Monday, July 27, 2009

Appreciating Lowell

Saturday, my husband and I packed up the 70SPF sunscreen and headed down to the Lowell Folk Festival. Lowell is an old mill city, and historically has had a local reputation for being kind of run down and grubby. These days that's more than a little unfair. Sure, there are parts of Lowell, like any city, that could still use some rehab. But the downtown features lovely restored buildings:
Lowell Folk Festival 2009

Charming cobblestoned streets:
Lowell Folk Festival 2009
(Normally the cobblestoned streets are open to traffic- something I think the city should reconsider, as they make such a pleasant area when turned over to pedestrians.)

And they have an outstanding folk festival, featuring excellent food, music and dance of many traditions. Last year they said there were around 200,000 people-- we actually thought it was even busier this year, thanks to the terrific weather not to mention pent up desire to get out after weeks of rain. (And--the festival is free. Really, it's a great deal.) We were of course delighted with the Irish music- Niamh Ni Charra and her band:
Lowell Folk Festival 2009

We also heard a group of Tuvan throat singers called Alash- it's an amazing sound. There was New England barn dance music from Two Fiddles and The Sugar River String Band. Representing our neighbors to the north was Quebecois group Genticorum. No picture, I was too busy clapping and tapping my feet. We also heard some fabulous harmony singing from gospel group The Brotherhood Singers.
Lowell Folk Festival 2009

We finished off the day with excellent barbecue (they're around all the time, not just for the festival) and a second set of Irish music. There are more festival photos here.

And there was knitting. With the chitinous yarn, in fact- Tofutsies wool/cotton/soysilk/chiton blend. It's very soft and the soysilk (I think) gives it a lovely sheen. I adore the variation in color. Doesn't it look a lot like a local rock? At first I thought granite, but then I decided:
gneiss summer socks

I'm calling these my Gneiss Summer Socks.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Hat with a Curl

Back in May, I showed you pictures of the blue Spruce Mittens (from Robin Hansen's Fox and Geese and Fences). They didn't have a planned recipient at the time, but as I was finishing them, Kendra, the niece of some friends, fell in love with them. And they fit her perfectly, so clearly they were meant to be hers. And I still had quite a bit of the blue and yellow yarn, and Kendra had mentioned how she liked warm knitted things and hated being cold, so I said, 'and would you wear a hat that matched?' and Kendra delightedly said she would. I cast on for the hat that same day, but with one thing and another, only got around to finishing it this weekend.
Blue Spruce Hat

There were two challenges with this- the first being that I'd never really figured out how to make the decreases look right on the mittens. After considerable futzing around I decided that going down two stitches at time, using a sl 1, k2 tog, psso decrease was the way to go. It's neat and symmetrical, and I refrained from getting too persnickety about exactly matching things since I'd cast on before realizing I'd need a number of pattern repeats divisible by four to get all the decreases to match around the hat. (The hat has 11 pattern repeats- vexing, that.)

The second was that I decided I wanted to try a stockinette rolled brim. I thought it would look good on Kendra and it was an edge technique I hadn't tried before. I expected it to roll- what I hadn't completely internalized is that it really doesn't stop rolling unless you make it happen. Perhaps in a hat that was all one yarn it wouldn't have mattered so much- the wearer could simply pull it down to the right level. But for this hat it does matter- if the brim rolls too far, it shows the yellow floats on the inside. So I started dreaming up ways to stop it rolling where I wanted it.

Of course the obvious way would have been to have put in a few rows of seed stitch at the end of the stockinette section, but that meant ripping out the whole hat. And that was my fallback plan. But after trying out various ideas I hit upon another way. On the inside of the hat, I picked up two stitches two rows apart and pulled a piece of yarn through. Then ran the needle around it again to pull those two stitches together. Then I passed the yarn through the next stitch and sewed two loops from the next stitch over.
sewing loops on the inside of the hat

(In this picture, I'm halfway through the sewing- see how it rolls less on the right side?)
roll brim, partially secured

It's not a perfect solution- you get a ridge on the right side (mostly hidden by the rolling brim):
ridge visible on right side of hat

--and a series of small knots on the inside of the hat. These were noticeable in handling, but not especially when I tried it on. But it did stop the rolling before it exposed the floats, so I'm declaring it a victory. (All the same- next time, I'm trying the seed stitch band instead.)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Fantasy Socks Become Reality, News at Eleven

Picture me lying limply in a puddle of yarn...the weekend was extremely busy. However, as with other social events, I did a lot of knitting while chatting and listening to music (not to mention the screams of people who believed me when I said the pool was 'fine once you got in'). The socks:
Fantasy Socks
plain toe-up socks, Lana Gross Fantasy

And yes, these also match. Really, it's not my fault...just as I started thinking that it was about time for ribbing on the first one, I noticed that I was only a few stripes away from the start of the pattern repeat. So it was a cinch to end the first sock there, and start the second at the same point in the pattern. And after I'd firmly resolved I wasn't going to be persnickety about getting an exact match this time, too.

And then, I looked around at my half-dozen WIPs and said, 'gosh, I should finish a few things before I cast on something else'. Next thing I knew, there was another pair of socks on the dpns. Apparently I have the willpower of a jellyfish. (There were extenuating circumstances having to do with needing another portable project, or at least that's the story I'm going with.) The new yarn is Tofutsies' wool/soysilk/cotton/chitin blend, which I thought would make good summer socks. Although I'm going to wonder (at least until I have a chance to look it up) just how they get fiber out of shrimp and crab shells (that's the chitin).

Edit: Okay, with some help from Wikipedia, I have an answer: chitin fiber is produced by deacetylation. No, really, it makes sense, if I'm interpreting the chemistry right. (It should be noted here that chemistry has never been one of my strong points, however.) Chitin is a natural polymer commonly found in nature- second most common after cellulose (plant fiber). A polymer is a group of molecules that join up in repeating chains- natural biopolymers include things like DNA and proteins.

In its natural form, chitin is translucent, pliable, resilient and tough. The acetyl group (a clump of atoms arranged in a particular configuration) occurs regularly along the length of the molecule chains, and enables more bonds to be formed between adjacent molecules. So the acetyl group seems to be what turns it from a bunch of long microfibers to a thick solid mass. Deacetylation removes the acetyl groups, which breaks the bonds between adjacent molecules- like removing the snarls to comb out long hair. Chemically, the resulting fiber is similar to rayon.

So- they get the fiber by chemically treating the shells. Which is pretty much what I guessed, but I still find it cooler to know more detail. It's a geek thing.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Master of the Obvious

Last week I defrosted some squash because I needed room in the freezer. (Everyone does this kind of thing, right?) This particular container was given to me by a friend who was moving, and I knew I'd use it, because one of my favorite baked goods in the known universe is pumpkin spice bread. Which I usually make with squash anyway, but 'squash bread' doesn't have the same ring, so I still call it pumpkin, but you get the idea.

Anyway, I usually make it with canned squash because real squash are large, and if I suggested, say, eating squash as a side dish, my husband would give me a Look. I'm sure you've encountered this Look at some point- it's the one that says, 'is she mad?', or 'do I *look* like the kind of person who eats vegetables that aren't salsa'. (Actually he does eat vegetables. Usually stir fried, or covered in blue cheese dressing. But not squash by choice.)

Anyway, the other thing about using real squash is that it has lumps. Strings. Natural bits. Texture. I don't mind this if I'm just eating it, but I much prefer a smooth puree to use in bread or custard. And yet, no amount of beating will do the trick. Or at least not any amount of beating that I have the patience to administer. As I was contemplating this all-natural squash (which by this week I really needed to use up), I had a brainwave. I knew just how to get the smooth texture I wanted, and I even had the perfect tool right there in my kitchen. The food mill. Its mission in life may be applesauce, but I was betting that sieving the squash through it would give me the effect I wanted. And so it did.
pumpkin spice bread

Now the only question is, will there be any pumpkin bread left when company arrives this weekend? (Answer- yes, but not this loaf! Mine, mine, all mine.)