There is nothing more frustrating than spending hours (not to mention $$) on a custom-made sweater or other garment, and slipping it on to discover it doesn’t fit properly. Maybe it pulls across the bust, or the waist shaping is in the wrong spot for your curves. Maybe your gauge was off and the sweater is a half-foot longer than you intended. It can be heartbreaking.
If this is happening to you, isn’t it time to take steps? You are custom-making garments for yourself or for your family, why aren’t they custom-sized as well? Likely because taking that “sizing power” back from the pattern can be intimidating. What if you make a mistake? What if you make things worse? Well, it’s time to remind yourself that in the worse case scenario, you’ll just be ripping back – and this is true whether you make something ill-fitting from the pattern instructions, or from instructions that you’ve attempted finessed to your liking. It might not work at first, but the more you tinker, the better it will get, and the easier it will become next time.
On any new adventure, of course, the right tools are essential. So I’ve rounded up some resources I’ve found useful so that you can better arm yourself for success:
These are great resources for plus size knitters – but I would recommend any knitter take a look through for inspiration on sizing. I particularly love the authors’ technique of inserting sizing panels at the sides of sweaters to add necessary ease and shaping.
This is a full master-class from custom fit through complete garment design. It’s not a beginner’s tome but if you’re serious about taking your knitting to a new level it’s a great resource to have on the shelf.
Appliqué isn’t something you see a lot of in yarn-related crafts. It’s more common in crochet, but very difficult to track down in knitting, despite the interesting effects you can achieve.
Why is this? My theory is the sewing. It’s an interesting thing about knitters and sewing – even if they happen to be “sewists” as well, it seems as though most yarn-artists would rather the act of sewing never come near their projects. Consider the popularity of seamless projects. The knitting will stay on this side of the fibre fence, the sewing will stay on that side, and never the twain shall meet if at all possible.
Well, I am here to make a case for this Romeo-and-Juliet pairing, and the case is appliqué.
The main reason for my appliqué advocacy is this: it is a fantastic way to familiarize yourself with shaping and three-dimensional techniques on a small scale. Essentially it’s like swatching, but when you finish the swatch it has a purpose and a destination other than filling out the back of your swatch drawer/basket/box or protecting your table from your tea mug. Appliqué might just be the answer if you are among the many who think of swatching as a waste of time… (tsk, tsk, tsk).
Particularly if you’re a new knitter or crocheter, appliqué can be a way to up your game – it might be still the minor leagues in terms of techniques, but it’s a great stepping stone to the majors.
This is a guest post by Terri Rowan, a registered massage therapist in Guelph, who had the Yarn Club up on our feet and trying exercises at the April meeting that will strengthen our knitting/crocheting/spinning/weaving/felting muscles and keep us doing what we love for longer. She has kindly put together these notes and resources to accompany her talk. I know many people were interested to talk to Terri further about their own specific areas of concern: you can contact her through her website, or email her at email@example.com. Take it away Terri!
Thanks again for coming out to Yarn Club to listen to me talk about some of my favourite topics: posture, pain and why posture doesn’t matter as much as we think it does.
As promised here is a recap of the things I touched on and some resources for further reading as well as some links to demonstrations of some movements and exercises that can help keep your fingers, wrists, elbows and shoulders moving well.
Posture is your ability to hold your body upright against gravity. Posture isn’t static and unmoving. Posture isn’t perfect and symmetrical. Todd Hargrove (who’s book A Guide to Better Movement I highly recommend) has written a great, easy to read blog post on this topic.
Sometimes posture does kind of, sort of matter. There are certainly more efficient positions or postures for certain tasks. So, when it comes to sitting down to a task such as knitting, spinning, crocheting or sewing there are certainly some positions that are by their nature more efficient. The goal is ease, not perfection.
There is no one perfect solution for everyone. A single perfect posture doesn’t exist. No one specific type of exercise, no one technique of manual therapy, no super food or supplement will bullet proof you. But here are some suggestions that will come pretty darn close.
MOVE and move frequently.
Commit yourself to getting up every 20-30 minutes. When you sit down to work on a project set a timer for 20 minutes. When the timer goes off: stand up, shake yourself around, shrug your shoulders, touch your toes. Have a dance party. Again, this is no guarantee but it is a pretty good insurance plan. You can use a timer on a watch, a stove or a microwave. If you are working at or close to a computer this website will let you run a timer in a separate browser tab.
If you use Google and simply search “Online Countdown” the first hit will be a timer you can use right from the search page!
Know your limits:
In the same way that you can’t expect to go to the gym tomorrow and lift 150 pounds if you haven’t been lifting heaving things for the past several years, you can’t sit down and expect to be able to knit, crochet or sew frequently if you haven’t consistently spent time on these activities in the past. Respect your limits and work at gradually pushing the edges of those limits rather than suddenly increasing it. This gives your muscles, tendons and joints time to adapt.
Place different demands on your body to encourage it to adapt and change to meet these demands.
Novel movement can mean a few things:
1)Regularly moving between different types of movements: knitting, crocheting, sewing etc.
2)Learning to do your craft in more than one way. For example with knitting you can learn continental vs English and vice versa. This can create different novel stresses to the fingers, hands, elbows and shoulders.
3)Taking time for truly novel movements of the body: Yoga, tha chi, Feldenkrais, dance. Movements that demand you use your body in ways you wouldn’t in the course of your day.
Mobility is a combination of the flexibility and the amount of control that you have over the movement of a joint. The better your mobility in a large range of movements the less likely you are to be injured.
Below are some links to videos that can help guide you through some movement and mobility work for different areas of the body:
Do not panic when you see this video! It is a video designed to warm up and prepare the hands and arms to do a handstand. I certainly don’t expect you to do a handstand, but the exercises are excellent for a variety of other tasks. If any of these movements cause you pain, skip them.
If you often feel stiff or restricted in your shoulders, this is an excellent exercise you can do every day. It should be done slowly and with attention. It looks easy, but if done properly it should feel like work and you might even break a sweat.
If you feel you have health and wellness gains to be made by improving your mobility anywhere in your body I would encourage you to contact Dr. Mark Kubert at Clear Path Chiropractic and enquire about Functional Range Conditioning (FRC). The shoulder video above is an example, but the principles can be applied to all joints in the body.
General novel movement:
Feldenkrais is a movement style that is dedicated to movement exploration. This is a gentle and mindful way to challenge your joints and muscles. These videos come from a series put out by a physiotherapist.
Living yoga has a yoga instructor who is a physiotherapist. She offers private yoga physiotherapy which can be billed to extended health plans.
Guelph also has Tai Chi classes. This slow, mindful movement is a great way to take your body through all of its’ ranges of movement. Classes are indoors during the winter and then they move outside for the summer.
If you have any other questions or are looking for some resources other than what I have provided here feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
This month’s Ravelry homework is to play around with the newly created Yarn Club Ravelry Group. To get you started, the Ravelry wiki entry about groups is here. Within our own group, we have a set of forums (under the “discussion” tab), we can share info (“pages”), we can share our projects & stash, and keep an eye on the next meeting dates with group events (“upcoming events” box in the right hand column).
Kris (“Kristoemily” on Ravelry) has started a Show & Share thread in the group’s forums where we can post about the items we bring to meetings and other projects we’d like to share outside meeting times. There is also an option to share a project with groups right in your project notes. When you are on your project’s page there’s a box in the right column titled “groups.” Choose the Yarn Club from the drop-down menu and your project will show up in the “project” tab of the group’s page.
In honour of “Spring” (note the sarcastic punctuation – here in Guelph we had snow and freezing rain just yesterday), I thought it would be thematic to talk about warm-weather fibres this month. Little did I know we’d still all be wrapped in our woolens in April. But hey, who are knitters to complain about a little extra sweater weather? The time for plants and their fibres isn’t that far away…*jinx*
I decided to focus on cotton because it is the most common plant fibre (THE most common natural fibre in fact), and went on a little fact-finding mission with one goal in mind: to make the label on your cotton goods more transparent.
We all know manufacturers will use any nomenclature they can to make a product seem more desirable. Those little add-on descriptors, such as “superfine,” “ultra,” “plus,” add perceived value to an item, even when the consumer doesn’t necessarily know what real difference the terms are defining within the product.
In the case of cotton, a few words I see over and over are “Pima,” “ring-spun,” and “mercerized.” I know from how the fibre is marketed to me that these things are meant to imply a bigger bang for my buck (or, well, in the case of “mercerized” I know it means shiny), but I didn’t know the specifics of the terms.
The Cotton Gin
Another thing I wasn’t familiar with, and kept bumping into because of my ramblings amongst the fiberistas, was the cotton gin; although now my mom has informed me that everyone of her generation knows what a cotton gin is because it was in their grade school curriculum. They HAD to know things about fibre preparation, and it wasn’t even their job. Lucky. Anyway, for those in my boat (the S.S. Biaclou) this is a cotton gin:
This is a hand-cranked version, which isn’t too far off from the model that Eli Whitney invented in 1794. Obviously in industrial settings the cotton gin is a big mechanical beast. You can see some of that happening in this video. I liked the one above because you can really see the simplicity of the machine’s function: it separates the seeds from the cotton fibre by catching the fibre with the teeth on the roller and pulling it through the holes on the crossbar that are too small for the seeds to pass. The seeds drop down behind the machine and the seedless cotton collects at the front.
(I just need to stop and point out that I got through those two whole paragraphs without a cocktail pun. You’re welcome.)
Cotton Species & Varieties
Okay, now that our clueless boat has caught up with the rest of the fleet, let’s start back at the beginning.
There are more than 30 varieties of cotton plant in the world, but only 4 account for all the commercially produced crops in the world. Gossypium hirsutum (Mexican cotton or Upland cotton), pictured above, accounts for more than 95% of the global market. The other three commercial contenders are: Gossypium arboreum (Tree cotton), Gossypium herbaceum (Levant cotton), and Gossypium barbadense – and here is where the first watchword appears: the barbadense species is known as Extra Long Staple (ELS) cotton, and includes the varieties commonly known as Pima and Egyptian (this is just speculation, but isn’t it interesting that the American native “Pima” has replaced the “Egyptian” as the most prized cotton descriptor in the last 10 years…). Let’s take a look at that staple:
That is some pretty dense barba. Of course, the longer the fibre’s staple length, the less twist need be applied to the fibre to keep it contained in a yarn. The less twist, the softer the resulting yarn and fabric. Therefore ELS cotton varieties are prized for the softness of fabric they are able to produce.
The Cotton Capital of Canada
Most of the cotton grown in the world comes from the southern United States, Uzbekistan, China and India. About 0% of cotton comes from Canada. But I was curious if anyone was trying it, and I came across this delightful video:
I was inspired, and I had my little peat pots on my windowsill already – starting my summer crops of tomatoes, cucumbers and marigolds – so I decided to track down some cotton seed and add them to the mix. I found it where I find most things these days: on Amazon.ca, and when it arrived I dove right in and planted it alongside the veggies.
I posted about it on Instagram, and almost immediately my uncle asked me if I had scarified the seeds. Uh… Nope! Happily, once I started doing the cotton research I discovered that the gossypium herbaceum I had acquired is an easily germinated variety and will probably be okay without scarifying (which is, by the way, sanding or nicking the outside of the seed to make it easier for those first little leaves and roots to make their way out).
Behold! My first little cotton leaf making its way to the sun:
A photo posted by Alexis Hoy (@alexis_phibersmith) on
Ring spun or Open-end spun?
Now let’s talk processing. Like any fibre, whether you’re spinning it on an industrial scale or on your own spindle, it needs to be prepared: carded, combed, and formed into something from which a single strand can be drafted and spun. In the case of cotton on an industrial scale, it is combed into successively smaller rovings before it becomes yarn or thread. For handspinning, if you are spinning cotton on a charka for example (which I had never seen done before January), you form cotton into punis:
A photo posted by Alexis Hoy (@alexis_phibersmith) on
You can see one there lying on the table beside the spinner’s hand – they sort of look like rolags (another spinning preparation).
Because I wanted to know what manufacturers are bragging about when they say “100% ring spun cotton” I took a look at the different industrial spinning processes for cotton. There are several, but the two main processes are open-end spinning, and ring spinning. Ring spinning was developed first and can be used for many different types of fibre. Open-end spinning was developed in the first half of the 20th century, and is more frequently used with plant and man-made fibres. Open-end spinning is now more widely used than ring-spinning in the cotton industry (hence ring-spinning’s claim to specialness). It is much faster than ring-spinning and therefore over the long term more cost-effective. However, open-end spinning cannot command the same range of cotton counts ring-spinning can. It cannot create the same tension in the fibre and so cannot spin it as finely, nor does the fibre get as uniformly smooth and spun in. Therefore open-end-spun cotton is not as strong, soft, or pill-resistant as ring-spun cotton. Read more about this here.
Debunking Ring Spun Misconceptions
When looking for an explanation of the term “ring-spun,” and what made it preferable, I found a lot of conflicting information that didn’t line up with what I was reading from industrial sources, and what I know from my handspinning experience. Most amusingly, in the FAQ of a t-shirt printing company I found this:
“A slightly different process is used to create Ring-spun cotton. You start with the same cotton fiber strands. But in the Ring-spun process the yarn is made by continuously twisting and thinning the strands making a very fine rope of cotton fibers. The twisting makes the short hairs of cotton stand out, resulting in a stronger yarn with a significantly softer hand.
The number of times you twist the fiber determines how soft it is. In many cases you will see something described as 30 Singles Ring-spun. This a term used to indicate the diameter of a yarn. The smaller the number, the thicker the yarn. The higher the number the thinner the yarn and the softer because it has been twisted more times.“
This is the top result on Google when you search for “ring spun cotton”… and it’s just incorrect. On top of this, if you go further through these results, you’ll find several other t-shirt companies quoting this information in their own FAQs. Apparently they’re good at Googling too – and taking the very first result at face value.
I just have to set the record straight here: All yarn ever is created by twisting and thinning fibre strands. If it isn’t twisted, it’s not yarn – it’s roving (or traditional Lopi). The purpose of adding twist is not to make the fibres stick out of the yarn – if this were the case your fabric would pill atrociously; and in fact one of the disadvantages of open-end spinning is that the fibres on the exterior of the yarn are looser (i.e. stick out more) which makes the thread/yarn weaker and pill more. Furthermore, the thinner yarn is not thinner because it has been twisted more (for heaven’s sake!) but because it has been drafted thinner and there are fewer cotton fibres in the thread. The more twist you add to a yarn the less soft it becomes. However, it is true that ring-spun cotton can be more finely and smoothly spun with better fibre integration, giving its resulting fabric a softer, denser hand, less likely to pill.
Okay, I’m going to step down off my soapbox, and move on to mercerization.
Mercerized Cotton – an inside look
Most fibre artists know the difference between plain and mercerized cotton. Mercerized cotton has a plump sheen, and distinctly lacks the fuzziness of most plain cotton yarns. In fact the process has become so common that some yarn companies no longer bother to indicate mercerization on their labels (… or maybe we’re supposed to believe that their variety of Pima cotton is just naturally that shiny and smooth…). However, I for one am fascinated by the trials cotton yarn has to go through to come out beautiful and smooth. (Mercerized cotton is like the beauty pageant contestant of cotton yarn – its turn-out is perfect, but behind the scenes there’s caustic soda, botox, a pseudo-medieval stretching rack, and vaseline in strange places.)
Mercerization was developed by John Mercer, a British textile scientist, in 1844. Today the process involves putting the yarn or thread under tension and immersing it in caustic soda, which causes the cotton to change at a cellular level. I found this image in a slideshow about the process.
Here you can see magnified the effects of mercerization on the cotton cell structure. The cells are plumped up (cotton botox!) which creates a higher surface area for reflecting light = extra shiny; and a denser, smoother fibre = extra smooth.
How to use your new tools
Now that we’ve got a good foundation in cotton-speak, what are some ways this will come to play in our lives (just because I’m a firm believer that education should have a real world application… I developed this belief AFTER I received my shiny film studies degree)? Here are some ideas.
You will now be able to justify at length to your partner why you bought the more expensive hand towels (“but honey, they’re RING SPUN, let me take you through the process…”).
You will be able to pick the right fibre for the job: department store cotton yarn for the dishcloth, pima mercerized cotton yarn for the lacy tank top.
Your bed-sheet experience will never be the same.
If you have a moment, let me know how else you’re going to apply the knowledge…
The Yarn Club theme for March is the high-tech crafter, and to that end we’ve been exploring Ravelry, and talking yarn-related gadgets. One of my favourite things to come up in my on- and off-line discussions this month has been this, sent to me by Sandy (and I had it all cued up to play at the meeting and got distracted, as I do):
I am not a “gamer” by any stretch of the stuffily air-quoted word. As I understand it, I need to get ahold of a PS4, or an Xbox… neither of which I have because my boys are about a decade too young. I know, I know, that’s too generous – I’ll be lucky if I make it another two years without one of these devices. Thank goodness they’ve made something I’ll actually be interested in playing! Not a moment too soon.
Knit Blockers by Knitter’s Pride – via Three Bags Full in Vancouver, BC
These serial blocking pins help stop pin-puckers! Check them out here.
Circular Stitch Holders from Amazon.ca
Use a circular stitch holder instead of slipping all your stitches on to scrap yarn when you want to try on your top-down sweater. The drawback we noted in our meeting is that you can only load stitches in one direction – if it happens to end up facing the wrong direction to start knitting again, you have to take them off onto another needle before you can start working with them again.
Omnigrid quilting ruler via Quilt Nuts
This is a quilter’s tool, but doubles as a handy gauge ruler – it measures 4″ square and is transparent so that you can easily count stitches & rows.
Finally, a member showed us a handmade tool she uses to help her keep her knitting straight: a strip knit from scrap acrylic with loops at intervals which can be picked up (and dropped when no longer necessary). As she described it, she uses it to keep the beginning of her circular knitting from getting twisted, and to keep quick count of her stitches (she picks up a loop every 10 sts cast on so that she can count by tens rather than twos, then drops the loops as she knits the first row). Genius! I think I feel a DIY post coming on…
A friend and I were recently sharing our surprise that there are still knitters and crocheters out there who haven’t heard of Ravelry. What? I know, but it’s true. It’s possible these people have also been living in isolation in the wilds of some internet-strangled island nation for the last 9 years. I don’t usually ask about that, because I’m busy marvelling that they haven’t heard of Ravelry.
All joking aside: Ravelry is a big, big deal, and you probably have heard of it, but how well do you know it? And are you using it to your full potential? I say “your” rather than “its” potential, because in its 9-year tenure as THE online location for fibre fiends to get their geek on in wonderful abandon, Ravelry has become a vast space. Using all of its features to their full functionality would almost be a full time job, and most of us have only a few minutes a day (if not a week) to devote to any one social platform.
So what I want to explore here is getting a good base of understanding of what you can do with Ravelry, so that you can best identify what you want to do with Ravelry. As we discovered at the Yarn Club meeting last Thursday, this base is not going to be established in one sitting, so the Ravelry workshop is going to become a Yarn Club series, and this is part one.
Since this is a how-to series, our first stop is Ravelry’s own how-to warehouse. When you ask yourself “Can I do X with Ravelry?”, chances are the answer is a definitive “YES.” The place to find that answer, and the explanation that goes along with it, is in Ravelry’s Help section. For our purposes here, pay particular attention to the Getting Started Guide. The help section also links to Ravelry’s wiki, their “community edited guide,” which harnesses the power of user-know-how to show the rest of us the way.
Unravelling Ravelry: Piece by Piece
I thought the most logical way to approach a Ravelry breakdown (and the safest way to avoid being sucked down the rabbit hole) would be to take it a tab at a time. The folks at Ravelry had the same idea when they created this Ravelry tour video about 5 years ago:
Of course over the course of 5 years things have changed a bit, but the bones are still the same. The pace of the video is a bit hurried – it’s a lot of info to cram into less than 7 minutes. They do have lots of other video guides on more specific topics however. You can find a full list of them here.
In our meeting Thursday, we managed to make our way through Ravelry’s top level navigation in more detail. Here are the highlights, with supporting documentation from Ravelry’s wiki pages.
My Notebook: This is your home on Ravelry. It contains all the personal & knitting-related information you choose to include. Your Notebook has an extensive menu all its own, and we’ll be coming back to this in the future. In the meantime, here is how to manage your profile and here is the Notebook wiki. It’s also worth noting that Ravelry has a series of Guided Tips that takes you on an automated tour of sections of the website – the first tour is a Library Tour (and the Library is one of my favourite Ravelry tools).
Yarns: This is Ravelry’s yarn database. It works in a very similar way to the pattern database, particularly in the advanced search area. The wiki page is here, where they actually assuage my perplexity regarding their yarn-weight designations:
“Welcome to OZ. The answer to this question is a history lesson. A long time ago when the first machine spun yarns were being produced, the machines only spun one thickness of yarn–a very thin one. Differing weights of handknitting/crochet yarns were created by plying (twisting) together different numbers of these thin strands. A handy shorthand was developed to distinguish the varying yarns that resulted. The lightweight yarn used for Fair Isle and many baby things was usually made by twisting 4 of the machine spun strands together–4-ply. A yarn half as thick was made with 2 strands and was called 2-ply, twice as thick was 8-ply and so forth. In some parts of the world, notably Australia, New Zealand and (for at least some parts of the weight range) the British Isles, these terms remain in use even though machines now spin all kinds of strand thicknesses. An Australian may be totally perplexed by the term “Bulky” but understands perfectly when you tell her that your single strand (single ply) yarn (Lopi for example) is “12 ply” which to her means a thickish yarn that knits at about 14 or 15 stitches in 10 centimeters. So, short answer, if you are from the US, ignore the “plies” in the weight dropdown and look only at the stitches/inch/cm. The ply scale is there for our friends who hang by their toes from the bottom of the world. :-)”
People: This is Ravelry’s user database, where you can find your friends, or people with similar project tastes (your Ravelry “neighbours”). It helps to know the Ravelry username for the person you’re seeking if using the search function. A fun and quirky thing to check out here is the project radar, where you can watch users’ finished objects (FOs) as they arrive on the site, fresh off the needles. Here is the wiki page for this section.
Forums: There is an understandably lengthy entry in the wiki for the Forums section of the site (which you can access here). If you are intending to tackle the forums for the first time, I highly suggest you read it and familiarize yourself with the etiquette and functionality of forum posting (here is a further article on Ravelry Etiquette in general). A key topic we discussed in our meeting was the difference between replying to a thread, and replying to a post in a thread. To reply to a thread, click the “reply to thread” button located at the top of the first post on the first page of the thread. To reply to a specific post, click the “reply” button located within the post itself.
Groups: Groups are Ravelry’s clubs – designers may have their own group for promoting their designs and interacting with their customer base; LYSs may have groups for the same purpose. Guilds may have a member group. Still other groups exist to explore shared interests, such as knitting for men, or a certain television show. You can join as many as you like, and participate in their specific forums, share FOs, etc. The wiki entry is here.
Shop: This is a promotional area for Ravelry gear, as well as the marketplace for Ravelry advertisers who own fibre-related businesses, and featured pattern stores. Wiki page here.
Help: As mentioned at the beginning of this entry, this is the place where you should start when you have questions about Ravelry’s functionality.
Hitting Our Ravelry Stride
Next in our now-ongoing exploration of the site, we’ll be tackling the Notebook. Hopefully this one won’t be a tearjerker… womp womp…