Saturday, December 25, 2010

I Hate to Gloat

OK, that's a big fat lie. I'm gloating, right this minute, right here, right now. My boys got together and got me the most stinking amazing Christmas gifts ever. No hands down. I'm agog.

This first one (that's right, there's more than one!) is called "Nhewyt's Dragon" and is by Terry Eicheim. It spins like a dream.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

I Am a Self-Confessed, Unrepentant Sockophile

I got the funniest facebook note the other day. I was dithering over attending the upcoming spinning guild meeting, which was on December 11th. Unfortunately, the annual Honeoye Rotary Christmas Bazaar was also that Saturday. And the Christmas Bazaar is a huuuuuge family tradition for us. I fill the car with neighborhood kids with their lists of friends and family to buy for, and we race to Honeoye, hoping to be first in line. And then I send my kid and his friends in with an elf, and they shop for like, 2 hours, while I eat cookies and wait.

They let the adults in after an hour and a half, and I swoop in to see if there's anything left. Slim pickings after all those kids have swarmed through buying new and gently used stuff donated by the local businesses and townspeople, but I usually find something. The kids, meantime, get their gifts wrapped, then we haul out and see Santa and Mrs. Claus, which is a hoot because I was definitely in the fifth grade with Santa, and I am quite sure I twirled batons with Mrs. Claus when I was in the fifth grade. We take pictures, and then we leave, and somehow my collection of kids always has twelve times as many bags of gently used treasures as the other kids. What can I say? Three of the kids had 25 names on their lists - each. Two of them got through their lists, one laid down on the floor halfway through and moaned.

Absolutely the best Santa ever

Yeah, that's my trunk, filled with "treasures"

Oh, now you're wondering what I scored at the Christmas Bazaar, aren't you? Handknit potholders. Much nicer ones than I could ever make. Some lady went absolutely WILD. They had three garbage bags full. I'm hopeful that they save their leftovers for next year. I could use more than the 12 that I bought.

But back to the amusing mailnote.

The reason I was dithering was that it was possible, with a certain amount of Herculean effort, to get back from the Bazaar and go to the guild meeting. Possible, but painful. After I got home, I laid down on the couch, and the phone rang, and I hollered out to my husband, "I CANNOT STAND UP." You're probably thinking I'm a weak woman, but really, you try herding four hepped up kids, each toting $20 at an event that sells most of its stuff for 50 cents each. Herding Cats, that's all I'm saying.

But, for one person, I was willing to get up. Yes, for Georgia, Knitter of Socks. She made me those amazing alpaca bunny socks, and I owe her fiber, but she doesn't come to guild because she has a Saturday commitment. But I wrote to her anyway, and told her that if she was going, then by golly, I would haul out my stuff and go too. Fortunately, she said she was busy with her other commitment, so I got to stay home after all. But she sent one final note, after I offered to bring stuff the next time she knew she was coming, and I thought it was just too funny:

Cool - Let me know when you need some more socks.

Oh Georgia, you funny, funny girl. I've already worn through the bunny alpaca socks, and had to look up darning, which I am actually going to learn how to do, just because I love those socks so much.

I Think I've Found the Book of My Dreams

Surely, a book about making things out of blocks is the answer to this hapless knitter's issues with knitting.

Perhaps there's hope for me after all.

As long as they don't have to be too square.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

When is a Flower Just Too Danged Much?

Last week, I wrapped up my first cowl of the season. After many hours of agonizing knitting, my hands were all cramped up and I found myself walking with a bit of a limp. I can't lift my left arm over my head without letting out a pathetic little whimper. I cry in my sleep.

For my next project, keeping in mind that the best I can do is a lopsided square or a rectangle, I decided to try another cowl. To mix things up, I switched to using the caramel colored alpaca that I've been spinning lately. And I switched from size 13 needles, which, I swear, seemed like knitting with pencils, to size 10 wooden needles. Wooden needles, it turns out, are much nicer than plastic ones, or, worse, metal ones. They're very comfortable. But I borrowed these from my Mom, so throughout my knitting, I had to keep reminding myself not to sit on her needles, as I've done in quite a few of her plastic ones that way, and she seems awfully partial to these wooden ones.

When I borrowed my Mom's knitting needles, she asked what pattern I was following for the cowls, and I had to laugh. "Pattern?", I scoffed. "I don't need no stinking pattern." Sadly, this is absolutely true. My goal when I knit is to consume precisely the quantity of yarn that I have in my hands, no more, no less. And, although I do have a book about knitting that offers up 250 different stitches, I'm still sitting here with the tried and true knitting and purling. And purling, my friends, is being saved for another day. Maybe the next cowl.

As a result of my rather limited repertoire, the cowls are coming out functional, but it's unlikely anyone will fall on the floor blessing my knitting skills. So I decided I needed to punch them up a bit. I found instructions to make felted flowers on the internet. Well, you can make them from store-bought felt, but that just wouldn't do. So I scrounged the thrift stores searching for feltable sweaters. Since I have an aversion to wool, I aimed high, looking for cashmere or angora. I found what I was looking for, and set to work.

Now it's your turn to judge:

I ran out of models

My husband tolerates way more abuse than I care to admit

So, my Mom likes the felted flowers, but she's worried they overpower the cowl. My husband says he likes the flowers. I made the felted flowers removable, with a pin, so that if it turns out my hapless recipients don't like the flowers, they can part with them. But what if they don't like the cowl?

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Genealogy of My Yarn

Oh my goodness, I made that scarf and forgot to bore you with the details of the yarn that went into it. Please forgive me. I feel I have to include these details for two reasons:

First, there is so much fiber floating around in my house that I cannot remember what it is if I don't write it down. I try to make a point of including a card with each bag of fiber that says where I got it and what I did to it, because my memory is so poor that sometimes I'll come back to a pile of fiber and I won't remember if I washed it or not.

And second, I am a genealogist by nature. I am the keeper of the family history for my parents, and have ruthlessly tracked down relatives they never even knew they had. I suppose that what I do next tells you more about me than I should perhaps reveal, but what the heck, we're all friends here, aren't we?

Yes, let me introduce you to the "Dear Stranger, I think you may be my cousin" letter. Over the years, I've created four family books, two for my Dad's side of the family, and two for my Mom's. I troll around on the internet collecting fellow family history enthusiasts, and I scan and catalog pictures as people make them available to me. And as I've explored the family lines, I've discovered that I can, occasionally, dig up a whole new collection of pictures and information if I can find a relative and convince them to share.

Finding relatives with the help of the internet works out pretty well, so once I find a candidate, I put together a copy of the book (each book runs about 200-250 pages), and then I put together a cover letter that pretty much says, "Dear Stranger, I think you may be my cousin, and here's why". This methodology has helped me locate quite a few cousins. I always finish up by offering to pack up my trusty scanner and computer, to spend a day, or a week, or whatever, scanning photos. And then I finish up by updating the family book and sending it, along with the pictures that I've scanned, back to the hapless relative who has let me into their home.

Now, with all that said, here's a picture of the yarn that went into the scarf that is oh-so-patiently waiting for me to make a felted shibori flower in order to finish it off:

Notice how nubby this fiber is? It is a blend of 70% wool with 30% bunny.It's from my Random Act of Kindness friend at guild. I plied it with an off-white alpaca/moreno yarn. I'm wondering if I should take the scarf and run it through the dryer with no heat to see if I can get the bunny part of the yarn to fluff up.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Shield My Eyes - Oh, the Pain! The Pain! OK, the Scarf is Done

Well, fellow knitters, I managed to finish - almost - that scarf that I was making for my sister-in-law. It turned out very scarflike. I hope she'll approve. So, now that the knitting part is done, I want to add an embellishment. A felted flower. I found a way cool set of instructions at:

Here's a picture that I stole from the instructions:

Now I just need to troll through the Salvation Army and United Way stores to see if I can find an off-white angora sweater that can be the basis of my felted flower.

I've piqued your interest, haven't I? You want to know what the scarf looks like. Well, let me just say that when I started it, I tried using a circular needle that I had floating around, and quickly realized that I was in over my head. So my cleaning lady and I set out on a mission to find all the circular needles that were floating around the house.

The fact that I don't knit, or at least that I shouldn't knit, has not stopped me from acquiring knitting needles. I found a batch of circular knitting needles at a garage sale, and then they sort of got misplaced. So we found all the knitting needles, including one that I bought after I sat on one of my Mom's knitting needles. And then I handed them all over to Mom, because I think they're safer that way. I've broken two of her knitting needles (so far) and bent one so badly that it almost looks like a circular needle. But that's between us, ok, don't go telling Mom. She'll figure it out someday when I have to have a needle surgically removed from my butt.

Here's the scarf so far. I haven't blocked it, because, quite frankly, I don't know what blocking means. I hope it's kosher to give it a little stretch. My sister-in-law is a graceful gazelle of a girl, at least a foot taller than me, so I don't want it looking like she's wearing a muff around her neck. Oh, and I have some ends hanging off of it. I figure I'll ask Mom to help me finish it off once I've found my angora sweater soon-to-be  shibori felted flower:

For my next project... hmmm... well, my sister is visiting until Sunday, and I'd like her not to realize that I've become addicted to dyeing fiber, so I hid all the stuff I've worked on over the last two weeks in my bedroom. There are six laundry baskets filled with drying fiber. "The rest of the fiber?", you ask. Ummm... well, all the dry stuff is tucked away in bins in my son's man-cave. She'll never go in there.

There's a big plop of the very last of the bunny fiber in the laundry room sink. I'll wash that out after she goes to bed and then set it to dry in my bedroom. Boy, did it turn out nice - it's a definite forest green.

I think this means that I should start preparing all that alpaca that my friend Edie brought over. I've done Step 1 already (Step 1, as you'll recall, is puttng it in the dryer with no heat and shaking out the dust bunnies, and then vacuuming up all the dirt that lingers in the dryer afterward). Step 2 is picking the junk out of the fiber, my least favorite job. Step 3, wash it. Ack. No, I don't think I want to do that. I think I'll finish carding my caramel alpaca fiber, and then I'll move on to carding up some of the dyed fiber. That sounds infinitely more soothing.

PS - good news, I found a nice article about blocking, so now I know what that is. Mom had me handwash the cowls, wring them out a tad in the washing machine's spin cycle (I put it on delicate, hoping that would help), and then I laid the cowls out on towels to finish drying.

There's No Such Thing As a Bad Shade of Blue... Green, On the Other Hand...

As you may recall, a couple of weeks ago, I was working through the dilemma of what to do with some green 70% alpaca 30% wool fiber that just never sold. It had a lovely texture, in my opinion, but the color wasn't swaying anybody. My posse at guild suggested blending the green fiber with some other colors, but then my Mom concluded that she would like the green. So I spun up a sample, because these days you have to test the waters first, as Mom's eyes are not as good as they used to be. Sadly, she concluded that a single color would be too hard to see, so I set off on an adventure to create something with other colors in it that would work better for Mom.

Now, take a look at the fiber that my spindle is resting upon. I'm thinking I've found my blend fiber. This fiber is wool (and you know I hate working with wool, because it makes me itch). My friend Val gave it to me. It arrived an interesting shade of yellow - yellow like in sunflowers, very deep - with a maroon in it as well. And, well, I'm not a yellow person. I'm a blue person. I could be a green person if I absolutely had to, but only because deep in my heart I know it has blue in it somewhere. Anyway, I'm thinking that the light green, with this amazing green-blue-maroon could really pop. So I think I'll try that on Mom.

But back to the dyeing, which has been going on now for 2 weeks, even on Thanksgiving Day...

In my house, nothing is ever simple. So I got out the dye and decided that I would dye the lovely Canadian E-Bay alpaca a darker green, and then blend that in. Now, I have several different vendors' dyes, so I thought I would try my hand at using the tie dye. Tie dye, or in this case, Priocion Forest Green fiber reactive cold water dye from Earth Guild, can be used with wool, but it was really intended for use with cotton. I followed a recipe and when I put the fiber in, it looked great, but when I pulled it out, I had a nasty celery colored fiber, not forest green. Retreat, in this case, was the better part of valor, so I switched to another dye in my collection, lanaset dye.

Now, if you're familiar with the family motto, "Anything worth doing is worth overdoing", you can imagine where things went next. I started with green, got some nice greens out of that. Then I moved on to blue, purple, burgundy, back to blue, and on to green again. Needless to say, the house is full of fiber. Lots and lots of pretty fiber. And it wasn't enough to dye the 6 pounds of Canadian E-Bay alpaca. Nope, I had to move on to silk, moreno, and bunny. I wanted different fibers to blend in, after all. And there was fake cashmere. And there was Bombyx silk and tussah silk. And then, as long as I was there, I had a big bump of wool, so I started dying that. I finished off by overdying a grey alpaca from Oh, My! Alpacas.

You're probably thinking, "That's a lot of time spent in the garage, Barb." Fortunately, my sweet patookie of a husband (who is convinced we are all going to die of chemical poisoning) allowed that if I were to work in the laundry room, with the door to the rest of the house closed, a window open in the bathroom, and a fan on in the bathroom, then he'd be all right with me dyeing inside. And I can't tell you how convenient that made things. I put stuff into the pot, and then wandered off and worked on other stuff. One dyepot was enough, because I just plugged along with a color until I couldn't stand to look at it any more, and then added in chemicals and a different color and moved on from there.

Now that I've dyed silk, I'm just dying (no pun intended) to do more. Silk absorbs dye and comes out really bright. Look at this blue silk - isn't it amazing?

The rule of the household is, however, that I cannot buy more fiber until I finish processing what I've got. So there are these huge bags upstairs of alpaca fiber that my friend Edie brought me a few weeks ago. I'm betting there's 20 pounds, though I haven't weighed it yet. Get through that, and then I can get some more silk (I've got my eye on R.H. Lindsay's Bamboo Top, for $10/pound). In the meantime, that should give the bunnies of the world plenty of time to molt out some more fiber for me, don't you think? And the silk moths?