Thursday, August 30, 2007

Last-minute birthday gift

Last weekend we were invited to a friend's surprise birthday party and at the last minute I decided to make her a little something to include in the gift. This pattern for a bath mitt was up on my pattern-a-day calendar and so I decided to make one for her! I just went to our local hobby shop and bought 2 skeins of Lily Sugar 'n Cream as the pattern directed. I chose the Painted Desert colorway. Because I knit sooo loose, I had to go down from a size 5 to a size 2! As I got into the thick of it, I remembered how much I hate knitting with cotton. I'm guessing it's because I have such a tension problem and so I feel like I constantly have to pull the yarn tight. It gives me sore hands and wrists after awhile. The pattern calls for size 5 needles but I didn't feel like gauge-swatching for a bath mitt, so I dropped a size and started out with a 4. After several rows it just looked so wide, so I dropped to a 3. It was still way too wide, so I then dropped to a size 2. I thought maybe I'd get away with it this way but it looked weird so I decided to rip out the entire thing and start over using the size 2 needles. I ended up finishing the mitt about an hour before the party! It turned out pretty cute and I really liked the colors. I bundled it up with a soft hand towel and a few bars of nice soap.

I only ended up needing one skein of the yarn, so I'll save it to make a dishcloth or something. I have had my eye on the ballband dishcloth highlighted in the Mason Dixon knitting book. It's actually a free pattern from the Peaches & Creme yarn website. It would be good to make a few and squirrel them away for hostess gifts or something. I'll have to wait until I'm ready to knit with cotton again!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Dyeing with Mullein ... and food coloring... and Crystal Light!

I wanted to try some more natural dyeing and saw all this mullein plant growing everywhere. I did some research and found out that it dyes a shade of yellowish gold so I thought I'd give it a try.

Well, as you can see from the photo, it came out rather blah and unappealing. I dyed with 2 different types of natural colored yarn, a Henry's Attic Kona superwash DK weight from my lys and a soft worsted weight merino from Stonehedge Fiber Mill. The superwash was a little more interesting looking because it took more of the dye but I was pretty disappointed with both of them. So, I decided to see what an ammonia dip would do to the yarn. It made it brighter looking but I was still not thrilled with the color. Plus, the yarn from Stonehedge got a little matted up in the dye pot, between mordanting and dyeing. So, I decided to just let the yarn dry and think about what to do with it.

We were still up in northern Michigan, so my options for other dyes were somewhat limited. I decided to try overdyeing it with food coloring. I bought some basic McCormick food coloring at the local grocery store and started mixing. After a lot of experimenting, I came up with a color I liked. I think I used the following proportions in a solution of 8 C water and 3/4 C vinegar: 1 1/4 t yellow, 1/4 t green, 1/2 t blue and 7 drops red. I added the red last so it wasn't mixed in perfectly. I did this intentionally so that the color would be a little mottled. I used this concoction to overdye the superwash yarn and I was very pleased with how it turned out:

So, next I wanted to overdye the other skein. By now, I had used up all of the yellow food coloring so my options were more limited. I played around with the colors but wasn't happy at all with what I came up with. Finally, in desperation, I saw a box of raspberry ice flavored Crystal Light on the shelf. Now, I had no idea if it would even work, dyeing with artificial sugar. I dumped in 7 of the individual packets and really liked the color. It wasn't quite red and wasn't quite pink. My only concern was that it looked like I had burned the yarn when I took it out of the dyepot but it was only a heavy concentration of dye that rinsed out. Here is how the color came out:

This skein really took a beating after all the dyeing and overdyeing, and I was admittedly feeling bad that it had started to felt up a bit, especially given how lovely it was before I started dyeing with it. It still feels soft, it is just more nubby and has almost a handspun look to it. I'm sure I will still use it but I have decided that from now on I'm only going to dye with superwash yarn if it has to be mordanted - it is just not worth it to me to ruin the yarn's texture.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Lovely Alpaca

Every summer it is a tradition in our family to go to the Northwestern Michigan Fair in Traverse City. There is everything from carnival rides and gut buster food to tractor pull competitions and amazing exhibits of produce, handmade goods and 4-H animals of every variety. While the kids make themselves nauseous on the carnival rides and eating greasy elephant ears, the adults head over to see the animals. My favorite of course are the alpacas and llamas. They are so beautiful, graceful and intelligent! This year I was very fortunate to meet Kathy Easter of Northern Dreams Alpaca Farm in Empire, Michigan. I talked to her at great length about her animals - she has about 40 that she raises. She happened to have some alpaca yarn for sale (spun by the same mill where I bought the antique rose yarn at the fiber fair in Charlevoix!). The yarn came from Kathy's alpaca, Daisy. I can't wait to make something from it - perhaps some warm cozy socks if the alpaca will hold up o.k.!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Quilt Hog

I was at a wonderful yard sale recently. This yard sale takes place every summer, and the people who put it on spend the year collecting antiques that they then put out for sale in their yard. I can always manage to find a few interesting things to buy and the prices are very reasonable. This year I came across a fairly large quilt, pieced from vintage fabrics. There is admittedly a lot of purple in the quilt, which is probably why it wasn't snatched up earlier. I liked it though because I am a sucker for vintage fabric and the purple isn't overwhelming to me. I brought it home and my dog, Fiona, thinks it belongs to her! What is she thinking? Notice that her quilt is conveniently positioned beneath! Huh!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

2007 Fiber Arts Festival - Part 2

I also bought some sock yarn at the fiber festival. Now, I know I really need another skein of sock yarn like a hole in the head at this point, but this vendor, Happy Hands, had such vibrantly hand dyed yarns I couldn't pass it up. Here is a photo of some of the yarns from their booth:

The owners are Kim Ogle and Kim Leach, and they are based in Palmyra, Wisconsin. One of the Kims dyes the yarn and the other Kim designs patterns. The sock yarn I bought is on the left, below. It is 75% wool and 25% nylon, and the colorway is called "End of the Day."

My other major yarn purchase of the day was the yarn on the right, above, from Stonehedge Fiber Mill in East Jordan, Michigan (just a few miles from the show).

Now, I have had my eye on this yarn for awhile. I discovered the yarn in the Yarn Shop in Glen Arbor, Michigan a few months ago. Debbie McDermott, the owner and operator of Stonehedge Fiber Mill, mills yarn for many breeders and also sells her own yarn. The yarn I bought is a worsted weight merino and is so unbelievably soft that I have been planning this purchase for several months now. I chose a color called Antique Rose, a heathered coral color. I am planning to use it to make the Bpt hoody from Knitty.

There was another booth that was very interesting called Elizabeth's Designs. Elizabeth Koeppen, of Traverse City, Michigan, sells handpainted yarns and roving.

She wasn't in the booth when I went by, so I don't have much information about her, and I didn't buy any of her yarn, but her friend, who was manning the booth, said that some of her yarns are available in the Traverse City area, including the Inish Knits yarn shop in Cedar, Michigan.

There were also a few animal breeders at the festival. High Tower Farm, breeders of rabbits and pigs, had some angora rabbits and showed how they collect the angora fiber for spinning.

I was hoping to be able to buy some angora yarn but she only had fiber available, and since I am a beginning spinner, I passed on it.

One of the most well-known vendors was Briar Rose Fibers. I had always wanted to see what their yarn looks like. Well, the booth was just crawling with people, so it was a little frustrating getting in to see. Admittedly, they had some pretty yarns but I didn't see anything that really captivated me and the yarns were rather pricey so I didn't buy any yarn.

As we were leaving, I lingered a bit at a booth that sold a lot of lavender products. They were lovely, and smelled lovely too, but we were out of time. I'll have to come back next year!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

2007 Fiber Arts Festival - Part 1

A few weeks ago, my sister-in-law, Frauke, and I went to a fiber festival at Castle Farms, just outside Charlevoix, Michigan. There were over 50 vendors there, selling yarn, fiber for spinning and felting, as well as other fiber-related handmade goods. There were also demonstrations of animals, including sheep shearing and llama driving, as well as spinning, weaving, and even dyeing with natural dyes, to name a few of the activities.

I have never seen so much alpaca yarn in one place. Many of the alpaca vendors raise their own animals and even spin their own yarn. It was so lovely, and I wanted to buy some, but I'm now trying to buy yarn only if I have a specific purpose for it marked out in my mind, so I didn't end up buying any.

I loved the natural dyeing demonstration booth, in particular. When I saw it they hadn't started the demonstrations yet, so I tracked down the woman who was going to make the presentation and just picked her brain for a few minutes. I think her name was Susan and she was very helpful to talk to, since she has been dyeing with natural dyes for several years now. She had a card with several samples of yarn using the same dye source, but different mordants and "after-dips," which was so helpful to see.

I did buy some yarn while I was at the festival. One vendor imports a New Zealand yarn called Touch Yarns. These were the softest, most beautiful yarns I have seen in a long time.
I fell in love with several of the merinos, but the one I chose was 65% merino and 35% possum! It was so unusual I couldn't pass it up and extremely soft. The colorway I chose was a varigated combination of deep reds and greens. The vendor showed the yarn knitted up in a cute hat. I tried the hat on and it was very soft and comfortable, so I bought the pattern too.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Favorite Finds

One of my favorite finds this summer is this little ikebana frog that I found at an art show earlier in the summer. Here it is filled with meadow flowers growing wild behind our cabin. I liked it so much I bought several, including one for my mom's birthday. I think that what I like best about it is that I can just go out in the garden, or the field, and find a few blossoms and I have an instant arrangement that looks nice on the counter, or the table, and they last for days.

Jill Tortorella is the woman who creates them, along with a multitude of other lovely glazed pottery at her studio, Antioch Pottery.