Sunday, November 29, 2009

Tension Tips

Holiday emails have arrived with suggestions on how to handle tension during the festive season. Since this is supposed to be a knitting/spinning blog and I've been talking about everything but, I thought I'd offer my own take on tension...the knitting kind.

As many of you know, I'm a continental knitter. This is a loose term for someone who tensions the yarn with the non-dominant hand and since I'm right handed, this means tensioning with the left hand. This method is commonly refered to as “picking”. Because I teach knitting along with my spinning classes, I've learned how to mimic other knitter’s styles so that I can speak their own “hand language” when I’m explaining certain techniques. Most knitters these days are taught to throw, meaning that they hold their working yarn in their dominant hand.

In this process I’ve learned how to knit left-handed. Funny thing is, when I knit left-handed, I “throw”, so I'm still tensioning with my non-dominant hand. It took a while to get my tension the same picking and throwing. The aha moment came when I realized the following difference:

A: When I pick, I regulate tension on the stitch I am making because I have my working yarn held under tension as I make the stitch.

B: When I throw, I regulate tension on the following stitch, because no matter how much tension I have on the working yarn as I make the stitch, I usually let go of that tension somewhat as I move along to make the next stitch. Once I wrap the next stitch, I automatically snug the tension of the previous stitch in the process.

This is really the beauty of throwing, because you don’t have to be a deft knitter to control your tension. You can let go of the yarn altogether, knowing you can snug it up as you move along. When knitting with wool or mohair this isn’t much of an issue either way, as the yarn usually stays put once the stitch is made. But if you knit with rayon, alpaca, linen, ie anything slippery, you’ll see those stitches loosening as you let go of your working yarn.

For me, the beauty of picking is that by holding a constant tension on my working yarn I can fly along because I usually don’t pause to adjust tension at all. The working yarn glides between the knuckles of my index and third fingers and I rarely have to reposition my yarn. But if I’m not mindful of my tension, it can easily tighten, especially when working stitches that tend to draw in.

I think I noticed this most when I played around with different ways to tension fair isle, or stranded knitting, with two separate yarns. I’ve tried holding two strands in my left hand, picking one, then the other. But holding tension on two yarns at once had a cumulative effect and my stitches drew up too tight. I tried throwing both yarns, but it took too long to drop one strand, pick up the other, drop that one and pick up the former and although my stitches were nice I found this way too tedious. On top of that, it was sometimes too loose. It was when I tried picking with one yarn and throwing the other that I noticed how differently the two methods affected my work. I used the tension from the thrown yarn as a guide for my picked yarn and by working mindfully was able to even the tension of both yarns and increase my speed at the same time.

After working this way for a while I came to know the advantages of both tensioning methods. But also, it took a while for my hands to assimilate what my mind had discovered. At this point, I'm more comfortable throwing with my left hand, so if I feel like knitting this way, I just turn my work around and go left to right. This helps to relieve repetitive motion pain and boredom too...pretty swuft.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

New Handspun Yarn Kit with Star Flower Pattern

I made up some beautiful handspun yarn kits for the craft fair. They include a skein of gorgeous handspun yarn spun by a member of the LV ltd collective and a printed brochure style pattern for Star Flower Neckwarmer and Cuffs. I'm posting these on both of my etsy stores, LV ltd and Handspuncentral. You can buy the pattern separatedly in pdf format if you choose, or buy the kit with the printed pattern included. The pdf is formatted in my usual style with easy to read larger print. Printed pattern included with the kit is one page, brochure style, handy for carrying with this portable project.

I love this new pattern. It's the perfect solution for small amounts of yarn. Either the gaiter (shown here in Jester) or moebius version (shown here in Cinco de Mayo) of the neckwarmer knits up from approx 100 yds of worsted or larger yarn. Matching cuffs take approx 50 yds. So these kits have skeins of between 160-200 yds. I'm especially fond of "In Your Face", one of Pam's creations. She dyed this merino/cashmere for her handspun. The colors are completely unexpected and wild. It's more than the other kits because of the cashmere in case you wer
e wondering. You'll also find some of my faves from TWF spun up in these kits, such as Black Hollyhocks, and October Fields, a combo of one ply October Celebration and one ply Fields After Frost.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Sheep Apps

Nothing makes Sandy Sitzman, alias Twisted Mom, chuckle quicker than an animated sheep. There is something so silly about them that she can't help herself. The first chuckle is very quiet, followed by another and another. Soon (it must be the sound of her own laughter) chuckles built upon chuckles and she becomes infectious to herself and others. It was with the memory of her in full roll that I bought my first sheep app; Sheep Launcher. With a tap of the screen I sent my ruminant skyward to strains of Johann Strauss (the holiday version plays the Alleluia chorus) and the memory of Sandy gasping for breath. I held the animal aloft with successive taps, higher and higher, into the stratosphere, the troposphere, and finally into outer space. When I failed to tap the sheep accurately, it plummeted earthward with a long wailing scream. I wished I could have handed the phone to Sandy so she could have launched her own sheep skyward (that is if she could have stopped laughing), but we've been on opposite sides of the country since I got the thing.

This morning as I was syncing my phone to upload recent photos of Monk, etc, I discovered to my delight that there is a new sheep app; Sheep Stacker. It was on my phone with the tap of the free button and soon I was stacking sheep. You tap the sheep as it swings pendulously from a swinging suction cup and it lands on the stack of ruminants below. If you stack perfectly, you get a nickel. If you miss, you knock sheep off your stack and they bleat so sadly as they tumble. I'm going to have to hide this one from myself, as it is very addicting, and doesn't make me quite as dizzy as Sheep Launcher. I stacked all my sheep on the free version...may have to get the full-on app soon. Sandy, you need this. Life will never be the same again.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


Yesterday's craft fair turned out great. Lots of people, beautiful booth. I had the corner spot in the front room with all the natural light. It was heavenly.

At this point I'll have to back up a little. SACA holds three craft fairs a year in this venue which is across the street from my house. It's really across the street, up a wide lawn and behind a large three storey stone dormitory. In the past when I've been a shopper at these fairs I've brought Monk along, as Sewanee is very dog friendly. So Monk knows about the fair, whether it's indoors or out, and at times when I've taken him home, he has returned on his own to look for me. Last fall when I had a booth outside, James brought him over to visit and left him behind. Within minutes Monk started guarding the booth!!! Agh! Aussies will be aussies. So I took him home. He got out and came back three times.

So yesterday I was very careful not to let him know I even had a booth. He saw me packing and carrying things to the car, but I never took him over. James stayed home with him in the morning and I thought I was in the clear.

Around 10:30 when the hall was jammed with people and there were about 4 people in my booth, I heard a single booming call that could only be one thing. Monk. "BOOOOOO!" he howled. Everyone rubbernecked, but none faster than I. Standing inside the doorway was a spotted dog who, if he could have put his hands on his hips, would have done so. His head was high, scanning the crowd. He had come for me, and seeing a sea of people, he had called me with a single broadcast, one meant for the back 40, not a rather small foyer. When he saw me he was all wiggles and smiles. He had everyone's attention and they were saying, "what kind of dog is that?", "I used to have an aussie, but he was a different color," and "oh, let him stay!!!". Little did they know what that would lead to. I led him to the booth and showed him where I was set up. He smiled and greeted, accepted butt scratches and pets, all sweet and light. But I knew that in 5 minutes time he would have called my corner his own, so back home he went at my heels, probably thinking he was returning me to the fold. I just wish I had had the presence of mind to grab my phone and take a picture of him standing in that doorway.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


Yep, today's the day for the Sewanee Arts and Crafts Holiday Fair in Cravens Hall on Kentucky Ave, Sewanee, TN from 9-4 today. The booth is beautiful! You'll find all kinds of gorgeous handspun yarns, handdyed sock yarns (both natural dyes and brilliant colors), spinning fiber and more. Check out the gift kits for the Star Flower Neckwarmer at left. Enough yarn for a neckwarmer and cuffs with pattern included. In fact, Star Flower Neckwarmer and Cuffs patterns are included free with any $20 yarn purchase. See you there!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Underwater Treadmill

Finally took pics of Monk in the underwater treadmill. Just look at the little champion. This amazing contraption has helped so many dogs regain and maintain mobility. With the water level at hip level, 60% of the weight of impact is removed. Coupled with the fact that the muscles work harder against water the dog is able to really work out without the jarring impact of landing. I've been taking Monk for therapy for several winters, relying on our warm watered lakes for his exercise in the summertime. As long as Monk stays strong, he'll be able to be an active dog in spite of advanced arthritis with elbow and hip dysplasia. Aussies like Monk don't know the meaning of retirement, even if they can't do backflips anymore. This year I've been taking him to see Cassy Englert for added benefits of laser therapy and PT before and after his treadmill session. Just today Monk was able to flex his elbows to 70 degrees for the first time in a long time, and he can now extend his front legs nearly straight. When we started back into therapy about 3 weeks ago, he had so much swelling in those elbows and they were nearly frozen at a 90 degree angle. Now all the fluid pockets have disappeared and his elbows are much smaller and more mobile. We are so amazingly fortunate that this great therapy is available in Chattanooga, and that there are wonderful, dog loving therapists like Cassy to keep the canine member of our family happy and mobile.

Friday, November 13, 2009


My little band of spinners and I have been madly spinning for the Sewanee Arts and Crafts’ Holiday Crafts Fair next weekend. I was offered a booth due to a last minute cancellation and I grabbed the opportunity. We’ll have lots of beautiful new handspun yarns with loads of pattern support, kits with patterns included, some beautiful fiber for spinners, naturally dyed sock yarns, and handwoven and handknitted pieces. The booth will be in the front room with loads of lovely natural light so you can see all the colors. Fun will be had by all. It’s Saturday, November 21 at Cravens Hall on Kentucky Avenue on the campus of the University of the South at Sewanee, TN. I believe hours are 9-5 CST. The sampling of yarn here is my own handspun to be offered as a Justify Kit. Below is a view of a recent hybrid I knit of Justify. Yarn is spun by Daria Bocciarelli, one of the spinners in the LV ltd fold. I taught Daria to spin a year ago. I was going to sell this yarn she spun, but couldn't let it go, so I knitted it up and yep, I can't let this Justify go either. It's mine....all mine...booooaaahhh.

As I’ve been spinning for this show, memories of my mentor’s teachings have been flashing forth and I’ve been reveling in gratitude for their generous guidance over the years. What a cavalcade it has been too. There’s my Yoda, Sandy Sitzman, lover of all things fibery, former owner of Woolgatherings (now being carried on by daughter-in-law Kate Sitzman with a newly opened shop on Etsy) who is most responsible for enabling me along these lines. As I finally come into my own with long draw en point, memories of my first spinning class with Luisa Gelenter of La Lana Wools sparkle through the old brain pan. Since then I’ve been supported by generous mentorings from Rachel Brown, Kathryn Alexander, Judith McKenzie McCuin, Carol Huebscher Rhoades, Mary Spanos, and, last but most, Rita Buchanan. Last summer, Rita sat me down at her Schacht Matchless with a piece of cotton roving and had me spinning gorgeous-soft-bulky-lofty-cotton yarn in a matter of minutes. Every time I visit Rita she gives me one of these mini lessons and every time whole worlds open at my feet. But what really excites me is when I see the skills I’ve learned reflected in the work of my own students and I realize that they in turn teach me volumes in so many ways. What got me walking down this path of gratitude? Just the other day a woman who came to my beginning spinning class at Rhinebeck last year wrote to tell me she had taken Kathryn’s class this year on my recommendation and that Kathryn loved her spinning enough to want to knit with her yarn. Such a full circle…Kathryn (and Rita, Sandy, Luisa, Judith, etc) taught me the skills I passed to Sandra who took them back to show Kathryn, learn from her and hopefully pass them further down the line. Those of you who have been in my classes (especially Harrisville last summer) can see me getting all verklempt. Talk amongst yourselves and pass the tissues.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Ridin' the Incline

Recently we've been spending a lot of time in Chattanooga. With the advent of cooler weather it's back to the underwater treadmill at RIVER for Monk (he's the aussie with the frisbee on my Ravelry Avatar). And this year they are starting a new laser treatment for dogs, still in the experimental stages, in which light is used like ultrasound to increase circulation in deep tissue. Since we started treatment a couple weeks ago, Monk has gained at least a 25% increase in mobility in his elbow joints. Today he was able to bend to what looked like a 75 degree angle (he hasn't been able to flex much past 90 degrees in some time). This seems nothing short of miraculous. Monk can walk farther and faster in more comfort that before.

So after therapy, we decided to do the touristy thing and ride the Incline Railway up Lookout Mountain. It's a little pair of cable cars that climb straight up the side of the bluff from St. Elmo below. As you can see in the photo on the left, it's a steep climb. The photo on the right shows the view from the top.

Here's DH James inside the Incline car with a precipitous drop behind him. The cars were almost empty today, so we had great views. I love looking into peoples back yards on the way up, wondering what it must be like to live beside this crazy railroad. The car backs up the mountain so you can see the view as you ascend, then cinches itself against the depot building at the top of the mountain, wedged between two beautiful homes with breathtaking views and you can see right into their back yards. As an added bonus, there was a red fox in one of the yards, hunting for grubs with a million dollar view. Lucky fox. She was finding plenty to eat today too.
Of course no self respecting tourist attraction is complete without a souvenir shop. Check out these mind bending Incline mugs.