Thursday, May 29, 2008

Secrets for a Secret Pal

The questionnaire for the Secret Pal 12 swap is up! Since this is one way that Jenn and Robin will find me the perfect pal, I'm giving it my full attention. Here goes:

1. What is/are your favorite yarn/s to knit with? What fibers do you absolutely *not* like?
Not a fan of acrylic, but any natural fibers are great. I enjoy handpainted yarns, especially sock weight

2. What do you use to store your needles/hooks in?
Two canisters (Lenox Village pattern) that lost their lids long ago. The Patisserie shop (sugar canister) holds straight needles and the Cafe (coffee canister) holds DPs. I use a CD album to hold my circs.

3. How long have you been knitting & how did you learn? Would you consider your skill level to be beginner, intermediate or advanced?
My grandmother taught me when I was 8, which means that I've been knitting for 40 years. (wow, it feels old when you say it that way!) I guess I'd consider myself advanced at most things... there's certainly nothing (knitting-wise) that I'm not game to try!

4. Do you have an Amazon or other online wish list?
Only at the holidays

5. What's your favorite scent?
Donna Karan Cashmere Mist (of course!) and White Diamonds

6. Do you have a sweet tooth? Favorite candy?
Is there such a thing as a non-favorite candy? (and while we're at it, why in the world would anyone put an expiration date on candy?... as if it could ever last that long!) If I had only one candy on that desert island, though, it would have to be dark chocolate (even better if it has orange or raspberries or nuts or something in it)

7. What other crafts or Do-It-Yourself things do you like to do? Do you spin?
I absolutely LOVE to spin! I love funky jewelry, although I haven't really done much jewelry-making, I think I'd enjoy it. I've also done a little bit of dyeing, but I still have lots to learn. I'm always up to try something new.

8. What kind of music do you like? Can your computer/stereo play MP3s? (if your buddy wants to make you a CD)
I like all different kinds of music, depending on my mood. Some of my favorites include Chris Botti, Andrea Boccelli, Bon Jovi, Santana, Clapton, Eva Cassidy, James Taylor and Nickelback (how's that for an eclectic mix?) And, yes, I can play MP3s and homemade CDs

9. What's your favorite color(s)? Any colors you just can't stand?
I seem to go through phases. Currently green/rust/maroon (Autumn-y) colors are appealing. Also the violet/blue mixes are nice. Nothing that I can think of that I hate on principle.

10. What is your family situation? Do you have any pets?
Married forever (ok, almost 24 years), three kids (14, 11 and 11) and two cats, Max & Lola

11. Do you wear scarves, hats, mittens or ponchos?
Hats, scarves or mittens are great. Ponchos don't work too well (I'm kind of busty)

12. What is/are your favorite item/s to knit?
Socks are so quick and fun, who can resist? My favorite patterns are usually those that are kind of involved and challenging (I've made a couple of Dale of Norway baby sweaters that were a blast!)

13. What are you knitting right now?
Finishing up some socks and getting ready to start the Mystic Meadows shawl KAL. Plus assorted UFOs.

14. Do you like to receive handmade gifts?
I LOVE handmade gifts. No one appreciates a handmade gift as much as someone who does handwork themselves.

15. Do you prefer straight or circular needles? Bamboo, aluminum, plastic?
Depends on the project. I don't have any deep-seated preference for anything, although I'm not too fond of plastic needles (it bugs me when they get bent)

16. Do you own a yarn winder and/or swift?
Yes, both, and I love them.

17. How old is your oldest UFO?
The oldest overall is a crewel project for a baby's wall hanging that I started about 25 years ago (long before I had any babies). Oldest knitting UFO is probably a dog sweater I started about 3 years ago and then decided I really hated the yarn

18. What is your favorite holiday?
Love 'em all... right down to Flag Day.... any excuse for a celebration works for me!

19. Is there anything that you collect?
You mean aside from yarn? Yes.... sheep (big surprise there, right?).. stuffed sheep, ceramic sheep, sheep ornaments...

20. Any books, yarns, needles or patterns out there you are dying to get your hands on? What knitting magazine subscriptions do you have?
I have a subscription to Interweave Knits. I also love Wild Fibers and Spin Off (but I don't subscribe to either. I love lace work and unusual patterns of any kind.

21. Are there any new techniques you'd like to learn?
From a knitting perspective, I can't think of anything I've heard of that I haven't tried. I'm always working to improve my spinning skills (which are still very elementary) and my dyeing skills (which are in their infancy!)

22. Are you a sock knitter? What are your foot measurements?
Absolutely. Socks are an ideal way to try a new yarn or technique. My foot is 9.5" long and 8.5" around the ball.

23. When is your birthday?
December 24th (maybe that's where the fondness for holidays comes from!)

24. Are you on Ravelry? If so, what's your ID?
"On Ravelry" in the sense that I have an ID (Wink40) and I read a lot, but I haven't done any posting yet

Whew! All done...that felt like a bit of an ego trip (you now know more about me than people I have worked with for 10 years!). Hope you took notes... there'll be a quiz!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Absolutely No Loyalty Whatsoever

I've joined a knitalong. Not that there's a lot of knitting time in my life at the moment. Or that I have a particular need for a new shawl/wrap. I was enabled, what can I say?

There I was, minding my own business when someone (I can't even recall who the culprit was at the moment), had posted a link on their blog to Knit and Knag. (Like that one). I followed the link to meet Anna, who as designed the most gorgeous lace shawls that I've seen in a long time. Mystic Meadows is the current KAL, and it follows several other "Mystic" designs like Mystic Light and Mystic Waters.

I especially like the fact that it's in a fingering weight, rather than a lace weight yarn. First, because it gives me some different yarn choices and second, because sometimes that teeny tiny little lace weight yarn can get a bit disheartening... kind of like knitting with thread.

I'm having problems with my yarn choice, though. I know that Marie over at Brooklyn Handpun has a batch of yarn that she put up specially for this KAL. Of course, all my most favorite color selections are already gone. There are a lot of gorgeous sock yarns from lots of different sites that would work, but I don't usually like hugely variegated yarns with lace (subtle color differences that let you see the lace pattern are fine, though). I did want something with some silk, because I love the drape, so I finally settled on Gloss from Knit Picks. I bought enough for the whole project for under $20, so I'm fine with changing my mind if something better comes along (I can be so fickle!).

Any ideas of alternatives that I might want to consider?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Fenway, Fiber and Confession

Let's begin at the beginning. I live in Massachusetts, and I happen to work with a very dear woman who is without question one of the most devoted Boston Red Sox fans you will ever meet. (and living in Massachusetts, that's saying a lot). Not only is Ana devoted to her beloved Sox, but she's an evangelist for her faith, and works hard to bring the uninitiated into the fold.

Here's where the confession comes in. I have never been to a game at Fenway Park. There. I said it. I feel much better. Yes, it's embarrassing (at least in this state) but it's true. I'm long past my 40th birthday, and never (until last night) stepped foot in Fenway Park. But Ana changed all that (You New Englanders can resume breathing now)

She and her husband invited my husband and me to join them for a game in Boston last night. Now, we live in the western part of the state, so a trip to Boston is about and hour-and-a-half, depending on traffic. With traffic, who knows? But what did we care? We had a sitter, the kids had put in their souvenir requests (#1 fingers were the item of the night) and we were good to go.

My darling husband, Don, loves photography and has every kind of lens, light and gadget there is. I, on the other hand, use a little Canon Elph that is small, convenient and takes perfectly respectable pictures for my needs. So, I was a little surprised when the big guy "borrowed" my camera for the evening. Apparently the Elph, she has her favorites, and she was not cooperating for hubby, so we have a number of pictures like this:

And this:

And fortunately, one or two like this:

While this last one is nice and clear (well, it is in full size... it does look a bit fuzzy when you shrink it), you'll notice quickly that there is no game being played. That is because it's pouring rain and about 50 degrees. Common sense would tell you that there would be no baseball in this weather, but common sense wouldn't take into account the amount of beer, hot dogs, Cracker Jacks and t-shirts that still had to be sold that night. And so, despite the forecast of rain for the rest of the evening, we sat and ate and shopped and tossed beach balls around for two hours until they decided to postpone the game.

Postpone it until tonight, that is. Tonight, when we don't have a sitter. Tonight, when there was already a game scheduled at 4:30. Tonight, when it may or may not rain again. So, the boys are playing the first game of their double-header right now, with the second scheduled for 8:30. What time it actually begins and how late it goes remain to be seen. I'll be seeing it on TV. From home. Bummer.

We did actually get one half-decent picture of the two of us, though, which was nice. (Don is apparently trying to catch the eye of the hot dog vendor)

On to something happier. I finished spinning and plying the Caribbean Adventure. Here's a look:

It's a nice color, but maybe not my best spinning. I spun the first ply with a short-draw and a woolen finish, smoothing each section as I went. For some reason (perhaps that extra glass of wine had something to do with it), by the time I got to the second half, I was practicing my long draw and (for the first time) getting a nice fluffy, even, woolen finish. Unusual, but it looks ok. We'll see how it all knits up.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Caribbean Adventure

Just thought you might like to see how last week's roving is spinning up.

Soooo pretty, don't you think? I have to say that the colors are even better than I had imagined. It's always kind of interesting for me to see what roving finally ends up looking like.

First, you see it in roving form, twisted or wound into a ball, and you try to imagine how the colors will look in the finished product. I can tell if I like the way the colors look together, but I really haven't yet developed the eye to know what it will look like as yarn.

Part of the problem is that there are many different ways to spin roving. Will it be singles, plied yarn or cabled yarn? They're all going to look different. And there are lots of different ways to create each ply of the finished yarn. You can split off little tiny strips and spin them one after another, which will make the color repeats short. You can split into wider strips, or don't split at all... just draft out the whole strip of roving, which will give you longer sections of each color. Or you can separate the lengths of each color and spin them together, for long continuous color blocks. And dont' forget that, for multiple plies, you split the orginial roving into two or more strips, and each can be spun a different way.

For singles, you're done at this point, but you frequently want to ply the yarn to increase its strength and bulk, or for a particular knitting effect. You can use a Navajo or chained ply to ply a single back on itself and come up with an approximation of a three-ply with long, clean color sections. Or the singles can be plied together two or three at a time for a barber-pole effect. And, if you really want to go crazy, you can ply some two-plies together for chained yarn.

Every one of these decisions creates a different yarn, along with the way you actually spin the yarn... long draw, short draw, backwards draw, worsted or woolen. They all look different... sometimes in subtle ways and sometimes in very dramatic ways.

Of course, the final step is to actually knit this yarn into something. Depending on your spinning decisions, you may have stripes of relatively clean colors, or more subtle striping with each change of color. If the color is chopped up enough by multiple plies or short color changes, you'll end up with an all-over "tweedy" look to your work.

That's why I love spinning so much. Many knitters find sooner or later that they want to have more control over the yarn they're knitting with. Spinning gives you the ultimate control, since every spinner is the artist of her final yarn. I can't wait to see where this stuff that I dyed takes me. The colors remind me of the ocean, so maybe that's what I'll call it (the roving and the process of spinning it up)... Caribbean Adventure!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Blowin' in the Wind

That's what my roving was doing all afternoon. I took advantage of the sunny and slightly breezy afternoon to dry my newly dyed collection of roving outside. The plant hooks proved handy, since it's still a little early for flowers, and they were the perfect place for my hangers.

Yes, there's one more color there that you hadn't seen yet. I seem to be very attached to all things in the green family, when it comes to yarn. So, I decided to use my last few ounces of roving for something in the springtime family. I used the same moss green as I had earlier, and I added some juniper green. In a happy accident, the juniper color broke during dying, which brought out the red in it. But it really took on more of a brown tone, which sort of looked like that was the way I planned it -- it had that whole green/brown/tree vibe going.

Here they are, all skeined up, looking puffy and (very) bright.

Did you notice the little hitchiker that hopped on while the roving was drying?

I figure a ladybug is always good luck, don't you think? Don't worry, I carefully removed her and sent her on the way before I brought the fiber inside (because bugs inside the house are never good luck... no matter how you slice it).

I spun a tiny piece of the green up, just to see what I would get. I'm pleased with the swatch. I'm not sure that you can see it here very well, but it has a very subtle light and dark to it. Of course, this is just a teeny weeny swatch -- about an inch square on insanely small needles -- but I'm pretty sure it has that effect I wanted.

The colors are still a little brighter than I would have liked, but overall, I think it was a great first attempt and a heck of a lot of fun. I'm sure there's more dyeing in my fiber future!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Back From the Great Beyond

Did you miss me? It's unfortunately easy to get a little sloppy with writing regular blog posts when you know that probably no one is actually reading yet! I promise to do better...if you promise to read, comment and send all your friends over! Maybe I can make it up to you with a long, newsy, picture-filled post.

So, what have I been doing? Well, lots of fibery fun things have been going on at our place. Where shall I start? How about with this:

Yes, my evening with Naomi seems to have inspired me to get back to spinning, which is great, because I really do love it. There's a real Zen quality to spinning...your best spinning happens when you're totally in the moment. If you think too hard about the drafting, the twist, the wheel and everything in-between, it seems that the yarn is constantly breaking and uneven and over or under twisted. (or maybe that's just my spinning talent!) If you can get to the point where you stop thinking about every step and just kind of let your hands spin without your brain getting in the way, the yarn just seems to slip effortlessly through your fingers.

I was spinning up some fiber that I got last year at the Massachusetts Sheep & Wool Festival. Since it's nearly time for this year's festival, I thought it was about time to spin it up. There's some beautiful red fiber, with little hints of all kinds of other colors in there. Colors that I'd never think of putting together, but that really look great. It's interesting, because I rarely buy red fiber or yarn, but this really appealed to me.

And, to go with it, a somewhat complimentary green color.

I started with the red, and I was so fascinated with the way all of the colors came together on the wheel, the spinning just flew. Isn't it gorgeous?

Here it is all plied up. Does that blue-ish skein look familiar? Yes, it's that Merino/Tencel blend that just didn't know what it wanted to be. I frogged the scarf, reskeined the yarn on the niddy noddy, and gave it a quick bath to smooth everything out. I'm sure it will find a home in something interesting. Until then, it will have lots of company in my stash!

I'm working on the green right now. It's not quite as colorful as the red fiber was, but still pretty.

I've also been playing around a little bit with some dyeing. I was over at Jennie's blog (after I bought some beautiful Araucania from her over at Destash!) and I noticed that she had dyed some gorgeous yarn using egg dyes. That inspired me to dig out some white roving I had bought a year or two ago with the idea of getting started on some dyeing. Nothing dangerous... just Kool-Aid and Wilton dyes... I'm pretty sure I shouldn't be trusted with anything else quite yet.

I was pleased with the results, for a first-timer. The little piece was just a test... I tried some copper, teal and moss green in a handpainted technique and I was thrilled with the intensity of the color. (I apparently can't focus my camera, but you get the color part).

Once I saw the mottled look of the blue section, I decided that I really liked that effect for a large piece of roving. So, I took about 5 ounces of the roving, and I mixed some of the teal and green colors and put the whole thing in the microwave.

For this other roving, I used a mixture of orange and strawberry-watermelon Kool-Aid, along with some of the copper Wilton color -- it seemed to temper the "day-glo" color that the Kool-Aid can give you. (I realize that the picture looks a bit like a bowl full of intestines, but trust me, the color is much more appealing in person)

Can't wait for them to dry so I can see how they'll spin up. I purposely used a lot of vinegar so that the dye would set quickly when it hit the roving. I was hoping that would increase the mottled effect, and it seems like it did.... we shall see!

Oh yes, and I'm still working on those socks.

I don't know when I've had a pair of socks take this long... I think I just really find that cabled rib a royal pain. I guess when I saw the original picture of the pattern and thought how cool it was that each rib looked like a tiny little 2-stitch cable I should have realized that was because each rib really is a tiny little 2-stitch cable, and it's a royal freaking pain!

So there you go. Lots of news. Lots of pictures. Lots of fibery things. It just doesn't get much better, does it?
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