Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Episode 80: ToT - Handknitting

This article is part of the Tools of the Trade series, sponsored by the Geek Girl Crafts Podcast. The author, Sandy Jacobs-Tolle describes the basics of handknitting.

You can listen to this podcast:
Or directly download it from this link.:

Tools of the Trade: Knitting
by Sandy Jacobs-Tolle

I’d like to start with a point of clarification: handknitting is the craft of creating fabric with two pointed needles. While loom knitting and machine knitting are definitely like handknitting in many ways, and produce similar fabric, please assume that I’m speaking of the process of handknitting with two active needles in this podcast.
What can you do with two pointed sticks and some string? Amazing things, really.  I first got into knitting after half a lifetime of crochet, simply because I wanted to make Harry Potter scarves that looked like the ones in the movies. I’ve gone on to my main addictions: making lace and cable projects. I’ve discovered the coloring-book fun of stranded color work, and I take pleasure in the sculptural magic of turning the perfect sock heel.  
Learning how to knit was a rocky road for me.  My sister knew how to knit, but I never picked it up from her, so I started on my own with a book and gumption as an adult, as I had with crochet as a kid. A few sad swatches later, I asked for help from my coworker and I was properly on my way.  In fact, I’m going to say that the most important tool in your knitting toolkit should be your tenacity and a willingness to make mistakes and learn from them.  Since knitting is simply lifting free, unknotted loops of fiber up over other loops, a lot can go wrong. Don’t hesitate to ask for help along the way, it will make the process much less frustrating and a lot more fun.  You won’t need to know crochet, as I did, but some elements of technique crossed over well, such as my knowing how to control yarn tension with my left hand.
Finding out what it is that I needed to get started turned out to be a little bit frustrating for me in particular.  If I can advise one thing to any knitter starting out, it’s to get familiar with circular needles right away, and have a few standard sizes of them in your toolkit.  Since I started in such an odd way, maybe I can get you going in the right direction with what I learned transitioning into knitting from crochet, and the way the craft has had some “tech” developments in the last decade or so.  

Needle: Materials & Size

So, let’s start with the fundamental tools: needles.  Needles can be made of lots of different materials, and each have a different property that helps you in your work.  Wood or bamboo are very common, and can be a happy medium of smoothness to allow wool and acrylics to glide along their surfaces, but many knitters who work with plant fibers or silk appreciate that wood is just sticky enough to keep smooth fibers from sliding all over the place. Metal, most often aluminum or steel, is another popular material used for needles. If you’re knitting with mohair or are concerned that the acrylic you’re using is a bit stiff, highly-polished metal is what you need to help your fiber loops speed along.  Plastic can keep the cost of your needles reasonable, but don’t skimp on quality-- cheap plastic needles can be maddeningly sticky and cost you a lot of hand fatigue when you have to shove stitches along. If you can pick up and touch needles at the store, it will go a long way to helping you choose. Rarer materials include:
  • carbon fiber, which is smooth, light and warmer than working with metal,
  • casein, which is a light and flexible material made of milk protein,  
  • and even very old-fashioned material like bone, which you might find at an antique shop, or online at sites like Fringe, check the show notes.
Needles and notions

Gauge size, or the circumference of a needle, is also important.  Needles commonly come from the extremely thin size 0, which is 2 millimeters in width, all the way up to 50, which is 25 millimeters wide. I tend to use sizes 1-3 for plain socks in fingering, for example, and sizes 6-8 for sweaters in worsted.   If you have a tool called a needle gauge, which is a plate with various sizes of holes drilled into it, you can check the size of your needle and make educated decisions about the kind of fabric you can create with your needles and yarn. My favorite needle gauge also has a tool called a tension gauge, which is a ruler with 4 inches marked off that I can use to determine how many stitches per inch and rows per inch I’ve made in a swatch.
stockinette swatch.jpg
Gauge Swatch

Needles commonly come in three different types --  straight, circular, and double pointed. Straight needles, which are long, pointed needles with a button or similar “stop” on one end, can be of various lengths, depending on the size of the piece you want to knit, although 10 inches is a pretty common size, as is 14 inches for wider pieces.  Now straights may be traditional, but for me, they were part of my pain and frustration starting out.  I found them stiff and awkward, and they put weight and strain over a long period of time on an old bone break in my left hand. I bought most of my aluminum straights from a thrift store (sometimes a great place to find old crafty stuff), it wasn’t so bad to give them away to friends  I still have a few very large ones in my collection, as they are pretty fun and don’t hurt as much for me to use.
Double pointed needles are needles that are pointed on both ends, usually made in the same materials and at the same gauges as straight single-point knitting needles. Double points commonly come in lengths set to the circumference of the tube they’re supposed to make: 4 to 6 inches for making things like socks, gloves and mittens, 8 inches for hats and sweater sleeves in the round. These needles are very commonly sold in sets of 5, and as a result, you’ll see that patterns in the round usually have a stitch count divisible by four-- four to hold the stitches, one as your working needle.
Knitting in the round is not a new thing at all, and as soon as people had the knitting flat and sewing it together concept down, they immediately set to work figuring out how to better clothe our tube-shaped bodies. Early attempts at knitting in the round in certain regions tried to simulate woven fabrics typically sewn into items like stockings, but soon people were off and running in letting the physical structure of the fabric dictate the shaping of their work.
I freely admit that I prefer knitting all my socks in the round on DPNS, as they’re colloquially known, so most of my collection is of short needles in small gauges.  However, I got a strange windfall years ago, around the time when I was learning to knit and buying my straights from the thrift store.  A Japanese variety store, Marukai, sold bamboo DPNS in 12” lengths and several gauges for $1.50 each!  With these, I was able to easily learn how to make hats in the round with plenty of room for my hands to move and less chances of the yarn slipping off the needles. I still use these extra-long DPNS for some projects, and to hold live stitches in place in garment projects.
Circular needles are needles with a flexible cable of varying lengths. Common lengths are 24 inches, 32 inches, and 40 inches, but they can go up to 47 or 60 for things like blankets or shawls. You can knit flat back and forth on them, or knit in the round. They can be all of a piece with the needle fastened firmly to the cable, or part of an interchangeable set, where you can swap lengths of cable between needle gauges.
Some things to consider when using cable needles: choose a length of cable appropriate to the circumference of the piece, just as you would when using double points. It just makes it a lot easier.  If you get into knitting socks on two circulars, or on one very long circular, this rule is of course not important. I have two big cautions for you when you  select circular needles
  • pick a type that has a flexible, not stiff, cable, so that you aren’t wrestling against a coiling cable as you knit,
  • make sure the join of the cable to the needle is smooth and has no places for the yarn to snag as it passes from cable to needle. If the circular needle is of the interchangeable variety, make sure the attachment of the needle to the cable is secure-- it’s awful to have your needle fall off the cable while you’re working!  
Circulars have seen a lot of improvements in durability and flexibility in the last ten or so years, as sock knitters demanded new ways to make socks in the round on one needle with the “magic loop” method, so you’ll find them pretty reliable if you do some research on the best kinds.
I find knitting with circulars gentle on my hands, and this is my go-to method for everything but socks. Commute knitters get a benefit from using circulars-- if you have to put your work down in a hurry to catch a bus, it’s easy to pull the needles forward and keep all the live stitches on the cables.  Because they’re so versatile, I recommend giving interchangeable circular needles a try if you’re just starting out, and I think you’ll find them a convenient way to build your needle collection.

Buying Needles

Where to buy your needles: Big-box stores like Joanns and Michaels used to carry mostly aluminum and plastic needles, but the rise in the popularity of knitting, Ravelry and the internet means that the big stores are catching up on quality, too.  They carry Clover bamboo straights and circulars, circular interchangeables comparable to the inexpensive kind you’ll find on the Knit Picks website, and of course, good ol’ Boye aluminums if that is how you roll.
I picked up a set of Knit Picks interchangeable circulars as soon as I determined that was my preference.  A full set on the site gets you needle sizes 4-11, two each of 24 and 32 inch cables,  the hardware needed to lock the cables into place, and costs from about 50-56 dollars.  When I first started using them, the cables used to pop out of their metal screw ends a lot, so I relied on their no-questions-asked return policy. Now they’ve improved so that I don’t have to, but since I’ve discovered even better circs, I don’t believe I will replace with the same brand.  Stores like Webs and your local yarn store will carry specialized materials and come with reviews-- if you really want to pick the best, talk to experienced knitters in a yarn shop and maybe test-drive a needle or two!
My favorites: Chiao Goo makes a beautiful cable, simply the most flexible and fatigue-fighting one I’ve found. carries their metal needle interchangeable set, which goes from size 2 to 15, for 105 dollars. I recently picked up a Knitter’s Pride Nova Platina circular needle for my Gryffindor sweater, about $8 at my local yarn store. It’s an aluminum needle with a soft finish that addresses the too-slippery issue common with metal needles. I can knit for hours with this! But my absolute favorite needles in my stash are the Brittany size 4 double points I use for making the Hexipuff blanket.They’re feather-light ash wood, harder and less bendy than bamboo, and at 5 inches long, they fit exactly in my hands, as if they were a part of my fingers. I love them, and that makes them perfect for such a huge project.


The rest of the tools you need for knitting have a lot of crossover with the tools used for crochet-- things wander from project to project in my house. Here’s what I use.
  • Stitch markers: I like the kind that open and shut like little locks (Clover, about $5.50) for marking shaping  changes or things to note in my work.  I use rings that I make myself out of beads and jewelry wire for my lace projects to indicate the start and end of a repeated pattern.  For very little projects, I use a French earwire slipped into the work, since it won’t get stuck, is less bulky, and is easy to get if you have an orphan earring you can sacrifice. I tend not to use safety pins in knitting at all, unless I can find the kind that don’t have coils that get stuck in stitches.
  • Tapestry needles are usually a couple of bucks.  I buy metal ones with sharp points. When finishing my work, I split the yarn in places as I bury the thread end so that it won’t slip out.
  • Scissors: most households have them, and you probably won’t need fancy ones.  Smaller is nice if you can manage it.
  • Tape measure.
  • A row counter. I like the ones that can sit right on the knitting needle, but there are other kinds, like a hand-held clicker that requires you to press a button to count, and even a couple of apps for smartphones, where you tap the screen to count your work. I’ve used the County Plus app with some success. It tracks multiple processes and projects. I’ll link to it in the shownotes.
  • Have a few crochet hooks on hand for repairs or finishing work-- pick one at a smaller gauge than your current work.
  • Materials for blocking your work. These can be as simple as rust-proof pins and a towel on the floor, or as precise as blocking wires and a foam board with gridded lines. One cheap work-around for the foam board I’ve found is to use the foam play mats for children, which are occasionally sold at Walgreens or Target for very low prices. You can build these out like a jigsaw puzzle as big as you need to block even the largest lace shawl.   
Here are some fun optional tools that can help you do new things or be more efficient when you knit.
  • Cable needles are small double pointed needles with a curve in the center. They’re used in making cables in your work by pulling a few stitches in front or behind your piece as you knit.
  • Stitch holders are tools you can use to hold live stitches in place while you work on other parts of a pattern.  You can use a piece of smooth waste yarn to hold live stitches, or buy a tool that looks a bit like an extra-large safety pin that locks the stitches in place.
  • Chart holders are boards you can attach your pattern to and track a design line by line. Handy for lace and colorwork patterns.
  • Bobbins for colorwork.  You can buy these, or you can do what I do, and reuse the square plastic clip that’s used to hold bread bags together.  Wind your yarn on that, and lock it into place with the notched hole.
  • Point protectors: these are great to protect delicate needle tips, or to keep your work from sliding off the points when you store it.
  • End caps for interchangeable cables: if you need to store a project on its cable, remove the needles and twist some end-caps on the cable. You can then use the freed-up needles on another project!

Cable needle

Fiber for Knitting

After all of these tools I’ve listed, it’s time to talk about the real star of knitting-- fiber itself.  Wool is the hands-down queen of the fibers for knitting, since it’s warm, affordable, durable, and stretchy, but it doesn’t have to be the only thing you work with-- you can experiment with expensive fibers like angora, silk, or buffalo or go inexpensive with acrylic. If you’ve got texture on your mind, the simplicity of knit stitches means that ribbon, fun-fur, or boucle’ yarns yield great results.  Cotton and linen are fun choices for tops and tanks, and the stretch and bounce of fiber blends with manmade materials like acrylic makes for excellent close-fitting items like socks. Keep in mind that knitting stretches in all directions-- cotton and alpaca are two fibers that might stretch more than you want in some garments.  If you’re transitioning from crochet, as I did, you’ll need to learn more about the elasticity of certain fibers in this hobby.  Be careful with yarn substitutions in patterns until you get the hang of it.

Books and websites

As for knitting instruction, let me tell you about three books that got me off to a fine start, another book that helped me when I was more experienced, and then a whole host of websites for everything else.
Stitch and Bitch, The Knitter’s Handbook by Debbie Stoller. I’m willing to bet that this was the catalyst for a lot of the hobby knitting that took off at the beginning of the millennium. This book helped me teach myself to knit, and its friendly, informative style and very clear pictures should help you, too!  
I was smart enough to go out and find Knitting in Plain English, by Maggie Righetti, for my next book.  It is no-nonsense, explicit in detail and procedure even as it’s conversational, and so practical you’ll have half a finished baby sweater in your hands before you realize you even cast on. It made the idea of making garments approachable to me at a time when I was too timid to move beyond flat Harry Potter scarves.  Her expertise with the design industry also taught me something very important-- pattern photos sometimes tell terrible lies. She’s probably saved me hundreds of dollars and hours with that advice alone!
Stitch and Bitch Nation, by Debbie Stoller, the sequel to The Knitter’s Handbook, has more advanced techniques, including my first detailed introduction to yarn substitutions and how to rework existing patterns.  This book showed me that I can make patterns my own, and was my first guide into designing my own pieces from scratch.
Finally, the last book in my beginning phase was one I had to come back to.  I tried reading Elizabeth Zimmermann's Knitting Without Tears right after Maggie Righetti’s Knitting in Plain English, as they sat side by side on the same library bookshelf. But while Righetti was easy for me to understand, Zimmerman wasn’t easy at that stage of my learning.  As the old saying goes, when the student is ready, the master appears.  Once I’d learned after a year of work that I COULD make knitting my own, EZ, as she’s lovingly called, taught me that I can do whatever I damn well please with my knitting, as long as I knew what I wanted and what dimensions to knit to. She’s all about using math and common sense to get results. She taught me that I could cut and sew my knitting if I was careful about it-- afterthought heels and pockets and thumbs and even sleeves became part of my skill set. Once you learn the basics, use your good sense to improvise, she teaches, and it will usually work out fine. This last book brought me the final elements I needed most as a beginner: confidence and curiosity. This was my jumping off point to absolute passion for the craft.
With all of these wonderful books, can websites bring the same benefit?  Sure, especially if you don’t have someone to sit next to you.  For straight-up tutorials, there’s nothing quite like the website. It’s full of good-quality pictures and videos that show you how to cast on, knit, purl, increase, and decrease, as well as advanced techniques like stranded color work and intarsia, double knitting, short rows, making buttonholes, and more.  If you want the awesome sauce, you can even buy premium content with really esoteric tutorials, or you can buy DVDs if you’d rather knit on the couch and get help on your TV. was one of the first online only knitting magazines, still a go-to for articles on a variety of topics-- it also features one of my favorite knitters, Franklin Habit, who translates patterns from the 1800s for whimsical modern use. Every season, Knitty’s pattern lineup is a fun treat to look forward to, like the turning of the leaves in fall or the first buds of spring.
The Craft Yarn Council of America is my resource if I need reference for yarn weights, gauges, hook size to needle size conversions, and fashion size charts from baby to large adult. -- this site came along a few years after I learned how to knit.  I cannot even begin to explain how much this site has helped me learn what to buy, how to do things. Of particular help are the ratings on yarn and tools and patterns, as well as pictures of people in finished garments-- It’s just so wonderful to see how people of my size and shape adapted a pattern to look its best! If you’re not already on Ravelry and you want to knit or crochet, go join NOW and learn along with us!

I hope I’ve given you the impetus to give knitting a try.  As you can see, there’s a lot to it, and I’ve only just scratched the surface by going over the most common tools. It’s an ancient craft with a lot of history behind it, but it’s still flexible enough as an art form that new techniques are being invented every day to make pieces that are beautiful and practical.  If you take knitting up as a hobby, you’re joining a huge and lively community of innovators and artists-- and the most important tool of the trade is one you already have-- your own initiative to learn. Happy knitting!


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Episode 79: Con Recap

In this episode, the girls recap their Con-a-palooza adventures over the Memorial Day Weekend. EspaƱa discusses her magic ability to turn every day items into costumes, then Jade & Sandy wrap it up with some fiber arts discussions.

Get Geeky

Event Recap:

So, we’ve recently had our yearly 3-day con-a-palooza plus other events occur. The girls recap their time at:

  • Clockwork Alchemy - Espana
  • Fanime  - Jade & Espana
  • Retzlaff Winery - Spinning Event - Sandy
  • Valhalla Faire - Jade

Upcoming Events:

Get Crafty!

The girls have not just ONE, but TWO craft-a-longs in progress....  Check out the Geek Girl Crafts forums on G+ and Ravelry:

Harry Potter Craft-a-Long

Sandy wants you to geek out about Harry Potter! Make your favorite Potter Universe item, whether it be knitting, sewing, baking, or otherwise. Check out the official Harry Potter Universe website at:

Who Crafts?

Jade gets in on the craft-a-long, but Doctor Who style. Got sewing? knitting? crochet? Want to make fish fingers and custard? Or your favorite souffle recipe? Share with us! And for those interested, she's posted her pattern for her fingerless long gloves, so make your own Doctor Who scarf gloves.

Make it Sew!

  • Espana talks about her costume creation from a lace curtain and a full length slip from a local thrift store near the Clockwork Alchemy hotel.
  • Jade discusses her upcoming cosplay as Kate Bishop for Convolution 2015.

Fiber Optics

Finished Objects
Jade & Sandy have no finished objects!
  • Pattern: Leftie by Martina Behm
  • Link:
  • Yarn: Miss Babs Yummy 2Ply (zing) and Yummy 2py Toes (Batshit crazy)
  • Notes: She just started. She is finding the leaves very addictive knitting.
  • Pattern: gryffindor house sweater
  • Yarn: Cascade Longwood sport
  • Notes: Sandy finished front and back, seamed up, short-rowed the armhole and did the first arm. She is switching to the neck hole because she wants to firm up the shoulders and get a better idea of the fit.
  • Pattern: Viking Hat
  • Yarn: Shepard’s Wool Worsted by Stonehedge Fiber Mill -- OMG SUPER SOFT YARN...SQUISHY --
    • Roasted Pumpkin
    • Navy Blue
  • Notes: She finished the hat portion, now need to actually knit up the horns.
  • Hermione's Everyday Socks by Erica Lueder
  • Yarn: Araucania Itata Multy: wool, silk, bamboo
  • Notes: The colors remind Sandy of end of summer weeds with green, purple, and yellow.
  • Pattern: Vanilla socks
  • Yarn: Cascade Socks - Self striping socks
  • Notes: Finished one sock. Made tabis. About 90% done on the sock. She needs to finish the tabi toes on the second sock.
  • Pattern Fox Paws by Xandy Peters
  • Yarn: five colors of Knit Picks Comfy Fingering, blue, teal, purple
  • Notes: She's finding it pretty difficult to knit. Concentrating on this project is important
  • Pattern: Louisa by Cocoknits
  • Yarn: Shibui - Linen, Cloud, and Pebble
  • Progress: Jade finished the bottom decreases and is now just knittingstraight stockinette up to the armholes.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Episode 78: Tools of the Trade - Spinning 101

This article is part of the Tools of the Trade series, sponsored by the Geek Girl Crafts Podcast. The author, Jade Falcon describes the how to buy and maintain a sewing machine. 

You can listen to this podcast:
Or directly download it from this link.:

Spinning 101

For this Tools of the Trade episode, I’m going to talk at very high level  about spinning. Some of you asked for this episode, so I’m obliging. In this Spinning 101, I’m going to discuss the tools used in spinning as well as the fiber. I’m going to try very hard not to get into too much detail, because then this podcast would be several hours long. My purpose it to primarily introduce you to the basics of spinning, and other Tools of the Trade will try to go into further details.

So, what is spinning? Spinning is the art of taking fiber and turning it into yarn, thread, or string. 

Spinning has been in existence (at least documented) for about 20,000 years (more or less). You simply take fiber and add “twist” to the fiber to make yarn, thread, or string. The “twist” gives the fiber structure and strength.

The mechanism of spinning can be as easy as taking animal hair or plant fiber and rolling it down your thigh with your hand or rolling it between your palms. Adding twist with your hands or rolling it down your thigh is not very efficient. You can certainly do it, but it’s hard and laborious work.

So people started using mechanical devices to help yarn more effectively and efficiently. These simple devices were basically a stick and some sort of weight to help it rotate (like a rock or another piece of wood).  Later, these became known as spindles.  Spindles were used for hundreds of years to create yarn, thread, or string. 

As time progressed, there were improved inventions, such as the spinning wheel to help increase the production of yarn.

So, lets talk about these mechanical devices right? Lets start off with spindles.

Spindles are the first simple mechanical devices to actually spin yarn.  You can find depictions of spindles from Ancient Egyptian tombs, on Grecian urns, and probably farther back in time.

A spindle is pretty easy to make. In general, a spindle comprised of two main things: a stick or shaft and (most of the time) a whorl.

Butterfly Girl Spindle & Japanese Maple roving
Example of a spindle with a resin whorl

The purpose of the whorl is to add weight to the stick, and allow the whole spindle to rotate at a constant rate, which then allows twist to be added into the fiber.  The whorl can be round, like a wheel or “cross” shaped (like the Turkish spindle), or even spherical -- like a bead or stone. Whorls can be made out of nearly any material from  a bead, clay, wood, glass,etc.

Shaft and whorl of a top-whorl spindle
The shaft basically acts as the mechanism to help introduce “twist” to the fiber. It also serves as the way to “store” the yarn. You just wrap the finished yarn around the stick so you can continue to make more yarn from fiber.

Spindles range in cost from a few dollars to the hundreds of dollars (depending on the materials). 

You can create your own simple spindle using a pencil and an old CD!

There are several types of spindles. In general, they can be broken into the following categories:
  • Drop spindles -- Drop spindles to be suspended from the yarn you’re making after you start to rotate the spindle. They are "dropped" from the yarn you are making. And sometimes, they even drop to the floor. Drop spindles are pretty portable and allow you to move around. There are two types of drop spindles:
    • top whorl spindle -- the whorl is at the top of the shaft. Some have a hook at the top to help secure the yarn
    • bottom whorl spindle -- the whorl is at the bottom of the shaft. Many use a half-hitch to keep the yarn at the top of shaft.
  • Supported spindles -- Supported spindles require a surface of some sort (either a bowl, small plate, or other flat surface) in order to spin.

Drop spindles
Drop spindles to be suspended from the yarn you’re making after you start to rotate the spindle. In Peru, you see spinners who walk around during their chores and spin. I’ve seen videos of them dancing. I’ve often done walks & hikes and spun at the same time with my drop spindle. It takes a bit of practice, but it’s totally doable!

Drop spindles can come in many different sizes and weights. However, in general, top whorl spindles tend to be lighter in weight, and can spin a little bit faster than bottom whorls.  Bottom-whorl spindles are generally heavier, and can spin longer than top whorl spindles. Of course, you’ll find that everyone has an opinion on which is better. I like them both equally.

I also want to let you know about specific type of bottom whorl spindle called  a “Turkish Spindle”, where the whorl is actually a “cross”, and you wind the yarn onto the cross of the spindle instead of on the shaft, but the mechanics of using the Turkish spindle is exactly the same.

Example of a Turkish spindle, which is a bottom whorl spindle

Supported Spindles
(Disclaimer: I don’t have a lot of experience with supported spindles, so I’m only going to discuss the general attributes of supported spindles. I can’t give an opinion on them.)

Supported spindles require a surface of some sort (either a bowl, small plate, or other flat surface) in order to spin.  Unlike a drop spindle, your hand can provide additional support  to a spindle. Consequently, there are some supported spindles where there is no whorl, only the shaft (like a French support spindle, which kinda looks like a French rolling pin)

Because the yarn doesn’t need to support the weight of this type of spindle, there are some different spinning techniques you can use to produce different types of yarn with different fibers

Much like drop spindles, supported spindles come in a variety of weights. The Navajo spindle is pretty heavy and requires that you sit on the floor or on a chair and use the floor. Some are pretty light, and can be spun on a table top.

Example of Navajo spindle spinning:


Spindles come in many types of material and weights. You can get them in wood, carbon fiber, glass, plexiglass, metals, etc. The type of material you want in a spindle is really personal. I have spindles where the whorl is made out of wood or glass. There are some absolutely beautiful and stunning spindles out there!

However, what matters most in a spindle is the weight. The weight of your spindle can be a factor in how thick of a yarn you can spin. It’s going to be very difficult to spin a laceweight yarn on a really heavy spindle and likewise -- a bulky yarn on a very light spindle.  There are spindles that weight ½ oz (about 15 grams) up to 3oz (about 85 grams) and then beyond.

What’s the best spindle for a beginner? There’s debate on that -- some say medium weight, some say light, some say heavy.  Personally, I don’t think there’s a right or wrong spindle to learn from! Get whatever spindle type that you find comfortable and go from there. I highly recommend Abby Franquemont’s book, “Respect the Spindle” to get a headstart on spindle spinning!

Here's a link to the physics of drop spindles:

Wheels are another mechanism for spinning yarn. It’s just a different tool...and no better or worse than a drop spindle. They are much more expensive than a drop spindle. New wheels often start at the hundred dollars (USD) mark and go up from there. For the cost-minded beginning spinner, a spindle is a much more cost effective way of getting into spinning.

There’s debate on which tool is better at producing more yarn --- wheel or spindle? I know spinners who spin sweater quantities of yarn on their spindles in a matter of weeks, just because they do it in between waiting periods -- much like knitters who knit while waiting at the doctor’s office. Spindles are pretty portable, whereas wheels generally are not. But honestly, both are equally good at producing just depends on how often you spin.

So how do wheels work? Pretty much like a spindle -- you introduce twist into the fiber. The difference is how it is introduced.


The following is very simplistic description of the different wheel types. It is not meant to be an exhaustive detailed summary.

Spinning wheels are basic machines consisting of a wheel, a whorl (ie. the pulley), and “drive band” which is the belt that goes around the wheel & pulley.

 Example of a double drive band going around the wheel and whorls.

The rotation of the wheel & pulley cause another piece of the wheel to rotate -- called the FLYER. The flyer puts twist into the fiber as a spinner holds it, and then flyer pulls the resulting yarn onto a storage bobbin.

Example of the flyer and storage bobbin

For most spinning wheels, you use your feet on a treadle to turn the wheel. There are exceptions to this rule -- hand wheels and some electric spinning wheels.

 The treadles of a wheel
Here are some of the parts of a spinning wheel. For more information, see the link below.
  • Wheel – The wheel that rotates when treadling and causes the other various parts to operate.
  • Drive Band – A cord that goes around the fly wheel and the flyer whorl.
  • Flyer – A U-shaped piece of wood with hooks lined up on one or both arms. The hooks are used to store the yarn evenly on the bobbin. The flyer is rotated by the drive band which as a result puts the twist into the fiber.
  • Whorl – A pulley attached to the flyer
  • Bobbin – Rotates on the spindle along with the flyer and stores the yarn. It can operate with or independent of the drive band.

A spinning wheel nearly always has the parts I mentioned before, but they don’t always work in exactly the same way. Consequently, wheels can be categorized by HOW THEY WORK.

Treadle wheels are usually classified by:
  • how the drive band works
  • how tension is applied to the wheel so that yarn is pulled onto the bobbin. Tension can be applied via a brake band
Wheel Type 1:  A flyer led Single drive wheel (also known as Scotch Tension).

  • A single drive band loops around the whorl and the wheel.
  • There is a separate brake band around the bobbin that allows you to regulate how fast yarn is wound onto the bobbin.
  • The drive band & brake band work separately.
  • Example: Ashford Kiwi
An Ashford Kiwi 
 Many beginning spinners often start on a Scotch tension wheel as it can do a variety of different types of yarn.

 Wheel Type 2: A bobbin lead Single Drive wheel (also known as Irish tension).
  • In a bobbin-lead wheel, the whorl is attached to the bobbin instead of the flyer.
  • The tension is applied at the FRONT of the flyer (usually by a leather strap). These are great to spin thicker yarn.
  • Example: Louet S-10
Wheel Type 3: Double drive bobbin lead wheel
  • The drive band goes around the wheel twice and around the pulley and flyer; usually in a figure 8 configuration.  This arrangement causes the flyer and bobbin to rotate at different speeds.
  • Example Ashford Traditional

In addition to the above categorizations, wheels are classified by how they look or their “style”
  • Saxony Wheel -- what most people think about when they consider a “Sleeping Beauty” wheel. (Ashford Traditional)
  • Castle wheels -- the components of the wheel are stacked vertically above the wheel (Ashford Traveller)
  • Norwegian Wheel - looks like a Saxonomy, but it has four legs and a long horizontal bench. (Kromski)
  • Modern wheels - a hybrid of other traditional types, and tries to use modern technology to engineer a better wheel.
  • Electric spinners -- some don’t have a treadle or wheel. Electronics and gears turn the flyer. Some electric spinners use a pedal (like a sewing machine) to control the rate of the spin.
  • Hand wheels -- you turn the wheel with your hand instead of your feet. Examples include the Great Wheel or the Charkha wheel (popularized by Ghandi).
Some resources for you:

There are all sorts of fibers that you can spin into yarn. For an excellent reference guide to fleeces and fiber, please read the book The Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook

Animal Fibers
  • Sheep - Wool. ALL SORTS OF SHEEP. See big book of fleeces
  • Camelids - Alpaca, llama, vicuna
  • Rabbits, mink, possum
  • Goats
  • Bison, Yaks, Quivuit
  • Silk
  • Dog
Plant Fibers
  • Flax / Linen
  • Cotton
  • Bamboo
Artificial Fibers
  • Nylon
  • Acrylic

Each type of fiber can be spun multiple ways, although some fibers are often spun BEST in a particular way because of their staple length.

What is staple length? Staple length is the length of the given fiber.

There are long staple length fibers that can measure 3” or longer (like silk or flax), and short staple length fibers like merino or cashmere that measure in inches.

Woolen versus Worsted Spinning
Woolen and worsted spinning are simply different methods for how twist is introduced into fiber.

Some fibers are best spun in certain ways. For example, shorter staple fibers, like cashmere are best spun woolen because of how short the fibers are. Whereas a long staple length fiber, like silk, is best spun worsted.

However, these are guidelines. I’ve certainly spun silk woolen when mixed with other fibers. I won't go into too much detail, as it is an exhaustive topic, but for now, just be aware there are different methodologies for spinning fiber.

I hope that this quick & dirty Tools of the Trade is helpful in learning the very basics of spinning. Let us know what you think in the comments or other pieces you want more information.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Episode 77: Avengers Review

In this episode, the girls geek out about the movie, "Avengers: Age of Ultron". There is a MAJOR SPOILER ALERT for this episode. After reviewing the movie, the girls talk about their current set of projects from knitting to cosplay.

Get Geeky


Avengers Review

In today's episode, the girls review the Avengers: Age of Ultron. They loved the movie and highly recommend it, insofar as sequels go. They do discuss some major spoilers in this episode, so, if you haven't seen the movie yet, just skip ahead to the crafting section, which is about 35 minutes into the show.

Get Crafty!

The girls have not just ONE, but TWO craft-a-longs in progress....  Check out the Geek Girl Crafts forums on G+ and Ravelry:

Harry Potter Craft-a-Long

Sandy wants you to geek out about Harry Potter! Make your favorite Potter Universe item, whether it be knitting, sewing, baking, or otherwise. Check out the official Harry Potter Universe website at:

Who Crafts?

Jade gets in on the craft-a-long, but Doctor Who style. Got sewing? knitting? crochet? Want to make fish fingers and custard? Or your favorite souffle recipe? Share with us! And for those interested, she's posted her pattern for her fingerless long gloves, so make your own Doctor Who scarf gloves

Fiber Optics

Finished Objects
  • Baby Sweater for dear friends
  • Cascade 220 Superwash paints
  • Pattern: gryffindor house sweater: front of sweater
  • Yarn: Cascade Longwood sport
  • Notes: finished the back, a few inches shy of the arm holes.
  • Pattern: Viking Hat
  • Yarn: Shepard’s Wool Worsted by Stonehedge Fiber Mill -- OMG SUPER SOFT YARN...SQUISHY --
    • Roasted Pumpkin
    • Navy Blue
  • Notes: Provisional cast on for folded over brim.
  • Pattern: HexiPuffs for the beekeeper quilt!
  • Yarn: Varied Sock yarn
  • 13% done, I’ve run out of scrap sock yarn and thus need to go make new things for a while.
  • Notes: Using HabitRPG to turn everyday chores into a RPG game that gives you XP for things you do everyday.
  • 20150428_232246_HDR.jpg
  • Pattern: Vanilla socks
  • Yarn: Cascade Socks - Self striping socks
  • Notes: Finished one sock. Made tabis. Still working on second sock.
  • Pattern: Couvrette with Dahlias from Mrs. Beeton’s book of needlework
  • Yarn: #20 cotton thread, size 7 steel hook20150506_230547(1).jpg
  • Progress: one dahlia done
  • Notes: at my blog
  • Pattern: Louisa by Cocoknits
  • Yarn: Shibui - Linen, Cloud, and…..
  • Progress: Slow going. Still working on the initial decreases.

Make it Sew!

  • Quilt! -- Jade found a fully piece baby quilt at my favorite thrift store. Someone started to do the quilting but stopped? So, she bought it, and did a very bad job of stippling it myself before sending it to the expectant parents.


  • Gogo Tomago from Big Hero 6. Jade thrifted a HALL COSTUME of Gogo. Not for stage, but for walking around.
    • At her local thrift store, Jade found: black running shorts and a good-enough black leather jacket for her main outfit. TOTAL: $10.00
    • Used a seam ripper to add a “gap” in the running shorts, then sewed red satiny ribbon to the edges to simulate the stripes. (Ribbon: $2.00)
    • Found opaque purple tights at the costume shop near her house. ($6.00)
    • Got some cheap dark grey leggings at Kohls ($10.00)
    • Found purple 2” elastic at Joanns that she used to make her sweatbands ($5.00)
    • Wig from Arda Wigs ($25.00)
    • Appropriate purple wefts from Epic Cosplay ($6.00)
    • Makeup -- CVS sale (purple eye shadow, salmon-blush, pinkish lipstick  -- $15.00
    • Clothing: $18.00 / Accessories: $51.00
    • Finished in two days.  Makeup & wig will be re-useable in other cosplays.
  • Princess Mononoke:
      • Finished up the earrings. She had found the ‘perfect’ size shell earrings but in a different color, then used 99c nail polish (the french tip) to paint the shell earrings to the right color
      • Used SCULPY to make the necklace teeth/claws
      • Made head band/arm bands using black elastic and some circular round shell beads.