Archive for the ‘book reviews/events’ Category

oh, where does the time go?

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015


boy oh boy, one minute i’m running around after my little friend helena, who stands barely up to my shoulders but is basking in the glow of her first modeling assignment.


and the next thing i know she’s playing sexy secretary in my office, with an arsenal of looks and characters she’s portrayed in dozens of our photo shoots since.


today she turns eighteen—how time flies (hehe, i’m sure kris and jeff are thinking the same thing!).


from her very first session modeling pine and ivy, she’s always styled her own outfits, with just the right sense of what was needed.


though one or two may not have been her dad’s favorite (sorry jeff!).


at age thirteen, she did create a stunning look for our crossing mitts release, in a swirl of vintage silk and chiffon ruffles—like a christmas fairy.

still one of my all-time favorite photo shoots.


there was crooked walking shawl the next spring and


sheltie triangle with the apples in clover tam


and hazeline with her beautiful mom and my dear friend, kris.

she’s got a real way with hats, too—a designer’s dream come true.


but mostly, she’s been a great kid, one of my favorites and i know she’s going to be a great woman, too.


on sunday, several special guests were invited to helena’s birthday fête—an afternoon tea party at her home.


we were enthusiastically greeted by our hostess katherine delores (k.d.), who let it be known that there is but one fairy princess in this house—thank you very much—and that is herself.


platters of scrumptious hor d’ourves were laid out on the table—not only did they look beautiful, but we soon discovered they were divinely delicious as well.


the table was literally a work of art—a bit of spring blooming inside the house on a winter’s day.


(i think k.d.’s personal designer must have done the napkin folding, however; those little paws are probably better suited to other tasks, such as dancing)


beckie and i had been there just a few minutes when the rest of the guests arrived—three little red-headed girls who were as charming as could be—of course they were friends of helena’s.


after we all had a close look at the new dollhouse that helena and her dad recently finished building (i think they’ve been working on it for two years), we all sat down to the table.


while the daylight turned to twilight, we nibbled on delectable foods and watched helena open her gifts.


k.d. stayed behind the scenes and made sure that every detail was attended to with graceful precision.

it was much too dark to take photos of the cake cutting, but be assured that it was irresistibly good.


happy, HAPPY birthday, dear helena; thank you for sharing the loveliness of your youth with us and the goodness that you carry out into the world; we love you!


a great day

Friday, January 9th, 2015


hello friends. sorry for the delay in new posts as well as any trouble you might have had contacting us by email today; we had some server maintenance this week that went on longer than expected


brrrr, is it cold here—not only are the temperatures sticking to the single digits but the wind chill is driving those numbers to the minus 20 mark.

forests of frost are creeping across the window panes and i’ve taken to wrapping my wool sarong over my pants—our house lacks insulation and the walls are radiating cold; it travels surprisingly far across the floor and up my legs.


i love this one—it looks like a storybook sleigh riding hill.

the upside is that it’s soup making weather and when i finish this blog post, that’s just what i’m going to do—make a huge pot of vegetable soup.


we even have a few things left in the garden to pick for it—while the tops of these green onions don’t look so hot, the part that is buried in dirt and insulated by snow is still viable for cooking.

now let’s see—where did we leave off last time?


oh yes, with our arrival at blessed criations ranch, the home of america’s natural fiberworks, where our better breakfast yarns and our mohair blends are now produced.


(emily made new friends throughout our two-day adventure here)


we didn’t exactly hit the weather jackpot last weekend, but we still shot plenty of great photos and video which will be used in a chapter of our blanket club eBook featuring the better breakfast yarn (each yarn option will get a turn to be featured in a chapter).


besides running a busy mill operation which specializes in processing alpaca, owners carrie and robbie davis raise beautiful alpacas for fiber, as well as cormo sheep.


while the wind turned the outside weather bitter cold, we stepped into the warm mill building to be greeted by bones (left) and tigger (right), who instantly sussed out emily as a likely sucker friend.


the first thing we did was to look over the two hundred pounds-ish of mohair fiber that arrived a few weeks ago from pennsylvania producer, john frett.


those who were in the 2014 BNK club are familiar with john—and his goats—from the april chapter of the eBook (for those not in that club, the final version of the 2014 eBook, including nineteen patterns, is now available in our online shop and in our ravelry pattern shop).


carrie and robbie made those test samples of the beautiful mohair blends that i showed you last week

from some of this mohair batch. we had a meeting to talk about how we would use the rest. there is a lot of white fiber and some red (which is really a caramel brown) and some gray. they will blend some with merino for our chebris yarns


and some with silk and bright white, lustrous coopworth from carol wagner in wisconsin, for our sparkling cabécou brillant.

with a nice variety of colored mohair and access to colored merino, they can blend a range of shades for these yarns. in addition to white, we can expect grays and—with that reddish brown fiber—a champagne shade. we will do the cabecou in sport and lace weights and the chebris in lace, sport, and worsted (to take the place of the old chèvre yarn, but softer). plus, we are discussing an alpaca/mohair/silk lace blend.

i know—i’m drooling too. and we haven’t even talked about the better breakfast yarns, which we are now done testing and will be rolling out in earnest as soon as our january shipment arrives. we may even be able to open up additional spots in our blanket club for the better breakfast option; we’re looking into that now.


carrie has a little shop set up in the lower level of their home and is playing around with alternative products as time allows. she and robbie gather the fiber and hair that drops into the vacuum chamber of the dehairing machine and collects under the carder to make a lofty, cushy alpaca core yarn that is about .5 inch in diameter. they are developing felted rug designs with it and offering the yarn for sale to weavers.

last month they sent a bump to us that was made from all the fallout from our fiber run; we take turns petting it and dreaming up projects we should do with it.


(note the wild colors in that bag of alpaca and tuck that into your brain for later . . .)

anyway, back to earth . . . carrie was eager for all of us to try our hands at making some yarn of our own devising. we were excited about this idea too, and chose a blend of alpaca, merino, and small quantities of yak/silk blend and pearl infused rose fiber.


yes, you read right—pearls.
do you need a little break to pant?

the fiber is a cellulose based synthetic which is infused with crushed pearls. the smallest amount—as little as 2%—adds a smooth, polished feeling and soft sheen to any blend. we are told it even has benefits for the skin. that’s it on top of the fiber sandwich in the photo but will be covered over with the merino layer before entering the carder.


once it goes through the carder and a couple of drafting frames, it comes out looking like this—a cloud of unbelieveableness. seriously heavenly.


and all those colors? blended to a shade of gray that, on closer inspection, has threads of everything running through and a halo of gold. i brought a four-ounce bag of the stuff home to spin by hand; i’m hoping to make some nice lace yarn with it. i bet with that pearl stuff the slip is incredible.

next it goes onto the spinners; we decided to have a light fingering yarn spun at about 2200 yards per pound—that would give us approximately 550 yards per skein.


here it is, fresh off the spinner, before washing.


it felt unutterably soft; good thing there was a skein for each of us to squeeze or we’d have been fighting!


it took most of the day to take those two pounds of fiber from bags to skeins—in a real production situation, carrie and robbie make much better use of their time, so we really appreciated that they took the day to give us this experience.

the yarn came out so well that we might actually put it into production, possibly as a special edition for a future sweater or shawl release. for now, we decided i should knit sweater from some of it (i know exactly what i want it to be).

as we passed the skeins around, we all marveled over its burnished, antique coin color and jokingly decided that we should name it “money” because that’s what it feels like.

during the long drive home we schemed and planned our next steps with this mill—they do make the most beautiful yarns.


i had told emily and erica that i would wait til the next day to wash the yarn but it was only 9 pm or so when i got in, so i decided to put in on to soak right away. i put each skein into a mesh bag, loaded into the washing machine with hot water and wool soap and let it soak for a while. then a quick handwash cycle, rinse, and spin.


sparkling clean now, it was ready to hang to dry. which took a lot longer than i expected—about two days, even with the drying rack set close to the heat vent (which is running constantly in this weather).


eventually it was dry—notice the transformation in the loft; the upper photo is kind of flattened and elongated, while the lower photo shows a lofty, light and springier yarn. mmm.


the process of making yarn is not complete until—you guessed it—swatching has been completed. you need to knit some fabric with the yarn to see if the structure makes a viable fabric and what kind it is suited for. we want to know if it will bias right or left from overspinning or underpinning (respectively); we also want to assess if the amount of twist holds the yarn together nicely and feels good to the hand. do you recognize my swatch?


i’m working on secret knitting all weekend, but once in a while, i’ll treat myself to a swatching break with this yarn. i need to make several pattern swatches to determine the optimal needle size as well as several stockinette swatches for a “control” group to archive.

i always admire my friend anne marie in this regard; she makes all her swatches and labels them carefully, then sends them back to us with each sample item or test knit she makes.

and my swatches, plentiful though they are—well, you know how they end up.


we had a great day here at home today too—david and i became a great-uncle and auntie today and i hope you don’t mind me showing off our new status just a little

he’s a big strapping boy of 9 pounds and cute as a button, i think—i love his gigantic hands; they stamp him as a hanson, haha. but then again i may be partial.

we are all so excited—this is the first baby in our fourth living generation. everyone is healthy and happy


i can’t get over that my little imp of a nephew, who was just a boy—what, like five minutes ago?—is now a dad in his thirties!

it’s all good. i hope we can go visit on a weekend soon; i better get to work on little knitted something or other, hadn’t i?

ice, ice, baby

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015


our little city celebrates the first friday of each month with special events and open houses throughout our downtown. we live very close by, but we’ve participated only a few times—we always manage to forget.

but this month, laura pulled us out of our comfy chairs and signed us all up for a knit night at carpe diem coffee shop, right in the thick of first night happenings.


the theme this month was ice sculpture and as david and i approached our destination, the carving was already underway. the sculptor working our block had a pizza slice going in front of the parlor next to the coffee shop, where a second large block awaited his attentions.


we piled ourselves into the warm, steamy room where our compadres were already gathered and knitting away.


we grabbed a couple of coffees, settled in, and soon were enjoying some acoustic guitar and songs while we stitched.


carpe diem owners patrick and cathy wyatt, couldn’t have been more welcoming to us—chatting with us during the very few lulls in evening traffic and insisting that we should stay as long as we liked and come back any time to visit and hang out.


finding myself in a rush that evening and somewhat between projects (but admittedly, with no small number of UFOs), i grabbed a cake of stone soup fingering yarn that was wound up months ago because i’ve been wanting to knit a pair of socks from it, just to find out if it will work well for wearing underfoot.



i got excited when the travertine shade first came in and decided i should knit them from that color. but i hadn’t started yet because i was waffling over the pattern. what i was really jonesing for was a simple pair of stockinette socks—something that knits up quickly and without much attention. also, i just adore the stockinette fabric that this yarn produces (see my scotty cap as an example). but i kept fighting with myself that i should design something new.


in the end i did decide on a (mostly) stockinette sock—but with just one esoteric detail; a little twist if you will, of a single rib running down the leg. after much discussion among us over where exactly the stripe should be placed (during which, i knit my ribbed cuff), the die was cast as i began working down the leg.

the truth is, the stripe can go anywhere—the possibilities are almost endless. and on the other sock, it just might turn up in a completely different spot (i’m toying with putting it straight down the back calf like a stocking seam, but you never know). and then again, if you really want to upset the apple cart, you could put two on one sock.


inside our cozy den, as the discussion plumbed the fuzzy depths of sock scenarios, our sculptor worked steadily outside, turning that big chunk of ice into the recognizable form of the shop logo.

by the time we left, its inner self was revealed, as well as that of the block next door . . .


where the pizza baker himself was found posing with the results.

off we went to home, to try for a good night’s sleep—for the next day, we’d be off once again, me, emily, and erica B. to our mill downstate, where we’d visit and have a good look around.


luckily, we did get on the road on time because the weather was just awful and it would be smart to get there while it was still light. emily drove (thank goodness), while erica and i knitted and we all chatted.


erica is working on a creel hat for her boyfriend, which she is knitting with her skein of red festivus sport.


isn’t it gorgeous? i think he’s going to look adorable in it.


we had an absolutely excellent time at the mill—we kept saying so all the way home. and it’s a long story, so i will be back next time with a full report about that.


in the meantime, try to stay warm in these plunging temperatures and stay away form anyone who even hints at being sick with flu, ok?

good stuff

Saturday, January 3rd, 2015


one last red and white photo, from a few mornings ago when i blocked david’s finished christmas socks. they turned out so cute and look so fluffy and soft after a nice hot bath. if they look a bit different to you, you’re not mistaken—the second sock has a bigger proportion of the upper calf pattern; i like that design better.

well, i hope you all had a festive end/start to the year—we celebrated with food, of course; it’s been such a pleasure to have full use of our kitchen for holiday events this year.


i haven’t made lasagne in such a long time and i decided a couple weeks ago that this is what i wanted to do for new year’s eve. we prefer the vegetarian version which suits our tastes as well as our friends.


before i even put the coffee on yesterday morning, i got a pot of tomato sauce going on the stove. a vegetarian version is very simple and quick to get started—just some garlic, olive oil, tomatoes, salt and pepper. this pot was mostly made with the frozen crushed tomatoes i put up on labor day, with one can of my mom’s favorite puree to help thicken the sauce.

next i fired up that big sauté pan to cook the spinach and mushrooms for the filling.


i’m a little picky about lasagne—i only like it made with homemade pasta. when i lived in NYC i used to purchase it, but we can’t get that here so now i always make it.

i haven’t made pasta since switching to a gluten free diet, but i wanted to try; not only would i be eating it, but a couple other of our guests are also on GF diets. but i was nervous—there are as many gluten free pasta recipes as there are pie dough recipes and similarly, there are VAST differences between them. and the last thing i wanted was an unpleasant pasta experience of my own making; life is too short.

after reading several complicated ones, i landed on a very simple recipe from a food blogger/podcaster with a nice italian (i think) name and figured this one was probably my best bet. funny enough, when i compared it to the recipe in the gluten free cookbook from america’s test kitchen, it was nearly identical to theirs, with the same ingredients in mostly the same amounts. since i’ve had really good luck using the ATK GF recipes for the most part, i found this reassuring.

i was making a regular pasta lasagne too, just in case. david tried to talk me out of making two, insisting he would be just as happy with a gluten free one, but i wanted to test them side by side (and since he does NOT eat foods he doesn’t care for, i didn’t want to have to have to eat all the leftovers by myself).


the dough went together easily and without and funny stuff happening. it held together very well; while  not as elastic as the wheat dough, neither was it crumbly or sticky or at all difficult, in fact.

after the first pass through the pasta rollers especially, it pulled together and became silkier with each pass; only the edges remained  a little ruffled (which is fine)


to prevent it from drying out, i laid the strips between a couple of slightly damp towels while i rolled the wheat dough and blended the cheese filling. the sheets did not stick together at all while resting, something i always have to deal with in a wheat dough.


the difference in handling the wheat dough immediately after was startling, actually—it is noticeably more elastic and silky. they were both nice to work with, though markedly different.

by the time i got the pasta rolled, the fillings mixed, and the lasagne out together, beckie was on hand helping out and it was nearly time for people to arrive. wow, the day was flying by. after filling the pans, i had a couple strips of each dough left over so i cut those into noodles that we can fix another night with a simple sauce for a real taste comparison.

i put the two pans of lasagne in the oven and made the antipasto—here’s where bad blogger took over and i forgot to take pictures for a while.


the next time i remembered, we were all seated at the table grazing the antipasto, shrimp cocktail, and tapenade. for this celebration the antipasto was made up of cheeses, roasted peppers, tomatoes, olives, and artichoke hearts. growing up in my non-vegetarian family, it would have also included salami and prosciutto.


when the lasagnes was done i got it out of the oven and let it rest for a bit while we lingered over preliminaries—that’s the secret to keeping it from falling apart. just as a roast or a turkey slices better and prettier when it sits for a bit, so it is with lasagne.


here they are side by side, with the GF version in front and the regular one behind. they were both a big hit—everyone who tried the GF version declared it the best and honestly, i could not detect any way i would say it was different or less tasty than my last regular lasagne experience.

haha, if it looks like more was eaten from the regular pan, that’s only because we GF people had not made our way to second helpings yet, while the guys had all cleaned their plates twice in no time.

silly me, i did not get a photo of the gorgeous dessert the helena brought—one of her decadent GF chocolate cakes.


lucky for us she left the last two pieces behind for david and me—we’ll probably indulge later tonight.

i am knitting up a storm, but having finished up all the gift knitting, i am working only on secret projects for a couple of days—so nothing  i can share just yet.

however, i have a few new projects i want to start, at least one a sweater. i even have the yarn here waiting to be wound up. i’ll be back in a couple of days with some new knitting; in the meantime, stay warm and enjoy yourself.

today, i got up early to run my first race of the year and immediately afterward, emily, erica and i headed southwest on a cross-state drive to visit the mill which produces our better breakfast yarn and now, all of our mohair blends—chebris and cabécou lace and sport, plus the new chèvre—all those luscious gray samples i showed you the other day. we are super excited and will bring back a full report with photos next week.

speaking of emily, she has a quick update to end the post:

We have a few new things on the store site, so i thought I would send the links for the ones we haven’t talked about yet


New Kent DK White Caps


Better Breakfast Fingering Daybreak


now this is gray i can handle. have a great weekend everyone; see you when we get back.