Making with Notes

Notes and notebooks are an invaluable part of everything I do. By recording observations, ideas, triumphs, and failures, I’ve created an environment that I can review and learn from. This process enables me to find new patterns (in all senses of that word) and draw different connections to create something new. The process of writing helps me slow down and think about the challenges I’m trying to solve. 

I prefer to scribble on and refer to paper. Yes, electronic options exist – I use them too. However, when I’m trying to solve a problem – be it a design that isn’t working out how I thought, or a bigger idea I need to contemplate — I’ll pick up a notebook and a pen. That’s what works best for me. Something else may be a better fit for you. [Consistency in notes is a topic for other posts, such as this one.]

Writing everything down, pasting ideas, scribbling thoughts and doodling are all part of the process. Nothing comes straight through in its finished format, at least not for me. I will revise and edit until it’s the best I can make it – and my notes along the way help that process. My scribbles are a draft. It’s rare that I share the full details of a page with anyone except maybe the cat. They’re an essential step for me. 

My archives supply a source of both information and inspiration. I still find it much easier to review my paper notebooks than any digital ones I’ve created. 

This week, I’m working to finish a new design that combines simple elements – basic stitches both for regular and Tunisian Crochet. It’s been a struggle to decide on one part of the design. I’ve tried different stitch permutations, and nothing felt quite right.

The other day I pulled three notebooks off the shelf and let them open (somewhat) randomly. They cover a multi-year time period, 2013, 2011, and 2017. There’s no real reason to why I pulled them down other than those were the first three I grabbed. 

a wooden desk strewn with open notebooks and a pink swatch laying on one with a green pen.

A page from June 2013 showed my notes and sketches for an asymmetrical cable top – one that was far in advance of my design ability a decade ago. (I should revisit that!) The movement of my cable sketch made me think of the stitch used in my Autumn Transitions Cowl, one that receives compliments every time I wear it. 

Another open page was a spread from October 2011 when I affixed the actual swatch into the pages (I now photocopy them if I really need the swatch with the notes – it makes for a less bulky notebook). What made me pause here was not the swatch, but the photocopied chart next to it. I pasted that in landscape and when viewed sideways it makes me think differently about the panel it portrays. 

The third book opened to sketches for the still not yet released Transposon design as sketched in 2017. Then as now, random stripes (or ribbing) is what captured my attention and provided me the spark that will work for this project. 

My scribbles as I work out what I may do (still subject to change) read: 

lined rhodia notebook on a wooden desk with a green fountain pen. the left page has notes about a crochet design.
click to open full size
Tunisian + simple crochet -> light drape stripe.
Change to hdc herringbone or dc in sc section?
simple texture? 
alt sc, tc, sc, sc, with a fib[onacci] seq[uence]! 
swatch LB Cotton Ease K/6.5mm

Well, I mostly swatched. Dot loves this discontinued yarn and stole the ball off my desk as I was taking photos. I’ll need to wait for her to nap so I can complete the swatch and finish the design.

Tuxedo Cat on a messy desk with a ball of pink yarn in her mouth.

See also:

Looking for a notebook of your own?

Thoughts on my supply & tool organization

My studio is a feline friendly space so I need to keep it tidy. That task is easier when I also keep it organized. The system evolves as my work and priorities shift. Today’s post shares a few thoughts about my system.

Why organize?

In addition to helping me safely share my life with a cat or two, keeping my supplies and tools organized helps me find things when I need them. I don’t want to spend hours hunting down a tool, I’d rather spend my time creating.

It’s a challenge to find the right organization system. I know myself–if it’s too detailed, I will resist using it. If things are squirreled away in unmarked bins, I’ll forget they exist. Further, while I like a consistent look to my space, I need to be wary of it looking too perfect. In that case I’ll be hesitant to use it for the irrational fear of messing it up.

What is my system?

My system depends on multiple factors including the size of what I need to store, space available, and how often I plan to use it. No, this is not a wishy-washy response. The system needs to be one that I’ll use without putting thought into it, and still allow for flexibility as those requirements change.

Most of my supplies and tools are kept together by general category; like is grouped with like. In general, that means by the type of tool, for example crochet hooks are stored together. But it can also mean by general purpose, or by brand. My crochet hooks and interchangeable knitting needle tips each have their own compartmentalized container and are sorted by size.

Yarn takes up most of my storage space. I still use the Expedit units I bought when we moved nearly 13 years ago. The specifics of how I group the yarn in each section often shifts. Right now, the bins hold items that are similar yarn weights (such as fingering/sock), materials (cotton/blends), or are design support. Some days I fantasize about storing by color family, but I’ve not made that change yet.

Label everything

It’s important however to label everything. It doesn’t need to be perfect! I now like to use washi tape or sticky notes held in place with washi tape. They’re easier to remove than a folder label.

If I don’t know what’s in a box, I’m more likely to ignore it. This also lets me rearrange boxes and not have to take time to verify if the top right box holds scissors or sewing thread.

When do I change my system?

I know to change my organization system when I stop using it. A few months ago, the need to change my system for crochet hooks and knitting needles storage became clear when I dumped a chaotic mess of circular needles and interchangeable cables into a larger “miscellaneous” bin because I ran out of space. Shortly thereafter, a wooden chest of drawers was added to my bookshelf.

The key is to be flexible and adapt when things aren’t working. For years I struggled with this part, I wanted to set it once and it would work forever.

Simply accepting that the system needs to evolve is what has reduced friction and created a more organized studio. My skills, tools, and projects change and evolve, it makes sense that my organization system may occasionally need adjusting.


I hope these basics tips and the photo gallery below helps to inspire you.

If you would like to discuss your supply and tool organization needs, please contact me. I’d love to work with you to discover a system that helps you work best with your space, supplies, and tools.

This is a 2022 update and consolidation of posts written in 2014.

Spring cleaning, tools

purple crocus and yellow daffodils emerging through leaf strewn ground

As the spring bulbs emerge, I like to give my tools some much needed TLC. The winter months are when they see the heaviest use.

The process is similar for the different types of tool. I gather them together, evaluate their condition, clean, and perform maintenance, wash the container, and put everything away properly. I don’t do it all on one day, that’s overwhelming. I spread it out over several weeks.

Below are the things I focus on during this spring cleaning.

Knitting needles and crochet hooks

Thanks to a cat who loves to chew, I now keep all needles and hooks put away. However, there are always some that end up in a bin “to be put away later.” As I sort through everything, I evaluate the condition and give everything a good wipe with a damp cloth. I use hand lotion more often in the winter and this residue can build up. This year after I clean them, I’m also working bees wax into the wooden tools, I had a few knitting needle tips split over the past few months. The dry air was not kind to them this past winter, so everything is getting a light conditioning. Don’t forget to check interchangeable cables, I’m rough on mine and use this time to evaluate which need replacement.

I also have a few containers of what I’ll term “vintage needles” that are mostly for decoration. They look nice in the background of video calls, but I don’t often use them. It doesn’t take long to check for signs of deterioration and clean away the dust.

Cutting tools

While I keep cutting tools safe from any curious felines who share my space, each spring I like to sharpen or replace blades and oil moving parts, so they cut smoothly. I also attempt to corral all the wayward seam rippers.

Pins and needles

I check for rust and make sure that storage containers still close securely. When I’m sewing, I’m apt to just toss pins onto a magnetic dish and put that away without sorting and storing properly.

Spinning and weaving tools

This year I’m giving all wood a quick conditioning. These tools receive their annual check in autumn during spinning and weaving week, held the first week in October.

Sewing Machine

My machine is susceptible to a slipped timing belt, so checking that is now part of my regular maintenance before I start a new project. During this cleaning I make sure to clean the table it’s on, give it a good blow out with compressed air, and oil all the recommended spots.

Project Bags

While these are a very different type of tool, it’s important to clean these periodically too. I tend to toss mine on the floor, especially when I’m a passenger in the car. They roll around in some pretty gross environments. I either toss them in the washing machine or hand-wash depending on how they’re made. If the weather is nice they get to dry outside in the sun, though since temperatures are still fluctuating, mine enjoyed a spot in front of the fireplace.

This is a 2022 update of a post first written in 2018.

a reminder to pause

I’ve felt glued to work for weeks, it feels as if there hasn’t been forward progress on my projects either.

This morning, I took myself outside without any swatches or my laptop. I sat and paused to absorb the sights and sound of nature around me.

Blue August sky with trees in full green leaf taking most of the view.

While the heat and humidity quickly became a new challenge (not to mention the mosquitoes), I feel much better for the fifteen minutes I sat without working … or worry. I have a renewed focus and desire to make progress on that pile of swatches.

Have you taken a chance to pause today?

This is a refresh of a post that first appeared in 2015.

Using WPI to Substitute Swatch a Special Yarn

Special yarn is often tricky to swatch. I have been intimidated by yarns in my stash. Logic doesn’t always play into it.

I know that I need to swatch, I write about it all the time! First, it helps me to understand the fabric in my chosen stitch pattern and needle/hook size, I call this a fun(damental) swatch. Another very good reason is to figure out the size of the fabric I’m creating with that very same stitch pattern and needle/hook, this is the infamous gauge swatch. Sometimes they can be the same swatch, but that’s a different discussion.

My issue with special yarns is that even though working with yarn doesn’t have the same finality as cutting fabric, I’m still often hesitant to swatch because it often feels that way! I warned you that logic doesn’t play into it.

I’ve developed a few ways to swatch a yarn without actually swatching it. This method lets me work on a few initial swatches that I’m not worried to rip back and try something else. Once I have a good idea what I think will work, then I do generally swatch with my special yarn.

How do I perform this magic?

I find a substitute yarn!

When substituting one yarn for another you generally want to keep as many of the same characteristics as possible — fiber, weight, construction, and even hinting to the colorway. With some special yarns, specifically with handspun, that can be challenging to find in one yarn. In this case I find a few yarns that meet different criteria, and create multiple swatches to help answer different swatch questions.

For example, lets work on this skein of my handspun. It’s from a braid of hand-dyed Bluefaced Leicester (BFL) that I spun in 2013.

Skein of dark teal handspun laying on a grass lawn
Handspun, October 2013

This yarn has been a challenge for me. The issues with it are numerous but the biggest is that it’s incredibly overspun, both in the singles and during plying. That means the texture isn’t a lofty soft yarn, it’s more akin to rope. I’ve tried many projects over the years and have ripped everything out.

First step – WPI

As a starting point, I need to determine the WPI, wraps per inch. This number will help to assign the weight category and narrow the search for similar yarns. There are many books and websites to find what a WPI means, I’ve added a few of my favorite books to the References.

cake of handspun and WPI tool with yarn wrapped around it on a plain white background
checking WPI with the handspun yarn

This handspun yarn has a WPI of 17, which makes it a fingering weight yarn. However, I know that number isn’t exact — there are long stretches where the yarn is thicker or thinner.

One potential for the substitute swatches is a yarn at the lighter end of that spectrum, this Anzula Cloud fits the criteria with 18 WPI. However, it has a completely different structure, my handspun is a 3ply and this is a very soft yet beautiful 2-ply.

Handspun ball of Anzula Cloud and WPI tool with yarn wrapped around it on a plain white background
checking WPI for the Anzula Cloud

My next yarn substitute is LGF Suris Sock, which is a 3-ply yarn. The alpaca is closer to the longwool staple of BFL, however this is a heavier yarn at 14 WPI.

Leftover cake of LGF Suri Sock in neutral white and WPI tool with yarn wrapped around it on a plain white background
checking WPI for LGF Suris Sock

How might these create helpful swatches? They’re two yarns I’m familiar with so I have a mental starting point for the kind of fabric they can create.

However the texture of my handspun is different. It’s a very dense yarn. In that category, cotton comes to mind and I have a cone of 3/2 mercerized cotton. It has a WPI of 17 which matches my handspun.

Cone of persian green UKI 3/2 cotton and WPI tool with yarn wrapped around it on a plain white background

This perhaps surprising substitute is a yarn that doesn’t have the same stretch and loft that the Cloud has. This will help me figure out how different stitch patterns may behave.

There are other yarns in my stash that I initially considered for substitutes. There was a lone (and discontinued) skein of a cotton blend, however despite its unique structure (4-ply), those plies are loose and it’s a worsted weight. When combined those two factors won’t help help me figure out this handspun.

Summary of potential substitutes

  • my handspun = 17 WPI, ~ Heavy fingering, dense 3-ply, BFL
  • Anzula Cloud = 18 WPI, ~ Light Fingering, loose 2-ply, blend of Superwash Merino, Cashmere and Nylon
  • LGF Suri sock = 14 WPI, ~sport, balanced 3-ply, blend of Alpaca, Wool and Nylon
  • 3/2 Cotton = 17 WPI, ~ Heavy fingering, balanced 2-ply, Mercerized Perle Cotton

While I don’t have a yarn that is an exact match to my handspun, but I think these three potential substitutes will help me better understand how it might work up into different fabrics. I’d like to have a successful project from yarn I created a long time ago!

Cake of dark teal handspun on plain white background

References

Please note that book title links are to bookshop.org and the authors are either to their website or their publisher.

Caring for Handspun

I’m often asked how I care for my handspun. I confess I’m perplexed by the question; however, I understand it. Handspun can feel more precious and special than a commercially spun yarn. I care for it the same way I do all yarn and fiber; this post shares how I store, wash, and wind my handspun yarn.

Storage

I store my handspun the same way I store all yarn, away from the cats. In my studio, that means a 2-layer system. The outer layer of protection is large hard-sided bins. This keeps inquisitive felines from having easy access and helps keep my studio tidy. I have a range of 2×2 expedit (now kallax) storage with lekman boxes. There are also a few free-standing bins.

Plastic Lekman box, pulled out from expedit. Skeins of yarn are in plastic bags.
these are commercial spun yarns, but the concept is the same

If it’s in my expedit, then I also keep the yarn in a zip top plastic bag. While those 9 squares on the front of the lekman boxes act as a handle for humans, felines see them as a puzzle toy and want to know what’s inside. The bag helps to ensure that if a cat gets close, there’s still a layer of protection. Most every bag I use and reuse has chew marks. I’m slowly converting to fabric zip top bags, but it’s been a low priority project, some of the plastic zip top bags I use have been in rotation for over a decade.

In either each bag, or the plastic bin I like to drop either a small bit of cedar or sachet of lavender. It’s a small bit of extra protection.

About twice a year I try to go through and check every skein of yarn and braid of fiber.

Washing

a plastic bowl with sudsy water and some knitting. a post it with "gauge" handwritten, a pen, and a small ruler is in front of the bowl
this is a swatch getting a bath, handspun yarn gets the same treatment

If you need to wash a skein, please treat it kindly. In general, that means wash in cold water with a wool wash and hang to dry. If you need further instruction on using a wool wash, both Eucalan and Soak provide resources on their websites. There are other brands as well on recipes online.

If this is the first wash after spinning, then you’ll want to do things a bit differently; however, that’s a completely different type of wash and not covered in this post.

Winding

small hand wound balls of handspun (& swatches)

This is where things tend to change from commercially spun yarns. I prefer to hand wind my handspun. There’s something extra yummy about that process and I enjoy the extra time it takes, and I like the look of the ball of yarn instead of a cake.

I give the skein a bit of a snap with my hands before I put it on the swift, I’ve found this helps to reduce tangles. If you want to use a ball winder, go slow, and pay attention to the yarn as you go. If it’s an art yarn, meaning for example includes beads or coils, then I strongly urge you to hand wind.


I hope these tips help you feel more confident storing, washing, and winding your handspun yarn.