Sunday, September 30, 2007

Nordic Lights

Now that autumn is really here, I thought it was time for another knitting challenge. Dad's cardigan is almost finished--I'll post the completed pattern as soon as I get a chance--and, while I still have mom's shawl to do, I'm pretty sure I can handle two projects at once. A few weeks back, I found a picture of a pair of socks called Nordic Lights. The pattern, which I found at an online magazine for handspinners, makes use of Scandinavian snowflake motifs and handspun yarn.
I'm not sure if it's really cheating, but since I'm not sure I'm a good enough spinner to do fingering weight without a huge struggle I've decided to use Mountain Colors BearFoot yarn instead. So far, it's going fairly well, but I wonder what size foot these socks were designed for! I wear a size 8/8.5, and these look like they'll be a bit smaller than that, even though I'm using needles that are two sizes bigger than those recommended in the pattern. We'll see how it turns out.
The colors aren't as bright as the picture makes them appear--Rosehip is a deep, variegated maroon/red combination, while Blue-green is more a peacock blue--so the pattern is turning out to be fairly subtle. It can only really be seen if the light hits it just right. Oh. Looks like I'll be able to write another yarn review once I finish the first sock!

On a more somber note, Doggie is getting old. She turned 7 in August; that's pretty old for a Dane. Now that she's in her twilight, she's begun having some minor problems. Not arthritis and diminished eye sight, as might be expected, but she's been having some digestive troubles brought on by a bacterial imbalance. Poor thing. It's something fixable, but it's uncomfortable for her--and for those of us *ahem* who are on duty in the yard.
For the past couple of years we've been feeding her cooked ground turkey, which the vet assures us is fine, as long as we don't overfeed her, along with her usual dry food. This has happened once before: she goes off her usual food and we have to jump through hoops to figure out what will be more palatable to her. Right now, by some strange quirk, it's canned dog food mixed with yogurt, served over rice cooked in chicken broth and.... Poor dog. I guess now that she's an old lady she deserves to be spoiled. But whoever heard of dogs eating chicken fried rice? It's not the oily kind of fried rice.. it's just cooked in a frying pan with a minimum of oil, a little bit of soy sauce, and shredded chicken, peas, carrots, and water chestnuts.
Of course, the cats are jealous because there's chicken involved. They'll almost commit murder to get bits of shredded chicken.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

If you were a tree...

Your Power Element is Wood
Your power colors: green and brown
Your energy: generative
Your season: spring
Like a tree, you are always growing and changing. And while your life is dynamic, you are firmly grounded. You have high morals and great confidence in yourself and others. You have a wide set of interests, and you make for intersting company.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

re: View: Patons SWS

Soy sauce, tofu, roasted soy beans for a snack, biodiesel... and yarn? Like the notion of using ethanol to power automobiles, the idea of using soy fiber for textiles has been around for quite awhile; during the 1940s, Henry Ford hired chemists to begin working on a way to process soy protein into fiber. There are even pictures of Ford wearing a suit made from soy fiber, but the idea fell by the wayside and it was only recently that the textile industry began to pick up where Ford left off. According to the Southwest Trading Company, the American government chose to endorse the use of nylon and rayon instead of soy.

Soy fiber production, according to several sources, goes something like this: After tofu is produced, the factory gathers any remaining residue which is then liquefied and extruded in long strands which are then cut, wet-spun, and acetylated. This process creates filaments which, rather than resembling the staples in something like wool or cotton, are similar to silk in structure and texture. It's a good way to make use of a renewable resource and minimize waste left over from manufacturing tofu. Most of the sources agree that soy fiber yarn is soft like silk, and warm like cashmere. The Southwest Trading Company, which owns the trademark in the United States, markets pure soy fiber yarn--and blends--and soy fiber for spinning; the price of processing soy protein is reflected in the prices of yarn and fiber, which is about $13 for a 200 yard skein.

So how does this tie in with Patons SWS? It's a worsted weight wool/soy blend (70% wool and 30% soy) which is easier to find (for me, at least) than pure soy yarn--it can be found at places like Michaels, as well as at specialty knitting shops, and the price is a bit less than the $13, at about $5 a ball. The yarn comes in a fairly good range of colors including self-striping colorways, most of which are muted; there are more possibilities, however, because it also comes in white and natural, which surely can be dyed if you feel like playing with KoolAid or Wilton cake dyes. The darker colors, however, are rich and inviting. The self-striping colors, rather than having distinct stripes, gradually fades from one shade into another. I must admit, though, that some of the colorways just didn't appeal to me, like the one called Natural Pink. It's more like an Easter-pastel palette for a child's basket because it has green and yellow in it.. melt-away mints, anyone? I really liked the solid colors like Raisin and Indigo, and a few among the stripy ones really appealed to me, too. Particularly the Natural Earth, Denim, and Crimson. Natural Earth was what I used for my test project, which is shown below.

I noted in my review of Lopi yarn that the loosely spun singles split easily and pulled apart with a minimum of encouragement; this was not the case with the SWS, which is also a loosely spun single. While it did split on a few occasions if I got careless with the knitting needles, it was a lot more difficult to pull the strand apart, which meant I could pull the stitches a lot tighter than I could have done with the Lopi. Maybe this was due to the length and structure of the soy filaments and the way they combine with the wool staples? It's not completely unknown for single strands to have slubby sections in them, and I did run into one.. and it was a fairly long, thick one measuring about seven inches. Fortunately, the project I chose for the yarn wasn't one that wasn't extremely dependent on gauge; unfortunately, however, I didn't choose a project that will test how well the yarn breathes or wicks moisture, or the Itch Factor... like socks. I suspect the yarn would work reasonably well for next-to-the-skin garments because of.. well, keep reading.

But the yarn! It's so incredibly soft that the only word I can think of to describe it is luscious. That softness makes it a true tactile pleasure to work with, as does the diminished frequency of yarn pulling apart at the drop of a hat. The only problem, though--and it's not a huge one--is that the yarn is so soft it slides right off metal needles. I had a couple instances where I held up my knitting to see how things progressed, and the needles slipped out and fell on the floor; after that happened twice, I got annoyed and decided to switch to bamboo needles. Bamboo has a less slippery finish than metal--the same thing applies to wood, too--which drags against the yarn enough to keep things from falling off the needles. The stitch definition is pretty good, but the yarn is fuzzy enough to make it act similarly to a mohair or angora blend, which sort of softens the overall result, almost making it seem like a piece of impressionist art. That's probably what Monet would have gone for if he'd been in textiles instead of painting.

So, soy is soft and luscious--can I say it again? Luscious!--and pleasing to the touch as well as the eye. As far as I'm concerned, it's a knitting experience worth repeating.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Warming Up For the Great Pumpkin Slaughter

It's never nice to start a recipe and then find you lack the most important agreement; this is precisely what happened to me tonight when I decided to test... well, we'll get to that later.

I went into the pantry and rummaged around, then exclaimed, "Oh, bloody hell. We don't have any canned pumpkin! All we have is pumpkin pie filling!"

And at that moment, while I had a pot full of onions and chicken stock on the stove, I called Barb. Barb, as it turned out, was at work, was on break, and was miserable because of allergies. Ah-ha! An excuse for me to drop everything and run to her place of employ, which also happens to be a purveyor of edibles, which would be both an errand of mercy and a way to pick up some canned pumpkin. So, after hunting down the DayQuil, I rushed out of the house. Poor Barb. I hope she feels better. And I got four cans of pumpkin. Yay!

Pumpkin Soup:

  • 1 medium onion, finely minced
  • 1 stick of unsalted butter
  • 5 cups chicken stock (yes, you can use canned if you don't have home made)
  • 2 15 oz cans pumpkin (NOT PIE FILLING! It's sweet... that's why.)
  • 1/3 cup skim milk
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp chili powder
  • 1/8 black pepper
  • 3 tbsp dry sherry
  • 1/2 beef kielbasa sausage ring, cut into small pieces
  1. Reserve half the stick of butter to be added later; melt the rest in a large pot and add the onions, cooking them until they're translucent. Add the spices, including the bay leaf. Most spices, according to the folks at America's Test Kitchen, are oil soluble, so letting them steep in the hot oil allows the flavors and smells to "bloom".
  2. Add the chicken stock and bring to a simmer. Add the remaining butter, sausage, and pumpkin puree, stirring until the sausage is cooked through (or at least cooked the rest of the way) and the lumps of pumpkin are broken up.
  3. Add the sherry and milk, and stir. Let the soup simmer for about five minutes, stirring occasionally. Don't forget to fish out the bay leaf before you serve the soup!

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Great Pumpkin Comes Early

It seems like holidays are merchandised earlier and earlier every year; I really do believe Christmas stuff will be sold in mid-June sometime soon. Anyway.. Halloween is next on the calendar, and even though I haven't seen any pumpkins on doorsteps or poly-cotton cobwebs festooning trees, but when Hellmart starts selling it's animated, headless corpses and tons of Halloween candy, you know it's right around the corner... even if it is only September.

Since Hellmart has begun making pumpkins available to the populace, I decided to go ahead and get mine early again this year. The past few years, I've gone with friends to a pick-your-own pumpkin patch where such interesting things as Fairytale Pumpkins grow in profusion; while the quality of the fruit found at this place is excellent, the prices are pretty high... further proof that Hellmart undermines mom-and-pop businesses, I know. I think I paid about $20 for the pumpkin I got there two years ago. Granted, it was a pretty huge pumpkin, but it was a featherweight compared to the beast I bought at Hellmart yesterday.

In a bin labeled "Gourds", there were numbers of huge crook-necked squash, fairytale pumpkins, Jarradale pumpkins, and several other types of interesting things. Most of the fairytale pumpkins were large, but since none of them had stems, I left them behind; after rummaging and heaving things out of the way in my search for a pumpkin with a stem, I found it. After pulling it out of the bin, I put it in the cart... there was no way in hell I'd be able to put it in those dinky little scales that only go up to ten pounds. The young man who happened to be working in the produce department offered to take it to the back to be weighed, and came back very surprised. Why? Because it was more than their 30-lb scale could handle, which also meant it was probably more than the scales at the register could handle.

Several CSMs and other assorted members of management were summoned to mull over the problem, and in the end they decided to pretend it only weighed 30 pounds. That still ended up being about $12, but for a 35 pound pumpkin (approximately, since my little kitchen scale only goes up to three pounds and would surely die if I tried to put El Monstro on it) it seemed like a bargain. Especially considering how much pumpkin puree I'll get out of it... which means that half the town will probably be gifted with pumpkin soup and pumpkin bread and pumpkin cookies and... and.. you get the idea.

The nice thing about fairytale pumpkins is that they're excellent for cooking with; conventional pumpkins have a huge amount of string inside, and the flesh is pretty watery, so when you cook it down, you're left with something about half the size of what you began with. Fairytales have dense, relatively dry flesh, and are reputed to be unrivalled for making pies. While I've never made a pie from scratch, I did use one for making soup, which I certainly plan to do again this year. So say it with me: All hail the Great Pumpkin!

And he sure is a big un.

Here's a link to a lot of awesome pumpkin recipes and info on different varieties and how to prep them for cooking:

Monday, September 10, 2007

Toes Up!

I've been curious about this toe-up sock thing. What's the appeal, other than that you knit a sock from the toe upward, and there's minimal fuss about grafting toes and picking up stitches, while you have to jump through a lot more hoops to knit a sock starting with the cuff.. in theory, at least. Last night, I was seized by the impulse to start working on a sock from the toe up, so I pulled out my yarn and some needles and went to work. It's much harder than it looks! ran an article in its Winter 2002 issue about this very topic; to whit, it was an article about three ways of getting toe-up socks started. Okay... the figure-eight cast on doesn't look so hard, I thought, so that's what I'll try first. I'm sure a number of profane exclamations left my mouth when I started working on it. By about 2 AM, I was ready to throw everything out the window because it wasn't going as easily as I thought it was. Where were all these big gaps coming from? And how in the world do you get from knitting at both ends to knitting in the round? And what happens to the tail of the yarn? It just sort of looks like it's sprouting out of the middle of the toe. In the end, I gave up and frogged what little progress I'd made.

This afternoon I decided to try again, so out came the white yarn and the needles. Several hours later, I had what looked like the beginning of a tiny little bag--now there's an idea that's worth exploring later on. One of the problems for me, which I don't have with a sock knit from the top down, is that I can't seem to figure out where the round ends and where it begins; this makes it hard to place the increases, which I'm sure I got in the wrong places. After getting a little way into it, I decided to go ahead and bind it off, and the result made me laugh. As crude as it sounds, I think it looks sort of like a knitted diaphragm. I think I'll stick to knitting socks from the top down after this...

Friday, September 7, 2007

Autumn Interweave Knits

This has actually been out for a while, but I found out that the local Hellmart actually has it! Naturally, I snarfed a copy; it has tons of neat stuff in it.

1. There are several articles on color work, cables, and other textures. Even if you're already familiar with the basics, it makes for interesting reading and provides some perspectives.

2. A totally cool article on microknitting. Like.. teenie-tiny little mittens and such that have something like 80 stitches per inch, knitted on medical wire instead of knitting needles. The resulting scale is 1/12 of normal. How cool is that?

3. Since this is the time of year that sweaters start peeking out of people's closets, there are a lot of beautiful patterns, some of which draw on the information presented in the article on color work, like the Fair Isle sweater. There's also swing cardie with an asymmetric buttoned placket. Mom immediately fell in love with it, and then she remembered that I still need to finish her Bluebelle.

My to-do list is going to get really long... again.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Mr. Door-to-Door

A while ago, a friend of mine posted something about one of those weird door-to-door solicitation people; we just had one of those this morning. Our neighborhood is mostly made up of of families with small children, but there are also a couple of singles who tend to react with wariness whenever anything out of the ordinary happens--that includes me. Last year, we had a guy going door-to-door claiming he was taking donations for the Heifer Project, and that the college was working in cooperation with Heifer on this. It seemed odd that he asked for an egg, and said he was planning to trade it to one of the neighbors for another thing. I called the college, and they claimed to know nothing about it; when I called the Heifer people, they also claimed to know nothing about it, and added that it wasn't their policy to solicit donations in this manner. Hmmm. Another call to the college resulted in the resident spin-doctor doing her job a little too well. No cookie for the college! Later, however, it turned out that the right hand just had no idea what the left hand was doing, and that it was indeed legitimate.

Anyway, this morning, one of these guys showed up again. It was on the same level as those magazine subscription guys. I was getting ready to take the dog out, and she was barking furiously at the door, which led me to believe there was something going on outside--half the time, her barking seems to be for no good reason. So, out we went, and there was this fellow with a backpack up by the dogwoods. Dog barked some more, and her hackles were up; she was not at all pleased to scent someone who didn't belong up by the dogwoods. The conversation was carried on across the yard; it went something like this:

"Does your dog eat people?"


"Will he eat me if I come any closer?"

"Yes. I really wouldn't come any closer if I were you."

"I'm selling an all-purpose cleaning solution. Is that something you'd be interested in?"


"Oh.. well, thank you. Have a nice day."

Poor dog. Well.. no one else needs to know it was shameless slander.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007


Well, who needs two blogs anyway? I don't really, but I've decided it's a good idea to back things up and copy posts from my msnspace. As with the other, this will be a place for me to ruminate on things fibrous and otherwise crafty, as well as grumble about which recent recipes flopped, and whether the cat agrees that yarn is a good thing to collect. It may be that I'll decide I like this format better; we'll see.
At the moment there's very little of moment to report other than that I now have a new book to root through for intarsia designs. It's really supposed to be for cross-stitch, but my guess is that I'll be able to convert the pattern charts and use them for knitting. Expect tons of graph paper to fly to and fro, and lots of yarn to be flung about, too. So, between 1000 Great Knitting Motifs and Charted Folk Designs for Cross-stitch Embroidery I should be pretty well covered. Oh, and there's that Latvian mitten book, too. Hee!