Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Yarn, yarn, and yarn...and more yarnishness

I was so charmed by this little guy that I totally forgot to look for a sign indicating his breed. 
We attended the Mother Earth News Fair at the Western NC Agricultural Center in Fletcher, NC a couple of weekend ago. It was a bright, sunny day, but the wind almost blew us away!

Momentarily shielded from the wind in the cab of a big John Deere tractor, she looks perfectly at home with those cowgirl boots!
Mom and I discovered that EchoView Fiber Mill and Farm (located just up the road in Weaverville) had a booth in one of the buildings...

We picked up two skeins of 100% Merino, 2-ply fingering in "Seafoam," one skein of 100% Alpaca, 3-ply sport in "Fusion," and a batt (called "Midnight," if I remember correctly) of 95 Merino / 5 "other" (probably Tencel). That wee little multi-colored skein (purples, greens, natural) was a freebie that we were able to pick out.

This picture shows the colors in the batt better. Gorgeous blues, greens, and maybe some purples.

The day after the fair, our guild's monthly meeting was devoted to a panel of local fiber farmers: Marcia Kummerle of Good Fibrations Farm, Elizabeth Straub of Hobbyknob Farm, and Barbara Vassallo of Mountain Lady Farm.  And these guys had to come home with us...


They are both balls of roving in a mixture of Mohair (from Marcia Kummerle's Good Fibrations Farm) and wool (Corriedale in the big ball). Mom chose the little one with the beautiful blues, plums, and mauves. I couldn't help but get the gigantic fire ball! I love the pops of gold in the rust and clay reds.

Plus, Rik Schell of Purl's Yarn Emporium was there with offerings from the store. Obviously, the fiber couldn't go home alone...

These are all skeins of Mirasol's Nuna (40 Merino / 40 silk / 20 bamboo-sourced viscose) and they are sooo silky slippery. Mirasol is a Peru-based company that benefits communities and local textile traditions.

Ummm, and then I received a message from KnitPicks that the emergency extra yarn for Dad's sweater (because those skeins just look so small and the sweater is not so small) was back in stock, but who can order just a couple skeins when some more added to the cart would mean free shipping? Duh. And I'd never tried their Palette line before...

Hare Heather, Iris Heather, and Mineral Heather 
Tidepool Heather, Rainforest Heather, and Opal Heather
Palette is 100% Peruvian Highlands Wool (a hardy mix) in fingering weight, available in a 150 colors (hachacha!), and each 50 gram ball has 231 yards. It is perfect for color work, like complex stranded sweaters that I'm not quite ready to tackle. But, dang, it is nice stuff. 

What is all this yarn going to do in my possession? I think we'll be seeing a lot of multicolored shawls on shoulders this coming fall fashion season...

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Quarterly Report

Since I pounded out my last post, I took the time to review my blog entries since the beginning of the year. I had goals? Where did those go? Life has a way of throwing curve balls, or simply hitting the batter with a rocket-launched fast ball for the sheer cruel joy of it.

We're a quarter of the way through the year. Here's the scoop on those January goals:

-Self-care / self-love: Although this does mean improving my physical health, my philosophy of self-care must be wholistic. Stress can sometimes have very drastic physical consequences. This is necessarily a work in progress. There have been definite improvements. But, I sought to report finite steps toward solid goals. I haven't joined the local rec center gym. I have abandoned the treadmill since January. On the other hand, I have been limiting some sources of stress and I've been eating more vegetables and smaller meals throughout the day. I did get my hair cut, so I look less like a frizzy-headed madwoman. And I invested some money in clothes that actually fit me. Small steps.

-Learn to crochet: Not so much.

-Learn to spin fiber: No more on this, either, since my class in January, but I hope to own a Lendrum wheel before this year is out. And I should have several unique opportunities to purchase some great fiber this coming weekend. (So excited!)

-Complete the knitting guild's designer challenge: I've completed one pattern of the requisit four. Two others are in the wings, both at least a third complete.

-Attend more KnitWits knitting groups: Not so much.

-Reading mindfully: This has proven to be an interesting experiment. Unfortunately, the knitting slump I mentioned in the last post seemed to coincide with a reading slump. I've spent more time reading about books and browsing lists of books than actually reading any. But, dare I say it aloud, I think I've got my reading mojo back. I have about five books going, two that I'm sure I'll finish in a couple of days.

My family has been hit by one thing or another: my mother in the hospital with pneumonia and slow recovery, my brother and sister-in-law in a car accident (they're OK), other family members with serious illnesses, my own health issues, sleepless nights, small changes that build up into large stresses, and I can't even discount the pressures of tax season, because it has become a practice of mine to handle my parents' taxes ever since my father spent four months in hospital several years ago. In his absence I took over that responsibility, with the generous help of H&R Block's great online programs. (Bless whoever decided to roll out electronic filing.) Even the spring has brought with it that annoying sidekick: pollen. Boy, I'm whining tonight.

With that out of my system, let's look at the good things that can get in the way of accomplishing all these goals. On Saturday, April 11th, I'm going to check out the Mother Earth News Fair at the WesternCarolina Agricultural Center.

Sunday is the knitting guild's monthly meeting, and our special program will be a panel of local fiber farmers. I'm looking forward to them bringing their homegrown wares (fiber, maybe even yarn) to sell. And an LYS, Silver Threads& Golden Needles, that I've never been to will also be there with some yarn stock to sell. The shop is located in Franklin, NC. They are supplying us with yarn for a MKAL by designer Susan Dingle, which begins in May.

The next weekend, Saturday, April 18th, is the guild's spring retreat at the Lake Logan Episcopal Center (http://www.lakelogan.org/).

P.S. The yellow bell bushes that I love so very much, and couldn't recall their actual names in my last post, are yellow forsythia. 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

spring means yellow bells everywhere

I love yellow bell bushes. I don't know their proper name. They thrive no matter how you butcher them. They can be chopped off and last wonderfully long in a vase. Or hack off a branch and stick it in the ground. Boom. Instant yellow beauty next year. Love them. Cheerfulness that keeps coming back.

It is spring but I feel like I've been in a barren creative climate. Barely any knitting. That's not true. I've knit several skeins' worth on Dad's sweater, but it is a very basic raglan with a Henley neckline. I actually created the pattern myself using his measurements and Ann Budd's The Knitter's Handy Book of Sweater Patterns. Unfortunately, it is a bottom-up pattern, so all the interesting shaping parts are after I finish this gigantic and seemingly endless desert of stockinette. I was tickled to stumble upon a bargain priced copy of Budd's later book, The Knitter's Handy Book of Top-Down Sweaters, but this didn't happen until after I'd started his sweater. If you aren't familiar with these two books, you should certainly seek them out. Budd offers schematics and standardized sizing for basic sweater shapes with their accompanying stitch counts for all parts of a pattern. It is hard to describe. When you open one of these two books you will see pages and pages of tables of numbers and more numbers. It can be confusing at first. In fact, though, these numbers can be your first step towards becoming your own sweater designer. They can set you free, but it helps to read carefully and you must swatch or it won't work. (Also, if you're not prepared to step off into a misty land of "Choose Your Own Adventure" patterning, each book has "normal" patterns for knitters, too.)

Basically this is what you do:

You pick your yarn and knit up a swatch or two. When you're happy with the resulting fabric and have done the full swatch tests (washing, blocking, measuring), you match your resulting number of stitches per inch to a line in the pattern table. Every table has gauge rows.

Then you consider the body measurements you're working with and the ease you wish to have in the finished sweater. Find the best size that matches this expectation. These are given across the top of the patterns, over a column of numbers.

For the bottom-up sweaters, the pattern begins with the cast on numbers for the body's bottom edge. I matched my size column with my gauge row and that number is, ta da, the number of stitches I need to cast on! The next section gives you instructions for the sleeves with the same type of tables to give you the correct number of stitches and increases from the cuffs up. And so on.

Ann Budd is a genius.

In other yarnish news, I created this pink camouflage-inspired colorway for my brother (he's going to loom knit a hat for a friend):

This was dyed on Knit Picks' Bare Wool of the Andes superwash chunky. (In my previous post I said it was Merino, but I'm pretty sure not, now. The 'Wool of the Andes' yarns are usually from a hardier sheep breed or mix.)

If you are scratching your head at the concept of pink camouflage, let me explain. In many rural areas of the United States, wearing camouflage on a daily basis, in any setting, is as common as Parisians wearing black (fashionable everywhere) and those living in hot desert climes wearing draped cloth and turbans (practicality that can save you from heatstroke and, probably, sand storms). Here, in the Appalachian mountains, wearing camouflage serves both fashion and practical purposes...mostly. If your hobby is hunting, you buy one good winter jacket that can serve double-duty as everyday warmth and hunting trip warmth. If your family or friends have ties to the military, camouflage may have deeper significance. It is basically another color of the rainbow around here. I'm not a camo person. But my father was Army and we have 1970s camo and olive drab clothing in storage and my brothers often wear his old overshirts and jackets. We all vie for the old olive drab, military-issue sleeping bags when we go camping. (They're warmest.) Camouflage has received a total overhaul in recent decades due to military action in deserts. Plus, a civilian line of camouflage that is a common trade mark recognized even by many non-camo wearers is Mossy Oak. Rather than shades of green in lava-lamp formations (think 1970s camo), Mossy Oak uses realistic imagery of actual leaves and bark indigenous to North America (perfect for hunting). It is actually very pretty, I think. So where does the pink camouflage come from? The gendering of camo (which I totally believe was utterly unnecessary, but then I don't need to wear pink to know I'm a woman, either) when non-hunters and non-military persons began wearing camo for fashion, political, or whatever reason. The colors in the skeins above were specifically requested by my brother, who looked over my shoulder while I mixed dye stock, and they match his friend's pink Mossy Oak pullover. The background is pink with purple hints and the realistic imagery of bark and dark fall leaves are in the foreground.

Whew. That was a lot of writing to get to an explanation of why there's a fashion demand for a non-camouflage version of camouflage. The only place this would make a person disappear into the background is at a shopping mall out of hunting season. Real women hunters usually wear real camouflage during hunting season. Or else they would be fake women hunters...the one's who just like to fit in with the crowd that does actually hunt. Oh, boy, I need to stop right there.

By the way, I don't hunt and would probably only do so for survival needs. I do respect a hunter's skills and codes of conduct and honor, such as being responsible stewards of wildlife. (Obviously I'm leaving out poachers and trophy hunters here. I really don't wish to cause my blood pressure to rise, so we'll not discuss such idiots.) That's pretty important to me. Like responsible forestry practices, knowing where your hamburger came from, using local fresh markets when possible, and shopping at LYSs and getting fiber from smaller fiber farmers and mills. Ooooh, and that is a perfect segue!

I read and reviewed Adventures in Yarn Farming: Four Seasons on a New England Fiber Farm by Barbara Parry (also author of Teach Yourself Visually Hand-Dyeing) for the Guild's April newsletter. Parry's book is fantastic and full of beautiful photography! There are also several sweater patterns and a handful of other projects. Reading this was pure pleasure. Here is the link to Parry's Foxfire Fiber and Designs at Springdelle Farm.

Wow, I've rambled on tonight. I've got to go find out what Mom is doing. It involves a great deal of hammering, drilling, and swear words.