MDSW: The Glorious Aftermath

The weather was glorious, the shopping overwhelming, and it was sheep as far as the eye could see! I got back from the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival exactly the way I knew I would: drunk with excitement, completely exhausted, and yet ready for more! There is nothing else like MDSW…

MDSW, Maryland Sheep and Wool
The traffic to get in was CRAZY!!!
MDSW, Maryland Sheep and Wool
And the transport from car park to front gate was appropriate...
MDSW, Maryland Sheep and Wool
The sheep were looking their very best for the judges
MDSW, Maryland Sheep and Wool
And the shopping was... simply overwhelming!

I was lucky enough to run into the lovely Nora Bellows of Noni. I discussed spindles with Sasha Torres of the SpinDoctor podcast. Got to say hello to Amy Singer of Knitty magazine. And I had really enlightening conversations (about credit card machines of all things!) with Andrea Berman (I Speak KnitSpeak), Gale of Gale’s Art, and Jennie Lanners (you know… Jennie the Potter!).

Did I take any pictures of any of them? No, not one. I know …I know!


So, you’ll just have to settle for pictures of my swag instead…

MDSW, Maryland Sheep and Wool
Clockwise from top left: Yarn Bowl from Honeysuckle Pottery, Trindle (spindle) from Trindleman, a hand-sized loom from Hazel Rose Looms (and my friend Sara!), and a Tsunami spindle from Golding

Oh wait! I forgot… I got some really cool stitchmarkers too from Jennie the Potter. Let me go grab my knitting…

MDSW, Maryland Sheep and Wool

I love that they have knit stitches on one side and instructions on the other! So cool! The yarn is SpaceCadet’s Stella in Vibrance.

So, you see how much fun it was? Oodles and oodles, and I am jonesing for more! What are your favourite fiber festivals through the year? Which ones do you love?

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.

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!

Scenes from a Fiber Life: Laceweight NeverEnding

With great beauty comes… great danger? Great sacrifice?  We all know that laceweight yarns are beautiful — there’s something inherent in its delicacy, and the luxury of its fibers, and the way it soaks up colour.  Laceweight is beautiful.

And dangerous, as I recently found out.  But sacrifice?  The beauty of laceweight requires sacrifice?  Not for you, dear readers, but it does for me.  Let’s talk about my arms.

My arms are going to fall off.  They ache, they’re sore.  And as much as my eyes love laceweight, my arms hate it.  At 1300 wonderful, delicate, luxurious yards per 100g, it takes a loooooong time to reskein.  I have to sit and turn that skein winder round and round and round and round…

When the dyed skein goes on the swift, it really doesn’t look much different from any other skein.  My arms are blissfully ignorant of what’s about to happen.



But after a few minutes of winding, when my arm is expecting the job to be half done, I look and find there’s only wee bit of yarn on the skein winder…


And so I keep winding.  Round and round and round and round…


And after what seems like forever, I look up and…

.the swift looks as full as it ever was!  HOW can that be?!?

My arms are not happy with me.  My arms are burning and fed up and ready to quit.  It takes some convincing to get them to keep going.


But after a long, long time, the skein winder starts to look lovely and full like this…


And the swift finally starts to look a bit emptier…!


And then just as my arms get to the point where they are ready to fall right off, we reach the end.


And then it’s done.  And it’s gorgeous.  And I hold the finished skein in my hand and look at how all the colours blend together gently and I am in love!  Laceweight is worth it, I tell myself.


Until I lay that skein aside, and pick up the next one and start to arrange it on the swift and my arms realise what’s happening… and they don’t like it.  They don’t like it one bit.

Pattern Roll-Call: Something Gorgeous Around Your Shoulders

Y’know, even though it’s still August and that usually means high temperatures and hot days, the weather has taken on a slightly cooler tinge this week, and that’s got me thinking about autumn.  I’ve been day-dreaming about turning leaves, that crisp smell in the air, and lovely lovely autumn knitting.  Is there anything better?  And the first thing you need as the weather starts to change is something gorgeous to drape around you to keep that chill at bay.


Abby by Amy Singer

©Amy Singer, Used by Permission

I’m crazy about cowls.  They’re so easy — there’s no tying, no arranging, no fussing or adjusting…  they just pop over your head and perfectly fill up the space around the top of a jacket to keep you toasty warm.  Abby by Amy Singer has a beautifully simple stitch pattern that will work perfectly with any yarn from a Semi-Solid to a Wildly Varigated.  I think it would look amazing knitted up in the gentle blues and purples of Mountain Mist.


Mirth by Stefanie Japel

©Stefanie Japel, Used by Permission

The lace pattern on Mirth is gorgeous, just gorgeous — what could look more elegant draped around your shoulders on a cool autumn day?  But the real beauty of Stefanie Japel‘s pattern is that it’s written in both text and charts, and the size of the shawl can customised by completing as many chart repeats as the knitter likes.  The allover lace pattern will really shine in a Gently Varigated yarn such as Pink Autumn or Desert Wine.


Eventide by Laura Nelkin

©Laura Nelkin, Used by Permission

Now here is a pattern that makes you want to grab that crazy-gorgeous yarn that’s been calling your name and just cast on.  The long criss-cross floats of Laura Nelkin‘s Eventide really showcase the colours a variegated yarn such as the cool blue/green/purples of Midnight Swim or the gentle pinks and olive-greens of Bramble Rose.  And the beautiful openwork creates a pattern that is perfect for those not-too-warm, not-too-cool days that autumn brings.


So, yeah, I know…  it’s still August.  And the sun in still high in the sky and we’re all still wearing our summer clothes.  But one of these days, the weather is going to change suddenly and summer will be gone…  And now is the perfect time to cast on so that, when that happens, you’ll have something gorgeous to see in the autumn.