04 December 2007

Spin Cycle

One amusing thing about being a beginning spinner is that you have no idea what you are doing.

I have been sitting since Rhinebeck over my 4 ounces of Blue-Faced Leicester roving, spinning away and wondering why I wasn't getting through it faster.
After I filled two bobbins I began plying it. It still seemed pretty irregular, and I thought, Well, I'll have some coarse handspun to make into a shawl for my mother.

Then, when I started spinning on my spindle and it did seem to go faster - I spun up the whole 4 oz of the Spunky Fiber Club's November installment in a few days - I just assumed I was getting better.
It wasn't until I had finished all of the Spunky Club roving (Falklands wool, 212 yards total)

and was back at my wheel finishing the BFL that it dawned on me that I had actually spun laceweight.

You'd think I might have noticed before then, but no, I thought it was going to turn out pretty chunky.
262 yards, 21 wpi, and I still have quite a bit of the 4 oz hank (from Cloverleaf Farm, colorway "Jewels") to go. I hope I can hit 400 yards.

Actually, I just hope I can keep spinning this fine, now that I've gotten all self-conscious about it.

19 November 2007

Chance of rain

Or so they said in yesterday's weather forecast.

What a perfect day for sitting and knitting and spinning. Unfortunately I have to work.

I got nothing for the blog this week. I'm still slogging away on the divine Chanel Crossing. Here are some sneak preview pictures (blurry, as befits sneak preview pictures. This is the blog equivalent of those first-run movies you can buy on DVD from some guy on the street who taped it in the theater on his pocket video camera. You want them in focus, you have to wait for the official premiere).

My husband looked at me last night as I inched my way up the second sleeve and said, "Is that the sweater you wanted to finish for Rhinebeck?"

I think I detected a faint note of derision in his voice, but perhaps it was merely incredulity. I hope it was incredulity that I would wear something so glamourous to Rhinebeck, rather than a hint of doubt that I would finish this by Christmas.

12 November 2007

Handspun Harlot Hat

Three years ago I never would have dreamed that you could make this

into this

by way of this

thanks to this.

When I saw Stephanie's post about a spontaneous hat I knew that was what my handspun wanted to be.
It was my first actual cable project too, so I can cross that one off my list.

And I think I even have enough yarn left for a scarf.

08 November 2007

Gloves & Monsters

Here's a belated Halloween post showcasing my mismatched handspun handwarmers.

Same number of stitches, different levels of spinning skill.
Result: one handwarmer fits a human hand. One looks like it was made for the Incredible Hulk.

The arty flower shot is a tribute both to our fall crocuses (a highly recommended flower, sending up bright splotches of white and purple in the carpet of fallen leaves) and to this Halloween-season classic.

01 November 2007


I did not finish my sweater in time. (In fact, I haven't even finished the first sleeve. I have, however, knit the sleeve cap twice, and am working on attempt number 3.)

I did not take any pictures.

I did not eat fried artichokes. (My friend and I found it notable that the line for artichokes was as long as the line at the fleece shed.)

I did not buy any yarn.
I did not even buy wool carders, though now I wish I had.

I did not buy the gorgeous shining electric green bamboo roving that I had in my hand at the start of the day, when I had forbidden myself to buy anything til I had cased the joint. When I went back to get it, every scrap of their bamboo was gone. (Still kicking myself over that one.)

But I did buy other things.

Clockwise from top: 4 oz of Blue-Faced Leicester roving; approx. 4 ounces of a tussah silk/merino blend as creamy and rich as ice cream; 5 ounces of a wool blend whose provenance I forget; and one lovely, shining, Romney fleece.

A fiber orgy.

Getting my first fleece was a rite of passage. After waiting in line for an hour, hundreds of ravenous fiber hounds fell on this room full of fleeces like Bridezillas at a wedding-gown sale. I roamed rather haplessly up and down the aisles, pushing past overstuffed bags of fleece and the warm bodies of people thrusting their hands into them (one woman was testing locks by spinning them up on a drop spindle), feeling like a fraud and not sure what I was supposed to be looking for. (I wanted Blue-Faced Leicester, but I think most of that was in the separate BFL area.) At one point I saw that Amy King (aka Spunky Eclectic/Boogie Knits) was right next to me, going toward a fleece with such an air of fierce determination that I didn't have the nerve to say anything to her. She definitely seemed to know what she wanted (evidently she got six fleeces).
But after all that I did find a fleece that spoke to me, a Romney with a wonderful shiny luster and great crimp. And after some inner debate, and the requisite testing of a lock for crimp and strength, I headed toward the check-out with that and a cottony Corriedale. I made myself put the Corriedale back - one whole fleece is plenty for a beginner to deal with. Let alone a beginner who right now has more work than she can handle.
I adore the Romney.

And I got right to work spinning the BFL.

(This is an old picture - my first bobbin is now full.)

13 October 2007


What little fiber time we've had around Yan Tan Tethera this week has been all knitting, all the time, as I try to get my sweater done for Rhinebeck.
I have to start accepting that it ain't gonna happen.

The body is blocking now, but I only have a few inches done on the first sleeve. And such a tough work week ahead that my husband just laughed incredulously when I outlined everything I had to do.

Being me and stubborn, I am unwilling to face facts on this one (add it to the long list of unpleasant realities about which I am in denial), so I will probably knit furiously at every opportunity, and end up wearing my Faroe to Rhinebeck, draped around my shoulders since it is not likely to be cold enough to actually don such a garment.

As I struggle with the end of this sweater, I keep thinking about what makes a design "original" or not (something that's discussed quite a bit on Ravelry).

I've been playing with the idea of a Chanel-ly tweedy jacket-y sweater for a long time. I also had some yarn in various colors that I originally meant to use for a brocade sweater, then perhaps one in stripes. One week this idea and this yarn came together in a three-color tweed stitch pattern I found one evening when playing with Barbara Walker. So I figured out the kind of jacket I wanted, consulted Ann Budd, changed everything Ann Budd said, and started knitting.

I had gotten partway through the body when someone gave me Jean Frost's book of jackets and I found a jacket in the same stitch pattern in there. This month, I even saw it in the Knitpicks catalogue.

Now, mine will fit differently; I'm going for a more tailored look. (Let's be honest: my design skills are pretty embryonic at this point, and I'll just be thrilled if it fits.) But it will look similar.

For me the distinctive thing about my jacket is how it uses color. Each panel blends four colors together in the three-color tweed: two of the colors are the same throughout, but I use three different colors for the third color, so that the overall color shifts from bottom to top, wrist to shoulder.
(After all, Kaffe Fassett's originality is in his use of color, not so much in the shapes or styling of his garments.)

And goodness knows, I'm wrestling with measurements, sleeve tapering, I-cord cast-ons and finishing details that I'm figuring out myself, with plenty of reference to other sources. I certainly didn't use anyone else's pattern to make it.

So will my sweater be original?
At any rate, it probably won't be finished.

Here, for comic relief, is something I did finish: some wristwarmers with my first handspun. Since the yarn got less chunky and more even as I went along, one of these is sized for me, and the other one is sized for the Incredible Hulk. (Same number of stitches in both.)

As for Rhinebeck: I've got my button and bag. And anyone looking for me will know me by my Monkey socks.

01 October 2007

Spun Out

After a rough week I couldn't muster the energy to make it to the Spin-Out, which I'm sure was amazing. Instead, I had my own private spin-out in front of the Mets games on TV, which were by turns exciting (on Saturday) and devastating (on Sunday). I am heartbroken.

On the bright side, literally, there is fiber. I have to say one more thank you to Kit Kat Knit for sending me my first roving as a prize. There was something liberating in having this wonderful fiber given to be out of the blue (or whatever color the Internet is). First, it's awfully pretty.

Then, because I won it, I had a sense of freedom about experimenting with it. I also have some roving I bought from Knitterly Things, but I was worried about messing it up. But because this was a gift, I got to luxuriate in it. As a result, and because it has so many vibrant colors, I figured out more about spinning with colors, striping, plying, etc., than I would have in weeks of careful spinning with undyed roving, and I had much more fun than I would have had in anxious spinning with non-gifted roving. So it has turned into an exceptionally appreciated gift.

My anticipation about the finished product was so intense that it was but a short step from this to this:

For all my excitement, I was a little disappointed at how chunky and homemade it looked, in comparison to other people's amazing homespun yarns.

Then, the fantastic guest blogs by Laurie over at The Yarn Harlot (these things can keep a beginning spinner awake at night, kind of like Christmas Eve for a small child, but more involved) led me to one of Stephanie's own tutorials, this one on predrafting.

Oh. So THAT'S what "predrafting" means.

So I went back to my wheel.

Before and after:

Left: the first skein of handspun from KitKatKnit's roving: about 112 yards, 6 or 7 WPI.
Right: the rest of the handspun I spun after I read Stephanie's tutorial, with about one-third as much fiber: about 140 yards, 10 WPI.

Strike another blow for the power of the Internet.

24 September 2007

Astrid Furnival, knitting artist

Since I began this blog, I've been intending to post about an artist who's inspired me (and who, without knowing it, gave this blog its name).

I can't believe that with all the current interest in knitting, nobody seems to have discovered the work of Astrid Furnival.

Astrid is a knitting artist. She hand-dyes yarn with natural dyes from plants she collects herself, and knits them into unique sweaters and hangings.
The above image is a portrait of Samuel Palmer, the British visionary artist (click on his name to see the original portrait she was working from). Below, you can see it in context - as a sweater.

Get a load of the wrong side of the piece. Astrid cares not a bit for weaving in ends. (Note that this sweater is at least 15-20 years old, and has been actively worn for years with no ill-effects.)

I wish I had more shots of Astrid's amazing sweaters and hangings. She did one that was a whole set of indigo variations on the Navajo word for "blue." She did this wall hanging, based on the Chanson de Roland, which now hangs in a museum in New Mexico. (Sorry for the lousy photo - you can see it a little better if you click on it. Note the dimensions: 56 inches high, 108 inches across.)

But the work I know best and the one that inspired the name of this blog is a set of sheep-counting rhymes from five different regions of Great Britain. Each of the five panels is dyed with plants from the region in question.

(I'm not going to win any awards with these bad pictures - but at least they give some idea. Again, you can see them better if you click on them. Note the all-important Yan Tan Tethera, center (Borrowdale) panel.)

It seems to me that, with all of us knitting fanatics out there, Astrid (who now lives in France) should be poised for wide recognition (or at least a spread in Interweave Knits). An enterprising publisher could do an amazing book of photographs of her pieces that knitters would snap up.

I hear that she is not working much these days because of problems with her hands. All the more reason to celebrate her underappreciated oeuvre.

23 September 2007

How Lucky Can You Get?

This luscious yarn arrived in the mail yesterday. Handpainted from Painted Skeins in the most perfectly beautiful autumnal colors.

It came to me courtesy of KnitMap, a great new site that's basically an interactive map of LYS's all over the world. You can use it to post reviews and, if you're planning a trip, find a yarn store anywhere you happen to be going. It's a fantastic resource and very well designed.

And as if that weren't enough, Stacy, whose brainchild this was, holds weekly raffles for users - and, out of the blue, I was one of last week's three winners.

Now, I would be recommending KnitMap eagerly in any case. But in this rosy "Afterglow" (that's the name of the colorway), which bathes the site in a downright romantic haze, I feel impelled to send everyone I know there, and to spend hours there myself, in sheer gratitude.

Hours, that is, when I'm not knitting socks.

17 September 2007

My First Handspun

It's the baby steps one is always most proud of. After one gets good at walking, one just takes it for granted.

Here is my first very own yarn.

I'm not sure it's even enough for a hat. My spinning guru recommended doing a 5x5 swatch, but I am sure there's not enough for a swatch and anything else.

Spinning lessons are incredibly cool. When I started knitting a couple of years ago, I was stubborn beyond reason about wanting to figure everything out myself. Each lesson - gleaned from books, the internet, trial and error - was hard-won, and a source of pride. For some reason, with spinning I feel just the opposite - I am really enjoying having someone show me how it's done. Of course, this is partly because I found a teacher whose emphasis is on the creativity of the process, on continually playing with the yarn, trying different variants, remembering not to be limited by the conservative or conventional.

By saying all that, I just might be able to convince people that the big chunks of undigested fiber that are visible in this yarn were left in as the result of a deliberate choice. Yup. I'm creative that way.

As far as knitting goes: since I have decided to try to finish my "Crossing the Chanel" cardigan/jacket for Rhinebeck, there may not be a lot of very photogenic knitting going on around here for a while. I truly love this sweater - I keep caressing the fabric as I go. But it is a slog. And I'm not sure the result, however well it may turn out, is going to be commensurate with the effort. Anything that progresses this slowly should end up as some magnificent Alice Starmore creation (by Margene) that reveals some of the work that went into it.

But I do have my second, improved Baby Surprise Jacket to show, though still unseamed and un-buttoned:

This one is a definite improvement on the first one (ugh, that neckline makes me cringe). I went down to size 4 needles, so it is more likely the baby may actually be able to wear it within the next 12 months, and since I had been through the pattern once I had figured out the slight trickiness about how to pick up the lower ten stitches on the RS rather than the WS of the jacket.

But by now I am heartily sick of these jackets. And I still like other people's better. (Oh, wait, that's Margene again. Hm, maybe it's just that I like Margene's knitting?)

06 September 2007

The reveal

My downstream sock pal has received her socks.

Imagine the challenge, the intimidation, of knitting socks for the woman who makes this. And this (which I can't wait to emulate). I was practically paralyzed with anxiety. I am delighted that she likes them.

I am planning to work a new pair of these socks using her own yarn (since, after all, these were created for her, and Vesper socks should really be made with Vesper Sock Yarn) but rejiggering the pattern on the leg. The pattern I used is Charlene Schurch's, and though I like it, I want to design one of my own. Once I've done that I will post it here.

Other knitting news is slow, in part because of a cross-country trip over Labor Day (though the stranded-in-the-airport part of the trip was actually quite conducive to slog knitting) and in part because of an existential crisis regarding the Minimalist Cardigan.

To wit: is this the right yarn?
For while I am learning to reconcile myself to the handmade aspects of my knitted creations, I am also learning that yarns have certain distinct properties. I have read about this kind of thing, but have acted as if I were somehow above it. I do swatch to get gauge, so I suppose that galloping ahead knitting a pattern with a yarn that is not recommended for it is a kind of compensation for that (for me) atypical demonstration of knitterly irresponsibility

But after my experience with my Banff, I have vowed to be vigilant. (Remind me to tell you about that some time.) The lesson I learned with that is: if you suspect that the sweater is not going to look as great with the yarn you're using as it does in the pattern, STOP KNITTING.
(I haven't even photographed the damn thing. Too depressing. It's perfectly OK, but Banff is designed to be knit in a heathery tweedy yarn, and in a smooth plain-colored yarn it just looks, well, nondescript. Add to this the fact, which I also suspected from the get-go and wilfully ignored, that a sweater that looks cute and darling on a small frame is not necessarily quite as cute and darling on a woman six feet tall. Large and baggy, more like it.)

Now, what drew me to the Minimalist Cardigan was its groomed, tailored quality. But I have a feeling that with the yarn I'm using, I am already getting something, well, less sophisticated. I divide my clothes into country clothes and city clothes, and I want this to be a city sweater, and yet as I knit I seem to hear a rural twang emanating from the stitches. (Is that a hayseed I see before me?) So I made myself stop and consider, carefully, because it hurts a lot less to frog a couple of inches than a whole sweater (stay tuned for Banff, Part Two).

And if I could ever learn to use this camera indoors, maybe you could see what I am talking about. Point and click, my foot.

A final, if tangential, warning to beginning knitters. When you make two identical lace doilies, and you want to make them the same size but you don't have enough blocking pins to block them side by side, BLOCK THEM TOGETHER. That is, lay one atop the other and insert a pin through each crochet loop along the border. Do not, I repeat, do not, block them one after the other.

I rest my case.

28 August 2007

Fiber Goddess (On Being Finicky)

My spinning wheel lives at our house in the country, which is fine, except that I thought, Where am I going to find anyone to teach me how to spin in the country?

This question was idly bruited over dinner with friends, who answered: oh, about two miles down the road.

Down the road, at a house tucked behind a thin veil of trees, there is a house where there used to be a fiber shop filled with needles, yarn, books. There used to be a flock of sheep. There used to be eight looms. Now there are only three looms, and the fiber shop has closed; and the woman who used to run the looms, breed the sheep, sell the fiber said, when I called her, Sure, she would be happy to give me lessons.

I find knitting a good discipline because it requires a certain amount of picky detail, which is not something that comes naturally to me, and which, as a result, I have instinctively sought out at different times in my life to counterbalance my tendencies to soar with grand ideas into the clouds. But there are aspects of the discipline of knitting that make me itch: writing down a pattern, for example. I like the idea of making things, less the idea of regulating what is made.

I think of fiber gurus, however, as having a natural ability to focus on details and write down patterns. So it was an unexpected gift to find that the fiber guru who just happens to live down the street embraced the creative part, rather than the finicky part. She dreamed bigger than I did. She pulled out bags of silk fiber, skeins of merino, thick handspun like colored dredlocks. She talked about dyeing without keeping track of the dye lots, combining different fibers to see what happened, buying a whole fleece that we could prepare together.

At one point as I was spinning I said, embarrassed at my beginner's yarn, Oh, it's not very even.

And she said, I've never spun an even yarn. You want an even yarn, get storebought. The whole point is that it's not even. I mean, why am I going to all this trouble?

Which is a nice comment on the quality of being handmade - the unevenness and un-finickiness of which is part of what I enjoy about knitting in the first place.

(This might even reconcile me to the wobbliness of my Baby Surprise Jacket. And after all, the buttons are pretty cute.)

23 August 2007

On finishing

My knitting eyes are bigger than my stomach.

I dream of great creations; wonderful intricate sweaters with involved color work; giving friends elaborate gifts I made,even designed myself.

I finish knitting a sweater: the stitches look even, the rows are flat and neat, and I am happy.
Then I sit down to sew the pieces together and am forced to remember that I have not been doing this very long.

I have taught myself patience in the last couple of years. I have learned how to mattress stitch, and how to join stitches to rows along a seam, stitch by stitch, matching the colors to the stripes. I have learned to crochet a border. I place buttons carefully, making sure they are evenly spaced and aligned with the buttonholes.

And yet, when I am done and survey the finished product, I only see its imperfections. The buttons always gap a little, the seams are sometimes harder and stiffer than I would like, the edges are not crisp. It looks, well, homemade.

Now, I realize that the homemade look is part of the charm of a hand knit. And I love my friend who wears the sweater I designed and made for her all the time, embracing its imperfections. But still, I feel I've brought my knitting to a level that I should be getting crisper, happier results.

The only sweater I've ever been thoroughly satisfied with is my Faroe.

14 August 2007

Catching some rays

To mitigate the recent sock focus of this blog, I thought it was high time to allow in a ray of summer sunshine in the form of the Baby Surprise Jacket, here catching some rays at the local lake.

This little sweater has been ripped out so many times it has earned some sun privileges. One problem is that it's so deceptively easy that I think it's the Log Cabin Blankie and therefore forget to count. I had to rip out many rows after spending an hour blithely chatting on the phone to a friend while knitting, figuring I had just AGES to go until it was time to make the increases around the waist. Not. Ages.

I added quite a bit to it last night after this picture was taken, but most of that will have to go too. To anyone who hasn't made it yet and wants to, I definitely recommend reading this before you start. I looked at the page briefly, but not carefully enough to see that it anticipated the problem of picking up stitches on the wrong side of the jacket, which I solved rather maladroitly with a row of plain knitting that looks and feels odd in a fabric of garter stitches.

Fortunately I have another new baby to knit for, and more yarn left over from the Log Cabin, so I am going to plunge right into a second one to enjoy the thrill of getting it right the first time. I hope.

08 August 2007

Happy Feet

From the moment I signed up for Sockapalooza, I assumed that I would be one of the ones whose sock pal went AWOL. It seemed to me that through the law of averages one would have to do several swaps in order to get a pal who came through.

So I was thrilled when I first heard from my sock pal. And even so, I was so focused on knitting for my own pal that on some level I didn't quite believe that at the end of this process there would be a pair of socks for me.

Imagine my surprise.

My Sock Pal is Traci, who doesn't have a blog, and who did a fantastic job with these socks. They're beautifully knit, with my favorite short-row heels, and altogether so tight and compact it puts me to shame. I love the bright confetti-colored yarn and the not-quite-basketweave inlay pattern she chose. And they fit absolutely perfectly. Thank you so much, Traci. I will cherish these always.

07 August 2007

Monkeying around

Hey, hey, we're the Monkeys...

The only square thing about these socks is their toe. (It didn't help that I almost ran out of yarn and had to decrease a little more abruptly than planned on the last 3 rows.)

It turned out that what imprinted on these socks was not opera but Anthony Trollope, since Can You Forgive Her is my husband's and my current read-aloud book (even though I've read it already - there is no such thing as too much Trollope). Victorian novels seem to make the best summertime read-aloud books, probably because they were written to be read aloud in the first place. The only problem with knitting and reading aloud is I only get to do it every other night because we take turns reading.

On another note: lest anyone think I was exaggerating about the size of my Sidewinders, I submit this:

These two socks are knit for the same foot.
Exhibit B:

Now, I am well aware that the engineering of the Sidewinder requires a whole different kind of measurement (since a knit stitch stretches differently on the horizontal than on the vertical). And I appreciate that the Sidewinder extends considerably farther up the leg than do most socks (which is an advantage when you are more than six feet tall, like me). But still: that is one big sock.

22 July 2007

Socks on the Rocks

The completed socks enjoy the view on vacation.

The completed socks take time to smell the flowers.

Hey, says Sock #1, this picture makes me look fat.

Yeah, says Sock #2; how come she didn't bring along the sock blockers?

Yeah, says Sock #1, just because SHE is running around in the same pair of jeans with no makeup on for days on end doesn't mean she should let US go.

Yeah, says Sock #2, we have appearances to keep up. Besides, how can the people appreciate that we are symmetrical and our patterns start on our respective insteps if she doesn't take a proper picture?

Yeah, says Sock #1, or see that YOU have a little hole where the stitches come together in the short-row heel.

NO WAY, says Sock #2, that's YOU. Besides, what about that slightly raised half-row on the reverse side of your sole where she forgot to knit to the end of one of your stripes and ended up with an extra half-row of twice-slipped stitches?


Hey, Socks, I say, look at the great quote I just found about what the local knitters around here used to do to THEIR socks!

“Stockings were knitted by the farmers and their families for their own use. Those made from local wool were worn every day, but 'holiday stockings' were made of worsted. The heels of the stockings were apt to be worn thin by the rough clogs so the heels were smeared with melted tar then dipped in turf ashes which when mixed in with the wool became hard yet flexible enough to resist friction.”
Marie Hartley and Joan Ingilby, The Old Hand-Knitters of the Dales. Yorkshire: The Dalesman Publishing Company, Ltd., 1969 (first printed 1951)

Melted tar and ashes to make you nice and strong! I say. What do you think about that, Socks?

NO NO NO NO, say the socks both together, and head off with a new unity of purpose to enjoy the rest of their vacation.

Starting by climbing a tree.