I have a raw fleece. Now what?

A work friend gave me an interesting gift a few months back.  A raw fleece.  She has a friend who raises Dorsets and was around when Billy the lamb was being sheared.  She collected the fleece and thought I would like it.  That she thought of me totally made my day.  I've never had a fleece before.  

Now I've got this fleece at home and I have no idea what to do with it. I googled and, well, my stuff looks like a very dirty bag of stuffing, not a flat coat removed from a sheep.  So much for those skirting instructions.

So I crack open a beer and take the fleece outside.  It's got a lot of VM (vegetable matter) on it and it's pretty dirty.  I get to work and start separating the really bad stuff from the rest.  


I intend to send it to a processor for washing and carding into something I can spin or if it's not suitable for that, then wool batting for a pillow or a quilt (I don't quilt, but I can learn, or give it to someone who does).  With that in mind, how clean does it have to be?  It doesn't appear to have been skirted or if it was, this was a happy dirty lamb.

I worked on it for a bit and here's what I have:

What I started with:


What I plan to keep for processing:


What I plan to compost:


There's lots more to pick through.  Am I doing this right?  Being too picky?  Not picky enough? Wasting my time?

Let me know.  I'm planning to drop it at the Royal Winter Fair next weekend and am happy to talk with the processors, but also don't want to seem totally clueless.

All About Kates

I took a spinning class with Jacey Boggs Faulkner at Rhinebeck.  My first class since learning to spin.  It was a nice way to kick myself back into spinning and during the class I realized I wanted a better Lazy Kate, as mine are both fine, but not all that great.

My preference is for an angled Kate, something compact as space is limited and I would like to take it with me if I go on spinning adventures. Pretty is also important--nice tools make for nice experiences.

Here's what's made the short list.  I would love recommendations, comments on my choices, suggestions etc.  


Love the look of this one and that all the pieces go into the case.  It's also beautiful and the most expensive.  I like that it holds 4 bobbins (not that I've ever made 4-ply, but I might want to some day).

Kate 45 

Simple design, nice looking and would do the trick.  Downsides are the weight (it would cost a mint in shipping) and it's not portable.

Kate 45 - Portable Lazy Kate - Maple

Ogledesign Kate

Smaller than the TravelKate, similar design but not as pretty.  I read one review that notes it bounces a bit due to the fold-back design.  Price point is good.  Like how everything folds away for storage.

Lazy Kate - Cherry

I'm also looking at the Anything But Lazy Kate but think it's too big and fiddly.  There are too many options and pieces.  I like compact and simple.  If you love this one, and I'm mistaken, let me know.


Anything But Lazy Kate by Nancy's Knit Knacks 

If I could find a Will Taylor Clever Kate--I would buy it.  Not as flat as the others, but it comes highly recommended.  I'm told he retired.

Clever Kate, pegs stored in base

Any other Kates I'm missing?  I'm also considering making one myself, but it definitely won't be as pretty as any of these.

Spinning Spa

Last month I had some time alone.  Craig was away on business, Emma and Xander were away at camps and I had a whole week alone at home.  

(I'm just going to let that sink for those of you who never get a moment to yourself.)

I had to work, but was absolved of the responsibilities for life at home.  I managed to stave off malnutrition (seriously, there is no motivation to cook for one; I ate a lot of popcorn), watch far too many episodes of The Good Wife, went on a bit of a running binge (I ran seven days in a row) and got my fibre groove back.

I started a sweater (which just needs a zipper to be finished), finished Xander's socks AND took some fibre out for a spin.  I had no plan for the fibre except for it to join me on a relaxation exercise.

This is a Grafton Batt from the deep stash.   


Check out the colours (I could already feel myself getting calmer as I rolled out the fibre for the photos). 


There are so many colours in there. 


I sat at the wheel and made a soft, fat single.  Slow spinning.  Watching the colours.  


I was thinking it would be a lovely single, but it was a bit too loose and fat, so I decided to ply it (but not too tight).  I've been very wound up for a number of reasons and I was trying to make this yarn be what I needed to be: relaxed, calm, soft and a bit bouncy. 


I think I got it. 




Once it was dry I started on a cowl.  A relaxing project for a relaxing spinning project.  



Review: Custom Socks - Knit to Fit Your Feet

It's HERE!

Kate Atherley's new, fabulous book that will become THE guide to making socks that fit your feet (and the feet of anyone you wish to knit for).  

Custom Socks

I have been waiting for her book since I had the privilege of reading a very early draft a few years back.  Kate knew that I've had some troubles making socks to fit the growing-boy in my life and her advice has made me a better sock knitter and ensures Xander will have the hand-knit socks he loves.  

Full disclosure: Kate is a personal friend--we share a love of good beers, spreadsheets and general geekery.

I know I sound a bit fan-girl about this book, but I can't help it--it has DATA (and I love data).

For this book, Kate conducted an online survey of sorts, asking knitters of the internet to provide foot measurements--lots of measurements from lots of feet.  She used this information and her clever math skills to determine the dimensions of an "average" foot.  Kate noticed that a lot of feet had similar proportions: foot length to foot circumference, heel diagonal to foot circumference etc.  Using this information she was able to provide both a standard sock construction (in a bunch of sizes and gauges) and could also provide instructions for "outlier" feet to customize the fit.

Custom Socks - The Wellington Road Sock beauty image - Copy

Her research is outlined in the book and it's the basis for what amounts to about 100 standard socks patterns fitting children through to adults (with large feet like Xander's) in a range of gauges in both top-down and toe-up configurations AND a guide to knitting the socks that work for any foot you can measure.

Like all of Kate's books, measuring and planning is everything.  Custom Socks provides detailed instructions on how to measure a foot and determine where the not-so-average parts are.  She takes a gentle approach for the measuring- and math-shy, walking the reader through her method in an easy-to-read fashion with good visuals.  Knowing the foot you are knitting for makes all the difference and by following her guide you can plan for the problem spots and knit a sock that fits.  The book has lots of advice that isn't measurement dependent including where to add reinforced stitches to prevent premature wear, how to choose the right yarn and how to break the rules when needed (e.g. if your feet aren't the same size, knit two different socks!)

There are also chapters on Yarn, Needles and Gauge and Adding Stitch Patterns which is where Kate starts showing her beautiful designs--plain socks are great, but sometimes a knitter wants to have some fun and these patterns don't disappoint.  


Patterns for lace, cables, stitch patterns, fair isle and the most amazing knee socks are in this book (I've already purchase my yarn to make these).  

Custom Socks_v1_actualbook_Page_179 - Copy

Makes your knitting heart sing...right?

The final portion of the book is all about customization.  Kate takes some of the more common non-average situations and provides expert advice on how to customize a sock to fit: skinny and shapely legs, larger and smaller ankles, low and high arches (my sock nemesis, we meet again) and toe shaping (bet you haven't considered that one before--I certainly didn't).  Again, the book takes a guided approach to the measuring and math, walking the knitter through the steps to determine a solution to the sock knitting issue.  

Kate's approach can be a bit of tough medicine: you have to measure, and swatch and plan before jumping into a project (even the simple sock) but the payoff is worth it--you make beautiful socks that fit, you rip less and you become a better knitter.

Want some proof?  Kate has been tutoring me on how to make a sock to fit Xander.  He has size 12 feet thin legs and an enormous instep (seriously, that's a 7.5" dpn), and he has socks that fit!


I've already measured Emma's foot for her next pair of socks and was almost disappointed to find out her feet and absolutely average--I wanted to take Custom Socks through the full method for this review.  Then I realized, knowing this was just as good.  I can knit the standard sock for her foot and be confident it'll fit and I'll have a happy kid in Spock Socks (yarn is Live Long and Prosper by Turtlepurl).

Custom Socks is an excellent addition to any sock-knitter's library.  And a great guide for a new-to-socks-knitter or the sock-knitting wary.  I highly recommend it.


Remember way back in the Fall when I mentioned I would stop colouring me hair and see what my natural colour was?  It's done and it's pretty spectacular.


Aside from my regrowth roots, I estimate that I haven't seen my natural hair colour since just after I had Alexander in 2000.  I cut it very short and then in a fit of sleeplessness and a "OMG I have two children" moment, I bleached it (which turned it pumpkin orange) and then tried to fix it (which thankfully, the sleep deprivation has wiped the results of that out of my memory) and I've been colouring it ever since.

When I made this decision (inspired by the fabulously awesome Julia Farwell-Clay) I went looking for photos of women in their 40s with grey hair.  There aren't many--though there are a million photos of Jamie Lee Curtis who looks amazing--so I thought I would take a picture after each hair cut so that those of you considering this could see how the grow-out goes.

Having pixie-short hair makes this an easier process.  I made the decision in October and I was 99% colour free by June, completely natural after my July 29th cut.  I get my hair cut every 5-6 weeks (which seems economical since I stopped paying for professional colour) so it's a fairly fast process.

October (just had a cut and colour for Rhinebeck):

Brandied orange

In mid-December my stylist suggested adding light blonde highlights just to the top to even things out and hide the obvious root line.  It looked great, but I probably could have skipped this step.  It was December and cold and I usually have my head covered.  I think I panicked a bit.


January: sorry for the bad lighting. I really have just a bit of re-growth and I discover I'm not as grey on top as I am on the sides.


March: mostly blonde on top.  Stylist kept the top longer to maximize my colour investment.


April: sides and back are natural, still have blonde colour on top.  It did look a bit weird by this point, but the fabulous white streak I discovered in the front made up for it.


I just happened to get the chance to have some professional head-shots done a few days later (and the photographer insisted on a knitting one!).  I'm still mostly blonde on top.  


May: I started loving my hair at this point. It was a mix of grey and blonde and I started getting it cut shorter which I personally prefer.  I was feeling good about my decision to ditch the colour.


June: I'm grey.  Both greyer than I thought and perhaps, not grey enough.  My natural colour is pure ash-blah.  I remember when my hair went from blonde to this non-colour and how washed out I used to look.  The silver gives it a pop and I like it, but it there are moments where I feel I look old or perhaps not so stylish (dowdy would the word fashionable people might use, but that's too-judgemental--greying men don't get told they look dowdy.)


That white streak is amazing though.

July: My hair is natural and pretty fantastic.  I like it.  I really like colouring my hair for fun, but feel much better not HAVING to colour my hair to hide the grey or maintain a shade that isn't mine. Natural hair colour has far more depth and shade going on--I'm a hand-dyed yarn compared to a commercially-dyed one :)

I also like the quiet (or perhaps not so quiet) fuck you to gendered ideas about aging that comes with showing my grey.  I was referred to as "the silver haired woman" recently and after the hit of feeling old, I decided it was an okay description because there aren't many silver-haired 45 year old women around. 


If I get bored, I can add some colour.  Something fun and completely unnatural.  I'm thinking electric blue.  



*I just have to say that those books and that movie have totally messed with my desire to use the term shades of grey to refer to my hair.  A quick google tells me that grey is the newest trend and all the cool kids are dyeing their hair.  WTF?

Since I last Blogged

Work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work...

Attended lots of year end school things for the kids including Emma's fabulous school dance night:


And Xander's music night and honour roll night and volunteer recognition event:



Work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work.  

Then Emma performed in her musical theatre show.  She was Maisy from Suessical (here she is with her besties--she did all their makeup):


Then more work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work work until I started to get grumpy.  

I did sneak in some knitting, but sometimes not for days at a time which makes me kinda sad because knitting is a thing that makes me happy and when I'm really busy, it slows me down.

The good news is, on my birthday I unpinned this scarf from the blocking board.  It was a treat for me purchased at the Toronto Knitter's Frolic (after a week of 15 hour days!).  The yarn is from Shirley Brian and it comes in a plastic take out tub.  It's a four ply cotton and at intervals, one thread is swapped out for the next colour giving it the nice striped effect.  I knit the pattern that came with it--Mariner--and it was just detailed enough to keep me awake after all the work work work work work.



Perfect for summer (I'm on a navy kick so it works with my wardrobe nicely).


Will work be less crazy this month?  Hopefully.  It's summer and I want to enjoy it.

Knit Worthy

Last weekend the whole family got together to surprise my cousin France for her 50th birthday. It really was the whole family. France is one of eight kids and she has lots of nieces and nephews, aunts, cousins, in-laws etc.

It was a great weekend, she was totally surprised and it was fantastic to see my extended family.

France is totally knit worthy. And 50 is a knit worthy birthday.

France took me to see my first concert, Corey Hart. I was 14 and she was 19. Even though she lived in Cochrane and I lived in Thunder Bay (the big city) she was pretty cool. We hung out and she didn't treat me like a lousy kid.

Now, when five years doesn't matter, we always have fun together. She is easy going, loves to do anything, laughs easily and enjoys life. She doesn't knit and probably couldn't sit still long enough to learn, but she appreciates the craft and knows that it's a skill that requires time to master. She often covets my knitting, so this year was time to make her something.

I found the perfect yarn at the Knitter's Frolic. A gorgeous chameleon sock gradient box from Indigodragonfly.

I decided Unicorn Stripes would be an easy to knit, yet lovely pattern to show off the gradients. And I got to knitting a few hours after the Frolic.

The knitting was fun and easy. The yarn is delicious.

The finished cowl is gorgeous. This one was hard to give away.

The box and lovely poem from Ron of Indigodragonfly (a five line poem for each 5-colour set) make for pretty packaging.

France's reaction: totally knit worthy.


Challenge and Reward

I had a challenging week. The good kind of challenging where I got to stretch myself, try new things, learn stuff and remember that I really like my job. But it was also a sixty hour week where I was ON for three days and I was exhausted at the end.

I dragged myself to The Knitter's Frolic and I'm glad I did. Being around knitters and the yarn was restorative. I got to see my knitting peeps and get inspired with new yarn and projects.

I'm sorry if I didn't chat very much when I saw you. I was seriously done with being social. I actually used up all my extroverted self (and if you know me, you'll find that staggering). We should get together and knit some time and I'll make it up to you.

My favourite purchase was a Tornadoz gradient box from Indigodragonfly.

The colours glow. I started an easy cowl and am in the second colour already. I needed a new project to celebrate Spring and getting through my challenge. (It doesn't glow in the dark though--trust me it's beautiful.)


Slow Scarfing

I'm a product knitter. I like having finished pieces. I like blocking and seaming and weaving in ends because they represent getting something done, and the opportunity to start another new project.

But some knits start out great and then lose their appeal. The pattern is too complicated for my current headspace or I like the finished project but not the knitting itself. Or the yarn/needle combination isn't right. Or I start a heavy mohair thing in April and can't stand to touch it when the weather warms up (I could probably start a mohair King sized blanket this year because it's never going to get warm).

The beautiful Kirkingwood Paisley shawl I'm working on is one of those slow projects. I feel in love with it the moment I saw it (Fiona was knitting it on my couch the first time we met in person*) and bought the pattern and Indigodragonfly yarn as soon as it was available at the 2014 Knitter's Frolic.

I realize that it's almost been a year since I started the scarf and I'm wanting it's beautiful red silkiness around my neck and I'm only 41 rows into a 70 row pattern. This is slow scarfing. I'm making the biggest size and it takes almost an hour to knit a row.

It's not really a pick up, knit a bit and go stir the soup kind of knit. That's okay, there should be long, slow, meticulous patterns. They're good for the brain and they make very pretty things. Just look at how some cables and lace make paisleys--genius.

To get this done, I'm following some advice I read from some wise knitter: spend 10 minutes a day on the stalled projects to move them along. I don't get to this one all the time, but much like the trick I play on myself to run when I don't want to, just picking up and committing to only a short time with this knit is resulting in some beautiful and enjoyable knitting.

Will I have it done by this year's Frolic? Probably not, but will it sit in the basket for years? Nope. Only 30 rows before the garter stitch. I freakin love garter stitch...

*I don't randomly invite fabulous knitting designers to my house--we have mutual friends who were visiting and we all like good yarn and good beers. Though on reflection, I should invite more people like Fiona over because good things happen.