Silk

I’ve had this gradient-dyed silk top in my fiber stash since the day I learned to spin. I had no idea how to spin silk at the time, and just barely knew how to spin wool, but the shimmering rope called out to me every time I passed Apple Tree Knits booth at the North Jersey Fiber Arts Festival, where the Bombyx silk dangled alongside the rows of also-tempting ombre yarn. It ended up in my bag.

For the first half-year or so of my spinning attempts, I was working with a supported spindle. Which, I’ve come to realize, is not really my forte. It took me that entire time just to make it through 4 ounces of merino and maybe half an ounce of Hog Island wool. While I was plugging along through those early stages of learning how to spin, I’d occasionally take out the silk and pet it gingerly. But I couldn’t imagine attacking that sheen with my clumsy spindle. Later.

During my beginner’s drop spindle class, the instructor had bemoaned the tendency for spinners to treat the spindle as simply a stepping stone along the way to the main show: the spinning wheel. She was a lovely lady, and I really wanted to embrace this ancient, elegantly simple technology … but there’s no way I want to spend half my spinning time manually winding yarn around a stick. And I just lack the coordination to keep the spindle spinning while producing any kind of even yarn.

So for my birthday this year, a spinning wheel it was. A double-treadle, single-drive Kromski Sonata with a modern foldable shape, classical turned-wood styling, and a rich walnut finish. It was love at first sight. Or, OK, love at first assembly.

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But while the wheel may seem a more complicated piece of equipment than the modest spindle, for me, the learning curve was nowhere near as steep. With the wheel, I was able to rocket through 4 ounces each of a two-ply, fingering-weight Shetland-alpaca blend and a bulky singles of merino top. And I even made a few yards of beaded art yarn (more on which later).

Through all this, the silk never left my mind, but I was afraid I’d destroy it with my rough fisherman’s hands, the fine fibers snagging and disintegrating. But after my success with the art yarn, I decided to ride that high and, after a night of nervous technique Googling, I took the plunge.

Let’s just say I’m glad I did.2014-07-18 00.07.50-1

 

Hand-Knit Holidays

It may not seem like it based on the silence on the blog, but things have been busy here in the past month! All the normal craziness that goes along with the holidays was multiplied by 10 this year, as I made everyone hand-knit gifts — some of which got done, and some of which are still in the works.

I made my brother a striped scarf using two variegated yarns, one a mix of leaf-green, goldenrod and tawny brown, the other a blend of deep navy and merlot. This created a dappled stripe effect that reminds me of sunlight filtering down into a cave through a canopy of leaves. The yarn is a 50-50 merino-Romney blend I bought from The Great Adirondack Yarn Co. Inc. at Rhinebeck, and the pattern is a basic 1×1 rib with two-row stripes. More info here on my Ravelry project page.

My sister got a matching hat and cowl set, but I remembered to take a photo only of the cowl. Oops. They’re both done in Crystal Palace Chunky Mochi in the colorway “Fireworks,” which is a vibrant mix of grape, salmon, flashy magenta, and pale ice-blue. The yarn is a bulky version of the Mini Mochi I used for the cowl I finished while I was at the beach in September, and I still love it for its softness and fun colors — though I’ll warn that it’s not great for grafting or sewn bind-offs, as it’s loosely spun and starts to draft apart with too much tugging.

Also, apologies for the really terrible photos here! They were taken before I came to terms with the fact that cameraphone photos taken at night are just never going to look right.

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These pirate socks, knit for my youngest brother (a.k.a. Fire King), were my first foray into stranded colorwork.  I definitely ran into some tension issues — the colorwork on the first sock I knit fit a bit tightly, so I ended up making that section way too loose on the second one. But I learned a lot while knitting them, thanks to this really helpful article on color dominance in stranded color knitting on the Tricksy Knitter blog. And I’m still pretty proud of how they turned out, especially considering they were also the first pair of socks I ever finished!

I also knit my mom a bulky cowl-neck sweater in an orchid-colored wool-mohair blend, but totally forgot to take any pictures of it — probably just because I was so glad to be finished with the thing in time to give it to her on Christmas! I was still weaving in ends on Christmas morning, but it got done.

It’s kind of a shame I didn’t get any photos, though, because that one involved some pretty intense knitting math on my part. The pattern called for bulky-weight yarn, but I had inadvertently bought super-bulky, so I decided to just convert the pattern to fit the yarn I had, based on a gauge swatch. Luckily the entire thing was in simple stockinette stitch, so it wasn’t terribly hard, though I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t had to rip back a time or two after messing up the shoulder shaping.

I’m still working on a lace afghan for my grandmother and a bag for my aunt to carry her crochet supplies in, and I haven’t even begun the sweater I’d meant to give S.M. All in good time, though. Meanwhile, work on products for the upcoming Etsy shop has been chugging along — more on that later!

Hope everyone had a merry holiday season and a happy new year!

“Well, I’ve Got a Nikon Camera …”

I made the plunge last week and bought a DSLR camera so I can take nice, crisp product photos for my Etsy shop, whose launch date is right around the corner — the end of next month! So naturally I spent most of the weekend playing around with it. This was a little tough on Saturday, because we were snowed in, but I managed to get a few nice portraits of the kitties and a not-too-horrible, through-the-bathroom-window shot of the parking lot next door covered in snow. Also, we have a Christmas tree.

DSC_0199Portrait of the artist as a cat in a skillet, or “Strider”

ImageKumquat refused to pose for a normal shot

DSC_0067 editIngrid on a thrift-store chair all three of them have worked hard to destroy

DSC_0182Jealous of our view?

DSC_0197I could just not get a good shot of the whole tree to save my life

The camera is a Nikon D5200, which is an entry-level DSLR. I’m still trying to figure out how to use all the features well, but for right now, I’m just focusing on composition. I’d never been a big photo taker until I got an iPhone a couple of years ago and realized I could actually take decent photos with it, especially given that I could use apps like Snapseed to edit them into shape. (Or out of all recognizable shape. It happens.)

In the past, I’d always kind of figured that people who were taking pictures all the time — on vacation, at concerts, at parties — were missing out on the moment. But I’ve come to appreciate the different kind of attention the camera makes you bring to your surroundings.

I took the camera out on Sunday afternoon for a walk to Lincoln Park West, which is a few blocks from our apartment. Instead of zoning out to the music in my earbuds (Dave van Ronk; yes, I did just see that Coen brothers movie) as I’d usually have done, I kept my eyes tuned in to line, color, contrast as I stomped around on the ice, camera cradled inside my parka to keep the battery warm. (Freezing temperatures kill your battery life.) I still have a lot to learn, but that’s OK — new hobbies are kind of my hobby.

DSC_0203The sweet alley I have to go through to enter the stairway to my apartment

DSC_0215Roses in the snow

DSC_0220Sometimes you just gotta take a picture of a gate

DSC_0221People were just totally parked all over the place

Graffiti with poppies

DSC_0229Park buds

DSC_0231This reminded me of “View of Delft”

DSC_0237Obligatory winter berries shot

DSC_0240Obligatory winter berries redux

DSC_0241Spent a long time editing a slightly different version of this photo, then liked the unedited version better

DSC_0263OK, I’m done. I’ll leave you alone.

Plans A-Brewin’

It’s a foggy November day, the sky whited out with cloud cover and the leaves beginning to come off the trees in earnest. The perfect kind of afternoon to stay home and work on some sewing, now that our studio is in some semblance of working order. I’d been working on this Truffle dress pattern by Colette in this cotton lawn from Liberty of London.

The project had been had been put on hold for a couple of months after the move, because it took awhile to get all my supplies unpacked and clear out the floor space I needed to cut fabric. But now I’m back in action and hope to get this dress finished soon — I’m planning on wearing it a lot this holiday season. Art Nouveau is one of my favorite design movements, so I’m pretty in love with this print.

My knitting needles have been clicking up a storm too, of course, as the holidays approach. Most of the things I’ve been working on are supersecret gift-type things, but here are a few shots of a cowl I (sort of) recently finished.

For those who are interested, that’s the Chicken and Waffles Cowl pattern by Verdigris Knits, knit up using Schachenmayr SMC’s Silenzio yarn in white and the same company’s Juvel yarn in lime. Silenzio is an acrylic-wool-alpaca blend, but though I’ve been iffy about acrylic since learning it’s made from petroleum (ew), this yarn at least doesn’t feel like it’s made of acrylic, which is a plus. The alpaca makes it nice and soft and fuzzy. And it’s a bulky-weight single, which adds to the soft-factor. The Juvel, on the other hand, is 100% wool, and it’s plied, which makes it a bit more of a workhorse yarn. Not the softest yarn in the world, but I think it’d do for some nice Shetland or Nordic colorwork.

The cowl was done using a technique called brioche, which is way easier than it looks. You only use one color per row, with the effect created by wrapping stitches using yarnovers, then eventually knitting the stitches together with their yarnovers. The Italian cast-on method I used was way more difficult than the actual colorwork — wish I’d thought to get a picture of it before gifting the cowl.

And here is a pair of mitts I finished even more recently:

I really love this yarn, Lion Brand Fishermen’s Wool, as the skeins are quite large and reasonably priced, and the wool comes undyed, in a range of natural colors. (Although I will warn that that the colorway I used, Birch Tweed, does have a small bit of acrylic and rayon content, for the tweedy effect.) Lanolin oil is added back to the wool during the spinning process to mimic the yarn that would have been used for the traditional Guernsey or Aran fisherman’s jumper. This adds a bit of water repellency, which makes it perfect for a tea cozy, like this one I knit last spring:

Tea cozy 12

And last but certainly not least, work on Bat Boy is beginning to gain steam again. The stress of the move put it on the shelf for a little while too, as I focused on getting the apartment in shape. But I think the break was just what I needed, because I find myself able to approach it again with more discipline, actually working in terms of chapters and overall narrative arc, figuring out how to fit together all the bits and scraps I’d been jotting down as errant bolts of inspiration struck, and filling out the connective webbing that I hope is going to hold this thing together.

Rhinebeck

The New York State Sheep and Wool Festival at Rhinebeck last weekend was amazing! Though a little lonely, since I went solo. I really need to make some knitting friends! Still, it was so nice to get outside the city and see the autumn leaves, the rolling hills, the Hudson passing by outside the Metro North train windows.

And, most importantly, there were the sheep! And the wool! And the yarn!

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I came home with a whole lot of natural, undyed fiber … sturdy, white wool from two Hog Island sheep named Tessie and Holly, soft, marled gray merino, a fluffy, tan blend of bamboo and baby alpaca wool. I also got some beautiful maple-colored merino streaked with blueberry and raspberry shades. (Pancakes, anyone?) I’ve already started in on spinning the Hog Island wool, which I’m aiming to make into a two-ply woolen yarn. Not really sure what the weight will be — I’m just trying for as much consistency as I can achieve at this point.

(By the way, if you’re wondering what the heck a Hog Island sheep is, you can read about them here! This is the website of the mill I bought the fiber from.)

I also found a fair-trade basket that supports a nonprofit in Africa — totally vindicates my decision not to just cave and buy one at Target the weekend before.

I was pretty exhausted by the end of the day, though, so it was nice to come home to these little jerks.

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Wool Festival Season

It’s wool festival season! (Yes, that is a thing.) Before I head off to Rhinebeck, N.Y., early Sunday morning for the motherlode of American fiber fests, I want to write up a note about a cozier celebration I went to last weekend: the North Jersey Fiber Arts Festival.

The event was in Ridgewood, a picturesque bedroom community of New York City whose tree-lined streets and rows of Tudor-style shops seems too good to be true, and are — median household income is $143,000. Still, it was nice to see the trees just beginning to turn copper around their edges and to smell air that smelled like … well, like just air, and not garbage, city bus fumes, or urine.

I wanted to spend more time wandering — suburbia, I miss you? — but I had a mission, and its name was drop spindle. By that, I mean I was taking a class in how to spin yarn using wool and a weighted wooden stick, kind of like a free-floating top. Because when you’re addicted to a craft to the point that you spend every spare minute practicing it — knitting on the subway, knitting at work, knitting while reading books with their pages weighted open with your cellphone — the answer, clearly, is to pick up another craft. Preferably one that uses your hands and wrists in at least approximately the same way. (I’m sorry, carpal tunnel. Hang in there, please.)

Let it be said that spinning is addictive. Which I realized before the class had ended, when it occurred to me I was no longer really listening to the instructor, I was so fixed on the length of camel-colored wool winding into yarn between my index finger and thumb. Coarse, lumpy yarn, yes, but yarn. And that friends, is why I walked out of that church with a bottom-whorl, maple-and-padauk supported spindle and an armful of fiber, including some Bombyx silk in a pale, shimmery sand-and-stone gradient that it’ll probably be months before I have the confidence to test out.

BUT, I did test out the braid of handpainted merino roving I came home with — in fact, I’ve already spun it, washed it, and knit it up into a pair of variegated pink-and-white mitts. By the time the spinning was done, I’d watched the entire first season of Orange Is the New Black, and my hands looked like I’d just murdered a gang of ill-intentioned beets. The dye rubbed off something fierce.

Now I can’t wait to get home from Rhinebeck with some new wool to try out. I’m thinking I’ll go with an undyed wool this time, and maybe try plying the yarn. (That means twisting two strands together to produce a stronger, more evenly twisted yarn.)

See You in September

Well, now that September’s almost through, it’s probably about time I post a few summer vacation pics, right?

Let me start off by saying this vacation was sorely needed — but perhaps a bit poorly timed. S.M. and I made our big move from Brooklyn to Jersey City the Sunday before Labor Day, and then the very next day, we said goodbye to the kitties, grabbed our suitcases, and took the train out to Newark, where we picked up a rental car and drove all the say down to Outer Banks to meet up with my family for a week’s vacation. Let’s just say we were both a little tired at the end of that eight-hour drive.

Luckily, the part of the Outer Banks where we stayed — a little beach community called Salvo — was pretty secluded. So we got plenty of peace and quiet as we read in our beach chairs, splashed in the waves, and walked along the sand looking for ghost crabs. We ate some delicious seafood my brother Rob cooked … lobster, crab legs, squid, baby octopus, mussels … and drank some equally yummy white sangria and pina coladas.

The beach house where we stayed had a pool, a hot tub, a pool table, and about a million rooms, including a lookout tower with windows on all sides and an ocean view. This was a great spot to pose for cheesy selfies with the cowl I finished while I was down there.

For anyone interested in the knitterly details, it’s the Err-Nerr Cowl pattern by Brooke Emrich, available as a free download(!) on Ravelry. (For those not of the fibery persuasion, this is a social network for knitters and crocheters to share projects, patterns, and yarn info.) I’m surprised more people haven’t knit this pattern so far. The mesh stitch pattern is beautiful and shows off the variegation in the Crystal Palace Mini Mochi yarn so well.

By the way, also loooooove this yarn. It’s a soft, fuzzy 80% merino-20% nylon blend, and it comes in a bajillion gorgeous colorways. Plus it’s super affordable. I’ve used the Chunky Mochi as well, and also found it lovely. Can’t wait to get some in the Blueberry Pancakes colorway and knit up something else for myself — since we all know how much I love those for breakfast. 😉

Anyway, so back to the vacation! Our last night was one of my favorites. Rob built a bonfire on the beach, despite a little interference from some gusty winds, and we roasted marshmallows for s’mores. OK, so I was the only one actually willing to eat an entire s’more, because what with the winds, they ended up a bit sandy. But hey, I am committed to my summery treats.

I hope everyone had great summers and are as ready for fall as I am. Since returning to the Northeast after six years in north-central Florida — which has approximately two seasons: summer from March to November and almost-winter from December to February — I’ve really come to appreciate some autumnal foliage.