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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!