28 Nov 2013

To Infinity and Beyond...

You have to admire Mathematicians. They figure out how to do remarkable things like calculate the distance from here to some distant planet, and how to make a three-dimensional object which only has a single side! 

We have all done this experiment at school, haven't we — you take a strip of paper, give it a half-twist and fasten it together. Then you start tracing a line with your pencil and before you know it you are back at the beginning and, what's more, you're still on the same side!

Wikipedia informs me that this was discovered by two German Mathematicians, one called August Ferdinand Möbius in 1858, and he gave his name to what we now know as the Mœbius strip.

A piece of paper ready to be joined into a Mœbius strip.
In the 1930's some Mœbius designs were seen in the work of the fashion designer Madeleine Vionnet. Then in the 1980's, Elizabeth Zimmermann realised that you could work this idea into knitting and that the twist made the item sit beautifully around your neck. The Mœbius Scarf was born.

These have become high fashion items over the last few years and wonderfully oversized versions can be seen in all the leading magazines. Referred to by their other name "Infinity Scarves", they have been featured on catwalks, runway shows and television programmes.

The scarf I am featuring in this blogpost is called the Sawston Infinity Scarf and is especially comfortable to wear as it is made from one of the softest wool fibres around, the Bluefaced Leicester, or BFL for short.

The BFL sheep breed was developed in the North of England over the 18th and 19th centuries and became acknowledged as a separate breed in the early 20th century. Now it is one of the most highly prized breeds in England and is also well represented in a number of other countries.

The fibre is soft and fine, measuring about 22-25 microns (close to the range of merino, which is usually about 18-24 microns). The wool is lustrous and items made from this yarn drape beautifully. The fibres have very smooth scales on the surface so the wool does not felt easily and is comfortable to wear. It also takes dye very well so good strong colours can be obtained.

The Sawston Infinity Scarf pattern also includes a smaller version, the Sawston Cowl and either can either be worked in hand-spun yarn or West Yorkshire Spinner's "WYS Bluefaced Leicester DK", which is a wonderful yarn to work with. 

I love hand-spinning BFL fleece. It is an easy fibre to work with as it has a good staple-length and both woollen and worsted spinning give good results. 

The Sawston Infinity Scarf scarf is warm and cozy and can be worn open with a nice "pocket" for your hands like a muffler, or it can be doubled up to give a wonderful sense of warmth around your neck on a cold day. 

* * * * *

And now for Wovember, here are some facts about the Bluefaced Leicester breed:

The Bluefaced Leicester is one of three Leicester breeds, which also includes Border Leicesters and Leicester Longwool sheep.

The BFL sheep is so named because the skin on the face has a blue tinge. The wool is white!

They are large sheep, with adult ewes weighing about 80Kg (175 lbs) and rams about 115Kg (250 lbs). However, their average fleece weighs only 2-3 Kg (4-6 lbs).

* * * * *

Enjoy spinning and using some BFL wool this month! If you haven't tried it before, you're in for a treat.

For more details of the Sawston Cowl and Infinity Scarf knitting pattern, please click here

Happy Spinning and BFL knitting!


10 Nov 2013

Two strands held together...

They say that no learning is ever wasted, and that really proved to be the case for me with machine knitting. I had two knitting machines some years ago, one for standard-gauge and one for chunky. The chunky one would work up every yarn that I was using for hand knitting — ever a Lopi sweater that had stalled in my hand-knitting basket was completed on this machine.

However, it was the standard-gauge knitting machine that was really an eye opener, with its punch-card patterning, the ease of shaping a garment from a hand-drawn outline and the wonderful range of additional yarn options using coned yarn.

I had never really appreciated coned yarns before, thinking that they were purely for machine use or weaving. However, when you use them doubled or even trebled then they can easily be used for hand knitting too.

For example, one of the versions of the Elizabeth Scarf pattern is worked using two strands of a wonderfully soft 100% wool coned yarn, Jaggerspun "Maine Line". This is available in a wide range of yarn sizes and colours (see the colour chart at the top of this blog), and there is also a heathered version available.

I pre-washed the yarn in my usual way (and please see the earlier blogpost for info on that), and then wound the yarn into two balls. Holding the two yarn ends together gave a super-toasty result. The separate strands trap air between them, making a light-weight but cozy combination. And that is not the only benefit of using coned yarns: they are often spun a little tighter too, which reduces pilling and makes the final fabric stronger.

Jaggerspun also make a few other varieties of yarn, including a "Superfine Merino" that would be fabulous for this scarf, and they have a list of distributors on their website. In the UK, Uppingham Yarn have whole rooms of coned yarns, including a wonderfully soft lambswool yarn spun by Z Hinchliffe in Denby Dale, West Yorkshire.

Lambswool is the short and springy fibre that comes from the first shearing season, and the material for the coned yarn from Z Hinchliffe is sourced from Geelong in Australia. Merino sheep have been bred here for generations and some of the finest and softest yarns have come from this part of the world. They are so prized that they have even made their way onto some Australian stamps!

* * * * *

And here are some sheepy facts relating to the Merino sheep:

Dwayne Black from Australia went into the record books in 2007 by shearing a merino lamb in 53.88 seconds!

Merino wool generally measures less than 24 microns in diameter, but Ultrafine merino can be as fine as just 10 microns.

Spanish breeders developed the Merino breed in the 13th and 14th centuries, and even up to the 18th century exporting any animals from this breed was punishable by death.

* * * * *

Try using two strands of yarn held together the next time you fancy knitting something special, and enjoy the extra yarn options that that opens up!

If you would like more details of the Elizabeth Scarf pattern, then please click here

Happy Knitting!


Last Blogpost: It's Wovember!

. 25/7/18 W

1 Nov 2013

It's Wovember!

No — that's not a spelling mistake! November 1st sees the start of a month-long Celebration of Wool. This began in 2011 as a campaign to encourage everyone to wear, use and appreciate this most basic, fundamental and remarkable fibre. 

The Wovember website is fairly buzzing right now with ideas on how you can make more of wool this month. There are links to current activities and photographs from shepherds raising sheep, shops selling wool yarn and crafters using 100% wool. 

I am going to join in the celebrations this month by highlighting projects using my patterns that can be worked in 100% wool. I'll also be talking about different sheep breeds that have been used for those projects and throwing in some interesting woolly facts along the way. 

Today, I am going to feature the Rare Earth Rug and Rare Earth Cushions knitting patterns. These were inspired by the trees outside my studio window in New England the first winter we were living there. I had never experienced a winter in these northerly climes before and was amazed at how early in the season the first snowflakes started to fall. 

Indeed the trees still had a wealth of colour in their branches when the first snows arrived, coating every limb with a dusting of white. It was truly magical. 

I decided to see if I could capture those impressions in a handspun rug. Earlier that year I had purchased a wonderful "bicolour" fleece with shades of black and grey which seemed to echo the colours I was seeing outside. I separated out the colours and carded them separately, then blended them together with some bright white wool to give 5 different shades. 

I then sat with my spinning wheel, cozily ensconced indoors while the snow continued to drift down outside. I wrapped a card with the patterning I had in my mind and compared it with the new vision from the window. Unfortunately, everything was now blanketed with snow! However, I still had the mental image of how it had been earlier.

I love the fact that you can get such a wonderful range of colours in wool without having to step near a dye-pot! Not only does this make the whole spinning process simpler, but the yarn is soft and cozy without the addition of any chemicals or harsh treatment.

It was still snowy when I completed the rug several weeks later. I had spun a generous amount of yarn to make sure I had enough and still had quite a bit left over. So I set to and made some cushions to match. I even managed to find some great sheepy buttons to finish them off!

Now, of course, you don't have to do what I did and start with a fleece and a spinning wheel to make these items, as there are great resources available right in your local yarn store. Cascade 220 or Knit Picks Wool of the Andes would both be excellent alternatives. 

The fleeces I used came from Corriedale sheep raised in Wisconsin. Corriedale is a breed that came to the USA in the early 20th century derived from a Merino-Lincoln cross in New Zealand and Australia. The wool still shows the softness of its merino ancestry, but has the extra length from its Lincoln parent too.

And to finish, I promised some fun facts on sheep and wool: 

* * * * * 

. Sheep were domesticated between 9,000 and 11,000 years ago in Mesopotamia, roughly where Iraq, Syria and Turkey are now. 

. Wool can absorb nearly 30% of its weight in water, yet gives off heat when it dries – so hill walkers always prefer wearing woollen trousers to denim. 

. Wool is also fire resistant, tending to smoulder or even go out in a fire in comparison to some synthetic materials which can melt onto the skin. Oooch! 

* * * * * 

If you would like more details of my these two patterns or the other rug and cushion patterns available, please see my website. 

Until next time — enjoy working with wool! 


Last Blogpost: How long shall I make this scarf?
Next Up: Two strands held together...

Thanks to my husband Tim for the picture at the top of this blogpost, which shows sheep grazing in the Brecon Beacons in Wales. Please visit his Flickr page to see more of his pictures.

. 23/12/18 W


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