Is There A Right Way? Posted on 10 Aug 14:38 , 1 comment

Several times, recently, I have encountered people who knit the way I do. For many years, I would not knit in public, because I always seemed to elicit comments such as: WHAT are you doing? That’s a weird way to knit. Where did you ever learn THAT? Don’t you get crossed stitches? Good grief, that’s not right. So I just stopped sharing my knitting.

When I started my shop and doing handspun for others, I figured that I really need to test drive my yarns to make sure that they actually worked well, had a nice hand, the colors looked good, etc. A couple of years ago, my sister-in-law, Bea, made samples with me and was puzzled by my knitting. In the meantime, I bought some ‘How-to” discs with the intention of knitting the RIGHT WAY. It was such a struggle to relearn something that I had been doing one way for nearly 60 years, to say nothing of the fact that it just seemed SOOO inefficient and purling was so much harder. It was discouraging. Sigh.

During the next visit from Bea and family, she mentioned that she thought that I was knitting in Eastern European or Russian style, that is, through the back of the loop on the knit stitch. There’s a NAME for this? I started investigating and sure enough, that is exactly what I was doing! I was so excited, I had a legitimate form of knitting! No more hiding what I was doing.

I learned to knit from my Latvian grandmother. Born in a small village on the border with Russia in 1884, she grew up as an illiterate shepherdess. She may not have been able to sign her name, but could that lady KNIT!. You might have seen Latvian mitten patterns, (check this out if you haven’t: well, she had hundreds of pattern motifs stocked in her head. Never did I see her knit from a piece of paper or pattern, whether it was mittens, hats, socks or sweaters. She was 70 when I was born and  died in her mid-nineties, knitting until her last days. I had plenty of time to learn from her.

What about those immigrant women whom I had met, one in a knit shop and the other in a class. Those who had learned to knit in the same way that I had, from their mothers or grandmothers? I asked if they had any trouble with translating any of the lace stitch patterns. Oh no, they each said to me. They didn’t have any trouble at all because they had relearned to knit “the RIGHT way.” I was saddened by this. There is such a strong prejudice against alternative styles of knitting that people reject their own heritage. Hey, I’m guilty too. I was learning the “right way” until Bea gave me legitimacy through her research.

Why would we trust strangers who have written books or blogs more than the instruction from our most near and dear? Why would we give up a method that is easier on the hands and is a faster method of knitting?  Yes, I know that there is much lip service given to “Anyway you knit is just fine.” That’s OK in theory, but in practice, if you knit differently, you can easily be intimidated by raised eyebrows,  incredulous comments or just subtle inferences that you are somehow doing something wrong. We could all stand to be a bit more sensitive to this in our fibery lives and in our regular lives as well.

By the way….here’s the knit and purl stitch in Eastern European or Russian technique of knitting:

Russian Knit Stitch (through back)

Russian Knit Stitch (through front)

Some Blog Updates Posted on 8 Aug 14:48 , 0 comments

I often receive questions about my spinning and dyeing techniques. I had some blog posts about these in my garden website blog. For ease of referral, I’ve moved the three most requested blog posts here, in the Technique sub blog, so there is some continuity in information. You can still read these, along with topics such as what to plant on a steep slope or observations about garden wildlife, on my garden site, but if you are a spinner, it seems this is a better place to find them.

A Sheepish Admission Posted on 3 Jul 21:05 , 0 comments

Words are important. I firmly believe in the proper naming of things. As an avid gardener, I know my plants by their botanical names (and, often, when doing a garden tour, have a hard time remembering all the common names). Names make the unknown known. Give something a name and it can be distinguished from other things. As a skier, for example, it is useful to distinguish powder, corduroy, corn, crud or graupel. Armed with the right terms, you can talk more easily about snow conditions with other skiers.  

 I am, therefore, somewhat sheepish that I don’t use the proper names for wool preparation. Why, you might ask. Isn’t that important for a wool dyer? Well, yes it is, but times change. So, what’s the deal? There are different types of long “packages” of COMMERCIAL wool preparation. One is a combed preparation called “top. ” Another other is a carded preparation called “roving.” Top has the fibers straightened and aligned parallel to the “rope” with the short fibers sorted out. It is ready for “worsted” spinning. Roving, on the other hand, is not sorted and the fibers are more loosely straightened and drawn with a little twist put in to keep it from falling apart in the machines. Sliver is thick version of either combed or carded, partially drawn out with no twist. In “mill talk” the sliver is a thick rope which will be drawn out more to become roving before spinning. (An interesting side note, when referring to COTTON preparation, the word, “sliver” is pronounced with a long i…when talking about worsted wool preparation, it is pronounced with a short i.) In addition, there is also pencil roving, lap, pin drafted top and more.


Maia with bumps of top, not roving

So, since there are all these nice words for different kinds of preparation, why don’t we all use them? When I first started spinning in the 1960’s, there was much more consciousness about terminology, but that has shifted rather radically. My hypothesis is that the more prevalent use of the word “roving” for all of these various preparations is related to the internet. Both the word “top” and “sliver” have a plethora of non-textile related definitions. Searching on the internet becomes a much more difficult problem with those terms. Roving as a noun is more specific to textiles, so you are more likely zero in on what you want as a spinner. On Etsy, for example, if you put in the word ‘top,’ you received over 2 million results which are mostly not about spinning. If you type in roving, you get 47K items which are about wool for spinning and felting. The last two decades of searching on the internet has, I believe, altered how we use terms. Language changes, new words are added, old ones fall away, and words are twisted into new meanings.  I sincerely doubt that we shall really return to the ‘proper’ mill terminologies anytime soon, any more than we are likely to return to the original definition of the word ‘nice’ or ‘bully.’ (Look up the etymology of those words!)

Something Old, Something New Posted on 25 May 12:00 , 0 comments

Today, my keyboard to my desktop computer died. This was an old and venerable piece of equipment. One that I have kept, transferring it across many computer upgrades. It has large, high keys and the E, O, L, M, N, S, and R markings are totally worn off from the touch of my fingertips. It is filled with decades of biscotti crumbs from the accompaniments to my morning cappuccinos. This last factor was the death knell. It was the spacebar that finally made me abandon my old friend. I pulled caps and used Q-tips and small cotton pads to no avail. Most of the rest of the keys revived their original action, but the spacebar was the hold out.

Mike dug around through our graveyard of old equipment and stores of new equipment. After three tries, he found a similar mate to my old keyboards of about the same vintage. Hallelujah!  I know that this will NOT be the same, just a slightly different action, just the tiniest change in responsiveness, but it is a good substitute.

Our house is one when the past and the future collide quite frequently. We have the usual accoutrements of new electronic gadgets and yet I tend to be very habitual and traditional with my tools. I still like nothing more than a fine cast iron pan, I bemoan the loss of my 1920’s side flip toaster which made the very BEST toast. It was sold, I think, as I was raising money for my pipe dream of a sheep station in Australia! It’s true about spinning wheels, too.

This loss and mourning of my keyboard is similar to my love affair with my original Lendrum spinning wheel. I bought the wheel in the late 1970’s back in the days when I taught spinning in a couple of shops that were carrying these new-fangled wheels. I still have and use that wheel. It’s showing more than a little wear; Mike is afraid that perhaps the main wheel bearing is wearing. I’m afraid, its days are numbered. A few years ago, I found a single treadle Lendrum in Canada and promptly bought it. Double treadles were easy to find, but the ST’s are a bit scarcer (I’m a ST girl all the way). I brought it home, removed the solid wood footman and installed a soft wire footman which I prefer on this wheel. Similar to this keyboard, though it looks the same, there is an ever so slightly different action. Nothing someone who hadn’t used my old wheel (or old keyboard) for literally decades would notice. But there is a just slightly perceptible difference. I do hope that I can adjust to my keyboard as well as I have adjusted to my new (now 5 years old) spinning wheel!

Welcome to the new Edgewood Garden Studio Posted on 29 Apr 10:29 , 0 comments

It’s spring here in Seattle. With the unusually mild winter, early warmth, and lighter than usual precipitation, the spring flowers have been earlier than I have ever seen and have appeared in multitudes. Plants that have never bloomed together are competing with each other in their glory. Spring, what better time to think about initiating a new venture? And here it is. After nearly four years at Etsy, it’s time to spring forward, spring into action, springboard into a new shop of our own. Mike and I have talked about having our own shop for the past year or two. Finally, those musings are becoming a reality and we are launching our own Edgewood Garden Studio website.

There are a number of reasons for making this move. One is that Etsy can be a difficult site for sellers with constant changes in listing tools, user interfaces, policies, search algorithms, and a passion for testing on live shops. Additionally, there are extra costs to selling our items on Etsy. As you all know, we try to keep our prices reasonable….and, we expect, that this move will allow us to continue to do that, especially with some of the more expensive fibers.

Another fun thing is that we have the ability to make sub-categories, so you will be able to search for Nordic fibers, silk blends, luxury fibers, long wools, etc. after you have selected rovings from the menu. I hope this makes it easier to shop.

So, here we are with a new shop, a new logo, a new font, new labels, and even some new (to us) fibers and blends and even (are you ready for this?) MULTIPLES so you can buy up to 12 ounces of the same color on the same base fiber! A first for me! I hope that you find it easier to explore and sort products. We appreciate suggestions, as well---of course, there are some technical concerns, but we shall attempt to improve the site as we have some experience under our belts.

Lastly, I shall attempt to codify some of the information about spinning, weaving, and fibers that are scattered around in email, Etsy convos, Ravelry posts and personal emails. I hope that I can put together a useful (and fun) blog. I’ll start working on that this summer. So, watch for my postings!