Tour de Fleece 2018

Amazingly, I have never participated in the Tour de Fleece, so I decided to go for it this year.  My goals are very modest: spin a little each day, generally with my Turkish spindle, and turn this into sock yarn:

After five days, this is what I’ve accomplished:

It’s not very impressive, but I’m on track with my goal, which is simply to spin a bit each day.  Once the cop is too big to accommodate more, I’ll pull it off and start chain-plying the yarn from the center-pull ball, like I did with the last batch of fiber.  At some point in the future, possibly by the end of the Tour de France / Tour de Fleece, I will have one or two balls of 3-ply superwash yarn with which to imagine socks.

Brand: The Fibre Studio Fifty Shades of Gradient

Fiber: 100% superwash merino

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Gradient shawl in progress

I’m ignoring the loose loopy-ness on my pink gradient shawl that I showed you a couple of days ago, assuming it will work out in the blocking, and forging on ahead with a lace design.  Here is what it looked like before I frogged some of it. The top stitch pattern didn’t look right, but I ended up with the same results again, so I have modified the stitch pattern to suit my needs.

This photo depicts one and a half lace stitch patterns here, inspired by Barbara Walker’s A Treasury of Knitting Patterns, but modified from their originals to suit my stitch-count purposes.  Whenever this design turns into a pattern, I will be charting them, because as you know, knitters fall into two camps, but we ought to all be in the charted lace camp!

Do you prefer charts or written directions?

Black Devil Anglerfish

If nothing else, I continue to learn about myself as I get older.  This time, the lesson learned is that I do not think amigurumi is for me.  I have had this adorable book for NINE YEARS and never knitted anything – though there is still hope that I will take up amigurumi needles again to create toys for children in my life.  Maybe.

To force myself to experiment, I signed up for a swap that gave me a long lead time, but true to form, I started the project mere days before the deadline.

This lady is truly formidable.  I am fascinated by the creatures we cannot see and have been flabbergasted by the things I have been able to see when I have gone diving.  It will never approach the apparent ferocity and cold-heartedness of this creature, though, who lures in her prey and temporarily allows a parasitic male into her life, only to completely absorb him and his complementary reproductive functions.  My version is roughly the same size as the real one pictured here.

The pattern was detailed and flawless.  I’m not sure I can claim the same about the execution.

What do you think about amigurumi?

Pattern: Deep Sea Anglerfish

Yarn: Malabrigo Sock (Azule) and Knitpicks Stroll (Train Station and Pearlescent)

Ravelry project page: Black Devil Anglerfish

Three-ply yarn from my Turkish spindle

I’ve been playing with this Turkish spindle since last October, when I picked it up at the Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair (SAFF).  A friend turned me on to it, and I purchased one right after she did – I loved the feel of it, and the light weight, plus the magic of disassembly that leaves me with a center-pull ball at the end.

I was happily spinning away when I realized I had never learned to chain-ply properly.  In the midst of my research, I discovered a video explaining how to spin and chain-ply at the same time (well, almost – spin a segment, chain-ply, then wind your yarn on, then spin again …), but this is a next step, as I had already developed a medium-sized cop.  (I also consulted this Abby Franquemont / Interweave video on Turkish spindle spinning in general.)

The fiber origin is a bit of a mystery, but feels like a not-too-crimpy plain old wool: no merino, silk, or other additives.  I acquired it at a fiber guild auction at which some of the members were working to re-home and divest a large fiber supply of a woman that had passed away.  The only note was the total weight of the fiber.

The single is S-spun and (therefore!) the 3-ply is Z-spun.

Final result (so far – I have 7.5oz of the stuff) is 49g of worsted-weight three-ply yarn that looks good enough to me!

This morning, I started another batch, and it took me around an hour to spin 7g.  Over the weekend I spent 1+ hours plying.  So an almost-50g ball requires around 8 hours of work to complete.

Fun sock yarn!

Every once in a while I think I’m going to start blogging again. Life has been happening and really getting in the way. But I’m hoping that now, being relatively settled again, back in the US but in a new location, it will be a good time to dig in to this blogging thing that I enjoyed so much for many years.

I’ve been posting over on Instagram semi-regularly, and I know people love the visuals, so that’s what I’ll focus on here for now. There isn’t a cross posting option, so if you want to follow me here, I recommend you do it through WordPress or whatever your blog reading platform is. On Instagram my handle is @heatherknots.

On to the pretty picture portion of the show! This is my fun mindless knit of the moment – Sock #1 of my Pairfect set with a Regis yarn collaboration with Arne and Carlos.

I’m a tiny bit worried my foot is too long for this yarn to accommodate my toes… but, updates to follow!

You can see that I used a heel flap construction. The main reason I don’t use whatever method pictures on the label is that the circumference of my heel around to the front of my foot/ankle along that diagonal is quite large and, being risk-averse, I wanted to ensure my foot will make it into the sock when it’s finished!

Other construction notes: I cast on 78st on #1US needles. I began with 72 maybe, but the pattern didn’t work out. The ribbing is 72st, since I only ripped back to the beginning of the stockinette. Generally I will also decrease further for the foot to fewer stitches than for the leg, since my feet are more slender than my calves. So the foot will be only 64 st.

America. We Need To Talk.

This past week I intended to parade more photos of blocked finished objects on the blog.  Instead, I spent the week mourning the deaths of citizens and police officers.  I’ve had to take a break from Facebook and only visit in short periods, preferring the eye candy of Instagram, after the first three days or so of responses.

My take on all of this is, America, We Need To Talk.  Seriously.  We need a literal or figurative Coming To Jesus about this issue of racial violence perpetrated by the State, and the perceived need for retaliation.

Can we acknowledge that despite our country being birthed in a spirit of Some Animals Are Created More Equal Than Others (according to George Orwell), the time has come to move past this premise?  Can we acknowledge that many of the current laws, law enforcement cultural conditioning and assumptions were birthed in a time when slavery was not long past and women may or may not have yet won the vote?  These assumptions are outdated, but they survive.

Can we acknowledge that we as a society are divided and wounded, and that it will take deep cuts to reach the poison, but that this is the only way to heal?

If we cannot acknowledge, and believe it when we say it, that we do not yet live in a post-racial society, that the echoes of a history of slavery still reverberate, that people are still afraid, which is irrational, so difficult to counter, and yet unwarranted, then we cannot move forward.  If we cannot look at the cold, hard, facts and say This is Unjust: the disproportionate police stops, frisks, imprisonments, and deaths of people of color; if we cannot know and understand that laws governing drug arrests and sentencing were born out of racial stereotypes and perceived threat to white women (property of white men), and stand up and say This is Unjust; then we are destined to fail as a society.  We are destined to fail to heal, fail to understand, fail to excise the poison, and fail to thrive.

I am tired on behalf of all of us that have ever felt the need to protect the feelings of someone more privileged in society, be it based on gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic class, or wielding of financial and political power.  I am tired of protecting the privilege of those that have always had more power.  I am thankful for white male allies that do not accept the current patriarchy as the only possible paradigm.  But I am also tired of the surprise each time some horrific event transpires (or some event that turns into three – or more – awful national events in one week) and the cycle of acceptance and exhaustion that leads us to ultimately tune out and attempt to move on.  I’m tired of the nay-sayers of white fragility that have chosen not to develop the compassion necessary to be shocked when they learn of others’ experiences, and due to discomfort or perceived threat choose instead to silence the other.

The fact is, nothing has truly changed if we only react with a sad-face on Facebook.  The most important communications I’ve seen this past week have been the lists of concrete actions we can take to change the manner in which law enforcement is implemented in our local communities.

And – we need to have more discussions about the underpinnings of our laws.  Is it still assumed that black men consume coke and, on it, are a threat to white women (property of white men)?  Is it assumed that Mexican men consume an outsized quantity of marijuana and (see last sentence)?  Is the law still on the books in the state of Ohio, for example, that assumes women are the property of some male family member by categorizing rape under property law and damaged goods?  Is it still legal in Texas for a man to rape his wife?

We need to talk about colonialism.  We need to talk about slavery.  We cannot look at the current state of our society, from either the perspective of the minority or that of the privileged, and say this has not influenced our thinking, our behavior, the very assumptions upon which our laws are built.  We are not “colorblind.”  We are not “post-racial.”  We need to decide whether we care about our neighbors, about violence in our communities, about what it means to continue to tacitly permit extrajudicial beatings and killings in a country whose privileged masses collectively think we are the greatest democracy in the world.

When we hear the slogan, “Make America Great Again,” it should not engender a vision of the antebellum South in which white men had the weapons and wielded them over their women, children, and slaves.  It ought to be a phrase that begs a vision of a freedom to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all, as it says in our Declaration of Independence. We ought to assume at this stage that “all men” refers to all humans, and reassert that the purpose of government is to protect our “unalienable rights.”  Let us recommit to that ideal, while understanding that the road is long, the night dark, the struggle has not ended, but that so long as any of us is in virtual or actual shackles, none of us is truly free or safe.

Finances and the stock market for the rest of us

Over the past three months, I’ve been meaning to come back here and talk a lot more about knitting – and I will get back to that, for sure!  (See end of post, OK?)

In the mean time, I’ve been thinking and talking a lot about personal finance, and beginning to get serious about learning about the market and keeping tabs on what I need to know.  I thought I would share a few simple points here for a general audience, such as my friends and colleagues who usually look at me with a blank face when I bring up the market or investing or retirement.  Hopefully you as that audience will keep in mind that I am just a layperson reading my magazine, tracking updates online, and listening to podcasts.

Correction or bear market?

The main thing I’ve learned is that right now, the market is in a corrective phase, which means that people and corporations predicted much higher future values of companies and commodities than have actually been born out.  Now, the market is adjusting itself downward to reflect the true value of many of these stocks.  If it stabilizes around a 10% loss, it will be termed a “correction.”  If the market continues to fall toward 20%, we will hear economists and commentators talk more about a “bear market.”

I just learned that we are a couple months shy of what is considered a very long “bull market,” almost seven years, with unprecedented highs and increases in overall numbers of shares purchased.  So it should not be a shock that some adjustments are now in play, particularly given global volatility, including in China.

Playing it safe

Because continued volatility is anticipated for 2016, I’m hearing and reading a lot about putting investments in cash or cash equivalent funds to ride out the market’s downward trend.  This could be a money market account, a short-term CD, or a short-term bond fund.  I have just moved around 60% of my total investments into money market accounts, and I’m considering moving the rest.  With my retirement accounts, which include an employer-sponsored plan and a Roth IRA, there are some restrictions in movement.  I’m not forbidden from taking funds out of the money market accounts and putting them into new funds, but I am forbidden from putting that cash back into the previous funds for one month.  This doesn’t worry me, because I think we’ll be seeing volatility for some time.

I’ve recently seen a ~9% downturn in my investments, so I want to halt the loss at that point.  Overall, I’m confident that I’ll regain that money, but I don’t want the loss to continue to 20%  before I have a chance to see the market turning around.  Given my age (late 30s), most of my investments were still in relatively high-risk funds.  So, I’ll sit on cash until the signs point up.

What are bond funds and why do I care?

One really important point, especially for older investors, is to consider and reduce how much of your money is invested in bond funds.  I’ve been hearing and reading about this on various fronts, including in a Suze Orman book published in 2012, so it is not a new concern.  Even I have been socialized to assume that bonds are “safe,” but “bond funds” are not the same as bonds.  The only recommended investment that I’m hearing about now is in short-term bond funds, and only if an emplooyer-provided retirement fund doesn’t give us money market accounts as an option, because otherwise there is a significant probability of loss on investment in longer term bond funds as interest rates rise.  We are finally seeing the Fed indicate increases in interest rates, so it is pretty much a guarantee that you’re set up for future loss if you have substantial investments in bond funds.

[My brain has not solidified the “why” of this argument, but I’m sure there are lots of online resources that can explain it.]

The other really important point about bonds is that if you continue to invest, in addition to looking at short term bonds, high quality is essential.  High-yield is not the same, and basically means that the price of those bonds is falling – which, if you do the math, means you’re going to be losing.  (The price is lower, and the earnings may be stable, so when you divide the earnings by the lower price, the yield comes out higher.  This doesn’t say much about the overall value of the investment, which could be plummeting.  One source said that “high yield” is simply a way of saying junk bonds.)  High quality bond funds usually explicitly have “high quality” in the title.  They may have a lower yield, but are overall a safer bet because they are stable.

Don’t take the easy way out – do a tiny bit of research

I found out that I was invested in bond funds through my “Target” retirement fund.  It’s worth making the effort to find out what is included in these packages of investments with an attractive title that are easy to plop our money into without thinking.  I’ve already taken 75% of the money that was in my “target” fund out, and put it in cash, and may do the same with the remaining funds.  When the market turns around, I will probably still look to be well-diversified through an easy “fund” investment, but it may be one that represents the overall stock market, like S&P 500, rather than one that is sort of hiding bond fund investments from me through my own lack of research because I wanted the easy way out.

I’ve gone on for a while now, but this is really essential stuff for anyone that works and puts their hard-earned cash in any investment, i.e., somewhere that isn’t only a savings account at the bank.  We need to be informed enough to preserve those investments and protect our future to the best of our ability.

The Knitting Portion of the post

Now, knitting porn:

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Ravelry project link

Washcloths made with Fibra Natura Flax yarn, to go with holiday gifts of locally made soap and lotion.  I like to stick with stockinette stitch, because it doesn’t feel as rough on my face as some other stitch designs involving purl bumps.  But I tagged them with a little cable design in the corner.

Shwook

Generally speaking I am not on the cutting edge of the new patterns that come out.  Occasionally I will finish something within a month or two of its release, but that is very rare.  This hat is not an example of one of those rare occasions.  “Shwook” came out in honor of the 2014 Shetland Wool Week event, so probably all the other Shwook knitters posted their goods long ago.  Lately Ravelry has been filled with the new 2015 pattern, which is adorable and features sheep.

I am thinking now that I should have looked up what a shwook is before posting this.  Any guesses?*

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This hat is using overly-long-stashed yarn in colors that probably went out ten years ago.  At one point, I had an online sale problem and purchased yarn willy-nilly with no project in mind.  In time, with experience and a non-shrinking stash, my habits have changed.  But this yarn was still hanging around: Rowanspun 4-ply, in Sugar, Stone, Squirrel, Temptation, and Turkish.  The yarn was thinner than required, but the end result is a perfectly-fitting beanie.

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I think this is only the second stranded hat I’ve completed.  And it’s definitely the first time I’ve blocked with a dinner plate.

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How do you like that?  Makes the center cap portion look mighty fine, if I do say so myself!

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More specs on my Ravelry project page.

I have almost 600 yards of yarn left (of around 810 total), so I’m now making a garter-stitch shawl that I’ll edge with feather-and-fan.  I’m using the lighter colors for the main garter triangle, and the purples for the edging.

* OK, my curiosity got the better of me and I consulted The Google.  If you want an answer before guessing, visit this link

Still knitting

I’m thinking about making a blogging comeback.  My last post here was over three years ago, and I miss writing and interacting in a deeper way than is possible through Ravelry.  My Facebook interactions are of a different nature, not really the place I feel comfortable waxing poetic about animal and plant fibers or cable and lace designs.

In the interim, many things have happened.  I met my husband; reorganized my life to go back to the international health focus I had recently left behind; moved to a French-speaking African country with him and his daughter, found out he was a narcissist (you may not have any idea how scary this can be – just click on any one link from a google search…), and struggled to separate my life from him while finishing an overseas contract.  The day-to-day of getting through life has meant a lot less energy for maintaining my blogging presence or social media contacts.

But I’m about to leave all that behind and relocate back to the U.S.  And I have missed posting here and carrying on discussions with you all.  Many of you may have moved on to Facebook and Ravelry forums, but I for one think the blog has some staying power and offers different opportunities for sharing and exploring.

Plus, I am definitely still knitting.  Of all the coping mechanisms to get me through relocating internationally (and returning), trading the single life for a nightmare marriage (and returning), and a generally high-stress professional situation, it is the meditatively healing qualities of a good knitting habit.  I can’t say I’ve been a great finisher, but I have maintained a steady increase in starting projects, learning or solidifying techniques, and I have also been teaching my neighbor to knit.

I’ve also tried some new yarns, and done a bit of dreaming, sketching, and designing.  One of my goals for the coming year or two is to complete the many half-baked designs in my sketchbook and knitting basket.  I would love to share some finished patterns with the world.

To leave you with some appropriate eye candy, a melange of African sensibilities and knitted design, here are a couple of photos of musician Stromae’s line of knitted clothing in graphic designs inspired by African print cotton cloth.  I guess this isn’t cutting edge news, but I’m into it!  Click to see larger versions.

Mosaert stromae-MOSAERT-clothing-line-capsule-2-polo-green-1

Smothered in hats. I mean love.

This post is not meant to be sad, but it is a result of my aunt recently passing away. She struggled with cancer for a couple of years, and was very brave in the face of the odds. I was away during much of this time, and all I could do was support her via email. And knit her things. I made her a purple lace shawl, and several hats. In fact, I did not realize how many hats I had sent her until I was up at her house this past month and came across them all. If you can represent caring and love through knitting, I loved her this much, and more.