Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Baby Cable socks of Louet Gems, fingering weight. Enough, just, for a pair using one skein.
I enjoy the process of knitting socks (this is itself is cause for fireworks, because I've never before noticed that I am becoming a process versus product knitter), but have not yet found a yarn or pattern that measures up to SmartWool socks, which are the ne plus ultra, the Platonic Ideal, of sockdom.
Also working on playing with dyeing of yarn. Yesterday I tested over-dyeing some Cascade 220 by kettle-dyeing and low-water immersion dyeing, based on the best dyeing book I've seen - Teach Yourself VISUALLY Hand-dyeing. Everything is in this book - when to add or not add acid to the pre-soak, how much dye to mix to get various strengths of solution, how to do everything from meticulously-recorded dye processes to free-form dyeing - you, the yarn, and a spray bottle of dye. Lots of really clear photos (I'm new to this series) accompanied by straightforward prose and directions. I highly recommend the book, which I'm disciplining myself to read from cover to cover instead of wildly flipping through for the technique that I think I want.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Fiddlehead Mittens

I enjoyed this project from start to finish. And the results? My most favorite thing that I've ever knitted. I am seriously considering braiding a tie to keep them together and threading it through my sleeves like a four-year-old going out to play in the snow.
Designer: Adrian Bizilia
Yarn: shell, Blue Sky Alpaca Sportweight, 1 skein chartreuse, 1/2 skein each of purple, blue, and grey; liner, Baby Ull, 1 skein of chartreuse
Needles: size 1 Knit Picks 40" circular with Harmony wood tip
Size: Women's Small/Child's Large (see below for modifications to the original pattern)
Gauge after finishing: shell, soaked, towel dried, then blocked to maximum size, 26 st and 26 rows in stranded colorwork; liner, soaked and towel dried, 28 st and 38 rows in stockinette

I know it will be a good knit when I have looked at a pattern over and over on Ravelry. As the weather cooled off this summer, I remembered Kelley Petkun's podcast about quick knits of mittens and hats, and I allowed myself to click on the Add to Cart icon and bought the pattern. A cold Chicago winter would come. Also helpful was the class on Latvian mittens that I took at my LYS last spring. We made a mini-mitten, and I loved the playing with color, the practicality, and the eventual beauty and warmth of a mitten with stupendous colorwork on the public side and warm lining on the private side.
Below, a shot of the mitten and liner. Very easy to do. You pick up a stitch for every stitch on the I-cord border, then decrease so that the liner fits snugly. After the concentration required to follow the colorwork charts, the liner is a treat and sails along pretty quickly. Once you've finished the liner, you push it inside the mitten. This leaves the smooth stockinette side against your hand and provides a double-thick layer of wooly mitten.I made several modifications to the original pattern in order to size it down to my hand, which measures 6 1/2" from wrist to tip of middle finger. Here's a list:
  1. start hand decreases on Row 55 of main chart
  2. mitten shell totals 65 rows instead of 72
  3. not a size modification - but I liked the look of working the thumb in CC3 (contrast color 3) and the main color, and ending with a little bit of contrast in another color
  4. I repeated the last row of the gusset pattern before moving the stitches to a piece of waste yarn (apparently my thumbs are long in proportion to my hands - I'm observing them now, and they almost reach the first knuckle of the index finger...is that typical?)
  5. start decreases for thumb on row 7 of Chart C
  6. decrease next 3 rows
  7. work 1 row even with MC and finish off
  8. for the lining: I worked 26 rows to the start of the thumb gusset; then 3 rows after completing the gusset before moving stitches to waste yarn; then 33 rows straight on the main part before beginning the decreases for the top of the liner

The result is a really beautiful piece of knitting. At a semi-affordable yarn investment. (Well, I've been looking at catalogs that are calling for 12 and 13 skeins of yarn at $10 and more a skein.) And very reassuring to knit: clear directions, a Ravelry support group available with good threads of discussion, logical, great charts. And the color? I went with one color for the details and four other colors for background, but you can flip it around and do five colors for the details and one color for the background, or use up scraps around the house, or dye your own. If I was stuck for The Long Winter, I'd want this pattern and some yarn.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Napkins. Finally.

The napkins that I promised to weave for my daughter are done. Finally.
Pattern: Plain Weave
Warp and Weft: 10/2 pearl cotton in peacock blue and light blue
EPI (ends per inch): 24
PPI (picks per inch) : 20-22
Width in reed: 22"
Number of warp ends: 180
Warp length: 175"
Number of napkins: 4 plus a littler one, plus the Summer-and-Winter cloth from the beginning of the warp/project
Shrinkage: 15% in width and length after machine washing, cool, gentle cycle; tumble dry low
Before finishing, the pearl cotton - which has been mercerized for strength and sheen - feels slippery and very unabsorbent. After finishing, which is even more important in weaving than in knitting, the shine dulled and the fabric took on a slightly rough texture, just right for the purpose. And this weight - 24 EPI and weft beaten fairly firmly after each shot - feels just right for a large cloth napkin, which is what we use instead of paper.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Honey and Apples

Tonight is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. It is traditional to eat apples dipped in honey for a sweet new year.

And a blessing for parents to say for their children: Be strong for the truth, charitable in your words, just and loving in your deeds.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Summer-and-Winter Cloth

Pattern: Johann D, Variation III
Source: Davison, Handweaver's Pattern Book
Warp: 10/2 pearl cotton in peacock blue and light blue
Weft: 10/2 pearl cotton in both colors, 8/2 unmercerized cotton in natural
EPI: 24
Shrinkage: 15% in width and length after machine washing, gentle cycle, cool temp; tumble dry low

The first part of the warp used to make napkins. I'm glad that I only wove up a small section of the warp in this pattern. The cloth is lovely to look at - with the characteristic reversals of color and the even geometry of Summer-and-Winter patterning. But it is a bit heavy for a napkin - closer to the weight of a table runner. (This seems to be a trend lately for me.)

Next up is Trial #2 in devising a way to weave felted cloth for a yoga bag like this one from Last-Minute Knitted Gifts. And trying to devise a way to keep supply costs low and, at the same time, figure out the trick to dyeing yarn so that it has the beautifully gentle shifts of color of Malabrigo. If you know any tricks for kettle-dyeing or for weaving cloth that has the spongy feeling and thickness of knitted felt, please pass them along by leaving a comment or emailing me on Ravelry (my username is jbwb)!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Woven Swatches for Felting

Swatches, woven on a four-shaft loom with a twill threading and mainly plain weave treadling. The warp is Harrisville Designs New England Shetland (1800 yds/lb. ) The wefts - I tested a few choices - are the Harrisville used single in the same green as the warp, doubled in a lilac color, Cascade Eco in plain weave and vertical herringbone, and Malabrigo.
Tomorrow I'll toss them in the sewing machine and see what happens. I'm guessing that I over-estimated how close to beat the weft picks; except for the Cascade Eco and the single strand of Harrisville, the swatches already feel close to upholstery weight.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Felted Potholders

Pattern: Felted Potholders, based on a summer posting on Mason-Dixon Knitting about making a log cabin blanket (I'll try to track down the post and link to it - it was a blanket being worked on during a trip - lots of grey squares with green, I believe?)
Yarn: Malabrigo worsted weight, left-overs
Needle: size 10.5 bamboo 24" circular
Gauge before felting: 14 st and 26 rows in garter stitch
Size before felting: 12" x 12"
Size after felting: 10" x 10"
Shrinkage: 15% in width and length
These were quick and easy, though a bit fussy with all of the picking up of stitches.
The weight is good for potholders: flexible enough to wrap around hand and pot handle, thick enough to guard against the heat of pots and pans.
Felting took about 10-15 minutes in the machine. Be aware that felting increases exponentially with each passing minute. In other words, very slow at the beginning, but just when you think that you can let it go another minute or so instead of marching back down to the basement to check progress, it will felt about twenty times faster than you'd anticipated. With this project, I checked progress every five minutes for the first ten minutes, and then every minute or so after that.
If I had it to do over again: I'd make them smaller. These are a bit large for a potholder, more the size of a trivet or table mat.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Border Songs

Border Songs by Jim Lynch: centered on a strange and glorious central character who is an artist of the natural world and, at the same time, a newly-trained Border Patrol guard who is saddened as he repeatedly, accidentally, miraculously discovers and then must arrest illegal immigrants being smuggled under a feed truck, inside vans, in hidden compartments in cars, as they come across the Canadian-US border.

His art is inspired by Andy Goldsworthy; scenes of the character, six-foot-eight-inches tall Brandon Vanderkool building capes of leaves stitched together with thorns or swinging a club over water to create rainbows (look here for an amazing photo of Goldsworthy making rainbows) are luminescent. And he has the tenor of some of the great American characters - Tom Sawyer, a little, Atticus Finch, a bit, Steinbeck, a dose.

Brandon is accompanied in this novel by a group of equally eccentric, equally realistic characters, including his father, Norm, who is struggling to keep the dairy farm going while he builds a sea-going sailboat in the back barn (neighbors gathered to watch, only to see if the boat wouldn't fit into the barn); Wayne Rousseau, the ex-professor across the ditch that marks the border between Canada and the U.S., retired, declining from MS, who is recreating the experiments of Edison and Ben Franklin (a great scene when Wayne takes his kite out during a thunderstorm to discover electricity) and the painting of Van Gogh; and Sophie Winslow, the mysterious massage therapist who is filming and interviewing everyone and who everyone wants to speak with, their rare chance for a confession because everyone is doing something just this shade of the black-and-white of the law.

Much remains mysterious enough throughout the book, making this novel and mystery and rumination about art and immigration and borders and a lot about marijuana - how it's grown, marketed, smoked. Overall, the novel has a sense of wonder. Brandon is very attuned to the life of nature around him and especially to birds. As he goes throughout his workday on the Border Patrol, he keeps a mental list of the birds he observes: "The agency's largest boots were a half size too small and gave him the floating sensation of being detached from earth. He heard the rat-a-tat of a downy woodpecker, twenty-nine, and the nervous chip of a dark-eyed junco, thirty" (6)

What I liked best about Border Songs, beyond the characters, was the ending. And individual sentences that are just right, like this one: "The looks you get or don't get let you know exactly where you're at, where you're headed and where you can never go again" (226).

Monday, September 07, 2009


Parinama, in Sanskrit, can be defined as change. A fundamental quality of our existence. Parinama is our constant experience. Yet when it arrives, it seems too frequently an unwelcome and unexpected visitor. What? I have to go through this again?

A little bit of background: in yogic philosophy of the school that I follow, there is purusa and prakrti. Purusa (pronounced pah-roo-sha) is that elemental piece of us that does not change. Some might think of it as the soul, others as an internal light. I explain it to my students in non-sectarian terms as that feeling that you have when you are comfortable in your own skin, at ease, happy, sensing that there is completeness and peacefulness to your experience at that moment. Prakrti (prah-kri-tee) is everything else: our bodies, our minds, our houses, our cars, our relationships, our knitting, our work, our ideas, our emotions. Everything but purusua, that perfect something that is unchanging.
I've been thinking about change quite a lot the last few days. The light is changing from summer sun to that low-lying, cooler, dark-by-dinnertime light of fall. You can feel the change, literally, in the air. Despite a cool, rainy summer, there is something different and specifically autumnal about the crispness and lack of humidity in the air itself. School has started up, people are getting back to routines of work and study, and the future looms huge for many who are struggling to keep a job or find a new one.

Beyond that, I've been thinking this summer about how to take the training that I've done in yoga therapy and develop my therapeutic practice, working one-on-one with students, which I love. This conscious consideration is a big change for me. I tend to be the one in the family who rides on the "it will all work out" mode of behavior. More importantly, it is a big, big change from my response to the end of graduate school in English, when the downturn in the academic market led me away from teaching to other pursuits.

This time I am determined to put my studies to practical use. So I am inventing a website, writing and designing a brochure, learning how to talk about what yoga therapy is and what it has to offer, visiting and sending out cover letters and cold-calling and networking. Lots of changes. Lots of movement. Little stasis. Rare moments of learning curve.

Another change is my decision to discontinue teaching at a second studio in the area. I decided, as I was driving home yesterday, that I am not the right teacher for this group of students. My ego is a bit sore, but, overall, I can realize that it's all right not to be the right teacher for each and every student. I tried, I stuck with it for several months, and now it seems time to try something else. Some of my colleagues would say that I am making space for new opportunities. Perhaps. In any case, I was pleased that I looked at some options, decided that if I cut back on lessons in chanting and studying the Yoga Sutra-s, skip Stitches Midwest, and knit only from the yarn that I own (a relatively small stash of about a laundry basket full of yarn), that I could resign from this class. These are four of my favorite things, but I feel sure that I made the right decision.

And the illustrations for this ramble about change? Felting, of course. You knit something large and unwieldy but beautiful. You throw it into a vat of hot water and lots of movement. You wait. You check for progress. You wait some more. You check again. Even when you think that the felting process is done, you can't be sure, and there's no guarantee that this sodden, floppy piece of wool will ever back into something beautiful. And then, you try to accept the result. Whatever it is, is beautiful. Some would say that whatever it is, is what it was meant to be. Perhaps. What I do know is that two or three years ago, I wouldn't have trusted the messy ends on the back to disappear in the process of felting.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

A Face to Love

A llama made of alpaca from, I believe, Mexico. He belongs to my younger daughter.

Seeing him reminded me how much joy there can be in being a parent. How can you not be proud of a child, well, really now an adult, who still takes pleasure in the goofy, happy expression of a llama made of alpaca?

Saturday, September 05, 2009

My Hero

I love this.

Tim Gunn, will you be my mentor?

Wednesday, September 02, 2009


If anyone knows of a good use of 6 to 8 minutes in between activities, please let me know.

Being someone who prefers loooong stretches of time spent doing one thing (generally quiet, involving reading, knitting, or watching Project Runway), I am feeling a bit nutty with all of these tiny amounts of time in between teaching, returning phone calls, driving to introduce myself to other complementary medical practitioners in the western suburbs, driving to an appointment early enough to not run late but not so dang early that I have more than 20 minutes to kill.

The poster child for my state of mind is my loom. (I know, back then it was the loom that signified focus and the knitting that reminded me of how agitated I could be feeling. Parinama...change...I have no other defense.) Constant motion of throwing the shuttle back and forth, pressing down on peddles to raise and lower harnesses and threads, frequently advancing the warp and then tightening it up again and then advancing it and then tightening it. And every time that I sit down for a nice, long bout of weaving, I am close to running out of filled bobbins of weft thread and weave along, anticipating at any moment that I'll have to put the whole venture on hold while I use my hand-winder to fill some more bobbins.

Constant motion with no conclusion in sight. Thank goodness for chamomile tea and the occasional gorgeous fall weather, like yesterday, when I just sat out in the backyard and read A Letter of Mary for three hours. There is nothing like a smart, female narrator in a strongly-written mystery, with Sherlock Holmes as sidekick-husband to the main character, Mary Russell.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

A Little More Horse Show

A link to the cross-country course described below.

That is not a pond. It is the water feature that the horses gallop into, before jumping up and over a fence to exit. These are true athletes, and the riders aren't bad either.