Friday, 29 May 2009

Adventures in felting

Shawl knitting is coming along nicely. I have about a foot of edging left to knit but I am going to need another ball of yarn. Morning found me in my study see what other things I could work on today.

A couple weeks ago, I unearthed this project. It is the practise piece for Mr. Needles stranded colour work vest. (On going knitting, just not today) My goal for this practise piece has always been to felt it.

I haven't really done much felting and the felting that I did was a carefully measured swatch to see what the change in size from unfelted to felted would be. Hey why don't I felt!

I did exactly what I did last time, and heated up some water and put it in my mixer (big kitchenaid type) and put on the blade and turned it on. Disaster. I had forgotten to lock the machine into place. It started bouncing all over the cabinet as the blade tried to work its way around the knitting. Water was flung everywhere.

'Self', I says, 'you need to turn that machine to a slower setting.' I reached in around the sloshing to change the speed. A wave of hot water splashed on my hand and instead of slowing the beast down, I knocked the lever forward to speed things up.

By now, the entire kitchen was bouncing along with the darn machine as the blade tried to get by the knitting. Water was flinging through the air. Bubbles were spitting out of the bowl. I wasn't going to reach for the switch again. I didn't think I could without burning my hand.

In the millisecond as I reached to pull the mixers plug, I thought, 'you know, the way your luck is running this morning, you just might electrocute yourself. You are standing in a puddle of hot soapy water. Your clothes are drenched.' Time slowed right down and I had the most amazingly clear conversation with myself. Almost eloquent. Yet, if I didn't do something, the machine was going to bounce its way to the floor so I reached and yanked. With the power off, I had a chance to look at the disaster. Water was slopped all over my floors, the counter and way over to the table where my knitting was. I wiped up the floor, and took a good look at the bowl with the sopping wet knitting in it.

In the way that the completely delusional think about things, I decided the problem was quite clearly the blade on the machine. What I really should have been using was the dough hook.

Yeah, that's it. Lets put the dough hook on that puppy and get the felting done.

If you can't figure out what happened, just go right back to the top and read this whole scene over again. This time, I did lock the machine in place. No bouncing.

I'm going to go have coffee now. Might take some Aspirin too.

Thursday, 28 May 2009


I've often wondered at the sometimes brilliant colour combinations that show up in hand dyed yarn. How is it that such different things can be so right to human eyes? I understand the basics of the science of colour and I have an inkling of how our eyes see and sort colour wave lengths, but what is it that inspires us to put certain colours together, what is it that makes combinations feel right together.

You never quite think of these colours being together anywhere in nature, and yet... It's all there, in the big picture.

The greens are tiny new leaves and fresh little shoots on evergreens. The blues are the deeps of a clear twilight sky. The rich greys are shadows and edges as the light ever so slowly fades to night.

You have to step back and stop for just a moment to see the long view. Looking for the long view at twilight is magic.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Knitting Goes Large - a book review

With my brand new spiffy library card, I've been checking out some old and new books that are all new to me.

Right now in my hot little hands, I have a copy of Knitting Goes Large.

I really wanted to love Knitting Goes Large. I was kind of looking forward to it. I have Martin Storey and Sharon Brant's "Classic Knits for Real Women" and I like that book fine. Its simple shapes and good designs made it a book I could work with.

Knitting goes Large is not a book I can love easily. It claims to go Large, but the starting size in the book is a 38 inch bust and the top size in it is a 48 inch bust. According to the book, even the 'most generously sized women will find something that will suit their figure by type.' Huh?

48 inch busts are pretty normal. 42 and 44 inch busts are not even remotely unusual for very average sized women.

Are you meaning mature woman rather than large? A lot of mature women, women who are mid life, need just a little more space across the shoulder and around the bust than the young 20 somethings. Not large, just mature sized.

Generously sized? If you want generously sized, come to me, I am generously sized. If you are aiming it at 'large' and mean to have these fit generously sized women you are going to have to begin where you leave off.

As I went through the book, I noticed something else. The fit of the many of the sweaters on the models is strikingly odd. There is one sweater, the Split Neck Tunic; nice sweater, but honestly, it looks like it is going to fall right off the models shoulders. Taking a closer look at the design measurements, the top size is for a 48 inch bust, but the finished garment measurement is 60.5 inches at the bust. The sweater is designed with a foot of ease? At the bust? Are you sure?

Did you really want women to constantly be hiking the shoulders up on their clothes. Did you mean for us to feel swamped by the fabric? Is falling out of our clothing now the fashion?

Why didn't I get that memo?

There are others. I could go on.

It isn't that the designs are bad. Indeed the designs are really really good. The green Twisted Rib sweater would be stunning if it fit the model. That blue Split Neck Tunic would look wonderful if it weren't 4 sizes too large for the model. Perfect for Saturday afternoons. I really really like the Cabled Tunic. There is a little Kim Hargreaves vest that is gorgeous, a little white camisole that every woman on the planet would find a home for in her wardrobe, the swing jackets, divine. I can't find fault with any of the designs. They are stunning, lovely, simple (well except for the big collars. I'm not a big collar person. Maybe on really tall women.)

These designs would fill the planet with women knitting if they could only figure out what size to knit. All I can say for certain is that you weren't aiming it at the very young and the very slender. As for the rest? Too many questions.

It breaks my heart not to be happy with this book. I like the design work that went into it, but the fit, the ease, the oddities leave me with too many unanswered questions to spend good money on it.

In my ratings, I have to give it a single crochet. Get it from the library, and knit with caution.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Tealday not Tuesday

After Fridays travel there was a lot of weekend left for knitting, yard work, laundry and other assorted household chores. Since yard work, laundry and other assorted household chores sound a lot more like work, I'm just going to show you the knitting part.

First up, I did a swatch of the very thick Prairie Wool from Custom Woolen Mills. This is the yarn most similar to the yarn traditionally used for Cowichan sweaters.
I did the swatch on 10 mm needles and got a gauge of 2 stitches per inch. I'm not sure if I would do it on much smaller needles, and bigger needles might be to large for the yarn. It's very lightly spun, almost unspun and it needs a fairly firm texture to support itself. This gauge feels about right. Flexible, soft and not armour, which it could very easily be if knit too tight.

Its chunky, its chubby and according to all that is holy, a big girl like me should not ever wear a big chunky yarn like this. I am going to do it anyway. After all, if you can't live to be fifty-one and wear what you please what is the point of being fifty-one? I will aim for a nice warm vest for fall and early winter, something that is outer wear that can be worn as inner wear when it gets beastly cold.

Keeping with the if it is Tuesday it must be Tealday theme, I've been putting a lot of work into my version of Shawl That Jazz. I finished the back and forth part Saturday afternoon, making it a speedy knit.

I have made a few adjustments to the pattern (here is hoping I got the scale of it right.). First off, because I mean to wear this shawl to work, I needed to make it a little smaller. I chose a slightly lighter weight yarn, Tove, and worked it on 4.5 mm needles. I cast on what the pattern calls for (I would cast on just a few less next time - it is a little wider than I wanted) and knit. Because I wanted it shorter than shown, I started to do the double stitches on each side at row 150 rather than waiting to row 99. It will be shallower than the pattern shows, but almost the same width.

Early on, I knew I didn't want to leave the edging be just a plain garter stitch band. The yarn is quite plain, good, but very plain, and all the plain dark teal needed to be offset by just a little something. I've been thinking about it, and took Saturday evening to go through all the lace edgings in my library.

I wanted a wide edging, so I wouldn't have to fuss a lot on the slightly rounded bottom shape to get the lace to lay just right. I wanted a simple edging. Tove is a toothy sort of yarn and the pattern needed to be simple lace to let the yarn show off all of its qualities. I kept going back to a pattern from Barbara Walker' Second Treasury, the Godmother's Edging. It just felt right. A simple wide lace, easily adjustable if I needed to make the lace curve on the bottom or if I wanted the border lace wider.

I think I got it right. It makes me want to dance around the room when I see how good the lace looks with the simplicity of the pattern and the toothy crunchy goodness of the yarn.

Hard to sit still and type when you're dancing!

Monday, 25 May 2009

Road Trip!

Friday was an absolutely glorious day here on the prairies. Proof that even here, spring will come. It was a marvelous day for a road trip. Remember how I said there would be pictures? Sure there is, just not from my camera, which stayed home. But the Frazzled Knitter, who so kindly took me with her, has done a bang up job, photos and all, describing the trip. Just look at the blue sky. Marvelous.

Custom Woolen Mills was as expected yet it was entirely unexpected. The staff were so very friendly and willing to stop for a minute and chat with us about what they were doing. We got to the mill before lunch and were able to watch the equipment in progress. I don't know what I was more fascinated by, the sheet carder, the mule spinner, the washing process, or the machine that carded and then turned out the ropey roving most of us buy.

The sheet carder making great huge rolls of quilt batts for sleeping bags, custom quilting, and simply for sale, was particularly fascinating, rolling delicate layer after delicate layer of wool. I have no idea how I thought they did that, but whatever the picture in my mind was of how they did that, this wasn't it. It is simple common sense and really quite rhythmic, but I just never thought about it before. And now I know.

We watched socks being knit. The machines do cuff to heel to foot and a second heel, which of course, forms the toe. That open toe attaches with a bit of nylon spacer yarn, to the next sock, in a long stream of socks all knitted together. Once they are snipped apart and the toe sewn closed, the socks are ready for sale in the store.

We watched the quilting lady work on a custom order. Absolutely lovely work and a very interesting set up. Its an old long arm spring mounted set up, where the machine moves around and the pattern is attached to a guide on the ceiling. She can quilt 8 doubles or queens a day in your choice of fibres and covers. The majority of their quilts are meant to be used with a duvet cover for decoration, but they do complete custom quilting with covers you have sewn as well. I'm not sure about anybody else, but I could use one of these. Deep in the archives of unfinished stuff, I have a quilt top under construction and you know, custom finishing might be the way to go. Wool quilt batt? You bet.

The shop...sigh. I loved the shop. A warm homey atmosphere, filled with yarn, knitted things, felted things, sweet sheepy things galore. I love places like that. Stash enhancement ensued.

First, I managed to snare a copy of Knitting Ganseys by Beth Brown Reinsel from their well stocked book shelves. Then after taking a good look at the custom sweaters, and socks and ready to go baby things, I went over to the yarn side of the store.

There was some seriously fine Alpaca Wool blend that is going to make a wonderful shawl. I think something like Miralda's Shawl from Knitted Lace of Estonia, or a combination of old Shetland patterns. A black sweater is a must and my old standby is no longer with us and my lightweight black is wearing out, so I stocked up on 2 ply Mule Spun wool to make a warm black something. I added a little bright because there is just no way I could resist their wall of brilliant colours. It was the hardest thing to not get more of that gorgeous turquoise and just a bit of black, but I talked sense into myself and took black, but that little bit of blue is going to pop your eyes out.

And finally, after telling people about Custom Woolen Mills being the only place I know of to get a yarn for the traditional Cowichan style sweaters, I got some of that for a simple vest. Note how it is a heathered teal. I actually stood to decide between several shades of teal for way longer than it should have taken, but the warmth of the colours is quite simply mind boggling.

All the Custom Woolen Mills yarns have an artisanal quality about them. They are earthy and warm and good, and the entire place feels like the yarn, earthy and warm and good. If you want yarn milled using time honoured and environmentally friendly traditions, this is the place.

Next, off to the Vendor Market at the Spinners Weavers and Dyers conference. It was a breathtaking sight. The colours. The wool. The Alpaca. The bamboo. The spinning wheels. Oh my.

This was a really hard choice. I hit vendors from near and far, and came away with a little bit of everything. Some Alpaca and Silk from Alpaca Plus (the two large bags), some blended with sparkly bits Merino from Aurelia Wool and Weaving , some delicate baby camel (in the tiny bag up top) from Ceiligh Wool in Millet, Alberta, andSome delicately dyed merino from Homespun Haven from Armstrong BC. This last is going to make a heathered yarn, I think. If it turns out as well as I hope, I may need more of this wonderful soft blend of colours.

It was a really great day. I'd do it again in a heartbeat. There is the Olds fibre festival coming up at the end of June, and I'll be making sure I have time to get down there for a visit to their vendor market. Word is it is bigger and better than this one.

So much to see and do in one small day but it was wonderful. A day well traveled.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Finally Friday

You know how when you are young, and waiting for Christmas to come? Time slows and it takes forever to come. That is how I feel.

I'm going on a road trip with a friend to check out Hand Weavers Spinners and Dyers of Alberta Conference being held in Olds. Not to the conference mind, but the vendor market, which opens this afternoon. These are some of our great western Canadian vendors, and I can't wait to check everything out. The original road trip was going to include a stop at Ceiligh ( spinning wheels out of Millet Alberta). She is going to be at the conference, so we will visit her there, and will stop at her shop another day.

The trip also is going to include a stop at Custom Woolen Mills, an intriguing mill near in Carstairs. They operate using old fashioned techniques and antique machinery to make marvelous modern yarns. I have not had any experience with their yarn except for the bulky weight yarn, so I can't wait to see their some of their other offerings.

They are one of those rare places that still offers a yarn close to the old buffalo yarn (brand not fibre) used to make the Cowichan sweaters which are once again coveted by sweater people. (See Vogue Knitting from last fall). They sell cones and skeins so there is something for everybody.

And rovings and quilt batts. And bags of fribres. And socks, and blankets... and oddly enough, roving of the sort that is treated and meant to be used for chinking between the logs of your log cabin and insulative batts for your home. These guys think of everything.

I've got to get moving. There will be photos next week of the market and if we are allowed to take photos at the Mill, I'll put some up too.

For now, I will leave you with pictures of last weekends lake adventures. Mr. Needles took the photos and finally sent some home. I don't imagine that it would be much different up there this weekend either. Until today, no one is this part of the country saw any amount of sun.

Along the creek near the campground.

At the mouth of the river, looking across the lake. You can just see the ice pack on the lake.

Full on ice

Today the sun is out, the sky is blue and I am on a road trip.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Considering Change

Where once I worried about not posting enough about the 'Things' part of this blogs title, I now am deeply concerned about how there seems to be more weather and less needles. I am considering changing the name of this blog to 'Whining with Weather' or something like that. Weather is taking over the blog.

If it were at least warm weather taking over the blog, I might accept it, if it were even normal temperatures I could accept it, but this is just ridiculous.

Here it is, into the last third of May and these are photos of trees in my yard, a smaller birch in the foreground and tall native poplars behind. If you are right in the City of Edmonton, the trees and shrubs are more properly dressed. The 3-4 degree difference of the city micro climate is enough to speed things up in town, but out here in the county, those tiny proto leaves that went scurrying back into the branches a while back, have made up their collective minds and just are not showing up till somebody turns up the heat.

These are the biggest leaves in the yard. sigh.
OK, this might be unfair. Spirea usually look scraggy and stick like at this time of year. Not that I am bitter.

Why do I care what the weather is like outside? I have a warm house. I am out of the wind. I have yarn, and needles. I should be good to go.

I am going outside to work on fleece 3 again today. I hoped to have fleece 4 ready for the hot water wash as well, but the late spring and slow growth has left this part of the world dry and brown, and easily burnable. The fire bans are still on, a wise move on the councils part.

So, it will be me, a fleece and a cold water wash.

When I come in, I'm going to think seriously about gathering together some nice wool, and knitting me some of Elizabeth Zimmermann's longies.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Other things to knit around a campfire.

As I said yesterday, I did other knitting around the campfire. After a few hours of sock knitting, in the chill, I needed to warm up my hands, so putting on my gloves I sat with a warm cup of coffee and looked through the Barbara Walker Treasuries. The books were an impulse addition to the book pile, but a good one.

With the van stocked with yarns, I could do almost anything but a sweater. I wanted something I could do on larger needles, and a particular skein of Noro Silk Garden Sock yarn caught my eye. With just a single skein, a narrow scarf seemed right. I wanted something simple to let the colours of the yarn be the star. This is Noro and it would to heartbreaking to hide its brilliant palette in something fancy. I landed on Brioche stitch. The website is well worth wasting time at.

If you have ever done a brioche stitch, you already know what I am about to say. What a neat knit. What a wonder of a stitch pattern. On a basic brioche stitch, you are always working in groups of three stitches, but only one stitch is ever a knit. It is knitting with a lot of not quite knitting. YO Slip1 Knit 2 tog.

It is rhythmic. Because there are only 3 stitches in each pattern group, you develop a very strong rhythm in just a few minutes. From the beginning it feels as if it is connected to something older than time, and you are part of it. YO Slip1 Knit 2 tog

It is fast. If you are only ever knitting 1 stitch on every grouping, it is going to be a speedy knit. YO Slip1 Knit 2 tog

Brioche stitch grants texture without weight, it lends form without pretentiousness, it gives elegance to a very simple scarf.
This is a particularly lovely colourway of Noro, one I hope he keeps around for a good long time. It moves ever so slowly and deliberately, fading from one shade to another, blending tones with just a hint of black right to the colour runs conclusion with a section of strong clear pure dense black. YO Slip1 Knit 2 tog

It will be yet another scarf for work. You can wear a scarf while digging for yarn and lifting boxes and stocking shelves. Yarns gives where pendants catch and break, and like many of the scarfs I wear, give flash to an otherwise boring palette of colours I wear. But the biggest and best reason to knit yet another scarf came to me while sitting at the fire.

If this cold spring cedes into cold summer, I'm going to need this scarf sooner than I think. YO Slip 1 Knit 2 tog.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Come Monday Morning...

Oh right, it's Tuesday.

We were off in the wilds this weekend up at the lovely mountain lake we like to visit. We've never been up on the first weekend it was open before, and though the camping was fine, the lake was most definitely frozen over. The wind was cold and miserable and we became the sort of campers who built an complete house out of tarps. It looked ridiculous but the fire kept us reasonably warm. We left a day early because the forecast looked bad, and the clouds over the lake said something awful was on the way. I'd think we were becoming camping weenies, but for the weather that came next.

Click on a highway cam near Hinton, the one just west of town is best. It sort of says everything about the amount of white stuff that fell on Monday. It also explains why Canadian knitters have a deep and abiding love for wool.

With the dry weather Saturday and Sunday and the campfire keeping the chill away, much knitting was done. It was a weekend of socks.

The gray pair had been substantially done for some time, but the ends needed weaving in. Done.

The Stained Skeins pair, second in line, had one sock done, and the second socks foot half complete. Now done. A neat sort of non ball to knit from. Nice yarn.

The short copper and teal 'Aline' Socks That Rock Pair, third in line, was knit just after Christmas, and only needed heels put into them. Done.

And last, the lovely farmer sock pair from Lifestyles and Merino 2000 was also one sock more or less done, and the second on the toe. Both socks are now complete and if I may be so bold as to say, I love Merino 2000. Must knit more with it.

There was other knitting too. I had all these empty sock needles and, well, we just can't have that now could we? I had sock yarn, too, so it only made sense. The dark blue is DBG Confetti Superwash and will be for Mr. Needles who could really use another couple pairs of socks and the smooshable variegated red is for me, out of Footloose from Diamond yarns.I put an alternating knit 2 tog, yo on the front just for a little variety, but I may yet change my mind about that. I'd like to try a pattern, and everyone says the Monkey Socks are a must. Maybe, but we'll see.

There was other knitting, interesting knitting, but my time is up (I know, hard to believe there is a time limit) and will save that another day.

Friday, 15 May 2009

The fleece in the bin. This photo is blurry and I cannot tell if it was me reeling from the smell of the bucket or if the fumes were so strong that the air moved.

The fleece laid out to rinse. I sprayed as hard as I could on any places where the fleece looked a little stuck together but they were few and far between. It didn't look like anything was felted. In fact the tips were far better separated and cleaner than using the hot water method.

You know, all the things I read on Ravelry no one has mentioned why just soaking a sheep fleece in cold water does this magic sans detergent. Everybody mentions that magical smell but no one mentions what the heck is going on. That strong smell, and that magical cleaning is ammonia.

My formative years were spent on the farm. My dad had pigs and spreading manure from all manner of farm animals on fields for its fertilising properties is as old as time itself. One of the things that happens to manure, particularly in pit storage system, like my dad had, is the magic of nature taking waste and making something useful out of it. In a pit, the waste decomposes and ferments into a lovely rich ammonia filled compound. In the modern farming world, they buy anhydrous ammonia but in the old days, you got it straight from the source, the barn. The waste was then spread onto the fields, and is fondly referred to as the smell of money.

Ammonia as many of us know, is a fantastic cleaner and degreaser in our homes. Each fleece, pre-cleaning, is going to contain some urine from our friend, Mr. Sheep, enough to start the cleaning process for the whole fleece. It is these magical properties that clean and brighten the fibres of the wool without harm using the cold water method. I'm not so sure that there is going to be much grease left in any fleece washed this way. Perhaps it is that there is enough left, or that the particular parts of the lanolin in a fleece that make it feel smooth and, well, greasy, are not subject to the grease removal properties of ammonia.

Anyway, the good parts of this process is that it is entirely a natural process. The bad parts are as simple to understand as the spots that form when you get too much on your lawn. In small amounts, in safe percentage solutions, as this surely is, produced from the waste of a fleece, it is as green as your grass will grow long. Or it will, if you dare to spread the resulting liquid over your lawn. Leaving a fleece in it to soak isn't going to change it ability to fertilise at all.

If you do want to give the spreading process a try, talk to an old time farmer, and have him help you figure out how much to spread out. Be prepared to have your neighbours hate you. For a day or so. I don't think it would be a good idea to do this in a city.

The fleece is rinsed, but now what the heck am I going to do with it? I have to get it dry and the best way to do that is going to be to put it in a small room with the dehumidifier. We did it last time in a large room and it did not do the trick. It seems that is my only option, as it is still grey and cold. Last time I was saved by a little warmth, a luxury of time and a magical thing called the sun.

No such luck this time.

If anyone can help me out understanding the science of this process, please add to the comments and I will be happy to amend the post. Though pure ammonia is caustic and hazardous, I firmly believe that the concentration of ammonia in this fermented solution is safer and more enviromentally friendly than adding all the detergents from the hot wash method. Balance and moderation. That is my mantra.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Sheep Fleece 2

Today is sheep fleece day 2. This is the batch that was cold water washed, and I am about to put it into the rinse stage. Boy I hope this works.

I'll take some photos as I work and will post them through the day. Its going to be an interesting day.

If you looked out my back window right now, you would see yet another skiff of snow on the ground. It won't survive on the ground more than another hour or so. The difference between the snow staying and melting on hitting the ground is very small. Anywhere there are rocks that hold just the smallest bit of yesterdays warmth from the sun, the snow is long gone.

The snow has stayed where the lawns tiny spikes of last years growth or the ground covers growth has held it just enough above ground to have it cold above and cold below. This is the snow that stayed. There was much more snow to the west of the city and I am glad I don't live over there.

It is not warm outside, and I will be working in very cold water. Like I said, interesting day.

Update: I did attempt to begin working with the fleece. Its darn cold outside, and I decided to wait till later when it warms up. I may have to reconsider that decision in case when it warms up is July.

Noon Update: Yup, July. We are having the lovliest of snow showers right now. Most of it is melting when it hits the ground so there isn't any more accumulation and that does mean it is warmer but only a degree or two. Unfortunately, the fleece cannot wait, so I am going to gird my loins (or at least my worst winter coat) and go out and get this fleece done.

Unless the hose is frozen.

Update 3 p.m.:

I feel sheepy, Oh, so sheepy,

I feel sheepy and smelly and cold! And I pity

Any girl who isn't me tonight.

(lyrics maladapted from 'West Side Story' My apologies to Steven Sondheim.)

The Fleece has been rinsed once, and will be rinsed again before I set it up to dry. I think it worked but can't really tell until it is dry. then I can feel it and compare it to the hotwash method.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Today's post

is part part an edited post I began on Monday, so it is just down a bit, one or is it two below.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009


I love watching people who come to the store find the right yarn for their projects. I love watching knitters learning for the first time. I particularly love watching them bring back their projects to show them off. When they unwrap their projects to show us, there is a little look of awe that crosses their face as if they still can't quite believe that they did this, that they sat down with sticks and string and they did this.

Sometimes knitters come in, looking for a project to do, and they say, oh that is way beyond me, no way can I do that. Knitting is their comfort zone, where they go to feel warm and fuzzy, and they are happy right there doing one or two small things, that they feel good about.

Sometimes knitters are willing to step outside their boundaries, to go just a little beyond what they know how to do, and are ready to go a different place. It takes a kind of courage to step into the unknown. It takes a kind of courage to face small failures and to keep on trying in the face of them, keep on doing until they arrive magically at a completed project.

Sometimes knitters want a project so badly that they will climb insurmountable hills to get there, to complete it. Sometimes their love of knitting alone drives them. Sometimes it is an immense desire to learn or expand on a skill that takes them onward.

And then there are those times, those very amazing times when I feel the depth of a knitter's awe when she says 'I learned' and I am humbled in the face of knowing what those two little words mean.

Knitting brings a warm sense of satisfaction, a sense of comfort and awe, a sense of accomplishment, a sense of empowerment. And every time a knitter looks at a thing they made, they can feel that sense again.

Every day I see and meet amazing, smart, funny, determined, interesting, and sometimes courageous people. Being there and sharing these things with knitters is a gift and I am truly blessed.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Tom Foolery

If you put tomfoolery into a computer, nothing comes out of it but tomfoolery. But this tomfoolery, having passed through a very expensive machine, is somehow ennobled and no-one dares criticize it. - Pierre Gallois

I like quotations. I used to have a huge collection of them, that gave me a goofy sort of pleasure back in the days when I sat at computers all day long.

Consider this tomfoolery and I'll just keep on typing.

Spring is nigh. I cannot quite say it has arrived here yet, though I did see some very tiny leaves on some of the small well protected bushes. The forest canopy is devoid of anything more than the merest hint of buds. Spring will be a while yet. It may be waiting for summer. Its hard to say and this is Alberta.

Be that as it may, come heck or high water, the calendar says it is camping season. It is time to pack the van up for the season, and it is time to prepare the vans very own knitting kit. You never know when we'll be dropping everything, end up miles from no where, and there I'll be with no knitting. I like to travel prepared.

This past winter, while updating my study's accessories, I made up a tool kit for traveling. Nice basic tool, scissors, inexpensive markers, wool needles, a calculator, and a measuring tape. The only thing this tool pack needs is some needles for socks, and a set of 4 or 4.5 mm needles.

Then there is the matter of yarn. An good kit is going to need a couple balls of sock yarn. I can knit those sans pattern and in the highest stress situations. Shopping in the stash, I find all manner of contenders. Up in the top right hand corner, there is a really nice earthy colour from the Lana Grossa line of yarns, and right beside it, a couple balls of Cotton Fun. Both of those yarns are under consideration. The down on the bottom, you can see a couple balls of Kroy sock yarn, still my go to yarn for everyday socks and right there on the bottom is that nice blue tweedy Australian Merino. These are all going to be great yarns to carry along for a traveling kit.

Then, in case I needed a little something different, I'd like to take at least one scarf yarn along. I'm having a little trouble deciding which yarn. The red Tupa would make a great travel project. Its interesting way of sucking light into what you knit from it would make a ribbed scarf a thing of simple wonder. The blue tones of the Knit Picks yarn is another. A little chevron pattern? A feather and fan? A small undulating wavy pattern? And I have to take along a skein or two of silk Garden Sock. It would make the nicest little shawlette scarf following Cosmicpluto's Simple Yet Effective shawl pattern and just knitting till the yarn was gone.

I could use stitch dictionary I suppose. I'd nominate my copy of Mary Webb's compact little book, 'Knitting Stitches' (My copy is compact. I am not sure if all versions of this book are.) Hundred of patterns, edging, lace, cables. There is enough here for all the emergency knitting I hope to ever not need to do (if you know what I mean).

When we are off about the province, we seldom stop at yarn stores - not for want of trying on my part- but because where we like to travel is where there are very few people, and where there are no people would be a pretty silly place for a yarn store.

For the first traveling of the season, coming soon, I've decided to make it into a finish me weekend. I'm going to take along all the socks that are ongoing and work on those. I'm taking the Easy Drop Stitch Scarf too.That should keep me out of trouble but it's comforting to know that I'll have just a little backup in a hidden corner of the van, just in case.

I pack extra food if we get stuck in the mountain country for a couple days, and it is only right to take the same precaution with yarns.


I finished something, I finished something!

Sometimes it feels like I knit and knit and knit, but never really get finished anything. Perhaps if I stuck to one project at a time, single items would finish faster, but that would take all the fun out of it. What would I do when I was mad at a project, when there was an error and I needed to walk away, when there was a need for really mindless knitting. The multiple project way seems to be my way, but it does on occasion drag out the finishing.

Right now I have a comfortable number on my needles. One complicated shawl, one simple shawl, 2 or 3 pairs of socks, and a sweater and 2 scarves. I think.

I did some finishing yesterday, so I am thrilled to finally have something to take photos of. The sample sock for the store, in Cascade Fixation. The sample is knit to pattern, but really, seriously, the 2.75 mm needles the pattern asks for are too small. Its still a great sock, but the best part of the fabric, the wonderful cushy cotton sole disappears into the tight knitting. When I do more of these for myself, I will be doing them on larger needles, and I will be aiming for cushy feet. And yes, there will be more knitting with this yarn.

Then I finished a wee project from Saturday at the store. We decided to knit over our lunch time, the project was to be a design from one of our staff, called Susan's Skinny Scarf, but we could choose any yarn in the store. I chose a Phildar yarn called Recif and I am really pleased. There is just enough of the purple winding its way through it to keep it interesting, and the yarn is slinky and slippy and cool, all the best things in a skinny scarf. It doesn't look like a lot, but it really is an interesting little thing. The skinny scarf is really more of a jewellery item, than a scarf, but it gave me a chance to try a yarn I probably wouldn't otherwise use. And really, its a very nice yarn.

I worked on a little skinny scarf of my own on Sunday. This one is out of a single skein of Seduce, a truly lovely Berocco yarn. Its a very nice soft grape colour, and look at the sheen the yarn gives this slick little scarf. I'm probably working it tighter than the designer means the scarf to be worked, but I like the fabric better this way. Seduce makes a fabric that just needs to be seen to be believed. I'm going to let the yarn speak and tell me what it needs, and I think I'll still end up with a very nice little scarf.

I also worked on the amorphous blob that is my simple shawl. Easy quick mindless knitting. I love it. Toss in a wee bit of knitting on my glorious socks from Stained Skeins yarn, and that is the sum total of my knitting on Sunday.

I'd have done more, but there was eating and visiting, and plenty of silly as all my boys showed up during the day to wish me happy Mother's Day. Two of them stayed and cooked me dinner.

The weather was lovely, the company was fine, and I could not have asked for a nicer day.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Come Friday

Here it is Friday again. I remember my mom saying time goes faster when you get older and she was right. The days seem to slip by and I have no idea what I did to make it slip past me so.

The sheep fleece is cooking. Well not really, but it is out in its tub of water, sitting, waiting, getting clean. I hope. It was definitely cleaner than the first fleece I worked with. It still had its sheepy form, so I could easily pick away the hind end bits, and the drooping in the mud bits at the side. Fleece two is being done with the cold wash method I found on Ravelry.

There was knitting! Remember this shawl, Shawl that Jazz ?I really like the pattern, and am absolutely enamoured of the construction, but the more I looked at it, the less I like the colour of the yarn. It was just too much brown for me. I have found a home for the yarn, and am trying out another yarn.

You know how it is. In a yarn store there are endless corners for sweet little yarns. I was restocking a yarn called Tove, a nice little two ply yarn, when I realized how much this yarn felt like the Kauni.

The maker says the yarn is perfect for felting and that is what it was brought to the shop for, but I think it has many many more possibiities. I love the colours (note the teal - again with the teal) and I love the crunchy feel of it. That crunchy might make it one of those yarns some people find scratchy, but I am not finding it that way at all. And if I wash it properly and let it bloom on blocking, its going to be lovely.

It is also incredibly inexpensive. 4.99 a ball for 160 metres is an amazing price. Its the kind of price that is just meant to keep us knitting no matter what is going on around us.

There might not be any colour changes going on in this yarn and the shawl is going to be quite plain, but the fun of it is going to be how many balls of yarn will I use, and just how little is this shawl going to cost.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Busy days.

Errands happened in the wee hours this morning, but I did take time out to have a coffee with one of my guys. I really enjoy sitting visiting with them one on one like that.

Now the the yarny bits. I'm going to sit outside and pick a couple of the bags of fleeces, and then I am going to begin the process of the cold water wash. I might do one bag cold water, and the other hot water, just to get to the last bag a little sooner, but I have not yet decided.

I have been debating what I was going to store the fibre in, and where, and today, while gathering stuff for the summer camping season came across some nice muslin ditty bags that ought to work perfectly. I have no muslin or other suitable breathable fibre in my fibre stash, and to buy and then and sew bags, slows the whole process down. All the old pillow cases were cut down and put in the rag bag last year, so these ought to work just fine.

On the knitting front, I have had so little time to knit this week I could cry. I would, except I have been doing bits and pieces. With luck after today, I'll be able to show you what I have percolating on my needles now.

Its not really a new project, but it is a new yarn. Gotta run, groceries are calling my name, and if I want to count today as day one of the cold wash process it has to happen now.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Sisters and Good Friends.

I am blessed. Sometimes sisters and good friends save us.

They make us laugh and walk along with us in the memories of our pasts and the silliness of our present. My sister posted this comment yesterday.

"I was just reading about your adventures with the fleece. I wonder if Grandma did hers in the boiler thingy - can't remember what they called it. You know the one where they dipped (wasn't there a term for that too) the chickens before plucking, and the one where they made lye soap. You know, down by the swing in the tree, by the water pump. Maybe Mr. Needles could set up one of those for you if you decide you want to do this frequently. And wasn't there a still a little further back in the bush too? You have a little space where it might work. Sheesh, talk about the thinking."

The boiler thingy was a big barrel, the top to be filled with water, the bottom filled with a nice little fire to heat the water. And yes did I ever wish I had one. And do I ever. I was just looking at the bags of fleece, and there are 4 more, not three, though I doubt they are whole fleeces. With a big barrel contraption, I could do it all in a day. (Mildly, wildly optimistic guess)

And yes, I do recall hearing something of a still being back in the bush when we were kids. It was the one restricted place on the farm. Well that and Grandmas garden in pea season, but I have to ask if you mean I need the still or the boiler barrel thingy (You can punch me in the shoulder next time I see you for that) and would it be wrong if my answer was probably both?

I have the most amazing bunch of friends too. My friend commenting on a this day in history type item noted,

"And may I point out that the G family has visited the site of the Hindenburg crash in Lakehurst, NJ. Whenever the kids complain that we've never taken them to Disney World, I remind them of that."

Which is, in my blatantly not humble, early morning, low coffee consumption frame of mind, the funniest thing I have ever heard, in a coffee snorting keyboard destroying sort of way.

You made me laugh, and I thank you, dear sister and kind friend.

The wander down memory lane and silly land is just so much better than a screed on how a gauge of 27 is not the needed gauge of 22 and how, yes you do have to try it on bigger needles.

Fer crying out loud.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Slow Thinking

I'm knitting on the store sample sock today, and like all very plain sock knitting, the tube like parts in stockinette mean my brain rambles and roams over all kinds of things. At the same time, I'm searching Ravelry for a particular pattern that I saw, but don't remember where.

My first thoughts this morning are about needles sizes and yarns weights. The pattern (for Cascade Fixation) asks for a 3.25 mm needle for the top of the cuff and then goes down to a 2.75 mm needle. It makes a nice tight fabric for the foot of the sock, but honestly, I think they went a bit too small. My hands ache working with the yarn at this needle size.

Second brain roaming thought, is my sweater, in Cotton Viscose. I really like the pattern, like the idea of the pattern, but there has to be some mods to the top section before it will fit right. The circle section isn't doing what it is supposed to do. Or I'm reading the pattern wrong and not increasing enough. Its not like I haven't done that before.

Third brain roaming thought, sheepishly, I really should put another fleece in to a bin to try the cold water soak method for cleaning fleece. (I read about that on Ravelry in the Raw Wool Lovers Unite Group). Do I have time to get it in the bin before I go to work.

If I put it in the bin what can I put the washed fleece into? How dirty is the already washed fleece? It seems cleaner than I first thought but...

I wonder if I can get the dishes all into the dishwasher, is there time to fold the clothes, wash another load, change sheets on my bed, change out towels in the bathrooms, feed the cat, water him, weed the sprucelings, work on the shawl, do some paperwork, take out the garbage, vacuum....Is there time? All this ran through my head in just a couple (literally)rows of knitting, and way to few minutes.

(slow thinking photos for your viewing pleasure)

No there isn't time for vacuuming, knitting, weeding, paperwork, changing sheets, changing out towels, for putting out a fleece to wash by the cold water method. It needs to be picked over first, girl. Even I know that. I can do the dishes, wash a load of clothes, fix my bed, feed the cat and knit just a few more rows. I knit and do all kinds of handwork for a lot of reasons. One of the reasons is to slow my brain down so I get just a little peace. Sometimes, its awful noisy inside there. Sometimes the thoughts are on overflow. It is easy to feel overwhelmed even when you aren't.When I sit and knit just a few more rows, I fall into the practice of slow Thinking. I get a little zen, and slow my random thoughts down just enough that I feel better, feel good, feel healthy. It seems that when I knit, I am able to toss out just enough of the trivia, slow down just enough of the zip here, zoom there ways of my brain, that life starts to feel balanced and make sense again. Instead of sitting, feeling overwhelmed by details and things, I can think a few clear sensible thoughts, focus on the big things for today and slowly feel like I can do just a little more before.

I know some people say knitting is the new Yoga, but for me, knitting makes the slow thinking possible. And no I don't mean Slow, I mean Slow. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

(Slow thinking photgraphs courtesy, Mr. Needles)

Monday, 4 May 2009

After a sheepish weekend

After a sheepish weekend of drying fleecy bits and trying to figure out where I am going to store these fleecy bits, I sat down and did some knitting. It was almost a relief.

I finished one sock of the Stained Skeins sock blanks. I am really really pleased with these socks. In homage to the yarn dyer, I put in gusseted heels, (using the basics from Maia Spins Toe Up Gusseted Heels) . Ms. Stained Skeins is a big fan of gusseted heels and it seemed right. Strangely enough, I am sitting here wondering why I don't do these heels more often. It wasn't painful at all. Of course I haven't finished the pair or tried to match the heels yet. There is still time to screw up...

When that one was done, I did a little more sock knitting. (Again with the gussetted heel!)I am working on a single lacy sock for a store sample. Its a free pattern using Cascade Fixation a stretchy cotton and elastic yarn. (If you got this pattern from a store pattern pad, check the web for errata)

In case you didn't hear that, I'm knitting a sock. From a pattern. I have never done this before, and it isn't nearly so intimidating as I feared. But I was right, no way this sock would work on my foot and calf, no matter how stretchy the yarn is and no matter how much the lace of the pattern stretches. Just plain old not enough stitches to fit well, and last well. But knitting with this yarn is nice. I had forgotten just how nice. I will be using more of it for the wool avoiding members of my household. It makes nice squooshable socks that are very much up my alley.

In other weekend news, though the Needles Residence still sports snow in a few select locations, we are largely snow free. We did our first walkabout of the year on Sunday, an evening walk about rather than our usual morning walk about, but we discovered all sorts of things. Mr. Needles showed me a developing problem in one of out big not-a-flower-in-it beds along the house.

Several years ago, we began to mulch over weed infested flower beds. There were just too many to keep clean. We opted for a washed rock mulch so that small rodents cannot make beds so close to the house. Generally it was a good idea. It makes a huge difference in how much yard work there is around here, but even the best of mulches is not 100% trouble free.

In a forest with spruce trees, the very best bedding for new tree growth is a heavy cool mulch covering indifferent soils. We have that, and voila. Washed rock mulches are a veritable factory of teeny tiny trees. Dozens of them. Hundreds even. They are like this, all along the side of the house, all the way up the 30 or 40 feet of the bed. Wee tiny little proto spruce trees.

Does any one need some native spruce? I can send you some, for free. To a prairie girl, spruce trees are almost sacred, and it is going to kill me to have to weed these out.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Our grandmothers and great grandmothers, and anyone who ever took garments straight from sheep to shoulder deserves and awful lot of respect. If my grandma was still around, heck if my Auntie Lorraine was still around, I would kiss their feet to say thank you for letting me sleep under the wool quilt batts they made from fleeces from the farm down the road.

Its a big job and we modern lazy bones owe homage to their skill, their tenacity and their hard work for doing all this without running water, and septic systems.

The fleece washing went well. It was incredibly dirty stuff. I picked it over and put it in a big tub of water for a good soak.

Then I washed it using the hot water method. I put it in a pan with some Dawn and heated the water till the water was to hot to put my hands into. Then I rinsed it several times in clean very very hot water.

When it came out from the rinsing, it was so clean it was hard to believe that it was the same fibre that went into the soak. Its drying now upstairs though my intent was to dry it in the sun. the sun is not cooperating today. I'm going to put it in the same room with a small dehumidifier unit we have, to dry it fast. Using the dehumidifier, I expect it to be dry before days end.

There still is a lot of vegetable matter in it, and though some may come out when carding and combing, I think I might wash it again first. There is just is so much vegetable matter in there. Perhaps it is a combination of newbie sheep farmer (the fibre comes from a start up flock) and newbie fleece person, both not quite knowing what the heck we are doing, but game enough to try anything. and then again, it is possible that sheep fleeces are just really really dirty things.

I have a deep sense of satisfaction out of this. When I pulled the fibre out of the last rinse, gently squeeze out most of the water, and then lay it out to dry, I could not help it. I felt pretty darn good about my work. It nice seeing such a profound change from what went in at the start. I'd say it was enjoyable, but this was only the first half bag. The last half of bag one is waiting for me out back, after soaking over night. Well see if I still think it is enjoyable after I get the other three bags done.

The current plan is to do 2 bags the hot wash method, and 2 bags the cold wash method that is so much discussed on Ravelry and see which is more effective and which produces something I'd like to spin.

And somewhere in here over the next few days, I have to talk Mr. Needles into making me a comb with which to comb out the fibre. He doesn't know this yet (unless he reads my blog today) but he is quite skilled in finding solutions to the strange requests he gets from me. The how to is right here in case anyone else is interested and has, like me, an extremely talented handy person around.

Come Monday, I hope to have just a little more done and maybe a set of combs in hand. We'll see. It never hurts to dream.