Friday, July 25, 2014

Reading, Writing, Raining

Perhaps it is the summer monsoon season that has descended upon us. The most I seem to see of the outside world is when someone yells, "Rainbow!" or I hear the hens scolding me. The weather is so fickle. Even the dogs seem to be feeling melancholy. Samson won't go outside today.

This is unusual for me. I'm normally bare foot and reading on the patio for as much of the summer as I can. All winter and spring, that is what I planned on doing. Now, even when there is sun, the seats are still wet and I feel ho-hum about going outside to dry them off. Most of today was sunny, yet it stubbornly rained on. I think back to the day when I purchased the tickets for the Stitch-n-Pitch over the phone. I asked the clerk working at Purl's Yarn Emporium if she planned on attending. She scoffed, "I don't do outdoors." Am I becoming like that? There's nothing wrong with being indoorsy. Despite not being much of a green thumb, I just never thought of myself that way.

Part of my current problem is a reading rut. A particularly vicious one. It would also help if I could regulate my sleep patterns so I could actually be awake during normal operating hours. Many mornings last summer began with coffee and a book at the front patio table before the humidity had a chance to set in. Not so this year.

A quick review of the stats does not look good:
Hikes this year: 0
Mornings spent reading on the patio: 0
Days on a farm: 1
Days at a beach: 1
Days spent working outdoors in the sun: 4 (picking up roofing materials)
Days spent sleeping late: too many to count
Late nights tossing in bed: too many to count
Evenings spent squinting at knitting while it storms outside: too many to count
(I'm getting depressed just looking at this.)

I've discussed my reading habits and strongly-held reading beliefs before. But this is ridiculous. I can't seem to finish anything and it's not for want of desire or trying. There is some invisible barrier blocking me. The reader's form of writer's block. Interestingly enough, while this has been plaguing me for weeks, I have been writing notes and researching for one novel, which I've plotted through extensively, and begun notes for a second one. Perhaps there is a connection. Yet I feel compelled to have something reading, just as I feel compelled to have something on the needles, at all times.

Last night I picked up Catherine Bailey's The Secret Rooms: A True Story of a Haunted Castle, a Plotting Duchess, and a Family Secret. As one of my more recent acquisitions from Mr. K's Used Books, Music, & More, it was on top of a stack of books in the to-be-read bookcase. That particular bookcase is home to about 100 to 150 patient (some not-so-patient) titles. Some of those are reference books, so I don't know if they really "count" as TBRs. But, I felt I needed a nonfiction and The Secret Rooms has been looking me in the face for a while now.  I wanted nonfiction to break up a line of neglected paperback fiction glaring at me from the bedside table.

Here are links to articles from The New York Times and The Times Literary Supplement (UK) about The Secret Rooms, but I haven't read them, yet, because I don't want any spoilers. It would be too easy for a reviewer to take all the fun out of a suspenseful nonfiction by simply laying out the facts. I want to see how Bailey's writing does the story justice.

*I'm ending this now because I've been working at it for over two days now. That's pathetic. Drips and drabs, just like the weather. Ugh.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Eggs and Plans

Mom found the first egg in the chicken coop! It was on the ground. I think we have some negligent mamas. Social services for chickens?

 Here are her glamour shots:

In the craft room on a bed of yarn. Where else?
In my hands. Those are not speckles. It was just dirty. She couldn't wait to clean it before capturing it on film!
That was yesterday. Today, I found three more! These three were in their proper place: in a nest, in the insulated penthouse suite of the coop. I would have taken a picture, but they were tucked in pretty well. Plus we have the unwelcome challenge of visiting the coop daily without upsetting a growing threat of a bald-faced hornet nest. To access the hen's nests, I have to lift a flap on the back of the house and it's pretty snug. We're already used to opening and closing the main door gently to avoid riling up the hornets. Eventually we'll get rid of them...eventually. They don't seem to be bothered by us, but poor Samson is stung every time he gets close to the chicken coop! Regardless, I didn't dally. 

In other news, a very close friend of Mom brought over gobs of trash bags full of yarn! I'll get pictures of those once we sort them out. 

We also picked up some pattern magazines:

Both are from Interweave (love those folks). The Knit.Wear is the latest issue (Spring / Summer 2014) and the Interweave Crochet is Spring 2014, too. I've told Mom that I need the cover t-shirt. I love the asymmetric waves of stitches. It reminds me of this knitted Bermuda Shawl that I want to make in similar colors. It reminds me of sand dunes and oceanscapes. I think I just made that word up. 

From the Knit.Wear, I want to make the Six Point Tee:

Copyright Interweave Press.

Copyright Interweave Press. 
And the Folded Lace Tank

Copyright Interweave Press. 
...and when will I do all this? When I find that darn door into the alternate universe that allows me to tinker with the speed of time. 

In the meantime, I'm almost done with the Head in the Clouds cowl and I'm going to pick up and knit the tails of my Plomo Sturgeon. The cowl won't take as much yarn as I expected, so I'll be left with just enough Berroco Remix to knit up...nothing. I hate that. I'll just need to buy more! Haha!

Oh, and I'm going to work on my Aunt's purse. I hesitate to work on it because the wool is so course after working with the Malabrigo Arroyo and the Berroco Remix. Which reminds me. I need to decide what I want to do with my half of the farm-fresh fiber that's still in its natural creamy color. Leave it? Dye the easy way...with Kool-aid. Dye it with a natural concoction of gathered plants? Kettle dye or hand paint? So many choices! And that's not even getting to what I could make with it.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

What's Happening on the Mountain

Rain. I thought perhaps I'd been whisked off to the Pacific Northwest. Finally, this morning, there was sunlight, so I grabbed the camera and took some pictures. I think the pictures come out so much better in natural day light. My favorite "studio" is the large bay window at the front of the house.

Look what Mom has made:

You may recognize these from the Whistle & Ivy pattern site because Craft Gawker picked it up and spread it around FaceBook. A family member called and Mom had a commission as quick as you please!

I've finished the sock yarn cowl kit from Friends & Fiberworks:

I've begun a second cowl, the Head in the Clouds cowl by Susie Bonell, using the Berroco Remix in Merlot:

I've finished the middle part of Norah Gaughan's Sturgeon scarf, which I'm knitting in Malabrigo Arroyo's Plomo ("lead" in English):

The color seems to me to have a purple character to it that doesn't come through in the pictures.

Mom has also begun crocheting the entire cast of main characters from Disney's cartoon Frozen for my niece Alex! Here's Anna:

If you haven't watched Frozen, I highly recommend it. It is a musical. It is by Disney studios. It does have a princess and a queen in it. It is about love. BUT it breaks many stereotypes and pops many expectation bubbles. It is a very different film to Brave, so it remains my favorite, but Frozen is a close second, partly because there is some sophisticated character development for a cartoon. Watch it! And, for what it's worth, in my humble opinion, the Idina Menzel version of "Let it Go" is better than Demi Lovato's version. But that's neither here nor there.

Annual Picnic on the Farm

The Smoky Mountain Knitting Guild has an annual late Sunday picnic that one of our members, Julie Wilson, hosts on her farm, the Jehovah Raah Farm. It is tucked deep into the mountain folds, in one of those pockets we call coves. You think you can see everything there is to be seen from the paved road, until you pull off onto a separate little drive and enter a cove. Suddenly the mountains open up to give you a magical peek into just what these ancient hills are capable of. The Jehovah Raah Farm is one of those especially magical places. Part of that magic certainly comes from the Wilson family that owns and operates the farm. They appreciate the little details that keep family and farming heritage alive in their daily work and surroundings.

On the farm, they raise Scottish Highland cattle, Angora goats and rabbits, Shetland sheep, free-range chickens and Spanish Black turkeys, Guinea fowl, and both llamas and alpacas...and honey bees. (I think I got everything.)

The Angora goats and rabbits, the alpacas, and the llamas are raised for their fiber. Julie is a dealer of Lendrum spinning wheels and also teaches spinning. She is my first personal friend on the inside of the fiber world. (More magic! Except it's not really magic. It is hard, hard work, faith, and dedication. How do people who work so hard smile so much?)

Julie Wilson
Julie Wilson traditionally begins the annual picnic day early in the afternoon with a yarn dyeing class in one of her barns. By the time the yarn has been prepped, dyes mixed and added, and the yarn pulled out to dry on racks, the late afternoon picnic crowd begins to arrive. Members bring covered dishes and the Wilsons throw chicken on a barbecue. We end the day with a triumphant show of the dyed yarns.

The dye party.

I cannot truly explain how much Mom and I love this event. Even Julie, who continues to volunteer to host it every year despite the strain it puts on her and her generous family, admitted that she'd "almost" like to do it twice a year. Perhaps it is the joy of seeing such a group gathered to appreciate the farm life. Or the delight of the children chasing the chickens. Or the special treat of seeing how the yarn we love so much is taken from furry creatures, spun into workable thread, goes through the dyeing process, and arrives directly into a crafter's hands. I spent much of my time at this year's event roaming and snapping pictures. Last year, I roamed, but I had forgotten my camera. So, for me, perhaps it is all of the above, because I want to soak all of it up. Sure, I've lived on a farm before, but not one with this much livestock. When I lived with my grandparents, they no longer raised hogs for slaughter. There was a large garden, honey bees, ginseng patches, and chic\kens. For a while there were Guinea hens and hunting dogs. It is a life lived by the earth's rhythm. Work and sleep is dependent on weather conditions and sunshine. Beauty takes on a totally different meaning. You can still love your Saks 5th Avenue fashion, but nothing will be more lovely to a working farmer than a reliable piece of equipment and a successful livestock birthing season. And, here in the mountains, as I mentioned, there's that trick of the cove, the "holler" or "hollow"...the place where pasture land suddenly spreads out like a blanket laid over the earth, a scattering of weathered barns and houses are the heart of a family's livelihood, and the elevation is high enough that clouds can cut you off from the outside world.

Mom and I feel like little girls again. We pet the animals, tramp through mud and dung, point out interesting things to one another, and Mom teaches me plant names. I'll even admit that we sneak into the Wilson's house to see their collection of sheep trinkets, the antique enameled cast-iron stove in the kitchen, and the little handmade art creations that Julie has rigged from whatever has found its way into her hands. There was a tiny, swirling ring of corn seedlings. A wee corn maze in the making?


We didn't get there in time to dye, which was just fine because all of the hot plates and pots kept tripping the circuit in the barn! But we did purchase 6 skeins of hand-spun sport weight in a blend of Shetland wool, mohair, and alpaca, 200 yards each. 

It was a fantastic and blessed day. Thank you so much to the whole Wilson family for welcoming us all.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Prepping to Felt in Color

First, you must have something to felt.

You may remember my plans to create a felted purse to match the one that my Aunt saw at the fiber show in Sanford this past April. I'm currently knitting up the bottom piece and will pick up the body stitches along the edges. The yarn is 100% wool from Ella Rae (here's their online supplier) in classic solids and heathers. I've already done a felting swatch in faire isle and it felts lovely. Here are the colors  and my matching pencils for sketching the color patterns onto graph paper:

The body will be fair isle patterns, some metal beads added near the top, and leather handles attached once it is felted. Color work is wonderful to do when felting is involved because I don't need to be overly worried about the backside of my work looking perfect or all those different colored yarn ends being sewn in invisibly. Everything really does come out looking great in the wash!

The tricky part with felting is sizing and estimating shrinkage. I think I've got this pattern under control after one good afternoon of fiddling with numbers and a handy online percentage calculator. Thank goodness I took careful notes of gauge of the felting swatch before and after felting to determine shrinkage. Throw a couple of extra stitches in for good measure, and I felt solid to cast on. Note to self, throw even more rows onto the pattern because knitted fabric shrinks vertically far more than it does horizontally. As in 33% (vertical) compared to 12% (horizontal) after two wash cycles and air drying flat. Big difference. (I almost sound like I know what I'm talking about, don't I?)

In the meantime, I whipped up a little Leaf Top (here's the direct Rav link) for Mom from stash yarn (Naturally Caron Spa, which is unfortunately now discontinued, in "Misty Taupe"). Ok, maybe not entirely unfortunately, because it splits like nuts. It does feel like a million bucks, though. It's made of 75% acrylic and 25% rayon from bamboo. I made it as a little surprise and I am so pleased that it fits and she likes it! (It is kind of difficult to make surprises for her when we live together.)

I modified the edgings and hem length. Check out my notes on Ravelry for specific details.

Ooh, also, I have new stuff! I have recently discovered Interweave (my favorite multi-craft blanket company) publishes a magazine called Knit.Wear--and I love it. They recently had an online "hurt" sale and I discovered the entire back issue collection (just 4 issues, since the premier in 2011) priced at $10 on some of the online store pages (but not all). I called and they honored the $10 price over the listed $24.99. I now have a nice CD-ROM with all 4 issues in PDF. The magazines are normally about $14.99 each and they aren't available in normal craft or book stores, only at your LYS or from online through Interweave.

Then, in the public library, I discovered one of the books that was advertised in one of the Knit.Wear issues, Shades of Winter: Knitting with Natural Wool by Ingalill Johansson and Ewa K. Andinsson, published by Interweave (see, they are my favorite company). It is gorgeous. It partly photographed in one of the seasonal ice hotels that really exist! (I had previously thought they were just made up for that James Bond movie. Nope. They're real and apparently there's more than one of them.) You can preview some of the patterns at the Interweave online store, here, where it happens to be on sale for less than $7. Sweet deal. As I found mine in the library, I'll be visiting an office supply store to ink up my all-in-one printer/copier magic machine to copy the patterns I plan to make one fine day. It's never not good weather to knit, I don't care how hot. 

Here are my selections from the book:

Copyright Ewa K. Andinsson & Interweave.

Copyright Ewa K. Andinsson & Interweave.

Copyright Ewa K. Andinsson & Interweave.

I'll take another day to wax poetic about Knit.Wear and the patterns I'm so excited about...oh, and the articles and tips! 

*I noticed that sometimes my pictures in other posts were taking a ridiculously long time to load for viewing. To fix that, hopefully, I've reduced the resolution size of my images on this post.