Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Mittens! The Answer is Mittens!

Why yes, I do enjoy being at my wit's end, why do you ask?

My A-Z project has not gotten off to a glowing start.

This, my friend, is the Shetland Shortie. Or was.

About halfway through it, I realized I had managed to spontaneously mess up the lace pattern in the same spot every single row for the past 10 rows. The begining of the row was great and the lace was stacking up on the diagonal, and then all of a sudden in the middle, I lost my mind and suddenly I had lace stacking up vertically. I have no idea how I did this, but I kept on doing it.

So last night I frogged it and threw half of the yarn in the dyepot. I forgot about it, let it boil vigorously for an hour before remembering it was on the stove, and now I look forward to untangling the fruits of my labor/absentmindedness. At least it was superwash and it didn't felt at all!

It's pretty.

I'm making these now:

They are the Double-Thick Mittens by Adrian Bizilia from "The Knitters Book of Yarn". I'll be casting on soon as both the sweaters I am currently working on have gotten to the point of subway knitting impossibility. I feel less frustrated already.

Monday, 22 February 2010

FO- Ishbel Shawl and Hat

Holy crap. I finally made a matching set!

I finished my Ravelympics Ishbel Shawl last Wednesday when I was at my local knit night. It was tiny...we kept saying that it could be a babushka. I blocked it as hard as I could the next day and the lace and superwash merino stretched and blocked out to be normal scarf/small shawl size.

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It is a sweet, wearable and unfussy project.

I had a decent amount of yarn left over, so I cast on for the matching beret. A couple repeats in and I got nervous about running out of yarn, so I made it into a beanie instead of a floppy beret. Good thing- by the time I was done I have about 6 yards left. It only counts as de-stashing if you don't have to run out and buy more yarn for it.

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It's my very first matching set, which has been a goal of mine for a while now. I'm the queen of mismatched/sort of matching if you squint knitwear. Hat and shawl are made of the same lace pattern and the same yarn. Woot!

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I used size 4 needles and about 450 yards of Dream in Color Smooshy sock yarn in the color "Cloud Jungle" for both projects. The hat was size medium and modified with one less lace repeat than specified.

We've been having slightly more springtimey weather lately and I think it will be the perfect set to take me into the unthawing but still chilly time of year.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Some WIPs

I've somehow gotten involved in the Ravelympics. It's totally arbitrary, but you choose a project and cast on during the Olympic opening ceremonies and complete it before the closing ceremonies.

I'm using some Dream in Color Smooshy sock yarn:

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The color is "Cloud Jungle". It's superwash merino, and utterly smooshy.

I'm making the Ishbel shawl. This picture is a few days old, but I'm on the last lace section now. I think I'll have enough yarn leftover for a matching hat.

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I love the color. I was thinking it might be too busy for a lace pattern, but it is subtle enough so it works.

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The colors remind me of the inside of an oyster shell.

Since I can't multitask while knitting lace, I am also working on the Lion Neck Cardigan.

I'm not quite sure about wearing it with short-shorts, but it will be a cozy cardi. I'm using Rowan Scottish Tweed Chunky, so my fabric is denser then the sample shown. I'm hoping it won't be so dense that it will stand up on its own.

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The yarn is woolen-spun 2ply, which makes for a fuzzy yarn and a little variation in the thickness. It's not quite a thick-and-thing yarn. Kind of more of a thick and thicker yarn.

In a sweater frenzy, I also cast on for the Baby Cables and Big Ones Too. I've been wanting to make myself a Cobblestone type yolk sweater, but I kept seeing people at Rhinebeck wearing this one. I liked how it was a bit more feminine then the Cobblestone and the cable details are sweet.

I'm using some Valley Yarns Northfield that I dyed in eucalyptus. It made the house smell great and I got a bright gold yellow color from it to boot.

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It take some concentration- there are plain rows in between- but there are a five sets of stitch markers to denote placement of five different cables, plus raglan markers and increases and oh, I think I'll be working on this exclusively at home in good lighting for a little bit.

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Of course, I have not forgotten about my commitment to the A-Z project. Once the Ravelympics/Olymipics are over with, I'll jump back on to the Shetland Shorty bandwagon. Here's what I had before I put it aside:

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The bird's eye lace pattern is easy, but it's really hard to correct mistakes. I've had to tink back twice so far because of a mesh mess I made. I'm stopped at the shoulder shaping, but it feels like I've ripped back more than I've knitted.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

FO- Opulent Raglan

As I was searching for a new project to cast on for, I realized that all the sweaters I made were heavy wooly winter affairs that get stashed away as soon as the snow melts.

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I had some Elsebeth Laavold Silky Wool in my stash. It's a 45% wool/35% silk/20% nylon blend. It's a little unforgiving when it comes to tension and consistency, but it's a lovely, drapey, lightweight yarn. The yarn isn't a completely homogeneous blend, so you end up with a textured, tweed look.

I really like Wendy Bernard's patterns. She's really conscious of fit and it shows in the finished product. She does a lot of top-down raglans, so it's easy to try the garment on and tweak as you go. This pattern was from the Fall 2008 Knitscene.

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I love the ruffly elbow-length sleeves.

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I'm quite pleased with it, and it was a fast, easy knit. It's more femme fatale then girly-girl. I loved the details of the asymmetrical cable, the square neckline and the sewn hem. It's a very flattering, wearable sweater with a little bit of sexy oomph.

The specs:

I used 4.5 skeins of the Silky Wool dk weight in Gooseberry for the 36" size- about 864 yards and I used #US. I wanted a fitted sweater with negative ease, so I chose the size an inch smaller than my actual bust size.

My first Brazillian

No one ever forgets their first Brazillian.

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The yarn I dyed in Brazilwood shavings came out a brilliant pink-orange shade. It reminds me of a tropical sunset:

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I have a few projects to finish up before I cast on for the Owls sweater, but I'm tempted to sneak it in. I love the way this yarn came out. Over the weekend, I dyed some more yarn and some roving in the exhaust bath and got progressively paler shades of pinks, all of them lovely.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Natural Dyeing with Brazilwood: Dyeing Kills Me

Did I mention that natural dyeing is a two-day process? I don't do it too often because I rarely can find two days to devote to this. I'm afraid that I'll start a dye pot and then have life get in the way...days later, I will return to a stinky moldy dye pot. Bleh. It's nice to be snowed in sometimes.

If your natural dyestuff comes from bark or roots, you're going to want to let it steep overnight to get the most bang for your buck. I filled my dyepot halfway with water and added 8oz of sawdust. My yarn came to 7oz total weight, and for Brazilwood you want to have pretty close to 1:1 ratio. I would rather not have 1oz bag of woodchips lying around, so I just threw the whole thing in. Ahhh, the exact science of natural dyes.

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I wear a mask while adding the shavings. You get a lot of dust coming up before the wood gets soaked, and it's not really all that good to breath that in. Natural dyes usually have mysterious warning labels of not being FDA approved- do not breath, ingest or touch. Or what will happen? I'm kind of curious to find out, but I tend to take these warnings seriously.

Bring the dyepot to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Let it simmer for at least an hour. Cut the heat and let the dye steep overnight.

The next day, you have to get all those woodchips out. I used a mesh strainer. I make a mess.

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You can save the chips, let them dry out and re-use them if you would like. You won't get as strong of a color out of them, but they will give you more.

Throw the strained dyestock back into the pot. Add your mordanted yarn. Add water to cover. Once again, you want to gently bring this to a simmer while occasionally rotating the yarn to promote even color uptake. Heat will set the dye, so you want to simmer this for at least an hour. Once that it is done, cut the heat. Throw the lid on. You can take the yarn out in a couple hours when it is cool enough to handle and rinse, or you can leave the yarn in the dye overnight if you want a darker shade. I took the overnight route with this batch.

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The next day, I then fill the bathtub with warm water and soap. I carefully rinse the yarn to get as much excess dye as possible. Some dyes will leech more than others and you might have to repeat the process. This bled hardly at all. However, I did find that the strainer did not get all the wood chips out and they ended up in the yarn. No worries, as soon as it is dry it can be shook out.

I give the yarn a final rinse in a little vinegar and then hang to dry. Voila!

I've been dealing with crap lighting and stormy skyes all week, so no FO picture yet. I'll keep you in suspense for a bit.

Natural Dyeing with Brazilwood: Mordanting

Last fall at Rhinebeck, a friend and I came across Norm Hall's booth. Norm handcrafts spinning wheels, doesn't have a website, and has a waiting list that is years long. His wheels are gorgeous.

I wasn't in the market for being on the 5 year waiting list, but I did notice that he had bags of brazilwood shavings for sale as a by-product. You can get some really nice reds from brazilwood in the dyepot.

Here is my chosen victim:

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I had seven skeins of Rowan Purelife British Breeds in Blue Face Leicester in boring white. It's a nice round 3-ply chunky yarn. I am planning on making the Owl Sweater with it, but I didn't want a white one. BFL is a good candidate for natural dyes since it is a longwool and it doesn't felt easily. There is a lot of rinsing and moving the yarn around during this process and I find it soothing to use a wool that I don't have to obsessively worry about destroying.

I wound the balls of yarn onto my swift. It's faster to spin that sucker around then use a niddy noddy.

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Once I had all seven skeins done, I put big lose ties on them in four places to keep it from tangling. Natural dying involves a lot of steps and moving the yarn around, so it's best to put a lot of ties on the skeins to avoid a mass of tangles. I threw the yarn in a warm soapy water bath. This is important- any dirt or oils from your hands or mill machines will make the dye take up unevenly. Getting the yarn wet will also help with dye intake- it will take up the mordant and dye more evenly if the yarn is soaked through.

While the yarn is soaking, I mix up the mordant. I use Alum, which is also used as pickling salts, so it's fairly non-toxic. I use a lot of precautions as I dye in my kitchen (and I use said kitchen to cook quite a bit) so I use the least toxic chemicals I can find. The mordant allows natural dyes to attain some degree of washfastness. If you don't use a mordant, the color will just wash out and end up all over your hands and clothes as you work with it. A mordant remains in the fiber permanently, holding the dye. It also effects the final color outcome.

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I also added some cream of tartar. This will brighten shades and soften the yarn. I go by the rule of thumb of 4 oz of mordant to 1lb of goods, and 1 oz of C of T. If you use too much mordant, it will make the fiber brittle.

Dissolve the mordant and C of T in some warm water, and then add is to a larger pot of water.

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Rise the soap out of the yarn and add it to the mordant pot. Then slowly, and carefully, bring the pot to a gentle simmer. Hold it at the simmer for an hour and occasionally rotate the yarn (don't stir, or you'll end up with a felted mass).

Once the hour is up, cut the heat and let the yarn cool down to room temperature. Take the yarn out and rinse it at the same temperature. I then put mine in plastic bins to keep it damp since it takes overnight to make the dye stock.

Up next: making the Oh So Pretty colors.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010


I did it. I spun Qiviut.

I'm thinking this will not make a practical backyard pet.

The undercoat fiber of the arctic musk ox is short, downy, super soft and incredibly warm. Musk Ox are the only large mammals who spend the winter above the arctic circle, so I'm pretty confident in its ability to stay warm. Spinning it was a challenge- it had teeny tiny staple length and it was very slippery. It needed a lot of twist or it would fall apart, but too much and it would turn into wire and snap. It let you know exactly when it was done. I didn't have to draft at all- the fibers just slid from my hands and on to the bobbin somehow.

The fiber:
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This was a birthday gift from a dear, dear friend. June seemed a bit sticky to try this, but it was a perfect mid-winter pick me up.

The single:
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It took me no time to spin up two bobbins. Like I said, this stuff just flies out of your hand. It took me a while to get started, but once I got my tension correct it was just peachy. Can I just take this chance to sing songs of praise about the Majacraft Gem? As much as I love my Kromski Minstrel, the Gem works so much better than any other wheel I've spun on when it comes to fine downy fibers. It's super-sensitive to treadling and tension, which is exactly what you want when spinning a fiber like this.

The 2ply yarn:
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This was taken before I set the twist in a warm bath and a good thwack. It's much more even and full now, but it's so dark and stormy today that I'm not getting good enough light to do this justice. I was pleasantly surprised while I was plying this, as I was unsure if I would end up with the singles coming apart. Thankfully, it only happened twice. I'll take that as a sign that my spinning is improving!

I ended up with 280 yards of laceweight 2-ply out of 2 oz. Qiviut blooms like a muthah once it's knitted up and worn a couple times. The bloom traps more air and makes the garment even warmer. There are a lot of traditional Inuit lace patterns specific to qiviut- most of them are delicate scarves, hats and cowls. While not a traditional lace pattern, I like this Smokering.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

FO- Plaid Scarf

I have mixed feelings about weaving. I know a lot of people who weave love the entire process including the warping. That's just unbelievable to me. Maybe it's because there's math involved, it's tedious and you have to plan it out in advance. One wrong move and you end up with a tangled mass of angry yarn. That seems like the perfect storm of things that will create unnecessary bitchiness, meltdowns, and loom-tossing.

Aside from that mess, I'm pretty in love with weaving.

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This scarf is big enough to wrap around your neck three or four times, which is great since I'm sending it off to keep necks warm in Maine. Since warping takes me forever, I tend to make enormously long pieces just to get as much weaving time as possible. I'll cut them in half and make two scarves if I have to- anything to delay putting on more warp. Once you get started weaving, it doesn't take too long at all. I probably did this in five or six hours (oooh, maybe I should mention that since it's a birthday gift and more than a month late), and it's at least 7 feet long. It's much faster than knitting, and it takes less yardage. You can make it as warm and dense or as airy and lacy as you would like.

Happy belated birthday, Mom! The package is in the mail.

Monday, 8 February 2010


This brazen little bastard was flying around the living room on Sunday morning. My super kung-fu reflexes decimated it before I could ask it any questions.

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I'm pretty sure the mister brought him in last weekend with a load of clothes stored at his mom's house. He came home happy that he found some clothes that still fit tucked away in a forgotten closet (I guess that's a suburban thing). How was he to know that he was bringing doom and destruction into the abode?

I am obsessively over-cautious about wool-eating pests. Everything woolie I own is stored in either a space-saver bag or in a bin. The exception is whatever I have for a work in progress- that's out. Lately I've, um, had quite a bit in progress. In springtime, I wash and carefully seal up all my sweaters for storage. I have sachets of lavender and cedar chips in every nook I can. I don't use mothballs since a) they are carcinogenic and b) they smell terrible. All the window screens are checked for tears and holes every spring. Why, Mothra, WHHHHYYYYY?

It's just a waiting game now to see what the chosen larval meal might be. I have a bad feeling that it's something expensive. Something cashmere.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Spinning Romney

I'm starting to really revel in the winter weather. When I see the temperature plunge into the single digits I start squealing with glee. What other time of year encourages you to stay inside more than winter?

All those fleeces that I packed away after Rhinebeck are coming alive once again. The Romney fleece is coming along nicely. So far I've got 3 bobbins spun up and ready to be plied, and I'll probably need at least 3 more bobbins of singles. I've been carding more fleece as needed, so I'm always spinning from these ethereal fluffy batts. It makes the task at hand much more enjoyable.

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Would it be asking for trouble if I started knitting before I was completely done spinning?

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

FO- Yarn Over Steek Vest

This one only took a couple days to make.

It's the Yarn-over Steek Vest by Teva Durham. I thought the overwhelmingly girly pink color of the sample garment wasn't right, but I liked the concept of the design.

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I used 4 skeins of Rowan Soft Tweed that I had dyed first in a henna exhaust bath and then in an alkanet exhaust. The end result was very brown and earthy looking. I thought it was a good match for a raw, organic looking garment.

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I made some changes to the armhole and shoulders. I wasn't getting row gauge (not even close) and it's one of those patterns where it factors in. I just fudged the decreases and added rows until it was big enough, while keeping the yarn-overs going in the middle.

It's a sexy, but wearable.

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I was going to finish the armholes with some crochet, but decided that the raw look didn't detract from the rest of the piece.

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The specs: I used 4 skeins of Rowan Soft Tweed- about 435 yards. I used size 11 needles, and then fudged the pattern to accommodate my row gauge- I did rows of plain st stitch in between armhole decreases and I didn't decrease as much for the shoulders. This is the large size, but I added some decreases to shape the waste and ended up with the stitch count of the medium.

The open front means it's very stretchy and form-fitting. It's one of those unusual pieces that you need a little attitude to wear.

Monday, 1 February 2010

A is for Aarlan Arwetta

Of course. Let my maddening alphabet game begin.

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I picked up 3.5 skeins (735 yards) from Catherine Knits when she was destashing. It's a Swiss yarn that claims on the website that it's been discontinued. I saw it stocked in a lot of department stores in a gazillion colors while I was there for about $3 US dollars a skein. It's 75% superwash wool (or, as the label informs me, it's "hot washable") with 25% nylon and acrylic. It's a tightly twisted 4-ply. It seems like a good, workhorse yarn. Not too soft. Not too scratchy.

I decided to use it to cast on for the Shetland Shorty. It's a boob-holster that will use up about 600 yards. It's reputed to move along quite quickly.

And so begins my destash adventure.