Making a Shetland Shawl from Scratch!

When I was preparing to move away for a year I took time to carefully think about what knitting project I could bring that would keep me busy for a year and not take up too much room in my suitcases.

I am a fast knitter. I knit Hanne Falkenberg’s Ballerina Jacket in 10 weeks while I was doing my dissertation research, taking language classes and dealing with general and overwhelming homesickness. I love A Gathering of Lace, it is a book filled with projects that require 2 or 3 charts and are knitted on size 1 or 2 needles. But even those were not taking the time they used to. So, before I left California I purchased 8 ounces of a wonderful merino and threw it into my suitcase with my drop spindle. 22 hours later I sat in Amman and wondered what I had done.

I pulled off a handful of roving at a time and sat and spun it up while I watched TV or bad movies. At first it did seem to take and eternity, and I was not pleased with the results. I put too much twist into the yarn, and it was inconsistent. I wanted a lace-weight yarn.

Once I’d spun a handful or two I would wind the singles onto a ballwinder to make a center-pull ball. I tied the “inside” and the “outside” end together and plied.

This resulted in batches of yarn. Here is some of the first I spun back in September 2006. It sucks. You can see little corkscrews of yarn I put too much twist into. It is quite inconsistent. The Jordanian half Dinar is slightly bigger than a U.S. quarter.

This is more like it. I spun from early September until early January before I got a yarn I really liked. I had quite a lot of inconsistent fingering-weight yarn from my first attempts and I used that to swatch, something I never do. I took each batch of yarn and washed it with my 2-in-1 shampoo conditioner and hung it on the dresser with some weight to set the twist. Then I took the batches and felted the ends together to create one big skein.

By the middle of January 2007 I had a pretty good ball of lace-weight yarn. I continued to spin the roving and by May I had quite a lot. I originally promised myself I’d spin the whole roving for the practice, but I was too eager to cast on and start knitting. I have about 2 ounces left over. I casted on in March, knit most of this in Iran, and finished it this week. I had this strange sense of, well, nothing, when I finished. I finished the shawl but felt no sense of accomplishment. It was weird. This project has been with me for so long, I guess, that it may never feel finished. Since I took the following pictures I did a single crochet edging with similar colored beads every 10 stitches along both edges.

It won’t be until I return to the States that I have access to my blocking wires and can properly block the shawl. Perhaps that’s why it doesn’t feel finished.

I decided that I like that the two ends do not match.

What an amazing project this has been for me. I hated spindle spinning, but I (mostly) learned to overcome this. I have become a much better spinner. When I visited California in March I sat and spun on my wheel, and I made the best yarn I’ve ever produced with it. There is something about isolating myself from the wheel and working with a device so simple that all I can do is concentrate on drafting, and then doing that for 7 months, that taught me more about spinning than I’ve learned in the last 6 years. Taking on a project like this taught me that momentum comes from the mere passage of time. The more time I invested in this, the more I really came to understand that beautiful work will always wait for me. I nickel-and-dimed this project, and now I have this amazing shawl that I made from scratch!

I will return to California next month, and I am wearing this shawl home no matter how hot it is.


Blogger Weeping Sore said...

Nifty story and nifty end product. The feeling of making something "from scratch" must be similar to the feeling of eating a tomato grown from seed. It's funny how in this high-tech age we're discovering things about crafts that our grandparents knew.

12:07 AM  
Anonymous tammy said...

It's amazing! Your words about spindle spinning give me hope that with practice I can get better at it. Thank you!

2:16 AM  

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