Saturday, October 30, 2010

Estonian Lace Update and Five Year Anniversary Project

Here's my latest Estonian Lace WIP.  This is Nancy Bush's Peacock Tail and Leaf Scarf, from Knitted Lace of Estonia:

The yarn is my handspun cormo singles at about 18 wraps per inch.  I'm not great at this spinning thing, it's a little thick and thin, so it's not exactly turning in to fine lace, but I like it.  Maybe I can blame the glass of wine I was sipping while spinning.  The cormo is from Juniper Moon Farm, and is dreamy soft.  It will be warm and soft neckwear for the recipient, a cousin who shall go unnamed just in case she's reading this...

 I have also been putting holiday knitting aside to work on my hap shawl;  I am up to the fan and feather lace edge, done in natural Shetland wool colors.  I am lucky to have a bad (good?) case of finishitis for this project.  I've pulled the needle out to give an idea here;  I have several more shades to go.

Here is Samantha making herself at home on it:

The end of September marked my five year anniversary as a homeowner in my present home.  I celebrated this last weekend by moving my compost pile, which had been next to the house.  I am a neglectful composter:   vegetable kitchen waste and yard waste including some pruning trimmings go in to the wire fence frame that I've formed in to a circle.  I then do nothing except keep adding to it for FIVE YEARS.  The four foot high wire structure which is 3 feet in radius had 4 feet of stuff in it.   The lugustrum shrubs next to the compost had twined their roots around it.  (It is alot worse than my yarn stash, which ain't very organized...).

It took:  a shovel, a loper, pruning shears, and a rake to clear the debris and remove the wire frame from the ground.  If I'd had an axe I would have used it.  If a teenaged boy had offered to help, I would have accepted it.  Almost extricated:

Done (meaning pulled out of the ground with roots attached):

Naturally, as I had included pruning clippings, I had to sieve the compost before putting it on the garden and the remainder in the new compost pile, which is away from the house.  Yes, I put the old sticks in the new compost pile. Why?  Dunno.  I used 1/2 inch metal screening (on the smaller cart) to strain it.

In September it will be my dwelling's anniversary... 

Monday, October 25, 2010

Another Norwegian, Stranded

Once upon a time, I just knit.  Now, I think about my materials, and have joined the sisterhood of knitters who want to make their own and know where it all comes from.  (Sorry, guys, I know you're there and I love you but we're in the majority!) Sometimes though, knowing where it comes from is as important as making my own yarn.

In reflecting back on my prior post about my lusekofte which I did in  Heilo, I thought about something I heard on the Knitpix podcast several weeks ago.  Kelly, in Episode 4,  suggested  choosing wool for a sweater's use or intended wear based on the qualities the sheep's fiber possesses.  Those qualities are  determined as a sheep variety  acclimatized genetically to that  area.

For example, Kelly points out, Norwegian sweaters are historically knit from yarn from local sheep that withstand the cold climate in the northernmost parts of the northern hemisphere.  The fleece on these sheep has long fibers, which make them durable and good for outdoor wear.  The fibers have a wavy crimp, which sheds water well.  The fibers are a little shiny.

Heilo is "pure Norwegian wool" but the label states no further indication of breed or variety of sheep that composes it. One assumes that the sheep contributing to it live or lived in Norway.  In the photo above you can see how this nice crispy yarn also lends itself to stranded colorwork (it's the red and white sock I'm working on).

Spaelsau is a breed of sheep native to Norway, but according to wikipedia, only 20% of sheep existant in Norway are spaelsau. (I cannot spell this word "spaelsau" correctly here at blogger, the a and e are supposed to be smushed together into the phoneme which is actually a whole entire letter in Norwegian).  Landrace is the term used to describe a variety of animal native to a particular area that has genetically adapted to that area, as opposed to a "breed" which has been genetically bred to attain certain characteristics. Spaelsau are considered by some to be Norway's landrace sheep.

A couple years back, Dale published a book containing updated versions of sweaters from the 1950's, book 52.  I love this collection although I've only done this one, 5210:

Kelly's podcast helped me understand about how qualities of fiber determine the type of resulting yarn, and how in turn that helps one to select breed of sheep or yarn content for a particular project.  This episode is from 2007, I'm behind! I spend alot of time in the car for work, and I am a religious knitting podcast listener.  Check out the array on itunes.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Lights Out

My Grandfather, who was a Stevens descendent, collected kerosene lamps.  I am lucky to own several that were his.  Here's one:

Tonight, our power went out.  My son R had a cake in the oven.  R is 14, and he is the baker.  He was not happy about the power situation.

When our power goes out, which happens once or twice a year, I find my flashlight, under the bed.  I use it to locate matches and the kerosene lamps from my Grandfather, "Pop." I light the lamps, which now contain "lamp oil" whatever that is.  I also holler at all sons NOT to open the fridge.

 I once lost alot of frozen blackberries during a power outage which was BAD, in part because the freezer had been opened;  I missed the blackberry brandy  which I had planned to make.

I LOVE blackberry brandy;  on a good year I am able to score some berries from my brother who has vines, and do this:

2 c blackberries, clean but not washed), 1 c sugar, a quart of vodka, let them all sit together in a glass container for a month or two.  Strain out the berries and save to put on top of vanilla ice cream.  OR toss them if you don't like the tiny seeds in your teeth.  But honestly, they are worth the dental floss efforts.  Bottle the brandy in an old wine bottle with a cute label, or put in a mason jar.  Enjoy, pour over ice cream or pie, drink over ice, or with  cream (OMG) WHATEVER.  Enjoy more.

Back to the lack-of-power thread:  I ponder:  what to do?  Take a shower while there is still hot water in the tank?  OR do some spinning?  (I find that spinning is easier to do by low light than knitting, or taking a shower for that matter).  So, here I am with one of Pop's lamps, thanks to R's help and the camera flash:

About 45 minutes later, we had power.  Reed went back to his creation (his friend has a birthday tomorrow and he was able to finish his  baking).  I wound off the cormo single I was spinning on my niddy noddy and put it up to soak to set it for a lace single:

I am using it for a new Estonian lace creation.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

FO: Hallowe'en Knitting: Dwarven Battle Bonnet

I rarely knit hats or anything that is amusing.  But I just had to.  It was too good not to.
My son won't wear it much.  I may have to obtain a porcelain phrenology head so I can look at it everyday because the d____ thing just makes me laugh.

 I recall hearing a scholar on a documentary about the Norse say "if you want to know what a Viking looks like, look in the mirror." (This was referring to how widely travelled the Norse were and how widely disseminated their DNA was).  With Battle Bonnet, not even DNA is required.

Pattern is available here.  Done is Red Heart Knitting Worsted, my go to for boys' headgear.

Sally does amazing designs.  Have a look at her blog as well.

I learned from Sally's blog that Knitpicks sells independent designers' patterns.  This may be old news, but it's new to me.  Another place to waste time not knitting or spinning!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Temporarily Distracted From Knitting by Treadle Sewing Machines (Again)

I am hardly a seamstress, but have a strong respect for all fiber work, and I have a fondness for sewing machines.  I have a Janome sewing machine that lives on top of my Singer Treadle cabinet.  I recently took it in to be serviced for the first time in about ten years.  (Advice:  don't wait that long.)

My plan with the healthy Janome is to make something functional from this too heavy but very precious sweater that I completed 18 years ago

When I went to pick it up, it occurred to me to ask the gentleman who repaired my Janome about my Singer Treadle machine, which I went on about in this post, and about which I am about to go on some more...

I was surprised to learn a few things:  these lovely machines are mostly of sentimental value, and many are still around.  They are cast iron, and heavy. Many people keep them for the same reason I did:  they are of sentimental value as they belonged to a grandmother or great grandmother. He said that "you can often see one in every 5th or 6th home."  Sadly, some people have ditched the machines and kept the cabinets as comment.  Crime against humanity and its ingenuity.  As a young occupational therapy student, years ago, I saw a treadle sewing machine converted in to a wood lathe.   You can find citations online for this, I won't include any as I'm opposed to this as well.  Although in general, I'm in favor of wood lathes.  Especially to make spinning wheels.

Interestingly, this gentleman sold drive bands and I purchased one which my son installed;  it is leather and has a hook so that excess can be cut off and the length adjusted correctly to the machine.

I asked how to date my machine, and he said to check the front plate: on the right side (you can see the drive band that my son put on):

The number reads: 14027234.  I went  here and found a date:  1858.  Is this possible?  This treadle machine predates the Civil War???!!!  My Grandmother was not the original owner!  Singer was founded in 1851.

I then (duh) looked inside the drawer and found this:

So, it's a Model 27.  This link has some more information on Models 27 and 127.

I talked to Mom, who remembered more than Dad did about this. This treadle machine was my Dad's Mother's, Helen.   Mom's Mother Peggie had a treadle machine in its own cabinet as well,  and Mom remembers Peggie  using it.   I was  surprised that she  used it despite electricity in the house, this would have  been in the 40's, in New Jersey. Mom reminded me that electricity was not common in the south,  until the TVA provided power in the 40's and later, thus there was an ongoing need for these machines. And, at least in the case of my family, why buy a new electric machine when you had a perfectly good and highly reliable treadle?  

Peggie's machine was a Wilcox and Gibbes, no longer in the family.  Mom says she liked it because of the chain stitch, and not needing a bobbin.  Peggie also had a very small Singer machine with a hand crank that I used as a child.  It had a small clamp that attached it to the table. I didn't like the chain stitch as it could unravel easily, but I loved sewing with it.  I'm sure I made doll clothes.

In Scotland last year (2009), I visited Na Gearrannan, the blackhouse village on the Isle of Lewis.
Inside one of the blackhouses, I photographed this:

This site has lots of useful information about treadles and hand crank machines.  Apparently, Singers were and still are made all over the world, including Clydebank, Scotland.  Likely, this is where the  blackhouse machine was made.

Singer still makes treadle machines in China.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

British Sheep Breeds, Wool Week, Hap Shawl Update

About a  year ago, I noticed in one of my LYS that Rowan was producing a line called "British Sheep Breeds."  Coincidently, in the last three years or so, I am interested in the wool that come from specific breeds of sheep, and their qualities.  This may be a result of starting to spin and produce my own yarn.  I spin from roving that I purchase (no, I don't yet work from fleece, maybe that will happen when I retire and have put my two sons through college...and have lots of time).

Rowan has three products in their line:

DK Undyed which is Bluefaced Leicester
Chunky Boucle which is Bluefaced Leicester (available only in natural ecru)
Chunky Undyed in varying natural shades, including Bluefaced Leicester, Shetland, Black Welsh, Jacob, and Grey Suffolk

I have not used any of these, only fondled them!  I am considering the BFL Chunky for my next Rogue

However,  I'm also interested in the local produce/products concept, and am very interested in less emphasis on production and more on sustainability.

I'm also interested in what might be considered somewhat less, uh, overproduced? Not that I don't like a Debbie Bliss purchase, and honestly, at this point, I  still like knitting a sweater out of a commercially produced yarn from a carefully blended and produced fiber, that is a little more predictable than my handspun.

Issue 23 of The Knitter features an article on   Britain's sheep breeds entitled "The Return of the Native."  Because the price of wool is so low, farmers cannot afford to maintain wool flocks for fiber, rather, they are focusing on meat production.  Indeed, non wool bearing sheep breeds are being developed!!

To maintain the traditional wool breeds, Prince Charles launched the Campaign for Wool this year. Ironically, wool week is commencing as I write this (not planned)...wool week has many relevant activities in case you live in the UK or are lucky enough to be visiting this week!

The article has a shortlist of British sheep breeds, of which there are more than 60, as well as a list of producers of yarns made from these breeds.  I don't know how many of these are raised in the US.

In my travels last year to Scotland, I encountered several of these breeds.  I was lucky to travel in a very small plane to North Ronaldsay, the northernmost island in Orkney.

Here's the extremely small aircraft, with an ad for Highland single malt scotch (don't know which one, there are lots) on the side:

That is my dear friend Debbie from Ohio on the right.  Here is a photo of our pilot, whose anterior view  bore a very strong resemblance to Clooney.  Naturally, we assumed that he was not partaking of Highland single malt or any other, single, blended, or otherwise, while reading the safety instructions (which he did with Clooney's grace and je ne sais quoi {well, I do but can't quite express it in English or French}) and subsequently while flying.  Actually he was better than Clooney, as he had a lovely Scots (NOT Glaswegian) accent.  (If you're from Glasgow, sorry about that...). That said, I wouldn't have minded meeting him in the bar while drinking some sort of something...perhaps single malt, which is a big stretch for me...I would even have put my bar knitting aside...

AT ANY RATE we flew to see the seaweed eating North Ronaldsay sheep where they live (Fair Isle was in the distance but you can't see it here):

I purchased North Ronaldsay roving and yarn while there, it's just buttery-soft, supposedly because of the seaweed??  No idea what to do with it (yet):

Pam Murray is the dyer.  The natural color has the North Ronaldsay label.  Amazingly, there is a mill right on this little island, which I hope to blog about in a later post.

I also spied Scottish Blackface sheep while on a bus tour through the Isle of Skye (I thought this was a pretty great photo if I may say so, myself):

Of course, Shetlands were in view in Shetland:

Speaking of Shetland, here's an update on my hap shawl, originally documented here.  I am currently spinning the yarn for this, and I have several shades of the natural Shetland so it will have the authentic stripe-y effect.  I have finally finished the square with the exception of a couple of rows:

and am about to pick up stitches for the fan and feather edging.  It's taken me several years to get this far.  This is the only one in my "free patterns."  Once the edge is done, I will update it.  In the meantime, if you've tried this, keep track of the stitches at either side;  I did not and had to make a wee correction!

Coming up soon...a post on bar knitting.  My friend Jennie from Cheshire denies that it exists, and she would kill me if I did it in her company...

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Rokeby: My personal Merino connection

When I was a child, every summer my family would visit Northfield Falls, Vermont, site of the home which had been in my father’s family since 1898.  As an adult, on the way to visit my paternal Grandma Helen (my original knitting mentor),  I would stop at Green Mountain Spinnery in Putney VT on my drive up I-89, from Riverdale-On-Hudson, (a fancy way to say the north Bronx) New York, and later Andover, Massachusetts...  stopping at the  Spinnery was a way to get in to the fiber mind frame for the weekend, which always involved lots of knitting.  In autumn, another fun stop during a visit to Vermont was a trip to the Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival.

Another fibery connection to Vermont came up last month when I showed my Dad my post on Eliza Lucas Pinckney.  He reminded me that a distant ancestor who lived on a merino sheep farm in Ferrisburgh, Vermont, called Rokeby.  I visited Rokeby Museum on one of those visits to Vermont.  Here's a photo of the main house at Rokeby Museum:

Rokeby Museum, used with permission.

Here's a Vermont map showing the location of Ferrisburgh;  Northfield Falls is just north of Northfield, to the east of the "A" locating Ferrisburgh:

View Larger Map

Stevens is a family name, middle name of both my father and brother. My four great grandfather’s brother was grandfather to Anne King Stevens (1841-1920):

Rokeby Museum, used with permission.

Anne was married to Rowland Evans Robinson (1833 – 1900):

Rokeby Museum, used with permission.

Rowland was an artist and writer. Four generations lived at Rokeby.  Anne and Rowland were of the third generation.  The Robinsons were “Quaker millers, farmers, abolitionists, authors, naturalists, and artists” according the Rokeby website.  The farm was a site of an Underground Railroad stop one generation prior to Anne and Rowland.  

Merinos are a very old sheep breed.  Merinos are suspected to have originated in North Africa, but were established and named after importation to Spain.  They tolerate the heat of a warmer climate, but tolerate cold weather, and have heavy folds of skin which help to produce a large weight of  fleece per animal. They eat grass and low lying shrubs, and have a relatively low need for water. During the Spanish Empire, they could not be exported from Spain, on the pain of death. 

Merino fleece is very soft and fine, and merino garments are soft and easily worn next to the skin. The wool is lofty because of the fine crimp in it;  it makes a warm lightweight garment.  These qualities made and continue to make it highly desirable as a wool produce.

In 1810, Rowland’s grandfather Thomas imported some of the first merinos to be imported in to the United States.  Merino farming was very lucrative in the early 1800’s, sheep being low maintenance and tolerant of Vermont’s cold weather.  About the same time, William Jarvis, a Vermonter who was US Consul to Portugal, facilitated importation of merinos to the US.  Jarvis took advantage of Napoleon’s takeover of Spain in 1808 during the Peninsular War, allowing for export of merinos from Spain, following this defeat of the Spanish Empire.  Here is a drawing by Rowland of a merino:

Rokeby Museum, used with permission.

By 1837 there were over a million sheep in Vermont. By 1840, Vermont had the highest number of sheep per capita in the country.  Drovers would lead the sheep from the Vermont countryside to Boston.

In Vermont, the  success of the merino industry did not last more than several decades.  The Midwest was settled, where sheep could be raised more inexpensively. The Vermont sheep industry did not continue to any great extent after that time.  Sheep farming was replaced by dairy farming in Vermont, which is exactly what occurred at Rokeby, as the family's farm business changed with the times.

Rokeby became a museum in 1961 upon the death of Elizabeth Robinson, the last family member to live on the site. According to the website, it is one of the better documented stops on the Underground Railroad. Rokeby was designated a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service in 1997.   The museum is open from mid-May to mid-October.   

We missed both:  Vermont Sheep and Wool was last weekend, and Rokeby is closed likely this week.  Have a visit to Rokeby next spring, and Vermont Sheep and Wool Fest in October 2011.

Sources for this post include:


Many thanks go to Jane Williamson at Rokeby Museum, and to my Dad, whose middle name is Stevens and who goes by "Steve,"  for the inspiration.

There are at least several farms in Vermont that currently raise merinos, including

this one  I visited here years ago and during our visit Margaret served us EXCELLENT colcannon


this one  which interestingly is located in Ferrisburgh

Friday, October 1, 2010