Holiday Madness

So…I’ve been quiet on here for about a thousand years in Internet time, but I’m back! You crafters know how it is, right? Who has time for anything extra but knitting from October through December? My crafting process has been productive, though, and there will be many patterns coming soon. In the meantime, here’s what I’ve been up to / what’s coming soon…

Coffee Cowls

My first choice for sustainability is to bring my own coffee mug when I get coffee out, but I often fail what with the needing to wash it and all, so I was looking for a way to cut down my waste when I buy coffee and, as many before me, came up with the notion of a knit beverage sleeve. They’re so quick and easy to design and make that I make have gone a little nuts, but I’ve put together a mess of charts for stranded or double knitting that will tickle fans of Doctor Who, Firefly, and the like. Charts and instructions will be going out to newsletter fans before I get them up on here.


Schism Socks_4A sock pattern for every geek who loves the swirling, wormhole-like chaos of the untempered schism or the zippy allure of warp speed. This pattern was initially accepted by Knitty and then rejected when it turned out that my gauge was a bit screwy, so this (gauge-corrected!) pattern will come with a post discussing twisted vs. non-twisted stitches. #facepalm At this point, I have test-knit the stuffing out of this pattern, so it’s going to be one of my paid offerings…unless, of course, you’re on the newsletter list, because you’ll be getting it for free shortly.

Dracorex hogwartsia

The next member of my dragon series is inspired by the relatively recently discovered/named dinosaur from the Hell Creek Formation in South Dakota. The source art I’m using is a lovely picture drawn for me by my friend Dan Bensen as thanks for beta-reading his science fiction book, Groom of the Tyrannosaur Queen.

3.5 Pounds of Wool

It took me three and a half pounds of wool for John’s Ranger sweater. I talked about my dyeing process back in July, and now, two and a half pounds (14 two-ply skeins!) later, I am finally done with his sweater. This sweater was SUPPOSED to weigh closer to a pound and a half and could, now that it’s finished, possibly stop a bullet, so I will be writing a pattern review soon, and about the challenges of spinning for grist.

Glenbriar Designs

This is still super early, but John and I are working on a business plan that will let us spend more time being crazy homesteaders and less time in front of computers. John may start joining me in posting on here about what he’s developing (spindles and buttons!), and I’m going to be working on a couple new purse designs. We may also combine this site with the business site eventually, but I’ll announce that officially so you all don’t think VoaS has just up and vanished. 🙂

Autumn’s Daughter

PrintOh, right! This isn’t knitting-related, so I hope you’ll forgive me for going off-topic, but I forgot to tell you all that I published a book in October! It’s a young adult modern fantasy with a sci-fi twist about Niamh Brennan, who is struggling to understand the unusual (and uncontrollable) powers she seems to be developing when her younger sister is kidnapped. It’s free from Dec. 17th through Dec. 19th (according to the hobbit tradition of giving other people presents on your birthday : ) and I would be tickled pink if you’d do me the kindness of reading it and telling me what you think.



Hope you’re all able to look up from your mad knitting long enough to enjoy the sparkly holiday lights as we turn the corner to muddle our way out of the darkest days of the year.

Wooly Gems

I have a new shiny for you, my darlings! I know you all love beautiful sock yarn just as much as I do, so I imagine you might have equally as much fun with the test product I’ve just added to Etsy…

Each of these earrings is handmade, which means every earring is unique. Pairs are made from the same skein, but because the length of color runs in sock yarn varies, the “matching” members of a pair are lovely together, but not always identical.

I’ve only got a few listed up on Etsy at the moment, but if you like one of the colors here, message me on Etsy and I should be able to make it custom for you out of the colorways listed above.

Nennir Bag

Small cabled handbag

I absolutely adore Lucy Hague’s cable work. I came across her Nennir cowl when looking for a pattern to use some handspun I had made during last year’s Tour de Fleece. My yardage was about right, but my gauge was off and, honestly, that was the skein I first played around with spinning worsted and between my rookie lack of skill and the quality of fiber the technique produced, the yarn wasn’t a great match for the pattern. This being one of those situations where I couldn’t quite stomach frogging all the finicky cable work, I left the cowl to sit in the bottom of my work basket for months.

In the course of doing some organizing and wrapping odds and ends up, I came across a set of wooden purse handles that I had picked up on deep clearance from some craft store or other and a spark hit. I pulled out the neglected cowl and it was about 20% too big for the handles, so I took a risk. I sewed up one edge and whipped up and i-cord loop for a button closure and tossed the thing in the washing machine with my next load of towels.

Sometimes, Lady Luck smiles on me, because when the cowl came out of the drier felted down to just the right size for what I had in mind. I whipped together a lining (which could fit better–sewing’s not really my thing) and popped on a button and the handles, and voila! My tough yarn, which utterly failed as a cowl, is just about perfect for a cute little felted purse. 🙂

Small cabled handbag
Quite darling, wouldn’t you say?

On Frogging

Plum Heather Wool of the Andes after frogging.

When I first starting knitting, I scoffed at frogging. I’m a huge believer in the 80/20 rule, which means that I tend to look for the 20% of the work I can do that will produce the 80% of the desired result. My mother would call this lazy, my husband would obsess over the 20% that isn’t perfect, but my mother-in-law and I agree that life is less stressful when you’re satisfied with “good enough.” In knitting, this translates to forgiving myself for the mistakes and assuming the non-knitters I give things to won’t be able to see the problem anyway, so why waste twelve hours of work undoing something?

Frogging is a bit silly. Except when it isn’t.

Plum Heather Wool of the Andes after frogging.
Time to knit a Seeded Cables Cardigan: 6 months. Time to frog the same: 1 hour.

In the last few months, I feel like I’ve been a frogging machine. And I’ve come to realize that, had I accepted sooner that frogging isn’t just for folks with OCD, I could have saved myself a fair amount of time and energy. What have I frogged?

  • An entire sweater that didn’t fit right.
  • A fifth of a sweater that was knit incorrectly and by a different knitter.
  • The first few rows of a sweater I messed up the shaping instructions on.
  • The setup on a shawl design that wasn’t coming out as I hoped.

All of this has me thinking of general questions to ask myself while I’m working on projects in order to catch the need to frog as early as humanly possible.

  • Is the yarn working with the pattern stitch? (Esp. with cables or lace or unique color runs)
  • Can I actually take over someone else’s project or are our gauges too different?
  • Will it fit properly by the time I finish?

The full sweater that I frogged was really the worst of it. I knew from the first few inches that the yarn and the pattern were not soulmates, but hope kept me moving forward when I should have cut and run. I spent MONTHS on a sweater that ended up sitting in my closet unworn for the better part of two years before I finally decided that it was a crime to let good yarn go unworn just because I couldn’t stand to undo all that work on those finicky freakin’ cables.

How about you, dear readers? When do you make the heart breaking decision to rip out your work?


We Frolic

Rainbow Slushie Roving - Fiber Frolic 2014

Well, my lambs, the Maine Fiber Frolic has come and gone and I am left utterly bereaved. How am I supposed to return to my day job after a weekend of endless fiber highs? I’m also thoroughly sunburned because the weather was mercilessly beautiful, so all I want to do for the next week is alternate between napping in the hammock and spinning in front of a fan with a massive dose of iced coffee.

Sadly, it is not to be. I’ll manage, though, because I found a few delightful treasures that I was able to pick up and many more that give me excuses to visit some of the charming shops near me when my fiber budget is replenished. 🙂

Banana Silk – Underhill Farms

Banana Silk with Spindle
An ounce of banana silk, hanging with my homemade supported spindle which may or may not actually function well.

The gal at Underhill is a complete hoot and last year gave me some great info about raising fiber goats, which is a good chunk of their business, I gather. They had a few fun fibers that they don’t produce themselves, brought in just for the fun, including yak clouds (which I’ve spun in a blend with silk, but not alone) and banana silk. It’s technically a rayon and has incredible lustre–more to come on that once I’ve spun it up.

Rainbow Slushie – Highland Handmades

Rainbow Slushie Roving - Fiber Frolic 2014
Looking forward to learning Navajo plying to preserve the colors on this.

I bought a spindle and some dyed Corriedale from Highland last year. The warranty on their spindles is awesome and they offer a quality product for a fraction of the price many other folks do. Their Corriedale is very easy to spin, very pretty, and very cheap–making it a great fiber for beginners to play with. My goal with this hank is to practice Navajo plying to maintain the order of the color runs to avoid rainbow soup.

Purple Clun Forest Batt – Field’s Edge Farm

Purple Clun Forest Wool Batt
Love the way they used matching tissue paper to make the colors pop in their booth.

I haven’t worked from a batt before, but the colors on this were too yummy to pass up. Next step: research working with batts…

What to Buy Next

I saw rovings, spindles, and yarns to drool at at almost every booth, of course, but I’m sadly not yet a millionaire who can say, “I’ll take one of everything!” That said, I will most definitely be buying from a few of the vendors online or in person in the nearish future. These are the folks that make my most urgent follow-up list:

Port Fiber: If her amazing colors weren’t enough to draw me in (they are), Casey also has some fibers which are not being widely carried elsewhere. Most notably, she’s carrying the Chiribaya Cloud 80’s from Maine Top Mill. This is alpaca top from a very selective pool of certified Vicugna pacos, processed using an innovation on alpaca fiber processing that is resulting in a significantly higher quality alpaca preparation than I have yet seen anywhere else.

Spunky Eclectic: The only reason this shop didn’t make the first round of shopping cuts is that they’re practically in my back yard, so it’s easy to go in person later on. They have beautiful roving of a wide variety of colors and breeds, but what really caught my eye is their Turkish spindle. No one else at the fair seemed to have any Turkish spindles, and the only Maine place I’ve head of carrying them (Hatchwood Farms) has to sell them for a much higher price than I can afford. because of the nature of the (admittedly excellent) product. $24 to support a local business is a price point I can jump on.

Highland Handmades: (Shop temporarily down because of the fair) I know, I know, I bought from them already, but their yarn selection was pretty excellent this year, and I’m looking forward to sampling some of their sock yarn.

Fiber for Sale

One of my reasons for going to the Frolic this year was to sell off some of my rabbit fiber. I was disappointed to only sell three of 16 bags. This has decided for me that I need to start an Etsy shop to widen my market, so if you’re interested in buying Angora fiber (black, white, and fawn available), shoot me a message and I’ll let you know what I’ve got in stock. I’ll put up a post once I’ve got a shop set up to make life easier for all.

On Reading the Instructions

BFL Handspun Yarn

My forehead is metaphorically bruised from banging my head against an invisible wall for many hours on end.  Have you seen Kerri Blumer’s Swivel Pullover yet? Stunning. Utterly scrumptious. It is the sexiest application of cables I have ever seen on a raglan sweater and I knew the moment I laid eyes on it that  I had to make my fingers understand how such beauty and joy could be brought into the world.

Even more exciting? I’m knitting it from my own handspun:

BFL Handspun Yarn
This is my undyed BFL, handspun as energized singles…which was another lesson in reading instructions more carefully, but that’s a story for another day.

Here’s the thing about me and sweaters: I’ve knit exactly three sweaters before–one pieced, on bottom-up, one a drunken monstrosity of my own ignorant design efforts. I grasp the basic theory of how a top-down raglan pullover works, but that is something entirely different from having made one. And working from a 10-point, single-spaced, dense text in bad lighting after a long day of installing fencing for the garden is not the best environment for really comprehending the sort of “do this…and at the same time this…and at these different intervals” instructions that sweater-making demands.

I make fun of people for not reading instructions. Mercilessly, if we’re being honest. Seriously, I think half of the people I invite to things have an innate inability to check the date or time on an invitation, given all of the “when should I show up?” conversations I have for nearly everything I ever host. Sweater instructions make me have sympathy for them. Sort of. Which is why I think my new policy for making sweaters is going to be this:

  1. Read the pattern all the way through for general understanding, highlighting size-specific instructions. (Bad lighting, wine, lack of sleep, minor distractions okay)
  2. Read all of the instructions for the first section and write down any necessary notes for keeping track of increases, etc. at different intervals. (Wine and lack of sleep okay. Avoid minor distractions and bad lighting.)
  3. Sleep on these notes. (If you are well-rested and have most of the day ahead of you, it’s okay to just take an hour to do something else before coming back to it. Probably.)
  4. Review notes against pattern to make sure what you think you’re doing will give you the stitch count the pattern calls for. (Threaten to stab anyone who interrupts you. Choose coffee over wine.)
  5. If there are discrepancies, return to step 2 and repeat from there until you have no discrepancies. Bug someone else who has made the sweater if you do this three times without coming up with the right answer.
  6. Cast on.

In this sweater, I jumped straight from step 2 to step 6. If you need me, I’ll be frogging and banging my head against the wall as I cry bitter tears of ineptitude into my vodka…

Breaking Black

Breaking Black Yarn

I’ve been enamored with the notion of intentional spinning of late, which is to say, spinning yarn for a specific project. I spun several hundred yards of a Romney-Angora laceweight blend, intending it for a shawl. When I finished, I was quite pleased with the end result, and, overambitious soul that I am, I said, “Hey, why not dye this intentionally too?”

I have only played with dyeing yarns solid or ombre up until now, but for some reason, I thought my beautiful skein of handspun would be well served by my assassination of the handpainting process.


The color palette I was using for inspiration was this room design off Pinterest. I aimed to get two different shades of gray, a deep chocolate brown, and a pop of rich teal in medium color runs. What I got was this:

Breaking Black Yarn
So…not even close to what I was going for.

It’s not entirely hideous, but neither is it the carefully designed set of colors I was aiming for. Mangy is the word that comes to mind, but maybe it will knit up better?

I had watched this very good tutorial on using food colors and a microwave to do handpaint dyeing, and the gal mentioned the possibility of “breaking black,” which is to say, breaking black into its component pigments. I somehow thought she meant that this would be difficult to do, not difficult to avoid, and so I blunder blithely on, thinking I could just using differing concentrations of black pigment for the different grays.

I swear that the paper towel test gave me the exact colors I was looking for. Clearly, there is something more going on in how the yarn takes up dye and I have much to learn. Especially about producing gray, because I happy to love gray at the moment, and I would like to be able to produce it consistently.

I think my next approach will be to try doing a gray ombre, with teal at one end and foregoing the brown. Hoping that the immerson bath will keep the dye more consistent and less broken. Any advice, you veteran dyers?

Knitting as a Case Study in Gender Bias

I’m a bit of a vocal feminist, which you know if you read my other blog. I try to keep focused on the fiber stuff over here and leave things politics-light, but I read a couple of article this week that brought the two together in a way I just can’t ignore.

They’re both incredibly fascinating pieces that highlight, in a sideways fashion, the hidden underbelly of misogyny: it hurts men too. Not that I will claim that barring access to knitting is the same thing as being systematically threatened with rape and paid significantly less than men even now, but still, when women and everything they are traditionally associated with are demonized, men get cut off from potential avenues to happiness or expression or just plain being.

But let’s get to the articles. First, the one I was baffled and a bit annoyed with:

Young person with a Y chromosome is lauded for picking up a popular hobby in a fashion that can only be described as mundane and exhibits little more than average skill, but his hobby merits a three-page story because it is not typically practiced by young people with Y chromosomes.

Seriously. It would take NO WORK to turn this article into an article for The Onion. It already reads like a satirization of the way that women are singled out for success in Traditional Male Pursuit #267. The title of the article calls out the fact that it’s really only his gender that makes him noteworthy, yet there is no mention of his gender elsewhere. And yet…there is also nothing about the way that he came to the hobby or anything about what he has created that sets him apart from any other Gen-X/Millenial knit-geek I know.

There are two ways to deal with the Displaced Gender theme, in my opinion. (1) Talk about their gender and the specific challenges or odd situations this creates. (2) Pretend we live in a better world where gender isn’t an issue and focus on the brilliance of the work the person is doing.

Talk about gender or don’t talk about gender, but don’t write an article in which gender is the only interesting tidbit without talking about gender.

Scooby Doo says no. (Animated GIF)
No. Just…come on.

The thing I did find interesting about the article is that a man is treated here in a way that women are sometimes treated in non-female dominant fields: as a curiosity who merits more attention than seems reasonable given what he’s doing. This does highlight my main point, which is that women aren’t the only ones who lose out under misogyny.

As counterpoint, here’s a better article:

Vogue Knitting LIVE convention offers a panel where male knitwear designers and yarn shop owners talk about working as men in a female dominated industry.

The language of this post echoes the language you might expect to hear of women working in [insert, really, any field other than crafting or teaching little kids] or making a hobby of [insert any hobby that isn’t crafty]. It doesn’t try to make it out that men have suffered any real hardships by this (i.e., it doesn’t fall into the fallacy of equating the suffering of the oppressor with the suffering of the oppressed), but it does point out that the bias against female-oriented crafts has made it a little awkward for men to publicly pursue their interest and to connect with other like-minded fellows. The article also ends on a note of science about why knitting is generally beneficial, the bottom-line message being KNITTING IS FOR EVERYONE.

And that is something I think we can all agree on. Why I’m a feminist Reason #792: Knitting is for everyone.

On Moths and Lanolin

Let’s talk wool wash for a moment, shall we? Because I am seriously confused. When I first started learning about working with wool, EVERYONE I talked to (farmers, spinners, knitters, etc.) told me that removing most of the lanolin from my fleece was critical BECAUSE moths eat lanolin. From multiple sources, in fact, I heard that some people hang onto a bit of the grease fleece in order to misdirect moths away from their stash. As I’ve been researching wool washes (because I’m cheap and want to know what goes into a wool wash on the off chance it makes better financial sense to make my own), I looked at the ingredients in Eucalan, which claims to repel moths. Seventh on the list? Lanolin.

You mean to tell me moths have a love/hate relationship with lanolin?
This is the face I made when I read that.

Incredulous, I dug further. The Eucalan site says that the lanolin is used to condition the fibers (hrm, okay, fine), and that it is the essential oils that work to repel moths.

I took a look at Soak next, which has a much more formidable ingredient list, but also notes in their About Us section that “No laundry wash will keep moths away from your knits (not Soak, and not our competitors). Because moths are attracted to the oils from your skin that are trapped in the fibers, your best bet is to wash them regularly and store them clean.” That jives with the claims I’ve heard on lanolin previously–it’s an oil sheep produce. Snack time for moths.

The thing is, I can’t find any great research on clothing moths and their relationship to lanolin, so what I want to know is (a) whether the naturally-derived lanolin in products like Eucalan is altered in a way that makes it not appeal to moths and if not, (b) whether the conditioning power of lanolin is actually worth the risk of attracting moths.

Finally, help me do a little impromptu research here (I’ll share the results along with a review of Soak versus Eucalan versus homemade soaps if I get at least ten responses):

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Most Wanted Muppet Knits

John and I went to see Muppets: Most Wanted last night because I am a massive Muppets dork and would have been sorely disappointed if I hadn’t caught the flick on its opening weekend. Quick and dirty review: it had a lot of good moments (Tina Fey and Ricky Gervais are perfection) and recaptured the somewhat chaotic, wordplay-riddled energy of the earlier Muppet movies (“They’re incapable of being culpable!”), but it fell short of being a tight production. Partially because of some of the lackluster musical numbers, partially from something that’s harder to explain but could be loosely defined as the writers needing a Kermit of their own to reign them in a bit.

Rest in peace, Mr. Henson.

The reason I’m mentioning the movie on this blog, instead of my writing blog where I tend to review movies, is that the one thing that was absolutely out of this world about the movie was the costume design. Ms. Piggy, as always, is of course the last word in phenomenal outfits that walk that elegant line between glamour and good taste, but what really caught my eye in this movie is Walter’s wardrobe. In particular, this sweater.

The picture doesn’t do it justice, but that is one heck of a lovely piece of knitwear, thoughtfully designed, gorgeous shade of blue, and obviously made of a fiber that works with the design for a great drape. It impressed me enough that I started paying attention to the rest of the cast’s knitwear, and Gonzo’s got quite the range of sweater vests for a weird blue…whatever. I didn’t find any great pictures of the rest of the knits from this movie, but searching for a picture of Walter’s sweater brought me to this cardigan of Walter’s from the last movie, which is also a heck of a detailed beauty of a sweater, no corners cut there.

Somebody please tell me that (a) these beauties were handknit and (b) they know where to find patterns for replicas in human sizes. Because I would buy a book of Muppet knits if they included those sweater designs.

Finally, just for fun, remember this intro? The big blue guy in the center (Thog) is a small part of the new movie, as is Behemoth (aka Gene), which is a fun throwback to the original show.