Monday, August 30, 2010

Smoke on the Water

In December 1971, the rock band Deep Purple set about trying to record an album in Geneva, Switzerland.  But before they were able to get started, disaster struck.  Disaster in the form of a flare gun and a Frank Zappa concert. 

In August 2010, the TSMK family set about trying to enjoy a vacation.  But before we were even able to get started.  Disaster struck.  Fires erupted throughout the region - with one burning just 5 miles from our cabin. 

Coincidence?  Hard to say - although I'm confident that Zappa was nowhere nearby.

Ok.  Perhaps disaster is overstating it a bit.  Perhaps inconvenience is more apt.  Nevertheless, there was indeed smoke on the water.  

But no matter.  For we were not trying to record Machine Head.  We were simply looking to relax.  Spend some time together and with family.  And perhaps make a few new friends.  Friends like this guy. 

In all, our trip was wonderful.  I spent much of it playing with the boys, fondling Molly and playing with fiber.  In terms of the fiber, there was much knitting to do, and a fair amount of picking wool out on a back deck overlooking a creek. 

But the high point of my daily fiber intake happened on our last full day - when I got a chance to try out my father's Majacraft Rose spinning wheel.  I carded some of the wool I'd brought along on the trip - made five rolags, and set to work.

I'd never used a double-treadle wheel before - and was astonished at the difference it seemed to make in my spinning.  There was just a lot more control, and I was able to draft down to a cobweb weight yarn with relative ease.  Too cool.  Of course, I now have a bit of a case of wheel lust - but that should pass in a week or two of working on my Ashford single-treadle Traveller.  Right?  Right?

In terms of knitting - well I made a lot of progress on a certain stole that will be featured prominently in a few future posts.  And I made a hat.

Specifically, I made a hat during the trip out to Idaho.  Mrs. TSMK was kind enough to drive, which allowed me time to concentrate on making a hat for my youngest nephew: GE.  There's nothing fancy here, but I rather like the result.  And, as it is made of machine washable yarn - perfect for a little guy.  I call it GE's 300-Mile Hat.

The construction is very simple - and you can probably figure it out just from looking at the product.  But here it is anyway in case it is helpful.
  1. Cast on 112 stitches of main color yarn (MC) using a knitted cast on and dpns.  Join (being careful not to twist).
  2. Knit one row in stockinette stitch (SS).
  3. Join contrasting color yarn (CC) and work in K1 (MC) P1 (CC) rib for two rows.
  4. Work SS in MC for 3 rows.
  5. Work in CC for 3 rows.
  6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 for desired length before decreases - ending with 3 rows of MC.
  7. Using CC, [K5, K2tog] to end of row.  96 stitches remain.  Knit 2 more rows of CC in SS.
  8. Repeat step 4.
  9. Using CC, [K4, K2tog] to end of row.  80 stitches remain.  Knit 2 more rows of CC in SS.
  10. Repeat step 4.
  11. Using CC, [K3, K2tog] to end of row.  64 stitches remain.  Knit 2 more rows of CC in SS.
  12. Repeat step 4.
  13. Using CC, [K2, K2tog] to end of row.  48 stitches remain.  Knit 2 more rows of CC in SS.
  14. Repeat step 4.
  15. Using CC, [K1, K2tog] to end of row.  32 stitches remain.  Knit 2 more rows of CC in SS.
  16. Repeat step 4.
  17. Using CC, [K2tog] to end of row.  16 stitches remain.  Knit 2 more rows of CC in SS.
  18. Repeat step 4.
  19. Using CC, [K2tog] to end of row.  8 stitches remain.  Knit 2 more rows of CC in SS.
  20. Repeat step 4.
  21. Using CC, [K2tog] to end of row.  4 stitches remain.  Knit 2 more rows of CC in SS.
  22. Cut yarn (MC and CC), draw through live stitches and pull tight.
  23. Weave in ends.
  24. Give to Child.

I'd like to tell you the gauge that I used, but I didn't try for any specific gauge.  Instead, I just tried to make a hat that I thought would fit GE in a few months, when he's 6-7 months old and the weather turns cold.  So I wanted something with a circumference of about 17.5 inches and a fairly dense knit.  I achieved that using Berroco Comfort DK and U.S. size 4 double-points.  If you decide to make something similar - take the time to futz about and do a swatch or two.  Your gauge could be (and probably is) different than mine.


Monday, August 23, 2010

Go East Young Man

Here in our strange little corner of the world, summer is already beginning to slip into fall.  I know this because the hipsters riding their fixed gear bicycles along first avenue are starting to sport the occasional jaunty scarf.

And like most mammals I am not immune to these cycles of nature.  Just this afternoon, while enjoying my ridiculously overpriced cup of french press coffee and pondering the existential predicament that is the life of a man who is a corporate finance lawyer and yet has several albums by Rage Against the Machine on his iPod, I found my thoughts drifting toward wool.  Specifically, I found myself wishing I had more time to spin it into yarn, and more time to make things from it.

Clearly, a vacation was in order.  Luckily, the entire TSMK family has had one planned for some time. 

And so, after putting the children to bed this evening, Mrs. TSMK and I set about packing for an excursion.  Well, actually we set about trying to decipher a passage of the owner's manual of Mrs. TSMK's car as it described the "simple" method of removing a middle-row seat.  But, once feeling quite accomplished at the fact that two people with 6 years of post-graduate education between them were able to remove a single seat in a half-hour, we set about packing.

We're heading out tomorrow for a week in the mountains in Idaho, and I couldn't be more excited.  In addition to visiting family, I'm bringing along an entire bag of fleece, along with my hand carders and a drop spindle.  And of course quite a bit of knitting.

But my attention will not be solely focused on fiber, however.  Mrs. TSMK has kindly allowed me permission to bring along my girlfriend on this excursion.  Yes.  You heard me right.  I'm going on vacation with Mrs. TSMK and my girlfriend, Molly. 
[Note: Molly is pictured at right - a Gold Tone White Ladye banjo.  I highly recommend that you avoid suggesting a vacation with your spouse and your significant other unless your significant other is similarly described.]

What's more, we're bringing all of our children.  Even the furry ones.

And so, I say farewell for a week.

But before I go, let me offer a few gratuitous pictures of yarn.  Specifically, this is yarn that found its way to the post office today - being shipped off to my Red-headed Minion.  She indicated she'd like some handspun.  So I'm sending her a skein of my most recently spun stuff.  But just in case she also wants to receive some decent stuff, I'm sending her a skein of handspun 50/50 cashmere and silk that I found at a local guild sale last year, along with two skeins of one of my favorite commercial yarns - GGH Kid Melange.    Hopefully, she'll make something awesome with one or more of these, and then share the photos so that we can all appreciate her work.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Have Knitting Will Travel

As George Clinton once famously said: if you hear any noise, its just me and the boys.

And if you were anywhere near the northern end of Washington's Kitsap peninsula this past weekend, there's a very good chance you understood precisely what he meant. 

Assuming, of course, he was referring to the sound of three wild and crazy guys traveling around, playing the banjo, knitting and generally carousing.

This past weekend was the inaugural voyage for the newest member of the TSMK family.  Her name is Lillian, and she is a 1975 Volkswagen Campmobile.  In a word, she is awesome.

In several words, she is also loud, slow, lurchy and smells vaguely of mildew.  Or rather she did smell vaguely of mildew.  Now, she smells more like a grimy 7 year old boy.

For our first excursion, Lillian carried me and the two older boys to the banks of the Hood Canal on Friday evening, where we were treated to a spectacular view of the Perseid meteor shower.

On Saturday, she brought us to a local state park, where we camped within 100 unobstructed yards of the shores of the Puget Sound.  That evening, we hosted another family at our campsite.  They are friends who know very well the sounds described by Mr. Clinton - for they have three boys of their own.  A campfire was built.  Hotdogs, bratwurst and hamburgers were cooked.  Marshmallows were toasted.  And a great time was had by all.

And after our friends had gone, and the two older guys and I settled in for another evening of Lillian's hospitality, I pulled out the knitting.  It was fantastic, and I didn't think it could get any better.  At least not without a scoop or two of peanut butter and chocolate ice cream.  But then morning arrived, with a brilliant sunrise shining through Lillian's windshield, and Mrs. TSMK arriving with steaming mugs of cocoa for the boys and coffee for me.  We finished our drinks, and took a long walk on the beach.

After Mrs. TSMK left with the boys, I tidied up our campsite.  Not wanting to wake the campers in the adjacent site, I took a few more minutes to knit, practice the banjo, and enjoy the scenery before firing up her mighty 1.8 liter air-cooled engine and heading for home. 


Thursday, August 12, 2010


I'm posting today from exile.  An exile most terrible and of which I am undeserving. 

I find myself in a landscape of isolation and despair.  Without a living soul to provide comfort.  Those of you without a strong constitution may wish to stop reading; my situation is pretty grim.

I've been banished from the living roomAnd from my comfortable chair.

It is true.  And it all started so innocently enough. . .

Shortly after Mrs. TSMK and I were married, we met a very pleasant young woman - "Pandora".  She was a classmate of Mrs. TSMK's in graduate school.  We grew to be good friends, inviting Pandora to dinner at our place on many an evening - or sharing a table with her at Pandora's favorite restaurant.

This relationship continued for many years.  When Pandora married, we were invited to her wedding.  When we moved over to our current home, Pandora visited a few times.  She and her husband decided they liked the area so much that they moved from Seattle to our island community across the Puget Sound. 

Mrs. TSMK and I had children.  So did Pandora and her husband.  Everything was going swimmingly. 

But then it happened.  Pandora began selling Mary Kay cosmetics.  And from that point forward, my life began the inexorable decline that has led to this moment.  For tonight, Mrs. TSMK has fallen into the web.  It is true - and I fear that she may be lost.  She is hosting a Mary Kay party.  And not just any Mary Kay party, but one specifically dedicated to foot care products.

How am I ever going to explain this to the children?  Even as I write this, they're sleeping peacefully in their beds - innocently oblivious to the monstrous and all-consuming danger less than 50 feet away. 

My only consolation is that I have my knitting.  And my banjo.  Specifically, I have a recently completed banjo - my attempts at refurbishing a derelict 50-60 year old instrument.  I stripped off the old cracked finish and applied a light coat of polyurethane.  The fretboard was cleaned.  On went new hooks and tuners.  The old busted head was replaced with a real skin head. 

A new bridge and strings were installed.  And now - it sings again.  Although not particularly well.  It wasn't a brilliantly made instrument to begin with - and so no amount of polishing this turd will make it a thing of visual or aural beauty.  But it plays - and I suspect it will find a good life and much use in our VW camper. 

I need to sign off now.  The demonic laughter coming from the living room is getting stronger.  I'm worried that they may be coming for me - trying to drag me into a Mordor of foot scrub and scented lotion. 

Stay safe - and may the blessings of the Echidna be upon you.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Minion Speaks!

Against the advice of many fellow overlords, I have decided to allow The RedHeaded Minion to speak directly to you - the inhabitants of the blogosphere.  And so - without further interruption - I bring you this important message.


It hit me at 2:14 am (I do all my best thinking in the wee hours of the morning) that I should introduce myself and let you, dear readers, get to know me a little bit. (If you really don't care and would rather skip to the update on the website, skip down to "And On the Techno-Geek Front..."

As far as physical appearances, Leeloo has the same color hair as I do, and if it stays as hot here in Michigan as it has been, chances are good I may make an attempt at pulling off her style of clothing as well! I'm pretty short (about 5'2") and pretty average in bone structure and looks (though, Mr. RHM disagrees with me on that). I'm very proud of my red hair - as it falls half-way down my back.

I am a (former) techno-geek for a large company that most of you have never heard of. I say former, because although I still do consulting work for them from time-to-time, I had to leave the Company. Some of you may recall a recent lawsuit filed by a woman who claimed she was fired from a financial institution because she was simply too attractive. I shouldn't really go into specifics - but let me just say I know how she feels. My "official" title was "I.T. Coordinator" even though I had no one to 'coordinate'. My responsibilities were that of the Network/Systems Admin, Web designer and Help Desk all rolled into one.

After I left my old post, Mr. RHM and I went into business for ourselves (well, okay, he kept his "real" job/career and I dealt with all our business stuff) and our business is now at the point that I need other things to keep me busy during the day (hence, becoming TSMK's minion).

I knit, my daughter (sub-minion B) knits & crochets and my son (sub-minion C) is starting to knit. I'm not that skilled yet, but I know a good deal when I see one, so I jumped at the chance to enhance my stash and do some techinical work! I also train search dogs, and own/am the handler for 2 beautiful German Shepherd females.

I have a bit of a twisted sense of humor (probably from my work and training in Emergency Services) and I'm a bit of a Jill-Of-All-Trades...

And On the Techno-Geek Front...

Over the course of the next few weeks, I will be testing the new website. I want to make certain it is compatible in all web browsers, and still looks good/is easy to read/the new functions work well.

What this means for you:

It means that occasionaly when I am testing something the redirect that automatically takes you from to will not work. Most of you (if not all of you) have historically accessed the site through blogspot anyway, so it will not affect most of you.

Please, feel free to send me your ideas/questions/suggestions/comments - I really do look forward to hearing from you.. My email is redheadedminion(at)yahoo(dot)com. (Yes, like TSMK has said, that REALLY is my email address).

In terms of specific changes, we will be incorporating a photo gallery for sure - and are evaluating a number of other interesting ideas as well - like a feature that allows you to link to a designer's website to order patterns/books/yarns, etc. from past (and future) projects that TSMK does.

Okay... I think that's it for now.. I look forward to becoming an integral part of the TSMK team :-)

Happy Reading!

The RedHeaded Minion

Sunday, August 8, 2010

A bit of housekeeping

Just over a year in to the blog, and it seems time to make a few changes.

No, this will not now become a forum for discussing Choreplay.  That has been done.

However, I recently learned that the domain has become available.  And like a 15 year old boy being offered a ride in a bus filled with scantily clad cheerleaders I jumped at the opportunity.  So readers can now access the blog through either the blogger site or the stand-alone domain.  At present, the domain will redirect readers to the blogger site.  But soon - all that will change.

How, you ask?  How can a banjo-playing neoluddite learn the skills necessary to develop a web presence?  It is true, it seems on par with the World of Warcraft commercials featuring Mr. T. 

Well, I'll tell you how.

I've acquired a minion.

And not just any minion.  A redheaded minion.  Those are the best type.  Plus, my minion is female.  Yes. You heard me right.  I have a redheaded female minion.  Truly, world domination cannot be far away. 

I know this because Mrs. TSMK is also redheaded.  Although she clearly is not my minion.  I'm more of her minion, but that's a whole other blog post.  Harnessing the power of the redhead can be a scary thing - like splitting the atom.  This should be interesting.

I've never met my minion, nor even seen a photo of her in any significant detail. And for that reason I'm free to assume she bears a startling resemblance to Leeloo from The Fifth Element.  At least, if Leeloo had enjoyed knitting and agreed to be compensated in yarn.

So Leeloo has agreed to assist in developing the domain site as an upgrade to this forum.  When we're finished, we hope to have some additional functionality not available (or at least that I can't figure out how to manage) on the blogger site.  For example, a gallery of finished objects.

But this is an interactive forum.  And so we're soliciting input into what other additions/improvements you might like to see on the blog.  If you have any suggestions, please feel free to email them to  No, seriously.  That's Leeloo's email address.  Too cool.

So far, Leeloo has already exceeded my expectations, as she drags this neo-luddite kicking and screaming into the world of social media.  For, starting last Friday, I'm told I now have a facebook fan page.

As a second item of housekeeping, I'm pleased to announce that I've mailed off four skeins of Cascade plus two skeins of my handspun to Amy in Iowa. 

As the selected participant in the TSMKBO-YAG event, Amy indicated that she prefers purples, blues and greens.  So, purples, blues and greens it is.  Along with one skein of black/brown for construction of the Echidna.  I can't wait.


Thursday, August 5, 2010

What would you choose?

Suppose you were given a choice. You could have any conceivable superpower. What would you choose?

Super strength? Well that worked well for Superman, but by the 50th time you accidentally pulled a door off of its hinges or crushed a kitten you might begin to rethink your selection.

Super senses? Spiderman did well with this one. But personally, I’m not sure I’d want Palatka to smell any stronger. And I definitely wouldn’t want Hell to be any louder. So I’d pass on that one as well.

Invisibility? That’s intriguing. But I think it might be a prelude to mental illness. If I had the ability to be invisible, I’m thinking my personal hygiene would begin to suffer. And once your personal hygiene goes down the drain, madness must soon follow.

No, for me there would be only one choice: the ability to manipulate time.

With this power, you don’t need any of the others. Plus, this power gives you the chance to stretch out those periods of life that you want to savor and to accelerate those things you would prefer to be over.

I’d like to say that I would use this power only for good - like stopping time in order to scoop up the small dog that has wandered into traffic before it got hurt. I would indeed use it for those types of purposes.

But, I’m afraid I would use it for other – somewhat less charitable - purposes as well. Like slowing down time just enough so that every evening when Mrs. TSMK gets ready for bed her normal cadence of disrobing is transformed into a sultry striptease. That would be awesome.

Unfortunately, I cannot manipulate time in normal space and so I am unlikely to find a way to surreptitiously change my bedroom into a gentlemen’s club. But I can manipulate what I’ll call Blog-time.

And I now exercise my right to do just that. Notwithstanding earlier suggestions about the length of time that TSMKBO-YAG would remain in effect. I hereby declare the giveaway completed. For I have made my selection.

There were many excellent entries. And in truth, I wish I could pick more than one. But in the end, my choice was clear. Amy from Iowa ran away with this one.

For you see, Amy suggested that I need a mascot for my desk. But not just any mascot. No, Amy recognized the deeply spiritual nature of this journal and, in recognition of my admittedly unusual leanings, she committed to making: The Echidna.

And so, with Amy’s help, I will be paying homage to the all-knowing echidna who sits at the center of the universe. She will knit together the skin of this spiny deity – although he will not be anatomically correct and she will therefore not attempt to knit a representation of his four-sided penis. I will work to create a suitable environment within my office for him to sit. And, once appropriately enshrined, The Echidna will prove a worthy subject of contemplation and reflection.

Thank you to all who participated.  And thank you Amy for your fantastic submission.  Echidna permitting, I will post pictures on his arrival.


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

TSMKBO-YAG Update & a Confession

First - the update:

As of today, we're approximately one week into the TSMKBO-YAG and things are definitely interesting.  I've received a number of very appealing offers, ranging from hats to bowls to amigurimi.  And yes, I've been referred to as Delectable.  I confess I rather like the sound of that last bit.

And lest anyone forget, the selected participant will be receiving 4 skeins of Cascade 220, along with two rustic skeins of yarn, hand-washed, hand-carded and hand-spun by yours truly. 

And now - the confession:

I can't pick.  There, I said it.  Now it is out in the open.  And after all, since the first step is admitting you have the problem I feel good about coming clean.  Whew - catharsis can be exhausting.

But I still can't pick.  At least not with respect to knitting.  I'm actually getting almost decent at my clawhammer banjo efforts - and can passably flatpick when required.  But picking at knitting?  That's another story altogether.

This past weekend I took a class at my LYS and still all-time favorite shop.  The class was intended to teach picking to those of us who throw.

I throw.  Vigorously.  And I think I'm relatively quick at it so I wasn't interested in learning to pick in order to gain speed.  No, I wanted to learn because like an idiot I recently purchased Traditional Scandinavian Knitting by Sheila MaGregor and Mostly Mittens: Ethnic Knitting Designs from Russia by Charlene Schurch.

Apparently, one of the traditions in traditional Scandinavian and Russian knitting is to use as many colors as possible.  I've knitted a few multi-hued things in the past, but have always thought it would be nice to find a way to knit with one color in each hand.  Picking offered me the promise of doing just that.

But alas, that promise went unfulfilled when my fingers revealed their true stripes.  Manual dexterity was a thing of the past.  In fact, as the class progressed I actually began to wonder if perhaps my fingers had been drinking.  That sounds strange, obviously, but if I recall correctly a lesson learned in my youth - this is entirely possible.

If Mr. Bimble can hire the crew.  Then perhaps I have my own Mr. Bimble - or Mr. Bumble.  Or an entire Mr. Bumble family.  And if that is possible, then it is possible that they were drinking on the job.

Yes.  That must be it.  It isn't that I lack manual dexterity, it is the besotted Bumble family living in my fingers which must be blamed.  I must speak to The Echidna about them and perhaps get them into some form of twelve-step program.

And so, although I cannot yet adequately pick, I will soldier on.  I want to make some multistranded mittens for use this winter, and so need to get started. 

On a positive note, I finished my first foray into the world of entrelac: a blanket for the child of a coworker.  Some will recognize it as the blanket which first caused me to come to grips with my adorableness.  Finished and blocked, it is roughly 28" x 48" - or the approximate size of a crib mattress.  Berroco Comfort in pink and white, with a pink i-cord edging.  At approximately 49,000 stitches (not including the edging), this one took quite a while from start to finish, although its progress was interrupted for a period by the need to complete the Jungle Party Stole.  Now that it is done, I can get back to working on the next item to be given away (which should follow soon after the completion of TSMKBO-YAG.