Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sr. Mary Sparky

Spark Diggity-Dog has always been a deeply spiritual ratty terrier. So it was no surprise when she announced that she has decided to take holy orders. She is joining the Sisters of Blessed Sausage, a group of nuns who make their living by creating and selling artisan sausage.

Oddly, since Sr. Mary Sparky has become a novice, the order has been unable to meet the daily quota of sausage for sale to the public. The Abbess suspects a hole in the equipment somewhere.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Shoot me a Life Line

(Or: Why you should make nice at your local knitting store)

I feel most fortunate to have access to five knitting stores in my area. These stores serve not only as a purveyors of fiber and products, but more important, as sources of knowledge, and best of all, the ladies who work there always turn into friends. After all, we all adore yarn!

I don't really feel too bad about the lace debacle of yesterday. Yes, it's going to be a drag to knit that all over again. But I really did learn a lot. I also got some fabulous tips from the knitting store that I didn't see in the lace books I am using. I'd like to pass on one of these awesome tips.

Because it is so difficult, if not impossible to rip out lace, mostly because of the yarn overs (the stitch that makes the "holes" in the lace), my yarn shop Doc told me to cast a "life line" in my lace as I am knitting.

Here's how it works: After you've knit a section for a couple of hours or so, closely examine your work. If you find it up to your standards, take a smaller, contrasting yarn and thread it through all the stitches on your needle, securing it gently on the sides. Continue knitting another section and repeat. Then if you make a big mistake, you can rip back to the threaded row and continue onwards instead of having to tear the entire work out. Brilliant, isn't it?

Below you can see the little yellow life line running through my new lace:

Now the absolute best thing to do is to take a class, where the wise teacher tells you all these things from the get-go. Unfortunately, no one was offering beginning lace making at this time, so I did not have that option.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Puttin' Down the Dog

(Or should I say the Alapca?)

Let me start right off by saying no, no beloved family members have been "put down" or are in danger of that happening. So relax.

If you've been following, you know I am trying to knit my first lace work. I decided to stop working on the brown mohair/silk piece, and devote myself to getting the blue alpaca/silk piece done. Shortly after I took the photo above, I noticed there were some Problems, making me wonder if I needed to rip the whole thing out and start over. Dang! It hurts to type that. I mean, this shawl and I have spent over twenty hours together, and we bonded.

So I took my lovely alpaca/silk friend to the Doc at the knitting store where I purchased the yarn. She complimented me on my fine work, looked it over and asked me what the problem was, which was a good thing. In other words, the mistakes aren't that glaring.

There are four problems, with one being minor. The minor problem is that I used plastic markers to mark every nine-stitch repeat. I noticed after I knit about 15 inches that the markers were leaving spaces where they were, as a result of me not compensating for their presence and pulling the yarn a bit as I knit past them. You can see the horizontal lines running down the center of each large diamond:

When I found out that was happening, I removed all the markers and instead tried to pay more attention since I was going to have to count off the entire pattern in my head, no helpful markers guiding my way, telling me if I were off. While there's no way to fix the damage, it will probably be much improved after I finish the piece and block it. Probably no one will ever notice.

But the next thing does need repair:

Yes, a big, ugly hole. I must have dropped a stitch and not realized it. I'll have to go back and patch it carefully so that it doesn't show. AHHH!!!!

The third mistake was that I knit an entire ten rows on the purl side (and purled on the knit side) as I was speed knitting and not checking each row when I was done.

Finally, I think this piece is going to be a bit on the skimpy side, so that I'll wind up with a mal-nourished shawl. Grrr!

Have you ever gone to the Vet with a beloved family member, wondering if it was time to put it down? I have. The Vet always does the same thing. He or she will never give you a definite, yes or no answer. They give you the facts and let you make that awful decision all by yourself.

And my knitting Doc was no different. She asked me if this shawl was a gift for someone, or just something for me. Of course, I could never give a less-than-perfect item away. While these flaws aren't devastating, I'd be the one to decide whether or not I could live with them.

I thought about it, and don't think my shawl will have quality life, knowing I will always view it as flawed. I can be lazy and just finish it since I'm over half way done, or I can do the much more difficult thing and start over and do it right.

So I took my alpaca/silk fellow home, caressing the incredible softness in the car on the way home. I'm going to start over from the other end of the ball so that my friend can see, as he is unraveled, how perfect he'll be in his new incarnation.

Sniff. Sniff.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Let's Compare the Two Laces

It's become apparent to me that I'll be working on two shawls forever, because I can't seem to pick one and stick with it. I'm learning quite a bit about two yarns I've not worked with before, and the needles. I've pinned both pieces of lace to a white towel so you can see them clearly; remember, both projects use the same exact pattern, but the top yarn is a mohair/silk blend on size 7 needles, while the blue is an alpaca/silk blend on size 5 needles:

Should you ever attempt lace, the most important thing I've learned so far is this: In the future, I will only use one type of needles for lace: The Addi (Addi is the brand) Turbo Lace needles. They are brass-colored and have sharp points so you can get into those skinny stitches easily. I'm using the lace needles on the blue sample, and regular, silver-colored Addi needles on the mohair, because the shop was out of the lace needles in that size, and like an idiot I didn't think it would make that much difference. It does.

I'm loving this project so far, so much so that I didn't even mind when I took my car in for an oil change and got stuck at the shop for the entire morning, as I got to write, and then knit the time away while drinking coffee. Life is good.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

More Lace

After I made up a sample, (shown in my last post) I decided to get the same yarn used in the pattern on page 20 of Victorian Lace Today, which is a silk and mohair combination by Rowan. The pattern also calls for using a Size 7 needle, which means that this will work up much faster than my other option.
Last night I made the first ten rows of the shawl. It will stretch out considerable as more rows are added:

Here's a close-up of one pattern repeat, shown between the two plastic markers:

I'm going to have to time it and see how long one entire, ten-row repeat takes. I have to do thirty-six of them, and as I said before, I can only work on this when I can give it my full attention, so this is going to take a while. But I am loving it!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

First Attempt at Lace

The seasons are changing; we had our first Spring rain a few days ago right on top of all the snow. I don't think I have a favorite season, but I do rejoice each time a new season comes, and this is expressed in my knitting. The hat and mitten mania that seized me around the holidays has passed. Now I want to pack away the heavy wools and move on to something airy and light, which could only mean it is high time to try... lace.

I've always avoided lace, as I hear it is terribly difficult. WHY? There are several reasons people avoid lace. First, you have to really pay attention. Lace is absolutely not the sort of project you undertake whilst your butt is parked in front of your favorite show. And if you do make a mistake, it can be much harder to repair than say, a dropped stitch in a plain project.

I always assumed that lace was made on the tiniest of needles. NOT NECESSARILY TRUE. While lace is often created with thin yarn, the needles are often much larger than one would think, as large needles create the holes.

I highly recommend Victorian Lace Today, by Jane Sowerby. The projects and photography are exquisite, and on page 20, she has a pattern for a simple yet gorgeous shawl.

The first thing I did was try to make a sample to see if I could really do this. Here it is, made of a lace weight alpaca and silk blend yarn on Size 3 (U.S.) needles, showing two repeats:

I am quite pleased, even though this hasn't been blocked yet. Blocking, something you do after a project is completed, means using an iron and pins to give the project a perfect shape.

I love the way the Spring peeks through:

Friday, March 5, 2010

The New Felted Baby, Part II

Here's the bag, inside out, showing the completed lining:

And here is the bag itself, with beading added:

A close-up of the beads:

I like the way the bag looks in natural light:

The New Felted Baby

I've labored so much this week on a project I almost feel like I've birthed a new baby.

Here's the scoop: Last year, I knit a large purse using my own pattern and then felted it. In case you don't know what felting is, I explain the whole process here. Basically, you apply heat and pressure to wool, the item shrinks up, becoming quite dense and strong.

But after all that work, I realized the bag needed to be lined because it was quite "hairy" on the inside due to all the novelty yarn. So the bag was put aside for quite sometime. But this week, I finally got to it.

First, I made a trip to the fabric store, where I found the COOLEST drapery fabric evah, and, it was ON THE CLEARANCE RACK!!! I like using thicker fabric for linings. Here it is:

I also love purses with lots of inside pockets. First order of business was to create a zipper pocket:

Then I made two side pockets, one for a cell phone:

Next, I wanted the bottom of the bag to be quite sturdy, so I bought some plastic gridding. The reason I used plastic is in case the bag ever gets wet, it will not mold. The next photo shows the bag turned inside out as I sewed the grid onto the bottom. You can see the "hair" I was referring to:

Then, the trouble began. You see, felted items often are not 100% even. They LOOK even, but one side might be a tad bigger than the other, which makes it extremely difficult to line. So I had to sew, re-sew, and sew again. Grrrrrr. This made me Very crabby.

But today, I finally got it done! Whew!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Herbs: It's What's For Dinner (and lunch and...)

Above is a photo of the hydroponic plant grower that we purchased after the holidays. In case you don't already know, hydroponic plants are grown using only water and an occasional nutrient pill. The water is contained in the base of the grower. No pesticides or harmful chemicals are used.
We're using it to grow basil, cilantro (coriander), sage, thyme, oregano and marjoram. It's making a huge difference in my cooking and in the entire family's and even in our pets' diets. For most every meal, I walk over and clip some herbs for our meal. Here are just a few of the ways we are using these herbs:
* Any pasta dish is a great place to add fresh herbs.
*I love a salad of sliced tomatoes, coarsely chopped basil, smalls cubes of smokey mozzarella and toasted pine nuts on the top.
* Any time I make a grilled sandwich or a quesadilla, I add herbs. Which ones? I like to use them all, coarsely chopping the bigger herbs. An otherwise boring sandwich becomes a delicious treat, something we all look forward to!
*My daughter makes sure to chop up herbs for the sandwich she takes for her school lunch.
* I am chopping up fresh herbs for my lovebird and for bearded dragon.
Most of us could use more fresh food in our diets and this is an easy and delicious way to do it.