Monday, December 3, 2012

Knitting Up Rhinebeck 2010: Handpainted Aran Wool

Hatchtown Farm wool yarn

When you're about to wade into an intense shopping experience, it helps to set a few goals first. Budget is one -- meet but don't exceed. When yarn is involved, it's good to allow serendipity to lead you to unexpected treasures, but also having some patterns in mind helps a great deal (Hm, I need 700 yards for that shawl I really want to make, 1300 yards for that lace cardi, etc). 

One of my side goals at Rhinebeck Sheep and Wool in 2010 was to buy a few hanks of wool from outside my usual comfort zone, and from vendors I hadn't fully investigated before. 

Some Rhinebeck vendors do it all: raised the animals, gathered the wool/fiber, spun it and then dyed it. That's real dedication. I paid closer attention to the wider range of their woolly goods in 2010, which I sometimes had dismissed as being "too scratchy" or otherwise not inspired enough for the kinds of projects I had in mind. Turned out that besides the vendors I had already learned to love, I found several more whose yarns were simply yummy.

Hatchtown Farm Handpainted Aran Wool...I likey very much. The hank of yarn I got was 250 yards of firmly spun wool from Coopworth sheep, dyed the most delicious shades of chocolate brown, black and gold. It was fated from the start to become hats. When I finally started on the Not-Cabled-Hat pattern (that I absolutely LOVE for quick gift hats) I discovered that the black and gold sections had the wonderful good sense to arrange themselves into leopard spots! 

I still have half the skein left, and fully intend to do a teeny bit of experimenting to see how to replicate this effect in a different pattern hat or cowl. Because, AWESOME.
Leopard Hat

Friday, October 26, 2012

Knitting Ambition

Cephalopod Bugga! "Spanish Shawl"

Is knitting compatible with laziness? Well, sit there, you knit. Great lazy way to pass the time, especially if the TV is also on (which automatically adds to the lazy quotient of any household activity, much as adding rocks to a box makes the box dumber and dumber). But finishing what you knit...urk.

I went to the Rhinebeck Sheep and Wool Festival last week. Here it is 7 days later, and I've taken no pictures of the new yarns I bought. I didn't have much time, being out late 4 out of the past 7 nights; but I did fondle the stuff, examine it, sort it, dream about what I'll make of it all. I tried to make my purchases with specific ideas in mind...shawl, cardigan, hat. I won't do any winding until I've taken pictures of the entire enormous heap.

But my Ravelry queue shows so many WIPs, so many UFOs, that guilt is starting to cloud my vision. A whole mess of projects I started in the past few years are just sitting there. Some are recent small things that made great carry-around knitting for bus and subway. A hat and a scarf are ready for finishing this weekend; a baby sweater for a friend just needs buttons. Yesterday when I picked up a hibernating project bag, I found a small cowl, nearly done, inexplicably tucked into the bag containing the latest Husband Sweater, utterly forgotten. That has to be a bad sign...I never even added it to my Ravelry project page.

What else lurks in my project bags?! The half-finished black lace alpaca top-down cardigan that I'm afraid to try on, partly for fear of breaking the delicate yarn, partly for fear it doesn't fit right and I've wasted a whole lot of work. Also the brown-and-green Classic Cotton thing I've been struggling with for at least 3 years, frogged and re-did at least hard would it have been to just start with a nice lace cardi pattern? I've got lots! But no, I wanted to do My Own Thing and improvise. Sometimes that works pretty well, but I think I have to face the facts: these days I don't have time to waste trying things and ripping back and re-knitting. I want instant gratification! So after I finish the hat, scarf, cowl and baby sweater, I'll have another look at some of those UFOs and see if they need frogging or finishing too.

Cos then I've got all that fresh shiny uh 2009 and 2010 Rhinebeck yarn to play with...!

Not to mention all the Cephalopod Yarn I've been buying...

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Knitting up Rhinebeck 2008: Creatively Dyed Shawl

One-skein projects seem to be my New Thing. I grew up thinking of yarn as Sweaters. Now and then I'd buy a couple of skeins just for a scarf, but mostly I bought 1000+ yards at a time, picturing stacks and stacks of gorgeous cardigans and pullovers. I mostly bought yarn on sale so I could afford to indulge in 10+ skeins at a time -- a big body needs lots of yarn to cover it adequately -- and sometimes ended up scratching my head wondering just exactly what I was thinking, buying so much gray alpaca or so much really hideous lattice ribbon. (Having the Smiley's Yarn sale close by every year, where bags of 10 skeins are all you can buy of the better stuff, wasn't helping.)

It took Ravelry and Rhinebeck to really coax me out of that Sweater mentality, and over into the land of Accessories. It wasn't a difficult transition, really. As an incurable Yarn Magpie, I was completely blown away by the acres of wool at Rhinebeck Sheep and Wool, and I could only afford some of the available yarns in Sweater quantities. Once I realized that, about halfway through my first visit there, I relaxed. I could buy a bigger variety of gorgeous yarns if I bought only a couple of skeins instead of 4 or 6 or 10! Besides, how many Sweaters can one rotund person who dislikes being overly warm wear, realistically?

 Creatively Dyed was one of my very first discoveries at Rhinebeck 2008. I bought lots of that yarn, and didn't worry too much about what I would make of it. Sock yarn is so versatile! I imagined hats and scarves mostly. I had never knitted a shawl then...well, that situation has certainly changed.

I've filled my Ravelry queue with all manner of lace shawls, from dead simple to ridiculously elaborate. So far, I've only made smaller ones, kind of starter shawls, testing my patience for lengthy repeats and ever-changing lace charts. Many simpler ones are perfectly suited to sock yarns, like the Demiluna, which is a half-circle rather than the triangle shape of many shawls. So confronted with a beautiful crazy-colored CD yarn I simply HAD to knit...and still refusing to knit socks...I decided to make a small, simple shawl from the skein of Carnival that I had to had to HAD to have. But now that I've scratched the itch and enjoyed using half the skein to make this awesome thing, I have to do the right thing. That's right. I'm going to give it to the young daughter of a friend. It belongs on a sweet young girl. I can't wait!!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Grilled Calamari and Blueberry Couscous

Calamari and Couscous

So I made one of the strangest dinners ever, a couple of weeks ago. Abundant summer produce got the better of me. But it all turned out well. Really well.

Agata and Valentina, our local gourmet market, makes fantastic smoky grilled calamari. We'd already enjoyed it as part of a green salad dinner, tossed with chopped tomatoes, cukes, avocado and a tart vinaigrette. They had it on sale, so I decided to buy it again and build dinner around it -- some kind of chunky summer saute, I reckoned.

I took stock of what was in the fridge, and decided to combine the calamari with sauteed zucchini and purslane, and some thyme and herbs de provence. None of these would smother the taste or texture of the squid. Purslane makes a great green for quick sautes. It hardly has any taste, and melts down very quickly, so it goes with pretty much everything. It's supposed to be highly nutritious raw or cooked, but I prefer the cooked texture -- just not stewed til it's slimy. About 2 minutes max is good: add it as the last thing just as the rest of the vegs are done.

The side dish took only a bit of thought, as I'd been intending to make something similar for days. I sauteed fresh sweet corn cut from the cob and chopped scallions, using a mixture of olive oil and butter. After just a couple of minutes, I added diced fresh apricots, and enough water for 1/2 cup of dry barley couscous to absorb; heat reduced to low. After a couple more minutes, I added a cup of wild blueberries (smaller and less sweet than regular kind) and fluffed the couscous with a fork and turned off the heat with the lid on the pan. The primary seasoning was coriander, which goes great with corn and complimented the fruit. 

The smoky and sweet combo of calamari, corn and fruit was fantastic, with chilled dry Torrontes wine.

Maxillaria schunkeana

Maxillaria schunkeana

I got this plant in February from Ecuagenera -- a nice big healthy bare-root specimen. My previous experience with the species was with a rather smaller one five years ago. Alas, that one barely survived two months in my light garden; I think I rotted it out, after planting it in sphagnum. 

The species comes from relatively low elevations in Brazil, so I reckon my fairly warm conditions suit it fine. I stuck this one into a coconut-fir bark-perlite mix, medium grade plus some finer bits. I placed it on the middle shelf, just past the middle of the 4-foot fluorescent tubes; it's getting some light from the T-12s and some from the T-8s. Plenty of water, since the mix drains well, and it gets fed with MSU fertilizer, along with everything else in active growth, roughly once a week. 

A few weeks ago, I noticed one of the new growths looked a bit peaky, with some browning at the tip of one leaf, so I was preparing to boost the light level a bit by shifting it closer to the T-8s. Surprise! A flower! And evidence of one other dried-up flower that I evidently overlooked because it's DARK and the base of the plant is shadowed by another plant. Well, that flower only lasted a couple of days, but I was over the moon it existed at all! A couple of days ago I realized there were FOUR flowers and three buds -- one ready to open, one still tight, one just emerging.


Since I actually have to re-arrange the entire middle light garden shelf very soon -- should've done it weeks ago really -- I'll have to be extra attentive to this little darling....

Friday, August 3, 2012

Ponerorchis gramnifolia

Ponerorchis gramnifolia

I reckon this is my year to be Uber Queen of Terrestrial Orchids. Of the six little Ponerorchis tubers that I bought in late March, four sprouted and grew. Two of them flowered!

Yeah I'm a little disappointed that two made only leaves...yeah I'm really disappointed 2 tubers did nothing at all. I'm a bit jealous of my friends who managed to bloom all six of theirs!

But considering how truly awful my growing area can be -- I mean, I'm lucky sometimes that I remember to water the plants even every 3 days, manage to keep the temperature below 85" in the summer, cure the damn thrips that invaded last year, change the light bulbs and repot anything -- I feel I've done pretty well this year! Frankly, plants that disappear for months each year are a bad use of limited indoor space...but they  can go into those less desirable dark corners of the light garden for part of the year, and take very little tending in the meantime. So not such a bad thing.

I potted the tubers in my "usual" terrestrial mix, which is a bit dense but does drain very well: 1 part Pro-mix, 1 part African violet soil, and 1 part fine bark-based seedling mix (which is whatever I can dig out of the bottom of the bag of mix). Needs more perlite, I think -- maybe less soil too. And I probably used too deep a pot too, but I won't know until the little darlings go dormant and allow me to dig them up to see. Right now all four are still quite green and it'll be awhile.

In other breaking news, Habenaria rhodochilia finally decided to awaken three weeks ago, and I am proud mama to two growths on the plant. Woot! They might finally be getting enough light too, they're not as leggy as in past years. Fingers crossed that the cat doesn't decide the leaves are delicious...

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Knitting Up VK Live 2012: Silver Optima

Mocha's Fiber Silver Optima "Peacock"

There are more and more places to get awesome limited-edition yarns these days. Sheep and Wool festivals, Stitches events, and Vogue Knitting Live all feature amazing stuff you can't get at most local yarn shops or from most big discount yarn retailers. You can get most of them online, but then you can't experience them before buying. And the experiencing is definitely part of the fun.

I went to VK Live in New York in January, wanting a yarn fix. O did I ever get a yarn fix. And this was one of the first things I found:

Mocha's Fiber Silver Optima "Peacock"

Silver Optima "Peacock." 63% Merino, 20% Silk,15% Nylon, with a fine silver thread. Smooshy fluffy shiny sparkly yarn heaven.

I partook of but one skein. I've been doing lots of one-skein things lately. What to make of this one skein? I'm in cowl/neckwarmer mode so that seemed logical. The Enormous Ravelry Queue I've developed yielded many fine project ideas.

The Smoke Ring Cowl won the beauty contest. The flat areas show off the colors of the yarn nicely, the raised cables show off the sparkle, and knitting it in the round was tons of fun because of the cable and lace combo. Alas I have yarn left over! Nearly 1/3 the skein. I guess I'll save it along with all the other leftover handpaints for the future Missoni Scarf project...

Smoke Ring Cowl

Habenaria medusa: Year 2!

Habenaria medusa

Deciduous terrestrial orchids are not for the anxious nor the impatient. They grow...they flower...and then they decline, collapse and vanish. Their proud green leaves yellow and wither. They look sad. But rather than  immediately nurture them  back to health, you have to be cruel: you have to neglect them for their own good, until they are once again ready to face the light and air.
(Not every terrestrial does this; a few are happy to bounce back and form new growths within weeks or even days of losing their previous growth. Two of my Stenoglottis sceptrodes hardly go dormant at all, forming new rosettes before the old ones are even yellow; a third one however decided to take a nice long rest before re-sprouting a couple of weeks ago.)
Habenarias cause much nail-biting and consternation. H. rhodochila is apparently notorious for being short-lived indoors, though friends of mine grow theirs into happy clumps loaded with flowers year after year. I expected H. medusa to be a drama queen too -- but no!
Last year, I planted two tubers and delighted in watching one grow to full-blooming magnificence. The second one grew leaves, and then the leaves rotted off at the base. Dooooomed! BUT NO. After many months of keeping both pots under close watch, watering sparingly every 10 days to prevent total dessication of the tubers (which is extremely necessary in my VERY DRY indoor conditions in winter), I was rewarded with both pots re-sprouting in March! I learned a lesson from last year, and moved both plants a bit closer to the lights, which resulted in good compact growth of the leaves. In April the stronger plant in the clay pot developed a spike, and in early June IT BLOOMED!
The flowers are now withered, having lasted about 10 days each (and surviving a trip to the MOS meeting). I shall soon cut the spike and allow the leaves to finish their job of strengthening the tuber for next year. The second plant, meanwhile, has budded and should be in bloom by the 1st week of July, I figure.
Silly me, I have no idea which one of the two was the one that rotted last year! Probably the one in plastic, that took a bit longer to sprout. Both have been watered and fed regularly (with MSU), and seem equally strong now. And so the cycle continues.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Ponerorchis graminifolia

The charm of certain terrestrial orchids is partly in their ephemeral nature...they behave at the beck and call of the temperate seasons, and gladden our senses for only a short period of time before they once again wither and vanish beneath the soil surface...

Of course were someone to magically develop a Habenaria medusa that never goes dormant but continues to bloom on and off throughout the year, I'd be one of the first in line. As it is, I am content with my two that have vigorously re-emerged from winter's sleep and daily stretch their unfurling leaves upward, the promise of their fantastical white flowers still tucked somewhere inside.

Ponerorchis gramnifolia grabbed my imagination from the first, when I read about them in an American Orchid Society Bulletin article. Teensy adorable tuberous orchids with a Japanese cult following? Awesome! Then I saw them alive: Orchid Art had a few, and I nearly got one, but honestly, I hadn't realized just how teensy adorable they were. Flowers and all, the whole plant was about three inches tall. I love miniature orchids, and I had a fair number of creepers and gnat-attractors that made the Ponerorchis seem a veritable giant, but adding in the dormancy thing...which Rita kindly explained in detail...made Utyouran  seem just too risky.

I never saw one again for many many years. Neither did most of my friends. "Gosh, Rita had them once, why doesn't anyone else ever have them?" Well, lots of orchid species come and go seemingly at whims of fashion, or just availability, or just refusal to go forth an multiply. Everyone thought everyone else was raising a few?...but they weren't, because the darn things were stubborn, or finicky, or wouldn't set seed, or...anyway.

Finally: "Did you see the Ponerorchis tubers?" my friend asked at SEPOS, standing in front of a table-ful of mind-bendingly expensive Neofinetia plants. "I just got some!" Now, my friend grows some amazing terrestrials in his collection. So we each ended up with six teensy tubers in a plastic baggie. No idea what color variety, not that it matters.

After forgetting about my baggie for about two weeks...yeah, that's kind of inexcusable, considering they were right in front of my face on a shelf in the light garden...I saw that four of the little suckers were sprouting. I planted them in a nice deep pot with my favorite terrestrial mix: 3 parts Peat-lite, 2 parts ultra-fine fir bark + perlite + charcoal (in other words, stuff from the bottom of the Paph Mix bag). This stuff drains pretty well, so I do hope to lessen the chances of rot. I only let the tallest sprout poke above the surface, though I'm sure the rest will quickly emerge once the mix settles a bit. Keeping them in the cool window until that happens. Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Dockrillia rigida

Formerly Dendrobium rigidum, this little cutie comes from Australia, one of many compact, mat-forming mini Dockrillia-formerly-Dendrobiums that flourish there. Tough leathery 1-inch tongue-shaped leaves host fragile-looking spikes of yellow and red flowers (mine have a peachy blush too). All in all, totes adorable.

Even better, those tiny 1/4-inch flowers are fragrant! Well, it's not a fabulous scent. It's kind of like a hyacinth mixed with something slightly burnt. Pleasant, but strange. I think I once owned lipstick with that scent. I didn't keep it very long. I'll keep the plant anyway.

Since I've seen mixed advice on how much light this plant likes -- some folks recommend providing quite bright light for best results, while others say they'll bloom and thrive even in  relatively low light -- I'm starting it off under the new T8 tubes that are making so many of my other orchids rather happy.

I found this at the 2012 SEPOS Show at Longwood Gardens. H&R always brings fabulous things for super-cheap, and this teeny pot was just $10. The spike was just barely in bud then, and the flowers just opened a couple of days ago.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Epidendrum fimbriatum

Despite having many years ago sworn off of orchids with flowers too tiny to see without magnification -- my eyesight isn't what it once was, and I have extremely limited space and decided I wanted a bit of splash from my collection -- now and then I fall for a cutie-pie and find myself cooing over it as if it were a raggedy kitten needing a home. I feel that way about a lot of offerings from Ecuagenera.

This Epidendrum fimbriatum followed me home from the 2012 Deep Cut Orchid Show. The whole plant is about ten inches tall, with about a dozen reed-stem growths. The leaves are surprisingly firm for such a delicate-looking thing. The flowers arrive in ones, twos and rarely threes per spike, which so far are each elongating to about two inches.

The literature says it grows cool, but I was assured it would tolerate intermediate-to-warm if slowly acclimatized. Well, it's so far doing extremely well at temperatures in the 70s. I received it newly mounted on a piece of PVC pipe wrapped in coconut fiber, with a sphagnum moss pad; I stuck it in a plastic pot with more sphagnum (but without the mount), figuring to someday transfer it to a chunkier mix. It sure likes plenty of water. And, since I moved it to the shelf where I now have T8 lights, the foliage took on a distinct reddish tinge; since this is a sign of stress and not just glowing health, I moved it a little further from the tubes. On the other hand, the number of budding buds on all the spikes also vastly increased...but the flowers are even smaller. Juggling act, why always a juggling act...

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Knitting up Rhinebeck 2008: Creatively Dyed Gingko Shawl

Creatively Dyed Yarn: Merino Sock

Some of the yarn vendors at Rhinebeck inhabit an outdoor space between two of the permanent buildings. It seemed logical to go there first, on my first trip, because it was so easy to see everything clearly. And the very second booth that caught my frantic yarn-magpie eye was Creatively Dyed.

I'd never seen multi-colored yarn quite like it before. It made me crazy. It made me feel like a box of Godiva truffles had magically turned into a wall of yarn. I wanted ALL of it. Choosing just a few skeins was a serious challenge. I ended up with seven skeins of Merino Sock.

I don't knit socks. But I do knit scarves, hats and gloves. And nowadays I also knit shawls. At the time I think I also imagined that I would knit some intarsia Kaffe Fassett-like colorblocked pieces using wonderful colorful hand-painted yarns, but it turns out that I have yet to return to my intarsia mood. So the two skeins of purple in the above photo are becoming a scarf/hat/glove set. The four in the middle are still sitting around waiting for The Perfect Pattern. And the green all the way on the upper right has become this:

Gingko Shawl, Creatively Dyed yarn

This wasn't perhaps the best choice of yarn to show off the simple yet elegant lace pattern. Ideally, a crisp butter yellow or plain green would do the trick. But as a practice version, I am well pleased. Even if I really should have used a slightly larger needle to create a less dense fabric. O well.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Knitting up Rhinebeck 2009: Kid Hollow Cowl

Kid Hollow Boucle Yarn

Some yummy luscious yarns are impossible to resist, then impossible to figure out.

I'm not a big boucle fan. I have one sweater I made from a fine-gauge black wool boucle and I absolutely love it. But most such yarns are much bigger gauge, and when hand-painted the become very idiosyncratic indeed. (My god, how I hate Lion Brand Boucle...I managed to knit a couple of charity projects with it once, and they came out alright despite the yarn catching and snagging with nearly every stitch. But the one time I tried to crochet with it ended in rage and frustration after just two rows. I could not find the "tops" of the stitches in the row below to save my life. Never Again.)

In this case, my yarn magpie soul first saw the pretty colors, and on petting the yarn I really wanted it badly. I often react badly to mohair -- I find it scratchy no matter how infantile the goat it came from. This yarn wasn't the slightest bit scratchy: it was silky, soft, and impossible to resist. So into my purchase bag it went.  Though I think I wore it round my neck a little while as a mock-scarf.

In the cold light of day...What to do with one skein of novelty handpaint mohair + silk + wool boucle? One skein with too much yardage for a hat, too loopy for gloves. That leaves...making a cowl/scarf.

Cast on circular needle...knit. The twist was an accident, but worked pretty well to make this a natural Moebius piece!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Knitting up Rhinebeck 2008: Sliver Moon Leaf Lace Cowl

Sliver Moon Yarn: green merino

2008, my first Rhinebeck Sheepand Wool festival...a feast for the eyes, an orgy for an unapologetic yarn-petter. The textures! The colors! Little did I know that the very first row of vendors I visited would include so many that would become favorites. Sliver Moon was among these.

Being utterly in love with bright green, I grabbed many green yarns that day, including this skein which was one of my very first purchases. Simple, pure, bright, apple green: 280 yards of blissful soft merino wool.

I thought I would combine it with another Sliver Moon skein that combines green, purple and yellow in one insanely brilliant colorway, but the greens don't quite mesh the way I hoped. So, what to do with a single skein of bright springtime green? Why a leaf-patterned lace something, of course!

Having picked a leaf-lace scarf pattern off Ravelry, I cast on and did 2 repeats and...I found it really hard going for no good reason. Besides, I have plenty of green scarves. But green cowls? I recently made 2 small Moebius-strip scarves, one of which is short enough to be sort of a cowl, and I like it a lot -- easy to wear, no winding or knotting required. So I frogged and re-started the lace pattern in the round, and I LOVED working it that way. In just 2 days I had a fabulous finished project, and I do love wearing it!

Leaf Lace Cowl