Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Felting in a Front-loader

I've been collecting some old wool sweaters with the thought of felting them and turning them into pillows, purses, yoga mat carriers, etc. A couple of weekends ago I cracked Felted Knits by Beverly Galeskas and read that the sort of heavily supervised felting Bev advises should most vehemently NOT be attempted in a front-loading machine.

So of course I did it. And the results were not bad!

I have a high-agitation, energy-conserving model that only puts in the amount of water appropriate to the size of the load. This is a good thing, since Beverly says that for large items, you want less time in the machine and a smaller amount of water -- a little counter-intuitive. I threw in an old Fair Isle sweater and put a thimbleful of Eucalan in the detergent dispenser. Then I set the machine for Normal wash on hot, and also selected "no spin." Beverly says that you NEVER want your machine to rinse and spin. Rinse isn't so bad, just means you end up with your item in cold water instead of hot and you have to re-fill the machine with hot if it's not fully felted. But rinsing isn't necessary with Eucalan, so it's a waste of water. Spinning is bad -- you can make permanent crease marks in the felted item.

One major problem with front-loaders -- the door locks, so you can't check your work as you go. Beverly freaks out at this idea, since she wants you to check every five minutes. I decided I would risk it, and hit "Start."

After about 15 minutes, I noticed that the machine was draining and getting ready to re-fill for the first rinse. I stopped the machine, but the door was still locked, so I canceled the cycle completely and opened the door. Definite felting going on -- but not ready yet. I re-set the machine to the start of the cycle. Now that I knew the length of the first wash cycle, I was ready to stop the machine and re-set two or three more times until I was pleased with the results. I didn't mind the 15-minute intervals between checks, seemed to work just fine.

The huge problem with this system, of course, is the wasted water and detergent, since it insists on draining before you can open the door. Only a manual dial-type control system will let you avoid draining the water -- and those are rarer and rarer these days.

For example, Spinnity has a top-loading machine, so while we were over at her house last weekend making a birthday dinner for B-i-L, I figured I'd try felting the other two sweaters there. Because her machine is top-loading, you CAN open the lid every five minutes and check on your progress. However, her machine is new enough to have a digital control system, and you can't just crank a dial to keep the machine from rinsing and spinning. In fact, her machine doesn't even have a "no-spin" option. The machine wanted to drain and rinse after only about 11 minutes, and the ridges on the bottom of the agitator started to leave creases on one of the sweaters. (I did them separately so they wouldn't acquire each other's fuzz.) If I canceled and started over in time, some hot water seemed to stay in the machine, but it added more anyway.

Overall, I don't think the top-loader felted any better than my front-loader -- in fact, I think it took longer and left creases. All three pieces felted reasonably well. They're now drying and awaiting further inspiration. Beverly says you shouldn't throw your felted items in the dryer -- they can lose their shape.

I'm pretty sure experiences are as different as individual washing machines, but here's what some other people did. There are some other forums in which people relate differing experiences, easily found with a Google search. I have to admit I was a bad girl and did not put the sweaters in zippered bags first, for lack of having any at hand, but I certainly will as I continue to do more projects.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Props to the hubs

Occasionally there comes a time to pay tribute to those green influences in our lives. Yeah, I know, we all love Al Gore. My biggest green influence, however, never ran for President or made a documentary or posed for photo ops with Leonardo di Caprio. It's my hubs, Mr. Wiz.

When I first met Mr. Wiz, I recognized right away that he was a crank. You have to understand that coming from me, this is a compliment -- I'm English by heritage and when I lived in London, I frequently visited Cranks, a fabulous vegetarian restaurant. Cranks are people who aren't afraid to hold unpopular opinions. They don't care what other people think. They sing loudly (and often off-key) to their favorite iTunes playlist, especially when they are cooking and the list includes the entire musical output of Abba. They pick up trash in public, bring their own Tupperware to restaurants, and have been known to wear swim trunks with collared dressy shirts. (The ensemble Mr. Wiz sported the day I met him. Thank God I attributed the bizarre sartorial choice to some unexplained wardrobe emergency, and only found out later that he had dressed up SPECIALLY in anticipation of being introduced to me.)

When Mr. W started his green crusade, it wasn't anywhere near as trendy as it is now. He even had roommates who would walk across the room on purpose to throw things in the trash if he threatened to recycle them. Even I had initial disorientation with the idea that he re-uses everything -- he saves every plastic container and bag from the grocery store, washes them, and re-uses them. He saves orange peel to make orange soda. He saves every cardboard box and every piece of packaging for the next time he has to mail something. He makes his own toothpaste and re-uses little glass cosmetic jars to keep it in. One time a Whole Foods cashier had to give him something like 25 wooden donation nickels for the number of re-used bags he brought in.

Annoying? Maybe, for about 5 minutes. Over time, though, I started to think it was pretty cool. This is a guy who's managed to reduce our personal garbage output to one small bag a month -- the rest goes into the composter or recycling bins. And he's not stopping there -- now he wants to reduce our recycling to similarly miniscule amounts.

If you want to be a crank like Mr. Wiz, here are some tips:

1. Buy from bulk containers (at Whole Foods or other shops that carry bulk), and bring your own bags to take it all home in.

2. Get yourself a composter if you haven't already.

3. Buy your clothes at Goodwill. Even better, work at home so you don't even have to wear clothes.

4. Get yourself one of these. We're told they're all the rage in Germany. We call ours the "Zizzer."

5. Stop accepting styrofoam takeout containers. Carry your own Tupperware. Yes, people will look at you funny in restaurants. It's okay, you're cooler than they are.

6. Make presents for people instead of buying them, or give "experiential gifts" like theatre tickets or special outings. Very few people in America really need more STUFF.

6. Whenever you start thinking that it's not worth it, the world is going to hell in a proverbial handcart anyway and you might as well dance on the flames, go plant a kitchen garden with your god-daughter and remember this: it's never a bad thing to keep one more piece of plastic from floating into the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

New blog focus for Earth Day

Once upon a time about a year ago, I more or less abandoned this blog. I felt like I didn't have anything very exciting to add that was any different from all the better knitting blogs out there. So I went to live on Ravelry and share projects there instead, and it's been great.

Meanwhile, in life and in art, I've continued to evolve my personal commitment to living as green as possible. This is hard for a shopaholic/yarnaholic who was raised to believe that if something is on sale, it is therefore virtuous and good to purchase it. I had to think about consuming less, shopping less, getting rid of all those tempting catalogues, and living with the bounty of STUFF that I already own.

I vowed that I would buy no new yarn in 2008 unless it's extra yarn for a project that's already underway. I think I've fallen off the wagon only once. I have enough yarn to last me a good five years, might as well start working through it.

Even harder, I'm trying not to buy new clothes unless they are as eco-friendly as possible. That means not just organic cotton, but organic cotton that hasn't been imported from the other side of the planet, therefore negating its virtuousness with a cloud of fossil fuels. Mostly I'm trying to live by the principal that there's already enough STUFF in the world, let's just pass it around a little and make it look different and interesting.

So last Saturday, as part of my Earth Day observance, I went to the Swap-o-rama-rama at the Coyote Point Museum in San Mateo. I brought along a bag of old clothes, and left with a bag of other people's old clothes. Somehow when clothes used to belong to someone instead of you, it's like getting brand new clothes.

Even better, at the Swap-o-rama-rama, I sewed pretty flowers on an old tank top, and learned to screen print designs on an old skirt. Now my new-old clothes are unique as well as recycled.

Swap-o-rama-rama is coming back to San Mateo for the Maker Faire. If you've never been to this event, it's great -- like Burning Man with kids (and fewer drugs and naked people). Crazy creativity and genuinely something for everyone -- the hubs can check out cool new eco-vehicles and robot wars, the kids can do art and science projects, and the shopaholics like me can shop local designers and hang out in the knit and crochet booths.

I'm planning to go back and swap some more, do more screen-printing (my new obsession), and enjoy a fun, creative time with some great people. Come and join me! And happy Earth Day, everyone.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

I'm on Ravelry!

At last! It's really not an excuse for being absent from this blog for so long, but if you want to see what I'm up to before I actually update the blog, you can visit me at WizKnitter.

I know a lot of other people have already rhapsodized about Ravelry, but seriously -- this is a great tool. It appeals to my orderly and organized side. I like cataloging projects there. It frees up the blog for some actual writing. If I ever actually get around to that.

The DH has a great blog now: Visit that one to find out what we've been up to!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007


First of all, let me point out that I'm blogging for the third time this month. Considering my recent track record, this is notable.

I found this on The Knitist! and thought it looked like fun.

for stuff you’ve done, italics for stuff you plan to do one day, and normal for stuff you’re not planning on doing.

Garter stitch
Knitting with metal wire
Stockinette stitch
Socks: top-down
Socks: toe-up
Knitting with camel yarn
Mittens: Cuff-up
Mittens: Tip-down
Knitting with silk
Moebius band knitting
Participating in a KAL

Drop stitch patterns
Knitting with recycled/secondhand yarn
Slip stitch patterns
Knitting with banana fiber yarn
Domino knitting (=modular knitting)
Twisted stitch patterns
Knitting with bamboo yarn
Two end knitting (twined knitting)
Charity knitting
Knitting with soy yarn

Toy/doll clothing
Knitting with circular needles
Baby items
Knitting with your own handspun yarn
Graffitti knitting (knitting items on, or to be left on the street)
Continental knitting
Designing knitted garments
Cable stitch patterns (incl. Aran)
Lace patterns
Publishing a knitting book
Teaching a child to knit
American/English knitting (as opposed to continental)
Knitting to make money
Button holes
Knitting with alpaca
Fair Isle knitting
Norwegian knitting
Dying with plant colours
Knitting items for a wedding
Household items (dishcloths, washcloths,tea cosies…)
Knitting socks (or other small tubular items) on two circulars
Olympic knitting
Knitting with someone else's handspun yarn
Knitting with dpns
Holiday related knitting
Teaching a male how to knit
Knitting for a living
Knitting with cotton
Knitting smocking
Dying yarn
Knitting art
Knitting two socks (or other small tubular items) on two circulars simultaneously
Knitting with wool
Textured knitting
Kitchener BO
Knitting with beads
LongTail CO
Entrelac Knitting and purling backwards
Machine knitting
Knitting with selfpatterning/selfstriping/variegating yarn
Stuffed toys
Knitting with cashmere
Knitting with synthetic yarn
Writing a pattern

Knitting with linen
Knitting for preemies
Tubular CO
Freeform knitting
Short rows
Knitting a pattern from an online knitting magazine
Knitting on a loom
Thrummed knitting
Knitting a gift
Knitting for pets
Knitting with dog/cat hair

Hair accessories
Knitting in public

As the Knitist says, consider yourself tagged.

Even though frogging isn't on the list, for those of you who've ever frogged (and surely that's all of us), amuse yourself with The Five Stages of Frogging.

I am somewhere around Stage 5 with the Exotic Lace Jacket by Iris Schreier, but that deserves a post of its very own.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Maker Faire

Saturday, the DH and I took the folks to Maker Faire as a belated Mother's Day gift. They were a bit non-plussed by the general weirdness, but Adam and I enjoyed it thoroughly. If you've never heard of it, it's very hard to describe, but here are a few highlights:
  • People in motorized giant cupcakes (complete with hats that looked like cherries or chocolate drops) zooming around.
  • Enormous fireballs shooting into the air on a periodic basis.
  • Glass sculptures made of compressed sugar crystals.
  • Felted pins of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
  • Handmade bicycles put together from other bicycle bits, available to sample by wobbly riders.
  • A giant Lego village.
  • A giant Mousetrap game using bowling balls.
  • A huge booth encouraging people to make crafts from old wine jugs.
  • Places for kids to build robots, rockets, crocheted sea anemones, and fairy wings.
  • And finally, my designs for Great Knit Designs on display at Ada's booth!
The Faire will be the first weekend in May next year, and if you're looking for a little something for everyone and have a high tolerance for slightly wacky people with too much time on their hands (or who genuinely want to change the world for the better using green, DIY, and alternative methods), you should check it out.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Knittin' in the U.K.

The DH and I got back from England a couple of weeks ago, where we had a very nice time visiting relatives. However, it was quite disappointing from a yarn tourism perspective. Here's what I discovered about knitting in the U.K.:
  • No one does it in public. Really, I never saw even sweet old grandmas with knitting needles. I thought knitting was supposed to be big in England! There are sheep everywhere! Grommit knits, for heaven's sake! My parents, who are English, had to learn to knit in school! Perhaps there's a backlash going on, but no one was knitting.
  • There were no cute yarn stores anywhere I went. Even in tourist-y Stratford, the only place selling yarn was a little five-and-dime type place with skeins of nasty acrylic. Bath, a large and lovely city, had a stall in the marketplace, also with acrylic. I once chased a bus because it had a yarn shop advert on the side saying "World of Wool." This was apparently in Leamington Spa, which wasn't on our itinerary. Finally, I found a sewing shop in dull, industrial Melksham with nice wool, so I bought some like the addict I am, even though it wasn't very exciting or exclusive or anything. What are they doing with all those sheep? The mind boggles!
  • My relatives mostly thought I was slightly mad for knitting so much. One of my aunts said, "Well, you wouldn't really want to knit a sweater anyway, would you, when it's so much easier just to buy one."
  • I still got lots of knitting done. Trains, which are plentiful and useful in the U.K., though much more expensive than they used to be, are great places to knit. I finished a sock for the DH and got most of the way through a shrug for me, which I finished this past weekend.
Say what you will about us Yanks, at least we know the point of a pair of needles, pun intended!