Thursday, October 29, 2015

Fear and Clothing: Required Reading

A few weeks ago, I happened across a review in the Globe and Mail of Cintra Wilson's new book, Fear and Clothing: Unbuckling American Style. Intrigued sufficiently to place an order with Amazon, I waited and waited for this book to come through the door. It was worth the wait. This is the most insightful exploration of why we wear what we wear that I've come across. Also the most hilarious. The story about the return of Uncle Rick's swagger via cowboy hat is laugh-out-loud funny. As a hat person I "get it" when she writes that the "right hat can be serious voodoo when the cosmos demonstrates it is yours-- your head and the hat seem to instantly embrace, and beneath this union you may find yourself instantly transformed". 

The breadth of the author's exploration is breathtaking, as she travels across and around the States, from the Bible Belt (Alabama) to the Gun Belt (Kansas) to the Macrame Belt (San Francisco) to the Beltway (Wash, DC). She takes us from her teenage friend, Mitzy, dressed all in black with veil (a look the author's mother described as "Satan's Beekeeper"), through her punk days, her time in rehab, and her career as a fashion writer for the NY Times. 
But seriously, Ms. Wilson makes the important distinction between Fashion and Style, the former being for robots ("fantasies for people who have forgotten how to have any of their own"), and the latter being "magic, connective, and humanizing". She states toward the end of her book,

Finding your style is like finding God--it's utterly personal. You find your truths wherever they find you, and you recognize them because they irresistibly resonate with you.

On the last page, she writes,

Let fashion be a means of expanding your ability to recognize the profligate and promiscuous nature of beauty. Beauty, like nature, does not discriminate. Everyone gets to have it, every day.

Really, this is what this gem of a book is all about. I'm not sure about other knitters out there, but it's a big part of why I knit, and why I like to design what I knit. Cintra Wilson makes this most important point of all: is too short to wear disguises that hide you from the world, because these choices can end up hiding you from yourself...your true beauty is found by boldly striding down the most daringly personal catwalk that you allow yourself to explore.

Thanks for this reminder, Cintra. Now I'm fired up to do just that!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A Compendium of Spinning Posts and Other Random Spinning Links

I guess I can no longer call myself a spinning newbie, although whenever I run into truly experienced and capable spinners I feel like a clumsy beginner. Over the last three years or so, I've blogged now and then about what I've learned, and it's time to compile those posts into a list with links. Although I own a wheel, the posts below mostly relate to spindle spinning.

Chez Lizzie posts
1. Spinning hand-dyed roving off the fold:
2. Yarn management during plying:
3. Plying on a spindle from a centre-pull ball:
4. Making your own spindle:
5. Skeining and washing plyed yarn:

Favourite spinning books and videos
1. Respect the Spindle, by Abby Franquemont. Note that there is an accompanying DVD. This is the most authoritative source of spindling information, and Abby's calm, almost mesmerizing voice will convince you that you can do this!
2. Abby's Youtube channel.
3. The Practical Spinner's Guide: Wool, by Kate Larson. A recent publication, but I like it a lot.

So, what am I spinning today? This.

It's the Riverside Studio BFL I started on last week. My new hand-made spindle is so inexpensive, that instead of winding my singles off onto a toilet paper tube bobbin, I've made a second spindle and I'm simply working the second half of my roving onto it. Then I'll use my shoebox kate to hold both spindles while I wind a double-stranded centre-pull ball using my Royal brand ball winder. Finally, it'll be on to the fun of plying. For some reason, I'm not in a knitting mood just now. Is it the glorious weather?

I don't know. All I can do is go with my current obsession. Environment Canada has issued a "Special Weather Statement" for tomorrow as the remnants of Hurricane Patricia move northeast, so perhaps my fibre obsession will flip back to knitting with the weather.
P.S. A lot of you write to me on Ravelry with blog comments, saying that you're having difficulty commenting on the blog. I've changed the settings to make it easier (I hope). Let me know if there's improvement.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Peak Colour, and a Better Spindle

It's the week of maximum fall colour in our slice of North America.

When the weather is sunny, there's a sense of serenity about this time of year. The sun is at an angle that brings more light into the house than in summer, and there are few insects out and about to annoy. The softly muted reds and greens at the front of the house are almost painfully lovely. They'll be gone in a matter of days when the nighttime frosts strike. Nature is holding its breath.
I'm celebrating all this excess of beauty with a new spindle creation. Kingston has a brand new Lee Valley store. If you've never been in one of these, you're missing out on some serious design excellence. As soon as I realized it was open, I ventured in to see if I could find some spindle-making odds and ends.

From left to right, here you see a jeweller's hand drilling set, a file (this was one I already had on hand, not from Lee Valley), a 1/4" dowel, a 3" wooden toy wheel (minus axle), and some 1/2" cup hooks.
And here is what I did with all of this. Voila my new toy!

In fact, this is far from being a toy. It turns out to be the best darned spindle in my collection. Who would have guessed?
P.S. The fibre is hand-dyed BFL from Riverside Studio.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Heading to "That Girl Place"

The Modern Gansey was invented as a guy knit. I've written before about the challenges of designing and knitting for men, and this sweater represents the perfect balance between my interests as a knitter, and my son's interests in having something warm and discreetly stylish. But, even as I was finishing it last winter, I knew I wanted to design a feminine version. Unfortunately, what works for men rarely works for women. So what changes am I making to take this sweater to "that girl place", in the words of my friend, Cheryl?
1. A wide, slightly cropped silhouette. Shaping is not an option with this style, so best to accept that, and go for a loose, short shape that will look great over fitted bottoms (skirt, leggings, jeans, etc.)
2. A taller collar. Cropped shapes look splendid with high collars. When worn with the fitted bottoms, see above, the look can be quite lengthening and slimming. (When you're on the small side, this is always the goal.)
3. A split hem. Sweaters that are tight about the hips are not for me. The generous ease in the body + the split hem should make for a gently flowing fit.
4. A buttery soft, smooth (non-superwash, of course) wool to show off the texture while looking sophisticated and polished. I've chosen Quince & Co's Osprey.
5. A delicately tinted colour, on the light side to highlight the stitch patterns. "Glacier" is a very pale robin's egg blue that goes with just about everything.
Yesterday I cast on for this adventure to the feminine side,

and this morning I knitted everything onto a 32" circular to accommodate the rapidly growing stitch count.

In case anyone is, Bill and I did not do Rhinebeck this year. I was a little grumpy over the weekend at the thought of what I was missing, but then I remembered the crazy crowds last year, and the even crazier exchange rate on the Canadian dollar this year.
Now I'm off to make a second attempt to vote in our federal election. Our riding is "Kingston and the Islands". Voter turnout is predicted to be high, and it certainly was when I walked over to our polling station at City Hall earlier this morning. The one hour wait in line (sans knitting) seemed a bit much, so I'm going back after lunch with some knitting in tow, just in case.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

A Recipe for Success

The next Edgewater pattern for publication is the Modern Gansey. Remember this from last New Year's Day? (James' birthday, for the record.)

Now it's time to get this pattern up and running. I decided right at the outset to present this as a "recipe-style" pattern. The gansey knitting tradition has always been one of improvisation, and although this particular design differs somewhat in its construction from the traditional model, it seems fitting that each knitter should have some level of control over the makeup of the finished garment. There's a broad description of the road map, but you get to fill in a lot of the blanks. FYI, this is how all of Elizabeth Zimmermann's patterns were written, and it's my favourite style of pattern to work from, probably because it makes me feel that I'm creating something unique. It's not a "paint-by-numbers" exercise. I used to knit shop samples of Alice Starmore patterns back in the '90s, and soon came to realize that that sort of knitting, where nothing was left up to the knitter to decide, wasn't for me.
The recipe approach also requires you, the knitter, to CENTRE THE PATTERNS. This isn't as daunting as it sounds, and down the road I'll devote a tutorial to the subject, with examples. In fact, once you have this little skill under your belt, it opens up a whole new world of design possibilities, allowing you fearlessly to import stitches from pattern libraries into garments.
The Modern Gansey is fun to knit, and an easy sweater for most men to wear. If you have a male person in your life who might enjoy wearing this, stay tuned...

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Photo Problems Over!

Thanks so much for writing in to let me know there was a problem with some of my recent pics. To make a long story short, I was experimenting with moving photos from my phone to the blog, and didn't realize that it wasn't working for some of you. So, back to the old method...
Here is some of what you might have missed:
1. Glenora, with Mission Falls buttons.

2. Late afternoon sunshine on treetops out our (not so clean) third-floor window.

3. My inexpert attempt to capture the moon during the recent lunar eclipse.

Now, Bill and I have to make a Rhinebeck decision. Pros: seeing friends, seeing wool, staying at the Beekman Arms, strolling through Rhinebeck village at the peak of the fall colours, with the mountains in the background. Cons: the drive, the crowds (unpleasant for the first time, last year), the exchange rate on our Canadian dollar.
Happy Thanksgiving to my Canadian readers.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Close to the End

I realized this aft that I had forgotten to post photos of my Glenora with its buttons. I purposely didn't sew the buttons on for the photos that I took of Cheryl in the cardigan because I wanted to show how to wear it with a shawl pin. After that session, I carefully decided where I wanted the buttons to go, made three sturdy crocheted button loops, and sewed on the same number of large buttons.

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These are old Mission Falls buttons. Too bad they aren't available anymore, because they came in a ton of natural colours and shapes and there was almost always one that was perfect for your project. I have a dwindling stash of these that I bought from Mags Kandis when Bill and I visited her old studio in nearby Prince Edward County on an open house day. I'm sad to be nearly at the end of the collection.
Meanwhile, fall is rolling in. Misty and cool today. I wore Glenora and my ginger Bibliogloves out shopping on foot. The bloom in the garden is nearly at an end too.

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Such a melancholy time of year, and I think it feels more that way as I grow older. I won't dwell on that thought. Instead, I'll think about the little field trip I have planned for the morrow. Think sheep--


lots of them...

Thursday, October 8, 2015

No Witchcraft Here!

1. Petrova is back in the lineup.

The new recommended yarn is Cascade Eco or Eco+. The pattern has been completely re-worked. This is a more technical knit that Glenora. If you've never done a bottom-up saddle-shoulder sweater, then Glenora is an easier option. It's also less fitted, which makes it easier to wear. I'm not trying to scare you off; I just prefer knitters to be realistic when selecting a pattern to knit.

2. The tea-dyed fingerless gloves are done!

The colour is a sort of caramel. They look best on, but I can't get pics of both hands at once, so you'll have to take my word re completition.

3. Bill completed and returned his jury selection questionnaire yesterday. It's a delightfully archaic bit of bureaucratic business. Good to know that if one has been convicted of "pretending to practise witchcraft" one is still eligible for jury duty (it's not an indictable offence).

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Tea Party: Dyeing Wool with Tea

Well, I managed to spin 50g of my lovely alpaca/merino very quickly. Everything was plyed before breakfast yesterday. That's when the fun began. The evening before, while the singles were resting (to set the twist), I did some research on the subject of dyeing with tea.

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Why? I like the idea of a natural dye product. There's something about the soft, natural colours that has tremendous appeal. Secondly, tea is what is known as a "substantive" dye. The tannins in it cause it to bond to the yarn without the need for a mordent, such as vinegar or other more toxic additions.
Here's how I proceeded:
1. I measured the weight of my spun and plyed yarn, before washing. FYI, a Cuisinart kitchen scale is one of the most useful tools a spinner/knitter can have.
2. I measured out an equal weight of tea. 50g of tea is quite a bit of tea, so I chose to use an inexpensive quality, namely, Red Rose, available everywhere in Canada.

This worked out to about 14 tea bags. I could have used loose leaf tea, but this was what I had on hand.
3. I filled a large pot with water and the tea bags, brought the whole thing to the boil, then turned down the heat, covered the pot, and simmered the concoction for one hour.
4. While the dye pot was brewing, I washed my spun yarn in a bit of Sunlight dish soap and water, then rinsed it and left it to soak in warm water once it was clean.
5. At the end of its hour of simmering, the dye pot mixture was potent. The tea bags had disintegrated and the tea leaves had formed a fine sludge. I strained the whole thing into a large bowl, washed out the pot, then returned the dye mixture back to the pot. I let it cool until it was just warm--about an hour.
6. Next came the moment of excitement. I lowered the skeined yarn, loosely tied in 3 spots, into the dye pot. I brought the whole thing back up to the boil (no sudden temperature changes for wool, remember!), partially covered it, and let it simmer very slightly for another hour.
7. At the end of the hour, I turned the heat off, removed the cover, and allowed everything to cool down to warm--another hour. THIS IS NOT A QUICK PROCESS. Note: when dyeing with tea, the dye mixture does not clear when the dyeing is done, but remains quite dark.
8. Finally, I removed the yarn, washed it again, and rinsed it several times to get out all the excess dye. I really love the colour.

This morning the wool is dry, and I'm ready to launch into the knitting portion of this little adventure.

Along the way, I discovered some blogs I really loved, especially The Bluebird's Diary from Finland.
You really must see this amazingly lovely purple coat!
Our mild September weather is gone. The furnace has kicked on for the first time this season. It is the end of warm, I fear. Maybe I need to knit a coat too...