Over the World
One Fiber at a Time
Shannon is a multifaceted
fiber superstar, omnipresent in the fiber and
craft world, with her newest book Spin
to Knit (Interweave Press) out this month.
She has published two books in her Knitgrrl
series (Watson-Guptil), and has four more books
waiting in the wings on a variety of fiber topics.
We especially love Shannon
because she wrote the very first spinning article
for Knitty: Spinning
for Absolute Beginners.
For this issue of Knittyspin,
Shannon answered a bunch of spinning questions
for me, her nosiest fan.
- What's your favorite
fiber or blend?
I really love wool the best,
but if you're going to mix something in, make
it lyocell, Soysilk®, shredded sari silk...something
natural. I'm not a big fan of sparkly add-ins
like angelina, but I do love the extra shine
lyocell gives. Sandy Sitzman of Woolgatherings
dyes intensely beautiful superwash merino/lyocell
blends that are really fun to spin.
- What's your favorite
I shattered my elbow a number
of years ago and it tires my arm really fast
if I spindle. Though, I do like the Spindolyn,
which is a supported spindle. I started on an
Ashford Kiwi wheel and Ashford wheels are what
I use today. I have two of them, Queen Liz (an
Elizabeth II) and Joy, my portable single-treadle
- Can fiber be done as
a job, and actually pay bills?
It can be done...but it's
tough, and there are often many trade-offs in
the beginning. Right now, I'd like to expand
my hand-dyed fiber business, but I don't have
enough time. Many other people have the time
but not the money for additional equipment and
materials. My best advice is to start small:
sell online, sell to local shops, get a booth
space at a craft show, farmer's market or fiber
festival. Build up a following before you quit
your day job -- one big order isn't going to
pay the bills all year.
When I opened my original
online shop, two years before my first book
came out, I knew I had good product but I didn't
know how many sales I could count on in a month.
To this day, a good show or festival booth can
make many, many weeks' worth of sales all in
one day. So start there!
- What spinners inspire
My first spinning teacher,
Lucy Lee, who owns Mind's
Eye Yarns in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was
my original inspiration. Her handspun and hand-dyed
yarns are gorgeous.
Vogel's Twisted Sisters Sock Workbook inspired
me to pull out the dyes for myself. The hat
on the cover of Spin to Knit is made
from the first fiber I ever dyed myself! I took
Lynne's color mixing advice, then developed
my own dyeing
technique using the dishwasher. When I traveled
around the country last summer taking photos
for the book, I got to spend several days at
a workshop Lynne was teaching in Tennessee.
Between taking photos, dyeing and spinning,
I think I learned more in a day than I would've
worked out on my own in a year -- she's great!
- What books do you have
handy for inspiration ?
I have Squidoo lenses (handspinning,
that showcase some of my favorite spinning and
dyeing books. The Twisted Sisters Sock Workbook,
of course. Dyeing to Knit by Elaine
Eskesen is good, too. Handspun Revolution by
Lexi Boeger of Pluckyfluff
for art yarns.
- Any other inspirational
My new favorite source of
inspiration is flickr
-- and not just the spinning- or dyeing-related
tags. I'll get an idea for a yarn -- let's say
I want it to look like a frog. So I search for
photos of frogs...and find out they're not all
green, maybe one of them has some interesting
red and yellow spots...so then I add red and
yellow to the green yarn I was planning to spin.
It's a very organic process. In terms of finished
items, I like to read fashion magazines like
W that feature over-the-top haute couture
-- I have a to do list of spinning and knitting
projects a mile long just based on the pages
I've torn out.
- Favorite music to spin
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
DVDs are my background noise of choice.
the Spin to Knit Handspun Secret Pals
Interweave Press is
celebrating the launch of Spin
to Knit by Shannon Okey (in bookstores
nationwide by October 1) by starting
a new kind of Secret Pals Exchange:
The Handspun SWAP.
Signups are October
1-December 1 and you'll receive two
handspun skeins of yarns -- one in January
and one in February -- from your upstream
secret pal; in return, you mail two
handspun skeins in two months to your
assigned downstream pal. This exchange
is open to spinners everywhere, with
three pal categories for new, intermediate,
and advanced spinners; participants
are required to have a blog.
Sign up at Spintoknit.com
after October 1, 2006
- What's your all time
The first time I spun bombyx
silk top was a disaster. Truthfully, I think
I like spinning soy silk more! No matter what
I tried, my finished product was coming out
alternately shaggy and overtwisted. Also, I'm
not too fond of the way it felt in my hand as
I was drafting -- so after half a bobbin, I
put it aside. Maybe I'll blend it in with some
wool or alpaca and try again when I have time.
I don't ply very often, because
I love knitting with energized singles, and
I'm often just too eager to get knitting on
something! In my mind, that extra ply just means
I'm depriving myself of 50% more yardage to
knit! Mostly I ply for color effects: combining
different sections of color into one gorgeous,
multicolor yarn is really fun.
- What spinning advice
to you have to share?
If none of your friends spin,
look for a local shop or guild and take a few
lessons. Many guilds will even rent equipment.
This is a smart way to try before you buy if
you're not comfortable with spindles, but aren't
sure you want to spend hundreds of dollars on
a wheel. (Although I do recommend Ashford's
low-cost starter model, the Kiwi -- it's what
I started on). Start with wool: it's the most
forgiving fiber for beginners because it's got
a lot of natural give to it. For those who are
allergic or don't like to use animal fibers,
try soy silk -- slipperier than wool, but easier
to spin than cotton if you ask me.
- What's next on life
Vacation for the first time
in years, and desperately needed! In the past
2 years, I've written, co-authored or edited
7 books. I think I deserve a break. On the horizon:
I've just started my own publishing
company and I'm going to be revamping my
online shop in the fall after our book tour.
Speaking of which: Kim Werker,
the editor of Crochet
Me, just wrote the crochet counterpart to
my Knitgrrl books, Get
Hooked, and we're hitting the road for a
coast Canadian/US tour in October. knit.1
magazine is sponsoring lots of great stuff for
the tour, so be sure to check it out if we're
near you! Also, I think I should mention that
the tour kicks off in Toronto with Team
Knitty's Run For the Cure, which I'm proud
to be a part of for the third year in a row.
Everyone who donates through my page gets entered
into a drawing to win some killer prizes...from
yarn to a Lexie
Barnes knitting bag.
- If you could Vulcan
Mind Meld with a fiber goddess, who would
Are we talking Clothos, Lachesis
or Atropos? The Norns? Athena? Or human with
goddesslike qualities? (Though I did dress up
as Athena for Halloween when I was about 7.
I blame Clash of the Titans, not a budding fiber
thing). If we're going human, I'll say Lynne
Vogel. Her color sense is amazing!
- Your spinning is like
which '70s or '80s tv show or cartoon?
irregular, fun, colorful and low-stress! Also,
prone to shouting when the secret word gets
uttered. I'd tell you what the secret word is,
but then I'd have to kill you.
- Tell us about your new
to Knit is exactly what the title says:
a book designed to teach existing knitters,
crocheters and other fiber fans how to make
their own fantastic yarn! It includes lots of
step-by-step photos, profiles of spinners from
across the country, and an entire section of
handspun-friendly patterns by both myself and
some other very cool designers. I had the best
time taking photos for this book. It's inspirational
in itself to see where other spinners are coming
from in terms of their studio space, where they
live, what's going on in their communities...and
I found some great spots to buy fiber along
the way. (Let's just say that if I won the lottery,
I'd probably be moving to Granville Island in
Interweave Press, the
publisher of Spin to Knit, is sponsoring
a secret pal swap. We're going to have a great
time trading yarns with other secret spinner
pals. You can find out more on the Spin
to Knit website.
Also, check out Orangina
from Spin to Knit in this issue of