Monday, February 8, 2016

Finishing... and Starting

I'm pretty much a monogamous knitter. That said, as soon as the end of one project is in sight, a corner of my brain is already working on what will come next. The thought of even a single evening without something on the needles is horrifying. My test knit of the gansey is almost done. The cardigan is blocking on the floor of our third-floor library, with the space heater going full tilt.

If it still looks lumpy and unbeautiful, I'm not worried. All will be smoothed out soon. I like to leave the button sewing and steek finishing until the blocking is done. The steeks will lie flat then and be much easier to finish.
On Sunday, I plied my first batch of CWM woollen-spun singles. The lightness and airiness of the finished yarn is amazing, and when you see the gorgeous heathery, tweedy yarn you'll understand
why I can't wait to get this stuff on my needles.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Friday Recipe: Wholewheat Bread

Although I've been a breadmaker for years, only recently when Lee Valley arrived in Kingston did I break down and buy one of their hand-cranked dough mixers.

Bread Dough Mixer - Gardening 

This handy gadget allows me to mix and knead without any floury mess, plus the cleanup is a breeze. Like my spinning wheel, this is a great example of low tech brilliance. Here's what I put into the bucket to make our favourite 100% organic whole wheat bread. If you don't have a mixer, then do it by hand. Don't do this in a food processor with a dough hook; the quantity and heftiness of the flour will overwhelm the motor.

Whole Wheat Bread

2 c warm water (never use warm tap water; warm the water in the microwave or mix hot water from
      a kettle with cool) 
5 tsp rapid rise dry yeast
2 tbsp unsulphured blackstrap molasses
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp canola oil
5 c organic stoneground whole wheat flour

Mix the water, molasses, and yeast together and allow to sit for 5-10 min until the mixture is foamy. Add the remaining ingredients and knead until smooth and elastic. Place in an oiled bowl and cover with a damp tea towel for an hour or two. Punch down to remove air bubbles, and shape into one big or two small loaves. Spray or butter the bread pan(s). Don't use oil; it will cause the dough to weld to the pan(s). Place the loaves in the prepared pan(s) and cover with a damp tea towel. Allow to rise for about an hour until the top slopes above the pan(s). Near the end of this rising, preheat the oven to 350F. Bake the bread for 40 min (small loaves) to 45 min (large loaf) or until the top is golden and the loaves sound hollow when tapped. Turn out of the pan immediately and cool on a rack.

In the knitting department, the Wolfe Island Gansey, grey version, is almost done. 


About an hour ago, I finished the collar and tried the cardigan on to check the sleeve length. Perfect. Now I just need to do a little bit of tidying up before everything gets wet blocked. Don't be deceived by the uneven, lumpy texture of the knitting in the above photo. Blocking is transformative, as I am sure you know. Soon, all with be beautiful...

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Seductive

Yesterday my order from Custom Woolen Mills arrived. There's some wool, which I'll show another time, and also some roving for spinning. Back when I checked out the website, I was really taken with the fact that you could order roving in all of their dyed and undyed shades, including heathers. The latter are fairly complex blends of colour. See the layers of colour here?

 
This is "navy purple heather", and the layering creates a tremendous amount of depth in the final colour. 
It's a true roving, quite different from combed top. In the latter, the fibres are smoothly aligned, perfect for worsted spinning. If you look closely at the chunk of this roving, though, you can see the individual strands of wool are quite disorganized, more like rolags than your average commercial roving. This demands a woolen long draw approach to spinning. In this method, the twist enters the fibre AS IT IS BEING DRAFTED, rather than following the drafting. It's quick and fun to do, and I was definitely seduced by the process, unable to stop until my bobbin was more than half full. The result is a light, airy yarn. Brooklyn Tweed's "Shelter| is woolen spun. So is Jamieson and Smith's traditional jumper weight.
Here's what the roving looks like up close,


and here are my yarn samples. These have not yet been washed, but I'm more than pleased with the tweedy look and soft hand of the spun wool.


After lunch I went for my usual afternoon walk along the lake. This is not what one expects to see in February, but the lack of ice and snow are welcome after two winters enduring polar vortices.


Then this evening it was back to the Wolfe Island Gansey. Below you can see the left front border being knitted on.


The detail I can get with my new(ish) phone camera is pretty good. I love this part of the knitting, when the stitches come together from different angles.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Test Knit Progress

Testers are working on making different sizes of the Wolfe Island Gansey. Here's my own test-in-progress.


The yarn, from my stash, is Ella Rae Classic Heather in #137, an undyed sheep's pale grey. It shows the stitch patterns well, even if the colour does not seem exciting. Body done, steeks cut, first sleeve almost completed. I'll probably finish it tonight while watching something on my computer (we don't have TV) from TVO's program page--perhaps "The Empire Strikes Back" (not the one you're thinking of, but this one). Documentaries make the perfect knitting accompaniment. Not so gripping that you have to put everything down to watch, but interesting enough to distract you from the boring bits of the knitting.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Return to the Friday Recipe: Lentil and Barley Stew

I thought I'd re-visit my earlier habit of posting a recipe on Fridays. It was a popular feature, and only dwindled out of laziness on my part. So, here's something to warm you up on a cold January night. If you double it and freeze it in individual portions, you'll have emergency rations for future nights when you return home and are too exhausted to cook (just add a little extra water to make extra gravy when you re-heat). I'm fortunate to be able to purchase locally grown carrots and potatoes that somehow seem sweeter and tastier than the supermarket varieties. Try to use French-style puy lentils (mine are a Canadian-grown version); they are small and dark, and hold their shape well without the mealiness of regular green or brown lentils.

Lentil and Barley Stew

1/4 c + 2 tbsp French-style lentils
1/4 c + 2 tbsp pot barley
3/4 c chopped onion
1/2 c chopped celery
1 tbsp olive oil
3 c water
1/2 tsp dried rosemary
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 c sliced carrots
1 1/2 c chopped waxy potatoes (such as red or gold potatoes), skin left on
1/2 tsp salt
pepper to taste

Rinse the lentils and barley until the water runs clear. Set aside. In a large skillet or saucepan, saute the onion, celery, and carrots in the olive oil for about 10 min. Add the remaining ingredients, including the lentils and barley, but not the salt, and simmer, covered, until the barley is cooked, and the potatoes and lentils are quite tender. This may take 40 min or longer. Season with salt and pepper. 
I like to serve this with a refreshing fennel salad for a delicious winter meal. 
In the knitting realm, I'm working away at the test knit of the Wolfe Island Gansey. Steeks now sewn,


and cut open, saddle shoulders completed, first sleeve halfway done. More pics next time...

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

How Did I Forget?

Thanks to Sharon from Surrey, I've been reminded of a truly fantastic resource--Custom Woolen Mills. Years ago, while were still living in Wash, DC, but visiting Canadian universities, I purchased some 2-ply at Gaspereau Valley Fibres. Back home, I knitted a V-neck tunic for myself out of it, and then proceeded to wear that sweater to death. How could I have forgotten how wonderfully beautiful and soft that wool was? I think it's because here in Ontario, one doesn't seem to run across wool from Custom Woolen Mills. Rather, our shops stock Briggs and Little instead. For info about the wool CWM uses see here. Having had a good look at the company's website, my only difficulty lies in choosing what to purchase. Some of my choices:

1. Soft spun mule spinner 2-ply wool.
Mule Spinner 2-Ply 100% Wool - Skeins
2.  Mule spinner sock yarn.

Mule Spinner Sock Yarn
Mule Spinner 2-Ply 70% Alpaca - Skeins
4. Roving for spinning. Comes in all the same rich, heathered colours as the yarn. Yum!
We won't even go into the thrill of seeing all the breed specific rovings that are available, or other amazing products such as futon mattress stuffing, wool blankets, and hand-painted yarns. All in Canadian dollars. Be still my heart!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Loonie Lunacy: What's a Knitter To Do?

Just in case your head has been buried in the sand, or you're not Canadian and thus haven't had your eyes on this, our dollar (nicknamed the "loonie" for its picture of the loon) has tanked. Not that many years ago, our dollar was worth MORE than the US buck, but over the last few months the loonie has lost more than a quarter of its value against the US dollar. A few days ago the loonie was down to 68 cents US. This is what happens when you live in a resource-based economy. And living with a retired IMF/World Bank economist means that the value of the dollar, the state of the world's stock markets, and the latest words out of the mouths of Janet Yellen, Larry Summers, Mark Carney, Stephen Poloz, et al. are stock topics of conversation around the dinner table (and the breakfast table, and pretty much whenever).
The loonie's decline is having a noticeable effect on Canadians' purchasing power. If you live here, you've probably already encountered the now infamous $7 head of cauliflower. If you buy quality wool, you're soon going to feel the pain when it comes to purchasing new stock from your LYS, especially American-sourced products.
As you know, I'm a lover of Quince & Co wools. Let's see what they're going for right now. At Montreal's Espace Tricot, 50g of Lark is currently selling for C$11.95. The shop very considerately shows the US price below the Canadian one. It's US$8.46. That's a pretty big gap. For a size 38 cardigan that might take 8 skeins, that comes to $95.60. OK, still under $100, which isn't too horrible for a complete garment, even if American customers get to pay only US$67.68. BTW, if you live in my direction, don't forget you can purchase Quince yarns at Rosehaven Yarns in Picton, ON. I only just noticed that they are selling Lark at a very slightly lower C$10.75-11.75, the lower end presumably for older stock purchased before the latest slide in the loonie.
Now let's check out Brooklyn Tweed's Shelter, a wool of similar weight and roughly similar yardage. At the Beehive Wool Shop in Victoria, BC, it's going for C$16.95/skein which works out to C$135.60 for a simple sweater (no cables). With taxes, that ramps up to C$142.38. Ouch! Across the border, they're paying US$12.50/skein, making the same sweater only $100 (plus, as far as I know, there are still no taxes on internet-based sales south of the border).

I'm here to suggest some strategies.

1. If you really love these American wools (and I do) be aware of the big price differential between similar weight wools. As I've just shown, Quince's Lark is a much better value than Brooklyn Tweed's Shelter, and although they have a different look, that might not matter for the particular design you're interested in making. Check out andreafromtoronto's "Timberline", designed by BT's Jared Flood but knitted in Quince's Lark. Stunning! By sticking with this quality wool, purchased here in Canada, you're also supporting your LYS. If knitters are struggling with the dollar, Canadian shops are doing so too.

2. If you love Quince and BT wools, then choose smaller, less expensive projects, or larger projects in lighter weights of wool. A sweater quantity (6 skeins) of Quince's lighter weight Chickadee will cost you C$77.70. You get a lot more yardage for your (Canadian) buck. Alas, those Americans will still only pay US$55.02.

3. Explore other less expensive, but beautiful, American wools. Check out Peace Fleece, a blend of American fine wool and mohair, long a favourite of mine. You can see it here in the "Siberian Midnight" colourway. This was the prototype for Harriet's Jacket.


You can order this in Canada from Camilla Valley Farm at a reasonable C$12.55 per 114g skein, less than half the cost of a similar weight of Lark (note that Peace Fleece is a heavier "worsted", though--more like aran or even chunky). Camilla Valley sells the same yarn for US$10.50. Not such a bad differential compared to some other yarns.

4. Feeling priced out of US-spun wools? This might be the case if you are addicted to sweater knitting. Sweaters, after all, take lots and lots of yardage. Try some of the South American-spun imports, like Galway's Highland Heather or Cascade 220. The latter sells at Yarn Forward in Ottawa for C$9.99 for 100g. Comparing it to 100g of Lark at C$25, the Peruvian-spun wools are a great buy.

5. I don't recommend slumming with Knitpicks wools. Although I really love some of Knitpick's products (their wool shaver is the best!), I haven't found joy with any of their wools. This is a matter of personal taste, but there, I've admitted it. I find "Wool of the Andes" a bit skimpy, and the so-called "donegal" colour neps incorporated into the tweed yarns are nothing other than viscose, which looks cheap, at least in my opinion.

6. Want to match the American prices on some luxury products? Try BRITISH wools. Americans pay a lot more than we do in duties on British wools. Wool on Wellington, down the street from my house, has just brought in a pile of Baa Ram Ewe's Titus and Dovestone. Titus is currently going for US$29.00/hank at WEBS, but at Wool-tyme in Ottawa, the price is almost the same at C$29.99 respectively. It might seem a lot for a single skein, but the yardage is so fantastic that only three skeins will make a nice cardigan.

7. Think about Canadian grown/spun alternatives. Not many out there, unfortunately. Of course, there are some wonderful hand-dyed products, but these are mostly dyed foreign-grown wools. And there's good old Briggs and Little, beloved of Elizabeth Zimmermann. But those are "crunchy" woollen-spun wools, not good substitutes for Lark or Chickadee. (Do, however, consider B&L's sportweight next time you're thinking about a warm shawl. My favourite shawl, the one I'm wearing right now on my chilly third floor is this one, and the wool comes in 40+ colours.) Perhaps this is a moment for the Canadian wool industry, small as it is, to step in to fill the breach. Perhaps I might need to take a hand in initiating something in that direction...

Now, if only the cost of those imported fruits and veggies would go down!