Trying new things: Hand spinning yarn

My first attempt at spinning yarn on a wheel
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I began thinking about someday owning my own alpacas after John and I went to an alpaca farm / yarn shop while visiting my parents in Wimberley, TX. In this shop, they sold yarn spun from specific alpacas and each skein came with a little card of information about that alpaca. Yes, the yarn was lovely and soft, but it was actually those silly little cards and knowing the alpaca’s name that made me buy the yarn.

Before this, I only bought yarn based on how it felt and looked. After this, I started looking at the fiber content of the yarn I bought and I started reading books about fiber:

The Natural Knitter by Barbara Albright¬†—¬†I own this one and love it. Each fiber discussed is accompanied by a project that works well with it¬†and the book has gorgeous full-color photos from cover to cover.

The Knitter’s Book of Yarn by Clara Parkes¬†— This is one of the first fiber books I checked out from the library and it is JAM PACKED with information and super cute illustrations of animals.

Spinner’s Book of Fleece¬†by Beth Smith —¬†This one is only about sheep, but goes into great detail about many breeds of sheep and each breed is accompanied by knitted swatches of hand spun yarn made from that fleece. It’s a great way to visualize the differences between the different breeds.

*(These are affiliate links.)

I found Spinner’s Book of Fleece interesting because of the sheep and how each fleece could be so different. Spinning was on a list of things that I’d do if the opportunity ever arose but I wasn’t really looking to buy new gadgets for yet another hobby.

…And I already have enough yarn to last a lifetime.

When we helped out at Evan’s Knob Farm a couple of weeks ago, that opportunity to learn how to spin did arise. Kathy, the farm’s overlord (hehe), let me pick out some roving she had created from her flock of sheep and sat me down at her spinning wheel.¬†That first night of¬†spinning¬†was a bit¬†frustrating, but I kept at it for hours until it finally clicked.

My first attempt at spinning yarn on a wheel

My first attempt at spinning yarn on a wheel

And then I went back to it another night and finished this kinda gnarly but in its own way lovely skein of yarn.

After earning my “Hand Spinning¬†Newbie” badge and my “Sort of Helped Shear a Sheep” badge, Kathy sent me home with a big bag of fleece!

When I got home, I ordered a drop spindle¬†and some hand carders from The Woolery (these were a lot more pricey than I was expecting but I couldn’t find many cheaper hand carders on the web that didn’t look like someone had grabbed dog brushes and attempted to market them as hand carders).

Wool on a carder

My first time using hand carders. Look at those fluffy fibers!

The carders worked well, and I think I got the hang of carding pretty quickly. I carded 5 or 6 little batches and rolled them up into rolags.

Then I had to figure out how to use a top whorl drop spindle…¬†Nothing that a little Googling couldn’t fix.

Hand spinning wool

Look, ma! More yarn!

I spent about two hours spinning the bits of wool that I’d carded. A little slow, but I still enjoyed it.

Yarn on a drop spindle

Two hours worth of yarn… phew!

I need to remember to put a cloth or something over my clothes the next time I spin. All of those little sheep fibers cling to my clothes!

If you’ve been into yarny crafts for a while but have never tried spinning, I’d suggest giving it a try. There’s a little learning curve but it’s no worse than the one for knitting or crocheting. Unless you buy fleece, you’ll only need a drop spindle (mine came with a niddy noddy and was less than $20 for both) and some roving to play with.

Let me know if you decide to try it! I’d love to see your first attempts!

Real Income Reports from Real Knit/Crochet Designers

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Sorry, it’s been a while since I posted! John and I were WWOOFing for a couple of weeks (this included my first attempt at shearing a sheep and spinning yarn, so take a look).


On to business…

Tara Swiger helps makers figure out what they want to do and how to make it a viable business. I’ve always been¬†impressed by the vast amount of information on her website and blog. She even has a podcast!

I stumbled onto this awesome list she put together: income reports from knit and crochet designers. It’s really interesting to see the range of income that designers make per month.

The most impressive number is a designer who brings in a net of almost $9,000 per month!¬†They attribute that high number to book sales and a subscription-based product. If I’ve learned one thing over the years, it’s that if you want monetary success without killing yourself, you’ll need to take time out of the equation. With the internet, it seems like subscription-based services and high-value, reusable, digital products (classes, workshops) are¬†the way to go.

I also found it interesting that one designer mentioned that free patterns just didn’t work for them, since people looking for free patterns hardly ever converted to paid customers.

I hope you all find this as interesting as I did because I had no idea what I could expect to earn selling patterns on the internet.

5 Real Income Reports from Knitwear Designers

Saving some money with Ting

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Ting!Okay, this is kind of off topic and I’m sorry but I’m not. I will start by saying that I’m not affiliated with Ting in any way other than that I’m a happy customer and I’m hoping to save you some money.

6 months ago my husband and I switched from AT&T to Ting, trading in our AT&T iPhones (a 4S and 5) at Best Buy (for store credit), then buying used Sprint network iPhones (a 5 and 5S) on Glyde and Amazon (yes, buying a used phone was scary but both of them turned out to be fine).

Our AT&T bill was ~$147/mo for two iPhones, one with unlimited data and another with 2gb, including a discount I got from my employer. We had the lowest minutes plan (500), and did unlimited texts because we’re crazy texters.

If you’ve never heard of Ting, it’s a mobile service provider that allows you to pay for your voice, data and texts in brackets. You don’t choose what you’re going to use ahead of time, you just use it and pay at the end of the month. They offer coverage on CDMA (Sprint) and GSM (they can’t disclose) networks, and although their maps don’t seem as hefty as AT&T’s coverage maps, we seem to have the same coverage we had with AT&T in our city.

I was a bit worried about switching and losing my unlimited data, but using Ting’s savings calculator showed that even if we used the same amount of minutes, data and texts that we were currently using, we would save about $60 a month. They also send you updates about your usage when you pass a certain amount of usage (you decide what that threshold is).

Six months at Ting has only cost us¬†2.3 month’s worth of AT&T bills.

We have saved¬†$544 in 6 months with Ting for our two iPhones. That’s almost enough to cover the two phones we bought when we switched to Ting. We have no contract with Ting, nor do we owe them anything for our phones.

That’s pretty great when you think about how getting a ‘free’ phone at AT&T locks you in for 2 years. We could buy two iPhone 6s¬†at $649 for our Ting accounts and have them paid off in 15 months¬†using our savings from leaving AT&T. That leaves about $810 in savings for the extra 9 months we would have been stuck with AT&T to get the¬†free iPhone 6s.

I can’t say we haven’t changed our mobile habits, but I wouldn’t trade back for unlimited usage either. I block a lot of apps from using data, I don’t stream music on the road, and I don’t sit around idly flipping through Pinterest/Instagram/Reddit as much as I used to. We try to keep our usage below 1gb¬†on each¬†device and use wifi as much as possible.

It sounds a bit ridiculous, but I feel like being mindful of my data usage has also made me more mindful in general.

Even when we travel, our bill hasn’t gone past $65 for two devices. It’s nice to have control over how much we spend on our phones each month.

Here’s a snapshot of our last two bills:

Screen Shot 2015-04-30 at 11.14.38 AM

Woops, we passed their 2gb data bracket and had to pay $.015 for each mb over.

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Looks like taxes went up and we went to the next text message & minute brackets, bumping our bill up a bit.

I encourage you to check out Ting’s coverage maps, their savings calculator (plug in your monthly usage and find out how much it would cost at Ting), their rates (these are the ‘brackets’ I mentioned), and check to see if you can bring your current device with you to Ting.

Do your own calculations and see if you’ll save money like we did (you may not). Think seriously, too, about changing your mobile habits. Download your music over wifi before leaving the house, same with your podcasts, videos, etc… Sure, it’s less convenient, but I can’t think of many situations where saving money is more convenient than spending it.

Ting may not be for everyone: if you need data coverage in certain areas and they don’t have it; if you use more than 3gb of data each month it might end up costing more than your current plan; if you don’t have the money up-front for another phone,¬†don’t want to downgrade, and your current phone can’t make the switch.

If you think Ting would be a good switch for you, use the following link to get $25 in Ting credit. You can use this towards devices on their Shop page or towards your bills. I get a bit of money too!

Sign up for Ting, get $25 in credit: https://zl9g9331o58.ting.com/

Anyone else switched to Ting recently? Still on the fence? Have an alternative? Let me know!

Knitted: Doctor Who – Inspired Hat

INSULATE! Knitted Hat
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After the train wreck that was my mug cozy, I felt like I needed to redeem myself as a knitter and I think I did, so I wanted to share this finished knitted object with you all.

I found the INSULATE!¬†hat pattern by Amy van de Laar on Ravelry a few weeks ago when looking for something to knit with two skeins of yarn John¬†bought for me. It’s a 2-color hat, covered in Daleks, and the pattern is free!

Luminous in the May Day colorway, by Sincere Sheep

Luminous in the May Day colorway, by Sincere Sheep

Polwarth Shimmer in the Plump colorway by Knitted Wit

Polwarth Shimmer in the Plump colorway by Knitted Wit

I wasn’t sure about knitting pink and purple Daleks, so I held off on knitting the hat, hoping to find a more appropriate use for the yarn. But the urgent need for a¬†pick-me-up knit trumped my color concerns and I decided to cast-on earlier this week.

I loved working with these yarns.¬†They are both 85% Polwarth wool and 15% silk.¬†The wool makes the yarn squishy and the silk makes the¬†yarn¬†soft(er). They’re both hand-dyed and had slight variations in color.¬†(And¬†in case you’re wondering, which you’re probably not, fiber-enthusiasts care to know what kind of sheep their wool comes from, which is why it is known that this wool is from Polwarth sheep.)

Whovian in a knitted Dalek hat

Dalek hat and a Doctor Who reference on my shirt (not planned, but I have so many Whovian shirts, it was bound to happen)

Oh, how I love to knit a hat.¬†They’re so quick to knit up and this one only had 3 ends to weave in when I was done — quick finishing FTW.

If you enjoy stranded colorwork, I’d definitely recommend this pattern. Amy (the designer) gives very clear instructions on how to knit the hat and how to knit it without needlessly wasting too much yarn. Rows with minimal color changes actually just use slipped stitches from the previous row so you don’t have to carry the other color around the back. Pretty snazzy!

In other knitting news, I started knitting a shirtie today (that’s a shirt and a hoodie). This is my first non-accessory garment that I will be knitting. I’m nervous but excited at the same time. Will keep you all posted!

Knitting Pattern: Nailed It! (NOT)

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I’ve been working on a test knit for my mug cozy for probably a month, picking it up and putting it back down. The intarsia was a¬†slow process, since I designed the color changes based on my own visual likes rather than ease of knitting. I’d also never done intarsia knitting before this.

Sheep in a field - gridded drawing

For your memory, this is the color pattern I was working from.

With intarsia, you create a new little bobbin of yarn to work from each time there is a color change. So, you’re knitting around in blue, get to a cloud, switch to a small bit of white, then switch to a new bit of blue (that’s right, you don’t just pick up the old blue you were using before until you come back around). Because you don’t bring the yarn along behind the work, every time there is a color change, you get a new bit of yarn. For every new bit of yarn, there is going to be an end to weave in.

Intarsia chart

For a visual representation: All of the stars in this section of the pattern show where a new bit of yarn is going to be used. The thicker black lines indicate a section where a bobbin of different yarn is used.

As I was designing this, I had no experience with intarsia, therefore, gave no thought to how many ****ing ends there would be to weave it when I finished the cozy.

Knitting - so many ends to weave in

Attack of the spaghetti monster

I don’t even want to pretend I’m going to finish this test knit.

But either way, NAILED IT!

Crappy knitting

NAILED it! (NOT…)

Hahaha, just kidding. This poor mug cozy is a step away from being knitted vomit.

Aside from being a finishing nightmare, my technique was just not very good. The randomly loose stitches above¬†would be fixed after I weaved in the ends of the yarn — they’re just loose because they’re not quite attached.

The blob thing that should be a sheep in a pasture though… wowwee.

I knit the clouds in¬†seed stitch – k1, p1, then on the next row I’d purl the knits and knit the purls, creating these cute, fluffy clouds because purl stitches create a little horizontal bar that puffs out a bit.

The problem with purl stitches in colorwork is that the previous stitch is visible behind the purl bar. Not so noticeable when it’s white on light blue, but super noticeable when it’s white on dark green. I wanted the sheep to be fluffy, so I tried the same thing on them.

Colorwork gone wrong - knitting

Another example of how using purl stitches in colorwork can go horribly wrong, since I did purl the white stitches below the black stitches

Another issue I had was in using this technique to be able to knit in the round while still using the intarsia technique. I thought I did this correctly everytime I turned my work, but apparently not because the start/end section of the mug cozy looks quite… jacked. If you’re not a knitter, just notice how most sections have a straight line of Vs going down, but in the middle… who knows what’s happening? Also, you should become a knitter.

Bad knitting

Did I add stitches? I’m not sure, but that section looks totally wibbly-wobbly.

And my last gripe with this is that the green on the bottom needs more saturation. It’s being ousted on the next run.

So, it’s back to the drawing board with this pattern. Lessons learned:

  1. Practice the intarsia in the round technique way more, or just knit it flat and sew it into a cylinder when you’re done.
  2. Make sure your yarn colors are all equally saturated or it just looks sad.
  3. Don’t try to be cute with your fluffy purl stitches when doing high-contrast colorwork.
  4. It may not be worth the pain to create a color chart based solely on visual design — take the knitting experience into account and try to reduce the number of ends that will need to be weaved in at the end.

Read more about my adventure in creating my first knitting pattern:

Lost Projects Club: Accountability for Your Insane Crafting

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My pals and I had a problem. We are crafty gals and dabble in many things. Fleur has ceramics, jewelry making, crocheting… Carly has sewing, paper craftiness, knitting… I have knitting, crocheting…

We started lamenting about our stashes of unfinished projects. The things you start with every intention of getting done as soon as possible that end up in the corner of a room or packed up in a box. You think about that project every once in a while, wishing you had just finished it when you had the chance but now you have so many more new projects to work on, you couldn’t possibly…!

We blame Pinterest.

I can’t remember if it was Carly’s idea or Fleur’s, but somebody called out with a battle cry,

“Let’s finish this stuff, dammit!”

We decided that we’d get together over tea and¬†the only rule was¬†that you had to work on something that has stagnated, that you haven’t touched in months (or maybe years). We called it The Lost Projects Club.

Every few weeks, we meet up¬†and spend 3-4 hours together doing our crafty thing.¬†The club keeps us accountable to each other to at least continue on with old projects, if not finish them (we’re not very demanding of each other).

It has helped me by forcing me to keep a list of on-going projects and noting how far into them I am. I even finished a scarf last year that I had started in 2009!

If you’re feeling scattered, like you’ve started too many new things and just don’t have time to finish the crafts you felt so inclined to start before, get a group of your friends together and start your own Lost Projects Club!

Woman crocheting

Fleur, doing some tunisian crochet wizardry. Notice the awesome abundance of snacks available in the background to keep morale up!

Woman ironing a skirt

Carly, working diligently on her skirt-making skills

Loom knitting

Fleur, working at this loom knitting!

Paints and a birdhouse

Carly’s daughter took up her own craft too… then got bored

 

Homemade Veggie Bao Buns

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Mandy Bee:

Check out our amaze-buns! :9

Originally posted on Coffee, and the Quill:

2015-02-24 16.42.01Tuesday was a super busy day for me and I didn’t find a whole lot of time to be home. While I was out and running around, my wife decided to give this recipe a try. They’re a Jamie Oliver styled asian bun that you might find at any dim sum restaurant you go to. Typically, they’re loaded with barbecued pork and they’re absolutely fantastic. This recipe, however, calls for mushrooms and water chestnuts instead, which makes it perfect for vegetarians and vegans alike.

2015-02-24 16.44.45Mandy marinated the mushrooms and water chestnuts in hoisin sauce, soy sauce, and mirin. I managed to make it home in time to help with the dough, and we set out to make our own self-rising dough which was really simple. The whole recipe is deceptively simple for such a great dish, and surprisingly good for you with the addition of the vegetables. If you’re a fan…

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