Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Fàilte gu Alba

Welcome to Scotland! At least, that's what will be written on the signs I hope to see this time next month!

I'm taking mom and we're heading to Scotland. Pardon me. I need to pinch myself. Again.

Warning: If you've ever wanted to go to Scotland, what follows is a disgusting amount of chatting about where I hope to take us. Consider yourself forewarned! 

I rented a cottage in a small village inside the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, less than an hour northwest of Glasgow. And get this: I'll be driving. Yep. I hear UK drivers are nicer than American ones, so I hope they'll be patient with me. If you're reading this and you live in Scotland, I'll be the one going really, really slow in the tiniest and cheapest rental car possible, with a woman in the passenger seat yelling, "Stay LEFT, LEFT! No, your other left!"

This is a hiking, local yarn-hunting, and unique site-seeing holiday, with a heavy emphasis on relaxation. Although I realize we could probably make it all over the country during our time there (2 full weeks), I do not plan on being away from the cottage for more than an overnight trip.

The one overnight trip we're considering is a loop:
Day 1: Set out early and head north to Glencoe; next to Fort William, in order to follow the Great Glen northeast; picnic lunch at Urquhart Castle and maybe a cruise on Loch Ness. We'll stay in a lovely guest house with a sea view, located in Nairn, down the coast from Inverness.
Day 2: After breakfast at the guest house, we'll visit two other Nairn locations, and the order of which will probably be determined by the weather: Cawdor Castle and the Nairn Wool Shop. If we feel up to it, we'll pick one other castle for the return trip: Braemar, located within the Cairngorms National Park; Scone Palace, near Perth; or Glamis, because...well, I was an English Literature and Creative Writing major with a Masters in Library Science, and once I've seen Inverness and Cawdor, obviously I must consider seeing Glamis, regardless of the distance. (And, before you ask, of course I'm rereading Macbeth.) Now that I think of it, maybe we should see Cawdor on Day One and push on to Glamis for sure.

(Now you may be thinking that we planned that loop around the castles and Loch Ness, but, actually, that yarn shop had a super major role to play.)

I plan on a Stirling and Doune Castle day, both of which are within an hour of the cottage. Doune Castle starred in Monty Python and the Holy Grail and featured as home of Clan MacKenzie in that recent Starz television series based on some book with a hot ginger-haired Scotsman and his sassy Sassenach. Stirling, on the other hand, played a critical role in the actual history of Scotland, but may not be near as well-known to the last several generations of television-viewers.

Of course there will be an all-things-woolly day. The Scottish Wool Centre is just a hop, skip, and a jump away. Then I plan on a loop to New Lanark, where the wool mill has been running for two centuries, over to West Kilbride, home of the Old Maiden Aunt Yarns independent dying studio and Craft Town Scotland, and back to the cottage.

What am I doing in preparation, besides reading? I'm knitting, of course! Among my tons of ongoing projects are two hats designed by Kate Davies and I'm using her Scottish wool, Buachaille. Scottish wool to keep our American heids (heads) warm in the unpredictable weather of the September southern Highlands. I finished her Scatness Tam last week, but it was knit in Knit Picks Palette (decidedly not Scottish wool).
There's a wee error in colors, but I think only experienced Scatness Tam knitters would notice it...I hope.

But that hat is very much inspired by Scotland, ancient ruins in Shetland in particular.

And for my truly knitty nerd friends, I even braved a shot of the inside!
I just finished the Epistropheid in Buachaille colors Highland Coo and Squall.

The yarn is wild and smells so sheepy! I love it! Next up is Funyin in Buachaille colors Haar and Yaffle. 

Why am I going to Scotland? Well, it is not because I'm a die-hard fan of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander book series or the related television series (although I did enjoy the first book). I'm not a beach person, or a tropical paradise person, or someone who enjoys cities, except for the historical types (I really would like to explore Edinburgh, though). Although I can (roughly) trace my genealogy to four brothers (probably one generation removed from Scotland or of Ulster-Scot origins) that entered North Carolina from Pennsylvania via the Great Wagon Road, that is also not why I'm visiting Scotland.

I love history. Especially land that has a history that can be read on its face still. Land that is not yet denuded of character and paved into submission. I love textiles and Scotland weds its wild history with a rich textile tradition that is still to be found in some parts. If anything, deciding on the country was easy. Deciding on a location within Scotland was more difficult. Shetland? Edinburgh? Loch Lomond? The Hebrides? The Cheviot Hills?

Why a cottage in a tiny village in a designated national park? To maximize the potential for relaxation. And because Kate Davies, the talented knitter who designed the hats shown above, has introduced the world to just that neck of the woods via her blog. It has beautiful forest trails, beautiful views, beautiful lakes, beautiful trees, and why not? There's a river running through the backyard. A tea room and a pub within strolling distance. Loch Katrine and a steamboat named the Sir Walter Scott within minutes driving. Did I mention the beautiful trails? And when all else fails, when blisters from walking and sore muscles keeps us inside the pub, we'll sit and knit and be joyful that we're in such a beautiful place. (Which is precisely how I wish I remembered to feel everyday here in my beautiful Smoky Mountains.)

Sunday, August 7, 2016

I didn't expect that...

I am so grateful and appreciative of the overwhelming and positive response I received from everyone for my first pattern release, the Balsam Range cowl! I was very nervous and didn't know what to expect. What if the pattern left knitters frustrated? What if the piece was not a useful part of a knitter's wardrobe? What if?

It was absolutely amazing to read the kind comments and see the pattern be downloaded by so many. My local knitting group, the Smoky Mountain Knitting Guild, has even announced a knit-a-long with my pattern! What!? Amazing. I am so, so appreciative of the support.

Thank you!!

And...then I was stuck. I had spent so much time worrying about that single pattern that I was unprepared for next step. Naturally, that would be to release another pattern. I have a list of inspirations, tons of stitch dictionaries, lots of construction options to explore, and I'm getting the hang of a great software program (StitchMastery) for customizing stitch patterns...and all I could do was sit and stare off into the distance. There were too many possibilities, even when I decided that the best bet would be to begin swatching. Because you can see a stitch pattern in a picture, but not realize its full potential until you begin combining it with different yarns and other patterns in actual swatches. The patterns and fully designed pieces are like words that are hiding on the tip of your tongue, just out of reach. Even when you have an "aha" moment and the possibilities inherent in that stitch, that construction, begin to show is like a scene cut from a Matrix film, with shapes, textures, and colors, all flying everywhere on multiple levels and different directions, radiating...then (just when you think, "hey, that's pretty cool") the designer's version of writer's block smacks you down.

So, that's what I did for a while, immediately after releasing the Balsam Range cowl. I wallowed in my own absurdity. (That's what it felt like, anyway.)

I finally decided to go back to the trick that actually helped me get started with, and finish, Balsam Range. That was Francoise Danoy's rules for her Initiate Knit Design Challenge (check out Aroha Knits). For the challenge, she assigned a limited choice of general topics and a garment shape. So I assigned myself a topic and a construction shape. And I swatched. And swatched some more. Here is one complete section of the larger garment:

That's all I'm showing for now! I'm hard at work on the pattern and knitting up the full sample. Test knitters for lace anyone?

Monday, July 11, 2016

New Frontiers

I've been busy!

Today is the release date for my first test knitted and tech edited clothing / accessory pattern, the Balsam Range lace cowl. I’m a knitwear designer! (If you know me personally, then you know that I’m totally squealing right now, precisely like a gaggle of little girls. A whole gaggle.)

In recent years, I turned back to knitting for comfort. Then a new friend encouraged me to join the Smoky Mountain Knitting Guild. In the guild, I met people involved in every imaginable aspect of the fiber world…and I began to dream. I’ve explored yarn dying, spinning yarn, and rigid heddle weaving. But designing was something that had always been whispering in my ear, since I learned to knit over ten years ago. This past spring, Francoise Danoy of Aroha Knits conducted the Initiate Knit Design Challenge to power would-be designers from idea to pattern draft in five days.

It worked. I finished the week with a drafted design and a better sense of the creative process that worked best for me. It took almost two more months to polish the Balsam Range cowl into shape, but it is done. (Did I mention that I’m as excited as a mass of Justin Bieber fans hopped up on Dr. Pepper and too much Halloween candy?)

Now I’m plagued by visions. Visions of knitwear collections, thematically curated and presented in print books introduced by lovingly researched essays, modeled after Kate Davies’ fantastic publications. Dreams of clever constructions in the vein of Norah Gaughan and Bristol Ivy. Plans…oh, I could go on. And I hope I really will. I hope I don’t just chalk these visions up to over-reaching my abilities or over-estimating my talent. None of us are one-hit wonders. It just takes dedication. Or maybe I’ll decide that I like spinning fiber more. Or under-water BB stacking.

Whatever happens next can only happen if I continue forward. There are no gates guarding frontiers. They have been open. All that is required is the courage to step forward.

And have I told you about Scotland, yet? Oh, boy. Talk about adventures!

Until I come back and fill in those details, you can check out my new web site here: But I'll continue to blog here. 

Saturday, February 13, 2016

alone & together, at the same time...

I've been a faithful follower of several podcasts, but recently discovered The Sweet Georgia Show, an audio-only show produced by Felicia Lo, creator of SweetGeorgia Yarns. Episode 23, an interview with weaver Liz Gipson, was particularly interesting to me. As you know, I'm a geek when it comes to researching the history and techniques of anything I become interested in. Textile crafts have an amazing history because of how critical clothing is to humanity (basic necessity, at least in winter). As Gipson pointed out in her interview, the Industrial Revolution hinged upon the textile industry and universal need for textiles. Gipson went on to provide a snapshot of how the traditional cottage industries that had provided textiles were quickly (almost) phased out, but then emerged again and again as popular hand crafts and hobbies in the market place. Now, we are seeing a major movement to more mindful production of textiles and the market to supply hand spinners, knitters, crocheters, weavers, and sewists is incredibly strong, thanks in large part to the latest technology of social media. There is a world-wide community of hand crafters that may know each other by name and correspond online, but have never met face-to-face. Textile artists may be isolated geographically, but can find tutorials and advice to improve their craft on forums and YouTube. In the past, a physical community was critical to survival of these skills. Now, people like me, who struggle with social and general anxiety, can be a part of keeping a tradition alive and benefit from the expertise of others who share their interests. As Gipson says, we can be alone and together at the same time! Episode 16, an interview with Leah Churchley, also resonated with me because of how knitting became a part of her own on-going treatment of generalized anxiety disorder. These are the only two episodes I've listened to so far, but I plan to start back at the beginning and listen in order.

It's funny how things that seem opposite in their essential nature can actually work together to sustain one another, like a hands-on textile tradition and online technology that has engendered fear of losing true community. Instead, it may be helping us save an interest-linked community where traditions may have suffered if left to the old way of being passed down through family members.

Also funny (here's my attempt at a smooth segue, but I don't think it's happening) is how I like to see new places and experience new things, but suffer physically when I travel, even on short road trips. And yet, I've packed a great deal of travel into my plans for this year. Hence that sense of discovery that I was hoping to set for the new year when I made a short pilgrimage on the Blue Ridge Parkway (see last post). When I travelled down to Columbus, Georgia for the Georgia Fiber Fest last year (only about 5-6 hours of driving), I settled into the hotel room and promptly slept for about 14 hours. That set me up to enjoy the rest of the trip, but once back home, it was another round of marathon sleeping to get back into my normal groove. I have learned to build in lots of time for rest and for dealing with the unexpected. If air travel is involved, I definitely incorporate extra time. I arrive hours early, browse shops in the airport, buy a cup of coffee, and settle down at my gate to read and sip. I don't rush to get to my seat or to get out of it. I don't push to get in line. When driving, I stay away from crazy drivers and those folks on the four-lane who think its a race to see who can stay ahead of the pack. If I get tired of seeing the same vehicle on the road, I actually take the next exit and rest for a moment. If I know there's a Barnes & Nobel on the way to where I'm going, that becomes my pit stop. The bathrooms are generally clean, they have excellent coffee, and there's lots to look at. That's how I deal.

Last year, I gave up at least one major opportunity to travel because of fear. I don't want to do that anymore. That doesn't mean I'm going to plan travel for every weekend. I need to plan ahead for plenty of down-time for this to work. I've agreed to be a travel partner for a friend who needs help tending to her booth at fiber festivals. It's mad to try covering a retail booth for eight straight hours. Also mad to consider doing all the set up and take down by oneself, but it is done by these hard working entrepreneurs all the time. So, I've joined Ashley Eskew's Twist Fiber Studio 2016 Tour!!!

Here are just a sampling of the goodies that come out of the Twist Fiber Studio:
The fiber and matching yarn skein were left over from Ashley Kickstarter campaign and were dyed to match the project bag on the bottom. The other two skeins are "Lakeside" and "Dyepot Surprise".
Left to right: "Dyepot Surprise" on the Fairview Fingering base (75 SW Merino / 25 Nylon), "Magic Mountain" on the Pisgah Fingering base (80 SW Merino / 20 Nylon), "Lakeside" on Lexington Fingering (75 SW Merino / 20 Nylon / 5 Stellina), "Oooh Girl" on Montford Fingering (80 SW Merino / 10 Nylon / Cashmere), "Girl at the Rock Show" on Montford, "Roller Rink Disco Party" on Montford, "Magic Mountain" on Montford, and "Andromeda" on Montford.
This is the Piewhacket Shawl that I knit last fall, using Twist Fiber Studio Montford Fingering in the "Lakeside" colorway.
Here is the list of the events she'll be attending as a vendor this year. I've marked the ones that I'll be attending, too, with an asterisks. I feel honored to have been asked to help and be a part of Ashley's independent business.
**Carolina FiberFest, Raleigh, NC - March 25th-26th

**Smoky Mountain Fiber Arts Festival, Townsend, TN - April 16th-17th

Super Summer Knitogether (SSK), Nashville, TN - July 20th-24th

Into the Wool Fiber Retreat, Crossville, TN - September 1st-4th

**Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair (SAFF), WNC Agricultural Center, Fletcher, NC
October 28th-30th

We're awaiting confirmation for the following events:

**Kentucky Sheep and Fiber Festival, Lexington, KY - May 21st-22nd

**Fiber Feel Day, WNC Farmer's Market, Asheville, NC - June 4th

If you are at all curious about fiber and textiles, come out and join us on one these days. Fiber festivals are always fun, usually have animals, and always have tons of colorful inspiration. If you can't make it out to a festival, you can see Twist Fiber Studio items for sale online here:

I also have plans for a major, super-duper trip later in the year, but I won't spill the beans until all the details have been confirmed. It is so big, I'd call it a proper adventure. I'm so excited!! But you have to wait for full details...

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Yep, definitely 2016.

I've finally stopped writing 2015 on things, I survived the Blizzard of 2016, and I have concrete plans for the days ahead. I avoid resolutions, but I can already detect a theme for the year. There may be some personal changes afoot, however slow.

I'm not going to waste your time, or my own, whining about what kept me from keeping up blogging on a more regular basis. It is important to recognize that I am not the kind of person that works like that. Fits and starts are more my thing. The important thing is that I didn't scrap the blog. In fact, it has often been in the back of my mind and I've been keeping my own personal print journal in the mean time.

Let's get to the good stuff. What did you miss? What's been going on?

Since I last posted, I failed at Spinzilla, but I had a very good medical excuse, I swear. On the other hand, I did enjoy a great experience spinning with friends at one of the public Spinzilla spinning events. We set up in front of the Hendersonville Visitor Center on a lovely sunny day and spun for hours. Several people stopped to speak to us and watch our work.

A couple of days later, in a roaring downpour, I drove around downtown Asheville in a hopeless search for a parking place. I had planned to attend my second Spinzilla public spinning event. With a swollen treadle ankle, low visibility, and no parking spots (did they melt in the rain?), I gave up. But not before I risked parking in a sketchy lot for a special buy my very first rigid heddle loom from a weaver who was upping her game to a floor loom. Thank you, Ashley, for the hook up!
This sweet Schacht Flip joined the family!
We visited my aunt in the eastern part of the state several times this year. On one of our longer trips, we were able to join her family on a visit to the North Carolina State Fair in Raleigh.
There were rides and micro vegetables and oversized vegetables and sheep. A proper state fair.
(Have they always had micro veggies?)
We also made it to the Pittsboro Street Fair. I picked up a couple of sweet, hand-sewn bags that will make perfect knitting project bags. We ate lunch at lunch at the delicious S & T Soda Shoppe, a sweet spot that serves everything under the sun, including luscious flavors of ice cream. Next door, and outside working on new coffins (Halloween being just around the corner, you see), we found Roy Underhill! He was working in front of the The Woodwright's School. He hosted the woodworking show The Woodright's Shop on PBS / UNC-TV, which my family watched when I was younger.

Roy! Looking just like he did when I watched him on PBS.
We managed to come away with pottery from both fairs on this trip, but I can't tell you who made the pieces! They were sold in booths with works by numerous vendors and I wasn't given a business card specific to their makers. Boo.
The mugs are oversized and the bowls are small enough for the base to sit easily in the palm of your hand.
I totaled our car, Daisy. She was classic, in the "I'll die trying" sense of the word. And I guess I drove her a little like an old lady some times, because if I'd pulled out faster, maybe we wouldn't have gotten hit. It was a hidden driveway in the middle of a blind curve at the top of a hill, so oncoming traffic is speeding up as they pass you while you're attempting to turn left in front of them. Now, I refuse to turn left when leaving my brother's house. If we're going somewhere east, we'll just have to get there by a different road. That makes total sense to me. (Check out those stickers in the window. And that's a wee crocheted sheep dangling from the rear-view mirror.)

Poor Daisy.

On a more positive note, fall was beautiful here on the mountain:

October ended with the biggest fiber party around these parts: the Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair. Mom and I didn't go hog wild in the market place, but we participated in classes for the first time this year.

We discovered a new-to-us family-owned farm, Heelside Farms, located in eastern NC. They had a great selection of locally milled and hand-dyed yarns from breeds I don't usually see blended in the skein or even together in one booth, including Icelandic, Border Leicester, and Columbia. And we could see pictures of the actual sheep on display. We enjoyed chatting with the owners. The next time we visit my aunt, we hope to visit their farm's Red Barn Studio in Four Oaks, NC.
The darker skein is 100% wool, but I think it may have been a blend of their breeds. The brighter one on bottom is wool, silk, and nylon. 

I was very excited that Gale's Art had a booth. (I first discovered Gale's Art through Gynx Yarn's The Dyer's Notebook video podcast. You can see the interview here.) I had fallen in love with her heavily speckled "Graffiti and Asphalt" colorway, but wanted to see her selection in person before purchasing. It is a super cool color combo and I nabbed her last one on the Wonder Sock Yarn base (75% Superwash BFL / 25% nylon). In the picture below you can see the other two skeins that Mom picked out, both solids ("Ashes" and "Silver"), both on her MYS 62 base, which is a luscious blend of 60% Superwash Merino, 20% yak, and 20% silk.

Mom and I volunteered to help Julie Wilson teach one of her beginning spinning classes on Saturday, which was a great experience. Julie is a wonderful teacher (she was mine) and has a great approach for all learning styles.

We also took a class on spinning and blending rare fibers with Judith Mackenzie! For those who are not in the spinning or weaving world, Judith Mackenzie is a world-renowned spinner, weaver, fleece judge, teacher, and has apparently been called upon by some pretty important folks (royalty) to work on conserving textiles. She is a very knowledgeable, experienced, and esteemed woman in this community. And I would add wise to that list, too. And sweet. (But tough. She's married to a Montana rancher and spoke about many experiences related to the ranch. Yes, definitely tough, too.)  She was very soft-spoken and sweet, despite my barely contained excitement (as close to rock-star-fandom-level excitement as I get) at meeting her and being taught by her. She doesn't just teach, she tells stories. It was dreamy to spin with luxury fibers (cashmere, camel, yak) while she spun tales and demonstrated. And she didn't say anything when I was so rude as to whip out my cell phone and take pictures every now and then. (I generally don't do it, for fear of making any presenter or teacher nervous, unless I've asked ahead of time.) She doesn't have a personal web presence per se, so I've linked to the Interweave Store's page of her videos and books. Here she is:
And she is tiny!

After SAFF...was November...and then December...and I don't remember much, except that I was not feeling so great. I let the new year creep in softly. I do remember it rained. A lot.

On New Year's Day, I did bundle up and take my mother with me to the highest point of the Blue Ridge Parkway, just for a brief, frigid walk in the hopes of setting a tone of discovery for the new year. This was at mile marker 431.4, at the Richland Balsam Overlook, which is at an elevation of 6053 feet. Our house is at about 3000 feet, but not too many miles away. These pictures are from that overlook or on the way to it.

And then it finally snowed. And snowed some more. And snow being more exciting than rain, it was therefore dubbed the Blizzard of 2016. Actually it was manageable for us, but pretty rough elsewhere along the eastern seaboard.

Here is Samson, the bigger of our Great Danes, viewing his great white kingdom:

And here is a particularly nice, silvery sunrise:

Our property faces south, so our snow melted pretty quickly, but there were many areas that simply aren't graced by winter sunlight in these mountains. On family property in the Balsam Gap area, there were patches of ice and snow for over a week after our snow was completely gone.

We are all done with playing catch up. Now, on to what is currently going on.

I'm spinning up some chunky singles from batts that I picked up at last year's regional "Anything Fiber Sale" at Warren Wilson College.

Cuckoo for Cuckoobatts Club Batts from Art Club in "Meadow" (Superwash wool, Tencel, nylon, and alpaca)
I'm weaving a color-and-weave sampler based on the samples given in Jane Patrick's The Weaver's Idea Book: Creative Cloth on a Rigid Heddle Loom (pages 24-25). I'm using Knit Picks CotLin yarn (70% Targuis Cotton / 30% Linen) in "Whisker" and "Planetarium".

I haven't forgotten knitting. In fact, I have a ridiculous number of WIPs. At least four of which I could grab right now, in this very room: 1 complete-except-for-a-toe pair of socks, 1 almost-to-the-toe sock for another pair, and 2 sweaters that have both been worked from the top down, past the sleeve split and halted mid-torso.

I'll be back soon with details of what lies ahead in 2016. I've also discovered some new podcasts that I'd like to share.