February 2009 Archives



It turned out to be a quiet weekend for us, in spite of having to brave the crowds of SuperBowl shoppers to make sure we could re-stock some basics.  John and I spent most of the time feeling a little under the weather.  My big excitement was unlocking a couple of fun balance games on my Wii Fit.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we live big Chez Biologist.

It is long since time, however, that I share some pictures of the yarn that I haven't been able to move from my desk to my stash.

20090201_VesperAcquisition.jpgThe acquisition of this yarn was really quite serendipitous.  To be honest, I can't quite remember what convinced me to take a look at the Knitterly Things website. But whatever it was, it brought me there just at the perfect time to place an order.  I have a skein of AquaMelon colored fingering weight merino, but it isn't superwash and I just can't cope with socks that can't easily go into the laundry.  I've always really wanted some of the superwash version of the Vesper yarn. Now I am set -- in spades.

20090201_TwitterAndRaw.jpgThe yarn on the left is "Twitterpated" it is a beautiful collection of orange, blue and green.  The yarn on the right is "Rawhide" and I think the blue, black and brown would make a very sophisticated sock for the right man (no, not my man... this would still be far to wild for him).  But I think my best score was something else:

20090201_VesperWeeSkeins.jpgThis is a Wee Skein Sock Kit  -- 4 skeins, each with 8 stripe repeats, perfect for making a pair of wonderfuly, wildly striped -- and even identical -- socks (the colors in my kit are Astro, Twitterpated, Crew and Love Stinks (Yeah, Yeah).  It is taking most of my will power right now not to drop everything and cast on with one of these.  About the only things stopping me at the moment is that I can't decide which yarn to start with and the fact that I already have three other pairs of socks for myself in action. 

And I am not the only one who is fascinated with this yarn:

20090201_ZandVesper.jpgShe has good taste, no?

Looking Back.... A Long Way Back

Well, it seems like a post coming on the eve of my 40th (holy wow!) birthday should do more than show off a picture of my latest sock.  Which is not to say that the sock is not a worthy addition to my wardrobe, but just that I've got another idea that has been banging around in my brain for how to commemorate the event. 

I remember being 20 years old and thinking how far off 40 was.  It would be a doubling of my time on the planet.  I was still in college and every imaginable door was still open.  True to form, I still had much angst about everything, and had visions of embarking on a career in science and changing the world with my amazing discoveries. 

Clearly, in 20 years I haven't cured cancer, but I thought it might be a good time to roll back through the years and think about the most memorable events in each one. 

1989 -- I decided to minor in history (the degree in biology was a given) and discovered that I really did enjoy learning French.

1990 -- I made my first scientific poster presentation at a Pew Conference for undergraduates -- at the University of Chicago.  My very first paper ever is published -- in physical chemistry -- as a result of work I assisted on after my freshman year of college.

1991 -- I was awarded a National Science Foundation Pre-Doctoral Fellowship. I graduated from college, moved to Chicago to start graduate school at the University of Chicago and moved in with my boyfriend from college.  I figure out how to send email using pine.

1992 -- I passed my pre-lims and was formally admitted to the Committee on Immunology PhD program.  I started work in T cell activation in Jeff Bluestone's lab.

1993 -- I got engaged to the college boyfriend.

1994 -- I went to my first "professional" scientific conference and delivered my first presentation to an international audience of scientists.  I learned how to ski (downhill -- I already knew how to cross country ski). My most important publication was published in Immunity describing the novel behavior of the CTLA-4 molecule (I was the first person to determine that it had a negative regulatory effect on T cell activation -- this was also one of the first ever publications describing any negative regulatory molecules for lymphocytes).

1995 -- I got un-engaged to the college boyfriend.  Lived on my own for the first time ever.  Was taught how to knit by my good friend Judy (who has made several guest appearances here).  I learned how amazing friends can be.

1996 -- I met John.   Through an internet personal's site, before it was cool.  If there is any event in my life more significant than this one, I couldn't tell you what it was.

1997 -- I defended my thesis and was awarded my Ph.D in Immunology.  I got engaged to John, which grounded me in so many good things.  I started my post-doc, which would be two of the most professionally challenging and emotionally trying years of my life.

1998 -- I married my soul mate.  I visited Australia and snorkeled in the Barrier Reef.  I became friends with Sue, who I don't see often enough any more, but who will always be one of those people who I never really lose touch with. John bought me my first Palm device.

1999 -- I visited Europe for the very first time with a trip to Madrid, Spain.  I turned 30. I made a complete career change and started my masters degree in Computer Science.  I met Julie in my discreet mathematics class over a Palm device malfunction 

2000 -- I got my first programming job "in the real world".  I suffered through the adult version of Whooping Cough (I do not recommend this).   

2001 -- I got my first job in bioinformatics at the company I still work for.  John and I bought our first real house -- in the heart of Chicago.  We both still look at it as one of the best purchases we've ever made.

2002 -- I started my blog.  It was supposed to be more focused on science.  It became a craft blog as I got more and more excited about knitting -- with plenty of help from Julie.  And I got to be blog neighbors with Emma -- who was my real inspiration to start sock knitting.  I also visited Paris for the first time.
2003 -- John and I vacation on the French Riviera. I knit my first pair of socks. I went to my very first fiber festival -- Michigan Fiber Festival.  John and I celebrated our 5th anniversary. 

2004 -- I made my very first trip to Maryland Sheep & Wool. I got my Master's Degree in Computer Science from DePaul.

2005 -- I learned to spin on a drop spindle courtesy of Claudia. John and I vacationed in Maui, one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.  I was promoted to VP & General Manager where I work.  I got pregnant for the first time and had my first miscarriage.  The learning of the first thing was very helpful later on in dealing with the coping with the third thing.

2006 -- I got my Lendrum spinning wheel for my birthday.   I designed the Here There Be Dragons socks in honor of my sister-in-law. I took on a challenge to knit socks for all my family members -- and was successful.  I had my second miscarriage, had a fibroid removed and John dealth with a detached retina.  John and I visited Kauai -- in hopes of banishing our health issues to the past for a while.

2007 -- John's father passed away.  I took my first quilting class. My beautiful baby girl was born -- and went to her very first fiber festival.  My father had some major and incredible surgery.

2008 --  We took Z on her first vacation to Florida.  I was honored with Godmotherhood for one of my beautiful little nieces and I became an aunt for my very first nephew.  I got my very first digital SLR.  John and I celebrated our 10 year anniversary!

2009 -- With any luck, I will learn to weave, take another nice vacation, get to MS&W and have other crafty adventures.

In the end, I have not cured cancer.  I am not the CEO of a Fortune 500 company.  I have not climbed Mount Everest or even run in the Chicago Marathon.  But I have helped to create a very wonderful family, I have made friends with some extraordinary people, and I have a career in an field that almost didn't even exist when I started grad school and over 20 scientific articles that bear my name. I have learned a whole collection of crafty things that make me happy and help me center myself. 

As I enter my 40th year, I really feel like, at some level, things are still just at the beginning for me, even though I know that I have most likely walked down half of my trail.  I am more confident than I ever was.  Have more inner strength than I did in college.  I don't spend as much time worrying about trying to change the world, but I am trying to do my best to make a difference where I can.  I have no way to predict what the next 20 years will bring me, but I hope it includes a healthy family and friends, an opportunity to travel and the time to enjoy my crafy pursuits.

P.S.  This wasn't really meant as a meme, but if you're feeling like you need a meme in your life and you do a similar retrospective, leave me a comment and let me know.   

Birthday Hobby Acquisition

It is awfully nice to have a spouse who not only "deals" with my hobbies, but also helps me get started with new ones. For the past year or so, I've been thinking more and more about weaving.  I've watched Julie play with her looms, Dr. Steph has been weaving scarves, I've heard Jennifer Ackerman-Haywood of Craftsanity podcast fame and Syne Mitchell of Weavecast talk about what weaving has added to their lives.  I've played with my Weavettes as well as an introduction for myself.  I liked it a lot, but as is usually true with me, while I liked the Weavettes, it was clear that I wasn't going to be able to make anything happen quickly, and there would be lots of seaming involved. 

Today something special arrived.  Can you guess what it might be?

20090205_BDayBox.jpgI know my preface has probably given it away.  It's definitely not a spinning wheel!

20090205_BDayBox2.jpgThat reed should be a dead give away.

Yep, yep yep, it's a 25" Schacht Flip rigid heddle loom with a 10 dent reed. My dear husband got it for my for my birthday with the help of the ever fabulous Toni Neil of the Fold. It comes not quite assembled, so after I took it out of the box I had to do a few things to get it set up.

Here it is, most of the way to being ready to be warped.  Even though it is ready, I am definitely not!  I think there is some reading in my future -- there are detailed instructions in the manual, and I will have to do some thinking about the yarn I want to start with.

Why did I choose this loom?  Well, The first consideration was budget.  Since I've never done much weaving on any scale, I wanted something that wasn't going to break the bank if it didn't quite work out.  The second consideration was getting something that I could learn to use without much assistance.   The only weaving instruction I've seen in Chicago is rather far away from where I live and the schedules don't tend to be that compatible with a full-time job, so I needed a loom that I could learn to set up on my own.  I also figured that a simpler loom would introduce me to the basics, and that after I understood the basics it would be easier to learn more complicated things.  The final consideration was portability and storability.  Space is not unlimited in our house and I thought it might be fun to be able to take my loom with me on the occasional trip. 

From what I could see, this left me pretty much with two options: the Ashford Knitter's Loom and the Schacht Filp.  Why did I pick the the Flip?  Well, the primary reason was flexibility.   There are more reeds available for the Flip, so there are more yarn size options for the warp.  I also really liked the 25" width.  That really makes the loom capable of doing a lot more than funky scarves, and simple scarves are still eminnently do-able.  The Flip also has been built with two heddles in mind -- so if I really take to it, there's growth potential.  The last reason is strictly aesthetics.  The Flip is almost all solid maple except for the nylon ratches that handle the tension control.  So it's not only a functional tool, but an attractive one as well. 

I'm very psyched to get started with my new toy, and very thankful that my husband not only puts up with my hobbies, but supports and encourages them.

If any of you out there have experience with rigid heddle looms and want to recommend your favorite books and sources of weaving information in the comments, I'd be very appreciative.

Thank you so much to everyone who left me good wishes for my birthday.  John and I celebrated with an exceptional dinner at Schwa (Michael Carlson's food is absolutely incredible and there is nothing quite like having the kitchen staff, including the chef serve dinner!) one of my favorite Chicago restaurants and I got to spend the day with my beautiful daughter.  All your bloggy birthday wishes helped to make a good day even better.  Forty doesn't seem like such a scary milestone when you have so many happy thoughts and good things happening in your life!

Handspun Surprise

The start-itis just keeps on acting up around my house.  This time, I'm going to blame Emily for mentioning that EZ's Baby Surprise Jacket pattern has an "Adult" version as well -- and that that version explains how to vary the jacket depending on size and yarn gauge.  I've wanted to knit Z a Surprise Jacket with a very particular handspun yarn that I have in my stash, but the pattern as written doesn't come with information for sizing it up or down (other than varying the yarn used), and since my yarn was DK weight (or less) I was pretty sure that the Baby pattern would result in a sweater too small for my kiddo.  The adult version, however, provides the details for sizing the pattern based on your gauge and the width of the sweater you need to make, so I ordered the leaflet from Schoolhouse Press and when it arrived I through all will power to the wind, found the yarn, made a gauge swatch and got to the business of taking care of the simple calculations needed to get started.

20090208_CottonCandySwatch.jpgThe yarn is a two-ply handspun made out of hand-dyed Corriedale roving in the colorway "Cotton Candy" from Crown Mountain Farms (note: I don't see this colorway on the website anymore -- if you wanted to see what it started out like, you can find it here).  This is the little garter-stitch swatch I made 5.5 sitches/inch on US 4 needles (selected because they were the smallest set available in my Harmony interchangeable set and I couldn't find a set of US 3 needles ).  I liked the fabric density and thought it would be good for a spring baby sweater, so I decided to roll with it.  You'll notice that it stripes, but that the color runs are pretty short.   Not ideal for  this pattern which really shows of stripes to their advantage, but this yarn has far too much yellow in it to be for any garment I would ever wear.

With the help of EZ's pattern recommendations I used the gauge and my final desired width of 12" (based on a 2T size jacket that I have for Z for the fall) to determine the number of stitches that I needed to start with.

20090208_SurpriseJacketForZ.jpgIn spite of the many stitches I had to cast on, this project is just whizzing by. I've finished the initial decreases and am now working on the increases after setting aside some stitches for the collar (or what I think is the collar, I have to admit that my orientation on this sweater is poor -- even with all the pictures out there).  The picture above is just before I started increasing again.

Even though there's no distinct striping pattern, I'm pleased with the way the fabric is turning out.  It's more or less random, but little bits of striping show up here and there.  I'm thinking that the Kureyon  and Silk Garden sock yarns might be nice made up into this pattern -- assuming that one was willing to consider completely unwashable yarns for a child.   In fact, though, this is the one place where I am making something completely impractical for Ms. Z -- this yarn is most definitely not superwash, and is definitely a light color.    I guess I'm just going to have to be prepared to do a little hand sweater washing when it's done.

Just a Sock

And only a sock.  I could never get this yarn to pool correctly when I was trying to use it for a particular pooling scarf pattern (featured in IK several years back), but it seems to pool just fine when engaged in becoming a sock. 

I knit the calf until I got tired of knitting it and then tacked the ribbing on the top.  Pretty standard stuff from my camp.  But I guess that is part of what makes it satisfying.  Simple and long since committed to memory I don't have to push myself when knitting from my standard pattern, I can just enjoy watching the yarn tell it's story.

A number of other projects continue on in the background: the alpaca Rivolo scarf (I've kept to my one repeat per day and I think I'm about 2/3 of the way done), the Baby Surprise Jacket and the Zebra Striper Sweater (I'm actually close to the armhole area now!) and the O w l s sweater.  I've also warped my loom and started working on a very basic evenweave strip of fabric (I am not really sure what it will be... table runner? scarf? conversation piece?) so that I can focus on figuring out some of the basics (I've also invested in a couple of books, but I must wait for Amazon to get them to me).  I've scheduled some vacation for Friday and Monday and I'm hoping that the long weekend will help me gain a little more traction with all of my projects and still leave me with time for my Wii Fit, which I am enjoying a great deal, even though i was clearly not cut out to do anything that requires much balance!

A Long Meditation

Kind of amazing what a 50 mm lens can do for a simple scarf project.  And the color is pretty on, too.

As I talked about almost a month ago, I've been knitting one repeat on this project everyday.  I'm not quite sure how many repeats I've gotten to now, but I think, given the amount of yarn I have left, that I'm about 2/3 of the way through the project.  I'm definitely past the number of repeats suggested by the pattern, but in the interest of making sure that my aunt gets to enjoy as much baby alpaca as possible, I'm knitting on until the yarn runs out.

While I'm not sure I could do every project this way, there is something nice about telling myself -- limiting myself -- to stop after one repeat.  It forces me to put my normally very "product" knitter into the background and just enjoy the process of knitting the one repeat I "get" to do.  In the end, it hasn't really been an all that meditative project because I usually work on it before dinner while watching Z race around or while listening to her splash excitedly in the bath (John is the bath captain -- no need to worry that a baby and a tub of water are not getting someone's full attention).  But it has been a nice way to transition from my work day to my home life.  It's not all bad to have to pass though a soft wall of alpaca to get to the space that I share with my family.     

Getting Warped for the First Time


There might be some that would argue that I was a little warped long before I ever got a loom, but today I'm going to share my first experience warping my Flip.   A wiser person than I might have waited for the nice books she ordered before getting started, but I just couldn't wait to get started, so I cracked open the little paper manual that comes with the Flip and got started.

One of the benefits of having been a newbie knitter when it comes to being a newbie weaver, is that you are bound to have some yarn in your stash that you don't really like, but, for some reason, you haven't bothered to give away or sell.  In my case, it happened to be 4 skeins of sport weight acrylic yarn (actually an acrylic/nylon blend) that I thought would make nice socks for John (because of the color) before I realized that acrylic socks would only result in John having sweaty cold feet.  While the yarn is not so good for socks, it seemed like good starter loom yarn because I figured the tensile strength would be good in a warp (warp yarn spends its time under a fair amount of tension), it was the right weight for my 10 dent heddle, I had enough in one skein to make a reasonably wide warp, and I thought that I would turn my manly colored yarn into a manly colored runner for John's night stand.

Warping, so far as I can tell, is time consuming and requires that you have some higher brain function available (by which I mean focus, not the ability to do integral calculus in your head), but is not hard.  One of the big contrasts between knitting and weaving is that getting started on a project takes a little bit more thinking and a lot more time preparing.  Casting on 300 stitches for a two color sweater in the round takes a lot less effort than getting a loom warped.  I did some basic back of the envelope calculations (assisted by the Flip manual) to know how many warp ends I could get out of one skein of my yarn and figured out where to start warping based on my estimated width.

20090215_Warping1.jpgWarping a loom takes one of two things: a warping board or a warping peg.  Both are the mechanisms by which you measure out a specific length thread to tie onto the loom to be your warp.  The reason to use one or the other seems to be related to both personal preference and how long you want your warp to be.  I suspect that the peg method would not work so well for very long warps.  But given that I do not have a warping board and I didn't really want a very long warp, I followed the instructions with the Flip to use the peg.  This involves mounting the peg the desired distance from your warp beam (the beam in the back of the loom) and then pulling loops of yarn through the slots in the heddle, alternating pulling the loops over and under the warp beam.  This method also saves you from having to tie the warp threads onto the warp beam, so I suspect that it not only saves you time, but also helps keep the tension on the warp more even.

20090215_Warping2.jpgThe next step is to do something that, as a knitter, is pretty scary to me -- you pull the loops off the peg and cut right through them so that they go from being loops to warp threads.  To keep them from getting out of control, you tie the ends using an overhand knot.

20090215_Warping3.jpgAfter that, it's a simple of matter of winding the warp onto the warp beam (the beam in the back) separating each layer of warp threads with paper.  I opted for baking parchment paper because I had it available and it came in a roll -- making it easy to control the flow of paper.    As you roll the warp threads onto the warp beam, you have to stop now and again to pull tightly on the threads to make sure they are tightly wound onto the warp beam. 

20090215_Warping4.jpgYou wind the warp on until you can undo the knot and still have enough yarn to tie the warp ends onto the cloth beam (the beam at the front of the loom).  Then you untie the not and get ready for the main event.

20090215_Warping5.jpgUsing a hook that looks a lot like a latch hook for a rug or a thin crochet hook, you take one of the pair of ends in each slot in the heddle and thread it through the hole in the plastic piece next to it.  You get to do this until all the ends are individually in either on of the slots or one of the holes in the heddle -- this is what is going to make sure that you raise and lower alternate threads for the weaving.

20090215_Warping6.jpgThe final step in the warping process is to tie the warp ends to the cloth beam.  This is easier than you might think, since you do it in groups of about 1" worth (10) of warp ends and then use a simple knot to tie the ends to the beam.  You start in the middle and then alternate back and forth to the right and left sides tying on groups of ends.  The knot used is adjustable so that you can adjust the tension on the warp ends as you go: if the tension isn't adjusted correctly, your final fabric will be wobbly.  After the tension is adjusted the way you want it to be, then you tie the ends in a bow knot (like the bow you use with shoelaces) so that it's easy to untie them after your project is done.

20090215_Warping7.jpgAnd that's pretty much it for warping.  Everything is tied on and you're pretty much good to go -- except for one thing: your warp ends aren't spread out evenly. (You can see how they're bunched into groups in the picture that shows them tied on).  To spread the warp ends out evenly, you need to weave a header.  At the end of the weaving, the header is removed, so it doesn't really matter what yarn you use for it, as long as it isn't too different in size from the yarn you are going to do your main weaving with.  I decided to use some of the yarn I was planning to use for the project since it was convenient.  And I like convenient.  Weaving on the header involves placing a few weft threads ("picks") onto the warp, and then beating them all down together.  I did a few more after that just to get the rhythm of using the heddle. 

20090215_Warping8.jpgAnd there it is, al ready to go, with the heddle in the neutral position.  As you might imagine, I didn't stop there, but I think I'll stop here and talk about the finished product in my next post.   It might take a while to get that warp set up, but getting to the finish line for a weaving project is amazingly quick compared to what it would take to knit a comparable sized length fabric (using appropriately sized needles -- I know that knitting goes fast when you use big yarn and tree trunks). 

First Woven Project


After I got the header on my warp, wild elephants crashing through my living room couldn't have stopped me from working on it! 

20090216_RunnerFinished.jpgOriginally I was going to do it with olive warp and maroon weft, but after about 3 inches of the red, I decided that it would be fun to change colors and I alternated between 3 inches of red and one inch of olive.  A little Christmas-y perhaps, but the colors go together better than I would have predicted at  first.  You can see that my edges are kind of wonky.  I really didn't understand what I needed to do to keep my selvedges neat, so I tried all sorts of things and none of them worked really well.  You can also see at the bottom of the project where I didn't get my shed quite right and some of the weft threads ended up above warp threads they should have been under.  It took me a bit to realize that ripping on a loom isn't all that hard, but, after I did, I corrected those kinds of mistakes.

20090216_RunnerPattern.jpgIt's remarkably easy to get nice, even results.   I did not measure to make sure that the fabric was completely balanced (i.e. the same number of warp and weft threads per inch) but just by eye I'd say it looks reasonably close.  The number of optimal ends per inch (e.p.i.) is determined by figuring out wraps per inch (something that most spinners will understand) and dividing by two.  I think I measured something in the neighborhood of 18 wpi for this yarn, so my 10 dent heddle was pretty close to what it should have been to give me a balanced fabric.

I was surprised when I wove with the olive thread to see how much I liked the way it looked against the olive warp.  The tweediness of the yarn really stood out and the subtle color variations showed up.  It might be acrylic yarn, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have a nice coloration.

20090216_RunnerFolded.jpgThe whole project wasn't very long -- just over three feet or so (no I didn't measure...).  I began and ended the project with a wide stripe of red.  I haven't taken care of the ends properly yet, but I will probably just group and tie them in an overhand knot, since this item won't be used in any heavy-duty way.

20090216_RunnerInAction.jpgIf John will permit, this will become it's final location.  If not, then I will tuck it away until some other use presents itself.  I think it does a reasonable job of being a masculine table runner -- a much better job than the yarn would have done as socks, I think!

I am, of course, extremely excited about having accomplished my first small project on my loom.  Fortunately for me, the two books I ordered arrived on the day that I finished this project, so I was able to take advantage of their tips and wisdom as I thought about my second project.  It will probably not surprise anyone that my loom was warped again less than 24 hours after finishing this project. 

That project will be the subject of Friday's post -- apologies to anyone who is concerned about the wanton enabling I am engaged in right now.  I'm having so much fun with this thing!  Things come together so quickly.  If I'd knit something of this length it would have taken me several days and been deadly dull.  But this project really came together in a handful of hours -- something that makes the idea of giving hand-made gifts much more approachable.    And like knitting with self striping yarn, I kept finding myself wanting to do "just one more pick" so I could see what the pattern would turn out like.
There's a lot to be said for just jumping and trying things.  There's also a lot to be said for taking advantage of the wisdom collected into books by people with a better understanding of the subject.  For my second project, I took extensive advantage of the information in Liz Gipson's Weaving Made Easy -- a collection of projects all based around the rigid heddle loom and meant to help newbies like me get started and get excited about weaving.

First off, for anyone who is thinking about getting started with a rigid heddle loom, I highly recommend this book.  It is definitely not a bible to all things rigid heddle, but it has just enough information to get you off and running and to help you create a polished project.  And the projects, while simple are actually the sorts of things you would want to make for yourself.  She does a nice job of balancing the kinds of projects.  While there are a number of scarves, there are also pillow covers, a belt, placemats, a couple of bags, an obi, a table runner, felted coasters and even felted slippers.  Each project features a different kind of technique and helps the new weaver get their feet wet with regards to both the weaving process and terminology.  With a couple of exceptions, she also focuses on the kind of yarns that a lot of knitters are likely to have in their stash already, making this a doubly nice book for the knitter who is interested in learning to weave.

Make no mistake, I think the most difficult thing about weaving, for me, so far,  is the technical jargon that comes along with it.  I know the language of knitting and spinning, but weaving comes with a whole new set of terms.  Frankly, I can completely understand why this particualr fiber art may have more appeal to men* -- setting up a weaving project and working with loom equipment starts out feeling very technical, almost like you are embarking on some engineering project.  This book does a great job of de-mystifying the terminology.  It defines weaving terms well, and then uses them without overwhelming you with them so that you feel confident and excited about learning a new language rather than baffled by it all. 

Perhaps the only thing I would have liked to have had more of in this book was more discussion of how varying color in the warp and weft has an effect on patterning.  And, thus, that was I decided I wanted to explore more with my next project.

The project I decided to riff off of in the book was a pattern for a simple hounds' tooth check satchel.  It means warping the loom with two colors and weaving with two colors.  So the first thing on my agenda was to pick those two colors.  I knew that I wanted to work in wool for my next project, that I wanted a scarf I could enjoy and that I wanted two colors with fairly high contrast so that I could see clearly what the pattern I was creating looked like.

To find the yarn, I went stash diving (I'm really making an effort right now not to increase my stash as I learn to weave since I have plenty of "unintentioned" yarn to work with) into my Cascade 220 stash and came out with a skein of "Quattro" that falls into the "orange/pink/red" region of the spectrum and a heathery purple skein.  Ideally, the ends per inch (i.e. the number of warp (or vertical) threads per inch) should be about 1/2 the wpi of the yarn.  However, since I only have one heddle, and it's a 10 dent (epi) heddle, I didn't actually bother to do that calculation.  The reality is that the 8 dent heddle probably would have been more ideal for the Cascade since it's a worsted (some say light worsted) weight yarn, but sometimes a girl's gotta run with what she has.  I was hoping that since Cascade is on the light side of worsted that using the 10 dent heddle wouldn't result in a fabric that was too "boardy"**.

I decided that I wanted my scarf to be about 8" wide and 60" long*** -- and after doing the calculations for how much warp and weft I would need, it was clear that 2 skeins of Cascade 220 would have enough yardage for what I wanted to do as long as I used an equal amount of each color in the weft.

After that, I warped up the loom (while enjoying the afternoon with Julie) and got started.   

20090219_SamplerScarfBegins.jpgOne thing I knew from the get-go was that I was not going to do 5 feet of hound's tooth check.  In addition to using this scarf as a project to focus on making my selvedges even, I wanted to use the scarf as a chance to see what patterns I could get from different numbers of picks (weft threads) of each color in combination.  I started with a header of all purple, followed by 4" of the hound's tooth (2 picks of orange followed by 2 picks of purple, etc.).  After that, I tried out a bunch of different combinations, all of about 4" and each separated by a section of the hound's tooth.

The picture above shows the header and the first bit of hounds's tooth.  Pretty neat, eh? I loved watching those first patterns grow.   It probably shouldn't be any surprised that I had that loom warped by Friday night and pretty much had a finished scarf by Sunday morning.  I've got quite a few detail pictures from my sampling, so I'm going to save the final reveal and pattern discussion for Monday to give myself more time to put together a nice post.

* This is not to say that I know what ratio of male to female weavers there are, just that I can understand why it is easier to find more male weavers than one might find male knitters or spinners.

** Of course, if I'd been paying more attention to the second book I bought (which I will talk about in the future) I would have realized that I could have just used 8 out of each 10 slots in my heddle to achieve the effect of having an 8 dent heddle... but sometimes it's hard to learn too many lessons in one project.

** I'll spare the gorey calculation details, but I ended up with 86 warp ends (42 orange, 44 purple) each at about 92" long.

The Sampler Scarf and the Samples

I originally meant to put everything together in one post on Friday, but as I started going through the pictures, I just felt like it was too much information for one post -- and I knew I wouldn't have time to put it all together well all at once on Thursday night.  So I decided to break the post into two parts: what I did to set up the project and the results.  Without further ado, here's the results!

20090219_SamplerScarf.jpg First of all, I'll start out with the finished product.  Here it is basking in the cold light of morning after I finished it.  It is not completely clear, but the selvedges on this project are light-years better than those of the first project I tried.  And this is basically because in the first project I was trying to work out the technique for making it happen without any reference.  With this project, I had the help of good reference materials and I took advantage of them.  It's easier to describe what helped with pictures than it is in text alone, so I will save that discussion for the next project that I work on -- but you can definitely find information about how to have nice selvedges in Weaving Made Easy: 17 Projects Using a Simple Loom-- her pictures are very good and her discussion of this is very helpful for beginners.

20090219_SamplerScarfEdges.jpg Ok!  Onto the sampling.  As I mentioned in my previous post, the warp I set up alternated two ends of my orangey-red and two ends of purple, beginning and ending with two ends of the orangey-red.   My goal with this project was to see how different combinations of weft threads looked in combination with the warp.  I wasn't very systematic about this in the scarf itself (I just did whatever entertained me at the moment, but made sure that I tried all the combinations that I could think of.  I'm putting them in better order here to make the progression more clear.


These are the results for using all orangey-red weft threads (top) or all purple weft threads (bottom).  Consistent with how I understand color theory and using warm and cool colors together, it doesn't surprise me that sample with the all purple weft still reads as very orangey-red while the sample with the orangey-red weft hardly reads purple at all.  Cool colors tend to recede and be dominated by wram colors, and that really played out in this case!

This swatch alternates picks of purple and orange-red.  So when the heddle is in the up position, you are always using one color and when the heddle is in the down position, you are always using the other.  I can't remember which color went with which heddle position for this particular sample, but I can tell you that if you were to swap the colors used for the two different heddle postions, you would get the opposite pattern where what you see as orangey-red now would be purple and what you see as purple would be orange red.  This was the only one of my tests that really worked out this way.

20090219_2x2x2.jpg This is the hound's tooth check pattern.  Two orangey-red weft threads alternate with two purple weft threads.  Because each pair of threads gets used in each of the heddle positions, you don't see any real variation when you alternate with pair you start with. 

20090219_2x4x4.jpg In this case I did 4 threads of purple followed by 4 weft threads of orangey-red (I did try an intermediate two threads of purple and three of red, but it ended up looking kind of muddy and not all that interesting).  Here you can see what I think of as almost a little space invader pattern... but when you back up, it starts to look like stripes.

20090219_2x8x8.jpg Finally, I ended the scarf with 8 threads of purple followed by 8 threads of orangey red.  This pattern definitely reads as wide stripes! (See the sample on the bottom left side of thes scarf in the picture below)
20090219_SamplerScarfInActi.jpg When I first took this scarf off of the loom, it was on the stiff side, and I was a little concerned about whether it would actually work as a scarf.   However, just like most hand knits benefit from a little bath, so do woven materials.  I soaked the scarf for about 1/2 an hour in luke warm water with Eucalin and some mild hair conditioner and the resulting fabric was much softer and more scarf like. 

I ended up tying groups of warp threads together and trimming them to a reasonable length for the finishing of the ends -- this was because I didn't pay attention to the instructions for hemstitching, and, in my excitement about having a finished project, I took the scarf off of the loom before I did the hemstitching, which makes it pretty hard to do that.  But for a simlple scarf, the tied ends are a completely acceptable and durable finish. 

Not only has my scarf seen photographs, it's also seen actual outdoor in the winter action -- I wore it to work on Friday.  Definitely a different feel from a hand knit scarf, but still awfully nice to be wearing something I made.  I am now thinking about what I have in my stash that might be man-friendly, since I think that John might take to a scarf like this (albeit in one regular pattern) better than he does to handknit scarves.  I'd also like to find some chenille yarn to make myself a plaid chenille scarf with.  I have some "Touch Me" in my stash, and I'm wondering if the combination of Touch Me, weaving, and a bit of fulling would make for something very yummy to wear indeed!

So now the thinking about what to try next begins.   I took the plunge and ordered an 8 dent heddle so that I can work with some slightly larger yarn that I have in my stash.  The funny thing about weaving?  I am actually dreaming about it.  I don't think I've ever had dreams that involved knitting.  But with weaving, I wake up with pattern images floating around in my head.  So clearly some part of my brain is absolutely taken with my new craft.  But that said, I still don't really have any firm notion of what is going to be on my loom next.  I'm thinking a little more stash diving might help the process along.

I have long since given up on trying to figure out what to get my husband for Valentine's Day.  This year, I decided that instead of trying to find something sentimental that he would tuck into a drawer, I would just get him something completely perishable that I knew he would enjoy:  cookies.

But instead of my usual chocolate chip cookies, I let him pick out of a new book I picked up.  I don't buy many cook books, because I don't cook much.  But I do bake cookies, so I couldn't resist Martha Stewart's Cookies when I found it at Costco:

One of the nice things about this book is that the front pages contain glossy pictures of all the cookies, grouped by type so that you don't have to page through the book to find something you like -- ideal for the cookie monster in your life who doesn't have a lot of interest in digging into cook books.  What did he pick?

20090224_CookieOnPlate.jpgDouble Chocolate Coconut Cookies.  Which pretty much puts all my favorite sweets in one place!  Whenever I try a new recipe, I always worry about how it will turn out.  These turned out  fabulously.  Normally John gobbles through any cookies I make as fast as he can, but these, he told me, were so good that he was actually trying to eat them slowly so that he could savor them.  He estimated them to be in my top 5 batches of cookies ever made.  So I figured that that was worth pictures and sharing on the blog.

The base for this recipe is pretty close to my regular chocolate chip cookie recipe.  It's the extras that make it a winner.

Double Chocolate Coconut Cookies
Makes about 5 dozen

1 cup unsalted butter, room temp
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs*
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1-3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp coarse salt
2 cups white chocolate chunks**
1-3/4 cups sweetened flaked coconut
1-3/4 cups coarsely chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F

Put butter and sugar in mixing bowl, mix on medium speed until smooth (about 2 minutes).  Mix in eggs one at a time.  Stir in vanilla.

Sift flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl.  Mix into butter mixture  on low speed until combined.  Stir in chocolate, coconut and walnuts.

Using a small ice cream scoop, drop batter onto baking sheets, spacing about 2" apart.  Flatten slightly.  Bake until set (10-12 minutes).  Let cool a bit before transferring to wire racks to complete the process. 

20090224_ChocCocoCookies.jpgThese cookies are like eating the cookie version of German chocolate cake.  But if you don't like any of the ingredients, the dough is a great chocolate base dough, and you could easily substitute in dark chocolate chunks, dried cherries, or other kinds of nuts -- or many other cookie fixins.

Even with significant savoring efforts, these lovelies are long since gone.  And given the success of this recipe, it's a pretty surefire bet that I will be trying out more of the cookies in the future.

* I found some pasteurized eggs at my grocery store and used them -- that way we could all sample while we were making them.  Since I had a baby helping me, I figured this was the best way to keep little tastes safe from Salmonella.
** a note about white chocolate... I was going to get white baking chips, then put them back when I realized that they did not have any real cocoa butter in them -- which is what defines white chocolate for me (this was true of all the baking chips at my grocery store -- even the Ghiradelli ones) -- so I bought three Ghiradelli White Chocolate Bars and chunked them up myself.

A Baby Surprise for My Baby

Pattern: EZ's Adult Surprise Sweater, Modified for Small Person
Yarn: 2-ply "Cotton Candy" Corriedale (CMF) Handspun

Once I got it all cast on, this project really seemed to fly by.  At times I found myself doubting that this would fold the way it was supposed to, but clearly EZ can be trusted not to lead a knitter astray.  Even though things strictly in garter stitch tend to get boring for me, I never found myself tiring of this project.  Maybe it was the handspun, maybe it was the construction.  Maybe it was getting to see it on the intended recipient.

Speaking of handspun, even though the runs of color in this yarn were not long enough to really create any pronounced striping effects, I do think this project was a really lovely use of this yarn.  It avoids the pooling and wierd color effects and the changing colors instead create depth in the garrment and help to emphasize the ridgy texture of garter stitch.

20090226_BabySurpriseStraig.jpgWhile I've knit socks and scarves from my handspun, this is the first full on (albeit small) sweater that I've ever knit from it.  Every time I knit with my own handspun, I find the whole knitting process to be richer.  I enjoy touching the yarn more, watching the color.  And, if I do say so myself, even though I am a novice as far as spinning goes, I still think my yarns are better constructed that most commercial yarns I buy.  And that gives me some extra pride as I turn it into something.

This yarn was just a little stiffer than most I've plied, making it perfect (I think) for stretchy loosey goosey garterstitch when it comes to helping the sweater keep its structure.   I think the fit is reasonable on Ms. Baby -- I wanted something closer to a 2T in the hopes that she'll get a spring and a fall out of it.  She's definitely got a couple of inches of sleeve to work with, so hopefully it will be roomy enough and long enough as well.  (BTW, I love the soulful look on her face in this picture.  She is a sweetheart, but she has many serious moments.  It was nice to catch one of them.

20090226_BabySurpriseSleeve.jpgI trimmed up this sweater with the little hearts -- I like the contrast of the dark red heart with the greens and yellows and pinks. 

20090226_ZSleeve.jpgIt may sound funny, but often, in my head, I think of Z as "my heart baby" --  the whole process of bringing her into the world was such an emotional ride, and by the end, I feel like my heart has become a bigger place because of her.  So the hearts seemed perfect for the buttons.  My heart baby wearing the gift of my hands, a handknit, handspun sweater.  It makes me happy in a deep warm place, and has helped keep me a little warmer in the last cold days of February.