Monday, November 5, 2018

Romney Rhaine Pullover, made by me



This project feels like a precious accomplishment.  This is my first garment knit from my own pattern, using my own yarn, made from the very first fleece I washed, carded, and spun myself.  The only thing more I could have done on to make this sweater my own is to have raised the sheep, and when I'm standing there in the festival barns looking at the little smiling lambs with their curly hair and their floppy tails, I am so sorely tempted.  Sheep are so cute.  They seem very amenable.  I start to thinking, heck, a lamb is really just a puppy, isn't it?  How different can it be, really?  I kid; I'm sure it couldn't be more different, and I don't know the first thing about raising sheep.  Also, as you may recall, Doc very expertly put the kibosh on my erstwhile shepherd dreams by suggesting that we simply go to the fiber festival each year and buy two fleeces.  Well, I mean, that's genius actually, because what I really want is one very good dog who likes to nap with me and also a whole lot of yarn.  Washing, carding, spinning and knitting up a fleece is a lengthy project, but my goodness, as I've discovered, the rewards are huge.


Here's the fleece, fresh from the bath.  It's a Romney/BFL cross, from an ewe named "Rhaine"--her name was on the tag, isn't that just so lovely?  Rhaine's fleece was curly and soft and I had heard such frankly discouraging things about Romney fleeces--that they are suitable for outerwear and carpets, that they are scratchy, that they are annoying to spin--but goodness, she was just beautiful.  Soft and fluffy and just about clean already.  She was loved, I could tell.  And her fleece was almost the same color and curly-ness as my own hair, so I felt we were two peas and meant to be together.

There were 4.5 lbs of Rhaine's fleece, unwashed.  I forgot to weigh it after washing, but honestly, it was a small fraction of that.  It seemed to weigh nothing at all.  I lightly sorted it according to color--what you see here is the lightest of three grays--and then carded it (very inexpertly) on my new drum carder, letting a lot of blobs go through and learning a lot as I went, and then I spun the carded batts woolen-style, because that's the kind of spinning I like to do and the kind of yarn I like to have.  The yarn still had a lot of blobs, but it also had a lot of character, and it was so, so soft.  



I searched for a pattern and tried a few, but another thing I've learned is that when I try to fit my handspun yarn, especially one that's fairly uneven and somewhat unconventional--into a pattern written for commercial yarn, it's an exercise in frustration and futility and that when I'm using handspun yarn, it's best to make one up.  So that's what I've done here.






I followed my usual formula of drawing my idea, measuring myself, making a swatch, and doing some elementary school level arithmetic, and then just knit the thing, mostly in the car on the way to and from Rhinebeck.  This one has (as usual) a raglan yoke and extra-long sleeves, very slight a-line shaping on the body, and a tremendous voluminous close-fitting turtleneck, because those are all the things I love best in a sweater.



I really don't think I could have made anything more perfectly suited to this fiber, this knitter, and this girl who wants a warm, comfortable sweater.  I am wearing it next to my skin, next to my neck, and it is infallibly soft.  It has shine, and halo.  It is beautiful.  It is warm and cozy and comforting and more than a little bit satisfying.  It took a long time to get here, and my beginner fleece-prep efforts are far from perfect, but of course there's no reason to expect perfection from handspun yarn.  Perfection can be bought; this is made by me.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018




O Rhinebeck.  Another good one, in the bag.  Okay, I know there might be more than a few of you out there who just could not care less about hearing any more about Rhinebeck and I totally get it.  For years, I thought, big deal, there’s yarn for sale right in the store.  That’s true, there is.  And if you’re not a knitter or a crocheter, then I’m sure you wish we would all just shut up about it already.  I hear you, and I understand.  Also, not for nothing, there are a LOT of yarn and fiber festivals out there in this world and your own local fair is chock full of wooly goodness, too, and I hope to get to all of them someday.  And honestly, if Rhinebeck weren’t within an arm’s reach for me, I doubt I would brave the crowds and the weather, but it is, so I did.  And it was wondrous good.  Let me tell you about it.



In the event that I persuade you to make the trip next year, the first piece of advice I have about this festival—and I almost hesitate to spread this around—is this:  unless you love frustration and standing around in a solid mass of desperate and hungry humanity, don’t go on Saturday.  Don’t even.  Sit tight.  Sunday is better, and you can move around and see stuff and there is still plenty of yarn and fiber to go around.  Leave home Saturday morning, get to within an hour of the fairgrounds, tuck into your adorable Airbnb somewhere in the woodsy gorgeous Catskills and walk into town for a bowl of noodles.  Visit Jill Draper’s Open Studio and buy a whole huge bagful of goodies, oops.  Meet some knitterati, schmooze with your tribe.  Drink wine, talk wool.  Meander back into the woods over the dark windy roads, admiring the top-notch Halloween decorations along the way, and knit peacefully in your room until you get drowsy.  On Sunday morning, get up at a leisurely hour, wander next door for a coffee.  Savor your breakfast, then put on your Rhinebeck Sweater and drive to the fairgrounds, where the early morning stampede is already over and you can just calmly park and walk in.

The second piece of advice I have is this:  accept that the line for the apple cider donuts will be long.  Accept that you will have to stand there a long time.  It’s going to be a wait.  The people in the donut shack are not in any kind of hurry whatsoever, and frankly, waiting in the donut line is where you will meet people, talk about what you’re wearing, what you’re knitting, famous people that have been spotted (I’m still keeping my eyes peeled for Johnny Depp—one of these years, I know it...).  The camaraderie in the donut line is really the whole point of Rhinebeck.  You’ll be standing there with them for an hour; these are your new friends.  It’s worth it, too, the donuts are hot and coated with sugar and are meltingly good.



I saw some friends again this year (Hi Valerie!) and met some new friends (Hi Irene!  Hi Carol!) and saw some celebs.  I spotted Clara Parkes, but there were no paparazzi, so I doubted my own eyes.  I met Eric from Sticks + Twine, and finally met Ann Weaver, who I’ve admired for years and years.  Dianna Walla is wonderfully nice.  Kirsten Kapur is utterly lovely.  Jill Draper hugged me like an old friend.  In the distance, I saw Annie Lupton and Amanda Soule and Sonia Phillip and Lisa and Melissa from Espace Tricot.  The weather was cold, so there were a lot of really good hats and a lot of puffy parkas, but there was also a lot of yarn.  I may have bought some.  I’m sure you can see how different all these are:


Oops, wait, I missed one:



There.  That’s my haul.  A lot of sheep-colored, wooly-wool sweaters are coming up next, and it is taking all my nerve not to cast on five new things today.  Dark weather is coming, and when that happens, you’ll find me beside the fireplace, Catdog at my feet, hyggeing hard with all this gorgeous wool.  I can hardly wait.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Rhinebeck Bound






Sometimes I just get a bee in my bonnet about a design and nothing will stop the runaway train that is my yearning to knit that thing.  You are all makers, you know how this goes.  “I already have one of/enough of/no need for that sweater/quilt/blanket” and you go on making dinner or knitting a plain cardigan and hoping it will pass, but guys.  It does not.  You and I both know it.  I saw this pattern a few years ago, promised myself that I didn’t need it, and then pretty much immediately started accumulating the yarn to knit it.  Well, whatever.   So there’s some Rauma Finull, some KnitPicks Palette, some Elemental Affects, some Holst Supersoft, some Jamieson and Smith, and some Jamieson’s of Shetland all thrown in there together.  It worked just fine, and it turns out I have enough of this kind of yarn to make, ahem, a lot more sweaters like this.  The first two-thirds of this was terrific fun to make and I woke up early in the morning kind of itching to get back at it, rationing myself to one color band every day and sort of swooning at the emerging beauty of the colors.  Then my old (formerly trusty) bamboo dpns gave me a sliver that bugged me for days and by then I was slogging down the sleeves and looking longingly at the bind off.  I saw it was getting long [row gauge!  Why you gotta be like that?] but once I embraced the idea of it as a tunic, I felt good about it again.  Post-blocking, the finished sweater revealed to me that it was too wide as well, so I mattress-stitched up the body sides and undersides of the sleeves and got rid of a little width, which made me feel quite clever.  So, it is finished.   Is it not splendid?  Is it not a testament to a knitter’s love of wool, color, pattern?  Is it not a proper freak flag to fly and wear at the next available yarn festival?  Yes.  It is.

Doc and I will be at Rhinebeck again this year, on Sunday.  You will almost certainly spot him first:  look for a fierce-looking bearded warrior in a kilt, probably carrying coffee in one hand and a big bag of yarn in the other.  I will be nearby, oblivious to the outside world, with a skein of something gray and sheepy pressed to my face, sniffing deeply.  I will be wearing this beautiful confection of a sweater, too.  If you spot us, please, please come say hello.  I really want to meet you!  Yes, Rhinebeck is about the donuts and the sheep and the yarn shopping, but more than that, it is one of the places where we gather as a tribe.  Come on up and say, “I think I know you.”  And I will put down the yarn.  XOXO

Monday, October 1, 2018

Great Lake State





My yarn stash is frankly burgeoning with beautiful things.  Inspiration is all over the place, and I make lists in my phone and on little loose pieces of paper that get lost of all the things I want to make and do.  I feel like I’m planning the next ten knit sweaters and trying to make room in my life for another quilt or two because I just love them, and I love to make them.  And you and I both know I have enough yarn and fabric for all these things and more.  Well, ‘tis the season, isn’t it?  That first gloomy day, when rain splatters the clean windows and leaves are just starting to burnish, I get to wanting another big, cozy cardigan.  I have a few of these already, but it doesn’t take much to get those wheels turning again, every single September.  This year, I had before me five skeins of Barrett Wool Co’s beautiful Wisconsin Woolen Spun worsted weight yarn in the colorway “Pebble” and it was sort of begging to be my Annual Big Cozy Cardigan.  I did my usual Ravelry dive, and of course found a whole bunch of patterns I want to knit right now, but nothing that seemed just right for the Wisconsin Woolen Spun, which is very plump and round (I think that’s fairly unusual in a woolen-spun) and thick and lofty.  I can’t think of another yarn offhand that is like it—maybe Brooklyn Tweed Quarry?  That one might be similar.  Well, it is light, but thick, and almost cottony soft.  

I did what I always do when I can’t find the right pattern—I made up my own.  I’ve talked about this before, many times, and I know it sounds like I’m downplaying it when I say it’s easy, but honestly.  It really is easy.  If you can knit a sweater from another designer’s pattern, then you can make your own pattern.  If you know how to use a measuring tape and a calculator, you can make your own pattern.  There is no magic trick, I promise.



I start with a sketch of what I’m imagining.  There are no revolutionary ideas at work here, just a shawl collar and a couple panels of cables; I’m not trying to invent anything, I just want a sweater.  Then I knit a square, and I block it.  When it’s dry, I ask myself:  Do I like the fabric?  If the whole sweater from my sketch was like this, would I be happy?  When I’m satisfied with the fabric I got, I get out a ruler and measure:  how many stitches per inch am I getting with these needles and this yarn?  Once I have that number, I decide how wide I want my neckline to be at the back and then I measure myself at the back neck.  Like, as in, hold the measuring tape across the back of my neck, where I’d like the back neck of my sweater to be.  Sometimes I point to either side of the back of my neck and Doc measures between my fingers.  I do some (very simple!) arithmetic and then just start.  In this case, I also made a swatch of the cable panel I planned to use, and then charted out the whole front yoke sections on graph paper, so I could keep track of the cables and the neck increases at the same time.  None of this is difficult, and I firmly believe you can all do it too.  What can go wrong?  You might have to rip back now and then, and re-knit stuff, or start something over—I have to do that all the time.  But this is fun, right?  Knitting is what we do for fun.

I have been calling this sweater Great Lake State—yarn from Wisconsin, knit in New York by a girl from Michigan, in the exact color of these moody inland seas, turbulent and alive in the fall.  Blue-gray-blue.  Gray.  Blue.  The collar is tall and snuggly, and the sleeves are extra-long, because that’s the way I like them.  A few cables for added Grandpa-ness.  While it was blocking, I noticed I had misplaced one of the buttonholes, but when I checked myself for perfectionist tendencies and found none there, I knew it was fine with me to leave it alone.  This is my sweater, for layering when the gale winds start to blow and the blizzards come early and stay late.  This is my armor.

Friday, September 28, 2018

That time I got glue on the dog




This is why I love the internet.  Awhile ago my sis wanted to know what to do about covering the window in her front door, because every time somebody came up onto her porch, the dogs jumped up and ripped off the curtain she had hanging there.  Not quite ready to just paint the damn glass black and be done with it, she asked what I thought she should do.  I suggested cutting a piece of cheapo lace curtain from the thrift store to the exact size of the glass and gluing it there.  It seemed like it wouldn’t be permanent or irreversible, and that it would let in light while preserving privacy, and that it would also look pretty.  “Actually,” I told her, “Ima do that myself, because it happens to be a great idea.”  My own front door window has been naked and bugging me ever since we painted the entire house last winter, and in general I really hate to cover up windows, but I also hate to be visible in my nightie, so I put “Cheapo lace curtain” on my thrift store shopping list and let it sit there for a long time while I got on with other things.  Last weekend, I found one at Goodwill for two bucks and decided it was time to make this project happen.  It occurred to me:  what kind of glue?  I remembered how I once used spray adhesive for some paper project on the unprotected surface of my kitchen table and how the gluey overspray marks from that little brainstorm are still in evidence to this day, and I also thought about how the same kinds of marks, left from using Mod Podge for a different project, on a completely different table, are also still there, ten years later.  It seemed like the lace curtain might have been the easy part.  Finally, I remembered how every single thing you’ve ever thought of doing has already been done before and how someone will have surely documented the process—so I googled “glueing lace to a window” and found it.  (I also remembered seeing that article before, which is undoubtedly where I got the idea in the first place.)  I enlisted Doc to help me try to cut a piece of lace, which is wobbly at best, into a neat square to the exact measurements  of the window glass, and then I mixed up a gloppy bowlful of cornstarch and water and glued it up there.  It could not have been easier, you guys.  It looked sort of opaque while it was wet, and I made a big mess on the floor and on the dog while I was painting it on, but now that it’s dry all the way, it does just what I thought it would do—it lets in the light, but keeps me from feeling like I’m on television.  Naturally, I kept going and glued more lace to a bunch more windows.  It looks so good, so light and neat, and just what I wanted.  Now my neighbor can take out his trash without fear of seeing more of me than he wants to.  A win for everyone!

Tuesday, September 18, 2018




I’m so happy festival season is here.  Doc and I went down to Hemlock on Saturday for the Finger Lakes Fiber Festival, and I swear I could hardly sleep the night before.  I woke up really early.  I was a kid at Christmas.  I feel so understood at a fiber festival.  If you say “Threipmuir” or “Hebridean” or “nostepinne”, you get smiles and knowing nods.  There is such a sense of community there.  People admire what you’re wearing, even if it’s just a Johnny Cash t-shirt from Target.   I want a fiber festival every single weekend all year, and I will be putting all my less-important organs for sale on Craigslist in order to fund the ensuing purchases.  And Doc, who wore his kilt and looked fierce, as usual, and who carried my new fleece [it’s a Shetland!  It’s gray!  I don’t need any more fleeces, but I can’t help it!] on his back looking again like a creepy Santa, did not complain one breath about the heat, nor about the powerful sheepy smell coming from his cargo, nor about anything else, either.  He’s the very best fiber festival companion, and actually in all other things, too.  Up next is Rhinebeck, and my sweater for that (Next Year In Lerwick by Tori Seierstad) is clipping along at a terrific rate, what with me being obsessed by it and everything.  Just as I’m sick of a motif, it’s time for a the breather of a couple plain rows and a color change, which just keeps me going.  I’m a little scared of all that colorwork on the sleeves, but it isn’t time to worry about those yet.  The body is coming out a bit long (row gauge is such a jerk) but I think I can live with it.


I bought my annual sweater’s quantity from the amazing Jill Draper, who never fails to remember me from last year and to make me feel like we’re friends.  She is kindly and warm, and the yarn is pretty perfect.  If you ever have a chance to use Jill’s yarn, you should do so without delay, but if you can buy it directly from her at a festival, you’ll have such a lovely interaction with her, and all that joy and good cheer will go right into your project.



She let me try on her sample for September House, a stranded colorwork yoke pullover designed by Kirsten Kapur, which is what I’ll be working on next.  It was a very cozy 82 degrees F, which didn’t keep me from loving that sweater, nor the yarn its made with.  Get on my needles, JDMS Valkill!  



I have a finished sweater here.  Sitting in front of me as I type this.  All its ends are woven in, and it is blocked and dry, and it is pretty much exactly what I hoped it would be, except:

More on this later.

Monday, September 10, 2018








And just like that, fall is here.  I’m feeling quite prepared this year, and am ready to do my best to love it, and if I can’t quite love it, to at least appreciate it.  I made an apple crisp (worth it already) and am wearing my Aamu turtleneck today for the first time, reveling in its wooly-ness.  It is pouring and gray outside, and I’m feeling very cozy, tucked indoors with the catdog and the warm fire.

We walked yesterday to the pond, and the sky, all churned up, looked full of doom and solid with rain.  This little pond and the meadow beside it, hidden in the orchard, pleases me in all seasons, and it looked still and serene on an early autumn day.  When I was growing up and reading Anne of Green Gables over and over again, I wished so hard for a place like that, a friendly and secret oasis in the woods where I could lie belly first on a rock and hang over the water, watching frogs paddle around in the cattails.  It sometimes is a muddy hike out to the pond, and sometimes the pond is frozen over and desolate, and sometimes there is a distant snowmobile or tractor or siren that shatters the stillness, but I am still very thankful for it.  Even in the darkest part of the year, the pond is there, alive underneath the ice.

Of course I’m always preparing for cold weather in at least one way—I am always knitting.  This week, during a trip home to visit my lovely mama, I finished the last sleeve of my Ola Yoke and spread it out to block on her floor.  I tried it on several times while it was still damp and just could hardly wait to sew in the ends and wear it.  Friends, the satisfaction levels on this finished sweater are pretty high.  I wanted to knit this design ever since I first saw it, but I was looking for a more muted palette, and I felt miserably unqualified to choose one.  I sort of thought it would have to wait until some future day when I could travel to Shetland, stand in front of the Great Wall of color at Jamieson and Smith and beg Ella herself to help me pick out colors, but then Ella saved me several thousand dollars by releasing a hat pattern with a motif similar to the Ola and in the most perfect palette of browns and dusky lilacs and muted periwinkles.  One of these colors is called “Leprechaun Tears”.  Seriously, it isn’t possible to love that any more than I do.  So I bought both patterns and kind of mushed them together, and then knit this sweater on US 2 needles, which, in case you didn’t know, is very small.  It was an epic knit, and I loved every stitch, and the finished garment feels so very worthy somehow.  This is a sweater for a lifetime, and then some.  It will be with me forever, I think.