Sunday, January 30, 2011

Cables, with a Dash of Intarsia

Last week, we experienced a sudden wave of warmth where I live. The snow was melting, the ice was breaking, and we were savouring the warm, mushy mess. Thoughts of spring started floating through my head: Should I get my corn started? Should I plant potatoes this year? If I grow herbs, will it look like I'm growing pot in my back yard?

And then, Friday hit, and we were plunged painfully head-first back into winter: snow, cold... yeah. I forgot that it is still technically January. I thought of my parents and my brother, who are currently frolicking about in the Philippines, then I sniffed, and sat down on my couch and did some work on my new project.

I've been holding on to this yarn since last year. It's a discontinued yarn from Elsebeth Lavold, a wool and angora blend that I purchased during my last visit to Canmore. I've never knitted with angora before, and so far, I've been impressed with the luxurious soft texture.

When I first saw this yarn, I decided to clear out all that was left in the shop, since it was being discontinued, and ended up with eight skeins of Light Olive and one skein of Bronzed Green. I knew I wanted to work with them together, but I wasn't sure exactly how that was going to work.

Last week, I started to seriously think about what I was going to do with this yarn. I knew I wanted cables. I knew I wanted to make that darker green a feature of the finished work. I pictured a dark stripe down the middle... that would require math.

I've been good at math since high school, so I relished in the calculations. Nine skeins in total, one dark, the rest light. That means that, if I wanted to make a stripe down the middle, I'd need to make sure that the dark yarn was used for one ninth of the entire stitch count. That meant that, if I wanted to work cables on each side of this stripe, I'd have to find ones that would equal eight ninths of the stitch count... or around about that. I found a couple of cable patterns that, when mirrored, made 86 stitches, plus 10 stitches for the central stripe which I would work in a simple cable... that made 96 stitches... that means I could make the stripe down the middle and use the leftover green to make a border on each end...

Anyway, math aside, I did some cutting and pasting of cable charts I found on Ravelry (I thought about writing it out myself, but I'm not THAT ambitious), and I finally cast on for a cabled scarf, with a stripe of dark green cable down the middle, knit in using intarsia. Intarsia knitting is where you knit with two colours in large blocks (more than a couple of stitches wide) and is achieved by twisting the yarns together whenever you change colours. I've been working slowly through the first couple of repeats, and here's what I'm learning:
  • This yarn sheds like crazy.
  • Bobbles are very satisfying to knit, all knobbly and round.
  • There's no way I can work on this at work. Each row is taking me ages.
  • All these cables are making my hands ache.
If it all works out (and my math is right), it should be a pretty impressive project. I already had to bail out of one of the cables within the first inch, but so far, so good. I'm knitting this project on 4.0mm (correction: 4.5mm) needles, which I'm hoping will help to give definition to the cables through the fuzziness of the yarn, but it also means that it's a tough, tight knit, which makes my thumbs ache.

How's that for a cable chart, eh? Note that it says "Top" at the top of the chart. That's because I spent half an hour swearing and cursing at it, trying to match the chart to the chart legends I printed out, only to discover I had the darn thing upside-down. It's been that kind of week.

I'm also a bit anxious to try to get more spinning in. I didn't spin at all last week, but I think I might take my spinning into work to do during lunch hour, since this project is not really portable. My friend Tara showed me some gorgeous yarn she has been spinning on her wheel, which is spurring me on to try to spin something useful myself... In fact, seeing her with all her luscious yarn is making me wonder if I want a spinning wheel myself, but I am reluctant. Maybe once I get through all yarn that is overflowing in my basket, I can feel good about diving into that... maybe...

It's kind of a battle for me right now: spinning vs. knitting. Most people who read this blog regularly know that I hate having unfinished projects lying around. Having a spindle lying around with less than half the roving spun on it is driving me crazy. I don't want to leave my knitting projects, but I don't want to get out of practice with my spindle. Darn it... if I could just get paid to do those things...

In the meantime, I decided today to try to fix a coat that was given to my little Rascal for Christmas that doesn't quite fit him. He is rather... ahem... too stout for it. I added a bit of garter to the edges, and voila:

Lumberjack puppy. Note the squeaky toy in my yarn basket. That dog owns everything in this house.

Anyway, onwards and upwards. If there's a positive thing about this cold snap, it is justifying the purchase of the yarn I got in L.A., which is all pegged for scarves and hats and wraps. Maybe it's a good thing I live in a cold climate.

Bah, who am I kidding? I'd knit them no matter where I lived!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Where There's a Will

I finished my Red Emperor scarf yesterday, and well... it was a disappointment. Not that pattern, certainly not. It was a wonderful pattern, with some beautiful motifs in it. It was just that I really didn't think it through very well, and ended up with a really short scarf.

That centre section ought to be twice as long. As it is, it's a lot shorter than what I'd hoped for.

The main reason is that I just didn't have enough yarn to achieve the length I wanted. The pattern calls for 500 yards, and I only had 400. It really shouldn't have been such a shock, but I was just... hoping...

So today, I took it off my blocking board and mulled it over. I wrapped it around my head. I laid it across my shoulders. I sighed. Then, I went swimming.

I think about a lot of things while I'm swimming, knitting not the least of those things, and managed to think my way through a whole other project I've been planning before I hit upon an idea: I needed some buttons.

Luckily, buttons are not in short supply in my house.

When I got home, I ate some lunch, and then dug out a bag of buttons I'd purchased from Buttonsgalore, my go-to online shop for when I need pretty buttons. I found a bag of pewter-coloured buttons, threaded a couple together on some stretchy cord with a couple of seed beads in between, and voila: a double-sided button.

These buttons are small enough to fit through some of the open lace, yet big enough to be tastefully noticeable. The seed beads give enough space to fit a couple of layers of the scarf between the two buttons. You simply push one button through two layers of knitting, and they are attached. And, not only that, you can move the buttons around to where you need them. My mom lent (ahem, and I have not yet returned) a similar set of buttons to me a couple of years ago.

This afternoon, I experimented with some ways to wear this thing. Some of the ways worked well.

Some, not so much.

I do know that I still love this pattern, and I'm learning to love this scarf, even if it wasn't what I'd dreamed of.

I have learned my lesson, though. If I want to have a long, stole-like scarf, I can either:

a) use at least 500 yards of fingering weight yarn, or
b) cast on fewer stitches and make a narrower scarf - between 35 and 60 stitches, depending on the gauge and the motif.

And no, so far, no projects of mine have ever ended up in the trash. That would be a travesty of epic proportions. There is always a way...

There's a saying that goes something like that...

Friday, January 21, 2011

Still Blinking

It's been a crazy week, and I've only just managed to get a chance to think about my vacation last week. I've been home since Monday evening from a short break in Los Angeles. I must say: If you can manage to get away for winter sunshine, it is TOTALLY worth it, even if it is a bit depressing coming back to the cold.

We left last Friday and drove through blowing snow and scary roads to get to the airport, where we ditched our winter coats and ran from the parking lot into departures. From there, we walked around in light jackets and t-shirts until we boarded the plane and landed in L.A. on Friday afternoon. We emerged into the sunshine, blinking and smiling, boarded the rental car shuttle, and shortly after that, we were driving to our hotel. We checked in, hubby checked his email, then it was straight down to the pool. Ahhh...

Later that evening, we decided to head over to nearby Manhattan Beach and get dinner at a pub we'd discovered last year during our last visit. And you know what else is in Manhattan Beach? twist, yarns of intrigue!

"There's a yarn shop in Manhattan Beach. Can we go to it?" I said to hubby.

"Ok, let me look it up," hubby said, picking up his snazzy new smartphone.

Whoa, that was easy, I thought to myself. I had warned him that there were two yarn shops I wanted to check out while we were there, but I always feel a little guilty dragging him around to them.

Thanks to hubby's good navigating, we arrived at twist, where he decided to wait in the car for me. I promised I wouldn't be long, and I really wanted to make sure I wasn't.

I walked into the shop, realized I was the only one there on Friday evening, and turned to the lady behind the counter and announced, "Hi. I'm on vacation from Canada, and I'm looking for yarn that is unique and that I can't get at home." She smiled at me, and I knew I'd met someone who knew what I needed. Her excitement over the yarn was infectious, not that I wasn't excited already! It's always wonderful to meet someone who understands my infatuation with the stuff.

Twenty minutes later, I had four skeins of yarn, three hand-dyed, one novelty.

"Would you like a bag?" she asked. I looked down at my overstuffed handbag and then at the pretty yarn. Then, I spied the pretty paper bags behind her.

"Yes, please," I said, smiling broadly.

"People always love my bags," she said, as she placed them into one. "They're made from recycled material, and they're perfect for yarn."

"Yeah, I don't like to keep mine sealed in plastic bags," I said. "I like them to breathe."

"Me too!" she said.

Ah, I'm not so weird after all! And check out what I brought home: Blue Ridge Pima Cotton. Look at those jewel tones!

Pico Accuradi, in Bleeding Heart. This amazingly rich coral colour is achieved with natural dyes.

twist's own Bamboo Sock yarn, a blend of bamboo and merino. I'm not normally into purples, but I couldn't resist the subtlety of each different tones.

And, something I normally don't go for: A novelty yarn made from cork chenille by Habu from Japan. I was given an amazing pattern for a scarf/necklace that looks like Spanish moss. Fascinating.

I was so happy with my purchases, that hubby caught me dancing around the hotel room later that evening with a skein in my hands. He shook his head, but he was smiling.

The next day, we decided to spend the day in Santa Monica and Venice Beach. But first...

"So... there's another shop I was hoping to visit..." I said, apologetically. But, hubby was understanding, and we arrived at Wildfiber in Santa Monica shortly.

I walked in, and a class was going on. I wandered around a bit, looking, touching, calculating... Then, one of the assistants approached me and asked if I needed any help.

"Yes, I'm on vacation from Canada..." I said.

She led me around the shop, and one of the first things she showed me was some madelinetosh yarn, which I'd heard of before, but had never seen in person.

"This is new in the store. It's called 'Vintage,'" she said.

Oh my goodness, it was beautiful. My hand floated up on its own and picked up a skein of the shimmering red yarn with its dark shadows. Tart, it was called. "Oh my..." I said.

"Yes," she said. "It's amazing, isn't it? It's a treasure."

A treasure. Yes, it is. It's a treasure, one that I think I'll have fun playing with. I have to say, it's hard to photograph, but imagine the deepest red placed in a vintage-style photograph, with charcoal shadows along the edge... I've been daydreaming about designing a scarf with it with calla lily-shaped lace...

Twenty-five minutes later, I had four more skeins of yarn in my bag (two of which were Canadian, but they were on sale!), all of which were hand-dyed treasures. And I couldn't resist taking home two of the Tart madelinetosh vintage skeins...

A skein of madelinetosh light in gorgeous yellow tones...

Pagewood Farm's Alyeska 5 in Fabulous Fall... oranges, yellows and browns...

And, the Canadian yarn: Koigu Kersti Merino Crepe in greens, yellows and browns.

So, I spent a bunch of money on yarn, all within my budget, but certainly more than the yarn you'll pick up in Walmart. Believe it or not, I already know what I'm going to make for most of it, too. People are often shocked at the mention of dropping $20 on a skein of yarn, but I do it. Here's the reason:

These people who hand-spin or hand-dye their yarn and sell them as part of their livelihood are living a life I wish could be the norm: using your hands and your senses to create something beautiful, and getting paid a decent amount of money for doing so. It's something I would love to do, but am just not brave enough to try. I figure that, if I support those who are doing it, people might get used to the idea, more people might be willing to spend their money to support these artists, recognizing quality over quantity, and the possibility of me joining them in that kind of endeavor is greater. Maybe.

Anyway, we obviously did a lot more than hang around in yarn shops during our vacation. We discovered that we could get a free ride in a (tethered) hot air balloon down in Orange County. Free? I'm there!

We walked the beaches. We ate good food.

The one thing I did regret was not bringing a set of needles with me to work on something. I did bring a crochet hook and made a couple of shower scrubbies, but I was soon I bored with them. My eyes kept floating over to the bag that held my purchases, but I resisted the urge to start balling them. After all: I had friends back home who I knew would want to squeeze and ogle them. I just couldn't rob them of that.

And then, on Monday, we boarded the plane and returned to the Great White North. Snowy. Dark. I'd heard one of the flights to Edmonton was canceled due to weather. I was hoping for the same, but no... I'm back in my burrow, waiting for the spring.

I'm still blinking from the sunshine. Oh well. At least, it's been a warmer week here, and soon, we'll be complaining about the scorching summer heat.

At least I've got lots of yarn to keep me company!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Having Friends Who "Get You"

Presenting: My first handspun yarn!

Yes, yes... I AM wonderful. You may save your applause. It's making me blush.

I am very, very proud of myself for managing to make that yarn look as good as it does. It took me ages (it's only 50g of yarn), but darnit, it looks good. I was intending to ply it, but as soon as I finished spinning the lot, I wasn't sure if I could successfully divide it without losing the twist in it. I decided to set the twist as it was, and as soon as I had it all stretched out, I really liked the look of it as it was. I don't know if I'll knit it up into anything... I may just keep it as a trinket to remind myself that I am capable of making miracles.

It IS a miracle, isn't it? That someone probably found a bit of fleece that was shed on a shrub, picked it up, and stretched and twisted it just so... and made some string. And that person thought, "Hey, how about that? I wonder what would happen if I had more of that stuff?"

What's even more of a miracle is that that person decided to tell someone about what they'd discovered. And that the person they told cared. That person cared enough about it to either encourage that first spinner to try again, or maybe to learn from that person and try to make that technique better. And thus, my yarn habit was born.

It didn't have to happen. That first spinner could have kept the idea secret, for fear of being told that it wasn't a worthwhile thing. Or, that first spinner could have made a lot of string for him or herself, but then might not have known ideas for what to use that string for.

But that didn't happen. That's because they shared what they did with someone who "got it." And that's how good ideas become great.

Today, I brought my little skein of yarn into work and showed it to a few people, and was given lots of congratulations. That gives me so much happiness, to know that there are people around me to understand why I do what I do, and understand that it takes a lot of work and patience to take on the projects of my choosing. Validation is good, no matter how many people might tell you that it's not necessary.

In that same spirit, one of those folks (dkzack) was SO excited about my first handspun yarn that I thought she was going to explode! (She's like that... the exploding type...) She's one of my yarn buddies who is probably one of the most intuitive knitters I know. I admire her greatly for her ability to really see the finished object in her head, even when her materials are bits and pieces in a box! (We must chat about Awbi sometime...)

I had some bulky yarn in my stash with which I simply knew I wouldn't be making anything, and so I offered it to her, because I knew she'd make something fabulous with it. And, in return, she gave me some of her lighterweight yarn that she knew she wasn't going to make anything with (we're opposites like that).

Oooo... laceweight bamboo....

Oooo... Baby Lace Merino...

It's good to have a stash-swapping buddy!

In the meantime, I've started spinning some pencil roving from Wind Rose Fiber Studio (I just went to visit their shop and got stuck there for about 15 minutes!). It came with the spindle set I purchased a while back. So far, I'm really liking it. I've divided the roving in half, with the intention of balling each half separately after I spin it, so that I can ply them together. I'll have to see how that works.

I also have to say: I'm very, very grateful for those of you who read my blog regularly. I've always enjoyed writing, and it gives me great joy to be able to write about the things that inspire me and know that people are getting something out of my ramblings. Many, many thanks to you for taking the time to read these words, and who enjoy them enough to come back to see what else I have to say. It makes my day, truly.

It's great to have friends that "get you."

Sunday, January 9, 2011

I Like it Standing Up

How's that for a blog post title?

So, what I am referring to is spinning, and more specifically, spindle spinning.

I wrote a few weeks ago about a class I took at Make One Yarns, and how much I enjoyed it. Since then, I really hadn't been spinning much. I felt like I should really devote time to it, with no vacations or time off in between.

When we got back to our own place last weekend, I decided I should try to do at least half an hour of spinning each day. That way, I could train my fingers and eyes and muscles a little bit at a time.

Of course, that coincided with a few other resolutions:

1) To laugh every day.
2) To wear a pair of pretty shoes once a week.
3) To never look down on someone just because we do not share the same insecurities.
4) To do some yoga practice once a day.

The first three were not really going to affect my spinning time (well, maybe #1 would, since I don't know if I would do it if I was having one of my grumpy days), but I for sure wanted to make time for yoga. I'm by no means some superyogi, but it does me good to stretch and relax and breathe deeply each day, since I'm one of these people who stores their emotions in their muscles.

Anyway, this week, I managed to spin 4 out of the last 6 days. I was making some pretty good progress, using the park and draft method. Yesterday, though, I decided to try spinning while standing up, to give the spindle the opportunity to spin for longer, and for me to practice drafting (or stretching out the fibres) while the spindle was in motion, rather than stopping it to give me time to arrange the fibres.

It was waaaaay better to do it standing up.

There are some provisos, though, at least for me. Since I'm still a beginner, it's important for me to do this with pre-drafted fibre. This means that the fibre needs to be pre-prepared: divided into manageable chunks, split down the middle to make it thinner and easier to draft, and then pre-drafted (or stretched) so that I didn't have to work so quickly to get it to my preferred thickness before the twist in the spindle snatched it up. Here's what that looks like.

I'm still working on it, and I'm going to try to do some more this afternoon. You'll notice that there are no photos of me spinning. That's because it's really difficult to take photos of that without losing concentration, or without me knocking anything over!

Here's a photo of my spindle with the superwash merino I am spinning. I've got about 50 grams of it all together, and I'm going to try plying it when I'm finished.

Ok, so why does this matter? Why am I not learning to spin on a wheel, and producing larger amounts of yarn for me to play with?

I'm not really sure.

I think I am enamoured by the ancient tradition that a spindle is connected to. I like knowing that I'm doing something that people have been doing, for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. I like knowing that I can do this anywhere: in the car, at work, in a park, and not have to be encumbered by equipment.

That's not to say I won't ever try a spinning wheel. In fact, my friend Tara announced at our last knitting night that she has a spinning wheel coming in the mail, and I think I might have started drooling. How cool! Another toy! Maybe it'll be something I try out in a year or so, who knows?

That's another thing: who knows what any of us will be doing in a year?

If you're a regular blog reader, you've probably come across lots of bloggers taking stock of the past year and summing it all up in a nice tidy post. I've resisted that this year. In fact, I've always resisted it. Part of the reason is that there are some parts of the past year I'd rather not go over again, but the main reason is that I prefer not to tempt fate by listing all the things that happened in the past, and then listing all the things I hope to happen in the future. I'm learning to take things day by day, moment to moment, because then, I can truly be present in what is happening to me. It means that I can concentrate on living, rather than worrying about what is going to happen, or dreading the difficult days ahead. Life's too short for all that worry.

At least, that's the plan. I hope I can keep it up.

In the midst of all this spinning, I've also been working away on my Red Emperor, which I am loving so far:

I'm loving the different tones of red in that yarn, and I think it'll be a beauty, once I get it done. I have to hand it to Hasmii, from Rocky Mountain Dyeworks. It's 400 metres of heaven! And maybe, if I get really good at spinning, I can spin my own 400 metres of heaven, or purgatory, or whatever.

And I'm pretty sure I'll be doing it standing up.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

My Spaghetti Sauce

One of the culinary difficulties I have is that my husband does not enjoy any food that includes melted cheese. No pizza, no lasagna, no alfredo, no mac and cheese... Most people find that really strange, and I suppose it is, especially living in North America, but we've been together for over ten years now, and I guess I've just learned to improvise.

A few years ago, I came up with this spaghetti sauce. It's probably our favourite way of eating spaghetti. It includes big, chunky vegetables, a bit of spice, and, much to my hubby's delight, bacon. It's tasty enough to eat without cheese, which works perfectly for us. If you don't want to use bacon, I am of the opinion that you could use porcini mushrooms or some other ingredient with a smokey taste with a meaty texture, but that's entirely up to you.

Serves 4

  • 7 or 8 strips of bacon, or thinly sliced pancetta, cut into 1 cm or 1/4 inch pieces
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 8 button (white) mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 large bell pepper, chopped into big, chunky pieces, or whatever size you prefer (I buy red peppers on sale and chop them and freeze them for later)
  • 1 tbsp fennel seeds, crushed
  • 1/2 tbsp dried basil, or 1 tbsp fresh basil, chopped
  • 1/2 a can of plum tomatoes (796mL or 28 fl. oz.)
  • a pinch or two of dried chillies (optional)
  • 1/2 tbsp of honey or sugar
  • 1 basil leaf
  • pepper to taste
1) Heat a large frying pan or dutch oven on medium-high heat. Add the bacon pieces and cook until browned, stirring to brown all sides. Drain any excess fat (there will be a bit more coming out of the bacon as you cook).
2) Add the onion and saute until the onion begins to soften.
3) Add the mushrooms, peppers and garlic and continue to saute until the peppers begin to soften.
4) Add the crushed fennel and basil and cook for 1 minute, stirring.
5) Add the plum tomatoes and some of the juice, as well as 1/4 can of water. Crush the tomatoes into pieces (I use a potato masher).
6) Add the crushed chillies, sugar, bay leaf and pepper. Allow to simmer for about 25 minutes, or until most of the liquid had reduced. Serve immediately on spaghetti.

I'm afraid I didn't take a photo of a nicely framed plate this evening when I made this sauce. I did, however, manage to take a photo of the leftovers that will make up my lunch for the next two days.

If you were to use porcini mushrooms instead of bacon, I would use a tbsp of olive oil to cook the onions first, and then follow the recipe as written and add the porcini mushrooms at the same time as the button mushroom and peppers. I haven't tried it, but I think it would work.


Monday, January 3, 2011

It's Gotta Get Better Than This

Rough start to the new year today. I elected to come into work today, despite it being a statutory holiday, to make up time that I took off for the Christmas holidays. I'm thinking this was a poor choice. So far today I have:
  • broken the water filter for the axolotl tank in the office whilst trying to clean them out after a week of languishing in their filth
  • locked myself out of the office with no one in the building to let me back in (as far as I knew)
  • flooded part of the office floor with water running from the tap that I left on whilst locked out
  • got a good friend out of bed on his day off to let me back in
  • confused a bunch of people because of my lack of organization
  • forgotten my lunch at home
  • been "tsk tsked" by the cleaning staff who think the tap water on the floor is an abomination
I feel tired and stupid and I just want to go home, but there are things to be done today. I know: it could be worse. A lot worse. I must soldier on.

Anyway, I thought I'd post these photos before I forgot about them. I finally finished my November Ruffle Wrap. Actually, I finished it three weeks ago, but ran out of time before my holidays to take photos of them. I've actually worn it a bit around the house, and it's so warm and comfy.

In my last post about this wrap, I was complaining about how I'd run out of yarn before I finished the ruffle, and that I wasn't going to rip back to the stockinette to fix it.

Well... I woke up early the next morning and decided that there was no denying it: I would be unhappy unless I fixed it properly.

So, I ended up ripping back to the stockinette portion, and even ripped out an extra inch to be sure, before I re-started the ruffle section. It was painful, but it was so worth it.

So here it is: The Mercury Plummeting Wrap, named so because the colour is called Mercury and it was knit in some pretty chilly weather.

Finished lenghth: 69 inches. Finished width: 19 inches. i.e. big enough.

I'm off to take some Advil and keep on truckin'. Here's to a New Year! Maybe it'll be better tomorrow...