April 13, 2015

Winter finally is moving on. The garden is again coming to life with daffodils following in the witch hazel’s wake. April is usually good for one snowstorm, so we’ll see if we can get by without. In any event, spring is here and, as much as I love working with wool, I am so ready for something lighter!

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Well, okay, it is 49% wool. But 51% silk! This is two skeins of Noro Kogarashi I have marinating in my stash. It is not a yarn I typically would buy, but when The Woolly Lamb in Pennington, NJ, closed, the sales were too good to resist. Two skeins came home with me and promptly went into Tupperware to wait. I knew I had the perfect fit when I found this pattern:

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This is “Lichen” by designer Larissa Brown and my hat’s off to Larissa because this is one of the most interesting, deceptive, simple patterns I’ve come across. You start out (at least I did!) thinking it is going to be complicated. You cast on and, after a few rows, think “I didn’t do this right.” Then you get into the increases and bind-offs that make the levels and you go “Ah!.” Just count your row, count your yarn-overs, count your bind-offs. Level by level, you step down and around in a spiral until you run out of yarn.

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The yardage on the Noro was perfect; I think I had about a 15 inch section left. Long enough that the cast-on end is on my left shoulder, and after two wraps around, the cast-off end is on my right.

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Add a shawl pin picked up at Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival, and I’m ready to go.

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This, to me, was one of the most fascinating pieces I’ve knitted.

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It goes around and around.

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And the colors lay perfectly within the stitches.

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At the widest point, it is only about 10 inches wide, but 5 or 6 feet long.

Love it! I plan on wearing it for long walks on the boardwalk in the evenings this summer. Carefully arrayed or quickly tossed on, it looks smashing no matter how you wear it!

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April 4, 2015

With Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival looming on the horizon, it seemed a good idea to make some headway spinning up a fleece I bought at last year’s event. It is a lovely moorit Finnsheep fleece that went through only the most basic of preps. I gave it a hot water rinse that took off what little surface grime there was but left most of the lanolin.

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Rather than send it out to be roved, I am using my favorite method: dog combs.

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These are possibly the cheapest pieces of fiber equipment you will ever come across. I have a set of large Indigo Hound combs and a set of Viking mini combs and, frankly, they scare me to use them because they are so sharp. I’m always afraid that the cats will abruptly jump up when I’m using them and impale themselves. But the dog combs have blunt tines and you can use either the wide-set teeth or the close-set. For my purposes, they work great. I hold a lock by the cut end, flick open the tip, then turn it around and flick the cut end. Works great.

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The only adjustment I had to make in spinning this was to make the final strand a 3-ply. There was far more variation in the fleece color than first met the eye. The first skeins were 2-ply and, when knitted into gloves and caps, had too much of a color change from place to place. The remedy was to make a 3-ply strand that distributed the colorations better throughout.

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These skeins are about 250 yards each, and there is still plenty of fleece in the basket! I will try to make headway on it, spin it down, and justify another one at this year’s MSWF.


… But This One Was Just Right!

March 22, 2015

This is a story of gauge and needle size. I admit I am something of an indifferent knitter. In fact, I’ve often said if I ever wrote a book about knitting, I would use that as the title. I’m not a gauge person. I’m not a swatch person, except maybe with handspun because handspun can be tricksey.

I am also a person who does not like the cold and have mentioned this before. I am on a quest to come up with the warmest, most comfortable wooly knits to ward off the cold. I have experimented with various neck gaiters, cowls, and scaves to come up with the best for warding off a chill.

I found a pattern on Ravelry called Eiswein that I absolutely loved. It was a lace pattern for a bulky yarn and had lots of interest like bobbles and picot edges. The photo of the finished object was eye-catching. I had some skeins of Lion Brand Alpine Wool in my stash. I also unearth a couple of balls of Crystal Palace “Iceland” lopi-style yarn in an ice blue color. I was set.

The results were a little bit Goldilocks — the first was too big, the second too small, but the third was just right.

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The top cowl is from Lion Brand Alpine Wool in Oatmeal. I used the requested Size 11 and Size 10.5 needles that the pattern called for. The lower part was okay, but the neck was far too wide.

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I admit I have a bit of a scrawny neck. If women’s shirts were sized like men’s, I’d take a 16 collar. Even though this followed the pattern, it was way too loose.

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Back to the drawing board. Next I tried the same yarn in the “Chili” colorway. This actually was my second favorite color of this yarn, the first being the sadly discontinued “Cinnamon”: even an e-mail query to the company about possibly bringing back the color failed to get any type of response. At least they could have been polite and said “no, we stand by our decision to discontinue a really awesome color.” Anyway, with the chili red yarn, I made the error of using the 10.5 needle on the lower half of the piece. I used size 8 on the neck. The neck was okay with the smaller needles, but the body of the piece lost definition.

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The smaller needle made for a thicker, tighter fabric but made the piece overall too small.

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Back to the drawing board, again. This time. I found the Crystal Palace “Iceland.” I had bought this on sale from an on-line yarn store when it was on clearance and at a ridiculously low price. So it marinated in the stash, waiting for the proper moment. This time, I used Size 13 needles for the body, size 9 needles for the 2 rows BEFORE the neck decrease and the 2 rows after, and then a size 6 to finish the neck. That worked.

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This needle combination gave me a wider sweep of the body of the piece and allowed for better definition of the lace pattern. The size 9 nipped the neck in a little more snug than before but not too tight. The size 6 for the neck I originally though was too tight, but after a couple of wearings, it stretched just enough so that it doesn’t bag but allows for an easy on/off.

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The one thing I may still do is go back and add a few rows to the neck to make it a bit higher. I like it to the chin and this is a tiny bit lower another 2-3 rows should bump it up just fine. But taking everything else into account, this one was just right!


East Coast Fog

March 19, 2015

There is this really great pattern for fingerless mitts. It is called “Vancouver Fog” and I found it using Ravelry’s pattern search. Last autumn, I was looking for a mitt pattern that had some interest, maybe cables. This one fit the bill:

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The pattern comes in two lengths: this is the shorter version. If you want them longer, you could do another pattern repeat of the cable. I found, though, that these are plenty long. Good to protect your wrists when sneak up on the little folk in the garden!

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One slight pattern change that I made: I kept the K2xP2 rib all the way throughout the palm side for a snugger fit, hence the variation to the “East Coast Fog”:

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Sadly, I don’t know what this yarn is! It had been marinating in my stash for some time. I believe it is alpaca or alpaca and wool. It probably came from the closing of The Woolley Lamb in Pennington, NJ but had long ago lost its ball band. However, it worked great for my purposes here.

I live in a small town and I had a number of people admire these. So much so, one of my young friends intimated that where she liked to dress mainly in black and grey, she liked to accessorize in pink. I rooted around in my stash, found 2 skeins of Jil Eaton Minnow Merino in Ice Pink, and so a second pair appeared:

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Santa Claus delivered these to my young friend and she claimed it made all her friends insanely jealous. Not that that was the goal, but it is a nice compliment. She wore them all winter and, as she has a job that requires her to sometimes be outdoors and have use of her hands to write, they were a big success.

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Orange. Pink. Another friend, another admiration society. This resulted in nut just mitts, but a matching neck gaiter, too:

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I forget the brand, but this is a 50/50 wool/silk blend in the color, “Lipstick.” The mitts, the same as previously knitted. I had almost memorized the pattern by this point:

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The gaiter, the antler cable lined with fun-fur and closed with some silvery Celtic-knot buttons:

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At this point, I was getting a little wound-down about the mitts when I realized that I was heading off to work in a red topcoat and the orange autumn mitts. Uh-oh. Another raid on the stash (notice that theme keeps coming up?), and some Frog Tree Merino in a red that almost matched my coat:

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Notice the snowbank is practically all ice. Once it snowed this winter (and snowed. and snowed.), it never seemed to melt, just ice over and stay there. Definitely the winter for warm woolly items:

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The Vancouver Fog mitts pattern is easier than you’d think. Don’t be afraid to tackle the cables; you just do what the pattern says and you will be fine. And warm. And with this winter, warm was a big deal!

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Spindle Wheel

March 18, 2015

This is a spindle wheel that came to me last spring, and needed no restoration whatsoever:

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In addition to being in excellent shape, it is complete and it is marked:

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Unfortunately, the maker’s mark was not familiar to any of the spindle wheel community, so remains a mystery. The wheel shows excellent and innovative workmanship with a tilt tensioning device:

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The spindle post has a section cut out and the MOA inserted and pierced through with a wooden screw. A turn of the wooden nut loosens or tightens the MOA. Note the cork on the spindle tip. This has about the sharpest spindle I’ve ever come across and one needs to be wary.

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The drive wheel is exceptionally wide and the hub is also uncharacteristically wide:

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It is held in place with what looks to be an original hand-forged nut, but then has been threaded and a modern nut added for stability. The hub is in excellent shape with no cracks. The spokes are all in place firmly.

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The axle is interesting in that it appears to have been inserted from the wheel side out.

This wheel sold in the $100 range, which is an excellent price for a fully working spindle wheel that is in such good shape. Sometimes you have to figure out the price against restoration costs; if restoration is just a cleaning and oiling, that is less expensive than a wheel that is missing parts.

The real beauty of this wheel is that the drive wheel is only 41″ in diameter, making it an excellent “take-along” wheel for demonstrations. We will be doing quite a few in April and May, so stop by and say hello if we are in your area!

The Shawl Rudy

March 15, 2015

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A few years back, when I had first started spinning and when I had barely learned to knit, a workplace friend of mine gave me a bag of combings saved from her Golden Retriever, Rudy. Rudy was a reddish Golden and was her faithful companion for many years. When I started spinning, I was drawn into what I later discovered were typical handspinning discussions, one of them being “can you spin my dog’s hair?”  I admitted that, yes, eventually, I hoped to be able to spin all types of fiber, but at the point I was at, I was lucky to make useable yarn.

This discussion resulted in the bag of combings coming to me with the proviso that “maybe you could make something out of it.”

I had neither the skill nor the knowledge at the time, so the bag of combings languished in my stash. The workplace friend and I were downsized together from the Insurance Company with the Big Rock when they laid off 60% of the marketing department one day. We stayed in touch for a time, then got new jobs and drifted apart. Rudy went to the Rainbow Bridge. Every so often, I would turn up the bag of fiber when searching my stash for something and think, “I really should do something with that.”

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During a recent destashing binge, I again turned up the bag of fiber. This time, I pulled it out and determined to spin it. As it was already combed, I was able to spin directly from the bag. It was long enough, but slippery, so spinning was a bit more painstaking than usual. I divided the bag approximately in half and spun two bobbins. I knew I was going to have to ply because the single strand just wasn’t holding together. Finished, I had a skein of approximately 150 yards. What to make with it was the next question.

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I poured over Ravelry’s pattern finder where you can filter a search by yardage, needle size, yarn weight, pretty much however you want to slice and dice it. The resulting yarn already had a halo and I knew it would continue to bloom, so I wanted a largish needle size. The trouble is, I just couldn’t find anything that appealed to me in that short a yardage. And this was something that wasn’t going to frog easily, so I wanted to get it right the first time. I didn’t want to do a typical long scarf. I was hoping for a shawl with a lace pattern, not too busy, just something to add some interest. Finally, I knew where this was headed — I was going to wing it.

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I had been doing some research on Shetland knitting and the hap shawls, so decided to do a very basic body with a edging of Old Shale. I started at the top of the center “spine” of increases, and also increased along the top edge, so 4 increases on each knit row. I wound up using a size 11 needle. The resulting fabric had a lovely hand to it and the yarn really handled and acted much like angora. The shawl wasn’t huge, but was just enough to go around your shoulders and knot the ends.

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The Old Shale pattern is an old favorite, but I used the 18-stitch repeat directions given in Elizabeth Lovick’s book, ‘The Magic of Shetland Lace Knitting.” When I had about 10 yards left, I cast off with a stretchy cast-off, washed, and blocked. For whatever reason (and more seasoned knitters than I may know!), instead of staying in a triangle, the top edge tends to dip down on each side, giving a sort of moth-wing effect to the overall piece. However, having come from being a very inept knitter not so many years ago to reaching a place where I feel like I actually know what I might be doing, I was pleased with the final effort. I love the color of the yarn, especially the white and lighter striping. It reminds me so of the fiber’s source!

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I parceled up the little shawl along with the little mini-skein and sent it off to Rudy’s owner with a little note to please not cry when she unwrapped it. She emailed me a few days later to say she hadn’t cried, but that she was thrilled to have a little bit of her beloved Rudy again, so much so that she has dubbed this her “Shawl Rudy.”

Turtleneck Cowl

March 9, 2015

I am not a fan of the cold weather and am always looking for ways to — if not defeat it — defend it off. That was one reason I was happy to learn how to knit. I could come up with an endless array of wooly items to ward off the winter. This was purely a vision brought on by the turtleneck on my recently-finished February sweater. I liked the collar on that so much, I used it as inspiration to make … a collar.

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I knew how many stitches I needed for a circle, and I knew I wanted the bobble edging to give it some dimension and interest. I am not the world’s greatest mathematician (there is a reason I became a writer and editor!), so had to draw a circle, quarter it, and write out how many stitches per quadrant. That worked.

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Once I had the sequence of stitches, it was fairly easy to figure out decreases.

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I unfortunately have no clue what this yarn is, but it was guided into my hands from heaven. It was in my stash for years, sadly missing its band and somewhat tangled. I spent a fair amount of time untangling it and, once sorted out, had a rather largish ball that gave me the sense it would be perfect. It was.

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It has a very subtle greenish and blue stripe throughout, but not enough that the stripes take over. It had a slightly nubbly texture that softened up when I wet-finished the piece. When I was getting down the end, I figured out how many yards went into a round, then stopped when I had between 6 and 7 yards left in order to work the picot cast-off. I ended with a piece about 8 inches long, so it was a pretty good guess all around!

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What I like about collars like this is that in addition to keeping your neck warm, they also do their bit to cover the BACK of your neck.

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I’m not a big scarf fan, as scarves tend to ride up in the back and, invariably, I get a blast of chill air down the back of my neck. This stays in place and keeps me snug all the way around.

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It’s not often I get a convenient snowbank to pose wooly items on!


Crazy Socks

March 5, 2015

So, I had this Crazy Zauberball from Schoppel-Wolle in my stash forever. So long, in fact, I’m not even sure where it came from. And the tag was long gone, so I didn’t have much information about the yarn, except what I could Google up. But despite all that, the skein made a great pair of socks!

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The great thing is that the striping came out similar but subtly different

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I probably had been seduced by the primarily orange color but then chilled at the thought of tiny DPNs. So this marinated in my stash until I felt completely confident using tiny, fiddly needles.

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It is a plain sock, no pattern really. I did about an inch-and-a-half of ribbed cuff and ribbed the heel so it fit a bit more snug.

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They turned out fine. They are long, and wool, and colorful.

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Here they are, basking in the sun, just waiting for an icy, snowy winter’s day!

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An Unusual Great Wheel

March 3, 2015

The stats page for this blog show an awful lot of interest in posts on spinning wheels. Most come from searches on the value of wheels, a topic covered in other posts. I thought today I’d show off a wheel that came to me last November.

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This great wheel is interesting for several reasons, not the least of which is the shape and structure of its bench. Most great wheels have a rectangular bench with three legs, one at the spindle end and two at the drive wheel end. This has the requisite set up of legs but with a slight difference — the bench is a T-shape. It is extremely sturdily built with some excellent joinery in evidence. The bench fits into the rear crossbar:


The drive wheel upright has a support joined into the far side of the crossbar:


This wheel had more supports and crossbars than any wheel I’ve seen. Two of the supports need to be replaced. One doesn’t show in the photo; it runs from the rear of the leg under the spindle up under the bench. The other missing support is shown in red; it runs from the spindle post to the bench.


Some other intersting features: the tensioning device is side-mounted, instead of at the top of the bench. Also, notice the little upright post? This is a little support to hold your rolags in place while you are spinning.


I was so happy to get this wheel home I completely forget to get the mother-of-all out of a box! The wheel has a direct drive head. The spindle whorl is cracked and in two sections, so will need some restoration work.


The wheel was found in Virginia and has characteristics of being a Shenandoah Valley or Appalachian-made wheel. Dating it is difficult. My thought is 19th century, although it could be a bit on the earlier side. The wood is in fairly good condition. Once the warmer weather comes, she will get a full spa treatment and I’ll see if she can’t be made to spin again.


Forever Autumn

March 2, 2015

We had an ice storm here last night. We don’t often get them, and while they make for a beautiful, shiny landscape, they are dangerous things. This winter has been filled with cold, snow, and wind. Autumn seems like a long, long time ago and who knows when spring will get here. But I have a reminder of autumn, when the days were still warm and the leaves filled the world with color.

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The pattern is “Forever Autumn” by Welsh designer, Sally Pointer, under her “Wicked Woollens” label.

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I varied the heel slightly. I have a very narrow heel, so instead of the eye-of-partridge stitch that the pattern called for, used a simple 1×1 rib for the heel. This gives me a tighter fit. I also added an extra level of the leaf pattern.

And although it is a bit hard to discern because of the difficult in photographing white, that is an autumn-blooming azalea sheltering the fairy door below.

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The yarn is Three Irish Girls Adorn in the “Lucky Penny” colorway, a lovely coppery color that looks like autumn leaves.

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Given the winter we are having, if I can’t have spring, I would have settled for autumn lasting longer!

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You get a much better idea of the design with the socks on.

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I added the extra leaf at the front ankle.

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And continued the cable down the foot.

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I love the oak leaf motif!

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And these took exactly one skein, with the extra rounds of the design. A very happy marriage of a pattern and the right yarn!