Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A New Project

I'm happy to announce that I am undertaking a new venture this fall: I will be starting work on a Masters in Library and Information Studies!

I came to the realization after finishing my PhD in chemistry, that I'd rather be working with chemical information and other chemists than be working in the lab myself. I'm particularly interested in the challenges associated with cataloging and saving research data, which has prompted me to enroll in a library science program so that I can learn all of the standard practices in this field.

While this is a great thing for me in the long-term, I'm not sure of how this will affect my blog in the short-term. So for the next few months, my priority will be to post every other week instead of once a week. I hope to still post at my current once-a-week rate, but I'm giving myself some leeway should the blog need to give way to real life. Thanks for understanding and I am really looking forward to having a great autumn!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Baby Knitting, Episode 2

I'm currently preparing for the next wave of friend's babies. I always like knitting for these new arrivals, in part because I like giving handmade gifts and in part because these knits are usually quick projects. For the last baby-wave, my go-to gift was a hat paired with baby booties but this time I'm having fun with other small baby-friendly patterns.

One of these patterns is Smith by Ysolda Teague. Given how I feel about this designer, it is difficult to part with this toy but I'm sure that the baby (or at least its mother, who is also a knitter) is going to love this little guy. Adding weight to my decision to part with this toy is the fact that it's one of the most baby-friendly toys I've knit; the spikes are knitted securely onto the body and I took care to needle felt on the eyes instead of using buttons, which could be a choking hazard. I suspect that I will be knitting more Smiths for babies in the future.

The other baby pattern I recently knit was the Sourball Bonnet, which is available for free on Ravelry. I made this particular bonnet out of some handspun and I particularly like the way that it looks knit up in feather and fan. The pattern is excellent, but I prefer the Norwegian Sweet Baby Cap pattern because I think it is more gender-neutral.

Between the toy and the bonnet, I am done with baby knitting in the short term, though I think I will keep knitting wee patterns in anticipation of baby wave 3.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Fairly Beautiful Beads

I have a special place in my heart for the state fair, having grown up going to the Ohio State Fair every summer. And while I've lived in Wisconsin for the past 6 years, I just made my very first visit to the Wisconsin State Fair. To be honest, I was hoping for more agriculture and displays of blue-ribbon quilts,etc, but at least I got to try one of the famous cream puffs. I got cream overload about 3 bites in so I'm glad I split it with my friend.

While I did not come home with any Sham-wows or a new kitchen knife from the exhibition hall, I did pick up several strands of gemstone beads. Most of the beads were $8 a strand, but we found some really nice strands in a sale bin at 4 for $10. For someone who loves gemstones and has been looking for a sizeable (but not too large) gemstone necklace for a while, this deal was too good to pass up.

The very evening I got home from the fair, I dusted off my beading supplies and proceeded to make the beads into four necklaces. I strung everything onto tiger tail wire and used a crimp bead to secure toggles to the end of each strand. They are fairly simple necklaces, but I think that beauty of the beads speaks for itself.

These necklaces were just what I was looking for, both in terms of bead diameter and strand length. Plus, I have some leftover beads to play with since each necklace took about 1.5 strands. Between my love of gemstones and my love of a good deal, I couldn't be happier with my new jewelry!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Let me introduce you to my latest crafting obesession: kanzashi. Kanzashi is the Japanese art of folding flower petals, an art form which was originally used to create elaborate hairpieces. This technique first came to my attention a few years ago with the publication of Kanzashi in Bloom, but it wasn't until Clover came out with these clever kanzashi-makers (Fabric Depot is running a nice sale on them) that I decided to give the technique a try.

I have only made kanzashi with the Clover templates but they produce nice results and I love that they're dead easy to use. You simply fold the template over a piece of fabric, trim the excess, then run a needle and thread through the template holes in the indicated order (see the templates in action here). You can string together any number of petals on the same thread and when you pull the thread tight and knot the two ends--voila--instant flower! I can easily knock together several of these flowers in one sitting.

I'm looking forward to more experimenting and eventually making kanzashi without the aid of a template. I aspire to someday make kanzashi half as lovely as what is on the 'Gaijin Geisha' page of this website, but in the meantime I'm happy making some simple flowers.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook

I borrowed this gem of a book from my local public library and just had to rave about it to you. It's the type of book that I love the most--a book that is filled with a vast amount of information on a relatively focused topic. In the case of 'The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook', that topic is wool as viewed through the lens of a spinner and knitter/crocheter.

The first thing that struck me about this book is its thoroughness; 'The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook' reviews over 200 types of fiber-producing animals, the vast majority of which are sheep breeds. Not only is there information on common breeds like Merino and Blue-Faced Leicester, but the book is also full of conservation breeds that I've never heard of before, such as Manx Loaghtan and Devon Closewool. A helpful table, below, compares all of these sheep breeds by their fiber softness and even recommends types of projects for each category (ie, scarves for soft wool and carpets for coarse wool).

Beyond the book's breed thoroughness, the written and photographic information about each animal is excellent. The authors describe each breed in terms of geography and what they were bred for, in addition to describing the characteristics and preparation of their fleeces. Sample fibers from every animal described in this book have been hand spun and woven/knit up. The written descriptions are accompanied by a photograph of the animal and photographs of sample fiber. Occasionally, the authors also include an interesting story relating to a particular breed, such as that of Shrek the Sheep (Merino).

What's great about this book is that it's very detailed yet focused for the fiber artist. The authors have struck a nice balance between gaining an understanding of individual breeds and learning about the different properties of their wool. While the authors state that their limited sampling cannot predict the behavior of an entire breed, they provide enough information so that you will generally know what to expect should you encounter fiber from a rare sheep breed.

I can't recommend this book enough to knitters and spinners who want to learn more about the range of animal fibers available to them. It's an interesting read and one that will teach you a lot about wool. I have a feeling that this book will eventually make its way onto my bookshelf as my library's 4-week borrowing period is just not enough time to get to know this wonderful resource.