FiberCon!

by Terri

A week ago, thanks to the generosity of a friend, I got to go to the New York Sheep & Wool Festival in Rhinebeck, NY for the first time.  Typically referred to as "Rhinebeck" by fiber artists, this is one of the biggest festivals of its kind in America. 

Three sheep (2 with white wool, one with grey) with numbers on their butts. The sheep have recently had haircuts, and their fleeces were likely for sale at the show.

Three sheep (2 with white wool, one with grey) with numbers on their butts. The sheep have recently had haircuts, and their fleeces were likely for sale at the show.

Maple cotton candy in bags hanging from a clothesline. It really looks like undyed wool for spinning. Watching people eat it is slightly disconcerting. It is delicious.

Maple cotton candy in bags hanging from a clothesline. It really looks like undyed wool for spinning. Watching people eat it is slightly disconcerting. It is delicious.

As the title of this blog post suggests, Rhinebeck (and other large sheep and wool festivals) is basically FiberCon, though weighted much heavier towards the Dealer's Room and Art Show and very light on the panels.* There are show presentations of sheep, goats and alpacas; and live demonstrations of sheepdogs herding sheep. Typically there is at least one Sheep to Shawl competition. There are tons of food vendors, people selling jewelry, clothing, edible roving (otherwise known as maple cotton candy), and all sorts of tools for fiber artists. 

But the main attraction is the yarn. Barns and barns crammed full of yarn and spinning fiber in every color of the rainbow (and a few colors that the rainbow wishes it could come in). I wish I'd taken pictures, but I was too busy staring at all the pretty. 

In some ways the festival was overwhelming. Even if I'd had an unlimited budget (I didn't) and the ability to carry anything I wanted to buy without getting tired (didn't have that either), I would still not have gotten everything I could have wanted. There was honestly too much to see and squish. (Given that we sell a card telling you that you don't have enough yarn, I know that can be hard to believe). I did blow through my budget twice (my friend is a wonderful, though expensive, enabler) and got some yarn that I never otherwise would have seen. I have plans for most of it, and may feature some if it here on the blog when it's finished.

The haul:

So much yarn in all the colors. 

So much yarn in all the colors. 

Clockwise for the top left: A Gale’s Art gradient set in Wild Berries on their MYS 622 base (Superwash merino, yak, & silk), an Indigo Dragonfly Trimorphs Gradient set in Gothic Unicorn on the CaribouBaa base (100% superwash merino) with a set of 8 purple buttons from Jennie the Potter, a tin of lavender and mint solid lotion from Heal My Hands, a Gale’s Art Sparkle Sock Blank in Rockstar Rainbow, a skein of Miss Babs Yowza in Iolite, the Dragonfly Fibers Rhinebeck exclusive colorway on the Damsel base, and skein of Harvest Yarns Minty Mix from Sweitzer’s Fiber Mill (no colorway given, it’s a sort of purple grey. The base is 80% merino, 20% mint fiber).

All in all, a lovely way to spend a fall Sunday. I'm looking forward to coming back next year.

 

 

*And unless you count the fabulous haircuts** on some of the llamas and alpacas, no Masquerade to speak of.

**Example of a camelid with a fabulous haircut:

Cream camelid with brown spots with a poodle-style haircut.

Cream camelid with brown spots with a poodle-style haircut.

My Garden, Let Me Show You It

by Terri

A collage of washcloths,  tawashi,*  and a bath mat in progress

A collage of washcloths, tawashi,* and a bath mat in progress

The tail end of winter in Boston can drive me a little nuts. The weather gets warm, then cold, then it dumps a whack of snow on you in mid-March. I cope with this in one of two ways. Either I start a bunch of knitting projects, or I start some seeds. This year, I went on a washcloth knitting binge AND started 5 small trays of seeds.

I'm an incredibly amateur gardener. I pretty much choose seeds based on "will the resultant plant produce edible food" and "will that food look pretty.**" Hence my ordering of purple basil seeds, choggia beets, three different colors of cherry tomato, and multiple colors of pod beans & snow peas. My garden is run on the principles of watering when I remember to and fertilizing sometimes. I'm usually really good about starting seeds and shepherding them to seedling stage, then getting them into pots. Typically, small animals will get the seedlings, then I go to a nursery and buy bigger ones. Eventually, the plants will produce very small amounts of fruit or vegetables, which we will eat as they are picked. 

I'm trying a little something different this year. I'm being helped by the prolonged cold snap, as I can't actually plant out any of the seedlings that are trucking along on my office window. I'm trying to leave the seedlings indoors as long as possible, to ensure that robust plants are what go outside. Also, it's nice to have some green in the office.

So here's my garden. I'm hoping to enjoy it more in the coming months:

Incredibly shaky panoramic image of all the seedlings on the windowsill. There are cucumber, squash, pea, tomato, shallot, carrot, scallion, beet, various herb and flower seedlings poking up their heads.

Incredibly shaky panoramic image of all the seedlings on the windowsill. There are cucumber, squash, pea, tomato, shallot, carrot, scallion, beet, various herb and flower seedlings poking up their heads.

Close up on the pea seedlings. I have a feeling that these will do just fine, and that they'll be accompanied by some wonderful friends. There's also a cucumber seedling.

Close up on the pea seedlings. I have a feeling that these will do just fine, and that they'll be accompanied by some wonderful friends. There's also a cucumber seedling.

 

 

*Tawashi is the Japanese word for small cotton cloths used for face cream and makeup remover. I'm trying to knit my own and thus not need to go through throwaway cotton pads.

**Seed catalogs are my nemesis. 

The Saga of a Knitting Project, or Why I Don't Knit Wedding Presents Anymore

by Terri

Note: unlike Ariela, my creative skills did not manifest in an ability to draw with any proficiency. While this post will be liberally illustrated with photographs, it will not contain chibis.

Back in 2008, two of my best friends announced that they were engaged and would be getting married the following June. I was asked to be a groomsmaid. Ariela was making their ketubah, and I was going to knit them a beautiful heirloom afghan. At that point, I'd been knitting pretty steadily for around 3 years. I'd made socks, a much smaller blanket than I was planning, scarves, hats, and a lace shawl. I'd even designed a fingerless mitt pattern.

I was going to use pattern squares from The Great American Aran Afghan book and alternate them with some plain stitch pattern squares. I was going to borrow a technique from the blanket I'd already knit and get myself out of having to sew every square together. It was a brilliant plan, and the blanket would be ready by their wedding. 

HAH.

Image shows one of the plain squares in progress. It is a dark blue yarn, knit in seed stitch.

Image shows one of the plain squares in progress. It is a dark blue yarn, knit in seed stitch.

I started knitting the afghan in October of 2008, after confirming colors with the recipients. I was chugging along on a project that I had no idea was biting off way more than I could chew. Initially, the afghan was going to have 5 strips of 4 squares each. I'd done a little swatching, so I knew how to get a one foot square from the yarn and needle size I thought would work for all the squares* in the plain blue squares. I was working from cable charts that I wasn't entirely sure how to read, and disregarding actual pattern instructions willy nilly.** 

It's now too long ago to remember exactly why I slowed down the work. My personal life was kind of a mess, I was working full time and beginning to start part time community college. The notes in my Ravelry project page are sparse. I just know that Josh & Liz were married on June 28, 2009 and that the afghan was far from finished. I have a note saying that I needed to get working on the afghan again from December 2010. By then, they'd been married for a year. I think I had finished one strip of 4 squares.

In February of 2011, I got engaged. Both Liz & Josh were going to be in our wedding. By March of that year, I'd picked up the afghan knitting again, thinking that it would be a good "thank you for being in our wedding party/2 year anniversary gift." I finished a second strip and attached that to the first so I could have an idea of what the thing was actually going to look like. That was when I should have noticed that ignoring how I was measuring things was going to make the project hard to fit together, but the bulldozer in me decided it was all going to be FINE. It's a good thing I didn't plan on knitting anything for my actual wedding that August, since wedding planning basically ate my life. 

Ariela and Benjamin's afghan in progress on a lovely sunny day in New York City.

Ariela and Benjamin's afghan in progress on a lovely sunny day in New York City.

Every so often, I would pull out the afghan and knit a couple of rows. It bored me at that point. I would joke with Josh & Liz that it would be done for their "X anniversary." When Liz went to California to do her PhD and Josh had to stay behind in New York City, I told them that it would be done by the time they were living in the same city again (giving me a three year window for Liz's coursework to be completed), or at the very least before their first child was born. In the interim, I cast on and completed another wedding blanket - this one for Ariela and her husband. In contrast to the epic afghift, this one only took just over a year to complete.*** In 2013, I got pregnant with my daughter, and then baby knitting consumed my entire brain. Then my daughter was born, and I had no brain left to think about knitting anymore.

Image shows afghan as of August 18, 2015. It is composed of three strips of 4 squares each. 8 of those squares are blue seed stitch, 8 of those squares are green (the light is very yellow saturated, but I promise they're green) in various cable patterns.

Image shows afghan as of August 18, 2015. It is composed of three strips of 4 squares each. 8 of those squares are blue seed stitch, 8 of those squares are green (the light is very yellow saturated, but I promise they're green) in various cable patterns.

In 2015, I decided to do a project running around on social media called #yearofmaking. I would dedicate more efforts into my various projects and finish some of the things lying around my baskets, documenting the process along the way. I decided that this would be the year I finished knitting that damn afghan. The fact that Liz had moved back to New York to write her dissertation and they were expecting a baby may have motivated some of those decisions.

I'm not a monogamous knitter by nature. I have a big problem with startitis, and people did persist in having kids that year that needed wee baby sweaters. But by August 2015, I had finished the third afghan strip. I seamed it with the other two and realized that If I made the entire afghan as I'd originally planned it, It would be huge. And that I had no interest in doing that. So culled two pattern squares from the 4 left in the initial project plan and decided that they would be it. And to my credit, I did finish the afghan by September 21, 2015. Well, I finished knitting it anyway. And I got a baby sweater done for Josh & Liz too.

The thing about knitting a project this big is that just finishing the knitting isn't enough. The picture accompanying this paragraph demonstrates this to significant effect. The edges are really funny looking, pulling in in some places and puckering out in others. The pattern squares aren't the same size as each other, let alone all the plain squares. There are yarn ends all over the place from changing colors and balls of yarn. In order to turn that mess into something that would look respectable on someone else's couch, you need to employ the magic of blocking.

The afghan as of September 21, 2015. All of the pieces are knit, seamed together and edged in crochet.

The afghan as of September 21, 2015. All of the pieces are knit, seamed together and edged in crochet.

Image shows me holding a very small steamer over the afghan all pinned out on our IKEA sofa bed in the bed position. This is what one kind of blocking looks like. 

Image shows me holding a very small steamer over the afghan all pinned out on our IKEA sofa bed in the bed position. This is what one kind of blocking looks like. 

Depending on the size of your project, blocking can be simple or it can be complicated. When I block a pair of fingerless mitts, I dunk them in the sink with some wool wash, wring them out, then lay them out on a dish drying mat until they are dry and ready to go. A baby sweater can take the same dunk, but needs to be wrapped up in a hand towel and then stomped on to get the bulk of the water. As you increase size and various elements of complexity, wet blocking stays relatively simple, but you start needing bigger surfaces to dry the project on.**** With a shawl, you often have to pin it into the correct shape while wet so that it drys in that shape.

With something as big as this afghan, I'd have needed to soak it in the bathtub for it to get properly wet. And it still needed a huge surface to dry on. Also, since the edges were so weird, it would need to be severely pinned in place to ensure that they would dry straight. And in our first Boston apartment, we didn't have any space that big. We did have a futon, but ever since setting up the crib in our daughter's room, it stayed a couch. There was also a desk in that room, so it was hard to open the futon. And our little baby was no longer a lump that would stay put. She was mobile and inquisitive. I honestly didn't know where I would be able to block the afghan. So it sat in a box for almost another year.

December 20, 2016. The afghan is seamed, edged, blocked, and all the ends are woven in. 8 years after casting on, the afghan is done. It is 4 squares by 4 squares.

December 20, 2016. The afghan is seamed, edged, blocked, and all the ends are woven in. 8 years after casting on, the afghan is done. It is 4 squares by 4 squares.

When we moved to our new apartment in July of 2016, we got a third bedroom. We purchased the IKEA sofa bed the previous tenants had in that room, put our big heavy desk in there, moved all my yarn in, and made it the office/craft room. It would also be the spare bedroom for when we had guests stay over. 

We unpacked the house, got rid of the boxes, and still I had a box labeled "Hibernating WIPs***** and Josh & Liz's afghan." It never seemed the right time to deal with the monster. 

In December, we had some good friends stay over. I was unmaking the bed from their stay and noticed the box in the corner. I decided that I would just take care of the afghan right then and there. I pinned out the blanket so that it covered most of the bed's surface. I plugged in my teeny handheld steamer and ran it over and over the afghan, relaxing the stitches with the warm water vapor. I let it sit drying for over a day. And when I unpinned it, it stayed basically the same shape. I sewed in all the loose yarn ends and trimmed them. On December 20, 2016, the afghan was finally finished. I wrapped it, put it in a box, and mailed it off to Josh & Liz, where it now sits on their couch.

The afghan in its correct home, only 7 years too late.

The afghan in its correct home, only 7 years too late.

I learned a number of things knitting this afghan. Here are some of them, though this is not an exhaustive list:

  • The definition of "portable" is malleable and really means "anything that will fit in my messenger bag."
  • I hate crochet, but I can do it smoothly enough, and now know how to turn corners.
  • I can fix cable mistakes from the wrong side of the knitting
  • When I began the project, I vastly underestimated this particular undertaking
  • There isn't much I won't do for friends. Introduce them to the love of their lives, crochet, shackle myself to a seemingly unending project...
  • Two rounds of single crochet around 16 square feet will use most of a 50 gram ball of yarn.
  • No matter how much I love you, I'm getting something from your registry as your wedding present.******

Now that it's done, I am trying to reassure myself that I'll never take on something this ridiculous again. Check back with me in a few years to see how that went, OK?

 

 

*SPOILER ALERT: I was wrong

**This wasn't the first time, and it sure wouldn't be the last time

***I thought that this project was much more reasonable. It was a single pattern, knit from the center out. I still wound up hating it.

****And bigger towels to wring the project out with

*****Works In Progress

******This is why there is a line in the Fiber Artists Oath that says "I pledge to be honest with myself about my production speed and remember that it really is okay to give even very beloved people a gift other than a handmade Something."

Fun with Quill Grips - Yarn Edition

by Terri

Facebook can get both Ariela and me into a lot of trouble. To wit:

Ariela Housman:

Dear Chicago Facefriends with children. Would any of your kids be willing to let me use their Rainbow Loom for a 20 minute project? I will supply my own bands and happily let them have the extras in exchange.

(My quill is narrower than an average pencil and therefore kinda uncomfortable to hold for long periods. And also therefore too narrow for a store-bought pencil grip to be of any use. The interwebs informs me it is easy peasy to make a pencil grip with a Rainbow Loom. Hence asking.‪ #‎CalligrapherProblems‬)

Jen Taylor Friedman: Wow. I've always just sort of wadded up masking tape. Rainbow Loom is a MUCH better idea.
Ariela: The other suggestion the Interwebs furnished was foam roller curlers. Downside being that the foam squooshes lots. But I do have those on hand. I tried it. Works okay, but I am still interested in trying the rainbow loom trick with gel bands. I could color code my quills by size that way!
Ariela: Behold the silliness.
Quill shoved through the middle of a green foam hair curler
Jen: Heh. Yes that is Quite Silly.
Jen: You should get Terri Ash to knit you something.
Ariela: I'm not making Terri knit me a Quill Cozy.
Terri Ash: Quill cozies.... Hrm. I suppose the simplest method would be to knit a rectangle and seam it into a tube. Should it be ribbed for grippiness?
Ariela: Also, the elastic will help it both fit and grip better. And I want Terri to continue to like me, so asking her to knit with elastic is probably right out.
Jen: I think the problem is that the quill is so narrow that if you used yarn that was thick enough to make a good finger grip, you'd have like 3 stitches, and it wouldn't make a very good seam.
Ariela: Yah, that. Laceweight won't increase the diameter enough, and that's what you'd have to use.
Terri: You could do it width wise with 4 rows in DK or worsted, leaving the cast on edge live and graft the top to the bottom.
Jen: This is why it'd be a Terri-worthy challenge :)
Terri: Now I feel like I need to do this, just to prove it's doable
Jen: Terri blame me not Ariela
Ariela: Things you never thought would be part of your job description.
Terri:

Jen - I'm totally blaming you.

Ariela - I think it falls under the subset of artist-wrangling.

Ariela: One of these days we really will have to write out a list of responsibilities entailed in Artist Wrangling, if only for the entertainment value.
Terri: Mostly it involves a lot of "Ariela, NO"
Liz Shayne: Wouldn't the alternative be just knit an icord?
Terri: You could do that. I may have to try out a couple of options. After being told that it's about creating bulk though, I feel garter is what's called for, and that makes icord tricky.

At first I thought that it might be best to try making a small rectangle and seam it into a tube. But after Liz suggested I use i-cord, the wheels started turning. Ariela told me that it needed bulk, and garter stitch is the best way to get that. Garter stitch in the round is tricky, all the more so when you're making a teeny-tiny tube. But I hunted up some scrap yarn and the correct size needles and made a couple of samples. 

Leftover sock yarn held double

Leftover sock yarn held double

Random yarn sample (I *think* it's DK weight)

Random yarn sample (I *think* it's DK weight)

I started with the sample on the left, which is a self striping sock yarn held double knit on US size 7 needles. Even while knitting, I felt this one was very squooshy.* After testing, my assumptions were confirmed - it wasn't going to work. 

Testing,,, Testing... too squooshy

Testing,,, Testing... too squooshy

The second sample was some stiffer wool that I had lying around. I knit that one on US size 6 needles. According to Ariela, this one is actually usable**, but she has some requests for the next prototype. It needs to be one stitch narrower, and probably knit on yet smaller needles. I'm planning on doing another sample out of the blue wool with the proposed modifications, but we're well on the way to a standard pattern for a useable item. This is really cool, because it didn't exist a week ago and now it does.

Testing... Testing... Needs work, but much better.

Testing... Testing... Needs work, but much better.

 

Check back next week for the results of the Rainbow Loom experiments!

 

*Technical term

**You can tell this in the sample image - it has its ends woven in and everything