Archives for category: Photography

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!

One of the new knitting books to hit the shelves this month is Brave New Knits by Julie Turjoman.  In her book Julie profiles 26 knitting bloggers, each of whom have submitted a design of their own to create a collection of patterns that has a lot of wonderful variety.  I was honored to not only be asked to be a participating blogger for this project, but also to be hired as the book’s photographer.  It was so much fun seeing so many pieces designed by many of my friends and colleagues and putting it all together into one cohesive collection of images.

We shot the project on a steamy September day last year in one of my favorite natural-light studios here in New York.  I’ve put together a quick sampling of some of my favorite images from the shoot, as well as sharing my own personal pattern contribution at the bottom of the post.  I hope you enjoy!

Knitted flowers by Kat Coyle

Shrug by Melissa Wehrle

Cardigan by Mari Muinonen

Mitts by Clara Parkes

Pullover by Stefanie Japel

Hat by Woolly Wormhead

Cardigan by Hilary Smith Callis

Pullover by Connie Chang Chinchio

Cloche by Norah Gaughan

There’s many more patterns and interviews contained in the book than shown above, so please feel free to check it out if these images have sparked your interest!

In putting together the book, Julie also worked to include smaller yarn companies that sell online and have their own ‘following’ in the way bloggers do.  When Julie asked me to design an accessory pattern for the book, of course I asked her if I could call dibs on Beaverslide Dry Goods — one of my favorite small American wool suppliers.  Armed with fingering weight American Merino, the Woodsmoke Scarf was born.

The scarf is a very simple concept — central garter stitch rectangle is knit length-wise (using a provisional cast-on) knit in one color and not bound off. The second color is used to work a knitted-on lace edging, also in garter stitch to frame the whole piece.  I chose a long, skinny proportion for a lighter, spring scarf that could be wrapped a generous number of times around the neck, but the pattern can be very simply adapted to make proportions you might find more suitable for your wardrobe (wider, shorter, etc.)

I had a lot of fun working with Julie on this project, and I think it’s a unique addition to the Knitting Section at the bookstore/library and helps promote the lives that go on behind the curtain in knitwear design.  Happy reading!

A picture can say a thousand words… needless to say, I’m in paradise.

Sheep, sheep, everywhere you look.

Hand-grading and hand-sorting of Shetland wool at Jamieson and Smith.

Fishing boats in Lerwick.

Laceweight Shetland wool on a sunny windowsill in the Textile Museum.

Stone boat houses.

Robert Williamson‘s original hand drawn notebooks

Fair Isle stocking cap from the Shetland Museum archive.

Flowers cling to cliffs.

Sunset near Sandness.

Be still my heart.

I’m a bit behind on sharing some of the wonderful experiences I’ve had in the past couple of months — like, oh I don’t know…. the day an original Elizabeth Zimmermann came walking through my door?

EZ's Green Sweater

Many of you have hopefully already read about the surfacing of this historic garment over at Twist Collective and, if you haven’t, don’t worry — I’ll be directing you to the good stuff in just a moment.

EZ's Green Sweater

Back in the spring, the lovely ladies of Twist came a calling with a question: Would I be interested in photographing an Elizabeth Zimmermann sweater that had recently surfaced through an old family friend in New Jersey? I paused momentarily to wonder seriously if I had slipped into one of my many knitting-fantasy-daydreams. When it seemed that, yes, this was actually happening, I mustered all of my self-control in an attempt to respond in a professional manner. “Yes. Yes, that would be fine.”

Juuuuust fine.

EZ's Green Sweater

The sweater, knit with a heathered green, firmly spun, single ply wool, entered the apartment with a palpable silence, and, upon immediate inspection I found myself admiring its industrious, masterful technique. Right away the sheer Integrity with which this sweater was achieved became evident: not just its obvious cleverness, or knitterly construction (EZ’s Hallmark) but rather the serendipitous balance of tenacity and care that is so clearly present as your eyes maneuver over mitered hems, prim buttonholes and directional details.

At that point I muttered to myself something colossally obvious yet seemingly so epiphanous: “Elizabeth could really knit!”

EZ's Green Sweater

Sunday Holm recreated the sweater after it was presented to her at a New Jersey LYS by Joan Morhard Smith, a childhood neighbor and friend of Elizabeth and Arnold. Read Sunday’s account of decoding and re-knitting the original here, and Joan Morhard Smith’s recollections of Elizabeth (“Betty”) here.

What a pleasure to spend an afternoon with this sweater and its re-incarnated version. I was truly grateful for the experience.

EZ's Green Sweater

The original sweater, so well-worn after two generations of love and adoration under Joan’s roof, is a testament to the lasting power of good materials, good technique, and a good home — all the ingredients for Knitting’s finest heirlooms. Elbow holes aside (which I find make the sweater even more endearing, if that’s possible) this garment has taken its ardent wearers through two lifetimes with strength and grace. What could be better than that?

EZ's Green Sweater

Among the other appreciations this garment conjured up that day, it incited me to reflect on one of our loftiest and most noble knitting aspirations — to spend a life making beautiful, lasting, technique-rich garments whose value and worth can never diminish.

Adding to the the thousands of times I’ve uttered these same words before in my life, both privately and publicly: Thank you, Elizabeth.

My all-time favorite jobs as a photographer are those that involve shooting artists’ spaces, and, of course, the artists that they house. So I was completely thrilled when Knit.1 asked me to pay a visit to designer Wenlan Chia’s studio in Manhattan to spend the day with her for a few portraits and studio shots. We had such a great time together – and I thought I’d share some of the shots with you, as I’m sure there are some big Twinkle fans out there.

Wenlan Chia
A Day at Twinkle
 

In the handknitting community, Wenlan is probably best known for her signature super bulky merino yarn – Soft Chunky (pictured below) (kinda looks like cotton candy, doesn’t it?) and the wonderfully chunky fashion knits she conjures up with it.

 

A Day at Twinkle

She carries two other yarn lines, which I hadn’t ever experienced in person – and let me tell you, being surrounded by handknit samples of throws everywhere you turn isn’t a bad way to experience a new yarn either.

A Day at Twinkle

And while of course I had plenty of delicious knits around to keep my lens busy all day… there were certainly a few other things that I had a hard time keeping away from…

A Day at Twinkle

Wenlan’s dog, Milan, has a huge personality and wanted to be a part of the action all day. Aside from being a photogenic little canine, he serves as inspiration for many of Wenlan’s home designs as I soon found out.

A Day at Twinkle
A Day at Twinkle

I think I mentioned in a previous post about my Twinkle Chunky throw (Finished! Photos soon!) that I had come into a small stash of Soft Chunky in a special circumstance – well this is how. I saw these luscious throws in the studio and had to have one. And since Wenlan basically
forced me to take yarn… what was I to do but gracefully oblige?

A Day at Twinkle
A Day at Twinkle
A Day at Twinkle


If you’d like to read up on Wenlan’s inspiring story, check out the article in the current issue of Knit.1 for more. My very own Chia-designer-throw will be featured here in just a few short days… if I can pull myself out from under it long enough for a photoshoot.

Wenlan Chia

I hope you are all enjoying the holidays and giving your knitting some extra special face-time. It feels like the first time I’ve been able to take a breath and truly enjoy my knitting for some time. And it’s wonderful.

[If you haven't gotten enough of Ms. Chia, see more photos from Twinkle here]