Monday, 25 February 2013

I'm a Knit Nerd!

Hey!  Guess what!  I was interviewed the other day for a feature on my friend Vicki's blog called Knit Nerds!

I figured I'd be a good fit because well, I knit and I'm a software engineer.  If that isn't nerdy enough, I built my husband a custom database for his coin collection while sipping coffee last Sunday morning.  And liked it.

Yeah - that much of a nerd....

You can read the interview here:

Please stop in and say "Hi" to Vicki while you're there and have a look at her Cadbury Owls sweater - the current work in progress.  It's going to be wonderful when it's all done.

Thanks Vicki!  I had fun doing this.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Yarn Finishing Results

There are a lot of things you can learn by reading about on the internet.  There are loads of videos to demonstrate techniques if you are a visual learner.  But for me, the most effective means of learning is to do.

So I have to say, the experiment in different finishing techniques was (for me at least) fascinating.  I also had a suggestion to use steam (thanks Gemmi for the idea) so I wound another length onto the niddy noddy and placed it over a pot of boiling water to steam for a few minutes.  (Tip:  I used a rack to suspend the whole thing over the pot rather than trying to hold it.  Tip #2:  Make sure the rack is clean.  My yarn smells like banana bread)  

This is contender No. 5.

The Results

These are samples 1 - 5 from left to right.  The most obvious thing is that steaming doesn't cause shrinking the way immersion in hot water does.  Curious because the water I used was hot to touch, but not nearly as hot as steam.  The steam however did relax the yarn enough to get rid of the twisting.

Here are the five samples showing relative width.  Samples three and four were the densest - no real surprise as they were the two that were shocked with the hot and cold water.  In sample four, I can clearly see where I had underspun the single as that part of the yarn ballooned.

Sample One
Sample Two
Sample Three
Sample Four
Sample Five
For the purposes of my experiment, I wanted to know how to finish the larger skein of yarn I had spun and based on this, I like the feel of sample 3 the most.  It was shocked with the hot and cold water and snapped, but it wasn't really beaten like sample 4.  I like the density of yarn that I'm getting from this better than 1, 2 and 5.

I'm also intrigued by the way the steamed yarn didn't shrink but relaxed enough to not wind itself back up.  I'll have to remember that!

Now What?

This past week has seen a great breakthrough in my inability to ply my hand spun yarn.  With the help of a video I downloaded a few weeks ago (The Gentle Art of Plying by Judith MacKenzie), I have figured out what I was doing wrong.  It still isn't perfect, but it's a thousand times better than it was before.

This was an undyed organic merino combed top.  I don't think the organic part makes an ounce of difference in how it spins but it feeds into my desire to get the chemicals out of my life.  I think it makes for a healthier animal, is safer for all the handlers along the way and is better for the earth and water supply.  But I digress.

So after letting it sit on the bobbin overnight, this is what it looked like off the wheel.  It is very twisty and will wind back on itself at every chance it gets so it's a pretty messy skein right now.

For a long time, I thought plied yarn needed to be balanced coming off the wheel.  I'm not sure where I got that idea or if I misheard something somewhere but that is what I was always striving to achieve, but the yarn always looked limp and lifeless.  I've since learned that that isn't always the case and that often you do want what appears to be 'overtwisted' yarn.  This has plenty of life and bounce.  I have 80g (approx 150 yds) of it and see a hat in my future.

But how do I finish the yarn?

I spent the morning trolling the internet on what to do next.  I know it needs a bath, but is that all it needs or should it be slightly fulled to fluff up the fibres a bit?  What about 'whacking' the skein against the side of the tub to help redistribute the twist more evenly?  And how much abuse can the yarn take?

I'm a big believer in the "try it and see what happens" school of learning so I took one of the sections out of my niddy noddy and wound off four mini-skeins.  Each skein has about 16 feet of yarn and apart from giving them all a hot water bath to start, they've all been treated differently.

Skein 1:  A hot bath with wool wash, squeezed the water out and hung up to dry.  I did not stretch this or beat the skein in anyway. (Closest to the wall)
Skein 2: A hot bath with wool wash, squeezed out the water and whacked the skein against the tub.  I stretched it out around my wrists and snapped it a few times then hung it up to dry.
Skein 3:  A hot bath with wool wash, then straight into the tub which had cold water (I'm on a well - that was really cold water in the tub).  I swished it around a bit then back into the hot water for a few more minutes and back into the cold.  Squeezed out the excess water and snapped the skein a few times and hung it up to dry.
Skein 4: Just like Skein 3 but this took a lot of abuse.  It was heavily agitated in both the hot and cold water and beaten pretty hard before being hung up to dry.  (Closest to the camera)

I'll have pictures of how each of the mini-skeins look when they're dry and then I'll decide how to finish the big skein.   Stay tuned!

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Hope Springs Eternal

It's true.  Hope does eternally spring up and it can take many forms.

Like my dog who wants nothing more than to just lie out in the sun.  He's been dancing at the door all day asking to go out.   But it's -12C with a fierce windchill and he's a skinny hound with a very thin coat so he'll stick with a sunny spot on the carpet.

I've started work on the Autumn Arbor Stole again.  This has been hibernating for a few months now since the dog pictured above gave the yarn cake a shake.  It is now about 3/4 finished and sadly, I'm getting a little bored with it.  I have about 140 rows to go and then have to graft the two pieces together.  The good news is the first half is done.

I got this in the mail the other day.  The colours are really "in your face" bright and there is some silver thread woven through it so it sparkles.  Kinda like Unicorn puke.  Totally not my thing but I keep picking it up and looking at it and wondering what I could do with it.  Socks is definitely a possibility but I'm going to keep looking.  Then again, I have a niece who might just adore a cowl made from it.

Now this Fleece Artist BFL sock yarn is more my style. I cast on for socks last week at Mount Pakenham and didn't touch this all week.  I did this yesterday and am totally enthralled by this.  My husband keeps eyeing it as well so I may lose it.

And to prove that hope really does spring eternal, I got out my book on companion planting, re-did the garden plan (you can see the new one here) and ordered my seeds today.   This is my garden as of right now.  You can sort of see the rectangular area that is a little rougher than what is around it.

Yeah, it's pretty cold today but the sun is shining, the birds are mobbing the feeders we have out and the sun is in the sky longer and longer everyday.  Hope springs eternal.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Spring is Coming

Spring is around the corner.

I know this because I was in Canadian Tire today and the seeds are out.  The grow lights and pots are out and there is a skid of potting soil in the middle of the store.  The ice fishing stuff is gone, most of the hockey gear is gone and the regular fishing stuff is out.  The ant traps and bird feeders are out.  

I got my seed catalogue in the mail this week.  

And this is the first draft of my garden for this year:

The garden space is 50' by 30'.  It doesn't sound enormous until you figure that it's 1500 sq. ft and is a larger footprint than my last house.  Truly, it is a working plan and I'm not finished with it yet but I wanted to share it with you.  The big open area on the right hand side is a space I've reserved for part of a greenhouse.  I say part because I have the frame, but no glass.  It might just be heavy plastic this year but I want to get the structure in place.  

There are still a few gaps but I'm pretty sure I've forgotten something crucial in the plan (I just noticed I don't have any corn!) so there is room for me to shift things around if I need to.  

Sunday, 10 February 2013


It takes some oomph to get up again after making a mistake.  More so when you make the same mistake twice.  The Semele scarf was a bit of a surprise when I ran out of yarn, even after being weighed.  Twice.  So to do the same style of scarf again - measuring by weight - was, in my mind at least, tempting fate.  Still, I had an idea what I wanted to do.

Here is Pirouette, inspired by Storm Warning by Liz Corke.  This was made with SweetGeorgia Yarns Silk Crush; a 50/50 superwash merino and silk blend.  It is 375yds / 115 g (Only in Canada will you see such a blend of metric and imperial measurements...).  The colour is called "At the Ballet" and since it is the January 2013 Sock Club yarn, it is not yet available to the general public.  The beads are called "Roses & Diamond".  The finished dimensions are 60 inches measured straight from tip to tip and 10 inches deep at the widest part.

This is a slim crescent shaped scarf with three primary motifs.  
There is a slender faggotting column along the top edge, 

a stockinette panel which defines the overall shape and a beaded sawtooth motif on the bottom.

The bead work was fiddly and slowed down the knitting process but it offers a fascinating design element that gives a lot of glamour to a very simple pattern.  I think I'll incorporate more of this.  

There are a variety of methods to place beads;  I used a tiny (0.75mm /US 12) crochet hook.  

The hook is small enough to slide through the eye of the bead but still has enough of a hook to actually catch and hold the yarn.  

A note on beads: I don't remember where I read this, but I heard that Czech beads were of a much better quality than most others.  I was able to find Czech beads in a local art supply store in a 24 g tube (about $5.00 CDN) and there was only one bead that I couldn't use.

The big drawback I see to incorporating beads is the project is no longer a good candidate for travel knitting.  The risk of dumping your tube of beads is just too great.  So as I sat at Mount Pakenham yesterday while my son had a snowboarding lesson, I cast on a pair of socks using this.  This is BFL Socks by Fleece Artist in Nebula (I think).

And I think I'm about ready to finish the Autumn Arbor Stole by Anne Hansen.  Lets see if I can do it without my dog 'helping' me again.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013


I'm not in the habit of reviewing books here - lots of other people do that but I just finished reading The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling and I wanted to share a few thoughts with you.  According to the jacket of the book, it's about what happens when a parish Councillor in a small English town dies unexpectedly and there is an election held to replace him.

As you may know, the reviews on this were very mixed when it was released.  Some said it was a brilliant departure from the Harry Potter franchise which has placed Rowling firmly in the ranks of successful contemporary writers, others said it was drivel that was only published because of her past economic successes as an author and she should have quit while she was ahead.  I admit it took me almost five weeks to read a 500 page novel - a very long time for me.  I usually read much faster than that but the first 150 - 200 pages or so of the book are very slow.  Not much happens - other than the Councillor in question dies - and a huge cast of characters is introduced.  So I kept reading, waiting for something to happen and struggled to keep track of who was who.  Imagine my surprise when the plodding book became a page turner!

The thing is, this is not a plot driven book.  If you're looking for a 'story' that follows traditional patterns then put this down and keep looking; you probably won't enjoy it.  It is not a blow by blow account of what happens in the two sides of the election, the battle for the seat and who wins though that is certainly a part of the book.   Rather, it is a complex analysis of how people react when tested.  And as we all know, testing means different things to different people.

It is about combating addiction, and how addiction is the same and recovery is precarious whether you're a 'white trash junkie' or an upper middle class alcoholic.  It is about courage - the courage to live a normal life when battling mental illness.  It is about facing down your personal demons.  It is about being a parent and and protecting your children.  It is about the relationships between teens and their parents.  It is about different forms of abuse and why we tolerate it.  It is also about hope.  Some parts of the book were so emotionally raw it was difficult to read, some parts were sorta dull, some parts were horrifying, and some parts were laugh-out-loud funny.  Just like life.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Step Away

I'm clearly not destined to have this scarf.  Do you see the problem?

How about now....

I don't know how I did this.  This is about how big it was the first time I made it, when I realized I wasn't going to have enough wool to finish it.  I ripped it back totally, paid very careful attention to the rate of increase, started the even section in the middle one repeat early, and only did one repeat even instead of two before starting to decrease.  By rights, I should have lots of yarn left over.   Words fail me.
**actually, in the interest of full disclosure, words did not fail me but I'm trying to keep this family friendly.

So I did the only thing I could do.  I very carefully folded it up and put it away with the pattern before I poked my eyes out with the needles, or strangled myself with the cable.

And wound this into a cake.

This is from SweetGeorgia Yarns and is the January 2013 Sock Club yarn called "At the Ballet".   It is 50% merino and 50% silk so I'm not going to make socks out of it.  I prefer my socks to have 15 - 20% nylon simply because I think they wear better in the heel and toe.

I'm going to make another single skein scarf (glutton for punishment, I know...).  The pattern here is called Storm Warning by Liz Corke and you can find it on Ravelry.

As you can see, I've knit some of it and I don't totally like the combination of the yarn and pattern.  Firstly, I'm not a huge fan of garter stitch and a whole pile of this scarf is going to end up as one big swath of garter stitch.  Secondly, I think there is too much going on.  The sawtooth edging, the cable and the garter stitch are all textural elements and with the combination of the strongly varigated yarn, the texture is being lost.   If I had a tonal yarn, I think this would be perfect - even with the garter stitch.   I have a few ideas about how to change this so I'll work it again to this point and see what I think.

So did anything work out well this morning?  Well, yes as a matter of fact, something did work out well.  I simply adore the beads in this and whatever I end up doing, the beads will be part of it.

I spent a few hours playing around and I now have this.  A simple twisted column on the top, a stockinette panel in the middle and I kept the beaded sawtooth motif at the bottom.  This has potential.