Artful Knitting

Fall is in the air… well, OK, we will have the Labor Day weekend ahead of us, and I’m sure there will still be dog days of summer ahead, not to mention Indian weather, but it isn’t too early to be thinking about sweaters, yarn, knitting and fall craft shows.

Artful yarn dyer, spinner and knitter Susan Nadelson of Lambertville has worked up some new lightweight, hand-spun yarns for mobius knitting.

Here’s what I wrote about her two years ago:

By the time you find fiber artist Susan Nadelson’s house, it looks like Vermont. Surrounded by trees, woods, a dirt road and a wood shop is her 19th-century farmhouse, but when you descend to the basement, it feels as if you’re in a warehouse in New York City’s garment district. She makes yarns for knitters and weavers, and also sells her own hand-knit-sweaters.

There are idiosyncratically organized bags and piles of fleeces and roving in more colors than one thought possible. There are large bags of fleece straight from the sheep – Ms. Nadelson brings some tufts of raw wool to your nose so you can smell the animal in them. “Sheep are not clean,” she says. “They roll around in their own excrement.”

There are samples of silks, alpaca and mohair, which comes from goats. The silk she uses may come from a silkworm, or soy, bamboo or corn. Each fiber reflects light and shines in unique ways, and the soft-to-the-touch goat resembles Ms. Nadelson’s salt-and-pepper curly mane.

After she gets the fleece she “skirts” it, or removes the hay, straw, bugs twigs and dirt particles, then washes it several times in a bucket with hot water and Eco Scour, a biodegradable soap. From there she may dye it or card it, using an electric drum carder – this separates the fleece into individual fibers lined up in the same direction that can be spun.

From there, the magic begins: She combines colors guided by her inner voice and readily admits she will never get the same result twice. Ms. Nadelson’s individual technique does not produce the factory-uniform yarns often found in stores. She rejects “being dictated the colors of the fashion gurus.”

“Mother Nature didn’t intend (yarn) to look like Crayola crayons – I prefer a multi-dimensional look,” she says.

Taking naturally gray wool, the former technical writer mixes it with bright red, and gets a toned-down red; she uses the same red to dye a bright white wool for a livelier red, and then adds mohair for shine and a coral color to lighten it. Mixing the four together in the carder gives a melange of the different reds.

“Any color blended with another gives it character,” says Ms. Nadelson. “Give me 10 colors and I’ll create 100 yarns.” Like a painter, she doesn’t want to create the same thing twice. “If someone asks for a particular yarn, there’s no guarantee that I can produce it. What I want to do is play with colors and see what I come up with.

“I spend more time with this than any other part,” she continues. “The smallest change in proportion can change the whole thing.” And, like a painting, every batt is hand made. The finished product goes through her hands six to seven times. “Spinning is the easiest part,” she says. “It takes less time to knit a vest than carding and spinning.”

The moment you enter Ms. Nadelson’s house her sense of mixing bold colors strikes you. There is a stained glass lampshade over the oak dining table, in blues with moons in various phases. Custom-made by Val Sigstedt of Frenchtown, it tells the story of Ms. Nadelson’s relationship with her husband, a dentist and a woodworker. The two were married in Gay Head, Martha’s Vineyard, and the Gay Head cliffs are depicted, as are the deep blue waters where her husband fishes, Comet Hale-Bopp and the birth of their first daughter. Ms. Nadelson recalls visiting Mr. Sigstedt’s studio and being inspired by his shelves of glass, organized by color, and illuminated by the light from a window.

Adding more color to her dining room are paintings, ranging from abstract to landscape to floral, by Jane Gilday, using deep blues, for example, to show fireflies on a summer night along the Delaware River.

Years ago, Ms. Nadelson attended a craft show and saw a woman selling yarn. “She taught me to twist two yarns together, and I was hooked.” She was given a spinning wheel for her birthday, and has been spinning, carding and dyeing for 18 years.

Ms. Nadelson volunteers at Howell Living History Farm in spring, demonstrating spinning and twisting. “It gives me the opportunity to be with kids and keep in touch with people – I’m usually isolated in the basement.” This year, in exchange for her efforts, she was given a Wensleydale fleece. From large sheep with long-stapled, lustrous wool that falls in long ringlets almost to ground level in unshorn sheep, it is named for the region of North Yorkshire, England, from which Wensleydale Cheese, made popular in the Wallace and Gromit cartoon A Close Shave, originates.

Ms. Nadelson also provides guidance and knitting patterns to customers who purchase her yarn. She has written the instructions in a clear, easy-to-follow way – that technical writing background has come in handy.

  • Here are the fall craft shows she’ll be at in 2009:

    Garden State Sheep Breeders —  September 12 and 13
    Hungerdon County Fairgrounds
    Routes 202 & 179
    Ringoes, New Jersey

    Transformations —   November 13, 14, and 15
    Hopewell Train Station
    Railroad Avenue
    Hopewell, New Jersey

    YWCA Princeton Crafters’ Marketplace 2009 — November 21 and 22
    John Witherspoon Middle School
    217 Walnut Avenue
    Princeton New Jersey 08540

    Covered Bridge Artisans Fall Open Studio Tour —  November 27, 28 and 29
    Locktown Stone Church
    see www.coveredbridgeartisans.com for more information and maps

    Delaware River Mill Society Holiday Craft Show — December 5 and 6
    The Grist Mill at The Prallsville Mills
    24 Risler Street
    Stockton, New Jersey 08559

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    2 Responses to Artful Knitting

    1. Pam Saletan says:

      I saw your work at the Sheep & fiber festival 2008. I would love to purchae wool/pattern…what are your hours

    2. Susan Nadelson says:

      To Pam, Thanks for your kind words. You can email me directly at susan.nadelson@gmail.com for more information.

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