Thursday, July 21, 2016

Suddenly, Unexpectedly

One of the better surprises of the yarn variety is the unexpected discovery of yarn. Thus it was when I discovered, while walking back to our inn in Rhinebeck from the Sheep and Wool Festival, that the local variety store had a back room full of high end yarn. And so it was last Saturday when Isabel and I happened upon a yarn nook in a clothing shop in nearby Westport. The day was cloudy and cool, the sort of day that comes as a relief after a spell of very hot, muggy days. It was Isabel's second last day home before returning to her studies out west, and we decided to make the best of it with a girls' day out, poking about the little shops in the picturesque village about 30 minutes north of Kingston in the heart of the Rideau Lakes.
We ate Kawartha ice cream and strolled down to the harbour,

entered the potter's workshop and checked out her work,

stopped by the visitors' centre to use the washrooms and wifi (Isabel may have tuned in to Pokemon Go, even though it was not yet officially available in Canada for another 24 hours), noticed this useful set of public bike repair tools, and

at the Westport Bamboo Company, suddenly and unexpectedly, 

we came upon this!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Breaking Blue

Every now and then I need a little break from knitting, but at the same time I can't seem to turn off the desire to make something. This time, with Isabel home and cheering me on, I took the plunge with a dyeing/spinning experiment. Usually when spinning is involved, I am quite project oriented, but it being the middle of summer, I felt carefree and happy just to see where the process would take me. The aim was to see if I could "break" Wilton's delphnium blue while dyeing 100g of non-superwash treated BFL (blue-faced Leicester, for non-fibre aficionados). Previous attempts to dye roving ended with felted messes. So I TOOK MEASURES.
1. I braided the roving. Actually, I made the equivalent of a crochet chain out of it. Not too tightly, though, because I wanted the dye to penetrate. I hoped that braiding the roving (really combed top) would minimize the movement of the fibre in the dye bath.
2. I brought a big pot of water to the boil, then added 2 tbsp of white vinegar + about a tsp of the dye, which comes in gel form.

This is a cake icing gel. FYI, Koolaid unsweetened powder is no longer available in Canada, so that's why I chose Wilton's, which is readily available at Michael's. It's non-toxic, so is safe to use in the kitchen.
2. I DID NOT pre-soak the roving. I followed the suggestion of Karen of Chemknits fame in the hope that the dry fibre would soak up the components of delphinium blue at different rates--hence breaking it down.
3. Once the dye was dissolved into the water, I lowered the heat so that the water was just below the boil. I did not want any bubbling action which might encourage felting. Then I added the roving, gently poking it down into the water with a slotted spoon.
4. I covered the pot and left it alone for about 20-30 minutes, only checking from time to time to verify that the water remained just on the verge of boiling.
5. After that time, even though there was still a bit of dye left in the water, I turned off the heat and let the whole thing cool down over a few hours.
6. Once cool, I very, very gently picked up the roving and deposited it in a colander over a bowl. Then I rinsed out the dye pot, filled it with water the same temperature as had just been in it, and added a squirt of Sunlight dish washing detergent. I gently popped the fibre into the rinse water and left it alone for about 10 minutes. No stirring, no squeezing.
7. Again I gently (notice that this word is getting a lot of use) picked up the roving and, WITHOUT SQUEEZING OR WRINGING IT, laid it back into the colander over the bowl to drain. I did not want to do anything at all that might compress the fibre. When the worst of the drainage was over, I picked up the braid by one end and carried it up to the third floor library, where I hung it over a hanger with a bowl underneath to catch the drips. The weather was hot and breezy, and I hoped that the braid would dry quickly. It did. Overnight, in fact. This is what it looked like when it was undone.

Success! The fibre did not felt and remained loose and perfect for spinning. This photo also demonstrates why I prefer to dye before, rather than after spinning. See how the dye is in distinct stripes. Very striking and pretty, but if this were a skein, it would have limited use. I suspect we've all succumbed to a beautiful skein of space-dyed yarn at one time or another, then discovered with dismay how difficult is to turn into an equally beautiful piece of knitting. With roving, the process of dividing it into lengths and attenuating, then plying it, causes the colours to blend in a delicious way. In this case, the purple dispersed into the turquoise to a surprising degree. Here is a closeup of the singles on my bobbin. I was aiming for a fingering weight after plying,

and I seem to have achieved it.

Now, what to do... Suggestions for 100g of fingering weight hand-dyed handspun?

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Heart of the Matter

...and now here we are at the height of the summer heat--the heart of the season.

View of the inner harbour from Battery Park, at the bottom of my street (Martello towers in the background).

Climber on the breakwater.

Raspberry/blueberry pie. My own recipe here. The raspberries were picked on the same day as the baking.

As you can see, I am knitting at a leisurely pace due to the heat. Some of you may recognize the above as Wheatsheaves. The long-promised revision is coming. Actually, it's more like a re-visioning, with the makeover going bottom-up instead of top-down to allow for a beautiful  box pleat in the back. Stay tuned. Movie theatres are good at this season. Isabel (who is home for 10 days), James, and I saw "Love and Friendship" at our local Screening Room. Great fun--and air-conditioned.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Design Lessons from a Pro

A fashion article in the Washington Post yesterday caught my attention. Yes, that's right--the Post. Now, having lived in DC, I can vouch for the fact that the region isn't exactly at the centre of the fashion forward universe. It has a pretty boring  conservative attitude toward dress, at least compared to a lot of other places. So, the story about Nina McLemore's jackets was interesting.
Ms McLemore has discovered a niche market--powerful women over 40, including Hilary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, Gwen Ifil, and Janet Yellen--who want practical, good fitting clothes that send the right message of authority. While McLemore's jackets aren't the sort of style I would wear, I admire her approach which involves:
1. A fit that works for real over-40 women. That means narrower shoulders, wide backs, waist shaping, extra width in the hips, and collars that can be turned up or worn down. There's a lesson here for knit designers, one that you will notice in my own work. All of us want to look long and lean, and these shapes help.
2. Sleeves that are meant to be worn turned up. Not only does this convey the message that these women are ready to get down to work, but it's also a bit more casual and less starchily formal than a classic suit. At the same time, it means that the jackets can be worn off the rack, without the fuss and time involved in having alterations done.
3. Fabrics that are both comfortable and easy care. They are meant to travel well. Enough said.
4. A price point that is well below that of typical international designers. Now, I'm not saying that these jackets, which go for US$700-800 are super affordable, but they are in a price range that executives and women in the higher echelons of the public sphere can afford, without the charge that they are living in the fantasy world of couturier design.
I also like the bright, clear colours of the jackets. If you visit McLemore's website, notice how they are meant to go with her "essentials", pieces like black skinny pants and skirts and white blouses. I, too, ascribe to this sort of dressing, even if I prefer pieces with a bit more ease and flow.
Lots of lessons here for all of us.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Solstice Knitting: Using Ravelry's Project Pages

It's time for some Zen knitting. What is it about the first heat of summer that encourages the desire to relax with a glass of ice and a pot of hot tea (the ONLY way to make truly great iced tea)? When I was growing up, and I spent the summers at our family cottage, iced tea was invariably served with cucumber or tomato sandwiches, crusts removed of course. Mindless knitting is also a requisite accompaniment to lazy afternoons. Hence, the Fall Coat from Anna and Heidi Pickles. Yes, I know it seems crazy to feel like making such a large, warm project in the heat of summer, but the mindless nature of it appeals just now, and come October it will be ready and waiting when I'll want to live in it. Before embarking on the coat, however, there are some important decisions to be made. This is where the Ravelry project pages come in handy.

1. What yarn(s) should I choose for the coat? The Pickles Tweedy and Silk Mohair have a beauty that can't be matched, but aren't available here and would be fairly expensive to mail order. (Our dollar discourages this sort of importation, unfortunately.) Besides, I have a large stash and want to use some of that. This is where the project pages come in. A short perusal of what other knitters have used, together with their comments, leads to the following conclusions:

(a) the yarn(s) chosen should be light and airy, not dense. The versions of the Coat made with heavier yarns at a tighter gauge just don't have the drape of the original. The Coat looks best when it has some drape. So, I think about lightly spun wools and mohair, not alpaca, which is a heavy fibre and stretches. I don't want to choose Ultra Alpaca Chunky.

(b) tweedy is beautiful, but heathery is nice too. The coat has a rustic quality (echoed by the photography) which will be enhanced by a yarn that isn't flat and smooth. Not suitable for Quince's Lark, for instance.

(c) although a rustic quality is desirable, the yarn(s) should also be soft and cozy. This rules out Icelandic wool, which is perfect in appearance, but sadly causes my skin to itch (even though most wools don't bother me).

(d) I admire the version of the coat done up for Espace Tricot's store model. The combo of Cascade Eco+ and Rowan's Kidsilk Haze is readily available. Then I knit a swatch from my stash and discover a problem. While lovely, this combination does not lead to a Zen knitting experience. The Kidsilk Haze is very, very fine and it requires a certain level of concentration not to leave it behind now and then. When I look at the reverse side of the swatch, I see that I've missed scooping up the Kidsilk a couple of times. If I were to knit in low light conditions, i.e. the evening, or in a social situation where my attention might not be at its full, problems would arise. Not relaxing. I scrap that option.

(e) I recall that when I knitted Glenora, I used Cascade Eco+ on its own on a size 6.5mm needle to get the same gauge as is required for the Coat (3 1/2 sts per inch) and the result was a delightfully airy but stable fabric. I decide that one of the heathery natural colourways in the Eco line would be perfect for the Coat. I happen to have some in #8400, Charcoal, and decide that is an excellent option.

(e) my stash also contains some Sandnesgarn Mohair and Silk in dark grey along with some Wool of the Andes in Opal Heather. Some more swatching leads me to conclude that that combo is also quite lovely and works out to gauge on a 6mm needle. Mmm, I REALLY LOVE this. I do some calculations and figure that I've enough yardage. Still not decided, though.

2. Which size should I make? This is where the project photos are critical. The Coat is meant to be quite oversized. Notice how the Coat hangs loosely on the model. It's that oversized quality that gives it such appeal. You can imagine yourself throwing on the Coat as you head out the door on a crisp fall afternoon, woodsmoke in the air. I don't envision the Coat as a sophisticated city knit, although clearly some knitters have had that view. Some knitters have made the Coat to fit quite closely, even belted, and while they look good, it's not the the feeling I have for this piece. Even though the XSmall size is eleven inches larger than my bust measurement, I nonetheless choose the Small because I want this Coat to flow behind me as I walk.

3. What sort of edgings do I want along the fronts? The front sections of the Coat are in garter stitch. The pattern calls for the last stitch of each row to be slipped, yarn in front, and then the first stitch of the next row to be knitted through the back. I try this on my swatch. It's OK, but I decide to look at what other knitters have done. A lot have opted for built-in I-cord edges. I'm not nuts about that for this Coat. Again, it results in what to me seems a too "citified"  or tailored look. I think I might prefer to give my Coat the "Einstein Treatment", from Sally Melville's Einstein Coat. -- knit the last stitch of the row as usual, then slip the first stitch of the next row with yarn in front. It makes for a slightly more twisted, slightly neater edge than the original.

4. Are there any other mods I want to incorporate? Several knitters have done interesting things with colour, including colour gradations and stripes. Unfortunately, my yarn choices don't lend themselves to either of these approaches, although I like the former. I notice, along the way, that there are a few projects with pockets. These I love; they add to the relaxed feel of the Coat, especially when it is photographed with the wearer's hands in said pockets. I think about using EZ's "pocket trick", the one where you knit in a length of waste yarn to be removed later to reveal live stitches to be picked up for the pocket linings. Pockets are a "yes", provided there's enough yarn. I suppose I could even knit the linings in an alternate yarn if necessary.

This project seems like the perfect one for a knitting group to embark upon over the summer. Everyone could choose stash yarns and get together for coffee now and then to check on each other's progress. As for me, I've just downloaded Season 1 of "Poldark". Ready, set, go! I'll leave you guessing about my final yarn pick...

Friday, June 10, 2016

Bucking Convention

Barns, if they are painted, seem to be usually red in this part of the world. Not sure why, but that's the way it is. So, on our trip to Prince Edward County today, it was lovely to see a lavender barn.

We had pizza cooked in a wood-fired oven, with salad at Norman Hardie's vineyards. Bill had a bit of wine with his. Perfect day.
P.S. Appropriately, I was knitting with purple too--the Fusion cardigan in "Frank's Plum"--for Isabel.