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Archive for the ‘Spinning’

Day 1 Tour de Fleece…

Dear Jan,

I realize it is almost the end of Day 2, but I’m still recovering from a Day 1 mishap.


Selkie thought that fluffy Columbia batt felt purrfect for a kitty bed.  To me, though, seeing it put to use in that manner kind of felt like wiping out in the gravel.

Nothing salves a road rash like cherry pie, which is what these are destined to become in the very near future.


And perhaps while it is baking, I can pick myself up and get back on the spinning wheel.  How is your race going?



Remember Me???

Dear Ellen,

Sorry it has been so long since I’ve posted.  As you know, I’ve been a tad busy.  So, here’s your quick catch up!

All the way back in April (as you obviously know) I had a wonderful, wonderful time visiting your workplace and meeting and speaking so many of your colleagues and co-workers.  So many good memories and ideas from that visit!  The Navy let me hang around for a few more days so I could do some outreach for them — speaking to a number of groups in academia and youth development.  (My favorite was the time I spent with about 60 3rd-8th graders talking about women in technology.  Ten year-olds really keep you on your toes!!) 

susannas-beaded-mitts.JPGIt was great that the trip included Yarnover weekend.  Vendors, classes with Chris Bylsma, Mary Scott Huff and Susanna Hansson, and of course, time with you meant for fantastic fun!  (For our readers, no, the picture on the lower left is not one of us.)  I loved the chance to visit StephenBe’s and to enjoy the sensory overload that is his world.

dsc04536.JPGAnd then, right after I returned to the DC area, I had the chance to take a class with Brenda Dayne of the Cast-On podcast.  She is as lovely as you would expect from her podcast.  I thoroughly enjoyed having the chance to get to know her a bit — witty, smart, funny and engaging.  She’d fit right in to any group that you and I put together, that’s for sure.

dsc04587.JPGThe class project was the Mrs. Beeton wristers.  I went against recommendations on my accent yarn choice (purchased at Yarnover!), but I’m very happy with it.  Future versions should include a modification to accomodate the lack of elasticity in the Seduce (rayon, linen, silk and nylon blend).  The minor problem is that without the “sproing” the knitted ruffle works up to a depth that is a bit too long.  It hides the inner ruffle knitted out of the main yarn, a superwash merino sock yarn.  I do love the contrast in texture though…even more so than for the versions of Mrs. Beeton worked with the recommended yarn types.  The simple fix will be to modify the ruffle pattern to lose just a few rows and that will be very easy.

may-20121.JPGThings are definitely popping up all over the farm these days. That gazebo I mentioned is firmly situated across from the house — bedding plants to come.  And I’ve got fairy ring mushrooms, knock out roses, peas, melons, corn, wildflowers, onions and spinach coming along very nicely!

may-2012.JPGOur tenants are doing well too.  I thought the chickadee had abandoned her nest in the birdhouse and opened it to make sure.  Surprise!  She was right there.  I quickly snapped a picture and closed it back up.  She didn’t twitch a bit and the next day was still sitting her clutch.  I was relieved I hadn’t frightened her by the rude intrusion.  The eggs above our front windows have hatched (see the tail sticking out?) and the babies are making a mess of things.  (That’s okay, we know how to use a scrub brush.)  And the purple finch who nested in the holly bush just outside our back door has laid a nice little trio of beautiful blue eggs with little black speckles.  I caught this photo while she was out taking advantage of the bird feeders.

dsc04573.JPGI’ve put some time in at the spinning wheel and now have 3 very full bobbins of alpaca/tussah silk singles.  I’ll be doing some trial plying of these to see how I want to finish them.  I’m hoping two-ply will yield a heavy sock weight or light DK. 

briar-rose.JPGThe alpaca fleece that I ordered from Morro Fleece Works arrived this past Saturday and it is incredibly lush!  I was so glad I had an extra bobbin at the ready and on Sunday I sat down and spun up about 4 1/2 ounces.  Like buttah!  The roving drafted like an absolute dream — the closest to the zen of spinning that I think I’ve experienced.  It’s a semi-worsted spin with a lot of energy.  I want to test out how a highly spun and highly plied alpaca behaves in a fabric.  I love this color and this fleece so much that I’d really like to use it for the Knitmore SPAKAL, but am smart enough to know I need to figure out the lack of elasticity issue before I knit an entire sweater out of it!  (By the way, I’m seriously considering Mishke by Julie Weisenberger.  Yes, she seems to have both of our attentions!

dsc04527.JPGBefore I say goodbye, I want to share the helmet liner I knit for my trusted assistant.  He is heading off to Afghanistan for a year to command an Air Force communications squadron over there.  I wanted him to stay warm, a small token of my appreciation for all the hard work he did for me over the last few years.  He loved it…can you see the smile?  His last day is tomorrow.  We’ll all be sorry to see him go.  Good luck, Mike!

That’s it — next post will be sooner and shorter.  I promise!

Love, Jan

Oh, rat’s nest!

Dear Jan,

After our wild weekend of wool, I settled in for a quiet spin last night.  I filled most of a bobbin before a small calamity arose – a lost end, gone in the wooliness that is my woolen spun Columbia fleece.


Happily, I had a bit of a lifeline.  I don’t recall where I saw this tip, but I’m glad I did see it and put it into practice.  I fill my bobbins from one end to the other, and rather than work my way back to the other end of the bobbin, I move immediately to the far end and work my way back.  See what happens?  You get a strand of yarn running roughly perpendicular across the wound singles upon which you wind your next course.


And when you permanently lose an end, you never have to cut back more than to that perpendicular thread.  I barely lost any at all here.


One more storage bobbin filled, and disaster averted.


I hope you enjoy your Brenda Dane class tonight, and that you report on it soon!



It could have been worsted…

Dear Jan,

I believe that sometimes the body just takes over and tells you to slow down.  I woke up this morning feeling a bit of malaise which grew to a lot of malaise, coupled with some minor chills and lack of interest in food.  Coupled with a dank and rainy day, no real agenda, and a companionable cat, I had no choice but to go back to bed, from which I’ve just gotten up at 5:30 pm.

If this wave of minor illness had hit me during the week I likely would have muscled through it.  If it had hit next weekend, your visit and all the yarny activities would not have been as much fun.  And if it had been beautiful outside, I would have felt a bit more guilty at burrowing under the covers.  It certainly could have been worsted worse.

The brown merino from the Wool Gatherings sampler pack not only could have been (and, in fact, was) worsted, it could have been (and, indeed, also was) woolen.  I spun it up both ways, directly from the top for true worsted and after carding some rolags for true woolen.

Here is the top on the left and the rolags on the right.  The fiber was nicely prepared and spun easily, but I was surprised to find dark and light kemp fibers in a merino.  You can spot one of the dark fibers in the picture of the top.  Perhaps the natural colored merinos are not as uniform as the white ones.


And the resulting yarn from left to right – woolen 3-ply, worsted 3-ply, woolen 2-ply, and worsted 2-ply.  Note how the fluffy woolen yarn actually looks lighter in color because it is so airy.


I won’t move on to another breed from this set until you catch up with Jocelyn and me.  Maybe you want to select the next one?  I’m skipping the Lincoln Longwool, which Joce has already done, as I gifted that fiber to a friend.

More later,


Not Just Kidding Around

Dear Ellen,

april-20121.jpgI’m bushed!  We’ve managed to cram 3 days into 2 again.  I should sleep well tonight!

dsc04510.JPGThe pups took it a little easier.  Max lolled about on the porch.

dsc04515.JPGRuby found a nice cool spot in the shade of the wall.  All the while I was working in the garden which I am happy to say is all in except for some plants that are yet to be…the seeds are planted in a seed starter.  They should be ready for planting by June.

dsc04492.JPGDale was preparing the ground for receipt of his new gazebo.  Never let your husband go to a mud sale alone.  Yes, these two facts are related.  It will be delivered on this coming Saturday.  Once in place we’ll decide if we want to paint it or just stain it.  The plan is to surround it with rose bushes and put flowering vines at the base of each pillar.  Should be lovely come wedding time.

dsc04512.JPGAnother new home builder took residence next door.  This little black capped chickadee has a nest inside the birdhouse that Chris and Jim gave us for Christmas.

dsc04503.JPGI also accomplished a few things in the knitting world.  The Aloha Onesie is finally done — though I still need to wrap it and get it on its way to Hawaii.

dsc04504.JPGI think I found the perfect buttons for the blue and white cotton yarn.

dsc04505.JPGAnd the snaps at the crotch worked well too.  I redid many parts of this, so it ended up taking far longer than I expected, but I’m glad I took the time.  Next time I do the pattern (which I do like a lot), I’ll be armed with the modifications I made…if I actually put them in my project page instead of just counting on remembering them.

lemony-dishcloth.jpgI also knocked out a quick dishcloth.  (We really needed one!)  It’s a simple eyelet pattern broken up by garter ridges.  The ridges are in yellow and the pattern in a color called creamsicle.  I was amused that they gave 3 different languages for yellow on the ballband, only two for creamsicle.  The first in english and the second — who knows, it said creamsicle too, but was Italicized.  Do you think they think Italian might just be italics?  Take a look at the lower left corner.  I have noticed that using the Neatby bind off method tends to cause the bind off to lean forwards.  It makes sense given the method.  I’ve also noticed that when using it to bind off in purl it leans backwards.  So, I decide to try to alternate knit and purl bind offs to see what would happen.  The 3 stitches on the right were all bound off knitwise.  The 3 stitches on the left were bound off alternating knitwise and purlwise.  I like the way they line up right on the edge and now that I’ve tried this on a dishcloth will do it on other projects too!

dsc04483.JPGLast, I’ve got 4 ounces of a wonderful suri alpaca/merino/silk blend waiting patiently on a bobbin.  It’s waiting for me to spin the other 8 ounces that I have.  Dale is working on making me a bobbin winder for use with weaving bobbins.  He also came home from the mud sale with 3 old sewing machines so he can use the motors and presser foot controllers.  Should be slick.

dsc04495.JPGI’m going to sign off now — still too many things to do before bed!  No kidding!

Love, Jan

I would have planted peas for St. Paddy’s day…

Dear Jan,

Remember how Mom used to try to get peas and potatoes planted for St. Patrick’s Day?  Well, I thought I might do that this year as it has been unusually warm and the frost is out of the ground, but I think I missed my chance.  They are a cool weather crop, and it is already in the 80’s here in Minnesota.  Heck, the Iditarod isn’t even quite over (as I write this, three mushers and their teams remain on the trail) and we are wearing shorts in Minnetonka.  I, for one, am a little scared of carbon dioxide.

My concerns haven’t stopped me from enjoying the warmth.  We headed down to the U of MN Landscape Arboretum for a day of hiking with our friends Gary and Sharon.  Not expecting much beyond bare limbs and leftover leaves from last fall, we were delighted by the variety of buds in a state of rapid expansion.  Flowers won’t be far behind (the maples are already in bloom).


We were delighted to have a mourning cloak butterfly join us, though he quickly left when another of his own species fluttered by.  I know what they have on their mind!


Even nicer was spotting a male bluebird…


…and then his mate.  We saw them flutter in and out of a bluebird house, so I know what is on their mind, too!


We did see some snow in piles in deep shade and there is still ice in the lakes, and plenty of snowdrops.  They look so simple from above, but tip up their blossom and it is a lovely, complex bloom.


I don’t think I’ve ever hiked in a T-shirt to see snowdrops.


We got home in time for me to finish my Iknitarod project while there were still four mushers who had yet to make it to Nome.  I made the Knit Vested and Stylish vest,  a free Red Heart pattern.


I don’t like to bash free patterns, because, after all, they are free, but this was a case of you get what you pay for.  The pattern left many details out – I could figure my way around them, but a less experienced knitter may have had trouble.  Things like specifying what decreases and increases to use, how to make them symmetrical (and in a worsted weight, it would have been noticeable if you didn’t make them symmetrical), poor description of mitering the points, no description of how to pick up the right number of stitches…  and on and on.  The design had weaknesses, too.  For one, the attached back belt is done in garter of worsted weight yarn, pretty clunky if you ask me.  I wasn’t going to live with that.

img_0864.JPGInstead, I made a 2-ply yarn from the 4-ply Cascade 220 used for the vest.  First, I reversed the final twist on my wheel until the plies were no longer twisted together.   This took a few tries to get it right – I simply pulled the yarn off the bobbin and wound it on my hand then ran it back into the wheel with the appropriate twist to adjust until it was perfect.

I then separated the plies, running two to a bobbin winder and wrapping two on my hand.


Next, figure out how much twist to put back in and get a reasonably balanced yarn.  How to discover the right twist?  Water – it releases the set twist of the fiber and lets it relax to where it wants to be.


The damp two ply next to some that had not gotten a bath gives me guidance on how much twist to put back into the two ply yarn.


I plied it on my wheel, and then knit these little bits right off the bobbin.  That was convenient, as it let me put a bit more twist in as needed.


I was quite happy with the weight and look of the little belt.  That extra effort almost always pays off!


A day in the sun, the last push to finish the vest, and even some spinning leaves me ready to make the effort to get to bed early.  I hope your day was as full and productive as mine was!



6 More Weeks

Dear Ellen,

dsc04167.JPGI guess being put on notice that it was expected to hang around for 6 more weeks made winter finally get serious about showing up here.  It’s very cold for this part of the state (this part of the year), but fortunately I have hand knits to keep me warm on my walks.

february.JPGAnd our birds are happy to have lots of bird seed and suet.

dsc04182.JPGdsc04175.JPGI finished up some pleasing 3-ply 70% BFL and 30% Tussah Silk yesterday.  By this morning it was dry from its bath to set the twist and I skeined it up.  I’m rather pleased with it.  It has a little bit of a halo, but not much.  The silk makes it feel very, very…well, silky.  And the colors are wonderful.  The colorway was called Redwood Forest and you can see it.  It spun very nicely.  If you see any Frabjous Fibers around, you might want to grab it.

dsc04166.JPGIn other spinning news, I scored a collection of ounce to ounce and a half samples  of 24 different sheep breeds.  I’m going to try to do 2 a month for the next few months.  Once I retire I can do more.  Fun!

dsc04171.JPGI’m making headway on the shawl for my friend Ann.  I did find an error in the pattern, but I worked it out pretty directly.  The start of the shawls from Alison’s book is new for me.  I rather like it for this kind of circular shawl.  I think Ann will like it too.

dsc04170.JPGI also cast on for my Pipeliner’s Journey as part of the KAL over on The Knitting Pipeline.  I am LOVING this Quince and Co. yarn!

Short, but sweet this week.

Love, Jan

Downy or Hairy?

Dear Ellen,

img_5819.JPGDo you like your peckers downy or hairy?  Sorry, upon reading my opening line, I realize it sounds way to much like the language of our spam commenters, but to be clear, I am talking about woodpeckers.  I believe this lovely bird is a hairy one.  The two are remarkably similar with differences only in their beaks and outer tail feathers as far as I can tell.  If those are black bars/spots on her outer tail feathers (yes, I can tell she’s a female — no red patch on the back of the head), then I’m wrong, she’s a downy.  But I would expect to see the black spots a bit better and her beak is far more chisel-like than I saw on the pictures of the downy.  Tough call.  I’ll let you know after I post this over in the “Knitting Pipeline” group on Ravelry.  Paula’s an expert.

dsc04161.JPGI’ve made good progress on Manly.  I have almost reached the “joining of sleeves” point in the body entirely with the first skein of Eco+ — was very pleased to see how far it went.  I started the next skein, but realizing I’d need sleeves to join soon, decided to work on those before I continued on the body.  I’ve got one ready to go and am about a third of the way up the second.  I’d be there in no time if I hadn’t picked up two new projects that I need to crack out quickly.

dsc04160.JPGThe first of these is a helmet liner using that fabu pattern, Gusseted Helmet Liner from TwinSet Designs.  I’m sure your familiar with it.  (By the way, when I created my project on Ravelry for this, I became your 200th project.  Do I get a prize?  Oh wait, I already got one — that lovely Columbia roving and fun, fun gifts from China.  I am particularly partial to the finger flashlight.  Thanks!) I’m making this for a buddy who deploys in a few weeks. I found out he still only has the government issue crappy acrylic helmet liner and asked him if he’d like a good one. He was thrilled when I said I’d make him one.  I’m making great progress, but am not thrilled with the stretchiness of my cast on — believe I will finish the helmet liner and then try to pick up stitches near the cast on, pick the cast on out and then bind off using Jeny’s Surprisingly Stretchy Cast Off.  Also, instead of doing a provisional cast on for the resumption of knitting in the round after the neckstand, I used two circs as the base and did a figure eight cast on to yield two lines of live stitches — one line oriented up and the other down. It worked great. When I go back to do the ribbing around the face opening I’ll simply pick up the stitches on the sides of the neck stand and be in business.

dsc04163.JPGThe next one will be a shawl for my friend Ann.  You may recall that I designed Ann’s Cap for her when she first came down with ovarian cancer.  She’s been in remission for a few years now, but her last scan showed that it’s back.  Surgery is Monday.  I’d like to be able to bring this shawl to her sometime week after next.   The pattern, from Wrapped in Comfort is perfect — named Bigfoot, I’m naming this project Ann’s Big Heart.  Her feet aren’t that big, but boy her heart is!  (I have been meaning to knit from Alison’s book for a while, but was not able to lay my hands on it.  It showed up a few weeks ago when I unpacked the last boxes from the move.) I’m doing it in Socrates — a yarn that has a very warm, very soft feel to it.

dsc04162.JPGFinally, I decided to join in on a KAL on the Knitting Pipeline boards.  Quince and Company picked up a pattern that Paula designed and it is lovely, called Piper’s Journey (click through to see a preview on their site).  I’m not a Piper, but I’ve so enjoyed her podcast and being a member of the Ravelry group, so I couldn’t say no.  Mine’s called Pipeliner’s Journey.  It will, however, have to wait till I finish the other priority projects.  As it’s not yet available (it should go on sale within the week), I may finish them up just in time.  I’m making mine in Quince and Company Chickadee in the glacier colorway.

Spinning continues too…am through the 4 oz. braid of silk and merino and I have a question.  What do you do when you can’t find the end of your single?  Mine somehow disappeared after it broke during the spinning process and now I fear surgery will be the only way to recover it.  As I’d like to ply next weekend, your advice will be valued!

Love, Jan


On Today’s Menu…

Dear Ellen,

Today is a short day at the farm (we are heading back early for a send off party for a friend enroute to Afghanistan), but we still managed to pack a lot onto the menu.  (Not the least of which was a very yummy stew — 3 varieties of dried beans, quinoa, fennel stalks, rutabaga, savoy cabbage, carrots, onion, leeks and chicken stock plus a half dozen handsful of fresh herbs (sage, thyme and fennel feathers). Cars were washed, a new bird feeder hung and all the feeders and suet cages refilled, yarn wound, woods tromped and web site troubleshot.  I do hope that my forensic tracking identified the correct source of the obnoxious invasion from this week.

img_5812.JPGI am finding a great deal of pleasure in watching the bird feeders.  This clever red-bellied woodpecker has been frequenting them, but he also is quite self reliant.   Do you see the nut wedged into the bark of the tree?  He put it there and then he pecked it open so he could get the meat out of it.  He’s also partial to sun flower seeds and suet.

dsc04154.JPGSeveral of our neighbors are into deer farming.  The deer are sold as venison and some of the males are kept to sell their shed antlers to the Chinese as aphrodisiacs.  It is odd to see them in fields like steers, but really not very different in concept.

dsc04157.JPGDale is continuing to enable my spinning.  Here is a very lovely solid maple and mahogany lazy kate that he built for me.  I haven’t tried it for plying yet, but did put this bobbin on to see if the tensioning mechanism seemed likely to work.  It does.

dsc04159.JPGAnd here is a close up of the spinning on the kate — a very lovely Bluefaced Leister (70%) and Tussah Silk (30%) blend.  It spins very nicely and finely — except when I have stayed up too late spinning.  He bought it for me at the same time he bought the wheel.   Yes, enabler.  I need to go show my appreciation now.

Love, Jan

January Means Sweater Knitting

Dear Ellen,

dsc04150.JPGI’m surely having fun with my spinning wheel.  I’ve now got two lovely skeins of my own handspun worsted weight corriedale.  (I need to double check the WPIs, that’s an eyeball estimate.)  They are both from fiber from Desigknit — such gorgeous hews I loved watching the fiber turn into singles and then into the 3-ply yarn.   I’ve got ideas for them — I’m thinking a brioche stitch hat, maybe something like Nancy Marchant’s Delft’s Blauw.  It’s pretty sweet and I own the book — Knitting Brioche.  And I’m hoping I’ll have enough left for some simple mitts.  We’ll see.  In any case it will have to wait.  I have THREE sweaters on the needles right now.  Yep, three.

dsc04139.JPGThe first is the Ori-Mommy sweater that I’m co-knitting with Marie.  My part is now up to 57.5 inches long…about 14.5 inches to go.  She was making good progress on hers too, so we should have a sweater in the not terribly distant future.  Believe it or not, but I have really enjoyed working on this.  It’s basically K1P1 ribbing all the way.  Maybe I like it because I can drink and knit without worrying about forgetting the pattern.  Maybe it is the zen quality of the rhythm of switching back and forth between knits and pearls which I do find quite soothing.

dsc04141.JPGThe second one is called Manly.  I’m very pleased to be working on this one.  You see I have been eager to knit for Dale for sometime and he finally wants a sweater.  He did say he hoped it would be  a manly one though. So here we go — bulky wool in an almost olive drab…almost. It is really lovely with bronze and gold fibers that give it a nice heathery look. Brownstone is the perfect pattern, but I’ll be making it longer and adding some short rows in the back of the body to make sure it doesn’t creep up in back. He just hates that.

dsc04143.JPGFinally, I’ve been eager to do some selfish knitting and this sweater I’m calling Fooling Around is the ticket.  It’s knit in Zealana Kauri Fingering, oh so soft with 60% New Zealand Merino, 30% possum and  10% silk.  The swatch bloomed beautifully and I know this will be very lightweight, but very snug at the same time.  The pattern is Pam Power’s Devonshire and has a beautiful lace inset in the back and along the edgest. I am so loving this knit and I never thought I’d want to knit a sweater in such a fine weight yarn.  Perhaps this will warm me up to try to start my Bohus.  Don’t hold your breath though — that sweater may have to marinate in stash for a while longer.

dsc04131.JPGI’ve got some other fibery ideas for the coming year.  Remember that fungus?  It’s now drying on top of Allen’s Mini.  Sometime this spring I’m going to give a shot at using it as a dye base to see if I can’t get some oyster mushroom yarn out of it.  More to come on that one!

dsc04151.JPGTo wrap up last year I knit this little guy to guard my computer.  The kit to make him was in my holiday loot from Dale…my own knitted ninja.  Haiii-YA!!!

january.jpgAnd finally, a quick report on 55 in 52.  I’m now down to 47 in 48.  I believe I can credit the fact that I’m preparing healthy options on the weekends so they’re ready to scarf down when I come home from work exhausted.  Yummy!

Hope your 2012 is going well!  Love, Jan