A Surprising Yarn for Summer Knitting

Note from the SpaceCadet:  My friend Natalie (peacethrufiber on Ravelry and Twitter) is a fantastic knitter and spinner who creates amazing garments with yarns she spins almost exclusively on spindles.  

The SpaceCadet and I were talking the other day about summer knitting and summer yarn.  She asked me what I knit with most during the warmer months, and I think I surprised her when I answered, “Wool.”

summer knitting, yarn, wool, handdyed, sock yarn, space cadet, spacecadet, indie dyer
Celeste yarn in a one-of-a-kind colourway

But if you think about it, summer knitting with wool makes a lot of sense.

First there are the qualities that make knitters love wool for winter knitting, such as great stitch definition and memory.  These things are just as true in the summer as they are in the winter.

Then there’s the way wool feels on the needles.  I knit cotton, linen and other more traditional, cellulose based summer yarns, but I can only knit with them for so long before the stiffness of the yarn starts to tire my hands.  Then it’s back to the soft and pleasant hand of wool, with a grateful sigh.

Finally, there’s the fact that, done right, wool is really an excellent choice for summer wearing in addition to summer knitting.  People often think of wool garments as cold weather gear but, in fact ,wool is much more versatile than that.  It actually regulates temperature, keeping the wearer warm in cold weather, and cool in warm weather.  Add in its fantastic moisture-wicking properties, and it starts to look a lot more attractive for summer.

knitting, yarn, wool, summer knitting, spacecadet, space cadet, handdyed, indie dyer, sock yarn
Celeste yarn knit on US size 8 needles (5mm)

Of course, if you pull on a heavy, worsted-weight wool sweater in the middle of July, you will probably end up uncomfortable.  Fortunately, there’s no need.  There has been a little flurry of garment patterns written over the last few years using fingering and lace weight yarns at a loose gauge to create light, breezy, warm weather garments.  I’ve already started a fingering-weight  wool sweater for this summer, and am totally enjoying it.  I’m using a size 8 needle, and the resulting fabric is soft, sheer and gauzy.  I’m looking forward to wearing  it on vacation in June!

What are you going to be knitting this summer?  Got any patterns in mind that will look great in a skinny wool yarn on big needles?

knitting, yarn, sock yarn, summer knitting, handdyed, indie dyer, spacecadet, space cadet
Skinny wool yarn, big needles... airy and light.

A Book to Forever Change Your Sock Knitting

Note from the SpaceCadet: My friend Amy (DPUTiger on Ravelry) is a knitting teacher, a quilter, and a newly-minted weaver. And she’s been kind enough to write a series of posts about her favourite ways to start new sock knitters on their journey…

I’m back – finally! — for the final installment in this Sock Knitting series, and this is the post where I gush about the knitter and book that completely changed my knitting life:

Cat Bordhi’s New Pathways for Sock Knitters

sock knitting, sock yarn, knitting, socks.

When I discovered this book, I had knit one pair of toe-up socks with short-row heels and toes — not an experience I ever wanted to repeat.  I was chugging along on socks knit using the Yarn Harlot’s Basic Sock Recipe that I referenced in my last blog post. I was even using double-pointed needles to do it!

So I was about to give up on sock knitting entirely, despite the pile of very pretty and seductive sock yarn I had accumulated (of course, the stash that felt large at that time is roughly 1/10th of my current sock yarn stash. But we won’t talk about that, will we?).  I had just moved across the country, from Los Angeles back to my hometown of Pittsburgh, and had begun exploring the various LYSs in the area.  While meeting a friend from my new knitting group at a local store, I picked up a copy of New Pathways on a whim and took it home.

Thank God that I did that!

What makes this book so special? What is it about this book that changed my knitting life?

• I will never pick up stitches for a sock gusset again.

• I will always knit perfectly-fitting socks, whether they are for me, my sister-in-law with the teeny-tiny feet, my husband with ginormous ski feet, or anyone else that I want to knit for.

• Cat’s short-row technique for the heel turn has invisible wraps. Really. I’ve never found another short-row/wrap-and-turn technique that I could honestly describe as invisible.

• Not to mention the fact that Cat’s “La-Linc” and “La-Rinc” increases are quite handy in many circumstances — and that almost all of her techniques are detailed through videos on YouTube.

In the most simple terms, to create a New Pathways sock, you knit a tube, then a funnel (increasing by two stitches every three rounds), turn the heel, decrease and knit another tube. That’s it. Those increase lines could be random, could be on the top of your foot, the bottom, the inside, the outside … it doesn’t matter.

Cat Bordhi is my knitting idol. I joke that I would like to be Cat when I grow up, but I know I’m not that fearless. Normal humans make a mistake or deviate from their planned knitting path, and they back up to fix it. Not Cat. She follows her mistakes and sees where they take her.  I’ve taken a class with Cat, and this woman makes no bones about protecting her “secret sauce.” Instead, she wants everyone to know the good stuff.

And if you’re local and want to learn what I know about this book, I’m teaching New Pathways starting on Saturday at Bloomin Yarns.  Come join us!

Continuing your Sock Knitting Journey

Note from the SpaceCadet:  My friend Amy (DPUTiger on Ravelry) is a knitting teacher, a quilter, and a newly-minted weaver.  And she’s been kind enough to write a series of posts about her favourite ways to start new sock knitters on their journey…

So you’ve tackled Fuzzy Feet and are ready to move along and try something else. Where is a good place to start with that beautiful fingering weight yarn and the toothpick-sized needles?

My first pair of fingering weight socks were generated by my sock class teacher with Sock Wizard.  They had crazy-long cuffs (hello, 7” of 2×2 ribbing!) and took a really, really long time to knit. I did a second pair with the same yarn, on needles that I hated, and with short-row heels and toes.  That experience nearly put me off of socks completely.



So, you ask, what turned things around for me, and what would I recommend to you so you don’t suffer the sock blahs right out of the gate?

Knitting Rules.  If you aren’t familiar with Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, aka the Yarn Harlot, you should be. Stephanie is a terrific writer with a sense of humour.  And whether you are an experienced knitter or especially a knitter that’s just starting to branch out into the world of Not Scarf Knitting, Knitting Rules is a valuable addition to any knitter’s library.

So just as I was finishing the Socks from Hell, the Yarn Harlot began blogging about the step-out socks that she was knitting for an appearance on Knitty Gritty. I was intrigued, picked up a copy of Knitting Rules and hit the jackpot.

And while Stephanie provides a perfectly awesome 64-stitch sock pattern, she also provides a good basic sock recipe. I love this pattern and recommend it because it gives you the tools to create a sock in any size to fit any foot. She gives you permission to stockingette that leg after a couple inches of ribbing. She has great information on how to start with hats, sweaters, all kinds of things. The book is a great foundation for wherever you want to take your knitting.

There are a few little tidbits I’ll throw in before I leave you in suspense waiting for my final salvo on sock knitting:

  • I have one rule in my classes: No Eeyores.  If you attack something new with a positive, can-do attitude, you will succeed!  If you are convinced sock knitting is too hard for you, then it will be.  Period.  Attitude is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  • Lifelines are your friend!  (What is a lifeline? Click here)  If you’re new to sock knitting, throw a lifeline in before you start something new. My ideal lifeline material is DMC Perle Cotton, commonly used for cross stitch and embroidery. If you use lifelines, you really can knit fearlessly, because it will be simple to rip out and re-start if you screw up or get confused.
  • Every single sock pattern in existence can be knit using any of the three small-circumference knitting methods: double-pointed needles (DPNs), two circular needles, or the Magic Loop.  All three methods are interchangeable.  Always.  No exceptions.

I’ll be back again to discuss the one book that changed my knitting life. Until then, enjoy your foray into sock knitting!

A First Step in Sock Knitting

Note from the SpaceCadet:  My friend Amy (DPUTiger on Ravelry) is a knitting teacher, a quilter, and a newly-minted weaver.  And she’s been kind enough to write about her favourite way to start new sock knitters on their journey…

Socks seem to be part of the “Magical Mystery Tour” of knitting. Somehow, people get all freaked out with sock heels, short rows, gussets, kitchener stitch … the list goes on.

And with all these amazing hand-dyed yarns to choose from, why not add sock knitting to your repertoire?

I teach sock knitting at Bloomin’ Yarns, my LYS.  On Ravelry, I’d say one of the questions I see most often is how to get started with sock knitting. I have a prefab answer that I use over there, but you lucky folks get the expanded version with the why’s and wherefores behind my answer.

The number one thing that I recommend for a first sock is usually Fuzzy Feet. It’s a free pattern from the Winter, 2002 issue of Knitty.com. Why do I like it so much for a first sock?

knitting, sock yarn, sock knitting, tutorial, fuzzy feet, knitty.

The first reason is that it calls for a worsted weight yarn. I believe that using fingering weight yarn and sock-sized needles is a skill all by itself. When you are used to using worsted weight yarns and needles in the neighborhood of a US 8, it’s a big change to go down to 8 sts/inch and a 2.5mm needle. And it’s better to learn one thing at a time, not two.

If you already do enjoy small needles and want to jump right in with that set-up, then you can go wind your next skein of SpaceCadet so you’re ready to roll with my next guest post.

So what else is so great about Fuzzy Feet?

They are knit with a worsted weight feltable wool (like Cascade 220) on US 10.5 needles, which makes them very quick to knit. I usually use a 16” circ, so I don’t even have to mess with a small-circumference technique like DPNs (double-pointed needles), two circular needles or Magic Loop. The construction is identical to a traditional top-down sock so you can learn the process with great big comfy needles. And the best part? It doesn’t matter in the least if you mess up, because when you’re done… you felt the slippers.

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Have you ever felted anything before? There is virtually no stitch definition left after the felting process so those wonky short rows to turn the heel? Those gusset stitches that you picked up that are a little loose and open? The kitchener stitch at the toe that isn’t quite perfect? Gone. All of it.

You wind up with a pair of comfortable, warm slippers. And you learned the mechanics of sock knitting! Even my uber-picky husband likes his Fuzzy Feet. He’s on pair #2, since he walked through his first pair by the end of Winter #3.

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So what’s the next step after you’ve finished your Fuzzy Feet? I’ll be back to talk about that next time!

Spinning Up Clouds of Baby Alpaca

So while I was waxing lyrical about the new cashmere in the shop, I never said a word — not a word — about the little something I had up my sleeve for the spinners.  Why?  Because the holidays are all about surprises!

And this was a surprise worth keeping: the most amazingly soft combed top made from 50% Baby Alpaca and 50% Superfine Merino wool.  It’s incredibly light, incredibly soft…  It feels like clouds in your hands.  And it dyes up beautifully.

Baby Alpaca and Superfine Merino wool combed top 150/50 Baby Alpaca/Merino blend in Evening Fog (left) and Tarnished (right)

For those of you who’ve never tried alpaca, I turned to my friend Natalie — a more experienced and excellent spinner — for some advice.  She said, “Alpaca is warmer and lighter than wool.  For knitting, a worsted weight yarn would make an awfully warm sweater – possibly too warm for daily wear.  On the other hand, if you want outer gear like hats and gloves, a thick, woolen spun alpaca would be like carrying around your own little furnace!

“Alpaca is a little more difficult to control than straight wool because it has a shorter staple length and feels sort of slippery.  I hold my hands closer together when I’m drafting to adjust for the shorter staple length.  I also try to get twist into the fiber more quickly than I would usually do with wool.

“Also, remember that alpaca has practically no memory.  So, for knitting, it often works better blended with other fibers that will give it a little bit of elasticity and memory.”

Baby Alpaca and Superfine Merino wool combed top 250/50 Baby Alpaca/Merino blend in Rhubarb and Custard (left) and SeaFoam (right)

The blend of superfine merino and baby alpaca together will give your yarn the elasticity and memory that you need for knitting.  And the extra lightness and warmth that the alpaca gives you yarn will be perfect for warm winter mittens and hats.

And as I was in a mood for dyeing fiber, I went ahead and did a batch of Blue-Faced Leicester as well.  Enjoy!

BFL combed top Clockwise from top left:  BFL Combed top in Spice Trade, Sweetpeas, SeaFoam, and Sweetpeas.

Great Tools for Beginning Spinners

Note from the SpaceCadet:  My friend Natalie (npeace on Ravelry) is a prolific spinner who creates amazing handspun yarns almost exclusively on spindles.  She’s been kind enough to write about a few of her favourites here.

A while ago, I wrote a bit about resources for a beginning spindle spinner.  Since writing that post, a couple of people have come back to me saying:  That’s all well and good, but what are the actual tools that a beginner needs?

It’s a good question.  One of the appeals of spindle spinning is that it really doesn’t take much.  A spindle is basically just a stick and a weight, in one configuration or another.  Get one of those and add in some fiber – preferably prepared for spinning, but even that’s not completely necessary – and you should be good to go, right?  Well, yes… and no.  Yes because, well, yes; at a minimum that is what you need to spin.  No because, like most activities, having good tools makes the process easier – especially in the beginning.

I recommend a high-whorl spindle to start with.  There’s nothing intrinsically better about high whorls compared to low-whorls, or any other kind of spindle for that matter.  All types have their advantages.  However, the current spindle resurgence, in the US at least, has centered around the high-whorl spindle and this type of spindle is the most readily available, and the most generally used.

For a complete beginner, I suggest a spindle between 1 and 2 ounces.  Something in this range should suit most beginners nicely, and will continue to be useful as a plying tool even if the spinner decides with experience that they prefer lighter spindles.

Whorl diameter is also something to consider.  Generally, the broader the whorl is, the longer the spindle will spin.  For a first spindle, look for something between about 2.5 and 3.5 inches.

With these basics in mind, let me show you the spindles I most often use to teach beginners to spin.  These are only the tools that I have found to be effective – there are many other good spindle makers out there, and this list is by no means exhaustive.

My absolute favorite teaching spindle is this is a 1.3 ounce Kundert:

This spindle has a long, level spin that makes it easy for beginners to control as they first learn to draft.  It also has a nice broad whorl which lends stability to the spin, and the shape of the hook captures yarn well, minimizing slippage.

With many of the advantages of a Kundert spindle, but at a lower price point is this spindle from Spinsanity:

This spindle does not have the hand-turned elegance of the Kundert, but it is well crafted and has a very similar kind of long, easy spin.

Another maker I often recommend to a beginner is Jonathan Bosworth:

His spindles come in several size ranges, but a beginner would probably do well with a midi.  The whorl here is much narrower.  However,  the way it is shaped still keeps the weight distribution towards the rim, which makes for a long, steady spin.  The narrower whorl also makes it easier to carry around with you, so if you plan on spinning  when you’re out and about, this might be a good choice.

Finally, on the high end of the price spectrum is Golding Fiber Tools:

Golding craftsmanship speaks for itself.  If you’re one of those beginners ready to commit whole-heartedly to this spinning thing from day one, a Golding learn-to-spin kit would be an excellent way to start.

There are many other good makers out there and this list is just something to get you started.  If you try one of my suggestions and find that it doesn’t suit you, by all means try something else.  Check out the Spindlers and the Spindle Candy groups on Ravelry for other ideas.  Your spinning will only be improved by experimentation!