Sunday, March 16, 2014

Hankie Heaven Update

My copy of the Spring issue of PLY Magazine  arrived in yesterday’s mail. It’s all about silk. And there are three articles in it that I wrote, about silk hankies. Two of the articles contain spinning and knitting details of a pair of fingerless mitts that I designed. The other article is about technical issues of spinning silk hankies.

And today the sun is shining. It’s still cold here, around 20degF, and there is plenty of snow on the ground, but at least the sun is shining. Good for taking pictures. So, here’s a picture of my mitts. The pattern is included in the article (PLY Magazine, Issue 4, Spring 2014, pp 59-60).

Oh, here’s another picture I took today: the socks I finished during last month’s Dog Sitting Fiber Retreat.

Next week I’m doing another dog sitting fiber retreat. Seven days in a house with Bob (golden retriever) and Ted (Llewellyn setter) on the shores of Green Lake. Cable TV. And several fiber projects. What fun I’ll have!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Resurrection: Middlemarch Reborn

Marty works fast. Last month I handed off that dreaded sock yarn and unfinished pair of socks (My Middlemarch).  And last week, Marty showed me her solution.

She’d unraveled the sock-and-a-half. Then she took the yarn and added more Z-twist to it. Then she spun up a Z-twist singles from some Merino wool that she’d purchased from Stonehedge Fiber Mill. Then she plied the two together. A star is born! Here’s a picture of one of two skeins that she spun.

I am thrilled to see new life come to a project that I rejected. I don’t know what her plans are for this yarn, but I look forward to seeing what magic will happen.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

March and April Workshops in Lake Ann

March and April are typically quiet months for me; I’m not scheduled to travel next until late April. So, this is a good time of year for me to offer spinning and knitting workshops at my house in Lake Ann, Michigan.

The fee for each workshop is a very modest $15. All workshops start at 1:30pm and go to 3:30 or 4:00pm. (I purposely chose this start time so that anyone interested could stop for lunch at the nearby Stone Oven.) A minimum of 2 folks will be needed for each workshop to “go”. The maximum is 6.

If you are interested, please contact me by email, or by phone 231-640-4424. If there is a topic that interests you, but you’d prefer a different date, let me know; there may be some wiggle room.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014
The Surprising Yarn-Over: A “yarn-over” is a fundamental element in knitted lace, but there is more to the yarn-over than lace. The yarn-over is a surprising and versatile element in many forms of knitting. We will explore the use of yarn-overs to make beautiful edges, interesting cords, straight and wavy fabrics. In addition, we’ll cover variations on the yarn-over and how yarn-overs are created in a variety of knit stitch patterns.
Bring 100-200 yards of yarn and knitting needles appropriate for the yarn.

Friday, March 14, 2014
I Heart Duplicate Stitch: Duplicate stitch is one way of adding bits of color to knitting, allowing you to “paint” on your knitting. Other forms of multi-color knitting, such as intarsia and Fair Isle, may seem more “knitterly”, but there are times when duplicate stitch can achieve certain effects in a much easier way. When done well, duplicate stitch can add an expert air to your knitting. We will practice techniques for making duplicate stitch smooth and even. We will play with effects of yarn size and yarn texture and the knit stitches used for the background, so that you will come away with an appreciation of the special advantages of duplicate stitch.
Bring a swatch knitted in stockinette stitch that is at least 30 sts wide and 50 rows long (a solid light color works best), some yarn of the same type as used for the swatch but in a contrasting color, knitting needles appropriate for the yarn, a darning needle.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014
Creating Crepe Yarns: Crepe yarns are 3-ply yarns in which the twist direction and order of plying is manipulated. We will cover a variety of these yarns. We will do some spinning of singles, but mostly we will ply.
Bring 2 bobbins partially filled with Z-spun singles, 2 additional bobbins, your spinning wheel, and a lazy kate.

Friday, March 28, 2014
Q & A: Spinning: Here’s an opportunity for you to determine the content of the workshop. If you have specific topics or questions about spinning, preparing fibers, or finishing yarns, please supply them to me at least 24 hours before the workshop – BY EMAIL, PLEASE. We will cover topics as I receive them. Or, feel free to bring your projects or questions to class and we’ll cover them there.
Bring your spinning wheel, a couple of bobbins, and any projects or tools that you have questions about.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014
Spinning Wheel Maintenance: Do you want to get the most out of your wheel? A bit of maintenance will most certainly help. We will cover how to care for wood, drive bands, oiling/lubricating, and trouble shooting. Your wheel will thank you.
Bring your spinning wheel, oil, rag, and one bobbin.

Friday, April 4, 2014
Creating Cable Yarns: cable yarns are 4-ply (or more) yarns which require plying twice (or more). We will cover a couple different techniques for creating these yarns, and we’ll discuss color issues, twist issues, and fiber content issues.
Bring your spinning wheel, 2 bobbins partially filled with Z-spun singles of different colors, 2 additional bobbins, and a lazy kate.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014
Q & A: Knitting: Here’s an opportunity for you to determine the content of the workshop. If you have specific topics or questions about knitting, your knitting projects, understanding patterns, blocking, or yarns, please supply them to me at least 24 hours before the workshop – BY EMAIL, PLEASE. We will cover topics as I receive them. Or, feel free to bring your projects or questions to class and we’ll cover them there.
Bring some yarn, some knitting needles, and whatever project/pattern you’d like.

Friday, April 11, 2014
Knitting Petoskey Stone Medallions: In this workshop we will knit a medallion inspired by the state stone of Michigan, the Petoskey stone. The medallions are flat circles, knitted from the center out. When a series of these medallions are crocheted together, you can change the circular shape to 4-, 5-, 6-, or more-sided pieces.  We will cover a circular crochet cast-on, how to knit circularly with 2 circular needles, 2-stitch cable patterns, and crocheting medallions together. With this approach, you can make scarves, afghans, hats, pillows, and more.

Bring 100 yards or so of yarn (1 or more colors), 2 circular knitting needles of the same size (but can be of different lengths) appropriate for the yarn, a crochet hook similar in size to the needles, and a darning needle.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Roof Avalanche

Jill returned from Guatemala late last Friday, thus ending my dog sitting fiber retreat. It was a true winter wonderland getaway. I snow shoed at least four times a week. I got my fill of snowy blowy cold cold cold weather. I got some good dog time. I watched loads of movies. And I got a goodly amount of fiber stuff done.

I got most of my movies from either the Traverse City library or the Interlochen library. Interestingly, I ended up picking several American and British movies that focused on the Middle East: Lawrence of Arabia, Hidalgo, Munich, and Syriana. I’d seen them all before, and enjoyed watching them all again. Now I’m thinking I should watch a bunch of movies set in the Middle East that are made by Middle Eastern film makers. Any suggestions?

About a week into my retreat, the weather warmed to above freezing temperatures for just two days. This caused the snow on the metal roof to slide off. There is something charming to me about these roof avalanches…..unless they trap you inside. Which this one did. I was unable to get out of the garage, but I was able to get out the front door and climb over the pile of snow. The snow plow guy got me out a couple days later. Here’s a view of the front of the house before the warm up.

Here’s a view after the roof avalanche.

Did I mention that after only two days above freezing that temperatures plummeted? That they did. And it’s been very cold ever since. (By the way, it’s snowing today.)

As for my list of fiber projects, here’s the final tally:

Knit a pair of socks. Done. I modified the “Gentleman’s Shooting Stockings with Fluted Pattern” from Knitting Vintage Socks by Nancy Bush. I used a skein of “Foot Notes”, a yarn dyed by Kimber Baldwin of Fiber Optic Yarns that I bought at SOAR last October. The yarn is 80% superwash merino and 20% nylon. I picked a colorway of black, brown, and green: “Northwoods Batik”. Kimber mentioned that she devised this colorway for men’s socks. But my sock stash needed a pair of socks in this colorway. Yeah, "needed". 

Finish the Curvy Corner Shawl. I did it! It’s not blocked yet. I will get that done this month. And I will start writing up the pattern. I do love the shape, the drape, and the sheen of this shawl. Light enough for a summer evening, but warm enough for winter wear.

Weave a watch band on my little inkle loom. Mostly done. I need to put a twined edge at the end, then I can cut it off the loom and sew the hardware onto it. Here’s a picture of the band in progress:

Repair a sweater. Well, I did knit up a swatch to practice on. Just as many knitters are hesitant the first time they cut steeks in their knitting, I’m hesitating cutting a hole in the swatch. Soon. Very soon.

Spin some dog hair. This did not get done, mostly because it was logistically more challenging than the other projects. So, I must get to this now that I’m back home.

Stay warm, y’all!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

My Middlemarch

I really like reading. For most of my years, if I started a book I finished it. This strategy did me a great deal of good. One summer when I was a kid, I went to the public library every week and I picked books off the shelf at random. I read each and every one of those books from beginning to end. Some were exciting, some were stupid, some were weird. It was an interesting summer.

I held firm to my beginning-to-end approach until I picked up Middlemarch by George Eliot. This was maybe 20 years ago. This novel is supposed to be a classic. A classic bore, as far as I’m concerned. I tried four times to get past chapter one with no luck. I finally – finally – gave myself permission to not finish the book. An important turning point in my life. Really.

From then on, whenever I feel the need to surrender and accept defeat, I think of Middlemarch. Just as Napoleon had is Waterloo, I had my Middlemarch.

Now for some knitting. I have started many many knitting projects that for whatever reason I decided not to finish. I never really felt defeated by these false starts. It was usually a matter of taste or time. But over a year ago I started a pair of socks from some yarn that I was especially attracted to: black and teal, with very long color changes and nice gradation from one color to the other. The yarn, “ZauberballSock Yarn” by Schoppel Wolle, is 75% wool, 25% nylon. It is a “singles” yarn, not plied. And it is rather thinner than many sock yarns.  

My wardrobe could really use a pair of teal and black socks. I swatched. I preferred the fabric that resulted from the size 0 needles better than from the size 1 needles. I knew my aging eyes would not be happy with the black sections of the sock, so I decided on a relatively simple rib pattern for the sock. I had to wear my strongest reading glasses and work under the very best light. But it was still not easy. The black stitches were hard to see; the singles nature of the yarn made it very easy to split stitches; and dropped stitches seemed to disappear instantly. I dreaded the idea of having to unknit and reknit any section – something I expect and plan to do on nearly any knitting project.

In one of my project notebooks I wrote the following entry: “Jan 8, 2013. I started that sock on Nov 27 and finished it today. What a torment.”

At a workshop I taught later in January 2013, I was describing my less-than-enthusiastic attitude about knitting this sock. I really wanted the finished project, but I dreaded the actual knitting. How could I let a measly pair of socks defeat me??!! After all, I am an accomplished knitter. I’ve knitted dozens and dozens of pairs of socks. I love knitting socks. But I just wasn’t sure I could bring myself to knit the second sock.

Katy R., a young woman at the workshop was listening to me complain. She looked at me with her young eyes and a mildly annoyed look of disgust on her face and she said, “Oh, just do it!”

I was mortified. I decided then that I would not let a pair of socks defeat me. I would not surrender. I would just do it!

With determination, I started the second sock. I knitted the cuff. I knitted the leg. Then other fiber projects required my attention so the second sock languished. I mentioned in January 2014 that one of my fiber resolutions was to finish this sock.

But while I was flying to Alaska and knitting a different pair of socks, I had an epiphany. I simply have too many wonderful and fun fiber projects ahead of me to waste my time on a dreaded fiber project. In flight, I surrendered and accepted defeat: My Middlemarch. I planned to throw away the finished sock, the half finished second sock, and the remainder of the yarn. Just chuck it! A few days ago I told my friend Marty F. of my plan. She suggested that I give her the yarn instead of throwing it away. So, that’s what I did yesterday. Here’s a picture of what now belongs to Marty:

Oh, I finished the pair of socks that I started on my trip to Alaska. A lovely light heathered grey sock yarn, Schoeller Stahl “Fortissima Socka” yarn, 75% superwash wool, 25% nylon. I made some modifications to the pattern, “Gentleman’s Sock with Lozenge Pattern”, in Nancy Bush’s book, Knitting Vintage Socks. A fun knit and a pleasing pair of socks.

I will continue to enjoy my sock knitting. I will accept technical challenges. But I will not accept dread.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Third Annual Dog Sitting Fiber Retreat

Dick and Jill are in Guatemala. Jill will be returning in 2 ½ weeks. Meanwhile, I am house sitting, dog sitting, and cat sitting for them. This is the third year that I’ve stayed at their place while they vacation due south.

I love their place. It’s out in the country, very quiet. And this year very snowy. See?

I’ve been taking advantage of the snow by strapping on my snow shoes and heading out into the fields and forest, with Mari the dog following (sometimes leading). Daily snow shoe trips. What could be more wonderful?

I walk Mari three times a day, including the snow shoeing. We usually walk north along Hulbert Road and cross Stanley Creek. It is a very small creek, but delightfully northern and mysterious.

Dick and Jill do not have TV service so I am missing the Olympics (bummer), but they do have a DVD player so I am able to watch movies. I watched an interesting German film last night, The Lives of Others, set in East Berlin before the wall fell. It involves the Stasi’s spying on East German citizens. I recommend it.

A couple nights ago, I watched Prisoners, a recent DVD release with Hugh Jackman. It started out rather formulaic, but did not end that way. Jake Gyllenhaal was also in it. He was very good.

What else to do with my time? What to do….I know! I’ll work on some fiber projects! Yeah! That’s the ticket! Of course I made a list of fibery activities for this three week get-away:

Knit a pair of socks. I’ve already picked out the yarn and swatched for gauge. I’m thinking of modifying a Nancy Bush pattern, but haven’t committed to it yet.

Finish the Curvy Corner Shawl. Just a tiny bit of grafting left to do and weaving in ends. Then I can block it.

Weave a watch band on my little inkle loom. I selected 3 colors of linen yarn. I may only use 2 of them. And I’ll stick to a plain weave pattern for this. I’d like to warp the loom tomorrow.

Finish unraveling my qiviut tunic. Done! I discovered a weird thing about the tunic’s construction. The first panel I unraveled was knitted from bottom to top, so I started the unraveling at the top and worked my way down. When I tried the same strategy on the second panel, it didn’t work! So I examined the piece rather more carefully and discovered that this second panel had been knitted in the opposite direction. So I had to unravel from the bottom up! I’m having trouble understanding the rationale for the two different directions of knitting; it wouldn’t make them symmetrical. I wish I’d examined the piece closely before I started the deconstruction. Anyway, I wound the yarn into balls as I unraveled. Then I wound each ball into a skein. Today, I soaked the yarns in warm water with a bit of Eucalan. They are now hanging to dry. I’ve got a lot of fabulous qiviut knitting in my future! Here’s a picture of the skeined yarn, before washing.

Repair a sweater. I was asked by another township library volunteer to mend a hole in a classic Irish-made aran style sweater that he’d found in a second hand store. I agreed to take on the challenge. I’ve got a booklet about knit repair that I’ll use as a guide. And I bought a skein of yarn that is a reasonable – but not perfect – match to the sweater’s tweed style yarn. My plan is to practice first by knitting a swatch then cutting a hole in it then following the directions for a seamless repair. Tonight I plan to graph out the cable pattern that is part of the damage.

Spin some dog hair. A friend of my housemate asked if I’d be interested in spinning some of her dog’s hair and then knitting a scarf. I was leery. After we discussed all the costs involved and possible multiple steps, I tentatively agreed. She brought over 4 paper grocery bags filled with the undercoat of her Malamute, “Maxie”. I gently washed one bag of the fur with warm water and Eucalan. A very gentle wash. Susie, the dog’s owner, is sensitive to fragrances, but she approved of the eucalyptus smell (which I personally love). I’m going to try to spin some of it as is, and I’m going to try to blend some with merino wool on my drum carder. We’ll see…..

That’s it. Snow, snow shoeing, dog walking, movies, spinning, knitting, weaving. A perfect February.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Alaska: Workshops and Windshields

I got to teach my workshops in a marvelous space: a conference room in the ConocoPhillips building in Anchorage. Karen Williams works for them and she was able to arrange for the use of this space. Here’s a picture of some of the spinners during Sunday’s workshop:

I must say that the Anchorage Weavers and Spinners Guild is a swell group of folks. Among workshop participants, there was a wonderful range of spinning “ages”: from a month to multiple decades of spinning experience. Enthusiasm, generosity, friendliness, and sharing were in abundance in this group.

I got several requests for information regarding sources of the fibers that I brought along with me. I thought I’d provide that list here too:

Cormo combed top: Riverwinds Farm 

CVM (California Variegated Mutant) combed top: Fiddle Knoll Farm 

Coopworth carded roving: Hidden Valley Farm & Woolen Mill 

Corriedale/silk roving: Handspun by Sefania 

Handpainted targhee combed top: Abstract Fiber 

Did I miss anything?

I have to share a funny Anchorage-specific story. When I arrived in Anchorage, I was picked up at the airport by Karen. She drove me to Sandra’s house. I noticed that Karen’s windshield had a crack in it. I was polite enough not to mention it. The next day, when Sandra took me to the Musk Ox Farm, I noticed that she, too, had a crack in her car’s windshield. I said not a word. I was trying really hard not to generalize about Alaskans based on a sample size of 2.

A few days later, Sandra and I were comparing winter road strategies for our respective locales. I mentioned the use of sand and salt here in NW Michigan. She pointed out that in her area of Alaska they use pea gravel, and then she said, “That’s why so many people have cracked windshields.” Well then! We chuckled about this for a bit while I was privately feeling justified in my urge to generalize. On the last day of workshops, for some reason the windshield issue came up in my mind. I whispered to Sandra, “Is it ok if I ask the group about windshields?” She said, “Sure!” So, I mentioned my notice of the windshield issue and asked the group, “How many of you have a cracked windshield?” I was expecting maybe one or two folks would raise their hands. My eyes practically popped out of my head when more than half the folks there rasied their hands. I’m still chuckling about it.

I flew out of Anchorage very late on Monday night. So, I had a chance to see a bit more of Anchorage before my flight. Sandra was teaching a class that day, so another guild member, Carrie Ziecina, toured me around. We tried to visit the Anchorage Art Museum  , but it happened to be closed on Mondays. As we drove by the Far North Yarn Co. yarn shop, Carrie asked if I’d like to stop. Sure! But, I told her, “I have promised myself not to buy any more sock yarn until I knit up more socks from the ample stash that I already have.” So, what did I buy? That’s right: sock yarn – a lovely Rowan yarn of merino wool, kid mohair, nylon and silk. I do not feel guilty. Not one bit.

I rounded out my trip to Anchorage with a delicious salmon dinner at Simon & Seafort’s Saloon & Grill. Mmmm.

One more thing: Sandra Cook, who housed me during my stay, is a talented potter in addition to her fabulous fiber work. She works mostly with slab clay. As she showed me around her studio, I was taken by a “brick” she’d made using a rhubarb leaf to create the texture. I had to have it. We made a trade. I got the rhubarb brick and I offered to send her a box of dried cherries. I put the cherries in the mail on Monday. I hope she likes them. I sure love my rhubarb brick.

My flight home was marked by a couple hour delay in Anchorage – which gave me some time to knit – but all other connections were on time. I left a wet and warm Anchorage to arrive in a very cold and snowy Michigan. While I was gone, nearly 2 feet of snow had been added to the already loaded landscape. I got several days of shoveling workout from that.

And it’s snowing now.