Friday, January 27, 2006

General knitting and spinning and a cautionary tale

I've been tired this week. So so tired. *snore*. Didn't feel too hot on Wednesday and while I am OK again now my energy just seems to have evaporated. So strange, as I can't really complain about lack of sleep either. I've been crawling into bed before 10.30pm most evenings and I've been sleeping like a log. Must be the season - winter usually starts getting to me by the end of January.

Because I've been so tired and because we have been quite busy with lots of other things, I haven't done a lot of knitting or spinning recently. I still haven't started the handspun cardi, but I am planning on taking the yarn up to Yorkshire with me this weekend so I can start swatching for it. We've been quite busy renovating and decorating recently - it's pretty certain now that in 6 months to a year's time we'll move up north... I'm still in two minds how I feel about it. On the one hand I'm attached to the Midlands - I've never lived anywhere else in the UK for any length of time, and we both have a lot of friends in the area - but on the other hand it's exciting. The house is fabulous, even though it's quite run down and virtually uninhabitable right now. It has a big garden and some outbuildings! I am already fantasising about my own little workshop to dye wool and to set up a pottery work shop with my new wheel. D says he will build a kiln for me once we are up there. :-) But for now it's more about plastering and electrics and scraping wallpaper off the walls... I suspect that it's going to be all about that for quite some time yet!

The one thing I have been working on, knitting-wise, is a pair of Jaywalker socks. Yes, I have caved and have joined the phenomenon that is the Jaywalker, and you know what? I like the pattern. Really really like it. It's easy enough to remember (I seem to have a complete inability to remember lace patterns - I need to double-check every single row, sometimes even while I am working on it!), so I don't need to unfold my pattern whereever I happen to sit . At the same time it looks good, and much more immediately than lace does, which can look so bad until it is stretched out and blocked properly... I am using some of the yarn that my Holiday Secret Pal Sherrill gave me and I think it suits the pattern rather well:

I still have a long way to go, of course, and I'm not the fasted sock-knitter out there either... Foolish of me then, to join this year's Sockapaloooza, no? Still, I must have had a kind of rush to the head, because that is exactly what I have done! ;-)

I have also joined Lolly's new KAL, Project Spectrum. It starts in March, with the colours red and pink, so I figured I'd have lots of time to decide on a project and maybe even start knitting. At the moment I am contemplating combining it with another KAL project I really want to knit - the Tivoli tank for the Sexy Knitter's KAL. Tivoli in a sexy red? What to you think? :-)

Other than that, I have no knitting news to report. I have, however, almost finished spinning the Soy Silk fibre that I dyed about a week ago. This is such strange stuff. Spinning it is a lot like spinning silk, but the resulting yarn is so odd - it twists, and then seems to stay in the twist as if the twist was already set. Does that make any sense? What I mean is that it seems to be almost impossible to overspin the stuff. I may ply it anyway, though, to balance the colours, if not the yarn!

I am quite interested in how the colours have come out through the spinning. There seems to be a lot of green, not very much brown, and almost no blue, even though all three colours were quite evenly distributed over the roving. Maybe the green works particularly well with the cream/beige natural colour of the fibre? The single is very very soft and has a lot of lustre, so I am curious what it will look like when I ply it. It's spun very thinly and even plyed it shouldn't me much thicker than maybe fingering weight, so there is quite a lot of it, even from the tiny bit of roving I dyed. Maybe it will be enough for a small knitting project at least?

And last but not least, I want to leave you with a little cautionary tale:

A few months ago, I bought some Blue Faced Leicester fleece from a seller on ebay. The description initially didn't say anything about the type of fibre, but I emailed the seller and was assured that this was soft Blue Faced Leicester fibre, suitable for spinning and knitting. Reassured, I ordered about 1kg of fleece. The bag with the fibre was delivered quickly, but I didn't have time to check it properly because my workload was so bad at the time. It looked a little rough to me, but I thought that it was just dirty.

Well, a few days ago I finally had time to wash some of the fleece. Taking it out of the bag I was again struck by how rough the fibre felt to the touch. Also, the texture seemed kempy rather than woolly. Tough, wiry long hairs... I was starting to wonder, but still, I gave it a go and washed a batch of it, and let it dry.

It is dry now, and I can say for sure that no way this is Blue Faced Leicester. I would almost swear that it is Welsh Mountain or something of the sort - very rough , kempy and tough. There are bits of downy and soft fibre, though, which is a bit confusing and makes me wonder if the seller mixed Welsh Mountain with a bit of Blue Faced Leicester... This is what the washed fibre looks like, after I had picked out a lot of the rough bits - unfortunately I didn't think to take a picture of the fleece before I did that:

Still quite kempy, no?

I'm not sure what to do with this. I was so angry when I realised, that I thought about throwing the whole lot out, but then I started picking out the really kempy bits and discarding them. What is left is semi-soft, so I may try and spin it to see what I get... Still, this means discarding about half the fleece. At least now that I know I can do so before washing it and saving myself the effort! I have started carding it, and it does feel quite a bit softer when it comes off the drum carder, but still, I am not convinced... I guess I will have to spin some of it to get any real idea of how rough or soft it will eventually be and what the fibre can be used for.

In any case, this is the first and the last time I buy fleece on ebay. You just never know what you will get and although the fleece wasn't expensive as such, paying for the postage adds quite a substantial amount.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

I can't believe January is almost over! Where has the month gone?

It's probably just me and my work-avoidance tactics, but I feel like time is flying, recently...

D and I spent last weekend in Manchester with D's brother and his fiancée. They had given us a cookery course as a belated wedding present, so on Saturday morning, that's where we went. The course was by held in the Cordon Vert Cookery School of the Vegetarian Society, which is near Manchester. We went to one of their day courses, titled Quick and Easy Vegetarian Dishes - such fun!

We were a group of 9 people and the course organisers then split us into three groups of 3 people each. Over the next few hours we were first shown a few recipes and then we set out to make 5 dishes per group, to be finished by 2.45 pm, at which point we would all sit down to eat what we'd made. Would you have thought to make a soup out of half and Iceberg lettuce, some peas and some mint? Let me tell you, it's delicious!

Apart from the Pea and Lettuce Soup, there were also Marinated Tomatoes and Char-grilled Aubergine, a Smokey Artichoke Risotto, a Carrot and Lentil Salad with Spicy Dressing, a yummy Sundried Tomato and Chilly Polenta, a Mexican Bean Salad with Peach and Mango Salsa, Mini-Pavlovas with Frozen Yoghurt and Rhubarb, Ginger and Fig Fool with Passion Fruit in Filo Flowers. All with a minimum of fat and a maximum of taste.

Honestly, I don't think that (xmas being the exception) I have ever slaved so hard in a kitchen on a Saturday, but it really was fun and the meal afterwards, accompanied by wine and classical music, just rounded the day off. It was interesting meeting new people, and, although neither D nor I are vegetarians (although we usually avoid red meat) it was great to learn a few good and quick vegetarian dishes. I always feel that, although I love to eat them, they tend to be more of an effort to make - all that washing and chopping... Now I have a few dishes that I wouldn't mind making every now and then and that don't take forever.

By the time D's brother picked us up around 4 pm, we were barely able to roll into the car. I had 4 (!) helpings of the delicious desserts! And guess what - around 8 pm we were hungry again anyway and decided to go into Manchester for a Korean meal. I haven't eaten Korean food for such a long time, so this was a special treat. We ended up with a kind of banquet - little bowls of various dishes covering the entire table.

All in all, great fun was had, although it seems that D and I are getting old - both of us have been so tired since we've come back! In fact, I wanted to post yesterday but I had to give up and lie down on the sofa instead! ;-)

At least I managed to get a bit of knitting and spinning done. I have started spinning the bit of Soya Silk that I dyed the other day and, as for knitting, I have caved - my first Jaywalker Sock is in the making... Photos of that in my next post.

For now, I am leaving you with the pretty sight of another parcel that finally made its way to me. The lovely Sherrill of Baa Bonny Belle, who I was lucky enough to have as my Secret Pal for the Holiday SP round on the Knitty board sent me an xmas parcel! Here are the goodies:

The parcel, just opened:

And a picture of it all unpacked:

The white stuff is Romney roving and, so I understand, from her own sheep!! Then there is a CD with xmas songs in a really pretty handmade case, and a whole batch of Kool-Aid. Also, not to forget, a pretty pretty xmas card.

Isn't she fabulous? Thank you so much Sherrill!! I'm completely thrilled!

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Look what arrived today...

Well, yesterday, really...

It's the long-lost parcel from my lovely Secret Pal Round 6 who I can now reveal as Melissa. I've already added her blog la la la to my sidebar. She is a very interesting lady with many talents, who knits, spins, and crafts, and who goes to Arts School, and she's been a fantastic Secret Pal to me over the past few months. Thank you Melissa, you've been great! :-)

The parcel took a whole month to arrive and I think we'd both almost given up on it. The Post Office must have been seriously over-worked around in December for it to take this long! I picked it up last night on my way to a knitter's meeting and I could hardly wait to open it when I got home. Here is what it looked like when I got the box open:

It smelled deliciously of lavender, which was the first thing I noticed after I had recovered from my initial high of seeing 2 skeins of Lorna's Laces Shepherd's Sock in the box. This is my first ever Lorna's Laces!!

After I opened the rest of the presents the source of the smell became clear - it's a bar of lovely Mountainside natural handmade lavender soap. Lavender is actually one of my favourite plants and I have several varieties in my garden. Here is a picture of the rest of the parcel unwrapped, and you can see the bar of soap tucked in front of one of the bottles and next to the Kool-Aid:

Isn't that an amazing parcel? There is a beautiful skein of Manos yarn, and some cute little stitch markers, not to mention the yummy body lotion and the ton of Kool-Aid! And then the fibre, the fibre... More of the burnt-orange Corriedale, so I will be able to spin some more of my 'Juicy' yarn - maybe it will become a cosy sweater... And two bags of fibre from Copper Moose - a silk and wool blend and some merino. The colours are so beautiful.

Thank you so much Melissa, your parcel made my day. You are an absolute star! :-)

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

A riot of colour...

Isn't it? I couldn't resist taking a picture of this bowl full of fibre. It sits in my living room, just by the window. :-)


Well, not feeling 100% and having submitted my work a whole 5 minutes before the deadline, I decided that I needed to treat myself a little and took a bit of time off yesterday.

I wonder if this tendency to 'treat myself' has any impact on why I always work to such tight deadlines?



Still reeling from the shock of discovering that my cute Button Hat will never be worn by me (no, not even in private), I decided to knit a hat that I will be able to wear. I quickly dug out that lovely and squishy chunky yarn that my Secret Pal 6 sent to me - I think it's from Handpainted Yarn, although I'm not entirely sure - and my trusty 8mm Addi Circs and cast on. No pattern this time, I just made it up as I went along. A few hours later I had this:

It's basically a K2, P2 pattern, knitted on 1 circular needle, using the Magic Loop technique. I knitted something like 9.5'', then decreased once, using K2tog, P2tog all the way round. 6 more rows in K1, P1 and then one row where I decreased again, this time simply by doing P2tog all the way round. The remaining 12 stitches were tied together with a tapestry needle. Presto! One hat finished!

All very easy, and the best thing is? It fits! And it doesn't look odd - well, at least not more odd than hats normally look. See?

Just ignore the goofy expression, OK? I don't know what I was doing.

Anyway, I love it. It's squishy and incredibly warm and cozy. Can't wait to wear it out.


Another thing I treated myself with yesterday was some Koolaid dyeing. I hadn't done any dyeing for months and my order from Wingham Wool Work had arrived in the morning, so I had lots of fibre I wanted to test. Here are the dyeing results, all hanging up to dry:

On the left is a batch of Wensleydale Tops. I had dyed some of this ages ago and had started to spin it up, only to realise that there wasn't nearly enough. It was a bit tricky to get the same colours, but fortunately I had made notes and I think it's more or less correct.

On the right is some Merino that I had left from my merino/bfl ply, and I dyed it simply to see how the fibres would behave. I get the feeling that I managed to felt them ever so slightly when I stuck them in the microwave, but I fluffed them up a bit when they were dry and it seems OK. This is what it looks like when dry:

Finally, on the middle hook is a small amount of Soya Bean Fibre. I wasn't sure how this would take the dye and, predictably, it didn't work very well. It was odd really - all the dye seemed to be stuck on the outside and didn't penetrate into the middle of the string of roving.

I remember reading that Koolaid basically only works well on animal fibres and after this experiment I can confirm that. That said, the pale colourway that I achieved is actually quite pleasing, in particular as the fibre has such a sheen to it.

Well, and that's the end of today's post. No more to see here. Move along now. :-)

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

You know what I hate? Working to a far-too-tight deadline.

I spent more or less all weekend finishing a piece of writing, then had to pull an almost-all-nighter on Sunday night and work all day Monday to get it finished. Now, of course, I'm ill. Sore throat, the beginnings of a cold, slight headache... Fun, fun, fun.

What is also not so fun is knitting a hat out of lovely and soft Artesano Alpaca only to find upon finishing it that it looks like I am wearing a condom on my head. Seriously, it looks so ridiculous. Even D, who usually always has the wisdom to praise my knitted FOs had to admit that it isn't great:

See what I mean? And I really liked the pattern as well - it's the Button Hat pattern from Naive Knitting. I still think it's a really cute pattern - heck, I even really like the way the hat has turned out. It's the hat on my funny-shaped head that isn't a success. Such a pretty pattern... but it evidently isn't for me.

Anyway, that is one FO to be frogged in the near future...

Apart from working on my condom hat, I also finished a few spinning projects. First of all, I finally got round to carding and spinning some of the lovely Jacob fleece and Mohair that Carolyn at Kids and Knits sent me a while back. I didn't want to post about it before because I wanted so send it to her as a little thank you and wanted it would be a surprise, but she has now received the parcel, so I am free to show a picture:

My first handspun that was also prepared right from the fleece. The small skein is about 80% Mohair, 15% Jacob and 5% Silk (or thereabouts). I think it's probably around sock-weight. The bigger skein is 100% Jacob and its about aran weight. The yarn could be a little more even, but I was still experimenting with the carder and with the different texture of hand-prepared batts. Also, it isn't entirely easy to card Mohair on a drum carder. I am getting better at it, but the first try was a bit crazy. ;-)

And, because someone asked me to post a picture of the carder, here it is in all its glory:

D did such a fantastic job in building it. We initially had some problems with the direction that the card cloth needs to face, but the spinning group on LiveJournal came to the rescue, and it's all working now. The drums are probably not as 100% even as they would be with a bought carder, but overall it's working a treat.

I have also finally finished spinning and plying all the yarn that want to use for
Norah Gaughan's side-way ribs cardigan from the Fall/Winter issue of Knitscene:

10 skeins of white merino and brown Blue Faced Leicester, equalling approximately 650 m of yarn. Here is a close-up so you can see the colour variegation:

It's a 2-ply, but I used both white and brown in one of the singles to make sure that the brown wouldn't be too overpowering in the finished yarn. The result is a sort of mottled effect that I am quite happy with. Mmmm, pretty, squishy yarn. :-)

And last but not least, call me insane, but I have signed up for the 200Sox KAL that Purling Ps is hosting. 2006, the year of the sock(s):

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Self Portrait Tuesday - Personal History #1

With everything else going on it's been a while since I've last posted anything for SPT, but this new challenge was too good to pass up, in particular as only yesterday evening I had a conversation with a friend who is staying over and saw all the old photographs in our hall. I was amazed that she recognised members of my family from the pictures and was able to pick out resemblances and family links.

This is a picture of my great grandmother on my granddad's side.

In On Photography, Susan Sontag states:

'All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person's (or thing's) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time's relentless melt' (Sontag, p. 15).

I think this is true. Every photograph, while capturing the world, also captures a moment in time, always already past, gone, never to return. It gives photographs, even of the most mundane subjects, an air of nostalgia and longing.
When I look at old pictures like this one they reveal as much as they hide. I long to grasp what links me to the woman that was my great grandmother. Who was she?

I have heard about her of course. My grandmother and my father both told me. Beautiful she was, imposing, and cold, apparently. She ruled the family, and where my grandmother's mother was warm and nurturing, she was stern and disciplined. Unlikely to be indulgent, even towards her grandchildren. It was her husband who would sometimes slip a few pennies into my father's hand to buy sweets with. Secretly, so she wouldn't know. He also grew tobacco in the back of the garden after the war so he could continue smoking, even when cigarettes were hard to come by. I wonder what she thought of that.

My father, so I gather, was not too fond of this grandmother and always preferred to visit my gran's mother and father, who were kind and happy to spoil their grandchild with love and affection. Nevertheless, or possibly because of what I know of her, I feel curiously drawn to look at my great grandmother's photograph, trying to merge what I see and what I hear into one image of who she was. Yesterday, when looking at a picture of my great grandmother on the wall, our friend asked me if she was one of my relatives and noted the facial similarities between her and my father.

Old family photographs are like that. They beckon with mysteries. They show our links with the past, show us that we 'belong', but at the same time they are symbols of time, passing. Of what we don't know. Will never know.

Other interpretations of the theme can be found in the Self Portrait Tuesday Blog.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

All I want for x-mas...

... is apparently to be dependent on public transport.

You know, when I was a little girl, I always wished that Santa Claus would bring me a pony for Christmas. Little did I know that what I *really* wanted all these years was a burnt out car.

But guess what? That's what I got!

My poor little car burnt out a few days before Xmas. Spectacularly. There was police, and the firebrigade, and neighbours in their pyjamas and dressing gowns (yours truly included). There were explosions, and there were flames high enough to burn part of our neighbour's conifer hedge down.

What all this boils (or rather, burns) down to is that now I have no car and have to battle around with the insurance company. Lovely.

Life is busy at the moment. There is the car-less existence, which means that it takes me a lot longer than usually go get from A to B, there is work, there is house DIY, there is the fact that next week we will have a friend staying over, which translates into clean-the-house-top-to-bottom, and then there is that article that I need to get ready for, oh, only the 16th of this month, so I can submit it to be considered for publication. I'm also still aiming for a March deadline with the PhD, so that's not really an endlessly long way off.

With all this happening, knitting and spinning has been minimal. I am continuing to work on both, but progress is slow. At least I have finished the little hat (Umbilical cord hat from SNB) to go with the baby booties:

All in all, I am pleased with it, and I can see why people like knitting for babies - it's so quick! Still, baby Felix is born by now, so I have decided that rather than knit a baby cardigan, or force myself to finish the little knitted bunny that I am working on in a hurry (will be a present for another pregnant friend instead), I might just buy something in Monsoon to add to the gift.

My next project will definitely be to knit the Side-Way Ribs cardigan from Knitscene. I have *almost* completed spinning the yarn for it, so I am holding off showing the yarn until then. It's my first handspun that I have spun with a specific project in mind, so I'm rather excited. Hopefully it will turn out the way I am hoping it will...

And last but not least, the lovely Mia from Way Past My Bedtime, who I had the pleasure of spoiling during Secret Pal 6, has sent me a little parcel. Look at that gorgeous scarf:

Isn't it wonderful? And I love the little bag as well. Thank you so much Mia, I'm thrilled with your lovely gift. How thoughtful of you to send me something in return. :-)