The Road to the Muness Shawl

November 2, 2021

I started out thinking- oh, I’ll just blast out a bunch of cobweb weight yarn and knit up one of Sharon Miller’s gorgeous shawls. Then I got the pattern book.

The fabulous study book for knitting the Muness Shawl
Yarn samples sent along with the study book

This is more than a pattern. It’s a masterclass in spinning and knitting. The book lays out a variety of choices- all of which have strikingly different outcomes. I’m deep in the yarn choice weeds.

So, swatching. Swatching is my friend. It wasn’t that long ago that I declared that I would spin first and choose a pattern to match the yarn. Then, I started knitting more sweaters. I tend to knit fitted sweaters, so swatching isn’t optional. And once I started swatching, I realized it is a rabbit hole all on its own!

I’ve become a swatching demon. I don’t just swatch for fit. If I mess around with my project specs before spinning for a project, I can look at a range of fabrics and pick the one I like best. Swatching makes me a better spinner and knitter- in part because I’m actually paying attention to the small choices which add up to big differences. I also can spin my projects more quickly because I am choosing tools and methods that suit the finished product rather than using my default wheel set up. I can get most yarns from my default setting. It just takes longer and puts more stress on my hands and arms. This past year was a nightmare of repetitive stress injuries. A lifetime of “good enough” set ups caught up with me, and it hasn’t been fun.

With RSIs in mind, why on earth would I pick out a crazy huge cobweb/gossamer lace project?

Now is the perfect opportunity! I am limited in the time I can work and tools I can use. I need to pay attention to form and settings. By making swatches, I can test my choices and then make one large piece rather than three! The shawl is made from approximately 310,000 stitches. That’s a lot of stitches. If I need three tries to get the right yarn match, adding on the minimum swatch needed to select the pattern set up, that’s just shy of a million stitches… Nope. Nope, nope, nope.

Until recently, I was very much a “when in doubt, knit another one” person. That option is off the table. It’s amazing how you can find more discipline in the face of a million stitches!

The Muness shawl will test my project management skills as much or more than it will my spinning and knitting. Should be interesting!

Swatching in prep of swatching? Pre-swatching? I need a better name for this other than messing around with fiber

I have two guides. One is a sample of cotton sewing thread. I did a quick knit with the thread to get a rough idea of the knitting skills needed. It isn’t terrible to knit. But it’s not a great sample of how wool thread will knit. I’ll do a proper mini-swatches from the spindle spun yarn and the CPW yarn to make sure I like the weight and to see how it blooms and wet blocks.

In the first bummer of the project, I discovered I made an ordering error when I got a new scale last year. It only goes to .01g. That’s not going to work! So a new scale is on the way. I’ll check and make sure I am staying on track for meters per gram as I move from bobbin to bobbin/spindle to spindle. I don’t want to slide into super fine gossamer or ethereal weight yarn!

My favorite yarn guide is the one below. I put two strands in a piece of packing tape, stretch them across, and then seal the opposite ends into a second piece of tape. This lets me twist them to see and feel the ply and then untwist to feel the singles. I have crummy vision, so I do a lot of my fine spinning by feel.

November 4, 2021:
The new scale arrived. I checked two samples:

  • a 2 ply 1 meter sample which weighed 0.036g, making it a 694 m / 25g gossamer yarn. 80 wpi
  • a 2 ply 1 meter sample which weighed 0.048g, making it a 520 m / 25g cobweb yarn. 73 wpi

Both were spun on Russian spindles from Shetland wool combed top using long draw. I like the feel of the cobweb yarn better than the gossamer. Both are soft and flexible, but the cobweb has a bit more loft and has a nicer hand overall. I can try for less twist in the gossamer and see how that works, but for now, I’m leaning towards the cobweb.

In the close up, you can see the faint halo from the long draw. It’s fairly smooth because I’ve split the top lengthwise into a fingerwidth of fiber that is about 4″ long- not much more fiber than I would have if I was spinning from the lock. Having a small bit of fiber to draw from lets me make a long, narrow drafting triangle that keeps the combed fibers in alignment. I do find my spin creeping thinner these days. My spinning reflects a lot of my day to day life! More than it should. If I’ve had a day, I flick that spindle like it’s a prize wheel- and no one can draft that fast. I’m lucky the whole thing doesn’t take flight!

I’m slowly rebuilding a happy, mellow spinning zone in my head, but in the meantime, there are days when I should switch to a slower spindle!

Side note here: While talking to Bob (my DH), I mentioned the whole Muness shawl has over 310,000 stitches. He happily pointed out that at 1,000 stitches a day, that’s just shy of a year of knitting. You’d think after 30+ years together he’d have better survival skills! But, it did make me think. I’m going to need a daily stitch goal or this could end up in a basket for years. So, I’m adding stitch goals to the project planning board.

Did I mention I have a project planning board! That’s a conversation for another time.

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