Sunday, March 8, 2015

A slight obsession with socks

Socks for DH. I couldn't get them off to take a decent picture.
Ever since I had my carpal tunnel problem fixed, I've become obsessed with sock knitting.  That's because I can knit without my hand growing numb.  So lately I've been buying all kinds of pretty yarns and knitting with them. I even bought some sock blanks to try my hand at dyeing my own.  My LYS has been seeing a lot of me, especially during their 30% off sale. I think you've seen some of the damage in earlier blogs.

Pretty and sparkly colors!

What I love about the yarn available for socks is how pretty it is!  Here is some Plymouth yarn that is just full of interesting and fun to knit colors. Plus it is sparkly! I love that I can knit a plain sock and have all the enjoyment of going from one nice color to the next.  I tried more complicated socks--some with cables--but I found it not relaxing at all, even causing tension. So I abandoned that pair and will just see what I can do with twisted rib stitches to add variety. I have a few ideas. Also, I've decided that plain knit feet are more comfortable in my shoes.

Kettle Dyed Yarn
I purchased some sock blanks from Knit Picks so I can try my hand at dyeing. These two are kettle dyed with the same dye. The one on the right is shades of the full blast color and the one on the right, is the yellow that was left over in the dye bath till exhausted. Kettle dyeing is the easiest method of dyeing since you just plunk the yarn in the pot.  My next plan is to try painting. Now that the weather is warming up, I will be able to use my garage as a dye studio.

Yes, I have toyed with the idea of putting a few things up on Etsie, but right now I'm too obsessed with the knitting of socks to really want to share.  Plus I want to knit up my experiments and see how they work out before foisting them on the public. And I have lot of silk that needs dyeing too, and fleece that needs carding (some of it with the dyed silk) so we shall see. And Fiber Festival season opens in April.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Year of the sheep!

Border Leicester being spun to fingering weight

Among February's pleasant surprises, discovering that this Lunar New Year ushered in the Year of the Sheep certainly rates among them. This is the beginning of a truly auspicious year for wool lovers everywhere! News reports suggest that some don't think much of it being the year of the sheep since sheep are such docile animals--at least in the popular imagination. But sheep can also produce twins and triplet lambs, wonderful wool, food and milk and all this by just eating grass. So to me, year of the sheep seems to mean a year of peace and prosperity. But most importantly, a year of wool.

Sparkly yarn turning into socks

To a spinners everywhere, Year of the Sheep is a tribute to our favorite fiber animal.  I've been busy carding up a storm so I can make room for new stash come the Spring Fiber Festival Season. Yes, I plan to celebrate the year of the sheep in style. I may have already started. Did I mention there was a sale at my favorite yarn store?  Yes, I bought a bunch of yarn.

Most of this is wool yarn.
So yes, I started the year of the sheep off in style This is all sock yarn as I love sock knitting.  I plan to enjoy the Year of the Sheep!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Was evolution kind to knitters?

This is what happened after my husband said he'd like some socks.
Today is Darwin Day, a celebration of the birthday of Charles Darwin who revolutionized our understanding of where we came from with Origin of the Species. So in honor of this day so near and dear to bio-geeks and other science nerds everywhere, I want to bring up my favorite topic opposable toes.

Loosely looking along the tree of life, you can follow our branch up and see a few forks. Along such forks are critters with feet that can actually grasp stuff.  Now opposable thumbs are all the rage for being humans and makes knitting and other crafts possible. But could you imagine if, rather than walking out of the forest onto the plains, our forebears stayed in the shade and managed to keep the opposable toes? Could you imagine all the knitting we could get done with two sets of hands?

Of course, opposable toes would but a crimp in sock knitting.  I mean, socks would have to be more like gloves or mittens. Heck, we'd need two sets of hands just to keep up. And shoes? They'd be pretty weird looking, though we wouldn't know it because weird would be normal.

So maybe it's good opposable toes were selected out.

But a prehensile tail, well that would be nice.  It would come in handy to be able to hang upside down to knit on occasion without needing to be a gymnast. Plus a long prehensile tail would come in handy passing pretty skeins around at the stitch n' bitch. We wouldn't have to stop knitting! We could just use our tails to pass it from knitter to knitter! And we'd probably have to knit tail socks too in great fun colors!

So nature, some of the things we lost in our million or so year climb up the tree from our small vole-like ancestors might have come in handy for knitters. And it would have been nice if that whole carpal tunnel situation had been selected out. But I'm glad we turned out smart enough to develop orthopedic surgeons. And knitting. Especially sock knitting.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Silk on a stormy day

Scarf-fine merino wool woven on a silk weft.
 Nothing quite beats a lazy Sunday. It's snowing and windy outside so that's a great excuse not to venture outdoors. And so I get to weave on my first and quite lovely silk warp. I'm using some merino I picked up from my Stitch N' Bitche's destash table and the weave is Rambling Rose from Marguerite Porter Davison. To a weaver that's a "W" and a half to form a lovely little pattern. The weaving is going great and silk is lovely to use. I just need to "snug" the warp into place--no beating necessary. I've also learned how to "read" the pattern as I go, so I'm not making treadling errors.  This is a new step in my evolution as a weaver. I'm really happy with this latest winter scarf!

Silk sliver by the kilo.
I found a place where I can buy silk by the kilo--Georgia Yarn Company. I'm showing the kilo of silk sliver I just purchase for dyeing and blending with wool.  I previously purchased a kilo of natural mulberry silk 22/2 skeins.  These are lovely, but I need to dye them.  I still need to work on my dyeing technique because silk can be a little tricky. I've learned that I should soak the silk in the dye adjutants before adding the dye and heat.  I need to heat it to below 185 degrees F and let it simmer for 60 minutes. This will take a bit of scientific method to use up some of my acid fast dyes, but I'm up for the challenge. I'm just waiting for the warmer weather as my dye studio is in the garage!

Giving the sturdy Ashford Scholar a whirl.
I've been spinning a merino/bamboo blend on the Scholar, a sturdy little wheel I purchased years ago with the idea of taking it with me camping. I haven't done that yet but it is a trooper for traveling to guild meetings and more.  I was able to fit it with the high speed whirl for the Kiwi, and being a "vigorous" treadler, I have no trouble getting a nice thin yarn. I'm expecting this to be about 14 wraps per inch, depending of course how much the yarn "poofs" once it goes through finishing.

It's been a nice day to get things done. I'm also making food ahead--a big pot of spaghetti sauce, meatballs and some low-fat spinach lasagna. So of course, I have a glass of red wine at my side, with Rigoletto playing in the background. I don't attempt cooking Italian without the correct mood being set. I need to dig deep into my roots to get the right flavorings.

All in all, it's a wonderful, snug day at the Craftstead.  Stuff is getting done and relaxation is happening. 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Warping barbell

Warping barbell adds tension while beaming.
Seems like I'm finding lots of new uses for my exercise equipment these days. Shown above is what I've dubbed a Warping Barbell. This consists of my leg weights suspended at the ends of an inch thick dowel. I was trying to thing of some way to tension my warp when I hit on this idea. It's along the same lines as the warping trapeze Laura Fry talks about but without the need to attach something to the ceiling or build a big frame. The 10 pound weights keep the device in place and it does help provide a nice even tension.

I'm very happy wit this and plan to use it regularly.  I also enjoy re-purposing exercise equipment for weaving. Leg weights are also great for weighting a beater when doing something like rugs. And don't use this like a barbell as the weights fall off.  The warp, by the way, is yak. I was going to make a yak down scarf over winter break but it turned out to be a too delicate warp. I save the ruined warp for needlepoint.

26 oz of Wild Iris super bulky rug yarn.
 My plan to spin a pound of fiber a month is well on it's way with 26 oz of rug yarn completed. The Coopworth counts as "deep stash" as my friend Beth gave me the roving when she was destashing. I've dyed it Wild Iris. It helps a lot that I'm spinning super bulky rug yarn. Later this year, I intend to get a lot of rug weaving done and move stash from my closet to the floors. So far, so good!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Weaving meets Yoga

Yoga blocks come in handy in the studio.
I've taken up Svaroopa Yoga, a gentle practice that helps loosen up tight spots in the hips and lower back from too much sitting and tension.  I take classes but also follow a home practice, called the Magic 4. This eases my lower back and aligns my chakras (energy centers) and leaves my body and mind relaxed and freed to pursuit my many interests. I feel the practice, by opening and aligning my chakras, improves the flow of creativity and squeezes out left over stress from the week.

Overshot block design with handspun alpaca warp and silk& kid mohair weft.

Yoga blocks were the perfect prop for leveling the shafts on the Loomcraft. I've decided to use a 4 shaft tie up on it for its next several projects and having my yoga items in the studio proved exceptionally handy.  As you know, I hate crawling under the loom to do tie up, but a careful selection of yoga blankets and a blanket roll made for comfy work under the loom! I was really happy because I got the tie up set up in no time while being comfortable. Good thing I keep my yoga gear in this "half-studio."  I have one-half of the family room where we keep our TV and bookshelves so it is also a place to relax and maybe move along with an exercise DVD.

Leclerc Fanny warped with overshot block scarf.
Happily, I finished a scarf I began just two weeks ago over Christmas break. It has a hand spun alpaca warp and a commercially prepared warp of silk, kid mohair and glitter. The resulting scarf is luxuriously soft and just in time for some sub-zero temperatures. I'm kind of proud that this is also the fastest project I've done so far on the loom! It was on and off inside of two weeks.

Now to wind some more warps, and get to work on the big throw project....

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A long goodbye

Losing my father-in-law the day before Thanksgiving has been a slow-burn experience.  First, the stunned realization and the acceptance that had already been growing there--he was 98 at the time and had been moved to a care facility for the last year or so. The workers there really cared and it was good to know that someone noticed he was slipping away and was with him to hold his hand for those last moments.

To be honest, I've been sad about it for some time. Sad when we left the house my husband had grown up in knowing it would be sold in a month, knowing we would never be back, knowing it would never be quite the same.  The sadness started when my mother-in-law passed six years before. Elva was an avid naturalist and knew every bird and every plant in her neighborhood. We loved walking with her with a pair of binoculars up a road. Of course, we had to keep up with her.  She was hardy to nearly the end.

And for many years, so was my father-in-law. Ira had lived in his small north country town all of his life, and he had stories that stretched back to earlier years. Funny stories, touching stories, lots and lots of stories. He had been very active in his community--he was one of the charter members of the local volunteer fire department, was fire chief for many years, was a grand master at his Masonic Lodge, was a school board member,  attended Town Board meetings to voice his views when it was necessary. He was a respected member of his community.  I can see where my husband got his own interest in local politics.

In my thirty years of marriage, I knew both my in-laws as retired people. Early on, if they weren't off square dancing, they were playing mahjong or cross-country skiing or off in the woods on one of their many foraging expeditions. Elva and Ira knew where every sort of edible plant was. They were out "stalking the wild asparagus" and Elva's botanical skills were the basis of healthy eating and living.

I'm glad to have known them while they were still young.  We went cross-country skiing with them, took many long hikes and they taught us to play mahjong. We had many late nights up playing with them! We lived much closer back then and we would visit or stop in. For awhile, we took turns taking each other out to lunch--we would find an interesting town half-way and pick a restaurant. They visited us in Connecticut where we lived, but usually we would head north.  It was so peaceful in that little town that each visit was a respite from our busy lives.

Elva and Ira were an interesting couple--they traveled a lot and we had a chance to hear about their visits--crossing the Arctic Circle on a local steamer in Norway, taking an Audubon tour in Alaska or cruising on the Danube. They spent their 60th anniversary in Venice. They were young for most of the years I knew them, and it wasn't until the past decade that the years began to make their inevitable claim.

I will never forget our last Thanksgiving with Elva at the Cambridge Inn a few months before she died. She'd been failing, but that day she was her old self, smiling and gracious and happy.  It was a good memory of happier times.  After she left, Ira held up pretty well, but the years were crowding in on him. We went from sitting with him in the evening listening to his stories over a glass of Scotch served in a jelly jar with one ice cube, to watching him fall asleep in front of the Weather Channel.  We went from going out and about the mountains, taking walks and stopping for a nice lunch, to just a drive around the block.

Then the time came for a care facility, and Ted's sister found a beautiful one overlooking the Atlantic near her home in Maine. It had a nice homey feel, including a fireplace so he could sit in his wheel chair and doze, something he enjoyed. The place was clean and bright and he wasn't alone his last few moments.

It is the end of an era for my husband and I.  We miss both of them deeply.  We've been missing them during the long years of slipping away.  But we will always have them with us, and all the lessons we learned from them. For me they are lessons about loving the outdoors, staying fit and really living those elder years doing what you enjoy.