Dishing up the “Comfort Slouchy”, with a side of apology.

Ok, I know.  It’s been a long time.  I’m SO sorry, dear readers!  Just when you thought I might actually have one or two good ideas, I disappear.  I really have no excuse.  It just all happened so fast.  August 23rd dawned, and before I could duck, school up and hit me like a mac truck.  And sadly, the blog got tossed to the back burner.  The beginning of the school year is always such a rough time for me.  I’m exhausted when I get home because I’ve lost my teaching stamina over the summer and I have little free time because I’m starting with a whole batch of fresh, un-molded minds.  But, I’m happy to announce that things have now settled down and I’m back in the saddle again.

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My sad, “won’t you please forgive me” face.

You’re probably thinking that for this, my grand re-entrance, I have something really special for you.  You know, to make up for the last two months in which I completely and selfishly ignored you.  Well, you’d be wrong.  If I were a better, more organized, and less sleep-dependent person, It would be a totally different story.  Instead, today, I’m re-testing the crafting waters with only my metaphorical big toe.  And while I cannot deliver you silver bells and golden whistles today, I can assure you that as the holidays draw near, I am again amassing my crafty strength.  I made myself a new lab coat for the start of school, several new skirts, and two leather bags.  Posts forthcoming!  I also have a lot of DIY ideas for the holidays that I’m going to blog about in my “12 Crafty Days of Christmas” (throughout December) series to help motivate me to get everything done on time and to hopefully give you some ideas for wonderful, homemade presents for your loved ones.  So, please stay tuned!

So what do I have for you today, you ask?  Well, while it’s not Mt. Craftmore, I am pretty proud of it.  I would like to present the first thing that I have EVER knitted out of my own handspun angora yarn (50% Merino, 50% angora — from my rabbit Sweet Pea to be exact).

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Comfort Slouchy, in effect!

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I call this hat my “Comfort Slouchy” because I plan to wear it….well, everyday.  It’s warm, comfortable, and wonderfully soft.  I feel like a have a cloud on my head.  And, It’s just starting to develop the fantastic halo that is characteristic of angora yarn.  I’m sure as time goes on it will get even more fuzzy.

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Angora “halo” is blooming.

I made it using the beginnings of the pattern It All Comes Together on Ravelry.  But, there was a slight error in the chart for the crown decreases, so I just did my own thing when I got to that point.  (Note:  the wonderful author of the pattern sent me the updated chart soon after.  So nice!)  Overall, I’m wonderfully happy with it.  With my next handspun skein, I plan to make a (somewhat) matching cowl.  I’m trying to decide between the Stockholm Scarf, Big Herringbone Cowl, and A Noble Cowl patterns on Ravelry.  I’m so undecided.  Do you think I have to match my hat with a lacey-type pattern?  What are your thoughts?

Ok, thanks again for hanging in there with me.  I know that I have a lot to make up for.  And, I’m going to make you proud.  Really, I am.  And speaking of slacking….I’m not the only one who’s been absent around here.  I want you to make a note of which one of us came back to you first.   It was me.  I came back for you.  Not Jaryn.  Remember that.  Clearly, I love you more……and I win.

See, you really can’t trust Jaryn. Clearly, she consorts with rodents.

I hope everyone’s been having a fantastically, wonderful Fall.  Here’s to a craftastic holiday season!

Jen

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Spinning Jenni’s Fiber Adventures

This year, for the first time, I managed to make it to the Maryland Sheep & Wool festival, a.k.a. “A Fiber Lovers Paradise.”  It. Was. Amazing.  There were sheep, and alpacas, and goats, and rabbits.  It was a veritable petting zoo, which you know I’m all about.  Todd had to keep a close eye on me, as I was casing all the alpaca stands trying to figure out how shove a cria in my pocket to take home with us.  Here were a few of my favorite furry friends:

Baaaaaaaahhh!

And then, you could look in any direction and see glorious fiber and yarn.  In fact, there was so much fiber goodness that it was a little overwhelming.  I simply couldn’t choose between all the yarns.  They were all so beautiful.  So, I decided to stick with my game plan of buying my first whole sheep fleece.

For those of you uninitiated to the world of fiber, buying your first fleece is akin to entering the Tour de France as a young rider.  It’s exciting, daunting, and very scary.  Since I’ve never purchased a whole fleece before, I really had no idea what I was looking for.  I know……shocking, right?  There were hundreds of trash bags full of shorn sheep fleeces to dig through.  I wish I’d been smart enough to get a picture.  I was quickly reaching “sheep fleece saturation point.”  So, lacking in any formal knowledge, I did what I do when picking a wine — choose based on aesthetics.  I was able to narrow down my choices because I wanted a white fleece so that I could blend it with my angora rabbit wool.  Then, I just looked at the names of the sheep and let my fingers be my guide.  I settled on four pounds of the softest wool I’ve ever had the pleasure of groping.  My fleece is from a lovely little Cormo sheep named Lillian.  (Each fleece comes with a label telling you the weight, sheep’s name, and farm that it came from.)  Here is my bounty:

Four pounds of Lillian the Sheep

The first step towards turning raw sheep into wonderful yarn is a very long washing process.   You have to get out all the lanolin (natural oil), dirt, vegetable matter, and other nastiness that I won’t explain, but you know…… The tips of Lillian’s wool was especially dirty, so before washing it, I clipped those off.

Clip the tips

Ready for the wash

You have to be very careful when washing wool.  If you’re not careful with the temperature changes and agitation, you can end up with felt, which probably some of you are familiar with if you’ve ever put a wool sweater in a dryer and ended up with a baby cardigan.  Doh!  One thing that helps, is putting wool into lingerie bags.  So, after clipping in they went.

Packed into lingerie bags

Since the plan was to blend this Cormo with my angora, I wasn’t too concerned with preserving the lock structure the wool.  That meant I could use the washing machine instead of large tubs.  Each batch of wool was given three separate, 30-minute soaks in hot water and laundry detergent.  At the end of each 30-minutes, I’d put the wool through a short spin cycle to remove as much dirty water from it as possible.

Wool in the washing machine

The fourth soak was in clean, lukewarm water to rinse out any remaining soap.  Then, I spread out the wool on sweater racks to dry.

Drying wool

Washing an entire fleece is not for the faint of heart, let me tell you.  You have to commit.  It is a LONG process.  I have now finished, four loads of Lillian, and I still probably have two more loads to go.  Ugh.  Yes, I purchased Lillian in May.  Yes, it is now July.  Touch of the ADD, what can I say?  But, the effort has been so worth it — I now have a HUGE plastic bin full of heavenly, cloud-light, soft-as-a-baby’s-bottom, wool.

Big box o’ fluff

What am I going to do with all of this, you might ask?  My plan is to eventually spin it into a bulky wool that I can use to make the sweater Cameron Diaz wears in “The Holiday.”  I love this sweater!  I’ll probably have it done by 2035.

Washing all of that fiber has inspired me to get some spinning done.  Since I have a bit of a backlog with my angora, the mission was to use up as much as possible.  I started with a small skein for my mom that was 50% alpaca and 50% angora.  The picture’s color is a little washed out — it’s actually lavender.  I think she plans to make something for my niece with it.

Then, I spun up a skein of angora, silk, and merino in baby blue on my spindle while we were at the beach.  And this week, I spun up a 50/50 skein of angora and merino wool on my wheel.  I was really, really pleased with the latter.  My ability to keep a consistent thickness of yarn is definitely improving.  There is definitely still a variation, but it’s less apparent.

After winding both of these skeins into balls, I started knitting up the “It All Comes Together” slouchy hat with a twisted stitch rib in the 50/50 mix.  While you can see the diameter variation, I think it still looks okay.  Look at the halo starting to form — so soft!

With the remaining 50/50 and the blue, I plan to knit up the Ski, Bunny, Ski! hat from Ravelry:

Ski, Bunny, Ski! hat on Ravelry

It’s been so nice to crank up the AC and pretend that it’s snowing outside instead of this nasty 100 degree weather we’ve been having.  Hopefully, it’ll start to cool down soon and I can really start picturing fall and wearing all these wonderful knit garments!

 

 

 

Music City, Baby!

This week, I was fortunate to attend an Alternative Education conference in Nashville, TN with my good friend, Deb.  (Side note:  We are known collectively as the “Beefy Broads” by our friends and family due to the large number of DIY projects we have undertaken together.)  We knew we were off to a great start when the rental car company showed us our ride.  Apparently, they’d been trying to give this baby away all day.  But, the businessmen to whom it was offered turned it down from some reason.  Being the forward thinkers that we are, we jumped all over this opportunity.

Beefy Broads Sweet Ride.

To our delight, it got better when we actually got into the car — it came with shag!

"Shaggy", our mascot

We immediately realized that we could not be apart from Shaggy from this point forward.  Thus began a series of pictures that we call “Shag, the forbidden love.”  Here are some of those gems:

Shag, the better State Seal of Tennessee

Yes, I am placing Shaggy somewhere inappropriate. But, it's a rug....how could I resist?

Shag. It makes you want to jump.

Don't have a cute baby? Shag.

We felt sure that others surely shared our fondness for the Nissan Cube’s Shag.  We felt that surely others had captured their own unique memories with shag.  We looked on Facebook.  We searched on Loogle.  To no avail.  Apparently, once again, your Beefy Broads are trendsetters, dear readers.  And, you’re welcome.

We ended up driving to Knoxville Friday night and staying with our friend, Jessica.  You know someone is a good friend when they agree to put you up on a moment’s notice and stay up until 12:30 am to greet you.  You know that someone is a great friend when they have a warm, onesie waiting for you.

Beefy Broads, the epitome of runway fashion

While we didn’t get to visit with Jessica for as long as we would have liked, it was fantastic to catch up with our famous artist friend.  We said goodbye to her after a stellar breakfast, in which she too, began to understand our fascination with shag.

Shaggy begins to take over the world.

Now, as you may know, the Beefy Broads love a good road trip.  We seek out adventure around every turn.  So, of course, on our drive between Knoxville and Nashville, we were on the lookout.  What we noticed is that almost every exit in TN boasts a flea market or an antique store.  We felt that the universe was giving us a hint, and so we obliged accordingly by trying to stop at all of them.  Our first stop was Rockville, TN.  The town felt like stepping back into the 1920’s.  There was a soda fountain and a downtown (a block long) that had a cute row of downtown antique stores.  Alas, while we found no old-time goodies, we did get a spectacular view as we climbed some backroad out of Rockville to get back to I-40.  I think this is where we got onto the Cumberland Plateau?

Our next antique stop was Crossville, TN.  Here the stars aligned, the heavens opened and we found an antique store with a vendor dedicated solely to old sewing machines and notions.  Hallelujah.  We parked ourselves on the floor of that booth and probably sorted through bias, lace, buttons, and ribbon for over an hour.  We were like fat kids in a candy store.  We took so long that the owner kept coming by to check on us.  We ended up with a ton of good loot!  This is only about a 1/4 of what I purchased.  What can I say, I’m a sucker for $0.25 notions.

Antique Sewing Treasures

I came to this conference fully prepared to craft.  I brought bags of crafting material (much to the amusement of Deb).  What I didn’t realize was how much schmoozing goes on at conferences.  So much of my precious time has been spent drinking wine (not complaining) and mingling (complaining) that I haven’t gotten to work on my Katrine sweater yet.  😦  I have, however, worked on my Party Lace scarf (more of a mindless knit).

Party Lace Scarf

And right before leaving for the conference, I gave Bunbun (my newest angora) her first real haircut.  Her fiber is fantastic!  She may be the best one yet!  So while we drove up, I spun up a bunch of her fiber.

Bunbun after haircut

Bunbun's fiber

 

We have learned that there is an Antique and Garden show at the Nashville Convention Center on Friday.  So exciting!  So, we plan to hit that up on our way out of town.  Hopefully, we’ll be able to find some more treasures and provide you with some great pictures!

If you build it, she will craft.

I found her.  My crafting muse.  She was hiding in the troves of junk in a dilapidated antique store on the Outer Banks.  I knew immediately that she was going to be the focal point for designing my new craft room.  She was beautiful AND she had a spinning wheel.  (Just butter on my biscuit!)  Between that and her sepia tones and inked in blue hues, I knew that we were MFEO.  It didn’t even matter to me that she wasn’t cheap.  (I mean, who likes a cheap woman?)  I quickly named her Loreli, and now she graces my craft room permanently.

Loreli-My muse

One of the first signs that you have reached adulthood is that you no longer have hordes of second-hand and mismatched furniture that was passed down to your from dead relatives, parental moves, or irresponsible hippie roommates that don’t take shit with them when they move.  Well, let me just say, it has taken me a long time to become an adult.  So, my craft room renovation/cathartic Craigslist purging not only gave me and Loreli a clean slate to work with, but it also helped to also usher me into adulthood.  And might I mention that you meet very interesting (read: weird, socially awkward, a little scary) people through these two online purviews.

Since my childhood desk was one of the first pieces of furniture to go, I needed to start with a crafting table.  It needed to serve triple duty as a sewing table, cutting table, and desk.  I had seen lots gorgeous farm tables online, but they were always WAY out of my price range.  Finally, I saw a unique table that someone had made out of a five panel door.  Since DH had just begun his woodworking hobby in ernest, I though what better way to test his love for me than demanding that he build me furniture.  Not only that, but I would do so right before leaving for France for a month.  Plenty of quiet time for perfecting his craft.  Well, I was astounded upon coming home.  The table he had built was elegant and sturdy.  I think he might just love me.

My DH loves me, and it getting quite good at the woodwoking!

Aren't I so lucky! What a table!

Before leaving for France, my mother had been desperately trying to rid herself of all the junk above their garage.  It a fit of regression from adulthood, I saved a lot of the junk to prevent it from going to the landfill.  What can I say?  I’m a sucker.  Two of the things saved were my Grangi’s (our name for our grandmother) blue, Lady Baltimore suitcases with purple interior.  I thought they would make fantastic coffee and end tables.  I was right, no?

The Lady Baltimore makes a fine end table.

And the lil' Lady Baltimore isn't too shabby, either.

A craft room always needs space for brainstorming.  Again, so as not to add to a landfill, I decided to repurpose a gaudy gold picture frame that an old roommate had left here.  A little silver spray paint and it went from gaudi to freakin’ sweet.

Not yet a chalk board, but pretty and silver.

On to the storage wars……I decided to keep another old rommates shelving unit that she had left upon her move across the country.  It’s not ideal, but functional for now.  Eventually, DH (he doesn’t know it yet) will be building me some custom shelves.

Not ideal, but functional shelves for now.

For my thread, I decided to use an old printer’s cabinet that was also found amongst my mother’s junk.  It makes the perfect home for all my cute wooden spools.

A printer's drawer makes a lovely thread shelf.

Now, my serger cones were another issue.  They’re too big for this kind of shelf.  Once again, I turned to DH to save the day.  And, once again he brought his A game.

DH's spool/cone thread holder

While there are still projects to be done, like painting the chalk in the silver frame and putting up the antique postman’s cabinet that we found over the craft table, its coming along.  And I love nothing more than coming home, pouring myself a glass of wine and crafting in my new oasis.