short spring handwarmers

There’s something grounding about wearing even the smallest garment made with my own hands. Knowing how it was made! Where it came from. Connecting with a long history of people making what they need, and a simpler, slower life. Little steps into traditional skills make me courageous and deeply curious about making more and more of the things I wear and use. Here’s one of my small studies that you can take up, short sweet wrist-length handwarmers in springtime colours.

writing with handwarmers

I love handwarmers for all the things you can do while cosily wearing them. I’ve begun making some photographs on the subject.

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What do you think? Could you make a pair of cabley fingerless gloves? I learn best by looking over someone’s shoulder, so that’s how I made the tutorial movies. (Watch them in the schoolhouse, in the lefthand column.)

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Handwarmers do add a bit of elegance to tapping away on the keyboard. I’m very happy when I get a chance to rattle away on the typewriter, the old technologies give such satisfaction.

short & sweet heather grey handwarmer kit

This heather grey is the original shade you see me working with in the movies.

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winding yarn

Okay, let me show you the good old fashioned skill of winding yarn by hand. If you’ve ever admired beautiful hank of yarn but didn’t know how to wind it without some kind of contraption – or if you’ve wondered how your yarn was organised into a skein in the first place, the second part of the “Cabled Handwarmers” set, in The Knitting Series, might please you. Have a look at how I wind yarn into a ball by hand. (It’s 2.22 minutes.)

Such a meditative process. Particularly if you find yourself falling in love with spinning your own! I prefer to pull yarn from the center of a skein, so that it needn’t roll around to unravel. Then I can knit or crochet freely, with the yarn in a handbag, which makes it easy to pick up my knitting at violin lessons, at the park, on the bus, at a café. I’ll also wind yarn like this when a store-bought ball gets knotted up, or is half gone and getting a bit messy. Yarn is happiest loose ’til you’re ready to use it, without tension to stretch it, I’ve been told, and is also easier to send through the post. (Like the appleturnovershop does, naturally.) You might like to watch the other movies in the “Cabled Handwarmers” set, over at the old schoolhouse (in the column to your left).

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dyeing wool

The casual mentorship by family and friends in my life, introducing me to skills, tools, techniques, gives me tremendous courage. For months I’ve been actively avoiding a fleece, a wonderful big Jacob’s fleece that my sweetheart bought for a few quid at the farm shop. I’d never so much as watched someone washing or carding a fleece. Finally, my sweet friend Caz’s invitation to bring some wool and do some plant-dyeing over at Trefoil Farm School moved me to action. You know, the morning of our date. In fact it wasn’t difficult, or that messy. Out in the garden I clipped the tougher bits of wool from the fleece and put the rest into a tub of luke-warm, dish-soapy water, gently worked it, and repeated. Just to clean it a little and remove some of the oils. It’s amazing what scares me!

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At the farm school, such a peaceful place, handmade buildings and everything beautiful, we set up at a table outside and the children all helped to card some wool. More about carding later – I’m very much in love with it!

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The wool and yarn were placed in hot water, to soak before the dyebath.

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Caz has a gorgeous collection of dyer’s books. We used Wild Colour, a copy of which I plan to get my hands on. Tansy!

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We used dried tansy, prepare the day before. I think Caz had cooked the plant material and left it to soak and release more colour.

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The plant-dye was strained off;

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A mordant, one chosen to pop up the yellow colour, was added, carefully;

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And all the wool added to the pot and set on the stove to heat for half an hour. The effect when dry was very subtle. More experimentation!

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Most exciting of this process of dyeing wool with plants is feeling like we can begin wonderful experiments in colour now, with that courage you get from being shown how by a good friend. I have a red cabbage in the fridge and nettles in the garden that I might try first.

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You might like a couple of images I made of the plant-dying, spinning and weaving projects Caz does with the sweet children at the farm school. I think her fibre work is so beautiful. Thank you Caz, and everyone at Trefoil for the tremendous inspiration!

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spinning wheels

Spinning yarn is one of those simple and miraculous transformations that I’ve watched but not fully understood until I tried it myself. I had the opportunity quite unexpectedly one afternoon when I stopped in at Birkeland Brothers with my children. My tall girl and I made pictures to show you our spontaneous study in spinning, led by our kind, patient, and aptly named teacher, Pearl, who you simply have to meet and take a class with if you haven’t already. She showed us around a spinning wheel.
spinning lesson © elisa rathje 2011
We each had a go, drafting out the wool and moving pinchy fingers along to bring the twist up, but not too far. Treadling the wheel is just like taking a little walk. Pearl had my little one walking it while she held the twist for her, very smart. And it seems that I can now set my tall girl to yarn production! Isn’t that what people have children for? We are very much in love with the process.
spinning lesson © elisa rathje 2011
To think we might now spin our own yarn! I have a fleece waiting at our little country cottage in England for just this sort of bravery.
spinning lesson © elisa rathje 2011

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p>We used to live just round the corner from Birkelands, we’d peek in the back to see the amazing antique carding machine turning, and choose yarns for all sort of knitting, water felting, needle felting, crochet and weaving projects. Also yarn for imaginary projects made up to justify buying gorgeous yarn simply because it is so gorgeous.

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p>spinning lesson © elisa rathje 2011

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p>Birkeland Brothers Wool has been running since 1939, now into the fourth generation working with the carding machine brought over from Norway. An extraordinary history.

Our impromptu short about spinning wheels. Thanks Pearl! Such a thrill.

(update: We are so glad that we had a chance to do this before Birkeland’s on Main closed. Very sad to see it go.)