Friday, August 30, 2013


Readers of this blog know that superwash yarns are not my favourites. Too often they behave badly during wet blocking and result in a garment that loses shape and a fabric that loses body. Until now, the only superwash I've been really satisfied with is Lanett Babyull, which for some reason does not do those things. So, it is with excitement that I have discovered not just one wool, but a whole line of superwash that I really love. It's from Shelridge Farm, now owned by Lyn Gemmell. While the wool itself is sourced internationally (mostly from Australia), it's spun here in Ontario and dyed into a huge palette of colours by Lyn herself. Lyn sent me a couple of sample skeins ages ago, but I only got around to knitting a swatch this last week. The swatch you see below has been soaked in water and dried without any change at all in its finished size. I think this is because of the twist in the spinning.

Note the great stitch definition. The wool is soft enough to wear next to the skin, but retains its body after washing. I dried the swatch flat, as I would do with a garment. I'm so in love with this wool, that right away I called Lyn to order enough skeins for a new design. Check back to see what ensues.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

I'm Better Now

OK, I've got the spinning mania out of my system--sort of. This morning I finished spinning up some fleece on a second bobbin. There's a freedom that comes with learning. I wasn't spinning for a project, so I experimented and tried different things. Yesterday I used a backward draw and today I played with a short forward draw. Since I like to spin off the fold when I use a drop spindle, I tried that method too. This being my first attempt to produce a plied yarn, I didn't hold back.
After lunch, I put together the tensioned kate that attaches right onto the wheel. Then I slipped on the two bobbins, and let 'er rip! Wow, what might take hours on a spindle took only a few minutes. Next, I wound the plied yarn on my niddy-noddy, gave it a bath in some water and Eucalan, and here's the result.

I'm surprised that I managed to make a "balanced" yarn. See? No skewing off to one side. The yarn isn't especially even--it has a thick-and-thin quality, but you'd pay a lot for that in a fancy yarn store, right?

I'll get more skilled at producing an even yarn, but for now, it's been three days packed with fun, and I've made a giant leap along the learning curve.

My desire to do nothing else has abated, somewhat. Still, I might just spend part of the evening checking out some online sources of fleece. You see, I have an idea for a handspun sweater design, and I need to order quite a lot of fleece to make it work...

Monday, August 26, 2013

Succumbing to Obsession

I hate the three words, "Some assembly required'. It brings to mind frustrating hours spent with furniture with weird names and pieces that never quite fit together. Therefore, it was with some trepidation that I cut open the box containing my new Ladybug and took out the instruction booklet. Turns out, my premonitions of dread were unwarranted and, in fact, the half hour spent with my screwdriver and wrench taught me a lot about how the machine works. As suggested, I placed a padded covering over our coffee table and placed the wheel onto it for the assembly process.

I practised treadling for a few minutes. Then, I pulled out the alpaca/wool blend in a sort of ugly pink and grey that I'd bought just for practice. (Yes, my American readers, in Canada the noun is spelled with a "c" while the verb takes an "s".) I attached a leader and in shockingly little time I was actually spinning! It's a little different from spindle spinning. I feel I have more control with the latter, at least for now, but the speed of the wheel is so addictive. Dangerously so! By dinner time, I'd spun the entire 100g.

Today, I ought to be doing other things, but instead I've spent a huge chunk of time spinning up some dyed merino from Fleece Artist. Much more difficult than the alpaca due to a certain amount of compression and matting in the fleece. I read this article from Knitty about what to do, then split the roving down the middle and fluffed it out horizontally. Much better. 

Yeah, I know my bobbin looks a little uneven and lumpy. More practice needed. Really, I should probably go outside for a walk, or maybe do the dishes, or mow the lawn, or ANYTHING, but I can't seem to make myself stop. 
Tomorrow, on to plying. I may as well get this thing out of my system.

Sunday, August 25, 2013


Well, I didn't make it to the Twist Fibre Festival yesterday, but I did manage to take the kids on a fun tour of eastern Ontario towns. Having grown up in Washington, DC, they hadn't had much previous opportunity to explore this part of the world, so I combined my need to pick up my new spinning wheel with an expedition through the region.
We started off up Highway 10, the Old Perth Road, with our first stop at Westport, where we acquired some cups of tea and coffee at the Church Street Bakery and Teashop. The day was perfect, and the lakes were sparkling and busy with boaters, swimmers, and cottagers enjoying their last relaxing summer weekend.
Then it was off to Perth, where we did a quick drive-by tour of the stately old homes on North Drummond Street, before heading off to Almonte, our lunch destination. Almonte is an old woollen mill town, with waterfalls in the town's centre. The mill is now a textile museum, the same one I visited last month with two friends from Kingston.

Now, at the low point of the Mississippi River, the falls were quietly dramatic. At the height of the spring runoff, they can be positively alarming. There's a nice fenced-in viewing area for posing.

After lunch at the Cafe Postino (in an old post office), we explored the many artisanal boutiques on Mill Street. I was hoping to find a birdbath for my backyard cloistered little garden, but although we saw several, none was THE ONE.
This post is really about the economic revival of old mill towns like Almonte, and the many fascinating shops (one devoted to all things yellow!) in the town are a perfect example of how this community has found its way into the modern world.

The town also hosts festivals (there were highland games on while we were there and an international puppet festival last weekend) and movie shoots. The streets were busy and full of holiday visitors--so much so that finding parking was quite a challenge.
Before we left, we sought out St. Paul's, the Anglican Church were my great-grandfather (a Cambridge University educated younger son who emigrated to the colonies) was rector when he died of a heart attack while at a dance party. I was told by my grandfather that he was a fun-loving person, especially considering that he was a parson, so I suppose one could say that this was an appropriate way to go. The church and rectory are on a quiet street overlooking the river and I found them very beautiful in the late summer afternoon sunshine, with bright yellow doors and yellow flowers.

Then it was on to Merrickville for the spinning wheel pickup from Beckie at Unraveled. Merrickville is on the Rideau Canal system, part of a Unesco World Heritage site that ends with the military fortifications here in Kingston. We parked right in front of the locks and quite enjoyed the sight of the boats waiting to go through. Merrickville seems to specialize in bistros and other quaint eateries. The displays of flowers were extravagant,

with glimpses of hidden gardens through old carriageways. Again, the streets were full of tourists, eating, shopping, and generally holiday making.
Both Almonte and Merrickville benefit from their proximity to the city of Ottawa, which has grown enormously in recent years. In fact, we actually passed through the official outer limits of the city while driving between the two towns. It is wonderful to see these small communities thriving, both as tourist destinations and as bedroom communities for the capital. One only hopes that the federal government's fee hikes and reduced hours for the canal can be successfully fought since it is obvious that at least for Perth and Merrickville, the canal and its boaters are a vital part of the local economy.
The new Schacht Ladybug spinning wheel has just been unpacked, and it looks as though I'm going to be spending some time with a screwdriver and an instruction booklet and, after that, with some fleece I purchased at Kingston's Sheepdog Trials. I purposely bought some that I am not in love with so that my first experiments do not destroy something precious and lovely.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Fall Plans

It's late summer and, as usual, the urge to knit hits me particularly strongly. With the nights getting cooler, and the chirping of crickets replacing the buzzing of cicadas, I start to think about all the things I want to wear this fall. I find myself unexpectedly in a teal/turquoise frame of mind. First up, a fresh version of Sandridge, amped up with a fuller, swingier skirt, shorter raglan, and higher collar.

Alas, the dark teal colour with little green flecks has come out a sort of boring flat medium blah blue on my screen.

The yarn is Cascade's Eco+ in shade 4009. The colour is so striking that a total stranger came up to me yesterday while I was knitting at a local coffee shop to comment on it. Maybe I'll capture it better for the next viewing.
Next, I want to knit myself a Zora, but I can't decide between Galway Highland Heather in "teal" (really turquoise heather) or "paprika", a slightly orangey red (and terribly daring for me).I might have been influenced to try it after oohing and aahing over this.
As well as knitting plans, there are event plans to think about. This weekend, there's the Twist Fibre Festival northeast of Ottawa (or northwest of Montreal, depending on your perspective) in the beautiful Laurentians. Don't know yet if I'll make it. It might be a spur-of-the-moment decision. Weather could be a factor.
Next, I and four friends are playing a concert next Thursday in the noon-hour series at St. Georges Cathedral here in Kingston. We're the Kingston Viol Consort (although there's a bit of recorder playing in the mix). The programme is mostly Elizabethan, but with a fun rendition of Eleanor Rigby to end. Eclectic, right? Drop by, if you're in Kingston.
On September 18, there's the Twist Collective fifth anniversary fashion show in Toronto, in which I'll be participating. Thank you, Fiona Ellis, for inviting me. The flyer's here. If you're in the Toronto area, I hope you'll come and say hello. I plan to spend the day after visiting Toronto yarn shops. Any recommendations?
Finally, at the end of September, there's the Wolfe Island Fibre Festival. Leave your car in downtown Kingston and walk onto the ferry to the island. The Festival is close by the landing and should be loads of fun, with a focus on local products.
Before I sign off for today, I want to mention that I had tea last Friday with Joan Sharpe of Purlin J's Roving Yarn Company. You can read all about her new yarn-shop-in-a-firetruck here. I love that she plans to show up at all sorts of non-fibre events. Wouldn't you just love to find a yarn shop parked for your convenience at an outdoor concert, especially if you'd just discovered that you accidentally left your socks-on-the-go back home? Joan, who has a background in handknitting design (even though she currently works as a university lab administrator), was wearing a pretty cotton skirt she had knitted and lined (gasp!).

Can't wait to see the actual truck/shop. Best of luck, Joan, with your new moonlighting project!

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Beauty of Aging

Have you seen the new Fall issue of Twist Collective? Have you noticed the wide age range of the models (from very young to elderly)? Go onto Ravelry, and you'll discover that the most popular designs in this issue are those modelled by the person with the most wrinkles. The sweaters and the model are both strikingly attractive and, as a bonus, it's obvious that the model (I'm guessing from her name that she's the photographer's mother) is a fibre person too.
At 56, I'm not yet a card-carrying senior, but I do find myself having to cope more and more with the effects of time--the saggy neck skin (and other body parts), the thickening waist, the occasionally stiff joints. Yet, at the same time, there is an energy that's come with liberation from the reproductive hormones. Along with the hormones, I've lost the crippling migraines that dominated my reproductive years. My kids are mostly grown and, while they still cause a certain amount of anxiety (I suspect all mothers always worry), the years of physical care are done. Bill and I are more secure financially than we ever were when we were younger. It's a very good time of life. I know I'm not the first woman to welcome and enjoy the freedom of the post-menopausal years, and the creative burst that often comes with it. I published my first pattern at age 53, and I'm learning more and becoming more, not less, adventurous. I have more time to reflect, to experiment, and to bring my years of experience to bear on my work (or perhaps I should say "play"). I feel more vitality and excitement about life than I ever felt when I was the exhausted parent of two coping with the challenges of the competitive environment of Washington, DC. So, the notion that once a woman hits menopause, her attractiveness is gone, is repugnant to me. If beauty does indeed come from within, then surely the energy and confidence of the mature woman must be visible--as it is Jane Heller's photos of her mother. Thanks Kate, for this wonderful fifth anniversary issue.  

Thursday, August 15, 2013


New from Twist Collective:

The idea for this hat and mitts set originated in the work of William Morris (1834-1896). As an artist and medievalist who influenced the Arts and Crafts movement and writers such as J.R.R. Tolkien, his textile designs have a lot to offer up as inspiration. I wanted to evoke the dense botanical look of his work in a simplified format, and with only 21 stitches to work with across the back of the hand for the smallest size, my canvas was pretty small. To add textural richness to the vine pattern, I incorporated little French knots, as well as Latvian braid and a picot edge. 
Check out the other beautiful designs in the new Fall 2013 issue. I especially love that one of the models is an attractive older woman.

Monday, August 12, 2013

In Vogue

I'm in Vogue Knitting! I'm amazed and delighted to have made it into a magazine I've been reading since the 1980s. (Remember the "Out of Africa" spring/summer issue? The big shoulders? The even bigger hair? The articles by Elizabeth Zimmermann?) Lee Ann Dalton, who writes the "Made in Canada" column wrote to me a while back to ask if I'd do an interview, and the fruits of her labours are now on view in the Fall, 2013 issue, available for mobile devices now, but available at newsstands only the first week of September. I don't have a tablet (am I the only person without one?), but I do have an I-pod (mostly for listening to audiobooks), so I downloaded the magazine and had a look on my itty-bitty screen. This is the featured photo,

and it's accompanied by some very kind sentences about my approach to sweater design. To be described as a "fresh face" at the age of 56 is definitely smile-worthy. Thanks so much, Lee Ann.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Harriet's Jacket KAL Last Post: Some Thoughts on Sewing on Buttons (and Cake to Celebrate)

After re-shaping the wet jacket (see previous post), I left it alone to dry and went about other business (knitting and non-knitting) until this morning. Then, after checking that it was indeed fully dry, I tried it on again. Still perfect. This is what I love about non-superwash wools--no nasty surprises. I marked where I wanted my beautiful antiqued brass buttons to go.

Then I checked that my needle would thread through the eye of the button shanks, with room to spare,

and sewed on the buttons. I like to use one long length of yarn to do this, catching it as invisibly as possible through the back of the button band between buttons, and securing each one with an extra stitch through the back before moving on to the next (see below).

This ensures that if one button comes undone down the road, the others won't come off, and just the one can be replaced. These are such lovely buttons; the greeny gold brass complements the wool to perfection.

Time for photos.

It being high blueberry season, I celebrated the jacket with some blueberry cake, made from local blueberries, and a cup of strong tea. The recipe follows.

Blueberry Cake

½ c. softened unsalted butter or margarine (Becel works well)
1 c. sugar
2 eggs, or 2 tsp egg replacer + ¼ c water
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
½ c. milk
2 c. unbleached flour
2 c. blueberries, fresh or frozen (don’t thaw)

Preheat oven to 375 F. Either spray an 8x8” pan with Pam or grease with butter and dust with flour. Cream butter with sugar. Beat in eggs. Add baking powder, salt, and milk. Gently stir in flour, then blueberries. Fill pan with batter and bake for about 40 minutes (longer if using frozen berries). Cake is done when a toothpick, skewer, knitting needle, etc. comes out clean. 

Enjoy, and don't forget that I'll keep checking back throughout August and September with the KAL posts, as well as my Ravelry messages, to answer any questions or comments you may have regarding this fun knit.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Harriet's Jacket KAL Day 9: Done Except for...

I'm done, except for sewing on the buttons. This has been pretty quick, as garments go. The jacket has just had a soak with some Eucalan in my washer, and a spin to get out as much water as possible, and now it's drying on the library floor.

Oops! I can see that I need to re-shape this to taper the body properly before it dries. The beauty of wet blocking is that you can mould the wool, or "bend it to your will" in the words of EZ.

You'll just have to wait to see the simple antique brass buttons I have for it. How do I wash my woollies? Fortunately, I still own an old-fashioned top-loading washer, the kind where you can open it up mid-cycle and control what's going on inside. I start by filling it with about 8 inches of warm water and a squirt of Eucalan. Then I gently add the sweater, squeezing it a bit to make sure the air bubbles come out and the water is fully absorbed by the fibre. I leave it to soak for 15-20 minutes with the lid open so that no other family member will accidentally start filling the machine with their own laundry. Then, I turn the dial to "spin", close the lid, and let 'er rip. The important thing is that no agitation occurs. The newer front loading machines don't work the same way; even the "soak" cycle on them involves some degree of agitation and it's enough to felt non-superwash wool.
Earlier in the day, I wove in all the loose ends. Usually when I do this for a garter stitch garment, I weave the ends up and down, following the garter stitch. However, with this wool, I discovered that the most invisible method was to weave "in the ditch", carefully catching just part of each stitch like this:

Here's the jacket just before it had its bath.

Can't wait to show you the blocked version, complete with buttons.
In between weaving in the ends and wet blocking, I hopped on my bike, rode downtown, took a shuttlebus for $1 and ended up here. What fun it was! This was the day to go--before the weekend crowds. I bought some local wool and alpaca, as well as some carded and dyed fleece for spinning, ate some french fries, watched the dogs, and generally had a great time before taking the shuttle back into town. 

My only regret? I missed the sheep to shawl competition. It's tomorrow.  
IMPORTANT NOTE: Please make sure you are using the updated version of Harriet's Jacket from Ravelry. There was a typo in the first version that went out, which was quickly corrected. You'll know you have the right version if the last round worked before the divide is an EVEN rnd, leaving you with purl bumps facing on the right side.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Harriet's Jacket KAL Day 8: Some Cost/Benefit Analysis

Bill, my husband, is an economist who spent 16 years working in Washington, DC at the IMF and World Bank. Inevitably, the language of economics permeates his conversation. I, on the other hand, dropped out of economics in the second week of an introductory course. I have little patience with the way in which economists insist on giving complicated names to commonsense phenomena. So, it is with a bit of embarrassment that I am borrowing from the economics lexicon to describe how I spent yesterday.
The problem? I'm using a hand-dyed yarn with variations in colour intensity and I'm at the peplum. I have a choice. I can alternate between two skeins of wool, as I have done for everything except the collar, OR I can knit each of the two halves of the peplum with a single skein.
Benefits of the 2-skein approach: I won't have to worry about colour pooling and the peplums should blend in with everything else.
Cost: I will have to carry the yarns up the side or back of the work, and that will probably impact the appearance of the selvedge.
The reverse will be true if I adopt the 1-skein method.
I experiment. I try out some different methods of carrying the unused strands. This involves abandoning the slipping of the first stitch of each row. Naturally, I don't experiment on the actual project; I do it with a much smaller number of stitches. I take numerous photos of the process.

I have no idea why everything came out in black and white and green, but I sort of like it!
I'm finally fairly pleased with the result and I knit about 10 ridges (20 rows) of the actual peplum before I realize that, although the edge of the work is nice and tidy, there's no way it will match the second peplum, because the two sides are worked in opposite directions. In other words, the front edge of one peplum will have strands carried up (neatly), but the other front edge won't. They're both tidy, but they look slightly different. I rip it all out, then water the garden and walk to the grocery store for a breather.
I return to the task and decide to risk knitting the entire peplum from one skein, slipping all first stitches knitwise, as per the pattern instructions, to make a clean selvedge. The end result?

No significant colour pooling and a firm, tidy edge. Now, I have to figure out what's up with my camera settings...

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Harriet's Jacket KAL Day 7: Shawl Collar Details

So, now it's time to do what I consider the most fun part of knitting this design--the front borders and collar. For an overview of the process, click here. In this post, I'm going to go over some of the finer points. You'll kick off the fun by getting all the necessary stitches onto a 32" circular.

The instructions are very precise about where to pick those stitches up and how. This should make the process fairly straightforward. When told to knit up one stitch per ridge, this is what you'll be doing.

Above, you see the tip of my RH needle going into the bump at the top of the ridge, preparatory to knitting through it. At the corners of the back neck slope, the instructions say to M1R and M1L, with the added stitches leaning toward the centre back. This will help to close up any gaps.
Next, the instructions guide you in placing markers for buttonholes. Here are a couple of things to consider. First, if you intend to use smaller or larger buttons than those suggested in the "Notions" section, you may wish to explore other types of buttonholes. I happen to like this one because it is so simple and effective. Second, for the larger sizes, you may wish to add a fourth buttonhole. If so, simply re-space the markers, keeping the top one three stitches from the top and the bottom one four stitches from the bottom; for this type of buttonhole, the markers get placed BETWEEN the stitches.
Here is one of my newly-completed buttonholes.

Next, it's time to cast off (I learnt to say "cast off" instead of "bind off, and every now and then I can't resist reverting to it) the front border stitches. Be careful! As you approach the first marker you will reach a point where you have one stitch left on your RH needle with the marker at the top of the LH needle. You will need to get rid of that one stitch by removing the marker, knitting the first stitch on the far side of it, then pulling the last front border stitch over it. Similarly, when you get to the second marker, at the top of the right front border, you will see this.

Here, you will need to remove the marker, then k2 before pulling the first stitch over the second. When you're done the casting/binding off, do a stitch count and be sure to check it against the total in the pattern.
Now only the collar stitches remain. Let the short row fun begin! I'm using the Lucy Neatby/Meg Swansen method. Slip, wrap, and replace, or SWR for short. Sometimes you see instructions telling you to do the wrap loosely. Don't pay attention to them; strangle that wrap!

It now occurs to me that I ought to have prefaced this post with a bit of extra info for anyone using a colour-changing yarn like this Sonoma. For the entire front border/collar, I am NOT switching back and forth between two skeins. I'm doing this first, because I want the collar to be reversible and second, because almost every row is a different length, thus reducing worries about colour pooling.
The critical thing about deeper shawl collars (unlike the shallow one in Buttonbox), is that there must be an increase row across the back of the neck about halfway through the process. I did this at the point when I had ten garter stitch ridges facing me on the right side (I'm making size 3). Place a couple of markers at either side of the back neck.

Count the number of stitches between the markers and you'll know how far apart to space the kfb's. I ended up making them every two stitches twelve times. Here they are in close up.

Finally, comes the big bind off. It MUST be done quite loosely, so be sure to use a needle in your right hand that is two times larger than the one you used for the collar itself. I like to use a dpn in my right hand for better manoeuverability. You'll know you've got it right if your collar sits flat around your neck. If not, then rip back and do it over; you'll not regret it.
No photos of the finished collar yet. Next time.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Harriet's Jacket KAL Day 6: Coming Together

I've made this jacket three times before, so why am I always so surprised at how quickly it comes together? Yesterday, with the aid of a long weekend, beautiful weather, and two audiobooks, I completed the right half of the bodice. Then the excitement....
Using both short and long circulars, I placed the back sections of both halves back onto separate needles.

The wooden needle is the 16" circular; the plastic-coated aluminum one is the 24" circular. Here I'm holding them parallel to each other, right sides together, in preparation for working the three-needle bind-off. In the next shot you can see me beginning to knit the first two stitches on each needle together with one of the dpns.

I repeat the process, knitting the second stitches on each needle together, and then I pull the first stitch on the dpn over the second.

I repeat this process until all the stitches are used up, and voila, I have a completed bodice.

I try it on, to check the size, and it's PERFECT! I love the look of this abbreviated version and promise myself to re-visit the design one day to transform it into a spencer (maybe with I-cord edging?)
Because I ended each half with a purl ridge, with the bind-off forming a valley between, the joining blends well into the garter stitch,

and will do so even better after blocking. You could, of course graft the two halves together, making sure to do so with the proper manoeuvres for the garter stitch version of Kitchener stitch, but I prefer the stability that the three-needle bind-off provides to the stretchiness of a sideways piece of knitting. See here for more on this. Tomorrow I'll concentrate on the collar.
P.S. I realize that I am quite likely knitting at a pace which is faster than that of many readers of this blog. It's because I have other projects I need to get on with for the fall season. Rest assured that throughout August and September I will continue to come back and check these KAL posts and respond to any questions or comments. So, take your time and enjoy the process. There's no need to rush!