Monday, December 19, 2011

Phalaenopsis deliciosa

Phalaenopsis deliciosa, for a while known as Kingidium deliciosum and also for a while called a Doritis, remains a dainty rarity in the world dominated by its enormous ubiquitous hybrid relatives.

The plant and even the flowers are not unusually small among Phal species -- there are a few that are even smaller, like Phal. lobbii and Phal. minus. There is something rather appealing though about having those tiny sugar-crystal cotton-candy pink flowers appear on long branching spikes, rather than all gathered about the base of the plant. It makes them more butterfly-like, more fairy-dust.

Mine has been blooming since I acquired it from Orchids Limited in June at the Silva Shore Orchid Fest. Just as the original spike petered out a new, more vigorous one sprang up and branched and has ever since sported a healthy crop of buds, with the expected one or two flowers open in succession. The original spike has meanwhile begun to sprout a keiki, which makes me happy, as backups are always a good plan!

I keep this about 10" below the center of my light tubes, in a tray that is allowed to gather water and then evaporate it. I haven't yet replaced the sphagnum it's in, but the roots are quite happy inside the pot and just beginning to wander about.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Knitting up Rhinebeck 2010: Steam Valley Fiber Silk Yarn

I finally made an attempt to "organize" my Rhinebeck yarns this summer. This attempt consisted of purchasing two large clear plastic bins, and then filling each bin with yarn. Success! 
In the course of this effort, I came across this super beautiful yarn from Steam Valley Fiber, of which I purchased a single skein. The name of the color is Tidepool, but the shifting shining colors are more like a mature male peacock in the sun. The hand is lovely soft and strokeable, owing to the combo of 50% silk and 50% superfine Merino. The price was $40, explaining why I only bought one skein. Happily it is 270 yards, so I thought "Hurrah! Enough for an actual 1-skein project!"
Blue Lace Scarf
With no elasticity to speak of, the yarn cried out to become a luscious scarf...hat or gloves would have been problematic, you see. And so because I really enjoyed the Enchanting lace pattern with a similar yarn, I decided to make another Moebius scarf. Except that I didn't quite calculate the width correctly first time, and feared having too short of a non-stretchy bit of lace. So I frogged and cast on only 3 repeats of the lace, really the bare minimum, and have ended up with a nice long scarf that is taking bloody forever to finish. Really, 270 yards has taken me from August to November to finish, even with carrying the project everywhere I go. Granted I only work on it during long bus trips when I have sufficient elbow room, or during boring board meetings. However the end is finally in sight...and then I get to enjoy deep anxiety over washing this yarn. 

It Bloomed! Habenaria medusa BLOOMED!!

Well, I had 2 tubers sprout, but 1 conked out before it could spike -- I suspect overwatering.

However, the bigger healthier one went on to strut its stuff.

Naturally, the first flowers opened just before we left for a 4-day vacation! But when we returned, the plant and flowers had survived their time in the heat and dark (July, no a/c and no lights on while we're away). They all lasted about 10 days each. All of them opened. I am very thrilled indeed.

And now I am watching both empty little pots anxiously, dribbling water on their empty surfaces in hopes of maintaining the tubers til next year. Habenaria rhodochilia is still in leaf and will soon join them.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Shore Orchid Fest Purchases

Silva Orchids held a very fun and very welcome Orchid Festival a couple of weekends ago, inviting a bunch of other orchid vendors to share their territory for a weekend and enabling a lot of NY-NJ-CT-PA orchid folks to socialize and binge on awesome orchids.

I attended Sunday, the last day of the Fest, but still found plenty of nifty things to buy. I swore I could only buy very few plants because contrary to prior years' experience, hardly any of my recent purchases have perished. In fact most of my orchids are thriving, and many were recently moved up a pot size. This causes problems of course when your space really is finite. So I used the same trick I used at a few other sales: I brought a small (recycled plastic) Whole Foods bag that is excellent for orchid transportation (being thick, flat-bottomed and with longish handles), and intended to just fill it. Alas I forgot, once again, that this wonderful bag is infinitely expandable. I bought and bought and STILL had room...well it helped that the plants were mostly in 2- or 3-inch pots.

Spread out a bit, this haul fit in two plastic takeout tray/boxes, as seen above:
  • Angraecum leonis (an old favorite, a nice healthy plant)
  • Bulbophyllum frostii (could not resist another)
  • Gastrochilus japonicus (currently in flower)
  • Goodyeara pusilla (really gorgeous dark sparkly leaves)
  • Holcoglossum subulifolium (Oak Hill, a huge plant for cheap!)
  • Liparis bootanensis (a little underwhelming florally, but I may learn to love it)
  • Liparis viridiflora (replaces one I had for many years but managed to kill)
  • Macodes petula (yet another one...they are NOT the easiest jewels to maintain!)
  • Oeceoclades maculata (yes I know it's a weed, but I don't care)
  • Paphiopedilum purpuratum (Silva has a nice assortment of paph species)
  • Paphiopedilum Yakushiji (malipoense x weshanense) (compact, in spike!)
  • Phalaenopsis deliciosa (wanted one for years!)
  • Pholidota chinensis (one of my VERY favorite species)
  • Podochilus muricatus (I could not help myself but to get another...alas the one I got in March bit the dust)
  • Tolumnia Genting Volcano (a nice dark pink)
Most of these new guys have found places more or less OK for them but a few are hanging out with some of the SEPOS plants that still haven't found exactly the right spot. I also have to pot the bare-root Liparis. And since the beginning of the year I managed to acquire a number of other plants as well...shall record them soon.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Pretty Red Orchids!

I still think this is Potinara Ching Hua Flame 'Red Rose' but still can't be 100% sure -- it might just be an SLC Jewel Box clone, but I don't think so. The plant is too compact and neatly upright, and not very big, and the flowers have much better substance. This NOID came from a raffle following the New York International Orchid Show; Kawamoto Orchids was a vendor, and they do carry this clone, and the picture and description match my plant pretty well. (The original price tag matched their price at the time too.)

This is the best set of blooms it's ever had! Being very close under the lights helps...gee, getting lots of water and food seems to help too, not to mention air circulation in hot weather. Frankly I'm amazed to get such red red red flowers in summer, when cool weather usually produces brighter reds.

Now if only the rest of my mini catts would get in line...

Monday, May 23, 2011

SEPOS/Longwood Gardens 2011: My purchases

Another fantastic orchid show come and gone. We spent 3 hours in a car to get there from NYC, anticipating the beautiful things we'd see. And what do my friends and I do first? Why hit the sales tent of course.
  • Aerangis hyaloides -- an entire compot in flower!
  • Anoectochilus burmannicus
  • Anoectochilus albo-lineatus 
  • Bromheadia brevifoli (mounted, adorable pointy green leaves)
  • Bulbophyllum comingii
  • Cynorkis fastigiata (I know, I know, it's a weed, go away)
  • Dendrochilum javieri
  • Dendrobium normandbyense
  • Dend. tosaense
  • Dend. Angel Baby (fantastic awesome hybrid, and covered in buds)
  • Dend. Aussie Chip (another one, yes)
  • Habenaria medusa (yes I've lost my mind)
  • Podochilus muricatus (mounted, adorable rounded green leaves)
  • Stenoglottis woodii (adorable fat little green leaves)
  • (SLC Dream Cloud x BLC Love Sound)
About my usual ratio of species to hybrids, lately.
Once the shopping was done, I could begin the important business of taking lots and lots and lots of photographs. Lots and lots. Ooh, lots.

(All this happened in March, of course, and here I am only now remembering to finish & publish the post. So a few updates are going to overlap this...o well.)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Aerangis hyaloides

Miniature orchids don't get much cuter than Aerangis hyaloides. They are perfect scale miniature versions of larger more familiar species like A. biloba or A. citrata, and that of course increases their cuteness factor by many orders of magnitude.

When I saw compots of this species for sale by H&R Orchids at the SEPOS/Longwood show, for only $50, I flipped and immediately bought one. Not only were the plants all fantastically green and healthy, they were all in flower. Well not all. But nearly every one that was big enough had at least 1 spike and the pot was peppered with sweet crystalline white flowers.

Considering what individual blooming-size plants cost...yeah. No brainer. So today I finally took the compot apart, and ended up with a simply ridiculous number of mature plants and babies. 12 with spikes!! and another 10 that are nearly blooming size. I potted them in sphagnum moss in tiny plastic pots, for now. The biggest ones are solo, the next size are sharing pots in pairs; the tiniest ones got a new compot arrangement for now.

Having wonderful adorable little planties to trade or sell is a good thing! Now to find ideal spots for the big ones I'm actually keeping...

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Anoectochilus albo-lineatus

Jewel orchids fill me with wonder. Even simple "ordinary" Ludisia discolor charms and amazes me with its beautiful deep velvety leaves sparkling with golden crystals.

Anoectochilus albolineatus is fairly small, I suppose, for a jewel orchid, and doesn't make many leaves before it flowers. There is nothing especially spectacular about its foliage -- as sparkly and lovely as it is, I wouldnt' be able to tell it apart from most other Anoectochilus-es at a glance. But when I spotted them for sale at the Longwood Gardens show -- at a mere $10 apiece!!!! -- I snapped up four of the little darlings. Each darling consisting of 2 tiny darlings -- so eight?

A couple of the growths were kind of limp, doubless due to the trauma of show transportation. Since drought = death to these delicate dainties, I had to figure out impromptu terraria for them. I stripped off the outer layers of sphagnum moss from their tiny root systems and carefully tucked them into clear plastic wine tumblers with a nice moist layer of fresh clean sphagnum. I covered them loosely with a little plastic wrap. The photo shows the result. (One was limper than the rest, and that one is in a larger plastic covered dish along with other plants needing a bit of spa treatment. It's perked up nicely.)

I remember a friend of mine once nursing along a tiny scrap of A. roxburghii, using fresh live sphagnum moss in a brandy snifter. Things kept nibbling at it, and finally it did rot away, but that high humidity did keep it going a long time. I appreciate the hardiness of Ludisias all the more, now.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Habenaria medusa, or Unbridled Optimism

I happen to love terrestrial orchids of all sorts, and lately have been making real efforts to grow more varieties. Modest success with fairly easy plants such as Ludisia discolor v. alba, Stenosarchos Vanguard and Stenoglottis sceptrodes is one thing; modest success with Habenaria rhodochila is a pleasant thing indeed. (I refuse to speak of my numerous attempts to cultivate Macodes petula. Suffice to say I will Try Try Again.) So I recently obtained two Habenaria medusa tubers with nice healthy sprouts. I love H. medusa. I have seen it alive and in person, and this is how it looks:

Habenaria medusae

Or at any rate, this is how it looks when my friend Lenny grows it. This is another view of another plant grown by my friend Marc:

Habenaria medusa

That is to say, when grown by people who know what they're doing. This, on the other hand, is what I have to work with:

I've potted them in the same mix in 2 different pots: Peat-Lite soil-less mix combined with seedling orchid mix (fir bark, perlite, charcoal) and scraps of osmunda (from a pretty old bag I kept around for nostalgia I guess). One is in plastic, one in clay.

Along with the other terrestrials I'll be tracking their progress pretty closely. I'd like to not screw these up...

Sunday, March 27, 2011

New Orchids from Deep Cut Show 2011

Dtps Purple Martin
One thing about tight space in one's collection...and by tight space I mean Nowhere to go outside the light you can always find room for a few new plants if you're creative enough. And if you've killed enough older plants. I was determined to be disciplined in my shopping at this show simply because I had to be...and I knew going there that I was probably going to be shopping at the SEPOS show at Longwood Gardens in March where there are even more vendors of stuff I adore. And I was good. I didn't overbuy. Not by too much. Only by a few. Really. The Deep Cut show was in mid-February. So yeah, I'm a little late writing this up. Oh well. Here's what I got...

  • Doritaenopsis Purple Martin "Kingsir" (Kenneth Schubert x Phal violacea). A real cutie pie. Tiny flowers for the size of the plant, but the spike keeps going and going. And the color is marvellous, that lovely lavender that coerulea Phals have.

  • Paph. Lynleigh Koopowitz (delenatii "Dumbo" x malipoense "Beheaded"). Because, awesome. The fan is enormous, and should show a spike ANY DAY now.

  • Maxillaria schunkeana. My second attempt at this singularly awesome species.

  • Maxillaria pulla. This one is going to live on the windowsill next to the surviving masdevallia.

  • Epicattleya Landwoods "NN" Not-too-tall plant, and gorgeous extremely full, waxy flowers. I looooooove green flowers, especially on Cattleyas and Epicatts. Oh, and fragrant!
Not too shabby a bunch. And I did find room for them all.

Monday, February 21, 2011

February Big Beers Flight

David Copperfield's has had some truly wonderful stuff on tap these past few months. Craft brewers have been rocking the winter and "big" beer categories for a while now - and we got to taste not only fresh offerings but vintage brews as well, from 2009! So a couple of weeks ago it was impossible to resist the multiple temptations on offer, and we ordered a flight of five and two pints besideds.

Wexford Irish Cream Ale was not a big beer or a winter warmer. It was at least an ale, of sorts. Blandly easy to drink, smooth, malty and light on hops.

Likewise, the Smuttynose Baltic Porter was surely a porter. A textbook porter: smooth, dark, ligth body, the usual coffee/toffee notes, sweetish finish. A perfectly nice porter if you are in the mood for one without much challenge.

Stone Lukcy Bastard was surely a Stone brew. You could tell with one sniff, you thought you were settling into a nice half grapefruit for breakfast. Reputedly an oaked blend of Arrogant Bastard and Double Bastard, it does have that malty oomph that makes Stone superior to Rogue if you think beer superior to citrus peel. There was really nothing memorable about it.

Stone did much better with its Imperial Russian Stout 2009. Hops were pretty much absent from this offering, as one would expect, in lieu of deep rich caramel and chocolate flavors and a few welcome coffee notes. The brew was dense, rich, winy, deep, a bit sharp on the tongue, really a perfect example of the style. Wonderful stuff.

Founder's Breakfast Stout 2009 was quite interesting, and as Spouse ordered a pint of it we had much to contemplate. The notes say it is brewed with an "abundance of flaked oats, bitter and sweetened imported chocolates, Sumatra and Kona coffee." The coffee notes were actually a bit muted for all that. There's a light coffee aroma, mingled with rich malt. Strong fizz, light body. The coffee and chocolate flavors blend nicely without tasting burnt, and there's a clean, sweetish finish. No hop bitterness to speak of. I didn't miss it.

Unibroue is one of my favorite breweries, and I will always gladly try whatever they make. Trois Pistoles was an absolute treat. As an abbey-style strong dark ale, it's still (no fizz) and dense. The aroma was full with sweet rich fruit and malt. The apple/apricot fruit flavors shaded ever so slightly into bubblegum esters on the finish, but the stronger essences were cherries and port. Seriously! In just an abbey dark ale! Lovely with food, too. I've since had a full serving of this brew and loved it even more.

Finally, there was Smuttynose Gravitation. Unlike the porter, there was nothing else to really compare this to. This powerful brew (12% abv! that's wine!) is a Belgian Quad made extra-oomphy by the addition of "200 pounds of raisin puree per batch." The nose is fruity (it better be!) with distinct raisin and prune notes. The body is oddly light, nearly porter-like. I found distinct concord grape, cherry and berry flavors mixed in with the rich caramel malts. The finish was clean, a bit sweet and tart. Spouse complained of an unpleasant undertaste, that I either did not notice or mind. I would like to try it again some night before an hour of eating and drinking caused congestion to foul up my finer taste abilities.

Some fantastic beers out there. Cheers!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Knitting Up Rhinebeck 2008: Silk Bubbles

Silk Bubbles Yarn

I have a thing for novelty yarns, even if I seldom make anything from them. I have a whole basket of fantastically colored or amazingly textured yarns that are mostly for inspiration. Some of them will eventually become mini-scarves, or trim on a sweater collar & cuffs, but others well I dunno. They are For Pretty. For petting. For gazing at. Each luscious skein called to me in the yarn store, and I heeded the call.

I really tried to buy "project" yarns at Rhinebeck, not petting/gazing yarns, if only because their cost was high compared to most LYS impulse purchases. Then I found this stuff.

A Touch of Twist had mostly sort of plain yarns, at pretty low prices. I got a sweater's worth of black alpaca, and also a nice wool blend in lace weight for a shawl. Then I fell for Silk Bubbles.

Slinky nubby multicolored silk yarn, that cheap? That pretty? That...fingering weight?

After my usual long delay I wound the skeins and made a swatch. It was...limp. What was I going to do with it? I figured, scarf! Which is my default item I guess. The stuff was too thin for a hat, not stretchy enough for anything else. So I cast on and started knitting.

I remembered why I have only ever liked knitting wool boucle. (Don't get me started on Lion Brand Boucle, which is the NASTIEST stuff I ever tried to crochet. Only slightly friendlier as a knit fabric. Ugh!) Wool boucle (like my favorite black cardigan) is bouncy and stretchy, and even though you inevitably keep sticking your needles into the loops of fiber instead of the loops of yarn, it's easy to recover and keep going. Not so silk boucle. Oh no indeed. It was like knitting with linen or mercerized cotton, only without any give whatsoever, and half-blinded by nubbins. It was slow. It was frustrating. It felt lovely in my hands, but it took ages and ages to do a row.

I got as far as shown in the picture, and I stopped. After 4 inches of teensy tiny stitches I called it quits. I tossed it in the Hibernation Pile and forgot about it.

Now...well, I'm trying to record all my Rhinebeck mania, so I found it and I'll give it another go. Doubling the yarn might help, and there should be enough for a small Moebius scarf like the one I made from the Maple Creek silk blend. I'll give it a try this weekend. We'll see.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Knitting Up Rhinebeck 2008: Bamboo Silk

Maple Creek Yarn: Bamboo-Silk blend

I was never much of a fan of one-skein projects before I discovered handpainted luxury yarns. Ever practical, for years I preferred to buy yarns in bulk and make sweaters. Anything left over could become a scarf. I really didn't make hats, and I never made a shawl. I do remember buying massive amounts of rainbows of acrylics to make huge afghans and throws when I was in high school and college, but that ardor cooled...cos really, how many of those do you really need?

My current yarn stash began in the mid-to-late 90s, when I took up knitting again with a vengeance. At the start I once again thought in terms of sweater projects instead of mini projects. Now and then another scarf or hat experiment. The only yarn I regularly bought in small amounts was to make stuff for my friends' babies and kids.

The combination of Ravelry and Rhinebeck blew my attitudes out of the water. Hats! I wanted LOTS of hats! Well, I needed some anyway, my old ones were a bit old after all. And new scarves! I'd only made a couple in the past 10 years and one of those was so massive (imagine a fuzzy fluffy overly warm gray Tom Baker Dr Who scarf...) I hardly ever wore it. Rhinebeck got my mind percolating. "I'll make hats and scarves and shawls and who knows what else!" I fingered skein after skein of yummy colorful expensive stuff, and bought things I really had no idea what to do with...but I had to have them. Like the stuff picture above.

Maple Creek Yarn bamboo silk blend. OMG. Soft, silky, drapey, shimmery, sweet beautiful colors, but the price! I couldn't make a garment from it. Maybe 2 skeins? No, just one. I came home with just one. And what to do with it? Well, a skinny little scarf, I figured. Something light and springtimey. Lace. It took 2 years for me to actually get around to it, but I did it. Happily, it even turned out to be useful! This little Moebius loop scarf I made drapes perfectly to, the deeply plunged necklines of several sweaters I made while I was not working 9-5 in an office. Not too warm to wear indoors all day, and it feels nice against my skin. What more could I possibly want?

Bamboo-Silk Lace Scarf

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Knitting Up Rhinebeck 2008: Good Shepherd Yarn

Color, color, color, color...Rhinebeck is all about color, from subtle to gaudy. I always knew I had an eye for gaudy but managed to keep it under control...but handpaint yarns really push that button.

And so I came to Good Shepherd, and found many many beautiful colorways in single ply wool. And so I siezed 4 skeins of the Arizona Sunrise. I normally don't gravitate towards orange and yellow yarn, if only because I'm sure they look terrible against my complexion. Somehow I found myself buying 2 different yarns in shades of orange that day. Strange, that. (I wanted another colorway very badly, but they only took cash and I hadn't enough. I took care of that little problem in 2009.)

There wasn't really enough yarn for anything but hat & scarf combo. I rather like the pooling of colors on both pieces. I used checkerboard patterns in order to mix up the colors between smooth & bumpy stockinette, yet another way to really push exotic handpaints around.

A little bit scratchy on my head, alas, but then so is most wool that isn't superwash or ultrafine merino. More washing of the hat might help, but I don't want to risk felting it.

I was good; I made this set only a couple of months after the Festival. So in the course of blogging these yarns and projects, I've come to the happy realization that I have made 5 entire projects (well, the CD purple scarf is still a Work in Progress) from my Rhinebeck 2008 stash, have begun a 6th, and have firm intentions for 2 more in the near future. I honestly thought I was even worse off than that...but some of that yummy stuff remaining is going to prove a bit of a challenge, for various reasons.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Knitting Up Rhinebeck 2008: Creatively Dyed Gloves

Creatively Dyed Yarn: Merino Sock

While I made many many happy discoveries of talented and awesome fiber artists at Rhinebeck 2008, perhaps my most happy discovery was Creatively Dyed Yarn. The lady COOKS. Her yarns are crazy gorgeous. Wild wild color combos, itty bitty bits of color next to big stretches of contrasting color, everything pops, everything sings and dances and cries out to become something beautiful that you can stare at and be constantly inspired by.

Well besides just sticking a couple of her skeins in my Inspiration Basket -- I might have to explain this another time -- I got busy winding the 2 hanks of deeply magenta-purple-violet merino sock yarn I had to had to had to have. Lace scarf and gloves, no question about it, and maybe a hat as well. I delved into Ravelry's free lace scarf patterns and found one I thought would show off the yarn best.

I worked with handpaint yarns enough by then to appreciate a few tricks. One is that while some colorways blend beautifully into plain stockinette, others need a little help. Slip stitches make a great fabric, mixing up colors from row to row. Chevron & other zig-zag stripes are a popular solution -- lots of Koigu patterns do this -- to blend multiple colorways used together.

Lace...that's a trickier one! Hadn't done much with lace before, but in studying pictures of variegated lace I saw that a very open pattern suits both fine yarn in subtle variations and chunky yarn in bolder color changes. Well, I wanted to see some flat areas of the purple CD stuff to appreciate the colors all right up against each other, with a bit of shaping to really mix them up as well. So I picked a design with more flat than open areas, that got the yarn moving in ripples. Also, it would be warmer as a scarf.

I cast on that scarf two years became my steady Take-Along knit project for nearly a year...and I've nearly finished one skein. One!! DAMN sock yarn takes bloody forever to knit into a decent length! It didn't help that I lost track of the 2nd skein for a little while...urgh. So I let the project hibernate until I found it again YAY! and felt confident to resume. But my first action upon finding the 2nd skein was to grab the DPNs and make fingerless mitts.

After all, here I was after 3 Rhinebecks the proud owner of um, yeah, LOTS of CD yarn, and I had yet to make and FINISH anything in it! Honestly I do wonder about my brain sometimes. Is it self-torture? Strength through denial? Mostly I think it's indecision. With somewhat costly yarns of strong character, you have to be cautious approaching the moment of cast-on. Horrible mistakes of judgement are harder to put behind one.

The mitts took 2 days of really easy knitting. I've been wearing them for the past 2 months. I love them. They are warm and really pretty (and make wintertime photography much pleasanter). Couldn't be simpler either: Ann Budd's all-purpose pattern for gloves, minus the thumb tip and fingers, ribbed at the top. Should've made them a bit snugger, but that's a pretty mild complaint.

Creative Lace Scarf WIP

Knitting Up Rhinebeck 2008: Marshmallow

Decadent Fibers: Marshmallow

The first yarn I seized at Rhinebeck Sheep & Wool 2008 was bright orange Creme Brulee by Decadent Fibers. The colors were an irresistible reminder of the beautiful autumn day. The 2nd yarn, at the same booth, was Marshmallow in shades of blue and violet.

I love love love variegated yarns. I love handpaints of most any color combination, subtle or strong. Here I fell for beautiful tones that reminded me of a Monet lily pond. Also the yarn itself, a blend of merino and alpaca, was soft but also seemed durable.

This yarn cried out to be a soft cuddly hat…so within a couple of weeks of Rhinebeck I took a deep breath and knitted my first ever beret, using the One Day Beret pattern I found on Ravelry. The pattern is really easy and fast to work, but I had to frog the 1st attempt at the rib band…I forgot Alpaca yarns aren’t stretchy!!! I reknit the band with fewer stitches until it fit.

I'm pretty hard on all my knitted projects. Having access to a washing machine with a "woolens" setting, I take full advantage of it and throw in things that in retrospect I should NEVER have had the nerve to abuse that way...but I've never had a problem with felting or wear and tear, so I shall continue this reckless course. The Marshmallow Beret has been thusly washed many times already as it is seeing me through its third winter. The colors are just a bit faded, more heathered...the ribbing is a tiny bit stretched out so the hat is looser than it once was. But I seriously still love it. A little too thin for the coldest days, but perfect for most of the winter.

Blueberry Marshmallow Beret

There's still a bit of yarn left over from the skein. I'd make gloves but it's not quite stretchy enough, and there's not enough for a full scarf. Might be good for stranded knitting or some Kaffe Fasset sort of project, so I'm hanging onto it for now.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Knitting Up Rhinebeck 2008: Black Alpaca

I love a bargain. All knitters love a bargain. As much as I love fabulous decadent yarns like the silk & bead Tilli Thomas that costs about $4 a yard, what I really want is to be able to knit an entire sweater for about $4. I could if I used bargain-bin acrylics -- I used to LOVE the bags of Mystery Yarn Woolworths sold for $3 a pound -- but eh, while I don't think of myself as a Yarn Snob I also have learned over the years what wears well and what doesn't. Cheap acrylic yarns are scratchy, and they pill like crazy. Acrylic/wool blends are better, and have more variety in feel and color. Pure wool...ahh. That's what Rhinebeck is all about.

I did not approach my first Rhinebeck Sheep & Wool Festival thinking I would find bargains. I wanted the amazing artisianal stuff that would inspire me as I fingered and smooshed it and sighed over it. I happily paid the dyers and spinners what they asked and deserved, and I loved what I got. But here and and there a Bargain beckoned. Helpless to resist my inner Yarn Magpie, I gave in. I bought 4 skeins of lush black "A Touch of Twist" Peruvian Alpaca in 2-ply fingering weight. $44 for more than 1300 yards of it.

My previous experiences with alpaca yarns were mixed. I really enjoyed knitting with Lion Brand Al-Pa-Ka, which was a pleasant and hard-wearing blend of alpaca, wool and acrylic. On the other hand, I once knit a sample garment for a wannabe sweater designer that made my life hell for 2 weeks. The yarn was thin, limp black alpaca...the sweater was utterly Boring. Just a plain black stockinette pullover in limp thin black yarn. The yarn had no stretch, no bounce. It shed a bit. The designer loved the result. I never wanted to knit with alpaca again.

But there I was at Rhinebeck 2008, and I bought black alpaca thinking I'd make a lace cardigan. And here I am in 2011, two weeks after discovering my favorite plain black cashmere cardigan was shredding and unwearable in public. As I live in New York City, I risk deportation without a plain black cardigan. (My old plain black cotton cardigan is shabby but still serviceable, but really limited to hanging out at the office when the heating is inadequate. And the cushy black boucle cardi I made several years ago is a bit too warm for everyday use.)

Yesterday I finally cast on the lace cardigan of my imagination. The thin yarn is plump and springy, a delight to knit! I'll discuss the logistics more in another post...but it's a top-down raglan, and I'm adding a simple lace design to the sleeves and fronts. I'm about to place the markers for the sleeve increases. Whee!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Itty Bitty Orchids: Dendrobium auriculatum

Orchid serendipity! At the H&R booth at the 2010 SEPOS show at Longwood Gardens, I came upon a number of awesome species I wasn't quite familiar with...but brought home because H&R Orchids can always be trusted to offer things well worth having.

Among other things, I picked up 2 wee plants of Dendrobium auriculatum. The thin canes are dressed in thin pointy leaves, and the plants closely resemble mini Oerstedellas. I had a good feeling about them, figuring they'd be perfect for my warm conditions. The plants had thick roots (also like Oerstedellas) clinging to little chunks of wood; I merely put the wood into slightly larger plastic pots, with well-draining bark mix, leaving the (extremely compact) rhizome and growing points well above the surface. I placed it on the lower (cooler) shelf of my light garden, with the cane tops several inches below the center portion of the fluorescent tubes.

Only a couple of weeks later, a friend brought a large, lovingly tended speciment to the GNYOS show table, and I was thrilled at the potential of my little guys! He grows indoors on a windowsill and thought this species a real winner for its ease of growth and lovely, large, fragrant flowers.

The larger of my plants, only about 5 inches tall, flowered with one huge wonderful bloom (shown above) in June, 2 months after my friend's plant. The sweet citrusy fragrance was wonderful, filling the room at precisely 1 hour before sundown every evening.

I gave one away. The remaining plant has done well, only showing a bit of stress during our 100+ degree summer heat. Fall and winter, growth resumed on young canes, and I do hope this spring brings new flowers.