Little me

Hi there!

Down here.

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That’s it. Come closer.

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I won’t bite.

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How lovely to meet you.

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I’m so glad to be here.

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I know I may not look like much, but I’m a momentous thing.

Don’t let appearances fool you.

I’m usually what you would call subpar merino. You know the kind: second cuts with lots of neps. But that also makes me the perfect kind of wool for experimentation. I’ve been dipped in an alum mordanted logwood dye from a natural dyeing class. And because I was in a pot with all sorts of other fibers, the excessive handling got too much and I closed in on myself and became resistant to drafting.

A drum carder, recently purchase on craiglist, helped to revive me. I even got carded with some of my undyed merino. And after three passes, with neps and all, I became a fluffy rolag ready for spinning.

Here I am, all two by three inches of me.

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Look at my deep blues and my tweedy texture. I’m becoming a natural dye convert.

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Here I am with my yarnie.

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I can’t wait to explore all the possibilities.

Christmas Felted Soaps

Now that Christmas is over, it’s safe to start posting some Christmas gifts. One project that we will definitely be making again is felted soap. Little A and I made these soaps for the teachers and staff at her school.

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These soaps were felted with a combination of natural corriedale from Paradise Fibers, pink and orange merino from Opulent Fibers, and some unnamed fiber that came with the spinning wheel I purchased off of craigslist. I suspect it’s one of Ashland Bay Company’s multi-colored merino. What I love about this multi-colored merino are the stands of color surprise. The top was kind of brown but once it was separated and felted, you could see how the color was produced through the layer of multiple colors.

These rounded soaps from Sappo Hill were the perfect size for a soap felting project as it fit comfortably in our hands as we rubbed and scrubbed the fiber to make it felt.

I followed instructions from Thistlewood Farms, which comes fabulous instructive photos.

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I think some of the soaps could have been rubbed for a bit longer to make sure the fibers really locked in together. And I would certainly recommend over-doing it rather than under-doing it. I was worried with all the lathering that my soap was shrinking under the felt. It seemed that there was a lot of room between the soap and the wool and that the felt would never shrink and tighten around the soap, as described by KariAnne of Thistlewood Farm. But when it dried, it tightened nicely around the soap so I was anxious for nothing. I guess I still need to learn to trust the process.

What I would try next time is setting up two basins of water, one super and one super cold. Part of the reason that wool felts, in addition to the friction that is necessary to lock the fibers together, is a sudden shift in temperature. I am hoping that in putting the wool-covered soap in the hot and then cold basins back and forth for a few times, this would cut down on the scrubbing that was necessary to felt the fiber. That scrubbing was the most tedious, and Little A grew tired of that quickly so I had to pick up the slack! Aside from that, this was the perfect project for us to do together!

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Kidlet Knit Part II (Or, the Gateway Sweater)

I’ve been lax in posting my recent projects. I blame the end of the term grading madness, the beginning of the term disorientation and the deeply satisfying and lazy holiday break in-between.

This project, which I made for a certain Little L, is made from my go-to-pattern. I’ve now made three of these sweaters, and it was also the first sweater I made that got me back and knee-deep into knitting. This is probably the easiest sweater to make for those looking to dip their toes into knitting garments. It’s a top-down construction, seamless and easily adjustable. Prior to making this, I was knitting scarves and all I knew were purl and knit. But the ease of the garment and the realization that sweaters need not be so intimidating hooked me in. If ever there was sweater that is the equivalent of a gateway drug, this would be it.

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And while comparing this sweet little sweater to banned substances might be a bit inappropriate, especially as I imagine adorable Little L, with her plump rosy cheeks sporting this sweater in the natural beauty of Vancouver Island, my husband V–in looking at our bank account, the neglected state of our home and my constant distracted state as I count my stitches–might find the comparison completely apt.

Now that I’ve taken up spinning, it’s opened up a whole new world of things to learn and obsess about.

Below is my first ever hand-dyed and hand-spun skein, which I used to knit Little L’s sweater. I’ve wanted learn how to dye fiber ever since I started spinning. In fact, that was one of the reasons we drove as quickly as we could to San Antonio last year. I needed to get there in time to take a percentage dyeing class for fabric (which was one of the most informative and amazing classes I’ve taken!). It was a nice bookend to our time in San Antonio that in the last couple of weeks we were there, we drove to Austin so that I could take a fiber dyeing class at Hill Country Weavers, an amazingly stocked yarn store.

This time, I got to just play with color and focus on how to prep my fiber so I don’t felt it. Luckily, I also had some blue-faced leicester top which doesn’t felt as readily. And so I just used whatever color combinations were provided. What I ended up with is the color of a Disney Princess, a connection I didn’t make until we went to Disneyland on our road trip back to Portland.

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Dyeing my own fiber has made me also realize the importance of color placement in a way that I didn’t quite appreciate. As you can see the dyed colors of the top are more distinct, and after I spun the top, the colors became slightly less vibrant. The fact that the yellow was next to the gray/blue resulted in a slightly green tint to the yarn. I am going to be more mindful next time about how I spin as well as what color combinations I will juxtapose against each other.

In any case, I can’t wait to try my hand at more fiber dyeing. Next up for me is working with natural dyes!

 

 

Storytime sweater

For the past couple of weeks, V has been reading Harry Potter to Little A and me. We started with The Sorcerer’s Stone and then burned through The Chamber of Secrets. Little A draws while I knit. I can’t imagine life being better than this.  And, if there’s one thing that V loves it is having a captive audience for his various British accents. He got into the character of Gilderoy Lockhart with a gusto that was both hilarious and slightly disturbing. After dinner, he would ask casually “So, shall we read Harry Potter?” so as to downplay the fact that out of the three of us, he’s probably J.K. Rowling’s biggest fan. He just happens to be very late to the party. (Those of you who have read more than a few of my blog entries will have noticed that we’re still living like it’s 1999.)

During our Harry Potter story time, I’ve been test knitting another pattern by Tin Can Knits, a lovely cabled cardigan that is full of texture and density. With its old school styling, this cardigan might easily have been a pattern from The Unofficial Harry Potter Knits. This is going to be a Christmas sweater for Little A.

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I’m really enjoying this knit, and this pattern is fun and easy to memorize. The moss stitches and cables are a nice change from the all the stockinette I’ve been knitting.  As much as I love knitting with handspun yarn, the ones that I’m often drawn to are colorful and barber pole-y, and they would have competed with the textures of a pattern like this.

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I’m using Hazel Knits DK Lively in “Cherry Fizz.” As you can see, it has wonderful stitch definition and lovely depth of color. Hazel Knits is based out of Seattle, and I found these skeins at Twisted. Little A chose the color. It is 90% wool and 10% nylon which I think will add durability and help retain shape, or at least I hope so. The sweater is going to be quite heavy because though the recommended yarn for this pattern is a DK yarn, this particular yarn is a heavy DK and I had to go down three needle sizes from the recommended needle size to get gauge. I have a feeling that this sweater is going to stretch and lengthen because of its weight, but I’m hoping the nylon will offset this a bit.

 

Pulling out the knits

We had a nice sunny but cold spell in Portland recently so I took advantage of this anomalous weather to take photos of knits I finished back a while back. (As a side note, we’re back to wet, cold and grey so everything is right in the world again.) I tried cajoling Little A to stay still. Taking photos of this little ham is a crap shoot. One minute she’s smiling, laughing and pulling out her moves. The next minute it’s meltdown. IMG_4725

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The top-down cardigan, Hibbis, is a test knit, but the testing process was less about pattern modification and suggestions so much as it was about identifying grammatical errors in the translation from French to English. I was really drawn to this pattern because I liked the simple lace flowers at the yoke. But now that I’ve knitted it, I would definitely recommend modifying this pattern. The collar is too wide and keeps slipping off Little A’s narrow shoulders. Not only would I cast on fewer stitches for the collar, but that would have allowed me to raise the collar and give me space to have another row of the lace pattern. For Little A’s sizing, there were only two rows of this lace, which which seem a bit off balance to me. I like my patterns to fall on odd numbers. Despite the loose collar, Little A loves this sweater, which is knitted in Cascade 220″Fuschia.” This just goes to show at the end of the day, the wearer’s opinion counts the most.

The squishy cowl she is wearing is knitted from handspun superwash merino from Nest Fiber Studio. The colorway is “London Jupiter.” This was a fun and easy knit to show off handspun yarn. It is an easily adaptable pattern for children and adults. And as the name of this pattern highlights, it is really squishy. I got these darling buttons from Mom’s Buttons.

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What can I say? I love Nest Fiber.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I could totally knit that…

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Ever since I started knitting more regularly, my relationship with store-bought knits has taken a nosedive. We were already having some communication issues, namely their refusal to be loose in areas I need them to be loose and tight in areas I need them to be tight. Now that I have more in my knitting repertoire beyond stockinette and garter stitches, we are no longer on speaking terms.  Whenever I see knits on display, my smug response is, “I could totally knit that.” Mass-produced sweaters seem more flimsy and poorly made. Plus, they’re cold and impersonal. Why buy something I can make myself? I could totally knit a warm, colorful and durable sweater that has the distinction of being made with love. Yes, I could totally knit that and do it better.

This attitude, however, does have a down side.

The truth is, though I have the ability, I don’t necessarily have the time. Now that the weather is colder and V and Little A are forced to venture out hatless or mittenless while awaiting prophesized knits, my DIY, anti-consumerist, mother-earthing ethos is starting to look like stubborn idiocy and misguided cruelty.

I have been promising V a hat for weeks. He walks a good mile from the bus stop to work in the chilly morning hours. But, with my current piles of grading, I have only been able to knit a few rows or inches a night. I had bragged that I could finish this brier toque in two days. Caught up by my over-confidence, he even assured his bus driver, a sweet maternal older lady who pays attention to these things, that he will be warmly dressed soon. And yet, each morning, when she pulls up and he comes running up into the warm belly of the bus, she asks, “When is this hat going to be ready?”

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There’s nothing like the mild disapproval of a bus driver to spur on your knitting. All I can say is that this hat is going to get done. Even if it kills me a little.

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The other day V asked about mittens, but I told him that he was going to have to wait. There’s a queue. My fingers are freezing.

Fiber: Nest Fiber Club, “Fernweh” October 2014 (organic polwarth), worsted spun 2-ply.