Thursday, October 30, 2008

Serendipity after a Plan

Ella Rae Mustard

Sometimes serendipity steps in to help solve a minor crisis. You may recall my post about the sudden disappearance of the intended yarn for the Cabled Yoke Cardigan. I was in a bit of a snit over the whole thing and no sooner did I push the 'publish' button, the phone rang. Friend Robin calling to confirm weekend plans. I railed on and on about my little problem and she listened sympathetically the whole time. Then, without hesitation she says, "Wait, did you say Ella Rae?" "Yes, the Classic." "If I'm not mistaken, I think there's a whole wall of that yarn at Knit New York on 14th Street. In fact, I'm pretty sure they have it. Here's their phone number, why not call them?" "Wow, that's great, thanks!" As soon as we firmed up our plans I called the yarn store and within minutes I had 12 skeins of the yarn, and best of all, IN THE COLOR I WANTED!! Well DUH. All that Internet searching and it was in my own backyard. Jackass!

I was elated. I couldn't believe my luck. And I am so grateful for Robin's intervention. It was pure serendipity. Which always amazes me and I love it when it happens. I picked up the yarn on Monday evening and now I'm all set to start the project!

Since all the Ella Rae arrangements lined up before we trundled off to Rhinebeck, I was resolved in sticking to my original plan: sock yarn focus. Somewhat successful, I might add.

Rhinebeck Sock Yarns

I also had some minor detours, mostly to satisfy a colorwork craving. Most of these will be incorporated into small fair isle projects.

Yarn Pile (2)

And of course, the spindle and some roving to learn spinning.

Bosworth Midi in Bubinga wood

All that was just great and I was completely satisfied with the outcome. Really, who could ask for more?!

Then, on Friday a package arrived in the mail. MORE YARN! Remember that seller who originally had the intended color on their web site and who offered a replacement? Well, they sent me this:

Over Abundance

And it's really nice! While I have no clue what it will become, it will be something someday. The color is great and will work with so many project choices.

This will marinate in the stash for awhile though it feels a bit gluttonous at the moment. I mentioned once I'd never apologize about my stash and I'm sticking with that story. But there will be some belt tightening around here. And there's plenty to keep me amused for months. Ummm, weeks.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Tangents and Connections

It really was a busy weekend in Rhinebeck.

Consider this: a farm on Martha's Vineyard has a CSA for fleece. How did I learn about this? Standing on line to get a beer during the Ravelry party! And fine beer, too - LOCAL - Keegan Ales in Kingston, NY a woman with a very pretty scarf tells me the yarn came from the Martha's Vineyard farm and then one thing led to know how it goes. It was a great chat. By the time we'd finished getting our drinks she had me hooked (pun intended?).

As soon as I got home, I launched my Internet and found my way to Martha's Vineyard. Truly one of my favorite places in this hemisphere, and lo! Release your inner shepherd! Participate in sheep farming not just vicariously but in reality! I fired off an email right away - immersion vacation! (And brilliant marketing on their part!!)

Yes, my friends, the wheels are definitely turning!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Rhinebeck Roundup


There have been so many fantastic postings about last weekend's New York Sheep & Wool Festival in Rhinebeck NY by now I feel a bit redundant posting my own. It was a fantastic weekend. The weather was spectacular for a farm festival. The shopping opportunities were mind boggling. The color, the animals, the crowds, everything was just amazing in every way.

adorable alpaca

rhinebeck 061

I wanted to consider the reason the festival exists in the first place. In historic context, this is the place where sheep farmers, wool producers and knitters have the opportunity to gather and present fruits of their labor.

hope spinnery yarn

The festival is a place for farmers to show off their best sheep. Or llamas or alpacas. There is an actual auction! Animals get bought and sold. Knitters show off their skills and are judged for their efforts.


The festival is a place for the smaller local producers to show their product and sell to an appreciative audience. It gives them exposure. They can meet the public and they can converge to forge relationships with suppliers.

Local competitor

It's a place where people learn new skills. I spoke with the farmers about their work. I asked lots of questions. What it takes to raise and care for their animals. How big their farms are, what they eat, winter care, everything. What an education!

farmer gus


I spoke with spinners about fiber. The best kinds of fiber to use with a drop spindle, learning how to spin, the ins and outs of 'draft and stop'. All the various types of spindles. How weight affects the spin, how balance is so important, testing a spindle. Oh man, there is so much to learn.

hope spinnery roving

I talked with other knitters. I learned what they like to knit, what yarns they like, how many times they've been to Rhinebeck, what they love and what they do.


I met several famous knitters! But like a dope, I remembered to take one picture (after the fact) I was so starstruck!

mason-dixon knitters!

I found out that 2009 will be the United Nations Year of Natural Fibers. And the NYS&WF will have an extra day on the front end of the weekend, devoted to hosting fiber makers from around the world. Rhinebeck goes global!

All the conversations, all the information, all the newly acquired knowledge led me to really ponder what this is all about. I'm still processing it all, but here are some intial thoughts:

1. Everyone there -- the farmers, the producers, the sellers, the attendees, EVERYONE is passionate about this. It takes a tremendous passion to do it. It's such hard work and sometimes very disappointing, sometimes thrilling, but the only way it succeeds is with passion. I am in awe of it all and I share the passion.
2. It's a business. At the end of the day, it's a business. With tremendous potential to be very successful if done right. There are great opportunities and so many entry points. The entire production chain from the source to the end product has all these amazing offshoots for creative business opportunity. My mind reels with the potential.
3. Like so many other businesses, the Internet has completely changed the supply chain and opportunity to expand the marketplace. Ravelry is a revolution. The entire community in the supply chain is facilitated by this remarkable platform.
4. The environmental impact of shopping local cannot be ignored. It needs to be embraced! I made an effort this year to shop "local". My definition of local was mostly east coast (being from Brooklyn, I needed to expand the boundaries a bit). The yarns I bought this year were from farms in New York, Massachusetts and Virginia. The spinning mill was wind powered!!.
5. The handmade movement is tremendously appealing for similar environmental reasons. For me, the idea that one can purchase an entire fleece and process it from initial shearing to final product is a beautiful expression of a low carbon footprint. My contribution to this effort was to pick up a spindle and some roving. I'll learn how to spin my own yarn to make my projects. My friends Cathy and Sara each took it a step further, purchasing an entire lamb fleece!
6. The United Nations effort will bring a global awareness to the benefits of natural fibers. I only hope this means a general movement away from synthetics (petroleum based, my friends) to real. The implications are staggering - more natural fibers requires land, farms, livestock, farmers, spinning mills, distributors, manufacturers, vendors and customers. One can only hope all of this is done with an very scrupulous eye toward reducing carbon emissions and dependence on fossil fuels. The potential is there and I sense a desire to do it. It will take a real commitment at all levels to make it so.

Which leads me to be very optimistic about the future of the fiber world even if I remain pessimistic about other things going on around us.

There's lots more photos of the weekend here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Raspberry Forest

Forest Canopy Shawl

Pattern: Forest Canopy Shawl (ravel it!)
Designer: Susan Lawrence
Yarn: Malabrigo Silky Merino, 2 skeins, Raspberry
Needle: Size 8 circular
Started: Oct. 6, 2008
Finished: Oct. 13, 2008

The New York Sheep & Wool Festival in Rhinebeck was rapidly approaching and I knew I couldn't finish an entire sweater in time; silly of me to even fantasize such a thing. One Sunday afternoon on my way home from the weekly Fairway run, I stopped in Brooklyn General (c'mon, there was a SALE sign in the window!) and spied the Malabrigo Silky Merino. Such gorgeous colors! My hand instinctively reached for the Raspberry. I love eating Raspberries almost as much as I love knitting. Raspberries are one of those 'desert island' choices for me.

I'd been contemplating this shawl after seeing the success of an Acorn version, and knew I could pull off a decent handknit before the big weekend. I cast on the next day and voila! One week later I had a small shawl, enough to wear under a jacket or on its own.

I did wear it over the weekend and with the chill in the air, it was super nice to have such a soft, cozy knit around my neck! And it offered a spot of pretty color (not to say that there wasn't a ton of color all around, cause boy, oh boy, it was colorful in Rhinebeck!)

rhinebeck 2008

This one used nearly 2 skeins and went 14 repeats. To save time I omitted the points and just ran a 2 row garter edge. I have another skein and conceivably could go back and make this bigger, adding the pointy edges. Doubtful it would be worth it at this point. Maybe the last skein will be a gifted hat instead.

I'm a reluctant fan of the Malabrigo yarns. I love the colors. I love the hand dyed heathers you get from a kettle dye process. I love the super soft, put 'er right next to the skin quality, And I love the smooth knittability of the yarn.

Forest Canopy Shawl

But the fact is, Malabrigo is a single ply, thus prone to fuzzing up and pilling. To me, it gets to looking like an unmade bed pretty darn fast. It also doesn't seem to have the springy 'memory' that multi-ply yarns have. That means it looks a little limpy and weaky after a time. Of course, it probably doesn't help that I blocked the living daylights out of this shawl. Good thing it's not a sweater. Shawls and hats are perfect for this yarn.

This is a project I will most certainly do again. Maybe with a worsted weight organic yarn or with my own future handspun (yes, people!! I picked up a drop spindle in Rhinebeck...).

Now, I know you are all dying to hear about my weekend in Rhinebeck. I promise to post the pictures and tell you all what I learned and even give you a sneak peek at the newest stash buddies. Soon.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Music, we need more Music!

Okay so when I'm not wrapped around the axle over yarn I can't find, I'm expanding my iPod music picks. Several of my recent downloads are updates of long admired artists and I finally caught up with their latest releases. Others are new discoveries.

Several weeks ago I attended Steve Earle's performance at at church across from Washington Square Park. Maybe you already know that Steve moved to NYC from Nashville so this venue was in his backyard. Literally. On the way to the church following a lovely early dinner at Pearl Oyster Bar (best Lobster Roll ever!), I spied Steve headed in the other direction. Going home to change before the show? I love when New York is like that.

So he put on an amazing 3 hour performance, mostly by himself, sometimes with his wife Alison Moorer (who also opened the show and is also now on my iPod), sometimes with this really cool looking DJ guy with tatoos and a very calm demeanor. I have always been a Steve Earle fan, but I gotta tell ya, the newest release, Washington Square Serenade is fantastic. Clearly, living in the city has influenced his writing because the DJ back beat thing is really effective! And now I can't stop listening to the entire album nonstop. So many favorites on this one.

Thanks for the show, Steve. And dude! Next time I see you on the streets, forgive me if I come over and act like a dopey starstruck fan. Cuz I am and I can't help it.

Planning Backfires!

swatches 010

I am about to spit nails right now. You know how I was going all virtue by trying to carefully plan this giant cable coat project? So I dutifully knit out a couple of swatches. I am being really careful to consider the color, what I really want from this project. Yadda yadda, the whole nine.

And halfway through these swatches, I fall in love with the Ella Rae Classic. It's really soft going through my fingers, it's knitting up like a dream, takes to cabling and just really looks great. I fall so much in love, I decide it's not even worth my while to knit up swatches on the Cascade 220. I know Cascade, and it's great, but this Ella Rae is greater. This yarn is definitely worthy of the project.

And then I fall in love with the Mustard color swatch. It's warmer than the Gray, in my mind it's perfect for my vision of the finished cabled cardigan.

What follows is lots of discussion and family input, putting swatches against cheeks for assessment, running to windows to get natural light. You know the drill.

swatches 003

Feeling proud of my accomplishment in the careful planning and consideration department, I jumped online and headed over to my main crack dealer. You know the ones, they have so many different brands, so many colors and they have good closeouts. Yea, those guys. Well seems like everyone on the Internet these days is buying their from the same dealer, cause MY yarn, the one I fell in love with was GONE by Monday. What???!! I sent a message to Customer Service. Yea, sorry, all sold out. I am stunned by the news. And pissed. That part about wanting to buy a yarn at a good price? Well it just flew out the window.

I started a massive Internet search for the exact same color and came up one other source. Okay not quite as inexpensive, but within reasonable range. I whip out the card and push the Purchase button pronto. I don't want anyone else to pre-empt my plan.

Guess what. Next morning I get an email from their Customer Service - that color is discontinued, would I like another one instead? Well, no since you asked, I really don't! I wanted the one I fell in love with!! Now I am beside myself. I commence another massive Internet search. I have become obsessed with seeing this project knit in the Mustard Heather, no other color will do. I come up empty.

swatches 002

That's when those little thoughts start to occur. The ones that lead to compromise. Like well, maybe the original grey wasn't bad, it might work. Check original source to see if they still have it. Okay, 192 skeins left, whew I have some time to consider my options. I have to give the color some thought and really decide if I love it. By the time I decide to give it a go, it's gone too!

So here I am, 10 days after I started this little planning experiment. I have two swatches done up in a yarn I really love, and which would work just perfect for the project and I have NO YARN. The color I want has vanished into thin air. And I have to now compromise big time on another color OR not knit this project at all.

swatches 005

I can't help thinking that my planning didn't do me a bit of good. That all this planning got me was a big zero. Wasted time, false expectations, no sweater! I suppose the big picture will reveal itself but I sure don't see it right now. Right now I am still trying to consider what my options are and I am pretty peeved.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Planning. What a Concept!

It may have been said before, I have a tendency to leap before looking. It gets me in trouble and often I have second thoughts about my choices. Fighting that urge this time, I am trying a new approach.

There's a sweater I want to make for myself and it's a big project. More like a coat, with cables, and complicated yokes, this one is a commitment. Big time commitment. It seems like a commitment of this magnitude deserves some advance planning. The pattern comes from Vogue Knitting International, Fall 2008, designed by Deborah Newton. These are lousy shots, but it's the best I could muster.

Cable Yoke Cardigan

Cable Yoke Cardigan

First thoughts turn to what yarn to use. The last couple of weeks, I've been simmering on this one and made some decisions thus setting a direction:

1. First off, this pattern should not be knit in a variegated yarn! It needs to be a solid color to show off the incredible cables.

2. The color should be neutral enough to make it wearable with many things, especially to work. But not boring or bland.

3. The yarn needs to be worsted weight because that's what the pattern calls for. Worsted weight is a very wide spectrum. To narrow it down, I decided I want it to have some body and heft. That means it can't be too soft or limp. Which pretty much means I am sticking with wool, not Alpaca, Mohair, Silk or any blends of these. Fine by me there are plenty of them out there.

4. I want good stitch definition. This coat has lots of interesting cables and they need to pop.

5. I don't want fuzziness, or piling, or any sort of shabiness to show after two wearings. This means the yarn needs to have a good twist to it. So no singles allowed. Sorry, Malabrigo, not this time.

6. The yarn needs to be economical! The skeins should have good yardage and either be on sale or come at a good price. The project calls for lots of yards and I don't want to spend $400 on yarn!

Well. That seems like a good list of requirements. With these things in mind, I went Internet shopping and came up with these candidates.

Assortment to test Cable Sweater pattern

On the left, starting from the top:
1. Plymouth Yarns, Encore. Pretty gray but it's mostly acrylic so unlikely I will select it for this project. Good possibility for kid knitting in the future, though.

2. Ella Rae Classic in two colors - curry and light gray. Nice twist, good yardage, on sale right now at Webs. Not sure about the colors, especially the gray, but will swatch to see how it looks.

On the right, in a line:
3. Cascade 220 in three colors: Sparrow #4011, Silver Gray, #8401, Straw, #4010. All good colors, the Sparrow and Straw being the most intriguing. Good yardage, not on sale right now but will be in April. If I wait that long.

Next step is to swatch them all. Big swatches, using some of the cables from the pattern. On different size needles, to see how the fabric drapes and to measure gauge. I will wash and block all the swatches to see how the yarn changes - does it bloom? does it soften and get limp? Will it hold up to the pattern? I will carry the swatches around to see how they wear!

This could take months! Plenty of time to get distracted by all the other wonderful things to knit. Plenty of time to get bored or discouraged or frustrated or disgusted with the inevitable mistakes and frogging and delays. Or, I could decide I really need a good coat like sweater and get cracking as soon as possible. Only time will tell.

I plan to use this blog as a way to chart my progress on this one. So the first question I have for you, dear readers: do any of the yarns above strike your fancy? Tell me which one you like best. Or if you have any suggestions that meet my list of requirements, have at it! I'd love to hear from ya.


Madelinetosh sock1 mod

Knitalong is a phenomenon fueled in these modern times by the Internet. And by the community minded spirit that defines knitters and knitting. In days long ago, knitters (and quilters) would gather in local communities to knit for charity, for common causes, for companionship. Now that we have the Internet, knitting has gone completely global.

Non knitters haven't a clue how huge this thing is. It boggles the mind, really. To wit: over 190,000 members on! International events such as World Wide Knit in Public Day. Books published with the Knitalong theme. Local Meet Up groups dedicated to knitting. Art Events using Knitting as the medium to foster awareness of global issues such as the war and the environment. And thousands of knitting blogs (small sampling to be found on my blog roll), Flickr photos of knitting. Podcasts about knitting! It goes on and on and never ceases to amaze me. And thrill me too, I must admit. I revel in the collaborative/creative/hip/geeky/manic allness of it.

The seeds of all this global knitting were nurtured by Stephanie Pearl McPhee, and her blog Yarn Harlot. She set out to challenge worldwide knitters with the Knitting Olympics and to encourage donations to Doctors Without Borders. And her ideas continue to flow. There are plans, friends, big plans in 2009! But I digress. Again.

One such annual event is Socktoberfest, in which as the name implies, socks get knit in October. To commemorate this event, Kristen Kapur of Through the Loops fame offered up a Mystery Sock pattern. The pattern is doled out in clues throughout the month, and knitters log on to get the latest update and make progress. Sound like fun? Thought so!

madeline tosh sock1 mod

I jumped in eyes wide open and ready to take on the challenge. It was complete coincidental serendipity that a skein of gorgeous Madeline Tosh Sock yarn arrived in the mail on October 1. Beautiful Lapis blue, it screamed Mystery Sock to me! It was the motivation I needed to finish up the Hedera socks so I could have two sets of needles available to knit both socks at the same time, from both ends of the skein!

October is going to be a really busy month! Socktoberfest, Rhinebeck, vacation, house cleaning, woodwork stripping (a subject for another time, oy!), and work! Whew.

Socks and Novels On The Move

hedera sock3 mod

Pattern: Hedera Sock, by Cookie A
Yarn: ShiBui Knits Sock
Needle: Size 1 dpn
Started: Sept 10, 2008
Finished: Oct 4, 2008

These last few weeks I found myself actually looking forward to my daily commute to and from Midtown Manhattan. The reasons are several, and the results are evident.

Reason 1: These socks. My first lace style pattern, knit in a wonderful yarn with a really tight twist. I really like the yarn. First, it's superwash, which when it comes to socks, makes sense because it means I don't need to handwash them. Second, the color is wonderful. I love the subtle striping due to the way they were dyed. And the deep grape color is very pleasing. The high twist means a good wearing yarn. That's important for socks so they don't look shabby and lose their shape in one wearing. The lace pattern gives it lots of stretchiness and I love the defined line between the lacy parts.

hedera sock1 mod

Reason 2: With this project I finally mastered knitting with double pointed needles while standing on a bumpy subway! Now that's determination! Part of the determination has to do with my wanting to get a pair of socks finished within a month. The other part has to do with wanting to take full advantage of the "down time" that the commute offers. I simply got tired of staring out the window.

Reason 3: I "read" books by listening to them on my iPod. It frees up my hands and eyes to knit. And I've trained myself to listen more intently as a result. The first few times I listened, I found my mind wandering but now, over a year into it, I am able to really tune out the world and give my full attention to the story. Knitting while listening adds to that ability in some odd way. The rhythm of the knit, along with the sound of the words puts me into a state of complete contentment and concentration.

During this project I listened to an amazing book, "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle" by David Wrobelowski. This is the first fiction in quite awhile. And I was completely immersed in it! The publisher's notes state, "Born mute, speaking only in sign, Edgar Sawtelle leads an idyllic life with his parents and an unusual breed of dogs on their farm in remote northern Wisconsin. But when tragedy strikes the Sawtelle family, Edgar flees to the surrounding wilderness. He comes of age in the wild, fighting for his survival and that of the three yearling dogs who follow him."

That description just scratches the surface. The thing that got me was the way the writer told the story from the viewpoint of every character, including the dogs. And the dog Almondine was so poignant, so vivid, so moving. The last passage of Almondine's story, near the end of the book took my breath away. She so keenly missed her boy Edgar and her search was so futile, when she went seeking answers, I cried out "OH, NO!!" in front of all the passengers on the Q Train. They stared at me like I was a crazy woman. At that moment, I was! I just stopped knitting and was on the verge of tears. Tragic, beautiful, vivid, lush.

hedera sock4 mod

The timing on the book, which was rather long - about 21 hours of listening, coincided neatly with the knitting. I was able to bring both to a conclusion this week. It's not often things work themselves out so well. These socks will serve as a reminder of the story every time I put them on.

hedera sock2 mod

I made a few modifications to the pattern, noted here: I knitted 16 repeats of the two row heel flap slip stitch sequence. The pattern called for 24 repeats. That means a smaller heel and a shorter gusset. I also adjusted the stitches a bit so there were 31 on the middle needle, allowing for 3 full repeats of the lace pattern, starting and ending with a kbl stitch.

At the toe, I knit plain rounds between decrease rounds until there were 33 stitches total on the needles. Then I eliminated the plain knit rounds and just went with decrease rounds until there were 13 stitches on the needles. At which point I used Kitchener stitch to close up the toe. Voila, I love these socks!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Monkey Business

Manic Monkey1

The world is a complete mess. Calamity all around. The sky is falling, people are on the verge of panic, why it's doubtful the sun will even bother to rise tomorrow! At least that's what the media wants you to believe. It's enough to drive a person to drink. Or, to take meds....which is the whole point of this little guy.

Allow me to introduce Mannik Monkey. As Tony Limuaco, knitter friend and designer of this critter says, "anti-anxiety medication is now a common thread in our American fiber, for adults and children alike. We certainly do live in anxious times — personally, politically, economically, globally... Mannik Monkey, a perilous primate with a prehensile tail that you just can't shake. Meds and mania are steady companions."

Tony designed this monkey as part of an upcoming series, Farmacopeic Critters™. In addition to Mannik Monkey, he has Pax-L Possum and soon there will be enough critters to fill an entire medicine cabinet!

Tony asked me, along with a few other knitters, to give the pattern a test. Well I had more fun knitting this little guy than a barrel of... !!! This is my first knitted toy but there will be more. It's fun to make something like this come to life. It's part Frankenstein, part God-like, but more than anything it just makes me giggle the whole time I am watching the thing grow from string on a couple of sticks to a fully fashioned critter!

And in these troubled times, it's nice to have something to giggle about.

Manic Monkey2