Saturday, February 28, 2009

Take A Cup Of Tea

“Tea tempers the spirit and harmonizes the mind; dispels lassitude and relieves fatigue, awakens thought and prevents drowsiness.”
- Lu Yu “the Sage of Tea”
Wise man, that old Lu Yu – even 1400 years later. (Note he used my “harmonize” word!) I’m sitting here drinking jasmine tea and feeling somewhat better about my Estonian Lace scarf. I need a new name for it. Something less general and more evocative. How about the Bead-Dazzled Diamonds Scarf? Anyway I’ve finished 4 repeats so I know it’s working out ok. I’m definitely going to have to knit more than the 16 repeats because so far it only measures about 6.5”. Even with the borders that’s not nearly long enough to wrap. The beads are looking fine but adding considerable weight to the very light yarn. Hope it’s not too much but I’m not really going to be able to assess how it will behave until I’m finished. It would be nice not to have a scarf that curls up into a tube obscuring all the knitting. Just saying.

We went on our usual weekly walk yesterday afternoon and I got several magazines that are just out. I wasn’t actually going to buy the second issue of Debbie Bliss but got seduced by a funky little cropped cardi with lace and bobbles on p. 20. I don’t much like the cotton yarn and chances are I won’t go for the pea-green colour either (though I like it) but Me Want-ums. So what did I find after checking Ravelry? The darn pattern is available for free download here! Not to mention that it is yet again one of Debbie Bliss’s recycled patterns and originally was published in 2006. Sheesh! I could have saved $9! I doubt I would have noticed it any other way though and of course the magazine isn’t going to tell you about the free download, are they now? This issue also has my favourite little bunny pattern that I’ve knit several times with handspun yarns. It’s originally from her Toy Knits book which, BTW, I own and love. There are a few other patterns in this magazine that are quite attractive too but why do I feel so ripped off when they are discovered to be previously published? Makes me think they’re kind of stale. Even if I like and don’t already have them in my possession.

Debbie Bliss patterns avoid charts like the plague. There isn’t one in this issue so if I end up knitting the lace and bobble cardi I’ll have to spend the time to chart out the pattern stitches first. I refuse to knit from a bunch of words if a simple chart will do. Oh, and don’t get me started on some of the photo styling in this issue! It’s lucky they include simple straight-ahead photos with the pattern instructions or I would be totally clueless on what the darn things actually look like. I Do Not Care where or with what the model is posing, I just want to actually see the shape and fit of the garment. Is that too much to ask? She could be a headless mannequin photographed against a blank wall. Just show me the damn sweater, please. Front and back if possible.

I also picked up the Spring 2009 issue of Interweave Knits which has consistently been my favourite knitting mag over the years. This one doesn’t have a lot that I would knit for myself but still some cute items. Some nice fine yarn and small needle stuff and lots of silk blend yarns. And at least when IK reprints patterns they are upfront about it, i.e. the lacey top from “French Girl Knits”. I haven’t had time to read it yet but the technical article from Kristen Omdahl on Shaping Lace with Short-Rows looks to be worth the price of admission. I bet you can’t guess that I love the lace shawls in here especially the Fountain Pen Shawl. Nupps! However, doesn’t the cover sweater look like it’s missing a button? Or several perhaps.

I’m feeling the urge to start a sweater Right Now but I’m controlling myself until after I complete the two exhibit pieces. Wish me luck.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Stupid Stupid Stupid

Yes, I’m talking about myself!!! How could I have spent close to a month spinning, plying, washing, mordanting and dyeing something and be so absolutely flat-out WRONG about it? It’s NOT silk and wool but silk and COTTON! DUH!!! Sorry, I am definitely shouting. And thumping my forehead on the wall…

So how did I suddenly discover this minor little fact that I managed to miss before? To be honest, I kind of thought the “wool” was rather short and clumpy while I was spinning. But it was soft! And some merino feels like cotton to me anyway. No, I didn’t do a burn test. I believed the label that I had put on the bag lo those many years ago. I ignored all evidence to the contrary and carried on thinking I had wool in there. But unfortunately after I started to rinse the pretty dyed yarn late yesterday a whole lot of colour came out. I rinsed and rinsed and got sick of rinsing. Now it’s quite pale and it never did rinse clear. Why is that a clue to the cotton you ask? Because I didn’t scour the yarn as for cotton (which is too hard on the silk anyway because of the high pH soda ash) nor did I mordant for cotton (tannin/alum/alum) so the brazilwood didn’t stick well to the cotton, only to the silk. You can also tell because the cotton ties I used on the skeins are very pale indeed. On top of that when it dried it lost several more values so the final colour is much MUCH lighter than I wanted:

Silk-cotton Handspun

Boo-hoo! I kept it orangey by using a little citric acid in the second-to-last rinse (otherwise it was heading for pale raspberry pink) and now it’s almost exactly the same colour as my Swallowtail shawl which was definitely not my aim. Plus now it looks like string, not fluffy. I restored the sheen somewhat when it was dry by slapping the skeins on the counter. That string-like look is the big disappointment for me since I was hoping for a bit of fluff to go with the silk sheen. However I don’t have time to begin again so I soldiered on:

Estonian Lace Scarf_beg

This is the centre of the scarf (finally decided on Estonian Lace by Nancy Bush, IK Fall 2001) and it is definitely narrow enough to use as a swatch. So I just began with the recommended crocheted provisional cast-on and my 2.75mm Addi Lace needles. I might have tried a 3mm but they are in use! It looks ok and a larger needle size might increase the “thready” look too much. I like the beads that I chose to be the nupp-substitutes: lilac transparent with a gold surface wash in size 6. The beads don’t show up quite as well as nupps do but they are faster and give some weight to this fabric. I think once the edging is knitted on the scarf will be around 8” or so wide at the points. Maybe. It might also have to go longer than the 15 more repeats specified. We’ll find out for sure eventually.

On a happier note, go check out the Think Outside The SOX contest entries here. 292 pairs! My favourites are the fish socks #73. But there are a lot of very gorgeous and/or wild ideas in that gallery. I never underestimate the ingenuity of knitters!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Snow White And Rose Red

Well, maybe not “rose” but “brasa”, which means glowing embers. Too bad it’s just a poetic red dye colour. I could use those embers to stay warm! I’ve been slapped upside the head for thinking that spring was on the way but there was a skiff of snow on the ground this morning. Unfortunately not enough to use for snow-dyeing which is what I was hoping. Other parts of the Lower Mainland got more than we did because a number schools are having a snow day. Wusses. It’s not like it’s a foot deep or anything. Just a bit slippery. And it’s even brightening up.

I’ve been somewhat quiet the last few days because I was determined to finish spinning my silk/wool yarn. I ended up with about 45g and 740 yards of 2-ply. That’s pretty fine stuff! Right after I wound the last skein, I rushed down to the dye studio and washed them and popped them into a mordant pot (8% alum, 7% cream of tartar). Then I brought it slowly up to a simmer and kept it there for an hour. I also weighed out 100% (45g) of brazilwood sawdust and poured boiling water over it. After the mordant pot cooled a bit, I wrapped it in a towel and left both it and the brazilwood overnight. Now that I’ve read up a bit more, I probably could have left the wood steeping for several days. But I didn’t know that. Besides I’m impatient to get this project on the needles.

This morning I rinsed the mordanted yarn. I ran the brazilwood through a coffee filter into the dyepot and covered the “mud” again with water and brought it up to a simmer for an hour. I was interested to see what colour that first soaking would give so I put the yarn into it:

Orange! It wasn’t even heated yet and I didn’t care if it was somewhat unevenly dyed. Gives more spark to the yarn. After removing the skeins temporarily the second extraction was filtered into the dyepot. I replaced the yarn and started heating the pot while the sawdust was going through a third extraction. I removed the yarn again while filtering the dye a third time:

Dark orange! Note that each time I used a new coffee filter because they don’t survive more than one use. (Ask me how I know this!) This time when I re-entered the yarn and simmered for an hour I got an even deeper colour:

Warm red! Currently I’m leaving the yarn in the dyepot to cool as long as I can stand it. It’s already deeper than the previous photo. The brazilwood (probably Caesalpinia echinata) is some that I’ve had for so long the business I bought it from has been gone for years - though Maiwa carries it here. Mine is very finely ground:

I have no idea if it was sustainably harvested or not but since I already have it in my possession it would be stupid not to use it. The ecological concern is that C. echinata, also called pernambuco, is highly desirable for violin bows (not so much for dye anymore) and is rare and endangered in the country to which it gave its name. Maiwa says theirs is from waste wood and therefore ecologically ok. Interestingly, brazilwood dye is very susceptible to pH differences. To keep the warmer orange-based red I’m going to have to use a neutral soap when I wash the scarf. In a higher (alkaline) pH the colour becomes cooler and more purplish which might be fun to play with in future experiments. It’s also fairly washfast but not terribly fast to light. Doesn’t matter in this project because a lace scarf won’t likely be worn much in bright sunshine. And it could always be re-dyed if truly necessary.

If you’ve been paying attention, I was planning originally to use red sandalwood (perhaps Pterocarpus santalinus which is also endangered or another similar wood which is a byproduct and not endangered). And yes, I have a pound of it from the same company where I got the brazilwood. And no, that’s not why they went out of business! However, the red sandalwood is one of the insoluble redwoods and needs alcohol to help release the colour. It’s also not quite as bright as brazilwood so I chose to go the easier route to the colour I was after. I can’t control myself much longer. I need to go do a final rinse and hang the skeins up (indoors of course) to dry.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Let The Gardening Begin

I got my little mache (corn salad) greens tucked in the garden on Saturday. (Thanks, Suzanne.) First planting of the season! Since it was raining much of the day yesterday, I decided to garden inside instead. I’ve got my little indoor flats planted with some of the early stuff including woad, parsley (both curly and Italian), rapini, lettuce, mixed salad greens and some flowers such as lobelia, purple alyssum and mixed coleus. Then I went out to the greenhouse and planted some more mixed salad greens (lettuce, arugula and mizuna). Of course I got carried away with what I was doing and missed going to my Ravelry meetup! Sigh. I am happy that my early seeds are finally planted though. Much more to come.

The weekend was quite productive in more ways than just the planting. T-Man (more expert than I on these things) decided that the threadlocker was not the right stuff to fix the spinning wheel. He used some strong wood glue instead and we’ll see how that holds up. Here’s the badly-behaved screw:

It holds the footman’s bearing on the wheel. The footman has a cup that fits over it and is removable so the wheel will fold. Here is the bearing with the footman attached:

You can see how I might have missed the screw’s loosening because it’s completely covered with the cup. Hopefully I won’t have any more problems now! I would like to get the silk/wool lace yarn finished so I can dye it and get on with the knitting. Meanwhile it’s hard to avoid the siren call of my new-to-me drum carder, Debs:

Here she is modeling her “production” drum, which is supposed to handle coarser fibres. I figured I would start with that and then try the “fur” drum, which is standard with the Deb’s Deluxe and has shorter more delicate teeth. Both of these are considerably finer and with many more teeth per square inch than my old carder, Porcupine. She was perfect for the strong fibres like Romney that I learned to spin on back in the mid-70’s. But not for today’s finer wools and blends including silk, angora, soy silk, alpaca, cashmere etc. I can see using Porcupine to pre-card some fleeces before final carding on Debs. However I have to stay on track! Spin silk/wool laceweight. Must. Finish. First.

In other project news, I got stalled on the gloves because I made the ring fingers too long and will have to pick out the tips and rip back a round or two. Sigh. And I am determined to finish at least the spinning for the lace scarf before I start knitting on Papyrine, the paper yarn shawl. Too many projects; so little time. Right this minute I need to finish the 4 loads of laundry I started this morning. Housework is a constant no matter what else is going on.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Happy Dance!

I finally got my second-hand drum carder! Yippee! The frustrating part is that I’ve got too many things on my plate right now to use it. Backing up and recapping the tale, way back in what-was-it? November? I saw a for-sale ad on my Canspin Yahoogroup and jumped at it. It was a Patrick Green Deb’s Delicate Deluxe carder with both fur and production drum, doffer stick and two fettling brushes (fine and regular) for a mere $650. She paid just under $1200 (including taxes and shipping) in 2003 so I think it was a great deal. I’m looking forward to putting her, named “Deb” by the original owner, through her paces. Carder-in-action photos to come. And I think I’ll rename her slightly. She’s now officially “Debs”.

But the carder is going to have to wait. I’ve got the two other projects with deadlines. I got…erm, bored with spinning “froghair” and foolishly started plying instead. I say foolishly, because now I don’t think I have quite enough yardage to be on the safe side for my scarf/shawl. (Though I’m not sure what size it will be yet!) Judging by patterns for similar lace items, I’m just about on the money but that leaves me no fudge-factor if I need more because once it’s dyed I won’t be able to match it no-way no-how. So I’ve got to do some more spinning. Sigh. It’s my own fault for being impatient. The results are sure purty though:

That’s about an ounce/480+ yards worth. Silk and wool. Shiny and very soft. Yum. The weather was so nice yesterday that I sat outside on the upper deck and spun some more of this froghair. It was so warm I ended up removing a couple of layers of clothing and putting on a hat! I’ve still got quite a bit more to spin before I will be satisfied that I have enough. Better to have way too much than run out before the end, hmmm?

When plying I had some trouble with Tori, my Louet Victoria. Has this happened to anyone else or is my Tori just a lemon? Besides her warped wheel which causes her to sway but not too badly, the woodscrew that holds the footman’s bearing on the wheel came unscrewed. You can’t really see it happening but suddenly the wheel started wobbling and making a funny sound. I had to hunt down a Phillips screwdriver to fix it but it started coming undone again before I’d finished. Luckily I kept the screwdriver handy. This is not the first time this has happened either so I think I need something like Loctite Threadlocker to keep the darn thing from reversing out constantly. It doesn’t happen when I’m spinning clockwise because that is the same direction as the screw tightens. (Righty-tighty!) But when turning anticlockwise it unscrews. (Lefty-loosey!) Grrr…Not such a recomendation for Victoria wheels. But since mine is one of the first ones made, I’d like to hope there’s been improvements made.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Computers Ate My Day

I had many things to do Tuesday but in the end only one of them got finished: backing up all 3 family computers. Boring, right? I don’t know why it is, but before I can back up I start tidying up stray files. Yes, it’s tedious but I find it kind of fun! Really. Creating folders and organizing and deleting duplicates and other junk. And then the important stuff from little Bluet (my baby laptop) and T-Man’s PC (aka Media Centre or The TV-Substitute) gets transferred by flash drive to my Big Computer upstairs. That one has the backup external hard drive, the printer, the wireless router and the cable modem attached so it had become the repository for everything that we don’t want to lose. Believe me, I’ve had disasters in the past so I’m very happy to have several copies of everything I think might be important spread all over the place. You just never know.

Since the Big Computer has my iTunes on it, I spent some time copying podcasts on to the SD card for my Palm in preparation for some serious spinning and knitting time. Up to now I didn’t have an iPod so I used my Palm with earphones and it works just fine. I say “up to now” because yesterday T got an iTouch (free with a gajillion Visa points!) so now I can have his old iPod. But it can’t do all the other things my Palm can do. (The iTouch can though!) So I’m not sure how much I’ll actually use it. Maybe when I want to listen to music instead of podcasts?

I’ve never installed iTunes on Bluet because her speakers are totally crap, even with earphones. Sounds like someone is speaking from the bottom of a well. This is the only complaint I have about my little Acer Aspire One. Otherwise she’s been wonderful and I use her much more often than the Big Computer these days. Sitting in bed reading her screen is nearly as comfortable as holding a book. You can’t do that with a desktop! Or even with one of the larger notebooks. Even typing on the 3/4-size keyboard is not at all awkward once you get used to the slightly different layout. I’ve even learned to use my USB mouse on my chest, the bedcovers, a handy magazine or wherever I can find a spot! (Have I mentioned how much I hate touchpads?) However I tend to forget how much more visual real estate there is on a 19” monitor as compared with Bluet’s 7.75” X 4.5” screen! Guess you just can’t have everything, hey? At least not yet. I’m still holding out hope though. I would like to have everything. Wouldn’t you?

So the weather remains lovely and sunny so I really should get some planting done. T has been busy putting together the gutters for the garage on the lower deck. They’re nearly 20’ long so that’s the only workspace big enough to accommodate the assembly process. But I need him to clean some of the planting flats for me. Yeah I know, but I’m sensitive to bleach so I stay far away from it. Because I reuse them until they disintegrate, without sterilizing the flats at least somewhat they can transfer diseases to my tiny little vulnerable seedlings. Even then I’ve had problems occasionally likely because the starter mix isn’t as sterile as it should be. It’s a lot of work to start my own seedlings but I get much more variety than is available in the nursery. And even with the price of seeds and soil it’s a whole lot cheaper. Besides it’s kinda fun. My kids call it Mom’s Grow-Op! And then ask me for tomato plants and parsley for their own gardens.

BTW my garlic is growing fast now and is nearly an inch tall in just a few days! All of the cloves I planted survived the hard winter just fine. I can hardly wait for this year’s scapes! The walking onions are growing also and will soon be usable for green onions. We saw some in tiny packages in the garden shop for like $6 for about 4 bulbs! And, silly me, I throw them in the compost when I have too many. I could be making the big bucks here! Sheesh. Anybody want some? My parsley which was totally flattened and squelchy from the snow is coming back up. There’s only 4 skinny leeks left in the garden now and we had some in the soup I made for dinner last night. It always makes me smile to eat stuff I’ve grown myself. I call it the 50-Foot Diet.

So back to the spinning today. I’m hoping to get enough to start plying soon. Spinning extremely fine white fibre is getting old fast. I want some colour and texture! I can’t wait to dye it. I’m going to use natural dyes but haven’t quite decided which ones yet. I’m heading for a red or red-orange anyway. I have some sandalwood in the stash that I haven’t ever tried. Could be fun to see what colour I get. I have a weavers guild meeting this evening plus the long-hoped-for delivery of my new-to-me drum carder! Yay! I’m so looking forward to finally getting to see it even if I don’t have time right this minute to start a new project. Sigh. Maybe computers ate more than just one day?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Whorled Piece

It seems that after I got the Hanji Paper Project, aka “Papyrine”, set in my head and the pattern straightened out, I have no burning desire to start it right away. I’m moving back to spinning in earnest for the wool/silk scarf or shawl, which would have a name too except that I’m not sure what I’m going to be knitting yet. Something Estonian lace-ish though. I really need to get the yarn done so I can start knitting. The deadline is only a little more than a month away – though I have been given a bit of leeway. (Don’t tell anyone else. It’s because I’m special. Heh!)

Tori (my Louet Victoria wheel) has been behaving herself very well on the highest ratio with the lace flyer. This bad winter may have settled down her warped wheel. Hope it stays that way! The fibre (silk and wool of unknown amounts and provenance) looks very nice and smooth but has a few short dense wool bits in it occasionally. They don’t draft easily so I’ve been either removing them, if very small, or stopping and teasing them out before spinning. The silk tends to separate from the wool so I’m spinning some patches that are more one or the other rather than an even blend of both. It looks alright on the bobbin but we’ll see what happens when I ply it. So far I’ve spent about 7 or 8 hours and haven’t even filled one dinky little lace bobbin. It’s that fine! I’m about ready to start on a second bobbin anyway because I have a tendency to spin far too much for lace. (Witness the fact that I’ve already made two shawls with my moorit Shetland and still have some left!) I have absolutely no idea how many yards are on the bobbin so far. It’s too fine to bother measuring at this stage. After I ply it, I’ll count as I wind it into a skein and then decide if I have enough or not. Highly scientific, aren’t I? Not. It’s lovely to be spinning again. I missed it more than I thought.

We had the usual busy weekend because it’s been consistently sunny and, although frosty in the mornings, relatively warm in the afternoons. On Friday after T got home from work we did our usual urban hike to the magazine shop and got a few groceries on the way home. Saturday we worked in the garden pruning and cleaning up some more. Every little bit helps though we aren’t nearly done yet! It’s a pleasure to get up close and personal with the plants and see the new shoots just starting to peek out. Then we went to a Valentine’s Day open house at a new neighbours’ home down the block. They are a very nice younger couple with two smart and active boys, 6 and 4. It was fun to meet a few old neighbours we hadn’t ever run into after all these years in the same place. Amazing how that happens! Unless you have an opportunity like a block party or garage sale or the commonality of kids or dogs, you never connect. Now we know more folks than we did before. Thanks to our brand new neighbours.

Yesterday we went to the garden shop and got most of the seeds I’ll need for the garden this year. Old favourites and a few new things just to try them. You never know what will grow well or not in a given year. It’s always a crapshoot. Witness my poor busted up purple sprouting broccoli. Last year at this time I was harvesting the first side shoots from large plants and this year I’m pulling the tiny squelchy things out and composting the sad remains. I’m going to try a couple of heirloom tomatoes in the greenhouse with the Juliet cherry tomatoes. Since the heirlooms are less disease-resistant it will be interesting to see how well they do. A lot depends on the kind of summer we get this year. I also got a few pretty primulas to brighten up my deck pots. They are now back out on the deck and the winter pansies that survived are starting to perk up and bloom again. Why is it that only the yellow ones have a scent? They smell like apricots or freesias. Yum.

We also went to the home supply place where T got new gutters for the garage and all the little extras to put them up. Then the revamping of our old garage will be complete. Finally. At least it will be once I clean all the mud off our lovely fresh white paint where it splashed up because the gutters weren’t working properly. Homeownership is full of little things you might not consider!

And to bring it back to something crafty, I got a package of 6 interlocking foam mats (including borders) that will work perfectly for pinning out scarves and shawls for blocking. They are dark charcoal coloured and, though one side is nonskid textured, the other is flat. Pins go in easily too. 24 square feet for around $22. I think it was a pretty good deal. Now I can get rid of the motley conglomeration of foam insulation board that I’ve been using.

Before I go back to my spinning, I leave you with the most obvious promise of spring in my garden:

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Paper Work

I spent the better part of yesterday knitting swatches with my hanji paper yarn. Grrrr… It took several aborted attempts (yes, I was calling them “abortions”) to get the proposed pattern correct. Here’s the final swatch, all blocked and dry:

Kinda weird, eh? It’s an embryo. And here’s the aborted attempts:

I now have new and renewed respect for pattern designers for sure! It’s not easy to get what’s in your mind’s eye to come out in the knitting. Especially when this is to be an “art” piece so it has to have a little something special going for it. Not to mention the fact that it’s being knit with a skinny strip of paper! Ever tried to execute a Make 1 (I tried 3 different kinds), SSP (slip, slip, purl) or a sk2po (slip, k2tog, psso) with something that not only has absolutely no stretch but that will break if you force it just a little bit too far? It’s exciting, I tell you. Takes a lot more concentration than normal. You can’t even jerk the yarn off the cone but must gently unwind more as you go. Delicate, mindful, zen knitting. Zzzzz...

I must have been worth it, because I think I now have the beginnings of what I need to get started on the real piece. It’s going to be a stole, roughly a very long oval shape but with funky ends (one innie and one outie). The edges will be scalloped with lace leaves and there will be further leaves dangling from the ends. Maybe. The centre will be a random bark effect using garter, st st, reverse st st and moss stitches. I still need a name for my creation and I don’t seem to be having much inspiration in that direction. How about “Papyrine”? Or is that too obvious? Sounds pretty.

Meanwhile, I’ve been knitting on Milady’s Gloves for relief from the paper stuff. The Regia Kaffe Fassett yarn is surprising me with how the colours are knitting up. There is less blue and red and more olive and brown and it’s more muted than I first supposed. I got all the way up to the top of the thumb gusset before I even caught sight of the beginning of the repeat. It’s really a very unexpected and original colourway which I suppose one must expect from Colour-Master Kaffe. I love it but I’m not sure about Milady Daughter. She says she likes them but hasn’t actually seen them in person yet. Hope she does because these are too large for me. Though if I’m lucky I might be able to get some fingerless mitts out of the remains.

Never a dull moment around here, eh? Knit knit spin spin type type. That’s my excuse for not doing housework anyhow.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Well Duh!

We took Nana out for dinner (Thai!) for her 81st birthday last evening but I completely forgot to bring her socks to give her. She did say she had the warmest hands ever with her new gloves though so that was good. Guess I’ll have to get the Sea Monkey Socks to her later. I tend to be off on my gift-timing at the best of times!

I’m not sure I really wanted this information but I found out what my sweet doc’s family emergency was. His son, only 19 years old, died in his sleep while attending university in Ontario. They aren’t exactly sure what happened but think it was caused by a virus. I feel so sorry for my doc and his family (he and his wife have 2 other children). What a horrible thing to lose a child, especially one so young and vibrant and bright with a big future that now will never be realised. I’m tearing up just typing this. Sometimes life (or death) just isn’t fair.

So what can we talk about on a happier note? I know – books! I ordered a couple of new ones and got them last week. One I took back to the store right away. I was disappointed in it not being of the same caliber as the author’s first 3 books. Or maybe just not as interesting to me. The older I get, the less I like “cutesy” stuff. Guess I just like a bit more “edge” to things. Too fluffy/sparkly/fairy makes my teeth hurt! Must be the more cynical part of me that’s been developing lately. Oh wait – that’s sliding back into the dark again, isn’t it? I was looking for happiness.

Well, one book I got that I was very happy with is “The Essential Guide to Color Knitting Techniques” by Margaret Radcliffe (Storey Publishing, 2008). She’s also the author of “The Knitting Answer Book” (one that I don’t own). I actually met Maggie once years ago when she and Lily Chin were teachers on a knitting cruise to Alaska. They and their fellow cruisers stopped by Birkeland Bros wool for a shearing, carding and spinning demo. I was the spinning part. Lovely ladies! Anyhoo, Maggie has outdone herself with this big colourful hardcover book. I’ve been knitting forever and I’ve already learned several new things.

You know how much I like “technique” rather than “pattern” books, right? This one is an absolute doozie! I can’t begin to tell you even half of what’s in here but I’ll go through the chapter titles and give you snippets. You’ll just have to trust me that there is ten times more than that, all illustrated with colour photos. After this grey and white winter, all the colour is so very welcome!

1. Color Basics: the language of colour as it relates to knitting and planning your own combinations.

2. Stripes: planning and executing various stripes both flat and in the round, plus diagonally and with pattern stitches. Pattern: Reversible Scarves.

3. Pattern Stitches: a large selection of stitches including slipped, extra wraps, chevrons, picots and more all using 2 or more colours. Tricky manipulations are well-illustrated. Pattern: Windowpane Bag.

4. Multicolor Yarns: how to deal with the different types of multicolour dyed yarns including a selection of stitch patterns. Patterns: Hiker Socks; Double-Trouble Bag.

5. Stranded Knitting: contemporary versions including variations. Lots of ways to manipulate knitting with several yarns simultaneously. Pattern: Stranded Hat.

6. Intarsia: how to manage many yarns and the ends they produce. Includes how to do it in the round and shaped intarsia.

7. Other Techniques: helix, shadow, mosaic, twined, entrelac and more. Pattern: Helix Mittens.

8. Finishing Touches: cast ons, bind offs, borders and edgings. Some really cool surface additions and lots of i-cord variations. Patterns: Ruffles Socks; I-Cord Coasters.

9. Design Workshop: considerations, sweater architecture, problem solving. This chapter could have been longer (or an entire book on its own) but the author ran out of space.

Appendix: glossary of basic techniques with illustrations, using charts, sizing, abbreviations, bibliography, acknowledgements and an index. Did she miss anything? Not much, if anything.

You can probably tell by my gushing that I’m pretty taken with this book. Actually it’s the best I’ve seen on this subject, bringing a whole lot of information into one (rather large and heavy) package! It’s the kind of reference book that goes next to Montse Stanley on the shelf to be referred to again and again. I’m still in the process of reading it from cover to cover but I know that I won’t be able to take it all in in one – or even several – goes. My final vote? Extremely Juicy!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

It's All My Fault

That will teach me to mention the S-Word yesterday. You know – that white stuff that falls from the sky? This morning I woke up to what I thought was S-Word but really it was liberally mixed with hail. Little fluffy white balls. That lovely nearly-spring-like photo from yesterday? Today, not so much. Back to winter. Most of it has melted already making me feel not quite so bad for causing it to happen. No more S-Word, right?

Speaking of my big mouth – no, the real one – I’ve been having the runaround lately trying to find out if a white area on my tongue is a bad thing or nothing to worry about. First noticed by my dentist, she took photos and then suggested strongly that I go see my doctor if it didn’t go away. The Holidays happened in the middle so I finally go to the doc (not my fave regular one but a sub since he was unavailable due to a family emergency) and she says the words “leucoplakia” and “could be pre-cancerous”. And then sends me to the specialist, which is where I went today. Dr. Eye-Ear-Nose-Throat is totally old-school, right down to the reflector on his head! Haven’t seen one of those since I was a girl and that was a looooonnnng time ago. (I tried not to laugh.) In about 3 minutes flat he told me that since I don’t smoke (never have), the white spot is not a problem but to keep an eye on it anyway. Slam-bam-thankyoumam. Good to know it’s nothing to worry about but jeepers, I feel a “what was that all about?” head-spinning now. Guess I was a bit more concerned than I thought but I’m still not really satisfied, if you know what I mean. At least it doesn’t hurt or anything. Just looks a little weird when I stick out my tongue. No, I’m not going to show you. Pfffftttthhh!

Meanwhile the hanji paper yarn came all the way from Korea and I knitted up a swatch:

If you remember, this is for the paper stole I’m making to submit for a Hanji Exhibit for which both my local weavers and fibre arts guilds are working with Korean paper artists. Deadline for entry is June 1st so I have time to play still. Since the yarn I received is not the original yarn that I used in my first swatch, I’ve had to rethink the project a bit. The stuff I ended up with is much finer and less like paper raffia. For this second swatch (which is not the actual design but just something I made up) I used 3 different sizes of Addi Lace cable needles: 3.25, 3 & 2.75mm. And then yesterday I dyed it:

I used Procion MX and first soaked the swatch in salt (2ml) and soda ash (.5ml) solution (1/2 cup of warm water) for 15 minutes, squeezed it out and laid it carefully on plastic wrap. The dyes (Maiwa’s proprietary mixes Rust and Moss and some of my precious ProChem Chino) were mixed without really measuring, maybe .5ml or so (dry measuring spoon) to 15ml warm water. Fairly strong concentrations of around 3-4%. I painted it on with sponge brushes and wrapped the piece in the plastic and put it in the sunny window to batch for a couple of hours. Because I presoaked the paper knitting, the dye didn’t wick very far or mix very much. It dried quite a few shades lighter which made me glad I used a strong solution because I wanted a fairly deep colour but not too dark. The paper held up just fine to all the soaking and rinsing, even in very hot water.

Next I’ve been revising my pattern I need to make yet another swatch, this time closer to the real pattern, before I start on the Real Thing. I love how the knitted paper fabric feels – crispy and light, airy and yet more durable than you’d think. This is turning into quite a fun and interesting project. I need to think up a suitable name for it, don’t I? Hanji, like the Japanese kozo, is made from paper mulberry (Broussonetia papyrifera, syn. Morus papyrifera L.) and my design includes leaves and bark. Kind of beginning as a tree and turning it back into something tree-ish again.

Monday, February 09, 2009

How'd It Get To Be Monday Again?

Just have a few moments before the Beasties arrive after their dentist appointment. Not that they need dental work but just getting them used to sitting in the chair and opening wide and such. Gotta post fast. Or much later!

Sea Monkey Socks
For: Nana

Yarn: SWTC Tofutsies, 50% superwash wool, 25% soy silk, 22.5% cotton, 2.5% chitin (made from shrimp and crab shells!), 464yd = 100g, colour 788, used just over half the ball.
Needles: Clover Takumi 5”, 2 mm.
Pattern: Monkey Socks by Cookie A.
Mods: Used my usual heel flap and wedge toe. Foot was nearly 6-1/2” before toe dec to accommodate pattern. Nana has such teensy feet that that was 1/4” longer than I would have preferred.

Comments: The pattern was very nice and easy to knit. No wonder so many have made them already! I will be making more for sure. The yarn was definitely a PITA. It was sticky on the needles and very splitty plus my ball had no less than 5 knots in it. However the washed and blocked socks feel lovely and silky and the pattern shows up well. I also like the short colour changes particularly in the lace pattern. Apart from a few annoyances I consider these very successful. Hope they fit! Her birthday is tomorrow.

I thought I’d show you how nice the veggie garden looks now that we’ve spent some time cleaning it up. There’s only a trace of snow left on our property and hopefully no more will stick. That’s my madder in the pots on the right, fall rye still growing on the raised beds and note the new fence built by the fellow next door and his dad. Now we can do some new planting along it this year. The back fence needs to be replaced (along with the other side that you can’t see) and hopefully we’ll be able to get that done before the blackberries grow up again. You can see the arching canes that T-Man pruned. Like wrestling very large cats! Some scratches are always inevitable. When the sun is shining it’s quite toasty in the greenhouse and hopefully soon we can take the deck pots out again. The deck looks very bare without them! There’s always more still to do but the work is (mostly) enjoyable to both of us. Especially when the weather cooperates.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Out And About

I’ve been somewhat more quiet the last few days, I know. Blame it on T-Man. He took yesterday off work (using a banked holiday) and since it wasn’t raining we went walkies. First to the credit union where we do our banking to sort out some stuff and then over to the magazine shop as we usually do once a week or so. These destinations were in opposite directions so we got quite a workout. Lunch was a wicked chocolate-coated cream puff eaten while walking. Yeah, I know – totally naughty but so good!

On the way home we stopped at our favourite tea house, Steeps, for a large press of Market Spice tea and a bit of a rest. I do loves me my teas! I’m talking “real” tea, not herbal tisanes or rooibos. Those are good too but not my beverage of choice. My fave teas are those that blend green and black teas together but I don’t drink them as strong as many do nor with anything added such as milk, sugar, honey or lemon. Straight up and weak– but high quality. Steeps has a very fun display with tins of each of their teas in “testers” that you can open and sniff. I indulged in a tiny tin to take home of their Royal Earl Grey tea which is flavoured with the usual bergamot but also jasmine. It’s quite yummy.

Today was sunny so we went out to the garden and started on the job of pruning and removing dead stuff and generally cleaning up after the rather severe winter we had. Gotta get out there while we can! It felt good to get into the dirt but it’s sad to see so much damage. I may have lost my entire chest-high rosemary and the overwintering purple sprouting broccoli are pretty much toast. Some things are starting to recuperate a little though so all is not gloomy. I even found new leaves on my little chrysanthemum that I thought had frozen solid in the pot on the front door. I had taken it out and replanted in the greenhouse for now so I watered it and we’ll see what happens next.

My woad is already putting out many new leaves. That stuff is tough! Too bad I have to pull most of it this year. I only want one or two to flower for new seeds. The rest will go to an experimental dyebath to see if there’s any colour in second year leaves. I have enough seeds left from last year to replant for new first-year plants. I also cleaned up the madder which is just barely starting to break dormancy in it’s big galvanized cans. Maybe this fall I can harvest some roots again. It’ll be two years since last time. I’m already planning what seeds to start inside the house soon.

I’ve finished the Sea Monkey Socks and they’re currently drying on the bathroom counter. I like the final fabric in the Tofutsies yarn but did find it a bit splitty and sticky on the bamboo needles. I was also annoyed by the number of knots in this ball, though I hadn’t heard that it was particularly prone to knots. Must be my recent run of bad luck in that department. The finished socks definitely look like sand, pebbles and waves. I also enjoyed Cookie A.’s Monkey Socks pattern and will be using it again soon. Full FO report soon.

Your new word for today is “cintamani” (pronounced chin'-tuh-mah-nee). Thanks to Elaine Lipson at the Red Thread Studio blog post. It means talismanic pearl, a symbol of bestowing fortune and capable of fulfilling every wish. The design usually consists of 3 balls or pearls with wavy lines (waves or tiger stripes) and was heavily used in Ottoman carpets and fabrics as well as on tiles and other ceramics. See some of these here and here I particularly like the cintamani on this little princess daruma doll from Japan:

From this you can see the Buddhist origins of the design. I hadn’t been aware of it before but now I’ll be looking for examples.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

On The Case

I really thought I was making an extra large pencil case, one that would hold all my PITT pens, scissors, glue stick, pencils (not my pencil crayons – they need a separate case), small ruler, eraser, xacto knife and a paintbrush or two. Perhaps I have Too Much Stuff. I filled up my new case so that hardly another thing will fit!

Art Case

Begun: January 13, 2009
Completed: February 3, 2009

Finished Size: 11" long x 5" high

Fabrics - cotton samples from Spectrum Study Group play times. Black: broadcloth with woodblock rubbings using Shiva paintsticks; Rose: unbleached muslin with clamp resisted iron stains on alizarin dye and some monoprinting with fabric paint; Cream: muslin with rubber stamps and woodblock prints with fabric paint; Green: broadcloth with fern leaf sunprints using fabric paint. Cotton quilt batting. Heavy non-woven fusible interfacing. Steam-a-Seam II fusible.
Threads – cotton/poly sewing thread. Variegated rayon embroidery thread: red/black/gold.
Zipper – 11" heavy-duty, black with bronze coloured metal teeth, closed end.
Velcro – 1-1/4" piece, black.

Pattern: My own. Outside: 12" square of batting and pieced top to size. 11-5/8" after free-motion quilting. Inner pocket: pieced and covered 11-5/8" x 10" piece of the fusible interfacing and wrapped to back, last seam topstitched on the fold. Free-motion quilted the pocket sandwich. Lining: covered 11-5/8" square Rose fabric with Steam-a-Seam and peeled off second paper. Layered Outside (batting side up), Lining (fusible side down) and Pocket (inside up) and stitched together through the middle where the bottom crease of the case would be. Folded so the Outside was right sides together and the Lining enclosed the Pocket with the seamline just stitched holding the two sections together. Stitched each sides of Lining/Pocket and Outside in one long 1/4" seam each side. Folded the Outside up over the Lining/Pocket and poked out corners. Stitched zipper to top opening being careful not to catch Lining. Slip-stitched lining over zipper tape on inside. Pressed with steam to flatten seams and adhere lining to batting. Stitched a small piece of Velcro to hold inside pocket closed.

Comments: I would have stitched the Velcro on earlier in the procedure but didn’t realize I needed it until I’d finished stitching. Luckily it wasn’t hard to apply. The zipper was a bit of a PITA because the pull is so big I had trouble getting around it. I was glad to be able to use some of the sample pieces that I’d made over the last few years using different dyeing and surfaced design techniques. Didn’t think they’d go together so well! I’m quite happy with how this turned out but I think the zipper needs a fancy zipper pull of some sort. Maybe later.

Meanwhile, I’ve been enjoying the fact that T-Man has gone back to a more normal work shift. Though we’ve both had a bit of trouble with our sleep patterns this week. I’m having trouble going to sleep even though it’s pretty much the same time as usual and T is wakeful in the middle of the night so that he’s tired when it’s actually time to get up. I don’t mind as long as he’s quiet and not squiggling around but if he is, I wake up also. Last night our room was filled with skunk smell too so that didn’t help. Yuck. I figure we’ll settle down when we get more used to being back to what passes for normal around here. At least we’re both getting up earlier and getting more accomplished.

I’m halfway down the foot of the Sea Monkey Socks and finding it an easy pattern. I modified it slightly by using my usual heel flap instead of Cookie’s version and plan to do the toe my usual way also. They only differ slightly from the pattern anyway. I think I’ll make another pair soon because I like how easy it is to knit and the results are pleasing.

I’ve spun some more of the silk/wool but haven’t got enough to ply yet. I want lots rather than be worried I’m going to run out. After I dye this stuff there won’t be any chance of matching it again so better to have too much. It’s a bit fiddly to spin as fine as I’m doing and needs some concentration but it’s not difficult. Though I do think that sometimes the silk spins out first and leaves the short wool for later giving a kind of blotchy blend. But so far you can’t really tell in the results. We’ll see if it shows up after dyeing however. It doesn’t really bother me much since I figure unevenness is a sign of handwork rather than machine.

The weather has been alternating sunny and cloudy for the last couple of days. There’s a bit more warmth in the afternoons than there has been and I notice that some people have been using the time to good advantage in the garden. Maybe we’ll do some work outside when T gets home today. Yesterday he dragged me off to rent a movie instead. BTW “The Secret Life of Bees” is really good. I was just about Lily’s age at the same time as the film takes place. Totally different life experiences though! Thank goodness. Don’t think I would have been able to handle her father with such understanding. Even though I’m very sensitive to bee stings (and wasp stings send me to the hospital), I would have been far more afraid of him than the bees. Bees are fascinating. But unfortunately I don’t much like honey.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Those Darn Rodents

Well, I guess we’re in for more winter weather now that both Punxsutawney Phil and Wiarton Willy saw their shadows. Though what a couple of pampered groundhogs back east have to do with the weather out here on the west coast, I have no idea! Looks pretty winterish still out there anyway. David Suzuki (you might have heard of him, local lad) calls it “global weirding” rather than “global warming”. Apparently the phrase was coined by Hunter Lovins (co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute), but whoever came up with it – it works for me. What else do you call it when we’ve had the worst winter snows in my nearly 60-year memory. The weather is screwed up. Whether that’d due to human intervention or just a natural wobble in the earth’s climate patterns, I hope it gives us a wakeup call. Business as usual isn’t working. Obviously.

Speaking of business as usual, I seem to be having trouble concentrating these days. More than my normal flitting about is occurring. While I’m trying to do one thing my mind starts to wander elsewhere and I feel like I’m not accomplishing much of anything. I’m not sure what to do about it, if anything at all. Maybe it’s the weather or maybe it was the odd later shift that T-Man has been on for the last month. He’s back to the early shift today so we’ll see if that changes things for me as well. For starters I got up an hour earlier than I have been recently. It was easier without him snoring gently beside me inspiring me to go back to sleep! At least he’ll be home in the afternoons again. Though today I have a Dr’s appointment right about the time he’s due home.

A symptom of my extra flitting is that I haven’t finished a few projects that are sitting around waiting for me. This includes my pencil case which I need to have by Thursday for my Spectrum Study Group meeting. It seems that sewing projects are the least likely to get completed in a reasonable amount of time. I used to love sewing and I’m happy enough to do it once I get started. But the impetus to do it just gets pushed to the end of the line for some reason. Maybe I need to schedule a regular period to sew in and then see if I extend the time on my own. That’s the trouble when I don’t have a deadline to work to. It’s much easier to put something aside if it’s not got a due date. So now that the pencil case has a deadline, I’ll be much more likely to get it done. I hope.

Which brings me to the spinning I’ve been doing for a lace scarf. I haven’t had a spinning project recently so it’s been quite pleasant to spend a few hours on the wheel each day. Here’s the silk/wool I’ve been working on:

Turning it into this:

There’s more than that on there now! Sorry I didn’t include anything for scale but those are the little lace bobbins for my Victoria wheel. Tori has been behaving herself even though her wheel is warped and she wobbles some. She isn’t throwing her drive band or anything really naughty. It’s very easy to just treadle away on this fine stuff. The lace flyer is working out very well and I’m glad I got it a year ago to add to Tori’s functionality. I still haven’t quite decided if I’m doing Nancy Bush’s Triinu Scarf or designing my own. I’m starting to lean toward designing now. But first I need to finish the yarn so I can dye it and swatch it.

I’ve been listening to podcasts while spinning and I realized how far behind I am on my favourites. Oh well. They aren’t going anywhere now that I’ve downloaded them and it doesn’t really matter if the discussion occurred a year or more ago, does it? Not to me anyway.

My favourite quote for the moment:

“The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne.”
- Geoffrey Chaucer