"8 Handspun Scarves to Felt, Knit and Weave"- Allie gets Published!

Recently, one of our very own "Beans" was re-published in a new collection by Spin-off Magazine of beautiful handspun scarves. Her design, that was done in collaboration with designer friend Charlene Schurch, was originally published in an issue of Spin-off in 2005 and is now gracing the cover of "8 Handspun Scarves to Felt, Knit, and Weave"! I was able to snag Allison (or Allie as we call her) for a fun interview about her design, spinning, and her love of fiber. She also shared some truly priceless photos with us which I have also included. Here is what she had to say:

Allison and Charlene's
beautiful work!
Kristen- Please tell us a little bit about your Ombre Silk Scarf design in Spin Off’s “8 Handspun Scarves to Felt, Knit , and Weave”. We’d love to hear about how the idea came about and the process of designing it!

Allison- I’ve known Charlene Schurch, my collaborator, for a very long time – we have roomed together at SOAR (Interweave’s Spin-Off Autumn Retreat – we met over coffee when we were the 6 am early birds to the lobby coffee pot) more times than I can recall. Charlene had been playing with the idea of ombré changes in yarn using the process of dyeing solid colors which are closely related, and then holding these yarns together, changing one color at a time, in this case one out of 3. Charlene did the spinning (tussah silk, quite fine) and dyeing (9 shades). This involved a TON of math, and luckily neither Charlene nor I am afraid of working numbers! Charlene wound the yarns together to make the ombré progression so that in the knitting it would only entail me working through this ball. (Have I mentioned that I love Charlene??) I received this marvelous ball of handspun, hand dyed silk, and all I had to do was pick a pattern from a Barbara Walker treasury, sample, and GO!

Kristen- Since this is a compilation of previously published designs, when did the design originally debut?

Allison- The original article was published in the Fall 2005 Spin-Off magazine.

Head to Head hats pattern from
 Allison's "KnittinIt" pattern line.
Kristen- It must be exciting to have your design continue to be recognized! What do you think makes this design so timeless?

Allison- Thanks for asking, Kristen! As a designer yourself, you know there can be some fine lines between sticking to signature designs, “timeless” designs, and those quirky on-the-forefront designs (which may or may not become timeless in themselves). I’m mostly traditional in what I choose to design and knit – and I want what I design to appeal to those people who come to me for knitting help all the time. Not too difficult, but different enough that it speaks to you on a level. Making it look harder than you had to work is also a bonus! The stitch pattern I chose for this scarf is one that I absolutely love because 1) it’s completely reversible, 2) involves only knit and purl stitches and 3) without any effort from the knitter, it pleats! I first saw this stitch in an Alice Starmore sweater and really love to use it when I can. Knitting can be magic sometimes! In the Barbara Walker Treasury #2 it is called Triangular Stitch. The beading was also fun - I reversed the colors used in the scarf so the beads complimented and drew the project together.

Kristen- Are there any special techniques that you use when working and designing with hand-spun yarns?

Allie's Fair Isle
Stocking Pattern
from "KnittinIt"
Allison- Not really. Over the years and with advice I was able to attain from so many wonderful pioneers in recent spinning (believe it or not, our modern wheels haven’t been around for that long – less than 200 yrs, and in the 60’s and 70’s the “hippies” had to re-invent the craft since it was dying out) I learned a lot. These good people taught themselves, gained expertise, and now we have so much information regarding twist and grist and energized and balanced yarns. I tend to make Allison yarn. If it’s silk (oh, and she is the Queen of fiber, IMHO!) I spin fine then make a Navaho 3-ply. On my spindle I’m making a thicker, lumpy bumpy 2-ply wool from Imperial during our morning meetings. I let the fiber tell me what it wants to be, and accommodate as best as I can. Then I find a project for it, which also takes into account how many yards or ounces I end up with. That is my nature, and another personality will have the project plotted out before beginning the spinning.

Kristen- We know that you often contribute to Spin-off magazine! Are there any upcoming issues in which you’ll be involved?

Allison- No, nothing in the pipes right now. There may be mention of me in the Winter 2012 or Spring 2013 issue if they cover this year’s SOAR – I’ve served on the scholarship committee for SOAR for 5 years and am retiring.

Basketweave Watch Cap
pattern from Allison's "KnittinIt" Pattern line.
Kristen- You’ve graciously given your time to many of us here at Jimmy Beans over the years who have wanted to learn to spin and we are all so thankful to have you here! What advice do you have for someone who has never tried spinning before but wants to get started?

Allison- I find that so many knitters are fascinated by the process but really worry it will take away from their knitting time. I’m here to tell them that they shouldn’t worry – IT’S TRUE! But it’s also true that spinning is so meditative, very portable and inexpensive if you spindle, and there is so much satisfaction in producing a useful garment, be it a hat, sweater, socks or king-sized afghan! You can buy a fleece (which often comes with the name of the sheep it was shorn from) and take it to the end product, or you can by already prepared and dyed fibers. Take your pick. Bragging rights are worth a lot, haha! Also understand that spinning is like riding a bike: you can’t do it until you can do it. And once you “get” it you have it in your hands forever. I have a special place in my heart for a 14-yr old autistic young man who was a student of mine who really found his groove with spinning – it’s repetitive, it’s productive, and he can’t get enough of it!

Kristen- What other designs or projects are you currently working on?

Allison- Do you mean what’s in my knitting bag, or what’s in my house? Either way, lots! Spinning-wise I have picked up a 4-oz Sliver Roving from Imperial Yarn in the Marionberry color way. I have only spun it on a drop spindle during our 15 minute morning meetings at JBW. My goal is to prove that without taking time away from anything else during my day I can spin this up, make a 2-ply yarn, and knit a hat. That involves being able to listen and contribute during meetings and doing all of this standing up. I purchased the roving on 5/5/12 and have spun up almost 3 oz. That sure does sound like slow-going, but again, it’s spinning that would not have been accomplished otherwise (and I’m doing it in front of all of our Beans, hopefully inspiring them to continue on with their practicing!) What do you want to bet that once the hat is completed there will be a run on spinning! Oh, I do love this so much!

Kristen- How long have you been working with fiber?

Allie spinning while Diane Soucy watches Allie's three
daughters knit! The tallest of the girls is Amanda who
works in purchasing! :)
Allison- My brother Gus (www.swiftriverfarm.com) and I decided to teach ourselves to knit while in high school. I was a miserable failure. Looking back I realize I was making the common mistake of twisting my purl stitches and gave it up. Fast forward to getting married and having three daughters-- I decided I would never get into mother heaven if I didn’t hand make garments for them, so turned back to knitting. My other incentive was to be better than my brother at SOMETHING! (The jury is still out on this.) I returned to knitting when our youngest daughter Phoebe turned two, 23 years ago. And I picked up spinning two or three years after I started knitting, when Diane Soucy (designer and owner of Knitting Pure & Simple), and who is my knitting mentor suggested we go to a spinning jamboree. I bought a wheel, but she did not for another 10 years!

Kristen- What is your favorite type of fiber to spin? How about to knit with?

Allison- I love silk. I also love baby camel down, qiviut (musk ox), wolf, Wensleydale sheep (very much like mohair), merino, nettle, dog (NEVER cat), flax, cotton, buffalo, alpaca, etc etc. Drier lint is a tough one. Just too short a staple length. I can’t ever imagine spinning angora (rabbit) again. It’s luscious, but too much goes up one’s nose. There are also synthetics such as lurex and tencel and those odd ones like milk and bamboo. I will knit with anything. Being an official member of our Sheep-to-Shawl team named “Wool Hussies”, you can bet there’s not much out there I don’t want to experiment with. That’s the absolute best part of spinning – the opportunities!

Kristen- Do you have any personal spinning resources we can recommend to our blog readers who want to get started? Videos, tools, websites, etc?

Allison- Interweave’s Spin-Off magazine is a gem – chock-a-block with advice all the way around, from instruction, patterns (knit/crochet/weave) as well as history. Interweave’s eStore includes videos as well, and my friends and mentors Maggie Casey, Judith McKenzie and Abby Franquemont have books and DVD’s and YouTube instruction.

Thanks so much to Allison for taking the time to answer all of my questions and thanks to all of you for reading! To see all of Allison's for-sale patterns through her line "KnittinIt", check out the Jimmy Beans Wool website. You are more than welcome to send Allison any questions or comments you may have via our info@jimmybeanswool.com e-mail address and we'll make sure she gets it!

Hope you all have a great day, and happy knitting!

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  1. Well my Chameleo sis (insider name hee hee) I am so thrilled to know you and so very proud of you!! You truly are a fiberist!!! This is a GREAT blog post both you spectacular little beans!! xoxo Jeanne

  2. As another Wool Hussie, I loved this interview. I had to laugh because Diane Soucy got me into spinning too, then suggested I meet her "maniac knitter" friend Allison. It's a community and what would we be otherwise????

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