Because I changed my name when I married, it’s a little known fact that my mother is Barbara Walker. Not the Barbara G. Walker of A Treasury of Knitting Patterns fame (which would have been fine), but the Barbara S. Walker of ceramics and sculpture fame. When I was a child, my mother took up ceramics and later became a co-owner of The Lodestone Gallery, a fine craft store here in Boulder, Colorado. She made everything from dishes to lamps to Christmas tree ornaments, then in later years she settled into sculpture. Although she tried to get me interested in clay, I always preferred clean crafts such as sewing, knitting, and embroidery. But I am absolutely certain that I was influenced by my mother’s industriousness and creativity. She, as well as my father (who was a college professor), taught me that it is possible to make an income following your passion. Both of them loved what they did. Through the strength of their example, I gave up the corporate world (I had a MS in geology of all things) to pursue a career in fiber. And I’ve never looked back.

Here are a few photos of my dear mum and her sculptures—the last photo is a bust she made of my dear dad. They set the stage for my very good life.

Because I changed my name when I married, it’s a little known fact that my mother is Barbara Walker. Not the Barbara G. Walker of A Treasury of Knitting Patterns fame (which would have been fine), but the Barbara S. Walker of ceramics and sculpture fame. When I was a child, my mother took up ceramics and later became a co-owner of The Lodestone Gallery, a fine craft store here in Boulder, Colorado. She made everything from dishes to lamps to Christmas tree ornaments, then in later years she settled into sculpture. Although she tried to get me interested in clay, I always preferred clean crafts such as sewing, knitting, and embroidery. But I am absolutely certain that I was influenced by my mother’s industriousness and creativity. She, as well as my father (who was a college professor), taught me that it is possible to make an income following your passion. Both of them loved what they did. Through the strength of their example, I gave up the corporate world (I had a MS in geology of all things) to pursue a career in fiber. And I’ve never looked back.

Here are a few photos of my dear mum and her sculptures—the last photo is a bust she made of my dear dad. They set the stage for my very good life.

My dear friend and co-author, Pam Allen, has recently started her own online yarn company, Quince & Company. Clara Parkes said it best in Knitter’s Review: Pam’s goal is to offer good, basic yarns in a ton of colors, sourced and spun in the U.S., priced reasonably, and backed with excellent pattern support. Those yarns requiring imported fibers (say, silk or cashmere) would be sourced as responsibly as possible. She currently has four yarns (sport, DK, worsted, and bulky), each available in 37 solid colors.
But that’s not all. Very soon Pam will unveil a sock-weight yarn, named Tern after one of the small birds native to Pam’s Maine home. Tern is a round 3-ply yarn of 75% soft U.S. wool and 25% silk added for strength, luster, and luxury. It is ideal for my current obsession for twisted and traveling stitch patterns. Pam sent me a trial skein of the yarn and I just finished the toe-up socks shown here. The pattern and yarn will be available at www.quinceandco.com very soon!
 
 

I realized that I haven’t posted anything significant about knitting lately so today I’m giving you five of my favorite knitting tips.
1.     When working with yarn that is at least 75% wool, I join a new ball by splicing the ends together. This is particularly fun to do in front of the uninitiated. Simply feather the ends of the old and new yarn, put both in your mouth to get them nice and wet (saliva is a must for this part—clean water doesn’t have the right enzymes or whatever is needed to make it work), then overlap the ends about 1” in the palm of one hand and rub your palms together vigorously until the two ends felt together. The overlapped section should be close to the same diameter of the original yarn because it has been compressed.
2.     I have always knitted tighter than I purled. This causes unsightly “rowing out” in stockinette stitch worked in rows. For a while, I avoided working stockinette stitch in rows. Then I discovered that if I used a smaller needle for the purl rows, my purl stitches were the same size as my knit stitches. Now I routinely work stockinette in rows with two needle sizes—say a size 6 for knit rows and a size 5 for purl rows.
3.     I use a set of Boye interchangeable needles so that I can use a different size needle tip on each end of the cable when I knit stockinette in rows. Some years ago, I discovered that if I kept the smaller needle tip on the left end of the cable, it was much easier to work in the round. The stitches are made to gauge on the right needle tip, then they slide easier around the cable and onto the smaller left needle tip to be worked on the next round. Because the left tip is smaller, it’s also easier to manipulate the stitches for lace or cables!
4.     To ensure two pieces of knitting are the same length (such as the front and back a sweater, two fronts of a cardigan, or the legs or feet of two socks), I always count rows. Knitting stretches and it’s all too easy to be a few rows off when measuring length. If the pieces are the same number of rows, they will be the same length (as long as they are worked in the same stitch pattern with the same needles, of course). This makes it so much easier to sew seams.
5.     When counting rows of knitting, whenever possible I count purl ridges instead of individual stitches. I like to turn the work over, pull a little on the length of the knitting, then work my thumb up the knitting, counting two purl ridges at a time. It’s much easier on the eyes than trying to focus on one stitch at a time.

Since buying a spindle at the Estes Wool Market last month, I’ve spent much more time spindle spinning than knitting. In fact, this may be the longest stretch I’ve ever gone without knitting. Instead, I’ve been spinning fleece that my cyber friend Anne from Reading, Pennsylvania, sent me, as well as fleece I bought at the Wool Market. Not knowing how to ply on a spindle, I just keep spinning more and more singles.
Now I confess to a bit of OCD on my part—I decided to take Maggie Casey’s Beginning Spinning class again this month. I figured that much of what she said the first time went over my head, some because I didn’t realize it was important at the time and some because I was concentrating so intently on what I was doing that I, well, didn’t pay attention. An important part of the class is that students take home a different wheel each week. This is an ingenious way to get students to choose a favorite to buy. Part of my incentive for retaking the class was that I’d have a wheel to ply all of those singles. So instead of spinning new fleece, I spent most of Friday plying all the singles I had accumulated.
Finally, it was time to knit! I ended up with 165 two-ply yards from 2 ounces of red/blue/purple dyed fleece I bought at the Wool Market. I knitted a swatch to determine that I liked it at 6 stitches/inch on size 4 needles. Based on The Knitter’s Handy Guide to Yarn Requirements, I knew I had enough yarn to knit a pair of fingerless mitts. I then followed the mitten instructions in The Knitter’s Handy Book of Patterns. I worked the cuff, back of hand, and top edging in a k3, p1 rib in which I slipped the center stitch of the k3 column every other round to make a raised rib pattern that wouldn’t interfere with the beauty of the yarn. I worked the back-of-hand pattern on a little more than half of the stitches so that it would completely cover the back of the hand when worn.
What a joy it was to knit with my own yarn! I had been advised that handspun yarn had more life than store-bought. No kidding! The yarn had the most amazing “boing” as it formed stitches—I think each stitch had a life of its own (maybe I put a little too much twist in the yarn?).
Next up: a shawl from the 257 yards of yarn I spun from 8 ounces of fleece that Anne from Reading PA gave me! (Perhaps I’m entering my red phase.)

My sister and brother-in-law came to visit for the last week. They live in Nashville, Tennessee, and are always eager to escape the southern heat and humidity. Happily, we’re having a cool spell here and the high temps have been in the low 60s. My brother-in-law “Bob” has Parkinson’s disease and uses a walker to get around. When it gets cold, he needs to wear socks, but socks can be slippery on wood, tile, or linoleum floors. Bob has tried many types of no-skid socks but he complains that none are as comfortable as the socks I’ve knitted him over the years.
This year, I bought a pair of leather soles for making mukluks at my local yarn store, then sewed them to the bottom of a pair of his handknitted socks. I made the socks for him back in 1994 when Nancy Bush’s Folk Socks book came out (these are the Ukrainian Socks; he chose the pattern). Bob is delighted—the socks are comfortable, he doesn’t slip, and we’re all a little more secure in his ability to move about. I encourage you to do something similar if there is a walker-dependant person in your life.
I had planned to wash these while they were here, but they were always on his feet (and I forgot). I can see I’ll have to make another pair so these can get washed!

I spent three days last week at the photo shoot for my upcoming book, tentatively titled Designing Handknitted Socks. As much as I’d like to take credit for all the amazing socks that will be included in this book, I’m even happier to report that most of the socks were knitted by true sock divas, including Cookie A, Cat Bordhi, Nancy Bush, Evelyn Clark, and Anna Zilboorg. I don’t want to let the cat entirely out of the bag (or handknitted sock) so I’m not going to reveal all of the designers just yet.
Photo shoots can be grueling in the best of circumstances, but socks add their own hurdles. For one, feet are as far away from the head as they can be. That makes it hard to include the rest of the body in the image if the socks are to be the focus. Second, there just aren’t many ways to photograph feet that look natural. The challenge is to come up with images that are interesting, inviting, and informative.
Thanks to Joe Hancock’s ability to get down and dirty, I think the images for this book will be creative and fun. Here are a few photos I took of Joe taking photos. This is one shoot where I might have liked to be a model.
Thanks to Joe Hancock’s willingness to get down and dirty, I think the images for this book will be creative and fun. Here are a few photos I took of Joe taking photos. This is one shoot where I might have liked to be a model.

For the past 9 months, our 17-year-old son Alex has been preparing to volunteer in Nicaragua this summer through a program called Amigos de las Americas. The organization has paired teens with community-based initiatives in Central America for well over 40 years. Alex has attended monthly meetings since last October and the entire family has volunteered for fundraising, which included selling and delivering(!) 190 20-lb boxes of oranges and grapefruit.
Alex was scheduled to leave today. Or so we thought. Around noon yesterday I got a phone call from the other Denver-based volunteer assigned to Nicaragua. She was at the airport wondering where to meet us. This is the stuff of nightmares—Alex had misread his ticket and we were all a day off. Fortunately, Alex was at home, but still in bed. I woke him up and after a panic-filled 15 minutes, he was packed and we were on our way to the airport. Miraculously, we made it in time. I figure that the universe must really want him to be in Nicaragua this summer or one of many variables would have misaligned and he would have missed the flight.
I had planned to take a photo of him as he walked down the causeway to the plane, but, well, I forgot my camera in the hustle. So, with very little fanfare, my first-born has taken off to the wilds of a third-world country to teach English and (we think) help train villagers in water purification. When he returns in mid-August, he’ll be 18 years old and a legal adult. Is it trite to wonder where the time has gone?
I was a wreck by the time I got home from the airport. First, I treated myself to a big piece of carrot cake leftover from Father’s Day dinner.
Then, I calmed myself by spinning on my new Maggie spindle.

I’m still a wreck 24 hours later; I probably won’t recover until he returns in August.

This week a few friends and I played hooky and took a tour of Brown Sheep Company in Mitchell, Nebraska. None of us had toured a big operation before. It was impressive. The wool (all from sheep in neighboring states) is washed, cleaned, and carded in a mill in South Carolina, then sent to Nebraska to be blended, spun, dyed, and wound into perfect balls or skeins.

Our tour guide, Donna, took us through the mill where we got to see each step of the process. For privacy reasons, cameras are not allowed in the mill so you’ll have to believe me when I say that the machines are big and noisy, but impressive in their speed and efficiency. I can’t remember how much yarn is produced in a day, but it looked like about twenty 5-pound skeins were processed at a time at each station. Something like 500 pounds of yarn can be vat-dyed at a time — they were dyeing a nice dark red the day we were there. The all-around best selling color is black (go figure), followed by white, cream, and gray. We didn’t think to ask what was the most popular dyed color.

You probably know that dyeing takes a lot of water. After a couple of years of research, the company has installed a state-of-the-art water filtration system. They are able to remove the dye particulates from a dyebath, then store the hot water to use again for the next bath, even if it’s a different color.

The final stage of production is attaching the ball bands. This is probably what impressed me the most about the operation. After all those perfectly calibrated machines and processes, a person examines each ball or skein is individually examined before putting on the ball band. Except for the Lamb’s Pride bands (which are secured with a machine), each band is manually taped around the ball. When we questioned this labor-intensive process, Donna told us that it was the best way to ensure quality. If there is a knot or if the ball looks less than perfect in any way, it goes into the “seconds” pile.

And where do those “seconds” go? The mill has it’s own yarn shop where they are sold by the pound at a significantly reduced price. You or I wouldn’t be able to tell what’s “wrong” with these skeins, but Donna says that’s because they work so hard to maintain the highest quality possible. In addition to balls that have visible knots, you can also buy yarns where the dye is a little off. So, we loaded up. That’s Donna at the counter and packing our yarn in bags.

The annual Estes Park Wool Market was last weekend. Normally, it’s deathly hot during this weekend, which typically coincides with Father’s Day. This year, it was cold (40 degrees Fahrenheit) and rainy (rivers are close to flood stage). Except for four very drippy yaks in a mud-soaked pen, I didn’t see any livestock outside. The food vendors, however, were trying to stay warm and dry under large tents. I bought a delicious crepe with blue cheese, spinach, and walnuts that I covered with a couple of napkins until I could find cover.
But I digress.
The real reason I went was to pick out the perfect spindle, now that I’ve caught the spinning bug. I made a beeline to the Magpie Woodworks both where I’d been informed that I’d find the finest spindles ever made. In addition to spindles, they offer handcrafted niddy-noddies, nostepide,  sewing needle holders, bowls, and other things I couldn’t identify. I chose a perfectly balanced top-whorl spindle made of cherry. It spins forever without a single wobble.
Once I had the spindle, I asked the esteemed Maggie Casey (who happened to be at the Shuttles, Spindles, and Skeins booth—she’s co-owner, doncha know) to point out appropriate fiber for a newbie like me. I picked up 4 ounces of handdyed superwash merino from Bonkers Handmade Originals (definitely a pair of socks), 2 ounces of a silk/camel blend from Skaska Designs (a lace scarf once I learn to spin thin enough), and 2 ounces of Australian Bond Sheep from Gleason’s Fine Woolies, which I spun before I thought to take a photo. This is destined to be a pair of fingerless mitts. Now I’m kicking myself for not getting one of the magpie hand-carved bowls to use as a backdrop for it all.