Friday, February 29, 2008

Mid winter garden update

Back around Christmas, the seed catalogs arrived as usual. I wasn't planning on ordering much since my past experience with starting seeds hasn't been overly successful. Lack of good light and the cool temps we keep the house don't seem conducive to growing seedlings. But while I was looking for the onion plants I wanted to order, I happened upon something that sounded interesting. I mentioned it too hubby and he was more excited than me. So we ordered ourselves a Portabella Mushroom kit.
It arrives looking like a big box of dirt (because that's essentially what it is).
You wet one packet of dirt and spread it over the other dirt then close up the box and let it sit for a week.After a week, we opened the box with great excitement and found this...
Yep, that's moldy dirt. At this point, we moved the box to our basement. Every few days I would mist the moldy dirt and wait for something to happen. After a week, I thought I must have done something wrong because nothing changed. I read the instructions again and discovered I should have covered the box with a plastic bag. This I did. Within a few days, little white bubbles appeared and before long we had mushrooms. (Sorry, missed getting pictures during this period). Now, here we are a month later and we've got mushrooms all ready to harvest.
I'm so blown away. They are awfully crowded in the box and probably won't get as big as the portabellas we get from the grocery store, but still. It's pretty damn awesome to find something you can grow in a cardboard box in your basement in the dead of winter!

Oh, and seeds? I did decide to give it one more try after seeing Boogie's post about these nifty little seed starting pots. I planted eggplants and tomatoes. The "greenhouse" is an olive oil jug with the top cut off. I keep it covered with plastic wrap to keep the cats from reaking havoc and keep it in the sunniest window of the house (supplemented by my Ott light on cloudy days). And lo and behold, we have plants!
So far, I'd say 2008 is starting out to be a pretty good gardening year!

And now for something completely different...

As mentioned in my last post, the prior week was pretty bad. So bad, in fact, I almost caved on the yarn diet. The Milan brainworm is still nudging around and then Elann's newsletter came to my Inbox shortly after I got some money for some yarn and bags I sold. The combination was nearly my downfall. Elann has new superwash worsted wool for $2.38/50 grams! I could get enough yarn for the Milan cardi for like $35. And Merlot or Cape Cod would be just perfect, don't you think? But I resisted. And I'm resisting now, even though I had to click over there to get the link. I'm closing the window now. If it's meant to be, the yarn will still be there April 16th.

A few knitting projects to report on. Here's a cute little bag I made to keep my oil bottle handy on my spinning wheel.
I used some scrap hand dyed sock yarn I had lying around and just made the pattern up as I went along. I also made one of Mason Dixon's felted boxes for my library auction donation. I missed the errata for the pattern and knit nearly a third of the box before finding out they had the wrong needle size listed (they had US10 and it should have been 10MM, US15). So I had to rip the whole thing and start over. Turned out great though and it was a fast easy knit. The box is going to be a tea lovers gift basket. I knitted a little mug cozy from some of my handspun. The pattern couldn't be easier. Cast on enough stitches to equal a little less than the height of the mug. Work a few rows of garter stitch, then work in stockinette (always knitting the first and last 2 stitches) until the piece is almost long enough to fit around your mug. Work a few more rows of garter stitch, bind off, and sew together the first and last two stitches from both ends to make the hole for the handle. I'm not much of a cozy fan, but i do think this is cute and should help keep ones tea warm.

Currently I'm knitting socks. I finished the first handspun sock and love it. I'm well into the second sock. The slightly thicker yarn is making them a fast knit. I cast on another pair of plain jane top down socks, just so I'd have some variety.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Breathe out

It's been a week from hell. I try not to let life get me down, but this was just one of those weeks where it feels like someone is walking behind you, beating you with a stick all day long.

But now, the weekend is here. We had a bit of a snow so I'm gonna say I'm snowed in. I've finished all my chores (well, the laundry needs to be folded, but otherwise, I'm done). And this just came
in the mailI used some of the birthday money from my family to treat myself to The Alden Amos Big Book of Handspinning. It's gotten largely positive reviews. The most common negative remark is that the author is very opinionated in a "my way or the highway" type attitude. I'm hoping this won't deter too much from the supposed wealth of knowledge contained in the tome. I'm off to a cozy corner to read with a nice cup of tea, my fleece blanket, and with any luck a nice warm cat on my lap.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

More fiber goodness

Thursday brought a lovely gift in the mail. Jen, from Hanks in the Hood, custom dyed some superwash roving for me. Isn't it gorgeous?!The color is called Peacecat and I love it. There's pink and purple, blue and grey on a creamy white background. I couldn't wait to try spinning it. So I put on a fresh bobbin and pulled just a bit of roving off the end to give it a try.
I'm able to spin it quite thin and consistent. There's a hint of sheen to the spun yarn. I finished my first 2 oz bobbin of the rambouillet/columbia cross this afternoon and went back to spinning the superwash. Actually, I think it would be good practice for me to switch back and forth between the 2 fibers since both are being spun a bit differently.

The colonial yarn is working up nicely as socks.
I'm using Wendy Johnson's Toe Up sock pattern, which I'm absolutely loving. My only concern is when I get to the bind off. I'll have to do some reading to find a nice stretchy bind off.This picture was taken a few days ago and I'm now past the heel. I had decided to go toe up since I wasn't sure how far the yarn would go. It looks like I'll have plenty of yarn to do my normal length sock.

I frogged the Katsara Tube Socks that have been on my needles since last summer. I finally got to the point where I just had to admit they were never going to get done and I was tired of having them suck the life out of me. I've come to the conclusion I'm not really cut out for patterned socks. I do much better with plain vanilla socks. And with all the funky hand dyed yarns I've got, there's plenty enough interest in the yarn I don't need to worry with adding fancy patterning. I stopped short of ripping the Jaywalkers, although they too are sole-suckers. But I do have one sock finished and the 2nd sock underway, so I think I will finish them someday. I'll have to find someone with smaller feet to give them too, though, since when I tried sock 1 on, it was a bit too tight.

I'm starting to hear the siren song of a sweater calling me. I've only been working on small projects since I finished Mr Greenjeans and I'm starting to itch for something big. Milan is the current front runner vying for my attention. But since I'm still on the yarn diet and don't have enough yarn for a sweater, I must resist. I did wander over to Knit Picks the other day since they're having a clearance sale, but I was good. I've made it this far, I can make it 2 more months, right?

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Sock? yarn

The newly spun yarn has been wound off, washed and (almost) dried.It's gorgeous, even if I do say so myself. I absolutely love the way the colors blended together. The photos really don't do it justice.The final statistics: spun at 8.5 ratio, 4 oz colonial wool (roving from Hanks in the Hood), 2 ply, 216 yds, 12 WPI (about dk weight). I did not achieve my desired thinness, nor did the yarn end up as even as I thought I was spinning. But it's a huge improvement over my last handspun and I'm feeling a great sense of accomplishment. With more practice, I'm sure I'll eventually make my goal of spinning beautiful sock yarn. I read you need to use a higher ratio for thinner yarns, so maybe I'll try stepping up to the next ratio next time.

So what's the plan for this yarn? I've got to swatch it and see how the fabric looks, but I'm still leaning towards socks. I don't mind heavy socks this time of year. Especially since I live in clogs that can accommodate the thicker socks. They'll have to be toe up since the yardage is pretty small.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Tensioned Lazy Kate

I managed to finish spinning the singles for my sock yarn. I decided to fashion myself a tensioned lazy kate before I started plying. I would love a fancy shmancy Kromski lazy kate, but think the $50 they run is a bit much when a perfectly functional kate can be made pretty much for free. Here's how. You'll need a sturdy shoe box will accommodate the size and number of bobbins you want to ply from, 2 knitting needles that will fit through your bobbins, a third needle of any size, 2 binder clips, a rubber band and some twine or string. Estimate where you want the bobbins to sit in the box and punch holes to feed the knitting needles through (be sure you punch them straight across from each other and about an inch down from the top of the box). Punch another set of holes in the center of the box and slightly lower for the spare needle (this provides tension on the bobbins). Put the box lid on the bottom of the box and attach binder clips on each end where you want the tension band to be. Tie a rubber band to one binder clip. Tie the twine to the rubber band. Pass the twine over the first bobbin, under the spare needle, over the 2nd bobbin and over the side of the box to the other binder clip. Cut the twine to length and tie to the 2nd binder clip. Now you are ready to ply with a nicely controlled stream of yarn. I cut notches at both ends of the box to increase the tension slightly. This sad looking kate worked very well. Maybe someday I'll splurge on the wooden one, but this will certainly do the job in the meantime.

After finishing the lazy kate I put it to the test and plied my sock yarn. Quinn parked herself beside me for the duration. I think she finds spinning as soothing as I do. You can see my completely full bobbin there in the foreground. I need to wind off the yarn yet and figure my WPI and yardage. Pictures soon.

Speaking of pictures, here's a picture of the first project from my own handspun yarn.
This is the Favorite Hat from One Skein Wonders using my corriedale handspun in Brambleberry. I really wasn't digging the thick thin yarn and didn't think I would like it knit up. Boy was I ever wrong. The hat is GORGEOUS. The yarn knit up beautifully. It's soft and cozy, perfect for the cold weather we've had this week.