The sum total (but not really)

Published on Monday February 15th, 2010


This is everything I accomplished at Madrona. Not a lot to show for myself, is it? On the spindle is a small quantity of really softly spun Cormo and CVM 2-ply, and on that loooooong straight needle is about 20 ridges of garter stitch in really yummy Jacob/alpaca DK from Toots LeBlanc.

But I can now tell you what cop is (the yarn you’ve made that’s wound around the spindle), I can use the drop spindle standing up (a really good idea, as I’ll explain later), I can do a thigh twist to start the spindle (standing on one leg, even), I can kick start it when it’s near the floor, I can fix thick spots in the yarn and do a better join when I need to “edit” a thin spot, I can keep twist out of my draft zone by back-twisting with my right hand just a little bit, and I can ply out of my bra.

Yes, you read that right.

Turns out a good way to ply two or more strands is to wind them together onto a crumpled ball of paper, pop the resulting ball down your cleavage, and wield the drop spindle pulling the strands from between your buttons. If nothing else, this is certainly more eye-catching than my old method using the chopstick apertures in my two rice bowls.

And I’m darn proud of my 40 rows of garter stitch, because I achieved them by lever knitting. That means the technique for knitting that relies on one needle being fixed under your arm, in a belt or sheath, or wherever you can comfortably plant it and then bringing the knitting to the fixed needle tip rather than fishing after it. I’ve read about it — this is how the Shetland knitters made their beautiful jumpers on long, long double-pointed needles before circulars were invented — and now I know (in theory, at least) how to do it. It feels just as clumsy as whatever knitting method you use felt when you first tried it. Stephanie assured us we would all suck, and she was perfectly right. This tiny girl is clearly beating me around the block:


This photo is from the Shetland Museum Archives and is proof I will always reach for in the future if I need to argue that small children are capable of intellectual focus and remarkable dexterity… and of not poking their eyes out with tools. This tot’s grasping a set of needles that are longer than her legs, and she’s already knit half a sweater with them. Awesome.

Anyway, Stephanie challenged us to practice lever knitting just a little each day for 30 days. And since I can’t back down from a challenge, I vowed I’d lever knit a baby sweater in that time. Hence my 20+ ridges. Which I’m going to add to right now while I watch the men’s downhill. Next time I’ll tell you about my final Madrona class, Knitting Happily Ever After.

Axel mitts

Published on Friday January 5th, 2007


Axel fingerless mitts.pdf

Behold, quick-knitting fingerless mitts! I have named them in honor of recently retired cyclist Axel Merckx. They have three crossed cables on the back; the palm is in 2×2 rib like the cuff and finger covering. For extra warmth, you can wear them like this:


They’re a fast, stash-busting project — perfect for toasty hands this fall, whether you’re cycling, knitting, reading, or typing. Click the link beneath the first image to grab the free PDF.


I made this.

Published on Monday July 24th, 2006


Look, we’ve got plying!* Singularly terribly plying, admittedly. I don’t know what happened, but my scrawny little strings of overspun roving somehow morphed into these loose luxurious locks when I took them off the spindle. I don’t know how practical they are as yarn. But they’re sooooo soft, like fronds of mermaid hair. That’s what they felt like as I gently dunked them in a Eucalan bath to rid them of’s typical vinegar scent and all the grime I’m sure they picked up from my sweaty fingers during the last three weeks. Now they’re hanging in the shower and they look like Mingus might if I put him through the washing machine. (Not that it’s sounding like such a bad idea . . . he seems like he could do a with a quick cold cycle, doesn’t he?)

hot_mingus.jpg Poor little goober. He’s been in one variant or another of this position for days.

Anyway, it’s a good thing I took pictures of the handspun before I washed it.

Axel_Foxy_hydrangea.jpg Axel_Foxy.jpg Axel_waves.jpg

As you can see, I was more successful with Axel. I had that spindle orbiting like Tom Cruise to make sure the ply was nice and snug. Of course, it helped that I achieved much greater consistency with the teal singles. And look, we’ve even got barberpole action! W00t!** The middle photo is the best of the Foxy handspun, and the difference is still marked. I’m really proud of Axel, and rather surprised that it issued from my own fingers. Spinning is cool! I can see why people cave in and buy wheels, though: spindling a pile of roving is like racing banana slugs (only less slimy and distasteful).

Tomorrow, on Weather-Appropriate Knits: Prairie camisole!

*This photo shows the technique I invented for plying. I’ve always been a fan of containing a ball of yarn in a bowl, especially if you have to draw from the outside of the ball, and that gave me the idea to use these handy Chinese bowls with chopstick holes in the sides to keep my two balls of singles orderly. In this shot, I’m down to one ball with no mate, so I just took the yarn end from the center and the one from the outside and plied them together. Worked like a charm. But is it a faux pas to do it that way? Technically it means I’m working against the direction of the fiber on one strand.

**I asked Mr. Garter to explain the origin of this weird exclamation after he insisted I spell it with zeros rather than o’s. He says it’s early computer game shorthand for “Wow! Loot!” which is somehow so endearing to me that I’ve decided to get on the w00t wagon.

Tour de Fleece update

Published on Friday July 21st, 2006

In an effort to keep this blog mostly about knitting, and because you’d all be bored to tears, I haven’t been showing you the bulk of my fiber-related activity this month. Did you really need to see any more pictures of lumpy ginger-colored merino singles? You can just imagine the 3.5 other balls like that first one, right?

But I finished that hank of roving (hank? What’s the term for a mass of roving? Cortex? Hairball? Cocoon? Dreadlock? Just plain lock? Yarn potentiality?), and now I’m on to the teal:

teal_singles.jpg teal_singles1.jpg

I thought this was merino, but it doesn’t seem to be the same fiber as the gingery stuff. It’s…hairier, if that makes any sense. Okay, both of them are composed entirely of hair, but the teal hair reminds me of my great-aunt Priscilla’s (hers was red and then white, never blue-green, but it stuck up and the light shone through it in photographs, so as a kid I always thought she looked like an angel) – there’s a sort of halo of fiber left around the single, rather than all the hairs smoothing neatly into yarn as the ginger merino did. I like it, though. I’m able to make it slightly bulkier, and it’s more even as a result. I’m pretty sure my teal yarn will not be overspun, except in a few little problem areas. The teal is not going to be finished by the end of the Tour, unfortunately. But I should at least have a second ball of single finished after tomorrow’s time trial, so that on Sunday’s victory lap around Paris we can have plying. I’m sort of shaking in my boots (or rather, in my Chaco sandals, because who wants to wear boots when it’s supposed to hit a record 102 degrees today?) about the plying, honestly. I’m worried I’ll do it too tightly or too loosely and make the yarn worse, not better. Oh well, it’s a learning process, right?

I’m pulling for Floyd Landis to ride a great time trial and win the Tour, by the way. His unbelievable solo performance yesterday to gain back six of the eight minutes he’d lost to his rivals proved his fighting spirit. And how can you root against a guy who wants to ride so badly that he doesn’t tell anyone he’s suffering the constant agony of a ruined hip that would keep most of us from even walking? Plus, I want his man Axel Merckx to have the pride of having ridden for the winner. It brought tears to my eyes to watch Axel, a noted non-climber, pouring his whole being into setting the pace for Floyd up the Alps when none of his teammates could hang on, dropping back out of the peloton, and then somehow clawing his way back up La Toussouire to spatula his shattered captain off the side of the road and drag him to the summit. There ought to be a Domestique Extraordinaire jersey for guys like Axel and Michael Boogerd who ride well beyond their own limits for their team leaders and rarely get any of the glory for themselves.

Just because he deserves it, I’m going to name my teal yarn after him. This will be the Axel yarn, and maybe I’ll make up a pattern for some Axel wrist warmers to knit with it. But not until the present spasm of global warming has eased. It’s too darn hot to knit wool. Which reminds me that I have yarn for that Frost Flowers pullover from last summer’s VK…hmmm…