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.

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 boucl√© 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

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Lady Dye Yarns

When I was a small child, my parents had a recording of Barbra Streisand singing to Chopin's Minute Waltz. I can barely remember the words, but thanks to the magic of Google, I found them.
I have got a minute, just a little minute
I have only got a minute, just a minute
I have only got a minute that is all the time
I have to sing this tiny minute waltz

It isn't easy but I'll try it then
I've gotta say goodbye but first I'll take a minute
And put in it every note that Chopin wrote
And I shall sing the little minute waltz
(Words by Don Harper, music by Frederic Chopin)

There are more verses, but these suit my purpose. My friend Diane Ivey, of Lady Dye Yarns, and a consumate dyer, is going to a major trade show, and has asked her friends to knit up samples for her to take with her. I volunteered. I received four skeins of fingering weight yarn, blue, green, orange, and pink. Fingering weight. Allow me to let that sink into your brain. 
I usually don't go any finer than DK, sport if I absolutely have to. But fingering. Yeah. I have big ol' clumsy man-hands. Tiny needles give me cramps. But with the instructions in my e-mail telling me to make something(s) using two skeins and to keep two skeins, I accepted the challenge. It did not help that I was on vacation last week and did not leave myself much time to knit. Now that I'm home, I've been desperately searching for patterns to use with fingering weight, while keeping an eye on the calendar. I have thirteen days to make this. I've got twelve. I can do it in twelve. If I can find a pattern. Eleven. I am down now to eleven days to make what I'm going to make, and I have finally found a pattern that might work: Lefties, by Martina Behm. The pattern is written so one may use up leftovers from skeins previously worked. But I think I'll just dive in here and make it with all brand-new, never-used-before yarn.
This was taken from Martina Behm's Ravelry page.

It's this, or a feather-and-fan scarf. 

Yeah, right.

This is Diane's yarn. I'm not sure of the fibre content, but it sure is pretty.

Another view of the gorgeous colours.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Farmers' Market, Provincetown

So a wonderful week was spent in Provincetown, where I got some knitting done (though not the amount I had hoped, considering all the yarn I brought with me). I did finish a hat, and I got a bit done on a cowl, but I brought four skeins of Cascade Superwash 128 and circular and DPNs to work on a hat project I've got going on (more about that later, when I have more than two hats to show off for all my labour). But vacation time isn't always the best knitting time, and I like to listen to the radio while I knit (NPR junkie here), and sometimes where I'm sitting (like, on the deck), just doesn't get the best reception.

Whatever. What I was really waiting for during this entire week was the Farmers' Market that is held here on Saturdays. I usually arrive on Sunday, so I have to go the entire week before it manifests. Today there was someone selling the most gorgeous corn on the cob and blueberries, someone selling imported Italian olive oils (from Toscana and Puglia) and aged balsamic vinegars, and someone selling artisan breads. And of course, someone selling yarn!

There was a tent from Biltmore Wool Barn, in Brewster, MA. I cannot find a website, but the phone is on the sign below.

There were many skeins from which to choose, and I tried very hard to limit myself in my selection this year.

With a good selection of Blue Face Leicester, Merino, Silk, and blends of all of the afore mentioned, it was very hard to make a selection this year. 
I got this with a project for my friend Adrienne in mind. She loves this colour, and she lives in Provincetown, and in fact, it's at her house where I'm staying. I'd love to say I made something with yarn from her town's Farmers' Market. This is 60% merino and 40% silk, 520 yards, 9 ounces.

This I got for Brandon's mum. She loves blues and browns, and i think I have something to mix with this at home. It is 100% Blue Face Leicester, and is a superwash yarn. With 430 yards, and 4.6 ounces, I think I can get something pretty out of it. The picture does not do it justice, it is a beautiful golden-brown colour.

Now I need to search Ravelry for some patterns to use on these gorgeous yarns. I cannot wait to knit with them!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

A Tangled Web

Yesterday, before going to work, and after getting home, I spent six-and-a-half hours untangling a single skein of yarn. I bought this yarn during the Greater Boston Yarn Crawl back in September. It's a lovely wool, black and blue, my favourite colours. I didn't open the hanks to check them, foolish me. One hank is fine. The other was, well, calling it a mess is not really accurate. It was just pitiful.

 This is the offending yarn, all rolled up in a ball, next to the unoffending hank. It's Artyarns, Zara Hand-Dyed. It's merino wool from Italy.

My friend Bee is a yarn whisperer. She's probably the best person I know who can disentangle  yarn problems. But I have to admit that I did pretty well today on my own. Even though I used more than six hours of my life that I will never get back. But I'm not bitter. Much.

Of course, six-and-a-half hours of untangling yarn leaves me wanting a stiff drink, but I shall forebear and leave the vanilla vodka bottle, the one I received as a gift two years ago, yet unopened.

I will cast on this yarn and start the next iteration of the Spiral Staircase Shawl. I think it will work well, because the colour lines are long before they change. It would probably work better in stockinette, but I'm going all out garter with these shawls.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Water, Water, Everywhere. . .

I finished a project the other night, the fourth iteration of the Spiral Staircase shawl. This one in Mad Color Fiber Arts sport weight, called Wicked. The colourway is Rock Lobster. I love the way it looks in real life, with bits and pieces of lighter and darker red. I want to knit with this yarn again. Luckily I bought several skeins of her stuff at the New Hampshire Sheep &Wool Festival!

After I finished that, I sat on my bed with the contents of two bins emptied over the comforter. I looked, I prodded, I felt and sniffed and held various colours up to the light. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. I looked at the pile of yarn in front of me and cried, "Oh no! I. Have. Nothing. To. Knit!" No, seriously, I have nothing to knit! All that yarn and nothing to knit! Yarn, yarn everywhere, and not a string to knit!

OK, seriously, I have plenty of things I can knit. I just don't feel like knitting them right now. Sweaters? It's too hot. Another Spiral Stair? Um, can I do something different before I do the fifth iteration of that? The awesome hats for a couple I know whose marriage is now recognised in their home state? Yeah, but the pattern is a finicky Fair Isle, and I want to be wide awake when I attempt it. Besides, in order to do it I have to do some (cue scary music) math! Math is hard!

Later. . . .

OK, I've cast on the hats I'm making for my newly recognised married friends. Doing the math is a lot easier than I thought it would be. I mean, 96 stitches divided by 24 is. . . 4! Easier than I thought, especially when I used my trusty phone calculator. Phew. Besides, I can do the ribbing and the foundation before I start the persnickety Fair Isle stuff. Well, it's not really Fair Isle, and more like stranded knitting because it isn't a traditional Fair Isle pattern of circles and squares. It's bears! I'm making the Polar Bear Hat, by Susan J. Flanders, and which is distributed by Three Kittens Designs, which can be found on Ravelry. I'm making Grizzly Bears instead of Polar Bears, because I have brown yarn, rather than white. Besides, my friends are more like Grizzlies at this point than Polar Bears. I'm using MadTosh Vintage, in colours Celadon and Betty Draper's Blues for the hats, and Whiskey Barrel for the bears. I'll post some pictures when I have more than some ribbing (because, you know, 2x2 ribbing is SOOOO interesting to look at!).

Much later. . . .

These are the colours I'm using for the hats.
Betty Draper's Blues, Whiskey Barrel, and Celadon.

These are the hats so far. I'm making the ribbing with US 6 needles, the stockinette part on US 7 needles, and the stranded knitting part with US 8 needles. Which is why I can have both hats going at the same time (never mind that I have multiple sets of all three sizes).
At the top of the celadon hat, you can see the beginnings of the bears' feet. There will be four bears walking around this hat. As with all stranded knitting, it's always a question if the finished product will fit an adult head. You see, these two guys who are getting these hats are on-line friends, whom I've never met in meat-space. But I love an adventure, and adventures in knitting are the best kind!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Because Knitting Isn't Weird Enough

Because knitting isn't weird enough.

Recently I've become interested in making soap. A few years ago I found a book in a used book store and idly picked it up. I read through it, but most of the soaps were made with tallow, and I'm a vegetarian so I wasn't quite interested in making them. I certainly would want to put the little bunny logo on my soaps that indicate that no animals were harmed in the manufacturing of my product.

And then I discovered one of the recipes was for a pure olive oil Castilian soap. And I decided that I had to make my own soap. Because I love olive oil soap. Years ago, I used to buy a large square bar of olive oil soap from France. It was huge, and I could barely hold it in my hand. A single bar lasted several months, and I used it for everything: washing my self, my hair, as shaving cream. Sure, it makes you smell like a salad, but it's so good for your skin.

There are several items I need to buy: an accurate scale that can be reset to zero; dishwasher-safe buckets and pitchers; spoons that won't dissolve when stirring lye mixtures; safety goggles and rubber gloves; a large plastic mold for the initial pouring; a kitchen where I can do all this, because with the piles of mail my roommate keeps on our kitchen table, I'll never be able to do this work at home. And I want to try my hand at milling the soap, grating it down after it's been made, to create a hand-milled soap, where I can add things like ground up lilacs, or a bit of vanilla fragrance. At this rate, I'll be wanting to make my own bread (in the oven, not in a bread maker), and keeping chickens out back for the fresh eggs.

What has any of this to do with knitting? Well, absolutely nothing. It's just a bee I've got in my bonnet. But if I made my own soaps, I'd have the perfect excuse to knit up a bunch of wash cloths to give to friends along with a bar of home-made soap, with various logos like Daleks, or bears, or fleurs-de-lys knit into them to delight the recipients. I've got a lot of cotton yarn in my stash! I've seen the patterns on Ravelry! I could wrap the soap in the wash cloth that I'd knit!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Yarns to Dye For!

One of the things I've been interested in for a while is dying. Come July, I'm going to get my chance to try my hand at it. Huw's friend Mirabel is a dyer, and uses natural plant dyes rather than chemical dyes. I think we'll be using indigo and maybe woad. One of them, I've heard, needs what is known to dyers as a "piss-bath" and I'm sure if that's true, it will all be so very charming.


I've been scouring my stash for any undyed yarns I might have. I've found quite a few, but these nine are the ones I think I'll bring with me to dye.

A few years ago, I signed up for a yarn CSA out of Martha's Vineyard, which has since relocated to Virginia as Juniper Moon Farm. At the end of the season, I got two skeins of Romney and four skeins of Corriedale.

These are the Romney skeins. The yarn is beautiful, but not particularly soft. I need to do some research about Romney yarn, and what it might be best used for.

These are the four skeins of Corriedale. I don't think I've ever knit with Corriedale before, so I'm looking forward to making something interesting with these once they're dyed.

In 2007 I visited a friend in Bellingham, WA, and on a trip to Orcas Island, we passed a sheep farm and I bought these two skeins. I wish I'd also bought the natural brown yarn, but I was limited in funds. These are from Coffelt's Farm from the island, and I've carried them with me a long time, and a long way. While I know these are wool, I'm not sure from which breed, and the website doesn't mention which breed they use for the wool, though there are Romney, Dorset, Coopworth, and Texal on the farm.

At a recent craft fair, I got this sport weight skein of alpaca yarn. It's from Sunny Knoll Farm in New Hampshire. I don't know much about this yarn, only that I've been told that alpaca accepts dye beautifully, and that it will look good when done.

I will continue to look through my stash to see if I have other undyed skeins of yarn. I know that I have a few skeins of Cascade Epiphany, a discontinued line, in a mustard yellow. Mirabel tells me that this can be overdyed, and if I can find it, I'll bring it with me. I only bought it because the yarn had been discontinued and I knew that when my LYS was soldout, it would be out of reach forever.