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.

Fourth of July Weekend

Both my mom and I got unexpected five-day weekends, and I spent mine lounging around her house in western Pa., eating a ridiculous amount of food … pulled pork sandwiches, brown-rice-and-veggie salad, carrot cake, lemon cake, Krispy Kreme donuts (you can only get them at Penn Station in the city, so I grab them when I can!), toffee cookies, roasted asparagus, pesto pizza, cherry cheesecake … It was pretty amazing! I’m always more on the “flex” end of flexitarianism when I visit home, but that’s what vacation’s for, in my book. I could do the whole strict veg thing when I was in high school, but I’m not the ascetic I was then. I’ve realized that I won’t last two days if I don’t allow myself occasional indulgences.

I flew in on the Fourth, and we fired up my mom’s new backyard fire pit that night for some roasted s’mores. I got some pretty epic shots of my brother, the self-proclaimed Fire King.

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And by epic, I mostly mean grainy — but shhhh.

We also visited my grandmother for her 79th birthday, and it was wonderful to see her. The sun was blazing, so after my brother and I took a walk through the vineyard, we went down to Lake Erie to cool off in the breeze. It was the first time I’d been down by the water in years.  I wish I’d remembered to take some photos of the grapes, since I’m never up at the farm when they’re on the vine, but I was too busy fending off heat stroke. I’m going to try to make the midyear visit a more regular thing, though, so maybe next summer.

Lake Erie 2

I also finished my cap-sleeved lattice top during the ride up, at the price of some minor carsickness. I’m pretty happy with how it turned out!

Cap Sleeve Lattice Shirt 4

Apologies for the bad pic — I threw the shirt on real quick for my brother to photograph it with my phone, and the neck’s all crooked. I’ll take a better one later.

The knitting was a little tense toward the end, as I had just enough of the sage-colored yarn to finish. But finish I did, and I had quite a bit of the undyed white yarn left over, so I started a lace scarf.

Flying Home scarf 2

And I’ve got more yarn coming in the mail tomorrow. Next up: a garnet-colored sweater vest for S.M. in a worsted-weight wool. I’m really excited about these skeins.  They’re hand-spun and kettle-dyed through a cooperative called Manos del Uruguay that brings economic opportunities to rural women throughout the Uruguay countryside. It’s nice to buy something beautiful that also supports fair trade and helps women in developing countries make a living outside sweatshops.

June Recap

To appease my mom — from whose porch I’m now enjoying the endless Pennsylvania rain — here, finally, is an update on June. Not that she needs it, since she was around for most of what’s below!

She and my sister, Bird, took the train into the city a few weeks ago for their annual summer visit. We went to the World Trade Center memorial, strolled through Central Park while eating gelato from a Columbus Circle shop called Grom, and ate at Roberta’s, the trendy Bushwick pizzeria where a waitress famously served her final shift in nothing but ‘nets several months ago.

While they were here, we saw The Phantom of the Opera, the first Broadway musical I’ve seen. I’d read the novel one summer when I was in high school, and noticing some Bat Boy parallels as I watched the play brought to mind another novel I’d loved then, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I haven’t thought about it in years, but I’m sure it had something to do with Bat Boy’s germination; I was such a Victor Hugo nut back then. I’ll have to reread it.

I also finished the afghan I’ve been working on!

I knit it in a grey acrylic yarn that has become incredibly soft with washing, though I’m worried the synthetic fiber might not hold up as well over time. I plan to knit another in the coming months, and will likely try a wool blend.

Work has passed in a blur of Supreme Court decisions recently. Although they weren’t all wonderful, at least the justices came down on the right side of DOMA and Prop 8. With the Roberts court, I’ll take what I can get.

More soon on my Fourth of July weekend, which I’m spending at my mom’s.

Stars, stripes & equal rights,
Kat

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Knot Again …

Lesson: If you’re going to wind a hank of yarn into a ball, make sure you have enough time to get it done in one go. Or you’ll end up with this:

Well, maybe you won’t, but I sure did. Luckily I’d bought two hanks of this hand-dyed merino yarn, so I was able to set aside that monstrosity aside for a time when I’m more mentally equipped to tackle it, and in the meanwhile wind the other PATIENTLY into a neat little center-pull ball.

Kumquat helped

Now I’m ready to get started on this cap-sleeve lattice top.

source: Purl Bee

source: Purl Bee

It’s my first sweater, and my first project in fingering-weight yarn, which is superfine, meaning the stitches will be smaller and the piece take longer to knit. It’s also my first time using nickel-plated needles, which are more slippery than the plastic ones I’ve been using, but supposedly faster. So I’m curious to see how long it’ll take me. And what kinds of new calluses my fingers will build.

Wish me luck!
Kat