Thursday, 29 March 2012

The Ants, the Eggs, and the Fleece

Not the subjects of a Salvador Dali painting, but the things which have been occupying me in the last few days.

I got the notification that my knit Pysanky pattern was accepted by KnitPicks IDP program, and they wanted the samples for pictures. So those are shipped off, the pattern finalized and sent, and I also got the pattern posted on Ravelry. One thing down.

It took until Tuesday to get all the fleece dry. The Romney fleece has been picked and carded, and a skein spun and plied. The rest of the carded Romney will wait - today I'm concentrating on the Border Leicester. After all, the point is to have a sample of each spun for the deadline. And tomorrow is Fleece Spa, so I know there will be spinning time, but I would like to confine the mess of picking to my place. A great mindless task to do while watching a movie or two.

And the ants. Same ones as last year. Must be Spring. Found them yesterday. I know now that it's the cat food they really seem to go for, so hopefully this bout will be minimal. I vacuumed the areas, squashed all the ants I could find, washed the floors, boraxed the cracks under the molding where they seem to come in, and put Julia's food dish inside a larger, wider dish. She always manages to scatter food outside of her dish, so if this keeps it off the floor, that should discourage the ants. I will just have to keep patrolling the areas for a while, and make sure I keep up with the cleaning (horrible thought).

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Introducing Toby

Having had a week of gorgeous summery weather, I was expecting Saturday to be decent for the Great Washing of the Fleeces (all those lovely samples from Rare Breeds Canada). So far from it, that it was overcast and windy and rainy all day, and the rain even turned to something like ice pellets. But the fleece had to get washed, so outside I went with my tubs. Began before breakfast, and all day it seems I was up and down stairs and in and out of water, as I was doing the laundry as well. Thankfully none of my clothes were anywhere near as dirty as fleece often is.

I borrowed the door to the old chicken coop to drain the fleeces on. It would have worked much better on a sunny day, but with the rain...well, everything came in before supper, and draped the upstairs bannisters, and clothes-drying racks beside the stove. I'm sure the door will come in handy another time. The chickens won't need it. Dad is converting the old barn/coop to a garage for his car, and there will be a new coop built a little ways off.

Right now, however, they are still in the barn at night, and getting let out during the day to pick around in the yard. Saturday they also had a little excitement. Since we lost Leroy to the dogs that came around, Mom's been inquiring around for another rooster. Turns out one of my cousins had a rooster to spare, and he was looking for a door for some project. Mom had three old doors in storage in the shed loft. And voila, the good old-fashioned barter system strikes again. Saturday morning saw my cousin and the family and the rooster driving up the lane. Rooster duly introduced to hens, a door selected in exchange, and everyone was happy. Especially the rooster - he was crowing very happily, and when Mom went to check a bit later how he was getting on, she found him on the roost snuggled up with four or five hens. I tried to get a picture of him later, but he's a bit camera-shy.

Still, if you can't tell from the photo, he's a lovely rooster. White and cinnamon and black, glossy and plump. It took very little time for him to be christened Toby, after the singer, Toby Keith. He's got the right figure, and a black mark under his chin that looks like a beard - and exactly the same swagger around the chicks as his namesake in his music videos.

Thursday, 22 March 2012


I do get rather annoyed when a project decides, halfway through, that it's not going to work. Even though I know it's something that happens when half my knitting projects are from handspun, or stash that's been there a while - things where I have to use what I have, because I can't get more. And even when I do recognize that it's a grand exercise in problem-solving and creativity.

I want to get the little baby sweater my aunt commissioned done in the next few days, since I can then pass it off to Mom to give to her this weekend. However, I had to restart it yesterday. The back was 3/4 done when it became very obvious that the remaining blue I'm using as the main color would not be enough for the sleeves. Not even half the sleeves. I wondered it I was going to have to choose an entirely different pattern - and I really like the little intarsia stars. But then I realized that I could keep the pattern if I reknit it in stockinette stitch rather than garter, seeing as it takes essentially 2 garter rows to equal one stockinette, in height. It means the cast-on stays the same. The stars are knit with one row rather than 2 per stitch, and aren't quite square anymore (and will need more attention to end weaving, seeing as it's easier to get gaps with only half as many rows and no difference in frequency of color changes), and I had to add a hem to keep the bottom edge from curling. But it will work. Is working. And going faster, so the back is already redone, and one front almost half done. And the extra yarn saved should be enough to take care of the sleeves.

Other things, at least, are progressing. The oatmeal alpaca I had on the wheel this week is done and plied, for a total of 340 yards.

And not only are my crocuses out, but there are scylla and miniature daffodils. Cheerful and pretty and exciting.

Soon, by the looks of it, there will be more things too, with buds in the wood hyacinths and the pulmonaria and some of the big daffodils. Someone needs to reschedule Tulipfest, because at this rate they'll be out weeks early.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Product and Process

At the Knitter's Guild meeting last night, they had Sally Melville as a speaker. She lives nearby, and has authored several knitting books, and her talk was on Why We Knit. Besides mentioning things like the social aspects and the making things, I was glad to see that she spoke a good deal about the effects on the brain and behaviour, and even brought up related research that had been done on things like stress relief (although obviously not the case on the days when you're raging because the knitting isn't working) and continuous learning as a method of warding off dementia. She also went into a lot of the same reasons that I disagreed with a speaker at school who said that you shouldn't put knitting on your resume. Knitting teaches math skills and 3-D visualization, focus and patience, dexterity and coordination, and goal setting, among other things, and those are all good skills and traits to have.

The one part that rather surprised me, though, was when she was talking about 'product' versus 'process' knitting. The former means you knit in order to get a particular item, and the latter that you knit because you enjoy making it, even if the end product is useless. Sally was saying that most knitters in North America can afford to be, and are, process knitters. She suggested there were lots of people who make things and then never wear them, and her tag line was 'Make what you wear, wear what you make', look at what's in your closet, and if you have something you love, then make different versions of the same, in different fibers or colors. I have to admit that puzzled me a bit. I personally wear/use everything I make, or the people who receive it do. But I do enjoy the process as well, and there are so many great patterns out there and ideas in my head, that even if I have a sweater I made and love, chances are I won't make that pattern again but try something different. And I think most of the people I know who knit are the same. Unless they have a specific request for a pattern, they will try new ones all the time, and they will wear them, too! So I don't know who she's been studying, 'cause it wasn't us.

Monday, 19 March 2012

On the Knitting Front

I finished my challenge shawl Thursday night, and blocked it. Surprise, surprise, when I went to pin it out, I found that although I had been aiming for a triangle, it wasn't quite.

Still, it's pretty, with a soft, lofty, shiny texture, and the angled shape may be better, given that it isn't huge - blocked size is 48" across and 21" deep. When I write up and retest it, I want to make a larger version, and one with a slightly deeper border. Both things were limited by having only 500m of the yarn available, and I cut it so close that the remaining bit of yarn wouldn't be enough for even one row extra. I did the border separately and sewed it on as I didn't want to have to tink back on the shawl body if something went wrong. I seamed it a bit differently than the cria shawl, and I like the way the join looks, like an ornamental braid. I think the shawl will end up being named Swanhilda. Deb said it looks like bat wings, which is true, but I can't call something white and fuzzy by a bat/vampire name.

Now the primary project (and I want to finish this week) is the baby sweater. The two fronts are done and the back is in progress. Being handspun also, and leftovers from my sweater, I am crossing my fingers for there to be enough yarn. I could always make the sleeves in stripes if needed, but it would look better in the blue.

I would like to record here that my first crocuses opened today. In Ottawa. And it's 20 degrees C out. I'm beginning to suspect we must have skipped January, and this is really mid-April instead of March. Mom has snowdrops, and there were roses which lasted until December, so that is 2 months only with no flowers this year. At this rate, the Canadian climate is going to cease being useful to show how tough we are.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

A Demo and a Windfall

Somehow I feel like maybe I lost a day this week. Not sure how else it got to be Saturday night again, already.

Thursday was entirely taken up with the first demo of the season, at the Ottawa Farm Show. It was actually the third and last day of the show, and the OVWSG had people there all three days, but today was the only day I went.

Historically, I gather, the show has been at Lansdowne Park. This year, they had a new venue, the brand-new and modern-looking CE Center out near the airport. Trekked out on the bus in the a.m. with my wheel. No question of whether I was in the right place - the parking lot was half pick-up trucks, and there were several pieces of farm machinery parked along the front of the buildings. Inside, a huge floor space with booths for everything from livestock breed associations to wood furnaces to equipment dealers with wagons and things parked on the floor like a car dealership. A couple of the smaller conference rooms were appropriated to antiques and associated crafts and 4-H, and that was where we were parked for the day.

Dang, that was a fun day. Watch all the farmers in their plaid shirts and ball caps and boots wandering through the tile-and-glass entryway. Chat with people, and be amused by the security guard asking if I was old enough to be allowed to spin, and the guy who wanted to know (in jest) whether we could use steel wool to spin and knit a bumper for his truck. Show the kids how to use the drum carder. Wander about for a bit after lunch and see the booths.

Rare Breeds Canada had one of the booths, and in the afternoon the lady who was there came by to visit us and ask if we could spin some samples of fleeces she had for an upcoming talk at the Ottawa Knitting Guild. So we said, sure, lovely, no problem. And 5 feedbags of raw fleece turned up for us shortly thereafter. On discussion of whether she was giving us all this, when really you'd only need a fraction for the samples, she did take part of two fleeces back, but left us with three bags full, or almost. Some for samples, some to play...
Showing the others at Fleece Spa yesterday what we had gotten, we decided since everyone was excited about the fleeces, that samples of each fleece could be prepped and spun by each person, and have a variety of styles of yarn to show for the talk. My front entry smells like sheep right now, since I was lucky enough to get the bulk of each sample - the perks of having no job right now, I have the time to do more with the wool. So excited! There's a chunk of Border Leicester, one of Romney, and a Clun Forest (new to me, but seems med-fine and crimpy and soft) in white, a pale-grey Shetland lamb, and a lovely Cotswold in silver and pewter shades, with a sheen and swirl like mohair locks. I can't wait to get started.  

Sunday, 11 March 2012

The Phantom of the Apartment

This morning I woke up to the strains of Shania Twain on my radio. There isn't anything strange about that. I have the radio tuned to a country station, and the alarm turns it on every morning, and I can catch the news and weather and maybe a song before it turns itself off again. This morning a second Shania song started after the first. It was nice and upbeat, so when the radio shut off as usual, I went to turn it back on.

That was when I found it wasn't the radio that was playing. It was a CD. And now I am completely mystified. The alarm will turn on a CD instead if that was the lsat thing used  - but I know it was the radio rather than the CD playing Saturday morning. I didn't use the radio other than that on Saturday. I don't even have a recent memory of using the CD player. The last thing I remember playing was the Phantom of the Opera soundtrack, on cassette. And when I checked my suitcase of music under the bed, Phantom was under 4 CDs, the top one of which was the Shania one. I was in all day yesterday, apart from taking Julia for a walk in the yard. And there is no logical reason for someone to wait until I took her out, sneak in, find the CD, and set it to play, and not touch anything else I can see.

I tried fingerprinting the CD case, and I've got a fairly clear bit I can't positively identify as mine, but not sure if I'm right, or I just didn't get the right part of my control set properly printed.

In any case, it's a bit bizarre, and even if the girls at knitting think it was either an electrical glitch or the cat, I am being very sure to lock the doors at all times now.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Winter or Spring?

March thus far appears to be a very indecisive month. Or possibly manic-depressive. Little more than a week in, and we have had temps ranging from 12 to -12 C, enough snow to replace most of what melted in February's false start to spring, and enough warmth and rain to melt that off again and start the bulbs and rhubarb growing (No, seriously. Coulda knocked me over. Green and red shoots in the garden and here it's not even mid-March.) And then snow again. It's getting so you don't know what to wear until you step outside and check.

Inside, I've been on the usual round. One front of the baby jacket is done. The Challenge shawl still has no name, but I'm past the halfway mark. The pysanky are officially in testing, as of tonight. And the llama/wool blend I was spinning is done and plied. It came out at 797 yards in 195 grams, best I can tell. Slightly thicker than laceweight and soft and lofty.

The new project on the wheel now is some teal blue English wool roving that a friend destashed to me a couple years back. It's a lovely color, but a bit of a challenge - very easy to spin, but a bit slippery, in that if it's not well twisted, or if it gets too much force on the singles, it just shreds apart. Not normally an issue with wool, that. I was going to do a 3-ply with it, but after trying Navaho plying it and having it pull apart a few times while pulling up the next loop, I quit and switched to 2 ply. Less strain on me and the wool both, and I think it'll be OK once plied - the 3-ply sample is good, anyway.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

I See A New Star...

Deliberate misquote there. The original is from a song in 'The Band Wagon' which starts 'I see a new sun, up in a new sky...'  However, since my newest project has a pattern more like a star than a sun, that's how it came out in my head.
I started the baby sweater my aunt commissioned yesterday. The getting started took a while. I had earmarked a skein of grey handspun for the base color, but swatching told me it was too thick - not even close enough for me to knit a small size and end up with the large one I wanted. So then the question was, could I find something in a reasonable weight where I had enough of one color for the sweater AND several other colors for the stars? After swatching and rejecting a few other things and rummaging through the stash, I found the leftover handspun, 2 1/2 skeins, from my February Fitted Pullover.

It's close enough gaugewise to use. I'm knitting the 0-3 month size for width and aiming for the 6-9 month dimensions. The blue/gray indigo and logwood mix means it'll be good whether the baby is a boy or a girl, and I have plenty of natural-dyed handspun I can use for the stars. Now fingers crossed it'll be enough yarn.

I was a leetle nervous about the stars, being as it is my first crack at intarsia. But by George, I think I've got it. Wool handspun is nice and grippy, so I think that helped, and the first star came out quite nicely.

There were a couple rows in there where I had 9 different strands of yarn going, and half of them were only needed for one stitch. I managed it without getting into an irretrievable tangle, happily. But weaving in ends is going to be fun.

It's quite amazing to think, after having tried it, that the original use for these patterns was for shoe insoles! Think of that. People who probably didn't have an excessive amount of free time, spent some of it doing intarsia with all these strands, for a finished product that went inside your shoe. I am in awe - and very happy my work will likely be more visible.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Eggs Etcetera

Finished the dozen of eggs for Deb on time to give them to her when I was over there Friday for Fleece Spa. Granted, the last egg got finished and the photos taken there, but the point is they're done. And tiny and cute. The weaving yarn ended up giving me 11 sts instead of 8 sts to the inch, and now my original eggs look coarse in comparison!

It was good to have the second set, though - I found a handful of little things that needed changing, mostly in things like decrease placement. When I get those corrected, I can start hunting testers for these. I don't have a hope of releasing it for Easter, but I'd rather get it done properly. The Bargello tam is done and released, though - and two purchases already, so it's rather exciting.

The Challenge shawl has been ripped and restarted a third time, and I hope for the last time. The bands were not really looking as nice as I wanted. So now the pattern is in wedges, and I'm feeling a lot better about it. Now I need to find a name for the pattern, and eventually for the rectangular version also. I usually find the best way is to let it stew in my brain for a while, and eventually something that fits will suggest itself.