Sunday, February 28, 2016

Something for Spring

When I woke up at around 6:30 this morning, I realized with a bit of a shock that the sun was up before me. Spring is on its way, at last. No snowdrops or daffodils in sight (actually there were a few snowdrops in bloom back in January, thanks to El Nino)--this is the north shore of Lake Ontario after all--but the daytime high today is predicted to be 5C and the light just feels different. It's time to think about what to knit for that most difficult season ahead. I say difficult, because the weather in spring is so changeable. The fashion industry's term "transitional wear" could apply to clothing for a single day between March and May, not just the entire period. This is where a useful cardigan comes in. It must be warm enough to do the job of keeping you toasty, soft enough to be worn against bare arms and neck, and light enough in spirit to convince you that the days of down coats and thick socks are coming to an end. Therefore, I present to you (finally!) the Wolfe Island Gansey.

Available now on Ravelry for your spring knitting and wearing pleasure.
P.S. Thanks to all the testers who made this possible.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Friday Recipe: Oat Scones + Thoughts on Exaggeration in Design

In our house, we pronounce "scone" to rhyme with "gone". However, I often hear it with a long "o", as if to rhyme with "bone". I was curious about this, and did a little research. It seems that both pronunciations are widely in use, with more of the first (my) pronunciation in the UK, especially Scotland, and more of the second version in the US. I hear both here in Canada, which makes sense, given that we occupy a sort of cultural half-way house. What is abundantly clear is that people are quite passionate about the correctness of their own variation.
However you pronounce it, they are a fantastically quick and delicious little bread, better than muffins, because you don't have to deal with the cleaning up of those dratted muffin tins. I've been known to put a batch together when there's no bread left in the pantry. And there's nothing better to have with honey or jam and a mug of strong tea with milk. Here's our favourite recipe:

Oat Scones

1 ½ c large flake or quick (not instant) rolled oats

1 ½ c unbleached flour

½ c raisins or currants

2 tbsp white or brown sugar

1 tbsp baking powder

½ c melted butter OR canola oil

½ c milk

1 egg

Preheat oven to 400F. Mix dry ingredients together. Add wet ingredients, then mix until everything is just moistened. Form into a ball and flatten into a 1/2" deep circle on a piece of parchment paper laid on a cookie sheet or other flat oven-proof surface. Cut into 8 wedges. Bake 12-15 minutes, or until the tops begin to turn golden. Serve warm.

What's up in the knitting world? A bit of revision. After I've worn (or in some cases not worn) a sweater, I often make changes to the design, or at the very least to the fit. One of the advantages of sweaters knitted whole, as opposed to seamed, is that it is generally much easier to do this sort of backtracking. And the advantage of self-publication is that after you make changes, you can send out notifications to all purchasers on Ravelry that there's an update. I love having this degree of post-publication control over my work.
In the case of the Modern Gansey, I realized that I wanted to make the silhouette slightly more exaggerated. Performing musicians know about the principle of exaggeration. We know that it's easy to hear a phrase shaped in a certain way in our heads, but that in order for the audience to perceive the same shaping, we need to exaggerate it a bit. I think much the same principle applies to knitting design. For a design to work well, the silhouette needs some slight exaggeration, or for lack of a better word, "oomph" for its audience to get the same feel. 
With that in mind, I've decided to make the collar of my own Gansey (the feminine version) much taller--so tall that it will fold over into a loose turtleneck. At the same time, I'm shortening the body by at least an inch and a half. I may also lengthen the cuff ribbing; I've not decided that aspect yet. So, this morning, with frost covering over the window panes of my third-floor library/studio,

I've unravelled the collar, placed all the stitches back onto a needle, and the revision is underway. 

In spite of the cold, there's spring in the air. The sun is up much longer each day, and I want to be able to wear this pullover outside without a coat as soon as the weather is warm enough. The colour is an antidote to winter, even if its name (Glacier) suggests otherwise!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Tutorial: Cabling without a Cable Needle

I don't know if you have the same problem that I do with cable needles. I lose them -- down under sofa cushions, at the bottom of my bag, even once under a car. They have their uses certainly. I used a cable needle to work the 6-st cables in Petrova and Glenora. In the heavy yarn with a lot of stitches involved, it seemed easier.
(As an aside, my favourite type of cable needle looks like this. Wood, so the stitches don't slip, straight so there's a minimal amount of manipulation required, and with clever bulges at either end so the stitches don't slide off.
Sorry, I don't remember the brand.)
Back to cabling WITHOUT the aid of such a needle. In the following example, I have 2 purl stitches, then 2 knit stitches on my LH needle. I want to bring the 2 knit stitches forward and to the right, in front of the purl stitches.

1. I slide the tip of the RH needle purlwise into the 2 knit stitches that are to be cabled across.

 3. Next I carefully ease the 2 purl stitches off the tip of the LH needle. IMPORTANT: I use my right index finger to immobilize them at their base, so they can't go anywhere and so they retain their proper orientation.

3. Next I slip the 2 purl stitches, now at the back, onto the LH needle, being careful to maintain their orientation.

4. Then I return the 2 knit stitches to the LH needle.

Here are the 4 stitches that were just manipulated, now in the correct order for the cable.

5. Finally, I knit the knit stitches, and purl the purl stitches, and the cable is crossed correctly.

This was an example of a cable crossing to the right and in front.
It's no more complicated to cable to the left. In this next example I have 2 knit stitches, then 2 purl stitches on my LH needle. I want to cable the knit stitches across to the front and left of the purl stitches. I simply dig the tip of my RH needle into the stitches to be manipulated from the back. Here are the steps, without any further commentary.

I hope this liberates you from digging in your purse for that dratted cable needle, at least most of the time. And pardon the closeups of my winter-roughened hands!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

In Memoriam: Beloved Yarns That Are No More

Some yarns are here forever (Briggs and Little's Regal); some yarns we wish were here forever are gone. Here's my list of faves that have passed into history. In most cases, it's because the company making the yarn disappeared, or was sold. In the latter instances, sometimes a yarn is still available under the old name, but the quality of the yarn has declined (Patons' yarns are the best example of this). For whatever reason, here's my list. Feel free to add to it. I'd love to know what yarns you mourn.

1. Rowan Magpie (such beautiful colours)
2. Rowan DDK
3. Patons Classic Merino (from before the company sold out)
4. Patons Kroy sock, both 3-ply and 4-ply (from before the company sold out)
5. Kamouraska (there's a trip down memory lane!)
6. Brunswick Germantown
7. Brunswick Pomfret
8. St. Denis Nordique

My aran jumper continues to grow.

The cold snap continues. Yesterday afternoon I took this pic showing the clouds forming over the open lake. Look on the right side at the weird columns of vapour (or perhaps ice crystals--it was minus 25C at the time) rising off the water. Never seen this before.

It's supposed to warm up to near the freezing point by tomorrow, thank goodness.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

For Real?

Minus 27C when I first woke up this morning. Now it's 10:30 am and the temp has gone up to a balmy minus 26C, with wind chill of minus 40C. Ouch. That's the point where Celcius and Farenheit merge briefly. It's especially cruel since there's been no lead up to this. We've had an exceptionally mild winter up to now. Time to hibernate. The car can stay buried under the dregs from yesterday evening's squalls off the Lake, the front walk can wait. I'm going to make soup and knit--and listen to C.S. Harris's "What Remains of Heaven". 

A commuter cleans off her car before an early Friday departure amidst a fierce snow squall.
Stay warm.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Finishing... and Starting

I'm pretty much a monogamous knitter. That said, as soon as the end of one project is in sight, a corner of my brain is already working on what will come next. The thought of even a single evening without something on the needles is horrifying. My test knit of the gansey is almost done. The cardigan is blocking on the floor of our third-floor library, with the space heater going full tilt.

If it still looks lumpy and unbeautiful, I'm not worried. All will be smoothed out soon. I like to leave the button sewing and steek finishing until the blocking is done. The steeks will lie flat then and be much easier to finish.
On Sunday, I plied my first batch of CWM woollen-spun singles. The lightness and airiness of the finished yarn is amazing, and when you see the gorgeous heathery, tweedy yarn you'll understand
why I can't wait to get this stuff on my needles.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Friday Recipe: Wholewheat Bread

Although I've been a breadmaker for years, only recently when Lee Valley arrived in Kingston did I break down and buy one of their hand-cranked dough mixers.

Bread Dough Mixer - Gardening 

This handy gadget allows me to mix and knead without any floury mess, plus the cleanup is a breeze. Like my spinning wheel, this is a great example of low tech brilliance. Here's what I put into the bucket to make our favourite 100% organic whole wheat bread. If you don't have a mixer, then do it by hand. Don't do this in a food processor with a dough hook; the quantity and heftiness of the flour will overwhelm the motor.

Whole Wheat Bread

2 c warm water (never use warm tap water; warm the water in the microwave or mix hot water from
      a kettle with cool) 
5 tsp rapid rise dry yeast
2 tbsp unsulphured blackstrap molasses
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp canola oil
5 c organic stoneground whole wheat flour

Mix the water, molasses, and yeast together and allow to sit for 5-10 min until the mixture is foamy. Add the remaining ingredients and knead until smooth and elastic. Place in an oiled bowl and cover with a damp tea towel for an hour or two. Punch down to remove air bubbles, and shape into one big or two small loaves. Spray or butter the bread pan(s). Don't use oil; it will cause the dough to weld to the pan(s). Place the loaves in the prepared pan(s) and cover with a damp tea towel. Allow to rise for about an hour until the top slopes above the pan(s). Near the end of this rising, preheat the oven to 350F. Bake the bread for 40 min (small loaves) to 45 min (large loaf) or until the top is golden and the loaves sound hollow when tapped. Turn out of the pan immediately and cool on a rack.

In the knitting department, the Wolfe Island Gansey, grey version, is almost done. 

About an hour ago, I finished the collar and tried the cardigan on to check the sleeve length. Perfect. Now I just need to do a little bit of tidying up before everything gets wet blocked. Don't be deceived by the uneven, lumpy texture of the knitting in the above photo. Blocking is transformative, as I am sure you know. Soon, all with be beautiful...

Wednesday, February 3, 2016


Yesterday my order from Custom Woolen Mills arrived. There's some wool, which I'll show another time, and also some roving for spinning. Back when I checked out the website, I was really taken with the fact that you could order roving in all of their dyed and undyed shades, including heathers. The latter are fairly complex blends of colour. See the layers of colour here?

This is "navy purple heather", and the layering creates a tremendous amount of depth in the final colour. 
It's a true roving, quite different from combed top. In the latter, the fibres are smoothly aligned, perfect for worsted spinning. If you look closely at the chunk of this roving, though, you can see the individual strands of wool are quite disorganized, more like rolags than your average commercial roving. This demands a woolen long draw approach to spinning. In this method, the twist enters the fibre AS IT IS BEING DRAFTED, rather than following the drafting. It's quick and fun to do, and I was definitely seduced by the process, unable to stop until my bobbin was more than half full. The result is a light, airy yarn. Brooklyn Tweed's "Shelter| is woolen spun. So is Jamieson and Smith's traditional jumper weight.
Here's what the roving looks like up close,

and here are my yarn samples. These have not yet been washed, but I'm more than pleased with the tweedy look and soft hand of the spun wool.

After lunch I went for my usual afternoon walk along the lake. This is not what one expects to see in February, but the lack of ice and snow are welcome after two winters enduring polar vortices.

Then this evening it was back to the Wolfe Island Gansey. Below you can see the left front border being knitted on.

The detail I can get with my new(ish) phone camera is pretty good. I love this part of the knitting, when the stitches come together from different angles.