August 2006 Archives

Beer, Part 3 -- Kegging


So what do you do with your proto-beer after it has gone through the primary fermentation and a secondary fermentation? At this point, you might be surprised to know, the beer has no carbonation. Even though in the first fermentation, the yeast were busy belching out CO2 just as fast as they could, most of that is released to the air and is not trapped in the beer(otherwise your ale pale would explode in what is sometimes referred to as a "beer bomb"... it is not pretty).

There are two ways to get carbonation back in your beer. If you put your beer into bottles, you add just enough sugar to the uncarbonated brew to get the yeast a little active again and then put everything into the bottles. You have to be careful about how much sugar goes in or those bottle become beer grenades, which, like the beer bomb, make a big mess and loud scary noises. The other way to do it is by kegging. All the beer you get on tap in a bar or pub has been kegged. Because neither John nor I relish the idea of cleaning and santizing enough beer bottles for a 5 gallon batch of beer and because I have no desire to find out just how destructive beer grenades are, we opted to go for the kegging system.

Sanitizing 5 Gallon Cornelius "Corny" Kegs

Probably the most important part of this process is having santized kegs. One thing that is guaranteed to make you unhappy with your beer is if some other microbes besides your beer yeast get involved with the beer. Since beer is plenty rich in nutrients, there are plenty of bacteria and fungi that are willing to sample your beer for you. Unfortunately, this leads to all sorts of unpleasant flavors an off-putting smells. Since your beer could be spending quite a long time in this keg (after all, it does take a little while to go through 5 gallons of beer if you are only two people) it's important that it be well cleaned. There are a number of nice one step sanitizers on the market now, and that's what John used to get his keg ready for storing beer (I think the one we used is "StarSan")..

From Carbuoy to Keg

Just like moving the beer from the primary to the secondary fermentation, moving the beer to the keg involves a sanitized siphon, an elevated surface and a little bit of patience while the beer moves into it's final home.

Mixing the Beer and CO2

Unfortunately, I don't have a picture of the CO2 gas canister and its associated apparatus. You'll just have to trust me that after the keg lid is sealed, you pump CO2 gas into the canister. After that, you give the keg a bit of gentle agitating to mix the CO2 throughout the solution.

Chilling the Kegs

It may not look like it, but what you are seeing here is chemistry in action. CO2 is more soluble in cold liquids. Thus, to help the carbonation process along, it's important to chill the kegs (and beer) down to 40-50 degrees Farenheit. John managed to find the perfect sized small refrigerator that holds 2 5 gallon kegs and fits in the fridge space under our wet bar. One of those kegs contains our IPA the other contains our Belgian-style ale.

Beer, like wine, will change as it ages. How long you need to keep the beer kegged before you start drinking depends on the beer and your tastes. We sampled both our IPA and our Belgian less than 24 hours after kegging and noticed changes as the beer matured. The beer was good almost immediately, but both have mellowed nicely as they've aged. This was particularly important for the Belgian, which is 9-10% ABV (alcohol by volume). At first taste, the taste of the alcohol was very forward. A couple of weeks later, it has receded into the background and some of the lovely carmelly malt and banana flavors have taken over.

Belgian-Style Ale Amongst the Petunias

Here's a view of the final product. Our Belgian is a little darker than you would expect most Belgians to be, but it is quite clear, which makes John quite happy. Not a huge head on this beer, but it's turning out to be a very pleasant and smooth drinker, and a nice complement to a hot day. Not a beer you can drink a lot of at once or drink fast, so we expect this keg to be with us through the fall.


Too Hot


Right now its really hot here in Chicago. It was 100 degrees when I was out running some errands around lunch time and it only dropped to about 97 degrees at around 8 pm. According to my constantly updating weather ticker (courtesy of my Google desktop) it's cooler in Houston, Texas right now. And we even had a brief power outage this afternoon -- probably because of all the air conditioner use on the grid right now. And when you go out, you don't see many people. That's a strange and eerie thing in a big urban environment. But clearly people would rather be indoors with whatever climate conrol they have access to. Yeah, baby, it's warm outside.

Which is a very long lead in to me telling you I haven't been knitting much. I have been knitting some. I'm about 50 rows further along on Dad's vest. Only another 36 to go before the armhole shaping. No photos, because I don't suspect that it would look significantly different than the last picture. I've also turned the heel and finished the gusset for my second Broadripple sock. Second dark blue sock partway done? Boring picture, I decided.

Blue Moon Socks that Rock, Medium in Amber and Sock Hop Say a Little Prayer

So you get sock yarn and some more spinning commentary instead. The STR is the real yarn that will flesh out that pattern idea I gave you a glimpse of a short time back. Because the pattern and my idea have some "directionality" and because the directionality does change the interpretation I'm considering doing this pattern in both a top down and toe up version.

The Crown Mountain Farms Sock Hop yarn, colorway "Say a Little Prayer" came to me as a result of a marvelously lucky break. When I got to the website after the new yarn was announced, I got there late (I hate it when a business meeting gets in the way of yarn purchasing, but sometimes there's no help for it) and the shopping system would only let me put one skein in my cart. So I just left a little note that I really did want two skeins and I'd be happy to wait until there was more available (if you go to Teyan's blog you'll see that she invited people to pre-order/place a custom order if they were willing to wait a few months, which I was, since I have plently of sock yarn to keep me busy). Apparently I lucked out, because when I placed my order, there were actually two skeins of Say a Little Prayer left in stock and they winged their way to my door step on Saturday (I have to make a side comment here to say that Teyani and her husband must have some special connection to the post office, because the yarn shipped on Thursday and I had it on Saturday. From Washington. And it's come equally fast when I ordered the Corriedale pencil roving and the Sloopy superwash merino).

I've been asked in a couple of comments how my hand spun Sloopy sock yarn (made with the same startin fiber that Sock Hop is made from) compares to the Sock Hop yarn. Since I didn't have any yarn to compare it to at the time, I really couldn't tell you. Now I can provide a side-to-side comparison.

Sloopy and Prayer Comparison

This picture makes me think of orange and lime of those things I used to love as a kid, when I judged the quality of a frozen confection by the brightness of the dyes used to color it.

Overall, the yarns are very similar. They are both very soft but still relatively tightly spun and plied. My yarn, however, is a bit thicker in diameter than the Sock Hop. Both yarns have the delightful variability that tell you that it was someone's hands and not a machine, that brought this yarn to life. Makes you realize that sometimes perfection does not have to mean complete uniformity.

Where Wine and Wool Meet


What do you do when you don't have actual fibery content for a blog post? You look back through the photos on your SD chip and see what you can find that might even be remotely related. It's kind of an alcoholic week chez Keyboard Biologist since what I found on my chip was some interesting wine that I found when John and I were in Ann Arbor earlier in the spring.

One thing I love about wine right now, is that there is a lot of wine that doesn't take itself too seriously. This leads to some very fun labels. If you go into almost any wine store, you're bound to find some of these or other clever names. Some of these wines even go beyond having clever names into being good wine. And one of these, I promise, will even have a fibery connection.

The Chocolate Block and Goats Do Roam

The Chocolate Block isn't really a play on words, but what knitter doesn't like to have a little chocolate to accompany her knitting. There's no actual chocolate in this South African Syrah/Grenache/Cabernet blend but it's supposed to be sweet and rich and the relatively high alcohol content guarantees to help mellow you out during even the most stressful tinking or ripping experience. The bottle I didn't get a good shot of on the right side is "Goats Do Roam" which I love because of it's play on "Cote du Rhone" a wine region in France.

Earth, Zin and Fire and The Seven Deadly Zins

Zinfandels may not have the luxurious quality of a good cab or merlot, but they are a personal and sentimental favorite. When I was in college I had a plant physiology class by one of my favorite professors. One of the "laboratories" for those of us who were 21 and over was a "grape physiology" lab -- i.e. a wine tasting. At the very end, a few of us got to stick around to try a couple of wines from the professor's special collection, which included some wonderful Ridge Zinfandel. I've been hooked ever since. I love the hearty and spicy qualities of a good Zin. And these labels made me smile. After all, I think my parents had a few "Earth, Wind and Fire" albums in their record collection and I am almost sure that almost every one of those 7 Deadly Sins can be applied to knitting! Lord knows, I've already got gluttony taken care of!

Dyed in the Wool

I must admit to not being the biggest fan of pinot noir (but perhaps we have not yet been properly introduced) but how could I not be intrigued by a wine called "Dyed in the Wool"? And it's from New Zealand, a land of many sheep! How incredibly appropriate. This bottle came home from the store with me but still remains in my parents house (hopefully in a cool dark place!) waiting for a good occasion to be opened -- at which point you will all get a review. It was this bottle that got me to pop out my camera in the wine department of a produce mart in Ann Arbor and got me to see all the other clever labels around me.

Maybe you know of another wine with a clever label? If you feel so inclined, share it with me in the comments!

Dance by the Light of the Moon

Broadripples in the Moonlight

Project: Broadripple Socks
Yarn: 2 Balls of Elann Esprit in French Navy
Needles: US Size 3 Inox Circulars
Completion Time : 2 Years 3 Months

Clearly I took my sweet time on this project. But this afternoon, in the excellent company of Julie and her daughter Maddie in a lovely sunlit breakfast nook, I finished my Broadripple socks. In celebration of this event and the break in the oppressive heat (it was warmer in Houston today than it is here, which is as it should be), after over 2 years from when I first cast on, I took the socks out on my balcony for a little dance under the waxing Giibbous moon.

Elann Esprit seems to be an almost exact carbon copy of Cascade Fixation (the yarn recommended in the pattern). It's a cotton yarn with just enough elastic in it to give it a good deal of stretch. Pretty much perfect for summer sock knitting. Two balls is just about enough for a pair of socks for a woman with size 8 feet. Any bigger and I'd want a third ball handy, just in case. I've been wandering around in the house this evening wearing the socks so that I could get a reasonable impression of how they feel to wear. They do seem to stay up nicely (courtesy of the elastic, I'm sure) and so far I find them quite soft and comfortable.

With more cool weather ahead tomorrow, I think I'll be able to commit to wearing long pants and shoes that require socks, so they'll get the full workover. But I suspect that they will come through just fine. I'm also curious to see how this yarn does going through the wash.

The Broadripple pattern is a nice easy pattern, a good introduction to some lacy elements in socks. If you don't like the Dutch heel, or 4-point decrease toe, it would be trivial to substitute in any heel or toe that you preferred.

This is the last pair of socks I get to make for myself during my Family Sock Challenge (no it has not been forgotten, but it has been sadly neglected during all the other things going on this summer). Next stop? A straight stockinette pair for my brother in some relatively manly Regia which I've liked since I purchased it off Ebay, but that has been marinading in my stash for a while.

P.S. The Happy Dance drawing will happen this weekend. I'm going to put everyone's name in a pot and let the guy with the healing eye pick the winner. Results on Monday!

It's been far too long since I've updated the Family Sock Challenge. Thank you to the participants who have kept sending me updates! I really didn't mean to go without posting about it for so long. Hopefully, with the fall approaching and with major medical issues behind us, I'll be better at getting back to a regular schedule on this.

Since I last posted, there has been a bit of activity. It seems like summer is a sleepy time for knitting, even sock knitting. I'm pretty much there myself! So thank you to Michelle, who finished a lovely pair of socks for her Mother-in-Law at the end of June, and sent along a picture that I could share with everyone.

Sock Modeling with a Little Help from A Friend

Carole has also been busy on socks. She ">finished a pair for her sister-in-law from some very nice hand-dyed yarn. (For the spinenrs amongst you, Carole's blog is always full of spinning eye-candy an I recommend that you trip on over there and take a look if you have a moment.). She's also started a new pair of socks for her stepdaughter.

Meanwhile, Wendy's finished up a lovely pair of socks for her stepmom, Mary Jo. These socks got some lovely photographic treatment at a pier. Surely they are happy socks indeed!

I've been puttering away at my own projects. I finsihed up the Broadripple socks for myself (leaving me with two more pairs of family socks before I can go on to new projects for me) and I've just gotten started on a simple pair of sock for my brother. I've found with guys, simple is best, so a well marinaded pair of Regia skeins came out of my sock yarn stash for the project. The Broadripples were the subject of my last post, so I won't provide an additional pictures.

So, here's the scorecard as of today... as always, you can click on the links to see all the socks being made out there for friends and family!

And The Winner Is...


It's time for me to announce the name of the winner of my Happy Dance drawing! I worked hard to make this as fair and random as possible. To start with, I put the name of everyone who sent me an email for the contest in an Excel spreadsheet. I sorted them to make sure that there were no two names that were the same. This was necessary because not everyone included their first and last names and I didn't want to have a situation where I couldn't tell who belonged to what name. Putting the list together gave me a chance to read all the happy dances over again. It really made me wish that I could have a prize for everyone, because they all made me smile and feel happy. It was also so great to hear from so many people who read my blog but don't comment very often or don't have blogs of their own.

Getting Ready for the Drawing: Names on Paper

I then printed the names out and did my best to make sure that each name was on a reasonable sized piece of paper and that all the pieces of paper were of equal size. In the end, I had 82 entries for the drawing.

Names in the Box

I folded each slip of paper in half and then dropped it in the lovely fabric box that my mom made me. I figured there had to be good vibes in a box made out of a fabric with a yarn pattern on it. I then proceeded to both mix the slips of paper with my hands and to shake them around with the lid of the box on, in hopes that everything would get mixed around well and the level of randomness would continue to increase.

John Mixes Some More and Selects a Name

Because this contest was in honor of John and his good progress with eye healing, I decided he needed to be the one to draw the name. He's become a remarkably good sport about all this knit-blogging business, because he knew that the drawing would require some photography. Here he is mixing the names around, just about to draw out the big winner.

Can I have a drum roll please?

May Eye Present the Winner... Kendall Frazier!

The winner of the yarn, needles and Here There Be Dragons Sock Pattern is Kendall Frazier. Kendall is from Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Kendall's Happy Dance is one that is both simple, and one that I think anyone who knits can appreciate:

My happy dance is best done with margaritas in a yarn shop and a few good friends. Can't think of anything better as a celebration!

Ah, Kendall, if only we could find a yarn shop with a liquor license! Now theres a concept that I haven't found yet in a LYS! Expect an email from me in your inbox and we'll work out the yarn and needles that you'd like to have.

And as promised, you can read Kendall's and the other 81 entries on my Happy Dancing Page. There are some really lovely things in there, some with pictures and video to support them. Some are inspriational. Definitely worth the time for a read through. I hope you all will enjoy reading them over as much as I did when I received them! Thank you to everyone who sent something to me and participated in the contest. This was definitely a lot of fun for me as well. I might have to come up with an excuse to do another one in the future!

Color Perception


One thing I love about spinning is learning about color. You might think that what you see is what you get when you consider spinning a roving up into a single. In fact, I find it to be very unpredictable. I am constantly being pleasantly surprised by the change that fiber undergoes when it moves from fuzzy to linear form. And my Cotton Candy Corriedale Pencil Roving from Crown Mountain is no exception.

Cotton Candy Corriedale

Take a good look at this picture. What colors stand out most to you? (I took the picture in natural light and did not adjust the color in any way). What I see is yellow. The yellow just jumps out at me. And then the green pipes up and says hello. The pinks and reds make up the final flourish, but I see them as something of a subtle accent. Which was exactly what I wanted when I bought this roving -- I wanted to get some springy yellows and greens into my life.

Cotton Candy Corriedale Single

When I look at this single, I see something completely different than what I see in the roving. I see pink and green here, with some underlying peachy-pink tones and greens that have some yellowy undertones. It's as if the yellow just blended itself in and has faded into the background. Not at all what I expected from such a dominantly warm color. Also, the single is much less intensely colored than the roving. This transformation is also one that always surprises me, because in my head I feel that if I am condensing the fibers into a single, I should also condense the color. But, clearly, that is not what happens.

Even though the singles are unexpected, they are not unwanted. I really want to turn this pencil roving into a nice light-weight two ply yarn that was suitable for doing a little lace work with.... I thought this yarn might make a nice shawl. But then I got to thinking that all that yellow near my face would be a bad thing. When I look at this single, I think there still might be a chance that I could get away with wearing it.

But you never know. Plying is yet another transformation. And it too almost never turns out like I expect it to when I am working with variagated rovings.



I'm going to start right off and say that I am a big copy cat. Going out to visit Julie is a little bit like getting to go backstage with Carol Duvall. There's always some new crafty thing to talk about or take a look at. Perhaps you saw her post on Kumihimo on her blog not too long ago? I got to see all the parts in person and got a demonstration as well. Kumihimo is a Japanese form of braiding. I was completely intrigued, and could imagine all sorts of uses for it, and decided that I needed to get a similar set up of my own.

So what did I do? I went home and called Janis at BraidersHand. I talked to her Saturday morning and my supplies were here on Monday! I'm beginning to think that there is some special postal route time warp between Chicago and Washington, given how fast things seem to get to me from there! I asked her to give me the same stuff she gave Julie. I told you -- big copy cat.

Kumihimo Supplies: A Plate and a Disc, EZ Bobs, and a Couple of Japanese Instruction Books

What do you need to get started with Kumihimo? Well, you don't need much actually. I got both foam braiding guides. The disc is used for round braids, the plate is used for flat braids. I also got a bunch of EZ Bobs to help keep all the moving threads out of trouble. It strikes me that these would be excellent if I was going to do Intarsia kniitting. (Perhaps that Kaffee Fassett pillow from my Rowan Membership will get done someday, after all.) Although Janis includes English instructions to get you started with some basic braid forms, I also got two books that had good pictures and diagrams. More Kumihimo Designs: Mini Book is for the disk and includes a braid that contains beads. Kumihimo for Disc and Plate contains designs designs for flat or round braids, including a really neat braid with a picot edge. Both books are completely in Japanese, but don't let that bother you if you're interested in this. The diagrams are great, especially when you have Janis' basic English instructions to help get your rolling. The diagrams in the second book are in full color, which is helpful, but not necessary. I'm beginning to see why the crafting community loves Japanese craft books.

New Hobby, New Fiber

Trying out a new craft wouldn't be complete without purchasing some new fiber. I trundled on down to JoAnn's and picked up a nice supply of colorful perle cotton to play with (size 5) and also found some very nifty, very shiny rayon embroidery floss that I thought might be neat to work with as well (it's encased in those plastic sheathes for some reason). I know I could have used regular embroidery floss, but perle cotton is not meant to be separated into strands, and I thought it would hold together better while I was playing with my new toys.

My First Braid

The first thing I tried out was the disc. I started trying to make the most simple braid provided in Janis' instructions. It ended up being quite delicate since I only had size 8 perle cotton (that I had bought for tatting) to work with on Monday night. It's a little uneven in width towards the end because I loosened up a little bit on the floss, but it looks the way it is supposed to, and I'm happy with that. It may look complicated, but that little braid is actually quite easy! Like, braid while you're watching TV easy.

My Second Braid

When I started playing with the plate, I wanted a bigger braid where I could see a lot of progress quickly. So I started with some leftover 2-ply yarn from Mom's shadow knit sweater. The end that's looking a bit crunched and stressed was at the beginning when I was pulling a lot tighter. I didn't like the look of it too much, so I tried experimenting with tension. I found that I like the results better when I just rested the yarn in the grooves with out actually jamming it into the little slots in the grooves. It meant I had to be a bit more careful not to tilt the plate, but I liked the look of the bigger braid much better. I also used a weight to hold the end down, which I didn't do with the round braid. The weight stretches things and also makes for bigger/stretchier braids. This flat braid isn't quite as mindless as the round one, but it still doesn't take too much focus.

This is fun stuff to imagine with. I can imagine big braids being used for the strap for a felted handbag, round braids being used to create a neat toggle for a button or a latch to hold a felted bag closed. I'm thinking it might also be a nice way to create a wrist distaff for spinning or ties for a lace up sweater. Traditionally, Kumihimo is done with silk threads. It might be an interesting use for some of the silk singles that I spun not too long ago.

Sock Story


Sometimes looking at a sock is like looking at the rings in a tree: you can see what's been going on in the past over the period of time the sock was being knitted. Case in point: the first of two socks for my brother as part of my Family Sock Challenge.

A Week in the Life of a Sock

Amazing how much stuff gets caught up in one size 11 man-sized sock.

What stories do your socks have to tell? I'd love to see other people's sock-life diagrams!

For the record, the sock was knit top down using Regia Linien Color # 5281, on US size 1 needles, at approximately 8 stitches/inch. There's an inch and a half of K2P2 ribbing at the top,5 and a half inches of straight stockinetted, a short-row heel a la Patricia Priscilla Gibson-Roberts, and a 4 point toe after 9" of straight knitting. It took darned near all the yarn in the skein. It's a simple sock, but given that it's recipient is male, I think that is a good thing.

Stitches Midwest 2006


I went to my first ever Stitches Midwest event over the weekend. In spite fo the fact that Stitches Midwest has pretty much always been held in the Chicago area, I've never actually made it out there before. Why? Since the time I started getting back into the fiber arts, Stitches has almost always collided with my anniversary. My husband loves me, but draws the line at fiber events on our annversary. This year, however, Stitches is a full two weekends before my anniversary, so with Julie and Bonne Marie, I got a chance to wander through the marketplace and see what goodies were available.

The Goods From Stitches: Two Skeins of STR, Two Two Old Bags Patterns, A Nifty Button and Ribbon Tape with Inch Markers, and Two Batts from Grafton Fibers

Since I really wasn't looking out for any particular yarn, it was pretty easy to be well behaved at Stitches. We made a beeline for the Blue Moon Fiber Arts booth as soon as we got to the marketplace. I picked up a skein of "Rooster Rock" (which has some gorgeous reds and purples that don't show up here) and the second skein is an almost solid colorway called "Sun Stone" -- both are Socks That Rock, medium weight. The Rooster Rock is for me, the Sun Stone does not yet have a destination. Slowly but surely I am building up quite the stash of STR sock yarn.

After the Blue Moon booth, there was a good deal of moseying around.

Roch Button

This button, which is made of polished stone, came from Nifty Thrifty Dry Goods (no website) -- a booth that wins my award for the most engaging. All the buttons and bobs were arranged by color and you could find everything from very vintage to very now as well as a whole collection or ribbons and other kinds of trims. I'm imaging this button on a sweater that only needs a single large closure detail. I buy a lot of buttons not knowing what their final destination will be. I just like to have them around, knowing that someday the right garment will show up. I think it takes me back a little bit to when I was little and I used to dig through and sort the buttons in my mom's button jar. I wonder where that jar is today?

Corriedale Cross Batts from Grafton Fibers

Since I now know that it is pretty unlikely that I will get to Rhinebeck this year, I had given up hope of getting the opportunity to get my hands on some Grafton Fibers batts. I've heard so many good things about them, but I hadn't yet had the opportunity to see the goods for myself. I was totally and pleasantly surprised to find them in the Stitches marketplace. These two bats are right in my favorite color range (the picture above is truer in color than the first picture) and in my favorite fiber type: Corriedale. These batts are clearly beautifully prepared. And what I test drafted was impeccable. These two batts are about 7 ounces of fiber. A respectable amount for a shawl. I'm just itching to get this stuff on my wheel.

And speaking of wheels...

Jensen D-30 "Ultimate" Production Wheel

I now have a new covet wheel. There aren't too many wheels in the Stitches marketplace (no surprise, really, it's not really a spinner's meeting) but since these wheels were parked right across the aisle from the Fold's booth we had no problem finding Carl and Shelby Jaeger's booth which featured Jensen spinning wheels. I'd heard of Jensen wheels -- when I was looking for my first wheel, a couple of folks left comments to tell me about them and said some awfully nice things about them. But since then, I've come to realize that wheels are a very personal thing. A wheel that one person adores may be something that the next spinner hates. There's no substitute for sitting down in front of a wheel yourself and spinning a bit.

This wheel spins very nicely. In fact, you hardly even realize that you are treadling such a big wheel because the motion of the wheel is almost effortless and it stops and starts without hesitation. It has just the right amount of pull and I didn't feel like I was being dragged along for the ride like I have felt with some wheels I've tried. And because it's such a big wheel, you don't have to treadle very fast to keep things moving at a good clip I could have kept spinning on it the entire afternoon.

The D-30 Ultimate Production Wheel is a parlor wheel in the true sense of the word. This is definitely a wheel that would not be moving around the house. It's only the second double drive wheel that I have ever spun on (the first being the Winsome Timbers wheel at the Fold) and I find the fact that the big wheel ultimately controls both flyer speed and bobbin drag rather fascinating. It certainly created a very smooth spinning experience. The wheel he had set up was also perfect for me with the orifice on the left hand side. When I get ready to make my second wheel purchase, this wheel will definitely be in the running. (I also got to try the Tina II wheel and liked it a great deal as well, but since I already have a castle-style wheel, it wasn't quite as interesting for me). Those of you who said nice things about this wheel are definitely right, in the opinion of this newbie spinner!

The last place I want to mention was a place I didn't buy anything from because they didn't have quite what I was looking for on hand -- Homestead Heirlooms LLC. They make all manner of wonderful leather straps that can be used with handbags and baskets. A number of Christmases ago I promised my sister-in-law (the same one I made the original dragon scale socks for) a felted handbag of her choosing. What she wanted wasn't quite like anything I had a pattern for, and since my design inspiration shows up in fits and starts, it's been only recently that I have figured out what direction I want to go with it. One of these straps (the one with the D ring) fits perfectly into my developing vision and I'll definitely be giving the folks at Homestead Heirlooms a call after I figure out the exact dimension and color that I need.

Hefeweizen Beginnings


It's time for another batch of beer to begin! For our last beer of the summer, we decided that we wanted to make a beer that makes us think of summer with it's crisp flavors and lots of carbonation: a Hefeweizen. The name "hefeweizen" has a fairly simple translation. "Hefe" means yeast and "weizen" indicates wheat. Thus, Hefeweizen's are a combination of yeast and wheat. And the yeast reference goes beyond just the fermentation process. A true hefeweizen will also retain some yeast -- if you pick up a bottle of hefeweizen in the store you should be able to see a bit of that yeast floating around in the bottom of the bottle. It helps produce some of the extra carbonated zing as well as providing the beer with some of its distinct flavors.

What do you need to put together a Hefeweizen?

Hefeweizen Components

Our recipe comes from the helpful people at the Homebrew Shop in St. Charles, IL. (I'm going to review some homebrew shops in the future, but right now I'll stop and say that the Homebrew Shop was completely worth the long driving trip we had to take to get out there to them). The components?

  • 1 lb Cracked Pilsner Malt (German 2-Row)
  • 1 lb Wheat, Cracked
  • 6 lbs 55% Wheat/45% Barley Malt Extract
  • 1 ounce Hallertau Hop Pellets
  • 1 Tube of While Labs Hefeweizen Yeast

Doesn't seem like very much, does it?

To get things rolling, John wanted to make sure that his yeast were happy, active and well expanded before pitching them onto the top of the wort. To do this, he first needed to make some "growth media" for the yeast. And what could be better than something similar to what will make up the beer?

Creating the Yeast Media

John put about 100 g of the malt extract into 1 L of water and boiled it. The boiling process helps to sterilize the media so that nothing but the yeast will be inclined to grow. After all, sugars are great food for a variety of microorganisms.

John Cultures His Yeast

After the liquid had cooled below 80 degrees F (yeast will get killed by boiling solutions just as easily as less desireable microorganisms will) John put the yeast into solution, covered them up, and took them to a nice cool dark place in the basement. To keep them growing and active, he would go downstairs and swirl them around every now and again.

Putting the beer together after that was really easy. Hefeweizens are relatively simple and don't require too much effort if you brew with malt extracts. The first thing we did was put our grains in a bag and steep them in 160 degree F water for 30 minutes. That helps to extract some of the sugars, proteins and flavors of the grain into the wort. This process, is called "sparging" (I think).

The Wort After The Sparge

After the sparge, the liquid reflects the mild color of the grain. Now it's time to add the malt extract and and bring the wort to a boil. Once the wort gets to a boil, you add the hops and let the boil continue for an hour. Just like boiling the yeast media, boiling the wort helps sterilize the wort. It also has an impact on the sugars and the alpha acids in the hops. Hops added early in the boil are added as flavoring or bittering hops, hops added at the end of the boil are added for aroma.

The Wort During the Boil

See how the color of the wort has changed? Some of this comes from the color of the malt. But some of it also comes from carmelizing the malt sugars in the boil.

We learned a special trick with th yeast when it comes to getting a flavorful hefeweizen. Hefeweizens are often noted for their banana and clove flavors. Clearly, though, there are no bananas or cloves added to the beer. Those flavors come from the yeast. In order to get the yeast to make those flavors however, you have to give them a cold shock. To do this, you chill the wort down to 58 degrees F before you pitch the yeast. This temperature shock affects the physiology of the yeast and gets them to make the compounds that impart the clove and banana flavors to the beer. The beer doesn't need to be maintained at that temperature (hefeweizen yeast can't divide at temperaturs quite that low) so after pitching the yeast we just took the ale pail down to the basement bathroom to equilibrate. By morning, the temperature of the wort and the room temperature were similar and the yeast had begun their magick as the banana essences had definitely begun to waft through the room.

We set this beer up on August 6th, and on Sunday night we moved it to it's second ferment. We took a little taste and we both liked what we sampled pre second ferment, so we're hopeful that we have another winner here. And the alcohol content will be a bit milder than previous beers. Our measurements of specific gravity suggest it's going to be right around 5.4% ABV. Hefeweizens don't require a lot of aging, so we're anticipating kegging on Friday night so that we can take some with us to Michigan this weekend when we head there to see the Michigan Fiber Festival and to pick up the small chest freezer that plays a role in the next phase of homebrewing chez Keyboard Biologist. Stay tuned...

Some More of Kaleidoscope


I wish my knitting projects were a little more photogenic right now. By that, I don't mean they're ugly, I just mean that they haven't changed too much since the last photo, or showing off the progress on the second of two socks seems a bit repetitive. But today, while I was sitting on my deck knitting on Dad's Kaleidoscope Vest, I had some realizations -- and not just that it was incredibly amazing that I could sit outside in August with a lapful of wool and not be sweating profusely.

Kaleidoscope Right Before the Armhole Shaping

I have to start out by saying that the gauge on this sweater is a bit odd: 21.5 stitches and 44 rows to 10 cm (4"). I did knit a gauge swatch, and I did get something almost exactly the same, that was a fabric I liked so I decided to cast on and get going. Now that I have a 60 cm x 42 cm piece of fabric to measure gauge on it has become clear that my gauge is not quite perfect. I'm getting 21 stitches and about 42 rows to 10 cm (I'm using the metric measurements here because that is what Jo Sharp uses and that's what I'm remembering right now).

The reality of the situation is that even if I had gone down a needle size, it probably wouldn't have made that much difference -- it's hard to change a needle and expect a change of .125 stitches per inch, when I'm in the needle range that can only really be varied by .5 mm. This means that the fabric is about 2 cm wider than it should be (not a big deal because this vest is meant to have a lot of ease in it anyway -- I'm making the second smallest size for my dad of a pattern that is also supposed to be woman compatible -- clearly this design comes from boxier era). It also means that I can't use the row counts that the pattern calls for as a determination of when to do things. I have to actually work with measurements. Fortunately, this is not a problem with this pattern. even though there's stripes, there's nothing fancy about how they are used. Instead of 158 rows before the armhole shaping, I'm going to have 150-152.

No, the only real concern is whether the extra width is going to mean that I run out of yarn somewhere. I bought this yarn on Elann about three years ago, so there's not much liklihood that I will be able to find another ball in the same dyelot of one of these if I come up short.

Kaleidoscope Texture Detail

I still love the texture, though. It looks complicated, but its very easy to knit. And in this colorway, I think it's very man-friendly. Even though my dad is willing to experiment with color, I wanted to go with something that would have a little subtlety to it.

And Now A Word From Our Sponsor

I'm having a hard time keeping up with my comments... I wish I could send everyone a personal response, but there just aren't enough hours in the day to do that, and the other things I want to do. Because of this and because some of the answers to questions in the comments might be helpful to more than just the asker, I'm going to answer comments either in the comments, or if the question is germaine enough to a larger discussion in another post, I'll answer it in that post. So if you ask me a question in my comments, be sure to check back during the day for the answer. I'll still also try to send personal emails in response to comments when I think it is the most appropriate thing to do, and you can always end me an email (see my Email Me link in the side bar) if you want to have a dialog with me outside the blog post context. I'm not trying to avoid email conversations -- just trying to maximize my time so that I have time to respond to more people more effectively.

Good People


Some days I just can't wait to come home and find out what might be waiting on the back porch. Today was one of those days. You see, a very kind blog reader, Gwen (sadly blogless) has shifted her focus from knitting to quilting. And in order to make way for more fabric stash (which I can completely understand, since my mother's passion for fiber tends more towards fabric than yarn) she decided that she wanted to send some of her yarn stash out into the world to see what it might become. It turns out that I am very fortunate, because Gwen, who has read my blog for a while, thought some of her lovely stash would find its future with me.

I love surprises, and while I knew the box was coming, I had no idea what might be inside. After getting all my stuff inside the house, I grabbed the box and my scissors and took it all up to my favorite place to be in the early evening: my upstairs balcony. I love the light and the breeze and the odd view I have of the Sears Tower. I spend most evenings out there when the weather is tolerable. And tonight I had a mystery box to explore.

A Beautiful Box Full of Color

After opening the box, I got bathed in more color and texture. I just had to spread it out so that I could take it all in and do some serious yarn petting. I've seen Malabrigo before, but I'd never picked it up and realized how soft it was. And here were two skeins in a beautiful blue/green colorway. Ditto for the beautiful rich purple Karabella Aurora 8. With 4 balls, I can imagine a lovely special occasion scarf (I've read that Aurora 8, while lovely, does what most merino does, and pills a bit when it gets used a lot). And then there's the sage colored Classic Elite Premier and Attitude -- pima cotton and tencel and pima cotton and silk blends, respectively. Both are soft buttery yarns that remind me that I don't usually give cotton blends enough of a chance when I knit.

On the flashier side (in the center of the picture) are 3 skeins of one of my all time favorite yarns, Lorna's Laces Lion and Lamb. The colorway, Watercolor, is suble shades of some of my favorite colors and just calls out to be in a special project. And it's hard to miss the Colinette Prism in "Jamboree". I'd love to try spinning a yarn like that myself -- if ever I could convince my fingers to make a bigger diameter, fluffier single.

Just too much good stuff to list!

Lately, I've been feeling kind of uninspired about knitting, but this bountiful box of color has really got my brain whirring away... What could be the best use of 10 skeins of beautiful chocolate brown Jo Sharp wool? Is it cool enough to start on a pair of socks for myself in Mountain Colors Bearfoot? Is the pima/tencel blend a good substitute for the pima cotton yarn called for in Annie Modesitt's crochet cardigan pattern from the last Interweave Crochet? I just want to bury myself in my fiber room and start thinking about all the possibilities.

Thank you so much, Gwen. I am still overwhelmed in the best possible way by this treasure chest from your stash. I promise to give your yarn a very good home. Every time I knit with it, I will remember your generosity and that there is so much good energy and so many good people in the fiber/fabric/crafting community. And someday, I will brighten someone else's doorstep with a special gift in your honor.

Edited 8/19/2006 -- I'm turning off the comments for this post because it seems like the spammers have found something to love about it. Must be that spammers like gift yarn as well!

5 Down, 1 To Go


We had a lovely weekend in Michigan. And there will be Michigan Fiber Festival pictures coming soon -- from a very unique perspective. But first, a pair of finished socks.

Regia Linien Socks Contemplate A Splash at Long Lake

I finished my brother's socks this morning while giving a sock making lesson to my mom -- her first sock outing with double pointed needles, and she took to them much better than I did the first time I tried them out. They are a bit loose in the toe (my dad and John modelled them for me so I could check fit) but both my Dad and John didn't seem all that bothered by it. So they will be on their way to Houston soon and if they are a bit too loose, I'll have my brother bring them back for Christmas and I'll custom fit them then. Since they are a very simple and straightforward pair of socks, and it's getting late here in Chicago, I think I'll leave the discussion at that.

So now I've got all but one pair of socks for my Family Sock Challenge complete. My aunt's are next. And working on Joe's socks first was exactly the right thing to do. Giving myself some extra time to think, I now know exactly how my "Feline Feet" socks are going to be from a design perspective, and I got a chance to figure out a gauge I like using Blue Moon Fiber Arts Socks that Rock, medium weight in addition to testing out a new-to-me cuff technique. So more interesting socks will be on their way, soon.

Actually, it was a very good weekend for design ideas as well. Once I get my aunt's socks finished, I have another idea that I am just burning to try.

Speaking of a little burning... John and I got to see the tail end of a lovely sunset over Lake Michigan at Warren Dunes State Park on Sunday evening..

Perfect End to the Day

It was the perfect ending to a lovely day that involved doing nothing in particular except being with my family and getting some knitting done.

Top of the week to everyone!

8 Years


Every year around about this time I pull out our wedding album and look for a good picture. Our wedding happened just before the entry of the digital camera into wedding photography, so this process involves pulling out our proofs, flipping through pages and travelling back in time. But the goal is to find a picture from 1998 that reflects back some light from today. Most of the time I am drawn to our artsier pictures. Pictures where we have been carefully posed or are very conscious of the fact that we are being photographed for posterity. Serious pictures.

But this year I was drawn to something different. This year, almost without looking I knew which picture I wanted. We've had so much seriousness this year and I think we're both a little worn out by that. The last picture in our album is the one you see above. We're not serious, we're not posed, we're mostly revelling in the fact that we've survived all the planning, finished all the serious business and we've come through the day, very happy to be married. How could a girl not smile?

Eight years later, I am still completely happy to be married and John still makes me smile all the time. Every thing from little grins to laughing so hard that my stomach muscles hurt and my eyes tear up. He has such a knack for helping me lighten up and put the difficult things aside for a bit. While there is much seriousness to going through life and to being married, for us there's been a great deal of happiness and laughter, too. I wouldn't trade that for anything.

Happy Anniversary, Love. I want to laugh with you forever and for always.

Thank you to everyone who left us happy anniversary wishes. We had a most wonderful day, ending in a delightful restaurant (schwa) and we are looking forward to what our 9th year brings us!

This year, I wanted to bring you a different perspective of the Michigan Fiber Festival. By now, you all know what gets my attention when I am at one of these things, so this time, since both John and my Dad were with me, I thought it would be fun to just give them my camera and let them show you what (mostly non-fiber oriented) men see at a fiber festival. Because they were such good sports (they knew that mom and I just wanted a little more time to go shopping) and did such a good job of capturing their own spirit, and the festival, I have decided to post most of their pictures, in order, over the next several days. With a little running commentary by me, of course. How could I resist?

WARNING: This is a very picture heavy post. Apologies to those of you on dialup. I think the pictures and the story they tell are worth the wait. And I did try to make them as low-res as I could in hopes that they would load faster.

The Rooster that Guards the Gate

This is the one picture I took at the Allegan County Fair Ground in Allegan, MI. How could you not like a festival that starts with an enormous chicken?

Grain Grinder

My dad, who has always been the family photographer, has an eye for seeing the artistic elements in the everyday. I love the handle on this grinder. Almost like a sunburst design.

Manly Discussion at the Fiber Festival

When I asked Dad what was in this picture, I was expecting to hear something interesting about the piece of equipment. The answer I got: "it's a bunch of guys around a machine". I think this might be the fiber festival equivalent of opening up the hood of a car in your driveway on a Saturday afternoon when the other guys are all out mowing their lawns. Especially if everyone decided to bring their own lawn chairs.

Beautiful Sheepy Face

This might be my favorite picture of the whole batch. I have no idea what kind fo sheep it is, but I love how dad managed to capture what I think is the essence of a sheepy face: wooly, a bit solemn, actively interested in something. You just want to reach out and give the sheep a little chuck behind the ears.

John Goes Car Shopping

Clearly grain grinders and other antique equipment aren't the only machines of interest at the MFF. John took 4 pictures of this car, from different angles, just to make sure I had a good one I could use. He told me "I think you'd look pretty good in that knitting with the top down as we drove to the lake shore". Clearly, this man knows how to get what he wants.

Cars Aren't the Only Impressive Vehicle on 4 Wheels

Not sure which of the guys took this one. MFF is nice because it supports those who want to camp out. When you're camping in one of those, you're definitely camping in style.

Baa Baa Brown Sheep

The guys must have headed back into the sheep barns to find this guy. How could you not love his color and his horns and beautiful curly locks. Once again, I wish I knew what kind of sheep this is. Given the size of the horns and the shape of the face, I'm thinking one of the older, less domesticated breeds. Anyone recognize this guy?

Stay tuned for part 2 tomorrow... we get deeper into the livestock barns and check out more of the local scenery.

Thank you to everyone who pointed out that the last picture in my previous post is probably a goat. To be honest, I just have no idea. The face looks like it has sheepy elements and goat elements to me. It's probably a good thing that I don't raise livestock, eh?

But John and Dad aren't quite finished yet. What did they capture on digital film next?

Serious But Contemplative Horns

Well, they decided to spend a little more time with the animals. My dad really has a soft place in his heart fo all kinds of animals. He also is pretty good at getting the sort of pictures of them that capture their personalities. I love the way the shadows and light play on this curly locked sheep. He seems to be having a quiet contemplative moment at the festival.

An Impressive Rack

This little goat has an awfully impressive body to horn ratio, don't you think? Looks kind of heavy to me. And like it might be hard to get through barn stall gates. Makes me kind of glad that humans don't have similar acoutrements.

Angora Goat

I have to admit, Angora goats have a total cuteness factor for me. Even at Maryland I wanted to keep looking at these little guys. This guy has kind of a smart alecky look about him to me -- like he might be thinking that that camera could be a good shiny snack.. But I still would have wanted to reach into his pen and pet him.

A Horse is a Horse of Course of Course....

Clearly, not a fiber bearing animal here. I'm not even sure where John and Dad found this guy, because I doubt he was in the sheep pens. But he is quite photogenic.

Rusty Scenery

At this point, Dad and John must have headed back outdoors. Where they immediately discovered large rusty mobile containers, artfully juxtaposed against a rural Michigan landscape.

A Scenic Rock Pile

This is one of my favorite pictures, and I am sure that it must have been taken by my husband. My dear husband can not pass by a hole in the street or any kind of construction without stopping to take a look. I once asked him what the allure of this stuff was, and I got this very surprised look and "Well, it's a hole! How could you not want to see what's at the bottom." So a pile of concrete at a fiber festival? It might not be moving right now, but clearly it is evokative of men using heavy equipment and doing manly construction oriented, or even better, destruction oriented things.

Black Alpacas

No horns, but these alpaca are seriously cute. My folks have some friends who used to raise llamas, and my aunt, when she lived in Colorado, used to have a couple as well. I think my whole family has a fascination with these creatures. I know that I am always surprised by how small alpacas actually are -- especially when they don't have a full fleece.

So we've gone from cute animals, to rust and concrete, back to the critters again -- and still no sign of any retail opportunities. I'll have the last batch, along with some of my purchases and a very cool chance meeting tomorrow!

By now you're wondering whether the guys actually even decided to take a look in the retail spaces. Maybe animals and heavy equipment were the only things they checked out. They did, at the end, decide to take a pass back through the marketplace barns. What caught their eyes?

Every Festival Needs a Fairy

I was really glad that they caught this woman on "film". Mom and I had seen her wandering through the barns where we were talking to Kathryn Carras of Haltwhistle Fibers (from whom I bought the Weavette at Maryland -- she's also a member of my mother's doll making club and a pretty avid spinner) and made a note of it since it's not everyday you see someone wearing wings. From my experience, this is even somewhat unusual for a fiber festival. Even faries seem to like fiber.

Fiber Festival Technology Demo

In all the low tech glory that fiber festivals usually are, Dad and John managed to find a laptop on top of a sheep skin. No idea what they saw on it... the screen looks like it might be showing a picture of cows. No ID on the booth, either. I think this is probably the only picture they took that had a reasonable amount of yarn in it!

The Sweater They Really Want

Girlfriends, if you want to know about what sweater it is that men want, well, here it is: a simple white stockinette sweater with a crew neck and a little ribbing at the waist and cuffs. No complex patterning or shaping. No dynamic coloring here. They did have the good taste to like one made out of Cormo wool (this is the Foxhill Farm booth where I had another really nice conversation with Alice my favorite Cormo shepherd). Now y'all know why John has more pairs of handknit socks than he does sweaters!

Simple Machines

It's been my experience that spinning wheels, lovely simple machines that they are, have a high level of interest for guys. When Julie and I were at Maryland anytime we sat down in front of a wheel, it drew a crowd. And that crowd usually contained lots of men. I think the wheels here are a Louet (right) and a Kromski (left) but I'm not too sure about the Kromski identification. Perhaps Dad is already shopping for his second wheel?

Spinning Tools

Your guess is as good as mine on why they took this picture. I'm betting that it was not an interest in plush sheep toys. In the back, unreadable at this resolution, is a sign that indicates that they are looking at orifice hooks and some other spinning tools. I'd never thought about asking my dad to turn an orifice hook for me. Hmmm....

Four Wheels Good

They're guys! You knew there'd be at least one tractor picture somewhere from a farm related event. Before getting the John Deere, my dad actually had a 1939 Ford tractor. Ran like a champ and was pretty fun to drive. But the Deere (or "JD" as he is known around my parents house) comes with a wonderful little backhoe attachment... the old Ford could never compete with something that could dig holes!

What Men Really Want at a Fiber Festival

It shows you how long mom and I lingered in the barns that dad found the time to catch a bit of a nap. Truly, if fiber festivals wanted to attract more men, they would have lots of hammocks stretched out under lots of shady trees. And beer. John promises me that men would flock to fiber festivals if good microbrewed beer was involved.

And after that picture, the guys ran out of film. An apropos ending for the day, I think.

I also promised to show you what I got. All things considered, this was a pretty mellow trip for me. Everything I got could fit in one basket:

MFF Treasures

The Blue Moon Fiber Arts Socks that Rock (medium weight) really needs no introduction. I had to take Mom and Dad past Toni Neil's booth for the Fold so that I could introduce Dad to the person who really helped to get his wheel rolling again. Then I offered both of them the opportunity to have another pair of handknit socks and asked them each to pick out a skein of STR that made them happy. Dad chose "Rocky Horror" a chocolate, brown, orange and gold mix and Mom picked "Peacock" which has the rich purples and teals that are evokative of the birds the colorway is named for. The small drop spindle pendant also came from Toni's booth. It was just too adorable for me to leave behind.

The rusty colored skein in the back is a DK weight sock yarn made of 70% Cormo and 30% nylon from Foxhill Farm. Treat socks for me, I think, for the deepest part of winter when it seems like I can never get my feet to feel warm. I also talked to Alice about dyeing some of her Cormo/Tussah blend for me since when I got to the booth, all that remained in this blend was some very bright yellow and a screaming pink. I'm hoping to get 4 ounces of a light denim blue and 4 ounces of a darker blue (which I will spin individually and then ply together) for a lace weight yarn project.

The Mielke's Farm booth was just jam packed full of interesting little tools. I picked up a yarn/singles gauge that has lines drawn on clear plastic that can help you gauge the WPI of the yarn you are spinning. It's a nice thing to keep handy while you are spinning so that you can see whether you are spinning to the dimensions you want to spin to. This is really just a fancier version of an idea Joan of Twosheep talked about in March. (If you click here and scroll down to "spinner's control card" you can get a better picture). I also got a McMorran yarn balance for helping me estimate yardage in a skein when I spin. It's hiding in its box. It will get more blog time when I use it very soon.

The last purchase was a fibery one: 4 ounces of a fine wool, angora and silk blend dyed and blended by Jane Purcell of Ann Arbor, MI. It's very soft, and even though it is multicolored, it is multicolored in a vertical rather than horizontal direction, so it might be bright when it's spun up, but it won't be stripey! I test drafted a bit and the fiber looked good, so I'm looking forward to getting this on my wheel sometime in the future.

One of the highlights of the festival was meeting Jennifer Ackerman-Haywood who hosts the Craftsanity podcast. Jennifer does great interviews with all sorts of crafty people -- everyone from quilters to knitters to plush toy makers and a whole bunch more people. Her shows are usually around an hour long, so you get a real great feel for what her interviewees are like -- I find them perfect for when I want to spend the afternoon spinning up a storm. If you like podcasts and haven't sampled hers yet, I definitely give it both thumbs up.

Now I have another little contest for you all -- sort of a reward for making it through all those pictures. Mixed within the 20 pictures that I claimed the guys took, is one that I took. Can you figure out which one it is? You can ignore the rooster from the first post on Wednesday and the stash enhancement picture in this one. Those were both mine.

I'll put the names of everyone who gives me a correct answer into a little drawing and the winner will get a copy of my "Here There Be Dragons" sock pattern. If you win and you already have it, I will let you give me the name of someone else who you think should have it or you can have a free copy of any future pattern that I make (yep, I've got one that's going to get started soon, and another good idea banging around in my brain).

To enter, leave me a comment to this post, indicating the picture you think is the fake guy shot... you can tell me the day and the number of the picture (numbered from the top down in the post) or give me the caption that I put on the picture. I'll leave the contest up until next Friday, midnight and announce the winner on September 5th (the Tuesday after Labor Day).

73 Pairs of Socks


It's time for another round up of what's going on for the Family Sock Challenge. Summer is always a quiet knitting time, but there have been a few new pairs of socks since my last post.

Annie finished a second pair of socks for her daughter (no pictures that I'm aware of) out of Opal Flamingo and got a pair started for her husband using Regia Jaquard. Maggie just finished a pair for her brother (or Brotherman as she likes to call him) and has gotten started on another pair for a special person. I also finished a pair of socks for my brother and just today I got started on my final pair. So that's three new pairs of socks that have entered the lives of our friends and family. I've also started another pair for myself --- I had to do some "research" for my aunt's socks. I'll be posting more about both pairs in one of my regular blog posts soon.

As always, here's the current score card. And should you want to join, there's still room for more. With the winter holidays coming up, I'm betting a bunch of you will be knitting socks for your family and friends anyways...

Cotton Candy Corriedale


In between bouts of sock knitting, I've been spinning my little heart out. The thing about spinning, is that I can spin for hours, be greatly satisified with the result, feel very peaceful an refreshed, and still not have much of a blog post. Or, maybe I should say, I could show you more progress if the same time had been devoted to a knitting project. But I feel like I have gotten to this place where I really want to make my own yarn. Finishing the Flower Basket Shawl with my own handspun was magickal. It was the point where I realized I could spin enough of something to make a garment, and that I could like that garment just as much as something that I knitted out of commercially prepared yarn.

It was also this point that I determined that just as I am more of a product than a process knitter, I am also more of a product rather than a process spinner. I love the spinning, but boy do I want that yarn. And I want enough yardage so that it opens the door to many project possibilities. Which is part of why I really like buying fiber from Teyani at Crown Mountain Farms. Not only are her hand dyed rovings beautiful colors, well prepared and a pleasure to spin, but they are also in put ups that give you enough to dream big with -- 8 ounces isn't a sweater, but it's plenty for a scarf. And at $14-$15 for that 8 ounces, it's easy to afford enough for a bigger project.

Cotton Candy Singles

After spinning up the first half of the Hang On Sloopy, I started to get this jones for some lace-to-fingering weight stripey yarn that could be used in a shawl or scarf project. I also really wanted to spin up my Cotton Candy Corriedale pencil roving. So I decided that I would divide the 8 ounces in half and spin each half into a single, just letting the color happen as it happened. A very easy thing to do with pencil roving. All I had to do was break off a bit, pre-draft and spin fine. I used the 10:1 ratio on my wheel to create the singles. And, in case you're curious, my singles are about 32 WPI.

When last I showed you a bobbin of this stuff, it looked mostly pink and green. Now you can see that the yellow has come out in full force. The first half of the roving had a good deal more green in it, the second half more yellow. Which was all fine by me, given my desire to have stripes.

This roving also taught me something about dyeing. Teyani never put the green and red portions next to each other in the roving, they were always separated by an area of yellow. Yellow blends nicely with both colors, green and red together create a murky brown. I'll be filing this away into the dyeing notes section of my brain for use in the future.

A Bobbin Full of 2-Ply

The next step was to get it all plied up. That took me almost an entire afternoon and the assistance of a good many podcasts. I finally have a homemade tensioned lazy kate (a shoe box, three straight metal knitting needles and a yard or two of Woolese) that lets me get through the plying process with the WooLee Winder bobbins. It was like plying up Easter egg dyeing colors. I used the 7:1 drive ratio. In retrospect, I probably should have used the 9:1 but I liked the yarn I was getting, so I let it be. The final 2 ply yarn is somewhere between 18-20 WPI. Corriedale always seems to come with a lot of elasticity. Without any stretching, the yarn is more like 14-16 WPI.

A Skein of Cotton Candy

Here's the whole bundle, hanked up after a warm bath and a rest. I let it hang dry with no weighting (other than the weight of the yarn itself) and no twisting resulted, so I think I found the balance point for the yarn. In the end, I ended up with about 770 yards (as measured by wraps around my 2 yard niddy noddy), which is pretty respectable from 8 ounces of starting fiber. And it's stripey as all-get-out. The final impression I get of this yarn is a very yellow and green one -- a similar impression to what I got from the starting roving. I was expecting the areas where the green and pink plyed together to be a bit brownish/greyish, but they report mostly green to my eyes. I'd love to hear any of the impressions you get. This picture was taken on a cloudy day and the colors are very true to life, if a little muted by the neutral lighting.

Colorful Plys Close Up

No picture of yarn would be complete for me without a closeup. Here you can see how the individual colors play together, as well as the texture of the yarn. You can see that I am still working on the process of getting a good and evenly plyed yarn. I feel like I get better and better with every batch I spin up. Spinning really is one of those things for which the "practice makes pefect mantra applies".

The final yarn is soft, probably against the skin soft (this is always hard for me to judge until I actually wear the garment against my skin, but the fact that this yarn is quite smooth improves the odds that my prediction will come true). But it has one problem... at least for me. I love it, but I cannot wear anything that has this much yellow. At least not near my face. So I don't think a scarf project (unless it is not for me) is going to be in the future for this yarn. I'm thinking maybe a pillow, or a spring table runner with a very simple lace pattern that won't get lost in all the stripes. A table runner a la Clapotis also crossed my mind. Any other suggestions? It definitely won't become socks. I would die a thousand little deaths if some of my handspun was accidentally felted in the washing machine.

Little Treasures

Gift Tag from Little Oranges of California

I love this sweet little gift tag made by Little Oranges of California. You can actually read the size of the needle on the needle head: 13 US 9.0. At $6 for 8 tags they aren't cheap, but then neither is a handknitted gift. I found it at Paper Doll one of my favorite stores on Division St. Filled with interesting paper goods and special little tchotchkes of all kinds, not to mention a wonderful little pug, I have a hard time walking by without going in.

Thanks to everyone who said such nice things about my handspun. I think this yarn is looking more and more like a table runner. Or maybe some kind of sampler pillow. I do think I have to check out Alterknits and see if the idea Morgan metioned would work.

A couple of comments from yesterday's post included questions, so I thought I'd answer a few of those here today.

Morgan asked:

Where did you get all your info on the ratio's ??? since i am still learning to spin I am trying to find resources and I have no clue what you were talking about!!

You can get that info from a couple of places: your spinning wheel manufacturers site or from retailers that are selling the wheel you are interested in, or at the WooLee Winder site. I'd love it if the info was stamped into the flyer somehow because I always have to look it up. In general, the ratio tells you how fast you can put twist into a yarn. A 10:1 ratio means that for every 1 rotation of the big wheel, you have 10 rotations of the flyer. The smaller the whorl on the flyer, the higher the ratio, the more twist you can can create in any unit of time.

Liz (no URL) asked:

How long have you been spinning, if you don't mind me asking?

I don't mind the question at all. I got my first drop spindle (actually first 2 drop spindles) from MS&W, May, 2005 and my first spinning lesson from Claudia at the same time. I bought my wheel in late January, 2006. So I've just been spinning a little over a year now. I love spinning and find I can do it for hours and hours given the right fiber and something good to listen to.

Heatherly, on a different topic, asked:

I finally started my here b dragon sox. i am making them for a child so i am doing the scaled up, but in 3 repeats. what do you think?

If you mean three repeats for the leg, I say no problem. If you mean three repeats around instead of 4, then you may have problems with the heel and toe details if you want to include them, since those assume that certain parts of the pattern will be centered over the heel and toe when you get there. Depending on the size of the child, it might be better to experiment with a finer gauge yarn and smaller needles and stick with the 4 repeats. But if you don't mind spending time playing with the pattern, I'd say try the three repeats and see how it goes. You never know, you might get something you really like.

Building a Homemade Lazy Kate


On Monday, Lee Fay asked a question that I thought was deserving of its own post:

Could you please tell us more about your tensioned home made lazy kate? I'm very intrigued.

Lazy Kate's are simple devices that are used to ply yarns off of bobbins. The tensioning of the Kate controls how the bobbins rotate. It's very simple to make your own Lazy Kate for plying.

Homemade Lazy Kate

First of all, you need a box. It can be a shoebox or a small corrugated cardboard box. The only thing that is important is that it be wide and tall enough to accomodate a bobbin. I also like mine to be long enough so that it can hold three bobbins, and can thus support a three ply.

Bobbin Axles

I then take three inexpensive metal knitting needles. These needles need to be long enough to go all the way through the box. They also need to be narrow enough that they can slip through the center of the bobbin, so that the bobbin can be suspended in the box and the bobbins can rotate freely on the needle axle.

Tensioning the Kate

To create the tension band (a length of Lion Brand WoolEase) and thread it through two holes that you punch in lower corners of the short sides of the box (you can see where the blue yarn goes in the top picture). This yarn is drawn over the tops of the bobbins and fits in the grooves in the bobbins. In order to maintain the tension, I pulled one of the ends under the box and used a small binder clip to hold the ends of the yarn together so that the yarn remains taut over the three bobbins.

The final important element is something that will prevent the bobbins from moving back and forth on the needles. To do that, I used some random pieces of folded cardboard and cut a groove in the center that would go around the needle and could be folded so that they prevented the bobbins from moving away from the tensioining line.

So there you have it: a homemade tensioned Lazy Kate from spare junk around your house. Even if you had to buy the needles out right, it still would probably cost you 10 dollars or less. And the nice thing about this style of kate is that you can have as many bobbins as you want, assuming you can find enough needles and a large enough box. But it's also not a precious treasure, so if you don't want to keep it around, you can store or discard most of the parts easily. For these big WooLee Winder bobbins, it works much better than the Lazy Kate that comes with the Lendrum wheel, where the axles point straight up into the air and the bobbins are on a vertical axis instead of a horizontal one.

Man-friendly Proto Socks

"Do You Believe in Magic" and "My Boyfriend's Back" from Crown Mountain Farms

After spinning up the first half of the Hang on Sloopy superwash merino, I just knew that there was more sock yarn spinning in my future -- especially when the man in my life demonstrated a little bit of interest. Of course, orange was completely out of the question. But he was willing to entertain some darker, more masculine colors. He told me greys, browns and deep reds, like burgandies. Fortunately, for me, Teyani at Crown Mountain Farms was already thinking along the same lines when I emailed her asking if she was planning on introducing any colorways that my guy would be interested in.

On Saturday, she posted 5 new colorways to her blog. it took me just a couple of heartbeats to know which of those would be good options for coming to my house. They arrived here today, after their long trip from Washington. I selected "Do You Believe in Magic" which is a blend of black, brown and some grey color and "My Boyfriend's Back" which is almost all reds, varied mostly by color depth, with some of the red being so deep it almost takes on a black-like quality. Apparently, my search for man-friendly colors was part of the inspiration for this colorway. How cool is that?

I'm pretty excited about getting started on these. I think John needs a pair of handspun, handknit socks for Christmas. And John is (and I quote) "Curious about how the red stuff will spin". But since I also have a large bale of moorit CVM to work on for a light winter cardigan for moi, I've promised myself that I will spin up the first portion of the CVM before I get back to to spinning for socks. Since I've got a couple of sock projects to complete before I can start on socks for John, this should be a good way to keep all my projects on track.

P.S. There's still time to enter my little contest for one of my patterns. Just check out the three posts I had about the Michigan Fiber Festival and let me know in the comments to this post which picture you think is the one I took (i.e. the fake guy shot).