Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Spin to Knit: Thoughts by Pete Leonard

The Spin to Knit course is the only one which is taught by two tutors. Carol and Pete Leonard will offer an opportunity to spinners who can spin at a basic level (a continuous thread) and those who are more experienced spinners.  Pete here draws on some examples from his own knitting.

My mother taught me to knit, close to 60 years ago; I’ve been spinning, and a Guild member, for 25 years. I still count myself only a beginner weaver. While I am aware that there is an excellent organisation devoted to knitters and crocheters, I also know that there are many more people who spin and knit than there are those who spin and weave.

It was with this thought in mind that we devised the course “Spin to Knit” that we taught, successfully I think, at Summer School 2007 in Lincoln. We’ve revised the content of this course quite substantially, but our purpose remains the same: to cater for spinners who want to knit their handspun yarn.

Many spinners routinely create their usual generic yarn with not much thought to what the end purpose is to be. In this course, we will explore the different methods of fibre preparation, drafting, types of fibre and how these work together in creating a suitable yarn for our chosen purpose.

All knitters know the importance of swatching, even if we sometimes ignore it. When knitting a commercial pattern, especially if using the yarn recommended, it is possible to get away with not swatching. With handspun yarn, you risk spending a lot of effort, ultimately to be disappointed in the outcome; ask me how I know! Some years ago, I knitted a jacket type of sweater for a friend’s 50th knitted a small swatch and determined that my gauge was 5 stitches to the inch. I can’t remember exactly how far I got – but it was a long way, as I am good at sticking my head in the sand - before admitting that what I was making was more like an overcoat! An error of one stitch per inch in such thick yarn made an enormous difference; my friend eventually received his gift for his 51st

The photo on the right reminds me of another reason for being aware how my yarn will behave when knitted. I derived the pattern for this sweater from Priscilla Gibson Roberts’ excellent Knitting in the Old Way; I owe her a great debt for being the person who taught me to spin on a top whorl spindle. One motif is a cable that shows up perfectly well in my slightly variegated handspun, dyed Polwarth. The other is a series of triangles, formed by purling nine stitches, then eight, seven, decreasing to one(with the remaining stitches knitted) on successive rounds. This actually shows up much better in the photo than “in the flesh”. I am quite happy with my sweater (except that we hardly ever get weather cold enough to warrant my wearing it) but I could have loved it even more if I had done a larger swatch and chosen a more appropriate alternate motif.

I am currently knitting a “Diamonds” sweater, using a nice dyed wool/mohair blend. The photo in the pattern, from the Wensleydale Longwool Sheep Shop, uses a plain coloured commercial yarn that shows the diamonds very sharply. Yes, there are diamonds in my swatch! I made the conscious decision to continue with the sweater, as I believed that the pattern would show up better in the full
piece. This is proving to be the case; making a good sized swatch has enabled me to make an informed choice.

This course will look at various types of fibre; the different methods of preparing them or the commercial preparations available; the drafting methods that could be used; the nature of the resulting yarn; and matching the type of project with the yarn. You will have the time to make your own swatches and compare the different effects of long and short draw, thicker and thinner yarn, “solid” coloured or variegated yarn, singles and plyed yarns, and a good deal more. As we always say when introducing ourselves, our primary purpose is for you to have fun.