Friday, December 31, 2010

Mom's Mat, or: How Little Dogs Claim Everything as Their Own

Both my parents have been retired for a few years, and so, they've had a while to get used to the time they have at home. Not only that: their year has been organized into seasons:
  • January to March: Holiday in the Philippines to escape the winter.
  • April to May: Mornings walking the track in the leisure centre, afternoons pottering around the house.
  • June to October: Mornings walking in the park, afternoons cooking and gardening for Mom, working on cars in the garage for Dad.
  • November and December: Home renovation for Dad, general cleaning insanity for Mom.
I know: why on Earth would you start tearing down walls in your house in November? I'm not entirely sure. I know the house needs work, and I think my dad prefers to do it in the winter because it's too cold to be out working on cars then. And it seems to keep him on time: he usually gets a bunch of it done just in time for the hundreds of holiday visitors to their house.

Anyway, Dad's really good at it. He's ripped down drywall, re-insulated the walls and now the house is much warmer (at least, the parts he has finished are) and the floors are nicely done. And I have to hand it to him: his finish is really nice. No seams, all level, no streaky paint. Nice.

Now that they've finished re-doing their bedroom, the carpet is gone and has been replaced with laminate. My mom is one of these people who is perpetually cold, so I decided that it would be nice to make her a mat for the floor on her side of the bed, so that she could step out onto something warm before she puts her slippers on.

I dithered about what kind of yarn to use for it, and settled on wool. At last year's Olds Fibre Festival, I picked up four skeins of some metal grey wool from one of the vendors. They were a good price, about $4.30 a skein, but a bit coarse for next-to-skin wear. I was a little stumped about what to use them for, but they were perfect for this project: sturdy and solid, unlikely to pill, yet comfy.

I worked it in crochet basketweave, which was perfect for this yarn, a kind of DK weight wool. It was a good, mindless project, but I have to admit: it got reeeaallyy boring towards the end. How boring? Well, here's a list of things I found to do instead of working on this mat:
  • cleaning out my bookmarked favourites and organizing my queue on Ravelry
  • cleaning my mom's kitchen
  • washing the dishes
  • cleaning the bathroom
  • playing fetch with an unresponsive dog named Rascal
I did want to get it finished before we left to go back to our own place, so eventually, I buckled down and got the main part of the mat done, then worked a border of half double crochet stitches three rows deep on all sides. Last night, I washed it in shampoo and conditioner, and it's come out nice and soft.

And guess who I found checking it out after I lifted it to vacuum the floor?


I'm happy with it, and Mom was too. It's a little wonky because my tension changed about halfway through the project (I finally started to relax, I guess). I don't think she realized I was going to give it to her until I finished it. And I got it just in time, since we're leaving tomorrow. It was a nice, easy project, but yeah... kinda boring.

So, last night, I cast on for Alisa Daly's Red Emperor Shawl with the Rocky Mountain Sundance Sock I bought last spring in Canmore. Beautiful lace, intricate and delicate...

... and fricking difficult after an easy project like that mat. I've been counting and re-counting stitches for hours now. Who knew it was so hard to count to six?

It's probably just as well I'm doing a more difficult project. I need to get the ol' brain back into gear in time to go back to work. A week and a half off has made it a little weak and flabbby...

..among other things. Ahem. The diet starts next week!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Trouble with Planning

I'm feeling a little nervous as I write this, because I know that the person who is in this blog post is a regular reader, and well... I'm worried about authenticity, like she might call me on any exaggerations, because she was THERE.

Not that I lie in these blog posts. Nope. Never. I just like a good story. You know?

Anyway, let's start from the very beginning... a very good place to start... (Sound of Music was on last night. Sorry. I can't help it.)

A couple of weeks ago, whilst planning our annual Christmas trip home, I was pondering a visit to one of the yarn shops there. I thought to myself, Aw man, I don't wanna put the hubby through that again. And I want to have time to enjoy myself there. How am I gonna do that?

That's when I thought of Linette.

Linette lives in my hometown, and started out as a friend of a friend, until I found out she could knit. AND crochet. Whoa.

Later on, I found out that she is a regular reader of my blog, and had just the right amount of empathy for both my adventures and misadventures in the yarn world. Double whoa.

So, I thought, Yes, she's it. She's the one.

I found her on facebook one evening, and talked her into meeting for coffee, and maybe a wander through a yarn shop or two.

Ok, so I didn't talk her into it. I nudged, she dove at the idea, and I dove in straight after. Ahh... a kindered spirit.

We arrived at my folks' house a few days ago, and the excitement of the upcoming day was almost too much. That sounds weird, I know, but besides being able to shop for yarn with another fibre artist (which was a great thing, in and of itself), I was also grateful to be actually meeting up with someone in Winnipeg. As the years have passed, I've drifted apart from my old school friends. I've been living away from my hometown for over ten years now... we've all grown up, found our own interests, started families, made new friends... and well, I knew that all my old school friends were doing their own thing, and this being the holiday season, trying to arrange time with them to hang out was going to be impossible. It's a lonely feeling, but it happens. Add to the fact that practically none of them have any interest in knitting, and well, that makes for some awkward conversations.

Anyway, I decided that, if I was going to have the somewhat rare privilege of going to a yarn shop, I might as well be prepared. So, a couple of days ago, I decided to get organized and start going through my stash and deciding what I could make with it, and therefore, prioritize my purchases according to the things I most wanted to make. That was NOT easy because a) I have a LOT of yarn at home, and b) it's all at MY house. This required a lot of poking around in my memory, trying to remember what I had sitting around at home.

After all that organization, I picked up my phone and made my wishlist. This is what I wrote:
  • 2000 metres of DK yarn for Isobel Skirt
  • 1200 - 1500 metres of DK yarn for Musetta
  • any fingering weight yarn in subtle variegated tones - at least 700 metres - for shawls
  • 1500 metres of DK yarn for Brunello
Hooray for organization. I was focused. I was ready. I was going to have a purpose in the yarn shop.

So, I met with Linette yesterday afternoon. We enjoyed a couple of hours of knitting (well, I had a crochet project, but you know what I mean), and chatting about all things handmade... sewing, quilting, the difficulty of twisted stitches, lace, cables, gift-making... all sorts of stuff. She told me about some ingenious mittens with a special thumb to help you use your phone in the cold, and vintage dishcloths (which are now queued, by the way). It was fun! Then, we got on a bus and went to Wolseley Wool.


Sooooo... about that plan...

I'd like to say we entered a vortex, and time and space swirled around us, and I lost my bearings. I'd like to say I was forced into a room and told that, under so circumstances, was a plan allowed in the shop. I could say that I didn't find one single skein of yarn interesting.

But Linette's going to keep me honest.

So, really, what happened was: I got a little giddy. I got lost. I had to touch everything. Twice. Maybe thrice.

Did I find any DK weight yarn for any of the projects? Did I buy any fingering weight yarn for any of the shawls I have queued? Did I at least purchase something from the bargain bin?

I can't take all this interrogation.

No, I didn't. Ok? I didn't follow the plan at all.

That's not to say I didn't try. I kept taking out my phone, looking at the list, trying to focus my eyes on the text.

But, but, but... there was all this beautiful worsted weight yarn. Good price. Pretty colours. No plan. Me Adriene. You yarn. Hey, shop man. Take credit card. Give me yarn. Ug.

After I paid, I texted the hubby. Asked him to pick me up. Sat and waited with Linette as she waited for her ride. Got restless. Decided to look at the needles. And, lo and behold, there was a circular needle of the mystical size between US size 10.75 and US size 11. Only available in Europe. Or so I thought.

Hey, shop man. Credit card. Needles. Mine.

So, here I sit with four skeins of Cascade in beautiful heathered blue. 880 yards. For what? Not sure yet.

And I have a set of 7.5mm bamboo circular needles. THOSE babies are going to be useful. I've needed that size more than once, and it has been impossible to find them in Canada. (I'm trying to sound convincing here.)

It wasn't a total bust. I didn't break the bank. I didn't fill the car with bags and bags of yarn with no purpose.

But, it would have been nice to have been one of those people who could follow a yarn purchase plan. Do those people even exist?

Ah well. It could have been worse. I could have made up some fantastical story about being organized, purposeful, efficient.

That's what comes of meeting up with people who read your blog. You just can't lie. It's bad karma. You don't want bad knitting karma. You never know what might happen to you: tangled yarn skeins, dropped stitches, tension problems... *shudder*...

... but we won't talk about the shoe shopping I did today...

Saturday, December 25, 2010

How to Make a Bowtie For Your Dog

I'm sitting in the bedroom at my parents' house, awaiting the hordes of people who will be arriving shortly to partake in the feast that is cooking in the kitchen. I've been cleaning and organizing, but generally trying not to eat too much and to get outside for fresh air and walks with my doggie as much as possible.

Rascal has a Santa suit, which I think is darn cute, but he is not so thrilled about it, as you can see.

Add the fact that my parents' house is really warm most of the time, and it's just not a good time for the little wolf.

So, this year, I decided to get out some red yarn and make him a bowtie to wear on Christmas Day. And, he doesn't seem to mind it at all. In fact, he doesn't even know he's wearing it. It also happens to go well with the tuxedo he wears all year round.

Here's how I made it (images are from the TLC Home Website):

1) With 5mm (size 8) dpns, or with a 5mm hook, make an i-cord that is long enough to pass over your dog's head when the ends are joined. Cut the working yarn and use a darning needle to pass it through the live loops. I prefer to make i-cords using a crochet hook, as seen here. Sew the ends together to make a circle that will go over your dog's head.

2) With 5mm (size 8) needles, cast on 15 stitches. Knit a rectangle that is 3 inches long, ending with a RS row. Turn, and purl the first 8 stitches. With the needles still in the work, fold the rectangle with the right sides together and the needles at the top, with the points facing right.

3) Use a third needle to perform a three-needle bind-off. Cut the working yarn with an 8-inch tail.
4) Use a darning needle and the tail and sew up the long side using a mattress stitch, first turning the work right-side out before you start.

5) Seam the other end using a horizontal seam for stockinette stitch.

6) Using your 5mm needles, cast on a 7 stitches for a new rectangle. Knit a skinny rectangle, about 2 inches in length, or long enough to wrap around the centre of the first rectangle. This is the centre "knot" for the bowtie. Bind off the end leaving another 8 inch tail.

7) Wrap this skinny rectangle around the centre of the first rectangle, pinching the centre to create a crease. Use a darning needle to sew the ends together with the tail. Do not trim the tail.

8) Use the tail to sew the bow to the i-cord. You may need to flatten the i-cord a bit and sew each edge to the tie to keep it from being floppy.

9) Put it on your dog and take lots of pictures of him being cute.

I know I really shouldn't be dressing my dog... but come on!

Have a Happy Holiday season!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Ok, Enough Already

I've been working away on Kate Jackson's November Ruffle Wrap for a few weeks here, and it's been a pretty decent project, but I'm SO tired of it now. It's been a comedy of errors... but my sense of humour about this is waning right about now.

Firstly, I didn't buy the right kind of yarn for it. I bought the yarn on a spur of the moment shopping trip, and really didn't know what I should have been getting. It was supposed to be made with a strand of worsted and a strand of DK weight, but I ended up buying just the worsted weight and tried to get gauge using bigger needles.

The trouble is, the only needles big enough were part of my Denise Interchangeable set.

I have a love/hate/hate relationship with my Denise needles. They are, in theory, a great set of needles where you can change the sizes according to the gauge required, thus eliminating the need to buy many sets of circular needles of different sizes. Theory, good. Practice, frickin' annoying.

The cords and needles are attached to one another with a mechanism that locks them into place with a twist. That means that you just twist them on, and bam, you've got your circular needle at whatever length you want. The problem is, as easy as it is to join them together, it is just as easy for them to come apart, usually in the middle of a long stretch of stitches. This event is usually accompanied by a long string of cursing as you watch your work tumble off. I know someone who used them for lacework... that girl is a saint, if you ask me (dkzack, that's you!).

So, time and time again, the work fell off my needles, and time and time again, I put the stitches back on.

I made it to the edge and started working on the ruffle section. This is where logic (stupid logic!) failed me. I just did not calculate the amount of yarn required properly, and ended up with a slightly shorter ruffle - four inches instead of five. I thought, Meh. It looks good. I'll just cast off now.

Aaaaaand ran out of yarn six inches away from the end.

So, the rest of my evening has been spent ripping out stitches and placing them back on my annoying Denise needles. At least I'll have a bit more yarn to make a stretchier bind off. I considered pulling them all back to the stockinette section and trying to make another inch of ruffle, but you know what?

Sometimes, you just have to know when enough's enough.

Sigh for now...

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Spinnin' Around

I'm spinnin' around, move out of my way...
- Kylie Minogue
Note: This post has nothing to do with hotpants, especially those worn by Kylie in her video.

About a month ago, my knitting buddy and fellow yarnaholic, Tara, were out for coffee one evening, and we got onto the topic of yarn (what else?), and spinning. She mentioned that there was a monthly spindle class at Make One Yarns in Calgary. "Would you go with me?" she asked?

Need she ask?

Fast forward to yesterday, when two incredibly excited ladies climbed into a jeep and drove into the city for our first spindle class. I was so relieved to be getting away for the day, after a hectic week at work. In truth, I'd almost forgotten about the class, but while we drove, I just felt happier and happier... but also a bit nervous. What if I couldn't do it? What if I got relegated to the dunce corner? What if I did something weird and accidentally took somebody's eye out? How would I explain that to the police?

For those who don't know, a spindle is a tool that has been used for thousands of years to spin fibre into yarn. We mostly think of spinning wool into yarn, but you can spin cotton, silk, flax (which, I never want to do - it sounds like torture on your fingers), alpaca fleece, llama fleece, qiviut, even cat and dog hair! They are basically comprised of a stick with a whorl at one end, and it spins in like a top to turn drafted fibres into a strand of yarn.

I've been interested in spindles ever since I bought one from this shop about a year ago. I looked at it and thought, "How hard could it be?"

I swear, that's going to be my epitaph.

I did a bit of research and watched a couple of videos. When my spindle finally arrived, I took it out, tried it once, and promptly put it away. It was not a successful venture... maybe I just wasn't going to be able to do it.

Nonsense. I said to myself. I just need to learn a bit more.

The next thing I did was purchase Abby Franquemont's book Respect the Spindle. Abby has spun with spindles since she was a little girl in the Andes. That knowledge alone heartened me: This is part of everyday life where she grew up, I thought to myself. That means, it can become part of my everyday life, too. I read the book end to end.

But I still didn't pick up my spindle again.

I needed more. I needed to be around people who were all doing it at the same time.

When we arrived at Make One yesterday, we wandered around the store a bit first, both of us savouring the novelty of having several hours to enjoy the store, without having to try the patience of husbands waiting for us. We strolled around, picking up several skeins, squeezing them, looking at the labels... I made several rounds around the store: first round to look at anything that immediately caught my attention, my brain spinning with possibilities, second round to let my eyes wander and catch onto anything I missed the first time, third round to start narrowing my choices down.

During each round, I averted my eyes from the spinning section. I'm not sure why. Maybe I didn't want to get too excited about it, in case I couldn't do it. Maybe I was thinking of the fibre I already had at home and figured I may as well use that up first.

At 1:00pm, I dashed outside to feed the car meter (did you know you can pay for the meter in Calgary with your phone?) and then joined the others seated on chairs and sofas at the front of the shop.

The next two hours went by in a flash. I reveled in the conversation, not really talking, but just listening to what everyone was saying. We noted each other's knitted creations - I wore my Purple Gabled Hoodie, another had on orange handknit socks, and I found a purple thrummed mitten outside that I knew for sure belonged to someone in the shop. It was interesting to hear the chatter: the frustrations of learning something for the first time. And it was funny to see how quickly we were distracted by people coming into the store: a lady with handdyed roving to sell, another with a felted bag from Starbucks that would make a perfect project bag, another with a beginner's wheel. I felt like I was part of something traditional and aged - a group of people all gathered to spin, and who all had a great respect for the process of textile making.

And, of course, who loved to spend money on the stuff.

I'm happy to say that I made pretty good progress, and managed to make a nice, fine yarn sample. Not too bad, I think.

I also walked a way with a few goodies.

Two beautiful skeins of fingering weight yarn.

A braid of Blue Faced Leicester roving to spin with.

And a bag of Merino and silk blend roving to try as well.

We left at about 3:00pm, chatting and laughing and eating popcorn all the way. It was a really great day. I felt really, really happy. I haven't felt that happy since my trip to Olds Fibre Festival last summer. I felt like I'd had a really good visit with old friends.

I slept really well last night, and dreamed about all the possibilities my spindle will afford. I really can't wait to start again.

Oh, and I also dreamed that I was swimming with sea lions. I thought that they smelled like dogs. And I woke up and found Rascal all snuggled up against me in bed.

Excellent. Yes, excellent.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Alright, if I have to give them away - how about a Giveaway?

It has suddenly dawned on me how close we are to the Christmas season. Seriously, only today did I realize that the annual socials, dinner parties and get-togethers are quickly approaching. Whoa. Where did the time go? And where did I put all those gifts I've been stashing all year???

Last night, I got to go over to a friend's house where a bunch of us got together to make handmade Christmas cards. It was a little session led by another friend's mom who brought all sorts of supplies and cool tools for us to make our cards with.

I've never really been one for papercrafts. Honestly, I never really saw the attraction. When I moved back to Canada from the UK four years ago, I saw all these scrapbooking shops and scrapbooking supplies and totally missed the point. "So, you cut and stick and put bits of paper together to decorate photos and albums. Why would I do that?"

When I started working at Michaels, I started to see where some of the joy might come from. Part of my job at Michaels was to demonstrate products, and, well, let's face it, that's FUN. And many of those tools were things that punch, cut, glue and press paper. How do I cut thee, piece of paper? Let me count the ways...

Still, I wasn't lining up at the scrapbooking shops to stock up on supplies.

Last night, it finally hit me.

Paper is FUN.

And what's more fun that paper? Stamps.

And what's more fun that stamps? GLITTER. Oh yeah, baby.

I still don't think I'll ever be a scrapbooker, but I did like the look of the cards I made last night. And, you know, I guess I could give them away. If I really, really, really liked that person. And if I knew that person really, really, really appreciated it.

Not all of these are greeting cards. This one is kind of a gift-holder, made with pieces of cardstock that are tied together to hold a couple of candycanes, or a piece of homebaked biscotti (if I made biscotti). Oh... I just thought of something: it could hold a skein of Louet Gems Fingering Weight Yarn. That'd totally work.

Well, it would for me, anyway.

Anyway, I made four of those gift-holders, and four of the black and white snowflake cards, and only one of the wreath cards, because it was getting late, and it doesn't do to fall asleep around double-sided tape and glitter.

So, I was thinking - if you'd like me to send you one of these cards, go ahead and leave me a comment and some way of getting in touch with you (website, Ravelry name, or emailaddress at whatever dot com). If I get more than a few comments, I'll randomly select four people and send them off. Tell me which one you'd like and if I choose you, I'll send it to you. Oh, and I can write a greeting in it, but if you'd rather I leave it blank, do let me know. I know what it's like to covet pretty stationery.

And well, if I don't get any comments, that's ok, too. (blink blink)

Cheers, and here's hoping I hear from you!

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Trouble with Being a Yarn Tourist

Every year, my husband and I debate the pros and cons of escaping the prairie winter for the California sunshine. We've been to L.A. twice and to San Francisco once in the deep winter of January or February, and have enjoyed it immensely. We are very laid back tourists - no need to rush around or get stuck in themeparks. We love exploring the markets and discovering the green oases of the city. This year, we've taken the plunge again and have booked three nights in a great hotel in L.A., where we stayed last year.

Whenever I travel, I always try to take advantage of the opportunity to do a bit of shopping, and of course, more specifically, yarn shopping. Being in a small town with no local yarn shop means that I'm practically salivating at the thought of going to a city. I try to be prepared... research the shops, finding out what they carry, comparing that yarn to the projects I'd like to attempt... That might seem a little anal, but I think it's important to make the most of the time you've got in a shop, especially when you're dragging someone around with you who is not exactly titillated by the prospect of wandering around and around the shop with you.

This time, I'd like to try to stop in at Wildfiber in Santa Monica. This is purely for souvenir yarn - something special that I can't get in Canada, hopefully middle-of-the-road pricing, enough for a shawl or scarf, and small enough to fit into my luggage. The reviews of the shop are half and half, but I'm not going to let that deter me. The pictures of the store selection are enough for me to want to give it a shot.

But here's the problem: That trip is not until the middle of January. And there are other temptations on the horizon.

For one: This Saturday, I'm going with a friend into Calgary to take part in my first ever spindle class at Make One Yarn Studio. And well... there will be lots of fibre to admire and, *cough* purchase. I haven't been there for a while now, and I know that their selection has changed. I could budget a small amount for... incidentals...

And secondly: I'm going home to Winnipeg for the Christmas holidays. And what's in Winnipeg? Ram Wools, that's what. It's a great store with a very, VERY tempting sale section at the back. It's where I got the yarn for a sweater for my mom's Christmas present last year. And it's so convenient: decent parking and good hours. And well, it's just so darn fun being in there.

So, it's a financial pitfall for me if I give in to all these temptations, especially since I've yet to pay for the flights and accommodations in L.A., and the spindle course in Calgary, and the gas to drive to Winnipeg.

It also doesn't help that I bought the latest issue of Interweave Knits, and there are lots of gorgeous things I want to make from there, especially the Isobel Skirt:

I also have fantasies of knitting straight from silk hankies, à la the Yarn Harlot's post from a few weeks ago, and as demonstrated here. (And, just so you know, I'm so impressed with myself for getting that accent in there.)

So, what to do?

Dad would say: "Save as much as you can. It's important to save as much money as possible. After all, in the end, no one will save it for you."

My friend Tara (who's going to Calgary for the spindle class with me) would say: "Well, you can't go without some souvenirs." Have I mentioned how great an enabler she is?

My husband would shrug his shoulders.

I could hope that there is a Santa out there, and he is planning to give me a nice wad of cash with which to splurge and treat myself.

Oh sorry - there's no Santa. Apologies to the little kids out there. We won't get into the subject of the Easter Bunny...

I could hope that there's a mondo huge sale at all of these stores which would lessen the guilt of purchasing things from them.

I could hope that, while walking in L.A., Calgary, or Winnipeg, a big truck full of yarn would drive past and accidentally drop a huge bag of yarn on the street.

Or, I could quit worrying and just try to be as sensible as possible.

But what's the fun in that?

Ah well. I suppose there could be worse things to be worrying about, but the prospect of so much choice where there was previously none is dizzying. But heck, I may as well enjoy it.

And, well, while I'm at it, I may as well be on the lookout for that mystical truck at the same time. You never know, right?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Why I Won't Knit in IKEA

One thing that people who knit or crochet are often told is that they are not truly creative people. "You didn't make that. You just followed a pattern. It's just like if I bought a shelf at IKEA and put it together."

Um, no.

Sir Ken Robinson often says that people often think they are not creative because they're not writing symphonies or painting frescoes everyday. He says having an imagination means having ideas that never existed before. Creativity is when you do something about it. Theoretical physics is creative because it takes ideas and makes more out of them. Dentistry is creative because it forces the dentist to solve problems in your mouth.

I'm not a great ideas person. I will freely admit that. I think I'm a good modifier. A problem-solver. Someone who can spot the weaknesses and think of ways to get around them, much to the annoyance of those around me.

I don't write music, but I can sing and make a song my own.

I don't write recipes, but I can make the meal damn delicious.

I don't design patterns, but I know how to make it work for me.

People who knit, crochet, cross-stitch, weave, spin, they all make decisions that make the end product unique. They choose their own colours, use different needles or hooks. Weavers might set their warp in a certain way. You can tie your threads in cross-stitch in different ways. And these products would not exist if they had not existed.

There is an excitement that grows inside of me when I bring home a ball of yarn. It's got something locked up in there, something beautiful to wear or something cute to adore or something functional to use. It's up to me to find it, and if there's anything I like, it's a good search. I'll spend hours, even days, looking for a pattern to inspire me, something that says, "This is meant to be. Make it so." I'll obsess over the perfect shape, or pull a couple of ideas together. Sometimes, I'll take a gamble that it'll work out. It doesn't always, but that's just another puzzle to figure out. And it works the same way if I buy the yarn with a project in mind. It's a gamble, a puzzle with a picture that changes as you put it together.

So, while it is true that when someone knits or crochets from a pattern, they didn't create the pattern themselves. What they are doing is creating an object, taking an idea and doing something about it: making the stitches one by one with their own unique muscles, braincells, fingers, breath. They are holding the strands just so, with their own tension. They are reveling in the sensation of the yarn sliding around their fingers, the yarn they chose and dreamed about. They are watching each row take shape, watching the sock heel turn, watching the sleeve cap curve, judging its weight, its length, its drape, and wondering if they've made all the right decisions, ripping back if they haven't and thinking of ways to make it better. They are waiting to see if the yarn is accepting its fate, or if its trying to say its too stiff for this project, or too thin, or too thick. And if you don't listen, the yarn will rebel. It's a good idea to listen.

This yarn started out being lace scarf, but it was better as a plaited basketweave scarf instead. It took me months to figure that out, and days to get the stitch sequence right.

This yarn came home with me from San Francisco. The first ball wanted to be this Orca Tail Scarf, but the other two still don't know what they want to be. I'm having fun trying to find a perfect match, or at least, find an idea that will work.

I thought this yarn would be fine on its own to make a baby blanket, but it really needed some flannel on the back of it to make it perfectly cozy.

So, no, it's not like building a shelf from IKEA. We are not churning out clones of Malm drawers. We're taking the Malm and making them into Sven or Johan or Magnus or Barbara - something new that works for us and makes us feel great for making it our own.

I will likely never knit a sweater in IKEA, but then, they'd probably never want me to.

It'd be too unique.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Joys of Jacob, or, How I Narrowly Escaped Having an Octopus on my Head

Above the marge of night a star still shines,
And on the frosty hills the sombre pines
Harbor an eerie wind that crooneth low
Over the glimmering wastes of virgin snow.
- from A Winter Dawn by Lucy Maud Montgomery
It's the end of November, and Old Man Winter has come and sat his big rump down on us here on the prairie. He's settling in... shifting in his seat so that he can stay comfortable until the warmth of spring sends him packing.

It's no big shocker. I'm a November baby - born in a blizzard, and used to bundling up against the bite of the windchill. I feel happy all snuggled up on the couch, surrounded by my balls of wool, slippers on my feet, with no worries of having to go out to face mosquitoes and do yard work. Instead, a doggie tries to rest his head on my elbow as a churn out a project, huffing when he can't get a good nap going...

The moment I brought my Jacob ram yarn home, I new what it would become: a pair of warm mittens, cabled, with just the right amount of coarseness, and with enough lanolin to make them somewhat water-resistant.

Two weeks ago, I cast on for my first mitten. I used the free pattern download from Ravelry called Eugenia's Mittens, with its unique mixture of cables. The snow had not yet fallen here, but I could feel the chill in the air, and it made me yearn for my new mittens. I sailed through the first one without any problems. Then, the snow fell, the thermometer plummeted, and I was all at once desperate to get them finished. I mean, how terrible it would be if I didn't get them finished before it got warm? Luckily, I did get them done last Monday, and I've been wearing them ever since.

I was so happy with them that I immediately decided I wanted a matching hat. Since I'd only used one ball to make the mittens, I was fairly sure I'd get a hat out of the other one, but my running-out-of-yarn fears still haunt me. The mittens hadn't even finished drying yet from washing and blocking when I cast on for a simple hat based on the Button Tab Hat from i like lemons.

I figured the hat would work up quickly. Seed stitch on the brim, plain stockinette up to the top, with simple decreases as it approached the end. I was working with needles one size larger than indicated. I cast on the required stitches, worked up the brim, tried it on, and decided it would be too big. That's strange, I thought. I've got a big head. It should be too small, if anything.

I ripped out the work and started again with fewer stitches. After two days, I'd worked up to the part where the decreases would start. I took out the needles, put the unfinished hat on my head, and walked into the bathroom to take a look.

It looked ok. But then, it happened. It started to creep up my head, like an octopus setting off for a feed. It pulled my hair upwards with it, until the hat sat atop my head like a crown with a fountain of hair threatening to spill over the edges. It was too small.

I sighed, took it off my head, and went back to the drawing board. Ten extra stitches and two days later, I had my hat:

There are a couple of things I loved about working with this yarn. One was the knowledge that one single person I met while on vacation in England at the craft fair at Cartmel had clipped, washed, carded and spun this yarn herself. When I finished my mittens, I washed them in some mild shampoo and conditioner and went to put a glug of vinegar into the rinse water to set the colour... when I realized that, since this is the natural colour of the fleece, it wasn't going to bleed. Ever. How cool is that?

Something I really didn't expect (but had heard of before) was the effect this wool would have on my new bamboo needles. The needles were cheap ones I'd bought on sale at Walmart, deeply ridged on the sides like bamboo skewers. After knitting the first mitten, I noticed that the oils from the wool had started to smooth them out. By the time I finished the second, they were practically aerodynamic.

Of course, this being a fairly raw wool, it has its drawbacks. It's itchy. Wool is itchy. Some of us (me included) don't particularly mind, because it's only really uncomfortable if you're too warm to begin with. However, I really didn't relish the thought of having this yarn rubbing against my forehead after my hat was finished. This in mind, I had the (unusual) foresight to use a provisional cast-on at the base of the hat, so that I could knit a band of cotton at the bottom that would flip up under the seed stitch band and save me from having a red forehead for the rest of the winter.

I did it in green, because I wanted to be able to easily distinguish between the band and the hat. I really like it, even though no one will see it. It's kinda like the sexy underwear under the sweatpants idea. Kinda.

Anyway, the photos of the hat were taken pre-washing and blocking, because, as every other knit-blogger has been experiencing, natural daylight for taking photos is rare these days. I'd just whipped the hat off the needles and sewn in the band before taking them. After that, I gave the hat a wash, and it's sitting on the table drying. That cotton band is taking the longest to dry, but it'll get there.

It could be worse. It was almost an octopus, after all.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Mike Holmes Knitting Method

Ok, so maybe Mr. Holmes would rather not be associated with a blog post about knitting, but hey... he ain't here!

For those who don't know Mike Holmes (and I'm so sorry you don't) he's a fellow on tv who goes around homes and fixes problems created by certain less... salubrious... handymen that have left homeowners bereft and broke. His motto? Make it Right. He endorses tools that are good quality and reasonably priced with his "Holmes Approved" sticker. He even created a foundation that works to raise the profile of skilled trades and of good skilled tradesmen and women.

So what has this got to do with anything?

I've been spending a lot of time this week going back to old projects that I haven't been wearing to investigate why. Most of them are things that I made when I was first learning to knit, items that are full of mistakes and weirdness. They're still things I like, though, things that I spent weeks, or even months, working on. And it was about time to make them right.

Firstly, it was my Featherweight Cardigan that I made last summer. I wasn't especially happy with it, mostly because it wouldn't sit closed on me. It kept rolling open and fluttering off my shoulders. I thought I'd "fixed" it by sewing it shut across my bust and adding a few buttons, but I was constantly pulling it and fiddling with it to sit right, so it stretched and billowed.

I took the buttons off and opened it up again on Thursday, then washed it, laid it flat to dry for a day, then steamed it all over to make the edges sit flat. It's back to its original state, but I still want something to hold it flat over my front... like a shawl pin.

I hopped onto Etsy and found something that I think will work, and will work double-duty for all the shawls I've been making. It's a design by Nicholas and Felice called The Celtic Infinity Pin.

I'm hoping I don't hurt myself with it, but it looks reasonably blunt (this from a girl who once got a knitting needle jabbed into her thigh). I think it'll do the trick.

While I was washing the Featherweight, I pulled out another cardigan based on indigirl's Rosedale Cardigan, make with Patons Decor. It was made early in the knitting career when I really didn't understand variegated yarns, and thought that this yarn would give me the big banded stripes that the original pattern did. Well, it didn't, but it was still a pretty good cardigan. The only problem was that it also didn't sit right. It was stiff and the edges rolled.

I pulled it out of my basket and decided that I better do something with it, rather than letting it take up space in the closet. I've become much more bold with my blocking techniques and thought it was time to kill this yarn...

No blood involved, don't worry! "Killing" yarn usually refers to steaming acrylic yarns to make it relax and to add drape to the fabric. Patons Decor is a wool/acrylic blend. Wool also steams and relaxes nicely, so I wasn't afraid of ruining the yarn. I washed the cardigan, spun it in my washing machine, let it dry for a day, and then spent the next two days steaming it - first the left side, then the right, making sure the edges sat flat and the collar folded nicely.

It's perfect.

I may go ahead and put a zipper in it, but it sits so nicely that I might not bother. I also tacked the corners of the collar down, because it's just so short that it won't stay flat forever. I am very happy with it, especially with the way it now hangs. I wore it this morning under my coat to walk the doggy in the snow. It's so warm that I overheated!

Lastly, I pulled out my very first project.

I know - why didn't I just make a dishcloth? Why a huge cardigan?

Because I don't do things by halves, that's why.

There are plenty of things wrong with this thing. Firstly, it pills like crazy, because it's made from Bernat Satin and that's what that yarn does. You can't really tell unless you look closely at it. Secondly, the knit stitches are completely wrong. They're all knit through the back loop, which creates a twisted stitch that causes the fabric to bias to one side. That's what happens when you teach yourself to knit - you end up making big mistakes with no one to correct you. And well, someone did eventually tell me what I was doing, but by that time, I'd finished the body and was knitting the second sleeve. Ah well...

Anyway, the major repair I made to it was to add more buttons and buttonholes to it. That required some drastic measures that included a pair of scissors, some sewing, and a lot of swearing. I won't describe it - it was an ugly sight - but I managed to get it done in an hour and wore it out last night to a cafe where I met with another knitting friend. She was suitably impressed, which is a good thing, because I probably would've pouted if she wasn't!

This whole "make it right" attitude has been following me a lot in my work recently. I have no fear of ripping things out and starting over again anymore. Yeah, I may have lost time and effort in doing so, but in the end, if I don't do it, I'll end up with a useless finished object, and that seems more wasteful than starting over again. There has been so much in my life recently over which I have had no control. Why not take control of my knitting?

So, with this in mind, after a long and difficult couple of weeks of other things going on in my life, my Multnomah has been frogged completely. I was almost finished, but I was hating it. It just wasn't the pattern for this yarn. It was a painless and freeing process, and I felt really good after I re-balled the yarn.

So, thanks, Mr. Holmes. You've helped me out a lot this week.

And you didn't even have to lift a hammer!

Monday, November 15, 2010

This is My Brain on Knitting

We made an impromptu jaunt into the city last week to make a few purchases and to lunch with a friend. Hubby wanted to buy a new (and much-researched) cell phone, and I wanted to buy a pair of running shoes.

I am quite mindful of the purchases I make, but more than that, I am mindful of the people who usually end up waiting patiently for me (or not) while I dither and calculate. After being married to my husband for seven years and being together for eleven, I've come to develop the Guerilla Shopping Method. This involves:

- careful planning in advance
- pre-contact with shops to check existing inventory
- studying of maps to find shops that carry the things I need in the same general area
- research of other places in the vicinity to keep the hubby busy for at least a few minutes

So, coupons, flyers, maps and doggie in hand, we jumped into the car and made our journey.

The first couple of stops went according to plan. I got a pair of jeans and some socks. I dove into the mall next, perused the store I planned for perusal, got distracted by a chocolate shop (sigh) and then headed straight over to the cell phone kiosk where I found my hubby completing his one purchase for the day. Before he was handed his purchases, I ran into the store behind the kiosk and managed to secure not one, but two pairs of running shoes (yay bogo!). He came in after me and said he'd go out and let Rascal out of the car for a short walk while he waited. I finished my purchase, walked 100 yards the wrong way, turned around, got distracted by a Body Shop, and managed to find him all within 20 minutes.

Not bad, I thought.

We then headed further into the city to meet our friend for lunch. Across the retail park was a Michaels. Oh, I thought. I could get that ball of white cotton I've been needing to finish a project.

"I'm just going in to get a ball of cotton," I said, after we finished our lunch.

"Right," said hubby. He had a resigned look on his face.

I set off in Guerilla-mode. One ball of cotton, one ball of cotton, one ball of cotton...

Who knew there'd be so many yellow sale signs in the yarn department?

I picked up a huge skein of Lion Brand Fisherman's Wool. This is where the brain went haywire.

, I thought. I could buy four of these and make that wrap I've been wanting to make...

But look, I thought. The Patons Classic Wool is on sale. I could buy five of those and make that wrap for less money...

No, I thought. You're supposed to be getting the one ball of cotton. It's even on sale. Just get one.

No, I thought again. Get two. You always run out. Get two.

Okay, two, I thought. But I may as well just get the wool. It's such a good price. Five balls should do it.

Alright, fine, get five. But you'll need a basket.

Well, if you're going to get a basket, you may as well get six. Since you always run out.

Alright, six. Okay, now get out.

But now I have to go to the bathroom...

Thirty minutes later, I returned sheepishly to the car with a bag of yarn.

Luckily, my hubby was happily playing with his new phone. I don't think he even noticed the time that had passed. We may be on to something here...

This weekend, I wrestled with the numbers for the November Ruffle Wrap that I want to use this yarn for. I've been wanting to make it for a long time now. For some reason, my brain thought I needed worsted weight yarn, at least 1000 metres. Well, no. I needed DK yarn, about 600 metres. But wait, I have about 1300 metres, and I'm supposed to double the yarn anyway... but wait, I need another couple of inches of length...

Meanwhile, I sent a friend a long-winded message about yarn requirements for a skirt she wants to make (An Affair to Remember)... and got that totally turned around in my brain.

Knitting makes me crazy. It distracts me from simple tasks and efficient shopping trips, and pulls me from jobs around the house that need to get done.

It also gives my brain the workout that it craves. I like math. I don't love it, but I like the problem-solving, and the way the numbers follow a pattern and fall together to make something someone can wear. It makes my brain happy.

This is my brain.

This is my brain on knitting.

'Nuff said.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Story of Leoncio - A Remembrance Day Tale

Tomorrow is November 11, Remembrance Day in Canada and in other Commonwealth countries. At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, we will take a minute to remember those who have fallen during war, and contemplate the sacrifices those men and women made for the citizens of their countries.

It is a time when I remember a story.

In the 1940s, in the Philippines, a man named Leoncio Adriano joined the army to fight against the Japanese in the Second World War. He was married to a woman named Angelica Clemente, and he thought he would be making a contribution to the country and be paid a wage to look after his young family.

In 1942, during the Battle of Bataan, he was captured by the Japanese as a prisoner of war. He, along with an estimated 75,000 men, were forced to march 97 kilometres (about 60 miles) into the mountains of Tarlac, where they then languished in the prisoner of war camp.

It was a march meant to humiliate, to break men down into the very flesh and blood of which they were made. Those that fell in dehydration and exhaustion were shot, decapitated, or driven over with trucks. It is said that these men were sometimes forced to march for days with no food and with only a few sips of water. These men were subjected to such unmentionable atrocities that the Bataan Death March was declared a war crime years later.

Leoncio held out as long as he could. During one of the many days that blurred together, the prisoners entered a small village. The people of the village watched in horror as the walking corpses moved through. Leoncio, dehydrated, exhausted and demoralized, fell. He knew he would be killed soon. He probably welcomed the thought.

Nearby, a woman saw him fall. She knew that he would be killed. In a moment, she made a decision. She took a blanket that was laying nearby and covered Leoncio's body, disguising him as one of the sacks sitting outside the house.

The prisoners moved on. The trucks left. The shouts of the captors faded away. Leoncio remained covered by the blanket.

In the following weeks, he was nursed back to health. Somehow, he made his way back to Caingin, Malolos, where his wife, Angelica, and his baby daughter, Teresita, welcomed him home. He did his best to forget his ordeal. He never quite managed it.

In 1949, Angelica gave birth to a daughter, Elisa.

In 1974, Elisa married a man named Cesar. They moved to Canada to start a new life in a new country, to make a life for a future family.

In 1975, Elisa gave birth to a son, Ronald James.

In 1977, Elisa gave birth to a daughter, Adriene Marie.

That's me.

On Remembrance Day, I don't just remember those who fell in war. I remember the anonymous woman whose single moment of compassion secured my very existence. From great suffering came a pouring out of love for fellow humankind, and a knowledge of what was good and right and important. Without her, I wouldn't have entered the world, and would have never known the man who walked in that march, who later built me a rocking chair when I was a little girl, who sang me songs, brought me chocolate, and who loved me so much that he was moved to tears when we met again when I was a young woman. After he died, I smelled the scent of jasmine flowers for days. In the Philippines, jasmine is known as the scent of someone who loves you.

On Remembrance Day, please do honour those who sacrificed their lives for their country, but please do also remember the power of kindness, understanding, and compassion. It doesn't just save lives.

It makes life possible.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Multnomah Mystery - or maybe not

So, the hours got moved back, I got an extra hour of sleep (allegedly) and started a new project this weekend. I wanted to use the two skeins of sock yarn that have been languishing in my basket for a few months. They are JL Yarn from Salvia that I got cheap from someone destashing some of their yarn on Etsy.

I have a terrible weakness for variegated yarns. They look so beautiful all wound up in their skeins, tempting me with their rich colours and fascinating colour pairings. And yet... they are really difficult to work with, especially when you don't like how the colours play out in the fabric.

The main method I use for breaking up the cacophony of colours is to try to choose a stitch pattern that changes direction as you knit or crochet. Often, this involves lace patterns or dropping stitches or knitting chevrons... whatever the case, the idea is to make the eye move around so that you're not just looking at the colours all splodged together. Rather, you are forced to make sense of the structure at the same time.

This time, after looking through many pages of projects to try on Ravelry, I decided to knit the extremely popular Multnomah shawlette pattern. It is knit in garter stitch which increases outwards from the shoulders to create a triangular shape, and is then finished off in feather and fan lace at the bottom edge. I was intrigued by the way such a simple stitch as garter stitch seems to add a depth and texture to the yarn. Again, the increases cause the stitches to radiate outwards towards the shoulders, forcing the eye to move to follow the line of the garment. Fascinating.

So, I cast on the required amount of stitches and worked all of the increases until I reached the stitch count where you're supposed to start the lace section.

But it's so small.

I've looked through other people's projects and found that it's supposed to grow when you block it, but I don't think that's the case here. I haven't even used up all the yarn in the first skein, and each skein has roughly 200 metres. I'm even using needles a size larger than stated in the pattern because I just didn't have ones in the right size. So... what's going on?

I'd love to say that there is something mysterious and weird going on here, but I know exactly what the problem is. I didn't swatch. Alright? I just didn't do it.

For those who don't know what swatching is, it's where you knit up a square roughly 5 inches by 5 inches in the stitch that you'll be using most in the pattern, and then measure how many stitches per inch you are achieving. If you have more stitches per inch than the pattern requires, you try again at a larger-sized needle - less, and you try with a smaller one. It means that you make garments that fit and that you don't waste hours and hours of your time on something you'll never wear.

So yeah, I swatch... usually. I do it when I want to make a sweater that I know will fit around my bust, or a skirt that I don't want to cling to my belly. I do it basically for everything that I plan on wearing.

Except for shawls.

My reasoning was that, well... this thing is going to sit on my shoulders and nothing else. It'll fit, right?

Well, not if it turns out to be a handkerchief.

So... lesson learned. But I'm not ripping this out - I'm way too far gone for that. I'm just going to knit in garter stitch until I get a size that is comparable to the picture before I start the lace section. It's a darn good thing it's in garter stitch though. I don't think I'd take it so well if I had to figure out all sorts of math to make a lace pattern work. I think I just need to end up with a multiple of 18, and the designer has already listed the multiples on her project page in Ravelry.

I guess things never seem to work out as you mapped it out in your head, but apparently that makes you more adaptable and less prone to... well, extinction, according to Darwin. But that's a whole other subject...

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Exorcism of the Camera

This week, I welcomed back my camera from the witchdoctors at Canon. They fixed the problem, free of charge. I must thank my hubby for actually taking the time to research the problem, because if I was left to my own devices, I would have started doing the research to by a new camera instead - after all, it is six years old. I thought it was just digital old age setting in.

Anyway, my hubby Google'd the words "canon camera pink" and found the following advisory from Canon:
It has been confirmed that the connecting parts of the internal wiring of the CCD used in affected products may become disconnected, especially if the affected products are stored or used in high-temperature and high-humidity environments. If this occurs, the signal is not output from the CCD normally in Shooting Mode, which may cause a distorted image or the absence of an image. This malfunction can be confirmed on the LCD monitor screen during shooting. The same malfunction also appears on the recorded image.

Effective immediately, and regardless of warranty status, Canon will repair, free of charge, the products listed above exhibiting the above-mentioned malfunction if Canon determines that the malfunction is caused by the CCD image sensor. Canon will also cover the cost of shipping and handling in connection with this repair.
So, a couple of weeks ago, we sent it off and crossed our fingers. We figured that, if it was found to have a problem separate from the one mentioned above, we'd just lose out on the cost of shipping the camera to them and start looking for a new one. Thankfully, the malfunction was found, they performed the exorcism, and back it came, safe and sound.

It was not a minute too soon, because I managed to clear out a couple of projects that have been sitting around unfinished. Behold, the Green Gable hoodie:

It was a bit of a struggle getting the zipper in. Ok, it wasn't a struggle... it was a battle of epic proportions between me and a bit of haberdashery, peppered with many four-letter words. After much pouting and stomping around the house, I sat down and reasoned it out and ended up with a reasonable approximation of a hoodie with a zipper. It ain't pro, but it'll do.

After I got the zipper in, I looked at the four and a half leftover skeins of wool and decided I may as well put in a couple of pockets. I used Elizabeth Zimmermann's Afterthought Pocket method from A Knitter's Almanac, where you mark where you want the centre of the poket opening to be, snip the yarn at that point, and unravel to the left and right. You pick up the stitches and knit a tube in the round, bind off both sides together in a three-needle bind off, and bim bam boom, you have a pocket! Works for mitten thumbs, too.

I also finished off my Gail shawlette, which is freshly blocked and ready to wear:

I never imagined how much I'd like those pointy little edges until I started pinning them down to block them. And I'm also really happy with the way the pattern shows off this variegated yarn, for which I have a particular weakness.

I still have one unfinished project sitting around, but it'll keep until I manage to find more yarn for it. Until then, I've started on Multnomah, a free pattern from It's another attempt to try to show off another variegated yarn I bought in weakness. It looks pretty good so far, but I'm only a couple of inches in and I've already ripped out a couple of inches of another pattern I tried to use it for. Fingers crossed that it passes.

Oh, and remember the Jacob ram yarn I mentioned in my previous post? Here's the yarn I wanted to show you:

Warm, cabled mittens, here I come!

Ah, I feel like I've got my eyeballs back. Thank you, Canon!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Tale of the Haunted Camera

What I am about to tell you will frighten you, shake you up and change you forever. Brace yourselves.

Well, it probably won't, but it's a good story.

On the last day of our vacation, we left the beauty of our little loft in Ulverston to head into Manchester for a night before we caught our trans-Atlantic flight home. We decided to visit the little hamlet of Cartmel, since it was on the way into the city, and also because our hosts in Ulverston had recommended it.

We turned off onto a tiny, twisty country road (as there are all over the countryside in the UK) and followed it for a few miles, our eyes straining to find the Norman abbey that was supposed to be in the hamlet. On the way, we hit some traffic.

Once the gridlock passed (or turned a corner to another pasture), we eventually came upon Cartmel and found some signs that a craft fair was going on that day. That perked me up considerably. We parked the car next to the abbey, which was undergoing some renovations.

We decided to go in and visit the abbey, because it's not every day that you get to visit a building that's over 500 years old.

These churches often are built over the graves of some of the parishoners. It's creepy, yes, but I found a poem written on a gift card in the abbey written by Mary Elizabeth Frye that helped me understand. It starts:
Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.

I am in a thousand winds that blow,
I am the softly falling snow...
That gave me a perspective on the whole thing that banished some of my modern fears of the dead and of death.

I then took this photo of one of the floor stones:

Note the pink tinge of the photo.

We left the abbey and, as I took a photo of the graveyard outside, I noticed the display on my camera beginning to "fizzle"out. I thought that the battery might have been dying out, so I turned it off for the time being.

We followed the signs to see if we could find the craft fair, and on the way, I took some photos of the buildings:

It wasn't until I got home and looked more closely at these photos that I noticed that every single photo I took after the abbey looks like it has a pink filter over it. It's like everything has been coloured by a Technicolor technician on a bad day. And I can't seem to fix it.

There's a ghoulie in the camera.

But we'll see what Canon says.

In the meantime, it means that I can't share with you the two skeins of wool I bought at the craft fair that day. They were sheared, washed and spun by the lady at one of the craft fair tables, and I simply had to have them. They are a beautiful chocolate brown, which is the natural colour of the fleece. They come from a Jacob ram, a rare breed of sheep with spectacular horns. This photo is from the Oregon Wool Growers Association:

That is a SERIOUS sheep, dude.

My wool comes from the collar. It's spun in worsted weight, and still has quite a lot of lanolin in it. I think they'll make a nice, warm pair of mittens for me!

Anyway, that's how my camera came to be haunted. I am investigating other possibilities (maybe I can justify getting a digital SLR as I've always wanted), but hopefully I can't become pictorially-enabled soon. We shall see.