07 January 2017


Well, 2017 is off to a wild start. I surmise the erratic ju-ju from 2016 is not exhausted?

My plan for yesterday was to stay home, drink hot chocolate, and knit. I knew the wintry weather was coming. I had already stocked up on groceries earlier in the week, checked in at The Whole Nine Yarns to be sure my Saturday classes would be canceled, and generally put things in order.

Then I went to the Thursday evening Atlanta Knitting Guild meeting. Elke and Lynne told me that Robinson Salvage out in Carrollton had received a shipment of items from a shop impacted by the fires in Tennessee. The shop's insurance had covered the inventory as a loss. The salvage store had items at 40% off, including weaving and spinning books.

So instead of staying put in my warm little house, I got up, cared for the feline electron cloud, got dressed, and headed out to Carrollton. It took not quite an hour to get out there; and that was from my advantageous starting position on the west side of town. I got on I-20 at exit 46 (Six Flags Drive) and drove to exit 24. So, yes, with a snowstorm imminent I drove halfway to Alabama. Priorities! The salvage store is about 15-20 minutes south after exiting the interstate. Robinson Salvage has a main store a mile or two up the road from the real address you want: 620 Bankhead Highway. This is their overflow warehouse. Walk in the doors and head back and to the left.

And there you are. There are two big rows of palette after palette of yarn, fiber, and books. I did not see any tools (wheels, looms, needles) or DVDs. There was a very nice selection of books. I was able to greatly fill out my library wish list (sorry, Interweave). There was plenty of yarn, including Cascade Fixation and Alpaca Lace, Liberty Wool, and Mountain Colors. There was mounds and mounds of spinning fiber. And there, on the spinning fiber in every color, was the proof I had feared. This was from Smoky Mountain Spinnery.

I mentioned Smoky Mountain Spinnery in a blog post back in the spring of 2015 when I enjoyed the great privilege of teaching at Fiber Forum, held at Arrowmont. Smoky Mountain Spinnery is a delightful destination shop. While it is not difficult to find yarn shops, it is much harder to find shops that carry spinning and weaving. This shop had a wall of rovings in every base color the dye manufacturers make. They had fiber from prize-winning sheep from major wool festivals. Looking at their website, they say they do intend to reopen, possibly as soon as later this month. Still, I can not fully imagine what a major undertaking it must be, even with insurance, to swap out an entire smoke-afflicted inventory. If you find yourself near Gatlinburg this year, please go check them out! After the loss of the Mannings a year ago, I do not want to see our community lose another major shop.

At Robinson Salvage items are just piled up in boxes, so you have to dig and sort. Sometimes matching skeins are not right next to each other. I spent more than an hour and way more money than I had intended. I have specific plans for reversible lace projects for all the knitting yarns. Several of the books were on my wish list. Maggie's Ireland was probably the last major XRX book that wasn't already in my library.

I did not see any equipment — no wheels, looms, or knitting needles. I'm thinking of going back next week to see if any appear. Employees were still unpacking weaving yarns while I was there. So while I was tempted to linger, I knew I needed to get my tail back home. Especially if you are a spinner, I can not stress enough this rare chance for significant stash enhancement. There were qualtities of undyed fiber that would be perfect if you wanted to make a whole sweater from scratch.

So, while there is joy (happy Epiphany!), there is also sorrow. I like Smoky Mountain Spinnery. There are mixed feelings to be benefiting from their horrible 2016.

The cold rain had just started when I left Carrollton after 1 PM. I got back to Mableton after 2 PM. I was grateful to use the inbound lanes on I-20, as the outbound lanes were crammed. Traffic was thick after I got off the expressway. Come to think of it, I'm not sure I've ever seen local traffic of that magnitude. It reminded me of the weekend before Christmas, but with the volume turned up another notch. I parked in my garage, unloaded, spoke to my mom (Thank you for checking on me!), ate, and then walked over to Kroger because I was out of whipped cream for hot chocolate. Yes, first world problems. I also picked up some Chinese food at the local family-run hole-in-the-wall restaurant. It was about 3:30 in the afternoon; and I have never seen the restaurant that busy. The snow emergency preparedness memo for Atlanta: Buy milk, bread, and Chinese food?

Jump to this morning and the beautiful view from my windows.

And I guess it is just as well that I've enhanced the stash, as I am not going anywhere.

Charlie Brown Christmas tree on left, Ewok Imperial driveway barrier in distance

I could hear the trees cracking last night. One of my friends has been talking about coming over some afternoon with his chain saw so as to trim the long branches off the pine tree. I think the ice beat him to it. It should be below freezing all day today. I am not going outside. When the ice is gone in a day or two, I'll see if I can drag the boughs off the street and into the side yard. I was going to get dressed this morning, but then reconsidered. I've made a pot of hot green tea and put on NPR. (Boo, hiss! "Wait, Wait, . . . Don't Tell Me" is a rerun clip show today.) I have leftover Chinese food for later today. And I am almost done with my latest reversible lace project (more on that soon, I hope!).

So much for 2017, week 1.

28 December 2016

2016 Hideous Dumpster Fire Ornament

Earlier this month, I quickly knocked out a hideous crocheted dumpster fire ornament. South Cobb Arts Alliance hosts a Christmas House arts and crafts show each December. With it, they also have a tea room and silent auction. I believe Friends of the Mable House are also involved. Truth be told, I'm not sure which parts are executed by and for which organization. This group of events is a major fundraiser. The Mable House Arts Complex has a historic home, the art center with workshop and gallery space, and a concert venue. Throughout the year there are opportunities to gain skills in various arts, view and purchase art, attend concerts and live theater, and attend historic re-enactment. Sometimes the arts complex is just a good place for my local community to gather, such as for the farmers' market or food truck night.

I made the hideous dumpster fire ornament for the silent auction. I figured someone would connect to it. For many people, 2016 has not been a favorite year. John Oliver wrapped up Last Week Tonight for the season with a not-safe-for-work take on 2016. That was in November when we still had about seven weeks to go.

Well, 2016 has embraced its character. If you are going to play the chaotic alignment, then by golly dig in and be chaotic. In the last week we have lost George Michael (on Christmas Day!) and Carrie Fisher. George Michael's album Faith was probably among the first five CDs I bought when I got a CD player in the mid 1980s. That CD was a significant part of the soundtrack of my days in graduate school. Cuddly Hubby and I have the poster triptych for the Star Wars trilogy reissue of the last 1990s hanging in our master bedroom. So, yes, there is a picture of Princess Leia in my house. Geekdom and Generation X suffered notable losses this year even before this week. (Yes, I know Carrie Fisher and George Michael were technically Baby Boomers, but their contributions to popular culture strongly impacted Generation X.)

Thus, I offer to you a crafting option to help celebrate/commemorate/obliterate 2016 in all its, um, glory.

I don't normally write crochet patterns. This one is free, because I'm sure there are better ways to do this; but I don't know them yet. If you want to download this file for free, it is on Ravelry.

2016 Dumpster Fire Crocheted Ornament

Techniques you already know:
  • foundation crochet
  • American crochet terminology
  • working into back of loop
  • chain stitch/tambour stitch
  • Russian join
  • basic needle-and-yarn sewing
Supplies & Materials:
  • Size G/4mm crochet hook.
  • 1-2 yards of fishing line for hanging
  • blunt tapestry needle
  • Worsted-Weight acrylic yarn.

    Sample used:

    Lion Brand Vanna’s Choice

    color 174 olive, about 15-20 yards,

    color 153 black, about 5-10 yards,

    color 158 mustard, about 1-2 yards.

    Red Heart Super Saver Multis

    color 950 Mexicana, at least 5-10 yards of red-orange-yellow with the blue-green-purple edited out; even more would be better!
Gauge in single crochet:
14 stitches and 16 rows = 4 inches

Nomenclature & Abbreviations:
I am using American versions of these stitches, not British versions.
fsc = foundation single crochet
sc = single crochet
cdc = half-double crochet
dc = double crochet
ch = chain

Dumpster is worked as a center-out rectangle at the bottom, then up the sides. The black lid is worked separately and attached. The fire is worked separately, then attached.


With olive:
Establishing round:
2sc in last chain of foundation to turn corner.
4sc in row of chains.
1sc in last chain to turn corner.
You now have a rectangle that is 5 stitches on each long side and one stitch on each short side.

Round 1:
1sl+1sc in corner stitch, 3sc on long side,
1sc+1hdc+1sc in corner stitch, 1sc on short side,
1sc+1hdc+1sc in corner stitch, 3sc on long side,
1sc+1hdc+1sc in corner stitch, 1sc on short side,
1sc+1hdc in corner stitch.

Round 2:
1sc in corner stitch, 5sc on long side,
1sc+1hdc+1sc in corner stitch, 3sc on short side,
1sc+1hdc+1sc in corner stitch, 5sc on long side,
1sc+1hdc+1sc in corner stitch, 3sc on short side,
1sc+1hdc in corner stitch.

Round 3:
Working into the back loop only:
Please do not work extra stitches in the corners.

Round 4:
Resume working into both loops:
4sc, 2hdc,
1hdc, 5sc.

Round 5:
3sc, 3hdc,
2hdc, 4sc.

Round 6:
2sc, 4hdc,
3hdc, 3sc.

Round 7:
1sc, 5hdc,
4hdc, 2sc.

Fasten off.

With black:
Working back and forth:
Leaving about a foot-long tail, 7fsc. Turn.
1ch, 7sc in the front of the loop. Turn.
1ch, 7sc in the back of the loop. Turn.
1ch, 7sc in the front of the loop. Turn.
1ch, 7sc in the back of the loop. Turn.
1ch, 7sc in the front of the loop. Turn.
1ch, 7sc in the back of the loop. Turn.
1ch, 7sc in the front of the loop. Fasten off, leaving about a foot-long tail.
Using tails, sew lid to taller side of dumpster using overcast stitches to mimic hinges. Weave tails toward front of lid, but leave excess for tacking lid to front of dumpster later. Ridges on lid should be facing public side.

The fire part is a hot mess!
Firstly, I used Red Heart Super Saver in the Mexicana color way, which is essentially a classic rainbow. I wanted to purchase separate skeins of red, yellow, and orange, but the store was out of orange that day. I didn’t need the green-blue-violet part of the multicolored yarn. I ended up “editing” the yarn by cutting it into little pieces and then joining the 13 pieces of red-orange-yellow yarn using Russian join (sewing them together). I joined red to red and yellow to yellow, which means the red and yellow parts are twice as long as the orange parts. It would be much easier to just purchase a red-orange-yellow variegated yarn.

The fire part is worked randomly and side-to-side. It is mostly chain stitches with a few single crochets for the base. Also, I worked the single crochets from left to right — i.e. left-handed rather than right-handed. Here is a description of what I did and a picture of what I got. Competent crocheters, I have no doubt you can improve upon this.

6fsc, 7ch, slip stitch back down the chain, slip stitch down the foundation single crochets.
1ch, left-hand single crochet 5 or 6 stitches, randomly chain, slip stitch back down, chain a bunch more, slip stitch back down, slip stitch back down the single crochets.
Keep working back and forth, sometimes making a straight line up and back, sometimes making several branches.

Because I was pressed for time, I only made enough fire to edge the dumpster. Ideally, you want to do a whole lot of fire and fill it up! I didn’t have enough, so I had to use stuffing to fill the dumpster.

Use chain stitch and mustard yellow yarn to add “2016” to the front (lower of the two long sides) of the dumpster.

Use tails to tack fire to inside of dumpster.

Use black tails to tack dumpster lid down.

Use fishing line at all four corners to create a hanger.

12 December 2016

Off Topic — Ya Lun & Xi Lun

If you've been reading this blog for awhile, you know I have passions beyond fiber arts. I have a lifelong passion for giant pandas. I'm fortunate to live in the very best city in the whole United States when it comes to pandas. When I moved here more than twenty years ago (yes, before the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games), there were zero pandas in Atlanta. At that time, the only panda in the United States was the geriatric Hsing-Hsing at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.

Lun Lun and Yang Yang arrived here in Atlanta in the fall of 1999. I have been a fan ever since. For me, there are few places in the world better than the panda exhibit at ZooAtlanta.

Today, I just wanted to blog a happy shout out to ZooAtlanta and Chendgu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. When I think of the International Space Station, I think of the collaboration between the United States and Russia. When I think of ZooAtlanta's giant panda program, I think of the collaboration between the United States and China. In both cases, difficult, remarkable, and wonderful things have been achieved by working together. These collaborations give me hope that working together is possible no matter what happens.

Today, ZooAtlanta's second pair of twins — cubs #6 and #7 — received their names.

ZooAtlanta President & CEO, Raymond King, announcing panda cub names.

Congratulations, Ya Lun & Xi Lun!

And congratulations to the care staff at ZooAtlanta and their colleagues from Chengdu Research Base. Lun Lun has had five successful pregnancies and seven cubs. I like to think Lun Lun's beautiful face and Yang Yang's playful temperament will always be represented in the giant panda gene pool.

For those of you keeping score:
2006: Mei Lan
2008: Xi Lan
2010: Po
2013: Mei Lun & Mei Huan
2016: Ya Lun & Xi Lun

I do hope the Chinese will please remember that, whether you like him or not, our president-elect is not terribly strong even at American etiquette. Forgiveness might sometimes be needed. And I hope our new administration will please remember that etiquette is an important element of Chinese culture. Politeness sometimes matters. Many people regard the relationship between China and the United States as the most important international relationship today. I am glad the town I call home is doing a little bit to make this a friendship.

29 November 2016

Negative Ease

When making garments that fit the human form, we sometimes talk about "ease." Ease is a measure of how much extra fabric is in a garment. For example, if a bust measurement is 36 inches, then a sweater that is exactly 36 inches around has no ease. If the sweater is 38 inches, it has 2 inches of positive ease at the bust. If the sweater is 35 inches, is has one inch of negative ease. A big, boxy, oversized sweater might have 6 or 8 inches of positive ease.

This is important when you are making garments that both fit and flatter. And ease behaves differently if the fabric is woven than if it is knitted. Woven fabrics generally don't stretch if they have been cut with the grain. (Cutting on the bias is a whole different story.) Knit fabrics are different. They stretch. They move. They might even grow.

This also means knit fabrics can match our shape. If the shape you have underneath is not one you want to display to the world, then this is maybe a bug rather than a feature. On the other hand, this can be advantageous. I recently made a simply shell using Takhi Yarns Ripple. Ripple is a thick and thin cotton yarn with no elasticity in spite of its i-cord construction. After a great deal of swatching through stockinette, reverse stockinette, garter, ribbing, seed stitch, and the like, I decided to work the garment in stockinette brioche stitch (Nancy Marchant's term) or column pattern (Elise Duvekot's term). Although brioche is a somewhat slow knitting technique, it gave me two advantages. First, brioche is very stretchy. The resulting fabric is stretchy in spite of the yarn. Second, brioche is a more solid fabric. I tend to wear only a thin silk slip as an undergarment, so I wanted a top that wasn't too sheer.

The pattern was relatively simple.

Make a gauge swatch in the desired stretchy stitch pattern and write down the math.
Cast on in the round in an amount that is close to zero ease at the waist but is slightly negative ease at the bust and that is a multiple for the chosen stitch pattern.
Work in the round to the underarms. Be sure the lower hem will hit your body at a point that is flattering — i.e. either above or below the widest part of your hips.
Park the front stitches and continue working back and forth up the back to the top of the shoulder. Work a selvedge treatment at each edge, if desired. Notice the fabric will end slightly towards the back of the body, so that there is a straight line across the back of the shoulders and neck.
Park the back stitches.
Join a new skein and work a couple inches back and forth across the front. Once again, work a selvedge treatment at each edge, if desired. Notice you can try on the garment and work until the neckline is a height that looks good on you.
On right-side row, knit across, bind off center stitches, continue knitting across. Bottom of neckline is now bound off.
On wrong side, work across first strap, jump to other strap, join new skein, continue across second strap.
Continue working back and forth with two skeins to complete the front “straps.” Notice that the length of the front might be different than the length of the back depending on what is needed to fit your body. This is fine.
Try on garment to double-check fit.
Turn the work inside out and work three needle bind-off to join the shoulder, bind off the back neck, bind-off second shoulder.
Turn work right-side out. Block if necessary.
Edgings — particularly in crochet — can be added after the fact at the neck, armscyes, and hem.

Notice there is no shaping anywhere in this garment. It is rectilinear, as if it had been constructed from Lego building bricks. Off the body, it is nothing special.

But on a body, it sings!

Now this top does not look *quite* this good on me, unless I wear a Frederick's water bra underneath. I'm small-breasted, but I know I can use foundation garments to give me more shape. Notice the key to making it flattering is the placement of ease. Negative ease stretches over the breasts and emphasizes that shapeliness. If you are sewing, this effect is difficult to achieve with woven fabric. But with knit fabrics, we can achieve this result without even increasing and decreasing!

The bottom line: when we knit, knit for the intended body. Allowing the knit fabric to stretch just a little over a feature will emphasize it by making it look a little more shapely and a little larger. Giving the knit fabric just a little positive ease so that it skims a less-delightful feature will disguise it without making it look like you are trying to hide something under a circus tent. And while there are lots of tutorials out there to help you shape garments using increases and decreases, sometimes a wise choice of ease and stitch pattern is all you need to make a flattering garment.

02 November 2016

Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair 2016

The end of October means time for SAFF! This year, I taught Thursday through Saturday. That meant I had Sunday free to crawl the market.

I checked out the fleece sale on Friday before I left for dinner. I knew I wanted some locks for lockspinning, corespinning, and just general art yarn mischief. The best fleeces get picked out early; and there are unusually fewer longwool fleeces from the start. Fleeces were arranged in the barn by type of animal (goat, alpaca, and sheep) and then in categories. Wool categories included fine, medium, long, and primitive. There was also a table in the corner for "other." These are fleeces that don't fit well into the established categories. Some people feel very strongly that shepherds should not mix up sheep genes willy-nilly. Others feel this type of cross-breeding experimentation is just more of what humans have been doing for millennia. I don't have a strong opinion. I wouldn't care if you crossed a balrog with a unicorn. If it produced a great fleece and was a happy animal, it's all good from my perspective. On the "other" table I found a beautiful fleece from Cher, an Icelandic Cotswold cross ewe whose home is Dry Creek Sheep of Sugar Grove, Virginia.

Cher in 2015.
Photo credit: Susan Hmurciakova of Dry Creek Sheep.

Cher's 2016 fleece.
Photo credit: Susan Hmurciakova of Dry Creek Sheep.

Cher's fleece was not judged this year. She won third place last year. This is definitely an art yarn spinner's fleece. There are two different types of locks. Her fleece has some Cotswold-like locks that are tight waves, lustrous, darker grey at the cut end fading to pale at the tips. There are also some Icelandic-like locks that are more wire-y with a gentle wave, black-brown at the cut end fading to light brown at the tips. And there is some rough but bouncy and shorter dark fiber. Then again, I haven't scoured the fleece yet; it may soften. This is a fleece that will definitely need to be sorted by hand, all 5 pounds (over 2 kilograms) of it! My housemates looked aghast when I said I might overdye. With this much, I am sure there will be enough fiber for both natural and dyed spinning.

And Sunday I shopped the market. I really do need more adult supervision.

The bottle of Power Scour is, of course, for the fleece. I also found another Japanese stitch dictionary to add to my library. And I found the smaller lace-size Fix-a-Stitch. Galina's video is about using intarsia in traditional Russian lace. The wooden box is from Knitting Notions. It is well-made and designed. It even has a small magnet to keep the lid from opening accidentally. In a home with cats, this is a nice way to keep a special skein safe while you work. The wolf in sheep's clothing felted ornament is from Lanart. They carry beautiful garments made from alpaca. I've seen this ornament before and always resisted because I don't know what I will do with it. I still don't know, but this time I decided I should indulge!

The last place I shopped was Hillcreek Fiber Studio. Someone in the workshop barn was playing with a 12-inch square "potholder" loom earlier in the weekend. She was making a block that had a diagonal line across the middle. I purchased the Mini Module set, which is a square and a triangle that are 6 inches on a side. I also purchased the great tome of continuous strand weaving and a locker hook. Carol Leigh has done a tremendous job promoting this type of weaving. I tried couple quick swatches yesterday; and I am already fascinated by this method. It is fast, fun, and with little waste. This would be a great way to use up leftovers and spinning samples. With the mini set, there are quite a few quilt patterns that can be reproduced in weaving. Adding color changes within the weaving, there is even more to explore. And the book has many, many ideas for projects. This rabbit hole has potential!