Tuesday, May 29, 2007

You and me, Cassidy

This is Cassidy. She is a venerable, upright Thumbelina wheel. I bought her second-hand from Hazel Davis, the master spinner and weaver who helped me learn how to spin about 15 years ago. Hazel had purchased it new, in the late 1960s or early 1970s.

I had my first brush with spinning way back when I was in college. To earn extra money, I knitted chainmail for stage props, and historical items for friends in the Society for Creative Anachronism. Although I wasn't a full-blown SCA member, I found myself out on the skirts and the fins of a lot of SCA events, and at one of these events I saw a woman spinning yarn with a little wooden spindle. I asked her if she would teach me, and thanks to her kindness and patience during the short time we had for a spinning lesson before the jousting began, I learned a few things:

1. I learned that it was called a "drop spindle."

2. I learned why.

For some unknown reason -- although beer may have been a contributing factor -- the kindling simply didn't ignite that day in the late '70s, and I went back to my dorm thinking, "that was interesting, and maybe I'll ask her again one day when she has more time."

I continued to knit, largely with Red Heart Superwash from Woolworth, which I could afford with my part-time waitress budget, and an occasional splurge at Schoolhouse Press through the mail when I had birthday or Christmas money.

Fast forward to the early '90s. I was married, working, and an official grown-up. Still knitting furiously, but spinning only crossed my mind when I bought a hank of lovely handspun at a crafts fair, and I would sigh deeply, wishing I knew how to do that.

One day, my dear friend Leef Bloomenstiel decided to buy a drop spindle and teach herself to spin. I learned to spin from her, and this time I learned that you could drop the spindle without breaking the yarn, and that the spindle would hang suspended in midair and continue to twirl, and it would make more yarn, and you would drop it again on purpose, and that was the real reason is was called a drop spindle.

And this time, the same thing happened to my fingers that happened the first time knitting needles were placed in my hands as a child.

I needed some guidance to manage the twirl-and-drop-the-spindle part. But my fingers figured out how to draft right away. Something in my genes (likely the Irish genes) told my fingers exactly what was the right amount of fuzz to deploy, how hard to pinch, when to let go, and when to pinch again. Just like when I learned to knit, I could almost hear my fingers saying, "Wait a minute! We remember how to do this!"

My first spinning efforts turned out reasonably un-lumpy, but grievously overspun. It took me about four ounces of wool to teach my right hand that the twirling-the-spindle part was not an Olympic event.

Once I figured that out, I could make decent and consistent singles.

Some time later, I bought a Navajo spindle while travelling on vacation, and learned to Navajo ply.

This was all fun, but it was slow. I had produced only enough yarn for a pair of mittens and a few hats. I started to yearn seriously for a wheel. On Saturday mornings, Leef and I would spin, knit, drink coffee and experiment with dyeing while her kids went about their kidly business.

Except that the excited shrieks of "LOOK IT'S TURNING BLUE!!!" weren't coming from the kids.

Then one evening, Leef phoned me and said, "Come over and see what I got in the mail!"

It was a spinning wheel.

I had a turn or seven at Leef's wheel, and this time I could make yarn fast. The same problem resurfaced: drafting, no problem. Treadling? Yes, it was a wheel, but if I carried on like I was in the Tour de France, I got singles that looked like stubby, kinky, eyelash yarn. With way too much mascara.

It wasn't long before I found my own wheel. By chance I saw an ad in the "miscellaneous" section of the newspaper classifieds: SPINNING WHEEL FOR SALE.

Hazel Davis had been spinning and weaving since God had baby teeth, and she'd spent countless weekends as a docent at Magnolia Mound Plantation, dressed in period costume, spinning and weaving for the touristy public. But her health was starting to fail, and she was selling off most of her wheels and looms.

By the time I found Hazel's ad, she'd sold off all of her surplus things, except for the Thumbelina wheel. I sat down in front of it, and fell flat-out in love.

"I bought that wheel for teaching, only because it was small and portable," Hazel said. "But it runs away from you, it rattles, and it's quirky. It has a mind of its own. If you can spin consistent yarn on that wheel, you can spin anything."

She sighed and added, "I'm not sure it's the best choice for a beginner."

So of course I bought it on the spot.

Because I am a Capricorn who has her Saturn (and also a few other major planets) in Capricorn, I really tried to study all the different ratios, and wanted to become an expert technical spinner, but in the long run, I turned out to be a "spin-by-feel" spinner. I count treadles: one, two, three, four. Then I draft a bit more and count again. I actually don't count -- it's more of a rhythmn, and I know which rhythmn yields firm plies for sock yarn and which rhythmn yields soft plies for sweater yarn. I could show you how I do it, but I couldn't write a technical article about drive ratios and all that. Hats off to those of you who can.

I experimented with novelty yarns and textures and found it ironic that the over-spinning I had to teach myself not to do, was necessary for certain effects, and it was very hard to make myself do it on purpose, and I did not like this at all. I decided that if I wanted novelty yarn I was going to buy it, that what I really wanted to spin was good, consistent, smooth yarn in sock, sport or worsted weight, as needed.

There are two things about spinning which I find extremely compelling: natural-color yarn right off the sheep with only a bath and carding ... and wild color variations. I would never insult a good natural yarn by dyeing it a boring color.

Natural undyed wool in worsted and sock weights.

I am endlessly enchanted by Jacob's sheep and other uncommon breeds who manifest multiple colors on the same sheep. So many options ... you can grab bits from the various colors at random, you can card colors together into a gradient, you can make one ply of dark brown and one ply of cream and then ply them together .... you can then ply the randomly-spun plies together, and get yarn that looks like fudge ripple ice cream.

I also like to make ragg yarns combining one strand of a natural black, grey or brown wool with one strand of boldly dyed wool, preferably in a color gradient: one natural grey ply and one ply with shades of teal; a brown ply together with a ply of golden yellows, a grey ply with a rainbow ply. I tend to consider this combination my "signature" yarn. It's rather yin-yang, actually: a balance of that which is calm and that which is vibrant; natural sheep color and colors imposed upon the wool. I like it.

Clockwise from top: Two-ply fudge-ripple randomness in natural Jacob's sheep ... natural grey wool with variegated green and turquiose ... natural grey wool with variegated navy, green and blue ... natural brown with Kool-aid red ... natural alpaca in tan and brown.

I am also easily amused. Other people need skydiving vacations in Bali, frequent relationship changes, fast cars, and surfing excursions at Tierra Del Fuego to keep their lives interesting.

I just need something that changes colors on me.

I neglected Cassidy for many, many months after Hurricane Katrina. Working in the animal rescue efforts meant running full tilt every waking moment, collapsing from exhaustion after midnight, and getting up again before dawn. From the day of landfall through Christmas of 2005, it was all I could do, most days, to get in a few rows of knitting right before bedtime. Many nights I fell asleep with needles in my hand, having knit one or two rounds on a sock.

Spinning at the wheel, on the other hand requires a chunk of time to actually sit and relax, and for a long time after Katrina I was utterly incapable of relaxation in any form. For the first few months, with the immediate business of sheltering rescued animals, it was almost impossible to knit at all. And once the immediate business was under control, I spent many more months commuting between Baton Rouge and New Orleans for shelter recovery efforts, so I was either working, sleeping, doing household chores or driving. Again, if I found myself with twenty minutes to knit before bed, I was ecstatic.

At about the same time as the animal sheltering situation came to an even keel, we were able to begin repairs on my mother's house in New Orleans, and, as anyone who's ever renovated a house knows, that is a full-time job in itself.

There was also a problem beyond the actual lack of time in which to relax: as the enormity of the jobs became somewhat more manageable, and my schedule began to approach something resembling normal, I realized that I had completely forgotten how to function in a non-frantic environment.

So, when things settled down a little bit in the spring of this year (2007) I had to learn to relax all over again.

What I actually had to do was give myself permission to relax again.

So I removed the old pillowcase I had draped over Cassidy, and cleaned her, and lovingly rubbed all of her wood surfaces down with lemon oil, and waxed and greased her various moving components, and started spending time with her again.

Lately, I have been spinning color-variegated roving. If it looks like Jackson Pollock threw up all over it, so much the better. I want color. I need color. There were only three colors after Katrina: dirty-concrete grey, dried-floodwater brown, and gunky, dark, dried-mildew green.

Oh, yes ... there was also FEMA-tarp blue.

So now I want color. Lots of it, and lots of variety.

I am also enjoying some samples of natural fleece, fresh from healthy, spoiled-rotten sheep belonging to friends. Nothing quite like the smell of a clean, fresh fleece from a healthy animal.

That's another post-Katrina yearning, wanting things to smell good.

So I have discovered that it's fun to lubricate my wheel with essential oils. I like a gentle fragrance to fill the room when I spin. I dab it onto the leather components and use it to lubricate moving parts. It soothes me.

Now I suspect that some engineer-type spinner from MIT is going to chime in and helpfully suggest that I should be using sewing machine oil or silicone spray or mineral oil, and it will have something to do with higher or lower viscosity being good or bad for the metal parts, or the wood parts, or something like that.

I don't care. This creaky old wheel and I have been friends for well over fifteen years now, and we both just like things to smell good.

I may be revealing myself as a helplessly hopeful hippie (just in case you haven't figured that out by now), but I like the scent of patchouli oil best for spinning. Sometimes I use sandalwood, clove or lavender oil, and occasionally bergamot or cardamon. Now and then, it's rosewood, ylang-ylang or lemongrass.

It depends on the mood I am in, and who the yarn is for, and the purpose for which the yarn is being spun. I'm more than a little bit of a granola-head in that department. But if I am spinning for my own pleasure, I oil the wheel with patchouli, and, yes, of course it makes our house smell like a head shop ... and I don't care. My wheel is named after a Grateful Dead song, for Pete's sake. It would almost be wrong not to oil it with patchouli:

"Flight of the sea birds,
scattered like lost words,
wheel to the storm and fly."

If I am spinning for somone else, I most often use lavender because it helps to disguise the wooly scent from marauding moths. I'm also aware that a whiff of fragrance always manages to get into the wool, and that the scent of lavender rarely causes allergic reaction and is pleasing to almost everyone.

Scent is a good medium to help me meditate, and to travel without leaving my spinning chair. Some scents remind me of places I've been to, and others help me travel farther back in time. A little patchouli, jasmine or sandalwood in the air, and all of a sudden I can remember how it felt to be that slim, black-haired girl in a batik skirt and huarache sandals, threading her way through life with a bicycle and a backpack. A girl whose biggest worries were finishing papers on time, earning enough money for tuition, rent, groceries and cat food ... and wondering if the "Curse of the Boyfriend Sweater" was really true.

"Close the gap of the dark years in between
you and me, Cassidy."

Hmmmmm ... I've got a few ounces of periwinkle wool roving, and a few ounces of wool from a real black sheep, patiently waiting for me over there in a basket.

I think I'm gonna go spin now.


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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

"Hello, Mr. Falwell,

and welcome to the afterlife!

We're from

the wardrobe department."

I'm really glad I'm not Jerry Falwell today.

Not only am I grateful in the sense that I am still here, and not dead, but I'm grateful that I'm not having to deal with a tough room at American Airlines Heavenly Gate B-14.

I suspect that there are a lot of angry dead people waiting to have a word with Jerry Falwell -- people who were arrogantly informed that their terminal illness was punishment from God, hurricane and earthquake victims, black people in general, maybe Steven Biko in particular, and especially people who died on 9-11.

And I have a feeling that Jesus is none too pleased, either.

I think there's going to be a conversation that starts off something like, "Jerry. Dude. This stuff you've been saying? It's not what I meant at all ..."

We all have different beliefs. That's one thing I do like about living in America -- we can all hold different religious beliefs. You can believe in Jesus, Yahweh, Buddha, Allah, any one of a zillion other deities, or nobody at all.

You can even believe that aliens are hiding behind a comet to take you to Heaven in their UFO, that purple cartoon dolls are gay, or that Robert Plant is mumbling "come to me my sweet Satan" if you play "Stairway to Heaven" backwards.

And I can believe in a loving and forgiving Creator instead of a punitive one ... and 300 million other people can each believe what they want, and we are all supposed to play nice together and share the crayons.

For that reason, no one religion, or coalition of like-minded faiths, should be able to impose their particular doctrinal prohibitions upon the rest of the nation.

The nun who taught American history at my Catholic high school had a firm grasp on the Constitution. She made it crystal-clear that separation of church and state is not a threat to people who pray. Its purpose is not to push religion aside, but to give it room to grow.

Me? I have never had a religious opinion or doctrinal belief so strong that I would choose to influence politicians to pass laws to impose my religious belief on people who do not share it.

Which is not to say I don't have other opinions I would like to see put into law, but those beliefs are logically derived, and have nothing to do with my spin on the Bible, or any other holy book, or some audacious idea of what I think God wants.

I especially believe that religious leaders in the public eye have no business abusing their positions of power and influence to create laws imposing their doctrine on other people who do not share those beliefs, or in matters that do not pertain to religious faith. For example, I won't tell the neighborhood Episcopalian pastor how to run his church, because I am neither a priest nor an Episcopalian. Likewise, I have no interest in Jerry Falwell's opinion on global warming, simply because he was a preacher and a religious politcal lobbyist -- not a scientist. And global warming is not a matter of Biblical interpretation.

To further my point, I'll try to avoid highly divisive issues, and talk about something a little lighter. In many American communities, one cannot purchase alcoholic beverages on Sunday, simply because the majority of elected officials in that community belong to religions which consider alcohol to be sinful. I now live in such a community, but I was raised Catholic, so I was taught that alcohol in moderation is acceptable for adults, that it adds a celebratory feeling to meals and social gatherings, and is quite all right if you refrain from being abusive or otherwise an ass, provided that you give the car keys to someone sober before you go home.

I was also raised in New Orleans, which thrives on tourism, and (get ready for a shock) the overwhelming majority of tourists do not come to New Orleans to attend the services of teetotaling religions. They come here to indulge in food, wine and entertainment. And in New Orleans, which is predominantly Catholic, you can eat, drink and be merry seven days a week while you visit.

And although a lot of booze is sold in the Big Easy, get ready for another shock -- despite what Jerry Falwell and Jim Bakker say? The majority of tourists spend most of their time, not marching in gay pride parades or hanging out in the strip clubs in the French Quarter... but in restaurants, at music clubs, at the Aquarium of the Americas, at the zoo, and viewing the architecture in one of America's oldest cities. And did I say eating? And buying yarn? And eating some more? And then a nice glass of wine to relax at the end of the day?

But in Baton Rouge, the community where I now live, if I am wine-less on a Sunday afternoon (as I often am), and a friend drops by for a surprise visit, I cannot run out and buy a bottle of wine to celebrate this visit, because other people have decided that their religious opposition to wine is more important than the rights of Jews, Catholics, agnostics and expatriated New Orleanians to spontaneously enjoy a glass of wine if they so choose.

Jerry Falwell would have no concern about my dilemma as a good host. He'd either tell me that I should have planned ahead and bought a bottle of wine on Saturday, or that I should keep wine handy in case someone stops by, or (more likely) that I should make lemonade instead. He might even advise me to go to a restaurant, the only place where you can buy wine here on Sunday, provided you have it with food and you drink it on the premises.

But suppose I don't want lemonade. Suppose I don't want to go to a restaurant. I definitely don't want to drink and then drive home. Suppose I want to celebrate my friend's visit with a nice bottle of pinot grigio, in the comfort of our own home? My right to a simple and basic social grace has been trod upon.

Of course, there are far more serious issues to contend with than buying merlot on Sunday, issues which grievously tread on the rights of people whose faith (or lack thereof) is in the minority of voters. However, unlike some social issues, a wine-less Sunday is an absurdity that can be discussed in a civilized fashion.

Some people start to get all wiggly when you talk about other issues, like allowing gay people the social dignity of marriage under the law.

Whatever the institution of marriage may represent in your own personal religious denomimation, I can assure you that it is not a holy bond at City Hall. It is a civil bond. When gay couples ask for the right to legally marry, they are not asking for a holy sacrament, and they are not asking the government to force any church to allow them to have a church wedding. They are asking for the right to make a civil contract.

If their own pastor doesn't want to allow a gay church wedding, that's his business. And his right.

So I get impatient -- very impatient -- with clowns like Falwell who assert that legalizing gay marriage would somehow be a threat to the institution of heterosexual marriage.

Sorry, folks. It's not married homosexuals who endanger heterosexual unions.

Most often, it's unscrupulous, single, heterosexual people.

Usually, it's heterosexual people who have some inside information as to what Victoria's real secret is.

You would have thought that Falwell, by now, would have figured out that it wasn't a married lesbian who brought Jim Bakker down and made poor ole Tammy Faye cry a river of black mascara. Jessica Hahn was most definitely single, straight, half Bakker's age, and endowed with a sufficiently impressive chestoid region to get herself in Playboy.

But I digress.

Falwell was a pompous and self-righteous ass, and perhaps one should forgive him for that, and that alone, on general principle as a human failure. We are all pompous asses on occasion. Perhaps I am being a bit of a pompous ass myself, right this minute.

However, we are all not in the same positions of power and influence as he was.

I do believe he exploited the good faith of many, many ordinary people to further his own politcal agenda.

I do believe he was far more interested in advancing his own name and personal influence than he was interested in furthering the teachings of Jesus.

Falwell spent far, far more time with politicians than with the poor.

Jerry Falwell was no Billy Graham. Billy Graham believes that his mission on this Earth is to lead people to salvation. He does this by touching their hearts with the Bible, not by whacking them over the head with it.

And although Billy Graham has traditionally offered his spiritual counsel to Presidents and other leaders, he never tried to grab control of Congress and run the country.

Falwell did.

Maybe Falwell was Cardinal Richelieu in another life. Who knows?

More than anything? I don't know if I can ever forgive Falwell for using the rubble of 9-11 as a platform to further his own political agenda.

9-11 wasn't caused by gays, feminists or the American Civil Liberties Union.

9-11 was caused by a handful of zealots, zealots every bit as fervent as Falwell in their own flavor of religious intolerance, and, quite frighteningly, every bit as venomous about the exact same points on Falwell's agenda -- intolerance of women's rights, intolerance of other religions, intolerance of gays, intolerance of the media, intolerance of Western civilization, intolerance of anyone who isn't as intolerant as themselves. The fact that they went much further than Falwell to drive their hatred home only begs the question: how far would Falwell and his ilk go? Some of them already shoot doctors.

In fact, considering those things, his statement about 9-11 almost sounded like a threat.

It doesn't matter that he later apologized. At that moment, in the midst of incomprehensible horror, a powerful man who held himself out as a representative of Jesus Christ abandoned all compassion and surrendered his humanity in exchange for a sound byte and the opportunity to make a politcal jab.

The dramatic impact was too huge. The temptation, too great.

And that, my friends, is a deal with the Devil.

So I think Jerry Falwell has a lot of questions to answer right about now. Questions about his early racism, questions about his support of apartheid, questions about 9-11. Many questions indeed.

I am not fervent enough in my own beliefs to make an unequivocal statement as to who that Questioner might be. Maybe Jesus, maybe Vishnu, maybe Allah ... maybe nobody at all.

Perhaps Jerry Falwell is crawling out of a cockroach egg-casing right this very instant, wondering why Heaven looks so much like a kitchen floor in Brooklyn ... and hey, how did I get so small? And what's in the spray can that lady is holding?

Or maybe he is being re-conceived at this very moment as a human embryo, to grow up as a gay son in the household of a preacher as intolerant and unequivocal as he was himself in this life.

But me? I'm hoping he comes back as a Teletubby.



Wednesday, May 09, 2007


I've been pondering the stunning colorway of Ray Whiting's new "Carina" yarn, inspired by the Carina Nebula, and available on his web store, Knitivity. Right up front I have to admit that I am beyond admiration. I deeply and profoundly envy (but in a good way) Ray's skill with capturing color in the dyepot:

I knit seriously. I spin seriously.

But with dye? I am on the same skill level as a six-year-old at the kitchen table on Easter Saturday with a bunch of boiled eggs and those tiny plastic squeeze bottles of food coloring: Splat! Goop! Purple! Whee!

My creative energy has been drained lately (thus the dearth of posts) for various reasons, not the least of which is the process of writing grants, which consists of a tremendous amount of detail, and cost projections, and projected supply inventories. While I can competently perform number crunching tasks, they eat my soul. I'm much, much better at the persuasive part -- why Giant Philanthropic Foundation, Inc., should give me money to open a non-profit spay/neuter clinic. But somebody has to do the numbers, and right now the grant-writing staff consists of me, moi and yo.

So this evening when I got home, I realized that part of my creative block has been a lack of balance: lots of exhaustive attention to minute details at work. Chores at home. Bills to pay. A knitting project on a deadline, which has now been met. Charting out an original lace pattern and writing it out in line-by-line form so knitters of both verbal and visual inclinations can use the instructions. Proofreading the pattern. Gah!

Lots of fastidious, detailed things. Lots of micro.

I realized I hadn't had any playtime. No macro.

So I lit some incense to clear the air and I made this:

And I shamelessly admit to being a copycat, at least insofar as pirating other people's sources of inspiration. All day long I have been thinking: nebulae. What a great inspirational source. I have always loved how nebulae look like gargantuan pre-dyed fleeces waiting to be spun by some cosmic hand.

(Note to self: add nebula-spinning to do-list in afterlife)

Anyways, I perused my large plastic kitty litter buckets of oddments, scraps and partial balls, and I looked for a nebula to inspire me, and I glommed on this one, which is a closeup section of the Dumbbell Nebula:

Photo courtesy of www.noao.edu.

I wasn't ready for a dyeing adventure, but I was very much ready for an adventure in tying random bits of yarn together, and then plying them into a chunky three-ply to be knit up on really fat US17 needles -- an outside-the-box creative exercise for me, as my favorite needle size range is US one through five.

So here is a swatch. The colors in the first picture (above, on the niddy-noddy) are much more true to the actual yarn, although the green bits are a bit obscured. While everything looks a bit washed out in the picture below, you can see a swatch on the needles, and you can also see my groovy niddy-noddy from New Zealand without any yarn on it:

The niddy noddy is supposed to resemble a dolphin. I also like it because it has a handle, and it stands up on its own on the flukes when you set it down. Sadly, I bought this about 15 years ago, and I cannot remember the name of the namufacturer to save my life, though at the time I was buying most of my knitting and spinning supplies from ethnic and indigenous sources.

Total yarn: 82 meters, 3ply.

Approximate method: Trust chaos. That is the first and only rule. Trust the random and use a weaver's knot to secure the end of one oddment to the beginning of another.

Assembly: Choose a range of yarn oddments in a pile of coordinating and/or complimentary colors that inspire you. Divide by type: textured yarn (eyelash, chenille, etc) ... ribbon-type yarn (ladder, ribbon, mesh, metallic, etc.) ... and smooth yarns (various thicknesses and colors). It's good to have a little of everything: bits of metallic and bits of weird nubby yarn to throw in at random. You can use everything from a few inches to a partial ball of leftover yarn.

Close your eyes, and grab a small leftover ball from the first pile. Let's say it's eyelash. Now grab a yarn of a different texture (say, chenille). Attach and start winding that onto the first ball. When you run out, randomly choose another textured yarn, making sure only that it is not exactly the same as the previous yarn. You might alternate eyelash, chenille, a fuzzy yarn, some loopy mohair, more eyelash, more chenille, some boucle, some eyelash.

Do not try to arrange or graduate or blend colors or textures. Your choice must be random. The only rule is not to repeat an identical texture or color. Reach into the pile, randomly grab an oddball, and use it. You may only make an alternate choice if you managed to grab two yarns of the same texture or color in sequence.

When you run out of textures, do the same with smooth colored yarns, randomly tying one to another.

When you run out of smooth colored yarns, go through your ribbon and ladder scraps in the same way. You should have your metallic bits (whatever type or texture) in this pile.

Now you have three balls: a texture ball, a smooth-colors ball, and a ribbony/shiny stuff/ladder yarn ball.

Holding one end from each ball , start winding them together in a three-stranded ball. If one or more balls run short, add more yarn as needed ... just randomly tie any remaing oddments to the end, until all three balls have been wound into one big fluffy ball.

Note: you will not be able to do this on a mechanical winder. You will have to make the ball by hand.

Now grab some big needles. For starters, make a scarf. But the possibilities are endless: afghans, rugs, you name it. Use thicker needles if you like, or make thicker yarn.

This one is the beginning of an art piece, because all the oddment yarns were salvaged. Some salvaged embellishments will be added, and the end result will remain a secret until it it submitted to Artes Descartes.

More on that later.

And Ray? Thanks for the inspiration.


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Sunday, May 06, 2007

Non Sequitur


My writing mojo is away on spring break, so here are some thoughts for today, in no particular order or relation to one another whatsoever.

Random Cat Photo:

"Hello, my name is Seven. I am three years old. When I am not busy looking fetching in my fur tuxedo, I am an Assistant Yarn Manager here at the Knitting Asylum, and I am the chief engineer in charge of Needle Tooth-Tolerance Assessment. I am also developing a secret plan to take over Captain Sig's boat and get me some of that codfish and king crab I see on TV."

"Or maybe Captain Phil. He seems like more of a cat person."

Garage Sale:

Helped a good friend unload a lot of stuff on the unsuspecting public yesterday morning.

She follows that most sensible of Garage Sale Rules: once it goes outside, it's like Elvis -- it has left the building.

What didn't sell by three o'clock, went to the charity store. Truly hopeless crap went to the curb. It's amazing what the neighborhood scavengers will load up on, once things hit the curb. In this case, three broken lamps, two rickety weight benches, mismatched weights for both, and a partly disassembled Nordic Track -- all compenents present, just not together. In a box, even.

Left my camera at home, which was a shame, because, like any normal garage sale in Louisiana in May, there were friends peeling boiled crawfish in the kitchen for dinner later on, which is what happens when you celebrate the Kentucky Derby and Cajun Cinco de Mayo. You have crawfish enchiladas.

And beer, once the garage sale is done.

The event attracted the usual cast of garage sale characters: The retired gent who wants to buy everything that's not for sale ("you want that sawhorse?") ... the uber-early birds trying to haggle for mega-bargains before sunrise so they can have more merchandise for their own garage sales ... the dude who comes around looking for broken junk to recycle ... and the lady who wants to know if you have "another shirt like this one, but in blue."

Junk morphed into enough cash to pay a household bill and buy some beer ... three large sacks of crawfish were peeled (enough for about 5 pounds of meat) ... and the thrift store got a carload of useful clothing, toys and oddments. We did have misgivings about donating a bunch of nekkid and dismembered Barbies, but we were assured by the lady at the thrift store that they have a volunteer who will take a bagful of Barbie components and reassemble them into as many Frankenbarbies as possible.


And ... a Louisiana boy named Calvin Borel rode Street Sense to win the Kentucky Derby. That's something to celebrate.


It's a good thing the garage sale wasn't scheduled on Friday, because we got something like eight inches of rain in a two-hour period here in Baton Rouge, and even though our house is not in a low-lying area, our street looked like this:

It's only about three inches deep in the yard and right up there on the walk at the bottom of the photo, but it's about calf-deep out by the street.

Yarn from Knitivity

A package of yarn arrived a few days back from Ray Whiting at Knitivity. Ain't it purty?

Gorgeous stuff, and soft like you would not believe. These are Ray's hand-dyed colorways. The "Sock" yarn (top) is in a colorway called "New Jeans." At center, worsted weight "Southern Purls," colorway "She Made Me Do It." At the bottom, "Biagio" sportweight wool singles in colorway "Fairies of the Forest." Ray has a wide variety of colorways and weights to choose from. Knitivity is a home-based business; Ray is a displaced New Orleanian now living in Texas. Fast service, very reasonable shipping, and truly beautiful yarns. Each batch is truly a work of art.


Having safely transported the "Socks That Rock" fundraising version of the Voodoo Shawl to Hawaii for Lisa to knit her share, I started on the Voodoo Shawl that's for me (finally, one for memememememe!) in Koigu, in shades of spring green and teal. This is the most fun pattern I have ever come up with and I can't wait to get a final proofread and that critical "blind" test-knit for pattern errors before releasing it for sale.

You see, I am part of a very small online yarn and pattern business. Some huge yarn companies (who shall remain unnamed) are in the habit of nonchalantly releasing error-ridden patterns, yet their customers, addicted to their luscious yarns, often take this inconvenience in stride, search for the corrections online, and loyally plug along with the flawed, expensive pattern and the very expensive yarn that goes along with it.

Unlike these large and unnamed yarn companies, we don't have yarn groupies who will tolerate YO's where there should be SSK's and figure it out for themselves. We don't have a loyal following who say things like, "Oh their patterns are just crappy with mistakes, you really have to be careful, but the designs are so gorgeous and the yarns are so yummy that it doesn't matter!"

Alas, we have to build a reputation, and we hope that reputation will be for error-free and easy-to-comprehend patterns, whether it is a shawl, a sweater or a lace cozy for the Golden Gate Bridge.

So here's a sneaky unblocked peek at the beginning bit of my own personal Voodoo Shawl. I've worked it up in several yarns and colorways in the past year, and the end result is good no matter what yarn you use. In this case, the yarn is Koigu, which is doing a bit of interesting color-dappling but so far, no actual color-pooling.

Oh, and happy Cinco de Mayo!

Now about those crawfish enchiladas...


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