As you practice your fiber art skills, have you ever wondered about the craftspeople who came before you? The ones who figured out how to spin, the ones who figured out how to weave, the ones who figured out how to make fabric stretchy by interlocking loops of yarn with one another?
Unfortunately, their stories are lost to history, in part because textile production is so embedded in our culture that it began before humans had a written language. To add to the obscurity, many of the early tools used to produce and work with fabric didn't survive in the archaeological record. But the clues we do have are fascinating, and they indicate that spinning and weaving are very old indeed.
This Saturday, November 10, I'll be giving a presentation at the Black Sheep Handworx Studio. There's lots of interesting historical information about wool, fiber, sheep, and how it relates to us as fiber artists. Whatever fiber art you practice, there's something here for you!
In addition to the discussion, there will be demonstrations, explanations, and hands-on experiences that walk you through how wool is processed before it can become yarn, and how yarn is worked into cloth. The possibilities for customized cloth are endless!
You can purchase tickets at the Black Sheep Handworx Studio, or at 970tix. I hope to see you there!
Welcome to August! Are you ready for fall yet? I know I am. We spent (at least) two or three weeks in the hottest days of July with a non-functioning swamp cooler.* Now that it's fixed, I have the air blasting just so I can put on a long-sleeve shirt every now and then and dream of fall.
In July, I managed to finish a machine-knit sweater. I tried it on to make sure it fit, but took absolutely zero photos of it. And I made a SAORI-style table runner...and tons of yarn for Tour de Fleece. But the biggest thing is what you see above! I am now selling rug hooking wool and other supplies over on FiberCrafty!
There are lots of other odds and ends, but I think that's most of it! What are you working on this month?
*For all y'all who live somewhere humid, a swamp cooler is an air conditioner that intentionally adds humidity to your air. If you live in a dry climate like I do, it actually works pretty well to cool you off. (And if you grew up in a swampy place like I did, it's pretty alien to you to consider a swamp cooler to be a good thing.)
My handspun sweater is at that stage of doneness where it is wearable as a garment, but still needs a few finishing touches – sewing up those faux seams, adding some handwoven ribbon to keep the steeked edges covered, and there might still be a couple of ends that need weaving in. But we managed to get out to the park for a walk in the sunshine, and it was the perfect layer for a spring-like day (in January!).
Last week I filmed myself cutting the steek down the center front. Traditionally, steeks are cut in colorwork – a way to speed up the knitting, since colorwork is easier done in the round than worked flat.
Really though, you can use a steek just about anywhere – as long as you’re using a yarn that’s not too slippery.
Knitting the sweater in the round and then steeking it let me accomplish a couple of things. First, I was using handspun, which has more variety in thickness and color from skein to skein than commercial yarn. Knitting the sweater in the round meant that it would be visually even – no need to try to juggle matching left front to right front. Second, it meant I could knit a stockinette sweater with very little purling.
Actually I did purl – the center front has one purl stitch, and each side has a purl stitch where the seam will be. The purl in the center front made for an easy visual for where to steek, and the side purls are there for a faux seam and to add a little bit of structure. But that’s it!
Steeking intimidates a lot of people because it seems so dangerous! Won’t the knitting unravel? Interestingly, knit stitches don’t really want to unravel in the direction a steek is normally cut, which helps soothe most people’s fears.
When you cut a steek, there are a couple of different ways to reinforce it to keep all your hard work from unraveling. The two main techniques I’ve seen are using a sewing machine and crocheted reinforcement.
Using a Sewing Machine to Reinforce a Steek
The idea is simple: sew a couple of rows of stitches just outside the cut. The machine-sewn stitches are strong and disappear into the fabric. You do have to be careful not to stretch the knitting as it goes through the sewing machine, or else risk a “ruffly” edge, but this technique is great for yarns that might not traditionally be steeked, like cotton or acrylic. You can find a bunch of great tips about machine sewn steeks here.
Reinforcing a Steek With Crochet Stitches
This technique uses two columns of crocheted stitches just outside the column of stitches to be cut. The crocheted stitches pull away from each other, leaving you a clear cutting path. Once cut, they roll under whatever edging you add, giving you a nice edge. This is my go-to tutorial for the crocheted method.
This second technique is the one I used for my sweater, partially because I like it, and partially because I didn’t want to haul out the sewing machine. Then it was just snip, snip, snip, and I had a cardigan instead of a pullover.
I’ve heard a lot over on Instagram about how daunting steeks can seem, but they’re really useful in a lot of situations. Maybe I’m a little obsessed, but I think every knitter should try steeking at least once!
Do you have any experience with steeking? I’d love to hear about it – or any questions you might have about the process. I’m all ears!
Lately, I've been enjoying Vickie Howell's Craft-ish podcast while I weave. It's a fascinating look into the lives and careers of makers of all types.
One of the themes Vickie touches on frequently is the difference between art and craft. It's a touchy subject for many, as things that are perceived as "craft" are often valued less - particularly crafts like knitting that are seen as women's work. Vickie often asks her guests to define the difference between art and craft, and one of my favorite definitions is that a work of art is never really done, while a craft has a set point at which it's finished.
That definition acknowledges that there is often a fine line between art and craft - a technique that is considered "crafty" doesn't have to be limited to crafts and can be used for fine art. And I think that something Vickie is hinting at is that so many more of us are artists than we allow ourselves to think.
Lately, I've been working on my Noro Log Cabin Blanket, which has been in the works for more than three years now. All the knitting is done, and I've decided it needs to be like a "real" quilt - with a backing and binding and everything. Partially this is so the knitting won't stretch out, but it's also because I keep thinking of ways to make the piece better, like a work of art.
Naturally, the blanket is too big and heavy to quilt on my sewing machine, which means I'm doing it by hand. The backing is a wool blanket I picked up at the Pendleton Woolen Mill on my travels last summer, and I'm enjoying the weight of it on my lap while I quilt away on it.
Once the quilting is done, I'll bind it with some of my handwoven tape. But that's a long way off still.
What about you? Do you have projects that toe the line between art and craft? Do you have your own definition of the difference?
When we went on our 2-month adventure last summer, I packed our RV full of yarn. But all my looms were way too big to fit in our RV, so all I had to keep me busy was my knitting and spinning.
The whole time, I wished I could weave, and longed for a little loom that could come on our trips with us.
And, since I've started weaving bands, I realized that I don't need a ton of width to weave on.
So we came up with this little loom, and of course it had to have sheep!
Now available in the shop, this little loom can be used to rigid heddle or card weaving, and at 18" x 10" x 8", it can go pretty much anywhere. I love how the beams let me warp more than my inkle loom, too. The warp you see in the top picture is about five yards long - much more than I could have gotten on my inkle loom, and in less space, too!
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