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    Spinning - Tour de fleece 2014

    I love the look on people's faces when they find out I spin actual wool on an actual spinning wheel. Reactions tend to vary from 'OMG really? I didn't know people still did that. Is it hard?' to 'Isn't that for witches?'

    Luckily, I find most of the incredulous reactions pretty funny. It's really not that long ago that almost every house would have had spindles or a wheel in it. We have become so distanced from traditional production methods - much like most of us buy anonymous chunks of meat from the supermarket rather than rearing the animals ourselves or having to pluck chickens we have bought.

    Spinning has become possibly my favourite craft. It's a sensory feast - the tactile feedback from the fibre, feeling the twist run, turning loose fibres into a strong yarn. Watching the colours blend or stripe and how they sit next to each other on the bobbins. The rythmic movement of feet and hands and the gentle sound of the wheel spinning around. It's almost hypnotic, defintely the closest I get to meditation. Happily my Bliss is so quiet she lives in the living room, like a functional sculpture. My old Dryad wheel I bought on eBay was much too noisy to use & watch TV!

    Every year, as the Tour de France unfolds there is a parallel event for spinners. The Tour de fleece encourages you to spin every day throughout 'le tour' (rest days excepted). I haven't ever watched the TdF before last year & spinning while watching the daily round up got me quite hooked! I didn't manage quite as much spinning as I did last year - I had new workshops to prepare which takes me ages - but you can see I did quite a bit.

    I knew I wanted to challenge myself to spin singles yarn. Normally when you spin you put in more twist than you need as you spin the fibre in the opposite direction when you ply 2 or more strands together. For a yarn that you are not going to ply, you need to put enough twist to hold the fibres together (the twist acts as a kind of glue) but nott enough to make an unbalanced, twisty yarn that will bias when you knit it. It's quite the balancing act! I was really pleased with the singles I spun - they are the first ones i've been happy with. The fibre was from Porpoise Fur - I love Rachel's colours & she's lovely to buy from. The colourway is Roses, and the fibre is Falkland.

    As you can see there are a few skinny bits that got away from me, but they can be skipped over in knitting. I have over 800m from just over 200g - and the yarn should gently stripe. 

    The other 2 fibres I spun ended up being chain plyed as it gave the colour treatment I wanted. The first is another Porpoise Fur fibre in the 'Death to MRSA' colourway in Cheviot (bottom in the picture below). The colour is mostly blue/black with a little purple & a couple of intense spots of lime green. I wanted to keep the green as pure as I could rather than muddying it with the darker colours, so that led to chain plying. I split the fibre lengthwise into 8 approx equal widths so that I would get regular smaller hits of lime green. To chain ply you only need to spin one length of yarn which you then ply back on itself in what is basically a crochet chain, making a 3 ply yarn. I think it's one of the easiest ways to ply - although lots of people would disagree. This will make a great pair of socks.

     The last spinning I did for the Tdf was the Dark Rainbow from Hilltop Cloud that I bought at Unravel. I tried a couple of things with this fibre, but it tended to fall apart in a 2 ply unless I added a huge amount of twist - and it really calls out for chain plying anyway so that's what I did. I plan to use this in a fairisle hat - the stripes are quite long so they should give a great effect in a hat. It's really  squishy and has a tweedy effect within the colours that was really enhanced by chain plying.

    The other mini skeins in the pictures are some experiments with some gorgeous alpaca fleece I was given. These are spun direct from fleece without any sorting or pre-treatment. I'm also going to try making rolags on my blending board before I make a decision on how to spin it, but the chunkier 2 ply (the natural black) is unbelievably soft. 

    So in all I spun nearly 1200m over the duration of the race. I'm pretty impressed with that actually! Definitely very happymaking :)


    New patterns - Knit Now 36

    both photos ©Dan Walmsley for Practical Publishing

    I haven't really told you about my patterns yet. I talked about the Cumulus wrap in my last post and linked to the Fyberspates blog, but I haven't told you about the Cool for Cats Hat. I love it!

    The yarn used was Blacker yarns Swan Falkland dk, which I had heard about but not really used before. Its gorgeous! It looked a bit uninspiring in the ball, but has brilliant stitch definition and is both sringy and soft. It would make a gorgeous jumper. It really worked well for this hat. I was asked to knit the hat flat & seamed, which is not my normal thing, but I lots & lots of people are not comfortable knitting in the round. Knit Now is unusual in the UK as a lot of their patterns are worked in the round, including the garments and Kate (the editor) wanted to make sure that flat knitters weren't being left out.

    The stitch pattern I used for the hat is one of my favourites - it's quick & easy to do and gives an interesting textured pattern that looks more complicated than it is. It's a good unisex pattern. While this style of hat is more often seen on children it also looks really cute on adults. I think you need a fairly round head though - I think it looked a little better on me than on the model in the magazine & I have a quite round head! The pattern also gave me a chance to use my favourite mattress stitch seam, and the magazine has included a tutorial beneath the pattern which is a new thing for them & is great.

    The Cumulus wrap will be a really useful year round wrap. When Jen at Fyberspates asked me to talk a little more about the design for her blog, this is what I said:


    I had the design in mind before we found the yarn. I liked the idea of using intarsia, (a technique often associated with difficult, complex knitting), for a very simple, graphic design. The stripes evolve from a few starting stitches and give lots of opportunity to play with colour effects. The yarn & the colour was always going to be key to how the design worked out. When Kate (editor, Knit Now mag) suggested Cumulus, I loved the idea. I'd seen the yarn at Unravel, and thought that using a yarn that people would possibly associate with complex lace shawls in a pared down graphic design would be interesting. The colours chosen felt quite grown up & strong, which went well with the simple stripes. 
    The finished wrap is feather light & warm. Optional beaded tassels help to weight the ends to make it as easy to wear as a cardigan. Large enough to wear as a wrap on summer holiday evening walks by the sea - or to be a luxury long warm scarf in winter, the alpaca blend yarn makes this design a year round knit.


    I have some crochet socks out really soon, and I'm looking forward to telling you about them :)



    Checking in

    I'm still here.

    I know I haven't posted for ages. June was crazy busy with workshops & family stuff, and I'm hoping July will calm down a little. I'm feeling a need to hunker down & be a little more private than I normally do, so I'm just following that instinct at the moment. I do have patterns in the current copy of Knit Now Magazine that I need to tell you about - you can read about one of them over at the Fyberspates blog.

    I was at Nibley music festival with my family this weekend - it's our local music festival and I have done a shift in the craft tent for the last few years. My phone was low on battery, so I only took a few photos, but it really does have to be one of the prettiest festivals around - the photo above was taken a little before 10pm, this is the same view earlier in the day

    The day time line up was all bands that I had never heard of, but were brilliant. I especially liked The Milk & Missing Andy. The headliners were The Heavy - I'd heard of them & knew a couple of their songs, but there were definitely some mad fans there that knew every single word. They knew how to work a crowd, and the front man was amazingly energetic. We saw The Beat (known in the US as The English Beat) at Nibley Festival a few years ago, and I didn't think anyone could come close to Ranking Rogers for sheer energy, but Kelvin Swaby was equally fabulous.

    I think the crowd enjoyed it

    I'll be back soon to tell you about patterns, spinning (Tour de fleece spinning right now - I like to challenge myself every now & then!) and what I'm making for myself. xxx



    Swatching for jumpers in the round & Alafoss discount

    Do you remember my post about the Icelandic jumper kit I bought? Thought I would post a wee reminder that the 15% discount voucher for Alafoss runs out on June 1st. So if you want to buy some Icelandic yarn or one of their fantastic value kits - now is the time to do it!! Enter the code 'Happymaking' at the checkout to get your discount.

    I did a first rough swatch for the jumper a little while back & thought I'd share how I did it. As the wool & the pattern writer are both new to me, I wanted to try some different types & sizes of needle to see what would be closest to the given tension.

    The jumper is worked in the round from the bottom up. This poses a challenge for checking tension (gauge). Most people will find that there is a difference in their tension between stocking stitch worked flat & in the round. The purl row tends to be a slightly different height than the knit row. Luckily there is an easy way to work a swatch on the circular needles you want to use without having to cast on a sweater's worth of stitches, or having to play around with magic loop. 

    This swatching method needs circular needles (any length) or double pointed needles

    Cast on at least 4 sts more than the tension given. Knit 1 row. DO NOT TURN.

    Slide the sts along to the other end of the circ needle. Bring the yarn loosely around the back of the knitting.

    Knit the next row, starting at the same side that you started at on the first row.

    Repeat. After a few rows your swatch should look like this: 

    You have loose loops behind your swatch. 

    I tried wood & metal needles in a couple of different sizes and got the right tension with wood knit pros. This was right before soaking. Everything can change when you soak your swatch!

    When your swatch is big enough (this one isn't, I was just playing around with different needles), cast off. You should always wash/steam your swatch. Treat it as you would the finished item. The change in tension can be quite dramatic.

    Before (or after if you are using silk/bamboo/something really slippy), cut through the strands of yarn. Cut in the middle of their length, and don't panic. It won't unravel!. 

    Wash and lay flat to dry. I pinned my swatch because I put it outside on a windy day. 

    The purl bumps on the right hand side tell me where I changed needle & what I changed to. 

    The part of the swatch that hit 18 sts to 4" before washing? It now gets a little bit under 17sts to 4". That translates to a 3" increase on a L size jumper, taking it from 42" to 45". Lucky I didn't cast straight on!! However, I now know that I hit tension with the 4.5mm Chiagoo metal needle, which seemed too tight before washing.

    I know swatching can seem like a waste of time & yarn. But when you are putting the time & effort into making a jumper, it can be heartbreaking when it comes out a different size to the one you intended. Or if it comes out perfect and then grows the second you wash it! So learning to swatch in the round for a jumper knit in the round is actually a timesaver!

    Is this how you swatch for jumpers in the round? Let me know if you do it differently xx



    PDA Awareness day

    I just found out it's PDA Awareness day today. No, I didn't know it had a day either. Yes, lots of these things sound like made up syndromes, and this one certainly sounds pretty unlikely. It stands for Pathological Demand Avoidance, and it's something that is very much at the front of my mind at the moment as I am talking to colleges about post-16 education.

    This is the real biggie for Matt at the moment. Trying to make people understand just how different the behavious management of a child with PDA is from the typical management of autistic spectrum. Typically, for kid on the autistic spectrum, clear direct communication is key. 'Matthew, do this'. Before we got to understand Matt's complex little world, we were pretty confused as to why this simple advice tended to cause more problems that we had to begin with. Sometimes it's fine. A direct instruction will be taken as such & there are no problems. Other times, no matter how innocuous the instruction, it would seem to be the last straw and could provoke an autistic meltdown. We were also aware that our diagnosed autistic son has a very high ability to manipulate people that seemed out of whack. PDA is the bit making education so hard at the moment. Even normal 'demands' seem too stressfull for him & he will take far longer trying to argue his way out of, or avoid doing, whatever he has been asked to do than the thing would have taken to do. It doesn't even need to be something hard. Just the fact that he is asked to do a specific thing is enough. Can you imagine trying to teach without making direct demands? It's not easy!

    The PDA Society have a useful comparison between PDA & Aspergers/autism. I've added in my comments!

    "Children with PDA are LESS likely: 

    • to have caused anxiety to parents before 18 months of age   True
    • to show stereotypical motor mannerisms Mostly true
    • to show (or have shown) echolalia or pronoun reversal True
    • to show speech anomalies in terms of pragmatics True
    • to show (or have shown) tiptoe walking True
    • to show compulsive adherence to routines Mostly true, esp with regard to time

    Children with PDA are MORE likely:

    • to resist demands obsessively (100%) OMG YES!!
    • to be socially manipulative (100% by age five) Oh yeah
    • to show normal eye contact Not so much
    • to show excessive lability of mood and impulsivity Yes
    • to show social mimicry (includes gestures and personal style) A bit
    • to show role play (more extended and complete than mimicry) Not really
    • to show other types of symbolic play Not sure what this is
    • to be female (50%) Um, no

    The above data is taken from Pathological Demand Avoidance syndrome: Discriminant Functions analysis demonstrating its essential differences from autism and Asperger's syndrome: Elizabeth Newson and Kathryn le Marechal, Early Years Diagnostic Centre and University of Nottingham, England. Paper available from NORSACA."

    I've included more info from that page below in case you want to know more. It's surprising how few people know about PDA, including those who work in education. From my point of view, the more people who realise it's not a joke, the better!! Perhaps a different name would help. Although it 'does what it says on the tin'! But now you know - it's a real thing with real behaviour management challenges, and it certainly helps to keep our life interesting. Especially now Matt is considerably bigger than me, so I can't just pick him up & strap him into a car seat anymore when he refuses to leave the house! Our household negotiation skills are as finely honed as any embassy!



    Text from Bracketed comments in bold are mine.

    "People with PDA can become obsessive about particular individuals or relationships. They tend to show a high level of impulsivity, excitability and sometimes violent behaviour, often associated with these obsessive interests, and occasionally involving harassment of another child or adult. Their obsessive interests are qualitatively different from those seen in autism / Asperger's. (Yep!)

    Like all children with a pervasive developmental disorder, people with PDA will have certain communication problems, although these may be masked by their superficially high social skills of distraction and avoidance, thus the underlying deficits can be quite easily overlooked. Semantic pragmatic language (the social use of language, including body language) may also be affected, but not to the degree found in autism and Asperger syndrome. Bizarre content of language is more common than in autism, sometimes due to interest in fantasy. ( Yep!)

    Individuals with PDA tend to have over-active imagination as opposed to under-active (that's one way to describe it!), and this clearly sets them apart from Wing's description of the autistic Triad of Impairments. Individuals with PDA quite often become confused as to the boundaries of reality and imagination (as they also do with other boundaries). They may submerge themselves into characters that they have modelled themselves on, either from TV or from real life, and sometimes they can seem to have lost touch with their 'real' selves. Many children with PDA take on the role of their teacher in great detail, and will tell other children what to do (much to their annoyance!) Keeping the tolerance and sympathy of other children in the classroom can be a difficult task for teachers who are trying to meet the needs of a child with PDA.

    Most of the characteristics mentioned tend to persist in various forms into adult life, but research in this area is not extensive at present."