Saturday, April 26, 2008

emerald shrug

Pattern: I used the construction of the Little Lace Shrug in Lace Style as a starting point. Basically, it's a knitted rectangle which is sewn into a tube for a couple of inches at each end, with a picked up border around the back and neck. I changed the stitch pattern to 'Openwork Diamonds,' I adjusted for my own gauge and sizing, and I added a ribbed border.
Yarn: Kaalund 2-ply Merino Lace in Camphor Laurel from One Planet Yarn, which is a deliciously springy lace yarn
Needles: size 6

Shrugs are slightly strange little garments, but I think I'll wear this one. I love it!! It's an easy way to inject some gorgeous color into an outfit, and it's lightweight enough to wear even when the weather is heating up.

For example, I took these photos when it was 93 degrees in the shade even, and there I was in the blazing sun. As I wanted the oleanders as my backdrop, I had to standing on our picnic table (now I wish I'd taken a full-length photo to amuse you!). My feet were burning. But my shoulders? Quite comfortable in their laceweight wool, thank you very much.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Happy Earth Day!!

To celebrate Earth Day, I'm announcing my new website: Green Knitter

I started working on this website a few months ago when I was trying to find reliable information on organic, natural, and eco-friendly yarns. I wanted a website with straight talk about the sustainability of different fibers and yarns. When I couldn't find one, I took matters into my own hands...

I hope you check it out! And I look forward to hearing what you think about it...

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

coffee as dye

Mountain Man recently handed me a pair of white linen trousers. He told me he never wears them, and he asked me to dye them. Yay! I love a dyeing challenge.

The reason it was a bit of a challenge is that plant fibers are much less receptive to natural dyes than animal fibers. They usually require a labor-intensive series of mordants, and even then they often don't come out with the same pleasing colors.

I decided to search for a substantive dye, which is one that requires no mordant. I thought about pecan hulls and tree barks, but I settled on the nearest one at hand: coffee. (A big thanks goes out to Mama Java's, our local independent coffe house, for collecting some grounds for me.)

Before I got to the main event, I wanted to do a little experimentation. I set up two dye vats: (1) one for the stovetop, with a conventional 1-hour simmer of dyestuff and 1-hour simmer of fibers, and (2) one for solar dyeing, with a 2-day soak of the coffee grounds and a 2-day soak of the fibers. I made mini-skeins of wool, handspun alpaca, and cotton yarns for each vat, and I added a silk skein to the conventional vat as well. The results:

Left to right: tussah silk, conventional wool, solar wool, conventional alpaca, solar alpaca, conventional cotton, solar cotton.
Overall, I was pleased with how the solar dyeing compared to the stovetop dyeing. It produced slightly lighter colors, but it was free, carbon-free heat.

I love the caramel color that came out on the silk and wool. You'll notice, though, that the cotton just came out looking dirty. Had me a bit worried for those trousers, but I tried them out anyways, solar-style (that was the lesson I took from the experimentation). And, reasonable success!
I did two rounds of solar dyeing on them, and they came out a light khaki color, a little warmer than it looks in the photo above. I had to agitate them in the dye pot (basically, plunging my hands in every couple of hours and giving them a good scrub) pretty often in order to get the color even. Both my hands and the fabric seem coarser after all that, but it was worth it. Now Mountain Man has a pair of pants he can spill coffee on with impunity!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

handspun and a book

These past few weeks, I've often spent a bit of time spinning in the morning, after coffee and the New York Times but before I really start the day. I need to spin outside because I'm working with raw alpaca fleece with a fair amount of hay and dirt in it. And I need to spin in the morning because the rest of the day is now getting to be too hot. It's becoming a lovely morning ritual.

I'm experimenting with making different yarns, so I don't have much of any one yarn. But I have it in my mind to pick a special project to spin for. And to that end, I picked up a marvelous new book: A Fine Fleece: Knitting with Handspun Yarn, by Lisa Lloyd.

The patterns in this book weren't what I was expecting, but I fell in love with them. What I'd been expecting, and what would be useful for a beginning spinner like me, would be a book with many small projects that could help me figure out what to knit with what I've spun. What this book offers for the most part are intricately cabled sweaters (although it does have a few patterns for socks, hats, and scarves).

That makes the book less functional for my immediate purposes. But, but! I LOVE these sweaters. The patterns are full of symbolism and beauty, and the author's passion really shines through. She's very thoughtful in these garments. Every single one is shown in both a handspun yarn and a commercially made yarn, so that you can see how the texture changes (and so that you use these patterns even if you're not an accomplished spinner).

So, I'm very, very happy with this book. I would highly recommend this book if you're a cable fiend like I am! Now if only I could figure out what to do with these little skeins of my handspun ...

Monday, April 07, 2008

family members taking an interest

It's usually gratifying when a family member takes an interest in your craft. But that's not the case when it's your cat, whose interest involves eating your spinning fiber:

My god, this is one crazed cat. I'd been spinning by the picnic table on Sunday morning, and apparently I dropped a scrap of raw alpaca fiber.

Leila pounced on it, rolled over it, ripped it into bits, and seemed to be eating part of it.

This went on for quite some time, and I couldn't stop laughing. And then Mountain Man got a laugh out of at me, as I crawled around on the ground trying to get a good shot of her. The best part was that I'd been Andean plying, so I had some 30 yards of singles wrapped around my left wrist, attached to the spindle, which I couldn't put down during this exciting photo session.

But I had my own good laugh at Mountain man a day earlier. He'd just returned from a workshop in the UK and was trying to describe one of his colleagues to me.

She was wearing an interestingly constructed vest, a peasant skirt, some wild boots. He summed it up as: "She looked like a Rowan model."

Mwa ha ha. My plan to indoctrinate him into my knitting world must be starting to take effect ....

Saturday, April 05, 2008

knitting in green

This is a beautiful season in Phoenix. Temps are in the low 80s; it's already too hot in the sun, but it's incredibly pleasant in the mornings, evenings, and shade. The citrus trees are blooming, the grapefruits are ripe and full, and the sky is clear and blue. Outdoor colors of the moment: green, yellow, and blue.

Knitting colors of the moment: green, green, green. I didn't realize this until I tossed my active projects together. They're all predominantly GREEN. Starting at the top and moving clockwise, there's a strange felting experiment in a green wool, a camisole in pale rosemary-dyed silk, the Primavera socks, and a new lace project in green laceweight merino.

The lace project is my obsession for this week. I love the yarn, which is Kaalund laceweight in 'Camphor Laurel.' The color is a gorgeous, saturated emerald with hints of blues.

It's going to be a delicate shrug, adapted from the 'Little Silk Shrug' pattern in Lace Style. I changed the stitch pattern to the more defined 'Openwork Diamonds,' and I'm probably going to add a ribbed edging like Cast & Bind's version.

Happy spring to you too!