Happy Coincidences

Just over a year ago I made a decision about my next spinning wheel.  Don't get me wrong, I love my Ashford Joy but I found myself wanting to explore areas of spinning which the Joy wasn't so suited to.  In particular I wanted to try double drive and higher ratios which the Joy doesn't have the capacity to do. I wanted my next wheel to be capable of double drive and also from a manufacturer whose bobbins and flyers are compatible with their travel wheel offerings as well.  I got particularly interested in Schacht wheels, but there are only two dealers in the UK and neither are close to where I live so it was hard to test-drive them.

Fortunately I was working in America a lot at that time and there was a Schacht dealer very close to work (Purlescence Yarns, Sunnyvale) so I asked if I could try out the Ladybug and Sidekick (the Sidekick doesn't do double drive but if I wanted to look at their portable offering for future reference).   I'd pretty much confirmed that the Ladybug would be my next wheel when the store owner came over to see how I was getting on.  "Have a go on the Matchless as well if you like," she said.

Dammit. I knew I'd been avoiding trying it for a reason.  It was akin to spinning butter.  And in the UK it costs nearly £1,000.  Waaay out of my price range.  I convinced myself that a Ladybug would be great, not mention more affordable, and I bought a couple of high speed bobbins to go with my eventual purchase.  The plan had been to buy one shortly after returning to the UK, but that was before I discovered I was going to have to move house and money for moving expenses became more of a priority so the Ladybug got put on hold.  In the meantime I had time to think about it.  Which is always dangerous.

The Matchless is one of the ultimate workhorse wheels.  It can use all the drive systems you could ever need (Scotch tension, double drive and Irish tension), has ratios from 4:1 to 22:1 and is a precision-built, solid wheel.  Every review or owner comment I read pushed me a little more in that direction.  I decided that my next wheel might as well be my lifetime wheel and that's worthy of a little investment.  I could probably afford a Matchless in six months or so if I really set my mind to saving for it.

Fast forward a few months. I was on holiday with my family in the Lake District and after a week of walking up as many mountains as possible, we decided to spend out last day checking out some craft-related shopping options. My stepdad does wood turning so we visited G&S Specialist Timber, next to the Alpaca Centre.  The Alpaca Centre was disappointing from a 'maker' standpoint.   It's full of pre-made items with one little bag of alpaca fleece (to be fair, it's way past shearing season) and a few skeins of alpaca yarn but nothing I couldn't get elsewhere and the alpacas were tucked up indoors so not much to see there either.
G&S on the other hand was pretty fascinating even for someone with no practical wood turning skills.  I loved their tree trunk sofa and they have a lovely selection of different woods so I picked out a beautiful bit of olive wood for my stepdad to make me a surprise object with.

Having been disappointed with the Alpaca Centre, the next stop was The Wool Clip, which I'd heard a lot of good things about but never managed to visit.  What a total joy this shop is.  There's something for every type of fibre artist, much of it locally-sourced and it's run as a co-operative.  I particularly liked their hand dyed fibre and yarn, handmade drop spindles and cute felting kits. Unfortunately they don't allow photos in the shop.  A decision I completely respect but one which means you'll have to go there yourself to witness how truly awesome it is!

As luck would have it, the member of the co-op running the shop that day was Cecilia, who was spinning on a Spinolution Bee.  Of course we got chatting about it as she was ringing up our purchases and the inevitable question came up: "So which wheel do you have?"  When I said I had a Joy but wanted to get a Matchless at some point, Cecilia said "Oh, I have a friend who might be selling one of those."  And so it began.

As soon as I got back to the apartment I Ravelry messaged the friend who confirmed that yes, she was selling it and she'd like... how much?!  BARGAIN.  I have to have this wheel.  Only problem was we were driving home the next day with a car that was already tightly packed with all our stuff and there was some debate as to whether we could get the Matchless to fit.  On the up side, we were passing within an hour's detour of the wheel's current home and my Mum appreciated how much of a lucky break this was and was able to persuade my stepdad to do the detour on an already very long journey.
 And that was how I ended up coming home from my holiday with my dream spinning wheel that I absolutely hadn't intended to purchase while I was away.


Ysolda in Manchester (or 'Little Red in Purl City')

When you think about it, in this day and age knitting from a pattern is a bit of an odd concept - you look at a photo and purely from that photo you decide it's something you want to spend two months of your life working on. You can't try it on like you would in a shop so you have no idea whether it's actually going to suit or even fit you until it's finished. You also regularly dismiss designs you think wouldn't suit you on the basis of a few pictures. This why, for the last year or so, Ysolda Teague has taken samples of her garment designs to every major event on the international knitting calendar and this month she took the samples on the road for a little tour or the north of England. Having visited Baa Ram Ewe in Leeds and Ramshambles in York, Purl City Yarns played host to the Little Red in the City party this Saturday.

I first met Ysolda two years ago at the iKnit event in London when my knitting buddy and I kept bumping into her and her right-hand-woman Sarah. We've met several times since but always at major knitting events in London, which means there's never a lot of time to just hang out and chat, so it was great to be able to welcome her to Manchester.

Ysolda's right-hand-woman this time round was Becks who, along with Sarah, helps take care of the rest of Ysolda's business so she can concentrate on actually designing stuff.

The event began with a bit of a Q&A, giving the knitters a chance to find out more about the design process, Ysolda's future projects and some of her tips for successful garments. Many of the knitters attending were already getting started on knits from Little Red... including myself and the other Becks both knitting Laikas with Wollmeise lace.

After the Q&A, the knitters were able to try on the samples Ysolda and Becks had brought with them and get some fitting advice from the designer. Somehow, she'd managed to choose a bright, hot, sunny day for this event - not the kind of weather Manchester's renowned for and possibly not the most conducive to trying on sweaters, but that didn't seem to bother anyone. We decided that Cara definitely has to make Chickadee in exactly the same size and colour scheme as the sample and I'm fairly certain Melia will be going into Polly's queue (I've cast on for mine already!).

Many of the attendees had the same experience as I had the first time I played dress-up with the samples at Knit Nation last year - patterns which they thought wouldn't suit them when they looked at the photos suddenly became a must-knit once they'd tried them on. This is the reason that Laika's been in my queue for the last year!

Inspired, book and yarn-laden and full of chocolate brownies, the crowd gradually dispersed, planning their next few months knitting. After a bit of a tidy-up and Becks performing her packing magic with the samples, I took the two of them to the Northern Quarter for a little light refreshment and a few hours of chat at Common before they had to begin the journey to their next destination - a Travelodge at the delightful Scotch Corner* (there's pretty much nothing there except a major motorway junction), en route to Knit Studio in Newcastle.

Naturally we managed to find time for a few photos - Ysolda was quite fond of the bright pink wall opposite Common, but she seemed a little sceptical when I mentioned that there was a giant broom and shovel just around the corner.

There's nothing to mark or explain George Wyllie's sculpture on Thomas Street, but it makes for a handy photo opportunity. I sort of feel like she should be in Mary Poppins.

Ysolda, it was great to have you and Becks here - hope to see you back in town soon!

* I challenged them to tweet me something exciting about Scotch Corner. They didn't. I assume it was as dull as I imagined!

Little Red in the City

If you're involved in knitting and you haven't heard of Ysolda Teague, I'm going to assume you've been hiding under a rock for the last few years. If that is the case, let me give you a brief round-up. Ysolda's made a name for herself by mostly self-publishing her patterns, including 2 books - Whimsical Little Knits 1 & 2 and now she's launching her third book, the frankly brilliant Little Red in the City, a reference book on everything you need to know to make sweaters fit you (and seven gorgeous patterns to practice your new skills on).

The premise of the book is that standard sizing rarely fits the knitter properly and by the time you've committed the time to knit the whole thing, you're hardly going to rip it all out and start again to make the adjustments to suit you.

The first part of the book 'Tools for Successful Sweaters' starts with yarn selection - the characteristics of certain fibres, what they're best suited to and what difference worsted vs woollen spinning makes. Then Ysolda looks at the step we're all really tempted to skip when we want to start a new project - swatching, measuring and choosing the right size. I know what you're thinking - "I'm a 40” bust, how hard can choosing a size be?" but the photos perfectly illustrate why knitting the size that's right for your bust may be disastrous if you body is proportionally smaller. You may end up with something which fits perfectly over the fullest part of the bust but looks like a tent everywhere else, so the next part is about how to overcome that. How to do the calculations which will lead to a flattering fit. There's even a section about blocking.

In the second part, 'Techniques', there are detailed tutorials on useful techniques which you may not have used before, like the tubular and crochet cast-ons, different short row methods and one-row buttonholes. (Bear in mind that this book is not designed for absolute beginners, so a certain level of knitting experience is presumed).

Then we move onto the patterns - Angostura (a v-neck tank top with shaping provided by cables), Chickadee (scoop-neck cardigan with a colourwork bird pattern yoke), Cria (cardigan with a garter stitch yoke and two sleeve options), Laika (lace cardigan with a hood), Lauriel (long-sleeved cardigan with a leaf motif neckline), Melia ('Little Red' had to have a cape-inspired design and this is it) and Skelf (reverse stocking stitch, worked inside-out to avoid all that purling, with a tree and ivy theme).

If you're a lazy knitter who likes to just pick a pattern and knit it, this book probably isn't for you, but if you care about whether or not the thing you've spent months knitting is actually going to fit you, then this is the perfect reference.

PS: Big thanks to Ysolda for sending my copy out by Special Delivery to try to get it to me before I went on holiday. :)

Still a work in progress

This is what's currently on my beautiful IST Crafts spindle (amboyna burr, rim-weighted with brass)... And to be fair it's been there for a while, although I have been working on it every now and then. The main problem is trying to keep it consistent with the first half of the top, which I did when I was less experienced with a drop spindle, so it's a lot thicker. I think at this point I have to admit I've failed to keep consistent, so when I ply I'll be looking to make the most of the contrast!

Cosmicpluto lands in Manchester

Last weekend was one of those where I love being part of a lovely, global community of knitters. Canadian designer, Laura Chau (AKA Cosmicpluto) is doing a trip around the UK and Ireland at the moment and having stayed in Ysolda's flat in Edinburgh for a few days, she joined us in Manchester. Her host was my friend Elizabeth, who had organised a 'potluck' dinner at her place in Laura's honour. We had awesome tortillas made by Elizabeth, Audrey contributed amazing brownies and Laura made us Canadian butter tarts (like sticky toffee pudding sauce in pastry. YUM!). Polly got the mickey taken for pulling a beer and bottle opener out of her handbag and Corinna had found some bizarre mulled wine tea bags to sample.

The next day, Purl City Yarns hosted a tea party with Laura as the guest of honour. Charlotte made a massive effort with all the food and we were obviously obliged to partake of a little sustenance (ie. stuff our faces). Laura's next stop was Leeds, so I suggested she hook up with my bestest knitting buddy Kate, who 'picked me up' on Ravelry a couple of years ago when I lived in Ilkley. From her blog entry, I see they had a great day out together.

I love the fact that all of this comes from an enjoyment of the same hobby, and long may that continue.

PS: Laura is currently having a pattern sale on Ravelry - 25% off when you buy two or more patterns until 31st May. A great opportunity to pick up some fabulous designs.

Spinning Wheel Bag

After about two months of work, I finally finished making my spinning wheel bag. :) When I say this out loud, I generally get one of two reactions. Either "You can get bags for spinning wheels???" or "That's great, but you know they make one for your wheel, right?". And they're right. Ashford do make a bag specifically for my wheel, but I didn't buy it. For two reasons. Firstly because it didn't suit my needs and secondly because I refuse to spend £70 on what is a very simple (though well-made and practical), mass-produced case. Let me expand on that a little. The whole reason for having a bag in the first place is primarily so that I can take it to my favourite yarn shop (Purl City Yarns) to spin every Sunday. This means a 20 minute walk across Manchester (widely regarded as the rainiest city on earth*), which means there are several reasons why the Ashford bag wasn't the right option for me.

1. Using a bag with a single shoulder strap would wreck my back.
2. Open pockets on the front of the bag would just collect rain water.
3. £70 is a lot of fluff.

So I reckoned I could make my own, to my personal specifications, and cheaper to boot. I knew it was going to take a while because I am both a very novice sewist and a notorious perfectionist, but that was fine if I got what I needed. So I set out with a pretty simple set of requirements - a bag with backpack straps, the option for a shoulder strap if required, some kind of future-proof accessory attachment system and some personality.

I borrowed a friend's Ashford bag to look at the construction, spent a week trying to find all the necessary supplies, then began work. I'm not going to lie. I procrastinated. A lot. About the fabric, the location and closure of the pockets and about the construction. Two months later, The Bag eventually emerged.

Inside there are three removable pouches which will each hold 100g of fibre. Strap-wise, there are backpack straps, a grab handle and D-Rings to attach a shoulder strap. The cream straps on the front will allow for other accessories to be attached in pouches as and when I need them.

I'm really happy with it and having posted it on Ravelry, a lot of people have asked for a tutorial, so I'm working on that - stay tuned.

* Not actually true, it just feels like it sometimes.

Adventures in Bamboo

Okay, so my Mum is allergic to wool, therefore anything I knit for her needs to take this into account. With spinning currently getting a lot more of my time than knitting, I decided that for her birthday/Mothers Day she should have some handspun that she could knit into something nice.

So, I called Wingham's, put in an order and as if by magic, some bamboo arrived. The next task was to dye it. All the dyes I have previously worked with are Jacquard acid dyes, which I've become very comfortable with. I know how much vinegar they need, what oven temperature, how long they need to be baked for and I love the fact that you get a good idea of the colour as it 'strikes' pretty much as soon as it hits the fibre. The problem is that as bamboo is a plant fibre, it needs a different type of dye.

I Googled around, searched on Ravelry, and took a combination of information to come up with a dyeing plan. Having soaked the fibre in washing soda, I added the Procion dye and watched as it appeared to make absolutely no difference whatsoever, apart from the water being a bit blue. Okay, no need to panic. These dyes just take longer to strike. I'm sure it'll be fine if I just leave it for a while.

A couple of hours later I returned to the dye pan, lifted a bit of bamboo out and saw it was... Still white. Damn. At this point I did lose my nerve slightly and added more washing soda and more dye before going to bed.

The next morning I was pleasantly surprised, indeed very relieved to find a nice light aqua fibre waiting for me. So I rinsed it a few times and hung it up to dry. When I came back from work I found this.

Oh. Nice. I thought 'that looks like it's going to be a soft, squishy joy to spin. Well, it's okay, as long as I can figure out what went wrong I've still got enough to do 200g of two-ply'.

As it turned out, I didn't have to. As horrid as it looked, as soon as I started drafting it, it softened beautifully and it spins really nicely.

I've just finished spinning the first 100g bobbin, but I'm still debating whether to go for two or three ply. Answers on a postcard, please!