Saturday, 16 September 2017

Planning a Big Project -aka Writing a List

Blocking on the Frame
My Big Project

...is now complete.

For a day I wasn't quite myself because the there was no compulsion to knit.

It was ended and the studio was needing a tidy-up. The 1.73m square shawl was up on the frame in the shed being stretched to its limits and my hands were obsessively tidying, labelling wool samples and photographing the Opus.

I spring-cleaned the house....washing china;

Spring-cleaned display china

Within a week I was back in the shed with fleece in my hands planning again....spinning is the greatest "resolver" of nerves.

The point of finishing a big project with some sanity (I had not lost my mind....maybe my patience a bit) is to be organised; This is why SO many Works In Process become Works in Decommission. 

Advice to me when 8yrs old was "Never start a project until you have finished the one in front of you" and I was scared enough to remember it and follow it.

I have to be clear here -I will never start a project unless I have complete and total control over it's process. Sounds like my typical controlling self but it is the ONLY way to remain sane and have a garment worth the effort at the end.

Working the edging of the shawl.
To handle a project of any size it's important that you are familiar with all of its components. This work involved dyeing, so I needed to re-familiarise myself with that process before starting.

I confess, I did leave choosing the edging stitch right up until I got to it because I just wasn't entirely sure if I was going to be working a side-on knitted edge or not. So yes, one component was not 100% established.

The best things to help are the simplest ones:

1. Get a Manila Folder (I use a ring-binder with dividers for my projects).

2. Use grid paper (I remove the staples from maths exercise books so I have a full A3 size to work with).

3. Use a pencil and an eraser.

4. Scribble your ideas....get them down. Use the backs of surplus print-outs from the printer for non-grid work. Keep everything together in the Manila Folder.

5. Use a Bull-dog clip or large paper-clips to maintain order.

6. Date your scribbles.

7. Itemise the main components and tick-off when you have agreed on the patterns. In my case I had a Centre Pattern, a Border Pattern and an Edge Pattern so that was three things.

8. Establish your construction method -If it's a jersey will you work top-down or bottom up? Will there be steeks? etc. Doing this decides the "joining" features which are intrinsic to your project such as picking up stitches to join vertical and horizontal edges.

9. Sample and swatch for gauge in the pattern you are knitting the project. Determine your stitch count and pattern repeats and determine the rate you are picking up stitches along vertical edges. I was using 8ply so my rate was 2 stitches out of three.

10. Do the maths for the whole project set-up and draw the pattern on your grid paper. If these means learning chart symbols then do it. If your pattern involves a 90 corner then slow down, draw the 45 degree line and be prepared to swear a bit. Don't assume you can knit immediately without drawing the corners first.

Plan and draw corners or any awkward bits well before starting.

11. Get stitch-markers. Get good needles. Get the gear needed for blocking and finishing such as a wool needle, buttons etc.

12. Get the diary out and plan the events you need to be attend and clear your diary for the rest. Establish a routine (I only knit in day-light and in the mornings) where you can work for three hours a day.

13. If the project is for a deadline do the maths for the time needed and add a week for finishing and the usual chaos and drama that goes with being human.

14. Plan a finishing present for yourself...mine is always a glass of bubbles.


Plan your Finishing Present to yourself before actually finishing it....then you can look forward to it.
15. Keep your file with all its bits of paper and samples...they'll be useful one day.

Shawl blocking on my big frame  -with part of dog.

This project took three months from spinning the wool to completion. I worked most days and the only delay was fiddling and faddling over the edging stitch. I could afford that time as I had planned for it.

It's all in the preparation and planning.

Take care,

...and thanks.

Fiona MacBride

Tin Shed Yarns
View from Front Door of Tin Shed Yarns





Thursday, 17 August 2017

Keeping Consistent and Meeting the Needs of Knitters.

8ply hand-spun wool in cakes
One of the big favours we spinners perform for the world is linking knitters with farmers.

Knitters are a good bunch usually but they CAN get preoccupied with what their yarn should look and feel like. Too many rely totally on mill-spun yarn blends and do not consider what the raw product actually looks like. I am finding fewer and fewer can confidently substitute a different yarn to work the pattern they are wanting to use. This concerns me because it is exactly the hold the yarn companies want over knitters.....and for a long time that meant women.

My rule for being skilled in something is.....

-when you know what to do when it goes wrong.

My other rule for confidence is.............

-when you see the possibilities of a project appear before you even with only 2/3 of the necessary materials in front of you.

My rule for being in control is............

-when you know what will work because you did the two things above and you really enjoyed it.
A local fleece spun as a 4ply.
When working with raw fleeces and spinning them up for spinners I find that I am asked 2 questions:

                1. What ply is it? (actually the question usually comes out as "What kind of                            wool is it?....I mean what type of wool....I mean is it Double Knit or Single?)

                2. Is it scratchy?

I then have some common ground to cover because they aren't quite ready to "come over to my side". 

My answer to this constant defensiveness (which it is) is to work harder to meet their understandings. 

What the knitters were wanting was wool like they used already -in a consistent 4ply or 8ply density. They also wanted labels and a contact number. This I have done from the outset but hey.....

The biggest thing to get knitters to listen was to produce patterns that "spoke" to them.

Basic Beanie Pattern


Consistent production of singles and plies is something I take particular pride in. I use a wee tool to help as a guide...



After you have got your head around the maths....and it IS worth it -you can check for consistency.

Please understand that you are now in the world of "Wraps Per Inch". Personally, I keep a sample of the yarn single I want at hand and check it throughout the day.

I also recommend this diagram for consideration...



There are any number of charts and guides on yarn densities available on-line. Often they are written for Imperial measurements and are popular with the US markets. When dealing with Ravelry it's one of those details you need to include with any pattern published.



The study of yarn construction becomes important when you are back dealing with customers who are used to mill-spun wool. The fact that you have taken the time and trouble to learn and be confident with the numbers puts you in better shape.


Skeined, plied wool.
I won't discuss the "Is it scratchy?" question here. That's for another time.

Tin Shed Yarns

Fiona MacBride




Saturday, 1 July 2017

New Wool -New Project

Six hanks of Spinning

Strange how the solstice can bring new energy.

Mid-winter here has brought two kinds of weather; Overcast and blustery with rain or blue skies and no wind with frosty evenings. I prefer the latter.

Our geography here means we get weather systems rolling over the isthmus from either the Tasman Sea or from the South Pacific. The absence of either gives us cold from the Antarctic. A Southerly means cold here.

So at the mid-point of the year we were treated to a full week of blue skies and a high pressure system and we all relaxed and got on with stuff.

Pencil-roving made from raw fleece.

I had a whole week of productive work and I relished in it.

I am partly resurrecting last year's derailed project with a view to exhibiting. 

A small grass roots organisation has been supporting the local Arts Scene and have reached a point where they are collaborating with local charities. I was asked to submit something for an auction to raise funds for the local Womens' Centre and I agreed on the spot. These good people provide clothing, maternity wear, baby stuff, sanitary supplies, refuge from abuse, advice, medical help, legal help etc, etc.

So last year's "Irish Cloak" has merged into this year's "Shetland Hap". I think you can see a link between these garments in terms of -wrapping, enclosing, protecting, as well as adorning.

They also reflect corners of my heritage...although the Shetland bit is stretched because it's actually Orkney for my lot. I hope I'm forgiven.


Hackle loaded with raw fleece -weathered tips to the back. Brass diz and crochet hook to the right. 
The project gives me a more formal structure (Shetland Hap) as well as a design around hand-spun wool...and a deadline.

SO...I am focused.


I have researched and read and read. The plan is written,the border design done and only the Edge Pattern to choose.

This raw fleece from a local farmer/businessman is black/brown.
I am happy to be once more engrossed.

At a local market, a customer was really surprised to find that I do the Whole Process from beginning to end; combing, spinning, washing then designing and knitting.


My workspace 

...and yes, I use an electric wheel for production work.

I'll be back when the knitting progresses.

Many thanks,

Fiona MacBride

Tin Shed Yarns







Wednesday, 7 June 2017

...and that's when I realised I had left the salami behind.


You're here.... 

Queen's Birthday...the official date for recognizing the Coronation of Elizabeth 2nd....is a Long Weekend and therefore a perfect day to get family together over lunch in the middle of winter: Here's how my attempt went.

Monday 5th June

7-30am. Sleet-like conditions outside so no dog-walk. 

9am Congratulate myself on simple lunch idea of Pizza in various toppings served to eat with a kitchen towel al camera (on your feet inside).

Shopping for this had already been done two days earlier (Sat) and all I had to do was tidy, prepare and compose myself.

Mr Tin Shed Yarns was proper crook (not well) with a lung infection so had taken himself off to his Art Studio instead. We stayed in touch by phone.

Mud from outside was being strictly kept at bay so dog paws and tummy were being washed in the laundry. Shaking was only allowed under a towel and ALL paw marks were wiped up.

Sounding slightly control-freakish? oh yes.

Dog and partner stayed very quiet.

11am go to kitchen to get out flat metal pizza-cooking tray. Find it has rusted and I have rust stains over one half of 4yr old (new in my world) kitchen shelves. Rust stain is fiercely removed in 20 mins and tray is thrown out. With the kitchen newly resplendent in bleach I prepare all the pizza-toppings.


Anchovies, sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms and pitted olives.
I feel fine, totally in control. This lunch will be great. Family will be driving an hour to see me....and they will enjoy this relaxed affair. 

11-30am Sit down for 30 mins to knit.

12 noon Check messages " Won't be there till 2-ish, sorry"

Actually that's fine. Gives me an hour extra for knitting. 

Go to get pizza bases out of the freezer. No pizza bases.
A chill wind goes up my back. Brain says " But I got them on Sat"

PANIC
BREATHE
"You forgot them at the supermarket".

Without time to argue with myself on the subtleties of The Consumer Guarantees Act about the rights of the mad woman who leaves a bag of shopping behind and therefore is entitled to a replacement, I go to the car....maybe it is there in the back. Nope.

And then I knew I had to go back to the supermarket because I had thrown the receipt away under a smelly dog-bone and anchovy lids and it was two days ago already.


Aware she has been a right twit, she took a long calming look at her clean, tidy living room
before getting into the car and driving back to the supermarket.

12-30pm Try to act like a woman who has laughingly forgotten one small item instead of the actual basis of the entire meal. Fortunately said supermarket is only 5 mins away.

12-50pm More cool than cucumber I arrive back with pizza bases AND am armed with  bottle of prosecco for later.

1pm Continue being Kitchen Queen. Everything ready.

This visit includes my 2 yr old grandson so tidy is more appropriate than clean (apart from previously mentioned kitchen shelves). The bathroom is checked and toilet is disinfected. I'm ready.

Sit and knit and breathe.

2pm Go to get Deli meat packets out from fridge for pizza. Left them until last due to food safety.


lots and lots of swearing

Brain now remembers and mentions something about the check-out girls who helped you on Saturday morning with your bags. You put four in the trolley, there must have been five.

Your part of the brain shouts back.."..I know..."

(and there are other words too....)

...and the deli meats were in with the pizza-bases....

With the prospect of a meatless pizza lunch ahead for her guests, she congratulates herself on making available "Healthy Options" for her family.


There are times when you can turn on a sixpence and make a new story...and so the Meatless Pizza was born. No-one batted an eyelid, and everyone smiled.

Meatless Pizza

And all relaxed. The grandson was really only interested in the toy Parking Garage I found at the local Recycling Centre...

Cool Car Garage at Nana's house

They ate and talked until the sun began to go down (5pm) and then left with a tired boy.

I cleaned up, opened the Prosecco and talked to Mr Tin Shed Yarns and NEVER SAID A WORD about leaving the salami behind.













Sunday, 28 May 2017

Knitting without a Pattern...a Technical Explanation

Technical photo of hood of Connor's Jersey.
This is a technical blog so apologies from the outset.

This is all about making a jersey without following a pattern.

In your mind you know the shape of the person for whom the jersey is intended. If it is a toddler, you add more width and length because if you keep feeding them, they grow.

If you are working from the bottom up, you are starting at the hips. If you are working top-down, you are starting at the neck. This jersey with a hood for Connor was started from the hips.

Jersey with body worked and overlap of opening packet in garter-stitch. Sleeves not yet cut open.
So, working in the round, I knew that the arm-hole depth and the front opening were going to be in the same round. The depth of the arm-holes is a third of the whole jersey. The remaining two-thirds are the body to the hips. At that crucial point where the arm-holes and the front opening are formed, I also added (by looped cast-on) 6 extra stitches at the base of the arm-hole. This is the seam-allowance for the steek.

Sleeve stitches are picked up in a straight line from shoulder seam to arm-hole pit.
The shoulders are formed by binding-off while stitching two stitches together from the matched seams together. Working from the shoulder to the neck, the last cast-off stitch at the end is placed on the needle at the neck and with the front stitches become the neck-line. Leave the steek allowance stitches out of the shoulder seam. These are being held by stitch-markers in the above photo -3 in each stitch-marker.

Just before you form the shoulder seams,pick up the stitches to form the sleeves. 

Use a circular needle smaller than the one you knitted the body with. Pick up the outer loop of the "V" shape in the knit stitch and pick up at a rate of 2 out of every 3 stitches for 8ply.

Arm-hole stitches picked up right down to pit of the arm-hole. Extra cast-on stitches for steek allowance are easily seen here.
With the 6 stitches held in 2 stitch-markers (3 in each one), you can imagine a centre line down the middle of this "U" shape.Cut the knitted work from the cast-on edge where the extra steek stitches were added right up to the shoulder. You will have already shuffled stitches around to create the neck-line, capturing the last cast-off stitch from the shoulder seam. Leave the steek allowance stitches to lie flat against your sleeve opening. They can be sewn down later with extra wool through the stitch loops when the sleeve is finished.

Personally, am still not sure about what to do with steek allowances as they can add bulk where you don't need. I usually trim with scissors and hand-sew the raw edges with sewing thread.

 Hood made by continuing from the neck up and increasing along a vertical mid-point in the back of the hood. 

Make hood working increases evenly along a central point in the back of the hood. Hood should be at least the same length as arm-hole from pit to shoulder.

Join top of hood together the same way as the shoulders using a two-needle bind-off. The garter stitch will not make a neat join this way. You can perform a Kitchener stitch join if you wish. Again, you will have a last cast-off stitch from the bind-off to deal with so sew it neatly with spare wool into the seam and bury the end of the wool.

Sleeve started showing decreases.
Work the sleeves as socks using DPNs. Do the maths and work out the rate at which you are reducing stitches to achieve a cuff. Generally it is 2 stitches every four rounds. Use balanced decreases which lean into the central decrease line (k2tog-kpsso).

The only photo I have of the finished garment.

Work the cuffs the same depth as the ribbing at the start. As a rule, the sleeves are the same length from the arm-hole pit to the end of the jersey, in other words, two thirds of the jersey body. 

I worked two button-holes into the garter-stitch edge; these I reinforced with sewing thread.

The jersey was made with re-cycled wool from a previous outlandish experiment. The wool was hand-spun and dyed by me. I was never happy with the unevenness of the dye but it was too good not to be used again.

A two year old is warm and parents are grateful.


Fiona MacBride

Tin Shed Yarns.

Ps.....my sketches on the Three Thirds Rule For Jerseys is here....





Friday, 12 May 2017

It's true...you don't need chemicals but you DO need boiled water.



These skeins are new...like ducklings.

They are soft, squishy, white and they smell of new wool.

I adore new wool.

It makes me feel inspired to create fabulous projects and cosy knitted things for little people...it just does my soul SO much good.

It's wool I made, with real fleece from real sheep.

I made it using a hand-comb.....


Hand-Comb and Fleece



....combing out staples and spinning from the outer end....


Combed staples ready for spinning 

...into singles, which I plied and then wound into a skein...


Unwashed skein of plied singles 

...and then soaked overnight in a bucket with a cup full of wool wash and three kettles of boiling water...

Wash buckets 

.....then rinse in more boiled water...and hang to dry.

Washed skeins hanging to dry 

No forced drying.

No wet-spinning.

No additives.

No fillers.

No solvents.

Completely natural.

Local hand-raised sheep.

No breaking down of the wool structure.

....and ready to knit or weave with.



...and available here.......Tin Shed Yarns on Etsy




Take care

Fiona MacBride

Tin Shed Yarns


Sunday, 23 April 2017

When a Man tells you how to "improve" your work.

The Shed at Tin Shed Yarns (yes...it's a Tin Shed)
I'm assuming that most of you already sense the tone of this piece just from the title.

I have over the last ten years removed myself from the constant criticism and competitiveness of the business and technocrat world and now live a far quieter life in a rural town north-west of Auckland. I was used to being told how I could and should adjust to the realities of the open market. Of course I resisted.

For the most part that world has since faded away but every year at Tax Time, I have to deal with The Trustee and his Financial Company who sign everything off. It's a legacy of the Marriage Settlement and it is a reminder of That World from Before.
I have it down to a fine art now, only dealing with the CA assigned to me and bless, they keep assigning me the same lovely chatty woman who is scarily efficient and yet sensible. I actually trust her.


Bobbin on workshop bench 
So every year I send everything in pertaining to what I have earned. This year was the year where I wondered about sending my PayPal Account details in.

See, the thing is, Love Knitting pays into PayPal, but I haven't been with them long enough to make any sales...

...and that is all I can honestly say.

I did make a couple of hundred dollars (NZ) last winter with chunky 8ply sales but that was one good month.

Those cash sales are all detailed in my "ledger" and will go to Elaine (my accountant). She will cough politely and ring me to ask a few more questions. Her job is not to criticise, but it will be her Boss' job, and I am awaiting being once more told by a man how to improve my sales or more likely in this case, a sneering -why bother?


Plied skein with details 
I bother because -Spinning hand-raised wool is a good thing.
                          -Spinning keeps me calm and is cheaper than professional therapy.
                          -Spinning raw-fleece is good for my hands.
                          -Designing patterns from my wool keeps my brain buzzing.
                          -Designing is a maths exercise and stems Dementia.
                          -Designing from a natural product is good for the soul.
                          -Fleeces are readily available here and are often wasted.
                          -Fleeces from odd sheep often produce the most exquisite yarn.
                          -Fleeces smell so gorgeous.

.....and I could go on and on about ecology, the environment, water use, fleece management, climate, sheep health,loss of knowledge about wool,......


Yup...that's my Hand-Comb 
I am a big girl now and I am learning to let the criticism roll off me; they are not my people.

I also am determined to stay my course onto consistent high quality spun wool. No lowering of quality to meet a less appreciative market, and no rushing to meet deadlines. I'll work like a Man, take breaks, value my output and my quality and occasionally brag about it too.

Smug Technocrats will advise me to have the fleeces milled off-shore and put my label on them saying they were Designed in NZ. Baffled Technocrats will suggest using a Trade-Aid village where women and children can do the work...do not get me started.


Washed skein 
I recently put a statement out on my FB page stating that I do not readily offer a fleece-spinning service but if I did I would charge $500 (NZ) per fleece. It's a flat rate that should make people think twice about the value they put on work.

An average fleece (non-skirted) will weigh between 5-6 kg. If I end up with just over 5 kg of usable fleece, I waste 20% in combings (they go on my compost) so 4kg ends up as skeins. That's $125 per kg ready for knitting. That's not too bad for ethically raised, hand-combed, hand-spun, mill-equivalent consistency that has not been harshly scoured or stripped or chemically altered.


Fabulous wool in its finished state. 

So, on with the battle. 

I'll fill that basket above with more skeins and put them up on Etsy and Love Knitting and thoroughly enjoy my work.

Love to all,

Fiona MacBride

Tin Shed Yarns