Tuesday, December 24, 2013

I'm sorry I've been so cranky....

It's Christmas Eve and that means all of the holiday rushing and hustling is behind me and also, now that a couple of my kiddos are getting into adulthood (which I keep reminding them is totally overrated), means I have all 3 Things at home - yay!  I wish I could say that the holiday hustling being over is because I accomplished all I set out to do, satisfied every need, and made everything alright and well in the world but, alas, I fell short in so many ways.  Nah, it all comes down to a respect for deadlines. 

I think this comes along with being self-employed.  It doesn't really just 'come along', it's something you cultivate over time - often after many attempts to do more than you ever can and find yourself totally spent, completely saddened and feeling like a failure.  Sure, you can dust yourself off and try again but, over time, you get tired of that, too.  So, the wise person (or the one just beaten down by this repeated experience and desperate for a change) realizes there are tools and tricks to make things more efficient.  The wiser person realizes that you have to know when to stop.  When to call it done, even if you know you can do so much better.  After 4 layers of frosting on your daughter's fairy cake because you are sure you can do better on a wing - you realize that this level of tenacity for 'better' is a bit whacky.  Don't ask me how I know.  So, I try to operate with some mental picture of a target.  Then, an "I would really like to have x, y & z done by this date/time," then, "omg, this is due now!".  Then, the release - you've done the best you can, you've run the race, it's time to let the chips fall where they may.  Noon on Christmas Eve is my stopping point.  What is done is done.  What is not, well, it goes on my list of things I didn't get done.  I'm really still learning that letting the chips fall bit but it is so much harder than it sounds.

So, between shopping, all the holiday preparations, working, and getting around the school schedules, the transportation issues, and the ice storms, even a simple trip to acquire food for the family leaves me feeling growly.  But, that's not at all the kind of cranky I'm here to show you.  I was a little flabergasted this year when all three things requested socks and knits for presents.  We've just started to migrate out of those early teen years wherein it apparently became very embarrassing to wear your mom's handknits.
Thing 1 grew out of it quickly so I've been knitting for her for years but the boys have proven to be a challenge.  I cranked out a few pairs each of some simple black socks and maroon socks (their school colors) and knew those would be a go, but not very interesting color wise, huh?

So, for Thing 1, I pulled out the new EKF self-striping sock yarns - this was the intro to self striping that was the Happy Hooves Yarn Club feature last month.  The new colors will have 3-5 stripes of color in each sock.  I have to say, this is seriously laborious as a dyer and not without tears figuring the whole thing out and adapting my equipment to work but totally worth it!  While I was testing batches, getting used to the winding procedure and generally hating the process those first few times, I kept thinking, "this can't be worth it all."  I mean, how simple is is to just change colors when you need a new stripe?  But, then there's all the weaving in of ends, etc. and then, on the 3rd try when I achieved color striping perfection?   I totally got it.  There is just a rhythm and joy to knitting along on a simple sock stitch and having a rainbow of colors unfold.  And, by rainbow, I don't mean strictly bright, typical rainbow colors - the possibility of color options is endless and each round is a thrill - getting to the next one to change color again.  It made the hand knit socks go so much faster and, on the sock knitting machine - it was just pure, wicked fun!  These are for Thing 1 but Things 2 & 3 liked them so much, I cranked them a pair too.  We're at 7 pairs so far - I told you I was cranky!

Then I have my x-moose present to myself - a pair of  socks in my 'Cheshire Cat' colorway.  I love this colorway so much I could knit it over and over.  And, I have.  This is my 3rd pair in this colorway and the first I will keep for myself.  These socks go with EVERYTHING and while they are predominantly greys and black - those peaks of bright Cheshire Cat eyes just make me happy.  I can wear them with slacks and still feel adventurous - win!

The last pair were actually cranked in November but I'm just now showing them to you because it took me this long to close the toes.  Actually, one toe because my awesome friend Kelly closed the other foot for me a while back.  Yeah, I've actually been hanging on closing one toe for over a month!  Cranky!

These beauties are much more my style for knitting yarns.  This is my 'Bunch of Hippies' colorway and I love it for its bright, bold beauty.

I'm so grateful to this Kelly woman - not only because she's been an awesome friend to me (I know the combination of being super nice to her and saying so many nice things about her here will have a much desired effect of making her want to pinch me and that, my dears, is just how our friendship gig works - LOL) but also because she's kind of the reason there is so much crankiness here.  I'm embarrassed to say I have had this vintage sock knitting machine for about 5 years now.  I bought it for its charm - because I wanted to make LOTS of socks, and because the history of these machines just makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.  It reminds me every day of the resourcefulness, grace, and fortitude of women and I really dig that sort of thing.  But, mostly, I wanted to make lots of socks.  How disheartening it was to find that you don't just put it together and start a cranking.  It's a machine - Ugh!  I don't 'do' machines!  They break, they are unpredictable,  they need people with some machine skills and finesse to operate them!  Woe!  I tried watching countless videos, tried setting it up multiple times.  I'd make progress, get a sock done - go back the next day to make its mate and have yarn messing disaster on my hands and terrible swear words flowing freely from my mouth.  It was horrible and it went on for months before I finally gave up, put it in a box labelled 'Stupid Thing' and stuck it in the attic.

Then, said friend invited me & my machine into her lair where, as it turns out, she is a sock machine genius and she had it assembled, up and running in no time.  Then, there was that awful part where she had to watch me use it and tell me what we both already knew.  It wasn't the machine that was being stupid, it was yours truly.  She showed me how to be less stupid and, before I left, I had socks!  I've been cranking since and, wouldn't you know it, making LOTS of socks. For a while, when the machine would fall out of alignment or go crazy, I would panic and immediately start calling her name like Sheldon calls for Penny but, over time, I've actually learned how this thing works and I only pull a Sheldon when the stuff really hits the fan:)  She's always there whether I'm panicked or not and reminds me to be the machine's alpha, not the other way around.  I still experience surprise every time I pull a pair of socks off the thing and think, "I'm making this happen - ON A MACHINE!"  This from a woman who, more than once, has experienced a breakdown on the side of the highway and contemplated 1) trying to find out what is wrong and see if it can be fixed 2) calling a repairman, getting a tow truck and going through this fresh hell or 3) hopping a bus to the airport, using said funds for fixing car to relocate to a city nearby and forget where I came from.  Believe it or not, before kids - option 3 was my favorite and how I came to live, car-less, in downtown Austin for a few years.  I don't deal with machines well.  I have total breakdowns over broken machines.  This is not a quality that is serving me well in the current social climate.

I guess you could call this a happy ending.  I'm happy, there are socks, machine is fine.  I just wish, for once, I could have had it all - that it could have been a 'Stupid Thing' that caused all the problems, got magically fixed, and I remained a genius the entire time and am now even more, geniuser????
Ah well, a girl can dream. 

I hope you all have a wonderful holiday!  I'm off to 'test' the caramel batches I made and sent out for holiday gifts.  Yes, they've already been tested but today's taste buds might be the best to decide.  I love the basic salted caramel but then I went and made a batch of bacon caramels.  I wish I'd have put more bacon in but I'll do that next time.  Lastly, there was the nut cluster blend wherein I put pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries, white chocolate and dark chocolate in the pan, poured the caramel over it and salted the top - yuuuum!  I'm going to have some of those with a glass of cinnamon whiskey as my Christmas Eve fireside treat tonight!   Be well!  Enjoy your holiday!  Knit for sanity!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Spicy Food, Spicy Yarn (aka Why We Do It, part 2)

Ahhh, oops, I forgot (insert the multitude of things on our to-do lists this time of year here)____!
That's about how every 'okay, I can relax a minute now and get my thoughts together,' moment goes in my world right now.  A busy time, but a good time because giving is something I really enjoy doing.  It's hard to remember that sometimes, though, when the lists get longer, the days left to ship 'gifts' gets shorter and time seems ever more elusive.  Also, really, how fast can one knit without going permanently cross-eyed and falling over dizzy from intensely staring at the needles trying to will them to work faster magic? 

Every year, I vow to knit for MORE of my friends and loved ones.  Yes, you read that right, MORE.  Experience, the passing of the newness of the life I've taken on as a fiber artist, reality, and a total understanding that I am lucky to manage the basic list I've had for years (which may or may not be due to the fact that I never seem to get it together and actually start all of my made projects before Thanksgiving - LOL) do not appear to have affected my hopes and dreams of knitting something for everyone.  Clearly, something has to change but I'm unclear, at this moment of crazed holiday making fever to discern whether it will be the ridiculously late start date, the expectations, or the cold, bleak hand of reality gripping my 'to do' list and tearing it to shreds with an indignant flounce in front of my face.

Sometime last week, I started to really kind of panic.  Not a super crazy dramatic panic but a slow burning panic of, 'Man oh man there is no way I'm getting all of this done," sort of panic.  Then, it occurred to me, like as if I didn't know it before - almost an epiphany, if you will, that I can make OTHER  things.  I say this in total sarcasm because I've been a 'handmade' gifter for 20 plus years so, clearly, before I was a knitter I 'gave' other gifts.  So, I through a batch of my jalapeno jelly together, with which I'm toasting some bagel chips.  I had to product test so I spread some cream cheese on my favorite tamari seaweed rice cakes and spread some of this spicy deliciousness on them for breakfast.  Yum!  This afternoon, I'm on sugar scrubs, some yarn dyeing (still gotta work for a living - ha!) and some special caramels that I won't talk about until they are tasted and a recipe is ready!

Want to make your own?  This recipe is super easy!

1 1/4 lbs jalapeno peppers, split in half and seeds/stems removed
2 cups apple cider vinegar
juice of half a lemon
1/2 inch of grated ginger
6 cups of sugar
2 pkgs sure gel pectin powder

Put the jalapeno halves and the vinegar in the blender and puree.  Pour into saucepan with sugar, lemon juice, ginger and bring to a boil.  Boil for about 10 mins.  Stir regularly to avoid scorching.  Skim foam off the top.

Add about 4 tbsp water to the pectin powder in a bowl and stir well to remove clumps.  Stir into your boiling jelly mix.  Continually stirring, boil mixture for about 2 minutes.  Add 2-3 drops green food coloring if desired for color.   Pour into jars.  Put clean lids and rims on jars and process in a boiling water bath for 10 mns.  Check jars for seals, label, give most away - keep some for the loved ones IN YOUR HOUSE!

A variation if you want a relish - add 2 cups cranberries, slice and diced (removing seeds) lemon and 1 orange, 1 tsp vanilla extract - add 1 cup of vinegar and sugar as well.  Follow exactly as above adding all fruit in the very beginning.  Makes a spicy, tart, sweet relish!  Looks gorgeous in gift basket.

I would just like to admit, right here and now, that the jelly is going in my packages but I still insisted on including knits as well - LOL.  I have some serious weaving in of ends and toe closures to do as I've been knitting scarves and cranking socks like a madwoman! #noselfcontrol

A totally quick knit?  Art yarn.  I know, I know, not everyone is sold on this yarn form.  I love me a good art yarn.  Give me a sexy boucle, a coiled skein of happy, or a skein full of baubles and jewels any day.  But, for some, art yarn just makes the sound, 'blech'.  So, in fairness and for purposes of showing that art yarn is highly personal, I chose the form I'm not usually a big fan of myself - slubby yarn.  Slubby yarn, if I can be totally honest with you, kind of makes me angry - LOL.  I don't know why - I'm certainly no purists in terms of handspun.  I love a superfine handspun lace or sock yarn that is oober consistent and nearly identical all throughout and then I'll put it down and fall right in love with a thick and thin single that just screams at you, "What, are you afraid to play a little?".  But, slubby yarn irritates me.  It just seems hard to knit, hard to conform to a shape or look, hard to love.  So, I took some black top and some noil (camel, silk, wool YUM!) that I'd dyed in deep jewel tones and corespun it very loosely and airily over my core.  I did this to get a super lightweight, bulky yarn full of air and warmth but still very stable.  Then, I plied that with a single strand of handspun black top. Let me tell you, this is some seriously poofy but noticeably slubby yarn....little pops of color peeking out of the slubs that I'm trying to love.  Still, as I knit them, I growled a time or two when a slub would make a row look a little wonky.  So, I ripped it and moved up 2 needle sizes to get a drapier, more relaxed gauge.   I made two skeins - one just plain and one infused with trinkets and charms.

My girl is all about Steampunk so those trinkets were brass key charms, black pearls, glass beads and some wooden skulls.  What happened after that took only about 4 hours of knitting and produced, even with all of those charms, a 5 ounce scarf that is SO SOFT, so blingy, and so easy I may make a few more, oh, I don't know, instead of sleeping tonight:)  We'll see.  This simple keyhole scarf was made like this:
I know this look is not for everyone and there are definitely people on my gift list that I would not gift this scarf to.  Well, maybe this scarf knit in a basic or 'normal' yarn but not with the bling and baubles.  But, the girl I knit this for will love it.  And, with her dark chocolate wool coat or black leather coat and boots, she'll look stunning it it!  She's the kind of cool chic that will class it up with some simple wardrobe choices and relish that camel, silk, wool softness keeping her warm as she jots from class to class and then hangs in the campus coffee shop.

These keys were a lot of work to spin into this yarn but I know they are the 'special' touch that will really thrill her to no end!  Totally worth all that pre-stringing and coaxing it through my orifice. Spinning muggles, that is not as perverse as it sounds!