Category Archives: Miscellaneous

Shifting Sands

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Shifting Sands

Life has seemed turbulent lately. Many of you will know that 2016 was a phenomenally tough year for me, for so many reasons. 2017 started with moving house, so more upheaval. By February I was planning everything I needed to do to get back to my usual crafting and studying activities. And then the big one hit … my mum was very suddenly diagnosed with a brain tumour.

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My view, as I took in the news.

It was soon clear that this was not going to be a long illness. There was no prospect of treatment, other than palliative care. For one who likes to navigate by festivals, I find it extraordinary to think that mum was diagnosed on Shrove Tuesday, died on Passion Sunday, and the last time I spent with her on Earth was on Mothering Sunday (which, coincidentally, was also my birthday). We will gather to celebrate her life during Holy Week. By the time Maundy Thursday dawns, the end of life rituals will be done. The grieving will continue, and will mellow over time.

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Mothering Sunday flowers from our last day together. When I turned for a last look before leaving, I saw that my daughter had laid one of the daffodils on mum’s bed.

It’s hard to know what I could say about my mum that would do her justice. She was my my first and most important teacher. She’s the one who taught me to knit, who brought the enduring love of yarn and the simple pleasure of handwork into my life. She’s mentioned in the first paragraph I ever wrote on this site, and how could it have been otherwise? It couldn’t. So profound is her spirit within me that she is here in every word. She was the recipient of my first every story skeins: Sunset Forest and A Quarter of Sherbet. Clearly, her influence stretches far beyond me and my little niche of creativity, but I start there because it’s what I come here to write about.

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A rainbow over the hospice.

It was my mum who bought me the Hook to Heal book for my last birthday. I have made so much of the healing power of crafting over this short and difficult journey. I have stitched, and hooked, and sewn by her bed. I could be with her, in ways we had been together hundreds of times before. We didn’t need to talk if there was nothing to say or mum needed a rest. But we had easy companionship and the joy of watching a creation take shape. She asked my daughter to make her a bag to hold her prayer stones. We stitched it together on the journey to see mum. I finished my Elise shawl when mum was ill. I had worked on it beside her, and shown her the beautiful colours in the yarn, and the patterns I was creating. I’ll wear it to her funeral next week.

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Beautiful stained glass windows in the hospital.

Before mum’s diagnosis I had started Scheepjes’ Hygge crochet along. I treated myself to the kit as a post-moving house present to myself. I didn’t know it would take on a much greater significance. I stitched so much of that piece by her bedside. Although I worked on other projects too, Hygge was immediately special. It was calming and beautiful, and really engaged my mum who admired it and insisted on showing it off to staff and patients alike!

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Hygge to week 7. This project was and continues to be a blessing for me and my mum.

When her prognosis came through I knew she would not see it completed. And I knew it was by now far too special to be anything other than a tribute piece to her. When she died, as I was stitching week 7, I embroidered her initials and dates into the piece.

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JAB 1947 – 2017

Mum touched so many people’s lives in so many different ways. I could not possibly list them all here. But I think the common theme through her life is a true understanding of what it means to serve people, and a clarity about why our service to others is important; about why people – and how we treat them – are important. The way she lived taught me formative lessons about living the life you want in the way you want: enjoying and embracing the things that are important to you, under the guidance of a strong and generous moral centre.

My mum went to University in Hull and used to tell me about the librarian: Philip Larkin. When I came to study for my GCSEs, one of his poems was in our anthology. I’ve always liked the last line, and though I am taking it out of context, I’d still like to think about it here. Larkin talks of his Schoolmaster, who “Dissolved. (Like sugar in a cup of tea.)” Now, my mum was far too much of a strong woman to dissolve in life. She wasn’t one to stay in the background. But when I think of her influence I see that although she is no longer here, everything she’s done for the last nearly-70 years leaves the world a sweeter place. Although we have a journey of grief to navigate, eventually those rough granules will dissolve too, and what we’ll be left with are the sweet memories, and the knowledge that we have been the luckiest of families, to have such a person in our lives.

Goodbye mum. Love you always. xxx

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Wrapping Up 2016

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Wrapping Up 2016

Twelfth night has passed, Epiphany arrived and the morning brings St. Distaff’s Day. And yet, 2016 still plays on my mind and I feel it won’t let me rest until I’ve put it to bed. So here is my debrief, liberally scattered with my favourite images of the last twelve months as a reminder that there was plenty of good amongst the difficulties.

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January: I finished The Doodler, my first Westknits MKAL.

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January: Study and stitching played a big part in the year.

I started 2016 in good form and with clear plans for the year. It was to be a quiet year for Story Skeins whilst I concentrated on finishing my training course.

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February: Buttons and yarn, gifted from fellow crafters, came together beautifully.

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February: Handspun Valentine’s yarn.

The year started well. Life, work, creativity and health were all good. Things were progressing as I planned. I enjoyed my 38th birthday in March.

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March: Birthday gifts from my family.

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March: A birthday note from a fellow spinner!

But that was the point when the year began to turn. Things started to get more difficult. Imperceptibly so at first, but soon becoming a relentless pattern.

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April: My first Fibreshare – what I sent.

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April: My first Fibreshare – what I received.

There were many reasons. I don’t really want to dwell on them, but briefly: several of us live with difficult health conditions and these gave us trouble, not least in that the mental and physical effort required each day leaves us with few reserves to draw on when life throws up a sudden plot twist. We had external pressures on us too: difficulties at work, strained finances,  threats to the roof over our heads, and more.

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May: The Orange Is The New Black yarn from The Captain and Lovely made me very happy.

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May: My very own custom blend of handspun, handdyed sock yarn.

I know many people have found this year difficult due to world events. In the face of what we were dealing with personally, it was hard to draw strength from those around us when they also seemed so distressed.

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June: Stone that flows like waves at the On Form stone sculpture festival.

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June: More inspiration in stone at On Form.

But I don’t want to go down the route of cursing 2016. There was plenty of good in it. Although it was personally difficult for us, it also forced us to find ways to make the future better. We set plans in motion, we acted upon them, we followed them through and we are optimistic that they will mean a more positive future.

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July: A little mother-daughters treat.

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July: A day I look forward to every year – Fibre East with good friends.

The year for Story Skeins was quiet, as planned, and successful in that it achieved its own modest goals. Despite cutting down on commissioned spinning work I wished to continue with my monthly rolag boxes, and I am so happy with how that club went. I also hosted my first read along and gained so much inspiration and more tools for my mental toolbox from our chosen text. It’s an exercise I will be repeating in the future.

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August: It was all about the chicks.

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August: Games with friends.

I had many firsts this year, including my first solo dyeing adventures, my first handspun sock yarn (not just sockweight, but designed in the fibre blend and the spinning to function well for socks), my first start-to-finish processing of a whole fleece into yarn, my first experience of finishing a mystery KAL on time, my first piece of brioche knitting, and my first Fibreshare (which prompted me to learn a new language, so I also made my first instagram post that was written entirely in Swedish!)

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September: I dusted off my weaving skills.

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September: A perfect leaf, found on my first study weekend of the new academic year.

I was less successful in my study goals. Mental fatigue amongst other issues really put a break on things. I was pleased with the progress I did manage to make, but I didn’t complete all the work I that wanted to. No matter, it just means a new timescale before I can pursue those plans.

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October: The last in my series of Forgotten Festivals rolag boxes saw the end of a successful fibre club.

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October: My second Westknits MKAL, and my first brioche knitting!

Finding ways to work around obstacles has brought into focus my ideas about how I want Story Skeins to work, so 2017 may look quite different as I transition to a new working  pattern (more details to come in a future post). Given the things I have to juggle – even in a good year – in the rest of my life, I never expected an easy ride in this adventure. But part of the point is to use this creative process in a way that is beneficial to life. Stretching myself to breaking point in order to keep up business, or the appearance of it, would not only defeat the purpose of what I’m trying to do here, but it would not be an authentic way for me to work. The heart of Story Skeins is nothing to do with the final products that I make and you may buy. It is entirely rooted in the process: in the how and the why. It is about bringing meaning into the things I create, and embracing the creative process as a balm and a blessing.

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November: Back in the spinning saddle with a bit of art yarn.

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November: Some fun with the rainbow trilobal blend.

The last two months of the year were acutely, painfully difficult. It was one of those times when a fact of life that we all know to be true, but manage to put out of our minds suddenly reveals itself as a clear, undeniable and awful reality. The knowledge that our future is fundamentally uncertain suddenly became paralysingly real. (I do not mean to concern you. Rest assured that I and my family are fundamentally OK.) I have been fortunate in life to have the luxury of ignoring this fact, unlike many people in the world today, and most throughout history. Our comfortable lives protect us from harsh truths. But I don’t think it’s unchallenging comfort that leads to wisdom. The struggle with hard times and hard truths can bear fruit, in that I have a new understanding of simple ideas. Two main ideas have come into focus at a deeper level and helped me over the finish line: Counting my blessings, and Living in the moment. It is as easy, and as hard, as that.

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December: Making rolags for Christmas.

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December: A welcome reminder in my Christmas stocking.

Happy the man, and happy he alone,

He who can call today his own:

He who, secure within, can say,

Tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today.

                                                     –  Horace

Using Art Yarn. Part 1: The Easter Chicks

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Using Art Yarn. Part 1: The Easter Chicks

The possibilities for art yarn, both creating it and using it, are limitless. However sometimes people struggle to know what to do with this yarn that may be bulky, irregular, highly textured, short of yardage and, above all, fun.

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“Easter Chick” art yarn by Taylor Made Yarns. Photo courtesy of Taylor Made Yarns.

I bought this amazing art yarn from Taylor Made Yarns, one of my favourite fibre artists, at Fibre East. It is an irregular bulky spiral-plied yarn with little chick charms plied into it. Like many special skeins, I needed to wait for the right project to emerge. As it happened, I won a skein from Cuddlebums: beautiful, subtly-speckled handdyed skinny singles. As soon as I saw it, I knew I had found the companion yarn for the Easter Chicks.

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I set about making a hyperbolic spiral scarf. I planned for gentle spiral ruffles, edged in wild art yarn. I used a 4mm hook to crochet a chain to my desired length, made a dc in each chain to form the foundation of my scarf and then started my increase rows. To create the spiral effect you need to increase stitches on each row in the following way:

  • 1st increase row: work 2 tr into each dc.
  • 2nd increase row: *work 2 tr into the first tr, tr 1. Repeat from *.
  • 3rd increase row: *work 2 tr into the first tr, tr 2. Repeat from *.
  • 4th increase row: *work 2 tr into the first tr, tr 3. Repeat from *.
  • Etc.

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The two yarns I used in this project were very different and I needed to find a way to integrate them. In order to work the thick art yarn into the edge I created an eyelet row using the finer yarn. My final increase row would have been a pattern of *2tr into first tr, tr 5, repeat from *. I altered this to *2tr into first tr, ch2, sk 2 tr, tr 1, ch2, sk 2 tr, repeat from *.

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These eyelets made an attractive edge and provided holes big enough to work a crocheted art yarn edging.

I was not sure that I would have enough of the art yarn to cover the whole edge of the scarf. I decided to split the art yarn into two equal parts and work from each end. I reskeined the yarn and counted 24 wraps of my niddy noddy. I wound off 12 wraps, cut the yarn and then wound off the 2nd half.

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I switched to a 10mm hook and started adding a border in a pattern of *dc into eyelet, ch 1, repeat from *. Here is the scarf with half of the edging worked:

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And here is the finished piece:

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There is so much glorious variety in this yarn, each ruffle is like its own vignette:

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And I couldn’t end this post without a close-up of the chicks!

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This was such a fun project to work on. I hope it’s given you some art-yarn inspiration.

First Blogaversary

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First Blogaversary

A year ago today I published my first post on Story Skeins. It seems like a good time to reflect on some favourite posts.

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One of the things I did before going public with this adventure was to put a few posts on my brand new blog explaining who I am, what I’m doing and why. But there was something I forgot to mention when I posted about the birth of story skeins. I forgot to mention how much I resisted doing any of this! I don’t feel like it’s something I tried to create. Story skeins was an idea that came into my mind fully formed and refused to go away. I did have dreams of making yarn for people. But I really didn’t want to be seen or known. Given how much of myself I put into each creation, as I mulled over in “The Story So Far …“, it felt like too much of a risk. But the more I tried to ignore it, the more insistent this idea became.

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One of the things I definitely wasn’t going to do was to run a monthly club. It seems ironic, then, that my monthly Forgotten Festivals Rolag Club has been one of the most successful aspects of Story Skeins’ first year, both creatively and financially. It was another of those ideas that arrived complete and refused to be ignored. It has been very satisfying to mark the passing of the year, to create my own memento of my first rolag club, and to work with so many talented creators.

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Many more opportunities to interact with amazing creators have come via skill swapping. It has just occurred to me that I could add their contributions to my yarn blogs, but for now here are my contributions to an amazing year of swaps.

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And, of course, I have loved making every skein. I have loved playing with new and unusual fibres, as in Kiss From A Rose, and the super-luxury blends used in  The Walk to Weyland’s and Arctic Equinox. My favourite textured skein was spun for a non-spinning friend who won a beautiful set of rolags: Oh! The Places You’ll Go. I’ve made flower yarn and beaded yarn and yarn kits. I’ve seen my children inspired to take up the blending board and create: Singularly Cheerful and One Sky, Many Stories. And I have enjoyed writing the mini stories. Despite this being the aspect about which I have the least confidence, I really cherish the part the word-images play in practising mindful creativity: Abstract ExpressionNebula.

However, if I had to identify one high point of the year, I couldn’t do better than those times people have been inspired to create something out-of-the-ordinary as a result of engaging with the kind of process that I promote through my own work. They’ve earned their own tag, called art inspires art. I hope to see lots more of this as we embark on the second year together.

What’s my job?

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What’s my job?

It’s only three years since I was a new spinner. I’ve reached the point where I find myself mentoring other new spinners as they start exploring this fascinating craft.

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One of the most common complaints I hear (often offered as an apology for the perceived deficiencies of the new spinner’s own yarn) is about irregular yarn. It’s something I remember about my first efforts at the spinning wheel too. I thought my first yarn was quite ugly. But at the same time I was so proud of it because I made it all by myself!

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There seems to be a common journey for spinners, with early efforts being thick and irregular, and subsequent yarn gradually becoming thinner and more consistent. Then you reach a stage where you want to spin thicker yarn again, and almost have to re-learn how to do it. And you may want to spin irregular, or thick and thin, or even more exotic yarn and so you go about learning those techniques, continually refining your knowledge, your practice and your control over the process.

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What I’ve come to realise is that, as spinners, it’s not our job to replicate machine-spun yarn. When we judge our early efforts, that’s the yardstick most of us use for comparison.

But the thing is, if I wanted machine-spun yarn, I could just buy it! It has its place and I use plenty of commercially-spun yarn, but it is a different beast from handspun. There is a sense of satisfaction for the spinner to know that, if you choose to, you can replicate the fine consistency of machine-spun yarn. But my plea to spinners (new or otherwise!) is to see consistency as a design choice, rather than a value judgement.

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I often think of handspun yarn as being full of life. And I think that relates to this question of what is my job as a handspinner. I see my job as creating something unique every time I go through the process, from inspiration to yarn design, to the final skein.

What commercially-spun yarn can never replicate is that sense of the unique creation of every millimetre of yarn: the possibility of a story in every stitch.

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The Single Skein

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The Single Skein

As a handspinner, my creative path has led me to specialise in unique single skeins. Often the indie dyers I follow also have single, sometimes one-of-a-kind, skeins available. Or sometimes, the budget will only stretch to one luxury skein from a spinner or dyer.

I often see knitters and crocheters searching for that perfect one-skein project for their special yarn. This post explores ways of using small amounts of special yarn. (I will confine myself to knitting and crochet for now. Weaving is a whole other topic!) We will look at one-skein projects suitable for different yarn weights, but also think about more imaginative ways to show off that extra-special yarn.

The one-skein project

The key here is knowing what the essential information is, and knowing where to look for patterns.

If you have received a skein from me, or have read about my skeins on this blog, you will see that every skein is categorised according to its WPI (wraps per inch) – from which we calculate the yarn gauge – and the total length of the yarn. Knowing these measurements allows you to search for a project to suit your yarn.

Undoubtedly, the best place to find patterns is Ravelry. It is free to sign up, and as a member you can use the excellent pattern search facility. Simply go to the advanced pattern search, select the appropriate options for meterage or yardage and yarn gauge, and see what comes back. It’s likely you’ll have dozens, if not hundreds or thousands of options to choose from.

Now let’s think about typical yarn lengths for different gauges. Approximate values are given below:

Aran weight: ~160m per 100g skein.

Ideal one-skein projects: Fingerless mitts or ear warmers.

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Photo by Story Skeins. Yarn by Truly Hooked. Pattern.

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Photo by Story Skeins. Yarn handdyed by Story Skeins. Pattern.

DK: ~220m per 100g skein.

Ideal one-skein projects: Scarf or cowl.

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Photo by Heather Young. Yarn by Devon Sun Yarns. Pattern.

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Photos by Laura-Jo Webster. Yarn by Story Skeins. Pattern.

Sock weight: ~400m per 100g skein.

Ideal one-skein projects: socks or shawls.

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Photo by Story Skeins. Yarn by Excelsior Yarns. Pattern.

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Photo by Story Skeins. Yarn by Lang Yarns. Pattern.

Laceweight: 800-1200+m per 100g

Ideal one-skein projects: Large shawl or wrap, for example this Wrapped in Lace Shawl.

Please note that these measurements are a rule of thumb, and most appropriate for yarns which are predominantly wool. Fibres with higher density, such as many plant fibres, may give less length per 100g for an equivalent yarn gauge.

Feature Yarn

Another option is to use your special yarn as an accent in a larger, plainer piece. My favourite example of this is my Nordic Shawl, which makes me smile every time I see it. The rainbow stripe is “Six Colour Rainbow” from Unbelieva-wool. The oatmeal yarn is Stylecraft Life:

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Further examples:

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Photo by Clare Davidson. Accent yarn handdyed by Clare.

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Photo by Becky Shay Pollard.

Patchwork

This option uses small amounts of a variety of yarn to build up a project. It’s a great option for mini skeins, or ends of yarn. Try to keep the yarn gauge consistent, and choose to do your project entirely in animal fibres (or predominantly animal fibre mixes), or entirely in plant fibres (cotton, bamboo, etc), or entirely in synthetics.

My increasingly large collection of mini skeins (again from Unbelieva-wool. I’m quite a fan!) are destined for a Beekeeper’s Quilt. I am using my 30g of rolags from my monthy rolag club to make a wrap based on the When Alice Fell motif pattern. And one day I will make myself a Log Cabin Scrap Blanket.

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Photo by Story Skeins. Pattern.

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Photo by Story Skeins. Yarn handspun by Story Skeins. Pattern.

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Photo by Story Skeins. Yarn and pattern from The Art of Crochet.

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Photo by Sonia Bowmar-Scothern.

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Photo by Stacey Galbraith.

Scrap projects

For even smaller amounts of yarn there are many options for scrap projects, made of tiny lengths of yarn. My favourite is the linen stitch scarf.

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Photo by Rox Driver. Hook by Hooklicious! Pattern.

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Photo by Shadow Gilboa-Way.

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Photo by Alison Horne.

Using textured and “art” yarn

Hanspun yarn has so many delicious possibilities. It can be smooth and balanced and regular, and mimic machine-spun yarn. But can also be so much more.

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Photo by Story Skeins. Yarn by Weird and Twisted. Pattern.

The only limit to using these yarns is your own imagination. A small amount of textured yarn can make a great trim, or a pair of cuffs, transforming an otherwise plain garment into something really special.

For her Road Trip Scarf, Kirsty has combined the irregular button yarn I spun for her with a second skein of handspun to create a bulky yarn for a quick project.

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Photo by Story Skeins. Handspun yarn by Story Skeins.

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Photo by Kirsty Rodger. Yarn by Story Skeins. Pattern.

Close-up:

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I have an inspiration board on pinterest called “Great for Handspun” which includes all sorts of projects, using yarns from the conventional to the wacky. This is my particular favourite.

My general advice to my customers is: the more that’s going on in the yarn, the less there should be going on in the pattern. Just as complex lace or cable patterns are shown to their best advantage with a plain yarn, so complex yarn is at its best advantage when used with a simple pattern. When the yarn is creating the intetest for you, the pattern should stand back and allow the yarn to show off!

Freeform

Finally, don’t feel the need to be constrained to a pattern. You are making art and have the freedom to explore as you please. If you don’t like it, just pull it back and try something else.

The world of freeform crochet has really taken off over the last few years, and this article explains how hanspun yarn is a perfect match for this art form. Here is an example of a stunning freeform crochet blanket.

I hope you have found inspiration for your beautiful, unique skeins here. I also have a gallery on my facebook page of fantastic creations made from handspun yarn. Please feel free to send me pictures of your work if you would like to futher inspire your fellow crafters.