Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Year's Resolution-ish Things

I usually don't make New Year's Resolutions (NYRs).  To me, they seem to fall in the same category as echinacea and leggings under a short shirt: it might work for some people, but are really not my thing.  However, this blog is testamnt to the fact that if I say something outloud then I darn well better do it so that people will stop hassligng me about the fact I haven't done it yet.  So here is a list of NYR-ish Type Thingies:
  • In the Knitting Category:  Learn to knit socks.  I mean, really...just do it already, right?  I have the right needles (thanks GNP!), the right yarn (thanks, coworker MJ!), and the right skills (seriously, if I can knit lace I can knit socks...right?!?!).  Just gotta do it.  (also see: what the heck is the Kitchener Stitch?!?!)
  • In the Haven't-Been-Out-of-the-Country-in-Four-Years-and-This-Won't-Even-Actually-Break-That-Streak Category:  Go to Puerto Rico.  I've always wanted to go (the reason being that I have always wanted to see a coqui frog in person) and just need to get my act together, get over my fear of planning a trip, and do it.  Puerto Rico is solidly NOT outside of the US (no, no freedom for this little island yet, folks), but the Spanish-speaking nature of the place almost makes it count, yea?
  • In the Healthy-Things-that-Some-People-Seem-to-Like-Doing-Category:  At the risk of sounding way too cliche even for a NYR, I really need to run slash do ANY amount of exercise.  I am not even going to kid myself and say how far I want to run but going to the gym more than once a month might actually make my membership worth it....
In the Category of Things that Aren't Really Resolutions:
  • Get into grad school.  Sooooo far beyond my control.  Just thought if all you law schools out there knew that I put it on my list you might show some pity and accept me at your school (no, Baylor don't count.  Despite your six glossy, non-recyclable mailings a week, I still choose NOT to apply to your school.  Stop being so clingy...).
  • Knit a sweater...obviously....I am pretty sure that this whole blog is about knitting a sweater from scratch and getting my doula certification.  Go ahead and put those down on my to-do list.
  • I would like to ski.  I no longer have a ski coat or ski pants apparently (over Christmas I used my mom's, friend's former foreign exchange student's snowboarding gear...yea...) so that might make it tough, but if I go on a REALLY sunny day and try REALLY hard not to fall, I might be ok, right?
  • I would also really like to write a knitting pattern and sell it, preferably to someone other than a certain former roommie who doesn't knit, but who would totally create a fake paypal account and buy a pattern under an assumed name just to make me feel good about myself....yes, lady, I'm on to you and your wily ways. 
That's enough resolution-ish thingies, right?  Totally doable.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


I have an ongoing feud with squirrels.  Once at my friend Mandy's house, she and I were watching a squirrel who was just hanging out on the other side of the sliding screen door.  Mind you, we were just WATCHING the squirrel, not harassing or taunting it.  All of the sudden, the squirrel LEAPS into the air, attaches itself to the screen, bares its teeth, shakes its head and cusses at us loudly in squirrel-speak.  Scared the friggin' bejesus out of us.

My little sister tells a story of how a squirrel ran at her friend, climbed up his leg, across his arm and bit his hand.  If that isn't evil, then what the heck is?

Once, at AU, I was sitting on a bench, eating a boxed lunch, minding my own business, when an AU patented Black Ninja Squirrel (I think they breed them there special to be college-student resistant) leaped from a tree, 50-yard-dashed over to my bench, vaulted up, wrapped his greedy little arms around my ham sandwich and made a dash for it Mission Impossible style.  What the heck, folks!?!?!

UPDATE:  A friend sent me this story of truly ridiculous squirrel antics:
getting ready for a run one day I went to go to the bathroom, lifted the lid to the toilet, and there was a squirrel, butt stuck down the hole, front paws paddling furiously to keep his mouth above water, brown stuff (shit perhaps) all around.  I went and told my Dad there was a squirrel in the toilet, he sort of ignored me, so i tapped his shoulder and told him to come to the bathroom.  We used a garden shovel to get him out, put him in a plastic garbage bag and had to take him outside (there had been a squirrel in the basement a few years before who had wreaked some serious havoc and my mom didn't want to take any chances) After drying him off the best we could with a hair dryer and a towel, we released him back to the happy land of trees outside and headed out on our run.
I asked the obvious question about how the squirrel had gotten into the toilet in the first place (a bad prank gone wrong?  Squirrel refused to go au natural outside?).  She says they think he climbed down the vent in the roof and that he swam down the pipes into the toilet (she said they had a hard time flushing the toilet for a while before he showed up...I should say so....).  She said she experienced some mild trauma from the experience, refusing to use that toilet for a long time afterward.  Oh, man, the squirrels are coming to get us, making even our more sacred house hold appliances sinister!!!

Now I've got this knitted Squirrel on Wheels (from Knitting Mochimochi...aka best book ever) rolling around my bedroom making a nuisance of herself.
Sneaking into my closet to try on some boots. 

Scampering across my bed to wake me up when I'm trying to nap...creepy right?
 Yea, look at me as if I'm crazy, but I don't seem to be the only to feel this way about squirrels.  Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, one of my favorite knitters/bloggers also has this issue.  In a recent post she was talking about squirrels that had broken into her attic to rummage through her personal affects and noted:
"This surprised me less than it would someone who does not have a longstanding antagonistic relationship with squirrels."
I agree, Ms. Pearl-McPhee.  Not surprising at all coming from sneaky little rodents.

Some people aren't so convinced of squirrels' conniving natures.  Lion Brand Studios even seems to have a pair of studio squirrels.  And my mother tells the story of her brothers' pet squirrel that they carried in a parade (on a litter, no less) as kids.   I think this is bizarre behavior, even for small children.

See, they steal your heart.  But watch out, next they will steal your lunch....

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

My Mom Is a Crafty Lady

My mother is quite the crafty lady.  She is the one who taught me to sew after years of having to make my Halloween, dance, and mountain woman (don't ask) costumes for me.  She has made wreaths, baskets, decopage everything, table runners, quilts and pretty much anything else you could name.  My mother is also the keeper of an amazing array of facts about esoteric things.  I chalk that up to the NY Times Crossword Puzzles and a large community of other women with an equally amazing array of esoteric hobbies.

Her current expertise is on aprons.  She was asked by her local AAUW* Michiana Welcome Club chapter to give a presentation about the history of aprons.  She then went on in November to talk on WVPE radio about aprons as well.  Click HERE and go listen to it so that the rest of this post makes sense.

In the piece she talks about the old fashion apron patterns that were all the rage until about the 1960s when women starting burning them along with their fabled singed bras.  Women had around-the-house aprons and fancy aprons (hurriedly switched out as they rushed to the door to let the guests in)

Here are the patterns:
See how cute the old-timey patterns are?  The one on the left was made to look like men's ties.  Go figure...
As she mentions in the radio piece, women went to great effort to make the fancy aprons extremely elaborate, adding miles of rick-rack and hours worth of applique that you had to transfer onto the apron and then could embroider and embellish even more.  An opportunity for artistic expression.
Aren't these appliques just tooooo cute?  Dancing spoons?!?!
When my mom talked to the AAUW  Welcome Club group, she had each of the women bring their own aprons with the stories that go along with them.  And boy are there stories!  My mom modeled some of them:
This was a work-a-day apron found at the South Bend farmers' market* a shop in the Bronx, NYC.  Probably from the 40s, I think.

A woman gave this one to my mom.  She said that this was her mother's fancy apron and that she could remember her leaning on the counter smoking a cigarette while wearing this hot lacy number.
My mom looks pretty hot in it, too!

This is what my mom referred to as a card-party apron as it was made to match a table cloth and napkins for a passel of women that might come over to play cards during the day when the kids were in school.

 Mom made me a cupcake apron last year and she gave her friend one of the complicated 50s patterns I showed above, but hasn't made one for herself yet.  Get on that, mom!  They are adorable.

You can also hear Ms. JoLynn Brown on radio talking about her Christmas Birthday:

*Had to go back and fix a couple of things.  Sorry, mom.  The downside of oral history....

Monday, December 27, 2010

Weekend Update: Holiday Recap

I was in Indiana for Christmas.  Indiana was....pretty much as it always is: cold, semi-snowy, Hoosier-ific.  We went to movies (Black Swan and Voyage of the Dawn Treader), opened gifts and went skiing.  Yes, I went skiing in comment other than to say that it went about as well as you would expect it to in a place with topography like that of Michigan.

Gift giving went a little better.  My mom liked her Travelling Woman Shawl and BonBon Mitts:

 My sister liked her fingerless mitts (which I gave her for her birthday, but she was wearing them around constantly this weekend):

Johanna took these foot shots of the stirrup socks I sent her:
I am hoping she will send some with her face in them, too, but I am not sure how you get both your face and your foot in the picture....

Johanna, I want to make myself some of these, but want to know if they will fit in my shoes....will they?
At the end of the weekend, I got back on the train, where Ebeth (who was totally in the Adriane, Michigan newspaper this week) joined me in Toledo for the ride home.  She is currently shaming me into exercising by doing laps up the three flights of stairs in my house since it is too cold to run outside. 

I will NOT give in to peer pressure!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Preparing for the Train

The train to Indiana is about a million bajillion times cheaper than flying into South Bend....and a gazillion times less annoying, because the security hassle is almost non-existent, you can stretch out in your seat...there are plugs for your computer.  It is joyful all around.  The only thing not so joyful (other than the fact they don't have a screaming-children-free car) is that it takes a good 13 hours to get there (and, you know, another 13 to get home).

That means I am packing all kinds of activities/wool to entertain myself.  I have the commissioned mittens that required me to roll up a ball of yarn....I do not have a ball winder, so I made The Boy act as a yarn swift (which I don't have either) for me.  He was proud to be of assistance at first:
 But grew bored quickly:

I'm also bringing The Sweater That Never Ends (someone told me it seemed "quite long" the other day....about 22 inches short of long enough, though):

It looks so harmless and un-boring in its bag...
Some purple yarn to make another Shroom hat for Christine.  I failed to make her a Christmas present yet, and thought I could make a hat to match the boring scarf I gave her last year.
Ah, yes, you my also recognize this yarn from the failed shrug/capelet from August.
 My hand-dyed yarn that I am making into hand warmers that are way too small for normal adult hands and will need to find a much smaller human to gift them to.
Mostly I feel like I have been working on these forever and just want them to be done!  If you look really carefully you can see the yarn for the Commissioned Mittens peaking out of the bag, too.

A TON of Cascade yarn for Julie's birthday legwarmers (I know you said you wanted them to be machine-washable, lady, but this yarn is just sooooo much nicer than something acrylic or super-wash....):
Hmm, this doesn't seem like very much, does it?
To scale?  It is almost the size of my head!
And my spinning that I don't think will work very well on the train but that I wanted to show my mom.  This should be enough for two train rides and four days in Indiana, right?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Preparing Wool

Let's assume I've already found a sheep and sheared it. Let's also assume that the previous assumption was a reasonable one and made sense in Normal People Land.

Assuming I have sheared my sheep, I would have a big (probably pretty dirty) fleece. At my Art League Class, the instructure showed me some of this (really dirty) fleece. It is all matted and gross. That’s because wool comes from sheep. Sheep eat food, and lay in things, and you know, behave like animals. When you shear the wool, it is known as a fleece. A fleece has to be cleaned before you can use it to make yarn.

According to Wiki Answers, ultimate authority on all things answer-ful says that:

Most "all-wool" sweaters weigh between about 3/4 lb. and 1.5 lbs., again, depending on the sweater's size and thickness.  The most numerous sheep breed in the U.S. is probably the Rambouillet, which typically will yield around 12 to 15 lbs. of "grease" wool (that is, unwashed). After washing the wool, you may have about 5 to 7 lbs. left, of which 4 to 5 lbs. will end up in the yarn for the sweater. For those breeds you can likely get 3 to 4 sweaters--more if they're loosely knit and/or of small size. 

Woah, folks. That means that I am going to be washing 7 to 10 pounds of nasty out of this wool before I can do anything else.

According to the folks at Blackberry Ridge Woolen Mill you next have to skirt the fleece. Skirting the fleece means removing the wool from the legs and belly that is too full of manure to use. Then you much wash the grease out of the wool. If it is being done commercially, they may use an acid bath to dissolve the vegetable matter and then “pick” the wool by opening the locks and essentially fluffing the wool. If you are hand-preparing the wool, you might skip straight to carding. According to Blackberry Ridge again:

The wool fibers are then put through a series of combing steps called carding. This can be done with small hand cards that look much like brushes you would use on a dog. It can also be done on a larger scale with machine driven drums covered with "card cloth" which combs the wool many times by transfering it back and forth from one drum to the other as it is passed down the series of drums. We have "woolen" cards which produce a wool web with the fibers coming off in random alignment. This is in contrast to "worsted" combing that lines up all the fibers (as you would see in thread).
After carding, I could then use the wool for spinning.

Let me tell you: I had every intention of doing this whole sheep to sweater thing from scratch. But after playing with fleece and a carder (even a drum carder, which is faster than hand-carding), I realize that it would take me an eternity to clean and card enough wool to make a sweater. Sooooo not worth it when I can just head over to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival this spring and score a bag of prepare stuff myself.

My theory: know how something is done, but be smart enough to know when to accept help. I’m accepting help on this one.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Weekend Update: PJs and Spinning

Happy Birthday, Julie!

This weekend was mostly devoted to Julie and her awesome 27-year-old self. I made sheep cookies

All weekend people kept asking "why sheep?!"  I thought it would be obvious ("why not?") but instead provided the explanation that I thought the role of the sheep in the Christmas manger scene was always under-valued.  This was my tribute to those important creatures that would one day inspire The One to become a shepherd.  Quizzical looks...Thanks for the cookie cutter, Johanna!
 put on my pjs
From Cupcake Extravaganza 2009 when my mom gave me nothing  but cupcake themed gifts for Christmas.  Thrilled to find out what the theme is for 2010!!!

and watched the worst movie ever with the girls (yea, I said it).

Also did a little spinning on the spindle.  I am making really thin singles out of goodness-knows-what kind of wool and will hopefully end up with enough of a two-ply to knit something with.  Here is me spinning in photos:
Attaching some wool to the hook

Drafting: pulling out little tufts of wool until they are the right thickness.  Then I let go with the right hand to allow the twist to come up into the tuft I just created.  Repeat.
Letting the wool get too thin so it breaks...I drop the spindle on the floor and have to chase it as it rolls away...
More drafting...keep going...

I keep adding more fiber, and the piece I am spinning gets longer and longer.
When the piece I am working on gets too long, I unhook it from the hook end and wind it around the stick end.

Eventually I end up with a whole bunch of yarn on the bottom side of my spindle.  When I have enough I will roll it up, make a second length of yarn, and then ply the two together.  I am pretty proud at how thin and even this is...

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Weekend Update: Hat and the White House

Last weekend was a boring weekend except that...

I made a hat!  My first hat I ever made!  And the first hat I have worn in years, actually.  I usually just pull a scarf up over my head, but I look a wee bit crazy.  The pattern in Shroom by Lee Wood Juvan.  The yarn is Berroco Peruvia. It's just the right amount of slouchy to fit my pony tail under.

I look CRAAAAZZEEEEE!! (and pale...)

The embarrassing thing?  I bought the yarn Friday night after work and finished it before I went to bed.  Meaning that I did NOTHING Friday night other than knitting and watching Brothers and Sister.  Blah.

I guess I also blocked a couple of things, including reblocking the Travelling woman shawl I made in September.

My dad got be blocking wires which makes blocking lace A MILLION times easier.

From last weekend, I should let you know that I got to go to the White House Holiday Open House.  There were trees:

A shrine to Bo the dog:

And cool handmade trees and wreaths:

See?!?!  That tree is made of newspaper!!

And carolers:
Sneaky Carolers...hiding behind the tree...

A 350 pound ginger bread house (that I failed to get a picture of...sigh...) and Truman, hiding in a stair well (I think I take a picture of him every time I go on a White House tour):

 In other news, I might have gotten my first commissioned piece of work.  Mittens!  Picked out beautiful baby alpaca/merino blend for soft and warm.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What Does it Take to Make a Sweater: Spinning Edition

Last weekend I did something I have been waiting to do for months now: I learned to spin! If you are one of my friends who ride their bicycle to work on a daily basis (no matter the nasty cold weather out) and rarely play with wool, NO I DID NOT SPEND ALL WEEKEND LEARNING TO RIDE A STATIONARY BIKE!!!

Now that we got that out of the way, yes, I learned to use both a spindle and a spinning wheel to make fiber into yarn. Let me repeat: I can make yarn from scratch!!! How badass is that?

I headed down to The Art League in Alexadria for a two day class they ominously called “Crash Course in Spinning,” ( I did manage to figure out the public transportation to get to Virginia, and I managed not to make rude comments to passersby about how I never can figure out why people live in NOVA (I obviously harbor resentment toward this place).

My teacher was a lovely lady known as SpinStick on Ravelry. She knows everything there is to know about spinning and has spun everything there is that could possibly be spun (including hair from all her pets, rayon spider webbing from Halloween and grass clippings, which she said did not work particularly well). I heart people like her, because most people are like “knitting is weird. Why would you want to do that?” She is like “why the hell would knit when you could spend your time on way cooler activities like spinning…duh!!”

As I was the only person in the class (intense, right?) she immediately got me started on the spindle. Spindles come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but they basically all work in the same way. They have a weight on them that helps them spin. You hook a piece of fiber to them and then start spinning them in a clockwise fashion. The spinning causes the fiber to twist as you feed the thickness you want through your fingers to make yarn. This makes no sense unless you see it (minute 6 is where she actually starts spinning, but the beginning part is a really good explanation of what I had to learn to be able to do this):

Here’s her Part II if you need more:

Then I learned to spin with the wheel. Spinning wheels come in a variety of styles.

This is the Ashford wheel that I liked the best

I spun on two different spinning wheels, actually just like the two that they use in this video:

Here’s how you actually spin it:

And another cute lady spinning…good background:

Once you have spun on either your spindle or wheel, you have what is called “energized” yarn, meaning that it has a whole bunch of twist. You have to put it in some hot water to let it set the twist and relax a little bit.

You let it hang to dry like this:

Then once it is dried, I had this:

Cool, right? Then I learned how to ply the yarn. Wikipedia tells me that (

In the textile arts, plying is a process used to create a strong, balanced yarn. It is done by taking two or more strands of yarn that each have a twist to them and putting them together. The strands are twisted together, in the opposite direction than that in which they were spun. When just the right amount of twist is added, this creates a balanced yarn, which is a yarn with no tendency to twist upon itself. Almost all store bought yarns are balanced, plied yarns.

The turquoise and the light gray one next to it are plied yarns.  The ugly one on the left was the one I did on the spindle.  The others were done on the wheel.

Not enough of one yarn to really make anything, but still, I MADE YARN. See why I feel like such a badass?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

What You are Getting For Christmas

The answer is knitting. And as much as I hate xtranormal, here is a video for your viewing pleasure:


Monday, December 6, 2010

New Video from DONA

DONA International (my doula organization) just came out with this cool documentary talking about what doulas do.

Cool, right?

Thursday, December 2, 2010


Hehe, look what I got...
It says: "Distracted Driving Summit Team: For your exceptional contribution to advancing the strategic goals of RITA and the U.S. Department of Transportation." Green folder behind it so you can actually see the writing.

"Environmental Sustainability Award: In recognition of your ongoing efforts to reduce waste and work in an environmentally sustainable manner in RITA and your community."

Sorry for the terrible pictures (my cubicle lights/cell phone camera are not a good combination).  And yes, I turned in grad school applications before knowing I was going to receive these...oops...

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Yarn Factories

Awesomeness abounds when you find a link to a Dirty Jobs episode where the lovable Mike Rowe heads to a woolen mill to figure out how fleece is made into yarn.  This doesn't seem all that dirty to me, but maybe I have low/high/weird standards.

Heads up: I am headed to The Art League this weekend to learn how to do this, too (in a class called, terrifyingly, The Crash Course to Spinning), but my experience is going to be a lot more frustrating as I will be skipping the machines and doing it by hand.  Also, I just checked in with the school and they tell me that I am the only person who signed up for the class and that the teacher is still willing to hold the class....which means I get a two-day private intensive lesson.  It thrills me that I will be able to learn my own pace and ask as many questions as I want without annoying the crap out of other people.  But it also makes me super sad for this poor lady when she finds out that her only student knows ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about spinning (and is a horrible student...I hate being not-good at things and taking instructions from other people, two skills required for learning...)  I promise to report back on that endeavor.

Anyhoo!  For more about factory yarn making see the Fingerlakes Woolen Mill's cool explanation of the process as well as the Thrifty Knitter's visit to the Midstates Wool Growers Warehouse.