Knitting & Kneading

As my hands have only recently returned to a state where I can knit without fear and bandages, I had been putting more attention to bread making.  Fun!  Proofing has been challenging in these cold, winter months.  Because we use heat sparingly, I became fairly creative by, for instance, wrapping the proofing bowl first in plastic wrap, then in a kitchen towel and lastly in a bath towel and setting the whole bulky bundle in the closet where our hot water heater lives. Alternatively, I have relied on my “best guess” method or hunches for calculating slower rises at cooler temperatures.

BroedTaylorProofingBoxNo more!  Supporting my immersion in the world of artisan bread making, Thor gave me a Brød & Taylor proofing box for my PullmanPanbirthday!  It’s been a wonderful addition to the kitchen.

Right now I’m on a whole rye “jag,” and not surprisingly my Pullman pans are getting a workout.

HB_BlackPumpernickelHamelmanBreadFrom Hamelman’s Bread, I baked “Horst Bandel’s Black Pumpernickel.”  The bread required a 12 to 16 hour baking time!  While we enjoyed the bread at room temperature, we did not eat this bread quickly, so after a few days I sliced and froze what we didn’t eat.  When later toasted and eaten, I found the taste of the molasses too strong.  One of my bread tasters, however, did not.  Maybe I shouldn’t have frozen it.

ScandinavianBakingMyClassicRyeAs soon as I got my floured hands on Trine Hahnemann’s Scandinavian Baking, I browsed through the book and selected “My Classic Rye Bread.” 

This bread was superb and immediately triggered fond childhood memories.  Thor and I have now worked in EkteFrukostto our breakfast rotations the kind of deilig (delicious) Norwegian breakfast I ate regularly at my Mormor’s kitchen table.  :)

After finishing off Hahnemann’s “My Classic Rye,” I turned to Hamelman once again and baked “Vollkornbrot with Sunflower Seeds.”  Hamelman recommends VollkornbrotSunflowerswaiting 48 to 72 hours before slicing this loaf, so after it cooled I wrapped it in linen, and it now sits on a kitchen counter waiting for Monday.  Today I’m going to start the preferment for another loaf of Hahnemann’s “My Classic Rye.”  Baked tomorrow, we’ll slice it on Monday and so can compare to Hamelman’s “Vollkornbrot with Sunflower Seeds.”

RaisinRyeFor Thor, who loves my sour rye with raisin bread, I made him his very own loaf.  There’s something about the sour, tangy dough offset by the sweet raisins that makes this bread his favorite.

Yes, the proofer is indeed a welcome addition to our kitchen!

I’ll be back to a knitting related topic on the next post.  In the interim and for a giggle, take a peek at “My Knitted Boyfriend” by Noortje de Keijzer.

Posted in Breads, Cooking, Knitting | Tagged , , , , , | 18 Comments

Schematics, Design & the Bell Curve

Many of knitters and crocheters – and I include myself – get rather annoyed when we pay for and download a pattern to find that it contains no schematic.  In this post I decided to discuss sketching one’s own.

LopiPictureDue to copyright issues, I needed to select a pattern that’s free.  I chose to use this pattern by Istex, offered free on its website here.  If you click on the picture, it will enlarge and you will be able to see that it is a simple raglan sweater.

The pattern is designed to use Bulky Lopi.  I thought I might adapt this pattern as the basis for a Lopi pullover for Thor.  He keeps borrowing my old (and beloved) pullover I knit over 20 years ago out of a wonderfully warm bulky Lopi in (for some reason long forgotten) the most unbecoming – to me – shade of brown.  (Of course, I wouldn’t mind another wonderfully warm and cozy bulky Lopi pullover in a color better for me.)

KnitGraphPpr32ratioOne could use Excel, though she must be sure to resize its cells in a 3:2 or 5:4 ratio – as knitting graph paper should be.  I pulled up a new Excel sheet and locked these cells into a 3:2 pixel ratio.

I then went to the Insert tab and selected Shapes and experimented with straight lines, ovals and KnitGraphPpr2scribbles to come up with this quasi-monstrosity of a sketch of a raglan.

(I know – awful.  I was always the worst student in my water color class, still life drawing and ceramics.)

Now most non-professional knitters and crocheters do not have customized designing software to use and may not be comfortable tricking Excel (a spreadsheet software) into use.  So I think it more useful to stick to the traditional way (i.e., using pencil and paper), which also happens to be my favorite mode of drawing schematics.  :)

I pulled out a stack of lined paper and started making notes about the pattern before I started sketching.  The oddities one discovers at a closer look … curiouser and curiouser (to borrow from Mr. Carroll).  This simple pattern is a walking illustration the importance of being able to draw a schematic and knowing what and how to adjust the pattern for a good fit.

Size S M L XL
Finished chest (inches) 38 40 42 44
Length to shoulder (inches) 21.5 22.5 23.25 24
Sleeve length to underarm (inches) 19 20 20 20

First, you will note the finished chest measurements (in inches) are standard for a S-M-L-XL.  But notice the narrow incremental changes in length to shoulder and sleeve length.  The three sizes (M-L-XL) all have the same sleeve length, and the S’s sleeve length is a mere one inch shorter.

This is pattern for a woman’s sweater, but let me drag the Bell Curve into this discussion.  The Bell Curve is a graph of the normal (Gaussian) distribution; it has a large rounded peak tapering away at each end.  Bell curves follow the 68-95-99.7 rule, which means this:  Of all the data graphed in the distribution,

SD1Approximately 68% of all of the data lies within one standard deviation of the mean (i.e., between -1 and +1);


Approximately 95% lies within two standard deviations of the mean (i.e., between -2 and +2);


Approximately 99.7% lies within three standard deviations of the mean (i.e., between -3 and +3).

What does this all have to do with this post?  Let’s use me as an example.

The mean height of women in the U.S. is 5 feet 4.6 inches or 164.1 cm with a standard deviation of 3.5 inches or 8.89 cm.   My arms are in proportion to my height, and I have an extremely long torso that sits atop “average” length legs.   (I am, however, the average height of a man in the U.S.: 5 feet 10.2 inches or 178.2 cm.  Their mean height has standard deviation of 4 inches or 10.16 cm.)

  • Mean height of woman in US:  5 feet 4.6 inches (164.1 cm)
  • Standard deviation:  3.5 inches (8.89 cm)
  • The  height of 68% of all women in the U.S. is somewhere between 5 feet 8.1 inches (=5 feet 4.6 inches + 3.5 inches), or 172.97 cm, and 5 feet 1.1 inches (=5 feet 4.6 inches – 3.5 inches), or 155.19 cm.

Neither clothing manufacturers nor pattern designers have the women whose heights fall outside of one standard deviation above or below the mean in mind.

cartoon heightLook back up at the second bell curve above.  See the space between +1 and +2 standard deviations?  Women my height fall into that space.  Women who are shorter than 5 feet 1.1 inches (155.19 cm) tall are in the space between -1 and -2 standard deviations (i.e., below the mean). (pic source)

Now that I’ve gotten a bit off track … to be continued in my next post.

Posted in Bulky Lopi, Crocheting, Knitting, Pattern Construction, Sweater Design | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

One More Week …

… until I can knit or weave again.  <Sigh>  Nonetheless, I’ve been keeping myself busy by baking bread.

KitchenAidPicI have the 7 quart KitchenAid Pro Line Stand Mixer (thank you Thor!), and, thanks to its powerful motor and curly-q dough hook, my fingers, hands and wrists are saved a lot of stress that would occur from hand kneading.

The newest bread that I’m experimenting with is Leinsamenbrot – a German flax seed bread.  As told me by a GerBreadLeinsamenbrotman ex-colleague of mine, her mother practically lived on this bread, and after sampling several versions of Leinsamenbrot, I can see why!  Wow.  I used dark rye flour (I am partial to dark rye) and tried it first with dark flax seeds and then later with golden flax seeds, with and without sesame seeds sprinkled on the top of the loaf.  (I prefer the dark flax seeds and no sesame seeds.)

BreadChallahThor had a birthday recently, so I made his favorite breakfast:  French toast out of Challah with raisins!  Of course, I had to make Challah the day before.  As the picture shows, I made a double braided Challah (a 3-strand braid on each level), but I think the Breakfasttop braid slipped a bit.  Oh well.  Thor didn’t complain.  He enjoyed homemade raspberry jam on the Challah french toast and accompanying mixed fresh fruit salad.  (The orange pieces are Fuyu persimmons.)

Using the KitchenAid’s pasta attachment (thank you again, Thor!) to roll out the dough to a nice, even height, I regularly  make crackers from my white and dark rye sourdough discards.  Earlier batches of crackers used first whole wheat flour, BreadCrackersthen einkorn flour, then white whole wheat flour with the discard.  In my last couple of batches I used sprouted whole spelt flour.  Wow – a whole other level of taste.  I add dried rosemary to the dough and push them into current favorite topping – a mix of black and white sesame seeds – before putting them through the KitchenAid pasta roller.  (Definitely worth a try for those of you who make their own sourdough crackers!)

Unable to find rye chops (aka cracked rye) locally (I even contacted a local miller who said she’d never heard of it), I’ve been experimenting with making my own using my Vitamix with its dry grains container.  I made six different batches and sent them to a weaver/spinner who is also artisan baker.  We both agreed batch four looks like cracked rye (or at least will after a little sifting).  I want to make “Horst Bandel’s Black Pumpernickel” from HB_BlackPumpernickelJeffrey Hamelman’s Bread.  Here’s a picture of the bread slightly scaled down for a 9 inch Pullman pan.  (Source, Fresh Loaf)  I’m going to make a larger loaf and bake in a 13 inch Pullman pan.  I have to share with my tasters, after all!

I am VanGoghGirlWithBreadstill anxiously awaiting starting to knit again.  There’s only so many loaves of bread I can bake before my friends will start hiding when they see me pull into their driveway in my car or on my bike.  “Oh no, it’s her again with more freshly made sourdough bread!  Quick, turn out the lights!”  :)

(Pencil sketch, Girl Carrying Loaf of Bread (1882), by Vincent Van Gogh)

Posted in Uncategorized | 21 Comments

Returned to Sock Knitting

For several years I lived in a part of California where most of the year we baked in dry heat.  Winters were short, and I rarely needed wool socks so stopped knitting socks.  After moving back to the Pacific Northwest I needed wool socks.  Shamefully, Thor and I each bought several pairs of Smartwool© socks.  Despite their not inexpensive price, we were dismayed to see that the heels and toes wore out quickly.

So, both because of need and shamed by the sock knitting prowess of  Wei S. Leong of Kiwiyarns, I bought some wonderful sock yarns at last summer’s Black Sheep Gathering.  I picked up my sock needles and have been knitting in between various other projects.

First pair:  Using John Q Earth Wear (85% possum/merino blend, 15% nylon, 100g, 361m – thank you WSL!), I pulled out my knitting notebook, measured my feet and jotted down the measurements.  After making the necessary calculations for a basic sock, I provisionally cast on and knit the first sock.  I used a provisional cast on as I have long feet and calves:  I wanted to ensure I had sufficient yarn.  After weighing the first sock, I knew I had enough yarn to lengthen the leg, add a fun ruffle, and knit the second sock.

LaceySecond pair:  Using sock yarn (50% alpaca, 40% sw merino, 10% nylon, 3.9oz=400y) I bought from Marit of Las Flores del Altiplano at the Black Sheep Gathering, I knit a pair of Seadragonus socks from Lacey’s (right) fleece.

DaphneThird pair:  Using alpaca sock yarn from Daphne’s fleece (also from Las Flores del Altiplano), I knit Anemone.  (Pic of Daphne on the left)

SprigFourth pair:  When I saw Sprig, I instantly knew what yarn I wanted to use:  a skein of Fibre Alive’s beautiful four-ply, hand-dyed Merino Mania (110g, 350m/385y, sadly now discontinued), that I received eSprig_yarnarlier as a gift.  (Thank you, WSL!)  I loved the yarn the minute I felt it.  Though I’m at the (tail end) of a knitting hiatus, at least Sprig is on my needles!  Sadly, I don’t think the beautiful colors show off the lovely pattern well.  (Oh well, I’ll still have a great pair of socks.)

Future pairs:  In my stash to knit enough socks to have a week plus one day’s worth I have:

  1. Anzula’s Cloud (80% sw merino, 10% cashmere, 10% nylon, 100g=525m);
  2. Artesano’s Definition Sock Yarn (75% wool, 25% polyamide, 100g=400m);
  3. Zealana’s Kiwi (40% NZ merino, 30% organic cotton, 30% possum, 40g=124m/135y);
  4. Zealana’s Cozi (58% merino, 22% nylon, 15% brushtail possum down, 5% baby alpaca, 50g=170m/186y).

No, I haven’t forgotten about Thor’s need for good wool socks.  Because he is so sensitive to wools, I thought the best thing would be for me to knit a bunch of socks for me first.  Thor can try on my socks and see if he can handle any of the wools.

Hey, it may seem selfish, but I’m knitting all mine first FOR HIM! :)

PersephoneZinniaSo far it seems Thor can wear my socks made from yarns from John Q Earth Wear and Las Flores del Altiplano.  I have two more skeins of sock yarn from Persephone (left) and Zinnia (right) – both from Las Flores del Altiplano – with Thor’s name on them – that is, when I finish my 8 pairs!

I thought I’Possumd include a picture of the source of New Zealand’s possum yarn, the Brushtail Possum.  Definitely not as cute as the alpacas.  (Because this possum has no natural predators in New Zealand, it causes great harm and destruction on NZ’s environment and ecosystem.  Click here to read more.)

Have you tried knitting socks from possum or alpaca yet?!

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

Holiday Donations

Around the holidays there seems to be an uptick in the number of people knitting or crocheting items (particularly hats) for holiday or charitable donations. When I have seen the contents of “donation baskets” – the  containers into which handmade knit or crocheted caps are dropped – I am always horrified by the goods.  They are almost always items that are “quick and easy” to make out of some of the most horrific yarns and colors one could choose … crocheted hats that could deflect bullets, knit scarves with garish clashing colors, yarns that won’t do much to keep the wearer warm, yarns that are not long-wearing, yarns that will not hold their shape, et cetera.

I’m sure you’ve seen hand-knit or -crocheted accessories that are, well, blindingly awful – the ones where the colors hurt your eyes, the feel of the fiber makes you cringe, and the design has you wondering, “What in the world were they thinking?”

Yes, the intended recipients are having difficulty (e.g., financially devastated, homeless, victims of a natural disaster, etc.) and as such will undoubtedly be thankful for the generosity of others.   But why demoralize them further by pawning off some ugly gift even if it is hand made?

A crafter with solid, basic skills can knit or crochet an attractive, usable item (e.g., cap or a simple scarf) simply by selecting a lovely yarn.  If she’s skilled with her needles or hook, she can easily create a more complex patterned hat, scarf, mittens, beaded wrist warmers, or cowl.

If you live in an area with long cold winters, don’t gift cotton ski caps.  If you live in an area with warm winters, avoid warm Lopi hats and mittens.

Why not personalize the gift?  Imagine the recipient pulling out a lovely, warm hat and seeing a note that:  tells her the name of the pattern and why you selected it;  tells her about the fiber source (e.g., an alpaca named Daphne raised nearby? from New Zealand possum?); contains  washing or care instructions; and includes your wish for the new year.  Certainly the recipient would appreciate feeling a little special in a dark time in her life.

If you have no nice single skein remaining in your stash, why not pick up a nice, locally produced skein?  In the U.S., you could probably  deduct the cost of the skein on taxes (that is, if you itemize).

My beloved American grandfather used to say:  “If you’re going to do anything, do it right or don’t do it at all.”  I’m thinking of my grandpa’s words as I write this: If you’re knitting or crocheting something for donation, do it in a way that doesn’t make the recipient feel bad about receiving the charity of others.

Have you any particular creations and ideas to share that work well as holiday donation items?

Posted in Crocheting, Knitting | 26 Comments

Mormors Klem/Grandma’s Hug

When Thor and I went to my daughter’s house for for Thanksgiving, I brought the two gifts I made for the grandchildren:  a mitered square afghan for Grandson O and a granny square afghan for Granddaughter F.  As I gave them their blankets, I said that that as I couldn’t tuck them into bed each night to think of their blanket as Mormors Klem (Grandma’s Hug).

Last night my daughter told me that each night when she tucks each child into bed, she tucks the blanket around them as a “klem fra Mormor” (hug from grandma).  The grandchildren love that, and my daughter thinks they are the sweetest gifts I’ve made the children.

I think every knitter, crocheter and weaver hopes that her/his hand creations will be treasured by their recipient.  These afghans, it seems, hit that mark.

What treasures that you’ve made for loved ones have “hit that mark?!”




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Knitting With Large Needles

Because of damage I sustained to my hands many years ago, I do not knit with wool heavier than worsted.  The weight of heavy wool on top of the strength needed to manipulate large needles aggravate the damage.

BurlySpunPicI recently made an exception.  For the first time in at least a decade I am knitting with a bulky weight wool.  Actually it’s more than bulky weight; it’s extra bulky:  Brown Sheep Company’s Burly Spun (8oz/22g, 132y/121m).  I love this colorway:  Tormented Teal.

Of course, that weight wool requires a large needle.  I had no needles large enough for this weight wool; I gave them to my daughter some time ago.  Eschewing my favorite (Addi), I purchased a couple of different kinds of US#13 to test that would be lighter and easier for my hands:

  • Brittany’s 7.5″ double points (made in California from sustainably harvested birch);
  • Bryspun’s Pearls circular (plastic, made in Oregon);
  • Bryspun’s Bry-Flex circular (plastic, made in Oregon); and
  • Clover’s Takumi circular (bamboo, made in Japan).

Bryspun’s needles are working best for me.  They are lightweight and allow give, and their cords are thicker than Clover’s and rarely kink (which is quite nice).  The tips also have an unusual concave shape making it easy to pick up the bulky single ply wool.  (Please note that I have needles that are decades old.  Though my favorite needles are by Addi, I have a some non-Addis needles.  The Brittany’s birch needles have worn better over the decades than Clover’s bamboo.  I have one pair of Bryspun plastic double points that are about 15 years old that have worn well.)

No matter the needle, however, to safeguard my hands while I knit a poncho out of Burly Spun, I pace myself.

Have you knit or crocheted with extra bulky yarn?  If so, what needles or hooks do you find work best for you?

Posted in Crocheting, Knitting | Tagged , , , , , | 25 Comments