Sunday, August 29, 2010

Mother Nature's Lessons

Mother Nature is a cruel teacher, I have decided today. I have been knitting my sweater now for about two weeks and it is coming along nicely.

If you like a giant brillo pad to wear. Oh, and I can't get this post not to centre as I type. Darn it.

The darn thing is very itchy. I probably should have made a bathmat out of it but since I have spent a good 50 hours or so of my life spinning it, that is not going to happen.

I must be some kind of masochist to sit and knit an itchy sweater in August but I will finish this.

Damn it.

I have decided that I am going to give this sweater to my darling husband as he has much thicker and less sensitive skin that I do and will wear it. I probably would not.

To be continued...

Sunday, July 11, 2010

lisa lloyd, texture maven

A Fine Fleece is quite a book. I want to make the sweater from my fleece from one of the designs in it but I am not sure which one yet. Tons of beautiful aran patterns that are not for the faint of heart with all kinds of cables, stitch patterns and interesting shaped garments. Can you say "saddle sleeve"?

I have to say it is what we fiber obsessed folks call "Yarn Porn". Lovely pictures of his and her models, textured cardigans, pullovers, socks, buttoned vests, scarves and a cap. A simple, homey yet seductive picture of a drop spindle with some perfectly spun lace weight on it.

I am in awe of Lisa Lloyd, the author of this book. Apparently each of the patterns has not only been knit by her in hand spun and commercial yarns, but she also spun all the yarn as well. You can learn quite a lot about the properties of the different sheep fleeces from the book.

Others have written detailed reviews of the book and I won't do that here, but one of the things that made me want to knit my fleece up from this book was the fact that everyone seems to talk about how the patterns are "sized large" and that is a good thing for zaftig gals like me.

Lisa Lloyd is a knitting superwoman, for sure. I think of myself, taking a year to spin to the wool for one of her sweaters and cannot understand how she could spin enough wool for the following:

7 ladies' cardigans

6 unisex pullovers

3 ladies' pullovers

2 ladies' cardigans/jackets

2 ladies' buttoned vests

3 lace scarves

2 textured scarves

3 socks

1 cap

I am going to write her and ask her, I think. A total of 29 garments. If she did nothing else but knit and spin, then maybe this would be a five year project. Maybe like some great artists, she has spinning assistants. Does she use test knitters?  I sure hope so.

The reason that I wonder is that it took me a year to make her Town and Country cardigan and I am still not finished it, as apparent in the above picture of it being blocked. I have to go to buy some buttons and put the thing together. Not sure about doing mattress stitch on seed stitch so I will have to ask a knitting store owner such as the lovely Meko at the Purple Purl in Toronto. I told her I was knitting an aran cardigan and she said to bring it in so I could pick out some buttons. Nothing screams knitter like aran cardigan.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

twenty two inches

Finally done the spinning. The first chapter of this journey has taken me just over a year. How did those pioneer ladies do it and make sweaters for their whole family? I guess other family members helped them but no one I know in my family seems to like spinning very much and think that it is crazy to do this kind of thing. I suppose I have the satisfaction of knowing that I did this all myself. Of course, the slowness of the endeavour was due, in part, to several other projects that called to me but I now have a large amount of grey itchy wool that shall be made into a sweater, god damn it. Five pounds of it.

So, one thing did happen that seemed to be a little bit of serendipity. It struck me as rather interesting, maybe even some kind of sign. When I had finished plying my wool, I only had 22 inches left over of wool between the two plyed bobbins and that has never happened to me before, that I had calculated so closely and had such a small amount left. I guess I was channelling the pioneer women as I watched the Young and Restless while I plyed.

My little cairn terrier Penny likes it too. She and my sheep tape measure are posing below with the twenty two inches of wool just to the left of the tape measure to show their approval. Now I just have to figure out which pattern I am going to knit. I knit up a practice square of the basket weave pattern and it looks pretty good.

I have posed the wool and the sample with my latest botanical obession, hens and chicks, aka houseleeks or sempervivum. Such a cheerful and low maintenance plant.  Don't they look nice planted in some old  army boots from the Salvation Army? At $2 for the boots, that was a good deal.

Monday, May 10, 2010

the people you meet

Back to reality from my lovely odyssey to Peru. I made some new fiber friends from different parts of the globe and they are all into knitting and weaving. Kindred spirits all.

One in particular -- Marilyn -- from the south of England, is an inspiring woman who embraces everything that the world has to offer. Her life is like a skein of handspun wool with all kinds of texture, color and variation. She made me feel lucky to have met her.

Marilyn is an alpaca farmer who also raises chickens. She explained to me all about the wonders of getting fresh eggs every morning, chickens who will hen peck a rooster to within an inch of its life, and how a fox will come back to the hen house once they get a taste for the chickens. I think if we ever can get our by-laws sorted out here in Canada, and can have chickens in our own backyards, I would love to try this kind of thing. Just a couple of chickens running through the backyard would be fun to add to my little menagerie of two cairn terries and a tabby cat. I can see my husband wondering about the wisdom of two feisty terriers and chickens as I write this.

Then there is the fact that Marilyn has a heart bigger than the Colca Canyon - the canyon in Peru that is bigger and deeper than the Grand Canyon. She has taken in three adults with Down's syndrome whose parents have died. What can I say about that? Those people are very lucky people to have someone like Marilyn on their side.

The last thing I want you to know about Marilyn is something she did for me. She bought her hand made sweater that she spun from her own sheep to show me in Peru. She hoped to inspire me in my own project fleece to finish the darn sweater that has been dragging on for a whole year. My energy for the whole endeavor -- endless spinning that is not finished yet -- has been given a shot in the arm by seeing her sweater. A soft yet sturdy creation of creamy southdown wool with intarsia flowers and a beautiful sawtooth edging finish on the bottom and at the ends of the sleeves. AND, she also gave me a pair of alpaca slippers that she spun from her own herd to wear when my feet were cold at night.

Marilyn, thank you for the heartwarming gifts of your slippers and your friendship.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

ropa bordada

The Colca Canyon. At 3,800 meters above sea level, the place leaves you gasping for breath. Drinking lots of coca tea helps, as does chewing coca leaves with a piece of volcanic stone to soften the leaves. The whole endeavor leaves your mouth numb and gives you a bit of a buzz. I am here now and continuing on my fiber adventure in Peru.

I have bought some amazing hats from the ladies in the markets/mercados we passed along the way. And there are the little children who, for one sole, which is about 30 cents will let you take their picture. I saw a baby alpaca about 2 months old taking it easy on a table of tapestries that the woman was selling. I really do feel like I am part of a National Geographic special, it is all so different from what I am used to back home. What a turista I am!

This is the place where some of the world’s finest fibre comes from -- alpaca, llama and vicuna. There seems to be a debate about which is a finer fibre, vicuna or cashmere. All I know is the adorable animals, with their giraffe like necks, long spindly legs and their huge brown eyes, are very strange to look at and part of an endangered species. One vicuna scarf costs $500, so it is out of my price range. Then there are the three alpacas who are cutting the lawn at the guest house where we are staying. Much prettier than our regular lawn mower from Canadian Tire! I want them to come home with me.

I have seen so many beautiful fabics, all machine embroidered in motifs called ropa bordada. Most women wear these traditonal outfits to show that they are part of a group and have been doing so for the past 500 years or so. These outfits form their identity. They started using sewing machines to embroider the fabric the last 50 years or so. Who can say no to the modern convenience?

The full skirts of this outfit look cumbersome to me but apparently the skirt can be quite functional to their daily lives and looped up around the waistband, it can serve as a large pocket, that is handy to carry lunch to your husband in the field, taking groceries from market or sowing quinoa seeds.

These outfits cost a lot to produce and they also seem to be a form of status, much like designer jeans would be to me. There seem to be a lot of turistas buying the hats, passport, cell phone and digital camera holders with the ropa bordata on them so I suppose that is a good source of income for the folks from the Colca Canyon. It is all very interesting, this blending of traditions and cultures. I think the Peruvians have a lot of ingenuity -- selling us rich North Americans stuff for our technology toys!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

a peruvian knitting lesson

Today was an amazing day. I am in Arequipa, Peru, celebrating my 20th wedding anniversary on a fibre tour. The company who arranged the tour is called Puchka Peru and we are here for three weeks. The highlight of the tour for me is the knitting lessons and I have signed up for 8 days. Above is a picture of my teacher Rufina, and while she does not speak very much English and my Spanish is truly marginal, I still am thrilled with the results that I am creating.

In Peru, they knit backwards from what we do and they knit on the purl side while looking at their work. They put the yarn around their neck to help them maintain an even tension, which tends to make one feel like they are being strangled -- at least that is how I felt. They also use bicycle spoke knitting kneedles with ends that have been filed down to resemble a crochet hook.

Then there is the cast on. I never did really figure it out. It was a complicated affair using two colors, two hands and one needle. I was all thumbs and very frustrated. I was trying to over- think it but I was fortunate that Rufina's assistant Gloria, took pity on me, and did help me quite a bit with it and once I got past the cast on, what we were doing made more sense.

I ended up producing about two inches of my bolsita or purse after 7 hours of work with lots of ripping out and getting my mistakes fixed by Rufina who has endless patience and good humour. We seem to be getting by with the words, "OK, "NO" and "Excellento". Above is also a picture of my doggie motif that I am making from a book on traditional Andean patterns.

I was thinking how beautiful and unusual Rufina's clothing was when a fellow workshop participant said that it was for show and they probably wear jeans like the rest of us folks when not doing teaching. So, they don't look like they are part of a National Geographic TV Special, I guess. This was further re-inforced when I saw Rufina sending a text message after the workshop. I don't know why this was suprising to me, but it was.

I hope I can finish my purse before I leave this yarn lover's paradise.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

lemonade in lima

Above is a picture of the best lemonade I have ever had and I had it today in Lima, Peru. The taste is very different than what we are used to in Canada as the lemons grow from right around here. It is also made with fresh lemon peel and brown sugar. Rick and I each had our own pitcher and at $3 soles it only cost about a dollar a serving. YUM.

Lima is so very different than any city I have ever been in. A real contrast of rich and poor neighborhoods with 9 million people living here. I got a glimpse of the shantytowns of Callao that look like transport trailer trucks piled on top of each other that people live in --no windows, no electricity and running water -- when we were driving from the airport last night at 3 am. This is where the poor people live. You don't want to go there, ever, according to the guidebooks. It's funny, even with all of the poverty, there are tons of billboards and American fastfood restaurants everywhere. I have seen more KFC outlets here than in all of Ontario. Oh and there's Pizza Pizza, TGI Fridays and Starbucks too.

I am fortunate to be staying in the very nice area of Miraflores at the Hostal El Patio. Lovely, charming place with rooms off of a central courtyard with a fountain. The walls are festooned with all kinds of plants -- azealeas, bouganvillea, wisteria -- and so many more, but I don't know their names.

We also went to a very posh shopping district carved out the the cliffs on the Pacific Ocean called Larcomar. It was a controversial place when it was built as it took over a park. It is also full of very expensive shops with things that most Peruvians can never buy.
Let the fiber adventure begin!!!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

i have measured out my life on easter weekend

I have been thinking a lot about the passage of time lately and how I am using it while I am not at work. One of my favorite quotes about time is from T.S. Eliot's famous poem, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock". When he says, 'I have measured out my life in coffee spoons", I think he must be talking about the boring details of our lives that become routine after we do them every day. Like what I do every morning -- making coffee, letting the dogs out, letting the dogs in after they start barking at nothing and wake up the neighbors, giving the doggies their breakfast, checking my emails -- same old, same old.

I am starting to feel like this is a good mantra to use for my spinning of the sweater project. Lately, I have measured out my life in rolags spun. I have been doing so much spinning that my wrist hurts and there is still a large basket of them to do. On the positive side, I now have two large skeins of wool to use for my sweater and I have four other bobbins that will become skeins soon as they are plyed together. A tube of Ben Gay ointment has now become one of my best friends.

I wish I could say I like the stuff I am spinning. BUT, there is a big problem. The. Itchiness. Factor.

This unfortunate fact was confirmed when I proudly showed these two finished skeins to my daughter, and she said, "Wow, Mom, you sure have spun a lot of dog hair up! Talk about being crushed. The 40 or so hours of work this represents and she says it looks like dog hair. So, how will I make a sweater to wear out of this? What was I thinking?

Only 9 days until I leave for Peru. I don't think I will finish this sweater before then. At one point last year, when I started this whole endeavour, I had thought I would take the sweater that I made and show it to the folks on my fibre trip to Peru and hear their oohs and ahhs. The best laid plans....

Sunday, March 14, 2010

some progress and sadness

Well, I am finally making some progress on the fleece and will be starting to spin in earnest soon. This progress comes in the form of rolags. A rolag is a roll of fibre made using hand cards that you can spin into wool. It looks a bit like a french roll in someones hair, truth be told. What a ton of work this was -- I estimate it has taken about 10 hours of time to get them all done. The good old drum carder I was using that I wrote about in an earlier post decided she needed to take a break from work. I guess she didn't like being called a battle axe. So, I used my nice hand cards given to me by my friend Nancy and they did the job. It seems somehow appropriate, I guess, with the endless grey days we have been having, to be dealing with endless grey rolags.

With the lack of sun, and endless grey rolags, I felt like trying to make something spring like. So, I made a wire bowl out of rebar wire and used some of my handspun mulberry yarn to hold it together. Then I took some little leaves from some teabags I got for Christmas to ebellish it. It made me feel like spring...

I showed it to the ladies at my spinning guild as I decided to donate it for a door prize for the upcoming seminar they have scheduled in October. They seemed to like it and want me to teach them how to do it. I don't think they were being kind either. So, now I will have to think about making more of these.
Today I would like to mourn the one week anniversary of the suicide of Mark Linkous, also known as Sparklehorse. His recording, "It's a Wonderful Life", is one of the prettiest and most haunting things I have ever heard. What a loss.
On a brighter note, I will be taking my trip to Peru in 29 days.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

smudge the sequel

I wrote in an earlier post about my cat hair spinning adventure... and, the cat hat story is evolving. My friend Dawna is crocheting a hat for her boyfriend Dave but she has run out of wool. The darn handspun does not act the same as commmercial yarn and it seems to have a mind of its own. I am in the process of spinning more now and I hope to have it done so Dave can wear it this winter. Even though there has not been much of a winter this year. Here is Dawna modeling the hat and a closeup of the hat. It is very thick and feels so soft! It looks like it will be super warm and cosy. Pet hair is a lot warmer than wool.

My two little doggies, Penny and Stewie, love to smell the newly acquired fibre when it still has animal smells on it and above is a picture of them greeting the cat hair. I am afraid that Stewie is a bit camera shy and when he realizes that you are taking his picture, he starts to get very weird and tries to run away but I got a picture of him before he took off this time.

Notice I have not mentioned the fleece. I have taken another break and have lost a bit of momentum this week. I hope to return to it soon. Other projects seem to be beckoning. Like making a quilt from my father's old shirts and a bowl out of my handspun paper yarn....oh the crazy crafting life. Another deal will have to be made. Now that I have finished watching the reruns of Six Feet Under, I have decided that I can only watch the Young and Restless if I spin my fleece. Another pathetic crafting moment.

Monday, January 25, 2010

a rose is a rose!

I have added another child to the family, so to speak. Her name is Rose and she is a lovely girl. She is bigger than my first one, so I guess you could say a big sister to my first wheel. She was a birthday present from me to me, crazy huh! I am hoping she will be able to help me spin my fleece better and so far I am enjoying spinning on her. I am finding her a tiny bit easier to work on than the Little Gem, the smaller Wheel that I have, in terms of treadling her foot pedals. I had been looking at a few places to buy her and found the Little Red Mitten in St. Thomas. They had a very good price and Matt, the husband of Joan, who also owns the store bought it to me as he was attending a hocky game in Toronto.

It was a bit on the funny side, I think, as we decided to meet at Yorkdale Mall, one of the swankiest malls in all of Toronto. Here Matt and I were, sitting on the polished marble and oak benches, fashionable shoppers walking by with their purchases, while he explained the mechanics of my new wheel to me. I noticed a few people looking at us and I wondered what they thought of it all. I wonder if they even knew that we were talking about a spinning wheel. An old fashioned spinning wheel, abeit the latest in spinning technology from Majacraft, in such a place devoted to high fashion and consumerism. I think we spinners should set up in shpping malls and talk to people about spinning sweaters by hand and see what they think of it...

I almost have a bobbin full of my fleece and have knitted up a sample and it looks pretty good. I am a bit fearful of the scrachiness factor but am proceeding and am going to show it to some ladies at my spinning guild tonight to see what they think of it.

I also spun some angora rabbit fur with sari fabric on the wheel and have decided to ply it on the other wheel so she doesn't feel left out. I decided to put it in the muffin tin for artistic effect! I reminds me of a Monet painting somehow....

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

the carding camino

Happy New Year!

From January to June 2010 is my SLF. My self funded leave. I decided to take some time off from work and have been looking forward to it for over two years, but now I am not sure why and there is a feeling of anticlimax in the air. It is not really retirement, not really a holiday. My life is still the same -- still the same old errands to run, the same dog food to buy, the same driver's license to renew, watching the same dear hubby play solitare, the same old same old. The same grey January.What a whiner I am.

I wanted time and now I have it. But my fleece looms large. But instead of starting it on Monday like I thought I would, I organized my kitchen utensil drawer.

Something else did happen on Monday. I spent the aftenoon with my good friend and excellent writer Mooncattie and he gave me a gentle lecture and some inspiration. He told me that this time off was to be looked at as my personal Camino -- a journey at the start that you don't know where it will take you. There are all kinds of books about women discovering themselves on the on the six week walk of the Camino from Shirley Maclaine's crazy book where she gets pregnant with an alien baby to the recent bitchy henfest account about a bunch of women from Hamilton. Then there is also the one about the MBA who gets downsized and leaves rocks on the path. Many of the women seem to find true love (or alien babies) in the process. But I don't need to find love as I have my lovely hubby. And I don't need to find an alien baby. At one point, I was thinking of doing the walk, but the more I read about it, the more cliched it became. So how do carding and the Camino fit in to teach us about ourselves and lead us to self discovery? I don't have the answer to that one. YET.

So now my fleece seems like an insurmountable journey, like the Camino. It has been sitting in the basement, three bags full, for over six months. Getting compacted and less spinnable by the month - I am not honoring the fleece and not honoring nature in the process. Yesterday, I made a pact with myself. You can only watch your Six Feet Under reruns while carding. How pathetic. And how symbolic of our society is this -- rewarding yourself by watching tv and using the clever diversion of the stories of hollywood to take your mind off of your life.

I can see why machines have taken over from us as labour saving devices. Hand cranking the old gal of a carder pictured above for two hours is a lot of work. I looked at my book on carding and I see that I am overloading the machine it in my hurry to be done. This is not a process that can be rushed. It is time to slow down and not take things so fast -- I see this is symbolic of my life as I, like most folks I know, am always rushing about to finish things in a frantic mode and usually spraining my ankle in the process. Time to slow down and smell the flowers. Or, in this case, pick the vegetation out of the fleece and think of the fleece from a sheep named Aysia in Orillia I hope to become a sweater.

Anyway, I caught up on my show yesterday and I did some carding and ended up with almost 20 rolags to spin. Now I see how this will go. Card and spin. Card and spin. More to come as soon as my wrist recovers from the winding of the carding machine.