Thursday, November 27, 2008

A week later:
I'm no further along with the the green monster...I have yet to cast on.  I keep losing my pattern copy bought online from Interweave Knits (hope that's not a bad omen).  Fortunately I have it saved and can just reprint.  I've also been doing quite a bit of Christmas knitting - more of those Anemone Wristlets I invented and some felting.

On the felting front, there was a gathering at a lovely little sheep farm in East Sooke featuring Guljan and Janyl, two women from the village of Bokonbaevo in Kyrgistan, visiting Canada to talk about their felting techniques.  A group of west coasters facilitate the importation of their production and hold sales across the country to benefit the village which has fallen on very hard times indeed since the fall of the Soviet Union.  

The farmhouse - divine, isn't it?

Young Icelandic sheep

Show and tell:  east meets west

Some of the beautiful felted articles from Bokonbaevo
Several weeks later:
The green monster is coming along wonderfully, despite a long hiatus to knit four (count 'em, FOUR!) pairs of felted clogs for my walking buddies for Christmas.  Our Christmas luncheon is tomorrow and I plan to give them unfelted/unfulled so they can custom fit them and have the fun of seeing them transformed.  Getting back to the sweater, I'm very pleased with how it's going - I have reached the yoke on the body and have one sleeve knitted up to the yoke.  One more sleeve to go and then I can attach them and knit the garter stitch yoke.  I found several photos of the sweater on Jared Flood's blog that show different views of the sweater than on Interweave...even one of the sweater before it was blocked, spread out on the bed in his hotel room in Ireland.  The sweater is named after a pub where he hung out in Dublin.  This sweater is great mindless knitting - I knitted my way through the entire first season of Deadwood and plan the same for season two.  


Friday, November 14, 2008

About six months ago, I had the bright idea of spinning up enough yarn to make a sweater for my sweetie.  The knitting has finally begun after an epic process that began with that free fleece, vegetation included, that came my way earlier this year.  I spent many nights in front of the television or plugged in to my iPod teasing out the dirt and bits of straw in a large portion of the raw fleece, carded up several batts on a newly acquired drum carder and proceeded to spin it on my Ashford Traditional.  I used to have a drum carder many years ago but it was one of the casualties of a hippies-in-the-bush house fire.  The lanolin made for quite easy spinning - after all, I hadn't spun a thing since the 70's - and it was only after gumming up the wheel to the point where it would hardly draw in the yarn anymore that I switched to prewashing the raw fleece.  It turned out to be quite nice fibre - soft, good staple and not so filthy that it couldn't be rehabilitated - nice to know as I still have a ton of it!  I wanted a worsted weight two-ply and I was aiming for 32 ounces of finished fibre, just to be on the safe side.  Turns out, I'm pretty much on the money with the yarn weight.  

Then came Adventures in Dyeing.  Back in the day, I did a whole lot of natural dyeing but didn't have the heart to revisit it with this quantity of fibre.  British racing green was requested - it's that black-green of vintage British sports cars.  Maiwa Handprints in Vancouver were out of premixed green but I was assured that yellow and blue with a touch of magenta would give the desired shade.  You probably know where this is going.  I set up my little dyeing station under the carport with a hot plate and my venerable white enamel dyepot purchased in Chinatown in Vancouver in the late 60's.  Thereafter, over the course of a week I did battle with the dye pot and after four shots at it, I finally have a lovely heathery moss green, NOT British racing green. This was preceded by gold, followed by pale brown, then insipid green and finally something I can live with - the nice heathery moss green seen above.  

The hopeful recipient-to-be assures me he is quite happy with the colour - he probably knows that if he still wants that dark green, he'll be making a trip to the yarn store and dropping serious coin. That free fleece just doesn't seem to want to take the dye very easily despite repeated dunkings. I tested this hypothesis by dyeing some Cheviot roving in the same pot and coming out with great strong colours.  Not sure what kind of fleece would behave in such a belligerent fashion but it behooves one to value process over product - dyeing is not an exact science.   

This morning I made a centre-pull ball out of one skein and swatched for the Cobblestone Pullover from Interweave and scored a home guage on the first try.  

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Harvest Time

Today a good friend informed me that I hadn't posted since September and I could hardly believe it.  I was determined not to be that kind of a blogger when I started out.  In fact I put off blogging for a long time because I figured that if I wasn't going to keep it up, why bother?  So here I am again with lots of good intentions of doing better from now on. Thanks to Shirley for prodding me. 

Part of my preoccupation this fall has been keeping up with all the falling leaves before they get rained on and turn into immovable sludge.  Raking is great exercise and I like being outdoors when the weather is nice.  It has been a glorious autumn here on the Pacific coast and I hear the same thing from other parts of the globe...a long and beautiful fall season with spectacular colours.  Apparently it's something to do with the kind of weather we had in the summer and early fall that influenced the chemistry that makes for good colour.

The garden is pretty much put to bed for the winter, aside from a bit of clipping here and there. I like to leave the browning plants in place as long as possible for a bit of colour and structure. For the first time in quite awhile, I actually planted vegetables this year.  Usually the vegie garden is a jungle of volunteer leeks and parsley with the odd space hacked out for a bit of lettuce.  This year I mixed all the leftover lettuce seed from other years, added a bit of sand and succession planted 4 inch wide rows on the theory that at least some of the seed would still be viable.  It came up fairly thickly and I used scissors to clip off what I needed when the little leaves were about 4 inches high, leaving the roots in the ground to grow again.  I got about 3 cuttings from each row and didn't have to buy lettuce all summer long.  Of course the lousy summer (cold and rainy) was just perfect for lettuce.

Last spring, my friend Lesley suggested that planting a few potatoes might be a good idea and for added encouragement, she gave me her leftover Yukon Gold seed potatoes.  I bought some red seed potatoes called Caribe to add to the mix and also allowed some volunteers to grow from the fingerling potatoes of a couple of years ago.  And what a crop!...about a bushel of spuds from four little rows and the taste is a different category altogether from the store-bought kind. I'll definitely be doing that again. 

Not a lot of fibre news in this post but be assured, there has been a lot going on...another reason I'm so late with this post.  I finally caved and joined the Victoria Hand Weavers and Spinners Guild so the scope of my obsession now knows no bounds.  Fibre retreats, festivals, distaff days, spinning groups:  I just might be in trouble here.  

Felting and fulling has really hit the mainstream of late.  Last week Susan Forsythe was in town to give a workshop on constructing a vest from felted (accidently or otherwise) sweaters and that same week I saw Martha's latest publication with a big article on making all sorts of gift items from fulled water bottle covers, oven mitts, pot holders, etc.  My vest was only about 25% finished by the end of a very intense day although I'm making good progress with the finishing since then.  I will have photos from the workshop and of the finished articles in a future post.  

My knitting has been going full tilt and I finished my cabled hoodie in time to wear it on our annual getaway to Tofino.  We go to Middle Beach Lodge every year in November and this year there was lots of time to knit in front of the big fireplace in the main lodge. I managed to finish two pairs of  wristlet/cuff thingies in Noro Blossom.  More about those along with photos and maybe even a pattern for you in future posts. For the first time, I was able to bring my spinning with me on holidays, thanks to my lovely new Louet Victoria folding spinning wheel and to my sweetie who bought it for me.  It travels very well as it is light, compact and tidy in its dedicated bag,  not to mention fun to spin with. It was the perfect activity while the rain poured down in buckets outside and the surf came booming in.  Luckily, after a spectacular storm on the first day, we had beautiful sunny weather and were able to do some nice long beach walks. Next year we're going with the extended family...daughter, son-in-law and the two grandchildren so knitting may not be an option.



Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Birthday presents

Much to my surprise, it seems there are actually a few people reading my blog. I'll try not to go all shy - up until now, my entries seemed more like writing a diary than putting something out for the world to look at. Starting a blog felt a bit like a leap into the void but jumping off the deep end has always been my thing. I am enjoying doing some writing again, love the unstructured and random nature of it compared to the demands of "writing to order". I like having a place to express the little musings that fill my brain every day, a chance to chronicle my projects and the motivation to get something written and posted because maybe someone might read it. But the idea of actual readers was still a little murky. Then I attended Monday night's spinning group and found I had an unsuspected small following. For some reason I'm not getting any stats on you - there is probably some techie thing I didn't do to turn that feature on. Free advice on this is welcome.

"When on earth", you wanted to know, "will you ever get around to posting photos of your birthday yarns?" Thus prodded, I'll get to writing/gloating over that, but first here's the premise. When I was asked what I wanted for my birthday, my first reaction was to say "Nothing - well maybe a card". Assured by my personal party planner that everyone would ignore that, I was persuaded to provide some guidance..."Yarn", I said, "but just one skein." Apparently the invitation went a bit further to specify something exotic in the natural fibre category. Perfect! (He knows me so well.) Something I would use and love, not too big, not too expensive and a bit of an adventure for the non-fibre obsessed.

And everyone ran with it! I was blown away by the variety and beauty of the yarns people found and the fun they had doing it. Those who had never darkened the door of a yarn store claimed to have discovered a world they didn't know existed and were enraptured with the colour and texture and variousness to be found in your average yarn shop. The cognoscenti in the group went much further of course: a knitting book I've had out from the library about 50 times - "The Best of Interweave Knits", a pair of beautiful birch knitting needles called "swing" type from River John Needle Company - a new one on me. One gift came wrapped in some beautifully carded batts of silvery gray fleece - from Shirley, of course - causing a bit of a sensation among the uninitiated. "What is that stuff?" they wanted to know. Matt, our actor friend, draped one over his head to reprise his role as Christopher Columbus, bad wig and all, in a play called "Japango" that I stage-managed at university. Unfortunately I didn't get a photo of that to show you but it was pretty hilarious. Of course there were a few random to drink while knitting/spinning, white fig soap and Body Shop products to wash with after a hard day in the fibre trenches, a jin chin do treatment to get the knitting kinks out of my shoulders, a cycling jersey for when I need to get outside for a break from knitting.. Thanks so much to my generous family and friends for your thoughtfulness and for making my 60th such a memorable occasion.

I realize that this photo doesn't really do the individual yarns justice so I will photograph them individually and post them as I come up with projects for them...or maybe on my next post.

The photos below show the alpaca I've been working on since the fibre safari in late August. I finally have enough at the same weight for a lace shawl I have in mind but it looks like it will have to wait on the other irons I have in the fire. I love the colour of this fibre and I really enjoyed spinning it in spite of all the preparation from the raw fleece state. Although it was remarkably free of guard hairs, it was still quite dirty...something that was not evident at first because of the dark colour. After spinning a bit without washing it and coming away with filthy hands (and wheel and floor), I came to the conclusion that I didn't want to spin all that dirt into the yarn and make it more difficult to get clean so I picked up several mesh bags for washing delicates at the dollar store and after picking the fleece to remove the big chunks of dirt/hay/foreign matter, washed several batches. It came out a noticeably lighter shade and a bit re-consolidated - not felted, just lumpy. So I picked the lumps again, more crap fell out, carded it on the drum carder and still more crap fell out! The batts are quite easy to split and spin from and the finished yarn is pretty clean. I should hope so after all that prep!

The spinning was a bit of a struggle at first, given that it was my first experience with alpaca - slippery compared to wool - but once I got the hang of it, it went really well. I was still on my traditional Ashford which doesn't have a way to adjust the ratio so it took rather longer than I anticipated - about two weeks of spinning one to two hours a day to fill two bobbins and then ply them together. Very satisfying to have four nice skeins of lightweight alpaca yarn waiting in the stash.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Some thoughts on aging

Well, it happened...I caught the dreaded flu that has been flying around the town but not before I merrily burned the candle at both ends and in the middle. Early this month, I passed a serious milestone birthday-wise...six decades on the planet! The celebrations extended over the better part of a week with relatives and friends arriving from out of town, brunch, lunch and coffee gatherings, phone calls, the party and the aftermath. Just about the time the dust was settling, the flu arrived and I've been shivering under the covers and having my way with boxes of lotion infused tissues ever since. Finally I feel well enough to put some more-or-less coherent sentences together.

When I was a child, adults in their 60's seemed antiquated to me. Now that I'm there myself, I don't know if I seem just as elderly to the children in my life, but I feel no different on the inside than my young self. What has changed is that I'm much more choosy about what I take on of late. The big question when I consider a new project or interest is "How much of my precious time do I want to dedicate to this?" It has proven to be a good question to ask on all kinds of levels, not least because the halfway point of my life is well behind me. It helps weed out the things I think I ought to do and helps me focus on the things that are truly important to me, the things I love and am passionate about. When the "guilts" strike, self-imposed or otherwise, it helps to have this basic principle to work from. Asking it seems to break through that obsessive dedication to work and housekeeping to which our society compels us. Chores that seemed to be obligations set in stone have lost most of their power to sidetrack me from a good novel, an afternoon in the garden or goofing off with my grandchildren. "Wasted" time is anything but wasted.

Another imponderable of getting older is the decline in stamina from earlier days. It's getting quite noticeable - I can still put in a very long day when I need to but I pay a bigger price than I used to. One can react (and one has, repeatedly!) by taking up a fitness program. Again, The Question (see "precious time" etc. above) comes in very handy - followed by "Am I enjoying this?" and "Could I get the same effect doing something I love...or something less boring?" For me, hiking up a mountain or walking with friends beats laps in the pool any day. And the iPod has been a golden discovery - there are things I can do while listening to my favourite podcasts that would otherwise bore me rigid...and not just running the treadmill - dishes, vacuuming, what-have-you, all fly past painlessly to the strains of Craftlit, CastOn or Escape Pod. If I listen to something improving (CBC's Ideas or French language lessons), I feel that I'm multi-tasking. Not to say that some onerous chores are without reward - I'm as fond of a clean house as the next person but I find myself more and more reluctant to pour time into the attaining of it without the proverbial spoonful of sugar.

Enough for some comic relief, here are the lyrics my friend Lesley wrote in honour of my birthday, which a group of friends sang for me to the tune of "My Favourite Things":

Merlot and iphones and needles for knitting,
Naots, orthotics and new iMac settings,

Bundles of sheep wool all tied up with string,

These are a few of your favorite things.

IPods and 'blogging' and 'hot' reading glasses,

Face cream and French scarves and free Belfry passes,

Lattes and sci-fi and music that swings,

These are a few of your favorite things.

When the pipes leak

When the bones creak,

When the knees go bad,

You simply remember your favorite things,

And then you don't feel so bad.

Hot tea and Harry and warm purple sweaters,

No dish with garlic or laced with red peppers,

Bathrobes and slipper and France in the Spring

These are a few of your favorite things.

When the joints ache,

When the wind breaks,

When the eyes grow dim,

Then we'll remember the great life we had,

And then we won't feel too bad.

Thanks Lesley!

Next post I'll share what I got for my birthday...lots of yummy fibre!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Fibre Fun at the Saanich Fair

Here are a few photos from the Spinners' and Weavers' Guild demonstration area at the Saanich Fair last weekend.

Guild member projects

Microwave dyeing

Dyeing with Koolade and food coloring

Transforming thrift shop yarn

Dyed in the grease

Dyeing results

Needle felting

Cookie anyone?

Thursday, August 28, 2008


Summer seems to be over with out here on the Pacific Coast - I wasn't quite ready for that. I'm hoping we get a short hit of nice weather on the 13th of September as that's the day of my birthday party - celebrating a pretty big number this year - and we wanted to have it mostly outdoors. It was very difficult to decide on how to celebrate this year. I hate leaving anyone out but I don't feel up to a truly huge party. So compromise has ruled the day and it's just family and closest friends. Of course there will be the usual Virgo gathering of the theatre related crowd at a local watering hole on the 5th of September and I'm promised a celebratory breakfast on my actual birthday (the 8th) morning. And I'm excited about my present from my guy this year - I'm hoping for that new folding spinning wheel I'm jonesing for but I suspect it will be some spectacular piece of new technology...more shopping fun for him.

And speaking of spinning, I finished two skeins of alpaca lace weight, all washed and ready to go, but I don't think it will be enough for the lace shawl I have in mind. I'm going to do two more skeins so that I don't have to stop in the middle of knitting and spin more...typically that would spell the stallout of the project since I would have to learn the pattern all over again and wouldn't be able to figure out where the heck I am after taking a couple of weeks out for spinning. From my reading, a rather open lace seems to be a good choice for alpaca as it is too warm when knitted solidly. Proof of that? I made a nice little sweater for my two year old granddaughter and after she's been wearing it for awhile, she grabs the front and yanks on it to indicate "Get this hot thing off me!"

The alpaca fleece from Bluestone is really lovely...hardly any guard hairs and not much in the way of vegie bits, the dark colour yarn lustrous and soft in the finished state. I realize now that the commercial alpaca yarns are a somewhat lower quality as they have a lot of long guard hairs sticking out of the thread. These can feel very tickly on the skin and perhaps that's why Eva hauls on her sweater fronts. I'm considering buying a whole fleece from them when they shear in the spring from an all black male called Marco. That should keep me out of mischief for a very long time.

This is week two of the Fringe Festival in Victoria and we've seen a couple of shows so far, one excellent, one so-so. I try to see everything done by my friends in the theatre world and follow that up with the shows that are getting the most buzz. This can be difficult during the last week as the really good shows sell out quickly and the venues are small. It never ceases to amaze me how resourceful these small productions are and how well some quite wacky venues work for theatre. There is something to be gained from not sitting in a conventional space, seats in rows, stiffly upright. Besides having a more relaxed audience, the best pieces make an advantage out of distractions like missed sound cues, street noise and other unforeseen occurrences. One good thing about the crappy weather...attendance is up. No one wants to go indoors when it's sunny out.

Finished projects...lots of travelling in the past couple of weeks and that's golden time for knitting, if not spinning. Knitting in the car while someone else drives is one of my great pleasures in life. I have the utmost sympathy for those who get carsick if they do anything other than look at the horizon. I finished a knitted tank top that is in the blocking stage and I'm praying it will fit. It looks right but no knowing for sure until I try it on if it will both fit AND be flattering. I also knit a slew of little baby hats from superwash merino for some babies of my acquaintance. They (the hats, not the babies) have a rolled brim and a knotted top and look so cute that I could just keep knitting them in bunches. So quickly did they fly out the door that I didn't get photos taken...guess I'll have to make some more. And I'm making good progress on the Central Park Hoodie for myself - I'm past the armhole decreases on the back and that purple tweed colorway is gorgeous in those cables.

Decision time - either I pick the plums and figs this afternoon or head out the door to watch some theatre...nice choices to have.

Daisy update: the x-ray report came back and the news isn't great. She has a cyst and possibly a mass in her chest cavity and surgery isn't recommended. So I guess her days are numbered although she's pretty much her old self energy and attitude-wise. For the time being, we're going to keep her comfortable and see what happens but it's pretty sad and I get misty writing or talking about it and am a complete emotional mess over other people's aging/dying dog stories. This seems natural to me, if not my favourite thing to go through. It was almost harder to not know if she was going to still be on the earth after the first episode and now that the cards are pretty much on the table, we try to appreciate her to the fullest, every day.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Getting out of the lair

It's been a slow few days around here - hard to get rolling when the schedule gets knocked off kilter. Not that I haven't been busy. Monday evening was spinning group and I was seated next to someone who turned out to be a holistic vet who has a home visits practice...funny how the right person comes along just when you need them. Daisy is pretty much her old self although the hacking cough continues. Still no word from the doggie hospital on the x-rays so I'm in limbo on how to feel. There is a lot of fear displacement activity goin' on. I've managed to spin two full bobbins of laceweight singles in alpaca and now have plied them together for a grand total of around 6 ounces and about 600 yards of yarn. My plan is to knit a lace shawl for myself but I don't know if I have enough yet for that. Lordy it takes a long time to spin lace weight! Two weeks of pretty steady spinning to get two bobbins!

The alpaca came from a "fibre safari" up-island with my guy during which we visited a winery, had a look at the wonderful display of Cowichan sweaters at the Duncan museum, had lunch at Urban Beet in Nanaimo (highly recommended) visited Hummingbird Studios and tried out all the portable spinning wheels (the Louet Victoria...or was it the Juliet...was my fave) and bought extra bobbins for my traditional Ashford, went to Blue Stone Alpacas and had a tour, came away with two giant bags of alpaca, one dark brown and one white, dropped by Qualicum Bay Fibreworks, had a tour, picked up some lovely roving, stopped for dinner at Bistro 161 (not sure about that number) in Duncan which was great except for the selections of '80's rock blasting from the beer garden across the street. Whew! Quite a day. And quite a long sentence!

This week I've cast on and finished two adorable little hats for a shower gift and knitted quite a bit on my silk summer tank which I'm hoping to have done in time to get some wear out of it before summer is over. Today was a pretty hot one for Victoria, very muggy, so there's still a bit of summer to go. That's not to say it might not change does that here...from shorts weather to sweater weather and back again in less than a week.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Daisy came home last night and it is good to have her back. I can't stop hugging her and I'm sure she's wondering "What the heck?" She seems the same as ever: waggy tailed and optimistic. She has a little blue bandage around her right forepaw covering her intravenous site...I suppose I should take it off soon. She has bottles of pills and a special diet which she seems to like a lot. It looks and smells a lot more interesting than her usual dry dog food and she's eager for it.

We've had a quiet morning together - me spinning alpaca, her lying next to me in the sun on the bench by the window. It's lovely and peaceful but I would have been on my way to La Belle Provence (Québec) as I write if not for this crisis. No way I could have left with Daisy in this state but I couldn't help but feel a bit forlorn as Harry, who has to go for business, went off in a taxi this morning. There were plans to visit eastern Quebec fibre attractions, spend a week at Lac Meruimticook with Quebeçois friends, and enjoy lively Quebec City including a one night stay at the Chateau Frontenac. Can't blame me for feeling chagrined.

The up side of having to stay home is that I get to enjoy my lovely city of Victoria at pretty much its best. The sun is out, the garden is gorgeous and tonight is spinning group. Since this is pretty much a bonus week, I plan on "wasting" time by pursuing my leisure activities nonstop....spinning, knitting, gardening, reading...yeah! Now if I could just get someone to cook for me and make my bed!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Tough day on the homestead

Today I found myself writing life details into my pattern notes on Ravelry and it occurred to me it would be more appropriate to (finally) get myself this blog and do my rambling here.

Our little dog Daisy, smooth fox terrier pictured on the left, has had a cough for a few weeks, had some treatments that seemed to help for awhile and gradually relapsed. In the past couple of days she took a turn for the worse, suffering along with the persistent hacking, some gastro-intestinal distress of which I will spare you the gory details. Last evening I spent a less than pleasant four hours waiting at our local pet hospital (it's the weekend and her regular vet is sensibly unavailable) for her to be seen.

The place was hopping, every chair in the waiting room full, receptionists rushing about dealing with new arrivals, triaging the serious cases. A weeping teenager in tight jeans and ear glued to a pink iPhone tottered in on four inch heels carrying a fluffy black cat yowling in distress from its carrier. A rangy older woman limping behind a walker brought in a tiny sick kitten she had gotten the day before at the SPCA. A middle-aged couple with a cute, waggy-tailed maltese waited and waited. A man and teenager (his daughter perhaps) arrive with takeout, eat it hurriedly on the bench outside the door and are handed what can only be the remains of their dead pet in a cardboard box. Everyone in the waiting room watched avidly until the penny dropped and then all looked studiously away. Vets cruised through, godlike, flipping through charts, delivering treatment options, professionally kind.

This I observed in the final hour of waiting, the first three hours having been passed in the car since coughing dogs aren't allowed inside until kennel cough has been ruled out. Daisy got a carside assessment and then was admitted to the building. I kicked myself for not bringing along my knitting - I could have finished my current project in all those hours of sitting. Although I remembered my iPod, worrying made it difficult to concentrate on listening to anything.

After being x-rayed, Daisy stayed for a sleepover and further diagnostic work and to have fluids and meds pumped into her intravenously. She's still there but I'm told I'll be getting a call soon to come and pick her up and get instructions on her care over the next few days. I've had to cancel a trip to Quebec, planned for months. Disappointing
but I can't go away in the morning with our little buddy in this uncertain state, needing more than routine care. Not something you can ask a house sitter to take on, even if I could bring myself to leave.

I've been steeling myself for the worst, considering the horrible possibilities and narrow options, and weeping buckets.
I've consoled myself by spinning alpaca and listening to podcasts of only the gentlest and most soothing variety...CraftLit, Knitwit, Manic get the picture. I must write and thank those lovely women for helping get me through this.