This is mostly a knitting blog. Sometimes pictures of things I've made, sometimes not. I'm a guy who knits, I usually attend a men's stitch 'n' bitch on Monday nights, and I prefer natural fibres to artificial ones. I have a love-hate relationship with bamboo yarns: I love what they can do and how they look, I hate how they are made. I've been knitting since about 2003, though I really didn't get into it until 2005, while convelescing with a broken leg. I must have discovered something good, 'cause I'm still knitting years later.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Fiber Festival of New England

This past weekend my long time friend Lisa and I trekked out to Springfield, MA for the Fiber Festival of New England. I'd never been (last year I had a commitment that weekend), and I must say, we had a terrific time. One of the best things about living in the Northeast is that we have a regular diet of sheep and wool festivals. I'd been told that this particular S&WF was small, and perhaps not worth the visit. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Unlike the New Hampshire S&WF and Rhinebeck, this was held indoors. At the same venue where our Great Commonwealth holds the Big E (more or less a state fair) in early fall, this occupied one building on the fairgrounds. A big building. Huge. Ginourmous. Wicked big. And a good thing, too, since there were hundreds of yarn vendors, fibre animals galore, spinners, weavers, demonstrations, and food that was, well, not to put too fine a point on it, vomitrocious. But other than that, it was an excellent day of yarn, alpacas, sheep, and bunnies. And hats.

Lisa modelling a felted hat with needle-felted bunny,
by Laurel Ledge Farm Fibers. Alas, she did not buy it.
There were alpacas galore, lots of angora bunnies, a few sheep, and only one llama. Well, three llamas, a mother and two juveniles, one of which insisted on nursing, even though it looked quite past the age for nursing. But what do I know from llamas?
A llama Mama, with her babies. Love her noble Roman nose!

This wee sheep we saw was a mixed breed of Soay and something else.
I wish I'd thought to photograph the sign.
I still think my favourites are the alpacas, though. They have such pretty faces, more cute and cuddly than llamas. Apparently, they're more agreeable than llamas, too.
Recently sheared alpacas. I love that there are all sorts of colours in this herd.
And we saw a demonstration of shearing an angora bunny. Apparently, most angoras shed their fur, which is combed on a regular basis. But German Angoras need to be clipped.
While it is standard to shear bunnies every 90 days, this bunny, shaved a few weeks ago, was sheared
as a demonstration. The fur is too short to spin, so it will be used for felting.
The pink thing in the left foreground is a jacket for the bunny to wear after shearing.
After wandering through the beasties, and not buying any yarn (so difficult, because it was so beautiful!), we wandered through the bags of fleeces for sale. Since neither one of us can spin, we didn't buy one, but so many of them were so pretty, and it was really cool to feel the difference between sheep's wool, mohair from goats, and the very soft hair from alpacas.
Giant bag o' fleece!
We finally made it to the big room where the yarn was being kept! Oh boy! Oh boy! Oh boy! It was divided into two sections, East and West, and I'll keep you from guessing: we never really explored the west side of the room, since we were exhausted by the time we finished the east side, and we were both plum out of cash at that point. And hungry. Let's face it, the food just sucked. But before we motored to Northampton for a delicious repast, we visited a bunch of yarn vendors!

The yarns of the Jan Marek Raczkowski Studio. Alas, still no website.

I love the yarns of A Hundred Ravens. I didn't buy anything this time around,
but took pictures of some of their colourways for a future project.
I spent a good long time speaking with the dyer, and as soon as I can afford it,
I shall buy some of their gorgeous yarns.
The Periwinkle Sheep had some absolutely wonderful yarns,
saturated colours, and made me part with some of my cash.
Periwinkle had on display this shawl, which caught my fancy, so I got yarns to make it.
This is Death of the Moon, by Josh Ryks. It can be bought on Ravelry.
I shall buy it and make it for someone for next Christmas. 
The other thing of note we saw while at the FFofNE was a sheep shearing demonstration. I'd seen one a couple years ago, but it's always interesting to see one again.

It was very cool to watch while the sheep was sheared. He actually almost never moved his legs, but rotated the sheep around while he sheared it.

I had such a terrific time at the Fiber Festival, and only bought seven skeins of yarn, a subject for another post.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

When Dreams Go Up In Smoke

I had planned to go to the New York Sheep and Wool Festival (also known as Rhinebeck) this year. I had saved up some money, and made plans with a friend to leave on Friday after work, and to attend the festival all day on Saturday and Sunday. Alas, the well laid plans of mice and men oft gang awry. The money I'd saved had to be spent on a pressing bill (rent), and my friend who was to drive is attending a hand-fasting. It seems some friends of his pushed their hand-fasting up to October from June because one of them has developed an aggressive type of brain cancer and, well, autumn hand-fastings are so lovely when the leaves in New England are in full colour. So I have no ride and I have no money, and it is not a new realisation that I have too much yarn (as I pack for my move to New Orleans come December or January). If I believed that the Universe had agency, I would believe that the Universe just said, “Ha!” to me (actually, it's more like the Universe said, “Fuck you!” but I don't use language like that, or at least not too often.) One of the reasons I don't believe in karma, however much I like the idea, is that I refuse to grant agency to the Universe. The Universe doesn't much care if you're a nice person or a douche; any comeuppance you get isn't because of karma.

But this is a blog about yarn and knitting and fibre, not about theology (and man! did I do a metric shit-tonne of theology when I was in divinity school!). I'm missing Rhinebeck and there isn't much I can do about it right now. So I need to pull up my big-boy pants and get the fuck over it. There. I'm over it.

I've been trying my hand at some knitting that isn't sweaters, even though I have designated October as Sweater Month. Mostly because I am dreading doing a swatch for the lovely green Malabrigo Rios. It's another time I need to pull up my big-boy pants and just do it. Maybe tomorrow. But right now I'm making a cowl for my friend Dolci, using the lovely yarn I got at the New Hampshire Sheep and Wool Festival this past spring. It's Blue Face Leicester, from Marek Raczkowski Studio studios in Connecticut. He doesn't have a website, but there is a Ravelry page. It knits up quite nicely! I think it's going to be a lovely cowl when done. I'm using the Scalloped Wave pattern by Kelsey Saari, which I found on Ravelry. It is basically feather-and-fan done as a cowl, and right now it doesn't look like anything. Since I bought this yarn months ago, with no particular purpose in mind, I'm knitting my stash!
It doesn't look like much of anything right now, but then I've only done one repeat of the pattern.
I've also started a hat for Brandon's step-father. He likes blue, so a bit of Police Box Rios will make a good hat. I'm using a fleur-de-lys pattern in purl stitches against the stockinette, which I got from Baske fleur-de-lys Mittens pattern, by Niclole Hindes. It's a pattern I bought on Ravelry a few years ago, but have never knit (in my long list of patterns I'm going to try someday!). I've been knitting cowls in the round recently and it's become a habit that when I've got the yarn in the purl position, I'm going to make a yarn over. So far I've only had to tink back once. But it was for almost all the stitches I'd cast on. I must be very careful not to make that mistake again. Right now it looks like two inches of ribbing, but when it actually looks like a fleur-de-lys hat, I'll take a picture.

I had the shocking realisation this week that except for a couple hats and cowls I want to make, my Christmas and Reunion knitting is almost done. Except for Brad's sweater, pesky thing. But fat yarn on fat needles! It'll knit up in no time!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

October is Sweater Month

If it's October, it's sweater month! Both time to start wearing them and time to start knitting them!

Okay, it might not quite be cold enough to wear sweaters. October isn't what it used to be. But I decided that it would be a great month to make some sweaters. I am determined to make one and finish one, and maybe, if I'm lucky, make another. And believe me, I have the yarn to do it!

So last year I started a sweater for my friend Brad. He's tall, 6 feet 5 inches tall. We're talking about miles and miles of stockinette. For whatever reason, I didn't finish this sweater, but the yarn, the needles, and most of the back panel are still here, quietly mocking me. Another sweater I want to make is one for my friend Troy, who is a red head, and who likes green. And yes, the yarn is bought and ready. And if I have time, I'd like to make one for myself, because I bought some gorgeous yarn this summer, and I want to think it will take less room in my life if it's a sweater in my drawer rather than a collection of hanks sitting in a bin.

This does not mean that I am stopping making various Christmas presents, or the last four hats in my Hats for the Homeless series (more on that in another post). Those are the travel projects, the ones that will fit in my bag. Sweaters are at-home knitting, since I don't want to lug that much yarn in my backpack every day.

Brad's sweater is in Lamb's Pride bulky, a mix of 85% wool and 15 % mohair. I chose the colourway Denim, because he said he wanted a blue sweater. You can see in the photo how far I've gotten, and I can assure you that it is coming along quite nicely. The pattern is Easy Bulky Sweater by Yankee Knitter. I've made it before, but I like it, and it's a good solid and very warm sweater that works well for most men.

The sweater for Troy is in Malabrigo Rios, pure superwash Merino. The colourway is Ivy, and the pattern I chose is Flax, by Tin Can Knits (I got it as a free pattern on Ravelry). It's a top-down pattern, knit without seams. I've finished five sweaters in my day, and all of them were done as panels that needed to be sewn together when all was said and knitted. I've never done this, and I'm pretty excited to get started on it.

If I have time to make a second sweater (because the above is only one-and-a-half sweaters, since Brad's is more or less half done already), I want to make the Flax sweater for myself, using Donegal Tweed by Tahki, in a deep blue colourway. I bought this yarn being thoroughly enchanted by the colour and the feel of the yarn, and while I have made two sweaters for myself using bulky weight yarns, and would like to make something that isn't quite so warm. Those bulky sweaters are so warm that I don't feel like I need to wear a coat over them, even when it's wicked cold outside (as we say around here).

Sweaters are such a serious time commitment. I've figured it takes me about six to nine hours to make a hat, about 15 to 25 hours to make a scarf (depending on length, number of stitches, and complexity), and about 60 hours to make a bulky sweater. I reckon it will be about 70 or 80 to make a worsted weight sweater. But I am up for the challenge. I will admit, with some embarrassment that it's always exciting to cast on a sweater, but the stick-to-itiveness of finishing one can be daunting. Sweaters, while most easily knit at home, are best knit while attending knit-night, for support and encouragement from one's fellow knitters. Maybe I'll do both, and bring them with me sometimes to the open knit at my LYS.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Greater Boston Yarn Crawl and Rude Reality

The GreaterBoston Yarn Crawl occurred a couple of weekends ago. The original post I had planned and which I wrote in my head talked about how I couldn't afford to buy more yarn, that I now had 30 large bins to house my yarn stash, that I will have to move all these bins, and store them in a house that will have living space of about 1000 square feet (well, I hope it's that large), and that I hadn't really knit up anything from the yarn I got at last year's Yarn Crawl (except for those two skeins of Art Yarn that I got at the Creative Warehouse, but the rest of the yarn is still in my stash). Let's face it: The last thing I need is more damn yarn.

That is the post I planned to write. Rude Reality, however, had quite a different agenda for me, alas. Nicole and I visited a grand total of six yarn stores, beginning Friday night. I was so good. At the Stitch House in Dorchester, the MadTosh was on sale for $18 a skein, and I bought nary a bit. I looked at it. I felt it. I weighed the merits of one colour over another. But none of it came home with me. I must also admit here, if I am to be honest, that I have a fair amount of Tosh in my stash, since I bought most of what was on offer when the beloved and much lamented Windsor Button Shop closed its doors a couple years ago.

Stitch House, Dorchester. All the Madeline Tosh!

On Saturday morning, Nicole and I got an early start on the Crawl. We were going to get our Passports stamped, pick up some free patterns, and enter the drawing for the big baskets of goodies that most of the stores were raffling off. This is where Reality got rude. The first store we hit was the Iron Horse, in Natick. I love this store, and it's the first time I'd visited it since last year's Yarn Crawl. Not having a car makes it difficult to get there. The owner and her colleague remembered me, and gave us a very warm welcome. On Saturday Berroco yarns were on sale. I decided to buy some Ultra Alpaca, a 50-50 blend of wool and alpaca. But I couldn't find a green I liked, so I got the Vintage. As I sit writing this, I looked at the fibre content and discovered that it is 52% acrylic. I don't knit with acrylic, and so I will see if I can sell, trade, or gift this yarn, and I'll get something else. I'd like to make the Deathflake* hat pattern (free on Ravelry) for a friend. But now I see I'll be getting some other yarn. I still like Iron Horse. It's not their fault that they don't know my prejudice against artificial fibres, and my fault that I didn't check the fibre content before I bought the yarn.
Iron Horse, Natick. I love this store, even though I didn't get what I wanted.

The next stop on our itinerary was the Black Sheep Knitting in Newton. Beautiful yarns, a kick-ass raffle basket, but I didn't buy any yarn there. I did, however, enable someone to buy lots of yarn, discussing what colours a boy would want to wear in a hat. That was a lot of fun. If I can't buy yarn for myself, I'm always happy to help someone else buy yarn.
Baah Yarn at Black Sheep Knitting. This is a great yarn to work with.

We moved on to the Creative Warehouse next. There are some lovely yarns there, but again, I didn't buy any yarn. But I saw some stuff I would like to go back and checkout some time. The crew there is friendly, and Nicole and I fell in love with an expensive skein of yarn ($104) to make a shawl. I liked the blue, she liked the red. We'll save our pennies to buy it some day.

The penultimate stop was the Island Yarn Company, in Waltham. The GPS took us there via back roads, including one unpaved road that was hell on our bladders. But Island Yarn is wonderful! A good selection of yarn there is dyed by the owner, and yes, I did buy two skeins of chunky yarn. The gorgeous Tanzaneta blue yarn, and the yarn designed for this year's Crawl, as yet unnamed, known as GBY2015. I got the chunky weight, and it reminds me of the latter moments of a sunset, right before night falls.

Our final stop was Mind's Eye Yarns in Cambridge. I have loved this store for many years, and when I lived in Somerville, it was always my go-to store for just about anything I needed, knit-related. I bought a small kit of Malabrigo lace weight, three skeins pre-packaged with a pattern. This was a special sale item for the weekend, and the colours I got were orange, red, and black. I'm thinking a cowl for a friend, done as a gradient. The Plymouth yarn was on sale for Saturday, and if I'd had more money, I would have bought some of the deep, dark blue. It was so pretty. But I suppose I have enough blue yarn. There was a new alpaca/merino blend in natural shades there, but it was a bit too pricey for me, and it can wait until I am a bit more flush before I add it to my stash.

Several of the stores had visiting yarn companies giving trunk shows. The only one that really piqued my interest was Toil and Trouble, from Salem, MA, at Mind's Eye. She had some beautiful hand dyed yarns on display, and again, I wish I had more money, so I could have bought her out.
Toil and Trouble yarns, at Mind's Eye. 
I can't wait to add these to my stash. 
I might even knit them up!

I guess I could say it was a successful Crawl, in one way, since I scored some beautiful skeins of yarn. It was not a successful Crawl in another, since I had not intended to buy any yarn at all, and only went with Nicole to keep her company. Really, though, who am I kidding? There was absolutely no way I was going to go on a yarn crawl through some of the best stores in the Boston area without buying any yarn. As they say, “Don't pee on my back and tell me it's raining.”

*There is also the Deathflake 2 pattern.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Oops! I did it again!

Some days it doesn't matter how bearish one might be, one is really like Brittney Spears. I have a couple days off from work because of Rosh HaShannah, the Jewish New Year (Happy 5776!). I thought I'd do a little work around my room, organising yarn, putting books on the shelves, hoovering the rugs, putting the yarn in zip loc baggies, and so on. Then I uncovered the new bin I'd bought a few weeks back to hold my new yarn, and began filling it. And filling it, and filling it. Until it overflowed. Oh dear. As dear Brittney would say, "Oops, I did it again!" I need another damn bin.

My yarn acquisition is definitely getting the better of me. Because I really need to buy a new bin or two to handle the yarn I've got sitting on the bed. And on the sofa. And on the desk. And on the bureau. Oh, and I need to store the yarns I got while in New Orleans; they're still in my suitcase. I think I'm up to 28 or 29 bins. I might as well make it an even 30. Don't let's even talk about the Christmas ornaments I've been collecting for the last four years, even though I haven't put up a Christmas tree since 2008 (because, you know, this is a blog about knitting and yarn, not Christmas ornaments). I don't even want to think about the Greater Boston Yarn Crawl that's coming up this week. I need to sit in a lotus position and chant, "I don't need more yarn, ohm. I don't need more yarn, ohm." *le sigh* Of course, I won't need more yarn until I become a Buddha, and I don't think I can become a Buddha until I knit my entire stash. On the other hand, if I've achieved SABLE, then I might live forever trying to become a Buddha!

But I've got plans! I've got big plans! I've acquired some kick-ass patterns for next year's knitting. And I've even been choosing the yarns from my stash that I want to use. I'm really really really going to try to stick with stash yarn! Really! Unless I discover I don't have the right colour (not everyone wants to wear blue). Or the right fibre (because some people are allergic to wool, but not alpaca). Through the good offices of Ravelry, I've gotten the following patterns: Ho'okipa shawl; Inland Sea; and Twin Leaf (all available on Ravelry!). I've got my knitting set out for me once I finally finish this year's holiday knits.

Now, off to Boutique Target so I can buy more bins. Because I'm damn sure going to do it again.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

New Orleans' Yarn Haul

I'm back in New Orleans for an extra long weekend (five whole days!), and of course I made a trip to the Quarter Stitch and to Bornside Yarns. Because when there are two yarn stores within walking distance, it's a clever thing to visit both. Of course, they're in opposite directions, but that didn't matter at all. Since I've been to the Quarter Stitch so many times, a couple of the people who work there remember me, and that's really nice. I got to hear about Jen's trip to Ireland working as a crewhand on a sailing ship, and the different things going on in town. At Bornside Yarns, the owner didn't quite remember me, but after I supplied a couple hints, she sort of did. We got to talking about things to do in New Orleans, Unitarians, Catholic churches, and things to do around the year. In all, both were very good visits.

At Quarter Stitch, I picked up some Malabrigo Rios.
One skein of Azul Profundo to make a hat.

Two skeins of Bobby Blue, to make a shawlette.

At Bornside Yarns, I got more yarn!

 One skein each of undyed Plymouth Homstead Yarns, in brown and white.

Two skeins of Wisdom Yarns' Poems Silk, 75%wool and 25% silk.
Not sure yet what this will become, but it's soft and lovely, and shimmers.

On the whole, some really good haul for a few hours' shopping at two really lovely yarn stores.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Dying and Margaritas

A week ago, with the temperature reaching about 88 and high humidity, Mirabel, Huw, and I got together to dye yarn. All I can say about the experience is, "Wot larks!"

Using eco-friendly dyes from Greener Shades, we dyed eight skeins for me, two for Huw, and three for Mirabel. It was a long day, starting at 10:00 am, ending well after 10:00 pm, included lunch and a dinner of lobster (for them, since I'm a kosher vegetarian), and delicious corn on the cob, the first I've had this summer. I think I got home just after midnight. And it was awesomely fun!

My skeins were one skein of Alpaca, two of Corriedale wool, three of Romney wool, and one of wool of unknown sheep breeds. Mirabel had a cotton bouclé yarn, that was dyed a colour that could only be described as “puke yellow”. It was seriously ugly. Huw's yarn was two HUGE skeins of white wool, of unknown sheep breeds, that he got for free years ago, which had been languishing in his stash for many years.

First we tied the yarn with fine cotton string, making sure that the loops were large enough for the dye to reach the yarn after it expanded in the dye pots. Next we soaked the yarn in hot water, letting it get thoroughly soaked. While the yarns were soaking, and the instructions noted that alpaca needs to soak longer than sheep's wool, and that these dyes were best on animal fibres, rather than vegetable fibres. This would later prove out as Mirabel's cotton didn't hold the dye, and we noted that while the cotton strings binding our yarn became dyed, they didn't absorb the dyes as well as the animal fibres. Live and learn, eh?
 Mirabel is getting some of my Romney yarn ready to soak. The yarn was rich in lanolin, and the dying instructions said it would dye better without lanolin, so we washed it well before putting it in the dye liquor. I had, however, had to cut about four inches off the skein, and we dyed that, lanolin and all, and it seemed to come out fine. I think if I have lanolin rich yarns again, I'm just going to dye them as they are. 

When the yarns were completely soaked, we prepared the dyes. Mirabel says herself that she is not a scientific dyer, carefully measuring the dyes to achieve a specific colour. We decided we wanted very saturated colours, so we poured the entire contents of each phial into the mixing cups. By day's end, we had used the Ruby Red, the Fire Red, the Amethyst Purple, the Amazon Green, the Sunrise Yellow, and had mixed the River Blue and Coral Reef Aqua together. We left the Midnight Black, and Sunset Orange for another day. I also want to note that during the dying process, that when the yarn reached a certain temperature, which we gauged by how much steam was coming off the pots (hey, I said we weren't scientific, and the description of the steam was taken from the instructions that came with the dyes), we added some citric acid, which intensified the colours of the yarns. We did test for pH., using strips, to determine a rough estimate of base/acidity of our dyes.

The steam is rising and we know that the water is damn hot.
We started with the Amazon green, dyeing my alpaca first, and the Ruby red, which I used for the Corriedale and one skein of the Romney. Since stove-top space was limited, we only dyed two colours at the same time (mostly, though we finessed that later). When I pulled the alpaca out of the dye pot, Mirabel decided to try dying the cotton yarn, even though these dyes are not formulated for vegetable fibres. No one wanted to dye anything else green, so it was worth a shot. We rinsed the alpaca and almost no dye coloured the water, but when it finally ran clear, it was a gorgeous dark pine green.
Alpaca yarn in the dye bath.
Next we pulled the red yarns out of the pot. The dye liquor had been completely absorbed, and again the water ran clear after only a couple of rinsings. This surprised us, since we thought we'd lose a bit more colour through rinsing than we actually did. The saturation was intense, and it was interesting to note that even though the Corriedale and the Romney had sat in the same pot for the same length of time, there was a slight, but notable difference in the colour of these yarns, which I had expected, since the fibres had come from different breeds.

No, that's not spaghetti sauce, that's Corriedale and Romney yarns soaking in the dye liquor!
After a quick break for lunch, we prepared the purple dye for the remaining Romney skeins, and Mirabel took her cotton yarn out of the dye. As she rinsed it, the colour washed away, and she could see the original colour beneath the green. She tried to give it a soak with white vinegar, but that seemed to make things worse. Even though we were pretty certain that cotton wouldn't well absorb this particular dye, she decided to try overdying it with the yellow dye.

While these were dying, Huw and I tied off his rather large skeins, and began soaking them to prepare them to dye. After we removed the Romney from the purple dye, it was time for a dinner break. It's really amazing how tiring and hunger-inducing dying can be, though maybe it was the heat, since even though the air conditioners were working, the kitchen was as hot as the hinges of Hell.
Here, I'm squeezing the excess water out of the purple Romney, before putting it on the drying rack. To the immediate right, you can see the green cotton yarn of Mirabel's that rinsed out even after mordant had been added.
Between finishing my skeins and dying Huw's, we had Margaritas. Because nothing says madcap like a bit of tipsy dying.
Margaritas for everyone!
We plan to get together again in September for more dying, though this time we really do plan on using indigo. I'm already thinking of amassing a small stash of undyed yarns for this venture!
One green Alpaca; one red Romney; two red Corriedales; three purple Romneys