Sunday, September 20, 2009

Alpaca Never Felt So Good

I would like to thank everyone for their well wishes and prayers for Mr Puffy, whether left as a comment or expressed privately in your heart. We continue to be blessed that he is tolerating the cancer treatment medication which keeps him feeling well and gives us this extra special time with him. He is such a big part of our lives and I can not bear to think of losing him.

And, for a time, we continue along as normally as we can. We do stay a little closer to home these days, which means that I have some knitting to share. And timely, I think, with the cooler days of Fall upon us.

I saw some posh felted bags several years back in a LYS and ever since then I've wanted to make a nice big plush felted bag. Yet the style of the bags I saw a few years back were rather ordinary and, dare I say, boring. But I've kept my eyes open and finally I spotted exactly what I was looking for! It is the Pebble Bag designed by Artmuse (knit in alpaca) and I knew it was just the bag for me as soon as I saw it. Love it! Love it! Love it!

I bought it as a kit from The Toft Alpaca Shop which is located in England. I saw an ad for these bags in The Knitter a new knitting magazine published in England and I immediately placed an order using my birthday money - thanks Mom and Dad! It's on trend being an over sized bag, but I don't think so much so that after this season I won't be able to wear and enjoy it. It has a great cuddly feel and wears great next to the skin, now that the evenings are a bit cooler. But I think it really will be best this Winter when worn with a turtleneck sweater and slacks.

It's a surprisingly fast knit as you use 3 strands of yarn held together. The only major design modification I made was to omit what was supposed to be an extra large bobble closure, which I felt was just one bobble too many. Plus, this way I get to play around with different closures. The closure in the pictures above is from a key fob that Steve spotted while we were wandering around the San Clemente farmer's Market. The closure in the pictures below is a ceramic bead that I special ordered from Jennifer Jangles Beads, which I love too. For that matter, I could also knit and felt a gigantic bobble and use that a closure as well. It's super easy to switch the closure as I simply sew it on with a tiny bit of white embroidery floss.

The great thing about Jennifer's bead is that I can also wear it as a necklace.....

Particulars: Large Pebble Bag, designed for Toft by Artmuse; 600g chuncky alpaca felting yarn; US 11 needles. Modifications: I omitted the large bobble closure (as discussed above) and for the handle I began the whip stitching about 2 inches up from where it attached to the bag to provide a stronger base and a more tapered handle. There are a few finishing instructions which are a little off, such as you want the smooth side of the stockinette facing outward on the front closure flap and make sure to center your handles evenly on either side. Approximate dimensions: 11 inches wide; 6 inches deep; 10 inch strap height. On the whole, it's a very easy to follow and well designed pattern.

Fun Felting Facts:

1. Did you know that it's unusual to see anything felted that is white? This is because most wools must be bleached the color white and the bleaching process interferes with felting. Because Alpaca fleece is naturally a beautiful creamy white color it felts beautifully.

2. 100% wool will generally felt into a smooth fabric. But if you felt mohair (or alpaca) the fabric surface will be become matted and fuzzy with loose fibers that needs to be shaved to achieve a smooth fabric. If you look at the picture below, you will see what my bag looked like right out of the washing machine. When I showed it to Steve, he wanted to know if would eat a lot.....

3. Europeans generally refer to the process of converting wool fiber to a fabric as "fulling" while in the United States we generally call it "felting."

4. Felting can be hard on your washing machine, in several respects. First, if you don't want to plug your drains, it's a good idea to place the item to be felted into an old pillow case and then knot the pillow case closed as this will help capture loose fibers that may plug your drain. Second, it may take several cycles of the agitation phase of the wash to felt your item. I'm not placing blame here, but after 2 hours, my older washing machine went kaput (fortunately by that time my bag had felted). The repair man assured me that it was not anything I had done to cause the machine to break and it shouldn't be a problem to force the machine to repeat the wash cycle over and over and over again. This was greatly reassuring to me. Such a nice man. And yet. It might be wise, if you have a major felting project, to take yourself over to a coin laundry facility and use someone else's machine, if yours is older and not covered by a warranty.

5. It's best NOT to use an older pair of jeans to create friction in the washing machine. No matter how faded and old the jeans are, there may be residual dye that can stain light colored wools. It's best to use an old towel to provide the friction in the wash phase.

6. Finally, it's not felted (i.e. finished) until you pull it out of the water and no longer see any stitch definition and have a contiguous fabric. With this project, it took close to 2 hours in the washing machine to felt. Please refer to Fact No. 4 above.

Until next time, be well, love well, and do what you have a passion to do in this life.

Monday, September 7, 2009

A Traditional Hap Shetland Shawl

Wearing this shawl I shall always feel the sea breeze on my face and imagine the mist surrounding me as I make my way homeward to Avalon.

Among other things, I have romanticized the Shetland Isles and the mystique of the Shetland wool produced by the hardy sheep that live and manage to survive there. It's an infatuation that began years ago when I purchased a Jamieson's Shetland Knitting Book featuring designs pictured on the isles and describing the region and way of life.

It is thus, against all probability, that someone living in Southern California found herself wanting to knit a traditional Shetland Hap Shawl. I chose The Cora Shawl designed by Sharon Miller (Heirloom Knitting) because of its feminine and pretty colors. Some purist will claim it's not truly a Shetland shawl because the yarn, Jamieson's Ultra laceweight is actually a 50/50 blend of Shetland wool and lambs' wool. It's a small nuance that I was not aware of at the time I began this shawl, back in May 2007.

It is, however, a traditional Hap Shawl design with a flower and diamond center and a shaded old shell lace border.

I wrote on May 1, 2007 "I fully expect this project to take at least 1 year." And so it did, and then some. Not that I worked constantly on it, because, if you look around on this blog, you will see that I was knitting on other things at the same time.

I have seen similar styled shawls knit in heavier weight yarns. But make no mistake, while using a heavier weight yarn is no doubt a faster option, nothing can compare to the pure decadent pleasure of wearing a true lace weight shawl.

If you are interested in Shetland's history you might enjoy visiting the Shetland Museum. For more specifically on Hap Shawls, Heirloom Knitting has an on-line booklet here. And, for a less romanticized view of the lives of women who lived and knit on the Shetland Isles, you might read Needled's article Tea and Knitting which points out the less than rosy view of Shetland life for women. I must say, I wouldn't want to have to knock out these shawls regularly or a hat each night for a living. I think that would be a difficult life.

Particulars: The Cora Shawl by Sharon Miller of Heirloom Knitting (other Sharon Miller Shawl's I've knit: Dove and Birch); US 3 needles; Jamieson's Shetland Ultra Lace-weight 2 ply wool: 14 balls (172M per 25g); Colorways: 7 Mystique, 2 Azure, 2 white, 1 clematis, 2 opal; dressed dimensions: 68 inch square. Modifications: none - except I didn't block it severely so my shawl is roughly a 63 inch square. When I have occasion to reblock it I might use a larger surface to get the increased inches - although it's plenty large as it is. For those so interested, the nitty gritty project details are on my Ravelry Notebook.

Finally, this is a very well written pattern and I followed all of the steps and advice given with a fervent zeal. Well, almost. The pattern directs:
"obviously, you will always knit with clean hands"
Oh, that's very obvious. *Cough* *Cough* Just a second. Sorry. I was just choking on a cookie I was eating and had to brush the crumbs off my computer keyboard. Where was I? Ah yes. This tip reminds me of the other obvious rule, namely, that one should never eat near a computer keyboard. Very good advise.

I Thought I should Let You Know....I've been absent from the blog and the blogosphere in general because we have received some heart breaking news. Our dear Mr Puffy has been diagnosed with bladder cancer. It's been almost a month since we learned of his condition and I know all of you will understand how difficult this is for us.

It is not operable. Steve (a medical doctor) has done extensive research and we understand the nature of the illness and the state of medicine for his condition. Mr Puffy is currently on a medication that is controlling his symptoms and he's feeling well, eating well, and enjoying his afternoon tea. I can almost forget he's sick. Almost.

If you have a minute you might say a little prayer that Mr Puffy not suffer unnecessarily and that he continue to have a good response to the medications. It is my prayer that he not be afraid and throughout it all that he know how much his mommy and daddy love him and will always love him.

After several horrible weeks, the medications have allowed us to resume a normal life, which means long walks, long snoozes, and guzzling treats. And, more than ever, we cherish our special tea time together. This past week I made a moist Alabama Blueberry Bread, redolent with the fragrance of warm blueberries, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg which is the perfect late Summer tea treat. While Mr Puffy has his own treats for tea, I find it hard not to share a little of mine with him as well. He seems to particularly enjoy this cake! The recipe can be found on-line here curtesy of Penzey's Spices, which I halved into a single loaf quite nicely. Steve sagely noted that this loaf served with a dollop of ice cream would make a wonderful dessert too....

Until next time, be well, love well, and cherish everyday with your loved ones.