Knitting and knitting, on and on.

There have been two persistent problems keeping me from debuting finished projects on this blog. The first is that I cannot knit monogamously. As much as I can be absorbed with a process or project, like the Royal Garden socks mentioned last time, the attraction eventually gives way to other knits that begin to shine from the basket, beckoning me to pull them out and give them their fair share of time. The second problem is that I’m constantly reorganizing my yarn bins, which leads to discovering long-forgotten purchases and a) suffering immediate, nagging guilt that I haven’t yet used the yarn, which leads to an almost-immediate cast on,  or b) remembering the incredible yarn I have sitting around that would be perfect for a long-queued project.

Come to think of it, I have a third problem: knitting up samples of my own yarn. After my last dye experiment, I clearly had to see how the yarn would work up. Immediately.

And then I guess there’s that other problem, of finding the old WIP lurking in the bins. I started these mittens last February, I suppose with the intent of providing myself with immediate warmth during a frigid New England winter. As fall looms, just a few months away, they’ve again become an attractive project. I’ll certainly be needing them before I even know it. So it’s best to finish up the thumb and get started on the second mitten.

These rich, tweedy shades of Harrisville New England Shetland are an example of problem number 2—the forgotten treasure that causes impulsive casting-on. They’re destined to be a Selbu Modern, serving double function as satiating my colorwork cravings.

So for the rest of the month of August, I’ll be finishing up two pairs of socks, a second mitten (plus thumb!), and beginning (and hopefully finishing) a hat. Sometimes I feel like Penelope, and wonder if Scott sneaks into the yarn baskets while I’m sleeping and undoes my knitting. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter; in the meantime, I’m content with the act of knitting, forever amazed by the transmutation of yarn into fabric. So I’ll keep knitting and knitting, on and on, and hopefully, eventually, have something finished to show for it!

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The beginning of an obsession.

This is me, fresh from the shower, sitting around in my ‘Death to the Pixies’ t-shirt, looking less-than-excited about my impending exam in Intellectual Property. I’m holding the sock that officially kicked off my obsession with stranded knitting. And I fear that, when asked to write about international IP laws and famous copyright cases for the essay portion of my exam today, the only words I’ll be able to muster up will be things like ‘Shetland’, ‘fair isle’, and ‘Alice Starmore’. I’ve got it bad.

It all started last week when I was tidying my yarn bins. A skein of sock yarn had to be pulled from the Nautilus Yarns inventory because of a slight dye imperfection, and I really wanted to knit it up as a sample. It had to be a sock, because of its deep, rosy hue—all the colors not typically worn on my person are turned into socks—but I didn’t want it to stand alone. I needed something to break up the line between the pink and my skin. So I dug a bit more and found some Cascade Heritage in dark brown, and thought that the pairing would yield a sharp contrast and emphasize the patterning in a fair isle sock. A quick search on Ravelry turned up the Royal Garden pattern (free!), and I immediately cast on. And it was really, really difficult to put these down. Both yarns, composed of merino, effortlessly slid through my fingers as I worked through the charts, and the experience of watching the pattern unfold continually inspired me to keep on knitting. The leg turned quickly into a heel, and I was grafting the toe closed before I knew it.

I’m going to cast on for the second sock tonight, as a post-exam gift to myself. I can’t wait to finish them, just so I can move on to my next stranded knitting project! I’ve got them lined up.

*This post could not have been brought to you without Photobooth: the lazy person’s photographer.

Introducing…Nautilus Yarns!

The shop is up, and I’ve already had my first sale!

I’ll be waiving shipping for all Crafting a Better Life readers for my first shop update, just enter code ‘CABL’ in the ‘message to seller’ box. Etsy will initially charge you the shipping, but I’ll refund it on Paypal.

I cannot explain the sheer joy and excitement that pulsed through me with the notification of my first sale. And I think that, for the sake of keeping this blog about my crafting and not my new business venture, I’ll keep chatter about that element reserved for another venue: a new blog. I’ll be launching the Nautilus Yarns blog with my second shop update, which, unfortunately, won’t be for a couple of weeks. But I’m rather excited for that update, and the lessons I’ve learned along the way that I can apply to how all of it comes together.

I’ll have actual knitting content very soon—I’ve been a crafty lady!



Salt water taffy.

I’ve been humming around lately with nothing but color and experimentation on the brain. My Etsy shop is up and running, but I’m planning on officially opening it up to my blogworld on Friday (because, truth be told, I completely forgot to photograph one of the yarns up for grabs!). I’m equal parts excited and nervous, but mostly just eager right now—I hope to move those skeins quickly so that I can buy more blanks with which to play. There’s a tried and true dye technique that hasn’t yet failed me, but I’m not the type of person to stick to one definitive way of doing things, so I played around with some yarn and the dye pot the other night and had some really fun results.

My initial intention was to capture some of the colors in Monet’s Water Lilies: the moody blues, pale greens, and shocks of pink. It was an uncharacteristic move for me, as I’m not a big fan of Monet or his ubiquitous series, but it seemed like a fun challenge. As I pulled the wet skein from the dye pot, however, I saw less of the famous paintings, and more of a favorite childhood treat: salt water taffy. We would buy them in mesh bundles, each pastel bit of salty, sugary floss wrapped in waxed paper, and we’d deftly unwrap them, sending little bits of paper every which way until our teeth ached with the chewing and the saccharine. Taffy is, for me,  summer, the beach, time as a meaningless structure, and carefree living. So, despite my aversion to pastels, I’ve come to like this skein of yarn quite a bit.

I’m going to knit it up as fast as possible to see how it looks, and depending on the outcome, will dye up some more like it to offer in the shop.

I’ll be back on Friday to introduce the brand—hope to see you here!

Housekeeping.

All I’ve been doing as of late is tidying, organizing, and trying my damnedest to keep things in order in my humble, tiny home. It hasn’t made for incredible blog fodder, I’ll tell you that. So I’m offering you a virtual whiff of the most delicious banana bread I’ve ever made. The trick lies in its simplicity: there are no nuts or chocolate chips to be found here. I added an extra banana (bringing the count up to 4 very brown and speckled fruits), and swapped out half of the sugar for chai powder. If you’re a lover of chai, or spices for that matter, this is an exceptionally wise move. Every bite was imbued with a lusciousness and excitement that cannot be found in conventional banana bread. The reduced sugar content makes it perfect for snacking on with some tea, or sneaking slivers right before bed (as Scott is found doing quite often). I wholeheartedly recommend sneaking some chai mix into desserts at any chance you get. Life is too short for bland baked goods!

I also gave the blog a little freshening up. The last time I updated the WordPress theme and my ‘about me’ page was almost two years ago, so I feel a bit more current, with the times.

And while I was tinkering with websites, I created my Etsy shop. It’s empty right now, but I plan to have it open by next week. It’ll be a small shop update, with probably less than 10 skeins offered, but they’ve all been lovingly dyed and need to find new homes. This place is too tiny to be carrying around extra yarn.

Oh my, that’s a lot of fiber.

In our household, one of the things of which we do not speak is a certain yarn diet that has been occurring since the beginning of the year. This particular miss has not really bought any yarn in 2010; the bindings of said diet allow for the occasional single skein if it is absolutely required to finish a project, but otherwise, there has been nothing. It has been strangely liberating, the opportunity (rather, push) to rifle through my stash at 2 a.m. when the inspiration strikes, and unearth some long-forgotten treasure as if on a strange, woolly archaeological dig. For a frugal lady who is easily excited by recycling, it has been wonderful—I’ve knit two full sweaters from stashed yarn, and am working on my third. I’ve knit a bunch of socks, a couple of shawls. The bins are filling up with empty space instead of bursting with squished yarn, which is most definitely a wonderful thing.

And then, as I was celebrating my successes as a stash-buster, and reclaiming all of that space, I took up spinning. Naturally, that spawned a whole new collection. But now, having witnessed the dangers of acquiring too much too fast, and learning about how to properly accumulate a quality stash, I’ve become a most excellent curator, if I do say so myself. So, instead of showing you a bunch of half-finished knit projects, I thought I’d show you some luscious fiber, and hopefully inspire some to pick up the spindle.

This was my very first fiber purchase, bought at my first sheep and wool festival, where it screamed out “STEPH!” and then quickly found its way home with me. It comes from Hampton Artistic Yarns, and is beautifully dyed. The owner of the company is a sweetheart, and gracefully dealt with my fickle shopping behavior, answering loads of my silly questions with complete patience.

This assortment of brown batts comes from a fiber collective known as the Spindies, of which H.A.Y. is involved. Each batt is a different fiber, making it the perfect project for a beginner eager to try out everything from alpaca to milk fiber. And it’s all brown. I’ve been known to randomly stick my hand into the bag for a fondle, and then I become a creepy fiber person. Whatever, I’ve made amends with my eccentricities.

FUNKY CAROLINA! Need I say more? Mom and I sat at a computer together and watched my shopping cart get rejected not once, but three times, simply because I couldn’t click fast enough. Eventually I scored this lone skein of Gravelish, and was (and still am) super excited.

There’s actually a good bit more, but I’m going to save that and see if I can actually spin anything this weekend first. It’s dad’s 50th birthday party, and I’m going to be a busy girl, heading back and forth between Boston and New York. For now, I’m going to get back to spinning while watching Bleak House on Netflix because apparently I cannot get enough of Gillian Anderson (Scott and I are simultaneously working our way through the entire X-Files series). Hopefully I’ll be through at least one batt by Monday!

A new chapter?

For a while now, I’ve been very fascinated by the process of dyeing yarn. Manipulating color is an incredibly fun, tricky, surprising, and rewarding process. I studied fiber arts briefly a couple of years ago while at art school, and continually come back to the principles I learned there: working intuitively, creating a recognizable aesthetic, and pursuing the areas of art and craft that you truly enjoy. I love everything about the dye process, from the mixing of colors, to the myriad methods of dye application, to the time spent over a steaming pot poking dye into yarn with a chopstick. Those lessons I learned in art school have modified the way I go about my dye process; I do keep loose formulas for how I mix colors, but I allow myself ample wiggle room to change things along the way. I can’t say I have a strong aesthetic now, as I’m still ironing out some kinks, but I know what I’m working towards. And as I play with different fibers, and branch out into dyeing fabrics, I’m certainly experimenting with this expansive realm of art and craft.

Now that I’m without a job for the summer, all of this extra time has allowed me to think about what dyeing means to me, and what I want to do with it. Of course it’s a lot of fun, but there’s no way I could keep up with knitting all of the yarn I dye—it would undoubtedly pile up, unused, and out of sight. And I quite like the outcome of recent dyeing adventures, so I don’t want all those lonely skeins to wallow in the cabinets. So in about a week or two (after dad’s 50th birthday party, and my twenty-something birthday), I’ll be opening up an on-line shop with a few of my skeins. Up there is an as-yet-unnamed skein of delicious, burnt-pumpkin-y goodness. I’m so tempted to keep it, but I certainly have student loans to pay down, so I won’t.

“Reading Time with Pickle”

I don’t know what will come of my little shop experiment, but I’m very excited and anxious to see. I certainly don’t expect to make a living out of it, but if I have enough pocket money to keep doing what I’m doing, and maybe afford the occasional pint or book of poetry, I’ll be a happy woman. Scott has been lighting a fire under my bottom to do this for a long time, and has generously provided capital to get me started (by which I mean plenty of undyed yarn). I can’t tell if I’m scared of success, or failure, but either way, I’m a bit nervous sending my goods out into the world!

I’ll be back soon to hash out the details, post some more pictures of the yarns, and talk a bit about the inspiration behind my colors and the name of the brand. I look forward to chronicling this entire process here, and watching how it evolves!

Crafty diversions.

To say that I’ve had a tumultuous school break would be an understatement. In the span of a couple of weeks, I managed to get a really bad cold, experience some terrible food poisoning, become unemployed, and waste a lot of time. It’s pretty sad—I had these grandiose visions of how I would spend my newfound abundance of free time, but when it came down to it, I really missed the structure of classes and homework, and found myself floundering.

Yesterday was a turning point. I realized that I only have two weeks left before my summer classes start up, and a whole lot still left on my crafty to-do list. I’ll discuss this in depth later, but for now, I’ll start by introducing a diversion from my normal knitterly activities: beading. I’ve lightly dabbled in the craft before (mentioned here), and am still on the fence about its merits, but had a specific project in mind that required I take it up. So I popped over to my neighborhood bead store (by which I mean I rode the T for half an hour across the Charles to another neighborhood’s bead store), and spent my rapidly diminishing money on some beads and fixings. A couple of hours later, I had this little beauty to drape around my neck:

And when I say ‘this little beauty,’ I mean a cobalt blue version of the same necklace that didn’t work out quite as nicely. In my initial haste to see how the project would turn out, I took some unfortunate shortcuts and created a necklace ill-suited to my perfectionist tendencies. It has since been frogged (de-beaded?), and will be resurrected this weekend. There’s one more successful version, which I’ll likely introduce to the blog this weekend. But this one is my favorite.

This picture gives a better look at the charming beaded braid. The tutorial can be found here, on one of my new favorite blogs, Eighteenth Century Agrarian Business. I think I used smaller beads than they did, but no matter—I’m over the moon with how it turned out. Once you get the process down, you can make any number of variations: shorter or longer chain, style of braid, type of bead. I want to make a version with multi-colored beads and doubled leather cord. Which brings me to the best part about this craft: it’s cheap, and it’s fast! As a knitter used to the slowness of creation, this was a welcome surprise.

Speaking of knitting, some things have grown. Of course, with sock yarn and 3.0 mm needles, they have grown incredibly slowly, but become larger nonetheless. Naturally, the only way to demonstrate this is with a blurry, out-of-focus picture, because I still haven’t figured out how to focus with a timer. Someday!

I think you get the idea, though. Much bigger than three measly squares! In fact, I’m about 1/8th of the way there! Now I just need to knit up more fingering weight projects, because I’m running out of scraps!

More necklaces and knitting to come, very soon.

Fleece and fiber.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending the Long Island Fleece and Fiber Fair. It was out on the east end of Long Island, where shopping malls and cramped neighborhoods dwindle and are replaced by sprawling farmland and vineyards. I was very lucky to catch a stray post on Ravelry announcing the event, and immediately made plans to head home. Mom and Scott tagged along, and I’m sure that both saw me more happy and visibly excited than they ever had before. It was amazing.

It was my first fiber fest, and it couldn’t have been in a more perfect setting. It was held on the grounds of a museum that was really more of a collection of small historic buildings. Each housed a different theme, ranging from carding wool to weaving to rug-hooking. There were plenty of animals to pet, lots of enthusiastic fiber folk, and an ample supply of yarn and raw wool. But what was of particular interest was that the event was structured around education—many families with small children attended, and it looked like special care was taken to appeal to these kids and teach them the value of fiber crafts. People really welcomed the engagement of the children, and allowed them to touch delicate spinning wheels and weaving looms. It was really incredible to see.

Mom and I were really taken by the alpacas, though we look sort of confused here.

I fell in love with a coy little sheep named Clyde.

And I picked up a new hobby. Oops.

To be fair, the fiber on the spindle is actually locally sourced—the beauties I picked up at the fair are far too gorgeous to learn with. I’ve been spinning through this merino quickly, though,  so hopefully I’ll have my first skein of handspun to show  soon!

The ironies of freedom.

As is usually the case in my life, my much-anticipated break from school has been thwarted. The moment that I turned in the last lengthy paper, I felt a tickle in my throat, and a fogginess in my ears. I’ve spent the last week since then feeling every shade of awful, yet managed to successfully attend a work event (of which pictures will follow; it was a very exciting day!) and land myself a volunteer position that will turn into an internship by summer’s end, should everything stick to plan. I’ve blown through more tissues than should be permitted, and have consumed more tea this past week than I have, probably, all year. But my, how those steaming little cups do soothe, both the body and mind!

I’m of the sort of sick person that can knit despite her ailments, and have done so quite a bit since my ‘freedom’ began. The scrap blanket is coming along nicely, and I’m hoping to snap some in-progress photos this weekend. That lovely cone of heathered navy deliciousness up there is a long-treasured bargain from Colourmart, procured for a mere 25 dollars,  running roughly 1600 yards. My feelings on cashmere now differ vastly from when I bought the cone over a year ago—I take issue with how it is sourced, and how it taxes the environment, and its role as a luxury good. But if there is one thing I am not, it is wasteful, so I’m putting it to good use and allowing it to be the single cashmere item in my wardrobe. It will be, if my math and gauge tweaking harmonize, a Featherweight cardigan. And it will be scrumptious. I’m about halfway through the raglan increases (on size 3.5 mm needles, so it’s going to take a while, thankyouverymuch!), but am enjoying it immensely. It’s the perfect mindless, soothing knitting to occupy your hands and clouded head over cups and cups of steaming tea.