Friday, October 17, 2014


We have all the windows in the house open. After two days of non-stop rain, we have a glorious, clear day. I did take advantage of the rainy days to dye.

The twisted skein on the left is worsted 100% wool and the loose skein at right is 70 / 30 wool and silk, fingering weight. They were both immersion dyed together. I reskeined the worsted because I was curious to see how it would look. 

Here's a swatch of one of the skeins I dyed a couple of weeks ago:

It doesn't look too bad, eh?

Look what Mom made me!

A table-top horizontal swift, something like what is sometimes called an Amish yarn swift. You can see better below how she used an inexpensive 6-inch lazy susan (purchased at Lowe's) to get the spinning action. All of the wood, including the dowels, were scraps and pieces that we had collected in the garage (we have that kind of household). She added little cork circles to the bottom to protect the table surface. It's heavy enough that it doesn't move while being used.

I do have a store-bought metal and plastic umbrella swift, but it is not very sturdy (at all). We have a clamp on it to hold it at the desired height or width.

See? It doesn't even see fit to take a good picture for me. 
I'm charged with purchasing a nice new wooden swift for the Smoky Mountain Knitting Guild's members' use when I go to the Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair (SAFF). I am so looking forward to SAFF! You may have heard of Rhinebeck (the affection name for the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival), which happens this weekend. Well, I can't see myself being able to afford the trip, so SAFF is the closest I have, and it's a pretty big deal for this area. Rhinebeck has over 250 vendors (not to mention a much larger livestock competition), but SAFF brings together over 150 vendors and packs them in pretty tight at the Western North Carolina Agricultural Center, located in Fletcher, right across from from the Asheville Regional Airport. 

Well...the lucky ducks attending Rhinebeck work towards having a fresh new sweater completed in time to wear to Rhinebeck. Regardless of the sweater's design, it becomes officially dubbed the person's "Rhinebeck sweater." I, not being a lucky duck, am working on a "SAFF sweater" this year. This would be the Wayside Lace Sweater that I've been working on:

There are seven days until SAFF. I have worked further than the above picture shows. In fact, first thing tomorrow, I will put in the second arm hole. Then I just need to finish the right front and both sleeves. Then block it. Wish me luck!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Full Moon

My sleep patterns are all out of whack. I blame the full moon. Don't try to rationalize my irrational connection. When I decide to be irrational, that's all there is to it.

In related news, my brother came home from work yesterday with a mind to cut down one of our biggest trees closest to the house. No heads up. No pre-planning. Just home from work and wanted to do it right then. Yesterday, as in the eve of the lunar eclipse / blood moon. Coincidence? I think not.

He wanted to do it right then. With no one else to help but Mom, his wife, and me. Really, just Mom. His wife and I observed and documented, phones ready and '911' keyed in, ready for the "Send" button to be pressed. Mom (wo)manned the Chevy Silverado pick-up, with a cable dog lead (yep, you read that correctly) and a heavy canvas tow strip tied to the tree and the truck's ball hitch. My brother worked the chain saw.

It is here that I should let you know that this is not their first tree felling. They've done this many a time. When trees age and become a threat to the house or are just perfect candidates for winter fire wood, it is good forestry practice to chop them down. It helps save other healthy trees from being accidentally damaged if they were to fall on their own, say, during a rough storm.

This particular tree, a giant maple that I keenly admired, had already dropped a warning limb on us earlier this summer, during just such a storm (picture below). The limb happened to have the girth of many of the adult trees on our property. It also chose to land with its top branches close enough to my bedroom window to give me the heebie jeebies. It may have appeared stately and steadfast to my uneducated eyes, but had been on the family's tree-cutting watch list for several years.

Limb landed too close for comfort.
With a well-placed wedge cut and Mom directing the fall, all went well. I'm sure the heavy praying that was going on helped, too. Part of the tree landed where the truck (and Mom in it) had started out! If the lead hadn't slipped as planned, she might not have been able to move fast enough. We shall not dwell.

Here are the triumphant (though bittersweet because I hate to see a dead tree) pictures. As Anne Shirley says in Anne's House of Dreams, "I couldn't live where there were no trees--something vital in me would starve."

Mom is queen of the stump.

Prior to the tree business, there was chicken drama. Who knew having a chicken coop would be like hosting a resident soap opera? Mom and I found the little black Silkie rooster almost dead in the corner of the coop one day. We'd noticed he was being roughed up by some of the bigger chickens, but hadn't worried (enough).

Note: I must admit that we were aware we had overstepped a rather obvious rule of chicken keeping. There's generally one rooster. We knew we had two. But they seemed to get along swimmingly. It was these two large red-brown hens that were causing an issue. Then we realized that these particular hens crowed.

According to my Mamaw, it is never a good thing when a hen crows.

Long story short. About a month ago, I extracted Silkie and we set him up a private space in the garage. He enjoyed solo forays on the front lawn, still in his large cage, just with the bottom removed. When we decided he was strong enough and his cocky attitude had returned, we popped him back in the big coop. But morale was not good. Egg production was beginning to suffer. Our average of 5 per day was down to 3. With 7 hens and 2 roosters. What were they doing all day? We were beginning to seriously think about cooking recipes.

Then, one day, Mom found blood splatters all over the coop and on some of the birds.

Keep in mind that some of these birds were raised by hand by my brother and sister-in-law, plus we move slowly in the coop and pause to stroke many of them. Usually, it is no big deal if one of the hens escapes by wandering past my legs when I'm slowly bringing in the food, which I do by usually keeping the pail low enough that they graze off the top of it as I come along. The wayward hen usually turns right around and follows me into the coop, as long as I notice her and kindly hold the spring-closing door open for her. On the rare occasion that I've had an actual escape, I simply walk slowly and quietly around her, while she's dumbly trying to figure out why she can't just walk through the wire wall to get back inside. Then I slowly get into position and make my move quick. I pin her wings and hold her close to my chest. No problem. Only got scratched once. Not even a very dirty job.

Well, this Monday, I had already delivered the food and filled one water container for the brood. I was returning with a second jug of water. I unlocked the door and bent down to grab the jug. To my surprise, the door burst open and the big rooster came shooting past me! It was the clearest and most opportunistic jail break I'd ever seen. And that fella had absolutely no intention of being returned to that coop. I tried my slow and easy maneuvers. Nope. Not happening. The whole time he was quiet and intent on keeping his movements directed away from that building, while the hens were making a ruckus like I'd never heard before.

At one time, he had nice fancy tail plumage.
I finally decided that if I chased him too much, he might head into the wooded lot behind the house or mosey on over the ridge. I was home alone, so I had to wait for help to arrive. After the fear of losing him, was that of his meeting his end in the jaws of a fox. I've seen two this year. I love foxes, but this rooster is a beaut and I'd hate for him to go out before his time.

Finally, my brother came home, and with the additional help of neighbors, we cornered the rooster and wrapped him in a sheet. (I'd attempted to throw said sheet over him. Did you know a scared rooster will fly really, really fast?)  While we had him in hand, we took the time to stroke him until his poor heart stopped thumping and check him out. He seemed to be fine, just pissed. But while we were standing there, one of the red/brown hens jumped on one of our more petite and docile hens. My brother decided right then and there to separate them. He popped the rooster back into the coop and we pulled out the two red/brown hens. We placed them into separate cages.

Now. I want you to know that I did not select or purchase these chickens. I have never raised chickens until this summer. My experience is limited to spending my childhood with my grandparents, who raised chickens, and helping them on occasion. I identify roosters by that big red comb that stands up on top of their head. But hens have combs, too. So, it never seemed odd to me or Mom that the two hens who were causing all the trouble had combs. They weren't tall, dorsal-fin combs like the other rooster sported. So we assumed they were hens of the same breed since they shared similar feather coloring. Quite handsome birds really.

I don't even have to say it, do I? That's right. We now think that we've had FOUR roosters this entire time. Which explains why we never had 7 eggs at any one time. We think, after spending some time scouring the Internet for rare chicken breed pictures and learning cool things about comb shapes, that the escape-artist rooster sporting the nice, high comb is a Black Copper Marran. The two "hens," which look remarkably like him, but with different shaped combs, may be Golden Laced Wyandottes. We're not 100% sure, but their being roosters explains a whole lot.

Within two days of removing the troublemakers...production is back up to 5 eggs today!

Meanwhile, I dyed my second skein of yarn, this one 100% Merino.

Here are both of them. I'm pretty excited about my first attempts at acid dyeing!

Can you tell I like purples?
I plan on knitting up a swatch to check out how the colors work with stitches before I try to select projects for them, but I'm fairly sure the fingering weight (blues and purples on top) will be a shawl or wrap, and the DK (purples on bottom) will be a hat.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

I'm Dyeing

Yarn. I'm dyeing yarn.

Not bad, eh? I finished that skein last night. It's still damp. The base is KnitPicks Bare Stroll Fingering Sock, 75% superwash Merino and 25% nylon. 

Here is all of my accumulated dyeing materials spread out in the kitchen:

I cleaned up the kitchen, put away as many food-related items as I could, and then spread out these heavy plastic signs (upside down) that my brother had picked up from an old job (heavy banners for sales that were bound for the trash). I strapped on an apron, gloves, and a lovely mask, then I proceeded to mix the dye powder (WashFast) with hot water to make 1% solution dye stock.

Before beginning, I wanted to play around with the colors. I picked this little experiment that I'd read about in both Callahan's Hand Dyeing and Rex's Complex Colors. Using Styrofoam egg cartons and a dropper, I placed 10 drops of one primary dye stock in one egg cup, 9 in the next, 8 in the next and so forth. Then I chose a different primary color and did the same from one of the resulting empty egg cups, making sure each one only contained a total of 10 drops. (Or mostly 10. I wasn't completely perfectly precise, ya know?) I used a paintbrush and water color paper to make my own little color grid:

Beautiful colors! I used the grid to attempt my first dye recipes! I also saved the experiment dye by using the little droppers to suck up the color from each egg cup (took forever) and squirted it all into a clean jar. That's the mystery grey color, third on the right, on the chart. I threw that little bit of stock into the final bath to help give the final colors a little deeper shade.

But, it turns out, I have a small problem, besides being new to this and lacking the pH strips to make sure I was adding enough citric acid at the tight time and heating it up at the tight time in order to still get layered colors and, oh, what have you. And that problem is my patience, or lack thereof. Just as in cooking, where a watched kettle will not boil, so will a watched dye pot not dye, apparently. The magic always happened after I'd run away in a huff and returned much later. It seemed like I was dyeing that one skein forever last night!

I do think I threw in too much dye with the first bath, so after the first skein (the one pictured above) had soaked up a deep purple where it was exposed (I twisted it as a "resist" technique for the first two layers), I through a second skein that was loose. It came out a lovely semi-solid, lighter purple. That skein is currently cooling in the dye pot right now. I gave it two more color treatments today.

All the supplies boxed up quite nicely for stashing in our overcrowded craft room.

(Except for that giant stock pot, a giant white plastic tub, and a colander.)

In other knitterly news, I began another project. This one was selected specifically as a travel-friendly project, because toting a cone of cotton around is not a great idea, regardless of how large my purse is.

This is the Jeweled Cowl and the "jewels" are supposed to be beads, but I am not adding beads. It is a loopy long cowl that can be worn to hang long, or doubled and be cozy around your neck. There is a nice shifting lattice pattern, but it is otherwise a simple stockinette pattern that really showcases a variegated yarn. This is Malabrigo Sock in Arbol, which I had purchased at this past April's Carolina Fiber Fest for the express purpose of becoming the Fall of Leaves shawl. I simply couldn't let it sit, pining, alone, gathering dust, any longer. I think it will be lovely as a simple cowl.  

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Fall is Here

...and it's not so bad. I usually love this season, but this year just seemed to go by too quickly and I wanted to grasp onto the threads of summer. I'm over that now. These temperatures are so much nicer.

Those blurry red things are fall leaves. 
So, what have I been doing since I've abandoned my regular blog posting? Reading, knitting, sulking. *sigh* It was the weather.

I've given myself pseudo-academic assignments and they've brightened my spirits. First, I'm dabbling deeper into dyeing yarn with acid dyes. In fact, my first sampler kit of WashFast acid dyes should arrive today. I already have four skeins of different blends of yarn, all "bare" or undyed, from KnitPicks.

More dyeing equipment that I've been gathering. For safety, it all has to be separate from what you use for cooking. It was all pretty cheap, too. Measuring spoons, cup, foam brushes from the Dollar Tree, Wal-Mart soak tub and stainless steel stock pot. The pot is just fine for hobby dyeing, but probably isn't heavy gauge enough to work for a business. I already have gloves and some filter masks, also good enough for hobby dyeing, but not for a long-term business dye operation.

But before I could imagine myself doing this, I wanted to prepare as much as I could by researching dyeing technique and color theory. I was also inspired to go deeper into the color research after reading and loving Victoria Finlay's Color: A Natural History of the Palette.  So, I read about color theory and color mixing in Michael Wilcox's Blue and Yellow Don't Make Green. Then I ordered Gail Callahan's Hand Dyeing Yarn and Fleece. Callahan not only offers technical know-how for dyeing with acid dyes, she devotes much thought to color theory, as well. She's developed a variation on the traditional color wheel: her Color Grid (that link has a short video of Callahan demonstrating how to use it). Then, to really bring the color theory and the dyeing together, I ordered and read Susan Rex's Complex Color: Color Mixing for WashFast Acid Dye. Rex not only gives specific recipes (in the form of percentages of primaries to mix), she gives explanations and insight into why certain colors and dyes behave the way they do. I've also been watching Laura Jinks Jimenez (aka Gynx)'s fantastic video podcast series, The Dyer's Notebook. (If you go back to watch her from the beginning, you may need to check her YouTube channel for the earliest videos.) I now plan on creating my own color wheel with either the paints I have (stored somewhere downstairs) or using the dyes, once I mix them into stock. **so excited!!**

My second project is rather nerdier. I've always been an Agatha Christie fan. I read many of her books when I was in high school. I discovered, not one, but two active Ravelry groups dedicated to reading her novels and discussing patterns that may have fit the time periods (early to mid-Twentieth century). One of the groups is dedicated to Miss Marple, my favorite Christie detective. I've developed a personal reading plan to read all of the books and stories featuring Miss Marple in order, comparing how she's characterized and how else she may have changed over time, or how she reflects Christie's personal philosophies on human nature. I want to reread them partly because my mind's eye has been skewed towards my favorite BBC incarnation of Miss Marple, played by Joan Hickson. Also, I think there's more to be found in the texts now that I'm older and not just reading for the thrill of the mystery. These are not "classics" in the Western Canon vein, but they are a snapshot of history. And I just love Agatha Christie.

OK, that's enough of my academic pursuits.

I grabbed Mom and we attended our first knitting retreat! It was a day retreat held at the Lake Logan Episcopal Center organized by the Smoky Mountain Knitters Guild.

We enjoyed ourselves immensely. I took a nice walk after lunch (excellent food). Unfortunately there's no picture of the actual Lake Logan. The retreat center doesn't actually have a view of it. You may (possibly) have heard of Lake Logan. The lumber industry and lumber barons featured in local writer Ron Rash's novel Serena were very much a real presence in the Lake Logan and Sunburst area of Haywood County. The novel is now a movie starring the latest Hollywood movers and shakers Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. This area now brushes right up against the Pisgah National Forest.

I strayed from the gravel road to get closer to the water.

Lake Logan is on the other side of that bridge.

As you can see, it was an absolutely gorgeous day. I was reminded why I love this time of year. And why I need to get outside more often than I have been lately.

For the retreat, we had each brought yarn and had a rousing Chinese or White Elephant swap. Yarn was being picked and stolen all over the room! We all ended up with beautiful new skeins to add to our stashes. Mom got a hand sewn "box" with two skeins of Interlacements Sweet Feet (hand dyed 83% superwash merino, 18.5% merino, and 18.5% Tussah silk) in Brown and Canyonland Plus. I've only got a picture of the Brown below because I've already got the Canyonland Plus on the swift, but it has a similar rusty brown, with some blue/grey going on. Someone told me that they've only ever seen it locally sold at Friends and Fiberworks, and it is apparently discontinued because its not on the Interlacements site.

I received two balls of Noro Ayatori in color way 11, which is a mix of grey tones and a splash of bright yellow in 60 wool / 40 silk.

I'm making significant progress on my Wayside Lace Cardigan. I'm about midway through the back.

Last night I cast on a new project. This is a textured, triangular shawl called Nae by Anat Rodan. "Nae" is the Japanese word for seedlings. I've called mine "Dragon Seedlings" because I'm knitting it out of Earth Guild's Dragon Tale 4/2 cotton (Winter Wood color way). It is coming together very quickly and already has a nice drape.

I also dyed two more of the hand spun skeins that we picked up from Julie Wilson's farm. The first time I used black beans in a cold dye vat. This time I used coffee and set the dye with heat, up to 180 degrees. I think the two colors go well together, but I'm frustrated with the shawl pattern I chose (am I making errors or is it the pattern?), which is Colonnade by Stephen West. I'm also a little frustrated because I can already see how the black bean dye is not "fast". I didn't think I'd see mottling or fading this soon! And I'm frustrated with the texture of the yarn. I'm beginning to be spoiled by the silky stuff. Hrumph.