Monday, November 07, 2011

voodoo yarn

Sometimes I think that knitting projects have ju-ju associated with them that cannot be broken, no matter how many times you unravel, re-knit or re-think them.

Is it me, or is it the project? That's what I always wonder when a project continues to perpetuate the funk that first envelops it when things start to go wrong... even when you've tried to right the wrong, every which way.

Muande - Almost After. Crap.

Exhibit A: the unfinished Muande vest, which I'm afraid is now permanently unfinished. The particular ju-ju of this project is Will Not Be Completed. It's an old story that you've surely heard before.

You've heard it before right here in fact, because I was just griping about this vest a few weeks ago. After two - yes two - unhappy endings that were ripped back to the armholes, this vest seemed to gain a new lease on life when I took a workshop on steeking at SAFF. Steeking! The solution to my design problem - to maintain the stripe pattern, I needed to keep working the vest in the round. But how to get armholes? Steek them, of course!

So I did that. Choppy-Choppy!

Then I finished off the shoulders, and all I had to do was work the neckband and the cuffs - cuffs? What do you call the finishing around the armholes of a vest? They're not cuffs. Anyway, you know what I'm talking about. That's all I had to knit. A tiny bit. And that's when I ran out of yarn. Just millimeters from the finish line...


The sad part is that this was a wonderful one-of-a-kind gift yarn sent by a friend from France. So it's not like I can just go run out the LYS and grit my teeth while I pay for a full ball of yarn needing only 18 inches of it to finish a project. That would suit me fine right about now! I'd be happy to pay for 100 yards of yarn and use 0.5 yards, thank you very much.

And it's not like I can just rip it back and rework it a bit to economize on the gray yarn because I CUT IT UP WITH SCISSORS. CHOPPY CHOPPY.


Bad ju-ju. It hangs around a knitting project like preteen girls at the stage door of a Justin Bieber show. Go away, project funk! Go funk up a political campaign or something and leave me to my quiet little hobby.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

fiber fun weekend

PR Llama
seymour the PR llama

I had a lovely time at S.A.F.F. 2011, the Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair! Snuggling with cute llamas and alpacas (like Seymour here) was one of the unexpected treats of my weekend.

This was my first time at SAFF, since normally our family camping trip falls on the same weekend. I've been looking forward to this event ever since the spring, when the camping trip date was announced and I realized I'd be able to go! YAY!

SAFF Schwag 2
sock yarn from Kitchen Sink Dyeworks

In the past, sheep & wool festivals have been all about yarn shopping for me. At SAFF this year I decided to spend my money on workshops instead (well okay I did buy some yarn and stuff). But mostly it was learning. I took a workshop on steeking with Aimee Abernathy, which was lots of fun. I learned how to steek! I loved it! Now I'm dying to cut up all the knitting I can get my hands on! Almost! As soon as I got home I unraveled half of the vest I made recently for the Little Pea and started reworking the top half to have steeked armholes. That's how much fun steeking is!

But even better than steeking... Spinning!

Robyn shows us the wheel

Oh, spinning. It's so wonderful. The instructor, Robyn Josephs, was amazing. First we learned how to spin with a drop spindle. Then we got on the spinning wheels and went crazy. After three hours, I was completely hooked. I left the class walking on air, and grabbed some roving and a drop spindle to take home.

SAFF Schwag 3
merino top dyed by Lunabud Knits

Spinning lit up some very primal neurons way down deep in my brain. It was such a meditative, all-encompassing activity. You can't think too much, or you'll mess it up. You have to let your fingers think for themselves, your feet pedal by themselves, and get your thinking part of the brain out of the way so that the intuitive part can take over. I need more of that kind of serenity in my life.

Now I just need to save up for a spinning wheel.

And I'm thinking that maybe when I grow up I'll get a little farm and populate it with adorable Jacob sheep. Really, could they be any cuter??

SAFF critter 1

Monday, September 26, 2011

toddler socks

socks in action

What a joy to knit. Short, colorful, quick, and much-appreciated: basically the perfect knit.

They would have been even more enjoyable if the yarn had not been 100% acrylic (yes, that's 100%!), but hey, you have to clean out the stash some time. Besides, she'll outgrow these socks by the end of this winter.

Don't they look great with her new shoes?

Now the Pea is ready to go camping. And I'm ready to get back on the job and finish that vest I was whinging about last week.

toddler socks 1

Saturday, September 17, 2011



It's funny how much knitting can imitate life.

I've been having fun working on a little orange-and-gray vest for the Little Pea. It will be perfect for fall, if I can just figure out how I want to finish it.

The yarn is great - two balls of Muande from Filature de Valgaudemar in France. They were a gift from GĂ©raldine, whose family owns the mill - one of the oldest mills in France. The yarn has been sitting in the yarn cabinet for a long time, til I came up with the right project for them. A vest seems just right for the very autumn color scheme (Souri and Flamme).

I wanted the vest to be simply knit, all-in-one-piece of course, which allowed me to use single-row stripes -- a nice touch in this chunky yarn. So I started from the bottom and worked up. But how to do the armholes? I didn't want to separate the front and back, so I thought perhaps I'd steek the armholes.

But I didn't like the way the shoulders were shaping up, so I ripped it back to the armhole beginnings and started again.

I decided to cave in and work the back and front separately. Then I made a big miscalculation, which I didn't notice til the knitting was almost done. Rip again.

Now I'm back at the starts of the armholes and trying to come up with a novel solution that lets me finish my vest-in-the-round without sending me back to the starting line all over again. Any ideas?

In the mean time, we have a camping trip coming up, and the Little Pea needs some warm socks. Maybe working on those for a while will free my brain cells and let me come up with a solution for the vest.

Ah, knitting problems. So much more delightful than most of life's problems. I like any problem that can be sorted out over a beer and an episode of Masterpiece Theater.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

who put the U in UFO?

love/hate blanket 1

The Little Pea has a book about a baby deer who is lost in the woods. He makes friends with a baby raccoon, who is trying to climb over a log. As the little raccoon struggles over the log, he chants to himself, "I can do it! I can doooooo it!"

We are chanting "I can doooo it!" a lot at our house lately. For one, the Little Pea is two years old now. There are a lot of things she is learning to doooo by herself (including climbing over logs). And our long trip in the car recently led me to pick up some long-abandoned UFO's to see if I couldn't make myself doooo it and finish them on the long ride. The trend has continued, and I'm picking up one hibernating project after the next lately, then putting them down all happy and finished.

I finished a baby blanket (pictured above), which didn't hibernate too long, but had been put away when I ran out of yarn just short of the finish line. Happily enough, I found the skein I needed at a little yarn store in Vermont while we were visiting there.

This week (on another car trip) I finished the Copper Scarf that I'd started exactly one year ago, intending to wear it in the fall, and then somehow losing interest just about the time cool weather arrived. It looks great, and I can't wait til the temperature drops enough to show it off. It's made from Manos Silk Blend and feels like heaven.

And then there's the Minimalist Cardigan. My problem child. After more than 4 years, I was so close. Just a tiny bit of knitting left to go... and I have run out of yarn. AAARGH! Of course. And this is no variegated, multi-colored, kettle-dyed, funky schlunky yarn where dye lots don't matter - it's Rowan Cashsoft DK, knit in moss stitch, so neat and regular and incredibly unforgiving... and the last section I have to knit is the front panels, from the armpit to the shoulder. Just where a color shift would be most obvious.

Clearly, I need to just suck it up, order a couple of skeins and hope for the best. There's no chance in hell that the same dye lot is out there someplace, 4 years later. Is there...? I think I better go trawling on Ravelry. Maybe I'll get lucky!

I am being so good. There are a handful of seductive new projects and yarns in my cabinet, just singing my name like little sirens... and I am doing my best to ignore them while I finish up these UFO's. I think once that Minimalist Cardi is done I should get some sort of prize for ending a 4-year hiatus. What's your longest-left UFO that you actually finished?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

bear mountain

Our family trip to Vermont was wonderful, and we had a great time swimming in lakes, taking long hikes, and scouring the countryside for the most delicious locally-made cheeses.

One of the most enjoyable things for me was hanging out with Joanne Smith and her flock at Bear Mountain Farm. The pretty lady you see pictured above is Iris, one of the beautiful ewes who make up Joanne's flock of Romney sheep. Joanne raises the sheep for their fleece and for breeding stock, and her fleeces makes some of the finest artisan yarn I have ever seen. Anyone lucky enough to live nearby should go visit her at the West River Farmers Market in Londonderry and see it for yourself!

Here's what I picked up when Joanne was kind enough to let me paw her wares when we visited the farm:


My hasty photo doesn't begin to do it justice, but these are 5 undyed skeins of natural, minimally-processed yarn from 2 of Joanne's ewes, Kitty (dark) and Joy (white). Each shearing is processed and spun in separate micro-batches at an eco-friendly mill in Maine. As a result, each skein of yarn is labeled with the name & photo of the very sheep from which it came. And because each sheep's fleece changes from year to year, no two lots are ever alike. Bear Mountain Farm's yarn is truly an artisan product. It's also lustrous, gorgeous, and wonderfully soft.

The yarn is mainly sold in 4-oz skeins, all worsted weight, and only available at the farmer's market or by special order, so they aren't exactly easy to come by. I'm glad I splurged a bit and brought home enough for a nice robust project!

If you're in Vermont, go to the West River Farmer's Market in Londonderry some Saturday and stop in on Bear Mountain Farm - or look for her at Rheinebeck, where her fleeces have won numerous awards. I can't wait to start knitting with this yarn!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

back from the dead

Mwah hah haaaah! Just when you thought this blog was dead...

jacket in progress

Really, has it been all summer since the last time I posted?

Appropriately enough, I resurrected a couple of knitting projects that were resting in peace, and thought I'd share. We just got back from a long road trip (from North Carolina to Vermont and back - 2,400 miles round trip!). I decided to restrict myself to working only on UFO's, and pulled out two from the archives: a spring hoodie for the Little Pea (started last winter), and the Minimalist Cardigan that I've been picking up and putting down for about four years now.

The Minimalist Cardigan is a tedious chore of a knit, what with all that pokey moss stitch. And I have become quite spoiled by top-down and bottom-up knitting, and am bored to tears by knitting flat shapeless things that need to be sewn together. Needless to say, I did not finish it on this trip. But I dutifully forced myself to work on it (at least while HWWLLB was driving on long boring stretches of I-95), made a lot of progress and can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. Will I ever reach the end of this cashmerey little tunnel? Who knows. Maybe I'll be wearing this thing in the fall of 2012.

The spring hoodie, on the other hand, is done except for the zipper that needs to be sewn in. That's my mom's job, as I only know how to destroy things with a sewing machine.

I have to admire myself sometimes - I know my habits. Though it was meant to be a spring jacket for the Pea, and though I started it in winter, I made it at least a whole size too big. Somehow I knew that it would be next spring before this thing ever got finished, blocked and worn. If I can remember what I did to it, maybe I'll even post the pattern in time for other, faster people to knit it for spring.

I promise another post soon - I need to tell you all about the wonderful sheep farm where we stayed in Vermont, and the luscious yarn I got there!

Monday, June 06, 2011

greetings from the backyard

lil gardener

Hello from our backyard. This is where I've been spending most of my time these last few beautiful weeks. Now that it's getting quite hot, most of the time in the backyard involves a hose or wading pool.

all wet

I can't say that there's been much knitting going on. There's been small knitting. Lots of friends are having babies (including one you may know), and so I've been knitting away on bootees and caps and toys and such.

But I'm not feeling very inspired to design. I have lots of sketches piled up, but none of them are singing out to me at the moment, "knit me! knit me!" The squeaky knitting project gets the grease around here, to mix metaphors, so the sketchbook is going unnoticed right now.

The garden is going like gangbusters. We recently finished up a big spring harvest of peas and radishes and lettuce, and now the garden is in a little lull before the tomatoes and peppers and tomatillos and beets are ready. In the mean time, there is chard. Always chard. I love swiss chard, I love how reliable it is in all sorts of weather, and this year even the caterpillars seem to be leaving it alone, so we're enjoying quite a lot of it.


The chicks grew up quickly. In the foreground is Pepper, a refugee chicken that our neighbors passed along becuase she was being beaten up by her flock. She has risen to the top in our little flock, where she is the eldest and is teaching the others to scratch, peck and squawk effectively. She's a year old so already laying eggs and generally earning her keep (unlike some other freeloaders I could name).

The Little Pea is going to be 2 years old in less than two weeks. I can't believe it! Every moment passes at about three times the speed that moments used to, back in the halcyon days of my youth, before I knew all that I know now. But I do know some wonderful things now.

Monday, April 11, 2011

hello spring!

more garden chicks

It's just lovely outside. Breezy, warm and green, with so many flowers popping up everywhere.

Here are the chicks, about 6 weeks old in this photo, scratching around in the backyard. The Little Pea loves playing with them. They're quite friendly, and if she sits in my lap, they will come right up to her and allow some pats. They are now 8 weeks old and ready to move to the coop outside - that's our plan for this afternoon, since it's going to be warm and summery all week.

They are also the reason that I don't seem to have enough knitting time. Wait, do I ever have enough knitting time? Does anyone? But really, cleaning a chicken cage every day and keeping up with all their needs... it does eat away at one's free time. All the same, the Pea's little spring green hoodie is coming along, however slowly.

jacket in progress

I'm knitting it from the bottom-up. The other day when I attached the sleeves to the body, I started to finally get excited about this jacket. Sleeve attachment is always a very dramatic stage in the process. Knitting the yoke always feels like the home stretch.

I've been wondering why this project has dragged so much. I think it might be the yarn. It's Brown Sheep Cotton Fleece, which is a wonderfully versatile and practical yarn... and you know how practical isn't always a virtue. That's like saying about a member of the opposite sex that they have a "nice personality." Nice, but not even a little bit sexy. Cotton Fleece wears so well and softens nicely with each wash, but it's just a bit stiff to work with right off the skein. Not really the luxurious knitting experience that I crave when my precious knitting time is so limited. But it is knitting up into a very cute little jacket all the same. I'm sure the jacket will have a nice personality, too.

I hope to finish it this weekend. I'll have plenty of knitting time on the train - I'm headed northwards to visit the lovely Miss Bugheart. Can't wait!

Monday, March 14, 2011

what i did on my winter vacation

chunky hoodie 2

Apparently I took a little blog vacation this winter. I think that perhaps the vacation is over and it's time to peek my nose out again.

Now that I'm emerging from my hibernation den, it seemed like I ought to report on what I've been doing since we last visited, when I was baking a large number of apple cakes. Here's the list:

i made these!

Sprucing up the garden

I made these two lovely raised beds out of cedar. Aren't they nice? (Don't look too closely). I'm a horrible carpenter, and I don't have a saw, so I had to rely on the lumber place to cut the boards down for me, and then I did a rather amateur job of putting them together. The boards were all rather wildly off the 4-feet-zero-inches target, so the boxes are crooked and overlapping and look like they were built by second-graders in shop class. But hey, they're mine, they're full of dirt and now there are even little seedlings growing in them, so I'm satisfied. Perhaps we will finally be able to grow a carrot longer than 1.5 inches!


Knitting (a little bit)

I'm not sure how it's happening, but I seem to become a slower knitter by the day. I've always been on the slow side, but now I can't seem to find more than 15 minutes at a time to knit anything. Half a row is about all I can seem to generate in one sitting, which makes for a pretty pokey pace. I made the mittens above for my sister's birthday in January, and after that made the pretty sweater being modeled by the Little Pea at the start of this post. Now I'm working on a spring cardi for her, which has not progressed much despite an enthusiastic start. I have tons of design sketches just waiting for someone (me??) to put yarn and needles together and make them real. Did I really used to crank out a design every month or two? Who was that masked woman?

reading (a lot)

Since having a child, I seem to have become a super-reader. I can kill a 1,000-page novel in the time it takes most people to read the Sunday newspaper. I don't just read one book. If I like a book, I go out and get everything that writer has ever published and read them all, in chronological order. I'm currently working my way through A.S. Byatt's back catalog, to my great satisfaction. What a joy her prose is. And I am in love with all of her characters (except the ones I hate, but I really really hate them, in a deeply joyful way, like hating Duke's basketball team or Sarah Palin).


Chasing a rambunctious toddler.

I can't believe the Little Pea is going to be 2 in just a couple of months. She is a lot of fun, and a little bundle of energy.


There are chickens in my house.

This picture was taken about three weeks ago, when the chicks were sweet, cuddly, adorable little fluffballs who hardly knew how to scratch yet. Now they are ungainly adolescents who are overcrowding their dog crate, eating copious amounts of chicken chow and pooping nonstop. All this in my back room. The room where our kitchen table and my desk are. We have a small house. I'm not sure how much longer I can handle the indoor chicken arrangement. Soon they will have enough feathers, and it will be warm enough, for them to go live outside in the chicken coop. Will that happen before HWWLLB and I run out of patience and roast them for dinner? Only time will tell.

And finally... I made a Facebook page for f.pea. Please go Like it! I'm thinking that I might send the first 50 likers a nice surprise. But I have no idea what it is yet. Maybe it will be an adolescent chicken.

Monday, January 24, 2011

german apple cake (don't make just one)

apple cake
just one bite left

Last weekend I made eight German Apple cakes. Two for a party we were attending, four for the women's shelter, and two more for... my tummy. I did share.

Years ago, when I called my Grandmother to get the recipe, she said "Now Fawn, don't make just one of these." She would always make anywhere from two to ten, and share them with family and neighbors. They are simple and delicious, like everything my Grandmother baked.

german apple cake
(makes two 9x9 cakes)

2 cups flour, sifted
4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup milk

Mix all these ingredients together and beat the batter for 2 minutes.
Then add:

3 cups apples, peeled & sliced (Stayman/Winesap are my favorite for baking)

4 tsp cinammon
2/3 cup brown sugar
Mix these together well.

Grease two 8x8 cake pans and pour in the batter. Sprinkle over with the topping and dot with butter. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, til golden brown and a knife inserted comes out clean.

Enjoy munching on this tasty cake soon. It's simple enough to make a wonderful weeknight dessert surprise for your family on a dreary winter day - especially with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. And don't forget to share.

Monday, January 17, 2011

looking at America from afar, 1956

An excerpt from Dr. King's 1956 sermon, "Paul's letter to American Christians":

But America, as I look at you from afar, I wonder whether your moral and spiritual progress has been commensurate with your scientific progress. It seems to me that your moral progress lags behind your scientific progress. Your poet Thoreau used to talk about "improved means to an unimproved end." How often this is true. You have allowed the material means by which you live to outdistance the spiritual ends for which you live. You have allowed your mentality to outrun your morality. You have allowed your civilization to outdistance your culture. Through your scientific genius you have made of the world a neighborhood, but through your moral and spiritual genius you have failed to make of it a brotherhood. So America, I would urge you to keep your moral advances abreast with your scientific advances.

I am impelled to write you concerning the responsibilities laid upon you to live as Christians in the midst of an unChristian world. That is what I had to do. That is what every Christian has to do. But I understand that there are many Christians in America who give their ultimate allegiance to man-made systems and customs. They are afraid to be different. Their great concern is to be accepted socially. They live by some such principle as this: "everybody is doing it, so it must be alright." For so many of you Morality is merely group consensus. In your modern sociological lingo, the mores are accepted as the right ways. You have unconsciously come to believe that right is discovered by taking a sort of Gallup poll of the majority opinion. How many are giving their ultimate allegiance to this way.

But American Christians, I must say to you as I said to the Roman Christians years ago, "Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind." Or, as I said to the Phillipian Christians, "Ye are a colony of heaven." This means that although you live in the colony of time, your ultimate allegiance is to the empire of eternity. You have a dual citizenry. You live both in time and eternity; both in heaven and earth. Therefore, your ultimate allegiance is not to the government, not to the state, not to nation, not to any man-made institution. The Christian owes his ultimate allegiance to God, and if any earthly institution conflicts with God's will it is your Christian duty to take a stand against it. You must never allow the transitory evanescent demands of man-made institutions to take precedence over the eternal demands of the Almighty God.

I understand that you have an economic system in America known as Capitalism. Through this economic system you have been able to do wonders. You have become the richest nation in the world, and you have built up the greatest system of production that history has ever known. All of this is marvelous. But Americans, there is the danger that you will misuse your Capitalism. I still contend that money can be the root of all evil. It can cause one to live a life of gross materialism. I am afraid that many among you are more concerned about making a living than making a life. You are prone to judge the success of your profession by the index of your salary and the size of the wheel base on your automobile, rather than the quality of your service to humanity.

The misuse of Capitalism can also lead to tragic exploitation. This has so often happened in your nation. They tell me that one tenth of one percent of the population controls more than forty percent of the wealth. Oh America, how often have you taken necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes. If you are to be a truly Christian nation you must solve this problem. You cannot solve the problem by turning to communism, for communism is based on an ethical relativism and a metaphysical materialism that no Christian can accept. You can work within the framework of democracy to bring about a better distribution of wealth. You can use your powerful economic resources to wipe poverty from the face of the earth. God never intended for one group of people to live in superfluous inordinate wealth, while others live in abject deadening poverty. God intends for all of his children to have the basic necessities of life, and he has left in this universe "enough and to spare" for that purpose. So I call upon you to bridge the gulf between abject poverty and superfluous wealth.

I would that I could be with you in person, so that I could say to you face to face what I am forced to say to you in writing. Oh, how I long to share your fellowship.

Read the whole sermon here.

Friday, January 07, 2011

resolutions, warm fingers

norwegian mittens

It's January, it's biting cold, it's snowing all the time in North Carolina for heaven's sake. It's time to knit mittens.

I just completed (finally!) the Norwegian mittens, and they have been dutifully mailed off to HWWLLB's lovely mama, belated for Christmas but right on time for her January birthday. And I am hooked. As you can see, they are beautiful, but they're also warm, comfortable, practical, and a relatively quick knit.

I haven't knitted mittens in years, because in the past I knitted them with one yarn color and found that a single layer of knitted fabric just lets too much wind through to be warm enough for me. I've been wearing fleece gloves ever since. But stranded mittens! Of course! Those smart Scandinavians know all about how to stay warm, don't they? It took me a decade of knitting to wake up to the genius of Norwegian mittens, but here we are. I think there are more mittens in my near future.

So, I have been thinking and thinking about a New Year's resolution. I like making resolutions, and in the past I've gotten pretty ambitious with them, resolving to do things like giving up plastic and practicing yoga every single day. Needless to say, they don't always stick, but I think it's a worthwhile exercise.

But I've been having a hard time coming up with resolutions this year, perhaps because I don't feel very ambitious. One of the things I noticed about 2010 is that I worked much too hard. I put way too much pressure on myself to perform, and I think it's telling that I didn't take a single vacation day all year (until December 23rd, when I realized I had been insane). The only days I took off from work were for funerals. : (

So I think this is my resolution for 2011: Stop pushing myself so hard. Expect less from myself. Do less.

I'm not going to put any qualifiers on this one. I'm just going to try - less.