Wednesday, January 31, 2007

EZ Knitting Workshop

Seriously folks, if you are a knitter and love Elizabeth Zimmermann (and what knitter doesn't), you need to get Knitting Workshop. Both the book and the DVD. You can get the set from Schoolhouse Press or buy them individually from a number of different places. The video is a 6 hour course in knitting. Filmed in the 80's for PBS, each 1/2 hour segment builds on the last, taking you from the most basics all the way to the most difficult tasks. It's very homey feeling (much like Knitter's Glossary) I think both may have actually been filmed at EZ's home. The cat even gets into the act from time to time! The video does move really fast, so I think the book is quite necessary if you actually intend to make anything demonstrated. The I'm only about 2 1/2 hours in and I'm already obsessing about knitting a yoke sweater. I have several different yarn combinations in mind but am waiting until after I go to the yarn shop this weekend to see if I can find something there before ordering online. I'm thinking of using the Supermerino I just got for the interior of the Hawser pattern on the yoke. I love the idea of using a variegated yarn inside a charted design, makes it look way more complicated. Plus, I only have 2 skeins of it, not really enough to do much else with. Once I find some coordinating yarn, I want to swatch the chart and see if it looks as good as I think it will.

In other news...Christine at Pointy Sticks is celebrating her Podcastiversary! I've listened to her podcast from the start and it's one of the few I've stayed subscribed to. Her theme song rocks, she actually talks about knitting and podcasts on a regular basis. An all around winner. To celebrate her 'versary, she's giving away stuff! Go check her out. Listen to an episode or two and leave her a comment. While you are there, be sure to hop over to her Big Pink Cookie blog and check out her awesome photography! Way to go Christine! Happy Podcastiversary!

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Clogs

My cold is somewhat improved, although I still don't feel like doing much more than laying around sleeping. I did manage to finish the clogs and get them felted yesterday.Here seen drying in front of the heater. As you can see by they are now much less cat sized.
They fit like a dream. So warm and soft. The double thick bottoms make them nice and cushiony. I'm seriously thinking of getting some type of soles, though, as they are pretty slippery on non-carpeted surfaces.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Monster slipper

Ugh, I'm sick. Some nasty cold bug has been going around. Nearly everyone at work has or has had it. I managed to avoid getting sick the first time it went around a month or 2 ago, but no such luck this time. Despite my best efforts of large doses of vitamin C and cup after cup of hot tea. I've got a sore throat and sore, stuffy ears. My nose alternates between absolutely fine, completely stuffed and running like a faucet at regular intervals. I decided to stay home from work this afternoon to try to sleep it off. But my head would have none of that. As soon as I laid down, my sinuses started draining into my already irritated throat launching me into coughing fits. Finally, I gave up and settled on the couch with my knitting and DIY's craft shows on the tube. The fingerless mitts from last week have been (temporarily) abandoned for the Fiber Trends Clogs. Stephanie mentioned them a few weeks ago and it's been a huge topic of discussion on the KnitList and me being so easily swayed, decided I needed to make me a pair of these puppies. I'm knitting mine with Patons Classic Merino in Natural Marl and Natural Mix (next time might choose a starker contrast). They are huge. Picture of slipper and foot...Excuse the pink socks, sick people needn't be judged for their fashion choices. The slipper is roughly the same size as Quinn...She refused to sit nice for a picture, but I think you get the point. If there were a hole at the other end, it would be the perfect size for a kitty sweater. So far I've only finished the one slipper, but it's a super fast knit. Only took me maybe 2-3 hours. Since I'm not up to doing much of anything else until I kick this cold, I should have no problem finishing the other one in time to throw them in with the laundry this weekend to get them felted.

In stash acquisition news this week...Two skeins of Artyarns Supermerino yarn color 101 (gold, purple, navy, brown) that I got for a steal on Ebay. I'm not sure what exactly I'm going to do with it. The seller included a pattern for a mitered scarf, but I'm not much of a scarf person, and knitting miters doesn't really float my boat either. I'm half kicking around the idea of trying these coasters (from Knitty Gritty), but again, it's miters and I'm not sure if I want to go there. Our library's spring auction is coming up soon and I need to get something made to donate. I thought maybe these coasters with some matching mugs and tea in a nice basket. Or maybe a spa basket with some of my soap and these washcloths made with the new Lion Organic Cotton (I'm DIEING to find this yarn!)

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Forget Widdershins!

We are not speaking of Widdershins. The math proved way out of my league so I shall wait to try this pattern when I have yarn of the appropriate gauge. I pushed on, though, and did try another toe up pattern with the lovely bamboo yarn. But it too kicked my butt with it's provisional cast on that wouldn't unravel nicely, instead releasing two or more rows of stitches every time I removed it. After an hour, I'd had enough and packed the bamboo yarn away. When I finish the Mister Joe socks I'll give the bamboo a try with my standard top down pattern. Speaking of Mister Joe...Sock one finished! And the wee beginnings of sock two. I haven't spent much time on these the last few days. Since winter has finally arrived here, I found myself in need of another pair of fingerless gloves. I love the Fetching mitts from a few months back, but find the cables on the palm a bit irritating after awhile. And since I've got tons of sock yarn around, I decided to find a pattern at that gauge. The Kat's Paws provided the perfect answer.The pattern designer claimed she could knit a mitt in 2 hours. It took me more like 6, but still a pretty fast knit in my book. They are long enough to tuck up into my sleeve and fall just below my fingers so they won't interfere with typing. The yarn is Gedifra Sportivo color 5704 and the needle a Suzanne's Ebony both from Webs. I'm not sure I'd like the yarn for socks. Maybe if it was knit at a tighter gauge, but at this gauge (7 st/in), I don't think it would hold up as a sock. The jury is still out on the needle. I love the needle it's self. It's a beautiful matte black and the stitches slide nicely on it. But the join is a bit bumpy and I find I have to wiggle the stitches over it most every time I switch needles. Of all the needles I've tried, I'm still going to go with Knit Picks as my favorite overall.

Speaking of Knit Picks, they came through with flying colors once again. I ordered the companion dvd to EZ's Knitting Workshop book last weekend and it arrived on Friday.Sadly, I haven't had a chance to sit down and watch it yet. I spent much of my weekend watching the Doctor Who season one dvd set. Totally awesome!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

I may regret this...

This recent sock knitting kick I'm on, and the success I'm enjoying with the Mister Joe Blanket socks has prompted me to consider trying to knit with standard sock yarn again. I finished my Online Supersockes this afternoon and, although I should soldier on and finish the Mr Joe socks, I'm going to cast on Widdershins.I scored this Regia Bamboo on eBay after seeing it mentioned in a magazine ad. The ad said it creates a "temperature regulating, breathable fabric". I'm thinking it has the potential to be light enough for spring summer wear when it's too hot for wool socks. (Hell, it's been so warm here this winter, I've hardly worn my wool socks for winter!) The downside is, I don't like the fabric knit to the gauge called for in the pattern (7 sts/inch). I tried knitting a swatch on US 1 needles and got 9 sts/inch, which I really like. I moved up to a US 2 and got gauge, but the fabric seems too loose. So, I'm going to sit down with the pattern and work out the numbers at the smaller gauge. I just know I'm going to regret this. I'm not a big fan of knitting with such small needles and 9 gillion stitches. Plus, I'm going to have to knit this on double points (at least to start) because I don't have a US 1 cirular needle (yet, I just ordered one from KnitPicks). But this yarn is FAB, and I'm willing to give it a shot at the prospect of something awesome in the end. I'll let you know how I make out.

Speaking of how I made out...The plastic bag liner worked very well for the soap yesterday. As you can see, there's some fold lines in the sides, but nothing a little trimming didn't solve.This soap was scented with an oakmoss blend and has a lovely fresh scent. I used a little clove and paprika to color it, but not enough. I wanted a more light brown color. I even added some brown coloring to the soap when I saw it wasn't coming out dark enough, but still it's a little light.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The dreaded morph

Well, as I feared, the vanilla scented soap from earlier this week is morphing...
What started as a lovely creamy white is slowly oxidizing to brown. It's just at the edges so far, but this will spread throughout the soap. I'm hoping the browning is light enough that the blue swirls still show. This happened to me once before with a lavender vanilla scented soap. It started white with light purple swirls and ended up almost completely brown. Much as I love vanilla scents, I think I'll give up on them until I get some non-discoloring scent. The soap is perfectly usable, just not very pretty to look at.

I made a batch of plain castile soap on Thursday. It is mostly olive oil with just a small percent of castor oil to improve the lather.
This is shortly after I cut it. I had to wait almost 2 days for it to be firm enough to cut. Even now, the center is still a bit soft. It almost looks like marble inside. This will change as it ages and become solid cream color. There has been a lot of talk about 100% olive oil soap on the soap list and I've been wanting to try it for awhile. So far, I'm very pleased with the results. It's my understanding this soap will take longer than other soaps to cure, so it will be a few weeks before I can give it a try.

I made one more batch of soap today. This time I'm trying lining the mold with heavy plastic as suggested in Soap.
It's definitely more fiddly than freezer paper, but I'm almost out of freezer paper and wanted to give this method a try before I bought more. The soap is resting now, should know tomorrow how the liner worked.


Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Blast from the past

I'm a child of the 80's, through and through. The other day, one of the girls at work and I were talking about Ferris Bueller's Day Off. I reminisced that I had seen it in the movie theater with my sister and a friend from school. And that I remembered getting posters and buttons because it was some special showing. Well, lo and behold, I went looking and found my stash of buttons...
I was a HUGE Duran Duran fan, so the majority of my buttons are theirs, but there it is, my "Leisure Rules" FB button. I'm such a geek that it makes me so happy to have found it. Probably even more so that I'm blogging it!!

Monday, January 08, 2007

Lucy!!

After a month of waiting for the USPS to get around to delivering it, my Lucy Neatby dvd's finally arrived today! It was a real chore having to go back to work this afternoon and not plant myself in front of the tv and watch them. I started watching Knitting Essentials 1 tonight while I rode the exercise bike (damn holiday pounds). I LOVE it. The video is excellently shot, you can clearly see every stitch she makes and she explains things very well. It was so worth the wait. I ordered mine directly from Lucy at Tradewinds in Canada. I have since found several online retailers that carry the videos so I might order the other 2 from US retailers in hopes of not such a long wait.

The sock knitting love continues...My Online socks are coming right along. Here they are ready for the heel turn. The Mister Joe Blanket socks are a thing of joy. Check out the heel. I wanted funky heels to show off in my clogs. I think I succeeded.There are holes where I picked up stitches for the gusset (I hate when that happens), but they should be easy enough to sew up. This yarn is a bit finer than the Online 6ply, but these socks are still knitting up very quickly. I am (again) under the spell of socks. For some reason, I just can't get into knitting anything big right now. I've done a couple of inches on the KnitPicks afghan, but all I really want to do is knit socks. Seeing as how I've got yarn to make at least 2 more pair waiting in the stash (um, and perhaps a few more on the way), I'm hoping the sock knitting bug sticks around for awhile.

And finally, a batch of soap...I haven't thought of a name for this one yet. It's scented with Creamy Vanilla from Lone Star. It's a new scent for me and I'm hoping it doesn't discolor. Vanilla scents are notorious for turning soap brown. But I've always had good luck with Lone Star's scents. They are a great source for soap scents for people like me who only make small batches and want to try lots of different scents.


Sunday, January 07, 2007

Cat on clean laundry

I'm currently reading Wendy Johnson's Wendy Knits. She mentions that when she decided to blog, she made a commitment to post daily. And she does. She always finds something interesting in her day to post about. Now, I have no such goals or commitments, nor do I delude myself in thinking I have something anyone wants to hear about every day. But I would like to blog more often. So I've decided to take a small influence from Wendy and post my cats. Stuart (grey cat) and Quinn (black cat) are an endless source of joy for us. And, generally, provide some form of entertainment (or frustration) everyday. So today I present as evidence of the frustration quotient...
Cat on clean laundry. At least it's towels and not clothes!

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Soap

I realized I haven't mentioned my soap in quite a while. I'm not really sure why. I'm still soaping. Quite a lot actually. As my family will attest to since I'm constantly gifting/pushing soap on them! Soaping goes much quicker than knitting. Far less photo-ops. But recently, I decided to slow down and get pictures of the process, at least this is how I do it.

I keep all my supplies boxes for easy transport from the storage area (basement) to the work area (kitchen).
I start with making the lye/water solution and setting it aside to cool.Next I weigh and melt my oils.While the lye cools and the oils heat, I prepare my mold. The mold needs to be lined with freezer paper to keep the soap from sticking to the mold. It also ensures the sides of the soap will be nice and smooth. This is a 2 pound mold I purchased from Saratoga Scents. I have a silicone bread loaf pan that I sometimes use, it does not require lining, but I'm not as happy with the shape of the finished bars. The wooden mold provides nice, square sides. Very little trimming is needed with this mold.

If I'm scenting and/or coloring the soap, I measure the fragrance
oil(s) into their own cups and I combine the color powder with a little water to dissolve. I like to use disposable plastic bathroom cups for this since these ingredients are messy to clean up.

Once the lye/water and oils are about the same temperature, you combine them and stir until the soap thickens. I like to use a stick blender for this step. I've never tried making soap the "old fashioned way" by hand stirring it to trace. I hear that can take a long time, hours even! With the stick blender, I reach trace in less than 10 minutes.

When trace is reached, I add the scents and colors. This batch was a fairly ambi
tious 3 color swirl. I pulled approximately 1/3 to be left plain, 1/3 was colored with cocoa powder and scented with chocolate fo.
The final third was colored burgundy and scented with cherry almond fo.
Then the 3 colors were poured into the lined mold. The color looks exceptionally bad at this point. The soap then sits in the mold for about a day before unmolding. (Missed pictures of this step). I cut my soaps into 1 inch bars and let them air dry for a few days before stamping with my Milky Way cat stamp. The final result...Chocolate Covered Cherries soap. The log of soap probably should have sat another day before cutting, you can see the marks at the bottom where the soap stuck to the blade. And the swirl is practically non-existent. I've come to the conclusion it would be better to keep the majority of the soap one color and have much smaller amounts of the swirl colors. Regardless of it's cosmetic flaws, it's a fabulous soap (if I do say so myself).

Here are some more pictures of recent soap creations. This picture shows my drying area, a piece of needlepoint plastic on newspaper on a shelf in the basement. Works very well and can hold 3 batches of soap (I only make 1 or 2 pound batches).
Finished soaps. Clockwise from the top: Cocoa Rose (my husband's aunt's favorite. I make this pretty much just for her since I'm not a huge rose fan); Green Tea (this is a new one for me, made with green tea in place of water and scented with green tea fo. The scent is very herbal); Pumpkin Spice (made with real pumpkin, see recipe here, and spices. This was done in the silicone pan, see how the shape is different); and a soap I made just for the holidays this year called Merry Christmas (it smells fantastic, but I hate the color of the lather. I'm picky about stuff like that.)
And finally, my all time favorite soap, Lavender. This batch is as close to perfect as I've come. I used lavender essential oil, the real stuff, not fragrance oil, and it smells DIVINE. The swirl is nice and the bars have the right "feel", hard but not brittle, nice opacity. I have given some of these away, but I'm hoarding the rest. I love them so much.If you want to learn to make soap yourself, I encourage you to pickup a good book and check out the abundant resources on the Internet. Some of my favorite books are, in order of preference: 1 Everything Soapmaking (a 2nd edition of this is being published this spring if you can't find the original); 2 Soap by Ann Bramson; and 3 the Soapmaker's Companion. There are tons of great websites to explore. Some of my favorites are, in no order: Soap @ About.com; Soap Calc; Miller Soap; and these Yahoo Groups... SoapMaking 101 and SoapMakers.

I hope you enjoyed this look at soapmaking. I feel better having given my second favorite hobby some much deserved attention. Soaping is a fun and satisfying process. It feels to me like modern alchemy, taking unrelated substances and producing something completely different, even if it's not gold.