Thursday, 22 December 2016

Keep it Simple...

I have been thinking about simplifying my wardrobe.  I recently spent time with a friend who always looks so pulled together.  I love her long hair which she wears tucked into a bun at the nape of her neck– very chic.  She wears beautiful red lipstick and reminds me of a ballerina.  Her outfits always co-ordinate with seemingly little effort regardless of the time, day, or season.  She always looks great.  

When she casually mentioned all of her clothes are either black, white, or gray it made me realize this is why she always looks so pulled together.   She cannot go wrong with whatever she selects because everything is coordinated from a colour perspective.  I would have never guessed her strategy, but it has a stunning effect overall.

This revelation has lead me to thinking of my own clothing style.  It is all over the map.  My heart and soul are drawn to flowers, dresses, shawls, scarves…a bit of a Bohemian flair is what makes me feel pretty.  But, this style doesn’t really go down in the medical setting where I work.  For those (long) days I am in in professional garb (dress pants, blouse).  But, I love to jazz it up with a hand-knit scarf or shawl.  Those are the days I like best – sporting a pop of colour makes me happy.
After much contemplation I have decided that a basic wardrobe with a few simple pieces to act as the ‘canvas’ against which I can pair my hand-knits to is the way I want to go.  Perhaps a simple jersey-knit A-line dress (length to just below the knees) with a scoop neckline and ¾ length sleeves would be perfect. I can pair it with tights or leggings, add a colourful scarf or shawl, and swirl my way through the days. 

Now the quest begins to find the pattern for this dress and make one or two to try out my new idea.  My colour and panache will come from the hand-knits I love to make.  Plus, this little plan encourages me to continue to knit all the lovely things designed by some pretty awesome knitters.  It is a perfectly simple solution.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Practice Makes Perfect...

This phrase is certainly one I grew up with.  My mother encouraged all of my pursuits, reminding me that I must “practice to make perfect” the task at hand.

As a child, learning something new is fun and exciting.  One simply gets down to the business of learning, entering into it with full enthusiasm. Mistakes are opportunities to try once more (and since it was so much fun the first time, who wouldn’t want to try again!?).  Giving up was not an option and gaining mastery felt great.

But something happened along the way…

As an adult, there is certainly enthusiasm and desire when learning something new, but there is also the Inner Critic who is constantly looking over one’s shoulder, pointing out any little mistake or contradicting an original idea, throwing in wrenches of doubt, and shaking one’s confidence. I really don’t like that Inner Critic, but it is hard to shake such a tenacious fellow.

He is selfish and pushy – taking up more space at times than my Muse.  But, I am refusing to let him win.  In my efforts to learn this skill of spinning, I was worried that my imperfect practice might be leading me astray – setting down the wrong neural pathways which might be harder to correct if I were ever to learn a different (perhaps better) way of spinning.  

So, I asked the Collective on Ravelry if this could be the case…could one spend hours, weeks, or even months learning to spin incorrectly (even though the desired yarn produced was acceptable)? 

Several spinning mavens pointed me to an amazing site called Craftsy and suggested I take the course titled Drafting from Worsted to Woolen.  Without hesitation, I purchased my first online spinning course and was simply amazed at what I received.  

The instructor is excellent (plus, I loved her sleeve tattoos and her spunky hair cut!).  The camera shots and angles really showed the techniques well.  Her explanations made sense, she explored several ways to approach the same technique, she explained common mistakes, and generally helped base of knowledge grow 20-fold.  The content was exactly the technical mumbo jumbo I needed (craved!) to help ensure I was practicing in good form!

I was doing some things incorrectly and in some ways was making it harder for myself.  I have changed many things and it has been like going back to square one.  My spinning feels new and unfamiliar again, but that is ok. I know it will eventually become more familiar, comfortable, and perhaps someday even meditative.

I love my new class – 7 lessons in all.  I can watch them over and over, I can stop, repeat, and even annotate my lesson.  The format, lessons, and platform upon which the courses are built is amazing.  It truly is like having a private spinning instructor whom I can rely on to show me the ropes!  There is also an active online community and reading through the questions and answers associated with each lesson provides another layer of learning.  The Craftsy online learning portal is going to be a place I return to often given the depth and breadth of courses offered (there are even courses on baking!).

So, my job now is “practice to make perfect” my short forward drafting skills (also known as the inch-worm technique!). 

As I learn to spin, my mother’s words and spirit of encouragement fill me with a sense of “I can do this!”  I miss her every single day.  I am sure she would be interested to know about my spinning pursuits.  And I know she would tell me, once again, “Practice makes perfect.” 

Saturday, 17 December 2016

A Sheep by Any Other Name...

Part of the fascination with learning to spin has also been learning about the many varieties of wool and the sheep that produce them.  If I were to look upon a flock of sheep, I could not tell you their name other than they are sheep. And for this curious word-lover that will never do.
With a collection of names like Coopworth, Romeldale, Karakul, Cheviot, Navajo, Ryeland, Moorit, Rambouillet, Targhee, Svardsio, Corridale, Jacob, Merino, Blue-Faced Leicester, and Long Wool Leicester it will never to do to move through life simply calling them “sheep”! And this list, by the way, is only a small number of the more than 250 breeds known.
Aside from learning their physical characteristics and the region from which they come, I am also learning their wool is different.  Each spins up in a unique way, suitable for some particular purpose.  Some wools are coarse and rough, perfect for carpets or outerwear such as tweed for coats.  Others are downy soft and can be spun into ethereal clouds of yarn, perfect for knitting up a singlet to be worn by a newborn baby.
It continues to be an amazing journey, this Tour of Wool!  I am challenged at every turn and feel as if I am connecting to others who have walked the same path in this and past centuries.  Through the magic of the internet, I can order some Karakul from the sheep who live in the rugged mountains of Iran or Corriedale from green pastures in New Zealand. I can order prepared wool from indie dyers in colours so beautiful they would make Mother Nature jealous.   
And as I learn to spin, the yarn that comes from my own hands will have a distinct characteristic that only I can offer.  It will carry through into the garments I knit for those I love.  And in the end, they will simply think how nice it is to have something warm to wear.  

(The sheep at the beginning of this post is a Corriedale (Kor-e dal), and the one at the end of the post is a Karakul).

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

It Clicked!

Something magical has happened.  When I sat down to spin today, something just ‘clicked’ and I was able to spin up a bunch of pre-drafted nests of fiber at a relatively consistent tension and diameter. It is a huge improvement compared to the gross over- or under-spinning mess I was making just a few days ago. 

Every day since I took the spinning class I have spent time simply treadling and then spinning for about 20 minutes.  Maybe my coordination and muscle memory had to get synchronized.  I am totally psyched! 

Also, I have been dividing and pre-drafting my fibres slightly differently – more fine than before.  This seems to help me better manage the amount getting into the drafting triangle.  Plus, I let the fibre supply dangle from my hands at a position relatively straight below the orifice so there is no chance of it getting caught and dragging across my pant leg or getting ‘torn’ on my sleeve.  

Here is a photo of my latest creation! 

Magic in the Making...

There is a certain thrill about learning something new. It matters not if that something is a new counterpoint to a musical composition, a blend of light as it is coaxed from the shadows by the artist’s brush, or even the profound understanding of a secret held in the physical universe.  It all comes from years of study and practice.  When it arrives it is like magic, but really it has been Magic in the Making.  For all of you dreamers, doers, musicians, artists, and curious souls, keep on going.  Make your magic.  Share it with the world.  This article reminds me that magic takes time.  To become a master at the Art of Making one must persevere though all stages of development.  I am at the grasshopper stage in my spinning pursuits, but hope to someday become a Nightingale with a beautiful song from my heart.
4 Phases of Development is an interesting article about what it takes to develop your creative voice.  Wishing does not summon your unique creative voice. It takes inspiration, dedicated practice, and strategic risk.  Thanks, Todd.
Todd Henry is the author of the new book Louder Than Words: Harness The Power Of Your Authentic Voice. Learn more at, or follow him on Twitter at @toddhenry.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Grey December Morning...

This Sunday morning has shaped up to be just about perfect.  After a very busy week fulfilling all other obligations and commitments, I finally have precious time to devote to spinning.  The house is cozy, the Christmas tree is up, the snow is coming down, and the coffee is on.   The sweet scent of honey from a nearby beeswax candle fills the air.  The hauntingly beautiful sacred sounds of Hildegard von Bingen’s Canticles of Ecstacy fills my soul.  I give my most humble thanks.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

An Evening Well-spent...

 “…As soon as it becomes dark, and the usual business of the day is over, and the young children are put to bed, they rake or put out the fire; take their cloaks and lanterns, and set out with their knitting to the house of the neighbour where the sitting falls in rotation…The whole troop of neighbours being collected, they sit and knit, singing knitting-songs, and tell knitting stories… "
William Howitt 'The Rural Life of England' (1838)