Friday, June 30, 2006

Swirling Around

Last year when I saw Penny's hat on Annie Modesitt's blog, I immediately coveted it. And last week when I saw Risa's orangey good Pinwheel Sweater in progress at SnB, I immediately coveted it, too. Add in everything else swirling around – all the recent spinning, flooding along the Delaware River (which, among other things, has shut down the state capital), Katherine's spiral rib sock, musings about stars and spiral galaxies, fireworks, Independence Day, Tanabata, Tour de France doping stories, and the result is – ?!! – a swirl hat, in progress.

Swirl hat in progress

The hat is shown draped over another hat to give it some shape as it's not yet blocked. The crown and hatband eyelets are finished, so it seemed a good time to take some photos while I ponder the intricacies of the brim. There are lifelines in place, in case I need to frog back to adjust the fit. Kindly notice the hat has Z-twist [grin].

The basic inspiration for the hat is the Picture Hat in Annie's brilliant Confessions of a Knitting Heretic, which gives excellent directions for designing, fitting, and blocking knit millinery. Except I'm knitting the hat in one piece and one color from the top down, using a modification of my favorite swirl medallion from Knitting Counterpanes by Mary Walker Phillips. The yarn is Louet Sales Euroflax Linen, which I like much better than comparable weight cotton.

Swirl counterpane medallion

I find it's very helpful – liberating, even – to think of the crown as a modified counterpane medallion. A brimmed hat seems complex, formal, and vaguely intimidating, something that oughta take a long time. By contrast, I expect to crank out several counterpane medallions a day and feel free to make modifications. Having seen Katie's pretty cap, I briefly thought about adding beads à la Odessa – maybe next time.

Now it's on to the brim. Annie's pattern calls for brim wire, preferably plastic monofilament Brimlock, to shape the brim. Must order some. Not to mention the secret plan is to wear the hat to a Fourth of July barbecue, which means I need an appropriate hatband ribbon... something with a dusting of stars, don't you think?

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Le Tour de Fleece

Spinning synchronicity continues! Brilliant Katherine of wabi sabi is sponsoring Le Tour de Fleece, a spin-along during the Tour de France. Imagine: hand spinning and bicycle spinning, a start in Strasbourg and a finish in Paris – perfection. Both TdFs run July 1 through July 23, fibery sign ups are open through June 29.

My challenge is to spin laceweight from the second 4 oz (113 g) braid of hand-dyed Blue Face Leicester I bought at MDS&W from Cloverleaf Farms. I took a bit of the first braid to Spin Out on Saturday. At the time I thought my first time Spinning in Public was an achievement sufficient unto itself; it turns out it was more – it was training.

Il y a deux

(To avoid any allegations of cheating performance enhancement, see, I really do have two braids of roving!)

Training is going well. I plied up a bit and knit a stockinette gauge swatch at 6 st per in (24 st per 4 in or 10 cm). The fabric is wonderfully wooly, with a hand quite unlike Merino. I'd like to spin the yarn even finer, if I can manage it, but would be quite happy with what I've got now.

Gauge swatch

As for the other Tour: this year's Tour de France route runs counter-clockwise from Strasbourg to Paris in a prologue, 20 stages, and 2 rest days. Cable TV subscribers with OLN can follow twice-daily coverage; the rest of us must make do with online minute-by-minute feeds on the Bicycling magazine website.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Spinning in Public

Saturday was Spin On Spin In Spin Out in New York City, organized by tireless Cara of January One. I had a grand time, although there was an initial mystery.

When I got to the beautiful venue, Cherry Hill Fountain in Central Park, this is what I saw. Entirely understandable, given the weather – it rained off and on pretty much all day – but where had all the spinners gone? New Yorkers are tough and resilient – surely they hadn't wimped out just because of a little rain.

Where have all the spinners gone?

Ordinarily I would have been content to let the matter drop in favor of taking a solitary ramble around Central Park. Overcast light is perfect for capturing architectural detail like this wonderful tracery around Bethesda Fountain.

Tracery around Bethesda Fountain

And the rain made some normally shy creatures more noticeable, like this Elm Sphinx Moth (Ceratomia amyntor – not one of the dreaded müths) perched on the trunk of an American elm tree (Ulmus americanus). Remarkably, the moth is the size of the palm of my hand (my monitor displays it slightly smaller than life size). Also remarkable, Central Park contains many fine old elm trees and chestnut trees that somehow have withstood the ravages of Dutch elm disease and chestnut blight. New Yorkers really are tough and resilient.

Elm Sphinx Moth the size of my palm

But I came to spin, with my Made By Ewe Golden Leaf spindle and my Cloverleaf Farms Blue Face Leicester hand-dyed roving and my secret plan to spin laceweight. Happily, tireless Cara (maybe that should be sleepless Cara) updated her blog with the new location, the East 54th Street Recreation Center, and also emailed directions. A quick subway ride and I was at spin central, spinning on our half of the basketball court with about 30 other spinners using dropspindles and wheels, oblivious to the guys playing half court on their half or doing laps on the track and cardio workouts on the machines in the balcony.

Spin Out group

Cara not only pulled off the miraculous last-minute change of venue (with some help from some well-connected and persistent spinners), she also organized great swag.

Spin Out swag

Here's my haul: Spin-Off magazine, a postcard listing Spin and Win prize donors (to benefit Heifer International, one of my all-time favorite charities, see the registry page), literature from Wild Fibers magazine and for Fibre Fallout 2006, a darling Merino and Firestar mini-batt from Spritely Goods (I want to try it, but it's too cute to spin!), a great button and bumpersticker, and a small bicycle basket, the perfect catch all adornment for a wheel. The last caught my eye – who knew there is such convergence in the two kinds of spinning I do? There also were magnets, beginner kits with CD spindle and roving (those went very fast), and lots of yummy candy. T-shirts and tote bags are also available.

Best of all, there were lots and lots of spinners! Some were beginners like me; others like Marie of Brooklyn Handspun, Caroline of The Yarn Tree, or Jenny of North Country Spinners have vast knowledge and experience. There even were a few non-spinners (hi, Terry and Linda!) – numerous socks (although no Jaywalkers) were knitted. There were many impromptu lessons and demonstrations: Delica imparted the secrets of the Andean plying bracelet, self-taught Jill Ann demonstrated spinning silk on her Simple Market Farms featherweight spindle, Marie explained the advantages of spinning from batts over spinning from top, Jenny spun while walking around.

As for the founder of the feast, Cara is notoriously camera shy, although a magnificent photographer. So here she is with face camera-obscured. Her T-shirt had the distinction of being the most faded, of course.

Tireless Cara of January One

All too soon, it was time to leave. While thanking Cara and saying goodbye, I thought I heard just the faintest wistfulness for what might have been and maybe – just maybe – the possibility for another Spin Out in Central Park, perhaps as soon as September. Woo-hooooo.

John Lennon memorial in Central Park

With many thanks to Cara for a splendid day. [Edited to add: And see Cara's Knitty article.]

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Sockapaloooza Preantepenultimate

A bit of erudition, courtesy of Tola Faery commenting on Alison's post: the ultimate is the end, the penultimate is almost the end, the antepenultimate is before almost the end, and the preantepenultimate is before that.

The key in such a thicket of wordswordswords is, of course, to know where one is. When it comes to Sockapaloooza, Pam's angel socks, worked in Trekking #129, are almost finished. Here they are in their penultimate glory.

Pam's penultimate socks

I need to weave in a few ends, give 'em a bath, and find some goodies to keep them company before sending them on their way. I have a couple deadlines this week, so will finish and mail them next week.

Meanwhile, Katherine reports that her Sockapaloooza socks, beaded rib with beads, are lost in space (!). That is something up with which I will not put (!!!), so I'm knitting her a replacement pair, currently in the preantepenultimate stage.

Katherine's preantepenultimate sock

Although it's 10 degrees F cooler today (85 F or 29 C), it's still too hot roundabout Exit 151 to fuss. This is your basic spiral rib athletic sock that, like MacBeth, has gotten beady ambition (see the beads?). It's worked in Trekking #100. Toiling and boiling to follow.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Review: An Inconvenient Truth

Over the weekend temperatures hit 95 F (35 F), which is miserably hot for mid-June roundabout Exit 151. DH and I took refuge in an air-conditioned movie theater and saw An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore's movie about global warming. IMHO, it's a must-see.

The movie makes effective use of solid science, nonpartisan advocacy, and personal memoir. Its famous narrator neither avoids nor dwells upon his political past; the tone is gentle and wise. Viewers familiar only with the wooden presidential aspirant may be surprised to discover Gore's self-deprecating charm, command of the facts, and long-standing commitment to the cause. The movie is beautifully photographed and easy to watch; the science is accessible and strikingly illustrated. Its point – that action to reverse global warming is needed now – is well made.

As I've followed the global warming debate fairly closely, the biggest and most appalling surprise for me was how backward U.S. energy technology is compared with other developed nations and even with developing nations such as China and India. Our standards are abysmally low. We are falling behind when it comes to applying existing, tested technology. We are not innovating and developing new technology as others are. And we are losing ground at an ever-increasing rate. Our technology not only works less well than it could, it works so poorly that, increasingly, U.S. products aren't competitive in the world market.

I've also been following the flap on Roger Ebert's website. Ebert is a Pulitzer Prize-winning movie critic who gave the movie a highly positive review. He since has been deluged by letters and emails, the majority from people who have not seen the movie, but denounce it anyway. He's written a follow up article on this curious phenomenon.

For more information on the movie and on global warming, see the Climate Crisis website, particularly for the Carbon Calculator, which estimates one's personal annual carbon emissions, and the list of Ten Things to Do. I was happy to learn that each mile I bicycle rather than drive lowers my personal emissions by one pound of CO2.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Spinning Roundabout

[Roundabout Exit 151, it seems everything telcom-related has been taking turns malfunctioning: telephone, ISP, email, browser, blog host, photo host. A thousand apologies for the radio silence – I'm doing my best to chase down the asymptote and catch up.]

Yesterday was the last spin class with Stacey at Modern Yarn. Naturally, we had Paige take a class photo. I'm camera shy.

Modern Yarn spin class

Spin class has been one of the best fibery classes I've ever taken. In four sessions I've gone from clew-less to mini skeins of yarn, thanks to an excellent instructor and a go-for-it class. [Rah, Stacey! Rah, class!] As an experienced knitter, I've especially appreciated learning more about fiber and how it becomes yarn. There's a very high satisfaction factor in going from mass o' roving to balanced skein. Incidentally, this does not violate the laws of thermodynamics – at the same time, dishes and other chores have piled up and my house has become covered with clinging fibery friends.

I've noticed spinning has a steep slippery slope. Although its dynamic nature makes it somewhat daunting to learn from books, I've found that once attempted, the basics are easier to pick up than knitting. The big hurdle is trusting the fiber enough to let the spindle drop. But I think the deep secret is drafting and pre-drafting – put another way, developing a finger sense for what the fiber wants to do.

Then there's the matter of the growing stash. My class roving was a nondescript Ashland Bay blend, but Karen generously shared some light brown Cormo and some ecru Romney [thanks, Karen]. Oenophiles aren't the only connoisseurs who can debate the merits of blends versus varietals! I now own two dropspindles, my learner's spindle and this little Golden Leaf beauty from Stacey's Made by Ewe site. And it would seem I'm destined for a Bossie (we're on familiar terms now), if online quizzes are any guide.

You're A Bosworth!

You are a lean, mean spindling machine!
Which Spindle Are You?

Some in the class are already talking about wheel acquisition. I'm not quite there yet, but I'm delighted and boggled by the directions for a DIY cigar-box charkha. Imagine, four weeks ago my vocabulary was so impoverished that I had no idea what a charkha is.

Last week, Stacey brought Gossamer, her English Angora rabbit, to class. I'm allergic to rabbit angora, but the cute factor is irresistable.

Gossamer and Stacey

Gossamer was very mellow with the horde of strangers. Stacey demonstrated bunny-to-yarn, gently pulling bits of loose fluff off his back and spinning them into fine singles. Amazing to relate, Gossamer's fluff is nearly half his visual mass. Its loft is astonishing – were it shorn, it would likely weigh all of a whopping two ounces (56.6 g). Pity I couldn't cuddle him; other class members seemed to enjoy doing so.

Spinning along, my secret plan to spin my own laceweight got a big boost when I discovered that Knitterguy spins. I already knew he knits on a higher plane of existence, but fine spinning, too? I can only bless all teachers and watch and learn.

Spin On Spin In Spin Out button

It should come as no surprise that Spinnning in Public is not far behind. Cara of January One is holding Spin On Spin In Spin Out in NYC Central Park on Saturday, June 24. If the meet-up weren't enough, she's also fundraising for Heifer International, one of my all-time favorite charities, with great prizes (including a Majacraft wheel!). Do be sure to check out her registry page.

Coming full circle, I've tagged my very first micro skein with date and comments and plan to save it for reference. I think the rest might like to be a cap, perhaps with a Greek labyrinth motif for Ariadne, an accomplished spindler, and her clew.


Side Trek

For the Trek-along, I'm taking a little side trek instead of starting with #126 (Brach's coconut candy) as planned. It just so happens that I've got some Trekking #129 (self-patterning grays, white, mint, and pink) lying around, empty dpns, a Sockapalooozer in need of a sock angel [hi, Pam!], and a hankering to test the Queen of the Jungle Stripe pattern in other yarns. Sweet synchronicity!

The sock, thus far:

Trekking #129 anklet

Initially I used a picot hem instead of 1x1 ribbing. But it became clear as the bold stripes emerged that that is not an effective cuff for the sock, so I added a lifeline, carefully unpicked the hem, frogged, picked up stitches, and knit a trusty 1x1 ribbing.

The trek, last Sunday, was the first Tri-Town Family Bike Day, a family-friendly traffic-free bicycle ride through Millburn (Exit 142), Maplewood (Exit 142), and South Orange (Exit 145). The day was perfect for a spin – sunny, cool, and a little windy. The route mainly hugged the Morris & Essex Line railroad tracks, which ensured a ride without hard climbs. I had a great time. There's a plan to extend the ride to Exit 151 [vbg].

Here's the sock perched on my bicycle saddle (weighted by my lock because it was windy) at the start, the Millburn Free Public Library. It's hard to get a good photo of the library building, so I opted for the book and media return boxes as a backdrop. To avoid ruffling suburban sensibilities, I was careful not to take pix of people, particularly children.

Sock and bike in Millburn   Banner across Main Street   All About Yarn

The township obligingly put up a banner across Main Street advertising the event. Millburn is also home to All About Yarn (sadly closed on Sunday).

In Maplewood, the rest stop was Memorial Park. The route through the village was obviously designed by a cyclist – just look at what was along the way (notice handlebars – not mine – in lower right corner).

Sock and bike in Maplewood   Maplewood ice cream parlour

Ride's end was the South Orange duck pond. There really is a south orange in South Orange. Also gaslights, which are always on to save the expense and trouble of lighting and dousing them.

Sock and bike in South Orange   The South Orange south orange   South Orange gaslight

When I asked a cop where to find the orange, he told me, but gave me a look that plainly said, "Lady, you're crazy." Could be. I spent the evening searching for the pattern repeat so the pair will be reasonably similar.

Searching for the pattern repeat

By the end of a happy day, Sock 2 was under way.


Sunday, June 4, 2006

Belated Sockapaloooza Reveal

[While it's not certain who broke the Internet, I've sure been having a lot of trouble posting lately. Here's a postdated post, pix to come when I can get them uploaded.]

Now it can be told that my Sockapaloooza pal is Katherine of Knitting Thoughts, who is the inspiration for Comfort Zone dpns! Katherine served as a sock angel in the last round and is a very accomplished sock knitter (also mother, grandmother, entrepreneur, designer, and artist!), so I wanted to make her extra-special socks.

But what to knit for someone who knits superbly and superfast with fabby yarn and needles built to her own specs? I've been sweating this one.

From stealth blog reading, I've noticed a few things. Katherine is partial to socks with a certain flair. I'm still bug-eyed that she thought these were on the dull side. But three things seem to be lacking from her enviable sock gallery: a pair of identical socks, a pair with fancy stitches, and a pair with beads.

Ta-da! Here are beaded rib with beads socks, finished. Beaded rib is a gansey technique; the additional of beads was inspired by the cover sweater from the rather unfortunate Rowan 39.

Beaded rib with beads sock

Here's a closer look at the beaded leg.

Sock detail

These socks had a number of adventures. They were privileged to meet Ann and Kay of Mason-Dixon Knitting (maybe they inspired Ann to start knitting socks!) and Stephanie the Yarn Harlot, and they frolicked among the cherry blossoms in Branch Brook Park. Then other obligations intervened, which conspired to make the socks very late.

By contrast, my sock pal, Shannon of the excellently named Yarn and Chocolate, was right on time with her beauteous socks. The introduction to Bearfoot was most happy - I must find some for Mr. Fussy Feet DH. Thanks again, Shannon!

This round of Sockapalooza I served as the sock sister to the creative and numerous Mar-Pix tribe. It's a great job. Imagine having to look at so many blogs, featuring so many fabby new yarns and projects. My project queue is much longer now. I've started spindling. I made a deal with Meredith to f-f-f-felt something, possibly an old Rowan UFO. I made another deal with Pansar to trade saltwater taffy for salt lakrids. Quite apart from those happinesses, it's a great privilege to share the experiences of the tribe. In the time between the February start and now, Mar-Pix tribesters went through relocations, homes bought and sold, jobs lost and found, relationships begun and ended, serious illness, deaths in the family, severe weather, too-close brushes with terrorism, work-related travel, fabulous vacation travel, weddings, spring (Northern Hemisphere) and fall (Southern Hemisphere) AND had a 0% dropout rate, which I devoutly hope will turn into a 100% finished rate. The Mar-Pix tribe rocks!

All this is thanks to true blue sock momma Alison, the hostess with the mostest, queen of the dpns (or 2 circs or Magic Loops), for organizing this amazing sock exchange. I bow to her and sing her praise! And at risk of sounding like a Sockapal-boozer, let me join the happy chorus for another round!


Friday, June 2, 2006

First Yarn

Midway into the four-week spin class at Modern Yarn taught by Stacey, I have pencil roving, a beginner's top whorl drop spindle full of newbie singles, a wound ball of newbie singles, and my first micro skein of 2-ply yarn. It's overspun – and yet it actually looks like yarn!

My first yarn

Spin class is great. Stacey is a wonderful teacher – well-prepared, enthusiastic, diplomatic, and a font of spinning knowledge. The other students add to the excellent esprit. Some have spun before; I'm a complete newbie and have managed to commit just about every newbie blunder, not least wearing black to the first class and deciding to spin ecru roving. (We won't even mention the silk coccoons that stuck to my unexfoliated fingers briefly, then flew off in an unknown trajectory.)

As my ambition 'way outstrips my ability, the learning curve has been an exercise in patience. I spent the first class struggling with drafting and parking and also was not-so-covertly coveting all the beautiful spindles that others brought, particularly the Goldings and Bosworths and Woodchucks. Because surely it's the spindle. Alas, my first purchase after class was a distinct anti-climax.

I'm finding I frequently end up with a small ring of fiber encircling the roving. An error in drafting technique, I assume. These little fiber friends are almost as bad as Tribbles in their ability to multiply and get into unlikely places.

For all that, after two classes there's been noticeable improvement. Spinning speed is up, bad words are down, singles are becoming more uniform and finer. Maybe my secret plan to spin my own 2-ply laceweight will succeed after all. Now if only I could get DH to stop singing improvised lyrics to Rawhide: Roving, roving, roving, git those spindles moving, etc ad naus.