Wednesday, November 29, 2006

A Christmas Story

The names and other identifying details in this story have been omitted to protect the innocent.

Once there was a woman who loved yarn. Every year, she asked all her friends and family to get her yarn shop certificates for Christmas. They usually did. Then one year, misguided relatives bought her a Bed, Bath & Beyond gift certificate. The card that it came in read: "We got this because we thought it might be possible to have too much yarn."

She bought yarn storage bins with it and sent them a nice note thanking them and explaining what she used the bins for.

Next year, they got her a yarn shop certificate.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Looking back and looking ahead

Before I put to rest the family war stories, I do want to explain that when I write about my family using the time-honored dark humor device, it's a way for me to process how bizarre I find my biological family and how ill at ease I sometimes feel around them. It's very disconcerting to be treated like a freak beamed down from outer space by the people who, in theory at least, should know you best in the world. Telling humorous stories helps me reality test and, truth be told, helps me deal with my disappointment that I don't have more fulfilling relationships with these folks. And I do greatly appreciate your supportive comments and fellow war stories.

On a more positive note, I will tantalize you with visions of upcoming knitting books we should be seeing in 2007:

Lace Style, from the Interweave gang, is the next installment in the popular and well-done "[Fill in the blank] Style" series. Word on the street is that fall 2007 will bring Folk Style, with ethnic inspired designs. Yay.

Also coming from Interweave is Favorite Socks, which features 25 "timeless" sock patterns from the magazine. The title suggests the patterns are mostly or all repeats of stuff that has been published before, but we'll see.

And No Sheep For You, by Knitty's Amy Singer, showcases non-wool, non-animal-derived fibers, like cotton and bamboo and hemp. (Well, except for silk which is animal-derived, or at least insect-derived.) Amy was inspired by her own allergies to wool and similar fibers. (Um, in case you were wondering, my design submissions were resoundly dinged from this one. But you know me: I don't hold a grudge.)

I almost crapped my pants when I saw that there are two, yes, two (2) books devoted to punk knitting that will arrive in coming months. Pretty In Punk arrives in the spring

as does Punk Knits: 26 Hot New Designs for Anarchistic Souls and Independent Spirits, from Stewart Tabori & Chang.

Fear not, Harry Potter fans: Charmed Knits: Projects for Fans of Harry Potter is expected in late April.
Gryffindor scarves? The infamous H-on-the-chest sweater? Magic wand cozies? We'll just have to wait and see...

Deb Stoller is working on two further installments in the S-n-B series: I believe the first book is devoted to more advanced techniques, like color and intarsia and cabling. (Um, in case you were wondering, my submission was dinged from this one, too. But you know me: blah, blah, blah.) The second -- which may not be out until late in the year or early in '08 -- is aimed at knitting for guys, both boys and men. (Um, I've got some submissions in for this one, but, well, let's just say I'm not holding my breath.)

Finally, I was pleased to see three top-notch designers with books coming out: Jean Moss has a book called Couture Knits; Kristin Nicholas has Kristin Knits; and Joan McGowan-Michael has Knitting Lingerie Style.

So there's plenty to look forward to on the knitting book horizon.


If there is anyone out there who would like to do some test knitting for me, please shoot me an email at goknitinyourhat {at} att [dot] net. This is a paying gig. If you can tell me a bit about what your knitting experience is and any particular types of knitting you especially like or are good at (e.g., cables, lace), that would help.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Turkey report

Yesterday's feast? The food was excellent, the wine flowed freely (a little too freely, if my headache today is any indication) and it was enjoyable to see some of my relatives. My aunt pulled out old family photos, including a wedding portrait of my great-grandparents circa 1906, and we even managed to find my father's high school yearbook. (His nickname was "Froggy." I have no idea why.) I had a chance to reconnect with my cousin/godson, who is in the middle of an intensive grad school course in clinical psychology. I saw my nephews, who have grown so much and seem like nice kids. I even got to meet the white trash girlfriend of my other cousin, who has scandalized and appalled my aunt in so very many ways. (Hoo boy: that relationship is a train wreck waiting to happen.)

And what kind of holiday would it be without some Aunt Mary antics? I learned that Aunt Mary -- in addition to being a recruiter for Jesus's army -- is apparently something of a horndog. She sat herself down next to Uncle George who, due to a rare combination of charisma and age-related attrition, is considered a hot tamale. The gentleman offered to drive the lady home. (Wink, wink.)

I also got to reconnect with my father (told him that I was perfectly happy living my life without my own personal handgun, at which point dear old Dad predicted that we would appear in the newspaper under the headline "Fatal Home Invasion"); my brother (who expounded upon his dominos-falling theory of real estate: once a [insert Polish word used as euphemism for the N-word] moves onto the block, why, no one will want to live next to them except another [insert Polish word used as euphemism for the N-word] and then the neighborhood is doomed); my sister-in-law (who told me about how her son's Little League game was held in a part of town that she described as "Little Tijuana," although my brother hastened to add that at least [insert perjorative name for those of Hispanic origin] have a good work ethic, unlike [insert Polish word used as euphemism for the N-word]. He likes to give credit where credit is due, you see.) And Aunt Mary shared her happiness at having welcomed her first grandchild into her family (with several just-audible comments about the baby's "colored blood" and conspicuously avoiding mentioning her daughter who adopted the child, or her daughter's wife because they're [lower voice and look around to make sure no one is listening] "queer").

This is why I tell people I'm an orphan.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A few timely matters

My pal Judy sent me a link to a petition seeking to enact legislation that will prevent health insurers from forcing women to have "drive-through" mastectomies. It's appalling that women are sent home hours after this surgery with a couple of Tylenol and the answering service phone number. The bill doesn't require hospital stays, but allows a woman and her doctor to decide whether it's in her best interests to spend up to 48 hours in the hospital or recuperate at home. Okay, the link is sponsored by Lifetime TV ("Mother, May I Sleep With Breast Cancer?") but it's a good cause, so if you're so inclined, you can add your support.


We are spending Thanksgiving at my aunt and uncle's, located about 90 miles (and fifty years) away from our house. In attendance will be my parents (the born-again and the alcoholic), my brother and his wife (the alcoholic-in-training and the unmedicated manic-depressive), my sister-in-law's Aunt Mary (who freaked us out the last time we saw her, at my nephew's baptism, by walking around muttering "Now he's a soldier of Christ! soldier of Christ!"), and various and sundry other crazy* relatives. I'm sure I'll come home with lots of entertaining stories.

Or at least a mighty hangover.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

*The funny part is that they think I am crazy. Go figure.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Back to fiber

To those of you who have been having trouble accessing my Etsy shop, don't despair. Etsy switched to a beta version last weekend and there are still some periodic outages and bugs. I'm hoping it will be running more normally in the coming days. I'm going to try to get some more stuff ready to list in the meantime.

Mine, all mine!

Behold some yarn that I spun myself. I'm very proud.

The top two (dark blue and orange) are Corriedale that I also dyed myself. I had some, ahem, quality control issues with a few batches of Corriedale (my fault, not the fiber's) so I decided to take them for a test run. The blue in the middle left is from Tintagel Farms and the pink one is from Jim's friend Ken, at Dorchester Farms. I can't remember what the middle bottom blue one is, but I dyed the roving myself. So there. Now I just have to figure out what to do with these relatively small batches... I'll have to consult Spin to Knit for some ideas.

Cultural Learnings

After a doctor's appointment yesterday morning, I headed to the movies (a rare treat, since I’m usually working on Saturdays) to see the Borat movie. I enjoyed it and thought it was quite funny. I am a little baffled as to the media discussions about the movie: I can’t believe anyone could walk into this movie without understanding that it’s a fake journalist whose behavior is so outrageous it can only be satirical. And Sacha Baron Cohen does an excellent job of showing and skewering some of the most frightening things in our country: racism, anti-Semitism, jingoistic patriotism, mysogyny, scary fundamental Christians, drunken frat boys, and so on. I've heard people complain that he tricked or deceived people, or somehow egged them on to act in ways different from their usual conduct, but what I saw was way more devastating: Cohen was clever enough to simply turn on the camera and let people display their genuine, natural awfulness. I also thought Cohen did a good job showing some of the best qualities of Americans: their openness, their friendliness, a willingness to accept someone – no matter how improbable or weird they might be – at face value, a hospitality, an earnest desire to tell a stranger from another land something about their country and bridge the cultural gap. For example, it’s almost touching, in an odd way, when the beer-swilling frat boys (who just a few seconds ago were disgusting me) seem genuinely distressed when Borat gets weepy over his lady-love.

Wool Talk

Reader Pam asked:

Is there a place on the internet that compares wool yarns? Not brands, but Merino, Corriedale, etc. Next to skin wearability, subject to pilling etc. Are those things due to the type of wool or the spinning process?

Why, yes, Pam, there is a place. Here. (Next time, honey, just ask. You don't have to beat around the bush with me...) So now, instead of complaining about current events, I'm going to talk about wool.

Wool is sheep hair, right? And so, like human hair, wool is made mainly of keratin, a protein. Wool fibers have a layer of "scales" that overlap each other, kind of like you would imagine a dragon's coat to have. We love wool because it is warm; it remains warm even while wet; it's strong; it's elastic, especially relative to other fibers, like cotton; it lasts forever (if you keep away the moths); and in an ideal world, it's soft.

Sheep, like any farm animal, come in different breeds. Think about dogs: a chihuahua, a Golden Retriever, a poodle, a sheepdog. All are dogs and all have furry coats, but those coats differ dramatically in color, texture, softness and length. So it is with wool. Here's a quick overview of some of the qualities of wool:

Color: This is probably the least relevant for the knitter's purposes, since so many breeds come in multiple colors, and since it's fairly easy to dye or bleach wool (or bleach then dye it) to get whatever colors you want. If you like using undyed wools, there are a spectrum of shades from cream through black, with every shade of brown and gray in between.

Texture: Some wool fibers are curlier while others are straighter. Some are thin and fine while others are thick. There are some breeds with very crimpy, spiral-shaped fibers (often called "down wools"). The spiral structure gives these wools extra elasticity (think of a Slinky stretching out and bouncing back). Thicker and coarser wools will feel rougher on your skin (sometimes vendors talk about "not for next to skin wear" or some such phrase), but they will wear like iron. They are best for outerwear or blankets. Fine, thin wools will be softest to the touch but also wear (i.e. pill) faster.

Softness: Some breeds grow wool that is naturally softer than others. Lincolns are not known for the baby-softness of their wool; merinos are. The finer the average diameter of the fiber, the softer the wool. Be forewarned though: soft yarns pill more. There really isn't much you can do about it -- it's just the trade-off for softness. And soft yarns tend to felt more easily, which can be good or bad, depending on your project.

Length/Diameter: Some wools have individual fibers that are longer than others. The longer the fiber, the easier the wool is to spin. That's why beginner spinners are often advised to try longer-fibered wools until they get some experience: Wensleydale and Lincoln have pretty long fibers and are good for newbie spinners. Merinos have much shorter fibers and for this reason can seem slippery and more difficult to spin for newbies. Sometimes you'll see rovings labeled with the length of the staple, in inches (Woodland Woolworks' spinning catalog divides its roving and top into categories based on the length of the staple or fibers.) Long-fibered wools also tend to have luster, a sheen due to reflected light. (Think of the way mohair reflects light and seems to almost sparkle: that's luster.) This is from the scales on the wool. As you might imagine, longer-fibered wools are also stronger and more durable.

Some long-fibered wools: Wensleydale, Lincoln, Border Leicester, Cotswold
Some short-fibered wools: Merino, Shetland, Rambouillet

The diameter of the wool fibers is also important. You'll sometimes see rovings and fleeces tagged with a number and a Greek letter mu, for microns; this is a measure of the average diameter of a wool fiber. The lower the number (in other words, the thinner the individual hair), the softer and finer the wool. The higher the number, the coarser and rougher the wool. Some examples:

Columbia - 31-24 microns
Cormo - 23 to 21 microns
Corriedale - 33 to 26 microns
Merino - 24 to 18 microns
Targhee - 27 to 22 microns
Coopworth - 39 to 35 microns
Blue-faced Leicester - 28 to 24 microns
Wensleydale - 36 to 30 microns
Shetland - 30 to 23 microns

So Coopworth (at 35 microns) has a thicker fiber than, say, Merino (at 18 to 24 microns), and therefore will feel coarser.

Alternatively, you'll see some fleeces and rovings labeled with numbers that correlate to the maximum number of 560-yard skeins that one could (theoretically, in my case) spin from a pound of that wool. If a yarn is labeled 50, then in theory, one could spin 50 560-yard skeins from a pound. The more skeins you can spin from a pound, the thinner and finer the fibers, which means that yarns with higher numbers (more skeins per pound) are finer and softer wools. Yarns with lower numbers are coarser. Some examples:

Columbia - 50 to 60s
Cormo - 58 to 64
Corriedale - 50 to 58s
Merino - 60 to 70s
Targhee - 58 to 64s
Coopworth - 44 to 48s
Blue-faced Leicester - 56 to 60s
Wensleydale - 44 to 50s
Shetland - 50 to 60s

Again, you can see how Coopworth (44 to 48 theoretical skeins from a pound) is coarser than Merino (60 to 70 theoretical skeins from a pound). If you're looking for wool to spin finely, this number is a good one to watch.

Next up: More info about particular breeds, and the woolen vs. worsted distinction.

*The scales are significant when determining whether your wool fabric or yarn will felt. Superwash wools are treated via various chemical processes to prevent the scales from meshing together and shrinking up to form felt.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


I swear my next post will have something to do with fiber..... but having already been in a cranky mood (see previous post), I can't stop myself from bitching about the story I saw in this morning's newspaper. If you thought people who don't have enough food are "hungry," the Bush administration disagrees with you. They aren't hungry; they merely have "food insecurity."

Enough of this bullshit. People who don't get enough to eat are hungry. HUNGRY, dammit! And you can't disguise the way you turn your back on them, Mr. Bush, by removing from the report (conveniently held back until after Election Day) the unsightly word "hungry," with its negative connotations. That anyone goes hungry in this country is a disgrace. Let's face it, let's deal with it, instead of hiding behind ridiculous phrases like "food insecurity."

I'm done now. (skulking away to knit take kid to bus stop)

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Books I Shan't Be Buying: Part 3

A long time ago, I hoped I'd never have to see O.J. Simpson's face again. But, to paraphrase Elaine, just when I think he couldn't get any more shallow, he drains a little more water out of the pool. A subsidiary of HarperCollins is publishing a book by Simpson called "If I Did It," in which Simpson hypothetically discusses how he would have killed his ex-wife and her friend had he actually done so (wink, wink). Taking time out from his lifetime search to find the person who really committed the horrible crimes, Simpson will be interviewed on Faux Fox News. Which of them is the most repulsive: Simpson for writing it, HarperCollins for publishing it or Fox for broadcasting it? Discuss.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Rumination, sparked by a recent discussion on Joe's blog

I grew up in a relatively small town with a Catholic father and a born-again-Christian mother. My parents raised me Catholic because that was the deal they made when they got married. This is somewhat ironic, since my father never attended church regularly and still does not, while my mother attends church at least once, and often twice, a week. They sent me to a local Catholic church with a neighbor, and my father did make sure that I went through the First Holy Communion and Confirmation processes. My mother whispered things to me when my dad wasn't around about her beliefs and her church; I vividly remember her explaining to me sometime in the 70s how UPC codes were a sign from the book of Revelation that the end of the world was coming. (Please don't ask; it still freaks me out.)

As I got older, I thought a lot about these two Christian faiths to which I was exposed. Both made me uncomfortable for multiple reasons. I simply did not agree with many of these two churches' positions on social issues. I did not like the Catholic Church's insistence on form and rules over substance; the way that priests (at least the ones I encountered) treated their parishioners; I disapproved of the extravagance and showiness -- not to mention the purported infallibility -- of popery. I did not like the submissive nature of my mother's church, in which one had to give up one's life and apparently free will to a vague yet scary notion of an all-powerful god; the extent to which one had to perform mental gymnastics in order to live one's life according to What The Bible Said (which wasn't clear at all); and other things, too.

As a young adult, I had an epiphany (if you'll pardon the pun). First, I realized that I couldn't solve the problem of my dissatisfaction with these religions by playing pick and choose: e.g., I don't like the Catholic Church's attitude toward homosexuality, but I'll ignore that and go to church anyway. That felt dishonest to me, particularly since there wasn't much about either religion that I affirmatively liked.

I also realized that I did not have to choose one or the other of the faiths of my parents. I decided that what was important about religion, or spirituality, wasn't a pro forma adherence to what one's family did (in my case, that didn't even really solve the problem, since there were two not-always-consistent faiths) but rather a sincere belief in some religion or model of spirituality. Or none (although that's a belief in itself). I went through a phase of being nothing, and then when T. and I were engaged, we decided to check out some local churches, since we both wanted to get married in a church. (Yes, illogical, isn't it?) We found an Episcopalian church with a wonderful rector and extremely laissez-fair Episcopalianism seems to work for us. At least right now.

Lately, the issue of religion and politics has been all over the place. Every time an Islamist blows himself up (taking numerous others with him, natch) in the name of establishing an Islamist state. Every time a conservative politician talks about banning stem cell research. Each new incident of violence in Iraq where Sunni and Shi'ite are pitted against one another. Even on knitting blogs like Joe's, where I participated in an often-heated discussion about gay marriage bans.

The intersection of religion and politics raises unbelievably complex issues, and I've been able to come to only one firm conclusion: the only way to peace and prosperity -- in religion and politics -- is tolerance and acceptance of other's differences. That means that any religion that says "my way or the highway (to hell)" is a Bad Thing. I don't care what else a particular religion says or doesn't say; the very act of saying "my way is the only way" is, to me, the root of all evil. Islamists who would fly airplanes into buildings to kill strangers because those strangers believe something different. Fundamentalist Christians who would deny equal rights under the law to homosexuals because homosexuals believe that their sexuality is a given and not a chosen sin. Catholics who would ban stem cell research because it uses embryonic tissue and the Catholic Church says abortion is bad. And so on.

I believe that the founders of our government shared my queasiness at the establishment of any one religion by a political state. Most of them came from England, where the Anglican Church is intermeshed in government and which at the time was extremely intolerant of other religions. They purposely set up a government in which religious institutions played no role. The Constitution (in the form of the first amendment) prohibits the establishment of any one religion by our government. These principles are under attack by religious groups of all kinds. It doesn't matter whether they call themselves Christians, or Catholics, or Muslims, or Rastafarians, or The First Church Of The Immaculate Flip-flops -- the intolerance is the same. Certain groups (of course not ALL in all groups) want to enshrine their individual religious beliefs in our laws and thereby impose them on others.

This I do not understand. I believe in a country where anyone can worship anyone or anything they wish, or not, and that's their own personal business. Certain religious principles -- for example, human sacrifice -- cannot be allowed for obvious reasons, but otherwise, if you are worshipping your own god in your own way and not hurting anyone else, you should be given the freedom to do so. But getting that kind of respect for one's religion requires that you give it to others. And there's the rub. I have yet to hear a reasonable answer to the question "Why can't you simply live your own life according to your religion without attempting to legislate others into conforming to your beliefs?"

While I was mulling over this post, I ran across a news story describing how a manufacturer of religious toys tried to give a talking Jesus doll to the Toys for Tots program. Toys for Tots said no, thanks. The vice-president of Toys for Tots explained why: "We can't take a chance on sending a talking Jesus doll to a Jewish family or a Muslim family." And in a perhaps-not-shocking display of intolerance, the toy manufacturer's response was that "anyone can benefit from hearing the words of the bible." (Even if it's not their holy book and they don't believe it's the word of God.)

Our society cannot survive "my way or the highway" religion. We can't tolerate it in free toys for kids who don't have any, and we can't tolerate it in our legislature. It will surely lead to hell on earth for us all.

Not to mention a really un-fun Christmas for a bunch of poor kids.

Friday, November 10, 2006

This colorway is called "Not For Sale"

I finally decided to spin some of my own roving. This is a batch of Corriedale that I am working on:

I'm dyeing some more batches of roving, including some light-as-air kid mohair/Border Leicester that I got from Mindy. The first one flew out of my shop as soon as I listed it! I listed some more laceweight and this weekend will be skeining some sock yarn. Now that Stitches is over, I should be able to update the Etsy shop a bit more frequently.

A Good Customer Service Experience

I highly recommend products by Fricke Enterprises. I have two of their sturdy wooden machines (including a jumbo ball winder that I love). After a piece unexpectedly broke off one of them, I emailed the company and received a response from one of the owners. She immediately shipped out a replacement part. Oddly, the replacement part broke in the same fashion, and she shipped me another replacement part, modified a bit to try to prevent a third breakage. Customer service is not dead! It is alive and well at Fricke Enterprises.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

No-Bull Book Review: One-Skein Wonders, by Judith Durant

I am lucky to have access to an amazing LYS, with an extremely knowledgeable and creative owner. Frequently, the shopowner creates patterns and gives them to customers free with the purchase of the yarn. The patterns tend to be smaller items, relatively easy and quick to make so they are useful even for inexperienced knitters, and are a great way to try out a new yarn with a relatively small investment. These kinds of patterns were the inspiration for Judith Durant's One-Skein Wonders (Storey Publishing).

Durant has collected 101 such patterns from yarn shops and designers throughout the country, organized by the weight/gauge of the required yarn (bulky to fingering weight, plus a separate category for novelty yarns, and even a separate "worsted mohair" category). This method of organization makes sense: if you want to use up a skein of worsted weight yarn, you can flip to page 61 and find twenty possibilities that knit at around 5 stitches to the inch. Because of the one skein limitation, most of the projects are for accessories -- there's just not enough yarn in a single skein to make, say, an adult sweater. My rough count showed the following breakdown:

  • 25 hats
  • 18 scarves (including some rather odd "collars")
  • 7 pairs of socks
  • 2 baby sweaters
  • 6 shawls, shrugs & a poncho
  • 16 bags
  • 5 mittens/gloves/wristwarmers
  • 1 shell
  • 1 pillow
  • 1 cell phone cover

and a whole bunch of random stuff, including 2 (!) sets of coasters, 2 (!) barettes, napkin rings, curtain ties and an ice scraper mitt (don't ask).

These patterns are definitely on the simpler side, and would be suitable for most beginner or inexperienced knitters. Most look like they would knit up in a night (in some cases, an hour), and Durant definitely anticipated that readers would make some of these quick-knit items for gifts. She also anticipated that these patterns would act as stashbusters: if you've got an orphan ball of yarn left over from another project, or was tempted to try a ball or two of a new yarn to see if you like it, then these easy and fast projects will help you figure what to do with those single skeins.

Given the number of items of the same kind, there's inevitably a feeling of sameyness about the book. There's only so many ways you can knit a hat using a single skein of yarn, and when you present twenty-five hat patterns in one book, there's bound to be some overlap. Likewise for scarves, and envelope bags, and drawstring purses, and so on. From a design standpoint, there isn't much in the book that I haven't seen before, although I confess I've never before seen an ice scraper mitt. As I mentioned before, this may be a function of having a top-notch LYS that provides its customers with ample free patterns -- many of them, in this knitter's humble opinion, more creative and interesting than the ones in One Skein Wonders. Last spring's release of Leigh Radford's book, One Skein, may also explain why this collection of patterns seems less than cutting-edge to me.

The book is similar in production quality to the first Stitch-N-Bitch book: paperback with two-color text with sepia-ish photographs and a series of color plates in the middle showing the projects. The lack of color photography throughout the entire book is clearly the trade-off for the quantity of patterns; it would be prohibitively expensive to photograph all 101 projects individually. And since most of the projects are simple and straightforward, detailed photography isn't as essential as with more complex or unusual patterns.

As with so many pattern books, you are advised to look before you buy. If you are an experienced knitter who isn't afraid of creating your own basic patterns for hats and scarves, this book may not seem worth the money (MSRP $18.95; currently $12.89 at you. Likewise, if you prefer more challenging projects, or have been knitting a long time and have had your fill of roll-brim caps and scarves knit on big needles (and how many wine bottle bags can one person knit?), this book may seem less desirable. On the other hand, there are plenty of knitters who like to follow directions, who find trying to parse out their own patterns stressful or frustrating, and I suspect these knitters will be much more receptive to One-Skein Wonders. If you're looking for ideas to burn through some stash, or if you make a lot of gifts for charities or bazaars, you're more likely to find this book useful. And if you don't have a LYS nearby to tempt you with quickie patterns, a lot of these items will look fresher than they do to these jaded eyes.

Wonder-ful? Maybe not. But in enthusiasm and sheer quantity, One-Skein Wonders will be more than adequate for many (though not all) knitters.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Guest Post: Donna Druchunas on Qiviut

A warm, Go-Knit-In-Your-Hat welcome to Donna Druchunas, author of the newly-released Arctic Lace.

Donna is my first-ever guest blogger, and she's going to talk about that spectacular fiber, qiviut. Thanks, Donna!

Knitting and Spinning with Qiviut by Donna Druchunas

Thanks for having me as a guest on your blog! I've been talking a lot about my inspiration for Arctic Lace and my research in Alaska during this tour. But today I'd like to talk about knitting and spinning with qiviut.


Qiviut yarn comes only in fine weights. Sport weight is the heaviest I have ever seen on the market, and cobweb, or extra-fine lace weight is the thinnest. Because the fiber is so warm -- often said to be 8 times warmer than sheep's wool -- you wouldn't want a heavier yarn anyway. Qiviut blooms when washed, and gets a halo that reminds me of mohair, and it feels a lot like mohair to wear. That is, it's lightweight and warm. Unlike mohair, qiviut is never scratchy. When washed, qiviut
develops a furry texture that gets more exaggerated over time but, in my experience, does not pill. Because of the furry halo that develops, you can often knit qiviut at a looser gauge than you would other yarns of the same girth.

There are two main types of qiviut yarn on the market today. The first is 100% qiviut. Most of this is very loosely spun, and it has little or no elasticity. It does not stretch as you knit with it, and it does not draw in after knitting. This makes it very nice for lace projects that will be blocked to have a soft drape. But it does not work well for ribbing, as it will not hold its shape. It can even stretch out over time, the way cotton does. I have run into a couple of tightly spun qiviut yarns that seem to hold their shape better than the loosely spun
yarns, but these are hard to find.

The second common type of qiviut yarn is a blend with merino and silk. There may be as much as 75% qiviut in this yarn, or as little as 45%. The yarn with the least amount of qiviut and the most amount of wool will have more elasticity during knitting and will hold its shape better for ribbing and fitted garments or accessories.

Before you start knitting anything with qiviut, which costs about $70US per ounce, you should swatch your pattern stitches with a less expensive yarn. If you are knitting lace, I always suggest working a swatch in sport or worsted weight wool on size 5 or 7 needles. This will let you concentrate on learning the stitch pattern before you start working with the fine yarn and small needles. If you are a new
lace knitter, you might want to make a second swatch with inexpensive lace weight yarn before starting to work with the qiviut as well.

This doesn't mean you can skip making a qiviut swatch, however. Because the yarn has such an unusual hand and texture, and because it blooms, you may find you need to use larger or smaller needles than usual. I haven't found any hard-and-fast rule for this. Some knitters find that their stitches look very sloppy and the fabric has no body at all when they knit qiviut with needles that are too large. Other knitters find that the fabric is too dense after it is washed when they knit with smaller needles. You may get the same stitch gauge with several needle sizes, but a different row gauge or a different appearance to your stitches. I suggest you try 3 different size needles before casting on for a project. For regular lace weight qiviut, I suggest US sizes 1, 2, and 3 for testing. (Go up or down as appropriate if you are working with sportweight or cobweb yarn.) Cast on 16 or 20 stitches, and knit 1 inch with the smallest needle you want to try, then work a garter
ridge. Don't cast off, but change needle sizes and knit 1 inch in each size, going up one size after each garter ridge. Wash and block the swatch in the same way you will dress the finished project, and then decide what size needle you want to use.


Qiviut is the under down of the musk ox that sheds naturally every spring. The animals also grow coarse guard hair that does not shed, and continues to grow throughout their lives, sometimes reaching down to their ankles at a length of 2 feet. There are a few captive herds of musk oxen that are combed each year for fiber collection. The Musk Ox Farm in Palmer, Alaska, sells all of its fiber to the Oomingmak knitter's co-op in Anchorage. The Large Animal Research Station in Fairbanks combs their research herd and saves some of the best fiber for hand spinners. (Check out their website for a great photo of a musk ox being combed!) A few other small farms may sometimes have clean spinning fiber available.

Most other fiber comes from wild herds in Canada, where Inuit hunters take the animals for meat and sell the hides or fiber to yarn companies. Sometimes you can find raw qiviut for sale, but it usually is from shorn hides and contains a LOT of guard hairs. The long guard hairs are not difficult to remove, because the fiber is not greasy. But the sheer quantity of guard hair makes preparing raw qiviut for
spinning and arduous task. If you do buy raw qiviut, you can use the guard hair to spin a sturdy yarn for knitting or weaving rugs or other hard-wearing accessories.

When spinning knitting yarns, the same considerations should be taken into account as when purchasing millspun yarn. 100% qiviut has little give and almost no memory, while blends with wool are much more elastic and will hold their shape better in fitted items. Remember that qiviut is incredibly warm, and don't be tempted to spin lofty, bulky yarn. It'll be so hot, you'll never be able to wear anything made from it.

Normally you do not need to card qiviut or clean it in any way after you remove the guard hair. Any stray plant matter or flecks of skin and dander will fall out as you are spinning. If you are blending the fiber with wool, you can card it by hand or you can try using a drum carder with an extra fine carding cloth. I've never carded qiviut. The only spinning I've done is directly from the raw fiber, and I haven't had the need to process the fiber in any way.

For more information on spinning with qiviut, try to get a copy of the Summer 1993 issue of Spin-Off magazine. It contains several articles on spinning qiviut and musk ox guard hairs.

Caring for Qiviut

Qiviut fibers do not have protruding scales like wool. That makes the fiber incredibly soft and also makes it resistant to felting. I have had people tell me that they have washed qiviut items in the washing machine with hot water. Oh my! While I don't doubt them, I would treat my qiviut items with more care. I hand wash them, or soak them in the washing machine with no-rinse wool washing soap, and then gently squeeze out the excess water. If I'm washing a lace item, I will block
it each time I wash it. Other items, I leave to dry flat, being careful not to stretch any areas of ribbing out of shape.

For sources of qiviut yarn and fiber, see the appendix in Arctic Lace
or Sheep To Shawl.

Impressions of Stitches East: A collection of haiku

To a Coffee Faucet

Silver-man’ed fox
You made a trip to the loo
Sound mucho sexy.

Lunch in Baltimore

Long lines snake around
For grease, fried foods, and hot dogs
Have you no green veg?

I Don’t Mean Mably

Those mischievous eyes
Your British accent slays me
Charm personified

For the Baltimore City Planners

You built a large hall
But where, dear God, tell me where
Is all the parking?

Little Ricky Stitches
Dragon applique?
I'm sure I saw the same jeans
At T-N-N-A.

Tricky Tricot

Blogger Man with Balls
Have you only been knitting
A measly five years?

Fashions (with apologies to L.M.)

Scarves, ponchos, fun fur
A profound sufficiency.
Please learn to fair isle.

Monday, November 06, 2006


It's astonishing, but today marks the first anniversary of Go Knit In Your Hat. Yes, it's my blog-iversary. And as I look back on the past year, I can only say "thank you" to all of you, the faithful readers.

I have enjoyed writing this blog more than I ever thought I would. And I have met more interesting and funny and kind people than I ever knew were out there. People like Mindy, to swap bunny and little kid stories with. People like Bonnie, who shares my quirky worldview. Rosie's customers like Mary Kay and Sherry and Wendy and Christina, who I had known casually but now count as friends. And Lars, and Ted, and Lee Ann, and so many more of you that I can't name.

I am frequently amazed at the readers who leave comments. Funny comments, snarky comments, comments that add immeasurably to the topic at hand. I knew that my circle of close knitting friends would read this blog (and I do loves me my Wolvies, Mar and Joe and Kathy and Franklin and Liza and Selma and Lisa and Loopy), but I didn't expect a significantly broader readership, or one that displays the generosity and good will I have experienced.

I certainly didn't expect to begin an internet business, but I have found great joy and fulfillment in Black Bunny Fibers and been touched at the willingness of the fiber community to support me in my new endeavor.

I also didn't expect the extent to which blogging would change me. I envisioned the blog as a snarky venue in which I could vent about things that annoyed me, kvell about things that I liked, and create a record of my fiber projects. Sure, I am able to do those things -- and do -- but the blog has morphed into something more. (Or at least I hope it has.) As someone who has learned so much from the internet knitting community, I have found it fun and rewarding to help give back a little by writing posts that help knitters with technical or substantive issues. I have found myself deciding which political issues -- like equal rights for the GLTB community, or dissatisfaction with the corrupt party that now controls the U.S. government -- really mean something to me, enough that I'll say what I think without caring who doesn't like it.

And perhaps most important, I have found that viewing my world through the lens of this blog has changed the way I see it. When I go to a fiber festival like Rhinebeck, I find myself looking around, really seeing the things in front of me: examining color and patterns, noting interesting or inspirational images, appreciating the offbeat and the beautiful. I remember more as I make mental notes of things to blog about. When describing what I've seen and experienced to all of you, I make connections between my life and the bigger world. In short, my blog has made my day-to-day experiences deeper and richer.

Thank you for reading my blog. I look forward to continuing this journey with you for a long time to come.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Next week: special guest post

Next week, Donna Druchunas, author of the just-released Arctic Lace

will be doing a guest blog post.

And if you've always wanted to learn how to use a spindle, check out Ted's tutorial and tips at his blog. Thanks, Ted!