Sunday, January 31, 2010

How to Spend a Snowy Weekend

Here in Western North Carolina, we had a several inches of snow with a warmish Saturday that melted the top layer into a crust of ice.  I planned ahead so that I would not need to go anywhere.  Plenty of food, a choice of beverages, good reading material and no shortage of fiber!

I baked a delicious Pumpkin Sour Cream Bundt Cake.  The center is a cinnamon-sugar struesel.  The cake is substantial without being heavy.  I plan to add a dollop of Cream cheese based hard sauce this evening.  It's yummy!  But I have 3/4 of a can of pumpkin leftover, so I'll be looking for some more pumpkin recipes to use it up. We also made a delicious beef stew and chicken soup.  Yum!!!

I carded wool.  Last December I was in the neighborhood of the Mid States Wool Growers Coop and purchased a few pounds of natural colored wool. I've been separating it into different colors.  This is the 'Oxford Grey.'  Should be enough for a very nice skein, though I did not weigh it.  Fills a copier paper box; could be this evening's spinning.

I cleared the walk.  With the help of my fine neighbor, we shoveled the snow.  Light and fluffy on the bottom, crusty on top, so not a difficult task.  The street is still icy, but today it should get up to the mid-30s with sun.  Let the thawing begin!  I hope to finish digging my truck out and free it from its snowy bondage.

I started my taxes.  Not thrilling but necessary.  Besides I wanted to see how Smoky Mountain Fibers did.  The short answer:  Don't quit your day job! But with a good sized ending inventory of fiber, yarn and dyes, not bad at all.  2011 will be a year of cost-containment.  Hear that? Watch your spending!  Maybe time for another destash!

I knit!  My raglan cardigan was at the stage where I attached the sleeves to the body.  A dozen or so rows later, it is coming along nicely.  The best thing about raglan sweaters (other than the minimal sewing up at the end), is how each row gets successively shorter as you go from the armpit to the neckline.  Now with 300+ stitches, it's still a slog. 

I also washed hand spun yarns and planned an English Country dance that I'll lead next Sunday. J and I laid out some garden plans for the coming spring and summer.  Won't be long until it's time to put peas in the ground!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Getting Noticed

I love having an Etsy shop.  because of the growing traffic on this handmade marketplace, I am able to get my work out to the universe in a way I never even considered until I found Etsy back in ought-six.  In addition to buying and selling and creating an online community, individuals can create a 'Treasury' - a group of products that fit into the theme.  I occasionally luck into creating a treasury, but the timing is tricky and I find creating them very time consuming. 

Luckily, other people love to make them - and seem to be luckier than I am catching an opening.  Yesterday I got a lovely 'convo' - Etsyspeak for a personal message - notifying me that I was in a Treasury with a number of knitted object, yarn and another (killer beautiful) roving.  Fair warning - the links don't last long!  Such is the transient nature of the Treasury. Thanks, Svetlana for including my Blue Atlantic roving!

P.S. I knit about another inch on my sweater!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Seems like not much is happening...

... But I am knitting a sweater.  For me!

Nothing terribly exciting - It's the Classic Lines cardigan from Knit Picks.  It's fairly slow going as it is knit on size 5 needles with 2  (and occasionally 3) strands of  lace weight yarn.  Happily the sleeves are done; I have about 6 more inches of body, then it's on to one big needle for the big raglan rounds and rounds, eventually decreasing to human neck size.

It's darn mindless at this point.  Stitch markers help me keep track of the 'hand-dyed' row, but it makes great lunch hour, meeting, TV, reading knitting.  I haven't even taken any pictures yet, so today was the day.

As the new semester has begun, I need my brain for other things.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Alpaca Phat Hat

My online friend Maple, aka North Star Alpacas, has gotten delightfully creative with my Phat Hat Pattern, first published free on this blog.  Maple is a retired teacher who lives in Michigan where she raises these beautiful animals who supply her with fiber, keeping her, her family and her customers in yarn, hats, scarves and so on.  Maple like to use my patterns like basic recipes - that's the way I like to use them too.

Here is what Maple says in the writeup about this playful hat:  'You will love the way this hat fits. If you choose to wear it for warmth, it pulls down comfortably to cover your ears, or you can roll the brim and just perch it on your head for a fashion statement.

'The tan, brown, and gray yarns are from naturally colored alpaca, and the bands of color were white that I hand dyed. All yarns are from my own alpacas that I handspun. I carried a tiny little thread of handspun mohair along while I was knitting for added warmth and a soft halo.' Pretty!  I like the way that Maple's listings show the animal that grew the fleece that ends up in the hat.

This pattern was developed to use small amounts of yarn, like those that we receive or spin from the Phat Fiber sampler boxes to which Maple and I both contribute.  Knit your own & add them to Ravelry, if you are a member. The pattern link is always on the right hand column of this blog.

Monday, January 11, 2010

New Natural Medley

I'm working on some new rovings and combos in my Etsy shop. Because natural colors do not have a specific 'dye lot,' the shades of natural rovings change.  I purchase my natural colors wholesale from an excellent supplier, but colors do change.  My recent 'Fawn' roving came in decidedly grey.  Very nice,spins up nicely - much better than I expected, but quite grey - not fawn at all.

At SAFF this year, I bought a little more than a pound of Oxford grey roving.  It is a Alpaca wool blend, but not the sweetest baby alpaca I have ever spun.  A lovely grey, but I am not reaching in to spin it.  Other fiber is calling me.

So it's now in a grab bag in the Etsy shop and at Locally Grown at the WNC Farmer's Market.

On the calling front, this is a 3 dance week!  I called the Old Farmer's Ball on Sunday afternoon for the Annual Meeting Members dance, I'll call the regular Thursday contra dance with the Avant Gardeners and Saturday night in Jonesborough, TN with a band that includes Cary Fridley.  Lucky, lucky me!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

To Infinty and Beyond!

The December Phat Fiber sampler box was actually themed Aurora Borealis and Beyond, but why stop there?  Yes, I know it's already January, but with holiday travel and the back-to-school season, I'm just getting around to blogging about it.  What can I say, I'm a busy woman!

I always get excited when the box comes, but I don't open it until I have a few minutes to actually enjoy it, take pictures as I open it.  Later I go back to see what is really there.  Although every month is good, some of them totally blow me away.  December made me very happy - you'll see why...

  Sparkly black tissue paper greeted me with a striped coupon pack right on top.  Part of the fun of opening the box is seeing Jessie's packaging - It's always fun!  Just below the tissue, the goodies kicked it.  I'll do the fiber first, then the yarn.  Starting with the gold fiber you see in the 12:00 position, I'll promenade the circle. 

Kalpaca Farm sent a generous baggie of carded alpaca that was Kool Aid dyed in similar colors of salmon and yellow with a bit of lavender showing through.  From Ewe to Ewe’s sample was Merino roving in a colorway called ‘Fir’ – a saturated dark green.  Spincerely Yours gives us a sunny roving of blue, turquoise and yellow in superwash merino.

It was hand dyed locks from Farm Girl Chic – the blues and greens of 'Neptune' interpreted in color on Border Leicester locks – curly and shiny.  Moose in Socks interpreted the theme as ‘Northern Lights with a superwash merino/bamboo blend.  The lavender, green, grey, bronze, pink roving has that bamboo sheen and merino softness that makes me want to spin it NOW.  Both of these seller have more of their sampled colorways available in their shops.

WC Mercantile sent a lovely ‘snowball’ of superfine merino artisan dyed in shades of lavender and grey.  Very pretty fiber and clever packaging.  Misty at Desired Haven Farm used a photo of a nebula as her inspiration and included the photo with the roving.  In colors of blue, purple, salmon and black with a good bit of white showing through, this roving is bright and colorful.

Look right in the center of the picture.  The Sassy Sheep sent her merino/cashmere/nylon roving in a pretty little gift box.  But the real gift was the supersoft (as you can imagine!) roving dyed in a colorway called Galaxy – black, purple and teal.

And now the yarns...a particularly nice selection of yarns for December.  This time I'll go from left to right in an orderly manner.  Melissa’s Kre8tions sent a lovely sample yarn in deeply saturated blues that she calls, A December Evening. Blue Mountain Handcrafts sent a similar singles of handspun merino in a colorway aptly named ‘Alien Sun’ – red, orange, gold and burgundy.  Very rich!  Similar in weight, these yarns will stay together in my mind and in a future creation of my own.

The Cool Climates sample is an intriguing art yarn of wool, mohair, bamboo, tencel and what  looks like firestar plied with beaded thread.  She calls it Aurora Borealis1 and it rocks!  What an amazing spinner - watch for this in a stripe of a hat near you!

Two lovely sock yarns.  #1 is ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ from Twiggi Knits is a merino/silk blend in dark grey nd purple highlighted with yellow and orange.  #2 is a  superwash merino/ nylon blend from WabiSabi Yarns in a deep purple medley.  With the number of sock yarn samples that I have been accumulating, I think a pair of ‘fraternal twin’ striped socks is in the future.  I’ll just have to decide on a base color that will show off these and other sock yarns that the talented Phat dyers are sampling.

SteeleSpun Yarns sent 5 yards of a bulky single in Superwash merino and alpaca dyed a color called Meteorite – a deep rich grey.  Jag’s Funky Fibers continues recycling yarns for creative re-use, this time a polyester ‘terry cloth’ yarn in beachy colors of sand and sea.

The non-fiber samples in this month’s box includes 2 very lovely, snagless stitch markers from MyFairBagLady and Lampyridae   Skein Snake sent a repurposed cord lock to be used to hold your knitting on your needles.  Since I am currently knitting a sweater on a circular needle, it was immediately pressed into service.

There were two patterns in my box this month:  DaniDo Crafty’s lovely Verge cabled neck warmer design and a ‘Mood Lifter’ Slouch hat pattern from Kelsey and Northern Lights Fiber Company.  Both are knits that will be satisfying to knit without being overly complicated.  The slouch is in a slip stitch pattern that should be excellent for hand dyed yarns.

There were also a number of coupons and business cards, but this post has about done me in!  Thanks again to Jessie and Marcus for making this Phat Fiber thing happen!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

We have a Winner!

As part of my participation in the Phat Fiber Sampler box, I occasionally give away roving.  The queen of Phat Fiber, Jessie puts a notice on her blog and people will come to my Etsy shop and comment on what they like.  It gives me very good feedback about colors that people like (and why).  The folks who comment have an opportunity to win fiber or yarn or stitch markers - whatever is on offer.  I once won a lovely journal, still too precious to use!

Jennifer of Landen Road Designs won the Saturn roving - the red/gold colorway that I featured in the December Phat Fiber box.  Her clay work is lovely and as a beginning spinner she was very tickled to receive it.  Perhaps she will send a photo of the project that will come out of it and I'll share it here!

As I looked at her blog to see where to send it, I realized that she lived in Canton, Ohio - the city where I spent my childhood and adolescence.  Now I admit that I went away to college and never returned and have only visited to attend a class reunion a few years back.  The city has grown immensely and my urban neighborhood looked a bit rough around the edges, with the suburbs seeing positive growth that was only starting when I left.  But the park that runs through the NW section of the city was still lovely, bringing back memories of wading in the creek, walking on the trails and skating on the lake.  The Pro Football Hall of Fame is still there too!

Monday, January 4, 2010

2010 Begins...

With a look back, of course.  Overall, 2009 was a great year with SMF holding steady, expanding some and staying fun.  My spinning has improved, I am spinning interesting yarns from dyed and natural roving and from a few lovely fleeces that I have purchased. I installed a solar water heater, had a great garden, have stayed mostly healthy and quite happy.  Work has remained challenging but satisfying.  

But I thought I'd look at last years goals and see how I did...

Selling my work - I set sales goals on Etsy by month and by year. For example, in 2009 I hope to sell 1000 items.  Well, I sold 650 items.  Whether it was the economy or lack of promotion on my part, I fell a bit short, but still increased sales over the previous year, so that's okay.

Colorways – I’d like to round out the color selection in the Etsy shop to be sure that I always have a full complement around the spectrum.  Reasonably successful as I have paid attention to keeping colors in stock all the time.  I've developed repeatable colorways for the 'Andromeda Shades,' a line based on the planets and stars. I've also added hand dyed mohair and wool locks to the shop.

Sock yarns – Although these are NOT my strength on Etsy, they have a steady turnover at both B&M shops. Work on semi-solids. Think up a catchy name for same.  'Subtle Shades' is my name for the semi-solids.  They still sell much better in the yarn shops that Etsy and I think that's okay.
Etsy FAST –Get involved in the team again. Join in the challenges, stay active on FiberFriday.  While staying active on Fiber Friday, I've switched my activity to the Phat Fiber group, submitting samples to the box on alternate months.  Did it increase sales?  Not sure, but it has definitely increased exposure (based on Google Analytics), so that's good.  At this year's SAFF, people recognized me as SmokyMountainFibers, which was very cool!

Ravelry - SMF group – Start it - Easy! Maintain it - a bit harder! What if nobody joins? Yikes! 
Just got around to it!  I have a Facebook presence and a couple of fans, but it is tricky maintaining it.  I have posted a couple of patterns to Ravelry and that's fun and easy, just takes time!

Patterns – Shall I give one away? Free patterns posted to blog? Posted on Ravelry as a free download? Hmm…I now have 4 patterns on Etsy, another freebie posted to the blog with plans to create another freebie and expanding the size range on the existing patterns.

Website: – This is the year! 
Well, I own the name and server space, but have not built it yet.  Add this to next year's plan.

Next year's plan?  Stay tuned...