Friday, January 25, 2008

Soup and Wool

We are in the middle of soup and wool weather. Early this morning it was like this:

Cold and foggy, intermixed with a steady rain that continued all night, through this morning, along through the afternoon, and into this evening. It didn't get out of the high 30s today, (about 3 degrees if you're doing Centigrade), and it did not stop raining for one moment. It's quite late but it's still drizzling out there.

The rain this morning was almost bad enough to discourage me from venturing out to the garbage can with a plastic bag full of feline offerings to the sand goddess.

Almost, but not quite. The daily deposits definitely needed to go to the garbage can, and the poor newspaper, damp and shivering in its thin plastic bag, needed to come in.

Few things say "winter in Louisiana" better than the smell of fresh coffee and the scent of a newspaper drying out inside the oven, turned to low.

Shamu, who ordinarily invests enormous portions of his waking hours devising ways to sneak past feet and get outdoors, took one look out the window and reconsidered all escape plans, opting instead for a premium position on the sleeping bag that stays out on our couch during the winter months:

Since the Ashford is parked in front of the same couch, and with Shamu curled up so fetchingly nearby, it didn't take much to convince me to settle in and spin the rest of the delightful hand-dyed merino roving I bought from Farm Witch last week. It is yummy, exquisitely soft, and lustrous, and it spins into a fine sockweight yarn. She calls the colorway "Chasing Rainbows:"

I am very fond of "Chasing Rainbows" and look forward to making socks with it.

While the spinning was going on, I had the dyepots busy, doing double duty in coloring yarn while also heating the house on this deeply damp and chilly day and helping us keep the thermostat turned way down while the stove did the work.

The result? Here is some yarn for the arts market coming up Saturday, February 5th. The long skeins are merino, but the three skanky-looking red skeins on the far right represent my first attempt both at spinning and dyeing 100% soy fiber. On my trial run with this new-to-me fiber, I found it a little tricky to spin -- it's very, very slippery -- but it made nice, smooth singles with good drape, and only the occasional minor kink or noil.

But when I put it in the dyepot, my hard-won soy singles instantly shriveled into a stringy, curly mass not unlike Ramen noodles, causing much consternation and even more swearing. Fortunately, as it cooled off, it began to relax into its previous drapey state, but as you can see in the picture, the skeins have only relaxed about 50%. Hopefully they will unkink and lengthen as they dry, encouraged by a little gentle tugging. I won't panic yet. I don't understand this behavior in a fiber that appears to have no memory whatsoever. Wool, yes -- the slightest bit of overspin vibrantly comes to life upon exposure to steam or hot water.

Maybe soy is sneaky. Maybe it just pretends to be lifeless. Anyway, it looks all miserable and dorky, hanging there next to all that happy, well-adjusted merino. Poor things, I'll give them a little more attention tomorrow.

Colorways, left to right: "Tequila Sunrise," "Killarney Woods," "Enter the Dragon," "Beach Grass," "Pacific Sunset" (all merino) and "Passion Fruit" (soy fiber). The soy fiber is actually the fine, silken waste left over from comercial tofu production. I think that is marvelous, and I'd like to use more of it, if I can ever get it to behave.

While the yarn was drying, I cleaned and put away my enamel dyepots, and started cooking in an old cast-iron pot on the stove, a pot that has made countless batches of gumbo.

After dinner, I perused the yarn I got from Knitivity for my birthday a few weeks back. The one on the left was a delightful gift from Lisa Louie, the rest was my annual birthday splurge: "Tannebaum" in Biagio singles, "Lake Berry" sock yarn, and "Watermelon" sock yarn. The photo got the basic color of the Watermelon correctly, but doesn't catch the subtle gradients of color.

Also, what to do with those now-empty holiday cookie tins? It occurs to me to save them for next year as presentation boxes when giving handspun yarn as gifts. What do you think? Re-using an item that is ordinarily discarded or recycled, and providing a handy, moth-proof container for the yarn at the same time ... not a bad idea, I think.

I suppose that this catches me up a little bit, at least for the moment. I've left my readers with little blog fodder lately, and I do apologize. I've been up to my ears in tax and my primary typing finger is injured (it feels strange typing with the middle finger instead, while holding the damaged appendage aloft).

Wool was dyed and soup was eaten today. Sweaters and socks were worn. It felt good. But let me tell you something -- if I hear of anyone from Idaho archly declaring that it's too hot for wool in Louisiana?

I'm gonna run right up there and smack 'em.

Auction Results

The winner of the shawl auction is Kathryn Wagner, who won the Ebay bid at US$420 and who raised the donation amount to US$700 to benefit the Kagyu Thubten Choling Buddhist monastery in New York State in memory of Lily Chin's mother and sister. Thank you, Kathryn!

Thanks to all who participated in the auction, either by bidding or encouraging others to do so. Lisa and I hope that those of you who bid, but did not win, will make a donation to the monastery anyway. See previous post for details and a link to the monastery. They take Paypal and welcome donations of any amount you can afford.

I have been neglecting the blog these past few weeks due to a monster flu and sinus infection, a compatibility issue between Old Computer Stuff and New Computer Stuff, the preparation of Ye Olde Income Tax, and also? A gash on my index finger which impedes typing, spinning, tax preparation, and knitting.

More blogging soon. Thanks for your patience. In the meantime, you may want to go visit and drool at the new designs ... and check out the new sock yarn at

Carry on.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

"Voodoo Shawl" Fundraiser Auction

Remember this? It's the beginning of a shawl that I started early in 2007 as a special fundraiser. It was still on the needles, which were tucked under the basket in this photo, to show off the Blue Moon yarn. Shortly after taking this photo of the half-done shawl, I sent it on to Lisa Louie in Maui, to finish up:

Now it is finished, and ...

as promised, the completed prototype of the "Voodoo Shawl" pattern has been placed up for auction to raise money for the Kagyu Buddhist Monastery in New York. Lisa Louie and I wanted to collaborate on it, so I knitted half, and sent her the shawl-in-progress to finish. This was also an excellent opportunity for Lisa to test-knit the pattern before it is offered for sale.

Upon completion, Lisa's husband, Paul, photographed the shawl on the beach at Kahului, Maui (Lisa is the model) and Lisa posted the Ebay auction last night. The yarn is Blue Moon "Socks That Rock," colorway "Chapman Springs":

Dammit, hell, cuss and swear. For some reason the beach photos first uploaded as wee thumbnails, but I am still having problems with scaling, so until I can get these photos to be big enough to see properly, I will throw in an addtional photo of the same shawl in a Koigu colorway, but this is just a bigger picture of the same pattern in a different yarn -- a stunt-double shawl as a stand-in until I can correct the above pictures -- this is not the shawl up for auction:

Here is the descriptive copy that my collaborator, Lisa Louie, wrote for the KnitU list:

Dear KnitU:

As regular readers of KnitU may know, Dez Crawford and I have been working jointly on knitting a shawl as a special fundraising project to honor family members a friend has lost. At long last, the shawl is done and has been listed for auction on eBay at this link.

We all have people in our lives who are so important to us there aren’t words to describe them. When these people leave our lives, especially when it is too soon or unexpected, the loss is staggering. When you lose two of these people close together, their absence can have an almost catastrophic effect on your life.

It is also wrenching to watch a friend suffer through a loss of this magnitude, and as knitters our first reaction is to knit something special for our friend. Since our friend is a renowned knitwear designer and friends with a huge number of knitters, and already has a plethora of hand knit items, we wanted to find another way to offer comfort and help. Hence the shawl, and the auction.

Most of you are already aware that our friend, Lily Chin, lost her mother and sister last year barely a month apart. It is in her mom’s and sister’s honor, and with Lily’s consent, that we created and are auctioning the shawl. All funds raised go to the Kagyu monastery in honor of Linda and Mabel.

The monastery’s building project was chosen by the Chin and Lee families for those who wish to donate in memory of Linda Chin and Mabel Chin Lee. You can get information on, or donate to, the monastery at www dot kagyu dot com. Removing the spaces and inserting the proper symbols will take you to their website.

As this is a fundraiser, we encourage everyone to view and bid on the auction. We also ask that if you are not the winning bid, or if you are unable to bid on the shawl, that you make a donation to the monastery if possible. See the EBay listing for a link. Small donations are gratefully welcomed.

For the record, the shawl pattern is an original design, under our own copyright. All funds raised will go directly to the charity. Dez and I bought the yarn, did the knitting, and will pay for the shipping to the recipient and the auction costs.

Dez and I also have several collaborations in the planning stages. While we are all missing Aunt Gail, we have another fundraiser for Susan G. Komen in Gail’s name. This new project was the catalyst for the creation of the “Aunt Gail” color way at www dot knitivity dot com which will be used to honor Gail and her legacy. And no, we’re not making socks. More details will be forthcoming.

We both hope you’ll check out the auction and bid if you can.



To view the auction, click the following link.

To donate to the monastery, click here.

Our most sincere thanks to everyone who views this shawl, bids, and/or makes a donation to the monastery. The monastery welcomes all offerings, great and small, and they have a convenient Pay-Pal link if you don't bid on the shawl or win the auction. Please consider making a donation in any amount in honor of Lily's mom and sister. Lily has brought the world so much joy with her beautiful patterns; this is a small way that we can each let her know that we are still thinking of her and remembering her loss.

Labels: ,

Saturday, January 05, 2008

I Think I Have Anthrax

Perhaps that is a slight exaggeration. But it is not a good thing when you look at the prescription and you realize it is the very same antibiotic used to treat anthrax.

It is also not a good thing, when the doctor looks up inside your nose and says, "Oh, my."

But that is what she said, when my husband dragged me to the after-hours clinic today. I was hoping to tough it out, but I woke up this morning unable to breathe through my nose and unable to touch my face without flinching.

The doctor also shook her head and said, "You have a terrible sinus infection." And then she gave me an injection of cortisone, some potent decongestants and the abovementioned antibitotics.

"Go home," she said. "Get in bed and stay there for a couple of days."

Technically, I am in bed. I am ensconced on the futon in the spare room, with pillows heaped behind me like a proper invalid, keyboard in my lap, with warm cats deployed along the length of my body. I can see the montior screen from here -- the desk is right next to the futon and the keyboard has a long cord.

I am in bed, and doing nothing except typing and knitting. She did not say that I had to get in the bed without a keyboard, knitting needles, tea or a book.

So I might as well do a little catch-up writing, and talk about the yarn and fiber and spinning I have in the works.

I was pleasantly surprised, my first few times at the arts market, to have more than a couple of people ask about hand-dyed rovings. Some were spinners themselves, and some were looking for gifts for spinners. After the first request, I dyed some roving. I found that presenting two ounces of roving in a large Mason jar went over well as a holiday gift. The roving is simply squashed into the jar and the lid placed on, with a bit of scrap yarn for decoration.

Presenting roving this way is not a good long-term storage solution, but it makes a nice-looking gift package, and it is also wise as protection from toddlers with sticky ice cream fingers.

Two samples are in the photo below. Left: "Tequila Sunrise." Right: "Margaritaville." These are food coloring dyes and will look darker when spun into yarn. Yes, I want people to think "lotsa happy fun" when they spin my stuff. There is also a portion of cat in the upper right hand corner of the photo (see the fur and the rabies tag?), but I'm afraid I had to edit my boy Seven out of the picture in order to get a good closeup of the wool. I doubt he'd take it personally, but please don't tell him that I cropped him out. I promise to post a lovely photo of him for you to admire in an upcoming post.

If the buyer divides "Margaritaville" in half and plies it against itself, they will get a flecked, tweedy effect with the yellow and hints of white.

Also, in the following photo, I've been playing with dyeing singles in gradients of green and russet colors. Top: "Peas and Carrots." Bottom: "Lettuce Knit." Getting good greens makes me grin more than any other color. Maybe it's just that I'm not such an experienced dyer, but I find that good, rich greens are hard to accomplish.

I think my very favorite thing, and it's getting to be somewhat of a signature with me, is to spin fine singles, space-dye them, and then ply them together. It means two extra steps in the winding off, but I really love the play of colors. "Peas and Carrots" was space-dyed after plying. "Lettuce Knit" was dyed before plying. The colorplay has a lot more depth, I think.

This yarn in the next photo was flat-out, total fun. Regular readers may remember that when I added my pre-owned Ashford wheel to the family, she came with some accessories and two fleeces: one was in fairly good shape but the other had been stored unwashed, in the grease and full of vegetable matter, smashed unceremoniously into in a five-gallon tin for almost 20 years. It emerged from the can as a hairy, dirty, waxy lump. I nearly threw it away, but my Capricorn subconscious wouldn't tolerate that, so I salvaged it. Salvage operations required a good, long soak in Dawn and cold water, then a second de-greasing soak, and two good, cold rinses.

I don't find the resulting wool soft enough to be suitable for garment-quality yarn, but I'm frugal, so I made rustic-spun singles and I came up with a good felting wool suitable for purses, rugs, and slippers. The college-student crowd at the arts market bought me out of wild colors last time, and they always appreciate a bargain, so I've dyed these in wild colors and priced them less than first-quality wool. I have lots more of this salvaged fleece, and it will all be rustic spun, and boldly dyed for felting projects. This colorway, called "Summer of Love," was photographed drying outdoors on a cool, dry, sunny day in late November.

And now, an abrupt change of subject. Sort of.

The other day, I visited a friend who is a legal secretary by occupation, and a painter by vocation. I wanted to tell her about my experience at the arts market and wanted to encourage her to apply for a booth space of her own.

When I arrived, she was working on an oil for an upcoming show -- the figure of a lone man on a grey street in a big city, a painting with strong contrasts and deep shadows. The man wore a long, grey overcoat and a brimmed hat reminiscent of film noir and of our own fathers.

After a few minutes, she draped the work-in-progress and set her hands to stretching a new canvas.

Our coffee mugs sat between us on the paint-splattered table in her garage studio. I perched on a stool, knitting with my own handspun, hand-dyed yarn.

We talked about our friends, her dogs, her daughter's school, and her own paintings. We discussed how people perceive and define art differently.

We were not having this discussion at the graduate-school level by any means. Terms like "postmodern" or "dadaism" did not come up. We simply talked about what we think is beautiful, what is emotive, what makes us think, and how other people react.

What makes a thing "art?" Why is a thing "art" to one person and not to another?

Is it art if a pedantic art critic says it is art, and not-art if a nine-year-old thinks it is art? If I fail to understand it, is it not-art or am I simply dull-witted?

We were talking about these things lightly, sometimes amused, sometimes bemused, relating stories of people we knew and the things they liked, tales of how some work that she was sure would be a hit had flopped, while people went wild over what she thought would be dead-certain duds.

We gnawed at the perennial question: why do so many artists have to struggle so? Why do most people more readily embrace mindless entertainment than good art? Is it because of the simple fact that interacting with art requires some degree of thought -- which frightens many people -- while interacting with pop culture requires only passive observation? Does art live in the hands of the artist or the eye of the beholder?

We also considered: is art craft? And: is craft art?

We both said "yes" to both concepts. And then she gestured at my hand-dyed work and said:

"I paint on the canvas. You paint in the canvas. Same thing."

So I pondered that. I thought about all the fiber artists I know who put so much of themselves into every dyebatch of yarn and into every skein of handspun fluff. I thought about how difficult it is to explain to some people why I have to make things. I have to make garments from scratch, I have to make yarn from scratch, I have to make colors, I have to write. These things are not mere pastimes or hobbies. They are powerful and singular urges which cannot be ignored. It's like being hungry, or needing to go to the bathroom. I will be miserable unless and until the need to knit, spin, or write has been vented.

I don't have to explain this tangible need to a painter, but it's difficult to explain this urgency to people who think of arts and crafts as mere pastimes, activities which exist for the sole purpose of occupying an idle mind, like the word-and-number puzzle booklets you can buy at the airport.

Before I went home, I told her one of my favorite art stories. It happened to a young man I knew back in the 1970s, a young man named Jeff who was a sidewalk painter in the French Quarter of New Orleans. I had a bit of a crush on him, back when my high school friends and I would take the streetcar downtown on Saturday mornings and wander around the French Quarter all day.

Each morning, he set up his easel on the flagstone sidewalk outside of Jackson Square, right across the street from the Cafe Du Monde. He'd work on a classic New Orleans scene in oils, while intermittently knocking off quick little oil portrait sketches of tourists for a modest fee. He worked earnestly, in all kinds of weather.

Once when I passed to admire his work, Jeff was all smiles and told me that something remarkable had happened to him. Around midday, he was hungry, so he closed his paint box, laid his brush rag across the backrest of his folding chair, and asked a neighboring artist to watch his things for a few minutes while he went to buy a sandwich.

When he returned, a tourist was holding up his brush rag, scrutinizing it carefully. The man asked him, "how much do you want for this?"

Jeff was puzzled, thinking perhaps that the man was rather ineptly trying to make a joke about modern art. In jest, Jeff replied, "oh, I was planning to ask five hundred, but I haven't decided on a firm price."

The man reached in his wallet and pulled out a wad of money. "I'll give you one hundred," he said, wagging a cluster of twenties at Jeff. "I'd pay more if it was mounted. Also, you need to sign it."

Jeff looked around, thinking there was a camera crew and a TV comedian waiting to pounce on him, but nothing happened. He looked at the rag, smeared with layers of blotchy color, and asked the man if he was serious.

He was.

Jeff signed the rag and took the money.

Beauty is always in the eye of the proverbial beholder. I try to keep that in mind when I make up new dye jobs. I think it's important to offer something for everyone. I can't just dye everything in my own favorite colors.

I've run out of things to say and now I think I can finally fall asleep. It's quite a trick to try to rest when you've just had a jolt of cortisone.

I'm off to sleep. Carry on.

Labels: , , ,

Inmates in the Asylum since July 27, 2006: