Sunday, August 21, 2016

August Tidbits

1. I've just grafted the shoulders of the updated version of Wheatsheaves. Just in case someone reading this hasn't done much Kitchener Stitch (named after Lord Kitchener, who during WW1 ordered that the toes of soldiers' socks be made seamless), here's a tip. While working the initial graft, don't bother about tension, other than to keep everything on the loose side. Then when all the stitches are joined, go back and tug gently on them just until they match the tension of the surrounding stitches. It's a simple matter to tighten up the tension, but devilishly difficult to loosen things up. Below, you can see where the stitches on the right-hand side have been adjusted, while the ones on the left are waiting their turn. It's unnecessarily fussy to try to get the tension perfect on the first pass.


To those readers who complain of my penchant for knitting with grey, I swear that this wool is definitely not that colour. It's actually a lovely greenish turquoise, rather on the bright side, in fact. Somehow, my phone camera refused to acknowledge it.

2. While the heat and humidity are dreadful, our drought seems to be over. Things are greening up (apart from the trees, which have gone into a weird stage of early fall). Case in point: the hibiscus on the corner of Earl and King Streets.
 

How can you not love dinner plate sized flowers!

3. Went for a walk in the early afternoon yesterday before the crowds gathered in Market Square for the last Tragically Hip concert.

Dried up blooms framed by a fence looking towards St. George's.
Crab apples and the dome of St. George's Cathedral.
Trucks setting up for live screening of The Hip's concert.
We were out of the country for the decades when The Hip became the iconic Canadian band. Regardless, we could feel the poignancy of the day.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Sock Talk

Confession: I'm not much of a sock knitter. It's hard for me to get excited about something that (most of the time) is hidden from view when worn. At the same time, I love to wear hand-knitted socks. Who doesn't? They're toasty warm and can be made to fit perfectly. Plus, socks make perfect social knitting, provided they're relatively simple and utilitarian in design. They're also great for summer knitting because of their portability and lack of hot, heavy bulk. ( I had to give up on my Fall Coat knitting because of our intense heat over the last few weeks.)
Today I want to show off two beautiful versions of the Snakes and Ladders Socks--a design that looks complicated but is actually quite easy to knit.
First up is ThereseS's Snakes and Ladders in a rich, hand-dyed cherry red.


See the star toe? I love it because it fits my toes really well and there's no grafting to do.
Next, here's knitgarden's handspun version of Snakes and Ladders. Yes, you read that right--HANDSPUN!


The lighter colour lets you see the garter stitch heel, worked over 60% of the stitches and oh, so cushy. The fleece is CVM. That stands for "California Variegated Mutant", which always sound to me like something SciFi, but is actually a breed of sheep. These socks are entered in the Monterey County Fair. Can't wait to see how they do.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Vim and Vinegar

I've been silent for a while. There's a reason. We're caught up in a home purchase and sale---again. Yes, our current 3-storey limestone house is lovely, and yes, we can walk to just about everything, and yes, we can see the lake from the front door. So, why would we opt to move? Because:
1. I really want/need better and brighter studio space.
2. I want a place large enough to hold workshops.
3. Eventually we would need to move anyway since our current place is tall and narrow, without a main floor bathroom. Bill, who is older than I am, turns 66 today. I think it's a good idea to move to where we can "age in place" rather than wait until we have to move.
4. I strongly desire a bit more connection to the natural world. OK, I have some garden here, but our new place has tall, mature trees and larger grounds (think dye garden).
5. A place came up at the right price in the right place. It needs work. Actually, Bill keeps referring to it as "the dump", but the space speaks to me and it's in Barriefield, a more-or-less intact early 19th-century village within walking and biking distance of Kingston's downtown.
No pics yet of the new house, but here are some shots of Barriefield when we attended its 200th anniversary a few years ago.






For now, our house smells of Vim (a household cleanser, for my non-Canadian readers), and vinegar, as I struggle with maintaining an unnatural state of neatness and cleanliness, and panic at the dangerous possibility of owning two houses.
P.S. Very little knitting going on for the moment.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Suddenly, Unexpectedly

One of the better surprises of the yarn variety is the unexpected discovery of yarn. Thus it was when I discovered, while walking back to our inn in Rhinebeck from the Sheep and Wool Festival, that the local variety store had a back room full of high end yarn. And so it was last Saturday when Isabel and I happened upon a yarn nook in a clothing shop in nearby Westport. The day was cloudy and cool, the sort of day that comes as a relief after a spell of very hot, muggy days. It was Isabel's second last day home before returning to her studies out west, and we decided to make the best of it with a girls' day out, poking about the little shops in the picturesque village about 30 minutes north of Kingston in the heart of the Rideau Lakes.
We ate Kawartha ice cream and strolled down to the harbour,


entered the potter's workshop and checked out her work,


stopped by the visitors' centre to use the washrooms and wifi (Isabel may have tuned in to Pokemon Go, even though it was not yet officially available in Canada for another 24 hours), noticed this useful set of public bike repair tools, and


at the Westport Bamboo Company, suddenly and unexpectedly, 


we came upon this!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Breaking Blue

Every now and then I need a little break from knitting, but at the same time I can't seem to turn off the desire to make something. This time, with Isabel home and cheering me on, I took the plunge with a dyeing/spinning experiment. Usually when spinning is involved, I am quite project oriented, but it being the middle of summer, I felt carefree and happy just to see where the process would take me. The aim was to see if I could "break" Wilton's delphnium blue while dyeing 100g of non-superwash treated BFL (blue-faced Leicester, for non-fibre aficionados). Previous attempts to dye roving ended with felted messes. So I TOOK MEASURES.
1. I braided the roving. Actually, I made the equivalent of a crochet chain out of it. Not too tightly, though, because I wanted the dye to penetrate. I hoped that braiding the roving (really combed top) would minimize the movement of the fibre in the dye bath.
2. I brought a big pot of water to the boil, then added 2 tbsp of white vinegar + about a tsp of the dye, which comes in gel form.


This is a cake icing gel. FYI, Koolaid unsweetened powder is no longer available in Canada, so that's why I chose Wilton's, which is readily available at Michael's. It's non-toxic, so is safe to use in the kitchen.
2. I DID NOT pre-soak the roving. I followed the suggestion of Karen of Chemknits fame in the hope that the dry fibre would soak up the components of delphinium blue at different rates--hence breaking it down.
3. Once the dye was dissolved into the water, I lowered the heat so that the water was just below the boil. I did not want any bubbling action which might encourage felting. Then I added the roving, gently poking it down into the water with a slotted spoon.
4. I covered the pot and left it alone for about 20-30 minutes, only checking from time to time to verify that the water remained just on the verge of boiling.
5. After that time, even though there was still a bit of dye left in the water, I turned off the heat and let the whole thing cool down over a few hours.
6. Once cool, I very, very gently picked up the roving and deposited it in a colander over a bowl. Then I rinsed out the dye pot, filled it with water the same temperature as had just been in it, and added a squirt of Sunlight dish washing detergent. I gently popped the fibre into the rinse water and left it alone for about 10 minutes. No stirring, no squeezing.
7. Again I gently (notice that this word is getting a lot of use) picked up the roving and, WITHOUT SQUEEZING OR WRINGING IT, laid it back into the colander over the bowl to drain. I did not want to do anything at all that might compress the fibre. When the worst of the drainage was over, I picked up the braid by one end and carried it up to the third floor library, where I hung it over a hanger with a bowl underneath to catch the drips. The weather was hot and breezy, and I hoped that the braid would dry quickly. It did. Overnight, in fact. This is what it looked like when it was undone.


Success! The fibre did not felt and remained loose and perfect for spinning. This photo also demonstrates why I prefer to dye before, rather than after spinning. See how the dye is in distinct stripes. Very striking and pretty, but if this were a skein, it would have limited use. I suspect we've all succumbed to a beautiful skein of space-dyed yarn at one time or another, then discovered with dismay how difficult is to turn into an equally beautiful piece of knitting. With roving, the process of dividing it into lengths and attenuating, then plying it, causes the colours to blend in a delicious way. In this case, the purple dispersed into the turquoise to a surprising degree. Here is a closeup of the singles on my bobbin. I was aiming for a fingering weight after plying,


and I seem to have achieved it.



Now, what to do... Suggestions for 100g of fingering weight hand-dyed handspun?

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Heart of the Matter

...and now here we are at the height of the summer heat--the heart of the season.

View of the inner harbour from Battery Park, at the bottom of my street (Martello towers in the background).

Climber on the breakwater.

Raspberry/blueberry pie. My own recipe here. The raspberries were picked on the same day as the baking.





As you can see, I am knitting at a leisurely pace due to the heat. Some of you may recognize the above as Wheatsheaves. The long-promised revision is coming. Actually, it's more like a re-visioning, with the makeover going bottom-up instead of top-down to allow for a beautiful  box pleat in the back. Stay tuned. Movie theatres are good at this season. Isabel (who is home for 10 days), James, and I saw "Love and Friendship" at our local Screening Room. Great fun--and air-conditioned.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Design Lessons from a Pro

A fashion article in the Washington Post yesterday caught my attention. Yes, that's right--the Post. Now, having lived in DC, I can vouch for the fact that the region isn't exactly at the centre of the fashion forward universe. It has a pretty boring  conservative attitude toward dress, at least compared to a lot of other places. So, the story about Nina McLemore's jackets was interesting.
Ms McLemore has discovered a niche market--powerful women over 40, including Hilary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, Gwen Ifil, and Janet Yellen--who want practical, good fitting clothes that send the right message of authority. While McLemore's jackets aren't the sort of style I would wear, I admire her approach which involves:
1. A fit that works for real over-40 women. That means narrower shoulders, wide backs, waist shaping, extra width in the hips, and collars that can be turned up or worn down. There's a lesson here for knit designers, one that you will notice in my own work. All of us want to look long and lean, and these shapes help.
2. Sleeves that are meant to be worn turned up. Not only does this convey the message that these women are ready to get down to work, but it's also a bit more casual and less starchily formal than a classic suit. At the same time, it means that the jackets can be worn off the rack, without the fuss and time involved in having alterations done.
3. Fabrics that are both comfortable and easy care. They are meant to travel well. Enough said.
4. A price point that is well below that of typical international designers. Now, I'm not saying that these jackets, which go for US$700-800 are super affordable, but they are in a price range that executives and women in the higher echelons of the public sphere can afford, without the charge that they are living in the fantasy world of couturier design.
I also like the bright, clear colours of the jackets. If you visit McLemore's website, notice how they are meant to go with her "essentials", pieces like black skinny pants and skirts and white blouses. I, too, ascribe to this sort of dressing, even if I prefer pieces with a bit more ease and flow.
Lots of lessons here for all of us.