New Group For Blind Spinners

There is a new group for blind spinners on Yahoo Groups. The blindstitchers list is such a wonderful resource, another blind spinner and I thought it would be great to have a list just for spinning.

 

To join, go to The Blind Spinners Yahoo Group page.

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One Thing Leads To Another

Since I’ve been spinning yarn I’ve discovered two things. One is that I don’t have enough time to knit all the yarn I’ve been spinning. That’s not really a problem; I’ll just have a stash that includes handspun yarn. The other thing I’ve learned is that roving isn’t really any cheaper than buying commercial yarn. That’s not really a problem either but I can’t buy nearly as much roving as I wish. I think we’re almost all in that boat whether it’s roving or yarn. One solution to this problem is to buy bare roving from Knitpicks and dye it myself. I’ll still be buying dyed rovings but the prices at Knitpicks are too good to pass up as usual. It’s also really fun to dye your own yarn.

Yesterday my sister-in-law and I went to a workshop through the local knitting guild. I died two skeins of sock yarn. I am told that they turned out beautiful. I used a medium brown, a forest green, and a color called deep maroon. I think the yarn is going to turn into the Multnomah shawl. You can find it on the designer’s blog. Skip through the hedings until you find the list of patterns. The shawl will be the third one down.

At the workshop we learned how to dye yarn in the microwave. It’s surprisingly easy. I had to have a little help to make sure the dye covered the entire skein but I can already think of ways to solve that issue. One idea I had is to dye the entire skein a light base color and then over dye it with darker shades of coordinating colors. I’m still working out the best way to pull that off. I’ve ordered a hot plate and I’m going to turn my canner into a dye pot soon. Then I’ll be able to compare both techniques. My thought at the moment is that both ways are going to have their advantages and disadvantages in regards to both the results you get and visual impairment issues. The bottom line is that I think it is entirely doable for a blind person to dye their own yarn. We just have to be a little more systematic about it and we’re all used to that already.

Wool Diaper Covers

Diaper soaker that Owen was too big for at birth.

As most of you know, I have a 9 month old son. My husband and I chose to cloth diaper for a variety of reasons. Namely it’s better for the environment, better for the baby and also better on the wallet. Well, better for the wallet if your baby doesn’t go through 4 sizes in 8 months but that’s another story.

 One of the more interesting things I learned while doing endless hours of cloth diaper research involved the qualities of wool. It turns out that with the addition of natural lanolin wool is both water resistant and antibacterial. These are very useful properties when it comes to diaper covers. Lanolin comes from sheep and is a wax. It is water resistant and this combined with the fact that wool absorbs%30 of its weight before it feels wet makes it a great material for a diaper cover. Lanolin is also slightly antibacterial so the diaper covers don’t need frequent washing like you would expect. When urine touches the lanolin it creates a soap like substance. It’s almost self-cleaning. Wool diaper covers only need to be washed every 2 or 3 weeks; very convenient for busy parents. One last quality that makes wool great for diaper covers is its breathability. If you think about it, none of us walk around in plastic clothes. That sounds like it would be miserable. I would rather have wool any day so I think my baby would too.

In the midst of all my diaper research I came across commercial wool diaper covers. They were all around $30 or more. I’m sure they are wonderful but that’s way out of my price range for a diaper cover. Especially considering the fact that I would need half a dozen or so. Then it occurs to me that I am a knitter and I knit with wool. I’m sure you can see the light bulb going off in my head. I am obviously not the first person to have this idea. Not to mention all of the women throughout history, there is actually a whole Yahoo group for users and knitters of wool diaper covers. “Lucky me,” I think, “Someone has already done the work of designing a cover for me.” There are actually quite a few diaper cover patterns out there. I’ll provide links to a few at the end of this post. I could knit a whole diaper cover with yarn to spare for less than $8. This sounded like a much better deal. Plus I love knitting practical things.

For me the maternal nesting instinct took the form of knitting wool diaper covers. They didn’t take long to knit and it was very satisfying. I knit a few newborn covers and some in the small size. Owen was born at almost 10lbs so that ruled out using the newborn sizes right off the bat. Then he gained a pound a week for the first month so there went another size. To make a long and repetitive story short, he’s just now slowing his growth down to a point where it’s actually feasible to knit some covers that he might be able to wear for more than a month. There was no way I was spending what little time I had knitting covers that he was going to grow out of so fast.

Most of the diaper cover patterns I’ve tried have been pretty good.
They probably fit great on most babies but they just don’t fit right on mine. The best cover I found was the Warm Heart Woolies Wrap. It works great but it involves either sewing on Velcro or buttons. I would rather have a pull on style, especially since the baby is learning how to pull the Velcro and take his cover off. Another pattern I liked was the Snap Dragon Soaker. It’s knit from the top down in the round. It uses the Kitchener stitch to seam the crotch so it is seamless when you are done. The crotch is a bit narrow and you have to pick up stitches around the legs to make the cuffs. I crocheted cuffs so it was a lot faster. It seemed as though there was one little thing wrong with each pattern I tried and they were all different things. So I got to thinking that it would be really nice to combine elements from both of these covers into one. Now you have me designing my own diaper cover. I’m on the third incarnation and I’m hoping that the changes I make to this one will make it perfect for my baby. Unfortunately, the changes include short rows. It’s about time I figure out this wrapping thing.

One really awesome thing about the cover I’m working on at the moment is that I’m knitting it out of my own handspun yarn. I had it died a pretty blue and the places where the yarn was tied aren’t died as deeply or not at all. Even my husband commented on the really nice effect the color variations make. It goes from a blue to a lighter blue to white. This is the first thing I’ve knit from my handspun and I’m really enjoying how it’s knitting up.

Here are a few diaper cover patterns. When making these to use with cloth diapers it is important to use regular feltable wool. If you’re making a cover to go over a disposable diaper just for looks, you can use whatever yarn you would like.

 

Warm Heart Woollies Wrap

Snap Dragon Soaker

Down Under Diaper cover

 

More Information:

More than you ever wanted to know about lanolin.

How to wash wool diaper covers

Just in case you were wondering the history of diapers.

Getting Through the Boring Bits

Aside from socks, my favorite knitting project is capes, groovy substitutes for sweaters or jackets. The concept is simple enough: I make a collar or neckband as I would for a sweater; then I increase at regular or irregular intervals until the garment is 2 feet (60 cm) long. I just finished one, in fact, a frothy thing in spring pinks and greens made of a tulle-like cotton-silk ribbon yarn.

There one big drawback is that rows get longer as the cape grows, so the rows in the last few inches before the bind off can take one to two hours, depending on the number of stitches and on the complexity of the stitch pattern being used. Not surprisingly then, however exciting the project was in the beginning and however high my motivation is to wear it, the last vertical third of the cape turns the Zen of knitting into a twitchy fear of boredom and an unwillingness to keep on keeping on.

So how does one plod along?

By doing something else at the same time.

I think I’ve mentioned here that my mom taught me to knit when I was in kindergarten, but beyond a few scarves, shawls, and blankets for my dolls and an anomalous blanket for myself in college, I didn’t do much with the craft until my mid thirties, When I took up the needles again.

Initially, when I returned to knitting, I could not do anything while I knit. I had to concentrate on what I was doing, especially once I started working with interesting stitch patterns. After a year or two, I found my mind wandering, so I started knitting while my favorite TV shows were on, saving the tricky needle maneuvers for commercial breaks. Over time, I realized that I was getting wild and exotic with my needles even during the most dramatic scenes, a discovery which gave me confidence to try stitches that were more involved while my shows were on.

By this point, I had wholeheartedly embraced the power of multitasking during tedious stretches of yarn craft. My first intentional use of the power was when I came to terms with the fact that I’d put off fringing a shawl for over a year, so I cranked on AC/DC, Candlebox, and GodSmack, and fringed away. That worked so well that heavy metal became my cure for every-tedious-craft-related-thing from swatching to weaving in ends.

It occurred to me that I could move from music and TV to audiobooks. There really is no end to my gratitude for MP3 players and their capacity to play hours and hours of audio books without human intervention (the victor Stream rocks). I began with the comfortingly formulaic, steamy bodice rippers and murder mysteries, genres I read frequently and know well. I noticed the same pattern with audiobooks as for television: simple stitches (like stockinet, garter, or ribbing) at first with pauses for tricky knitting or complex listening, fewer pauses over time, and eventually, steady forward movement in both activities.

Since I learned to listen to books while I knit, I’ve gotten more knitting and more reading done, two fabulous outcomes. There are still times, of course, when I need to stop one activity in order to do the other well. Just yesterday, I got so caught up in a book that I kept screwing up the knitting. But for the most part, having an interesting distraction–like TV, music, or audiobook listening—is the best way to get through a long boring stretch of yarn.

Spinning Time

The good news is spinning is taking a lot longer. The bad news is spinning is taking a lot longer.

The part I like about spinning taking longer is that I’m getting better at it. The singles I’m spinning are a lot thinner and more consistent. When I ply the two singles together it will probably be somewhere between a sport and worsted weight yarn. Much better than my first yarn which was bulky with very large slubs that look like little worm cocoons. The other good thing about it is that I’m not going through roving at such a fast pace. After I went through the first 16oz. in less than a week I was getting worried. Roving isn’t much cheaper than yarn and at that rate I wasn’t going to be able to afford to spin very much. This was very disappointing since I was having a great time doing it. Luckily for me, my spinning has improved and it’s taken me a couple of weeks of serious spinning time to finish my current 16oz. project.

This leads me to the bad part. It turns out I can spend a lot of time spinning. Enough time, in fact, that I’ve managed to make the muscles in my right hand sore. I’ve done this with knitting but I didn’t really see how it could happen with spinning. Last week I went to a spinning get together. I want to call it a sit and spin but that conjures up way to many funny images. Anyway, I rode with another spinner and she actually wasn’t spinning because she had done too much over the weekend and her wrists were hurting from it. Now I understand. It seems that any repetitive motion, no matter how minor, can cause stress and pain. I know it’s obvious but it’s so easy to forget when you’re having fun.

I had to take a couple of days off from spinning but now my hand is all better and I can get back to it. I’ll be sure to let you know how my latest yarn turns out after I get it plyed.

Winding Yarn the Modern Way

One of my favorite yarny gadgets is my Knit Picks Ball Winder. There are few things in life as miraculous and elegant as the center pull skein, a cylinder of yarn you just pull and pull from. Its one flaw, though, is that it gets misshapen and battered as it shrinks, so rewinding the leftover yarn becomes necessary when the project is finished or when yarn havoc is reeking as the work is still on the needles. “Grab a piece of paper, and wind around that,” you say. I can, but the paper slips out or loops of yarn drop off the ends, and I’ve got a tangled mess to take care of. This problem gets even bigger when I need to wind the yarn that comes in hanks, the braid-like twists expensive and handmade yarn is often sold in. For these jobs, nothing beats a ball winder or the cute cake-like center pull skeins it makes, and my favorite part of the ball winder made and sold by Knit Picks is that it gives users the option of a handle or a clamp, so they can pick where and how to use their winder.

This post is mostly about how to use a ball winder. The one I have is the Knit Picks Ball Winder, which sells for about 20 dollars, a good price, but the instructions should work for any ball winder since they all have a standard shape and work more or less the same. Mine is made out of durable plastic and is light-weight, so it’s easy to carry around the house. It’s relatively small, accommodating about 3.5 ounces or 100 grams of yarn, though thinner yarn works a little better than the thicker stuff.

The ball winder itself is a square platform with a tall wide-brimmed hat on top. One side of the platform has a crank, like the handle used to roll the windows in a car up and down, and on the other side of the platform is a sturdy L-shaped guiding wire that starts underneath and points straight up to the ceiling, like an arm bent at the elbow. These are the four important parts. The platform or base is the part that is clamped to a table. The “hat,” which is called a spindle assembly, is what the yarn wraps around. The crank is what turns the “hat” and causes the yarn to wrap evenly. The guiding wire is what keeps the yarn from tangling around the bottom of the spindle assembly and also lets the operator (you or I) put more or less tension on the yarn. The fifth part of the ball winder is the clamp or the fixed handle, depending on which either one of us is in the mood to use.

Clamping the Ball Winder to a Flat Surface

The clamp is a big L-shaped screw. The long leg of the screw has a wing nut and a large plastic wedge. The short leg of the screw has a small screw with a large head. To clamp the ball winder to the edge of a table, follow a few simple steps:

1. Remove the short screw from the short leg of the large screw.
2. Turn the ball winder so that the bottom of the base is facing the ceiling.
3. Locate a hole on the side of the platform. It is near the crank.
4. Insert the short leg of the clamp into this hole.
5. Locate a rectangular hole on the part of the base that is facing the ceiling now. It is inside a large recessed circle. You should have no trouble feeling the short leg of the screw in that rectangular hole.
6. Wind the short screw back into the short leg of the clamp. Make sure the long leg is pointing toward the ceiling.
7. Turn the ball winder right side up so that the bottom of the platform is facing the floor.
8. Set the ball winder on the edge of a table, slide the plastic wedge up to the underside of the table, and tighten the wing nut until the ball winder is firmly in place. For best results, place the ball winder near the corner of the table.

I position the ball winder so that the turn handle is to my left and the vertical guiding wire is to my right. Well, I guess I should say that I clamp the winder close to the corner of a table or counter and position myself in front of it so I can turn the crank with my left hand.

Winding the Yarn

Winding the yarn is essentially a three-step process, which involves running the yarn through the guiding wire, securing it on the top of the hat-shaped spindle assembly, and turning the crank. Here’s how that’s done:

1. Running the yarn through the guiding wire — Notice that the top of the guiding wire has a coil, really just a loop with a hanging tail. Lay the yarn between the two loops at the top of the guiding wire. The Yarn tail should be in front, and the ball end should be in back. Next, pull the yarn tail down, behind, and to the left of the wire tail. Then pull the ball end down, in front of, and to the right of the guiding wire. The yarn is now through both loops, with the tail end closest to the rest of the ball winder.
2. Securing the yarn — Notice that the top of the hat-shaped spindle assembly has two grooves, where the bullet grazed the wearer as she ducked down. Turn the “hat” so that one of the grooves is close to the guiding wire. Then lay the yarn across the “crown of the hat,” positioned in both grooves. I like to leave a longish tail, at least 6 inches (15 cm). Some people like to put a stitch marker or safety pin around the yarn at the “crown” so they can find it easily.
3. Turning the crank – Pull the guiding wire toward you as far as it goes. Place your right hand on the guiding wire, loosely holding the yarn against the wire itself or against the table near the wire. Then turn the crank clockwise with your left hand at a slow steady rate, and use your right hand to put a small amount of tension on the yarn that is being fed to the ball winder.

When I was new to winding yarn, my preferred method was to cup my right hand around the guiding wire. I could use my palm to keep track of the yarn being fed to the winder, and I still had my fingers free to check that the yarn was wrapping correctly around the spindle assembly. Now I don’t bother checking the spindle assembly because I can tell I’ve got problems when I feel heaviness or lightness as I turn the crank.

Winding While Walking

If, like me, you don’t have very many good flat surfaces to clamp your ball winder to, you can remove the clamp from the Knit Picks model and attach the fixed handle. The handle is about as long as the guiding wire, and its general shape is like the handles at both ends of a big rolling pin.

Attaching the handle is simple.

1. Turn the ball winder so that the bottom of the base is facing the ceiling.
2. Run a finger around the flat end of the fixed handle, noticing two small tabs around the edge.
3. Locate a large circular recess in the center of the base.
4. Run a finger around the circular recess in the base, noticing two small notches around the edge.
5. Position the fixed handle in the circular recess so that the tabs fit into the notches. (This is where technical manuals get all male-and-female).
6. Twist the fixed handle clockwise until you feel it click into place.

The winding process is the same. The yarn is run through the guiding wire, secured on the spindle assembly, and wrapped around the device with the crank. In fact, the first few times I wound yarn, I balanced the winder on my stomach or thigh while I did exactly what I described in the previous section.

Once I felt comfortable with the process, though, I grabbed the winder by the fixed handle, catching the yarn between the handle and my palm, and cranked away. I paused to check frequently the first few times, but eventually learned to trust the yarn and the crank to let me know what was going on.

I decided to get a ball winder because I had a few hanks of yarn to work with, but I bought the cheapest one I could find because I thought I wouldn’t use it very often. It’s turned out to be one of the handiest gadgets I have, and I really do use it fairly often. I’m glad I got the Knit Picks Ball Winder because, aside from selling at a great price, it gave me a chance to experiment with the clamp and the fixed handle. I discovered I’m a fixed handle kind of gal, so much so that I didn’t try the clamp until today as I was preparing this post.

finally Spinning

I’ve been interested in learning to spin for a while. A couple of years ago I bought a drop spindle, some roving and an instructional book online. I knew you held on to the spindle and dropped it while it spun to create the yarn. I couldn’t think of any reason a blind person wouldn’t be able to manage it. I missed one obvious point. The drop spindle falls toward the floor while it’s spinning and a totally blind person isn’t going to have any way of knowing when it is getting close to the floor. If you touch the spindle to find out where it is, you’re going to disrupt the spinning. If it hits the floor, it will lose the twist you’ve built up in your yarn. There might be a work around for this but I had one other problem when learning to spin with a drop spindle; I had no idea how to draft the roving. I tried to find instructions online but nothing made any sense without being able to see the videos. No one I know knew how to spin so I was on my own. Granted, I could have solved this problem by asking someone sighted to help me learn by watching the videos and explaining, but with the other problem of the spindle hitting the floor, I was discouraged. The drop spindle and the roving have sat in a box along with the instruction book since then. I’ve had vague intentions to scan the book but I didn’t think it would explain how a blind person could keep the spindle from hitting the floor so I never got around to it.

Flash forward to the present when a fellow blindstitcher mentions on the list that she’s selling her spinning wheel. Add to that the facts that she lives less than an hour from me and I’ve been harboring this wish to be able to spin, and you have one happy woman. I am the new owner of a Louet S51 double treadle. Louet wheels are supposed to be great to learn on. That specific model has been discontinued but the nice thing about Louet is that most of their wheels have interchangeable parts. If I ever need more bobbins or a different kind of flyer, it won’t be a problem.

I had no illusions that I could learn to use the spinning wheel on my own like I tried to do with the drop spindle. This was much more involved. I did some research online with the idea that I was going to need to drive about 45 minutes and take lessons at a yarn store. Luckily for me, I found out otherwise. It turns out there is a wonderful woman who lives in my county and gives private lessons. On top of this she used to be a special education teacher so she understands the nature of disabilities and is more likely to be able to explain things to a blind person. Out of curiosity, I did some asking around at the next Knitwits get together. Not surprisingly, she’s a member of the knitting guild I just joined) it’s not a very big town after all). They also sang her praises and said she would be a wonderful spinning teacher. All of these things seemed to come together in such a way that it felt like I was meant to learn to spin at this point in my life.

I’ve had one spinning lesson so far with two more to come later this week. I think it went fairly well. From the things she said, I’m doing just as well as the average sighted person. The hardest thing at the moment is trying to do four different things at once. There are a couple of issues with spinning as a blind person but they all seem manageable. One is making sure the wheel is going in the right direction. It has to be able to spin both ways because you spin the yarn one direction and ply it together in another. I will have to feel the wheel each time I start to make sure it’s right. The other issue that comes to mind is making sure the yarn stays on the hooks of the flyer. It looks like the problems that are coming up are simple and can be solved by doing a quick checklist before I start treadling.

What I’ve learned so far in all my spinning adventures is that it’s better to learn from an actual person. I know this isn’t always possible but sometimes it’s necessary. With that being said, I’m happy to answer any questions about spinning as a blind person.

Now that I know more about drafting I might get the drop spindle out and try it again. I’ll let you know if I can make it work. I think I’ll spend some time mastering the spinning wheel first, though.

Here is a directory of spinning terms and what they mean just in case you want to know.