Meet Mim:

MimHello there, my lovelies.  I’m Mim, and I’m the owner of Over The Rainbow Yarn.  I learned to knit when I was seven years old.  I also learned to crochet when I was nine and had my first student when I was nine, as well.  That means I’ve been a fiber artist and teacher for 40-mumble years. Knitting, crocheting and teaching all evolved together for me, and have really shaped the way I think.

I was also a homeschooling mom until my son turned 12, when he decided he wanted to go to school.  After my initial chock, I thought I might have a lot of time to get a lot of things done.  When I began to look around at what I might do, I came up with three choices:law school, MFA writing program or open a yarn shop.  Clearly yarn shop won out and, on my 50th birthday, I gave myself the gift of Over The Rainbow Yarn.

I am a high stash process knitter with a decided preference for rich intense color and textural knitting techniques.  I am a competent spinner, a beginner level weaver, and dabble in wet, nuno and needle felting, as well as a long, long list of other crafts you may or may not have ever even heard of (finger loop braiding, naalbinding or tambour work anyone?).  I’ve experimented with dyeing with wildly varying results.  I keep a notebook titled, “50 Things I Want To Do Before I Die.”  Every time I accomplish one thing from my list, I put another one on, but at any give time, more than half of them are textile or fiber related.

I love fiber and textiles in all their forms.  Even more, I love the making of them.  But my ultimate passion is knitters and crocheters.  There’s nothing so thrilling to me as talking with another knitter and finding out what she is working on or learning a new cast on, or teaching a new technique.  Lots of yarn on the shelves is a beautiful thing, but I am a fiber evangelist.  I worship at the church of yarn, and communion with others of my kind, or converting someone new to the yarn side, are what really lift my soul.

Come in and see me.  I’ll be delighted to look at what you’re working on.  Or, if you need anything, anything at all, you know it’s my mission in life to support your fiber dreams.

Mim’s Latest Blog Posts:


Fidget Spinners:Everything old is new again

Have you all seen fidget spinners? They are the newest, hottest fad toy to hit the small fry in every school and neighborhood. If you haven’t heard of them, you can look at this CNN article about the fad here.  They were originally developed as an concentration aid for children with…what else can I call it…fidgeting disorders?…who seem to be able to concentrate better with their minds when their hands are occupied with something endless, mindless, but physically absorbing. But the toys have become so popular with kids of all thinking styles, that teachers are complaining that fidget spinners have become more of a distraction than the original fidgeting that fidget spinners were designed to help curb. Hmm. My sister has been looking high and low for a fidget spinner for my 7 year old nephew, and every place she’s looked has been sold out. I found a supply and picked up several of them in different colors, not knowing his preferences in the matter. (At Ocean State Job Lots in Rockland, Maine if you’re in similar straits and can’t get ahold of one) All the time with a nagging sense that I may be missing an opportunity.

See, I was recently encouraged to stock some fidget spinners as an impulse item on my counter top. All I could think of by way of reply was, “If you’re standing in the yarn shop and need something to fidget with, why don’t you just take up knitting…or crochet, or tatting, or…well SPINNING, for the love of wool.” I mean, really? Occupy the hands with a gadget that produces nothing, and produces nothing? I don’t think so, thanks.

Once upon a time, I was an education major. I’m also a mom. I know kids need to play. I know they need to bounce around and hop and skip and climb things. I also know there are kids who can learn better if they are engaged in meaningless physical activity while listening and looking at learning materials. I really, really understand that sitting still and absorbing like a sponge is not the ideal learning situation for most kids much of the time. They can do it in short bursts if they must, but then they’ll need to burst out into something more physical.

I also understand that kids like to feel accomplished and helpful. they like to know that they are making something, contributing in some way. In the way old days before there were public schools, children learned about the world at home from their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, older siblings, anyone who was around. And they were set to work early. Gathering eggs, milking goats, herding sheep, tending gardens, sweeping, washing, and fixing things. Their learning wove in and around all this physical activity. Guess what else they learned? How to card, wool, spin and knit…to keep their hands busy while they did other things. Even into the 20 century in USA schools, and even now in European ones, children learn to knit as part of their curriculum. Yup, right there in school, along side reading, writing and ‘rithmetic. Turn the heel of you sock while listening to a lecture on the capitals of Africa.

How have we forgotten so? When I did a Google search for “children learning to spin,” I got an image page that looked like this… I don’t know about you, but I didn’t see anything on this that looked like learning to spin. Entertainment, maybe, but nothing to do with what I was looking for.

But if I Googled, “children learning to spin wool,” I got this. Ahh. Now that’s more like it. If children benefit from having something to do with their hand while they listen and learn, why not give them something useful to do? And actual skill that produces something?

All I can say is, if you’re looking for a fidget spinner for your kids, come in and we’ll hook you up with the original gizmo that children have been learning with for millenia. Look at that face. Works for me.

 

Yarn Microns And Softness

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The holy man on the left is wearing a hair shirt?

We’re going to talk about yarn microns and softness, I promise. But first, we have to establish some standard of comparison. We’ve chosen the hair on your very own head as a place to start. Have you ever heard the term “hair shirt?” Apparently, monks in the middle ages would make shirts out of hair and wear them under their clothes as a subtle form of self torture. These were itchy and coarse enough to scrape the skin and cause minor bleeding. Yikes! If you run your hands through your own hair, you won’t find it so very unpleasant, but have you ever gotten a piece of your own hair caught on your eye? Or on your own tongue? Of course you have, and very unpleasant it is, too. And once you cut it, there is a sharp end that pokes into your skin in a nasty way.

What does this have to do with yarn and microns, you ask? Well, let me tell you. Since it isn’t pleasant or practical to make clothing or other fabric from our own hair, human beings began to consider using hair from other animals. Something softer and more comfortable. They looked around them and thought, “Horse hair? Nope; too coarse and not enough of it. Cow? Surely not. Goats? Well, their outer hairs are at least as bad as our own, but they do get a nice soft under coat in winter. Not much of it, but great if we can get it. Hmmm…maybe sheep?” And the rest is wooly history.

But that still doesn’t explain the whole micron to softness connection, right? Well, let me give you just a little bit more history and it will become clearer. When humans first started using sheep fleece for clothing, the sheep hair wasn’t as soft as we’ve come to know it. It was just a darn site better than horse or cow or human. These early sheep hair gathering humans began to notice that some of their sheep had hair that was softer to the touch than others. So, some humans started breeding soft haired sheep to other soft haired sheep and creating breeds with fine, soft wool.

As the breeds got established, even within breeds there could be variance. Just like human beings, sheep can have finer or coarser hair than their wooly cousins. The climate where they live, their diet, and how clean they keep can have a great effect on the softness of their hair. And if the softer wool was more prized, the breeders should be able to get a higher price for it, right? Of course. So, who gets to determine how much a particular fleece should be worth? Well, the buyers, of course.

But, rather than having each and every person who wanted to buy a fleece fondle each and every fleece available, experts with sensitive finger and a vast experience of wool would run a few lock through their fingers and give it a grade. Coarse, medium, fine, super fine, expialidocious, a fleece would get a grade, and price would be agreed between the seller and the buyer based on that grade.

 

For a long, long time, this was called  The Bradford Scale. To quote that fount of all internet wisdom, Wikipedia, “English wool handlers in the city of Bradford described wool by estimating (with experienced eyes) how many 560-yard hanks of single strand yarn could be made by a good spinner from a pound of “top.” (Top is cleaned combed wool with the fibers all parallel) The finer the average diameter of a single wool fiber, the more hanks could be spun. From a pound of “64s,” for example, sixty-four such hanks could be made (more than 20 miles!). From the finest wools, more than 80 hanks could be spun; from the strongest, perhaps 36 or fewer. Using ranges denoted by the stronger end (that is “44s” ran up to “46s”) wool lots were classified and prices derived.” So this is a somewhat complicated assessment, and completely subjective. It’s also only one of several systems. While the English used the Bradford Scale, the American system was based on breed or blood in an even more complex and subjective scale.

Now we have microscopes and lasers that are capable of measuring the exact diameter of a single hair from an angora rabbit. The unit of measure is the micron, which is one millionth of a meter or 1/25,000 of an inch. Really, really tiny, right? Well, yes. And this is where the softness part come in.

Microns

This chart shows a human hair as the largest fiber at 70 microns, and an angora rabbit hair as the smallest at 13 microns. You can get a better view of it in our newsletter.

We are able to distinguish the size and texture of small things, but not infinitely small. There is a limit to the diameter of fibers that we can feel. As we noted above, a human hair is coarse enough, and sharp enough if cut, to be clearly felt. But sheep have hair that is thinner in diameter than human hair. Some breeds of sheep even more than others. As the diameter, in microns, of the individual hairs gets smaller, we are less abel to distinguish one fiber from the bunch of fibers. The feel starts to blur into a single sensation rather than a thousand separate ones. The more we experience this blurring of sensation of individual fibers, the more we experience it as soft.

 

 

 

 

There are other factors that determine softness. The length of the fiber, how curly or crimpy it is, how sharp the cut ends are, how tightly it is spun, etc, will all have an impact on how much we can feel an individual hair out a bunch of hairs. But the size of the hairs is the biggest contributing factor.

This is why we like to feel a yarn before we decide whether we want to make something that’s going to go next to our skin. You’re probably aware that some parts of the human body have more, and more sensitive, nerve endings than others. Fingers rank really high in the number and sensitivity of nerve endings. But fingers can’t tell you how something is going to feel on the underside of your chin. This is why we encourage you to gently run a skein of yarn against your neck or under your chin if you’re planning on making a cowl out of it.

Also keep in mind, it’s not just a marketing ploy to get you to value baby alpaca more than merino. Baby hair on any animal is going to be finer than on an adult. And extra fine merino is not a subjective assessment. It’s smaller in microns and, therefore softer.

Yarn School: Inside Pull vs Outside Pull Ball

A ball of yarn is one very long piece of string with two ends. One inside, buried down deep in the middle, and one wrapped around the outside. You can start using the yarn from either end, pulling from either the inside or the outside. I know it’s going to come as a shock to you, but I have opinions about this.

You may have heard me say it, or you may have learned it elsewhere, but for those of you who don’t know, yarn is only held together by the twist. If it were not twisted, it would be just roving and would fall apart with even gentle tugging. The way a quantity of yarn is lumped together is called the put up. Go here for a great graphic that explains more about put up. Every time you change the put up, depending on which way you wind it, you either add or subtract twist. Going from the reeling machines into cones at the factory, going from cones to hanks in the warehouse, or going from hank to ball in the shop or at home, adds or subtracts twist. And so does knitting or crocheting.

I have a really hard time working with single ply yarn because wrapping the yarn around my needle or hook in a counter clockwise motion, as is customary here in the western world, takes away the twist and makes my yarn begin to fall apart. Working from the outside end of a ball of yarn will add twist if the yarn comes off in a counter clockwise motion, and add twist if the yarn comes off the ball in a clockwise motion. Either way, adding or subtracting twist can affect your gauge.

Working from the end in the middle of the ball will preserve the twist. It also allows your yarn to sit still and not roll around. It may be becoming clear what my opinion is. I like the center pull put up. To address the pros and cons, though, there are a number of accessories you can use to make which ever end you want to work with, work for you.

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The simplest yarn bras come a variety pack with three sizes in three colors.

If want to use the inside pull out up, but you’re worried about the center of the ball collapsing, a yarn bra will be your best friend. You can read more about yarn bras here in Kate’s review guest blog. The gentle pressure of the yarn bra holds everything together and you can knot or crochet along in the confidence that nothing is going to fall apart on either end.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The big, four-armed thing hanging on the wall is a swift, which holds a hank of yarn while you wind it into a ball. the covered bowl below is perfect for keeping your yarn tidy and within reach. Isn’t it beautiful?

If you want to use the outside pull put up, you have two challenges. First, you have to let the ball roll around to compensate for the twisting motion the yarn makes as you pull it. This keep your yarn from getting over or under twisted as you work. Second, you have to keep your ball from rolling away out of reach, or around in the cat hair on the floor (not that I think you have cat hair on your floor!) or under the couch where you can’t reach it. The perfect solution is a yarn bowl. You can see some great yarn bowl ideas here.  And, of course we have Francis Farley’s beautiful bowls here in the shop. A yarn bowl will contain the yarn where you can keep it tidy while still allowing the ball to twist freely.

 

 

 

So, opinions aside, which ever put up you like, inside pull or outside pull, a simple accessory can make or break your experience.

 

To Crochet or Not to Crochet

Throughout the wooly world, we keep seeing surveys and research, evidence and theory, all kinds of indications that Crochet is on the rise. Nationwide, yarn shops are reporting greater numbers of crocheters making the leap out of the box stores and into the indie shops where they can get the good stuff knitters have been enjoying for years. We’re starting to see our yarn suppliers give some thought to crochet pattern support for their yarns. Ravelry has some amazing designers giving us more and more crochet fashion patterns. According to The National Needle Arts Association survey about the state of the yarn industry, crochet is a faster growing segment than knitting. And in 2014, for the first time in internet search history, crochet search terms have out numbered knitting search terms. We’re just not certain it’s happening in Rockland.

So, whenever we wonder what’s going on with our yarny community, we ask our community directly. Here it is…

Do you guys crochet?

More than that, if you don’t, why not? Would you like to and just haven’t found the right way to learn? And if you do, how can we do a better job of supporting you? In short, tell us all your feelings about crochet.

As you know from reading the newsletter, we’re working on a collection of 12 Weeks of Christmas patterns, crochet style. we also have some great ideas about classes or CAL’s we could be doing. So if you want it, crochet is here and we (Lauren and I particularly, as we are the resident crocheters) would love to splash out even bigger with patterns, classes, CAL events, yarns, tools and everything else you want.

Be honest. Tell us what you want. We’re fiber evangelists and crocheters are most welcome at The Church Of Yarn.


Read more on our collaborative blog page.