Saturday, December 31, 2011

Farewell to 2011

On this last day of 2011, I want to say:
  1. I’m glad FIL went peacefully to see his wife in August. We were there with him, and glad that he and MIL are together again.
  2. I’m happy that DB#3 has made it this far and has developed a good attitude about his many illnesses.
  3. Yeah, we’re a nuclear family that argues. But I’m so glad that we can discuss our differences without the large amounts of drama and ”I’m never speaking to you again” stances that some of the satellite family seems to bask in.
  4. I’m thankful for Husbeast, who is a gem and continues to grow as a fine person and husband.
  5. I’m fortunate to have friends, who stick by me when things are going down the toilet, who call on me for help when their life is full of nasty, who share holidays and laughter with me, who come back into my life after a 2-year hiatus, and the many who are also related to me in some way. (waving to Jean)
  6. And praise the Interwebz, which has provided me with customers who have become friends and with plain-old friends in other states and other countries who are related to me by fiber and yarn.
May we all continue to bask in each others glow in 2012.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Streaker Sheep, courtesy of Budweiser

I remember this beer advertisement airing during one of the Super Bowl competitions. Good to see it again, even if it's a bit pixilated!

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Parade of squirrels AND Black Friday Sale in my yarn shop

When I get home from the gym each day, I fill the birdfeeders and put out peanuts for the squirrels, nuthatches and tufted titmice. I have to put them in separate piles so there are no arguments between our three types of squirrels (five squirrels chasing each other around the pine trees is a VERY noisy business!). Within minutes of putting down the peanuts, this is what I saw from the upstairs window:

All three squirrels with their tails up, protecting them from the drizzle, and all three facing the woods like a lineup of guilty critters. I consider the cardinal on the feeder, getting his share of the peanuts, as a holiday bonus!

I'll be hosting a sale in my Etsy yarn shop for the Thanksgiving weekend. Starting at the stroke of midnight on Friday, Nov. 25 through midnight, Sunday, Nov. 28, all yarns will be 20% off--use the code Wolf 11 when you check out and the price will automatically be reduced by 20%. Pick up a skein or two to make holiday gifts for loved ones, or wrap up a few skeins as a gift for your favorite craftsperson. Patterns and gift certificates are not included in this sale.

A few recent additions to tempt you.....

Friday, October 28, 2011

New yarns in my shop!

Sorry, not much doing here on the home front this week. Other than washing the windows, doing laundry, making home made spaghetti sauce--but that's not what y'all want to hear, I'm sure.

I've just listed 3 new handspun yarns in my shop. Cherry Divinity and Peppermint Twist are bulky yarns, and Stormy Waters works up at a worsted gauge. I think Cherry Divinity would make a wonderful holiday hat. And I have more of the spinning batts here so may be forced to spin up some for myself and knit up a quick hat!

Peppermint Twist, 3.2 oz, 160 yds, Bulky

Cherry Divinity, 1.7 oz, 100 yds of Bulky yarn

Stormy Waters, 1.9 oz, 110 yds of worsted weight yarn

 We're heading for a drive in the country tomorrow to pick up our meat for the freezer. Should be a spectacular drive on a fine autumn day. Have a lovely weekend, everyone!


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Ergonomic Earwarmer Two finally test-knitted and available!

For such a simple knitted piece, this was a difficult pattern to finish. Interruptions kept happening, but that's life. Anyway, the pattern includes two different versions of the earwarmer--one in Garter Stitch and another in Mock Rib. Available in my Etsy shop and my Ravelry store (Feistywoman Designs). Knit up a bunch using leftovers and scraps for great holiday gifts.

The original Ergonomic Earwarmer needed company! And so we have two more earwarmers included in this pattern that are variations on the original but allow a lot more room for individual creativity. And the garter stitch earwarmer is uber-easy!

I hate, hate, hate earwarmers that are one solid band of fabric--it either rides up the back of my head or rides down over my eyes. To solve the problem I've created an earwarmer that will cover your ears, ride a little high at the back so your jacket collar doesn't push it upwards, and a little low at the front so your hair doesn't stick up in spikes. I also incorporated a little hanging loop at the back so it can be aired out afterwards.

Requires about 60 yds or DK weight yarn and is very easy to knit once the pattern is established.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Natural dyeing and sauerkraut

No, I did not dye anything with sauerkraut although I understand someone somewhere managed to dye wool with RED cabbage. Once.

This was supposed to be a post about dyeing wool with black walnuts and goldenrod but someone-who-shall-remain-nameless has not sent me the photos she took, and so we shall do the best we can sans photos.  This will very shortly become a post about making sauerkraut.....

Back in early September my usual group of spinning plotters and troublemakers met at my house. I have 6 walnut trees that gave us and our squirrels a bumper crop this year, enough so that prior to the meeting I could drop a bunch in a bucket of water to soak for several weeks. I also noticed that the goldenrod was in bloom, so I cut a shopping bag full, took it home and simmered it for an hour to extract the color (cooking goldenrod needs to be done on a day when you can open the windows--it gives off a rather "earthy" smell). I also cooked the walnuts for an hour and strained both. Once the day arrived, we soaked our skeins and clean fiber meant for the goldenrod bath in an alum and cream of tartar mordant bath for an hour, while we chatted about the stuff that ladies left on their own with coffee and time on their hands will chat about. I distinctly remember that we mentioned interesting male and female body parts occasionally.

Once the fiber was mordanted, we dropped them in the 2 baths--walnuts do not need mordants because of the high tannen content. All the fibers came out lovely and we were quite happy with the results (which I can't show because someone-who-shall-remain-nameless hasn't forwarded photos yet). I carded up the superwash wool/nylon blend that I dyed into sock fiber, adding camel down, bamboo and sparkly angelina just because I think socks that you spin and knit should be decadent and shiny.

Although I attempted to grow my own cabbage this year, it just wasn't happening because the birds ate the first 2 sowings of seed. So we purchased 5 heads from our local farm. We used to shred the cabbage by hand but Husbeast wasn't in favor of repeating that performance. He used our food processor to shred and I have to say it was just as nice and A LOT faster. We managed to shred and pack 20 lb of cabbage in 90 minutes!

For every 5 lb of shredded cabbage, you sprinkle it with 3 tblsp of canning salt (table salt won't work as the  iodine will retard the fermentation process), mix well and allow to wilt for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, you cut and shred more cabbage--I had 3 very large bowls going simultaneously; 1 being filled, 1 wilting, and 1 being packed.

Using a large straight-sided crock, pack the wilted cabbage snugly in the crock in layers. Once everything is packed, top it with cheesecloth and over turn a dinner plate on top of that. Fill a clean milk jug with water and place it on top of the plate, pushing down slightly to bring the brine to the top so it can protect the fermenting cabbage from rotting. Cover the crock/plate/jug with a cloth and let sit for 5-6 weeks, checking weekly to skim off any scum and check the progress of the sauerkraut. Once it's softened and tastes right, you can pack it in jars and process in a water bath. I mix my sauerkraut with apples, onions, caraway seeds and butter and use that to stuff chicken or turkey--the gravy is to-dye-for good!

(And please don't blame me for the boring sauerkraut-making post, it's all the fault of someone-who-shall-remain-nameless.)

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Shameless plug

Apologies for being away so long. I had a colonial festival that lasted through 2 weekends at which I was vending as part of a group--it was great fun, I made new friends and ran into some old friends. The best kind of 'work', if you ask me! Then I came home, unpacked my yarn, moved the last few items out of the studio, and welcomed the first of 3 contractors trooping through the house to begin work on my studio. I made them a pot of coffee--12 cups--and the two guys drank ALL of it in an hour! No wonder their work went so quickly.

At any rate, during the past few weeks I've managed to re-work my Ergonomic Earwarmer pattern. The newer version, Ergonomic Earwarmer Two, will include two different stitch patterns and a couple of ideas on how to use color in knitting them.

Do I have anyone interested in test knitting an earwarmer for me? Pattern uses US #6 needles and about 60-70 yards of yarn.

AND.....I have moved all my handspun yarn into my new Etsy shop, Feistywoman Handspun. So if you're looking for fiber, head to Feistywoman Designs. If you want patterns and handspun yarn to work those patterns, click into Feistywoman Handspun.

AND.....Last but not least, I find myself in two Etsy treasuries today.

That's quite enough for today, I think.

Friday, September 9, 2011

I'm back -- with a suggestion for indie dyers

It's been several weeks since the last post. We lost my father-in-law on August 26 and have been busy winding up all those things that must be done when a loved one passes. Somehow I managed to get all my orders in the mail and hope I haven't forgotten anyone?

BUT.....I'm back in the studio, carding more Sparkling Rhubarb and Eboni's Blue batts. And spinning yarn from the dyed rovings and combed tops I have on hand. I'll be with the Butler Spinners and Weavers Guild booth at Penn's Colony for two weekends and I've been spinning up a storm, trying to get ready.

Which means I've also been washing all those skeins of yarn I've spun up, and there's something I've noticed that disturbs me as a long-time spinner. I use warm water and shampoo to wash my skeins as I want to remove the spinning oil and any dirt that accumulated because clean wool yarn fluffs a bit and looks wonderful. seems that in the past year I've been running into more and more dyed rovings that are not washfast, meaning the dye bleeds in the wash. A little bit of color bleeding is expected, but it's evident from the amount of bleeding that some of these rovings have not been rinsed. I mentioned this to a friend of mine who is a dyer and she related several stories about dyers she's encountered at festivals who do not want to rinse their product because it won't look as good to the buyer(s).

And I have to ask---Just what do you hope to accomplish when you sell a beautifully colored roving (or yarn) to someone, who then washes it and the yarn fades because the excess dye has washed away? Or worse yet, when the bleeding dye attachs itself to another, differently-colored, skein and that skein is ruined? How does it help your business if you make the sale but never make another sale to that particular customer because your dyes ran in the wash water?

Please please rinse your dyed rovings and yarns thoroughly. It's just the right thing to do if you're putting your product in the hands of others.

And now I'll climb down off my soapbox and go make dinner.......

Saturday, August 27, 2011

We love ya, Dad!

RIP Ernest E. McFadden, Jr.
May 23, 1921--August 26, 2011

You'll be with your beloved MaryLou forever now!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

It's harvest season!

Harvesting the Good Things
I've been busy these past 3 days with the box of peaches I bought on Friday. I'll be making my jelly later this year when it's cooler, but I hadn't made peach butter in several years and it's a family favorite. You have no idea how much work I can get out of my 3 fellas by offering them a small jar of peach butter! ;)

It's a long process, starting with dropping the peaches in boiling water for 30 seconds so the skins slip off easily. Then they're chopped, one of my secret ingredients is added and they're cooked until soft. Next is putting them through the food mill to make a fine puree and remove any bits of seed that may have crept in there. Then we add the sugar and cook them down while stirring. This is the tough part--standing beside the pot for 1.5-2 hours, stirring and testing to see if it's condensed enough to jar and seal. As it cooks down, it splatters everywhere and you have to watch your hands and feet to make sure you don't get burned with flying hot peach butter! I usually bring a book and hope the peach butter doesn't splatter it. But it's all worth it, since I made 16 cups and that should last us for 2 years.

The remains of 26 peaches!
Peaches in the pot, and more for dessert!

Pureed and measured so I can add sugar

I’m still plugging away on the lace curtain. I have 4 more repeats of the lace pattern then I can start the hem, which is all stockinette stitch and should go much faster. I have also begun a swatch for an autumn-themed vest for myself. Below is the swatch, knitted in the round so I get the correct gauge. The yarn is all my handspun from my blended batts and it’s lucious–the ground color (beige) is a blend of BFL, Merino and tussah silk and it’s just so slickery-soft. The vest will be knitted in the round and steeked. Then I’ll add a leaf border around the fronts and just a bit of the red around the armholes. Or maybe I’ll use the brown/green yarn? Both the red and brown/green yarns contain angelina because I love glitter and glitz. You can see just a bit of the gleam in the closeup photo.

So, what's everyone else doing with their garden produce or their farmer's market purchases this year? Any good recipes out there?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Latest knitting projects

Oh my. I swore I'd post every week, and here I notice that I haven't been around for TWO weeks? Ah well.....

One of the Black and Gold Knitters on Ravelry runs a charity scarf collection. The scarves are given to women in crisis when they first go into a shelter environment, and are meant to let them know that others (especially other women who are craftspersons) care about them. So I spent most of July knitting up some of my wool handspun and acrylic leftovers into scarves. These are most of the results (three others were still drying and not available for photography).

And then I went back to the pile of WIPs. Finished the Trekking Handpaint socks, the yarn for which was purchased at Will's Wools in Hoorn, Netherlands. I'd never seen that color of Handpaint locally and just HAD to have it! I love the socks. Then I moved on to the handspun socks, where I had stopped the second sock at the ankle because I was distracted by starting yet another project. I find this happening a lot, starting more projects, because I love the planning and problem-solving stages. Which brought me to the third pair of socks that I started this weekend. It's more of my handspun, but this time it's from a blend I sold several years ago. I may have to resurrect this blend, maybe add some camel or cashmere to the blend--what do you think? Would you like navy/turquoise sock spinning batts with camel or cashmere?
Handspun socks
Trekking Handpaint socks

Handspun Navy/Turquoise socks

Last but not least, I've also restarted on the lace curtain that I began in Europe in May. It's a bit tedious knitting--36" wide and 39" long with Size 10 Crochet Cotton--but I think it's turning out well. It's the Frost Flowers lace pattern from Barbara Walker's First Treasury and I've always loved that lace. To break the monotony of the lace and to make it a pretty door curtain, I've inserted a mesh in the middle which widens as the curtain grows. The mesh is at it's widest at this point, so it's the same rows repeated for another 12-15" until I can make the hem.
I must be testing my stamina this month, because I'm planning a major renovation of my attic studio due to mistakes made by the original contractor (whom we fired), two out-of-town trips and a rather large festival in the coming 6-weeks. Yikes!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Spinning Swedish fleece--Varmland

Last month my friend in Sweden sent me a sampling of Swedish fleece to play with. What fun! Messing with fleece that I’d never touched before, processing them and spinning them, all the while thinking what I could do with the yarn. Not all of the samples are finished, but I had wool from three different Varmland sheep. Varmland is one of the old Swedish landrace breeds, a short-tailed, double-coated sheep. Both males and females are horned, either single or double horns. I would venture to say that the wool is medium-to-coarse  grade and would make great hard-wearing outerware, rugs and upholstery material. If the outer coat is removed, the yarn is much softer. I carded all three samples with my handcards because I wanted to spin woolen. I felt that I didn’t have enough wool to do both woolen and worsted techniqes, and combing the fleece would have removed a good deal of the wool leaving me with not enough fiber to spin with a worsted technique.
All three wools, unwashed

We’ll start with the chocolate brown. This was about a 6” staple, stretched, with a lot of undercoat in relation to the longer outer coat. It was a bit difficult to draft, in part because there’s a bit of scruf (dandruff-like particles) near the cut end that seems to cause the wool to hold on and not slip past the adjoining fibers. I also suspect that this is a ram fleece, because it still has ‘that smell’ after washing and drying outdoors. But it’s a soft yarn for it’s grade. I had about 1/10 ounce and managed 8 yards of 2-ply yarn at 8 wpi.
Chocolate, unwashed

Chocolate, washed
Closeup of chocolate skein

The grey fleece had a 7” staple length, stretched, and similar properties to the chocolate brown—lots of undercoat in relation to the outer coat. However, this outer coat was a bit harsher and therefore spun a harsher yarn. Although I have to confess I LOVE the color, as there are very few naturally grey fleeces that I can wear due to the yellowing of the color from the sun. This was an easier spin, had very little VM, and I got 11 yards at 9 wpi from 2/10 ounce. I can see this yarn as a nearly-impervious woven jacket or a rug that’s destined to be an heirloom.
Closeup of grey skein

Grey, unwashed

Grey, washed

The third sample had been carded for me, and I suspect that the longer outer coat had been removed prior to carding. The rolags were wonderfully soft, tight and long—just perfect for woolen spinning. I got a very nice fingering weight yarn out of these rolags and think the yarn would be great for mittens or a seriously warm shawl or light jacket/sweater. I got 20 yards out of 1/10 ounce at 14 wpi.
Fingering, unwashed

Fingering, washed

Closeup of fingering skein

All three of these wools love to stick to themselves with no encouragement whatsoever, and so would work wonderfully for a felting project. Felted rugs with big-needle embroidery? Felted bags with the lock tips left unfelted for fun texture? These would be fun for a felter to play with.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

European Vacation, Part 7--Haarlem and home again, home again

Friday, May 13–Up early, we drive to Haarlem from the south which we’d never done before. What a mess! Lost, and looping around the same streets 3 times! Never again! Once we found Marktplatz and our hotel, which is inaccessible by car because it’s in the market square, we drove into the underground parking facility–only to find it locked up tight due to construction. Apparently, the locals removed the barriers and sat outside the local cafes drinking beer and laughing at the cars trying to park in the lot. The registrar at the hotel helped me drag our suitcases to the Hotel Frans Hal while Skip parked the car 2 blocks away. We had a very nice dinner in the CafĂ© Frans Hals (see a pattern here? Frans Hals was a Master Painter from Haarlem), and went to bed. Unfortunately, Haarlem does NOT go to bed on Friday nights and they partied in the streets and alleyways until 4am. I’ll probably not be going back to Haarlem any time soon.....

Saturday, May 14–After 2 hours sleep, we awake to a broken hairdryer, a breakfast room that won’t open until after we leave (not even for coffee!), so we jump in the car and head for Schiphol Airport stopping for breakfast along the way, turn in the car, go through extensive security–twice, and board our plane. Change planes in Philadelphia, arrive at Greater Pittsburgh Airport, pick up car and drive home. The most marvelous thing about Pittsburgh is the approach from the airport–the road goes through the mountain via the Ft. Pitt Tunnel and when you explode back into daylight the city is Right. There. In. Front. Of. You.

Due to the extremely rainy spring we’ve had, the grass had grown in our absence. We decided to rename our house The Hayfield.

So good to have seen old friends, made new friends, walked in marvelous cities, tasted wondrous food, and found one of my ancestral homes. But Pittsburgh? I was born a Yinzer and this is where my heart will always be at home.

Next: Some Swedish wool breeds and how they spin up

Monday, July 11, 2011

European Vacation, Part 6--My homeland

Post-war housing, with flowers!
Roundabout at the entrance to town
Wednesday, May 11–We leave early in the morning to seek out the village in Alsace-Lorraine that Nicholas Farmerie left in 1824 to come to Pittsburgh–he’s my great-great-great grandfather. As borders changed, Behrens-les-Forbach and the surrounding was sometimes French (present day) and sometimes German (in 1824) and is now a suburb of Forbach. We did not stop at the Mayoral office to look for records because it became evident to us that the area had been heavily bombed (leveled to the ground) during WWII. Both France and Germany wanted this coal-rich area to support their industrial return. We found only a few graves in the cemetary that predated the war, and the vast majority of names were neither French nor German, but seemed to belong to the influx of Slavic and Italian workers who came to work the mines after the war. Nevertheless, it was interesting to me to see how the village was still surrounded by fields. I wonder where Nicholas lived, and what he’d say if he could see the town now?

St. Blaise church, 1945 awards ceremony
St. Blaise church, rebuilt in 1959

Thursday, May 12–We decided that our last day of vacation should be a relaxing one, so we drove into town and sat on a bench on the river. I knitted on a lace curtain I’d started during the trip–it was so comforting to see all the lace curtains in the Belgian windows, I felt a connection to the Old World. Skip read a book, we watched ducks (one young lady duck had at least 10 suitors swimming around behind her–I guess it was her smile that attracted them), we lunched at a tiny place owned by a friend of our hostess. I have to admit that my last lunch in Belgium was a huge bowl of local ice cream with Belgian chocolate sauce, and a cup of milk coffee.
Bouillon, as seen from the castle

Godfrey's castle, from the town bridge

The view upriver

The view downriver

The beginning of my lace curtain