Sproing!

…and then Spring happened.

If you’re currently living in the UK, you won’t need me to tell you that we went from snow to sunburn in under two weeks, and though we’re still having the occasional frost (in May!!), daytime temperatures are remaining high, and us opportunistic Brits are behaving as though summer has already arrived.  After all, this might be all we get.  😉

My gardening plans are in a total shambles this year.  Firstly, I was expecting to be in a rented property in Scarborough at this point.  Then I considered the possibility that I might be moving out of there in the middle of the growing season – so I bought seeds for plants that are container-friendly during the February ‘heat wave’.  I also started chitting some potatoes that were turning green – waste not, want not! – and picked up a few potato ‘grow bags’ for a very cheap price as they were last year’s, apparently.

Then it started snowing again, and I moved back down south, and then BAM – growing season!

I got the spuds planted (in pots! Feels so weird…) a couple of weeks ago, and I’m giving the veg bed a serious digging over.  It’s already very late to be planting some of my seeds, but I’ll probably give most of them at least a small go anyway, and save the rest for another year.

IMG_2636[1]

And whaddaya know?  The potatoes celebrated May day by sticking their heads above ground.  The first one made it up yesterday, on the Bank Holiday itself.  Two more are up today, and the fourth and final one looks like it will be putting in an appearance tomorrow.

There and back again…

No, not the Hobbit.  Me.

I’m back in Cambridgeshire, with yet another new job, and have moved back into my old home.   This is not what I’d expected to happen when I moved to Yorkshire at the end of last year!!

Unfortunately, the job I moved to was not the greatest of catches.  For a start, it kindof sucked, and then the company I was working for announced redundancies.  I wasn’t informed that I would be affected – but then, they didn’t need to tell me.  My initial six months were as a temporary employee of the company, on a six month fixed term.  The plan was that I would become a permanent employee after that, but of course, I had no meaningful guarantee of that, and once the redundancies were announced, all bets were off.  So I started job hunting, both up North and back in the Cambridge area.  As it happens, the only responses I got were for jobs back in the South, so here I am (though I have to say that, after three whole days, the company I’m now working for looks like a real winner).

So for now, the hounds and I have moved back in with my ex!  Happily, I’m lucky with my exes, and we’re still good friends.  In the fullness of time, he will buy my share of this place, and I will buy somewhere of my own, but for now, I’m sleeping in my old dye studio, and a lot of my furniture – not to mention all my remaining Yarnscape stock! – is in storage.

So I’ve officially changed the notice on the site’s front page to make it clear I’m not currently trading, and I’ll be taking the shop links down for now, too.  I don’t know how long I’ll be officially out of business, but first he has to get a mortgage sorted, then I have to, then all the happy house buying shennanigans can commence…  I do miss the dyework, though, and am sad not to be at Wonderwool Wales this weekend, either as a guest or a trader!  I hope I’ll be back with a shop in the future, because I miss the dyes, though I doubt I’ll ever do it full time again.

In the meantime, I’m enjoying having a real garden to work in, and have managed to shoehorn my wheel, looms, sewing machines, fabric, yarn and fibre back into the house (which is somehow much smaller with us sleeping in separate rooms), so I think I shall wander off and spin a bit.

In search of a better sock cuff

I have a bunch of hand-knit socks that I wear in fairly constant rotation, and I’ve noticed over the last few months that the cuff edge is getting very tight indeed.  They were OK when new, but my guess is that the yarn (superwash though it may be) has shrunk slightly with repeated washings.

So I need a better cast on for my top-down socks, and a better cast-off for my toe-up socks.

A quick Google for ‘best sock cast on‘ turns up many, many options, including toe-up and top-down options, but I found the one I was looking for and whose name I couldn’t remember (the German twisted cast-on, also known as the Norwegian cast on, which probably explains my confusion), and I also found something I wasn’t looking for – the tubular cast on.

I’m pretty sure I’ve used a tubular cast on in the past, though I can’t remember when.  I certainly didn’t remember how to do it, either!  But it seemed like a really good option: quick and easy, and since (technically) there is no edge at all when you cast on this way, it must also be just as stretchy as the fabric itself, right?

For my first attempt, I used the instructions from here (scroll down to the ‘Casting on’ section, and read J. Miles’ contribution).  I liked that I only had to cast on half the required cuff stitches using a provisional method, because I haven’t yet found a simple, non-fiddly provisional cast on.  In this case, I went with the crocheted provisional cast on, which I like because I can always remember how to do it; the downside is that you need a crochet hook and waste yarn to hand!

The instructions said to use a needle 1-2 sizes smaller than your main needle for the cast on, which was problematical as I was already planning to use my smallest needles (2.25mm) for the sock, so I ignored that bit and just went ahead. I mentioned above that you only have to cast on half your stitches for this – well, the remainder of the stitches are provided by working the first round as K1, YO.  The cuff looked like this:

hermioneLoop

Plenty stretchy, but there is definitely excessive yarn at the edge.  I don’t know if it’s from the larger than recommended needle size, or whether the yarn-overs are to blame, or both, but after knitting the whole cuff, I decided I wasn’t going to be able to deal with the loopiness, and I was going to try something else.

Sticking with the tubular cast on theme, I went for these instructions next. (Sort of – but ignore that bit for now).  The main differences with this method are:

  • You cast on all the stitches straight away – no YOs.
  • It specifies a different provisional cast on – and a new one to me.
  • It has you work four foundation rows before starting the ribbing, not just two.

I also took the ‘smaller needle’ recommendation more seriously this time.  I still don’t own any smaller needles, but I worked the provisional cast on on one of my stitch holders, which my needle gauge tells me is smaller than a 2mm needle, if not by how much.

hermioneSmooth

Much better!

I love the way this edge looks; it has a very professional appearance, and is just as stretchy as the ribbing, to boot.  Definitely a keeper.

Now, this was hardly a rigorous test of method, but I will definitely use this particular tubular cast on again.  I don’t know whether the difference was the needle size, the kind of provisional cast on or the lack of yarn overs, but a full comparison may have to wait until I am feeling particularly scientific.  Incidentally, I can highly recommend the Italian provisional cast on, and I may even be able to remember how to do it!  In the past, I’ve used the first method described in Eunny Jang’s provisional cast on article, when I haven’t used the crochet one, and it has three main drawbacks:

  • You need waste yarn, just like the cast on method;
  • If I don’t get all the stitches cast on in one go, I usually have to start over, and I find it hard to get the tensioning of the two yarns right if I’m casting on many stitches;
  • I often end up with half the stitches mounted backwards.  Which I’m sure means I’m doing it wrong!

But none of that matters with the Italian version!  I found it easy to understand what I was doing with the yarn (wrap working yarn around needle; secure with tail), I always wrap the working yarn the same way, so all the stitches are mounted the same, and you don’t even need waste yarn: if you want to, you can use a long tail made of the yarn from the project!  (As it happens, I used waste yarn.  I’d already found some for the crochet version, you see).

January roundup; February plans

So, the January goals and achievements list looks something like this:

  • sewing: finish voile skirt – shame on me; I haven’t even found it.
  • weaving: cotton yardage – samples complete, loom warped
  • spinning: alpaca fleece project – in progress, but nowhere near finished
  • spinning: Corriedale on Turkish spindle – ditto
  • knitting: finish handspun sweater – done!
  • knitting: Experimental fingering weight bandana-cowl – done!
  • crochet: 2 afghan squares – done!  In fact, three.
  • 1,000 metre stash gone! – done!  Even if you don’t count the cotton warp.

So, it looks like there’s a theme here.  Knitting and crochet have proceeded apace; spinning, weaving and sewing less so.  Knitting and crochet are the most sedentary and the most portable of the crafts; ideal for cracking on with when tired and vegging out on the sofa.  The other activities, though, I have to concentrate to fit into my life.

Sewing hasn’t been a regular part of my life for years, and I left my most comfy spinning chair behind when I left Cambridge.  Weaving is a relatively active occupation, and doesn’t lend itself so well to those sleepy evenings.  Spindle spinning is portable, of course, but gets you some very funny looks from time to time…

Change my habits, or change my goals?  What do you think??

In February I will aim to:

  • sewing: find and finish the voile skirt
  • weaving: cotton yardage
  • spinning: alpaca fleece project
  • spinning: Corriedale on Turkish spindle
  • knitting: finish Imogen
  • knitting: Whitby socks
  • crochet: 2 afghan squares
  • 1,000 metre stash gone!

February is also a great month to start thinking about gardening.  I am currently in rented accommodation, of course, with limited licence to dig and plant, but I still want to produce as much of my own edibles as possible.  Although it’s still winter here, I can still plan, order seeds, weed and prepare soil, and even start some seeds indoors.  I love garden-starting season, so I’m going to make the most of it!

Hello, Dookie!

Dookie (the alpaca fleece mentioned in my January goals) has been a part of my life for a while now.  Dookie is an alpaca, whose fleece came to live with me when Geodyne moved back to her antipodeal home.  This is about 600g of wonderful, dark, bitter-chocolate coloured raw alpaca blanket; most of it is great quality, and really soft:

dookie_raw

For a long time, Dookie’s fleece lived in a corner of the hallway.  In November, I suddenly realised that I had no spinning project on my wheel, and my last visit to Rampton Spinners (as a regular, anyway) was the next day.  What to spin?!

Dookie to the rescue.  One of the delightful things about alpaca fleece is that it has no lanolin; no grease.  I’m not a fan of spinning in the grease, so alpaca is a win because I don’t have to wash it first.  Definitely a bonus when I need to have a project on the wheel the next day.

I’m using this as an opportunity to practise hand carding.  This fleece is consistently high enough quality that I can just grab a handful, card it into rolags, and spin from there.

dookie_rolags

I’m planning a lovely, soft, squishy three-ply yarn, possibly for use in a cabled sweater.  Though I am aware that a cabled alpaca sweater may yet be a recipe for hyperthermia; all plans are always subject to change.  So far, I have two bobbins full of singles (you can see the natural colour variation clearly in this shot); no plied yarn at all, and there is still a lot of fleece to go:

dookie_singles

Dookie is is also a very mucky alpaca.  They usually are; there might not be any grease, but there is always plenty of dust.  If I spend an evening working with Dookie, I inevitably end up with black bogeys the next day (didn’t you want to know that!!), and spinning makes my fingers (and wheel) dirty indeed:

spinningFingers

Last Friday, I spent the evening carding rolags while watching telly on my laptop.  The next day, I spent some time using the laptop for monthly budget activities – only to find that my fingers suddenly looked like this:

typingfingers

I’m thinking a need a cover for my laptop.

Blocking party

When I moved up to Scarborough, I realised I had a couple of languishing lace projects.  Not waiting to be knit – waiting to be blocked!  Then I knit the 2010 Advent Scarf in December, so I started 2013 with three nearly-finished scarves and shawls.

The oldest was Brandywine, which I mentioned briefly here.  Knit in a much thicker yarn than the pattern called for, I realised I was going to run short for a sensible size shawl, so I started adding short-rows to the garter stitch body.  You can see the effect in the blocking shot:

brandywine_blocking

This is a heavy, snuggly shawl, and has already seen quite a bit of use.  A side-effect of the shape is that it wraps around your neck beautifully, although I do find I need a shawl pin to keep it in place.  Otherwise, its own weight tends to drag it off my shoulders if I lean forwards!

brandywine_worn

Next up, On the Wings of a Dove!

dove_2

This is a self-designed shawl, intended to showcase my own Bunnylace yarn – which I think it does very nicely!  I’d originally intended to write up the pattern, but there are a few design flaws that make it rather not-ideal in this incarnation, so it would need some thinking and a test knit if I was going to release it.  Plus, of course, I’m not currently trading, so it seems silly to release a pattern for a totally custom, unavailable yarn.

dove_1

I haven’t worn it yet; it’s big and a bit too dramatic for the office!  Besides, I’m enjoying it as an ornament in my work room…

Finally, the advent shawl.

advent1

Crikey, I don’t think I’ve even mentioned this on the blog before.  I packaged this up as a ‘new house’ project; I love Advent, and I wanted something that was light on packing, long on involvement, so that whatever happened with the unpacking, I’d have some knitting to do.

advent2

I loved working on this a little every day (well, most days).  The variety of lace patterns gives the scarf a sampler-like feel, and I got to play with some lace stitches that I’ve never used before.  Because several different designers were involved, it was also interesting to see the different ways the designers dealt with some of the recurring issues when designing lace stitches.  I started it on December 1, and finished it on December 31, so I didn’t quite finish it during Advent, but close enough for me!

advent3

The yarn is Sparkleduck’s merino/tencel laceweight, and the pattern is the 2010 Advent scarf.  I picked the pattern after seeing many finished projects that I liked; I have decided I don’t like the risk of a mystery-pattern KAL!

advent4

I actually ran out of blocking wires at this point, so the ends of the scarf are blocked using knitting needles as a substitute.  I think this is the first time in years I’ve used straight needles (other than DPNs).

It’s New Sweater Day!!

I can’t remember when I last had a New Sweater Day (Ravelry says April 2011.  Wow! And before that?  April 2010!!).  Clearly, I haven’t been finishing anything like enough sweaters for myself in recent times.

main

This, I hope, is the start of the end of that trend.    It is also the first large project I’ve taken from fleece to FO. Two fleeces actually: the really short bits from a very soft, very dark alpaca fleece (you can see it before blending here), and the random sheep’s wool that long time readers may remember was left out over an entire winter for a ‘pre-wash soak’.  By the time I rescued it, it was green in places, and smelly, and became known as ‘the pond scum wool’.  A second wash sorted that easily, though it did require picking afterwards.  I prepped this stuff for spinning in the Tour de Fleece 2011, and though I don’t remember how much I spun during the tour, I finished it in October that year.  The yarn singles were spun supported longdraw from drumcarded batts, and plied hard-ish relative to the singles twist.

closeup

I really like the fabric I’ve made: it is light and warm and tweedy, and shows up the cables acceptably well, though obviously not as well as a completely solid coloured yarn would. With the very, very short alpaca fibres in it, it will be interesting to see how well it wears.

The pattern is Drops 114-8, the long sleeved version, though I had to rework it for the gauge I got with my handspun yarn – both stitch and row gauge were off. I also modified the neckline cable to be only the first two rows of diamonds instead of four, as I really wanted a neckline detail rather than a large chest-medallion.

I also lengthened both the body and the sleeves, as I am tall with long arms.

The sleeve caps on this pattern are wide and shallow (check out the blocking photo below to see what I mean), and I thought I’d made a mistake reworking the pattern, but it seems to be just the way they are. Anyway, they work, so fear not!

blocking

I am really very pleased with this sweater, but it’s not perfect. The neckline is a bit higher than I was intending (must have had a math-fail there when re-working the cable), though it still works well, and the sleeves are shorter (optimism and long arms). I feel like it would look better with a bit more positive ease, but then I’ve gained some weight since I cast on for this in September! We will see what I can do about that this year…

Bandananananana

(With a nod to Nanny Ogg, who “knew how to start spelling ‘banana’, but didn’t know how you stopped.” – Terry  Pratchett, Witches Abroad)

I’ve been just a little bit in love with the Bandana Cowl pattern for quite a while – stylish, snuggly, no ends to flap around and get in the way (unlike a scarf).  However, I don’t have too many chunky yarns in the stash, and I’m trying to work my way through what I have.  And anyway, my Wolfram cowl, which is heavy DK/light aran weight, is plenty warm enough for even the cold, snowy weather we’re having at the moment.  Since ‘what I have’ includes a lot – a lot of fingering/sock weight yarns, I decided to re-work the pattern (which is available for free!) for sock yarn.

This yarn is the Rincewind colourway (see, it all ties back to Terry Pratchett!) from the Twisted Disc yarn club.  It’s a similar composition to my own Footsie, which I know reacts very well to finishing the tumble-dryer, coming out softer and fluffier, just right for a cowl.  (Note: I’d not tumble-dry socks or anything fitted made with Footsie, but I’ve experimented with the tumble dryer for finishing fabric woven with it, and the transformation is wonderful). Besides, doesn’t a washable cowl sound like a really good idea?
I love some of the colours in here – though I find the black (actually, I think it’s very dark navy blue) to be a bit jarring along with the softer washes of everything else.

I’m actually nearly finished with the knitting now – only a few more rows and the top border to knit.  I *think* it’s going to take slightly less than 50g of the yarn, which is great news in a way – and a shame in another, as I’m going to have to find something else to do with the remainder.

The garter border is flipping up something *crazy* right now.  I think it’s a combination of the natural transition between garter stitch and stockinette, aided and abetted by the sharp decreases that make the point at the front, and the extra tension from the many, many picked up wraps that make the ends of the short rows, running along the transition.  It will be interesting to see if the top border flips as badly (no short rows at the top!)

If this is a success, I will ask the original designer’s permission to write up the pattern and distribute it (for free, of course, since the original is free). The world has a lot of deep-winter cowls, and I think it could use a few lighter, wash-and-wear ones for those transitional  seasons – or even wearing indoors in the chillier times.

January Goals

Just a quick post – late, but better than never.  This is my goals list for January, starting to look more ‘challenging’ than not…

  • sewing: finish voile skirt?
  • weaving: cotton yardage??
  • spinning: alpaca fleece project
  • spinning: Corriedale on Turkish spindle
  • knitting: finish handspn sweater
  • knitting: Experimental fingering weight bandana-cowl
  • Crochet: 2 afghan squares
  • 1,000 metre stash gone!

Sigma13

I’m a member of the Stash Knit Down group on Ravelry: an amazing group of knitters, crocheters and other kinds of stash-aholics, and there has been much excitement around 2013 since, ooooh, probably the middle of November.  (New Year!!  Clean slate!  Resolutions!  Goals!!!).  The board is *nuts* right now, as everyone piles in with the joy of This Year, I’ll Get It Right.

Anyway, there are oodles of challenges, and any number of goal-setting opportunities.  One of my favourites (partly because it was my idea, but only partly) is the Sigma13 challenge, named for the fact that you are summing from 13 to 1, like the 12 days of Christmas, but woolier.  This is a year-long challenge, and my list is designed to allow overlap between categories:

  •  13 sewing projects
  • 12 lengths of yardage (weaving)
  • 11 spinning projects
  • 10 pairs of socks
  • 9 deep-stash items (pre-2012 yarn/fibre)
  • 8 sweaters/cardis
  • 7 things from handspun
  • 6 gifts for others
  • 5 laaa-cy shawls!
  • 4 vests for work
  • 3 challenge techniques
  • 2 cozy blankets
  • 1 10,000 metre stash down!

Any bets on how much of this I’ll manage to get done in the next 12 months??