Sunday, December 5, 2010

Spinning for Lace, Part 3: Fiber

After some high-powered nudging from an assortment of readers, I've finally gotten around to writing the third in a series of blog posts about spinning lace yarns.

Let's start by defining lace yarn so we know what we are talking about. Just as there's no standard sweater yarn, there's no standard lace yarn--you can knit lace out of hawser line if you have Really Large needles and a good-sized backyard. But conventionally, lace yarn is that which is finer than fingering weight--in the area of 10,000 meters per kilo--about 5,000 yards per pound. The finest handspun I've seen was made by beadlizard: 171,360 meters per kilo (85,000 yards per pound), useful to people with the eyes of a hawk, the patience of Mother Theresa, and the mindset of, well, words fail me.

Bear in mind that the thinnest yarn you can spin is comprised of three fibers. Yarns of this grist were used, three-plied, for Shetland lace.

There are some spinners on Ravelry who aspire to such wispy (and fragile) yarns, and several who have accomplished this impressive feat. I confess to have spent a week making about 100 meters of this stuff out of Optim merino, which was carefully plied on a charkha, wound off into a tiny ball, and reverently placed in a drawer so I can admire it periodically. I have no compelling drive to knit with it anytime soon. I estimate the plied yarn to be about 37,000 yards per pound--about a 150/2 grist.

I am frequently asked what sort of fiber is best for spinning fine lace yarns, and will answer the question this way: There's no Best Fiber, because the ability to spin fine grist is all about fiber preparation.

If the batt or roving is immaculate, my hands will be spinning away as I read a book. Perfectly prepared fiber draws so evenly that, with a bit of practice, you shouldn't have to do more than glance at it once in a while. Clearly, producing an even yarn is just a matter of rhythm. Your hands will be repeating the same steps over and over--draft out a length, twist, and wind on. If the fiber prep is flawless, the rest of you can be doing some thing else--a pleasant application of multi-tasking that's well worth mastering.

If the fiber is less than optimal, I will put it away and use it for another purpose. If there's one thing I have learned, it's that raw material will always dictate what it wants to be. And some of the batts and roving I have bought insist they want to be sock yarn. Or hat yarn. And in one sad unspinnable case, the only thing that fiber wanted to be was stuffing. And so it was.

Here is an example of a lovely, smooth batt eminently suitable for fine lace spinning (the dark pink dot is dye, not a fuzzball):

And here is one that is not:

The nepps (little wads of short fibers or snarls) are circled. You can, of course, hold the batt up the the light and daintily tweeze them out. Not being that energetic, I spun that particular batt (merino, silk, and angora) in a heavier weight yarn and thus avoided all the delicate plucking and concomitant mumbling, and whining.

It's often difficult to tell if a batt is really smooth by inspecting the prettily wrapped or folded fiber you see on the Internet. You can ask the artist to take a picture of the batt with light behind it--most sellers will be happy to show off their carding prowess.

Roving, because it's machine-made, tends to be more uniform than batts. However, if you are buying dyed roving, you need to make sure that the stuff wasn't felted or over-handled by the dyer. A good close-up picture will give you good idea of spinability, but no guarantee.

I almost never get lumps in my yarn, probably because I learned long draw, my preferred spinning technique, from a master spinner in New England 40 years ago. Lumps mean your fiber prep was not perfect and/or the twist is running into the fiber too quickly. You will also get lumps if your fiber is sticky. Some fibers are naturally sticky; others may have too much lanolin and just require a good wash to make them easily slip by each other. Adding silk to a fiber mix dilutes the natural tendency of wool fibers to cling to one another. But too much silk makes for a non-elastic yarn and I like my yarns to be springy.

Because I really hate it when people talk in generalities, I will give a few sources for superior fiber that work especially well with long-draw and supported spindling and have produced, for me, exceptionally wonderful lace yarn.

1. Dragonfly Fibers 65/35 merino silk top. Utterly flawless mixture that's a bit springy, a bit shiny, and altogether perfect for fine drafting.

2. Ever Improving Me Batts. Her batts are scary. There's not a tangle or nepp to be found. Fluffy and perfectly blended, they set a standard for carding fibers for lace. She has also mastered the rare ability to evenly blend in sparkle. Make sure you order smooth batts, though. She also offers art batts--lovely, but not so good for fine yarn. Sorry I don't have a close-up of a batt--I've spun everything I bought from her. No leftovers.

3. Adventures in Fiber Batts: Just as frightening as Every Improving Me products, these batts often feature gorgeous color gradations, which keep me from getting bored with a single color.

4. Optim Top. Optim is a fine merino (19 micron) that has been mechanically stretched to a finer fiber diameter (14 microns) and chemically fixed to prevent bounce-back (14 microns is a typical diameter for cashmere fiber). Optim is silky, lightweight, and and very strong. The three-fiber yarn I showed above was spun with Optim; the picture below is heavier--about 30,000 yards per pound. It's a bit difficult to dye--it resists wetting out and floats around on top of the water for hours. If you don't want to spin white fiber, weight it and then soak it overnight before trying to dye it.

5. Corgi Hill Roving: Heart-melting colors in all sorts of fiber. I am particularly fond of her angora/merino and the wonderful merino/silk blend shown here:

If you take a peek at my Ravelry stash, you'll see that I am helplessly in love with her batts, as well. However, the fibers are sometimes not uniformly blended, which makes it a bit difficult to spin uniform frog hair. For heavier lace yarn, though, you can't go wrong with her carded preps.

It's certainly possible to spin from a loose cloud of fibers--just be certain that the cloud is uniform and doesn't contain bits of short second cuts. For example, here's a lovely sample of Rainbow Farms Pygora goat fiber spun on a Gripping Yarn Snakewood Russian spindle:

And a bit of Rambo's prime German angora, spun on a Russian supported spindle.

Finally, there are vegetable fibers, such as cotton, that can be spun very fine. I don't care to knit with it, so I don't have anything much to say about it. Bamboo and similarly processed plants are just rayon. Some people love the stuff, but I don't care to spin it or knit it either. There are several Etsy artists whose color sense makes me swoon, but they add bamboo to everything. About the kindest thing I can say about bamboo fiber is that it's shiny and cheaper than silk.

The next post in the series will probably cover charkha spinning. Or not! Stay tuned!

Saturday, October 30, 2010


SAFF (Southeastern Animal fiber Fair) is my favorite fiber show--it's relatively small and compact, so it's easy to walk around and not so crowded that we couldn't get into every booth. It's held near Asheville, NC, one of my favorite cities. And, most importantly, there is a surfeit of gorgeous undyed and dyed fiber, tools, and friendly booth keepers.

The Maryland Sheep and Wool Show, which I attended last spring, seemed to feature the same two fiber mega-vendors in almost every booth. There's nothing wrong with their stuff (it's actually very nice), but the same large balls of identical colorways in every direction quickly became monotonous. And MDSW was also jam-packed--I had to pass by many booths because they resembled a Tokyo subway car at rush hour. Never again.

Alas, SAFF's spindle selection was small and unpolished--a big disappointment. We did meet up with The Spanish Peacock, who was perusing the wares with an eye towards having a booth next year. If he shows up, he'll surely be mobbed and sold out within an hour of the opening bell.

I did purchase a dark blue Ann Grout turnip spindle and matching bowl because the set was charming and twirled with a pleasant heft. However, the shaft was a puzzle. Made out of a fragile dowel topped with a useless hook, it was too short to be productive, although the washi-paper shim that held it to the whorl was very pretty. Washi paper not withstanding, I turned the spindle over to The Spanish Peacock, who promised to make a usable (and beautiful) shaft out of Blue Mahoe wood. When it comes home, I will post before and after photos.

As you can see, I had a wonderful time, disgracing myself at Knitty and Color and Dragonfly Fibers. I would have disgraced myself more at Dragonfly, but there was more yarn than roving, and I really don't need any yarn. But then, I didn't need any roving either, so forget about that specious argument and just gaze on the lovely photos.

From Knitty and Color, we have merino/firestar batts ...

and lovely merino roving (the top photo is merino/silk).

From Dragonfly Fibers, I bought merino/silk roving:

And I bought a few miscellaneous fiber thingies that were irresistible. The top photo is merino/angora from Frabjous Fibers. The bottom batt, purchased from a local spinnery, cost me all of $4. It's immense--more than four feet long and two feet wide--and I have forgotten what the wool is (it's very soft, but not merino). I haven't decided what to do with it yet, but it looks tailor-made for those Icelandic shawls that graduate from white to black. Given the size, I can probably knit a dozen of them from the spun yarn.

Harry, of course, spent most of the show terrorizing the animals. While it was amusing to watch herds of llamas and alpacas stampede around the barn, I doubt their owners were pleased. Fortunately, he tired of this activity fairly quickly and settled down inside a cashmere batt. I wonder if the poor lady who purchased it has recovered from the shock yet.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Echo Flower Shawl

I actually finished this little shawlette a few weeks ago, but had a Japanese Embroidery student here from England for several weeks and didn't get around to posting the pictures until today. This shawl pattern is one of those amazing designs that looks exquisite regardless of the yarn or needles used. In addition, you can make it any size you like simply by adding repeats. No advanced arithmetic is necessary to compute border stitches.

I finished the shawl in less than a week, knitting a repeat here and there when I had a few minutes to spare. Yes, it has nupps on the border and those pesky 2-into-9 and 3-into-9 increases, but only every fourth row or so, and was surprisingly easy to knit. The shawl was made with my own AK-47 20/2 silk yarn in the Grapeful colorway on US size #4 needles. I added a few #8 orange beads to the border just because I haven't beaded anything in a while and felt like picking up small round thingies from the floor.

 I fully intend to knit it again with some handspun, and I don't believe I have ever before knitted a shawl pattern twice. It's that sweet a pattern.

This is a short post, so I thought I would take the time to remind everyone that I always reply to comments so long as there is a way to do so. If you don't have a Blogger account or otherwise leave me a way to contact you, all I can do is try to reply by telepathy. This usually doesn't work well because there are mentating animals in and around our house that cause interference.

I am off to SAFF tomorrow, so if you happen to see a short lady with a pink stripe in her hair, stop me and say hello, will you?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Spinning for Lace Part Two: Russian Spindles

As promised, here is a video starring an exquisite ebony Russian Spindle from the Spanish Peacock. The motions are almost identical to those used with Tibetan spindles, but Russian spindles tend to be a bit wobbly until you pack some fiber on them. If you are having trouble starting up with your Russian, wind on some waste yarn until the spindle feels stable.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Spinning for Lace Part One: Tibetan Spindles

Back at the beginning of the year, I promised to make some videos of lace spinning. And today, Roy and I managed to produce the first in the series. My personal comfort zone is a grist that, when two-plied, makes a laceweight yarn and when three-plied, makes a fingering yarn. Needless to say, all the techniques shown can be used to spin other weights of yarn.

I particularly enjoy supported spindles because:

  • You don't have to stand up, lean over or perch on a chair. Spinning can proceed easily in the space allotted for an airplane seat.
  • Supported spindling puts no strain on your wrist, neck, or shoulder. 
  • Unlike the pendulum action of drop spindles, which is sensitive to car movement, supported spindles act like gyroscopes and can be easily used in a moving vehicle.
  • You don't have to worry about dropping your spindle and watching the beautiful wood chip, splinter, snap off, or roll underneath the refrigerator.
  • Yarns spun supported are pouffier. Gravity doesn't yank on the fibers, which can squeeze out the air, producing a less elastic yarn.
  • You can fit a whopping amount of fiber on a supported spindle. I've crammed four ounces on my Spanish Peacock Tibetan. Even better, the more fiber you have on the spindle, the longer it spins.
  • For me, supported spindling is about five times faster than drop spindling. I don't have to stop and wind on after a length, as you will see in the video. Every half-hour or so, I butterfly off the temporary cop at the tip and whirl it onto the lower part of the spindle--a big time-saver.
  • The whirring sound is hypnotizing.
  • Because I am spinning in my lap, I can read a book at the same time, doubling my happiness quotient.
There's no sound in this video, because the process is (I hope!) self-evident. The video is long because there are two slow-motion segments so you can actually see what's going on. And Roy carefully filmed from two different angles over my shoulder so you can spin along with me, if you wish.

I used two different Tibetans in the movie. The first one, with the red merino/firestar yarn, was crafted by The Spanish Peacock. The second, smaller Tibetan Lite was crafted by Grizzly Mountain Arts. Weight is not a big factor with Tibetans, so I never bothered to put them on a scale. The Spanish Peacock spindle is 13" from stem to stern. The Tibetan Lite is only 10". Both are perfectly balanced and a delight to both the eye and the hand.

So, make some popcorn and watch the video. I hope you find it worthwhile!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Fleegle's Fluff Analysis

Before we embarked on our bunny adventure that culminated in the addition of Rambo to our family, we first had to decide what kind of bunny we wanted. Well, clearly we wanted one with a great personality, but aside from that, I wanted prime angora fiber to spin. So we did some research and you guys get to read all about it. Or not. Harry fell asleep on the "H" key in t*e middle of t*e second paragrap*. I couldn't type muc* until *e woke up.


There are four major rabbit wool breeds: Giant, French, English, and Satin. Germans are a subgroup of Giants, and always white. German rabbits don't shed, so they are shorn about four times a year. The other three types are usually plucked, but I gather that some people shave their bunnies in hot weather. Angora fiber is eight times warmer than wool and I suspect that most of them would faint (or worse) in the summer heat we've had this year.

Germans are always white with red eyes; the rest of the breeds come in a dazzling assortment of colors, many of which have lovely, evocative names--frosted pearl, lilac, silver fox, blue, and my favorite, copper agouti. In reality, there are only four colors--white, black, gray, and brown--with an infinite variety of shades, tones, and markings.

Because I wanted to dye the yarn, we started hunting for white rabbits. But before we actually bought one, I needed to do some fiber testing. I therefore ordered small samples of each breed from Etsy vendors--an inexpensive way to dabble in angora spinning.

Angora staple varies considerably, but should be about 1-3" long for pleasant spinning. The German fiber was neatly machine-carded into top. I don't own any carders, so for the other three samples I pulled handfuls of fiber apart several times until I had a semi-orderly mass.

The first bag I opened was the English fiber. And the first few handfuls were delightful to spin--something like yak, if you've ever handled that fiber. The handfuls were fluffy and soft, spinning into a fairly smooth, thin yarn on my electric spinner with occasional blips of short fiber.

To my dismay, however, the bottom half of the bag was full of matted globs and second cuts too short to spin comfortably. Clearly, the owner of this bunny was a meticulous caretaker, because she first clipped off all the long fiber and then went back over bun-bun a second time to make sure all the matted clumps and fuzzy bits were gone. Too bad she decided to pad her retail fiber with them. Half the bag went into the trash can.

I spun the nicely plucked French fiber on a spindle. French angora is noted for its guard hair, which is not the stiff, scratchy stuff found on some sheep, goats and camelids. It's poofier, soft and very fine. In fact, it's the guard hairs that bloom, making French angora yarn so cuddly (and shed-prone). Despite my best effort, I couldn't get a perfectly smooth yarn from it. It spun a bit thicker than the English, but produced a really lovely result, blips and all.

The incredible German roving spun like whipped cream--there's no other way to  describe it. I dashed back to the Etsy vendor, only to discover that there was no more. It spun into a perfectly smooth yarn; grist didn't seem to matter. This stuff was happy to be spun very thin, very thick, or medium with no complaints.

Alas, the Satin fiber was really too short to spin comfortably. I put the bag away after an hour of painful micro-short-draw. If I ever get a carding machine, I might experiment with it.

I took some photos, but I ended up with an assortment of white/gray fluff and yarn photos with no distinguishing features and I didn't want to bore you with those.

Suffice it to say that my angora research was thorough and I pass on the following bits of wisdom to you:

  • If you buy a bag of plucked or shorn fiber from an Etsy vendor you don't know, don't be surprised to find that some of the material is unspinnable.
  • Prime angora can be easily spun on just about anything--spindles, e-spinners, charkhas, or your favorite foot-powered wheel.
  • If you find any German angora roving, don't buy it. Send me the link immediately.
  • Cover your lap with a piece of velvet or other adherent material to catch all the flyaway bits. Do not sneeze around loose angora.
  • Undiluted angora yarn is not stretchy and is really, really warm. Such yarn would make an excellent scarf for anyone living in or near the Arctic/Antarctic Circles. Mixing angora with fine wool, such as merino, will produce a sproingier and more temperate result. Add more merino the further south you live. Those folks on the equator probably should skip angora altogether and stick with Vorpal Bunny leg fiber, which often resembles cotton, except for the black variety, whose fiber is indistinguishable from fwooper feathers.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Rambo--A Fleegle Fractured Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, on a typical summer day, I was peacefully carving a voodoo doll of my former employer out of a radish, when Harry blew in the door, scrabbling across the floor so quickly that he left a small sonic boom in his wake. He informed me, in a terrified sqeak, that we had a visitor, and the visitor, was, well, pretty scary. So scary in fact, that Harry scuttled under the refrigerator without his bagpipes, smoking jacket, or box of Lindt truffles.

I carefully parked the paring knife in the radish's midsection, wandered to the front door, and recoiled in horror. Lounging atop a camo duffel bag was a furry white rabbit wearing killer shades and camo fatigues. Leaning against the duffel was a well-used backpack with a bunch of carrots lashed to the side and K-Bar knife dangling from the webbing pocket.

"Hello, ma'am" said this nightmarish vision.

"Erm, hello." I replied. "Can I, um, help you?"

"Looking for a spider named Harry. About so big." The rabbit held his paws about eight inches apart. "Wears sissy clothes and totes a set of bagpipes. You seen him?"

I cleared my throat. "Well, yes. He's currently under my refrigerator. He lives here when he isn't on a karaoke tour or off on one of his Terrorize the Tourist gigs."

"I'll wait."

The rabbit slid off the duffel and opened a side zipper, extracting a lethal-looking weapon and a cleaning kit. He propped the duffel and backpack against the porch rail, made himself comfortable, and proceeded to meticulously disassemble the weapon.

I retreated to the kitchen, fumbled for the phone, and called Roy.

....beep beep boop beeep beep booop beep...

"Hello?" queried the voice of sanity.

"Sweetheart, there's a Force Recon Rabbit named Rambo sitting on the porch cleaning a gun." (I deduced his name and service from the name tag rakishly embroidered on his flak vest).

Roy has lived with me for a long time, so instead of wasting time questioning my sanity or what I had to drink at lunchtime, he merely asked me what sort of  gun was being handled by those fluffy little paws.

"Just a second." I put down the phone and peeped out the door.

"Excuse me," I said. My husband wants to know what kind of gun you have there." I omitted any reference to fluffy little paws.

"M4A1 Close Quarters Battle Weapon (CQBW) with a Special Operations Peculiar Modification (SOPMOD) M4A1 kit."

I picked up the phone and repeated the gobblydegook of acronyms.

"Cool," said Roy. "I'll pick up some parsley nibbles at the grocery store and be right home."

Roy spent most of the afternoon on the porch sharing beers and swapping war stories with Rambo, while I pleaded with Harry to come out from under the refrigerator. He adamantly refused, even when I lovingly assembled a bowl of freshly picked raspberries topped with his favorite organic whipped cream.

When Roy finally wandered in the door (with carrot crumbles and splotches of gun oil on his t-shirt), he explained how we ended up with a ferocious fluff ball reconnoitering the front door.

Apparently Rambo had hopped all the way from Fort Bragg, where he works as a tracking rabbit for Force Recon. Having taken a few vacation days, he opted to spend part of his leave time hunting down the spider who snitched his custom-designed carrot peeler (scrimshaw shaft, glove-leather holster) after stiffing him for $100 in a poker game last year.

 "Uh oh," I said. What do we do now? Call his commanding officer? Call the police? Hire a hit fox?"

Roy thought about it a minute. "Maybe we can just return the peeler and the money and hope he hops on to his vacation destination." Rambo apparently was on his way to compete in a San Shou kickboxing championship.

I peered around the corner and noticed that, although the equipment was still piled up on the porch, there wasn't a single whisker to be seen anywhere in the vicinity.

"Uh oh again," I said to Roy while walking back into the kitchen. "Where did he go?"

Roy pointed to our meager vegetable garden. "He's out there kicking the tomato plants." Cherry tomatoes were popping down into Rambo's outstretched paws. When he had finished stripping the tomatoes, he picked off the miniature eggplants, pulled up a few radishes, and calmly proceeded to wash his paws and face in the pond. He then hopped back to the porch, picked up his weapon, and began perimeter patrol.

I fell on my knees in front of the refrigerator and explained the situation to Harry.

"Harry, you've got to return his peeler. And his hundred dollars. And maybe throw in a bouquet of squash blossoms or something. He's picking our garden clean! And scaring the turtles in the pond!"

A tiny whimper was heard from the sub-fridge.

In the meantime, our usually placid cat, Laptop, spied Rambo marching over our basil plants, and gave herself a quick lick-and-wash. She sashayed over to the rabbit, introduced herself with a small giggle, and offered to show him around the neighborhood. Then she twitched her whiskers in a deplorable display of flirtation, wrapping her tail around Rambo's rather impressive lats. So much for any help from the feline contingent.

Let's summarize the current situation. Harry's incommunicado. Roy's plinking at the dahlias with the M4A1. Laptop's playing fur games with a military lagomorph.

Taking matters firmly into my own hands. I pulled out Harry's drawer apartment and sifted through the contents. Among a vast assortment of items that I won't bother to recount, I found my engagement ring, a skein of quviuk lace yarn, a set of nude black-widow-spider cocktail sticks, two containers of truffled pate, and finally, underneath a rather impressive collection of Chocolate Frog cards, the carrot peeler and a wrinkled hundred-dollar bill.

I pilfered the latter two items (and my ring and yarn) and exited the back door.

"Excuse me," I said to Rambo. "I, erm, found your missing items and would like to return them to you with our heartfelt apologies. Sometimes Harry gets a bit, frisky, and er, forgets himself."

"Thank you, ma'am. I do appreciate your honorable behavior. Rambo gave me a breezy salute by folding over one ear and smartly tapping his forehead.

"If it's not too much to ask, I'd like to camp in your garden this evening. Laptop said she would provide some vegetarian MREs and entertainment. I'll make sure the yard is safe from meercats tonight." He chambered a round and sighted in on the last remaining cherry tomato.

"Right. Good, Hate it when those meercats attack." I mumbled as I cautiously backed away, a bit horrified at the sight of our last cherry tomato splattering over an annoyed-looking petunia plant.

The next morning, Rambo, along with his camouflage equipment, was gone.

Harry crept out from under the refrigerator. Roy pouted. Laptop received suggestive postcards from in-country locations.  I returned to my voodoo doll carving. A year passed.

  Another typical summer's day. The doorbell rang. I stuck a final pin into my He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named-in-This Blog-for-Fear-of-Lawsuits durian-fruit voodoo carving and answered the door. There stood Rambo, resplendent in freshly pressed BDUs, bearing a frothy bouquet of catnip.

"Hello, Ma'am," said Rambo politely. "Laptop around?"

A furry mass shot between my legs and, in a totally unseemly manner, leapt into Rambo's waiting arms. The two of them overbalanced, rolled down the front path in a breathtaking display of revolving whiskers and fur, coming to rest in a patch of outraged day lilies. We didn't see either of them again for several hours.

When the two of them finally emerged from their flowery bower, they carefully groomed each other before wandering into the kitchen, paw in paw. Over a platter of carrot canapes, Rambo related a series of fur-raising escapades from the previous year and then announced that he would be teaching a Wilderness Survival course and Escape and Evasion at the Ranger camp in the next town.

"I must be getting soft," Rambo said bashfully. "I'd sure like a place to stay off-base. Those army-issue burrows are cramped and noisy. And the lettuce/timothy hay MREs leave a lot to be desired."

Laptop gave us her patented Irresistible Pleading Cat Expression That Causes Instant Human Capitulation.

We struck a deal. In exchange for joining the fleegle team here in Georgia, he'll get fresh lettuce, wireless internet, and a custom-built hutch. In return, Rambo has agreed to provide us with companionship, a comprehensive perimeter patrol schedule and, of course, his gorgeous angora fur.

Bet you were wondering if I would ever tie this story into fiber arts, right?

And so we all lived happily ever after, except for Harry, who spends a lot of time under the fridge playing mournful tunes on his bagpipes.


The End

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Cool Winter Sweater

Many of you are probably complaining about the weather--killer temperatures, rampant humidity, eyeball-searing sunshine... But let's consider the positive aspects of the heat and humidity.

  • It's no longer necessary for us to bother with cooking vegetables from our garden. We can simply glance outside and watch them being gently steamed in the aftermath of a summer thunderstorm. This natural cooking process has been so successful that we don't bother dragging our healthy groceries into the kitchen anymore. We simply toss them on the back steps, sprinkle them with a little tamari, and sun-roast them. 
    • Should you be the proud owner of a moon rat, fairy bluebird, or capybara, you can rejoice in their comfort--after all, tropical rain forest is their native habitat.
    • And finally, if the study of molds is your specialty, you won't need any expensive laboratory equipment to pursue your interest.

    Alas, it's difficult to get enthused about knitting with wool, but a friend recently had a baby and she requested a warm sweater. The first thing I did was stroll around the Web, looking for superwash wool. I found a veritable mountain of the stuff, all priced at about $10 for 100 yards. A quick calculation revealed that a little sweater for a one-year-old (we're into future growth here) would cost about $50. A bit much for an item of clothing that would be quickly outgrown.

    Instead, I ordered a skein of Henry's Attic superwash DK merino for $14, and dyed it myself in the coolest color scheme I could think of: watermelon.

    A quick peek at my Knitware program produced a seamless, bottom-up pattern. And a day or two later, my needles produced this:

    I used a decorative ribbing on the hem, cuffs, and neckline. This little rib looks wonderful on socks, too.

    This pattern is meant for circular knitting. 
    Cast on any number of stitches divisible by 4.
     Row 1: k2, p2
    Row 2: k1, yo, k1, p2
    Row 3: k3, p2
    Row 4: k3, p2
    Row 5: k3, then pass the first stitch over the other 2 knits and drop it, p2

    And finally, I embroidered some seeds on the yoke.

    Keep cool, everyone. The next blog post will feature a brand-new fleegle fairy tale, so stay tuned!

    Saturday, July 17, 2010

    Current Knitting

     Warning: This blog post contains Harry. 

    Puddle #1: The King Bat Shawl

    Harry has refused to budge when I asked him to help out, but I am slowly creeping around the edging, having actually finished one and a half sides. Although I try very hard to do at least one repeat a day, just about anything, including a compulsion to alphabetize my sock drawer, is sufficient to divert my attention. As someone once remarked to me about the first The Lord of the Rings movie: "I thought they would never get to Rivendell...." And speaking of the endless march to Rivendell, we have...

    Puddle #2: The Queen Susan Shawl

    Although I dearly love the pattern, I have to admit that it is a stupefyingly boring knit. The delicate tracery is mostly composed of a single motif, and I am thoroughly weary of it. Being only on Row 52 of 165, this initially sweet little pile of fluffy gossamer has mutated into the Tyrannosaurus Rex of the UFO basket, snapping and growling at me whenever I pass it by. Which I try to do often. But I gamely knit at least five rows a week, because I want to see it finished. I try not to look ahead to the interminable edging, lest I suffer mental collapse before the border is actually started. Harry furtively backs away towards the vegetable keeper, because he knows he promised to knit rows 53-63...

    Genuine Finished Objects
    There are few things in a knitter's life more precious than a friend who is always cold, and thus actually needs warm hats, mitts, and other small, fuzzy, and quickly finished objects. The Queen Susan Shawl of Avoidance has driven me into a relative frenzy of knitting winter gear, for example...

    A lovely pair of Whitewater mitts out of Mini Mochi....

    And a little Bainbridge neckwarmer out of handspun merino/angora/silk.

    And lastly, because, next to a chilly friend, those with babies are also useful, as I can knit silly stuff like this:

    The mitts, scarf, and elephant patterns are free on Ravelry and take little yarn, not much time, and, most importantly, have no edging whatsoever.

    Those who have asked after Harry can draw comfort (or not) from the fact that he did not fall into a volcano, get eaten by an aardvark, or retire from the knitting world. He has, however, traded in his karaoke machine for a set of ten-pins. He thoughtfully set up a practice lane on the headboard of our bed, so we will always be aware of when he gets a strike and can wake up to give him a reward.

    He generally bowls with his millipede buddy, Clarence, and Harry is currently knitting him a set of socks. He claims this project is preventing him from fulfilling the promises made to help out with the Puddles, but I think he's even more bored by edging than I am.

    Monday, July 5, 2010

    Back to the Future

    1968. Viet Nam. Rolling Stones. Martin Luther King. Bobby Kennedy, Alice's Restaurant. Apollo 8.  Spinning. Knitting, Macrame.

    Yes indeedy. I once made a macrame thingie that hung on my dorm wall next to a Jefferson Airplane poster:

    I wasn't at all fond of macrame, but I loved the colors of this piece, and so it travelled around with me, hanging around on walls while I did other things. When we moved from Maryland to Georgia, I noticed it looked rather scruffy.  I removed it from the wall and thoughtlessly asked Roy to toss it out. Which, of course, he didn't do. He still has his grade school report cards.

    2010. Iraq. Afghanistan, Rolling Stones (they are still giving concerts!). etc. etc. yadda yadda. Spinning. Knitting.  Dyeing. A few months ago, I spotted a gorgeous batt All The Pretty Fibers' store on Etsy. I quickly dropped it into my shopping cart...the lovely colors rang a bell.

    Then I asked Roy where that old macrame thingie was. And sure enough...

    I will spin one of the batts into a graduated yarn, perhaps to knit either Aeolian or Luiza .

    It's amazing that a color scheme I admired 40-odd years ago is still beautiful to me.  And even more remarkable that Roy actually found the wall hanging in the basement. Of course, he will never let me forget that he saved it so I could write this blog post. Sigh.

    Tuesday, June 15, 2010

    Dremel Guy Strikes Again~

    I rather enjoy knitting with beads, although it does slow me down, mostly because of the small number of beads that will fit onto a normal crochet hook. Cheeto here, will demonstrate.

    First, you whisk the hook around in the little bead pot. If you're lucky, you'll snag four beads.

    After placing these little guys onto your lovely knitted object, you do some more fishing....

    And once more..................

    And again.......................................

    After the eleventy-millionth fishing expedition of the day, I stared at the crochet hook for a few minutes. ....gotta be a way...mumble mumble...., of course!  fleegle yells for...............

    Dremel Guy!

    Dremel Guy flashed into the room wearing his Formal Socks, a Cape of Invincibility (tm), a Really Old T-shirt, and, of course, his hand-held Miracle Machine! After whisking my hook away, he returned an hour later with this:

    Both Cheeto and I were thrilled with the result....

    The hook's not much good for crocheting anymore, but the last time I used a size 13 crochet hook to actually crochet was, um, let's see.........scribble........scratch........scribble..........never gonna tell them that number.....Suffice it to say, a long time ago. And I have a spare just in case I take up doilies again. Heh.

    Monday, May 24, 2010

    Intwined Studio Charting App for Knitters

    I truly am useless at reading written-out patterns, so I have, over the years, collected almost every charting program for knitters that appeared on the market in the hopes that one of them would be the Killer App of Chart Knitting. I did not purchase the extravagantly expensive application that appears years ago whose name escapes me, but I did shell out $185 for Knit Visualizer when it was released. I rarely use it--I prefer Excel. Most of what I chart are older patterns with written directions, and I dislike KV's awkward single-line pattern parser, which is unforgiving of mistakes. (There are other things I don't especially care for in KV, but this post isn't about Knit Visualizer, so I won't whine any further about it.)

    Anyway, I was rather blown away when I started playing with Intwined Pattern Studio. First of all, it costs $44--a whopping bargain of gargantuan proportions, because it not only contains all of Knit Visualizer's features, but allows full-page editing of charts and directions.

    The main chart screen is divided into three sections.

    On the top is the chart and to the left, are three lovely collapsible palettes that can be positioned anywhere on the page or closed up to save screen real estate.

    The Stitch palette shows you the stitches in the chart and the Colors palette displays colors in use--both palettes save a lot of time, as you can instantly reuse items without scrolling through a long list of symbols.

    The Stitch palette itself is quite exhaustive, but if you need a special symbol, you can design one.

    What's especially nice about the Symbol library is you may rearrange stitches into categories, create custom categories, and edit the abbreviations and descriptions. If you collaborate with someone else  and created a group of special symbols, you can export symbol sets and email them to your partner.

    The Stitch Library uses bitmap symbols, not fonts, so you can import your own pictures and use them in the library. You can also edit the current settings. For example, I happen to like a dot instead of a dash for purl. So I changed it.

     Like other charting programs, you can add cheerfully colored borders and no-stitch symbols; flip chart areas horizontally and vertically; replace one symbol with another; and zoom in and out of the chart. You can also use colored boxes for the No Stitch symbol, or simply have them omitted from the chart.

    The star of the show, though, is the window at the bottom of the display: it's where you can type (or paste) knitting instructions and see the corresponding symbols appear on your chart. Unlike Knit Visualizer, the entire written pattern is displayed at all times, and changes made to either the chart or the pattern are reflected in corresponding section. This feature is exceptionally useful, because you may access the whole design, not just a single line.

    Note also in the image above that there is a lace setting--the program just skips alternate rows, which saves a lot of space.

    Once are satisfied with the chart, you tell the program to copy the chart and switch over to the Document window. You'll see your chart there, and you may add any special instructions. This window is a full-featured word processor. If your design uses multiple charts, you can insert them, and you may drop photos into the document as well.

    On the down side, you must save the stitch key as a separate image--a little annoying. And, while you can copy the written instructions into your document, the method is not obvious. I hope both these little foibles are fixed in a later version of the program. On the whole though, this program is powerful, customizable, delightfully easy to use, and won't have a significant impact on your yarn-buying budget.