CU Spinners and Weavers Show n’ Tell

My guild is awesome. I’m sure there are other wonderful fiber groups out there–the fiber community has been one of the most excellent and welcoming collectives I have ever experienced. But my guild? The Champaign-Urbana Spinners and Weavers? Yeah. They’re awesome. Now I just have to follow up with some proof, right?

Luckily for me, we had our very well attended annual Show and Tell guild meeting this month. The breadth and depth of knowledge on display was fabulous: lace, felting, socks, rugs, blankets, shawls, dishcloths; you name it and someone made it this past summer. Here are a few highlights to get you inspired. [Photo credits to each of the makers]


Myrna Madigan: Close up of a Sock Loopers Woven Rug

Notes from the maker: Both are woven of sock loopers, the circles cut from socks that are mill rejects.  I chain the multi color loops together to make a continuous weft.  The small knots at the end of each color make an interesting texture effect to the finished piece.  I chose to warp my loom in black as I felt this looks best with the multi color weft.


Beth Engelbrecht-Wiggans: Natural Pigments Dyeing

Notes from the maker:  I attended my first Convergence this summer. Convergence is the meeting of the Handweavers Guild of America. They meet every 2 years in a large city somewhere in the states. This year it was in Milwaukee (close).  I went for the whole time and took 4 classes.  The attached picture is from my Natural Pigments class with John Marshall.  It was a wonderful class, I was shown a whole new level of dying that I had never even imagined.


Kate Winkler: In the Pink Shawl

Notes from the maker: In the Pink Shawl for my niece’s wedding. Skacel merino lace weight yarn, size 5 needles. Unusual and challenging construction; I’m now knitting a long strip of the edging pattern and will pick up stitches to fill in the body of a (possibly semicircular) shawl.


Melissa Siegmund: Felted Beehive


Melissa Siegmund: Felted Flowers and Vase

Notes from the maker: I am a knitter that currently is drawn to most things that are  knitted and then felted.  I really enjoy the transformation of a loosely knit item into something much firmer and more three-dimensional. The Iris pattern is by Pick Up Sticks and the vase pattern is by Plymouth Yarn. It’s for my mom and will be a great match to her kitchen colors and last much longer than the ones out of my garden! The Woolly Beehive Skep pattern is by Marie Mayhew Designs.  It’s for my husband’s grandma to add to her bee collection.  I can’t wait to show my adopted grandma and fellow knitter the finished product the next time we see her!


Irene McGary: Star Trek Socks

Notes from the maker: I based these on the Ravelry pattern, Star Trek Socks by Laura Hohman, with some modification. I knit top down, attempting to use Cat Bordhi’s Cedar Sock architecture, but the maths kinda made my eyes cross. I really shouldn’t be complaining about the math, but I did it wrong about 7 million times, and the color work messed up the usual stretch factor. The umber colored, Command Sock, has WWJTKD on the toe, of course standing for what would James T(iberius) Kirk Do? I did a little manipulating to make the blue Science socks, (nowhere was the science insignia charted, I mean what?) which has WWSTSD on the toe, for Spock. Remember how Spock is always like “Terrans have difficulty pronouncing my full name,” well bam, I don’t have to pronounce your name to knit it, Mr. S’chn T’gai Spock.


Jayne Burkhardtt: Woven Table Runner

Notes from the maker: This is a table runner which I wove this summer. It is a “huck lace” pattern and is in 3/2 pearl cotton.  It is a fairly easy pattern, with the most difficult part being twisting the fringe.


Jane Barry:  Woven Taquete Placemat

Notes from the maker: This is one of the Taquete placemats I wove this summer. They were woven on an 8 harness loom and required 8 picks to complete one row. I have  towels inspired by the placemats coming off the loom tomorrow done in turned Taquete. The towels are done on 4 shafts with all the color in the warp .


Esther Peregrine: Woven Silk Scarf


Notes from the maker: This is a scarf I wove from my home-gown, hand-reeled silk. I used a Swedish lace pattern alternating blocks touching with blocks spaced apart every 10 inches. Woven as raw silk and degummed after weaving. Each thread was from 80 to 100 filiaments thick. Sett of 45 e.p.i. (ends per inch). 6.5 x 60 inches plus a 3 inch twisted fringe. Weighs about 1 oz, equivalent to 150 cocoons worth of silk.


Debbie Mandel: Spurlock CUSWG Project


Debbie Mandel: Spurlock CUSWG Project

Last, but certainly not least, is one of the beautiful Spurlock Museum Projects by Debbie Mandel. You can read more about the guild’s collaboration on the museum website. I know that the project is from a few years ago (and not this past summer), but oh my, I think it bears revisiting. The doily was designed from scratch based on the museum’s collections, the lace yarn was spun by Debbie and then knitted. Gorgeous, don’t you think?

Posted in community, fiber, fiber artist, FO, inspiration, spinners and weavers guild, unicorns | 2 Comments

Reader, I Did Not Buy 11 Pounds of Fiber

Oh, I thought about it.

I dreamed about it (no, really!)

Someday, I may still click the buy now button . . .

But that 11 lbs of fiber sitting in an online shopping cart somewhere in the interwebs will remain virtual for the time being. Why? Well, because I have been doing some thinking and planning and recognizing: I have a lot of fiber. I am probably beyond S.A.B.L.E., as in I need help STAT! There are some excellent bloggers out there who track the yardage in and out of their stashes–I admire them greatly. I have not dared to do this math. But I know that I have a few (ahem) bins of fiber and yarn in the “yarn” room.

As I have posted here before, my stash is part curated collection, part living organism, and part wishful thinking. I have some skeins and braids that I do not imagine ever using–they are simply too beautiful or one of a kinds (OOAKs). A good majority of the yarn and fiber is in the working category–ready to be knit and attached to an upcoming pattern. And then there is the rest, which is basically a placeholder for all of the extra time, space, and skill I dream of acquiring someday. For now, a portion of my stash soothes that ache to be a full-time fiberista.

So, where would this 11lbs of fiber fit in? Imagine the time it would take to spin it up; the fun in planning strategies for the use of color and texture; the tubs of finished handspun that could then join the fantasy train of knitting projects I will magically find the time to take on. Imagine it with me, now, and just for a few seconds. Ahhhhh. Right?

But there is always a dark side to stashing: the potential for moths (oh, my dear friend had a case of them recently and it was terribly troubling); the potential for sadness and stress over happiness and fun; the storage issues–yep, I would need to buy at least a few more bins; and the languishing braids, fleece, and yarn that are already yearning to break free from the stash and find my wheels and needles.

And so, dear reader, with some reason and a bit of will power, I did not buy 11 pounds of fiber. Yet.


Posted in acquisitions, fiber, lap waste, spinning, unexpected | 4 Comments


When I first started spinning, I was a bit more adventurous–mostly because I had no idea what I was actually doing! Then, I found my first few braids, purchased some raw fleece, and began to believe that everything should be 4oz, fully spun, plied, and put away. Looking back, it was a period of important learning: putting in the hours, being consistent, building stamina, producing finished products that could be evaluated.


What I didn’t know then, that I have since learned from spinners such as Rachel Smith and Sarah (of Fiber Trek) is that sampling smaller runs of fiber can be extremely helpful–and that it’s not wasteful. Indeed, sampling is the equivalent of gauge swatching: without it, you’re spinning into the void.

So, what started out as bobbin clearing via bracelet plying, turned into a mini session of trying all the things. Ok, ok, not all the things, but some of the things I have been wanting to check out or revisit, or play with. PLAY; when spinning becomes more about testing and less about the finished product. I’ve written about being a process-driven knitter and a product-driven spinner. But this latest development brings spinning into the realm of process for me. And it makes me look at my stash of fiber in a new way.

Inspired by Rachel’s podcasts and a few scrappy bobbins, I grabbed a few things that were doomed to sit in my bins of fiber forever: the bits of fiber that were “too small to spin up into anything useful” and the fleece that has been waiting a year for processing. I did some sampling. And I loved it. And I will do so much more of it before I ever spin a full braid ever again.


Tech specs (for those interested in all things fiber):

  • Top two skeins: 2 ply, bracelet plyed from my combination spin
  • Middle skein is a 3 ply from a tiny, but gorgeous 50/50 merino yak Hipstrings sample
  • Bottom skein is a 2 ply, spun from washed, flick carded Corriedale locks
Posted in community, fiber, handspun, homespun, sampling, spinning, testing, unexpected | 2 Comments

Found: Rachel Smith

I’ll admit to being a bit of a Podcast junkie . . . especially when traveling or working out on the internet free farm in New York. Download and go. And, of course, knitting and spinning related podcasts are the best–we all agree, I’m sure.

So, you can imagine my happiness when I stumbled upon Rachel Smith of I was catching up on some Spencer TV (as we like to call it) and also sneaking in some knitting technique videos for the hot pants I’m knitting–more on that soon–when lo and behold, there was a new face in my “suggested” YouTube video sidebar. Hmm, I thought, this could be neat. After about 2 minutes, I was swept away in love with Rachel’s podcast, her energy and enthusiasm, and her focus on handknits from handspun yarn.

If you have never seen her “Wool n’ Spinning”podcast, I’m linking to the latest post below . . . but luckily for you and me, this is episode 37, which means there are 36 other episodes to enjoy! Talk about spinning TV. Yes, please! I immediately went to episode #1.

For me, the best things about this podcast are:

  1. A real focus on handspinning–how to sample, how to spin for a purpose, how to test and measure and evaluate the yarn you’re creating.
  2. Rachel’s can-do attitude. She is undaunted by any amount of fiber; she likes to sample and try things out–no worries about wasting fiber etc; and she believes in improvement through practice.
  3. Inspiration: You’ve heard me say this before about other podcasters I love, such as Sarah of Fiber Trek. Like many of us, these ladies have a lot going on in their lives, but they prioritize their craft and that’s an inspiration for all of us! Plus, I learned things about drafting and fiber preparation (from the first few episodes alone!) that I have been wondering about for years.

In short, I want to savor each episode, do what Rachel does–in terms of sampling and trying out fiber and techniques, and enjoy a small window into the life of another fiber enthusiast. Rachel, if you’re out there: thank you! I can’t wait to learn more!


Posted in community, fleece to knit, found, handspun, knitting, spinner, spinning, unexpected, unicorns | 4 Comments

Man at Work




When he’s not reinventing the knitty naughty, Spencer has been hard at work on the loom. Right now we have it set up for all manner of twill and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying S’s spirit of innovation and experimentation . . . that, and the constant stream of YouTube weaving videos that he queues up in the evenings for us to watch together.

Tonight, he *even* broke out the Handweaver’s Pattern Dictionary. I am usually the pattern person, but not when it comes to weaving. So, when he came into the room wielding that book and asking me questions, I had to politely decline any and all weaving knowledge. Maybe the guild’s WWW study group is his best bet. I’ll keep working on that angle, methinks.

Happy Thursday, everyone!

Posted in big projects, inspiraton, loom, Spencer, Uncategorized, weaving | 1 Comment

Knitty Naughty

This is a guest post by Spencer

I think I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: knitters and spinners like their gear. They start out with a few sets of knitting needles, and you think to yourself “There is absolutely no chance the house will fill up with that stuff.” Before you know it, though, you’re lugging old spinning wheels back from the backwoods of Pennsylvania (I’m not making this up), placing them beside other spinning wheels, and then watching as things like the kitchen table get pushed out of the way to make room for the floor loom.

I see a time in the not so distant future when our house will be so thoroughly stuffed with fibers of various kinds (and fiber-related equipment), that we’ll be out back living in a tent. In the tent, skeins of yarn will hang from lines hung above our heads, and the clickity-clack of knitting needles we remain ever present.

But the thing is that I’ve contributed to everything that is naughty about knitting in that I’ve now made yet another niddy noddy. While the proper term is in fact niddy noddy, I prefer to think of it as a knitty naughty as that name conjures up all that is deviant, wild, and edgy about knitting. What knitter is not somehow naughty, especially when they pull out their niddy noddy?

So what is a niddy noddy / knitty naughty? Well, it’s for nothing less than turning freshly spun and/or plied yarn into tidy skeins that get artfully twisted up, adored, compared, squished, smelled, rubbed against cheeks, and then buried deep in the stash. The knitty naughty is naughty, then, because it is a fiber consolidation tool: it is part of the wicked process of moving big bags of puffy fleece toward the much denser bins of spun yarn, a trick that makes it look like there’s less fiber lying around when there is in fact many times more.

And it’s worse: This is the second knitty naughty that I’ve made. The first one ended up being a bit small, giving birth to truncated little baby skeins of yarn that I hear the other knitters and spinners all laughed at. So now there are two knitty naughties on the premises. “Can we get rid of the old one now that you have this big new one?” I shouldn’t have asked. Apparently the old, too-small one “might come in handy some day.”

Anyway, here is a video documenting the steps involved in constructing this new-and-improved niddy noddy / knitty naughty. Whereas my dwarf-like niddy noddy 1.0 turned out micro skeins, this bigger one produces legitimate 2 yard skeins, given the much more robust size of the Viking-like device.

Of course, there is room for improvement: When I get around to making Knitty Naughty 3.0, it will have to be 1) less beefy in terms of the dimensions of the wood, 2) a bit closer to square in all of its angles (this one is a tad off in places), 3) adorned with longer cross-arms.

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Adapting a Pattern

Hot Pantz Math was so much fun that I asked my better half (and video-maker husband) to whip up a quick instructional video for  posterity. I am proud to present another installment in what he has termed the “Melissa Knits/Melissa Spins” series of videos hosted on his YouTube site!

In this 15 minute tutorial, I discuss the basics of pattern modification. If you haven’t tried it before, never fear! All you need are body measurements, a gauge swatch, a calculator, and the pattern you want to modify. Note: you can also invent a pattern using similar techniques! I’ve tested this method out on three of the four sweaters I’ve made and thus far had great luck with the techniques I use. Being able to modify a pattern has allowed me to knit garments that I like because they actually fit me–hopefully you’ll feel the same way. If you are already an expert modifier, please leave a comment with your own techniques, tips, and tricks so that we can all benefit from your knowledge! Some of my own favorite links to other bloggers and instructors are listed after the video tutorial, so scroll on down to the bottom of this post for more information.

If you are interested in other takes on modification, check out these other terrific bloggers, designers, and instructional videos:

Posted in gauge, help!, instruction, knitting, knitting math, measuring, pattern, tricks and tips | 2 Comments