Thursday, December 31, 2009

Which path will you choose?

Backstrap Weaving: a lesson in how. NOT.

So just before Christmas I dusted off Dorothy and brought her out from her storage room once again. I had recently read blogs about weaving with sock yarn and felt a burning desire to weave something. I wound warp from 3 left-over balls of yarn (last of 2 skeins Sara gifted me from her trip to Germany) and since there was not enough for a very wide scarf, contemplated which other left-overs to add to the mix. And then there was the question of which weft to weave with. I was thinking something to tone down the reds.

I day dreamed of a quick trip to our only local yarn store (LYS) for another skein of "the good stuff". AcMoore's limited choice of sock yarns was hit pretty hard by holiday shoppers. My biggest obstacle was the fact that my jeep was in Orono with Steph. Said yarn shop's location coincidentally. But I was not. No wheels, stormy driving conditions and holiday chaos* all conspired against me & Dorothy.

So Dorothy waits patiently. Out in plain sight in the living room; petted often and promised soon.

I explored many "weaving" websites in the process of waiting patiently and came across a Backstrap Weaving site, complete with tutorials and how-to-videos, done so well anyone happening upon them might easily be convinced: I CAN DO THAT! Might even lead to playing with power tools and an unexplainable compulsion to hunt & gather assorted supplies. Most of which promised might actually be readily available in the basement.

For days I poked around, looking for wooden dowels, rulers and rope. Rope turned out to be the most allusive actually but finally all things needed were gathered, measured, cut, drilled and ready to TRY. (I should preface this by stating I had a good time trying and there will be an attempt 2. What follows is how my Wednesday went...)
Backstrap weaving attempt 1:


My former girl scout knot tying skills need a refresher course. Also, very old ginormous wooden knitting needle did not prove to be a good choice to use as the back shed rod. Rolled around and was too heavy and tipped from side to side.

Not weighty enough! I thought our rustic coffee table along with some heavy books would anchor the back end in place. It did not.

Had trouble opening the back shed. Strings used to open the front shed DO NOT belong way down in the section marked off with cardboard for fringe braids later.
(I knew that.) I just couldn't figure out how to open the back half at first. I had my laptop down on the floor of the living room in my sunny warm spot - all ready to watch the helpful video on how to string the heddles once more. EXCEPT that sunny warm spot made seeing the laptop screen IMPOSSIBLE.

Yarn choice sucked. Piling & matting fiber beneath the heddle strings made opening the back shed a nightmare. But I can tell you the first time I actually got it to open was JOYOUS! They had been strung correctly, but with the wrong choice of yarn was clearly a setback.

Why is the shuttle yarn wrapped around my leg?
Once I actually had some weaving going on, I put down the shuttle at some point. (Answered the phone, let out the dog, let in the dog, took laptop to kitchen where I could see it in order to find out if the heddle strings were tied right, etc.)
Number of times I accidentally wrapped the shuttle yarn around my leg: 5!

No amount of fiddling can overcome this sorry first effort and I don't think I will continue struggling with bad yarn choice. Will TRY AGAIN using different threads, rather than torture myself with this and become so frustrated I quit.

And I have the jeep for the morning!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Does this cable make my hand look fat?

So I STILL hate making thumbs.

I've finished another pair of mittens and this time they fit me. I used Caron Simply Soft that was left over from a project that got frogged (ripped out and shoved aside...ribbit!) and I suspect they'll stretch out of shape big enough to put both hands into one mitten, judging by socks I once made from the stuff.

But they are warm.
And soft.

I used all but about 20 inches of yarn for the first pair. I wish the thumbs had been longer but maybe they'll fit a 12 year old. We don't have any 12 year old's around to shove them onto. I'm thinking someone with freakishly short thumbs with long fingers?

I ripped out the top of the hand on the first pair as the fingers were too pointy. I'm still not loving the decrease methods I've tried so far.

So far. Did you catch that? Likely to be more. Mom helped me write out her basic recipe for mittens last week but I've lost it already. Should probably quit experimenting stick to mom knows best method.

Still making it up as I go along. The cables need to be ended in a less abrupt manner and tapered off so they don't look like they're designed for a platypus!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009


I can't explain this.
It goes against everything I've believed until now. I am knitting MITTENS. 

I got out my Barbara Walker Treasury Books 1 & 2, inspired by this picture of mittens, chose 3 stitch patterns from Book 2 and for some reason felt compelled beyond all understanding to rip out 18 rows of ankle knitting and make mittens instead. There's thumbs in mittens
(we don't likes thumbs!)

They started out as socks.
Really they did! A one Goodwill skein of yarn I hoped to use up from stash to make a pair of socks.

I cast on Saturday morning for some grocery store knitting-while-waiting (for mom) and by Sunday morning I was ready to do the heel flap. I hoped to repeat a recent triumph in optimal skein usage and knit up as much as possible from the single skein of yarn. There was no label, not that those are much help to me. I grabbed up some size 5 needles and cast on a random number and hoped for the best. They would be whatever size they wanted.
I knit until the voices in my head said to change direction.

Knit both at the same time and tried to guess how long the yarn would last. That little scrid of yarn next to the brown flecked socks is all that is left from that skein of yarn!  

BEGIN RANT: Dear SOCK YARN people: put enough in a damn skein of yarn to knit a damn pair of average (small even) socks. Most of us have 2 feet and this gimmick of "you need 2 skeins to make a pair of socks" is unacceptable. END RANT.

I've been knitting under the radar since the middle of October. My sister-in-law's grandmother mentioned her church was hanging items on a tree instead of ornaments and I thought I would Knit Unto Others a bit. Use up some stash yarn.

In between socks I started doing some more Fetching fingerless gloves. This probably explains how the thumb thing happened. It occurred to me that knitting the WHOLE THUMB might actually be easier than binding off a hobo half-thumb.
PLEASE NOTE: I seem to have conquered (for now) my lack of LEFT/RIGHT sense. There's going to be one of each!! These do not fit me however. The do fit one of my offspring, who points out she has a brown coat. I may have to buy a special skein for myself to justify the next attempt.
We'll see if this thumb business sticks.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

African Violet progress report

Starting Over Began With Forgiveness
My Mom has always grown African Violets. She grows them on her windowsills and there’s nearly always something in bloom. No names in “heavy” potting soil; in plant pots twice the “proper” size. So far as I know she’s never bought fertilizer in her life. None of this matters to the plants on her sills. They bloom.
When I moved away from home she happily supplied me with a plant or two in full bloom. I would enjoy them a few months. And then they would be dead. (A little water wouldn’t have hurt!) My sorrowful confession would result in blooming replacements. We would repeat this love-kill relationship several years before it occurred to me these plants weren’t meant to be disposable and surely I could do better. I went to the internet and was amazed by what I found. They had names! With blooms in colors I had never imagined; variegated & girl leaves were a delightful surprise and so of course: I had to have some!
For three years I became a fairly successful African Violet grower.
"Laurie was a newbie, enthusiastic and wildly modern in her approach and expectations of her violets." To quote a friend in Montana!
The miracle of babies-by-leaf was perfected and beautiful plants bloomed on my new lighted shelves. Purchases from well know vendors were made, private collectors traded extras for postage and BINGO was won. Twice! Before I knew it more than 100 names came. And went.
Problems began. Gnats were everywhere. Powdery mildew appeared. Plant centers began to look funny. Information overload probably made things worse with every counter measure I tried. I started throwing plants away by the tray full and before I knew what had happened, I was back to three plants on a windowsill.
Over the next two years they would barely survive. They stubbornly hung on even as their labels fell away and watering went back to the desert-flood method. (Ignore until desert dry and then water the crap out of them like that will make up for it.) Shame on me! I knew better. I had made internet friends with wonderful people like Mrs. John of Violet Voice, Fred Hill, Nancy Robitaille and Rich Follet - I won Sweet Violet’s 1st Bingo! My youngest went away to college, as I think back now. Empty Nest tears & fears may have played a role in my disheartened lack of energy. They felt like too much work.
In December 2008 I decided I missed the blooms; I missed standing in front of the lights each morning with my 2nd cup of coffee, lifting pots; testing for “heaviness” to see if they needed watering or grooming. I missed my internet friends but I didn’t feel worthy of joining the forums again until I could prove my new found enthusiasm was more than a whim. I would allow myself a lighted shelf for the winter months and IF my three survivors made a healthy recovery I would feel like I belonged once more. On Valentine’s Day a local nursery newsletter announced it had AV’s “Just in – to fight the winter blues!” My 4 foot shelf had plenty of room so 3 no-names were chosen. Their soggy peat was replaced with my mix, suckers were repotted and leaves were set to practice propagation. It was all coming back to me and it was fun again.
Three lighted shelves have been turned on now and 1st blooms have rewarded my renewed efforts. My original three are in bloom as well; enough so I can tell who they are once more. They’ll always need an “*” if I bother to mark the pot with a name, but Woodland Sprite, Rob’s Toorooka and Rob’s Zoot Suit have earned their spot back on the shelf. My named collection now number about 30. Keeping that number at a manageable level takes a constant reminder of the need for self-control. Too many may take the fun out this just like before. But once I forgave myself, it felt okay to begin again.
Ramblin' Sunshine was among the first plants in an order I placed in May 2009 - after I had proven worthy of buying more. It was actually a "gift" from the seller. (shhhh....*gawd awful ugly little plant is hurtful and we were in denial ;)
She has come a long way under my rehabilitated houseplant care!

P.S. !!
Violet Voice is about to host a game of HOLIDAY BINGO! I'm donating socks & wrist warmers - and a journal. NEW MEMBERS are welcome to play.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Discovering America

We drove to the EDGE of America!

On Saturday we set sail in our Jeep Wrangler to explore America.
Route 9 to Calais, Maine for some Leaf Peeking.

Weather forecast promised a mostly sunny afternoon. So we drove to where it remained mostly cloudy, with rain.
A pattern for 2009 it seems.

Since neither of us have a Passport it has just hit me: we are prisoners of security.
No spontanous visits to Great Grandparents graveside in Canada, even if we wanted to.

Land of the Free, Home of the Brave motto needs to be adjusted to the reality of today. We are locked in until we pay up for new ID.

Over reaction from 911?
Common sense was the first to go.

Although, judging by the line of cars and the random concert of honking horns, coming back to America is more tedious.

As if an unseen maestro was directing a parade of standstill cars, non-angry honking horns sounded off in a harmony
of musical notes floating across the St. John.

For as long as it seemed to be taking, it's a wonder the honking was not the angry kind.

Then again my sense of Homeland Security may be temporarily skewed by the number of times last week I listened to airport terminal messages explain 311 for carry on liquids in luggage, reminders not to take things from strangers and the strolling TSA agents with seemingly nothing better to do than to step outside for a smoke.
Take off your shoes and get in line.

Bright side: for 3 hours I was able to make progress knitting my socks-while-waiting as Sara's plane from Finland was still on the ground in Newark, NJ when it should have been just arriving in Portland, ME.

She pointed out that if I had a cell
phone I wouldn't have missed the call 10 minutes into my road trip warning of her absence.
2 hours 32 minutes; 142.86 miles according to MapQuest.
Each way.

But I digress.

We were leaf peeking explorers.

Did not know blueberry fields put on such colorful fall display.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Are you paddling back there?

Sunkhaze Stream
"Where the Wild Things Are"

We took a canoe trip on the Saturday of Labor Day Weekend. Another one of those close to home - right in our backyard adventures you almost forget to take advantage of.

Perfect weather for it and many wildlife sightings along the way included a turtle sunning itself on a log in the middle of the river, a family of 5 river otters and a family of cranes. The river otters swam just ahead of us for much of the way, blowing bubbles at us and rolling onto their backs, floating along side.

A crane never strayed far ahead of us or the otters, keeping careful watch over everyone. A very tiny baby crane showed itself standing on shore just as we realized there were actually 2 cranes swapping places with each other.

A train whistle sounded in the distance just after we passed under the trestle on the way back, so I made the steerer in back turn us around so we could wait for it and get pictures.

(Tom does a lot of "steering" back there and not much paddling if you don't keep your eye on him!)

The engineer had a sign under his window announcing it was his birthday. Tom saw it, although I would have missed it but for the joy of digital camera age!


PS to BLOGGER: your edit features suck! I need a tutorial for moving pictures where I want them.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Sewing Machine Excursion

Field Trip!
I took my sewing machine out onto the deck. I've found the best room (outside) the house for some sewing - to beat the heat of the tiny room my sewing machine usually shares with the piles of laundry in waiting. Shade from the maple tree plus the umbrella over the table kept me in shade until 2 in the afternoon.

I'm making another Circle Jeans Quilt - started this spring so it's NOT in danger of being labeled UFO. Yet.
I want to make this one big enough to cover our Queen sized bed. Time will tell if it can actually be used for sleeping under, or simply a cover quilt that's "okay if the dog climbs up or husband keeps his shoes on" layer.

I discovered the perfect sewing machine foot to combat the stretchy bias of denim cut in a circle. I've never actually used this foot and didn't know what it was for until I opened my owners manual. Book says it's a Corded Zipper Foot. (I think...I can't find where I put it. Which means I will tear the house apart trying to find it because I HATE not being able to find something. The mess I will have to put back afterwards is not always pretty.)
BUT foot ever for holding down the bias material while doing the best Blanket Stitch my machine can manage. Once I got used to "where I should be looking" as I sewed along feeding fabric through.

In other news: We got a new refrigerator. My first Brand New one. Ever. Stuff is cold again AGAIN and I guess that's all that can be asked. Except I'm ridiculously pleased with it!

Sears delivery & take away went off without a hitch.

Unlike the purchase of my new stove which I picked up at Home Depot myself and the silly old man tried to load it onto the truck all by himself. At which time I threw myself under a corner of the box about to hit the ground.
Professional. I took a picture of the way they carried the old one out. Told them "I blog" as I snapped the shutter twice. Man walking backwards said "Well, that's a first"!

Saturday, August 08, 2009

She walked on water

Betrayed by Season (again)
The forecast said 30% chance of afternoon storms on Friday so we headed to the river. We would stop for breakfast along the way. Tom would cast for trout and I would get out into the fresh air, hike along and cast on for a new sock. Knit while waiting.
Snap a few digital pictures and just enjoy the beauty of the day. I haven't ventured very far this season as the weather has just sucked. It was time to get outside.

Arrival at his chosen branch of the river requires stepping into the ICY cold, spring-fed water to cross immediately. (Because the fishing is better on the other side?) Whatever. I had made my peace with getting wet at least up to the knees when I agreed to come along. The water has been too deep for my comfort this year. I usually fish too, but this tropical-rainforest season that has morphed our spring & summer into something so wet and unrecognizable for our part of the country, I refused to pay for a fishing license this year. I checked the State website and a one day permit was half the price of the full season fee. Screw that. I'll just knit, thank you.

3 fish were caught right away. 11 a.m. In the time it took me to knit 6 rows.
And then the sprinkles started. Wind came gusting down into the valley where we took shelter under a thick canopy of trees. And the distant rumbling (he tried to convince me were "just trucks going over the wooden bridge") continued. For half an hour we stood back to back against our pine protectors, even as we debated the dilemma of not standing under a tree in the middle of a forest during thunder. But it seemed distant and sky was lighter over there. Really. The sunshine would return soon. Sure it would.

To get back to the jeep (with a muffler that had suddenly gotten extremely loud 2 minutes before arriving at our destination) there was still a river to cross. Conceding defeat, we decided to make a run for it.

Two steps back into the ICY water and the loudest boom of thunder all day was followed by a river that glowed with lightening in the next instant.
Tom was a step ahead of me, holding my hand.
Reminding "slippery rocks".
"Go slow".

Except suddenly I'm two steps ahead of him, still clutching his hand but confused by why he needs me to help him along. In the instant of panic at finding myself in water while lightening was happening, I'm pretty sure I walked on water at least a couple of steps. I could have gotten the rest of the way to the other side, but for the hand that would not let go.
A deep breath while the panic receded and then we were across. It would be several more minutes before the heart rate would return to normal. Another 15 minutes of walking through the pouring rain.

Just as predicted, the sun was back out by the time we had the jeep halfway down the mountain. Betrayer!
Even the maple trees have started shedding their red fall leaves, as if they give up on this one. Fall is looming with a dread I don't remember ever feeling more.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

One thing leads to another

And now we are EGGHEADS!

Reading 1001 African Violet Questions Answered by 12 Experts edited by Helen Van Pelt Wilson, I found a question that tweaked my curiosity.

"Question 156. I am asked, is egg-shell water beneficial?"
The book's expert scoffed a bit at the notion African Violets craved calcium or that they would ever need to be watered with eggshell water. So I did a search to see if this was an old time-tested "grandma recipe" ...or a myth. Found other old-fashioned tips as well, such as adding used coffee grounds as fertilizer (which I've done to outside plants), banana peels beneath house plants (which I will not!) or inserting rusty nails into the plant pot soil to give it iron?
And RAINWATER is said to be a good thing.

(Don't get me started. I'm ready to run screaming from the house like a mad woman the instant the sun appears...mother of gawd is it ever going to stop raining?)

Got it into my head to experiment at some point with the eggshell ideas once a few extras of the African Violet "mouse ears" have grown big enough to separate. These leaves were started May 5th when my package of 6 plants arrived in the mail and needed to be repotted.
Not too surprisingly, babies appear to grow faster from a leaf under 12 hours of artificial light VS the 2 pots placed on the window sill above the sink facing north. Still nothing visible from those. Although there is also one pot of leaves from same date on the light shelf with still nothing happening ...hmmm.

During all of my searching using the word eggshell, I came up with a craft idea and decided to include my 8 year old nephew Kyle on Father's Day.

We made Eggheads!

I made one up ahead to give him an idea of what we were doing and he eagerly agreed to help, carefully drawing faces on 6 eggshells and then chose which plant hair-style to give them. He opted not to do the actual planting. (Baby-steps getting him away from Transformer obsession; a few minutes at a time!)

Note to self: washable markers NOT the best way to create lasting images on plant pots that get wet!