Thursday, November 29, 2007

Holiday Spirits

In the spirit of the impending season, I want to share a recipe that I’ve often made for the holiday dinner. There’s still time, since this is best mummified in cheesecloth and soaked in liquor for a few weeks.

Many years ago (I think I was halfway through college), I found an old recipe clipped from the newspaper in one of my Mother’s cookbooks from her days as a new housewife in the late 1950’s. The faded newsprint had a note, in my Kentucky grandmother’s handwriting “This is the cake you all enjoyed so much at Xmas last year.” It’s dated 1964.

Over the years I have fiddled with the ingredients a bit and the result follows. But with important notes first.

Use the best bourbon you can! This is no time to scrimp. You only need a small bottle. Get the good stuff. I’ve had decent results with Old Grandad. And, you can try other liquors as well. I’ve tried Irish whiskey, and I think a dark rum like some Mount Gay or Meyers could be quite tasty too (with some grated coconut, mmm).

The original recipe was written as more of a traditional “fruit cake”. Nothing gives me the shivers quite like those icky colored candied “fruit” bits. If you like them, I’m very sorry, and you can have my share. The point was, I’ve most often made this with golden raisins alone. The black raisins seem to scorch more easily, and the golden have a lighter flavor. I’ve also used dried cranberries, and I think you could make a nice fruity cake with dried cherries, apricots, currants, and maybe dates included.

And how does this relate to knitting? It’s going to be baking for a good long time. So get some knitting done while you wait!

Kentucky Bourbon Pecan Cake

Makes one cake
Preheat oven to 250°

2 cups sifted flour

2 Tbsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

2 tsp nutmeg (also cinnamon, mace, allspice, and cloves if you wish)

2 cups brown sugar

1 cup butter (2 sticks)

6 eggs, separated

1 cup bourbon

1 pound coarsely chopped pecans

1 pound golden raisins

Grease bottom and sides of a 10” angel food cake pan or two 8” springform pans, and line bottoms with greased brown paper. (A recipe of its time – I certainly think you could use parchment paper instead)

Mix 2 Tbsp of flour with nuts and raisins and set aside.

Sift remaining flour with baking powder, salt and nutmeg.

Cream butter and sugar. Thoroughly beat in one egg yolk at a time. Beat in sifted ingredients alternately with bourbon. Beat until smooth.

Stir in pecans and raisins.

Beat egg whites until stiff, then fold into batter.

Turn into prepared pan. Bake at 250° - about four hours for angel food cake pan, or about 2-1/2 to 3 hours for springform pans - until cake tester comes out clean and top springs back. Place a shallow pan of water in oven for first 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 hours of baking.

Cool 30 minutes on a rack. Turn out and remove paper. Cool completely.

Store wrapped in bourbon-soaked cheesecloth and in plastic in an airtight tin. (Nowadays, get a nice big ziploc bag)

Best made at Thanksgiving, and soaked until Christmas.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Doing My Part to Keep the WIP Alive

“Is the WIP blog post dead?” some are asking. Not here at Lots of Yarn, and I’ll tell you why. I’ve had several forced “rest periods” from knitting in the past four years (before and after three arm surgeries). I found my first knitting blog, WendyKnits through an article on blogging in the Washington Post. Wendy linked to other blogs, and they linked to other blogs, and I am embarrassed to tell you how many blogs are in my Bloglines right now.

I have learned so much, have been inspired, and have been moved to try knitting things I never had any idea existed, or had any idea I would want to knit. Some I’ve liked more than others. Lace has stuck. And I have an epic stash of sock yarn. Oh, and now I’m a Spinner. Down the rabbit hole.

Knit bloggers have made me laugh, sometimes when I’ve really needed it. And made me think. There are some keen analysts and really good writers out there. Some have shared such poignant episodes in their lives and the level of trust in their dear readers is reassuring to me that common decency still exists in increasingly rude times. There are caring, funny, smart, and wise (mostly) women who make an effort to put what they love out there, and it’s just amazing sometimes.

Bloggers have been my vicarious stitchers at times, and have made and fixed mistakes and shared them with us, and we’ve all had a chance to learn. Of course, celebrating the happy FO’s is fun too, but the WIP’s, and the lessons they teach, are what I love best. So whether you are a process or product knitter, or a hybrid of both, I hope you will find something useful here on occasion.

The Cleite Shawl is now through two repeats of Chart 2. I’ve been weighing the remaining handspun after each, and I’m figuring and calculating, hoping I’ll just make it through four full repeats. Of course I can bind off a few rows early, but I’m knitting faster, so I won’t run out.

Cleite Shawl chart 2 twice

The lace pattern is very straightforward and rhythmic once you get through a complete repeat. I keep forgetting to knit the few knit stitches on the WS since the dark brown yarn makes them less obvious, and have resorted to hanging markers on each which look silly, but keep me from going on auto-pilot.

Cleite Shawl chart 2 detail

The handspun is quite uneven in spots, but part of the beauty of lace is that it’s not a smooth solid fabric anyway, and pinned out the lace is still looking lovely.

If you are knitting this from the Wooly Wonka Exotic Fiber Club pattern, note that errata are posted HERE.

Husband Mitt One is done. You know what? It is hard to photograph your own hand. The Husband hand is out of town, so I’m working this out as I go based on some mitts I made him a couple or three years ago, and won’t weave in the bound off ends until he tries them on for length.

Husband Mitt One

As I mentioned the other day, I started with AnnyPurls’ adaptation of Hello Yarn’s Cable Twist sock, cast on 64 stitches, worked out a gusset, fiddled with the thumb, changed needle sizes to snug up the cuff and top, and there you have it. The yarn is 2-ply fingering weight spun from Wooly Wonka hand-dyed BFL. And I cannot say enough nice things about how wonderful the roving was to spin or knit with. Husband Mitt Two is already on the needles!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

On a Roll, Chocalpaca = Cleite Shawl

As promised yesterday, here’s the finished skein of alpaca, fiber from Wooly Wonka’s Exotic Fiber Club. Click photos for big!

Chocalpaca skein
After its soak in Soak

I didn’t give it the full rough wet-finishing treatment, just a few vigorous dunks in very warm but not hot water. The yarn didn’t bloom as much as it just softened quite a bit. It was spun with a pretty good twist to keep it together, then plied to be balanced.

Chocalpaca close-up

The singles were pretty uneven in spots, totally the result of my hurried spinning, not the fiber. This could easily have been spun finer, but I was in a must-finish-something mood, and I also wanted a little sturdier shawl as a finished product.

Chocalpaca with EC 25 cents
Chocalpaca with 25 cents EC, about the size of a US quarter

The East Caribbean Dollar is the currency of most of the Eastern Caribbean island nations and territories.

Final specs: 3oz, 2-ply, 19-22wpi which makes it (as predicted) a heavy laceweight/light fingering weight, 9tpi, 286 yds.

So, I immediately cast on for the Cleite Shawl. The pattern, from Miriam Felton of MimKnits, was part of the club package, though she’s test knitting a full size version and so I’m guessing the pattern will be available soon.

Cleite Shawl - chart 1
Just beginning, though Chart 1

Cleite Shawl - chart 1 detail

The alpaca is knitting up beautifully, and this will be a sturdy, soft, warm shoulder-size shawl.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


Some thoughts on spinning the alpaca roving from Wooly Wonka’s Exotic Fiber Club.

Click the photos for big.

* = yes I made that up

Chocolate Alpaca- Bobbin 1
Bobbin One, you saw this earlier

The fiber has a smooth long 4-6” staple, and a firm rather than fluffy feel. The fiber notes recommend spinning with a tighter twist than one might with a comparable sheep’s wool. I found the alpaca easy to spin after getting a feel for it, though at first, as promised, it was drifting apart a bit while winding on. The color is a rich solid rusty chocolate.

chocalpaca-2 bobbin 2
Bobbin Two, looking much like Bobbin One

I started out spinning the fiber for a 2-ply laceweight to knit the Cleite pattern from Miriam Felton that was part of this month’s offering. Spun per Mim’s recommendation with a semi-worsted, forward draw, but not having even touched the wheel in seven weeks, I was too impatient, and wasn’t up to trying for Mim’s 30 wpi(!). Seriously, I needed to spin and finish something. All I need is about 300 yds of something.

chocalpaca-3 bobbin 2 flash
With the flash so you can see the sheen

Wound on the niddy-noddy, 286 yds. I’m going for it.

chocalpaca-4 on the niddy

I’ve been reading posts to one of the spinning lists trying to describe how to avoid over-plying, and what a balanced 2-ply looks like with the fibers in the singles ending up parallel to the length of the yarn, like this =//=//=//=.

chocalpaca-5 fibers aligned
Fibers aligned, close enough for government work

chocalpaca-6 ready for a soak
Ready for a soak
I predict fingering to heavy laceweight

Tune in tomorrow to As The Wheel Turns for post-soak photos, finished gauge, and the cast on for a lacy shawlette.

Saturday Sky: Crisp

Saturday Sky 20071124-1

It’s really and truly Autumn! Most of the leaves are gone, frost was heavy last night, and the air is dry and clear and crisp.

Saturday Sky 20071124-2

Virginia plays Virginia Tech here in Charlottesville this afternoon in the classic in-state football rivalry – playing for bragging rights and this year for a trip to the conference championship. Everyone in the Commonwealth is still feeling the losses at Tech, and especially living in a university town we feel the sense of a near miss. But with five UVa degrees in the immediate family, I’ve got to say,

Go ‘Hoos! Beat Hokies!

Saturday Sky 20071124-3

I’ll be watching and spinning the lovely alpaca top from Wooly Wonka’s Exotic Fiber Club. I’m spinning it to a 2-ply laceweight to knit the Cleite pattern from Miriam Felton that was part of this month’s offering. The fiber has a long staple length, is easy to spin once you get the feel for it, and is the color of melted baking chocolate. Yum!

Chocolate Alpaca- Bobbin 1

I’m getting some good help today!

Ivy Sleeping 071124

Happy Saturday everyone!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Ummm, What Blog?

Lots of travel + general slump + work crunch = no blogging for a while


I’ll give a full UFO report, to keep myself on track (or not as the case may be) after Thanksgiving. But, to tide you over, I will show off some progress on Hypoteneuse now.

Hypoteneuse Stole 071121

The stole is coming in the home stretch with only five more repeats to go, unless I lengthen it. This is going to be a great cozy everyday wrap for the chilly TV room or traveling. The Elsebeth Lavold Silky Wool has a soft yet sturdy feel that is warm but very light. I can just see it shoved in a bag on a plane trip with no ill effects and being just the right weight for those times when there’s just a little too much AC.

Hypoteneuse Detail 071121
32 + 42 = 52

You may remember this merino-silk-angora from The Woolen Rabbit.

Merino/Silk/Angora - Color blocks

I don’t know what possessed me the other day, but now it’s a cute neck and wrist warmer set.

Cherry Garcia and wristies

The neck warmer is Hello Yarn’s Cherry Garcia, knit as written, and the wristies are simply ribbing with a few cable twists thrown in. I was determined to use every bit of the lovely yarn and succeeded in only having about six yards left over. So much fuzzy halo, so much silky sheen!

Speaking of handspun,

BFL Willow

I started some fingerless mitts for the Husband. He loves them for operating the ham radio in his chilly radio shack. This is BFL in Willow from Wooly Wonka spun to a 2-ply fingering weight. I’m using AnnyPurls’ adaptation of Hello Yarn’s Cable Twist sock as a departure point and will knit these to fit a manly size mitt.

Manly Mitts in BFL handspun

Yes, I guess this does count as Holiday knitting. I’m putting my sweaters on the back burner and will see if I can get the Forest Canopy Shawl and maybe the Secret Stole done in time for gift giving.


I taught my first Introduction to Lace class on Monday night and it was fun. We could have gone on for another hour or two, I’m sure. I’ll know better next time how to pace things and will try to schedule the classes for weekends rather than evenings after work. I showed lots of samples of lacy knitting, covered basic yarns, needles, and techniques, worked on some swatches, and we got started with a lacy scarf from VLT as a class project. I’m hoping to run the class again after the first of the year when things aren’t quite so busy for everyone.


And in exciting news for me, I’ve just registered for a class at the John C. Campbell Folk School in NC for the second week in January. Spinning Lavish Luxury Yarns will cover lots of fiber types, carding, dyeing and spinning techniques for the various fiber characteristics. I am really looking forward to the workshop, especially after hearing such wonderful reports on the classes from Robin H and Mary L.

I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday weekend. If you are traveling, be safe!

Friday, November 9, 2007

Las Vegas – Yarn Shops

Yes, I’m in Las Vegas, and I’m going to tell you about yarn shops. Is that just completely lame? We’re here for the Hubs’ ESOP convention, and we don’t gamble, we went to shows a couple of times, but honestly, with the three hour time difference, by showtime we’re ready to go to sleep. So, what’s left to do? He goes to meetings, and I loaf.

We got a rental car for the first day and from the airport drove out to Red Rock Canyon, about 20 miles west of town. Info here, here, and here. The desert and mountains are beautiful and so different from our old green hills back East.

Red Rock
Red Rock

On the way back into town, we stopped to check out Gail Knits. No photos, sorry. The shop is easy to find, seven miles West of Las Vegas Blvd (The Strip) on Sahara, in a teeny shopping center. The store very bright and sunny, with a coffee pot and comfy bored-husband sofa right inside the door. There were quite a few knitters there working on projects, and I’m not sure whether it was a class or just the regulars having some fun. We were warmly greeted, and the Hubs was settled in with a nice cup of joe, and I took a look around.

Not surprisingly, given the climate, the shop’s selection runs more to lighter fibers with lots of luxury cottons, wool/silk blends, high-end novelty yarns (like Trendsetter and Colinette), some laceweight and sock yarns, and plenty of baby yarns. There were lots of samples, and Gail mentioned I had just missed the Trendsetter trunk show. I left with a skein of the new Classic Elite Alpaca Sox in greys/browns for some cozy socks for the patient husband, and a hank of Baruffa Cashwool, a light merino laceweight in white, which I’ll dye when I find a project for it.

Vegas2007 - Stash
Vegas Stash

On Thursday, I found Wooly Wonders on the East side of town at Tropicana and Pecos. This is a small shop, but it’s filled with lovely yarns. Lots more wool here, including Debbie Bliss, Louet, OnLine sock yarns, and beautiful italian blends. There is an emphasis on crochet threads and patterns as well as knitting supplies. They also carry a selection of spinning fiber, wheels, weaving supplies, dyes, and looms. With admirable restraint, I was able to resist the fine llama and bison down fibers, but succumbed to enough Lana Gatto sport/DK wool/cashmere (mmmmm) for a modest shawl, and several spools of Lang sock reinforcing thread. Wooly Wonders is very friendly inviting shop with knitting, crocheting, spinning and weaving groups meetings, and a nice selection of yarns.

Now if anyone gets to this blog posting via Google search, I’m told that Two Crazy Ladies Yarn Shop closed a while back, and that there’s a quilt shop called Nancy’s Quilts that has lots of knitting classes and Knit & Crochet Alongs several times each week. I’ll have to check it out next time.

Vegas2007 The Strip at Night
Our view of The Strip

Monday, November 5, 2007

A Whirlwind

We got back from Montserrat late Wednesday night, and my brain has been foggy since. The transition from hot humid tropical weather to actual Autumn was a bit of a shock. We’re swamped with work – and as self-employed persons (the Hubs and I) we cannot complain about that. The cats are stuck to me like I am made of Velcro. And we’re leaving again on Tuesday. Las Vegas. No, seriously, it’s for business, though I’m going to try to find a couple of local yarn shops for the above-mentioned whirlwind visit.

Lace Class for Monday night has been postponed and may be November 19 and December 3 instead. It’s beginner lace, and the scarf pattern Mimi wants me to use is very simple garter-stitch lace, but very pretty when done and blocked. I knit the sample in my handspun merino/tencel, which is a bit heavier than what was used in VLT.

I plan to cover the basics of lace stitches and chart reading, yarns, needles, and some helpful tips that will be useful for not only scarves and shawls, but any lace garment. I see lots of socks, sweaters, hats and mitts in books, the mags, and online with lace as a component.

A good bit of time was spent while away preparing handouts and swatching several simple lace patterns, so I’ll be ready, whenever class is held! Knowing that the class hadn’t been publicized, I wasn’t too surprised that only one student signed up, and others that wanted to take it hadn’t heard about it. Oh well.

It wasn’t a waste of time. Prepping for a class made me think about how I think about my knitting, what I know, what I have learned about lace knitting specifically, and what I want to teach a beginner about lace techniques that I think will make it more fun. I love to show people how to do things, but it’s a different thing to think about how to do that in a more organized way and to a group. How do you show various knitters in ways that work for them – some learn by eye, some by ear, some by hand. How much time to spend without going too fast or too slowly. I’ve had some really great classes at the LYS and Stitches, and some pretty meh ones as well. I’ve set the bar high for myself.

So, anyway, I’ve been neglecting the blog, and have been distracted from my knitting. WIP status as follows:

Knitspot Anne’s Hypoteneuse Stole has been my airplane knitting. And it’s grown to 8.5 of 18 repeats. Almost halfway. I’ll get you a new photo when it looks different! It’s still an easy fun knit, and perfect for the plane.

I’m way behind on the Secret of the Stole, and expect to catch up some while cooling my heels in Vegas. There’s no real reason for me to go except to keep the Hubs company and go to a bunch of cocktail parties on Thursday night. We’ll drive out to Red Rock Canyon the day we arrive, and I’ll hit the art galleries at Bellagio and the Venetian (where the conference is being held for the first time). But this is the fifth year in a row, and next year, I’m going to Stitches instead. We’re lame. We’ve not put so much as a quarter in a slot machine while there, and after 8am to 5pm in the conference, Hubs isn’t so awake for the shows. But, I get to hang out and knit in my spare time.

Here’s the stole through Hint 2.5 reclining in the oleander in Montserrat

Secret of the Stole - Hint 2.5

No Knitting at all on other projects. More Montserrat photos when I get back.