Friday, April 27, 2007

Spinning, maybe even with a goal

So I'm spinning up random fibers that have been in my stash for oh, maybe a decade or so. Really there isn't much sense to what I'm spinning -- it's more like I open a box and say, "Oh, hey, that! I remember buying that! Maybe I should spin it up!"

Not exactly spinning with a purpose. Fortunately when I spin on default like this I know pretty much what I'm going to get -- sport weight woolen spun two ply -- so I know I'll be able to knit something with it.

And one of the nice things about spinning is that it takes time. During that time you are, of course, touching the fiber, and at least some of the time you're looking at it, too. So all kinds of possible futures for the yarn can float in and out of your mind -- or at least in and out of my mind. It's almost on a par with taking a shower. (In the "having creative ideas" department. Not really in the "getting clean" department.)

So here's what I'm spinning now:

One pound of natural colored Corriedale -- 5 ounces spun up, 11 to go. You can't see it very clearly here but it's a nice dark, dark brown with the occasional white thread. It's on the coarser end of Corriedale fleece, so I wouldn't want to make ribbed cuffs out of it, but it will be a nice lofty yarn.

I'm thinking of turning it into this:

which comes from this lovely book:

from which I have knitted NOTHING because I like so many of them that it's hard to pick. But somehow this corrie seems like exactly the right yarn for that mud-cloth vest.

Unfortunately I seem to be currently convinced that a yellowy Samoyed-wool blend would be just right for the lighter color, even though dog hair is FURRY and I don't think mud cloth is furry at all. But maybe over the next 11 oz. I'll come to my senses.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Tree skirt

Shan asked about my tree skirt. It's a Dimensions kit called Here Comes Santa which was apparently discontinued about three seconds after I fell in love with it in a catalog. It looks just like the cards and decorations and coloring books I remember from childhood. I dithered about it for a year, because, you know, I had never actually cross stitched anything and this was kind of a big project. But once I decided I wanted it, I discovered it was no longer available.

I found a kit on eBay and was very happy until I noticed that the finished skirt is 45" in diameter. We get big trees, and a 45" skirt is just too small. It does seem to be the standard size for kits, though. I'd much rather have a 72" diameter tree skirt, and after thinking about it I realized that I could use three kits to make a scalloped design around the tree -- appliqued onto a larger skirt or maybe pieced into one, I don't really know yet.

So I cross stitched a pillow case to make sure I could stand to do this, and then I called Dimensions and managed to order a second thread kit -- I told them I was going to put two designs on one skirt. I didn't trust my ability to explain the scallop thing, but I've done the math and it will really work.

Of course, this might be just another of my Really Enormous (Never-Finished) Projects. And the whole thing rests on me finding another kit somewhere.

So far I've done about half of one repetition. Last fall I pulled it out, intending to finish it up and put it under the tree somehow. But it seems like my eyes have deteriorated quite a bit since I started the project a few years back; since I've just switched to bifocals (!!) it doesn't seem impossible. Before I can work on this I need better lighting for my stitching station, and maybe some sort of up-light to help with the dark fabric. I'd really like to work on it this summer, when I won't feel pressured to get it done Right Away. We'll be having Christmas at our house next year, so it seems like a good year to have at least the first scallop done.

Ah, the optimism of spring!


I have been spinning a fair amount this spring, all of it from stash. That's not hard, because my spinning stash is pretty large. When I counted boxes back in January, I had 10 boxes of spinning fiber; I've spun up a box or so by now and am working on another. But then there are the fleeces and fleeces and fleeces out in the garage ... and so I ask myself, where did it all come from?

When I first started spinning, around 1994, I bought whatever I could find. That was quite a lot, since Davidson's Old Mill Yarn was close enough to get to on a (long) lunch hour. I wanted to experiment with all sorts of fibers, but I wanted to have enough to really do something with the resulting yarn. So I tended to buy pound or two of whatever caught my eye.

Shortly after that I discovered the joys of raw fleece. A new friend raised Shetland sheep, so I bought oh, one or two fleeces in every color. She got to the point of asking, "Are you sure you want another one?" Sarah, you were right, I wasn't keeping up with them!

And then there was the almost-local guild with the fabulous twice-yearly sales. Oh, my closets were bursting.

But you know, we all calm down after the initial rush. And I'm sure I would have started exerting a little more self-control except ... I got engaged. To a wonderful guy, but, you know, things were going to be different. For one thing, we were going to be living in the same house. We hadn't even been living in the same time zone up to that point, so my stash was going to be a tiny bit more visible than it had been up to that point. For another, I was going to give up my job without having another one lined up.

So I did the obvious thing: I stocked up. Hey -- who knew what being married would really be like? Maybe I'd have to ask before I bought wool. I mean, it's not like I was going to have an income or anything. And besides, my lines of supply would be interrupted. I knew there were probably sheep in Minnesota, but I'd be in a big city. And married. (Perhaps I was a little freaked out.) So I bought myself a sort of dowry.

Then of course it turned out that the wonderful guy I married was still wonderful after I married him. And of course Minnesota has sheep. And spinners. And while I was looking around for a job I tried my hand at importing wool from England -- not so successful, but hey, if you want a short, coarse Welsh Black Mountain fleece, I'm your gal, I've got three or four in the garage, along with some Masham and I can't remember what all else.

Since I had kids and moved to Oklahoma (pretty nearly simultaneously) I've been pretty well under control. But I do seem to be reverting ... last year I bought a beautiful Finnsheep fleece, and two lovely alpaca fleeces. And I might just have ordered a black Shetland (because remember the millions of Shetland fleeces I bought in 97-98? I'm almost out of black.)

Do you think I'm nervous about something?

P.S. So I started wondering just how much there was in the garage, and I ran out to count. 20 rubbermaid tubs (ranging from the little ones that are about 25 gallons to the huge 60 gallon ones), three smallish boxes, one huge box that doesn't count because it's the background for the catfish locker hooked rug, four fleeces in sacks because the tubs are all full, and three huge sacks like feed sacks on steroids, full of the British fleeces. Plenty. But this is SO EXCITING because I spotted a tub that was not in with the regular stacks, and wondered what was in it, and there are all kinds of fiber odds and ends including the spindle I've been searching for since last summer! Yeah! What do you suppose I should count so that I can find the yarn & chart I need to finish up the Blue's Clues sweater?

P.P.S. Of course lots of the tubs aren't really full because I don't split up fleeces so, you know, it's not like I have an entire wall of the garage full of wool. Just of containers of wool, which is not the same thing at all.

P.P.P.S. Oh! and the tin of buttons I've been looking for since 2002! This was clearly where I scooped all the fiber mishmash when we moved to this house -- how could I have overlooked it for five years? I have way too much stuff. Rest assured I am sorting through this with a recycling bag on one side and a trash can on the other.

Know thyself.

When I knit these socks I made no effort to match up the starting points. "Hey," I thought, "I'm a free-spirited kind of gal. Who needs socks with exactly matching stripes? Not me!"

(I love how tiny the unstretched sock is.)

As it turns out, I don't need stripes that match. But I need toes that match, or at least toes that aren't so boldly mismatched. These are my most comfortable socks, and I like the colors and the stripes and the fit and pretty much everything about them ..... except that one yellow toe.

Too bad I mostly wear them with sandals.

And I'm kind of torn here. Because I have a bunch of other self striping yarns in my sock stash, and I'm not quite sure what to do. I kind of like the mismatched legs. Even mismatched heels seems kind of charming to me. But the toes -- no. (The difference? I'm not really sure. Except it might be that I see them all the time.) So I don't really want to start each sock at the same point in the color repeat, so that everything matches. I wear such boring clothes (winter: blue jeans, plain colored turtleneck, probably white or blue; summer: jean shorts, plain colored v-necked t-shirt, probably white or yellow or turquoise -- what was it with turquoise last summer? Everything I tried on that fit was turquoise or teal) -- anyways, I wear such boring clothes that a little mismatching in the socks kind of livens things up.

But how can I have random legs/heels/feet on the socks and matched toes? I suppose I could get down to around the start of toe shaping and then fiddle around with the color repeat to get myself in the same place. But isn't that sort of weird?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Wonderful mittens: a review of Selbuvotter

A post of Maia's led me to this wonderful book:

(read more about the book here)

Terri Shea has written an informative and inspirational book about the black and white mittens developed in the Norwegian town Selbu during the late 19th & early 20th centuries. You can see pictures of traditional Selbu knitting at their Knitting Museum (in Norwegian) and at this new-to-me blog, Norway Needles.

The book arose from a project to catalog mittens in Seattle's Nordic Heritage Museum (they're having a Nordic knitting conference in October), and features many mittens from the museum. Other mittens come from Annemor Sundbø's collection. I find these especially appealing because they are used -- they came from the shoddy pile described in Everyday Knitting: Treasures from a Ragpile. The wear on them reminds me that the point of all that knitting is to keep someone warm, and the mending shows how a special textile can be treasured and used even when it is no longer new.

Shea has charted and reproduced 9 pairs of gloves and 22 pairs of mittens. In all but one case she has charted the mittens exactly as they were knit, even when that produces an oddly shaped handcovering -- one pair is nearly square. (The design on the other mitten was knit freeform; the chart tidies it up a bit.) There are good sized pictures of the newly-knitted mittens and (in most cases) tiny pictures of the originals. I found I missed those tiny pictures when they weren't included. For instance, NHM #1, on pp. 86-87, was apparently originally knit using three shades of the pattern color, perhaps to use up leftovers. I'd like to have seen how that looked, but no picture was included. (The photos are all in black and white, but value differences ought to show up.)

Instructions for the mittens are thorough, and include a discussion of how to alter the pattern to change either the size or the shape. There's also a nice introductory section on techniques particular to these mittens & gloves. It's probably not enough for someone who has never knitted mittens before, but is rather intended to orient knitters who are new to Selbu-style knitting.

The yarn originally used for most of the mittens is no longer made. Shea and her test knitters have used several different yarns to knit the patterns in the book. This is especially nice, because some are thicker than others. You could easily alter the size of the patterns just by switching yarns. Yarns used include Jamieson & Smith jumper weight, Raumagarn Røros Lamullgarn, Dalegarn Tiur, Raumagarn Gammelserie, and Harrisville New England Knitter's Shetland, among others. Gauges range from 28-38 stitches per 10 cm; most are around 28-32.

I have only a few criticisms. One, as mentioned above, is that I would have liked to see the original mittens in all cases. I wish there was a little more discussion of the arrangement of motifs in the designs -- why are so many of the animals (reindeer, moose, a wonderful dog) upside down from the wearer's point of view? It's not like your hands hang at your side very often. Perhaps it's so the animal is right side up for the viewer when the wearer reaches out to them?

But my only serious criticism is the ordering of the patterns. If there's any logic, it escapes me. Gloves and mittens are jumbled together; patterns for men's, women's, and children's sizes are intermixed. A mitten labeled as "a great first Selbuvotter pattern" (p. 113) is nearly the last one given.

I'm not sure exactly how I would have ordered them myself. I might have started with the most typical mitten designs (Shea describes the pairs on pp. 43-44 and 118-119 as "textbook"), then given more unusual mitten designs, and finally glove designs. Or I might have started with the oldest style and ended with the most recent, though that seems much trickier to determine. Perhaps I would have included a chart giving the gauge, needle size, finished size, and page numbers of each design, so that knitters could see their options laid out in one place.

But these are minor quibbles. This book is exactly my cup of tea. I raced through it on first reading, and look forward to a slower re-reading and many happy days knitting the patterns. I especially like Shea's liberal references to other books on the history of Scandinavian knitting; I'm sure I'll be on my couch soon, surrounded by all of them, reading in first one and then another. If you like traditional knitting, or mittens, or knitting history, or all three, then it will be your cup of tea, too.

Monday, April 09, 2007


I've just figured out how to finish off Charlotte's Blue's Clues top -- while I was taking a shower, of course. If I took showers all day long, how many wonderful ideas would I have?

I've been thinking for weeks that I would edge the armhole with I-cord and the neck with another I-cord and then connect them with a few more in the middle to make tank top straps. But I haven't been able to figure out what to do at the top to make it adjustable. I want her to get tired of the top rather than outgrow it, and the only real issue is the length of the straps. Because the top is reversible, I want the straps to look good from both sides. Buttons and ties seem too clunky.

Here's what I'm going to do: I'll attach the I-cords to each other most of the way, but separate them occasionally. At the top the middle ones will stop, but the outside ones will continue as laces. I'll lace them through the holes of the opposite side, then tie them in a bow half way down. So she'll have little bows below her shoulders, front and back, and the ties can be pulled out and re-laced higher as she grows.

Doesn't it sound wonderful? Off to experiment to see if it will really work. I've got 40 minutes before I have to go pick the kids up ....

Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Saga of my Socks

About 10 years ago I knit my first pair of socks, and I loved them. Well, really, I loved knitting my first pair of socks, and I loved knitting AND wearing my second pair of socks, which were knit out of finer yarn. (The first ones were knit out of several strands of yarn held together on fat needles; it feels like you're walking on a loofah.) I was determined to wear nothing but handknit socks from then on. This resolution was only slightly shaken by the discovery of holes in my handknits. I learned to darn, and kept on knitting.

But (you knew there was a "but", didn't you?) then I got pregnant (which was good) and my feet grew (which was not). They weren't small to start with, but they got bigger and bigger and bigger. And they STAYED bigger after the baby was born. I had to replace all my shoes .... and my handknit socks were too small.


I really didn't have the time or energy to knit a new sock wardrobe. So I found some wonderful SmartWool socks on clearance and bought a bunch. They were so wonderful that I bought a whole bunch more -- several years' worth.

Several years passed. Last fall I started knitting socks again (my feet seem to have stabilized) and found, as so many others have before me, that they are the perfect portable project. Most of my knitting is done at the library, or the playground, or while waiting for files to load, or water to boil .... you get the idea. So I cranked out several pairs pretty quickly.

At about this time I noticed that most of my SmartWool socks were starting to wear out. When I went to replace them I discovered that they cost TWENTY BUCKS A PAIR. Oh, my goodness! I love these socks -- they are sturdy, soft, cushy, and roomy. They can be machine washed and dried for years and still feel good (not true of other brands I've tried). But $20 is just too much. I think I paid $4 the first time around. I might even be willing to double that, but no more.

So I'm going to try to knit myself a dozen pairs of socks before next winter. I've already bought the yarn for half a dozen pairs, and ordered some superwash roving. I've got plenty of patterns (though I might buy a few more....) and a summer's worth of swim lessons and playdates stretching ahead of me.

I'm starting a new sidebar to keep track of these. I just hope I can make myself knit a dozen uncomplicated, useful pairs of socks before I get sidetracked doing fancy ones. Even six would be a start -- eight would take me from one laundry day to the next.