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

Archive for September, 2011


Dr. Yarn is no fat cat…

Dear Jan,

Did you know that Dr. Yarn has a background in archaeology?  Neither did I, but it is apparently so.  Read on…

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This question recently came in from Cynthia at Arizona State University.

garfield.jpgQ. The Sept 12, 2011 Garfield  mentions knitted underwear for the Cro-Magnon man. This seems unlikely to me, but Garfield has never led me astray before.  Did such garments really exist?
A. This surprised even me, but digging in deeper (which is really what you have to do in this field), we find new archeological evidence that this information from Garfield is true.  As you know, the weather was cold in the Cro-Magnon era. Although Cro-Magnon man (…and woman …and child) was hairy, this alone wasn’t enough to keep him or her warm. Necessity is the mother (…or father …not child) of invention, and the Cro-Magnon people discovered a use for the wool they acquired upon killing a Wooly Mammoth.

The Cro-Magnons couldn’t afford to waste a bit of these difficult prey.  Of course, they ate the meat first, but then they tried chewing on some of the hide and fiber (yes, even then the nutritionists were big on fiber).  The wool stuck between their teeth in an irritating way, and when they twisted it to remove it, they discovered spinning.

With knitting needles made from the rib bones and millenia to while away before  TV and board games were invented, they passed the time spinning and knitting undies for themselves. They did not make outer garments - fashion statements had not been invented yet, either.

Early Cro-Magnon had only thong panties at first, but as their skills improved they  advanced to long underwear.
As an unintended consequence, those who play chess are a little put out because they always thought chess was the oldest activity; now they find that knitting is much older. I have it on a reliable source that the United States Chess Federation is trying to raise a million dollars to fund an expedition to see if they can find out that Cro-Magnon actually played chess while wearing their knitted undies.  Now that is something we are all interested in!

Thanks for that good question, and it is nice to hear from college students who are interested in finding out the truth no matter how much it upsets some of our narrow biases and myths.

Dr. Yarn

Get fuzzy…

Dear Jan,

Fall.  Minnesota.  Seeking fuzzy things just comes naturally.

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Love,

Ellen

Monkey on my back…

Dear Jan,

112.jpgIn reality, I have a kitty on my back, but she can sure squirm like a monkey.  Selkie loves sitting right up on my shoulder, which can be either tremendously endearing or tremendously annoying, depending on what you are trying to do.

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She did not sit on my shoulder while I finished plying the singles I spun from Erica’s Corriedale roving.  I am happy, happy,happy with the result. I spun the singles at a high wheel ratio, getting a lot of twist in a semi-woolen draft. I pre-drafted the fiber as described earlier, then did a short forward draw but did not maintain a pinch on the singles (which would have prevented the twist from traveling back to the fiber source, as you would for true worsted spinning).  I plyed 3 singles together, soaked the resulting skein for a good long while, squeezed it out and whacked it on a towel on the bathroom floor, and hung it, unweighted, to dry.

My only problem know is to figure out what to do with 200 yards of fun.  It is feeling a bit like a hat, or maybe mitts.  Maybe gloves?  I would not mind seeing this color on my hands every day this winter, that’s for sure.

Have a lovely weekend.

Love,

Ellen

P.S.  Someday we really need to figure out this blog thing.  I’m experimenting with getting the pictures to appear bigger but not throw off all the text.  Let me know how this shows up on your browser.

Now that’s a useful souvenir!

Dear Jan,

111.jpgWilson visited St. Louis and all I got was this fantastic beer glass.  And other than him coming home, it’s all I wanted (and I didn’t even know I wanted it, so that’s even better).   It wasn’t full of ale when he packed it in his bag.

The St. Louis Chess Club is one of the biggest in the country.  I am absolutely swept off my feet that my guy thought of me while he was there in the midst of it all.  That would be kind of like me bringing him home a checkerboard fleece or something.  I’ll have to work on that.

27.jpg110.jpgI don’t have to work any more on my Warm Heart hat.  The pattern, The Amanda Hat on Ravelry, is a fun knit, but slow what with all the yarnovers, slipped stitches passed over other stitches, and dropped yarnovers.  I’m happy with the result, and hopeful that it will keep an Irene-hit Vermonter warm this winter.   As a reminder to all, India is coordinating an effort to keep the many Vermonters who were washed out by the floods after Hurricane Irene a bit warmer as the cold weather approaches.  Check out her effort in the details I posted HERE or on her Facebook page for the effort.

Even while I enjoy my cold one, I’m staying warm here.  I hope you are weathering the work week well enough yourself.

Love,

Ellen

Farewell Summer!

Dear Ellen,

dsc03367.JPGToday started cool enough to wear a sweater for most of the morning, but by about 11:00 AM, I had to change to a T-shirt.  It wants to be fall, but it just isn’t quite there.  We are seeing lots of pumpkins and the corn is drying out in the fields, so I know it will be here for real soon.  Allen and Libby arrived on Saturday so he could drop off his car for storage and say his goodbyes before he executes his new orders to Bahrain.  He’ll be gone for five or six months at least before coming back for some leave.  dsc03370.JPGWe had the best time with them, Libby is very low maintenance so it is a real pleasure to have them here.  We dropped them off at the Lancaster Amtrak station this morning — only 25 minutes from here and on the Keystone line to New York City.  We’re looking at running into New York to visit the girls one weekend too.  It’s day-trip doable.  You should tell Jenny!

dsc03390.JPGdsc03388.JPGI finished some stuff for Warm Hats, Warm Hearts — the third of the trio of maroon hats in graduated sizes and a few baby knits.  I’m settling in on a pattern for easy worsted weight baby dsc03385.JPGbooties that are toe up and feature a few innovations in the toe and heel to make them faster knits.  I can knock out a pair in less than 2 hours.  Add a cap in 2 hours and you’ve got a nice gift for a longer evenings worth of work.  Preemie sizes would be even faster.

dsc03383.JPGI also got moving on Vanessa’s Royal wedding couple and queen (and corgie).  I’ve gotten through about half of the bride’s body and have totally reworked the pattern to the point where I really could call it my own.  The orginal is knit in flat pieces all of which have to be seamed and sewn together.  I don’t mind seaming, but at this scale it would cause a ridiculous amount of bulk!  I adapted to knit in the round up each leg, attach them together with additional stitches in the crotch and some shaping in the body to give a little tush and a waist.  We’ll see what I do with the torso — I won’t get too risque!

dsc03380.JPGI finished these Spring Lace socks last week, but I haven’t found my sock blockers yet.  I figured I’d at least provide you with a peak at them.  The feet should  block out longer than they appear here.  These feel great on.  They’re the ones I cast on out of the Sweet Georgia yarn while we were at Sock Summit.  I’ll put up another picture once they’re blocked.

dsc03391.JPGdsc03397.JPGdsc03393.JPGThe dogs and I did some galivanting about the property.  Found some pretty butterflies and admired the sky through the corn stalks.  The dogs agree with me — coming here is like going on vacation.  I know we’ll love it when every day is vacation!dsc03411.JPGdsc03408.JPG

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Love, Jan

Beyond point and shoot…

Dear Jan,

One of the delights of really diving deep into our passion for knitting is how it brings opportunities to learn far beyond the realm of pointy sticks and string.  Thanks to knitting which led to blogging which is leading to designing, I had a yen for improving my photography.  A class with Gale Zucker of She Shoots Sheep Shots as well as Shear Spirit and soon, Craft Activism has moved me closer to that goal.

I won’t take you through all that Gale shared in a whirlwind 3.5 hours, but I did want to share a couple of wows.  As alway, click on individual photos to embiggen - it is worth it for some of these*.

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First - reflected light.  Look at the difference in detail and liveliness when Gale bounced a little natural light back at the model using a simple disk reflector.  I have had trouble shooting dark colored yarn - this is going to help a lot!

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33.jpg42.jpg51.jpg62.jpgSecond - background color.  From black velvet (which seemed to make lots of project/yarns sing) to fat quarters (of which I have tons of from my quilting days - why didn’t I think of this?!), you can pick the background color that brings out the character you want to showcase in your work.  I personally like the velvet background best for this yarn (click to embiggen), and find that multi-color fine print background just makes it look like mud.  The brown background really brought up the blue, and the blue played up the green.

I learned a lot more, part of which is that I have a ton left to learn.  Someday I hope to take one of  Gale’s weekend workshops, she is an awesome teacher, balancing lecture with hands-on kinetic learning and leaving you feeling you got great value for class dollar.  I encourage you to take any class with her that  you can fit into your crazy life. 26.jpg

15.jpgOf course, spinning is an area of immense learning potential for me still.  Look at these crazy plies - pigtails galore, the potential energy in these bobbins is almost scary.  But what a lovely well-behaved yarn it seems to want to ply into!  I have struggled with getting enough twist into my singles to allow a well twisted yarn… I think I might be making progress.

I’ll let you know after I get the skein washed, whacked and dried.  And after I dig out some of my old quilting fabric so I can find the best background for its photo shoot!

Love,

Ellen

*Gale shared a few tips that may help me size photos appropriately for the blog, but before I can experiment with them I need to go catch up on some work stuff that I neglected while taking Gale’s class.  Someday soon!

Going for a spin…

Dear Jan,

20.jpg171.jpg16.jpgOne does not waste beautiful September days when one lives in Minnesota.  The snow is just around the corner - we make the most of warm autumn afternoons.  Wilson and I spent this one biking at Baker Park Reserve.  Such color!

32.jpgPlenty of color at home, too, where I plyed that alpaca/silk I was spinning up last week.  I had split the rovings in thirds, matching the dye progression in each. My hope was that as I plyed, the colors in each of the singles would roughly match up with each other.  And they did, at first. The greens ended and faded pretty much at the same time into blue.

41.jpg 5.jpgThe blues merged into dark blue/black, then through an olive and back to the bright green, though at this point that bright green isn’t quite so clear.  A nice long run of blues and blacks merged things up fairly well again.

61.jpg By the time I got to the end things had gotten pretty out of synch.  No matter, the yarn was gorgeous anyway.

8.jpg24.jpgAs a comparison, here is the yarn described above, and to the right is a bit of yarn spun from the scrap of roving that didn’t get used.  I chain plyed the singles from that bit, which allows you to ply each color on itself very specifically.  See the clear difference in color purity?  I like both of them, but it is good to know how to get either effect when one wants it.

131.jpgPoison was head over heels about it all.

Love,

Ellen

We Miss You Roger

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mrwoods-gravesite-062703.jpgMarvin “Roger” Woods worked for the Navy his entire adult life — first as a Sailor and then as a civilian communications manager at the Pentagon, a job I convinced him to take.  He had a wonderful wife named Betty and three kids and five grandkids that he adored.  He loved to regale us with tales of hunting and fishing and to impress us with pictures of stuff he made in his woodworking shop out back.   He was one of the best.  I’m glad I got the chance to serve with him and was proud to count him among me friends.

I’ll be thinking about Roger a lot today.

House afire!

Dear Jan,

13.jpgThe changing season brings chilly nights with heavy dew and then bright sunshine early enough to lift a cloud of steam off of the roof.  I looked up and thought the neighborhood was burning down!

23.jpgThe angle of the light was delightful to spin by - it reflected off the alpaca/silk roving (Abstract Fibers in colorway Shady Glade) so nicely.  It also highlighted something I just learned over on Erica’s blog about dyeing and staple length.  See those streaks of yellow pulling out of that black roving?  How’s that happening?

31.jpgErica explains that if the section of color isn’t longer than the staple length, then the colors are pulled into each other.  I guess I’d not spun with dyed roving with such long staples before, or just wasn’t alert enough to notice.  It has amused me a great deal as I spun up these 4 ounces.

4.jpgAnother thing that amused me was the impact of pre-drafting on this fiber.  This is when you hold the roving or top with your hands just a bit further apart than the staple length and pull slowly and steadily apart, just getting the fibers to move past each other and fluff up a bit.  Shift hands an inch or so down the roving and repeat.  Mind you, pre-drafting isn’t absolutely necessary with an AF roving which is so nicely prepared, but it certainly makes the spinning go easily.  I find I don’t have to pinch so hard to draw out the  next bit, especially when spinning worsted.  And - it poufs the fiber up into a gorgeous cloud!  On the left is the fiber before pre-drafting, on the right, after.

6.jpgHere is the after of Rhythm ‘n’ Blues, my finally, finally finished little shell.  I still love the fabric and color, but boy am I glad to be done.  I made so many misjudgments on this one.

  1. Knit it flat when a tube would have been so much simpler and eliminated the ends caused by single row stripes.
  2. Once I was knitting it flat, why didn’t I slide it back and forth on the circular needle to start the next row on the side that the color I needed was at - eliminating many of aforementioned ends.
  3. Midriff length.  Maybe the model was really petite so it looked longer on her, but really, I can measure, and the diagram was pretty clear this was a really short sweater.  Not. A. Good. Look. For. Me.
  4. If choosing to modify the edging, go simple and try ribbing, thereby missing the fun of frogging two other edgings.
  5. Cap sleeves do not work on a tank with narrow shoulders.  I have proven this.

Ah, well, all good lessons, and now I am done and fairly well satisfied. But did I mention the seasons are changing?  I’m thinking this one won’t get worn until next summer.

Love,
Ellen

Labor Day on the Farm

Dear Ellen,

dsc03336.JPGDale and I extended our Labor Day weekend by adding on 2 days of leave.  It was absolutely wonderful!  I made some good progress in a lot of areas…our pantry is much more settled, our library can be used and I am able to find some things in my office/studio.  I also got a few hats knit for Warm Hats, Warm Hearts and have one more planned for the drive back to Virginia.

dsc03347.JPGdsc03352.JPGI cast on with my handspun for my Virtual Loungewear, the Saroyan shawlette which we have declared to be our group’s cellblock uniform. The fabric is lovely and light.  I dropped down to a size 5 needle from the size 10 recommended in the pattern because the yarn is really a laceweight.  dsc03353.JPGI was going to try several needle sizes to see what I liked, but I started with the 5s and loved the result.  The gauge is tight enough to make the fabric appear opaque, but it’s open enough to make for a very light, but warm fabric.  Because the gauge is, of course, more dense than that of the original I added several increase repeats before starting on the straight section in order to make it wide enough.  I’m shooting for about 12 inches wide so it can be a combo-scarf-shawlette.  It’s definite potato chip knitting — I want to see what’s going to happen with the next swath of color!

dsc03340.JPGdsc03339.JPGI’ve got my eye on some more spinning too.  These gorgeous spindles arrived in the mail yesterday and they are calling to me like crazy.  The fact that they came with some lovely samples of fiber doesn’t hurt.  Oh, and I found a great little shop up in Lancaster called Labadie Looms.  They’ve got handspun yarn, a good deal of locally sourced roving and a bunch of spinning wheels.  dsc03341.JPGThe lovely owner shared with us that she was a 9th generation handspinner, handweaver and knitter and that the shop has been in existence in some form since 1863.  I bought this 1/4 pound of coopworth from her. I had never heard of it before.  Have you spun with it yet?  She says it’s one of the breeds that was favored by the Pennsylvania Germans who populated this area.

dsc03345.JPGdsc03344.JPGdsc03346.JPGWhen we left Labadie’s we brought home some cute little sisters to stay with us for a while.  Aren’t they adorable?  They were made by a local 15 year old.  I love how authentic she was with her color choices and design of their headwear.  I know I could make similar ones myself, but the fact that their purchase would be encouraging a young woman in her craft made it impossible to say, “no.”  The yarn is handspun as well, but I didn’t think to ask if she did the handspinning as well as the knitting.

dsc03319.JPGdsc03323.JPGLabor Day on the farm is really pretty much like any other day.  There’s no such thing as a day off, but the work we’re doing here is so much more enjoyable.  Dale was having a great dsc03328.JPGdsc03330.JPGtime making mulch out of limbs felled during Hurricane Irene.  This is a tiny pile so far, but it turned into a much larger one and was the third one of the day.  For some reason I kept thinking of Frances dsc03326.JPGdsc03332.JPGMcDormand.  I did some work in the flower garden…Ruby kept an eye on me.  The roses are still bearing well and we’re getting some beautiful berries on many of our plants now.

dsc03317.JPGIt did rain for much of the weekend and the week so far.  Luckily the house is secure and snug and dry as a bone.  It does make me want to snooze though…or just sit and watch the rain chain.  I hate to think about tomorrow — it will be back to the grind.  But at least it’s only a 2 day work week!

Love, Jan