Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Handspun Gift

I've come a long way from my earliest tentative days of fashioning wiry, scratchy, overtwisted yarn (albeit with a great sense of excitement!) My spinning has come along to the point that I feel comfortable enough to give something made of my hand-spun yarn, at least to an indulgent and tolerant family member.

At the Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival this fall, among other treasures, I picked up this little ball of hand-dyed Romney roving from Catoctin Creek Farm, near Frederick, Maryland. (I have to think kindly of people who care enough about a humble ball of roving to tie it up with a satin ribbon.) I hadn't spun wool from Romney sheep before, and the colors seemed bright and kid-friendly. I thought it would be fun and might make a cute scarf.

Spinning the Romney wool was a real pleasure. It's a long-wool breed, with long, luscious fibers that drafted out so smoothly that they made me feel like a more skillful spinner than I really am. It felt cottony and flossy. The preparation was immaculate, a very welcome change from some of the fiber I'd been working with over the summer.

For spinners, who may care about such things, I split the rope of hand-dyed roving lengthwise and spun the two halves onto separate bobbins. The plan was for the color changes to occur in more or less the same place so that the colors would stay mostly pure when the strands from the two bobbins were plied together.

When I began plying, though, I found that either my splitting or my spinning was uneven enough that the results were unpredictable. The colors blended and softened and became surprisingly complex. It was prettier and paler than I'd imagined. The colors began to remind me of my grandma, who's always looked pretty in pastels. I started thinking that just maybe I could make something for her.

This was no small matter. I'd only knitted from my hand-spun twice before. Of my earlier efforts, another relative had said, "hmmm, it's kind of scratchy." That hadn't exactly encouraged me to think of it as gift-worthy. (And I have to admit that, while I do love the two hand-spun sweaters I've made thus far, I wouldn't be anxious to wear them against bare skin.)

I was reading something at the time that gave me a notion that fulling the yarn might make it a bit softer and woollier, so I decided to give that a try. When all the yarn was spun, after consulting my spinning books, I took my latest fiber processing tool in hand. (Yes, a plunger.) Ignoring the yarn's cries of protest, I shocked it cruelly in hot water and cold, and commenced to beating it senseless.

I didn't like doing it, but it was for its own good. I also learned a couple of lessons myself. One is that enthusiastically agitating yarn in a large sink of water is a very splashy operation. Less water next time. Or a raincoat.

Despite a certain skepticism I still harbored about the wisdom of all this, the yarn survived and even bloomed. The strands lightened and loosened, but bound together more as a whole, and developed a fuzzy halo. I think this may have been an experiment worth repeating.

I worked out a design for a scarf and got to knitting, thinking of my grandma all the while.

It was entrancing, watching the colors shift and merge as the scarf grew from the needles. And nothing really repeated. The color patterns were unique the whole way through. It was a lovely experience, from one end to the other.

I'm still worried about whether it's soft enough. For myself, I wouldn't mind a slight cold-weather scratchiness at all. But this is for my grandma. I think I spun it as softly as Romney can be spun, with low twist and plenty of air. But it is simply a coarser wool than the aristocrats of the woolly world, like merino. So I wish I could give it that buttery feeling, but it has its own nature. If it's not perfectly comfortable against her skin, maybe she can wear it outside a coat collar. Or not wear it at all, and just show it to her friends, and say "my granddaughter made this."

So I wrapped it up tenderly and shipped it off for Christmas, hoping that it will be nice enough. At least she will know that I wanted to make her something that I spun myself.

I hope she likes it.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Under the Christmas Tree

I hope everyone has had a warm and lovely holiday with family and friends. I know I have!

It was a rush to the finish, but I managed to get things together in time for a Christmas with most of the trimmings. Oh, some of the decorations are still in their boxes, but we had a beautiful tree, Christmas lights, wrapped presents, a bit of Christmas baking, good meals, happy times, and music.

And a few little knitted gifts that made it by the skin of their teeth.

There were some knitted sweater ornaments for family Christmas trees. After all, a tree isn't really properly dressed until it has a sweater!

These little sweaters were adapted from the adorable Egg Cozies designed by Kristin Nicholas in Melanie Falick's Weekend Knitting book. The yarn is bits and pieces of leftovers, in various weights, from bygone sweaters and baby booties. The pattern is very cute and makes a good jumping-off point. I made my own personalizations, of course. I also thought, though, that the arms were hugely extra-long as written in the pattern, so I shortened them quite a bit.

There was also this little number, the Coffee Mitt from Judith Durant's One-Skein Wonders book, designed by Leanne Walker of KnitWit Yarn Shop in Portland, Maine. It's knitted in some Brown Sheep Lamb's Pride I had around the house. It's a yarn I really love, a single ply of wool and mohair. Some people seem to think of it more as a felting yarn, but I think it makes a beautiful sweater.

The Coffee Mitt looks like a homely little item -- it drew a chuckle when the present was opened -- but it really comes into its own when stretched around a tall black coffee or grandé latté. Then the handsome stitch pattern shows, the insulating wool and mohair feel cool and comfortable to the hand, and the world is spared another discarded cardboard sleeve.

There was a warm scarf in wonderfully soft Malabrigo Worsted baby merino.

This is the Cross-Stitch Scarf designed by Margaret Halas, from the Designer One-Skein Wonders book. This scarf has an interesting texture that has always caught my eye every time I've leafed through the book.

The one in the book is done with Manos del Uruguay yarn, a heavy worsted weight that knits in a larger gauge, but, like the Manos, Malabrigo is a single-ply kettle-dyed yarn, so I was pretty sure it would work well in the pattern with just an adjustment in the number of stitches.

The picture in the book shows off a dappled watercolor-like blended colorway, so the effect is different. I used the Malabrigo "saphire magenta" colorway 239. Its more contrasting and abrupt color changes give the scarf more of a sporty look.

I think it's quite pretty, and I was happy to see that the colors seem to suit the family member it was made for.

There was one more, of handspun, that I'll tell you about in the next post. I wish there could have been more, but I was really skating on the edge and lucky to get this much done.

And I was able to bestow the beautiful airy Cherry Leaf Shoulder Shawl, in Malabrigo laceweight edged with seed beads, on my tall elegant mom, who couldn't have been more thrilled.

And so here I am, moderately frazzled but now relaxed and happy. It's been a jolly good Christmas.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

On Kool-Aid, On Dye-Pot, On Spinner and Twister!

On Foolish, on Headstrong, and Too-Optimistic!

Or, how the time does fly when it gets to be December.

This year I decided, with just a twinge of wistfulness, that I would not try to knit any Christmas presents. I didn't want to put myself under a lot of extra pressure in a season that's bustling with so many pleasant, but time-consuming, tasks as it is. This decision felt strangely familiar.

Right around Thanksgiving, though, I started getting urges. If I didn't have time to wrap my loved ones in hand-knits, maybe I could just knit a little token offering here and there. That, too, felt strangely familiar.

I begin to sense a pattern.

There have been other years when I sensibly decided I didn't have time to knit any presents. And in those years, too, a little knitting crept back into my Christmas ambitions. Or maybe a little crocheting. One year, I remember deciding to use up some yarn that, though well-loved, had been hanging around the place for a very long time, as "ribbon" to wrap presents with. First, though, without really meaning to, I crocheted it all. It just seemed like the right thing to do. Some single-crocheted, some double, some scalloped. Don't people do that?

So, late in the game, my mind started bubbling over with all the small things I could be making. And then I thought, wouldn't it be nice to make something for someone out of my handspun, now that I can produce respectable yarn?

I had some wool I thought might make something cute. Remember those Dorset locks I dyed with Kool-Aid? When last heard from, they were spread out all over the kitchen table, tickling me with their cheerful colors.

Over the summer I was gradually working my way through hand-carding it all. It took a while; at my level of hard-carding experience, 10 ounces is a lot of wool!

But it made the cutest little balls of roving. :) Needing to reclaim my table, though, I'd put the rest of the uncarded wool away, to work on other things for just a little while. I blinked, and here it was December. Well, there wasn't that much left to do. Wouldn't it be fun if there might be a little Christmas present that could come out of it? Surely it would be just the work of a moment to finish the carding. And spinning it up wouldn't take long at all, would it?

Well, maybe it would. I spun away, enjoying myself immensely, and thinking diligently all the while about how to organize the other tasks, the shopping, the wrapping, the decorating, so that I could get it all done in time without any last-minute panic. But..... I might have been a little too optimistic. I have to admit to myself that there may not be a Christmas present in it. At least not this year.

I have made an enjoyable little pile of candy-colored skeins, but with just eight days left until Christmas I now must get serious. The malls and the wrapping paper and the ornaments await.

But I might manage to knit one or two little things. :)

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Summer's Sun Shines on Me Still

Or so it would seem.

After all, apparently it's tank top season. Oh, the sunshine may be watery and weak on this cold December day. And there may be a dusty trace of snow outside. But that's just quibbling. In here where it's warm, the Crossed Laces tank top is done!

The poor thing had languished when I, an inconstant lover, dallied for a while with new fiber festival yarn. Back in August, I wanted nothing more than to fly through this project and wear it in the last weeks of the summer. But I found myself stymied by a back-ordered wait for the yarn in the Toscana colorway that so entranced me. By the time the yarn arrived in September, I loved it still, but the urgent wish to knit it was tempered by the likelihood that I would have to wait through the long months until spring before I could wear the result.

I forged ahead anyway, my ardor only slightly cooled. I knitted away and watched the pretty colors with delight. But then our relationship reached that ticklish stage of maturity when the carefree joy of knitting gives way to the workaday responsibility of seaming and picking up stitches for neck and armbands. And that's just when the fiber festivals came along, where my wandering eye lit upon other beautiful yarns, and I fell for the cheap lure of casting on another project for a new fling.

Still, the day came when I was ready to return to Toscana. There really wasn't so much work left to do. It just took a little commitment. I sewed in the last of the loose ends in the waning days of November.

And that nonsense about not wearing it until next spring. Am I so easily discouraged? No, I am not.

How could I have been so blind? All it took was a little creative thinking. A high jewel neck and a jacket over the top are perfectly sufficient to hide a thin long-sleeved knit top layered underneath for warmth. Secretly long-johned, I'll be able to wear it no matter the weather.

I wore my new top to work this week, eager to share with the world a love that's true.

The pattern is the Crossed Laces tank, designed by Beth Whiteside, from the Summer 2008 issue of Knitter's magazine. I knit it in the yarn called for, Colinette's cotton tape yarn, Wigwam. It's an interesting yarn, with cotton's weight and drape and with added stretchiness from the knitted structure of the tape. It feels to me a bit like knitting with rolled-up strips of t-shirt jersey. I went up a notch on needle size to get gauge, as I often do, and ended up with US size 11 (8.0 mm).

It's a fairly simple design. The tank is done in twisted stockinette stitch for an interesting all-over texture, but mostly it just stands aside and lets those glorious Colinette colors shine forth. And, after knitting it once before in the Pharaoh colorway, I could attest from experience that it's a flattering top that hangs beautifully. I chose to knit it with a couple of inches of negative ease, and that counters the weight of the yarn with just a slight figure-skimming cling.

I knit it this time in Toscana, the same colorway photographed in the magazine, which was what drew my eye so compellingly in the first place.

I don't know what it is. There's just something irresistibly appealing to me about this particular combination of colors, like a green apple with a spreading pink blush.

I only know that it makes me happy. I don't have to know why.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Blessings Instead of Sheep

Judging from the sympathetic responses, my last post must have sounded pretty pathetic. Do not be deceived. Despite the occasional momentary fit of frustration, it's not that dire. I've got it pretty good and well I know it.

I have a rewarding job and a comfortable home. We have plenty of everything to our needs.

I have a loving family who were happy to drop everything and rush over for Thanksgiving together, even if my plans emerged a little late. I've had a good meal and stuffed myself like a toad into somnolence.

I've had another visit from a favorite extended family member. Doesn't she look cozy in her quilted bed and striped sweater? (But a commercial sweater? What kind of auntie is that, not to knit her one!)

I have the leisure to enjoy this favorite hobby that threatens, more and more, to take over everything, if not subjected to some sort of discipline. I have an indulgent husband, who's been remarkably tolerant as knitting and spinning supplies and paraphernalia creep in and make ever-larger encampments here and there around our living quarters.

I have an abundance of yarn and spinning fiber awaiting my whim, with visions of the possibilities of all the projects it will become.

I've got all the pieces re-knit for my kid mohair pullover, which now awaits only its collar and seams. Oh, I may have carped about all the ripping out, but, really, how bad could it be to be elbow-deep in these soft billows of mohair a while longer?

(And dear Puff-the-Magic-Rabbit, if you're listening, do not feel guilty! If I should be silly enough to knit my way blithely through your whole sweater pattern before measuring the result, that's hardly any fault of your favorite yarn or you!)

If I've heedlessly knit onward without checking gauge often enough... If I've preferred to stay in some happy knitting fugue state (A finished row -- oh look, how pretty! Another row -- oh look, how pretty!) ... until I finally realize that I'll have to rip it out and do it all over again, well... That just means I'll be enjoying all that entertainment for twice as long. And with the anticipation of a beautiful sweater at the end. If that's my biggest problem, then I'm just not doing too badly.

And on top of it all, it seems I've just won a lovely yarn prize, after entering a drawing by showing a photo of a mattress-stitched seam, on Susan's blog, I'm Knitting As Fast As I Can! Thanks, Susan!

So, though I may once in a while look for some friendly commiseration, it's all in good fun. I actually have a very long list of things to be grateful for. In the words half a century ago of Irving Berlin, if I'm worried and I can't sleep, I'll count my blessings instead of sheep.

And I'll fall asleep counting my blessings.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Puny Little Swatch is No-One's Friend

The fiber festivals were awfully fun this year. I came home all in a lather to sink my hands into this luscious brushed mohair. I had bought the pattern right along with the yarn, so, for once, there was no plumbing of the archives and agonizing over what to make with it.

I couldn't wait. I just wound it up into a ball and got right to work, prattling about its fuzzy softness to anyone who would listen.

Of course I knit a little swatch and got it over with. It's the done thing, after all, isn't it? Now, granted, it was a smallish swatch. And I didn't take it terribly seriously. I spread it on my knee, but I didn't pin it out to measure. And I certainly didn't launder it. It couldn't be that critical.

I dived right in, beginning hem-upwards on the back of the sweater, knitting eagerly, watching the colors flicker as they pulled out of the ball and worked into the rows. When I had an inch or two done, I eyed it critically. It looked a little wide. Spreading it carefully over both needles, so it could extend to its full width, I measured. It was a little wide. Hmmm. Well, did I want it to be big and loose? No, I really didn't. I wanted this one to be comfortable, but neatly fitted, not over-sized. So, grumbling mildly, I ripped it out, and started again, a size smaller this time. At least I felt clever for having double-checked before losing too much time.

Then I knitted away contentedly for weeks. Miles of stockinette can be very pleasant for me sometimes. It's nice to just enjoy making the stitches, pulling them through, feeling the yarn, admiring the piece as it grows, and chatting or watching TV or just relaxing all the while.

And, really, most fancy stitchwork would be lost in the fuzz and the color changes of this yarn. It really just needs to speak for itself. The sweater pattern, a simple mock turtleneck, is one designed specifically for this yarn, and wisely follows that philosophy.

I handled the yarn delicately. It was, after all, from a baby goat and surely deserved a little extra care. So, after a while, here I was, with all the pieces done and ready to assemble. A soft, fuzzy kid mohair sweater in beautiful colors that I was looking forward to wearing. The only thing was, it looked kind of... wide.

I measured. It was kind of wide. I hadn't gotten gauge. It was probably from babying it, not wanting to pull the loops tight. But come on, I had swatched! I had measured! I had started over and adjusted the size I was knitting! Nevertheless, there it was, stretching out widely in front of me. Where's the justice in that?

It just lay there blinking at me, caring naught for all my protestations. Still, wanting my neatly fitted sweater, I decided there was nothing for it but to rip it out. The whole thing. The basically completed sweater.

Sigh. It was a test of my character, that's what it was. And in mohair, too. I think I mentioned before that ripping out mohair takes extra patience. Oh, yes, indeed it does. Ripping out knitting should be something like stripping off a Band-Aid. Painful, but over quickly, so you can put it behind you. Not with mohair. Oh, no. Not only does it have to be done slowly and gently, but it gets downright argumentative and stubborn at times.

I'm an expert at ripping out knitted mohair, now. I've had lots of practice. I don't want to think about how long it took. I did it in stages, ripping out a piece, and starting to re-knit it on smaller needles before mustering the will to rip out another piece. I mostly avoided looking at clocks while all this was going on. I did get curious, though, before it was all over, and noted the time for the last piece. It took me two full hours to unravel just the back of the sweater.

I wish I could say that I remained serene through this whole process, doing what was necessary without letting it get to me. But I can't. I have to admit that, at times, I got frustrated with teasing apart the little hairs until they would let go. Once or twice, defeated, I actually yanked hard, hoping to break the thread. But it was too strong for that, though the tangles eventually did give way and let me pass.

It made me glum for a while, and I didn't really want to talk about it. But that chapter is over. The re-knitting is well underway. Once again, I'm enjoying the simple pleasures of endless stockinette, this time, I hope, in the right needle size. It does seem better. With the smaller needles, it has some life and body that it lacked. Before, it was a little slack and sprawling. And it seems to be coming out more my size.

This time, it doesn't matter. Whatever size this sweater turns out, I'm wearing it. But I may be a little more particular next time about the size of my swatch!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Seeing Double

I feel strangely disoriented. My separate worlds are beginning to touch.

In the last couple of months, I've met a few of my on-line friends in person. And a couple of my in-person friends are starting to dip their toes in the knitting community on-line.

Bess was actually the third, not the first, on-line knitting friend that I encountered in real life. So, why, the others might wonder, didn't I make just as big a commotion about meeting them? It's a couple of things, really. In both of the other cases, I sought out the meeting, knowing where I would find them and setting out on purpose to say hello. It was just as exciting, but not so unexpected. And I found myself a little bemused by the whole experience, thinking it over, getting used to the idea.

It's a strange feeling, meeting for the first time someone who I already think of as a friend. Do I know her or is she a stranger? We have some memories in common, through reading each other's stories and looking at pictures, but can I speak with the familiarity and ease of long acquaintance?

In fact, I'm struck by the sheer physicality of the impression I've gotten when I've at last met an on-line friend. Even for someone who shares pictures of herself on her blog, so that I have an idea of what she looks like, the impact of actually meeting face-to-face is striking. In person, these on-line friends seem larger than life, more vigorous, more vivid. There's always something surprising -- the height, the voice, a transforming smile, the bloom of a complexion. It's bracing. It exposes what an insubstantial wraith is the image I've concocted in my mind from these on-line conversations, compared to the whole person.

In conversation, I find myself chatting about personal events I've read about in a blog entry, asking about how this or that is going, congratulating or expressing sympathy over a triumph or a challenge. And then I stop, thinking, I don't know this person well enough to presume to talk about that.

I talk about my own motivations, how I feel about something I do or don't like, but do I know her well enough to avoid offending? If I allude disparagingly to having -- until I became entranced -- put spinning in the same category as 70s macramé, am I speaking to someone whose grandmother was for years the president of a local guild? Or whose favorite aunt showed her inexpressible love for the whole family with monumental, individually designed creations of macramé? Far-fetched, yes, unlikely, but not impossible. And how would I know?

These friendships seem somehow accelerated by the common interest and passion for our hobbies that we share on-line. But they short-circuit the long-term daily accretion of knowledge, incident, and understanding that one develops with in-person friends over time.

It must be something like the old idea of having a pen-pal. Although I have to admit, when I was a child, I'm not sure attempts to write to a pen-pal would really have taken. Kid-writings tend to be along the lines of: "Dear pen-pal, I have a dog. Do you have a dog? Last summer we went to the beach. Is it cold where you live? I found a seashell. Sincerely, your friend." But if a pen-pal friendship did catch hold and flourish, and somehow a vacation trip or other event brought the children together, would they be instant friends?

Or how about people who date someone they've met over the Internet? What must it feel like for them to meet in person for the first time? Do the feel they know the person well, or not at all? Or both?

And, to exacerbate the feelings of not quite knowing which world I am in, an in-person friend asked me one day whether I know of anyplace to get an on-line spreadsheet to keep track of the rapidly increasing piles of yarn she'd been acquiring. Did I ever! Of course I introduced her to Ravelry. But doing so confronted me for the first time with the necessity to tell a friend about my on-line identity and this very blog. Being shy about it, in real life, I had never told anyone except for family members. I had felt a little silly about the whole thing when I first started writing, not sure if I was being ridiculous. And now there wouldn't be any hiding it. If she were on Ravelry, it would be natural to wonder about my user-id, which, through my Ravelry profile, leads straight here.

So the jig was up. I gave her a guided tour of Ravelry, explained the features, and showed her my project page. I brought her here. I showed her that I'd been writing about projects she'd seen in person in my informal knitting group. It feels strange, like there's more of me on display than I bargained for.

But I get so much from these on-line interactions, so much learning and enjoyment and wonder. It's well worth the minor discomfort of adjusting.

I'm still seeing double, but things are beginning to come into focus.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Stitches to Remember

Ah, now, what will I remember about this year's Stitches?

Well, quite a few things. The first -- before we even got there, actually -- was, for the first time in quite a few years, having to do homework! Maybe this is perfectly ordinary for those of you who have often taken knitting classes. But I'm mostly a self- and book-taught knitter, and the idea of doing homework to bring to a class is like an almost-forgotten memory of school days. Apparently I hadn't forgotten the part about doing some of it at the last minute, though. I finished knitting the last of my required swatches in the car on the way to Baltimore. And, no, I wasn't the driver. :)

The next impression is of arriving with my friend at the convention center, comfortably early, to register and get situated for our first classes, and seeing the place liberally be-sprinkled with knitters. Everywhere, at tables and chairs, on couches, sitting in groups on the floor, engrossed in their projects and conversation. They knitted in the registration lines and in the Starbucks lines and some of them knitted right where they stood, at the head of the stairs or some other landmark spot, perhaps waiting to meet someone by pre-arrangement.

Luckily, we had equipped ourselves with portable projects, thinking of evening knitting time in the hotel. So once we got our coffee and pastry and got settled, we too were able to whip out some knitting and feel like we belonged.

I started work on a pair of socks in Colinette Jitterbug yarn, in the Kingfisher colorway. As you can see, I didn't get very far. I was too distracted, looking around at all the knitting on display, both in progress and on the backs of knitters. But the important thing was being a part of it all, not getting a sock done!

Checking into the hotel a little later, it seemed that even the hotel management had gotten into the act. Hanging on the soaring wall alongside an escalator was a large, dramatic piece of art. Up close, it appeared to be an array of ropes hung side by side, arranged with the direction of their twist alternating from one to the next. From a distance, it looked like nothing so much as a giant ragged-edged piece of stockinette-stitch knitting. Perfect for the occasion, as, being so close to the Convention Center, the hotel was overrun with knitters.

Soon enough, the time came to find the classroom for my first class. I found a seat near the front. Bubbling with anticipation, I looked around. Across the room was a face that seemed somehow familiar. I looked again, harder. I started thinking, gosh, maybe... could it be? The person in question probably began wondering why someone was staring at her. Not having glasses on, that I need only occasionally, I squinted to try to see the name on the nametag. I couldn't read it from where I sat, but it was a short-ish name; a promising sign. Finally, I asked from across the room, "is your name Bess?" "Yeeeesss?" she said, not knowing what to expect. I went charging across the room to introduce myself. Aaaa! Aaaa! It was Bess, one of the wonderful on-line friends I've come to know through their blogs but have never met. And she was wearing one of her projects that I'd read about, to boot. What fun it was to meet her! That was a Stitches memory I will certainly treasure.

The classes themselves were really enjoyable. I learned some great information, and it was quite an experience just being around my fellow students. Some of them were much like me; others were clearly a couple of notches further toward the "must-knit-must-knit-NOW" side of the spectrum. Some were relatively new knitters. Others were yarn-shop owners, designers, tech editors, or test knitters. Sometimes just hearing their questions and interactions with the teachers was an education in itself.

One of the classes I took was taught by designer Melissa Leapman, the author of Cables Untangled and the just-released Continuous Cables (among others). I was very entertained by her puckish sense of humor and her perfect control over the class. I'd seen her previously on TV, as the featured guest on an episode of the DIY channel's Knitty Gritty series, but that was simply not the same. It was well worth having a chance to be in her class in person. She had also brought some of the sweaters that appear in her books and used them to illustrate some of the design features she was talking about. One that I always liked, from the book Hot Knits, is a red cardigan with cables down the sides that curve in and then out again, giving an hourglass effect. She'd brought that along, and it was interesting to see it and hear her comments about it.

And of course, there will be plenty of memories of the Stitches Market. One mildly terrifying one was of finding, when I returned to the hotel room Thursday night, that some of my purchases were missing. It ended well, as I did manage to locate the truant yarn the next day. But it made for some anxious moments as I scoured the booths that I'd visited the night before until finally hitting upon the one where I'd lost it. The vendor had found the bag I'd left behind and set it aside, hoping its owner would eventually come back. I felt much better after that and bought some more items in a celebratory mood. :)

I tried not to overdo it, as my house is overstocked and groaning as it is. I don't think I did too badly; I only bought one yarn in a sweater quantity.

Here's a peek at most of what I did buy.

On the right is that sweater- to- be, a bag of Noro Silk Garden yarn. Way down in the lower right is some Jojoland Harmony lace- weight yarn, with the slowly undulating colors characteristic of the brand. Just above it is a skein of sock yarn from Miss Babs, an independent dyer based in Tennesse, in an overdyed colorway called Russet Shadows. Just to the left, two skeins leaning on the Noro Mini Knits book are semi-solid merino superwash sock yarns labeled as Happy Feet. The periwinkle-colored skein just to the left is a precious skein of bulky-weight Jade Sapphire Mongolian Cashmere, in the Hydrangea colorway. Then, although I've just loaded up on spinning fiber at the festivals, I couldn't resist one little Blue-Faced Leicester roving from Lisa Souza Dyeworks in Slate. And I found I really needed a couple of skeins of her hand-dyed "Sock!" superfine merino yarn in the Atlantic and North Sea colorways.

That's all of it. Pretty much. Well, mostly, anyway. There may be one or two things that didn't make it into the picture. A couple. Oh, what's that big pinky red thing in the center? Oh, nothing. That's just my pretty new Namaste knitting bag. I needed it.

Just a little something more to remember Stitches by. :)

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Stitching Together

This weekend I headed north to Baltimore with a friend to soak up a couple of days of everything knitting-related at Stitches East.

Well... this weekend? Not exactly. We actually fudged a little and played hooky from work so we could go on Thursday and Friday. This is something we've been looking forward to since the day last year when we dipped our toes in the Stitches Market and got an idea of just what we'd been missing.

We had mild weather that seemed more like September, but the trees are in full color, so we knew it wasn't so. Baltimore is a great setting for this show, but it seems this, the third year there in a row, will be the last for a while. The hugely capacious convention center is right downtown only about two blocks from the picturesque waterfront of Baltimore's Inner Harbor. There are lots of hotels, restaurants, and other entertainment to be had within a short walk. Not that one needs any other entertainment, mind you, when Stitches is underway.

I brought along my camera, but did I remember to take any pictures of the harbor with its ships and lights and beautiful vistas? Nope. Inside the event, I understand photo-taking is not allowed, and once finally outside again, we were foot-weary and thinking of nothing but where to get dinner. So I will have to be content with a picture of the convention center itself.

As we found last year, the Stitches Market alone is reason enough to go. Imagine the equivalent of 200 or more yarn shops all offering different wares and lined up cheek by jowl for your browsing and buying pleasure. It's thrilling and, honestly, overwhelming. Selection you couldn't even dream of in one place. The commercially produced and the hand-crafted. New products making their first appearance. Samples everywhere for inspiration. Creators of many of the designs and yarns on display, there on the spot to talk them over with you. Throngs of happy, excited knitters.

But what we didn't get in on last year is what was going on upstairs. Hundreds of classes given by top-notch teachers. In-depth instruction on many specialized topics, often by someone who has written a book on the subject. I don't even know exactly what a Danish Skå-trøjer is, but Beth Brown-Reinsel, an expert on traditional knitting, is giving a 12-hour class on it. I'd take them all if I could!

So, this time, we had decided to sign up for classes and stay overnight. As registered students, we were also eligible to go to the Stitches Market during the Thursday night preview session, before it opens to the public. I could have waited and gone up Friday. I could! Definitely. But for my friend, the thought of having first pick of all those yarns and pattern books and tools and bags and kits and jewelry and everything else was just too powerful a lure. So Thursday it had to be. I was just humoring her. It was really only because of her.

We equipped ourselves with wheelie carts. It was her doing. I was just going along with it. Definitely. And did we take much advantage of the preview session? I guess you could say so.

Time to sign off for now, but there's more to tell you about. Definitely.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Just Doing My Duty, Ma'am

When the economy is down, we all have to do our bit, don't we?

While I can't buy a house or take out a loan to get funds flowing, I can help in my own little way -- a couple of skeins of yarn here and there to provide the fiber festival booths of the United States with a little economic stimulus.

Here are some of the fruits of my personal efforts in that direction. These are some of the fun things I found at the Fall Fiber Festival, a few weeks ago. The big cushy grayish greenish bundle on the left in the back is some Kid Hollow Farm brushed mohair yarn. At least it was yarn. Now it's a half-knit-up project. As you see, I couldn't even hold back long enough to take a picture before casting on and starting work on the mock turtleneck pattern they were showing as a sample sweater. In the back on the right is another batch of the same yarn in a silvery gray. Scattered around are some small spinning-related accessories. In the front are a couple of skeins of Creatively Dyed yarn.

Here, I'll give you a closer look. Is that not beautiful?

Then, only a couple of weeks later, I administered the next phase of my stimulus package at the Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival. Oh dear, it's so exhausting staving off financial mayhem. Maybe I'd better fan myself and go get some lemonade.

But, as you can see, I don't shrink from a challenge. At the bottom of the picture, you see three skeins of gorgeous hand-dyed sock yarn from Beyond Basic Knits, in lovely rich colors. Then, on the left with the luscious watermelon and canteloupe colors is some roving from Serendipitous Ewe -- Wensleydale, another new breed for me to try! Peeking out in the back are some rovings from Bitsyknits intended for spinning sock yarn, one in merino, and the other in a merino-alpaca blend. Only semi-visible are a merino-cashmere roving from the Brazen Sheep, a pretty handmade basket from the Foothills Spinners and Weavers Guild, and a bright turning-maple-leaves-colored roving from Wild Hare Fiber in Coopworth and llama. Oh my, I just don't know where to turn next.

There are a few more things as well that didn't make it into the pictures but will most likely be heard from here sooner or later. All my economic stimuli are in something of a jumble. One of the auditors must have been overexcited. And, perplexingly, in among the heap is a receipt that I have no earthly idea what it was for. Clearly I bought something, as I signed the slip, plain as day, but there aren't any legible clues as to what that might be! More evidence of economic disarray.

Well, I'll just distract myself with this picture of the one that got away. This is the fabulous new Noro sock yarn, with a sample sock that shows it off to stunning advantage. This little tableau pleases me to no end. It just glows, doesn't it? I'm afraid I can't find my show catalog just now, but I think it might have been in the Fibersmyth booth. (If not, my sincere apologies to whoever it was.)

Seriously, I do worry about the fate, in an economic downturn, of all of these very small businesses who bring us so many special treats. Small businesses and retailers often seem vulnerable when the economy tightens. If poor conditions last long, luxuries are likely to suffer. These things, on the one hand, are certainly luxurious. If we shop carefully, we can get our sweaters and socks, machine-made, much more cheaply.

But these knitting and spinning supplies aren't expensive cars or fancy resort vacations, either. With the entertainment and fulfillment that they afford the hand-crafter and the beautiful and useful objects that result, their cost is modest for the value they provide. When belts tighten, perhaps we will go out less and busy ourselves more with homely and comforting things. Perhaps these are not luxuries but necessities.

Yes, I'm half-serious about wanting to help support these farms and artisans, small entrepreneurs and craftspeople, at a time when things may be slowing down a little. But it's nice when inclination and duty coincide so well.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Splashing through Shenandoah

This weekend was the Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival, one that I really enjoyed last year and was determined to visit again. For some reason, I always seem to hit the festivals on Sunday, as they're beginning to wind down. This time, I wanted to go on Saturday. My eagerness had nothing to do with any actual need for more yarn or fiber, you understand. It's just pure pleasure.

I got a nice early start this time. The weather report was not good, but I really wanted to go.

On the way, it's beautiful countryside, and the leaves are turning, and there were mists swirling fetchingly around some of the hills and farmland. I had to admit, though, the skies looked a little foreboding.

Sure enough. The rain soon began.

But was I going to be discouraged by a little thing like that? No! I had a good raincoat with a hood, and shoes I wasn't worried about, and a couple of extra plastic bags to protect whatever needed protecting.

It was a wet day, for certain, and I skipped from building to building avoiding the puddles. At times, from inside, you could hear the rain drumming on the roof. It did put a damper on some of the outdoor demonstrations that had been planned (though I believe they ended up having nice weather on Sunday). Also, I'm sorry to say, because of the rain, I didn't spend the usual time in the barns admiring the animals. I hope they weren't lonely.

But the weather did nothing to dampen my spirits. I was there to be dazzled by all the beautiful things the vendors had brought, and so I was. And there's something very homey about this particular festival that I really enjoy. Somehow, it really feels like a local community effort.

Here are a few of the sights.

Some hanging skeins of hand-spun yarn at Wild Hare Fiber Studio.

Tempting dyed rovings for spinning at Reflections at Roclans.

Triangle weaving at Foothills Spinners and Weavers Guild.

Scrumptious hand-dyed sock yarns at Beyond Basic Knits

I, of course, was happy to support all these fine booth-holders -- and more -- by making purchases. As I browsed one booth, I heard the vendors relaying how they'd been on their mobile phones, comparing notes with their compatriots at the Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair, the same weekend. In fact, I think the vendors at Shenandoah had a reasonably good show. We determined ones who had come in the rain were doughty festival-goers. Our numbers might have been a little fewer, but we had come to buy!

I, for one, drove home happy. Here's the Shenandoah River, still lovely, even glimpsed over a jersey barrier through the rain-soaked window of the car. A car well stocked with wool, I might add.

Oh, Shenandoah.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Fur of Goat

My goodness, where has this weekend gone? My long list of things I was going to get done has not gotten very much shorter. I did check off one important one, though: attend the Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival (more on that when I've had a chance to collect my wits.)

And there is one other thing that explains some of the fugitive time. At the Fall Fiber Festival a couple of weeks ago, I chanced to walk by the booth of Kid Hollow Farm. Along the outside hung a wall of long, puffy hanks of hand-dyed brushed kid mohair. There's something irresistible about a wall of soft fuzzy yarn in all those enticing colors. Sealing the deal, there was a sample sweater in bright, happy colors, a mock-turtleneck that looked cozy and comfortable. Each giant skein hanging there, about a half-pound of fluff, was enough to make the sweater. Believe me, it hadn't even crossed my mind to do anything in brushed mohair until that moment, but there it was. I picked out a colorway of gray and purple and green, with a slightly acerbic jot of brown interjected here and there. The woman who cut down the skein for me, her enthusiasm infectious, turned out to be the designer of the sweater, Puff the Magic Rabbit.

Of course I bought the yarn and the pattern. And then I rounded up world's-most-patient-husband to get some moral support -- he's very good about encouraging me to do what I wanted to do anyway -- and picked out a skein in another colorway for a second sweater.

I got started right away on the gray and purple skein. Just for the fun of it, since it was all in one great big hank, I wound it into one great big ball of yarn. (Those are 14" needles in the picture!) It's about the size of a soft, fluffy bowling ball. Why make a great big ball of yarn? Well, I don't know. Why not? And I did get to pull it out of my bag and amaze a friend and set her to laughing. Reason enough, I think!

I've been knitting away on the sweater in stolen moments. I haven't knit with brushed mohair before, and it's taken me a while to get the hang of it. It's easy to get the needle tips tangled in the loose fluff. But I soon learned to swing the working needle widely around the strand before picking it up to draw through the loops. That did the trick.

One other thing that I've learned requires some extra care is unraveling for any mistakes. Once knit, the loose fluff seems to grip and lock the yarn into the knitted fabric. Pulling out stitches requires gentleness and patience, because the harder it's pulled, the more recalcitrant it becomes. Well, I guess I can't blame it; most of us do better with gentle handling.

This isn't really as restful to knit with as a smooth wool yarn, but with a little careful attention and understanding it's coming along nicely. I've probably spent entirely too much time on it, but the back is done, and about a third of the front, and it just feels good to bury my hands in. I'm not a bit sorry about other things left undone. They'll keep.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Gift for a Beautiful Bride

Two people very dear to me were married this weekend. The happiness in their eyes was a gift to each other and to all of us who love them.

And so, now I can tell you about that little white item I'd been so mysterious about before. I was concerned, with the stunning off-the-shoulder style of today's wedding dresses and the planned October date, about the possibility of a chilly day.

It seemed like the sort of thing a knitter ought to be able to do something about. I considered various possibilities, like a knitted lace shawl. I wasn't sure my lace-knitting skills were up to a rush job on something really intricate and beautiful, and more importantly, I wasn't sure if a shawl would be to the bride's liking. And, unless requested, it seemed presumptuous to give her some showpiece she might feel obliged to wear.

I found my solution here. Something small, just a bit of a thing she could pull on later in the cool of the evening if she needed a bit of warmth. And something that, if so, would cover just her shoulders and as little as possible of her lovely gown. I thought, in the right yarn, the Eyelet Shruglet from 101 Designer One-Skein Wonders might be just what I had been looking for.

I got to work. At a local yarn shop, I found Alpaca with a Twist Fino, a gorgeous alpaca and silk laceweight blend. I held a thread of that with a thread of soft fingering weight merino wool. I used a large US size 10 needle to get an open texture and match the pattern's gauge. Then I went looking for the prettiest button I could find.

The pattern itself has some problems. The publisher provides errata for the pattern, correcting the stitch pattern for the simple eyelet used in the body of the shruglet. The corrections don't go far enough, though. There are small errors in stitch counts that require some judgment to notice and correct. But mostly, I think, the problems in this design come from the abbreviated format used in a book that squeezes in so many patterns. With more space, more details could be specified to clear up areas of confusion. Charting this design would make a world of difference. While I have plenty of experience to work out these kinds of kinks, I wonder if a novice knitter would.

But I was determined, and, intermittently, patient, and I wasn't going to be stopped by a little thing like that. I backed up when necessary, I worked out missing details and placements, and before long I had a pretty little shruglet made. Once it was blocked, it became incredibly soft and, with the drape of the alpaca and silk added to the merino wool, it hangs beautifully.

The shruglet is small and stretchy. I made the body a couple of inches longer than in the original pattern. As written, it ends high up under the arms, and since this was for warmth, if needed, I wanted it to give a bit more coverage.

When worn, even buttoned, it spreads open gracefully across the bodice. It's a pretty little thing, worth persevering through the hiccups.

As it turned out, the day of the wedding was cool but not cold. The sunshine and the emotion provided enough warmth. But I was happy knowing that, just in case it should be needed, if the crisp weather brought on the shivers, there was a little wisp of a wrap laid by.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A Distinct Dash of Periwinkle

Interesting variability in color is one of the everlasting joys -- and sometimes headaches -- of working with hand-dyed yarn.

I've finished what I needed to do on the other project (of which no more news just yet). It's lovingly nestled in pretty tissue and ready for giving.

And now I'm almost ready to let the Toscana tank top sweep me away again. Of course, a tank top is beginning to seem increasingly impractical now, with the weather freshening. It's alternating between brisk autumn days and unseasonably warm ones. Soon it will make up its mind on autumn, and I'll have a definite preference for sleeves. But let the wind blow. Even so, I can still lap up those pretty colors with my eyes.

After doing my sadly needless rip-out, I knit like lightning until the back of the Crossed Laces tank top, my second of this pattern, was redone. Following the stern recommendations on the label for the hand-dyed Colinette Wigwam yarn, I dutifully alternated between two balls every two rows. I actually had not seen the necessity of that throughout the back of the tank in Toscana or the whole of the earlier tank in the Pharaoh colorway, but I followed directions, not wanting to risk a tide line. The balls seemed so well matched that I couldn't see a difference, even once I split the two sides of the neckline and knit onward up each shoulder with just its one ball of yarn, lazily omitting to wind and attach more balls to alternate. There were no noticeable differences at all.

But then I wound two more delicious balls of Toscana to knit the front, and I could finally see the point. If you look at the ball on the right, you can see it: a distinct dash of periwinkle. I had originally thought there was periwinkle in this colorway. But on looking at my sample balls and the tank-top back in progress, I said, hmmm, there's no more than the slightest hint of blue. I regretfully removed it from the description I had been writing for an earlier post, thinking my imagination had run away with me. Azalea pink and lavender, a soft bluish green and a citrus-y yellow-green, yes, but no periwinkle.

But in that last ball, finally, there it was. I hadn't imagined it, it really was there. And rather prominently, at that. I don't fully understand why this ball is different from the others; each hank is labeled with the day it was dyed, and these are all from the same days' work in the Colinette dye pots. But it's unmistakable.

I greeted it happily. It's a pretty color that I like, and it adds a little more contrast and complexity to the garden-y pink and green color scheme. And, after all, it's a lovely word, periwinkle, isn't it? A word like that can only add to the pleasure of a sympathetic colorway. (Of course, I don't claim that it would enhance every colorway. A collection of rust tones and forest green, for instance, would not necessarily benefit from its dulcet syllables. But no doubt they have wonderful words of their own.)

Having it only on the front of the tank is fine with me, too. Nobody will study the front and back to tell me they don't quite match. And if I can have periwinkle on only one side, I'm glad it's the front, where I can see and enjoy it, rather than the back where it would only be seen waving goodbye.

So the main knitting of back and front is done, and only the seaming and neck and armbands await. Uncharacteristically, I've cast on another project before getting on with the finishing. I can only say that I've just been to a fiber festival, and the lure of the new yarn is temporarily strong.

But it won't be long before I sit down to spend a lovely afternoon with Toscana. Maybe we'll have tea. In a dainty porcelain cup.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Nothing GoesTogether Better...

Than football and fiber!

Well, OK, I admit I wouldn't have come up with that one, either. But football tickets beckoned, and a deal was struck. What could be better on a bright Indian summer's day than to drive to a beautiful corner of the state to cheer on the team? Even stopping for gas, it was so beautiful, my mood couldn't help but soar. It really was almost this blue. I didn't do anything tricky with the camera. At least, not on purpose.

And then we could just swing by Orange, Virginia, for the Fall Fiber Festival on the grounds of James Madison's Montpelier Estate? And maybe in the car, I could get a bit of knitting done on that little white item that I can't say much about just yet. Okay? Really, what a cheerful plan for a weekend. Okay, then!

The football was lots of fun, exciting, noisy and festive, as usual. And then after a rest, off to Montpelier. In due time, the small but charming festival hove into view. Just as exciting, for some of us. And really quite tolerable for the world's-most-patient of us, especially with the easily accessible and sociable animals on display and the sheepdog trials going on hard by the vendor tents.

Last year was the year of the dust bowl, when the car and my feet ended up covered in a thick layer of blowing dirt. It was still plenty enjoyable, but this time the weather was perfect.

This festival is small and in some ways folksy, but perfectly serious in supporting fiber arts, retailers, and local farms.

There's a little skein and garment competition. There's a small fleece sale, where last year I lost my heart to a little Jacob fleece. There's a guild doing demonstrations.

The shearing and skirting demonstration was very popular with lots of children.

There's wonderful, if small-scale, shopping for yarns and fiber and equipment and hand-dyes and patterns and knitted things. The Woolery is there! Strauch Fiber Equipment is there! Lots of local farms and retailers are there! I bought a couple of things. Even if I already have an oversized stockpile at home, I'm only human, after all.

Tucked in among the tents, here and there, there are clutches of spinners -- a surprising number of them -- busily doing what spinners like to do best.

And there are animals. Yarnstruck loves animals.

I learned a little more about alpacas on this visit. I've often heard it said that they "hum." I think I know now what that means. When I was around them, there always seemed to be a sort of gentle fussing going on, like the sound of a child whimpering, but not too unhappily. I finally realized it was them, and they were quite talkative. Once I figured that out, it was very cute.

I'd been hoping that at the festival this year, I might spot one or two of the lovely people I've met on-line through knitting blogs, and have a chance to say hello in person. So, as you might be able to see in the picture, I went to the festival this time well labeled. I drummed up my courage and made myself a "Hi, I'm Yarnstruck!" badge with one of my profile pictures, the little sheepie. A kind-hearted hand-dyer (Creatively Dyed, with lovely yarns in her booth) provided me with a Ravelry button as well, which served to underscore the point. In the end, I didn't manage to spot any knit-blogging correspondents. I don't know if my on-line acquaintances were gone by Sunday afternoon, or if I didn't recognize them from their pictures, or if I just might have been too distracted by the shopping and ogling the ruminants.

But my tank top was recognized. :) To be more precise, one of the booth owners recognized the pattern from the magazine it appeared in, not mine specifically. Still, it was fun to say, Oh, yes, this is that one, and it's made of that stuff, and yes, what a nice pattern, you should make one too!

Every festival has its little joys!