Tutorial: How to Unwind a Skein

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About a week ago I got a great question from Mary, one of my students and customers.  She wrote, “How do you unravel a twist of yarn? Made a mess and I am sure there is a correct way but I’m not privy it and I have three more to go….Mary.”  When Mary was talking about a twist of yarn, she was talking about a skein.  And this can be quite puzzling if you’ve never dealt with yarn stored this way.

I thought it was a great question, so I’ve put together a tutorial about it.  Since it’s a fairly picture-heavy post, I’ve put the rest of the post behind a cut so the photographs won’t slow down the loading time on the website.

But first, why is yarn stored in skeins, and not pre-wound for customers?  There are a couple of different reasons.  First, it’s generally agreed that keeping your yarn wound into balls for long periods of time can stretch out the yarn, especially if the yarn is wound up tightly. Keeping it in a skein allows the yarn to breathe a bit more.  Second, it’s easier for yarn companies to ship their yarn in skeins: they take up less space, squish better, and lie flatter in boxes.  Yarn that is in balls tends to be hard for LYS’s to store – I used to call a couple of different balled yarns “tribbles,” as they seemed to jump off the shelves whenever my back was turned.  Finally, for hand-dyed yarns, gradients and a few other yarns, skeins allow customers to see all the colors in the skein better, so they’re not surprised by a “mystery color.”

So that’s why you often may get your yarn in skeins from a Local Yarn Store.  Most stores offer balling services if you buy the yarn in the store or if you pay a small fee.  But do expect to wait – often sales clerks have to fit in the winding of yarn around their other duties!

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The Most Incredible Amazing Ballwinder Ever

Back about a month or so ago I was teaching at SVFF, and I realized I’d left my ball winder at home.  I went to the organizers, and one of them arranged to have her balwinder at the festival the next day for me to use for my class.  (As an aside, the staff at SVFF were amazing.  If I lived closer, I’m want to become friends with all of them.  You know when you just meet someone and you immediately sense that they’d be a really great friend?  That was nearly the entire staff of SVFF.)

The next day when the ball winder came, I was in awe.  Serious, envious awe.  I’d never seen a ball winder like it, and I’ve seen more than a few.  It wasn’t a Royal or a Knitpicks  or a Boye Electric Winder – those are all plastic, and wear out fairly quickly.   It wasn’t one of the wooden ones: neither a Strauch nor one of Nancy’s Knit Knacks commercial heavy duty ball winder.  Both of the wooden ones I’ve used at several different stores: both the motorized ones and the hand turning ones.

No, this thing was hefty, made out of cast iron or aluminum, and geared in a way I’d never seen before. This thing looked like it could be thrown against a wall and still be OK.  I fell instantly in love – and as soon as I got home I ordered myself one.

The ball winder, made by Stanwood Needlecraft (who I’ve never heard about), is absolutely lovely.  Priced lower than the wooden ones, I’d say it’s comparable in durability, and can wind up to 10 oz of yarn with no problem – more than double what most of the plastic models can handle.  I’ve barely gotten to use the ball winder since I’ve gotten it, since each time I go to wind a ball of yarn, Mr. Turtle pulls it out of my hands and winds it for me – apparently the smooth running of the gears makes him happy.

It works differently than other ball winders – the little arm you see rising out from under the ball winder goes in one direction while the white center part runs in the other direction – creating a ball that winds very quickly and smoothly.  Balls are much more regular, and perhaps even more densely wound – meaning they hold their shape better even when you’ve pulled the center out.

The gearing is wonderful: very precise and I don’t see it wearing out anytime soon, since all the parts are metal.  The only detractor is the running can be rather loud if you go all out and are really cranking away – but slow it down and it gets quiet again.

So where can you get this ball winder?  It’s cheapest on the website, but also can be found on Amazon.  Seriously.  I’m in love with it.

PS: I was not compensated in any way shape or form for reviewing this ball winder.  I just love it.

Post Mortem: Witchlace

It’s time for another round of Post Mortems!  I have to admit, I’ve dropped the ball with the last two releases – so while I’m away you get a double dose.  Witchlace today, and Devil at Crossroads later this week.

I tried to go back and look and see if I could find the design call for the Knit Picks Collection, but it’s been lost in the email transition, more than likely.  So you’ll have to do with my recolection.

Witchlace was a natural extension of Newport.  In Newport I used side to side shaping to create a ribbed effect.  In Witchlace, I wanted to push the idea  little bit further.  What else could I do with side to side shaping?

I also really wanted to make a yoked cardigan, mostly because I was pretty burnt out on figuring out shoulder shaping when working a design side to side.  I’d been swatching in the round with broomstick crochet for a while.  After I finished with Sunburst, I wanted to do more with broomstick, but I didn’t want to weave in nearly as many ends!

A yoked cardigan seemed like the right answer.  Plus, I love little glimpses of collarbones – that hint of skin is both very feminine and sexy!

At this point, I was still proposing with my old letterhead.  I’m really proud of the sketch here – I think it conveyed very well what I was going for.  I dithered a lot about cutting out her head or not, but I’d really messed up on her face and didn’t want to do the sketch over, so I just cropped it out.  I don’t think it hurts the sub too much.

I’m not sure what I’d write about things I’d do differently or well.  As I mentioned before, I think my “hooks” (the little intros I write that frame the piece) are well done, but I don’t have much proof that they influence the publisher’s choice or not.  I think that the hooks matter a little more in magazines (where I find they are sometimes used) more than design collections like this one.  Shortly after this submission I went to my new letterhead and logo, which I think was a good improvement.

Have a Post Mortem?  Are you talking about your design subs and what you think you did well, or not?  Let me know, I’d love to feature you, or do a writeup!

Inspirations and Influences: Witchlace

Last week KnitPicks released Witchlace, and I was barely able to create the Ravelry page and the page on my blog.  So I wanted to spend a little bit of time talking about Witchlace, why I love it, and why I think you should make it.

Witchlace is part of the KnitPicks Serenity Collection, which I’m tempted to make two or three things out of myself.  It’s worked side to side, much like Newport – and in fact, they were conceived as ideas close together.  Like Newport, Witchlace uses short rows for shaping, as the majority of the sweater is worked side to side.  Once the front, back and sleeves are done, the yoke is picked up and worked in distinctive broomstick crochet.

I LOVED working with Galileo.  It’s a beautiful, beautiful yarn and has an amazing hand.  It also lends itself well to crochet, and it comes in very vibrant and jewl-toned colors.  I would design something else in this yarn in a heartbeat – I’ve actually got a few ideas I think would work out well.

In a way, Witchlace was also heavily influenced by the design I made for Tangled Magazine: Sunburst Shawl.  Like the motifs in Sunburst, the broomstick lace in Witchlace is worked in the round – making the distinctive yoke pattern.

I have so much more to tell you about designing this pattern, but I’ll save it for my Post Mortem of Witchlace in a few days.


Ravelry Link Here
Published in:  Knit Picks Serenity Crochet Collection, KnitPicks
Craft: Crochet
Category: Sweater → Pullover
Published: June 2013
Yarns suggested: Knit Picks Galileo
Yarn weight: Sport / 5 ply (12 wpi)
Gauge:  20 stitches and 15 rows = 4 inches in alternating rows of sc and dc worked through the back loop
Needle size: US 19 – 15.0 mm
Hook size: 3.5 mm (E)
Yardage: 1090 – 2970 yards (997 – 2716 m)
Sizes available: 32 (34, 36, 38, 40, 42, 44, 46, 48, 50, 52, 54, 56, 58, 60, 62, 64)”

This pattern is available for download for $4.99.

Early mornings around the house, days out and about and evenings in the yard – Witchlace is a sweater that embodies all of these moments. It’s both simple and feminine, pretty yet casual; reclaiming an old technique, broomstick lace, in a more modern way. The front, sleeves and back are worked while alternating rows of DC or HDC with single crochet. A textured ribbed effect is produced by working the stitches through the back loops. All four pieces are worked flat, blocked and seamed, then the yoke is picked up from each of the pieces and worked. Finally, the broomstick lace is started in the round and alternates with rows of single crochet (worked through both loops) up to the neckline.

For more information, see:

Got questions?  Wondering if you should make this?  This is the place to ask!

Writing a Pattern

scribbling as I thought things through –
when I write notes, I always label  them with name and date,
a holdover from highschool. Blocked here because it’s a secret.

My schedule is changing over the next few weeks, as I leave one part time occupation and move to doing more designing.  The good news: I’m managing to make more money designing.  The scary news: in order to continue to make more money designing, I need to devote more time to it, which means shifting things around.

I don’t always embrace changes, especially changes in my routine.

But the benifit to my new schedule is that I’m fairly certain I can swing devoting ONE WHOLE DAY A WEEK to designing.  Which is great, because I’m the type of person who likes to sink into a project.  In college I was much happier putting aside a weekend and locking myself in the library while I worked on a sculpture, did research or wrote a thesis draft.  I’m not the type of person who can naturally plug away at a project in little chunks.  This isn’t to say that I can’t do it – it just doesn’t come naturally to me.

Well, yesterday I had the whole day to working on one of my projects – a design that will be coming out in July (tentatively).  Now some things like socks the ratios just come naturally to me.  I can make the pattern and the sample at the same time, because I have a very good idea of what I need to do.  But for sweaters, I try to do a rough draft before I start working.

This does a few things: I can’t revise if I don’t have something written down.  Have a rough draft printed out means I can write notes as I go and a thought comes to me on how to explain something.

Having a rough draft also forces me to think through the project from beginning to end.  Are there places where a picture might help explain a technique?  I can do that while I’m working on the sample.

It also forces me to make sure my math is right.

BUT.  Writing a rough draft means I need to think through every step, and do the math for ALL THE SIZES to make sure that what works for the small and medium will also work for the large.  It also means I need to set aside a chunk of time to think through everything – to sink myself into the project and imerse myself.  This isn’t something I can chip away at for a few hours here and a few hours there.  I need, at least a couple hour block.

And I got that yesterday.  The rough draft is written.  I’m ready to get started.  Wish me luck.