Monday, March 27, 2017

My share of the sidewalk

  All of a sudden, it's one sweater a week around here.  Two things have been making that happen:  for one, my full-time job recently (and happily) became part-time, which has given me the gift of a whole bunch more hours in the week to do whatever pleases me.  (A second cup of coffee?  Don't mind if I do!  Naps?  Sure!) I'm hoping eventually to tackle a few non-yarn projects (eek, the garden) but lately the extra free time has mostly been spent with knitting, because (two:) there are so many gorgeous things out there to make, and I have a big yarn stash, and it's still cold here and I am in the throes of it.  
This is such a harmonious combination of yarn + pattern.  It is Sidewalk by Cristina Ghirlanda, knit (yes, in a week) in Jill Draper Makes Stuff Windham, in the beautifully purply, pinky blue-gray "Stone" colorway.  Windham is labeled "worsted" but I knit it at an aran gauge for this project, and it worked perfectly.  Windham has a crispy lightness that surprises, given that it is a many-plied, smooth yarn with 220 yards per 100 grams (uh oh, I think this is about "grist") much like what I think the Quince and Co. yarns are like.  Springy, cotton-soft, light as a feather, but smooth and round, for stitch definition.  It's the wooliest worsted-spun yarn ever.  How do they do that?  I don't know, but it's great.  It looks like Jill's Etsy shop is out of Windham right now, so you'll have to come with me to the Finger Lakes Fiber Festival in September to get some.  We'll eat Artichoke French, and Doc will wear his kilt--you can help me pick out my two fleeces!--Fiber Festival Day is one of my favorite days of the whole year.  
Spring seems to be taking a long time to arrive this year.  At least most of the snow has melted, fingers crossed it stays that way.  Meanwhile, I've got plenty to wear.  I promised myself I'd sew something today, though another pullover is just two sleeves away.  I know, it seems like madness to me, too.  

Monday, March 20, 2017

Epistrophy, finished

Epistrophy is off the needles.  This pattern, by Kate Davies, from her beautiful book Yokes, has been in my mental queue ever since I saw it.  Love.  LOVE.  I want this cardigan to be a success so badly that I am still trying to convince myself.  That neckband, you guys.  All that knitting, and then those ten little ribbed rows using the wrong needle (my fault) at the bitter end.  It's causing the neckband to flare just enough to irritate me, and I'm not sure.  It's pretty, though!  It is too late to do anything about it now except worry, and worrying will get you nowhere, so I am saying that I don't mind the flaring.  I don't think.  It's a small enough part of the completed whole, and the rest of it is pretty great.  That yoke!  Hoo.    
It's such a good fit.  Perfect, really, everywhere else.  I don't care about the neckband.  I don't think.  I don't think I do.  
It's got a casualness about it I kind of like, actually.  The standup collar thing could be kind of good.  A feature, not a flaw, right?  Also, handily, it is cut off in almost all the photos because I told Doc to keep my face out of these shots--it was the weekend, and who wants to get all gussied up for having their picture on the internet on a Sunday?  Not me.  So you just have to mostly trust me that the neckline is flaring ever so gently.  Just ever so.  
There's one where you can see it.  That's okay, right?  A little tiny flare?  I don't care.  I don't think.  Otherwise, it's just so great!  What a good pattern, too.  The repeating, decreasing geometry at that yoke has my brain boggling.  I don't even know how anybody figures something like that out.  Kate Davies, you are so clever.  This sweater is knit in the round (good thing, too, as I have sworn a blood oath not to knit in pieces anytime soon) and then cut up the front with scissors (that's right, that's what I said!) with the button bands added at the very end.  
Kate recommended this pretty little ribbon detail, which covers up the hot mess I always leave behind when cutting open a steek.  I love this treatment of a cardigan front.  I might do this on all future cardigans.  Ribbon shop recommendations are heartily welcome.  
I used Fishermans' Wool for this, in "Oatmeal" and "Brown Heather".  The pattern calls for DK weight, and I would call Fisherman's Wool a light worsted, so I went down a needle size (to a US 3.  Small!  I know!) and it fits like a dream.  If I were at the precipice of the neckband right now, though, I'd drop down to a truly tiny needle and get that thing right, but since there isn't a thing to be done, I am saying I love it, and I will keep saying it.  I love it.  

Monday, March 13, 2017

Making yarn

This is a love song.  I am having a moment with spinning this week, and I can't stop talking about it.  I'm sure Doc is fresh out of patience with me on this subject, but honestly, I just find this endlessly wonderful.  I made this yarn!  Now, I'm not totally new to this.  I've been spinning for a few years as a rank beginner, first on an antique spinning wheel I bought at a yard sale for twenty bucks and which was a little bit broken and missing a few pieces and which Doc repaired with twine and wood scraps and his general usual ingenuity.  We He got it running and then my friend Louise helped me figure out how the heck it worked and I made some generally terrible yarn which was tighter than a bowstring and hard as nails, but whatever, it was yarn, and I'd spun it!  Hoo, that really felt like something.  A few years later, Doc gave me an Ashford Kiwi for christmas, and everything changed, because the Kiwi was new and well-oiled and it had all the parts it needed, and the drive band wasn't constantly coming untied or falling off.  I sat out on the porch with it, spinning clumpy wads of wool into lumpy skeins of yarn, and they still looked like the dog's breakfast, but I was happy.  Once time, somebody actually stopped their car and came up onto my porch to watch me at work, fully amazed that people still did this sort of thing.  I wanted to braid my hair and wear brown boots and calico aprons.  Grow wheat and flax, maybe acquire a cow.  I also entertained an irrational thought or two about getting a couple sheep, because why not?  We live in the country, and I have this idea that they are really just dogs anyway, and how hard can it be, right?  They're so cute in their little straw-filled pens at the fiber fair, gnawing on hay, letting the little children--and also me--scratch their wooly foreheads through the fencing.  Eventually, Doc said one of the best and smartest things of his entire genius life:  "Instead of getting two sheep, why don't we just go to the fair every year and buy two fleeces?"  
I blinked quickly as this sank in.  Well, yeah!  Why don't we do that?  I don't even want to grow my own tomatoes, what makes me think I can take care of livestock?  Sure, I live in the country, but that doesn't make me a farmer.  I don't want to raise sheep, I want to make yarn so I can knit with it.  So last fall, a raw Romney fleece (the sheep from which it came having been raised and cared for and fed and fenced and guarded and shorn and loved by someone else, someone who probably loves getting up at dawn every single day of the year to trudge outdoors and feed animals and hoe out barn stalls--so, not me) came into our house.  It was a fresh fleece, nothing but a sheep's haircut in a plastic bag.  The ewe (named "Rhaine", isn't it wonderful to know that?  I love that so much) had been coated, meaning I suppose that she wore a coat, so the fleece was relatively clean, and it had been skirted, meaning that someone else--not me, see above--had already done all the dirty work of removing the yucky bits.  Still, the fleece was heavy with lanolin and it smelled very wonderfully, er sheepy.  Catdog has never looked so alert in her entire life as she did when that bag came through the door.  
One handful at a time, I washed it.  I filled a plastic tub with the hottest water I could stand to put my hands in, along with a squirt of dish soap, put on double gloves because it was still really hot, and laid the handful of fleece on top of the water. I gently pushed it down into the suds, and very, very gently continued to nudge it in and out of the water.  I admit I talked to it a little bit--"Hi there, lovely,  I'm not doing anything here, just a little bath is all.  You're so pretty!  No worries, no need to get felted, that's a girl."  I lifted it out gently, as if it were a crying baby that needed soothing.  I encouraged the water out of it with my thoughts.  No, I gently squeezed the water out.  Gently!  I rinsed it twice in two more pans of scalding hot water, and then lay it to dry.  The water that poured out of the pan was the most godawful yellow, with most of the lanolin in it.  (I know, it's good for your skin, but that's what Aveda is for.) Up there, you see a freshly washed and dry handful, in a photo taken when the world was still a green and kindly place.  Friends, the sense of satisfaction at that moment was already tremendous.  It cannot be described.  This fleece, while relatively clean but full of lanolin, was heavy.  Doc carried it to the car slung on his back, looking like a creepy Santa Claus, and was complaining by the time we got there.  Once washed, though, it weighs NOTHING.  It smells like, well, like clean clothes.  It is softer than summer air.  Already I loved it so much, and if it hadn't already had a lovely fairy name--Rhaine--I would have given it one.  
Using two dog brushes--the ones with the tiny bent wires--because that's what I had, I carded a small pile of it into these little wool sausages, called "rolags".  Now, don't ask me what any of these terms mean, because I promise you I know absolutely nothing about any of this and am almost certainly going to be wrong.  But I think these are called rolags.  To make them, I laid a few locks of clean wool on one dog brush, er, carder, and used the other to brush it, passing the wool from one brush/carder to the other a few times.  Then I rolled it up from the bottom to the top, so that the fibers, which had gotten more or less organized, were running "around" the sausage, if you will.  (There are a lot of interesting youtube tutorials  where you can see this in action, if you're interested). From these rolags, drafting from the end of the sausage, I could spin the wool into yarn.  
I have learned over time that carding is the preparation method you use when you want to make "woolen" spun yarn.  (If you want "worsted" spun yarn, you need to comb the fleece, which is different--more on that to come; Doc is busy in his workshop making wool combs, so exciting! I told you, I've gone off the deep end over this.) So I spun it woolen, which is supposed to be lofty and airy and a little bit fuzzy, because the carding process organizes the fibers a little bit, but not all the way, so because they're going kind of here and there as they get drafted, there is a lot of air getting kind of trapped in there.  It should be light, and warm.  Knowing and understanding the difference between woolen and worsted has become one of the most useful tools in my arsenal.  (Still, don't ask me about grist.  Good heavens, I have no idea.)
I plied the two singles together, and washed the skein.  As it hung drying beside the fireplace, I could not help admiring it out loud, constantly, and repeatedly.  Doc listened.  "Yes, it is nice.  No, I think it's great!  Very pretty.  Yes, you'll knit something really nice with it.  I know!  Yes!  YES!  ALL RIGHT?"  He fell asleep in self-defense, just to get some peace.  No, he was very patient.   He's the hero of this story.  I learned that this wool, which is clean and gorgeous and soft as a baby's cheeks and which looks perfect and wonderful in the carded rolags, still has a few clumpy blobs in it, which I should have removed, because they won't draft and just go into your yarn like a big pill.  I could see them going by as I drafted, and kept saying, ugh, there's another one.  So there are a lot of irregularities in this skein.  Memo for next time, because now I know.  And hoo, there will be many next times.  He said I could have two fleeces!  Every year!  Here I come.  

Tuesday, March 7, 2017


I sat down yesterday at my spinning wheel and before I realized it, three hours had gone by.  Isn't that the best feeling in the world? When you're that absorbed by something and you just can't even tell time is passing?  I am in constant pursuit of that feeling, I think.  It's such a treat.  I filled two bobbins with Buttercup's fleece, and am letting it hang out there as singles for a day, to set the twist.  By the way, spinning:  I am such a total and complete novice at this beautiful craft, and I have only the most rudimentary understanding of any of it, but wow, it is so much fun.  It is such a comfort, the repetitive treadling while soft fibers pass clumsily through my fingers.  I love love love it.  I don't know why I wait so long in between times, and why Buttercup's fleece is still such a gigantic basket full of fiber that has not become diminished in any way, despite so many hours of working with it, but that seems to be the magic of fleece. It never becomes gone, at least I've never seen it happen.  Why, as Doc has wondered, does the world need more than just the one sheep? A single fleece lasts me forever.  Buttercup, you may recall, was one of my dear friend Debbie's cherished flock of adopted orphans, and nobody knew anything about her, so her breed is a mystery.  I don't know anything about fleece yet, either, so I can't even make a guess.  The fleece is white, and it's as soft and weightless as fog.  I've been enjoying Sarah's Fibertrek podcast (which, by the way, just might make you start knitting monogamously, and also in all gray) and have  learned a few things about fleece and spinning through watching her that have eluded me up until now.  Actually, I think there are some things about spinning--don't even mention "grist"--that may elude me permanently (repeatedly I look up "grist" and try to understand it, and Doc of course understands it immediately, but I just feel my brain go dead and skip down the paragraphs looking for where the fun words start up again.  Much like photography, and "aperture".  I can't.  I can't!) but yesterday I looked down at the prepared fleece funneling out of the basket and into my lap and went "Oh!  This has been carded!  It is ready for me to spin it "woolen"!  Which, happily, is what I've been instinctively doing with it!"  Lucky break, that.  It was nice to have that lightbulb go on.  I'm getting closer, but as with all new things, there is so much more to know.  Photos on a gray day of bobbins full of spun singles are blurry and dull, so here's Catdog for you instead.  She knows exactly how to spend a slow, rainy morning.  She opened her eyes briefly, between snores, to say hello.  

Monday, March 6, 2017

No. 2: Love

This is the finished piece in what I have really come to think of as some kind of actual artistic endeavor.  I keep coming back to the philosophical question of "art vs. craft" and I don't know why I even care, because it is all worthwhile and I'm happy to be doing it either way, whatever it's called, but just in an elementary sense, I do wonder.  Anyway, this, like everything I do with needles and fabric or fiber, is somewhere on the continuum, who knows where, and I am really enjoying the process.  As you may remember, I was asked at the end of last year to join a fellow crafter in a yearlong creative project, in which we would set a monthly goal and apply our most creative selves to it.  There are parameters:  each piece is to be roughly 6" x 6", and is bound in some way at the edges.  Those are the only rules.  Additionally, I have decided that my pieces will be all handwork--no machine stitches--and that I will try to use stash whenever I can.  Also, I am concentrating on exploring ideas and not worrying so much about perfection of technique.  Good thing, too, this time, because this was my first foray into English Paper Piecing, and yikes.  Imperfection everywhere. But something about all those bristling basting stitches was so satisfying to me.  It felt so much like Work, in the best way.  Like I was making work.  This month is No. 2:  appassionato.  Passion, and love.  I thought about how much I love handwork and tiny things and learning and sweet surprises and color against neutral backgrounds and visible brush strokes and the smaller parts of Big Projects.  I am so grateful to be doing this.  

Friday, March 3, 2017

Gray Matter

I am really trying to knit and make more mindfully these days.  Along with the rest of the known world, I've been dutifully examining all my stuff for sparks of joy and making what seem like hard decisions but that which later turn out to be great decisions to get rid of things I don't really need.  As soon as this kind of thinking started extending to our 1200 square foot outbuilding, which is fine but which we don't really need and I began to entertain notions of getting rid of that too, I put down the "New Tiny Garages of Your Dreams" book I was browsing through, and turned instead to my wardrobe, which, despite multiple attempts at destashing, was still bursting.  So, joy-wise, I'm trying to spend a little more energy on choosing carefully what I spend time making.  Thus, this next finished sweater.  
It is done.  It is gray.  It fits.  I wore it yesterday and it kept me really warm.  The little pockets are pockety.  I had the buttons already.   It's not true love, though.  I'm not going to say I'll never ever knit a sweater in pieces and then sew it together ever again in my little life, but I will very likely never ever again knit a sweater in pieces and then sew it together.  I am so sick of doing that.  GAH!  I know there are knitters out there who love this kind of thing, and who love the debate about seams and "structure", but I ain't one of those knitters, ya'll.  I hate knitting in pieces and then sewing it together later, and it isn't about any lack of skill, because my skillz in the sewing up are solid.  It is about how there is a simpler, more efficient, more enjoyable way to do this.  We've solved this having to sew it together later thing.  If a seam is needed for "structure", it is utterly painless to go back in later and add one, although in my forty years of knitting experience, I have never yet knit anything that suffered somehow from a lack of structure.  A lot of it has suffered plenty, for a lot of other reasons, but when my project pieces, ugh, look like this...
..which Doc told me looked like tubeworms, and there are three more just like that, I have a hard time being happy.  (Also, the pattern I used was riddled with problems, and it is not customary nor very nice to bust somebody's work in public, so I will decline to name it here.  It was free, but written by a famous and well-published designer, who should have spent a few minutes tech editing.  Doc said watching me re-engineer this entire thing myself, out loud and in four-letter words was the best episode of The Yarn Show ever.  End of rant.)
If you're thinking I am getting a little predictable, color-wise, you'd be right.  It blends right into the blanket underneath it!  Camouflage!  I love this color.  Grayish-brown.  Taupe.  Oatmeal with black pepper in it.  This is a densely spun single, Lanaloft by Brown Sheep, in the colorway "Sandstone Cove".  It came out of the skein with a lot of energy in the twist, and was sproinging all over the place as I worked with it, which isn't my favorite thing, either, and it had a lot of thick-and-thin spots, which I can mostly live with, although that big piece of blurf right on the front, next to the fourth button annoys me.  I stashed this yarn last fall, and waited for just the right pattern to come along.  Let's hope some joy comes sparking.  
I confess, I made this in a week.  I cast it on while the needles were still warm from the last one, and knit it monogamously.  I seem to be knitting monogamously lately, which hasn't always been my way, but whoo, is that ever the way to get stuff done!  The label on the Lanaloft says worsted, but I think it is more an aran weight yarn, and at that gauge, you can really make some headway.  This sweater is done.  And warm.  And gray.  Which is the best thing about it.