Too Hot to Knit …

The Willamette Valley here in Oregon experienced an unusually warm July.  (This part of the valley generally gets some warm weeks scattered through the summer, but not a month straight!)  The heat has discouraged me from knitting much – nothing worse than having a partially knit adult sized mohair sweater resting on your legs as you knit in hot weather!

The heat, however, has meant a proliferation of wonderful fruits and vegetables.  So I have been putting up fruits and vegetables.  I have run out of shelf space for jams and preserves; the refrigerator can hold no more jars of pickles (we prefer the taste and crunch refrigerator pickles over the canned version), and the freezer is stuffed with berries.

erase8The newest addition to our culinary lineup, however, has been homemade almond milk.  Neither Thor nor I drink milk so have been buying soymilk and almond milk – until, that is, I bought a Vitamix (mine’s a bright red model 6300).

With the Vitamix, making almond milk has been nearly effortless.  Here’s what I did:  (1) Soak for 8 hours 1 c. of raw almonds.  (2) Pop the almonds out of their skins.  (3) Puree together (for about 20 seconds on high speed) the almonds, 4 cups of water and a dash of any sweetener or flavor you may (or may not) want.  (One batch I sweetened with a single date and a dash of vanilla.)  Result:  4 cups of almond milk.

Erasepic2After pureeing, I sieved out the almond meat using a fine mesh bag (called, aptly, a nut bag) over a large glass measuring cup.  (Squeeze gently, or you could have what I ended up my first time: almond milk sprayed all over the counter.)  While a standard canning jar would have worked well as a container for the almond milk, I wanted one that would pour better – one that was more bottle-like.

erasepic5erasepic4I visited one of my favorite stores – Down to Earth (it’s a home & garden store) – to find a glass container in which to store the almond milk.  They had many from which to choose!

erasepic8I bought two of these beautiful bottles by Quattro Stagioni (trans: Four Seasons), one to hold unsweetened almond milk and the other for sweetened almond milk.

By the way, each bottle came with a pamphlet with instructions (in several languages) on how to pasteurize milk.  Thor started to look concerned when I started reading the instructions aloud.  He looked even more concerned when I exclaimed, “I could do this!”

His response:  “We’re not getting a cow or goat!”

(If we had a cow or a goat I could try my hand at cheese making!)



Posted in Cooking | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Pattern Monstrosity

I saw on The Purl Bee’s blog site a sweater she knit from a pattern titled, “The Wonderful Wallaby: A Hooded Sweater for All Ages” (1984, Carol Anderson and Kirsti Williams).  The sweater was cute (a hooded pullover with a kangaroo pouch), and Purl Bee liked the pattern.  Perfect, I thought, and a quick knit for practical sweater for Grandson O’s birthday.

That was the start of what turned out to be a harrowing journey.

erase_wallabyThe pattern (by Cottage Creations) is not available electronically, and it seemed to be a rarity at yarn stores.  After being told by several yarn store clerks, “Hmmm, I think I’ve heard of it,” I finally secured a copy through Paradise Fibers.  (Yes, it is sitting on a pile of cucumbers waiting to be pickled.)

The book(let) is 25 (that’s right, twenty-five!) pages in a tiny font and jammed full with discussions, instructions, encouragements, thoughts, and hints for the same sweater sized from a child’s 2 years to 48″ adult.  It’s written in a cutsie, folksy style.  (I am puzzled why so many knitters claim to like this style of pattern writing.  Hey, outhouses are folksy but no one waxes on lyrically about their virtues!)

The wandering narrative is interspersed with many drawings and sketches of kangaroos doing things like reading, knitting, etc.  Depending on size (and as explained on a whole page), the sweaters have different names:  Wanda Wallaby, Willie Wallaby, Wilhelmina Wallaby, Warren Wallaby, Washington Wallaby, Waylon Wallaby, Wilma Wallaby, Winifred Wallaby, Waverly Wallaby, Wilbur Wallaby, Wyatt Wallaby and Wisconsin Wallaby.

Really?!  If I’d wanted to read a child’s book, I would have borrowed one from the grandchildren.  Make up your mind … is it a children’s book or a knitting pattern?  (Note:  A professional editor could have guided the authors to make it one or the other – or at least streamlined the tortuous narrative.)

It seems that the authors attempted to write this pattern for the inexperienced knitter – and one who had no knitting friends of whom to ask questions.  That might explain why it is peppered with “helpful” information that, to anyone who has knit at least one garment from a pattern, shouldn’t need or find useful (e.g., reasons to knit the Wallaby sweater, half to full-page discussions on double points versus circular needles, etc.).

Again, pointing to its intended audience (the beginner knitter), the pattern is spotted with little paragraphs of encouragement:  For instance, “TREAT YOURSELF [sic] Take time to try on your Wonderful Wallaby, [sic] it feels so GOOD!  Your Wallaby won’t mind if tried on with needles remaining in the yarn!”  and “This is it!  Let’s hear a drum roll, cymbals clash and burst of trumpets as you begin–“The Placket…”

Erase_HumphreyThe instructions had me skipping ahead several pages, then back again, then forward, etc.  (What were authors thinking?!)

What made it a teeth-gnashing, hair-pulling frustrating read is that I felt I was laboriously pushing through the words, determined to read the instructions to their conclusion … all for a sweater pattern!  (At least Humphrey, after pulling the African Queen through a bug-infested swamp, gets Kate at the end!)

As I was already in $6.95 for the pattern and had already suffered through a first reading, I decided to rewrite it in my Neo-Norsk style.  That meant, of course, I had to read through the pattern multiple times to untangle the words and instructions – arghghgh.

After three days I finished the rewriting, taking far more time than I would had I simply designed my own pattern.  I admit I did much more than required for my own use.  For instance, I rewrote the instructions for all 12 sizes, added metric measurements, untangled and streamlined the tortured sentences, deleted unnecessary instructions, and repaired sloppy punctuation.

Here’s a glimpse at my rewrite – a total of 3 (three!) pages – all the “folksy” and “cutsie” removed:

Linda_Wallaby_cropDue to my respect for copyright, I cannot post my rewrite for other knitters.  But at least I won’t need to curse and tear at my hair while I knit up this pattern.  (And I will never again even look at another pattern by Cottage Creations.)

Posted in Knitting, Pattern Construction | Tagged , , , , , , | 18 Comments

3 Days of Delight: Black Sheep Gathering

As I try to cut down the next post in my new Fiber series to a much more readable length, I thought I would share some highlights of the Black Sheep Gathering (June 20-22, 2014).  Living once again in Eugene, Oregon, I attended every day of the event.

ERASE_KCL1ERASE_KCL2On the first day, Thor and I visited with Ken and Carol Ledbetter at KCL Woods.  (Thor purchased one of Ken’s amazing yarn bowls for my birthday one year.)  Ken’s work always amazes me.  This bowl (from acacia) was stunning.  After wiping my fingerprints of that acacia wood bowl, I bought another KCL shuttle!

ERASE_feltwallhangingI drooled over this masterpiece by Shannon Phifer of Kenleigh Acres Farm & Felt Pups!  It now hangs on the wall above my loom on a temporary hanger.  (Thank you, Thor!)  The sheep are needle-felted onto a hand-dyed, wet-felted background of Blue Faced Leicester.  The top piece is hand dyed, wet felted Navajo Churro; Shannon used Shetland for the yarn for the stitching on the top piece.  Each of the 12 breeds represented is made with fiber from that breed.

(See if you can you match the names to the sheep.  In alphabetic order, they are:  Blue Faced Leicester, Border Leicester, California Variegated Mutant, Coopworth, Corriedale, Gotland, Icelandic, Jacobs, Navajo Churro, Romney, Shetland, and Wensleydale.)

ERASE_felthatERASE_feltscarfI met Tylar Merrill at Thimbleberry Felt Designs.  Her scarves, jackets and hats were breathtaking.  Once I tried on one of her hats, I just had to buy it.  After I got home, I modeled the hat for Thor and then left it on my head.  Later that night while getting into bed, Thor asked if I wasn’t worried I would damage the hat in my sleep.  Only then did I take it off.

ERASE_pincushionI gasped with delight when I saw this creation by Trif’s Turnings.  Unlike my red tomato pin cushion and the heavier concave plastic version with a strong magnet, this doesn’t tip over AND it’s easy to pull out a pin!  Trif’s felted pin cushion (felted by his spinner wife, whose name I failed to get), is glued onto an ash base.

ERASE_buttonsERASE_buttons2And who among us can resist buttons?  I was amazed by Jodie McDougall‘s glass creations.  I had to grin when I saw the button on the right; it reminded me of Edvard Munch’s The Scream.

ErasePic1I also finished up a couple of projects.  You may remember the sweater I knit for my granddaughter F’s 6th birthday out of the Dale Falk yarn (to the left), I dyed a very (VERY) pink.  She LOVED the sweater which came in very handy as this year she celebrated her birthday on the Northern California.  But …

ERASE_FiaHatI groaned when I saw how much pink yarn was left over.  But, Granddaughter F LOVES pink so I knit a Pineapple Stacks Hat (by Rebecca Marsh).  But I STILL had pink yarn remaining.  (I was beginning to feel I’d never get rid of it.)

So I skeined that remainder up and tossed it into a very blue dye bath.  Voila!  Another Pineapple Stacks hat – this one for her brother, Grandson O.

ERASE_OlihatAs you can no doubt tell, I haven’t yet decided what type of topping to put on these hats. (I’m thinking a pompom for Grandson O and a felted flower for Granddaughter F.)  The grands will receive these adorable matching hats for Christmas (cunningly modeled in front of the hydrangea by my paper towel stand).

(I will have dig through my stash to find yarn to knit two adult sized Pineapple Stacks hats for their parents!)

And last – though certainly not least – I met Darlene Chambers of Peppermint Pastures Pygora Goats.  She raises hazelnuts, peppermint and pygora goats just north of me.  Beautiful fibers, tasty hazelnuts (frequently called filberts in the US), and peppermint adorned her booth.  The day I met her I was with another fiber aficionada, and between us we bought something from everything she sold.  (I have several pounds of hazelnuts in my freezer!)  :)

Yes, it’s been a wonderful week.

Posted in Dyeing, Fibers, Knitting, Miscellany | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Fibers, Part 2: Aesthetics

AESTHETICS has to do with your garment’s artistic qualities and beauty. But before starting your garment, however, you must determine whether a yarn’s aesthetics are appropriate for your garment’s anticipated use.  Choosing yarns should reflect that anticipated end use.  Understanding a fiber’s aesthetic properties comes into play here.

How much abrasion your project will be subjected to?  For instance, is your project for the outdoor garments or is it a delicate lacy dinner jacket.  A tightly spun wool yarn makes wonderful, well-wearing outdoor garments, while silk, though delicate to the touch, has great tensile strength!

Will some parts of your garment be subjected to more abrasion than other parts?  Besides fiber choice, your choice of stitch or weave, pattern and type of yarn will come into play.  Think, for instance, of the seed stitch panels commonly on the underarm portions of an Aran sweater: The smaller (and firmer) the surface of the stitch, the less likely much pilling will occur.  Consider also the type of yarn used in traditional Norwegian sweaters:  firm, thin, multi-stranded, tightly spun yarn, which also reduces stretching and makes the color patterns clear.

How much luster do you want in the final garment?  Mohair and some silks, for instance, put beautiful gleans into yarns and can be used in creating beautiful formal and elegant attire.  But perhaps you want a more informal look?  Then try wool or cotton, which are usually matte (dull).

What about the garment’s texture?  Do you want a smooth finish to your garment?  Natural yarns such as flax, wool and cotton tend to be more textured because they are, well, natural and thus affected by an array of variables (e.g., nutrition, weather, etc.).  For the ultimate smooth in “natural” fiber, try a manufactured cellulose fiber (e.g., rayon or bamboo).  They are first made into a pulp and then extruded into uniformly sized fibers.  Some silk fibers are also extruded from fibroin solutions.  Do you want a yarn that is heavily textured?  Try a boucle or a yarn that is made up of a multiple strands of different yarns.

How do you want the hand – that is, how the final garment will to feel to the wearer’s touch?  Remember, however, that what feels good to you might not feel good to another.  Years ago I knit an oversized sweater out of super bulky single ply Lopi (100g/3.5 oz, 60m/66y).  Thor calls it my “Yeti Sweater;” it is scratchy and I love its feel.  It is THE sweater I slip on when I am chilled and feeling sort of sick-miserable.  I admit I look a little like a bear in the sweater, but I love the HAND on that sweater – though no one in my family does.  (Fine with me; I don’t have to share it.)

What drape do you want your final garment to have?  What degree of flow do you want it to have?  Again, both the type of fiber you choose, how it is spun, the stitch or pattern you use, and the size garment will affect its flow.  I love knitting with lace weight mohair-silk … but I have had to repair beautiful lacy shawls and scarves because they seem to float out around me and snag onto various objects (e.g., bushes, children’s fingers, teeth of a house cat, etc.).

erase_absorbency.jpgHow absorbent do you want your garment to be?  This is always very important in socks; nothing worse than having wet or clammy socks on your feet!  Fiber manufacturers measure absorbency in “moisture regain” (MR:  the percentage of the moisture-free weight at 70F/21C and 65% relative humidity).  Wool is a hygroscopic fiber (one that absorbs moisture without feeling wet).  On the opposite end is cotton, a hydrophobic fiber (little or no absorbency ability).  (If you’re wondering what PBI stands for … it’s a manufactured fiber also called Arazole.  (Chart source:  Textiles, p. 26, table 3-6.)

What about heat or thermal retention?  Out of 12 fibers listed in Textiles (id.), wool is at the top of the chart; silk comes in 7th, flax 9th, cotton 10th and rayon 11th.  Synthetics place 2d through 6th, but every natural fiber rates higher in ability to absorb moisture without feeling wet.

During and after wear, do you want your finished garment to look like it did before it was worn?  Then you need to consider its resiliency – how the fabric returns to its original shape after bending or crushing.  In a list of 10 fibers, only 5 not completely manufactured, wool rates 2d (just under nylon), silk is 6th, flax 7th, cotton 8th and rayon 9th.

What does this mean for the designer?  Well, if you want to weave fabrics for a pair of slacks, know if you use flax or cotton you’ll be ironing a lot (unless you’re going for the wrinkled look).  If you knit a heavy cotton sweater, it will keep getting longer and wider (at least until you toss it in the washer and dryer).

What your garment’s elasticity – its ability to return to its original dimension or shape?   Fabrics with poor elastic recovery will stretch out of shape, while those with good elastic recover maintain their shape.  Fiber artists must not forget about this.  Not surprisingly, fiber manufacturers have a measurement for this too:  the fiber’s percentage recovery at 3% stretch (PR).  Wool’s PR is 99, rayon 95 (at 2% stretch), silk 90, cotton 75 and flax 65.

Lastly, think about the effort and attention to carrying for this garment.  What care properties are important for this garment?  If your garment is to be an easy-to-care for garment … well, consider that in choosing the fibers and finalizing your design!  If it’s a gift or for sale, be sure to include instructions.  The instructions should briefly explain how to care for this garment so it will last many years.

The next post in the Fibers series will look at why it is important for fiber artists to understand the differences between and among seed, bast and leaf fibers (aka natural cellulosic fibers).

Posted in Fibers | 3 Comments

This, That & Black Sheep Gathering!

One of the best things about Eugene is that it hosts annual the Black Sheep Gathering (June 20-22, 2014).  I plan to attend every day (of course)!  This last week I have been counting the days until it opens – tomorrow!  During this count down, I have been busy.

erasepic2I have put up strawberry-rhubarb preserves, strawberry jam and raspberry jam.  (Here’s a picture of one batch of strawberry jam.)  Though in a berry canning groove, but I forced myself to stop:  I needed to save the remaining jars (not to mention shelf space) for the summer’s stone fruits.

erasepic3I also finished up and mailed off Granddaughter F’s sweater (Sirdar 2081).  (Here’s a picture of it before the final steaming.)  If you look closely, you’ll notice I lengthened the vertical flower pattern on the front panels (between underarm to the button band) from 4 blossoms (the length of the vertical flowers across the back), to 6 then 8 and then 10.

erasepic1I continue experimenting with bread recipes.  Here’s a picture of my first attempt at a whole wheat bread with pine nut and fresh basil that didn’t quite live up to my expectations.

Pretty hideous, isn’t it?!  A friend told me it looks like a brain.

I’ve also been drooling over Kristan MacIntyre‘s newly expanded line of knitting jewelry.  (Thor likes me to point him in the “right” direction for birthday gifts!)  Hmmm … maybe her brilliant “Anticlastic (Stitch Gauge) Bracelet.”

erasepic6With some of the yarn remaining from Granddaughter F’s birthday sweater. I started knitting Rebecca Marsh’s Pineapple Stacks hat pattern for a Christmas present for Granddaughter F.

For those knitters who are uncomfortable with reading graphs, I urge you to try Rebecca’s pattern!  Simple and clear!

I am still left with about 100 grams of this rather, ummm, vibrant pink yarn. I planning on taking a skein with me to Black Sheep and consult with dyeing experts to learn if how I might be able to tone it down for more Pineapple Stacks hat for Christmas!

Posted in Fibers, Knitting, Miscellany | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

Fibers, Part 1: Morphology

Though I am retired from academia, my love of both researching and sharing my research provides fodder, as it were, for crafting blog series about various fiber-related topics.  A book I recently picked up at a book sale of a local library is simply (and aptly), titled Textiles (7th ed., Kadolph, Lanford, Hollen & Saddler).  After about a week’s worth of daily summaries of what I was learning from the book, Thor suggested I start another blog series.  Much of what was contained in Textiles I already knew; almost all of the information about creation and use of synthetic fibers for use in the textile industry was both new and (dare I admit it?) uninteresting to me (which means I will only briefly touch on the latter).  But it set me on this new series … :)

First in my Fibers series is about the morphology (physical structure) of fibers and their key terms.


Whether you’re a yarn producer or end user, all natural fibers (except for silk) are measured in staple form.   They measure anywhere from 3/4 (three-quarters) in./2 cm. (e.g., cotton, angora, linen tow) to 18 in./46 cm. (e.g., wool, linen).   Yarn producers buy synthetic fibers as filaments; measured in yards or meters, they are continuous strands of indefinite length though can also be produced in tow form.  Tow is a coarse, broken fibre such as flax, hemp or jute.

By the way, researching for this series, I learned that “tow” is properly pronounced to rhyme with “cow.”  If “tow” refers to cellulose acetate tow, however, then “tow” is pronounced to rhyme with “toe.”


A skilled fiber artist is careful to match yarn choices to her designs.  Why is that important?  Because how the fabric performs/moves and feels to the touch (its hand) is related to the size of the fiber.  If the fiber artists wants the finished fabric to have body, be crisp, and/or have a rough texture, she will look at yarns made from large fibers.  If she wants a finished fabric that is soft, pliable and/or drapes easily, she will look at yarns made from fine fibers.

Fineness of natural fibers, as the reader may already know or remember from previous Sweaty Knitter posts, is revealed by its micrometer measurement.  (A micrometer is 1/25,400 of an inch or 1/1,000 of a millimeter.)  The higher the number, the finer the fiber.

And just so you know … companies that manufacture synthetic fibers and the companies that buy the fibers to manufacture cloth use different measurements: denier (gram weight of 9,000 meters of fiber or yarn) and tex (gram weight of 1,000 meters of fiber or yarn).  Manufacturers of synthetic yarn use a measurement called dpf (denier per filament); dfn is the denier divided by the number of filaments.

In contrast to natural fibers that are not uniform (because they are subject to irregularities in their growth cycle caused by, e.g., diet, mineral absorption, etc.), manufacturers of synthetic fibers and silk control size.


Natural fibers excluding silk consist of (1) the cuticle – an outer covering, (2) an inner area, and (3) a central core (that may be hollow).


Different fibers have different shapes; the outer surface also differs.  Take a look at these drawings of cross-sectional views of various fibers.

erase xsectional pic(Source:  Textiles, id. at 21).

What does this mean for the fiber artist?  The shape of the fiber affects the hand of the fabric the fiber is used to make.


A skilled fiber artists – and especially spinners – understand how a fiber’s crimp is  important.  The crimp is the frequency of waves in a protein fiber.  Wikipedia defines crimp:

“The number of bends per unit length along the wool fibre approximately indicates spinning capacity of the wool.  Fibres with a fine crimp have many bends and usually have a small diameter. Such fibre can be spun into fine yarns, with great lengths of yarn for a given weight of wool, and greater market value. Fine fibres may be utilised in the production of fine garments such as men’s suits, whereas the coarser fibres may be used for the production of carpet and other sturdy products. Crimp is measured in crimps per inch or crimps per centimetre.”

The crinkle is the crimp that occurs along the shaft of a single fiber.  Not all protein fibers are equal in crimp.  Angora, for instance, has little to no crimp.  (If you are interested in reading more about wool and crimp, I found much to learn from Australia’s Woolwise – The Cooperative Research Centre for Premium Quality Wool.)


Not understanding that different fibers affect the hand of the final fabric can have disastrous results.  About 25 years ago I saw a beautiful Alice Starmore Fair Isle pattern that had been knit into a near shapeless rag.  There seemed to be nothing wrong with the knitter’s mechanical skills, but she lacked any understanding (and apparently recognition) of hand.  The knitter chose one of Starmore’s beautiful Fair Isle patterns but paired it with a bulky weight single ply cotton and knit the sweater several sizes smaller (to make up for the gauge difference) than she would had she followed Starmore’s advice.  The result?  A hideous sweater that pilled mightily, pulled out of shape easily, hung dreadfully; perhaps worse, Starmore’s delicate pattern was transformed into a blurry mess.  Yes, the knitter had some technical skill (she could cast on, knit, purl and carry yarns), but a complete either disregard or recognition of fiber properties.


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A New Sweaty Knitter Series

I am preparing another Sweaty Knitter series.  This one will be called, simply, Fibers.

This series is designed to assist textile artists (whether just beginning or having many years of experience), better understand fiber properties and how those properties contribute to the performance of the finished fabric – whether knit, crocheted, woven or sewn.

Fibers will cover an array of fiber-related topics, including morphology (structure),  what causes a fiber’s property(ies), fiber strength, what factors are involved in affecting the comfort properties of a fiber, what makes a fiber retain its appearance, characteristics of cellulose and natural protein fibers, how yarn is processed, how yarn is classified, and – undoubtedly – whatever other topics grab my attention.  :)

The series will focus on natural fibers, not manufactured fibers.  First, I have no personal interest in synthetic fibers.  :)  Secondly, while textile artists use an array of yarns made from various combinations of fibers (including manufactured ones), it is chemical engineers who manufacture the synthetic fibers.  (FYI:  Here’s a link to a nicely laid out instructional module on “Synthetic Fiber Manufacturing” by Professor Charles B. Weinberger, Professor Emeritus at Drexel University’s Department of Chemical & Biological Engineering.)

Second, I have no burning desire to “bone up” on chemical engineering, as none of my degrees is even remotely related to that topic.  I did make a synthetic product in a college chemistry class somewhere in the distant past: an expanded rigid polystyrene plastic – aka Styrofoam.  However, I’ve never used Styrofoam in any textile project.  :)

I hope readers will find Fibers an interesting and useful series!



Posted in Fibers | 12 Comments