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!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

On Washing Socks

In the opening chapter of Georgette Heyer's "The Quiet Gentleman", one of the main characters, Miss Morville, occupies herself knitting a sock while the family sits in a draughty hall awaiting the arrival of the new Earl. "What do you think of, Miss Morville, while your hands are so busy? Or must we not seek to know?" she is asked. Her typically prosaic answer: "I was wondering whether I should not, after all, make the foot a little longer. When they are washed at home, you know, they don't shrink; but it is sadly different at Cambridge! I should think the washerwomen there ought to be ashamed of themselves!"

We're in the heart of wool socks season. I read somewhere that there was a study showing that people fell asleep faster wearing wool socks to bed in winter, and I know it holds true for me. So socks by day, socks by night, and before you know it, there's a stack of socks in the laundry pile. We put a good deal of effort into making them,
Brookline Socks

so they deserve a little TLC when it comes to their care. And socks need different care from sweaters.Socks work hard and are exposed to a lot more sweat and dirt. No-rinse wool wash products aren't enough. There are lots of good ways to wash socks. I'm lucky enough to have an old-fashioned top-loading washing machine. Here's what I do:

1. Set the water level at low (this is sufficient water for a half-dozen to a dozen pairs of socks), and the temp at warm. Load the water.
2. Rub a bar of Sunlight pure soap (no detergent content),

in the water to release some soap. Mmm, I LOVE the slight lemon fragrance.
3. Submerge the socks, gently squeezing out any air bubbles. Allow to soak for 20 minutes or longer. Make sure the machine is set so that there is no agitation. If you have an older model machine, you don't need to do anything special, but if you have a newer machine with an electronic timer, you will need to turn off the machine completely during soaking.
4. Now, spin the socks dry.
5. Take the socks out of the machine and re-fill with warm water, adding a "glug" of white vinegar to the rinse water. Allow to soak with no agitation again.
6. Repeat step 4.
7. Hang or lay out the socks to dry. You can use sock hangers, or lay them on a towel, or hang them on a drying rack. The spin cycle gets out so much moisture that our socks dry in under 12 hours.
The result? Soft, clean smelling socks you can hardly wait to stick on your chilled feet before heading out for a walk.

That's right, the lake is still open--quite a change from a year ago, when the international ice sailing competition was happening on our stretch of lakefront.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Snow Day

As recently as Sunday, this is what our January garden looked like.

This is NOT what a typical January scene in this part of the globe looks like. However, today the same view looks like this.

I tromped through the snow after breakfast to do a bit of shopping. One of the advantages of living within walking distance of everything is that snow days don't need to get in your way. My new legwarmers did a good job of keeping the snow out of the tops of my boots. I'm waiting to clean off the car until this dump of snow (with significant wind) is done. In the meantime, I'm finishing up the first draft of the Wolfe Island Gansey.

Test knitters, it'll be ready soon, I promise--just a bit more number crunching over the next couple of days.
P.S. I forgot to mention that I'm making a new Edgewater Tam with the Nuvola in Seaworthy that I picked up in Picton last week (the day of the swans sighting).

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Swans (2016)

Drove to Picton today, since the temp was +4 under filtered sunlight--typical winter light conditions, even if much warmer than normal. Just like last year, the swans were there, gliding through the glassy water of Picton Bay while I waited for the ferry at Adolphustown.

Apologies for the smudge on my camera lens. I picked up a couple of skeins of Bohoknits Nuvola, one in "Seaworthy" and the other in "Boop" (a stunning red).

Bright colour is definitely needed for a while.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

...and Gone with the Wind

The tree is down, the decorations wrapped and put away for another year, the wreath taken off the front door, and we are settled in for winter. On Saturday, I yanked the new Wolfe Island Gansey off Isabel's back (she had been wearing it more or less continuously since those photos from the last post), and scrambled to do some last-minute finishing. First, I trimmed any frayed edges around the steeks, then I worked blanket stitch around the cut edges. Did I mention earlier that this was a steeked garment? The reason: it's so much simpler to work gansey stitch patterns, with "action" on every row/round, when the right side is always facing. In the best of all worlds, I would have used a lighter weight wool to do the blanket stitch. For instance, if the cardigan had been knitted in Quince's Lark, I would have used Finch in the same colour for the finishing. In the real world, I was in a hurry, and using a wool that couldn't easily be split into its component plies. So, I just barged ahead. No time for photos, but if you click here you can see all of this demonstrated when I tidied up Trellis. Finally, I decided to tack down the little collar on the underside in the back between the shoulders. It was lying flat, but it was quite narrow, and I worried that the effects of the wet blocking might diminish with wear. We hugged and said good-bye at the train station, and now, the gansey and its owner are gone, gone, gone with the wind back to grad school. It hit me with a shock that this is how it will always be from here on--comings and goings, with their accompanying joy and sadness. The baby bird has flown from the nest. Parting is such sweet sorrow and all that.
That knitted bookmark is the very first item Isabel knitted--still going strong!
While in that Shakespearean frame of mind, it struck me that my mood was perfectly captured in this evocative music video performance of Elizabethan songwriter John Dowland's "Now, O now I needs must part" by Les Canards Chantant". The lyrics are about romantic love, but the sentiments expressed hit that bittersweet spot right on target. Perfect for when you want a brief wallow in melancholy.
Now, the sun is shining, the temperature going all the way up to 0C, and the new year beckons. Time to get going with some new designs!

Friday, January 1, 2016

Wolfe Island Gansey: Preview

This post could be titled, "What I Did with My Holidays". I knitted--a lot. OK, that's nothing new. I did, however, have to set daily goals and push a bit (with the aid of to get Isabel's new cardi done. Originally I'd intended to knit her an aran jumper, but when she got off the train from Pearson Airport, she made it clear that what she really wanted was the Wolfe Island Gansey. In red, please. Now, the prototype for this was knitted a little over a year ago (I worked on it at Rhinebeck) in Quince's Lark. That yarn, with its beautiful stitch definition and lovely softness is still going to be the first recommended yarn for the garment, but we couldn't get our hands on enough skeins of "Winesap" in a hurry, so we opted for Galway's Highland Heather in #1940, which I happened to have in my stash. It might be my imagination, but the Galway seemed a bit skimpier than it used to be, so I worked the cardi at 5 stitches to the inch, instead of the 4 1/2 that I used in the prototype. I made a few other changes from the original: the neck opening is slightly narrower, and the body is 1 inch longer. Two days ago I was done, and for the last couple of days the cardigan has been lying on a towel on our library floor with the space heater cranked up to the max. This morning it was bone dry and I sewed on the buttons. Yes, they are the same ones as in the mustard-coloured prototype. I keep harvesting them from one garment and sewing them on the next. They must be the universal button, because they've gone from my J. Jill jean jacket, to Twist Collective's Brookline, to the gansey prototype, to Isabel's new cardi. At this rate, my as-yet-non-existent grandchildren will be sporting them on some future sweater. Enough explaining. Here are today's pics.

Happy New Year!