Saturday, February 18, 2017

A Colourful Life

I don't know what it is about my sock experiences lately but again I have a project that is turning my fingers funny colours. This time it's orange instead of blue! I've been knitting on a plain pair of socks for Thom using the yarn colour that he liked best from the snow dye experiment "sludge":

Note the orange tint on my bamboo needles! I think the problem this time is that one of the dye colours I used was a very old rust-orange and it just didn't take properly on the wool. Or I didn't rinse it well enough. Or probably both together. Anyway, this is even worse than the crocking indigo dye from the last pair of socks! But I should be able to get it to stop after the socks are finished even if I have to heat them again in an acid bath and then rinse like crazy. It likely won't affect the current yarn colour too much. I hope.

I knit the pocket pieces for the front of the Licorice Tunic but ran out of yarn two rows before the end. Finally I remembered that I still had a small ball of the sample yarn left and it was plenty enough to finish the second pocket. Then I spun and spun some more and finished another skein which is currently drying after giving it a wash before I wind it into a cake. I think I only need maybe one and a half more skeins to finish this sweater! I still have the first skein I spun which was a wee bit lighter than the rest so I was planning to use it for the pocket edgings and the collar. Then I was going to spin some 2-ply to use for sewing up the sides but perhaps I will just use some of this skein for that also. There's 126 yards in it so that should be more than enough for all the finishing.

The weather has been rather changeable. Today was drizzly but yesterday was mostly sunny and quite warm. Thom and I both got out in the garden for some much-needed playtime. It was so lovely! He was pruning the blackberries on our back fence and I was pulling up all the dead alyssum and leftover chestnut leaves and assessing my veggie garden for the coming planting season. Sometimes alyssum will winter over in a mild year but I guess it didn't like being underneath a foot of snow and ice! Twice. I was a little concerned about my rosemary plants which are marginal in our climate but even the one in the pot which I forgot to put in the greenhouse seems fine. I think the snow actually protects things as long as the weight doesn't collapse the branches. We won't know the extent of any damage to our shrubs and plants for awhile yet until it starts to grow and leaf out. Some stuff is oblivious to our cold winter. I noticed my rhubarb is starting to come up! Yay. Soon I'll be starting my little seedlings. Not too early though because the garden isn't nearly ready for them yet.

I nearly forgot to mention in case you were wondering - that wooden item in the above photo is one of my lovely dpn cases that Thom made for me. It keeps all the little bamboo sticks together and unbroken. I really like it. Yeah, and the socks are for him of course.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017


I'm not a huge fan of the "Hallmark Holidays" and Valentine's Day isn't huge on my social calendar because we're hopelessly romantic every day of the year! Despite my disclaimer, we had a lovely day yesterday. The weather was cloudy but relatively warm - at least compared to recent weeks. We drove out to Steveston and had a long walk on the dyke:

We saw lots of wildlife including this handsome bald eagle:

And a coyote hunting for lunch:

Several herons in different spots. Here's that one above closer up:

Plus lots of other birds including several different kinds of ducks. After our walk we went to a nice cafe for fish and chips. The management was handing out red roses to all the ladies so I got one. I think the guys should have gotten one too! It's only fair.

After yummy lunch we waddled over to the local yarn shop, Wool & Wicker, and I picked up an Addi circular that I needed for my next project. While I was at it I got another set of Heart Stoppers for my Addi Click set. They are just 2 little plastic hearts with a connector but they are stupid-expensive! However they are very useful especially when I leave Addi cords in my knitting as stitch holders while I use the tips elsewhere. Addi Click sets don't come with stoppers. They should have 4 at the minimum IMO. I've been stubbornly limping along for several years with only one set (as I said, they are stupid-expensive) but finally realised I really could use another. Now at least I have enough to hold 2 sleeves.

So of course now that I had a longer needle I cast on for the Isabel sweater the minute I got home! Nearly 400 stitches for my size and I managed to get them all on without running out of yarn tail. Yay. This one is going to take awhile but that's just fine with me. Meanwhile I'm nearly done the back of the Licorice tunic and have started spinning yet another skein so I'll be able to start on the front. If I run out of yarn before I've got the next skein ready I'll be knitting on either the new pair of socks for Thom (one of the skeins from the snow melt dye) or the Isabel. Talk about a grand case of startitis! I don't usually have more than 2 projects on the go, one portable and one not. Please stop me from starting any more!

Today it's raining cats and dogs and pink and blue elephants so I'm really glad we got our walk in yesterday.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Major Melt (Again)

It's been a lot warmer and raining on and off for the last few days. The snow is only half as high but it's still not easy crossing the side streets through the slippery slush. We've pretty much decided to skip running away anywhere. Sniff! By the time the mountain passes are clear I'll be in Seedling Mommy mode and won't be able to leave my baby plants alone. Oh well. The last two years of running down to the Oregon Coast in February were kind of abnormal anyway. C'est la vie.

I have a FO for you. I finally finished the Indigo Skyp Socks (aka Smurf Socks):

These things gave me such a hard time! The pattern is by Adrienne Ku and it should have been as simple as she says. But somehow I kept making mistake after mistake. I even ended up finally with one of them 2 rows shorter than the other! Grrrr...I really should get a shot of them on my feet since that's the way they look best. Next time I put them on, promise. Interestingly even though the Japanese indigo-dyed yarn crocked off on my hands when I was knitting with it, the finished socks didn't release all that much blue into the wash water. However the bathroom sink had a blue ring around it when I was done! (It came off easily with a little Vim.) I'm going to have to be a little careful what I wear these with and what I wash them with for the next while until they finally give up all their unfixed indigo.

I've knitted some on the Licorice Tunic back:

Like my little progress marker? I stole borrowed the idea from an Instagram post by my friend (She had Kevin the Minion!) I had 2 of these petroglyph bighorn sheep and 2 lobster clasps so I made 2 markers. I've knit further since this photo and I'm nearly out of the first ball of yarn. Better get spinning more - it's a fast knit at this gauge! Which BTW is pretty darn perfect despite my concerns about being able to spin thick yarn. Whew.

Speaking of gauge, I've also knit a couple of gauge swatches for the Isabel cardigan I'm making next in the Cloudborn Highland Fingering yarn. It's slightly finer and less dense than sock yarn and at the recommended gauge with the size 3.5mm needles it was too loose and sleazy. I went down a size to 3.25mm and like the resulting fabric much better. It's 26 stitches and 36 rows to 4" now though instead of 25 stitches and 34 rows. But I think it will be OK anyway since it's light and stretchy and the sweater is a waterfall style with lots of overlap. The width would only be less than an inch narrower across the back which will probably fit me better anyway. As long as the armhole depth is adequate the rest of the row gauge issue can be solved by just knitting to measurements. Easy peasy.

Speaking of measurements, I will have to adjust the sleeve length. Massively! They are very long as written and would cover my hands with room to spare. I need to take at least 4" off leaving them still a couple of inches past my wrist bone. Yeah, little old T-Rex Arms here! Obviously Isabel's designer, Amy Miller, was going for a fashionable elongated sleeve for a person with normal arm length. Normal is usually about 2" longer than my arms which are only 16" from underarm to wrist. Adjustments are normal in my world. It's so nice to be able to have clothes that don't make me feel like I'm wearing hand-me-downs from my big sister! (And I don't even have a big sister because I'm the oldest. So there. Pfth!)

Lastly, I have an outfit photo for you today. I was wasting spending some time on Pinterest looking at past seasons of a Swedish designer whose garments can be very inspiring and colourful, Gudrun Sjödén. Can you tell that some of her style rubbed off?

A revelation. I didn't even know that my rayon batik shirt actually fits over my brown dress! I already knew the colours play nicely because I often wear the shirt with the pants I made from leftovers from the dress. And of course since it's still pretty cold I added my very springlike Cherry Leaf Shawl (which is so old it predates Ravelry) in a brighter colour than I usually wear. Everything is me-made except the olive leggings which are at least 15 years old. I quite like this combo though if it was warmer I'd wear one of my cotton scarves. The cashmere is very toasty!

Off to spin for an hour or so before I have to get supper ready. I have half a bobbin of singles to fill.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017


These cute but slightly scary little dudes were blocking our path when we went grocery shopping yesterday:

They were rather grumpy that we wanted to walk down the sidewalk because they really didn't want to walk in the snow! Standoff. I was going to cross the street to go around but eventually they growled at us as they climbed up a nearby front staircase out of our way:

Poor things. I think they need me to knit them some mittens for their cold feet!

Whilst we are awaiting the latest in the storm queue (this one could be snow, rain, ice or any combination thereof) I have a couple of fun things to report. First off I finished spinning a couple of the skeins of Licorice Allsorts yarn, washed and dried and wound into balls, and cast on for my version of the Ebony sweater. Of course I'm calling it the Licorice Tunic Vest instead. However, I'm a little concerned about my first efforts. I'm feeling the cable cast-on might be a little tighter than it should be. It's a very firm cast-on and this version has the twist in it as you place the stitch back onto the left-hand needle which makes it even more inelastic. On the other hand I don't need the hem to flare either. I'm going to wait until tomorrow when I'm fresh before I reassess and decide whether or not to frog the back hem and start again. I'm only an inch and a half into it so now would be the time if I need to do that rather than wait until I have half the piece knit already. I considered knitting this in the round but realised that not only was that going to take too much pattern fiddling for my wee brain but the side seams will help give this garment some much-needed structure. Plus there's only one half of the hem to frog if I must.

I'm sure you want to see the results of the snow dyeing experiment. The wool was flipped over onto plastic wrap, bundled carefully and cooked in the microwave (4 2-minute sessions each with a short cool-down between). The sock yarn came out kind of so-so:

I could have done better with regular dye painting or low-immersion techniques. There was a lot of excess dye in this so took quite a bit of rinsing to run clear. Obviously my elderly dyes still work, huh? The Corriedale sliver was more successful I think:

I'm calling this colourway "Late Winter Fields" (aka mostly mud with patches of snow.) I had wound 2.5 metre or so lengths doubled, thinking that a thicker roving might be easier to handle. The benefit occurred to me after I was hanging them to dry - the two strands could be pulled apart and I would have a fairly closely matching set that each group could be spun up in the same orientation and then plied together. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. But not until I'm finished spinning the Licorice Allsorts, OK?

After the snow had melted I ended up with two pans full of "sludge" dye. With acid dyes, these are still functional - unlike Procions that once they interact with the soda ash they are only good for a few hours. So I located my last two 100g balls of white sock yarn (Lion Brand Sock-Ease) and dyed them in the mixed mud. The one dyed in the first (sock yarn) leftovers is a lovely deep brownish burgundy:

And the one dyed in the Corriedale's leftovers is a dark brownish-taupe:

Thom has dibs on that one for socks immediately! The colours are semi-solid since I was not at all careful to get an even coverage. They were microwaved as well to set the dyes. Yes there is a lot of brown here! I love it.

And that's not all. I fell off my yarn diet and succumbed to a recent Craftsy sale. They have an exclusive brand of yarn, sourced in Peru, called Cloudborn. I got enough of the Highlands fingering (100% wool) in Espresso Heather to make an Isabel cardigan (pattern by Amy Miller). This long cardigan has a dipped hem in back and takes a ginormous amount of fine yarn. So I cheated. This stuff is lovely:

Yeah, I could have chosen another colour but I got this one. It will get lots of wear - guaranteed! There are a whole 495 yards of this quite soft 2-ply in a 100g skein which is amazing. I still need the better part of 6 skeins. Good thing it was 50% off, huh?

And that's still not all. I decided to try out the Cloudborn Merino Superwash Sock Twist (80% superwash merino/20% nylon) in Antique White and Charcoal Heather:

2 skeins of each and they of course can be dyed because you know how I can't resist that! I hadn't ordered yarn from Craftsy before and it was a very painless exercise even with the border and all.The prices were shown to me in Canadian so no shock there and I was given a tracking code to follow. It ended up a day later than it should have because Canada Post wasn't delivering Monday but that was reflected in the tracking. This positive experience is sure going to make it hard to resist the next Craftsy sale! Reminding myself that I need to knit a lot first though. Uh-huh.

Well, enough adventures in yarn for the moment.

Monday, February 06, 2017

When Life Gives You Snow... make snow dyes!

This time I'm trying acid dyes on wool. The top one is 100g of sock yarn and the bottom is just under 150g of Corriedale sliver (or skinny roving). The dyes are mostly very very old from the depths of my stash.

One doesn't even have a label but I think it's black? You can't always tell by the powder colour. I'm always afraid to use them in case they aren't any good anymore but this time I just decided to go for it. I spread them thickly to hopefully offset any depletion in strength. (The gold yellow from Maiwa on the left is the only newer dye I used.) If it doesn't turn out so nice, I can always overdye, right?

Unlike the Procion dyes on cellulose fibres which just need final rinsing, the wool will need to be steamed in the craft microwave after the snow melts to set the dyes properly. Results TBA! I may be tempted to try some more snow dyeing before the week is out. There's at least a foot of snow out there to play with, although the underneath layers have melted and refrozen into ice. That works too - if I can get it broken up into small enough chunks. I am attempting to enjoy this crazy weather we've been having and trying to remember that it's normal for most of the rest of Canada and a goodly chunk of the US too. Real Winter! Who'd a thunk?

In other news I finally finished carding all the Licorice Allsorts wool and spent at least a half an hour vacuuming up all the thundering dust buffaloes everywhere. I also cleaned the drum carder thoroughly but it's going to need to card some wool that doesn't mind getting a few black fibres in it next. No white stuff that wishes to remain pristine! That was over a kilo of black processed and it can't help but leave a few remains behind. Next project: finish spinning up enough bulky yarn for my Ebony sweater.

Under the heading of "personal style" I came up with this combo:

These are all older garments and the only non-me-mades there are the brown turtleneck and fleece tights. The sweater is crocheted instead of knit with tweed wool from my weaving stash. If I was wearing this outdoors I would substitute boots for the Birkies. (And a warm coat!) I haven't worn that bubble skirt for ages and remembered that I quite like it. But it needs the elastic waistband taken in just a little. It sits nicely without riding up (as it would if it was too tight) but it feels just a little precarious on my hips. Don't want a clothing malfunction, do we? Of course it would help if those tights had a higher rise on the waist. They're even more precarious than the skirt! Why do current manufacturers think women want tights/leggings/pants that barely pull up to the hipbones? Or is that just me? When I sew my own I usually make them come up as high as my belly button. Much more smooth and comfortable and eliminates the muffin-top look.

Well, off to slog in the snow and ice to pick up a few groceries. It's actually quite nice out there right now but there may be more snow coming tonight. I have to admit it's pretty and brighter than our usual rainy February. However, any plans for running away in the Westie for a few weeks are looking a little off-putting right now. Whatevs. We always have alternative amusements. Right?

Friday, February 03, 2017

Déjà Vu All Over Again

What were we were saying about signs of spring? Today, not so much. It's all my fault - I bought seeds for the garden! Weather likes nothing else than to be perverse like that. Yup.

So while I've been spinning wool I've been letting my mind wander around the subject of Clothing This Body. As a card-carrying Little Old Lady, I enjoy seeing all the fun that older women are having with their personal style. And of course ignoring the rude and negative comments from some members of the peanut gallery. They are just envious of our creativity and casual insouciance! After all, we don't have to dress to please anyone else but ourselves. We have earned the right over time and through personal experience. Now we can play!

You can read a whole bunch of fashion do's and don't's, identify your figure with a fruit or geometric shape, have your colours done or follow favourite fashion celebrities. But really it all boils down to how you actually feel in your clothes, doesn't it? Simple, elaborate, functional, pretty, casual, professional, arty, androgynous or whatever. You are the only one who can really define your preferences for you! Personally, I aim for comfortable but with a bit of a creative twist. Here's my outfit from yesterday. You might recognise the sweater as the last one I finished knitting. The pinafore looks purple but really it's a tiny plaid that mostly reads as brown.

Because I make my own clothes, I'm not limited by what's available in the stores in my style and size. Thank all that is holy!!! Or I would very likely be wearing vintage rags by now! (Oh wait - maybe I do?) In an attempt to kick my slumbering sewjo back into gear, I've been playing with creating my own version of a fashion croquis. This is a body sketch that you can trace over and draw in garment ideas to help you decide what works for you in silhouette and length. It can also help you put together outfits, find the holes in your collection and record successful combinations. However, the standard fashion croquis is ridiculous. Here's one version I borrowed for example:

So long and leggy! Who is really 9 heads tall? Anybody? I'm pretty short so I measure about 6 1/2 heads tall:

Aren't I adorable? Heh. This sketch was based directly on a photograph so no faking going on here! It shows my narrow sloping shoulders, wider hips, lack of a waist, low bust, slim and short arms and legs, and long torso. Note that I did NOT say these were figure flaws! Just reality. The body I live in and must clothe. It just doesn't look exactly like the bodies that you normally see in the media and it's obviously not the one that fashion designers work with. I tend to fall between so many cracks. I don't fit regular (too tight) or plus-sizes (too huge in the upper body). I'm short enough to be petite but I'm too long in the torso. I morph between 2 or even 3 sizes in sewing and many knitting patterns. Big 4 patterns often cut off their smaller and larger multi-sized patterns right where I need them not to. I have learned the hard way to adjust everything and I am so much happier with my clothes now! I can't express this enough. Clothes that fit properly are a miracle. They make me so much feel better about myself. Truly.

I hope you don't think I'm unhappy with this body I inhabit? I'm not at all. It's a little wrinkled and saggy in a few places, a little bony or fluffy in a few others. I wear glasses and hearing aids. But it works pretty darned well for its age! I can walk 10k, dig in the garden, do fine motor skills, touch my toes and all with minimal pain. I don't need any medications except ibuprofen for the occasional migraine. My complaints are relatively few. When I was younger I admit I felt envy for the pretty, tall and willowy types but then I realised that they aren't happy with themselves either. So I decided that since this is the body I have and there are no refunds or exchanges, it's definitely worth loving and taking good care of it. You know, so it will last me for maybe another 30 years? I'm not done with it yet. And I have more clothes to make first. Slowly.

I'm sure you will be seeing some of the clothing sketches I'll be making with my croquis. A couple of people have published books of croquis already printed for use but again they don't look like me. I'd rather make my own. It's not that hard. I just took a photo of me in a neutral pose (I also have another in a slightly more fashion pose), printed it out and traced my outline by hand the old-school way with a pencil. Then I scanned the pencil drawing and saved it as a JPEG in order to be able to print multiples of them. If you have the right software and are better at tracing electronically you could do it that way instead. Honestly your true body shape might look somewhat odd to you at first but it soon looks very normal. Much more normal than Miss 9-Heads anyway!

And lastly, YES, it is still snowing! And we're back to slippery streets again. Blech. Good thing we stocked up on fruits and veggies. I'm not going anywhere for awhile.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

The Natural World

Instead of all the crazy goings on (about which we will not speak) we have another option - celebrating the halfway point between winter and spring. Known variously as Imbolc (pronounced "im-olk" and meaning "ewe's milk"), St. Brigid's Day, Candlemas, or Groundhog Day, we in the Northern Hemisphere are starting to feel hints of the rebirth of the earth. As I've mentioned before on this blog, here in Vancouver we've had a particularly icy winter (for us anyway!) and it's lovely to see the sun out as it has been for the last few days.

There are buds showing:

Pieris japonica. Ours are not small shrubs but near-trees!

Our snowdrops aren't quite out yet, though some of the larger variety down the block are. These are on the north side of the garage and were under a foot of snow not that long ago.

Blueberry buds. The grandchildren await the berries.

My garlic coming up. There's footprints in this bed. Probably the raccoon who has been making early morning visits to the water garden on the upper deck. He or she had better leave my plants alone!

The overwintered kale is starting to grow again. Hopefully there will be kale buds to pick soon. Yum. We took Thom's mom out to Mandeville Gardens cafe for lunch yesterday and I picked up nearly all of the seeds that I need to replenish my supply. Though I won't start planting anything until sometime in March. Then I'll be back to coddling all the little baby seedlings again. So much work but I kind of look forward to it. I plan to pay more attention to the garden this year.

Also, did you see the beautiful celestial triumvirate in the evening sky? The waxing crescent moon's smile, large and shiny Venus and small red Mars in close visual proximity. So nice that the sky has been clear for us for once. We usually miss all the good sky stuff due to clouds. I tried to take a photo but my iPad camera is not equipped to deal with a dark sky. Its convenience usually overrides its limitations.

So how is the crafty stuff going? S L O W L Y . I have one skein finished of the Licorice Allsorts bulky yarn but it turned out not quite as bulky as it should be. I'm hanging on to it for parts of the sweater where it shouldn't make a difference such as pocket edging or perhaps the collar. I'm sure it will get used somewhere. I'm not planning on wasting 126 yards of precious handspun yarn! The second bobbin is nearly full so I'm hoping it will be closer to the ideal yarn. I always have difficulty spinning thick yarns. Fine yarn for lace, no problem. Anything heavier than a DK is problematic unless I feel like making it with many multiple plies. And that's a lot more spinning. Three plies combined into 900+ yards total is plenty much for this project I think.

I've also made some serious knitting time for the Smurf Socks. They are past the heel turn and onto the foot now:

Home stretch and easier because only half the round is patterned. Still turning my fingers blue! I'm going to have to do some remedial scouring on these things when I'm finished knitting them. Don't want blue feet! Luckily I nearly always wear black cotton under-socks between my skin and my handknit wool socks. I'm not allergic to wool but I have a skin issue that means I need to moisturise my feet (and other parts of my anatomy) heavily at least twice a day. I don't want shea-buttered wool socks! It's much easier to wash the cotton socks more frequently. The skin issue has never been properly identified or treated but we will not discuss the inadequacies of the medical system right now. At least I've found the best way to deal with it and it's all natural and benign - my own blend of shea butter, calendula oil, lavender and vitamin E. So there, doc!

Ahem. I digress. I still haven't gotten back into sewing yet. Perhaps the huge piles of wool on my cutting table and the plethora of black dust buffaloes roaming around my studio are having the effect of keeping the fabrics hiding in their boxes? I feel like I should finish up the wool processing at least before I clean thoroughly in there. The spinning part is in the opposite room, my study, and yes there are dust buffaloes in there too. I actually think they are bigger! Definitely more aggressive. But if I can keep them contained in the study then I can contemplate bringing fabrics out again in the studio. Three more Licorice Allsorts bundles to go.

Speaking of sewing, if you are a fan of Stitcher's Guild, you will know that poor Dragon Lady has been having serious issues with hackers and spammers and the main site has been closed on and off for a month. I don't really post on there or on the alternative popular site, Pattern Review, but I do use them somewhat. I haven't felt that either interface was comfortable for me so I haven't embraced them as fully as I could have. On the other hand, I love Ravelry for knitting, spinning, crochet and even weaving but there hasn't been anything comparable for sewing. Well, I've found something that may - if enough fabric folks will embrace it - become something similar to what Ravelry is. Perhaps not on the same massive international scale. But there is potential. It's called Textillia. I'm still very new to the site but what I especially like about it is the ability to save your own projects, patterns, queue, fabrics etc and to add them to the database. There is a forum for discussion and, hopefully coming soon, groups. There's even areas for dyeing and surface design, sadly unused as yet but the welcome mat is out! I'm not huge on chatting but so far it seems welcoming and easy to post to, including photos for help and feedback. So far the site is still in beta and is free to join though the owners say they will eventually go to a very reasonably priced subscription format. A bunch of the SG folks are over there already. Go join and get involved! I'm sure I'll be mentioning Textillia again in future posts. I rather want it to succeed.

Obviously I've been saving up my babbling for another week. If you only knew how many posts I write only in my head. Heh. Wishing you all a Happy Lunar New Year in this year of the Fire Rooster! Hmmm...why did the chicken cross the road...