Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Most Incredible Amazing Ballwinder Ever

Back about a month or so ago I was teaching at SVFF, and I realized I'd left my ball winder at home.  I went to the organizers, and one of them arranged to have her balwinder at the festival the next day for me to use for my class.  (As an aside, the staff at SVFF were amazing.  If I lived closer, I'm want to become friends with all of them.  You know when you just meet someone and you immediately sense that they'd be a really great friend?  That was nearly the entire staff of SVFF.)

The next day when the ball winder came, I was in awe.  Serious, envious awe.  I'd never seen a ball winder like it, and I've seen more than a few.  It wasn't a Royal or a Knitpicks  or a Boye Electric Winder - those are all plastic, and wear out fairly quickly.   It wasn't one of the wooden ones: neither a Strauch nor one of Nancy's Knit Knacks commercial heavy duty ball winder.  Both of the wooden ones I've used at several different stores: both the motorized ones and the hand turning ones.

No, this thing was hefty, made out of cast iron or aluminum, and geared in a way I'd never seen before. This thing looked like it could be thrown against a wall and still be OK.  I fell instantly in love - and as soon as I got home I ordered myself one.

The ball winder, made by Stanwood Needlecraft (who I've never heard about), is absolutely lovely.  Priced lower than the wooden ones, I'd say it's comparable in durability, and can wind up to 10 oz of yarn with no problem - more than double what most of the plastic models can handle.  I've barely gotten to use the ball winder since I've gotten it, since each time I go to wind a ball of yarn, Mr. Turtle pulls it out of my hands and winds it for me - apparently the smooth running of the gears makes him happy.

It works differently than other ball winders - the little arm you see rising out from under the ball winder goes in one direction while the white center part runs in the other direction - creating a ball that winds very quickly and smoothly.  Balls are much more regular, and perhaps even more densely wound - meaning they hold their shape better even when you've pulled the center out.

The gearing is wonderful: very precise and I don't see it wearing out anytime soon, since all the parts are metal.  The only detractor is the running can be rather loud if you go all out and are really cranking away - but slow it down and it gets quiet again.

So where can you get this ball winder?  It's cheapest on the website, but also can be found on Amazon.  Seriously.  I'm in love with it.
 

PS: I was not compensated in any way shape or form for reviewing this ball winder.  I just love it.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Yarn Review: Himalayan Trail from Bijou Basin

A couple of months ago I heard through the grapevine that Bijou Basin was doing a yarn color line based off of the book/show Outlander.  Normally Bijou works in natural colors, so I perked up at this news.  Now, I've spoken before about my love for the books, and while I have mixed feelings about the show, I've decided I'm in love with Bijou Basin's yarn.

Fingerless Gloves worked in Himalayan Trail
Full disclosure, I was sent the yarn by Stefanie Goodwin-Ritter, of Stitchcraft Marketing.  They help coordinate online and promotional things with Bijou Spun.  I also spent a good 45 minutes talking to Carl (one of the owners of Bijou) at Rhinebeck, and was thoroughly charmed.

I decided to request two often problematic colors: a strong red and a strong yellow.  If there was any problem with dye bleed, I wanted to know about it.  I'm happy to report that I needn't have worried.  The yarn is completely colorfast, and the colors are strong and vibrant.

Let me share with you what this yarn is and isn't.  I was sent Bijou's Himalayan Trail, which comes in a skein of 2 oz and 200 yards.  It's 75% Yak Down and 25% Super Fine Merino.  It's a 2 ply yarn, rather loose/medium spun (it's not quite totally loosely spun, it it isn't quite medium either), and hovers around a sportweight yarn.  The price seems to hover around $25.

Normally I'd be wary about two ply yarns not spun tightly; in my experience they tend to be rather prone to splitting.  Perhaps because of the down's fuzziness, or the general properties of the yarn, I found the two strands liked to "cling" to each other.  That meant that they were a lot less prone to splitting than I expected.

Stitch definition is pretty good - again, something about the yarn seems to mean it deviates from the norm.  Part of this is because even though the yarn is a little "fuzzy," the fuzzies are not overwhelming.

The yarn's got a springy and lofty feel, and it comes across as sturdy and on the softer side.  The loft is amazing.  As soon as I got this yarn I knew it was destined for things that were warm and snuggly: garter stitch, brioche and ribbing all came to mind.  Stockinette doesn't do the yarn justice.  Cables and colorwork are good options too.

Now, a couple of things to be aware of.  These are not quite detractors, but they are things to take into consideration.

When I made my pair of fingerless gloves, I did deliberately choose to seam them together.  I wanted to see how the yarn stood up to the stresses of seaming - as I had a sneaking suspicion that this yarn wouldn't be the best.  My seams were about 3-4" long, and while the yarn did hold up, it looked pretty worse for wear when I was done.  If I was seaming up a sweater or other garment, I'd probably choose to do the seaming in another yarn.  The Yak Down, being a shorter staple length, means that I'd probably break the yarn if I was working a long seam.  In fact, I can easily break the yarn in my hands, without even pulling that hard.  That isn't surprising.  Yak Down is a very short staple length, and I'm sure the Merino is doing the bulk of the work holding the yarn together.

Also, I think it'd do well to one or two unravelings, but if you were working a project and you knew you might be ripping back a lot... this wouldn't be the project to use this yarn.  I'd also be careful about which way you pull the yarn from the yarn cake: if you were going in the wrong direction, I could see you removing some of the twist from the yarn and that could be frustrating.  Still, I have that problem with a lot of other yarns, so it's more something to be aware of.
Swatch worked in brioche.

I've been wearing my fingerless gloves for nearly a week and a half.  Pilling or shedding hasn't been a problem.  I wouldn't choose this yarn for something that was meant for rugged wear: neither socks nor shoveling mittens would be a good choice.  But things like hats, cowls, sweaters worn close to the skin, fingerless mitts, and shawls would be great choices.  Still, I think those detractors are a fair tradeoff, considering the other pluses.

An I will say this much, I've worked a couple of different design proposals in this yarn in the last couple of days, which means I like it enough to work with it!  And I'm picky!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Rhinebeck Recap, and Olana

My classroom and schedule.
As I'm writing this, wind and rain are blowing off the maple leaves in our side-yard, before they even get the chance to change full color.  It somehow seems a little appropriate.

Rhinebeck was everything it was made out to be and more.  I taught for 4 grueling and rewarding days, connecting with students and meeting other teachers.  It was wonderful and exhausting and exhilarating and I loved it.  I'm also glad to be home.

I was staying with my parents about an hour north of the town of Rhinebeck, and each morning I woke before the sun had risen (not quite the task it would be in the summer), loaded up the car with teaching supplies, and drove a glorious and visually-rewarding drive along the Hudson River.  The sun would rise as I drove, and I would watch the colors of the trees light up in the morning sun.  I'd anticipate the drive over the Rip Van Winkle bridge, and then would wind my way along Rt. 9, passing dozens of apple-orchards and pumpkin fields.

I'd arrive at the fairgrounds just as they were opening, find a parking place, and each day I'd hurry to my classroom to set up.  In the evening, with the adrenaline still pumping from teaching, I'd make my way back home as the sun would set, and watch the pinks and oranges and golds of the sunset reflected in the trees and marsh-grasses and purple hills.  Then I'd promptly get home, eat, prep for the next day, and go to bed early.



Working on duplicate stitch for Darn Those Knits!
On Sunday, that schedule changed a little, as my mother came with me.  I was fortunate to have an hour and a half lunch break between my first and second class.  I hastily downed my sandwich, then spent a whirlwind hour having my mother (who neither knits or crochets), show me her highlights to the fair.  I loved seeing the fair through her eyes.

She also managed to get some pictures of me actually teaching, for which I was grateful, or I would have had no proof that I was at the fair otherwise.

Rhinebeck is hard to capture in words.  On Saturday during my lunch break I tried to explore a little bit on my own, and quickly became overwhelmed by the crowds and the fact that I couldn't get anywhere without shuffling.  I finally found a bench behind a building, and sat down with one other knitter, who was waiting for her friend to finish buying things from a vendor.  We admired the trees, talked a little, and I managed to get my head back on my shoulders soon enough to dive back into teaching.

Classes, for the most part, went smoothly.  As always, I walked away with things I'll plan on improving, and I probably learned just as much from my students!  Some comments people made really brought home where my skill set lies, and I have some great ideas for future workshops.

Because Rhinebeck was so big, I'm going to finish this with a pictorial journal of the weekend.


Footwear is very important when teaching.  No fancy shoes for me -
My Keens served me well. Although I think they've finally bit the dust.
A "Frakensock" made by one of my students in the Heels, Heels and More Heels class.
The Iconic row of maples at Rhinebeck.  The Colors!
It was so crowded, and there was knitwear everywhere.
Fleeces at the fleece sale.  I wanted one so badly.
This shawl was the colors of the trees, and it made me so happy.
This sweater was one I did not knit.
But it was warm, and I inherited it from my grandmother.
It seemed appropriate.
The view from Olana (where many Hudson Valley Painters worked). My mother and I stopped as we were heading home.
The sun was setting.
Olana
The colors made your heart sing.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Rhinebeck!

Teaching!
I will be at Rhinebeck, teaching from October 16th to October 19th.  I'll be traveling on the Wednesday before and the Monday after.  That means from October 15th until October 20th, I'll be super busy and won't be answering my email or phone consistently.

Blog posts will also be intermittent.

If you'd like to take a class, you can see the classes I'm offering here.  If you'll be at the fiber festival and want to say hello, drop me a note.  I'll have limited time around lunch and would love to share a quick hello!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Traveling to Rhinebeck

Today I gathered up my belongings and, while it was still dark, walked the three blocks to the train station, dragging my two suitcases behind me.  The larger one has my teaching supplies.  The smaller - more teaching supplies and clothes.

This morning I was on the train from Ashland to NYC, now I'm on the second leg of my journey, from NYC to Albany.  This train ride remains one of my favorites.  I'd rank it up there with the train ride Michael and I took going across the Rocky mountains.  For anyone who has ever taken the Empire Builder, they know that heading north, you get seats to the left of the train.  Heading south, you get seats to the right.  Why?  Because of the views over the Hudson.

Each time I take the train it's different.  Today there are dramatic clouds - shades of dark and light grey, with occasional glimpses of blue.  The river is the color of Buckingham Slate - dark and reflective.  River grasses billow in the breeze, their heavy heads full of seed.  An dominating everything is the color of the trees: the bright orangey red of sugar maple, the yellows of beech, the reddish browns of oak, and the occasional bright flash of red dogwood and butter yellow willow.

My heart sings with the colors of fall.

It seems like Rhinebeck is the culmination of a knitting year: the time when we get to show off a year's worth of the fruits of our labor.  I have to admit I'm thinking the weather is going to be perfect... a little on the cold side on Sunday, but that's what wearing your knitwear is for.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Catching Up: Fishing Failures, New Pattern, and Rhinebeck!

Yesterday, I managed to crank out the rough draft to two different patterns: a pair of gloves and a crochet shawl.  I worked for nearly 6 hours straight, with only a small break for lunch.  It was intense, deep thinking, and I haven't managed to get in that good of workflow in months.  I take it as a sign that things are finally returning back to normal.

This morning, I woke up super early to try and go fishing, again.  About a month ago, my husband took me fishing and I caught 2 fish.  Since then, I've been fishing 3 other times, only to catch nothing.  Nothing.  Many times, my bait would be in the water and a fish would be jumping not three feet away.  Clearly I'm doing something wrong, but I can't seem to figure out the right combination of bait and line setup.  Today, armed with new bait and a week's worth of reading on the art of fishing, I thought I was ready to catch something, anything.  I would have been happy even if I just got a nibble, to tell me I was going in the right direction.

Instead, the fish were more active than ever, jumping out of the water and showing off, and I just managed to jab myself twice with the hook, and get my line tangled in everything.

While I am quite stubborn, and I'm not giving up yet... I came home much discouraged.


I have a pattern out today!  Stripes Three Ways should be familiar to some of you... it's a teaching
pattern that I'm finally making available to everyone!  Newly tech-edited and test knit, it's a lovely fall cowl that comes in 3 different sizes, and a variety of combinations.  It has a special twist - each time you make it, a roll of the dice determines how the pattern is going to work.  I'll have an official post coming out in a couple of days, but I couldn't wait to share!

If you've made the pattern before in one of my classes, I'd love to have you put your finished project (or even unfinished project) up on Ravelry.  It brings me such joy to see people's work on my patterns!

Speaking of new patterns... you know the ones I was talking about before?  They're part of a bunch of patterns that I create and am just getting to write up to release.  The plan is to have them out before the Indie Designer Giftalong starts in just over a month.  This is a big event where a whole bunch of Independent Designers band together to put all their patterns on sale before the Holidays.  It's a great event, and I'll be sharing more information with you as it becomes available.


Rhinebeck is coming in less than a week!  So, don't expect much posting next week.  Still, I'm going to try and get some pictures and rock the event with my own knitwear.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Hairpin Crochet Brainstorming, Fiber Festival Recap, News

I've got a cat on my lap and cannot move.  He is warm and purring up a storm.  This is one of the reasons I love the Fall -  my not-so-cuddly-cat (Peake) turns into a snugglebug come cold weather.  And unlike Watson, who will sit on your lap but demand you pet him the whole time until it gets REALLY annoying, Peake will just fall asleep on your lap, purr, and share his warmth.



I made a mistake on my last post - which wasn't supposed to go live until later this month.  Three Square won't be available until October 15th.  Sorry.  I'm going to leave the post up (because I imagine it'd be more confusing if I withdrew it and then put it back up), but if you'd like to be notified when it will be available, you can signup for the email newsletter here, and I'll send out an email when the Knitting Boutique has it ready.



This last weekend I was all over teaching.  On Saturday I was teaching at Woolwinders and then speaking at the Kensington Creative Knitter's Guild.  On Sunday I was at the Montpelier Sheepdog Trials and Fiber Festival, where I was teaching my wonderful Hairpin Lace Class.  To my shame, I got no pictures of the entire weekend.

I love teaching, and I love how I can teach the same class and have it be entirely different each time.  Sometimes I'll have a class where everyone is REALLY motivated to learn the skill.  The energy is electric as people are concentrating and thinking. Sometimes I'll have a class where the students will just click.  Life stories will be shared. By the end of the class everyone is good friends, trading contact information, and resolving to see each other again.  Sometimes I'll have a class that's really struggling with a concept, and then suddenly the lightbulb goes off for one person, and that person's understanding will spread, until there's a turn in the class and everyone suddenly "gets" it.

My last two Hairpin Lace classes have been amazing.  I make no bones about the fact that one of the reasons I teach hairpin lace is because I want to design more lace, and the only way I can do that is if I have a market for it.  In my last two classes I've had students walk away really motivated to do more hairpin, which I love.  Two weekends ago at SVFF, I had a student who came back the day after the class to show me the scarf nearly half done she was so excited.

This week at Montpelier, the last half hour of the class turned into a brainstorming session, with students imagining different uses for hairpin lace.  They were brainstorming ways to integrate it with knitting, talking about ways to shape it or connect it, and generally getting fired up about the technique.  It was wonderful.  It was amazing.  And I came home completely motivated and wanting to play with the hairpin lace more.

The center of the scrumble, an 8 pointed star.
Let me show you.

The last few evenings last week, instead of knitting or crocheting for work, I was fooling around with a cone of cotton & rayon thread I'd gotten several years ago.  It's basically my version of scumbling/sketching, and I was crocheting just for the fun of the action, not to make anything in particular.  Oftentimes when I do this, my brain will disgorge something I didn't even realize I was thinking about, and it will eventually become some sort of design idea.  But for now, I was just playing.  I decided I was going to try and add a little bit if everything I knew how to do, kinda like a sampler.

So last night I added a "row" of broomstick crochet.  And then I decided I was going to play around with a way of connecting hairpin lace strips to work that I hadn't seen before.  I did the math, and I need to make a strip of 264 loops (that is, 264 loops on each side), and it's in thread weight
cotton.  I don't know what I was thinking (as in, it's going to take a couple of nights).  BUT!  It's going to be interesting.  I'll keep you posted on my progress.
The 8-pointed star, with a round of broomstick crochet worked.  the hairpin lace loom, with the loops.  Each of the bunches is 50 loops on each side.  Still got another evening's worth of work before it's done.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Exciting News: Three Square & The Knitting Boutique

I've got a new pattern that should be hitting the newsstands soon (edit: October 15th).  It's up on Ravelry, so I thought I'd give it a little introduction.  Three Square is one of two patterns that I'm producing this fall for The Knitting Boutique.

The Knitting Boutique is unique among many LYS's in that they have their own, store exclusive yarn.  They've been written up in a couple different magazines about it. In the last couple of months they rolled out a new yarn, called Anacostia (after the river, which used to be local to me, and still is local to them).  Dianna, the owner, graciously invited me to create patterns in this new yarn line.

Let me tell you how much I love Amacostia.  It comes in a variety of weights.  I used the fingering, and worked it up on size for needles to get about 19 sts every 2 inches.  It's soft, colorfast, and 100% superwash.  Seriously, its a wonderful yarn.

Three Square is a pattern written for sizes newborn - 24 months.  (And I'm working on getting one for 2T - 10 yrs out too!)  It's made up of what I like to think of as 3 squares: one for the yoke, one for the body, and the last for the handkerchief skirt.  It's got a false button placket (that actually fastens with snaps - which if you have small children you know you'll appreciate), and can be worn with the buttons in the front or the back, depending on your preference.

Three Square isn't my first baby dress I've designed (it's just the first to be published).  Still, I happen to be more than a little attached to it.  I LOVE square necklines, and they just don't do well on a busty lady of my shape.  But Children?  Children look amazing in square necklines.

The other thing I love about Three Square is the fact that it's a sleeveless dress.  As you can see in the pattern photos, you can pair it with a long sleeve and tights for colder weather, but in warmer weather it'd be perfect in short sleeves or even by itself.

So where can you get Three Square?  Right now, it's only available in print, from The Knitting Boutique.  So head on over to the store, either in person or online!


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival Recap!

Another newsletter went out yesterday, if you didn't see it, you can check it out here.

Last weekend I was at SVFF, and had an amazing time interacting with students, and finding a couple of new-to-me vendors.

Being a little closer to the introvert side of things than the extrovert side of things, after teaching for 3 days straight, I spent Monday and Tuesday happily working on my computer and not interacting with anyone.  I answered only the most pressing emails, and was unable to even contemplate a blog post.

This isn't unusual - I normally need an hour or two after teaching for a day to "recover."  This was just a more extreme example.

I thought I'd share some highlights from the weekend, in the form of a pictorial essay:

Mr. Turtle in a tree, looking smug.


Heading into SVFF - we managed to completely blow past the sign and had to turn around.  I was completely hopping in my seat I was so excited!


Being in the mountains, the leaves were starting to change, even though they haven't in Ashland.  The contrast of the leaves against the sky was just stunning.


Teaching duct tape dress forms!  Always a tricky part - getting the seam of your dress form to match up!


Bethany, the chairman, hooked me up with an SVFF t-shirt.  Even though it was cool in the morning (and I had on my long-sleeve shirt and a shawl), by midday I was cooking, and eyeing the short-sleeved shirts.  Bethany noticed and got me one.  I've already washed it once so I could wear it again today.


Teaching Hairpin Crochet!  Keep an eye on those two red hairpin lace strips - they'll show up again!


The hairpin strips all connected!  A little tiny piece of One Salt Sea.


I had a short hour after my second class on Saturday ended to check out the festival.  I had to stop by and admire Dragonfly Fiber's Booth and say hello.  My eye was drawn to the shawl hanging up.  It's Faberge by Laura Aylor, and simply gorgeous.


On Sunday I was teaching an all-day class called Heels, Heels and More Heels!  It was a terrible amount of fun to geek out about something I love.  In the morning I was so cold - I had a turtleneck on under my dress, and a shawl overtop it.  Recognize the shawl?  It's the Silva Shawl!


On Sunday at lunch I got a surprise - my student from my hairpin lace class was back - with far more than two strips connected!  She wanted to share two helpful pieces of advice about One Salt Sea.  First, she found it easier to connect the strips if she left her guideline in until after they were connected on both sides.  It also helped when she didn't stretch the strips out until after they were connected.  I thought it was good advice, so I'm passing it along!


I loved the class space at SVFF.  The class tents were set away from everything else, and I didn't have to compete when speaking with anything else!  Every once and a while we could hear some whistling from the sheep-herding demo that went on slightly nearby us.  I was disappointed I didn't get to see it, but Mr. Turtle took pictures - this was my favorite!

I'm looking forward to heading back to SVFF next year.  It was a lovely event, and very well run.  Did you go?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Blocking: Quick and Dirty No-Fail Method

Blocking is one of the things which simply transforms knits.  When people tell me they don't like the finished result of their work, my first response is always, "Did you block it?"  Simply said, blocking can really, really make your projects shine.

So I've got a tutorial for you! Here's how I block.

You will need:

  • The piece you wish to block
  • some towels
  • some water (cool, but not cold)
  • a place where the piece can dry, undisturbed
  • optional: pins
  • optional: something like Soak or Eculean if you wish for it to smell nice.  Or essential oils work too.
  • optional: things like blocking wires, pins, or in my case, a rubber band.  You'll see.
  • optional: cats to watch what you're doing (joking)
First, submerge your pieces in the water until they are completely wet.  Plant-based fibers will suck up the water right away.  Wool based fibers you might have to help a little.  I'm impatient - I squeeze the piece gently to get all the air out, because wool likes to trap air in its fibers.  Keep squeezing until no bubbles come out of your piece.  Or, you can just walk away and come back in an hour.  Both work.

Now, gently squeeze the water out of your piece.  Don't wring, just squeeze.

The next part's my favorite part.  Lay the pieces out on a towel.

Then, start jelly-rolling them in the towel.


Keep rolling.


Until it looks like this.


Now, this is the highly technical part.  I tell my students in class this, and they all laugh at me.

In your bare feet (don't do it in socks - your socks may get wet!), step on the towel.  Stand on it.  Then shift around and do it again.  You want to press ALL THE WATER OUT.

Sometimes, when I'm doing something really big, I need two or three iterations of this step - because the first towel gets SOAKED.  This case, because I was blocking a swatch and a hat, I only needed one.

When you take your pieces out, they should be damp, but not wet.

Now what happens?  Well, you have some choices.

If the piece is something flat like my swatch, all you need to do is lay it out and pat it into shape.  No need to stretch or contort the piece!


For my hat, I needed some assistance.  I needed something larger than a head, because I wanted to block this piece open and stretch things out.  I wanted the final hat to have drape and slouch.  FYI: I did the same thing with my Triple H!


So I found a bowl that stretched the hat out, but left the ribbing at rest (because I didn't want to block the ribbing out, I still wanted the ribbon stretchy).

Here's the hat stretched out over the bowl.


Still, the hat kept shifting out of place, so I figured I needed to take one step further.  I pulled the ribbing in, and held it in place with a rubber band.  Perfect!

Then I left it to dry.


For something like the Sylva Shawl, I needed to take a bit more extreme measure.  This shawl needed the lace to open up quite a bit, and I wanted to give the shawl a particular drape and swish.

So I used pins and blocking wires.


Blocking wires are great because you can bend them a little for a curved shawl like this.  See how I threaded the blocking wire through the shawl?  The pins are just holding the blocking wire in place.


This thing was big enough I didn't have anything big enough to block it on.  So I pinned directly into the mattress.  Shhhh!  Don't tell Mr. Turtle!


Sylva Shawl, all blocked out.
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