WnS Color and Breed Study Winter 2017-18:

I am on a roll with the blogging at the moment. I’ve discovered that while it takes two hands to knit, and a whole body to spin, thanks to mobile technology, it only takes one hand to blog. It’s nice to have a creative outlet – I find post-baby is a time with lots of swirling thoughts, and it’s lovely to catch up on expressing them.

Speaking of catching up, today I finally want to record my results from the Wool n’ Spinning color and breed study from Oct. 2017-March 2018. I took these pictures nearly two months ago, but finally made a few minutes to get them off my DSLR so I could share them with you.

The color subject was combination drafting/spinning, and the fibre was Finn wool. I’ve not blogged about it at all, but I discussed my spinning process in the ravelry group here. In this post I’ll focus on the finished products, both yarn and knitting.

Background: Katrina dyed three quite different colorways, and I ordered the package with two ounces each.

As I watched others spin their fiber, I was most interested in the samples which compared combination plying and combination drafting. [For the uninitiated: in a combo spin, the different plies (strands) are each a different colorway. In a combo draft, each of the plies is made from all three colorways held together.] I wanted a closer look. To learn a little more, I added another variable: whether the top was stripped very thin or not.

This looks like a hot mess, but it is in fact a Plan. I planned four samples, and spun them in ascending order of difficulty:

1. Combo ply, stripped thin (1/16 top)

2. Combo ply, stripped thick (1/4)

3. Combo draft, stripped thin (1/16)

4. Combo draft, stripped thick (1/4)

In all cases, each strip was the entire length of the top.

I’ll use these numbers to refer to the samples throughout; hopefully that’s clear enough.

Here are the finished samples in that order:

I knit them up into the Escarpment Cowl. It’s a similar sillouette to a plain triangle shawl, which starts small at the top, and grows with decreases at the centre and sides/back. I interspersed my bands of handspun with some sock yarn in garter stitch, so I could have clear borders between the different samples.

Samples were knit top down: #2, #3, #4, and #1.

#1: Combo Ply w/ Thin Strips

For #1, I spun thin strips, three colors to three bobbins, and plied them together. I should say this was all worsted draft at 11.5:1; I put all the really nitty details on the project page. It made a fabulously bouncy three ply. No two sections of the yarn are the same. It’s so fun to see all the colors play together differently.

This was the bottom band of the triangle shape, so even though it had the most yardage, it was the thinnest band. I’ve here put two parts of it together so you can see a bigger area of fabric.

A frequent comment about combo plied yarns, and an issue for combo spinning in general, is that they stripe. In this case, having three plies and three colors involved made some difference, and stripping the top quite thin made the stripes as thin as possible. Of course they are even thinner here because I put them at the bottom of my triangle shape. If you want to combo ply and want to minimize striping, I think this is the way to manage it. And striping is an issue with any wildly multicoloured handpainted top, I should think, even when only one colorway is involved. It’s not at all necessarily a bad thing, just something to consider when you’re designing your yarn.

#2: Combo Ply w/ Thick Strips

#2 used thicker strips of fiber the same way. You can see that this resulted in longer runs of color in each ply, meaning very noticeable striping in the finished knit.

This sample was a bit of an oops technically: because of my own user error, the singles ended up rather thicker but I put in the same amount of twist, which meant they were overtwisted. The yarn didn’t spring back and bounce when plied, but stayed very ropey. Still, that was a good mistake to make in a way, to see how a fiber acts with too much twist.

Also, the overtwist made plying very unmanageable, resulting in a lower twist angle than I had intended. It made for a good illustration of how twist angle can change color: lower ply angle = bigger dots of color.

I decided to exaggerate the striping of sample #2 by putting it at the top of the triangle. It’s really very complex and beautiful with the colors shifting through each other at different rates (the color runs in the different colorways were all different lengths).

At the same time, the overtwist made the stitches very jagged. As a fabric, it’s thick, pebbly, and almost stiff. I knit it down on smaller needles than it wanted, because I wanted it go cohere with the rest of the samples, which were a fair bit thinner. Really what I should have done is put this sample at the bottom and knit it on larger needles, letting it flare a bit. But then it also would have been a very thin stripe. Oh well!

In this picture you can see how different the two combo ply fabrics are:

#3: Combo Draft w/ Thin Strips

#3 changed things up dramatically: I held three thin strips together for each single. It wasn’t as difficult as I thought, since the strips were thin. The singles were so beautiful and interesting to spin. There was striping in the singles themselves, and I think the next step in this exploration would have been to chain ply singles like these.

Interesting that there are stripes in this finished section. Or is it pooling? I did spin all three plies exactly the same – three strips going together on three bobbins – so it could be an accident of alignment? That would be odd. It’s hard to tell what’s going on.

Still, I think it’s gorgeous. The dots of color are so much smaller than in the combo spins that it’s close to optical blending. Even the stripes look like clouds of separate, deeply complex shades moving past each other.

#4 Combo Draft w/ Thick Strips

This was the most difficult spin, because I was trying to manage three wide strips held together for drafting. I managed it by predrafting them together, but this was not easy either. At this point, I had spun the same singles enough that I was able to achieve a surprising amount of consistency (for me), and I did that by just accepting that when one of the strips took over for a while, that’s what it had to do. So you can pretty much tell that the individual plies have larger chunks of single colors, while other parts are more blended. All in all, it made for an even more complex yarn. Maybe because of those irregularities, it’s the one knitted sample in which I can’t really detect any striping at all.

Still, it’s very very similar to #3. I’m not sure any improvement in #4 is worth the additional hassle of spinning that way.

#3 above, #4 below. You can see that #3 is more blended; #4 has larger dots of color where one colorway frequently took over in one ply.

The Escarpment Cowl itself, into which I knit these samples, is a free pattern that makes a great canvas for handspun. The original is quite a bit smaller, but it’s top down, so you can use up all your yarn, and you can really use any weight of yarn. As you can see from my picture up above, it’s basically a big ol’ triangle. It’s actually an identical shape to those 70’s ponchos that had a comeback maybe 10 years ago. Those were formed by casting on a circle, then had two mitered increase points at the front and back. (By contrast, a top-down raglan sweater yoke has four mitred increase points.) The Escarpment Cowl ends up in that same shape, but because of how it’s constructed, the neck hole is shifted back. So, logically, if you had a lot more yarn and just kept knitting and knitting at this, it would become a front-heavy poncho. This is getting close.

I made the neck hole too big, and putting the thickest yarn/fabric portion at the top creates an odd structured effect. I am accepting it as it is, though. I like the extra color interest near my face. This is an indoor garment for me, so I don’t need it to sit higher in order to be really warm around my neck.

Stretched out to it’s full almost-poncho-ness

I’m finding this a surprisingly wearable garment for me. It provides the extra warmth of a shawl without constantly falling off me. (I just can’t figure out how people who run after kids all day wear shawls. If you have any tips, please lay them on me.) This doesn’t fall off, and it’s actually proved to be a handy sort of modesty-cover when nursing with v-neck or crossover shirts. I pull those shirts down to nurse baby, and while this doesn’t exactly cover, it does let us do what we need to without exposing my entire decoletage. (Not that I’m suggesting you should nurse with a cover if that’s not your bag. I don’t use a cover per se, but I do dress strategically when I go out so that I am covered an amount that I feel comfortable with.)

I learned so much from this study. I made some beautiful yarns with a lot of nuance that I would use differently in different instances. Katrina made three colorways that were very different, but were cohesive enough that it would have been almost impossible to make them look bad together. I learned about speckle-dyed tops and those with white space, and how they make for delicious surprises. I learned so much about twist, and about how different dots of color might make very different looks in a fabric. And I learned that combo drafting is not so scary; I could totally spin a sweater quantity holding two or three thin strips together.

Thank you Rachel and Katrina for a memorable and helpful study!


My baby is one month old today.

One of my favorite things about newborns is the way you can snuggle with them while they sleep. This phase is always over too soon, so I’m purposely prolonging it with D. She just rests on my chest, head on my sternum.

Fully asleep, the weight of her is astounding. Just over nine pounds of warm, breathing human, perfectly still and completely alive.

This is the weight of glory.* An embodied soul. Completely a person as much as any adult, in a tiny package. All her heartbreaks, all the ways we’ll love her and fail her, all the trials and chances that will make her character amazing, those things are all before her. But she’s still completely herself.

People, I think, do not so much develop as they are revealed. Technically, one would think she hasn’t become anything yet, that her decisions and circumstances will shape her in ways that haven’t yet been decided. That’s true enough. But when I look back at baby pictures of my other kids, and compare them to what they are like now… everything that they are now, seems to already be contained in that baby. It just hasn’t been revealed yet.

I don’t mean that in a deterministic way. I just mean that, based on my limited observation, people seem to have eternity built into them. Whatever she becomes, she already is now; we just don’t know it yet. Already it seems like we were always a family of five, we just hadn’t met everyone yet.

Maybe it’s a paradox. Maybe it’s nonsense. For today I’ll keep my little human on my heart, and let the weight of her personhood pass straight through my sternum and store it up in my heart. I hope that store of glory helps me do my part to be the answer to my biggest prayer for my people, which is that they will know they are loved.

Happy month-birthday, little D!

Butterfly hat from Katrina at Crafty Jaks Boutique.

*The phrase “Weight of Glory” comes from a sermon by C. S. Lewis. It can be found in this anthology of the same name, and is in every way worth your time.

Birthday by Post

Yesterday I got a special box in the mail. My birthday was April 6th, but the box was not at all late.

Back when I wrote about my stash, I realized that I was getting the most use and creative mileage out of the stash I didn’t choose. I tend to buy for myself projects so big that they loom, and then I don’t get around to starting them for a ghastly long time. But the random yarn – usually the old castoffs of friends with good taste – those get used. When I’m shopping my stash for a project that fits my life now, I don’t pick up an idea I had years ago; I come up with something new with yarn or fiber that’s just kicking around.

After writing about that, I began to see a certain practical appeal about fiber clubs. A small amount of fiber, chosen by someone whose tastes I trust, arriving regularly, unmarried to some grand scheme. A sort of scheduled injection of creative freedom between one’s regularly scheduled major spins.

This came up in discussion with Mum when she asked what I wanted for my birthday. The idea evolved between us that, for a birthday present, she would get me the Mum’s Fiber Club. She went to the Maryland Sheep and Wool festival and picked me a year’s worth of spinning surprises. It feels as if I got to go to the festival vicariously, and Mum supported a variety of different artists this way. It seems to have turned into a very generous present!

Martha’s purple hat was not part of the package; I guess I was too excited to notice it had jumped into the picture.

I’m unreasonably excited about this. She spaced it out very sensibly considering my current limitations. Basically, what you’re looking at is a year’s worth of inspiration.

Care to see the first installment? Of course you do.

Ooooh dear. It has been on my spinning “bucket list” for a while to try a Loop batt, and this is a really nice one. 50% merino, 25% cashmere, 25% silk. I don’t think I’ve ever spun cashmere before.

I count three distinct shades of blue, and four repeats of color. Lots of interesting options for color management, though I’m pretty sure it’s meant to be spun from the centre.

Thank you Mom. Here’s to play.

I promise, this will be my last post about gifts and acquisitions for a while. Also yesterday, the next Color Studies for Wool n’ Spinning was announced, and I put my order in for that as well – I couldn’t help it; I got the fibre kit and the battlings. That’s probably all my new fibre for the year in one day! I had to breathe into a paper bag a bit; too much excitement for me.

Suddenly I am spinning away on my merino/yak with more motivation than ever. Only 1/8 of that spin left, but more on that another time.

Made by my Village

The phrase “making friends” suddenly strikes me as odd. Are friends a thing you make, like a sock or a pie? If anything, I think I am more made by my friends. They love and challenge and surprise me.

For example, I wrote a couple days ago about how amazed I am when friends reach across long distances to express their care, especially when I have trouble even across town. I’m not exaggerating; most days it’s easier to whip my phone out of my pocket and connect with someone in another hemisphere than to bundle up my family to visit a half mile away. But part of why I moved across the world myself was to get better at that: reaching out across town. And here, I am surrounded by amazing people who are better at that, and they love me anyway, and show me how it’s done.

Two weeks ago, friends gathered to celebrate Baby Ds arrival. It was a great party full of awesome ladies, and D was well and truly showered- especially with DIAPERS! Oh my, cloth diapers. I do love them. I love not having to contribute to our landfill, which is a very big and nasty reality not that far away. And it’s very cool that there’s a cloth diaper store in town called Arctic Cotton, run by a dad who wants to make cloth diapering more accessible and affordable to our town. My friends pulled together to hook us up with a bounty of our favorite kind, the organic cotton prefolds. (With everything I’ve learned about microplastics lately, I love these even more.)

Froggy bum! Such a sweet poo receptacle. D says, “Why yes, mama did make me pose for this picture.”

Anyway I did not begin this post intending to wax rhapsodic about clothing my baby’s bum. Such are the considerations that fill my days, and my fellow war weary mamas understand.

This is nominally a crafting blog, and what I really want to share are all the handmade gifts D was given.*

First off the quilts. Jane made this beautiful piece and free-motion quilted it herself. I can sort of imagine what that means but I don’t really; it sounds difficult. My MIL and I were admiring it and imagining the squares side by side looked like houses.

She made wee matching quilts for the girls to wrap their babies too.

My MIL, whose quilts decorate our house in several rooms, made D her first to be her very own. Do you not love these colors?

I’m still having trouble generally speaking with orange and blue together, but I just love this really red orange, and all the other colors are so fresh and light. Besides which I am very sentimental about all things Maryland since moving away from the US, so I find the crabs and anchors very endearing.

Annie of Monday Nights is another quilter, and made this cozy blanket for D. It’s fleecy, well padded, and sturdy to be a floor mat. All the kids like to play on it now. N in particular has commented on enjoying the colors.

From far away Pittsburgh, D received her very own Barb quilt. They’re thinner and just the right size for snuggling. She’s made one for each child, and they’ve held up admirably despite being intensely loved. Here are all three with their quilts.

My mother made the last blanket I’m going to show you today, but the first one we received. It’s made with several colors of her natural-dyed yarn, with a multi in there just to shake things up. Of course I’m already a fan of my mom’s yarns, but something about this piece – the relaxed gauge and the mix of garter, maybe – makes the most of the drape and weight of this yarn. We cozy up with it a lot.

Have you ever seen a knitted bonnet like this before? D received two: a sweet tiny green one by my friend Atsainaq:

And a terra cotta one, a little bigger, by Hannah.

I’ve never seen this style before but it’s popular up here. Atsainaq and Hannah tend to knit them top down and flat and then sew up the bottom. You need a reliable tied on hat when baby is on your back. And the ruffles… I do rather love ruffles.

And then there’s these wonderful sealskin mitts!

My anaananguaq made them. To Elisapi from Elisapee. They won’t fit her for a bit so I will have to hide them from the big girls. This is such a neat design. Check out the gromets she installed. And the elastic that goes between the layers is very cool. I need to learn how to make these.

Finally, just for D, my dear friend Andrea made this bunny. He is colourful and cheerful and soft and floppy just as a bunny should be. It doesn’t hurt that he reminds me very much of a dear departed pair of handknit socks.

Our baby #3 is blessed with a lot of love. There have been further contributions to her wardrobe from parishioners, friends here, and friends far away. She’s our third, but our first Northern baby, which is its own kind of special. The outpouring of love and gifts and time – we know that handmade gifts are made of time as much as anything else! – is precious. I’m so thankful for our community and the friends we have made, are making, and are being made by. (Oh dear, how’s that for a sentence? Mama needs a nap!)

*Does it seem weird to do a post about gifts? It’s actually part of the culture up here to really show off what you’ve been given. This was super weird for me at first. I’m always kind of awkward about gifts because they feel really personal. But eventually I realized it’s not about me at all; it’s about the kindness of this other person, and celebrating that. I want to celebrate this kind and beautiful person and what they did, and I hope as crafters you are inspired by their work too.

Wailing and Gnashing

This child wanted so badly to learn to knit. Randomly. At 4:30.

This is her dance recital dress. Her recital was on Sunday. We make her take it off to sleep.

I managed to get her more needles and yarn (since her last false start is still in the drawer… what was I going to do, tell her that knitters always finish what they start?). She said she wanted to knit a sweater. I said how about something smaller. She said how about a sweater for the baby? I said how about a hat. Her subsequent plan was to knit hat, mitts, and “outdoor socks” for the baby.

I cast on 12 stitches for her.

Then I had baby and toddler and dinner to worry about, so I told her she was on her own. She’s sat on my lap doing “in, around, through, and off” for years now. Understandably, she’s been able to master (well, approximate) all the steps but “through.” I was switching the laundry when she came up to beg for my help.

In a moment of what I’m sure was laid-back parenting genius, I said, “why don’t you figure out 100 ways to do “through” wrong?”

Well, what followed was half an hour of almost continuous sobbing and wailing. This child is not into making mistakes. But she got it.

Okay, so I straightened the mess of stitches for her a few times, and I sat down for two whole minutes to stop her freaking out about something that wasn’t a problem. But these are four whole stitches she made more or less by herself. At least, she did the “through” successfully.

Only 99 wrong ways to go!

It took me until I was nearly thirty to gain a positive attitude about learning the hard way. Hopefully it won’t take her quite that long. In the meantime, I have plenty of tissues and yarn, and if she decides this whole thing is horrible and she totally hates knitting… I’m sure we’ll find a way to support her in whatever esoteric hobby she lands on.

Unexpected Gifts

I have more Thoughts about self-care and mothering and time and consumption, but they aren’t resolving themselves into an essay just yet. So instead I’ll share with you something much more reliably lovely: the sweet surprises I’ve received in the mail since baby D arrived.

Mairi (of the BC chapter of the Wool n’ Spinning community) sent a most darling care package for the whole family. I didn’t get a picture of the whole thing together because we were all so excited that it was immediately distributed. There were books for the big girls:

Chocolate, candy, a bookmark, cards…

And some really lovely herbal teas which I’ve hidden away to sample in a more leisurely fashion. It was just the kindest thing.

Into this package, Katrina slipped one of her beautiful baby hats.

I’m saving it for Ds one month birthday, so hopefully you’ll see this again. Isn’t it just darling? I think it’s one of those aviator style hats like the one I made for N last year, and I’m such a sucker for embroidered garnishing of handknits.

Then Rachel blew me away with this complete surprise:

This is a Turtlemade Turkish spindle. She knows I’m wanting to play with spindle spinning over our summer vacation, and I’ve never tried this kind. They’re ridiculously light and portable, and I hear such good things about them. I am excited to start playing with it and experience what makes them special. I’ve already found this excellent video by The Abby Franquemont. I think that will suffice to get me going with it, since I have some (rather rusty) spindling experience. How fun, no?

And then… as I was typing this post… Jared came in and informed me there was another mysterious package with my name on it.

It was expected to an extent – Lori, an Instagram friend, had posted her Elizabeth Zimmermann book collection, and my gushing had led to a conversation in which she offered to mail me the one EZ book which I don’t have, and of which she had a duplicate: Knitting Around. But the package was obviously too tall for just a book.

I believe I produced an audible squee. The girls love matching, especially the ringleader N, so I can’t wait to see their faces. And a whole volume of EZs words to discover… I have most of the patterns in other forms, but her words! They are a treasure of wit and confidence.

What more can I say? Time fails me to discuss my Iqaluit friends who pulled together to mightily enhance our stash of cloth diapers, or Cathy from Instagram who sent me carded sunshine, or the elders who threw me a surprise birthday party AND a surprise baby shower, and I should really do a separate post just to show off the handmade gifts D has received.

Friendship and generosity always touches me so deeply because, to the weird little world of my brain, it comes as a surprise. I know what it’s like to go without friends for a very long stretch, and I have a difficult time reaching out to touch those I DO care about deeply. So when someone I have never met in person reaches out across the longitude and latitude of a VERY large country, to touch my life with a physical gift, an artifact, actual tangible proof that they care and were thinking about me… well, I’m a bit dumbstruck. It’s just pure gracious kindness. There’s no way I could ever pay it back. So I’ll try to give it forward.

Thank you, friends, for showing your caring. You are a gift. You make me want to be kinder.

Two Arms Full

This is when I annually observe “I’m not at Maryland Sheep and Wool weekend.” Gosh, that sounds petulant, probably because it is. The last time I went to MDS&W, my five year old was two months old. This year I’m again post-partum, with a two week old on my shoulder this time.

Post-partum is an interesting time for me. I have so much to be thankful for. My baby is healthy, my recovery has been fab, she sleeps as much as could be reasonably expected, I have supportive friends nearby, my spouse is a rockstar, and my in laws were just visiting for a week so I haven’t had to wash one dish.

Observing INAMDS&WW with the level of fibery engagement available to me: reading PLY Magazine during nap time!

Even this most optimal of circumstances is no good for making. Which may seem a silly complaint, but when I can’t keep my hands busy, I find my brain spinning its wheels. I’m sure it’s a combination of general discomfort and tiredness, plus a nervous anticipation of just how real everything is going to get now that my in laws are out of town and Jared is mostly going back to work. But with my hands still, my brain spins.

I usually have one hand free, one hand to hold a mobile device. I spent an embarrassing number of hours last week surfing back issues of Twist Collective and queuing patterns I’ll never get around to making. During feedings I’ll dream of all the things I could be doing. I know this about myself now, that this is how I deal with discomfort: shopping other lives.

I spent the first months of this year reading through Genesis and a commentary on it, and I finished the day before D was born. Juggling another huge book with a newborn seemed unwise, so on a whim, I snagged this book off the shelf so I could read something other than Instagram while I decide what book of the Bible to study next.

It was passed on to me by a friend. I haven’t read Ann Voskamp’s first book, though I’ve heard the cliff notes. I was concerned it might be trite. But about three pages in, I had picked up my baby and held her close, because the reality of temporality had cut right through all my avoidance. This woman gets it. Each chapter, a convenient fifteen minute read, has been a daily reminder to cut the crap, sit up, and figure out how to be present.

I deleted my ravelry queue.

My hands are empty because my arms are full. Can I focus on that? My house is a mess because children are playing in it. I’m doing laundry all the time because we have enough clothes to wear. I’m cooking more than ever because my family can afford to eat healthy home cooked meals and gee the kids actually eat the food sometimes.

I’ve been tempted by so many ways to serve myself. Plans for what I will buy and make for myself. Post-partum fitness plans to “get my body back.” Tracking my every calorie and movement so I am motivated to make the best choices for myself. Self-care is awesome, but my word, it balloons like my rav queue into self-obsession. Into fixation with my needs.

Every second spent staring at my phone, I am missing this face. But I do it anyway.

But I am not my own end. I am not going to live forever. The point of me – and this is the hardest thing to live out – is to glorify God, the God whose glory was a cross, whose cross is remembered in communion, in being with and loving others. The point of a strong healthy body is to be present with others. The point of a clean house is creative space for more messes. The point of a beautiful space is peace for my loved ones, and to invite others in. The point of good food is to share it around a table where we enjoy each other. The point of me being more fully alive is to be better poured out.

This is the hardest thing for me to live. I am not naturally generous, hospitable, or nurturing. I experience no need to be needed; I have little trouble saying no. I overcommit to my own desires first, and I burn out quickly on helping. I honestly envy those who struggle with the opposite; they seem much more suited to all my life choices.

But there’s no going back now. My arms are full and there’s no emptying them. I made these choices because I want to figure it out. I want to love well my own family and beyond. I want to press into the discomfort and find the cross there. Find the cross in my daily failures and live in grace. Give me too much comfort and I’ll escape that process as quick as I can. Throw in another baby and I’ll be forced back into the walk.

Baby D enjoys her first quilt by Mimi, my MIL. My Maryland-loving heart feels awfully sentimental about the blue crabs.

My arms are full. They almost weren’t. Three babies were lost seven years ago. I haven’t forgotten their names. There’s no replacing them, but there’s a certain completeness in having three healthy children I’ve gotten to hold in my arms. There’s no way not to be thankful if I can remember that.

My hands are empty, so I have to hold them out. My brain is spinning, with no work to latch onto, so it has to rest. I have to open my heart to feel his arms, Gods acceptance of who I am regardless of my failures, even my failure to engage the journey he has me on.

It’s all grace. Every day, every minute. Every snuggle, every smile, every hurt, every struggle. It’s all gift. I can find my way to accept them if I lean in, embrace the failure, give back, accept how small I am, how far I have to go, how loved I am regardless. Let the grace of a God who already died and rose for me do the work.

The generosity of others so far outstrips my own that I’m left speechless. The girls enjoy headbands from the care package all the way from British Columbia from online spinning friends I haven’t even met.

There’s no 12-week plan for that. No way to track my progress with selfies. No way to feel good about myself. But I would like, ten years from now, to look back and see that I’ve done the best I could to love the right things. Or even better, maybe I just won’t think about myself quite so much.