Archive for the ‘crafting’ Category

There’s nothing like being snug and warm when it’s cold and blowy outside, especially if there’s something yummy-smelling simmering on the stove, and I have a few minutes to sit and do some knitting…

The last of our Christmas turkey simmering for stock:


A pair of socks I knit for my three-month-old nephew:


Our kitten Whiskey, in action:

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It’s been a busy week, so this will be a brief and utterly random photo post:

Our entire onion harvest. They are small because I planted a little late, and didn’t weed enough. I will plant two or three times as many onions next year, as these will only last us a couple of months.

It may be autumn, but these pretty purple wild asters are still blooming everywhere around here!

I knit this little cardigan and hat for my sister’s first baby, who is due October 3rd, so I need to get it packed up and into the mail tomorrow…

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I’m trying to get back into the swing of updating this blog regularly, and so I’m starting with a photo post. Enjoy!

Beans and corn growing in our vegetable garden. They are both local Native American varieties.

Yarn I dyed using Queen Anne’s Lace (the yellow parts) and onion skins (the orange parts). I call the result “Butter Toffee”.

Chief, our alpha rooster, looking regal.


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Last time I posted about knitting, I had just finished my first pair of socks. I pretty much immediately started a second pair, which are about 2/3 done.

I’ve learned that socks made with worsted-weight yarn goes way faster than socks made with fingering-weight yarn. I also learned that I can knit approximately 6 inches of sock ribbing during the course of a Thornhaven discussion. I expect to finish these before the end of the month. Once this pair is done, I may set a goal for myself that I knit at least one pair of socks (for myself or someone else) per month.

While I’ve been knitting these socks, I’ve finished two other projects (the 14, now 15-year-old sweater is unfortunately not one of them).

Finished project #1:

A cowl, or tube scarf, to keep the cold wind off the sides of my face while I’m walking the dog int he back fields. I wanted something I could scrunch down into when it got really cold. The pattern was challenging, and involved a lot of counting. I might make it again, as a gift, if I found a yarn that I thought would complement the pattern really well. Unfortunately it a) isn’t as warm as I wanted, due to the open-ness of the pattern at some points, and b) it rolls down on itself readily, so it doesn’t stay up over my cheeks very well. Still, it worked for the latter half of the winter, and I’m glad I made it. And it looks kinda cute on me:

Finished project #2:

A baby kimono and hat for my tenant John’s baby boy. I will never, ever use Red Heart Yarn again. There’s good acrylic and bad acrylic, and this is bad acrylic (which I didn’t know when I bought it – I just thought the colours were good for a boy, and that acrylic was nice and machine-washable for a baby). It was a royal pain in the posterior to work with. But I had fun modifying the pattern so that the finished garment wouldn’t roll up on itself (and I learned that patterns designed for cotton yarn don’t necessarily work so well in acrylic).  I would knit this pattern again in cotton, or in machine washable wool.

Apart from my second pair of socks, the other thing I’m working on is a gift for someone who reads this blog, and so will have to remain under wraps for now.

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Blue is one of the more difficult colours to achieve with plant-based dyes. The ancient Celts used woad, and the ancient Asians used indigo, and that was pretty much it until synthetic dyes were invented. I’ve ordered some indigo seeds from my favourite local seed company, just for fun, and I will be looking up what sort growing conditions woad wants (cool and wet, with a side order of rocky outcrops, probably).

In the meantime however, I started to experiment with black turtle beans. The idea is, that the water you soak the beans in before cooking them can be used as a dye bath, and some people have achieved some very pretty blues.

So I saved the water that I soaked the beans in for last week’s soup, and followed roughly the same procedure as with my first experiment, except this time I did mordant the fiber in 1.5 tsp of alum and .5 tsp of cream of tartar. I wasn’t quite so lucky this time, rather than blue I got a pale sage green:

Which is pretty, but is not proving to be very lightfast, and so won’t be very useful – though the stick I was using to stir the fiber in the dye bath went a lovely blue-purple colour! I’m going to experiment with black beans some more soon – I’ll try rainwater rather than our tap water (which is quite hard), and I think I under-mordanted the yarn, too.

Because I was a little disappointed with these results, I mordanted some more yarn (this time with 1.5 tbsp of alum and .5 tbsp of cream of tartar, and I also simmered the wool in the mordant for twice as long), and dunked it into a strong solution of Rooibos tea. 10 tea bags out of the Tetley Rooibos box, simmered in about 2 liters of water. It turned out the most glorious, rich gold!

I forgot to take a close up picture of the dyed skein, but here’s an artsy shot of it hanging to dry with the yarn I mordanted:

And  my first three balls of dyed yarn:

Next I’ll be working more with black beans, trying onion skins for yellow/orange, and waiting for the buckthorn and wild apple trees in the hedge to come into leaf so I can try for the greens that the young leaves are supposed to give… And then there’s the tall field buttercups, which supposedly give purple, and lady’s bedstraw (yellow), and Queen Ann’s Lace (olive-green)…

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It’s the time of year when I’m itching to rush headlong into a bunch of exciting new creative projects, but don’t actually have the energy to do any of them, because my SAD hasn’t yet retreated enough.

One project I have started dipping into (pun entirely intended) is plant-based dyes for animal fibers (wool, etc.) I’ve been doing a fair amount of knitting lately, and since I have abundant local sources of fiber (llama, alpaca, and mohair goats to name a few), and friends who spin, it only makes sense to start learning to use the plants in my “back yard” to dye yarn. Well, it makes sense to me!

So my first experiment is with buckthorn, a shrubby, spikey shrub/small tree that forms at least 90% of our boundary hedges. According to John Lust’s The Herb Book, Alder Buckthorn (Rhamus frangula) should give a brown dye. I’m pretty sure what I have is European Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica), rather than Alder Buckthorn, but I thought I’d give it a try anyway.

A few days ago I cut a branch out of a buckthorn. I snipped all the twigs on the branch into one-inch pieces, put them in a small stainless steel pot, added water, and let it soak for 24 hours. The next day I simmered the twigs  for an hour and then left the pot to stand for a further 24 hours. The resulting liquid was a promising shade of not-quite-coffee brown:

Then I strained the twigs out of the liquid, poured it back into the pot, and put it back on the stove. I got my fiber samples thoroughly wet, then put them in the pot and simmered them for about an hour. I didn’t use any mordant on this fiber. As far as I understand the cursory instructions in The Herb Book (to be fair, it’s a book on herbal medicine, not on dying), a mordant isn’t needed because of the tannic acid in the wood.

I turned the burner off, and left everything to soak for another 24 hours or so, and then rinsed the fibers.

Top picture is the original fiber, bottom is the dyed fiber. The hank of yarn is part of an unravelled wool sweater, and the fiber is a bit of mohair/merino roving. It’s a quite pretty shade of toffee / caramel (or camel?) brown that I’m pleased with. The next test will be to see how lightfast it is.

I’m trying to be good and take proper notes – since the dyeing process has so many variables that can affect the colours you get (length of soak time, mordant, pH, type of fiber, etc.):

For my next trick, I will try to turn yarn blue using black beans!

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After making a lap quilt for Baba (t!’s grandmother) for Christmas, I took a bit of a break from quilting. Over the couple of months I’ve been slowly getting back to it.

My first project was aborted after a couple of weeks. I joined an online group that is spending the next 18 months making individual reproductions of the Jane A. Stickle Quilt. Mine was going to be batiks and unbleached muslin:

I got about 10 blocks made (of 225), and then quit the project because the group’s schedule was just too demanding – I couldn’t keep up with doing 4 of these a week, I wasn’t getting any other quilting done at all. Maybe I’ll try again when I have a few more years worth of quilting experience under my belt.

Instead, I joined a one-block-per-month swap, which is a much easier pace to keep up with. I’m also participating in an international quilting round-robin, where an individual quilt gets sent ’round the world, with each participant adding an outer border. There are six in my group, and this is the latest quilt I added to: The four-pane centre was made by Elle, who lives in Spain, and the first border (the multi-coloured Flying Geese) was added by Mary in Washington State. I added the current outer border and then packed it and sent it off to Colletta in Pennsylvania. Elle will eventually get her quilt back with 5 new borders.

I’m expecting to receive the next quilt  (Leslie in Ireland’s) in the mail soon.

I’m very much enjoying my quilt guild’s monthly meetings, activities, and classes. I’ve also been invited to the local Thursday evening sewing group, which meets in my neighbour’s farmhouse kitchens every week for sewing, chat, coffee, and cookies. We work on our own sewing & quilting projects, and we also make quilts for Victoria’s Quilts, a charity that distributes hand-made quilts to cancer patients across Canada.

I also have another large quilting project on the go, but as it’s destined to be a gift, it’s a secret for now.

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Back in October, I posted that I’d started knitting my very first pair of socks. This past weekend, at our monthly crafting get-together, I finished them:

They even mostly fit me! They’re a tiny bit tight, but I altered the pattern a tad to take into account the fact that I have tiny feet, and it turns out I needn’t have. I will make the next pair slightly larger, and at least an inch higher on the calves, but I’m very, very pleased with my first effort. Now I want a whole sock-drawer full of colourful hand knit socks, which should only take me about 5 years or so…

t! gets it. In the car on the way home from the crafting meet-up, I said,

“I finished my socks! Do you know what this means?”

“It means you get to start another pair of socks?”


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Christmas crafting

This year’s hand-made Christmas gifts included:

A scarf for my mum, knit with some lovely yarn that Arin spun for me

A second scarf for my mother-in-law, knit from soft, shiny bamboo yarn.

And a lap quilt for Baba, t!’s Ukranian grandmother. She liked it a lot.

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The 14-year-old sweater.

In 1995 I moved to Ottawa to start my first real grown-up job, working for Nortel (which, at the time, was still called BNR – Bell Northern Reasearch). I had a little one-bedroom apartment downtown, some disposable income, not many friends, and lots of free time. So I decided to knit myself a sweater. I found a local yarn shop, and bought a pattern, and some yarn, and a set of needles, and all the bits and pieces you need to knit a sweater, and I started knitting. My grandmother taught me to knit when I was about eight years old, and I practiced regularly during her visits and whenever I needed to knit something (Girl Guide badges, doll clothes, the occasional hat or pair of mittens) so the sweater went fairly well. It was an easy pattern: moss stitch with raglan sleeves.

Within the year (or so, my memory is quite fuzzy on the matter) I had knit the front and back and two sleeves, and had the remaining stitches for each segment on its individual stitch-holder. I started to sew up the seams… and ran out of yarn. I had the making up and the one-inch ribbed collar to go, and I was out of yarn. I failed to find any more of the same yarn, and so bought the closest I could find – which really wasn’t very close. The original yarn was a very lightly heathered beige in a wool blend (no idea what yarn it is, the ball bands were lost years ago). The new yarn I bought was a fairly close colour match for the beige, without the heather flecking, and 100% acrylic. It was the closest I could find, and I didn’t like it.

So the sweater pieces got put away in a box. Yep, I had a whole sweater 97% finished, and I stuck it in a box rather than finish it with the best matching yarn I could find. The box containing the sweater moved to the UK with me in 1997. It moved in the UK with me from my apartment to the house I bought in  Reading. It moved back to Canada with me in 2003. It moved from my house in Montreal to our homestead in Maxville with me 14 months ago.

And last month, I took it out of its box and took it to a crafting weekend organized by my friends who knit. They Oooh-ed and Aaah-ed over my sweater pieces and gave me lots of helpful advice and suggestions, and leant their moral support while I sewed up the rest of the seams and started to knit the neck with the not-matching yarn. I finished the neck a few days later at home, and had to research how to cast off – it had been so many years since I knit anything.

Disaster! My cast-off was way too tight, and the neck of the sweater won’t go over my head.

I was trying for a roll-neck, but I think I need to stay with the original (long-lost, but interpolated from the cuffs and waistband) pattern, and do an inch of ribbing for the neck instead. So I’m going to rip out what I have, back down to the stitches at the top of the of the front, back, and sleeves (yes, the same stitches that sat on stitch-holders for 14 years), and re-knit the neck in ribbing. I’ve found a bind-off that’s supposed to be extra-stretchy just for things like  sweater necks.

Wish me luck.

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