Monday, September 29, 2008

Warm Colors, Feburary Baby Sweater

I tend to gravitate towards cool, forest colors like green and blue. But the universe seemed to be shouting at me with warm reds and oranges when we went up to Oak Creek Canyon: flowers, sunsets, lichens, even our climbing gear. My knitting fit right in!

I was working on a February baby sweater, knit for a friend of mine who is about to have a baby girl. The yarn is a naturally-dyed DK wool from Table Rock Llamas, picked up last fall at the Taos Wool Festival.

I followed the pattern reasonably closesly, although, as you know if you've knit it yourself, her pattern is vague enough that it requires a bit of creative interpretation. Here are a few of my minor changes: larger gauge and size, eyelets around the yoke ... hmm, I think that's all I can remember at the moment

I love this little pattern, and I think it was a sweet match for this sunset-colored yarn. I'd like to make one for myself for this winter!

Friday, September 26, 2008


Squaaaaaak!!I've been playing around with quite a few projects this week. Nothing fully finished and ready to show off just yet, but I've got this little chick as a teaser. It's knit in Peace Fleece, colorway "chickie masla." More to come soon!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

mountain bliss

With Phoenix still hovering near 100 degrees, Mountain Man and I headed north for the weekend. Our destination was Oak Creek Canyon, a beautiful, forested area between Sedona and Flagstaff. It was gorgeous and rugged country.
For Mountain Man, the primary point of the trip was the rock climbing. For me, the deal was sweetened by the fact that chilly, fresh air is conducive to both the wearing and the production of knitted items. Here's an early morning snapshot from our campsite this morning, where I was happily doing both!

You may recognize the blue storm cloud wrapped around my neck. But the kerchief is making its first appearance here. I whipped it up a few months and am not sure how it fell through the blogging cracks. I actually get a great deal of wear out of it for rock climbing, gardening, driving with open windows, and so forth. It does the same thing as a bandana, with the extra panache of a hand-knitted item!

The yarn is Be Sweet's Bambino, a 70% organic cotton and 30% bamboo blend, in the color 'dark denim.' This is a company that I feel good about supporting, as it pays a fair wage to women artisans in South Africa. And the yarn? Lovely, soft, and substantial, with a bit of shine from the bamboo.

All in all, it was a very fine weekend. Mountain Man was blissed out by the rocks. I was blissed out with all the knitting time. And Isis? Well, you can see for yourself ....

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Black Walnut Dumpling (bag)

When I was back in Connecticut late last month, I went on a walk in the park with my dad. We passed under some black walnut trees whose branches were heavy with walnuts, and I had my dad whack a bunch of them out of the trees with his cane!

It was a sweet and lighthearted moment, and I was happy to come home with those gorgeous, fragrant nuts. (Kitty took an interest in them, too)

I gave the hulls a good boil and a two-day soak, and then I tossed in a huge hank of wool yarn from my local market in Vermont. The yarn started out with one strand of white wool and one strand of gray. It came out as a warm, marled brown.

Now, about this time, I'd seen the dumpling bag in the autumn issue of Interweave, and I couldn't wait to cast on. I used size 10 needles since that's what I had. I made two other main adjustments: First, to make it more of a purse size, I added an extra increase row so that it was 80 stitches around. Second, instead of the handle in the pattern, I cast on provisionally, then picked up stitches on one side, knit two long strand of I-cord, twisted them, and kitchener stitched them to the picked up stitches on the other side.

Before felting, the bag was 12.5" wide, 9"deep from the V, and with a 20" handle. After felting, it was 11.75" wide, 8" deep, and with a 21" handle. Don't ask me how it ended up with those dimensions -- it should have felted down much more, and the handle should have gotten shorter, not longer! All I can guess is that I'd slightly felted the yarn during the dyeing. Something was definitely off, because my initial swatch -- which I'd done with a small swatch that was barely dipped into the dye -- felted much denser than the bag itself.

You can see for yourself how texture and color varied during the course of this project: (1) gray marled yarn, (2) brown dyed yarn, (3) big swatch unfelted, (4) small swatch felted, and (5) finished bag (note: those two swatches didn't start out at the same size, but you can still compare the texture).

All the same, I'm going to get a lot of use out of this bag. I've been using it as my purse for the last few days, with a kilt pin as a closure.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

goodbye Vermont, hello desert

In the last few weeks, I found a dissertation topic, survived/celebrated a family wedding, said goodbye to my beloved Vermont, and drove the three thousand miles back to Arizona. It's been a scattered, whirlwind time. So, as sad as it is for me to be back in the desert, there's also a relief that comes with settling down again.

I spent much time knitting, but it, too, was scattered. Take these three shawls for the wedding. Two weeks before the wedding, the bride asked to borrow my wedding shawl. I happily and joyfully blocked it out and readied it for her. But I thought she might like to have a shawl of her own, so I set scurrying about to see what I could put together in that time.

My first idea was a storm cloud shawlette in a delicate lace yarn. I cast on with the silk/alpaca laceweight that you see in the top of the picture, but it just didn't work. Too light. And, doubled, too clunky. I probably wasted 8 hours of time on this project before I had to admit to myself it wouldn't work.

By that time, I had only one week left before the wedding. I overnight ordered the ivory mulberry silk that you see in the bottom of the photo. I designed another half-circle shawl to show it off. And it would have come out beautifully, if I'd only had enough time to finish it. Instead, in my haste I was splitting stitches and making beginner mistakes that I thought were a decade behind me. I couldn't pull it off in time. So now I have TWO unfinished, unnecessary shawls.

I did finish one shawl for myself to wear to the wedding. It's, of course, another storm cloud! This time in the silvery, sparkly kidsilk night yarn, which is a silk and mohair yarn with a bit of spangle thrown in. I'm not modelling it, though, because it displeases me.

I switched up the stitch pattern (from elongated garter to elongated stockinette) and it looks dreadfully boring. Blah color. Blah texture. To make matters worse, the shape has changed with the stitch pattern (I just thought I could block it any which way -- not true), so now it's too long and not wide enough, and that damn ruffle falls in a less proportionate place. Nothing worse than boring, except boring with a bad ruffle.

But I did have one success: simple ribbed hats for the bride and groom, as a reminder of their Vermont wedding. I went down to the Green Mountain Spinnery for the yarn, which was an excellent visit that I'll post about later. Here's a little aerial shot where you can see the beautiful texture and color well:

I knit matching hats for the happy couple, and they seemed quite appreciate. Success at last!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008


The most marvelous part of my trip to Maine - other than seeing my friends, of course - was our visit to Nanney Kennedy's farm. I first read about her in Shear Spirit and then tracked her down at Maryland Sheep and Wool, and that set the stage for this visit in Maine.

Nanney is an oracle, an incredible swirl of energy and movement, an extraordinary sheep farmer, dyer, spinner, knitter, thinker, activist, entrepreneur.

When we pulled up to her farm, she was up to her elbows in yarn, working all stages of her dyeing from the solar dye vats to the final rinse in an open-air bathtub.

Yarn rinsing in the outdoor bathtub. Photo by Kristen Von Minden

Everything was so vibrantly alive and intense: the colors of the yarn, the sparkling midday sun, the green pastures rolling down to the forest, and the conversation, which excitedly ranged from color theory to sustainable agriculture to the politics of information. The experience was almost surreal in its beauty and vividness.

Barn, with yarn drying. Photo by Kristen Von Minden

And I can't even begin to express how inspired I was by Nan's energy. Everything that she does -- from being an sustainable and politically active farmer, to developing her innnovative solar dyeing methods, to coordinating with local craftswomen to make sweaters and blankets, to starting up an internship program -- is infused with conscientiousness for her animals, her environment, and her community.

Daisy the donkey, protectively watching over the flock of sheep.

The visit got me thinking again about the ways in which we weigh different meanings of greenness - organic, sustainable, local, natural - and the degree to which these words capture the meanings we want them to. Her wool is no longer certified organic, but it's as sustainably-produced as you can imagine. Her dyeing isn't called 'natural' because she doesn't use plant-based pigments, but it incorporates mineral pigments and seawater and is incredibly low-impact. It really emphasizes, for me, how keywords are no substitute for getting to know your producers personally.

In the end, I can't imagine any yarn being more sustainably created. Oh, and did I mention how superlatively gorgeous and soft they are? If you're interested, you can find her Seacolors Yarn and Maine blankets on her website, Get Wool. Or even better, check out her show schedule (including Rhinebeck!) and see her wonderful yarn for yourself ...