Small Hats for 2017


Before it fades too far into memory, I want to share a project which belongs firmly to last year. Looking back, I still can’t quite wrap my head around 2017. How can a year in which I found the news so distressing and depressing that I more or less stopped paying attention to it be the same one in which I met several of my fiber arts heroes, learned a ton, made wonderful connections at John C Campbell Folk School, etc? Of course like so many things, it’s not either/or, it’s both, with many more things in there besides. (I started thinking about either vs. both while Bryan was working on this project, and it appeared again when I was reading The Courage to Teach by Parker Palmer last summer. And again in this conversation with Brené Brown and Krista Tippett that I was just listening to. I think it may be important.)


pink handspun hats 2


A lot of the both/and of last year is in these little hats. At the beginning of the year I was both saddened by all the events that showed the need for the women’s march, and inspired by all the artists I saw “taking back” the color pink and making beautiful things. I thought a lot about two of my young nieces (then 6 and 8 years old), and what messages they were getting about the world. I wanted to make something for them that would act as some kind of balm, something that would represent what I wish for them; play and adventure and fun and the chance to express themselves as girls, to be wild and strong and free. And for myself, I wanted to make something different than I normally would, something that would be a place to put some of my feelings and transform them into something positive. I got out some pink wool, and started spinning, woolen-style.


pink handspun yarn


It felt good. And by carving out a little creative time every day and using it to spin, I made enough yarn for two small hats in short order. I decided to also incorporate some springy soft purple handspun yarn that I had traded another local fiber artist for, and cast on the first hat as I traveled to our family craft retreat in late March. The nieces in question were coming to visit us right after the retreat, and I arrived home with both hats mostly knitted, and finished up the last little bits in the evenings after the girls were in bed. Near the end of their visit, I brought out the spinning wheel, showed them how it worked and let them try it, and then gave them the hats. They, and their mama, loved them, which made me feel really good about the whole thing. It doesn’t seem like my place to post pictures which would probably embarrass them later, so you’ll just have to trust me that they looked wonderful, grinning and wearing the hats with their pajamas.


pink handspun hats 1

Caption-sized knitting notes: the pattern in the body of these hats is Quaker rib (the same as this shawl which I thought looked great in handspun), and the tendrils at the top are made following the directions from Cat Bordhi’s Anemone Hat pattern.


I hesitated a little bit about posting this, as it brings up some churn-y feelings from last spring, and I’m happy to say that I feel much more solid in general now than I did then. But after typing it out, I’m so glad I did. It gave me some good perspective, and I think I can even put more of name to last year. I’m definitely saying it was a good year, although a hard one. (If you still feel like the world is ending, may I suggest you read this article, and then go make something?)

I have quite high hopes for 2018 too, and some exciting things in the works that I’ll post more about soon. It’s early enough in the year, I’m still happy to wish you all a peaceful and fulfilling trip around the sun. May it be a good one, and with any luck not too hard!



Slow — What it Means to me Now


How I think about slowness, and about my life list of things I’d like to make, has changed pretty dramatically lately. I’ve been wanting to talk about it here, and Slow Fashion October has given me the perfect reason.

It started when I learned to spin. Then a little later, I realized how much I really could make, and how little I really needed. That feeling built, fed by the other things I was doing and reading, until the vast universe of possibilities suddenly felt expansive instead of overwhelming.


indigo handspunThis is apparently the only picture of my second batch of handspun before knitting.


You wouldn’t think that learning to spin would speed up my knitting, but it kind of did. The two batches of handspun I’ve made so far have gone pretty much straight to the needles, partly because I was so curious to see what I would learn by making something from my own yarn. So one thing was obvious from the start: I can spin all the yarn I need to knit with. In fact, if I spun even a little bit every day, I would end up with much more yarn than I usually consume.


tasha's quaker yarn stretcher 3It became a Quaker Yarn Stretcher Boomerang, a fantastic fit for the yarn.  I’ll post Details are now on Ravelry, but for now I want to focus on the thoughts.


I already have a pair of fingerless gloves, and a pair of dreamy mittens, and that’s really all my hands need. Between (ahem) making them and the ones my grandma wove, I’m approaching more fantastic scarves/shawls than I can actually wear. And then, I can’t imagine I need more than four good sweaters. Actually, my ideal would probably be three sweaters I absolutely love, and one to throw on when the going might get rough. Right now I have the rough one, a thrifted one I think is OK (but Bryan is not a fan of), and some other kind of makeshift stuff. But those got me through all last winter just fine. And my SFO goal is to re-finish one that will hopefully become one of the loved ones. I could make another one next winter or the winter after, and that would be more than fine. There’s actually plenty of time for me to find the perfect fleece, wash it, comb it, spin it …

So need, or maybe it would be more accurate to say lack of need, is a big part of this shift in my head. I find it incredibly helpful and freeing, and it goes something like this: if I already have most of what I really need for this winter, I’m free to spend my time making something really special (no matter how long it takes) or trying something new (ditto).

What I don’t know how to explain (in fact I’m not sure I’m explaining any of this very well) is why spinning in particular set me free from the desire to make all the things, but here I am. Of course, if I didn’t spin it would still be perfectly valid (maybe even more so) to say, “I have the capacity to make so much more than I will ever need.” In fact I think maybe every maker should say this, and see how they feel about it.

I know that time always seems short. I have struggled and struggled with that myself. But I’m coming closer to peace with it, and for me anyway, it doesn’t really have anything to do with productivity, with figuring out how much I can “fit” into a given time, how much I can accomplish or make. Ultimately, a good life isn’t about how much we do. It’s about what we do, what’s memorable, how we shape and enjoy our experiences.


tasha's quaker yarn stretcher 2


In theory when we decide to sew or knit something instead of buying it, we’re taking more time about it and being more thoughtful. But somehow pursuing a craft can also pull us into a spiral of wanting to make more and more, of making something just to finish it and go on to making something else, because we have so many ideas. Thinking about everything I’d like to make leaves me perpetually unsatisfied, as it always must, since I can think of about a dozen new ideas per day. Framing my making around what I need allows most of those ideas to pop up, get admired, and then just float away. Lovely though ideas are, they should not all be added to a perpetually growing list of things I “must” make.

Ironically, giving up on making all my ideas for the realms I usually work in (mainly clothing) may leave me time to take on things in my wildest crafting dreams. Try making shoes? How about a quilt from those passed-down handwoven scraps? Well if I’m content with what I have to wear for the moment, why the f#^k not?!


tasha's quaker yarn stretcher 4


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about all kinds of ideas around slowness. I listened to an interview with William Powers and I’m convinced I need to read his new book New Slow City. One thing he talks about is taking time to fully have an experience, just focusing on what you’re doing instead of already planning the next thing you’re going to do after it. I want to do craft like that. This week, I’ve been in the final stages of refinishing a treadle sewing machine cabinet, a project I have probably a months’ worth of total work hours sunk into. Just doing that, and thinking about nothing but that, running my hands over the velvety smooth wood and mulling over all the steps that got me there, it was so incredibly satisfying. Much more so than finishing four little projects and for each one just thinking “oh good, that’s done,” and moving on.

Letting go of a lot of my ideas does feel like somewhat of a surrender, but it feels like the kind when the heat of the day won’t let up, insects drone on, and finally there is nothing for it but to peel off whatever clothes are handy and throw yourself into the nearest body of cool water. Or the end of a long winter day, when nothing feels better than to pull warm cozy blankets all around you, and let your whole body relax.


tasha's quaker yarn stretcher


So here’s what slow fashion means to me right now: it means I will make just a few things at a time, and I will make them with my whole heart. It means I will allow ideas for things that I don’t need to float away, and concentrate on the projects that mean the most to me and those that will be the most useful. It means I will give myself space to enjoy the processes, the parts that bring me the most joy (like spinning) without worrying about what’s next on the list. And I think it will mean that the more I make in this slow way, the more I will wear my heart on the outside, all over my body.

Anybody else want in? The water’s fine …


Simple Textures

Here’s what I made with that first batch of my handspun yarn.  And how to make something similar yourself, if you’re interested!


first handspun cowl 2


I really wanted something simple, that would let the (ahem, very thick-and-than-thin) nature of the yarn shine through.  But, I’m not a knitter who’s happy with endless rounds of stockinette.  No offense to those that are, but I just need a little something pattern-wise to keep my brain engaged, and let me see that I’m making progress.

My gut-instinct guess was that I’d have enough yarn to make a small but substantial cowl.  Of course, there’s no label on my handspun to let me know the yardage, but I was able to estimate how much knitting I could get from the yarn pretty successfully.  I knit a swatch in my pattern, measured the dimensions, and weighed it, so I knew about how many square inches of knitting I could get from a certain amount of yarn by weight.  Then I weighed all the yarn I had, and used that number to figure out about how many square inches of total knitting I could make from it in this pattern.  I tried on a cowl I had, and estimated how big it would need to be to comfortably fit over one’s head, and how tall I would ideally want it, and arrived at a compromise number to cast on.


first handspun cowl 4


The finished cowl is 25″ around, and 7″ tall, which turned out to be plenty big!  At my gauge of 2.5 stitches/inch, I cast on 64 stitches.  I used Jeny’s Stretchy Slipknot Cast On.  (In this yarn—yes really!  More about that here.)  I did two rows (or maybe three? Forgot to write that down …) of plain knitting to make a little roll at the bottom, then switched to my pattern; alternating blocks of four knit and four purls stitches, and switching them after 4 rounds.

Of course you could use another simple pattern for the body of the cowl.  Just make sure that the total of your pattern repeat (in my case 8 stitches) divides evenly into the number of stitches you cast on.


first handspun cowl 3


When I was getting near my estimated total height, and at the end of a pattern repeat, I knit a couple more plain rows, and then bound off, using Elizabeth Zimmerman’s sewn bind-off.  I ended up using almost every bit of the yarn, which was definitely my intent!

I almost never buy yarn this chunky, so it seemed like the whole thing took about 5 seconds to knit.  In reality, it took parts of two days of traveling, and it was done!  So far, it seems like spinning is actually speeding up my production of finished knitted items, if that’s possible.  I actually have another finished handspun thing that just needs photos … and this one is off to live with someone dear to me, hopefully it will keep her neck warm this winter!


first handspun cowl 1


In the meantime, I hope this is helpful if you’re looking for something to make with a special bit of
thicker yarn, whether made by you or not!



Our Relationship with the Tangible World, or How I Learned to Spin


first handspun yarn 1

You may be able to guess what this is … yeah baby, my first bobbin of handspun yarn!


So it’s like this: My beautiful, wonderful cousin came to visit me (with my beautiful wonderful auntie) and when she went back home, she left her spinning wheel here for me to borrow while she’s at college this spring. Amazing!

I’ve been thinking vaguely about learning to spin for, um, the past two decades give or take, ever since I first practiced weaving with my grandmother. But it just seemed to take so long, like it would add so much time to my whole knitting/weaving process, so I wasn’t ready to commit. Needless to say, that was before the infinite list.

In my new post-infinite-list world, starting to spin seems like the perfect choice; an expression of surrender and adventure all at the same time. Since there’s no way to ever finish all the knitting I’d like to (or weaving for that matter), I might as well make some frickin’ yarn!


first handspun yarn 3


Spinning is pretty amazing (I’ll talk more about that in a minute), but one of the best parts about it so far is an accidental discovery. In an effort to keep my immediate-onset spinning obsession from taking over my whole life (remember, I’m supposed to be focusing this year), I decided on some rules: I wouldn’t read about spinning except during times when I would normally read something else, and I wouldn’t sit down to spin at odd times during the day. Instead, I would wait until just before bed. So every night at 10 pm, I give myself permission to stop whatever I’m doing, shut off the computer, and spin for up to half an hour before getting ready to sleep.

Oh people, this has been life-altering. A lot of the work I’ve been doing lately has been very abstract: putting my ideas out there to various people and institutions, basically a whole lot of online research and laboring for hours composing messages, many of which are never answered at all. I do hope that good things will come of it, but it’s basically a frustrating process that leaves me floating in inconclusiveness, and for the most part, kind of grouchy.

Then at the end of the day, I put all that aside and sit down to learn, to make something real, to interact with the tangible universe. I’m reminded of this quote from Anaïs Nin about letterpress printing (which I found, like a lot of my deep-thought quotes these days, via Brain Pickings):


The relationship to handcraft is a beautiful one. You are related bodily to a solid block of metal letters, to the weight of the trays, to the adroitness of spacing, to the tempo and temper of the machine. You acquire some of the weight and solidity of the metal, the strength and power of the machine. Each triumph is a conquest by the body, fingers, muscles. You live with your hands, in acts of physical deftness.
You pit your faculties against concrete problems. The victories are concrete, definable, touchable. A page of perfect printing. You can touch the page you wrote. We exult in what we master and discover. Instead of using one’s energy in a void, against frustrations, in anger against publishers, I use it on the press, type, paper, a source of energy. Solving problems, technical, mechanical problems. Which can be solved.


Although later this spring I will return this wheel to its rightful owner, I fully intend to keep this night practice going with knitting, or drawing, or something else. At 10 pm the computer shuts off, and I make something real for a little while before bed.

Some things you may be wondering: yes, the spinning wheel tempts me all day when I look at it, but in a sweet way of something to look forward to. And yes, if we’re going out at night or I think we’ll have guests staying late (I’m not really a late-night person and tend to crash hard if kept up past my bedtime) I find a half an hour earlier in the day to spin. Yes, this is in addition to the hour I still try my best to find every day for personal projects. I’m discovering that the more up-in-the-air my day’s work is, the more real-world-project time I need to stay happy.  I’m also a firm believer in taking the time your life will allow for the things that are really important to you. And yes, when I wake up at night lately I find myself thinking about twist in fiber, which I like much better than mulling over my worries!


first handspun yarn 2


Another thing that’s been beautiful about this process (although it sounds funny) is watching myself learn. I suppose I’ve absorbed the mantra I’ve told all my beginning knitting students: “You can do this! Anyone can do it if they just decide to practice it.” I do absolutely believe that this is true, that skill in handcraft is available to anyone who’s willing to start where they are (which a lot of times means training your hands from scratch) and keep practicing. It’s a gift we get just for being human, but it does take work.

Anyway, I’m cheating at learning spinning—the process is brand new to me but the feel of fibers and their qualities, the look and feel of yarn I’d like achieve, these things I already know. Not that I didn’t have lumps and bumps (you can see them!) and moments of beginner’s frustration which I had to push past, of course I did, and do still. But it’s been a long time since I learned something truly new to me, and maybe because of my teaching experience, but this time I’ve been able to let go of the outcome (a really healthy attitude for a first project in any material, I feel) and enjoy it. I’m a little surprised and pleased every time I sit at the wheel and notice that my technique is a little bit better, the yarn is coming out a little more even, or I just figured out some tiny thing that no one told me, it’s there in the materials and my hands to be discovered. When I first started I couldn’t spin from the imperfectly-carded batts of wool leftover from my early felting days, or treadle with one foot, but now I can do both.


first handspun yarn 4


If you’re not interested in being seduced into the wild world of spinning, stop reading now.

Three compelling reasons to spin:

Spinning is fast! For some reason I always assumed it was the slowest part of the fiber-to-garment process, but it’s clearly not, due to being a more-or-less continuous flow, rather than a stitch-by-stitch motion. It’s fairly shocking how quickly a newbie like me can make enough yarn to knit something out of.

You can make yarn that you can’t buy, and the other people doing so are interesting folks!  This, realized while reading Ply Magazine, was one of the final straws for me: I could see myself wanting just such a yarn for such a project, but it wouldn’t exist commercially … I started reading Ply because of an article about how twist protects the fibers in yarn from wear (by Deborah Robson), and ended up reading every. single. thing. in the Twist Issue, even though at that time I had no plan to become a spinner. The way the articles are presented; with differing opinions, and explorations by people digging around the fundamentals of their craft, captivated me. The intricacies of how yarn is made are interesting even if you’re working with the yarn and not making it … but as I read I also became more and more convinced that if this is how spinners think, they are my people, and I must become one.

Spinning is amazing! There’s something very fundamental about it, an immediate sense of how old and how intrinsic this process is, which draws me in. The rhythm is soothing, and at this point in my learning anyway, it works best if I can concentrate on what’s happening and be present without many words in my head—a lot like meditating, or dancing with someone. Plus you make real yarn from a pile of wool! If that doesn’t seem amazing, then you’re just not paying enough attention.

I have just two tips so far for other would-be beginning spinners:

Read the book The Intentional Spinner by Judith MacKenzie McCuin. Although it doesn’t have the variety of perspective you get from reading Ply, she lays out answers to a lot of the basic questions I had with clear photos, fascinating descriptions of fiber, and even ideas for making tools you need using a cardboard box and old knitting needles!

Try not looking for a second while you’re spinning. I know it sounds crazy, but I tried it after reading an article by Carson Demers in which he said (among other things) that looking up at least part of the time you’re spinning (or knitting!) is much better for your body. And it turns out that (also like dancing with someone) if you take your eyes off what you’re trying to do, even for a couple of seconds, you become instantly so much more aware of all the other information available to your body—in this case what your fingers can tell about the twist and diameter of the yarn you’re making by feel.

Ok three tips: just try it! Or try something else you’ve been meaning to do, and save it as a treat until the end of the day. I really can’t recommend it enough.