Sunday, May 22, 2005

What Spinning Teaches Me About Knitting, pt. 1

I spin seldom, and very badly, but I enjoy it. I hadn't touched my wheel (Ashford Traditional, if you care) in more than a year, but the urge overcame me a few weeks ago--probably in anticipation of the Sheep and Wool Festival, where I knew I'd see bales and bales of enticing spinning fiber, and feel terribly guilty about not having touched any of the fiber I bought last year. (Sound familiar? Spinning and knitting have a lot in common.)

This is going to be a story about my enormous sense of achievement over something very small, so it might help to know at this point that I learned how to spin in about 1993 and have never knit anything with yarn I've spun. I've tried, a couple times, but the results were always so dismal that I put the stuff aside and tried to forget about it.

So on this Thursday before the Festival, the weather report predicted unseasonably cool temperatures for the weekend, and suddenly I wanted a pair of gauntlets. Here's something knitting has taught me about myself: 80% of my sense of temperature well-being is concentrated in the area between the base of my thumb and some point midway to my elbow. The first 10 patterns I saw for gauntlets and armwarmers and fingerless gloves looked completely pointless to me, but then I knit a pair for the shop, and in the course of trying them on while knitting them, I discovered that they are a gift from heaven.

And I thought, I should get my wheel untangled (moving van, don't ask) and spin some yarn and knit myself some gauntlets. (Suzanne was out of town, so the only voice I heard saying, "Are you nuts? This is going to take way too long and just frustrate you plenty" was the one in my head.)

In the fiber closet, I found a bag with a little roving in it. (Actually maybe more like 8 bags, each with little bits of roving. Knowing that I never do anything with my handspun, I don't buy large quantities of fiber at a time.) It was unlabeled, but felt like about 3 ounces or so, and looked like wool. (What does 3 ounces feel like? More than a 50-gram skein, less than a 100-gram skein.) And I thought: I don't need much; those Virtue gauntlets take only 1 skein, which is 76 yards, and I figure I want a thicker yarn than that anyway, which should mean that I need even fewer yards. Or, to put it a different way, if I had a 50-gram skein of yarn, I would think I had enough for gauntlets; so if I have at least 50 grams of wool, I ought to be able to make enough yarn for gauntlets.

Getting the wheel back in order was easy (the Ashford Trad is notoriously indestructible). What turned out to be the hardest part of the whole process was threading the leader through the orifice. If you don't spin, you don't need to know what that means; there's a little hook you use, like a needle-threader, and mine was lost. So I spent quite a few minutes unbending paperclips in various directions.

Spinning was easy: all I had to do was concentrate on not caring that it was uneven, concentrate on hurrying. I guessed where the midpoint of the roving was and broke it, so I could spin two roughly equal bobbins that I could later ply together. Good spinners, serious spinners, would have weighed the roving so they knew it was divided evenly. But I was a spinner in a hurry, and one without a scale. When I'm knitting, I weigh and measure and count. This was not the moment for that.

This all started around 8 pm. By 11, I had my singles spun and plied. I wound the yarn off onto a niddy-noddy. Here, I admit, I did a little counting: I kept track of how many times around the niddy-noddy the yarn went. But I resisted the urge to measure the path it was taking, and guessed instead that each pass was about 4 feet. It seemed likely that I had about 65 yards.

I washed the yarn in the sink and squeezed it hard in a towel so it would dry faster, then flung it over the shower curtain rod.

The next morning, it was almost dry. I took it to work, wound it into a ball, and swatched a 2x2 rib on #7 needles. It worked! I mean, I wasn't looking for any particular gauge, and the #7s gave me a fabric that (on the one hand) didn't have holes and (on the other hand) wasn't so dense it would stand up by itself.

O.k., I'll admit that it got harder to control the obsessive tendencies once I was in the shop: while I was winding the yarn into a ball, I took advantage of knowing how many strands there were in the hank (from counting onto the niddy-noddy) to place a marker at the halfway point. But there's a lesson in that: as a spinner, I'm never sure how much yarn I have, and I'm always worried that it's not enough. If you're in that position when you're knitting, you can do these things too: count how many "loops" there are in your skein. Then tie something bright to one spoke of your swift, and count how many times that trinket goes around while you're winding. When you get to half the total number of loops, that's half your skein; tie a piece of yarn to your yarn, and wind the rest. (If you're not using a swift, count how many times you pull the winding yarn past your right knee, or the left post of the chairback, or whatever.)

Next, the knitting. Start at the top, where the fingers are, so that you can stop whenever you have to. That also makes it easier to try on as you go. For these, I bound off when they felt long enough, even though I hadn't gotten to my halfway marker--hooray! Now I was reasonably sure I had enough yarn to complete the project.

I finished the second gauntlet on the bus the next morning, somewhere in Delaware. Here they are, with the few yards of leftover yarn.

And here's the pattern:

Down-and-Dirty Gauntlets

Size: Women's small, but they're stretchy
Materials: About 65 yards of worsted-weight yarn
dpn, US #7 or size to obtain gauge
Gauge: about 4 sts = 1" over 2x2 rib, slightly stretched

Cast on 28 sts. Join into a round and work in k2,p2 rib for 5 rounds. Make thumbhole: Work rib over first 14 sts, bind off 2 sts, rib to end. Next round: rib to gap, cast on 4 sts, rib to end. (30 sts) Next round: (k2,p2) 3 times, k2, work p1-k2-p1 over cast-on sts, rib to end. Next 4 rounds: work sts as they appear. End thumb gusset: (k2,p2) 3 times, k2, p2tog twice, rib to end. (28 sts) Continue in rib as established until piece measures 6.5" from cast-on edge. Bind off.

Make second gauntlet the same as the first. Weave in ends. Don't bother blocking; just throw 'em on and go pet the sheep.

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