Emptying the Bucket: A Handspun Crochet Challenge

Down with the bucket list as Mary-Lyn Tebby conquers a self-made challenge.

Mary-Lyn Tebby Sep 22, 2021 - 5 min read

Emptying the Bucket: A Handspun Crochet Challenge Primary Image

Mary-Lyn’s bold handspun cotton doily. Photo by Mary-Lyn Tebby

I don’t believe in bucket lists. I’m terrified that, after I die, all the undone things on my list will chase me through eternity, making me feel forever guilty because I never took the time to deal with them. However, years ago, I gave myself a challenge, and recently, I accepted it and succeeded.

When I was very young, I learned to crochet. All I made for years were doilies, because that’s what I first learned to make. Once I learned to spin, I told myself that someday I’d learn to spin crochet cotton to make a doily from my own handspun cotton. I thought of this challenge a few times over the years but didn’t do anything about it. Once I reached level five of the Ontario Handweavers and Spinners (OHS) Spinning Certificate course I decided it was time. Level five was all about spinning those “other” fibers, such as plant and man-made. The final assignment was to choose a cellulose fiber, spin it, and make a small item from the handspun yarn.

I saw this as a chance to finally put my doily challenge to rest. I would spin cotton as fine as I could to crochet that doily. Since it was going to be my one and only cotton project, I decided it would be big, bold, and beautiful. I chose the Breezy Pineapple Doily pattern from Leisure Arts, measuring about 45 centimeters in diameter when made in size 10 crochet cotton. For this project, I would need much more yarn than the OHS assignment’s required 150 meters, so I decided not to mess around with prepping my own cotton. I bought Egyptian cotton tops from The Fibre Garden.

The Spinning Begins

I started spinning. To spin the singles, I used several spinning wheels, including my Lendrum and Ashford e-Spinner 3. Even my little Woolmakers’ Bliss contributed a bobbin. When I got tired of one wheel, I moved to another, always pulling out the very short fibers with a sort of long draw and adding more and more twist, working to make the singles as skinny as I could. Given how much twist cotton needs, it took forever to finally spin enough singles to make enough crochet cotton for the doily. Most of the plying happened on the e-spinner because my ankles were weary by the time I got that far. All the spinning was done to the varied rhythms of the music of Queen, which gave me a rather inconsistent yarn since the beat changed constantly and with it, the speed of treadling. Even so, I was happy with my yarn.

To make the doily, I used a 1.5-millimeter steel crochet hook. The finished doily measures about 52 centimeters in diameter. I finished it by steaming with an iron over a wet cloth covering the doily. In the end, the doily took 327 meters of two-ply cotton yarn at 25 wraps per inch, which is similar to size 3 crochet cotton. I had about 20 meters left over, enough to make the samples required for the assignment.

To Dye or Not to Dye

At the time, I decided not to dye it; I was in a “let’s get this assignment done and gone—forget the dye” mood. However, after looking at it hanging over the back of a seldom-used chair, I decided it needed color. I dyed it with raspberry-colored Procion MX fiber-reactive dye from G&S Dye. The end result is a doily that is a brilliant dark magenta.

Big, bold, and beautiful, the doily now glorifies the back of that chair and moves frequently to the center of the kitchen table, where it gets all the admiration it deserves.

If I ever had a bucket list, it is now empty.

Mary-Lyn Tebby is a freelance writer who prefers spinning wool. She lives in Muskoka, Ontario, Canada.