Monday, December 22, 2014

Merry Christmas!

So what profound thoughts does a blogger post for the holidays? I've been traveling a ton since the last post--to Connecticut for Thanksgiving and to have coffee with a SIL, to Charlotte with Husbeast--then back home to attempt completion of a research project which I'm writing for publication, to cook a second Thanksgiving dinner for family here, to prepare for Christmas. And I've avoided writing a post because.....what the heck do I talk about?

And it hit me this morning, after a long conversation with my brother last night. I have always wanted to be part of a Father-Knows-Best, Waltons-on-the-mountain kind of family, but we all know those families are mostly screenwriters imaginings. Real families have warts, sometimes more warts than beauty marks. Mine is one of those, and my brother and I were discussing all the warts and cancers (literal and figurative) in our large family. You see, he has tried all his life to remain neutral in family squabbles because, let's face it, no one normal really enjoys angry confrontation. But in his attempt to remain neutral, he missed out on all the good stuff. Yep, he stayed out of the fight between Brother #1, myself and Brother #3. He stayed out of the fight to the extent that he wouldn't talk to any of us about subjects outside of the weather and how our kids were doing--he didn't want any details at all. And he missed our kids' graduations, Eagle Scout celebrations, the celebration of the last cancer treatments of a SIL and myself, the going away party for our son, the details of our sons' treks up Machu Picchu, a nieces long haul to graduation and certification, the wonderful details of Brothers #2 and #3 lives (he was at their funerals but he totally missed being part of their lives). In short, by trying to pretend there were no bad parts of our family, he missed all the good parts.

I realized over coffee this morning (isn't caffeine wonderful?) that although I haven't lived the ideal life I wanted, with 4 kids, a picket fence and worshipful husband and no family confrontations or squabbles, I HAVE had:
  • 2 kids who challenge me and puzzle me and make me laugh and do silly things.
  • a husband who screws up on a semi-regular basis but worships me (while I am of course perfect and never screw up)
  • a beautiful 103-year old house that I adore
  • a nice patch of garden where I can get my hands dirty, work hard and enjoy the magic of eating something that was a seed in my hand last year
  • a yard full of wildlife that I love to watch (now that I've fenced and electrified everything that I don't want them to eat)
  • the wherewithal to buy food, good food, for ourselves and the wildlife and to share the garden overage with ...
  • good neighbors who watch out for each other and notice when ambulances are summoned or children are walking the new puppy
So, my message to myself this Christmas is not to regret what I haven't gotten, those missed dreams I mourn. Instead I will put peanuts out for the birds and squirrels (why is the nuthatch always the first to notice them?), celebrate my fantabulous Christmas lights, bake gingerbread men for my adult sons, drink wine and play board games with the family on Thursday and laugh. A lot. Because my life is good, despite all the bumps and family dramas and crazy family members who (rightfully) I avoid.

Have a wonder holiday, whichever one you celebrate, and enjoy the fact that after today the light is coming back to our lives.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

I missed last week's post, more about that later.

I am finally on the last hour of work on an afghan I started in......1998! It was meant to be a wedding gift for a couple who split up soon after the wedding, so it was never given to them. It's been around long enough that the colors match our living room and so I decided to finish it and use it. The knitting is done and I'm now weaving in all those ends. Yes, there are over 100 ends to be hidden in the back of the work and it's pure drudgery. But it will be finished by this weekend, as I have house guests and just don't want a half-finished afghan lying around.

And then there's the little issue of my having bought way too much yarn for this afghan project. We have scraped our old bed, bought a new one and--yet again--the yarn colors are a great match for the bedroom. So I'm working on a bed runner to tie the curtains, duvet and rug together in a somewhat harmonious room. Which is not something I lie awake nights worrying about, but if it accidentally comes together I consider it good karma. I am NOT a Good Housekeeping type of person but it's nice to fall asleep and wake up in colorful peaceful surroundings.

And lastly, the reason for my missed post. We're having the walkways and driveway redone. The walks were poured concrete done by my brothers back in......1962? I think? They'd pour 1-2 squares each evening after work, then decide the next evening if their mix of gravel to cement was correct. Often it wasn't and the pavement was crumbling a decade ago. I was amazed at what they'd thrown under the concrete as leveling stone--old fieldstone pavers, a line of bricks (who thought THAT was a good idea?), pottery pieces, slag, whatever they found on the property seems to have been fair game. What can I say? That's not unusual for the DIY 60s.

The driveway was more recent, having been paved back in the late 70s and not recently kept up. As in, my brother seems to have given up on all maintenance on this house 20 years ago. Asphalt was never a good idea on a driveway lined with mature black walnut trees, as the roots pushed up the pavement over the years. And he never sealed it after the first 5-6 years so it crumbled, sunk and was overgrown on the edges for at least 12" each side.

Next week: Pix, I hope, of the new cardigan I'm working on. I spun the yarn (see below) while in Charlotte last month and am trying to finish up so I can wear it to our wedding vow renewal on Saturday. Till then, I'm off to find a cup of coffee and the knitting.....

Friday, October 31, 2014

Yarn inspirations....

I can never decide which of the seasons is my favorite. Spring has it's newness and promise of things to come, summer means fresh vegetables and fruits and lots of time outdoors, winter is snow blanketing ugly places and birds gathering at the feeders. Autumn is just for color. The sky turns that intense blue and the trees put on their best outfits in colors that go so well with that blue sky.

Driving home from NC last weekend, we got to watch the backward progression of autumn color. North Carolina was just at the peak and as we traveled northward, colors became less intense especially on the east side of mountains where the trees endure the weather. Like this stop for a tank of gas in the Virginia mountains, where the color is still holding on my right but faded to mostly browns/burgundy/gold on my left. I'm thinking about a multi-brown yarn with pops of burgundy, gold and green. Possibly woven into a nice warm scarf.

Golds and burgundies on a taupe background on the windward side

Still holding the golds, reds and greens on the leeward side

Yesterday I got fed up with doing all those things on the To Do List, checking them off in such an orderly and efficient manner. So I ran away from home, heading up to Harmony to visit with Lisa and then a back country drive to my favorite diner. The tree beside the diner was stunning! So many possibilities here--deep green/purple yarn with gold, peach and ruby highlights, or white yarn with those same highlights and a snap of purple every so often.

THIS will become carded batts, then handspun yarn in a month or so!

I had to stop at the local supermarket for a few things for dinner tonight, glanced across the street at a defunct business, and found this:

A burnt orange yarn with yellow, red and green tweed? A multicolored yarn with tan tweed?
Color is everywhere! Especially brilliant at this time of year, but it's always there if you know how to look for it. And it's a never-ending source of ideas for yarn and garments.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

A quiet productive week

NOTE:  This was scheduled for posting on Friday but my tablet refused to upload the pix. So here it is on Sunday night!

I have gone on a work/play retreat of sorts. I brought knitting, a spinning wheel, a cross stitch project, and some writing I needed to attend to. On the way here, I accomplished nothing because I had a bout of food poisoning from a restaurant dinner the evening before. I'll not name the restaurant here, but I'll privately disclose the name if you feel you need to know. Let's just say that pre-cooked chicken and long-standing salad greens are not a safe food handling strategy.

By Monday I felt fine though. It's Friday now and I have finished :

Over half of the pound of fiber is spun. There's 8 oz. of dyed superwash and 8 oz. of a blue violet superwash wool, and I'm plying them together for a subtly striped DK yarn. I'll be washing skeins today so I can start another Garden Cardigan (pattern on Ravelry) and work on it during the drive home. Yes, Doug, it's purple and, no, you can't have it. ;-)

The pair of socks I've been picking away at for 6 months. Knit from Cakewalk yarn (sadly now out of business), they are wonderfully soft and comfy.

I've started a pair of mittens to wear while walking on chilly fall and winter mornings. Pattern 23 from Charlene Scurch's Mostly Mittens. Which  is not included in the revised edition if you went looking for it. There's plenty of other patterns in the revised edition that are wonderful too! This is an old Flat Feet sock blank that I dug out of the stash and a ball of Regia 4 fadig in natural. I think they'll work well with my pink Ergonomic Earwarmer.

I also had quiet hours to work on a couple of proposals for magazine submissions and to revamp my spinning classes to fit into 1-hour segments. All in all, a very productive week, with no self-imposed deadlines or household requirements to meet. What a pleasurable week....

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Elephant squash, applesauce and Spinzilla

So my task this morning was to bake my Hubbard squash--affectionately known as Elephant Squash (see photo)--and freeze it, make applesauce and write the blog.

Step 1: Turn on the oven, get the roasting pan ready.
Step 2: Slice open the squash. Ha! I had to take the meat cleaver to the darn thing, then sweep up all the squash bits that flew around the kitchen counter. I kid you not, these babies have thick skin!
Step 3: Remove seeds, set half the squash in the baking pan, add hot water, roast for an hour (repeat with second half), cool, scrap out golden pulp and pack in freezer containers. Yep, pie for Thanksgiving!

"The question is, are we happy to suppose that our grandchildren may never be able to see an elephant except in a picture book?"
I just had to throw that in there as a reminder of our shrinking wildlife and reckless handling of Mother Earth.

Applesauce is easier. Wash eighteen apples, quarter them, remove the core/seeds. Cut them in chunks into a big soup pot--yes, I include the skins; a Pa Dutch lady told me that the red skins will 'pink up' the applesauce, and it does! Sprinkle apples with a bit of salt, add 3 cups boiling water and simmer for 20-30 minutes till soft (you need to stir them once or twice because the lower apples will cook and leave the top apples still crisp). Run the mess through a food mill. Transfer back to the pot, add sugar/cinnamon/nutmeg/my secret ingredient. Have your canning jars & lids ready, heat the mess and fill the jars. Wait for the lids to pop, meaning that the vacuum seal is complete. Try to keep the applesauce a secret from your youngest son, who will devour a quart in one sitting.

And my Spinzilla 2014 total--4,870 yards (2.75 miles!) of handspun yarn in 7 days. Now I just have to wash it and find a use for all that mileage.

Good food, good luck and happy spinning to one and all.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Another gradient shawlette and recent activities

And just for the fun of it, and because I try to include a couple photos in each post, here's the second gradient yarn that I carded, spun and knit into another shawlette. I'm happy with the design I created and I like the size and drape. There's one darker green line that I wish wasn't there, but spinning from a batt of Merino isn't a precise science and these things happen.


I'm not sure I mentioned this before, but I have an article in the latest PLY magazine. I arranged a fiber challenge for our guild two years ago and we had a blast, learning and stretching our skills. So I wrote an article describing our challenge and giving suggestions for designing your own challenge, whether for your guild or your fiber buddies or just for yourself. You should check it out. The entire issue is packed with good stuff.

I've also been helping a new weaver understand her loom and refreshing her warping and weaving skills. What fun it's been! And she has an art degree and understands when I talk color theory or we get going on European artists--I know who she's talking about and which painting she's referencing. It's been so lovely teaching her.

Spinzilla Report: I'm closing in on 3,000 yards with two days left to spin. Can I make 5,000 yards? Go Team Darn Yarn Harmony!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Phew! And a little tip on using gradient handspun yarn

I have been dealing with tomatoes for a month, along with the other vegetables and berries that came ripe. I have dried tomatoes, made tomato soup, made tomato bean soup, made chicken cacciatore, frozen tomatoes (12 quarts of the little buggers!), and canned some tomato salsa. There are still a few tomatoes on the vine and some green tomatoes in the refrigerator that will become Fried Green Tomatoes this weekend. And the red raspberries started about the same time. Then there was the cleanup of the green beans and other veggies that are done for the year. I finished most of the difficult work this morning, so I only need to keep an eye on the 6 cabbages and the lima beans and carrots. That seems like smooth sailing compared to the vegetable/fruit marathon I've been running this summer!

I've also been playing with spinning and using my own gradient carded batts and those very pretty gradient-dyed rovings that we're seeing everywhere. I started with the batts and wove a scarf (more on that in another post) just to see what would happen. It's gorgeous! Then I spun one of my gradient batts and designed a shawlette to see if my idea of blooming lilacs would work out (again, we'll cover that in another post). Yep, it almost worked but needs a little refinement in the spinning.

While cruising Ravelry to see what others had done with gradient yarns, I noticed that the knitted shawls had ever-decreasing (or ever-increasing, depending on which direction you're knitting) bands of color as the shawl grew outward. And I don't like that. Usually I like asymmetry but not in a shawl or shawlette, it just looks unbalanced to me. So I pulled out a 4 oz. roving that was a little too bright for my taste and spun it up to play with--if it was an abject failure it wouldn't matter because I don't personally care for the colors. This is the shawlette I designed for the yarn:

It's begun at the center and knitted outward and, as you can see, the bands of color are almost equal. How did I do it? Since it was a 4 oz. piece, I decided there was some sort of mathematical progression that related the length of color stripes to the length of the edge. No, I didn't do the math--I hate math!--I just guessed at it. That's why it was an experiment! Anyway, splitting the 4 oz. roving lengthways left me with two 2-oz. pieces. I split one of them again, giving me one 2-oz piece and two 1-oz. pieces.

I spun each separately, washed them and thwacked them to knock some sense into the singles yarn and make it behave, then I started knitting. I used the two 1-oz skeins first, then the 2-oz skein last. Since the color stripes were longer in the 2-oz skein it compensated quite well and the bands of color are almost equal. You could probably play with this a bit more--I wonder how it would work with a 6 oz. or 8 oz. strip of roving?--but it's not going to be me that plays with it.

If anyone decides to play with this idea, please let me know what you discover. It would be a fascinating exploration, and a good excuse to go buy some gradient-dyed roving.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Exciting delivery......

My new loom is here!!

Backstory--Back in the Dark Ages of Time, I was a production weaver. I worked in designers' studios and did commission work out of my home when the boys were small. It wasn't unusual for me to crank out 20-24 yds of fabric in a workday. I had a 64", 10 harness, 12 treadle Glimakra loom with a fly shuttle beater. I loved those hours spent in the studio. Life changed and I sold the loom to a lovely lady in Ohio, who has since passed it on to a weaver in Kentucky. Back in 2005 I bought a 48" Gallinger 8H loom and worked on restoring it. During the process I discovered that it was just too big for me to use comfortably (I'm 5'1") and so I sold it to a lovely new home nearby where she'll be well and caringly used. All I had left for weaving was a rigid heddle loom, which is wonderful for what it does with it's two heddles, etc. But I really wanted that feeling of doing marvelous twills and rocking with the beater (Bob Seger's Greatest Hits is a great CD for setting your weaving rhythm).

While visiting family two weeks ago I made my annual pilgrimage to WEBS, only this time I wanted to talk looms. Barbara and Art were SO helpful (and it was a pleasure to chat with someone who knew all that weird weaving terminology like 'tromp as writ'). My one concern was something a good friend in Holland brought up--climbing under a loom to do the tie-up when you're moving into the arthritis years can be a big consideration. And Barbara solved the issue by mentioning that the Toika loom could be adapted at a later time to a computer loom, eliminating the tie-up issue completely! Yay!

I suggested the driver back down the street so he'd be closer to the garage and not have to face the challenge of backing out of my long driveway.

Yikes, that's some big crate!

It just fit on the lift gate. Be careful it doesn't roll off onto the ground.

And here it lives in my garage for the week.
This weekend I'll have help opening that Norwegian birch crate (saving the wood for future woodworking projects). I'm hoping to have it together by Sunday evening, although I have no idea what I'll put on the loom first. I must go find my copy of Davidson's book and pore over it with a cup of coffee--all those lovely twills to be re-explored after a 25-year absence.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Butler Bombs a JEEP!

The Butler Spinners and Weavers Guild has bombed out!

Not really. One of our members participates in the Bantam Jeep Rally in Butler each year. We decided her Jeep needed to be blessed with yarn this year. Members wove/felted/crocheted/knitted pieces; a muslin cover was made for the Jeep; pieces were sewn to the muslin--HOURS of work by many people. I sat at home for 2 weeks and crocheted wheel inserts and a cover for the spare tire--thank goodness for Netflix? We did a fitting during our meeting in the park. Black knitted cord was sewn to the patches to outline Jeep details. Finally, on Main Street in Butler, a sheep was added to the passenger and a wonderful dry-felted wolf became the driver. Our theme, which happens to have flipped over when the final photo was taken, was "Meals On Wheels".

And what can one do with all that leftover bright yarn? I originally had 4 skeins of white and one each of dayglo orange, yellow, green and red. I frequently contribute to a center that distributes handmade scarves, hats, toys, etc. to women's shelters in the Pittsburgh area. These woman and children are fleeing from unacceptable environments and often leave home with nothing but the clothes on their backs and their self-esteem in tatters. Being given something made by hand is very meaningful to these people. The perfect place for bright colors!

Two scarves are finished. I still have leftovers and need to cruise Ravelry patterns--maybe a bright amigurumi toy or two?

Diagonal Block stitch

Second scarf, in progress
I love this stitch!

Friday, June 13, 2014

June is for strawberries

Oh my, it's strawberry season in Western Pennsylvania. When I picked up my CSA on Tuesday I stopped at their market and bought a flat of freshly picked strawberries. I do this every 2 years because I need them for strawberry rhubarb pies that I serve for Easter dessert and for the strawberry freezer jam I make. Since the boys are out of the house, that flat's worth of berries will last us for 2 years.

This morning I washed and cleaned 4 quarts of berries for the freezer. That's enough for 4 pies, or 2 pies and lots of ice cream toppings. I also cleaned enough for a fifth quart to go in the fridge and marinate in honey. Strawberry shortcake for dessert tomorrow!

After lunch with a good friend, I came home to go through the last 4 quarts and make jam. Freezer jam is easy and I like to do the strawberries this way because they aren't cooked into mush. So wonderful to spread the jam on freshly made bread in the dead of winter and bite into a juicy berry piece! We start by getting everything ready.

Don't they look wonderful?

Next we give them a good wash, remove the stem and leaves and cut them into pieces in a bowl. The berries need to be mashed for the jam, but not too much because I want that bite of fruit on my breakfast toast.

Mix the mashed berries with sugar (lots of sugar!) and leave them to set while you mix powdered pectin with water and bring to a boil.

Mix the pectin mixture with the berry/sugar mixture, stir for 2 minutes, fill the freezer containers, and viola! strawberry jam! And a little bit left over so Husbeast can have fresh jam and bread when he gets home. He doesn't know that I've already cleaned off all the other utensils, he thinks he got the only bonus.

Some of the berries just weren't suitable for jam, they were too perfectly ripe and needed to be disposed of immediately <burp>

Have a lovely weekend everyone, and Happy Fathers Day to all those who look out for the welfare of our most precious commodity--the kids!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Spinning in the grease, outside, in the sunshine. Sheer heaven!

Once I had the laundry on the line (I love sheets and towels that are dried in the sunshine), I had a chance to open out the Shetland fleece I'd bought in Wooster. It was well-skirted but I only wanted to flick card the best parts, which would hopefully be plenty for a garment.

Full fleece, minus the neck wool
Nice lock structure!
The first photo shows the entire fleece minus the neck wool which I've already removed. I'm standing where the neck wool used to be and if you squint your eyes a bit, you can see the outline of a sheep if it were laying on it's tummy with legs splayed out. I also pulled off the 4 leg sections; the neck and legs were a bit matted, shorter and have a different feel than the back wool which is the stuff I want to use. The legs/neck will be washed and carded into a different preparation--maybe matching hat/scarf/mitts?

Usually, wool is washed before being carded and spun, but I love to work with a fresh fleece in warm weather. The fiber slips through my fingers, sliding past each other with ease, due to the natural lanolin present in the fiber. Not every fleece lends itself to grease spinning, they need to be neat lock formations, not too filthy (that dirt will deposit on your hands), and free of hay and grasses. The spun yarn will be washed in nice hot water with Orvis paste, rinsed and hung on the line to dry. I'm so happy to be spinning in the grease again.

The cut side of the fleece has short fibers (about 1/4") evenly distributed throughout. They are not second cuts (a second cut is created when the shearer goes over the sheep's skin a second time to get a closer shave, and they make nasty little bumps in the yarn if not picked out). In the past, Shetlands grew double coats, with a short, soft warm fiber close to the body and longer, tougher fibers that discouraged insects and other bothersome things. They also lost their coat naturally each spring (called 'rooing'). I'm assuming, since this is a Shetland lamb's fleece, that it's a manifestation of the double-coat genetics and the new downy wool has begun to grow before the old wool is removed. I knew these were present when I bought the fleece and I knew it wouldn't be a problem to remove them with a few flicks of my dog comb.

And here's the start of the first bobbin. I'm shooting for a 3-ply yarn that will be Aran weight. I want to knit up Elizabeth Lovick's Swing Jacket. I've had the pattern for a couple of years and want to use handspun but haven't been able to find the right fleece until now. I have to be careful with natural colored fleeces, the suntanned tips of the wool often lend a yellow tone to the yarn that just doesn't go with my complexion. This fleece spins up a nice taupe color, just perfect for me!

And just because it makes me happy to have a groundhog-free garden, FINALLY!

Lookit! Peas and beans that are growing, not eaten to nothing.

Lettuce and kohlrabi growing and not eaten to the ground!!

It's enough of a buzz to teach the animals that they don't want to be there, but not so much that it would harm humans. Nevertheless, we have signs for the folks who have to investigate those two lower wires by grabbing them.