A dream come true

This month, the new Winter 2010 Spin-Off magazine came out. If you open it up, right at the top of the inside page, is a photo that gives me goosebumps:

photo by Joe Coca from Spin-Off Winter 2010

That’s my shawl! The article about its creation is my very first published piece in Spin-Off, and even though my work has appeared in many other Interweave mags, Spin-Off is special to me, and I am thrilled.

The shawl is knit out of 2-ply handspun: one ply of qiviut, one ply of silk. The singles were done on spindles; then plied on my Lendrum wheel.

I’ve been asked to post a photo of the shawl spread out flat, as there isn’t one in the magazine. The light this week isn’t the best, so I took a few different photos, each of which shows off something different about the shawl. None of these pics is anywhere near as glorious as Joe Coca’s photos in the magazine; he and Ann Swanson, the photostylist, always make magic happen somehow!

You can click on the photos to get a bigger version:

The colours in sunlight

A better shot of the stitch patterns

Showing the unplanned stripes

The top section has a stitch pattern that I modified so it resembles the face of a musk ox (complete with downward curving horns); the lower section has a prairie flower motif.

The complete pattern and charts are in the magazine. Also included is how I cleaned and processed the (very) raw qiviut fuzz, straight off the bushes of Northern Canada.


I’ve been asked a lot questions about the article, so I thought instead of answering them individually over and over, I’d post the answers here.

How long did it take you to spin the singles on spindles? I spun 4-6 hours a day, most days, for a couple of months. I didn’t keep track of the total hours, because I didn’t want to scare myself!

Raw fibre with VM still in it

What did you do to prevent hand/wrist injuries during all that spinning? I normally spend at least 2-3 hours a day doing some sort of craft work, just as part of my job. Spinning for the shawl was a bit more intense than my usual schedule, however, so I made sure to take frequent breaks. I also did stretching exercises several times throughout the day.

Picking and combing

What made it take that long to spin? Was it spinning super-fine yarn that took so long, or the short staple length, or ?? I’ve never compared my spinning speed to other spinners, so I don’t really know if I am a slow spinner or a fast spinner. I spin more yardage per week on spindles than I do on wheels, as I find it more challenging to do the mental “settling” necessary to get myself to sit at one of my wheels. My default yarn on a spindle is fairly fine; the singles I spun for this project were twice the wraps per inch of my usual yarn, so that did take a fair bit of effort to maintain consistency. The short staple of the qiviut was a definite challenge at first, but over time my fingers grew used to letting in the twist at the proper moment. I think the main factor that slowed things down was the ongoing battle with guard hairs: I was constantly finding yet another prickly bit I had to pick out of the fibre/yarn before I was satisfied with it.

Guard hairs

Did you consider using a supported spindle, as fine cashmere and silk are traditionally spun on those? No, I never did. I don’t have much skill with a supported spindle, mainly because of nerve damage in my hands. I had to re-learn spindle-spinning a couple of years ago due to an injury (thank you, Abby!), switching which hand did what to make the most of the mobility I have. I am extremely proficient at thigh-roll spinning; however, due to lack of feeling in my index finger and thumb, I have trouble twirling any sort of spindle. At some point, I’ll sit down and figure out a workaround for my abilities vis-a-vis supported spinning. But as far as this project went, I had no trouble getting a superfine lace yarn on my lightweight drop spindles.

Qiviut singles on my Lily spindle

Why did you ply on a wheel? Why not use a plying ball and a spindle? For me, it’s faster to ply on a wheel, and at this stage of the project, every moment counted! Also, I really enjoy plying on a wheel. In addition, I find that for certain sorts of yarns, I can get more consistent results plying on a wheel. To be honest, I really wanted to do the entire project, plying included, on spindles, but I also knew my limitations at that point.

Blocking the shawl

I was really fortunate to be able to work on this project, and I send out a heartfelt thank-you to Amy Clarke Moore, Jason Reid, Ann Swanson, Joe Coca, and the rest of the Spin-Off team for doing such an amazing job of showing off the yarns and the shawl itself. Thank you, Spin-Off!

And a grateful bow as well to this fellow:

The original owner of the qiviut

If you have more questions, leave them in the comments and I can answer you in future posts.

About sandi

Knitter. Spinner. Quilter. UFO Wrangler. Sometime bead artist and weaver. Two toddler-age kittens, 1 permakitten, 2 grownup cats, 1 beloved dog angel, 1 spouse, 1 crazy life. I suppose that the 5 cats make me 1 crazy cat lady; OTOH, apparently, yes, I do need that much feline supervision.
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12 Responses to A dream come true

  1. InJuneau says:

    LOVE, just LOVE! Someday I’ll spin something so lovely… You are an inspiration.

  2. Lisa says:

    Beautiful! Thanks for the pictures of it spread out. The stitch patterns are gorgeous.

  3. That looks absolutely gorgeous! Spinning Qiviut is on my wish list… some day… In the meantime, I admire your work!

  4. Mardi says:

    It is just beautiful, Sandi. A work of art, a personal milestone -can’t get better than that!

  5. Loredena says:

    Lovely! Thanks so much for the full photos and the followup info too 🙂

  6. Astrid says:

    Congratulations on breaking in to Spin-Off! The shawl is stunning, a masterpiece. Brava! And thank you for posting pix of it spread out — despite the artiness of Joe Coca, I like being able to see and appreciate the entire pattern.

  7. You do such beautiful work that as far as I’m concerned, you can take as long as you need to do it! Congratulations on being in Spin-Off!

  8. Rachel says:

    The shawl is absolutely breathtaking and a wish for that pattern and article is totally the reason I subscribed to Spin-Off! I don’t expect to ever spin like that but fortunately I don’t have to. I can sit back and appreciate the beauty of the craftspeople who can

  9. naomi says:

    Okay, I see one problem with this pattern. It is absolutely lovely, and I have too many projects going already. (My copy showed up on Saturday!)

  10. Sandy says:

    Absolutely inspiring! I have some silk/cashmere I’m spinning on my support spindle. I believe I’ve found the project for it!

    Thanks Princess!

  11. I just finished reading my copy of Spin Off! I have been avoiding doing any spinning at all yet. It is very inspiring to see your work in there, especially with your follow up notes about your difficulties with your injuries. I am going to get started on spinning bast fibre. I will no longer let the hank of top at home scare me!

  12. Tamara says:

    Beautiful shawl, and it must be soooooo soft!

    I have a basic question–what’s a support spindle? I googled it, and it looks like it comes with a little tea saucer thingy, and is shaped more like an acorn at the bottom? Kind of like twirling your spaghetti against a spoon?

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