Thursday, July 29, 2010


Look! Two posts in a week! Do you think this means I'm getting my blog post mojo back, or do you think this means I'll disappear again for the next two weeks? It's anybody's guess...

I will definitely be disappearing for the weekend, as I'm off on one of my language trips, starting with the lovely long drive through the Mojave tomorrow morning at 5:30, to Tehachapi. I'll spend the weekend at a language camp, working on learning verbs and lots and lots of verbal endings. Think verbal thoughts for me, if you please.

As I mentioned in my last post (and thank you for the woodworking compliments; I appreciated all of them, and I am happy to report that the sanded-away bits of my hands are starting to grow more skin -- hooray for the human body!), I have been spinning and knitting this last week. Last night I cast off the scarf that I've been working on for a friend's birthday. She doesn't read the blog, so I can show you the in-progress shot I took (and I'll show blocking shots once I have those).
That's a Pear and Trellis scarf (I can't remember the yarn, complete details next time; all I know is that it's a new yarn over at Yarning For You, and that the only way I could justify buying both of the skeins I fell in love with was to agree to myself that I'd give one of them away). I was worried that the colors would be too busy with the pattern, but I think that once it's blocked, it's going to be all right -- the strong vertical lines of the pattern will help to clean things up.

I've also been spinning. I think I mentioned that I'm working on my long-draw technique, and I practiced with all of the fiber from the class I took in Ohio, ending up with this skein (plus the ones I showed before):
That's a three-ply, with one ply of merino, one of something that I think I recall is Cormo, and one of a camel/silk blend. They were all fun to spin, but I have to say that I adored the Merino -- mmmm..... It's still not even, but it's getting better, and, as I tell the girls, practice makes perfect, right? So I cast about my fiber stash, trying to find something that might work spun up this way, and my eye fell upon the 16 oz of stunningness that is a bump of BFL from Briar Rose.
I decided that it's just silly to keep saving things for when I get "good enough", and I set to it.
I am loving the way this is spinning up. That bobbin is now completely full, and I'm on to another one. I need to decide whether this will be a three-ply (which results in a more even yarn), or a two-ply (which results in more yarn). But I have time to think about it as I spin. As I spent all day yesterday getting the girls' back-to-school shopping done and taking them to a movie, I think I deserve a little time at the wheel this morning, don't you?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Knitters are everywhere

I don't know if you've ever had a Knitter Encounter in an unexpected place and time, but I had one yesterday and it reminded me that knitters really are everywhere; I find this comforting. If only we ruled the world...

Yesterday we drove up to Irvine to the Bowers Museum for the last weekend of their Silk Road exhibit. I have been absolutely dying to see this exhibit since I heard it was coming, both because it looked interesting in its own right, and because I had read a lot about the mummies of Urumchi because one of the researchers who has been studying the textiles found with the mummies is none other than my college professor Elizabeth Barber -- the one whose teaching and research inspired me to become a linguist. I think I've mentioned before that learning to knit, and especially learning to spin, have felt a bit like coming home to something I've been working my way towards for a long time, and I think that's in no small part because of Betchen and my admiration for her work. (I also think I've said this before, but if you haven't read Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years, you most definitely should. I am currently reading her book on prehistoric textiles, too; very dense, and very interesting.)

So, there we were, wandering through the museum. And there I was, getting my face much closer to the textiles than most people, in absolute awe of the fineness and evenness of the yarns used to weave them (will I ever spin that well? probably not... and can I just tell you how much I want a loom? I want to know how they do that!). I stopped in front of an lovely face covering, woven in blue and gold silk, and I said to Younger Daughter, "Wouldn't that make a gorgeous pair of socks?", and a woman standing near us turned to me and said, "Knitting on the brain?" To which I could only reply, "You, too?" I had to laugh. It's good to know a) that I'm not the only one whose knitting practice is inspired by other things, and b) that there are people out there who immediately understand the implications of seeing a textile and wanting to make socks. I wonder if she lay awake last night, too, designing socks based on thousand-year-old textiles? I have plans...

I've been working on a number of textile projects while watching the Tour (and isn't Andy Schleck a doll? Next year, Andy, next year...); I'll share those next time. But I also spent Saturday rewaxing our dining room table, which put a bit of a crimp in the spinning plans for the weekend, as it took a lot longer than I'd thought it would, and didn't turn out as well as it usually does. The table is unfinished (by design), and needs to be waxed from time to time. Generally, this isn't a huge job, especially if one does it on a regular basis. Last time, though, we decided that we really didn't like the toluene that's used in standard waxes, and Rick went on the hunt for something with a slightly less scary solvent. He did finally find something, but by the time he'd found and ordered it, Older Daughter had managed to spill calligraphy ink on the table (don't ask), and the rewaxing job became a get-the-ink-out and rewax job. Long story short, I hauled the table outside and started work.
You can see how uneven the finish is there. The goal was to sand out the ink, then to do a quick run over the table with some fine-grit sandpaper, and then to apply the wax. It was the ink sanding that did us in; Rick recommended 60-grit, and while that took out the ink, it turned out to be a mistake.
60-grit digs deep. From that decision came hours and hours of sanding to try to even things out. The orbital sander doesn't really work, as years of waxing has soaked wax down deep into the wood grain, and the sandpaper clogs up quickly. So I did almost all of it by hand. It looked good before I put on the wax coats (five or so hours of sanding later):
See how much more even and lovely that is? Well, what you're not seeing is the scratching from the 60-grit, which didn't show (after all that work) until I put the wax on. It shows now, drat it. Five coats of wax later, the wood stopped drinking, but I'm going to have to take it all the way back down to bare wood next time with a belt sander (and a LOT of sandpaper) to get the scratches out. Sigh. I stopped before the final buffing of the last coat of wax, both because my hands were a mess (the sandpaper has taken layers of skin off, and they're bruised and swollen, alas), and because the sun had gone, and the sun is what keeps the wax just soft enough to work the extra back off the table. Rick, bless him, did that last bit yesterday. It looks happier, but I'm sad about the scratches.
I probably wouldn't be so sad if I didn't love this table so much. It was an anniversary present from my parents when we'd been married a year and were about to host our first big Thanksgiving dinner (turned out even this table was too small -- we had 20 people at that dinner!). It was custom-made to fit our dining room at the time, and to fit Rick; the legs are an inch longer than standard, and the skirt is cut up an inch, too. It's also wider than a standard table, which means I can, in a pinch, seat two at each end, and also that there's plenty of room for serving dishes down the middle, even when it's fully set. (All of this means that I have to work very hard to sand that puppy, since I don't have much leverage at my height.)
Isn't it pretty? The scratches are a bummer, but the good thing about an unfinished piece of wood is that I can take it back down to the bare wood next time and get rid of them.
And, as an added benefit, I found out this morning that the muscles one uses for sanding and polishing and waxing are also the muscles one needs for a fast breast stroke. Wax on, wax off. Wax on, wax off...

Friday, July 16, 2010

We're baaaackkk!!

Home at last, and home for quite a while, yay! Only two short weekend trips, in-state, before the summer is over, and lots of weeks between now and then (three, but don't burst my bubble). Although I should be honest and mention that when I say "we" are home, I mean "me and Rick"; the girls are still in Maryland with their grandparents.

Rick commented this morning that he doesn't think their rooms have ever stayed clean for this long. But it is really quiet around here. Just sayin'.

Washington, D.C. is such a fun city to spend time in. I only wish that it hadn't been 106 degrees on our first day there (not to mention 102 on our first night). We spent more time indoors than I generally like on a vacation, and the girls were heard to remark on a number of occasions (in tones of horror) that they were sweating. We pointed out that they actually sweat here, too, it just usually evaporates a little more quickly. Perhaps this picture of us waiting in line outside the Archives can convey how they felt about an east coast scorcher.

I suggested that they wouldn't know hot until they'd tried to sleep through a night like those in a third-story bedroom under the eaves of an old house with no air conditioning, with only one window per room (cross-breeze? we don't need no stinking cross-breeze). (Why yes, I have done that, why do you ask?) They were not amused.

We all really did have a wonderful time, though, and I'll share pictures of some of the many things we did (by my count: sculpture garden (ten minutes -- it was hot), American Indian Museum, Air and Space Museum, Textile Museum, National Archives, Spy Museum, Capitol, Library of Congress (fifteen minutes before we were driven out by a fire drill), Old Post Office, Eastern Market, Smithsonian, National Mall). In four days.

Rick and I have actually been home for a few days, but I'm in recovery. This means that I've done some knitting, and I've done some spinning. The spinning has, in my opinion, been rather more successful than the knitting, about which I need some opinions. I knitted a beaded tam for Younger Daughter, which looks absolutely lovely, but which is as limp as a wilted cabbage.
I'm going to try reblocking it on a smaller plate, with the brim pulled in tighter, but I think that this may be a bad yarn match. This is knitted out of a merino singles which was stretched during the spinning, making it silky and beautiful, but leaving it with no spring. I didn't really think about it, having never knitted with this particular yarn before, but I'm starting to wonder whether this is something that isn't going to work for a hat, and if so, whether to attempt to save it with some elastic in the brim (my best thought) or to frog it and try something else (if the singles would survive the frogging). Thoughts?

The other project I need an opinion on is the lovely bamboo lace I finished just before I left. This is Anne's pattern Les Abeilles, with some modifications at the end because I'd run out of yarn. It's the modifications that I'm not sure about. I haven't woven the ends in yet, so this could easily be frogged, and I could figure out something else to do with the yarn (or I could just throw it in the stash for a time-out). Basically, I had to bind off along the top, rather than decreasing away all the stitches. This has left it with a rather odd shape, and I can't tell whether I really like it, or really don't. This matters a bit more than usual, since I was thinking that I would give this to a friend of mine who is due at the end of the summer (people always give hand-knits to new babies; I figure mothers should get hand-knits, too, right?).
It does not in any way close. One could not tie it shut, or use a pin on it. But it does stay put, and it makes a rather nice shoulder cover, I think. I'm torn.
I would like to make it very clear that this is not a pattern issue; you should see Anne's photos of her finished shawlet. This is a problem of my own making, as I thought I'd have more yarn left after finishing my socks, but I didn't.
See? It does a reasonable job of covering the back of one's neck and shoulders. But I wouldn't want to saddle someone with something dorky.

So, opinions? Is this little thing due a visit to the frog pond? Or is it an interesting design choice? You decide...

Monday, July 5, 2010

Finishing before starting

I'm leaving tomorrow for a week, so I thought I'd better do a quick wrap-up of the rest of my adventures at the Great Lakes Fiber Festival. Due to the return of the June gloom (which is now lasting into July), I still have no pictures of my yarn acquisitions (nor, come to think of it, of my fiber acquisitions, which were few but lovely), but I do have a picture of something that I managed to not acquire, in spite of the best efforts of their owner:
Aren't they lovely? There were a number of alpacas at the festival, all of them just gorgeous, with their huge friendly eyes and their soft soft fiber. (Did you know that they really do hum to one another?) The gentleman who owned these two was very friendly, and had his sales pitch down flat. He talked about the fact that they're cheaper to feed than dogs (and got dog food prices from my SIL to prove it), the fact that they'll keep a lawn trimmed and leave deposits of fertilizer to boot (a very classy way to put it, if you ask me), and the fact that since they have padded feet (like a dog's), they won't ruin a hardwood floor (this rather begs the question, no?).

It was tempting. I can imagine the girls walking their alpaca through the neighborhood, just like this:
But I refrained. I also refrained from coming home with an angora rabbit, knowing that taking care of these beauties is a not-insignificant task.
They surely are soft, though!

I did, however, jump one really important and, for me, somewhat frightening hurdle. I did my first-ever interview for the knitting project. Chris (wonderful, kind, and patient Chris) volunteered to be my guinea pig. While I know intellectually that a) she is wonderful and my friend and is unlikely to laugh at me, and b) knitters in general are wonderful, and c) that I've survived far worse than conducting a formal interview, it is still always hard to do something for the first time, and there is a weirdness to sitting down with a friend and turning on a digital recorder. When I finally admitted to Chris how nervous I was, she confided that she was, too, and we agreed that we could bravely try out this new thing together. And it was fine! I don't know if she had as much fun as I did, but it was a wonderful way to start the next stage of the process, and I can't tell you how much I appreciate her patience with my missteps (like forgetting that I'd need to plug my recorder in OR have batteries; I did have some stashed in the car so it wasn't irretrievable, but still -- learning experience), as well as her amazing generosity and trust in sharing her time and story with me. Thank you, Chris!!

So in the end, that trip felt like a real success on lots of levels. Time with my SIL, rare and wonderful, seeing old friends and new, conducting my first interview and buying a first fleece, and learning long-draw (which I'm working on!). Very nice.

Tomorrow, we're off to Washington, D.C. for a little while. We'll have four days there before taking the girls to my in-laws, where they'll stay to visit for another week while we come home. We get to see my brother and his husband, which is wonderful; I haven't gotten to visit them at their home yet, and I'm really looking forward to it. My brother has also arranged for us to tour the White House, which we are all tremendously excited about (the girls keep saying things like, wouldn't it be amazing if we saw the President? I'm trying to talk them down so they're not too disappointed when they don't get to hang out with the Obama girls). This is our family vacation for the summer, and we're going to make the most of it.

I've also packed my knitting. I finished the bamboo socks, as well as the shawlet. I turned out not to have enough yarn to really complete the pattern (sigh), and there's no more to be had at my LYS (double sigh), so I sort of winged something, and I'll need to block it to see if it actually worked. I'll let you know once that's done. If not, I'll frog it and try something else. But the socks fit beautifully! Too bad it's 100 degrees in D.C. where I will not be wearing socks. So with those off the needles, I have packed yarn to knit a pair of socks for Younger Daughter (inspired by Lori, I think I'm going to try these babies), as well as what I need to knit two more of the beaded tams that I love (one for each daughter). All of those are pretty good travel projects (barring the beading part of the tams, but that is only over nine rows, which go pretty quickly). I'll also tuck Bex in for the ride; they're much more complicated than those other projects (an understatement), but good for knitting while listening to an audiobook on the plane.

I may be able to post when I'm there, but the camera kit hasn't arrived for the iPad yet, which means no pictures (and I had such high hopes), unless I can think of a way to get them from my phone to Rick's, whence he can email them to me. I haven't yet figured out how to get a picture from email to save on the iPad, though, so that may be a moot idea. We'll see.

Meanwhile, perhaps I need to research the location of yarn stores near Dupont Circle and the Mall, eh? Any suggestions?