Thursday, October 29, 2009

Could I Spin?

I've been toying with the idea of learning how to spin over the past few months, ever since I went to Alaska. I keep seeing all of the incredible handspun there is out there, AND all the incredible roving as well.

From what I understand, roving is the fleece that has been cleaned, carded and then made into strips, ready to be fed onto a spindle. I'm especially interested in trying out a drop spindle. It's simplicity is really attractive to me, and I like the idea of being able to bring it with me to different parts of the house. Who knows? If I get brave enough, it may accompany me to a coffee shop somewhere!

In my web travels to learn about spinning, I came across a blog by Wind Rose Fiber Studio, in Chandler, Arizona. There are lots of posts about spinning, and I appreciate the stories and personal touch there is to each entry. And, lo and behold, they have an Etsy shop! And wow - was I amazed. It was the first time I'd ever seen soy silk roving anywhere.

It looks like hair, doesn't it? It made me think of Rapunzel, and how it might be like to spin silky smooth hair. What kind of yarn could that become?

Needless to say, my head is now spinning with all of the possibilities. The selection of roving in this shop is certainly helping to fuel the ideas! Here's an unusual colour I haven't seen before - pewter!

I might start off with the Dye Your Own Merino Gift set, an inexpensive kit of dyes, roving and instructions that could help me get over those early kinks of learning to dye my own stuff.

The longer I look at the shop, the more I see how reasonable the prices are, which, for me as a novice, is really, really attractive.

And, the best part? They ship to Canada! Hurray! That alone really makes my day!

I'm tingling with the possibilities!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Little Happy Things

Check out these beauties! These are buttons that I purchased a year or so ago, just as a random purchase from Etsy. I think I was looking for buttons to sew onto a scarf as decoration (which, come to think of it, has yet to materialize), and I stumbled upon these and added them to my collection of crafty beauties!

These buttons are going to look great on my Copycat Sears Cardigan. After much perusal on the great wide web, I think that I will be attaching them by using a clear button on the wrong side for them to anchor onto, and will make sure the shank sits horizontally, and then I will wrap the shank with the thread a few times to prevent it drooping or flopping around. Thanks to TECHknitter who offered that advice on a Ravelry forum. Man, that knitter is a genius! Run, don't walk, to visit that blog. You will not regret it, and you will come away ten times wiser!

Anyway, the Etsy shop that I purchased these buttons from was Buttonsgalore. She is a Canadian Etsy seller from Montreal, and has the most beautiful selection of vintage buttons and SUCH reasonable prices. You think it'll be cheaper to visit Walmart, but after a visit to the fabric section, you find out that it's much harder to get 8 buttons the same type and of the same size for a comparative price. And, well... when I dug these buttons out to take the photo of them above, I decided to pay a little visit to the shop, and... ahem... I'll have a few little presents arriving in a couple of weeks. I'm so weak, but go and have a look, and I'm sure you'll be similarly weakened!

Progress on the Copycat Cardigan continues. I spent a couple of hours the other day trying to make sure I had the right stitch count and, in the mess, I thought I'd made it the increases on the body at the wrong point. I thought, "Well, I'll just make drop those stitches and re-make them a few stitches to the right with a crochet hook." Yeah, right. I started working on them, but then, wow... was that a mistake. It looked awful. And THEN... I discovered that I was actually right the first time. By that time the mistake had turned into a disaster, and was rapidly becoming an emergency. I looked down, sighed, and realized this was one of those lessons to remind me that I am indeed not perfect, and to get the heck over it. So, frog, frog, frog, five very long rows down. Ah well...

I'm having some minor palpitations that I may yet need more wool, but I think I'm just a little shaky after that last repair. Breathe, Adriene... just breathe...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

My Favourite Battles

I spent the last couple of days working on making pockets into a sweater for a first time. It was tough, and seemed complicated, almost impossible, while I was doing it, but I've finally got them in, and can carry on working on the body of the sweater. It's been a nice little victory for me, and it's another skill I can tuck under my belt.

Here is one of the pockets. There will be a ribbed edge added to it later, but it looks pretty darn good at the moment, huh?

In case you were wondering, I used the advice from The Sanguine Gryphon for reference.

I love these little battles I have with my knitting. As tough and as frustrating as it is at the time, it is really the best part of knitting for me. Problem-solving is one of my favourite things, really. Thinking about knitting or crochet "challenges" actually helps me to relax before I fall asleep at night. I've been able to get rid of lots of anxiety doing that. Weird, I know, but it's always been soothing for me. I used to fall asleep thinking of necklace designs. It gives me great pleasure to figure out puzzles and problems. Give me a book of Sudoku puzzles, and I'll see you in a few hours!

You should have seen me making the darn pockets. Since I'm knitting the sweater in seed stitch, it's hard to remember which side is the right side. I kept jumping up to find hoodies and sweaters with pockets so that I could make sure I was making the slant lean to the correct side. Every so often, I'd stop, squint, then put my hands on my sides as though I had pockets on to check again. And then, later, I'd take my piece, flip it over and over and over, again and again, to check again.

I must look like a bit of lunatic when I'm working on something, or thinking about how to make something. I'll often stop, mid-stitch, squint at the air, eyes shifting, imagining how to make this sleeve or that cable stitch... I'll draw pictures in the air with my fingers (usually because I'm not organized enough to carry a sketch pad), or start measuring my arms with my hands to make sure I'm not making a sleeve too long. Sometimes, I'll start counting out random numbers to figure out how to decrease properly. They say it's the first sign of madness... or genius...

I'm reading an Elizabeth Zimmermann book right now, Knitting Without Tears. For those who don't know about her, she is knitting royalty. She passed away not long ago, but her knowledge and techniques are revered, re-written, and dare I say, improved upon over and over, but never without strict reference to the lady who told us to be the boss of our knitting. One of my favourite quotes so far is:

Really, all you need to become a good knitter are wool, needles, hands and slightly below-average intelligence. Of course, superior intelligence, such as yours and mine, is an advantage.

It's a darn good thing, too... because most of the time, I am not the latter!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Longing for Community

I've been in a real melancholy mood for the past week. I've been feeling lonely and jealous of the knitting communities that are out there, but that just don't seem to exist here. I do have a small circle of friends that occasionally get together for a couple of hours here and there, but we're all so busy, that it's hard to make it a regular go. I am grateful for it, but I just get lonely sometimes for other people who will sit and talk about yarnie things with me.

Rhinebeck is going on this weekend, and everyone on Twitter was tagging with #imaginaryrhinebeck. I'm still new to Twitter, but I was longing so much to be there that I just added the tag for the hell of it. Who knows? Maybe someday, I'll be lucky enough to go to one of these legendary fibre festivals and meet other yarnies.

I guess I'm just a little bit bitter, because where I live, there just doesn't seem to be that massive interest in quality crafting. How great would it be if there was even an LYS here! I mean, even in Alaska, in towns where half the town leaves in after the tourist season, and the winter descends in cold and fearsome winds, there are thriving communities, beautiful shops, great knitty things to do together.

I know what some of you are thinking: If you want that, then make it happen. Well, no. I know that I could organize events, build a shop or a club or something, but I'm just not willing. In my other life, I recently left a voluntary board position in a local non-profit, and all my "make it happen" mojo is all burnt out. It just would be nice if there were enough of a community to make it happen.

There are other options, of course. There are knitting retreats going on in Montana in January. I've already committed all my vacation days to Christmas and the like, but I'm sure there will be more in the future. If I organize myself and plan ahead, maybe I can go to one later on next year.

I must go and find my people.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Lacy Skirt - Finished!

Yay! I finished my skirt! I finished it a couple of nights ago, and only got around to taking pictures of it today. I haven't made a drawstring casing or a lining for it yet, but I just slipped it over a black skirt of a similar length so that the details could be seen.

Here is a close-up of the beads. I think they look great! I'm quite proud of this skirt, but I'm not sure I would make another one. I always think I could make two of something BEFORE I start making it. It's always different afterwards!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Sometimes, Love Hurts

It's been a great weekend with lots of good Canadian Thanksgiving food and fun. I had dinner #1 at a friend's house on Friday, then made officially the best stuffing ever yesterday for the turkey dinner at my house last night. It was a good choice doing the turkey-thing on Sunday - everyone could stay late without having to worry about work the next day, and we could all just relax.

I've been plagued all weekend with a stiff neck and shoulders. Unfortunately, the likely cause is all the knitting and crocheting I do. I really don't know what to do about it, apart from having hot baths and regular massages. I try to sit up, try to work my core muscles and keep them strong, but the pain and weariness is still there. When I'm stressed, the muscles in the middle of my back bunch up, so much that, when I do get a massage, they literally pop while the therapist runs her fingers over them. Any suggestions for best practice would be deeply appreciated! Especially since I have no intention if giving up my hobbies!

I'm pretty sure that all crafters experience a bit of pain every so often - eyestrain, carpal tunnel, low back pain. I wonder if anyone has ever done a study on it? I know of older knitters who don't knit anymore because of arthritis in their hands. Am I headed in the same direction?

I feel so lucky sometimes to have this body that has arms that can embrace, hands that can knit and manipulate fine tools, and eyes that can see the tiny details of my work. I need to find ways to keep myself as healthy as possible.

I'm almost finished my Victoria's Secret Skirt. I decided last week that I would work the lower edge in beads, to add a little weight to the hem so that the skirt hangs well, and also to camouflage the slight colour difference at the end of the skirt (see previous post). I was inspired by Rosemary Hill's Waves of Grain (which I also intend to make sometime, probably with the left over Circulo I have from this skirt). I hadn't strung the beads before I started, but I used the technique suggested in the pattern, but required a tiny crochet hook. Well, I thought I had tiny crochet hooks, until I started placing these beads. Then, I realized I needed an even tinier crochet hooks. Off I went to the local Walmart (there is no LYS in this town) for a smaller hook.

First of all, I apologize for the terrible quality of these photos. You just can't take any pictures in my house after sundown without it looking like we live in an FBI interrogation room. Nevertheless, check these out:

The hook on the left is the hook I started placing the beads with, a practically GIGANTIC 1.3mm hook. The hook on the right is the one I bought today, a miniscule 1.0mm. It's amazing the difference it made! Those beads just slid on without any trouble. Now that I think of it, I suppose I could have just made a hook with the beading wire I have from my old jewelry business, but I guess I just felt like a trip to Walmart on a cold day. And hey, I also scored three sets of bamboo needles on sale!

I'm warming up to bamboo needles these days. It's one of those things that I just don't know why anyone would bother until they try. I have a big collection of Boye aluminum needles here, and thought of buying any more just seems ridiculous, but they all have their functions.

Boye and other aluminum alloy needles: multi-purpose, good for big acrylic-blend blankets and some cottons.

Denise Interchangeables
(too lazy for photos, but have a look) - great for seamless sweaters or big blankets, and grip silky and slippery yarns nicely.

Bamboo - also great for gripping the yarn so that it doesn't slide off the needles. I think they'd be great for beginners, although I started with the aluminum ones. A few false starts with some Bernat Organic Cotton had me wishing for them!

There are absolutely multitudes of knitting needles out there, which I won't get into, but until you try them, really, you don't know what you could be missing. There should be a knitting needle "try before you buy" event. I mean, I can test drive a car before I buy it, right?

Perhaps a change in needles might loosen some of the tension I carry with trying to hold the yarn on the needles, especially during a cast on or first row.

Or, I could just get a massage chair! Hey... there's an idea...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Colour-Mixing and Palettes - or, why I am not an artist

It may surprise you to know that I am relatively unimaginative when it comes to colour (or maybe it doesn't surprise you, and you've just been nice to me all this time). Truth is, I have trouble imagining different colour-combinations, or what items would look like in different colours. It is for this reason that I value Ravelry so much: I can see what other colours people have used with the same pattern.

Recently, I stumbled upon a website called COLOURlovers. Man, if you didn't know anything about colours before, this is the website for you!

At first, I struggled with trying to figure out what this website is all about, and then I realized: duh! It's just about loving colour! And not only that, but sharing ideas about colours, different palettes, different trends, what magazines are using for colours... really, it's an inspirational site about how to give a little oomph to this world. I'm still learning how to use it, but I'm liking what I see so far! Here's a little screen shot of the site:

Is that attractive, or what?

So, all this talk about colours also brings to mind the fact that I had a veritable DICKENS (yes, you heard me) of a time with the skirt that I am currently making. I'm using Anne from Circulo Yarns in a light brown mercerized cotton. I bought three balls of yarn, and checked the dye lots (like you're supposed to), and merrily skipped to my car where my hubby and my dog were waiting, then proceeded to the park...

Fastforward to last Friday. I had switched to the second ball, and noticed that it was slightly darker. Huh. I guessed there was some variation within the dye lots. By Monday, I'd made it two-thirds through the second ball, and then I thought, "I better get that third one out. I'd like to make it longer." So I did. And it was lighter than the second ball. Waaaaaaaaaaait a minute...

I dug out the labels. And guess what? The second ball is of a different dye lot. Aarrrgh...

I went outside with my dog to supervise his evening constitutional (I can't let him out there on his own right now because there's a mouse or something living under the shed, and he is far too interested in being its friend), and while I stood there, shivering, I debated: It'll be ok, right? I mean, they're all light brown. I might not need too much of the third ball. Right?

Well, no. I'd just end up with a dark stripe of fabric in the middle of the skirt. So... a-frogging I went. Sigh.

So really, I can imagine how awful something can look, but unfortunately, I can't imagine how good something might look. Weird.

I'm super-excited, though, because two more balls of wool for my Sears Copycat Cardigan have arrived in the city, my friend will go and pick them up for me, and I'm way more motivated to finish it. THEY'LL be of a different dye lot, but at least I know it, and I can work them in alternately - at least, I IMAGINE I can. Meh. Wish me luck!

Monday, October 5, 2009

If it's got cake in the name, it must be good!

I'm truly drowning in yarn euphoria. Seriously. I hang out in the Ravelry forums, and someone shows off a yarn they've added to their stash, and I'm immediately wondering if I can get some for me. Luckily, my self-control is holding out and I'm sticking to my budget, but wow... I'm loving what's out there. And I feel like congratulating anyone who finds something truly beautiful.

You know what's even better? I've found a second way to enjoy my yarn - winding yarn cakes. Yep... was there ever a better term? It says "yarn", it says "cake"... seriously, I can barely hold back my enthusiasm for it. And, since I bought my nostepinne, I've been able to wind my own. Well, one so far, but it was so cool and so much fun, I may just have to wind all the hanks I've got in my basket!

The one on the right is a yarn cake I bought in Ketchikan, Alaska, during the last docking of our trip. It's Artyarn, from a company called Evilla, in Estonia. The one in the middle is a ball of Kauni, Effektgarn, from Norway, and just LOOK at those colours! Both of those are fingering weight. And the one on the left is the yarn cake I wound from the Rabbit Ridge Sock yarn I bought in Juneau. Not bad for the first time, eh?

The nice thing about yarn cakes, for those who have not yet encountered them, is that they sit nice and flat, while the yarn can be drawn out from the middle. And, you can see any colours that are coming up, without having to guess!

And, not only that, but the Evilla looks something like a yarn burger, too...

... although, probably not that tasty.

Anyway, my restraint has been paying off. My budget is still intact, and I can pay my bills and put some money away, too. I'm quite happy to go and dig through my basket in the evenings, looking at each ball, hank, and skein, and dreaming about all the lovely things I could make from each. I don't need any more right now.

You know, one thing that I've been noticing about myself as I get older, is that too much "stuff" just stresses me out. I mean, I can get pretty feverish when I think about things that are in my possession that I haven't planned for - extra clothes, extra food, extra paper... I don't know why. I think I'm just afraid of things spoiling or getting lost, or just crowding me out. I think it's sort of a form of reverse-hoarding - I must clear out. I won't even go into all the extra jewelry supplies I have left over from my former jewelry business that I want to clear out somehow.

This is the reason that I don't buy in bulk, and I can't shop in places like Costco or any of those "club" warehouses. The surplus stresses me out. I can't handle all that stuff in my space. And sometimes, it actually offends me how much surplus we've got in this country, especially when I think of how little other people have.

Years ago, when I lived in the UK, I watched one of those Comic Relief programs, where celebs went to third world countries to help them get fresh water wells and buildings. There was this old man, who made his living making things out of old oil drums - pots and pans and the like. He lived in a little building, which I hesitate to call a shack, simply because it was quite strong, but very small. One of the volunteers, who was a designer for Changing Rooms, offered to pave his dirt floor for him. The old man was thrilled, and asked him to wait while he moved all this stuff out. And, 20 minutes later, he had. The volunteer said, "You know, we decorate people's living rooms all the time, and it usually takes us a couple of hours to move everything out. And look - there's all the possessions this man has in the world, right there." A hammer. A saw. A blanket. A hammock. A few pots and pieces. But they are his. And that's all he needs.

Now, I know I'm putting my self-righteous hat on right now, and the size of my stash might beg to differ. Really, I know that I could give away almost everything I own and still be ok. What I'm getting at is that, while I might benefit from purchases and have lots of nice things and lots of conveniences as a result, nothing bad can happen if I don't buy something. All that will happen is that I won't be responsible for another thing on this planet, and I'll have more money to travel, to save for the future, to retire someday. And then, when I do buy something, I can truly be thankful for it, and enjoy it all the more.

Especially if it has the word "cake" in it.

Friday, October 2, 2009

A Day in Skagway

To continue on my trip to Alaska, our second docking was in Skagway. We got an entire day here, which was just as well, because it was raining when we arrived. Hubby and I braved the elements and walked around the town, which consisted of a few blocks of buildings, all historical, all which had been moved there by the town for the tourists to see.

Skagway is home to the infamous Soapy Smith, the conman who preyed on local Klondikers who were searching for the dream of gold, but became somewhat of a hero, since he financed a bunch of things for the town. He was killed in a gunfight with Ken Reid. For more on this historical figure, click here.

Skagway has the feel of an old-time western, with buildings like the Red Onion Saloon (a famous brothel) and the Skagway Bazaar, complete with boardwalks lining the road.

One of these old buildings housed a great little yarn and needlecraft shop called Changing Threads. I found this one while peering down the streets looking for the local library for hubby to do some work.

The people who worked here were as delightful as anything - just the type of people I like to meet at a yarn shop. It was here that I got my first glimpse of the famous Qivuit yarn, made from the fluff of the musk ox. It was sitting behind glass, and had the rather luxurious cost of $92 a ball!

Needless to say, it did not join my stash. It was interesting to see, though. I was too afraid of wrecking it to ask to handle it!

I did, however, acquire a Nostepinne, a Scandinavian ball-winder. It's made a maple, with a handle made of a type of wood called purple heart. Purple heart is a kind of tree that, when cut, the wood quickly turns from dark brown to deep purple. I've already given it a whirl with the Rabbit Ridge yarn I bought in Juneau, and it works great! I also bought a bone crochet hook - just something I liked the look of and wanted to try. I haven't tried it out yet, but it's a good weight, and it makes me think that I've got a link to the first crocheters... perhaps they used similar hooks - who knows?

Skagway's great claim to fame is that it was one of the last "civilized" stops on the way up to the great promised-land of Klondike gold. Unfortunately, by the time most of the men got there, traveled all the way to this "sure thing," the gold was all gone. They did, however, decide to change their fortunes by building a railway, to transport goods up and down the valley to settlements that had formed there. This was called the White Pass Railway, and we managed to get seats on a tour that would take us to the White Pass summit.

We passed amazing sights on the way. Here is the railroad, just teetering on the edge of a narrow ledge of rock:

Here is a waterfall that has a pipe running next to it. The water in that pipe runs to a hydro-electric generator, that generates enough electricity to sell all over Alaska and beyond:

Check this bridge - you can barely see it in the landscape:

And when we reached the summit, I felt like I was on another planet. You can clearly see three different lands: the scrub, the treeline, and the rocky mountaintops. And, it was the site of the "International Bathrooms" (i.e. outhouses). I won't repeat the joke (I feel guilty for taking it from the tourguide), but it's a good one when you hear it!

Afterwards, we headed to the Gold Rush Cemetery. There is a newer cemetery in Skagway, but the funny thing is, no one dies in Skagway these days. Reason? There's no hospital. When you get sick, you get sent to the hospital in Juneau. But certainly, people died back during the days of the Gold Rush.

It looks like a movie set, doesn't it? Those trees grew up around that cemetery. One hundred years ago, it had been cleared. It is now maintained by the historical society, who replace the wooden headstones to retain the epitaphs of these people that often read, "Unknown." It is a strange, dark, sad place. So many people, with so many hope... men, women, and children, coming to an unknown place for an unknown future. And here they rest. I wonder if their families ever knew where they ended up?

And yet, I admire their sense of adventure, and of hope. How brave did you have to be to travel so long, without any promise of return? The departure would be like losing a loved one to death - certainly no guarantee of getting them back. But they went - and they made history.

What a fascinating place.