November WIPs and Digital Detox

Settling in for the coziest week of the year.

The past few days on the farm have been very cozy. Temperatures have dropped and daily fires have been keeping us warm. The path to the barn is littered with still-colorful leaves and the sheep are burying their woolly heads in the hay feeders, searching for the best morsels of clover and grass.

It is finally time to revel in wool!! During small breaks throughout my day, I’m working on the Windsor Warmer by Cecily Glowik MacDonald from the Interweave book New England Knits.

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It’s a scarf. A rectangle-shaped scarf.

I usually have strong feelings about knitting rectangles. As in, I don’t do it. Because rectangles are so. boring. They’re depressingly the same from beginning to end and they are so rectangular. Ugh. I’m bored just thinking about it.

This pattern, however, is knit from side to side. It’s still a rectangle, but I’ll be knitting less than 50 rows, start to finish and that seems somehow more achievable. I can say this confidently now because the 240+ stitch cast-on happened a few days ago (with the help of some rum) and has been wiped from my memory.

The scarf is all lace, and the thought of 240+ stitch rows of lace did cause mild panic. I mentally gathered all of my most functional stitch markers and prepared for some fiddly knitting. However – Madam Glowik MacDonald is a benevolent genius, and the pattern includes columns of ribbing in between each lace repeat. Built in stitch markers!

IMGP3011It has been a good long while since I’ve knit any serious lace and I am already looking forward to blocking the finished scarf. The anticipated satisfaction is enough to keep my motivation high! Also, the yarn is glorious…far more complex than you can see in the photos (hey, Red, what you gotta be like that??). This is my second project using Flock Fibre, which is dyed in Canada by lovely women, and I am looking forward to having an excuse to purchase more. The colorway is Geranium Kisser, which I am told is a reference to another lovely Canadian, Anne of Green Gables.

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My second project is quite a bit more local. Though Bill has sheared our sheep for the past four years, I haven’t yet made him anything with our own wool. His favorite pair of socks are handspun from a down wool roving, so I promised him another pair before winter really took hold. He was noncommittal when I asked what color he’d like…he’s really so agreeable on sock colors. I asked him to close his eyes, clear his head, and tell me about some of his favorite things. Immediately, he decided his socks should be orange and brown like our bedroom.

I dyed 6 ounces of Southdown roving from our sheep, and spun it into a traditional three-ply a few months ago. I’m knitting a toe-up sock with the standard Bizarro Bill Feet Modifications, and have just finished the heel on the second sock (which is four stitches smaller than the first sock, and yet still a bigger sock…spinning consistency? meh).

They are going quite quickly as the yarn is pretty thick. My standard Bill sock is 68-72 stitches, but these are 52. Also, handspun. Also, orange and brown. Also, MY OWN SHEEP!

My last knitting WIP is a raglan sweater for coziness. The pattern is Clarke Pullover by Jane Richmond, and I’ve knit it before. I enjoy the construction and clear directions. The gray yarn has been reclaimed from a wonky sweater I never wore, and I think it’s Dream in Color…worsted weight?? The accent stripes are three Muppet colorways from Another Crafty Girl on her Merino Worsted base – #1 Fan, BWACK!, and Boomerang Fish. I love Sarah’s yarn and I race through the gray so I can knit another stripe with her gorgeous colors.

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Finally, I have delightful spinning on the wheel. I finished this 2 oz of Tuesdays at Three on Finn from Three Waters Farm a few weeks ago, and I’m nearly done with the last 2 oz. The fiber really wants to be spun thinly, but I don’t mind. I’ll chain-ply this second half as well, and hopefully have matching socks.

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I should make a ton of progress on all these projects over the next week, as it is our annual Digital Detox week. Each year, during the week of Thanksgiving, Bill and I turn off all our electronic devices and disconnect from media, social networks, and advertising. The quiet and slow-pace that results really complements a holiday focused on gratitude, and encourages us to be mindful about all the gifts and good things in our lives. It also serves as a vacation of sorts. The farm severely limits our ability to travel, so disconnecting from the noise of daily life provides needed respite. I always feel restored and energized after our unplugged week.

I am preparing a blog post to self-publish while we’re offline though, because technology can be pretty cool. I find, though, that I often need to remind myself that all these digital wonders are tools to help me accomplish goals, they are not a force to guide or control my life. Giving them up for a week helps me keep technology from asserting undue influence over my daily routine.

So, for the next week I’ll be quietly manipulating wool, cooking cozy meals, and staring pensively into the wood stove. It’s my favorite way to usher in winter.

Autumn Afternoon on the Farm

Today is the perfect, sunny fall day for lounging on the ground and taking 152 photos of the sheep and goats as they lazily chew cud and soak up the sun. I have to share it with you! I hope you can feel the tranquility and contentment from the simple pleasure of having nice hay, a safe pasture, and the smallest autumn breeze.

Knitting Socks for Bill’s Bizarro Feet

Tips for sock knitters who love someone with strange feet.

My husband Bill is my favorite person in the world, but his feet are kind of a sock-knitter’s nightmare. They are wide and big (US Men’s 13), change drastically in thickness from the pads of his feet to his instep, and his toes seem as if they were cobbled together from multiple people (or trolls) of varying sizes.

For the feet squeemish among you, I promise, I won’t show you a picture. There are some things the internet just does not need to catalog.

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Fortunately for Bill, I am a patient and determined sock knitter. After making him five or six pairs of serviceable – but not dreamy – socks, and asking him hundreds of questions about fit, I’ve created a few modifications that result in happy socks for his feet, and less guessing/stressing during the knitting process.

 

All the yarns pictured here are the Viso base from Desert Vista Dyeworks. It is a thinner fingering weight yarn, 75% Merino, 25% Nylon, approx 460 yards to 4 oz. These parameters are similar for many Indie dyers who offer sock yarn. I also knit all of Bill’s socks from the toe up.

IMGP1645To start, all Bill’s socks are knit with some sort of ribbing from the cuff to the toe. I typically do a K1 P1 ribbing for the cuff, and switch to K4 P2 for the leg and foot. The K1 P1 cuff keeps the top of the sock from flaring out or rolling.

The ribbing is important because it stretches well over the wider parts of Bill’s dynamic feet, and hugs in tight around the thinner parts. I knit ribbing around the whole leg of the socks, but only on the top part of the foot. The sole of the foot is plain stockinette.

For the very widest parts of Bill’s feet (his insteps, which are 2 inches bigger around than the balls of his feet), I add a few stitches for more room. In the last 1.5 inches before his heel, I increase a total of 12 stitches, (from 72 stitches to 84). Some increases are on the sides of the sock, where a gusset would be, and some are on the top of the foot hidden in the purls of the ribbing. I do a simple lifted increase in pattern, adding two or four stitches every 8 rows. These extra stitches mimic the added room of a gusset, which I am disinclined to knit for such big socks. A short-row or afterthought heel feels like less of a time commitment and, therefore, makes it easier to combat Second Sock Syndrome, but it doesn’t leave enough room for those two extra inches of circumference. The added stitches are a good compromise.IMGP0891

Finally, the biggest and most dramatic modification I make to Bill’s socks is to knit him anatomically matching toes. The difference between the top of Bill’s big toe, and the top of his smallest toe is nearly 2.25 inches. (For comparison, on my feet – which are perfect – the difference is .75 inches.)

Trying to fit a symmetrical rounded or wedge toe on the insane slope from one side of his foot to the other results in a lot of tightness over his big toe, and a lump of loose fabric over his small toe. It’s not very comfortable, and the pressure from his big toe causes increased wear with a greater chance of holes. The only darning I’ve had to do for Bill’s socks is over his big toe.

IMGP0489To create the shape of a sloping toe, you just have to do more increases on one side of the sock than on the other. There are many different options and formulas for doing so, and I’ve included my recipe below. The only problem with having distinct left and right socks, is that if one gets (temporarily) misplaced, it can be more difficult to cobble together a mismatched pair of socks on The Morning Before Laundry Day as you’re running late for work.

I hope this is helpful for any knitters who are struggling to understand a loved one’s problematic feet topography. If you have any questions or tips of your own, please share them in the comments. We brave knitters must band together and cover the world’s oddest feet with colorful and fun socks!

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Anatomical Toe Formula for Big Bill’s Bizarro Feet
(note – I knit 72 stitches on Bill’s socks. Modify these numbers to your preferred stitch count. Also, these instructions assume you are familiar with toe-up sock construction.)

using Judy’s Magic Cast On and double-point needles, cast on 24 stitches (6 on each needle).

Increase 4 stitches each round (like a standard rounded toe), until the number of stitches is doubled – 48 stitches, 12 per needle. (In the photo above, this is the red stripe.)

Knit one plain round without increasing.

Start shaping the toe, by increasing on one side only. (In the photo above, this the the area in the purple brackets.)

Increase round: Knit 1, increase 1 (I do “knit front and back”), knit to one stitch before the end of the round, increase 1, knit 1.

Work two increase rounds and then one plain round. Continue until you reach the desired number of stitches. Your toe is complete!

If you are knitting a pattern sock (not just stockinette), make sure your second sock has the opposite orientation of your first, so you have one right foot and one left foot! I work my toes the same for both feet, but knit an extra half of a round for my second sock before I start the ribbing for the top of the foot. I double check the second sock against the first at least three times, because I am paranoid about knitting two left feet!!

Shop Update Nov. 1 – New Yarn!

There are so many things in tomorrow’s shop update (11/1 at 8 pm Eastern) that I’ve considered hoarding for myself. These two batts, for example, keep trying to convince me that want to jump on my wheel right now and be plied together. It’s the blue silk that’s killing me, and I’m always a sucker for brown.

 

Both these batts have wool that was dyed with walnuts foraged from around our farm. Dusty Cowboy (left) also includes acid dyes, but Walnuts and White (right) is all naturally dyed browns mixed with undyed wool and silk noil.

There are three green colorways that feature different moods and a variety of textures. Extra Sprinkles (left) evokes vibrant frosting colors and has loads of pink silk noil. White Fir (top right) is muted, clear blues and greens with deep blue and green sari silk. Brine (lower right) has a base of mucky, swampy green blended with sea foam and periwinkle blue.

 

Peaches, plums, and vibrant purples have made it to the update as well! (Clockwise from the set of minis) Walnut Palette is walnut brown with warm autumn shades. Gentle is a base of light gray with coral, sea foam, and periwinkle. Clay is a gradient from soft yellow to brick red. Vibrant purple Mountains Majesty has magenta sari silk. Wine Grapes may be my favorite from the update with a moody, melancholy purple and deep reds. Finally, Conch Shell is a swirl of peach and coral. Let me know if you can hear the ocean when you hold it to your ear!

 

The last batt I have to share is the first colorway I carded for the update, and the only one I planned before I started dying: Silver and Gold. It has red and green sari silk and lots of sparkle. You can’t do a colorway called “Silver and Gold” and leave out the sparkle! There are rules!!

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There will be braids in the update as well – primarily in Superwash Targhee. I started dying outlandish, lively colors and couldn’t stop!

 

These vibrant tones may have been dyed to balance out the piles of walnut-dyed yarn I was previously working with. I’ve been wanting to dye yarn with farm-grown and foraged materials for a while, but wasn’t inspired by standard, widely-available yarn bases. It was really exciting to find Indie Undyed, which offers yarn in unique wools and has no minimum for wholesale ordering. They also sell retail, if you’re looking to do some dying for personal use.

The first yarns I’ll have available are walnut dyed gradients in Aran weight Shetland wool (left), and DK weight Corriedale wool (right).

 

There will also be a few skeins of Whitefaced Woodland yarn, dyed in solid browns. It is a woolen spun, 3-ply, and though it is classified as DK weight, it seems thin enough to make socks. Because Whitefaced Woodland doesn’t felt, and is a more toothy wool, socks are an excellent application for this rare breed. There will be two shades of brown available.

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The shop update is Wednesday, November 1 at 8 pm Eastern. All items will be available at KnitSpinFarm.etsy.com.

Now, I’m going to  head out into the cold sunshine to collect the last of the walnuts for the year and document how I turn them into dye for an upcoming blog post. See you soon!

J.

Walnuts!

Our walnut trees produce a large number…like, an insanely large number…of green-husked walnuts the size of an overlarge golf ball.

IMGP3231Our old farm includes a stand of tall, mature black walnut trees. I don’t know when in the 150 year history of our farm they were planted, or what the people who planted them hoped they’d become…but I love the trees and am so grateful to the previous owners who had the foresight and patience to give us this gift.

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When we first moved to our farm, the acre of grass around the trees had been mowed regularly, and the stand was very park-like. We’d get frequent visits from local logging companies asking if we wanted to sell the trees. Mature black walnut trees can be turned into big bucks and our little forest was very inviting. When we looked up the value of the trees online, we were tempted to allow some selective harvesting – after all, our old farmhouse needed (and, ten years later, still needs) a lot of expensive attention. Instead, we decided to wait and think of our little walnut grove as a long-term savings account.

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We didn’t mow the grass around the trees. Neither Bill nor I have any affinity for grass or the disruptive noise and energy of lawnmowers, so our walnut forest started producing acres of black raspberry bushes, and we’d spend sticky summer afternoons among thorny vines acquiring scratches and gallons of tart berries. Walnut trees have a chemical called juglone in their branches, leaves, and roots. Juglone is quite mean to many plants which can’t grow under or near walnut trees as a result. Black raspberries don’t care about juglone, however, and the walnut trees provided a safe space for the raspberries to flourish.

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After a few years of growth, we put up a ring of electric fence around our walnuts, and let our sheep, goats, and lambs in to graze. They demolished all the vegetation they could find and the once impenetrable tangle of raspberry vines has become a cropped carpet of grass and weeds again. Goats love raspberry leaves but have little understanding of sustainable harvests.

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Our walnut trees produce a large number…like, an insanely large number…of green-husked walnuts the size of an overlarge golf ball. Inside the husk is an impossibly hard shell which protects the walnut morsels inside, and never – ever – decomposes.

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Red squirrels love walnuts like goats love raspberry leaves. Every autumn the small chipmunk-like rodents collect the nuts for their winter stores, creating huge piles of hard shells in my garage, woodshed, and, I assume, attic. When we pulled out the 1970s era plastic shower form in our bathroom a few years ago, there was a mass of holey walnut shells between it and the wall. The squirrels presumably gained access to the dark corners of our bathroom through the small gap around the shower drain leading into the basement.

If it sounds like these walnut trees are a burden (did I mention the ankle-twisting mine field of nuts I cross 8 times a day to get to the barn, or the thunderous clanks of nuts hitting the metal woodshed roof, or how scary it is to walk under a tree during strong autumn winds, or how the red squirrels have learned to use the nuts as projectile weapons?), I assure you they are not.

Behold:

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Black walnuts produce glorious wash-fast, light-fast natural dyes. You can dye wool, cotton, and your fingers without a mordant and even without applying heat. Walnut dye is one of the simplest, foolproof natural dyes available and can produce a range of delicious tans and browns. You can just throw a bunch of walnuts in a pot of water and add your wool. Wait a few hours or a few days, and pull the fiber out. Rinse (and rinse), and you’re done!

Adding a little more sophistication to the process will give you more repeatable or dynamic results – and I’ll write more about that next time!