Sunday, March 30, 2008

Home again!

Wow! What a trip. Prague is a wonderful and inspirational city. The colors, textures, history and culture are overwhelming. As I look through my photos and note what caught my eye, the color and texture aspect of each shot seem to be the common link. No wonder I love the fiber arts...hmmm...color, texture, history and culture. They all seem to go together.

I bought enough of the persimmon yarn to make a sweater and the mulitcolor boucle is plenty for a wrap or scarf and hat, maybe even mittens.

I found all three of the noted yarn stores from my pre-trip research. Mar-Len was by far the most interesting. They had walls of yarn in many colors. Most were multiple strands of varied plies; ribbon, wool, mohair, boucle, all in different combinations. I am not a big fan of novelty yarn, which seemed to be plentiful, but did find a couple of more natural samples for my collection.
I was so excited to go find new and unusual yarn in this part of the country. But as the facts would have it, we have so much yarn from all around the world available to us, here in the United States, that it is a surprising let down to visit elsewhere. After speaking to friends who have gone to other countries in search of something new and interesting, they also return with similar results.
So, go forth with a new appreciation for your LYS and the artists who create hand dyed or hand spun fibers for our knitting pleasure!

I fooled myself with the weather reports. Leaving my shawl home was a mistake. It was exactly what I needed in the cold of Prague. Two weeks of snow and mostly overcast skies kept the chill on. My first purchase was the kooky, but VERY warm hat that I am wearing in the picture.

A side trip to Cesky Krumlov helped to complete my fiber search. I purchased a pair of hand knit socks from a local woman who was sellingthem in the town square. These bulky cable-knit woollies are a memento of my trip, and I wore them as slippers during my flight home.
If I had lived in one of the many castles in the area, I would think that this sort of lovely bulky knitted wear would have been in high demand! Brrr.
The trip was so full and interesting, that I will probably be adding some further tidbits in the upcoming posts. But for right now, a cup of tea, a nap, a little knitting on the socks that I have neglected and my family are on the agenda. Ahhh, jet-lag, a worthwhile price to pay for the adventures that cause it.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Ahoj from Prague!

Or, Hello! After wandering the labrynth of streets in Stare Mesto (Old Town). I finally have my bearings and started the search for fiber. The weather, while I was home and packing, was in the 40's and somewhat sunny. On the day of the hunt, the temp dropped below freezing and I found myself in a snow blizzard, obstructing the views of street names. HELP! STill I forged forth and found one of the shops on my list.....more to come, I am on borrowed time for the internet with an English keyboard. Stay tuned.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

My Bags are Packed...I'm ready to go

I know, the song is one that dates me, but the line always comes to mind before a trip. I am just about done with the dreaded packing. Of course, the weather is starting to warm up, even in Prague, so the shawl that I made to take is not going to be my most practical object, especially on the plane; a little too lacey. Oh well.

My cat is preparing for my departure by sleeping in the suitcase with the clothes. (The black all purpose clothes that show her little white hairs). I got a black and white cat, deciding that it would be half the contrasting fur on dark or light clothing, rather that all of one color contaminating the wardrobe. Not that the spinning fibers don’t already get the rest appropriately fuzzy. It did not work.

I am hoping to send out a message while traveling, but in case I don’t, check in…it’s only a couple of weeks.

Bellatrix is being worked on 2 size 0 Addi-turbos. I know that airlines are allowing needles, but these are long, thin and dangerous looking. They are also expensive, so the risk of having them taken is not worth it. I have a pair of green socks cast on (perfect, since I have given up casting on with the Black Sheep and hate to go back on the deal) and they can be done without a pattern. Not very exciting, but they will keep my hands happy. Once in Prague the 40 days of “no new cast-ons” will be over and I can buy yarn locally and see what happens!

Bon voyage for now!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Tractor Tracks Scarf

Okay, here it is. Essentially, it is all knitting with strategically placed button-holes as a design feature. Please feel free to play with gauge and different yarns! This is how the sample was made:

Tractor Tracks Scarf

Yarn: 2 skeins Noro Silk Garden (or comparable Aran weight yarn)

Needles: Size 7 US

Gauge: approx. 20 st and 26 rows = 4" in garter stitch

Cast on 22 stitches.

Rows 1-4: Knit each row (garter stitch.)

Row 5: Knit 4 stitches, Bind-off 5 stitches, Knit 4 stitches, Bind-off 5 stitches, Knit 4 stitches.

Row 6: Knit 4 stitches, Cast-on 5 stitches (using e cast-on), Knit 4 stitches, Cast-on 5 stitches, Knit 4 stitches.

Row 7-10: Knit each row (garter stitch.)

Repeat rows 1-6 until it is your desired length. Bind off loosely. Block by soaking in warm water with wool wash for 20 minutes, carefully squeeze excess water out. Lay flat to dry.

Wear with everything!

Note: 2 skeins of Silk Garden are about 240 yards in case you are thinking of substituting another yarn. The gradual color changes are lovely, but solids, heathers or shorter color striping would be interesting! Share your results and enjoy!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Nature vs. Future

It is always nice to get a shot of inspiration or information from a fellow knitter. Amy Singer was in town yesterday to inspire and inform us about using non-wool fibers. Any fiber snob is horrified to hear that Amy cannot wear wool, even the finest of fine cashmere. She knows that we feel this way and encourages us to expand our horizons.

The whisper of synthetic makes me cringe, but I have allowed my sock yarn to be reinforced with that bit of nylon. Ok, I am opening my mind, and it does make them stronger and they do live longer. But to knit a whole sweater with a cotton and acrylic blend? Hmm, I am still not sold.
The new synthetics are definitely not the acrylic that I grew up with, I will give it that. But all of those hours of work! Plastic?! Ok, it does lighten the cotton, but close inspection still gives me the notion that there is an intruder in my natural world of fiber.

I like playing with the bamboo and tencel. These, too, were a stretch for me. They are chemically produced, but the natural beginning helps me to accept them. I know that I am not alone. I know that others are trying, and yet others who would not even dream of trying to accept the notion of chemically produced alternatives to natural fibers being introduced to their stash. I mean, if the moths don’t even want it, what does that say?

I recommend hearing Amy speak and can’t wait for her new book to hit the shelves. What great designs! I am sure that there were many knitters out there who recognized the need for wool alternatives and will try some of the new blends. I liked hearing about the options and the gauge considerations to keep in mind when using them. And I especially loved the swatches that we could see and feel for ourselves. Maybe one day, when I really need an alternative, I will wander a bit further into the world beyond animal and plant fiber for some space age alternative, but right now, I am still pretty down to earth at heart.

About my trip preparation…..I started the Bellatrix as planned and enjoyed working on the beginning so much that I am nearly done with sock one. I guess I had better come up with an alternate traveling sock. I have no self-control.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

What's up for March

A little over a week into the month and I am just getting my plans together for March.

  • I finished the Earl Grey socks for my dearest. He is as happy as I am about this FO!

  • Socks from Stash for March with be the Bellatrix Socks in Lorna's Laces. I am starting them to get the feel for the pattern, since this will be my traveling sock. I leave in less than two weeks and need to start packing. This begins with the knitting, of course.

  • For the March Sock-down, I am using Ann Budd's Broken Cable Rib Socks from Interweave Knits.

I need to write up the pattern for the Tractor Tracks Scarf that I designed and finished. I will share this on my site for FREE! It is fun and easy and could be done in a variety of yarn weights, colors and styles!

This Sunday is the field trip to Ann Arbor with the Black Sheep Knitting Guild to hear Amy Singer speak ( What fun! This involves knitting, eating with friends, maybe some shopping and the inspirational talk.

Gotta go! Fiber is calling....and so are the dishes and the vacuum cleaner, ugh.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Spring Cleaning or Neatening the Nest

The sun has begun to shine. In Michigan, this is a cause for celebration! It gives me that added incentive to straighten up and organize, finish UFO's and plan for future endeavors. While that sun was shining in my fiber room window, I was drawn to the color and excitement of the yarn on the shelves. This yarn has been hanging out for a while. New yarn has been added to replace what had been used or was just added. Of course, I love to see my fiber, regardless of season or greyness of days. But on a sunny day, the colors seem to be talking more than usual. I notice things that might have become part of the scenery.

Time to straighten the stash. This is no small endeavor, and would be much easier if I had another huge room to move it into! Last year, I had the great organizational idea of using clear plastic bins to house different weights and color families of yarn. It is good for stacking and moving things around. It is also good to be able to see inside and realize just what I have accumulated. Yes, I use my Ravelry stash list to record new purchases and have gotten into some of the older stock. But, whew! What an undertaking. And the biggest issue for me is this:

I am a visual person. I make decisions about projects and choices about combinations by seeing the big picture. I need to look out over the horizon of yarn and select from the palette!

I cannot imagine trying to shop at a yarn store that had all of the tactile and visual excitement in boxes and referenced by lists. These things have their place, but the artist in me needs to see and feel it all!

Even my pin-wall is a bit messy, but very visual. When I first started getting my thoughts together for art school, I got in the habit of snipping bits of this and that and adding articles and words or color swatches to remind me of what inspires my work. I still do this with notebooks and my bulletin board "pin-wall."

I haven't stopped knitting or spinning to put things in place, oh no. But, I do find the act of reorganizing and repositioning my stash a revitalizing process. I am encouraged to use things that I forgot that I even had. Patterns that have been rolling around in my head are finding fibers to match, too! And it never hurts to do a little reorganizing prior to a fiber festival or shop hop. It sure helps to direct my eyes.

Since my first post, I am finally in the home stretch of the Earl Grey socks for my husband. The Vintage Shawl that I made from alpaca for my trip to Prague is ready to go. And I am anxiously planning the traveling sock to accompany me on the long flight.

After hours of organizing and rearranging the stash, I don't believe that the mess is much better, but I am so exhilerated to work with my newfound fibers that are being freed from their plastic boxes. The shelves are becoming a kind of rotating exhibition of fibers on display. They get a little air and light and I get a little more excited to see and use them.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Spinning my wheels

Yes, wheels is plural. I do not have just one spinning wheel, I have three. No, I am not a circus performer, I cannot use them simultaneously. But, I do believe that I have alluded to my love of tools in an earlier post.

How do I love spinning? Allow me to share my story.

One day, about five years ago, I was in a knitting class, learning to design and knit a Gansey (based on the Beth Brown-Reinsel book, Knitting Ganseys, Interweave Press.) Some of the students were talking about the Chelsea Fiber Fair and the beautiful hand spun yarn for sale. I thought that this would be a good opportunity to find something new and different.

I arrived for the start of the sale and found the parking lot full. Shoppers were already leaving with GARBAGE BAGS FULL of fiber purchases. Immediately, I felt my pulse quicken and got the panicked feeling that I might be too late for the best buys. What in the world could these people be buying that required such large bags? What do they make??? My head was reeling.

Once inside, I was handed a large clear shopping bag (yes, the size of the garbage bags that were leaving!) I will never forget looking out at the sea of woolen balls of every imaginable color. Each table was piled high with fiber. But this was not yarn, oh no, this was the roving and top for the spinners to create the yarn. I could not fathom a market for so much fiber and enough spinners to buy it. I had not really grasped the potential of these fluffy balls.

Along the entire back wall was an array of hand spun yarn, hanging like jewelry in the sun. I found yarn that was new and exciting. I also found yarn that was experimentally combined elements of string and llama, unusual colors and textures. I had no specific use in mind, but loved that these yarns were so creatively conceived. They were not mass produced yarn available in huge quantities to everyone, everywhere. These were special.

Back to spinning...I am getting there, really.

A woman from the Spinner's Flock spinning guild was using a drop spindle (I later learned that it was a Golding spindle, no wonder it caught my eye) and was spinning a strand as she talked to passersby. My initial thought as she greeted me was this: "What could be the sustainable interest in watching fluff turn into yarn, repeatedly for hours and hours?) Hmmm. I agreed to try it. Within minutes, literally, she was helping me select my first wool. Not too slippery, just soft enough to enjoy. I tried a few spindles and found one that was balanced. A small ball of wool and a simple spindle. I don't think that it even cost me $30.00. How dangerous could this experiment be?

Did I call this post spinning my wheel. No, I believe the plural, wheels, should have been your tip-off.

I fell in love with spinning. I still enjoy my hand spindle. I also own a beautiful Golding spindle (a wonderful gift from a friend - I had taught to her to spin.) This initial experience led me to a spinning wheel. That wheel led me to a faster wheel. That wheel led me to double treadle and a portable version that I can take anywhere. Most recently, I spoiled myself with a Woolee Winder, just to keep my momentum going.

Some people avoid trying new things because they already have plenty to do. Some people are afraid to try things that they might actually enjoy in fear of having to choose what they spend their time doing. For me, trying a variety gives me a world of understanding. I know what goes into finished products that I love. I better understand what is out there and who is doing it. As far as I know, I only have one life for all of this exploration, I better do my best to get it all in. Somehow it all fits together.

There are things that you try and continue to do. And there are things that you try and appreciate, but do not continue. This is not spinning your wheels, it is living.