Twins bound by a love of knitting talk about knitting and more.

Archive for the ‘Nature’

Episode 57 — Heaven Knows

In which we discuss a dinner for more than two in DC, visits from dear friends (military friends and podcaster friends!), a fun speaking engagement, a visit to DC by Karen, getting the Full Monty, biking around mother nature, Yarnover, Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, and baby lambs (!!!!), and in which Ellen’s geeks out.

Episode 56 — Ellen Takes a Break While Jan Yammers On

In which we discuss stuff.  And a big surprise!

Episode 55 — Traveling with Friends

In which we discuss woodpeckers, our recent travels (and our crowded airline seats), the approach of spring, a new to twinsetjan yarn shop, knitting mittens and mitts, Judy Becker’s book Beyond Toes — Knitting Adventures with Judy’s Magic Cast-On, taking spindles for walks and the $25 savings for those who register early for TwinSet Summer Camp!

An incredible autumn…

Dear Jan,

This autumn has been one of the most gorgeous in memory here in Minnesota.  After a cool start, we’ve had many warm and sunny days.  The cool, wet summer may have been worth it, setting us up for intense fall color.  When I had the chance to do some colorwork at the Sisu Lost in the Woods retreat up near Ely, MN in late September, I had to follow my muse.  My color choice - the gorgeous crimson maples against the autumnal deep blue sky.


The project was Norwegian mittens, led by the talented and prolific Jan Bilden. You got a peak at these a couple of posts ago - here they are in detail.  We chose cuffs and mitten backs….


…and we chose mitten palms….


….and mitten thumbs.


I know I’ll be glad of these this winter, both for the warm wool and the warm memories.



P.S. Yarns were Rauma Strikkegarn 3-ply and  Kenzie by Hikoo by Skacel.  Knit on US 1.5 dpns.  Pattern improvised.

Episode 39 — The Wolf Closest to the Sleigh

In which we discuss the craziness that has been our lives in the last month, fiber classes, fiber judging, birdies at our feeders, finally seeing signs of spring in Minnesota, Yarnover and Fiber Fest, visiting family and friends, healthy animals, paying taxes, wearing jelly beans and harvesting golf balls.

Patterns of Our Lives:

It turns out that when you let a month slip past between recording sessions, one’s life patterns get pretty complicated. Jan in particular has been crazy busy.  Not that we’re  saying that her past is checkered, but it is highly patterned!  We slipped in some microphone time right in the middle of the Yarnover/StevenBe Fiber Fest weekend for Ellen and Jan’s schedule of volunteer duty at the MAPACA weekend show - and we amazed each other with how much had happened since we last spoke.

Ellen saw two snowstorms, despite the suggestion of the calendar that spring should have arrived in Minneapolis.  At least when the snow melted, the grass was green.  And at least she doesn’t live in Duluth, where they got 28″ compared to the mere 16″ in the Twin Cities.  Luckily, she records from the bedroom in the basement and was covered in warm fleece - 16 samples of rare breed samples that she got washed up while snowbound.  She recommends Synthrapol as an excellent fleece scour - low sudsing and boy, does it get that fleece clean.

Both twins have been seeing lots of birds at their feeders (Ellen’s juncoes needed  snow shoes as they foraged on the ground during one of those storms, sinking in up to their bellies).  Jan has heard and seen evidence of pileated woodpeckers in her woods - that is a serious bird.

Another serious bird, Jan’s broody hen, is brooding golf balls no more.  It turns out that a little airing of her behind by being kept in a wire cage for a couple of days cooled her down and got her interested in hanging out with her barnyard buddies once more.

Yoda is blowing his down coat, and Jan is picking it up off the fence-line as it turns out to be quite soft.  Who knew Yoda was a cashmere goat?  (Editors note: any goat can produce cashmere - it simply refers to the fineness of the undercoat.)  Jan does know that Finnsheep will make a great addition to the farm and is eagerly anticipating the arrival of her reserved ewe lambs.  If only Valor, her ram, knew about the impending arrival, he’d be eagerly anticipating them, too, but he will have to be patient!  Jan is making her final choices and may end up with one grey, one white, one black, and one brown - a spinner’s dream.

Easter Sunday was warm and sunny in Minnesota and Ellen and Wilson went walking in the woods, their way of recognizing the season of rebirth.  Ellen wore jelly beans - socks that were cranked by her buddy, Lisa, in Knit Picks Felici sock yarn in the colorway, Jelly Bean.  Jan had family in for a fitting dinner - leg of lamb.  Hmmm, more anticipating of a flock of sheep on the farm!

Jan also had a house party of 8 total for a weekend of good food, good drink, and amazement that friends who met almost 25 years ago all looked exactly as they did when they all taught at the West Point U.S. Military Academy.   Maybe if you drink enough…

She’s also been spinning more alpaca samples, hosting other guests, working on a conference for women veterans, and teaching knitting classes at Flying Fibers.   And making Ellen feel like a lazy lout, but actually, Ellen is OK with that.

Jan took part in an alpaca handling clinic with Marty McGee Bennett, the alpaca whisperer, from the sound of it.  She then acted as  judging scribe at the MAPACA (mid-atlantic alpaca association) Jubilee.  We may need to send Jan some earplugs to keep her brains from oozing out of her ears - how can one head absorb all that new knowledge without something giving?

Phew, can we get to the knitting now?

On the Runway:

Ellen continues on Forever in the Forest and is well into tier 19 of about 21.  She is also working on the second of a second pair of socks in her own design out of ModeKnit Yarns ModeSock.  She hopes the pattern will be available soon.  And she knit on Many Moments of Grace, her reproduction of the Bohus Stickning design, Rimfrost while recording the show. She returned to her Chain Mail gloves.  The first is done, with all the gussets that Ellen loves (on the thumb, between the fingers).  She will carefully knit the second according to her notes and write up the pattern at the same time (at least that is what she intends).  And this being Yarnover/Fiber Fest weekend, she has a class project going now, too - a colorwork hat designed in a great class with Mary Scott Huff, stand up comic and colorwork designer.

In between all of her activity, Jan has been continuing to work on Reposo, her version of Carol Feller’s Siesta sweater in Louisa Harding Grace Silk & Wool.  She has also gotten a new pair of socks started in Zitron Trekking 75/25 superwash/polyamide, colorway 006, a barber-poling mix of blues, lime and purple.  Jan reports that the  Karbonz 1.5s she is knitting them with aren’t her favorites as she does not like the the join between tip and shaft of the needle. She won’t be using them after these socks.  She’s doing the socks in a staggered all over cable pattern, toe up as she is wont to do. (Ellen loving some archaic English here.)

Bitten by our Knittin’:

Ellen discovered, make that re-discovered, that lace knitting goes much better during the day when one is alert than at night when one is drowsy.  She discovered, make that re-discovered, this by knitting lace when it was night and she was drowsy.  Perhaps you figured that out?  At any rate, she notes that when knitting entrelac, if you fail to do the joining stitch at the edge of your module, you don’t get a coherent piece, you get little flaps.

Ellen also knit a cowl-sized swatch, which later became a gaiter-sized gaiter, the appropriate sized project for the amount of yarn which she had.  As she knit the “swatch” while practicing ergonomic walking knitting in Carson Demer’s Fiber Fest class on that topic, she wasn’t really discouraged.  (Carson Demers - a physical therapist who doesn’t tell you to stop knitting because your knitting is hurting you.  Instead, he helps you knit with less damage to your body and hunts for other things in your life for you to change.  Because he knows not knitting will hurt even more!)

Jan learned that if one doesn’t knit much, the chance to be bitten by it is slim.

Finely or Finally Knit:

Ellen finished one more pair of her Paving Mitts.  This one is named Paved in Gold and is worked in The Yarns of Rhichard Devrieze  Peppino.

And that gaiter-sized gaiter - also finished, in less than a day thanks to bulky yarn (Sirdar Click Chunky) and not that much of it.  Because of the limited yarn, Ellen worked her chosen pattern, Mary Lou Egan’s Miss Gulch without the edging and with a much shorter cast-on and with a shorter pattern repeat.  It’s a small Gulch, so she has called it Gully.

Jan knit a potholder.  That’s nice, Jan.

Ready to Wear:

The Paving Mitts pattern is published!  Thanks to test crocheters, Cindi (cperrine) and Vicky (vicksbear) who made beautiful samples and helped me improve the pattern.  And to unofficial test crocheter Lisa (turbogal), who has made two pair of the mitts already.

The pattern is in Tunisian crochet simple stitch in the round, a natural for fingerless mitts. Worked in two colors, one tonal and one variegated, an effect of tiny colorful pavers laid in even rows is created. A perfect project for using up leftover sock yarn!  It requires a double ended hook. The pattern includes useful links to techniques needed to complete mitts including Tunisian crochet techniques and crab stitch or reverse single crochet.

5 Minute Interview:

Dr. Yarn returns.  We aren’t sure about his advice on substituting yarns…it just doesn’t jive with all that we’ve been told by other experts.  Wait, what am I saying?  I mean, it’s Dr. Yarn, it must be right.  Right?

360 Degrees:

Ellen continues to spin her top top from All For the Love of Yarn in 80:20 merino:silk in the colorway Greek Mythology.  Spinning a sock yarn with laceweight plies does take time.  She is in her final ounce of four, then for some plying fun.  This just might not be a simple 4-ply!

Jan spun up alpaca samples she was judging for the MAPACA Jubiliee show, and despite the crush to get them done, found it very rewarding to be able to compare  the spinning scores to the scores which the actual fleeces earned in the show.

Fiber Jargon:

Ellen discussed what a quilted fleece is, and Jan explained why it is a defect in fleeces to be commercially processed.  This  excessive quilted appearance to the fleece (where the dark fibers are shorter than the white or vice versa), occurring after the first shearing, is something a hand spinner can deal with by separating the colors, but in a commercial process, the disparate fiber lengths would result in a lower quality product or lower yield.  Ellen found the term in an article on Jacob sheep by Alison Pacuska in the 2nd issue of Ply magazine.

All the talk of quilts reminded Jan of the term, cotting, which refers to the matting together of a fleece during growth, such that it sticks firmly together and becomes difficult to process.


Jan provided the embellishment for the week - the amazing ceramic work of Charan Sachar at Creative with Clay. He is a clay artisan who has recently learned to knit and is very clever. His homemade swift is very ingenious and very inexpensive. And his pottery — oh my, it is fantastic. His patterns are inspired by Indian textiles and embroidery as well as the henna tattoo tradition. His process if really cool — — like decorating a cake, but it’s clay. Jan bought one of his cheese/butter holders to use as a notions tray on my end table and he’s pondering how he would make his version of a yarn bowl. Beautiful colors and textured patterns, check him out at his blog and his Etsy shop. Through May 21st using the code TWINSET will get you a 15% discount on beautiful ceramic art.  (If TWINSET doesn’t work, try TwinSet.)

Fun Fur:

Ellen fell prey to i-device gaming this time - 2048 is fun to play for a bit, but it may be time for her to delete it.

Slick Tricks:

This one stolen shamelessly from a recent KnitSpot newsletter - using oatmeal canisters or bread crumb or potato chip cans to hold the ends of a cowl open and prevent creases during blocking.  Jan suggested that if one wanted the cowl stretched, one could suspend it from a short length of pipe and weight it with a water bottle.

You May Already be a Wiener!

Both Jan and Ellen admit to a lack of focus on their dolls for the Living Doll KAL.  Jan’s version of her daughter, Marie, does have a head now.  Ellen’s dolls at least have yarn chosen for them.  Check out the Twinset Designs Ravelry group where we are creating little living dolls from Mary, Millie, and Morgan.  the KAL will end with the Summer Solstice, and the prize will be a Susan B. Anderson pattern (single pattern) of the winner’s choice along with a copy of the Pam Allen book, Scarf Style.

The Fashion Forecast is for continuation of fiber season.  For Ellen, this means Shepherd’s Harvest.  For Jan, it means continuing her crazy schedule - she will be teaching a couple of classes at Flying Fibers

  • May 15 — Toe Up Socks, using her Fast Baby Booties pattern (a freebie!) (the pattern, not the class)
  • May 22 — Control Your Colors, working with variegated yarn for planned color pooling

She’ll also be attending (and hopefully showing little alpaca in) the PAOBA (Pennsylvania Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association) show on 9-11 May at the York County Fairgrounds; and she’ll be having Shearing Day at Fair Winds Farms on May 27.  Then June 6-8 she’ll be in Pittsburgh for the PA Women Veterans Seminar.

The first TwinSet Summer Camp is a go - from July 11-13 near Havre de Grace, Maryland. It will be smashing, with camp songs and crafts and swimming and hiking and you don’t have to do any of that if you’d rather knit!  Sunday afternoon we will all visit the farm which is less than an hour from camp.  Information is on the retreat page at the  Twinset Designs Ravelry group. We are still finalizing cost details, so no registration form yet, but watch this space for it!

Enjoy the show!

Hitting Restart

Dear Ellen,

My participation in this blog of late seems to be limited only to putting up new episodes of the podcast.  While that in and of itself is a healthy contribution, it seems I’ve not written anything about antics on the farm or within our family for way to long.  As time drags out it is becoming apparent that the massive “catch up” blog post is becoming more and more overwhelming.  So much so that I’ll never do it.  Therefore I am declaring a restart!  I will provide below a photo montage of many things that are happening or have happened in the last three months without much care about chronology or detail.  Once that’s done, then that’s it…the past is behind me.  And maybe my next post will be more manageable!

Love, Jan

2-imag0352.jpg I made gorgeous yarn.














It became Swagger, an almost published design.




1-marie-knits-001.jpgMarie not only modeled for me, but she also got bitten by the knitting bug.  (So proud!)

1-img_0690.JPGI designed the perfect gauntlets with which to feed chickens.

1-fiber-factor.jpgI entered designs in the Fiber Factor competition, but will have to try again next year.

1-imag0435-001.jpg Dorito took up tweeting as doritothealpaca.  He seems unable to use capital letters because of his two-toedness.

1-imag0431.jpg The other alpaca are unimpressed.  (Fun to peek over your mom!)

1-imag0392.jpg We got our farm name established legally…and physically.

1-imag0202-001.jpg I scored an amazing quilt at the Bart Township Mud Sale.  (For cheap!)

1-imag0381.jpgCharlie (Allen and Libby’s dog) met the gang…they were alert, but when they figured out that she’d run off if they challenged her, they went back to grazing.

1-imag0488.jpgWe toured a robotic dairy farm where cows choose when to be milked (and queue up nicely for it) and go to the self-service back scratchers whenever they like.

1-imag0528.jpgI finished the second version of my Entrelac Capelet pattern…minus the closure as I can’t seem to lay my hands on that stupid clasp!

1-dsc06547.JPGDale built the gang a little mountain so they can play king of the hill.  (Amelia is hoping neither of the boys will put the other’s eye out.)

6-_sc06481.JPGWe had a visitor to the farm from a 5th grade class in Illinois.  She liked the chickens but could not figure out how to lay an egg.

1-dsc06507-002.JPGNew babies came home to live with us for eight weeks.  Then they’ll live with our frozen food.  Very cute now…good thing they won’t stay cute long and that there are so many I won’t be able to name them. (I did help the the one on his back regain his footing…at a day old he couldn’t handle it himself.)

1-_sc06471-001.JPGWe made a boomerang trip to help mom celebrate her 90th birthday.

















We are thrilled to see everything on the farm wake up with the arrival of spring.

1-imag0419-1.jpgExcept for Ruby that is.

And with that, that’s it!

A Finch of a Different Color…

Dear Jan,


I’m not sure if this is a house finch or a purple finch.  We usually get house finches, but that bill looks pretty conical and the coloring went all the way down the bird’s back.


I am sure this is Rambioullet fiber, dyed by the expert hand of Erica at DesigKnits.  A different color combination than you might expect for this time of year, but it is tickling my fancy.


Our Ostara eggs didn’t need dye this year.  They are a different color right from the get-go.

Whatever color your springtime celebration comes in, I hope it is joyous.



Finch Me…I must be dreaming.

Dear Jan,

I’m not sure if I’m dreaming or if I’m having a nightmare.  This morning the thermometer read 9 degrees.  Those are Farenheit degrees, just to be clear.  Wind chill tonight is predicted to be double digits below zero.


And yet this little guy insists that spring is virtually here, proclaiming he is too sexy for his winter feathers, and it is time to show off his bright yellow dating wardrobe.

I am not too sexy for my new cowl, Massive, pattern for which is Decibella by Gale Zucker and yarn for which is by Classic Elite and me (Waterlily, cable plyed 4 strands of this Aran weight yarn into one super-bulky yarn).  In this weather, it is good to look hot warm.


Someone else may feel sexy in another recent FO, Impossible Dreams.  Stats: pattern - Seedling Dreams by Amy Beth Mays, yarns are Brown Sheep Nature Spun Worsted (gray, 100% wool) and Frog Tree Merino Melange (pink, 100% merino wool).  I knit the medium, and while it fits, it just barely does.  I don’t do much pink, either, so I’m thinking this is likely to be a charity hat.


And I have yet one more FO to share.  This is my Fiber Fusion class project, knit out of various handspun yarns and one skein of fat and funky art yarn. Mostly knit on size 13’s, but I accidentally picked up an 11 and did most of one sleeve so I just repeated that on the other.  The yarns include my handspun Nora (a TargheeX sheep whose fleece I bought at the 2011 Shepherd’s Harvest), samples of handspun Shetland, Black Welsh Mountain and Wensleydale, and a Steven Be Exclusive Handspun, created by Ruby Slippers Studio out of wool, alpaca, fabric, metallic thread, polyester, acrylic, nylon, sequins, mohair, silver, glitz, angeline, and rubber butterflies.  Because glitz AND sequins weren’t quite enough.


The process was and the result is exhilarating.  I explained the process in a prior blog post.  The result is going to be in a showing of Steven’s work at Third Place Gallery in Minneapolis which opens this weekend.  (Yes, I do work well to a deadline.)

I could use the sweater at home to wrap up in and keep warm this weekend - we won’t see anything like real spring temperatures for quite sometime.

I won’t be the only one happy for their arrival.




Lazy Hazy Days of Summer

Dear Ellen,

In further efforts to catch up with blog posting, I give you July…and August…and a bit of September.  My next post will be filled with knitterly goodness as opposed to being a recap of “What I Did During My Summer Vacation.”

Love, Jan


Fourth of July was celebrated at the ball park with a loss for the Lancaster Barnstormers.


But there were some great fireworks!


Much Nature was Admired.


New York City was wandered about to include Central Park (with it’s Manhattan cityscape and unfortunate goat being devoured by eagles, hopefully not fiber goats), Union Square (in whose locale I discoverd a wedding dress made of teaspoons), a funky bar (where the art immortalizes sheep eating lamb carpaccio) and the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop (where I ate one of the best ice cream cones I have ever had!!).


Vegan food of such delight was consumed at my lovely niece’s culinary school.  So nice to be there in your company as well as that of my daughter and my other niece.  And who knew?…vegan was pretty darned tasty!  (But I was hungry within several hours…note visit to BGIS above.)


August brought the annual pig roast at Mark and Cheryl’s where much enjoyment was had!


More natural beauty.


Visits galore (including Bambi Galore, get it?  Heh!)


And our sad farewell to the best dog ever.


September has brought happier times with a visit to Ohio (where you can attend the Jug Fest and watch barges on the Ohio River with Mom and her companion or have a stare-down with Glenda, the kitty in the sidetable drawer.


And Allen has transferred from duty in Bahrain and has made it home!  He and his fiancee joined me in perusing the SOLANCO (Southern Lancaster County) Fair where we saw animal friends enjoying fair food.  They love it here, which is good as his next duty station is only about an hour away.  That really helps as they can base out of the farm to look for their next home and are close at hand for wedding planning.

Phew!  I’m tired…that was a full summer!

Love, Jan

I am a Craftsman

Dear Ellen,

1-dsc04677.JPGI always love getting mail.  And when it arrives bearing proof that I am a craftsman, it is even more welcome.  Say hello to one of the newest members of the  Pennsylvania Guild of Craftsmen.  The best part is the free admission to the Guild shows!

dsc04671.JPGAlso say hello to Baby Chicka.  She is one of the fledglings from the chickadee nest that is in the birdhouse by the side garden.  Over the course of the afternoon she went from “drunken Sailor” to proficient aeronaut in her flying skills.  Very bold, she landed on the porch to check out my knitting.  (Okay, landing would be stretching it…it was really a controlled crash.)

dsc04678.JPGAnd say goodbye to this fine spinach and these spring onions.  By the time you read this they will already be in my belly.  So satisfying to eat from one’s own garden!

Love, Jan