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Archive for May, 2010


Prairie Home Companions

Dear Ellen,

dsc00130.JPGJohn and Betsy visited with us this weekend.  We enjoyed good Greek food, nice walks (including the marsh) and some of the best guacamole I think I’ve ever made, but the highlight of the weekend was heading out to the Wolftrap Center for the Performing Arts and watching the live broadcast of  A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor.  The setting was perfect, the show was so much fun and the companions were perfect.  We had four contract bus dsc00152.JPGdrivers sitting right in front of us in their white shirts and ties.  At first we thought they were there from the Lutheran Council to check up on the moral fiber of the show.  When they turned to see who was doing all the howling behind them (a Wolftrap tradition…Ow-Ow-Ow-OwooooOOO!!!) we saw their nametags and were relieved that our presence wouldn’t reflect poorly in their report.

dsc00145.JPGdsc00143.JPGI was able to knit throughout the show, inspired by Powdermilk Biscuits and the news from Lake  Woebegone.  I’m getting started on Cookie A’s German Stockings.  I figure dirndl style knee socks will keep me plenty occupied through my entire trip to New Zealand.  And hopefully I can finish them on the trip to Germany right afterward.  Wouldn’t that be fitting?  (I hope they’ll fit around my ham-calves!)

Love, Jan

Natural Beauty

Dear Ellen,

dsc00154.JPGdsc00157-1.JPGNo, not me…though I can understand your immediate thought that this post must be about me!  ;-)  Even so, I’m actually talking about our gorgeous marshes through which the walking/biking/running trail passes.  I’m just so thoroughly enjoying this ability to stay tuned in to nature.  I’ve been watching this mallard pair.  dscn2997.JPGdscn2975.JPGdscn2986.JPGHe’s very protective of her.  I suspect a nest is nearby.  The big Blue Heron graces the marshwith his presence on occasion, and dscn2987.JPGdsc00164.JPGdsc00163.JPGdscn2991.JPGFROGS everywhere!  They dsc00159.JPGdsc00160.JPGare my cheering section as I go running passed them.  It looks like a second crop is coming with all the tadpoles that have reappeared.  I spotted my first crayfish of the season earlier this morning.

dscn3006.JPGdscn3004.JPGdscn3001.JPGThe manicured flora in our neighborhood is pretty spectacular too.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a nicer clematis.  Enjoy!

Love, Jan

Fait Accompli

Dear Ellen,

dscn3008.JPGdscn3019.JPGdscn3021.JPGThey were finished over a week ago, so they feel a bit like a fait accompli (though I suppose they could still be frogged).  It has just take me forever to get a chance to a) breathe and b) write a post about them.

dscn3014.JPGFirst up is Like Buttah, the little tank top out of Brooks’ Farm Willow.   It knit up pretty quickly at first, but I had several fights with the neckline till I settled on one that I was reasonably happy with.  It will work for a summer top. I learned on this one. I got cocky thinking it was such a simple knit that I got careless. I had to do the neck twice and never to my full satisfaction. I did make a modification to alternate stockinette and reverse stockinette for some extra interest and that helped. Also, the fabric really stretched out once blocked — I had to rip back the straps to shorten them. I don’t know why I didn’t do a properly blocked gauge swatch. Oh, that’s right, see above cockiness about how simple this was.  It looks very nice under a jacket…and I may have enough of the Willow leftover to make some kind of shrug to go with it…a sort of modern twin set.

dscn3015.JPGThe second completed item is really gorgeous — my version of Hanami, Sea Glass.  I am just thrilled with it…and am now trying to find the right occasions at which to wear it.  I finished it about an hour after take off on my return trip from Brussels.  I really should have finished it my first night in Brussels, having picked it up a few weeks earlier after a goodly rest and then really focusing on it so as to have rapid progress through the last 3 charts.  Unfortunately, it was not without its own angst.  With that gap in knitting I somehow forgot that the edges were supposed to be in garter stitch (like the previous 160+ rows!) and I worked them in stockinette (edge rolling and all).   I chugged along and was within 16 rows of completion (complete with that thrill of seeing the end result dscn2968.JPGdscn2969.JPGOH SO CLOSE) when I sat up, said, “WTF??” (having realized what I’d been doing) and had to face up to the fact that no, I would not be done within the next few hours.  That I would be done in the next few days, if lucky.  I ended up having to drop back about 90 rows on each edge to fix the all stockinette edges I had done over about 3 charts of the pattern. Sheesh! As I hope the pictures reveal, it was worth the extra hours of effort to redo the edges and at least I did finish before I returned from the trip as was my original objective.  [Clarification…I ONLY reworked the edges…by dropping the edge stitches (3 on each side) and reworking them, so 6 stitches per row with finicky yarn that didn’t want to unravel and no crochet hook (the one knitting gadget I failed to travel with.)  Over the 90+ rows it took almost 6 hours to unravel those columns of stitches and redo them — yes, the stitch on the very edge was truly a pain.]

dscn2891.JPGdscn2926.JPGdscn2907.JPGdscn2918.JPGdscn2924.JPGdscn2902.JPGdscn2896.JPGBrussels was quite the good time when I had any time.  The schedule kept me very busy.  But we did get out to buy chocolates, look at the lace stores and drink “pink killer” beer at one of the local pubs.  Corry was quite amused by the “Cock Ale” sign…I was amused by the “curb your dog sign.”  The fact that when I got home you were there waiting to head out for “Stitch and Pitch” with me and Anne and Lisa made for the perfect ending of the trip.  Too bad the Nationals lost, but I still think we won.

Love, Jan

Natty Knitting

Hey, Jan,

53.jpg43.jpgIt sure was fun spending a bit of time with you on Friday.  The Stitch ‘n’ Pitch was a fun way to meet your friends and the water taxi sure was the right way to get to the stadium to see the Nationals play Baltimore.

112.jpgIt was too bad the game ended with a loss for the Nats, but it was fun that the evening ended with fireworks!

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19.jpg151.jpg171.jpgSwishing the camera as it recorded the picture made some interesting shots.

17.jpgWhile in D.C. for business, before seeing you, I did finish off my second helmet liner for the year.  We’re finishing up our liner drive at work this week - they’ll be packaged with a bunch of other goodies and shipped by our veterans club to soldiers (and sailors?) wherever they are needed.

23.jpgHaving done about ten of these over the years, I keep trying to make them interesting.  First I rewrote the pattern to add a gussett to the face opening so it would lie flatter, now I’m tweaking the size of the opening, narrowing it a bit.  And this time I got crazy on the decreases, alternating a few ssk’s with k2tog’s to get a lightning effect.

I will weave in the ends today and get this off to our Helmet Liner Commander in Chief, then on to the next week of work.  Most of it will be in Nova Scotia, where I’ll be attending a scientific meeting.  No Stitch ‘n’ Pitch, but there is a great knitting shop, The Loop,  just around the corner from the hotel.  Jump on over to that link for some cute free patterns.

92.jpgI hope your week is the bomb.

Love,

Ellen

Dribs and drabs…

Dear Jan,

I have so many things going these days it doesn’t seem I’m making great progress with any one.  I decided it was time to update on at least the ones I’ve touched in the last week…

13.jpgBiggest progress was in picking my fleeces.  This is just what it sounds like.  You spread them out and then pick them over, removing as much VM (vegetable matter) and other undesirables as you can.  Given where sheep sleep, there are definitely other undesirables!  Still, the Shetland fleece was  really quite clean.  Here it is from the underside, where you can best see the gorgeous charcoal grey.

22.jpg32.jpgThe Targhee cross fleece was dirtier and more challenging to pick in general as I decided to split it up into 3 portions - mostly black, mostly white, and everything in between.  I didn’t get as much mostly white as I’d thought I would, but it will be fun to play with, maybe even dye.

42.jpg52.jpgThe other major fiber event for the weekend was finishing the bulk of the yarn I’ve spun since starting this spinning adventure.  Just like blocking a knit piece, setting the structure of handspun makes a big change - sometimes in appearance and feel, sometimes in knittability, and always of interest.  Here is an example of a yarn that was  a bit too active (holding too much twist energy) until I gave it a good soak and a good thwack (technical term equivalent to smacking it upside the head by whipping it against a surface).   See how it twists on itself in the first photo but hangs obediently in the second?

71.jpgI filled a full rack with yarn.  It may be hard to get me to put it away, I’m enjoying looking at it so!

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62.jpg111.jpgNow, all the bits and pieces -  in no particular order.  More yarn on the way - on the wheel (hand-paint from Lorna’s Laces, wool) and on the spindle (80% merino/20% silk from Saga Hill Designs).

81.jpgAnother helmet liner (the last for the year!).

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91.jpgSock in the Cat Bordhi ‘Coriolis’ pattern.

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121.jpgBaby blanket - I’m calling it ‘Bambooni’ in honor of the bamboo yarn.  Halfway through the center square, then it will get a lace edging.  It is taking longer than I thought for the gauge - the yarn is splitty and I have to watch closely as I knit.

101.jpgAnd, waiting serenely for me to make my way back to her, my ‘Many Moments of Grace’ version of the Bohus reproduction, Rimfrost.

Phew!  I’m kind of tiring myself out looking at all these.  I’m not sure that was the right way to end the weekend.  At least it was fun.

Love,

Ellen

Checking In…To Check Out

Dear Ellen,

In an  hour or so, I’m off to Brussels.  This trip is for NATO business.  We will accomplish a day’s work in a week — if we’re lucky.  That’s how NATO works.  But no mind, we get to do it in a warm, dimly lit conference room.  I’m our delegation’s principal this time.  Unfortunately, that means I can’t get away with slouching low in my chair and dozing.  But I do get to be the one with an actual table to use.  Everyone else has to juggle stuff on their laps.

If I’m able, I’ll offer an update while on the road, but don’t be surprised if I’m incommunicado till next weekend.

Love, Jan

Happy sighs…

Dear Jan,

21.jpgThere isn’t much that can make me sigh the way I do when watching my honey holding an adorable baby.  (C came to visit on Mother’s Day, such a nice way to celebrate.)

My new fleeces are coming close in sigh-elicitation ratings.  I couldn’t resist grabbing a fistful of each to wash and see what was inside the sticky, dirty mound that is a raw fleece.  A simple bath in very hot water with some dish detergent and out emerged soft, fluffy, beautiful fuzz.

31.jpg41.jpgThe Targhee cross is super curly - tight, tiny curls that are so sproingy the fibers look about an inch long - then you stretch them to about three inches!  The Shetland has nice crimp to it, too, but not nearly as curly tight, and the fibers are much longer - maybe 4+ inches.  I’ll actually measure it some time.

51.jpg61.jpgI don’t have cards to properly prepare the washed fiber for spinning, but that certainly didn’t stop me.  I used a cat comb and fluffed them up and gave them a spin (haha!).  While the resulting yarn is lumpy bumpy because of lack of carding, I can tell that when the fiber is properly prepared I am going to love it.  And the Targhee cross maintains incredible sproing, even in the singles.  That is going to make a wonderful yarn to knit.

12.jpgWhat could be more fun than that?  Apparently, a dump truck and a nice plastic cup.

I hope you are having fun, too.

Love,

Ellen

Getting fleeced…

Dear Jan,

You put your time to good use dressing Andy, I spent an entire day playing at the Shepherd’s Harvest fiber festival.  I saw old friends, new friends, and whole bunch of fiber - on and off the animal.  I came home with pygora fiber, yak/merino, silk/merino/nylon, and a few more.  They’ll show up here as I get around to spinning them.

2.jpg4.jpg5.jpg6.jpg7.jpgNow that I am a novice spinner, I’m finding the different breeds much more interesting.  Whether the length of the lock (ooh, that would draft nicely!) or the color variations (give me all forms of gray and black!), I loved looking at these guys and gals.

15.jpg11.jpgAmong the other sights at the festival - the bucket o’ bunny and a very proud Sheltie.  The bunny was totally content.  He could have gotten out of the tub in a second, it was only an inch taller than he was, but he seemed to love this self hug.

10.jpg14.jpgI was curious to see the fleece auction.  These fleeces were judged in the morning and opened for bid through the afternoon.  This one is from a 3-year-old TargheeXFinnXRamboullietXSuffolk named Nora.  That is Nora’s owner holding the fleece.  The fleece’s owner is, as of 3:30 yesterday, yours truly.  (And it has a sister, a lovely grey Shetland.)

16.jpgI don’t really know what I’m going to do with these fleeces, but it sure made a fun end to the afternoon.  It didn’t end the day, though, as Wilson and I got to see the Twins fleece the Orioles at the new Target Field.  It is a marvelous baseball venue, and I for one am happy to risk snowy opening days if it means we get to see spring nights unfold with this fabulous view of the Minneapolis skyline.

Enough for now.  I am going to enjoy a little time spinning some of my old fiber to make room for the new.  In the meantime,…

3.jpg…Happy Mother’s Day!

Love,

Ellen

Androgenuts* No More

Dear Ellen,

dscn2884.JPGMy squirrel is definitely a male…in fact, he ascribes to high society and like to dress to the nines and head out for a night on the town…A squirrel’s squirrel, squirrel about town.  He is about to jump into a box to head to Brooklyn.  I’ll let you know if he makes it into the Top 10 for innernet voting!  Now I need to shower and get headed to the airport.  I should be out the door in 20 minutes.  Will I make it???

Love, Jan

*Credit to the very clever Chris for this temporary moniker.

A worsted case scenario…

Dear Jan,

Despite my foot injury, I am still spinning.  Luckily, just because a wheel is double treadle doesn’t mean you have to use both feet.  I propped the foot with the torn fascia* aside and treadled away on with the other, fully enjoying my foray into woolen long draw spinning.

The difference between worsted spinning and woolen spinning is in how you prepare and draft the fiber.  For worsted, you work with fiber combed so that it is running parallel and then you pull it from the fiber source before any twist from the wheel enters it - hence, when it does twist it is dense and the fibers run quite parallel to each other and the length of the yarn.  For woolen, you use carded fiber that is all mixed up on itself and let the twist enter the yarn source before drawing it out - so in the yarn the fibers are all scrunched every which way, trapping lots of air and fuzziness.

1.jpgI have a ways to go before I perfect technique, and truth be told I used a combed top instead of a carded roving for the woolen sample, but this picture shows the marked difference in yarn produced by the two different methods.  Worsted is on top, woolen on the bottom.  Click to embiggen for full effect.

Kind of fun, isn’t it?

Love,

Ellen

*Minor tear according to my physical therapist, and in fact it may in the long run correct the problem that was causing chronic pain.  As long as I don’t work it too hard for a few weeks and ice, ice, ice.