Thursday, January 29, 2015


As usual on my days at home... a time to get things back in order, as much as possible, while trying to get some paid work done as well. Today included enjoying a tiny bit of time with my eldest son, who is home on a brief winter break after finishing his exams. He spent that time working on filing his tax returns, which I am proud to say he did all by himself, despite many a furrowed brow. This parenting gig may yet produce a fully-functioning adult.

My latest class project is finished and seamed! The knitting group here in town has worked their way through knitting, purling, seaming, following a pattern, and knitting in the round. Now they are begging for cables, so here is what I came up with. The inaugural class will be next week.

I just posted a picture of the headband on facebook and it is getting good reviews. I probably need to think about publishing the pattern, but first I need a few more pictures. I grabbed this one with my iPhone and the ever-patient shop owner so I could advertise the class, but I'll have to find time for a few more.

Speaking of knitting classes, they are going so well that it was time to restock those baskets. It is a challenge, holding the classes in a shop that doesn't sell yarn. My solution has been to have kits available for each class, with all the supplies necessary to make the project. A basket per class, to help me keep it organized.

I don't require people to buy the kits. BUT, and it's a big but... it is hard to guarantee the success of a project when the yarn is an unknown quantity, which I found out the hard way when I started these classes. The most difficult situation yet was a beginner knitter who brought in black yarn. Never occurred to me to mention that black yarn was not a good idea, because it is so difficult to see the stitches. Now I have a list of forbidden yarn qualities, which also includes anything boucle.

Yarn substitution is a very tricky business; it is one of those things that only becomes obvious with enough trial and error and sometimes even failure. All of my beginner classes so far are project-based and I want people to finish with something they are happy with so they are encouraged to keep knitting. The only way I can game the system is to try and nudge people towards a yarn that I know will work, all other things being equal, when of course they are most decidedly not. The knitter provides enough variables, in tension and gauge and patience and style.

In addition to the simple joy to be found in unpacking and arranging beautiful yarn, relatively guilt-free because it isn't yarn for me, it's for the business, I had an assistant a presence while I worked. Even if she was forced to sleep with needles poking her in the butt.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

snow in the forecast

What was billed as a big, huge, historic snow didn't live up to its hype, at least here in New Jersey. Schools were closed, my husband's office was closed, plow and snowblower and shovels were lined up at the ready... so I was surprised to find about three inches when I opened the front door to let the dog out this morning. We were supposed to get well over a foot. My poor friends in Massachusetts and Maine are not as lucky, as the storm is hitting the predicted levels and then some up there.

It did remind me of Primo's baptism, nineteen years and twenty days ago, when another big storm was forecast. My husband argued that we shouldn't postpone the big event, because "all the weathermen do is hype these storms." This ended up being the Blizzard of 1996, which I note has its own Wikipedia page. It ended up being somewhat stressful as we were responsible for stranding boatloads of people in South Jersey. As a result: not one picture of the event. Just a studio picture of Primo in his baptismal finery, a gown and cap sewn by my mother. Unfortunately the photo doesn't do the lace trimmings and acres of pintucking justice.

My husband has paid a lot more attention to weather predictions ever since, but that may be eroding after today. To be fair, the roads were still icy until late this afternoon, or so I heard. My butt didn't venture outside. Two weeks ago I took an epic spill on an icy sidewalk. Think banana peel. Think legs over head. Think Ethel Merman in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. My tailbone is still extremely peeved at me. I was taking no chances.

So: work inside instead. I called out of work and played hooky yesterday. Hmm, a few hours in a quiet house (boys had early dismissal so not too long) and what to do with myself? I started a just-for-fun knitting project that is also intended as a gift, so no sharing just yet, and re-watched the first few episodes of Downton Abbey. It was selfish bliss.

Today was all work. Before breakfast, a cabled project prototype finished for a new class, the rest of the day spent on work in closed husband's office. I was hoping to get back to knitting but I spent too much time on the phone with insurance companies instead.

Same scene as in the morning, this time with a beautiful sunset. Back to "real" work tomorrow. I will miss my knitting, so thanks to the snow for that at least.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

tea time tams

Today was the second (and final) knit-a-long class for the "Going to Town Tam" at Woolbearers yarn shop in Mount Holly. How wonderful to have had such a great group of people in the class. We had tremendous fun working on the pattern and dishing on Downton Abbey, more or less equal amounts of both.

Plus tea and chocolate torte and cucumber sandwiches (which lasted even less time than in the first class) and even Downton Abbey (fourth season) playing on the computer in the background. We thoroughly hashed out the issues facing Mary, Tom, Edith, Thomas, Isobel, Violet, Mrs Hughes, Mr Carson, Bates, Anna, the Russians... You name it. Julian Fellowes should give us a call so we can let him know our firm opinions on future plot twists.

As promised, here are close-ups of everyone's color choices. One student noted that most combinations had some element of green/teal. Looking at the pictures, purple is also a hugely popular element. There you go, Pantone. Make of it what you will.

I wish my iPhone had done a better job with the colors. The one on the bottom right, for example, was a striking orange/teal blue/grey combination that came out very flat, unfortunately.

I will miss these ladies, but onto new adventures! I will be holding a short rows class at the same shop on February 21. Preparation begins in earnest on that... tomorrow. Tonight, I have to watch Downton Abbey. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

frost feathers

Spotted on Primo's car yesterday morning: frost feathers!

Maybe the effect was so visible because the car is black?

The roof swirls were especially cool but I had trouble getting high enough on my tiptoes to capture it. Since I was still in my bathrobe and the middle school bus was on its way, I decided that discretion was the better part of valor, or at least my fifth grader's ever-lasting embarrassment, and didn't go get a stool.

There's a knitting pattern in here somewhere!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

common criminal

If there is one thing Valentine loves, it's catnip. She is not one of those "I can take it or leave it" cats. She is a cat who has trouble managing her addiction attraction. She also has a problem with love for roving or, indeed, anything that smells like a sheep.

This has put a serious crimp into my cat toy production. Nothing can be left out. Everything, including completed objects, must be shut up tight into protective containers; tins work best, because I thought they masked the smell.

I thought wrong, obviously. The little brown bags are old pantyhose with catnip tied inside to scent the stored toys. She had ripped two of them open, and slobbered all over the contents while rolling around in her ill-gotten gain.

I came back from finding my iPhone to document the scene of the crime, and found these two goofballs using my yarn to make forensic calculations as to the possible identity of the suspect. As if there was any doubt.

Who me? I just steal dog's beds.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

vogue knitting live '15

VKL '15 in a nutshell: it took a three hour nap today for me to recover.

It was a really great weekend. My mom and I left before dawn on Friday to take the train into NYC. We kicked off the conference on Friday morning with a Franklin Habit class, always a delight. 

Interesting introduction to Bavarian twisted stitch, in which the background stitches are always knit through the back loop. I had spent the previous evening teaching a beginning knitter not to do that very thing; it is a common beginner mistake, one that I made myself, so it was funny to be doing it deliberately when I had just spent so much time explaining why she shouldn't do it.

We enjoyed a lecture by the Norwegian designing team of Arne and Carlos, talking about their efforts to incorporate Norwegian knitting traditions in new ways that preserve them.

My favorite example was this sweater they put together from old sweaters made and worn by Arne's family members, in a patchwork tradition of reusing and repurposing old fabrics. It was the first time I had seen it done with knitting where the original wasn't unravelled or felted.

My afternoon was spent learning entrelac from Rosemary Drysdale, while my mom learned a new way of felting that definitely requires more exploration. More on that in a few weeks, I think, but my brain is racing with possibilities.

All day Saturday was sweater design with Patty Lyons and math, math, math, but I can honestly say I get it. Maybe setting a goal of designing a sweater for one of the men in my life would help to cement it in place.

The marketplace was great, especially as I got to tour it with my mom and Lauren, my brother's wonderful girlfriend. Behind them? Yes, knitted Tower of Pisa, part of Lion Brand's Seven Wonders of the Knitting World. I didn't get them all photographed, but take a look at Paige's blog for the complete set.

The artistic fiber art displays were amazing this year. This fridge full of knitted food, with accompanying dessert table, done by a Swiss artist, had to be seen to be believed. Such jaw-dropping detail, even my non-craftsy brother was impressed. Take a look at the peeled orange on the edge of the dessert table. And I just noticed this detail: is that a rat's tail under the fridge? Too funny! 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

fleece run

I am behind in everything these days. Case in point: the fleeces. Yes, from last year's shearing in March. Part of the problem is that I haven't had a skirting table in months and months; the sawhorses that hold it up were requisitioned for the barn project many months ago, and there they still sit. The other problem is that my favorite processing mill, Ozark, retired last year and I have been paralyzed with indecision about who to use.

And it is January. And Maryland Sheep and Wool is only four three and a half months away. Gulp.

On Tuesday I finally took action, and called the closest fiber mill to our farm: Sweitzer's Fiber Mill near York, Pennsylvania. I had met them a couple of years ago at Maryland, when they were going booth to booth introducing themselves and their new mill. What did I have to lose?

Heather, the owner, promised that if I could get the fleeces to her this week, she would have them done at the beginning of April. So my intrepid parents and I set out for York PA early this morning, with the fleeces finally sorted out and ready to go. Most of the time I need to make a deadline for myself to finally get things done, though when did I get them sorted and ready to go? This morning.

What a great operation the Sweitzers have going! Tucked away on their very rural farm, in a repurposed chicken barn (used by his grandparents to raise a ton of chickens), Heather has quite the operation. Fleeces are washed and dried in a clever arrangement that captures the grey water for use to irrigate their hay fields.

Fiber is picked, blended, carded, spun and plied by different employees, including Heather and her husband. I will be considering having some yarn made next year.

The mill does a LOT of commercial work and the product was very impressive. I can see why she has the volume of work that she does, and I am very grateful that she agreed to help me out!

On the way home, we made a surprise (to my mother) stop at Flying Fibers in Lancaster, PA, a charming yarn store with delightful owners. The purpose was to purchase her retirement gift from my father, an Ashford Joy spinning wheel, now that she will have more time to spend on fibery pursuits.

Luckily her wheel came with a tan carrying case; mine is blue and we would have had a hard time telling them apart otherwise! Rumor has it that she is already spinning away on her new wheel. She's going to have a hard time leaving it for Vogue Knitting Live in NYC tomorrow.

We're Broadway bound, baby!