Tag Archives: hiking

Terroir in wool

So I yammered on for a few posts about my new yarn and roving from New Mexico a few months ago here and here, but all along I’ve been thinking about the wool I acquired in Italy last autumn.

We were in Abruzzo for a few weeks in September/October 2012, on a mission to hike nearly every day in all three of the relatively new national parks: Parco Nazionale d’Abruzzo, Parco Nazionale del Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga, Parco Nazionale della Majella, and some regional parks and preserves including: Parco Naturale Sirente Velino, Riserva Naturale Regionale Monte Genzana e Alto Gizio, and Riserva Regionale Gole del Sagittario.  We had previously been in the area in 2008, less than a year before the devastating earthquake in the L’Aquila region, and had only a small taste of the hiking then that was later to come.  In the four years since however, more North American tourists have invaded come to the region, and though it is good for the economy, especially the areas still rebuilding, it isn’t the same immersive/escapist experience as it was before.  Now you hear the occasional loudly spoken English (I still can’t get past that someone-will-understand-me-if-I-speak-louder-rather-than-actually-learn-a-word-of-the-language habit), see flip-flops on ugly feet, pay much higher prices for apartment rentals, and stumble around overly large rolling luggage.  But I too am a North American, and a visitor, and have poor language skills, so I can’t be too much of a snob.

I first learned about Valeria and her AquiLANA yarn in a round-about way through ravelry when I posted to an Italian group seeking information about local wool producers.  She and her husband’s family raise sheep in the L’Aquila region – their business, Azienda Agrozootecnica Damiani Ovidio, can be found on Facebook.  Through another ravelry friend, we managed to communicate despite my awful Italian, (thank you Google translator) and because of her friend’s quite good English, to set up a time to meet in her town for a yarn purchase.

AquiLANA - Copy(Photo by Valeria/AquiLANA)

I would love to give more details about her wool and the company, but I’d have to commit to a serious translation session that I am too unfocused to partake in at the moment.  But to say her yarn is fabulous and it comes from these sheep off the mountains is enough for me.

But back to the area for a moment – our time hiking in the parks was simply awesome.  Some of the maps and trail markings were extremely good, some not so, and we had a hiking guidebook that should be burned due to some dangerous misinformation.  Many of the trails also had formerly been mule tracks and were best left for four-legged beasts or those very sure of foot and without any tendencies toward vertigo.  But overall, it was some of the best hiking I’ve done.

(But I’ll pack a few more emergency supplies the next time).

Abruzzo-Corno Grande

Abruzzo-castle

Abruzzo meadow

And of course eating was a nearly spiritual experience.

Can’t get any better to come down off a mountain, stop along the road, and dive into a plate of freshly grilled lamb arrosticini.

Abruzzo-lamb

I’ve purchased wool from small producers at domestic festivals before, but this was the first time the wool smacked me in the face as coming from a very specific place – it had an intense “terroir” if you will.

Laquilana montepulciano

And to make it even more local, some is dyed with Montepulciano wine for a lovely muted rose-grey (this is fingering weight).

AquiLana skeins

At first, I only wanted to buy the Montepulciano-dyed wool because I almost never knit with white/natural.  I don’t have a reason why except that I usually like color more, I fear stains (I like to drink the Montepulciano too), and some whites look really bad on me.  I guess I do have my reasons.  But after spending some time in the mountains with the fluffy clouds, bleached rocks, and flocks of sheep with their fluffy white Maremma guard dogs, I decided that I had to have the color of the land (or, ahem, lamb).

Abruzzo sheep enclosures

See?

Abruzzo sheep

So then my new stash of clear, clean, true wool went from the crisp vast mountains and valleys to the land of exhaust and grime…

AquiLANA in NYC

I have a couple of ideas about what I’d like to do with the yarn, however I’m putting pressure on myself that both items will be my own designs. But I’m also realizing that with the strange turns of my life lately, my self-diagnosed ADD, work on portfolio pieces, and the chaos of everything else, I’m absolutely itching to dive right into this yarn NOW without the bother of critical design thoughts and only the happiness and escapism in remembering the land and enjoying the wool.

Laquilana swatches

I’ve swatched some of the natural wool in aran/bulky weight and it will probably turn into a cable-knit sweater – either something classic/vintage inspired along the lines of the Beatnik Pullover, or more modern like the Roam Tunic.  I’m leaning toward classic though since I pray for the day skinny jeans disappear (and will probably take tunics with them).  Unless of course it could be a dress on its own…

New England-new pattern shadow

The wine yarn will be a shawl, and that pattern is about halfway done, but I’ve run into a few snafus that I need to work out.  I’ll test knit a version of it in recycled yarn before I use the good yarn too, so it will take some time.

The bulky/aran yarn reminds me a little of Quince & Company Osprey – it seems that it may be processed and spun in a similar fashion and has that same lovely soft, sproingy, spongy factor – and maybe even more so.  It is soft, yes, but not weakly soft – almost cottony.  I even washed one of my swatches and it got even better – I wouldn’t say that it bloomed, but the stitch definition relaxed slightly while still being entirely legible.  I’m sure the yarn will wear quite well, yet be very comfortable.

It is already my favorite sweater.

And we’ve made plans for a return trip, so perhaps I may come back with more sheepy souvenirs!

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Mid-August progress…

We spent last weekend in the Adirondacks.

It was the last of the summer hiking trips for us.

ADK-pond hike

Our cottage was decorated in “Wal-Mart for cabin.”

ADK-bear

I actually miss the tacky painted saw blades, crude whittlings, and sh*t made out of driftwood and antlers of mountain/country crafts of yesteryear (or just a few years ago really).

Now it is plastic sh*t from China (often copied from domestic crafters).

ADK-racoon

But I managed to finally finish basting all of those damn letters.

Letters-done

The pile looks smaller than it really is.

I will never be so wordy on a quilt again.

Our CSA has been offering loads of lovely flowers.

It is a nice thing to have fresh flowers, but not in place of food – they really need to step it up in the veg department.  And as vinyl village apartment dwellers, we can’t compost, so I don’t like to have too many fresh flowers.

Quilt-shirt fabric

The letters are ready to mingle with the as yet unmade quilt blocks.

In Review

I’m also getting wordy with a fair isle scarf.

I don’t love stranded knitting.

I don’t hate it though.

PRS-lettuce on machine

My Tour de Fleece spinning goals fell short.

PRS-lettuce skein

But I finished plying my Pigeonroof Studios “lettuce” and have one braid left to finish spinning for a particular project.

I spun this one a little too thin and it came out lighter and softer in color, so it might have to become a different project.

Or the original project will be scrapped altogether.

That will have to wait.

I also started a major embroidery piece.

It will take some time.

It is pink.

I don’t love pink.

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Back to the woods…

We were in the Adirondacks last weekend for a couple of days of soggy hiking and down time away from our frustrating and increasingly desperate home (and my job) search.

ADK-Phelps

I know that I said earlier that I needed another bout of cabin time to finish designing that shawl but I have to focus on other projects at the moment now.  I took all of the letters I need to cut out and baste for my newest quilt (I think there are 26 total) but I only managed to finish a whopping four.  Pretty lousy progress.  And I’m not entirely sure I’m doing them right or how to handle some of the narrow slices that I really can’t fold down.

ADK-letters

So I easily got distracted since basting is tiresome to me and doesn’t seem to amount to much since I still have to sew the damn things on.  In my current overwhelmed and distracted state I forgot to pack socks for the weekend. It was a good excuse to buy a new woolen pair, though I could only justify the one and had to wash them after every hike and hoped they’d dry enough for the next time.  Our cabin was infested with carpenter ants and chasing after one to photograph it was a perfect basting procrastination activity.  Do you realize how hard it is to get a clear shot of a very busy (and harassed) little ant?

ADK-ant

Bugs were definitely showing off their strengths over the weekend.   Inexplicably, black flies were suddenly crazy about my eyebrows  and one little f*cker bit me so successfully that blood was shed on my favorite wool t-shirt.

ADK-bite

But the weekend also held one of those magical and rare summer afternoons when all that mattered was swimming in a mountain pond and feeling the sun.

ADK-pond

(Thanks to N’s family for their hospitality and the afternoon at their awesome lakeside cottage on Sunday!)

And since we were away, I had a late start in the Tour de Fleece, and promptly suffered a wipe out when I sliced open my thumb on a yogurt container of all things.

TdF-Wipeout

I need my thumb to spin dammit!  I should probably lower my yardage expectations now but I’m willing myself to heal quickly.

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New England travels – much hiking, some fiber time…

We spent a much extended holiday weekend (turned week and a half) in the White Mountains last week.  N is hiking all of the “4,000 Footers” and I am choosing a few as well, but preferring to collect mountain ponds and the smaller lesser-trod peaks and loops.  On the few days when he’s up at an ungodly hour to hit the trail solo, I’m groggily but happily thinking about my chunk of knitting time free of any electronic, human, or stuff distractions.  We usually rent cabins when we go to the woods and hunker in among the trees, only going out to hike or get ice cream and this time was no different, though we encountered extreme plan-changing weather and were greatly distracted by plagues of bloodthirsty mosquitoes.

The only times when I’m truly and massively productive is when I have the ability to only work on a handful of things and I’m in a quiet place, save for bird yells and other nature song.  So spinning wheels, sewing machines, computers, phones (I don’t even have a “smart” one to begin with) and boxes of neat sh*t stay at home and I just bring along some balls and needles.  Good times.  I’ve been sweating over a shawl that I’ve been trying to design (more in a future post) and have been trumped several times over by reversing the pattern and some simple math for increasing and decreasing.  I just can’t get my brain to have an ‘aha’ on this one, but I finally worked out the left and right main portions and just need to figure out the ends and center now, but I might need yet another week in a sylvan sequester to finally conquer it.

New England-new pattern shadow on wall

Here is a shadow tease of some sample bits in worsted.  It isn’t earth shatteringly different or unique, but I haven’t found anything quite like it yet out there, so I’d like to offer the pattern for sale at some point, or at least get the whole damn thing worked out so I can knit it in the special yarn for which I’m itching to work.

New England-new pattern shadow

Part of the time we were there was downright frigid so I took my favorite old cardigan.  I patched the elbow hole with a mini-skein of Pigeonroof Studios handspun.  I love the colorway but don’t know what it is.  The patch is a little heavy for the thin sweater and looks a little bit like an eyeball, but it is a comfy cup for my elbow.

New England-elbow

I also finished a test knit that I love from a designer who makes fabulously fun patterns but it will not be released until next year.  I used Quince & Co. yarn for the first time which I’ll go into further in next the post.  N and I had a fun photo shoot with it utilizing the river and the the cellar’s stone wall.  In addition, I brought part of the cotton blanket and my latest Lacy Baktus along, but didn’t work much on either one.  The power went out on our last night there, so I was able to do a couple of feet of a blanket strip in the dimness since it was white.  While making the test knit, I learned to do applied/attached icord, so now it is a consideration for trimming the blanket – it will depend if I end up wanting a couple more inches of border or not.

New England-Mt Hale

But most of the time was spent on the trail.  We had to cancel our hut reservations for the first two days due to total white-out of freezing fog and snow.  When we finally got out, it was a slippery sloshy wet cold mess and made for some hiking misery on my soggy-ass part since I lacked good/newer waterproof gear (N thankfully hooked me up with a new jacket later on).  The first hike was up Mt. Hale and luckily the sun had returned, but you don’t see the bitter winds (or my bad attitude from having clumps of wet snow eggs plomping down from the trees and onto my head, down my neck, and penetrating my duds – I was wearing wool of course, so hypothermia was kept at bay despite the soaking).

New England-Mt HedgehogBut in just a day or so the weather turned gorgeous and we had a lovely time on Hedgehog Mountain, but then the next day the weather became stranglingly humid and sweltering in the 90s, and hiking became soggy again – this time from the inside out.  After that, I preferred to put the needles down and just sit in the cold river right outside our door.

New England-river

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Love affair…

…with the Lacy Baktus pattern.

A few years ago I came across this pattern by Terhi Montonen who made it as a variation of Baktus Scarf by Strikkelise on Ravelry.  For a while (longer than I’d like to admit) I thought this pattern was called batkus and in my often 12-year-old-boy brain, I thought of it as buttkiss, so buttkiss it will always be to me.  I knit my own hybrids of a basic watch cap, plain socks, and one particular Stephen West hat pattern over and over again for gifts and hard-wearing work-a-day items, but the Lacy Baktus is the only pattern I really feel like I could knit ad infinitum as is without modification beyond size.

I made the first one a few years ago with two skeins of the tongue-twisting Koigu Painter’s Palette Premium Merino yarn (or KPPPM) that I picked up from School Products on a scorching hot summer day in NYC.

baktus1-in progress

I didn’t quite capture the colors correctly in the in-progress pic, but the second image is accurate.  That one also shows our former awesomely textured and colored garage wall… sigh.  But I really liked the finished scarf/shawlette hybrid.  I loved that it stretched lengthwise but it was a long tapered triangle. The only minor fault I have with this one is that it is at times slightly too short – we’re talking only an inch or two – when I tie for more warmth or protection against grabby wind the ends poke out rather than drape downwards, but no big deal.

baktus1-detail

Maybe it was the same year, or the next, but I was caught without a gift for my mother’s birthday.  I’d already picked out this Plymouth Happy Feet sock yarn for myself and had it patiently waiting in my stash, but I knew my mom liked orange and at the time had a pair of eyeglasses with purple and orange streaks in them, so it was a good match.  N and I were in a long-distance purgatory at the time too so I had a lot of time to knit in airports and trains.  I found this to be perhaps the most perfect travel project since it required no complex thought and was extremely gratifying to watch grow and then shrink, and could be interrupted and shoved back in my bag with little worry.  I even used some ghastly but surprisingly comfortable TSA-friendly plastic needles whose origins are completely unknown to me – I think they came from a box of miscellaneous sewing supplies from a garage sale.

baktus2-in progress

The Happy Feet had a bit more yardage, so the finished scarf was the perfect length even before blocking.  Mom wouldn’t model it for me, but Dad is a good sport.  I’m tempted to re-buy this yarn to do a re-run for myself, but I have plenty of other pretty things languishing in my stash, not to mention I think this color is discontinued.

baktus2-done

But I had to have another, and I thought an even bigger one would be that much better.  I actually bought the yarn specifically for this – usually I see something on sale and buy as much of it as I can reasonably justify and figure out what to make with it later, but I actually went seeking for something with a little bling.  Yes, I said bling – highly uncharacteristic of me, but I wanted a scarf that could look a little more downtown and a little less rustic farmyard.  So I bought sock yarn called “Disco Color” (audible cringe) by Schoeller Stahl’s Fortissima line, but it was perfect because the little strand of silver metallic polyester* is surrounded by hard-wearing wool and along with the grey there is a nice greenish teal that fails to show up in the pictures.  It is the same color as bits of wood I’ve been finding in the forest, though I don’t know if it is a particular tree species, fungal or floral organism on or in the wood, or tinted by green deer pee.**

ADK 2012-detail

So I worked on this most of last Spring and early Summer when I was not coping very well with the slashing and burning of my job and subsequent relocation and it was rather soothing activity.  A large section of it was done when while we were resting from hikes in the Adirondacks.

ADK 2012

Then it was done before I was ready to finish it and I had to wait for the weather to cool down into autumn to wear it.  But wear it I did, and continue to do.  It’s also been traveling quite a bit.

baktus3-restaurant

baktus3-cafe

baktus3-cemeteryAnd it does well to dress-up a t-shirt (even after it has spent a day on the trail), and I do in fact own several very similar grey wool t-shirts.  I like grey and I like wool, nothing wrong with that, right?  And at times it has also functioned properly and well as an honest-to-god good wooly warmth machine and left the cafes and city streets to go hiking with me.

The sunset just barely catches some of the bling…

baktus3-hiking

And you know what?  I decided I wanted another, and then maybe another after that.  And I thought that since I love the pattern so much, I will make one with a yarn I don’t really love at the moment to see if my opinion of it will change.  If it doesn’t, I will have another gift to give, if it does, I will have a new scarf in warmer colors.  This one will be a little larger than the second (orange) one but not as gloriously large as the grey.

Remember the much maligned Redwood Roving Mix?

Baktus-new

Yep, onward!  And a last-minute long weekend trip back to the Adirondacks last month was the perfect time to start it.

ADK 2013

I will take my time with it though since I have other things waiting to be completed.  I’m thinking this might also be a good project for the beach…***

Baktus on rock

I can’t say I’m falling in love with this one yet – my uneven (intentionally) handspun makes it look a bit more wonky than I’d like, but it feels good to be making it…

*Yes, these two words, especially in combination, typically make me run for the hills…  and I believe this yarn might be discontinued as well, but it can still be purchased from various shops and online purveyors.

**Happens when the deer eats something in late winter – you can look up a pic of it yourself.

***I detest swimwear and all things beach bum, but the sea is somewhat sorta close by and we currently have no yard so I can pretend it is our outdoor living space at the moment.

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Fiber travels in New Mexico, part I

I was in a few states of the great American Southwest for the last couple of weeks.  I hiked, visited family, ate lots of green chile, visited Tierra Wools (more on that another time), and I had greatly desired to spend some time with a cashmere rancher friend of my mother’s, but sadly got sick and spent the last four days of my trip in bed, waiting for hours in feverish chills at a busy clinic full of babies with diarrhea, or lurking about the cold house feeling too crappy to knit (I took along that blasted sock) and without anything new to read (not to mention no internet or boob-tube).

I love New Mexico – it is a hard place to live, and I respect that – I would love to call it home, but will enjoy it in visits instead.  The land, or more precisely water, can’t really handle any more residents – especially those who plunk a large vacation or retirement home down on pristine but dry land and expect to live like they did in the East or South.

Luckily in the days leading up to my assault by poison mucus on ears and sinuses, the weather was gorgeous.  Mountain meadows are my favorite places on the planet…

New Mexico 2013 264 - Copy

…as well as dramatic rocks and moonscapes on earth.

Bisti

And luckily a couple of my sick days involved wind, sleet, snow and rain so I didn’t feel as bummed about not being able to hike otherwise.

New Mexico sleet

But I admit, I was most excited about meeting Nestor.

Nestor portrait

He’s a guard llama on the cashmere ranch (you can see one of his inquisitive charges in the background).   I did get to meet him briefly, as well as the resident Maremma sheepdog Homer…

Homer close

Homer far

He’s a fiber producer in his own right and a giant friendly (though not when protecting) beast.  I’ve been interested in the breed since seeing them in Abruzzo, Italy a few years ago (more on that later too) so it was nice to finally meet one and rub his thick coat.  Alas he is the only four-legged furry there I snapped since I thought I would be returning, but the pictures of Nestor as a younger man are courtesy of my mom from an earlier time.

She brought back a baggie of Nestor a few years ago – maybe it was an ounce or two.  That, along with some Navajo Churro was my first time dealing with unprocessed fiber.  I didn’t have any carders or combs at the time so I fluffed out the fibers by hand the best I could.

Nestor

This was also among my first spinnings on my new-to-me-then wheel.  I think it is about a sport to worsted weight and I didn’t get much – I think I was going to make it into wrist warmers, or very short mitts.  I also wasn’t sure if I wanted to knit it with some wool yarn for better memory and elasticity.

Nestor yarn

But then as with many things, I didn’t decide about it right away and time passed.  The following year my mother called up to ask if I wanted a big Nestor load?

Of course I said YES.

washing nestor-small

This was back in the days when I had a glorious basement and the harvest gold dryer that came with the house.  It was also winter, or maybe just cold and damp outside when I set out to wash him.  Luckily we replaced the windows in the house too so we had several old screens that were perfect for dealing with wet fiber.  I think he finally finished drying a week later.  Then it happened again – I sat on it.  My dilemma is either spinning it all at random like my initial batch for a marled color, or roughly separating out two or maybe three colorways – white/light grey, grey, grey-black and then have the option of doing color work or stripes with the knitting.  I need to re-weigh it too, so I’m not quite sure how much I have, and then I may waffle again about adding wool during the spinning or later with the knitting….

My ears nearly exploded on the flight home, and by the way the assholes at United aren’t “allowed” to give you the cups with warm paper towels in them anymore – if both of my hands weren’t clamped tightly over my ears at the time, they probably would have gone to the sneering flight attendant’s neck.  Needless to say I’m now even harder of hearing and slogging along with more and stronger meds and the thought of watching the spinning wheel go round and round isn’t going to happen for the next 10 days or so, so Nestor will have to wait some more.

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Even quicker and more practical…

I can’t even really call this a project (unlike my previous one) – take a slightly fulled* sweater (preferably cashmere) chop off the arms and pull them up over your knees and thighs under your pants – done.  For the thin-thighed, you might consider attaching them to a garter, sewing in some elastic at the top, or keep shopping at your favorite thrift store until you find the absolute perfect size.

kneewarmer

I love the outdoors and I love wool, but I don’t quite love winter yet, though I’m slowing warming to it, all puns aside. I could bring myself to near financial ruin over the fabulous items of clothing made from whisper-thin and oh-so soft-merino wool from brands that rhyme with dicebreaker, fartwool, and especially the one named after a lithe four-legged mammal.  Who knew wool underwear, yes, the underpants kind of underwear, are the awesomest things ever in cold or hot weather and dry fast too making them perfect for minimal travel?  But alas, I have only purchased a few items here and there and have yet to obtain the perfect woollen base-layer bottoms.  I have an older pair that is a little too small in the waist, just enough to cause discomfort and make me grumpy – in ye olden days of corsets and girdles, good god, I would have been grumpy… But I also don’t quite like the pants under pants feeling – part of it is the doubled up waist feeling, and part of is two pieces of fabric occasionally in opposition.  This solution is to treat the underparts in segments like an insect.  Previously I was just relying on knee-high ski socks and some floppy old woolen men’s trousers, but my knees would get chilled and achy, but these sleeves-turned knee-warmers were the perfect hack.

kneewarmer detail

I am not an exceptional one-legged snowshoer even  though it appears that way in these pictures…  The gaiters were a recent acquisition too – forget the big-bucks gearhead brands and look at Swiss army surplus – wool and cheap!

*The improper use of fulled vs. felted is driving me bats, but felted is a more often heard term so I’ve got it down here for the sake of keyword searching, but shrunken knitting is fulling dammit!

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A quick and pratical project

Somewhere I saw something like this – maybe exactly like this, at least in terms of application.  Cut up an old felted sweater and use it to sit on the cold wet ground… maybe it was someone on Ravelry, Pinterest, Etsy, Flickr, a blog, or, or, or*…  oh my, many days I just want to kill my devices.   But regardless, I’m not super keen on winter hiking if there is snow or ice involved, but the warming winters are having less of the stuff and making for pleasant and cool outdoor ventures.  On a recent hike through the New Jersey Pine Barrens, we found a large plastic bag of “wildlife feed” on the trail and picked it up to dispose of it properly.  I don’t know what wildlife it was intended to feed, or if there is a one-beast-fit-all kibble, but the dregs were a disturbing fleshy liverish color, so maybe it was a modern Soylent Green for the Jersey Devils.  The bag had a phone number on it so I could have returned it for a refill which probably would be the most ecologically friendly thing to do, but we’ve been watching a lot of Portlandia lately and my urge to make stuff out of trash is especially high.

DSCF7131 - Copy

And besides it was a good lightweight damp-proof material – I cut it up, sewed it to some felted sweater chests, and done.

Butt warmer

trail seat

Field tested and approved – not too heavy to pack along for a short to medium trip and allowed us to linger longer over our still steaming coffee for a legitimate break.  The plastic is woven though, so it would not be ideal in a sopping wet situation, so I’m considering making some backed with oilcloth, though that would make them heavier and less bendy; or some fused plastic.  In a pinch, they could also be used for staunching the flow of a serious wound or added warmth shoved into a jacket…

And the knitted hat is Stephen West’s Botanic Hat pattern.

* If anyone knows the original source for this, please let me know!

*UPDATE*

Ravelers are fantastic creatures and came up with my reference in a snap!  I saw it on Hanna Breetz’s Ever green knits blog.

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