Monday, November 26, 2018

Relaxing for the Holidays



It's been busy times around here, with much finishing of things, starting new things, undoing other things.  Lots of starts and stops, for all kinds of reasons.  It all feels a little bit hectic, which I guess is kind of standard for this time of year; at least it is for me.  I always make an effort to get things done early so I can have Christmastime feel easy and relaxed, but instead I'm always barreling into the season with wild hair, a growing sense of panic, and a fistful of to-do lists.   I wanted to put up the tree on Saturday, as we always do, and so we ran all our errands and came home whistling; Doc made eggnog, and I put some festive music on the old hi-fi...the boxes came down from the attic, and when we opened the one containing our [cheap, old, plastic, white] vintage-y tree, we saw that it had at some point during its deadly-hot summer slumber under the eaves, boiled itself into a sort of salted caramel color that could not be hidden or denied.  So we put the eggnog in the fridge, shut off the soothing holiday tunes, and went out to buy a tree.  Of course it was raining.

I finished that sweater up there, and I've been wanting to tell you about it.  Listen, I could not love that sweater more if it had furry ears and tasted like chocolate.  It fits me totally perfectly.  It is so soft and so warm, and so dang fancy!  I'm proud to say I made it up myself, much inspired by Heidi Kirrmaier's North Sea Nostalgia pullover and Tin Can Knits' Cartography pullover, and also by a most beautiful DIY design by Orlane Sucche.  Most of all, though, the inspiration for this sweater came from the yarn itself:  Jill Draper's Mohonk in "Ocher" and my own handspun, made from one of Debbie's orphan flock fleeces and dyed by me with madder root, which I used as the contrast color.  It is a very soft, warm pink, and it looked so perfect beside Jill's yarn that I knew they were meant for each other.  I made it in my usual way, adding four alternating stitch patterns--I think those are mostly from this book.  I really, really love this way of doing things,  and I was reminded again, and hard, just how much when I had to unravel almost an entire sweater knit from someone else's pattern because I missed an important instruction at the neckline, causing fatal damage to the project.  Well, memo for next time:  read the pattern.  It sounds obvious, but apparently I need reminding.

I also finished this sweater; you'll all I'm sure recognize it as Humulus by Isabell Kramer:



This one flew by so fast, it felt like it hardly touched the needles at all.  I used a wonderfully wooly farm yarn from Romney Ridge that I bought last year at Rhinebeck, and it made such a good fabric--sturdy and properly knit.  It will last a long time, I think, and will keep the weather out, which is the true work of a good handknit sweater.  You'll notice the contrast color is also Mohonk "Ocher"...well, sometimes whatever is in the front of the cupboard is what gets used.  These two yarns are pretty different, but they worked beautifully well together.  Those hand-dyed yarns from Jill Draper are really great for colorwork.  Anyway, I've been wearing this one a lot, too.  

In Learning New Stuff, my friend Deb has been listening to me idly blather on about wanting to learn to do paper piecing long enough.  She has tried to explain it, and has tried to demonstrate it visually by using what was on hand at the time, and I am just so thick on this subject that I couldn't figure it out.  She showed me her quilt project in progress, all done in paper piecing, and it was so gorgeous my eyeballs bugged out of my head.  I whined some more about wanting to learn to do it, so she brought me this little kit and sent me away with firm instructions to find a youtube tutorial and make this little Christmas tree square.  


I don't even want to tell you how long it took me to make this.  It was hours.  I picked it apart countless times.  This thing is two inches square.  I watched ten different tutorials and tried so hard to follow the directions, but I just couldn't get my head around it.  The pieces were numbered and everything...okay.  Here's what I don't understand, and maybe somebody out there can help me with this.  The tree up there:  the green tree and the two triangles beside it are pieces 1, 2 and 3.  Got it, no problem.  Now.  The three pieces at the bottom are 4, 5, and 6.  If I were piecing this the usual way, I would obviously sew those three together as a set and then add the whole thing to the bottom of the first set, done, easy.  But how is that done in paper piecing?  I could not figure it out.  Help.  I finally just did it the usual, non paper-piece-y way and threw up my hands in despair, but I still really want to know how.  If you know, please tell me?  There's a Lone Star quilt just waiting to be born, and I'd like to do it that way.  

Time for some egg nog.  See you later!  



Monday, November 19, 2018

Mending the shredded ones



These pants are a paradox:  normally, I am all about comfort and the fit on these jeans is pretty much the worst.  They're too baggy in the waist, there's not enough room in the seat, and the strings across the artful knee rips that were there when I got them kept leaving painful indentations in my kneecaps.  But they're the perfect wash and they don't have any spandex, and they always make me feel great, even though they very quickly became a mess.  Here's why:


These shredded up knee holes are fake.  What possible incident could have caused that asymmetrical fraying?  What kind of normal activity would wear in that pattern?  None, that's what.  I have so many opinions about this and most of them are not positive, but when these jeans were made, they were shredded up on purpose in what somebody thought were places where real wear would happen and then somebody, some aggravated parent of a sullen teenager, perhaps, who just wanted to get the hell out of the mall, bought them.  Not on the cheap, either; I've had teenagers, I know how much these cost.  And then somebody probably tried to sit down while wearing them, or dared to try to bend her legs, and then she swiftly sent them to the thrift store.  Along came me into the thrift store, and I tried them on.  Bam!  So much style!  So much Rock and Roll!  I preened, flexed my biceps, pouted into the mirror.  Bought them (on the cheap, because thrift store) came home and washed them, and then, wearing them, tried to sit down.  First of all, these shreds are not located on my knees.  I know I'm getting to be an old bag and a lot of things are further south than they used to be, but I'm pretty sure my knees haven't fallen that far.  Also, even if my old knees managed, through much adjusting, to land in the vicinity of the shreds, when I bent my leg, they carved into my flesh like a serrated knife through a soft tomato.  And then the strings gave up and broke, hanging down like dirty mop strings and it just made me feel like a slob.

But there they were in my closet, and even with the fake shredded up knee holes and saggy waist and unfortunate air-conditioning effect, I still really kind of liked them, and as soon as I saw this, I knew what to do.


With help and inspiration from this book, I decided to start small and tackled the intentionally shredded front pockets first, before moving on to the more onerous holes in the knees.  I cut patches from scrap denim and pinned them at the inside, then used a crewel needle and three strands of contrasting embroidery floss to make long [messy] stitches all around the hole.  Then I cut away the fraying fabric and stitched the edges down, giving about 65% of a hoot about tidiness.  I mean, I kind of wanted it to be mostly neat, but I didn't get out my ruler and draw stitching lines or anything.





It took most of the day, but it was very satisfying.  As you know, hand stitching is one of my most favorite things.


It's far from perfect, but it honestly looks great to me.  These pants were far from perfect even on the day they were brand-new, and I'd rather earn my ripped knees honestly, by wearing something well-fitting until it wears out, and then mending it again, but since I'm too impatient to wait for my pants to rip on their own, this sped-up version of the process makes me happy, and it saved these jeans from the dumpster.




Still Rock and Roll.  Also, I can bend my legs now.  Success!

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.