Category: books

Crafty Reads: Spinner’s Book of Yarn Designs

I am not the cook in my household. It feels like there are so many steps between the raw ingredient and the finished dish, so many places to make a mistake and not be able to make what you want. That’s also how I felt about spinning when I first started. From fiber prep to color handling to drafting style I had to make so many choices. I did not understand the ways I was limiting my outcomes each step of the way, only that I was doing so. The Spinner’s Book of Yarn Designs by Sarah Anderson is like a cookbook for handspinning, complete with reference (recipe) cards to refer to while you go.

The first chapter covers spinning basics like woolen vs worsted, z- vs s-twist, etc. The second describes spinning singles and different ways to ply then. Once these principles are spelled out, the book gets to the fun part – a menu of different yarns and how to create them.

Each yarn has a name, description, and pictures of each component of the recipe – each single through each plying step. There are also photos of the finished yarn. Often there are multiple examples and swatches. The yarns are split into types, each described in a chapter that also covers the general characteristics of the yarns.

One of my favorite sidebars in the book is a running inquiry into different kinds of sock yarns. The author spun sock yarns of many different kinds and tested them head to head in matching hand knit socks. She even alternated which feet she wore them to make sure she was testing the yarns and not the peculiarities of her feet.

Most of the yarns are unsuitable for the kinds of items I like to knit, so this book is staying on my shelf as eye candy. Nearly all of the samples are done in white, making it easy to compare the yarn types without being distracted by color. If I ever get into art weaving this book will be the first place I go to plan my yarns!

Crafty Reads: The Colette Guide to Sewing Knits

I have never understood why knits have a reputation for being hard to work with. Maybe it’s because my first garment sewing was with knits, maybe because as a hand knitter I am intimately familiar with the characteristics of knit fabric, but I have always felt like the rumors are undeserved. This month’s crafty read is The Colette Guide to Sewing Knits by Alyson Clair, an incredibly informative book that makes knits seem just as accessible as I have always found them.

Reading the introduction made me want to throw out my woven stash. My wardrobe is overwhelmingly made up of knits, and Clair made me feel so inspired with ideas to play with. The first few chapters focus on the materials of sewing with knits – different kinds of knit fabrics, appropriate needles and thread, trims and notions. One neat concept she introduced that I hadn’t seen in those terms is mechanical stretch vs yarn stretch. Mechanical stretch comes from the structure of knit fabric, while yarn stretch comes from the yarn itself being stretchy. 

The next section of the book is about machines used in sewing knits. Of course she describes sergers and cover stitch machines, but she also gives great tips on sewing knits with a regular sewing machine. I understand my serger on a whole new level after reading that chapter, and really really want a coverstitch machine! The part I know I will refer back to is a great chart with suggested stitch widths and lengths for different stitch types on a sewing machine. I have been inspecting seams on my ready-to-wear a lot more since reading this section.

The final section is techniques – for laying and cutting, for fitting, and for stitching and finishing. I had never thought of adjusting knits much beyond taking in and letting out seams, but she has great instructions on how to alter for fit at the bust, waist, hip, and shoulder. I definitely want to try the shoulder adjustment on my next Ebony Dress, as my last one sits just a little off my shoulder point. I really appreciated the focus on finishes, including how to apply different types of elastic. It looks so fancy that I had assumed it was complicated, but now I feel ready to tackle some stretch lace!

Overall this was just a fun, inspiring read. Clair has so much excitement for sewing with knits, and so much experience to share. Throughout the book she pointed out techniques that are trickier at home than with commercial machines, which is nice as I know comparing our work to ready to wear is common among sewists. Let me know below how you feel about sewing with knits – do you find it scary or exciting? If you want to read along with me next month, I’ll be tackling The Spinner’s Book of Yarn Designs by Sarah Anderson.

Crafty Reads: Norah Gaughan’s Knitted Cable Sourcebook

I can tell you up front that I am not going to be able to do justice to this month’s crafty read, Norah Gaughan’s Knitted Cable Sourcebook. So I’m going to transcribe the notes I took while reading this book, to portray the way it blew my mind.

Chapter 1 – Essentials

The explanations for her own cable terminology are great. How useful to have a language to refer to types and parts of cables. Whoa her cable symbols are genius – they communicate so much information. Looking at her charts really helps you see the cable in fabric. A stockinette stitch equivalent: how many stockinette stitches are the same width as this cable. Well this is such a handy concept and I am going to use this cable reference for that detail alone. So helpful in subbing out cables.

Chapter 2 – Basics

I’m sorry, these are your basic cables, Norah? I am about to get schooled here. The grouping of the cables into related families is so helpful in seeing the the effect of simple changes. Adding a single purl stitch or a twist can alter the character of a cable.

Chapter 3 – Adding Breadth

I am definitely only understanding this on a surface level. That’s fine. It will take several re-reads and some swatching of my own to really understand these principles at work. It’s no hardship to imagine devoting time to this again.

Chapter 4 – Expanding

Sometimes I turn the page and see a new cable so astounding that I make a little sound. This is so clearly the result of a lifetime’s work. I may never understand this like Norah does, my brain just may not work that way.

Chapter 5 – Finding Motifs

No joke, this could be the textbook for an entire semester-long course. Cables in Theory and Practice. The patterns she designed each have their own interesting details, but are backdrops for you to play with cables. They make me feel 😍

Chapter 6 – Drawing

I feel like she is Prometheus and has just brought down fire from the Gods.

And that’s it! I highly recommend you check out this book yourself, it is so dense with beauty and information. Next month I’ll be reading The Colette Guide to Sewing Knits if you want to join me.

Crafty Reads: How to Speak Fluent Sewing

As a self-taught sewist, I know I have gaps in my knowledge. I can muddle along, figure out unfamiliar terms when I come across them, but I often wish I had a stronger foundation. So, when I saw the book How to Speak Fluent Sewing by Christine Haynes, I thought it would be just the background I am missing.

How to Speak Fluent Sewing is a reference book – there are no anecdotes or patterns – separated into sections to define 300 sewing tools, techniques, and terms. Each item has an illustration, definition, and explanation. It starts with the tools section, which added a ton of notions to my wish list. Coming from knitting, it feels like sewing has a lot of extra tools, so I really appreciated the the explanations in this section for what different tools are used for.

The other highlights for me were the fabric terms and the embellishments. I am still trying to understand different substrates and the illustrations and explanations of different weave structures and their properties are excellent. The embellishments section is a place I know I will return when looking for inspiration, it has wonderful examples of techniques to add to your work.

Sewing is a giant world and the book could easily have been twice as long, but the selection of terms seemed pretty good. The section on garment details is focused on a few areas – sleeves, collars – and leaves more distinctions to other reference books.

I have several new sewing patterns on deck, and I am glad to have How to Speak Fluent Sewing in my library to refer to as I work on them. Do you have any helpful reference books in your library? For next month I am going to be reading Norah Gaughan’s Knitted Cable Sourcebook if you want to join me. Please let me know if you do!

Crafty Reads: Yarnitecture

Some crafty books are filled with information you want to file away for later, knowing that your next project will be improved by your new knowledge. And some crafty books make you want to immediately pick up your tools and put what you have learned to practice right away. Yarnitecture by Jillian Moreno is one of the latter kinds, making me wish I could lock myself in a room with the book, a spinning wheel, and a pile of fiber.

The concept of Yarnitecture is comparing designing a yarn to designing a house. The blueprint is your yarn vision, the foundation is the fiber type, and the frame is the fiber prep. Then you start spinning and the walls are your drafting method, and the roof is your plying method. The paint is your approach to color and the front door is the finishing. Knitting with the yarn she calls the landscaping. The book closes with a section called housekeeping with 12 knitting patterns (with a few crochet and embroidery accents) with guidelines for the sort of yarn to spin for them.

I’ll admit that I went through the first few chapters wondering what I would take away from this book. I’ve read half a dozen descriptions on fiber type this year. I know about fiber prep and drafting. And then I hit the part where she measured the twist lost in the singles by plying – nearly 30%. What? Whoa. I didn’t know that. And the samples showing the difference between a yarn with 2 plies of the same fiber blend and a yarn with 2 plies of different fibers. Holy crow I want to try that. I am even the owner of the same colorway on 2 fiber types, so that is definitely my next spin. This book does a wonderful job of breaking down how to be deliberate about each step of yarn creation.

The chapter that most blew my mind was on color handling. I knew lots of ways to split up my fiber to play with color, but it had never occurred to me how drafting style or yarn width of number of plies change the effect of color in the yarn. It reminded me of how much I enjoyed my color blending experiment earlier in the year. As I mentioned then, I like blending colors but don’t enjoy carding. Jillian’s idea of drafting 2 different colors together is incredibly intriguing.

As much as I talk about the fact that I don’t plan my yarns, I do enjoy keeping track of measurements of my yarn. It makes me feel like I know the yarn and frankly I just like numbers. I will definitely be adding twists per inch to my statistics. One of the things I enjoyed seeing Jillian address is that what makes a beautiful skein of yarn is not what makes the best yarn to knit with.

I walked away from this book not only with a list of new techniques to try and numbers to ponder, but with a renewed reverence for spinning. As a creator of yarn and cloth I am part of a thousands year old tradition, yet one where there is still room for experimentation and play. In the section on finishing there is a picture of a swatch knit from weighted yarn before and after washing. The post-washing swatch is gnarled and alive with the twist energy from the yarn. When we make yarn we are pouring our energy into it and trapping it there forever. Jillian repeatedly highlighted how alive handspun feels compared to commercial yarns, and her explanation about machines keeping the yarn under tension is a good one, but I also think we can feel the energy transferred from a pair of human hands into the yarn.

That wraps up this year’s crafty reads! I’m still making my schedule for next year, I’ll announce it here when I have it. Let me know if you have books you want to hear about!

Crafty Reads: On The Loom

I want to be a weaver. I can’t complete all the sewing and knitting and spinning projects I have in mind, so it’s hard to justify immersing myself in a new craft. But I am obsessed with handwoven kitchen towels and I daydream about creating yards of cloth to sew with on a floor loom. This month I decided to read On The Loom: A Modern Weaver’s Guide by Maryanne Moodie to scratch my weaving itch.

The book has a lovely introduction about how Maryanne got started with weaving – after a lifetime of interest in vintage cloth, she came across a loom at the right moment in her life to fall deeply in love. She experimented and researched and figured it out as she went. I love the fearlessness she describes in her journey. My first instinct is always to pursue perfection and I find it so inspiring to hear the process of artists who approach making differently.

The first chapter is all the how-to information you need to start weaving. From the tools involved (including how to make your own looms of various types!) to fibers to color theory to a number of weaving stitches. Everything you need to know as a beginner is there, in writing and illustrated with lovely photos.

The remaining chapters are weaving projects – for rectangular, round, and non-traditional looms. If I were to give in and start weaving, the stitch sampler and rag rug projects are where I would start. While I read the chapter on non-traditional looms I thought to myself, “This is so beautiful but not for me.” But I have noticed myself looking differently at the world around me, wondering, “Could I weave on that?” The railing on our porch seems like it would be so cozy as a weaving, and I could use up all my scrap yarn.

I don’t doubt that one day you’ll see my weaving projects on here, it’s just a matter of how long I resist. Books like On The Loom make it harder! Are there any crafts you secretly want to learn but are holding off for now? Let me know and join me next month when I read Yarnitecture.

Crafty Reads: The Rhinebeck Sweater

I didn’t want to let go of that Rhinebeck feeling, so this month’s crafty read is Ysolda Teague’s The Rhinebeck Sweater. It is a book of sweater patterns that make lovely Rhinebeck sweaters, a celebration of the festival, and an incredible look into the lives of small yarn producers.

This was actually a re-read for me. I purchased the book at Rhinebeck in 2013, right when it was released. Ysolda was staying in my Rhinebeck house and everyone else was buying one and I was swept along into joining in. That was my first Rhinebeck, and when I read back through the book this month I realized that visit and my subsequent read of this book were the start of a paradigm shift for me as a crafter. As a handspinner I was already into breed-specific yarn, but I thought I had to make it myself. I had never considered where the wool I knit came from or where it was turned into yarn or the people who did all that work.

The Rhinebeck sweater alternates introducing a sweater pattern designed specifically for the festival with a story of a yarn producer. You learn about sheep shearing on a primitive island, buying a yarn mill because you were able to keep it running, and a chemist whose runs her dyeing process like a lab bench. I loved hearing how people ended up in this industry – some have grown up in it and others only converted when a fiber animal literally bites them on the behind. I think any fiber artist could learn about a new aspect of how their materials are created through this book. The sweater patterns are a treat, each a different approach to making the perfect garment for the experience you like to have at the festival.

These stories really resonated with the discussions I have been having lately in the fiber community. Slow Fashion October had the theme this past week about known origins, buying materials that you know the provenance, and here is a whole book of them. On Twitter, Jill Draper (the subject of one of the profiles in the book) asked if she should be louder about the fact that her yarns are milled just for her and are all domestic. We spoke about the fact that I think you cannot beat that drum loudly enough. I want to buy exactly that kind of yarn, but I need to hear it over and over to remember who offers it. At this year’s Rhinebeck I was once again staying in the same house as Ysolda and we talked about what it is like for her to be a yarn producer, now that she creates her own yarn, Blend No 1.

In the introduction, Ysolda talks about how it took her a long time to warm up to Rhinebeck, and that reflects my experience as well. It can be overwhelming, and the experience is so short, that it can be years before you feel like you have done it properly. It was a lovely reminder of my journey from harried initial festival-goer to seasoned pro with a usual agenda and favorite booths to return to. Over and over the yarn producers interviewed said they love to talk to consumers about their yarns and their process. That’s a step I am only beginning to take, and a goal of mine for next year. Next month I’ll be reading Maryann Moodie’s On the Loom, and in December Yarnitecture by Jillian Moreno. I picked both of these up this year at Rhinebeck and cannot wait to read them!

Edited to add! This post was timely! Ysolda tells me the book is 20% off today, 10/31/16, on both Ravelry and her site with the code “sheepandwool”.