Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Winter Is Too Long to Drink Cold Coffee

Winter is too long to be drinking cold coffee. And tasty as it is when you make it with a press pot, you pour one cup, drink it, and the next one is only lukewarm. The British don't put up with this situation for their tea (even though their houses are sometimes very chilly). They knit up tea cosies to insulate the pot, ones like this, and this, and the one I am totally going to make someday.

And now those clever Brits have designed coffee cozies and put out a book of patterns for them:

Americans only think of wrapping their to-go cup. If you don't believe me, search Ravelry's patterns for "coffee cosy" or "coffee cozy" (British spelling) and see what you get.

Reader, I got the book, turned to Pattern #4, and made me a Waffle Weave coffee cosy:

Used leftovers from my Juniper Moon Shepherd and Shearer and Colored Flock yarns. Nice, thick aran wool, 2 colors making a double insulating layer. And, Reader, it really does keep the coffee warm longer!

I had intended to make one for my coffee gourmet son who will only drink single-source freshly roasted and ground coffee and only from a press pot.  He used my cosy some of the time, admitted it held in warmth, but found the buttons a little fiddly to bother with. I agreed about the fiddliness, and there is something a little sloppy-looking about the button fastening.

Then the light bulb went on. Magnets! Off to the craft store to procure some cute little rare earth magnets, the really sticky ones. (Take care with these guys, though. If swallowed by people or pets they can cause terrible harm. Enclose them securely so they'll never never escape!)

Cosy 2.0 is double layers of aran wool--2-color ribbing--with 6 little magnets sewn into felt strips at each end of the piece. Wrap it around the pot and clunk! they grab each other instantly and hang on. Absolutely no fiddling!

 Am I pleased with myself? Utterly! It only remains to be seen if the coffee gourmet is pleased as well.

And what's this on the needles? Another cosy for another of my offspring who has suddenly found herself compelled to use a press pot far from home. Happy New Year, kids! As the Scots say, "Lang may yer lum reek." (look it up) And lang may yer coffee stay hot!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Alpaca Love

Here's another cool thing I did on my recent travels--a visit to an alpaca ranch! It was the Albuquerque Alpaca Ranch located in, not surprisingly, Albuquerque NM. And I mean in the city, not on the outskirts, but right there in town.

It's run by a friendly couple who fell in love with the friendly animals, Skip and Stacie Chavez. Call them up, and you can arrange to go visit and meet their fuzzy herd. And many of them are just a curious to meet you as you are to meet them--

Skip took us around and told us lots about his particular alpacas and alpacas in general. He's really crazy about his animals, crazy enough to teach one to do this:
She's taking an alfalfa pellet from his lips, an alpaca-style kiss.

We got up close and personal with one of the crias (a cria is a baby alpaca). Really up close:
If there's anything sweeter and fuzzier than a little cria, I can't think of it right now because my mind is all fuzzy with the memory. Little Romeo there had a hard luck story turned happy.  He was his mama's firstborn, and she was pretty clueless about motherhood. She rejected him, refused to let him feed. He was fed from a bottle for a while, but then he rejected the bottle. He wanted his own fuzzy warm mama, and who could blame him? So he was rubbed with the scent of another new cria and introduced to a mama that accepted him. Supermama doesn't mind providing dinner for two, and he's now a happy cria. Put him down, and he wants to get through that gate and back to his family.

One more Alpaca to meet, the herdsire. Isn't he a handsome stud?
There's something about the Egyptian eyeliner and the two-tone mop top that has got to make the ladies swoon. And the fine hairs of his fleece that makes the knitters swoon.

There's more to the ranch than the animals. There's a shop where you can buy all manner of Alpaca items, including yarn and fiber (check for moths, though). And a lovely space where they hold classes in felting Alpaca fiber. I'd love to spend a day there...

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


I've been away, been off the grid, been preoccupied, but the Ptarmigan has now repterned! One of the places I've been was here:
Rafting the Grand Canyon, knitting in hand. Not knitting on the raft, obviously. You need both hands to hang on because stuff like this happens:
The video is not from our trip, but it's a good sample of the experience.

Before and after the trip there's been a whole lotta knittin' goin' on. Some Finished Objects for your viewing pleasure:

Corps of Discovery Fatigue Hat for a Canadian friend that was on the river trip. I used up the remainder of the snow dyed Alaska yarn and had to supplement it with a little Knit Picks Swish worsted in a tonal bright green that I think worked well, considering.

And lately I've been having big fun with a big wad of Rowan Kidsilk Haze Glamour that I got on sale. I used it with KnitPicks Capretta  to make a Cabernet Ribs sweater for dressup this winter. It's a fun knit that puts the two yarns together for the main part of the body in a tank shape, and uses the KSHG solo for sleeves and neckline. I made a much more modest sheer V, as I have much more to be modest about. Love, love the subtle gleam of the tiny sequins. (Just discovered KSHG has been discontinued by Rowan. No wonder it was on sale, but also--rats!--I love this stuff.)

Still on the needles and cranking along is another KSHG item, the Ripple Cardigan. It looks simple and straightforward in the illustration, but in fact the back is knitted up-and-down; the fronts are knitted sideways, and the collar is formed by two triangles that overlap in the back. It's gonna be a challenge to put together. I wish I had checked it on Ravelry before I started the front, because I think I would have followed one smart knitter and picked up the fronts from the back sides rather than trying to seam it afterwards. Oh well, it's going to be a good challenge...

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

What I Felt Like

Now it can be revealed--the object created from the felt I made with the Artfelt kit:

It's a phone bag for a friend who's always losing her phone in the bottom of her handbag. Nylon rope and a lobster clip attach it to a purse handle; a magnetic purse closure in the top keeps the phone from falling out by accident and slows down possible pilfering fingers.

One of the skills used dates from way back in Girl Scouts--that's where I learned to whip rope ends, and that's how I made the rope loops (with a little fabric glue in the background for extra stay-puttedness).

This whole project was such fun, I'm sure I'll do another one soon!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Complete Shearer!

My Shearer cardigan of the Shepherd and Shearer duo is complete!

All in all, I'm quite satisfied with it. Only a small regret that I couldn't find a darker brown zipper and had to settle for tan. Otherwise it's great! Splitting the front of the pullover pattern was easy and looks just fine. The ribs added to border the zipper make the front a little wider than the back, but I think that the difference is taken up with boobage and it's not a problem.

The fabric is wonderfully dense and warm, the remaining lanolin repels water, and the heathery brown color is great camouflage for dirt. Just the thing for working in the garden in the fall.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Felt Like a Craft Day

Discovering a little breathing space on the calendar, I decided to give myself a craft day, and it's been tons of fun. First up was doing some felting with a kit I'd bought. It's the sort of thing you need several uninterrupted hours to complete without assistance from kids or dogs or "breaks" for work or chores.

The kit was from Artfelt, and I'm not going to tell you all about it, because the product's eventual destiny is a gift for someone who is a possible reader of this blog. Uh oh. Now I've set up non-recipients for disappointment. Never mind. This was so cool I'll probably be doing it again.

So here's what I started with:
Pencil roving, wide roving, a couple of felting needles, a foam board, instructions, and a special piece of paper (inside the instruction folder above). The paper is what's unique about this whole thing, and what makes the whole business so easy to do.

Before starting, I highly recommend, no, I insist that you watch the Artfelt videos online. The printed instructions are good, but you really can't properly "get it" without seeing it done and taking in all the little details. Start with the overview playlist, and then watch the video for your particular project. I did, and it made for a very smooth ride.

So I laid out my paper and covered it with a layer of spread-out wide roving. It doesn't really matter what color the base layer is--it will be all covered up in the end. I started tacking in the main figure of my design, a big flower with a long stem:

Every bit of the paper needs to be covered with at least 2 layers of roving, so I did some space-filling before I added petals to the flower:
Kind of looks like decorative icing, doesn't it, if you could use barbed needles to stick corners of your icing down as you apply it (could revolutionize cake decorating, in my opinion).

Somewhat later, as the whole dealio is really taking shape:

And here it is, all stuck and done, with kit leftovers.
 Here's what it looks like on the back side--paper with fibers poked through it:
Fond hope that it's been needled thoroughly and evenly enough so everything stays put and forms a good fabric. Now comes the magic part. The assemblage gets thoroughly wetted in a large pan:
Didn't all fit in a once, but that doesn't matter. Then a sheet of plastic wrap is laid on top of the design and whole thing is rolled up around a rolled-up washcloth. A wooly, plasticy, papery jelly roll:
Then the woolyroll is put in a short nylon sock thusly:
Overhand knot at the top for ease of undoing. Now the clootie dumpling  (That's a Scottish dessert. Look it up.) goes in the dryer for 15 minutes with no heat. I emphasize the lack of heat because usually when you're felting wool, hot water is required. Not Artfelt. Just the dumpling and a couple of towels for only 15 minutes on "air fluff".  At the beginning I added a couple of the dog's tennis balls, but my DH went crazy with the noise after 3 minutes, so only quiet towels after that. And at the end of the dryer interval, hey presto, we're ready to get rid of the paper. Now, it may be hard to believe that after all this moisture business, the paper is still hanging in there, but it is. See? The wool shrank as it felted and the back now looks rumpled like it's supposed to:

And more magic happens. The craziest and coolest (hottest?) part of all. You boil a kettle of water and pour it over your piece paper-side-up. And the paper dissolves! That's right. Goes completely away! Quickly! I could hardly believe how quickly it worked. And what have we got? A beautiful piece of brightly colored felt!
Now...what will I make with this????

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Heavenly Net Loft

I recently made an extremely brief trip to Cordova, Alaska, and fulfilled a longtime ambition of visiting the Net Loft handcraft store there. Not just a visit, but a one-woman private browse. Wow. If this place isn't heaven, it's at least the waiting room. Such a stupendous store in such a remote place!

I first made the acquaintance of the Net Loft when I was scouring the internet for the last skein or two that I needed to complete my Winter Sunset cardigan. I tried them all--local stores, the giant web sites--nada. Then I saw this little place down at the bottom of my search. Cordova, Alaska? It's not even on the road system. Still, I had to try or abandon the whole project. Of course, you know the end of the story. They had my 2 skeins, saved my sweater, and were super nice into the bargain.

Then this spring I heard about an utterly fantastic knitfest being held at the Knit Loft in June. It's over now, but if you're quick, the info is still up on the web here. It wasn't just a little weekend do with a big name instructor; the list was full of knitting superstars: Bonnie Marie Burns, Donna Druchunas, Gudrun Johnston, and Mary Jane Mucklestone, to name a few. And there were more, some lesser known and some local, but all very very talented. Nor was it just sitting and knitting for a week. There were early morning walks; there were hikes and art tours; there was special yoga for knitters; there was weaving, spinning, felting, needlefelting, and more, and more, and more! You can see why I was seriously put out that I heard of this so late when all my travel time and budget for the year was committed elsewhere.

When I made my visit, Dotty, the principal organizer of the whole thing, was still recovering from it all. How does such a genius and major maven recharge her batteries? By taking herself to Shetland for Shetland Wool Week, of course!

But back to my browse. I took some pictures, but there are more and better ones on their web site here. Seriously. Click that link and at least watch the slideshow. Besides some stunning Alaska scenery, you will also glimpse some of their yarn displays, and let me tell you their yarns are truly unique.

Three Irish Girls dyes a whole lot of custom colorways just for them. Some reflect the scenery, the rocks, berries, and animals. Some reproduce exactly the colors and pattern of watercolor paintings by local artists. Here's a sample, and here and here.

And then there's the local librarian who dyes yarns in colorways inspired by books.  Skeins in the Stacks even have Dewey Decimal-inspired numbers indicating weight. And the Peter Pan color actually twinkles with fairy dust!

Snow Capped Yarns are works of art created by local dyer Shelly Kocan. The seasons, the landscape and its inhabitants all inspire her. There's a special range of New Zealand yarns in big skeins. There are selections of international brands like Shetland's Jamieson & Smith and Dale from Norway.

There's beautiful and unique jewelry, chocolates, teas, cards, knitting bags, fiber for spinning... If this were the waiting room for heaven, you just might have so much fun that you'd never actually go in!

On the right above is one of my eventual purchases, a big skein of New Zealand dk called "Copper Sunset", not reproduced here true to color, but good-looking this way, too. In daylight it's fuschia and a very rusty brown. Gorgeous!

One more thing to show you. Across the street from the store is the city library and museum. The anchor outside has been very thoroughly yarnbombed. (7-year-old grandson added for scale.)

Intentionally off the beaten path and definitely worth the journey!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Three Wrongs Aren't Right, But They're Less Visible

Not for nothing am I a faithful follower of the Yarn Harlot, as faithless to a single project as she. The Shepherd isn't done yet; the Brocade Leaves isn't done yet, and here I am casting on for something else major. So sue me. (I'm sure the Shepherd and the Leaves would if they could.) But it's not very appealing to sit for hours flipping a great honkin' hump of wool in your lap, nor is one very motivated to add a thick wool sweater or two to their wardrobe in June and July.

And so another sweater is begun. It's the Shearer, the other half of the Shepherd and Shearer pair, using the Colored Flock yarn I added to my S&S purchase last year. Like my Shepherd, I am reforming the pullover into a cardigan. To me, heavyweight sweaters are too much for daylong indoor wear. Because of the rustic nature of the yarn (coarse fibers and bits of the pasture inclusions) the garment is most comfortable as an outer layer, and cardigans are a lot easier to slip into and out of than something that has to go over your head several times a day.

I cast on the back, and away I went:

And here is just about where the trouble started. Let me tell you right off the bat that this pattern is not the one you want to start with if you are new to cabling. You want to start off with simple cables, a narrow pattern that is easy to memorize and quick to display errors. You want chart symbols that are easily discerned from one another. You don't want 2/2 and 2/1 crosses that look very very much like each other. Is it starting to sound like I got about this far and had to rip back to the setup row? I did.

And still I screwed up. About halfway to the arm decreases, I stood back to admire my work and saw two big fat errors. One I could maybe live with. Two makes you start to look like this is your first cable sweater. It's not.

Take a look. See that elbow-like thing in the center?

 It shouldn't be like that. It should be a nice double twist like the one above and below it. But the next one is the big whoopsie.  The elbow thing in the center is again the wrong un'. But in fact, that's the correct part of that cable. It's the crosses above and below it that are wrong. Oy. Two out of three.
 How can someone with so much experience mess up so thoroughly?? Maybe it just takes extraordinary idiocy. Or overconfidence in one's vast experience. At any rate, this sort of thing just Will Not Do. I knit carefully onward and upward, remembering in the back of my brain somewhere that there are surgical methods for fixing cable muddles without ripping everything back to the setup row.

YouTube to the rescue. Sure enough, Lucy Neatby has a very clever and clearly done method of knitting a little contrasting holder flap that lets you (hold your breath) cut into the offending area, rip back just the naughty cable crossing, knit it back properly, and then graft it back together. Here, have a watch. Isn't it a super time (and mental health) saver?


So here's the result. Looks great, doesn't it?

And I saved myself some more time and hair-pulling in the 2-out-of-3 Bermuda Triangle by fixing the one correct one to fit in with the two incorrect crosses. I dare you to find it in the overall pattern. Its a case of 3 wrongs making a more invisible wrong. As some wise knitter said, " if you make the same mistake multiple times, it's a pattern".

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Wooly Cornwall

I've recently returned from a trip to England, Cornwall mostly, and wanted to share a couple of knitterly things.

First is a wonderful story from a visit to, of all things, an old jail.

Bodmin Jail, abandoned from its original purpose in the 1920s has been converted into a tourist attraction. It's spooky; it's depressing; it's disheartening to see how badly people were treated in those early times. Capital punishment for property crimes, exile for stealing a chicken, the treadmill, oakum-picking, dark cold damp cells without a ray of daylight. The stories of various prisoners are posted around the place and make for very unhappy reading either for the meanness of punishment for minor crimes, or the terrible evil of some of the criminals.

One story stands out a bit more cheerfully from the rest, and it concerns a knitter. Two women were sentenced to the stocks. One spent her time in hysterical weeping and wailing misery. The other was provided (by her family? friends? knitting group?) with a bale of straw to sit on and her knitting. She proceeded to pass her allotted time contentedly knitting. And finished that second sock? In the immortal words of Elizabeth Zimmermann, "Knit on with confidence and hope through all crises."

The day we hiked to the Cheesewring on Bodmin Moor,

we stopped for lunch at a nearby village pub.

The weather was uncharacteristically fine, and while dining outdoors we were visited by free-roaming sheep and their new lambs that had the run of the place.

 All just as squeee-inspiring and Olde Englishe as you could possibly ask for.

Home From Sleeve Island

Hey, know what makes great travel knitting? (compact, simple-ish) Sleeves! Especially second sleeves. It only works for sew-in sleeves, not knit-on sleeves, because the idea is to not have the bulk of a sweater body to tote around, but for my second Brocade Leaves sleeve this was the perfect chance to git 'er done while miles away from the siren call of other projects.

If you're making them in sequence, not simultaneously, it's a good idea to bring Sleeve #1 along for frequent comparison. It's not much bigger than a sock, and you want them to match, riiiight? Periods of forced concentration (aka long airplane rides) enabled me to crank along to the last repeat of the leaf pattern. I'm home now, but so close to being done that motivation is not a problem. (Update: I am done!)

So after the sleeves are done and sewn on, the remaining challenge is the cardigan edging. I'm not an enormous fan of the plain blue edge of the cropped cardigan version. In fact, there are a whole bunch of different takes on this sweater as a cardigan. Take a look on Ravelry and see what I mean.

 I'd rather continue the picot edge theme of the hem and sleeves, with maybe a little taste of the contrast colors.

And then finish the whole thing off with nordic clasps. What do you think?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Resurrection from The Heap

Rummaging in the stash closet for something else, I rediscovered a bagful from the Heap of Malfunctioning Rubble. It has been composting in the heap for so long, I have no idea when it was actually started, but once brought to light, it seized my fancy for some reason.

It's the Brocade Leaves Sweater by Solveig Hisdal, purchased as a kit with original yarn. The design is the cover feature of Hisdal's very popular book, Poetry in Stitches. (Yikes! I just had a look at what the book is selling for these days--$100 bucks for a knitting book!)

So why had I abandoned it to the Heap? For starters, I had converted the pullover sweater to a cardigan. No problem, really. After knitting most of the body, I discovered a big blooper: two of the yarn shades are very close, off-white and light peach. The big flower motifs were supposed to be done in light peach, and by the time I got to the sleeves I had used up a significant portion of the white in the body. The two yarns are very very close (hence my mistake), and it doesn't seem all that noticeable if the sleeve flowers are peach and the body ones are left white. You can see how close the colors are below. There's hardly any white left; the big ball is peach. So far, so acceptable.

But the boo boos keep coming. The body is 2 inches longer than it's supposed to be at the front/back divide. Now we're looking at running out of blue yarn. Gulp. No way to know for sure, but it might happen. Especially when a cropped cardigan version of the pattern shows edges finished in a light blue knitted band. (see Poetry cover) but the final thing that sent it tumbling into the Heap was the size. The pattern is provided in only one size, a rather oversized medium. At the time of abandonment, I was a very oversized XL. It wasn't going to fit, and there was no use putting a lot of time and effort in rescuing my other mistakes if the bloomin' thing wasn't going to fit anyway. Well, dear reader, I am myself now an oversized medium, and there's a very good chance that after blocking it will fit! Game on!

Thursday, April 3, 2014


Yet another Hat for Huts topper ready to go:

The Brain Hat, in lovely soft merino. Well, brains are supposed to be soft, aren't they?  And washable? You don't want your brain to shrink or felt in the brainwash, of course!

Thus we have the perfect accessory for the Zombie Apocalypse--when being chased, you whip off your knitted brains, fling them at the pursuing zombies, and make your escape. And a zombie can keep its head warm: