Friday, September 26, 2008

Ordinary People

What? Another post? So soon? Yes, friends, there is a rant a-comin'.

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.

She goes on to suggest that the ongoing war on the arts that has been waged by
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

Out of the Ashes

The Phoenix Sweater is done! Actually, it's been done for over a month, but I haven't gotten around to doing the picture thing until just this past week. So, without further ado--The Phoenix Sweater!

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.

Then I fiddled around with the funnel collar a bit, too. Overall, it's a fabulous sweater!

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's a Fly in My Sombrero!

Things have sort of slowed down around here, but an AWOL camera cable kept me from posting my latest adventures for the last couple of days. Said cable was found in a truly obtuse spot, and we're back in business.

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

In the Blink of an Eye...

...August disappeared! What happened?

A lot. That's what. Family reunions, travel, finished objects, gardening, workshops and birthday parties just ate up the month. It's all a bit of a blur, really!
I spent more time on the highway than anywhere else, I suppose. We took a family trip to Edmonton for a gathering of Steve's family. The whole gang was never fully assembled at one time, but there are 19 of us spread over 4 generations and having 13 or 14 in a room at once is chaos enough! Lots of fun, noise and good food. And the drive home again.
I spent the next few days packing and prepping for my workshop in Gibsons, then hit the road the following Friday. Julia travelled with me, and we spent a couple of days in E-town again, catching up with friends and family. Then we hit the road for the coast. And may I just say, it's a long drive. Scenic, but long.

We spent a couple of days puddling around in Vancouver (literally--it was a wee bit rainy!)...

...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...

...and taking notes. Boy, I sure hope I said something that was worth writing down!

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?