Thursday, January 31, 2008

Contract Knitting and Winter Fun

My daughter and I have been knitting sherpa hats this week for a fellow alpaca breeder. They sent us a box full of yarn with loose directions to knit hats with ear flaps and tassels. This is what we've come up with so far. I'm not sure I would have chosen purple and yellow to go together exclusively, but apparently, those are the school colors where they live. Overall, I think the results are good, and we can proceed with the rest of the lot as soon as they look at the first shipment and give us the go ahead.

I'm so proud of my nearly 14 year old daughter. She can turn out a knitted sherpa in a single evening. She's not always motivated, but this time she's doesn't have to wait for the items to sell to get her money, so she's quite keen to get paid. It's a good lesson for her to learn--time is money--and she does good work in a short amount of time. She's got her procedure mapped out pretty well and I'll post it here for any interested knitters.

Materials: 250 yds. alpaca yarn DK or sport weight.
Size 7 circular needle (12-16 inch)
Size 7 double points
Tapestry needle

Holding 2 strands together during all knitting, cast on 98 stitches and join without twisting. Knit in stocking stitch for 35 rounds. Add any color patterns, cables, lace or knit/purl patterns you like. Decrease as follows: K12, K2tog around, knit 1 round plain. K11, K2tog around, knit 1 round plain. K10, K2tog around, knit 1 round plain. Continue in this fashion, changing over to double points when necessary. When you reach K5, K2tog, eliminate the plain round and decrease every round. Fasten off. This type of crown decrease will produce a swirl. If you prefer a straight decrease line, alternate K2tog with SSK every other decrease round.

Still holding two strands together, pick up 24 stitches along the bottom edge of the hat using one double point needle. Purl back. You will be knitting back and forth now. Begin decreasing on the stocking stitch side as follows: K1, K2tog, K to 3 stitches before end of row, K2tog, K1. Purl back. Continue these decreases until you have 12 stitches left on the needle and decrease on both the knit side and the purl side, one stitch in from the edge. When you have 4 stitches left, decrease the center two stitches and bind off all in the same row.

Pick up 24 stitches on the opposite side of the hat. Be sure that you pick up the stitches at least a third of the way back from the front so that the flaps will cover the ears and be far enough back from the eyes. (Flaps should NOT be centered, but towards the back of the hat.) Repeat above for second flap.

Finish the entire edge of the hat with a double or treble crochet edge. Wider is better, since stocking stitch rolls back on itself. Weave in all ends. Make cords and tassels using contrasting scrap yarn or the remaining yarn in the ball for the end of each ear flap and for the top. For the most durable finish, thread the cord through the flaps and the top, rather than sewing them on after the fact. We do knitted cord, twisted cord or braids and then leave a tasseled fringe on the bottom or attach a puff ball or other type of tassel. Traditional Peruvian sherpas have short cords and tassels, but Americans seem to prefer longer cords and heavier tassels. Your choice and your taste.

My youngest daughter and her friend spent nearly an entire weekend dressing up the cats in teddy bear clothes. Just another activity in their very busy winter social schedule. It's a good thing the cats are patient animals and tolerant of being dressed in drag.

Friday, January 18, 2008

A New Recipe with a Dash Update

It's 11 F (-11 C) today and light snow is just starting to fall. Oh look, can you see Dash? He's peeking over the fence to see who's coming out to impose on his day and he's not even wearing his blankie. His mama (the big white girl) is letting him nurse now, after two weeks of spitting him off and generally treating him like an annoying stranger after his illness. I don't know if there's any milk left for him to have, but I don't think it matters. He's done so much better than either the vet or I expected, although he's really small and the weight gain is painfully slow. The gray baby is a full two months younger than he is and has had a growth spurt over Christmas. She makes him look like a squirt.

I just have to post a new recipe that I tried out. I found it in a book called "Soup and Bread", by Crescent Dragonwagon. I thought the author's name was a little strange, but the book is marvelous. With it being the frozen days of winter here, I was glad to find a book dedicated to two of my favorite types of winter foods and without a lot of the odd ingredients that are so fashionable, expensive and hard to find like kombu, daikon, kuzu, mahimahi, seitan, among many others--I don't even know what most of these are and doubt that my family would eat them even if I did. This book offers pure home cooking with some healthy and flavorful twists and I just love it.

My current favorite is called Supreme of Chicken and Olive Soup. I had never heard of putting olives in soup before and it sounded intriguing so I took the chance of my family refusing to eat a bite of it and wasting all the good ingredients. Results? Everyone loved it and it's now on our favorite list. I served it with hot baking powder biscuits and cold green salad.

So here is it is for your consideration and use. Enjoy!

Supreme of Chicken and Olive Soup Eureka

4 c. chicken or vegetable stock
1 c. dry white wine
4 tbsp butter
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium carrot, peeled and diced
1 rib celery diced
5 tbsp flour
1/2 c. peas
1 1/2 c. milk or half and half
1/2 c. cooked rice
1/4 c. pitted olives cut into fat rounds
1/4 c. pimento stuffed green olives, sliced into fat rounds
3 c. chunked cooked chicken
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

1. In a soup pot, combine the chicken stock and wine and boil. Turn down heat and simmer.
2. In a skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until slightly softened. Add the carrot and and celery and saute, stirring, another 5 or 6 minutes.
3. Sprinkle the veg with flour and lower heat. Cook 2 minutes while stirring in the flour. Gradually stir in some of the stock mixture and then whisk in the thickened pan contents to the remainder of the stock. Simmer over very low heat for 20 minutes.
4. Add milk to soup. Add the peas along with the olives, rice, and chicken. Heat through and season to taste.

Pretty simple and basic--mostly just a home made cream of chicken soup. I used 2% milk and left out the peas (because my oldest son won't touch them) and added nearly three times the amount of olives. I also boiled the chicken and used the stock from that rather than purchasing actual chicken stock. Good luck and I hope you like this as much as we did.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Back to Work

It's been a long Christmas and New Year's season. We turned out reams of gloves, socks and hats in a short amount of time and I've taken a couple of weeks to let my eye sight return to normal. In that short break, my thoughts have turned to weaving.

My mother left a four-harness loom when she passed on. It actually belongs to my sister in Peru, but it's much too bulky to pack off to South America, so here it remains. I'm not a good weaver in any sense, as I think that looms are too complicated, not portable enough and just too time intensive. So why would I think about weaving now? I'm not sure, but it's consuming my thoughts, even in my sleep. I have a rigid heddle loom that I work on sometimes, and I like that for making purses, ponchos and wraps, but invariably, I end up with an odd project that ends up sitting unfinished on the loom for what seems like ages (while I pursue knitting and felting ventures) and I don't really have the heart to cut it off and start something else after all the time it took to warp the silly thing to begin with. It's not just a matter of unraveling and salvaging the yarn for another project, as with knitting. I will lose loads of yarn if I don't finish, so there it sits and what to do?

I'm in the process of making weaving cards. Card weaving is used to weave bands and belts, mostly. That will fit in fine with the knitting and felting that we already do, used as hat bands, purse straps, edgings, embellishments and belts. It's portable, cheap, and suited to small projects if I read the information correctly. I'm making my cards out of an old deck of playing cards that has lost some of its members. I have 44 cards in all and I think that should be enough for my purposes and for the rest of my life. I can make bands on my rigid heddle as well, so I'm hoping my youngest daughter will be interested in the card weaving. She can make friendship bracelets with them and she's very "into" that right now. She received one as a Christmas gift that had flower beads sewn on after the weaving and it's just gorgeous--and possibly inspiring?

The knitting goes on at an even pace. I'm in the process of finding out more about online outlets for our woolens. Places like Etsy, Fiber Finds, and eBay are on the list. I'm not sure why eBay scares me, but it does. I avoid going to that site rather than doing the proper research and getting my pictures and descriptions ready. I'm still looking for more options, and even though eBay seems like a "no brainer" I just don't want to go there. Perhaps it's laziness or just fear of the unknown. I don't know.

In the meantime, I have a rose gray hooded jacket in the works and I'm charting out the designs for an Aran sweater. Along with that, I'm spinning a white lot of alpaca/mohair blend. There's really a lot of it and it looks like it's going to be a long project. I'm spinning the singles at approximately 28-30 wraps per inch with no particular project in mind.

I do have a son who would like to marry his girlfriend and I would just love to make a white handspun lace shawl in the Shetland tradition for her when they finally decide to marry and this yarn would do quite nicely for that. I've read about shawls that were made for the bride and given to her at or just before the wedding. The couple would sleep under it their first night together, the wife would wrap it around her shoulders during pregnancy, she would wrap her babies in it and use it as a cover while nursing them, it would lie as a coverlet on their bed in the warm months, she would wear it on her shoulders in the cold months, and she would be buried in it at her passing. How I would love to provide something so dear, so intimate and so lasting to my children and their spouses. Goodness, I have four children. I have a lot of work ahead of me!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

I am a

What Flower
Are You?

Have fun with this one!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

A letter to myself

I've been tagged by Heike at goddess in the groove! I'm supposed to write a letter to my 13 year old self, so here goes.

Dear Suzzanne,

Thirteen is a difficult time for a young girl, but trust me, it's not nearly as hard as you're making it out to be. Less drama is always better than more if you want people to trust you and if you want your word to mean something.

There are a few things you'll need to know as you grow up, because growing up is so messy and so hard. I could write a book on the things you'll need to know in order to succeed, but I know you well enough to realize that you wouldn't read it anyway. You're far too strong willed and impatient to read a volume of wisdom, even if it was guaranteed to prevent all your problems and make you famous. So here are just a few pearls that I know will help you navigate some of the biggest obstacles and bumps.

First, your mother doesn't really dislike you and she's not always mad at you. She's working a full time job, working on the farm nearly full time, raising a family, struggling with her own health and marriage issues, and trying to juggle some pretty meagre finances. In short, she's stressed out and doesn't think about you nearly as often as you think she does, although she loves you desperately and completely and that love will grow as you both get older. She will give you her last penny when you need it and will go without necessities to provide your wants. She will be your best friend as you get older and you will be one of her best friends as well. When she's gone, you're going to miss her more than you could have ever imagined, so make the most of the time you have with her.

Second, stop comparing yourself with others. Stop it right now. Do you hear me? You're completely unique and completely different than anyone else, just like every other person who lives on this planet. Each individual is a work of art, and you are no exception. You aren't any better than anyone else and you aren't any less than anyone else. To elevate yourself above others so you feel better about yourself is wrong, just as it's wrong to elevate others and make yourself less in your own eyes. Of course, there will be people who will do both of those things, but that doesn't make it right.

Third, people are not your enemies. You will have to relate to them eventually, so start now. Don't second guess yourself, just be yourself. Yes, there are people who won't treat you well, but for the most part, people will treat you just the way you treat them. If you want to have friends you must show yourself friendly. That means you must make an effort.

Fourth, be thankful for what you have and for the life you've been given. There are people who live their whole lives with less love and less opportunity than you've already had in your first 13 years. Learn to be content with life as it is today. Tomorrow has it's own problems and you'll deal with those as they come, but be happy just to have lived this day. There's a lot to be happy about if you start with gratitude.

Fifth, choices--all choices--have consequences. Some are good, some are bad, but all choices carry consequences, so think before you act. Innocent people often pay the consequences for the choices of others, so this makes it all the more important that you think ahead and count the cost, both to you and to others, before you act. One thoughtless act can reap a lifetime of sorrow or trouble for yourself and for those you love. Morality, values, ethics and priorities are a reflection of who you are and they guide your actions, so think and consider thoughtfully before you make a move.

Finally, you have a lot of natural abilities, but you have been given the gifts of an iron clad work ethic and a sharp mind, and you must make use of both in order to succeed. All the natural talent in the world won't matter for one minute if you don't apply "elbow grease", sweat and good old fashioned ingenuity to the process. Expect temporary failures, but don't be put off by them.

You're bursting with life, potential, and expectations, kid. You've got more going for you than you think you do. Trust me, I've got a vested interest here, so I know what I'm talking about. Good luck. I'll be waiting for you.

I'm tagging Pondside, Yarnplayer and Debra in France for now. Boy do I need to read more blogs!