It’s true–sheep in the city! For one day only–Thursday, Sept. 27th–sheep will graze alongside midtown lunchers in Bryant Park, which I like to think of as my library’s backyard. I’m particularly excited about their visit because, after a trip to Ireland this summer that included five days of hiking across green hills and pastures among countless sheep (a few of my many pictures of them are below), I am a bigger fan of sheep than ever.
Last week I completed my first colorwork sweater–just in time for a pre-spring warm spell. Here I am, ignoring the sunny day as I revel in the sweater’s finished form while Upstate over the weekend.
“In my experience hobbies have a happy faculty of untying the many knots one accumulates during a busy day; they also provide wonderful insurance against old age.”
Speaking of hobbies and aging, for my latest birthday I got a loom! Ever since I took an introductory weaving course at the Textile Arts Center last summer, I’ve been more and more curious about handweaving. I read books like the wonderful You Can Weave (hand lettered in its entirety, as above). This book is as charming as it is informative, and its coauthor was none other than Mary E. Black. Black was a giant in the revival of arts and crafts in Nova Scotia. Her landmark collection of handwoven samples can be viewed online and is worth a visit for the tartans alone. Her co-author, Bessie R. Murray, was a weaving icon in her own right, and designed the Nova Scotia Dress Tartan.
In my weaving explorations, I joined the New York Guild of Handweavers, began lurking in some weaving-themed ravelry groups, started combing back issues of Handwoven, and marked my calendar for the first meeting of Lion Brand Yarn Studio’s Weft Club. And I researched looms. With my beginner status and my home’s limited space, I decided that the Schacht Cricket, a squat little rigid heddle loom, would be a good match. And that’s the loom I received. So far, I’ve made two scarves.
One for my husband (made following Lion Brand Yarn Co.’s Boyfriend Scarf Pattern using that company’s organic wool):
And this one for me (made with a warp of fine teal cotton and a weft of Cascade Magnum Super Bulky Wool):
I’m eager to learn more about playing with texture and color using my rigid heddle loom. Stitching and knitting turn up everywhere and have legions of ambassadors offering ideas for practitioners with entry level skills plenty of material to inspire. While weaving seems a more elusive craft at present, I’m glad to have embarked, I am determined to learn more, and I’m trying not to be too sheepish about being such a newcomer.
What handweaving resources would you recommend to a novice for information and inspiration?
Although once skeptical, I have become a zealous convert to e-readers. At home we have a few different kinds of readers lying around the apartment, but my favorite is the slim and simple little Sony Pocket Edition. And since I didn’t have just the right protective case for it, I went ahead and made one.
It’s nothing fancy: just a double layer of Dutch wool felt (Wollfilz, in Pacific), that wraps around it from front to back, with pieces of stiff cardboard sandwiched in between the felt layers on each side. Before I hand-stitched the layers together, I first sketched out and added an embroidery embellishment on one side. The reader slips in and out at one end, and the cardboard-stiffened sides give just enough protection.
The Duchess is complete. You can read the whole tale on ravelry of how at first I didn’t succeed and so I tried, tried again. (Or, fried, fried again, like I learned in reading Caddie Woodlawn when quite impressionable; does anyone else remember that scene as vividly?)
But here’s the story of Duchess in summary: I started to make the Mary Jane, after falling in love with its bands of snake stitch and its elegant neckline. But I got it into my head for reasons that now escape me that doing it from the bottom up would be better than from the top down. Oh, and my gauge didn’t match. And there were also all of the little things I wanted to do differently—like make the sleeves more fitted, add waist shaping, and include snake stitch on the sleeves.
As things turned out, I pretty much riffed on the pattern but made up my own way as I went along. I’m simply grateful that I completed it in time to wear at least a few times before temperatures rise for good.
Why it is called Duchess? Because that’s the name that yarn maker Madeline Tosh gave this rich shade of Tosh DK. To me, though, it evokes the color of ruby port (and indeed puns like “ruby off rails” came to mind as my knitting drifted further away from the pattern’s territory).
My thanks to my friends who gave me this wonderful wool for my birthday, and who introduced me to Brooklyn General!
Should every self-respecting knitter have made for herself at least one beloved winter cap? I’ve long thought so and as a result have felt sheepish about having never really bonded with the few hats I’ve made. Instead, I have more often depended on storebought knit hats to get me through the winter, but wearing these mass market knits feels a bit as if I’m admitting I’m not the knitter I wish to be.
Last month I took matters in hand and decided to knit myself a new hat. And with the winter we’ve had so far in New York, I’m glad that I did.
This yarn was a pleasure to work with, with subtle color changes and a smooth, almost polished feel.
And I’ve bought enough in this vivid green shade to make matching mittens, because it’s high time that I make myself a first ever pair of mittens too.
What handmaking rites of passage would you still like to tackle?
Do you systematically build your skills by completing projects in a specific order or do you dive right into what most intrigues you?
Each time I begin a new knitting project, I fret. About size. About gauge (even though I now dutifully make the required swatch). About new techniques that I might not be up for. About whether the yarn I’ve chosen will work. And yet, none of these worries stops me from devoting weeks of time, a not insignificant yarn investment, and heaps of effort into a chosen project. And while working on my latest sweater, I realized that knitting, more than sewing, brings out my inner optimist.
When I sew, I may know within a few hours if I’m on the right track with a project. A shape of a dress begins to reveal itself early in the process, permitting me to make small adjustments along the way to make sure that the resulting garment is what I want. A sewing project takes less time, but I usually find that the process does not engender hope, exactly. Satisfaction, yes—but not necessarily a sureness in the process.
Knitting, for me, offers a different experience altogether, because the practice itself—meditative, repetitive, focused on exacting details—provides me with a calm, focused confidence that’s unrelated to the finished product.
Take the case of my just-completed Camden sweater (ignore that Mangyle title on Knitty’s pattern page; you’ll find the pattern under its correct name on ravelry). Even as I bound off the last stitches I wondered if I’d ever wear it. I had spent six weeks’ effort on it and eaten through two skeins of the fine Madeline Tosh Merino Light, and admittedly the bobbles looked anemic and the fit didn’t look promising. But I remained optimistic and took the final steps to weave in the ends and block it. And this new sweater—down to the last bobble—seems to have found its proper shape just as it should. Optimism rewarded.
(For the record, my dog does not share my optimism about knitting; she greets the prospect of each new knitting project with a mix of melancholy and resignation. Because, of course, when I am knitting I spend less time playing with her.)
Beekeepers have a long history of making ingenious homes for their bees. But before the days of moveable frame hives and bee space, beekeepers’ material of choice was often straw coiled and woven to form squat coneshaped baskets.
Inspired by these iconic straw bee skeps, I made a beehive teapot cozy that takes its design cues from these traditional coiled baskets. It’s constructed of two layers of wool, quilted together. Unlike some teapot cozies that allow the handle and spout to stick out the sides, this one is designed to cover the teapot completely—simply lift off the cozy, pour the tea, and then replace the cozy over the pot. Here’s how to make your own beehive inspired tea cozy.
What You Need:
- Teapot (mine’s a 22 oz. carrot-colored Bee House pot)
- Tape measure
- Fabric for the Interior Base Layer: ½ yard of woven wool or wool felt (I used a remnant piece of dark brown wool suiting from my stash)*
- Fabric for the Exterior Coil Layer: 2 fat eighths of Mary Flanagan’s hand dyed felted wool in a shade of gold or light brown (available at purl; I used a shade called gold mine)*
- Straight pins
- Scissors for cutting paper
- Scissors for cutting fabric
- Sewing machine or needle and thread**
- Sewing needle (with an eye large enough to accommodate embroidery floss)
- Embroidery floss in a color of your choice (I used a little less than two skeins of DMC cotton floss, color no. 3046)
*You might need more fabric if your teapot is larger than mine; I’ll give my teapot’s dimensions below and you can work from these basic numbers to see if you will need more fabric.
**You can do all of the sewing by hand. Or, if you prefer, you can complete the Interior Base Layer on a sewing machine and then switch to hand sewing for the Exterior Coil Layer.
1. Measure your teapot.
Circumference: Use a tape measure to measure the circumference of your teapot, including the spout and handle. I found that by placing a loop of measuring tape on a table, setting the teapot in the middle, and then looking down upon my teapot from above to be sure that it was entirely within the measuring tape circle, I got an accurate measurement of the circumference. Add 1” seam allowance to the circumference.
Height: Use a ruler to measure your teapot’s height. Add 1” seam allowance to the height measurement.
Point Height: There’s just one last calculation needed, in order to plot out the tapering pointed beehive shape. Figure out what 2/3 of your Height calculation is (height measurement + 1″ seam allowance) is. This will be your Point Height.
My teapot’s measurements and final calculations are as follows:
Circumference: 20” (including the spout and handle)+1” seam allowance=21”
Height: 5” + 1” seam allowance=6”
Point Height: 2/3 of the Height=4”
2. Make the Interior Base Layer.
Use the measurements you calculated in step 1 to draft your pattern for the interior base layer. The pattern will be the width of your Circumference, and as tall as your Height + Point Height. Divide the width of the pattern into 6 roughly equal sections, making the sections on each end a little bigger to accommodate the seam allowance.
Along top edge, mark the center point of each of the 6 sections. Then, draw a gentle curve from each center point down to the dividing lines of the six sections. You’ll now have six pointed tops. This is what my pattern for the Interior Base Layer looks like the drafted pattern pictured here.
Cut out this pattern. Use this paper pattern to cut one of the fabric you have chosen for the Interior Base Layer.
Placing right sides together, sew the fabric piece (you can do it by hand or machine) into the basic beehive shape. First, sew the two side edges together (right sides together) to form a squat tube, and then sew each point edge to that of its neighbor, almost but not quite closing up the tapered top. Last, turn 1” up toward teh seamed side of the bottom edge and sew down this hem. Press all of the seams with an iron.
3. Add the Exterior Coil Layer.
Prepare the fabric strips that will form the coil design around the exterior of your hive by cutting a series of long strips of felt on the bias, 3/4” wide and as long as possible using your fabric. Cutting on the bias (at a 45 degree angle to the weave of the fabric) will allow the strips to stretch and curve around the beehive shape. Then, sew these strips together end to end, making sure that all seams face the same direction, so that you have one long, continuous strip. I needed about 8 yards to complete my beehive. Mary Flanagan’s hand dyed felted wool is ideal for this project because its luxurious flexibility allows it to drape and bend around curves handily.
Starting at the base of the Interior Layer (with its seams facing out), begin to attach the coiling strip (with its seams facing in, against the Interior Layer) along the lower edge using a running stitch and embroidery thread along the lower edge of the strip. When you get all the way around once, begin to incline the start the second layer so that eventually it runs parallel to the first round, just overlapping by ¼” or so. Continue round and round, stitching the lower overlapping edge of the coiling strip.
When you get within one round of reaching the hive’s top, stop attaching the coil and make a handle.
4. Make the handle, and complete your hive.
Take a scrap of leftover felt measuring 3” long and ¾” wide, and fold it in half so it measures 1 ½” x ¾”. Insert it through the top of the tapered top of the Interior Base Layer so that the folded edge sticks out the top by about 1”. Secure this handle to the hive with a few stitches using the embroidery thread.
Now, complete the last round of coiling at the top. To complete the hive, stitch through the top edge of this last round and cinch it closed around the handle, securing it with a knot inside.
It’s completed! This hive will keep your teapot warmer longer on winter’s draftiest days; you can curl up with a pot of tea while you immerse yourself in the wonders of armchair beekeeping.
I’ve got wool on the brain these days. And it’s not just because the weather is finally looking like autumn. This weekend’s going to be a big one for yarn lovers in New York City. For starters, there’s a citywide weekend-long Yarn Crawl, with a scavenger hunt, raffles, sales, and other events at yarn shops all over the city. Additionally, the Handmade Crafternoon that I’ll co-host with Maura Madden at the Library on the 10th is all about knitting too! If you are in New York City, I hope that you take part in some of the woolly fun, and maybe we can meet at the Library on Saturday afternoon.
As you might imagine, when surrounded by all of this knitting event planning, I can’t help but try my hand at knitting something new. I turned to French Girl Knits, in which designer Kristeen Griffin-Grimes offers a variety of patterns for lovely and truly grown-up knitted garments. When her book came out earlier this year, I grabbed it up based on one single fact—that the patterns were constructed to eliminate piecing. Single piece construction seems like a key skill to acquire, in my mind. And in her book Griffin-Grimes does a fine and encouraging job of explaining the various methods of constructing garments without resorting to so many seams. Here’s what I’m making—the Wrenna cardigan.
That’s the swanky serious model from the book wearing it. Me, I’m hoping that my version looks half as perfect as hers—it’s my first project reading a lace chart so we shall see. I’ve chosen a mossy green roving-like wool from Cascade Yarns. It’s a shade of green to which I keep returning—eventually, if not careful, I might possess an all-green wardrobe, much like T.S. Spivet‘s mother’s collection of all-green jewelry. More wool reports soon!