Saturday, September 29, 2012

Learning something new

I'd meant to post about my new learning experiences last Sunday, since I had a weekend of some very productive new learning, on both work and fibrous fronts.  But one of the new learning experiences is best conveyed through a short video of me engaging in my new-found fun, and I didn't have a chance to get me, my tools, a videographer, and a machine capable of videotaping all into the same space at the same time until today.  Now that I've do so, today's post involves a quick knitting update and some spinning fun.

I should mention first that one of the new learning experiences involved my fieldwork, and it means that we can move forward with a big task that we've been planning for some time.  Last weekend, one of my work colleagues and I headed up to Tehachapi to spend the day getting our heads around a transcription program called Elan (available for free through the Max Planck Institute).  One of our huge goals for Kawaiisu (the language whose speakers and learners we're working with on documentation and revitalization) is to gather high-quality audio- and video-recordings of conversational speech among the three remaining speakers, and then (and here's the really tough part) creating equally high-quality and detailed transcriptions of those conversations.  That, in essence, involves creating a word-perfect transcript of everything everyone says, whether they're speaking Kawaiisu or English, including an indication of when and for how long people are speaking over each other or interrupting each other, etc (with as many as six people involved in the conversation at any one time).  That alone is incredibly intensive work.  But these transcripts then need to include a breakdown of all of the meaningful pieces of each word spoken (called morphemes - not to be confused with morphine, even though people often want some during this part of the process), then providing a gloss for each morpheme (i.e., its exact meaning), then a translation of the sentence.  It can be incredibly hard to organize all of that data into something usable, and very few programs exist to help with that.  I've used Word tables in the past, but Elan looked like it was going to do the trick.  And I think it will - but it took three very smart women five solid hours to get it set up and ready to go (after some prior weeks of processing time separately), and in a few weeks, we'll head back up to train all the transcription teams in its use.  We felt pretty darned smart at the end of our work session, I have to admit, and very excited about how fabulous this level of documentation has the potential to be, both for the purposes of revitalization (the number one purpose), and also for understanding how this language works even better than we already do.

With that level of accomplishment under my belt, I decided the time had come to finally give a new spinning technique a shot.  In the Summer 2012 issue of Spin-Off, I spotted a really interesting article called "Navajo Ply on the Fly", by Rosemary Thomas, in which she describes Tammy Rizzo's technique for both spinning and plying on a spindle, in one pass (in other words, no need to spin all the singles for a yarn, and then ply).  I read about it, and tried to visualize it, and mulled it over for quite some time, and then re-read it, and mulled some more (this is how I tend to learn anything new). Once I'd gotten my head around it (and I admit, I found Rizzo's sidebar made more sense to me in some ways than the version described in the article), I sat down to give it a shot.  I fully expected to make some very serious errors in my attempt - after all, it's a new technique, and (in spite of the caveat that one ought to be familiar with Navajo plying before trying this) I'd never Navajo-plied anything before (oops).

Nope.  This technique makes so much sense, and is so intuitive, that it just happens.  It's more fun than a basket full of kittens, quite frankly, because you spin an arm's-length of singles, chain-ply it and add plying spin, wind it on the spindle, and off you go again.  It's a funny thing to see when you put it down - a spindle full of three-ply yarn, with a length of singles and fiber hanging off the end.  It's harder to describe, I think, than it is to do or see, so this morning I grabbed my iPad and my older daughter and asked her to record me doing it (sidebar note: does anyone else still call that "taping"? I do, and my kids always look at me funny).  I expected that to take a few tries, too, but it turns out she's a natural at this, so here it is.  It's my first effort at this kind of thing, so please let me know what you think.  (And again, because I am big on citing my sources, let me be clear that this is not my technique.  It is a combination of what Thomas shows in her article with what Rizzo describes in her sidebar to the article.)  And if you're a spinner with spindles - I highly recommend giving this technique a shot.  Note: because it's a big file to upload here on Blogger, I've put it over on YouTube - the link is here.

I've also been knitting away at Scoria.  I hadn't thought I'd finish it so quickly, but the front, back, and sleeves are all done and blocking, and I'm knitting the neck right now.  It might even get seamed tonight, depending on drying time, and whether this neck knitting goes quickly.  That would be great, since tomorrow, we're heading up to Burbank (yes, during Carmageddon II, alas) for one of Younger Daughter's feis, so not a good day to being doing things like seaming (although it will be a good day for simpler knitting, of which more in another post).
There are all the pieces, waiting to dry.
 I am pleased with the combination of yarn and pattern.  The yarn is Plymouth Vita, and it's got a fabulous hand - very cushy, and not as hard on the hands to knit as cotton and cotton-blend yarns usually are (at least for me).  (The 15% cashmere probably doesn't hurt.)  I was very worried about having enough yarn, and cut the sleeves a little shorter than they already were, but it looks like I'll have enough, which is a relief.

And now, I will adjourn to my knitting chair to work on that last piece.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

It's week what?

I can't be the only faculty member on the face of the earth who counts down the weeks in the semester, right?  There have been many semesters when that countdown seems to go. so. slowly.  Not this semester, though.  This semester, thetimeisflyinglikeaperegrinefalcononspeed.  It's the middle of week four already.  How did that happen?

Part of it, I think, is trying to get used to the new job I'm doing.  I don't yet seem to have in my head all of the categories of things I should be tracking.  I knew what I had to keep an eye on before (have I done my class reading?  am I caught up on grading?  need to work on that paper I'm presenting/chapter I'm writing/research I'm doing, etc etc), but it's a whole new world now - one which includes things like: build the spring schedule - eek!  So I'm working on that.  The biggest sorrow, from my perspective, is that the number of meetings I attend each week has ramped up exponentially, and the percentage of them in which knitting is not an option (either because they're too small, or because I'm running the meeting) is much higher than I'd like.  So, more sitting in rooms for hours on end, less knitting.  Sigh.

I am still trying to get in a little bit each day, though, and that means that I've finished the back of Scoria, and am working away at the front.  I have no pictures, but I am making progress.  Mostly in the evenings where I'm either watching Eureka with the girls (love that show) or Firefly with Rick (also, unexpectedly, really love that show) - hooray for Netflix!  I have also found some time to work on a very very plain sock (perfect for movie knitting, and, I hope, also for meetings where knitting is only marginally appropriate, and must be very subliminal).
I'm actually much further along on that; I'm done with the foot and about to start the heel flap (even on my toe up socks, I am as likely as not to knit a heel flap; there is some small possibility that I might do one of the sweet tomato heels I learned last year from Cat Bordhi - I need to decide).  This is a gorgeous bit of yarn I picked up the other week at Yarning For You; I think it's Zen Yarn Garden sock yarn, but I'll check to be sure.  The plan is to knit a simple foot, then a corrugated rib leg, so that they feel like really luxurious thermal underwear socks.  Mmm...  Comfort knitting at its purest and best.

Other than those two projects, I haven't been working on much.  There's been no spinning (and I miss it), and I haven't had a chance to take a picture of or cast on for the really big project I got some yarn for last week.  With luck, that will happen before my next post.

So that's it, just a drive by posting to say that I'm still alive, still knitting, and that I'm actually, for one brief and shining moment, caught up on grading and class reading.  Does this mean I can knit with my wine tonight?

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Plugging away

So, I did finish that sweater I was talking about last time.  And it's too big, I think.  So, since it's linen, I washed it two or three times.  Then I washed it on hot (gasp away - but it's linen, so I can do that!).  And I dried it every single time.  It's still on the big side, but I've decided to think of it as a sweat-shirty sort of sweater, and am calling myself OK with it.  It doesn't help that it's been WAY too hot and humid around here to be wearing any kind of sweater, even for taking photos.  But I finally put it on quickly and made Older Daughter take a few pictures, just so I could prove that it is, indeed, done.  So today's post is about that, and the gardening project I've been working on, and the new-ish things on my needles.

First, the sweater.

See what I mean?  It's too big.  
But it is comfortable.  And the linen is softening up (as linen does) more and more with each wash.  I think that once I can wear it, it will soften up even more.  And I do love the color - it's a very cheerful lime green.  In fact, it is exactly the kind of sweater that should work for what I envisioned it for - something to throw on, once the sun goes down and it cools off.  Which is usually what happens, either because the marine layer blows in from the ocean, or because it's so dry that as soon as there's no solar gain to keep the air warm, the temperature drops by twenty degrees.  But that's not what's been happening around here lately.  No.  Instead, we're getting monsoonal weather, from the Sea of Cortez.  And it's muggy.  The only benefit to this that I can see is that it is now not cold after dark.  This caught me utterly by surprise the other night - I was sitting on the front patio, knitting, and wondering why it seemed so strange to be sitting and knitting outside after dark, and I realized - it was because I wasn't cold.  That said, I hate humidity, and I'd rather need to wear this sweater after dark to stay warm.
I managed to find exactly the right buttons in Grandmom's button box, too.  That made me very happy.  So, all in all, too big or not, I think this will be worn.  Just a quick reprise:  this is Anne Hanson's India Print Henley, from Ann Budd's new top-down sweater book.  I knitted it out of Fibranatura Flax, seven skeins, and just barely made it.  I love the pattern - it's a lot of fun, and because it is knitted from the top down, there is absolutely not a single itty-bitty bit of seaming to be done.  Happy day!

I spent the better part of the morning working on another kind of project altogether.  I should say at the outset that gardening is not one of my strong suits.  I love fresh produce, and I adore cooking with fresh herbs, but if living things can't jump up and down and demand to be fed, I tend to forget about them.  (This means that pets and kids do just fine in my house - plants, not so much.)

(In fact, by way of quick proof, look at how well the chickens are growing!)(That is not their coop; it is their mobile chicken run, which allows them to be out in various parts of the yard during the day without us worrying about cats/hawks/dogs getting to them.  Once they are fully-grown, they may not need it, but they are not, and they do.)

I have a garden bed that I dug out of the gravel parking pad the previous owners of the house had laid (cutting down two producing peach trees, if you can believe), but it's down the driveway, and easy for me to forget about, and given my aforementioned issue with keeping plants alive, and plants' demonstrated inability to make loud noises to attract attention, well.  You can imagine.

There is an odd bit of space by our front walk that up until recently had been the home of many of the kinds of plants that the previous owner liked - palmy, subtropical-y types of things (not my cup of tea)(in fact, he had a habit of layering such plants in front of the plants that were already in the yard, which means that we have a half-acre of wildly over-planted property, and that I dislike half the plants we have; alas, they are often the plants that Rick likes).  In the ten years since we've moved in, it had gotten immensely overgrown, and was utterly dominated by a sago palm that was at least six feet in diameter (I am not exaggerating here)(the sago took up almost the whole space on the left of the picture below, between the post and the black pot).  Not only that, but all the growth was utterly blocking any light from getting into the room that is Rick's office (you can see that window in the second picture).  So I decided it was time to clear it out.  This worried Rick, for whom change is a bit daunting, but I convinced him (it helped that we decided to try transplanting the sago, so it felt less like whole-sale destruction).  I should have taken a before picture, but once we got it cleared out, this is what I was left with.

(Note: I still couldn't convince Rick that we needed to get rid of that camellia.  He just could not let go.)
(Note also: I do not like that camellia.  It was sort of trellised, and it kind of looks like a bas-relief bush.  I don't much like bas-relief bushes, they seem odd to me.  Also, it feels like it's lurking there just as you come in the gate, waiting to mug you with waxy leaves - not welcoming.)

I spent yesterday gathering things - plants, soil, pots, etc, - and once Rick headed out for a bike ride this morning, this bit of space and I spent some quality time together.  I pruned the camellia.  (And now, of course, that I spend blood sweat and tears trying to get it under control without getting rid of it, Rick agrees with me that it really doesn't belong there.)  I planted and potted things.  I arranged and rearranged.  At the end of several hours of work, I ended up with this.
 It's got some filling in to do, of course, and there are plans to add more plants.  The goal is to have California natives and herbs, mostly perennials.  That path in front leads straight to the front door, whence there is a straight shot to the kitchen.  This means fresh herbs for me!
 So far, there are two kinds of thyme, sage, terragon, lemon verbena, both culinary and not-so-culinary lavender, garlic, and lemon balm.  More will go in next week.  I also have several California natives, like sea grass, and a low-growing manzanita, things like that.  The plan is to put some Douglas irises and blue-eyed grass in, too, in that corner to the right.  I think this is going to be much better once it's grown up some.  Time will tell.

 Meanwhile, I have cast on for another sweater.  This is going to be Scoria, when it's all grown up (assuming I have enough yarn; I am still trying to knit at least some things out of stash, and I had what I'm hoping is a sweater's worth of this yarn stashed away, so here I go).  I am knitting it out of Plymouth Yarn Vita, a cotton/cashmere blend whose virtues I have extolled in the past.  I still love it.  It is my hope that this will become this year's conference sweater - we shall see.

I have also been working in fits and starts on Color Affection.  My gut feeling is that I'd be further along with this if it weren't for the fact that managing the three balls of yarn isn't easy.  It's not so much having three balls on the go that's the issue, as the fact that they're those flat little balls that yarn like this tends to come in, which are worked from the outside in, rather than center-pull.  This means that it's not possible to just have them sit nicely in a bag whilst I knit; they have to be able to roll around.  It makes this less good for knitting in meetings than I'd hoped.
I'm (as you can see) trying something different; I'm knitting this out of Cascade Kid Seta, so it's very fuzzy.  I'm still not sure what I'll think of that in the long run.  In the short term, I'm kind of liking the wrong side even better than the right side.  What do you think?

I've cast on for one more thing, and bought yarn for yet another, but I think those can wait until next time.  It's time to settle down and knit by my incipient garden for now.