Wednesday, November 20, 2013

For your viewing pleasure, snowboarder videos!

Busy this week, traveling out of town tomorrow (not to worry--the neighbor and the security system are set to watch the house!). In lieu of a blog post, here's some exciting videos I thought you might like.

Ahhhh, glades, used to love skiing them (back when I actually had the leg muscles to take the impacts/quick turns)   

For those of you who know me, yeah, that's my kid on the board.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

If you're wondering what to knit with that skein of handspun you bought....

...I can help you with that. Once upon a time, I was developing a class of Uses for Leftover Handspun Yarn but it never really got off the ground--too little time in my schedule. And you're about to benefit from the notes I made!

Obviously, gauge and yardage are big considerations. Sometimes you'll have enough yardage for a whole item. I like to use Ravelry's data base, using the Pattern Browser function. Simply click on the attributes you know, like knitting or crochet, yardage, yarn size (DK, worsted, etc.) and see what comes up. You can fine-tune the search by selecting accessories or baby things--it's great fun to play with pattern ideas that way. Try knitting a tea cosy, perhaps even felting it for extra warmth. If you're like me, it's takes an hour or more to consume a pot of tea and having a cosy on the pot keeps it nice and hot. And your tea can keep you company while you browse more patterns on Ravelry....

Have lots of smaller skeins? I consider these design challenges; how can I combine colors and weights and yardage to make something special? (This is why I sell my Bits & Pieces sets in my Etsy shop--there are lots of creative people who need just a bit of certain colors.) Play with combinations of yarns, let them sit somewhere where you can see them daily, add a yarn/subtract a yarn each time you pass the grouping, and soon you'll have a coherent group of yarns that can be used for a garment or accessory. Try a lengthwise fringe scarf--see my Handspun Delight pattern on Ravelry, it's free for the downloading. 

Striped hats are another good use of small skeins; just use your favorite hat pattern and alternate yarns in skinny or wide stripes throughout. Both of these were made with a mixture of small skeins of handspun and commercial yarn. 

What about using those smaller lengths in a widthwise sampler scarf? Knit or crochet in a stitch you haven't used before until the yarn is finished, maybe do a few rows with a shorter length, then start a new stitch with a longer length. It will stretch your stitch knowledge and creativity. What about a diagonal scarf with stripes of different handspun yarn? Knot the ends at the edge and let them hang out for a touch of funkiness.

Making a solid color plain cardigan and want to punch it up a little? Pick up the neck and front edges with a single row of handspun in a pleasing color, then continue with the solid color. You could also add a row of the same handspun just above the cuff ribbing. Use your handspun to duplicate-stitch a little motif on that sweater and you've created a special piece that no one--NO ONE--else will be able to make.

It may be yarn and we all may be making garments, but that doesn't mean yarn can't be used like paint or colored pencils to create masterpieces. Try using some handspun in these ways; let your mind and skills take you some place special. Handspun yarn can push your creativity to new levels!

And please feel free to post photos of your work here, I'd love to see what you're doing. 



Friday, November 8, 2013

Why use handspun yarn?

I had a customer ask how to care for one of my handspun handknit hats, thinking it would be difficult to care for wool. And I realized that not everyone has been immersed in wool for 37 years like me, and may not realize the advantages of naturally-grown, naturally-processed fibers. So I'm climbing up on my soapbox and giving a lecture on why natural fibers and handspun yarn are very good for you.

1.  That difficult-to-wash thing? Nope, not at all. It takes the same amount of time for me to handwash woolens as it does for my machine to go through a load--40 minutes give or take a few minutes. You throw all your laundry in the machine, add detergent/soap, select the cycle and walk away.The machine beeps when it's done. For woolens, you choose an appropriate-size container (sink, basin or bathtub) for the items, fill with warm-to-the-touch water, add a wool wash product or a good shampoo (I like shampoo for colored hair as it tends to safeguard the color in dyed woolens), push the items down into the soapy water and walk away for 30 minutes. Then you gently squeeze the items a couple of times to release the dirt, squeeze out excess water, empty the container. Refill it with warm water, immerse the items, squeeze gently a few times to rinse, squeeze out excess water, roll in a towel and lay flat somewhere (a waterproof place like the top of your dryer or a drying rack), and walk away. Hint: Don't lay your woolens where your pets can find them or you'll be picking dog/cat hair off your precious woolens. That's Kitty Mercury's favorite trick, sleeping on a drying sweater.

And, I really only wash my sweaters once a year, before I store them for the summer. That's probably because I have so many that each one isn't worn enough to get really dirty.

2. Wool and most animal fibers are better for the environment than acrylic. This is not to say that acrylic yarns should disappear, because they have many uses. But animal fibers are renewable whereas petroleum is not. Animal fibers will biodegrade in our landfills (or around my fruit trees where I use leftovers as mulch);  acrylic and plastics will remain for perhaps a thousand years.

3. When my handspun handknits are no longer serviceable as sweaters/hats/mitts, I can recycle them. Mostly I throw them in the washer and felt them, which means the cat gets a new snuggly cat bed or the living room has new coasters on the end tables. Make coffee sleeves, sew the felt together for a scarf or new mittens/hat, let the kids cut them out and glue them to bulletin boards in their rooms, cut felt Christmas tree ornaments, etc.

4. Wool isn't necessarily itchy. My personal feeling is that this urban myth came about from WWII when the soldiers were given blankets made of "shoddy" wool--wool that had been sourced from wool rags that were mechanically torn into shreds, respun, rewoven and felted into blankets. We had a couple of those blankets when I was a kid and they were nasty nasty nasty! If you're really allergic, with the sneezing and itchy eyes, there's not much you can do. But not all sheep are the same, some breeds grow tough rug wool while others grow spongy soft stuff that you can wear next to the skin. Those who want a soft wool should look for Merino, Rambouillet, Corriedale and other wools that are known to be soft. Handspinners source their wool from local growers or from mills that realize handspinners will only buy/spin the soft stuff.And this is why all my skeins are marked with the sheep breed (if known) so you can buy with confidence that it will be a soft yarn or a yarn suitable for outerwear.

5.  The most important criteria for me? I can have whatever color, whatever texture, whatever size yarn I want. And when I make it into a garment, no one--NO ONE--will have the same garment. Because every spinner is working with her hands and heart and brain, and those hands/heart/brain will make design decisions that are different in some way from mine. My friends, using the exact same raw materials, will spin differently and knit or crochet or weave or felt something completely different from my work. Handspun, handcrafted items are one of a kind (OOAK) and should be treasured, cared for, used, reused, and used up. It's one of the reasons we have few surviving textiles--they were hand made with a lot of work and love and were considered too precious to toss away.

Buy handspun yarn, work with handspun yarn, support the creative folks who have chosen to design and produce lovely yarn and lovely hand made things--they are giving you their heart and soul.

And that's the end of the lecture. Hope you enjoyed it!

Friday, November 1, 2013

A little holiday down south....

I have all good intentions to post weekly but stuff gets in the way. Like the 5 pumpkins from my garden that needed to be processed and frozen (anyone want pumpkin muffins?), the huge tomato harvest that also needed to be frozen, and the last-minute article that had to be written to meet deadline. Little things like that.

Then I ran away from home, flying down south to get some sunshine and excellent seafood. Since Husbeast has been working in Louisiana for the past 2 years, I have become addicted to grilled oysters and mango daiquiries. We usually head for the French Market early on Saturday, grab breakfast at a local bakery/eatery, then head for the market to see what's new. This week the satsumas were around so we had to have a bag of those, and we found a few things to give to family at the holidays. Then there's lunch.....J's Seafood is directly across from Organic Banana. Yes!! Grilled oysters and a fresh mango daiquiri, while Husbeast prefers to experiment with different daiquiri flavors--I believe it was coconut lime this time?

The downside of the visits to Husbeast is that there's only one car so if I want to go shopping I have to ferry him back and forth to work on the construction site (he's an engineer and it's a very large steel operation they're building). This is the drive to the construction trailer. That's not swamp grass, that's sugar cane ready to be burned, cut, chopped and trucked to the processor.

Entering the site
Some truck trailers and bulldozers for size comparison

That large brown mound is processed cane. A VERY strong molasses smell hits you right about now.

Egrets hanging out around the cane.
The final turn toward the trailers, and it's a sugar cane tunnel!

On Saturday, we took a drive over the causeway that crosses Lake Ponchartrain. I've flown into NOLA over the lake a dozen times but never crossed the causeway. It reminds me of Westdyke in Holland, sans the grazing sheep on the sides of the dyke. The causeway has pelicans hunting the waters, but I couldn't stop to get a photo so you'll have to use your imagination.

There are sailboats out there somewhere....

And a couple of 'bumps' in the roadway so ships can pass under.

After a stop at the local yarn shop, McNeedles, we found lunch at the Abita Brew Pub. Abbey Ale is delish!

Followed by a Sunday brunch with sweet potato pancakes, seafood omelet and bottomless mimosas! Not saying how many empty bottles left our table, but we were certainly happy when we left.

I am relaxed and rested and brimming with new creativity. Amazing what a week of wonderful seafood and good company can do for a person's outlook on life. I am a lucky lady!