Monday, October 29, 2012

Thinking about Morris Mitts

When you get home from Rhinebeck, bags overflowing with yarn purchases, you're not supposed to go
off first chance you get to your LYS to buy yet more yarn--but that's what I did this morning. I discovered that the nice gold Ella Rae, which I used in the "Pink Lemonade" colourway of my Diamanda Mitt, was all
used up, and I really needed gold.

I've spent the last few days playing with the charts for my Morris Mitts, mittens inspired by the artwork of William Morris. For an idea of that art, check out this,
                                                         and this.     

What these examples have in common is lush flowing foliage portrayed in glowing, jewel tones against a dark background. I love the sage greens and rich blues along with the red and gold accents. I love the "busy-ness" of the style.
So, here's my challenge. I want to design mittens in worsted weight wool. That means that the S/M size will have only 21 stitches across the back of the hand and 21 stitches for the palm. If I were designing a mitten in fingering weight, then I'd have a lot more stitches to work with. I've been experimenting with charts, coming up with a way of creating the impression of lush foliage in soft greens and vivid blues against a black background. So far so good, but you'll just have to wait a while for the finished product.
P.S. Stay safe if you're in the path of Sandy. There are supposed to be 5-metre waves on Lake Ontario tonight. I'm listening to Dick Francis's "Second Wind", a mystery involving an attempt to fly through a hurricane. Appropriate, eh? 

Saturday, October 27, 2012


We've just had a few glorious days of Indian summer, and now it looks as though we, along with the rest of eastern North America, are in for some rough weather, courtesy of Hurricane Sandy. It's a good time to enjoy the photos I took a couple of evenings ago while out for a walk sans sweater or coat--unusual for this time of year. At this latitude, which isn't really very far north at all by European standards, we still get lovely light in the late afternoon and early evening, something I missed when we lived farther south. The autumn foliage positively glows when the light is just right.

Even ordinary gateways look slightly magical,

and the park has a golden cast as the light slants down through the yellow leaves. (BTW, not much red this year due to last summer's drought.)

I love the slightly acrid scent of the fallen leaves when I kick them around as I walk.

That's Bill, and me with my camera!
On to some new projects, now that Rhinebeck is behind us. I feel as though it's the start of a new year, with fresh inspiration from the trip and new wool on the shelves. First up, I'm designing a new pair of mitts, which will, if I achieve my goal, evoke the feel of William Morris's art. Only time will tell how this works out. Second, I've plied the first skein of my merino/silk, and it looks as though it's going to knit up at around 6 sts per inch, more or less as planned.

I'm amazed what one can do with a drop spindle, a wool winder, and a shoebox! While I work on creating another approximately 200-yard skein, I'm thinking about what colour to dye it all. Check out this amazing resource if you're interested in Kool-aid dyeing. Now I'm off to the supermarket to see what flavours are available locally. If I wait much longer, the Kool-aid will be yanked off the shelves and replaced with powdered cocoa now that winter is breathing down our necks.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


The bags (of clothing and wool) are unpacked, the groceries bought, the laundry launched, and I'm back into my usual routine. It's a good time to reflect on the pleasures of last weekend. There was lots of beautiful hand-dyed wool, the sort I cannot get at my LYS,

Hanks of gorgeousness from Briar Rose.
there were sheep, alpacas, and lamas,

A lama kiss about to happen (I wasn't as brave).
humans in utilikilts,

knitters strolling in a state of bliss,

and fall colours at their peak.

Heaven. Where else can you walk up to total strangers and ask to feel what they're wearing?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Two Solitudes

Back from Rhinebeck, a glorious weekend bookended by two hideous drives. I'm a pretty good driver, with a lot of Interstate experience, given the number of times I've driven from Canada to Washington, DC. However, this weekend was the low point in all that drive time. It started when, only 40 minutes from home, we were selected for a random search by the U.S. border authorities. It was a first for us. We waited inside, filling out forms (I had to declare the green pepper strips in my lunch) and answering questions while sniffer dogs went over our car. We were quickly cleared, green pepper strips included. It might have helped that Bill had his Royal Military College ID with him, showing him to be an employee of the Dept. of Defence. Anyway, we heaved a sigh of relief and sailed off in our rental vehicle.
Then the rain started. And what rain! Impossible to see more than a few feet ahead, and by the time we reached Utica, NY with all its interchanges, all we could do was to keep going. Nowhere to pull over at all. Surrounded by trucks, trying to read road signs, and with our flashers on (most other drivers had them on too, to warn of their reduced speed), we pressed on. I think it might have been a good cardio stress test. On the far side of Albany, on I-87, we encountered a tractor-trailer that had gone off the road. The front cab was so smashed in that it's hard to imagine how the driver could have survived. Very scary sight. At the earliest possible moment, we exited the Interstate, crossed the Hudson via the Rip van Winkle Bridge (I kid you not about the name), and emerged into a relatively rain-free landscape north of Rhinebeck. Whew!
We stayed at the Beekman Arms right at the central intersection in the village. The inn has been in continuous operation since 1766, complete with wide-plank floors (like our own house), low ceilings, and huge fireplaces. Classy, but not pretentious. Perfect. Best of all, we were able to park the car and spend the remainder of the weekend getting around on foot.
On Saturday morning, I left the inn and walked down Mulberry Street on my way to the fairgrounds, past houses like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting.


I'm not sure, but I think flags might be mandatory. The main street was equally picturesque.

Rhinebeck is a weekend getaway spot for New Yorkers. No cigarette butts littering sidewalks, no panhandlers, beautiful boutiques, beautiful people. A lot of men in ponytails and expensive boots. A place to see and be seen. Curiously, no grocery stores within the village proper. You have to drive down the highway and back into the real world to find one.
Speaking of the real world, you don't have to go far to find it. Across the river in Kingston, is a different country, one hit hard by the recession. We also encountered this darker side of America during our hideous drive home. About half an hour past Albany, the warning chimes on our car signalled low tire pressure. Fortunately, we had warning chimes, and equally fortunately, we were near one of those monster New York Thruway service centres. By the time we parked, we had a full-blown flat. Without going into the details, let me just say that we ended up at a Ford dealership in nearby Amsterdam, NY. The dealership guys were terrific and did the best they could to assist us. In spite of that, it was FIVE hours before we were able to hit the road again. In the meantime, we learned a lot about life in a former manufacturing town, now filled with boarded up factories and young people looking for work. Bill, a retired IMF/World Bank economist, was especially interested in the town's story. This might have been the highlight of the weekend for him, alas.
We've all read about the hollowing out of the middle class and the increasing inequality in America (and the rest of the Anglophone world), but it's another thing to experience it firsthand. Even economists like Bill have no easy solution.
Interestingly, while we were waiting to get into a restaurant in Rhinebeck (Arielle, if you're wondering which one), we found ourselves talking to a man from Battenkill Fibers, who is working hard to provide American-grown fibre (sorry, but I just have to use Canadian spelling!) to the fashion industry. I visited the mill's booth the next day and was incredibly impressed with the quality and variety of yarns they produce. I wonder if one road back for (North) American manufacturing is the provision of quality, niche goods that cannot be produced elsewhere. Food for thought, on the eve of a most interesting election south of our border.
P.S. I promise photos of the glorious part of the weekend next time.

Thursday, October 18, 2012


Today is for getting organized for the drive to Rhinebeck. Laundry all done: check.

Doesn't everyone dry their socks on the hall windowsill?
Trip to bank to pick up US dollars: check. Second trip to bank to deposit newly arrived cheque from Twist Collective: check. (Thank goodness I can walk everywhere in only 10 minutes from the house.) Packing of handknits: check.

I'm covered for all weather possibilities--Trellis or Brookline for a warmish fall day, Downton or Wakefield if it turns really chilly. I cast off the Loft Fibonacci this morning and it's already almost dry.
Passport unearthed and packed: check.
See you there!                                                  

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Wakefield Redux

Thanks to the baseboard heaters in our sunroom and a dose of afternoon sunshine, the new Wakefield Jacket is done. Yay! So are the instructions. The new version, which I have christened "Wakefield Redux", features:
-a slimmer knitted-in, inset sleeve,
-back neck shaping,
-a collar that sits flat and, thanks to some fancy (but simple to execute) increasing and short rows, frames the
 neck in what I happen to think is a particularly attractive way, and
-knitted-in buttonholes, but with a crocheted button loop option.
In addition, I've tried really hard to clean up typos and I've added a schematic.
"Wakefield Redux" should be available on Ravelry by this evening (unless a certain family member reneges on his promise to cook dinner).
I tried to get Isabel to model it for me, but mid-terms + a statement to the effect that, "I'm not a hearts and bobbles kind of person" resulted in the photos you see here. This is not a garment that photographs well just sitting on a hanger; the "skirt", for lack of a better word, doesn't show. So, for now, this is what I have to show.

I know a few posts ago I raved about the little celtic knot buttons I had, but when it came time to sew them on I discovered that they really weren't quite large enough. Although in Isabel's view the heart buttons (from Mission Falls--sadly no longer available) are "over the top", I love them. It's my jacket after all. Enough said.
Maybe I'll find a model at Rhinebeck who can do it justice. Who knows?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


Wakefield, the jacket, has been flipped onto its front this morning, and the back bobbles sculpted into little round balls.

Don't laugh; they're not as huge as this photo angle suggests! I so adore this sort of knitted texture.

Friday, October 12, 2012


Almost exactly two years ago, when I was at Rhinebeck with Janie H., I purchased a couple of skeins of Green Mountain Spinnery's Sylvan Spirit in "Moonshadow". Photos simply don't do justice to the soft lustre of this product. (You may be wondering why I'm talking about this yarn right after ranting about the disappearance of classic wools from yarn shops; this isn't a classic yarn, but it's one that's worth splurging on, especially for something small like a scarf.) A few months later, those skeins turned into Lucy, a very simple lace scarf, meant to work as a project for lace newbies and as something for me to wear with just about everything. (Another aside: Lucy was published on Ravelry as an accompaniment to Tumnus. OK, I'm a big Chronicles of Narnia fan--the books, definitely not the Disney movies.) Until now, I've not had a nice photo of Lucy, the scarf. Yesterday I rectified that.

I'm never going to make a career as a photographer, but I think these pics are definitely an improvement over what I had before. 

Because I know someone will ask, that's the Perth Cardi underneath Lucy, in Helen Hamann's Luxury Alpaca (another worthy splurge, considering that the cardi takes only five balls.) I plan on picking up some more Sylvan Spirit and Helen Hamann alpaca this year in Rhinebeck. See you there next week.          

Thursday, October 11, 2012


      Knitting is NOT an act of frugality. When I was growing up, before the days of cheap imported clothing, you sewed if you wanted great clothes at affordable prices. Ottawa, where I lived, boasted a couple of great fabric stores, where you could pick up high quality materials and Vogue patterns, and transform them and yourself. There was more time (it was the era of the mostly one-income couple), and less money. Now, most of the high-end fabric stores have disappeared from all but the largest cities. Knitting was at one time a similarly frugal activity. There were a few classic wools available, spun in Canada, the cost was relatively low, and if you had the skill you could make yourself or your loved one a Vogue-worthy sweater at a fraction of the cost of the same purchased at Holt's.
       Times have changed. In spite of technology, there's less time. It takes two to bring in the same income in real terms that one person made a generation ago, a lot of wool is imported, and the cost of knitting an adult size sweater with high quality wool is definitely not low. Knitting is no longer a necessity, as it was in the days when elderly female family members cranked out mitts and hats for cold morning walks to school; it is recreation, stress-reliever, and solace. It can also be pretty darn expensive.
       So what's a knitter to do to keep down the cost? My recommendation is to have another look at so-called "classic" wools. I say "another", because many knitters by-pass these yarns on their way to the super-soft, super-wash, super-expensive luxury yarns so cleverly marketed with alluring patterns featuring models walking on windy beaches or sauntering through tall grass as if they hadn't a care in the world. Marketing wool is about fantasy, just like marketing anything else. What I mean by "classic" wools, is simple, plain untreated 100% wool. Familiar brands might include Cascade 220 (not superwash), Galway and Galway Highland Heathers, Ella Rae Classic, Sandnesgarn's Babyull, and even the unfairly maligned and admittedly slightly scratchy Briggs and Little wools. A few years ago, I would have included Patons Classic Wool in this list, but ever since Patons was sold, the quality of its wools has been disappointing. These are some of the classics available to me; there may be others where you live. The point is that these are workhorse yarns. Apart from the Babyull, these aren't wools you would want to wear next to your skin, and that's OK. Wear them over a comfy cotton T as I do. A garment made from them and carefully looked after will last for decades. With the exception of Cascade 220, these wools are not usually displayed in tempting ways in yarn stores. They just sit on the shelf, looking a little boring next to their lustrous, fuzzy, or tweedy luxury cousins. What they demand is skill and imagination. They require your hands and your brain to do the work.


I hope these photos illustrate what can be achieved at relatively low cost (under $15 in total in the case of the Briggs and Little shawl, and the yarn comes in 44!!! colours). The problem? Many LYS's no longer carry these yarns, or if they do, they carry a very limited range of colours. As the owner of my LYS explained, the profits are low, as is the demand. Increasingly, I find myself having to make a special order from the shop, or ordering directly from the mill or supplier. The latter does my local shop no good, I am well aware, but what's a knitter to do? If you love real wool as I do, I hope you will ask for these products at your local shops. If we create demand, won't supply follow? Encourage your LYS owner to display models made from these yarns. We all know how seeing a finished garment can create the desire to cast on to start the same project--today, please, and in the same colour! (Don't you hate how shops are ALWAYS out of the colour used in the display model?  That's fodder for another rant.)
       I'm not suggesting that you shouldn't enjoy your luxury kid mohair, or extra-fine alpaca, or superwash sock yarn. There's a place in my wardrobe and my budget for these. Let's just not forget what wonderful knitting feats can be achieved and enjoyed with the good old classics.

Boat slips emptying out as the fall weather turns chilly.
Now, my rant done, I'm going shopping on this chilly morning, dressed in some nice warm wool, pure and simple.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


The dishes have all been washed, the leftovers (such as they are) have been stowed in the fridge, and everyone's back to lecturing or attending lectures, so I used this quiet, sunny, cool fall day to work in the front garden. I cut back the thyme bordering the sidewalk, planted daffodil bulbs, and staked the hydrangeas. Of course, some of the latter have made their way into the house for the winter. Not much point in having these beauties if you don't bring some in to dry.

Only one sleeve left to do on Wakefield. I'm really delighted with the updated fit and can't wait to show it off. In the meantime, here's a view of my button selection.

The celtic knot complements the aran style, don't you agree?

Saturday, October 6, 2012


On this Thanksgiving weekend, what am I thankful for?
I'm thankful to live in a neighbourhood where our local public school looks like this:

Sydenham Elementary School
I'm thankful that some parents and/or teachers put up this sign,

and planted this little garden full of native plants.

Michaelmas daisies, blowing in the wind.
Milkweed pods, not yet opened.

I'm thankful for the red maple leaves lining the sidewalk beside Sydenham United Church this afternoon, where a wedding was in progress.

I'm thankful that Wakefield is coming along, albeit slowly and that it'll be ready to wear by this time next week. Here it is with the first sleeve in progress.

That's the new shawl collar at the bottom left. Here's another view of the collar, across the back of the neck, which now has some nice shaping, and

here's the perpendicular join between the sleeve and the body. This is a main feature of the design and so much fun to work!

Of course, I'm thankful for many other more important things, but sometimes it's the little ones that really make life amazingly good.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

In the Knit Lab: Adventures with Bobbles, Part 2

If you've been curious enough to try the bobble I described in my last post, you'll have noticed, after you've knit the row after the bobble that, left to its own devices, there's a little hole on the right-hand side of the bobble as it faces you. Here's the view just after the bobble has been formed on the right side. See the hole?

So, while the bobble itself is great, there's still this hole UNLESS you take measures. On the succeeding row, here's what to do. Have a look at the bobble from the reverse side.

Using the left-hand needle, slip it into the right-hand side of the stitch just below the last stitch (the bobble stitch) on the right-hand needle.

Then, if the next stitch is to be knitted, SSK it together with the picked up stitch.

 Voila, gap closed neatly. View from the right side:

If the next stitch is to be purled, then pick up the same stitch just below the bobble, but purl it together with the next stitch THROUGH THE BACK LOOPS. Ah, perfect!
P.S. Some readers may have noticed that a few posts from the past have mysteriously disappeared. That's because they gave a glimpse of designs that are now in the pre-publication process and can't be shown to the public until a later date. Something to look forward to...