Knitting · Pets · Spinning · Weaving

Begin Again?

I don’t know if the era of the knitting/weaving/spinning blog is past or not.  I notice that many blogs have gone by the wayside and wonder if it’s because the blogger just tired of it, got too busy, thought nobody cared, or some other reason.

From time to time I think about resurrecting this blog, but I’ve never really had a compelling reason.  I’m older, it’s harder to try to be funny (though I can’t help being silly sometimes), and I just don’t have as much time and energy as I used to.

But now I look around me and acknowledge the data that tells me that I will likely not finish anything I start.  In the past, it was fun to show my progress on the blog and get encouragement.  Just by knowing that I wanted my photo to show a bit more progress on the next blog post, I was motivated to work on an item.

Last week, a reader of one of my former blogs from many years ago wrote me to tell me how much I had helped her and enabled her, in turn, to help someone else.  That was a heartwarming message, and caused me to further consider the future of Material Thoughts.

So here I am, with Plan B (plan A: knit one thing at a time and finish it, has been declared officially impossible).

Plan B is the Blog plan.  For one month I will commit to posting 3 posts per week.  Each post will contain description and/or photos of my progress on projects.

If I can do this for one month, Plan B will get approved and extended to 3 months.  And so forth.

At my company, we use what is called the Agile methodology to plan and execute how we build software.  “Stories” are written in a specific way.  They have to say what is being done and why, and the why must be measurable, in the format “As a [person, organization or system] I want [something] so that [statement showing value].  So here is my story:

As a maker of things from yarn, I want to write blogs posts 3 times per week for one month showing continual progress on one project from each technique (knitting, weaving and spinning) so that I can make progress on works in progress.

Seems simple, right?  I hope so!

The Project On The Needles

Just started yesterday, Cynthia Wasner’s fabulous Saint Olav and his Men cardigan.  I am using the yarn called for (Rauma Finullgarn) in the colors called for, except subsituting Rose for the Orange. This is the photo from the pattern, since my 1/2 inch of ribbing isn’t very photogenic right now:

Full Disclosure:

I’ve committed to also knitting the Dale Peace Sweater, so I will be posting about both of those projects, which should both progress, but I haven’t received the yarn for it yet, and it will require some design changes so as to avoid knitting fair isle back and forth.

The Project On A Loom

Started last week (after actually finished a class sample), a small Navajo rug of my own design using traditional motifs.  I have two inches of this complete.  The goal of my Navajo weaving is to accept that Navajo weaving goes slowly, to savor the satisfying placement of the colors and the beat of the fork and to delight as the pattern emerges.

This is the design, which I created in Excel:

And here is my humble 2″ start.  The bottom is wobbly because I am a beginner and didn’t secure my edge twining properly.  Next time!

Navajo Weaving #2

The Project On a Spinning Wheel

In line with Navajo weaving, I ordered a lot of Navajo Churro rovings in different colors, from Desert Churros Rovings on Etsy.  This is beautifully prepared roving, not too “rustic” and the shop owner is absolutely wonderful.

I have spun up about a dozen skeins of this so far, on my cherry Hansen miniSpinner, aiming for a sport weight.  I have at least that much more to spin.  The darkest churro comes from Dyers Wool, and it had a bit of dandruff in it (I knew that before I bought it) which is hard to get out, but I hope it comes out with washing.  The dark heathery charcoal also comes from Dyers Wool.

It’s hard to get things washed these days, thanks to the new inhabitants of the laundry room, who haven’t quite attained citizenship in the Greater Household.  Spencer and Katie were adopted last week, born of feral mothers from two different Washington locations.  This brings us up to four cats and one dog.

Finished Items · Knitting · Spinning

A Tale of 2.25 mm Needles

I’ve been knitting for a long time– ever since at the age of eight, armed with one red and one white skein of Red Heart Acrylic, I took a knitting class at the local YMCA.  Therefore it might not surprise you to know that I own a lot of knitting needles, in all permutations, materials, sizes and state.  But it surprised me that not long ago,  I did not have the one size I needed– 2.25 mm.

2.25 and 2.75 mm are not commonly stocked in stores in the U.S.  My mad dash to one of the local yarn stores saw me bringing home what I thought was 2.25, only it turned out to be 2.5 because I had assumed that the next highest size after 2.0 would be 2.25 and I was, sadly, mistaken.

So began my hunt for 2.25 mm needles.  These were to be used to knit ganseys, so they needed to be strong and either a) circular 24″ or 32″ or b) doublepointed, and long.   Over the course of a week I had found and ordered:

  1. Two 2.25 mm 32″ Addi Turbo circulars from a seller on Ebay.
  2. Two 2.25 mm 32″ Chiao Goo circulars from a seller on Ebay
  3. Four sets of five 16″ double-pointed steel needles from Frangipani in Great Britain, one of which was 2.25 mm.
  4. One case of 11 sets, 5 each of 14″ steel double-pointed needles from a Chinese seller on Ebay, one set of which was 2.25 — for $0.99.  That’s right– 99 cents.
  5. Two cases of 14 sets, 5 each, of 16″ steel double-pointed needles from a different Chinese seller on Ebay, one set of which was 2.25 mm — for about $28 for each set.
  6. As an honorable mention, I enquired at Signature Needles as to whether they could provide 16″ double-points.  They replied in the affirmative, but said they would cost about $250.00 per set.

I knew I was taking a gamble on the Chinese needles.  I knew that what seemed too good to be true probably was.  And I was so right.  Both sets of needles from China are utterly useless.

They cannot possibly be steel, and even if you are not telekinetic they will bend if you look at them.  The only positive thing I can say is that at least the red “velvet” case will be nice to hold future sets of real steel needles.

The needles from Frangipani were real steel needles.  They are sharp, have a nice heft to them and remain straight when stared at.  I don’t have a picture here because it would not serve any purpose– they look the same as the Chinese needles, but they are the genuine article!  However, I am still awaiting the knitting belt I ordered from the Shetland Islands a few weeks ago, and without that I can’t use them.

The Addi turbos were ho-hum.  The annoying thing about them was the cable, which kept kinking up.  I know, I know– I should run some hot water over them and they will be tamed, but I do not keep hot water in my knitting spot and do not believe that circular needles should have to be treated in order to behave.

So I eyed the Chiao Goos a bit warily.  They have a bend at the end of each tip that I thought would be annoying, but their red cable lay nicely in my lap as I cast on.  The needle material is smooth and slick, and the points are nice.  I have decided that these are my most favorite needle for knitting at a small gauge.  Yes, they are Chinese too, but made with a quality not even comparable to the cheap ones from Ebay.  They are the ones that I am using for Cape Cod.

Speaking of Cape Cod, it is like popcorn.  I just can’t seem to put it down and it grows very slowly but surely.  I am almost to the end of my first skein of Renaissance Poll Dorset, and I am still utterly in love with this yarn.

On the Saturday before Christmas, I decided that since a) I needed new socks and b) I had sock yarn I should c) knit a pair of socks before New Years.  Amazingly enough, I did it.  I used Cat Bordhi’s book New Pathways for Sock Knitting and the Riverbed architecture and they fit so perfectly that I immediately cast on for another pair.

2012 may turn out to be the year for socks and spinning, for I’ve also got Fortuna out and started her spinning again with a silk/merino blend purchased from The Artful Ewe at Madrona two years ago.

Dyeing · Events · Spinning

Getting the Knack of Lac

When Norman Kennedy was asked why he didn’t use some of the new labor and cost-saving devices for preparing cloth, he answered with his own question: “How much is a pound of pride and maybe a half a pound of satisfaction?”

This weekend Norman came to Issaquah to teach us to dye with bugs.  Cochineal = bugs.   My intensive 10-minute research on the subject reveals that cochineal, tiny parasitical bugs whose ground-up bodies produce a red pigment, are cultivated on a certain species of cacti that is grown only in Peru. The squeamish among you should now avert your eyes.

Aren’t they cute?    Get this:  cochineal dye is used as “a popular ingredient for food and beverage applications both for its distinct pink, red or purple colour and for its stability in acid and heat.”  This means that when your darling little child or grandchild is drinking that fabulously delicious red Kool-Aid, she is quite literally drinking bugs.  Yum.

The thing is, there is currently an international shortage of cochineal.  Apparently many of those darn Peruvians figured out they could get more money for silly things like asparagus, bell peppers and avocado, and stopped growing the cacti a few years ago.  Climate has also played a part in the scarcity of the creatures.

Therefore we surprised Norman with this lack of cochineal, and substituted lac.  Lac dye also originates from insects like mealybugs and other scaly insects like this one:


Such a pretty little thing.  Lac dye is slightly more acceptable to we delicate flowers, for it is made not from the bodies of bugs, but instead from their secretions, which coat branches and is then harvested from the branches.  Also, I don’t think it’s used in food.  Yay.

We first mordanted our wet wool by adding alum and cream of tartar to the dye bath.  We had each brought two 2-ounce skeins of wool to dye, and there were two dyepots filled with boiling water.   Into one of the pots we put fustic dye to produce a yellow color (relax:  fustic is made from the wood of a sort of mulberry tree).  Norman’s goal was to create a more scarlet color in this pot.  In the other pot, we did not put the fustic.  We added lac powder to both pots, added our yarn and let it sit overnight.

I can’t say that I’m in love with lac, at least not in the manner these skeins were dyed.  The color is too pale and insincere, but the difference in colors is quite interesting. 

On the left is the color produced with fustic and lac, on the right is lac alone.

Along with the dyeing, Norman taught us how to spin cotton and flax.  And of course all this was accompanied by the beautifully constant flow of stories and recollections from his Scottish past. Good times.

Knitting · Spinning

Pink? Pink?? Pink???

Somehow another weekend has come and gone, and I didn’t even recognize it as it passed.  This is happening more and more, and it must stop!  The voices in my head point out that there is evidence of progress, however.  Here is the spun and plied Cotswald practice yarn.  Much softer than the wiry worsted version, and encouraging for future endeavors.


The 2500 beads are turning out to be rather frustrating because I have to slide them all over as I knit with the yarn onto which they are strung.  I managed to make 1300 of them disappear into the fringe, and finally got to a row where I could leave more of them stranded in strategic locations.  This may turn out to be the Moroccan Days/Arabian nights shawl if I don’t lose my sanity before its completion.

And in completely unrelated news, I received a notice in the mail that my driver’s license will expire on my birthday in March.  Luckily, the state has implemented an on-line renewal process that saves me from having to find a licensing facility that hasn’t been closed due to budgetary constraints.  It was a fast and easy process, part of which required that I prove that I am me.  They asked me my date of birth, my driver’s license number, my social security number, and my eye color.  Here is one of the choices I had for eye color:

Pink? As in pink eye? Conjunctivitis? Or are there really people whose eyecolor is pink?


Events · Knitting · Spinning

I am a Corriedale

I was knitting with some friends the other night and the subject of acrylic was, literally, raised.  One friend had received a “gift” of fuzzy, sticky,  baby pastel acrylic yarn from her sister.  As she received this, the giver said “here, this is for you.  I found it on sale.  Can you knit me a shrug from it?” 

Did you have to re-read that?  I can’t imagine what I would say if I were in my friend’s place, but she was making lemonade out of lemons, or more precisely, a shrug from acrylic baby yarn.  This is an act that will surely recommend her for sainthood one day, the miracle being the ability to complete such a task.  You could literally hear this particular acrylic ripping its tiny little feelers apart every time she needed to pull more yarn from the skein.   The rest of us surreptitiously petted our own yarn in a reassuring sort of way, whispering to it soothingly  “There there, it’s all right… we would never force you to blend with chemicals.  Shhhh now.”  In a sublime twist of irony, she used a wonderful cashmere/merino blend as the waste yarn for a provisional cast-on.  Acrylic has its place, mind you, as in hard-wearing afghan yarns (preferably blended with copious quantities of wool), but this particular yarn was a tragedy of mass proportions.

I was reminded of my last visit to Montana, where I was preparing delicious yet simple caramelized pears, a recipe I found in an old French cookbook.  You peel and quarter the pears  into a baking dish, put 1/2 teaspoon of butter on each quarter, sprinkle vast quantities of sugar over them, and then put them into a 500 degree oven until the sugar begins to brown.  After removing them from the oven you immediately pour in a cup of cream and mix it up with the butter/sugar liquid.  It’s a divine dessert that never fails to please.

On this particular occasion I preheated the oven, but when I was ready to put the pears in, I discovered that my mother-in-law’s storage for extra pots and pans was where?  That’s right– in the oven.  I spied two potholders on the counter, pretty ones that had obviously been hand-crocheted.  Using them, I began to pull out an iron skillet.  In a 500-degree oven an iron skillet gets really, really, really hot.  And those beautiful potholders?  They melted.  Melted!  I had to drop that skillet to avoid being burned.  And what was the culprit?  Say it with me now:  “Acrylic”.  Acrylic is most often better Avoided.  (I was so upset about having ruined her beautiful potholders that as soon as I got home I recreated them twice over in a good heavy cotton (though she never complained at all that they were ruined).  I never crocheted so fast in my life.  I mailed them off to her within a couple of days of our return.)

Anway, all this observance of and discussion about the provenance of the acrylic on the table that night led to discussions of large families and, somehow, a taxonomy arose for the categorization of the level of a sibling within a family.  Obviously, my friend was the Acrylic sister in her family.  The oldest in the family must be the Cashmere sister, followed by Merino, Blue-Faced Leicester, Corriedale, Romney, Lincoln, Ramie, Rayon,  Acrylic, and Baby Alpaca/Silk  (the baby of the family gets all the attention!).   I guess that would make me a Corriedale.

Me in my Youth

Which reminds me that Madrona Fiber Arts Retreat is coming up soon!  As a Corriedale, I need to learn to spin my own wool better, and so I am taking Judith MacKenzie-McCuin’s class on spinning medium breeds.  I love her classes and look forward to this one with alacrity.  (Alacrity is in no way related to Acrylic.)  I am also looking forward to a two-day class with Jean Wong, who teaches Nihon Vogue.  I once thought I would never want to be as fussy with my knitting as she requires one to be, but after a few sizing failures I realize how desperately I need her.  And after seeing what her certified students, like Joni,  have knit, I realize that the opportunities for improvement in my own knitting are vast.  I’ve been knitting for 42 years:  it’s time to learn new tricks.  Hope to see you there– baaa-baaa now.