April 30, 2003

Sprinklers, Sharks and Jellyfish, Oh My!

In my family we have a phrase, “sprinkler watching,” which describes the act of sitting outside on a hot summer day, ice-cold glass of lemonade in hand, watching the sprinkler go slowly back…and…forth…back…and…forth. Nobody talks; you just sit there watching the sprinkler. There’s nothing inherently interesting about the sprinkler; it’s movement is just calming, hypnotic and irresistible.

The phrase “sprinkler watching” can apply to other things as well, like watching the flames in a fire, a crystal pendant in a sunny window, or the pendulum on a clock. I’ve now discovered that this phrase can even apply to knitting. I sit with a couple of (non-knitting) friends during lunch and I knit while we chat. I have noticed that my companions “sprinkler watch” my hands. Their eyes glaze over slightly and shift infinitesimally back and forth as they watch me insert the needle, wrap the yarn, remove the stitch, insert the needle, wrap the yarn, remove the stitch, insert the needle… The question is, do I use this power for good, or for evil? I say evil. Definitely evil.

Knitting Knews
Recently I took a class with Lucy Neatby, knitter and designer extraordinaire. Lucy has a unique training method whereby she has you practice seven or eight sock-knitting techniques all on the same sock “tube.” (I don’t know what else to call it; it starts out as a cuff, but becomes so much more.) My finished product – a sock “sampler” if you will – came out looking like a creature from the deep, a cross between a giant jellyfish and a megamouth shark. Judge for yourself…

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Dye Garden Dyegest
We knitters pride ourselves on being able to make beautiful things out of two sticks and some string. Gardeners, like my K, may have it one up on us – they make beautiful things out of dirt.

Speaking of dirt, below is a photograph of the four (4!) yards of dirt K had delivered to her house for the dye garden. She calculated it took her 72 wheelbarrowsful to haul this from her driveway to the dye garden, which was, of course, as faaaaaaaar away from the location of the dirt pile as possible.

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In the photo below, some of the dirt has been moved to the dye garden. Our alarmingly large-eared “daughter” is sitting with her toes right on the edge of the bed, because she’s not supposed to go any further. K equates this to when, as a child, she used to stand with her toes lined up right outside the door of her brother’s room, saying “But I’m not in his room, Mom!”

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In response to Janet's question which she posted on 4/26, according to our reference books, the leaves of salal (gaultheria shallon) can be used to make a yellow gold color, and the berries can be used to make red to purple shades.


Posted by Ryan at 02:29 PM | Comments (3)

April 28, 2003

Blue Food (Perhaps Sung to the Tune of “Blue Moon?”)

A friend of mine who is normally sane and stable, nay, almost prim and proper, has one funny quirk – she won’t eat blue food. Banished from her plate are blueberries, blue Jell-O, blue M&Ms, blue jellybeans, and cake with blue icing. Quote: “Food should just not be blue!” Initially, my reaction was to look upon her with bemusement and to feel smugly superior to the poor addled dear, that is, until I did some online research on the phrase “blue food.” I was startled to find this site that says, “Blue food is a rare occurrence in nature. There are no leafy blue vegetables…no blue meats … and aside from blueberries and a few blue-purple potatoes from remote spots on the globe, blue just doesn't exist in any significant quantity as a natural food color. Consequently, we don't have an automatic appetite response to blue. Furthermore, our primal nature avoids food that are poisonous. A million years ago, when our earliest ancestors were foraging for food, blue, purple and black were ‘color warning signs’ of potentially lethal food.” I feel much less bemused and certainly less superior. And I am starting to eye blue food with suspicion.

Knitting Knews
I’ve started knitting a replacement cap for a friend’s moose. Uh, make that a stuffed moose. Better yet, make that a toy stuffed moose like this. Said friend’s significant other, who adores the moose to distraction, took it upon himself to wash it, and threw the whole kit and caboodle, moose, knitted hat, knitted sweater and all, into the washing machine. When it came out, the moose was fine but the hat and sweater looked as if they had been set upon by nuclear-powered moths. Below, pictures of the original hat and my start on the replacement hat. My original plan was to knit this in the round but since said co-worker seemed astonished that she might actually have to pay for the materials for the project, I was willing to fork over $2.00 for some crappy acrylic yarn but I was not willing to pay for a set of size 11 dpns (and I have forgotten everything I ever knew about using circular needles, so flat knitting it is).

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Dye Garden Dyegest – Resources and Pictures!
To give credit where credit is due, these are the three books we’re using for dye garden references:


  1. “Natural Dyes from Northwest Plants,” by Judy Green (out of print; ordered from a very friendly lady at Fuhrman & Fuhrman, Booksellers)

  2. Wild Color, by Jenny Dean

  3. A Dyer's Garden: From Plant to Pot Growing Dyes for Natural Fibers, by Rita Buchanan, these last two purchased with a reader's dream come true, a $25.00 Amazon.com gift certificate!

Time for some pictures of the dye garden in its infancy (actually, more like in its fetal stage).

The landscapers cutting the sod.

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The east end of the bed in mid-sod-cutting; the "ugly stage" during which K asked herself, “Now, WHY am I doing this?”

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The West end of the bed, post-sod-cutting. Pretty! Bursting with potential! But, alas, sadly lacking in topsoil.

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Janet, a "commenter," asked what parts of Salal are used for dyeing. I'll get this info and include it in the next entry. Thanks for the question, Janet!

Posted by Ryan at 02:12 PM | Comments (1)

April 25, 2003

Me: 0; Conveyor Belt: 1

Today, my entry related to strange thoughts and odd human behavior, unfortunately, stars Yours Truly. Recently, when I was in the checkout line at my local supermarket, the checker asked me to put her “Checkout Line Closed” sign in place so no one else would join the line. I picked up the sign and placed it on the conveyor belt – only to see it glide gently away from me as the conveyor belt, well, did what it does best. I picked the sign up and repositioned it at the front of the conveyor belt, only to watch it proceed merrily towards the checker again. I repositioned it a good three or four times, wondering all the while why this wasn't so hard for other people. Eventually, I had a “d’oh” moment, picked up the sign and placed it on the very stable, non-gliding, non-conveying edge of the checkout stand, praying all the while that no one had been watching me. I can now place myself squarely in the same category as the driver who was on-ramp challenged. I am humbled.

Knitting Knews
I am currently working on sock pair…lemme see… one, two, three, oh, yes, twenty-two. This pair is knit in Lorna’s Laces Shepherd Sock “Gold Hill” on 64 stitches and size 2 needles, using the FiberTrends/Evelyn Clark "Railroad Tracks" pattern, one of my faves. The intended recipient is my better half. (She picked this yarn out herself. Considering the fact that she breaks out in hives when we go into a yarn store, being so out of her element, (supportive, yes, but out of her element), it was quite the milestone!) The colors in the picture are a smidge brighter than the real-life colors which are gold, sage, terra cotta and light purple.

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Dye-Garden Dyegest – The Colors
One of my "commenters" asked me to post what colors we will get from our dye plants. Below is the list of plants with their color ranges listed. (The items in bold are two plants I forgot to list in my last entry. I can't believe I forgot the sunflowers! I can't wait until those spectacular 10-foot tall plants are looming over the garden!)


  • Calendula – light yellow

  • Cosmos - peach, yellow, orange, brown

  • Coreopsis – yellows, pinks

  • Dahlias – yellows, pinks

  • Goldenrod – yellow, gold, green

  • Hollyhock - purples

  • Madder – reds, purples

  • Marigold – yellows, golds

  • Safflower – yellows, pinks

  • Sunflower – golds, greens
  • Salal - red, purple

  • Yarrow – beige, yellow


Posted by Ryan at 04:05 PM

April 23, 2003

I Said, Green Light GO!

As promised in my last post, an example of Odd Things People Do:

In my city, some of the on-ramps have traffic lights that quickly alternate from red to green to red to ensure that only one car enters the highway at a time. Recently I witnessed a driver interpret the alternating lights oh-so-literally. When the light turned green, she inched forward; when the light turned red, she stopped. Then she did this again. And again. And again. Until f-i-n-a-l-ly she reached the Magic White Line that signaled the end of her strange little odyssey and sped off. Oy!

Frighteningly enough, this was not an isolated incident. Two weeks later, I saw someone else do exactly the same thing. Different ramp, different car, different person, same astonishing behavior. Is it just me?

Knitting Knews
Just finished this pair of baby socks in Stahl Hobby Kids “Kirsch” using a modified version of a the Basic Sock pattern from “How to Knit a Dozen Baby Socks.” Although I enjoy knitting baby socks, I am always plagued by voices of the chatters on the Net saying in a haunting, taunting way “Whyyyyyyy booooooooother? They woooooon’t staaaaaaaaay ooooooooooooon the baaaaaaaby aaannnyywaaaaaaaaaay. Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha.” I’ve seen a few patterns like this one that supposedly will make a pair of booties that will stay on the wee bairn’s feet but I say, what’s the point if you’re going to make the baby look like a miniature Frankenstein’s monster? My solution has been to make a sock with a firm-ish fold-down cuff. I’m hoping this will help keep the sock on and help quiet those voices in my head.

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Dye Garden Dyegest – The Beginning
As promised in my last entry, here is the initial information on our wild and crazy project, the dye garden. Where to start? I suppose with our research and the plants we selected. After many evening hours huddled over books, we developed this list of criteria for the dye plants. They had to:


  1. Grow well in the Northwest.

  2. Not be a weed (although you can dye with dandelions, can you honestly see us voluntarily scattering dandelion seeds in a flower bed?)

  3. Not be a noxious weed (different from just a plain ol’ weed; these are the ones that the state government says are a no-no).

  4. Be something K might grow anyway since the dye garden is in her yard.

  5. Produce flowers in the first year (ended up with some exceptions to this).

  6. Produce flowers somewhat abundantly so that I wouldn’t leave a wasteland behind me when I removed the flowers for dyeing.

  7. Produce interesting colors (as opposed to light yellow, medium yellow, dark yellow, gold, golden yellow, yellowish gold, mustard, yellowish mustard, mustardy yellow, golden mustard, mustardy gold, yaddayaddayadda). We selected a few plants that produce yellow and the rest produced reds, pinks, purples, corals, greens and so on.

  8. Produce a relatively color-fast dye.

Our final list was (all links off-site):

Posted by Ryan at 10:51 AM | Comments (5)

April 21, 2003

Hello, and The Tale of the Foldable Squirrel

When I tried to define why I wanted to create this blog, at first I thought it was to “cyber-meet” other knitters and feel not so alone in my insatiable passion for this new hobby. Then I thought maybe it was to show off my knitting skills, but I immediately realized I didn’t have a snowball’s chance in aitch eee double-hockey-sticks of impressing anyone as long as I occupy the same universe as Wendy and FiberRavenSoiree. Then I thought maybe it was so I could showcase my writing skills but, as a technical writer, I’m programmed to generate dreary numbered and bulleted lists. Big, gaping, toothy yawn. Finally I concluded the blog was mostly so I could combine knitting minutiae with sharing the occasional odd thought and the amazingly strange things I’ve seen some people do. And then, out of the blue, the whole blogging idea took a 90-degree turn and metamorphosed into something completely different. My partner got wind of my blogging efforts and decided it would be fun for us to share with others the story of the dye garden we are planting this year. So it boils down to the occasional odd thought, comment or observation; Knitting Knews; and the Dye Garden Dyegest!

Today’s Odd Thought, Comment or Observation (not for the squeamish):
On the road right outside the driveway of my office building, there’s a squirrel carcass. And not just any squirrel carcass – an extraordinarily flat squirrel carcass. In fact, the only reason you can tell that it’s a squirrel is because it’s a slightly lighter gray than the asphalt. So now, the first five minutes of my commute home are spent reflecting on the physiological ramifications of going from being frisky, warm, and round to being dead, cold, and paper-thin. I cannot wait for some torrential rain to come wash Mr. Nutkin away. In my next post, an example of odd things people do…

Knitting Knews
AS_Riverbed_fuzzed_web.jpgI am a knitter but I primarily knit socks. (Who’m I kidding?! I’ve knit 22 pairs of socks and one scarf. That makes me a sock knitter who went slumming for a few days.) Here is my most recent oeuvre, a self-designed pair in a checkerboard lace pattern. These socks are named the Alhambra Socks, after the beautiful lacey Moorish building in Granada, Spain. The socks are knit in Lorna’s Laces “nearly solid” Bold Red and are for a DCW (Dear Co-Worker) who helped me learn how to pick up stitches for gussets. But for her hand-holding, I’d still be carrying around a sad cuff, ankle and heel concoction, sort of like the sock equivalent of a fingerless glove, but in the case of a sock, what’s the point?

Dye Garden Dyegest
In my next entry, I’ll include the first chapter of the Dye Garden Dyegest, a brief history of how we got to this point, what resources we’re using, and what we’re planting. Come join us!

Posted by Ryan at 12:00 AM | Comments (8)