Monday, December 08, 2008
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
The Christmas decorations in the Starbucks stores are also fibrey this year--balls of glittery green yarn arranged with red glass balls. And there is a poster with a knitted background. Knitting meets lattes--Utopia at last!
So, we're home from the big city and settling in for the next few weeks. The weather has been unseasonably warm, but there is a good layer of snow on the ground to spur on the Christmas knitting. As usual, I am freaking out at the number of planned projects, but I have kept it relatively simple this year. No fair-isle sweaters or elaborate shawls (not that anyone on my Christmas list is much of a shawl-wearer), so there will be a minimal amount of midnight knitting, I hope.
I often ponder the whole handcrafted thing at this time of year. With all the commercials telling me that what they really want is cell phones and big-screen TVs, I am madly knitting gifts for my family and friends. Why?
This began as a necessity back in the days when I had small children and a limited budget. A pair of handmade mitts or a scarf were reasonably affordable, and tucked in with some home made cookies, kind of unique and personal. Then it became tradition, and people would start hinting at Thanksgiving about the hat or sweater they might like to get for Christmas. They still do, so I know the gifts are appreciated.
Over the years, there have been several mad Christmas Eve collar-knitting sessions, and a few boxes of yarn presented as "some assembly required" gifts. But all in all, I love knitting the bulk of my Christmas gifts. And no matter what the commercials try and tell me about the "perfect gift", my hands are busy making something to keep someone warm and cozy. No matter how many tales of knitters who slave for months to have their gift greeted with "oh, is that all", I know that my gifts are useful and (usually) appreciated. It's kind of my job to spin and knit, so I sometimes feel like I am stealing office supplies and giving them as gifts, but then I realize that I could be selling these things, but that I have given them to someone who is special to me.
Case in point, the Skelly Socks. A few months ago, I ran a little competition amongst some friends to name our local knitting community, with a pair of handknit socks for the prize. The knitters didn't pick any of the suggestions my friends gave, but the entertainment value of this group of hilarious women competing for a humble pair of socks was priceless. I decided to surprise them each with a pair of socks on their birthdays (though after the first birthday, the surprise factor was somewhat ....gone). I had culled color preferences and shoe sizes, so I bought various sock yarns and spun a few others. And I always have time to knit a sock or two. Karen got handpainted purple and black socks, Ruth got hot pink superwash merino, and Lisa...well, Lisa got Skelly Socks.
The body of the sock is mostly basic black Kroy sock yarn, but the skellies are handspun Corriedale top from Louet held together with Aurelia Wool's Retro Topaz Corriedale blended top while drafting, then Navajo plied to make a sturdy sock yarn. The color combo was inspired by Halloween, rich and autumnal.
And I am happy to say that I made waaay too much yarn, and have enough to knit another pair of socks! For me! Mwahahaha!
As I knit and spin things for others, like the socks, or the current Christmas list, I think about the person I am knitting/spinning/weaving for. I could be making a piece on commission, or selling these things on Etsy, but I'm making them for the people who make my life better. I can afford to go out and buy stuff now, but I still knit for friends and family. I am giving the gift of my time and skill, wrapped in warm thoughts and good wishes. It makes me feel like my time was well spent. Which is more than I can say about my money sometimes.
Now don't get me wrong, I will also be buying gifts. And I do not judge others who buy gifts for me--I know that time and thought have gone into their choices too. But I have also been granted a gift--the ability to create--and I want to share that with others. That's why I teach, and that's why I give handcrafted gifts.
Plus, it gives me an excuse to stay home on cold, wintery days and knit. And now that Starbucks has embraced the glory of knitting, can the rest of the world be far behind?
Friday, November 14, 2008
I also worked on a top-down sweater in Mirasol Miski (baby llama), but it is currently on hold because I changed my mind part way through and needed to order some more yarn to finish it. I finally tracked down the right color this week, so I should get that one back on the needles next week and blog the whole sordid tale when it's done.
There was also a really swell pair of skeleton socks that didn't get photographed before they were given as a birthday gift. Lisa has promised me pics, so more on those later, too.
We got home from those adventures the week before Halloween, so we just rolled straight into party preparations. We always do a big haunt and party, but time and knee constraints made us trim things a bit this time around. We still managed to have our haunted house set up by Wednesday, and the weather was spectacular! We had far fewer kids than we have ever had, but it was a nice evening, with time to chat with neighbors and a relaxed move into our party. Much lower key than in a lot of past years, but just right for a road-weary household still trying to get our feet under us.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
A pink shrug for Miss Julia. Angora and merino....mmmm. I had a hard time grabbing it to photograph because Julia was sitting here holding the sleeve as I cast of the collar ribbing and had it on as she scooted out the door. Not even an evening to block it! And then she was surprised that the angora shed! Oh, well, I know it was much appreciated.
Then there were the socks that I was knitting for Ruth. They were supposed to be ready for her birthday on August 30, but she seemed happy enough to receive them six weeks later! More pink!
Yep, pink and pinker! Not really a color that resides comfortably in my personal pallette, but fun and cheery enough to work with.
There's been a wee bit of spinning going on, too. A soft and squishy worsted-weight merino/suri alpaca/silk blend, a bit of merino painted top, and some bison are all resting nicely in the various assorted bobbins, just awaiting the time for plying to happen.
Car knitting must be organized and packed. Socks, mittens, and a sweater, I hope. The new projects are all Autumn and Halloween inspired colours--golds and oranges and black. Very soothing. The one sweater that I did get started is looking like I may have it done by the time I arrive in Vancouver. That may mean that I will have to visit a LYS or two in the lower mainland. Oh, the hardship!
Then there is the Christmas knitting and weaving--totally without a clue as to what to do this year. I think there is a little part of me that has just about had it with the overkill of that holiday--it's rather annoying to be hearing Christmas carols in stores already!
There has been a lot of other exciting stuff going on, with getting offers to teach next summer as well as getting the line-up for Fibre Week ready to send off to the College. But all of that stuff is still in the works and it's not quite time to let those cats out of their bags. Looks like there will be a lot more travel in my future!
And, hey, thanks to those who have nominated me for Prime Minister, but I will respectfully decline the honor. You'd have to be brain dead to want that job!
Talk to you from the road!
Friday, September 26, 2008
But first, an update on yesterday's entry. The skulls are felted and looking mighty fine.
I found that the smaller gauge that was worked with a single strand felted way better than the larger skulls that followed pattern specs. The larger skulls needed one more wash than the little guys, and you can still see some of the crochet pattern on them. Still, the results are pretty swell. Now I'm trying to decide if I'm going to embellish them or just stick 'em in a basket to look spooky....
So much for the nicey-nice, on-topic stuff.
I have made a concious decision to keep this blog mostly about my fibre adventures, and I've mostly stuck to that. Though I push the boundaries of what costitutes "my fibre adventures" on occassion. This is one of those occassions. Though there is a fibre tie-in--watch for it!
I am not by nature a political person. My views on how people should live and how leaders should lead are not exactly in tune with our times. I have been called "slightly left of Karl Marx". So I generally stay out of public political debate. That does not, however, mean that I do not know what is going on, or have an opinion on it. I'm just usually smart enough to keep my mouth shut.
Not this time.
On Wenesday, September 24, the Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, who is running for re-election, was quoted in several major newspapers as having said:
"I think when ordinary people come home, turn on the TV and see a gala of a
bunch of people at, you know, a rich gala all subsidized by taxpayers
claiming their subsidies aren't high enough, when they know those subsidies
have actually gone up--I'm not sure that's something that resonates with
Okay, so quite aside from the disjointed,rambling structure of the statement, I have a few isssues about this little speech:
1. Define ordinary people. Working-class Joes. Truck drivers? School teachers? Engineers? Carpenters? Accountants? Nurses? Child-care workers? Civil servants? These are the professions of the "ordinary"people who are members and supporters of my local arts community. They care a lot about the arts, donating time and money to all manner of artistic endeavors. And, when they can afford to, they go to "galas".
2. Those people who are attending those "rich galas" are not usually the people who make their(meager) living in the arts. Those people are the local movers and shakers, businessmen and politicians. Trust me, the people who work in the arts are backstage cleaning up, getting ready for the next show or exhibit, or on the way home for some well-earned sleep. When they are marched out for show, the hoi-poloi politely shake their hands, all the while looking at the "artists" like they are some sort of exotic bug. Then they go back to sipping their moderately priced champagne and complain that the government does not support the arts like they do. Trust me, I've been to a few "galas". They are all the same.
3. What, exactly are the arts that do not resonate with ordinary people? Galas are not the arts, they are parties thrown to thank sponsors and donors for their contribution. Turning on your TV is welcoming the arts into your home. Even "Dancing With the Stars" is a gateway to the arts, exposing millions of "ordinary" viewers to the highly theatrical world of ballroom dancing. Who knows, those ordinary people may actually develop an appreciation for dance and go and support their local ballroom dance club, or worse yet, (gasp!) the ballet.
4. The subsidies have gone up? So where is all the money? Statistics Canada indicates that the only profession in Canada that has seen a decrease in average wage earnings over the past year is the arts and culture. So artists aren't getting paid--in fact, the vast majority of the professional artists that I know have to work a "day job" to make ends meet. Why are there so many actor-waiters and painter-janitors if arts funding is going up and everyone is on the gravy train?
And these are just the points that come immediately to mind. I will no doubt cogitate and debate the topic over a glass or two of Shiraz with like-minded folk. There are a great many more literate than I who are blogging, writing and speaking out on this topic. And what triggered this morning's wee rant is the output of one of those folks.
Margaret Atwood is a Canadian icon, for her literary works, her political views, her fearlessness, and her wearing of fabulous shawls and wraps. She is also a passionate supporter of the arts in their infinite variety. She wrote in Thurday's Globe and Mail:
things that are made.
"The arts" are not a "niche interest". They are part of being
Moreover, "ordinary people" are participants. They form book clubs
and join classes of all kinds--painting, dancing,drawing, pottery,
photography--for the sheer joy of it. They sing in choirs, church and
other, and play in marching bands. Kids start garage bands and make their
own videos and web art, and put their music on the Net and draw their own
graphic novels. Ordinary people" have other outlets for their creativity,
as well: Knitting and quilting have made comebacks; gardening is
taken very seriously; the home woodworking shop is very active. Add
origami, costume design, egg decorating, flower arranging, and on and
on...Canadians, it seems, like making things and they like appreciating things
that are made.
Harper's government has a more nefarious motivation-you can read the commentary
in full here and make your own judgments about that.
So did you catch it? Yep, knitting is on the list of what makes Canadians creative. And Ms Atwood is right--playing with string is a hugely creative undertaking, whether you are knitting cotton dishcloths or designing your own handspun sweaters and shawls. And it's about as "ordinary" as you can get--knitting is accessible to anyone who can afford two pointy sticks and a ball of Red Heart.
Now, I am hardly suggesting that Mr. Harper is attacking knitting. However, I do feel that his comments, however garbled and out-of-context, do reflect a lack of understanding of the arts, or what it means to be an "ordinary person".
And who wants to be considered "ordinary" anyway?!?
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Oh, look at the contemplative gaze that our lovely model has...could she possibly be pondering her next sweater project? Or just basking in her sense of accomplishment?
For those of you who may not recall, this sweater was resurrected from the ashes of this post. I had spun the yarn with no specific intent and designed the sweater for the yarn. But, alas, my counting skills proved to be less than stellar and it was froggie time. There was much weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Then I got bit by the cable bug.
I stumbled across this cable and rib pattern in Nicky Epstein's Knitting on the Edge while looking for something else. After re-opening the book half a dozen times to stare at the pattern, I finally gave in and swatched up a sample. Within an hour, I had calculated and cast on for raglan tunic-style sweater.
All of this was going on during my busy summer, so there were great fits and starts of obsessive knitting, followed by long dormant periods. All in all, it took about three months from start to finish, but probably only about 60 actual hours of knitting.
I did have to stop and rip back a bit at the raglan shoulder because I wasn't too happy with the way things were going. The finished version makes me happy, though.
For those who may be interested in the specs: the yarn was a handspun merino/silk blend. The fibre was originally purchased in 2005 from Silver Valley Fibres. I spun it as a 3-ply woollen at about 20 wpi/ 3 tpi on my Ashford Traveller. The knitting gauge is about 6 st/inch or 24 stitches over 4 inches/10 cm. It was knit in pieces and joined, the old-fashioned way. It measures about 42" at the bust and is about 28" long from shoulder to hem.
I am considering writing up the pattern, but I always get spooked by the sizing thing. I'm working my way through that phobia. When I am well enough to face multiple sizes, I may put out a call for test knitters...
So, now that that's out of the way, what next? Well, I appear to be off on a Halloween-inspired tangent. I have been spinning a couple of spooky yarns for seasonal projects that I intend to work on while we travel in October (yes, yet another trip!) and I have become addicted to crocheting these skulls from Lion Brand.
Okay, not too pretty so far...
...and there are seven of them waiting to have their ends sewn in before they go in the washer this afternoon. If these seven turn out, who knows how many other horrors await?
Thursday, September 18, 2008
There has been more travel in my life...boy, am I ever getting tired of Highway 63! If someone could just fold the province of Alberta like one of those old Mad Magazine fold-ins and make the 450 kilometers between me and anywhere disappear, my life would get so much easier! Having said that, I was on the road again last weekend. I took a few days to travel to the Red Deer area and attend the annual Wild Rose Fibres Retreat at Pine Lake Christian Camp. And it was well worth the trip!
The lake and the camp are gorgeous, the weather was terrific, and, while there was a shortage of Shiraz (the camp is dry), the coffee was tasty and plentiful.
This year's workshops were on bast fibres and suri alpaca, presented by Chuck Verschagen and Donna Rudd respectively. Lots of great information, and lots of fun playing with fibres that I don't always think to spin with. And in between, there was plenty of good food and lots of great conversation with friends and new friends.
Friday evening was a welcome evening, with snacks and an impromptu spin-in, then Saturday, after a yummy breakfast of quiche, sausages and muffins, we got to work. I had the bast workshop first, and Chuck got right to work demonstrating flax preparation:
...and hackling flax that he had grown and retted himself. We spent the morning spinning tow flax in a variety of preparations, then after lunch, Chuck showed us how to dress a distaff and spin line.
Though we didn't seem to get the concept of the pointy thing being a distaff cover...
..and we swore they were magicians' hats not dunce caps! After all, we were spinning straw into gold! If that's not magic, I don't know what is!
After a long day of spinning, we all went off to prepare for the Saturday evening banquet, which had a Mexican fiesta theme. Of course there were costumes...
...such as Chuck's muy macho mustachio....
...and Sheepless's equally macho look. Totally el bandito!
I wore a sombrero, which at one point in the evening suddenly produced a fly from underneath it (hence the title of this post--one of the most random and obtuse things I have ever shouted without the influence of alcohol!). There were other sombreros, as well...
...on our lovely hostess, Colleen...
...and Mick. Kathy started the evening in a bandanna (no doubt inspired by Chuck)....
...but finished the evening in a handspun turban secured with her maracas pen.
We were well entertained by the Golden Music Makers, who played a variety of music ranging from standards to polkas....
...which led to much dancing in the back. Marijane, Kathleen, Colleen, Jodi, Kathy and I danced up a storm. There are apparently pictures, and even video, but the threat to put them on Teh Internetz appears, so far, to be an idle one. In any event, there was a lot of fun had by the sombrero crew at the back of the room!
Sunday was a day of spinning suri llama and alpaca. We learned a great deal about the animals and the characteristics of their fleeces. Donna is a camelid judge and fibre sorter, and sure knows her stuff! I spent so much time taking notes and making samples that I didn't get a chance to take any pictures. And Donna had some really neat stuff to take pictures of, including her amazing cloaks and hangings featuring woven-in suri locks.
The weekend was fabulous, and the drive home went smoothly, with a stop in Edmonton for supper with Mom and Brendan, then brunch with Lisa the next day. And plenty of time to ponder and become inspired on the long drive. If I live long enough to make all the things that I have dreamed up on the drive to Fort McMurray, I think I will die around the age of 412. And I still will not have used up my stash by then!
So, back to work. I am carding merino batts for Christmas sweaters, spinning cotton for knitting, a sock yarn, and some bison, and knitting a shrug for Julia and yet another of the ever-present socks. No rest for the wicked!
Tuesday, September 02, 2008
...eating ice cream and...
...walkin' on the beach.
We went to the Vancouver Aquarium and saw the new baby beluga whale.
And we hung out with the lovely and talented Miss Lexi when she was not at school.
Then I abandoned my daughters and headed off on the ferry to Gibsons.
Hmm...what can I say about Gibsons Landing Fibre Arts Festival? How about WOW!!!!. Great festival, great community, great vendors, great people...just GREAT! I had a fabulous time, and my workshop seemed to go over well. And I bought a few wee bits and pieces of fibre.......and, of course, did much spinning! Oh look at her, teaching away!
I kept the class busy spinning...
If nothing, else, we all had a lot of fun!
After the second day of the workshop, I did a little touristing, including a visit to Molly's Reach, a local landmark from the '70's CBC series "The Beachcombers".
I was never a big Beachcombers fan, but I'm pretty sure they've dolled the place up a bit from what I remember from the series. Then I wandered down the pier...
...apparently looking pretty stunned. I would suggest that perhaps I was a little brain-drained after having shared my great wisdom with my class? Yeah, that works. Right?
After a transcendent crab dinner at Smitty's Oyster House, a hot bath and a good night's sleep, I heading back to Vancouver for brunch with the girls. Lexi went off to work, and Julia and I went shopping, then headed out to Langley for the night.
We hit the road north the next morning and slowly worked our way home. There was a birthday to celebrate once we got here, so the next couple of days were spent cleaning and decorating and making party games. Then it was September!! And here we are...Julia is back to school, Steve off to work, and I am in the studio.
And life goes on...I wonder where September will go?
Thursday, August 07, 2008
On Monday, August 4, we Albertans observed Heritage Day. So what better way to celebrate my heritage than to spin? At Heritage Park, of course!