Friday, March 21, 2014

All the way from VA, it's Susan Gibbs!

I wish I could tell you how long I've been following Susan Gibbs of Juniper Moon Fiber Farm.  

Susan has such an awesome story. At one point she was a network news producer in New York City. It seems like I read somewhere that it was a morning show... I'm quoting from her website, so I won't presume to elaborate, but clearly she was unhappy. She says she walked away from that in search of 'a more authentic life' and told people that. Reading the book Storey's guide to Raising Sheep inspired her to become a shepherdess. I'm like you, I wonder if there wasn't more to it than that, like 'ranching is in her family or something'. America is a big place, lots of people have done lots of things, so it's totally plausible. It's also totally plausible that a book was all it took.

I actually started following her farm when she was operating as Martha's Vineyard Farm... she moved from there to Virginia in 2009. I can imagine life is quieter there compared with Martha's Vineyard, trying to raise animals that need pastoral scenes in a tourist destination can not have been easy. The farm had a couple of unique pieces that I appreciated: 1.) Lambcam lets you view life on the farm from your desk.  The first year I listened to a lot of chickens strolling the pen... people who get to see a new lamb being born in the pasture are named Aunties and Uncles. I often have the lambcam on in the background on my computer and when the afternoon gets long, her dog will walk past the camera, BARK and wakes me up! 2.) Yarn Shares. You can actually buy an affordable share of the yarn crop each year, in either the form of YARN or the spinners share of FIBER. This is about as close to owning your own sheep without the having-to-shovel-sheep-poop part. It's funny that every yarn-crafter gets to that point where they wished they owned an animal that they could harvest their own wool, but the process of the care of the animal, sheering, cleaning, carding, spinning and dying the fiber are the unconsidered parts of 'adopting the puppy' that gets pushed aside in THAT dream ~ all done away with in this plan.

So, as you can see (I hope I've conveyed it) I have admired Susan and Juniper Moon Farm.  

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you'll remember my post about going to the Seattle Mariner's Stitch & Pitch and getting to meet Nicky Epstein. I don't think I realized at that time, how truly wonderful that experience was. I sought her out after she threw out the first pitch, and she was just waiting at a table in her assigned spot and THERE WAS NO ONE between her and I, so she could see me with my copy of her book from afar and how excited I was to get to see her. I was literally doing a little fan-girl dance and she did one, too. 

Susan threw out the first pitch at this last years game. I was there and tried to get up to the booth where Susan was greeting everyone but so was everyone else. They sold a lot of tickets to knitters and crocheters, so I have to assume all 3,000 of them were there to see her, too.

A couple of weeks ago, I started seeing posts from Susan on Facebook that she had a 'tour of the West' coming up. I watched those posts to see how close to me she would be, was it possible I could day-trip to wherever she would be? She posted a map of her route, and low and behold she was coming to MY NEIGHBORHOOD. I immediately researched all the shops in my area to see where she would be stopping for a trunk show (this is when a yarn vendor, author or designer brings their wares to show the patrons of a local yarn shop) and could not find anyone with this opportunity listed in their calendars or upcoming events. It wasn't until Susan or one of her helpful helpers posted the actual shops (I think it was in the Ravelry group for the farm) she would be stopping at, with their addresses and times that I figured out she would be at a local shop after I closed the office and made a mad dash downtown.
Susan Gibbs on the Right. I'm holding a skein
of Findley Dappled that came home with me
(it seemed to call me by name),
as well as another skein I hope to design a
brimmed summer hat with.

Naturally, I was in the office longer than most days. Naturally, I didn't give myself time to eat anything before I left the house like I should have, knowing my diabetes would try to get the best of me. Naturally, I lost my adventure buddy on the way there simply because I don't know this area still after being here 2 and half years. So, of course and NATURALLY, I looked awful. Don't look at the lady on the left very closely, if you don't wish to give yourself indigestion. But know this from my heart: When I walked up to her and put my hand out and said, Hi, Susan, my name is.... She screeched and recognized me over the sound of my own beating heart, and made my day. 

We have made plans to see each other again later this year...

I should, by now, have the thought of mind to put together a little something and come back to you with an interview or something. After all this time, admiring the work of someone for long periods of time and KNOWING they don't know us as well as we think we know them, it continues to blow my mind when someone says 'I see your posts on Facebook all the time and you keep me informed about everything knitting.' It was the same at Stitches West in Santa Clara a couple of weeks ago. Maybe someday I will get over my own smallness and have something wonderful to share with you. I'm not there yet. I will continue to stretch my self so that you have something wonderful to read about all things Happy Knitting when you stop by my posts. I just want to post at this time, I got to meet her, it was wonderful, and we will be doing it again.

Thank you.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Knitted Cheerios!

There was an article in the Knitters Magazine K104 (2011) that spoke about  this little tool. It was referred to as an i-cord machine in the article (which I keep typing as cHord, you'd never know I like music at all) -- I found if you were to Google it, there's a couple of different names - I've found listings as French knitting machine or knitting mill. The brand they show is Embellish Knit by Bond. (Patent Pending and Made in China.)

Of course, just for fun, I ran right out and bought it. 
It is totally coincidental that it's purple. That is my story and I'm sticking to it.

It basically is a four-needle knitting machine, rather than a set of 100+ on a flat bed of a knitting machine. The needles resemble a rug hook, in that it's a hook (deeper than a crochet hook, seriously a HOOK) with a free-swinging opposable thumb. I call it free-swinging, because it is the natural way of the movement of the needles that makes the thumb do it's job, there is no mechanism that makes it close the hook, which is almost mesmerizing to watch.

The article in the magazine accompanied two sets of patterns, hat and scarf sets, and the next issue featured a couple of cowls. 

Silly me, I tried to knit with it.


I got out the largest of my circulars, swatched and started a top-down raglan.  Two things made me stop. First, I was using a size 13, which was obviously still too small a needle -- it was too tight and stiff, as in could have stood itself in a closet without the hanger. Secondly, the quantity of the fiber that I was using would have accomplished a short jacket. Short stiff jackets don't particularly appeal to me.

So, it went into hibernation for a bit. 

Now let me explain about this process of making the cord. It's similar to spinning and creating a strand, but, in contrast, a spinner gets to sit. You COULD sit, but you don't have the drop from raised hands to lap to make any length. So, beginning by standing: I seem to be more comfortable standing at the end of my kitchen counter, my spool on my left, the knit-mill held in my left hand with the incoming thread held loosely in that hand. The strand goes in at the top, loosely thread and a bit of fiddling, cranking slowly to get it started with my right hand. I did see a post of someone using an electric drill to crank VERY QUICKLY... I can't see that this would work with this particular model. 

Once it's on its way, there's a weighted clip, like a heavy clothes-pin that pulls the cord through the machine which helps make a smoothly stitched cord. Cranking for 10 minutes or so (I think that's probably slower than my moderate pace) the cord will reach the floor, the whole time spinning clockwise, which is the reason I stand. If just left to sit on the floor and NOT free-swinging, it just twists up on itself. 

So, for me, it's a process of crank for a few minutes till the weight hits the floor, wind the i-cord into a ball, as near the knitting-mill as can be tolerated, fasten so it doesn't unroll (I used a large cable needle to slip under the cords in the ball), clip the weight on it which is absolutely necessary until the ball is of a weight that it will free swing with enough tension to pull the cord smooth while cranking. 

Tools I use: The Purple items came with the knitting machine
included the weighted clip and a yarn needle with the notched
end which I combined with the the gold mini crochet hook
that helps pick up the dropped stitches that are just below the
hook. Scissors, measuring tape and mini pins to hold stitches
at the end of the cord without knotting until ends can be stitched
together. Large cable needle used to keep ball from unrolling.
I do think it pretty cool that the cord ends can be kitchener'd together rather than knotted (I hate knotting anywhere, of any kind, and try to do without it as much as possible). I cannot imagine trying to weave in these ends...

After 'sitting in time-out' for a long while, OK, YEARS, I got to thinking about it and thought, is size 13 really the largest needles I own? Having recently started organizing the one end of the unused second bedroom, I remember seeing a couple of what I would have thought of in the 70's as Broomstick needles. I got them out from their separate locations ~ they recognized each other as kindred spirits immediately, and after cleaning with a soft cloth said they were ready to go!  Their little red caps at the ends announced them as size 32.

Let me admit, when I got that stiff jacket out and frogged it (or ripped it out) I had considered using the i-cord as arm-knitting. I tried several times over a couple of days, but either it is too fine for that, or still not the right texture, it became uncomfortable to use as it gets hot under those stitches. Also, until you bind off, you cannot put your knitting down. I tried to chase a dog-gone-psycho which was one of those failed attempts... Of course I was trying to do about three to four times the recommended number of stitches, so my being uphappy with it may have had little to do with the success others have with Arm Knitting. The size 32 needles just fell right into place, the stitches slipped on and off nicely.  By the way, I get a gauge of about 7, yep, SEVEN stitches to four inches in a row. The fabric has a lofty, feather-light and airy feel about it.

So casting on 75 stitches has created a fabric about 48 inches wide. I'm going to knit till I run out of this thread, or just before and perhaps border it with i-cord i-cord. Yes, that was redundant, but if it's an i-cord border knit of i-cord, what would you call it?

Let me say there are some drawbacks. I don't believe the construction of this little machine was meant for such big projects. Being plastic, I wore a grove in the protective cylinder where the thread goes through. It may have been designed to only create enough cord to make French closures or Frog closures.  I'm not a fan of tiny, fiddly projects so you may be able to understand why I went where I did. You may notice the clear cylinder of my machine is dusty, which is not actually dust but fiber from the thread off the cone. It has kind of a cotton feel, as if it was originally intended for weaving. I've wiped it out the best I can, but it requires a cotton swab which didn't really help much. I'm also pretty sure if I do a second project with it, I will have to figure out how to oil it without greasing whatever fiber I put through there. I would like to find perhaps a vintage knitting mill as I saw when I Googled the machine originally, perhaps that may prove a little more long lasting.
Now, I've come to the end of my post (I may come back if I can create a video of how the cording process works for me and a finished picture of the project) and you are asking 'Why call this post Knitted Cheerios?' Take a good look at the next picture.... What do those finished stitches remind you of? Do they NOT remind you of the texture of your morning cereal?

And what will become of this project once it's finished? If there is nothing more worthy of this project, I think it will make a perfect Linus Blanket. I'm not sure if they will accept it as they don't want things loopy or loosely knit. I don't think of it as loose, but they may find it so, and I may end up bringing it home again.

 Happy knitting!