Monday, August 29, 2011


Summer's over!  Summer's over!  Eeeek!  (I feel like Chicken Little.)  Classes started on campus today; my classes start tomorrow.  I've spent all day finalizing my syllabi (why does that always take so much longer than I think it will?), and getting them uploaded into our online course containers (and why does that always take so much longer than I think it should?!), not to mention fighting with our lovely management program to get it to fork over class lists and permission numbers (that would be the multimillion dollar system that takes longer to load pages than my aged grandmother pouring molasses in the Arctic)(note: no aged grandmothers were harmed in the writing of this post).  But that's mostly under control, leaving me to hyperventilate quietly in a corner, worrying that I've forgotten something and that I'll walk into class tomorrow with lipstick on my teeth and toilet paper on my shoe.  You know, a usual beginning-of-semester day.

What this also means is that, although I've been knitting, and have even finished some knitting (Stripe Study is done!  Younger Daughter's socks are done!), and have cast on for something new (more on that next time), I have no photographic evidence of the aforementioned knitting successes.  Alas.

However, I did see something on Erica's lovely blog that caught my attention.  It was a link to this article, entitled Tough Gals: Do They Still Exist?  (Note: The use of the word "gals" in the title probably should have alerted me to its blood-pressure-raising content.)  In that article, knitting (along with, oddly enough, making cupcakes) is explicitly blamed for modern women's lack of toughitude.  (Gun-toting and car-hot-wiring are apparently the skills that we knitters lack that would help us to achieve modern feminist womanhood.  I don't think that the word "feminist" means what the author of the article think it means.)

Now, my first reaction was to foam quietly at the mouth.  I thought long and hard about writing a post about all the reasons why this kind of thing makes me foam at the mouth, but Erica already did it for me, and did it beautifully.  However, after taking some deep breaths, drinking some tea, and spinning with my lovely little office spindle (pttthhhbbttt!), I had calmed down enough for my inner linguistic anthropologist to take hold.

And my inner linguistic anthropologist said:  Hunh?

I love "hunh" moments.  I tell my students to watch for them.  Because the moment you say, "Hunh.  I wonder why that person did/said that, in that way?", in that moment, you've got a little string to pull.  A little string that hangs off the whole fabric of a particular cultural world.  And if you pull on that string, tug at it patiently, slowly but surely you can get to see all kinds of interesting things about how that fabric is put together.  Just as dropping some stitches down a piece of knitting and then working them back up to the needles can teach us more about the structure of a knitted fabric than almost anything else, so can pulling a little "hunh" thread teach us about the world we live in.

In the end, it's all data.

So, hunh.  I wonder what it is about knitting that makes it an index of anti-feminism?  (And I should say that this is by no means the only place I've seen or heard this.)  I mean, as something that is indexical of women, couldn't it also become a symbol of feminism?  Is it a particular kind of womanhood that knitting calls to mind?  (Come to think of it, is it a particular kind of knitting that calls unfeminist womanhood to mind?)  And why knitting and cupcakes, of all things?  Why are cupcakes particularly anti-feminist?  Why isn't woodworking considered a backward-looking symbol of luddite masculinity?

So many questions.  This is why I think the knitting community is worthy of study - we are clearly oversimplified in the mind's eye of the culture within which we live.  And this is just more data, right?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

More foreign fiber

And you thought you were done with Peru.  But there was more fiber!  And I'm here to tell you now that when other people (read: people who aren't interested and fiber and textiles) ask how we liked Peru and whether we have any pictures, what they want is pictures of Machu Picchu and Colca Canyon, etc etc.  It's amazing how quickly their eyes glaze over when I show them pictures of vicunas.  I don't understand it, but it's true.

We saw other camelids than vicuna, of course - we even got to feed some at a wonderful little camelid farm that had all four of the Peruvian camelids: llamas, guanacos, alpacas, and vicunas.
They were greedy.

So was I.
But the vicuna were too far away to pluck, alas.

There were also a number of women there, spinning and dyeing and weaving.  We got to see one of them grinding cochineal.
She showed us all of the shades of red that can be made with cochineal diluted with various other things.  They also had a lovely display of the colors that Peruvian weavers get from local native plants.
Too cool.  She demonstrated spinning, which didn't seem to entertain the other tourists as much as it did me.
Tucked away in corners were the products of her spinning:
and her tools.
Of course, we did go to the more usual tourist places, like Machu Picchu - where we found llamas.
And took the kind of pictures that all those other non-fiber people expect.
Next time, I'll share a few more of this sort, and then, with luck, I'll actually have achieved something worth sharing in my various knitting and spinning projects.

Meanwhile, I'm trying desperately to catch up on my never ending pre-semester to-do list.  I'm almost looking forward to meetings - at least then, I can knit!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Fiber at home

While there's at least one more post's worth of fibrous content from Peru (not to mention all the non-fiber things we did; patient as my family are with my obsession, I didn't subject them to constant doses of woolly goodness), I have been spinning and knitting here at home, too.

Between Peru and Sock Summit, I had a short period of time at home.  I devoted myself to finishing the Alhambra socks, as I had hopes of wearing them while at Sock Summit; there is something particularly wonderful about wearing socks that took so much effort to knit to a place where I knew I'd be surrounded by people who actually understood how much effort it took to knit them.  So I knitted like the wind.
You can see that poor Tilly is feeling rather left out of the process here.
Believe it or not, these were not knit to be opposites of one another, and I held the same color yarn in the same hands throughout both socks (yellow in the right hand, blue in the left); the relative brightness of the colors seems to be very different between the two socks, though, doesn't it? 
I don't care.  I really, really love these socks.  They fit beautifully, the pattern is gorgeous, the colors are exactly what I would have chosen if I'd been in charge.  The yarns are fine enough that these socks aren't too bulky to wear in clogs (which I did at Sock Summit; this explains the now-no-longer-pristine semi-fuzziness you can see in the pictures).  I will wear these a lot, come winter.
The foot and toe charm me rather unreasonably, even knowing that no-one will see them but me.  I'd knit these again.

To recap, these are Janel Laidman's Alhambra socks (my Rav page here), from this year's Illuminations sock club.  They're knit out of jwrayco handpainted fingering yarn (the kit yarn); the blue color is Lerwick Harbor Purple, but I never got a ball band for the yellow colorway and I don't see its name on the Rav pattern page, alas.

So, I did manage to knit and wear these and my handspun Rivendells at Sock Summit.  Two out of three dreams ain't half bad, right?  (I also managed to show the Alhambras to Janel, and the Rivendells to the folks at the Sincere Sheep booth; that was rather fun.)

What was the third pair I'd wanted to knit and wear, you ask?  These:
You can see I didn't make it, although this sock was my major knitting through Sock Summit.  This is the larger version of my Silk Road socks, knitted for me, this time (note that it fits?  I've been checking...).  I managed to get the heel turn to work in the larger stitch count, and I'm very pleased with that fact.  These go pretty quickly when I work on them, since I don't need a chart to knit them.  So I'll keep plugging away.  I need to decide whether I'm going to write this pattern up or not.  The major hesitation comes from writing up the heel; I may end up writing out the heel turn line by line, and I should take notes on that when I do the second one.  We'll see.

Meanwhile, I have also succumbed to the siren call of the Stripe Study shawl.  I managed to hold off in spite of drooling over Helen's gorgeous versions, until I walked into my LYS and saw one hanging there innocently, right above a display of Zen Garden Serenity Lace (which has cashmere in it, just so you know).  I was lost.
The colors are close there, although imagine that purple a bit more on the burgundy side.  So yummy.  The colorways there are RaspBerry and Grey, and I love this thing unreasonably.  I keep knitting away at it, even though it's only garter stitch, and I keep telling myself to save it for meetings.  I can't seem to put it down - I think things like, "Just one more short row", and then "Just one more gray stripe", and I'm lost.

I'm also playing with fiber.  For example, between trips I finished spinning the absolutely gorgeous fiber that Erica sent me last spring - I need to wash it to set the twist before I take final measurements, but I spun this woollen in hopes of getting a lofty yarn, and I think I've succeeded.  Younger Daughter has already laid claim to it and wants a shawl.
It's really a lipstick red; the color is gorgeously saturated, and the fiber was in amazing condition, not at all compacted or compressed by the dyeing.  For some reason I can't find my notes on what kind of fiber it is (I know I have the ballband stashed away, but if I stop to look for it now I'll never finish this post) - I'll update that soon.  I need to decide on a pattern that will let the color and the handspun-ness of the yarn stand out.  (I also need to know how many yards I have, of course - I think it's about 300?)  Any suggestions? 

And finally, I'm playing with silk hankies for a class I'm teaching at my LYS in September.  I want to have a nice simple pattern for mitts, plus maybe one for a shawlette, by the time of the class.  It's such a hardship to have to play with silk...
I'm not spinning it, although I might with the next one - right now I'm just drafting and knitting straight from the hankies.

So, fiber fun right here at home.  And now, I think I should finish just one more short row before dinner, don't you?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

And now it's August

And I'm back from my blog break.  Which means I'm also back from the things that were keeping me from blogging, and I can tell you all about them (lucky you, right?) - to wit, a trip to Peru (!!), and Sock Summit (!!).  Between those two trips, I was out of town for almost all of July, and the brief period that I was home between trips was taken up with things like, oh say, laundry.  And petting Tilly.  And Sock Summit homework.  And laundry. 

I'm still not even close to caught up with the laundry from SS11 (not to mention unpacking the stash enhancement part of my luggage - wait 'til you see it all!).  Instead, I spent yesterday unpacking my office (which has spent the last month in boxes, waiting for our move to our new building).  The girls helped me get books onto bookshelves, and between us we had the whole thing ship-shape and Bristol fashion in a few hours.  This is a good feeling, given how much I need to get done before classes start back at the end of the month.

But Peru!  The four of us headed off on July 2nd, and didn't get back until July 18th.  Peru has always been on my List Of Places To Go Someday (that list is actually rather frighteningly long - I need to start a plan to finance my extensive travel wish list)(note to self: buy lottery tickets today).  This year we looked at our older daughter who will be starting high school next week (which means college in four years), and realized that if we want to take some of these trips as a family, maybe we should just do it.  So we did.

There is so much to tell, but I think that I'll focus on the fiber-related goodness for now - and there was a lot of it.  Peruvian textile traditions are still an ever-present and vibrant part of Peruvian life.  We spent our whole trip in the highlands of Peru, much of it on the altiplano, where women still walk down the road, dressed entirely in handspun and -woven clothes, spinning while herding alpaca.  Having read Abby Franquemont's Respect the Spindle (a book which I cannot recommend highly enough), and having seen videos of her spinning with a Peruvian spindle (she learned to spin as a child in Peru), my big goal for the trip was to find a spindle and learn more about how to spin with it - in particular, I really wanted to master the trick whereby a spinner walks her fingers, butterfly fashion, up the newly-spun yarn.  (If I am being totally honest, I also really wanted to find some vicuna fiber to bring home, but I realized how unlikely that was, and I'd been told by several people that they would not bail me out of Peruvian jail should I be caught chasing Andean camelids across the highlands in hopes of snatching tufts of fiber from their fleeing fannies.)

On Day 1, in Lima (our one day in Lima), we headed to the Museo Larco where I was able to accost my first fiber artist.  Many museums in Peru have a regular rotation of weavers and spinners demonstrating their arts, and the Museo Larco was no exception.  When I came, this woman was weaving, but a few minutes later she picked up her spindle and set to spinning.  Rick and the girls told me I was an idiot not to approach her, so I worked up my courage (and my terrible Spanish) and did just that.  I learned that the word for spindle is (and this is a Quechua word, so my spelling could be completely off - any Quechua scholars out there who can tell me how close I am?) puxka (where the "x" is pronounced "sh").  I also managed to convey the idea that I really wanted to learn that butterfly-finger-walky thing, and she had me sit down to watch (she also offered me her spindle to try it, but I really hated the idea of messing up her work).  Can you tell I'm just not quite getting it?
(The look on my face there says: Seriously?  I don't think so.)  There was also an amazing collection of very old textiles, including a spinner's workbasket.  Look familiar?  Some things don't seem to change much over time, and a fiber artist's workbasket is one of them.
Most of those spindles are for spinning cotton.  All of the ancient textiles I saw had cotton warps and camelid wefts; none of the modern ones did.  The one thing I didn't manage to do was to find an example of one of these spindles; I'm guessing they were used supported, but I could be wrong.  They are all made with a narrow shaft with a bead in the middle, and from what I saw in the museum, the spun fiber was wound around the bead, spreading up and down the spindle shaft as it was wound.  In that basket, in the upper right corner, you can also see a ball of spun singles wound for plying.

(Side note: The Museo Larco has a tremendous pre-Quechua ceramics collection - 40,000 pots strong - with pieces dating back 3,000 years.  It also has a huge collection of ancient erotic pots.  We wandered into that gallery with the girls, oops.  Put another quarter in the therapy jar.)

The next day we were off to the highlands.  We took a bus that went right through one of the camelid preserves, where we saw vicunas (!!).  (Imagine a) a tilde over that "n", and b) that word all in capitals, gleaming gold, and with light streaming from it.  Vicunas are awesome.)
Don't you think that one wanted to come home with me?  We saw quite a few of them, along with alpacas and, later, llamas.  The one camelid we didn't see in Peru was the elusive guanaco (the forebear of the llama; vicunas and alpacas are related) - they are very rare.  At our first rest stop, Younger Daughter even got to pet an alpaca (the first of many).
And I got to watch a woman plying from a ball wound with two singles (no photo, alas), something I'd read about and tried myself, but it was really fun to see it in practice.

The altiplano is astonishingly beautiful, in a sere, spare way.  There was no green anywhere (it was winter, remember), and at the altitudes above 16,000 feet, there was little to be seen but rocks and snow and the occasional vicuna (no wonder their fiber is so warm and fine).
(If you click to embiggen, you might just see the vicuna standing on a rock on the horizon.)
It was so clear that the water really was that lapis blue, reflecting the endless sky.  I could have stayed there the whole time and been happy.

But then I would have missed so many other things, like Lake Titicaca (the highest navigated lake in the world, at something like 12,000 feet, if I remember correctly), where we did many things, including a visit to Llachon, where I was lucky enough to have an amazing conversation with a weaver and spinner there, thanks in no small part to our gracious and multilingual guide (the main languages around the lake are Quechua and Aymara, and most of the people in the villages are more comfortable in one of those languages than Spanish).
I tried my hand at weaving, beating down the wefts with a bone tool (and earning myself a raw knuckle in the process - I was told that this meant that I was doing it correctly; she seemed surprised that I was willing to go that far, heh).  She was also kind enough to instruct me in her spindle technique; she used her spindle supported, spinning a lofty yarn for the weft threads of her textiles.  Thanks to the guide, we were able to have a conversation about the differences between her spindle (a bottom-whorl) and mine (I described a top-whorl spindle to her), and the difference between the uses of the fiber she spins supported (for blankets and clothes), and the more tightly-spun fibers that people use for, say, straps for carrying bags and babies.  She also told him, laughing, that I was the first tourist who had ever produced actual yarn on her spindle.  It wasn't good yarn, but I felt good about it nevertheless.
I think it's safe to say that it was my best textile moment in Peru. 

I'll stop there - there's lots more, but a little at a time does the trick, right?