Thursday, October 24, 2013

Time Out for Socks

Suddenly, it's cold outside. We've had a blissfully warm and sunny fall (and really, after last spring we deserve it!), but now the tide is turning. Minus one Celcius forecast for tonight. Time to turn off the water to the outside faucet, time to get out the hats and gloves, and time for a pair of new socks. A close inspection of my pale blue Brookline socks revealed that the heels were all but worn through. I knew this would happen sooner rather than later, because they were made from 100% merino sans nylon, and now the time has come to say goodbye to them--maybe. Perhaps I'll get around to re-footing them in a different yarn. How can I just toss out such beauties?
In the meantime, I REALLY need more socks, so I've cast on with one of my Rhinebeck purchases--Shelridge Farm's Soft Touch Heather (85% wool, 15% nylon) in "Fury", a sort of greenish black, or maybe it's a blackish green. Whatever it is, I like it a lot. And this is the sort of sock yarn I prefer. Tough enough to last, but soft enough to be great on the feet.

I think you can just make out the eye-of-the-partridge heel stitch at the top of this photo. It's mid-afternoon now and I'll be done the first sock soon and casting on for the second before dinner. This is the perfect activity for today while I keep an eye on some work we're having done in the house and also outside to our garden fence. The last rose of the season has just bloomed at the sheltered front of our house.

Frost tonight. Won't be long until the first snow.
P.S. The answer to those of you who have inquired is, yes, the Urban Rustic Socks are based on the same cable and seed stitch pattern as the "Petrova" jacket. They should probably be re-named "Petrova Socks", but I hadn't decided on a name for the jacket at the time when the sock pattern was published.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Rhinebeck Rules

Back from Rhinebeck, after a weekend of food, friends, and fun. This was my third trip there; and these are my rules for a perfect Rhinebeck experience:
1. Stay at the Beekman Arms, the oldest continuously running inn in America (since 1766 in case you're wondering). I always stay in room 33 and immediately re-book the room for the following year. I'm told that 70% of their Sheep and Wool Festival weekend visitors roll over their reservations in the same way. Why there? It's within walking distance of the fairgrounds, so you can avoid the gridlock in the village and the walk down Mulberry Street has to be one of the nicest in America (think Norman Rockwell). The colonial ambiance is classy, but not pretentious. And the wide-plank floors are just like the ones in my own 1842-built house.
2. Don't bring a backpack, or heaven forbid, a cart on wheels. The barns and exhibit halls are a serious crush. There's no room for a bulging pack on your back. I noticed that some large-size "busty" women were even having trouble negotiating the squeeze!
3. Wear comfy shoes. Seems obvious, but you'd be surprised what people show up in. There's a great shoe store, "Pegasus", in the village that seemed to be doing a good business fitting people out in last-minute shoes for the fair.
4. Wear layers. At this time of year, the day can go from drizzly to windy and chilly, to almost hot. In fact, Saturday was just like that. I wore my Buttonbox Waistcoat under an open corduroy jacket with my Fibonacci Neckerchief for maximum options. The evenings are chilly, so save your warmer knits for then. I wore Harriet around the first night, my Perth Cardi out to dinner on the second, and Wakefield Redux on day two. In the end, I didn't take my new Zora cardigan. I thought I might feel too hot in it. I realize I haven't posted a photo of the finished version, though, so here it is:

5. Have a plan. Check out the vendor list before you go. Know what you want to purchase ahead of time and have cash. Unless you are a person of extraordinary control, it's easy to overspend. The goodies are mind blowing.

Skeins of "Seacolors" wool from Maine.
Make sure you allow yourself an unplanned purchase, but set a firm limit on what you spend. Know that some popular vendors, such as Miss Babs and Jenny the Potter, will have long lines and may run out of some products early on.
6. Take time for a little shopping in the village. Apart from the shoe store, there's a good bookstore (with a fantastic cookbook section), several antique stores (Asher Antiques is my fave), and loads of high end clothing boutiques. Some shops stay open late to take advantage of the influx of festival attendees.
8. When you arrive on Friday, make a dinner reservation right away for Saturday. The best restaurants get fully booked. Don't worry if you don't. There's a really good pizza place and a diner-style eatery.
9. On Sunday morning, head to Bread Alone for coffee, knitting (of course), and the New York Times, until around 10:00 when the festival re-opens.
10. Keep an eye out for friends from home,

Glenna C.

Glenna's friend Gwen (am I spelling this right?)
as well as knitting celebs. I scored a copy of "The Rhinebeck Sweater", signed on the spot by Ysolda.
11. Don't forget to check out the sheep; they're what make it all possible!

12. Take time to enjoy some of the non-sheepy aspects of the location, like this.

and this,


Yes, those are the actual colours of the trees!

Thursday, October 17, 2013


This has been a long time coming--more than 15 months since the first prototype was knitted. You've had glimpses of that original jacket and its two followers, but now I'm finally able to present the finished product.  Here's the description from the pattern itself:

There’s something rather romantic and slightly exotic about the Cossack collar. It conjures up images of Doctor Zhivago, and also of one of my favourite childhood books, Noel Streatfeild’s “Ballet Shoes” (1936), about three adopted girls. The middle child, Petrova, of Russian origin, is for me the most interesting, and Ruth Gervis’s illustration of Petrova and her “sisters” in their Cossack-collared dance uniforms has stayed with me over the years, and inspired the name for this design.
The body and sleeves of this jacket are each constructed seamlessly from the bottom up, then joined at the yoke and shaped using Elizabeth Zimmermann’s saddle shoulder method. The richly textured horseshoe cable and seed stitch panel moves from the cuff to the shoulder, where it is joined to the front and back simultaneously by means of a perpendicular join. Finally, the entire front opening is edged with I-cord and invisible buttonholes.

One of the principal features of the design is that the pockets are double knitted, with no extra lining or sewing to deal with. Thank you, Lucy Neatby, for presenting this possibility in your class on double knitting. I’ve taken it a step further by making it happen in seed stitch on the outside with a stocking stitch lining. All of this makes for a fun knit with minimal finishing.
Note that the collar can be worn either unbuttoned to frame the neck, or buttoned up for extra coziness.

From this you can see that there's a lot of interesting (but not terribly difficult) technique going on, which is a big part of the reason it's taken such a long time to get this into print. There is a nice introduction to double knitting, with a smallish dose of it in the making of the pockets. I love the magic moment when the two layers are separated and the opening is revealed.
In a later post I'll talk a bit more about Ruth Gervis's illustrations and the influence of children's literature on my designs in general. For now, here are more photos.

This design sports a lot of buttons--the smallest size has nine, so if you're thinking of knitting this up, be on the lookout for lightweight buttons. Petrova is available here. Hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
Off to Rhinebeck tomorrow...

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Wearing Fibonacci

Style is so much about HOW you wear things, not just what you are wearing. Think of Katherine Hepburn with her turned up shirt collars and pushed up sleeves. Now that there's a nip in the air, it's time to think about how to wear a scarf. Of course, I'm thinking about how to wear my Fibonacci Neckerchief. My favourite version is the one in hand-dyed sock yarn.

First, lay it out, right side up, and roll down the top, like this.

Next, place it around the neck, with the point of the triangle in front. Bring the rolled ends around, underneath the front roll, and tie loosely.

Such a useful little piece when the days are getting misty and cool.

 It's good that Handspun Zora is blocking,

'cause my drive to Rhineback is all arranged. Will I see you there?

Monday, October 14, 2013

One More Day

I think this is the last day for work on my handspun Zora. And I THINK I have enough handspun to do the job. I have only one sleeve to finish.

See how nicely the underarm join worked out? I'm very pleased with it.  It's this sort of detail that makes seamless knitting so satisfying.

It's Thanksgiving weekend here. We had our big dinner yesterday evening. Turkey, turnips, potatoes, peas, gravy, pumpkin cake, and baked apples. Here are the apples about to go into the oven.

Oh, I forgot the cranberry sauce. 

Notice that I keep taking photos of my light grey wool next to red things. Clearly, I'm dying to wear this cardigan with something red!
What else did we do yesterday? Here's a hint...

Happy Thanksgiving.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

On the Edge (Selvedge Stitches)

A knitter, Marci, wrote to me earlier this week,

"Hi! Just have a quick question on the Zora pattern (which I’ve LOVED knitting by the way)… I’ve got the back to 21 1/2”, but now I’m a bit confused. I’ve ended after a WS row, now starting on a RS row with the right side of the back. If I work to the last 2 stitches of the right shoulder, then the k2tog will be knitting purl stitches. This makes me think I’ve reversed something and that the k2tog is actually on the outer edge stitches and not on the inner edge stitches. Or that it is the inner stitches but that I should be doing this on the WS so that I’m knitting the knit stitches together. (This is my first bottom-up sweater - I usually do top-down - so I’m just missing something due to inexperience!)"

The answer is that the instructions are correct and that she will indeed be eating into the reverse stocking stitch background of the cable panel with k2tog on one side of the shoulder and SSK on the other. The point is to create a selvedge that will be used later on for picking up for the collar and front border.I have a dislike of patterns that don't give explicit instructions regarding selvedge stitches. This is especially the case when there is a complicated pattern stitch. So, in my patterns you will ALWAYS find instructions for how to make selvedges if they are required. For how to pick up from a selvedge, see here.

This came to mind because this morning I was working the decreases for the front and back neck of my handspun Zora.

Above, on the left-hand side of the work, you see a series of k2tog's, creating a nice neat edge. Later on, they'll start to eat into the cable panel just a little bit. And later still, I'll be able to use the inner halves of the border stitches for knitting up the collar. Very easy, very tidy and very clean looking.

In between knitting, I'm still spinning away to make a couple of more skeins. 

The challenge is to maintain a consistent yarn thickness from skein to skein. Remember, I'm a mere beginner at this spinning thing. It's not all perfect, but that's the way handspun is. If I wanted total evenness, I'd use a commercial wool.

Zora is a cousin (or sibling) of Wakefield Redux, the cardigan I finished just before Rhinebeck last year. Both share the same silhouette, although the sizing is slightly different to adjust for the differences in the cable panels. Here I am wearing Wakefield a couple of days ago, along with my Fibonacci Neckerchief.

How can you not love the season that lets you get all your favourite woollies out of storage?

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Blocking Work-in-Progress

The thing that put me off knitting for a while (about 10 years ago) was the difficulty of getting a finished garment to fit "just right". I'm a small woman, and patterns ALWAYS needed adjusting. I used to hate it when I'd sew up a sleeve (knitted up from the cuff), set it in, and then discover that it was an inch too long or too short. It's what got me making my own designs. Now, I have a whole toolbox of techniques that help me get the length perfect. One of those is wet blocking a work-in-progress.
For the last few days, I've been motoring up the body on Zora. As of last night, I was about an inch shy of the underarms. I stopped at this point just in case the body grows a bit in length after blocking. If it does, I won't have to rip anything out. If it doesn't, I'll just add the extra inch before proceeding. First off, let me say how much I love knitting with my own handspun. I may be a beginning spinner, but I'm finding that this Corriedale wool has just the right amount of loft.

Here's where I left off.

This morning, I put all the stitches onto a long length of wool. Then I soaked the piece for a few minutes in a bowl of warm water.

Notice that I've left the live stitches and the attached ball of wool out of the water; I don't want the active stitches to stretch. 
Next, I gave the wet wool a gentle squeeze (so as to avoid felting), rolled it up in a towel, placed it on my kitchen floor, and jumped on it a little bit to get out the worst of the wet.

Finally, I laid the work out on a towel to dry, checking the measurements while I moulded the shape.

No growing, apparently. This means that when I work the upper body, I can be assured that the final piece will measure the same as the work-in-progress on the needles. Yay!

Friday, October 4, 2013


Recently, I was interviewed by Robin Hunter. The interview is up on her blog today here. Check out the other stuff on the blog. I particularly love what Robin has to say on the economics of knitting. Maybe that's because I'm married to a former IMF/World Bank economist (who seems to be developing an interest in small-scale cultural industries).
Also of interest today is what's on Twist Collective's blog--photos from the fashion show I attended in Toronto a couple of weeks ago.
Finally, you may be interested to know that I'm involved in the gestation stage of a design project with a group of local fibre farms. It's way too early to say anything more, other than I'm so excited about it!

P.S. The eagle-eyed may have noticed there is now a click-on link in the sidebar to the Guide to Techniques and Tutorials. Hope this makes things quicker and easier. Have a great fall weekend.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Did That Really Just Happen?

Spinning creates fibre mess--little bits of loose fluff have a tendency to accumulate in the work area--so now that I'm a wheel spinner I have to vacuum more frequently. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Like a lot of wool people, I'd rather be playing and plying than doing housework. A couple of days ago, it was time to get the house clean again. I have a little canister-style machine which works well in our house with its mix of wide-plank pine floors and wool wall-to-wall carpet. Eventually I made it up to the third floor library where I have my wheel set up. I sucked up the dust and loose wool fibres from the beautiful old 170-year-old floorboards. I stuck the vacuum cleaner hose under the desk, and the futon, and then, just as I was bending down to have a look under an old trunk with legs, I heard a soft, tell-tale "fwug" (for lack of a better description of the sudden sucking sound). What's that, I asked myself? A tissue must have been drawn into the hose, I thought. Then I turned around and noticed with a sick feeling that a long length of Corriedale roving had disappeared. We're talking four feet of soft, combed top. I stood there and took in what had happened for about a minute. I bought 2 lbs of fibre for my Zora project. Allowing for some small waste, this should be about the right amount for the cardigan, but there's not a lot of room for error--or housekeeping accidents! I thought about opening up the machine and checking inside. I thought about the gunk one usually finds inside a vacuum cleaner bag. I thought about how I'd only put in a new bag the day before and not done all that much vacuuming. Does vacuumed gunk get more disgusting the longer it sits around? I thought about how I really, really needed ALL the fibre I'd purchased, and then I unclicked the door on the machine and had a look. Not so bad. The roving was sitting right there at the opening of the bag. I gave it a little tug and, lo and behold, the entire length of roving emerged, like a lamb being born, out of the little round bag opening, and suddenly life was OK again. By yesterday evening it was part of a new skein drying on my music stand in the living room. Whew!
Most of yesterday was spent with the Kingston Handloom Spinners and Weavers for their monthly day of spinning and potluck lunch. We were out on Cartwright Point, a hidden gem, tucked away on the water's edge behind the military base. The day was warm, even hot for October, so we gathered on the deck of the house.

Elaine, master (mistress?) of the long draw.

Alison, showing off her creation, intended for wear at an 1812 re-enactment ball.

Ruth's purple fleece. I want that colour!

I left my wheel at home and spent the day working on my handspun Zora.