Thursday, March 27, 2008

A Bit of a Break

Hi everyone! I'm back from Santa Barbara, which was delightful. It feels like spring here at home, but spring in San Francisco still involves a good amount of fog and cold evenings. Certainly not many opportunities for patio dining while wearing skirts and sandals. The weather was gorgeous, and I got to visit two of the local yarn stores. Here's my haul:

Haul from Loop & Leaf

I only had a small time to check out Knit and Pearl in the La Arcada shopping center just off State Street, and they didn't really have anything that caught my eye. I was able to spend more time at Loop and Leaf (conveniently located about three blocks from our hotel!) which had a very unique yarn selection. They had a lot of Fleece Artist and Handmaiden yarn, more than I've ever seen in person in a California yarn shop. I fell victim to their collection of drop spindles. I bought a Greensleeves Ethan Jakob spindle, weighing in at a tiny 0.25 ounces. It's gorgeous, and I can get the yarn sooooooo thin! It's ridiculous. I also got some Lorna's Laces superwash wool roving in the Blackberry colorway. The color in the picture is a little off, there is actually more variation in the color. Some areas are very vibrant purple, while others are darker (more towards the color I mentally associate with the fruit). I started spinning some very thin yarn that evening in the hotel room. The superwash is very easy to work with, it needs very little prep, and the spindle is beautifully balanced. They also carry various organic loose-leaf teas at their shop, and I picked up two 1-ounce canisters of black tea in Santa Barbara Sunrise (a yummy, fruity tea that I'm drinking right now) and Organic Guranse (review pending a tasting, but it smells very nice).

I worked solely on my Tangled Yoke cardigan while on this trip, and I finished the second sleeve and started the body. I got about 4 inches into the body, and realized while sitting in the car on the way home, that I had misread the directions and needed to rip back about half of my progress on the body. My significant other asked if that was a lot of knitting. His mind works well when given numbers to process, so I told him that I was ripping out 22 rows of about 220 stitches each. He was very impressed that I was willing to frog over 4800 stitches to get the pattern right. Other than that semi-major hiccup in the sweater knitting, I had a great time relaxing with this pattern. The garter rib is perfect for chugging along while sitting at a cafe, reading a book, occasionally sipping on a cup of tea, and people-watching in downtown Santa Barbara. Here's a shot of where I'm at right now:

Tangled Yoke Progress

The one thing I realized while on this trip is how tiring surfing the web can be. I barely logged in to Ravelry, Blogger, or iGoogle at all. I didn't turn my iPod on even once, I talked to real live people and listened to real live sounds and read printed words from a page rather than a screen. It was more relaxing than I thought it would be. I think I need to make some changes in the activities I use to "relax" at the end of a work day. I don't really want to blog less (shoot, I just got started here!) but I think I'm going to try and cut down on mindless web surfing, and try to pick up a book more often and take out my headphones more often. Anyway, I'm on break until Monday, and then it's one long haul (read: no three-day weekends or school holidays) until the end of May. I'm looking forward to two more days of recharging my batteries and two days of getting ready to go back to work. In the comments for the last post, Ruth asked how I'm going to make the color changes work out for the yarn. The short answer is I'm going to navajo-ply to preserve a gradual color change, but I want to do this the right way, all tutorial-style. So look for a longer post (with tons of pictures) on this once I start the project, probably before the end of April.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Some Retail Therapy and Spring Break

Woah, the week really got away from me! I've been looking forward to my spring break because I can get ahead with my work and have at least two days of nonstop knitting. I may even get to actually read a physical book, instead of listening to audiobooks! Let's move on to the knitting content: on the knitting front, I finished the Fiddlehead mittens.

Finished Fiddlehead Mittens

They are gorgeous, and the irony is not lost on me. I finally got around to the thumb of the lining of the second mitten late Thursday night. That's right, I finished the warmest pair of mittens ever on the first day of spring. I don't care, I wore them on the first day of spring. It's the coast, we still get some decent fog (please don't burst my bubble! :) I love these mittens so much). There are more photos on my Flickr page.

Bitter Orange 2-ply

Last week I finished spinning the Bitter Orange singles on the 10.5:1 ratio whorl, let them rest for a day on the bobbins, then did a 2-ply on the 9:1 ratio. I'm pretty pleased with this yarn, it's a passable sock weight. I got somewhere around 260 yards out of 4.3 ounces of fiber, so it's probably not enough for an entire pair of socks on its own. The extra-exciting news is that I nabbed a second portion of the same fiber from the Pigeonroof Studios etsy shop, so once I spin that up I'll actually have yarn with appropriate weight and yardage for a pair of socks!

I also bought some superwash merino in another color, Calla. Then on Saturday I bought some balls of fiber from Knitterly in Petaluma. I think they're BFL, they feel very similar to my indigo-dyed stuff.

Rose-Colored Fiber

There's roughly 2 ounces of 5 colors each. I'm planning on making a pair of slow-color transition socks, with the toes the darkest rose color and progressing up the foot and leg ending with the white. These are very lightly heathered, my photos don't really do the colors justice.

Anyway, now that I've finished the mittens, I'm in a state of finish-it-up-itis (according to the Yarn Harlot, a much rarer condition than start-itis). I try to counteract start-itis with finish-it-up-itis, by telling myself that finished objects will give me a deep satisfaction just as fulfilling as a new exciting project. So I also picked up a copy of Knitalong: Celebrating the Tradition of Knitting Together to take the edge off. (The link is to Amazon because it's easy and has a nice photo. Support your local independent bookstore, kids.) It was hilarious, because I had two friends (neither of whom are knitters) ask about my current blanket-in-progress when I mentioned I was lusting after the Olive's afghan in Knitalong. I have been working on my current blanket for about a year, and I'm about halfway done with the knitting part. Let's not get started on how much seaming will be involved at the end. Let's just not go there.

Now I'm off for two days in sunny Santa Barbara (the significant other is on a business trip), and I'm taking JUST ONE project! I'm trying to see how much I can get done on the Tangled Yoke cardigan before the end of the week. Taking one project is a big jump for me. I'm usually paranoid to the point where packing is difficult because I'm trying to cram three months' worth of knitting into my luggage for a four-day trip. This time, I have one tote bag that is nice, light, and reasonable. Besides, it's not like I won't get any souvenir yarn, right? ;)

Sunday, March 16, 2008

No worries!

First off, thanks to everyone for their kind support in the comments. I guess I didn't get this across very well, but I'm not too bummed out about the trip not happening. The whole thing felt very rushed and last-minute (which it would have been) and life had felt pretty hectic lately anyway. I'm actually glad that my spring break will be just that- a break. I won't have to come back to teach class on Monday morning still jet-lagged and half thinking in a foreign language. But I really appreciate the sympathy, guys! I'm still going to listen to my German language program.

Secondly, sorry I didn't blog again sooner! I was at a work-related conference this weekend (Friday & Saturday), which took up all my energy and knitting/spinning/blogging time. It was worth it, though. I feel really revitalized about my job, it's awesome.

All right, now that that's out of the way, let's get back to the fiber. I washed the Irish Spring corriedale yarn last week, and it does look a bit better than it did straight off the bobbin.

Irish Spring Closeup

I think I might have been a little over-enthusiastic in setting the twist, because the yarn doesn't feel as lively as it did before, although the Soak wool wash did soften it up. In the photo I tried to capture a bit of the yarn at both its thickest and thinnest parts, so you get an idea of the variation. I got nearly 130 yards out of this, more than I thought I would, and I have no idea what I will knit with it.

I'm also still chugging away at the Fiddlehead mittens. I am now onto the lining of the second mitten; I will probably have these done this week, but it would have been a close thing having them done before leaving if Germany were still on. This evening, to celebrate the fact that I have finished my grading on time, I started spinning this:

Pigeonroof Studios Bitter Orange

into more singles on the highest ratio whorl. It's South African Fine wool dyed in the colorway "Bitter Orange" by Pigeonroof Studios. Bitter Orange is a fantastic name, but the colors also remind me of a pair of dark tortoiseshell kitties I knew growing up named Cocoa and Noodles. I'm thinking a 2-ply to get a larger yardage. I'm thinking gloves or mitten-flap-fingerless-gloves combo?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Quickie Update

So it's now looking like the trip to Germany will not line up with my spring break... I'm still going to try and finish the mittens before the break, and I'm still going to listen to my language program. But, I'm starting to get the vibe that it won't work out for me. I'll be back later with more fiber stuff, I promise.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Wollen Sie mit mir stricken? My Weekend, Part 1

I had a long weekend all to myself, which means that all my usual schedule-stick-to-it-ive-ness goes straight out the window. I stay up to all hours of the night, eat lots of junk food at strange times of the day, and basically can't make myself do any work. For example, I have a new stack of papers to grade this weekend, and here I am, blogging instead of starting them. I know. I know I should start, but they don't need to be finished until next week! Instead, I got caught up on things both knitting and non-knitting related. I'm going to list them in an attempt to make myself feel as though I did get lots accomplished this weekend, even if it wasn't work-related.

1. I did laundry. This was crucial, because I was running out of clean clothes that are work-appropriate (no holes). I hate doing laundry, so this was a major accomplishment. I was able to knit on the sleeve of my Tangled Yoke cardigan while the clothes dried:

Tangled Sleeve

This is sleeve #2. I like doing the sleeves of a sweater first, because by the time I get bogged down in the middle of the body and feel like shoving it out of the way in favor of something shinier, the sleeves will stare at me from the bottom of the project bag with little puppy-dog eyes, saying things like "You have to finish the body to give meaning to our existence!" and "What, you gonna give up now? You're more than a third of the way done! " and "Don't be a wuss. It's a friggin' seamless raglan with one little cable. Almost half of it is plain stockinette. You bored? Put on a movie or something and get going." The sleeves taunt and plead. It can get annoying, but they help me get the job done.

2. I went grocery shopping. I'm going to go ahead and give myself a pat on the back for this one, too, as it means I did not go out for avocado & cheese omelettes, curry, and Italian food all weekend. I feel very disciplined for eating so many (3) bananas this weekend. I was not able to knit while grocery shopping, however.

3. I obtained a German-language instruction audiobook. It's the Michel Thomas basic German series, and I really wish had the whole introductory set. I listened to the first 1/2 hour, and it was really good. Thanks for helping me find a good one, Liz. I already knew the German verb stricken, and I was seriously able to put together the title of this post* in my head about 20 minutes in. I tried to knit while listening, but you're supposed to stop the program and respond to the questions out loud when it beeps, and I kept having to put my knitting down to hit pause on the computer. But I didn't mind, I was enjoying myself so much. I'd forgotten how much fun it is to learn a language!

4. I knit on my Fiddlehead mittens.

Fiddlehead Pre-blocking

Oh. My. Goodness. I am in love with these mittens. I want to leave my significant other and move into a tiny swanky downtown studio apartment with these mittens. We will go out for martinis and expensive food that doesn't even pretend to nourish you and then to very hip clubs... Okay, maybe I'm getting carried away, but I'm at least mildly obsessed. I started these things on Wednesday. I am now finished with the outer shells, which need to be washed and blocked before I can start the lining. I want to have these done in time to take them to Germany, which means about a week from Friday. As long as I can devote another day next weekend to knitting and not get distracted by the lovely lovely wheel, I think I'll be good.

That's it for now. I'll try to post again during the week with an update on the spinning.

*Do you want to knit with me?

Friday, March 7, 2008

March Spin-along

Sometimes in creative endeavors we work best by staying within some stated boundary or set of rules. Rhyme and meter in poetry, color palette in any art or craft that involves color, improv games in theater, all of these give us a space in which to begin. The Yarn Harlot wrote a very eloquent (and as usual, ultimately hilarious) post on the subject last year.

When I first brought my wheel home, I knew the first thing I wanted to spin was the BFL, because of its reputation for being easy to spin. I wanted to give myself an easy task while getting familiar with the wheel. Deciding which fiber to spin next, however, was like a mother trying to decide which of her children she loves best. So I started participating in a spin-a-long with the Spinner Central group on Ravelry, to give myself some starting rules. The rules for this spin-along are simple: every month one of the group moderators posts the theme for the month, and participants spin fiber according to the theme. The theme includes a fiber (such as cotton, alpaca, or superwash merino), a spinning technique (3-ply, long draw, beaded yarn), and a general inspirational color scheme. The rules are very flexible, because everyone's there to have fun and share their handspun. This month, the theme is angora/boucle/St. Patrick's Day. Now I have no angora in my fiber stash, I'm totally not a skilled enough spinner to produce boucle yarn yet (if you don't know what boucle is, check this out), so St. Patrick's Day it would have to be.

I pulled out this Corriedale batt that I bought from Grafton Fibers last year. It's bright blue, sping green, and yellow dyed wool, all blended together. Overall it looks very bluish-green, but up close you can pick out the individual bits of yellow and blue. I spun the whole batt up last night (took me about 2 and a half hours) onto a single bobbin, and did a navajo 3-ply this morning. I present Irish Spring, also known as The Crappiest 3-ply You've Ever Seen.

Ok, so it doesn't look THAT bad. But I feel like I could have done so much better with this yarn. First, I was a bad crafter and didn't look up the directions for navajo plying before I got started, I just jumped in. I've done a navajo ply before all of twice. The last time I did it was about 8 months ago and on a drop spindle, which means slightly different hand positioning. I struggled mightily through about 3 yards of yarn, then broke down and looked through my back issues of Spin Off magazine for the article on plying chained singles. Okay. Now I had the hand movements down, but couldn't get the take-up at the speed I wanted it. Or maybe I was chaining too slowly? Too much twist. WAAAAAYYYYYYY too much twist! About 1/3 of the way through the bobbin, it occurred to me that instead of trying to treadle more slowly, I should switch to a lower-ratio whorl (duh). So I think about 1/3 of this yarn will be intensely overspun, and the other 2/3 will be passable.

In addition to all this, I discovered that staying up an extra hour to finish spinning the entire batt last night was probably not the best idea in the world, as my singles got progressively smaller as I worked my way back through the bobbin. At the early-evening end of the bobbin, I was doing a pretty even light fingering-to-lace weight yarn, but at the late-evening end, a solid fingering. The 3-ply helps even that out a bit, but I was hoping for more consistency. I guess I'll have to reserve final judgment until the skein is washed and the twist is set. Hopefully the yarn will fluff out a bit (it is a very nice Corriedale, after all) and I won't feel waves of disappointment and inadequacy every time I look at this yarn.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Exclusivity, the Internet, and the Urge to Collect

What is it about human beings that makes us behave like pack rats? Why do we love to have the complete set? Fundamentally we are all social creatures as well, so when we see something pretty that someone else got, we want to try and acquire some for ourselves! Knitters especially seem to go a bit nuts in this regard. It helps (or hurts, depending on your point of view) that for many of us, there's no such thing as bad yarn.

Of course, it helps when the yarn is beautiful. Since I wanted to amp up my spinning, I've been poking around looking for stash enablers. Uh... I mean vendors of beautiful spinning fiber. I recently hit a home run by making The Loopy Ewe my primary online source for sock yarn. Sheri, the lovely proprietress, helped my yarn stash bulk up a bit last year. I was also looking for a fiber club, similar to the Rockin' Sock Club put on by Blue Moon Fiber Arts which is now in its third (insanely) successful year.

When I found Hello Yarn, I knew this was my destiny. I *had* to get into the next round of her fiber club! But fate was working against me (read: I was a bit stupid at converting the time zones and missed the shop update) and I didn't get in. But I started following the shop a bit more closely, and got sucked into the fever of the Fiddlehead Mittens. If you only click on one link in this post, check that one out. It's worth it, and Adrian tells the story better than I could. To make a long story short, I managed to get one of these delicious mitten kits, and I'm casting on now. Like, I'm in the middle of the I-cord cast on (a new skill for me!) in between typing sentences. Getting this mitten kit in the mail was like getting an extra-large box of yummy chocolates at Christmas. I have more pictures up on my Flickr account, but I'll leave you with my favorite one. All the contrast colors are lined up in the order I'm going to use them, starting with the brightest red on the cuff, going through the red-browns to the darkest walnut black color, and ending the fingertips with that awesome sour-apple green. Seriously, I wanted to lick the box this is so good looking.

P.S. I might get to go to Germany at the end of the month. I love the Knitters Uncensored podcast, so even though things are not yet set in stone I'm already trying to think of a way we can sneak a trip to Munich into the plans...

Sunday, March 2, 2008


*Smacks forehead* I just figured out how to turn on comments, so now everyone can respond to my posts. I'm still getting used to this blogging business. Carry on.

Spinning Wheel and Stitches West

As I mentioned in the first post, I recently acquired a spinning wheel. She is a Schacht Ladybug whom I have named Birdie (as in ladybird, the British term for the insects we call ladybugs). This has been a goal of mine since I learned how to turn wool fiber into yarn, although I couldn't afford one on a poor-college-student budget. Spinning wheels are often sought after as antiques and, as handcrafted furniture, hold their value very well. So even a secondhand wheel was not really within reach, although my searches exposed me to many fancy hubcaps and hamster cages for sale on ebay and craigslist. I started doing some quasi-serious internet research on spinning wheels after I got a real job, and the best advice I found was to try as many wheels as possible before you buy. The best place for me to try a bunch of wheels in a short amount of time was definitely the Market at Stitches West.

Before I describe my experience at the Market, I would like to point out how the word is capitalized, as though it were a Very Important Place in a Novel by Miss Austen or Mrs. Radcliffe. Ok, sorry about that. It's just that I recently finished rereading Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and Jane Austen is everywhere this year. It's out of my system now, I promise. Anyway, for those of you who are not knit-obsessed, Stitches West is huge knitting & crochet convention put on by the publishers of Knitter's magazine. You can take classes, see demonstrations, and purchase a lot of yarn.

I went to the Market last year, with two friends. We went on Sunday afternoon, and it was actually pretty low-key. I now realize it only seemed low-key because we went at a time when most of the attendees were probably high as kites on wool fumes and rolling in all the yarn and fiber purchases back in their hotel rooms. Not that I find anything wrong with this state of being, you understand. It is a situation I was determined to find myself in this year. This year I went by myself on Thursday evening and half of Friday, and with a friend on Sunday afternoon.

Now because I'm a bit analytically minded, I've composed a handy chart:

DayGeneral MoodCrowd QuoteParking SituationDamage to Credit Card
ThursdayAnticipation!Did you see the line at Blue Moon?Easy as PieModerate
FridayUgh, CrowdsExcuse me, pardon me!InsanityHigh, but budgeted
SundayMellowI want to say hi again!FairMinimal

Here is most of my haul for the weekend. Clicking on the picture will take you to my Flickr page for this photo. What do we have in here? Starting on the bottom left, I have three books: Selbuvotter: Biography of a Knitting Tradition, The Knitter's Book of Yarn, and Teach Yourself Visually: Handspinning. On top of the books is a little free sample of Kookaburra Wool Wash. Next is a 2 oz. batt of spinning fiber in creamy pinks and yellows (Blue Faced Leicester wool blended with Tencel). Above that is a tote bag from Tactile Fiber & A Verb for Keeping Warm. Continuing to the right hand side, we have two 3 oz. bags of chocolate-colored Polwarth wool locks, also from A Verb for Keeping Warm, then about 4 oz. of South African Fine wool roving dyed in the Bitter Orange colorway by Pigeonroof Studios. Finally, the extra bobbin from my Schacht Ladybug spinning wheel. This year, my trip to the Market at Stitches was focused on spinning, rather than knitting. Spinning and tote bags.

A word about tote bags. My day job is as an educator, and in our line of work, you can never have too many good tote bags. They are indispensable for lugging around office supplies, lab equipment, and the massive amounts of papers one is perpetually in the process of grading. When the gals at Tactile told me the tote bags were free with a $50 purchase, the only question in my mind was whether I would get one or two. Since I bought my wheel from those fine ladies, I ended up getting two. I also got a tote bag from the Ravelry booth (it's not in the picture because it is already in service keeping dust off my yarn stash), bringing the tote grand total for the weekend to three.

So what have I been working on, besides taking tons and tons of photos? This weekend I spun up two bobbins of this:
The singles were spun on the higher ratio of the regular speed whorl, using a poor attempt at long draw. I was exceedingly good and patient, and let the singles rest on the bobbin overnight before plying. I've never spun BFL before, and now I understand why everyone recommends it for beginning spinners. The stuff practically drafted itself! The yarn is surprisingly smooth and shiny, although not squishy-soft. I'm not sure what I'll knit with it yet, but I'm thinking something that would look good striped.

Black Blue-Faced Leicester
Dyed with Indigo
from A Verb for Keeping Warm

2-ply sport-DK weight
About 175 yards