Sunday, December 27, 2015

Chasing the Light

So, the darkest time of the year is upon us, and we are hard pressed to maintain our good cheer in the midst of grey drizzle, no sunshine, and months of winter looming ahead. Uncharacteristically, there is not even any snow to lighten things up, although the warmer than usual temps have helped. The Market Square rink may be closed for now,

but at least there are flowers blooming in December--a first in my lifetime.

With Christmas, for a little while we are able to push back against the gloom, with friends, good food, and candlelight. Knitting in red helps raise the mood, of course. Here's Isabel's Wolfe Island Gansey in progress. I'm having to work hard to get this done before she heads back out west.

On Christmas Eve, we ventured out on foot to the choral eucharist at St. George's Cathedral. Unexpectedly, the service was from the Book of Common Prayer (considered one of the three most influential bodies of writing in the English language, did you know?), with the beautiful language I still know by heart from my childhood. The music lived up to the words, and the entire thing was quite lovely and moving, including the walk back home in the dark, silent early 19thC streets.
For dinner, we lit all the beeswax candles we could find and ended the meal with our favourite mincemeat pie (vegetarian version). What's Christmas without apples, raisins, spices, and pastry? The recipe follows:

All-Purpose Pastry
(Makes two 9” crusts)

I use this for both sweet and savoury dishes, everything from fruit pies to quiches. It’s extremely quick, ridiculously simple, and delicious, and best of all, there’s no flour mess all over your counter and floor. What more could you ask for?

2 c unbleached flour (you may include up to ½ c whole wheat flour)
½ tsp salt (optional, depending on what’s in the filling)
½ c canola oil
½ c water
waxed paper
rolling pin or substitute such as a wine bottle or large glass

Stir the flour and salt together in a bowl. Add the water and oil and combine gently with a fork, then once everything is moistened, your hands. I move the resulting ball around the bowl to grab every crumb of flour, BUT DON’T OVERMIX OR KNEAD, or your pastry will get tough. Remember, knead bread, not pastry. If you’re making something with a top and bottom crust, divide into two balls; otherwise leave as one.

Moisten your countertop and place a sheet of waxed paper down (the dampness will hold it in place while you roll out the dough). Place a ball of dough on the paper and flatten it a bit with the heel of your hand. Then place a second sheet of paper on top. Roll from the centre out until the desired size is reached. Peel the top sheet off and lift the pastry, placing it bottom up into your baking dish. Peel the bottom sheet off and shape it in place, making sure to ease out any air bubbles from underneath. If you are using a top crust, repeat the procedure.

Mincemeat Filling
4 medium apples
1/2 c dark raisins
1/3 c apple cider (non-alcholic)
1 orange
3/4 c brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves

Peel and chop the apples. Mix with the cider and raisins. Grate the orange peel, then squeeze the orange for its juice. Add both to the apple/raisin mixture. Simmer in a covered pan until the apples are tender. Stir in the sugar and spices. This can be prepared ahead of time, but should be reheated before filling the pie. 

To assemble, line a 9" pie plate with half of the pastry and cut the second half into strips for a lattice top. Pour the filling into the shell. Cover with the lattice top and bake in a 400F oven for 40 min or until the pastry is golden. The pie should be cooled for a while before serving it warm. Enjoy!

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Best Laid Plans

You know what they say about "the best laid plans"... Well, mine have certainly gone awry. After I was so enthused about spending the holidays working on this,

here I am instead working on this.

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you might remember the Wolfe Island Gansey (still unpublished). It looked like this.

Turns out I'm incapable of saying no when my baby girl comes home for Xmas and makes a special knitting request. Guess the aran sweater's gonna be mine--in January.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The "Neck Thingum": Boring, Unglamorous, and Essential

While my aran swatch has been drying, I've been catching up on some boring but necessary winter knitting. For the last couple of months, I've been wearing my Bandana Cowl--the one I made from my very first spindle-spun wool. I knitted it to gauge, but because the wool was worsted weight, not chunky as called for, it has a nice drape that I really like. The problem? Inevitably we're going to get to that part of winter when looseness of any sort in the neck area is a recipe to freeze. There comes a point when only something woolly and clingy will keep out the chill, fashion be damned. Every year I make one or two of these.

These "Neck Thingums", as we call them, are a critical element in our winter coping strategy. They're unisex, can be worn indoors or out, folded over like a turtleneck (when it's not minus 15C), pulled up over the lower face, scrunched up under the chin, or layered with a loose cowl (like the Bandanna Cowl). So cozy! No wonder we've been known to fight over them. Each one takes only 60-80g of non-superwash wool (you don't want to lose the wool's defining properties, after all). I like to use a soft non-superwash pure wool like Quince & Co's Lark, or Cascade 220. The one pictured here took a little over one skein of Lark in Kittywake. Instructions, such as they are, follow. Hint: download a good audiobook or settle in for some binge watching on Netflix, 'cause you're in for some b-o-r-i-n-g knitting.

Neck Thingum
Using the longtail method and a 16" circ one size smaller than you would normally use for your chosen yarn, CO the same number of sts you would to knit a basic hat. That's 96 in my case. It's also 96 for my much larger son, because this project is very stretchy. The number must be divisible by 4. Join into a rnd, being careful not to twist (as they say), and place a marker to indicate the start of the rnd.
Rnd 1: *K2, p2, rep from * to end.
Rep Rnd 1 until the tube meas approx 6 1/2", or desired length.
Next Rnd: *K2, pfb, p1, rep from * to end.
Cont now in k2, p3 ribbing for about another inch to an inch and a half.
Purl 1 rnd.
BO loosely, knitwise.
That's it. If you decide to wet block the Thingum before wearing, try not to stretch out the 2x2 portion of the ribbing. The whole idea to keep it stretchy, but snug.

FYI, pfb = purl into the front and back of the next stitch.

Alternative Border
Knit one rnd, purl one rnd, knit one rnd, then cut yarn, leaving an end AT LEAST three times the finished diameter, and complete with EZ's sewn bind-off (or casting-on casting off, as she called it) from p38 of the newer edition of her "Knitting Workshop". It looks like purl bumps, but is extremely stretchy, and perfect for the lower edge of the Thingum.

With Xmas only 10 days away, maybe you're looking for the ultimate stocking stuffer (unless you go to Florida for the winter). Since each Thingum takes less than 24 hours of on-again-off-again effort, if you're motivated you could make ten of these before Xmas morning, each one in a different colour. What a great stash reduction plan! What are you waiting for?

Monday, December 14, 2015


The Winter edition of Knitty came out last week, with a sweater that immediately caught my attention--Helga. It's not the photo of the model in jeans that did it; it's the one on the designer, Emily Nora O'Neil. I think it's the combination of back-to-nature hair, long skirt, cropped sweater, and tweedy aran stitches. It got me thinking that I needed to make an aran jumper right away. And the timing is good. Isabel comes home for the holidays tomorrow, and she's been wanting a pullover.
So, yesterday, I grabbed my stitch dictionaries and graph paper and got to work. I have a LOT of stitch dictionaries, but you know, I almost always end up coming back to good old Barbara Walker's set of Treasuries. Even with the photos in black and white, they're the best. I especially love the way she groups her swatches, explaining their historical development and how they are related.
Next, I cast on to do a swatch on 60 stitches. I wanted to make the swatch in the round, because that's how I intend to knit this thing, or at least most of it. Not sure yet whether I'll steek the armholes or not. You've got to admit it's a lot easier to knit aran stitches when the right side is always facing. We'll see. No need to decide for a while.Turns out there's a use in my knitting universe for the magic loop method. It's perfect for when you want to knit a swatch in the round, and a 16" circular isn't quite long enough to work the cables comfortably.

Here's my setup with my Knitpicks magnetic board holding up my chart. I know I've ranted about the appalling inadequacy of Knitpicks' ball winder, but here's a tool of theirs worth having.

This morning I cast off, soaked the swatch in warm water, then CUT IT OPEN, and stretched it out to block. After all, aran patterns are really nothing more than fancy ribbing.

I'm pleased as punch with this. I love the blue-grey Galway I used for the swatch; it's like carved stone. But, I'll be using a beautiful heathered red in the same wool for Isabel's jumper. See you in a few days...

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Penelope: the Ultimate Top-Down Hat

This toque is fun, fast, flattering, and warm. In other words, this hat has it all, and so it’s the one I inevitably reach for when I’m running out the door to walk to the grocer’s, to shovel snow, or to go skating in our market square. The top-down construction gets things off to a rollicking start, and before you know it, this baby is done and ready to enjoy. Got a gift list? Look no further! Available today on Ravelry.
P.S. The hat takes longer to dry than to knit!!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

On the Wild Side

Today was my second annual lunch party for fibre friends in the Kingston/Prince Edward County region. It was wild from the start, with Joan of Purlin' J's Roving Yarn Truck walking up the front steps just as I opened the door to let Bill out (this crowd is way too far out for him, so he made off in a hurry to Queen's library for his own version of exciting). Here's Joan in her signature wild child tights and her Stephen West sweater. I looked it up after she left. It's the Ombre Yarn Eater, one of Stephen's earlier and less wild designs, although come to think of it, it looks pretty wild (in a good way) in Joan's version. Don't you think this would make a great project for a knit group? No two projects would look the same, and everyone would be able to make a sizable dent in their stash. FYI, we were having work done on our eavestroughs and facia this afternoon, so that's why there's a truck in back.

Next up the walkway was Cheryl, of Little Church Knits, modelling Thea Colman's Dark and Stormy. These pics don't show the beautiful bluey-greeny grey, or how it perfectly matches Cheryl's eyes.

Inside the house, Carolyn Barnett showed off one of her felted vests. Check out the back!

Cheryl kindly modelled my Modern Gansey. Lookin' good! Although, I have to say that my designs feel awfully tame next to everyone else's explosive creativity.

Thanks, Cheryl. Thanks, Chris, Deb, Carolyn, Lesley, and Joan for your little gifts and a great afternoon.

Friday, December 4, 2015

A Complicated Equation

Here we are in the first week of December, a time to contemplate gifts and gift giving. I wonder if you have the same profound disconnect in your family between male and female gift-giving as we have in ours. In the words of Loretta Chase's Marquis of Dain, "Women deal in a higher mathematical realm than men, especially when it comes to gifts". That, according to Dain's nemesis, Miss Trent, "is a consequence of the feminine brain having reached a more advanced state of development...She recognizes that the selection of a gift requires the balancing of a profoundly complicated moral, psychological, aesthetic, and sentimental equation." Truer words were never written, at least from the perspective of the McCarten family.
Some examples of not-so-wonderful gifts I have been given over the years from male family members:
1. A barometer. So useful, don't you think? Granted, this was given in pre-internet days, when one couldn't just check up on the weather at the click of a button. But, we did have radios!! When I looked less than thrilled upon receipt of this treasure, its decorative qualities were pointed out.
2. A book hastily grabbed off the giver's shelf and clumsily wrapped moments before it was handed over. "It's one you should read", I was told. Never, ever tell someone they should read something--it's the kiss of death to that ever happening. And at the very least, give the appearance of having put some thought into the choice of gift.
3. An item (I don't even remember what) I was told was on sale. Make that several items. This has been a repeat offence. Never, ever tell the recipient that her gift was on sale--guaranteed to be a blow to her self-esteem. It's great to score a deal, but don't let the recipient in on the secret, especially as she's unwrapping the item in question.
4. No gift at all. OK, there were some Xmases when we were young and the kids were small and we were stretched financially, when Bill and I decided not to give gifts to each other. BUT, there are other ways to express oneself than through spending money. Doing something really, really nice for the other person gains a lot of points on one side of the gift-giving equation. Come to think of it, more time and effort are often required for that variety of gift. Unfortunately, some people think only the spending of money counts, and others (worse) think that they can spend money to make up for past inattentions.
So, now that my griping about the inability of certain family members to come up to scratch when it counts is done, I'm making up a list of some easy-to-acquire little things that would make me very happy come Xmas morning. I am not going to bore you with the list. There's no point in setting it out here anyway, since the persons in question do not read this blog. I'll just leave it on the dining room table, or the kitchen window sill, looking as though it was casually left behind. Maybe, just maybe, this will be the year when the McCarten males come through.
With that resolution made, would you like to see the result of my dye job?

Where's the orange? Where's the pink? Turns out I didn't love the final look of those colours. Not subtle enough. So, I overdyed in blue, and now I love it. Also, I forgot the extent to which Corriedale opens up when washed, so now I have DK weight wool, not fingering. There's a good amount of yardage here, more than you'd expect from this pic. Destined for a cowl. For me.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Cooking with Colour

We're having a grey, wet, freezing day (not actually freezing rain, though, thank goodness), so I'm having a play day with wool in the kitchen. The last couple of nights I spindle-spun about 50g of Corriedale into a fingering weight yarn. This morning I plyed it on a larger spindle, then hauled out my brand new pack of Wilton food dyes. Hint: when you drop into Michaels to buy this stuff, make sure you have one of their 40% off coupons. You almost never need to pay full price there.
Here's my yarn all plyed, but not yet washed, and wound into a nice cake.

I thought I'd try for a gradient dye job, following the instructions here. It being a dull day, pinks and oranges seemed like a good idea.

Soon I had everything set up. So exciting!

While I'm waiting for the dyes to do their job, I'll mention that I started off the day trying out a different method of yarn management for plying. Instead of my usual double-stranded centre-pull ball, I wound doubled strands around a tennis ball, as suggested by Abby Franquemont. Turns out, I wasn't happy with that. The ball was too big and awkward in my little hand, and I missed the ease of drawing the yarn out from the centre without having to manipulate the ball in my left hand. Like most things in knitting and spinning, what works for one person just isn't the best method for another.

So, in the end I re-wound the ball on my ball winder and did my usual thing. Now, I'm off to check on those mason jars full of joy.