happens.

Seller: That-a girl!

I really do love the salespeople at Oldies because they’re lovely people, and they love what they do.  The lady at the register called it a “spool” for making yarn.

Let’s take a look at it:


It actually has a nice, tapered top, the better to grip it in order to spin the spindle. I think that’s pretty clever!  It’s not fancy, but the little ball and disk detailing above the tip is a nice little touch. It’s definitely hand carved. The wood is aged but still smooth. The saleslady couldn’t say for sure how old it was, but her best guess was that it, along with the darning egg, was from the 1940s or 1950s. Here’s a close up of the tip:


I’m no expert but I think the spindle might be older than that, because t’s so plain and utilitarian, like someone literally did not care what it looked like because they just needed it to function. It’s hand-carved. It looks very aged to me. This is a tool, and no one obsessed over what kind of wood they wanted, or what color stone or crystal to put above the tip. We’re so spoiled for choice these days, when we are spinning for fun, and not for a do-or-die need to put clothes on our backs. And people certainly didn’t pounce on spindle makers as soon as their shops opened because the newly made spindles were going to sell out in a ridiculously short amount of time. Man, how times have changed. I bet the woman who used this spindle would laugh and shake her head if she saw what some of us go through today when we stalk online shops for a chance to buy a handmade spindle or join a hand-dyed fiber club!

It’s going to be awhile before I get some usable yarn from this spindle. I’m still trying to get the hang of support spindling, and I need a lot of practice. But I look forward to using this spindle in my efforts. I like the idea of using an antique tool for an ancient process.

According to the saleslady, the darning egg is also from the 1940s or 1950s. Again, I’m no expert, but I would believe that. The egg seems a little more sophisticated than the spindle, which adds to my belief that the spindle may be older.


Despite its age, the egg is still in great shape and very pretty to look at. It’s very smooth and pleasing to handle. it’s also very glossy. Look at the beautiful grain. The Forties or Fifties makes more sense to me for the egg because, apart from hobbyists, I don’t know how common it was at that point for women to still be spinning yarn on hand spindles. But women were definitely still hand knitting (and repairing) socks–especially during the war. Sock-darning is an as-yet untried experience for me, but it’s a skill I want to learn. The egg was $12, and is in excellent condition.

My next stop was my favorite bookstore, Jabberwocky Books. Their crafts section is tiny but the few craft books they stock are always thoughtfully chosen. I was surprised to see four books on spinning, and almost bought the Tiny Owls Woodland Knit book, but I put it back for another day. Because you can’t beat this price:


Now compare it to the original price:


I can’t believe no one wanted this book, and that makes me sad. But on the other hand, markdown! Woo-hoo for me! I took it to the cashier.

Me: I can’t believe no one wanted this book.

Salesguy: You want that book.

Me. This is true. I’ve been meaning to buy it for a long time.

Salesguy: And now it’s yours for $7.98! Do you know how to spin?

Me: Yes.

Salesguy: Good for you!

Clearly this was the tone of the day. *eyeroll*

I also picked up the most adorable knitting reference book ever!


It’s 4″ x 6″ and costs $7.99. It’s thin and light and perfectly portable.


Wait! What’s that bright green bag next to the ball of Zauberball? Why, that’s Loom With A View’s signature green, of course.


I went into LWAV with the specific goal of buying some pink and brown sock yarn. I saw some socks on Ravelry in this colorway and wanted to make some, too. Pink and brown together is one of my favorite color combinations. I didn’t know which yarn companies made this colorway, but I thought to myself, “It would be nice if I could find it in Zauberball.”  There was a nice variety of Zauberball, but I didn’t see my colorway. I didn’t know if it existed but I was determined to look through every color just to make sure. I reached out to the very back of the cubby when lo and behold, I pulled out a ball of pink and brown! In Zauberball. Like I imagined in my head. Something I imagined but wasn’t sure existed, existed exactly as i imagined. Spooky, right?! Chalk it up to one expected fibery find!


Now let me share with you the most surprising fibery find of the day: a sheep hanging out in the middle of town. My sister and I were walking through the beautiful waterfront park when my sister points towards the distance and says to me, “That lady is walking a sheep on a leash!” As you can imagine, I asked her to repeat that. She did. I really wanted to see a sheep on a leash, so we walked towards it. There were two ladies sitting on the grass. There was a big black dog, maybe a Great Dane, on one leash, and, sure enough, a sheep on the other. I approached the lady holding the leash.

Me: Do you keep your sheep as a pet or for the fleece?

Sheepmom: Both!

Me: What breed is she?

Sheepmom: She’s three-quarter Leicester and one-quarter Romney.

Me: Can I take her picture?

Sheepmom  Sure. You can pet her if you want.

I did want to pet her. She let me, and gave a contented little Baa-aaa when I patted her on the head!



But she put her head down and went back to grazing when I took her picture!

Later, my sister and I spotted this sheep and her entourage crossing State Street in the middle of downtown. They were in a pedestrian crossing with a city bus waiting for them. I bet the bus driver got a bit of a shock.

I could see people stopping and snapping pictures with their phones (not one person was taking a picture with a camera).


It just goes to show you: people love sheep. See the dog and the sheep together? They appeared to get along. I wonder if the dog thinks the sheep is just another dog, and the sheep thinks the dog is just another sheep.

Then the sheep began eating the flowers out of the restaurant’s flowerbox.


Everybody laughed, and that was when I realized that the crowd around them had grown, full of people eager to take a look at a sheep being walked on a leash in the middle of town, and to take her picture.

I bet that happens to them a lot.




Best street name ever!


The Spinning Continues

…on a spindle. The plied merino and silk yarn that I worked on last week is now hanging from my shower curtain rod, drying. I’ll post pictures when the skein is dry and finished up. In the meantime, I’m still plowing through the fiber club monthly samples from Paradise Fibers. I’m having a great time with it and I’m so glad I joined this club. The samples are generous, and compared to a pound or more when spinning for a big project, they’re the perfect bite-sized introduction to a variety of fibers. I’m not spinning with any particular project in mind, I just want to perfect my technique and tweak my results.

I’m a little behind on my club spinning. Last week I finished up the April shipment. Now that it’s June, I’m just getting started on the May shipment. As I write this post (on June 7th) my June shipment is sitting at the post office downtown and should be on my doorstep later today.

Updated on June 14th (the day I published this post): the June shipment did in fact arrive later that day. Deets and photos to follow.

These pictures feature the last of the April samples and the first of the May samples that I started spinning. Here’s the April sample:


The fiber is a merino/silk and get this–Tibetan yak blend. TIBETAN YAK, PEOPLE!! It’s from Ashland Bay. The spindle is a lightweight Golding .84 ounce top whorl called Night Owl. I like owls, and I love my little owly spindle! I chose it to get a fine yarn from this fiber. I enjoyed spinning the yak blend. It was easy to draft, it was smooth and it has a beautiful sheen to it, which you can see in the picture. Compared the the merino wools I was knitting and plying earlier, this yarn is much thinner, which is what I was aiming for.


The sample was 2 ounces, and it didn’t produce a lot of yarn. I have two adorable little balls of yarn that are ready for plying. I would like to try a lace pattern with this yarn. Depending on the yardage, I am hoping to perhaps knit a lace kerchief to go around my neck, since I don’t think there’s enough here for a small scarf or cowl. If I don’t get a lot of yardage I’ll do some lace swatches. I think this yarn will be soft and drapey and perfect for lace. Time will tell if I’m right…

On to the first of the three May samples that I’m working on. I grabbed the 4 ounce bag of painted merino and Tussah silk fiber first. This is much loftier than the other samples and the amount looks huge! It looks like they gave me a lot more than other samples, although some of the April bags had 4 ounces in them, too.

This colorway is called McKenzie. Look at all the gorgeous colors swirling around in there:


It reminds me of Van Gogh’s The Starry Night:



Here’s the McKenzie on the spindle.


Out of all the bright colors swirling around in the fiber, the black is very prominent. The yarn has a fuzzy halo when spun. There are so many colors in there that there’s a barber pole effect taking shape as I spin. I’m disappointed that the little bit of bright minty green you can see in the previous photo is barely noticeable in the spun yarn.

I’ve started two little balls of McKenzie.  I’ll add to each one as I finish spinning the fiber and then I’ll pull out my flowerpots and ply them together. 🙂


Yarn. It’s what’s for dinner.

I’m happy with this yarn so far. Again, I was able to spin a thinner, more consistent yarn. Maybe I was out of practice when I picked up the Cyan and Mallard spinning fiber. I think this yarn is shaping up nicely.  I can’t wait to see McKenzie as a two-ply.

The weather has finally warmed up but my hands have not stopped spinning and knitting. I have a lot of things to write about and lots of photos to share with you. As always, I thank you for reading Spin. Dye. Knit. Love.

Adventures In Plying

OK. So. I’m ready to ply. For real this time. This time I’m going the whole nine yards: plying, yarn bath, winding into a skein, the works. I’ve got the niddy noddy on standby.

I’ve got my high-tech plying tools:


And two balls of yarn ready to go:


On the left is Ashland Bay’s merino/tussah silk blend in Mallard. This photo is more accurate in terms of its color, which is a predominantly dark green with blueish tones. The photos I took outside in a park a few weeks ago were way off. Crazy, right? On top of that to the right is Ashland Bay’s merino in Cyan.  These are the samples from the April shipment of Paradise Fibers’ fiber club. I love this fiber club, but the monthly shipments are coming in faster than I can spin the fiber!

I’ve got my huge and heavy Golding plying spindle on deck (literally, it’s on my front deck):


And…let’s ply!


So far so good. The yarns are “grabbing” each other nicely. They’re twisting up a little bit even though I’m holding them so that there isn’t a lot of slack. Once I separate each color by sticking my index finger in between as I ply, the plying gets easier. I’m doing a chain ply, no fancy Andean plying for me. I’m happy to work towards a barber pole effect right now; I’ll move on to the special effects like self-striping yarn and matching color repeats after a lot more practice.


The yarn looks pretty even here. It’s not super fine, but it’s not too bad looking.

There’s actually a lot of science involved in spinning, isn’t there?  Crafts, please don’t make me learn science, dammit, the math in knitting is bad enough! There’s physics to understand how the spindle works. Knowledge of different sheep breeds and plant fibers is helpful in getting the best out of your yarn: is the fiber long stapled or short stapled? Corse or curly? Also, knowing the properties of the fibers you’re using is important when planning what to make with your yarn once it’s spun. Which fibers are good to wear right against the skin and which ones would you not want to wear next to your skin. In the latter, what could you blend with the first fiber to make it more comfortable? I’m not even going to get into spinning with fleece straight off the sheep, whether to card or comb it, etc. There are so many decisions involved in spinning. Even as the unread spinning books accumulate in my library, all I want to do is grab my spindle and some fiber and see what kind of yarn I get. They say ignorance is bliss; well, I’m in a very blissful state right now!


Is this what is known as art yarn?! I went out on my front deck tonight and plied for an hour until the sun went down. As you can see, the more I plied, the more uneven the yarn became. There are very lovely, perfect, thin strands and there are nice but thicker strands, and there are uneven, lumpy strands, all in the same yarn. The yarn keeps breaking as I ply–you can see where it broke on the left. That was when I called it quits for tonight.

I’ll finish plying over the weekend. After that, I’ll get to work setting the twist by soaking the yarn, then I’ll hang it to dry, and then I’ll wind it onto a niddy noddy and see how much yardage  it yields. I’m hoping to have this spinning project all wrapped up (Ha!) by next week. I hope to have some pictures of a finished, tied-off skein sometime to post then. In the meantime, wish me luck!

So…I’ve been spindling for about four years now, taking my time, not in any hurry to finish and ply. I know, this project is long overdue. Is anyone else out there like me? Share your stories in the comments and tell me the longest time it has taken you to learning a craft or finish a project!

Complete Guide To Modern Knitting And Crocheting

Whenever I visit Gloucester for the day, I spend a lot of time browsing among the shops on Main Street.  Gloucester is well-known for being an active fishing port, but there’s a vibrant art scene there and all throughout Cape Ann. Main Street is an eclectic blend of seafood and Italian restaurants, art galleries, gift shops and antique stores, all just steps away from the working waterfront. Occasionally I come across a gem of a vintage knitting book in the antique store and used bookstore here, and last Saturday, I scored a real gem, indeed. I assume there must have been a dust jacket at one point, but they don’t always survive. 😦


Let me (re?)introduce you to the Complete Guide To Modern Knitting And Crocheting by Alice Carroll. Published in 1949, this book is a wealth of information aimed at beginner knitters and crocheters. The Guide is sensibly structured to ease new stitchers into the art of each craft, propelling them gently from there into a variety of patterns and projects.   An introduction to tools and basic stitches starts the book off, followed by stitch patterns for knit and crochet projects. The projects then are grouped into children’s, women’s, men’s and home decor sections.  In the spirit of make do and mend, there’s a section on how to reuse wool that’s already been knitted.

From there, garment structure and more technical work become the focus. There are chapters on the essentials of knitting a garment, then on assembling a garment. More advanced techniques such as fair isle, lace patterns, even knitting with ribbon, follow.


Ah, early printing methods: when charts were hand-drawn, and everything was in black and white.

Mrs. Carroll then guides the needlewoman through socks and stockings, mittens and gloves, and finishes up with a comprehensive section on designing your own garments.

This book is impressive in its scope of information.  The variety of garments is interesting, especially seeing the everyday items people made with wool–including swimsuits–before synthetic fabric was available. Some of the ladies one-piece dresses are breathtaking and diaphanous, while the baby and toddler clothes are endearing.


This pattern is for a “one-piece dress for the older woman.” The woman modeling it doesn’t look a day over thirty to me, but we won’t start any trouble over that. 😉

The book is a fascinating glimpse into a bygone era. Many of the patterns are items that were essentials in their day no longer have a place in modern society. Ellbow-length evening gloves were once de rigeur when in an evening gown, while “soakers”–knit panties for babies–have been made obsolete by modern absorbent disposable diapers.  I won’t be knitting a snood to tuck my hair into, or an “automobile robe,” which is a lap blanket for traveling, any time soon,  but there are two patterns that I wouldn’t mind, in all seriousness, giving a go.

The first is this Winter Hood, also called a Skating Hood. I think the Skating Hood should make a comeback, don’t you?  I think if I were to knit this in a neutral color, either white, black, or grey, I could pull it off with a simple black winter coat. The adorable peak on top is a cheeky retro touch, no?


The second pattern is this gorgeous “Striped Slipover.” How stylish is that? Look at that fabulous woman wearing it. She’s fierce and she knows it. I suspect she might even be wearing slacks!! (dungarees, even!)


Look at how great that top looks, even in black and white. Color theory recommends reducing the colors you want to use to black and white to look at the shade values anyway, so this is a great example of that.

I think this might be wearable today without looking costumey…

…which brings me to the actual knitting of vintage patterns. There are a lot of problematic areas in this book when it comes to reinterpreting for the modern knitter. Clothes were sized differently back in the 1940s. Most of the ladies patterns state a size 16. That’s it, 16. There are no multiple sizes given. So do your own math. I don’t know what the modern equivalent is. The women in the pictures are more full-figured than the waifs that became popular in the 1960s through today, but I don’t think this 16 is today’s 16. So I will have to do my own math and measurement conversion. Which I hate. It’s going to be a fair amount of research, trial and error and swatching, but hopefully it won’t be impossible. If I have to, my ultimate backup plan is to pay for private knitting lessons at my LYS to have someone more experienced in designing help me write up a pattern with the modern measurements.

The needle sizes and yarn requirements in this book are very different than today’s standards. The needle guide depicts (steel only) needles sized fro 20 (the thinnest) to 10 (the thickest). So great, more research will be involved. Yarn requirements are in ounces, not yards. I suppose I could do an ounce to gram conversion, since grams are listed on modern yarn labels. Yarn weights are very different as well. The Guide lists worsted and fingering, but after that, things get a little weird. There’s Saxony, which is finer than fingering, used for baby garments. After fingering, there’s Germantown which, if I were to hazard a guess, might be DK Weight. Then there’s boucle, and angora, which need no interpretation. Finally, there’s Jiffy, which is “thick and bulky” so it’s safe to assume it means…bulky.


We need to bring back illustrations like this, too!

By far the weirdest piece of vintage knitting instruction comes in the section that talks about gauge. If you don’t get the correct gauge with the needle you’re using…eliminate the appropriate number of stitches in your row until you get the required gauge. Great, more math, which essentially means you’re altering the written pattern. I’m so glad I live in the modern world where knitting instructors teach us to simply go up or down a needle size. I wonder when someone figured that out.

Glaring historical differences aside, this is a terrific book that’s full of practical advice and as much in-depth instruction as an author can fit into one book. It can certainly be as helpful today as it was in 1949. Alice Carroll’s tone is in itself a lost art; she sounds like a ladies’ finishing school instructor who drinks tea with her pinky extended. She extols the virtues of living in an era in which knitting has surpassed mere function and warmth to take its place among fashion for fashion’s sake.

And on that note, check out this guy! He invented the male model pose!