Thursday, January 29, 2015


As usual on my days at home... a time to get things back in order, as much as possible, while trying to get some paid work done as well. Today included enjoying a tiny bit of time with my eldest son, who is home on a brief winter break after finishing his exams. He spent that time working on filing his tax returns, which I am proud to say he did all by himself, despite many a furrowed brow. This parenting gig may yet produce a fully-functioning adult.

My latest class project is finished and seamed! The knitting group here in town has worked their way through knitting, purling, seaming, following a pattern, and knitting in the round. Now they are begging for cables, so here is what I came up with. The inaugural class will be next week.

I just posted a picture of the headband on facebook and it is getting good reviews. I probably need to think about publishing the pattern, but first I need a few more pictures. I grabbed this one with my iPhone and the ever-patient shop owner so I could advertise the class, but I'll have to find time for a few more.

Speaking of knitting classes, they are going so well that it was time to restock those baskets. It is a challenge, holding the classes in a shop that doesn't sell yarn. My solution has been to have kits available for each class, with all the supplies necessary to make the project. A basket per class, to help me keep it organized.

I don't require people to buy the kits. BUT, and it's a big but... it is hard to guarantee the success of a project when the yarn is an unknown quantity, which I found out the hard way when I started these classes. The most difficult situation yet was a beginner knitter who brought in black yarn. Never occurred to me to mention that black yarn was not a good idea, because it is so difficult to see the stitches. Now I have a list of forbidden yarn qualities, which also includes anything boucle.

Yarn substitution is a very tricky business; it is one of those things that only becomes obvious with enough trial and error and sometimes even failure. All of my beginner classes so far are project-based and I want people to finish with something they are happy with so they are encouraged to keep knitting. The only way I can game the system is to try and nudge people towards a yarn that I know will work, all other things being equal, when of course they are most decidedly not. The knitter provides enough variables, in tension and gauge and patience and style.

In addition to the simple joy to be found in unpacking and arranging beautiful yarn, relatively guilt-free because it isn't yarn for me, it's for the business, I had an assistant a presence while I worked. Even if she was forced to sleep with needles poking her in the butt.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

snow in the forecast

What was billed as a big, huge, historic snow didn't live up to its hype, at least here in New Jersey. Schools were closed, my husband's office was closed, plow and snowblower and shovels were lined up at the ready... so I was surprised to find about three inches when I opened the front door to let the dog out this morning. We were supposed to get well over a foot. My poor friends in Massachusetts and Maine are not as lucky, as the storm is hitting the predicted levels and then some up there.

It did remind me of Primo's baptism, nineteen years and twenty days ago, when another big storm was forecast. My husband argued that we shouldn't postpone the big event, because "all the weathermen do is hype these storms." This ended up being the Blizzard of 1996, which I note has its own Wikipedia page. It ended up being somewhat stressful as we were responsible for stranding boatloads of people in South Jersey. As a result: not one picture of the event. Just a studio picture of Primo in his baptismal finery, a gown and cap sewn by my mother. Unfortunately the photo doesn't do the lace trimmings and acres of pintucking justice.

My husband has paid a lot more attention to weather predictions ever since, but that may be eroding after today. To be fair, the roads were still icy until late this afternoon, or so I heard. My butt didn't venture outside. Two weeks ago I took an epic spill on an icy sidewalk. Think banana peel. Think legs over head. Think Ethel Merman in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. My tailbone is still extremely peeved at me. I was taking no chances.

So: work inside instead. I called out of work and played hooky yesterday. Hmm, a few hours in a quiet house (boys had early dismissal so not too long) and what to do with myself? I started a just-for-fun knitting project that is also intended as a gift, so no sharing just yet, and re-watched the first few episodes of Downton Abbey. It was selfish bliss.

Today was all work. Before breakfast, a cabled project prototype finished for a new class, the rest of the day spent on work in closed husband's office. I was hoping to get back to knitting but I spent too much time on the phone with insurance companies instead.

Same scene as in the morning, this time with a beautiful sunset. Back to "real" work tomorrow. I will miss my knitting, so thanks to the snow for that at least.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

tea time tams

Today was the second (and final) knit-a-long class for the "Going to Town Tam" at Woolbearers yarn shop in Mount Holly. How wonderful to have had such a great group of people in the class. We had tremendous fun working on the pattern and dishing on Downton Abbey, more or less equal amounts of both.

Plus tea and chocolate torte and cucumber sandwiches (which lasted even less time than in the first class) and even Downton Abbey (fourth season) playing on the computer in the background. We thoroughly hashed out the issues facing Mary, Tom, Edith, Thomas, Isobel, Violet, Mrs Hughes, Mr Carson, Bates, Anna, the Russians... You name it. Julian Fellowes should give us a call so we can let him know our firm opinions on future plot twists.

As promised, here are close-ups of everyone's color choices. One student noted that most combinations had some element of green/teal. Looking at the pictures, purple is also a hugely popular element. There you go, Pantone. Make of it what you will.

I wish my iPhone had done a better job with the colors. The one on the bottom right, for example, was a striking orange/teal blue/grey combination that came out very flat, unfortunately.

I will miss these ladies, but onto new adventures! I will be holding a short rows class at the same shop on February 21. Preparation begins in earnest on that... tomorrow. Tonight, I have to watch Downton Abbey. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

frost feathers

Spotted on Primo's car yesterday morning: frost feathers!

Maybe the effect was so visible because the car is black?

The roof swirls were especially cool but I had trouble getting high enough on my tiptoes to capture it. Since I was still in my bathrobe and the middle school bus was on its way, I decided that discretion was the better part of valor, or at least my fifth grader's ever-lasting embarrassment, and didn't go get a stool.

There's a knitting pattern in here somewhere!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

common criminal

If there is one thing Valentine loves, it's catnip. She is not one of those "I can take it or leave it" cats. She is a cat who has trouble managing her addiction attraction. She also has a problem with love for roving or, indeed, anything that smells like a sheep.

This has put a serious crimp into my cat toy production. Nothing can be left out. Everything, including completed objects, must be shut up tight into protective containers; tins work best, because I thought they masked the smell.

I thought wrong, obviously. The little brown bags are old pantyhose with catnip tied inside to scent the stored toys. She had ripped two of them open, and slobbered all over the contents while rolling around in her ill-gotten gain.

I came back from finding my iPhone to document the scene of the crime, and found these two goofballs using my yarn to make forensic calculations as to the possible identity of the suspect. As if there was any doubt.

Who me? I just steal dog's beds.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

vogue knitting live '15

VKL '15 in a nutshell: it took a three hour nap today for me to recover.

It was a really great weekend. My mom and I left before dawn on Friday to take the train into NYC. We kicked off the conference on Friday morning with a Franklin Habit class, always a delight. 

Interesting introduction to Bavarian twisted stitch, in which the background stitches are always knit through the back loop. I had spent the previous evening teaching a beginning knitter not to do that very thing; it is a common beginner mistake, one that I made myself, so it was funny to be doing it deliberately when I had just spent so much time explaining why she shouldn't do it.

We enjoyed a lecture by the Norwegian designing team of Arne and Carlos, talking about their efforts to incorporate Norwegian knitting traditions in new ways that preserve them.

My favorite example was this sweater they put together from old sweaters made and worn by Arne's family members, in a patchwork tradition of reusing and repurposing old fabrics. It was the first time I had seen it done with knitting where the original wasn't unravelled or felted.

My afternoon was spent learning entrelac from Rosemary Drysdale, while my mom learned a new way of felting that definitely requires more exploration. More on that in a few weeks, I think, but my brain is racing with possibilities.

All day Saturday was sweater design with Patty Lyons and math, math, math, but I can honestly say I get it. Maybe setting a goal of designing a sweater for one of the men in my life would help to cement it in place.

The marketplace was great, especially as I got to tour it with my mom and Lauren, my brother's wonderful girlfriend. Behind them? Yes, knitted Tower of Pisa, part of Lion Brand's Seven Wonders of the Knitting World. I didn't get them all photographed, but take a look at Paige's blog for the complete set.

The artistic fiber art displays were amazing this year. This fridge full of knitted food, with accompanying dessert table, done by a Swiss artist, had to be seen to be believed. Such jaw-dropping detail, even my non-craftsy brother was impressed. Take a look at the peeled orange on the edge of the dessert table. And I just noticed this detail: is that a rat's tail under the fridge? Too funny! 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

fleece run

I am behind in everything these days. Case in point: the fleeces. Yes, from last year's shearing in March. Part of the problem is that I haven't had a skirting table in months and months; the sawhorses that hold it up were requisitioned for the barn project many months ago, and there they still sit. The other problem is that my favorite processing mill, Ozark, retired last year and I have been paralyzed with indecision about who to use.

And it is January. And Maryland Sheep and Wool is only four three and a half months away. Gulp.

On Tuesday I finally took action, and called the closest fiber mill to our farm: Sweitzer's Fiber Mill near York, Pennsylvania. I had met them a couple of years ago at Maryland, when they were going booth to booth introducing themselves and their new mill. What did I have to lose?

Heather, the owner, promised that if I could get the fleeces to her this week, she would have them done at the beginning of April. So my intrepid parents and I set out for York PA early this morning, with the fleeces finally sorted out and ready to go. Most of the time I need to make a deadline for myself to finally get things done, though when did I get them sorted and ready to go? This morning.

What a great operation the Sweitzers have going! Tucked away on their very rural farm, in a repurposed chicken barn (used by his grandparents to raise a ton of chickens), Heather has quite the operation. Fleeces are washed and dried in a clever arrangement that captures the grey water for use to irrigate their hay fields.

Fiber is picked, blended, carded, spun and plied by different employees, including Heather and her husband. I will be considering having some yarn made next year.

The mill does a LOT of commercial work and the product was very impressive. I can see why she has the volume of work that she does, and I am very grateful that she agreed to help me out!

On the way home, we made a surprise (to my mother) stop at Flying Fibers in Lancaster, PA, a charming yarn store with delightful owners. The purpose was to purchase her retirement gift from my father, an Ashford Joy spinning wheel, now that she will have more time to spend on fibery pursuits.

Luckily her wheel came with a tan carrying case; mine is blue and we would have had a hard time telling them apart otherwise! Rumor has it that she is already spinning away on her new wheel. She's going to have a hard time leaving it for Vogue Knitting Live in NYC tomorrow.

We're Broadway bound, baby!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

cucumber sandwiches and lemon cake

Today was the big day, the Downton Abbey tea at Woolbearers in Mount Holly!

In addition to white table linens, teapots and teacups, I took down a lemon cake and cucumber sandwiches to make it as proper as possible in the middle of a yarn store. The lemon cake was a box mix from Shoprite but fairly impressive result all the same, especially when iced with powdered sugar (that's the snowflake overlay, which looked better before the powder dissolved on the top; I had to reapply just before leaving for the class). Only a silver serving tray would do!

My friend Chris gave me a few tips for successful cucumber sandwiches, which you may find useful if you ever need to host a tea:
  • Use a pre-sliced bread of good quality; obviously, I opted for Pepperidge Farm "very thin" white bread.

  • Buy the cucumbers that are individually wrapped in saran wrap, labeled "hothouse" or "english" seedless cucumbers.

  • Thoroughly soften the butter, preferably unsalted, then butter both insides of the bread before putting on the cucumbers.

  • Slice the cucumbers thinly; I used a mandolin to make them as even as possible. No need to take off the skins.

  • Sprinkle a little salt on the cucumbers before putting the sandwiches together, cutting off the crusts and slicing them diagonally.

Last but not least: make them as closely to the event as possible so they don't get soggy!

They were a huge hit—not a single one remained, with me eating only one little quarter to make sure they were okay.

The rest of the class went just as well, I think. Certainly we all had a good time and eight new tams are well on their way. I can't wait to see all the results, because the color combinations chosen, not one like the original, were really great.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

freezing point

An extended cold snap is good for one thing... Frozen pond water!

Photo courtesy of Primo, who was home for a very brief break from studying for his finals. Our birthday gift to him was tickets for comedian Jim Gaffigan, a family favorite, before we understood how his university schedule works, with finals after Christmas. He was gracious and maintained it was a nice break from the stress. Since he made time to get out on skates this morning with Terzo (who was, of course, wild with joy) before heading back, it did appear that he was happy for the quick diversion. He was back at school by noon, grinding away again.

The ice sojourn didn't even last long enough for me to get out there with my camera. They heard what they thought was a nearby gunshot from hunters—we have quite a few in the nearby wildlife area—but turned out to be the ice cracking. It may have been more ice forming, as the temperatures were well under freezing, but they got off just in case. No doubt it will be checked for soundness again tomorrow.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

tea, anyone?

Exciting new teaching developments this year! First up is the Downton Abbey-themed tea I will be hostessing at Woolbearers Yarn Shop in Mount Holly this Sunday January 11 at 1 pm. Tea will be served in china teacups, my own personal collection, along with a few other tea-time treats.

In conjunction with the tea, I will be leading a knit-a-long for the Going to Town Tam from the Unofficial Downton Abbey Knits 2014. I loved working out and working on this pattern, an adaptation of a tam from a circa-1920s Fleisher's Yarn knitting booklet. I can't wait to switch up the colors in my second one.

Photograph © Interweave Press

Can't attend in person? Join us in a virtual knit-a-long! If you don't have the Unofficial Downton Abbey Knits 2014 yet, I have great news for you: just in time for the start of the fifth season of Downton Abbey on PBS, this collection of patterns is on sale. Go to the Interweave Press Store and enter the code DOWNTON20 to get 20% off this issue (three of my patterns and lots of other beautiful patterns in there). But hurry: code is only good today January 8 through January 16.

Any questions, pm me on Ravelry; my username is winterspastkris. Hope you will be knitting along!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

new toy

I mean professional tool. New professional tool, a gift from my husband. See if you can guess what it is...

Tree ornament (made of straw, not pasta, I swear)

Contented cat, who as of this morning
wants to be known as "Valentine Mousekiller"

Terzo playing Santa

Yarny detail (no points for guessing who the recipient eventually will be, 
though it is actually a project for a potential class)

Holly berries with tiny bug

The extreme close up of Terzo's yellow teeth should be the giveaway, though in his defense it was Christmas morning and he was in an understandable rush to get downstairs.

Yes it is a new lens! 100mm to be specific. The way it feeds in the light is revolutionary, to me at least. I am obviously having a lot of fun with the possibilities. So you can look forward to many well focused (I hope) detail shots this year. Possibly the gift that keeps on giving?

Sunday, January 4, 2015

farewell to all that

Two ewe lambs left the farm yesterday, on their way to a new Coopworth flock in Maryland. Hopefully they are bred and one will deliver a ram lamb pursuant to their new owner's wishes, though these things are usually not made to order! In addition to the two rams that went to West Virginia a couple of weeks ago, this means that we are down to nine sheep on the farm, a regular skeleton crew for us, and two of them are rams that I am still hoping to sell in the near future.

Nina and Natasha, crazy-eyed ewes, on their way to their new flock.
I love the look on Natasha's face.
It is a great representation of how I feel most of the time.

This marks another big change around here, one that I have been reluctant to talk about or think too hard about, but that felt so right when we made the decision that I know it is the correct path, for now. We will not be breeding for the next couple of years, until we can get ourselves sorted (already channeling British-isms in anticipation of the start of Season 5 of Downton Abbey tonight). The level of stress and complication introduced by me not being present on a regular basis on the farm was not fair to us or to the sheep, so we decided to take a break and catch our breath.

Hence the rams leaving. They were gorgeous, solid boys from Mountain Vewe farm in Vermont and Hatchtown Farm in Maine, some of the nicest animals we have ever had on the farm, both in personality and appearance. It was not fair to keep them here when we would not be using them, and their genes are too good to waste. My friend Debbie in West Virginia bought both to add some new lines to her flock. I hope they do well for her.

I have been feeling a little blue about the thought of no more lambs (though we may still have a few this spring due to the great escape in October—time will tell). But then I happened to find the Fall 2014 issue of Black Sheep Newsletter as I was cleaning off my desk this afternoon. One of the articles was about Letty Klein, one of the most respected shepherdesses in the country, who has a very well-regarded flock of Karakuls. She has been a shepherd for over 32 years, and I was heartened to read that "at its peak Letty's flock reached 75 animals, but at one stage it was down to three."

Well, we are not down to three. This may be just a temporary pause. I don't see me ever getting up to 75, but her current 16 sounds pretty appealing. Just not right now.

Friday, January 2, 2015

one day late

Happy New Year to all my dear readers, both near and far, known and unknown!

Like so much else around here, this post is a day late, very symptomatic of what is happening in my life right now. My get up and go has been gone, gone, gone lately. This last year has represented so many sea changes for me and I suspect that this next year will bring even more, so when the pace slowed just the tiniest bit post-holidays, I ended up feeling a mite directionless, with perhaps a bit of lost thrown in as well. Or maybe just tired and in need of a break.

Knitting seems to be a symbol of the greater problem. Since I finished the principal's shawl, I haven't done too much of it. I wander into my work room, see all those unfinished projects in bags, get overwhelmed at the thought of tackling anything, and wander back out again without picking up anything.

Before you think I am depressed: let me assure you that I am not, and my loved ones will back me up on this. I am just... directionless. No doubt a symptom of trying to find a new place in life that recognizes my kids are growing up and we are all entering new phases, inching my way out of the home while keeping myself still involved in the two that are home.

I loved my friend's Paige's idea of coming up with a phrase this year, instead of a resolution or even a promise like last year (upon which I failed miserably, by the way). So my phrase, with full acknowledgement that Paige's "clear eyes, full heart, can't lose" is much more profound and lyrical:

mindful focus

On my time. The time. Where am I spending my time? Am I doing what I need to be doing, or what needs to be done, or what I want to do? Most importantly, as I watch my time with my boys slip away, am I making the most of the remainder with them?

Hence, the lateness of this post. Seasonal navel gazing, plus spending time with my boys watching movies and going to track meets and shopping.

"Certainty is fleeting. That is why we must have faith. ... 
New beginnings, accepted with grace, become beloved memories."

What can I say, I watched it tonight and it spoke to me.