Saturday, January 29, 2011

An Alternate Universe

It's about 28 F or -4 C here and sunny. A perfect winter day. I started the day off by attempting a drive up to Janie H. Knits in Perth. About 40 minutes north of Kingston, the sky clouded over, snow began to swirl, and within a few minutes I was in whiteout conditions. I pulled to the side of the road and phoned back to Bill in Kingston, where it was still windless and sunny. Must be something to do with Lake Ontario. Very weird that the weather could be so different just a little way north. It felt sort of like being in an alternate universe. After a moment of cogitation, I decided to head back to the land of sunshine. No wool is worth a road mishap.

After lunch I noticed that our squirrels (the ones who hate me for piling snow over the area where they've buried their winter treats) had eaten a perfect round hole in the plastic lid of our garbage bin, so I went downtown to Vandervoorts Hardware to buy a new one. Hope it lasts a little longer. Metal would be better, but the metal bins don't have wheels. Came back by the park near our house. You really know you're in Canada when this is what you see.

And this.

I saw these guys out removing icicles from the eaves.

The guy on the ladder suddenly shouted something I don't want to print. The one on the ground called up, "Did it hit you?" The answer, "This job really sucks!"

Friday, January 28, 2011

Going Local

It seems that buying local is in style. So, in keeping with the trend, I braved the snowy conditions today and visited the Wilton Road Custom Fibre Mill. Actually, I visited Room 1 of the Wilton Road Motel, which is where you go to purchase the Mill's products. I know---it sounds more like a place to do drug deals than a place to buy great fibre, but that's the way it is! This is what I bought:

The light on this snowy afternoon isn't  letting me get a good photo of this lovely merino/ bamboo blend. This is what it's intended for:

Pas de Valse
"Pas de Valse" by Marnie MacLean, from Twist Collective  

 I saw a version of this cardigan/jacket at my knitting group at Wool Tyme last night and fell in love with it. As soon as I finish the little alpaca cardi I'm knitting right now, this is what I want to start. It looks like the perfect piece for transitional wear later this spring. Are you looking ahead to something suited to a slightly warmer season?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Playing Around

Last night I played my recorders with a local recorder group. Bob Tennent, our organizer, is a Queen's computer science prof who also does some very nice musical arrangements. Loads of fun!

This morning, I walked over to the University and heard Senator Hugh Segal  speak on foreign affairs policy. A highly intelligent talk and discussion. Too bad we don't get more of this sort of thing in the media.While I listened, I worked on my new plaything:

I bought this fingering weight alpaca at Janie H. Knits in Perth, ON while Helen Hamann was there with a trunk show.

I'm knitting it very loosely on a 4 mm needle. It's sort of an experiment. I'm in that awkward phase in between major projects. I'm playing around. In my last post I played with Peace Fleece and now I'm playing with this alpaca. Soon I'll settle down to work on something, but this tinkering is part of the fun of the creative process. As I was walking home from the University today, I realized that playing around happens in other endeavours as well. Look at this building that I pass almost every day.

Clearly, this home started out as one thing (stables maybe?) and ended up as something else. I guess the big difference is that with architecture, the playing around is a little more costly. Thank goodness my fun is relatively cheap!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

By Hand

A few days ago I bought a bag of apples at my local supermarket. They were Spartans, which are usually nice and crunchy. These, however, turned out to be mealy with thick skins. Not very nice. When life hands you bad apples, what do you do? Make applesauce. I washed them, sliced them up, leaving the skin on for flavour, and cooked them slowly in a covered pot with about half an inch of water. Talk about a great aroma throughout the house! Then I put them through my old-fashioned hand-cranked food mill. This is a case of old technology doing a better job than new. If I'd used a food processor, I'd have had to peel the apples first, losing all that flavour and nutrition. Sometimes the old ways are still the best.
The same holds true in fibre arts. Usually I wind skeins of yarn using my wool winder and swift. But today, I'm working with Peace Fleece. This Russian/Romanian/American yarn is 70 % merino and 30% mohair and it comes in colourways of such gorgeous depth that they're hard to capture with my camera. It's a bargain too. I'm playing around with "Siberian Midnight", shown here.

This wool is so beautiful to handle and look at, I just had to wind it by hand. Here's my finished centre-pull ball. I took the photo in the snow and in the grey morning light the background completely disappeared.

Back into the kitchen, where I turned some of the cooled applesauce into this.

                                                         Applesauce Coffee Cake

1 1/2 c. unbleached flour
3/4 c. dark brown sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
3/4 c. non-fat plain yogourt
2 tbsp. canola oil
1 c. unsweetened applesauce
Mix everything together and pour into a greased 9-inch square pan (or line the pan with parchment paper as I did). Bake about 45 min at 350 F. or until the centre feels firm when pressed lightly. 
When cool, cut into 16 slices.
Tastes divinely moist and full of apple flavour.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Refreshment and Rehabilition

It's that time of the year when I take time to refresh and rehabilitate the kids' knits (they may be 18 and 22, but I still think of them as "kids"). Over the last week I've made extensive use of my handy industrial-sized pill remover. I sent the kids off to Toronto in the fall with mini-versions, but this big guy is my favourite for serious cleanup.

Cascade's Eco Wool, which I have dubbed "Economical" wool, is softly spun, light to wear, and the colours in both the undyed and dyed versions are gorgeous. Unfortunately, because it's so softly spun, it also pills and sheds like crazy. It takes a lot of cleaning up over the first several months of wear before most of the shorter fibres have been removed. Interestingly, not all colours in this wool seem to pill so freely. James' "Sandridge" jacket, made of undyed charcoal heather, barely sheds at all, while Isabel's purple sweater needs cleaning up every couple of weeks. I wonder if anyone else has encountered this phenomenon.
Another part of my refreshment routine involves mending any snags. Isabel seems to have a habit of snagging her sweaters at the elbows. I used a double-pointed needle (dpn) to work any loose loops back into the fabric. Here's how dreadful her pullover looked when she came home from Toronto.

This slightly blurry photo doesn't come close to showing the true extent of the mess. However, I did some magic and the snags and pills have been taken care of. 
Next, I washed the sweaters, one at a time and a couple of days apart since they take up a lot of floor room while drying. While I'm writing this, I'm soaking Isabel's "Valentine" in my trusty old-fashioned top-loading clothes washer in warm water and a little Eucalan. At our old house in Ottawa we had an economical front loader, which I came to hate. It took hours to get something through the wash cycle and since there was no true soaking cycle (without any agitation at all), I had to wash large items in the bathtub. I know I should have loved the top loader for ecological reasons, but in truth I was thrilled when I discovered that our current house had an old Kenmore top loader. After a 20-minute soak, I simply spin the water out of the sweaters and lay them flat to dry, shaping them in the process. I have a strong preference for non-superwash treated wool because it is so much easier to control during blocking and drying. I love Elizabeth Zimmerman's instruction regarding the blocking of wool-- "bend it to your will".
Here's James' jacket in the midst of blocking--it still looks a little lop-sided before being stretched out to the correct dimensions. He seems to have grown a little taller, so I tried and managed to get an extra bit of length out of the sleeves and body.

With so much water removed in the spin cycle, the drying goes quickly, even in the dead of winter. I just love the way the sweaters look and feel like new again. So much effort goes into knitting them that it's important to me that they are loved and worn for many years. Don't you agree?

Sunday, January 2, 2011


The New Year is rung in, James has had his birthday, and the scarf is a huge success. In the ideal knitters' world, gifts are received with joy and worn with pleasure. So, you can imagine my pleasure when James, confronted with a pile of birthday presents, felt each package to find the one with the right "squishiness" to be his new scarf, and opened it first. Yesterday we had rain and I couldn't get a photo of him wearing it, but today we are having "Hollywood snow", the kind that movie directors must love, that comes drifting slowly down in giant snowflakes.

Here is James modelling his new "Stripes" scarf. 

During the knitting of the scarf, one of the decisions I had to make was whether to make the stripes pattern symetrical. In the end, and upon Isabel's advice, I did not. There is a purposeful assymetry which you can see below. Also, check out how both the cast-on and cast-off edges mirror each other. I used a needle 2 sizes larger to work the cast-off stitches.

Finally, see how the wrong side looks great too?

 All in all, a simple, truly satisfying project. Hope your new year has had an equally auspicious beginning.