Thursday, December 28, 2006

To Macman From Wool Winder

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This is the Christmas gift I began knitting in October for my son, Matt. He is the computer geek in our family and is a big fan of Macs so I knew this design would be perfect for him. I didn't see it coming, but this hat has been one challenge after another.

It all began with an unsuccessful search for superwash wool in black and white. Matt does his own laundry now and I wanted this easy care feature to prevent accidental felting. I decided handwash wool would be fine when I couldn't find what I was looking for. After all, how many college students think to wash their hats anyway?

I knitted up a hat and promptly ripped it out. I was too short and I didn't like the gauge.

My second attempt was better. I went down a needle size. The gauge was good, the length was right, but the circumference was a little loose on my head. I was hopeful that it would fit Matt though, so I went ahead and added the duplicate stitching. It was only after I took the picture above, that I realized the apple motif didn't exactly match the chart. I let the hat sit a few days to see if I could live with it. I couldn't, so I reworked the motif.

On Christmas day, Matt opened his gift. He liked it, but yes, it was a little too big. No problem, I thought, it will shrink when washed. I threw it in the wash and watched it carefully. The hat shrunk in length and expanded in width. The circumference increased by at least two inches. Very strange.

Back to square one. Today I went shopping for more black and white wool. This time I found superwash! I'm going to take this as a sign that this next (and hopefully last) attempt will be a breeze. Wish me luck. Pattern details when I get it right.

Monday, December 25, 2006

A New Toy Under The Tree

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Thanks to my wonderful husband, I am now the proud owner of spinning wheel! It's The Sonata made by Kromski. This wheel folds down and packs away in a padded bag which makes it perfect for traveling or storage. It is constructed from European alder and birch. The double treadle, the folding feature and the beautiful turned wood details are what convinced me that this was the wheel I wanted. The price was a factor too. I thought it was reasonably priced when compared to other similar wheels. The Woolery had the best deal for the wheel and bag combined, offering 50% off the bag when purchased together.

I've spent all day getting to know this wheel. My first attempt at spinning was a bit awkward. In the beginning I was thinking too much--trying to duplicate the techniques I'd read about for drafting. It wasn't working well, so I decided to handle the fiber in whatever way felt natural. Things began to fall into place after that and I got the hang of how the fibers should slip by one another. Eventually my hands and brain began to work together and yarn filled the spool. I haven't taken pictures of this yarn yet so I'll try to describe it: It's single ply, natural color merino, over twisted in some places, under twisted in others, with short stretches of "hey, that's pretty good". My first instinct is to call it ugly, but I think primitive sounds better, don't you?

Learning to spin is going to be a different experience for me than learning to knit. I don't think it's going to be as easy, but with practice, patience and private instruction I'm going to figure it out and have fun in the process.

Friday, December 22, 2006

That Looks Better

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Last night we decorated the tree. Our tradition has always been to do this as a family. Getting everyone together on a night that we didn't have other things to do was a challenge this year, but it was worth waiting for. Matt's girlfriend, Barbara, was even able to be here. We shared a nice supper, trimmed the tree, then sat around enjoying our time together. Matt played his guitar and John joined in on the mandolin.

Our tree is decorated with a hodgepodge of ornaments: a felt bag filled with balsam needles sewn together by John's mother, star burst ornaments made from the spiny fruit of a sweet gum tree, a bendy Santa toy that the kids creatively hang every year, ice skates crafted from felt and paperclips, dollar store finds that look like antique ornaments and peppermint candy canes that can be picked off and eaten at any time. The oldest thing on the tree though is the angel on top. It was given to me on my first Christmas forty-six years ago. It is worn and ragged now, but holds memories of Christmases when I was just a little girl and it topped our family tree then.

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And though I didn't plan on knitting gifts for Christmas, I ended up making a few. Here is one that is safe to show.

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The pattern for this set is in the book Felted Knits. The oven mitt is knitted from Jazz by Artful Yarns (50% alpaca, 50% wool). It's been in my stash for a couple of years. The dark blue yarn is White Buffalo. John has pronounced this oven mitt and trivet "the coolest thing you've ever made". A free pattern for a similar mitt can be found here (for the pdf file and picture, be sure to click the link at the top the pattern).

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

At Least There Are Presents

The tree is not decorated yet, but most of the presents are wrapped. Here's a little gift I put together for my neighbor.

Gingerbread Coffee Creamer and Felted Coasters

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Jean shared the recipe for this tasty creamer on her blog recently. I decided to try it and I really enjoyed the spicy flavor. I used it in a cup of coffee, but it can also be added to hot tea. If you like your coffee or tea extra sweet, you will probably want to add more sugar. I liked it just the way it is.

The coasters were knitted from a pattern in Felted Knits. They are worked on circular needles back and forth in garter stitch and then stitches are picked up all around for the border which is also worked in garter stitch.

You can find a free pattern for felted coasters here. They are round instead of square and worked in stockinette stitch.

These coasters are a great way to use up leftover bits of yarn. Also, you might consider knitting one as a test swatch for a larger felted project. Not only will you get a good idea of how well the yarn will felt, you will also have a finished object to add to your list.

Monday, December 18, 2006

No Tree Over $35.00... matter what the tag says.

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The one advantage to waiting until the week before Christmas to buy a tree is that you can usually find a good deal. This year, because we've been traveling so much, we had no choice but to wait. Our family tradition is to decorate the tree together, so that won't happen until John returns home from his business trip. I suppose it wouldn't be a good idea to leave it undecorated, though I'm tempted to.

Recently at a party we were asked to share a favorite Christmas memory with everyone. We immediately thought of our first Christmas together as a married couple. We were poor college students then and couldn't justify blowing the budget on a tree until we were sure John would be employeed after graduation. The job offer came and we celebrated by shopping for a tree. With only $20 to spend, it was a challenge to find a fir tree (Scotch Pine would not satisfy my Vermont husband) that we could afford in South Texas. We finally found a beautiful tree with only one flaw--the top 1/3 of the tree was broken off! To balance out the missing top, I bought a large plastic doll with golden hair at the dollar store and transformed it into an angel. The only real money we spent on decorating the tree was for the lights. What a sight that tree was! Yet, it will always be our favorite.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Simple Socks

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Pattern: Basic stockinette sock worked on 64 stitches with short row heels and toes.
Short row socks have become my favorite to knit. I use the technique described by Priscilla A. Gibson-Roberts in her book Simple Socks Plain and Fancy.

Yarn: Lana Grossa Meilenweit Multiringel 80% New Wool, 20% Polymid
I bought this yarn at the Stitchin' Post in Saratoga Springs, New York. This shop was a jumble of yarn. I don't think the owner ever threw anything out. Bags of yarn were stuffed in every spare inch of space. I often had to squeeze around the shelves and step over things. The shopping experience could best be described as a treasure hunt. If you dig long enough you will find a treasure to bring home.

Color: 5030
The colors in this yarn are rose, mauve, dark green and dark brown. There was something about this combination that caught my eye, though I wouldn't say this is a color I would normally gravitate to. I love the way it knitted up.

Needles: US 1 double points
Some people like double points and some don't. I'm definitely a fan. In fact, they are my favorite needles to use! I've recently started using Crystal Palace 6 inch bamboo needles for socks. I like the finish and sharp points on this brand. For other knitting in the round I use Brittany needles in a longer length.

Start to Finish: 10/6/06-12/12/06
These socks have been my travel knitting for the last couple of months. Most of the stitches have been knitted in planes and hotel rooms. The first sock was cast on in Salt Lake City and was knitted on in Georgia, Florida, a little bit at home in Texas and then completed in Virginia. I cast on for the second sock at the airport in Maryland just last Friday and finished it today in Salt Lake City--full circle. A new pair of socks will be cast on later today because I'll need some knitting for the flight home tomorrow. The next pair will be for John.

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The weather here in Salt Lake City hasn't been the best. The weatherman describes it as unsettled. We arrived on Sunday afternoon early enough to beat the snow. It snowed that evening and there was a little accumulation left Monday morning. It was a treat for this southern girl. Since then, it's been overcast most of the time, sometimes to point of obscuring the view of the mountains. I ventured out yesterday to visit Black Sheep Wool Co. and today I drove over to Three Wishes Fiber Arts. A little fiber shopping is a sure way to brighten any day. Details later.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Knit When You Can

Once again I'm back to knitting in airports and on airplanes. I'm tagging along with John this week. We flew to Birmingham, Alabama on Wednesday, rented a car and have worked our way up to Charlottesville, Virginia. This trip has been work related and there has been little time for sightseeing, knitting or photography. There has been lots of time to talk as we drive and I've been enjoying that. Tomorrow (Friday) we fly home from Baltimore, Maryland. Then Sunday we fly to Salt Lake City, Utah. It's a whirlwind tour!

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My travel knitting is usually a pair of socks, though in this picture (taken on our last trip) I'm working on a hand mitt. It was finished in time to be included as part of a "pamper yourself" birthday gift for our daughter.

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Pattern Book: Heirloom Knitter Heavenly Cotton Soap Socks and More
Yarn: Rowan 4 ply cotton
Needles: US 2 16" circular and US 2 dpns

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Monday, December 04, 2006

Sewing It Up

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I always try to include some sewn blankets with my knitted donations for The Preemie Project. I spent most of the day cutting and sewing ten small (20"x20") blankets for the December babies.

These blankets are simple to make:

Cut two pieces of fabric one inch larger than you want the finished blanket to be. Sew together, right sides facing, leaving an opening large enough to turn the blanket right side out. Finish with some top stitching. I used a decorative scallop satin stitch.

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Friday, December 01, 2006

Second Verse, Same As The First

Except this one is blue.

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Pattern: Sleeper Sack
Yarn: Plymouth Yarn Dreambaby D.K.
Needles: US 3
Size: Less than 1 lb. (chest circumference: 8", length: 11")

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This set took about ten hours to make and is my last item for Knit Unto Others. It's been a productive two weeks. Items made for KUO and The Preemie Project include eight preemie sized Santa hats with matching booties and two tiny bereavement sets for a total of forty-four hours of knitting.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Knit Unto Others

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Pattern: Sleeper Sack
Yarn: Plymouth Yarn Dreambaby D.K.
Needles: US 3
Size: Less than 1 lb. (chest circumference: 8", length: 11")

There's been a whole lot of knitting going on at my house! Participating in KUO has given me the motivation I need to get together a nice donation for The Preemie Project. For me, knitting bereavement clothing it is the most important charity work I do. This gown has become my favorite to knit. It's simple, no frills look makes it perfect for a boy. I only wish you could see it in person, because the picture doesn't do it justice. The Dreambaby yarn is incredibly soft and perfect for this pattern. I still have enough to make another set like this in blue and there are still a few days left of KUO, so why stop now?

Monday, November 27, 2006

That's Enough

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I've reached my limit. Eight Santa hats with matching booties for The Preemie Project. I began the first hat last Monday (though I didn't post about it until Friday) and finished the last pair of booties this morning. Each set represents three hours of knitting. I consider this time well spent. Knitting for others gives purpose to my passion.

For the rest of the week, I'll continue Knit Unto Others by working on a bereavement set (also for The Preemie Project). I haven't decided which pattern to use yet, but I have decided on the yarn: Plymouth Dreambaby. I was lucky enough to leave the 300th comment on Megan's blog, Woolly Interlude, and win this great yarn along with some beautiful Lorna's Laces.
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Thanks, Megan! You must have handpicked this especially for me. It will be put to good use.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Be Thankful...

and Knit Unto Others. That's what I'll be doing for the next couple of weeks. I'm knitting Santa hats and booties for The Preemie Project until the red yarn runs out or I get sick of it, whichever comes first.

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The hat pattern I'm using is my own version. There are other patterns here, here and here, if you would like to join me in knitting for the babies. For the booties, I'm using a variation of this pattern.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

V Neck Cardigan

The cardigan was finished just in time for our trip to Florida, so in the suitcase it went to be photographed on our travels.

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John didn't mind pulling off the highway for a photo shoot on Tampa Bay. It's not hard to convince a fisherman to stop by the water.

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Pattern: Knitting Pure & Simple Neckdown V Neck Shaped Cardigan #241
Yarn: Berroco Ultra Alpaca (50% Alpaca, 50% Wool) Color 6279
Needles: 24" circular US 6 and 4; 16" circular US 6; US 6 double points
Started: October 19, 2006
Finished: November 10, 2006

This is the third sweater I've made since I began knitting. The first two were knitted before I began blogging, so I have never shown pictures of those. Maybe I will one day. This however, is the first sweater I've knitted from the top down and the first that is knitted in one piece. If you dislike seaming, this sweater is for you. I enjoyed knitting it very much. The large amount of stockinette stitch made it the perfect knitting project to pack in my suitcase to have for knitting on the road.

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The pattern was well written and easy to understand. The only thing I wondered about was that the materials list said you would need a set of size 4 double points, but nowhere in the instructions were they ever used.

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The yarn I used is well suited to this pattern and a dream to work with. Also a good buy at just under $9 for 215 yards a skein. I used almost five skeins to knit the small size which is a little less than the pattern called for. The pattern is written for six sizes from XS to XXL.

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Simple design and styling makes this a sweater that's easy to knit, will go with everything and will look good on just about every body type. I'm going to be wearing this one often.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Greetings From Florida

We don't stay home long, do we? We're here on business, but today there was no work allowed. Took the boat ride to Caladesi Island State Park, one of the few remaining undeveloped barrier islands in the state.

The beach overlooks the Gulf of Mexico.
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Shells are plentiful.
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I picked up several to bring home.
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John landed a Devil Ray.
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It's not every day you get to see one of these on a knitting blog.
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One last view of the Gulf before we left the beach and hiked the nature trail.
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The nature trail winds through the interior of the island. We were told to be watchful for Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes. We didn't see any.
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The boat returned us to Honeymoon Island State Park. And, since there was still a little daylight left, we decided to see the sights here too. I read that Americans got their first glimpse of Honeymoon Island in the early 1940s through Paramount newsreels and LIFE magazine ads. The ads promised undiscovered pleasures for newlyweds lucky enough to win a glamorous two-week Florida get-away.

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It was a good day.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Kid 'N Ewe and Lamas Too 2006

I almost talked myself out of driving to Boerne on Saturday for the fiber festival when I pulled the map out the night before and really looked at how far away it is from my house. It seemed a lot further than I remembered, but I decided to go anyway. It took me fours hours to get there and because I had to be back home for a dinner at 6:00, I only had a couple of hours to look around and eat lunch.

It's a small event and I was able to see everything in that time, but not able to spend much time at any one thing. Most everything is indoors which is good in case it rains, but not so good for taking pictures. Many of the photos I took turned out blurry because I didn't use the flash.

The animals are the only part of the festival that's outside.
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I was glad to see more people in attendance at this festival than last year's. Last year I remember it was hot, but this year the weather was perfect. Maybe that was the difference. It looked like people were spending money too which is good for the vendors and will encourage them to keep coming.

There was lots and lots of roving for sale, spinning wheels, spindles and everything a spinner could ever imagine.
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Brooks Farm was there and not one knitter could walk by without being sucked into their booth and a the very least touching and drooling over their yarn. Most couldn't leave without purchasing some yarn to bring home and I was no exception.
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I think I bought enough of the red (Cinnamon Spice?) Duet for a sweater and the Four Play will probably become a scarf or something small like that. I was hoping to buy some of their sock yarn that I had heard they have started selling at shows, but they sold out before this show and didn't receive their shipment in time.

Two hours went by very fast and then it was time to hit the road again. The drive home took only 3 1/2 hours. That makes a total of 7 1/2 hours of driving for two hours of fiber festival. Was it worth it? Yes. Will I go back next year? Yes, but only if I don't have a schedule to keep. By the way, I made it home in time for the dinner.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Home Stretch

The title of this post is significant in two ways:

1. You may have noticed there are no travel photos this week. That's because I'm actually home for a change. I think this is the first week in two months that I've been able to stay home and just catch up on things. When you spend as much time traveling as we have lately, you tend to get behind and lose touch. All time is devoted to getting ready to travel, traveling and then recovering from the trip, just to start the process over again in a day or two. It's nice to have a little break and I've been enjoying this "home stretch", no matter how brief.

2. The second "home stretch" refers to the progress I've made on my cardigan.

All that's left to finish knitting is one sleeve. It won't be long now.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Fiber Festival

This weekend, November 10-12, is the Kid 'N Ewe and Lamas Too fiber festival in Boerne, Texas. It will be held at the Kendall County Fairgrounds and is open to the public beginning at noon on Friday. This is a small festival, but still has a lot to offer--vendors, workshops, animals and demonstrations.

I went last year and was pleased to find some wonderful vendors like Brooks Farm and Wyatt Wheels.
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Both are scheduled to be at Kid 'N Ewe again this year. For a complete list of vendors, click here.

Think I'll drive over on Saturday. Hope to see you there.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Sweetgrass Baskets

My favorite part of our visit to Charleston was walking through the Market and watching the ladies make sweetgrass baskets. Sweetgrass basket making has existed in the South Carolina Lowcountry for more than 300 years. This traditional art form was brought to this area by the slaves who came from West Africa. Since then it has been passed down from generation to generation, usually from mother to daughter to granddaughter, though the whole family is often involved. Traditionally the men gather the materials (sweetgrass, longleaf pine needles, bulrush and palmetto leaves) and the women "sew" the baskets.

It is fascinating to watch the basketmaker "sew" her basket. The tools of the trade (other than the natural materials) include a pair of scissors and a "nailbone". A nailbone is used for piercing when making a sweetgrass basket. In the old days a rib bone from a cow or pig was filed down for this. Today most basketmakers use a filed down silver spoon or fork or even a nail.

Each basket begins about the same with a coiled circular or oval shaped bottom, but can become one of a hundred or more styles. A small basket of a simple design can take up to twelve hours to complete, while a larger complex design can take months.

I knew I wanted to buy a basket to take home. I walked through the whole market before deciding to buy a basket from Sue Middleton.

Something about her baskets caught my eye. They are beautifully made and the coils are very uniform and tightly sewn--the work of an experienced basketmaker. I finally decided to buy a round bread basket that incorporated all of the materials in it's design.

The lightest color in this basket is sweetgrass. By the way, it is called this because of it's pleasant fragrance, similar to fresh cut hay. The brown color is pine needle and the black is bulrush. The coils are sewn together with strips of palmetto leaves.

Though sweetgrass baskets are expensive, I don't think the basketmakers are getting rich from this business. They make baskets because they love to and because they don't want this part of their heritage to die out.

I found these quotes made by sweetgrass basketmakers from this article:

Maggie Polite Manigault makes baskets "because she has been doing it for so long that she would feel lost if she didn't sew at least once a day."

"Even though basketweaving is time consuming," says Mae Bell Coakley, "I enjoy it because it's relaxing, kind of therapy."

"Making things with your hands keeps your head together," Mary Jane Manigault reflects. "When you sew baskets, you just concentrate on that one thing. You have to have long patience. You can't be a nervous somebody and make baskets. You have to sit in one place and really get into what you are doing. You can't have your mind running on all kind of different things. You have to have a settled mind."

Sounds a lot like knitting, doesn't it?