Thursday, December 30, 2010

Resolution #1: Sell a loom

It's time to downsize my loom collection and let this one go.
What is the difference between enough and too much?  This really depends and I'm going to keep my discussion of this topic to the world of crafting.  With two closets crammed full of fleece, I think I can safely say that I have enough and probably too much fleece.  This I can remedy by using it up and by not buying any new fleece until then.

But what do I do about floor looms? I started with a 36 inch counterbalance loom until I a saw a 60 inch jack type loom that I couldn't live without.  So I purchased it and crammed it into my house.  At the time, I didn't have the heart yet to part with my original loom, pictured both above and on the front page of my website.  I was sure I could put both to use.

My personal assistant is helping me disassemble my loom.
Who was I kidding? There is only one me, and since I also like to spin and knit, how much time can I possibly spend weaving?  I realised I had to make a choice and since I'm not going to give up the dream of weaving throws that sparked my purchase of the wide room, I decided to sell the small one.  It is solid and sturdy and nicely weaves rugs as can be seen in the picture on my website.

This week, I went ahead and disassembled it.  One of the nice thing about Leclerc's is that they can be taken apart and can put back together.  It essentially becomes a pile of lumber making it easy to transport.  This was especially good since I decided to move my big loom upstairs.  We took that all apart too and right now, I'm putting it back together in the bright little room that held its predecessor.  I'll call that room my studio.  The table and carder that had been up there are being moved downstairs to what has become my workshop.  It makes a lot more sense, much better feng shui. I definitely don't feel so crowded.

The loom breaks down into a pile of pieces making it easy to move.
Stuff shouldn't crowd our lives.  Once we let that happen we've moved from enough to too much.  Now with my dedicated studio (loom room) and my uncrowded workshop I feel lighter, free.  I like sitting at my partially assembled loom and look at the peacefulness of the surrounding space.  I will be putting an ad up for it in a week or so on Ravelry's Warped Weavers Marketplace and probably on the Spinners and Weavers Housecleaning pages and some guild websites with all the details.

So what are you all doing for New Year's Resolutions?  Please let me know!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Beating the Stash?

The ceiling high double stack of stash buckets has been reduced to just two outside my downstairs closet. 
If you remember around this time last year, I posted a picture of my out-of-control stash pile.  I was able to get this all under control.  Not by some amazing feats of spinning, or by my ability to resist the lure of a new fleece.  I rearranged my closet.  Yep, that was it.  Apparently, my stash wasn't very well organized and now it is.  And it is posted on Ravelry.

Posting it all was itself an amazing feat.  I posted the 100th on a couple of days ago.  Above you can see the a photo of the two remaining buckets left outside the closet.  Yes, only two. And yes, I'm a little bit amazed myself.  But there is more to do.  I'm working on my resolutions for next year.  I'll be posting in a few days and I'm also curious to know what you my readers are thinking for your resolutions.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Holiday Wishes!

May this season be filled with peace and joy for you and all your loved ones!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Color blending for a heathered yarn

I used .4 ounces each of raspberry and elderberry dyed Cormo for each batt.
 Blending fibers is an enjoyable process for me, and there's nothing I like better than color blending.  I had a large Cormo fleece which I dyed raspberry and elderberry and then picked and teased to get ready for blending.  I wanted a heathered yarn and decided to do a 50/50 blend of these two rich colors.  You can use any ratio you want, and it is fun to play with ratios to see different affects.  I weighed out .4 ounces of each since I've found .8 ounces of fiber is a good amount to card on my particular carder.
I alternated running small teased bits of colored fiber on the first run through the carder.

For carding, I took the teased locks and fed them into the machine in alternate small bits to enhance the blending on the first round.  All the handwork preparing these fibers was delightful because this Cormo fleece was wonderfully soft.  I know some knitters who swoon over Malebrigo yarn because of its softness--if you really want to enjoy luxury, sink your hands in a bag of freshly teased Cormo.  It is wonderful!

For this project, I did a second pass through the carder, just enough carding to give a nice batt, but not blend the colors too much.  I wanted to be able to still see bits of the original color as I spun the fiber.  The more times through the carder, the more blended it is.   Below, I set one of my twice through batts (left) next to a three times through batt.  The color is much more blended in the one on the right, and the resulting yarn would be more uniform in terms of color.  I wouldn't get the splotches of color I want in the yarn.

I did a second pass by pulling thin strips off the first-run batt and sending them through again.

If you want to spin a yarn with the effect found from one pass through, you may want to card each color separately once before blending them to get a nicer batt. I should also note that I have a handheld tool I run over the large drum while carding that acts as a second drum, giving more nicely carded batt with only two passes then I would otherwise get.  I bought this tool on the recommendation of Susan at Susan's Fiber Shop in Wisconsin, from whom I purchased my Patrick Greene Deb's Delicate Deluxe.  She is very knowledgeable about carding and combing.

The batt to the left went through two times and the one on the right three. You can see the one on the right is more blended.

So that is a short course on creating a heathered yarn! Happy spinning!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Bah Humbug!

This is yarn for some rugs I was making.  Unfortunately, I spun while watching TV and my loss of concentration shows.
No Christmas knitting for me this year: I'm just too far behind on my projects.  I'm still millimetre-ing  along on the Kinsale sweater I hoped to have done by Thanksgiving, and I haven't even begun weaving rugs I've been planning for a year. 

Above is my second bobbin of the last color needed for my rug project. I tried to rush and spin while watching TV and I'm not too happy with the results--which demonstrates my need to take time and focus.  Fortunately, this is a three ply yarn, so the unevenness can work it's way out through the next bobbin I fill. As you can see in my last blog, I don't even have one skein done toward a sweater for my SIL.  Everything is going very slow plus this is yarn I definitely don't want to rush.  I'd like it to come out nice and even for a top-notch sweater.

Rather than trying to dash off some quick projects in time for the holidays, I've decided to maintain my focus and continue the projects I have.  I don't like having more than two or three projects going at a time, so this makes sense for me. This will also allow me to maintain my latest practice of only knitting for maybe a half-hour at a time and not multitasking while I spin. It leaves me time to make some headway into learning to weave.  Perhaps if my next kitchen towel project works out, I'll have a few gifts for next year.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Slow Cloth

Sustainable living includes the concept of Slow Food as apposed to fast food.  We used to just call it home cooking.  Hand in hand comes Slow Cloth, something hand made from scratch.  In this case I started from a freshly shorn fleece and worked up from there.  I've washed, picked and carded and spun the yarn and now I'm a the final stage: knitting.

You can see the work in progress above.  I'm doing Alice Starmore's Kinsale design, which requires fingering weight yarn ,and a tight gauge.  This is taking forever to knit.  Perhaps it should be renamed Snail Cloth. But the work itself is enjoyable.  It just won't be done in time for Thanksgiving.  Christmas perhaps.

The purple yarn on my Schacht is my next fleece to sweater project.  I had hope to be much further along, but below is all I have despite having started the project last month and keeping after it.  Slow Cloth indeed.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Key to sustainable living

Organically grown wheat berries which will someday be bread, brownies and more.

Cooking, I've discovered, is the key to sustainable living. You either cook, or hire a chef, or maybe ride your bike to work.  Thank goodness I love to cook as I can't afford a chef and my commute to work is five miles clogged with  irritable, half-asleep drivers--one of them being me. Plus, we have something called "winter" here.  I lower my waste and dependence on fossil feuls by buying organically grown hard red winter wheat berries and grinding them into flour.  Unfortunately, I couldn't get any locally grown--I went to Whole Foods. I purchased the Blend Tech flour mill becasue it was the only one made right here in the US and it was small enough to fit in my limited kitchen space. I love it.  It grinds coarse enough for corn meal.

I have yet to find a local source of wheat.  I've only started the "locavore-slow food" thing recently.  That's where you go to the farmer's market and seek out small farmers and patronize them.  I found a great source of local eggs, chicken, turkey, pork vegetables and fruits. These foods are more expensive since you end out paying the "true cost" of raising the food--especially the meat. Yes, it is counterintuitive to those who are trying to cutback and live more frugaly, but in the longrun, by doing my own sustainable style cooking, I will save money, even with paying twice as much for eggs and chicken. I will also have tastier food, which I believe will lead to a healthier me.

The farmer deserves to make a living too, and the truth is, you can't have small family farms without people willing to pay a fair price for the produce.  By being willing to pay more, the homesteader or small farmer gets to pay her mortgage.  And we need to be willing because the factory farms filling our grocery store shelves can do it all a lot cheaper than the small scale reflects it--the eggs I buy direct from the farm have four times the flavor as the cheapo megastore brand. This is important to all the people who dream of a more simple lifestyle on the land, because they won't be able to make a living without customers.

So, I am on my progressive soapbox, talking about supporting the little guy and protecting animals from the abuse of factory farming.  Oh dear.  I was meaning to talk about the joys of cooking and the single loaf of bread recipe I am working on.  It is coming along really well, but I forgot to photograph the finished product in its Bennington Pottery bread dish. Maybe next week after I picked up my locally grown heritage turkey for Thanksgiving .

Monday, November 8, 2010

Goodbye, Cruel Warp!

Cutting off this lousy warp was a relief. It had a lot of problem.
Just minutes ago, I gave myself permission to cut a troublesome warp off my loom.  I had started another towel when I discovered even more broken warp strings leaving even bigger gaps in the weaving.  Time to cut my losses quite literally.  As you can see, my scissors made easy work of it.
This is a tnagle of broken warps on the lease sticks.
It was a good thing.  You see the snarl above, those are all broken warp threads.  I had started weaving this on my table loom, but then decided to abandon the project when I realized the web was all tangled.  I was going to throw the warp away when I discovered it wasn't as tangled as I thought. I was able to salvage it because the crosses were still tied and  put it on my floor loom.  As it would happen, as I wound on the warp, I ran into another issue which caused many, many of the threads to snap, and so now it is about 17 inches wide. 
Problems with the warp show up in the nearly finished item.

Despite all this, I manged to weave a few towels, four in all, use up some of the yarn that came with the loom and learn quite a bit.  Sure, the towels are a imperfect.  In fact , they scream "I'm a mess" but still, it was fun.  I'm already planning a "next time" for my kitchen towels: a twill pattern with colorful stripes.  These are coming soon to a blog near you.

Thank you for visiting my blog.  For spinning tips and more you can stop at my webstite: www.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Thumbs up!

The mitt mentioned in my last blog was fixed.

It took about 20 minutes and voila, a mitten with a thumb I won't have to hide from fellow knitters.  The original was too short and squared off.  So now these are really done.

I also managed another milestone today, finishing yet another towel on that warp I don't like.  Yeah!  I don't recommend weaving on a warp you don't like, but I'm too pigheaded to take my own advice.  Yes, I will finish weaving it, no matter how long it takes.  Okay, maybe I should make a pledge to have them done by Thanksgiving! 

Thanks for stopping by!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Finishing frenzy

I finished these mitts, but perhaps I went to fast.
Rushing to finish a project has been a weakness of mine, and this is best seen in the thumb of the mittens above, which I'm not showing of course.  Trying to finish up, I made the final thumb a tad too small, which means I'll be undoing and  redoing it.  Which means that technically they aren't finished.

This kind of final push can ruin projects, especially when I'm spinning.  Usually, the yarn gets thicker the more pressed I feel to reach my goal.  It is something I'm learning to control. I remind myself the process is what is important, the joy and calm of spinning and knitting.  None of my projects really ever go "fast" and these leftover yarn mittens are probably the quickest "idea to finished object" thing I can do--mainly because the yarn is spun.  So much starts from a fleece and builds outward.

So tomorrow, I'll be picking out some stitches and fixing that thumb. A bother, but also a way to bring the lesson home so maybe I'll remember not to do it next time.

Thank you for visiting my blog.  Please stop by again. For fiber tips, please visit my website at

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Apples of my eye

These apples where the result of Office Foraging.
Urban Homesteader, an excellent book, talks about urban foraging--the practice of picking fruit from public greenways--you know that strip down the middle of the road that is often planted.  The authors grow vegetables in the strip in front of their house, not something I would do though I might grow pole beans over my mailbox.  Anyhow, after reading this, I started eyeing apple trees on the way home through my suburb, wondering if I could talk my husband into helping me pick the fruit so I could make apple butter. 

Fortunately, I discovered something even better than urban foraging: office foraging.  That beautiful bag of apples shown above was excess from a co-worker's parents who happen to have a hobby orchard.  So I was able to make apple butter without climbing a ladder.  I just had to lug a full shopping bag down to my car.

Those apples were delicious, by the way . I saved a few out to eat for lunch.  And the apple butter is excellent.  I brought a pot load (literally) home and cooked it down to 1/3 with lots of cinnamon.  Yum. Most of it is in the freezer, with one container left out for immediate consumption.
Finishing these socks was postponed when I ran out of yarn.  I quickly spun some more.

I also finally finished the green bamboo/merino socks and I'm looking forward to the temperature dropping so I can wear them.  Or maybe I'll just wear them tomorrow.  I'd like to get a sock wardrobe going, but with everything else I'm doing, it's not happening too soon.

Thank you for visiting my blog.  Please stop by again.  For fiber related information, you can visit my website at

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A soothing North Country autumn

One stranded mitten knit, one to go.  Sorry, I didn't take any leaf pictures to show you.
Traveling to see family and foliage, we drove back to the North Country just in time to enjoy the Nor'easter that hit those parts.  At first, I was concerned the rain and wind would ruin the leaf experience.  It wouldn't be the picture perfect time I'd originally expected from earlier weather reports. 

But who needs perfection?  As we drove along back roads in the Southern Adirondacks, we found something different: Against the dreary, drizzly gray sky, the golds and reds seemed to glow from within. There was a mood to it, a special beauty--a texture even--that I can carry in my head.  This was an exceptionally lovely fall for me, soothing and pleasant in ways that I can't completely explain.We drove up narrow roads lined with golden leaved trees, and looking into the woods, there was a depths of golds and reds shadowless and bright in the dim light.

During our ride we did a little foraging--stopping at a farmer's market and farms we knew of for maple syrup, aged cheddar and some frozen grass fed lamb and beef to fill up our cooler for the dash home. So we'll have a little bit of the north country with us, either splashed on our oatmeal or sizzling on the grill. 

Oh, and yes, I did pick up some fleece. What else would I do?

Thank you for visiting my blog.  Please stop by again. For fiber tips, you can visit my blog at

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Wheat has a flavor

A Cormo fleece was dyed two shades and then blended to make this batt.
For years, wheat was this bland thing I made taste better by adding ingredients like maple syrup or cinnamon to my bread and cocoa to my cookies.  Last Saturday my electric wheat grinder arrived at my doorstep and I ran several cups of organic wheat berries through it.  Surprise! Wheat does have a flavor.

Lately, I had been noticing an odd sharp flavor in my store bought pre-ground wheat, which is why I decided to go ahead and buy a flour mill.  It is a logical extension to all the hand processing I do with wool. Why not process my food too?  I bought an electric one, since I read that wheat can be tough to grind by hand.

The flavor of freshly ground wheat is mild and sweet.  It's a flavor not present in even the best quality flour.  I liken the flavor to the difference between buying fresh-from-the-cow milk vs. homogenized store milk.  The flavor finds its way into the bread too! It is really quite delicious.

The picture at the top is my latest carding project, which of course turns into a spinning project etc.  I dyed four pounds of Cormo wool from a sheep named Rachel. One-half lilac, the other half is Raspberry and now I'm blending the two fifty/fifty to make the batts shown.  I just started spinning and I think I'm going to go for a light fingering weight wool.  Yes, I'll be doing this FOREVER.  The batts alone will take time--think .8 ounce batts.  I have 64 ounces of picked fiber which means I'll be making 80 batts!  This is the kind of thing that makes me w wish arithmetic wasn't so final with its answers. I wonder how many yards I will end out with?

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Sunday, October 3, 2010

Stashmonster rears her locky head

This is the first clip of Linus, an Angora kid at Tall Grass Farm
I don't need a big festival like Rhinebeck to come home with a bags and bags of stash.  In fact, I do better at the small fairs where I get to talking with people I've known for years and end out walking away with some bags of their products.  One of the beauties of living in the Midwest are all the cozy little fiber festivals, such as my all time favorite at Tall Grass Farm.  They have one twice a year, so Saturday I was attending the Fall Fiber Jubilee.

Naturally, I had to spend some time over in the barn where the Tall Grass Angora Goats are being sheared.  That's where my friend Elaine sets up her Coed Mawr Woolen Mill booth.  We had a lot of catching up to do as I missed the spring fling, so here we are chatting up a storm in her booth full of the colorful fibers she cards herself at her mill.  I ended out with three bags full.

This blend of Targhee, Angelina and Tencel will be socks oneday.
 During this chat, I spotted a bag full of kid mohair, shown at the top of the page.  What I loved about this one is it has three shades--dark grey, silver gray and white.  This just caught my eye and I know it will be a puzzle as I decide what to make. I love a challenge.  Tall Grass Farm has lovely fleece, and for those of you who like it processed you can go up in their store and find fabulous yarns, rovings, blends and more.

This Coed Mawr mix of Corriedal and Mohair ought to make some interesting socks.

Stopping in to see Mary Wallace of White Dove Farm was a must.  I've purchased some of the most lovely Corriedale Wool from her (soon to star in a dyeing project to create an Alice Starmore design).  I once used three consecutive years of one of her ewes named Winken to knit a king sized blanket. Mary is quite the fiber artist herself and has some gorgeous felted scarves and other items.  She's also going to be on the Earth, Wood and Fire Artist Tour which will be October 23 & 24.  Wisconsin artist studios will be open around Wisconsin and it sounds to me like way to get a start on holiday shopping and purchase handmade gifts (if you aren't making them all yourself).

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Sunday, September 26, 2010


Enjoying every stitch, I'm making progress on my Sheep to Wool Sweater.  This Alice Starmore Kinsale is being knit with my own handspun, a two-ply at 14 WPI.  I purchased the raw fleece in August of 2009 and hope to complete a sweater by Thanksgiving. The pattern is enjoyable, though it took a bit to get the hang of it. I was unknitting rows at first, but now I've reached the point where I "get" the pattern so knitting is very enjoyable.

I'm way behind on those mittens I showed you a few weeks ago.  I misplaced my directions so I've been looking at what I've already knit to figure out each row. Not quite as relaxing as the Starmore, but they will get done.

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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Surprise at my doorstep

A care package from my sister-in-law in Maine came at about the same time I realized I didn't have enough yarn to finish the green socks and would need to spin some more.  The box contained some of her farmette-grown organic garlic, some of her bunny fluff and chiengora from my dog's girlfriend Freya.  Talk about good delivery mojo!

Right now a few cloves of her Maine garlic are being cooked with some Wisconsin-grown organic potatoes to make garlic mashed potatoes, the angora is drying on a rack and the Freya fluff is awaiting my skill in weaving to improve.  All in all, it is great to have such excellent additions to my stash.

I also received my copy of the new and much-awaited expanded edition of Alice Starmore's Aran Knitting and I still scratch my head and ask:  Why didn't I buy it back then?  Duh? I also purchased Urban Homesteader so some day I'll be sending organic garlic to Maine!  Well, maybe not.  Maybe spun and knit angora?  I'm looking forward to growing lovely looking veggies in my front yard.

Thank you for visiting my blog.  Please stop by again.  For a compendium of  fiber-related tips, please visit my website at 

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Gadget aids consistent spinning

My favorite spinning gadget is a small clear plastic item called The Spinners Control Card and Yarn Gauge.  The yarn gauge allows me to keep track of how thick the yarn is I'm spinning and gives me a rough estimate on the thickness of what the finished plied yarn will be.  I was spinning a yarn I wanted to be 14 wraps per inch as a two ply, so as you can see above I was checking the thickness of the yarn against the 28 wraps per inch gauge.  Two strands of that thickness will roughly ply to be 14 wraps per inch.  Because yarn is variable, and some fibers "poof" when plied it is a good idea to check the wraps-per-inch.  This you do by winding off a length of yarn from your bobbin and letting it ply onto itself as shown below:

You can use a fancy wraps-per-inch device, but I went ahead and wrapped my yarn onto an embroidery floss holder.  These just happen to be one inch wide and are great for those who like to do sampling and keep track of what they do.  It's even better for absent minded people who tend to misplace their expensive fancy wood one.  The floss cards come in packs of 100 and are inexpensive, so when I lose one, I can just go get another.

Determining wraps per inch can be tricky and you may want to do it more than once for any given bit of yarn. It requires wrapping the yarn on evenly, so the strands are next to each other in a natural way.  A good thing about using the floss card is the little edges keep you from "cheating" and going over a marked line.  You can still cheat as I did below by cramming the threads in to make sure it is 14 wraps per inch for anyone who may be counting.  That's why it is good to do the check more than once and with different parts of your yarn.  Spinning is a manual, and therefore, uneven process.  In my mind, it is the random imperfections that make handspun so beautiful and fun to knit.

Knowing wraps per inch is a boon to the hand spinner, because you can find out how thick the yarn is for any given pattern by looking it up on Ravelry. This is also one of the reasons I love Ravelry. I used to have to divine yarn thickness based on knitting gauge, needle size and tiny pictures of the yarn in magazine. Now, I can just click onto Raverly and get the wpi for any yarn for most every pattern. With some swatching and experimentation, I can find the yarn I want. This is how I am able to spin this yarn for an Alice Starmore Kinsale.

You can find this gadget at many stores and online spinning gadget providers.   Here it is at The Woolery--you'll find it if you scroll down the page  You can find it at Woodland Woolworks at  You might also be able to find it at the next fiber festival you attend or at your local spinning store, if you have one.

Thank you for visiting my blog.  Please stop by again.  You can find this and other spinning and fiber related tips on my website

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A sense of community

I roasted my first locally-grown organic free-range chicken today and served it with roasted garlic chive mashed potatoes and string beans. I think I'm going to like this sustainability thing and going to the Farmer's Market to buy local.  There is something really nice about actually meeting the people who grow your food.  As I mashed the potatoes, I couldn't help but remember the elderly gentlemen in a John Deere cap who grew them up in Wisconsin.  When I asked him if they were organic, he said, "All I put on them was cow manure." 

Then there's the woman who grew the organic chives.  I also bought out her basil as mine had been dug up by our chipmunk.  I spoke with the sisters who grew my tomatoes and green beans, most of which are put up in my freezer.  I didn't meet the person who grew my chicken but I did meet the person who knows the person.  I could reflect on these people as I prepared my meal--no impersonal plastic and Styrofoam wrapped grocery store chicken where you don't get to see anyone but some kid stocking the shelves with an IPod plugged into his head. 

This is the essence of community.  It is the same community we build when we go to a farm or a fair and speak with the shepherds who grew our fiber and purchase their lovely fleeces.  There's a connection there.  A chance to know where these vital things-- our food and the raw material for our clothing--began.  I can think of the rolling foothills of the Adirondacks as I knit my Kinsale from an Elihu Farm fleece.  And I can think of the Wisconsin moraines as I eat my roasted garlic chive potatoes.  And I have met the hard working people who make it possible.

The photo has nothing to do with the blog since the pot of chicken stock I made with the leftovers isn't exactly photogenic.  It is a first shearing Jacob I purchased from a woman in Wisconsin and some angora bunny fur I dyed tiger-lily.  I'm going to blend it and tell you all about it in the near future.

Thank you for visiting my blog, please stop by again.  You can also visit my website for spinning tips and other info at

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Sustainable weekend

Having finished Bill McKibben's Deep Economy, it is not surprising I found myself at the farmer's market in the misty rain looking at plum tomatoes.  I bought a half a bushel of them and, with Ted's help, soon had two pots of tomatoes cooking on the stove--a simple mixture of olive oil, garlic and basil.  Now there are 18 tubs of fresh sauce in the freezer so I can enjoy summer flavor into December. The leftover basil, I also froze so my canned tomatoes can get a little boost in January and February.

With all this activity, I also managed to cast on my Kinsale! That's a project that's been a long time coming, starting last August when I purchased the fleece at Elihu Farm. I washed, picked and carded it and am now almost finished spinning the fleece into two ply fingering weight yarn.  It's been an enjoyable process, but I think successfully casting on the sweater has to be the most satisfying. Spinning and knitting has made me appreciate clothes so much more in this throw away world of ours.

A newly cast on sweater is not particularly photogenic, so I'm showing you the stranded mittens I'm making as part of the September knit-a-long on Ravelry's Stranded group.  They are coming along quite nicely.  The stranded designs come from Nancy Bush's Knitting in Estonia.  I'm adapting an Elizabeth Zimmerman method of mitten making to this.  The yarn is leftovers from other projects and I hope to burn down more stash with these.  I really like making these so maybe there are more mittens on the horizon.

Thank you for visiting my blog, please stop by again!  You can also visit my website at

Friday, September 3, 2010

Stranded digression

Stranded knitting has long been a love of mine and a new knit-a-long in Ravelry's Stranded group grabbed my interest--knit a pair of stranded mittens.  Above, you can see what I cast on. The project fits perfectly into this gorgeous handwoven basket I was given as a gift! The project is a complete remix of ideas from a variety of sources and one of its beauties is I'll get to use up some of the odds and ends from past projects.  Yes, I know I should be casting on my Kinsale, but maybe just one little digression wouldn't hurt!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Fiber festival reunion and destash strain

Meeting up with Alice Field of Fox Hill Farm in Lee, Mass., was the highlight of my visit to the Michigan Fiber Festival last weekend.  I purchased my first fleeces from her two decades ago back when she raised lots of Romney--Rosalie, Blanche and a cross named Alecia.  These lovely fleeces have long since been spun up and knit into projects--though an odd or end of leftover yarn may haunt a corner of some storage bucket somewhere. A picture of part of her booth is shown above.

Fox Hill Farm is now better known for truly lovely Cormo fleeces, that have been skillfully covered.  Now, many of you know that I generally don't like covered fleeces--this is because I have seen some lousy ones.  However, Alice Field knows what she's doing.  For one, she makes her own covers from cotton fabric, which breathe and allow the fleece to dry out after a rain. Her covers have modifications that allow for better fleece--more air circulation etc.   Second, she is selective about which breed is covered--that is she covers her Cormo which responds well to covering.  She's found that not all fleece should be covered--for instance a luster wool like Romney will lose its character and loft under a cover.

I enjoy talking to a thinking shepherd.  I'm a little tired of blanket assumptions like "a covered fleece is a spinners fleece."  A spinner's fleece is a fleece from a shepherd who knows what they are doing. I've washed, handpicked, carded and spun dozens of fleeces both covered and not covered. I'm sick of hearing about "VM" (vegetable matter) as a scourge because skillfully raised sheep won't have this problem.  But I can go on with this topic forever.  Let's just say I am picky and don't make assumptions.  When I buy a covered Cormo, it will be from Alice Field.  I will have to put this treat off until next year as I still need to make room in my stash closets.

Another mission at the Michigan Fiber Festival was to have a look at Kessinich looms which are made right in Allegan.  You can see a picture of the booth above.  This is a lovely loom crafted of sturdy wood with lots of thought going into the detail.. Someday, I would like to replace my 36" counterbalance loom with a 36 inch eight harness jack type loom.  But not right away.  I have to get a little better at weaving first!

 Going to a fiber festival and not coming home with something is a strain on one's self-restraint.  I did pretty well, I think.  I purchased a pound of fiber.  One was 11 ounces of raw alpaca in a light shade of brown that I don't happen to have from Meadowsong Alpacas.  I want to make an Andean motif sweater in pure alpaca, so I can justify an extra color plus I have room in my Alpaca storage bin.  Later, I purchased five ounces of alpaca silk blend roving which I might use for socks.    I also stopped a Susan's for an extra large bobbin for my Lendrum--I love Susan's because she has EVERYTHING.  I also found some size 0 knitting needles I was looking for.

The Michigan Fiber Festival was a lot of fun.  My husband and I made a weekend of it, and stayed near Granville and then explored down along the Lake Michigan coast on our way home.  I think I'll go back next year--especially if I haven't already picked up a Fox Hill Farm fleece.

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Sunday, August 15, 2010

A compendium of weaving errors

Diving into weaving with gusto, I soon found myself tangled in any number of warping errors. Warp, for those of you uninitiated in weaver’s lingo, are the strings that go across the loom and form the structure on which you weave. In the accompanying photos, the warp is white. Warp needs to be threaded carefully, because if it isn't, you will have trouble that lasts and lasts and last.  And that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

The olive green weaving above is my latest round of warp troubles. As you may recall, I had some threading errors with this warp earlier when I was weaving with the dark orange colored yarn. To refresh your memory, I add a picture of that here: I had a gap due to missing a dent in a reed (those are the verticle slats the white thread passes through) and to the far left, I’d made a mistake threading the heddles creating a pattern mistake.  Heddles are shown right here from the back of the loom:

To fix my first mistakes, I wove for about 18 inches and then cut the piece off the loom. My intention was to rethread the warp so I’d have a nice perfect looking bit of cloth.  That wasn't happening though and after long painstaking rewarping, I started weaving and more errors hidden in my threading jumped out and tweaked my nose.

Yes, you see the bundled threads  in the close up? What on earth did I do? It took time to get up the courage to investigate my mistake. I wasn’t really sure I wanted to know. Or maybe I was sure I’d made the same stupid mistakes. I wove on doggedly thinking to my mantra: These are dishtowels. I will use them myself and they will be worn out in a few years. After a foot of weaving, I was ready to have a closer look.

I am proud to say, I’ve discovered a whole new class of weaving mistakes! I discovered the tangled web and Shakespeare’s reference gained fresh meaning. All my heddles were threaded properly (I pat myself on the back), but somewhere between the heddles and the reed I had managed to cross the warp threads —I’m showing you a close up of this area just to give you an idea what I’m talking about.

Anyhow, as I weave and create patterns by lifting and lowering groups of threads, the crossed/twisted warp holds some of the threads down creating the odd ugly bundles of improperly unwoven, not in pattern thread.

Warping fine threads at twenty threads per inch is a daunting prospect for a new weaver. I should probably have done something easier. But had I done this, I’d never have found all these interesting ways to mess up the warp. I expect my journey from apprentice to master weaver will be a long and interesting one.

Thank you for visiting my blog. Please visit my website at in my soon to be published tell-all about the trials of a new weaver: “The Dark Tangled Side of Weaving.”

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Snacks, Ice and Wool: A Road Trip Find

Villa Grove Trade is my kind of general store. I knew as soon as I stepped inside and saw a big bag of Karakul roving, along with the softdrinks, snacks and ice one expects at a roadside store out in the country. I won’t use the cliché “middle of nowhere” because Villa Grove Trade is definitely somewhere. It is in the hamlet of Villa Grove, Colorado, in the San Luis Valley and the shadow of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Beautiful country.

I spied the store on our way to a hike in said mountains as we sped down Highway 285. We’d been camped near Poncha Springs and we were looking forward to a nice hike through pinyon juniper woodlands up to a spring. It was an enjoyable outing, complete with a packed lunch. On our way back to our camp, we stopped at Villa Grove Trade.

Besides having roving, they sold lovely jewelry, and art objects along with the chips, soft drinks and icecream one associates with little stores. The best was in the back—a restaurant complete with homemade pies! We bought a couple of slices of their apple pie and it was delicious. The buffalo chili smelled good too, but we’d already had lunch. The restaurant also offers live music and dinner specials on the second and fourth Sunday of each month and you can learn about this at their website They also rent western style rooms and we are thinking of checking in the next time we pass through.

I had a nice chat with Amber Shook, a spinner and weaver, who owns the business with husband Jeff. The roving I purchased come from her own Karakul/Rambouillet sheep, which are naturally raised nearby. At first I was just going to buy a little, but you know how it is! My eye caught site of firt the light brown and then the lovely gray shown above. Despite all my stash busting resolutions, I couldn’t resist. I hope to be spinning it soon.

Karakul is a primitive breed with a double coat with kemp blended in with the finer fiber. When I purchased two pounds of grey roving and about a half pound of the light brown, I was kind of thinking of a sweater, but now I’m thinking weaving. I have some chocolate brown Navajo Churro in my stash and that would be a great complimentary color with the other shades. I don’t know for sure yet, but I’m really glad I found this fiber. Once I clear out my current projects, I’ll be spinning it.

Unfortunately, I took no pictures of this cool little restored Western store, but my husband did buy the T-shirt, which is what I’m using to give you an idea of what it looks like. It is a nice place and definitely worth a stop for lunch and a little shopping if you are vacationing that way. They also have espresso, if you just need a perk up on your road trip.

Thank you for visiting my blog. Please stop by again. You can also visit my website for tips and ideas on all things fiber related. I keep a collection of things found here on my blog.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Cleaning House

Resisting the draw of the brand new Chapin Creek Fiber Festival in Franklin Grove, Illinois, I am staying home to clean house.  Franklin Grove is a picturesque little town and their historic area is lovely.  I'm sure this first ever fiber festival will be excellent, but I can't buy anything because I have far too much stash and the clutter in my house is building up.  I would just be one of those people who paws products and doesn't by anything, so why annoy the vendors?

I'm getting rid of things and putting together yet another haul over to Goodwill or the recycling pile.  Getting rid of stuff for me is completely therapeutic and keeps my house from looking like one of those places in that cable-TV show about hoarders.  I'll also be selling some extra books and magazines on Ravelry with the money going to benefit Ravelry and Northern Illinois Samoyed Assistance--where I got the dog who stars as my Ravatar.  There will be more about that later.

Good news, I've started spinning the last big bile of batts for my sheep to sweater project.  I'm also working on a gauge sample.  Hurray!

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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Two-thousand Yards!

Plying took up many hours on this last day of the Tour.  Stashbusting went well and I used up more than 1.5 pounds of fleece creating the three big 8 oz. skeins shown.  One in still on the bobbin because I like to let the yarn rest at least overnight.  I will wind it off tomorrow and get the yardage, but I'm guessing it will yield about 600 yards bringing my total yardage for the Tour up over 2,000 yards.  Not bad for 23 days! But the pace felt slow, so next year I'll spin worsted weight or bulky so it goes faster!

Plus, I still have a way to go to finish Stashbusing--The gold is bamboo and I have 16 oz. left, and the tan is wool and I have more than a pound carded and ready to go.  That's a lot of spinning!

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Stashbusting Satisfaction

I  finished carding my "sheep to sweater" fleece.  I picture the work in progress on my Deb above.  Nothing feels quite as good stashbusting-wise as carding an entire fleece. Now to finish spinning!  I'm making a Starmore Kinsale so this means a fingering weight yarn.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sluggish Run at the Tour

Nearly 1500 yards of yarn and only two skeins to show for it, which I guess is what I should expect from deciding to spin fingering weight for Ravelry's annual Tour de Fleece.  And the skeins are big--about 8 ounces each because they were plied on that big Lendrum bobbin.

So far, my run at the tour has been sluggish.   Progress seems slow because the spinning is so thin, and I've been late to posting because there is so little to show.  It took me days to ply and then skein. Good thing I joined Team CrankyPants because if winding a 900 yard skein isn't cause for some real crankiness, well I can't think what could be.

 Next year, it's worsted weight or bulky so I can fly through it and not have to stand there turning a nitty noddy for an hour wondering if I've lost count of the yards. Nevertheless, progress is being made, stash is being busted and some day I'll be able to open the closets in my craft rooms without anything tumbling out.

I have managed to rearrange my fleeces so they fit in the closets and now have only two plastic buckets on the outside in the lower room instead of stacks reaching to the ceiling.  I've also posted all of my stash on Ravelry, so I've "come clean" so to speak.  Now to see how much more I can spin up.

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Sunday, July 11, 2010

Toxic fiber?

Plans to harvest milkweed for fiber are on hold, possibly forever. A scientist at work told me the toxin for which the plant is known is found throughout the plant, so it could well be in the bast fibers this plant can produce.  If this is so, it might not be a good choice for hand preparation and the things I could make with it would be very limited.

The toxin, though dangerous for us and other mammals and birds, doesn't harm butterflies, in fact it provides a benefit. As I mentioned before, the milkweed plant is one of the monarch butterfly's choices for laying eggs. The tiny caterpillars hatch on the plant and eat it, toxin and all, grow up, spin their chrysalis and morph into this beautiful butterfly.

As a result, the butterflies themselves are toxic.  A bird who goes after a monarch butterfly who has grown on a milkweed plant is in for a nasty surprise, a very unpleasant meal which it learns to avoid.  So disgusting is this milkweed raised butterfly, that birds and other insect eaters, learn to avoid all monarch butterflies.  In fact, there are other species of butterfly and moth who look kind of like monarchs with the distinctive orange-red and black coloring. Birds will leave these alone just because they look like a monarchs.  This mimicry saves these other species from being eaten even though they may be quite tasty (from a bird's standpoint).

So much for backyard fiber.  But I'm glad I have the milkweed because of all the monarch's fluttering through my yard.  It is really quite lovely.  Perhaps I'll go look for fiber in some of my other prairie plants.

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Monday, July 5, 2010


Guess what flew into my milkweed patch?  Yes: a monarch butterfly. I was able to get a photo of it hanging out on a milkweed stalk--please note I am not much of a wildlife photographer! 

I noticed the monarch definitely showed a preference for the milkweed plant. Tossed around in a light breeze it touched down on other native plants, such as coneflower, for only a fraction of a second, but happily relaxed on the milkweed as shown here.  Monarchs lay their eggs on milkweed. Could that be a female?  Could I have tiny monarch caterpillars hatching in few weeks?  That would be very exciting, and I will keep an eye out for eggs. As intrepid wildlife photographer, I'll sneak up on them and catch them in action.

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Sunday, July 4, 2010

Blog Redux

Life happened and blogging lagged behind. So did knitting, spinning, weaving, carding, dyeing--the whole collection of craftsteading activities—slowed to a crawl. About the only thing that’s grown is my garden which, thanks to plenty of rain, has done well.

Shown above is my own lettuce. There is nothing quite as tasty as the produce of one’s own garden. Someday, I’d like to spin garden grown fibers. Below, is a picture of a milkweed plant I'm growing. Its stalks are said to contain a bast fiber. I saved some of the old stalks from last winter to check out. I’ll be talking about that experiment later this summer.

If the experiment does pan out, this could be the perfect thing to grow. Milkweed is a native perennial that provides food for butterflies. It would fit well into my desire for a sustainable fiber source that favors native plant communities and by extension, native fauna. Milkweed are associated with the lovely monarch butterfly.

Ravelry’s Tour de Fleece started this weekend and I am making progress on my challenge: spinning 24 oz. of gold colored bamboo and a couple of pounds of fine wool into two ply fingering weight yarns. These challenges are part of my long term goal to reduce stash to manageable levels. Naturally, I signed up for the Stashbusters team. I am also on Teams Schacht (on which I spin the wool) and Lendrum (bamboo) and because I have over-ambitious goals team CrankyPants. Yes, I’ll be cranky AND wearing pants as I spin all these fine singles.

I plan to blog more frequently, especially with the Tour de Fleece going on. So thank you for visiting my blog. Please stop by again. And don’t forget my website:

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Bamboo and Samoyed Spinning Help

After six months of preparation, there's always a bit of a let down after giving a workshop.  Maybe not a let down so much as an, "Okay, so what's next?" I'm seriously thinking of beginning a complete study of angora rabbit fluff.

My presentation to the Illinois Prairie Spinners on Saturday went well and you can find the workshop notes on my website at  I gather useful tips and techniques from this blog and turn them into articles for my website.  It's becoming a book of sorts, a compendium of spinning, knitting and weaving knowledge organized in a more accessible, easy-to-find-things-in format.

In the workshop I introduced my technique of "spinning from the clump" which varies from all the stripping and other techniques often taught with roving.  Clump spinning allows me to better utilize the "drafting triangle" that vital space between fiber supply and twist where you begin to determine the thickness of your yarn.  I attempted to capture this in the above photo, but Baxter, my Samoyed friend, decided he needed to help.  Though this is not the best picture of the process, cuteness drove this editorial decision.  Down the road I will do a blog just on spinning roving and try for a better picture.  Maybe if I gave him a Frosty Paw first?  That would keep him busy long enough for a  photo!

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