Saturday, July 31, 2010

Finished, blocked Pine and Ivy

Here is the completed, blocked shawl. It's quite large, and lovely, and I really hope Jennifer (of Spirit Trail Fiberworks) likes it.

Some notes about this project (Ravelry link):

The yarn was very nice to work with. At the beginning, I split the strands on the needle a few times, but this was (once I got used to working with laceweight yarn again) something I quickly learned how to stop doing. I worked the first section, the 3" or so edge along the bottom, twice because I dropped a stitch down a few rows and couldn't recover. But the yarn tolerated being manhandled, as it were, quite well. There was no perceptible wear, fraying or blooming after I ripped back those 30 rows.

I blocked it using wires, threaded through the edge stitches and through the points on the top edge; by pinning it out and then spritzing with water. I know I have a spray bottle for this purpose but for the life of me I can't find it. I made do with a water gun that we have around for discouraging cats from clawing furniture, and it worked perfectly well.

I used less than 1.5 skeins of Spirit Trail Fiberworks' Lachesis (colorway Moon Shadows). I have 29 g left of the second skein (initially 50g) so I used about 781 yards on this.

The pattern is Pine and Ivy by Anne Hanson of Knitspot. I worked the "Tall" size. It took me two months and ten days. It seemed like longer - I just don't like knitting lace with laceweight yarn. I guess I have to accept it.

I used seven lifelines over the course of the work. I strongly advise using them. I read a post in some knitting blog recently where the writer seemed to think of them as an amateur tool - well, I've been knitting for over 35 years, and I'm pretty much the best knitter I know. No, I take that back - Sunday Holm is the best knitter I know. But aside from Sunday. And I don't consider lifelines a rookie move, they are simply a smart move. If you are afraid you won't seem cool if you put in a lifeline, don't worry. It's much cooler to have the lifeline than to have to rip all the way back because you messed up and didn't have one. Everybody messes up; it's how you prepare for it, and how you handle it when you do that makes the difference.

A whole lotta shaking goin' on

First of all, we got a new cat, Errol:

Errol Goodboy Bindle Featherstone from Quirm* (who was "Simba" at the Clifton Animal Rescue, but we felt that name didn't seem to match his personality) is about a year old, and has a sweet, if slightly needy, disposition. We put him in Adam's study for the first two days, to keep him separate from Lilly, but moved her food up to outside the study door so they could smell each other (and talk to/hiss at each other, as well). After two days the door was left open and they have gradually been getting to know each other. Lilly was very annoyed at first.

I actually took that picture today, when she had calmed down a lot, but she always looks crabby like that.

This has totally upset our household. Adam and I each had to sleep with him one night in the office on a blow-up bed, because he whined continually if left in there by himself. He seemed tremendously lonely. With company he was pretty quiet, but sought much petting, which is not conducive to good sleep. He likes to push his head into one's armpit or under the arm, into any cozy spot. He also did a funny thing where he pushed his head into my hair and kneaded the back of my neck. He was very good at keeping his claws sheathed while he did this, which is why it was a cute thing and not a painful one. But I only let him do it a little bit, as I was not super crazy about the wet bits of my hair that resulted. I think he might have been trying to nurse on the back of my head.

They're starting to get along now - in fact, I think they are obsessed with each other. Errol certainly is obsessed with Lilly, and she is starting to tolerate him (mostly not growling) and also to watch him doing his goofy stuff. He's only a year old, so he still has a lot of kitten energy, but is big enough to give her what-for when she bullies. I think they are a good match.

Secondly, I finished the gray Pine and Ivy shawl about a week ago and it took me until last night to get it together to block it. I was slightly daunted by the fact that it has shaping at the shoulders, which, when you lay the thing flat, look like a couple of flattish boobies. If I were not to do something with those, the stitches in those sections would not be as opened up as the rest of the shawl.

So I put a couple of saucers under those sections to give them a little bit of opening up as well. It looks pretty funny. The thing is huge - 72" across and 28" from tip to top - and I had to add books on the end to take up the extra space, and I couldn't get a picture of the entire thing, even standing on a chair and raising the camera almost to the ceiling.

* Fans of Terry Pratchett may recognize this as also the name of a pet "swamp draggon" from Guards! Guards!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A weekend full of activity

Etsy shop: I made new ads (which run on Ravelry). A new design uses a pretty good photo of a pink/peach skein of my handspun yarn. I added "handspun yarns & hand-dyed fiber" on the two existing ads with the blue sky and sheep. I'm wondering if this change will help people know what the ads are FOR and encourage them to click on them. As it is there has been VERY LOW SUCCESS with these ads so far.

I also listed the four 4-oz bumps of roving I already dyed last week, and the pink/blue/brown silk+mohair I recently spun from the Hello Yarn spinning club.

Dyeing: Last night I dyed some more roving. This time I used the Cormo I got from Juniper Fiber Farms; they had a fund raiser so I bought 8 oz to help out. It's lovely stuff, very very soft. This time I made fewer mistakes.

1. I wore gloves. This meant I didn't have to be so cautious about where I touched stuff, because I wasn't worried about getting my hands stained. (AND I didn't get my hands stained.)

2. I used a half a teaspoon of citric acid along with some synthex in the soak before applying the dye. This meant the dye took better.

3. I put the pot on the stove in our kitchen. This, admittedly, was forced upon me because the shite hot plate I bought at Target (on which the larger burner broke a year ago) completely stopped working, but it also meant that the heat was more dependable. Instead of using the microwave, which is a method I don't like so much, I put some water in the bottom of my large pot and a steamer tray, and put the two plastic-wrapped dye+wool packages in there to steam for 30 mins. At the end of this, it was late and I was tired, so I put the pot in the basement stone sink to cool overnight.

This morning when I took the wool out of the plastic wrap, I still had to rinse it a bunch of times, but not as many as last week, which I think was due to the fact that I used more citric acid and also a lot less dye, so more of it actually discharged fully into the wool. (I am still using up all this concentrated dye from last year. I can't stand to just put it down the sink; I'm pretty sure that's not safe anyway. Once it's used up, I will go back to the regular method I was using last year, and I'll be better able to estimate how much dye I actually need for each 4 oz of wool.)

Sewing: (I know! SEWING!) It's been forever since I did any sewing. However, I came across a tutorial for a "summer scarf" (which, counterintuitively, could really come in handy in the over air conditioned office yours truly works in) and then also, about the same time, saw that Purl Soho had some Liberty prints in. The confluence of events was too much for me to resist, so I got a half a yard (it was SUPER OVER PRICED but I only needed a half a yard) and it arrived Friday night. Today I went out to Michael's and got some elastic beading thread so I could make this.

Now, I've been sewing practically my entire life, so this was a pretty easy little pattern, not a huge challenge for me, except for sewing with a bobbin of elastic thread, which I've never tried before. It was NOT successful. Maybe the elastic thread I bought was too wimpy, I don't know, but it snapped several times while I was sewing the two lines, and finally I decided it was too unreliable. So I found some elastic cord, about two millimeters in diameter I'd guess, that was a lot more sturdy, and I sewed it on the back of the scarf using zigzag to create a kind of channel that the cord ran through. I tied a knot on each end and sewed the extra end into the channel as well on each end. I think it came out pretty well!

Spinning: I'm not doing the Tour de Fleece, but I have been doing a lot of spinning lately anyway. I have some lovely yellow-gold-red-brown silk+cashmere that I got from Spirit Trail Fiberworks last year when I was in her spinning club (it was a terrific bargain, in my opinion, but I couldn't keep up with the rate she sent stuff so I still have a couple installments left over). I spun that last week, and Navajo-plied it to preserve the color shifts. I also started spinning some great brown superwash merino/cashmere/silk roving from Pigeonroof Studios. The color shifts in it are much more random and varied, so I will double ply it, most likely.

And I sorted the locks of the fleece I washed by color lightest to darkest, only to decide that I want to spin it all mixed up instead. I started carding it, this afternoon; that is hard work, and slow going. I have about 20 rolags so far and MUCH more to go. I am going to spin some of it tonight if Adam ever finishes playing this game he's been trying to win this afternoon. It's an annoying game so I don't want to sit in there while he's playing it. I hope he finishes soon!

Gardening: We had about a 5' square part of our garden that I had intended to plant with, well, several things, but which never got planted with anything. Instead I just put newspaper and hay down on it and hoped that would keep the weeds at bay. It did probably do a little good, but they figured out where the edges were and came up along there with a vengeance. Finally this weekend I summoned the energy and the desire to remediate this scourge.

We went to Home Depot, which itself is an unusual event. Adam had to get a special tool to take apart the inside of the car dash to install the AUX input on the stereo (that was my birthday present, both the kit and the installation). I got a bunch of dirt (which always feels stupid to me to have to pay for) to move a very small root-bound dewberry tree into a larger pot, and some trellis things to stake up the cucumbers.

It was SO HOT in the sun that I put up the umbrella over the table and worked under the shady side of that while I was doing the repotting. Then I went to do the weeding. As this was in the direct sun, I rigged up a lean-to shade along the fence using some stakes and some mulch paper. It kept blowing down and I had to keep moving it as the weeding progressed, but it helped a lot. Even with my goofy sun-shelter I had to come inside twice to cool off because I felt like I was getting sick from the heat. But I got the weeds all pulled up. I put down more hay all over that area and it looks a lot better.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Washing the fleece

So, I finally overcame my fear and put the fleece bags in the wash.

After reading various opinions from lots of different fiber arts bloggers, I decided that since this was just a single pound divided into several lingerie bags, I could put it all into the machine at the same time.

I used my top-loading machine and ran a large load full of hot water and put a generous squirt of Dawn dishwashing detergent, which was the brand most mentioned in blog posts on how to wash fleece.  Then I added the bags of sorted and arranged locks one at a time. I was careful not to agitate the wool. I let it soak for about 20 minutes and then pulled it out to drain the machine. The water was pretty brown - about like weak coffee with a little milk.

I ran a second load of hot water, added a generous squirt of Dawn again, and added the bags of fiber. After letting it sit for another 20 minutes, I pulled it out again, drained the machine - more like weak tea (no milk) this time. I re-filled with hot water once more. This time I left out the detergent and just put the bags back in. After 20 minutes more soaking, I switched the machine to the spin cycle and spun out all the water, which was clear.

I don't know if I did it right or not. Two things seem to have gone differently than I expected. One, when I pulled the bags out of the machine, my super neat rows of locks were gone and in their places were clumps, e.g.:

Maybe I didn't put enough wool in each bag. I did all the sorting and bag-filling according to what I thought I'd read, but then when I looked back through posts on the subject, it seemed that people had loaded a lot more wool into each bag, with layers of tulle (tutu netting) between layers of fleece.

When I removed these clumps from the bags, though, they did not appear to have felted, which was my biggest concern; I wasn't so focused on keeping the lock structure after I found how difficult it was to separate the locks in lots of cases. I spread out the contents of each bag (re-formatted into rows of locks) on top of the bag to dry.

The other outcome I think was wrong was, the tips of the locks were still brown. The lanolin was definitely mostly removed by the washing, that much is certain - I can't feel any grease on the locks now. But it still looks like the fleece is dirty on the tips. I thought the tips of the locks would be dark gray/silver/white after washing, but that brown was still there. I don't know if that means I should wash it all again or not - but I really don't want to. I don't think it would be bad for the wool to wash it again, but frankly it's a huge pain in the neck and I just want it to dry so I can try hand carding it and spinning it.

I'm glad I tried this, because I would rather have tried the process for myself than just depend on mills to process wool before I spin it, unaware of what work has gone into getting it from the sheep to my spinning wheel. But I doubt I will want to do it again, at least not by myself. I bet there are ten important things I did wrong. I bet there are ways I could have done it so the locks didn't get mashed up into clumps in the bags. I bet if I'd used the sink instead of the washing machine it would have been a totally different experience. So I'm not closing the door on the possibility of taking a class some time from somebody who knows what the hell they are doing.

* * * * *

It's my birthday weekend so I decided last night to make chocolate chip cookies. Once again I followed the recipe from "The New Best Recipe" for chewy ones, although I did add about a half cup of butterscotch chips to the mix.

They look great, and they were chewy, which I love, but the butterscotch morsels ruined them - they were WAY too sweet and cloying. I think if you are going to include butterscotch chips, you need to have dough that is less sweet. Also, these delightfully chewy cookies, when you put them in a storage container overnight, become rock hard by morning. This is the second time I've used this recipe and I'm here to tell you they do not store well. If you are going to use it, make sure you make the cookies as big as they say (otherwise they cook too fast) and only make the ones you are going to want to eat right then. You can make the rest into balls and keep them in the freezer for the next time you need some CCC's. (I ended up taking the leftovers to my meeting this morning. They got eaten.)

Friday, July 9, 2010

What a spectacular gift!

My mother sent me (and Adam, but mostly me) this gorgeous knitted, fulled rug she made for us. I know it was intended to be a wedding gift, but since it's almost my birthday, I'm co-opting it as my birthday present.

Here is a closeup of some of the stitch work.

I believe this was a pattern in the second Mason-Dixon Knitting book (which is a very fun read in addition to being useful and chock full of good patterns, btw).

It's fantastic and I LOVE IT! Thank you, Mom!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

More work on the fleece; my thoughts on shooting a gun

I spent about two hours this evening sorting and ordering more of the fleece locks. I now have six (6) lingerie bags of locks with probably a quarter of the fleece left to go through.

This is really a tough task. I don't know that I'll do it again, unless the grid goes down and I have to.

* * * * *

I went to a shooting range with my husband and his sister and her family. I posted about this on Facebook briefly, but I wanted to show a couple of pictures I brought back from the shooting range. Here is Adam giving me a couple pointers on how to shoot a .45 H-K:

Here I am putting the advice into action:

I felt quite intimidated by the experience. First of all, it's incredibly LOUD. You get a noise-canceling headset, which is about 50% effective. I still felt like jumping every time other people were shooting, especially those shooting bigger guns (including machine guns). My SIL went and got some earplugs for herself and for me, and that PLUS the headset was a lot better. I could still hear plenty, but it wasn't startling.

Second, the gun itself was fairly heavy, and shooting it was tremendously forceful. You could say, well, DUH. Yeah, I know, but it's one thing to guess at this, and another entirely to experience that. The kickback was not as big as I expected. But I felt like I had a profoundly powerful and dangerous force in my hands, and I was keenly aware of not really knowing what I was doing or feeling comfortable. I also thought I would prefer not to be comfortable enough with it because I tend toward the cavalier attitude, and this is not a thing to be cavalier about.

I couldn't help thinking about all the cop and spy shows and movies I have seen over the years, the hundreds of guns and gun toters I've seen, how NONE OF THEM ever made it look like there was anything to it. It's not "no big deal," it's a huge deal to have this killing force in your hand. I feel shocked at how different the reality of shooting a gun is from what I have seen on TV.

I have to admit, I was delighted that I have good aim, that I got good shots right away. My dad was a sniper in the Army and a part of me would like to think I got something of that from him. I was pleased that it wasn't totally frustrating to try to hit the target.

I did quite well, so Adam challenged me to a grudge match - ten shots each, whoever scored best. He shot first and got a 90; however, he can't see, because he is too vain to get glasses. I'll take any advantage I can get. Anyway, I went next and got this:

If I ever do it again, I'd like to try shooting with a rifle, to see what it is like to do distance shooting. Also, my coworker was telling me about skeet and trap shooting, and that sounds like a fun challenge as well. But honestly? I could probably go the rest of my life without ever shooting a gun again, without any regret.