Calcifer Plush

A few years ago, I started introducing one of my best friends, Suzi, to Miyazaki movies. She had seen Kiki’s Delivery Service, but only that one movie. We started with Howl’s Moving Castle and she fell in love with Calcifer, the fire demon who keeps the castle moving, among other things. As we worked our way through other movies and other cute Miyazaki characters, Calcifer remained Suzi’s favorite.

Calcifer

For Christmas this year, I almost got Suzi a plush Calcifer at a store in the mall, but the plush was spendy for what it was and I knew I could do better. I checked Ravelry for patterns and found this one by Sally Marshall. Now, I’m not so great with intarsia or at least not very confident in my skills, so buying the pattern and attempting this was a bit risky. But the project is small enough that it wouldn’t be frustrating if I failed and I figured I could probably cover up any mistakes with double stitching.

I also decided that angora would be perfect for this project. Calcifer would look a bit more fire-like if he was fuzzy and angora would help me with intarsia because it’s pretty sticky. I could have tried mohair, but angora is so much softer, IMO. Plymouth has the only 100% angora yarn in a suitable weight, but the range of colors didn’t include a suitable orange or yellow. The red would probably work though.

I ordered 1 skein of red and 2 skeins of white angora along with some Jacquard Acid dyes and waited by my mailbox (not really, but that’s what it felt like). When the yarn arrived, I wound both skeins of white into hanks on my niddy noddy for dying and started with orange, Jacquard color 606 Deep Orange. I tried to do the requisite math to reduce the dye recipe from 16 oz down to 10 g, but definitely overestimated. That turned out to be a good thing – the resulting color was almost neon, deeply saturated and almost more red than the commercially dyed red, which now looked pink in comparison.

Calcifer
Orange dyed yarn and commercially dyed red. Photo is not filtered or adjusted at all. 

I used some washed fleece to exhaust the dye bath, which I lated combed and used as stuffing for the plush. This is just one lock; I dyed close to a pound of washed fleece. I’m estimating; I didn’t actually weigh it out, just added more water to the dye pot and stuffed in what I could to sop up the dye. I did that with the other dye baths as well; eventually I’m going to use the wool to make some rolags that look like fire, so keep an eye out here for a post about that.

Calcifer
Washed fleece used to exhaust the orange dye bath

I proceeded to dye yellow yarn (Jaquard 602 Bright Yellow) and then thought I’d try overdyeing the commercial red with a red I had on hand – Jacquard 611 Vermillion. Vermillion ended up being much to dark and a bit too maroon to work for Calcifer. I ordered more yarn and more dye, Jaquard 618 Fired Red. A week or so later, I had dye success. Below is the full color range of angora I dyed.

Calcifer
Dyed Angora – left to right: Jacquard 602 Bright Yellow, 606 Deep Orange, 618 Fired Red, 611 Vermillion over commercially dyed red (the other base yarns were white)

By this time, I knew I wouldn’t have Calcifer done in time for Christmas, which is not a big deal; last year Suzi and I exchanged gifts in January.

The pattern is knit in flat pieces starting with a garter stitch base. Instead of knitting the front and back separately and seaming them to the base, I picked up stitches along the base and knit them attached that way.

Calcifer
Base and front/face of Calcifer

I didn’t think I would use the Vermillion-dyed yarn at all, but it ended up being perfect for the French knots that are Calcifer’s pupils. The intarsia was challenging and it’s not 100% perfect – some of the stitches are uneven, some are pulled too tight – but I used a needle to even some stitches out manually and double stitched others while weaving in the ends to cover up the glaring holes.

Calcifer
Finished Calcifer front – isn’t he cute?
Calcifer
Finished back

I thought making the back look like the front but without the eyeballs, but I was anxious to finish him and I didn’t want more intarsia & noodling out the pattern to slow me down. Maybe I’ll make another where the back echoes the front colors.

Suzi and I met for milkshakes (our thing) last Friday and I gave her Calcifer, along with a Clapotis I made for her (it will always match her hair, which she colors frequently), so I feel like I can finally post about it without potentially spoiling the surprise. She’s thrilled! She says that he is “The softest fire I’ve ever touched!” Mission accomplished!

Ravelry project details, in case you’re curious.

24/30 Design and Dye

30 Day Knitting Challenge Day 24: Have you ever made your own pattern or dyed your own yarn? How did it turn out?

Yes to both.

I have several patterns for sale on Ravelry and etsy, which all started with the Owl Honeycomb Blanket. That wasn’t actually my first pattern, just the first one I actually screwed up the courage to write, have tech edited, and published (I didn’t know about test knitters then). The rainbow sock yarn baby blanket (probably) was the first pattern … oh wait, no, no it wasn’t the first pattern I made up. I had a special button in my collection and made a felted belt specifically for it. I got the wool from the shepherd on ebay, which was special also – I love the greens in the yarn and it was one of my first all-wool yarns.

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The belt with the special button and special yarn -the special belt.
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Detail of the special button.

Now, yarn dying – yes, I’ve done that too. The very first time, I unraveled an angora-wool-nylon blend sweater and dyed it with KoolAid.

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Recycled sweater yarn dyed with KoolAid. The skein is sitting on the last remaining piece of the sweater, a sleeve.

In the Spring of 2011 (2010?) I took a natural dye class with two friends at The Art League of Alexandria, which I really wish I lived closer to (I live over an hour away) so I could take advantage of their classes more. That class started me on an exploration of natural dying that I’ve only recently finally admitted has fallen by the wayside. If you’re curious, I documented most of it on flickr and on this blog, but here are all of my sample skeins, Lion Brand Fisherman’s wool in white mordanted with alum, copper, or iron and tossed into the dye pot with larger quantities of material.

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Natural dye sample skeins. Some of the natural dyes represented here: cochineal, indigo, walnut, osage orange, avocado skins & pits, dandelion, marigold petals, lichen, onion skins.

Natural dyeing is a lot of work, so I also branched out to dye/over-dye with Jacquard Acid Dye, Rit, and most recently, Dylon (that Emergency Project). Dyeing is fun, even though when it’s a lot of work. It’s fun to see how the dyed yarn or fiber turns out. If it turns out badly, you can always overdye it with a darker color, keeping in mind that a pure black is very difficult to achieve; basically, you have infinite chances to dye something a color you like, it may just be darker than what you originally hoped for.

 

 

MDS&W 2016

Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival is this weekend in West Friendship, MD, which is within easy driving distance. This is my 8th time going; I’ve gone every year since 2009. My friend Becky & I left my house at 7am, stopped for coffee at Starbucks, and arrived at the Howard County Fairgrounds just after 8.

We set up our camp chairs in the Pavillion area (between the Dining Hall & Barn 1) so we would have a spot staked out where we could rest and get away from the inevitable crowds and then high-tailed it to the Main Exhibition Hall. Becky wanted to check out the Miss Babs booth, but the line was already out the door at the back of the building, at least 20 people deep. We looked at the yarn and fiber from afar and moved on to the maple booth (Justamere Tree Farm? Checkmate Farm? I wish I had snagged a business card). I grew up in Vermont, so maple sugar candy is one of my favorites. This farm sells a limited amount of the candy and it’s the better, darker kind with more maple flavor. I got my 5 pieces and am wishing now I had bought some syrup or maple sugar as well.

MDSW 2016 Haul
My MDS&W 2016 Haul (arranged clockwise in the order I got it starting with the maple sugar candy)

Then we went to the Claymonster Pottery booth. Last year Becky got mugs and (maybe?) a yarn bowl there and both of us love the pottery; it’s very quirky. Claymonster was still setting up, so we formed a line behind a lovely woman named Ashley and her family. More people joined the line behind us. When it came time to open, Cat (I think that’s the name of the potter behind the monsters) teared up because there was a line of people waiting to swoop in & buy her stuff, a first for her. I absolutely love her stuff, but still haven’t found just the right piece for me. Becky got a Yarn Yeti mug. A yarn yeti, IMO, looks a whole lot like Cthulhu.

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A Close-up of the Sparkle (Marigoldjen Yarns Merino/Nylon/Stellina Sock yarn)

Next we wandered down into the field where the Lower Corral Vendors were set up. All the rain we’ve had (9 or 10 days with rain every day) made for a very muddy field. We stopped into the Dragonfly Fibers booth and I fell in love with her MDS&W exclusive colorway, Salt Marsh. It really is the color of happiness (her motto/tagline). I got some fingering weight sock yarn and some fiber to spin. I had to. A few booths down in Hobbledehoy, I found the Marigoldjen fingering weight/sock yarn. The skeins look very similar in the picture; they’re both in the Kaleidoscope colorway, but one skein has some subtle sparkle in it that’s hard to capture in a picture.

Then we made our way through the rest of the barns, stopped by our chairs briefly, and went back to the car to drop off our purchases. Becky didn’t want to lug around her Claymonster purchase or risk breaking it (that would be my luck). I also really needed to get my dirty chai from the car (chai with a shot of espresso). When we re-entered the fairgrounds, we walked through the Outside East & Outside North Vendors. The mud was really bad through these fields. So bad that they were putting down loose hay to help with traction. And I realized that the suede sneakers I had chosen to wear were a bad choice; cleaning mud off of suede is going to be interesting. But I’ve had the sneakers for (probably) 10 years, so it’s also not a big deal if they’re ruined.

We walked through the (I think) Bingo Hall, which is where all of the contest entries are – my favorite part of MDS&W. I wish I had taken pictures of some of the yarns & finished objects. There was a commercial felt bag with a square panel of hand-knotted wool sewn onto it, with a galaxy shape in the wool. There were a few shawls that were cleverly done, one that used art/novelty yarn mixed with regular joe yarn, another that had a really neat lace pattern & a deep blue color. There were other neat things that I can’t remember now. Next year: pictures of my favorites.

We stopped by the Bee Folks booth and after 3 years of saying I’d get honey from them because they’re local and I’m on their email list and buying in person would be way better than buying online from someone local, I finally got honey. There was a lull in the crowd and the crowd around the booth was light instead of the 4-5 people deep ring that’s usually around it. I can’t wait to tell my husband “Honey, I got honey!”

Then Becky & I got lunch and sat in our chairs while watching a hand-sewn fashion show on the stage in the Pavilion. I had an entirely unsatisfactory lamb sausage – $9 for lots of gristle – and a cup of sugar water + half a lemon (“hand-shaken homemade lemonade”). Yes, I’m bitter. Also, I did not walk through one of the lamb barns while eating lamb like I have in the past. And yes, I have a weird sense of humor – I do indeed think that’s funny.

We started talking about leaving. The crowd was getting thicker, Becky was chilly, I was running out of patience and, as an introvert, was coming close to my people limit for the day. We decided to pop back down to the Main Exhibition Hall and take a better look around since not all of the booths had been open on our first trip through there. I ran into my knitting & spinning & roller derby friend Karen, who I haven’t seen for a few months. I explored the Spunky Eclectic booth and almost got fiber, but then decided not to. I said to Amy (Spunky Eclectic proprieter) on the way out “I love your stuff! I follow you on Instagram!” which was made even more retrospectively awkward by my realization that I follow her on Twitter – she’s not even *on* Instagram. I went back later, just before we left, and got those 2 braids and had I nice chat with Amy & her husband when I checked out and was 100% less weird and awkward.

Becky wanted to pop into the Jennie the Potter booth and so I followed. I picked up one of the tumblers and immediately knew I had to have it. There are raised lines in the blue bottom part of it, so I got immediate sensory feedback I wasn’t expecting. There are also raised white dots that arc over the blue dots. Jennie actually ran my checkout and I told her how much I loved the tumbler – she was very appreciative because it takes a lot of process to make them.

And then Becky and I went back to the Pavillion, packed up our chairs, navigated our way through the now substantial crowd, and left just as the sun was coming out. Aside from the mud, I think this was my best shopping year at MDS&W. I usually don’t fall in love with so many things, I get yarn blindness where everything looks the same. But the things that I got all jumped out at me and all needed to come home with me. I’m grateful that I can afford these things and grateful that they popped out at me. Now to plan some projects and drink some tea out of my new tumbler while eating maple sugar candy (yum!).