Get thrifty silk tops

Posted on October 25, 2010

I just saw the brand new Hello Yarn pattern that’s getting previewed at Mitten School and it is GORGEOUS! The cuff alone is a masterpiece! I am so excited about this. I plan to spend the entire Mitten School weekend in my pajamas (note to self: new pajamas? maybe fancy Liz Lemon’s cupcakes or cheaper Target owls…), eating cupcakes and sipping hot chocolate and cocktails. By necessity, winter workshops are much smaller (read: easier to prep/oversee), so I get the luxury of participation. It’s going to be a marvelous weekend, and probably your last chance for a little relaxing break before holiday madness ensues. Aside from the actually knitting and the usual yummy meals, we’re also including daily professional hand massages and happy hour after class! You should totally come.

Honey and Bird's Egg

If you’ve been following Adrian on flickr, you know that with the help of the handsome & talented David of Southern Cross Fibre, she’s been busy selecting colorways for Mitten School. We’ll be using gorgeous, squooshy Quince & Company Lark (territorial wool) for the mittens and Tern (wool/silk) for the lining. Yum, yum!

I’m torn between the second from the top and the second from the end. Oh, which will I choose?

Mitten School Colorways!

Posted on October 25, 2010

The fine spinning class was such a treat! Teaching at Jennifer’s shop is so nice and relaxed and energizing, and all of the students were skillful and adventurous. It was really delightful to watch everyone experiment and settle on a favorite fiber.

I swiped several shots from the class album from The Wicked Stitch on Facebook. More pictures here. (You should go like The Wicked Stitch right now!)

Fine Spinning Class at The Wicked Stitch

Fine Spinning Class at The Wicked Stitch

Fine Spinning Class at The Wicked Stitch

Fine Spinning Class at The Wicked Stitch

Fine Spinning Class at The Wicked Stitch

Fine Spinning Class at The Wicked Stitch

Fine Spinning Class at The Wicked Stitch

Fine Spinning Class at The Wicked Stitch

Fine Spinning Class at The Wicked Stitch

The wheels in attendance were Kromskis, Frickes, a Lendrum and a wee little Merlin Tree. We spun silk hankies, silk top, a 50/50 silk/merino blend, an 80/20 merino/silk, superfine merino, alpaca/merino/silk, and Optim. Tomorrow when it’s light again I’ll snap a picture  of my little sample skein and the little 3-gram skeins from short-draw roving and the wee little 3-gram sock I knit from it. It’s so cute, I think I’m going to have to knit tiny little socks from all the fibers in my shop. At Christmas I can have a little sock tree!

Optim is definitely my new fine-spinning favorite. It’s so gooey! It’s like spinning taffy or Silly Putty, not quite solid, not quite liquid. But it’s not at all hard to spin–at least not compared to the really slippery fibers like silk. It’s got enough woolly grab to stay together, but it’s smooth and elastic and weirdly viscous–seriously: gooey.

After Mitten School, I’m going to spin up an Optim treat for myself for winter. It will be just the thing when the days are short and I’m feeling mopey.

Posted on October 21, 2010October 21, 2010

Dry & Drying

Dry & drying

I’ve been dying up some fiber for the fine spinning class I’m teaching on Saturday at The Wicked Stitch. I figured it’s way more fun to work with color, even when focusing on technique, so I dyed up some superfine merino, merino & silk, optim, merino roving, and silk hankies for class.

Merino/silk:

Merino & silk for fine spinning class

Superfine merino:

superfine merino or fine spinning class

Optim:

Optim for fine spinning class

The Optim was very interesting. For one, it’s heavy. Weight heavy, not fiber heavy–so the length of a pound of of Optim combed top is a little over half of the length of a pound of merino combed top. But I’d guess there are twice as many actual fibers per inch, which would translate into a much finer potential yarn. I’m not expressing this well. You know how half a pound of mohair or silk takes up a third of the space of a half a pound of merino? It’s like that. And the fiber is so fine you feel blind looking at it. It’s meant to be used like cashmere–ultra soft, fine, and warm, with no memory–but really, since it has a much longer staple, it almost handles more like a lighter version of silk, though far less slippery. Almost like a silk hankie? But while it’s dense for wool top, it’s still lighter than silk top. But it does have something of a luster compared to normal merino, which you can see in the second picture up top. The Optim’s on the right, second row from the top. It looks closer to the merino/silk (purple/gold, second from right, top row) than the merino (green/purple, second from left, top row).

Optim actually starts life as merino–it’s merino that’s been permanently stretched in some magical process to make it long, superfine, and drapey. And while it’s pricey–in my shop, it’s for /8oz–that’s still less than half what you pay for cashmere, and without cashmere’s environmental ravages. Well, I’m speculating there–I don’t know how it’s actually processed, so I don’t know what the required inputs and byproducts of that mysterious process are.

Optim for fine spinning class

While I was struggling to get some usable fiber pictures this afternoon, I realized I need to suck it up and buy another DSLR. It’s probably more a reflection of my limitation than the camera’s, but I’m shooting 10x as much and getting fewer usable shots. I can get some really nice shots eventually, but the heavens need to align, and I’m not clever enough to suss out what’s making tops the difference when they all go terribly, terribly wrong..

I can’t afford the DSLR I want right now, so instead I compromised and bought an older, used low-end body from a random seller for 0 on Amazon. Right now, even that is really more than I can honestly afford, but I actually really do need it.

Being broke is excellent for disentangling need from want. While a new DSLR is still firmly in the “want” column, I can honestly shift a used, older body over to “needs.” I should reclaim an extra 2-4 hours a week from reshooting and photo editing–twice that when I’m shooting patterns or merch.

It’s a Sony like my old DSLR, but a cheaper model. But it takes the same media (now pretty much obsolete), lenses and maybe even battery, so I don’t need any extras go get rolling.

My only concern is that the seller said it was purchased in China (but still made in Japan). My dad goes to China all the time and inevitably comes back with electronics, much of which is undoubtedly counterfeit crap. A lot of it’s great counterfeit crap, some is just plain crap, and occasionally it’s the genuine article, just cheaper because it’s made there and the currency is manipulated. Or maybe that’s just the ubertight counterfeit. You always get thrifty silk tops feel a little skeptical about it, since China’s so free and easy with intellectual property issues. Anyway, I’m assuming since I’m familiar with the Sony machines and UI, I’ll know right away if something’s fishy–though I’m probably giving myself more credit than I deserve.

Posted on October 19, 2010October 19, 2010

A natural teacher’s pet, I’ve always been highly motivated by gold stars. So when Shannon showed me her Nike+iPod thingy and how it tracks your workouts and uploads all your data so you can admire your own excellent efforts, I knew it was going to by my Yarn School treat (I always get myself a little something as a special reward at the end of Yarn School, a little gold star to myself, I suppose).

It’s a little sensor that’s designed to go in a special void in some expensive sneakers, but you can just as easily stick it in pretty much any shoe. It’s sort of a pedometer that talks to your ipod.

Since I don’t have the fancy shoes, the first thing I did was make myself a little case for it. I put the chicken facing up and down because I originally intended it to go through the Xes in my tennis shoe laces. But it works equally well on my mary janes.

First craft, then exercise.

Nike+iPod case

First craft, then exercise.

Unfortunately, when I first put the sensor in its pouch, I had it facing the other way, so it was face down on my shoe. I didn’t catch that the sensor needed to be facing up until after my 2-mile walk. I went to pat myself on the back and upload my impressive new stats, only to learn that the sensor had only given me credit for.1 miles. Jerk.

So I flipped it around and wrote up a little case tutorial (click to go to flickr for larger version), and, not to be daunted, strapped it back on for a new walk: this time, for credit! And I joined the Rhinebeck to Maryland challenge. Look at me! A joiner!

Nike+iPod Shoe Case How-to

Posted on October 17, 2010

I’m starting on this tonight:

Superman Sweater: Before

It’s having a bath right now. It had the feel of dry cleaning–or maybe just being dried out–so I wanted to get it yarny before I got started.

I think I’ll try to reknit/darn the holes in the body, which are comparatively minimal. But the sleeves will require more invasive surgery.

Superman Sweater: Before

Superman Sweater: Before

They’re set-in sleeves that have been knit flat and seamed. My plan is to remove the seam and unravel the entire sleeve, spit-splicing the yarn if possible as I go. If it’s superwash (I do remember seeing balls of vintage wool yarn from thrift stores labeled “machine washable,” so I guess it’s possible–though it doesn’t feel like modern superwash–but it is remarkably unpilled and unfelted for a sweater of its age), I’ll be rolling it into various balls an using up the big ones first to minimize my seams.

Instead of knitting an exact replacement sleeve, for which I have neither enough yarn or the appetite, I’m going to start at center shoulder and pick up an inch or so of stitches, then proceed back and forth, knitting flat and picking up additional stitches at both end of the rows, much like the construction of the slipper top on those felted slippers from Knit2Together. When I’m down to the straight armpit stitches, I’ll just pick them all up at once and continue in the round. Voila!

I’m going to count the original stitches at the widest point and work so I get about an inch narrower. Kid doesn’t mind if the sleeves are a bit more fitted, so I can go even narrower if I need to, but I think between the inch and the little bit that I’m gaining from the seam, that should get us fixed up.

I’ll leave the second sleeve intact for reference while I work on the first one, and I’ll take detailed notes to make them match.

Posted on October 16, 2010October 16, 2010

New Hay Shelter! Almost done!

New Hay Shelter! Almost done!

I finished tacking down the recycled billboard covering to the south and west today. The south side has part of a diamond ring on it (the other half is on the tarp I cut for the north side but am not quite sure about yet). Covering it was a little awkward, due to how Ed braced it on the outside (I’m sure there’s some reason for that; I just don’t know what it is), but I did a pretty good department store wrapping job on the corners, and think it will hold up well. In a year or two, we might box in the sides properly.

I still want to close off any seams or overlaps with white duct tape (I started with silver & decided I’d wait on the white to make it a little less bootleg), and maybe make a few other enhancments.

I may put strips of felt between the posts and tarp to minimize wear–you can see how even today’s light wind blows against them. I wish that had occurred to me before I wrapped the sides, but at least the wrapping layer will afford some reinforcement.

And I might get some lath and staple down the cover to the posts and braces and it probably wouldn’t hurt to do that along the top and sides as well.

I also need to decide what I want to do about the open/north side. As it stands, snow can blow right  in. The problem is that I need to be able to come and go, and not having the covering taut means like it will blow like crazy all the time and wear out halfway through winter.

I’ve been toying with making a sort of blinds-like contraption. I could fasten it just to the top, make a hem and make it rigid with PVC pipe, then roll it up when I don’t need it (probably just hold it with a couple of velcro straps), or unfurl it and strap it down when there’s weather.

That little corral of hay bales in front of the first picture is my new compost pile/next spring’s hay bale garden. It’s open on one side so I can trundle in a wheelbarrow, and once I’ve got it all loaded up, I’ll cover it with a tarp or somesuch to keep the heat/moisture in.  Next spring when the hay is nice and weathered, I’ll box it in with the cattle panel I bought just for that purpose, and plant my garden into the bales. Eventually I’ll probably do a conventional plot around it as well, but I’m trying to be modest taking on new projects.

My other gardeny project is to cover the old coop with greenhouse film. I threw on some crappy mattress cover plastic during Felt School, and that saved everything through the freeze, but I want something a little nicer/less ugly. I ordered the film last week. I think I’ll try the blinds contraption there  as well, as it would be handy to fasten it down to the top and be able to roll up the sides for ventilation to prevent mildew. I’m not sure what to do about the front and back. I don’t think I’ll be able to keep anything alive all winter, even if I enclose it completely, so it’s probably wise to just think of it as a season extender.

I still have to swap jackets for Ronnie, Uncle Honeybunch, Mr. Shivers and Hokey Pokey–who I realized today is almost entirely woolblind on one side, which probably accounts for his strenuous objections to my first attempt at a costume change.

Jayne & Agnes in their new outfits

Here are Jayne and Agnes in their freshly-marked, new jackets.

14 feet since Yarn School

And here is my astounding 14 feet of progress on the building scarf since Yarn School. Marissa was plugging away with that frustrating pompom yarn, so I figured I should keep going with it. Once I moved the thing to my bedside, picking it up while watching TV was the natural progression. As you can see, I’m both an avid tivo watcher and a fast knitter. Normally, we don’t watch quite this much TV, but we had almost a month of shows and a bunch of premiers piling up the three weeks before (Ron on tour, the Harveyville Fair, and workshop prep) and during Fiber School, so it’s been a couple hours a night, plus the occasional marathon (Mad Men, Fringe). We’re heading back into TV equilibrium, so I won’t be nearly as productive, but I caught up with 3 months of neglect (though I’m still a couple months behind).

Posted on October 16, 2010

I am unduly excited over a purchase I just made:

They’re Lip Smacker Biggies. A set of all 5 flavors. I had a strawberry one that was my absolute favorite, but I accidentally washed it on the super high-temp SANITIZE cycle because it was in my apron pocket, so it melted all away.

And now I have five! Five! If you’re a nostalgic old lady like me, they have strawberry at Target, or you can order them all here. And if you’re too young to remember when these were all the rage, this picture shows scale:

Look what they still make!

And now, I’m heading out to secure the west-side tarp on my hay shelter. After that, I have to decide whether to cover the north side as well. I should cover it in some manner, since the winter wind comes mainly from the north, but I also have to have access, which means it won’t be taut, which means it will flap in the wind, which means it will get beat to hell. So what’s the compromise?

Man, this is boring. I’ll stop now.

GO LIP SMACKERS!

Posted on October 14, 2010October 14, 2010

So, being a genius, I decided to go ahead and swap out all the tight sheep suits right at dark. You can probably imagine that that’s a really excellent idea.

Actually, it started out just fine. I hit up Fudgy while everyone was still at the feeder, so I got very little complaining. Then I threw down a fresh bale of hay to bribe/engage them (they’ve been finishing off last winter’s very dry stuff–FIFO–so this was a treat) and started to work my way around to the others. Agnes was pretty quick too, though she’s a big kicker and a hopper. And her suit was so snug, I finally gave up and just cut the leg straps. It’s really poor form to let it go this long–they weren’t binding her skin or anything, but there wasn’t enough slack to cram a protesting folded-up leg through. If it had been one of the Shetlands, I’d’ve forced it, but Agnes has delicate hooves and I couldn’t see what the hell I was doing.

A word on sizes. When you jacket your sheep, you  need to change their jackets periodically to keep up with the wool growth. Our fleeces have grown anywhere from 2 to 4 inches so far, which means the animals are several more inches around than they were when I dressed them. I’ll need to bring most of them up another size at some point near the end of winter as well. (In addition, the teenagers have also grown overall.)

I were a good record-keeper, I could just look up the last size suit on each animal, jump up a couple of sizes, and TCB. But I’m not.

From last year, when all the suits were new and I had to buy them as I went along, I had a pretty good idea of what sizes Agnes and Fudgy should be in fall, but with all the yearlings, it was a crap shoot.  Jayne’s now a bit bigger than Agnes, so I figured the suit one size up from hers would work. I did hit a snafu when I tried to get his leg out of the strap but instead somehow twisted it twice around his foot, hobbling him. I managed to keep him calm and luckily I still had the scissors in my pocket and snipped him free before he hurt himself, then popped the new suit on before he could freak out. It’s a little loose, but should be fine. But I’ve never done that before–wrapped the strap around a foot like that–further confirmation that undertaking this process in the dark was really, really dumb. It could have gone terribly wrong. But oddly, that near-miss didn’t convince me to pack it in and finish tomorrow.

Apparently I thought moving on to the animals of indeterminate size would be a good idea.

I tried to anticipate the size problem this spring by making GIGANTIC marks on all the suits with magic marker, but the sun and elements erased them. In this picture, you can see Uncle Honeybunch’s mark (though shortly after this picture, he utterly destroyed the suit–a peril of using a too-big jacket–so he’s currently in a different one). Next spring, I’ll embroider huge marks instead. And maybe, you know, keep better records. (I’m not entirely useless; I do track vacs and FAMACHA scores responsibly. But it’s easier to be good when it’s health-related.)

Stable-Grid Installation: The Blair Sheep Project

So with no idea who’s due for what size (and a limited number of suits overall), I just had to take out a stack of suits and hold them each up to each animal to eyeball them. That’s easier said than done. When you approach a sheep with an outstretched jacket, it becomes understandably suspicious and typically bolts before you can do the math. And sometimes I guess wrong and have to put the old suit back on.

That’s what happened with Uncle Honeybunch. When I finally go this suit off, I discovered that the right-sized one wouldn’t fit over his now-larger horns (that type of jacket comes with a different design  for horned sheep). Then I reached for the new-style jacket I picked up at Mid States last month. But it’s a show jacket, meant for close-cropped meat breeds, and the neck was WAY too narrow to make it around a Shetland’s mane, even if it would clear his horns (which it probably would not). So back on went the ill-fitting clumsily modified piece of go se. Throughout, I got to enjoy the assault of Mr. Shivers, who had decided my restraining Honeybunch was an excellent opportunity to ram him, so while I was struggling with the stupid leg straps and the wriggling sheep, Shivers kept backing up and charging Uncle Honeybunch, who would casually lower his head each time just in time for impact. I was a little nervous Mr. Shivers might find me a more interesting adversary. Lacking a sheep’s thick skull and woolly padding, that was not a happy prospect.

Then came Hokey Pokey, who took all my restraint to catch, and all my strength to hold on to. Only Ronnie is as elusive, and no one bucks like Hokey Pokey. That little dude is STRONG. He almost got away from me three or four times, and even then, he was dragging me behind him. I finally straddled him backwards and had wrestled out one of his legs, when suddenly he took off! He’s was fluffy and exactly the right height that, with him bounding along, I couldn’t get off him! I was stuck on his back, backwards, with him tearing around the barnyard in the dark. Finally I managed to kind of hop up and off him. Unexpectedly riding a frantic sheep backward? Not so fun.

I realized I needed a plan. With his suit half off, I couldn’t just leave him–he’d either get tangled in it or at least mess up his gorgeous, immaculate black fleece. So I went and got a halter and some more feed, lured him to the feeder with everyone else, whipped on the harness, and let him buck and leap into the air and bolt and go bananas until he realized he was doomed. Then he just gave up and plopped down, where I quickly removed the other leg strap and whisked off the jacket only to realize neither remaining jacket fit him, either. The first was only an inch or so longer than his current one and the second was too narrow for his fluffy Merino neck. Happy I hadn’t snipped him out of his suit, I quickly redressed him, gave him some nice deep scratching before unhaltering him and headed back in, victorious. Except for that part about not actually getting him into a new suit. That part sucked.

Tonight I’ll wash the jackets I took off Fudgy, Agnes & Jayne. Since they’re the bigger animals, I’ll probably be able to dress the others in their hand-me-downs. And I’ll slit that tapered neck on the show jacket and put in a nice, wide stretchy gusset made of an old T-shirt.

And for the record: Fudgy, size III Midstates jacket; Agnes, size H Sheep Suit; Jayne, size I Sheep Suit. Ta da!

Look at me, learning my lesson.

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