March 2007 Archives

Low Energy

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Sigh.

I find myself at a place where my energy is low and I don't have a lot to say. I am definitely working on things:

  • I have started the last log cabin square for my baby blanket.
  • I have made some more progress spinning the moorit CVM
  • I have found an layouf for my quilt squares that I like and have started sewing them together.
  • I'm working on a sock in Regia Silk
  • I have engaged in some retail therapy and have some nice yarn and fiber to show off

What I have not done is been able to take pictures of any of the potentially interesting things in good light. I've also been feeling spectacularly unmotivated. I don't know if it's the weather or just the time of the year or the phase of the moon, but mostly what I want to do right now is vegetate. Well, that's not entirely true, I would love to be quilting, but it's late and that would require going downstairs, so I am saving that for tomorrow when I have a day off and can dedicate the entire day to it and can enjoy the natural light in my dining room.

I also wanted to say an extra thank you to everyone who has left nice comments about my quilt or my baby blanket. It's always an honor to inspire people and to be the beneficiary of encouraging comments. Hopefully in the days to come, I'll get past my doldrums and have a few more things to do show and tell on!

Finished Serenity Top

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Finished Serenity Quilt Top

To the sound of, of all things, a thunderstorm, I put my quilt blocks together into something that resembles a real quilt top. This simple quilt taught me that there is definitely a lot out there for to learn when it comes to quilting. Not the least of which is figuring out the best way to true things up so that edges meet where they are supposed to. One nice thing about these lovely batik fabrics, however, is that the prints are so active you don't pay very much attention to where things don't quite line up like they should (and believe me, there are definitely more than a few places where the alignment is off!). Even with my alignment problems, I'm still pretty happy with the results, and I no longer feel that sewing machines are scary pieces of equipment. And this project did help chase a few of the grey-day associated doldrums away.

I'm definitely going to have to work a bit at my rotary cutting skills, keeping a straight edge when using the sewing machine, and my ironing technique. For instance, do not iron wet fabric after you have sewn it together -- cotton will expand a bit and as you iron it out, the pieces will bow and stretch. I did this because my iron's steam function doesn't work very well (truth be told, my iron probably doesn't get hot enough) and I used my knitwear blocking spray bottle to help me out. Works well for knitwear, not so well for sewn quilt blocks. Message to self: buy a better iron. My mom has suggeted that Rowenta makes good irons. Anyone out there care to make a suggestion for a good one?

The next step is to get this bad boy quilted. I am very close to deciding on the "quilt by checkbook" option where in I let someone else do this part with their very nice machine, but I've also been told it's not really that hard to machine quilt a quilt of this size (just abou 45" x 60"). Looks like I'll have something to think about while I'm back at Quiltology this weekend picking out fabric for my next project.

Special Socks Ahead

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So... I mentioned a post or so back that I had been doing some shopping. Well, indeed I have. I'm not hitting the highest heights of fiber consumerism, but I have made a recent purchase that I just have to talk about.

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Luxury Sock Batts in "Heartbreaker" from Franquemont Fibers

One of the things that I am always trying to find more of is good spinning blogs -- blogs by people who have been spinning for a long time and really have a deep body of knowledge that they bring to bear when they talk about a spinning subject. I wish now I could remember how I came across Abby's Yarns so I could give credit where credit is due. Abby Franquemont has a great blog and an incredibly rich knowledge of fiber and spinning. She talks about everything from yarn construction to yarn pricing, she's talked about what to look for in spinning wheels and answers questions from people who are looking for help with their technique.

After reading her blog for a while, I took the plunge and ordered some of her Franquemont Fibers Luxury Sock Batts. The blend that I ordered is a blend of superwash merino, silk and nylon in a colorway called "Heartbreaker". Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while will not be surprised that I picked a blue, teal and purple colorway -- I decided if I was going to make luxury sock yarn, it was going to be for me, and it was going to be in my favorite colors.

Let me just say that this is probably some of the best prepared fiber I've ever had my hands on. when I untucked one of those little buns (holding one feels like holding a baby bird in your hand) I was treated to some of the softest, smoothest fiber I've ever had. The whole "like buttah" thing? Well, "buttah" don't have anything on this stuff.

Aside from the incredible preparation, while the batts contain all three colors, Abby has placed them side by side so they can be easily separated. I am thinking that I am going to split them and try to spin some "self-striping" yarn by spinning a certain amount of each color into my single in a regular pattern and see if I can make two singles that I combine into a two ply that match up enough to maintain the striping pattern in the final yarn. All 4 of the little bundles I have amount to just over 4 ounces of fiber, so it shouldn't be a long spinning project.

Well, not once I get finished with my CVM. I've told myself that this is a treat that I can only have after I finish my moorit CVM project. In the coming weeks, we'll see how strong my will is.

Square Nine

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A 9 Patch of Knitted Log Cabin Squares

All nine squares completed and the baby is still about a month away. Only the seaming and edging remains. I'm thinking that to seam them together, I will probably try to use a crochet seaming method. I think it will create a nice look on the wrong side of the blanket. I still haven't decided, however, how I will decide what color to use for the seaming. Since no two edges will ever be the same color (the layout above is pretty much the same as the layout I will be seaming together) I'm ultimately probably just going to have to decide to always use the darker color or always use the lighter color or maybe even to use the color that's not represented. I'm also tempted just to use one color throughout and call it a "design element" since the crochet chains will be visible on the wrong side.

For the edging, I'm toying with the idea of just using a nice single crochet. It will be simple and strong. I like single crochet edgings because they almost look like a bound edge and the firmness of crochet tends to hold knitted structures together well. Also, since I know the baby to be is of the masculine persuasion, I don't want anything too frilly -- and, to be honest, I'm not sure I have the patience for 144 inches of applied I-cord.

Dad's First Three Ply

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While I've been busy working on log cabins squares and my quilting project, my Dad's been busy working on his spinning technique. Dad's mostly been working with undyed fibers and has played with blue faced leceister and corriedale. When he visited me a couple of weekends ago we headed up to see Toni Neil at the Fold so that he could talk about some of his current woodworking projects and get some advice about tools that spinners and knitters like to use. While we were there, he also got a chance to try out a couple of spinning wheels and got a few pointers from Toni on technique.

Just like me when I started spinning, Dad is working on trying to create consistent singles. And every batch of fiber he spins just gets more and more consistent. Since he wants to play with his own lazy kate design, he's been trying out plying. And his results are really beaultiful.

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Worsted-to-Bulky Three Ply

I haven't seen the yarn in person, but you can just tell from the picture that that natural colored yarn is just beautiful and squishable. One thing that makes my spinning very different from my Dad's efforts is that his singles tend to be wider in diameter than mine are, so he ends up with very different final yarns. I can't wait to see this yarn in person. And I can think of a number of projects that would be lovely for the yarn.

The blue singles are on bobbins that Dad made himself for his Ashford Traditional wheel. Lately Dad's been experimenting with bobbin construction and balance and he's been happy with the results. Nothing like getting a woodworking engineer guy involved with spinning! I'm always looking foward to seeing where he's going to go next.

Blooming 9-Patch

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So I've been bitten by the quilting bug, I think. After finishing up my Serenity quilt top, I went ahead and signed up for another class at Quiltology focusing on a quilt design called a "Blooming 9 Patch" (you can see an example of this quilt, Blooming Belle at the Quiltology website.).

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Fabrics for a Blooming Batik 9 Patch

This quilt is going to be rather larger than Serenity -- big enough for the queen-sized bed in my guest bedroom. The bedroom is a bit on the dark side, so I wanted the quilt to bring some light into the room with its color. However, the bed itself is a dark wood sleigh bed, so also wanted the edges of the quilt to look a bit like they were blending into the wood of the bed at the edges.

Because I'd focused on greens and blues in Serentity (and because these are the colors I almost always focus on), I really wanted to go outside my normal boundaries a bit and work in a different color spectrum. I started putting it together when Colette pointed out a new fabric she'd just received -- the dark batik print at the top of the pile. This fabric is dark, but it has splashes of green, red, orange and blue. It's really stunning in person. The other fabric that I loved (and had been looking at for a while in the store) was the red/orange/yellow batik that is the third fabric from the bottom of the picture. After I had those picked out, I selected others from the collection of batik fabrics at Quiltology with the intention of creating a harmonious progression from the dark batik to the yellow print fabric I wanted to have at the center of the quilt. The process reminded me a little bit of selecting yarn for my Charlotte's Web shawl. I had a little help from Colette (I think it's never a bad thing to take advantage of the help you can get from another experienced set of eyes) but I'm happy to say that most of the selections here are my own.

So now I'm all ready for my first class, which will involve a lot of strip piecing and will introduce me to some new quilting concepts as well as keep me working on my sewing machine skills. Who'd have ever though I'd be starting on a second quilt top? And thinking about buying a sewing machine of my own?

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Completed Log Cabin Baby Blanket

Log Cabin Baby Blanket Specs
Yarn: Blue Moon Socks that Rock Heavyweight, Tanzanite, Stonewash and Jade
Needles: US Size 5 (3.75 mm) Denise Interchangables
Finished Size: 36" x 36"

It's always nice for me when I can finish up a project when there's still some sunshine to take pictures with. And it was almost a picture perfect, spring is coming sort of weekend here in Chicago. The blankie and I got to stretch out in 60F weather. I'm hoping that this weather is not just a cruel trick and is really the start of spring here in the Great Lakes region.

Unfortunately, even though the weather was nice enough for Chicagoans in my neighborhood to be sitting in outdoor cafes drinking beer it was still a bit wet and muddy to take the Blankie anywhere but onto the balcony off our master bedroom.

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The Blankie Can Be Compact When It Wants To Be

Here is the Blankie showing how compact it can be.

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Top Down View Showing the Edging of the Blanket

In the end, I opted for the reverse crochet or crab stitch for the edging. It provided a solid and durable structural edge without being too frilly or girly. I thought the dark purple was the best choice for the edge. As nice as it would have been to have worked with a 4th contrasting color for the border, this yarn is just a little bit too expensive to justify buying an extra skein of just for 5-10 yards to seam and edge the blanket with -- and I didn't want to edge it with a different yarn, because I expect this blanket to be washed and I wanted all the yarn to behave the same way when it underwent that process.. And I thought the purple really helped to pop the squares it touched.

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Four Corners Meet In the Blankie

Very pretty and very even on the front, I think. I'll just say that I was very pleased with the intersections of the squares.

Assembling these squares turned out to be something that was helped along greatly by my first quilting class. First, I made sure that all the squares were oriented the same way, then I connected the edges of the squares in each of the three rows across and then seamed the rows together -- exactly how I put Serenity together.

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The Back Side of the Blankie -- Visible But Clean Seams

When it came to seaming, I decided to use a crochet joining method. I picked it for two reasons. 1) It's durable and I was worried that my whip-stitching might not hold up to long term use and machine laundering. 2) If my friend, an excellent knitter, should ever want to deconstruct the blanket into it's component squares, the crochet edging and chain seaming will be trivial to pull out. I know it sounds strange to anticipate this, but I figure there's always the possibility that pieces of the blanket will wear out and not be worth keeping, while other pieces might still be worth preserving and using to create a pillow or some all small memory -- or even just replacing a region. I have plenty of yarn left and could probably create three more squares from what I have left. So, making it easy to take apart seemed like a reasonable idea.

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Blankie in Waiting

This last is just a picture of what I think is the natural habitat of the blankie -- the rocking chair. It is also an excuse to squeeze another picture in of my favorite piece of furniture ever, and to provide a sense of scale for the size of the blanket. And since I spent a good deal of time seaming in this chair, I couldn't help but notice how handsome the blanket looked against the chair. But, I'm biased. I think everything goes well with walnut.

Soon soon soon this blankie will make its way to its new home in Madison, Wisconsin. Love ya, Judy*! John and I just can't wait to meet your son. May he grow strong and be healthy and be a constant source of light in your life.

* This may seem like I am spoiling a big surprise... but I suspect that Judy lurks here every now and again, and I think I've dropped enough hints to make it clear where this blanket was destined for. When you like to make things (and Judy does -- she painted a lovely picture for my husband and I when we got married and she's knit no shortage of lovely sweaters) I like to think that it makes a project even more interesting when you get to watch it come together. Besides, I'm pretty lousy at the whole keeping secrets thing.

Man Sock Inspiration

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A Small Dark Collection of Socks that Rock (Mediumweight)

It's always nice to get out to the Fold when Toni has had a recent delivery of yarn from Blue Moon. Way back when my Dad and Mom were visiting a few weekends ago was one such occasion. And so I bought myself some treats:

1) Obsidian
2) Stormy Weather
3) In the Navy
4) Lagoon
5) Puck's Mischief

The first three are for a gentleman that I live with who is very specific about his sock color requirements. I actually bought the Obsidian (the mostly black yarn) as a bit of bribery for encouraging In the Navy use, even though I have sworn to him up and down that I will never knit him a pair of black socks. Fortunately for me, the Obsidian has a good deal of depth that isn't immediately apparent. With the right little bit of detail, I think it will make a nice pair of socks, and won't be totally evil to knit with.

The Lagoon and Puck's Mischief are both for me -- or at least won't be used for Man Socks. I've been thinking about turning one of them into a pair of "Here There Be Dragons" socks because it would be kind of fun to have a pair fo those for myself. But who knows? Sock yarn that ends up in my stash always seems to change its final destination at least once...

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Regia Silk Color Sock, Colorway 190

Seems like there's always a sock going on where I am concerned. I started this one the day before my father-in-law's visitation because my husband knew it would help keep me on balance during all the emotional events. As it turns out, very little knitting was done, but it made me feel good to know it was in my bag. And it made me feel even better that John didn't mind me having something along that I found peaceful.

This sock doesn't deviate much from my normal pattern except that it is a toe up sock. Most of the time when I use Regia, I end up with a bunch left over. This time I decided that I would start toe up and work until I had used most of the yarn since it would be a shame to waste much of the Regia Silk. I am definitely beginning to see the allure of knitting toe up. I was able to use most of the skein and the only thing that I had to search to find was a stretchy bind-off for the ribbing - instructions for that bind off (which is very simple) can be found here in one of Grumperina's always thoughtful posts.

By stitching toe up, I ended up with a sock that was 11" tall from heel to cuff. Other than that, it's my standard Regia sock: 64 stitches around, short row heel, wedge toe. I guess now I should cast on the second one... there's a part of me though, that is thinking it's time to work on something else with a little more designing involved. But I also want to finish these up so that I can take them out for a wear-test. I'm hoping Regia Silk might turn out to be one of those yarns that is warmer in the winter due to its silk content without having too much extra thickness.

Silk and Tamale Pie

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Aside from the toe of my second Regia Silk sock, I find myself with not so much to talk about this morning. Soon I will have hoardes of 9-patch quilt blocks to show and tell about, but for right now, they are mostly just pieced together strips of fabric and really not all that interesting. So, instead, I'm showing of something that is much more interesting and beautiful.

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Franquemont Fibers Luxury Sock Batts and Some Lovely Silk

Lately, I've been itching to spin. You'd think I'd just sit down in front of my wheel and do it, but instead I've been substituting the purchase of fiber. But I've been trying to be moderate in this area -- just enough for small projects. Sock yarn is my favorite small project spinning right now, so when I saw Abby talking about her Luxury Sock Yarn Batts with silk and BFL, well, it was just time to start cruising her Ebay shop again. And I ended up with 3 batts of a colorway she calls Tamale Pie.

I've been curious about BFL in sock yarn for a while. First of all, because of some lovely sock yarn that Emma sent me as part of one of our trades that was made of BFL. Secondly, because BFL is supposedly one of those wools that doesn't felt quite as readily. And finally, just because I have enjoyed spinning BFL and I thought it would be fun to have it in a sock blend.

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Tamale Pie Close Up

Last time I didn't give you a good close-up of the batt I received. This time, since I had beautiful light and even better weather, I thought it would be nice to get a close-up so that it was possible to see how truly well prepared this fiber is. I think it's fair to say that my hair isn't this well combed on most days. And as far as the touch sensation goes, well, its lovely stuff and it will be a treat to spin.

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Tussah and Bombyx Silk

I also got some silk samples from Abby. I'm still not an expert at silk identification, but I think the skein on the left is tussah and the skein on the right is bombyx. Since I've really only spun tussah up to this point, I'm looking forward to seeing how they compare.

Now... I have to get back to my rotary cutter and some strip pieces... lots and lots of 9 patches ahead!

9 Patch Strips

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Since there seems to be some interest in watching me go through the process of putting my Blooming 9-Patch Quilt together, I thought I'd spend most of this week talking about what I'm learning for this project. I'm going to break it up a little bit because otherwise I'd have some very picture-heavy posts in order to show off all the colors. So today I'm going to start with the stuff at the beginning. Some of you folks wanted to see the strips that were going to make up my 9-Patches, so today, that's what's on the menu.

But first, a new toy that I've added to my toy box:

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Rowenta Focus Iron (DZ 5080)

For the past week or so I've been asking the few other quilters and sewers I know about their iron preferences. Most people told me that I should be looking for an iron with some heft, that had an easy to clean plate, stuff that would prevent leakage (if I used the steam) and relatively high wattage. And I got a lot of recommendations for Rowenta and Shark irons. So, armed with my 20% off coupon, I headed to Bed, Bath and Beyond to see what they had. What I ended up with was the Rowenta Focus DZ5080. It wasn't the most expensive model, but it certainly met with all the criteria that people had mentioned for a good iron.

And with the help of my husband, I got an extra good deal. While we were looking through the shelves to find a box that looked like it hadn't been completely mangled or previously opened, we found one labelled $49.99 (instead of $79.99). When we took it up to the register, John was able to convince the folks at the store (in a very polite way) to honor the price on the box. So I got a very nice iron for only $40 (after we used the coupon) and I had a husband who was very pleased with himself since he loves getting a good deal in an honest way (he is also the king of the price match -- don't even try to get in his way when he's buying a piece of consumer electronics... you don't want to play poker with him either). Also, if you're in the market for a Rowenta, BB&B gives you a $15 gift card for purchasing one... so, in effect, this iron ends up being about $25 for me. As soon as I get another one of those 20% off coupons I'm going back to the store to get one of the extra wide ironing boards.

Chuckle. Who would ever think I'd spend this much time talking about shopping for an iron? Enough with that, I think. Onto the quilt.

I realized after I first posted about it, that I never mentioned the book that I am following for the Blooming 9 Patch class.

"Tradition with a Twist" by Blanche Young and Dalene Young Stone is essentially a primer for learning about strip piecing quilts. It provides lots of different quilt models to look at and provides the instructions and helpful hints that you need to get started. The Blooming 9 Patch is one of the quilt projects in the book. The project, as written, will end up being 72" x 82", which is roughly the size of the top of a queen sized bed. Since I wanted mine to fall over the edges of the bed I am adding and extra set of blocks around the outer edge, so mine will be larger. The quilt in the book requires 8 fabrics, mine will use 9 -- the nine that I showed off in my first post about this quilt. All told, I had to purchase about 10 yards of fabric for the quilt top.

The first thing to do (after ironing the fabric) is to use a rotary cutter to cut out a bunch of strips that can be used to make all the little 9 patch squares in this quilt. If you don't know exactly what a 9 patch is, imagine a tic-tac-toe board -- it's 9 squares put together to form a larger square. All of my 9-patches will be a blend of two fabrics. If you number the fabrics 1 through 9, I'll be using the following combinations:

1&2 2&3 3&4 4&5 5&6 6&7 7&8 8&9 to create my 9 patches with. After I cut my strips out, I
will need to sew the strips together in such a way as to help me create 9 patches with alternating colors. Forgive the ASCII art....

A | B | A
-------------
B | A | B
-------------
A | B | A

Where A & B represent any 2 of the fabrics in the pairs I listed above. This means if I was working with fabrics 1 and 2, I'd be creating a set of strips that in the order 1-2-1 and a set of strips in the order 2-1-2 and then cutting them into smaller pieces that will be sewn together to make the 9 patches.

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Blooming 9 Patch Quilt Block Strips

From left to right, these are the strips for all my blocks with the colors on the left being the center color blocks and the colors on the far right being the outer edge colors -- you're only seeing the B-A-B versions of the strips, but hopefully that conveys a bit of the idea of what the quilt is going to look like. I wanted a bright center stretching out into a darker edge -- the darker edge is meant to blend a bit with the dark wood of the bed that the quilt will spend most of it's time on, the lighter center is supposed to draw some light into what is otherwise a dark room.

The Rowenta iron made getting these strips ready for cutting a much easier process than my old iron would have, but it still took a long time. I think it took about 2 hours for me to get all the strips ironed out and ready for the next step!

Tomorrow: 9 Patch Pieces

9 Patches

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Blooming 9 Patches

The big job after getting all the ironing done was to cut those strips into sections that can be sewn together to make the 9-patches. Even with a good deal of stacked cutting, it took me the rest of Saturday to get everything cut -- nothing like having to make sure that I have 120 small pieces for the outer blocks in the quilt.

The 9 patch squares in the picture above are labelled based on where they are relative to the center. The block labelled 1 is closest to the center, while the block labelled 8 will be closest to the outer edge of the quilt. These 9 patch squares will be the fundamental building blocks for the quilt. The sunshine has washed the colors out a little bit, but otherwise, the photography is pretty true to life.

I wanted to get started on seaming the pieces together, but I wasn't happy with what I was getting from the machine I have at home as compared to when I sewed the strips together in class. So, there will be much 9 patch sewing when I go to my next class on Thursday morning -- 288 9-patches each with two seams. Good thing I bought the enconomy sized spool of thread!

Heartbreaker

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1 Ounce of Heartbreaker

Apparently, when it comes to my spinning, I lack a certain amount of resolution. Especially when faced with the prospect of experimenting with some special fiber. What you see above is clearly not a skein of the CVM that I am supposed to be working on.

You see, on Sunday night, I decided that no harm would be done if I pulled out my Franquemont Fibers "Heartbreaker" and just weighed it. You know, so that I would know how much I had to deal with. But then it went a bit farther. I decided that, since I wanted to create striping intervals of my own design, that it would be good to know just how much of each color I had. So I opened up the little batt-buns and separated out the colors and weighed them. Then I got a bit carried away. I decided that I would "sample" a little bit, just to see what the superwash/silk/nylon blend spun up like, since firestar nylon is a new fiber to me. And then I realized that if I was going to spin just a bit, I might as well think about the color progression. How to make stripes that would knit up well in a pair of socks? And then suddenly I was separating the colors from one of those little batts into multiple small bits in a particular order and telling myself that one ounce of fiber really wouldn't take all that long to spin.

Which did, of course, turn out to be true. I can spin an ounce of fiber in about 3 hours. Especially when it is as well prepared as this fiber. No pre-drafting necessary on this stuff. It just slipped effortlessly through my fingers and into a single.

My goal with this fiber was to try to create two singles with similar color intervals, that, when plied, wouldn't barberpole very much. I've spun enough sock yarn now that I am pretty consistent within a particular range. So I wasn't too worried about my ability to get similar lengths of single out of equal weights of fiber. What I was concerned about was getting the equal weights of fiber. My scale, while okay for amounts above 5-10 g or so, doesn't do very well in the 1 gram range that I needed. So in the end, I decided that I would just have to wing it and use my eyeballs to "measure".

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Heartbreaker Color Progression on my Niddy Noddy After Plying

My results were mixed. On one hand, in most cases I did get the color bands that were supposed to over lap to over lap. And I did get pretty equal amounts of single on each of the two bobbins. On the other hand, I am pretty sure I ended up with a good deal more barberpoling than solid region once I got past the halfway point. I did contemplate breaking the singles and adjusting, but the nylon added some tensile strength that made this stuff harder to break and join easily. So after trying that once, I gave up and just spun my way on through.

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Heartbreaker's True Colors

Although the final result is not as close to what I initially envisions as I would like, it's hard to be disappointed in these colors, or in the resulting yarn after plying. I will tell you that this yarn is somewhat overplied (i.e. not balanced) and I will probably have to run it back through my wheel and remove some of the twist (or maybe not... it is for socks after all, and I don't think it's unbalanced enough to have a sever bias in a garment knitteed in the round).

From the 31 g that I spun, I ended up with 110 yards of 2 ply yarn -- pretty respectable, I think. Since this was about a quarter of what I ordered, I should have plenty of yarn for a pair of socks when the project is finished. When I soaked the yarn after plying it gave off no dye whatsoever, and it has a nice soft hand now that it is dry and skeined.

The nylon didn't turn out to be a problem to spin, but I did notice that the fiber was a little rougher on my fingers than straight wool or wool silk blends have been in the past. I can only assume that this is due to the nylon being a bit more durable than my skin. But this is sort of a minor quibble when I think about the added durability that will be present in the final yarn and knitted product. And it in no way detracts from how nice this fiber was to spin or how nice it will feel when worn in a sock.

I am not sure how I am going to handle the next three batts. A part of me would like to find a more precise weighing device, but given that I have just made another rather large purchase (more about that on Friday) I am not really prepared to invest in an expensive gram-sensitive balance at the moment. So, more than likely, I will end up using the eyeball method again. Any suggestions out there from anyone else who has tried this sort of thing?

1000

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Today's post kind of snuck up on me. I think it's a pretty big milestone for me. It's my 1000th blog post. Ten to the power of three. A cool grand. My own millenium.

I've never really celebrated any of my "blogoversaries", in truth, this is because I don't really know when to mark the beginning. My very first post was on August 24, 2002, inspired by Julie who had told me about these interesting new knitting blogs. I've always liked the idea of having a journal, but I wasn't sure what to do with a journal that got published in a public place. Like most people's first post there's not much useful in it. I had just set up my Blogger account, and that first post was mostly one of those Testing.... testing... 1...2...3... things. I didn't make another post until the beginning of October, when I finally decided that I was going to talk about both bioinformatics and knitting. Needless to say, the bioinformatics didn't stick around very long, though, of course, my blog name "The Keyboard Biologist" which is completely derivative of my corporate life, stayed in place. I guess it was my way of saying "look out! crafty scientist in the house!"

But reaching 1000 posts, no matter when I started the process, is something easily defined. 1000 posts in 4.5 years -- it surprises even me to think that I've come up with over two hundred posts a year since I started blogging. I "went daily" sometime in 2003 after being inspired by bloggers like Wendy and Bonne Marie. I loved how every morning with my coffee I could open up their webpages and find something new to start the day with. Posting daily was a real jolt to my own creativity and inspired me to do and try new things. This blog started as mostly knitting with the occasional paper craft. Since then I've tried spinning, dyeing, sewing, braiding, tatting, crochet, quilting and even a little bit of rubber stamping, not to mention playing around with HTML and digital photography and some pattern publication. I've knit more socks than I ever imagined were possible, I have a veritable wardrobe of handknit sweaters and tops, and I can't almost even believe that I am about to embark on an unspun fiber to sweater kind of project. In 2002 I would have identified myself as a "geek girl", now I think of myself as a "crafty girl" -- even though I'm probably getting too perilously close to 40 to really be in the girl category much at all.

What's a little funny about the whole thing is that when I started, I was almost always convinced that I would get bored and give it up or just simply run out of things to say. Even though I love to write and love to journal, I figured that there could only possibly be a finite amount I could say about knitting or other crafting projects, and that people would just get bored with hearing my voice. Instead, 1000 posts later, I find myself wondering how I could ever stop doing it. I love going out on my balcony to take pictures of my latest project. I love talking about some "new to me" discovery that fascinated me for an afternoon. I love connecting with people from all over the world who talk to me through comments and email. I love learning from other people who inhabit the community. I love blogging -- it just makes me happy to see my words on electronic paper, to read the comments I get. To know that I might be someone that other people share their morning coffee with. I don't know if I'll always be daily or I'll always be talking about crafts, but I suspect that I will always be blogging.

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Virtual Lattes For Everyone

From my desk to yours, a round a virtual lattes from the Keyboard Biologist to all of you who stop by my little corner of the internet every now and again. Thank you to everyone who has made this a worthwhile and lasting experience. I'm looking forward to seeing where the next 1000 posts take me.

Transitions

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It was quite an honor to find out how many of you I share morning coffee with. I'm touched by all of your kind words and I hope in the future I will continue to be entertaining and informative.

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Five 9 Patches

I love Thursdays because I get to escape off to Quiltology to work on my quilt project. One of the nice things about being able to take a morning quilt class is that I can spend the rest of the day in the sewing workshop working on my quilt. When I arrived at class this morning I had all of the strips for my small 9 patches cut and I was planning on sewing as many of them together as I could. I made it through the first 5 sets, starting from the inner set. I am getting very excited about this quilt top because I love the color transitions that I am beginning to see more clearly as the pieces come together. I probably would have gotten a bit farther if I hadn't stopped to rip pieces when I wasn't happy with the fabric alignment. I have learned that the seam ripper is my friend and that it's really not much harder to rip sewn seams than it is to rip back a piece of knitting. Certainly, with these little blocks, the process is not all that painful. And one thing that is nice about sewing (as compared to knitting) -- it takes a lot less time to stitch to pieces of fabric together than it does to rip a seam apart.

I'm beginning to find a rhythm in building my quilt top. Part assembly line, part keeping things organized. The sound of the machine broken up with the occasional bits of ironing and fabric arranging are actually rather soothing. And what's nice is that these things can be maintained even while chatting or thinking about other things. When you combine that with all the color that you get to engage with when you put a quilt together, there's a lot of pleasant sensory stimulation. Just about all that is left out is taste... but coffee is just as compatible with quilting as it is with knitting.

And speaking of coffee... a number of folks yesterday commented on my latte. Yes, I did make that latte with my very own coffee machine (I've had this very wonderful machine for almost 5 years... it is one of those machines that I truly love and has given me very good service). What some of you may not know is that my friend Julie is quite the barrista, and an excellent teacher when it comes to coffee preparation. About 6-8 months ago, I got a lesson in frothing/steaming milk. It's actually not all that hard -- I had been making it more difficult than it really is. You do need a machine that produces good steam (I think mine does a great job). It's especially easy when you steam in the cup that you're going to use for your latte instead of one of those metal pitchers. To get that bit of foam on top, you steam the top of the milk first (just enough to get a little foam, you don't need to go crazy) and then move the nozzle down to the bottom of the cup and steam the rest until it is to the right temperature. Then I have the machine pour me two shots and I dump them into the center of the foam at about the same time. Et voila! a latte is born.

A New Toy

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Bernina Activa 230 Patchwork Edition

While there's never a substitute for good technique, having good tools isn't such a bad thing, either. One of the things that became readily apparent as I was working on my quilting projects in class was that a nice sewing machine really does make a project go more smoothly. I worked on my first quilt project with my mom's travelling machine, a Husqvarna Romeo. Romeo is a fine machine, but he was lacking a few things that make quilting easier -- which is my way of saying that I got spoiled by the nice machines that Colette has available in the Quiltology sewing workshop and started jonesing for one of my own.

For my birthday, my dear sweet husband told me that I could go pick out a new video iPod of my choice. But I started my quilting classes before I got to the Apple store and I asked him if I could invest in a different sort of hardware. I think I traded on options for anniversary and Christmas presents as well in order to be able to ask Colette to order a Bernina Activa 230 Patchwork Edition for me, but I think it's well worth it. This machine has some lovely things on it that make it perfect for quilting, but it's also an excellent general purpose machine that will be great for other home dec and garment projects. I love that it has a nice pre-programmed stitch library, which means that it can do applique work and some fancy embroidery stitches, and I can purchase the walking foot if I decide I want to quilt my own quilt projects with it.

This machine has lots of room for me to grow into. Truth be told, it's probably more machine than a newbie quilter ought to be investing in. But almost everyone I talked to who had a sewing machine of their own suggested that I wouldn't regret getting a machine a step or so above what I thought I needed. And from what I understand of Berninas, they are the sort of machine that can last a sewer, if not a lifetime, then at least a good long time.

So now I don't have any excuse for not getting all my 9 patches pieced together before my next class!

P.S. I just installed a new plug in to help with the annoying comment spam problems that I've been having. So far it seems to be doing a good job of blocking some of the crap that was hitting my site. It should be invisible to anyone who leaves me a comment, but if you suddenly start to have problems, please drop me an email (email address in my sidebar). I'm hoping that between this plugin and another one that helps me shut off the comments on old posts, none of us will have to see any more stupid "G'night" comments or advertisements for financial services, pharmeceuticals or pornographic materials.

Twenty Weeks

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So, some of you might be wondering why there has been such a dearth of sweater-knitting activity on this blog of late, at a time of year when sweater knitting is usually one of my favorite things to do. Well, the answer is quite simple. I've been undergoing some rapid shape changes due to the presence of a very welcome visitor.

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Baby Z In Profile

I wasn't quite sure when I was going to post about our great expectations. You see, it's been something of a long road for us to get here, and I spent a lot of time worried about whether we would get here (that's a story for a future post, perhaps). So I didn't want to post until we felt very sure that all was going well. When you're past that 35 year mark, the range of testing options to help determine that "going well" thing becomes quite large. And, scientist that I am, I wanted as many pieces of evidence as possible when it came to knowing about our baby's health (another scientist friend and I were joking via email about wanting "uterus cam" so that we could see what was going on, monitor the heartbeat, etc). Last Friday we had our 20 week ultrasound and found out that from an anatomical perspective, we have a very healthy little girl bumping and bouncing around -- something I've been feeling for the past couple of weeks now. With this information, along with the other good test results, it seemed like a good time to share our news.

Since the ultrasound, I've felt a very profound peacefulness. I know problems can still happen, but I feel like we're through the toughest part of the waiting process. Now it's just a matter of her growing bigger and me getting rounder. We're feeling very happy and excited about her and can't wait until August when we'll get to meet her in person.

And that will be just the perfect time to think about planning for a new fall sweater. In the meantime, I suspect it might continue to be quilts and socks... since it doesn't seem like an August baby in Chicago needs a lot of sweaters.

Hand Made Book

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Thank you to everyone for all of your well wishes for us and for the baby. Even my dad messaged me to say how lovely he thought it was that so many people wanted to send their happy feelings our way. We are very touched. Certainly there will be updates on Miss Z and our preparations for her arrival. In the next couple of days, I will also share the backstory. Since it's not all happy stuff, I didn't want make it a part of our baby's introduction. But it is an important story, at least to me, and I would like to tell it.

It's kind of hard to follow up the baby's introduction with a craft project, but at leat this project does have a baby connection. Over the weekend, Julie and I took a class at the Paper Source in Lincoln Park called "Limited Edition Binding". In it, we created a beautiful book, where we sewed the folios together, picked the cover papers and the book tape. Our teacher was lovely and the whole day went by so quickly while we were learning and putting it all together.

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Hand Bound Book

One thing that was very interesting was connecting the paper folios to create the page section. If you've done some needlework before in your life, there were many things that would remind you of embroidery and knitting and crochet. And it was easier than you might think it would be.

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I love this top down view of the book because you can see the detail in the spine (I think the teacher called it a free floating spine, because the part of the book that is the pages doesn't actually adhere to the back of the spine). It's this view that really gives me the "wow! I made a real book" feeling.

So what I am I going to do with this book? How does it tie into Baby Z? Well, I've decided that I'm going to use it as a journal for her. It will be the place where we (I'm trying to convince John to do it to, but he's not sure it's his medium) write down important (at least important to us) things about what is going on with her. A place to write about firsts, to save pictures or other little mementos. Something that when she's older she can look through and find out a little more about herself and her parents. It's definitely not going to be as formal as some of those baby journal books that you can buy in the store, but hopefully it will be just as meaningful. I'm just hoping now to find something with an embossed "Z" on it that I can put on the cover.

As a final note, unrelated to books, but still related to the baby, some of you asked if I was going to make her a quilt. In fact, Serenity is going to be her quilt and I am building her nursery around the blues, greens and purples in the quilt. My mother is making some lovely pillows that use some similar fabrics for her nursery and I am thinking of making a few more of those blocks from the Serenity quilt to assemble and use as a crib bumper. So never fear, the baby will definitely have hand-made things from her mom!

Regia Silk Socks Finished

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Completed Regia Silk 190 Socks

No baby stuff today, because I suspect these socks will be much too large for her, at least for the next 15 or so years. But here they are, my completed pair of socks from Regia Silk, in colorway 190.

These socks are my standard operation: ribbed cuff, short row heel, wedge toe. I did start them toe up so that I could maximize the yarn. But other than that, there's no innovation. They are just a simple pair of striped socks.

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A Little Sun for the Silk Socks

As far as the yarn is concerned, this yarn definitely felt nice to the touch and moved fairly smoothly over my wood needles. My biggest complaint with it is that it tends to be a bit splitty, and the pointy tips of the double points I was using often would slip between plies if I wasn't paying attention. But this is relatively minor, and certainly not a reason to avoid treating yourself to a little silk for your feet.

On the wear test angle (I wore them for most of the day after I took the pictures, but without shoes, because I didn't really leave the house), they looked fine after a day of light wear. However, one thing I did notice, perhaps because they are longer in the leg than my standard socks, is that they tend to want to slouch just a bit, compared to regular Regia wool/nylon sock yarn. I suspect this may be because of the silk content. Silk is not elastic and there's about the same amount of nylon as in regular Regia sock yarn. So non-elastic fibers make up about 45% of the total fiber content of the yarn. So if you're going to use this yarn, keep that in mind. This yarn might be better for patterns like slipped stitch patterns where the structure of the fabric helps to keep the shape of the garment. Or you might want to use a few less stitches around than you normally use, knowing that this stuff definitely will stretch a bit.

I'm hoping tomorrow it will be cold enough for me to give them a proper "with shoes" wear test, and so I can get a sense about how warm they really are.

Now I better get back to my quilt... I still have a whole bunch of 9 patches that need my attention!

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