Monthly Archives: April 2011

expecting a rainbow*

After more heavy rains all day yesterday, and immediately after a heavy downpour passed through, the clouds suddenly started to break apart.

retreating clouds

And within moments the sky was blue, the grass (what’s not hiding underwater, there isn’t supposed to be a lake in this photo…) has suddenly turned spring-green, and the sun was shining.

green grass

And my daffodils are in bloom! Mind don’t look like other people’s flowers. I know nothing about them, except they bloom early and smell pretty.

funny daffodils

Luckily I got non-rain footwear too:

danskos

Cute danskos should be good for showing off hand knit socks! But not sport weight ones, because my smartwool socks wouldn’t fit inside these shoes…

*maybe the rainbow is coming after next week’s rain? (yes, we’re getting more)

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appropriate footwear

Tuesday evening I got home to find packages! My new boots had finally arrived!

pink boots

Turns out this was a Good Thing. Tuesday night into Wednesday saw some of the heaviest rains since I moved to this part of Vermont. Roads which I have never seen flooded were. My drive to work was halted at this point, after the section that was narrowed down to 1 land, but before the third “really deep” flooded point.

hogback rd flooded

Neil made it into Johnson where he took some photos of an old mill building, of course these buildings were built close to the river on purpose…

woolen mill flood

In fact, if you flip through these photos from the Burlington Free Press you’ll see about half of them are from either Johnson or Jeffersonville – both downtowns flooded. No lives were lost, but the damage is only beginning to be counted.

some flooded areas

That house on the ridge between the two towns is where my house is. These are the times I’m glad to live on a hill. Especially since it’s raining hard again today.

Meat birds

Check it out, there’s a designer profile of me over on the Tangled blog right now! If you ever wondered what my favorite technique is or what I’d do if I quit my day job, now you know. I really like working with the wonderful folks over at Tangled Magazine, and apparently they like me too!

In fact, if the main reason you’re here is knitting, you may want to just head over there and skip the rest of today’s post. I won’t mind. Because now I’m going to talk about something completely different.

I can tell it must be spring because I’ve been recommending my new favorite breed of meat birds several times per week to just about anyone who’s considering raising their own. The breed is called Freedom Rangers, I got mine from JM Hatchery last year, and since they’ve sold their breeding stock to their son’s family I’ll be getting them from Freedom Ranger Hatchery later this week. Hopefully they’re just as good!

What do I mean by good? I’ll start at the beginning. Most meat birds are from one of the main hatcheries selling Cornish Cross broilers. These are the big, fat, white meat birds of many a horror story. They’re not lab-engineered (yet anyway) but through years and years of careful breeding for quick growth of large quantities of white meat that’s now pretty much all they do. These are the avian equivalent to the “before” pictures from those weight loss TV shows – birds that have the genetic and lifestyle misfortune to be able to literally eat themselves to death. If they don’t make it to slaughter day it’s usually because they grew so fast that either their hearts or their bones couldn’t keep up with their body mass.

To avoid this you have to either feed them something lower in protein to slow their growth, or you have to take the food away from them so they can’t eat. In both cases these birds still don’t have great lifestyles. They’re lazy, they’ll lie around all day in their own sh*t (and man can these bird make a mess of themselves) waiting for you to bring the food back so they can eat more. We raised them just once in our layer coop. They hogged the feeder all day and ignored the wide open door and greener pastures outside of it, even when the rest of the flock ran outside. The only way to get them outside is to cage them up outside so they can’t go in. And then you have to move the cage daily so they can lie around on fresh grass instead of poopy grass. Good times? Probably not, although I’m sure it’s better than the conditions of their factory farmed cousins…

Enter the freedom rangers. There’s a lot about these guys in internet-world. They’re a fairly new to the meat-bird scene and I think the variety of experiences has to do with the fact that Freedom Ranger is not yet a specific breed with precise specifications. What I mean is each hatchery is working on improving their own strain by selective breeding and so their results may vary. In general freedom rangers are a cross of several breeds, at least some from France’s meat bird program – part of Label Rouge. I heard about them first from my CSA farmer, and so when I was ready to try meat birds again these are the kind I bought. And I loved them.

First off, they arrived healthy. Out of an order of 25 broilers I’m used to seeing 2-3 die in the first week for no apparent reason. I didn’t have any of these fuzz butts die on me.
chicks

Secondly, they grew quickly. I had tried raising heavy heritage breed birds for meat – a common alternative to the in-bred broilers. But those birds still take 6-9 months to reach full sized, which is a long time to have that many extra chickens (and that many roosters!) in my coop. These guys grew fast enough to dress off in 12 weeks, but ate slowly enough (without me restricting their food) to not kill themselves. It’s a good combination.

Thirdly, they loved to go outside! At just 4 weeks they were already feathered out enough (see growth comment above) to let out in a fenced enclosure:
freedomrangers The biggest problem we had at this point was them jumping OVER the fence. Not usually a problem with meat birds. At 5 weeks we gave up and let them free range, as their name suggests:
freeatlast
They love to range, even as they got really fat they still ran outside every morning to eat bugs and seeds. Watching them jump to catch flying insects was nerve-wracking but not a single one damaged it’s legs. Although towards the end they’d run a stretch, and then have a little lie-down to catch their breath… Again, they’re clearly meat birds and not some dual purpose breed!

I dressed off the roosters at 12 weeks. All cleaned up I believe they weighed in at 6-8lbs each. I say “believe” because my kitchen scale only goes to 6lbs. So it was mostly a question of how quickly each bird clunked to the bottom of the scale. The hens were a bit smaller at that point, so they stuck around for another month.
localflavor
At 16 weeks they were all up around 6lbs, and I dressed them off in two smaller batches as the fall turned to winter. Well, almost all of them. A few stuck it out for the winter:
coopdoor

These last few are still in my coop now. Once winter hit they were eating just grain (and occasional left overs) and I’m letting them enjoy a little spring food before they go to the great freezer in the sky.

So, that’s my ringing endorsement for Freedom Rangers (they don’t even know I’m doing this). Your mileage may vary depending on your setup, type of food, weather, and the chicken-spirits who control such things. But compared to the alternatives, I don’t think there’s much to loose in giving them a try!

Deadlines

I’m working against a bunch of deadlines, self imposed and external that all come due the first week of May. So far I’m making good progress, but everything is so tightly scheduled I don’t have room for any slip ups.

I have a design that needs to go in the mail tomorrow, so I’ll be taking some pictures tonight. I have another that needs to go in the mail May 1st which I’m about 55% of the way finished with the knitting (that’s my current bus project) I have a submission due the 5th that needs a generous swatch (charted but not started) which is my NEXT bus project.

I have the first Time on my Hands mitten photo shoot May 1st and those mittens need to be blocked – they were my weekend knitting project. I have a PDF I want to send to tech editing this week, and I want to try making the charts in Illustrator first, that’s my project for this evening (and probably tomorrow evening)

So far I’m making great progress. I finished the weekend mitten in spite of having to rip the first one back to the cuff after I finished it and realized it was misshapen and ugly. I was able to show off the much cuter mittens to my family and had time to start this week’s bus project on the drive home from NH.

I also have a 1lb chocolate bunny in my snack drawer, that should keep me motivated, right?

Spring found!

Spring refused to come to me, so I headed south until I found it:

mini tulips

Happy Easter!

new bloodroot

Below Average

That’s really the best way to describe this spring. It’s be the phrase used in our weather reports almost every day for weeks. Even on days like today when the sun is shining the temperatures have been “well below average.” And I really think everyone can agree the constant cloudiness, rain, and sleet is easily described as “below average.”

Having a blog is nice, because it lets me look back. I feel like this has been the worst spring ever, but in retrospect I can see that while last year had some shocking warmth in March, it was followed up by a late April snowstorm which I’d really like to avoid this year.

However in 2009 I was counting woodland flowers just a week from today. If the cold and rain and snow continue they way they’ve started I think those flowers will be underground until May…

I know the old adage about April showers bringing May flowers, but I’m pretty sure those flowers need some sunshine too.

things that begin with F

Yesterday I made a quick stop into JoAnn’s (the best source for buttons in my area) I got the buttons I needed, and a little something else:

linen blend fabrics

Fabric! I talk more about knitting because knitting is more portable, I can knit on the bus or in front of the TV. But I have a fabric stash almost comparable to my yarn stash. These two are for specific projects. The white with red flowers is a linen cotton blend for the summer dress pictured. I’m not sure what I’ll use for the contrast. I’m going to be lining it with a light brown/almost skin toned organic Egyptian cotton (ok, ok, it was a bed sheet once. But now it’s torn (from dogs nesting on the bed) and I refuse to waste good fabric*) Anyway I could use that for the contrast, but I’m not sure about even a light brown with the red/white/black pattern.

The blue and brown is a linen rayon blend which I plan on making a swishy 8-gore skirt with a wide bottom edge and more contrasting fabric. I’ll be using a pattern I already own.

When I got home I found this:

two bags full

It’s a giant box of fleece! Neil sent me a text when it arrived telling me the mill had screwed up my order and sent me a live sheep. I don’t think you could quite fit a live sheep in that box. Well, maybe a miniature one…

This is the montadale and romney I mailed off to Zeilingers. The montadale is pretty soft and really woolly- I think it’s a comparable mix of woolly/itchy as shelter yarn. Which is to say only some people would find it next to skin soft. Definitely softer then the corridale I’ve gotten from a nearby farm, but not merino/BFL soft.

washed montadale roving

The big surprise is my Romney, it’s even softer than the montadale! Seriously I didn’t think Romney was supposed to be soft.

washed romney roving

One of the three fleeces in the blend was from a lamb, but I’m not sure that explains everything… According to the knitters book of wool it’s a somewhat coarse fiber but with wonderful crimp. They says it’s excellent for adding loft to mixed breed blends of wool. This lot is so soft I’m tempted to just spin it straight up, pure romney! I would wonder if they sent me the wrong fiber but it’s clearly a mixture of the 3 colors I sent them.

DSCN7353DSCN7356DSCN7354

Up close you can see the dark brown, light brown, and white fibers. The colors are really well blended, which is exactly what I wanted. I plan on using this to add heathering to some dyed, blended, batts I’m already planning in my mind.

In fact, I have SO MUCH of this fiber, I’m starting to wonder if I can sell some of it. Do you think there’s a market for prettily dyed hand blended batts that are made of things besides merino and BFL? Maybe just as a novelty? It’s not like I have enough fiber to go into business, but I’d be happy to share my love of unusual breeds if anyone’s interested. I suppose I could just put them on etsy and see what happens. Who knows what people are searching for without a little experimenting, right?

*If I had curtains I’d be tempted to make things out of them too!

like crocuses

So many of my friends are having babies these days! So I’m taking on some baby knitting – different things for different kids and since most of my friends at least check in here once in awhile, and I want things to be a little bit of a surprise, I’m not giving away any details. But yes,

baby top

It really is that purple!

The yarn is Valley Yarns Longmeadow from Webs. It’s a really nice cotton microfiber blend. Soft on the hands when knitting, makes a beautiful fabric, and so many pretty colors! It was brought to my attention because it’s the yarn called for in Lizette. Not that I got any yarn for that top in my order. I’ll probably use something else if/when I knit Lizette, because I think we all know how bad I am at using the yarn called for…

behind the scenes

I’ve been hard at work with knitting designs the last few weeks, and sadly I have nothing I can show off (yet.) But trust me, knitting is happening! So are pattern writing, grading, yardage estimates, and formatting for specific publications. Also there’s been swatching, sketching, and description writing for new design ideas.

On top of all that I’ve been working up a style sheet for my indie designs so everything will be consistent from one pattern to the next. This includes everything from deciding on fonts and title case to formalizing and standardizing my cable terminology.* I’ve also been working on a layout template, want a peak at that?

font test

Cute little tree huh? I’m abnormally excited about the whole process. I really love doing the layout on patterns. I like how I can control every little thing: lines, fonts, graphics, formatting for the version numbers. See the text in that graphic? I was comparing different serif fonts at 10 points for readibility and clarity. I couldn’t just choose one, I wanted to compare! I really like little details such as choosing whether or not to use bullets in my lists and whether or not there should be periods at the end of each line. Yeah, I might be weird…

I do have two questions maybe you could help me with. The first has to do with my pattern line name – I’ve been using Sugaree Designs. It’s a reference to the Grateful Dead song. But I also chose it because it sounds like Sugar Tree which refers to the hillsides around me covered in the maple tree stands that my neighbors tap to make maple syrup. Well I’m thinking of just changing to Sugar Tree Designs – do you like it?

The second question has to do with the PDFs themselves. Do you prefer a white space in the margins or graphics that go right to the edge? I can see how graphics right to the edges would look nicer on the screen. But I’m wondering if white space around the edges is important for printing? And which way do you use PDFs more frequently: on screen or printed?

*Geeze, I’ve used a lot of different cables and twists when you consolidate everything from every pattern.

Hirta mitts

The newest issue of Ennea Collective is celtic themed! I couldn’t resist submitting a pattern for a theme like this.

hiding

My Hirta Mitts are knit up with just 128-180 yards of a heavy worsted or aran weight yarn. The handspun is a romney/border leicester cross and is a lovely bouncy woolen spun yarn. The pattern can be purchased on Ennea, and you can queue and favorite it on Ravelry.

rovingfinal yarnsingles

If you don’t have access to handspun I think Peace Fleece worsted would make a perfect substitute. Quince & Co’s Osprey is another good choice – and you’d only need one skein!

in lap

The photo shoot was a great opportunity to pull out all my Scottish accessories all at once! I have ancestors in (at least) two clans – Dunbar and Grant. The Grant crest is the one you see here with “Standfast” across the top.

standfast

The Dunbar crest reads “In Promptu” which I always misread as impromptu. I think the juxtaposition of impromptu and standfast could be interesting – if it were true.

All that aside these mitts knit up very quickly as they’re worked all in stockinette in the round. It’s a good thing too, because I started the design in a peachy orange yarn at first. It didn’t show the cables as well (too variegated) and didn’t match the natural colors feel that the editors at Ennea were looking for. By the time I’d chosen and spun up different fiber I was glad for the short knitting time!

This was my first indoor photo shoot and I think it worked well. Although I’m not sure if it really qualifies though as I did the whole thing in front of the west facing glass doors in my living room. Does it count as indoor photography if I managed to use all natural lighting for it?

celtic bowl

Errata:
I have one small correction to the cable chart for Hirta. There should be only 13 stitches on the right hand half of the chart. The right-most cable crosses on rows 20 and 22 should be 2/1 crosses in each direction. Once you correct those two crosses there will be a whole column of sts on the right hand side that’s empty and can be crossed out.