Friday, November 15, 2013

My First Trip to SAFF, part 2: Before it's yarn, it's fiber...

...and before it's fiber, it's sheep! 

Or maybe it's alpaca, as shown here enduring a friendly pat from one of my pals--the brave pal, who pet an alpaca.

SAFF (Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair) is less about knitting and more about becoming a better yarn consumer.  It also helps you become a better consumer overall.  I realize I was only there one day, but it made a big impression on me.

Having had a couple of weeks to develop some hindsight about my trip, I look back now and realize that one of my biggest takeaways is a finer appreciation for all that it takes to make a simple skein of yarn.  It helped immeasurably that one of my activities that weekend was a class on using the Turkish spindle.  Whereas before I never looked twice at roving or bats of un-spun wool, this time I paid attention.  I was charged with the task of not only buying a Turkish spindle for class, but also in finding roving--but not just any kind.  I needed BFL, which for the "Un-Spun" among us sounds like it abbreviates something nefarious.  BFL is Bluefaced Leicester, named after the sheep breed from which it is sheared, and it is an excellent fiber to use as a beginner due to its long staple. Or so I was told.  Being as I am still a rank beginner, I wouldn't know any different!

I found some seriously gorgeous BFL at Gale's booth.  She had some stunning colorways in her hand-dyed roving!  I ended up with these that looked like sheep :)
My gorgeous BFL!

Ready to get this party started!
I mentioned in an earlier post about the amazing spindles made by Subterranean Woodworks.  Mine is lovely, isn't it?  It did NOT come with a guarantee that I would be a natural at spinning, however.  (If you're listening, guys, you might want to think of adding that bit of magic to your product line.  It's too late for me, but others will benefit in the future. Just promise you'll think about it.)

They tell me that "thick and thin" yarn is premium stuff that costs way more at yarn shops.   Y'all, spinning "thick and thin" is SO easy!  It's getting it to be uniform and just one (or even just TWO!) yarn weights at once that is incredibly least for me.  As you can see, most of our class--made up of members of the Flowertown Knitting Guild, a super-talented bunch-- seemed to have gotten the hang of it (or the spin of it, as the case may be!) after several hours.

The bottom line is this: If you think that everything starts with the finished product you see on a store shelf, then a trip to SAFF next year will do you a world of good.  You'll meet small farmers (well, they weren't all short, but most of them had small farms...hahaha) and business owners that operate on a scale that won't put them on the top 100 sellers on Amazon.  You'll see craftsmen and weavers and spinners and yes, even knitters.  Look past all the smiling faces and beautiful fiber and you'll see heart and passion and a love for the job that you won't find just anywhere.  This, I believe, will make you (and me) a better consumer.  I think that purchasing decisions are made a little differently when one considers the life, the passion and the talents, behind the item.

(For part 1 of this post, go HERE)

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Planning ahead. It's better that way.

Coming up in 2014 (yes, it really is just around the corner!), two dates for you to mark on your calendar:

January 25, 2014
Indigo Dyeing Workshop
Registration is now live for this class, to be held again at the Charleston Museum, and since it fills up quickly, I suggest registering sooner, rather than later. Why? Because I can't wait to see what fabulous things YOU can do with Indigo!

February 7-9, 2014
Vintage Winter Shawl Class
This is a repeat of last year's sold out class at the SC Knitting Guild's Knit Inn.  Registration for this will be open by the first part of December (which is now a month away--yikes!).  This year, they will not be taking any walk-in registrations, and all the classes (and hotel rooms) are first-come, first-served.  I don't yet know what date my class will be, but you should plan to come for the whole thing anyway because it's loads of fun!

photo by Sean Money, The Charleston Museum

Friday, November 01, 2013

My first trip to Saff! (part 1)

Last weekend I finally made it to Saff!  The Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair has been going on for 20 years, and I've tried to go in years past, honest.  This year: success!

So much to see! So many people!
Wendy and Me
The fun thing about fiber/knitting events is getting to see folks I don't see all the time. Wendy and I got to touch base for a bit and swap Indigo dye stories and plans for world domination via knitwear.  We get closer to our goal all the time...

Me and Pat. Not pictured: her tutu!

Pat slowed down long enough for a blurry pic with me.  I've decided that I will start a blog one day and it will be filled with pics of me and Pat, running into each other at fiber fairs. I think that's a good plan, because Pat makes me (and everyone else, for that matter) smile, and we should all smile more, right?

Buying our first Turkish spindles. The guy on the right MADE them!

My goal at Saff was to find a really good Turkish drop spindle. No, make that, a GREAT one.  Turns out that Knitty and Color is a wonderful source of top-notch Turkish drop spindles--well-made, beautiful, and reasonably priced. I can't recommend them highly enough!

Gale, of Gale's Art, who fit right in with our crazy bunch.
For roving, I went over to Gale's Art and, despite her enormous quantities of amazing hand-dyed roving in a million beautiful colors, I bought natural, sheep-colored roving.  I loved it and that was all that mattered.

Me, Gail, and her Vintage Winter Shawl
Last February I taught a class at the SC Knitting Guild's Knit Inn and afterward, the lovely Gail contacted me with a finished pic of her class project.  As I was walking through the barn at Saff, I saw that project and knew I had seen it before.  Sure enough, it was Gail herself, and the shawl was even more gorgeous in person!

Overall it was a great trip--cold, exhausting, exhilarating and fun!  Do I want to go back again next year? Absolutely! Will I dress a little more warmly if the forecast high is less than 50 degrees? You'd better believe it!

 (Want to hear more about my adventures with spindle and roving? Stay tuned for part 2 of my Saff trip, where I brag on my Flowertown Knitting Guild pals and attempt to spin yarn from Blue-Faced Leicester, which is not as easy as it sounds...!)

Monday, October 21, 2013

Another go with Indigo

Last Saturday I was privileged to once again teach an Indigo Dyeing Workshop at the Charleston Museum.  We had another great bunch of dyers, who were a blast to work with!

First we got a peek at some of the indigo items in the Museum's collection, and Curator of Textiles Jan Hiester gave a brief history of the use of indigo in the Charleston area.
Then the dyeing began.  Can you see how green the yarn is in the vat?  It looks kind of sickly, but trust me, it turned out a beautiful blue--that's the magic of indigo.

Laura brought a dress that she wanted to try in the vats.  She was thrilled with the results! It turned out great!

A little silk tie-dye? You bet! Delores did a beautiful job! 

Look for the next Indigo Dyeing Workshop to be scheduled soon.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Free Pattern Friday: Socks! Now via PDF!

After having this pattern available for almost a full year (how time does fly...), I have  created a PDF file for easy downloading, and (presumably) easy knitting.

This pattern is not complicated, but it looks smashing when knitted up and if you use Cascade 220 Superwash Sport like I did, they'll be so soft you won't want to take them off.

With Christmas just around the corner, here's a great gift idea for someone on your list.  Cast on now--what are you waiting for?  After all, it is a FREE pattern!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Knit and Crochet Show 2013

So last weekend, this happened:

I traveled up the road to Charlotte, NC to take a class, meet with some editors, and generally hob knob with some of the finest knitters (and crocheters) anywhere.

There was a lot of yarn! And yarn accessories! And people draped in yarn!

Yes, I was one of those people draped in yarn.  Here I am meeting the incredible Melissa Leapman.  When I knitted the "Tamara Wrap," I never thought I'd get to meet the designer of the pattern. I think she approved of my work ;)

And I approved of hers, too. Here she is teaching "Turning Pro" to those of us who aspire to make money from designing knitwear (or crochetwear, as was the case with so many of the other students.  I mean, I have never seen so many crocheters in one place as I did at this show! But I digress...).  So much is right with this pic--Melissa's intensity while teaching, the fact that I was trying to take the pic on the sly (I'm sure she didn't see me aim my iPhone at her from table height. Right??), the magnificent shawl on the student in front of me, which was only eclipsed by her magnificently braided hair...!

That night we were treated to this lady--Patty Lyons.  I laughed so hard at her crazy pics of sweaters that were miles too big, but I also learned a lot about gauge. Great fun! And I was finally in a room full of KNITTERS! There were probably some folks who also crocheted, but I chose to overlook it. Ha!

All in all, it was a fantastic experience.  I spent time with friends from my Knitting Guild, folks I only see at shows like this (like Pat!), and new friends I made like Maureen, Diana and Sandy.

PS: I took with me 5 items that I designed, wrote patterns for and knit in the last 2 months--a shawl, a wine bottle cozy, a bag, a sock (half a pair!), and a hat.  I received offers to buy the shawl and hat for publication!  Stay tuned for further developments on that front :)


Tuesday, October 01, 2013

New Pattern for Halloween!

Halloween Sale-October 2013
buy all three patterns for half price! 

I don't know about you, but when I hear the phrase "Halloween Wine Party," I immediately think of this:

So when someone said to me recently, "Halloween Wine Party," I looked around but found no patterns written for what I wanted.  So of course I wrote one.  Actually I wrote three: a skull, a pumpkin, and a black cat, all quick knits on double-pointed needles.  I think they will make a great hostess gift, decoration, or even finger puppet ;) You can get all three patterns for one low price, just by clicking the link below:

Halloween Sale: Now only $1.50!

Monday, September 23, 2013

An Indigo Morning

Last week I was privileged to accompany staff members and volunteers of the Charleston Museum to an Indigo class.  Actually, it was more like a slice of a PhD course in Indigo.  Father John, our gracious host, gourmet chef and knowledgeable instructor, has been studying and experimenting with Indigo for the past 8 years, and he's still learning and experimenting.  This was so encouraging to me, since it feels like the more I learn about this ancient dyestuff, the more I realize I don't know. 
His Indigo plants are so tall! That's Jan Hiester on the left and Susan on the right (Awesome Museum Volunteer and All Around Fun Person).  Father John is describing the types of Indigo historically grown in SC, plus how he has managed to have such thriving specimens.

These Indigo leaves have soaked overnight in water.  See how blue the water is now?  Once the Indigo water has been drained off, the leftover leaves (in back) can be used as a fertilizer/compost.

If these folks ever ask you to go to a class or lecture with them, do it. Charleston Museum people rock :) L to R: Neil Nohrden, Assistant Curator of History, Jan Hiester, Curator of Textiles, and Stephanie Thomas, Education Coordinator.

Once the leaves are removed, it is necessary to aerate the liquid.  Father John used a fish tank aerator.  The blue on the bubbles is what will eventually be the Indigo dye.

After aerating, it settles.  That blue sludge on the bottom? Yep, Indigo! Next step is drying, then crushing into a powder, then mixing in water and various chemicals to further reduce the Indigo so that it will dye cloth or yarn.

He dyed 10 yards of cotton for us--and made it look easy.  See how yellowy-green the fabric is inside the vat? Awesomeness in the making. Also note the fabric hanging on the walls, all perfectly Indigo dyed by our host.

Finished product, framed by the beautiful yard at Father John's place.

 These photos only give you glimpse into our morning--and if I hadn't lost the rest of them off my phone with the lastest iOS update (my fault--I should have backed them up sooner, but I didn't foresee issues and well, I'm grateful I had already emailed these to myself!), you would see so much more.  I took copious notes and have been telling everyone who will listen about how much I learned and what a lovely time it was.  Father John even served us a gourmet lunch, in the midst of teaching us so much about dyeing with Indigo!  It was an experience I'll never forget.

I'll be passing on more of what I learned, plus giving you a chance to do some dyeing yourself at my next Indigo Dyeing Workshop at the Charleston Museum,  Saturday, October 19, from 10am-12:30.  More details and registration info at their website.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Knitting, Blogs, and The Art of Getting Stuff Done

Random linen stitch
They say if you want to get something done, hand it off to someone who is already busy doing something.  Forward momentum is pretty powerful. Or as I like to say, "Mojo, man. Mojo."

There is a truth that a person will carve out time to do what he or she really wants to do (some exceptions apply, but not many) and I wonder if the joy of knitting (or writing, or crafting, etc) is what makes us fit more of it in around otherwise hectic lifestyles.  I also wonder how many of us would be on the street, up to no good, if we didn't have knitting in our lives, but I will NOT ask for a show of hands at this time...

Motivation is a valuable tool in life and when I see it in others, it also motivates me.  I met a Particularly Motivated Gal a couple of years ago at a knitting group and as I've gotten to know her I've been impressed (and occasionally intimidated, I admit it!) by her immense pools of inner mojo. And now?  Now I'm proud as punch because Victoria has rolled out a shiny new blog and it's lovely! Please check it out and follow her knitting adventures--you won't regret it!

Many more years ago, I met a Mom Who Liked to Write.  She was the first real live person I'd ever met who had her own honest-to-goodness blog.  When I shared with her my love of writing (and the fact that, at the time, it had been ages since I'd written anything at all), she encouraged me to start my own blog.  I did, and that blog was a wonderful thing (Yes, I do like my own writing!) and while it has been put on the back burner as I have honed my focus (and motivation) down to KNITTING (shocker!), it helped me get where I am now and that makes me grateful.  I'm grateful that I started the blog and I'm grateful to Shannon for giving me the little push I needed.  And now?  Now I'm proud as punch because Shannon has done gone and gotten herself published!  In a book!  I haven't read this yet, but having read much of her other writing over the years, I can guarantee it is good.  Go buy it!  Or you can just order it from Amazon without having to even leave your computer. Ask me how I know this :)

What about you? Do you have motivators in your life, sharing their Mojo with you and getting stuff done?

Friday, September 06, 2013

Actual Knitting Has, In Fact, Been Happening!

Aside from my Cold Mountain lace journey, my current knitting has revolved around some top-secret pattern designing.  It may seem to the casual onlooker as though I'm only knitting occasionally, or even, gasp!, sporadically.  Rest assured that nothing could be further from the truth. Between the swatching and the re-swatching and the adjusting and the swatching again and the finally knitting the thing, well, I've been doing a lot of knitting.

When completed patterns are ready, I promise you'll be the first to know!  In the meantime, here is a small sample of what's been on my needles here at KnitOasis HQ:

Friday, August 30, 2013

Cold Mountain Journey: This month's lace knitting

Showing someone your lace project before it's finished and blocked is a little like showing someone your bread dough before it's baked.  It's gooey and sticky and chewy and a big ole blob of not-quite-something-good. 

Nevertheless, I will show you the progress on my Cold Mountain stole, since I am doing it as part of a Knit-A-Long and that's what it's all about--showing how it's going, even if it looks lumpy and disheveled and like something no one in their right mind would ever want to wear.  I am also overlooking the fact that I am not "caught up" to where I should be if I had managed to knit 15 rows every week so far.  I am, in fact, a little bit behind on the count...

It's getting longer! Note the cowardice displayed in the use of TWO lifelines!

I love all the flecks of color in this KnitPicks Shadow lace weight yarn.

I have to say I am starting to enjoy this project more.  I hesitate to go so far as to say I've got the hang of it, but things that didn't make sense before, make better sense now. (Isn't that a lot like life?  The more you learn about something or someone, the more sense it or he or she makes.)

The length of time of this KAL seemed a little daunting at first, but I am SO glad that I don't have to rush through this.  I have so many other projects in the works right now that I have to schedule "shawl days" and "charity project days" and "new design work days," just to cover all my bases.  It's a good thing I love to knit!

Monday, August 26, 2013

More Indigo Dyeing

Noticed today that Wendy over at Spinsjal has been messing around with Indigo.  Very cool!  I love seeing other folks using Indigo. It looks like she had some great results and I'm very intrigued by the silk yarn she dyed!

Also, Leigh at Magar Hatworks has been dyeing some fabric for fall--yep, using Indigo. Beautiful stuff!

And finally, here is a recent post from The Charleston Museum's Tumblr page featuring, what else? Indigo. 

I used to notice when people were knitting; now I see them dyeing with Indigo...
Want to have your own expereince with the magic of Indigo?  Don't forget, my next Indigo Dyeing Workshop at the Charleston Museum is Saturday, October 19. Space is limited and you must pre-register.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

An adventure in felting

I recently took part in a back-to-school education expo.  This being the second year of my participation, I felt better prepared to create a display that would be bright but not too bright, colorful but not overwhelming, and above all to clearly communicate the message I wished to convey:

Y'all come let me teach you to knit!

In my efforts to stream line the display, one of the things that I dropped everything to make (with only a few days to spare--living on the edge here, people) was a felted bowl.  This was my first attempt at knitting a felted bowl, but having felted a bag a few years ago and being currently in the state of euphoria brought about by kicking "behind" on that lace shawl KAL, I thought, I can SO do this.  And I did.  Naturally, I used some scraps of leftover yarn from the bag (I knew it would felt!) and having found a simple-looking pattern on Ravelry, I busted it out.  The result was that I now think that everyone I know NEEDS a knitted, felted bowl. Also, I wish I'd tried it sooner. 

If you've never felted before, let me encourage you to try this project.  It was a quick knit (my son wanted to confiscate it as a hat in its pre-felting stage), didn't use much yarn and the resulting felted coolness of it will make you think you're a Felting Rock Star.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Indigo Dyeing, version 2.0

There's something to be said for being open to growth and change, and for never saying "never."

In my previous Indigo Dyeing workshops, I think I might have said just that: never.  As in, I will "never" use extra chemicals when dyeing with Indigo.  So, by now you can guess where this blog post is headed, right?

In the quest for ever more impressive results, I gave thio-urea dioxide and soda ash a chance to wow me, and they did. 

First, I was wowed by the odor.  I won't sugar coat this: it stunk to high heaven! On it's own, pre-reduced Indigo has a subtle scent that is not unpleasant.  When these chemicals are added, it's a whole 'nuther story!  Two words: abundant. ventilation.

Secondly, I was wowed by the richness of the color.  This blue was so intense, even in lighter shades, that it took my breath away. (OK, what little breath I still had after the smelly, chemical-laden vat took away a good deal of it.  In the interest of honest disclosure.)  Y'all, the yarn and fabric I dyed using the new technique is just amazing.  I'm going to start carrying some of it around with me at all times to show people, because, while it does photograph nicely, in person it's even better.

And third, I was wowed at how much easier it was to rinse off all the leftover Indigo. My theory is that the chemicals reduce the Indigo and this makes the Indigo WANT to stay on the yarn.  I like it--it's a good theory.  Things should make sense as much as possible, whenever possible.  Anyway, whether you buy into my theory or not, the fact is that the yarn was a joy to knit with.  The color still rubbed off slightly in the process of knitting, but it was a vast improvement over previous yarns which had not had the benefit of super smelly chemicals added to the vat.  (Two more words: vinegar. soak.)

So there you have it: Indigo Dyeing, version 2.0.  Just in time for the next Workshop at the Charleston Museum. 

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Indigo All Over

My friend Kaye is a traveler extraordinaire.  She recently returned from a road trip that took her to New Mexico, and while there she visited Tierra Wools and saw their natural dyes operation.

In my studies of indigo dyeing I ran across this article about a dye master in Mali.

And then this happened in my own garage yesterday.
Just pulled from the vat, turning blue before my eyes.


I've begun experimenting with a slightly different dye process.  It is proving to be rather stinky, but the results are so intense that opening an extra door for added ventilation is really no problem at all.

Learning the art of dyeing is a little like learning a second language.  You don't ever forget your first language (knitting), but eventually you see connections between it and your new language.  If you look on the rack in the pic above, you might see a wee bit of wool roving, dyed a glorious indigo.  If you think that this might mean that I plan to attempt a third language (spinning) soon, you might be right....

Monday, July 22, 2013

Red Scarf Project 2013 (plus a free knitting pattern!)

The Brickworks Scarf

Most of you who know me know that I love to knit for charity and one of my favorite charities is the Red Scarf Project.  I enjoy knowing that somewhere there are young adults who have grown up in foster care who are wearing red scarves they received in a care package while away at college.  It must be the mom in me, wanting these kids to have a tangible expression of love and support.  And it's the knitter in me who jumps at the chance to make that expression out of yarn.

This year in addition to knitting a scarf for submission to the Project, I also designed a pattern: "Brickworks".  It is available now as a FREE Ravelry download--giving you plenty of time to send one in for this year (between September 1 and December 15--address on their website).

So enjoy, and thank you in advance for sending scarves to help make a difference in the lives of foster youth in college.