The Ulysses Project – Part 2

Why bother?

I mentioned in the Part 1 post that I’ve never processed a fleece by hand so it’s a fair question to ask why would I start now after the industrial revolution successfully removed this kind of drudgery from women’s lives. There are piles and piles of beautiful yarns available for easy purchase in my little town, let alone the bounty of the internet. So why bother making it.

One reason is that I have an interest in history. Lanark was once a major center for textile production in Ontario, much of it wool. In fact, the last working mill here, the Glenayr Kitten Mill closed in 1997 – which really wasn’t that long ago. The wool mill in the big living history museum near here is (for me) a fascinating place and I wanted to try my hand at it. And finally, I have a lingering, probably highly romanticized fascination with ‘traditional women’s skills’. By this I mean household production tasks which traditionally fell to women such as yarn and cloth production, candle making, beer and cider making and food storage and preservation. I do all of this except the candle making – I have to draw the line somewhere.

This is where the interest began and is still the root of why I’ve put effort into this but over time it has morphed into something more. Last October, Instagram exploded with #slowfashionoctober where everyone who had anything to do with fibre was talking about how and why they were pushing back against fast fashion. This really struck a chord with me (and the rest of the world considering the 1.25 million hits returned by Google) and gave me an opportunity to really think about not just why I was knitting, but why I was making yarn.

Clothing with Terroir

I realized that I wanted to create garments that had a sense of ‘terroir‘. Much like a wine or cheese has a taste of where it was produced, I wanted my clothing to have that same feeling. Subconsciously, I have been moving in this direction for a while. All the fleece I have – wool, alpaca, and llama was raised on farms very close to me. There is mohair and angora around here too, but I don’t have any (yet).

Ulysses lived 20 km from me. The mill which did the processing is 26 km away. Short of raising sheep in my backyard (which local bylaw says I’m not allowed to do), you can’t get much more local than that.

The Ulysses Project – Part 1

Part 1 – Background

(This is part 1 in what will become a series of related posts)

Two and a half years ago, I was at a small fibre festival in McDonalds Corners in rural Lanark County (yeah, I know most of Lanark is rural, but this place is really in the woods) where I bought 500g of washed Blue Faced Leicester fleece. Oh, it was lovely and soft, but it was short – too short for the mill which was why this shepherd was selling it for hand processing. Full disclosure – I’ve never processed a fleece by hand.

No problem, I thought. People have been hand carding and combing wool for far longer than the process has been mechanized. I can take care of this. Besides, it’s only 500g. Not like it’s the entire fleece.

I’ll pause here while you have a good laugh.

I don’t have a drum carder. I do own a set of hand carders but I’m not handy with them. I understand the basic premise of what I’m supposed to do, and perhaps 10 minutes with someone who really knows how to use them could change my opinion of them. But I’m not there. I find them awkward and I hated using them. So the fleece sat in it’s bag. Every so often, while stash diving I’d see it and open it up. It really is lovely stuff but I was never going to get it all carded.

Two years later, the fleece was still in its bag and I still wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it. Then I heard about a new fibre mill which was opening locally! I contacted them and – Hallelujah – they could take the fleece and process it.

I drove over on the appointed day and handed over the bag. Remember me saying it was short – yeah, they looked at it and weren’t sure they could do it. Disappointment must have showed on my face because the owner said to leave it with him, that maybe he could blend it with a minimal amount of something else, just to get it through the machines. That is exactly what ended up happening. The BFL was blended with 10% nameless wool as a carrier medium to get it through the machines.

So why is this called the Ulysses Project? Well, Ulysses is the hero of The Odyssey which took place over 10 years. There were lots of twists and turns and side adventures in the story of his return home from the Trojan War. Ulysses was also the name of the ram who provided the fleece. Since this particular project has been going for more than two years and also has some twists and side adventures, I thought the name was fitting.

The Christmas Stocking Tradition

There is a fun Christmas tradition in my family. I’m not sure when this tradition started but I know it was my maternal grandmother who started it. We all have the same hand knit Christmas stocking – they have our names and the year of birth in Fair Isle at the top and a Santa Claus worked in Intarsia on the leg.

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I think it must have been a Herculean effort for her when she started. A stocking for her, and my grandfather, their four children, children’s spouses and all the grand kids. To be fair, I’m the eldest grandchild so there was time to make stockings for grandchildren. But there are eight of us. That’s a lot of hand knit stockings! And now the grandchildren are (almost) all married and having babies of their own. And those babies all have stockings.

My grandmother died about twenty years ago and that’s when my mother took over knitting the stockings. My partner and my son have stockings made by her as do the spouses and children of many of my cousins.

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Last year, the pattern was passed to me. I am now the keeper of the stocking pattern and it’s my role to produce a stocking for new babies and spouses. I have three to make this year.

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I still have the first page of the original hand written pattern and a ‘chart’ of sorts which was produced later for the Santa picture. But the chart I have doesn’t match the pattern on my stocking so I’ve made a new one (and then I changed it a bit. Don’t tell.).

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And maybe I’ll actually write the second page of the pattern which is about turning the heel and knitting the foot and toe.

I’m not sure who I’ll be passing it on to. I know my niece has learned to knit. Who knows, maybe in another 30 years, she’ll be the keeper of the pattern. And oddly, for something that is more than 40 years old, it doesn’t look all that dated. Then again, I’m looking through the lens of love and nostalgia.

Edit – by popular request, I am making the pattern available. You can download it from here

Reframing November – Update

Ya know – I think there might be something to this idea of consciously choosing to view challenges and obstacles as opportunities. Of responding rather than reacting. I’m starting the draft of this post on November 21 and even though there have been some difficulties, globally and personally this has been my best November in years – possibly ever.

I ended October with a list of all the great things I was going to do for myself. I was going to journal regularly. I was going to go to yoga. I was going to pay more attention to diet. As it turns out, I did none of those things (all these things appeal to me but I’ll save the question of why I never did any of them for another time.) I made a few notes in the journal, but not the brain dump I was planning. I never got to a yoga class and my diet was average at best – if Shiraz is a food group.

But here I am, after attending the funeral for a friend’s 41 year old husband who died in his sleep of no known cause and after hearing about a break up in my family which involves an unborn baby (she’s since been born and honestly, I’m not sure I’ll ever get to meet this child I have a close blood relation to). After the outcome of the US election. I’m looking at all these events and I know that in previous years I would have struggled with them. Yet here I am. Smiling and knowing that I cannot effect change in any of these situations.

I’m heartbroken by events, but I’m not broken. I’m mystified by other people’s decisions but not discouraged. And I have great faith that I’ll be able to repeat what I’ve learned next November.

4 FOs

Hey look – I have a few more things finished!

This is my Qiviut that I was spinning a few weeks ago. I’m calling this a finished item because it now looks like actual yarn. I’m still thinking about what I’m going to make with it. I have 235 yards of a heavy lace / light fingering weight yarn. Any suggestions?

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Socks. This is my third pair of Hermione’s Everyday Socks.

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Love. Them.
Seriously, if you don’t have a pair go cast some on!

I didn’t show this last week with the rest of my work basket tour but it’s been lying around for a while now. I think this is the first thing I’ve ever knit – and finished using my hand spun yarn. I’m pretty impressed with myself for getting something even enough to consider measuring gauge.

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The yarn is a handspun made up of Yak, Merino and Silk. How decadent is that!

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This blend came from Noble Fibre Mill in Almonte and the pattern is Alhambra by Anne Hanson of Knitspot fame. You can purchase this pattern from here. I’ve made this scarf several times; usually to give as a gift but I do have another version of it for me made of cashmere and silk. This is the great joy of knitting (and spinning frankly). I can knit the lux things I can’t afford to buy and in the case of the qiviut, I can’t even afford to buy the yarn – but I can spin it.

And lastly, I have a cowl to show you. The yarn is called Alpaca 60 by Estelle Yarns and it fell into my bag while browsing in the yarn shop last weekend. I have no idea how these things happen.

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Anyway, this is quite a bulky yarn and I don’t often knit with bulky so I’m always so surprised at how quickly things knit up with it. This cowl was a few hours of pretty mindless knitting and then it was done.

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The colours in the second picture are closer to true. My initial thought was that these aren’t my colours and that I was going to give the cowl away as a Christmas gift but the more I look at it (and touch it – oh, this is gloriously soft), I think I might keep it for myself.

Reframing November

For most of my adult life, I’ve really struggled with November. It’s cold, dark, rainy and generally unpleasant. There are no major holidays or festivals and nothing to look forward to. It’s an endurance test on the way to December – which is still cold and dark, but the snow which is usually on the ground helps to brighten things up, there are Christmas lights everywhere and of course, there is Christmas to look forward to.

But to get there you have to get through November.

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I’m not alone in this sentiment – as I was flipping through Instagram this morning, I noticed there are a lot of people with the same opinion. So I’m going to try something different. This year, I’m reframing November.

Reframing is a term I’ve heard a few times recently – typically in business literature to mean looking at a problem from a different point of view; to see how you can turn that problem into an opportunity. If you want more detail on what I’m talking about, Tara Swiger has a great podcast that you can hear here.

Shortly after I heard this podcast, I listened to Truly Myrtle talking about November. Her opinion is totally different than mine for a variety of reasons. She is planning a month of spoiling herself and encouraging listeners to do the same. Frankly, it sounded like a lovely idea.

So I’m going to put these two ideas together. Rather than treat November as an endurance test, I’m going to reframe it and treat it as ‘me’ time. A whole month for me. This is made much easier because my partner is away for the first two weeks and my son is old enough that so long as there is food on the table each night, he doesn’t really care what I do. So the focus is on the little things I can do to help buoy my spirits and stay happy. Self-care of body, mind and spirit.

This isn’t about ‘drink 8 glasses of water a day’ or ‘limit alcohol’ though they are both undeniably good things to do for ourselves. I’m thinking more along the lines of re-establish a journaling practice, getting into a routine with yoga. Permitting time to sit and do nothing – and not feel guilty about it. Planning and doing some prep work for meals on days when I work from home so the days when I’m in the office much of the work for dinner is already done. That kind of stuff. I also have a goal to have all my Christmas shopping done by the end of November to alleviate that pressure in December. Since I do a lot of shopping online or in the little towns outside Ottawa, this is actually a do-able thing.

I’ll be posting shorter updates through November to let you know how this is going. If you have any ideas to share about this, I’d love to hear from you.

WIP Update

I have nothing so dramatic as the newly completed Bear Lake Pullover to share this week, but making and creating continues. There are three projects on the go right now: a pair of socks, a baby cardigan and some spinning.

Lets start with the spinning – gosh, this one is so exciting to me. Looks kinda dull and boring eh?

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Actually, it’s Qiviut. Never heard of Qiviut? It’s the softer-than-cashmere, down from Arctic musk-ox. Yes, it’s also crazy expensive and everything they say about it is absolutely true. This is a bag of soft. Is that a thing? I don’t know but that’s the sensation when I touch the roving. This preparation came from Noble Fibre Mill just down the road in Almonte and I’m really pleased with it. The current plan is to make this into a two ply yarn that will become some fluffy, lacy neck thing. I know – not painting much of a picture with that but honestly, the fibre hasn’t quite told me about what it wants to be.

What else do I have? I have this adorable little cardigan.

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The pattern is called Jessica by Linda Whaley (Rowan) and I’m actually using the recommended yarn for the knit! Does anybody else do that? I don’t normally – I have a substantial stash so I often shop there first and fudge the numbers if my gauge isn’t quite right – but I’m just so pleased with how this looks that I just might use recommended yarn a little more often! I’m knitting this for a little miss who is due to make her debut at the end of November. This is a 6 – 9 month size so I was hoping she could wear it next spring or summer. That said, it looks awfully small to me. We’ll see how it goes. It may end up being a layering piece this winter.

This knit was the first time I’ve ever used a picot cast on and I have to say, I’m smitten with it. It’s kinda fussy and I’m not usually one for frills (hazards of being a boy mother) but I really do adore the little bit of flounce on this cardi.

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And lastly, there is a pair of socks. The pattern is Hermione’s Everyday Socks and you can download it here for free. These are made using a traditional top down, flap-heel construction and this is the third time I’ve knit these socks. I like how the pattern is simple enough that it’s a relaxing knit but isn’t boring.

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But mostly, I like how these socks fit. Do you have a favourite sock pattern? Drop me a note and tell me about it!

Bear Lake Pullover

I’m so pleased with this! Really, I can’t say enough good things about it. This was one of those knits which was started on an impulse, I picked what I thought would be a good yarn out of the stash and after a halfhearted gauge swatch, I cast on. The knitting Gods smiled and the whole thing worked. Don’t ask me what the yarn is, I don’t know. I bought it 10 years ago in a bag with no label, just a lot number from a going-out-of-business shop in Ballarat Australia. I’m pretty sure it is mostly if not all merino.

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The whole thing knit up quite quickly and my son is thrilled to have a new sweater.

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I did an initial fitting for this right off the needles and while I knitted exactly to gauge (no really – I did – stitch AND row! I was so excited!),  I found the fit a little off for my son. I’m a big fan of Amy Herzog’s Fit to Flatter and frequently adjust patterns for myself, but it’s been a long time since I’ve knit a sweater for him. Come to think of it, it hasn’t actually been that long but while he was growing the way only a teenage boy can, I wasn’t about to knit him something he would outgrow before I finished the first sleeve.

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I don’t know why it never occurred to me to actually measure him and compare with the schematic – I did a chest measurement to select a size but that was it. He’s tall and thin with long slender arms. I’m happy with the fit of the body but I really should have adjusted the arms. I may yet take them off and re-knit them to be longer and narrower.

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On the other hand, blocking fixes a lot of problems.

If you want to knit this too, the pattern is in Fall 2016, Interweave Knits or can be downloaded from Ravelry.

Apples

You’ll never believe this but I have to share it with you all. We’ve lived in this house for 5 years and in the past three weeks, we’ve found two apple trees on our property. Not little sticks-with-two-leaves kind of trees, but enormous have-been-there-for-a-hundred-years kind of trees.

In my defense, we have 6 acres and the fence line is somewhat overgrown. One of the trees was found almost in the ditch on the road (OK – this is a relatively small tree) and the other was found on the back fence, crowded by all kinds of scrub. This isn’t a small tree. The trunk is bigger around than I am. We’ve also collected windfall from one of the neighbours who has different apples. We now have a lot of apples.

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That’s a lot of apples

I can only make so much apple crisp or pie and I’m not a great fan of applesauce but I love cider! And – it just so happens that we have a cider press we got at auction about a year ago. I’ve never made cider but I have made beer so I have an idea what the process is and I have buckets, carboys, pressure valves, bottles and all the assorted bits and pieces necessary for brewing in the kitchen.

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Cider Press – with the barrel upside down!

Now the thing about buying items at auction is you may or may not get all the original parts. Pieces from different machines may end up together in a lot and we discovered – after much cranking, and cursing, that the hopper/grinder we have is for grapes. Not apples. After much trial and error, we’ve discovered a relatively good way of prepping the apples for the press and slowly, we’ve figured out how to do this.

We’re now at the stage where we have one primary fermenter active and a second will be added to it shortly. One batch will be a sweet, still cider and the other will be drier and sparkling. It should all be ready in time for Christmas!

Reboot

I’ve started and stopped blogging a few times. I’m not sure why I stopped the first time – I suspect it was because life just got away from me – but the second time it was because I didn’t have a focus.

I’ve given this some thought, and learned a bit. Actually, I’ve learned a lot. Learned about myself, what matters to me, what I want to share (without oversharing ’cause nobody likes that) and even a little bit about photography. I’m still not great with a camera, but I’m better than I used to be.

So what do I do? I knit, I spin and I weave. I run, am new to yoga and I have a big garden. I live in an old stone house in what had once been a major center of textile production in Ontario and am keenly interested in the return of local fibre production. I’d like to use this space to spread the word on what is happening in my area.

Welcome to the reboot.