Archive for May, 2011

anticipation

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

before i begin the tale of our wonderful holiday weekend, which centered around our regional wool fair, the great lakes fiber show, let me announce the winner of this weekend’s book giveaway.

the winner of an autographed copy of knit, swirl! by sandra mciver goes to
. . . carol p.!!
congratulations carol; i’m always thrilled when a long-time reader wins.
and thanks to all who participated and commented; there will be more.

and now, the show . . . how to begin?

this is my second favorite wool show after rhinebeck—why? it’s not a big show, nor terribly comprehensive. for instance, it is a fiber-centric event, so there isn’t as much yarn-grazing as at other shows, where banks of handpainted skeins entice knitters as well as spinners.

but precisely because it’s small and intimate, i get to spend some quality time visiting with long-time friends like the knitting notions family, above (haha, just as i walked in, the girls were pricing knitspot patterns). i got to see baby elijah, now a whopping nine months i think, and talk shop for quite a while with catherine.

and i get to take a newbie along who might be otherwise overwhelmed at a bigger show with enormous crowds and choices.

the weekend kicked off on friday evening when first andrea, then erica arrived to spend a couple of days, visit the show, and do some spinning together.

erica wanted to learn to spin on and hopefully buy my trusty ashford traveller, which was my own first wheel purchase. this is a lovely older model that has always spun like a dream. i hung onto it for years now without using it because A) i was a little attached to it and B) i was waiting for just the right buyer to come along.

not wanting to be pushy, i tentatively offered it to erica at sock camp, where she learned to spin and she was interested. and when i saw them together this weekend, i knew it was a good match.

(when she got home yesterday she sent me a photo of the wheel on her front porch, where she plans to spin and all of my hopes for it were completely fulfilled, hee-hee!)

anyway, they both arrived on friday evening with a grand selection of specialty beers, i cooked dinner, beckie came over, and we all spent the evening spinning and laughing ourselves sick (beth smith, you should have been here!)

actually, i still have a bum leg, which i’ve now ascertained is indeed aggravated the most by spinning—how weird is that?? it’s getting better though; i should be back in business soon. but for this weekend i held off and worked on other projects (more on that later).

saturday morning dawned bright and beautiful; one of the very last balmy spring days before the heat gets unbearable (that happened on sunday, ugh). we set out for the fair at an early hour (but not too early) and got there just in time for the peak of the action.

one of the first things we did was visit the fleece competition area; andrea was looking to purchase a fleece this weekend and we thought we’d start there. here, she and erica are looking over some of the longwool gray fleeces

but we also saw an awesome eighteen pound columbia fleece and some lovely CVM in the fine wool section.

the competitions at this show are small and the judges are really great—not only do they allow people to watch, but they will often perform the judging as a lecture, which is what happened on saturday. you can learn a lot about choosing fleeces this way, though we didn’t linger with the crowd on this day.

beautiful unwashed fleeces were everywhere this year though—this border leicester/lincoln cross gets our vote for favorite sheep name (though we’re told the breeder’s association would not accept it)

we noted this nice fleece and kept moving—this is always a gamble because fleeces go fast at this event; we live in a region that produces a lot of nice wool and prices are very good. but we just weren’t ready to commit (we did think about buying it for beth smith, but sure enough, it was gone an hour later).

later in the day though, andrea found just what she wanted in the hidden valley farm booth (sorry, no web link)—a stunning silver coopworth lamb’s fleece, raised by the woman who had the grand champion fleece last year (which jocelyn and i bought, hee-hee!). the only reason this fleece wasn’t in this year’s competition is that she got set up too late to enter it.

i confess that i also saw an incredible rose/moorit fleece in this booth that i sorta regret leaving behind, but i held strong. at nearly nine pounds, i’d need to split it with someone to make it even a possibility. and i still have last year’s fleece upstairs, unspun as of yet. (but if beth smith was interested and we could still get it, i’d work out a deal with her . . .)

hidden valley farm has really clean, bright, glossy coopworth fleece. and if you’re not into washing and prepping your own, owner carol wagner, does a lovely job of it at a reasonable charge (we went that route last year and we are thrilled).

and at a show like this, you have options. several small processors—such as our long-time fave, wooly knob fiber mill—are onsite to take your unwashed fleece back to the mill to make it nice for you; no need to drive even a mile with a stinky fleece in the car if you don’t want to.

like i said earlier, the great thing about this show is how very local and regional it is—lots of action from producers you would never see at maryland or rhinebeck—or anywhere outside of this immediate area, some of them. and we have a wealth of great wool producers in ohio—something i learned only after i moved here, as if it was meant to be.

in between hits of wool fumes—the real mccoy, not the kind you get in a yarn store—we ran into friends all over the place. i may have succumbed to taking home a flock of sheep from the kirkwood farm booth. you know i can’t resist grays.

. . . and they look so cute in my study, but not too cute or cute-sy. they’re just right. if they had faces, they’d be all wrong for me.
(they’re watching erica spin; the pink one is hers)

oh and they had chickens too. don’t get me started . . .
yes, they come with the peeps. and yes, i almost fell for those stripey ones.

finally, we got to visit the briar rose booth—i went by earlier in the day but it was so thronged with customers i couldn’t even get chris’s attention to ask if i could help. by the afternoon, things had slowed enough that we were able to chat a little and make plans to meet for dinner, which is our tradition on saturday evening during the show.

erica purchased some of chris’s luscious dyed spinning fibers to go with her new wheel. i picked up some sample skeins of sea pearl for a project i’m planning to work on this summer (i’ll show you those another day).

after we’d been through every fiber building, we mosied over to the sheep barns to see what was going on there. the breed show goes on for hours and hours and while that’s happening, the sheep wait their turns patiently (do they know of any other way?). we took the opportunity to get some nice photos . . .

the border leicesters, above, have the funniest faces, i think—they’re almost cartoonish, aren’t they? border leicester is a popular breed to raise in our area; a lot of spinners here are familiar with this readily-available fleece and though it is a coarse wool, some of it can be quite nice.

tunis sheep are also plentiful at this show. i’ve never spun their fleece but it comes in a variety of soft colors, some of which tend toward pink.

i wish i had written down the names of the breeds i photographed—i was sure i’d remember and now i’m hopelessly searching my brain to match faces with names. this next one might be CVMs (or maybe southdowns)

if beth smith had been here, she’d have made sure i knew.
and this one might be the southdowns (or maybe CVMs).

i do remember thinking that these particular sheep were smart to stay very calm so they could be cooler that way (the barns get hot; it can’t be helped). the blue ribbons drawn on their backs indicate the prize winners.

i know for sure that this is a columbia sheep—there’s no mistaking its giant stature. it towers over the others (fencing included for scale).

and we saw many strange-to-us sights in the sheep barn as well that had no ready explanation, though i’m sure some of you may enlighten us. for instance

what’s the butt parade for? there wasn’t signage to tell us what station we were at or why this group of sheep were standing in size order. anyone??
(i bet beth smith knows)

these sheep are coated to keep that straw and hay out of their coats. because once it’s in there, it’s much harder to remove, especially if the animal produces a lot of sticky lanolin, such as the fine wool breeds do.

at the end of the sheep barn was the show ring, where the breeders get to show off their work and try to win a ribbon (and more importantly, the notoriety that makes them desirable as a breeder).

there, i got my favorite photo of the day—are you ready??

HA! seriously—i want to frame an enlargement of this one; i just love it.

after the sheep barn we took one last turn through the show floor and checked in on the results of the skein competition. earlier that day, i dropped off a skein that helena spun this month and kept aside to enter into the show. we were holding our breaths to find out the results . . .

there it is on the far left, the white one—omigosh, my eyes filled with tears, i was so proud of her. i even got to chat with the judge, who was extremely complimentary about helena’s skill. i called her right on the spot to let her know the results; i was terribly excited for her. she picked up her skein the next day and hopefully, will bring it to wednesday night’s class so everyone can see.

by this time, it was day’s end and we were ready for a break, so we packed up the car and headed into town to the south market bistro to enjoy a well-deserved beer and wait for chris, roger, and david to join us for dinner.

we’ve eaten at this terrific locivore establishment for several years running and each time we leave feeling like it was better than last time. the place was packed on saturday and the ambience was festive—perfect for our gathering.

it was great to bring chris together with erica, who lives close by and will enjoy knowing a local spinning buddy. add in andrea, who is a wonderful matchmaker of fiber producers, dyers, and retailers and we had a lively table overflowing with shop talk and good vibes. yay.

even so, we got back to canton on the early side and got into our comfy clothes to spin the night away. erica got out a braid of lovely shetland, dyed by two if by hand, which she purchased in dallas.

she quickly filled a bobbin with a nice softly spun singles (this is one beginner that does not have a problem with overtwist, which is very good). she actually got the whole braid spun and plied by the time she left at the end of the weekend—resulting in enough yarn to make a nice cozy hat and maybe some mitts to go with (maybe something like hot waffles).

did i ever mention how very much i like teaching beginners?? i do.
i rarely get to work with them when i do guest teaching, so it’s always refreshing that i sometimes have opportunities at home and locally. i really love helping them through the struggle of those first fumbling steps and watching that skill take shape. it really helps my powers of observation and description to become sharper, so i can instruct them more clearly.

anyway, erica did great.

i spent so much time involved with her learning though, that i unfortunately did not get many pictures of andrea’s or my own weekend projects. andrea arrived with a fiber project in the works; she was spinning up some washed dark locks of which the breed name keeps slipping my mind)

and since spinning has been aggravating my mysterious ankle pain (i never had a leg pain in my life; what’s up with that?), but i didn’t want to feel left out of the fleecy activity, i worked on a completely different project.

i didn’t confess this tell you about this when i got home from that spinning retreat, but beth smith talked me into purchasing a few ounces of unwashed fleece just to try processing it by hand at home (like i need another distraction, right?).

so i looked through the small shop she had set up onsite and chose some lovely rose cormo as my falldown. i bought seven ounces—enough to make at least a nice large shawl (if not two), but not so much that i would never even consider actually washing it (and lucky for me, anne marie and joanne bought the remainder so i wouldn’t even be tempted).

anyway, it is gorgeous—just look at that—so clean you could spin it right from the bag in the grease and not be grossed out at all. in fact, there was a section of shorter cuts that i decided to keep aside just for this purpose; maybe an ounce?

well, the whole bag has been sitting in my workroom purgatory and i decided that while those guys were spinning, i should prepare it for washing and at least that job would then be done.

so, saturday night i got out my bag and started separating the locks into thumb-sized chunks. i used the beth smith method of laying a single layer of them parallel in an envelope of tulle. i probably made my chunks lightly larger than she would, but i had a limited number of mesh envelopes to work with (i’ll probably make more; they are really handy).

i got that all done on saturday night and on sunday morning, while i cooked brunch, lovely andrea washed them for me in our basement work sink. it took just one wash and two rinses to get them nice and clean; we hung all the bags along the drying rack we keep on the porch.

by monday, they were quite dry and i opened up the packets for a peek. wow. lovely, lovely fleece. these will need just a little flicking to open up the locks for spinning.

anne marie, you are in for a real treat.

and so ended the wekend. beckie came over on monday afternoon for some late-day knitting and gossiping, but she actually had to leave after a while because i was falling asleep. i topped of the day with a three-hour nap that ended at 9:30 pm. haha.

a wonderful, wonderful weekend—thank you erica and andrea for visiting our home; thank you chris and roger for joining us for dinner; thank you beckie for a fun knitting session to end the weekend. and congratulations again carol, for winning the book.
it’s really nice to have had some time off; i’m all recharged now to begin a new week.

speaking of which, i have to run to an appt now; please excuse any typos!

holiday weekend

Friday, May 27th, 2011

i’ve been holding my breath, waiting to see if the poppies would bloom at the usual time—everything else was late coming in this year and i expected these would be too (they usually bloom a day or two before memorial day).

i had pretty much given up, due to the chilly, rainy, and dark week we’ve had, when last night as i pulled out of the garage, there was the first one, opened up in the most perfect way. it was red.

and this morning, these lovely pinks joined it if i stand there long enough, i can watch them open, one after the other.

around the corner a sea of cranesbill blossoms crowds the dye bed, but we don’t mind . . .

more and more sprouts are joining the ranks of the up and coming—today i see squashlets and beanlets

and the berries—wow (everything is the most amazing green right now, too)

these aren’t even close to being ready to eat this weekend, but theya re still awfully pretty . .

as with the other day i have no knitting i can share; plus, we’re having company for the weekend so i won’t be back to blog til tuesday (i KNOW!)

but i have something else to share that i think you’ll like—a little surprise to tide us over . . .

a new book, knit, swirl! by sandra mciver

in this book, ms. mciver explores variations on a single architectural theme—the sweater constructed from a single circular piece.

the book begins with the simplest welted versions

including this luscious one in mink/cashmere from our friend craig at great northern yarns

where the virtues of gorgeous fiber are shown off to great advantage.

there is a section for tips and techniques to help you understand and navigate the unique construction.

patterns include both written and charted instructions

though for the most part, the stitchwork involved is not complicated.

mciver explores a variety of fiber combinations as well as the effects of self-striping and hand-dyed colorways

as well as variations on edgings and finishes to set each style off.

there are a few styles with some openwork, too

for the most part though, the stitchwork does have to be such that it has an attractive reverse side; thus the simplicity in the motifs.

all in all, this is an interesting foray into a unique sweater architecture that some of you may want to try.

now here’s the holiday celebration part: i have an extra copy of knit, swirl! to send one lucky reader. if you would like to be in the running to win it, please leave a comment at the end of this post by 9pm EST on monday, may 30th. i’ll announce the winner on tuesday morning, when i’m back at my desk.

the thing about spring

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

wow, that was fast! i have sprouts already in the garden, can you believe it?
i mean, they just went in on saturday; that’s what—four days, maybe?

of course all the rain we’re having may have something to do with it, haha—we are quite waterlogged here. so much so that i was a little worried that some of the seeds would get swept away, or pushed up to the surface where the birds could get them.

everything is sprouting all at once, in fact—at least the more shallow sowing is; the potatoes aren’t up yet. i’ve got collards and turnips in solidly-formed rows, and there are cracks all along the bean and chard rows as well, which means that in a few hours, we should be able to see leaflets (maybe even by the time this post is written).

ETA: leaflets showing in chard and beet rows now, woo-hoo

look at those tiny green rapini stems just beginning to poke out—i just love catching them at this stage. i’m like a little giddy girl over it, haha, because i really just went out there to make sure we still had seeds in the ground (the birds and squirrels are having a field day, digging into things).

speaking of squirrels, they will NOT keeping their frickin’ little paws off of my shallots. it’s just that one thing, but they keep digging up the bulbs and then tossing them aside, probably once they get a whiff of that oniony/garlicky odor. i think i’ll sprinkle some cayenne pepper over the top of that soil when i’m done here to see if that will shoo them away . . .

now, i’ve been knitting furiously all week on secret projects and working on getting this pile of bookkeeping under control (heh, with not very successful results, i’m afraid). so i don’t have knitting photos to share.

BUT.

i have also been very diligent this spring about getting my hour of exercise each day, so i do have something nice to share from today’s ride.
(actually, i’ve spring fever really bad and with all the work i have on my desk, i cannot possibly indulge it, except for this one hour a day. so i’m taking full advantage of the exercise excuse, haha)

i may have mentioned this before, but the swans that live along one of my frequently-traveled routes have new babies. i didn’t get to photograph them earlier, but today, i managed to get close enough for some family portraits.

well, i pulled over to the side of the road and as soon as i dropped my bike, the male starts marching over

he just wanted to put something between me and the family; he wasn’t spitting or threatening and i was as respectful as i knew how to be.

so he gave me a view of his good side, haha. you can see the nest in the background, with mama standing close by.

after a bit i moved very slowly around the side and up the gravel path next to the pond, while the male watched. i wanted to get a better view if they would allow it.

in the nest, everyone’s neck goes up as mama sends warning signals.

they settled down a bit so i took another step forward

but that’s where mama drew the line . . . she didn’t like this development at all

into the water she went, rousing the clan to follow

which they did. i wish all kids listened so well, don’t you?

off they swam to a safer distance (and wow, five babies this year!).

leaving me and daddy in a staring contest of sorts, heh.

i’ll try to get pictures periodically as they grow; i know it won’t be long before they are much bigger and looking lots more like their parents.

across the street, there is another small pond and this year there are black swans over there. i haven’t been close enough to them to get pictures yet, but i’m working on it . . .

see what i mean? fast.

growth of the soil

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

you know, everywhere i go, one of the first things people tell me about my knitting blog is how much they enjoy my garden, haha. and i love that!
today, i have an extravaganza for you garden fans—it’s opening day for the vegetable garden, folks.

the first thing i did when i woke up on friday morning was to take a tour of the yard; i felt like i probably missed a lot when i was away. after so many days of rain, it was sparkling that morning under long-overdue sun.

the strawberries, which showed no signs of even a bud when i left, were in full bloom. a few flowers even sported tiny fruits at their centers. sweeet!

these scallions that wintered over from last year have now sprouted hardy tops in place of the desiccated ones that lay on the snow a couple of months back. and the bulbs beneath are sweet and tasty; perfect for adding to quiche or stir fry (and the very first harvest of 2011).

this cranesbill sanginaria is loaded with buds, still bearing the evidence of all-day showers on thursday.

and that asparagus bed was looking fantastic—looks like almost every plant came back, tall and strong—some as tall as four feet already. we’ve cut a few stalks to eat, but this being only the second year, left the rest to flower and go to seed. next year, we can feast more liberally on the results of our patience, if indeed, it is rewarded as we hope . . .

deep in the back yard, more surprises awaited me

the may apple was in full bloom, just in time to call itself MAY apple, haha. these are the plants i moved a couple of years ago to propagate in a new spot and they are filling that space admirably

look at how pretty it is close up, with its tinge of pale pink around the rim. i think this is the female flower, but i’m not sure; i’ll have to look it up later.

in the darkest corner of the same bed, those autumn ferns i was describing last week have finally begun their new cycle of growth

from the winter’s green fronds, these dark red fiddleheads have begun to unfold.

they will open up in flaming october colors and stay that way until it’s nearly fall, when they finally turn to green for the winter.

they really brighten up the corners of the shade bed nicely.

i had hoped to actually get out to work in the garden on friday (and i should have), but since it was my first day home, i had several pressing matters to take care of elsewhere. i had a pattern to write up, for one thing. and the ankle which had been bothering me the whole time i traveled was so inflamed by this time, that i was actually afraid to put it to work in the yard. i’m not sure where this came from as i’ve never been delicate that way, but off to the chiropractor we went, to get it adjusted.

on the way home though, we stopped off to buy plants at one place and to pick up plants that my friend kris started for us as well. i then had everything i needed to get a good, early start the next day.

nothing like a nice, blank canvas at 7am, eh? except for those scallions, the garlic, and my oregano patch, our vegetable plot was looking quite free of growth, with newly-turned dirt which had a full day to dry out a bit in the sun. the texture was perfect by saturday morning.

according to the biodynamic planting calendar, friday and saturday were “fruit” days—everything was aligned for good results in planting fruit-bearing plants. i started at the back corner therefore, with the tomatoes, eggplant, and pepper plants, several varieties of each (i’m a junkie for trying different types of plants).

i cut way back on the fruit-bearing plants this year, in order to have space for more root vegetables, which i became enamored of growing last year. i just hope that the ones i did plant take off and thrive; otherwise, we might not get enough tomatoes for winter . . .

for the rest of the garden, i had a carefully drawn-out plan, devised over months and months of diagramming . . .
ok, not really. i always mean to do that over the winter, but then i never do; i must actually prefer on-the-spot decision making. pretty much though, this list on the back of the seed envelope was what made it into the garden and more or less in the arrangement shown here.

i did the back seed bed next, where all the green, leafy vegetables were seeded in. that is the sunniest part of our fairly well-protected the garden. the last time i had greens in this spot, they produced to beat the band. we’ll see if it works on our favor this year.

i drew out some rows (twelve) and seeded them in one at a time, alternating chard with green beans, beets, turnips, and collards. i did not put in okra this year; it was pretty, but didn’t produce well for me last year, so i decided against it.

after i got all the seeds in, i posted each row with the variety and thinning info, because far be it from me to actually hang on to the seed packet . .
after that i watered, just to dampen the seeds. the ground was already wet enough—so much so, that it took all day in the sun to even show signs of beginning to dry—but the seeds needed wetting.

hahaha, which was just what this robin was waiting for—nice damp earth that would bring worms to the top. i can’t tell if it’s a male or female (my gut says male, but i dunno), but this guy was in the garden ALL day with me.

oh, he thought he was giving off signs of complete disinterest

seriously?? looking for worms on the flagstone? c’MON—even i don’t believe that, not when all that soft, squishy, damp earth is awaiting your perusal. not when i see you every other five minutes with your beak just stuffed with worms. HA!

i know all about futile pretensions

i am, after all, the person who planted summer squash yet again this year, when i know full well it almost certainly won’t make it. i’m trying to guard it with a ring formation of marigolds and nasturtiums (i still have to buy those), but i will be the first to be surprised if that works. we shall see.

by the time i got all the seeds in the ground it was late afternoon and my stomach was growling. i still had all of the root vegetables to plant and as luck would have it, saturday evening was the beginning of a “root” cycle.

so i ate some lunch, puttered around putting in marigolds, and planted some ornamentals while i waited for 6pm to roll around. i actually ended up cheating just a little by starting to put the root stuff in around 5—i was getting worried that my energy wouldn’t last.

by the last of the evening light, i had everything in—shallots, leeks, celeriac, onions, potatoes, sweet potaotes, rutabaga, parsnips, and carrots. i love the root vegetables—you put them in the ground and that’s it until fall. the ones that are seeded in just need to be thinned at the appropriate time, but really, that is a small amount of work.

i planted all of the root crops quite close together, so that the tops would from a canopy and keep the weeds down. since i don’t have to harvest them, i shouldn’t need to walk between the rows or get near the plants much.

we’ll put down our usual newspaper and straw mulch in a week or two, once all the seeds have sprouted and we can see where the rows will be. the garden boxes got seeded in with escarole and red onions; i’m not sure how well they’ll do in there, but maybe ok; the peppers i had in them last year did very well.

over the course of that day, the cranesbill i showed you earlier opened one flower after another—a real treat to watch and photograph. by tomorrow, they should all be fully open.

you might think that with all that outdoor activity, i didn’t get any knitting done this weekend, but actually, i did get some rows knit. and i have some progress to show as well from my last few days on the road.

i am so close to finishing this sign of four sock, i can taste it. one more car trip or plane ride and i’ll be closing the toe before i land. i’ll probably take it along to TNNA in june to finish it up. or maybe even to the great lakes fiber show next weekend; i can work on it while i visit in the briar rose booth (woo-HOO, i’m gonna see chris!).

anyway, this has been a long time on the needles and i’m glad it’s almost done—this will be my first finished pair of socks for this year, can you believe that?? not that i don’t have several more underway—they’re just all old projects. and i’ve promised myself i won’t start another new one til the WIP sock are done.

for instance, before jen and i decided that the sign of four sock should be part of the victorian writers club, i had started it as an independent project in this beautiful string theory caper sock yarn, a gorgeous, merino/cashmere/nylon blend in colorway fusion. by the time we hijacked the design for the club, i had too much of the leg done to rip it out. so i left it on the needles in waiting. i worked on it here and there, but there is still a long way to go on this pair.

once those brown ones are done, the reds will take their place as travel socks.

this oval lace scarf is such easy, take-along knitting that i put quite a few inches on it during my trip. and the sweet georgia cashsilk is so luscious, you just don’t want to be away from it for long.

it sounds trite, but everyone who touches it literally gasps. and of course, the next person is sure they won’t, then they touch it and THEY gasp.
it’s involuntary, i swear . . . and a little indecent, actually.
there’s no way i can describe it, even face to face—you have to touch it. those who have and are reading this, please speak up and back me here . . . (you know who you are).

as delicate as an insect wing, this leaf lace stole is growing more slowly, but surely. i would love to have this done to wear to james’s wedding in september, so i’m going to have to knit faster. and in better light. priorities, priorities . . .

i also have a few secret projects; more than i like to have at one time. some of these will be off my desk very soon and some will be with me for a bit. and of course, the ones for our own club (but those are the fun ones, hee-hee. don’t tell anyone i said that).

thank you SO MUCH for your enthusiastic response to the club; signups have gone so well and we are nearing capacity. we’ve capped the number of available spots at 550 (including extra yarn options), which means we have just 50 or so left to sell.

i think that deserves flowers, don’t you?