The Knit Knack's Blog

Better living through fibre


2 Comments

New year, inspired!

Happy new year!  Our holidays were spent back home in Jamaica.  It was the mix of what we call Christmas breeze, friends and family that made this trip extra-special.

coconut tree in Jamaica's north coast

Christmas breeze in Jamaica, defined

Inspiration came by more than sheer natural beauty.  The island is still dealing with the Chikungunya virus outbreak.  It is transmitted by mosquitoes, and last October the government declared ChikV a national emergency.  We are not infected but close family members are still coping with serious joint pain, and other symptoms.

In meeting ChikV, the economy, and not to mention personal challenges, I am inspired by the strength & creativity of people back home.  Things are difficult for so many that we know & love.

Blue Mountains view in Newcastle, Jamaica from Eits Cafe

View at Eits Cafe, Newcastle, Jamaica

Any view of the Blue Mountains is beautiful.  This was on the patio after lunch at Eits Cafe in Newcastle.  I grew up with a similar tree-line view from the bedroom that I shared with my brother.  The land is green.

Whole fish dinners in St. Mary, Jamaica

Speaking of eating

Our waitress at dinner in St. Mary on the north coast came back to make sure we understood how the snapper would be plated.  “That’s what we want!  Whole fish!”  She smiled, approvingly.

Cut stone staircase and Georgian fretwork at Harmony Hall, St. Mary, Jamaica

Harmony Hall, St. Mary, Jamaica

Returning to visit the first art gallery I ever loved.  The old great house, Harmony Hall is just as lovely as ever.  We enjoyed our visit & the freshly-squeezed limeades immensely.

Sea Grape tree shade St. Mary, Jamaica coast

Happy old sea grape tree in St. Mary

Every good beach no matter how small needs good shade.  The best seashells came home with me to Canada (hints:  look under the seaweed; use a stick; avoid sand-flies).  These two saw immediate love with the cotton spinning!

Spinning cotton supported spindle with seashell whorl

Seashell vacation cotton spindle

Just looking down at the beach, sometimes you might find fossilized coral.  This one survived the area’s blasting.

Fossilized sea coral, St. Mary, Jamaica coastline

Coral fossil on Jamaica’s north coast

We spent less than 48 hours on the north coast this trip.  Even so, I have happy thoughts about the Art Gallery of Burlington’s curated show this year.  It is “Colour of Water.”

Morning sun St. Mary, Jamaica private beach

My shadow casts colour too

This is 1 of 6 handwoven towels that I finished in time for Christmas.  Taking the other 5 home for hand-hemming was how I got them all done!

Handwoven Keep it Simple KISS cotton kitchen towel

Keep it Simple kitchen towel gift

I rushed to weave more towels in this 2/8 cotton using the denim colour for warp.  The progress story & were surprisingly popular with friends & family, so I had to make 2 extras!

Weaving cotton Keep it Simple kitchen towels on Schacht Mighty Wolf loom

Christmas gift towels on the loom!

The towels were all loved.  A little too loved since I found myself saying over & over, “No!  You totally should use them!”

These are the Keep it Simple towels by Mary Ann Geers.  Diane helped me fix a sleying error after the first towel, and she flagged what I soon discovered was a silly tie-up error.

Another friend, Margaret, has enabled me into some excellent weaving pattern books just this week.  Lots to learn this year about structure!

Bougainvillea in bloom, St. Andrew, Jamaica

Christmas morning Bougainvillea

 

Luckily, there is still more inspiration in baby form.  My brother & sister-in-law are expecting!  We are so thrilled, and this is the launch of All The Plans!

Craft books for future irieknit projects

Laying good 2015 plans

The top book here is very important:  “Knitting Counterpanes” by Mary Walker Phillips.  I think my handspun Romney yarn may be perfect for a small-sized knit counterpane.

See the two folders above the backstrap loom book?  They are pick-up patterns recorded by Catherine A. Stirrup from designs of Peru & Mexico.  A weaver kindly sent them to me with the backstrap weaving books in her destash.

Top whorl drop spindles by Jonathan Bosworth and Edward Tabachek

Welcome to the herd, Tabachek spindles!

To much fan-fare, I opened a superbly packed box with the 2 Tabachek spindles (right, above) & a surprise.  This was late last year.  When my friend, Devin, offered the spindles to me, I was so thrilled!  They are a favourite make, and holly was a quiet dream as well.

Devin, they are loved, and see regular use both at home, and at spin-ins!  The grey fibre is yak/merino/silk top.

Jennie the Potter thrown stoneware jar with drop spindles by Tabachek, Bosworth, Jim Child, CTTC

Spindles! Progress!

Cheers for 2015, everyone!  Looking forward to lots of projects, new friends, and especially becoming an Auntie!

 


3 Comments

Building the yarn flavour

This story happened on one of those rare summery fall days, September 5, 2013.  Life runs far more smoothly now that I, daughter of Jamaica, have learned to never take fair weather for granted in the northern hemisphere.  “Make hay while the sun shines” seriously resonates here.

Extraordinary gift – Black Walnut dye liquor

When September 5th spoke, I listened.  It said, “Grab Evil Michelle’s Black Walnut from this June, and have at it!”

Natural dyeing is not for everyone, I know.  As Sasha (thecraftyrabbit) put it on Saturday at the Woodstock Fleece Festival, “It’s too much like cooking!”  YES!  And we laughed.  N’s take is that I really did not get enough science in school.  They are both correct.

Finnish Landrace wool top, wet

Taking the jar on the left, i.e. 15 oz of “first soak,” I appraised mine stash.  Turns out, I had lots of candidates to get in on this half of the Black Walnut gift.

Handspun, not to be left out of dye day

It was a carefully weighed plan.  The dry weight of fibre totaled 15 oz to equal the glorious Black Walnut dye.  L→R we had variety: flax/wool blend; a silk hankie’s worth and; wool/mohair/alpaca blend handspun yarns.  They all soaked in water for an hour.

Heating the Black Walnut dye liquor

It’s true that the (so not) Evil Michelle let me sail past the messy part of preparing the husks.  Still, I heeded the words of Elizabeth Fahey in the Fall 2010 issue of Spin-Off:

…As we handle the fresh nuts and husks, our hands are stained dark brown and our fingernails are black.  The substantive dye in the black walnut husk is ready to ooze out and stain anything it touches.  This is the dye that is my delight…

Between the family wedding, and my formica counters, I decided the best plan was to dye outdoors for once.  The aha! moment was when I realized the gas BBQ was my heat source!

Walnut dye magic in the making

Now, my patience has its limits.  I needed something else to do outside while heating, dyeing and cooling was under way.  That’s how I came to:

Add value to an eBay Purchase

Vintage line flax from Pennsylvania

Hidden deep in my stash was this 6.8 oz/ 192 g of vintage flax.  You know when you make “just one bid” late at night on eBay?  That.

Naturally, my ears perked up when Harriet Boon demonstrated how you improve on flax this June at the Ontario Handspinning Seminar.  Putting not-great flax through a hackle helps immensely. Traditional processing involves 6 – 10 passes between finer & then finer hackles (The Intentional Spinner, p. 14).  Did the Pennsylvanian farm have access to so much equipment before this flax got bundled and hung in an attic?

Before re-hackling: vintage Pennsylvania flax bundles

I came away from the Seminar understanding better than before these 2 important principles:

  1. Short of mold or fire, sound flax never dies – it is a timeless fibre; and
  2. Well prepared fibres offer a better spinning experience.

It was worth a try – this flax had not been through industrial equipment, and took a huge amount of labour over time to be produced.  Plus, my Forsyth fine stationary comb looks a lot like a hackle.

A mini hackle!

Warning:  don’t use a kitchen chair with any array of sharp, stainless steel tines.  Really.  That would be unsafe.  I don’t recommend it at all – ever.

The how:  I lashed each bundle of flax by hand, and pulled through the tines.  The moving comb is just pinning that bundle down.

First, second and third pass vintage flax

What happened was stunning.  Each of 3 passes sent chaff, dust, and brittle pieces of stem flying.  The fibres literally lightened and shone.  The first pass gave the longest fibres, and yielded 4.9 oz/ 127g.  The second pass gave 18 g, and the third 12g.  Tow that didn’t fly away was 27 g, and I kept that too.

Grades of line flax with tow after re-hackling

The Black Walnut dyeing was so fantastic that I decided to finally tackle the onion skins next.  I soaked 160g of skins overnight.  The 50 g of handspun merino, and 31g Tussah silk top got alum & cream of tartar mordant overnight as well.

Walnut dyed Finn wool, and onion skin dyed Tussah silk

The onion skins gave a surprisingly vibrant colour but spots of the silk top resisted the dye in its bundle.

Walnut dyed handspun skeins

The Horned Dorset skein (right, overhang) was 48g dry.  I dyed it a few days later in the exhaust bath.

Onion skins helping merino along

This was my first time dyeing commercially prepared fibre.  The Tussah silk top looks a bit compacted but should be spinnable.

Jamaican Yellow Ginger root (turmeric)

Dad brought me this bag of lovely yellow ginger.  As long ago as August 2012, I worked with a small amount of this dye with really strong results.

It is first cured by boiling, dried for a week, chopped and then ground – a lot of work!  I got a granite mortar & pestle from a local Home Goods store.

Horned Dorset handspun, natural dye

The Horned Dorset yarns are slowly making their way into a colourwork project!  I started the dye process this Monday by curing the new batch of Jamaican Yellow Ginger.

Curing Jamaican Yellow Ginger (turmeric) for dyeing

The roots are so fragrant.  Sasha’s right:  this is like cooking.  I am learning how to build the flavour of my yarn in different ways, that’s all.


2 Comments

An Irieknit Design

My commissioned lace stole is overdue for her reveal!  What began as a serious inquiry last Boxing Day on broad specs grew into an original stole design with beautiful Helen’s Lace yarn and light beading.

Although knitting for hire was a bundle of new challenges, I knew early on that my label as it were would be Irieknit.  This is, after all, the way that many of you know me as a spinner & knitter on both Ravelry and Twitter[.com].  My ‘irie‘ designation dates back to birth.  In full-flush of First Time Dad excitement, I was announced to the world (via a Gleaner classified ad) in all caps as born that day “one IRIE GEMINI…”

Then as now, some got it; others not so much.

‘Sea Grapes’ knitted lace stole

The colourway of this 50% silk/ 50% wool yarn is Berry.  The stole used 950 yards or 85g of the yarn with the body and border knit with different sized needles.

Body detail, ‘Sea Grapes’ knitted lace stole

The centre is the Melon pattern from Victorian Lace Today with repeats added to the panel.  Thinking of my Jamaican client as I knit lent the motif a decidedly Caribbean feel.  One thought led to another and soon I had a doubly-wide border of soft waves.  The VLT techniques pages were very empowering.  They helped kick me up a notch to lace design.

The client’s wide brief is what also allowed me to go farther.  Following my muse often takes me back to poetry.  This 27″ x 88″ stole is named Sea Grapes after Derek Walcott’s 1976 poem:

…for the sea-wanderer or the one on shore

now wriggling on his sandals to walk home,

since Troy sighed its last flame…

The classics can console.  But not enough.

People often ask, “How long does it take to knit that?”  In this case, I have an answer based on a focused lace knit.  The knitting time was 30 hours for the body; 17 hours for the border.  It was made over 17 days.  This does not include 2 hours for blocking or added prep time & design work.

On the blocking mats, ‘Sea Grapes’ knit lace stole

Producing knitted lace of this scale for hire changed my work days, and lifted my game.  In the end, I was happy to deliver an item that can not and does not exist elsewhere.  It came as much from our relationship of many years as from my skills, time and materials.  We are both happy.

Supporting handmade matters.  I’ll be happy to collaborate again in the future.


Leave a comment

From our Yard

There are 2 things to know when you land in Kingston, Jamaica:  the entire plane claps the pilot; and you step out into the fresh harbour air.

Kingston Harbour.  It’s the 7th deepest natural harbour in the world.  Beautiful as seen from a sandbar called, Maiden Cay.

A rather soused me had the sense to take a few pics.

I was on a food break from the rest of the BYOB-to-Maiden-Cay party.

Adult beverage marketing, Caribbean style.

Best plying ever – St. Mary, Jamaica

Lest you think it was all vodka-Tings, I did spin and ply in glorious comfort.

The few days in the country were wonderful.  We might have high-fived at the tv reports of a snowstorm back in Canada.

This kind of “cold front” was way more satisfactory.

The windy weather did make finishing DH’s socks less of a hassle.

Already well worn!  It’s my basic sock knit in The Painted Tiger‘s “Bands of Autumn” colourway.  430 yards of her Safari base – 75% superwash Corriedale; 25% nylon.

I loved knitting them and he loves wearing them!

In other Knit Unto Others Good Karma news

Mom, and you have heard me say this before, is a huge supporter.  She now has a handknit shawl.  It’s the Shoulder Shawl in Cherry Leaf pattern from Victorian Lace Today by Jane Sowerby.

The size is great (and I’ll give the caveat in a sec) – it’s Handmaiden Sea Silk.  The body is knit on 4.5mm needles, and the point border on 3.75 needles.  It also has a Japanese seed bead for each leaf, and point.

Everyone is happy.  But smug I am not!  That gauge killed my skein of yarn.  You might have followed my live tweet freak-out?  Yea – 1.5 points short on the right edge.  Brilliant.

That’s a GIZZADA to you, friends.

Not unlike this gizzada.  Yum even if the label is not technically correct.


Leave a comment

Looking up!

On August 6th as everyone probably knows, Jamaica celebrated 50 years of Independence.  Our athletes achieved more at the 2012 London Olympics than we dreamed possible.

Each medal ceremony where our flags rose was moving.  We were deeply proud to stand and sing the National Anthem with Jamaicans everywhere.  The colours mean:

Hardships there are but the land is green, and the sun shineth – gold.

 

Have Olympics = must knit!  I didn’t take part in the Ravellenics but worked on my Redhook Tunic by Jared Flood.  It now has a complete body, most of a shawl collar, and sleeves-in-progress.  Diane’s colours are just beautiful, and are lining up very nicely.

This is from my surprise Gnome Acres gift certificate!  Just copying the pic makes me smile.  A TKK reader and friend who I first met in the Knit me Happy virtual knit nights really cheered me up, and I can’t thank her enough.  Deb’s a new spinner (yay!), and as you can see is super-awesome with great taste in yarnies!

So, I’ve started listening to a few podcasts, and Knit me Happy is one of them that I really try to stay with good mood or bad.  It’s hosted by Rachel aka TinyGeekCrafter, and the group has really great folks.  Rachel recently lost one of her much-loved cats, Munchkin, after his short illness.  He loved to co-host with flair, and I know all of us listeners will miss him and the tail flashes.

This is a new-to-the-wall acrylic on canvas that my cousin painted for us.  Stretching and hanging it has transformed the living room, and I love it!  If you’d like to contact the artist about her work, you can email me at irieknit at gmail dot com.

Yep – if I am feeling better then spinning has something to do with it!  This is Jacob wool – dyed by Chelsea.  The double entendre in the picture title?  Intended;)

Entirely of its own volition, Lulu’s llama fiber came home with me from this June’s Ontario Handspinning Seminar.  Soft, basically clean and without guard hairs as far as I can tell.

Both samples were flick-carded from the raw Llama and spun on spindles.  The one with less twist (right) is much nicer.

Last week, I had a few free hours and decided to give two handfuls a quick wash.  As her owner promised, she has a flare of white in the blanket!  Getting my hands into this is mood-enhancing as well.

Melvin’s idea of keeping me company.  He’s not letting me turf that old office chair either.

The rough times aren’t behind me but I’m lucky to have special people around me who care, and good things happening at my hands.

Have a great weekend, friends!


Leave a comment

Logwood Heart, an experiment

I am speaking about Haematoxylum campechianum.  Logwood is a natural dye that is typically sold as dried chips of the heartwood.  It was introduced for cultivation in Caribbean colonies, and continued to be exported even through the sugar hey-day.

 

Who do you think you are?  Logwood Heart?

It’s from my favourite poem, Omeros by Derek Walcott.  Hector, a St. Lucian “madman eaten with envy” rages after Achille.  His cutlass speaking as much as he did:

Moi j’a dire – ‘ous pas prêter un rien. ‘Ous ni shallope, ‘ous ni seine, ‘ous croire ‘ous ni choeur campêche?

I told you, borrow nothing of mine.  You have a canoe, and a net.  Who you think you are?  Logwood Heart?

Omeros, Chapter 3, I.

 My Dad got me this bag of Jamaican logwood about a year ago.  Having found this article I learned it was still exported from the island as dyestuff up until the early 1940s.

Round the First

At the end of May, 2011, I took my 53g of shaved and chipped Jamaican logwood and dove into the hand-spun stash.  This 464 yds of local organic Romney that I spun on my Spinolution Mach 2 a.k.a. Earl came out to play.

For this 278g of fibre, I decided to add in 50g of commercial Logwood chips that I had on hand.  The logic seems fuzzy now but I was aiming for purple, and wanted to “save” the precious stuff from home.

My method was to pre-mordant the yarn (25% alum; 6% cream of tartar).  I put all the logwood plus some Lignum Vitae – on advice from back home – in a stocking.  That went into the dyepot for a cold water soak overnight.  Then I simmered the yarn in the pot for 1 hour, and let the bath cool.  I didn’t remove the stocking.

It worked!  I was (and still am) so excited about this deep, dark purple of natural dyed wonder.

 

Round the Second

I know a good thing when I see it, so the dye pot went straight to the basement.  You know, for later use.  N had a few qualms along the way but he is a scientist and saw I was making An Experiment.  Scientists appreciate experiments.  Mold and all.

In late November, 2011, I got the urge to dye purple again.  This time it was my hand-spun sock yarn.

Mold was the least of my worries.  The blobs of inky gunk showed up as soon as the yarn went in.  I kept calm, and rinsed in the sink.  Thankfully, the blobs agreed to slide right off.  As soon as the colour got mauvey, I pulled the skeins out.  There’s no point in tempting fate now is there?

My first me-spun; me-dyed sock yarn looks a little like this:

Fibre:  154g of kid mohair/ merino/ alpaca sock yarn roving from The Fibre Garden.

Wheel:  Watson Martha in double drive, and spun on the smaller whorl.

Plied wraps per inch:  16 (sport-weight).

Yardage:  363.

Why tell you all of this now?

It’s a fair question.  The answer is that I have been knitting my first pair of me-spun; me-dyed socks.  And I love them very much.

The pattern is Clara Parkes’ Stepping Stones from The Knitter’s Book of Socks that N gave me last Christmas.  I missed the part where she gives a variation on the stitch pattern for the foot.

My little modification was to just twine knit the heel flap.  Her instructions have you almost there anyway, and I do love to twine.

 

More inspiration

This is my handspun, naturally dyed and backstrap loom woven bag from The Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco, Peru.

A quiet reminder that I am a young grasshopper in this world rich with textile traditions.


Leave a comment

Easter cheer

Happy Easter!

The long weekend got off on the right foot with these 2 deliveries from N’s Mum.  There I was spring cleaning in the basement Thursday afternoon when the doorbell rang.

The lilies were closed until this morning.  Perfect timing!  Also brightening the holiday,

It’s on the kitchen table until I plant it out with the other hydrangea from Easters past.  My contribution to the family dinner was this Smartie-festooned from-scratch cake.

It’s the Joy of Cooking Devil’s Food Cockaigne, and fit my uncle’s bill for 100% chocolate.  The dinner was wonderful – Jamaican baked ham, plantain, rice & pigeon peas all had their places at the table, and it was just plain good to be with family this time of year.

In between posts, I’ve been knitting and listening to the Hunger Games books.  This FO is going straight to England, tomorrow, and is for baby cuz, Murray.

It’s a stretchy twine-knit number for his new home, Montreal.  I was inspired by Tiny Geek Crafter‘s KAL for endometriosis awareness this month.

Love that twine knitting!  Sooo warm & stretchy.  The yarns are Rowan Pure Wool DK for the yellow, and the lighter Rowan Pure Wool 4-ply in black.

Using the twine technique evened out the yarns.  My idea was based on the Blind Melon bee girl music video from back in the day.  These are the artsy parents, so they should be fine with a quirky hat for Mur-man.

Right at the end of January, I started the Beach House Pullover pattern by Mercedes Tarasovich-Clark.  After a couple of weeks, I stalled here.

I just needed the right mood for these all-over horseshoe cables.  What mood is that?  The kind that comes after a series of tests and a new diagnosis…   With audio books and podcasts, I am now mid-way through the front & the back is done.

In other words:  I rediscovered soothing repetition.  The calming effect of Cascade 220 yarn is not to be discounted either.

I do have a post to write for spinning exploits but want to share my first skein from the antique flax wheel with you.  Amazingly bouncy lace from a double-drive system!

It’s 369 yds of 2-ply yarn.  One ply is BFL, and the other is a BFL/silk blend.  Handspinning your own gives you these choices!