New Love

I decided a while back that every 35 years or so, a person deserves a new spinning wheel… so when a bit of a windfall came along, I took the leap!

My criteria: I love a traditional look, it couldn’t be too big, and it needed to offer something besides what I already had in my old faithful Country Craftsman.  And last but not least, it had to be within my price range.

At the top of the short list: Kromski Minstrel.  I have always liked the look of a castle-type wheel, and this one is a double-treadle that can switch between double drive and Scotch tension.  It also has a larger bobbin capacity.

Sooo… on the way home from a trip to Kansas City, my hubby and I stopped off in Lawrence, Kansas to visit the Yarn Barn.  I took a quick cruise around the wheels on display, and went for a test-drive on their floor model Minstrel.  It probably took me less than 2 minutes to decide that it was the wheel for me!  (The store employee looked a little surprised that I made up my mind so quickly.)  They had an unfinished one in stock, and I said I’d take it.

When they told me that they offered a 20% discount on all fiber purchased at the same time, my real dilemma began.  Silly, isn’t it, that it took so much longer to choose a few ounces of fiber than a whole spinning wheel!  I didn’t want need more fiber, so I settled for 4 ounces of Mountain Colors hand-dyed Targhee wool in a color that was something besides deep blue-green.  You gotta break out a little bit!

I am proud to say that I behaved like a responsible adult with my new wheel.  I did unbox it and drool over the parts as soon as we got home, but I knew that if I put it together right away, I would probably never take it apart again to finish it. So I dusted off my self-restraint, and after due consideration and consultation with a master woodworker friend, I settled on an oak finish and purchased the necessary supplies.

It took about a week and a half, what with all the various coats and fine gauge steel-wooling, but the self-control paid off.  By this time, I was intimately familiar with every little nook and cranny of each piece.  I’m only sorry that I didn’t get a ‘before’ picture of all the parts laid out.

Anyway, here is my new lovely Minstrel!  It spins beautifully, and I could not be happier!


Spinner’s view of my Kromski Minstrel wheel


The ‘other’ side… see the footmen for the double treadles?

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Retail therapy

We’re talking selling here, not buying!  I have just posted my first pattern for sale on Ravelry, afterRavBuy having it  declined – in the kindest way imaginable – by the folks at Knitty.  You know, I wasn’t really disappointed when it didn’t make the cut.  I had already decided to offer the pattern for sale, and by the time I heard back from them, I was ready to get on with it.

Because the terms for submission to Knitty specify that no pictures of the pattern can appear anywhere in public before they decide whether or not to publish it, I haven’t written anything about the design here, so now I’ll make up for that.

Twisted-Stitch KnittingI can usually remember what triggered a design idea for me, but not this time.  Suffice it to say that I have wanted to play with Bavarian twisted stitch patterns for some time (such intricate tiny cables!), and decided to see how that would mix with a bit of Fair Isle color pattern.  So I went stash diving and came up with my favorite deep teal blue for the main color, with a bit of natural white and rusty pumpkin orange for contrast.

The biggest question was how to relate the two well-known regional knitting traditions to each other.  After poking around in my sources, relying heavily on Twisted-Stitch Knitting by Maria Erlbacher, and a bit of chart tweaking, I settled on appropriately scaled oval-and-diamond motifs for both the color pattern and the twisted stitch pattern.  Then it was just a matter of narrowing the field of complementary twisted stitch patterns that were the right width to produce a good sock circumference.

Next was the actual sock knitting, pleasantly entertaining in itself, but which came with the annoying need to document every step.  Normally, I simply jot down enough notes to make sure the second sock comes out the same size as the first, and don’t worry about explaining how I did everything.  That was not going to do it this time.  I tried to be good, counting and keeping track and writing, and then checked my work by following those notes for sock #2, editing and correcting as I went along.

Then came the hard part – trying to put it in terms that someone else could understand!  Followed by another hard part – editing the pattern (terminology, format, etc.) to fit the submission requirements.  I got it sent off, and then waited a couple of months for the outcome, and getting ready for Plan B, which turned out to be a good thing.

At long last, here is the result: A Twist of Fair Isle!

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A Spinner’s Jackpot

One day not too long ago, my older daughter asked if I wanted some buffalo wool…?!?  Of course, I answered YES before I bothered asking for any more information, but then I wanted to know how she was able to get it for me!

As it turns out, she happened to be on FaceBook at just the moment that a mutual acquaintance / fellow rabbit breeder offered 13 one-gallon bags of buffalo wool to anyone who could use it.  She lives on a ranch, and has been gathering the shed wool for some time from their two buffalo (American bison) cows.



JoAnn said that they bought a buffalo cow and calf shortly after they moved to the ranch, about 13 years ago.  She doesn’t know how old “MamaLo” was, but by the time the cow died last year, the old girl had started going grey.  She had had a good life, and apparently enjoyed being in charge of the herd of cattle they were pastured with.

The calf grew into an intimidating cow, and the name “BabyLo” apparently hasn’t fit her for some time!  JoAnn says “…we call her Miss Cranky Pants, but not to her face”.

Miss Cranky Pants

“Miss Cranky Pants”





You can see something of their coats in these pictures, and why they need that fluffy insulation.

So the transfer was made at a rabbit show, and I waited patiently to get my hands into the fiber.  I haven’t looked through all the bags yet, but so far, it doesn’t look like there is an excessive amount of VM (vegetable matter – hay, dried bits of weeds and grass) or guard hairs.  Still, I will go through it all by hand, separating out the fuzzy brown undercoat from the stiff guard hairs and unusable bits.

Once I have gotten enough of it sorted out for a good sampling, I’ll wash it and experiment with preparation techniques, then spin it fine, ply it and knit a swatch to see how it behaves, and think about how I can make the best use of it.  I couldn’t resist playing with a little of it as soon as I opened the first bag, though!  Here’s my finger-spun sample:

Finger-spun sample

A closeup of the sample may look hairy and prickly, but it is really quite soft!  And bouncy and stretchy, too – a section of the yarn that measures 6″ when relaxed stretches to 7 1/2″.


A little of this luxury fiber goes a long way, because it is so efficient at retaining heat that even lightweight and loosely-knit items are very warm.  So perhaps I’ll make a lace scarf, or some fingerless mitts for indoor wear… actually, there should be enough for several really special items!



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Looking back: 2013 souvenir yarns

The ‘turnover’ between one year and the next generally prompts both reviews of the past and resolutions for the future, and the vehicle for today’s reflection is souvenir yarn (and fiber).  I am fortunate to be able to do some traveling, usually for business of one kind or another, and always try to build in some fun time as well, even if it’s only dropping in on a local yarn shop.

2013 was a bonus year, in which I hit both the east coast(ish) and the west coast, plus a drive across part of the great Midwest!

The historic USS Constellation

In Baltimore, besides falling hard for the USS Constellation, touring the submarine and Coast Guard ship in the Inner Harbor and Fort McHenry, I headed over to Lovelyarns in the Hampdens neighborhood.  This is truly a lovely yarn shop.  The staff was friendly, the stock was varied and included locally dyed yarns, and the window decorations were colorful and inventive!  I was there just a few days before the Yarn Market’s spring event in Baltimore, and I knew that the bus tour of area yarn shops included this one… so I was happy to have my chance at the yarn before the crowd descended like a flock of vultures to snap up the choicest skeins.  I ended up with some gorgeous deep green semisolid fingering weight yarn dyed by Neighborhood Fiber Co. and a cone of silvery boucle yarn from the sale bin that I thought might work in my Dreambird shawl.

As it turned out, the boucle was TOO silvery, and would have been overpowering in that project, so I took it with me on my next yarn shop visit to see about donating it for charity knitting.  I checked online, looked at city and bus line maps, and headed out to A Good Yarn in the Fells Point district.  Much to my dismay, I found out on arrival that the shop had closed down!  Well, closed for business, anyway.  When I pushed open the door, I was greeted by a lovely and apologetic lady who explained the situation.  She graciously accepted the boucle, and let me warm up a bit.  She suggested that I might take the water taxi back to a spot near my hotel, and since there was a brisk wind, gave me a hand-knit hat to keep me warmer on the water!  I was disappointed again when no water taxi showed up (it wasn’t exactly high tourist season), but I did see some interesting historic buildings.  And I still have her hat to warm my head AND my heart!

Lesson learned: No matter how recent the information looks in online directories and maps, check for a current website and/or call before heading out to a shop in an unfamiliar place!

Business of another kind took me and my husband on a cross-country drive from Kansas to Bloomington, Illinois.  I didn’t have the opportunity to stop at any yarn shops there, as we were either traveling or busy working during open hours.

Layers of silk 'hankies' (mawata)

Layers of silk ‘hankies’ (aka mawata)

On our way home, we stopped for a day in Fort Madison, Iowa.  My husband is a fountain pen user and collector, and since Fort Madison was home to the Shaeffer Pen Company for many years, we thought we’d break the trip and look around.  There is a small but fascinating Shaeffer Pen Museum in the historic downtown, and just down the block was Pendemonium, a unique pen collector’s shop.

After browsing, visiting, and a little buying, we went to lunch at the Ivy Bake Shoppe, a charming cafe and bakery.  On my way to the restroom, I glanced down the hallway and saw – gasp – yarn!!  I quickly ducked in to Artisans Next Door to investigate, and found a shop filled with local crafts, including some yarn and dyed silk hankies.  I came away with a small package of the silk, feeling that the trip was now complete.

Some of the silk, ready to spin

Some of the silk, ready to spin, sitting atop the hankies

One of these days, I’ll write about spinning and knitting with these silk hankies.


Powell's Books - the knitting section!

Powell’s Books – and this is just the knitting section!

Portland, Oregon may just be the yarn shop capital of the United States!  During our stay in Portland itself, I managed to make it to three yarn shops and one fabulous bookstore, Powell’s City of Books.  “City” is right – if you get to visit, be sure to pick up a map so you can find your way around!

I visited Dublin Bay and Pearl Fiber Arts on one evening, then Knit Purl on another foray across the river.  Time and space doesn’t allow me to write much about these here, but suffice it to say that I met some lovely people, petted some gorgeous yarns, and came away with two skeins of sock yarn, a set of Karbonz double pointed needles (to replace some sadly lost at a conference), and a few other little goodies.


Obviously snapped on the run!

Obviously snapped on the run!



By the end of the year, I had a completed pair of souvenir “Oregon Coast Rainbow” socks, from one of those skeins, inspired by this picture taken from the road.


Oregon Coast Rainbow socks

Oregon Coast Rainbow socks







The other Portland yarn, Madeline Tosh Merino Light, is destined to be a pair of gloves… maybe for next winter.

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