I’ve just returned from our Alaskan knitting cruise – my winter sweaters happily emerged from hibernation for the trip. As for the scenery and the light…
I’ve just returned from our Alaskan knitting cruise – my winter sweaters happily emerged from hibernation for the trip. As for the scenery and the light…
You may have noticed a cloak of silence shrouding BT in the last month. Summer is funny like that. For knitters it’s a hard time that we ride out with hope for chillier temperatures, but behind the scenes it always becomes the most chaotic time of the year as we busy ourselves with big Fall surprises. This year we’ve got a lot of things up our sleeve; a few large-scale projects that have swirled us into their summer vortex.Thankfully, today we are finally ready to release the first of our Fall concepts.
It’s been almost a year since the launch of SHELTER. I remember well all the planning, waiting, nerves, & excitement that accompanied the months leading up to that release – but probably most of all, how I couldn’t wait to get to designing with a yarn that really spoke to me. And as I began (and continue) my own creative work with the yarn, I found myself beginning to wonder what this wool might inspire in the hands of other Creatives whose work I have admired from afar.
This simple curiousity became the basis for WOOL PEOPLE: a semi-annual design series curated by Brooklyn Tweed, the first installment of which we are happy to release just in time for high knitting season.
For this first collection of patterns, I sought out designers both near and far whose work – which comprises its own wonderful variety – I have long watched and admired. My plan: arm them with a healthy dose of wool and see what happens.
The process was so rewarding. We were able to work directly with each designer, discussing their ideas and sketches to construct a collection that we think will appeal to the sensibilities of our readers, and will welcome Fall in the best way knitters know how. The creative dialogue that is at the heart of this series has been invigorating – a welcome contrast to the virtual solitude I was in just a year ago!
Our first group of Wool People has been a joy to work with. Some of their names you may recognize, others you may not, but in all cases I hope there will be something for everyone to enjoy.
We’ve put together a beautiful Look Book for this collection, highlighting all the designs with full color photographs, as well as providing readers with information about our Guest Designer Team. To get the best feel of the whole collection, we encourage you to take a look!
As the publishing world continues to change rapidly, designers are working differently. Having designed independently for some time now, I see the problems that designers face in this industry every day. We’ve worked hard to put together a model that compensates designers fairly (and gratefully!) for their work. Starting today, a portion of all proceeds from digital pattern sales will always go directly to the individual designer for the life of the pattern. In the spirit of collaboration, each designer also retains the rights to their own work. We plan to continue developing this model in future WP collections to best serve those people who have made this project possible.
It’s been a hot summer and we here at Brooklyn Tweed HQ are certainly daydreaming of Fall’s arrival. I hope some of the designs and photographs featured today inspire you to do the same (if you weren’t already!).
Resources // The Wool People Volume 1 Look Book is viewable here. Pattern collection is available on BT here and also available on Ravelry here. All designs in this collection are knit with Brooklyn Tweed SHELTER, available here.
The knitting world has been all abuzz with the long-awaited release of Elizabeth Zimmermann’s posthumous Knit One, Knit All – and with good reason. I received my copy two weeks ago and have been savoring the freshness of each page. The book is very inspiring and I feel particularly touched by the ‘evidence’ of Elizabeth’s process that is included – scraps of paper with scribbled notes and half-drawn sketches, alongside landscape watercolors from her home or abroad. To me, this window into her thought process and inspirations is especially exciting.
Today, in celebration of her new publication, I have something very special for you. I’ve been sitting on some notable photographs for quite a while, waiting for the right time to share them with you, and this week the timing feels perfect.
Back in September of 2009 when I had the wonderful opportunity to photograph EZ’s newly discovered Green Sweater, there were a few other EZ artifacts that came along for the ride. Joan Morhard Smith, who as a child called “Betty” (EZ) the Crazy Knitting Neighbor Lady, had been the recipient of plenty of EZ’s wool creations when growing up in New York City, and brought the Green Sweater to the public eye two years ago. As she was readying the Green Sweater for its trip to Brooklyn for our photoshoot, Joan found two wool hats tucked away with it. Both had been conceived and knitted by Elizabeth, and were brought along because Joan thought I “might be interested.”
The funniest part is that she pulled them out just as she was leaving, almost as an afterthought. “Would you like to see two hats Elizabeth knit for me?”
With a conscious effort towards self-control, I respectfully said yes (with minimal limb-flailing). She then pulled out two colorwork hats, worked in natural wools. In the waning afternoon light I asked Joan to hug the window so I could get a few quick photos of her wearing the hats before she left.
The first was a ‘pillbox’ style with a turned picot hem and simple, rhythmic motifs worked in cream and heathered grey. Just before beginning her crown shaping, Elizabeth worked a purl row to create an angled turn and flat top. The turned hem at the base of the hat was folded and joined with a three-needle bind-off, but purling the stitches together rather than knitting them. This created a simple ridge at the top of the doubled-hem which I loved.
The second hat is fantastic. A small hat with a tam-like shape, worked in cream, brown and grey.
The pattern alternates between grey stripes and brown floating ‘lice’ stitches, worked on a background of cream wool. The crown shaping is the most exciting part: a combination of round ‘yoke’ shaping that transitions to a small 7-wedge decrease which incorporates colorwork for the brown star-like design. The beret ‘nub’ at the top of the crown is simply a loose piece of brown wool, or perhaps two strands felted together to create a slightly thicker piece of yarn that would stand up on its own.
Both hats are simple ideas, but have the imprint of a great mind. They were both so charming in design – utilitarian in purpose but with details that kept the knitting (which was most likely improvisational) interesting. I felt so fortunate to have gotten to inspect them closely, and now, to share them with you.
I’m grateful that we’ve been given more EZ to celebrate with Knit One, Knit All. If you’d like to grab a copy of your own, head on over to Schoolhouse Press, where I imagine they are going like hotcakes.
Our yarn has come a long way from its original state as scoured wool. The construction is now complete and only a few finishing touches remain. The yarn must now be removed from the bobbins in 50-gram (140 yard) increments to create individual skeins. The skeining machine (which unfortunately eluded my camera) is set for a certain number of rotations (pre-measured based on that specific yarn’s yards-per-gram ratio) which wind off consistent, exact amounts for each skein.
The 50-gram skeins are placed in a plastic lined box and sent along for a final wash. In order to remove residual spinning grease as well as ‘block’ the finished yarn (e.g. brainwash the wool to its new identity), it is important that each skein is washed before it leaves the mill. Equipment-wise, the washing method is no different than running a load at your own home. All finished yarns are gently washed in (packed-to-the-gills) regular-sized domestic washing machines. The difference between a washed and an unwashed skein of milled wool can be rather astounding. In the case of woolen yarns it seems to transform the weight significantly as the fibers relax and fully bloom.
After a trip through the washing machine, the skeins are hung evenly along a wall of drying racks. Here they they will sway in front of a brigade of rotating fans which speed drying-time remarkably (I use this same trick at home when wet-blocking garments).
The drying wall is enough to make most of us yarn-folk woozy with delight. All that lofty wool swaying gently in the breeze… to say nothing of the sweet, sweet wool fumes wafting through the air.
When the wool is completely dry, it is hand-twisted into hank form and whisked off towards the labeling station.
Lucy (The Saint) labels each and every skein by hand, making sure each one is properly placed and affixed with an adhesive tag that designates a specific skein’s color name and lot number.
When the yarn looks like this, it is ready for its entrance into the Wide World. Each labeled skein is bagged (10 skeins together, organized by color), loaded into freight boxes, and finally shipped to our warehouse in Portland, Maine. The warehouse is one of our team’s nerve-centers: from here we fulfill online orders and ship larger amounts to Flagship stores. Each yarn’s story beyond this point is different, and we hope they bring tactile pleasures to knitting hands wherever they end up.
I hope you’ve enjoyed getting a taste of what happens behind the scenes to create and spin Shelter. As I mentioned in my first post, such a magical process deserves to be shared. This experience may even inspire you to seek out a mill and witness this magic in person. In my own experience with mills in both America and Europe, owners and employees are generally very proud of their work and love to share that joy, either through tours or a general eagerness to discuss yarn making. My wish is that we begin to see more US production being done in support of our own mills, before they’re gone. Thanks for joining me!
Yesterday we ended with a fresh batch of singles loaded up onto bobbins. Because Shelter is a 2-ply yarn, the next step obviously involves plying, but before that can happen these babies get a trip to the Wool Sauna.
A proper steaming of the yarn in its current form is necessary before plying begins. Steaming saturates the fibers with moisture, causing them to relax and accept their new identity as twisted plies. Before steaming, the (newly given) tension in each ply is fighting to unravel. Much in the same way a good blocking makes everyone’s knitting look better *cough*, the same principle applies here. Wool always behaves better after a bit of moisture sets it straight.
The bobbins are placed in a metal rolling cart that is covered with small holes. These holes are necessary to allow steam to pass through the cart and effectively reach all the bobbins inside. Above you can see one of these “sauna” carts full of finished yarn. While the ‘Fossil’ yarn shown here is a few steps ahead of us at our current stage of the tour, I wanted to give you a good shot of the carts used for steaming.
After the wool’s trip through the sauna, the bobbins are ready to be loaded onto the twisting frame (more simply referred to as “the twister” at the mill) and plied into a final 2-ply yarn. The twister functions much in the same way as the spinning frame in that a flyer adds twist (in the opposite direction this time, to balance the direction of twist added by the spinning frame), moving the singles off of their current bobbins, plying them, and winding them onto new ones.
Pictured above on the left are all the bobbins with single plies being shuttled up and over the ‘tunnel’ and back down onto the twister (right). While this machine is running, it requires at least one worker to constantly monitor all the bobbins concurrently, passing up and down the tunnel between bobbin racks and twister. This is a nerve-wracking job that takes precision and timing when loading on empty bobbins or fixing an occasional break in a given ply. This part of the mill is Sarah’s domain, and watching her work is fascinating. The thought of keeping that many things under control while the machinery is running makes my blood pressure rise. The mill workers are a really talented and wonderful bunch of people! (A funny side note: the metal structures running overhead and shuttling the plies to the twister are adjusted based on the height of the worker running the machine.)
When the bobbins on this frame are filled, the yarn has completed the milling process and moves onto the finishing stages — it is now very close to the form you’ll see on your doorstep, or in a yarn shop, but a few more things need to happen to get it ready for the spotlight. It is with these finishing stages that we will conclude our tour tomorrow morning!*The title of this post is a pun on New Hampshire’s state motto “Live Free or Die”, which I read and appreciate every time I cross the border on my way to the mill.
We left off yesterday with a rack full of fine strands of roping. Because these ropings currently lack twist, they appear thicker than they will be in the finished yarn. Adding twist to fiber is the key to making yarn — it traps necessary energy and tension into the yarn, increasing strength and (in most cases) elasticity. The amount of twist you add when making single plies of yarn is very important and can take the hand and behavior of the yarn in different directions. Any amount of twist though, be it a lot or a little, is essential for creating knitable yarn.
At this point, the ropings pictured above are loaded on to the spinning frame where they will be twisted and wound onto bobbins. Some of my favorite objects at the mill are the antique wooden spinning bobbins that have been in use for over six decades. They are beautiful objects in their own right. On this trip I was lucky enough to snag one of them as a souvenir, which now resides on the desk in my studio with my small collection of inspirational objects.
The spinning frame is also responsible for drafting the fiber, which happens just before twisting occurs. When roping is drafted, it is pulled slightly to open up and lengthen the fiber structure before the single plies are “committed” through twist. The amount of drafting can be increased or decreased at this stage and is also a player in the finished behavior of the yarn.
After the fibers are drafted, a flyer spins and concurrently winds them onto a bobbin. On this machine, the fiber starts on racks high above the machine and works its way down towards the floor, where fully loaded bobbins are collected and shuttled off to the next work station.
A fresh batch of bobbins is a thing of beauty. When all the bobbins are collected into a rolling cart, they are ready to move onto the steamer, which is where we will begin tomorrow. Until then though, a beautiful batch of grey wool!
I started yesterday by telling you about one of the two aspects that affects Shelter’s milling process: fleece dying and color blending. The second quality that significantly affects the process is its preparation as a woolen-spun yarn. Woolen-spun yarns, unlike their smoother worsted-spun cousins, are prepared using a process called carding.
We left off in our last post with a mish mash of loud-colored wool going into the Picker. Once the Picker has done its work, the wool gets loaded onto the Carder: a giant machine with several rolling cylinders covered in metal teeth. The purpose of this machine is to open up the fiber, blend the wool together evenly, and prepare it into individual plies of roping which will be later spun into yarn. You’ll notice right away that the carder has already whipped our bright wool confetti into shape, producing an even, golden heather.
Unlike combing, which occurs during worsted-spinning, carding allows large amounts of air to be trapped within a cloud of slightly jumbled fibers. These tumbleweed-like layers of wool allow for a loftiness and springiness that will translate into the behavior of the finished yarn. The carded fiber emerges as a ‘web’ halfway through its carding process; the wool at this stage looks incredibly beautiful and delicate, like a gentle veil of color floating through space.
If the fiber was being prepared for handspinning, it could be taken off the machines at this stage in batting form. Below is a box of freshly carded grey fiber that wasn’t spun beyond this point. If you could reach your hand in here, you’d be amazed at how soft and fluffy this stuff feels. You might want to set up camp inside of this box.
As the fiber approaches the end of the carding machine, a large cylinder called the doffer is used to relay the bat into the final section of the machine, where it is split into several individual ropings (the term “roping” is specifically used to describe this stage in woolen spinning mills, versus the more commonly known term “roving” which is used in a worsted spinning processes.) These fine strands of roping will make up a single ply in every spun yarn, but as yet have no twist in them. If you’ve ever knit with an unspun icelandic yarn before, the plies at this point have a similar appearance.
The unspun roping strands mark the conclusion of the carding process. When a batch of roping cakes are ready, they are removed from the Carder and stored on racks (shown here) where they await the next step of the process: the spinning frame. It is there they will get their first taste of true twist.
Tomorrow, we’ll make some plies.
Shelter has two unique qualities that dictate the way in which it is made. The first of these qualities concerns the way heathered color blends are achieved through a combination of dyeing and blending wool. This will be the subject of today’s first installment of our mill tour.
Shelter is a true dyed-in-the-wool yarn and undergoes a process known as Fleece Dying. If you take a close look at a heathered yarn, paying careful attention to the individual fibers in any given length of it, you’ll notice that the overall color (a golden yellow, in the case of ‘Hayloft’ above) is actually a combination of blended fibers of many different colors. When you look closely at heathered yarns, you’ll often be surprised at just how many colors you may see in one yarn, and often unexpected ones too. Some of our color recipes are comprised of up to 6 solids at a time.
Unlike dunk-dyed solid yarns that are spun first into white yarn and dyed afterwards, these wools are dyed as large batches of scoured fleece before any spinning occurs. To achieve the final heathered color, various amounts of solid-dyed fleece are blended together to create the finished hue. This process is just like mixing paint colors to achieve a desired tone or shade when painting. And just like with painting, you can use a small number of base colors to achieve an infinite variety of finished colors. Each colorway, then, has a ‘recipe’ of solids which are blended in specified amounts to create the final result. Developing these blends allows for unbelievable nuance and was personally my favorite part of the whole development process. Palette development is a topic for another series of posts entirely, which I hope to share more about in the future.
While our current palette has 17 heathered colors, we begin with a base of 10 solids from which all blends are created. One of the major benefits of composing a palette in this manner is that it guarantees a certain cohesiveness across the entire range. If all colors, no matter how different in appearance, are rooted in the same solids, they all resonate together in varying degrees of color harmony. I’m still amazed at how easily these colors seem to meld together in even the most bizarre combinations as a result of this process.
Dyed-in-the-wool yarns bring their own set of challenges as well. They involve more advance planning and projection (“Which colors use which solids? How much of each solid are needed to ensure all recipes can be made again? Will certain colors have higher demand than others? If so, how will that effect our dyed amounts?”), and are more expensive to make because of the larger initial dye quantities that are required. In my mind though, the end-result in fleece-dyed yarns far outweighs these particular challenges. The level of sophistication and nuance that this kind of dyeing allows is really something special.
The photo above shows a detail of a giant cube of solid dyed fleece in a rich midnight blue. One of the most surprising aspects of the solids to me was how insanely bright they are before blending (for your eyes’ sake, I’ve chosen to show one of the lower intensity solids here). When you blend colors together, whether with paint or wool, increasing color diversity within a blend will begin to ‘muddy up’ your final shade. If you begin with weak colors, muddiness takes over much faster. In order to keep a rich, saturated feeling of color in the finished blend, it is important to start with colors that are bright and strong. No matter how hard they are to look at during this stage, their loudness is essential.
To begin the spinning process of a given color, all solid-colored fleeces that are involved in that color’s recipe must be gathered together in their corresponding percentages and put through the first stage of milling, called picking.
It looks like a mess now, but these brightly colored lumps of wool are at the beginning of an amazing transformation process. The Picker will begin the mixing process as well as apply spinning oils to the wool that will allow the carding and spinning machines to process it more efficiently.
Tomorrow we say goodbye to this fluorescent wool confetti and hello to beautiful blended gold when the process of carding begins.
On a snowy evening, there’s nothing quite like knitting through the long hours. I’ve been sitting by my window marveling at just how quiet the city can be on the first calm day to follow a 30-hour blizzard. The timing seemed so perfect too — a blanket of silence to end a bustling week of holiday activity.
Behind the scenes here, we’ve been having some fun using Shelter to revive some old favorites in the BT design archive. I love knitting old patterns in new yarns to see how they behave differently from a previous version. Today I present you with A Winter Juneberry, worked in the Wool Socks colorway.
I originally published this pattern last Spring for Veronik Avery, using a firmly spun sport-weight wool. It was fun seeing the triangle unfold this time with a woolen-spun yarn at a different gauge. The finished triangle blocked to a wingspan of 61″ across, with a height of 30″ at center back. This upsized version is perfect for snowy afternoons!
Aside from being available through St. Denis magazine, the pattern is also available online as a PDF. For the digital version, I’ve added yarn requirements and gauge/dimension information for a worsted-weight version. This one took 4 skeins of Shelter.
I haven’t strayed far from my knitting spot by the window in the last two days, watching rather violent snow last night, and a whole lot of quiet today. I hope everyone is staying warm and safe, whether or not you find yourself stitching through The Thaw.
Aside from the obvious reasons for making a trip to an island as remote as Shetland, I had another wonderful reason for the trek. My friend and colleague, Gudrun Johnston, had asked if I would photograph her new collection of knitting designs on her home turf. Long have I daydreamed of the mythical light in Shetland, so from a photographer’s perspective I was thrilled by the proposition.
Aside from the obvious perks of our location, Gudrun’s collection was fantastic, which made my job so enjoyable. We shot the book in one very full day (from pre-dawn to sunset in a Northern Latitude) and to our luck, the weather cooperated.
The green vest above was one of my favorite pieces of the day.
The collection has a great range of projects from small accessories to full garments (the beautiful cardigan below is knit with a lace-weight wool/silk blend) that I think is wonderfully edited.
All the patterns shown above (as well as some not pictured) are are included in Gudrun’s book which is available in print through her website. A digital version of the book is also available. Thanks for such a beautiful collection, Gudrun!