Just another Manos Monday

I have two yarn cakes of Manos Silk Blend sitting on my desk. I remain amazed that I own them, and that they are so beautiful.

Manos Silky, yum

They will be a Captiva when they grow up.

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Instant gratification

Hats are great.

Red Hat

I knitted this as a command performance for a friend, who wanted a red hat. It took me a while to deal with the fact that she wanted a basic beanie rather than a floppy hat or a wild hat or some otherwise interesting hat, but once I came to terms with the idea I managed to finish this pretty quickly.

I teach knitting to “beginners,” and we always start with a scarf. Scarves are traditional starting projects, and although this opinion hasn’t stopped me, I think it’s a really bad idea. A scarf is a huge piece of fabric. It uses a lot of yarn, requires a lot of stitches, and can be incredibly boring. This is great if you’ve decided to take up knitting as a Zen kind of meditation exercise, but about half the people who come to me wanting to learn have very specific desires for finished knitted objects. I still teach scarves because a basic scarf is the simplest item to construct, and the most likely to be used. (Yes, a dishcloth is easier to make. But fewer knitters have knock-down, drag-out fights about the utility of knitted dishcloths.) But a hat is almost as easy, and goes a lot faster. I teach them as second projects, to introduce knitting in the round.

Yes, I could direct students to make a hat flat, then seam it. This went really, crazily wrong once and I still bear the scars. So it’s scarves first, then hats. Luckily it’s possible to get a respectable scarf out of three balls of chunky wool, which doesn’t take long to knit up. Then we can get on to the hats, which is where beginners can really shine. A hat knitted in the round is easy, introduces basic decreases, offers a chance to learn basic pattern reading, and can be done in a couple nights. Perfect.

Polygamous knitting

The black lace shrug is proceeding quite nicely, thank you. Despite my madness induced break, I’ve been steadily working, a few stitches here and there when I can fit them in, and have made excellent progress. One arm is done, blocked, and I’ve even tried it on to make sure it fits. It does. The second arm is past the elbow. Happily, I am a standard issue human and have only the two regulation arms, which means I don’t have far to go.

I am also working on a sock.

Sock in progress

Sometimes things just aren’t right for lace knitting. I knit while I teach, but the experience is better for everyone if I knit something I don’t have to look at or concentrate on. Same with gaming. Sometimes I break those rules, but every time I do I am reminded in one way or another that it’s a bad idea and I should stick to my sock projects when multitasking.

These socks are part of my Black Socks 2010 Collection. A year ago (so Zappo’s has reminded me) I bought a pair of shoes unlike anything I have ever worn. I’m not a shoe person. I own three pair: dress shoes, gym shoes, and everyday shoes. This is my everyday pair, and they’ve done an excellent job so far. The catch was that I’d been wearing boots for a long, long time and therefore unconcerned with the colour of my socks. Since all my socks are my handknits, most of them are riotously coloured. These shoes reveal my socks, which matters to me when I’m pretending to be a normal person. So I needed black socks. I ordered a tonne of black sock yarn from The Loopy Ewe the week before I moved here and spent the summer making black socks.

All those socks are too much alike, and a pain in the neck to sort in the laundry. So this summer I’m going to make plain black socks with a stripe around the toe made of some leftover coloured yarn. The socks appear black when I wear them in the Real World, but they’re easy to match.

It also gives me something simple to work on when I have other things to pay attention to. They are toe-up, so I can’t tune out during the heel, but I hope to have a standard toe-up heel-flap heel memorized by the end of this adventure.

A sudden malaise

I have two pieces of deadline knitting and a stack of commissions making me jumpy and preventing me from having fun at social occasions. So what did I spend my evening last night making? A tea cosy.

Tea Cosy

Not because I need a tea cosy, mind you. My largest teapot (a 4-cup that valiantly fills the role of a much larger pot) has a cosy already. My smallest teapot is just a one-cup deal, and a cosy would be a little ridiculous. It’s not the ridiculosity that stops me, I think, but the fact that it’s one of those pots that sits on top of a little matching teacup and I wouldn’t want to get fuzz in the cup. My middle-sized teapot, the one I bought in a fit of self pity last summer, is too cute for a cosy.

This cosy doesn’t even fit any of those teapots. It’s built for a 6-cup teapot, which means it probably would have fit the white teapot I left behind in the US. (I do not mourn it; don’t get the wrong idea. It was a means to an end, and not worth shipping over.) So I brought it to the shop and got the shop teapot to model it. It doesn’t fit the shop pot quite right either, but it’s still really cute.

I think the thing that got to me was the stitch pattern, a simple mistake rib. The execution disappointed me a little, so I might rewrite it with fewer shenanigans and make it available through the shop. It’s the tea cosy everyone wants, a good, thick, comfortable looking cosy with no bells or whistles. It goes on, it keeps the tea warm, and it looks like it might be good for a hug on a bleak, dark winter’s day.

Why did this come over me the night of the warmest day of the year in Dublin? The world may never know. But the world may get another tea cosy pattern out of it.

Boundless optimism

When I started reading knitting blogs, I immediately took to the Yarn Harlot. I liked her writing, I enjoyed her stories, and I appreciated the kinds of things she knitted. Her stories were funny, even if I didn’t relate to the specifics.

A few years down the line, here I am, trying to execute a hairbrained idea of an outfit for this wedding in a couple weeks. This is not something I would have done when I started knitting, but it looks like I’ve learned more from the Yarn Harlot than how to correct a miscrossed cable. I was agonizing over what to wear. I don’t have a lot of “dressy” clothes, my dress sense is stuck in early college, and I hate shopping. (These may all be related things, and you can decide for yourself which are causes and which are effects.) I wondered idly whether I’d be able to wear a dress that might be in storage with my in-laws and might fit by the time of the wedding, but was concerned about whether it was realistic to hope for either of those things.

Then the sale bin got filled at the shop and I ended up with 12 hanks of Mirasol Tupa:

Tower of Tupa

I’d been thinking about making this crazy simple shell since I saw it in the latest Debbie Bliss Magazine. I wanted to use the Mulberry Silk we’d gotten in stock around the same time, but didn’t pounce on it for a variety of reasons. (Costs, probability of rowing out, time required.) Then I acquired the knitting machines, and knew it was possible for me to churn out the pieces pretty quickly. When the Tupa appeared in the sale bin, I pounced. It’s a silk wool blend, but I think it’ll make a nice top. So I swatched.

Swatching is good for you

This was done on the machine, a Brother 890. The DK weight yarn is a little big for this standard gauge machine, but using every other needle worked out okay. Using the machine to churn out miles of I-cord or stockinette seems like cheating, which is odd when I consider that I don’t feel spinning with a wheel rather than on a drop spindle is cheating. Since starting with the machine, I’ve thought a lot more about garment construction and design rather than individual stitches, which is different from my usual knitting adventures.

Hand knitting is about persistence, to my mind. There is a lot of craft to learn, sure, but the real obstacle may simply be boredom and frustration at how long it takes to make anything. Even a chunky hat takes the guts of an evening, and that’s not doing anything special with the pattern. A jumper can take weeks, even if nothing goes wrong. Machine knitting is a different beast. While most of my time on a knitted jumper is spent forming stitches, most of my time on the machine involves struggling with shaping, worrying about weights, and raging at the ribber. It is criminally easy to create rectangles of fabric, which shines a glaring light on my inadequacies as a designer and any mistakes I make (or corners I cut) with finishing.

In any case, I’ve committed myself to create this tank top on the machine. I will not be hand knitting it, even though if I started now I could probably finish it in a week. All my hand knitting time is currently devoted to the shrug I will wear over this not-yet-created top.

I must be crazy.

Deadline knitting

The other piece of awesomeness in my Loopy Ewe sock club package was a set of custom TLE red “Oh Snap!” pouches from Namaste. I didn’t photograph them along with the yarn because by the time I headed out to take pictures I had already stuffed the bags with projects:

Oh Snap! bags

They may not look like much, but as I’ve learned over years of making and using and cursing different bags for knitting, the see-through nature of these bags is key. They are sturdy and light, they lie pretty flat, they hold a lot more than you might think, and they slide easily into whatever bag you want to carry your stuff in that day. These two projects can now sit on my desk, and I can grab the one I want without having to look into several bags to see if they contain the project I’m looking for.

Yes, I should be able to remember which of my many (non-identical) bags contains the black lace shrug. It doesn’t always work out that way…

Black lace, you say? Why yes, I have started one of the least bloggable projects ever:

Lace in progress

Yes, lovely. Not only does lace look like vomit as it comes off the needles, any black knitted object is impossible to photograph. No matter how pretty the stitch markers may be:

Chainmaille stitch markers!

Chainmaille stitch markers! (silver)

Those are from Red Panda, and I really like them. They do make noise when I knit, since I’m using the very clinky Addis to knit this, it’s not that much more noise. I love that even though the rings aren’t continuous (usually a deal-breaker for me), they are so expertly cut and joined that they don’t snag on the yarn. Which is saying something, as this is very snaggy yarn. I had to change needles twice due to joins that snagged ever so slightly — even with needles that I’ve used before without any trouble.

I blocked out a little of the lace in the hope that it showed things more clearly:

Black lace, stretched out

Still not impressed? I’m not either. I’m kinda hoping it looks better when it’s actually on a person, otherwise I’m going to be very disappointed when this gets done. The pattern is I Do from Knitty, something I started a long long time ago and abandoned. I’d like to wear it to a friend’s wedding in early June, which gives me not very much time to finish this. I’m a very different knitter now than I was when I tried to do this the first time, and it’s been weird to revisit the pattern with five more years of knitting experience under my belt.

In any case, if things progress as they have been, I should be done in time to decide whether the finished object is ready for prime time.

A long, hot summer?

I’m still cold most of the time…

My Loopy Ewe May sock club package came last week, and it was so good the stuff got pressed into service before I got a chance to take decent pictures of it. This is the yarn, in all its summery glory:

May TLE Sock club yarn

It is soft and wonderful and while the shawlette pattern this month didn’t immediately excite me the sock pattern May Flowers looks intriguing. Just like last month, I’ve set it aside as enticement to finish one of the many other projects going on at the moment. Even though the colours aren’t so much my thing (yellow? maybe not), the whole thing wrapped up together looks cheerful and summery. The good kind of summer, like an Irish summer, with rain and cool breezes and sun. Not like LA summer with furnace-like heat and fires, or DC summer that’s so humid that drying off after a shower is an exercise in futility. The kind of summer people write songs about.

As I write, there’s a stack of knits and yarn next to me that needs photographing. I’ll be off to do that now, hoping for some of that summer sun to help out.

Roscommon Lamb Festival, part 3

We got really lucky that our day for the Festival had glorious weather. The Wool Craft Village was in the town square in a very large tent with floorboards, so even if it had rained we would have been out of the wet. Since it was beautiful out, Kheldara and I took turns leaving the table to explore when things were slow.

After I got back from petting Lorraine’s sheep, Kheldara asked me, “Did you see the blue lamb?”

Did I what now?

Armed with vague directions, I headed back outside with my camera. I passed the post office and a building that looked like a castle, following a little path until I spotted a real castle:

Roscommon town park

…or at least what was left of one. When I took this picture, I could hear a band playing in the distance, and thought even if I didn’t find the blue lamb I would at least find lunch. (Perhaps the blue lamb was going to become lunch; I had no idea.) I continued through the gate and out into a park. Lots of people were out, enjoying the day and taking part in the festivities. Lucky for me, I found the Pet Lamb Show on the near side of the park.

There, in a pen full of lambs and children, I spotted my quarry:

A blue lamb

It was, as I’d suspected, painted. Still, not something you see every day.

Roscommon Lamb Festival, part 2

As you might expect from the name, the Roscommon Lamb Festival is about lambs. Well, lambs and sheep. I learned that County Roscommon “has the highest lamb output in the country,” and that the festival itself is meant to showcase the benefits of locally produced food and craft. Whether you’re concerned about ethical treatment of animals, your carbon footprint, or supporting your local economy, there is some compelling reason to consider buying and eating locally. Combine that with the slow food movement and the increased interest in crafts, and it’s clear that the Lamb Festival is tapping into some timely concerns.

I’m a unapologetic city girl. I have minimal experience with sheep, and while I am aware of and appreciate the hard work that goes into animal husbandry I haven’t actually witnessed any of it. (Petting zoos do not count.) About as close as I’ve gotten to any of it is watching my sister muck out a stall at the barn she took horseback riding lessons at. I certainly don’t raise the sheep that produce the wool I enjoy knitting with. So I was excited when I found out that one attraction of the Wool Craft Village would be a demonstration of the path wool takes through the various crafts I take advantage of. There was a stage with a shearing machine, professional sheep-shearers, and a bunch of sheep to be sheared:

Sheep pen

Every so often, they’d bring out a sheep and shear it while all of us gawkers watched:

Sheep being sheared!

The sheep were surprisingly unconcerned about the entire affair. A few of them kicked a little when they were turned on their sides, but for the most part they were pretty chilled out. They didn’t look sedated, so my guess is that the shearing procedure has been developed to cause the least amount of trauma possible.

We also met Lorraine, a customer who heard we were coming to the festival and came to the booth to meet us. After chatting a little, we found out that she has her own sheep and had brought them to the festival. So I headed out and met her sheep and took a picture:

Lorraine and her sheep (bad picture, blame me)

We learned a little more about the ins and outs of raising sheep. I asked what happens to the wool after she gets her sheep sheared, and she (a knitter herself, remember) replied, “It goes straight to the wool merchants.” For the past few years, the cost of wool in Ireland has been incredibly low, so low that it costs more to shear the sheep (paying the shearers) than farmers can recover by selling the wool. There is a little buzz this year about prices going up a little, but it’s still astonishingly cheap right now.

After you shear the sheep and process the wool, you have to spin it. So there were spinners:

Spinner

One of the spinning wheels had been custom made by the spinner’s husband, but that one is (I think) an Ashford Traditional, the same kind I have. (Have I been spinning on it? No. One of these days.)

After you spin the wool, you make it into stuff. You can weave it, knit it, crochet it, felt it, make rugs, etc. So there was a knitting circle:

Knitting circle

That’s Michelle standing up in the middle. She organized the Wool Craft Village, and I thought she did a great job. There was a nice mix of vendors, the demonstrations were interesting (judging by the crowds of people around the shearers and spinners!), and she was available for us in case we needed anything. I think she also managed to have fun, so everyone won. We were grateful for the invitation to participate in the festival, and it seemed like a lot of people had a lovely day out as well.

Roscommon Lamb Festival, part 1

The shop received an invitation a few months ago to participate in this year’s Roscommon Lamb Festival, the first to feature a Wool Craft Village. Kheldara (Rav link) and I volunteered to staff our table, so it came to pass that the weekend before last I drove out Wesht and discovered all the delights the Wool Lamb Festival has to offer.

Since the Village didn’t officially open until 2-ish, we got a late start and hit the road with a carfull of stuff around 10:15. We set up as soon as we arrived:

Ready to sell...

I had my Irish radio debut while we put the finishing touches on the table. One of the presenters, Eugene from Shannonside, was set up in the station’s truck outside and asked a few of the vendors if they’d like to chat. I balked at first, fearing my telltale accent would mark me as a carpetbagger, but Eugene assured me it was exactly what they wanted. We chatted about the festival, about knitting, and about how the downturn in the economy was focusing people’s attention more on creative endeavours.

The Wool Village itself ended up being several straight hours of fun — we chatted with visitors, spotted a few shop customers who were delighted at being able to see us without having to make the trek to Dublin, and met some of the other vendors. I didn’t get a chance to talk to everyone, but I did snag a picture of one of the weaver’s tapestries in progress:

Woven tapestry in progress

She uses natural dyes in her work, and had a demonstration of the dye process at her booth. It threw me for a moment when I saw the dye pots — I’d thought they were vats of the fabled lamb stew. (We never did get any lamb stew. It was in a different location.)

There were a few yarn vendors at the Village, and a few people selling finished objects. We had a felter on one side of us who sold beautiful and practical felted pieces including purses, scrapbooks, fingerless gloves, and wraps. I couldn’t get good pictures of her stuff, but it was amazing. She confessed it was hard to sell some of her finished goods sometimes, and I can definitely relate. On the other side of us, a crocheter sold finished items, mostly baby blankets and clothes:

Crocheter selling her wares

Clearly, the fibre crafts are alive and well in Ireland.