Sunday, August 31, 2008

the pilgrimage

The Briggs & Little Woolen Mill was quite an experience. First the store - with hundreds of hanks in 8 different weights and dozens of shades - and then past the warehouse to bags and bins of wool in various stages of dying, picking and carding before spinning and twisting. And as I walked through, I could see and feel the coarse textured wool fibre refined by each manufacturing step.

John Little was working the store counter Friday morning. I loved hearing from him about the designers and patterns in the book "Knits from the North Country - Classic Knits by Canadian Knitters". And was impressed by the knit samples of the patterns showcased throughout the store. But most inspiring was his evident pride in the history and heritage of his family's mill. And his clear enthusiasm for all things wool.

What a great visit! At least, I thought so ... but Gavin, not so much. In fact, a chip truck or a beer garden in the Briggs & Little parking lot would do a roaring trade. Because there were quite a few knit widowers pacing impatiently outside.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

itching to learn more

Mother Nature decided against surfing for Gavin - nothing surfable at all ... completely flat water ... just the smallest little breakers. And since we were in the area anyway, we dropped in unannounced at the Hand Spinning Studio at Jeddore Harbour, Nova Scotia.

Wow. I could picture a spinning wheel and had read about spinning on other people's blogs, but really knew nothing. Leslie ( opened my eyes to different fibres, hand carding, a drop spindle and different spinning wheels. Interesting, exciting and totally overwhelming. 

I'm looking at all the yarns I have in a totally different way. And itching to learn more about the spinning process so that I can create my own yarns. But more than anything I wish I had planned my vacation better so that I could have spent more time with her. Oh well, there's always next time!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

totally focussed on surfing

Yesterday and today are all about surfing. I promised Gavin that we'd head to Lawrencetown Beach in Nova Scotia without any consideration to knitting or yarn shops or anything to do with wool fibre. Because the other five days of the vacation have seen a lot of that.

So just quickly - while he's out of the room - I'll let you know I finished the first sock as we crossed from New Brunswick to Nova Scotia. And I cast on the second sock last night. Very comfy from what I can tell.

And - sorry to whisper now - there is a Hand Spinning Artisan's Studio just up the highway a bit from the beach where Gavin will be surfing today. So if the waves look good for a couple of hours, I might make a run for it. Shhh!

Monday, August 25, 2008

thinking Norwegian

While curled up watching a DVD last night, I made lots of progress on the first sock. The heel decreases are done - and done correctly now - and I'm well into the main part of the foot. And it looks pretty good. With K2P2 rib across the top of the foot and up the leg the fit should be be very comfy and accommodating.

The Garnstudio Drops Design pattern is translated from Norwegian ... which makes for some pretty interesting instructions. I'm guessing that by "K the last 2 st twisted tog", they mean Slip-Slip-Knit (SSK). And when they say "knit" they often mean work in pattern instead of actual knit stitches. I really have to read ahead to get it right.

And I'm quite motivated to get moving with these socks. Because I can already hear the siren call of all the lovely yarn waiting for me when we go to Briggs & Little this aft.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

better and better still

At 7:30am we were parked at the Service Bay of Starkey Ford in Kittery Maine hoping they had a tire to fit our rim and that they'd squeeze us in. And I had an overwhelming urge to knit ... just to calm my nerves, because there was nothing I could do about the rest of it.

So I did knit. And they did have a tire that fit. In about 25 minutes we were on the road. So it's all good. During the morning's drive I knit a bit more. But when I messed up the heel decreases, and had to rip back to where I started, I thought I'd better put it away for a while.

And sit back to enjoy the scenery. Sun, sky, mountains - it doesn't get much better than that. Until we came upon Briggs & Little - the oldest yarn mill in Canada - just 45 minutes south of my brother's place in Fredericton. That really is the icing on the cake.

Friday, August 22, 2008

new challenges

The fact that we left the driveway at 6:15am instead of 6:00am was totally my fault - I'll admit that. I was a bit flustered. Completely understandable really. 5 hours of fitful sleep after spending hours searching for the passports which I had carefully put in safe place. Just 15 minutes late after all.

And okay, I messed up the route and we ended up just outside Boston at 5pm. Which makes rush hour on the DVP and 401 look fast-paced. But I'm totally blaming that on the British lady in the GPS ... we turned where she told us to.

But the tire blow out on the I-95 was totally not my fault. I'm blaming CTC for that one. And right in the middle of a row of my heel flap, if you can imagine. But Gavin got to the shoulder and changed the tire without any more drama. And I didn't drop a stitch.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

getting carried away

I'm in the honeymoon phase with these socks. Stitch by stitch, round after round, they get better and better. As I knit, I pause to stretch the ribs around my hand and imagine finished socks. Should I buy up every ball of this yarn in Ontario? And knit a pair of socks for every day of the week? Make matching socks for all my friends for Christmas? The colours go with everything I own - wouldn't it be great to have a sweater in the same yarn?

But who's kidding who! There's absolutely no chance that I'll be knitting an adult sized sweater on tiny 2.25mm sock needles - that's crazy! And as much as I love the colours, on the needles the yarn feels a bit scratchy. They'll look great, but I'll have to wait to see how comfortable they are. So I'm trying not to get ahead of myself.

Although, if you'd be disappointed Christmas morning to find socks under the tree, you might want to start giving me hints now. Just in case.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

only a couple of sleeps left

First thing Friday we're heading out - across the 401 to Gananoque, through the NorthEast US to Maine, continuing Saturday to New Brunswick. We're off for just over a week of summer vacation. Hurray!

There've been suggestions that I'm "knitting obsessed", a "knit-oholic", that Gavin is a "knit-widower". I'll admit, I was knitting morning, noon and night for the Ravelympics - but I was racing, it was a competition! And I have been knitting a lot lately - more than ever before - but I'm enjoying it.

The house is clean. The laundry is done. The cat is fed. The days before vacation are hectic, but things are under control. It's true that casting on a new pair of socks was given higher priority than checking cat food inventory or arranging Blue Cross coverage, but everything is ready now. Only two more sleeps 'til we're on vacation!

Monday, August 18, 2008

disconcerting in a good way

Monday morning I woke up with nothing on needles. My Breeze socks are done. My Ravelympics bag is done. And the next Sockalong won't post for a couple of weeks yet. Which, by my calculations, leaves me a couple of weeks to start and finish another pair of socks.

With the Regia Bamboo from SpinRite, I've made a good start on a pattern from Garnstudio & Drops Design - a pair of comfortable ribbed socks. On the GO train to work and back I cast on and knitted a gauge swatch, then cast on the first sock at home after supper.

I guess I didn't know what to expect from the variegated colours. So far the colours haven't pooled or done anything odd. But I expected more of a striped effect, not the undefined blotchy texture I'm seeing so far. It's okay. I like the way it looks, but it's a bit disconcerting - this curious unpredictability. Because I normally think of knitting as a controlled exercise.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

a personal best

Minutes ago I crossed the Ravelympics finish line. My event - the Bag-n-Tote Backstroke. My BYOB bag is done - knitted and ends sewn in. Phew! What colour is the medal for 82nd place, anybody know?

Okay, okay, 82nd is not exactly "owning the podium". But in a field of 432, it isn't a bad showing for my first competitive knitting event. Who knew I could start and finish a project like this in 9 short days! But more to the point, the bag looks terrific. At the outset, I got more practice at correcting my gauge. To begin the sides, I faced my fears about picking up stitches. Through the open panel I explored left- and right- leaning decreases. And then at the handles, I learned to "wrap-and-turn" my short rows.

It feels great to have done it. And I can't wait to cast on something a bit more challenging for my next project. If I keep working at it, maybe I can crack the top 50 in 2012!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

the finer points

Until recently my needle collection was comprised of straight pair, circular and double pointed metal needles in various sizes. In fact, almost all were in matching red plastic sheaths from the Aero company - good quality at a sensible price. And what more could I want?

Nowadays, you can choose needles of metal, brass-tipped, plastic, hardwood or bamboo. And within knitting circles there seems to be an endless variety of opinions. At the Knit Cafe Mom and I learned to appreciate plastic dpns for socks - lighter and warmer than metal, and slightly more flexible. In my last minute preparations for the Ravelympics, I picked up bamboo circs at the Naked Sheep - and did enjoy the feel of them as I knit the bottom of the bag. And apparently, there are lace projects you don't even want to try without really fine brass-tips.

But for the openwork on the sides of my bag I'm back on my old Aero metal circs. And that's a good thing, because with yarn this thick I'd have snapped bamboo needles many k2tog's ago.

Friday, August 15, 2008

getting it right

As the sides knit up, the blue is really taking over and my concerns about the red and yellow are subsiding. I'm calmer with every round as the bag starts to look more like I imagined.

The openwork on the sides should be easy - on odd rows, *K2tog, YO, K1, YO, SSK*, repeat to end of round, and on even rows, just knit. Simple enough, right? But I keep doing it wrong! Not sure why, but I keep skipping the second YO. Yikes! If I don't mind my stitches, my rounds'll get shorter and shorter ... and the columns of openwork won't line up.

I'm gonna have to keep checking and fixing to get it right. Because with this pattern a mistake will stick out like a sore thumb. A bit of patience now will have its reward in the end.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

giving in to temptation

Mom and I had been looking forward to the SpinRite tent sale in Listowel for weeks. But, although we bought bags of yarn - like Patons Classic Wool at $13 for 5 skeins - we were both a bit disappointed. Oh, there was lots to choose from. But mostly novelty yarns, some cotton, and a few yarns with small amounts of Bamboo or Cashmere fibre. 

While at SpinRite, we peeked in the factory outlet store. And didn't leave empty-handed. We couldn't resist the sock yarns, so my stash now boasts some Regia and some On Your Toes Bamboo. It'll probably come in handy when the next Sockalong is posted in a couple of weeks. At least that's what I told myself as I carried it to the cashier. Because it would've been shocking to spend that kind of money if I hadn't needed it.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

not exactly how I pictured it

As a kid I was fascinated by the Consumer's Distributing catalogue. Hours were spent examining product photos to visualize the things exactly - how big, how attractive and how useful. Photos can be very deceptive, and often reality fell very far short of my imaginings.

As a knitter, I do much the same thing. Based on pattern photos I try to visualize a finished product with the textures and colours of the yarns I'm using. And sometimes the results aren't as hoped ...a terrible disappointment considering the hours invested in the project.

No final judgment yet - it's too early to tell. But, it really looks an awful lot like a rastafarian hat. And not so much like a market bag.

Monday, August 11, 2008

a good little Jedi

Among the things my sister taught me about driving, the lesson about "using the force" is one of the most memorable. With a general idea of where I want to get to, I can usually find my way by clearing my mind and driving along or turning wherever seems best. Kind of like taking a multiple choice test - go with the first answer that pops in your head.

After finishing the base of the bag, I steadied my nerves and readied myself to pick up the stitches for the sides. Without any confidence, I decided to "use the force" and just go for it. And it worked! Okay, I ended up a stitch short and had to go back a dozen or so to get that one more, but I ended up with the right number of stitches as evenly as I could have ever hoped.

Of course, the lesson about "the force" did nothing for my parallel parking. That was tedious hours of Gavin patiently instructing ... " move a bit forward ... begin to reverse slowly ... turn your wheels this way ... now straighten ... " Thanks to Gavin, that works too.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

day 2 and the knitting is easy

My Ravelympics knitting began with reinforcements for the bag handles - 4 row rectangles of seed stitch folded onto themselves to create double-thickness. The weight of groceries would otherwise strain the stitches where the handles join the bag, so this'll really help.

Now I'm knitting the bag bottom. Working with small needles, a thick yarn and a tight seed stitch pattern all contribute to a nice dense fabric for the base. I'm halfway and should finish the base tomorrow morning. With very little shaping, it's easy knitting.

For the sides I'll be picking up stitches around the perimeter of the base. And this can be challenging and frustrating - any unevenness here will show in the final result. But I'm going to focus and work hard to meet this challenge. And rip out and redo as many times as I need to. It's the Ravelympics - now's the time for a personal best.

Friday, August 8, 2008

stumbling out of the gate

As the fireworks exploded around and above the Bird's Nest Stadium in Beijing, I searched high and low, upstairs and down, for a crochet hook to begin the provisional cast on for my first bag. With all my prep, that was the one thing I overlooked - assembling all my tools.

No luck, so I cast on 35 sts in waste yarn, knit one row and bound off. Then I picked up my 25 sts for my handle in that waste fabric. It was a bit tricky to remove it later and reclaim the live stitches - but with the help of a spare set of dpns and some Sticky Tac needle stops, I got it done. Phew!

The setback put me a bit behind, but aren't coming from behind and overcoming adversity popular Olympic themes? I've made it through my first heat and I'm still in the competition .. and Sticky Tac has now earned its place in my knitting supplies!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

soooooo nice

My preparations for the Ravelympics are complete; I've knitted my swatch and confirmed my needle size and gauge. I love Seed Stitch ... it's simple to work, the fabric lays flat, it's got nice texture and it's reversible. Just start with a foundation row of *K1, P1*, then continue by knitting the purls and purling the knits.

How nice to knit without tracking stitch counts, rows and repeats! How nice to let my mind wander without worrying about complicated pattern sequences! And how nice to knit with little thought other than how unbelievably soft this yarn is! Mmmmmmmm.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

disappointing Results

In the few days before the Ravelympics I've been playing with the pattern Bonbon by Larissa Brown available from Knitty. It's a pattern for a bath puff, and I was enamoured by the idea of knitting gifts from nylon novelty yarns impulsively bought years ago. Even before I cast on I could imagine wrapping each with a fabulous handmade soap.

First, Moda Dea Ticker Tape - a lovely soft sueded ribbon in mottled beiges. Nope, the Ticker Tape puff sags and stays damp for days after use - reminds me of sodden kelp. Maybe something crisper? Next, Lion Brand Trellis - an open ladder-like tape with metallic gold steps hung on contrasting black framework. The texture is better, the functionality is better, but the shimmer of the golds is lost when scrunched and wet. It looks vaguely unhealthy - like a warning photo on a cigarette pack.

I'm disappointed these didn't turn out. .. I was so convinced about how great they were going to be. Time to take a deep breath and put the pattern aside. And maybe, one day, give it another try ... but then use the recommended yarn.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

learning the hard way

The Misti Cotton for my next project came as big twisted pretzels of yarn. Up until now, all my yarns came as centre-pull skeins - easy - tear off the label, find the end and knit. Hmmm. Maybe ask the nice yarn store lady for tricks to get it ready to knit? Nah, how hard can it be!

After hours untangling snarled messes while rolling the first two balls, I googled for advice. Found a tutorial at - How to Handle a Hank. Boy do I feel dumb! The author, S.E. White, warns "A hank is basically a big loop .... twisted into a yarn pretzel ... You can’t knit with it the way it is. Trust me. You’ll make a huge mess and lose a good deal of sanity trying to make it right." Wow. She is so right. With kitchen chairs keeping the yarn loops taut, winding the last two hanks went more smoothly. Which is a huge understatement - 15 minutes each instead of a few hours each!

So I've learned a couple things. I've learned how to wind a hank into a ball. And I've learned that next time, just go ahead and ask the dumb question. I learned these lessons the hard way; I won't forget them anytime soon. But at least my Mom had a really good laugh when I told her.

Monday, August 4, 2008

pretty good .. if I do say so myself

Today I'm celebrating ... the second sock is done. I've knitted a pair of socks and I'm pretty pleased with myself. I like them - they're comfortable and pretty good looking. Altogether, this sock project has been really successful.

Joining the Knit-Along Group was something new for me - I was a bit nervous. Knitting socks is new to me - I thought they'd be too hard and too finicky. Finishing anything in 17 days - oh, that's never happened before with me. Being happy with my end result - well, that's definitely something new. And really nice.

As I shuffle around and preen in my new socks, I'm trying to ignore how much cat hair they're picking up from my floors. I can't wait 'til the next KAL project is posted on August 15th. But maybe my next pair of socks should be a darker colour - more the colour of my cat!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

does that come in a nice blue?

My eight year old nephew asked about my knitting yesterday. "What are you making? How do you do it? Will you show me how, so I can make some socks for my Mom?"

He's curious to know how things work and to try new things - things like knitting. And I can see why he's interested ... it's a kind of magic, turning yarn into cloth! Maybe he'd like to make a scarf ... simple knit stitches, no shaping and gauge doesn't matter.

Yesterday wasn't the day for knitting lessons - we went to the splash park to get outside, run around and get some relief from the heat and humidity. But maybe next time he's over! And because he asked so politely, I could probably get some yarn in a nice blue...

Friday, August 1, 2008

a journey of 8000 stitches

Last night we sat in a darkened room watching a movie and I continued with my sock - half the time with my eyes on the screen, the other half, peering at the pattern or making sure of my stitches.

After, when the movie ended, when we brightened the lights, I was struck by how depleted the skein of yarn looked. So much has inched its way around my needles ... about 400 stitches in the cuff, 1100 for the heel flap, around 280 more to turn the heel, 5500 for the instep and almost 600 to shape and finish the toe. That's nearly 8,000 stitches per sock!

Sounds overwhelming, doesn't it? Just as well I didn't know that before - it might've scared me off. But, it's getting done, one stitch at a time. And it's really amazing what the repetition of these simple stitches has resulted in. I can't hardly wait to finish and try them on!