Thursday, December 17, 2009

"Tis the Season...

...for warm, woolly socks,  long nights lit by candles, and marathon knitting!

As I have mentioned before, I am not a big fan of winter weather.  And the last two weeks have reminded me why, with a cold snap of temperatures in the minus forties, before the windchill.  Top that off with a couple of power outages that shut down the fan on the furnace, and you have one cold, cranky woman on your hands.  However, this nastiness has given me an excuse to wear all my little self-indulgent socks that I've been knitting.

Now, I knit a lot of socks.  There is always a sock-in-progress in my purse, for those moments when I am waiting in line, sitting in a coffee shop, or stuck in traffic.  There is usually a half-knit sock on the coffee table, too.  But do I personally have a large collection of hand-knit socks?  Of course not!  I don't really know where all those socks I knit go--kids, Steve's sock drawer, friends, I suppose--but sometime last winter, I realized that I had only 1 pair of my own knit socks, and they were looking pretty threadbare.

So on my travels over the spring and summer, I collected a few little skeins of, shall we say, indulgent sock yarns.  Alpaca blends, silk blends, superwash Merino--handpainted and luxurious.  Mmm, mmm, mmm.  And then I used the hours in airports, on airplanes, and in the passenger seat  to actually use these yummy yarns.  I made myself some socks.

First, the alpaca blend.  Handpainted yarn from Alpaca Plus, 60% alpaca, 20% wool, 20% nylon. The knitting was done in May and June, mostly on planes while I did my little stint in the US.  These socks did sit in a drawer for a couple of months, but I'm wearing them now!  They are warm and have developed a slight halo from the alpaca that makes them feel super soft.

The next pair I knit were a Merino/silk blend from Red Fish Dyeworks.  The four-ply yarn was a little on the heavy end for socks, and a little dear with 5 skeins costing about $85, but I wanted the colors together.  I do have enough for about 2 more pairs of socks, so the cost will even out when I get those guys knit.  I knit these during Fibre Week and into early August, using my basic sock formula and a simple Fair Isle pattern.  I must admit that these are my current favorites--the combination of the silk and the bright colors make me happy every time I put them on.


And last, but far from least, are these beauties.  There was a great frenzy of knitting in August, getting the first sock finished in about 2 days, then...nothing.  I cast on the second sock in early October and knit about 3 inches of cuff, then...nothing.  Then it got to be 30 below, and I decided to sit in my house and knit.  I finished the second sock on a Sunday afternoon two weeks ago.  The yarn is handpainted by Mary Ann at Three Waters Farm.  I loooove the colors! And these soft, comfy socks have gotten a lot of wear this past couple of weeks.

So, my toes have been warm and very stylish during the cold spell.

The other "up-side", if there could be such a thing when it is 40 below, is that there was no way I was going out into that weather.  This turned out to be an up-side because that meant lots of time at home to spin and knit, and with the Big Holiday fast approaching, this was an added bonus.  I do not buy a lot of gifts anymore, but I do knit and weave a lot of gifts.  The more time at home, the more on top of the Christmas list I get.  There is one Really Big Project that is moving a little slower than I would like, but otherwise, the dreaded Christmas knitting is under control.  (Touch wood!)

The long dark nights and the cold, cold weather have not been very conducive to a festive state of mind around here, but things are looking up.  We are having a heat wave of -23C today, and the Christmas baking is done.  The tree is up, and there are even a couple of gifts wrapped.  I ventured out yesterday to the post office and the mall, two place I usually try to avoid this time of year, and everyone I met was cheerful and helpful.  And the dark drive home at 3:30 p.m. was lit by Christmas lights. 

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

And my toes are warm.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Just a Bunch of Stuff That Happened

(which could really be the title of any blog post anywhere on the internet.  Either that or "You Are Entitled to My Opinion, and Here It Is.")

Since my return from Manitoba, there has not been a dull moment.  A "bunch" of stuff has happened, indeed!

Catching up on my blog-reading, I discovered that Sara had given me partial credit for her newfound interest in spindling.  Which inspired me to pull out my current spindling project.  Which, sadly, has sat in a bag in my studio since the events of which Sara wrote.  So, in a way, her writing about me inspiring her to spindle has inspired me to spindle.  (Sara also inspired me to do something else, but we shall remain quiet about that one for now...I'm still shaking a bit.)

Meanwhile, I spent much of the week knitting itty-bitty kitty mitties.  Or, more accurately, kitty mitties, hats and scarves for the Odd-Lot Puppetry Company's visit to Heritage Park's Old-Fashioned Christmas. 

Yes, that is a banana wearing a custom-knit toque.

This, of course, also meant that I had a houseful of puppet mayhem this past weekend.  Number One Son Brendan and his partners in crime Jess, Anna, and Patches ate, slept, built, and rehearsed in my little tiny living room.  The noise and mess took me back to the days when I had a houseful of kids all the time.  Nice place to visit, but I think I'm glad I don't live there any more!

And after the puppet mayhem died down, we went and saw Westwood Cheepiyak Theatre's production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat.  It was, in a word, amazing!  There are a huge number of talented kids in the cast, some great voices and some pretty spectacular dancing.  An all-around great accomplishment on the parts of Ms. Mort and Ms. Redfurn, along with every member of their cast.  Our Miss Julia is a member of the chorus, and also has the most fabulous camel moment in theatre history!
Go see it if you can.

I also made a hat this past week, but I sent it off to Vancouver without even taking a picture!  D'oh!

I sent the hat in a care package for Miss Lexi's birthday, which is today.  I sent it via our good friends at Canada Post, and sprung for the Express Post option hoping it would arrive within 2 days.  It arrived within 20 hours!  Lexi sent me a text thanking me for the package less that 20 hours after my visit to the post office.  So for all of you out there cursing the slow pace of our national mail carrier, here is the corollary story.  I am, however, still waiting for the package from the US that was mailed in June...USPS, I'm looking at you.

The one last thing that has happened this past week or so is the final details going into the Fibre Week 2010 lineup.  Let just say, it's good to have friends.  There have been some interesting challenges this time around, with my computer issues and random road trip adding yet another layer of chaos. A lot of stuff has to happen really fast at this point and without the help of a few really great and supportive individuals, I would have collapsed under the weight of it.  But, except for one more little thing, we are done.  Whew!

So that's some stuff that happened.  I'm sure more stuff will happen tomorrow, and the day after that.  That's the funny thing about stuff--it just keeps on happening.  I can't type fast enough to keep up!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Common Threads

Today I'm taking a day to rest and catch my breath.  It's been one thing after another since I got home from Vancouver, and I'm tired.  Very tired.

When last I sat down to blog, I had done the whole Halloween thing, and  I didn't really get a chance to recover from that.   With my typical excellent timing, I rolled right into a good bout of 'flu.  I don't know if it was the dreaded H1N1 or not, but it knocked me on my ass for several days.  Fortunately, though, I bounced back fairly quickly and the cough was considerate enough to go away after a few days, leaving me tired and froggy-voiced but otherwise rather unscathed.  I thought this little "vacation" would be a good excuse to start some Christmas knitting, but in reality, not much got accomplished.  So I thought I'd take a few days to rest and get caught up on some knitting. You know what they say about the best laid plans....

As you may have seen in my tweets in the sidebar, my Uncle Jim Beamish died on November 9.  He was relatively young and his death was a bit of a shock to all of us, including his big sister--my Mom.  My first thought was to drop everything and head out to Manitoba with my Mom, but I still had my cough and so much catching up to do, so I rationalized that I didn't need to go.  Well, that lasted two days.

I decided that I would drive out to Manitoba, where Jim had lived, with my Mom for the funeral.  From Fort McMurray, with a stop to pick Mom up in Edmonton, it would be about a 19 hour trek.  No problem--we broke it into small chunks of 5 or 6 hours of driving with a good rest in between.

The driving was effortless, with clear highways and sunny skies, thanks to an unseasonably warm November.  Dark comes early this time of year, but we were off the road by 7 or 8 each evening.  We ran into one of Mom's cousins, Barry and his wife Barb, in Saskatoon--they were also travelling from the Edmonton area and, by sheer coincidence were staying at the same hotel and eating in the same restaurant!  And the next evening, we met up with them again at another cousin's farm.  Dianne and her husband Ron hosted us to an amazing supper and a glass or two of wine before we toddled down the road to Brandon for the night.

We arrived in Brandon very late and got some sleep before we went to visit with my Aunt Muriel.  My cousins Christine and Brian were there as well, so there was much family catching up to do.  All of the arrangements had been taken care of by an amazing array of friends and neighbors, food was delivered in massive quanitities, and people came and went. 

That trend continued the next day, the day of the actual funeral.  Two more of my cousins, Bill and Brenda, travelled out from Winnipeg.  My mom's relatives gathered, four generations of Beamishes, Lindsays, Walkers, Talbots, and Falloons.  They are a large and very diverse lot.  And Uncle Jim had a lot of friends, co-workers, and acquaintances that loved and respected him.  There was, in short, a crowd.

There were flowers, and hugs, and a lot of strangers' hands to shake (H1N1 be damned!).  And a lot of family to get re-acquainted with.  They all live in or around Southern Manitoba and I live out here in Alberta--see the comments above regarding the distance.  And though the circumstances were sad, I felt a certain joy in seeing these people again. 

There are a lot of phrases in the English language that apply the language of my craft to familes.  We have family ties.  Families are close-knit.  Our lives are woven together.  We are cut from the same cloth.  Relatives come from the distaff side of a family.   We all have a black sheep in the family.  Others are dyed-in-the-wool types.  Sometimes, families come unravelled, but we pick up the common threads and carry on.

What struck me the most about getting together with my relatives was that common thread.  We share a history as well as genetics.  We know the old stories, and the scandals, even though they may even have happened before we were born.  We know the shape of a nose, or the color of our hair**.  We don't see each other for years, but that connection is there.

Being a spinner,  I recognize a good sturdy thread.  Sure, there may be slubs and snarls, but the thread is continuous, and strong.  It has survived being stretched in all directions by time and distance.  In some places, it has been knit together with another thread, in others it has become a little unravelled.  But the thread endures, as good thread should.  And being a spinner, I also see that I am working to continue the string by raising my children with the stories, the connections, the values of the family that I came from.

There are other new fibres being spun into the thread that is my family.  Cousins and second cousins with their families, carrying on the same traditions, passing along the connections.  The thread is becoming thinner as our grandparents and parents begin to leave us, but it is still being spun.

The thread's length means that perhaps we are spread a little further apart.  There may even be a break or two, but at times like this, we tie a knot so the thread can continue.  I really don't know for sure where the thread started, though there are numerous family histories, and I certainly don't know where it will end.  The point is that the thread exists at all.  In this day and age, with family spread far and wide, sometimes we need to stop and remember our common threads.

The drive home was not so relaxed.  We drove across Saskatchewan in a 13-hour marathon.  There was a whirlwind of doctors and yarn shopping in Edmonton, then the usual slog home.  So, today, I'm tired.

But I have this strong thread that ties my life to the lives of dozens of amazing people.  Perhaps even hundreds.  I have a thread that will endure long after I am dust, a thread to be dug up and examined by genrations yet to come.  I have a thread that is strong enough to endure over centuries, a thread that can stitch up our wounds, a thread that ties us together.  I have a family.

**The Lindsay family of Southern Manitoba, and their descendants are notorious for their glorious heads of silver hair, acquired at an early age.  I felt so at home amongst my generation, not to mention our parents!

Friday, November 06, 2009

Whoa! What Just Happened?

There is just a blur where the last two weeks of my life should be!

I have been remiss in keeping my blog up to date, but I do have many good excuses.  Honest!  But when people start emailing, and even my Mom is asking for updates (okay, she wants to know the answer to the last riddle!), you know it's time to sit down at the old keyboard...

So, what have I been up to?

Well, there were the 12 days spent in Vancouver...

...which were pretty darned action-packed.  I visited the Vancouver Aquarium, rode The Ghost Train...

...throught the Gates of Hell and back.  I also rode on Surrey's Terror Train, meandered the pier at White Rock and walked Jericho Beach.  I taught Miss Lexi to knit...

...and then couldn't get her to stop.  I visited the phenomenal Lynn Anderson at Knitopia in her last week in  her Langley location. (She's back in White Rock now, and has suggested that you grease your hips before you visit her somewhat smaller shop.)

I took a little spinning workshop...

...which I intend to blog more about soon.  I went to see Mika in concert...

...which was waaaay too much fun for someone of my advancing years.  I listened to Elizabeth Wayland-Barber speak on Women's Work:  The First 20,000 Years.  And I got to spend some seriously high-quality time with my older daughter, an amazing young woman whom I don't get to see enough of since she has moved so far from home.

Then I had a long, weird day full of hilarious travel stories.  And I was home.

Just in time for two solid days of preparations for Halloween.

The crypt was built, cobwebs were strewn, and ghoulish goodies concocted...

...just in time for our first good snowfall of the year!  Between the snow (which made for some really icy road conditions!) and H1N1,  Halloween was a little, well, quiet.  The brave handful who ventured out to trick or treat scored much candy, and the braver handful who came to the annual party made for a marvelous , though somewhat more sedate than usual, evening.

And, for those of you waiting for the answer to the last countdown riddle:

Why wouldn't the mummy go on vacation?

He was afraid he might relax and unwind too much!


And after all of that activity, plus a couple of days of frantinc scrambling to get the household back in order, it only figures that my immune system would be ready to take a break.  So guess who woke up sick on Wednesday morning?  The last two days have been a festival of fevers and chills, accompanied by a sensation something like I would imagine it would be like having a flaming stake driven through my chest.  This morning, the coughing has started, and, oddly, I feel much better.  However, a couple of days on the couch, knitting, seems prudent at this point.

That's my story, and I'm stickin' to it.  **COUGH**

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Countdown H Minus 9 Days

I've been having way too much fun in Vancouver, including riding on Stanley Park's Ghost Train last night.   And that reminded me that I had a countdown riddle hovering...

What happens when you goose a ghost?

You get a handful of sheet!

And to keep you pondering til the next time I get to a computer....

Why wouldn't the mummy take a vacation?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Countdown H Minus 12

I figured this would happen.  I'm in Vancouver, with full internet access, and I haven't had the time to keep up the countdown.  I'm sure you're as devastated as I am.  So, the decision is to continue when I can and let you do the math for the day I miss.

Answer to the last riddle:  What's a ghost's favorite kind of pie?

                                           Boo-berry!  Of course!

I'm off to adventure around Granville Island today and meet Miss Lexi for sushi for dinner.  Meanwhile, I shall leave you to ponder today's riddle.

What happens when you goose a ghost?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Countdown H Minus 15

What do you get when you cross a monster with a pig?


Feel free to insert your own H1N1 jokes here.

I'm off to Vancouver tomorrow to spend some time with Miss Lexi and take in a wee bit of the Maiwa Symposium.  We shall see how consistent I can manage to be with my countdown with all of the distractions the Left Coast has to offer!

Meanwhile, today's riddle:  What is a ghosts favorite kind of pie?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Countdown H Minus 16 Days

Who did the ghoul bring to the party?

Any body he could dig up.

Aaaaand today's riddle:  What do you get when you cross a monster with a pig?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Countdown H Minus 17 Days

So, why did the skeleton leave the disco?

Because he had no body to dance with!

Today's riddle:  Who did the ghoul bring to the party?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Coundtdown H Minus 18 Days, Now With 30% More Fibre Content!

Do Zombies eat their popcorn with their fingers?

No. They eat their fingers separately!

And now for some fibre stuff:

There has been much spinning going on around here. The cold weather has given me an excuse to stay home and sit at the wheel. (Well, actually, just about any weather gives me an excuse to stay home and sit behind the wheel...but I digress.) I have been spinning the mountains of Northern Lights into bulky singles, and have only gotten through about 1/3 of that so far--2.6 kg of fibre is a lot more than you'd think it would be when you're spinning it!

I have also been spinning some yummy alpaca/silk/cashmere blend roving that I picked up from Alpaca Plus while I was at Fibre Week. There was a bit of VM in the preparation, but the fibre itself is exquisite and it was an absolute joy to spin. And the bits of chaff popped out in the spinning, anyway!

Mmmmm....look at that! Here are the stats: 85% baby alpaca/15 % silk and cashmere, 300g, 910 yards, 20 wpi and 6 tpi, semi-woolen. The pictures cannot do it justice! Soft and cushy, with a bit of a halo from the cashmere, this is a glorious yarn. I had been spinning it for a Christmas gift, but now that I have it in my hands, I may have to keep it for myself. Mwahahahaha!

I have also been working very hard to avoid my top-secret Halloween project. I finished the prototype and was so frustrated with all of the ridiculous little mistakes that I had made that I had a serious attack of "This too hard for meeeeee!" and set it all aside for about a week. But, stubborn as I am, I sat down last night and took another shot at it. Progress was made and only 2 rounds of tinking occurred, so I'm feeling a little better about it today. I have an evening to myself tonight, so we shall see how things go from here. After all, there are only 18 days til Halloween!

Which brings us to today's riddle: Why did the skeleton leave the disco?

Let's see if I can manage to give you an answer tomorrow!

Countdown H Minus 19 Days

Well isn't this fine and dandy? Maybe today I will remember to hit the "publish" button, since I didn't yesterday. Here is yesterday's post:

How do you calculate the circumference of a Jack-o-Lantern?

Pumpkin pi r squared.

(And anyone with any mathematical background at all will know that that formula is nonsense. Even if you don't remember your high school geometry, you should know that pumpkin pie r round!)

And, riddle number 2: What is a vampire's favorite holiday?


Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

Oh, and the next riddle!

Do Zombies eat their popcorn with their fingers?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Countdown Went Down! H Minus 20

Well, so much for that plan!

We have suffered countdown interuptus, courtesy of my ISP. We have been having troubles off and on since July, mostly because of costly infrastructure issues in my condo complex, and everything collapsed again on Friday evening. Hopefully, we have a "final resolution" to the problem this time, but we shall see...

So, back to the countdown: Why do they build fences around graveyards?
Because so many people are dying to get in!
We are one riddle behind now, so we have a bonus riddle today. Yes indeedy, two for the price of one! Think of it as a holiday bonus (it's Thanksgiving here in Canada this weekend!)
How do you calculate the circumference of a Jack-o-Lantern?
What is a vampire's favorite holiday?
See you tomorrow. I hope!

Friday, October 09, 2009

Countdown H Minus 22 Days

What do you get when you cross a vampire and a snowman?

(Nice try, though, Vicki!)
And today's riddle: Why do they build fences around graveyards?

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Countdown H Minus 23 Days

Why was the zombie so grouchy?

Because she woke up too early in the mourning.

I am preparing for Halloween by doing my best grouchy zombie impersonation today! Grrr...aaRGH!

And today's riddle, in keeping with the weather here in Alberta: What do you get when you cross a vampire and a snowman?

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Countdown H Minus 24 Days

What do you call serious rocks?

And today's riddle: Why was the zombie so grouchy?
See you tomorrow......

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Countdown H Minus 25 Days and Some Random Rambling, To Boot

What happens when you forget to pay an exorcist?

You get re-possessed!

I wish I had a rim-shot sound effect--you know, ba-dum-dum-CHING!

By the way Repossessed was the name of a bad spoof the The Exorcist that came along in the early '90s, starring the original Child From Hell, Linda Blair and perennial Bad Spoof Star Leslie Neilson.

Just so you don't think I'm spending my days hunting down these comedic gems, here's a bit of an update on what's been going on around here:

This time of year, I tend to get all domestic and feather-your-nesty, settling in for the winter. Now, I know I swore up and down and as loudly as I could to anyone who happened to wander by that I would NOT spend another winter in Fort McMurray, but life has a funny way of derailing even the most stubbornly set agendas. So, here I am, facing another 40 below winter and trying to make the best of it.

Making the best of it for me seems to entail cooking. Much cooking. Last week, there were 2 lasagnas, 3 apple pies, 6 litres of borscht, chicken stock, vegetable stock, and 4 jars of pickled beets. This was on top of 6 skeins of bulky-weight, 2 novelty skeins, the plying of 6 skeins of Merino and two bobbins of alpaca/silk/cashmere singles. Not to mention the mittens I have been knitting, 5 or 6 loads of laundry, the big garden clean-out, and a nasty sinus infection. And don't forget the mounds of paperwork for Fibre Week that have been sorted through and dealt with, plus a newsletter article that was written.

There is a lot to be said about being busy. I sometimes feel like I am "doing nothing" when I spend an entire day sitting at my spinning wheel, making miles of string. I should be doing something "productive" or "worthwhile". I don't "work". So I go out and do the banking, sit on committees, do volunteer work, take on short-term contract jobs, get groceries, and deliver people to where they need to be. I'm one busy lady, as people are always telling me. And what do I have to show for it. A sore knee and a messy house?

Yet, when I'm doing that thing that isn't work--you, know, making string--I wind up with beautiful yarns to make beautiful things that I can sell or give as gifts. I am honing my craft, solving problems, and improving my skills as a spinner and a teacher. I am still busy, and I still have a messy house, but there is something tangible at the end of the day. And in the end, there is actually a greater dollar value on what I have accomplished sitting on my butt than there is on all that running around. I make money with my craft, and I make money teaching. I get to travel and share my knowledge of the craft with others. I have to keep reminding myself that this is my JOB. A dream job, actually, getting to do what I love and getting paid for the privilege.

And, on top of that, when I am at home, "doing nothing", I can be available to my family when they need me. I have time to make lasagna and pies, and still get my actual work done. And I am still more than busy, just not in that rushing-around-from-place-to-place-and-always-stressing-about-the-next-thing way.

Now, I do have the luxury of a partner in life who makes good coin so the bills get paid, and who supports me in what I do. I stay home and do "women's work": raising kids, growing and cooking food, making string into clothing. Unimportant stuff, done, unnoticed by hundreds of millions of women for tens of thousands of years. And the stuff that our very civilizations have been built upon. Without the free labor of women, who have always seen to the insignificant minutiae of life, men would never have had the time to do great things. Like fight wars, invent nuclear weapons, and collapse a world economy.

Okay, I've rationalized my domesticity. I'm good. I know there are those of you out there who need to work, man or woman, and I know there are those of you who love to do what you do. What I want to say is that those same phrases apply to me, and to what I do. I have to remind myself that, even without a regular paycheck and a corner office, what I do is a job and has real value, too. That way, I'll stop doing busy work and start doing my work.

So, back to work. This week's plan includes about 300 cabbage rolls, some Halloween baking, and spinning the rest of that bulky-weight yarn. To start with, anyway. And since I also have some busy work to do, I shall leave you with today's riddle and get on with it:

What do you call serious rocks?

Monday, October 05, 2009

Countdown H Minus 26 Days

Why was Dracula fired from the Blood Bank?

Because he was caught drinking on the job!

Today's riddle: What happens when you forget to pay an exorcist?

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Countdown h Minus 27 Days

What kind of insects are found in graveyards?


You gotta love these! Sadly, though, there appears to be a dearth of fibre-related or sheepy Halloween riddles. I'm still looking....

So, today's riddle:

Why was Dracula fired from the blood bank?

Countdown H Minus 28 Days

Whoops! almost missed this one!

Why didn't the skeleton cross the road?

Because he didn't have the guts!

And todays' riddle: What kind of insects do you find in a graveyard?

Friday, October 02, 2009

Countdown H MInus 29 Days

So, how do you fix a broken Jack-O-Lantern?
With a pumpkin patch!
Today's riddle:
Why didn't the skeleton cross the road?
See you tomorrow for the answer!

Thursday, October 01, 2009

October, And the Countdown Begins...

Hey! It's October! When did that happen?

We've had a slow, gentle fall up here and the trees are just beginning to turn. It's been fall for ten days now, but around here, we haven't really noticed. I'm still pulling the odd cherry tomato and zuchinni out of my garden, for crying out loud!

And I've been spinning in the sunshine. I had two Merino lamb fleeces that I blended into batts last summer just sitting in the studio and tempting cats to roll in them. It seemed like a good idea to spin them this past month. I sort of thought that the yarn could be used to knit a Christmas gift sweater for Steve, but as I was spinning, I started to realize that lamb fleeces aren't really all that large. So instead of having enough for a men's sweater, I have enough for a vest. Hmmm...

The yarn is a gorgeous pewter grey heather, the resultof blending a white fleece with a colored fleece. For those of you into spinning statistics, it is 3-ply, 4 tpi, and about 9 wpi. Soft and lofty, with a lot of bounce. There are thoughts of overdying in a steel blue dancing through my brain right now, but we shall see. Said brain is not functioning fully these days, due to a head cold.

Said brain is also shifting its focus. It is October, after all. Halloween in only 30 days away.

For those of you who are new to the party, Halloween is a big deal around here. We do a home haunt, throw parties and costumes. We have an extensive collection of props, and we tend to add to it each year. So I always have an eye out for spooky stuff this time of year...

...such as this Graveyard Kit from Shoppers Drug Mart. Everything you need to build a complete graveyard: tombstones, skulls, a rat, and a fistful of Spanish Moss for atmosphere. And what graveyard would be complete without...

...spoooooky striiiiiing!?! Ummmm...okay.

The other bits of the kit are pretty marvelous and will be distributed in the garden and house this afternoon.

Of course, in a crafty house, one can not rely upon store-bought props alone!

This pile of simple materials will be evolving into The Graveyard Guardian over the next few days.

Our home haunt will be scaled back considerably this year because I will be away for a large part of October, but the Guardian will lurk in our garden, keeping evil spirits at bay. At least he will if I can find a cheap-o skull to base his head on....

And for those of you looking to add a little Halloween spirit, or more appropriately, spirits, to your life, the Samhain edition of The Anticraft is up. Many tasty beverages and a couple of beverage-related crafts, all with a creepy flair.

I'm off to shop for fog machines and then put in some work on my top-secret Halloween knitting project. WooOOooOOoo!

Edited to add: In the "spirit" of the season, I have decided to revive an old countdown that I used to use when the kids were little--one Halloween riddle a day until the Big Day. Here goes:

How do you fix a broken Jack-O-Lantern?

Tune in tomorrow for answer!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Yesterday was the first day of fall.

It doesn't feel that way around here--it was +27 yesterday. We haven't had a frost yet.
Honeybees are still visiting the few remaining sunflowers in my garden.
It doesn't feel like fall at all.
But it is, and the last of the veggies are being harvested out of my wee garden. Preserves are being made, and winter planning is going on.
At times like this, I sometimes pause to reflect on the abundance in my life.
Not just the bumper crop of crab apples, but the things that really count.
I have great friends, a wonderful family, a home of my own, a few little luxuries. I have a passtime that I love, that has evolved into a career of sorts. I have the freedom to express myself without fear of serious repercussions. I have more opportunities than I know what to do with. My life is abundant in joys and laughter.
But sometimes, abundance just gets out of hand.

Yes, Louet Northern Lights in the Mulled Wine colorway. Count 'em. Eleven 225g bags. That's jsut shy of 2.5 kg, for those of you keepin score at home. (I have bag number 12 already spun up. In the end there are 2.6 kg kicking around here.)

Somewhere along the line, I decided that this would be a good idea. I'm sure the planned project will turn out to be fabulous, but right now, that stack is a little daunting.

Sometimes, I wonder if it's such a good thing to have brilliant ideas in abundance...

Friday, September 18, 2009


Don't you wish life had an undo function?

Oh, come on! Don't tell me you've ever made a mistake you wish you could go back and delete. I'm not talking about big things, here, just those little things that nag at your conscience. Haven't you called someone by the wrong name? Gotten home from the store with something you didn't pay for in your pocket? Given someone the wrong time or date for an appointment? I freely admit that I do these things all the time, and that I actually lose sleep when I realize that I've done it.
Most of the time, once I get past the initial shock of realizing of the error, I can shrug it off as an honest mistake and go on. With so much going on in my life, it's a wonder I can remember my name some days! This is why I always write things down.
But when I teach workshops, it should be different, right? I know a lot about spinning. I should be well-prepared and able to recall accurate information at the drop of a hat. I should have weeded through the bad information and stacked the good neatly where it can be pulled out in an orderly manner. And usually, I do.
Which is why I have been losing sleep over this little misstep. No big deal, really, but it's bugging me.

You see, I was taught by a fairly high-profile spinning instructor that you should never self-ply your yarns from an Andean plying bracelet, a centre-pull ball, or using Navajo ply. The reasoning behind this was that you would be reversing the twist in one end of your singles and applying more twist into one single in the ply direction than into the other.

So, for example, if one spins one's singles in the Z direction, then folds the single in half and plies from the beginning and the end, you are reversing the twist direction of the folded bit to be S. This means the end part will be getting overspun in the S direction while the beginning part will be getting underspun. Bad news all around.

For some reason, this made a lot of sense to me at the time, and it took me some time to unlearn this kernel of wisdom. It is, in fact, utter nonsense.

Yet, I shared this in a workshop this summer. I passed this unbelievable bit of pap onto a room full of unsuspecting spinners. And when I realized it days later, I had no way of rewinding time and editing out my stupidity. And it has bothered me ever since.
So here I sit, feeling the burning compulsion to set the record straight. It may not matter one whit to you, but I am constantly amazed by how pervasive these sorts of silly bits of misinformation are in the spinning world. I get on my soap box constantly about bad information showing up in new books, on the internet, and being taught in workshops. I have taken it on as my personal mission to correct that information before more damage is done, yet I have spread some foolishness myself.

This must be remedied!

So, without further ado, I shall clarify what happens when one self-plies a single.

Here is our lovely single. I have spun it with 2 colors and laid it on top of some arrows showing that the twist is indeed in the Z direction.
Then I wound it into a centre-pull ball on my ball winder. This is where some of the problems with self-plying come from, not from reversing the twist. Because, as you can see...

...the twist still runs Z when I fold the beginning bit and the end bit beside each other. And then, when I ply...

...the twists are balanced together and you can see that the stripes of colour align perpendicularly up and down.

So, I hope I have clarified that issue and have set the Spinning Universe back into balance.

However. (Oh, when isn't there a "however", Michelle?)

I don't really recommend this method of plying. Oh, a quick self-ply is great for sampling, and Navajo plying has its uses in making novelty effects in yarns, but overall, I would highly recommend sticking to plying from bobbins on a Kate.
And why is that? Well, let's look at our centre-pull ball.

As you can see, the inner part (magenta) has been wound more tightly and is more easily controlled as it is pulled out of the ball. The outer end (white) is more loosely wound and tends to unwind in longer loops, resulting in those pigtail building up. It doesn't take very long before issues can develop if you don't keep on top of those guys!

What tends to happen when the outer layer unwraps faster than the inner layer is that the singles are not twisting evenly over each other, but the outer layer tends to wrap around the inner at an angle, making your ply uneven.

Next, a ball-winder or an Andean plying bracelet both create a weavers' cross in order to reduce the tangling as each layer passes over the last one. This is great, as it keeps the unwinding neat and orderly, but...the twist that is created in uncrossing the fibres builds up behind your plying control hand and starts twisting your singles across each other before they are properly plied. The result, again, is an uneven ply. As well, you have to stop more frequently to uncross the singles, breaking the rhythm of your plying, which will not help that unevenness issue, either.

So, fine. Being expert spinners, we learn to compensate for those little drawbacks by adjusting our plying technique. We hold our ball of singles under tension, we control the entry of the twist carefully, we work out the pigtails before we allow twist into the ply. No problem!


Yep, yarn barf.
The biggest problem with using self-plying methods for a large amount of singles, or for very fine or very fuzzy yarns, is that the singles will, at some point, invariably snag on themselves and drag out a mess of twist. Now what.
This is where we begin the elaborate yoga-like posing that has to happen as we extend the excess singles to even out the tension with the rest of the ball. Sometime we have to use our mouths, or innocent bystanders, to pull that bit of madness back straight. Somehow, our quick little self-ply has turned into a 4-hour epic with a cast of thousands! (Ask me how I know this--I dare ya!)
Now, in the end, we do have a reasonable yarn. But we could have a better yarn. The sample I made, using all of the problems that I could possibly build into a self-plying exercise, still looks pretty nice overall. However...

...we see piggy tails sticking out...

...uneven tension and twist...

...and underplying. (And apparently, out of focus. No doubt, also related to plying from the centre-pull ball!) Even after finishing, my plies want to separate from each other and, in fact, the yarn looks even worse.
Am I being finicky? Yes. But someone has to be, so that we can get past the bad information and stop making mistakes that make spinning harder than it has to be.
So consider this my pennance for my error, and please accept my apologies. I do promise to think before I speak next time.
Until I call you by your mother-in-law's name again....

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Six Short Stories About August

Whoa! What just happened?
The last thing I remember, it was July 30. I sat down to finish and polish up my handouts for a couple of workshops. Then there is this blur. And now it's September!
So what did happen to August? Let's look...
1.) As I mentioned, I sat down to finish a few handouts for my workshops in Gibsons. This, somehow led to me deciding that I needed to make illustrations, which led to buying a new scanner, which led to having to learn a new Adobe Photoshop program, which led to no time to eat, sleep, or pack.

I still have work to do honing my computer skills, but I now believe I understand why so many techno types are so pale and skinny. I takes forever to create even the simplest illustrations with this modern convenience we call the computer. You do not see the light of day, and the only food you have time to prepare is Pizza Pops. Give me a pencil and paper any day!

2.) At some point, I decided enough was enough and packed a bag full of clothes and a couple of bins of fibre. I gathered up my family, including Brendan, and we set off for the West Coast.

Awwww, look at us! Four-fifths of the clan, on our way to join the fifth one in Vancouver. What could possibly go wrong?


Yep. Car died, just a few kilometers past Mount Robson. We had to be towed into Valemount to get it fixed, but the CAA guy neglected to mention to the tow truck driver that there were 4 of us to transport. Steve and Julia went off with Doug, our friendly tow-truck dude, and Brendan and I waited for the local taxi. When we hopped in, we were informed that we would be sharing with "some rock band" that was coming back from whitewater rafting. Okay.

I rode shotgun with the driver and learned a lot life in Valemount. Brendan got tucked in the back with her young sons and learned a lot about T. Rex (the dinosaur, not the band) The band got in and pretty much chatted amongst themselves and, occasionally with me and the driver. Turns out that The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus are pretty decent travelling companions. (I'm sure that will do wonders for their reputation!)

Sooo, we spent a day in Valemount, B.C. waiting for a part to come from Kamloops. There is a salmon spawning viewpoint in Valemount, and we spent a lot of time pondering the life cycle of the Coho salmon and watching them struggle to reproduce. Lots of little fishy fights!

Saturday morning, we were ready to go, but not before photographing the culprit in this little detour. Cracked manifold. Seriously, Ford, who puts a plastic manifold into the largest vehicle they manufacture?

3.) We made it to the Coast with out further incident. All was well. We went to White Rock on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. All was wonderful!

Look at the fun we were having!

Then I dropped my cell phone in the ocean.

There are no photos of me sitting on the beach, crying. Or of the mad dash up to the mall to buy a new phone. Or of the lovely and helpful young woman who helped me get a great deal on the new phone.

But there are pictures of me and all my babies together.

Once I recovered my equilibrium, it was a wonderful day...

...ending in a spectacular sunset. All was good again.

4.) Many adventures ensued in Vancouver. We went to the Vancouver Aquarium.

There were jellyfish.

We explored Stanley Park.

We played on Jericho Beach.

We ate wonderful meals and just plain enjoyed one another's company. I have amazing children (two of whom are now, technically, amazing adults) and I love spending time with them, both individually and as a group. Sadly, we are getting rather spread out, so this time together was extra-special for me. Well worth the car repairs and the cell phone!

5.) Off to Gibson's Landing Fibre Arts Festival! This was my second year teaching there, and I absolutely love this festival. The organizers, the students, the vendors and the community all combine to make the festival...simply amazing.

I taught two workshops, String Theory and Short and Sweet. I had two wonderful, smart and inquisitive groups of students who kept me on my toes, and, I must confess, I did a wee bit of shopping. (More on that in another post.)

Steve and Julia went kayaking and explored the Gibsons area and took me out for some more fabulous meals.

I eated a crab.

All was good. (Well, for me. Things didn't work out so well for the crab.)

6.) We came home.

Fort McMurray holds an annual event called The Country Fair. Though this arts and crafts exhibition and competition has struggled to go on after the demise of the Blueberry Festival, which used to host it, The Country Fair has persevered.

So, almost on impulse, I thought I should put some items in, if for no other reason than to raise the profile of handspinning hereabouts. On Friday evening, I dropped off my Fire and Water shawls, a crocheted top of handspun tussah silk, and 3 skeins of novelty yarn.

I popped in to see the show on Saturday afternoon. All I can say is "Wow". There is a wealth of hidden talent lurking out there in a community that has a very low-profile arts and crafts community. Knitting, crochet, painting, quilting, photography, pottery, sewing, and Lego artists abound.

There was no judging, but rather, winners were chosen by popular vote by the public.

The people spoke. And I won 5 ribbons! The crocheted top took first in Crochet-Garments, Fire took 3rd in Knitted-Garments, one of my skeins took 3rd in "Miscellaneous" (in competition with turned wood bowls and scrapbooking!), and Water took 1st in Knitted-Garments as well as Best of Division (Knitting). Whoo-hoo!

I'm not really in this for the prizes. I spin for my own pleasure and I'm thrilled when others acknowledge my skill, but I'm not terribly competitive. However, I am inordinately proud of the fact that the general public liked my work enough to vote for it. Especially my skein of yarn.

At first glance, a 3rd-place ribbon doesn't seem like much of an accomplishment for a Master Spinner, but in context, it is astonishing. There was no category for handspinning, and the organizers had no idea where to put my skeins. So, miscellaneous it was. A catch-all category that included wood-turning, beading, and scrapbooking. Amongst this wild array of very different craft techniques, my skein was acknowledged. Thank you, Fort McMurray!

So, now I'm home and it's September. There is much to be done, preserving fresh veggies from the local market garden and my own wee patch, clearing up the paperwork from the last couple of months, much spinning.

Last night a flock of geese flew overhead, headed south. I was serenaded to sleep by the coyotes on Birchwood Trail. The stars are bright and clear and the leaves are turning.

Time to settle in for the fall.