Storm Cloud Shawlette: The Perfect Project For Imperfect Handspun Yarn

Two years ago, I bought some soft blue Corriedale wool with touches of yellow silk in it. The minute I saw it, I thought of fog or mist. My plan was to spin a gossamer thin yarn and make a lacy shawl with it. However, as a beginning spinner, I wasn’t sure if I could make a lace weight yarn that was elegant enough to live up to my visions for this pretty fiber. I spun other things in my stash, waiting to be good enough to make the yarn.

I mentioned how I would be spinning this fiber if only I was good enough to my friend Deb. Deb happens to know a ton about spinning and knitting, and has years of experience doing both. I’m pretty sure she can make any yarn she wants. Her advice set me free.

She said: “Go ahead and spin it up. Don’t worry if it comes out a little lumpy. Make your shawl with elongated garter stitch. It will be lacy-looking and it won’t require the fine thread a complicated lace would.”

I was flabbergasted that she thought I should just dive in and make imperfect yarn. The next day, a friend on Facebook posted photos of the shawl she had just finished, which used elongated garter stitch. I took it as a sign from the universe that I should follow Deb’s advice. I got the link to the free pattern and started spinning.

My handspun: nearly 100 grams (3.4 ounces) of naturally dyed Corriedale (indigo) and silk (marigold).
My handspun: nearly 100 grams (3.4 ounces) of naturally dyed Corriedale (indigo) and silk (marigold).

As predicted, my yarn is not perfect. I’m not even sure it’s good. But when I sat down and started knitting, I discovered I didn’t care. I was so excited to be making something with yarn I’d made myself that the lumps were easy to love, like freckles on a child’s nose.

Hanna Breetz’s Storm Cloud Shawlette pattern is quite simple to make, although I did have moments where I wasn’t paying attention. Picking up dropped stitches when you are intentionally dropping yarn-overs is a little tricky. Still, I love the results. Even better, I had some yarn left over.

The finished shawl. I've already worn it to the grocery store to fend off the air conditioning, and it worked great.
The finished shawl. I’ve already worn it to the grocery store to fend off the air conditioning, and it worked great.
And I now have an excuse to go buy a shawl pin!
And I now have an excuse to go buy a shawl pin!

If I hadn’t followed Deb’s advice, this fiber would still be waiting for me to get up the nerve to use it. Instead, I have a lovely shawl made from delicately colored wool I adore and my spinning skills are a little better than they were. Everybody wins!

Have you ever tackled a project you didn’t feel ready for? How did it turn out? Did you like the results?

Finished Friday: Knit Tomato and Napramach Bag (In Progress)

I continue to knit at random.

When I told a friend this, she imagined yarn strung all over the place with little patches of knitting attached. What I actually mean is that I keep grabbing patterns and making them just to keep my hands busy. My latest keep-busy knit was the tomato from Amigurumi Knits by Hansi Singh.


I also tried the carrot from the same book, but quickly realized something was wrong. The piece was coming out way too wide and I still had a bunch of rows to go. I did a quick search on Ravelry and found out that the photo in the book, which shows a very elegant carrot, does not match the pattern in the book. Many people just cut the pattern down, stopping at the halfway point, but their carrots still didn’t look like the carrot in the book. I lost all interest in making the carrot, so I have nothing to show you for the time I spent on it.

Napramach Bag in Folk Bags
Napramach Bag in Folk Bags

Fed up with random knitting, I decided it was time to start a project with a purpose. I pulled Folk Bags: 30 Knitting Patterns & Tales From Around the World by Vicki Square off my shelf and flipped through it. I came across the long thin Napramach Bag of Ubekistan and thought it would make a wonderful hand spindle bag. To add to the fun, I decided to use my own hand-spun yarn to make it. What could be better than a bag for hand-spinning tools knit out of hand-spun yarns?

The first side of my version of the Napramach bag.
The first side of my version of the Napramach bag.

As soon as I finished knitting the first side, I blocked it so I could see how things were going. The bag is coming out bigger than the pattern predicts, which is no surprise. I didn’t bother with gauge because 1) my yarns are various sizes and 2) it doesn’t have to fit anything (except my spindles). The good news: it’s actually a good size for carrying my spindles and other yarn-related tools. The bad news: I have to knit the second side and I’m pretty sure I’m going to run out of yarn.

I’ve launched into the second side anyway, switching two of the yarns in the pattern to help with the not-enough-yarn problem. I know I’m going to run out of some of the more distinctive yarns. I don’t know if I will just introduce other colors or if I’ll try to get more roving and spin matching yarn to finish up the bag. I’ll be at my favorite fiber store later next week, so it will probably depend on what they have in stock.

I’m having great fun working on this larger project, despite my anxieties about not having enough yarn. Knitting something out of yarn I made myself is a satisfying and pleasing experience, even though the yarn is far from perfect. The quirky bag that is going to be the result of all my efforts is going to be the perfect home for my spindles. I can’t wait until it’s done!

Finished Friday: Knitted Octopus and More Yarn

I finished another Hansi Singh pattern this week. I was curious about the shaping of the octopus head, so I made one. Mine isn’t as colorful as the red and yellow example in her book, but I like how it turned out.

My version of Hansi Singh’s Octopus.
I love that the head is so realistic in shape.
I love that the head is so realistic in shape.

The legs have pipe cleaners in them so you can hook those arms around anything. I think this octopus is going to move around a lot more than my other knit toys do.

My octopus is all ready to lend a hand. (Sorry. I couldn't resist.)
My octopus is all ready to lend a hand. (Sorry. I couldn’t resist.)

I am also spinning again. I’m stuck with my novel and trying to get the story moving by letting my brain wander. I got out my hand spindles for these yarns, partially because I was away from home and needed to pack light, and partially because my character lives long before spinning wheels were invented.

The blue is Corriedale dyed with Indigo. The red is Cotswold dyed with madder. (I bought both fibers prepped and dyed.)
The blue is Corriedale dyed with indigo. The red is Cotswold dyed with madder. (I bought both fibers already prepped and dyed.)

I have had a glimmer of an insane art project idea. Actually, it’s an idea I’ve toyed with in the past, but this time new things are connecting with it and giving me exciting new ideas about how to approach it. The project is huge, complicated, and enticing. I’m going to let it cook some more before I talk about it with anyone, but I think I know what I’ll be working on in my studio next. Unfortunately, it’ll be a long time before any of it is ready for Finished Friday.

Finished Friday: Socks Done At Last! Plus More Yarn


I had to unravel part of the left sock so I could reshape the toe, and to look up Kitchener stitch in another book, but I finally got these socks done. It turns out Kitchener stitch isn’t quite the perfect join I thought it was. There’s one edge that is bumpy and doesn’t blend in with the stockinette stitch. That knowledge, plus having tried multiple times to get it to work, helped me to be satisfied with my final try. It also looks a lot better on a short seam than a long one.

Spinning update: I was right about the Corriedale. There were neps (twisted lumps of fiber) in the roving that only combing could have removed, and since I don’t have combs or know how to do that, I just spun the roving as it was. I took advantage of the less-than-perfect Corriedale and experimented with different pulleys on my wheel to see how it felt to make thicker and thinner yarns. The nep-filled Corriedale worked a little better thick than thin, although now that I have switched to a different fiber, I can see that the neps were really causing me problems.

The fiber I just finished spinning is Bluefaced Leicester and it’s a dream to handle. 4 oz spun and plied without a single curse word!

My first Bluefaced Leicester handpun yarn.
My first Bluefaced Leicester handpun yarn.

Unfinished Friday: Why My Socks Aren’t Done Yet

The fancy socks I started a month ago are almost done, but how to finish them has me stumped. I need to graft the toes closed, and I cannot get Kitchener stitch to work.

Kitchener stitch is a way to join two rows of stitches that are still on the needles by creating a row of fake knitting between them. When you knit socks in the round from the top down, you eventually need to close the tube up at the toe. Done properly, Kitchener stitch does the job beautifully, without leaving a seam. The goal is an invisible join.

Apparently, I am not capable of doing Kitchener stitch properly, despite the fact that I’ve been knitting socks for almost 30 years. After two tries, I got something on the first sock that now looks fantastic when I compare it with sock number two. Also, the sock for the left foot came out way too long, so I had to unravel a bunch of it to get it closer to the right length, and lost my shaping in the process.

Invisible join? I think not! (Plus I dropped some stitches. ARGH!)
Invisible join? I think not! (Plus I dropped some stitches. ARGH!)

Even if I liked my latest attempt at grafting (which I don’t), I dropped some stitches in the process and need to undo everything to pick them back up. If I want to be happy with the sock, I probably need to unravel it even more so I can re-shape the toe. And then I get to close it up with my ugly Kitchener stitch one more time.

Which is why I set my knitting aside and turned to my spinning wheel.

When I got my new wheel, I started out spinning some wool that came with it. It was easy to spin, only I didn’t know that. I’m a beginner. It wasn’t until I switched to a new fiber that I realized the first one had been a dream to work with in comparison.

I’m not sure why the Corriedale is so hard to spin, but it is. The wool doesn’t draft smoothly. It comes apart as I’m trying to feed it to the wheel. I can’t keep it from slubbing (generating random lumps that are obvious in the finished yarn). I tried carding some of it, hoping that additional preparation would make it easier to use. Instead, it got worse.

Faced with these unexpected challenges at the spinning wheel, I immediately made a list of things to do. I can read up on the characteristics of the type of wool I’m trying to spin and see if I learn anything helpful. I can take a sample of the roving to my friend who is a spinning expert and see what she has to say about it. I can get out some of my other wool and start playing with that.

Note that “Set this aside and forget about it for a while, possibly forever” is not an option, like it was with the socks.

Why is my spinning frustration not stopping me cold? Because I am still a beginner and I know it. I have loads to learn about spinning and I need to ask for help if I want to get any better at it. I’m pretty sure things will improve if I take the time to learn more about it.

Since I’ve been knitting socks forever, asking for help with that didn’t even cross my mind. However, I’m actually a beginner at Kitchener stitch. I’ve managed to avoid it almost completely over the years. I can’t see any other way to finish these socks unless I staple the toes shut, and I’m worried the staples will scratch.

Instead of giving up, it’s time to look through all my knitting books, check out the how-to videos on YouTube, read blog posts and ask my knitting friends for any tips they have for dealing with this stitch. It clearly works for at least some knitters out there, so I should be able to get it to work, too.

I just have to be willing to ask for help to learn how.

What do you do when you get frustrated by things you think you should already know? Are you good at being a beginner or do you find it uncomfortable? Are any of your projects stalled because you got stuck?

Finished Friday: One Sock and Two Skeins of Yarn

As predicted, most of my art time is going to spinning right now, so first up are some skeins of yarn I finished this week.

The first one is my very first skein spun on my new spinning wheel. I chose to do a Navajo 3-ply (or chain-ply) to finish the yarn, and I liked the result: a soft and fluffy yarn.  I inherited the fiber along with the wheel. The previous owner thinks it may be Romney wool. (There is another larger skein of this, but I still need to wash it, so it’s not really finished yet.)

Romney wool? The first yarn off my new wheel.
The first yarn off my new spinning wheel.

The other skein is yarn that I spun and plied on my hand spindles. This is a naturally dyed Corriedale that I bought at the Estes Park Wool Festival last summer. It’s been in storage on my plying spindle, waiting for me to wash it. I have more yarn to wash, but it all looks like what you see here.

Spindle-spun Corriedale dyed with Indigo and Golden Marguerite.
Spindle-spun Corriedale dyed with Indigo and Golden Marguerite.

And now for the first sock in the pair of fancy socks (Traveler’s Socks by Stefanie Bold) I started knitting two weeks ago:

The other sock is still on my needles.
The other sock is still on my needles.

As predicted, this pattern is more challenging than the one I usually use for socks. I had to unravel a bunch of rows because I’d misread the pattern, but I’ve been much more careful since. The second sock,  a mirror image of the first, will be much easier because I understand how the pattern works now.

Accept These Three Essentials To Reduce the Discomfort of Being a Beginner

My toy cat Sandro sporting the first yarn I ever made.
My toy cat Sandro sporting the first yarn I ever made.

The first time I ever spun yarn was at a heritage festival at the French Azilum in Wysox, PA. A woman dressed as a colonist handed me her spindle and helped me spin a few inches of blue roving. Then she broke it off, let it twist back onto itself, and handed me my scrap of yarn.

I stared at the yarn in amazement. I had made it myself from a piece of fluff. As a knitter, I knew the magic of turning a single thread into fabric with two needles, but this magic seemed even greater.

I waited nearly 20 years to try spinning again, but I finally took a class last May. I stocked up on roving at the Estes Park Wool Market in June and used a hand spindle to start making yarn.

This weekend, I got my first spinning wheel.

My "new" spinning wheel: the portable Victoria by Louet. *love*
My “new” spinning wheel: the portable Victoria by Louet. *love*


The wheel is a hand-me-down from a friend’s mother. I picked it up while visiting her last week. Since my friend has cats who think yarn is better than food, I only got to play with the wheel for half an hour. I promised myself I’d spend my first free afternoon at home using it. I imagined myself setting up the wheel after lunch and spinning until dinner time at least.

What I hadn’t counted on was the fact that I’m a beginner. I’ve done some spinning with spindles in the months since I took my class, but I am far from experienced. My initial excitement over the fact that I was able to actually spin within a few minutes the first time I set up the wheel was deflated when I got it out at home and tried again.

All the handspun yarn I've made. Ever.
All the handspun yarn I’ve made. Ever.

Disaster after disaster occurred.

My single (the thread I was spinning) broke and I lost the end on the bobbin. I didn’t know this was possible but apparently it can happen. The end disappears between the material already on the bobbin and you have to dig to find it. I unwound the entire bobbin trying to find the missing end.

I started again, only this time the single wouldn’t wind onto the bobbin at all. My adjustable flyer hook was sliding around so I couldn’t control where the single was going. My fiber would tangle up on the flyer or in my hands.

I’m pretty sure my big problem is that things are out of balance. There are two sources of tension and my attempts to adjust them didn’t help. Because the wheel has been used before, I probably need to replace a few of the more vulnerable parts, like the drive band, which is loose and not as efficient as it might be.

But the real lesson here isn’t what I need to do improve the wheel. It’s the reminder than whenever I want to learn how to do something new, I have to accept that it will take patience, perseverance, and humility.

Patience is obvious. I know it takes time to learn, but I want instant competence. I want to get underway right away, even if it’s something I’ve never done before. That it may take me time to collect the materials I need, let alone learn a new skill, is not something I want to hear.

I need to persevere because I am going to have to practice my new skill until I stop feeling like an octopus on roller skates. Just getting the hang of treadling the wheel with my feet while my hands are doing something at a completely different rhythm is a good example. It feels awkward right now, but one day it will be automatic.

Humility is the most important piece of all.

I need to admit I don’t know what I’m doing, and then ask someone for help. Fortunately, I am friends with Deborah Robson who has been spinning for decades. She can answer my questions with ease and has already offered to look at the wheel with me.

I also need to be willing to suck. I am not going to make gorgeous yarn right out of the gate. I am going to make beginner yarn. It is going to be lumpy, with too much twist or too little, a thing only a mother could love. My perfectionist will have to go re-organize the spice rack, because it will be a while before I have enough control to produce yarn according to a plan.

I am readjusting my expectations. I am not going to get all my roving spun this week. Any spinning I do get done will not be award-winning, unless there is a Lumpy Yarn award out there. But I will be getting started on a new journey and learning how to do new things.

And I just remembered the most important thing of all.

I love to learn.

Have you tried something new recently? What lessons did you learn about being a beginner?