Thursday, December 31, 2009

Blue Moons

My spindle technique is definitely improving. I still have a ways to go before I succeed in getting a truly consistent single, let alone a truly consistent twist in the plied yarn, but I'm getting better at it.
Among the tricks I've picked up while hanging out in the Spindlers Ravelry group, there's a neat video demonstrating a ply-on-the-fly technique. As far as I can tell, it's sort of a modified (?) Navajo plying technique that gives you a three-ply yarn without the necessity of fiddling with three spindles at once. Or four, counting the one doing the actual plying. It's still a little fiddly since you have to stop every so often, loop the yarn, ply it, then wind the plied yarn around the shaft before resuming with the single strand. It makes more sense if you watch the video, though. ;)

So that's what I've been trying to do after I did such a crummy job of spinning the mulberry silk. Poor silk. It deserved better treatment than being used to relearn the art of drop spindling. I've progressed, though, and have two spindles with fiber on them. The fire agate has some of SallyInWales's hand dyed BFL on it, and I'm finding out that having a notch in the whorl really does help. Even if I choose not to take advantage of it, having it there feels better--sort of like training wheels, I guess--because, if the single slips, the notch will probably keep it from getting away from me.
The cedar spindle does have a notch, and I've made more progress with it--it's starting to fill up, which means I'll have to figure out how to move the cop from the shaft to some other storage thingy before I can keep going. The Mountain Colors Targhee is really, really easy to spin (for some reason I'm finding the BFL a little more challenging.. go figure).
I've been considering expanding my collection and, after dithering, I picked a Dragoncraft spindle with gorgeous blue swirls and a moon embedded in it. It took a little wiggling to get the whorl really tightly in place, but I think I've got it on there well enough that it won't come off without a lot of abuse... which I certainly don't intend to dish out. This one weigh just a tiny bit less than the other two (the fire agate weighs 1.48 oz and the cedar weighs 1.44 oz) at 1.3 oz, but is still considered a mid-weight spindle. I've been operating under the assumption that lighter weights produce lighter yarns, but a number of people have suggested that this is false and that an experienced spinner could probably use any size spindle to make even very light yarns. I'm not sure that's true for, say, a 2 oz spindle, though, since some people recommend using heavier ones for plying. It's a puzzle. O.o
It was purely coincidental, I'm sure, that the package arrived on a day that, while also the day of New Year's Eve, falls on a blue moon. In view of the utter blueness of the day, I picked up the blue Corriedale/bamboo blend--I gave up after having been frustrated by its quirky, slubby nature--and took another stab at spinning it. It's going better than my initial attempt, which may well be due in part to my practice with the other two spindles. The picture doesn't do the spindle justice... or the fiber, for that matter.
There are all kinds of little white and brown hairs in the mix. It seems I wasn't as thorough about cleaning my cards as I thought I was, so there's a little bit of alpaca fluff still stuck in there, and it's giving the yarn an interesting texture.
All this fiber! Combined with the sock yarn mom gave me for Christmas, I may never surface except to blink blearily at the outside world and make Grinch-like comments before I disappear again. Now it looks like I really do need a bigger jar to stash my spindles in... *sigh!*

Sunday, December 20, 2009


Happy Solstice, you guys. I hope you're all staying safe and warm somewhere, enjoying good company, good food, and that you're not too fussed by the fact that we on the east coast of the United States got upwards of a foot of snow. ;-)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Daily Dose

What's a girl to do when she's sold her spinning wheel and feels like spinning? Like an itch that needs scratching, the urge to spin fiber is something that isn't likely to go quietly into the night and twiddle its thumbs. The solutions are myriad, of course, and the easiest is to concoct some sort of spindle-type device with a CD, a rubber grommet, and a dowel or spare knitting needle of the appropriate width. And then we have Etsy, which is a black hole into which many people fall, never to be seen again. In the best possible way, naturally.
I've decided to wait until May to get a new wheel. Don't let this statement mislead you, though, because I've spent hours doing research and pestering people like Rachael for advice on smaller wheels. That's the problem, really. An Ashford Traditional is small, yes, but like a lot of Saxony wheels, it does still take up a lot of space because of its width, and I need something with less width. Since Rachael posted about getting a Merlin Tree Hitch Hiker--and her subsequent woes and resolution of same--I've been intrigued by the cute baby wheel idea. The downside, according to Rachael, is that if you're tall, you'll probably have to slouch uncomfortably to accomodate the Hitch Hiker's diminutive proportions. Rachael is tall. I'm tall-ish. So that means the Hitch Hiker and I probably might not be suited to each other, even though its small footprint and small pricetag are quite an inducement. I intend to test these guys at Maryland Sheep and Wool in May and see how much slouching is required. She also suggested trying something like an Ashford Kiwi, which also has a fairly small footprint and pricetag, and the added bonus of not having to slouch. That's another one on my test list.
May is such a long time away, though! In the meantime, what do I do? Etsy is home to about a billion creative people, a good number of whom sell gorgeous things; I'll keep my opinion about the so-called "upcycled suitcase pet bed" to myself... ahem. My main interest, though, is drop spindles, which cost about 1/4 as much as a spinning wheel at most.. unless you're looking at Golding spindles, and they're not on Etsy anyway. *sigh*
So. Spindles. I blundered into a Ravelry group devoted to this subject--one of several, I might add--and looked at pictures until my eyes couldn't focus anymore. And then I went back to Etsy and looked some more. And finally settled on a fire agate top-whorl spindle with a black rosewood shaft. It weighs slightly more than 1.5 oz and is delightful to look at. Does it spin? Hell, yes. Does it spin well? Definitely. And Maiysha does such a wonderful job of packing the spindles, it almost seems a pity to undo it all to get the thing out of its carefully secured nest of bubblewrap and tissue paper. And then there's the fiber she sent with it: a little bit more than half an ounce of her hand dyed mulberry silk (see picture to the left). I've never worked with pure silk before, so this is going to be a challenge which, I think, I'll put off until I've succeeded in re-learning the use of a drop spindle. She also sent a handcarded bit of roving with--hee!--some sparkly stuff in it. This, too, will wait until I've mastered spindle spinning. It's too gorgeous... and too fluffy... and.. and.. *sigh* I want one of everything in her Etsy shop. I tried spinning a tiny bit of the silk and it came out with a few little bloops of fiber where I didn't draft it quite as evenly.. but.. but.. it's like embroidery thread, it's so thin. O.o Wow. I guess I'm a little beyond the park-and-draft stage, but.. barely.
I'd also been dithering over the Banksia pod spindles I saw. On Etsy, of course. Banksia pods come from Australia and have all sorts of neat holes and textured bits where their petals/needles/quills used to be. I dithered too long, alas, and the one I loved most was snapped up before I could get up the nerve to buy it; in the meantime, the young man responsible for creating the spindles posted a beautifully finished cedar spindle with a curly maple shaft. And, of course, I completely fell in love with it and dithered. And then I bought it. It, too, arrived today. It weighs a little bit less than the fire agate spindle, but it spins... and spins... and spins...
I tried spinning a wee bit of some of the Corriedale/bamboo blend I started fiddling with a couple weeks ago, and I'm really enjoying it. I have to figure out how to draft a little less aggressively, though, because the yarn I'm spinning is so thin it'll probably produce lace weight yarn after it's plied. Which is fine, really, 'cause you can never have too much lace weight yarn. Really. Promise.
I think I should be in good shape until May, at which point I'll probably skip buying a wheel altogether and get a Bosworth spindle.... and a Golding spindle.... and... and... *sigh* I think I need a bigger vase to accomodate the impending growth of my collection.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


I feel like such a ninny. Mom warned me about putting my mitts on top of the woodstove to warm them. She said they might get hurt. This is old news to some of my Ravelry buddies, but I actually succeeded in burning a hole in my nice, warm Noro Evangelines. How? By putting them on top of the woodstove to warm before I put them on my hands. Naturally, I managed to put them on the hottest part of the stovetop.
This leaves me with a dilemma: the burnt mitt has unsightly brown scorch marks on it, so do I somehow frog what remains of it and knit the yarn into something else, or do I toss it and knit another mitt--assuming I can dig up another ball of yarn in the right colorway, or do I toss them both and knit a new pair with some wonderful new yarn?
The options for the latter will likely not include Malabrigo. I've found that it pills quite badly after less than two months of wear; mom's mitts are in bad shape and either need to be plucked or shaved to rid them of all the little bits of fuzz. Otherwise, the list will probably be something like this:
1. Frog Tree Merino Worsted. This is iffy since it's a softly spun single that might well pill as badly as the Malabrigo. The upshot is that it's soft and probably won't itch.
2. Noro Kureyon. Doesn't pill horrendously, even after two years of heavy winter wear. It does, however, itch a little.
3. Patons Classic Wool. Not too itchy, not too soft, and probably won't pill as badly since it's plied.
4. KnitPicks Wool of the Andes Worsted. Also plied and neither too soft nor too itchy. It does pill, at least in the form of sweaters, but might be well suited to something like mitts.
5. Bartlett Yarns Fisherman 3-ply. This might be too itchy for mitts...

Wow. I have less in the way of worsted yarn than I thought I did. Lots of sock yarn, lots of lace yarn, but where did all my worsted go? O.o

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Not From A Box!

I've been wanting to do this for a while, but there have been a number of things sidetracking me and disrupting my kitchen activity lately. Now that things have calmed down, I can proceed with kitchen activities relatively unimpeded; since the weather is gray and yucky, I have an extra excuse to putter in the kitchen and do things like bake cookies. In the meantime, though, dinner:

3 chicken breasts cut into bite-size-ish pieces
1 tbsp peanut oil (or other, if you have allergies)
3 oz Pinot Grigio or other white whine (yes, I know it's misspelled)
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp coarse dijon mustard
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp flour
1/2 tsp spice blend (see below)
salt and pepper to taste
1 8 oz bag of shredded carrots and broccoli, or other shredded vegetables

Sautee the chicken over medium-high heat until it's cooked almost completely; season with salt and pepper. Whisk the wine, lemon juice, and mustard in a small bowl and use the liquid to deglaze the pan. Add flour, butter, and spices, and continue cooking until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce has thickened. Turn off the heat and add the vegetables, tossing to coat with the sauce. Put the lid back on the pan for about five minutes to let the vegetables steam.

Spice blend: Equal parts ground ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, black pepper, chimayo pepper, garlic powder, nutmeg, and pimenton dulce. Mix the spices together and store them in a jar. This goes pretty well with just about everything from fish to soup.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


This has been a bad year for me as far as finishing things. I've started projects with the best of intentions, the most important of which was to challenge myself to learn and master some new technique or other. I tried entrelac, proceeded from a simple entrelac scarf to entrelac-with-lace-that-will-remain-nameless, then after getting to about the sixth row of blocks, set it aside in favor of something else.
Then came the Sockdown challenge. First, it was yellow, then it was men's socks (like I know enough men who deserve handknit socks *snort*), and now it's mosaic knitting. The yellow challenge wasn't really a challenge as much as it was an experiment to see if I could knit in a color that wasn't my usual blue/green. Coinciding with the yellow sock, there was the sock with little lace cat footprints marching up the leg; one sock is finished, the other hasn't even begun. I tried twice to do the October Sockdown and failed completely with Nancy Bush's Gentlemen's Socks With Lozenge Pattern.
I keep saying it isn't the pattern designer's fault, and it's really not. I crave challenges and colors to test my knitty mettle; most challenges aren't insurmountable, but when the pattern offers only one option as far as size goes, I start to get annoyed, especially when my meagre math skills end up going completely out the window. Funny.. I can do enough algebra to tell you how far it is from the corner of the house to the other end of the solar system, and to figure out the rate of speed of a ballbearing falling from Point A to Point B, but I can't for the life of me adjust a sock pattern from a men's 11.5 to a men's 6.5. It sounds simple to subtract stitches, but is it really that easy?
Okay. So October Sockdown was a complete failure. November is obviously in progress, and so far I'm doing fairly well with the mosaic knitting. My only problem, however, is that the yarn I chose--of all the glorious indie-dyer yarn languishing in my basket--the two shades of brown KnitPicks Palette are utterly and completely blah! In ball form, there's enough contrast to show that yes, they really are two different hues. Knit together, though? It's too subtle and neither color pops enough to do the pattern justice.
I'm knitting more slowly than my fellows, some of whom are knitting amazing socks that look like little pieces of knitterly Op Art without the headache inducing stripes, so it's pretty likely I won't finish my November socks during the month of November.
Holiday knitting? There isn't much this year. Last year's knitted gifts ended up crammed in the backs of people's sock drawers and were never used or enjoyed. That takes a big chunk out of my to-do list, really, and means there's more yarn for me to be selfish about. Not that I don't still have good-sized to-do list: Mitts for two different people, a pair of socks for someone else, and a scarf for someone else. This all hinges, however, on whether or not I can find patterns appropriate to the people in question, yarn appropriate to said patterns, time to knit the objects, and enough swallows to dispatch as couriers.
This, naturally, begs the question "What... is the velocity of an unladen swallow?"

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Samhain Greetings

Happy Samhain, everyone.

Friday, October 23, 2009


What is it with the month of October? Normally, October is such a good month for me, but this year it feels like one thing after another has been going wrong or somehow getting derailed; other people appear to be suffering similar mishaps.
We're having company tomorrow to overnight, so for the past couple of weeks, things have been moved around, rearranged, taken upstairs, taken downstairs, shoved into storage space, or otherwise removed from the house in an effort to make things tidier. Last week, though, it rained almost all week and was about 40 degrees during the day. That meant there firewood needed to be hauled into the house, the stove needed to be cleaned and the ashes dumped in the garden, and then more cleaning because ash and bits of bark go everywhere. The wood got soaked even through the tarp, which made starting the stove a bit of a struggle.
Then we found out our elderly friend died, which has made us feel even less like doing house-related stuff, let alone have company in the first place. *sigh*
Then there was the Night of the Butter Peeps, which was pretty damned scary, especially since I was outside when the thing was making that terrible racket. 11:30 at night, raining, pitch black outside, and no visible source of unearthly wailing screams would probably be enough to make a few doughty souls flee, which was exactly what I did. I dragged the dog into the house, slammed the door and leaned against it, then fell on the couch and sniffled. I'm not given to hysteria, but I was frightened enough to cry. I still have no idea what the source of the noise was, but after all my research I have a pretty good idea what it wasn't--foxes, deer, owls, raccoons, black bears, rabbits, and possums don't produce such a sound, even under extreme duress. That leaves some twerp pulling a prank or some other animal heretofore unidentified. Mom, in an attempt to cheer me up, decreed that October 15 will henceforth be known as the Night of the Butter Peeps, and that we will celebrate by making a s'more cake with some sort of marshmallow peeps as the decoration.
There have been other annoyances not really worth detailing here, but I'm really ready for October to be over, because hopefully November will be better.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

In Spirit

Mom got a phonecall today. It concerned a death. For many years, mom was friends with a Hungarian woman who taught French at the university here; mom had been a student of hers, and even after Madame retired, they were close friends.
I remember being about eleven or so when my parents went to Europe for a vacation; since there were no relatives to babysit, I stayed with Frances and her parents, and also with Madame. She would walk me to school every morning and, as we walked, she would talk and I would listen; among the things she spoke of was the complete account of the achievements of Charlemagne, encapsulated to fit the fifteen minutes it took to walk from her apartment above the bakery to the elementary school. After school, she would help me with my math homework and mutter the calculations under her breath, always in Hungarian, while she checked things using a little slate and a piece of chalk.
Years later, we would talk about books and current events; she was scandalized because I revealed I had no idea who Charlie Rose was, and that I didn't watch his show. She would issue forceful pronouncements about the behavior of this president or that politician, daring me to debate with her. I would lend her books on mythology, and she'd suggest something more popular like The DaVinci Code.
About eight years ago, she suffered a stroke that left her partially paralized; she went to a convalescent home and, with the help of physical therapists, was able to regain some of the abilities she lost. Later, she moved elsewhere, and then moved again, this time to Switzerland. She came back for her birthday a few years ago. It was difficult for me to see how much she'd changed from the vibrant, outspoken, strong person she'd been all through my childhood. Her daughter, in the meantime, kept us updated through letters with reports of both progress and decline; other friends who went abroad to visit her at the nursing home in Switzerland also told us how she was doing.
Today we got a phonecall telling us she's dead. Mom took the call and, somewhere between the birth of her friend's first grandchild and a bouncing e-mail, there came the news.

Through her life, she was a dancer, a swordswoman, a nurse, a physical therapist, and a teacher. She was a traveller, a reader, an avid witness to the changes in the political climate. She wrote letters, read books, took long walks every day, and took the time to help an eleven-year-old learn long division. She loved coffee ice cream, tulips and white carnations, believed strongly in the benefits of charcoal tablets, and enjoyed watching sunsets from the window of her apartment above the bakery. She was gracious, generous, a wonderful storyteller and listener, and enjoyed friendships with people of all ages and walks of life.
I'll miss you, Madame.

Monday, October 12, 2009

I Covet You

I'm not normally covetous by nature, but occasionally my desire for soft, squishy yarn leads to my stash approaching SABLE. Due to my current enthusiasm for socks and sock yarn, I've recently acquired a few things that, while I do have plans for them, are so soft and squishy I almost can't bring myself to knit with them; these include the CraftsMeow yarns (okay, I am actually knitting with one of them...) and some Serendipitous Ewe which is earmarked for a pair of socks for dad. I'm not sure it'll be used for such purposes since I also recently found out that at least one pair of socks has been relegated to the back of dad's sock drawer, which I find infuriating. Still, it might end up as a pair of socks for someone, if I can determine who among my vast acquaintanceship might be worthy...
This being said, my I Covet You list now consists of the following:
1. Dream In Color's Smooshy in Butter Peeps (I'm completely obsessed with this colorway for reasons I'm at a loss to explain.)
2. Enchanted Knoll Farm's fingering weight in Dragon's Blood.
3. Pagewood Farm's Alyeska in Ireland.
4. Black Bunny Fiber's Blue-Faced Leicester in How Now (which does not, apparently, come with a brown cow.. go figure.)
5. The Alpaca Yarn Company's Heels and Toes in Purple Rain (No, I'm not now and have never claimed to be a fan of you-know-who. I just really like the interplay of purples in the yarn.)
6. Earthly Hues' Seedling in Foxfire.
7. Fly Designs's Cashmara Sock in Blood Red and Brick.
8. Lisa Souza's Sock! in Wild Things.
9. Three Irish Girls' McClellan in Rhiannon and Kieran.
10. Slackford Studio's Pathway Sock in Pesto.
11. Abundant Yarn's Larrisa Brown Sock in Jules Verne.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Of Imperial Apricots

I recently had a bit of a debacle with some yarn. At the Mountain Heritage Festival, I was lucky enough to run across a booth where the vendor had a basket of handspun yarn for sale for outrageously low prices. I grabbed a giant skein of white yarn and approached the woman; I was sure the price tag was wrong. That much handspun yarn couldn't possibly be a mere eight dollars! The vendor's husband looked at me over the tops of his glasses and said, "She's over spinning. She's into plying now." As if that's an excuse to practically throw away all the beautiful yarn! I still didn't quite believe the yarn was only $8, but I paid for it and left the fairground, my head filled with dreams of using the cochineal or osage orange sawdust I'd gotten at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Fest two years before.
The yarn sat in my knitting basket until I felt like pulling out my kitchen scale. It weighed in at 1 lb 4.4 oz, which really is a whole hell of a lot of yarn... I found a step-by-step article on Knitty and followed the directions for mordanting and dyeing the yarn with cochineal. And then things fell apart: the dye ran and ran. And ran some more. A few people have suggested that the lingering bits of cochineal beetles which are still--ick--lodged in the wool are the cause, and I swear I'm about to attack the stuff with the vaccuum to see if I can get the last buggy bits out that way. I've shaken the yarn outside, I've whacked it against the exterior of the house, shaken it some more, and finally just hung it over the back of a chair. The net result of that particular little venture ended up being more a rose color than the red I was aiming for, and I was a little disappointed.
The little cloud went away today, though, after I broke out the KoolAid and Wilton dyes. A few days ago, I got a ball of white Patons Classic Wool and decided to try for a rich, intense purple. Supposedly, since KoolAid is already pretty acidic, you don't really need to add vinegar to the pot; I did anyway. Vinegar and salt. I didn't want to take any chances with the dye running when I rinsed it. After several dunks in a mix of hot water and hair conditioner (tee-hee), the water stayed clean, so I guess it worked. I hung the yarn up outside to drip dry, then remembered I had a bag of handspun alpaca upstairs in the Tub o' Yarn. What to do, what to do, I thought, and then a little lightbulb lit up.
I've always been pretty indifferent to yellow, but after the September Sockdown, I decided I sort of like it. Not screaming, neon, blinding yellow, but muted, soft, sunny yellow and mustardy Grey Poupon yellow and (I blush to confess) that color known as Butter Peeps. By itself, the lemonade flavored KoolAid is pretty blah; I added a generous blob of Lemon Yellow Wilton dye and got a bright, sunny yellow. A good dunk in another bath of hair conditioner and hot water, and the water was clean. Well! How about that!
The picture is fairly accurate, but the colors are a little more saturated than it makes them seem. It's almost enough to make me want to order some naked sock yarn from KnitPicks or something and take a stab at dyeing some for myself... maybe I'll even put Jacquard dyes on my Christmas list! Or maybe I'll just let it lie and not pick up yet another hobby unless absolutely necessary.
And now, for your viewing pleasure, the yarns Apricus and Imperatrix. Rachael, I blame you for their names. :-P

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

All Hail the Great Pumpkin!

This is what I get for following links. The Forum Funnies had a thread about pumpkins and pumpkin-related stuff, and in one of the posts there was a link to what amounts to a fondue served in a pumpkin instead of a fondue thingie. Now, if all my far-flung friends all happened to converge on the house at the right time of year, I would have a complete meal consisting of nothing but pumpkin things.

Appetizer: The pumpkin fondue thingie with appropriate bits of things to dip.
Soup: Pumpkin soup with cream, sherry, and sausage. Annadamma bread, while not made with pumpkin, tastes vaguely pumpkin-y, so that or some sort of brioche.
Main course: Pumpkin lasagne with Italian sausage and mushrooms. And salad.. I'm not sure there would be pumpkin there, but you need salad... right?
Dessert: Pumpkin cheesecake with a molasses-spice cookie crust. And coffee. Have to have coffee.

The whole pumpkin thing is really making me want to make these, which means I would need to either roast my own pumpkin seeds or find a good source for fresh pumpkin seeds.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Baby Bundties

I've been intrigued by the idea of baked donuts since I saw a donut pan in the Baker's Catalogue. Donut pans, as it turns out, aren't to be found locally for love or money, but baby bundt pans there are in abundance. Yesterday, I broke down and got a baby bundt pan while I was out with mom, and since then I've made two batches of pumpkin donuts; neither was what I'd call completely successful, but they weren't inedible, either.
The first recipe I tried was this one. The texture was a little lighter, but I made a couple of mistakes; I forgot the baking soda and used too much milk. Somehow, though, they turned out pretty well. The second I tried was this one, and somehow, the texture came out very dense and cakey, and I don't like it at all. Turns out I forgot to add baking soda again, which could have something to do with the problem. They're okay, I guess--everything goes better with a bourbon-nutmeg glaze, doesn't it?
I'd like to try one of the King Arthur donut mixes at some point, but I don't really want to pay UPS shipping for one package of donut mix, no matter how good it might be!

Bourbon glaze:
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup powdered sugar
about 2 tbsp bourbon

Friday, September 18, 2009

Pick Up Sticks

This is where I solicit advice from experienced knitters who use double-pointed needles.
I've got some Susan Bates needles in sizes 1, 2, and 3, and the smaller sizes actually hurt my hands. They work perfectly well to knit with, but using them is never comfortable. I also have a couple sets of Clover bamboo needles, which are fine for knitting socks; they grip the yarn without being sticky, they're comfortable to handle, but the tips are a little on the blunt side for my tastes and they tend to chip over time. Next on the list, I've got two sets of KnitPicks Harmony needles with which I have a love/hate relationship. The tips aren't extremely stabby, but they're sharp enough to slide through stitches easily; the resin impregnated wood is comfortable in my hands, but it can split apart at the ends, which results in yarn snags and occasional sharp edges that can snag my fingers as well. I have one set of KnitPicks nickle-plated needles, too, but I rarely use them because they're so cold to knit with and the seven inch length is a little tricky for me to fiddle with. They're smooth, of course, and rather slippery--metal doesn't usually grip yarn, does it?
Last, I've also had (no longer, alas) a set of Brittany birch needles in smaller sizes. After a while, these also chipped at the ends and I had to smooth the edges with sandpaper to keep the yarn from snagging; the smaller sizes made me feel like I was knitting with toothpicks and, yes, I did break one of the needles while I was trying on a sock--that's how I ended up with my first set of Harmony needles.
I now appeal to my knitterly buddies: Can you recommend double-pointed needles that are comfortable to knit with, slightly stabby-sharp, and of a more economical price range than the Signature needles?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Yarn Delivery!

Yarny goodness of several types arrived in today's post, and I'm happy as could be. It's soft, it's squishy, it's sproingy, it's face touchy... it's... it's Craft's Meow sock yarn. And I can't wait to knit with it. The colors are very lush and appealing, especially in the Caramel Soft Serve; the Witch's Brew is just.. awesome. Gah. I'm not usually at a loss for descriptive words, so I think I'll just quit while I'm ahead and give you pictures of my yarny goodies.
Before I forget, I got another package today. Yarn, a silly postcard--thanks, Greenethumb, for the giggle--and a little tin of faerie mints. The yarn is KnitPicks Essential in a gorgeous semi-solid dark yellow-gold. I've never knit with it before, but as soon as I finished tidying up, I cast on for the Catnip socks. Essential, or Stroll as it's now called, seems to get mixed reviews, so if I'm a dissenting voice, that's too bad. I'm completely enjoying it. It's incredibly soft and has a fair amount of bounce, so I can imagine that it's going to make a really good pair of socks. The color reminds me of ripe wheat fields in the autumn, maybe under a very thunderstormy sky.
So far the Catnip socks are going fairly well, but since I'm only working on the toe, I'm not sure how much chance there is of making a mistake. Of course, I could be wrong. Ahem.
Okay.. pictures.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Around the bend

Fall is in the air. I can tell by the way I'm sneezing and because the poison ivy is turning a glorious shade of red on the trees across the street, which usually happens before the deciduous trees start to change color.
The Rivendell socks are going fairly well; I finished the first one a few days ago and it fits. I made a few minor modifications, like going up a needle size and using a different type of cast on than the one suggested. My go-to cast on is usually the knitted one, but it's pretty un-stretchy and doesn't work very well for sock cuffs because I tend to do it too tightly and then knit through the backs of the stitches on the first row. This means that I have to learn a new cast on besides the evil backward-loop.
When I first learnt to knit about twenty years ago, my elderly neighbor taught me the backward-loop method. The problem was that because she was left-handed, she taught me to cast on as though I were also a southpaw, so I've always done a reversed-backward-loop and never learnt to do it the right-handed way. For me, the backward-loop always produces a long gap between the next loop to be worked and the right-hand needle, which generally means I use the dangly yarn between the needles to cast on extra stitches and take up the slack. As a result, this is my least favorite method to use; that's why I started using the knitted cast on.
The lack of flexibility in the knitted cast on is fine for things that don't really need a lot of give, like shawls or potholders, or maybe even a sweater--if you're one of those people who does it loosely and hits the gauge dead on without having to swatch, maybe it matters even less--but it's probably not your best bet for a nice, stretchy sock cuff. Since most patterns seem to call for the long-tail method anyway--which I've mistakenly thought was the backward-loop for the last five years... oops--it's probably better to stick with what the pattern suggests unless you just don't care.
After consulting a number of sage souls on Ravelry, I headed off to YouTube to see what the twisted German cast on was all about. Rumor has it that it's super-stretchy and is about on the same level as the long-tail cast on. I skipped the long-tail videos altogether and, after watching the same video (KnitWitch, your video is to blame for my new brand of delinquency) about fifteen times to make sure I knew what I was doing, I cast on the second Rivendell sock. And the cuff is way more flexible than the first one I did. The downside is that I misjudged the amount of yarn I'd need to do the required 63 stitches and was left with a tail about a foot long even after I finished. This, I've been told, probably isn't uncommon since there's a lot of trial and error involved calculating the exact amount. The first time I tried to cast on, I didn't leave enough extra yarn to make a 63 stitch cuff. Needless to say, I frogged the cuff and had to start all over; my sock now has a little blob of blue yarn hanging at the beginning of the round.
I said the sock was going well... and it really is.. or will be if I can figure out where I made my mistake. I've finished the first chart and am two rows into the second, and it's that second row that's got me puzzled. I have the right number of stitches, but for some reason I can't seem to get them arranged the right way so the twisted stitch does what it's supposed to. Since I obviously finished the first sock and got something that actually vaguely resembles the pattern in the book, then I should be able to manage the second one just fine. Right?

I broke down and ordered more sock yarn. *sigh* Just two skeins, but that's enough to set my fingers twitching at all the possibilities. It should arrive tomorrow, and that's not quite soon enough for me. The CraftsMeow's proprietoress does gorgeous work.. it's going to be tough to decide which pattern will go best with which yarn.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Advancing On Adventurous

I know Janel Laidman's new book just came out and, as usual, I'm running behind. I'm two seasons behind on Supernatural, I'm two books behind on the Sano Ichiro series, and now one book behind with Janel's creations. Gah.
Last year, before her first book came out, I found--and I don't remember how--the pattern for Nordic Lights on the Spindlicity website. My attempt at knitting the socks wasn't a complete disaster, but it probably would have been better if I'd gone up a full needle size instead of just half. That wasn't the author's fault at all, but it was certainly mine since I didn't--as usual--do a gauge swatch or periodic checks to see if the sock would fit. I liked the pattern so much, I asked for a copy of the finished book for Christmas, and I'm just now getting around to tackling one of the patterns from it. The rest of the patterns in the book are amazing. There's colorwork, there's lace, there are cables, cuff down, toe up, sideways... something for everyone, really. I have plans to knit a certain pair of socks for a certain scientifically-inclined friend if I can track down some yarn worthy of the task. Ms. Laidman's thorough descriptions of the necessary techniques are covered in the index... with pictures, no less!
The subtitle "Socks For Adventurous Knitters" definitely fits. I don't really consider myself an expert knitter, but neither am I a novice, so when I read through the instructions for the Rivendell socks, I thought I'd be fine as long as I stuck to the directions and remembered to go up a full needle size. I'm still progressing through the leg of the first sock and it's taken me three days, two different types of yarn, and three frogs to figure it out. Even with pictures, I had some difficulty with the concept of wrapped, clustered stitches, and it took the assistance of several people on Ravelry to get it sorted out--thank you ElvaUndine, Greenethumb, et al. Once I succeeded, however, I felt quite sheepish because it's really not as difficult or confusing as it seems at first glance.
Rivendell's complexities are best served by yarn with subtle shading or a solid color and not, as I found out, the wildly shifting colors of something like Kauni or Patons Kroy Sox FX. Thank the Mother of All for the two balls of Dalegarn Daletta hiding in my stash, though I find myself fantasizing over knitting another pair in something like this...

Saturday, August 29, 2009


12 o’clock high: Noise from the university football game and tailgate party, but muffled by the box fan and air conditioner.
3:30 PM: It’s absolutely quiet. Even the cicadas seemed to be snoozing, perhaps anticipating the impending flood of unnatural noise.
4:30 PM: Noise from the park is audible over the box fan, air conditioner, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. It appears I crowed prematurely. If it continues to increase in volume, I shall unearth headphones and continue to listen to Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar while knitting.
7:56 PM: Now clearly audible over air conditioner, box fan, and Johnny Dollar. Mom and I have to shout at each other to be heard from five feet away. Forget the headphones, I want earplugs.
8:48 PM: A brief lull, followed by throbbing bass and someone who clearly can't sing wailing into a microphone. Supposedly only another twelve minutes of this nonsense.

In an attempt to do something constructive during today's... lovely activities, I cast on for a pair of Rivendell socks and was promptly stymied by the third row of the pattern. I understand how to do the clustered stitches, but I'm not quite sure what to do at the end of Row 3. Theoretically, you can divide the cuff of the sock into three needles of 21 stitches, and after knitting two rows of the ribbing, you start working Chart A (or Chart 1, if you prefer). Row 3 goes something like this: Cluster four stitches, follow the pattern for the next 14 stitches, cluster seven stitches, work 14 stitches, cluster another seven stitches, and so on until you get to the end of the row. But what happens next? Is it cluster three stitches or is it cluster seven by picking up the first four stitches of the following row? I'm so confused! I'll refrain from speculating on whether or not the volume of the Awful Din has affected the way my synapses work....

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

What do you say to a cup of tea?

If this were an episode of Father Ted, the response would likely be something rude. Since, however, this isn't an episode of Father Ted, the response would be some expression of gratitude. I was astonished to find a message from a fellow blogger/knitter/Raveler (the almighty Teabird, whose sagacious blog entries always makes you stop and think) saying she was picking me for an award. I'm not exactly sure what all this means in the grand scheme of existence, but it was a touching gesture and I really appreciate the thought.
The blurb on her blog explains the award thusly:

Do you reach for a cup of cocoa or tea when you're relaxing, seeking comfort, sharing a plate of cookies with family and friends? You know that feeling you get when you drink a yummy cup of cocoa, tea or a hot toddy? That is what the Heartfelt award is all about: feeling warm inside!

Put the logo on your blog/post. Nominate up to 9 blogs which make you feel comfy or warm inside. Be sure to link to your nominees within the post. Let them know about the award by commenting on their blog. Remember to link to the person from whom you received your award.

My nominations are:
Christybelle of Confessions Of A Misplaced Southern Belle
Rachael of Modo Vernant Omnia
Clara of Purly Everlasting
And everyone else whose blogs I read faithfully.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Un-Joy of Cooking

I respect The Joy of Cooking. I really do. I'm sure updated versions published after 1975 are an absolute delight, but alas, the version lying in the kitchen is from the days before digital thermometers. You'd think that TJOC is like Julia Child: much about technique and practically infallible. It's not. Even Julia Child burnt things on The French Chef (see the potato episode from the first season if you don't believe me).
I've made several recipes from our copy of the book and every single one of them had to be tweaked one way or another to account for either modern equipment or modern ingredients--like 1975 is somehow medieval and cooking is really alchemy. Such examples include the muffins. Muffins? I like my muffins a little to the cakey side, not as bread dough cleverly shaped to resemble a slightly pyramidal muffin. Waffles? I like my waffle batter to be a little stiffer than runny yogurt, which is exactly the consistency I got when I followed the recipe to the letter. Shortbread? The jury's still out because the dough is stashed in the fridge to chill, but the recipe did require quite a lot of tweaking to get a consistency more like the results I got last time I made shortbread.
The untweaked recipe calls for a cup of butter, a cup of sugar, two eggs, two and a half cups of flour, sour cream, and a teaspoon of baking powder. I took one look at the glop in the mixing bowl and shook my head. And this is somehow supposed to be rollable-outable? I don't think anything short of a stint in the freezer would have made such a thing possible, and even then it would probably have been like the Blob oozing around on the marble slab.

The tweaked recipe is below:

Almond Coconut Shortbread
1 c unsalted butter
1 c granulated sugar
2 eggs
3 c flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
shredded coconut (enough to make things interesting but not enough to end up with macaroons)
4 oz slivered almonds (toasted, if you want a more intense almond flavor)
1 tsp vanilla

Cream butter, sugar, and vanilla, salt, and eggs until smooth, and add flour gradually. Add almonds and shredded coconut and mix until thoroughly incorporated. Divid dough in half and roll into a cylinder using waxed paper; chill for a couple of hours or until firm. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Unwrap dough and cut into 1/4 inch slices; put on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake for about 20 minutes or until just beginning to brown. Remove from oven and let cool on baking sheet before moving them too a cutting board or cooling rack.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Quiet, please!

It's no secret that I like a relatively quiet environment. I read, knit, listen to my vintage radio shows, cook, and do various other things, and no one's ever complained about the volume at which I do them. The neighbors haven't come to bang on the door in protest or called the police because I've been knitting at 2 AM. The animals haven't been driven away by the thumping bass of my spinning wheel, the birds haven't dropped from the sky because I'm reading too loudly, and the plants haven't withered because I'm cooking at too loud a volume.
There's a rock concert planned for the little park in our neighborhood. Forget planned! They've been actively promoting it. From what I've been told, the town sprang for electrical hookups in the park and this will allow any and all to use amplifiers for their music.
To say I hate music is absolutely incorrect. Once upon a time, there was a man who went up to the park to play his bagpipes. As it turned out, he was preparing to perform at a wedding. Then there was the elderly man who took his fiddle to the park one spring afternoon. There was also a classmate of mine who went up there to play his banjo, and I suppose there have been other people who have gone to take advantage of the quiet to practice penny whistles. None of them used amplifiers and none of the residents were bothered. So it's really not the music that bothers me, but the fact that if it's amplified, it's impossible to escape without actually fleeing town and/or buying earplugs.
I question the wisdom of the coordinators' choice of venue. A 1.5 acre park at the end of a dead-end street is hardly the right place to have a charity event for a number of reasons--parking, inability of emergency services to get through if needed, impact on residents who may not necessarily want to hear a garage band blasting at top volume, impact on the wildlife who may be terrified, not only of the noise, but also of the people tromping all over their habitat without any thought for what might be living there. The promoters had a number of other options: the university football stadium, the university concert hall, the university's new theatre building, the big park outside of town. All of those have electricity ample parking which would not only allow the tourists to fall out of their cars and into the venue without having to walk two or three blocks through August heat while perspiring and carrying picnic baskets, toddlers, and whatever impedimenta required to enjoy a concert. And yet, the promoters chose the park here. The only reason I can think of is that the venue, if you can call it that, is a mere stone's throw from the commercial district.
For about twenty years, dad's said that the town government's main aim is to further the interests of the two-block commercial district. None of the merchants will benefit from the concert because they're all closing in protest--which I say with heavy irony. Nor are they the ones who are affected by the problem since--surprise--most of them don't live locally, let alone in our neighborhood. Of course, if asked, most of them would probably say it's a wonderful idea to have a steady stream of people listening to a steady stream of amplified noise because it's for a good cause. I think there's a flaw there somewhere. Ahem.
The whole thing reminds me of a scene in As Time Goes By. Lionel has gone to Norwich to plug his book and is unaware that the publisher has presented it as a gritty, nonfiction adventure in which a coffee planter hacks his way through the Kenyan wilderness while slaughtering elephants. In response to the publicity, a number of students attend the lecture in the hope of protesting the apparent atrocities committed against the elephants of Kenya by Lionel-the-elephant-killer. One of the students stands up and says, "Because of you, my children may never see a wild elephant!"
There may not be any wild elephants here, but thanks to the thoughtful people downtown, there are generations yet unborn who might never see an oriole or a bluebird in an urban setting, or hear the foxes barking or the woodpecker knocking. Dramatic? Maybe, but definitely apropos.

Edit: 12:30 August 13- Found this article. Am in total sympathy with the citizens of Prague but doubt that Madonna will cancel her concert just because three thousand people are against it. I wish them luck in their attempt, though!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Umbrella up, umbrella down

Summer has been relatively cool here. It’s a rare day that the temperature breaks 90; the norm is usually somewhere between 80 and 85 on most days, and the humidity hasn’t been too bad. Today, however, it’s actually cold, which means it' must be somewhere between 60 and 70. I’m wearing a sweater and fuzzy socks, which is definitely weird for the last day of July. There’s so much moisture in the air that there’s no point in baking—not even cookies!—and it feels like my hair is never going to dry. The plants are getting a good drink, though.

My knitting has been sadly neglected for the past couple of days, and that bothers me. I’m on the third tier of the Forest Path, steadily heading toward the fourth, but things have come grinding to a halt because of the beady stuff. You’d think I could do both at the same time, really, but for some reason I find myself eyeing the box of beads on the dining room table and thinking, “I wonder what interesting things I can do with this, that, and the other?”

Forest Path, I’m sorry I’ve left you to languish on the wing chair. Your purple silkiness is a delightful challenge and you deserve better than to be neglected. I hereby promise to resume working on you as soon as possible so you can be finished and blocked by summer’s end.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A Shameless Shilling

In a slight change of direction--both literal and figurative--I'm still working on the Forest Path Stole. It took me all afternoon to wind up all six skeins of Gloss, but I think it was definitely worth it. Attempt Number 2 is languishing in the cat's bed; handpainted yarn is lovely for a lot of projects, but I don't really feel that lace is one of them. I'll probably finish the tier I'm working on, then do the top edge and border, and leave it at that. It's too hot to be working with pure alpaca in a heavier weight anyway. I might have managed with lace weight alpaca in 90 humidity, but DK is out of the question even with air conditioning. I feel sort of guilty saying so. O.o
The size 3 needles are giving me a tighter fabric, but it's still open enough to allow the lace patterns to come come through; the color doesn't seem to be obscuring the lacy parts, either, which helps. I have a feeling I may have quite a bit of yarn left over at the end. This doesn't surprise me since I rarely bother with--I know, I know--gauge swatches before I start a project. I'm into the second tier and still haven't checked to see how many stitches per inch there are. Who knows what the finished dimensions will be even after it's blocked. I'm a long way from blocking yet, though.
The diagam in the book is a little frustrating, as are the nupps. Much discussion of the nupp problem has been had--there's that blasted passive voice again--on Ravelry. Some people suggest leaving them out altogether in favor of putting a bead in the spot where the nupp would have been; others suggest using a smaller sized sock needle to fish around and snag the working yarn. Among the more interesting tidbits of information on the subject is this: Estonian women were paid for their finished pieces by weight and nupps were a pretty, unobtrusive way of adding a little weight to their knitting. Incidentally, I had no idea at all it was really pronounced noop. As for the diagram, however, the arrows are merely there to indicate which direction the tier is being worked in and not actually pointing to the tier it appears to be beside. Tier 1 with its accompanying left-pointing arrow is really worked from right to left; Tier 2 is worked from left to right, as indicated by the right-pointing arrow. I guess the assumption is that at least a few people who want to start something that complicated already have some familiarity with the ins and outs of entrelac and don't need an explanation.
I, being a noob, took one look and nearly threw the book out the window. That was shorly before the mimeograph-purple ball of fuzz ended up as packing material. Since then, I've succeeded in making it as far as Tier 3 (that's on the ungodly heavy Attempt Number 2) without making any enormous mistakes. I don't know that anyone else would notice--or even care--that I transposed two of the blocks because I wasn't paying attention to the diagram. Attempt Number 3, however, is proceeding smoothly. For now, at least. Chances are I'll transpose a few more blocks after I finish Tier 2 because Tiers 3 and onward are relatively uncharted (ha-ha) territory.

After giving it some thought--and serious googling--it seemed like a good idea. Mom, beast that she is, talked me into developing the idea a little further. The whole metaphysics thing, y'see, which means this is really a thoroughly, completely shameless plug for idea put forth in my last post.
I now direct your attention--if you'll excuse the plug--to Markedly Metaphysical, which is where further fruits of beady business will probably be displayed. In the passive voice, no less. *sigh*

Friday, July 24, 2009

Still None of Your Beadness

The stitchmarker monster is still lurking, and this is the result of this morning's efforts. Since the beads are technically mom's, I have no idea what most of them are; this means I have to pester her for the particulars. In this case, she tells me the little leaves and rectangular thingie are rhyolite which is, according to some metaphysics websites, associated with cats, the elements Earth and Air, and the planet Mercury. Metaphysical stitch markers? I wonder if there's a niche market there somewhere. :P

Saturday, July 18, 2009

None of Your Beadness

It seems like everyone makes stitch markers. Etsy and Artfire are packed with people who make adorable little markers with beads shaped like lobsters and hotdogs; then there are those who use tiny little pearls and semi-precious stones. All of them are a practically endless series of variations on a theme. Mom and I discussed it and our verdict is that it's easy to do and is likely to have a fairly low overhead while still allowing someone to make a small profit.
About ten years ago, mom got the bead bug while she was trying to reconcile herself to being a writer who worked for commercial publications which she felt tended to take advantage of tragedies as a way of making a buck. Her brother-in-law sent her an e-mail asking her to interview people locally and write an article on the impact of a certain September tragedy in such a far-flung place as our semi-rural community; such a story, he said, would be of great interest to the Brazilian newspaper he worked for. Mom was surprised and, I think, a little appalled. How could people stand to capitalize on a tragedy of that scale? Instead, she decided to channel her creative energies toward something less likely to leave a foul taste in her mouth. And that's how we ended up with a hydraulic press in the living room. And a workshop full of beads from all over the world.
Mom's first show was in Pennsylvania, and it was memorable for a number of reasons not the least of which was the elderly Mennonite gentleman who approached us and suggested we would be enjoying a warm climate after we shuffled off the mortal coil. Shows, as it turned out, were hellish more often than not: the scramble to get ready to leave, get the car packed, the tent put up (which always required help), the endless flow of people who made nice comments like "But that'll snag on my sweater", the scramble to get things packed back up at the end of the show, get the car re-packed, and then drive home and unload everything until the next show rolled around. Of course, there was always a positive aspect to all that brouhaha, and that made the exhaustion worth it. In the end, mom decided to quit going to shows and opted for a quieter
avenue for her pieces.
She recently changed gears again and went back to writing, though with a less commercial edge--and certainly one that's less likely to capitalize on grief. Which leaves us with a workshop full of beads and a hydraulic press in the living room. A few days ago, while she was taking a break from writing, I asked her if she'd show me how to make stitch markers. She rummaged around in the workshop and came back with a little pouch full of headpins, a little drawer full of glass beads, and several pairs of pliers, and, after about an hour, I'd succeeded in contracting a new hobby.
I'm not quite sure what to do about this, but here's photographic evidence of my labors.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Glossing Over

Things have taken a turn for the better—after taking a turn for the worse—with the Forest Path Shawl. My initial attempt using the Handpainted lace yarn didn’t go very well. It’s not that the yarn isn’t nice. It is nice with its fuzzy little halo; the downside, though, is that for a project like this, the halo gets fuzzier with handling and the end result is that things start sticking together. What happened was really my fault. I picked up too many stitches for the first block of Tier 2 and didn’t realize it until after I’d knit about five rows; when I tried to unravel those five rows, things stuck together because of all that fuzz. Ultimately, the yarn broke and I was left with a big tangle. Attempt Number 1 was sent to Aubrey Kenworthy as packing material in a package containing a bottle of ink. Waste not, want not, I guess. She, clever creature that she is, adopted it as a piece of art for her craft room wall; that, oddly, makes me feel better about the FPS Debacle.

I decided, then, after my first failed attempt, that perhaps I might do better with some yarn that wasn’t just a single. Operating under the theory that plied yarn is stronger and has a little more character and self-control, I ordered some Gloss yarn from KnitPicks. It arrived today, along with a number of surprises from the admirable Mrs. Kenworthy (whose atelier can be found here) and a yarny murder mystery from a friend in North Carolina. In the interval between frogging my first attempt and the arrival of the Gloss—which is a lovely dark purple like a cross between J. Herbin’s Poussier de Lune ink and a purple crocus—I cast on for a second attempt with some yarn I found buried in my stash. I’ve since found out that Araucania has discontinued its Atacama line, so if I don’t finish with the yarn I’ve got, that’s the end of that. Atacama is DK weight, so size 6 needles seemed like a good idea. I’m not entirely pleased with the results thus far, but that’s mostly because handpainted yarn can sometimes obscure the intricacies of lace with its variegated, shifting colors. I am, however, very much enjoying the fact that, no matter how much I handle it, it doesn’t stick together and it doesn’t seem to want to get all fuzzy. In fact, when it came time to start a new ball, I had a terrible time getting the ends to splice… wow. Alpaca, by the way, just does not taste very good.

So now I have to decide whether I want to actually finish the remaining eighteen tiers of Atacama or just go ahead and cast on Attempt Number 3.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Entre Nous, Entrelac...

When I said I'd be jumping in at the deep end, I had no idea exactly how deep and murky the water would be. Lace I can handle, but the entrelac is proving to be quite a challenge--which is fine since I like challenges.
I cast on for the stole, worked the 20 rows of seed stitch, finished the triangles at the base, and then realized I had no idea how to proceed. Gulp! The first logical step would really have been to look for a good tutorial rather than trying to get started without knowing what I was doing.
Finally, after much Google-fu, I discovered that YouTube doesn't seem to have any tutorials on entrelac. From there, I went to and found one with nice pictures and crappily written text which could use a hefty dose of red pencil. Naturally, without a good explanation, the pictures aren't quite as useful. Next, I went to a blog with pictures and a nice clear description of which stitches get picked up at which point. And, after working the first three tiers of blocks while staring at the tutorial, I figured I could proceed on my own until I forgot a step.
One problem, which is pretty minor, is that it doesn't recommend slipping the first stitch of the row on the selvage edge of each block and side triangle. Slipped stitches make life much easier when it comes time to pick them up again for the beginning of a new row of blocks. Another problem, which is probably due to some error I'm making, is that I occasionally end up with a hole that isn't all that dissimilar to the one I get when I'm working the first row of the gusset after all those stitches have been picked up. It's a little unsightly, but since this is a trial run, I'm not expecting to get it right the first time. I hate picking up stitches, but for socks and entrelac (among other things!), it's a necessary evil. It ranks with casting on, which I also hate... but I don't think it's possible to knit without casting on somehow. On the other hand, I'm also learning how to knit backwards, so I'm really getting more out of this than just the basics for entrelac.
The stole is on hold until I'm sure I'm ready for it, which means I'm fiddling with a ball of Noro Kureyon in what I feel is a rather unfortunate colorway--I hate pink, and there's plenty of pink in it--which probably isn't enough to produce more than a giant potholder.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


"Yet mark’d I where the bolt of Cupid fell:
It fell upon a little western flower,
Before milk-white, now purple with love’s wound,
And maidens call it love-in-idleness." - A Midsummer Night's Dream: Act II, Scene I

When the summer KAL started, I decided to delay reading/watching/listening to the chosen source of inspiration until I got closer to actually finishing the Fountain Pen Shawl, but last week I sat down to watch one of the more recent film versions of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Movies are always tricky because they have to compress or cut things to fit into about 100 minutes, but it's worth the frustration of missing details to see Stanley Tucci's Puck stealing a bicycle to go tearing through the woods in pursuit of Helena and Demetrius.
The discussion of the play has ranged all over the place, from manga versions of it--these I have got to see--to an opera, to the similarities between the faerie principals to major Gods and Goddesses from a number of pantheons, to the relationships between characters and why is Oberon so hell-bent on taking Titania's pageboy. I think we'd probably be an effective think-tank if anyone cared to hire us en masse.
Among the more minor notes in the discussion was the question of what, exactly, is this thing called Love-In-Idleness. Anumber of sources suggest it's most probably a variety of wild pansy with (and this is from a source whose credibility is somewhat questionable.. Wiki, I love you, but you know it's true) psycho-active qualities. It still exists in the form of Johnny-Jump-Ups, also called violet pensee, and it's still purple.
After rooting through four boxes of yarn, I found some laceweight in an appropriate--if rather violent--shade of purple that reminds me of the old mimeographed worksheets we got in elementary school. Everyone hated them because they were so hard to read, which was blamed entirely on the color. In this case, it works just fine, and since I haven't actually started the tricky entrelac parts of the pattern, I have yet to go bonkers.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

You're sic! SIC!

Sic hoc adfixum in obice legere potes, et liberaliter educatus et nimis propinquus ades.
I love it. It's going to be my new voicemail greeting. Rachael, I blame you for this... :p

I'm almost finished with the Fountain Pen shawl. Just six more rows before binding off, but it's driving me nuts because everything seems shifted to the right by one stitch and I can't figure out where the mistake is. I have the right number of stitches (minus 32 since I skipped one repeat of the second chart); I'm not at all interested in ripping back 18 rows to the lifeline. Double grrr! I will finish this, though, because I want to move on to the next project on my list: the Forest Path Stole. As usual, I'm jumping in at the deep end by trying to learn entrelac in combination with a more complex lace pattern. I've got the yarn and a pair of jury rigged circular needles... so hopefully I can finish the last six rows of the Fountain Pen shawl without throwing the whole thing out the window in a fit of pique.
Speaking of fountain pens, I sold my Lamy Vista and got a Lamy Safari to replace it. It's red. It has an extra-fine nib. It's a delight to write with. The nib is a little more rigid than I'm used to, but I sort of expected it after consulting with ChristyBelle and reading up on them on Biffy Beans.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


I wonder what it would have been like to be in the dining room at the Palmer House in 1905 while, by sheer coincidence, Mark Twain was sitting across the room with his pen in one hand and a fish fork in the other.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Crumb bum...

Today was one of those crappy days where nothing seemed to go right. About the only thing that turned out was the new batch of cheese. First, I pulled out the kitchen thermometer to check the temp on the milk, and discovered that it was broken, which meant that I'd either get glass in the milk--and the cheese, obviously. I would also have needed it for the gooseberry curd if that had turned out, but it didn't.
A few days ago, I went out into the garden and picked the gooseberries which are, thus far, the about the only thing the stupid deer have left alone this year. Since mom's trying to grow things without using pesticide or other chemicals, that means the deer, the beetles, the worms, and other creepy-crawly things are having a nice time at the salad bar. The gooseberries have big, sharp thorns, however, making them less likely to be eaten by deer... but those thorns don't do much to deter bugs. I washed the berries, cooked them until they were mushy, and then started hunting for the food mill. Which I couldn't find. That left the food processor, which ended up creating a mix of seedy gooseberry pulp and shredded berry skins. I realized after I put the pulp through the strainer that--gak...--there were these horrible little white worms in the pot with the sugar, pulp, and butter. Thank goodness I had yet to add the eggs, otherwise I probably would have screamed. It was disgusting... O.o I abhor waste, but the worms gave me a reason to throw out the beginnings of what I'd hoped would be a lovely gooseberry jammy thing to have on scones or fresh bread. Ick.
So, after throwing out the gooseberry/worm mess, I decided to try making lemon curd. Well, about half the bottle of juice went into the gooseberry glop and, subsequently, into the trash, which left me with about 2/3 of a cup of lemon juice. Mom handed me three limes in the hope that I'd be able to make up the rest of the juice that way. Nope.
I get crabby when I'm tired. I get crabby and I drop things, which meant that after spending the whole day working on--and ruining--gooseberry curd, cheese, cleaning, and trying to figure out how stitches that slipped off the needles and the bloody lifeline were going to get back to where they were supposed to be, I dropped the bowl with the lime juice in it. And lost about half of said juice all over the marble slab. This caused me to deliver several loud expletives before I went looking for more citrus something. The citrus something ended up being frozen pineapple juice. I was not pleased, even though it wasn't wormy--I'm still upset about those stupid little worms...
By the time the lemon-lime-pineapple curd was ready to go into jars, I was further annoyed by the appearance of little tiny globules of egg white at the bottom of the saucepan. And this is after I was really careful and tempered the eggs!
And, on top of all of this, while I was putting away towels in the upstairs bathroom, a bottle of shampoo fell on my head and made me howl like a banshee. I swear.. I'm trying to keep my sense of humor. Really.

Lemon-Lime-Pineapple Curd:
2/3 c lemon juice
1/4 c lime juice
1/2 c pineapple juice (or a total of about 1 1/2 cups of straight citrus juice)
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1/2 c sugar
1 thermometer
1 saucepan
a clean jar big enough to hold the curd

Mix juice, butter, and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat; remove from heat and let cool to about body temperature. In a separate bowl, whisk eggs and yolk; gradually add about half the citrus juice and whisk to temper the eggs. Add egg/citrus mix back to original pot and keep whisking while you warm the mixture back to 170 degrees to kill any potential bacteria. Cook over low-medium heat until thickened, then pour through a seive to make sure there aren't any lumps or other intrusive detritis. Pour into jar and let stand until it's cool enough to refrigerate.

Have I said how much I hate tempering eggs? Bleh.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Menage a Fromage

After all that waiting and fiddling around, the cheese is ready. It rested in the fridge overnight and I had some with my toast and coffee this morning... it tastes like a slightly tangy cream cheese with a faintly herby flavor imparted by (surprise) the thyme and marjoram. Next batch is going to have half as much salt. According to the suggestion on the New England Cheesemaking Supplies website, we calculated that 12 grams of kosher salt would be 2% of the cheese's weight. Toooo salty. Not unpleasantly salty, but I'm definitely using less next time. I'm also trying to figure out how to get a slightly drier texture, which might be difficult since we don't have a cheese cave and there's no place in the house where the cats and dog don't go. I'd be pretty upset if I left a cheese to cure and one of the animals either made off with it or left bits of hair on it!
Still in the process of tracking down a local source for unpasteurized goat's milk, which is tricky since West Virginia prohibits the sale of raw milk. The grocery stores around here tend to sell ultra-pasteurized or canned goat's milk if they sell it at all, and neither of those are suitable for what I want to do. The rennet should show up in the mail either today or tomorrow, but since we don't have any goat's milk to make cheese with--in fact, we're completely out of milk of any kind O.O--it's going to have to wait in the freezer until we do find some. Preferably from goats who are TB- and brucellosis-free.
Mom, I blame you for this! Like I need another hobby. Knitting, spinning, and making soap are all bad enough.
Anyway... here's a picture.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Project Fromage

I think I got it right this time.

Saturday, June 13, 2009


I'm usually the one who gets siezed by the impulse to pick up new hobbies, but this time it's Mom. Mom and cheese. Yesterday morning she gave a lengthy discourse on how easy it might be to make cheese using milk and vinegar, so in the evening we trotted out to the grocery store to get dog food and pick up some milk. No one said anything about needing a gallon of milk, so I just grabbed a quart from the cooler and threw it in the cart. Oops.
Turns out it wasn't that hard make half what the recipe which, according to the website she read earlier in the day, was for a gallon of milk and 1/4 cup of white vinegar. No salt, no herbs, no rennet, nothing. When the milk finally deigned to form miniscule curds, I sent Rachael a text message and she, in turn, directed me to the website for the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company.
Mom got a little discouraged when it looked like the curds weren't really doing what they were supposed to do, so it was a big shock when she unwrapped the blob of cheese this morning. Last night before I went to bed, I poured the curds into the collander and let the whey drain through a clean dish towel, and after they'd drained enough to form a cohesive mass, I hung the towel up to drain some more; the result was something similar to queso blanco. Since she wasn't really sure at which point to add the salt, she rolled it in kosher salt and hoped some of the flavor would seep into the cheese. I wonder if brining it somehow might be a good idea next time. Mom's got pictures up on her blog.
So, thanks to Rachael's suggestion, we ordered some packets of starter to make chevre if we can find some goat's milk that isn't ultra-pasteurized.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Les Plushies

I don't know why, but the existence of Cthulhu plushies amuses me no end. Not that I've ever read any H.P. Lovecraft (other than The Dunwich Horror). But... plushie fanny packs? I spent several hours in pursuit of this and ended up laughing until I cried because the idea was so funny. I guess it boils down the fact that Lovecraftians get no respect and provoke fits of hilarity when in their cuddly forms... and rather than getting yet another fountain pen, I find myself seized by the desire to track down an oversized Cthulhu plushie to occupy a spot next to my oversized stuffed dragon. Alternatively, I'll attempt to knit myself an oversized Cthulhu plushie.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Ice cream. Chocolate ice cream.

When the theory is more fun than the practice

I want homemade ice cream, but it's just not working.
1. Last night we dug out the ice cream maker and its accompanying instruction booklets. We have two: a Green Mountain hand-cranked one that takes advantage of brawny blacksmiths and an electric one that doesn't. Since we haven't got any brawny blacksmiths alongside the pasta in the pantry, we opted to use the electric one.
2. Examined the contents of the fridge and discovered that we. had. no. dairy. products. Can't make ice cream without dairy products of some kind, right? *sigh* Definitely hard to make ice cream without dairy products.
3. Went out to the store to acquire said dairy products and ask about rock salt. Was irritated to discover they only sell it in 25 lb bags. It's summer, which obviously means I don't need 25 lbs of rock salt to defrost the driveway. Went home without the 25 lb bag of rock salt.
4. Got home with assorted dairy substances and promptly left again to buy 25 lbs of rock salt. *sigh*
5. Spent two hours bringing 3 cups of milk, 1.5 cups of sugar, and 1 tbsp of cornstarch to a simmer, and fumed.
6. Spent the following half hour tempering the eggs and trying like hell to get them to be tempered and not scrambled. Mmph.. Successfully, at least.
7. Put the machine together and discovered the ice trays were half empty. Flat out refused to go out for a third time in pursuit of ice cream-related articles.
8. In spite of not having enough ice to go with my 25 lbs of rock salt, I got the machine going. Surprise, surprise.. the machine wasn't cold enough, so the ice cream didn't get hard. It's now in the freezer going through what the manual calls the "Home Freezer Method". I do not anticipate victory.
9. I now have an inkling as to why people buy ice cream more often than they try to make it from scratch. I also now suspect I'm not likely to attempt to make pots de creme since the process is somewhat similar.
10. I want ice cream....... meh.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Psychic Vacuum

Mom has a knack for making me chuckle--and shriek with laughter, depending on the circumstances--and managed to do so again today. We've been moving furniture and cleaning all afternoon, and while one thing was being moved, something else was bumped. This resulted in my shot glass full of sea salt falling over and some of the salt being sprinkled all over the floor.
Mom realized what had happened, looked stricken, and asked a bit hesitantly, "Is it all right? Will there be some sort of psychic disturbance?"
I told her I thought not and vacuumed up the spilled salt along with the bits of bark and ash from the wood stove--it gets EVERYWHERE even when the stove isn't in use and does it no matter how frequently you sweep and vacuum. Truth is, the salt isn't there as a barrier against things that go bump in the night (Rachael, I know you know what I mean!); it's just there to keep incense sticks from falling over and getting more ash everywhere. And since the top of the stove is now occupied by things other than my paraphernalia--except the little glass of salt-- it might be time to find a new home for it all. Mmph...
At least the vacuum won't suffer any psychic disturbances.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Rust to dust

Today was the day everyone was supposed to get together in Harper's Ferry to scatter Dr. Walker's ashes. Her wish, they said, was for it to be done where the Shenandoah and Potomac meet. This would be on Park Service land, which meant a special permit was needed. The scattering of ashes mustn't be conducted willy-nilly, or visitors to the park would find ashy remains on the keels of their canoes and kayaks, or on the soles of their shoes; the ranger who talked us through the guidelines was very careful to explain all this. He met us at the gate, and when all the party were assembled--Dr. Walker's caregiver, some of her colleagues and a few friends-- he led us down a road marked "Do Not Enter", then had us park at the train station before he led us down the hill to the riverbank.
I've never attended this kind of event before, and was uncertain of what to expect. Mom took some of the first roses from our garden, enough for each of us to put one in the river, and Dr. Walker's caregiver brought the ashes. It was disconcerting to see Dr. Walker in a cardboard box; I couldn't not think of the ashes as her, and it's still difficult to believe that she's not present in a fleshly state. Mom pointed out that she'll likely not be forgotten because all her students will remember the throaty voice imparting the intricacies of American Federal Government and her dislike of driving in snow, and that as long as there are people who remember her, she's not truly gone.
The Caregiver invited each of us to take a handful of ashes to throw in the river, and mom gave roses to those who wanted them, and the roses went into the river, too. Afterward, everyone stood by and offered some little anecdote about Dr. Walker: How they remembered her being an exotic, feline beauty in her youth, how valued she was as a colleague, how she liked to buy things in large quantities rather, how generous she was. Before we left the riverbank, a pair of Canada geese came paddling upstream against the current, which must have been a difficult task considering how fast the river is moving after all the rain we've had recently.
An omen, maybe?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Is there a noun in the house?

Mom's the only person I know who actually reads the dictionary. For fun. I'm not sure if an interest in words and etymology is inherited or if it's something you gain in the same way you get a taste for olives and goat's cheese, but I was thinking today. Without bothering to consult a dictionary, which is exactly what mom would suggest, here's what my maunderings amounted to.

1. to detain (v): detention (n)
2. to retain (v): retention (n)
3. to reprise (v): reprisal (n)
4. to deny (v): denial (n)
5. to despise (v): despisal? um.. doubtful, but it makes me laugh.
6. despicable (adv/adj): to despic? mmm.. probably not.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mud Hog

1 tbsp Bentonite clay (always use cosmetic grade clay!)
1 tsp Manuka honey (yes, you can use regular honey)
2 drops tea tree oil
unsweetened peppermint tea to make a smooth paste
10 to 15 minutes to sit, knit, read, or do a crossword puzzle

Mix all of the ingredients in a ceramic or glass bowl and stir until it's as smooth as possible; smooth on face and wait until the mask dries. Rinse with warm water and pat dry.

It helps to dissolve the honey in the tea while it's still warm, which I found out after I got started. Common sense, neh? Also found out it's quite difficult to get all the lumps out of the clay, so maybe using a small whisk might help.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Temperature Fugit

The temp dropped about 35 degrees and I'm thrilled. Yesterday it was 90, today it's about 55, which is perfect as far as I'm concerned: jeans, tank top, and tatty red cotton cardie, here I come. Now, if only it would stay between 55 and 65 until autumn.

I started working on the Fountain Pen Shawl from the Spring IK. So far, so good. Wait.. dammit, I forgot all about lifelines. *sigh* Well, at least I haven't made any mistakes yet, but since I'm only on the second repeat of the second chart, I might well be counting my chickens before they hatch.

Your fairy is called Lichen Willowfilter
She is a caster of weird dreams.
She lives in stony places and tumbling wastes.
She is only seen on midsummer's eve.
She wears heather-coloured dresses. She has delicate green coloured wings like a cicada.

Monday, April 27, 2009


Last night was frustrating. I completely forgot that after Chart C comes Chart D, which must be completed before rearranging the stitches in preparation for working the heel flap. Well. Silly me. The second Lakeside sock is now a pile of rainbow-colored spaghetti because I couldn't figure out where the rearranged stitches had originally been, and since I couldn't figure out where the rearranged stitches came from, I decided to... well.. see above. *sigh* Second Sock Syndrome stinks... maybe someday I'll be able to work myself up to restarting and actually finishing the other sock, but right now I'm a little burnt out on Lakeside.
In the meantime, I'm working on a re: view of the Kauni and will try to post it later this week.

So mom got her new laptop today. Her old one died a gruesome death and the replacement, much to her horror, was shipped from Shanghai. It was supposed to arrive tomorrow but got here four days earlier than expected, and FedHex sent it out on Friday while we were doing a bit of grocery shopping. Since no one was home to sign for it, they left us a cute little door hanger saying they'd try again on Monday.
This is Monday. Right? Right. Mom and I were both home this morning. We have a large iron doorknocker with a very authoritative voice and a very large dog with a very authoritative voice, both of whom are excellent at letting us know when someone is at the door.
Well, I went out with the dog at around noon, and when we came back to the door I discovered I hadn't seen the new little door hanger left by FedHex about two hours before I went out with the dog. I found this rather puzzling because we were both home, we have a doorknocker, and the dog usually lets us know when someone is at the door; mom was a bit put out when I showed her the note.
What does she do--indeed, what does any sensible person do--but call FedHex and let them know that 1. We were home, 2. We have a doorknocker that works at least as well as any doorbell, 3. We have a dog who barks when people come to the door. 4. The driver had our phone number and could have called to let us know she was en route, which is what UPS does if they can't find the house.
The response from FedHex was "Your doorbell must have been broken." Um. No. We don't have one! Repeat previous statements about dog and doorknocker.
Well, says FedHex, it's not our fault the package wasn't delivered. The driver, it turned out, was put off by our oh-so-scary carpenter bees, and she got close enough to the door to leave us a little hanging tag, but not close enough to use the knocker. Hmm.. very puzzling indeed since the doorknocker is obviously attached to the front door, not suspended in midair six meters away from it. Mom spent about twenty minutes extracting a satisfactory explanation and/or assurances that the driver would make another attempt to deliver the package later in the afternoon, and when the driver finally did appear, the dog barked and mom sent me outside to accept the package. She's under the impression that I have a slightly more delicate touch, and my first words to the driver were, "I'm so sorry you had such difficulty catching up with us."
No sarcasm there. Really. Really not. *ahem* She got defensive about the bees, so I pointed out that bees generally don't attack people unless they're being disturbed; I do admit, however, that the bees are pretty intimidating and do like to divebomb passersby (occasionally) while they're flying back to their burrows or out to look for floral fast food.
Bottom line: Mom will likely be cranking out a scathing blog post about bad service and an obvious lack of strong work ethic where as certain company is concerned.