Monday, April 24, 2017


I've started going to yoga again, after a looooong absence.  I love it so much, but I took a really lengthy break from it because--and this seemed like a rational excuse at the time--we got a dog and getting down on the floor makes a dog think it is time to relentlessly lick your face.  In my experience, all dogs think this.  So now, when I try to practice a little between classes (because, ow, I am solidifying) I tiptoe around the catdog's otherwise constantly slumbering self, hoping she won't notice I'm getting down on the floor, but she always notices.  ALWAYS.  That dog sleeps 23.5 hours a day, but just try to get down on the floor and close your eyes for a minute.  Anyway.  So one thing they keep telling me in yoga (and one thing I kept telling my own students, way back in the olden times when I was a yoga teacher myself) is to honor where you are today, right now.  Do your best, appreciate that it is the best you can do, and let it be enough for now.  Spinning this fleece--oh, I found the card that came with the fleece and finally deciphered the fact that it is a Romney/Blue-faced Leicester cross, not that I know what difference that makes--is really making me honor where I am right now.  
Doc handcrafted those wool combs for me using scraps from his shop and a handful of huge and deadly nails, and they are scary and awesome.  I have only viciously stabbed myself in the thumb once, so that feels like success.  The fleece, which, you may remember, I bought at the Finger Lakes Fiber Festival last fall, a big plastic sack of unwashed hair, is soft and lovely and springy and curly.  I washed it carefully, carded and spun some of it woolen-style, and was happy enough with it, but all signs point to a Romney/BFL fleece being best spun worsted-style, which is achieved in part by combing.  I discovered I love combing fleece, and that there is a huge amount of waste, but it won't go to waste around here--more on that later--but somehow, the yarn I spun from the combed nests, with all its springiness notwithstanding, and me all girded up with youtube tutorials about how to spin worsted-style, and this book, was just limp and dead, and pretty depressing.  No springiness at all.  Wah!  Well.  I think I will keep combing, but will spin woolen for awhile more.  I just like the yarn better that way.  Honor where you are right now.  
In non-yarn news, I keep thinking about Sara Berman's Closet.  (If you haven't seen this yet, go check it out.  Click on all the links, they are all totally great.) My closet is ridiculous.  Actually, all my closets are ridiculous.  I spent a few hours yesterday divesting myself of yet more things I don't need.  Child's outgrown orthodontic retainers?  Dented trombone?  Tiny souvenir guitar from somebody else's trip to Tijuana?  Adios.  I doubt I will go the full Sara, but it is good to remember that we are not our stuff.  My memories are not in the things I own, but in me.  Very interesting antique accordion that looks cool, collects dust, and nobody knows how to play?  Bye.  

Monday, April 17, 2017

Signs of spring

Cold morning sunlight pours in through the curtains.  I open the window for ten brisk minutes.  Mourning doves mutter outside in the maple tree, the school bus comes and goes, a big truck downshifts.  Outdoors!  It smells so lush out there.  So dirty and loamy and promising.  
Scarves, hats, mittens, cowls make their way through the wash and into storage.  I love this part of things.  I love taking care of these beautiful things I've made; hand washing them, folding them neatly, tucking them into bed for the summer.  I love unpacking them again, too, later, rediscovering them.  I am already anticipating that moment.  
I make yarn at my spinning wheel.  This is a mystery wool, bought as a bump [that's what you call a ball of carded roving] at a fiber fair last fall, unlabeled and unidentifiable.  Somehow I had it in my mind that it was alpaca, but it is definitely sheep.  That's about as specific as it'll get.  Brownish, natural gray, wooly, soft.  Probably DK weight?  I don't know.  Who knows.  My plying is improving.  There is so much to learn.  
My Warriston is finished, and I wear it with some weariness, looking out the window at the tattered but greening landscape.  This pullover is meant to be worn as an outer layer--a sweatshirt with style--so it is very roomy and very comfy.  I used Natural Wool DK 8-ply by Wools of New Zealand in "Cocoa".  What a smooshy, springy lovely wooly wool that is.  It totally looks like the perfect handspun, and I am so interested in that at the moment.  
Here it is, in action in the field, with squirrel skull, discovered on the ground underneath our big maple tree.  I can't say I'm one bit sorry.  Squirrels!  Ugh.  I hate them.  That up there is my very favorite kind of squirrel.  He lives to chew another hole in my barn NO MORE.  
The sock yarns continue to haunt.  Why are these handpainted things so utterly magical in the skein, and so utterly not magical when knitted into something?  So often the gorgeous, luminous colors just devolve into mud.  And yet, they are always in my stash, always in my shopping basket at the yarn shop, and always ALWAYS coming home with me from the fiber festival.  I can't stop loving them.  The Scarfy Thing they are becoming is just fiddly enough to keep me from getting up a good head of steam on it.  Many of my joins and seams look pretty terrible.  I'll probably knit the whole thing all the way to the end without having decided whether I like it or not.  
It won't be the first time.  A knitter's gotta knit.  

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

And so on

Another project has left my needles.  Warriston is lounging beside the fireplace, drying after a bath.  I might have had this pullover done already, but midway through the second sleeve, the last of the wound yarn ran out, so rather than spending four minutes getting out the swift for more winding, I exerted a minimum effort, leaned over, grabbed the nearest ball of whatever that was already wound, and started something else.
Scarfy Thing, by Beata Jezek.  This thing totally captivated me for about forty-eight hours, but has hid the skids already, because after merrily clipping along in a sock yarn leftovers trance all weekend I suddenly reached a point at which it seems like the best way to proceed with this will be [theme from Jaws] intarsia.  Urgh.   I don't like to do intarsia.  Which is not the same as saying I don't know how to do intarsia, because how else would I know I don't like it?  Intarsia, with it's multiple-balls-at-once-twisting-into-a-spiderweb action is one of my personal knitting nightmares.  I hate sitting trapped in the epicenter of a complicated mess of tangling yarn ends.  Part of the appeal of knitting for me is the tidiness--two sticks, one ball of string.  I like an easily learned pattern, and I can stuff it in my purse as I run out the door.  Waiting in line at the DMV is nothing to dread when you have your knitting with you... unless your current project involves INTARSIA.  I think the next section calls for it, though, and I am going to yank up my knee socks and intarsia that thing--eventually--but that little snag did motivate me to get off the couch, wind the rest of the brown yarn, and finish the Warriston.  Yesterday was [dare I say this?] pretty much a summer's day, hold my hand, because I may gorgeous.  Warm, warm air.  What?  What is that?  My sun-starved, frost-eaten, snow-blinded reluctantly Northern self can't even handle.  Catdog and I sprawled all day long on the porch, hungrily soaking up the vitamin D, and counting convertibles, and even when a cloud covered the sun, the gorgeous April air, the wind was still warm.  We kept looking at each other in wonderment, Catdog and I, and she telegraphed her joy by lying in one sunny spot and not moving a muscle.  You guys, two days ago, there was snow on the roof.  Which means there could be snow again before we're done here--it is still just April after all, and nobody around here is packing away their parkas yet--and I might still need the Warriston.  I hope not.  But it'll be ready when I do need it.  Meanwhile, I'm tackling some intarsia.  Urgh.  

Monday, April 3, 2017


Happy Monday, friends!  Spring has arrived here in my Western New York neighborhood, and that, up there, is what spring looks like.  Densely cloudy, damp, and turbulent.  Windy.  Still pretty cold.  There is not much green yet, but when it comes, it comes all of a sudden--I notice the trees along the roadside have got leaves, and it totally seems like they didn't have any yesterday...that'll be soon.  Not yet, but I love that moment, my moment of sudden noticing.  So, early spring looks a lot like late winter, doesn't it?  I have a really foolproof way to tell the difference, are you ready?  This is how I know it's spring:  when we go to Starbucks now, I order an ICED coffee.  Yup.  Also, it is April.  I have strong feelings about this.  
Worn reluctantly with a turtleneck (brr, see above) is Camaro, designed by Tanis Lavallee of Tanis Fiber Arts.  I could hardly keep my hands off this project.  Everything else went away for awhile.  I used scraps and stash yarns for this, and I had just enough of that chocolate brown to finish.  When I say "just enough", I mean just enough.  JUST.  
There were eleven inches of yarn left after the last bind off.  Life on the edge!  I had about 2.5 skeins of it, the leftovers from my Ramona cardigan, knit last year and then given away when it stopped fitting me.  I weighed what was left of the brown (I think it might be Cascade 220?) in my kitchen scale and did some math to make sure it would make it to the end while still giving me enough length in the body.  I am a lot more flexible when it comes to sleeve length, but I can't handle a short sweater.  I'm 49 years old, and my belly-baring days are behind me.  I had the rapidly diminishing yarn ball in the tray of the scale beside me as I tried to outpace the shrinking yardage, and hectically confirmed that there would be enough to reach the finish line, over and over again.  I panicked a couple times, and was positive the scale was lying to me.  Recall, these are leftovers.  There wasn't any room for running out.  I think coming in with eleven inches to spare is pretty much solid gold on the math, or at least it would have been if not for this:
Accidental wrong color stripe!  Signature move!  As always, I didn't notice that until it was already in place, which is what comes from knitting in the evenings and also from having 49 year-old eyesight.  A little ball of some OTHER brown yarn had at some point snuck its way into the bag of chocolate probably-Cascade 220 leftovers.  I assume.  I don't even know how that happens.  
Well, without it I would've run out of yarn.  Also, this is a striped sweater.  For goodness' sake, though.  
Camaro has a very clever construction in the striped yoke section, which makes it fun/fascinating/stressful to make--I realized midway how much I rely on experience to know whether something in progress is apt to fit me or not.  Holding this thing up and looking at it wasn't giving me any of that information, and eventually, worried that I was ruining my wrists for something that might not only run out of yarn before it was finished but also would not fit, I put all the working parts on spare yarn and wet blocked it so I could measure. 
This made me feel better.  Also, it matched my Caravan Boots, which I made in 2012, so it was pretty clear that I haven't changed all that much since then.  Yarns used are (from top): Patons Classic "Peacock", Cascade 220 "Turquoise", Plymouth Galway "Light Blue", Patons Classic, hand dyed by me with goldenrod, Universal Yarn Renew Wool "Straw", Rowan Pure Wool Worsted "warm red", Ella Rae Classic mystery color, geranium-ish, Patons Classic hand dyed by me with black beans, and the most-likely-Cascade 220, chocolate-ish.  I used worsted weight yarn, instead of the DK weight called for in the pattern, so I knit two sizes down in hopes of getting a good fit, and it worked well.  I think this sweater is cute as heck, and I'm hoping to wear it soon, without the turtleneck underneath.  

Monday, March 27, 2017

My share of the sidewalk

  All of a sudden, it's one sweater a week around here.  Two things have been making that happen:  for one, my full-time job recently (and happily) became part-time, which has given me the gift of a whole bunch more hours in the week to do whatever pleases me.  (A second cup of coffee?  Don't mind if I do!  Naps?  Sure!) I'm hoping eventually to tackle a few non-yarn projects (eek, the garden) but lately the extra free time has mostly been spent with knitting, because (two:) there are so many gorgeous things out there to make, and I have a big yarn stash, and it's still cold here and I am in the throes of it.  
This is such a harmonious combination of yarn + pattern.  It is Sidewalk by Cristina Ghirlanda, knit (yes, in a week) in Jill Draper Makes Stuff Windham, in the beautifully purply, pinky blue-gray "Stone" colorway.  Windham is labeled "worsted" but I knit it at an aran gauge for this project, and it worked perfectly.  Windham has a crispy lightness that surprises, given that it is a many-plied, smooth yarn with 220 yards per 100 grams (uh oh, I think this is about "grist") much like what I think the Quince and Co. yarns are like.  Springy, cotton-soft, light as a feather, but smooth and round, for stitch definition.  It's the wooliest worsted-spun yarn ever.  How do they do that?  I don't know, but it's great.  It looks like Jill's Etsy shop is out of Windham right now, so you'll have to come with me to the Finger Lakes Fiber Festival in September to get some.  We'll eat Artichoke French, and Doc will wear his kilt--you can help me pick out my two fleeces!--Fiber Festival Day is one of my favorite days of the whole year.  
Spring seems to be taking a long time to arrive this year.  At least most of the snow has melted, fingers crossed it stays that way.  Meanwhile, I've got plenty to wear.  I promised myself I'd sew something today, though another pullover is just two sleeves away.  I know, it seems like madness to me, too.  

Monday, March 20, 2017

Epistrophy, finished

Epistrophy is off the needles.  This pattern, by Kate Davies, from her beautiful book Yokes, has been in my mental queue ever since I saw it.  Love.  LOVE.  I want this cardigan to be a success so badly that I am still trying to convince myself.  That neckband, you guys.  All that knitting, and then those ten little ribbed rows using the wrong needle (my fault) at the bitter end.  It's causing the neckband to flare just enough to irritate me, and I'm not sure.  It's pretty, though!  It is too late to do anything about it now except worry, and worrying will get you nowhere, so I am saying that I don't mind the flaring.  I don't think.  It's a small enough part of the completed whole, and the rest of it is pretty great.  That yoke!  Hoo.    
It's such a good fit.  Perfect, really, everywhere else.  I don't care about the neckband.  I don't think.  I don't think I do.  
It's got a casualness about it I kind of like, actually.  The standup collar thing could be kind of good.  A feature, not a flaw, right?  Also, handily, it is cut off in almost all the photos because I told Doc to keep my face out of these shots--it was the weekend, and who wants to get all gussied up for having their picture on the internet on a Sunday?  Not me.  So you just have to mostly trust me that the neckline is flaring ever so gently.  Just ever so.  
There's one where you can see it.  That's okay, right?  A little tiny flare?  I don't care.  I don't think.  Otherwise, it's just so great!  What a good pattern, too.  The repeating, decreasing geometry at that yoke has my brain boggling.  I don't even know how anybody figures something like that out.  Kate Davies, you are so clever.  This sweater is knit in the round (good thing, too, as I have sworn a blood oath not to knit in pieces anytime soon) and then cut up the front with scissors (that's right, that's what I said!) with the button bands added at the very end.  
Kate recommended this pretty little ribbon detail, which covers up the hot mess I always leave behind when cutting open a steek.  I love this treatment of a cardigan front.  I might do this on all future cardigans.  Ribbon shop recommendations are heartily welcome.  
I used Fishermans' Wool for this, in "Oatmeal" and "Brown Heather".  The pattern calls for DK weight, and I would call Fisherman's Wool a light worsted, so I went down a needle size (to a US 3.  Small!  I know!) and it fits like a dream.  If I were at the precipice of the neckband right now, though, I'd drop down to a truly tiny needle and get that thing right, but since there isn't a thing to be done, I am saying I love it, and I will keep saying it.  I love it.  

Monday, March 13, 2017

Making yarn

This is a love song.  I am having a moment with spinning this week, and I can't stop talking about it.  I'm sure Doc is fresh out of patience with me on this subject, but honestly, I just find this endlessly wonderful.  I made this yarn!  Now, I'm not totally new to this.  I've been spinning for a few years as a rank beginner, first on an antique spinning wheel I bought at a yard sale for twenty bucks and which was a little bit broken and missing a few pieces and which Doc repaired with twine and wood scraps and his general usual ingenuity.  We He got it running and then my friend Louise helped me figure out how the heck it worked and I made some generally terrible yarn which was tighter than a bowstring and hard as nails, but whatever, it was yarn, and I'd spun it!  Hoo, that really felt like something.  A few years later, Doc gave me an Ashford Kiwi for christmas, and everything changed, because the Kiwi was new and well-oiled and it had all the parts it needed, and the drive band wasn't constantly coming untied or falling off.  I sat out on the porch with it, spinning clumpy wads of wool into lumpy skeins of yarn, and they still looked like the dog's breakfast, but I was happy.  Once time, somebody actually stopped their car and came up onto my porch to watch me at work, fully amazed that people still did this sort of thing.  I wanted to braid my hair and wear brown boots and calico aprons.  Grow wheat and flax, maybe acquire a cow.  I also entertained an irrational thought or two about getting a couple sheep, because why not?  We live in the country, and I have this idea that they are really just dogs anyway, and how hard can it be, right?  They're so cute in their little straw-filled pens at the fiber fair, gnawing on hay, letting the little children--and also me--scratch their wooly foreheads through the fencing.  Eventually, Doc said one of the best and smartest things of his entire genius life:  "Instead of getting two sheep, why don't we just go to the fair every year and buy two fleeces?"  
I blinked quickly as this sank in.  Well, yeah!  Why don't we do that?  I don't even want to grow my own tomatoes, what makes me think I can take care of livestock?  Sure, I live in the country, but that doesn't make me a farmer.  I don't want to raise sheep, I want to make yarn so I can knit with it.  So last fall, a raw Romney fleece (the sheep from which it came having been raised and cared for and fed and fenced and guarded and shorn and loved by someone else, someone who probably loves getting up at dawn every single day of the year to trudge outdoors and feed animals and hoe out barn stalls--so, not me) came into our house.  It was a fresh fleece, nothing but a sheep's haircut in a plastic bag.  The ewe (named "Rhaine", isn't it wonderful to know that?  I love that so much) had been coated, meaning I suppose that she wore a coat, so the fleece was relatively clean, and it had been skirted, meaning that someone else--not me, see above--had already done all the dirty work of removing the yucky bits.  Still, the fleece was heavy with lanolin and it smelled very wonderfully, er sheepy.  Catdog has never looked so alert in her entire life as she did when that bag came through the door.  
One handful at a time, I washed it.  I filled a plastic tub with the hottest water I could stand to put my hands in, along with a squirt of dish soap, put on double gloves because it was still really hot, and laid the handful of fleece on top of the water. I gently pushed it down into the suds, and very, very gently continued to nudge it in and out of the water.  I admit I talked to it a little bit--"Hi there, lovely,  I'm not doing anything here, just a little bath is all.  You're so pretty!  No worries, no need to get felted, that's a girl."  I lifted it out gently, as if it were a crying baby that needed soothing.  I encouraged the water out of it with my thoughts.  No, I gently squeezed the water out.  Gently!  I rinsed it twice in two more pans of scalding hot water, and then lay it to dry.  The water that poured out of the pan was the most godawful yellow, with most of the lanolin in it.  (I know, it's good for your skin, but that's what Aveda is for.) Up there, you see a freshly washed and dry handful, in a photo taken when the world was still a green and kindly place.  Friends, the sense of satisfaction at that moment was already tremendous.  It cannot be described.  This fleece, while relatively clean but full of lanolin, was heavy.  Doc carried it to the car slung on his back, looking like a creepy Santa Claus, and was complaining by the time we got there.  Once washed, though, it weighs NOTHING.  It smells like, well, like clean clothes.  It is softer than summer air.  Already I loved it so much, and if it hadn't already had a lovely fairy name--Rhaine--I would have given it one.  
Using two dog brushes--the ones with the tiny bent wires--because that's what I had, I carded a small pile of it into these little wool sausages, called "rolags".  Now, don't ask me what any of these terms mean, because I promise you I know absolutely nothing about any of this and am almost certainly going to be wrong.  But I think these are called rolags.  To make them, I laid a few locks of clean wool on one dog brush, er, carder, and used the other to brush it, passing the wool from one brush/carder to the other a few times.  Then I rolled it up from the bottom to the top, so that the fibers, which had gotten more or less organized, were running "around" the sausage, if you will.  (There are a lot of interesting youtube tutorials  where you can see this in action, if you're interested). From these rolags, drafting from the end of the sausage, I could spin the wool into yarn.  
I have learned over time that carding is the preparation method you use when you want to make "woolen" spun yarn.  (If you want "worsted" spun yarn, you need to comb the fleece, which is different--more on that to come; Doc is busy in his workshop making wool combs, so exciting! I told you, I've gone off the deep end over this.) So I spun it woolen, which is supposed to be lofty and airy and a little bit fuzzy, because the carding process organizes the fibers a little bit, but not all the way, so because they're going kind of here and there as they get drafted, there is a lot of air getting kind of trapped in there.  It should be light, and warm.  Knowing and understanding the difference between woolen and worsted has become one of the most useful tools in my arsenal.  (Still, don't ask me about grist.  Good heavens, I have no idea.)
I plied the two singles together, and washed the skein.  As it hung drying beside the fireplace, I could not help admiring it out loud, constantly, and repeatedly.  Doc listened.  "Yes, it is nice.  No, I think it's great!  Very pretty.  Yes, you'll knit something really nice with it.  I know!  Yes!  YES!  ALL RIGHT?"  He fell asleep in self-defense, just to get some peace.  No, he was very patient.   He's the hero of this story.  I learned that this wool, which is clean and gorgeous and soft as a baby's cheeks and which looks perfect and wonderful in the carded rolags, still has a few clumpy blobs in it, which I should have removed, because they won't draft and just go into your yarn like a big pill.  I could see them going by as I drafted, and kept saying, ugh, there's another one.  So there are a lot of irregularities in this skein.  Memo for next time, because now I know.  And hoo, there will be many next times.  He said I could have two fleeces!  Every year!  Here I come.