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.