Sunday, March 26, 2006

Ta da!

This is my handspun, handknit pea coat, made out of Romney wool from a Kentucky ram I know personally. My journey with this fleece began in May of 2004, when I scooped the fleece off the shearing floor and claimed it at Albert Petersen's farm. The ram weighs 300 lbs, the fleece was 12 lbs before washing and somewhere around 8 lbs after it was professionally washed and carded by Stonehedge Fiber mill. The coat itself weighs in at just under 4 lbs on my kitchen scale. The buttons are from Vancouver, Canada. We bought them while on vacation in Dec. 2002. (see, you can never tell when you'll need the perfect button!) The pattern is from Vogue Knitting, Winter 2003/2004. Considering how cryptically short the pattern was, it is amazing how long this took to knit...the yarn was bulky, the needles were 7's, and I knit a very dense fabric.

This photo was shot in our dining room, in front of one of my spinning wheels, a Great Wheel from Orange County, North Carolina, just outside of Chapel Hill. You may note the relieved and happy expression on my face. Now I can just wear the coat instead of lugging it around and knitting it. What a relief!

Friday, March 24, 2006

Better bows pattern is online!

Better Hair Bows, my new (easy) knitting pattern, is now available here! This pdf downloadable pattern allows you to use a metal French style barrette as a foundation and a small amount of fingering or sports-weight yarn to create your own hair bows. I wrote this pattern because I have thick, slippery hair, and regular ribbons just don't stay in my hair. The Better Bow does--because it uses the metal barrettes that really grip hair....and you can use up lots of stash to make bows that match your knitted sweaters.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


It's spring time all right--cold temperatures, sleet and rain, and I'm wearing my finished Romney wool coat. (no photos, though, I have to get the husband to take one.) Here are some season appropriate photos to tide you over...
Springtime Green wool, which has more variation than the photo shows:

Here is Cherry Blossom, the lightest gray and pink blending of dyed wool and alpaca. I probably have close to 2 lbs of it. I drumcarded it all together in one day, and my arm is still sore. Here are some of the riches. There's still a bit of "bruise" color alpaca left, which I just may spin from
the teased puffy cloud instead of doing any more carding.
.I'm also working busily on the next pattern for my website. It will be for hair bows. Here's a peek:

Please Note: Harry was not harmed or even asked to get off the couch for this photo shoot.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

lead in the soil

Lots of people have asked me about how we knew we had lead in our backyard soil. In fact, so many people asked me that I wrote an article about it and I've been trying to sell that article for months! However, in the meanwhile, I think lead prevention safety is more important than an article sale, so let me explain. (By the way, if you know of a magazine that would be interested in paying me for such an article, I'm happy to provide it--this is a very important topic)

The area where we now have our garden used to be sort of an old garage/garden shed. It was falling down so we had it pulled down completely. The floor of the "garage" was dirt, so we suspected there might be chemicals in the soil. We mentioned it during a dinner party at our house, and a biologist friend agreed. He works with my husband and had a machine in his lab which tested lead. (I'm purposely avoiding all the names of the pieces of equipment, you don't need to worry about that!) He said he'd be happy to check out a soil sample. Now, his lead tester only indicated a presence of lead. Its lead measurement was not very sensitive, so when it indicated we had lead in the soil right away, we knew we were in trouble.

Our biologist friend contacted someone in the university's Public Health department. We collected samples from all over the yard. In the meanwhile, the husband dug down 8 inches from the dirt floor of the shed, and we had that sample, from 8 inches down, tested too. Our soil varies in its pollution levels--but it is everywhere from 60 to 300 times the legal limit for lead, according to the professor in the Public Health department.

That's dangerous. How did it happen? Well, part of our yard used to have another old house on it. That burned down, and likely the lead paint ashes polluted the soil. The area around the shed probably had its fair number of spills --leaded gas, leaded paint, etc. Finally, our backyard is filled with old trash. When this area of downtown Bowling Green was built, folks used empty lots or backyards to dump their trash. We find completely unbroken old glass medicine bottles, tons of shards of ceramics, old buttons, etc. People have been living here since about 1820? or so, and some Civil War skirmishes happened a block away. That's a lot of trash over time that got dumped would make a great archaeology site.

How does it affect humans? It is extremely dangerous to eat tomatoes (or other vegetables) from this soil, because tomatoes in particularly leach lead from the soil. It would be like eating heavy metal poisoning. I warned the neighbors after we discovered this, but I don't think they were all that surprised...they have trash in their yards, too. That's why we spent the money and built a special area for gardening. It's also the best remediation we can offer in case we sell our house someday.

Does it affect dogs or children? Well, it would if they ingested the soil. We have had Harry's blood tested (for a different problem) and his blood levels were fine. We wipe the dogs' feet off after they've been outside on a muddy day, so they aren't tempted to lick off soil and eat it. (it also keeps the couch cleaner) We don't have any kids yet, but if we did, we'd have to make sure they didn't eat dirt or play too much in this soil. It's a real concern. Mostly, we are cautious. It is extremely difficult to remove this much pollution from the soil, in any case.

Depressing, huh? If you're worried about lead in your soil, ask your local health department, university, or cooperative extension agent for help. You can also send soil samples away to be analyzed...check a magazine like Organic Gardening for places that do that. Do not trust home lead test kits--they aren't nearly precise enough to be scientifically reassuring.

This is why I am so excited about our first garden here. I find the archaeology in the backyard interesting, but I'd far prefer lead-free soil!

Sunday, March 12, 2006

dyeing for springtime

Our weather predictions were for some big thunderstorms this weekend, and we did have a few--including some 70 mile an hour winds.

To keep myself amused indoors, I did some dyeing. I had 4 different dyepots going, with mixed success. My spring green wool colors worked very well, I think. The cotton candy pink/red alpaca is gorgeous. (and the alpaca, from Mythic Alpacas is lovely too.) My favorite stuff? The fluffy looking alpaca (also from Mythic)that looks like a bruise--everything from cherry red and purple to a gray purple color. The wool that looks gray and pink and just white--that's my only failure, and I'm not convinced yet it is a total failure. I may try blending it with my "bruise color" alpaca and see what we get. Maybe it will look like the Washington, D.C. cherry blossoms if I get the colors blended just right. If not, I'll throw it in the dyepot again to overdye things! There are always "do overs" in dyeing, thank goodness.

I'm keeping myself busy on the never ending Romney wool pea coat. I realized recently that I got the wool for this project in May of 2004 when I saw this ram shorn at a shearing day. Now I'm working on things like knitting the pocket linings and the button choices. Here are a couple button options. These are, in fact, the same buttons, but the dark almost shiny option is the backside of the buttons. I think I prefer that to the lighter brown, but I'm debating. Any thoughts? (btw, the first image is about the right color for the coat, the camera had a hard time catching this color.)
I admit, I am still hoping for a real snowstorm and a chance to thoroughly enjoy wearing my handmade coat... I doubt it will happen, but I can dream. I miss experiencing a real winter! I'll leave you with a photo of our backyard...see the daffodils? You'll note the husband hard at work in our new garden bed. This is what I look out on from my office. Originally, this garden space was an old shed. It was falling down and had to be removed. When we did this, and planned for a big garden, we found out that our huge yard is filled with lead pollution. We've got 60 to 300 times the legal limit for lead in our soil. I mourned about this a long time. Last year, we managed to create a special garden area--it took a lot of time and expense to make this work. There's a pond liner to keep out the polluted soil. Then a layer of stones for drainage. Then a special netting to hold down the stones and keep the good soil from draining off. On top, we've a layer of trucked-in, safe soil, and some leaf litter compost.
We're finally able to garden, after 3 years of frustration! We've planted lettuce, arugula, onions, Jerusalem artichokes, and radishes so far. Today, we started all our other seeds--tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, basil, sorrel, and lots of other yummy stuff. I'm excited! I'll try to keep you updated with photos of our little backyard kingdom later in the summer, too.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Lambie & Doggie are now for sale!

My first downloadable pattern is ready for sale on my website! Here's the link for Lambie and Doggie: Click Here

Thursday, March 09, 2006

snakes, designs, and things that go bump in the night

OK, so according to many of husband's colleagues, we are lucky to have a sort of vivarium in our backyard, an ideal place for a very specific kind of harmless garter snake to flourish. I am not so fond of the snakey things as everyone else in the Biology Department seems to be. Now, I have good reason not to be, because I was ill from a poisonous snake bite for about 2-3 weeks when I was a teenager. Swollen leg, high temperatures, and other disgusting vomitous symptoms keep me from having enthusiasm over snakes. Anyhow, years later, we move to Kentucky, and we have a backyard full of garter snakes. They love to pop out for a little sunbathing on warm days in the spring time, and it gets worse from there...they like to rear up and pretend they are really scary snakes, too. Harry and Sally like to tag team the snakes. There is group barking, killing, and then they trade the dead wiggly things back and forth. Gross, huh? Observe the guys...saying what, who, ME? Are you mentioning someone else, maybe? It was really that other dog, over there.
After I catch them in the snake dance and killing act, I have to get rid of the dead snake. I go to the shed for a shovel. I hear rustling. I can't go in. I am unnerved. Maybe a possum or a skunk or raccoon is in there with its babies? My nerves are shot after the snake incident. I chicken out and go get a trowel. I get close to the snake. It seems dead. I lean over. I just can't stomach removing this snake with a trowel. That's too close for me. Ugh.

I call the biologist husband, who laughs and says, of course he'll remove the dead snake. (note here, he is afraid of bats, so I don't have to feel bad about the snakes.) He leaves the shovel out for me, just in case I need it later.

That night, the young bird dogs go outside in the dark. There are outrageous barking, screaming noises. I rush out to find Harry flinging himself against the shed. Imagine a cartoon dog, on his hind legs, paws spread, ears spread further, against the shed door. X 2. Yes. Sally, too. More barking and screaming. There is definitely something alive in the shed. It takes 20 minutes to catch dogs. We resort to walking them in the yard on leashes. Husband will empty out the shed in the morning before catching a flight north to visit family.

He empties the shed. There is nothing in it. No nest, no animals. Maybe a crack big enough for a mouse or two, he figures. We are wrung out with the drama of it all...yes, now the dogs have figured out, this is definitely about them:

And that's it. No more drama. We have no idea what happened with all that rustling and the screaming dog alert system. We must remain in the dark forever. Life is full of tough mysteries like that. It's excruciating for insatiably curious people like me... but if it's another big snake or even a possum mom and her babies, I can live with the mystery. Yuck.

On the knitting work front, I spent the last week madly producing a camisole knitting pattern -another design for Knit Picks. Again, it will have to be a mystery to you, since I've signed a contract and I can't show off the design. However, it is lacy, but not overly girlygirl, and well, the husband likes it...kind of sexy, too.

What isn't a mystery? I'm almost done getting Lambie ready for his big time debut as my first self-published PDF downloadable pattern. Lambie has been joined by Doggie, his stuffed animal pal. Doggie is almost as cute as Harry and Sally, but not quite...but on the other hand, you can buy a pattern of Doggie on my website, soon. H&S? Harry the dog drama queen and Sally squirrelpants Pointer? Not for sale. :)

Thursday, March 02, 2006

saying thank you

This sunset is from a completely ordinary evening when I went along with my husband as he set up some butterfly research traps in Mammoth Cave Park, which is about 45 minutes from our house. He has a permit to do research there and I took the camera and saw some of his research sites and watched the birds settle down for the evening and the bats come out as he finished his work. Eventually it was pitch black darkness and time to go home. We had some funny moments--he uses a beer mixture to attract certain butterflies and he spilled some on himself. We got worried that we'd be stopped on the way home and he'd be charged with DUI just because of the smell! However, all was fine. It was peaceful. It was an evening for which I am grateful.

Today I heard that a cyberfriend of mine was touched very personally by the suicide bombing in Pakistan. Her husband was in the hotel that was bombed, but in a computer room for businessmen that miraculously, was unharmed. He came out ok. So many other people did not. Another cyberfriend narrowly avoided a scary crash in a Vermont snowstorm. Every day, we do ordinary things like work on computers or drive our cars. Sometimes, things don't come out ok.

I say all this because lately, I've been very aware of how often I am thankful. I spend a lot of energy being grateful to people. I write email thank you notes multiple times a day. I thank people in stores; I even thank the dogs when they come inside from the yard without a fuss. I was incredibly grateful for the sweet article that appeared in the Raleigh News & Observer. (thank you, Marcy!) Once, I was observed while teaching high school and the teacher observer asked if I had a nervous tick--I thanked everyone so often that the observer thought I didn't know what I was saying. I did know. I meant it.

I get email every week from people who ask me questions about my knitwear designs or articles. I love this mail--it's fun to respond and to hear what people think. It's my chance to interact with the people who buy my patterns or read my articles and it's usually great. Twice this week, I got questions and I responded as soon as I could. I never heard a thing. I didn't even get a thank you. My husband says that we have such a customer oriented society that maybe the art of thank you is getting lost--these folks expect to be served. I'd like to think, instead, that maybe they didn't get my emails? Or, that they meant to be kind, but forgot their manners? Something came up? This experience, this lack of response that happened twice, made me sad, because the world is filled with ordinary, peaceful days, days filled with sunsets and dusk and countless interactions with people. You never know when something scary might happen, when it might be your last time to thank the people around you, or to resolve things. I try to live each day with as much joie de vivre as possible, because you just don't know how safe the ordinary parts of life will be tomorrow. I even try to get my fights over with, so nothing will hang over into the next day, because you don't know how that could affect things. I believe in what Phyllis Diller said, "Don't go to bed angry...Stay up and fight." You can be grateful--even thankful for a lot of things, including a good fight with a meaningful resolution. So, I think seeking resolution is a good thing. Say thank you. Be grateful. Even get down to business and have a good argument, if necessary. Don't put it off.

Thank goodness that my friend's husband is ok. Thank you for all your kind comments; I love reading what you say on my blog comments! I wish I could feed you all a big dinner. We'd have such fun! In the meanwhile, I'm knitting madly on a camisole design and my hands hurt! Let's all hope for a peaceful day or two, ok?