Monday, December 19, 2011

Facebook Giveaway

If my JL Yarnworks Facebook page gets to 500 fans by Christmas, one lucky fan will get a $20 gift certificate to my Etsy store! Will you help? Will you win?!?

If we get to 600 fans, I'll even give away a second $10 gift certificate.

Head over to my Facebook page for more details!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Tutorial: Knitting With Silk Hankies

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Silk Hankies seem to be the craze lately. I discovered them recently at North Country Fiber Fair in Watertown, SD. But many got their first glimpse on the Yarn Harlot's blog.

But what do you do with this stack of squares? You can't knit with a square, can you?

Well, there's probably a way, but the trick with silk hankies is to first turn them into something resembling yarn.

How do you do that?

Step 1: Peel away the smallest layer you can by grabbing a piece of the corner, and peeling it back. The layers like to stick to each other, so you'll feel a bit like you're ripping it apart. But that's okay!

Notice how thin this layer is. You can see my hand right through the meshy layer of silk.

Step 2: Poke a hole in the center of your square. Yep, just shove your thumbs right into the center. Then using your fingers, pull from the center, outward.

Step 3: And STRETCH!

Keep stretching, moving slowly around the loop of silk, working one section at a time.

If the section you're working on won't stretch, your hands are probably too close together. Move your hands further apart and try again. Silk fibers are long. Our aim isn't to break them's to spread them out.

How do you know when you're done? Your loop should be a relatively consistent thickness. You'll probably want to make it somewhere between a DK and worsted weight.

Notice that there will be some bits of nubbiness. Your yarn may even have some thick-and-thin qualities. That's what makes it interesting!

So now what? You have a large loop of silk, all stretched out to the thickness you desire. But you want to knit with it, not wear it as a humongous necklace, right?

That's simple!

Step 4: Break it!

Now you have a length of unspun yarn.

(If you wanted, you could then spin this, but for our purposes, we're just going to knit with it as-is.)
Step 5: Start knitting!
How do you join strands? When you're done knitting up one strand, make another from another square.  Overlap the end of your old strand with the beginning of your new strand. Roll them together a bit between your hands (almost as if you're spit splicing). They won't felt together, but the tackiness of the silk will help hold the pieces together. Knitting with them overlapped will help hold them together even more.

Tip: Break each square in the same place (within the same color section) each time for a smoother, less noticeable join.

The sample here is a shawl knit on size US9s. (CO 3 sts. Then for every row following, k1, yo, knit to the end. Keep going until you have a large triangular shawl in the size you want.) I'm using two different colorways and alternating between them. One square from one colorway followed by one strand from the other colorway. Both of the colorways I'm using have green, so I broke each loop within the green portion for a seamless transition.

Tip: Bring lotion to the party. Silk in this form tends to stick to any rough patch of skin it can find. It seems to be less tacky once it's knit up.

Note: This is a great way to impress and amaze your knitting friends at your local knit night. Take a stack of hankies for show-and-tell!

Silk hankies will be available in the JL Yarnworks store later this week!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

North Country Fiber Fair 2011

NCFF this year was fantastic. Despite having the disco light over my booth that kept flickering in and out, we did better than ever! This was my fourth year (wow, time flies!) and not only did we meet more people and sell more goodies, but I actually learned something completely new! And now I have to share.

Have you gotten on the silk hankie bandwagon? Like so many knitting crazes, I'm pretty sure the Yarn Harlot had something to do with the near viral spread of their popularity. (See her really fun mittens here.)

Well, I have a confession. Two actually, but we'll start with the first.

Confession #1:

I'd never heard of silk hankies. Not this kind anyway. Only the kind grandma used to have. But these are totally different. This kind of silk hankie is made from layers of silkworm cocoons spread over a frame. They're also called mawatas. That's Japanese for spread around, or spread out, or an expanded cocoon...or something to that effect depending on who you ask.

First, I saw these hankies being knit up by the lady at the Corny Goodness booth. She showed me how to poke a hole in the center of each hankie and stretch it out until it's the thickness you desire, and then knit with it! (I'll post a tutorial tomorrow.) So, of course, I had to buy a bunch and start knitting with it right away. As in, in my booth. And I had to show every customer that came in my booth how cool it is.

Now, an aside.... silk like this can snag on callouses on your hands. I learned this the hard way. Thankfully, there was a vendor selling lotion right across the aisle from me! Penny from 444 Farm was a sweetheart. She has some great stuff too, so show her some love, k? (I kinda might have bought more than just lotion. I kinda might have bought a bunch. And it's all awesome. Just sayin'.)

Okay, back to it. So I'm grinning like a dork happily knitting up my hankies, when I find out that another vendor is not only selling silkworm kits (so you can raise your own!), but they're demonstrating how these hankies are made. Yay!

Which brings me to....

Confession #2:

I didn't take a single picture at NCFF 2011. *facepalm*

But thankfully, Susan Stark (aka WIHH on Ravelry) took some great pictures and was gracious enough to give me permission to use them here. Thanks, Susan!

So I ran over to Dragon Craft's booth for a little demonstration. Loretta was kind enough to give me the Cliff Notes. First, you soak the cocoon in a warm soapy water to get rid of some of the worm spit.

Then you can snag a bit on one corner of the frame (there's a nail there) and carefully streeeeeetch it out towards the other three corners, like so.

And like so.

After you've stacked 10 or so cocoons on this frame, it's time to take it off. There may be some more processing after this part, but this is as far as we got.

Really nifty though, huh?

Now, Loretta assured me that raising silkworms is both fulfilling and easy. And I believe her!

But I think I'll be buying my hankies. Anyone who knows me, knows that I like doing things from scratch. But knowing it takes hundreds of cocoons to make one small garment? Silk hankies seem cheap compared to the time and effort involved in raising that many silkworms.

And really, we all know that my main interest is in dyeing them all kinds of pretty colors. Who wants to bet that I'll have some available for sale in my shop soon? ;)

Wednesday, September 07, 2011


I've loved Ravelry since just about its inception. It's practically perfect in every way. Just about every yarn and pattern catalogued in a nice searchable format. Forums buzzing with people who can answer just about any question you might have in the blink of an eye. And, the best, an easy way for the fiber elite (authors, bloggers, designers, indie dyers, and other "famous" yarny types) and their fans and customers to connect.

While I've never really considered myself to be one of the elite, I am a designer and dyer. And a very knitterly friend of mine has been urging me to create a fan group for myself on Ravelry. A place where customers, test-knitters, and other fans can come together and discuss my patterns and yarns.

So here it is. Please join us. This is the best way for you to influence the direction of JL Yarnworks. Be a part of the discussion!

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Exclusive 20% Off Sale For Facebook Fans!

Want to save 20% on your entire order on my Etsy site just by being a Facebook fan?

Sale starts now and runs until midnight Friday, September 2nd, 2011.

Simply go to my JL Yarnworks Facebook page and either look under "Offers" or become a fan to reveal a coupon code for 20% off your Etsy order.

This is my first ever sale of this type and I don't anticipate doing them very often, so take advantage!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Never Leave Home Without It

Is everyone keeping busy this summer? Sheesh! Ever since Mr. Yarnworks returned from Afghanistan in May, it's just been crazy around here! Between Shepherd's Harvest, spending mad quality time with Mr. Yarnworks and the kids, toting the kids to and fro to basketball camps, dance camps, and outdoor camps, and getting Mr. Yarnworks' ACL and meniscus repaired (finally -- he injured it a year ago!).....well, let's just say that I took most of the summer off from most everything except my family. And I enjoyed every second!

Now it's time to gear up for fall. Mr. Yarnworks is walking without crutches again and can now drive himself to physical therapy. The kids are mostly done with their camps. North Country Fiber Fair is right around the corner. And school starts in less than a month. Not to mention, I've missed you all!

So, this summer, Mr. Yarnworks and I have had to attend a couple of weekend "Yellow Ribbon Events" put on by the National Guard. These are mandatory for the service member and optional for family members, but they're notoriously....well....boring. Brutal really. Especially for those of us with a few deployments under our belts.

(I swear this is knitting related, just bear with me.)

I mean, really, how many times can people who have never deployed explain to me how to re-ignite the home fires with my husband after a year-long deployment? Especially a month or two after he returns home? And don't get me started on the briefs put on by groups like the Department of Labor where the presenter is ill-prepared and doesn't even really know how to relate their material to veterans....something that always floors me about these things.

Anyway, so day one of the first Yellow Ribbon Event, I dutifully packed my knitting in my purse. I almost always have a project with me and this was no exception. (See? Told ya. Knitting!) During the big auditorium presentations, I pulled out my simple stockinette sock and worked a few rows. I love stockinette socks for times like these because I can work on them and still make eye contact. Later, in our smaller group presentations, I left the knitting in my purse. There were only 4-20 people in each group and it just seemed rude to pull out the knitting. You and I both know that I can and do pay attention while I knit, but most muggles just don't understand that, and I'd hate to insult anyone, ya know?

On the second day, the schedule indicated that we'd have nothing but those small group presentations, so I looked wistfully at my knitting, but ultimately left it at home.

Big. Mistake.

See, on Day Two, most of the soldiers decided that the presentations were just too brutal, and most played hookie. Yep, including Mr. Yarnworks. We started off by wandering around downtown Sioux Falls, but since it was Sunday, most everything was closed. So we ended up mostly sitting around outside chatting with his war buddies.

Now I loved getting to know all these people he'd talked about so fondly since he returned. They were all just as fabulous as he'd let on. But it would have been ideal knitting time, wouldn't it? Sitting around outside on benches, steps, or at picnic tables, casually shooting the breeze with a bunch of people that don't really want to be there? Yep,  that's the perfect time to pull out that stockinette sock.....that I left at home.

Thing is, I knew better. I knew better than to assume that I'd have no occasion to knit. Yet, I left it behind anyway.

Have you done this? Do you solve this problem by just always bringing your knitting with you? Do you think about what your day holds and decide whether or not to bring your knitting based on that?

I'll tell you this much -- I will always have some sort of knitting in the car or in my purse for times like these.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

My sweet tooth nearly killed me

Okay, so the title is a huge exaggeration. I didn't nearly die...though some days I was beginning to feel like it! But, I want to explain my absence lately and needed a catchy blog title! This is not a post related to yarn or fiber or knitting or crocheting or spinning. It's simply my story of the past 8 months. Maybe someone out there, with Google at their fingertips and a killer headache, will find this helpful. And, maybe you'd just like to know why I haven't blogged since New Years!

Last August, not long before school started for the girls, I got a headache. No biggie, right? Well, two weeks later it was still there. The. Same. Headache. No relief. So I visited my doctor. He gave me a shot meant for migraines (Toradol and Zofran) and sent me home. On my way home (a 30 minute drive with a pit-stop to pick my 4yo up from a friend's house), I got loopy and tired and felt absolutely horrible. And worse, my headache was much worse. After a couple hours, I called the doctor to see if my reaction was normal (they'd assured me that it didn't cause drowsiness and I was fine to drive, so I thought not) and to find out how long it would take to kick in. Their response was that no one EVER reacts that way (later got a letter from my doctor that he'd consulted several of his colleagues and NONE have ever had a patient react as I did..though a quick Google search tells me it's a common side effect) and that it should have kicked in within the first 20 minuetes. "Is it not working?" the nurse asked me. Why would I have called if it were? They told me to give it until morning and call back if I still had a headache, which they said they were certain would be long gone by then.

Of course, the next morning, the headache was still raging, so I called back. They didn't want to prescribe anything else until I'd had a CT scan. Thankfully, they got me in right away and the CT scan was clear, so they then prescribed me something else. Tramadol. This time it was a pill, so I was able to get home, order some pizza, and then pop a pill. By the time pizza had arrived and I'd had a slice or two, I was beyond loopy. I could barely put a full sentence together and felt faint. I walked the kids across the street and asked my neighbors if they would babysit all three of us. They took one look at me and offered to call an ambulance. I was pale, groggy, and unable to think clearly. I declined the ambulance and asked them just to let me sit with them in case it got worse. At least I could relax, knowing my kids were safe. (If you recall, my husband was in Afghanstan, so the girls and I were on our own.) Roughly 4 hours later, I perked up. I was better able to follow conversations and began joking around and enjoying my visit. They could tell I was feeling MUCH better. I thanked them for babysitting me, and the girls and I returned home. I still had my headache (it had gotten worse again after taking the Tramadol) and it remained worse for a couple days.

Honestly, I don't remember what happened next. I'm pretty sure I let my doctor know of my reaction, but I don't remember going back to see him right away. By this time my husband was on his way home for 2 weeks of leave, and I thought maybe the headache was just stress. It HAD just started right before the crazy back-to-school schedule, so I thought maybe having him around would relieve the stress and the headache. I even planned a weekend away at a lake with a couple friends while he was home. After my trip to the lake ended without relief, my husband went with me back to the doctor. It was then that he decided it was likely upper back and neck strain (I have a bit of weight to lose and a more-than-ample chest, so my back, neck, and shoulders are always tight). He prescribed a muscle relaxant and physical therapy.

Mr. Yarnworks returned to the war and I dutifully went to PT 3x a week for 6 weeks. While I enjoyed the massages, they really didn't help the headache. Exploring my options, I also visited an eye doctor for the first time in....well, in my adult life. I'd felt that my vision was getting worse, but had avoided the eye doctor, so with the headache, it was time to go. Verdict? 20/20 vision....but it COULD be corrected to 20/15 if I wanted. So I got glasses. They greatly help with road signs and such, but didn't help with the headaches. So at least I ruled that out. The eye doctor was also a bit concerned about my field-of-vision test, which showed a blip on each eye where I couldn't see. The same spot on each eye, just mirror image. To her, that screamed of a pituitary gland issue.

We're now into December.

My regular doc scheduled an MRI and shipped me off to a neurologist. Here's where you can see my desperation. I actually HOPED it was a pituitary tumor (almost always benign). At least then I'd have a reason for this stupid headache and a solution! I read the list of symptoms and so many fit not only my headache, but a host of other symptoms I'd written off as part of getting older.

When the MRI came back perfectly clear, I was so disappointed I cried. Four months of the SAME headache, and we were no closer to finding a cause or a solution.

My neurologist put me on Indomethacin. After 4 doses (a day and a half), I got a small rash all over the inside of my arms and stopped taking it. The day after I discontinued the Indomethacin, I felt terrific! The headache wasn't gone, but the mental fog and the depression that had followed after months of this same headache lifted. The headache was noticeably better and for the first time in months, I could actually THINK. I don't even think I'd realized just how much the headache had affected me other than the pain. Over the course of the next week though, without being able to take more Indomethacin, the headache returned. The neurologist suggested a couple other drugs, but both had side effects that I decided I wouldn't risk while home alone with my children. (Topamax and Imitrex) Since medication was the only thing the neurologist was interested in discussing, I was on my own. A friend of mine suggested trying the Indomethacin again (the one that gave me a rash, but helped the headache), but to lower the dose to see if I could get the benefits without the rash. It worked. I was able to start with a half dose and work myself up to a full dose and never got the rash again. And my headache, while it never went away, was at a MUCH more manageable level and I was able to function again.

Now, I'd been on a diet before the headache started, but when the headache was in full swing, I fell off the wagon. I could barely think, let alone calorie-count and measure and weigh food. I'd regained everything I'd lost. Now that I was functional again, I decided it was time to get back on my diet. Maybe losing some weight would help whatever was causing this headache, right?

Well, after losing just a few pounds (with many more to go), my weight-loss stalled. I was exercising. I was eating right. There's no way after a month or more of dieting again that I should be losing less than half a pound a week. So I decided to give up my Diet Coke. I'd read that artificial sweeteners could actually lead to weight gain. And that they could lead to overeating, cravings, and all kinds of weirdness. Giving up my Diet Coke definitely wouldn't hurt, and just might help. I didn't give up all artificial sweeteners, just the Diet Coke.

Here's where the magic happens.

Not quite putting two and two together yet, I started trying to wean myself off the Indomethacin, and was able to completely wean myself off within a couple weeks. Yay! I still had my headache, but it wasn't horrible and I was still functional. I don't like being medicated as a general rule, so this was good.

A couple weeks later, I had a stressful week. I grabbed a 2 liter of Diet Coke and had a bit of a binge that led to a couple more 2 liters over the course of about a week. And my headache returned to a point where I needed to go back on the Indomethacin. This is when it finally dawned on me. It's the freakin' Diet Coke!

Now, this isn't the first time the evils of artificial sweeteners had crossed my mind. Aspartame has lots of (at least anecdotal) evidence of causing migraines. And back in the fall, I'd given up Diet Coke for a week without seeing any benefits, so I'd ruled that out as a cause. But, as it turns out, I didn't give it long enough. Reading up on the topic, it looks like it takes 30-60 days to get out of your system. Plus, I'd only really given up Diet Coke (both times), but being on a diet, I was consuming TONS of other stuff with different artificial sweeteners in it.

So I swore off all of them. Easier said than done. They're in toothpaste, medications, and just about anyting labelled "light" or even "healthy." Ugh. The idea is to get rid of all of them, hopefully totally get rid of the headache, and then try the different types one at a time to figure out which ones I'm sensitive to.

It's been a month now. No lowfat yogurt, no diet desserts or 100 calorie packs, no diet soft drinks, no Crystal Light, etc. I kept the toothpaste. There's really not a good alternative and at least I don't swallow that, right?

I've had two oopses.

First, about 2 weeks in, I woke up feeling great. I still had the headache, but just barely. Nothing that really bothered me. It was the first really great morning in a long while. Maybe even my best since this all began. I merrily woke up, got the girls ready for school, ate some breakfast, and ran out the door. About 30 minutes later, WHAM! What the heck?? I started trying to think back to the things I'd eaten to see if I overlooked an artificial sweetener somewhere. That's when it dawned on me. I'd had instant oatmeal for breakfast. I'd grabbed a packet without paying attention. It was "weight control" oatmeal. I checked the label and sure enough, sucralose (Splenda). Crap. So, it looks like not only aspartame (Diet Coke), but sucralose is also out.

Second, I'd had to switch my Northern Lite Latte at Caribou (very yummy btw if you can tolerate artificial sweeteners) to a regular full-sugar flavored latte. It's a treat a friend and I have after we work out. With only an extra 50 calories, the full-sugar variety is also very good and still isn't calorically horrible. But just yesterday my latte tasted a little weird, so I didn't drink the whole thing. And on my way home, the headache began. I'm guessing they used the sugar-free syrup by mistake. Their syrups are also made with Splenda.

So my headache isn't gone. In fact, it's still pretty bad from yesterday's incident. But I think we FINALLY have an answer. I just need to get more diligent in my label-reading and while eating or drinking out. I now have a cheat sheet in my phone of 21 different artificial sweeteners since I'm trying to avoid them all....even "natural" things like Stevia. It's not easy though. They seem to be hidden just about everywhere. But, with luck, this is it.

Of course, I have a HUGE sweet tooth AND I'm trying to diet. So I have no clue what I CAN eat anymore. After demonizing sugar and calories for so long, it's hard to go back to the real thing, especially while trying to lose weight. But I'm muddling my way through.

Mr. Yarnworks is returning from Afghanistan NEXT WEEK! And summer break is coming up. So the headache is SURE to go away completely very very soon, right? Please??

Saturday, January 01, 2011

New Years Reflections

I just reread last year's post: Resolve.

All I can say!

1. I'm getting more sleep, but only because I've had this insane never-ending headache since mid-August. And, well, it makes me really tired. So can we give that one half a checkmark?
2. Finishing more projects and keeping the UFOs under control? I think I've started more without finishing much of anything. I'll work on that. Maybe.
3. Weight loss and getting healthy? I was doing okay-ish until the headache started. I *am* recommitting to that.
4. Getting the house in order: well, we DO now have dining room furniture. Gorgeous perfect dining room furniture. But the house itself is far from a well-oiled machine. It's never all that oiled when Mr. Yarnworks is deployed.
5. Doing more with the kids outside the house: again, semi-check. We enjoyed more time outdoors, taking walks, going to the park, etc. But our mini field trips didn't happen as planned. Mr. Yarnworks wants to attempt that this summer. We're planning some major (and unavoidable) home renovations this summer, so we'll need to keep busy.
6. I did not even work on the TKGA Masters program. Somehow it kept moving down the priority list. I think I'm going to save it for when Miss Kate starts Kindergarten and I have more child-free time. This year wasn't exactly rich in "me time."
7. My book is still coming along, but sloooowly.
8. I honestly have NO CLUE what this super secret non-knitting resolution was all about.

This year? I'm going to keep it REALLY simple. I'm going to set one goal for each aspect of my life. Since apparently resolutions just incite excuses.

My resolution is simply to lose weight. I'm a smidge above a healthy weight and I need to get back to the land of healthy.

My goal is to double everything. It's a lofty goal, but I'm confident that I can pull it off. Double the Facebook Fans, double the website visits, double the sales. This will allow me to NOT go back to a day job once Miss Kate starts Kindergarten. It will keep me home for the kids when I'm needed, and doing something I love.

I think getting healthy and working hard so I can stay home are very good goals...and easier to remember than last year's list! I'll work on the rest of last year's resolutions too, but I make no promises.