Saturday, September 23, 2006


Mambocat apologizes -- she originally wrote this on the 21st, intending to post it today, and accidentally rescheduled the Equinox by posting it the moment she finished writing it. Here is the post on its proper day. My sincere apologies to gardeners, grape harvesters and Druids worldwide.


Technically, it's autumn. I looked into it:

  • The date is September 23rd.
  • Baton Rouge in the Northern Hemisphere.
  • The university students have recovered from their back-to-school hangovers and are actually attending classes
  • Small farmers in the surrounding area have cut and rolled their hay
  • From any point within 20 miles of Baton Rouge, you can find due west on Saturday nights by looking for the lights over Tiger Stadium.
  • There are Naked Ladies in our front yard (see previous post)
  • I saw a flight of ducks this morning
  • The shelves at the stores are throbbing with a strange brew of witch costumes, pumpkins, bagged candy, and Christmas merchandise... and, most importantly ...
  • The sun came up in the correct position this morning at Stonehenge

By all indicators, it should be Fall out there.

Perhaps it is autumn where you are reading this: you look up from your computer to see the first vibrant colors in the trees outside your window. You feel a bit of chill at night, and wonder if it's worth firing up the furnace, or perhaps the woodstove. Leaves are falling, and the trees are beginning to change color. You step outside in the morning, and are refreshed and invigorated by the cool, crisp air.

Here in Louisiana, the arrival of autumn is a lot more subtle. It is subtle in exactly the same way that the last ten minutes of a Friday the 13th movie are subtle: we keep thinking summer is gone, but it just won't die. Just when you think you've had the last really hot day, here comes another one.

In Louisiana, summer hangs on with the tenacity of a Hollywood bad guy clinging by his fingertips to the roof of a tall building. It slips a little, regains its grip, slips again, scrambles desperately for a hold, raises its head one last time, and finally slides off, screaming at the top of its lungs all the way down.

We do get some clues that Fall is in the neighborhood somewhere, circling the block and looking for a parking place. The cicadas, having practiced since early August, start chorusing in earnest, and migratory birds from colder climes stop at our feeders. The autumn-blooming green things flower, and, here and there, brown leaves drift to the ground. The humidity drops a bit, the air starts to get restless, and at night, temperatures dip into the 60s.

Some people call this "Indian Summer." Maybe, where you live, Indian Summer evokes visions of the Land-O-Lakes girl, smiling sweetly as she hands you a basket of corn, with the sunset behind her illuminating a golden field.

Not here, dudes. I call this time of year "Apache-On-The-Warpath-Summer." It is tenacious, and it just will not stand down.

We eagerly await the first cool front, the first morning when the air is crisp and moving with a purpose. This will happen sometime in October, Louisiana's most glorious month.

This is the time of year when I feel most like spinning. I find it hard to work up a head of fiber-steam in the peak of the summer, but not because the wool is too warm to touch -- I do spin indoors where the air conditioning is.

The problem is simply that dyeing it makes for one hot spinner (and I do not mean "hot" in the flattering way) and when you're done, it just takes too dang long for skeins of wool to air-dry when the humidity is above 80%. Yes, I know, I could spin now and set or dye the yarn later, but ... as good as I am at having lots and lots of knitting UFOs laying around, I really need to finish a batch of spinning once I start it.

Then I can cast on the waistband for a sweater with it, and shove it in a closet, and it can be a UFO.

Why? If I start a knitted garment, it will be finished, sooner or later. But if I spin a skein of yarn and do not set and/or dye it immediately, it will never happen. It's a momentum thing.

Spinning is also different than knitting in that it is not something you can pick up and put down gracefully when a client arrives for an appointment, or the dryer beeps, or a cat vomits.

By "gracefully," I mean "without screwing something up," not "with a smooth, fluid and ballerina-like gesture."

I can stop knitting and then resume my momentum, but not so with spinning. I get into a zone that is sometimes difficult to recreate, not unlike what happens to a writer when a Perfect Paragraph is on its way out of her head and onto the keyboard, and the phone rings exactly at that moment, and it's a carpet-cleaning telemarketer, and the writer politely explains that she has wood flloors, thank you very much ... and the Perfect Paragraph is lost forever.

So, when I'm spinning, I have to finish a segment of it at a time: a bobbinful? Good, now off it comes, and onto the niddy-noddy. Back to the wheel, fill another bobbin, and repeat until entire fleece is spun or enough yarn is completed for project. Now it must be plied, if desired, and then dyed or wet-set immediately, and then, when completely dry, it's onto the swift, and wound on the ball-winder, and then set aside until needed.

And part of this whole compulsion to see a spinning project through to the end is the fact that you have a wheel and a Lazy Kate and a bag of fleece on the dining room floor ... and a bunch of bobbins, and a swift, and a ball winder, and a pile of skeins, all occupying the dining room table ... and that's just for keeping the stuff under control, before you even think about washing or dyeing ... and you really, really need to get all that crap off the dining room table so it can go back to its normal use as a mail landfill.

Strangely, I can see all you spinners out there nodding in agreement. Yes ... must ... finish ... making ... yarn. Must ... finish....

It's really a shame that the humidity here is such a problem, because otherwise, spinning would be the perfect thing to do on those evenings when it's so muggy and your body is so full of retained heat from the day that you can't stand knitting a lapful of wool sweater, even if you are sitting directly under an air conditioning vent. With spinning, you are dealing with only a handful of wool at a time, and I don't find that uncomfortable.

It's the finishing, not the actual spinning, that's ill-suited for the summer. At least for me.

But it's Not Hot today.


This is the time of year when I think about what to do with the Jacob's fleece that's waiting for my attention, and what plants I should experiment with for dyeing, and whether or not I will be able to find any usable feral indigo plants along Bayou Duplantier.

Before the Civil War, many of the plantations in our part of Louisiana grew indigo plants for the dye trade. The variety of indigo used for dyeing likes our climate very much, what with it being not so terribly different (at least in the summer) from its native India. Just like other introduced species, dye indigo escaped the plantations, and grows wild in some places. The fact that we do have some semblance of winter keeps it from taking over. If the summer weather has been nice to the indigo, and has rained on it enough, you can find little clumps of it scattered through the woods and creeksides throughout our area. But it's often hard to find enough indigo to dye more than about a pound of wool. You need an insane amount of the stuff, like three garbage bags full, to make enough dye for a sweater.

There is also a "weed" variety of indigo which is native to the US, but the dye quality is nowhere near as good.

So. What does Mambocat plan to do with the First Day of (at least technically) Autumn?

Mambocat has to look for an affordable office space, pay bills, and work on an article for an animal-sheltering publication.

But this evening, I plan to clean and lubricate my spinning wheel, which has languished in a corner all summer. I'll warm it up for the fall and winter with the last of some periwinkle-blue ready-dyed roving I have, and then it's on to four ounces of mohair I dyed in shades of cinnamon, rust and maize.

Sounds better than "muddy red, muddy brown and muddy yellow," anyway.

On to knitting. The second sleeve for the fisherman's sweater is underway, while I decide what to do about the first one. For the curious, I promise to point out the surplus rows soon.

I am looking wistfully at our woodpile. It will be cold enough for a fire when I can see my breath.

Not quite yet.



At 9:50 PM, Blogger Xeres said...

I hear ya.

Here in Sunny Sydney, it is barely even Spring yet. My kids have already been sea-bathing twice (the first time was 25th August, when it was still officially *Winter*!). On Sunday, 24th September, it was 33.6C (97F), with an horrendous wind blowing. We had our first bushfires for the season, lost 7 houses and one life.

What is Summer going to be like? we are asking ourselves. :|

Today, back to 19C (68F) - back to jeans and long sleeves and even a pashmina. Lovely. I'm even thinking longingly of the woodpile. Maybe we'll get to use up a little more of it tonight, before it gets stinkin hot again.

Enquiring minds want to know what you do with ALL those sweaters you knit!

I didn't get to respond to your Steve Irwin Memorial Cable Sweater post - bless him. Awfully sad that he went so young, awful for his family ... but what better way to go, if you have to, than instantly, while doing what you love?


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