Archive for July, 2006

Creative energy

Monday, July 31st, 2006

Well, as loyal readers of the blog know, Ellen is away this week on vacation.  She’s gone to the beach and I know we all hope that she gets a mean sunburn and vicious bites from sandfleas has a great time.  So, you’re stuck with me this week.  Bwa, ha, ha, ha, ha!  Actually, Alex will be doing a spot of guest-blogging on Wednesday, so that’s something we can all look forward to.

Over the weekend I dug out my design inspiration journal and starting pasting things in it.  I have a habit of tearing interesting photos out of catalogs, magazines, ads, etc. and stacking them up with a vague thought that “Someday soon I will paste these into my journal.”  Recently I’ve been collecting lots of garment ideas/details from catalogs, but I also collect nature photos with beautiful colors, other textile designs, visual patterns, quotes, and just pictures that capture my imagination. 

So, I started cutting these things up and gluing them down.  I try not to be too careful as I do this–just let things flow onto the pages as they come.  Not too much self-censoring, which I can all too easily fall into.  And doggone if this simple exercise didn’t get my creative juices flowing in a big way.  My head is now full of sweater ideas, garment details, and design enthusiasm.  I have three or four new designs floating around in my head, as well as new ways to approach some design problems I’ve been mulling over.

I have a little book that I bought years ago called The Fabric Lover’s Scrapbook, by Margaret Dittman.  I don’t know if this little gem is even still in print, and the projects look pretty dated, but it is chock-full of great ideas.  (This book is aimed mostly at quilters and sewers who accumulate prodigious amounts of fabric scraps and stash.)  Every time I look at it I come away with something new.  For example, Dittman has this to say about inspiration and creative energy:  “Welcome any source of inspiration, however irrational….Use the energy.  Seize the moment.  There’ll be plenty of time later to talk yourself out of it.”

So I took my creative energy and started work on a new design I’m tentatively calling “Bamboo.”   The basic idea is for an Asian-inspired jacket with a bamboo-like background stitch pattern, and edging and details with a narrow leaf motif.

I started experimenting with bamboo-like stitch patterns.  Here’s what I finally came up with: 

bamboo stitch pattern 

Obviously, this swatch hasn’t gotten too far yet.  (Although there was an intermediate swatch in there that got ripped out.)  And for the leaf motifs, I searched through Knitting on the Edge and came up with this:

windblown leaf border

Now, much as I love this book and revere Nicky Epstein, what I don’t like about it is that all the instructions are written out instead of in charted form.  I had to sit myself down and chart that puppy out:

windblown leaf chart 1 

That was the first incarnation.  Here’s the second:

windblown leaf chart 2 

I started knitting from this chart, and got far enough to know what I wanted to change.  I ripped that swatch, (have I mentioned I do a lot of ripping out?) and re-charted:

windblown leaf chart 3 

This chart is for the edging with the leaves bending away from the center on either side, plus they are longer and narrower.  My idea is that this motif will be a low center-back panel, knitted separately and sewn on, that gathers the back of the sweater just a bit at the waist.  The front edging will be a similar sort of leaf edging, but I haven’t gotten there yet.  Today’s task is to work on these swatches and charts and try to firm everything up.

Remember Friday’s task?  The peach preserves?  Here’s a half-eaten jar:

peach jam 

Harvey has really been enjoying these.

And, lest you think that I never knit on actual projects, my progress on the cabled sock:

cabled sock progress

An afternoon on the farm

Friday, July 28th, 2006

Yesterday I went out to my friend John’s farm to collect some free wool he had promised me (gotta love that free wool) and he and his son took me on an impromptu tour of their land.  Of course, since I did not foresee the tour, I didn’t take my camera with me, so I have no pictures to actually prove I was there.

But I do have the wool.

raw lamb's wool 

This is a total of 4 1/4 pounds of raw lamb’s wool (well, not all in that one bag), and there’s a lot of grease in it.  Here’s a closeup:

closeup raw lamb's wool 

See those little orange dots on the butt ends?  Those are beads of real live lanolin.  I weighed the fleece before washing so that I can do a comparison of the weight after washing.  It will be interesting to see how much loss there is from just the weight of the grease.

And, because I just couldn’t wait, I rinsed a few locks in hot water, just to see how they’d turn out.

rinsed lamb's wool 

Aren’t they pretty and fluffy looking?

I enjoyed the tour of the farm quite a bit, too.  It had been a long time since I’d piled into a truck with a farmer and taken off cross-country across the fields.  To a native Midwesterner, there’s nothing prettier than this kind of local farmland, full of hidden and unexpected beauties.  And cows.  I got to pet a day-old calf, and listened with interest as John talked about many of the individual cows, who all looked the same to me.  He told me about the ones he’s lost over the last months:  one got hit by lightning, one had a heart attack while giving birth and he lost both the mama and the calf.

He raises corn and beans as well, and told me about how much that corn brings when he sells it.  Not much.  It’s a hard life, and easy for the rest of us to forget just where our food comes from.

John and his mother, who lives near him, gave me some peaches off their tree.  This is bona fide local Missouri fruit.

local peaches 

Today’s task is to make peach preserves.  A little bit of bottled summer.

The mindful vacation

Thursday, July 27th, 2006

Next week I’m going to the Carolinas for vacation with some family friends. To the beach!
No way! You’re leaving? Who’s gonna feed me?

And talk about timely! I just read this article in Yoga Journal about the mindful vacation. Given yoga’s ties to vegetarianism, it is more than a little ironic that I read this article while loitering around Wild Oats Market—known affectionately in this family as “The Goat’s” for reasons no one can fully recall—waiting for the butcher to make me specially four hot Italian sausages.

Anyway, turns out that the yoga folk have noticed that most Americans have trouble truly relaxing, that we tend to pack our vacations full of activities and busy-ness and then return home more exhausted than when we left. Well-observed point. The article recommended meditating on the beach. Or chanting on the beach. I think the latter is supposed to bring you “the twelve gifts of the sun.”

The obvious question here is, what the deuce are the twelve gifts of the sun? I’ll surely never know because chanting on a public beach is just not in my life plan.

Because here’s the thing: when a middle-class, middle-aged (give or take), Midwestern (by origin if not by current residence), American WASP is caught sitting in the lotus position chanting on the beach, having cherry-picked a practice from Vedic Hinduism, she looks—at best—like a total dork. At worst, she could even appear disrespectful to an old and complex religious tradition and its legitimate practitioners, even if that were not her intention.

As you may have noticed, I have no real problem looking like a dork. I embrace my Inner Dork and I regard her with compassion. Still, I think I’ll leave the beach chants to those who fully embrace the tradition of which they are a part.

You know the chants just aren’t for you when you find yourself secretly hoping that one of the “twelve gifts of the sun” will be hot Italian sausages and that another will be a six-pack of Negra Modelo.

But I think this whole “mindful vacation” is an idea worth entertaining, as long as it doesn’t involve Vedic-chanting, sausage-eating, Episcopalians down by the seashore. How about mindfulness through knitting? You know, the new yoga.

Here’s what I’m taking with me:
Rogue, of course. Note progress on sleeve.

Because nothing says “fun in the sun” like a hoodie in aran-weight wool!

Bamboo socks:
Regia, 45% bamboo; 40% superwash wool; 15% nylon; 100% fabulous

Since a number of you have asked, I’ll say a little more about the bamboo sock yarn. First off, photos cannot capture this yarn in all its glory. It glows. It has internal luminescence. You also cannot tell from a picture how wonderfully soft it is. Which brings me to a concern: how will these socks hold up in the long run? Remains to be seen, but the wool content should help. It certainly ameliorates the tendency of bamboo yarn to split, which is a blessing while you are knitting with it.

On the ball band the yarn claims to be, “ecologically pure and environment friendly.” Sounds good, but I don’t know how you would verify those claims. And compared to what? Are sheep so terribly bad for the environment? I guess they consume more resources than bamboo, but I seriously doubt that the lifestyles, consumption patterns, and emissions of sheep are really the most pressing environmental problem confronting our leaders today. Still, nothing wrong with a really nice fiber made from bamboo (and wool, let’s not forget)! It’s an idea whose time has come. Thumbs up!

And because I have absolutely no ability to judge how much knitting I can get done in a week, I am also taking Alchemy Haiku for Icarus:

Here’s what I am not taking with me:
You come to me two days before you go on vacation and you ask me to do murder. To kill mice. But you don’t show respect. You don’t show friendship.

Mr. Kitty has been especially insufferable since we let him watch The Godfather.

Since I’m leaving, I’ve also had to do a little housework this week so as to leave the place clean. What with the animals shedding like mad in the heat, it has been no small task to keep up with the sweeping. And yet, the moment I notice veritable drifts of dog and cat fur monumental enough to make Frosty the Snowman say, “Howdy!” any evidence of shedding, I get out my trusty vacuum and sweep that right up. Heloïse would be so proud!

Fittingly, the “mindful vacation” does not include an internet connection, so Sarah will be blogging next week with a little assist from Alex. I look forward to reconnecting with everyone in August.

Oh, and guys? May the twelve gifts of the sun, whatever they may be, be yours. Namaste.

A cabled yarn

Wednesday, July 26th, 2006

Well, despite my protestations about “getting out of the fiber’s way” and all that, I have bent the butterscotch and pink wools to my will just a bit.

butterscotch and pink cabled yarn 

I did make a 2-ply yarn out of them, but then I thought how cool it would be if I took things one step further and made a cabled yarn.  Here’s a detail:

butterscotch & pink cabled yarn detail 

A cabled yarn, for those who may not know, is made by taking two 2-ply yarns and plying them back together in the opposite direction.  You could conceivably take two 3-ply yarns and ply them, two 4-ply yarns, etc., as well as doing other nutty things like plying a 2-ply with another single, a 2-ply with a 3-ply, and on and on.  These yarns, according to Diane Varney in Spinning Designer Yarns, fall under the broad heading of crepe yarns.

The advantages to cabled yarns, in addition to having almost limitless yarn design possibilities for the handspinner, are that they are very strong, they pill less when knitted and worn (because more of those little fiber ends are locked into the yarn), and they show stitch and cable work beautifully.  Disadvantage?  They take more time to execute for the handspinner and they eat up your yardage.  (Although, of course, you are getting a thicker yarn.  You pays your money and you takes your choice.)

For example, this yarn has been through my hot little hands four times.  Once, to spin the singles.  Twice, to ply into a 2-ply.  Thrice, to ply into a cable.  Four times, to take off the bobbin and wind onto the niddy-noddy.  You can see how this can get time-consuming.  But it sure is pretty, no?

In the midst of all this mad plying, I took a little break to comb some more of that lime green superwash.  Except it’s not really lime green to start with.

gold & khaki roving 

Isn’t that ugly roving?  Gold and khaki.  Yum.  And yet, when you put it through the combs, it morphs into something quite lovely.  Amazing.  Those folks at Brown Sheep really know their stuff.  (This is a superwash mill end from Brown Sheep, in case I didn’t already say.)

And, hey!  Remember my plan involving Ziploc bags and wool?  Here’s proof that I am, indeed, moving forward with that:

large bag of wool 

A very large Ziploc bag full of 4 1/2 pounds of washed wool.  This is a natural grey/brown Romney fleece that I bought last year (in the grease) and just finished washing recently.  Don’t ask me what the plan is for this–I don’t yet know.  But, man, I love those natural grey/brown/black fleeces.

Lorinda, you asked what we’re reading.  I listen to lots of books on tape and CD from Recorded Books.  Right now I’m listening to Monk’s Hood, a Brother Cadfael mystery by Ellis Peters.  I’m reading Sharpe’s Tiger, by Bernard Cornwell, a prolific author of historical novels whom I recently discovered.  In general, I like to read historical novels and mysteries, with the occasional guilty pleasure of a romance thrown in.  Oh, and I do like a well-written fantasy or sci fi now and again.


S4, now available in sizes 1X-5X

Tuesday, July 25th, 2006

Sarah modelling the simple summer sweater S4, aka Sarah’s Simple Summer Sweater
(sizes 1X-5X)

Fits bust sizes: (1X 49-51, 2X 52-54,
3X 55-57, 4X 58-60, 5X 61-63)

A link to this range of sizes is also available under “Free Patterns” in the side bar. For more and larger pictures, click here. For all posts on this sweater and its evolution, click the category “S4: Sarah’s Simple Summer Sweater” in the sidebar.

Please note that if you downloaded the previous pdf, there has been a correction on page 3. This minor change is highlighted for your convenience. Happy knitting!

A big storm knocked it over

Tuesday, July 25th, 2006

Although yesterday was downright pleasant, the weekend brought us some truly horrific weather in the form of the tail end of a hurricane. Those tails still have some lash left in them, I’ll tell you.
Results, regrettably, all too typical.

In one case a whole, mature tree was cut down in its prime. My attempts to photograph it on Saturday morning were foiled by—and I know you’re not going to believe me at first—the humidity. Yes, it’s true. There was so much humidity in the wake of the storm that the felled tree was barely visible through a nimbus of suspended moisture.

There were reports of 197% humidity.

Yeah, yeah, I know. But it felt true.

Fortunately, I had read an article earlier in the week about running the marathon in adverse conditions of high humidity, so I was able to explain to Alex what happens to your body when you force it to perform in 197% humidity.

Me: “Your body produces sweat, but then when it doesn’t evaporate, your body produces more sweat. And then do you know what happens?”

Alex: “No.”

Me: “Your blood volume drops!”

Alex: (Pause.) “That doesn’t sound good. That doesn’t sound good at all. (Pause.) How about if we go to the museum today? Where the lights are low and the AC is set to 78 degrees?”

Note that I did not emphasize (a) that, unlike the people described in the article, we would not be running 26.2 miles that day, or (b) that I have no clear idea what the medical ramifications of a blood volume drop are. But who cares? It sounds absolutely dire. And I wanted air conditioning.

Others had the same idea:

On a brief break from the galleries, I enjoy a contemplative and civilized knitting moment with my Regia bamboo sock yarn:
Knitting, the “new yoga,” can be practiced virtually anywhere with little or no risk of public humiliation. The old yoga, with its undignified poses and unfortunate insistence on bare feet, often proved socially devastating to its public practitioners.

Still working on the bamboo sock under the watchful and slightly disapproving eye of a 19th-century Boston socialite:
“My dear woman, it is hardly as though I approved of the old yoga, either.”

The bamboo sock relaxing with a book in a quiet corner of the museum:
“Oh, thank God we didn’t go to the zoo! I would have been forced to spend the entire day fending off pandas.”

And thus was a cool afternoon spent and normal blood volume preserved.

Just for the record, after admitting to you all last Friday that I had a Sleeve Problem, a magical thing occurred: I started one of Rogue’s sleeves. From the top down, of course. Because I would rather go to a quadruple root canal appointment at the All-Night Dentist than set in a sleeve.

But the real fun is gonna happen when I get to that complex Celtic cable on the lower part of the arm. The one that is charted going the other way? Assuming that you would knit the sleeves from the bottom up instead of the top down? Uh huh. That one.

Stick around. Things could get very interesting…

Weekend wool acquisitions

Monday, July 24th, 2006

On Saturday Rob and I went with his family over to Jamesport, MO to do a bit of shopping and a bit of sightseeing.  While the rest of them looked at antique shops, I spent a happy hour at Wool Ridge, a lovely little knitting/spinning/weaving shop, where I poked around in the wool and talked to the equally lovely owner, Geri.  Of course I couldn’t leave without a purchase (or two or three) and so I acquired this naturally-colored brown wool:

brown wool 

And this black wool:

black wool 

This stuff is very cool; it has reddish-brown highlights, as well as some grey strands that Geri told me were the next year’s wool growth coming in before the sheep was sheared.  I couldn’t resist–I already combed up a little bit of it:

combed black wool 

I also (somehow, I just don’t know how it happened) acquired some raw white wool that I’m not picturing here today because, let’s face it, pictures of white wool are kind of boring.  But I have big plans to dye it, and I’ll keep you all posted about that.

In spinning news, I made some progress on the butterscotch wool and also did some hard thinking about what to ply with it.  Here’s what I came up with:

pink roving 

This is a Brown Sheep mill end roving that has been in the stash for a while.  It’s interesting because there are so many colors in there:  pink, red, light blue, yellow.  This gives the spun yarn a kind of richness that you just don’t get from solid-dyed rovings. 

pink wool on bobbin 

The two singles side-by-side:

butterscotch & pink wool on bobbins 

I started out thinking that I was going to make this yarn a 3-ply, and I even briefly considered making this the third strand,

combed lime green 

but I really think that it’s asking to be a 2-ply.  (Besides, that lime green just looked too yucky next to the golden beauty of the butterscotch.)

Who am I to stand in the way of a yarn’s true destiny?  Sometimes you just have to get out of the fiber’s way.

Je suis le cashier

Friday, July 21st, 2006

I’ll just admit it: I’m stalled on Rogue’s sleeves. Lorinda has suggested that I just forget the sleeves and use the existing hooded sweater-vest as a vehicle to show off my tattoo. Appealing though this idea is, winter will come and I’ll be sorry. This really raises the question: could there be a widespread disorder known as “First Sleeve Syndrome?” Or am I the only one afflicted?

With Bianca, it was the second sleeve that was the heartbreaker. I briefly considered sawing off my left arm instead of knitting the sleeve, but I ultimately saw sense.

Obviously, I have a sleeve problem. Of course, as you know, the first step to recovery is admitting that you have a problem.

In the meantime, I finished those pink cotton/wool blend socks:

The feet of diverse species can coexist peacefully together if given an appropriate and gradual introduction.

I’ve also been down to our local CVS to see if I can find a remedy for my sleeve malaise and, of course, to see my favorite CVS cashier.

The first time I encountered her was a few months ago, when I tried to buy Alex some allergy medicine, but found that their stock was utterly depleted, what with the run on pseudoephedrine products by allergy-sufferers and methamphetamine addicts alike.

So, having failed at my central task, I instead bought a Diet Dr. Pepper, which I paid for with exact change, and here I do mean coins. I gave them to the cashier. She looked at the coins as if I had just put seven little turds in her palm.

Now that’s exactly the kind of dynamic, positive approach to a job that has made this nation great!

In an interaction with this same cashier a couple of weeks later, I attempted to jolly her along with a friendly, “How’re you doing?”

In a tone of infinite weariness, she replied, “Just as miserable as ever.”

Heh. I love that response, although admittedly my warm feelings toward this incredibly negative cashier are probably a direct result of my three strange and not-so-wonderful years in Berkeley. Berkeley, the town where no one would ever have said such a thing. It’s just not how things are done out there. Either you get the phony-baloney Teflon cheeriness or the “I-am-one-with-the-universe-and-I-transcend-lowly-human-things-like-mood-by-ceaselessly-doing-yoga-and-grounding-my-spiritual-life-somewhere-between-Buddhism-and-Scientology” routine.

I don’t know about you, but I just can’t get any traction in those kind of exchanges. What am I supposed to say? “Sorry, pal, but I do not believe your absurd story about transcendence, yoga, and Scientology. I suspect that you too run out of toilet paper at inopportune times, experience seasonal flooding in your basement, and have been known to yell at your children.”

Misery, however! I know from misery.

I told the cashier that I appreciated her honest response and I paid my bill in exact change: a $5 bill and six coins. True to form, she regarded the coins as though they were six little turds. And truly, it warmed my heart.

There was no remedy available for “First Sleeve Syndrome,” however.

In the wild, hand knit socks sometimes use reflective surfaces as a form of camouflage, making it impossible for predators to discern which are the real socks and which are the mere simulacra.

Spinning in the heat

Thursday, July 20th, 2006

First off, proof that Rob was really in St. Louis over the weekend:

Rob at the St. Louis Arch 

It looks hot there, doesn’t it?

Second, thanks for the kind comments and great response to the first five sizes of the S4.  I am working on the second group of sizes even as we speak, and hope to have that pattern completed and up on the site (thanks Alex!) within the next week. 

If, as you work through the pattern, you have questions or things are unclear, please feel free to email me directly by clicking on my name where it appears at the top right corner of the site.

And now, as promised, some new pictures of what I have been working on.

I finished spinning and plying the two handpainted rovings. 

2-ply from handpainted rovings 

A close-up:

close-up of 2-ply from handpainted rovings

The two singles worked out to be almost exactly even in yardage when it came time to ply them together, which made me very happy.  I was afraid that I would end up with significantly more of one than the other, and then I would have to decide what to do with that extra bit.  Ply it back on itself?  Leave it as singles?  At any rate, such a dilemma was, happily, averted.  I ended up with 5 good-sized skeins (1 pound) of 2-ply, which I have no idea what I am going to do with.  But it’s pretty, isn’t it?

I started spinning that butterscotch-colored wool:

butterscotch wool on bobbin 

This is wool that I purchased at the Heart of America Sheep Show and Fiber Fest this year.  It was washed and dyed, but not processed any further when I bought it.  I put it through my combs, and have finally started spinning it.  Let me just say, I love, love, love spinning my own combed fiber.  It’s so easy, it almost spins itself.  Compared to those handpainted rovings, which required splitting and (tedious) predrafting, this stuff is like magic.  Don’t get me wrong, those handpainted rovings were fun and ended up being quite beautiful, I think, but they were definitely more work. 

I haven’t been doing much knitting.  It’s too hot, even in the air conditioning.  I find spinning to be a cooler activity, because you don’t end up with a heavy, woolly thing in your lap. 

Hugo says, “I know it’s really hot out there, but I still kind of want to go out.” 

Hugo at the door

Ta da! Sarah’s Simple Summer Sweater now available in bust sizes 34 to 48

Wednesday, July 19th, 2006

Sarah modelling the simple summer sweater S4, aka Sarah’s Simple Summer Sweater
Fits bust sizes: xxs 34-36
(xs 37-39, sm 40-42, med 43-45, lg 46-48)

Link also available under “Free Patterns” in the side bar. For more and larger pictures, click here. For all posts on this sweater and its evolution, click the category “S4: Sarah’s Simple Summer Sweater” in the sidebar.