Saturday, May 28, 2005

Knit Lit for Kids

Many of you have heard me talk (I hope not ad nauseum) about my three kids. I've already got them brainwashed; they have been known to shout "Look, Mommy, yarn!" when they see a ball of string or wool in a book. Here are some of our favorites for your read-aloud pleasure.

Farmer Brown Shears his Sheep, by Teri Sloat: After Farmer Brown shears his sheep, they complain about being cold. Follow Farmer Brown and his fleece as he goes through each step from sheep to sweater: first washing the fleece, then carding it, then spinning it, then dyeing it, then knitting it. I won’t spoil the ending for you.

Derek the Knitting Dinosaur, by Mary Blackwood: “Boys don’t knit,” Derek the kind-of-nerdy Dinosaur is told. But who do you think knits the sweaters that will keep his brothers warm during the imminent Ice Age?

Shall I Knit you Hat? by M. & K. Klise: A charming holiday-themed fable about choosing the right kind of gift – in this case, a knitted hat – for the people (or animals) you love.

The Mitten, by Jan Brett: Retelling of a Ukrainian folk tale about a lost mitten that provides shelter for an ever-growing menagerie. All of Jan Brett’s books feature intricate illustrations rich in folk art and textiles, and make me want to immmediately begin a Dale sweater.

Sheep in a Shop, by Nancy Shaw: Cleverly-rhymed series about a group of lively sheep; this particular episode involves the sheep needing to buy a birthday gift but, alas, without any money for the shopkeeper. Sounds like a trade is in order – after a quick haircut…. If you like this, check out others in the series, especially “Sheep in a Jeep”.

Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown: Okay, it’s not really about fiber, but it’s one of the all-time best kid’s books ever written, and the old lady whispering “hush” is knitting.

(Let's see how long it takes Lisa to chime in with her own personal faves...)

Thursday, May 26, 2005


No, not another trendy alternative spelling of “woman,” WOMN stands for What’s On My Needles—this is a knitting blog, right? So I’m supposed to show pictures and talk about what I’m knitting? Here’s the latest:

Driven by my passion for Manos Caribe, I dashed through the end of the Lunch Bag

and the Stripe and Dot Scarf (about which you’ll hear more shortly, but here’s a look).

Yes, it’s going to be a felt bag.

I have a poor track record with felting—things come out too big, too small, out of proportion, or require more finishing than I’ve got stamina for—to the point where certain of my colleagues roll their eyes when I even talk about another felting project. But I do love it, and bags are pretty safe, because it doesn’t matter exactly what size they come out. This one is going to be handbag-size, I hope. Oh, what the heck, I’ll say what dimensions I’m trying to make, and we’ll all see how close I get: I’d like about 12” wide by maybe 10” high by 4” deep. It’s going to have an outside pocket and straps in a contrasting color (maybe two contrasting colors).

What you see in the picture is the bottom. The base is done in seed stitch, because I saw instructions for a felt bag with the bottom in seed stitch, and I wonder if it will be thicker and sturdier than stockinette, or different in any way from garter stitch. Then I picked up stitches all around and am proceeding in stockinette, with stitches at each corner slipped on every other round to encourage real corners rather than a bag that wants to be a cylinder.

The color, which looked like it had an alarming amount of white in the skein, is now reassuringly blue/green.

Oh, and keep an eye out for WOYN, What’s On Your Needles, the heading we’ll use when posting pictures of customers’ projects that we see in the shop, in progress or complete.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Here, by the way, are the gauntlets from the other day's post.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

My Dream Job

I want to be the person who gets to name the colors.

You know what I mean: you ogle a gorgeous sweater in a new Rowan Magazine, and when you glance at the pattern in the back, you see that it was knit in a color called “Ravish.” (And all along I thought that color was called “light blue.”)

I want a job where I sit around all day looking at yarn shades and figuring out exotic names for them.

Believe it or not, this is a topic I’ve thought a lot about. I’d give Rowan a gold medal in the color-naming Olympics for its use of intriguing but inscrutable color names, like “Ravish.” Guess what color the following shades of Rowan 4-ply Soft are (no looking at a color card, now):


They are, in order: red, cream, a light gray-blue, fuschia, and periwinkle. Don’t feel bad; I’m sure you would have guessed that “Leafy” was green, and “Sooty” was charcoal-grey, and that “Splash” was a turquoise blue. Wouldn’t you have?

Another company that always cracks me up is Artful Yarns. Each of their yarns uses its name as a theme, and the name of each colorway relates to the theme. So if you’re looking at Artful Yarns’ Candy yarn, you’d find shades called Fireball (yep, it’s mostly cinnamon red), Sour Apple (shades of green, natch) and Lollipop (blue, orange and green). When I first heard they were releasing a yarn called Circus, my imagination went wild: would I see a shade called “Freak show”? “Bearded lady”? “Sword swallower”? “Elephant dung”? Nope. But I was heartened to see that some other knitters also shkeeve clowns: “Scary Clown” is, in fact, one of the official Circus colors. Don’t even get me started on their Limerick yarn: not even the nastiest of knitters would dream of naming a color “There once was a man named Dave….”

Every once in a while, a color just doesn’t seem to translate. Jo Sharp, who usually gives her colors names that are very nature-oriented and mellow, just like the palette of colors she uses, has a yarn shade called “Casket.” Now the dictionary will tell you “casket” can mean a small case used to hold jewels, which is probably what Jo Sharp intended; but c’mon, don’t we all think of the pine box that a body is buried in? (And no, “Casket” isn’t black; it’s a tomato-red.) Berroco has a shade of Chinchilla named “Brussel Sprout”, no matter that no one I know really likes those tiny, cabbage-shaped veggies. Jaeger’s shade “Garlic” is a neutral beige, but the name conjures up stinky associations; and just ask your boyfriend or husband whether he’d like a sweater made out of Jaeger’s “Blue Ball.” (I’m guessing not.)

One day, when the shop was pretty quiet, we sat around knitting and dreaming up our own inscrutable color names. We came up with Angst (a deep indigo), Paranoia (bright yellow-green), and Vengeance (blood-red); Grime (mud brown), Panic attack (neon orange) and Grout (mossy green). How about Glue Stick (a chalky white), Sunburn (a painful-looking orange-red) or Dryer Lint (grey, with flecks of other colors)?

On second thought, perhaps I’d better not quit my day job.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

What Spinning Teaches Me About Knitting, pt. 1

I spin seldom, and very badly, but I enjoy it. I hadn't touched my wheel (Ashford Traditional, if you care) in more than a year, but the urge overcame me a few weeks ago--probably in anticipation of the Sheep and Wool Festival, where I knew I'd see bales and bales of enticing spinning fiber, and feel terribly guilty about not having touched any of the fiber I bought last year. (Sound familiar? Spinning and knitting have a lot in common.)

This is going to be a story about my enormous sense of achievement over something very small, so it might help to know at this point that I learned how to spin in about 1993 and have never knit anything with yarn I've spun. I've tried, a couple times, but the results were always so dismal that I put the stuff aside and tried to forget about it.

So on this Thursday before the Festival, the weather report predicted unseasonably cool temperatures for the weekend, and suddenly I wanted a pair of gauntlets. Here's something knitting has taught me about myself: 80% of my sense of temperature well-being is concentrated in the area between the base of my thumb and some point midway to my elbow. The first 10 patterns I saw for gauntlets and armwarmers and fingerless gloves looked completely pointless to me, but then I knit a pair for the shop, and in the course of trying them on while knitting them, I discovered that they are a gift from heaven.

And I thought, I should get my wheel untangled (moving van, don't ask) and spin some yarn and knit myself some gauntlets. (Suzanne was out of town, so the only voice I heard saying, "Are you nuts? This is going to take way too long and just frustrate you plenty" was the one in my head.)

In the fiber closet, I found a bag with a little roving in it. (Actually maybe more like 8 bags, each with little bits of roving. Knowing that I never do anything with my handspun, I don't buy large quantities of fiber at a time.) It was unlabeled, but felt like about 3 ounces or so, and looked like wool. (What does 3 ounces feel like? More than a 50-gram skein, less than a 100-gram skein.) And I thought: I don't need much; those Virtue gauntlets take only 1 skein, which is 76 yards, and I figure I want a thicker yarn than that anyway, which should mean that I need even fewer yards. Or, to put it a different way, if I had a 50-gram skein of yarn, I would think I had enough for gauntlets; so if I have at least 50 grams of wool, I ought to be able to make enough yarn for gauntlets.

Getting the wheel back in order was easy (the Ashford Trad is notoriously indestructible). What turned out to be the hardest part of the whole process was threading the leader through the orifice. If you don't spin, you don't need to know what that means; there's a little hook you use, like a needle-threader, and mine was lost. So I spent quite a few minutes unbending paperclips in various directions.

Spinning was easy: all I had to do was concentrate on not caring that it was uneven, concentrate on hurrying. I guessed where the midpoint of the roving was and broke it, so I could spin two roughly equal bobbins that I could later ply together. Good spinners, serious spinners, would have weighed the roving so they knew it was divided evenly. But I was a spinner in a hurry, and one without a scale. When I'm knitting, I weigh and measure and count. This was not the moment for that.

This all started around 8 pm. By 11, I had my singles spun and plied. I wound the yarn off onto a niddy-noddy. Here, I admit, I did a little counting: I kept track of how many times around the niddy-noddy the yarn went. But I resisted the urge to measure the path it was taking, and guessed instead that each pass was about 4 feet. It seemed likely that I had about 65 yards.

I washed the yarn in the sink and squeezed it hard in a towel so it would dry faster, then flung it over the shower curtain rod.

The next morning, it was almost dry. I took it to work, wound it into a ball, and swatched a 2x2 rib on #7 needles. It worked! I mean, I wasn't looking for any particular gauge, and the #7s gave me a fabric that (on the one hand) didn't have holes and (on the other hand) wasn't so dense it would stand up by itself.

O.k., I'll admit that it got harder to control the obsessive tendencies once I was in the shop: while I was winding the yarn into a ball, I took advantage of knowing how many strands there were in the hank (from counting onto the niddy-noddy) to place a marker at the halfway point. But there's a lesson in that: as a spinner, I'm never sure how much yarn I have, and I'm always worried that it's not enough. If you're in that position when you're knitting, you can do these things too: count how many "loops" there are in your skein. Then tie something bright to one spoke of your swift, and count how many times that trinket goes around while you're winding. When you get to half the total number of loops, that's half your skein; tie a piece of yarn to your yarn, and wind the rest. (If you're not using a swift, count how many times you pull the winding yarn past your right knee, or the left post of the chairback, or whatever.)

Next, the knitting. Start at the top, where the fingers are, so that you can stop whenever you have to. That also makes it easier to try on as you go. For these, I bound off when they felt long enough, even though I hadn't gotten to my halfway marker--hooray! Now I was reasonably sure I had enough yarn to complete the project.

I finished the second gauntlet on the bus the next morning, somewhere in Delaware. Here they are, with the few yards of leftover yarn.

And here's the pattern:

Down-and-Dirty Gauntlets

Size: Women's small, but they're stretchy
Materials: About 65 yards of worsted-weight yarn
dpn, US #7 or size to obtain gauge
Gauge: about 4 sts = 1" over 2x2 rib, slightly stretched

Cast on 28 sts. Join into a round and work in k2,p2 rib for 5 rounds. Make thumbhole: Work rib over first 14 sts, bind off 2 sts, rib to end. Next round: rib to gap, cast on 4 sts, rib to end. (30 sts) Next round: (k2,p2) 3 times, k2, work p1-k2-p1 over cast-on sts, rib to end. Next 4 rounds: work sts as they appear. End thumb gusset: (k2,p2) 3 times, k2, p2tog twice, rib to end. (28 sts) Continue in rib as established until piece measures 6.5" from cast-on edge. Bind off.

Make second gauntlet the same as the first. Weave in ends. Don't bother blocking; just throw 'em on and go pet the sheep.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Manos in a Summer Scheme

Two new colors of Manos!

The solid is #70, Spring, and the multi is #116, Caribe. If Wildflowers and Bramble were both spring-like, these are definitely summer. I’m dying to do a felt bag (just ask my colleagues about me and felting, something always goes wrong but I can’t stop myself), in stripes with other bright blues and turquoises. Or just in the multi, with flowers and leaves in the solids sewn on at the top? Jim thinks it would make a good pillow. Other ideas, anyone?

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

What I bought at Maryland

What do I buy at the Sheep and Wool Festival? Spinning fiber, mostly!

The stuff in progress on the spindle is Blue-Faced Leicester, and the blue-purple lump in the photo below is a blend of BFL and mohair (I'm a sucker for mohair-blend rovings and batts).

(What gives with the Poland Spring bottle? I was spinning in the car when the spindle began to misbehave because I wasn't winding the yarn on optimally, and the only solution was to wind off the yarn and start again, but I didn't exactly have a spare bobbin with me. You know what they say about necessity.) The red roving is 100% Corriedale, and the incredibly bright bits in the middle are soy silk, which I've never tried before. The bright blue-purple-green skein at the bottom of this photo is from Tess's Designer Yarns; it's worsted-weight superwash merino, and I'm hoping that I'll knit a sweater for my kids and they'll actually wear it.

These two big hanks are Primero from Brooks Farm in Texas; they're 100% mohair. You can't imagine from this photo how lustrous they are. The golden one has a mate, which gives me 1000 yards, which I'm hoping is enough for the Litla Dimun shawl in Folk Shawls (but I have to contact Cheryl Oberle, because the yardage requirements in the pattern have a glitch). The other one is actually white with very deep dull purple and a lighter, dustier purple shade, and I think I'll make a Half-Pi Shawl (Grace's Version). The yarn looks quite thin, but like all mohairs, it needs a lot of breathing room--it's going to fluff up a lot.

Oh, and soap, lots of soap from Simpler Thyme. They make wonderful un-flowery scents like Cedar-and-Sage.

Since Carol posted a picture of me and Suze, here's one from Sunday of Eva and Diana.

We go down both days so that the kids can enjoy the festival: they love the animals and the food and all the colors and textures, but it's no fun for them unless the grownups have gotten the whole obsessive-fiber-feast thing a little out of our systems. This may have been our best Mothers'Day ever.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Meanwhile, back at the ranch

Lisa says:

Here's last night's knitting circle:

Dorlynn & her Interweave Knits tank:

Cathy shows off her newly-added beads:

Marian, hard at work:

Robin and Jennifer:

Rhonda, using Berroco Suede:

Sherry & her Staggering Fisherman socks:

Everyone you see in these pictures went to the Sheep and Wool Festival, and you can bet none of them came back empty-handed. And yet all the projects in these pictures were on needles before the weekend. We are apparently a very disciplined bunch: we may be looking at our new yarn, fondling it, thinking about it (constantly!), but none of us has cast on yet.

(Don't think we're totally stoic. Several people are still looking for the perfect pattern, or wondering whether they bought enough. I think by next week we may see some swatches.)

Check out this link

If you think there's nothing new under the knitting sun, look here.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Inspiration from Maryland

Can you stand more commentary about Maryland Sheep & Wool? I hope so, because I've got a few more photos to share with you. The Festival gives ribbons recognizing all sorts of sheep-related accomplishment -- including fiber arts. One of my favorite exhibits is the building displaying the award-winning fiber entries. Browsing amongst the winners is inspiring and, often, awe-inspiring. Seeing some gorgeous hand-dyed, hand-spun yarn, and then realizing it was created by a ten-year-old definitely keeps one humble!

A good example is this felted fishbowl, created by a fiber artist in her teens. (!) Note the level of detail: even the "marbles" in the bottom of the bowl are felted.

For a completely different kind of project, consider the creative use of novelty yarns in this vest:

For lace-knitters, and those who love hand-dyed yarns, I spotted this lovely shawl, although my photography skills, I fear, did not adequately capture its beauty:

Two pairs of gloves caught my eye. The first was done in garter stitch, in a handspun yarn that was plied in order to preserve the flow of colors:

The second was done in our fave, Koigu, and features a fascinating design on the hand:


And last, let's not forget that wool and other fibers have a multitude of uses beyond knitting and crochet. We saw some amazing woven items and hooked rugs, too:

Monday, May 09, 2005

Lisa reports from Maryland:

The crowds are getting crazier every year. More and more knitters come on Saturday to get the best selection of yarn, which means that now you almost have to go on Saturday, or you get no selection of yarn. (That's a bit of an exaggeration; I went back on Sunday with my kids and there was still a lot of very nice yarn.) Almost none of the vendors had brought enough inventory to last through the whole weekend; I don't know whether this was failure to anticipate the hordes, or inability to fit any more in the truck. Either way, there wasn't a skein of yarn left at the Koigu booth by noon on Saturday. Footnote: any rumor you may have heard that the Landras are selling the business is utter nonsense. It probably got started by people saying to each other, "Did you hear that the Koigu ladies are selling out?"

Trends: I can't help wondering whether the non-knitting people--people who raise meat sheep, people who spin, weave, or hook rugs--are beginning to resent us. The festival is larger and more crowded every year, and the growth is clearly from the increase in the knitting population. The growth is good if you're a vendor (any kind of vendor) but maybe not so good if you're a shopper trying to pick up some dyestuffs and a new tapestry loom.

Trends for knitters: one of the great things about having cool weather for the festival is getting to see everyone's handknitted sweaters. When I first started going to these things, in the late '80's, the thing you most wanted to show off (if you had one) was your Kaffe Fassett sweater. Then, for awhile in the '90's, you wore your Alice Starmore fairisle. The big thing last year and the year before was mitered and modular designs, a la Horst Schultz. Not so many people had them ready to wear, but there were plenty of kits for sale.

This year . . . well, it was the year of the poncho,

but not so overwhelmingly as I expected.

This was the only Fassett I saw (a nice one, though).

There were lots of garments I recognized (the Elsebeth Lavold vest from Knitters last year, the jacket from Shadow Knitting), but also lots I didn't, which was nice: I had the feeling that I was seeing things people had designed or modified for themselves.

As for what was for sale, felting is a boon for a lot of the hand-dyers and handspinners who exhibit at Maryland, because it gives knitters a way to use unspun fiber (short of actually learning to spin). So there were lots of bushels of brightly-colored mohair locks that could be needle-felted onto bags or hats, or knit in with the running yarn before felting. There were a lot of cute felt bags, made from the current crop of books--Bags: A Knitter's Dozen, Pursenalities, Felted Knits--or from original patterns.

Felting provides a strange area of overlap between the vendors of ultra-natural, rustic, just-off-the-sheep yarns and the vendors of crazy high-end novelty yarns, because so many people are making felt bags trimmed with frou-frou stuff.

What does a yarn shop owner buy at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, you ask? Well, I'm happy to report that, after more than 15 years of attending the event (and I think I've only missed one or two since 1989), I'm over the whole huge-hank-of-brushed-mohair thing. Yes, they're beautiful as they hang in the booth, but I know now that I'm not actually going to make myself a mohair sweater. Possibly because I know that I'm not actually going to wear a mohair sweater. I still find many, many hand-dyed yarns tremendously appealing, but I've developed a healthy suspicion about how they'll look in garments. An exception would be everything from Linda MacMillan at Oak Grove Yarns, whose wool/mohair blend is luscious and whose designs for it avoid all the usual pitfalls--but Suzanne is making me a sweater from a kit we bought from Linda last year, so I didn't need more of that.

What did I buy? I'll try to get some photos up tomorrow.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Preliminary report from Maryland

Instead of rambling on, I'll bask in my day of glory as Bus Captain, and leave you with the following photos:

First non-staff bus rider to show up: Mary (at 6:56 a.m., mind you)

Jim, who sadly for us did not go on the bus, helps distribute RYC goodies to the passengers:

The gate beckons with promises of all thing sheep-y:

Is it alpaca or poodle?

Here's what's for lunch:

Lisa and Suzanne, enjoying the day:

The auction

Sheep shearing

Mary's new Majacraft

Cathy shows off some of her purchases:

Shoppers heading for the bus:

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Updated Maryland Sheep & Wool weather forecast

As of Friday, the Weather Channel is saying partly cloudy with a high of 66 and only a 10% chance of rain. Sunday looks good, too: slightly warmer, with a high of 74 degrees, mostly sunny, only 20 percent chance of rain. Good shopping weather!

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Recommended links

Here's a couple of knitting-related links for you to surf, when you've got the time:

England's Victoria & Albert Museum features a knitting page with history, designer interviews, free patterns and more.

Check out, in particular the extensive yarn reviews.

How about a brand-new, free on-line knitting magazine with an emphasis on knitting in Australia and New Zealand? Southern Cross debuted this week., the website of an on-line group devoted to socknitting, has free sock patterns, "cyberclasses", tips, and more on its website.

And just for fun, how about a knitted Elvis wig? Free pattern included.

That should keep you busy for a while...

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Designer Alert

Did you know that Rosie's own Laura Grutzeck has a pattern featured in Stitch 'N Bitch Nation (by Debbie Stoller), the sequel to the smash hit Stitch 'N Bitch?

You can check out Laura's Later 'Gator Mittens on page 70 of the book (Rosie's stocks Cascade 200, the yarn Laura used, as well as SnB Nation). Whip out a pair for a kid you love -- or maybe an adult who's just a kid at heart.