Wednesday, September 24, 2008


I wasn't feeling well at work last night. The logical thing to do would have been to go straight home, take care of the dogs, and crawl into bed (relatively) early. This is not what I did.

I stopped at Wal-Mart, bought yarn, and started a new knitting project.

But it's OK, because I'm almost finished. This is the Dumpling Bag from the fall issue of Interweave Knits. It's the main reason I bought the magazine, so I really needed to make it. It's going to be a gift for someone (maybe). I can only do the felting when I'm visiting my parents, and I have a trip planned soon. And a whole bunch of people on Ravelry are making them. So I went out shopping in the middle of the night when I was sick and bought yarn I don't need to start yet another knitting project because of peer pressure from a whole bunch of people I've never met. Makes perfect sense, right?

So far, the design is everything I'd hoped it would be. It knits up insanely fast. It looks like it's going to be seriously cute. And I hope its intended recipient will like it, if she gets it. (I already have an idea for Dumpling #2, so she may get that instead). I'm pretty sure I'll be able to say that the Dumpling is delicious - and just like the real thing, one won't be enough!

I've enjoyed another tasty treat today - I just had my first pawpaw, which I was surprised and excited to see at the farmers' market today. They may not look like much, but wow, they're tasty - a tropical flavor that's completely unexpected in a native Indiana fruit. You don't see them commercially because they're so hard to ship - the ready-to-eat one I bought at 3:00 was on the edge of overripe by 10:00, and these two will go in the refrigerator in hopes of keeping them a day or two. I was in a hurry so I didn't get to ask where they're from, but you can believe I'm going to look for the seller at the next farmers' market. Maybe tomorrow.

As far as non-food projects go, I'm making progress on the Zero scarf. He's sort of on hold while I finish the Dumpling Bag, but I suspect I'll be back to working on Zero before the weekend. I also suspect I'm going to really hate single crochet before I'm through - the scarf/body part feels like it's going to take a very long time.

But the head is finished, and it was probably the trickiest part. Now it's a totally mindless project for a long time, and only slightly finicky until the last step with the pumpkin nose. Zero should be ready to fly by the end of October, and he'll look great hanging out with my Christmas tree!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Done Dyeing

The most recent thing I've learned about dyeing is that wet yarn takes a long time to dry.

But after two days of shifting skeins around every time anyone wanted to shower, I have my yarn, all reskeined and ready to go. We were invited to bring eight 1/2 ounce skeins of yarn, plus anything extra, so I prepared Louet Gems Pearl for the first batch, and Tofutsies for the second. All together, I used about two skeins of the Gems, and a full ball of the Tofutsies.

Here's the Gems. The dyes are:

Osage Orange
Goldenrod overdyed with Indigo
Indigo (very late in the dyebath)
Black Walnut

And here's the Tofutsies; just eight skeins:

Osage Orange
Black Walnut

The plies of the Tofutsies are clearly two types of yarn - one took the dye, and the other didn't nearly as well.

The next step is to decide how to best use all this wonderful yarn. The pokeberry's color is pretty fugitive, but the others should stay put. I'm thinking socks from the Tofutsies, and maybe a bag from the wool. But I'll let that all wait for a bit, while I finish other projects. Maybe by the time I'm ready to use this I'll have dyed more yarn myself.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A Day to Dye - and Die

It's been a busy couple of days - especially for fiber-related things.

Last night, Aaron & I took the Audacity sock out to Thomas Friedman's lecture about his new book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded. It's something of a stretch to relate the sock to the lecture - especially since I think "wear warm clothes and turn down the thermostat" is exactly the sort of thing Friedman thinks won't be enough to create a green revolution and protect the environment. I didn't get a chance to get his opinion on socks, as this was the most rapid-fire book signing I've ever been to. But he was very friendly about pausing for pictures, even as he scrawled his autograph on what must have been hundreds of books. I'd love to get joint-care tips from authors - book-signings must be worse than Hat Attack knitting for wrist pain.

Today was much more fiber-related. At the invitation of Amy, a Ravelry and Hogwarts friend, I drove over to Danville for the Champaign-Urbana Spinners & Weavers Guild's Natural Dye Day. Natural dyeing is one of those things that's been on my "to do" list for a LONG time, and so I hope this will get me inspired to get out and play on my own.

The get-together was at the Forest Glen Nature Preserve in Westville, Illinois - right on the state line. (Yes, I drove back to Illinois while Aaron was here for the weekend. Love means understanding your beloved's freakish interest in fiber, I think. Or it means being content to sit at home and watch football.) The location was great for me, because it meant I could leave home around 9:o0 for a two-hour trip to be there at 10:00. Have I mentioned how much I love finally being in Eastern time for good? I could kiss our governor.

But not today. Today is for talking about dye. They did the whole thing outside, at this re-created pioneer cabin in the nature preserve. It was well-appointed, with water, electricity, and the cleanest pit toilets I've ever seen in my life all handy. And it was a beautiful day - a perfect day to dye. (Yes, I know it's a stupid pun. But it's so easy.)

Easy like natural dyeing - although it was only easy for me because Beth, one of the guild members, did almost all of the work. I think the whole dying thing is her baby - she'd assembled the recipes, and prepared the materials, and owned most of the equipment. So by the time I got there, the dyepots were simmering over a fire, and lunch joined them soon afterwards. Some of the dyes went into the pot that morning, but others were collected in advance, and saved or soaked or dried.

We dyed with pokeberries and goldenrod (both shown here), osage orange chips, padauk wood, marigolds, cochineal, black walnuts, and indigo.

The indigo was the tricky one - and they used an "instant indigo" that didn't require weeks' worth of stale urine. It got its own pot over an electric burner, because it had to be kept within a very narrow temperature range, and treated very gently.

(The Yarn Harlot's friend Laurie has a lovely set of posts about indigo here, so I won't write about the whole process. Especially since I have no intention of trying it until we get a shed.)

Beth was kind enough to bring a giant bag of samples of previous years' efforts....

...and here are this year's results. We were told to bring eight 1/2 ounce skeins of yarn, and that we might be able to dye more. I think everyone (and there were probably 20 or so) got to dye everything she'd brought.

So now I'm home with about eight ounces of yarn, and surprisingly few dye spots on my clothes. I had a great time.

What I didn't have, I fear, is the sense to get any good pictures of Amy or Beth or any of the other lovely people there. So I can't show you any of the wonderful spinners and weavers from Illinois. But it's probably safe to say they're like fiber people everywhere - you can easily drop into the bunch of them and always have something fun to talk about. In this case, what we talked about is that I really need a spinning wheel.

Getting home wasn't so good for me. It turns out to be a day to die, too.

There was a package waiting. I was excited, at first - maybe something from my Secret Pal? Or some yarn I'd forgotten I ordered?

Then I saw the return address, and remembered.

It was the Hat of Death, Pahoehoe, named for the slow-moving but dangerous lava. Dogs, it seems, are not afraid of lava hats - although it's possible that the doggie treats that were in the box helped overcome their normal instincts that would cause them to fear a Scary Death Hat. I'm told they spent the day sniffing the box, but since they really didn't do much about it, I doubt they have a future in detector-dog work.

Except for the whole killing-me thing, it's a perfectly lovely hat, made with the delightfully soft Therapi. Thank you, foxpearls, for killing me so warmly - and for softening the blow with goodies! Thank you, too, for killing me quickly, so I don't have to knit five more of these things.

Some days, dyeing, or dieing, isn't so bad.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Stop me before I kill again.

Really. Someone stop me.

I've just finished my first Hat Attack 2 weapon, having started it Tuesday evening and having spent way more time knitting than I should have. This was not an easy, four-hour knitting project, even with the worsted weight yarn.

No, this was several days' worth of knitting, counting every row and stitch. Just getting gauge ate up two hours of knitting time.

The pattern is supposed to be based on the Fibonacci sequence. It's a bit hard to see, but my favorite example of the Fibonacci sequence wouldn't be a very good idea for a hat. I really liked the look of the Fibonacci stripes on the last death hat - this one is a little busier, and makes me glad I chose subdued colors.

The payoff is a nifty-looking hat, but it's not one I get to keep. I mailed it off this morning to kill PrincessSierra, so she should be dead at the beginning of next week.

But there's a good chance I'll be dead tomorrow. I half expected my death hat to arrive today, but the mail has come and it hasn't. Since I'll be out of town tomorrow, I get to stay alive at least another 24 hours.

I'll have a nice hat, though. This should fit well, and be lightweight. Therapi is a lovely, albeit expensive, and I'm already looking for my next excuse to use it. Versatility would be too expensive and difficult to finesse, I think, but wouldn't it be glorious?

I think I'm lucky that my LYS doesn't have any Therapi for now. For now I'll return to my regularly scheduled UFOs.

Monday, September 15, 2008

A Necessary Evil

Is anything less fun than knitting a swatch?

I hate swatching. When I'm going to knit something, I want to knit it - not a billion tiny squares that are just for practice. An hour spent swatching is an hour that could be spent finishing a project, and it's not like I have enough of those. They're boring, they eat up time, they eat up perfectly good yarn, and they're not good for anything.

Unfortunately, sometimes they're necessary. And unfortunately for me, this is one of those times.

Hat Attack 2 kicks off tomorrow, which means tonight I have to get ready to knit/kill on a moment's notice. Which means I have to get gauge for the mystery pattern using a totally unfamiliar yarn.

This is the result. Therapi calls for Size 7 needles. I started with 5s, then stepped down to 4s, then 3s, then 2s before finally getting something that resembles gauge. That's size 2 needles for what's supposed to be a worsted-weight yarn.

Therapi is a lovely yarn - it's delightfully soft and silky, and it takes the color well. I suspect - although I'm quite glad I haven't had the chance to test it - it will be both light and warm. It is, however, an expensive yarn - this is $20 worth, and there's no expectation of leftovers from the hat.

Tomorrow I'll be knitting, I'll be reading, and I may even be cleaning (jam-making turns out to be an messy project, but more on that later). I'll probably even be blogging - but only for the sake of gloating over my target's imminent demise. I hope it's time for gloating soon.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Speaking of Goodies...

I had a surprise package in the mail today!

It's a final bit from the HSKS5 swap - a prize for winning the first two Quidditch matches. Is there anything nicer than getting goodies you didn't expect in the mail?

Courtesy of Wisteria Lovegoods, there's a set of stitch markers, a clever little row-counting bracelet, and a tube of Floo Powder candy. I have to put the note and the envelope in too, because it's so nicely done - and isn't the spider sticker cool? Thank you so much, Wisteria!

The row counter is about to go to very good use - I just bought yarn for a new project. I'm going to make Zero the Ghost Dog, with a long enough body that he can masquerade as a scarf when he travels around with me. It's the first crochet project I've done in a long time. I hope I'll have it done in time for Halloween, but it's nice to know that Zero will fit in at Christmastime, too.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Return to Hogwarts

It's almost time for Round Six of the Hogwarts Sock Kit Swap, and I haven't been able to resist signing up again.

There's still time to sign up, for anyone who's interested. I had a great time last round, and still keep in touch with some fellow Hufflepuffs.

But I suspect that even dear friends who like to read about my knitting and dogs may not be so keen on reading the fictitious homework for a fantasy knitting swap. So I've created a new blog for my Hogwarts alter-ego, Selena Starfire. I'll keep all of the Hogwarts-related stuff there, although I'll probably come back here to post my project, and whatever goodies I get in the mail.

The Headmistress added a dyeing kit as an option for this round. I can't wait to see what people put together!

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Aluminum Overcast

That's not a weather report. It's the name - albeit a strange one - of the B-17 bomber that visited Lafayette over the weekend.

First things first - I spent the morning volunteering at the Turn Indiana Blue festival. It was a beautiful day and there seemed to be a good turnout of people enjoying the bands, the activities, and the food. Everything went smoothly enough that I didn't have much to do from my spot at the information booth, so I made a lot of progress on the "Audacity" sock.

I had a good reason to be happy about being out insanely early in the morning (ok, 11 AM, but that's early for me). From my spot at Riehle Plaza, I could see and hear the B-17 as it made its flights.

And after my shift at the festival, the sock and I drove out to the Purdue Airport for a closer look.

There were a lot of people there, including a lot of veterans. I know there was at least one guy who'd been on a B-17, but he looked pretty wrapped up in his reminiscing, so I didn't bother him.

Getting on board wasn't easy, but the old guys managed it. It was sort of like caving in reverse, up a ladder to crawl through a short passage, until you could stand up.

The short passage led back to the bombadier's station. He'd start the flight on the upper deck, then come down here when they were close to the target.

Bomber crewmen had to be skinny guys. This walkway through the bomb bay was about as wide as a balance beam.

Here's a look up at the bomb bay and walkway - I'm standing on the ground for this picture. They probably wanted to be short. They were young, too - my friend Kerry's grandfather piloted a B-17 - at 19, he was the oldest person on board.

And they were a little bit crazy. This is the ball turret, which I've heard about before, but never seen. One guy would crawl down here for the duration of the flight, and hope he could get back up before the plane had to land.

He spent the flight hunched up like this, around his gun. If that's not bad enough, the crews mention that what came out of the relief tubes usually blew straight over the ball's windows, freezing there.

I won't post pictures of everything, but you can see it an online tour, and find out when the Aluminum Overcast will be near you. I'll throw in this one just to show that the sock got to go on the tour for free, and to illustrate just how much they've done to return the aircraft to its historical condition.

The visit made for a long day, because a lot of people in town wanted to see the B-17. But it was totally worth the wait.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Bake Me A Cake

There's a big music festival coming up, and the local Obama group is doing a fund-raising bake sale as part of it. So I'm baking - and trying to work my way through the vast quantity of vegetables that's taking over my kitchen.

One strange quirk of my apartment is the squash in the compost heap. About every other year, we get squash - different kinds of squash - squash we never bought. I don't know if they're from a neighbor's compost, or if they just turn up. Two years ago it was giant spaghetti squash. This year, I found acorn squash in the blackberry patch.

And then there are these. The thing that looks like an alien mothership is a pattypan squash - a really big pattypan squash. (The shuttlecraft tomatoes are all from the Cooleys.) I was feeling determined to use them, so I thought I'd combine the squash surplus with the bake sale, and help the Obama campaign while being a good locavore.

I wound up with this - Patty Cakes. I wound up with this after hours of work, a lot of cursing, and a pile of dirty dishes that I still haven't cleared. Grating this squash is a lot harder than it sounds - simply cutting this squash required my biggest knife and all the strength I could muster. There's not much to it besides skin and seeds - the giant squash yielded just two cups of grated flesh.

I'm not even sure if the cakes are good. They're ok. They're so moist that they have to be refrigerated, and can't be frosted, which doesn't really make them good bake sale material. I'll just have to hope the cute name is attractive.

Perhaps this should have been my clue that this was a bad idea. Notice how the squash plant has been dragged away? Notice how the squash has been tasted and abandoned?

I don't know who gave the squash a bad review. I haven't seen many raccoons here. It's too big for a squirrel.

I wonder if it was this guy?

He turned up in the back yard yesterday. I've heard coyotes before, but never seen one in person.

Isn't he coyote adorable? It was all I could do not to adopt him. I'm not sure the dogs would have minded - they bark at the squirrels a lot more than they did at him. And if he's willing to eat the darned squash, he's welcome to hang around.

Monday, September 01, 2008

HSKS 5 Concludes

This is a summer of bad luck for my secret pals. My SP12 pal has been plagued by wildfires, while my HSKS5 pal, Morgana Black, has had to worry about hurricanes. So while the Hogwarts swap mostly wound down in early August (with a whole bunch of Hufflepuff victories!), I just got my sock kit on Saturday. It was worth waiting for.

Here's the whole package. The basic idea behind the Hogwarts swap is that you send a handmade thing, and the stuff to knit another thing. People often include extras, but Morgana's idea of "extra" is more like getting a whole free pizza rather than an order of breadsticks.

So I'll start by showing off the official item - a Hufflepuff Hat. What Morgana may not have known is that Hufflepuff colors are also welcome in my Muggle environment, so this hat will be perfect to wear come football season.

And here's my yarn for Hufflepuff socks - it's Brown Sheep yarn that she dyed herself. I'm sure it will get turned into something spirit-oriented soon, although I'll have to decide if I should share with Aaron (I'm thinking not.)

There are two fun skeins of merino, alpaca, & silk yarn from Politically Incorrect Yarns & Fibers. "Colorful, not Queen" and "Candy Ass" seem to go together - I'm not quite sure how that happened with colors like this. Must be magic. She also included a packet of fresh needles for my sock-knitting pleasure (and to replace the dog-chewed ones. )

And I think she made these - a set of Hufflepuff stitch markers. They've already found a home in my knitting bag, and I know the black-corded ones will come in very handy if I ever re-attempt the Sidewinder socks.

Last, but definitely not least, is the handspun. Two skeins of it, made with fiber from Spunky Eclectic. The one on the left was done on a wheel, and is pretty fine. The one on the right is spindle-spun, and much thicker - something I've never been able to manage on a spindle. I can't imagine sharing handspun with a near-stranger. Once I get to the point where I can stop cuddling the yarn, I'm going to use it for something very special. And I'm definitely going to use it - yarn like this shouldn't be hidden in a stash box.

Thank you, Morgana! Your Hogwarts supply kit is distracting me quite nicely from my Muggle classes.

And speaking of packages, look at what else we had in a box.

Max turned 8 yesterday - or at least it was the 7th anniversary of when he came to live with us, at about a year old. He still hasn't caught on that a dignified dog of 8 doesn't need to run around like a puppy - and I hope he doesn't figure that one out anytime soon.