Friday, March 27, 2009

Spinning Dust Bunnies

Now I have a history with quiviut, the proverbial skeleton in the old memory vault.  I once owned...wait for ENTIRE GARBAGE BAG OF QUIVIUT, pounds of the stuff.  It was given to me to spin by a guy who worked up north in the oil exploration business whom I had encountered at some craft event where I was selling the natural-dyed fat singles I was churning out at that time.  He had picked it up off the tundra where it was lying around in heaps after the spring moult, or whatever you call it when muskox shed their winter undercoat.   The deal was that I would spin up the fibre in exchange for a share of it and perhaps some of his very beautiful hand carved antler buckles or buttons.   

I tried spinning the stuff on my Indian spinner and needless to say, had a lot of trouble.  I put it away in our tiny attic, resolving to delay the R and D until the long winter months when every hour of the day wasn't taken up with tending gardens and preserving the fruits thereof.  In the typical "back to the land" (i.e. hippies in the backwoods) style, my then husband and I lived in a cobbled together house (and I use the term "house" loosely) in the bush that was heated with two wood stoves. To make a long story short, the house burned to the ground one freezing cold December day, and the quiviut was one of the things that didn't get saved.  A few weeks later during the cleanup, buddy who worked up north arrived in his pickup and stared at the place where the house had been, not needing to be told that his quiviut had gone up in smoke.  He was pretty philosophical about it, saying "Oh well, easy come, easy go," or words to that effect.  

Ever since the fire, my feelings about quiviut have been ambivalent:  intrigue mixed with the memory of  that gut-wrenching day.  The scarcity and astronomical prices have been a sufficient deterrent up until now but the temptation was always there and I longed to give it a try, to master it - the fibre and maybe the negative feelings along with it.  Last Friday I took the plunge and shelled out for 20 grams of the stuff, a pouffe of roving the size of a loaf of bread in a ziplock bag and after it sat for a week, calling to me from the spinning corner, I plunged in yesterday, still full of those ambivalent feelings.

It was very difficult at first.  The roving is ephemeral, smoke between my fingers, like drafting a cloud of nothing, spinning dust bunnies.  It has to be a very fine yarn in order to get some decent yardage out of it so I cast about for a method that wouldn't waste a shred of fibre. Not yet in possession of a diz, I tried pulling the roving through a small funnel but it was still too dense and nowhere near small enough.  It was a semi-transparent pencil roving I was after. Then I tried pre-drafting the chunks of roving and when they threatened to drift apart, I dampened my hands and rolled the predrafts on my thigh to firm them up.  This really worked and now I'm well into the first spool, although I have very little spun fibre to show for two hours of spinning.  

My intention is to ply two singles and knit a very open lacey short narrow scarf...after all, the muskox survive -60C wearing this stuff so anything more dense is going to be too hot even on the coldest Victoria day. And of course I only have 20 grams so my choices are limited.   The singles are spun quite firmly so that they stay together so the plying should also help them to bloom a little.  My only quandary is how to estimate when to change spools so I have equal amounts to ply from.  At the moment I'm going by weight but if anyone has a better idea, lay it on me.  

As for the negative feelings and regrets?  Still there but less strident as a result of confronting a tiny corner of them. One of these posts, I'll tell the story of the fire and perhaps get a little more of it off my shoulders.  For now, I'll just say that it was a long time ago, no one died, and it opened some doors that needed opening.



Friday, March 13, 2009


Took a little ramble with the camera in the garden today.  It may be chilly still but the garden thinks it's spring.  The photo to the left is of the hellebores or Lenten Roses out in front of the house that are one of the earliest things to bloom. It helps that they are against a south facing wall and have the benefit of a micro-climate.   

Down below I've posted all the various skeins that I spun for what seems to be destined for a blankie project.  The dark brown skeins in the middle will be the anchor/main colour for the mitered squares and they are a two-ply  of a merino, alpaca and soy silk roving from Anna Runnings at Qualicum Bay Fibre Works.  The soy silk is pink and chartreuse and while the roving looked like chocolate pistachio ice cream, the finished yarn is mostly brown with pink and chartreuse tweedie bits.

Once I had a good whack of the main yarn, I experimented plying a single of the dark brown first with a single of chartreuse kid mohair and then with a single of pink merino to emphasize the pink in the blend.  I still had a skein of the dark brown left so I plied it with some commercial alpaca leftovers from stash to get a bit more variety for the mitered squares.  The result was a small skein of brown and gold and another of brown and purple.  Since they all have at least one strand of the dark brown, I think the variations should all look like siblings...let's hope so.    

Merino/alpaca/soy silk plied with chartreuse  kid mohair

Merino/alpaca/soy silk plied with pink merino

The happy family

I'm quite thrilled with how the skeins look against the dark brown leather of the couch.  I think the blankie is going to look very nice thrown over the back of the couch when it's not in use. The inspiration for this project is the Mitered Square Afghan by Chris Delongpr√© on Ravelry but I plan on winging it.  I'm craving something straightforward that I can knit without charts or fuss and just make it up as I go along.  Yep - meditation knitting.  

Thursday, March 12, 2009

More sad news

Yet another dear spirit has left the world.  My little Auntie Marguerite passed away two mornings ago after losing her brief struggle with a brain tumor.  I was in Kelowna last week for a funeral (bit of a theme here) and visited her in her hospice room on a couple of her "good" days.  She recognized me right away, and although very quiet, was in good spirits. It was hard to believe the prognosis but now, less than a week later, she’s gone.

She was a tiny woman, tinier as the years progressed, but one underestimated her at their peril. With eight lively children, and my uncle the ferryboat captain away from home for long periods, she probably couldn't afford to lose the upper hand. Many a time I saw a towering son quake before her wrath and have had reason to quake myself. I often wondered how she kept it together but she was part of the last generation of women who were never in doubt about their destiny.  Home and family came first.  She devoted herself to it whole-heartedly and still had time to be generous to her community and extended family. 

And there has been yet another death in the family.  I was in the Okanagan last week to attend the funeral I mentioned earlier, of my Auntie Emilie's husband Victor who died quite unexpectedly of heart failure. Emilie is the eldest of my dad’s siblings while Marguerite was the youngest. 

My attachment to these elderly aunties in spite of only sporadic contact over the past few years has taken me a bit by surprise but I think it has something to do with my childhood.  I grew up on a farm next to Mission Creek in the south end of Kelowna, not far from Okanagan Lake.  It was a truly a "family farm".  My grandparents lived in the main farmhouse and my respective aunties with their husbands and large families occupied two newer houses set close to the road, models of modern (1950's) convenience.  Our patched together house was up the lane toward the barn tucked in amid weeping willows.  I say “patched together” since our house started life as a hired hand’s cottage and was constantly being added on to when farm chores and outside work allowed my father the time for home other words, hardly ever.  

As kids, we didn't give a hoot that our house was modest at best. My brother and sister and I and the tribe of cousins lived our lives mostly outdoors, searching out new kittens in the barn, roaming the fields and woods on horseback, spending hours at the lake on hot summer days.  We hung out on the creek bank fishing or cracking rocks to see the shiny bits, built forts and explored the one bit of bush left wild at the back of the farm.  We traipsed in and out of all four houses as if they were our own, my mother and the aunties praising, scolding, settling arguments, teaching and feeding us indiscriminately.

After the sale of the farm and my escape first to university and then to marry and live on the west coast, we saw less of each other aside from brief exchanges at 50th anniversary and landmark birthday parties.  The cousins similarly scattered and in this long-lived family, we were lucky enough to not often have the marshalling effect of  funerals.  With the events of this spring, and the advanced years of the generation ahead of us, that is about to change. 

If there is any upside to all this, it is the opportunity to get to know my cousins again.  In some cases, it's been 30 years and more since I last saw them yet the connection is still there: a dormant familiarity that springs back to life upon re-acquaintance.  And it probably doesn't hurt that the years apart have knocked our sharper corners off, increased our tolerance so we don't piss each other off like we used to.   

Between deaths in the family and losing my little dog, there have been a lot of tears lately and I hardly know anymore what I'm crying about - the tears arrive and I just go with it. What set me off yesterday was the enthusiastic greeting from my friend's dog Sophie when I arrived at her place for our twice-weekly walk.  Last evening there was no discernible trigger - one minute I was fine and the next I was weeping. 

Tough times but once again, knitting and spinning have come to the rescue.  My Gnarled Oakwoods shawl is growing apace and I'm into the vine patterned centre panel.  Soon I'll be putting the first half aside and starting the second half although it makes me want to tear my hair out to think that I'm less than halfway.  I’ve made a lot of mistakes but the lace patterning seems to hide them quite effectively.  With any luck, the oopsies won't show once it's blocked…either that or I’ll be redoing the entire first half. Shoot me now! 

Because of the difficulty keeping track of where I am in the pattern, I've put aside the index cards I made up for the first section and taken Sarah's suggestion to work from the chart. Not one for waiting about for an internet shipment, I  jury-rigged a chart tamer from a metal tray and some adhesive magnetic strips used for making fridge magnets and it works brilliantly. On some short pieces of  tape, I drew little arrows on the paper covering and I move them about to indicate the direction of the row and the start of the repeat for each row.  I place the main strip above the row I'm working on so I can check on the preceding rows without having to move the strip and lose my place.  Cheap and cheerful!

Fast and dirty chart tamer

My merino/alpaca/soy silk spinning project is complete and I intend to knit a mitered square blankie to show off the various colour combinations.  I’ve felt cold so often this winter that I want a nice throw for the couch that I can wrap myself up in when I’m chilly.  And even big kids need a soft cozy blankie when they feel blue.  Look for photos of the yarn and a pattern preview in my next post.