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Archive for June, 2011


Why 3K!

Dear Ellen,

wkb-01_b_small.jpgWe are rapidly approaching our 3,000th blog comment.  I think that calls for a contest!

Accordingly, I have an extra copy of WestKnits Book One by Stephen West that will be awarded to the commenter who happens to leave blog comment #3,000.   Hurrah for contests!

Love, Jan

UPDATE:  We have a winner!  Linda, of the Spinit! blog, posted the 3,000th comment and will be receiving the WestKnits book as soon as she provides her snail mail.  Congratulations, Linda! 

New Residents

Dear Ellen,

dsc03066.JPG  Dale and I spent the first night in our new house last night.  We were very, very happy to do so, even if it meant sleeping on a low quality inflatable mattress.   While the sleep comfort was only a bit better than camping out on the property, there was a distinct advantage in having flush toilets, showers and refrigerators.  No furniture yet, but we start addressing that next weekend when we’ll drive a Penske up with our bed, the wine and our books.  (One must have priorities — yes, stash and needles are already there!)   dsc03081.JPGIt turns out we weren’t the first to take up residence though — seems we have doves nesting over one window, a wasp nest in the back and approximately 2 dozen toads living in the window well.  Lots of visitors too — the peacock showed himself (I saw the peahen too, but didn’t get a picture) as did this little bug (plus many other birds and some chipmunks of whom I did not get photos).

dsc03094-1.JPGI knit for several hours out under the trees — finished this purple hat (now drying after a soak in Soak) and got about half way through the lettuce green scarf.  The hat will be for Warm Hats Not Hot Heads…it’s very nice.  I’m not sure if it’s for a guy or gal though — the purple may be more than most guys would want.

dsc03091.JPGdsc03090.JPGdsc03088.JPGdsc03092.JPGdsc03086.JPGdsc03093.JPGI also spent a lot more time watering our landscaping.  We’re trying our best to make sure the new plants can make it through the hot summer.  We’re soaking them each weekend and a young lady is coming during the week to give additional drinks.  Hopefully we can drop down to weekend soaks later this summer (as long as we don’t do the drought thing).  They’ve rewarded us with some beautiful color.

dsc03070.JPGJust before we left I collected all the window well toads in order to release them into the woods.  I’m torn — do I do this every weekend?  Or do I let them establish Toadville in the window well?  They are safe from larger predators down there, and they have bugs to eat.  If I planted a few plants, maybe they would think of it as toad paradise.  I’m not sure…I kind of think that if we went through a dry spell, they’d dry up into toad jerkey.  Maybe I just need to rig a toad guard or put mesh over the window well so they can’t fall down there anymore.  What do you think?

dsc03065.JPGA long week lies ahead of me…I’ll keep the farm in mind to help me make it through.  Here’s hoping that good toad kharma is on my side!

Love, Jan

Dear Jan,

14.jpgWe had a pretty slow weekend around here, with gray skies and cool temperatures.  The kiddens spent most of it napping, Wilson spent most of it reading, and I spent most of it catching up on a backlog of work.

31.jpg23.jpgI did take frequent knitting and spinning breaks, as I’d hate to strain anything by thinking too hard.  I added to the slow but steady progress that my Rimfrost has seen in the last couple of weeks.  The sock I’m knitting from the handspun out of the batt you brought me from New Zealand has finally made it to the heel.  The pattern is Maeva, a free pattern on Knitty.

41.jpgAnd Rhythm ‘n’ Blues has sufficient length to protect my modesty.  If I weren’t on my fourth try at getting a border I like, it might actually be close to being finished.  The first border, applied I-cord, flipped up like nobody’s business.  When I threw in some decreases along the way, the flipping got tamed but so did the stretch, and I’m afraid my hips need the stretch.  I thought a reverse stockinette edge would both tame the flip and give stretch, but while the very edge went in the right direction, the bottom still wants to flip up.  I’m tearing it out one more time and will try a simple 1×1 rib for an inch or so.

52.jpgFinally, three more rare breed yarns have entered my collection - from left to right we have Jacob, Shetland, and Hog Island. I also washed fiber from 3 other breeds - Wensleydale, California Variegated Mutant, and Gulf Coast.  I’ll subject you to the details on that in another post.  For now, time to start easing back into the work week.

I hope I don’t strain anything.

Love,

Ellen

A Prize Winning Week

Dear Ellen,

dsc03046.JPGWell, the Parade of Homes is wrapping up today.  Over the course of the week we had about 4,500+ visitors come through our home.  Reports are that there were many nice comments and our builders are very happy with the number of leads that the Parade has generated.  We’re all a bit glad that it’s coming to a close.  The builders will get some of their lives back — and next weekend we’ll actually get possession of our home!

dsc03049.JPGI finished up my Global Connections socks.  I called these Global Connections because I knit them (mostly) on two 13 hour flights to and from the Middle East and the colorway is “Global”…perfect.  The original pattern inspiration is from the   Faceted Rib Socks in the Little Box of Socks by Charlene Schurch and beth Parrott.  I modified it to be knit toe up.  The stitch pattern yields a very cushy fabric, but it wants to be a tighter gauge than the stockinette of the sole.  Wet blocking resolved the difference, but in the future I think I’d knit the sole on a smaller needle.

dsc03051.JPGThese used my basic recipe for toe-up socks which normally involves a set of wrapped turns as part of the turning of the heel.  (K across to the turn point, Kfb, K1, w/t.)  I came up with an alternative with which I’m rather pleased.  Instead I knit right up to the turn point, make a lifted left leaning increase and then turn without wrapping.  I slip the first stitch (the lifted increase) and continue knitting to the next turn.  The effect is smooth uninterrupted stockinette stitch, accomplished without having to wrap or pick up wraps later.  Because the pivot point is that lifted increase stitch, which is not stitched on the return, it provides a nice smooth transition point.  And the stitch count is increased without the unsightly bump of a Kfb…a win on all counts!

dsc03052.JPGdsc03054.JPGdsc03053.JPG  I also got moving on a simple little scarf which is a minor variation on Anne Hanson of Knitspot’s Campanula Scarf, so I’m just calling it my Campanula Scarf Variation. The yarn is 90% Suri Alpaca and 10% Merino.  It feels incredibly luxurious as it slides through my fingers.  I’m enjoying the knitting a lot.  When I got tired of following the lace pattern I grabbed some leftover yarn from my Einstein bathrobe and cast on Another Purple Hat.  I’ll figure out who needs this Warm Hats Not Hot Heads project later.  I also wound the yarn for a project that I hope will be at the standard for submission to Knitty.  I plan on bringing swatches, design notes, pattern and product to Sock Summit for my class on “Making the Next Monkey.”  I expect to get started tonight!

I’ve got to run…we have a neighborhood pot luck dinner tonight, so I’ve got to get moving.  (Remember pot lucks?  They’re a lot like hot dish suppers in case you forgot!)

Love, Jan

Summer solstice is coming, let Dr. Yarn help you plan for the season!

Always the helpful advisor, Dr. Yarn provides guidance on planning one’s knitting projects for the season.  This month he answers a question from a D.C. area reader.

 _____________________________________

holsterspromo1.JPGQ. I’m planning my summer knitting and I heard you knitted some neat things last summer. Would you share what you did to help me in my summer knitting planning?
A. Sure! That is the way we knitters expand our horizons—by sharing ideas.

It was a routine summer for me. We were at our place on Martha’s Vineyard and attended a cookout at the Obama’s place.  Michele insisted I take home some of the brownies she had made. I wasn’t prepared with a gift for her so I quickly knitted a wrap for her to use at formal state dinners and gave it to her when they stopped by for a weenie roast on the beach. She was delighted - she hadn’t been able to find anything she liked in the D.C. area.

The conversation naturally turned to gift giving and Michele mentioned that she had trouble finding gifts to exchange with other first ladies and especially the Queen of England. The Queen has about everything she needs for the house and kitchen, as you can imagine. This gift-giving quandary is just the opportunity for a hand-crafted item to shine, so I started on a lap blanket for Michelle to give to Liz (she lets good friends get colloquial with her name) for use in the open carriage she rides in for weddings and state occasions.

Truth be told, I almost bit off more than I could chew because the coat of arms in the center was a real hassle. All those ends to weave in! If the government had a nickel for every one of them, I believe we wouldn’t have to worry about debt ceilings.

As I always say, use as good a yarn as you can afford.  For gifts, especially one like this, quality materials are even more important - I wouldn’t want the Queen to wonder if our country were in financial trouble.

Now you are not going to believe this, but last fall the Obamas were on the Big Island in Hawaii the same time we were there. I had just finished the blanket - it is OK if your summer knitting slips into fall. When I saw Michelle at McDonald’s I invited her and the family over for dessert, which is when I gave her the gift for the Queen. She was overjoyed, if I do say so myself.

We talked about ideas for Christmas giving, and she mentioned that her toughest job was gifts for the Secret Service people that guard the kids. I suggested that it would be no problem for me to knit several holsters for their guns. Again she was pleased and wanted to pay me, but of course I was glad to do my bit for our country. I had a pattern already (doesn’t everyone have a good holster pattern?) and used a soft yarn, some Malabrigo worsted weight, so as not to irritate the Secret Service folks’ chests.  I was able to finish six before Christmas. I even got thank you notes from the Secret Service employees, who are nothing if not polite.

Of course, I finished off the summer with several pairs of booties for my friends; children and grandchildren. But these quickies don’t really count, do they?

Thanks for the question. This shows that we can always gain from sharing our ideas.
Dr. Yarn

Stupid Travel Tricks

Dear Ellen,

dsc03026.JPGI gave up my weekend to head to a military conference in Doha, Qatar.   That’s a LONG flight.  I appreciated being on a non-stop in terms of not worrying about connections and lost bags, but I think next time I’ll seek a connecting route so I can break up the 13 hour flight.  My tailbone is still aching!  I also seem to have picked up some sinusitis, so have spent today at home being slothful as opposed to the planned day off getting some packing done for the coming moves up to PA and into a smaller place here.

dsc03043.JPGdsc03040.JPGQatar is a rich country that welcomes us.  (It says so right on their water tower!)  They are sitting on an extremely large natural gas reserve and their population average income is somewhere around $150K per capita.  Of course, they have many guest workers who make far less.   Other than natural gas, there isn’t a lot there.  They are working to build lots of things including reclaiming land to extend their acreage.  They do have lots of sand.

dsc03038.JPGdsc03039.JPGYou may be looking for knitting content as there was none in my last post.   I’m here to serve.  Here I am working on my latest socks outside of my lodging…no, I didn’t add fill light to the photo.  It was just that bright.  Sunglasses are a must.  Also, in the event of any big mistakes, you will be glad to know that they stock “Rip It” power drink at the dining facility.  Thoughtful of them, don’t you think?

Love, Jan

Colorful Visitors

Dear Ellen,

dscf1473.JPGimg_5788.JPGWe’ve had LOTS of visitors at Fair Winds over the past week.  The house placed 2nd in 4 of 6 categories and 1st in the other two, so it is a very popular home for people to check out.  Plus, it was featured in the Lancaster newspaper’s weekend article on the Parade of Homes.  Other homes were mentioned, but ours was the only one shown in photos.  Another home took the overall prize, but many have said we were robbed and that ours is by far the best home in the show.  (The other house was a decidedly contemporary style — evidently what appealed to the judges’ personal tastes.) We know it’s the one we like best!  img_5689.JPGimg_5764.JPGSome of the best comments are coming from the inlay in the foyer and the doggie shower.  I keep reminding the builder that it’s got more uses than doggies (grandkids, boots, vegetables from the field, etc., but they keep billing it as a doggie shower — the addition of Bosco by Dale doesn’t help.

dscf1467.JPGAlong with all of the human visitors, we have been graced with the presence of this couple and hopefully soon with their hatchlings.  We’ve heard them in the woods over the last few weeks and Dale finally saw them when he was at the house Saturday.  We’re hoping they’ll take up residence.  Evidently they love dry cat food, so our landscaper has taken to sprinkling some near the edge of the patio to encourage them.  This shot was just behind the garage, you can see the straw grass seed cover.  I think they are a stunning couple — I count more than 125 eyes on him…far healthier than most domesticated peacocks.  And what a colorway!

Can’t wait till you’re one of the visitors!

Love, Jan

Trifecta…

Hey, Jan,

I don’t suppose you saw the Belmont Stakes, held just outside of Brooklyn.  We looked for Jenny, Marie, and Heidi but didn’t spot them, but we did spot a missed investment opportunity.  Two dollars would have won you $8,268 if you picked the trifecta.

I did not have two dollars down.  But I did have a trifecta of a weekend.  Knittin’, spinnin, and gardenin’.

22.jpgI know summer will get here in earnest eventually, so I am committed to making this the year that I finish Rhythm ‘n’ Blues, the little cotton tank I started 2 years ago.  In fact, when I pulled it out of its project bag I found I had finished both the front and back as written in the pattern.  I had to admit, however, that a woman of your age should not wear a tank cut off at the natural waist - which was what I was looking at.

1.jpg3.jpg4.jpgYou know what I’m going to do next, don’t you?  Yep - hack into my knitting and add length.  I  threaded the needle through the last row before the edging, clipped the yarn in the edging and unwove it, and ta-da! ready to knit downwards.  The only dicey bits were at the side seams where I had to be sure that I caught all the stitches as I removed the edging in the seam (don’t ask me why I knit this in pieces instead of tubular to begin with - or why Rowan wrote the pattern to be knit in pieces to begin with).

I almost started doing a jogless stripe in the round, but I decided I didn’t want even the subtle diagonal across the piece.  My side seams were messy enough - a few jogs weren’t going to make a difference.  This may end up being a favorite piece as I personally love the colors, but it ain’t gonna be a state fair entry, that is for sure!

6.jpg71.jpg8.jpg9.jpg10.jpg111.jpgSaturday was garden day, and some friends visited to admire the pac choi, beans, potatoes, and peonies. How do you like that mulch?  (And how is that for a segue to Sunday’s topic, spinning?)

51.jpgHere we have two more rare breeds - Dorset Horn and English Leicester.   The Dorset Horn was the fiber that combed up so nicely several posts ago.  It’s spinning was equally notable - it was like spinning a stretchy sponge, not a bunch of separate fibers.  Very enjoyable, and very springy and cushy.  There is some discoloration in this sample, what they call Canary Yellow.  I’ve read that this occurs when there has been high temps and wet sheep, though I’m not sure about that.  What I am sure about is that it doesn’t wash out.  Over-dyeing is one option.  This 3-ply woolen spun sample may experience just that.

121.jpgThe  English Leicester should get everyone’s juices flowing.  This sheep is one of the genetic bases for so many of our beloved fibers, even for those of you who are using yarns others have prepared.  Can you say Blue Faced Leicester?  Polwarth?  Wensleydale?  Yes, we owe a lot to this sheep.  I spun this worsted - 3 different colors, implying 3 different sheep.  And yes, they varied from sheep to sheep.  All were long in staple and lustrous, but that middle color, the taupey one, so silky and smooth.  I did a marled 3-ply for fun, but when I ran out of the taupe and continued with a 2-ply, that is when I sat up and took notice.  That little sample in the middle of the picture is the 2-ply, and the hand of that yarn just shouts lace.  I have some more of all of the colors and this is what is going to happen to them - 2-ply for lace working from solid brown, to brown/taupe, to solid taupe, to  taupe/cream, to solid cream.  Then we’ll see what gets knit from it!

131.jpgOn the wheel right now - Jacob.  These are the pintos of the sheep world, often tri-color, and often with extra sets of horns, too.  I’m doing a marled yarn here, too, but this time just a 2-ply.  The grey I’m working with is more brown-gray.  It has been lovely to spin, just flowing out from the roving.  I occasionally pluck a bit of kemp from the fiber.  It’s easy to spot - looks like a bit of plastic  scrap in the roving, it is that thick.  See the bit in the sample in the picture?  At one time I was intimidated by fibers that said “may contain kemp”, but this rare breed spinning has cured me of that and is building lots of new skills.

Tomorrow I’ll rely on old skills - negotiating security lines at the airport as I head to North Carolina for a university visit.  I hope your current trip is not taxing your skills overmuch.

Love,

Ellen

Please Stop the World…Just Till I Catch Up

Dear Ellen,

My head is spinning…so much going on and I’m not sure how much more I can take.  Much is very good, much is interesting and much will help us build our future, but good grief!  I just wish I’d get a day to sleep.

dsc02992.JPGdsc02993.JPGLast week was the grand opening of the house with a wonderful party that the builder threw for the Parade of Homes.  They included us, our immediate neighbors and several of their other clients.  According to Jared (our fantastic architect shown here with his parents), there were over 130 people in the house at one point.  As I had no clue there were that many, it proved out our intent to design it for good flow while entertaining.  We heard many, many very nice comments about the property and the house.  They announce judging results tonight…we are hopeful.  It would be fun bragging rights to have, but we really are hopeful for the folks at Custom Home dsc02985.JPGGroup who were so incredible to work with throughout this experience. Dale thinks his garage floor alone (2 part epoxy terrazzo) warrants best in show.  This was definitely the high point for almost all the men who were at the party…and something Dale has wanted his whole life.  I have to admit, it’s pretty nice.

dsc03001.JPGdsc03017.JPGWe stayed in a hotel near BWI the night of the party — poised to fly to Tampa to watch Tom graduate from Plant High School and to attend Jim’s retirement dinner.  (He’s now out of the Army and in the private sector.)  dsc03010.JPGTom’s wearing a coat from his Uncle Ted (Chris’ brother) who got it from their dad.  He died fairly recently so it was quite an emotional moment for everyone.  We had a far too short, but very good time with the family.  I continue to be amazed by Chris’ ability to deliver the best of high end hospitality without seeming to break a sweat.  She juggled a million people and a wild event schedule that was just perfect.  I only wish I would have had more time just with her. dsc03014.JPGWe did get a few minutes with our friends John and Betsy.  If your memory is very sharp, you’ll remember that they live in Norfolk, not Tampa.  Believe it or not, but they were at the graduation as their nephew was in Tom’s class and they sat just 5 rows ahead of us.  We met up for coffee Saturday morning highly amused that we had to travel to Florida to get a chance to see each other.

dsc03021.JPGdsc03024.JPGWhile on the road, I finished up a cap and booties to go with the overalls for my friend’s baby.  Then I decided I needed to redo the booties as I wasn’t perfectly happy with them as they seemed a little small for the size of overalls.  I also knit the hat for Master’s Level I…not done with the I-cord for the embellishment yet, but the basic hat is knit — as you can see there are ends with which I must deal.  I have to say, I really do like the jogless color join that they recommend.  I had been using the “knit the last stitch into the stitch below the needle”, but this is better and doesn’t distort the row.  (Edited to add this link to a very good description.)

dsc03025.JPGThis week I’ve been in a military transition course, a euphemism for retirement preparation.  I don’t think I’m retiring quite yet, but at this stage of the game they want you to have taken the course just in case they know something you don’t know.  It was a good course, but it kept me away from the office and home (long days!) and I’m behind at both.  You’d think I’d be breathing a sigh of relief with the weekend here, but instead I am gritting my teeth for even more fun.  I leave tonight for a few days in Southwest Asia — back mid-week.  …and then comes packing and moving!!  (Most stuff heads to Fair Winds, but enough to live on during the week will stay behind to go to a small place we have yet to find.)  At least I got this sock started.  It will come with me and hopefully return with a friend.

Love, Jan

Grey is the color of my true-love’s hair…

Dear Jan,

No long-winded accounts of fiber washing and combing today.  Just eye candy this time, in the form of hand-painted rovings from DesignKnit (blog here and etsy store here).  Erica sells both yarn and roving from her shop, all hand painted in her wonderfully experimental way.

5.jpg23.jpgHere we have February Cardinals, inspired by a photo from our blog.  And surprise, she sent not only the spruces for the cardinal to roost in, but the birches from the other side of the house (thanks, Erica!).  I’m thinking about doing some little cocoons in some of the bonus scarlet fiber to represent cardinals, or I might try to just intersperse a bit of scarlet occasionally into one of the plies.  Or maybe I’ll spin the scarlet on its own and use it as an accent color in the final sweater - a single row of red at the wrist or on the neck or hem edge.

2.jpgI had been resisting the cardinal fiber, but when I saw Stormy Skies on her blog, I kind of had to have this one.  As I may have mentioned recently, I love grey?*  And with teal accents?  Well, there you go.  And once I was ordering this, what could I do but bring the bird fiber along for the ride?

Love,

Ellen

7.jpg*There is never enough grey, really.