Friday, October 25, 2019

Blanket Weather! (Crocheted ripples and granny stripes)

Crocheted Ripple Blanket
The first blanket I ever crocheted took almost two years, off-and-on, to make. I started it when I moved back to Maryland in 2015, and wove in the final ends in 2017. 

Feeling desperate for cheerful colors at the time, I chose a basic ripple pattern and picked up a rainbow’s worth of Baby Bee Sweet Delight, a DK/sport-weight yarn from a big-box store I usually try to avoid. Honestly? The color choices offered in this line were terrific. And, for an acrylic yarn, it was surprisingly nice to work with. 

The fabric is just right for napping under on a summer afternoon, or for layering over other blankets in spring and fall. And it’s so bright and happy looking, it lifts my mood all year long.

Now, sometimes man-made fibers can turn harsh and crispy when laundered, so I chose not to wash or block the finished project right away. After many, many cat-and-dog naps, though, I just couldn't avoid it (nor did I want to). 

Nervously, I ran my blanket through the delicates cycle with a little detergent and a splash of white vinegar. Then I put it in a cool dryer for half an hour, and let it finish drying over a rack. And...the blanket stayed nice and soft! Charley gave it his seal-of-approval, so you know it feels good.
Granny Stripes Blanket
Fast forward to October 2019. Our weather is feeling really autumnal, now, and the leaves are finally starting to turn. This week, it was chilly enough indoors that I pulled out the Granny Stripes Blanket I started last year, and finished a few (long) rows. 

I just love the rhythm of crocheting swathes of colorful woolly stripes, especially since I started using Clover Amour hooks. The grips are comfortable, and the tips catch the yarn perfectly. In fact, I liked them so much that I eventually got rid of almost every non-Amour hook I owned. (I'm not an affiliate...just a fan!)

Granny Stripes patterns are a great way to use up gobs of the fingering/sock-yarn scraps I accumulated over the years, as well as a few gorgeous colors from my lovely friend Denise and her mom. You can find several variations on the theme, but I used Attic 24's for inspiration. 
Admittedly, making a blanket with lightweight yarn is a labor of love. It won't be done anytime soon, but a lot of wonderful memories have been crocheted in, and it's the perfect project to pick up when you want something simple and mindless to keep your hands busy. 

When warm weather rolls around, though, this is one project that definitely goes on hiatus. After all, who wants to climb under a pound of wool and work on a giant afghan in the infamous Mid-Atlantic heat and humidity? 


Monday, October 14, 2019

Meet Hester: A mini-review of my Schacht Sidekick spinning wheel

Hello! I'm back. I'll spare you the boring apologies and excuses for my long absence. 
Let's just give this another try, shall we? 
I've been knitting and spinning up a storm (instead of blogging, perhaps?), and have lots to talk about. For today, let's chat about the little, second-hand Schacht Sidekick spinning wheel I bought (a few years ago). 

One of the hardest decisions I made while living in Washington State was to sell my beloved Kromski Sonata to help fund my move back to the DC/Maryland area. (The yearly 9-month rainy season made me SAD, and, despite being a native San Franciscan, I never did kick my homesickness for the East Coast.) 

I found a lovely buyer, though, who told me the wheel helped her get through some really tough times, so I like to think it was meant to be. 

Eventually, I returned to Maryland, where one of my first goals was to get a new wheel. A brief search turned up a good deal on a used Schacht Sidekick (via Etsy). I’d been tantalized by Schacht’s Sidekick and Ladybug wheels for a few years, and, despite my love for the Sonata, this seemed like a good time to try something new.
Before I go on, let me say: Schacht wheels are amazing in their quality and engineering. And the Sidekick is super-portable, lightweight, relatively simple to collapse (I seldom do this), and offers a unique style and pop of color that I love. 

Still…I really miss my Sonata. 

One issue I’ve noticed is that the Sidekick is a tiny bit shorter. I’m 5’7” (not supermodel-tall, but not short, either), and find myself slouching a little when I use this wheel. That’s probably 100% mindset, and not something I actually need to do, but I did find the Sonata’s higher orifice more comfortable for my spinning style. 

Also, I kind of miss having the wheel facing me side-on, because it helped me keep track of the direction of twist I’m putting into the fiber. Again, this isn’t a deal breaker, and is probably just a matter of minor brain adjustments. But, if I’m being honest, this is something I feel visually-oriented buyers may want to consider.  
What I love about the Sidekick: 
  • The wide treadles, which make it so easy to get comfortable
  • The well-planted way she sits, never rocking or shifting, despite her overall small footprint (which makes this a perfect wheel for apartments)
  • The whispery-smooth, nearly-silent spinning action (except on the rare occasion when I forget to oil her, when she knocked gently, to nudge me)
  • The large amount of yarn I can squeeze onto her standard-size bobbins
  • The incredibly responsive settings—a hair’s breadth adjustment makes a major difference in take-up
My wheel’s previous owner, an alpaca breeder, “branded” the treadles with a wood-burner to prevent theft at fiber festivals. When she mentioned it, and from the photos I saw, I didn’t think I’d mind at all. However…I find myself a tiny bit annoyed that whoever did the job was inexperienced, and botched it slightly. 

After closer inspection, I also found a few drips in the stain they applied. But, my perfectionistic tendencies can result in some seriously-toxic stress, and these are very minor (and, ultimately, correctable) cosmetic issues that don’t affect how the wheel works. So, I decided not to say anything, and just get on with my spinning.
Ever the anthropomorphizer, I named my wheel Hester, after the heroine in Nathaniel Hawthorn’s novel, The Scarlet Letter. Hester Prynne bore the injustice of her “mark of shame” with courage, and, despite the odds, went on to build a life for herself (thus thumbing her nose a bit at the Patrimony). 

After all she went through, I felt this little Sidekick deserved a cool namesake. 

In the end, I really do love spinning on this beautiful, well-designed wheel. And, while I would still love to have a Kromski Sonata, it’s unlikely that I'll ever find it in my heart to sell Hester. 

Instead, maybe someday I’ll find a used Sonata calling my name, and become a two-wheel spinner. Stranger things have happened. 

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