Friday, September 21, 2007

Knitting Travels


Wrapped up grapes yesterday. I jarred up about a gallon and a half of grape juice which joins with 20 pints of grape jelly and about 25 of elderberry jelly that I have for the fall craft shows. I'm dragging a box of my knitting out to the Pennsylvania State Championship Fishing Tournament on Tidioute, PA this coming Saturday. My old hometown! They have a nice craft show at the firehall, and I've been selling socks, mittens and hats there for the past few years.

This year, I hope to have some birdhouse gourds finished before Saturday, but time is running out! They may have to wait for my November craft show in Erie.

This weekend, I'm babysitting my niece and nephew in Erie and while it seems like I won't be able to get anything done for my upcoming show since I didn't bring my giant bag of gourds -- my most successful planting adventure from last summer -- or my spinning wheel, I do have two big bags of yarn and a bunch of different kinds of needles.

My current endeavor involves funny looking hats. I made one for myself over the winter using fat yarn and big needles. When I wore it at a spring music festival in North Carolina, I was asked to make another one which I sold over the summer. That was a nice weekend. I was volunteering at a music festival and so I didn't have to pay to get in, and I sold a hat and a pair of socks over the weekend and actually came out ahead!


This is a short recipe for a hat that I think is just the perfect project for getting into knitting in the round. Knitting in the round is exactly what it sounds like. You cast on your stitches and, using either a circular or double pointed needles -- which look like a sharpened pencil on both ends, you just knit around and around like when you build a clay pot using piles up "snakes".

To do this you need:
1. A 16" Circular knitting needle in a big size. I use a 10. 16" refers to the size of the little connector between the ends of the needles.
2. A set of double pointed needles in the same size as your circular needle.
3. An assortment of "fat" yarn. Plymouth Yukon or some kind of Icelandic. I'm working with that and with some Brown Sheep Lamb's Pride doubled (two strands at a time). When I do these hats, I tend to use what they call "singles" meaning it's just one fat piece of yarn and not two or three pieces twisted together. I also tend to use all natural fibers, though I know the Yukon has a pretty hefty acrylic content.

I cast on for about a 22 to 23 inch head. The way I knit, that's 51 to 55 stitches.
Cast on the circular needle. Follow the cast on edge around to make sure there aren't any twists before you join the stitches. If you start knitting with a twist, there is nothing you can do to save it!

Joining the stitch:

Some people just start knitting the next stitch in the round. This is a less neat join, and your first row is kind of hanging in the breeze. You'll have to sew up the gab when you weave in your ends. I like to line my needles up and join the round by slipping the first cast on stitch from the left needle to the right needle and then passing the last cast on stitch from the right needle over the newly slipped first cast on stitch to the left needle. You get a neater, more secure join that way.


When joining into the round, make sure your cast on tail end is at the front facing you and your working yarn is at the back. It might be possible to stuff your yarn through your work if it's on the wrong side, but probably not!

Making the hat:

After however much ribbing you like to see on a hat, do a few rows in just stockinette stitch. In the rounds, all that means is knitting. You only work on the right side when knitting in the round, and you will hardly ever purl!

After three or so rows, start shaping your hat. Do this by increasing at regular intervals. If you want a hat that balloons out fast like a beret, increase every three or so stitches. For more gradual shaping, make fewer increases over more rows. This one is really up to the knitter. So is color. Change as much or as little as you want. Color rows do not have to go the whole way around. You can just pull some yarn off the skein and decide to knit until you run out. You might use a regular pattern. Just remember: All those color changes will have to have their little tail ends woven in before the hat is finished.


Begin decreasing after the hat gets about six or seven inches tall from the cast on edge. If you did a lot of increasing a the beginning, you might want to work in a few decrease rounds in the middle just to give is a more rounded shape before you start decreasing in earnest.

When you're ready to make the crown of the hat, start decreasing at regular intervals. I usually start by doing a round of knit 6, knit 2 together. Then, knit a plain round. Then, make the interval between the decreases one stitch smaller each round: knit 5, knit 2 together, etc. Alternate with a plain old knit round until about the row where you are knitting 2 and then knitting 2 together. then, just work the decrease round.

As your hat gets fewer and fewer stitches, you will have to switch to the double points. When the yarn is too tight, take a double pointed needle, and use it as your right hand needle and knit stitches onto the double point. When the first double point gets fullish, just keep grabbing a new needle until all the stitches have been transferred to the double pointed needles.

Decrease until you have about 8 stitches left, and draw the end of the yarn through with a big yarn needle.

Weave in the ends. Blocking is optional, I always think, and you have a silly hat!

I have made four of these things in different sizes and colors over the past week. My knitting production really picks up during football season. Go Steelers!

Coming soon:

Pictures of finished knitting projects from my Erie weekend.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

First Post! It's grape jelly day!

Hello there!

It’s a beautiful sunny day in Northwestern PA. I can’t believe I’m taking time out from my busy busy to spend time on the computer.

As this is my first post, here’s kind of a mission statement:

I’m really interested in the traditional ways of doing things. I picked the name “Folk School” because it’s funny. You figure out why. And because I hope someone actually reads this thing and learns something from it.

I hope to include recipes, how-to’s, pictures, and craft ideas. I’m also a political junkie, and I can’t keep my mouth shut. I’ll try to avoid alienating all three people who read this. But, I apologize in advance.

I’m located in Northwest PA Amish country in Erie County, about 150 yards from Crawford County and three quarters of a mile from Warren County. I don’t have a “real” farm but I do have two dogs, a cat, and two Angora goats.

Now that that’s out of the way:

It’s grape season in NW PA. Finally, all the trimming and japanese beetle flinging and covering the vines from last spring’s late frost is paying off! Two years ago, the first year I lived here with my grapevines, the vines were stressed from neglect and drought. They had not been trimmed off, and there were too many grape bunches. The grapes fell off the vines before they were even ripe. I got one good bucketfull and made one little measly batch of jelly.

Here comes the school part:

How to manage grape vines

In early winter, trim off about 80 per cent of what they call the fruiting wood. That’s the wild viney stuff that is really leafy and hanging all over the place by the end of summer. Be aggressive. They are forgiving, and too much is better than not enough and having messy, stressed vines. We get snow, ice, and cold temperatures down to minus fifteen or so in the winter, and the vines have been fine. If your winters are colder and you’ve lost grapes, it is possible to train your grapes to come off the prop wires. You can lay them on the ground and mulch them with straw or dirt. This is a lot of work and really, only do it if your weather has a track record of getting so cold you’ve actually lost grapes.

Okay, two years ago this winter, I did all of the above, except the laying down and mulching thing. Everything was just fine until last year, a week before Memorial Day, we had a freaky late May hard freeze. The temperature was in the low twenties two nights in a row. It snowed. This happens here about once every five years or so. that bad part about this was the fruit on the grapes was already set, and I lost every single bunch. No grapes and no jelly last year.

Last fall, I did the 80 per cent trimming thing. In the spring, I really watched the weather and moves about every sheet and blanket in the whole house out a couple different nights to cover up the grapes during the late frost. The fruit set, and I had tons of little bunches of grapes.

More school:

Thinning grape bunches

After the fruit sets, you can’t just let every bunch grow. You have to pinch them off. After trimming back the vines over the winter, you get to know your vines pretty well. Follow each strand and pinch off little bunches until there is about one per cane. Again. Be aggressive. If you decide to let too many grow, your grapes get stressed, and you lose the fruit before it gets ripe.

This year, my work paid off, and I had bunches and bunches of sweet Concord grapes. I lost a lot to bug and bird damage, but I still have plenty. I’m doing three batches of jelly today and about two gallons of juice tomorrow. All yummy and free of any chemicals and sprays! And (kind of) free of money cost, too, though I did have to buy sugar and jar lids.