May 2006 Archives

Almost Finished Finishing

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Liberty Awaits Her Ties

This weekend I dedicated myself to weaving in ends. Not as difficult as you might imagine, because the weekend was filled with the rainy cool weather that I usually associate with April in Chicago. I wove in ends almost every free moment I had until very early Sunday morning when there were no more ends to weave in. Liberty is now endless, so to speak. And her sleeves are set in. She looks quite fetching, don't you think? Graceful neckline, stripes on the sleeve caps that match the body of the sweater. Subtle shaping at the waist that gives her some feminine curves.

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The Ends and a Bottle Of Endurance

In spite of the fact that I am finished adding to this large pile of ends (beer bottle for both reference and relaxation during the process) there is still more work to be done! I still need to create the two ties that will hold the wrap fronts in place. While I'd rather be all the way done at this point, after all the weaving in of ends, the thought of knitting the ties is actually quite pleasant.

However, the lack of ties did not stop me from doing a first try on to see how the fit had come out and to see how the Cashsoft DK feels against my skin. The fit, in my estimation, is quite good (although the cut of the front opening means that Liberty will definitely have to be worn over a tank top or camisole) and the feel is to die for. This is one of the very first yarns that I've knit with that doesn't give me that itchy feeling when worn against my skin. So soft --i it reminds me of very fine angora, without the fuzzy halo. Soft enough that after trying on Liberty I started looking through all the Rowan Classic pattern books I could find on line to see if there was anything else that I might want to make.

Liberty from All Angles

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Break out the champagne, Liberty is absolutely and completely finished. Not a single end remains to be woven in. All the last details are wrapped up and in place. All that remains are the pictures. And here they are:

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Liberty from the Front

While I don't like cold grey weather, I wasn't completely upset that today it was cool enough to wear a wool/microfiber/cashmere blend sweater to work. Yes, for me, Liberty does require a little tank top underneath. It could be suggested that I made a size too small, but the rest of the proportions are right, and the wrap edges reach where they should. Liberty just has a little more sex appeal than I initially gave her credit for.

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Liberty from the Back

As you can see, the back fits almost perfectly (in support of my feeling that the sizing is correct). I am very much in love with the way this top looks from the back. I think the shaping is lovely and the ties add a sweet little detail. I initially wondered if the ties would be heavy looking and feeling, but in the end I think they are well balanced for the garment.

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Liberty from the Side

How could I not love a sleeve like this? See how well matched the striping is to the side of the garment? I would love to take credit for that, but it's all part of the design. The cap is also meant to match most of the way up the armscye, and it does. It's things like this that make all the effort worth while.

Now that the project is complete and I can wear Liberty out into the world, I will say that I think that the effort was absolutely worth it. I love the fit of the garment and a days worth of wearing resulted in no itching or scratching. I just felt so happy all day long at work in my new sweater. Also, after a days' worth of wear, it retains the shape that it's supposed to and didn't start pilling violently. Not only that, the wraps stayed completely in place where they were supposed to. Liberty is definitely a top that fits into a professional wardrobe. And I now have something knitted with a happy bit of orange and green in it that doesn't make me look like I am vaguely seasick.

A few notes...

I did very little in the way of going beyond the pattern. I did choose to do a tubular cast on, which I think makes a nicer edge for the ribbing and one that doesn't pull in where it's not supposed to. To seam the edges of the ties, I used a very simple stitching which involved just sewing through each pair of cast on and bound off edge stitches. I attatched the ties to the back of the edging such that the short end edge was juxtaposed against the inner edge of the grey trim and stitched it in place with some leftover yarn. Setting in the sleeves was a breeze since there were stripes to be matched against.

So this long-delayed, somewhat unloved project has really moved to a special place in my sweater drawer. Wearing this garment makes me feel happy and a little bit sophisticated and like a Knitter with a capital "K". There's really nothing about it that I can complain about. The armholes are just right and not binding, the waist shaping is perfect for me and lands in exactly the right place. The seaming looks presentable. The edging lays exactly the way it is supposed to. All that finishing work was rewarded with something that will be in my spring and fall wardrobe rotation for some time to come.

And for anyone who is interested, you can still download Liberty for free from Rowan.

Taking a Breather

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I often find that the time right after I finish a significant project is just as delicious as that moment when I try something on and discover that it is exactly what I wanted it to be. Suddenly my whole world opens up again as I release whatever I have been focused on.  Now I can consider all the other things that have been tugging on the edges of my creative brain at the same time as I decide what I am going to fill my recently vacated project basket with.

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Swatching for CeCe
 
It's probably not surprising that the first thing I did last night was order my copy of the Bonne Marie's CeCe pattern.  I know, I know, my Dad's Kaleidoscope Vest is waiting patiently in another basket expecting me to keep my promises, but a wool vest is for fall and winter a lacy cardigan is a spring and summer project.  CeCe takes only 600 yards of yarn in my size.  I'm sure that it will be possible for me to complete CeCe and still have time to make sure that Dad has a new vest in his fall wardrobe. 
 
At least I am being "good" on one account.  The yarn that I am going to make CeCe in is some Butterfly Super 10 that I bought to make the Polka Purl Dots wrap top from Interweave Knits.  Clearly I enjoy myself a nice wrap top, but when I thought about what I would get more wear out of, CeCe won hands down.  The deal was sealed when I got gauge on my first attempt.
 
So with the new sweater project selected and swatched, I moved on to the next thing I wanted to work on: adding some bells and whistles to the blog. If you're using MT3.2 there are some very neat plug ins that you can install to enhance your experience:
 
  • The EnhancedEntryEditing plugin (part of the Ajaxify set of plugins) gives you a WYSIWIG editor to create posts in.  How nice not to have to wrap all my images in HTML tags.  Now I can just type and format as if I was using a word processor.
  • BigTemplateWindow gives you enhanced editing capabilities for your MT templates and CSS files -- and includes a dictionary of MT tags that are available to you.
  • ConfigUI gives you a GUI editing screen for MT's config file.  No more fussing around with my webhost's weird file managing tools and FTP to make changes when I need to.
  • Gravatar, a plugin that allows "Globally Recognized Avatars" to show up in comments.  I combined this with some new styling for my comment popup so that my comments are highlighted and an avatar of my choice shows up along with my comment.  The nice thing about this is that the avatars will show up for anyone who has one, not just me. All you have to do is go to the Gravatar website, register with an email address, and upload a small picture.  After they "rate" (yes, like the MPAA rates movies sort of rating) your photo whenever you make a comment here and you use the same email address you used to set up your Gravatar account your avatar will show up in my comments section.  Neat, eh? At least I hope it will be.  I've made a comment to this post so you can see what it looks like and see my new comment styling, which I set up with help from the Learning Movable Type blog (yes, my style looks suspiciously like theirs right now, but that will change when I get more time to play with my blog templates).
After playing with my blog, I still had time to finish up my pattern for the dragon scale socks.  Some final proof reading is required, but a real pattern will be ready soon.
 
And now I'm off to dig through my old treasure trove of counted-cross stitch gear.   Inspired by Julie's talk about monocolor French cross-stitch samplers, I've been feeling like it might be time to pick up my tapestry needles again! 
 
P.S.  Thank you to everyone who said such nice things about Liberty.  If a sweater could come out and take an encore bow, she would.  And sorry about the link to Clyde... it used to be Liberty.  But Clyde is clearly not Liberty.  

Living in my City

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Salt and Light


Some days I am reminded of what a vibrant city I live in.  I can walk to the post office and find inspiration that can be captured with my tiny camera.   The above quote was found on the door of an apartment building being rehabbed in East Village.  I am not sure why I like this quote, scribbled on a particle board door, but somehow it does resonate with me.  Just like the opera, I guess.  I can't really explain why I like it.  I just know that deep inside it strikes a chord.

Restaurants do that for me, too, sometimes.  I know it seems like I am always falling in love with a new restaurant.  That's because Chicago is truly a place undergoing an explosion of wonderful places to eat.  Tonight John and I went to schwa for dinner. Wednesday is date night, you know, and John and I are always happiest when the date night restaurant is within walking distance of home.  Schwa is Michael Carlson's new restaurant (he's recently been listed as one of Food & Wine's best new chefs).  Carlson is alumni from Trio, a restaurant that we never got to try, but that has been the proving ground for many incredible Chicago chefs.  (If you want to get a closer look at the current Chicago fine dining restaurant pedigrees, the Chicago Reader has an excellent "family tree").  Schwa is a small place (it seats about 30 people at a time) and the service is incredibly personal.  We had Michael Carlson standing at our table several times during the evening and wishing us well as we left.  It was almost like having dinner in someone's dining room.  And everything we had was wonderful.

What was on our menu tonight?

I had the spring salad, which was a beautiful mixture of strawberries, fennel, fava beans and goat cheese with some exceptional greens.  That was followed by an exquisite hot course of quail egg filled ravioli accented with ricotta, a brown butter sauce and parmigiano reggiano.  My main course was a beef ribeye with summer truffles, taleggio, and some scrambled eggs (which were light and divine).  And it was all followed by a strawberry shortcake with a strawberry foam, olive oil ice cream and basil accents.  Sounds strange, but was absolutely delicious.  All the food was! John had an equally exceptional meal.  The meal was also accented by two small amuse bouche courses and very reasonable pacing.  We got there at 9 and didn't leave until midnight.   I love eating at a restaurant where you can take time to enjoy the food.  And having a fine dining experience that's accented with a hip hop beat.

As we were finishing, we were told that they had a tasting menu as well...  John and I love doing chef's tasting menus and the special surprise of not quite knowing what is going to come out next.  We didn't need any more motivation to go back, but if we did, that would certainly be it. 

On a scale of 1 to 10, schwa was definitely close to that highest number.  Some might not like the BYOB thing with a restaurant, but it really wasn't a negative for us.  We just grabbed a bottle of wine from our collection and walked off on our date.   

Did I mention that I just love my city? 

 

 
 

Maryland Bound

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This morning Julie and I (after a wonderful KIP with Bonne Marie, Mary Neal, Rachael, Dana, Elizabeth, Mary, Carolyn and Corrine) take wing and head out to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival.  We're looking forward to the sheep, the fiber and most importantly all the wonderful people in our local and internet community.  If you're there and see me wandering around, don't be afraid to come up and say hello!

Have a great weekend everyone!  I'll be back with stories from the festival on Monday. 

Re-Entry

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A Chocolate Ram in a Blanket
 
I came home Sunday night thinking that I would look through my pictures and get a post together.  Travelling to MS&W is such an energizing activity.  I get to see a whole collection of wonderful people, from blogger land, I get to dive into a sea of color and texture, and for two days there is just nothing more important than soaking in the atmosphere created by thousands of people who share passions similar to mine.  But after I got off the plane at O'hare and said good bye to my best buddy and excellent travelling companion, Julie, all the activity of the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival caught up with me, and about all I was good for was dinner out with John and a bit of TV. Today, as I was looking through my meager collection of photos (someday I will get better at taking pictures at events) I decided that I would break things up a little bit.  This post is all about the creatures that we saw. 
 
There are lots and lots of creatures at MS&W.  No surprise there, eh?  A sheep festival that has sheepy participants.  In fact, there are lots of other creatures there, too: llamas, alpacas, angora goats, and angora rabbits.  But the sheep are really what get my attention.  I like sheepy faces and sheepy voices.  I think the chocolate-y colored gentleman in the picture above is a Corriedale, but I'm not completely sure.  I'm still working on becoming a good identifier of sheep breeds.  No matter, he had a regal bearing that drew me to want to take a picture of him home with me.  I am very much drawn to rich and dark colored sheep.
 
 
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Blue Faced Leicester Ewes
 
There are an incredible number of interesting breeds at the show.  I learned more about Lincolns and Karakuls and Shetlands and Romneys.  No pictures of course. This breed, however, should be one that most new spinners should recognize, at least by breed name: the Blue Faced Liecester.  It's hard to see, but they do have a bit of a blue cast to their faces.  They also have what is referred to as a "Roman" nose.  Personally, I really loved their ears, which reminded me of llama and alpaca ears.  The BFL seem almost aristocratic.  And these were clearly enjoying a little rest in a barn that was blissfully cool due to both shade and a nice breeze.
 
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A Collection of Kid Goats
 
I wish I knew for sure that these were angora goats.  This little pen of creatures was just adorable.  When I was much much younger, my aunt had goats on her small farm in Colorado.  They were full size goats, and not for fiber (milk was their primary role, and I remember it being wonderful), but they had wonderful personalities.   So I have a special place in my heart for goats.  
 
I had been planning to take more pictures of sheep... really I was.  But these three pictures (one of which is not sheep) were all the creature photos that came home with me.  Too bad I can't share the vivid images in my head.  Everywhere we went there was a fiber animal of some kind... sheep being shorn or trimmed, sheep being shown, sheep being taken for a walk, baby goats being carried back to a pen or a car, llamas looking on while people strolled by, the occasional border collie.
 
So many wonderful animals.  How could one not be inspired to buy fiber?  More on that (and some of the people I met) tomorrow. 

Shopping in Maryland

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For some reason, I'm having a hard time organizing my thoughts about Maryland.  For me, even though it was only two days, it's really hard to sum up all the people and colors and animals and fiber that were part of the trip.  I love travelling with Julie.  We always end up having a good time together and we're pretty good at rolling with the punches (like doing a U-turn on a bridge going into Baltimore after discovering that 895 only connects to 195 going outbound from the city).  Not only that, but we each tend to be drawn to different things and different colors, so as a result, I think we both see more things than we might otherwise.  And then there's the real joy of getting to see old friends and meet new ones. Claudia, Silvia, Norma, Liz (my CVM enabler), Jen, Cassie, Laurie, Jodi (who gave us some most excellent "KNIT" buttons), RockChick, Cara, Juno (who's Canadian production wheel with purpleheart accents was both beautiful and interesting to spin on), and Rachael (who has an affection for woodworking tools that my father could appreicate) all made the event a special one.  The more of these festivals I go to, the less it becomes about stash acquisition and the more it becomes about enjoying the company of creative and interesting people.

But, of course, there was a good deal of acquiring.  I was more reserved than in previous years, but I still found some special things to come home with. 

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The New Yarn Collection: (starting from the top right and going clockwise)
Cormo/Nylon Sock Yarn from Foxhill Farm, Duet Yarn from Brooks Farm, and 2 skeins (a 4 oz and a 5 oz) of Laceweight Merino from Morehouse Merino  

 
I was very moderate with regards to yarn.  In fact, I had originally decided that the only place I was going to buy yarn at was going to be the Morehouse Merino booth.  I can wear their laceweight against my skin, which is relatively rare, and I think their colorways are wonderful for scarves and shawls. I got a 4 ounce and a 5 ounce skein to use in bigger scarf/shawl projects.  I'm particularly taken with the brown/gold colorway, which is from their Monet colorway collection and is called "Grand Canal, Venice".  The smaller skein is either their Blossom or Sugar Plum colorway (it's not labelled and it's not easy to tell from their website).  The Duet (from Brooks Farm) is a Mohair/Fine wool blend.  Since I did use up a skein of Brooks Farm yarn making a scarf for my mom, I figured it was okay if a new skein got added.  Anyone who knows me well, knows my love for the luminous blue.  And this yarn was just too luminous to pass up.    Scarf? Shawl? Pet rock?  Who knows what this skein will become.  But it makes me ever so happy!  The final skein, that plain white skein, is the most incredible cormo/nylon blend sock yarn from Foxhill Farm (one of my absolute favorite places to buy fiber from, as you'll see very soon).  The yarn is probably closer to DK than sock weight, but, no matter, it will still be lucsious on the feet.  Julie got herself a skein, too, and we are thinking that some self-striping sock yarn dyeing may be in order for this lovely wool.  If you've never sampled a little cormo, you should treat yourself some time.  In my mind, it's equally as wonderful as nice merino.

 

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The Spinning Fiber Haul, Part I: Wool
(starting from the top right)
Undyed 100% Cormo Top from Foxhill Farm, 2 bags of Hand Dyed Cormo/Silk blend Top from Foxhill Farm, Hand Dyed Cormo/Silk/Alpaca Blend top from Winterhaven Fiber Farm and Cochineal and Madder Dyed Corriedale from Handspun by Stefania.

 

My spinning fiber purchases can be divided into 2 categories: wool based blends and silk based blends.  Most of the wool based blends contained Cormo.  Did I mention that I like Cormo?  Our first stop at the festival on Saturday morning was the Cormo Association, where Alice Field of Foxhill Farm was selling some of her incredible fiber.  Alice, in addition to being a treat to talk to, has spectacular Cormo wool.  In fact, one of her fleeces took Reserve Grand Champion for the entire show, in addition to winning in a number of other categories.  Her Cormo/silk blends that I took home last year were so wonderful that I knew I needed to have more this year, in addition to just some straight up Cormo (I'm curious to see how the silk changes the spinning of this fiber).  In keeping with both my blue and cormo obsessions, the soft blue balls of fiber come from Winterhaven Fiber Farm of Indiana.  If cormo and silk is good, then cormo silk and alpaca should be a real treat.  Finally, that beautiful deep red/burgundy roving is Corriedale dyed with cochineal and madder by Handspun by Stefania. While Corriedale isn't quite as soft as Cormo, I think it's just a blast to spin since it has so much loft and spring to it.
   

 

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The Spinning Fiber Haul, Part II: Silk
(starting from the top right)
Two Sets of Dyed Bombyx Silk Hankies from Spinner's Hill, Dyed Tussah Silk Top from Shadeyside Farm in "Breeze" and an unnamed colorway, and 2 ounces of a Silk/Brown Cashmere Top from Shadeyside Farm

 

If you hang around with Julie and I long enough, you learn two things.  She has an incredible radar for alpaca and I will almost always put my hands on anything containing silk.  Maybe it's the brilliant luster, or the soft hand, but silk is one of my absolute favorite fibers.  I've been very curious about spinning with silk, so I decided some more top and some hankies were in order.  The hankies (left in their protective zip loc bags come from Spinner's Hill (they have some incredible hand dyed top and roving, their colors are just to die for, if you'll forgive the pun).  The silk top came from Shadeyside Farm in New York.  By now, it probably shouldn't be surprising that my colorway selections leaned towards the blue and of the spectrum.  The top is delightful to the touch and drafts very effortlessly, so I am hoping that I will enjoy working with this fiber on my wheel.  The last little treat, that really doesn't come across as beautiful as it is is the 2 ounces of Silk/Brown cashmere top.  This is a 50/50 blend and is the sort of thing you'd like to fill up a bathtub with and just dive into.   There really just aren't enough superlatives to describe this stuff.   It will take me a little while to get up the courage to spin it, I think!

And speaking of spinning... I did try out some wheels from Robin Wheels, Golding Wheels and the Merlin Tree.  By doing this, I learned that when you spin at a fiber festival, you will draw a crowd.  Everytime I Julie or I sat down in front of a wheel, people started to gather.  The Golding wheel was lovely to spin on, it seemed to almost treadle itself, but I had a hard time getting a good rhythm going with the Robin and Merlin wheels, though I thought the Robin wheel was absolutely beautiful.  We also got to spin on a wheel fitted out with a Woolee Winder, which I really liked the feel of.  Can you say "possible anniversary present"?  Hopefully John will.  Such a clever device.  Clearly we need more engineers to think about spinning wheels.

Whew!  That was a lot of typing and linking.  Now I'm off to go bond with my wheel.  I really missed my wheel while we were in Maryland.  I can certainly spin on a drop spindle, but I don't enjoy it nearly as much as spinning on my wheel.  A shame she doesn't fit in the overhead compartment of an airplane... 

Something Old

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Nostalgia will get me every time.

It all started with Julie. This shouldn't be too surprising as I consider her to be my crafty muse. First it was her post on monochrome cross-stitch on whip up. Then it was listening to Episode 3 of Stitch-Cast where she talked about a variety of embroidery forms. And finally it was a trip to her house for an afternoon where I got to see the lovely linen and hand-dyed embroidery floss that were ready to be turned into a beautiful monochrome sampler. I resisted the impulse at first, but after seeing that floss (along with a sampling of the cross-stitch projects she'd worked on over the years) when I came home I had to dig through my house looking for all my counted cross stitch.

Funny how a craft can be so worked into the fiber of my life. Long, long before I had any idea about what to do with yarn, I was exposed to needlework. My mom did embroidery and crewel work and cross-stitch. To be honest, I can't even remember when I started doing it. It seems like it was almost always there. It faded in and out at times, and the last time it was very present in my life was towards the end of my relationship with my ex-fiance. Looking back now, it seems like I started to take up cross-stitching in earnest again right before things started to get really difficult for us. We were going through a good period, and for a brief period of time in the relationship, I got to be the person that I liked to be. I made several very nice pieces that went off to commemorate births, weddings and kitchens and almost nothing for myself. And then things entered the downward spiral that leads to the end of a relationship. And when the boxes got packed for the new apartment, the cross-stitch got packed away, too. It would emerge briefly every now and again after that, but almost never long enough for me to finish anything, in spite of the lovely collection of linen I had amassed and the full collection of DMC floss colors that called out to be painted with.

Big sigh.

Long pause.

I guess I didn't realize how deeply I associated the cross-stitch with a particular time in my life. One that I would never want to go back to, but one that was absolutely necessary for me to become who I am today. I don't mean to make it seem so melodramatic, but as I write this, there's just this rush of memories that come flooding back.  I type a bit, remember some more, and get stuck trying to remember who that person was way back there playing with tapestry needles and embroidery floss.

The good thing was that I did manage to collect all my cross-stitch things and projects together.  I'm not quite ready to start working on them again, but I thought it might be nice to catalog them, and do a little more remembering.

 

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The Castle
 

This piece is worked based on a chart designed by Theresa Wentzler. Called "The Castle", I started this chart not too long after it was published in 1988, just after I started college.  That would make this piece my oldest unfinished project.   It hardly seems like I started this almost 20 years ago.  Of course, I couldn't make things easy on myself.  I chose 22 count white hardanger  instead  of the recommended 14 count Aida.  A real treat when you've got a lot of half and  three-quarter stitches to deal with.  This is a recipe for early blindness, but I didn't care.  I loved how much like a painting it seemed like when I worked those small stitches. This was also my first real foray into cross-stitch projects with multiple colors blended together. Quite the magickal embroidery floss adventure. Even though I'm not as big a fantasy fiction buff as I used to be, I still love this design. 

 

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Castle Detail

 

Which is why it is a litle bit sad that I abandoned it so close to completion.  Well, okay, there's still a alot to do, but all things considered, it's closer to the end than to the beginning. If I get started into cross stitch projects again, this will be the first one I pick up.  I think it needs to be on the wall of my fiber room.  To remind me of where I come from.  And that no matter where life takes me, I always have a little well spring of craftiness that can help me get through the more challenging times if I let it.

Something New

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There's one more thing that I bought at MS&W that I didn't mention in my "what I bought at the festival" post. This was partly because I forgot about it and partly because I wanted to play with it and have some results to show off before I talked about it. If you read Julie's blog, you've already read what she has to say about her Weavette. I bought mine at the very same place (Haltwhistle Fibers) , only I purchased the 4" x 4" Weavette. Weaving is one of those crafts that I've been interested in for some time (and I can remember playing with my potholder loom when I was small, and working on a very simple frame loom when I was about 10), but have shied away from because of the fact that it's not a cheap pursuit to embark upon. I can be fickle with my crafting hobbies and I figured that I needed to find some smaller scale way to try this out to see if it was worth it to me in terms of both money and space to move on to bigger and more expensive things.

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Weavette Loom and Accessories

Clearly, the tiny weavette is a good place for someone like me to start. In addition to the loom, I also bought a handy-dandy little book of textures (I do like me some spiral bound craft books! Why can't more people make books like this?) to help me on my way. I thought about the yarn to use it with for a little while, and then settled on some of the 50/50 silk/fine wool blend that I had spun after Christmas, since I thought for the first experiments it would be best to do something where color didn't get in the way of being able to observe the texture.

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Woven Squares: Plain Weave (top left), Hourglass (top right) and Mock Seed Stitch (bottom right)

First off, I had a lot of fun doing this. The instructions that come with the Weavette and that are in the book are excellent and easy to follow. It took me no time at all to "warp up" this little loom and get started on my first square of plain weave. Taking it off the pins was a little adventure because I was curious as to how the fabric would change. Clearly, the frame put tension on the fiber, so would it retract a bit like I would expect knitted fabric to do? In this case, it changed very little, though I suspect that some of that has to do with the high silk content (and, thus, reduced elasticity) of the yarn I chose. For a little while, I couldn't put that square down. I was completely surprised that in less tthan 15 minutes I could create this wonderful little square bit of cloth. So I made another, and then another. I think I might like this whole weaving thing!

I think it's appropriate that there should be a convergence of cross-stitch and weaving for me right now. As soon as I started to handle the plain weave square, it occured to me that this was no different than the woven linen fabrics that I've used to cross stitch on. Amazing how it can take actually making something on my own to help me see the painfully obvious. The weave is quite large, though, so I don't know that embroidery floss would be my best bet to cross-stitch with. But what about the silk single that I am spinning up right now? Could be an interesting combination, I'm thinking, if I can find a simple design that will fit in the confines of a relatively small space. I've been wanting to join Julie's pincushion challenge, but given my rudimentary (at best) sewing skills I was at a loss for what to do. Now I am beginning to think I might have the inkling of an idea.

There's also a pretty rich set of patterns out there on the internet for this little toy. My favorite site was eLoomaNation, a site that focuses on doing interesting things with little looms, and which has a whole section filled with vintage patterns and projects for use with the 4" x 4" loom with lots of nice downloadable PDFs.

Can you tell what toys I'm going to be playing with this weekend?

Something Borrowed

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A New Kind of Stash*

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A Borrowed Romeo**


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*For a closer look at those two fabrics on the left end and why they had to come home with me, click here.

** A Husqvarna Romeo, that is. My mother's "travelling" sewing machine. Her other Husqy would be comparable to this one if she bought it today. And then there's the Huskylock. Mom has excellent taste in sewing machines.

Something Blue

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And a little bit green as well. (Not sure why I've got that old wedding rhyme going, it just somehow seemed appropriate to the last couple of days worth of posts).

I didn't start out Saturday morning planning to having anything to do with fabric or sewing machines. But then I asked Mom to help me hem up the edge of one of my cross stitch pieces, which led to a sewing machine moment, which led to the discovery of my mom's travelling sewing machine, Romeo. Since it was Mother's Day weekend, how could I turn down a trip to the quilting store? Where I found this:

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Butterflies to Quilt With

And it seemed to go well with a square that I found in that Puzzle Quilts book. As disturbing as it might seem, the first thing I did was take my new rotary cutter to it along with a contrasting striping fabric. The result? Butterflies flying through a field of handpainted grass.

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A First Set of Quilt Pieces

Mom gave me a basic lesson in the care and feeding and use of sewing machines so that I could take Romeo home and put my sqauare together. Always iron your fabric. Wash it if you're going to wash whatever you're going to sew later. The foot always needs to be down when you start to sew, and the needle needs to be up when you get to the end of what you're sewing. Start sewing a little bit in from the edge. And I did some simple practice stitching. But, since I have something of a fear of sewing machines (they move fast and are not as reversible as ripping out a knitting project) I decided that I needed to get some more practice before I started connecting fabric that I really liked. So I also got myself a little muslin and cut out some test squares and triangles to start piecing together.

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A Test Muslin Square

Tonight Romeo and I did some bonding over that muslin. I guess it's going to take a little while before we are true partners in this experiment. But it's a beginning. And I've given myself permission not to get too upset about making mistakes, since sometimes mistakes are the best way to learn something new.

Right now even I am surprised by how little knitting I've been posting about lately. Somehow, MS&W inspired me to get crafty in different ways with wool and thread. I've been doing some knitting and spinning (and I'll be posting more about that later in the week), but it seems to be woven fabrics and thread that are grabbing my attention when it comes to me grabbing projects to work on.

Have you all heard about Julie's Pincushion Challenge? It's similar to some of the other projects out there to encourage people to get crafty and creative. This month's theme is "fruit", so the challenge becomes making a pincushion with a fruity theme.

I have to admit, that I was initially going to pass this one by. I thought it was a clever and neat idea, but I just wasn't coming up with any ideas that I thought I could run with. And then my Weavette came into my life and I picked up my tapestry needles again. What, I thought, about a rustic pincushion that involved cross-stitching somekind of fruit onto a woven square made out of my own hand spun? A trip through my small collection of cross stitch magazines and charts turned up a tomato that was just perfectly sized for my woven squares (you can find it in the March/April 1992 issue of Cross Stitch and Country Crafts). A tomato is a fruit, I thought, and it's also the traditional pincushion form. So it seemed like something I could work with.

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A Tomato Is a Fruit

I started the cross stitching Thursday night and finished it on my way to Ann Arbor Friday night. I really like the rustic quality of the stitching on the woven square made out of my rustic wool/silk handspun. I decided to use all 6 strands of DMC floss over 1 thread in the woven fabric. The backstitching was done with 3 strands..

I've made another plain even weave square to make up the bottom of the cushion, but because of the relatively large gaps between the threads in my woven square, I think I need to have a liner made up of a finer weave fabric that will both hold in the stuffing to poke the pins into and provide a firmer substrate for the pins to be attached to. Enter some muslin that I got from my mom over the weekend. I'm going to sew it on the inside of the two handwoven pieces in the final assembly. Because I like the scalloped edge that resulted when I pulled the square off the loom, I'm going to run a little bit of backstitching along the outside edge and sew all 4 pieces together, leaving a gap where I can insert the stuffing. This will get me a pretty little ruffled edge detail, and be a lot easier than sewing everything inside out and then turning it right-side out to get a pretty seam.

Proof of Knitting

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Just in case it was beginning to seem like I don't knit anymore...

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CeCe Up to the Arm Holes

This, unfortunately, isn't a very flattering picture of CeCe. Like most projects with lace motifs, she looks a bit rumpled. Also, since she's knit in more or less one piece, there's a lot of her on my circular needle. That said, however, I'm actually very excited about her potential to be a great sweater for summer. So far, the project has gone rather quickly, and when I stretch the lace out, I find the motif to be very pleasing. Iit's also easy to knit. I wouldn't call it mindless, but the pattern is easy to memorize and to troubleshoot when you run into a mistake (ask me how I know this...).

The next stop on this project is the sleeves. They're knit in the round and then attched to the sweater where everything is worked together. I don't think I've ever put a sweater together that way before, so I'm looking forward to seeing a new construction technique in action.

And now that we've finally got some sunshine after what seemed like months of rain (I know, it was only 5 days, but it felt like months), I've got some plants that are giving me some action as well.

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Nelly Moser Puts on a Show

I do like my clematis! This is the first of the three I have that is flowering, but the other two aren't far behind. And in my front yard, our French lilac bush and my peony are getting ready to show there stuff. I just love this time of year!

Rustic Tomato Pincushion

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Rustic Tomato Pincushion In Action

A few pins, a bit of fluffy roving and some brown embroidery floss later, my pincushion is a reality. Believe it or not, my knitting experience came in handy with the seaming of the two woven pieces. Originally, I thought I was going to use back stitch to put the pieces toether. Then I remembered that the backside looks different from the front side, and that the back side doesn't look neat enough when it's going to be exposed. So I ended up using something that reminded me of mattress stitch for seams.

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Close Up View of Rustic Tomato Pincushion

It's a very rustic -- the woven fabric is rustic, the cross stitching in rustic, the backstitching is rustic, the seaming is rustic. But what could be better than turning my own handspun into something useful? This little pincushion has been the gateway to a lot more than just doing cross-stitch again. It made me realize that when I combine my hand spun with my Weavette I have almost endless possibilities for creating templates for small cross stitch projects. Now that indigo dyed wool/silk skein can become a blue background for a small project. I can spin a finer yarn or single and create a template that is less rustic. For someone who almost never sews fabric, it was pleasant to discover that I could work out a way to solve my problem and get the result I was imagining in my head with the few rudimentary skills I acquired when I was in my early teenage years. And this template can be used for more than just pincushions. I can also imagine a pretty little pillow sachet for a lingerie drawer. Add a ribbon and some cedar stuffing and it could be a decorative means of discouraging moths in a closet.

So there you have it. My entry in Julie's May Pincushion Challenge featuring

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Pincushion details:

The foundation is made up of a hand-woven fabric that I created using a 4" x 4" Weavette loom and some of my hand-spun two-ply wool/silk yarn. The tomato was cross-stitched using 6 strands of with DMC embroidery floss and back-stitched with 3 strands of DMC embroidery floss. The inside of the pincushion is lined with a light weight muslin fabric to provide structure and to prevent the stuffing from escaping. It's stuffed with a little bit of lovely and cushiony moorit CVM roving. I seamed the woven pieces and the muslin together usin 2 strands of the same brown DMC floss as I used to backstitch the tomato.

57 Pairs of Socks Complete!

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Hi All! Sorry that I haven't posted on the Sock Challenge in a while. I was out of town for the last two weekends (MS&W on the first weekend and on Ann Arbor for Mother's Day to see my mom on the second weekend) and wasn't able to put the post together. I'm also going to be out of town (and probably away from an internet connection) next weekend as well, but hopefully I'll get back to regular posting in June.

At any rate, three cheers for Michelle K, who has finished two pairs of socks since my last post -- you can click on the links under her name to see what she's been up to -- and Carole, who finished a very nice pair of socks for her self in a lovely yellow/orange color as part of Project Spectrum -- click on the link for her "Cheez Whiz" socks to check them out!

I've been a bit slow, but things should pick up now that I've had the chance to let mom try on her first Opal Rainforest Tiger sock (it fit almost perfectly for her, which I was worried about because she doesn't have "standard" size feet.

Without further ado, here's the run down:

Sleeves for CeCe

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CeCe Gets Some Sleeves

CeCe is moving right a long. I completed the body up to the point where the sleeves are joined and knit both sleeves. I got a little lazy with the sleeves and decided not to do the tubular cast on that I had done for the ribbing at the base of the body of the sweater. My guess is that that omission won't be very noticeable.

The next step is to join the sleeves to the body of the garment and to get ready to do a lot of raglan shaping. This will make for a lot of stitches, but I'm hoping that all the shaping will distract me from the paying too much attention to that big number.

I was hoping to get farther on CeCe this weekend, but with another trip to Michigan planned for us over Memorial Day, John and I figured that we needed to get some plants into the ground and into planters. My favorite purchases of the weekend? A double white peony with pink trim that will keep my lonely red peony company (but definitely won't be flowering this year), a Candy Corn plant that has lovely little flowers that look like candy corn (and will probably summer outside and winter inside, and two little lavender plants that I hope won't mind living a perennial lifestyle in a planter. I have visions of fresh lavender to use in sachets and to perk up my house during the winter. Funny, how I never really liked the smell of lavender when I was growing up, but now I find it incredibly soothing.

Thank you to everyone for your kind comments about my pincushion. I did have a lot of fun making it. Pretty neat when you can combine three different craft forms into one project! I may try to do some similar projects in the future if I can find some more small and interesting cross stitch motifs.

Shapely Tiger Sock

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A Shapely Tiger Sock and Some Stork Scissors

You might be thinking, right about now, what happened to all the socks?

And, in fact, I've been thinking something along those lines, too. What's up with my current sock project?

Well, over Mother's Day weekend I took my all but Kitchenered Opal Rainforest Tiger sock to be tested out on one or Mom's feet. Surprise of all surprises, math does work the way you expect it to sometimes, and the shapely Tiger sock fit exactly the way it was supposed to fit. So I grafted the toe and brought this sock to completion. I think it's about time I cast on for the second one now, don't you? Especially with a long weekend by a little lake in Michigan coming up.

The second sock I was going to work on was the second sock in a pair for me, the Mermaid socks from Lucy Neatby's Cool Socks, Warm Feet (which, by the way, was also the inspiration for the Tiger sock as well). I've had one sock complete for almost two years now, and it seemed like high time to get the second one taken care of. I did get it cast on before I left for Maryland, even worked on it on the plane home from Baltimore. Only to discover that I made a mistake in the stitch pattern and need to rip back to the cuff. Lots of tinking in my future with that one. But it may head with me to Michigan as well.

And, apropos of nothing, I just had to put my little Gingher Stork Embroidery Scissors in the picture. I've always wanted a pair of those little Ginghers, and the sale at Joann.com combined with my renewed cross-stitch efforts, was just thing I needed to convince myself that I could have a little treat. I chose these for their exceptionally pointy tips, which I hope will be handy for some of the openwork techniques I want to try. If you think steeking is scary, you should try snipping the threads in a piece of linen fabric that you have pain-stakingly put about a million multicolored stitches into over 5 years. It requires some very fine tipped little scissors to make sure you only snip the threads you're supposed to. Watch out experimental test linen! Here I come!

Spinning Silk

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Little by little I've been working on spinning up something new to me: 100% tussah silk. It took me and my hands a little while to figure things out and for me to adjust my wheel correctly: longer draw, and only enough tension to keep it drawing on the bobbin. Today, while spending an afternoon spinning with Julie, I finally had the whole 2 ounces spun up.

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A Bobbin Full of Silk

Nice and squishy and soft to the touch is this bobbin full of fiber. The single is a bit variable. It probably all stays in the laceweight range, but goes from thread-like in places to rather thicker. My control on this wasn't really as good as I wanted it to be. I learned that it's very hard to correct mistakes with something that has as long a "staple" length and as little elasticity as silk does. Instead, the most important thing I could do seemed to be making sure that the fiber was well pre-drafted and that any clumps, VM or neppy things were removed from the top before spinning.

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Variable Silk Single With a Bit of Halo

I also found, and this became especially pronounced after I moved it from the bobbin to my niddy noddy, that my silk has something of a fuzzy halo. I'm not sure if this resulted from the fact that I hadn't spun it tightly enough or that in the process of drafting I was not keeping the fibers together very well.

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528 Yards of Silk Single

2 ounces did give me a significant yield, however: 528 yards of single. The jury is still out on the plying issue. I think I like silk better as a single, and I worry that it would get a little cord-like if I plied it. But it's also very fine, and I'm not sure I can bring myself to knit with it on size 2 needles! I saw a number of very nifty little scarves made out of a silk single at MS&W, and I am thinking that may be this yarn's destiny as well. But the pattern will have to be something that does well with stripes, as this single definitely has long stretches of the same color.

Dragon Day

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After I got that cross-stitch project out, I decided that I needed to finish it. There's something to be said about an unfinished work, but in this case it would never make me happy given how much work I had already done on it. It's strange, I hardly even remember doing all that work. But there's definitely a lot more time in the piece than I've ever put into any sweater. How do I know this?

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The Castle: A Dragon's Tale Comes into Focus

Well, I decided that I would work for an hour every day (including weekends) on this project. I didn't start right away after I posted it, but I didn't wait too long either -- I think the Saturday before Mother's Day. Since deciding to do that I've finished the hind leg and claw, and most of the long part of the tail. That probably represents 7-8 hours of work. And there wasn't a lot of color changing in the part I just worked. The castle and rocks have a lot of color changing involving two strands of two different colored floss. So it will be a bit slower going from here on out.

I'm finding this cross stitch project very engaging for me in small doses. I actually look forward to coming home from work and listening to The World and spending some time with my dragon. It's definitely a reminder that I enjoy needle work that doesn't involve yarn. I wish these Q-snap frames had been around a long time ago when I started this project. They make the experience a lot nicer than tensioned rings or wooden hoops and they are much more portable than a stand. (If you do cross stitch and don't have one of these frames, you should really do yourself a favor and treat yourself to one -- they're not that expensive and they come in a variety of sizes).

I think I'm going to have a weekly "Dragon Day" until this project is finished to help keep me motivated. I really want to see this project through to the end now and give it a special place in my home to remind me that it is never too late to finish something.

And now I'm off to browse through my Barbara Walker books in search of a pattern that might work well with my washed and set silk singles.

CeCe in the Home Stretch

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CeCe: All the Knitting Finished

CeCe really deserved better light, but 11 PM in Chicago is never a time for good light. I hope that it's at least clear that CeCe has sleeves, that all the knitting has been finished, and all that remains to be done is to sew the neck bands in place, sew the under-arm seems together, and weave in the ends. CeCe also needs a good blocking, but I haven't quite figured out how to do that yet. I don't think I've ever blocked a garmet that is both knit in the round and is cotton. I'm thinking perhaps that steaming might be the right course of action. Anyone out there ever block a knit in the round lace cotton garment?

I think I'll try to finish CeCe up while we're away for the weekend. Poor John! How would you like to travel with someone who thinks all these are required for a long weekends' entertainment:

  • CeCe and Seaming Equipment
  • Second Tiger Sock for Mom
  • Spinning Wheel and Spinning Fiber (maybe more silk?)
  • Sewing Machine and Fabric
  • Cross-stitch Dragon Project and Accessories
  • Laptop Computer
  • iPod
  • At least 2 books to read
  • Some miscellaneous magazines
  • A writing journal

Clearly I have a serious case of craft separation anxiety.

Have a great weekend everyone! I'll be back on Tuesday.

Long Weekend, No Internet

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You know, sometimes it's nice to be isolated from the world. Memorial Day weekend turned out to be one of those weekends that was so perfect I just didn't want it to end. We had three days in a wonderful and quiet corner of the universe at my aunt and uncle's cottage on LongAt Lake in Michigan.

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A View from the Boat

Almost the entire weekend involved boat rides on the lake, eating, motorcycle rides, more eating, crafting, reading, journaling and even a little knitting. But one of the best parts of the trip:

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Dad and I Put Our Wheels to Good Use

This was Saturday night. After a long hard day of doing almost nothing and rewarding ourselves with some excellent local ice cream, Dad and I settled in with our wheels. He was working on his stash of undyed BFL and I was spinning up some Cochineal and Madder dyed Corriedale from Handspun by Stefania -- at least in this picture. I went on to spin up the Coopworth sample that I got from Liz. I'll talk more about those in the days to come.

It's hard to imagine a better weekend than one that involved spinning with my dad (his singles are really getting quite even, and he likes to spin a bit thicker than I do, which I just love since I can't seem to do thick to save my life) and learning more about sewing machines from my mom (I now think I understand why Romeo and I were having some issues) and getting to fall asleep in the sun on John's shoulder while taking a boat ride on a lovely little lake. I didn't miss being disconnectedat all -- there was just too much relaxing to do!

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