Thursday, August 24, 2006

Shiny as Three New Pennies

Yesterday's mail brought my eagerly awaited Journey Wheel Featherweight Spindle, familiarly known as a Bosworth or Bossie after its makers, Jonathan and Sheila Bosworth. I think it's the Boss! It's a red cedar top whorl drop spindle that weighs 9 grams (.32 oz). That's less than three U.S. pennies.

Featherweight Spindle

This little beauty came carefully wrapped in gold paper and packed in a box along with a bit of already-spun fiber. It has a notch and a shepherd's crook style hook, lovely color and grain, silky finish, masterful balance, and a pleasant cedar scent. When viewed from the top while spinning, its little blonde spot seems to form a continuous gold rim around a moving reddish circle. I just love that.

I immediately tried it on some of the Blue Face Leicester roving I've been spinning. The amazing thing is there's nothing particular to note. I mean functionally, besides the visual beauty, tactile appeal, and ultralight weight of the spindle. Without any fuss, the Featherweight went to work spinning fine, even singles, twirling fast and long and dropping straight and true. There was no momentary adjustment to the idiosyncracies of a new spindle – it was as if I'd been using it contentedly for years. The spindle works the way spindles are supposed to work, and that excellently well, right out of the box. What's up with that?

What is particularly noteworthy is the cordial email correspondence I've enjoyed with Sheila Bosworth: prompt, unfailingly helpful, a minor education unto itself. Jonathan and Sheila offer an exceptional product and exceptional service. I'm definitely stopping at the Journey Wheel booth at Rhinebeck, 22 28.

Incidentally, in the month since the end of the Tour de Fleece, I've doubled the amount of finished laceweight yarn to 300 m (328 yd); about 400 m (437 yd) of singles is waiting to be plied. I'm eager to see if the Boss speeds production, allowing that fall is full of distractions.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Trekking Backwards

The coconut candy Trekking sock was sailing along – tra-la-la – I gave it a "forethought" heel because I like the characteristic bullseye pattern and don't mind grafting. Then, trouble. On try-on, the leg fit well and the heel fit well, but the overall fit was not comfortable – the reason why some socks have gussets. There was only one thing to do.

Using a tapestry needle threaded with crochet cotton, I added a lifeline at the point where the sock leg divides for the heel and the instep (the instep stitches were already on a lifeline)...

Adding lifeline

... carefully unpicked the just-grafted heel...

Unpicking the heel graft

... and frogged it. (The leg looks so... incomplete without a heel.)

Frogging the heel

The lifeline not only prevented frogging from going beyond the selected round, it also made picking up stitches for the heel flap much easier.

The #126 colorway of Trekking seems to have less sproing than other colorways and the knit fabric seems unusually dense and strong. I think this will be a hard-wearing pair of socks. The extra ease in the new flap-and-gusset heel makes for a much better fit.

As a bonus, what would have been a brown bullseye ring around the heel turned into a nifty brown patch at the heel turn.

Unplanned, happy serendipity! Tra-la-la-ing has resumed.


Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Two PSs

PS is for postscript: The Pequannock, NJ girls team is playing for the Little League Softball World Series championship tonight! Pequannock, incidentally, is Derek Jeter's hometown. [ETA: Alas, Mattawan, MI crushed them, 6-2.]

PS is for Perennis Sockapaloooza: I've cast on another Sockapaloooza angel sock. This one is for Phoebe, who would seem to have had both her pal and her first angel bail. Well, we can't have anyone going sock-less (and thereby getting cold feet or developing a complex).

The sock is a modified Basket Weave Rib Sock, in Sensational Knitted Socks by Charlene Schurch, worked in Noro New Ruby (from stash), a lovely cotton blend. I find that basketweave patterns show off the beautiful long color runs and texture variations that many Noro yarns have; the rib gives the cotton yarn a bit more sproing. I've substituted a soft roll top for the 1x1 ribbing in the pattern as skinny ribbing is not a happy look for this yarn.

Oh, and the NJ Attorney General resigned, after it was revealed that she fixed some traffic tickets for her boyfriend.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Four Ps

The trouble with visiting a botanic garden is one returns home to regard one's own humble bit of earth with a cool eye. Well, il faut cultiver notre jardin [we must tend our own garden].

P is for poison ivy,P is for poison ivy Rhus radicans, lurking under the foundation plantings, flowering bold as you please. For reasons unknown, I have a lot this year in my (cough) garden. Biodiversity is all very well, but I don't want to let them be, I want 'em gone. My usual control is to make a targeted application of herbicide, thoroughly wetting the plant. I wait for the leaves to wither, then carefully pull the entire plant. I do not compost any part of this nasty customer.

P is for plum, the fruit of summer, its color, and the richness connoted. I love fresh plums out of hand; dried prunes too. One of my favorite free-form pies is simply pâte brisée and plum slices. A pinked edge is optional, as is a sprinkle of brown sugar. Bake and devour. Yum.

P is for poetry, especially poems celebrating plums. Here's two favorites.

          The Word Plum

     The word plum is delicious

     pout and push, luxury of
     self-love, and savoring murmur

     full in the mouth and falling
     like fruit

     taut skin
     pierced, bitten, provoked into
     juice, and tart flesh

     and reply, lip and tongue
     of pleasure.

               --Helen Chasin, 1968

          This Is Just to Say

     I have eaten
     the plums
     that were in
     the icebox

     and which
     you were probably
     for breakfast

     Forgive me
     they were delicious
     so sweet
     and so cold

               --William Carlos Williams, 1934

Not to mention the immortal

     Leaflets three –
     Let them be.

And P is for possum and polyester and paper and pineapple fiber. Thanks to BIL, I have some Cherry Tree Hill Possum Lace (sadly discontinued), made of New Zealand possum.

See the rest of my ABCs.


Monday, August 14, 2006

Brooklyn Trek

Lured by the exceptionally fine weekend weather and the prospect of witnessing botanical history (exclamation point!),Titan arum poster and Trekking 126 sock I trekked over to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden to see Baby in bloom. Baby is a titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum), an endangered rainforest species with one of the largest flowers on earth (technically an inflorescence), also one of the stinkiest. She's such a diva that she had the BBG Conservatory all to herself (the bonsai that usually live there had to clear out for her) and the line to see her extended all the way from the Conservatory to the lily ponds. That gave me the opportunity to cast on a sock in Trekking #126, the Brach's coconut candy colorway, and knit a bit. It's wonderful how starting a sock makes a line go faster.

It turned out Baby was in decline. She was stinky Thursday night and Friday morning – the security guard likened the stench to a garbage dumpster in summer – but not whiffy at all when I saw her on Saturday. Her tall spadix and frilly spathe were notable for their great size, striking color, and graceful shape (the calla lily is a relative), yet were showing subtle but unmistakeable signs of imminent collapse. And cut into her backside was a hatch, held in place with Scotch tape, which BBG staff used to gain access to her true flowers, to hand-pollinate them. (Click on photos to view larger or check out Baby cam for live images.)

Titan arum in bloom   Back of titan arum

Oh well. While waiting in line, I got a good look at the sacred lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) in the lily ponds. I'm a lotus-eater, and was interested to see the broad leaves and developing seed pods au naturel. Amazing to relate, the structure of the seed pods is very like that of the tasty tuber.

Lotus leaves and seed pod   Lotus seed pod emerging from spent flower

I had gone to see Baby on an empty stomach, an unnecessary precaution, so after some light refreshment at the cafe, I trekked over to the rose garden to do a bit of research for Rose of England. At the entrance was this pensive rose girl, with an armload of unfading bronze roses and a sundial. All the greenery in the photo is some kind of rose – it must be splendid beyond words at peak bloom.

Statue of pensive rose girl

The sock posed on her sundial, which bears the legend, Perennis Amor, love everlasting. The gnomen is a butterfly, symbol of the psyche and of eternal life. Poor rose girl, she must be in mourning for her soulmate (if there's a memorial plaque, I didn't see it).

Sock on sundial

(Even allowing for Daylight Savings Time, the sundial did not show the correct time.)

I also rambled around the neighborhood outside the garden; perforce, access to the parking lot was closed by the Panama parade, so I had to park some distance away. It's great there are so many signs of neighborhood vitality, including these unexpected angels (the brick wall must have been a challenge to paint).

Angels mural

Back roundabout Exit 151, the Brooklyn trek continued: my stuff from Brooklyn Handspun arrived. Some is a gift for a secret pal and won't be pictured for the moment; I got some Soft Spun fingering in colorway Seafoam (a "Subtle Solid") for myself. Doncha just love the logo?

Brooklyn Handspun Soft Spun in colorway Seafoam

It's lovely: beautifully ombré-d, as pet-able as Claudia Handpaint, and it comes in a generous 500+ yard (457+ m) skein. I do appreciate long yardage! It's so skin-friendly that I'm going to use it to make a thermal top ("long underwear" sounds a tad off-putting, no?) to wear under my cycling togs. Or to wear at home this winter – I'm planning on keeping the thermostat below 65° F (18° C).

I'm very pleased to have the yarn – Brooklyn Handspun always sells out quickly! And not only are the goods very, very good, but also Marie responded to all inquiries promptly. (Be sure to check out her exciting nascent plan for a knitters' retreat in the Catskills.)

And that was my weekend trek through a little corner of Brooklyn, U.S.A.


Thursday, August 10, 2006

Seeing Red

This morning brought alarming news of a disrupted terror plot against flights from the U.K. to the U.S. and the first application of the highest threat level. It's limited to air travel and only certain flights at that; other public transportation is operating as per usual. (???) I don't mean to minimize the gravity of the situation, but... I thought that condition red pretty much meant shutting down public transportation. Apparently not. More clarity would be helpful.

Seeing red affects my gauge, so I've set the Rose of England aside for the moment. Here she is at round 40, looking more like a sand dollar than a heraldic rose.

Rose of England at round 40

I expect by next week that minor indignity will be overcome and her Bramble Stitch petals will be recognizable as such.

Meanwhile, for a flower of a very different color, check out Baby Cam at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Baby is their Amorphophallus titanum or titan arum (also known as corpse flower), which is due to bloom any day now.

Tuesday, August 8, 2006


O is for oh-oh, it's 8/8 and I'm behind in the ABC-along again.

O is for organ pipe wasp nest.O is for organ pipe wasp nest Organ pipe wasps or blue devils are small, solitary blue-black wasps, not offensive to humans, with the tiniest wasp waists I've ever seen. They prey mainly on spiders, sealing their paralyzed bodies into tubular mud daub nests to feed their grubs. When the mature wasps emerge, the old nest ends up looking like an organ pipe. They seem to favor basement window wells, but this one is under a (rusty) wall-mounted air conditioner. It's about the size of my hand.

And O is for olefin, which includes polypropylene and polyethylene, synthetic fibers that are light in weight with outstanding wicking properties. Some cyclists wear polypro socks and cycling sandals in very hot weather because perspiration evaporates faster from polypro than from anything else, even bare skin, so their feet stay cooler. Alas, olefin also retains odors tenaciously, unless combined with metallic silver.

See the rest of my ABCs.


Friday, August 4, 2006

Hello, Lancaster Rose

The heat is down to a mere simmer roundabout Exit 151, allowing me to emerge from the basement, blinking. Actually, this evening it's nicer with fans in the windows than with the A/C on. And my subterranean sojourn was not for naught – I located the Zephyr (and the Ritratto).

JaggerSpun Zephyr and  S. Charles Ritratto

A good thing, too, as in a moment of heat-induced temporary insanity tractability I agreed to knit something for the Church of the Improv bazaar. No, not the T-P cover kind of church bazaar knitting, something for the live auction. Our auctioneers are good – last time my chocolate chip cookies went for $450 – but they have to have something to work with.

This time I'm making the Rose of England from Second Book of Modern Lace Knitting by Marianne Kinzel. The pattern as written is a tablecloth worked in cotton or linen thread. In JaggerSpun Zephyr (50% silk, 50% wool), she will be a lovely circular shawl.

Here she is at Round 10, already showing off her heraldic quinate symmetry and double yarn overs. As you can see, this Rose of England is a Lancaster rose.

Lancaster Rose at round 10

The project poses a number of challenges. The pattern is beautifully written and clearly charted, but it does not give gauge or yardage requirements. If I run out of yarn, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth of biblical proportions (the colorway is discontinued)... but (fiddle-dee-dee) I'm not going to worry about that just yet. Then there's the matter of blocking Rose. Aiee. Rust-proof pin roundup begins today!

One thing I'm not worried about is meeting the mid-October deadline. Church projects always involve any number of outspoken nags busybodies good folk, and this one is no exception. Mistress Rose will be finished on time.

Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Road Trip to Marengo

It's hot roundabout Exit 151 – today's high temperature is forecast to be over 100° F (38° C). Too hot to knit. Back to previous adventures in Chicagoland and beyond.

When rain cancelled Plan A, a certain geographically challenged person who shall otherwise remain unidentified cheerily proposed Plan B: a road trip to Marengo. For those who don't know the area, Marengo is in McHenry County this side of Rockford, well beyond Chicagoland, about a three-hour cruise drive one way given the rain and construction on I-90, akin to driving from roundabout Exit 151 to Lancaster, PA. On the other hand, Marengo is home to The Fold. 'Nuff said. Off we went.

For some, the journey is key. Time was when Chicago's O'Hare Airport and Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, both giants of their kind, rose out of endless cornfields. Those bygone farms boasted some of the richest, most productive soil in the world – in some places, the topsoil was 30 feet (9 m) deep. Urban sprawl has largely subdivided and paved over that humble wonder of nature, leaving roadside patches of waste ground colonized by pale green teasel and blue-flowered chicory and nodding Queen Anne's lace. There's the occasional nursery or koi pond or llama farm, the famed Mink Barn, and a few fields of green beans or dent corn, but they are a mere remnant of plantings so vast that on a hot summer afternoon one could actually hear the corn growing.

For others, the destination is all. Bottom line, The Fold is a wonderful shop, well-stocked with yarn and fiber (notably from Blue Moon Fiber Arts), spindles and spinning wheels, and a choice selection of books. Owner Toni and her staff are knowledgeable and hospitable, offering full service to those who like guidance and letting others browse as they please. Plus there's a calm, friendly dog who just about kissed me to pieces.

Having been shut out at MDS&W, I snapped up a skein of medium weight Socks That Rock in colorway Fire on the Mountain, some Wensleydale Handpainted Roving in colorway Panzanite, Summer 2006 Spin-Off, and Fair Isling on Blue Moon. I also twirled a number of Bosworth spindles and petted a lot of fiber. All too soon, it was time to return.

Tourists will have noted the ratio of travel time to shopping time is badly skewed, even given the rare excellence of the souvenirs; Pilgrims should plan accordingly. Happily for both, The Fold offers mail order. Nearby Union has the Illinois Railway Museum, largest in the U.S., should others in the party require additional inducements to make the trip.

Back at home: when it's too hot to knit I cower in the basement, bleating crochet. I started the heirloom crocheted bag by Meta Thompson in Spin-Off, which would make a nifty sock yarn bag or wrist distaff.

Let's all hope the power grid roundabout Exit 151 holds today – it failed yesterday, blacking out most of downtown. Which made me think of a use for Knit Lite needles not in the ad copy, namely basement knitting during a blackout. Hm....

Stay cool, stay hydrated, and conserve energy – and that goes for your little dog (and other pets), too!