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Handspun Yarn for a Knitting Project and an Interview with Aroha Knits

Spinning Yarn for the Whiria Cowl

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Hello friends, I am so excited to talk to you about this project!

Recently, I handspun yarn for a specific project: the Whiria Cowl. When I saw photos of the cowl, I just knew it was a special piece. The Whiria Cowl was designed by the amazing Francoise, who is also the creator of Aroha Knits.

Francoise’s mission is to empower knitters by exploring how making and identity intersect. She encourages knitters to think deeply about why we create and to empower people to make a transformational impact with their craft.

Francoise’s designs draw influence from her Māori heritage. She beautifully transforms the stories from her culture into her projects. Her work aims to remember the past and strengthen the future for the Māori culture and people, while enriching the present knitting community.

To her, knitting is not just a hobby. She uses her knitwear to intentionally tell a story and as a medium to carry out her life’s purpose. And she does this so well!

The hand knit Whiria Cowl is laid out next to a ball of handspun yarn. A red knitting counter with pegs marking the numbers 5 and 30 sits on top of the knitting.
The Whiria Cowl features lots of cables. My vintage “Peg-It” row counter kept me on track and I only had to rip back a mistake once!

So, when I decided to handspin yarn to create the Whiria Cowl, I knew that I needed to dig deeper into the story behind this project. I invited Francoise to chat with me about her background and what this cowl means to her. Let’s hear from Francoise!

You can also watch the full interview on YouTube here.


What is the story behind the Whiria Cowl?

The Whiria Cowl is inspired by a song called “Whiria Te Tāngata,” written by Iraia and Hone Bailey for my wānanga group in Tokyo. Translated into English, it loosely means “Weave the people together.”

Like many Māori proverbs and songs, such lines are packed full of meaning and contain many interpretations. For me, the message of bringing people together, being strong together, and treating people with love, compassion, and kindness was very inspirational.

So, I was inspired to create a design around this song. I worked closely with my mentor, Hone, to develop the design and ensure that it best represented his vision.

Tell us more about the stitches in the Whiria Cowl

The Whiria Cowl draws special influence from one of the lines, “Ko te aka kūmara, he tāngata” (Like the kumara vine, so are the people).

This is represented in the stitch pattern as a combination of simple cables and textured stitches. The cables represent people coming together and intertwining like a vine. The textured stitch with staggered diagonal lines represents the kumara motif, which is the sweet potato vine.

The sweet potato motif is a very important and well-known motif in Māori art. It represents abundance, good fortune, prosperity. It is used to acknowledge and uplift someone who is very humble, giving, loving, and generous towards other people.

Tell us more about the yarn you used for the Whiria Cowl

I collaborated with Cassidy at Dyehard Yarns for this project. She created an exclusive color for this pattern. It is called Truest Lavender, and I think it is just the perfect purple! So, a huge shoutout to her.

How can the community support and appreciate your projects without crossing a boundary into appropriation?

First and foremost, it is important to be informed, make connections, and have conversations with the community. As I made more connections in my community, I found that I had more people to turn to and my work became a lot more meaningful and informed. Now, if I am ever unsure about something I usually turn to one of my mentors to get their perspective. Simply having these conversations is so important!

Also, some customs are exclusive to Māori culture that I do not include in my work. For example, I do not incorporate references to Māori tattoos. The tattoos are a very exclusive aspect of the Māori culture that is tied to our ancestry and lineage.

When it comes to weaving motifs and other more abstract forms of Māori art, such as the Whiria Cowl, I feel more comfortable incorporating these into my work and sharing them with other people.

I think another thing to keep in mind is where the art comes from. For example, if you purchase from a Māori maker like me, that seems much more like appreciation than if you were to purchase similar items from a non-Māori maker.

Tell us about your yarn at Aroha Knits!

I launched my yarn line earlier this year. Recently, I learned how to dye yarn and I decided I wanted to start selling naturally dyed, non-superwashed merino wool from New Zealand.

This yarn serves as another connection to my heritage and mother earth. The yarn line is also another way for me to bring a bit of New Zealand to the United States. I wanted to create a way for both Māori and non-Māori people with connections to New Zealand to have a little bit of home with them in the States, and for other people to get to experience the beauty of New Zealand wools and fibers.


How I prepared my handspun yarn for the Whiria Cowl

Talking with Francoise was an absolute treat! I learned so much from her and it gave so much more meaning to my handspun yarn for the Whiria Cowl project. So, let’s get into how I prepared my yarn for this project!

I used the Fairytale Blend Fiber from Paradise Fibers. It is a colorful merino wool and stellina nylon fiber blend.

Since I wanted the beautiful stitches in the Whiria Cowl to be the focus, I decided to card the fiber with my drum carder and blend the colors into this beautiful purple color, similar to the original color of Francoise’s cowl.

A wool batt and a strip of combed top are held above a drum carder. The batt is a blended lavender color and the combed top has stripes of pink, peach, blue, and grey wool.
The combed top blended on a drum carder to create a lavender colored wool for spinning.

I wanted this handspun yarn to give great stitch definition in the final fabric, so I spun it with a short, forward drafting style. I also smoothed down the yarn a bit as I spun so the yarn is a bit less fuzzy than it would be if I was spinning it woolen.

I spun up a few samples to make sure I had the best handspun yarn for this project. I ended up using a higher twist yarn to help with stitch definition. I originally thought it might be too high of a twist, but it ended up being just right!

Three samples of handspun yarn showing different amounts of twist are laid out on a wooden table.
Three samples of handspun yarn show different levels of twist for knitting the Whiria Cowl.

Key Takeaways

This was one of the most complex knitting projects I’ve ever done, and at first, I was a little bit intimidated. But once I got into it, it was a very natural and intuitive pattern. It was one of those really great patterns that challenges you but leaves you feeling satisfied rather than frustrated.

The fiber, the handspun yarn, and the complete Whiria Cowl!

I love how this project turned out. Francoise is so talented!

If you want to see Francoise’s work, buy a pattern, or get some of her amazing yarn, you can find all that and more on her website at arohaknits.com or on Instagram.

If you enjoyed learning about this project and want to see more, you can buy me a coffee (or a floof of fiber!) to help support my next textile adventure.

If you are interested in private virtual spinning lessons, you can send me an e-mail at evie@jillianeve.com. If you want to read about more of my spinning projects, see how I handspun yarn to knit a tank top.

Happy spinning!

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