Tuesday, October 30, 2012

I did not know that!

Saturday, October 27th was National Hug a Sheep Day! I didn't have any sheep around, but did have some merino and BFL (Blue Faced Leicester) that I played with.

Did you hug a sheep this past weekend?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Trellis and Coin socks

For my fellow Ravelers, I've posted a sock pattern test knit in the Free Pattern Testers forum. I'm looking for 4 testers (or more) for my Trellis and Coin socks (Ravelry link). I'd previously released an informal version of this pattern, but I've updated the instructions and would like to get a few independent testers to give me feedback.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Tips and Tricks - Spinning edition

I have two spinning wheels, a Lendrum and a HansenCrafts miniSpinner. The miniSpinner is an electric spinner - with a motor that spins the flyer for you, eliminating treadling. I like it because it allows you to focus on your drafting and hand movements. The miniSpinner also provides more consistency, since it has a dial that controls the spin speed (ie, the treadling). While doing larger quantities of spinning, you can keep the speed consistent from bobbin to bobbin by keeping the dial in the same position.

But this isn't about my wheels. As with my knitting, startitis is a bit of a problem. You know - that urge to start a new knitting project or start spinning with a new bit of fluffy, pretty roving. I'm constantly tempted to try the next fiber and see how it spins up. This leads to another problem - lack of bobbins. Kind of like lack of the right size needles with knitting startitis. (Which explains why I have about 5 sets of 4mm needles stuck in various WIPs)

One of my missions at the NYS Sheep and Wool Festival (aka, Rhinebeck) was to obtain some weaving bobbins to help solve my problem. I've read a few blogs and posts on Ravelry which described using a cocktail stirrer or drill and weaving bobbin to wind the singles off of a spinning wheel bobbin and onto a weaving bobbin.

I was intrigued by the possibilities for freeing up spinning bobbins to enable my startitis! I had to try this. And I was justified in my thoughts after watching Judith MacKenzie's The Gentle Art of Plying video (wait for one of their digital download sales to save money!). She recommends reloading singles onto bobbins to even out the singles and to make for a better plying experience. Plus, this allowed me to save money by not buying more Woolee Winder bobbins for my Lendrum ($45 each!)

So, I thought about it a bit and looked at my 2 spinning wheels with their Woolee Winders. And this is what I came up with:

On the left, I had my "full" Lendrum bobbin. It doesn't matter that this is a Woolee Winder bobbin (except when it comes to cost). I'm calling it full because I'm doing 3 ply sock yarn in this photo and this is one of the 34g singles.

On the right is my jury-rigged winding system. I put some electrical tape around the end of a Bic pen to make it fit snuggly into the orifice of the miniSpinner. Then I slid the weaving bobbin over the end of the Bic pen - an excellent, though not quite perfect fit. Then I took the end of the single from the Lendrum bobbin and tied it around the weaving bobbin. I recommend a bit of tape; it holds the yarn fast once the bobbin starts turning.

Then I turned on the miniSpinner and used my fingers as a guide, moving the yarn from side to side to ensure it wound onto the weaving bobbin evenly. Had I not done so, it would have just piled up in one spot.

I was a bit worried about damaging the motor on the miniSpinner, but I kept the speed lower (around 10:00 on the dial) and ensured it turned freely.

The result? One nicely wound bobbin full of my sock yarn single, waiting to be plied. The weaving bobbins fit nicely over the metal rods of my lazy kates.

Things to keep in mind:
  • You don't need to go from wheel to wheel. Just take a full spinning bobbin and put it on a lazy kate if you like.
  • You don't need to use a pen - it's just what happened to be handy and close to the right size.
  • Anything that spins can be used as the winder. An electric cocktail stirrer. A cordless (or corded) screwdriver or drill. Use whatever you have around the house. Ingenuity is the key.
  • Weaving bobbins are pretty inexpensive. I got my 6" Schacht bobbins for $2 each. I bought 15 of them.
  • I noticed that the weaving bobbin wobbled a bit at the far end. So I held the tip of a knitting needle in the free end of the bobbin to steady it a bit. So now my left hand guides the yarn evenly onto the bobbin and my right hand holds the knitting needle in the end of the bobbin to stabilize it.
  • You can load the bobbins higher than the diameter of the ridges at the end. You'll just have to do it carefully.
  • Make sure the weaving bobbins fit on your lazy kate!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

D'oh! Heard in Red Hook

During a visit to Hudson Valley Farms, we saw a ginger kitty cat wandering in the woods. Without thinking (obviously), one of our group said, "She looks like she just had puppies."

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Border Crossing

Not only did we amuse the border guard on our way to Rhinebeck on Thursday (a knitter's festival?), we confuzzled the border guard on the way back into Canada.

The guard went through the standard set of questions:

Guard: "Are you all Canadian citizens?"
Us: "Yes"

Guard: "How much did you spend?"
Us: "$300", "$600", "$650"

Guard: "What's the most expensive item you bought?"
Me: "A Woolee Winder."
Guard: "What's a Woolee Winder?"
Geri (who was driving and thus the designated question answerer): "It's for winding yarn onto a spinning wheel." Really, this is as detailed as you want to get with a non-spinner.

Guard: *tilts head and wonders what to say next* You'd have thought we told him we'd told him we had a three-headed yak in the car.

Guard: "Do you have any alcohol?" He's clearly anxious to put his question and our answer behind him.

Guard: Gives back passports and waves us on. Crazy knitters with their Woolee Winders.

Rhinebeck Recovery

Where to start? We packed so much into 4 short days that I couldn't possibly share it all. My road trip companions (Geri and Dianne) and I hit the highway early Thursday morning and spent the better part of the day traveling down to Kingston, NY, where we stayed at the Quality Inn.

The Beekman Arms
After settling in, we made a quick trip to Joann Fabrics for some creative inspiration - an appetizer to Rhinebeck, if you will. Then we crossed the Rhinecliff Bridge (toll $1.50) and drove into Rhinebeck proper for an amazing dinner at the Beekman Arms,  "America's Oldest Inn", established in 1766. It was dark when we arrived, so I don't have any clear pictures of the Inn itself. But outside the door are some plaques commemorating its long history.

Good food and good wine

Inside, we enjoyed the most delectable meal accompanied by a robust glass of cabernet sauvignon.

Friday, we three all had classes at the fairgrounds. I took  a class with Lily Chin, of Vogue Knitting fame, on customizing patterns to fit. It was essentially a class on designing your own pattern, as she explained each step of the process for creating a custom sweater that matched your exact proportions and is shaped to flatter. I learned so much! If ever you have a chance to take a class with Lily, do it!

PS - most of the techniques we learned are covered in Lily's book Couture Crochet Workshop, Mastering Fit, Fashion and Finesse. Lily stated that even though the book is about crochet, the same techniques apply to knitting. I'll have to check it out at the local library!

Me (wearing my Low Tide cardigan), Dianne, and Geri.
Saturday was the big day - the NY Sheep and Wool Festival! As veteran fair goers, we knew to arrive early (8:00am) to avoid the traffic and long lines to cross the bridge, turn at the lights and enter the fairground parking lot. As we waited in line, we chatted with the ladies in front of us who were from Ohio and PA, sharing knitting stories and spotting patterns in the crowd of people around us.

By shortly before 9 the lineup to enter the fairgrounds was immense. But the gates finally opened and we began our Rhinebeck experience.

I can't even begin to describe the sights and sounds of the NY Sheep and Wool Festival. There are at least 20 buildings full of vendors selling everything imaginable that is fiber related.

My first stop was the Spirit Trail Fiberworks booth, where I snapped up 3 braids of Polwarth and silk in a lovely blue, and a scrumptious merino braid - also blue. We made our way through the crowds, stopping at booths to examine their wares. Some yarn bowls joined my purchases, nestling in among my braids of fiber to keep the pottery safe. Next stop was the Woolee Winder booth where I became the proud new owner of a Woolee Winder for my Lendrum spinning wheel. They truly do make spinning so much faster. After some more browsing I completed my wish list of purchases by buying some weaving bobbins to wind my spinning singles onto for plying.

By then it was time for some light refreshment, in the form of a soft pretzel and lemonade. Dianne and I met up with Geri shortly around 11:30 and declared that we were done. Our feet were sore and we'd crossed everything off our wish lists. I had accomplished my mission, purchasing exactly what I'd planned on and handing out a decent number of contact cards with info about my Low Tide Cardigan. I love their designs so much, I wanted everyone to know how great Tin Can Knits designs are.

We decided to spend the afternoon in Rhinebeck itself, examining the shops there, while Geri finished her rounds at the fair. Dianne and I sampled some fantastic olive oils and basalmic vinegars, purchasing a few bottles to take home. Then we wandered around, stopping in at art galleries, ice cream shops and other sundry shops.

Saturday afternoon saw us all back at the hotel, replete and exhausted. We napped, we knit, and we enjoyed another fine meal. Sunday morning it was back on the road, heading home.

All in all, it was another successful Rhinebeck trip. I love hanging out with fibery people and spending time with my two knitting friends. I couldn't wish for better traveling companions.

And really, what more could one ask for in a long weekend than good food, good company, many laughs and a ton of shopping?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Fabulous Pacific Knits

All photos credited to, and courtesy of,
Alexa Ludeman, Tin Can Knits
I first discovered Emily Wessel and Alexa Ludeman, the brilliant designers behind Tin Can Knits earlier this year when I test knit one of their delicious designs, the Low Tide Cardigan (Ravelry link). So impressed was I with their beautiful design, which is part of their most recent collection Pacific Knits, that I knew I just had to explore the others.

I was prepared to bookmark two or three of their designs for future knitting. Boy, was I surprised! Aside from one or two designs (I look awful in toques!), I'd knit them all.

Alexa and Emily have carefully crafted 18 must-have designs, inspired by the landscape, lifestyle and people of Canada's Pacific Coast. Wild and pretty, urban and rustic, Pacific Knits features five garments and a wide range of accessories: socks, mittens, hats, shawls, and a blanket.  The knits are sized from newborn to grandpa, so there truly is something here for everyone.

My eye was immediately caught by the Torrent sock pattern. I've never learned how to resist the perfect sock pattern.

And I mentally tagged University for a friend of mine who is working on her Ph.D.

All of the knits in this collection are virtually seamless. All but one are knit from the bottom up, in the round where possible. Alexa and Emily have taken great care in explaining the techniques used in their patterns as well as providing suggestions for modifying the garments to suit your preferred fit.

Campfire, a matching father/son sweater, is adorable without being too saccharine. Whether you knit one or both, you'll end up with a sweater that is a timeless classic.

PS. My daughter has asked me many times why I knit so many shawls when I don't really wear them. "Because they're so pretty," is my response. And looking at Rosebud, can you blame me for casting on another one?


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Rhinebeck Bound!

In about 16 hours I'll be heading out of the house and hitting the road for Rhinebeck, aka the NYS Sheep and Wool Festival. This is my most favorite weekend of the year, a trip I look forward to again almost as soon as it's over.

This is my third trip to Rhinebeck and I'll be joined by my BFFs (Best Fibrey Friends), Dianne and Geri. We've each booked classes for Friday, which is why tomorrow is our travel day. My class is Custom Fitting Existing Patterns, taught by the well-known Lily Chin. I rarely knit a pattern as-is, so I'm hoping to learn a lot of practical tips and tricks on Friday for making those small modifications to a pattern that create the perfect fit.

Rhinebeck is always a blur of yarn, roving, animals and food. There are thousands of knitters, shoulder to shoulder, wandering the fair and checking out the amazing products on offer. It's so wonderful to be surrounded by "my people" - those who understand one's love for wool and all things fibre. And it's common to hear "Is that a ?"  Or to have strangers come up and talk to you because of your knitwear. 

I've done little to prepare so far. I've got one final load of laundry in the washer, after which I'll start trying to figure out what to pack for a 4 day road trip. I have my passport, a bag of American change for the toll roads, and my homework done for class.

I'm leaving the biggest decisions for last: what knitting to pack for the 4 days.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Murphy's Law

Just a quick post this morning; I haven't had enough caffeine for more.

After going to bed early last night, I awoke at 4am unable to sleep any longer. In a rare burst of energy I decided to head into work, taking advantage of the early hour to avoid rush hour. Plus, I thought, I can do an hour of knitting at work before starting my day.

Fast forward to 6am in the office. I pulled out the bag containing my sock project and settled in, only to find: one of my DPNs was missing. This wouldn't have been an issue if I was knitting with 5 DPNs (double pointed needles), but I knit with 4, so loosing one needle reduces me to an impossible 3 needles.

So here I am, in the office alone, at 6:30am with no knitting and little motivation to begin the work portion of my day.

Thanks Murphy!

PS. Yes, I am trying to knit with only 3 needles. I'll start working at 7:00.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Why I test knit for designers

Over the past year, I've venture more and more often into the intriguing and exciting world of test knitting for designers. Aside from my straight-out love for knitting, part of the attraction for me comes from my day job. I'm a technical writer, which means that I write documentation for software products. I take information given to me by the programmers and turn it into instructions that are easily understood by our customers.

I guess you could say I'm a natural born test knitter. I love discovering new designers and participating in the process of delivering an error-free, simple to understand pattern to my fellow knitters.

Let's back up a bit. What's a test knitter and how did I become one?

Low Tide Cardigan - 7 yr size
Knit in Wollmeise Twin sock yarn
A test knitter takes a designer's pattern and follows the instructions to knit the garment. Our job is several fold: we must understand the designer's intent for the garment. What is it supposed to look like? From that understanding, we need the discipline to follow the pattern exactly yet with enough understanding to recognize potential errors. For example, in a current test knit one row called for a repeat of *YO, sk2p, YO, nupp, YO*.  This resulted in a double yarn over, which seemed suspicious to me. Sure enough, it's not what the designer intended.

We also need to keep an eagle eye out for areas of potential misunderstanding. Repeat rows 1 & 2 three times - does that mean I should knit rows 1 and 2 and then repeat it 3 times, or does that include the first time I did those rows? We also provide feedback to ensure the designer is using conventional terminology. Or sometimes we may suggest alternatives to a specific stitch: a M1 (make 1) instead of kfb (knit through the front and back of 1 stitch, which creates a knit and a purl stitch).

How did I get started? On Ravelry, there is a Free Test Pattern Knitters forum, in which designers post their patterns and request test knitters. Volunteers apply and are selected by the designers. I started slowly, with patterns I knew I could successfully complete - mostly socks. As I gained experience, I spread out to sweaters, shawls, and so on. Within the confines of this Ravelry forum, the testers use their own yarn and commit to create a project page with photos and link it to the designers pattern. Testers keep their finished garment and receive a free copy of the finished pattern. There is no other payment.

Other designers may work outside of Ravelry's test knitter forum and come to other terms with testers. Some designers have test knitters they use over and over again. Sometimes the yarn is provided and the tester do not keep the finished sample. It all depends on the designer and the test knit.

My personal criteria for selecting what to test knit includes:
  • It must be something I will enjoy knitting. If I'm going to spend all that time (sometimes up to 60 hours or more!) I better have fun doing it. Or learn something from the experience. Straight-away this eliminates intricate color work.
  • It should be a garment that I could see myself wearing. I'm not going to spend all that time knitting and not have something that suits me at the end of it.
  • If it helps me destash some yarn that's been languishing on my shelves, so much the better!
I've discovered a few new favorite designers while test knitting. One of the earlier designers I 'met' is Londonleo, who has her blog and designs here. I tested her Harbinger shawl pattern and thoroughly loved it. It was such an interesting technique that I'd never seen before, yet it was easy to learn and produced beautiful results. And the Harbinger I knit provided me much comfort and warmth recently when my father was in the hospital.

Harbinger Shawl (Copyright Londonleo)
Another design team I've discovered, and promptly fell in love with, is the dynamic duo of Alexa Ludeman and Emily Wessel at Tin Can Knits. I recently finished the Low Tide Cardigan, which I ejoyed so much that I've knit it for both my 7 year old daughter and for myself!

But more on Tin Can Knits and their delicious designs in another post, including a review of their gorgeous book, Pacific Knits.
Low Tide Cardigan - adult size
Knit in Colourmart Silk & Linen

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Finger Lakes Fiber Festival

A few weeks ago I had an opportunity to attend the Finger Lakes Fiber Festival in Hemlock, NY. It was a spur of the moment trip and I immediately invited Geri, my usual road trip companion, to accompany me.

Our plan was to depart bright and early on the Saturday morning, planning our 4 hour drive so that we would arrive around lunch time. Unfortunately, Murphy's Law swept into action and made itself felt in a big way: my friend couldn't find her passport.

Since June 2009, Canadians have been required to present their passports as identification when crossing into the United States via land or air; no other form of I.D. will do. So, my travel companion began a systematic search of her home and car to no avail. After a 40 minute search, we had to concede victory to Murphy and she reluctantly removed her luggage and knitting from my car. I had to go to the Festival by myself.

Had I not been meeting a fellow Ravelry member, I would have considered staying home. But, I was committed to purchasing a new (to me) Lendrum spinning wheel from someone I was meeting at the Festival.

The drive was uneventful and I successfully met up with the Lendrum's seller and took possession of my new wheel. More on that in another post.

The Finger Lakes Fiber Festival is relatively small in size (anything is, after Rhinebeck!), but has a great variety of vendors spread out over a large venue. My first stop was the fleece sale, which had started at 10am and had mostly sold out by the time I arrived. I spent a good 20 minutes discussing the merits of Romney versus some of the other breeds available, before eventually deciding on a 5.5 pound natural white Romney fleece from Johanneshof Romneys.

Alpacas! (photo courtesy of dearmary)
That mission accomplished, I slowed my pace and began checking out the vendors in the various barns. At BitsyKnits Fiber Arts I picked up some lovely Sharlea merino fibre. Sharlea is actually the trademarked name for the ultra-fine merino wool produced by Saxon Merino sheep, which are housed in "specially constructed sheep care sheds where all aspects of proper sheep husbandry, nutrition and feeding, health, wool growth, quality and cleanliness are exercised between each shearing." This wool is 13.3 microns. That's as soft as qivuit!

Not Sharlea, but still lovely sheepies.
(photo courtesy of dearmary)

At Nistock Farms, I fell in love with a CVM/Rambouillet blend that was extremely soft and lovely to the touch. After much internal debate, I decided to exercise some restraint and only bring home half of the 6 lb fleece, which came from a coated sheep called Gooseberry.

I spent a total of 3 hours wandering the booths, accumulating roving, fleece wash and other trinkets. Then it was time for a cold beverage before getting back into the car and driving to the hotel, just outside of Buffalo.

The 8.5 lbs of raw fleece which I purchased took up most of my car's trunk space. As I looked at it all, I knew that I'd better have a mill process it into roving for me. Processing that much by hand would take forever and produce a dubious quality roving in my inexperienced hands. Fortunately, a friend of mine was going to be traveling to Prince Edward Island and visiting the Belfast Mini Mill, which processes custom orders.

I'm getting the roving from those two Romney and CVM/Rambouillet fleeces back in a few days and I'll share all the details then. But I'll leave you with the tantalizing quote from the Belfast Mini Mill owner that has me itching with anticipation:
"not only was it beautifully clean but the Romney wool is ... amazing …..she loved everything about [my]  fleece."

Sunday, October 7, 2012

A Walk in the Woods

 It's Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada. Or, as I like to call it - Turkey Day.

This year, we are starting a new tradition in our family. We're spending the long weekend at our new family cottage, located in a wonderful 3 season community called Sandbanks Summer Village near Picton, Ontario.

The air is wonderfully crisp and the leaves are starting to turn. Perfect for a walk in the woods. Yesterday my daughter and her Oma (that's grandma to the rest of you) discovered a huge mushroom, and this morning we embarked on an expedition to document the monstrous wonder.

A girl and her puppy. Part of the cottage community is still being built, hence the orange fencing.

 We wandered along the path with Stella, our dog, running back and forth sniffing all the wonderful forest smells.

I kept an eye out for the supposedly huge mushroom. On our way, we saw these -->
The stump of this tree was surrounded by its own mushroom village.
Stella the wonder dog comes to meet Morris

 Finally, we can to the abode of the mushroom we had by now nicknamed "Morris". Let me tell you, Morris certainly exceeded my expectations.

Morris was about the size of a football.

This is Mabel, Morris' fungal wife. Hand added for scale - no way did I touch Mabel!

There is a lovely fire pit with Muskoka chairs down  by the lake. The white seats are pine tree stumps. In the summer, the community social organizer holds campfires here, complete with Smores and songs.

Stella loves to play in the water.
Playing fetch at the end of the dock

Later, we'll get our fill of turkey and other yummies. I'm thankful for my family and for the wonderful memories we've made at the cottage so far.

Friday, October 5, 2012

I'm baaaaack!

I don't know why I've let this blog languish for so long. Perhaps because I've found a cadre of fibery friends in real life with whom I've shared my adventures. But I keep hearing that I should be blogging about my fibery adventures, so here I am.

A lot has happened since my last blog posts. I've certainly expanded my repertoire, adding in spinning, sewing and now cross-stitch.

With an expanded repertoire comes more "toys". When I began spinning, I learned on drop spindle. Which quickly prompted me to buy a couple Golding spindles - the Rolls Royce of drop spindles. Drop spindling quickly because too slow for me. Next in my sights was a spinning wheel. But I'll save that story for another time.

I've also noticed a natural progression in my skills, as evidenced by my ability to spot and fix errors as I knit - key for any knitter. Another evolution in the past year has seen me venturing into test knitting for designers on Ravelry. I'll share some of my test knit designs and designers in subsequent posts.

I'm off to Rhinebeck in a few weeks - the NY Sheep and Wool Festival. So there will be many more tales to tell!

See you soon.