winter again . . . and again

Posted on 10 CommentsPosted in Bare Naked Wools, designing, food and garden

happy st. patrick’s day everyone! because we’re all irish on march 17th, right? i hope you’ll enjoy the day in all the best tradition; it’s a bonus that it’s friday, too—party down.

thank you all for participating in the giveaway of in search of the world’s finest wools book the other day; i found the comments fascinating and have plenty of food for thought regarding future posts and club yarn choices (of course that last always depends on what we can actually obtain, so i can’t promise . . .). again this is a book that i highly recommend for those who enjoy a good fiber read or those who are educators in our field—how i wish i could go on a fiber trek like this.

the winner of the giveaway copy is chris H, who was emailed about the win the other day; congratulations chris!

well, after a record breakingly warm february, march has proven less than appealing; we’ve been sharing the snowy, windy weather that the northeast states have experienced and it’s driven us all back indoors.

bad for running and biking, but maybe good for knitting and eating. i worked on the lower body section of my mega cable pullover, which i’m knitting in our better breakfast fingering yarn (poppyseed shade; darker IRL than it looks here).

this is knitting up much, much faster than i expected, especially considering that i didn’t spend a ton of time; it just moves along very quickly, being mostly knits and purls with just a cable cross every 28 rounds. suddenly i’m ready to begin the neck detail, which i’ll tell you about in a minute.

most of my knitting time last weekend was grabbed in between chopping chores—it had been a while since i spent any quality time in my kitchen and i was jonesing for some of that. and sitting too much in cold weather just makes me colder; i needed to get moving somehow.

so i kept warm by making soups to restock our freezer—we were suddenly very low. i cooked four kinds in all, including this curried butternut and red pepper soup (a mashup of  few different recipes), made creamy with coconut milk—so completely vegan. the flavors are both bright and summery, but warm and embracing for the cold weather; just what the doctor ordered.

in fact, this whole soup making rampage started because i noticed our standing army of butternut squash were beginning to suffer a few casualties, maybe because the basement was not as cold as usual this winter. every week i would find another small one collapsing. i knew i had to do something with the remaining ones soon. i just got a little carried away, once i started thinking about soups i like.

one new thing i tried was making these oven baked butternut squash chips. you peel the squash and take to the seeds, then shave or thinly slice the flesh. boil for two minutes in a big pot of heavily salted water (this supposedly helps them crisp up later), then spray or brush with oil and seasoning and bake. super simple and YUMMY delicious. squashes with long thin necks work really well for making round chips, but you can make them any shape. you can also cut them thicker to make squash fries, which i highly recommend as well.

since i was already chopping stuff, i decided to keep going and cleaned up ingredients for our favorite potato and vegetable soups as well (thirteen or fourteen vegetables simmered in broth? you cannot find a better tonic for what ails you).

and then, to complete the picture, i pulled some of our summer tomatoes out of the freezer and cooked a batch of tomato soup. i am always on a quest for just the right flavor—like campbell’s but better; not like tomato sauce, which is all wrong for soup. but i never get it; what am i doing wrong? this time i tried mushroom stock and a touch of vinegar at the end, but it’s still not what i’m looking for.

anyway, by the end of the weekend i had something like thirty quarts of soup in multi-sized containers to freeze, ready for quick suppers and lunches of leftovers.

when i had a break between batches or while one of them was simmering, i swatched for the pullover’s cablework detail. i think i showed you this first version last week; i learned a lot about what i need to do and it’s almost what i was looking for, but i feel it lacks depth and dimension at the very center front.

i cast on first thing last friday morning, aiming to inject more stitches faster so i could cable sooner and create that depth i was lusting for.

this kind of task takes lots of knitting, ripping, and reknitting, but i enjoy the challenge; i rarely tire of starting over. ok yeah, i guess i’m just a terrier when i get close to obtaining the results i want. grrr.

by noon it was looking good, but the more complex part was still ahead.

it was late afternoon before i could really see what i had and even then, it was scarily contracted and rumply looking. i was nervous that A) no matter how many extra stitches i inserted, it would always pinch and B) that even if i got it to block out, it would always want to shrink back. these are both valid concerns!

i soaked it well and pinned it out, stretching pretty vigorously to get the cable shape i wanted. i did not steam it, but that would certainly help. for now i just wanted to know if i was on the right track.

and it looked good; i pinned it up on the dress form to check the way it hangs and while it’s hard to tell with no seams securing it, it seems to work. there is inset body shaping that would eliminate those folds under the bust and help support the neckline. maybe a few small tweaks, but i was ready to start charting.

here it is pinned more at the height that i actually want it to land—i’m aiming for something a bit more sexy and not so sporty, so i want the neck a little lower. not plunging, but low enough to be dressy. low enough for a bit of cami lace to show out the top. low enough to maybe even drop off the shoulder a bit if one so desired.

later today i plan to steam this swatch well, then re-soak to see how that blocked shape holds up; it should be pretty malleable with some steam, which also serves to reshape in a semi-permanent way.

the pink rubber rings at the center of my actual sweater front are placed to mark the start of the cable feature, once my chart is ready—i better get back to it now!

it’s a little chilly at my desk, which faces out a west window, but i’m raring to go. and look, it’s begun to snow yet again; a good day to have indoor activities planned. feel free to substitute indoor beer lifts, of course.

our little pal cardigan continues to make progress in our quest for bonding. last week on a fine weather day, he played in the yard several times at catching the hotdogs bits i tossed from the window.

it is so entertaining to watch him come forward when he thinks i’m going to toss one and then retreat with lightening speed to eat it and watch for more at a distance. still, it was an interaction.

while still not allowing anyone to come very near in person, i feel like we are getting close to taking him indoors. and he definitely knows me by sight, smell—i’m the hotdog person (i just need a hat).

i know—i’m becoming one of those dog people, haha. eh, sue me.

what’s up, pup?

Posted on 10 CommentsPosted in Bare Naked Wools, designing, food and garden


hello friends; i know it’s been far too long and i hardly deserve your attention, but i hope you’ll enjoy catching up for a bit? and holy cow, get a load of our daffodils; are they crazy-big, or what?

what a month! the last time we had a real post was when david unveiled the updated blog by telling you about our new friend. i want to update you on him first thing because i know many of you are animal lovers and were concerned about him.

during christmas week, this feral dog took up residence on our compost pile where it’s actually pretty cozy if he burrows down into the loose leaves. don’t get us wrong—we did  not WANT him sleeping out in the cold, but he seemed to prefer that over being near people and we didn’t want to scare him off to parts unknown by not letting him sleep there.

over the past eight weeks, we’ve been slowly, slowly gaining his trust by feeding and making a calm, safe place for him to hang out. he’s pretty relaxed in all ways except when humans come near. we love watching him; we’ve set up a dog cam inside the window to get a sense of his habits and eating times; you can watch a video of him on our youTube channel if you like! (it’s about five minutes long)

it took several weeks to get him to eat what i put out at all; he was so mistrustful. i even tried roasting off some plain turkey legs with carrots and sweet potatoes for him, but he wasn’t having any of that, thank you—into the freezer it went for a future time; i’m sure the day will come when he’ll be happy to have it.

as you can imagine, i’ve been secretly thinking of names for him because i love finding just the right one, haha; i decided to call him cardigan and david agreed it was a good name. i know it’s silly, but the dog is just so grampa-looking don’t you think, with that funny face of his? like a shawl-collared sweater. and if you take a look at the 7th earl of cardigan, well, he bears and uncanny resemblance.

our cardigan now feeds from a bowl much closer to the house and on good days, he allows me to get a bit closer, talk to him, and even began approaching me tentatively a few times. believe me, it’s not because i’m irresistible—he knows i bring hotdogs; what’s not to love? (thank you kade, for recommending that strategy!).

our neighbors are helping out by not feeding him randomly; we hope this will persuade him to come “home” to eat most meals. we set up a shelter crate for him but so far he’s not interested. he does roam the neighborhood throughout the day but sleeps here every night. he is generally well liked—no one has reported aggressive or annoying behavior from him, not even barking. we hope that we’ll be able to contain him within a the next week or two; after all these years, we are going to have a doggy, how about that?

i also had a birthday which went by quick, as we were still rolling out our winter 2017 ensemble collection at the time, but was lots of fun. david baked a gluten free chocolate cake that was deLISH and we went to pittsburgh for the afternoon and evening to visit the andy warhol museum.

in other new news, we are once again welcoming a new member into our human family—james and diana had another baby boy last week, jonah gray, arriving three weeks early with the spring weather.

isn’t he a sweet pea? and at eight pounds, i bet his mom is glad he WAS early, haha.

the rollout of ensemble and the start of our new bare naked knitspot 2017 club made my life crazy for a while, with plenty to do every minute between christmas and mid-february. we even produced a whole new yarn for that first shipment. saying that really makes me wonder A) about our sanity at times and B) where did we fit it all in??

but i’m SO glad we did because i just love the results—smoothie—a slow gradient fade of natural shades in a 2-ply sport weight alpaca/merino blend.

while the color range is the same for the entire batch, each skein is different and random—you never know how the colors in a particular skein will collide and play out.

some have a little contrast and are more subtle while others have more contrast and color changes. some are slightly more gray in tone and some are more chocolatey.

the club designs are an asymmetrical crescent shawl and a coordinating scarf. single dip members (full membership) can make their choice of one piece and double dip members (full membership + extra yarn) can knit one of each in the small size or a larger shawl or a stole size of the scarf. these designs are only available through the club for the next six months; you have to join to have access to them.

once the secret was out about this shipment, there were a flurry of new club signups and this yarn is flying out the door. but we still have a few spots left and will make room if you decide to join now!

and i’ll just add this—i’m almost MORE excited about the next shipment, which will go out in april. it’s a fiber i have wanted to feature in the club forever and just today while i was talking with erica about it, a new design idea popped into my head for the yarn that i can’t wait to start. i’m wiggling in my seat just thinking about it. ok, i better stop now before i give something away . . .

anyway, with all that high energy action in the late fall and winter, i had to take a little time afterward to regain my wits, knit, work on some designs, and fritter away my time (AKA swatching) a little more than usual.

i’ve been playing around with cables, some lace, and knitting on some designs for next fall and winter, but also for this summer. i know, i have my seasons all mixed up, but i’m chalking that up to the insanely changeable winter we’re having; one day it’s freezing and i want to knit cozy cardigans and the next it’s in the 70s and summer tops are my desire.

it has made me feel very erratic and scattered lately, but i’m going to organize all that progress now and write up a separate post for you to read on friday. til then!

fresh start

Posted on 10 CommentsPosted in Bare Naked Wools, book reviews/events, food and garden

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look at the lustrous coat on this beautiful greyaface dartmoor ewe. one of the pleasures of being a knitter in our time is having access to a wider range of fiber quality than ever before. once you’ve knit with a unique yarn that’s fulfilling to hold in your hands and make stitches with, you know the feeling of wanting to take extra special care of it over the life of your garment or accessory.

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fresh, clean handknit fabric should feel airy, fluffy, and have a fibery halo that sparkles as it catches the light. if your wool soap leave the fabric dull and heavy looking, you might be interested in making your own. DIY wool soap is easy to make, difficult to screw up, and has the added bonus of costing far less than commercial preparations. it also allows you control what goes into the mix, great for those with allergies or a preference for vegan products.

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i made my first batch of wool soap and blogged about it eighteen months ago, when i found myself low on soap and strapped for time to order the large quantity i needed. i used the recipe that i saw most frequently around the internet, one that has withstood the test of time and is still a classic. it appears on many websites and you can make it in full dilution or as a concentrate; the recipe is easily divided or multiplied. (one reason you might want to make a concentrate is to extend the shelf life if you don’t go through wool wash all that quickly).

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this recipe combines grated soap or boxed soap flakes, water, and denatured alcohol (mentholated spirits) with some essential oil to scent and act as an insect deterrent.

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my results were good and the soap worked well; i could not have been happier with the washed fabric! and it was seriously less expensive than any commercial wool soap i had considered—important because we wash a LOT of woolens around here, especially when it’s time to wash all the shop samples.

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one reason my wool soap was so kind to the fabrics is almost accidental—i used an old bar of homemade olive oil soap to make my wool wash and olive oil (castile) soap is extra conditioning—just what’s needed for wool.

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i did find i wanted to change a couple of things the next time i made mine, though. first, i did not care for the smell of the denatured alcohol. while almost all of it dissipated after 24 hours of standing, i just wasn’t a fan of that smell; it didn’t sit right with me.

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also, because castile soap is so rich, it doesn’t suds much at all. i could live with that part, but i was curious to see if i could change it any—like a kid with bubble bath, i love me some nice rich lather to squish through my fabrics. a wonderful reader who makes solid soaps gave me some tips and some leads about where to look next for ideas in creating the liquid soap recipe i wanted.

since then i’ve done more reading and research and have found lots of great information about liquid soap (here, i would like to recommend tracy’s blog, oh, the things we’ll make; she demystifies liquid soap making in a practical way that is really easy to understand and follow). making a wool soap without any alcohol is totally doable—not only that, it can be very, very simple and still save tons of money. and if you are willing to spend just a wee bit more time (not work!), you can make LOTS of rich, conditioning liquid soap at a very low cost that will serve multiple purposes around your home.

the last time i washed and blocked a few things, i noticed that our soap supply was getting very low, so this past week i prepared for the new year by making a fresh batch using my newest information; i thought it would be fun to update you on my latest recipe, which begins with liquid castile soap instead of the grated soap. one thing i learned while researching is that if you start with liquid soap, you will not need the alcohol to keep your dilution emulsified.

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you can buy pure castile soap already diluted the full amount needed, and also in concentrated dilutions. i found this concentrated, semi-solid soap paste on sale last year at bramble berry, where you can also purchase a variety of other supplies. this two-pound jar will eventually make eight to ten pounds of soap; when i saw it i thought that this form would be easiest to store. it didn’t sound like it was difficult to dilute so i decided to try it.

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straight out of the jar, it has the consistency of dried-out jello—leathery and kind of waxy. this paste does not dissolve instantly, so if you decide to go this route, be aware that it takes up to a couple of days to dissolve the paste. which is what i didn’t quite realize when i bought it. but once i read a little bit about using it, i was relieved that all it requires is a bit more time.

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a couple of days before soap-making day, i warmed up enough water in a pot to make a two-to-one solution. i dropped spoonfuls of my castile paste in the warm water, placed the lid on, and then let it sit. since i had never done this before i was curious, so i went back every hour or so to give it a stir, watching it turn from hard paste to soft, then more like a gel, the lumps getting smaller and more spread out over the afternoon. by evening it was nearly dissolved and by the next morning, i had soapy syrup of even solution (no lumps). i let it sit an additional day because i hadn’t planned to use it so soon.

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another thing i learned in my research is that coconut oil soap has great cleaning power and is a good sudser. be sure to buy one that is made only with coconut oil, so that you know what you’re working with (water, KOH or lye, and citric acid are normal soap ingredients).

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if you combine liquid castile soap with liquid coconut soap, you have a great all-around soap for a variety of purposes. i decided i wanted to use them together for my wool soap and to try a hand soap as well.

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as a little “extra” for the wool soap, i dissolved about a tablespoon of lanolin in hot water, then diluted that with the water i planned to add.

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lanolin is very milky when it dissolves, but it will eventually clear. i left that to fully dissolve while i made the hand soap.

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a fully diluted soap has four parts water to one part solid soap or soap paste. my 2:1 solution (three quarts) was much more than i was going to need for this batch, so i portioned off a quart to store away for future use (see—my next batch is halfway done!). i still had two quarts left that could dilute up to four; i planned to fully dilute the portion i would use for hand soap and only half dilute the portion for the wool soap, to make that a little more concentrated.

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once your soap is liquid, the rest is easy. if you are starting with liquid soap, you can jump in here! i gathered all my ingredients (sorry i took out the alcohol and photographed it but didn’t use it).

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i suddenly realized i was still going to end up with a LOT of liquid soap, so i ran around digging up bottles to use. luckily, david had the foresight to keep the last few bottles of wool soap he’d emptied and i found his stash on a basement shelf.

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haha, scrubbing off the old labels took more time than making the soap!

the dilution is really a matter of taste. you can read more about this on the blog i mentioned above, but the author makes a good point—most people are pretty habitual about the amount of soap they use, whether it is concentrated or not. i tend to use a full pump of hand soap to wash my hands, so it does not need to be very concentrated. when i wash woolens, however, i tend to go with a “capful”, no matter how many i’m washing; i have to remind myself that a bigger load requires more. so in that case, a concentrate works best.

a fully diluted soap is a pretty thin liquid, but don’t be fooled that it won’t have cleaning power. cleaning power is not related to viscosity—think of how thin commercial household cleaners are. but if you enjoy a thicker liquid hand soap, you can achieve that by adding certain essential oils or a salt solution; the soap queen blog has a great tutorial for this.

i just realized that i’m making this seem really complicated by telling you all kinds of information that i learned, but really, making a liquid cool  or hand soap is really REALLY easy, i swear!

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after diluting one-third of my remaining castile fully, i added some coconut oil soap and i was done. a good proportion is 70/30 castile to coconut. since some essential oils fade over time and i like variety, i decided to add scent only to the amount i planned to use right away. the two bottles i was putting on the shelf remain unscented until further notice.

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i also tested the hand soap in a foaming dispenser and it gave me a nice thick, rich foam, not that kind that’s all air.

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next i finished mixing the wool soap concentrate, then tested to see if my dilution was to my liking and if using the coconut soap gave me the lather i wanted. i dissolved a teaspoon or so in a couple of gallons of water (my “capful”). SCORE! it’s nice.

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half an hour later, still pretty sudsy; i’m sold. i will test it on some fabric in the next couple of days, when my next project comes off the needles.

i went ahead and scented the wool soaps once i bottled them because we use those regularly and in winter, we use a good amount. also, we need to wash all those shop samples again, so we’re going to be going through a bottle or two pretty soon.

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the solution will be milky for a while until it settles—the more diluted or warm it is, the more clear it will become; concentrates can cloud up when stored in a cold area. i left the bottle sitting open for a couple of hours to cool and they all cleared nicely.

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a light layer of essential oil and suds was still floating on top, but a quick shake disperse that. and i bet if i look again it might even be gone by now.

to use your soap, just add a teaspoon or two to a basin of water for hand washing and maybe one-eighth of a cup (two tablespoons) to each machine load. it’s good to experiment with a few hand washables in a basin to start; if the water is sudsy and feels slightly slick, that’s enough soap. if it feels quite slimy, you’ve added too much. i also recommend using a splash of white vinegar in the rinse water to completely clean the fabric of residue (from soap, dirt, or minerals in hard water) and to balance the pH of your fabric.

all in all, for about $20, i ended up with five big 16-ounce bottles of wool soap and three 8-ounce bottles of hand soap PLUS enough castile dilution to make another batch of the same size. if i purchased a diluted castile soap, i’d get four bottles for about $30—still a big savings. the main thing for me is getting a conditioning formula that leaves my woolens soft, fluffy, and gleaming with life—plus, i can share it with friends. and don’t forget, i also still have half a container of castile paste left . . .

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i better get knitting to use up all that soap . . .

color, color everywhere

Posted on 3 CommentsPosted in Bare Naked Wools, book reviews/events, designing, food and garden

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did you have a good holiday weekend? ours was deliciously quiet and relaxing—just me and mister knitspot alone in our home for a couple of days while everyone else was off. perfect!

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my last post was kind of full, so i didn’t mention a craft project i did during the week before christmas—making a little something nice to add to gifts that we were sending out . . . lotion bars.

lotion bars are a solid form of hand and body cream that have a little more staying power, which i really need in winter; in fact, i use them nearly year-round now because in summer my hands work hard in the garden and kitchen. i rub the solid bar over my hands even after using other hand cream and i’m good for hours. they also work wonders for my nails.

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i made some last year too and was pleased, but have been thinking ever since about ways i wanted to improve the basic recipe i used then, so this was my chance. on monday last week i gathered up supplies and got started.

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first, i thought it would be prettier and smarter to add some inclusions in every bar to be able to identify the “flavor” of each, so i prepped my molds with rosemary leaves, lavender flowers, and orange zest. these will fall out as the bar is used, but they do look nice.

i also used a different mold so that i could package them easily and inexpensively (boxes to hold the other shapes i have are pretty pricey). these are tiny cupcake or candy molds that are about 1.5 inches in diameter. they come in a box of 36 that works well for a full batch of bars.

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while i was prepping the molds, the lotion ingredients were warming and melting in a water bath over a very low flame (double boiler also works well). you need to use containers that you won’t use for food purposes later, so a retired pan, some jars, or an old measuring cup are fine.

this year i changed the basic recipe i linked to above to make a softer,  more emollient bar. i reduced the wax to about one-fourth instead of one-third, then increased the oil and butter. i also added the vitamin E oil that is optional; i think that’s what makes it so good for nails.

you can use any butters or oils that are sold for this purpose. i used hemp and coconut oil along with mango, shea, and avocado butter for a rich bar. i did use some beeswax, but also candelilla wax, which gives them a nice slip and is vegan.

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once the ingredients were melted, i added essential oils for fragrance (i really love nice smelling hand stuff! but you don’t need to add anything; they will still smell good). here is another place where i changed what i did last year. i was more careful and built my scents up so that from one batch i made four different combinations.

i started with a simple combo of citrus and bergamot, poured a few of those, then added lavender, then rosemary, then the final addition was sandalwood, pine, vetiver, and clove for a woodsy mix that is my personal favorite (but doesn’t appeal to everyone, haha). by the way, any of these combinations are terrific for removing food odors from your hands if you work a lot in the kitchen.

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this size bar fits perfectly into a small solo “ketchup” cup—i love that! the container is sturdy enough to last the life of the bar; the lids snap on tightly so i think they will survive pretty well inside a purse, and afterward, it’s recyclable. plus—super cheap; love that even more, since i can put my resources into the best quality ingredients, instead of the containers.

i’m getting good feedback on these bars from the friends i’ve given them to; i want to make another batch for another round of gifts, but i’ll wait to get barb’s honest review tomorrow at knit night. she’ll tell me for sure if i need to change anything.

later this week, i’ll be making a batch of wool soap—also something i did last year with great results. i’m going to tweak that recipe a bit too and have already started working with some of the ingredients. more on that another day.

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red scarf fundraiser is moving along, thanks to all of you generous knitters who are responding with such kindness. we are sold out on festivus 3.0, but our supply of snow flies scarf/cowl patterns is infinite and we still have plenty of kit options in natural shades of kent DK. if you are curious about what they look like knitted up, please visit our red scarf KAL to see some finished samples in natural shades as well as red.

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i’m going to give you a peek at one beautiful example—this wrap that cherie knit in the white sand color of kent DK. it took about two and a half skeins; it makes a luxuriant scarf or a handy wrap that’s a good size to wear while working. i think it could be stunning with some long, knotted fringe on the ends, if you are so inclined (and a good way to use remainders).

i will get a total from doug on thursday and post that on friday. i think we’ve made some progress, but for sure we’re not to our goal yet—still a ways to go, but i have confidence we will do it!

if you still have a gift to give, consider making a donation in someone else’s name or gifting along the pattern to another knitter—we are also grateful for every mention of this effort on your other social media outlets, thank you SO, so much!