Monday, February 22, 2010

Coppertone Mitts

Coppertone Mitts 2

This is the one:

- where I made something nearly perfect and then nearly destroyed them.

- where I combined one of my favorite yarns with a wonderfully written pattern to make a project that hit all the high notes in my brief knitting life.

Mountain Colors - Copper - Sock Yarn

- where I was so excited about finishing the project I've worn them every day since mid-January.

- where I was wearing them last Tuesday and they smelled like gasoline after I filled the tank.

- where I popped them into a cool bath with some mild soap and a gray scarf with a coffee stain. (Oh virtuous me, getting all clean and everything.)

- where I went merrily about with that thing called my life. Involving on that day: yoga, groceries, cook, eat, clean, email, Olympics and doze on sofa. In that order.

- where I stagger into the bathroom and discover a Rubbermaid container with two distinct and growing pools of dye bleed - one rust, one gray. Like life seeping slowly out of these knits.

Through the Loops Genmaicha Mitt

Yes. This is the one where the mitts are still here, a little beaten up, but still here. Just like me.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Connecting Randomness

Remember a couple weeks back I mentioned a stew obsession? It took on a life of its own and sent me to shop for a larger stew pot!

Le Creuset 7.25qt French Oven

Yep, I bought the LeCreuset French Oven - happy surprise, it was on super sale over at Broadway Panhandler. Pretty, isn't it?

This stew makes a hearty meal for cold winter nights. I modified and adapted a recipe found in Martha Stewart's "Great Food Fast", Clarkson Potter Publishers, 2007.

Moroccan Chicken Stew

Moroccan Chicken Stew with Couscous

About 2.5 lbs. skinless bone in chicken thighs (I use organic)
3 or 4 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
3 or 4 onions, thinly sliced
1 large can whole peeled tomatoes, and use the juice in the can, too!
1 or 2 cans drained and rinsed chickpeas
Add in enough chicken broth to ensure the mix is covered. The tomato juice will add liquid, but you may need between 1 - 1.5 cups liquid. Use your judgement.
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground tumeric
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. chili powder
Coarse salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
2 or 3 zucchini (about 1 lb.) halved crosswise and quartered lengthwise

1. In a Dutch oven or French oven combine the chicken, carrots, onions, tomatoes, chickpeas, stock and spices. Break up the tomatoes.
2. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then cover and simmer on low about 20 minutes. Add in the zucchini and cook another 15 - 20 minutes. The chicken and carrots should be cooked by now, and the zucchini is tender without falling apart.
3. Boil about 1 cup water with a small dollop of olive oil and salt, add 1 cup couscous, stir, cover and set aside for about 5 minutes.
4. Divide the couscous evenly and spoon the chicken, vegetables and broth on top. Enjoy with a nice salad.

Your house will smell yummy and your tummy with thank you. The leftovers are even better.

Monday, February 15, 2010

To Conquer, To Reclaim and A Demise

The President's Day holiday was a perfect time for me to regroup and organize the projects. Over the weekend I finally finished a sweater that's been languishing for a very long time. Yay! I just need to get some buttons on this thing before the great reveal. Not that I haven't been wearing it non-stop since I finished and blocked it! I can't wait to show you all, because after sitting on the sidelines forever, I picked it up back in December and though I had a few battles before I wrestled it to the ground, I eventually got the upper hand and showed it who's boss around these parts!

With that sweater off the needles and moved into the finished column over on Ravelry (what a great, liberating thing!), I pulled out my giant black hole of a plastic bag, that enormous container to several unfinished projects, a bag full of swatches, items to frog and stray skeins of yarn. What a treasure trove that bag is!

With CathyZ keeping me company this afternoon, I frogged down a sweater,

Turbulence U Neck Pullover

one really awful feedbag of a hat,

This looks like a horse's feed bag when turned upside down

an unfinished fail of a mitten,

Mitt Fail!

and set upon some socks.

Simple Man Socks

But stopped dead in my tracks when I found this:

Sad Demise

Sad Demise

Moths! In the socks! Last I saw these socks was oh, maybe about 18 months ago? The PhotoMan wore them but complained they rode down and balled up down under his foot. Not comfortable! I set them aside thinking I'd rip them down and re-knit using a smaller needle and maybe add ribbing.. you know, for greater pleasure. Heh!

Surprise! These socks were unwashed (doh, did I really think he would wash them before handing them back??) Moths love dirty wool. I guess they also like alpaca! This yarn was mostly alpaca with some nylon. Anyway, these are now history - too many holes to deal with and really, I have plenty of yarn (oh you don't say?!?!), so off to the trash these go. Now, I have another pair of socks in need of repair and I'll gladly put time into darning them, but not these.

Besides, there are new conquests in my sights right now to worry about holey socks. The latest obsession is to overcome my chronic crochet-itis condition once and for all. If nothing else happens to me in 2010, Crochet and I are going to become bff's for life.

Crochet World Domination Plan

And I finally launched my Chevron Love Mittens. I rocked the Latvian Braid, after much hemming and hawing...

A Good Latvian Braid

Conicidentally, these got started on Valentine's Day! I predict good things but first, I need to pick up two circular needles because it quickly became evident wrestling with 8 balls of yarn AND double pointed needles would be an unnecessary disaster in the making!

You can see it's been a busy few days around here, what are you working on?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Random Thoughts

There's an ad on TV these days that caught my eye (and ear). It hits the nail squarely on the head. Don't we all feel exactly this way when we plug into our iPods?

Last night the Spin City Group got together for some Show & Tell. You know how I was wondering what to do with the loom I picked up? Leisha has given me some serious inspiration.

Weaving Inspiration

Weaving Inspiration

These lousy BlackBerry shots don't do the shawls justice but let me tell you, these are gorgeous and they made me very happy. Such wonderful work.

Oh, and Dawn decided the IBM Atrium is the perfect place to hand card her fleece.

Carding Fleece in Midtown Manhattan

Carding Fleece in Midtown Manhattan

I love this. For so many reasons. It must be obvious to all of you, too. Seriously.

It's not a habit of mine to announce my New Year's Resolutions so you didn't see a list from me at the beginning of January. But one of them was a commitment on my part to attend these Meet Ups on a more regular basis. So far, so good. I have a blast every week, and who doesn't need more fun in their life, yo.

And speaking of TV, I watched a movie over the weekend that had me so blown away I couldn't concentrate on my spinning. For the first time ever, I actually got up from the wheel to actively watch TV. It was Temple Grandin's story on HBO and I thought it was really powerful. I've been aware of her work for years, have been fascinated with how she thinks.

Now, having seen this biography, I have even more respect for her and her work. I may have been moved to tears over her statements about showing some respect to the animals we convert to food. Very compelling and thought provoking stuff.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Long Term Projects

Some projects have a very long lifespan and this is one of them. Put simply, the grand plan is to make a large knitted lace stole this year. Simple enough, but the path to that outcome requires a few steps. This is a Fleece to Stole project that actually began in October when I bought the fleece at Rhinebeck.

The featured breed at NY Sheep & Wool Festival 2009 was Leicester Longwool, a sheep that produces beautiful, lustrous, curly locks with a very long staple. Not to mention the curls make them completely adorable with their Rastafarian faces!

This is the breed George Washington and Thomas Jefferson imported from England to bolster their existing livestock in early days America. The breed that Robert Bakewell staked his claim to fame while developing selective breeding techniques. He created a hornless sheep with a square meaty body and straight top lines. He also sought out native stock with long lustrous wool. Sadly, over time the breed fell out of favor as other larger breeds came about. So by the time it was chosen as the featured breed at NY Sheep and Wool, the Leicester Longwool is considered a 'rare' breed. If you ever get to visit Colonial Williamsburg, you will see these sheep in the fields and paddocks.

I remember a field trip to Williamsburg back in Junior High School which was a very long time ago. Back then I was more interested in purchasing souvenirs and getting into trouble. Come to think of it, I wouldn't mind another visit now - just like I really want to get up to the Shelburne Museum in Vermont. I'd say both trips are doable in 2010.

Anyway, back to my project. While at Rhinebeck I made a snap decision to purchase a small fleece, a first shearing from a ewe lamb named Sarah, who lives at Heritage Hill Farm in Illinois. I mean, how can you not buy a fleece with a name and it was so cute in the Trader Joe's bag, all smelly in a nice sheepy way. The thing that caught my eye: she was very clean, shiny and had lovely lock formation. And most important to me, at only 2.3 lbs, she was very manageable as my first fleece.

Heritage Hill Farm Leicester Longwool Fleece 3

I also picked up 8 oz of pre-washed locks from another supplier, only because I didn't see the fleeces first. More on this bag of locks later.

Grazing Herd bag of Locks

The first step involved washing the fleece to remove the grease. I've heard that Merino fleeces are super greasy. This little fleece was the complete opposite, thank goodness! I used lingerie bags and a large Rubbermaid container with multiple changes of hot water and Dawn to release the dirt and grease. On average it took two or three soaks and a rinse or two to come clean. And I suppose it can be cleaner, but it's pretty good the way it is. I set out each lingerie bag on an old window screen straddling my bathtub to dry and then put it all away after the Holidays.

All the while I pondered how I wanted to approach the fiber. Each step has choices, each step is new to me. I did a ton of research on the Ravelry Fiber Prep board and watched a few You-Tube videos before deciding this fleeced needs to be combed. A bit labor intensive, and prone to some waste, but the result is beautiful, even, shiny fiber that will spin like a dream.

Here you can see how gorgeous Sarah the lamb fleece is, after a bath. Very lustrous and clean, virtually no vegetable matter.

Sheep to Shawl 2010

I'm super super lucky to have generous friends. CathyZ has a nice set of fleece combs and she was willing to teach me how to use them and then let me borrow them nearly indefinitely. So, one Saturday last month I ventured over to her house for a combing lesson.

Combing Locks

Little Clouds

We combed and combed, and then we dizzed and dizzed. And we made little clouds of lovely fiber. I went home thinking this is crazy, it's exhausting and time consuming and what in the world am I doing attempting this for myself?!? I really wasn't sure I wanted to tackle this project! So daunting!

But over the last few weeks I've gotten more comfortable with the process and if I take it in one or two hour chunks, I realize I can get through this phase. And I've worked out a bit of a routine.

Sheep to Shawl 2010

I find that laying out the locks onto a cookie sheet, aligned in three rows, with all the butt ends in one direction seems to work. I then give the locks a bit of spritz (water mixed with a few drops of essential oil) to reduce the static.

Sheep to Shawl 2010

Then I lash on about half the cookie sheet's worth of locks onto a comb and work these locks about 4 passes back and forth. I've stopped using a diz altogether because it hurt my right wrist - all that pulling. My little rolags are just okay. I don't think I will win any prizes for my rolags but they will spin up fine.

Sheep to Shawl 2010

So I'm over halfway through that 8 oz bag of pre-washed fleece and I have the entire Sarah the Lamb. And I've learned there is a marked difference between the two. The lamb fleece is immaculate compared to the pre-washed locks. I've picked out lots of vegetable matter, second cuts and brittle sections while combing these locks. Which only means by the time I get to combing out little Sarah, it will be so wonderful it will seem like I've been upgraded to first class and I won't mind the journey nearly as much from that seat!

Sheep to Shawl 2010

A word or two on the plan: I intend to comb the entire lot, then spin the rolags into a 2-ply laceweight yarn. From there I will dye the yarn, and then knit up a rectangular lace stole. The leading contender for pattern is Myrtle Leaf Shawl with Willow Border from Victorian Lace Today by Jane Sowerby, which calls for 950 yards of laceweight yarn. None of this is committed as I want this process to evolve. I'll delve into these ideas in future posts.

Right now I want to get back to more combing on this SNOWMAGEDDON (hello, Brooklyn - 1 INCH???) afternoon.