Sunday, December 8, 2013

Qiviet: yes, I know what it means!

   One day at our weekly Scrabble get together in Monteverde, a player browsing through the dictionary read out, "Qiviet, the wool of a musk ox" and said "Who on earth would know THAT word?" Happily, I am among the lucky few with qiviet experience. Qiviet is a gloriously soft and quite rare fiber. The arctic muskox sheds its thick undercoat all in a very short period in spring and it is combed, not sheared from the coarser guard hairs. Native people used to collect tufts of qiviet that had caught on plants. That was probably easier than cornering a wild animal that as an adult weighs an average of 285 kg/630 pounds. In fact, some qiviet is still collected in the traditional way.
   Friends that visited the Large Animal Research Station in Fairbanks gave me an ounce of a blend of 70% qiviet and 30% merino wool. The merino adds some spring that qiviet doesn't have, so it's an excellent blend for knitting. Qiviet itself is softer than cashmere and eight times warmer than sheep's wool.
   One ounce of my yarn was only 135 yards; we are talking a seriously rare and expensive fiber. After much thought I decided to knit a lace cowl because of the wonderful softness and because that way I won't lose it. I used a  pattern called Abstract Leaves Cowl by Deb Mulder. It's available free on Ravelry.
    Knit up, the yarn is much softer than in the skein. That's saying a lot because the skein is pretty darn soft. A sort of haze or halo develops around the yarn and according to the Large Animal Research Station website, the halo will continue to develop. On their web site you can see a fascinating video of an animal being combed. The fleece comes off in a big sheet or fleece. They also have yarn you can invest in.
   I love looking at the cowl close up. The color was called Blueberry but basically it's muskox color with undertones of bluish purple. I usually block lace but I'm going to wear this scrunched up on my neck so I didn't bother.
  While knitting this cowl I made use of my handy little electronic scale. For example I weighed my ball of yarn before and after a row of knitting and determined that one row took .5 grams of yarn. Thus I could calculate how many rows of the pattern I could do. I could also calculate when to change to the garter stitch border so that I would have enough to finish. It worked out very well because I had less than a yard left when I cast off. (I even have a project in mind for that little bit: it should be enough to make one or two knit acorns.)
  This cowl is probably the warmest garment you can make with an ounce of yarn. With the unusually cold weather we are having this week it's reassuring to have this luscious garment available.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Temari without a theme

  I admire people that take an idea and explore it in depth with different variations. That has not been the case with my recent temari. They really have nothing in common with each other except that they are both nicely round.
  This temari is the pattern called Buttercups in Barbara Suess's Temari Techniques book. Contrariwise as usual, I stitched in the complementary colors to her design, using several shades of purple. I like to call it Deep Purple. To fill in the diamonds I used a rayon thread from Morocco that my sister gave me some time ago. I really like the contrast of the cotton perlé and the synthetic. The latter is slightly more difficult to stitch with. (I needed to twist my needle to keep the thread sufficiently twisted. The extra effort was worth it and I plan to use it again.)
The other recent temari I stitched is from a Japanese book (ISBN978-4-8377-0395-2). It has bands wrapped on a C8 marking and then kiku stitches to make flowers in a random pattern.
It wasn't challenging figuring out the charts in the book for this particular pattern but I was grateful to a Japanese friend for translating the part that basically says stitch the kiku as the spirit moves you. Even though you can't see them all in the book, theirs has eight flowers. My spirit moved me to stitch seven.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Bee balm lace

   I just finished a lace shawl that reminds me of the common bee balm flower that grows with abundance in our Midwestern prairies.
I used the Ostrich Plume stitch pattern on page 278 of Barbara Walker's Second Treasury of Knitting Patterns. It looks complicated, but it's one of the easiest lace patterns I've ever knit. Three rows out of four you knit stockinette and the lace row is easy to memorize. I added a border of 5 stitches in garter stitch to keep it from curling.
   When knitting is in progress, the lace looks pathetic. Kind friends avert their eyes and do not question one's sanity. It's lumpy.
Below you see it during the blocking process, pinned to a sheet on top of my bed. The sheet is so I can see all the pins and remove them all. I used an entire box, doubtless hundreds. Using lots of pins reduces the waviness of the edge. Unblocked, the shawl measured 4 feet by 14 inches. Blocking made it magically grow to 5 1/2 feet by 19 inches. (1.7 meters by .5 meters) Because it is so thin a yarn and open an pattern it dried in a couple of hours, even in the summer humidity.
I am looking forward to wearing it. It's going to the opera!
Knitty gritty: I used an Italian yarn, Cashwool by Baruffa in lilac. It's 100% extra fine merino with 1350 meters to 100 grams. Apparently this yarn is no longer available in the US. This particular yarn went back and forth to Costa Rica not once but twice!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

With one stroke of the needle

  I love learning new techniques for stitching temari. Recently I've been working on hito hude gake in which an entire motif or series of motifs can be done with a single stitching path. (There is a good explanation of the technique in Temari Techniques by Barbara Suess.)
   To create these balls I stitched kiku herringbone motifs in a spiral around the ball from the north pole to the south pole and back. Some of each motif is done on the way south and each motif is finished on the return trip. Traditionally one color is used going from the north and another going from the south to facilitate keeping track of where you are. I'm not crazy about the way that looks because I like things to be very symmetrical. Therefore on my first attempt, on a 27 cm circumference C10 ball, I used very similar colors and then I reversed which color went south and which color went north. This fools the eye so it's hard to notice differences between the stars. In this picture, it's the smaller ball.
  The second ball, with a circumference of  37 cm, is marked with 32 centers. Barbara suggests this pattern for multicenter balls that are less than perfect because it disguises the irregularities. My ball is a good proof of that concept as the marking was sort of wonky. For this ball I used the same colors in both directions. By having little papers with numbers pinned in each of the areas I could follow the path just fine.
  Because this ball was quite time consuming to stitch, I tested a few different color combinations on partial stars by stitching a few rows and leaving the ends dangling so it was easy to take the threads out. This helped me decide to add more blue. Eventually I decided on outlining in green.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

I'm excited about my socks

  I've knit a lot of socks, even though sometime in the past I said something like "I would never spend all that time knitting something that no one would even see." A few years ago I realized that besides preventing inundation by sweaters, knitting socks has much to commend it. It's easy to take a sock along, even one that is almost complete. That's not true of sweaters. Also, hand knit socks are really, really comfortable since they actually fit.  One-size-fits-all is a cruel joke to someone with long feet.
      I've knit lots of fancy socks with interesting patterns such as these from a free pattern called Pomatomus.
  Lately I've been knitting basic socks with various easy stitch patterns that I can knit during Scrabble games or while watching a video. My most recent pair use a stitch pattern called Stansfield 12 from a book called More Sensational Knitted Socks by Charlene Schurch. While I found the author's instructions for knitting socks to contain some errors, the collection of stitch patterns is very useful.
  It really surprised me that when I put my new socks on, the stitch pattern looked completely different than when it's not on the foot. It's a subtle kind of excitement that I'm not expecting anyone else to notice, but I like it.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

This season's temari crop

  During the dry season in Monteverde, I've stitched quite a few temari. Now "winter" or the rainy season is upon us, so on this sunny morning I  gathered up this season's crop for a group photo.
I've been learning more about reading patterns and learning some new techniques.
The temari above and the following one use continuous paths for part of their stitching. Learning how to read diagrams for these paths has been a bit mind-bending, especially as I found a small error in the Japanese book I used to learn the one above. The yellow flowers with French knots convinced me that I want to do more free embroidery in the future.
I love the way this large quilt style ball came out. It's not what I thought I was going to get but sometimes there are surprises because as you wrap you cover up things. This is the first time I've let the ball itself show through windows of the wrapped threads. There are many possibilities to explore in this style.
I wanted to try putting some beads on temari, so I tried that on this really little one. I think it's an embellishment that has a lot to offer. I think I'll soon have a bead stash as well as a thread stash.
I'm looking forward to learning new techniques and improving ones I've already tried.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Procrastination points

   One of my personal guidelines is that if I finish a project that has been subject to procrastination, I give myself extra points. I'm not sure what these points are good for but it's a lot more fun than beating myself up for taking so long. I just finished a Fair Isle sweater that I started a 17 months ago. I hereby give myself lots of points!
   The pattern is my own. I first tried out the colors and flower pattern on a tam. I love trying to mix in a few surprise colors like the rust and a bright dark pink. I prefer shading effects in the two color ribbing.  
  I decided to make the sweater as a rather fitted cropped jacket. This is the first Fair Isle sweater in which I have I shaped the arm holes so the sweater is a bit sleeker. 
 The knitty gritty: The yarn is Jamieson and Smith two ply jumper weight knit on 2.5 mm needles (US 1.5). To figure out the armhole shaping I referred to Alice Starmore's Book of Fair Isle Knitting and found a sweater using about the same number of stitches as I needed. The body was knit with steeks for the armholes and the front. After knitting the body and cutting the steeks, I picked up stitches around the arm hole for the sleeves and knit down until the sleeves were long enough for me. The front bands and cuffs were knit on 1.75 mm/US 00 needles and have facing knit on size 1.5mm/US000 needles. Maybe that's why the closer I got to the end of the sweater, the slower it seemed to go.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

A small selection of insects

  I find insects quite fascinating. That's a good thing for anyone that lives in the tropics because there are a lot of insects about. (I had less positive feelings about the scorpion in our bathroom last night, but that's a different story.) On a recent walk in the Santa Elena reserve, we saw several particularly interesting insects. First was this pair of dung beetles rolling their ball of dung along the forest floor. They were in the cleared area next to the path, heading for a dead end with a 10 cm/4 inch cliff looming ahead so I used a leaf to transfer them over to the leaf litter farther from the trail.
Then we saw this very large insect trucking along at a phenomenal rate of speed. A friend who knows about such things said it is a species of cerambycidae or long horned beetle. Note for future reference: beetles with long antennae are likely to be cerambycidae. This one was over 10 cm. or 4 inches long.
Morpho butterflies are quite easy to see in many places in Costa Rica including Monteverde. Their iridescent blueness and their crazy flight pattern never ceases to lift my heart. It's quite unusual to see one perched with it's wings open. Usually you see the camouflaged under wing.
Moths, on the other hand, are often sitting around waiting to be photographed during the day while they sleep. I like this subtle elegance of this fuzzy individual.
 I wish I had some fabric printed with this this motif of  spots within circles.
The best thing about looking for insects in the tropics is that you never know what you will see next because there are so many different species.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Two variations on a theme

   My most recent temari combine the threads I bought in Guatemala with colors ideas I got there. This ball is sitting on the table runner (a former huipil or traditional blouse) that inspired it.
The stitch is kiku or chrysanthemum stitch. It's a great stitch because it's much easier to do than it looks. This thread, being size 8, is finer than what is often used for temari and while it took longer to stitch, it let me get more detail on the ball. It's like having a higher resolution TV. Having done this ball on a green base, I decided to use the same colors on a black base.
First I stitched with colors going from light in the center to dark at the outside. On the other side I reversed the color order, although I still outlined with a dark color.
What different effects one can get with the same colors. It's one of the things that makes stitching temari fascinating. I had lots of space around the equator so I tried a more elaborate obi than I usually do. It uses the same colors and is two sets of kiku stitches overlapping at the equator.
I like looking at these two balls together to see how much you can do with the same set of colors.

Sunday, April 21, 2013


I'm not much of a collector (I like to think. But how did all that stuff get in my house?) One collection I have is of beaded hair clips from Guatemala. My very first one was of a hummingbird. I wore it so much it kind of fell apart. This is its replacement.
Now that I know that hair clips don't last forever, I'm always on the lookout for new ones. The amazing thing about Guatemalan crafts is that every piece seems to be different. Other than their beauty, the reason I need hair clips is that it is sometimes so windy in Monteverde it's that or go insane from hair whipping around my face. Or get a buzz cut. So I let my hair grow longer than I normally do and clip it.
   On this flower I love the shading on the leaves and the use of the longer green beads.
This butterfly hid one of its antennae during its photo shoot.
On my last trip to Guatemala I found out that hummingbirds clips are rare now. I saw hundreds, if not thousands of hair clips—all different—but not another hummingbird I liked. I did find a completely new style of clip which has embroidery enhanced with beads. The shop owner told me it was of a woodpecker, but this species is only found in the imagination of the artist.
Now I'm thinking about how beads could be added to temari.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Size matters

   I recently stitched two balls of very different sizes with the same design and it's interesting to see how different they look. The design is Interlocked Puzzle in Temari Techniques by Barbara Suess. The directions call for a 32 cm circumference ball but I happened to have a 45 cm C10 ball sitting around so I used that. (It's the bigger ball in the photo below. ) It looked a little sparse so I used one more row in each shape than Barb called for.
   Then I decided to stitch a smaller ball and used one with a 30 cm circumference/3.75". I think they make a nice pair because I used blues and greens in both. Using a dark thread to mark the ball made a difference; those lines are much more prominent in the smaller ball because of the contrast with the base thread.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Most colorful nation?

I wonder if anyone has ever ranked cultures by how colorful they are. Surely Guatemala would be at or near the top of the list. Not only do many people in the highlands still wear their traditional and very finely crafted garments, there is a plethora of colorful textiles and other souvenirs for sale. On our recent trip there, one of the pieces I bought was this beautiful table runner made out of a slightly used huipil or traditional blouse.
I not only bought textiles; I bought some number 8 mercerized cotton embroidery thread in the Panajachel market. These ladies, in their beautiful huipils helped me with some color suggestions. Mr. Rududu is such an enabler: he told me to buy one of every color the seller had. I was slightly more restrained than that because I was thinking about how heavy my carry-on luggage was already. Interestingly, this kind of thread is a fraction of the cost in Guatemala compared to what it costs in the US.
My thread looks like a boxes of candy. I've already started stitching temari with it.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The other side of the ball

   One of the fun things about stitching temari is that not all sides of the ball can be seen at once. If one doesn't do so well on one side of ball, it can be displayed with the preferred side visible and the other side as unseen as the dark side of the moon.
   I just completed a 16 face ball with kiku or chrysanthemum stitch in the four hexagons and the other shapes filled in with swirl stitch.
I tried both solid color swirls as above and swirls where I lightened the color as I got close to the center of the shape as in the next picture.
I enjoy trying different color combinations of different sides too. (Perhaps I just have a low tolerance for boredom.) I also tried different greens with the same blue on the various kiku sides.
This was my favorite color combination.
The colors of this ball were inspired by a little bird found in Monteverde. While not extremely rare, it's very difficult to see because it hides in clumps of mistletoe high in trees. It's the Elegant Euphonia (euphonia elegantissima).
The nitty-gritty: I learned how to mark this ball by following a tutorial in the Temari Challenge Yahoo group. The marking is called C8 to pentagons and hexagons. The 16 faces consist of 4 large hexagons and 12 pentagons. Thanks again to Joan Z., who led the tutorial.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Where are all the sloths?

   Considering that sloths are one of the most common mammals in the tropical forest, they are surprisingly difficult to see. A study cited by Mark Wainwright in his excellent Natural History of Costa Rican Mammals found that sloths accounted for two-thirds the biomass of terrestrial mammals in a study area in Panama. Despite their abundance, it's not easy to see a sloth, especially the nocturnal Hoffman's Two-toed Sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni), the only sloth species found in the Monteverde area. Consider this sloth sleeping less than 3 meters (9 feet) from our bedroom window.
 It was mid-afternoon before we noticed it was there. I don't feel quite so lacking in observational skills after reading in Wainwright's book that " Biologists have found that even individuals that have been precisely radio-located can be impossible to see" because they like to spend the day sleeping in the middle of liana tangles.
  So it's always fun to get a really good view of a sloth. Just looking at a sleeping sloth makes me feel like taking a nap.
 One way to see a sloth is to go on a twilight walk with a guide. Guides often search out a sloth before the tour and sloths are apt to become active around dusk, making them easier to see. The easiest way to see a sloth is to know someone caring for a rescued baby. Babies sometimes fall from their mother and are abandoned. Caring for a baby sloth is a huge commitment as baby sloths stay with their mothers for up to two years.
   Even though two-toes sloths are generally nocturnal, this one was active during the day. Perhaps that special flower was tasty enough to wake up for.