Monday, December 31, 2007

Is it really so wrong that all I want to do on New Year's Eve is just stay home?

I am not, and never have been, a party person. And come to think of it, what's the big deal about New Year's anyway? Yes, yes, reflection on the past year, anticipation of the new. Blah blah blah. I can do that at home, without being in a noisy crowded room.

We have an invitation to a party at a fancy expensive restaurant, from one of Shaun's fellow professors, and an invite to a party at my boss's house, which I really should attend.

I'm having a grumpy day.

On the bright side, though, I made 1 1/2 pairs of fingerless mitts yesterday.

This is the blue pair that, along with the green pair, was a commission from a coworker. This pair is slightly larger, since they're for a man. I upped the stitch count to 40 instead of 36, made the thumb two stitches bigger, and made the cuffs and palms a couple rows longer. I also started another pair in the woman's size from the rest of this skein, and will finish the second mitt tonight. This second blue pair will be going in my shop.

When I was delivering the green and blue mitts today, the friend who received the original blue-purple pair saw the green ones and immediately requested a pair to keep at home, so I'll be making those tomorrow.

I'm going to go to the gym and work out now, and hopefully become less grumpy before all these parties.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

One of Emma's Christmas presents was a little doll cradle I found at a garage sale, that came with just a foam mattress. All dolls, of course, also need a pillow and a blanket, but a headcold and work prevented me from making those before Christmas. So I made the pillow on Christmas day, and the 26th, I made a little quilt.

This was sort of a bittersweet project. Dad was here for Christmas, and he brought me boxes and boxes and boxes, containing Mom's fabric and craft stash. When Emma and I were in Maine last March, I spent several days sorting fabric and sewing supplies and scrapbooking stash, deciding what I wanted to keep. Basically, I cleaned out her craft room for him. It was hard enough for me to do this, but Dad had trouble even being in the room.

When I was in Maine in August 2004, the summer before Mom died, we started planning a quilt for Emma that we would make together the following summer. That quilt was never made, but when I was cleaning her craft room this year, I found the stack of fabric that we had tentatively pulled together as an idea for the quilt. Purples, blues, and greens were the colors, but we never got as far as deciding on a block pattern.

Back to the present. Emma chose all the fabrics for her doll quilt herself (with supervision), from one of the boxes I brought in for her to rummage through. Three of the fabrics that she chose were from that stack of fabric for the quilt-that-never-was. I'd like to think that Mom would approve.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Another pair of fingerless mitts, this time a commission! The blue/purple pair I made for my co-worker went over really well, and she went around the office showing them off to people. One of the other women liked them so much that she asked if she could pay me to make pairs for her and her boyfriend; green for her, blue for him. Of course I said yes, so here's the first pair:

The yarn for the second pair is being dyed as I write, and will be knit this weekend. The green yarn is actually the darker green skein I dyed in October, overdyed to darken it up a bit and get some tonal variation. I really like the way it came out. When its knitted, it looks like green marble.

I also finished some mittens for me, using the leftover skein from making the original blue/purple fingerless mitts. I was a little worried that I would run out of yarn, but I actually had a bit left over.

They photographed a too little dark. The picture with the mitt pattern (in my sidebar) and other blog post linked above is a better representation of the color.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Sometimes the best-laid Mom Plots don't work out exactly as planned. Emma got a princess tea set for Christmas, and has been incessantly bugging me to let her have a "real" tea party with it, with mint tea. The one attempt at having a tea party complete with water ended up with puddles all over the coffee table, so I wasn't too keen to let her have mint tea. Water tea parties are fine, outside in the summer. Inside, not so much.

Finally, as a compromise (read: driven to distraction, pulling my hair out, PLEASE STOP WHINING) I told her that when the weather warms up, I will make her mint tea and put it in her teapot so she can serve all her invisible princess friends tea at an outdoor tea party. I figured that would be the end of that.

Five minutes later, as I was checking the dyepot on the stove, I heard the clop-clop-clop of size 10 girl's boots on the floor. I turned around and there she is, dressed in snowpants, boots, coat, hat, and mittens.

"Cinderella and I are ready for our tea party, Mommy. Is the tea hot yet?"

I knew when I was beaten, and gracefully capitulated.

It was about 5:00pm, completely dark out, 27˚F, howling wind, and blowing snow. She sat on the back step, poured her mint tea, talked to her invisible princesses, broke icicles off the gas grill to stir the tea and cool it down (?!), and generally had a wonderful time.

She finally came in after about 45 minutes, rosy-cheeked and happy.

Parenthood is a wonderful, mysterious learning experience. Tea parties in the snow. Who knew.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Will I have enough time? Will I have enough yarn? The perennial questions of a knitter on a deadline using the remnants of a skein of handdyed yarn.

I started this Branching Out scarf Wednesday night, at about 9:00 pm, after seeing Kris's. I've been aware of this pattern since it was published two and a half years ago, yet it was suddenly imperative that I cast on immediately and make another Christmas present. I used the leftover partial skein from the Calorimetry I made last week, because 1) it was on the table next to my chair, and 2) it looked like there might be enough yarn in the ball to make a scarf. It was initially to be for Emma's preschool teacher, but I gave it to a coworker instead of the Calorimetry since I finished it in time for office giving. I'll either make another scarf for Emma's teacher, or give her the Calorimetry. I wasn't planning on delivering that gift until Monday, so there's plenty of time. (Notice how time becomes relative in December.)

This scarf used 55 grams of the Knitpick Bare merino DK that I dyed sky blue, and US 7 needles. It's on the short side for a scarf, only 20 repeats of the pattern, but is still long enough to keep a neck cozy. Have I mentioned how much I like this yarn? Takes dye beautifully, lovely to knit with, and makes a very squishy soft fabric.

I blocked fairly aggressively, to maximize the length, and it ended up 45" x 6.75". In the event of yarn shortage, I did have a backup plan to put the blue only on the ends, with a white unpatterned section in the middle, but when I reached the halfway point in the ball of yarn it looked like I was going to squeak by with enough length so I kept going.

You can't beat a knitted lace gift from two shortish evenings of knitting.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

An update on The Panda Cory Show:

I have 9 mostly-grown-up babies now, bringing my total to twelve. I haven't collected and hatched any eggs in a while, and I think I'm going to take a break for now. I was getting tired of the daily water changes for the fry, and I've got too much else going on at the moment. Plus, I'm out of tank room.

These guys are so personable and active. I just love watching them trundle around the tank in a group, nosing through the gravel.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

It's just Emma and me holding down the fort this weekend. Shaun had to go up to Friday Harbor to do some work at the Lab, and Emma and I stayed home to supposedly clean the house a bit in preparation for my dad's arrival next weekend.

So how has my weekend of cleaning been going? Well, I did absolutely nothing last night. I sat in front of the TV and knit on a mitten until 9:30, at which time I couldn't keep my eyes open anymore and had to go to bed.

Today (Saturday) was to have been my big cleaning blitz day, so that I could relax and enjoy Sunday. How did that work out? Hmm, not so much. Emma and I spent the entire morning in our PJs, cuddled in a blanket, watching Noggin cartoons and eating sunflower and pumpkin seeds for breakfast. How decadent. I did make a batch of Julekage (a sweet cardamom-y Scandinavian christmas bread with candied fruit, raisins, and almonds) this afternoon, though. One loaf went in the freezer for Christmas morning, and I fully expect the other to be gone by tomorrow night. Yum.

After the bread came out of the oven, I decided that we needed to get out. We ran out of canned dog food last Thursday, and I forgot to get more before Shaun left yesterday. But Emma and I needed some exercise, and poor Cobalt was very hungry. She chose not to eat at all yesterday since all I had to offer was dry kibble. So Emma and I bundled up, ventured out into the 29˚F snow flurries, and {gasp} walked to the grocery store.

Is this really so unusual? It's only 3/4 mile from our house to the store, and twice on our way there and once on the way back people stopped their cars and asked if we needed help. Now this was nice of them, and if I had been in trouble or something I'm sure I would have been very grateful. But they seemed so astonished that we were just walking to the grocery store.

I brought a backpack to carry the dogfood and assorted other things back, Emma and I were both wearing wool hats and mittens, good coats, and were quite comfortable. I was, anyway, and Emma never complained so I assume she was too. It wasn't as fast as just hopping in the car (which is what I'm sure I would have done had the car been available), but it was a nice walk and Emma and I had a really great conversation. We talked about Christmas lights, why the moon gets bigger and smaller, why you don't talk to strangers, how books are made, why we have day time and night time, why snowflakes have six sides, why bubbles are round and not square, and how girls are different than boys. All topics addressed in response to questions that she asked. Quite a grown up conversation for a four-year-old.

I'm glad the car wasn't available so I didn't miss out on that conversation. GLAD.

Friday, December 14, 2007

I've finished another gift for a co-worker, a Calorimetry.

Once again, Knitpicks Bare 100% merino DK, dyed by me. This is an interesting pattern, shaped entirely with short rows. I think if I make another I'll cast on fewer stitches, because even using DK yarn and US 5 needles (rather than worsted/aran yarn and US 8 needles) it's a tad loose.

Even loose on me, I mean. It's much too big on Emma, but she insisted that it was her turn to be the model.

Monday, December 10, 2007

More combing, this time the rest of the fawn suri alpaca from Caroline. I'm such a bad blogger- I completely forgot to take pictures until the very end of the last comb-full. I don't even have any pictures of the beautiful curly locks. Phooey.

This fiber was very long (8"), very curly, very slippery, and very staticky. Woolcombing X-treme, if you will. I had enough fiber to load the combs four times in all, and by the third batch I had worked out a method that went pretty well. I did initially try just flicking and spinning from the lock, but that wasn't at all successful. The fibers are so long that the locks pulled into a snarly, tangled mess. Perhaps with more practice I could have made it work, but I didn't want to waste the fiber. Combing worked beautifully.

The individual locks were so slippery and narrow that they were hard to lash on, and didn't stay on the combs well, so I flicked bunches of locks first with my dog comb to open up the cut ends and the curls, then put them on the combs and did three passes, misting very sparingly with water as needed to keep the static under control. I did have a bit of a problem with the fibers wanting to wrap too far around the tines if I took too big a "bite" with the mobile comb, leading to difficulty during dizzing (grasping both ends of the same fiber). Eight inch staples are about the upper limit of what I would want to comb.

It reminds me of maple sugar cotton candy.

There was quite a bit of variation in fiber length within each lock, so the combing waste was more than I would have liked (also due to that fiber-wrapping problem I mentioned above). From 106 g of uncombed fiber, I got 68 g of top. I saved all the "short" fibers though, and I think I'll either card them on their own to make a fluffier yarn, since the shorter fibers had more texture than the long silky fibers that the diz drew off, or I may even try to comb it again since most of the waste still has a pretty good fiber length.

What I did get with the diz is lovely. I think it will make a nice laceweight yarn, very much like silk. Shiny, soft, drapey, and no elasticity.

If I spin it fine, 68 g should be enough for a lacy something-or-other.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

I just need to crow a little. I joined the gym and started exercising on November 7. Since then I have been going to spin class three times a week, and if I miss a class (only did that twice) I use the elliptical or bike on my own the next day, so I'm still getting a 45 minute workout 3x a week.

It has now been a full month. I'm so proud of me! I weighed myself again on Friday, and was somewhat disappointed to see that I haven't lost any weight. I feel stronger, though, and there is a subtle but noticeable difference in my shape. I don't know if anyone else can tell, but I can.

My main goal for exercising, other than general health and fitness improvement, was to get rid of this darn poochy baby-belly that has been hanging on (and increasing) for three years now, since Emma stopped breastfeeding. I don't mind the thighs and rear as much as I want the belly gone. Presumably, if the belly goes, the rest will firm up along the way. And I do believe that the belly is going!

I weigh more now than I ever have before. I truly don't care what I weigh, if I feel healthy and good about myself. The point being that I was starting to not feel healthy and good about myself or the way I looked.

The exercising is working. I'm actually enjoying it, and can stay with it. This is good.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Basic Fingerless Mitts

Note: This pattern is also available as a free Ravelry download, here.

shown in Heritage Hand Dyes DK yarn (

35 g (1.2 oz)
~90 yards
US 5 (3.75mm) needles (I used two circulars)
gauge: 5.5 stitches and 6.5 rows = 1"
size: women's medium

kfb=knit in the front and back of a stitch

Cast on 36 stitches loosely. (I cast on over two US5 needles)

Join without twisting and work K4 P2 rib for 16 rounds.

Work first increase round for thumb gusset:
(K 4, P2) 3 times, K1, place starting marker for gusset, kfb, kfb, place ending marker for gusset, K1, P2, (K4, P2) twice.

Work 4 rounds even, in rib pattern and knitting all gusset stitches.

Second and subsequent increase round:
(K 4, P2) 3 times, K1, (marker), kfb, knit to last stitch of gusset, kfb, (marker), K1, P2, (K4, P2) twice.

Repeat (knit even 4 rounds, increase round) 3 more times – 12 gusset stitches.

Work one round even, in rib pattern and knitting all gusset stitches.

Work around in pattern, placing 12 gusset stitches on a holder and casting on 2 stitches in their place.

Work around in pattern for 14 rounds.

Bind off using Elizabeth Zimmerman’s sewn bind off:
Cut the yarn 4x the circumference of your hand/mitt, thread a tapestry needle, and *insert the tapestry needle through the first two stitches as if to purl, draw the yarn through, keep the stitches on the knitting needle, insert the tapestry needle back through the first stitch as if to knit and slip it off the knitting needle, draw the yarn through.* Repeat from * to * until all stitches have been bound off. Don't pull the yarn too tight while binding off.


Place reserved gusset stitches back on the needles.
Knit around, picking up two stitches at the top of the thumb opening (14 stitches total).
Knit two rounds even.
Bind off using EZ's sewn bind off.

Knit a second mitt the same as the first - no reversed shaping needed!

These mitts could be easily personalized by adding cables, lace, or stranded color patterns, lengthening them into gauntlets, or even turning them into full mittens by finishing the fingertips. They're a jumping-off place. Be creative!

© 2007 Sue Brady
You are welcome to make and sell mitts from this pattern, but please don't copy my written pattern for commercial uses or post it elsewhere (link to this page, OK?).
I had a productive night last night, and whipped out a complete pair of fingerless mitts. These are to be a Christmas present for a co-worker, who is always complaining of cold hands in the office. Start to finish, about four hours, 1.2 oz of yarn and US5 needles (2 circulars).

The yarn is Knitpicks Bare merino DK, the blue and purple skein I dyed on a dreary afternoon last October. I think this was my favorite skein of the eight I did that day, and it looks even better knitted. The colors were Sapphire and Purple, and I dabbed on ~8 inch lengths of color, then aggressively smooshed the intersections together to blend. Lots of variation, but minimal pooling and striping. I may have to make myself a pair of mittens out of this yarn.

I used Elizabeth Zimmerman's sewn bind off for the top edges, and I'm quite pleased with it. It's very neat and tidy, has as much stretch as the rest of the fabric, and was super easy. The cast on edge is nice and stretchy too, since I used the long-tail cast on over two US5 needles.

I don't know if the knitting world can stand yet one more mitt pattern, but I wrote it up anyway, in my next post. Even if nobody else uses it I still want it for my own reference, because these are the best-fitting mittens (well, half mittens) that I've made to date. They fit my hands perfectly.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

I did a little more combing yesterday, this time to try out blending. I used the wool I dyed last December when I was getting ready to overdye my Urchin Shawl. It's Rambouillet x Cormo, part of a whole raw fleece I bought a couple years ago and scoured myself. I have a pillowcase full of dyed locks, in four colors.

I used about half purple, and half red/pink/blue in equal amounts. When I first put it on the comb, it looked like no good could come from this venture. Clown wig, anyone?

After the first pass, there's some progress, but not much.

After the second pass, though, things are starting to come together.

And after the third pass, all is well with the world.


The staple length of this wool is shorter than the Merino x Columbia in the last post, and there was more combing waste. Some was due to the fact that this isn't as high-quality a fleece as Herkel, some was due to my scouring and dyeing process. I washed this in Friday Harbor, where we had very hard water. It was difficult getting all the grease out and it matted a bit, and I'm sure the kettle-dyeing didn't help. Still, the finished product is lovely springy top that I can't wait to spin.

The colors mixed nicely, but I think next time I'll use proportionally less purple and more of the other colors, though it is noticeably different from the straight up purple locks. It's more dynamic and has depth. It'll be interesing to see what it looks like spun.

I also combed one batch of some suri alpaca locks that Caroline sent me with the Falkland top as the prize from her 500th comment contest. Not the easiest thing to comb because it was so slippery and staticky, but it made beautiful top. Actually, I forgot to take pictures and went straight to my wheel with it. It was very much like spinning silk. I'll have to show that another time.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Lookie what I got yesterday!!!!

Indigo Hound double-row Viking combs! Eeeeeee! I actually ordered these October 28. Yes, they took more than a MONTH to get to me. Backorders. Bah. I don't want to talk about it. Now that they're here, I couldn't wait to play. I did a bunch of combing last night and a bit this morning. SO. FABULOUS.

Brace yourselves, I also took a bunch of pictures of the combing process. Please, try not to drool on your keyboard too much.

I'm using Herkel's fleece, the Merino x Columbia that gave such lovely results. To start, I loaded the comb by lashing on enough locks to fill it about a third of the way.

Then I took that comb in my right hand and the empty one in my left (I'm left handed), and transferred the wool to the empty one by combing perpendicularly across the full comb. Here's what it looked like after one pass.

I removed the combing waste, switched the combs so the now-empty one was in my left again, and repeated. Here's the wool after two passes.

Repeat again. Here's the wool after three passes.

Yummmmm. The wool is now completely poofed, aligned, and vegetable-matter-free (not that there was really any VM to start with- coated fleeces are wonderful).

I clamped the comb to the table and slid the wool up the tines of the comb a bit to loosen it and facilitate the drawing-off process:

Drool, drool... Ahem. Time to diz. Now, I don't have an official diz but basically all you need for this process is a little doohicky with a hole in it. Something flat like a spice jar shaker top will work, but they tend to work better if they are concave, since that gathers the fibers together as you push it up. I have been dithering for the past couple weeks about how to make one, since I don't want to spend the money to buy one, but I wanted to start combing now now now! So I was casting about for what to use, and came up with a plastic spoon. Of course! We even have some in the cupboard, which I am compelled to wash and reuse every time since I hate to just throw them away. I cut off the handle, poked a hole with a heated nail, smoothed the hole with a knife tip, and voila, my diz. It has a 1/8" hole.

I used a crochet hook to grab some fiber through the hole, and started alternately pulling the wool out and sliding the diz up.

Pull and pull and pull, until all the good fiber is off the comb and all that's left is the short bits. What you get is gorgeous, fluffy, soft, even top. Mmmmmm.

I wound it up into a little nest, and it's ready to spin.

There is some waste left over, about 20% of the starting weight of fiber. In this case, I started with 10 grams of washed fiber, and ended up with 8g of top, 2g of waste.

That seems like a lot of waste, but when I looked at the leftovers, it really wasn't anything I wanted to spin, not for fine lace yarn anyway. Neppy bits, short fibers, dirt from the tips of the locks. I saved it and may try carding or felting it at some point, but even if I only use the part of this fleece that I draw off as top, I will have gotten my money's worth.

I combed 8 of these little nests last night, and one this morning, for a total of 66g (2.3 oz) of top. If I spin this like I spun the sample skein (10000 ypp, the skein is in the last link above), it should make enough yarn for almost half a shawl. I'm thinking a large square shawl, in the Shetland or Orenburg tradition.

So I have more combing to do, and lots of spinning, but I'm taking a break from combing for a day or so. My hands, they are wimpy, and I have blisters.

So worth it. And it's a great arm workout.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Emma spent over an hour playing outside in the snow this afternoon. When she came in, she was understandably chilly. After her hot chocolate, she decided that since her toes were still cold, everyone else must be cold, too.

She tucked me into my chair with a blanket and brought me my knitting (do I have her well trained or what?), she put a hat on the dog (didn't last long), and she found Naia in the bedroom, where he was having a nice peaceful nap on the dog bed. She brought him a pillow, a blanket, and a stuffed animal, and tucked him in "properly."

Apparently, Naia wasn't too upset about this turn of events. He slept like this for at least two and a half hours.