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Archive for January, 2013

Well over a year ago I was in Prick Your Finger and somebody was in the shop, spinning at a spinning wheel. Seeing that I like all things woolly, I was most intrigued. As spinning wheels are a serious investment, I thought I could explore the art of spinning by starting off on a cheap spindle and some fleece. The fleece was rather special, yet of unknown provenance as far as breeds go. It was called “M25” fleece, which was unwanted fleece they had gathered for within the M25 for their installation at the Stanley Picker Gallery. Unhindered by any knowledge of fibre preparation I made an attempt at spinning. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I didn’t do a very good job of it and in fact, I didn’t even enjoy the process. But, as you can see in the following picture, things have changed since:

HSOverview

two spindles, Wensleydale combed tops, textured merino yarn, two ply M25 yarn, dyed Portland

Somehow I couldn’t let go of the dream of spinning my own yarn and late last year, in fact, just before the start of Wovember2012, I had a chat with Felix, as she had been spinning for a little while and I decided to plunge in again. This time I bought myself a nice spindle:

HSSpindleIST

22 gram Spindle from Ian Tait, shaft from Ash, whorl from Sycamore with a pippy Yew finish

I got my spindle from IST Crafts and it is a thing of beauty. The shaft is made from Ash, the whorl is made from Sycamore, and is finished with a layer of pippy Yew. It is extremely well-balanced, and the whorl is rim-weighted, so it keeps spinning. I also availed myself of two books:

HSYourHandspinning

Your Handspinning, by Elsie G Davenport

Your Handspinning by Elsie G Davenport was originally published in the 1950s and is considered a classic by many. I was lucky to find it in a secondhand bookshop. It takes you through all the basics of spinning on a spindle and a wheel. But for me, one book on a subject is never enough*, so I also bought the following book:

HSRespectTheSpindle

Respect the Spindle, by Abby Franquemont

It’s Respect the Spindle, by Abby Franquemont, and she covers a lot of ground, going into great detail of the intricacies of spinning with a spindle. Well worth the investment if you when you’re starting out.

At the same time my spindle arrived in the post, Felix had very kindly put together a parcel full of fibre to play with. It was all ready to be spun, so I didn’t have to worry about combing or carding it.

Here’s one of my very-first-for-the-second-time handspun:

HSMerinoUnintentional

handspun Merino

As you can see, it’s is rather textured. Anyone who spins will recognise the unintentional thick and thin nature of this first handspun yarn. But it didn’t take me that long to get more consistent; just spin for 15-30min each day and slowly but surely it starts to get easier and easier. I started of with the park-and-draft technique, explained in detail in Abby Franquemont’s video here. In fact, I find her video very instructional and although she made it well before her book was published, they go together well. I spun all the Merino, then some Masham, Jacob and also some Shetland: Felix’s parcel was stuffed full of goodies!

However, I still had that bag of washed, but otherwise unprepared M25 fleece. So Felix came to visit and she brought along some of her spinning tools. Of course a spindle, but also some hand carders and mini combs. I took to the combs with vigour and I really enjoyed prepping the fibre and I worked my way through the bag in no time. We noticed a few locks were coarses than others, so I processsed that separately. Once spun up and plied, you can see how the coarser fleece has turned into a yarn with a bit more halo:

HSM25Both

M25 fleece, combed and spun by myself. Coarse fibre yarn at the front, finer fibre yarn at the back.

I hope you don’t mind, but I’m so proud of this achievement and the difference between fibre quality within a fleece shows so well in these two yarns, that I just have to share some close-ups:

HSM25Fine

M25 fleece, finer fibre yarn

HSM25Coarse

M25 fleece, coarse fibre yarn

Aren’t they beautiful? The waste fibre left over from the combing was used to practise carding and making rolags. Definitely more difficult than combing and we didn’t have a lot to play with, but here is the yarn we managed to spin from it, and it clearly has a more woollen spun nature to it:

HSM25WoollenSpun

Woollen spun M25 fleece

For my latest experiments I used some dyed fibres. Portland in fact, and all dyed by Felix herself. Here are the four colours, in the lock:

HSDyedPortlandLocks

 

Portland fleece, dyed by Dr Felicity Ford

The browns are dyed using black walnut (I’m assuming the lighter brown is from a second dye bath), the green was made with now forgotten plants and the “crazy pink” from dylon cold dye. Although I think my main interest will be breed specific wool and their natural colours, I did enjoy spinning this up and playing around a bit. I found Cecilia Hewett’s series of posts on spinning for Wovember very inspirational. I particularly like the yarn she showed in part II, a yarn that appears to be brown from afar, yet up close it reveals a myriad of colours. Amazing!

My attempts are not half as fancy, but it was fun to do nonetheless:

HSSpindlePYF

 

yarn from the dyed Portland

I mixed up the fibres by taking chunks of the combed tops and using them one after another for one single ply yarn, and then I made a much longer repeat on the second single ply. I have tried plying the yarns together from a centre pull ball but I don’t get on with that technique. Instead I followed Abby Franquemont’s advise of creating a plying ball. Simply wind the two single ply yarns together in a ball, making sure the tension is equal on both yarns; you can use a tennis ball or similar as a core for the plying ball, but I just started winding without it. You might already introduce a bit of twist when doing this, but once you’ve wound up your ball you are going to ply it proper on a spindle. As you can see, the Prick Your Finger spindle, which is larger and heavier than my IST spindle, is perfect for this.

I created two small quantities of this coloured Portland yarn, one with a balanced twist, and one very much overtwisted in order to see what would happen. It will also allow me to try something out I have wanted to swatch for a long time: the bias effect that an overtwisted yarn introduces to a fabric knitted in stocking stitch. But that, dear readers, is the subject for another blog post.

———————

*) whilst I’m writing this post, two more books on spinning and preparing fibre are on the way. Peter Teal’s Hand Wool Combing and Spinning; and Judith MacKenzie’s The Intentional Spinner.

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The first of February is approaching fast, which means I need to get ready for my first darning class of the year, taking place at Super+Super HQ in Brighton. There are still a few places available, so don’t hesitate to sign up! I’ll be teaching two classic darning techniques: Swiss darning, and stocking darning.

SSMDTwoToneDarn

Stocking darn on sock

And what with the cold weather, I’ve been wearing out my warm woollen socks like there’s no tomorrow. This, of course, is a no reason to have cold toes when you know how to darn; and indeed, is cause for a darn good celebration! My mending basket was stuffed to the brim with holes, and not one to sit idle, I took darning wool and mushroom to the holes:

FDPile

A collection of mended socks

For the sharp-eyed amongst you, you will have noticed these darns look different from the stocking darn above. Here’s a close-up:

FDOldNew

A darn old and a darn new

I have recently discovered a new darning technique! It was brought to my attention by the inimitable Dr Felicity Ford, who sent me a picture from a Finnish book on knitting and mending:

FinDarnDrawing

Finnish darning diagram

I don’t speak Finnish, but I think the diagram speaks for itself. Once you start working it, you’ll see that it’s the good old-fashioned blanket stitch employed in a new way. It is closely related to Scottish darning, although with this Finnish darning technique you lay one foundation thread and then blanket stitch over it, whereas with Scottish darning you first lay down all foundation threads before filling it up with blanket stitch. I find the end result of the Finnish darn a bit neater, and it must be my favourite new darning stitch.

As I have only recently started using this stitch, I’m not sure yet how it will wear. The darn itself seems sturdier than a stocking darn, as there are more layers of thread. However, the area covered around the hole is not as big as with a traditional stocking darn. This may result in new holes developing around the darned area, as that usually has started to wear thin, too. I shall report back in due course, but I have made sure to extend the darned area beyond the hole .

To clarify the diagram, here’s how to do it:

You need a needle, darning wool, and a hole. I have used both sharp and blunt needles, without appreciable differences.

You start with laying down the first foundation thread at the top of the hole. Simply pick up one leg of each knitted stitch:

FinDarn1

Make sure to go well beyond the hole, as you need two or three knitted stitches worth to make the turn and simultaneously reinforcing the area around the hole. You need to pick up the other legs of the same knitted stitches:

FinDarn2

Pull the thread through, but not too tight, or the darn will pucker and cause unnecessary stress on the fabric. The it’s time to start blanket stitching. Try to lay the as close together as possible:

FinDarn3

When you have reached the other end of the hole, you need to start weaving in and out of the knitted stitches again:

FinDarn4

Turn as before, lay down the second foundation thread, weaving in and out of the knitted stitches again. After the next turn, start blanket stitching again. Make sure to insert the needle inbetween the blanket stitches on the row below, and bring the needle up from behind the new foundation thread:

FinDarn6

It’s important to work the blanket stitches close together. Extend the darn beyond the hole, and start weaving the foundation threads through the knitted stitches again.

Give this new technique a go, and let me know how you get on!

FDGreen1

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It has been long in the making, but I’m pleased to let you know that The Curiosity Cabinet of Knitting Stitches will be shown at Prick Your Finger in Bethnal Green, London. The private view is on Friday, 15 February. Come join me and marvel at the curious and the recherché!

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Swatch 15 – Bias effects from spacing eyelets and balancing decreases

Anybody who has visited me will know that I have quite a collection of knitting books, and it will come as no surprise that I have read all of them at least once.

reference_books

A selection from my library

There is only so much reading about knitting one can do. However well explained, if one is curious, then nothing quite beats picking up sticks and string and try things out. I ended up with a box full of swatches, and a head swimming with techniques, and it felt like such a waste to keep things to myself. Seeing some swatches pinned out on my blocking board reminded me of the Curiosity Cabinets of yore, with rows upon rows of insects:

CuriosityCabinet1

Painting of a Curiosity Cabinet

Cabinets of Curiosities, or Wunderkammern, arose in mid-sixteenth-century Europe as repositories for all manner of wondrous and exotic objects. In essence these collections, combining specimens, diagrams, and illustrations from many disciplines; marking the intersection of science and superstition; and drawing on natural, manmade, and artificial worlds can be seen as the precursors to museums. The key concepts and notions that lay behind the assembling of Cabinets of Curiosities were: 

experiencing a sense of wonder in all kinds of things in the world; discovering new and extreme examples of the natural and the man-made; making connections across the whole field of human knowledge; Experimenting with arranging, re-arranging and classifying parts of the world (and the connections between them) in many different ways. As Samuel Quiccheberg (an eminent curator of cabinets) wrote:
”The ideal collection should be nothing less than a theatre of the universe..keys to the whole of   
 knowledge.”

CuriosityCabinet2

An early example of a Wunderkammer

I created two Curiosity Cabinets. The first one deals with a small selection of cast-on and cast-off techniques, single and double increases and decreases, selvedges:

cast_ons_etc

Most of the techniques displayed here come from an anthology about knitting by Threads Magazine, Barbara Walker’s Knitting from The Top, Montse Stanley’s Knitting Handbook, Mary Thomas’s Knitting Book, and June Hemmons Hiatt’s The Principles of Knitting.

The second Cabinet is all about lace: lots of different fagotting stitches, exploration of bias in fabrics introduced by the interplay between eyelets and their balancing decreases, the many different ways of creating chevrons which is an essential shape in lace knitting, and a variety of eyelets:

lace

The lace knitting techniques are for a large part from Susanna Lewis’s Lace Knitting Workshop, sprinkled with some Mary Thomas and Montse Stanley.

But that is not all: I will reveal the top 3 Knitting Nightmares! It turns out that the regulars frequenting Prick Your Finger don’t have that many knitting nightmares, they are very good knitters indeed. Luckily when I asked the audience at In The Loop 3, I got inundated by responses. And indeed, I would like to thank The Knitting Reference Library, where you can find more books about knitting than you could dream of; it is where I learnt about the existence of quite a few books now also to be found in my own library.

KnittingNightMare2

Knitting Nightmare, based on Fuselli’s The Nightmare

I hope you will join me for the Private View on Friday, 15 February at Prick Your Finger. If your curiosity is not quenched by a drink that night, then I would urge you to join my Curious Stitches Class on Saturday, 16 February (details to follow).

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Do you occasionally indulge in trawling auction websites? I certainly do, and today I want to share with you my latest find: the STAR Darning Machine. For those of you who follow me on instagram (of course, as @tomofholland), this is the revelation of the mystery object! When I saw it up for auction, I was intrigued by the design, which appeared to be similar to my trusted Speedweve. As you can see from the box, it is very old:

STARbox

Those stamps are surely Edwardian! I cannot find any records of E.J.R. Co., but 682 Holloway Road now houses a unisex hair salon. This STAR Darning Machine was sent to a certain A Daniel, who lived in Cardigan, Wales. I learnt from a Welsh colleague that the first line of the address is most likely the house name, and we think it might be a variant spelling of “throedrhiw” which means Foot of the Hill. The road is called “Glanpwllafon” which means Bank of a River Pool.

Opening the box revealed the following:

STARopened

The STAR Darning Machine; and it was still set up with a scrap of netting, and a half-finished darn. Underneath the machine I found the original instructions:

STARinstructions

Here’s the STAR Darning Machine in full glory:

STARout

As you can see, it is based on the same principle as the Speedweve, although it has a bottom loom part with hooks, too:

STARweave

Apart from the metal spring, to secure your fabric in place, it also accommodates the clips found on the two loom parts:

STARclip

 

I haven’t had a chance yet to try this new darning machine, but it is clear I can create a larger patch than with the Speedweve, and it will probably be a bit neater, too. On the other hand, once the darn is finished and the loom has been disengaged from the woven patch, there will be two sides to sew down.

 

STARloom

 

The loom parts are a bit rusty and tarnished, so they can do with a clean before I can use my STAR Darning Machine. I shall report back once I have used it.

As a parting shot, I wanted to share the following photograph, in a quest to help Dr Felicity Ford in her reappraisal of GREY:

STARgrey

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Goodbye 2012

Some of my personal highlights for 2012, a year in which I saw my making and mending practice bloom, are almost too many to count. I’m thankful for all the people that believe in me, with a special mention (in alphabetical order) to Susan Crawford, Felicity Ford, Louize Harries, Rachael Matthews, and Linda Newington; and last but not least, all my blog readers. So, without further ado, here are some of my highlights:

Commissions:

THAT Green Cardigan, was a commission that I really enjoyed doing, contrasting luxurious soft dyed cashmere with sturdy, natural Jacob wool.

VMPZC

Invisible Mend: this commission was a learning curve for me, and rather scary: an invisible mend of a beautiful 1950s (?) Aquascutum woollen coat:

ZCFinished

Mending:

I started teaching regular Darning Workshops in Brighton at Super+Super HQ (incidentally, the next one is on Friday, 1 February 2013). I have also been roaming the country for one-off workshops. One that I particularly enjoyed took place at the Shipley Art Gallery in Gateshead.

SAGDarning

I also started taking my darning to a whole new level: meta-darning Sanquhar Socks.

SSMDSoleAndCuff

My favourite Visible Mend of 2012, however, must be my shoes!

WWS14

I felt honoured when I was asked to be Mender in Residence at the MendRS Symposium. I met so many amazing people and I got to talk about mending in a barn, what’s not to like?

InsideBarn

Knitting:

In 2012 I also released my very first knitting pattern: A Sanquhar-inspired Pencil Case.

SPC title page blog

I presented at In the Loop 3. Incredible that it is possible to talk about knitting for three days, my head was spinning for days afterwards. Alas, I didn’t take any pictures, as I was completely immersed in a different world.

Although I’m no speed knitter, I did manage to churn out a lace stole sample knit for the cover of Susan Crawford’s Coronation Knits in 3.5 days.

CoronationKnits

Coronation Knits Cover © Susan Crawford and used with her kind permission

Wool:

For the woolheads amongst us, November was transformed into Wovember. A month-long turbo-celebration of all things wool. This was the first year I helped out, and I curated a series of posts called Wovember Words. It also spurred me on to start sewing and I made myself a pair of Woollen Trousers.

WTGreenPea

2012 was a great year, and I hope to continue this in 2013.

Hello 2013

Mending:

One of the things I really enjoy doing, is running my darning workshops. So I will continue my regular workshops at Super+SuperHQ, although somewhat less frequently. Also, I will be doing more one-off workshops. You can stay up-to-date by following me on facebook and, of course, my blog.

TOM SAYS DARN IT

As I learn more about darning, I realise there are more darning techniques to be explored then just the regular Swiss darn and stocking darn; a new world is waiting for me.

Knitting:

One reason for doing less darning workshops, is because I want to start offering knitting classes at Super+Super HQ. I’m working on a Sock-Knitting Workshop – details to be announced in a few weeks!

Sanquhar Socks

Art:

At long last, the Curiosity Cabinet of Knitting Stitches will see its first outing. Head over to Prick Your Finger in February (Private View on 15 February, Tom’s Curious Stitches short workshops on 16 February).

CAbinet1

Once the Curiosity Cabinet of Knitting Stitches Show has finished, I will start working on Bursiforms: an exploration of seamless containers.

New Skills:

Last but not least, in my quest of making my own things, I will start developing my sewing skills. With knitting, I know now how to make garments that fit me, without using commercially available patterns and I want to be able to do the same for sewing. In 2013 I would like to learn how to draft my own trouser and shirt patterns.

And to take the ‘making my own things’ a step further, I have started spinning. I’m taking this very slowly, using a drop spindle to get familiar with drafting fibre and everything that comes with it. Having done a little bit of fibre preparation, I’m amazed at how different wool is when you use it from scratch. It highlights how processed commercial knitting yarn is in order for the mechanical spinning process to work smoothly.

Here’s to a new year; I’m curious to see how all this will develop over the course of the next twelve months. I hope you have plenty of ideas, too!

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