Grackle & Sun

Archive for the category “tink & tinker”

The Natural Order of Chaos

I can’t remember exactly when I started collecting yarn for the beast. Around 2006, I think. Ten years ago. A friend loaned me her copy of Cheryl Oberle’s Folk Shawls after she knit a few gorgeous shawls from it.  I thumbed through the book, drooling at the beautiful, complicated stitches and delicious+scrummy yarn. And I kept on thumbing through.

As a newish knitter, I chose patterns based solely on what I thought I was capable of doing, not on what truly called to me. I was afraid to take off my training wheels. And so I chose the one pattern that I thought I could actually do–the ruana: a large rectangle knit entirely of the simplest stitch a knitter can make with two hands. With the exception of the cleverly constructed  neck (which was knit last, giving me time to build up to it), this is what we call a ‘mindless knit’.  That is not said pejoratively.  A mindless knit is a good thing–something that can be done without counting rows or stitches; something that can be picked up and put down without fear of jacking it up. In many ways, for many knitters, it is the perfect kind of knit–one that allows the stresses of the day to fall away in the rhythmic click-click of the needles, the pull and release of yarn across fingers.  But in this moment, I was not thinking of those things. I was only thinking of what I could- and mostly of what I could not-do.  Thus, this was a project born out of fear and denial: the unfortunate (and unnecessary) fear of crafting over my head, and the utter denial of my heart’s desire to do more. I was stubbornly unwilling to leave the bosom of my beloved garter stitch. And so I cast on (and cast on and cast on), and began a four year journey of…ruana2What? Fortitude, mostly. It’s a lot of garter stitch. 280 stitches per row. 472 rows. That’s 132,160 stitches just on the body. Add maybe another thousand or so for the neck. At times, it felt like a million more than that. It was the neverending story. But as far as stories go, it was a lovely one to listen to and to create. Warm, soft, lustrous, and colourful. It was these qualities that kept me coming back to the knitting. It was so enjoyable. I stopped seeing garter stitch as ‘basic’, and started to experience it for what it truly is–foundational. And the ruana, safe and constant, gave me space to think.

In this thinking, I figured out why I had actually chosen this project. Stitch by stitch, I began to examine my fear, which I realized was born out of belief in an identity of noncraftiness–which itself was all tangled up with life-long rejection from others for not being girlie enough. As I sat with that fear (and also that rejection), stitch by stitch, I realized that I was capable of doing this crafty thing that I loved in my own non-traditional, not-super-girlie way.  And so as my hands knit the ruana, my mind tinked the old identity, the old judgement, until it could be reconstructed into something true. Some of this was very conscious. Some of this was very subconscious. But I knit and knit and knit through it. Somewhere in there, I started working on new projects. Complicated projects which required new skills. I leveled up a few times. But I came back to the ruana. To peace, and space, and the story she told. ruana1And like the best stories, the ones that are unhurried, that take time to pause and call attention as they turn and unfold and build, the ruana demanded patience and rewarded with depth. Demanded reflection and rewarded with insight. She holds a story. Each stitch a word, each row a phrase flowing into the next; the wool providing both characters and setting, my hands the action. My own story knit into it whole cloth.

Then she was finished. And I sewed shells and bells onto her fringe, so she can sing her story, too.bellsandshellsOne of the joys of this project was playing with so many different, glorious skeins of yarn. I loved choosing at random (which is never really random) and seeing how each colour blended into the next. Each skein had its own personality, and I’ll say this: you have to listen to your yarn. It will tell you who it wants to sit next to, if it wants to stand out or blend in.

I used eight different colours and slightly varying weights. I have them listed with pictures on my Ravelry project page. It is a near indescribable pleasure to work with fantastic yarn. I prefer stuff with character–natural colours, handspun, and natural fibers. And I don’t mind picking out the odd piece of straw here or there. The difference comes down to working with something alive or something dead. That’s what it feels like to me. Here’s what is in the ruana of truth:

  1. Beaveslide Dry Goods is an old favorite. Great yarn, super nice people. And the colour cards are awesome. I love them. I used Fisherman’s weight 3 ply in Bison Brown.
  2. Reynolds Lopi 100% Icelandic wool, all natural colours (grey-brown-black). This has been discontinued now. It’s a heavy yarn, and I split the plies to use the singles.
  3. Galler Peruvian Tweed in brown-black #107. Super ridiculously soft undyed superfine high Andes alpaca. Need I say more? Nope.
  4. Deborah Arbuckle’s Shadyside Farm Studio  Hands-down my favorite yarn ever. Romney wool. Lustrous. Gorgeous natural colours. And she is super awesome. I used Sheep Heather in dark chocolate and black. Deborah’s Etsy shop is empty at the moment, and I hope she’s just taking a break to restock. This is me sitting here not freaking out.
  5. Brooks Farm Yarn I swear angelic light shone from this booth at Stitches Midwest. Their yarn is so soft and so shiny. Elegant, but still durable. Like an elf of Rivendell. I used two different colours from a line called Harmony–a blend of silk, wool, mohair, and magic. It has been discontinued, but it’s stashed on Ravelry with some for trade/sell. Hint, hint.
  6. Cheryl Oberle Dancing Colours. I met Cheryl Oberle at Stitches Midwest in Chicago and told her I was knitting her ruana pattern. She was absolutely lovely, and she picked out a skein from her Dancing Colors line to go in the ruana. How cool is that?! Super cool, that’s how cool. Highlight of the trip.

My non-knitting friends get a real kick out of my yarnie fangirling. Like the time we were sitting around the table at a dinner party, telling our best celebrity stories, and I regaled them with the time I waited on Casey and Jessica Forbes at a wedding brunch. You know? Casey and Jess… the founders of Ravelry. Oh, come on! Ravelry. The knitting website… Blank stares and then drinks shooting out of noses, people. That is the entertainment I bring to the table.

Not all knitting carries a story of chaos and transformation and changing of masks the way the ruana does. But it can. Everything has a story, and anything can be a catalyst for change if that is how you choose to see it. And that is magical. People always think that magic is supposed to change the outer world. It does. By changing you, by changing the inner world. May all your crafting be magical.  ruana3

As always, tinks on me!

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To Feel Linen: A Field Trip

I’ve been in the mood for art. Seeing art. Experiencing art. Thinking about art. Maybe even making art. This past Saturday, I had the good fortune to spend a beautiful day at three art exhibits at three different art museums.

The first was the St. Louis Art Museum’s Modern exhibit featuring designs from local architects, artists, and designers from the 30’s through 60’s. Very cool. Very Scandinavian. Some great textiles.

The third was a beautiful and ethically complex exhibit of African Kota at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation. Kota are wooden and metal sculptures which were carved to protect the bones of the deceased. To see these sculptures in a museum is to seen them taken away from their purpose. Despite the fascinating glimpse into another culture and history, I couldn’t help thinking, who is watching over the ancestors now?

The second was an exhibit by Sheila Hicks at the Contemporary Art Museum.  You can take the tour with me via the sad, sad photos taken with my phone’s camera, OR you can click on the link above and take a quick video tour of the whole exhibit. It gives a much better sense of scale, and you can pretend that you went with me!

Here are some pics:

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Sweden, 2004. Linen, wool, and silk.

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Feeling Blue, Seeing White, 2013. Cotton on bast.

 

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Full Regalia, 2007.

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Natural linen and triple-dyed embroidery cotton.

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Evolving Tapestry: Blue, 1967-68. Linen and silk.

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Don’t you just want to run your hands across it?

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Escape to the North, 2013. Linen, silk, bamboo, and porcupine quills.

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Masonry Panel, 1981. Linen and cotton.

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Forêt de Lin Wall Hanging (c. 1968, reconstructed 1983) Wet-spun linen.

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I can just imagine a soft breeze rustling these softly.

 

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Hieroglyph Wuppertal, 1966. Natural linen.

I truly loved this exhibit. Loved all the weaving. Loved all the linen. So much texture and colour. It was beautiful and simple and glorious. I also must admit that I had to keep my hands locked firmly under my arms so that I wouldn’t forget and touch the pieces. The soft, blue fuzziness of the Evolving Tapestry. The glorious bas-relief effect of the Forêt de Lin Wall Hanging. Which I desperately wanted to touch. To make it rustle. Like sheaves of wheat. It was almost too much. It was almost unkind to not let us touch. Almost. Textiles beg to be touched. Or I beg to touch textiles. Take your pick. ;)

Knit|tinK: Sweet Little Shawl

All that ranting and moaning about not being able to knit apparently unblocked my mojo. I decided the next day that I needed to cast on a quick little project for a gift I had promised a friend months ago. I found the perfect pattern in Susan Galbraith’s Sumptuous Stripes Shawlette.

The shawl is a gift for a teenage girl, and so I decided that making it easy to wash would be the kind thing to do. I used two skeins of my go-to favourite “I’m making this for a kid” yarn, which is Lion Brand Wool-Ease in worsted weight heathered solids. We all have our guilty knitting pleasures, and Wool-Ease is mine. It wears well, and you can chuck it into the washer and dryer many, many, many times, and it comes out looking like new. The natural-coloured Romney wool snob in me is stamping her foot in the corner. I am ignoring her.

This took all of two days to finish. I had fun learning how to knit on an edging, which somehow I had never done before. Susan was super helpful in answering my questions when I couldn’t quite visualize where I was in space and time. It all came together without a hitch. Well, almost. The Universe had a hand in this project, of course. See, the funny part about the whole thing is that in order to get the drape I was looking for, I had to go up in needles size. To size 11. So, two projects going on size 11s at the same time. Ha! That’s what I get for bitching.

The only other size 11 needles I had in the house were a pair of old aluminum straights. Not even all that straight–one has a bend in it either from use or maybe from being sat on… I was NOT going to buy another pair of circs in a size I abhor, and so I used the straights. I crammed all 199 stitches onto those cold, chubby, metal sticks, and I made it happen.

Turned out pretty cute.  Thanks to awesome teenage daughter who modeled for my “knit cred”.

I have a thing for knitting stripes. In part, it is due to my “stripe amnesia”–that’s what it’s called when you forget how horrible it is to weave in a millionty ends. BUT, this pattern had no end weaving whatsoever due to the very clever, yet simple, way the colours are carried and changed. I also love the way the edging took care of binding off the live stitches and helped the stockinette to lay down nice and flat. Lovely. Especially since the downfall of Wool-Ease is its lack of blockability.

There we go. Knitting success. Mojo unblocked. Needles flying like the wind.

Aaaaaand… I’m back to the afghan. :D

As always, tinks on me.

Knit|tinK: Squirrels

It’s been a minute since I posted a knitting project. This is true for one incredibly simple reason. I’m knitting an afghan.

It was supposed to be a wedding gift. Ha! I thumb my nose at deadlines. But if I’m very, very lucky, it can be an anniversary gift instead. I’m so not even joking. I’ve been knitting this thing since June, and I’m only, like, 8 inches into it. And that’s on size 11s! Knitting with size 11 needles is like coloring with chubby crayons. It’s like building with Duplo blocks instead of Lego.The whole process is all ham-fisted and unwieldy and weird. My one salvation is the sweet, sweet comfort of feather + fan.  Blessed be the four row repeat.

This kind of knitting is mindless. Is boring. Is the kind of knitting that requires discipline, self control, and the ability to stay the course. To not get distracted. Did you see the seed catalog peeking out from the basket? That is not helping. I sat down to knit the other night and instead wrote up my entire seed order. I try to knit on this monster beast and suddenly I’ve got the brain capacity of a rabid squirrel on a merry-go-round. Today, I did the dishes instead of knitting. I vacuumed.

I’M WRITING A BLOG POST ABOUT KNITTING THE AFGHAN INSTEAD OF KNITTING THE AFGHAN.

What is the problem? I don’t know. Usually knitting time is a gift. But for some reason, right now I just can’t sit still that long. I am restless. I am weak. I am undisciplined. I am… Look, shells! These are shells I found on the beaches in Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware. Yes, Delaware actually does exist. I have been there and know it is true. I love the ocean. I am also afraid of it. And shells are pretty fantastic.

I love the devil’s purse. I wonder who first gave it that name? Did you know that these are the egg cases of sharks and skates? Some awesome little baby sea creature hatched out of this crazy collagen pod. Some mama sea creature MADE this crazy collagen pod with her body. How wild is that?

And all this sunlight saying everything is ok. Urging me to look, and then look again. To think of beauty and far off places. Of stories and adventures. Of possibilities.

Aaaaand… still no knitting. But I did get hungry what with all this cleaning and contemplation. So, I made myself a green smoothie. Can I just say that my smoothies, although quite delicious, never ever ever ever ever look like they do in health food magazines or celebrity cookbooks. My smoothies look like this.

Mmmmm, yum. Lol. Let’s be real here. That is one super healthy smoothie–burgeoning with ripe (albeit, frozen) cherries, masses of fresh kale, coconut oil, heaping tablespoons of omega-laden flax meal, super duper grain-free plant-based protein powder, and powerhouse antioxidant camu camu. It’s healthy, but it is not sexy. That is one fugly smoothie. I bring it up simply to point out that the good stuff rarely looks like it does in photos. And I think this derails a lot of people, keeps them from sticking to their good, healthy intentions. We get so hung up on the image that we lose sight of the content. It doesn’t look perfect so we messed up, right? What’s the point? Then we spend all our precious energy on trying to make things look right instead of spending it on making sure we’re doing it right. Or doing it at all.

So, what were we talking about? Oh, yeah. Me not knitting an afghan.

:P

As always, tinks are on me.

Knit|tinK: It’s a Tiny, Functional Thing

That’s why I love knitting for babies: it’s quick, satisfying, and yet still a functional, full-size garment. That just happens to be tiny. I love it. 

It’s easy, right? Liberate some Mission Falls 1824 Cotton from the stash, find an awesome pattern on Ravelry, cast on in a blink, knit for a minute, bust out some fancy entrelac-y skillz on the solid coloured button band, deliberately make mismatched sleeves to prove it wasn’t bought at Target, bind off, toss on some snaps, and BAM! Baby cardie done! Easy.

But then… well, then it had to be soaked and blocked, didn’t it?

And despite using cold water and the mildest soaking soap, the dye just couldn’t stay put.

And all that pretty navy blue bled right into those crisp white stripes.

And resoaking with colour-catchers didn’t help.

Begging and pleading didn’t help.

Yelling at the sweater that THE BABY WAS ABOUT TO BE BORN FOR PETE’S SAKE!!! didn’t help. 

Ballz.

Tinking would have been a waste, so there was nothing for it but to redye the whole piece. That’s what I did. Got some navy blue Rit dye and dip dyed the whole shebang. Worked alright. Now the crisp white stripes are lovely soft blue stripes and I can pretend the whole episode never, ever, ever happened. 

:D  Now keep your fingers crossed that it fits the little dude (who was born, by the way). I have Post Office FAIL, and have yet to mail it. Tsk, tsk. Babies grow slow, right… ? Lolz.

 

Knit|tinK: EarthSea Socks

These were a long time coming. Slow knitter, frequent tinker = Me. Remember when I dyed some sock yarn with black beans? I finally got that yarn knitted up into some socks. Took a while, because I played around with different construction, and ultimately changed needle size entirely. And, you know, I moved and they sat in a box for a while until I dug them out a couple weeks ago and started over again. Moving is bad for craftal expediency.

These socks were knit toe up on 2 circulars, two-at-a-time. I always begin toe-up socks with a Turkish cast-on. It is my favoritest ever—so easy to do and, most importantly, very easy to remember how to do. Mind like a sieve. Then I knit my standard Super Rounded Toe which goes something like this:

Part One:
After casting on a reasonable amount of stitches (I cast on 9 stitches per side for a total of 18 stitches, and I wear a US size 9 shoe), increase 4 stitches every row until 1/2 the number of needed increases are made. The increases are made at the beginning and end of each half of the sock—2 stitches on the instep and 2 stitches on the sole.

I do my increases like this:

Row one: K1, Inc, knit however many, Inc, K1 (repeat for second needle)
Row two: K3, Inc, knit however many, Inc, K3 (repeat for second needle)

Rinse, repeat.

EZ’s backward loop cast-on and the lifted increase both work very well. I did an EZ increase for the first set of increases and lifted increases after that.

Part Two: 
Increase in the same manner every other row until only 3 increase rows are needed.

Part Three: 
After last increase row from Part 2, knit 2 rows plain. Increase, then knit 3 rows plain. Increase, then knit 4 rows plain. Increase one last time. Then carry on with the sock.

This method works really well for making a nice rounded toe as opposed to the typical pointy toe that many sock recipes call for. Below you can see the difference between a standard toe and my Super Rounded Toe that I did for Dave’s Business Socks:

And then for some extra fun, I did something different for these socks that I’ve never tried before—I knit afterthought heels. It was convenient because I got to the heels while we were at a Comic Con with the kids, and I really didn’t want to stop knitting, which I would have had to do for any other heel type. Mind like a sieve, remember? However, I grossly underestimated the amount of waste yarn I’d need to mark my placement for the heels and had to improvise in order to survive. Not much yarn to be had at a Comic Con.  I did, however, find a plastic bag that someone left on a bench. So I ripped a long strip off of it, gave it some twist, and continued knitting merrily on my way. You do what you gotta do out in the wild.

A word about afterthought heels. EZ (Elizabeth Zimmermann, the Great and Powerful Oz) only gives an outline for how to do this method, requiring, as she does, for us to use our own brains. So I did some interweb research to try to find out more information as to avoid unnecessary and repeated tinkage. One can but try. In particular, I wanted to know exactly where the waste yarn (or for the very brave, the cutting!) should be placed. The interwebz proved very vague on this point. My inclination was to place the waste yarn in the same location where one would start a Sweet Tomato Heel–just before the ball of the heel directly below the crease where the ankle turns into the instep. I found one reference that agreed with this placement, and so I ran with it. Which was a good call, because it fit perfectly.

Then I knit up to the top, added some ribbing and finished with EZ’s sewn bind-off, which again, is my favoritest.

A note on the yarn at this point: Argh. It turns out that ammonia is a pretty harsh modifier. There was breakage within the skein, but only where I modified it with ammonia. Those are the greenish coloured sections. Clearly I applied it too strong for too long. Lesson learned. Because of the number of places where I had to piece the yarn back together (nothing crazy, but enough to be annoying), I don’t expect these to hold up too long.

After the bind off, went back and picked up the stitches on either side of the plastic bag waste yarn. Then I snipped and removed the waste yarn (easier said than done) and was left with the sole stitches (half of the total stitches) on two needles.

At this point, I had to experiment a little bit. In my reading about afterthought heels, one complaint I encountered was that the heel didn’t fit well—specifically, that it pulled too tight across the instep. My first thought for correcting this was to add some short rows in the corners on each side in order to add a bit more depth. I tried this, and while it added the needed depth, it also created a little puckery pocket on each side of the heel. Boooo! That was not attractive. Tink!

I fixed the problem by picking up additional stitches in each corner (4 on each side) and then knitting 5 rows plain before beginning the decreases for the heel. This worked beautifully. The afterthought heel is essentially a toe. Yup. You knit a toe where the heel is and, miracle of miracles, it fits.  After knitting 5 rows plain, I began decreasing 4 stitches every other row. Just like on the toe, these were done at each corner of each half of the sock, leaving a knit stitch worked at the end: K1, K2tog, knit however many, K2tog, K1. I did not do matched decreases, I just did K2tog. It works fine. When I got to the last few rows, I decreased every row until I had 9 stitches on each needle (18 total).

Then I committed the Kitchener Stitch.

Here are the finished socks:

I was skeptical about how the afterthought heels would fit, but they’re actually really comfortable. The only thing I don’t like about them is the impossible donkey ears of the Kitchener grafting. I worked the first two and last two stitches together to improve the issue, but it doesn’t entirely correct it.  See what I mean?

In the future, I think I’d try a star decrease pattern on the heel instead.

It was interesting to see how my haphazard over-dye job knit up on these socks. What is most curious is that one sock is quite a bit darker than the other. I want to learn more about dyeing for different striping patterns. More to play with. :D

As always, tinks on me. ;)  Tune in next time for some cute baby knits.

 

Knit|tinK: Parkour Handwarmers

I actually have been knitting. ;)  I whipped up these handwarmers for my son over the winter holiday break. He asked for a pair of handwarmers and had a few specific requirements for them—that they be grey, and fit a certain length on the fingers. We have the same size hands right now (yeah, my hands are the size of a 14 year old boy’s) so it was easy to measure as I knit along. They were a fun, quick knit and fit really well. Full notes are on my Ravelry page. While I made up the formula for the mitts from my very own brainz, the thumb increase was a pretty close interpretation of the gusset in Kim Christensen’s Garden Mitts. I used a different weight of yarn, and my gauge (and therefore my math) was totally different, which required me to rework her instructions somewhat. I also completely changed how the thumb was set in, just ’cause I was playing around with ideas. However, the basic gusset method is hers, and I think it’s awesome. Very clever.

 

 

I tink therefore I am. ;)

 

Fiber Retreat

This last weekend, I had the pleasure of attending a Fiber Retreat with a dear friend of mine, E.  You might remember E from our pokeberry dye fun.   We had a blast. Mad skillz, friendly people, and more homegrown fiber than you could shake a weaving stick at.  I think that was my favorite part of the whole weekend—meeting all of the local fiber farmers who set up in the market.  I believe in supporting local, sustainable, and small farmers, crafts-people, and artisans, and I love attending venues that focus on local rather than commercial goods.  Besides, small batch homegrown wool has so much character and life—once you’ve worked with it, you don’t want anything else.  The market was packed with luscious wool, alpaca, llama, and mohair.  It was also really cool to meet so many highly talented fiber artists from my state—many of whom live in small towns and out of the way places where the unsuspecting might be surprised to find such artistic genius.

I took three classes at the fiber retreat:  weaving sticks, continuous strand weaving, and wet felting.  Three things I have never done before.  The classes were lively, the teachers were wonderful.   So let’s go on a little photo journey of newly acquired craft knowledge:

Weaving Sticks

The history of stick weaving is not well defined online.  Some claim it was used by Native Americans, others that it was brought to Europe by the Crusaders, and yet others claim that it was actually developed as recently as the 1940’s.  However, I’ve seen no actual proof in any of these assertions—no references or photos of any kind, and it seems that the same information about the history of stick weaving is simply being passed around from site to site.  My thought, however, is that we know weaving has been around for many thousands of years, and this method is so simple that surely somebody somewhere used it.  In conclusion, I have no idea what the real history of stick weaving is.  If any of you weavers out there do, I’d love to know!

Stick weaving is a very simple form of weaving.  It is essentially the same process as weaving on a peg loom, only instead of the pegs being fixed, you hold them.  This can be done with as few as two sticks or as many as you can hold.  Each stick has an eye, and like a needle, is threaded with what will become the warp.  Our warp yarn was too thick to go through the stick holes, so an extra string was threaded through those to create a bigger loop that hung down below the stick.  You can this this in the photo below.

The the working yarn is woven in a figure eight (for two sticks) or a serpentine (for more than two sticks) fashion around the sticks.  This is the fun part.  It is very soothing.  Mindless and rhythmic.  As the weaving is done, it is pushed down on the stick to keep a nice even tension.

When enough woven yarn is on the sticks, it is pushed down onto the warp yarn. This process can be more difficult than it sounds.  It took a lot of wiggling.  Smoother, polished sticks would be the way to go. This is done over and over until you have the length you want for your project.  Of course, shorter sections can be joined together in a project, as well.

Here you can see the long strand in progress, including the colour changes and unwoven ends.

This is what my finished mug rug will look like if and when I get around to whip-stitching it together.  Our teacher recommended doing the whip-stitching on both sides of the piece so that it maintains its shape without splaying out.  It is fairly fugly, but it represents new skills and a lot of fun, so I am happy.  I can see how with a little measuring, the colour changes could be coordinated in cool ways.  Because the strip is stitched together coiled along its flat edge, the finished piece is as thick as the width of the strip.  This makes for very thick, cushy rugs or cushions. I’d also like to try stitching the strips together lengthwise to make a flatter rug.  This could be easily done with wider strips woven on 4 or 5 sticks.

Continuous Strand Weaving

My only experience with weaving is with basket weaving using bark and plant fibers. I’ve never woven on a loom, not even to make a potholder as a child. I am fascinated with woven fabric.  It is beautiful.  Now that Ravelry has added weaving to the mix, I find myself looking at a shawl or scarf wondering what gorgeous stitch pattern was used to create that texture—and discovering it was woven.  Happens all the time.

Continuous strand weaving is interesting in that rather than pre-warping the loom,  it warps and weaves the loom as you go.  It is also interesting in that the weaving process occurs symmetrically from two opposite sides as you go.  I know next to nothing about weaving, and so cannot articulate this in any way other than to say it is magical.  There are many tutorials and videos online if you search “continuous strand weaving” or “triangle weaving”.  It can be done on rectangle and square looms, also. Our class did a travel size triangle and then a travel size square.  Below you can see the triangle loom weaving in progress, with the weaving happening on both sides and working in toward the center.

And then before I took it off the loom.

Here is the finished triangular piece:

And the finished square piece.

Fact:  My weaving in of ends leaves much to be desired.  And despite triple-checking my work before I took it off the loom, the square piece has a glaring error in it.  Ain’t that the way.  I won’t point it out as I’m sure the weavers out there have already spotted the mistake.  For everyone else, it can be a fun search puzzle.  :P

Weaving FTW!

Wet Felting Boots

Actually, the class was wet felting boots or mittens.  I chose boots, because BOOTS! I enjoyed this class a lot—not only for the fun people, great teacher, and neat new skill, but because wet felting is a very physical craft.  You can’t sit and demurely make wet felted boots—you have to put your whole body into it, and I really liked that.  If you are not familiar with wet felting, it is the process of causing the microscopic scales on wool fibers to lock on to each other through heat and/or agitation, and is often done in conjunction with a healthy squirt of soap.  This interlocking of the fiber’s scales creates a dense woolen fabric called felt.  Wet felting is done with wool roving or batts.  When heat/agitation is applied to already knitted goods, it is called “fulling”, although the two terms are often used interchangeably because the final fabric is still called felt. My good friend Laura over at Mommayaya makes the coolest felted (but actually fulled) slippers, and it was talking to her and watching her work that got me interested in this whole felting/fulling thing and taught me the difference between the two.

The first step to making our boots was creating the resist or form that would give the shape of our boots.  In order to do this, we traced our shoes on a piece of paperboard.  After our shoes were traced, we added an inch all the way around. Since felting shrinks the wool, we had to make our resist bigger than the final size we wanted.  So we traced our left and right foot on the same piece of paperboard.  With me so far?  Because this is where things got funny, and I’ll explain why in a minute. The next step was to join the left and right feet with a “leg”.  Here you can see the resist–two feet and a central “leg”– cut out and ready for wrapping:

So basically, we would be making both boots at the same time, and the “leg” we drew in the middle would form the ankle part of each boot.  “But wait!” I hear you say.  The foot is drawn flat on one axis, and the leg on another. Yup.  I asked about this, too, because you see, on the day I took this class, I was wearing a pair of crunchy granola Birkenstock foot-shaped shoes.  You can see in the photo above that my shoe has a definite left and right toe rather than the generic roundness or pointiness of most shoes.  And if you’re wondering what the point of that is, we simply have to rotate the picture:

This orientation shows the actual shape that the boot will take when it’s felted.  And because of my funny shoe shape, I highly expected a funny boot shape outcome.  However, my teacher reassured me that it would be fine.  So I went with it.  What the heck, I was having fun.

The wool was arranged on the resist in two directions, layer by layer—toe to heel and side to side.  We sprayed the layers down with soapy water as we worked and flipped the piece over to cover each side, wrapping the overlapping edges to secure each side firmly.  Below I’ve completed two layers on the one side of the resist and have flipped it over, wrapped the overlap, and am ready to begin applying the first layer on that side.  The most difficult part of this step was keeping the wool wrapped as tightly around the resist as possible.

After all the layers were done, the piece was ready to felt.  We resprayed the whole thing with soapy water, put a layer of tulle around the piece, and rolled the whole thing up around a 1″ dowel.

Then the fun began!  Rolling and rolling and rolling and rolling and rolling and rolling, turning, and rolling and rolling and rolling and rolling, flipping, and rolling and rolling and rolling.  We rolled, flipped, rolled, turned, and rolled for AGES.  And then magically…

There was felt.

A  little more rolling and soapy water for good measure, and then, with a few snips, there were boots.

You can already see that my boots had a little more going on up in the toe region than they should have.  After the resist was removed and the ankle seam snipped (I made mine too narrow to put on without a snip), the final step was to put the boots on and finish the felting.  The last bit of felting is what does the final shrinking and shaping to the foot, and this is done while wearing them.  So, the flat shape becomes a three dimensional shape.  And since mine had Birky toe, they looked pretty funny when I put them on.  In the picture below, you can see all the extra material gathered into a flap.

I debated about just cutting it off and seaming up the toe like this, but then while playing around with it, I pulled the flaps over and realized that it was actually a kind of a neat design element.  It was a fun and quirky class, and I made a pair of fun and quirky boots.  They fit, too.

My teacher had a great idea to tack them down with buttons, and so I picked up some cute buttons in the market at the retreat.  I haven’t stitched them on yet—been waiting for the felt to dry—but here’s what it will look like:

I’m tossing around the idea of adding some needle-felted designs to the boots.  E loaned me her needle-felting needles to play with.  I’ve never done that before either. Or I might try my hand at some crewel embroidery.  I’ll show you when I finish them up.

So, a great weekend was had with nice people, great teachers, fun classes, and happy accidents.  All good things.  It was a nice jump start into crafty creativity again after  a year of still hands.  And, the best part is that I learned that there are more of these little (and not so little) local fiber and craft workshops all year long, many of which only charge nominal registration and class fees.  I’m looking forward to more.

Knit|tinK: A Witch’s House Socks

a witch's house socks 1-22-2013 3-42-11 PM

It took me quite a while to figure out what I wanted to knit with all the yarn samples I dyed on Dye Day #1, but it finally came to me in a semi-blinding flash:  house socks. But not just any house socks.  I wanted to knit a pair of house socks like I imagine Tiffany Aching or Nanny Ogg wearing—thick and warm, functional yet quirky.  If you aren’t familiar with Tiffany Aching or Nanny Ogg, they are two characters from one of my favourite series of books ever in the history of the history:  The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, Wintersmith, and I Shall Wear Midnight—all by the amazing author Terry Pratchett.  I will not wax on about the books here, but suffice it to say that they have depths, and although I do not call myself “witch”, if I were to be a witch, I’d want to be Tiffany Aching.

So.  Socks.  Here they are.

a witch's house socks 1-22-2013 3-39-28 PMKnit toe-up using my trusty go-to sock knitting formula:  Turkish cast-on, my super-easy-super-rounded toe, Cat Bordhi’s Sweet Tomato Heel, Techknitting’s ribbing transition row, and Elizabeth Zimmermann’s sewn bind off.  I meant to do jogless stripes on these, but I totally forgot.  Lol.

a witch's house socks 1-20-2013 11-03-53 AMI went for a thicker stripe on these—8 rows.  It not only had the look I wanted, but it meant weaving in fewer ends.  I love stripes, but, man, I always forget how much I hate weaving in all those ends.  I call this “stripe amnesia”.  It gets me every time.  48 ends per pair, not including the toe and cuff.  Oy!

a witch's house socks 1-13-2013 1-19-00 AMBut I really like how all of the hand dyed colours went together.  I especially like how much greener the red onion yarn looks next to some of the other colours.  Here’s the line-up:

a witch's house socks 1-22-2013 3-38-015

Starting at the toe—

  1. Birch bark overdyed with yellow onion skins
  2. Osage orange FAIL overdyed with eucalyptus exhaust
  3. Annatto seed
  4. Eucalyptus
  5. Alkanet root
  6. Red onion skins
  7. Safflower exhaust
  8. Yellow onion skins
  9. Red onion skins exhaust
  10. Alkanet root
  11. Walnut creme overdyed with annatto
  12. Birch bark overdyed with yellow onion skins
  13. Eucalyptus
  14. Yellow onion skins
  15. Annatto seed
  16. Red onion skins
  17. Elm bark
  18. Safflower exhaust
  19. Red onion exhaust
  20. Osage orange FAIL overdyed with eucalyptus
  21. Alkanet root
  22. Eucalyptus
  23. Walnut creme overdyed with alkanet
  24. Birch bark overdyed with yellow onion skins
  25. Red onion skins

When I was knitting these, I thought that I would stitch felted soles on so that I could pad around the house without worrying about wearing holes in them.  But when all was said and done, I decided that I’d like to be able to wear them in shoes, too.  So I left the felted soles off for now.  We’ll see if I change my mind.  I loved knitting worsted weight socks.  I love wearing them, too.  Super ridiculously cozy and warm.  Perfect for this cold weather.  Glad I got them done before spring!

Live happy, dye happy!   And knit happy, too!

 

 

 

Dye Day #1 Extra Credit: Black Beans

We have come to the final installment of Dye Day #1—the extra credit bonus points assignment:  Black bean dyeing.  I’d first heard of black bean dyeing on two of the natural dyeing forums I belong to on Ravelry.  I was intrigued by the beautiful blues that people were getting from this common kitchen staple.  Well, I’m half Puerto Rican, so it’s always been a staple in my kitchen (along with red beans and pinto beans and gandules and garbanzo beans…lol)  Nothing else that we were dyeing with was going to give us this colour, and I thought that it would be a fun and easy project for everyone to do on their own at home and then bring for show-and-tell on Dye Day.

None of my dyeing books had any information on dyeing with black beans, so I started combing through posts on Ravelry to get more information.  This is definitely a case where being able to see pictures helped in determining the best instructions.  On Ravelry, you can make a search pull up only the posts in a thread that have photos.   {Because Casey is a code genius and should design ALL THE WEBSITES}.  The results people got with black beans were incredibly varied—everything from pale blue to cadet blue.  I wanted the most saturated blue possible, so I read through the posts written by people who got the darkest blues in order to find what the common denominators were.  Here’s what I found:

1.  Use superwash wool mordanted with alum and cream of tartar.

Mordanted superwash wool was the only fiber that consistently achieved saturated dark blues with black beans.  Unmordanted superwash did ok, but black bean dye is fugitive, and the mordant is what gives it half a chance of not fading the first time you wash it.  Mordanted regular wool got significantly lighter blues, and unmordanted regular wool got very light blues with little staying power.  The light blue shades were pretty, but I thought that everyone would have more fun if they got something bold out of the dyepot.   All the participants were natural dyeing newbies, and I figured that the better the colour, the more successful they’d feel about their results, and the more confident they’d feel about their ability to dye on their own.

2.  Soak 4 lbs of dried black beans in water for 24-48 hours.  

It was actually pretty hard to find much specific information on dyestuff to fiber ratios.  I found a few references to soaking 4 lbs of beans for 1 skein of yarn, and I figured it seemed like a good enough amount as any.   I used a 100g skein of Knitpicks Superwash Bare, which means that I had 1814.37g dyestuff to 100g fiber.  That’s a big ratio.  Judging by the amount of dye left in the exhaust, I could easily have dyed with half that amount.  The 24-48 hour difference is for this reason:  If you want to eat the beans, which is a perfectly reasonable thing to do, you want to soak them in a kitchen-safe, non-reactive container (stainless steel pot or ceramic or glass bowl) for no more than 24 hours.  Any longer than that, and the beans get tough and start to go bad.  If you don’t want to eat your beans, then soak them in any non-reactive container (plastic bucket, stainless steel or enamel dyepot, etc) for up to 48 hours to get the most colour out of them.  Any more than 48 hours, and you’re on a one-way trip to funkytown.  They start to smell pretty fast.  Make sure you cover your beans with at least an inch or two more water than the level you expect them to expand to.  That way they stay covered.

Word to the wise:  Black beans expand to a millionty times the original volume.  No, really.  If you are going to use 4 lbs of black beans, you need a VERY LARGE pot or bucket.  If you choose not to listen to me, don’t say I didn’t warn you.  I learned the hard way.  There is still a blue spot dyed onto my kitchen floor from where the beans frothed over the pot.  Frothed.

3.  Very carefully strain off the dark liquid from the top of the beans. 

When you soak the beans, a lot of grainy particulate will accumulate in the water.  It is very important not to get this particulate in your dye liquid as it will adhere to your yarn and jack up your blue.  Most people said that they carefully ladled the dye liquid off the top of the bean pot, so as not to disturb the particulate which settled at the bottom.  That didn’t work for me, because I soaked my beans in too small a container.  They expanded like something out of a science fiction movie all the way to the top (and over) of the container.  So, I strained the whole mess through a colander into big glass jar.  I let that sit on the counter for a few hours so that the particulate would settle, and then I ladled off the dye liquid.  In retrospect, I like this method a lot better.  It was easier to ladle off the liquid without having to dodge beans, and I got more of it.  Win-win.

4.  Soak your yarn in the bean juice dye liquid for approximately 2 days.  

All the instructions I saw for black bean dyeing recommended doing it as either a cold or loosey-goosey solar dyeing process.  What I mean by that is that some people (myself included) put theirs in a glass jar in a sunny spot—not so much for the heat as for the…?  Well, it’s easy to dye in glass jars, and it’s fun to be able to see what’s going on while you do it.  It could just as easily be done in a bucket under the sink.  The one cardinal rule of black bean dyeing is that you never heat the dyebath.  I repeat, DO NOT HEAT THE DYEBATH!  It will totally jack up the colour, making it muddy and gross.  And then every time you eat frijoles negros, you’ll have negative associations with failed dyepots, and we want to avoid that.  Oh, the pH for this dyebath was 5.4.  That’s down from the pH 8.8 that my tap water measures.  By the way, if you don’t have 2 days to soak it, it should be mentioned that a substantial amount of uptake was achieved in just a few hours.  The yarn got a bit darker over the next day, but still, a good blue was had early on.

Warning:  Black bean juice gets righteously funky when it sits out for a few days.  Remember, by the time your yarn is ready, that bean juice has been stewing for 4 days.  That’s 4 days of whoa! your yarn just soaked in.  It will wash off.  But I highly recommend that you use tongs and wear gloves when you pull that skein out, because you don’t want to find out how long it will take to wash off of you.  I am quite curious to find out if this whole process could be accomplished in the refrigerator.  If so, we could avoid the fermentation and get the blue stink-free.  That would be nice.

Looks pretty, doesn’t it? I had to hold my breath while I took this shot.

So far, so good.  Easy, right?

The results?  Well, my skein looked pretty much exactly like it did in the picture above when I first took it out.

After being rinsed, hanging to dry on the back of a chair.

But I’m a curious thing, and I just couldn’t resist finding out what would happen if I modified the results in various after-dips.   I tried ammonia and copper.  Here’s what I got:

Ammonia turned the blue into a drab olivey-green colour.  Copper, however, brightened the blue up beautifully and gave it almost a violet hue.  Very pretty.  I’ll be modding black bean dyes with copper in the future for sure.  I’d also like to see how yarn premordanted with copper will turn out.  I bet it would be pretty…

But that ammonia was a mistake.   Oops.  All in the name of science, right?  So I had to fix that.  But how?  Re-acidifying those spots with vinegar did not work.  So I decided to overdye the ammonia section in the onion exhaust bath.  I am very pleased with the results!  It’s got kind of an earth-sea thing going on.  And I like how those ammonia greens now just blend the brown and the blue together.

I’m really excited to see how this knits up.  This past weekend, two of my good friends and I wen to Chicago to the Stitches Midwest convention.  This is basically a KnitCon, as my daughter calls it, where knitters and crocheters get to go geek out.  There are classes offered by mad skillz knitters and authors and a huge, huge, huge area for vendors to sell ALL THE YARNS.  Well, almost all the yarns.  Am I the only one who lusts after skeins of small batch Romney or Icelandic wool that still has bits of grass in it?  Lol.  But still, it was good times.  We just went for the day to check out the yarn market.  There were lots of gorgeous handdyed yarns.  There was quite a bit of llama and alpaca, musk ox, and bison wools.   I bought some gorgeous soft grey alpaca from Village Spinning and Weaving.  It’s a deliciously soft and lustrous natural silver grey from Peru.  We got to meet some of our fellow Ravelry friends in person, which is always fun.  Stitches!

Anyway, the rest of the trip was all about wandering around Chicago and involved lots and lots of public transit, including the 12 hours roundtrip on the Amtrak from and to St. Louis.  What does this mean?  Knitting time!  So I cast on the black bean yarn for a pair of socks.   It’s fascinating to see what pattern of striping emerges from a variegated skein.   It’s never what you think it’s going to be.  I’m also interested to see how wash- and lightfast the dye ends up being.  Will the mods effect the fastness?  I don’t know.  We’ll find out!

Live happy, dye happy!  And, as always, tinks on me!

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