Experiments and Good Ideas

I am a person who best learns by doing. I like to just try stuff and see what happens. I might have made a good scientist, and sometimes I get a little mad that my teachers were not better at getting me excited about math and science. What if I could have been a tremendous theoretical physicist?  Oh well, maybe next time around. No regrets. I don’t mind if what I try does not turn out right the first time, although I have a pretty good track record. One of my superpowers is knowing a good idea when I hear one, and then wanting to do it immediately.

I also don’t mind making mistakes, really. When I first tried knitting from patterns, after knitting without patterns for 6 years, after teaching myself from a book how to knit, and not realizing I wasn’t doing what it said to do until I tried to knit from patterns, I would rip out entire sweaters and start over when I realized I had done something seriously wrong.

Anyway, my experiments this year have been mostly internet-inspired, and involve making things. Like delicious and more or less healthy food. It would take me days to link to all of the great recipes I’ve found and bookmarked, so I’ll just give you a few favorites, and then you can go explore on your own. It helps that I have a really well-stocked pantry, thanks to my new Indian grocer, and that I joined a local CSA and sometimes have no clue what to do with some of the produce. I am indebted to Smitten Kitchen, The Kitchn (and thanks to Jess, an avid maker of things, for turning me on to that blog), and Incredible Smoothies! I’m not traveling as much (hardly at all, really) so I have lots of time and motivation to cook. Oh! I nearly forgot these. They put the “crack” in crackers, and got me started down a long winding road of non-wheat flours. More experimenting. And it turns out there is quite a bit of chemistry to be learned from baking, especially the gluten-free variety, or when you decide just for fun to substitute ingredients.

Another thing that happened is I started sewing. Not with a sewing machine, which I’ve done before, not very much or very successfully, but with a plain old needle and thread. It all started when I was innocently cruising Twitter, and one of my knitting friends, Misa, posted a photo of some garments she had made. I went from “not having Alabama Chanin on my radar at all” to “completely obsessed” in about 24 hours. I’ve since heard that happens to a lot of crafters.

That’s right, each leaf shape is hand-stitched and then cut out for reverse applique. Not as torturous as it sounds.

I bought a kit to make this skirt and then soon afterwards I bought All The Books. Since a couple years ago I set an intention to get rid of clothes I don’t wear, and to (try to) only bring in new clothes if they were handmade by me or someone else, or previously used (except for maybe shoes and underwear. Handmade shoes are nice but expensive, and I don’t want to make or wear anyone else’s unmentionables.) so, Hooray! This recycled T-shirt stuff fits both criteria. After the initial skirt, I made a short sleeve T-shirt, with stenciled appliqued lettuce leaves–

Decorative as well as edible.

I took a photo of a leaf of lettuce I grew, traced it and made a stencil out of it.

Very lettuce-y. And, yes, I do own an iron, but I hate to use it.

I found this more satisfying than trying to use my hand-drawn stencils. My drawing skills have gotten super-rusty, and nothing was looking as good in real life as it did in my head–a corset-tank top,

I kinda forgot the part about binding the armholes and neckline.

a short tunic,

Love the visible seams with contrasting thread.

another t-shirt, with more embroidery and even beads,

This became a staple of my “uniform.”

an embroidered dress which did not fit so I decided to find someone who it did fit and give it to them,

All of the my cute, random embroidery on the bodice made it not-so-stretchy, just like the books said it would. Hmmph. Oh well, good practice.

another try at an embroidered dress which still did not fit…

It started out so promising.

I’ve never been a big fan of the “measure twice, cut once” idea, but the skirt was wearable, so really only the top part is scrapped. I have big plans for a long-sleeve orange, green and black top and long skirt set and a brown hoodie. And, oh yeah, I made a couple headbands, a book cover, and I am about halfway through a king-size reversible duvet cover made from many squares of dark red and blue t-shirts. I cut  12″, 6″ and 4″ squares with no plan for how they would fit together. It all worked out, and the second side will be nicer than the first. I worked on it quite a bit during the summer and have put it in the closet for now. Too much knitting to do.

In the midst of all of this sewing, I realized that it would be really smart to sew the prototypes for new knitting designs, to check out size and shape and see if the pieces would really work before investing all of the knitting time.

This piece is currently being translated into knitted yarn.

This was definitely a good idea, since even cutting out and hand-sewing a scarfy thing only takes a day or so, where the knitting would be weeks.

Another great idea came from my friend Jennifer, who turned me on to the bulk Goodwill. It is even cheaper than the regular Goodwill, which is where I had been getting my t-shirts.

They switch bins every 2 hours or so. Makes for a long and exciting day!

Jennifer and I went there one Saturday, and I scored a crapload of t-shirts, a brand new pair of Doc Marten’s shoes (see intention above), some clothing I will actually wear rather than cut up, and some other household stuff.

I also got a well-loved copy of Harry the Dirty Dog, one of my childhood favorites!

Everything is 59 cents a pound if you have 50 pounds or more. You can combine your haul with that of your friend  or just partner up with another shopper even if you don’t know them.

Rather a civilized crowd. This is the only shopping I dared do this close to Christmas.

Our total bill was around $52. Jennifer got some great stuff to repurpose for her own wardrobe and for other crafty uses, including a few cashmere sweaters.

Jennifer’s haul. We both reassessed and “threw back” at least 2 times, so it could have been worse!

I think her tailoring skills are way better than mine, but it doesn’t need to be difficult. See this blog that she also clued me in on.

Some of my purchases ended up in the garden. This was actually going to be the entire blog post, until I started thinking about all of my experimenting and realized it is a much bigger subject, and very interconnected, for me at least. One of my alternative healthcare practitioners is a really good gardener, and I had set another intention this year to grow more of our own food, so I always have an ear for any tips that can make this work better

Yeah, I really thought it was fine to plant peas, peppers, eggplant, beans, and more in this one 4 x 4 foot bed. Later in the summer, I realized it was a little crowded. Also, my container tomatoes and thai chilis were a bust.

My failed garden experiments are too numerous to list, but let’s just say I’ve learned valuable lessons from the mistakes of last season and have done slightly more planning than before, and will make full use of companion planting strategies to discourage pests. The brilliant idea was to take the plastic containers that you get when you buy organic greens at the store, or really any clear containers, and turn them upside down over your own growing lettuce and other hardy greens, like a fake cold frame, Genius. Also genius for beginning gardeners like me, this.

I had a ton of lettuce in the spring. I just love super-fresh greens (even made a T-shirt! See above. Told you it is all interconnected!) and even when the weather got so hot and the lettuce turned bitter I cooked it and ate it (see need for new recipes, above.)

Greens gone to flower. I wondered if they might reseed themselves, but I put other plants in this bed after the lettuce was spent.

I now hate to buy when I can make (more on that later,) and so I replanted in August. But then a bunny came to live in our yard for a while–he was so not afraid of the dog–and I think he ate all of my second planting. My guy said with the cold frames as protection, you could plant in October. Sounded like a plan to me. So after I put in my garlic for next year, right after Columbus day in my area (garlic lesson learned last year–don’t harvest it until 4th of July) I sprinkled some spinach and lettuce and maybe kale seeds in my raised bed and topped them with my nice glass and sturdy plastic containers from the bulk Goodwill. The greens grew and seemed happy, but they didn’t get big enough to eat before the weather turned wintry. Darn it!  Then between X-mas and New Years it snowed, and snowed again. Maybe about 6 inches total piled up, enough so that I had to dig some paths in the snow so my little dog would do her business out in the yard instead of right on the deck.

Not a big fan of winter, that Rooney.

I can’t really blame her, I wouldn’t want to put my bare butt so close the frozen ground either. Well, the point of all this is to show you what I found when I decided to uncover the bowls on Jan 3, This!

Safe from predators and seemingly well-insulated.

On the left are 8 or so inches of garlic growth.

If you’ve read this far, then you are procrastinating super-bored way into all of this just like I am, so I will tell you about some other experimenting I’ve been doing.  I get bummed out now to think about all of the chemicals in products we are sold, and I figured the less toxins the better since I’ve had some digestive issues for the last year (worst part of the change of life for me/hence the alternative healthcare practitioners) and I come from a long line of very frugal Maine yankees, so I love to cut costs and I love to make-my-own-whatever.  Riffing off of these wonderful online recipes, I’ve made laundry detergent, fabric softener, deodorant, toothpaste, and body butter.

What are the best ideas you’ve acted on lately?

Blog About Something!

That’s what it said in my calendar for today, and since my calendar is the boss of me, that’s what I’m doing.  After talking with Gabby about how it’s been 1000 years since I did a post, I decided to just do something, rather than try to make it the perfect blog with perfect posts. I really have had a lot of blogworthy adventures this year–I even took pictures sometimes. I’ve traveled, I’ve made things, cooked things, I gardened, I have a cute dog who doesn’t mind modeling knitwear or helping with a yarn photo shoot.

Well, she doesn’t mind *much.*

So why don’t I blog more regularly? I don’t know.

So, even though I missed a lot of opportunities while the experiences were fresh, I won’t try to start from the beginning. Maybe I’ll go back and cover some past events later. Maybe not.

This blog post will be about Rhinebeck 2012. This is the 3rd year I have gone to the NY Sheep and Wool Festival, and it is such a great time! If you have never been, please think about celebrating this big yarn holiday with us next year. I go to my share of wool shows, and this one stands out for many reasons.

It is the prettiest. Because it is in the fall, leaf-peeping and knit-peeping is very satisfying.

It has the best food. Not only is there a whole building for food and wine (and wine pushers who offer you free tastes first thing in the AM) but the food booths crank out some righteous stuff, not just hot dogs and fried whatevers. I ate lamb ravioli with garlicky spinach and a lamb kebob sandwich, greens and beans from the artichoke people, fresh donuts and cider (a daily must-have,) yummy apples, crazy-good cheese, jerky, and ghost chili sauce on a chip. Watch Steven’s blog for more about this last item, I expect. We also went out to this wonderful little restaurant for a fantastic dinner Saturday night.

I have a standing date to travel to this show with my friend Steven. 3 years ago, we discovered that we are very compatible in a fair setting, so now we are festival buddies. We’ve also hung out at Maryland Sheep and Wool, another biggie. We both like to eat, drink, sing, laugh, and not have such a strict agenda at the show that is feels over-structured. We don’t have to run to get in line at any of the most sought after vendor booths, although we will often saunter over to those booths to look at the people in line, and comment on whether or not the stuff is all it’s cracked up to be. This year there was even one building that we did not enter, and both of us were fine with that. Steven did his second annual successful “Nips With Steven” photo essay, and he got some all-star participants, and really fun shots this time. My favorites are Angela behind the tree and Anne Hanson taking the second nip of the day at the Briar Rose booth.

Last year I waited too long to make the hotel reservations, and we ended up staying in not the nicest hotel that was about an hour away from the fairgrounds. This year, we got invited to stay in a rented house with 11 other really cool knitting friends. This really made the weekend even more terrific. Sonya remarked that being downstairs and listening to the laugh track from the kitchen upstairs was cool. I got to ogle a lot of tremendous knitting, I spun a little bit and showed some of my housemates how I like to work with washed fleece, and I learned a lot of interesting facts and crafting tips from everyone.

Now, the house where we stayed was lovely, but a little quirky. Check it out…

There were many fabulous features to the house, and nice Art, but I didn’t photograph any of that.

We yarn bombed many of the critters. They looked chilly.

We did some group photos.

I mostly took pictures of animals at the fair. Last year there were kangaroos, even a baby. Lemurs are my favorite.

And sheep are also my favorite. I might like lemurs a little more, but you are not allowed to pet them in this setting.

These felted birdhouses were a smashing idea.

I thought maybe I would make some using all of my various fleeces in my collection, but now that I am back to reality I realize I will probably never do any wet felting. I should have bought one. I did buy some handwoven kitchen towels, batts and a little yarn from Cris and James (love them!) at Into the Whirled, and some sheep -themed Art from the very talented Gene Matras. Last year Steven and I both bought some greeting cards from him, spurred on by a sign in his booth that read “One small purchase is worth a thousand compliments.” How true. It was the perfect reminder that we need to buy this stuff, not just look, to help support the makers of Handmade and preserve some of these crafts.

Now to make “blog something else” a calendar item. See you soon, I hope. I think I’ll do a sales-y blog next about some gorgeous new stuff from Noni Designs. Here’s the teaser…

Feverishly Knitting

I’m working on knitted samples for the JUL Topografie pattern series for TNNA in June ( we finally made  the collection available for Ravelry In-Store sales and direct download–yay!) and can’t keep my hands off of the Yarn Hollow yarns.  I’m working on at least 4 projects at once, all straighforward stitching, and I’m really enjoying letting the yarn and Rita’s (Rita Petteys, the incredible dyer) fantastic colors do most of the work.

Before I tease you with the close-up ohotos, here’s a little side project.  I am determined not to miss Spring, and all its yumminess this year.  Two years ago I was traveling quite a bit and neglected my yard so much so that a weed grew as tall as a tree and I had to go buy a saw to chop it down.  I built a garden loom out of it, which was my first weaving ever.  Later I bought a potholder loom, and now I have a rigid heddle, and have learned how to dress a Louet Spring floor loom, but more about that on another post.  Last year, it got warm really quickly, and I was late with vegetable plantings.  I got about 28 individual peas and one or two green tomatoes at the end of the season.  Plus I missed almost all of my iris blooms.  This year, I vow to be literally and figuratively more present with the amazing living things in my household–including husband, dog, cats, neighborhood birds, and plants.

My yard gets a lot of violets, and I decided to harvest some before things got too hot or they all got mowed.  I sneaked violet blossoms and leaves into a few salads.  I did not previously know you could eat the leaves.  They don’t have much taste but they are apparently good for you, and I decided they count as dark leafy greens.  I got to thinking about infusions, thanks to the popularity of our chamomile tea-infused grappa we brought to our “traditional” Good Friday homemade hooch extravaganza.

I decided on vinegar, and used a milder rice wine vinegar to go with the floral notes.  I also made some fresh chive vinegar, but we ate it already, so I can’t show you that.  It was great on sauteed dandelion greens and also asparagus.  Enough buildup?  I think so.  Here’s what I started with…

Aren’t they beautiful?  I’m also quite impressed with my new fancy smartphone, which I used to take these photos and the drooly yarn glamour shots to follow.  I have not even played with many of the settings, but it did nicely with these close-ups.And here’s what I had after the jar spent a couple days in the dark pantry.

Here the blossoms are still pink, and the vinegar is a lovely fuschia.

Here , a little more than a week later, the petals have lost most of their color to the vinegar.  I wonder if violets would dye fiber?  I also wonder how the delicate flavor of the flowers will come through in the vinegar.  And, to circle around, wouldn’t violet infused grappa be gorgeous for our 1st inaugural Halloween downtown cocktail session?  I wonder if the booze would so overpower the flowers that it would be all show and no dough.  Only one way to find out.  More flower harvesting later today before it’s too late.

OK, on to the yarn.  For Fall I am designing and knitting primarily in Mountain Meadow Wool and a few Yarn Hollow bases, and have chosen several semi solids for our pallette.

First there is the Brocade (60% Merino, 40% Tussah silk, 500 yds in 8 oz, also available in 250 yard skeins) in Tangerine.

 Rita does really good oranges, and looking at and knitting with this yarn made me wish more people liked to wear orange.  It is the Pantone color of 2012, so maybe more people are seeing it and trying it on, with good results.  I can’t remember if I look good in orange or not.

Wow, with the phone camera set on close up, you can really see all of the individual fibers in the single ply yarn, and that the silk stays white, although it is so well-blended with the wool, that it talkes a really close look to show the lack of dye.  Overall, the color is really saturated and the yarn is luxurious to the touch and to the eyes.

I also love the stitch definition of this single ply.  This is a new sample for a design called Moraine Surround, that originally debuted at the winter TNNA in Phoenix.  I first did it in Mountain Meadow Wool’s Sheridan, a 3 ply bulky Merino.  I do like the more rustic look of the Sheridan, but so far, the pattern has not made much of an impression on anyone, so I’m going to give the design a new treatment with the opulent Brocade and see if it helps.  I’m also getting out of my muted color comfort zone.  The yarn is pretty “crisp” though still soft and shiny, and will be quite warm if it is wrapped around a couple times.

Here is a taste of Yarn Hollow Photograph, a worsted weight 100% Blue Faced Leicester wool.  It is also soft, warm and shiny, and I went up a needle size from my original choice so as not to suffocate the bloom of the yarn.  This will be a new design, tentatively called Palsa Circuit, in 500 yds of the colorway Slate Blue.

In the morning shade on my back deck the color reads much more blue than at other times, when it goes much more grey–my favorite–and this effect may have been intensified by all of the green stuff in the yard lending a cooler reflection.

You can see the fuzziness of this fiber.  Only a few of those strands are likely to be cat hair.  This photo really shows the shine and depth of color in this true semi-solid.  where sometimes I really like very round yarns for textured knitting, because of the sharper stitch definition, I think I will like Palsa in a more subtle releif.  I’ll also do another model in two colorways of Brocade.

Here is some more Photofraph, showing some detail of another new design, “Range,” which will be published soon.  So far I have knit 3 of these, in different yarns and sizes.  I think this will be one of those patterns that can work in any type and amount of yarn.  It all came from an idea that planted itself in my head about how to make a hat, knit flat, with assymetrical increase angles.  The idea wouldnt go away until I tried it, although it seems to want to be a scarf or wrap right now, rather than a hat.

Range is one of those designs like Drumlin Enclose, that gets me a lot of compliments when I wear it, from non-knitters even more so than other knitters.  It is so simple, will be a great show of so many special yarns, and will lend itself to numerous modification options.  I can’t wait to unveil it.  I like it best in 2 or 3 colors, and it will be a good use for my beginner handspun.  This version is in Photograph, in 3 warm brown colorways, Cocoa, Truffle, and Brick, that are really close to each other in value–at least I think that is the right color descriptive word.  I forget all that color theory stuff, if I ever really learned it in the first place.

Look at that shine and depth and fuzz!

Here’s the same shot, cropped a few times.  Interesting…

That will make a good background on my phone or something.

Here’s a better view of the 3 colorways.  They are really close, and I think again that the overall effect will be more sublte, owing to the colors and the bloom of the yarn.

And then I have some shots of the same pattern in Yarn Hollow’s Tor Worsted, a 210 yds in 4 oz, superwash merino.  This model is more dramatic, since it uses way more yardage than the other ones I have done, and I went with two contrasting colors, instead of 3 colors that really blend together.

It is 2 skeins of the aptly named Mushroom and nearly 4 skeins of Plum, so it is at least 1200 yds of knitted fabric.  Much longer and heavier than the other samples, and I can’t wait to see it photographed on a model for the pattern.

This shot gives you a better look at the plum.  I will admit that I made the piece a little fuzzier by giving it a couple turns in the dryer.  I really wanted it to be done for a photo shoot and it would not air dry fast enough.  I don’t recommend machine drying for this yarn, although it is superwash.  It’s not ruined or anything, but I didn’t do the piece any favors.

Well, in between working on this post, I went out to the middle eastern grocery and also picked the rest of my violets, so maybe I will have more food related posts in the near future.  In the meantime, if this yarn looks delicious to you, tell the owner of your LYS to give me a call to get the line into their shop.  Everyone should have a chance to experience these wonderful yarns and to enjoy Rita’s talent with color.

Andrea

Spring Comes to my Corner of the World

This week I’m in balmy Maryland, where daffodils are already blooming in force, and it has been sunny and 60 degrees–great walking weather, and my dog friend, Sweety and I are enjoying it.

Plus, there are these little guys

This morning we (well, I) saw a bald eagle flying right overhead.  The first one I’ve ever seen–it was so cool!–but a little smaller than I expected.

Last week I crossed Ohio a couple times, and in northwestern Indiana I saw some signs of the approaching spring, seems like a little earlier this year than the last couple, and noticeable even at 65 mph.  Here they are…

Pairs of Sandhill Cranes in farmers’ fields.  Two years ago, when I saw them for the first time, I thought they must be aliens, and then as I got closer, I wondered why that farmer had two emus on the farm.  Then I  looked them up and realized they were cranes.  Now I look for them.

Ducks and Canada Geese just chilling in small ponds, pairing up and getting ready to nest?

On the side of many highways and county roads, hawks, and feral cats.  My theory is that they are taking advantage of the movement of rodents who have been displaced by early season tilling of fields.  I saw 3 black cats in 30 minutes of driving, and a pile of red tailed hawks.

Also on the side of the road, several coyote, unfortunately dead.  I am not sure if they hibernate or are just thinking about mating, but they are really bad at crossing the road.  Ditto for the poor, stinky, smashed skunks all over the place.

Tinged red and gold twigs on treetops, getting ready to bud.

High winds but not too cold (not under 40 degrees) tells me these are springy winds, although there still might be some wintry storms coming through.

A wee bit of green in lawns and some fields.  At home I have two yellow crocus and some other green shoots.  I’ll have to make time to walk around the yard when I’m home, so I don’t miss everything.  Another sure sign is Rooney spending more time outside in the warmest parts of the yard!

Chloe

Chloe

4 year old female, spayed, declawed. Short-haired, light-colored tortoiseshell / calico mix.

Chloe is social and friendly to people, talkative, and will want to be with you as you sit on the coach, sleep on the bed, or hang out with you wherever you are. She purrs loudly. Chloe likes to meet and visit with new people who come to your home.  She diligently stakes out the front door each morning waiting for the mail so she can play with it as it comes through the mail slot.

Chloe needs to live in a household without other pets as she does not interact well with other animals. She also needs to be in an environment where her food is controlled  as she needs to lose some weight.

We are looking to find a home for Chloe with people who will be able to accommodate these special needs and will enjoy her unique personality.

She is a 100% indoor cat.

Contact Linda at shoestep@verizon.net.

Some Scenes from the Road and Everyday Teachers

I keep thinking about doing a little blog series about the things I’ve learned by being on the road so much.  I see a lot of neat scenes, of course visit wonderful yarn shops, and have great (and sometimes deep) realizations as a result of all my lovely Alone Time.  I am not a big picture-taker, and some of the shots I do take can only be described as random.

Gorgeous purple beans planted outside a yarn shop in Indiana. You can see my new car in the picture. Of course I never did my Part 2 of the car-buying blog post either!

I was highly gratified to find another (famous!) road-warrior’s blog entry containing her own random, yet interesting noteworthy items.  It was neat to realize that there are others out there who value the little surprises life gives you and prefer the county roads to the interstates.

I pulled off of 80 in Central Ohio to take in a pretty scene. Because of the glare on my Xoom tablet screen, it took me a few tries to capture it successfully in the late afternoon, mid-autumn slanting light.

That's a little better.

That's more like it.

For the possible Travels with YarnSuperhero series, I even have a list of categories for topics, including Eating, Driving, Lodging, Packing/Traveling Light, Must-Have Gadgetry, and General Supplies and Conveniences.  I’m not sure if a blog dedicated to how I am adapting to so much solo car travel will be entertaining to anyone but me.  Really it might not even keep me engaged. Short attention span, don’t you know.  I recently sent a newsletter out to my customer base with project ideas for some yarns in my lines.  It was getting long, so I capped it off where I was and called it Part 1.  Will there ever be a Part 2?  I don’t know.  There are so many ideas to be had, and only some of them will ever get realized, much less completed, before I am on to newer and shinier.  Look, a squirrel!  Oh well, what’s another WIP or UFO?

Still mostly grass, but you get what I was going for.

I was surprised that over the past several weeks, I heard from 3 people who had found me online and had read my blog.  I kind of thought only my mom read it.  All 3 of these folks wanted to talk to me about different facets of the yarn business, and I liked sharing my observations, opinions, and experiences.  I hope it worked for them too.  One talk was especially valuable for me.  As I blabbed an overview of my YarnSuperhero career and some of my normal activities, I heard in my own voice how happy I am and how thankful I am for simple pleasures, found along the way.

I love the light in the fall, and the colors of the fields help me mark time.

Anyway, I’m just going to slap up some randomness and hope that maybe that will kickstart a blog mini-series.  Perhaps there are some people who don’t get out much and will get to see some of the great unknown.  I guess one of my favorite parts of this all is that I (literally) never know what I’m going to see around the next corner.

Or who I will be meeting, or how we will connect.  I have made some really fantastic new friends.  Many of them are multitalented creatives, and we are all small businesspeople trying to make it work.  I’m in an industry where there are WAY more hugs than handshakes happening at the big trade shows.  People help each other “just because,” and there is true collaboration.  I know people who I love to talk to and learn from–I get smarter just by being around them, it seems.

Lots of Riding Off Into the Sunset, these days.

Of course, you don’t have to leave home to find great teachers.  On my way out of town last week, I stopped at my favorite Indian grocery to pick up some spices I ran out of and get a couple bags of dried mangoes (great road snack–if I ever do the “Food on the Road” post, I have a long, delicious list.)  J. is the guy who is always working there when I go.  I am not sure if he is the owner, but I do know that he is turning into a great teacher for me.  Does he help me find strange and new (to me) ingredients?  Recipe ideas?  Sure, but that’s the easy stuff.

He teaches me about generosity.  In fact, almost every time I am really curious about something I see in his store that I have never seen before, he gives it to me.  That’s right.  His business is to sell his goods, yet he has given me things for free on several occasions, even when I remind him that I don’t mind paying, and after all he is not in the free food business.  Once, after checking out and chatting a little, I was on my way out and spied some interesting looking plum cakes.  I found out they were house-made and I said I would have to try one next time.  J. actually chased me out the door to give me one to take home.  A whole cake, not just a free sample bite, like you sometimes get at the bigger grocery stores.  He chased and I ran away, trying not to let him give it to me.  So he is also teaching me about accepting gifts.  He told me “Food is for sharing.”

One of my favorite "landmarks" on I-80, The House on the Pond.

So the day of bay leaves and dried mangoes, I mentioned that I was about to hit the road for Connecticut, to visit some yarn shops and spend a few days with my best friend, Julie.  J. said he did not like that drive because it was so long.  I told him that it is a decent haul, but that I really did not mind stretches of time in the car, because they offer a lot of uninterrupted thinking time.  J. said “What is there to think about?  Everything is perfect.  Don’t think too much.”

Here’s the house on a sunnier day, maybe a month earlier than the foggy photo above.  Thank goodness for Google, and my hotel’s free wifi.  You hardly need to know anything for your search to be successful…

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”

“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”

 Marcel Proust

My 2011 Rhinebeck Adventure

 

This little guy was so cute, and seemed a manageable size for my Pittsburgh city lot.

My 2nd annual pilrimage to Rhinebeck was thouroughly enjoyable.  I saw friends, including Steven, Yvonne, Laura, Anne Beckie, and Susan Jess, and I made some new friends, some of whom qualify for “Awesome Famous Knitter” designation.

My only yarn purchase...80/10/10 SW Merino, Cashmere, Nylon sock yarn from Into the Whirled, in the Ritual colorway--Yum!

I bought cool stuff–just a few things–I’ll make sure to get more glamour shots later.

Brunch, Day 1, repeated on Day 2

This was my first Scorpion Bowl, shared with Steven. We didn't finish it since it was so sweet, and didn't contain much hooch, after all.

I ate delicious food.  We want to Yobo right near our hotel, in kind-of-far-away Newburgh.  Pretty good local places for bagels and pizza in and around Rhinebeck.  I also ate a few nice lamb dishes at the festival, tasted and bought cheese, and I summoned up the courage to try the hottest hot sauce ever from Wild Coyote Sauces, yogurt smoothie antidote at the ready.  I did not buy that one to take home, but got the next one down the spice insanity scale.  Buggy has been putting it on everything.

Can't remember if these were Pygora or just regular Mohair goats, but I wanted a couple. Much nicer than dairy goats, from what the farm-man said.

I saw sheep and goats, and even took more pictures than usual.

And there were lemurs!  I love lemurs.

And a baby kangaroo, which I had never seen before.  I also love things I have never seen before.

The fleece show will really take it out of you, won't it Yoda?

And I saw Yoda.  I love Yoda.  And I’d never seen him in person before.  He looked tired, although still in complete unity with The Force.

I hung out and did fibery things with a group of incredibly talented, impressively smart people at an amazing rented house.  I was part of Steven’s photo essay “Nips With Steven.”  ART.  He does not edit photos, unfortunately.  His shots are all good, but I could do without some of the realism.  My hair is fine (okay, fabulous!) but the belly…

Best Rhinebeck Sweater:  This by Misa Erder.

I had to come back the next day. I *had* to!

Great branding and packaging (although you can't really get a sense of the colors through the plastic.)

Most irresistable booth:  For me anyway.  There were long lines and crowds at the Usual Suspects, but I fell in love with the colors at Into the Whirled.  Kim told us to go there, and she always knows what’s cool.

Good thing this was hung up out of my reach, is all I'm sayin'.

Best Sample:  In the Fiber Optic booth.  Steven said she dyed and handspun the fiber, then knitted this.  Are you kidding me?

Fuzzy Sheep Butts.

And, I did not buy a fleece.  I even gave some of mine away.  Can’t wait for wool festival season to come around again!

See you next year at Rhinebeck!

 

Visit to Connecticut

Really?  August 3 is the last time I blogged?  How lame.  Not that I’ve been crafting the perfect blog post in my head either.

I have been doing some things, and some of them have been blog-worthy.  I can’t seem to remember all of the worthy.  Did I take pictures?  Not of everything.  So, I’ve emailed myself a bunch of photos from my phone and other device, and I will throw something together, just to get things going again.  It will probably be better to make multiple posts, than one super long one about unrelated stuff.  Then I will vow to take a lot of pictures at my next exciting event and put it in my calendar to blog about it.  We’ll see if that works.  I’m never one to take a lot of pictures on vacation or anything.  I figure I’d rather fully experience what’s going on and that hopefully some memories will survive in my brain on their own.  But a lot of my stuff now really benefits from the show, not just the tell.  So I need to get better at recording what I am seeing.

In early mid September, I went to see my best friend Julie.

Julie has a good house for "Doing Nothing."

This is Julie's "backyard."

We went to high school together and she is still in the small group of folks who really “get” me.  It was nice to talk and hang out, but one of the things I enjoyed the most was watching the Fiddler Crabs come out of their holes and eat at low tide (sorry, no pictures of this.)  I even saw a crab fight.  Julie is really good at photography, and she also takes a lot of pictures when something cool is going on, like when we went up to my Mom’s farm one beautiful day.

We saw my sister Rach,

with fabulous hair.  I was jealous that mine looked too long, I have since cut it a couple times.

And my Mom, also with fabulous hair.

Getting some Rooney love.

It was nice to see my Mom’s sheep.

They all came over to the fence to greet us.  I swear, it had nothing to do with my Mom offering them candy.

I didn't even know sheep liked Hot Tamales.

My Boston Terrier, Rooney, was quite interested in them, and they in her, apparently.  I don’t think they knew she was a dog.

I might be a Therapy Dog, but you really look delicious.

I knew it!

If loving you is wrong, I don't want to be right.

"I just wanted to taste the wool a little bit."

Rooney thoroughly enjoyed the visit.

My brother was there in the beginning, but he had to go to work.  Too bad for him, he could not be a part of all this glamour.

It was a really nice day!  Stay tuned for more posts, and there will be some yarn action soon, too!

Blocking Day

I have to confess that I did not block any of my knitting until probably 2008.  I am a self-taught knitter and had been mostly a solo practitioner, so I wasn’t getting the helpful hints from better knitters that I look for now.  I just made stuff and put it on.  Then I knit a fair-isle hat and my stitches were so uneven, and bad-looking, I really did not care for my results.  I must have seen someone’s blocking success on Ravelry or elsewhere on the internet.  So I tried it.  It really helped.  Since then it has been a finishing step I never skip.

Now that I am in the yarn business, I find it necessary to knit a lot of samples to show (and sometimes loan, or give) to shops to help them sell the yarn they order from my Creative Partners.  Like many stitchers, I have way too many projects going at one time, but eventually some of them are completed, and need to be blocked so that they can look and feel their best.

I have used a lot of wool wash, and my favorite is from one of the companies I represent, the Unicorn Fibre Wash and Rinse.

For most fibers, I find that I like to rinse out all of the cleaning products, so even though it is a multi-step process, I don’t mind the extra time and effort.  It’s kind of like when you wash your hair–you lather and rinse with shampoo (I never have to “repeat”) and then apply conditioner and rinse.  Sometimes if my hair is really dry, or too straight, I will leave the conditioner in.  Depending on the yarn, sometimes I do want to use a leave-in product, and for that I choose Soak–I also sell this product through Louet.  Many shops carry more than one wool wash, and many spinners and knitters have different uses for different cleaning products, depending on the stage of their project.

So here’s some of what I did this last hot Sunday…

I knit this rectangle out of 4 skeins of Mountain Meadow Wool’s Sheridan, a 3-ply bulky natural, minimally processed merino.  This yarn is a treat to use.  Very bouncy with a lot of body.  I recently found out that Mountain Meadow Wool uses Unicorn Fibre Products at their mill.  There are several good reasons for this, including the earth-friendliness of the products, the efficient work they do, which means less time and utilities used, and the great customer service from Anna, Pino, and Melanie at Unicorn headquarters.

Anyway, you can see that the ribbing is pulling in and the piece does not want to be flat and even (not yet.)  What you can’t see is the rustic feel of the wool.  Not that it is not soft, but since the gals at Mountain Meadow Wool don’t want to over-process the natural merino, it is not super-soft.  This piece will be outerwear, but after the Unicorn Wash and Rinse have done their magic, all of the “prickle factor” will have been abated, and I this wool would be fine for next to the skin wear,as seen here where our model is wearing the Morning On The River Kimono, also out of Mountain Meadow Wool’s Sheridan, over just a tank top.

My goal for this piece is a little more drape, although I knit it pretty densely so I can use the Jul Closures.  I also wanted the stitch pattern to look nicer, and for the piece to be flat and rectangular.

I have a couple tubs and pails from the dollar store that I use for washing fleeces and soaking my finished knitting, but for smaller pieces I will often just use a glass bowl.  There are really great tubs that I might get later, Carrie and Phil (get it?)  I don’t like to just use the sink with a stopper in it since the water can be taken outside and used to water my plants instead of just going down the drain.  Plus, then I would have to make sure my sink was really clean, and that is not my idea of a good time.   I fill up my small tub with warm water

and then just a little bit of the Fibre Wash, just enough to get a little bit of suds going.  It takes a some experimentation to find out just how much product to use for different jobs, but, in general, remember that a little really goes a long way.  In my travels it surprises me how many knitters think you can only put wool in cold water.  Warm and even hot temperatures are fine to use.  It helps the soaps perform better, and as long as you don’t agitate, your piece should not felt or shrink.

I then take the tub outside and put the knitting into the suds.  Sometimes I let it sink down on it’s own, but usually I help it submerge into the water with a little push.

Next, I go do something else.  I think in this case, I mowed the lawn, until our electric mower died.  Now I have partially mowed grass and there’s a new lawnmower on its way.  I let the piece soak for a good long while.  I want all of the fiber to be completely wet.  Then I dump out the water, and do a clean water rinse, a second soak in Fibre Rinse (really good for adding softness, combatting static electricity, and lends a nice, light scent.)  Then another clean water rinse, and I’m ready to get the water out and let this guy dry to measurements.

My beautiful assistant, Rooney, helps–or is she supervising?  I am careful to support the wet wool as much as I can.  It is heavy from soaking up so much water, and I don’t want gravity to stretch out any parts of the piece too much.

To me, the stitches already look more uniform and more “relaxed.”  To get more water out, gentle squeezing is fine, wringing is not.

I roll the piece up in a towel out on the deck (if it is cold out, the bathtub would work too) and then I step on it.

You can see that quite a bit of water is still coming out.  Next, I arrange the piece as nicely as I can on my blocking boards.  For lace, and garments with more shaping (like sweater parts)  I will usually use my t-pins.  For this piece, I just patted it into place as well as I could and used my yardstick to try to make the edges more straight and to help ensure evenness of length and width.

I also gave all of these “traveling” stitches a little pinch to help them stand out from the rest of the background textures.  One of the great things about wool is its memory, and “micro-blocking” at the individual stitch level can really yield nice results.  Don’t be afraid to put those pattern repeats and even individual stitches right where you want them!

Not 100% straight, but much flatter.

And I can really see the stitch pattern better, which I love.  Once dry, I weave in the ends and set the piece aside until I am ready to round up a model and get some photos of the garment in action.

The other piece I finished this weekend is my Avery Cowl, a really fun and beautiful FREE pattern by Kate Gagnon Osbourne, in The Fibre Company’s new delicious yarn, Acadia.  These shots are pre-blocking, and the cowl is not laying flat, and I can’t really see the structure of the Frost Flowers lace pattern as well as I would like.  Also, I want to make sure all of the dye comes out of the piece, so it doesn’t rub off on clothing or skin later.

So back to the sink and another tub full of Fibre Wash.

Then later, clean water rinse and another Fibre Rinse Soak.  You can kind of see that the water looks just a little cloudy.  Not much dye was released in the rinse, but I can be sure what was in there is out and maybe took some dirt and oils from my skin along with it.  I do think there is a noticeable difference in the color.  Kind of reminds me of Poomboy.

Ah, much more defined with the stitch pattern.  Great soft feel,

and because the stitches are laying nicely, I can really notice the silk noils in the Acadia.  With this fiber blend (60% merino, 20% baby alpaca and 20% silk) I would only use a rinse-out product, since I do not like to leave any cleaner residue on the softest, fluffiest fibers.

I could have been more “aggressive” with this blocking job.  I may redo it and pin it out so that I can open up the lace even more.  You can see the curve of the edges, and I think I will want that to be a little more pronounced and regular.  Not having the last finishing touches done will not stop me from wearing this piece once the weather cools, and I will most likely reblock this in a couple months when I am sitting bored in my hotel room somewhere.

I am now a confirmed believer in blocking every piece of knitting.  What are your preferences for wool wash, and helpful hints for blocking?

Trying to Buy: part 1

Did you know that there are many, many spellings for shyster?  That right there tells me that there are too many unscrupulous business people out there, maybe especially in sales.  “Sales” does not have to mean slimy.  Salespeople are not all liars, tying to trick you.  Sales can be about helping everyone get what they want and need.  That’s how I try to do things anyway.  I’ve been in sales since 2000, and I always try to do the Right Thing.  I know there are more out there like me.  But I’m trying to buy a car.  This means I will be face to face with the infamous figure, perhaps a shadow archetype–The Car Salesman.

My poor trusty 2001 Kia Sportage.

It started up for me every time (except the Cat and Vulture day, but that is another car-related post) and really never caused any trouble.  I have put 70,000 miles on it over the last two years, in my YarnSuperhero travels, and the Sportage is about done.  We bought it after renting one on a trip, and when I found one slightly used, it was the most I had spent on a car up to that point, but I felt like I got a pretty good deal.  It’s been paid off for several years–I love the absence of a car payment and wanted the Sportage to last forever.  Now, though, the gas mileage is pretty bad, I don’t really need an SUV, and repairs are getting more frequent and more serious…and more expensive.  So my husband and I “ran the numbers” and found that I would save money if I could get a newer, more reliable car with more reasonable fuel costs.  Now, to look for a car.  It had been a little while.  Kind of exciting, but kind of a chore, and really, kind of scary.  Is it really possible to get a fair deal when you purchase a car?    I’m finding the whole process fascinating, although not really in a good way.  So, here it is on the blog, what’s happened so far and the eventual outcome, which right now, no one knows.  How exciting!

Here’s how this works in my family.  Keith does the home work and I do the legwork.  Keith has not accompanied me to a car dealership since 1997 when we bought a new VW Golf.  I do not do so well with a lot of details, but I do actually like the “belly to belly” negotiation stage.  It’s a little thrilling.  Keith likes to have a very solid, and well-reasoned plan before he does anything.  I like to think of an idea and start doing it about one second later.  Keith seems to like to be able to predict outcomes as much as possible, and he’s quite good at it.  I like to see how things unfold.  Hmm.  Probably when it comes to a thousands-of-dollars decision, better to let him take the reins on this one.

I did manage to do a cursory bit of internet research and found I had a few choices that worked as far as price range, cargo space, gas mileage, and reliability.  We looked at used vehicles first, but then I learned that there were a couple cars in my range that I could get new, and then I would have the full factory warantee and would know exactly what I was getting.

Dealership One:

This place is nearest to my house and I had taken the Sportage there for service a few times and always felt like I was treated well and fairly.  They even have a shuttle van that would drop me at home or at happy hour at my local Belgian beer place.  My husband and I had met the owner of the dealership once or twice, and he seemed like a good enough guy.

Monday I sat down with Mike, the sales guy.  This was still when I was thinking pre-owned was the way I would go.  Mike was actually the person who suggested we think about a new car, and told me that he thought the base model Kia Soul would be a good fit for my needs.

I was happy to know that my credit is excellent and we worked up a deal that I thought was pretty good.  A note about me:  I always expect the best of people, and I believe that if I am straight with them, they will be straight with me.  I know this is naive, but even if I could change this about myself, I wouldn’t want to.  Also, I am very optimistic.  A friend once told me I was not a glass half-full kind of person, I was an overflowing glass person.  Sometimes I wonder if I annoy people by always looking for the bright side.  And also, I don’t like things to take very long.  Once I decide what I want, I want it to be mine already.   So, since I did not have my Sportage with me to trade (kind of a precautionary measure, so I did not do anything too hastily, without covering all of my bases) I went home and ran it by Keith.  A note about Keith:  He is not very optimistic.  He has told me more than once that people are all out to screw you over.  And he loves to weigh out every detail of everything in a very analytical, black and white way.  I guess you could say we balance each other out.

When I got home and outlined my deal to Keith, he hopped online and informed me that Kia was offering 1.9% financing for well-qualified buyers, and that I should have a Kia Loyalty bonus of $750, should get about $1500-$2000 for my trade, and any other incentives.  That’s not what my deal was.  Mike had offered me $1000 for my trade (now, he had not seen the Sportage, but at 160,000 miles, seeing it was probably not going to make it better!  Still, that was low,) and was giving me 3.9% on the financing.  He was giving me  the loyalty bonus of $750 and another rebate of $500.  I had not asked for anything off of the sticker price.  Once Keith told me what the number should have been, it did not sound like such a good deal.  Plus there was no base model Soul on the lot, and it wasn’t expected in until around Aug 4, and I didn’t find out the color.  Told you I’m not so good with the details.  Keith wanted me to look at other dealerships, and he found that there was a silver base model Soul being advertised as in stock at Dealership 2.

Dealership 2:

This place is not too far away from home, although less convenient for service.  I felt a little bit bad for Mike (after all, when I sold payroll services and felt like I had done my best to try to help someone, I never liked it when they shopped my price around, especially if I lost the deal,) so I called him and told him what Keith had found out and that I was going to look around.  He sounded mildly perturbed and explained to me that if I took the 1.9% financing, I would not get the $500 rebate.  But he had not even told me about the 1.9% financing, so he had lost a little of my trust.  Keith showed me some wonderful online car financing calculators, and made sure I knew what to ask for.

Once armed with Keith’s notes, I called and got Tom at Dealership 2.  Even on the phone, I was not so comfortable with Tom.  I told him I was interested in the silver base Soul and that I had a pretty detailed idea of what kind of a deal I would need for us to easily do business. He kept talking over me, kind of fast, and kept saying he would do whatever it took to give me the deal I needed, but I should come on in and bring my Sportage.  He said he was off the next day but he would be there until 9 that evening.  It was around 6:30 so I decided to go see him. I felt pretty hopeful that I would be driving home in my new car.

A few minutes down the road, I called him to tell him I was on my way, and he told me that the silver car had just been sold.  What?!  Sounded kinda fishy.  I told him I was not sure if I should still come up but he said we could agree on figures, at least.  Fine.  As I neared the exit, Tom called me back, and said that he had a Soul Plus coming in the next day, black, and he thought it was a better deal for me with all of the additional features, even though the price was a couple thousand higher.  I started to feel like I had touched something slimy, but I kept on.  I tried to call Keith to tell him all of this ridiculousness, but he did not pick up.  When I got there, I asked some salesmen if they could tell me how to find Tom.  They said Tom J or Tom D?  I said I did not remember, and they asked if my Tom was a rather “spirited individual?”  Yes, he was, and that meant my Tom was Tom D.

In talking with Tom, I finally relented to getting a price on the Soul Plus.  He said it would be in the next day, and they did not know when they would get in another base model–it could be 10 weeks if they needed to order one.  Oh boy.  He asked if I would be willing to share Keith’s notes on the deal’s numbers and I said sure, if you can do this then we are all set.  Typically, he took the paper to his manager in the other room, then came back and showed it to me, and even let me copy down the figures to share with Keith, saying he really was not allowed to do that, but for me…  Although they said they did what I wanted with the trade value, rebates, loyalty incentive, and downpayment, the monthly payment number did not come out as low as it should have.  I questioned this and they told me it was because they used a computer.  Really?  Tom also said things like he “was there for me,” “he worked for me, not for these guys” (the dealership,) and even said there was “nothing up his sleeve.” It was easy to test the veracity of this statement, as Tom was rocking the short sleeve dress shirt and cheap tie classic sales guy look.  He also told me he made $100 on any car he sold, no matter what, and he did a marginally offensive impression of a Korean company executive.  Good times.

I gave them a small deposit check and filled out the credit app, with instructions not to do anything with either until they heard back from me by phone, since I needed to discuss with Keith again.  Mysteriously, I was now leaning towards a preference for the Kia Plus.  At least Tom had done one part of his job well.  And I did not want them to sell it out from under me, as I felt had happened with the silver car I had seen on the internet–the Bait, if you will.  The black Soul Plus was supposed to be in on Tuesday.  It’s now Thursday and there is apparently no car for me, and I have had to call 3 times to get any updates.  Very poor follow up on their part. And I am not feeling the same friendly “I’m here for you” vibe from Tom or from his manager.  Thanks to the car payment calculator, Keith was able to figure out that although they said they were giving me $1400-$1800 for my trade, when they actually did the math, they did it as if they were giving me ZERO for my trade.  Unlike people, numbers don’t lie.  Here’s what I am wondering.  Is this a normal tactic?  When they say, yes we will do this, and then do not do it at all, is that seriously how they want to be in the world?  It’s like if I told my customer she was buying so much yarn at $10 a skein, but then when I wrote the order 5 minutes later, I wrote it up for $12.75 a skein, and expected to get away with it.  Was Tom really taking his day off on Tuesday? If people do not have access to online calculators, are they saying yes to bad deals that are taking advantage of their trusting nature or lack of information?  Where is the black car?  Did they get it in Tuesday and sell it to someone else, even though they said my deposit gave me right of first refusal?  Is that legal?  Does this happen to everyone, or am I getting “special” treatment for being a woman?

When I called Tom last night, he said his manager must have made a mistake on the numbers because he’s new.  The manager had told me that he forgot to account for my downpayment, but I know that is not true and I know from the numbers exactly what they did and didn’t do.  I told Tom that I was not sure I could believe anything they were telling me, and I did not feel good about doing business that way.  I had to yell at him a little bit and tell him to stop interrupting me in the middle of my sentence, that it was nice to take turns and I was surprised he didn’t know that.   It felt good to listen to the little bit of silence that followed.  Is Facing The Shadow helping me find my strength a little bit? I’m looking for the bright side, and feel that every situation can teach me something.  I will be interested to see how the rest of this saga unfolds.  Right now I’m waiting for a call back from Mike, and from Tom.