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!