Wednesday, October 31, 2007


I'm feeling cosmically overburdened. My refrigerator is so full that I am having a hard time shutting the door. This is what happens when one receives a vegetable share every week. I support a farm by purchasing a share in its growing season, it's called Community Supported Agriculture or CSA. This all works fine when I'm home, we eat lots of veggies. However, in October (I counted) we were not home for thirteen days of the month. The dogsitter did a great job but only ate pizza and soda pop. We are having to compost green things. It's gone so beyond just a full refrigerator. It's now scary refrigerator.

I'm relieved to be home, but part of that meant I started dealing with the overflow. Yesterday I filled up my biggest cooking pot with bits of apple and started cooking. This morning, I canned 41/2 pints of applesauce. I still have something like 7lbs of apples from the farm to go!! I just didn't have strength to start again with more of the applesauce right away. I managed something far more interesting. I found a professor who specializes in antique apple varieties from my alma mater, and he suggested I mail him samples of the apples and pears. (My graduate degrees are from here and here but as far as I'm concerned, a school that can ID old apples and offers courses in beekeeping has to be my all time favorite, hands-down) Meemeemeee. La la la "Far above Cayuga's Waters with its waves of blue, proudly stands my alma mater, glorious to view...."Ahem. Right. Back to the blog.

This kind professor will do a tentative identification for me if the produce is still in good shape when it reaches him. Apparently he does this for several abandoned or old orchards a year. So, I rushed off to the post office, and dropped by the library because it's next door.

Meanwhile, I've been to the vet. with the dog (she's healthy), had a visit from a locksmith, scheduled to pick up a 1/4 of a cow--yes, locally grown, grass fed beef of our own-- and then drop off part of that at a friend's house, since we just don't eat that much meat. The professor and I have been through the photos from the last festival, I've scheduled a meeting with my editor, and we're having guest over for dinner. Oh, and it's Halloween, so even though we don't get many trick or treaters, I bought the requisite candy. The dogs get bones since they'll hang out in their crates for the festivities. Yes, I bought the bones right when I bought the candy.

This is the sort of household minutiae that's exhausting on its own terms, but I'm glad to be home. Thanks for all your cheery comments, supportive ideas, etc. When I'm able, I'll broach some more knitting and spinning stuff. For now? I think I'm going to start cooking. If the refrigerator is still overly full in 2 or 3 hours? Well now, that would be more than just a little scary. Can apples, greens, and squashes multiply there, in the dark with the door closed?
I did try to get my film developed, but the drugstore's machine was broken--and well, there's only so many errands a person can do in three days. Photos and more will be available soon. In the meanwhile, keep enjoying that goat picture, Marti!

Monday, October 29, 2007

socks are made for walking

Yesterday, we drove home from Asheville, SAFF (Southeast Animal Fiber Festival). This is the last festival I'll attend as research for my book. As the professor drove, I finished these socks. The color is not quite right, they are a bit darker in person, but this lovely yarn was dyed by the Barefoot Spinner. The design is mine--toe up, and the cuff uses a combination of slip stitches, ribbing, and a special cast-off that uses increases to create a "lettuce knit" frilly edging.

We've been to more than 10 fiber festivals and other events this season in order to take pictures and do research for my book , from May through October. Briefly, in order, those events were: A sheep shearing, Maryland Sheep and Wool, New Hampshire S&W, Missouri's Heart of America, Estes Park in CO, Black Sheep in OR, Michigan S&W, Tennessee State Fair and Fleece Auction, Taos Wool Market, Rhinebeck, and SAFF in Asheville, NC. It's been a lot of time on the road!

During this time, we have taken lots of planes, long drives, and more. We haven't had one late or cancelled flight or any car trouble. We've been enormously lucky. Here are some of my hints in case anyone else undertakes such an adventure:
1. Take your vitamin every day and eat lots of fruits and veggies to stay healthy
2. Pack an extra nylon duffel bag inside of your suitcase--just in case you need to bring something home!
3. Go early--to the festival, the airplane, whatever. Early birds get parking spaces and get on planes.
4.Don't be afraid to wear dirty clothes. No matter what you pack, you might need to reuse. So you smell a little sheepy? So what?!
5.Talk to strangers. Strangers at fiber events are wonderful people.
6.Pet animals. Yaks, friendly llamas, sheep, goats--pet them all...and no, I haven't gotten any weird animal-borne diseases!
7. Wear cushy handknit socks and sturdy shoes with good support since walking all day on concrete is standard.
8. Eat well at least once a day, and eat early to avoid the lines.
9. Bring a (handknit) sweater just in case you're cold.
10. Try to spend less than you want to, and you'll only be a little over budget!

The Professor adds:
1. A short line is a great excuse to have lunch, even at 10:45 AM. In someone's time zone, this is lunch time.
2. Short line? Eat lunch twice!
3. Always be prepared. A photographer never knows when he'll be called to:
a) delete that photo! my work is mine! (or "copyrighted"--neither of which is applicable legally in a public setting, but we always oblige. Don't want to have your work in a book? No problem.)
b)take pictures with anyone's camera, at any time. A large camera means you must be a photographic genius...
c)leap into the show ring to shoot photos of prize winning sheep
d) be willing to act as a livestock photographer for farmers who ask
4. If you get lost, don't count on the cell phone working. It's better if you know your partner's yarn and fleece preferences---that way you can usually find her right away.
5. Yes, it is possible to pack 30 lbs of wool in a 10lb duffle bag.

More soon, when I've finished the laundry. I feel as though I have a permanent date with the washing machine!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

hello, goat!

This is the goat I was talking about a couple of posts ago. No kidding, this was probably the best photo I shot at Rhinebeck. I've got some good images of the Rio Grande River in New Mexico, though, and on the next roll, the one I haven't finished yet? Pictures of the family farm. Oh well. Good thing the professor lugs around the big camera for the book photos! Enjoy the goat--I really did, until the engagement ring nibbling began.
I am off this afternoon to Asheville, NC, for the Southeastern Animal Fiber Festival. (yup, the laundry is finished, the dogsitter is lined up, and I've almost gone through all the mail from when I was gone last time. I'm packing some apples to eat on the drive. It's been nuts. The poor professor just goes from festival to lecture hall to student meetings and back again. The guy needs a break, let me tell you!!)
I lived in North Carolina for a few years, and I'm really looking forward to seeing my spinning friends! In the meanwhile, I am loving your comments. It's a little like we're all together at someone's house, spinning and knitting, and gushing over a good fleece, that darling new dog and some fabulous yarn sales. I love hearing from you, even if I haven't had the chance to email folks back to say so. Have a great weekend, and I'll be back soon!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

the loot

Well, we're finally getting some rain here, so I haven't rushed out yet to run errands and retrieve my own photos of Rhinebeck. Instead, I'll tell a story through some acquisitions.

I surprised myself at this festival. I thought I was mostly immune to shopping at this point, but sometimes there are deals and other things I can't pass up. There was a stand called iloveyarn with a lot of skeined yarns blowing in the breeze. A friend pointed me to it, and promised there were actually some natural fibers over there. I found this Scottish Shetland wool, mostly blue but with purple flecks, and much like the yarn I used for the professor's sweater a few months ago. I bought a sweater's worth for $21. Yes, I'll need to wash out the spinning oils, but I couldn't resist it.

I also bought some charcoal yarn that they said was produced by Spin City yarns. It is some sort of wool blend, and it looks remarkably (to me) like one of the fuzzy Rowan yarns. Enough for a sweater? $17. This was hard to pass up.

Also in the yarn department, we spent some time at Morehouse Merinos Farm Shop, which I hear may be phased out in favor of online shopping, which is probably easier for the farm, but it was a lovely shop. I bought a quantity of seconds yarns with chaff in them--mostly bulky single ply merino (something I'm not likely to spin) and single ply lace. This wasn't quite the deal that the other yarns were, but I love the idea of supporting farms and buying their products. It's the right thing to do, and the yarn was just so soft up close. Also at the bottom in this photo, is another white skein of Tongue River Icelandic. I knitted this up in the natural gray for a project for the book, and I loved it so much I wanted more. I see a hat for myself in the future here...

The professor and I admired an enormous line of eager spinners on Saturday afternoon at the fleece sale, but luckily, even in their enthusiasm, they did not buy up all 500+ fleeces that were for sale. I went back on Sunday morning and in the calm after the storm, was able to find a couple treats. The professor picked out a chocolate/caramel Border Leicester for me. This does not replace the lost (in the mail) rambouillet fleece, but he's trying!

I also got a lovely fine Texel cross. I am thrilled to have found this fleece. On our honeymoon, I bought a Texel/Friesland cross fleece that was one of my favorite fleeces, ever. (as Mrs. J mentioned in the comments, this was before England started having such problems with foot & mouth--importing raw fleeces is a bit harder now.) Luckily, sheep in the USA are mostly healthy, and the sheep at the festivals are like prized pet livestock--extremely well cared for. I will save both fleeces for book photo shoots, because they are gorgeous and useful for demonstration shots. I can't wait to see how the Texel will wash up.

Here's the brief story of our apple and pear excitement. As usual, we looked for a farm stand and bought some lovely Russets and Idareds to take home with us and to snack as we journeyed up to the professor's family vacation place on Sunday afternoon. The "farm" is roughly near Glens Falls, NY, or near Fort Edward and Argyle, for those of you who've been there. The professor's folks bought it before he was born, and for roughly 35 years, they've rented out the fields to the neighbors for hay and livestock use. The professor spent most summers of his childhood away from the NYC area (he grew up in Westchester) and running amok upstate. He got to milk some cows, ride some horses, and of course, catch lots of bugs and other critters near a spring-fed pond.

In all that time, some of the fields have been hard to access because of fencing, animals, or overgrowth. This year, the fields are being cut for silage by a farmer friend, and there aren't any animals in the pastures. We took a huge walk. At the end, the professor and his father discovered the old orchard. I insisted we go see it together. Drive out over a field, crawl under the barb wire, hike up the ravine,covering oneself with burs and tick seeds..and, hey. We own an orchard! There were at least 8-12 trees still bearing fruit, which were probably eaten by cows and horses in the past 30-some years.

The professor worried that they'd be "spitters" or cider apples, which are not so good for eating. No worries. Every single apple we tried (at least two or three varieties) was sweet and good and the trees were loaded with fruit. The seckel pears were a special treat. Since I must have been a hunter/gatherer in a former life or something, I had bags for us to fill. We left to catch our plane long before we could discover all the fruit in that field.
Last night, we ate a roasted apple/pear flan from the professor's family's land. I was elated.
Sally is so glad we are home. Here she is, sound asleep on a homemade dog bed, filled with? wool, of course.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

home again-briefly

We're just home for a couple of days before the next festival in Asheville! Here are a few photos to keep you smiling while I do laundry, repack, and try to catch up on my work. I have lots more about our trip to NY to show you, but it will have to wait a few days, perhaps.

The featured sheep breed at the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival (aka Rhinebeck) was Blue Face Leicester. There were some absolutely lovely animals on display, and the professor caught several photos of this sheep taking a snooze. It was too delicious not to share!

The autumn leaves were stunning, and the crowds on Saturday were so deep as to be overwhelming. Shoppers sharpened their elbows and got serious. Just like at Maryland Sheep and Wool, the line for Blue Moon Sock Yarn was huge. Yes, the hand-dyed yarns are thrilling, but the shoppers were so determined, that, well, I was happy to go see other things. I don't need anything that badly...!

We visited with some goats in a quieter corner of the fairgrounds. Here's a shot the professor took of me while I was talking to (and shooting photos) of a friendly goat. It was fascinated by my engagement ring, which was fun until the goat started nibbling it! Goats will try to eat anything.

We had no cell phone service to speak of in the Hudson Valley. This was a little tough, because the professor's NYC relatives wanted to see us and drove up to the festival, but couldn't reach us to tell us they were there. Oddly, by a little after 2 on Saturday (we'd been in there since 9 AM) I decided we needed a brief break from the crowds. We headed out towards the rental car for a rest and....there was the professor's family! Pictured here from left to right: me, the professor's brother, our sister-in-law, the professor's father's sweetheart, and the professor's father. (The professor shot the photo.)

The star of the photo, in the front there, is Pickle, my brother and sister-in-laws' new dog. He's an older dog and had to have surgery for some cancerous bumps, which is why he looks like Frankendog in the photo. He's terribly sweet and loving, just a gentle sweetheart newly adopted from the pound but since his origins sound scary to some, we're calling him a Terrier. (American Staffordshire Terrier, if you know what I mean.)

More about our adventure soon. The short version? Sunday was quieter at the festival, and I came home with 3+ sweaters' worth of yarn, two fleeces, and perhaps 20 pounds of apples and pear. The fruit? A whole 'nother story....:)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

feminists have more fun

Feminists have more Fun ! Check out this study--nice to have it quantified, but was there ever any doubt? (not in this feminist's mind...)

I've been finding the responses to my last post's questions about why people read/write blogs so interesting! Cathy wrote a whole blog entry in response. It sounds like we're all fascinated by others' lives, we want to learn more about others, make friends and connections. It's not all about fiber arts, either, although that's what many of us have in common. What saddens me is how isolated many of us feel in our actual communities. That aspect of who we are and what we do--as smart, artsy, creative, thoughtful people, can be difficult. It's something I struggle with a great deal.

Finding community can be hard. Sometimes, the hardest part is knowing when you're being left out. I just learned today that our local university has a writer-in-residence. This writers' community is so underground that I have no idea what the application process is, or how the current writer-in-residence got selected. I've won state-wide recognition for which I've been so grateful, but locally, I'm invisible. That's hard...and it's one of the reasons that I've never found a close community here. It's not any kind of prize or title I'm seeking, but rather--a connection with others who have something in common with me, or something I could learn from. It's the first place I've ever lived that I've had this problem with--and in the end, it's just that I don't have much in common with my neighbors. Religion, politics, career choices, lifestyle--all different... if it weren't for the professor's job, well, his university is here.

As a result, I hole up inside, work on my own projects, and try to focus on what is rich in my life. Cathy pointed me to this blog and Cyndy's YouTube video (click on "My Walking Wheel") inspired me for days...Thank you!!

I'm off to Rhinebeck tomorrow, to the NY State Sheep and Wool Festival! I can't wait. First, upstate NY holds a dear place in my heart... I've lived in both Ithaca and Buffalo, and the professor's family has a vacation place in Argyle, near Glens Falls. I can't wait to see the fall colors, the apples, and the artistry and friends that I'll be sure to find at the festival!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

making connections?

Donna, thanks so much for visiting my blog and giving us your insights!

I'm feeling pretty busy and overwhelmed...this is a crazy schedule I'm keeping, trying to write a book about fiber events, all in one season. Three trips to festivals in October, plus trying to juggle all the design submissions that will be over 20 projects for the book. Initially, I'd tried to set up the deadline for September, so that I wouldn't be trying to work on this while traveling. Unfortunately, there are always project delays, or even entire designs that fall through at the last minute, so I'm still emailing most every day with designers and working on projects, too. (Of course, I love my designer colleagues, but well, in the scheduling department, this hasn't worked out perfectly...) This sometimes is a recipe for weeping... No kidding.
Update: If I sound grumpy? Someone's been throwing trash in our side yard from a car. Today? I heard a noise, and I turned my head and watched them throw an entire bag of fast food leftovers, a plastic juice bottle, and a hamburger wrapper and sauce on the street right near my house. It happens now every day.
I'd also hoped to do a series of autumn photo shoots for the book, and so far, we're not having much fall color. In fact, in a state which has a serious drought (something like 15-18 inches below normal), and has been declared a federal drought emergency, don't expect much in the gorgeous fall garden photo shot department! You, dear readers, may have noticed a lack of garden photos this year. I've tried to spare you the upset of a mostly dead garden. We still have a couple pepper plants, an eggplant or two that has never produced a single fruit, Jerusalem Artichokes, Bolivian Sunroot, Walking Onions and some very measly autumn lettuce. The herbs that like a Mediterranean climate (oregano, thyme and rosemary) are still alive. I planted garlic, kale, and broccoli to overwinter, in hopes we'll get more rain. Thank goodness we don't have to live off this alone! I'm actively supporting my local farmer's market, because they DO have to live off what grows this year, and it's been a really bad growing season in a largely agricultural region.

We're also trying to conserve, so I water the garden with gray water most of the time, but things are bizarre when I'm just longing to hose off my (very dirty) venetian blinds but worry that it's a waste of water. I'm not that much of a clean freak, so things must be pretty dirty and dry here!

Last night, I couldn't sleep, so I carded these:
15 rolags of that Finn lamb fleece. I ran out of patience with teasing (this directs you back to another post about this) because although I've done two skeins worth of yarn this way, I'm not sure I've got the mental fortitude right now to do the whole fleece! Instead, I handcarded 15 rolags in 45 minutes. Pretty quick work, and then I could finally fall asleep.
(caption: others in the household do not have Joanne's sleep issues)
It's a small world, and I've met wonderful people at festivals. I also see them sometimes at two or three events during this research season, and that is especially marvelous. I don't have a lot of close friends locally. I've gotten so much out of the positive interactions at the events I visit for book research. I mention this because lately I've been a bit desperate for more interactions between the festivals. I come home, and, well--I'm exhausted...and lonely. For me, this blog has been a way to make connections with people. I'm "supposed" to be interested in blogging for other, more selfish reasons, I guess. (designers and writers are supposed to promote themselves and their work this way, apparently, but I'm not sure if this boosts single pattern sales on my website, either? Does anyone desperately need a pattern for bug finger puppets?!)
Mostly though, I love hearing from people--the emails, the comments, and even seeing the numbers in the map on the right side of the blog. That is what makes this different from keeping a journal--the communication. So, why do you blog? Why do you comment on blogs, or lurk? What do you get out of the experience?

Friday, October 12, 2007

Blog Book Tour!

This just in, a guest blog post from Donna Druchunas, famous writer of numerous knitting books and my friend:

Joanne, thanks for inviting me to write a guest post for your blog about my new book Ethnic Knitting Discovery!

The book is a workbook to help knitters overcome the fear of designing their own sweaters. It's also a toolkit for those of us who have dabbled in design a little bit, to help us expand our skill to work with different types of color and texture stitches and to experiment with sweater construction a little bit.

Those of us who spin know that it's not always possible to find a pattern in the exact gauge or stitch pattern that will work for our handspun yarn. I admit, I've never spun yarn for a sweater. I did make a vest with handspun once, but I usually end up spinning 4 or 8 ounces of something and giving in to the temptation to knit a hat or mittens or a scarf because I just can't wait any longer to spin the rest of the fiber!

That said, it's my dream to someday have several sweaters made from my own handspun. And I plan to use Ethnic Knitting Discovery to plan out the first one. I am planning to get some natural color alpaca to spin up into sport-weight yarn to make an Andean sweater for my husband. (He won't wear it, because he's always hot. So it will ultimately belong to me.)

I'm not a good enough spinner to give any spinning lessons, but I do have a few tips for designing sweaters using your own unique yarns.


That's the key to successful knitting. I know many knitters hate to swatch. But I love it! I have a whole cardboard carton of swatches in my closet. I love to try out yarns and test new stitch patterns and fiddle around with new knitting needles. But beyond the fun, swatching is what tells you if your yarn, pattern, and needles all work together. A swatch isn't just about "getting gauge." It's about feeling the yarn move through your fingers, finding out if the pattern stitch is fun or frustrating, and deciding if the finished fabric is as comfy as we'd imagined. If you haven't been a fan of swatching, I highly recommend it. You want the garments made with your special yarn to be as beautiful and comfortable as possible. And don't forget to wash your swatch before measuring it! I have a sweater with sleeves that grew almost to my knees after washing because I skipped this important step.

Texture Patterns

Texture patterns will compete with thick-and-thin or fuzzy yarns, so they're best worked in worsted or semi-worsted spun yarn. What that means, is when you prepare the fibers, you keep them all facing in the same direction, so you get a nice, smooth preparation. And when you spin, you try to keep the fibers under control so the final yarn is smooth as well. If you prepare your own fibers, use combs to get a nice worsted preparation, or flick the locks of wool and spin from the lock for a semi-worsted preparation. If you buy fiber that's already cleaned and prepared, you're looking for top.


Color knitting is more flexible and you can use yarns that aren't so smooth and yarns that are nice and fluffy. Combining the multiple strands of yarn and a nice fluffy preparation will create a sweater that warmer than anything you could ever buy. That's where woolen spinning comes in. Let the fibers go crazy in the preparation, facing in every direction, puffing up like a cloud. Use hand carders or a drum carder to make your own woolen preparation, or buy roving to spin this way, and try using the long draw technique for drafting.

If you're new to spinning, don't worry about these technical details, but do make sure you take the time for the swatching. That will let you yarn tell you what it wants to become! In each project chapter of Ethnic Knitting Discovery I have a selection of charts from a different region of the world. There are texture charts from Denmark and The Netherlands, and color charts from Norway and The Andes. I also have a bibliography to point you in the right direction to find many more charts, should you find that you become obsessed with a particular flavor of knitting. Don't be afraid of wasting some of your yarn for swatching. You can always rip the swatch out if you need the yarn to finish a project. But I suggest that you make a home for them in a nice box. They are a type of knitter's journal, even if you're like me and you don't take the time to write any notes to go along with the swatches. It's fun to go through them every once in a while. You never know when an old swatch might light the fire of a new idea in your mind.

Then, once you have an idea of where you want to go, you can use the tools in Ethnic Knitting Discovery as a roadmap. There are diagrams, spreadsheets, and step-by-step instructions for designing and knitting sweaters, so you can be as wild as you like and make things up as you go, or as controlled as you like, and figure out all of the details in advance.

There's nothing as decadent as knitting with handspun yarn. A hundred years ago, would anyone have thought that spinning your own yarn would be a luxury?

Want to read more about this book, and my friend Donna, its author?
Check out her website:

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Photo Tour

Here are some photos from our latest journey, fresh from being developed. On the way up to Taos, We stopped by the Espanola Valley Fiber Arts Center. (click on the photos for a bigger image, this is an image rich post!)

We ate lunch at Rancho de Chimayo and I had yummy Tortilla soup and sopapillas with honey. Note the red chilis--this is the season when they are hanging everywhere on people's houses from special hooks to dry. Then we went to several weaving studios. I was especially inspired by Centinela Traditional Arts and the work of Irvin and Lisa Trujillo. This is a natural dye studio outside of their show room. I made sure to include the pots; this is the real thing! These were amazingly talented folks.

At the festival, there were absolute feats of skill and whimsy. First, this: Make of it what you will. I don't know whether they believed there were actual flying carpets to be had, but it sure did draw folks in to see their felted hat creations! (and in a place where you hear people talking about auras, past life regressions and energy flow in the shops near by, I think that's anyone's guess as to whether they had the flying carpets or not.)
Here's more of the fleecespun I mentioned yesterday. Wow.
If that wasn't enough, I got to stand next to this milk chocolate Australian Bond fleece (that's a breed of sheep, not a method of savings at a bank) and I touched it...and I didn't drool. Not once. I even went back to visit it later. It didn't remember me, and I wasn't insulted. It was that lovely.
At one point, I became a little dehydrated and felt overwhelmed by the festival activities. It could happen to anyone when they've drastically changed altitude and uhhh, rent districts. I took a little walk down the street and visited Weaving Southwest. I love this store. Half gallery, half yarn shop, with lots of weaving tools and the marvelous Rio Grande wheel. I've been there before and still just like visiting those nice folks. Maybe someday, I'll also take home one of those wheels?
This concludes the Taos part of our tour. Thanks for all your nice comments about how doing the research for this book works. It's mostly a lot of planning. Now that I've gotten some sleep at home, it all seems slightly more manageable. I'm even able to write more about it without sounding all gibberish-y.
Stay tuned. On Friday I will be hosting Donna Druchunas for her new book's blog tour!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007


Still no word on my lost fleece. I am going to hold out hope.
In the meanwhile, here's a photo of 2lbs of Rambouillet wool that was used in a demonstration done by the talented Linda Dewey of Lonesome Stone Fiber Mill. This 21? micron fleece from Colorado, in the grease, is just so amazing that I had to come home with some. Even though Linda doesn't usually sell raw fleece, she understood my weak in the knees expression and helped me out!

There will be be photos and more stories of Taos. I promise. Just as soon as I can get the film to the developer. (yes, I still use a film camera sometimes.) In the meanwhile...

You might wonder what the logistics for these book research trips are like. At this point, the professor and I have done about 8 of them. We have two more to go. I say "about" because some of the travelling becomes fuzzy. In order to make everything run smoothly, I do a ton of research. Where is the festival? What's close by? How much is a hotel room? What's there to eat in the area? Which airport should we fly into, or is it close enough for driving? This is all information that most people know about their regional festival, but we're travelling all over the country. Every time, it's also ...Who will care for the dogs? What about the mail? It's like planning for a weekend trip away--but in October, we'll do it three times.

Before the trip, I print mapquest directions for every step of the way, and I also bring old fashioned maps and even AAA guides. We print out boarding passes and keep all the paperwork in one place. We pack--and that includes the professor's cameras, two laptops (one for writing, one for photography downloading) and all sorts of emergency provisions. Rain coat, granola bars, extra batteries, you name it, we hope we have it. (and of course, two knitting projects, spindles, numerous books and work to keep us busy on planes.)

When does the writing and photography take place? We try to get to the festival bright and early the first day, and the professor shoots photos most of the day while I do research, collecting information, taking notes, talking to people and ...animals...and soaking in the experience. I sometimes get to meet friends, too. By the end of the first day, we are both exhausted...and sometimes we've travelled around the area to be thorough, if the festival's location, like Taos, is also fiber-rich. We retreat to a hotel room after dinner and begin work, usually around 7 pm, and we start out the day at roughly 6-7 AM. It's a long day.

I write a rough draft. The professor starts downloading hundreds of photos, so he can have empty memory cards for the next day. We compare results. Does he have photos of this? Should I mention X? We plan for what to do Sunday, how long to stay at the festival before going back to the airport, or what else must be covered to give a thorough accounting of the event and the experience. If it's a one day event, we hope we got it all, because there's no going back!

After the long trip home, we try to pick up our dogs if we've kenneled them or relieve the dog sitter. We start doing laundry. We sleep. I am usually exhausted the next day, so when the professor goes right back to his teaching schedule, I collect receipts and business cards, try to finish up laundry, run errands, get that back up film developed, and get us back to a regular routine. I'm usually too tired to do substantial writing on the Monday or Tuesday after a fact. a blog entry and some catch up email might be all I can do.

I'll leave you with a couple more treats from the trip. We stopped by the Espanola Valley Fiber Arts Center and I wish I lived close by so I could be a member. It's a non-profit organization. Instead, I bought a couple kinds of exotic yarns to try out--hemp and nettle-- and a skein of Joseph Galler Cashmere/Wool yarn. The Galler yarn was in a sale bin, where members dump stash odds and ends. I got this particular skein for 4 cents.

At the Taos Festival, I saw Lisa Joyce's fleecespun
and I had to have it. Spun on a Rio Grande Wheel, these are naturally dyed yarns as thick as a finger. The luster and locks are incredible, because they come from Myrtle Dow's Wensleydale cross flock from Black Pines Sheep. With wines, one talks about microclimate and Terroir. The same might be said about some of the arts and fiber I saw in New Mexico. More soon.

PS: Stay tuned! I am part of Donna Druchunas' blog book tour! I'll be posting her guest column on Friday, October 12th.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

snafu world

Remember this? Somehow, my 2 alpaca fleeces made it to the fiber mill via US mail. My note to the mill got sent back to me, and the wool fleece? Lost in transit. These were all packed in the same box. Hmmm. The fiber mill said, "We wondered why the box seemed so empty and taped up."

I'm hopeful it can be found, and this is the first real loss of any kind I've had with the post office--they are normally my heroes--so for now, I'm just having a moment of silence in support of lost fleeces everywhere and hoping my fleece is saved soon. (Feel free to mention your Little Bo Peep jokes now...)

A few other details from the last post's comments:
Yes, Sarah, I too laughed about the emu. It was the most friendly emu I've ever seen, no wonder, really, surrounded by all those stunned girl scouts. (Didn't they look up the size before hatching the egg?) Sarah also mentioned:
There was discussion of Knitpicks yarns somewhere on Ravelry wherein several people (at least) commented that they're reasonably yarns for the price, but there are many nicer.

You know, I have been baffled by these comments. I designed for Knit Picks for a little while, and got to see many of their yarns..but they cut their designer program, so I have no reason to plug these yarns except... They are fine yarns. I found them a fantastic product for the money. Many are spun in the exact same mills with the same fibers as "nicer yarns" sold in knitting shops for twice as much money. Are they perfect in every way? No, but then, neither are all the pricey yarns, either. I think this is a situation in which Knit Picks truly started a trend. Many places are now producing generic yarns (Elann, Webs, Patternworks) and there's good reason. When you cut out some of the distributors, etc., cost goes down.

Also, as spinners become more experienced, we can judge things like micron count. (more on that in a bit.) We can recognize that it is not just the spinning, dyeing, or packaging that makes a fine wool yarn. It's also the raw fleece that went into it. When I mentioned that I thought the Australian fingering weight wool was finer--it's because it's Australian Merino! It's the finest in the world! Aside from shipping? These yarns are very comparable in price, too. Price doesn't necessarily indicate level of quality.

I think we buy yarns in yarn shops because ideally, we get convenience and lovely service, great companionship from other knitters, and oodles of classes and other supportive help. That should make it worthwhile to spend the extra cash on what many times is the exact same product. However, I often find that I don't have that positive an experience in a yarn shop..and there is only ONE in my town. Next yarn shop? 70 miles away in Nashville. Makes mail order mighty appealing... and as we budget shoppers know- cost doesn't always equal better quality. Sometimes a mail order deal is worth it, especially when I'm not getting what I need socially from the local shop.

Now, back to micron count. Alison H asked about this: so I've been wondering if there's any 90's fingering weight merino yarn out there I should know about.
Kind friend Alison...first, I have no idea how low the micron count is for Cleckheaton's Merino Bambino, but it is low. This spinner's fingers say so. Also, I'm not really sure 90's Bradford Count exists in sheep's wool, but I'd love to be proven wrong. ..assuming the sheep aren't living in air conditioning and wasting a ton of energy to produce this kind of fine wool. (hey, it happens. I read about it in the news once.)

Now, a short explanation: Alison is referring to Bradford Count. That is an older way of classifying fine wools. Here's a great chart that explains things. Essentially, in the older Bradford count, an '80's Merino fleece is very very fine. That same fleece will be measured using micron count and be 18-22 microns. Still very very fine. A low micron count=a high Bradford Count. Means the same dang thing!

Whew! Now that I've cleared all that up, and I've been reassured that spinning friend Peggy will not starve to death while I'm gone, I can start getting ready for my trip to the Wool Festival at Taos and hopefully prevent any more snafus. I'm excited to go and of course, as the professor reminded me when I started to freak out about losing that fleece? No need to panic.
It's not like I don't have any wool.

Monday, October 01, 2007

emu adventure

Thank you for all your wonderful comments about handspun and "Thermal!" More on that at the end of the post...

One of the advantages of being a freelance writer is that even though I'm a grown-up, I still get to go on field trips. Not frequently, but sometimes I get to leave my desk to learn about something. Then I go back to the computer and write about it. On Sunday, the professor and I wandered down the highway to check out a local attraction for an article I'm thinking about. Sadly, even though I'd known about this place for years, we'd never gotten motivated to visit. Too bad, because Kentucky Down Under is worth the visit!

As you might imagine, an Australian themed animal park would not be complete without a woolshed and sheepdog herding demonstration, and well folks, that's why I was there for the article.... the short version is that they do a good job of this. They have several sheep breeds to show visitors, a shearing stand, and in set up, it looks very much like the Australian wool shed I saw outside of Brisbane. The sheep on display are gorgeous pets, well loved and trained. This area of the US doesn't have many sheep, (more cattle) so this is good outreach!The employees there were even interested in learning how to extend their demonstration's educational value by perhaps learning to spin, so I might get to go back and help them by offering a workshop or two.
It was a bright sunny perfect fall day, and we spent some time in the sunshine checking out some of the park's other animals. There were large numbers of birds, including a walk-in aviary.

There was a petting area which included 3 kinds of kangaroos and a wallaby or two,'s most friendly emu. Apparently the emu egg was hatched by a girl scout troop as a project. They didn't figure on it getting quite so big, so this incredibly personable (large) bird ended up at the park. It molts once a year and there are hundreds of feathers. Spinners, can you say, "tail-spun yarns?" Here's a sample. I imagine this would be fabulous for an old fashioned duster too, but the novelty yarn applications just seem endless! (check out the link to the park, above, and email someone there if you might be interested!)
The landscape of the park was particularly well-done, and there was an observation deck where you could see additional sheep and...bison. There's a bison herd there, and if you click on this photo, you might be able to see one in more detail, but they were far away!
It was a great day out, and if we'd had more time to spare, we might have seen the onyx cave on-site, too. This is definitely worth a visit if you're nearby and visiting Mammoth Cave National Park.

Now, back to the Australian part. The park is owned by an Australian...and Thermal, my newest sweater project, is being knit out of Cleckheaton's Merino Bambino, an affordable fingering weight washable Australian Merino wool. I'm pretty enthusiastic about this yarn-it's finer (softer, lower micron count) than Knit Picks Bare Merino Fingering weight superwash, and most other comparable fingering weight yarns I've seen in the USA. I've learned that Plymouth Yarns carries the Cleckheaton line in the USA, but not Merino Bambino. If you're a fingering weight yarn fan, this is great stuff! Drop Plymouth a line here if you'd like to see this in the USA. In my ideal world, it would be available in the USA, and in a wider range of colors, but getting it imported would be a start!