No empty bobbins?

It’s a problem many of us face. Recently I found a cure, though I fear it will be temporary.

I own four spinning wheels, and between them they have at least 20 bobbins.

Each one has a story and I treasure them all

But still I could never find a completely empty one – there was always a bit of leftover spinning from a workshop or a demo or a project. Quite a few years’ worth of cardboard cylinders also held singles that had been wound off onto them in desperation. (Of course I could never throw any out.)

I decided to use it all up in a variegated knee rug.

I had 500 grams of carded wool from a flock of Romney/Down breeds origin, in a gingery brown moorit colour that didn’t really go with anything.

So I spun that up and then started plying it with all my oddments. It went pretty well, though there was so much variety in the leftover singles that some of it came out nice and thick and some was too thin and skimpy. When that happened I added a third thread, generally some white or cream silk (I’ve attended several workshops on spinning silk). There were occasional bits of alpaca, too. I made a rule that it all had to be animal fibre, though a tiny stripe of cotton snuck in somehow.

It was fun deciding which oddment to ply next. I tried to vary between light and dark, bright and dull. If there was a lot of something I didn’t use it all at once, because I didn’t want enormous blocks of one colour.

I ended up with some skeins I was rather pleased with, and I apologise for not having any pictures of them. I wish it had occurred to me to take progress photos!

Time to knit. The easiest way to make a cosy knee rug is in garter stitch, starting in a corner with 3 stitches. Increase at the beginning of each row till it looks as though it’s half way there, and then decrease at the beginning of each row down to 3 stitches again.

How I started my knee rug

Actually there was one refinement – at the beginning of each row I knit two stitches and then knit twice into the 3rd stitch. This gives a nice edge.

The triangle grew, and I liked it, and I started thinking “I want to wear this!” I imagined a jacket made of a big rectangle at the back, and two narrower rectangles for the fronts. So when the sides of the triangle got to the width that would fit across the back, one side changed from increasing to decreasing at the beginning of the row – it became knit 2, knit 2 together.

Now I was knitting diagonally across the rectangle that would become the back

When I thought it was long enough I decreased at the beginning of each row down to 3 stitches and ended it. Simple, except that I tried to put some shaping on the shoulders, which is hard to figure out if you are working on the diagonal. But I (sort of) managed.

The fronts would have been just as easy, except thatI wanted a slanted neck opening. Like the one on the left.

Now if I’d been happy to make a couple of simple rectangles for the fronts, and treat the top centre corners as lapels like the one on the right, it would have been easy. But as it was, I had somehow to add decreases to slanted knitting, which was already being increased on one side and decreased on the other. The grey stripes in this diagram represent rows of knitting, and you can see that on the right front I was already decreasing at the centre front, and on the left front I was increasing.

There was much frogging (rip it, rip it) and picking up the stitches and my good temper and trying again. I don’t recommend the procedure to anyone but a talented mathematician, which I am not.

However, it was eventually finished. And at our recent Guild spin-in I modelled it proudly in the fashion parade.


Thankyou to Patrizia Vieno for taking these two photographs

If you think I look happy in these pictures, you are right. And it wasn’t only because of the jacket. If you will forgive some personal detail – I was happy just to be there, because less than 4 weeks earlier, I had undergone a mastectomy for a suddenly-discovered breast cancer. I hadn’t dared hope for such a quick recovery. But it was caught in time and though of course there is never certainty, right now the future looks bright.

In recent weeks I have learned the value of wonderful supportive friends, and of organisations that are there to help. I have learned the importance of being open about cancer, too, and not hiding it or only mentioning it in whispers – as a result, my two daughters have now enrolled in New Zealand’s free breast cancer screening programme, as have several of their friends. There are all kinds of support out there, and amazing people who will share their experiences. Nobody needs to go through it alone.


6 thoughts on “No empty bobbins?

  1. Karen Severn.

    Enjoyed and fully related to your article. Although I must admit that I do try to keep my bobbins clear. Than alarmed to read your news, pleased to know that you are doing well after surgery. Such an inspiration you are Mary. Will be in touch soon.


  2. MelsNattyKnits

    Love your garment Mary! I’m so pleased you have recovered so well from your surgery. My sister was diagnosed a few days before her 50th birthday with breast cancer and also had a mastectomy. She has since had a reconstruction and will turn 57 in November. Since then I visit my breast clinic every year for a mammogram. I had been going every two years since I turned 40. Do take care. All my love and best wishes xxx


  3. maryinnz Post author

    Thanks Melanie. Yes, it’s really important that everyone gets checked, specially when it turns up in the immediate family. My daughters looked up the stats and were amazed at how common it is. At 77 I’m not bothering with a reconstruction – it might have been different at 50!


  4. sarah gamble

    hi mary, jacket is lovely- dont spose you feel like writing down the neck shaping instructions, just to save us time in the frog pond!!
    very pleased to hear your positive health news. may your recovery continue!!


    1. maryinnz Post author

      I wish I could produce some instructions – but I wasn’t kidding when I said I am no mathematician, and I really have no idea exactly what I ended up doing on each side (because each had to be done differently because of the diagonal-ness). I seem to remember that on one side, a decrease on the diagonal only removed the width of half a stitch, and on the other side it was much more drastic. What I would do with hindsight, if there is ever a next time, is draw an outline of the shape I want and then just knit to fill in the outline.
      Thank you for the good wishes!



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