Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Designing Knitwear

People ask me how I come up with ideas for designs for knitwear, and I usually brush off the question because the answer is huge!

Usually, a design comes from a situation. I'm going somewhere special and I want something special to wear to the event, or I bought some clothes and want something to go with it.

This kind of situation means I already have been inspired about what I'd like to wear. It also includes a lot of personal biases. For instance, I love pockets! I try to put pockets in everything except mitts, mittens, hats, and cowls. And even then I think about doing it. A pocket that's the right size for a bus pass that's a tap card is perfect for the back of a mitten if you commute by bus.

But it also to extends to styles. For instance, I love cables and Celtic Knots.

And a Celtic Knot is a great thing to put in a spot where there is shaping:

And then, I thought, why can't cables and knots be combined and go in different directions?

I thought some more about what else I could do with them, and realized that they could come off the surface of the knitting and do something.

I don't know if you can see it, but there is a Celtic knot (a Saint John's cross, which is a symbol for happiness), but the bottom of it comes off the surface and threads through some picot holes to form a drawstring at the bottom of the sleeve. The end of the drawstring can be tied into a bow without pulling it tight to form a bell sleeve, or it can be pulled tighter to form a ruffled bottom and a bloused sleeve. You can see the way it works better here:

And it can perform other functions, like coming off the surface to form button loops on the front of a sweater.

These photos are all shown before blocking, so they look a little rough.

If I'm fresh out of ideas for myself, I think about a friend and wonder what they'd like to wear. And what colors they'd like, although color is such a big topic that it will have to go in its own post.

Or, I'll see a sweater in a magazine, and think about changing something about it to make it a completely different sweater. But more often, I'll see a sweater and think that a motif on it would be great on a shawl.

Then again, you can think about different knitting or crochet techniques, which is sort of what I did with the cables and Celtic knots. But this can work for anything, like entrelac. Or a trim, like fringe, which I'm beginning to find out can be done a lot of different ways. The more I look at it, the more I think about writing a whole book about fringe and different ways to do it.

Or Mobius. Here's a simple mobius cowl:

Which lead me to think about making a hat with a mobius cuff:

A lot of the knitting I do is inspired by the designing I have done for sewing fabrics, so it's very plain and relies on shape for the design. So they're very simple knitting, but sometimes can look very intricate.

Have you ever wanted to get a tattoo? You can knit whatever tattoo you'd like to get into a sweater! Then you can have it just when you want to wear it, and just take it off to remove it. You can think of it as a "try-out" tattoo, or something that you don't have to commit completely to.

Another thing I've been wanting to do for myself is a lifetime sweater. This would be a plain sweater that has symbols on it of achievements you've had during your lifetime, or things you're interested in, or things you've learned. For me, it could have an entire Viking rune futhark around the bottom, because I'm interested in Viking runes. It might have a spider on the back because I spin. I was thinking of a winged heart on the sleeve because I flew when I was in the Air Force. But that would also look great as wings across the back, and could extend into batwing sleeves. Maybe some other symbol from a movie I worked on. And so forth. Your accomplishments would be different from mine. It could be done either in a single color with raised designs, or in colorwork, whichever you prefer, or fits what you'll be knitting.

Let your mind go, and think "What if?" There are endless ideas out there for you, too! Have fun with it!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Learning to Spin on a Navajo Spindle

Someone on Knitter's Paradise sent me a private message that she had bought a Navajo spindle online (which hadn't come yet), and she couldn't find books at the library that were helpful, so she wanted my advice.

After a few huge answers, which didn't even begin to scratch the surface, I am going to post parts of my answers so it might be helpful for everyone.

I think you made a great choice for a spindle. It's a support spindle, so it's easy to spin on. You spin it against your thigh, so your hand is flat, which doesn't stress your hand and even gives it a rest from knitting or crocheting. You can spin any kind of yarn that's spinnable on that. Some novelty yarns, like chenille, aren't spun. You can spin the finest gossamer lace yarn or super bulky yarn and anything in between on it.

What kind of wool roving or sliver did you get to spin on it? If you haven't ordered anything yet, I'd recommend that you start with a nice, commercial Corriedale sliver. Corriedale sheep produce wool with a nice crimp, and it's fairly fine, but is a nice, easy fiber to spin. Ashford has a wonderful selection of colors of Corriedale sliver that's moderately priced. Sliver is pronounced so it rhymes with diver. Sliver is carded, not combed, so it will tend to produce a more fuzzy yarn than top. Top is combed, and is more organized, with more fibers being parallel, rather than jumbled, which is the way carding leaves the fiber. It's called woolen which is less organized, and fuzzier, as opposed to worsted, which is a smoother yarn, but the key here is that it's much easier to spin.

I chose this link because it shows all the colors available in the fiber. Scroll down from the merino/silk to the next listing. You could choose a natural, undyed color and dye it, or buy two 4 ounce bags, each in a different, but close shade of the same color or something close, like light blue and lavender and ply them together to get 8 ounces of yarn which is enough to actually make something. The beauty of this is that you can buy just 4 ounces to start and then get another 4 once you get started. Look around before you buy. As with anything, you might find a bargain or a sale. You can buy it in individual ounces from some sellers.

Every time you switch to a different fiber, it will handle a little differently, and you're going to have to adapt to each new fiber, so don't be discouraged when you later buy something different, and it doesn't behave like what you learned on.
You are going to start out by doing some spinning. Then we're going to ply it and make some real yarn.
First of all, when you spin yarn, you're going to get something that wants to kink and curl and fight back. That's what happens. That's going to look awful if you release the tension on it, and that's OK if you intend to ply it, which is what we're going to do. It's like stockinet stitch curling. That's just what it does. And we will fix it when we ply. I'm assuming that you probably want to knit or crochet it, and that works best with plied yarn, so we're going to make yarn that's good to knit or crochet with. At least to start. You can make novelty yarn later. Right now, you're just learning to do it.

I'd buy at least 4 ounces to start with. That's what I did. But you'll find that the whole process is mesmerizing and addictive, and you're going to be unhappy when that little bit of yarn gets spun, and you can't keep going. I know I did.

Your sliver might arrive kind of squashed. You can find a spot at the end of the sliver to pull it in half down the length of the sliver. Then pull each section apart lengthwise again. This is probably the easiest way to fluff it up again and make it easy to spin. A lot of your success will come from starting with a nice, fluffy sliver that drafts easily. Plus, if you do this, you'll have less drafting to do.

If you really get into this, you may want to buy cards and card your own wool to make heathered colors from pre-dyed wool or fiber. But for the moment, you need to find out what makes a good carded or combed fiber for spinning. And you want to have something that's a good quality, but still fairly cheap, while being a fiber that can make you proud of the first thing you've spun. The Ashford Corriedale is a great compromise. I'm telling you things like brand names because the names mean I know exactly what I'm telling you to buy is good quality, and I know what I'm recommending and I'm sure you'll get something that's easy to spin and I can tell you how to handle that fiber.

When you have your Navajo spindle and your sliver, you can get started.
Spinning consists of two parts. 

There's drafting, which is pulling the fibers out until there's about an equal amount of fibers or thickness. This is why pulling your sliver into 4 lengths is good. It tends to pull the fibers apart a bit and let them slide out more evenly when you draft, and it makes the fiber supply thinner so there's less drafting to do.

Then there's twisting, which pulls the fibers together, and that makes it more difficult to draft, and is what holds the yarn together and keeps it from just falling apart. If you get a lump in your yarn while you're making it and don't want it there, stop the spindle and grab the yarn on the side of the lump that's closer to the spindle and untwist it. Pull gently, and the fibers will slide against each other again, and you can pull the lump out. Because you're just starting, I wouldn't worry too much about lumps and unevenness. If it's not really extreme, it will make a great novelty yarn that will make people ooh and ah over.

Oh, and I nearly forgot that there is winding it onto a spindle (in this case) or bobbin to hold the newly spun yarn until you can ply it.

Oh, and I should mention right now that most of the things spinning books tell you not to do are really OK to do to produce novelty yarns. What they usually mean is not to do it if you want perfectly smooth, even yarn. That's great, but you might want to make novelty yarn, too. Other spinners ask me how I made some of my best yarn, and when I tell them, they say, "Oh, I would never do that!" because some book told them not to.
Continued soon!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The End Is in Sight for Steve Canyon!

A huge load has been lifted off my mind, because the covers for the third Steve Canyon DVD are done!

We thought the cover was done a long time ago, but there turned out to be a few changes. All the last minute changes are finished and it's ready to go to the printer.

It's been a long, hard road for this last little bit of the Steve Canyon saga on DVD, but the end is in sight!

I want to commend John Ellis for his patience and perseverance during what has to be the most awful series of events in DVD-making history. He's suffered through crashed drives that self-destructed, taking months of work with them to the digital grave, the loss of electricity for an extended period of time, personal health problems and enough to crush most people. I want to thank everyone who was patient and supportive while he struggled through this mess.

Items that were the last in existence anywhere turned out to be in terrible condition rather than the pristine state he was promised.

People he'd interviewed have died since he interviewed them.

But it did give him time to find, connect with, and interview people who participated in the original TV show, and add content that wasn't available when he started, or even when he started the last DVD.

It's been what seems like a never-ending marathon, and a labor of love.

I'm happy and proud to have been able to contribute to the whole project by doing the covers for the DVDs and the slipcover. If you haven't seen the slipcover art, check out John's blog at: Steve Canyon on DVD.

And I'm going to treat you to a sample of my work by giving you an advance peek at the covers.

I really like that we finally got a cover that really shows Dean Frederick's face.

I know a lot of you watch things like this for the planes, and I do like to see them, but for me, flying them is much more fun than looking at them. Unfortunately, I never got to fly any of the planes Steve Canyon did, just T-34s.

In this case, I really love that cover. I know one person who's really going to love this cover!

Here's the inside of the cover. The list of episodes is dull, visually, but vital info! And another great shot of Dean Fredericks!

Keep in mind, when you watch the episodes that this project has been done a lot later than the original series. A lot of the material was in really bad condition when John got it, and cleaning it up and making it look good is an amazing job taking thousands upon thousands of hours and so much work by him and him alone! 

The photos I was able to get to start with looked terrible, and with all three of the covers and the slipcase, I put in weeks of work. And almost all of the photos were in black and white, and I'm the one who hand colored them.

I need to go out and buy a bottle of champagne so I can celebrate when that last DVD arrives in the mail, and the whole project is officially DONE!

John is now feeling better after some months of debilitating pain, and expects to get a post out soon. The end is in sight!

Have a great Memorial Day weekend! Remember those guys who fly for us as well as all the rest of the guys (and gals) who defend this country!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

SPINNING BASICS: Tools to Spin With: Spindle Spinning Wheels

There are two basic types of spinning wheels: spindle wheels and flyer-and-bobbin wheels (also called treadle wheels).

A spindle wheel is a wheel that has a spindle almost exactly like a support spindle, but it's driven by a wheel.

There are a lot of different kinds of spindle wheels. The first ones invented were in the East and were called Charkas, which is the Sanskrit word for "wheel." They were similar to this kind of a wheel.

There are also small, folding charkas that fold up into a hardback book size and shape (usually called a book charka), and larger versions called briefcase charkas, etc.

The spindle wheels that you'll see most often are called great wheels, walking wheels and wool wheels.

They are all basically a spindle that has support, and that is driven by a wheel that is usually turned by hand, not by a treadle.

This is the kind of wheel that sleeping beauty ran afoul of. Spindle wheels got a lot more use than spindles did, once they were introduced, and they frequently had spindles that were metal. The amount of use that they got, over a period of time, tended to sharpen the tip of the spindle until it was really dangerous. Add that to the fact that sheep go out and play every day in the dirt (you know, the stuff that has a lot of tetanus organisms), and it's no wonder sleeping beauty could get seriously hurt on that wheel!

Wikipedia has a whole collection of photos of different kinds of wheels and lots more information. I'm going to do more articles about treadle wheels, but you can read ahead here.

Great wheels were called that because they have a large wheel. The name walking wheel came from the fact that a spinner would have to stand, and would usually walk to spin a longer thread before she went back to wind it onto the spindle. The name wool wheel comes from the fact that the larger spindle wheels were made to spin wool, and had lower ratios, which was just what was needed to spin wool.

When a spinner refers to ratios in connection with a wheel, it tells you how many twists the wheel adds to the singles being spun for each revolution of the wheel.

Most of the charkas were built with the intention of spinning cotton, so they had higher ratios.  To give you a better idea, the bottom ratio for treadle wheels will give you 3-1/2 twists per one revolution of the wheel, where the top end is more like 22:1. But some of the charkas would give you more like 36:1 to really add a lot of twist fast.

With almost every spindle wheel, you'll find a wheel with a drive cord. The drive cord will drive a whorl, and sometimes they have several whorls close together with different diameters so you can make the spindle go faster or slower to suit you by changing which whorl the drive cord is on. Some charkas have an accelerator where the wheel turns a whorl on an axle with another whorl that has a drive cord that drives the whorl on the actual spindle. This is usually called a Minor head, after the gentleman who invented it, and it's a way to get more revolutions out of the spindle for each revolution of the wheel.

Some of the book charkas and similar ones are more complicated because they have extra parts that allow them to fold, but this covers the basics of spindle wheels.

Friday, November 22, 2013

SPINNING BASICS: Tools to Spin With: Spindles 2

I have to stop writing these when I'm not really awake (like now).

I intended to write more about spindles and hit send without thinking.

There are a lot of things that affect how fast/slow and how long/short a spindle spins.

As mentioned before, a thinner shaft makes for a quicker spin to start with. It makes sense, because if you snap it between your fingers, for instance, your fingers move at a certain speed, essentially, in a straight line. That movement is translated into a circular spin by rotating the shaft. The narrower the shaft, the further around the circumference you'll move the spindle with the same snap.

The bigger the measurement around the outside of the shaft, the slower you'll move it.

For instance, with a narrow shaft, a snap of the fingers might make the spindle go around twice. If the snap moves what's between your fingers one inch, but the shaft measures a half an inch around, you'll spin it twice. But if it measures a whole inch around, you'll only spin it one full revolution.

Another major factor in spin speed and length of spinning time is the whorl.

A small diameter whorl tends to spin faster than a wide diameter whorl.

But a small diameter whorl will lose it's speed and slow down faster than a wide diameter whorl, which will keep spinning, if more slowly.

You also have to take into account the weight, and where in the whorl it's distributed.

If most of the weight is close to the center, it will tend to spin faster than if most of the weight is toward the outside.

It's a balancing act as far as trading off speed for length of spin. If you're spinning lace yarn, for instance, you'll want a lot of spin, otherwise it'll take forever to get enough twist into the yarn/thread to hold together.

Other factors include the support point for a support spindle. You want the point that the spindle spins on to be as small as possible to generate the least friction. My Tibetan spindle has a brass point on the bottom that's fairly sharp specifically to lower friction when the spindle spins in the bowl.

The other factor is overall weight. The heavier the spindle overall, the more energy it takes to spin it, but the longer it will spin.

If you happen to be talking about a drop spindle, though, the weight of the spindle will make a big difference in the thickness of the yarn you can spin with it. If you try to spin a yarn that's too fine with a drop spindle that's too heavy, the yarn will keep breaking before it will get enough twist in it to be strong enough to hold the spindle's weight. But if your drop spindle is too light or you're trying to spin yarn that is too thick for the spindle, it will tend to make the spindle slow down quickly and stop. If you're not paying attention and try to let it spin, it will eventually (and fairly quickly) stop and begin to spin in the opposite direction, unspinning the yarn and falling.

The overall weight issue is complicated by the fact that, because you keep winding more and more yarn onto the spindle, it keeps increasing it's overall weight the longer you spin. So, if you're using it as a drop spindle, it may be too light when you first start, just right when it's half full, but too heavy when you finally give up and wind the yarn off onto something else to ply it.

This particular information is something that you may find a bit too much at this point, but is something to refer to if you have a problem with a particular spindle in the future.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

SPINNING BASICS: Tools to Spin With: Spindles

So far, we've gotten what yarn is, but we're not up to how to make it yet. You'll need tools to make it.

Spinning tools come in two broad categories: spindles and spinning wheels. These come in categories, too. Let's start with spindles and cover wheels in the next post.


Spindles come in two broad categories. There are support spindles and drop spindles. Actually, there are a few that can use both or a combination of support and drop. It pays to learn both ways of spinning on a spindle. But we'll simplify to just support and drop spindles.

Support Spindles

As you might guess, support spindles are ones that are supported while they're used. There are many kinds of support spindles, and they're often used with a spinning bowl to keep them from traveling while in use. The bottom of the spindle is usually placed in a bowl, and the spindle spun with a finger snap on the shaft. Most support spindles are used this way.

The fact that the spindle is supported makes it much easier to learn on. You can use a spindle that's too heavy to be used as a drop spindle with the yarn you're trying to make, and it will still work well. And I find it easier to draft and add twist with this kind of a spindle.

A Navajo spindle has the bottom of it placed on the floor or in a bowl (if it tends to skid on the floor) usually on the right side for spinning (Z twist), and the left side for plying (S twist), and spun by rubbing the top of the shaft against your thigh with your hand held flat. Because you're not actually using hand dexterity, this is a good choice for spinners because you're using your arm muscles to provide the spin, not your hand muscles. So, you can give your hands a rest from knitting.

Find out more here.

A low whorl drop spindle can be used as a support spindle if it has a nice, pointed bottom end, and they often do, for versatility. They can be spun in a bigger bowl, or a shallow bowl.

There are many different kinds of support spindles, and many are named for where they became popular, so you'll see them called names like Tibetan, Russian, Andean, and much more. You can search for spindles on sites like Etsy, and if you want a support spindle, you should search for it with those words. If you check Etsy for this, you'll also find a lot of spinning bowls, although you can use any bowl that has kind of a scooped out inside. A bowl that has a flat bottom inside isn't as good for a spinning bowl. You can also find many videos on how to use these different spindles on YouTube. Here's a link for Tibetan spindle spinning:

Drop Spindles

Drop spindles are, as you might suspect, given some spin and then dropped. They're harder to master at first because they are the weight they are. If you have a spindle that's too heavy for the yarn you want to spin, it's going to break the yarn before it has enough twist and fall to the ground. If you choose one that's too light, you're going to have a hard time getting it to spin. The twist you're adding with the spindle will be strong enough to resist twisting, and start untwisting instead. You need to watch for both of these conditions and modify the yarn you're making to be compatible with the spindle, or change to a spindle that works better with the kind of yarn you want to spin.

Drop spindles mostly come in either high or low whorl varieties. Either can be snapped in the fingers or you can raise your leg and rub it against your thigh to twirl it before dropping it. I'd recommend the thigh rub, because it will save your hands.


There are a few spindles that can be used either way. Low whorl drop spindles can be spun in a bowl. An Akha spindle has a mid whorl, and is usually used supported in the hand, but sometimes, after twist is inserted, it's spun against the thigh and dropped to insert even more twist. See it here.

Turkish spindles are usually considered to be drop spindles, but, as with other low whorl spindles, can be used in a bowl if they have a nice, sharp point at the bottom.

General Info About Spindles

The thin long center part of the spindle is called the shaft. A thin shaft will give you more twist for your effort, but you don't want it so thin that it will break easily.

The wider part of the spindle is usually circular, but could be square, triangular,  a straight piece, two straight pieces, a bead or just a wider part of the shaft. It's called a whorl.

Spindles sometimes have a hook at one end to catch the yarn and hold it to make it possible to spin more quickly and easily. Hooks are seen more often on drop spindles. The alternative to a hook is a shaft that narrows to a point. There are pros and cons to each.