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

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?

 

Muriel

Knit leafy sea dragon

Hello, my darlings. I have a little PITA treasure of a pattern almost ready for you. This is Muriel:

Knit leafy sea dragon
Muriel is a leafy sea dragon, the third in my dragon series.

Muriel, an Irish name meaning something like “brightness of the sea,” is a leafy seadragon. She is named partly for her own nature, and partly for my great-aunt who passed a few years ago and who was herself a shining spirit.

I do not want to discourage you from giving this pattern a try, but I have noticed some consistent feedback on my two easier dragons that makes me feel I must give you fair warning. The skills used to create Muriel are in and of themselves pretty basic. Muriel is, however, tedious at times. She is decidedly fiddly. Most importantly: she requires artistic interpretation. I have given explicit instructions for reproducing the body exactly and for general ways to make all the different types of fronds, but what fronds go where, how long they are, and which ones you mix and match is entirely up to you.

I fully expect that this means that some of your Muriels will outshine mine, so I hope you’ll share pictures with me on Ravelry. And if you run into rough spots, I also hope you’ll message me–I’m happy to give clarification, make corrections, or offer general advice on my designs.

And here’s where you find her when you’re ready.

UPDATE: The Ravelry code I sent out is apparently malfunctioning for folks. I’m trying to solve the problem, but if you can’t make it work, just reply to the enewsletter that went out and I’ll reply with the PDF. Thanks to the folks who pointed the issue out!

Lean Green Dyeing Machine

Forest Green Roving

Having recently finished my FIRST EVER sweater than I knit from yarn I spun for the project, I can’t wait to start the next. I wanted to make John an Aran pullover with a cowl neck, but apparently, he’s not enough of either an old man or a fisherman to like that sort of thing. Sigh. The pattern he picked out is Ranger by Jared Flood, and while I personally find it a touch unexciting, I do like the clean lines and sharp design.

John also likes things cheap and functional, so I’m working with the domestic top from Halcyon (I paid just over $25 for 2 lbs.). I haven’t spun it before, but I’m guessing it will be best suited for outerwear, which is suitable for this project.

Forest Green Roving
My more or less evenly dyed sweater lot for John.

Fortunately, John is happy with a solid color, so I didn’t have to mess about with trying to make two pounds of wool come out in reasonably similar ombres or handpaints or some such. Still, I’ve never tried to make yarn come out consistently from one dye lot to another, so getting two pounds of the same color out of 2 different crockpots that can’t managed much more than 4 ounces at a time was a new challenge for me.

Time to start measuring shit and timing things and writing process down. *Dramatic sigh*

My little half-exhausted jars of Wilton were obviously not up to this job, so I ordered a massive amount of Americolor Forest Green and weighed my roving out into 4 oz. increments while I waited for it to arrive. Connie at DaisyHead Creations has a nice tutorial on dyeing wool, but here’s the specific, measured process I used.

Presoak the Wool

  • Fill sink halfway with hot tap water (just barely comfortable to the touch).
  • Add 1/2 cup white vinegar.
  • Gently spool in 8 oz. wool, pre-split into 4 oz. segments.
  • Press down VERY GENTLY – just enough to submerge the wool fully.
  • Let sit for 1 1/2 hours. (Connie recommends 30-45 min., but I let the first batch sit too long and don’t dare deviate from the timing now.)

Prep the Dye Bath

In each slow cooker (I have two large-ish ones), place:

  • 1 T. Americolor Forest Green gel
  • 1/4 c. white vinegar
  • Water to within an inch or so of the top
  • Cover and set to HIGH while wool is soaking.

My cookers are of slightly different sizes, but to the best of my knowledge, the exact amount of water is not that important as long as you have (a) enough to color the wool and (b) enough room that the wool isn’t crowded.

Dye the Wool

  • Turn the cookers to LOW.
  • Gently press most of the water out of the wool.
  • Spool the wool gently into the hot dye bath, 4 oz. per cooker.
  • Press with a rubber spatula just enough to submerge the wool, only if needed.
  • Cover and let cook on low for 5 hours.
  • Turn cookers off after 5 hours and let sit to cool for 8 hours.

Rinse and Dry

My wool was still fairly warm after sitting overnight, so I stepped down the temperature of my rinses from warm to cool to avoid shocking the wool. When I was down to cool water, I added a little Eucalan to the rinse and let it soak for about half an hour before gently pressing out the water and hanging the roving to dry.

Note that when rinsing anything that isn’t superwash, it’s important to not move the wool more than is absolutely necessary. Just pour the water, gently press the wool in, wait a few minutes, gently press out the water, change the rinse bath, repeat. Do NOT swirl the wool or pour running water into the rinse bath.

My rinse water was mostly, but not completely, clear when I called it good. More dye will come out on my hands when I’m spinning, and again when I’m finishing the yarn, but I’m nervous about felting the roving into unspinability while I’m rinsing, so I kept the movement light.

John and I are both pretty pleased with the color. There are a few uneven spots, but I think they’ll even out a bit with the spinning, and if not? Well, that’s the charm of handmade. 🙂

Swivelicious

Front view of handspun swivel
Front view of handspun swivel
Most of the unevenness of my handpsun singles balanced out in the knitting.

My Swivel is complete!

It took me about six months from purchase to blocking to spin and knit this beauty, and I must say, I am quite pleased with the result.

The favorite new skill I put to work with this pattern is cabling without a cable needle. It was tricky, given the bulky singles, but significantly faster, especially when you consider all the time I didn’t lose hunting around for needles.

The pattern was definitely not written for n00bs to sweater making, but I muddled through. Only had to frog, what, six or seven hours of work? And the finished product was well worth it. I love the way the cables curve around to make the waste look even more flatteringly shaped than it is. Thanks for bringing this one to the world, Kerri Blumer!

Back view of Swivel pullover
No chance to get pics of me in it just yet, but the curve of the cables is fairly flattering, as bulky pullovers go. 🙂

Now I just have to pack it away very carefully until it’s cold enough to wear…

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…

Follow Your Arrow

Follow Your Arrow Shawl

I’m a day late and a dollar short coming to the knit-along game. Or, in the case of Follow Your Arrow, by Ysolda Teague, a few months late. I’m trying to knit through my stash and this looked like a fun experiment to use up the gray Louisa Harding Willow Tweed (40% Alpaca, 40% Merino Wool, 20% Silk: 128 yds/50 g) I had picked up at a clearance sale a while back.

A note on the yarn: the drape and sheen of the Willow Tweed are lovely. If you like tweeds that are highly variable in some places, I’d recommend it. In retrospect, I’m not sure I would use even a shiny, lightweight tweed for what is, essentially, a sock yarn shawl, but I think it ultimately ended up being a decent match for the very geometric lace of the pattern.

Follow Your Arrow Shawl
My blocking might be making the asymmetry worse…

Spoiler: The shawl picture here is what you get from following clues 1A, 2A, 3B, 4A, 5A.

My approach to this pattern was more or less  to take the path of least resistance. Sometimes the resistance I faced was boredom, so I took the chart that looked more interesting for the middle three clues, but for the first clue, I picked based on number of stitches I had to cast on and for the last, I chickened out and went for the option that required 24 rows instead of 663.

Those 663 rows were short rows, and in retrospect were probably designed to minimize long stretches of time spent binding off (a task I loathe), but still. 663 rows feels much more time consuming than 24 when you’re making choices after a long day of work. 🙂

I don’t know if I’d recommend clue 1A. It creates an asymmetric shawl, and when I finished it, I definitely had a panicked moment of “What the heck did I screw up?” The asymmetry is growing on me, a little, but it took a lot of browsing through other people’s project photos to decide if I could live with my decision. In the end, I really only kept it because I couldn’t bear to frog work that was done correctly.

Follow Your Arrow Shawl with Pin
Isn’t the turquoise lovely with this gray tweed?

Overall, I have mixed feelings on this project. I may be too much of a control freak to be comfortable trusting to another designer’s whims, even as talented as designer as Ms. Teague. I would absolutely not waste time and yarn on a mystery project from anyone I had less faith in. But if you’re a free spirit who doesn’t have trust issues, mystery knitalongs are probably fun, not stressful. It did knit up quickly and the instructions were (mostly) easy to follow…and I think the end result is attractive enough to make a nice gift for someone, especially paired with a vintage faux turquoise brooch, wouldn’t you say?