Monday, June 28, 2010

the stats

This week:
We saw and entertained house guests #4, 5 and 6. It was a joy to see them, but a highlight was having our small friend here for a little while. You may recognize her from the Shearing Day chapter in my book Fiber Gathering: Knit, Crochet, Spin, and Dye More than 25 Projects Inspired by America's Festivals. She is now seven and a half years old. We made her a "nest" in my office with pillows, bedding, and a comforter for her to sleep on and then she rearranged everything. This was so she could sit on my office chair and read aloud to her "class." (The class consisted of various pillows, Pinky the stuffed bear, some dog toys that Harry and Sally loaned her, and other inanimate objects.) Apparently everyone in the class enjoyed story hour!

I also managed to grade 19 academic papers turned in by my Engineering graduate students this week. I'm teaching a writing course for graduate students in Engineering. That meant I had to read their work and make comments. I honestly cannot remember the last time I felt so intellectually stretched and stimulated...I learned about Civil Engineering, Bio-Medical Engineering, Electrical Engineering...whew! Probably the last time I had to learn so fast was in graduate school -- and I graduated from UNC in 2001. It's been a while.

Today is also the 12th anniversary of the day the professor and I got married. We don't tend to do much for our anniversary, which is lucky.... I just brought him to the airport as he is off to an academic conference on butterflies in Alberta. His fancy camera is being serviced so I loaned him mine--hence, no pictures here.

Also today, the scaffolding went up to fix our fireplace chimney so we can put in gas fireplaces someday. We also had yet another person rush indoors to see the inside and work up gas fireplace estimates. Cause, you know, we didn't have anything else going on. (I'd laugh here, since if I didn't, I might cry over the chaos of all this!)

Finally, you may remember the purple sweater project. Last night I got ready to integrate in one ball of yarn that came all the way from Tokyo to help me finish the sweater. Sadly, when I started work again on sleeve #2, I discovered that I'd made the cuff too short. So, I ripped out almost an entire sleeve so I could knit it properly. This sweater may be done in time for fall. At least, I hope so. It's a moving target, this sweater project.

So, that's:
+3 houseguests and then -3 house guests
+19 Engineering papers
+one dozen years of being married
-one professor (just for the week)
+one scaffolding
+one more gas fireplace estimate
-one knitted sweater sleeve
one busy and tired Joanne

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010


Lately I've been thinking how perfectly, well, ordinary things can be fascinating if you find the right person to share it with.

The first part of this is a spinning tidbit. I am doing a Navajo-ply or a chain ply for the combed yarn I spun up recently. This turns one strand of yarn into a 3 strand plied yarn. The phone rang at one point and I just put the open "loop" on a hook on the edge of my spinning wheel's flyer and answered the phone. The yarn has been sitting like this ever since. (Click on the photo to embiggen!)

I have read and heard countless times that it is difficult or impossible to stop in the middle of plying handspun yarn. Obviously, not all frequently repeated statements are true. I've been stopping in the middle for years! When I come back to the yarn, there is never any big red stain of shame on the bit where I stopped. I can't even find the "pause" when I return to the skein of yarn later.

I find this reassuring because it seems as though modern life is always finding ways to make things--well--more complicated. Passwords and cell phones and speed cameras, etc.--technology sometimes makes things harder than they might be otherwise.

So, what I figured out on my own is that for hundreds or likely thousands of years, people have paused while plying their handspun yarns and everything turned out ok.

Also, while I've been in the middle of a knitting slump, I knit anyway. You see, I still need lots of warm clothes here--so here is a pair of perfectly ordinary wool/cotton blend socks. The predominate colors are brown and green, although that is hard to tell in this photo. The only interesting part? I made this pair of socks with only one skein of Patons Stretch Socks. I used practically every last bit of the yarn! (Again, a perfectly ordinary detail that our ancestors knew well...using every last bit of a valuable resource.)

What got me thinking of this were two different comments this week. First, I used spindle spinning as a demonstration in a writing class I taught this week. I passed around wool roving to show everyone. Then, despite all my explanations, one of the students asked "Is this artificial wool?" I had to explain that it was the honest to goodness real thing. In fact, I knew the farm the ram was born on, the farm he now lives on, and his name. In fact, I even helped go sheep shopping for that ram!

Yup, sometimes it's the real thing. Honest. Perfectly ordinary (well, prize winning, gorgeous) Romney wool.

The second example was another exchange. Someone was recommending mints as a way of freshening the breath. I suggested that if you wanted to avoid sugar or sweets in general, that chewing on fresh mint or parsley would also make your breath smell better. The response was... "Really? That works?"

Yup. Our ancestors chewed on mint (not a mint candy) to smell better. As my dad says, "who'd have thunk it?" Sometimes, when something is perfectly ordinary and logical? That's just the way it is. Maybe it's only in a perhaps overly complicated age that we're looking for it to be artificial instead.

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

seeing another way

OK, I admit it. Lately I've been feeling sort of burnt out on knitting...and even blogging. I'm just not very interested. I mean, theoretically I am, but I'm so busy this summer that I seem to lack the time to sit down and knit for more than a few minutes at a time. So many other things need my attention right now. Also...honestly, when Sally the dog situates herself right on the couch next to me and nudges my hand? Well, that hand ends up giving her a good scratch behind the ears instead of forming another knit or purl stitch. Then the moment is over and it's time to get up and do something else that "needs doing."

I have a pair of plain old socks going on double point needles and a nearly finished sweater waiting for me to do something about it.

When I finally admitted this to myself, I talked about it with the Professor, of course. He pointed out that, for me, I was going back to the things that inspired me from the beginning whenever I could... Raw wool, sheep, the motions of spinning or throwing a shuttle through the shed of the loom still captivate me at times. It's just that for the last several months, (or maybe longer) I've been pulling myself completely away from designing, selling, or producing knitting for anything other than personal needs.

There are a lot of reasons for this, but I think the most pressing is this--it's not fun right now for me. While of course, there are many reasons to stick with something--certainly if it's meaningful for world peace or lucrative in a way that supports one's needs financially, spiritually, socially, etc. then it may be worth "sticking it out." Sometimes, though, if it's not that crucial, it's a good idea to step back.

As I stepped back from the knitting, my office became crowded with many half-started projects,other freelance work, and ideas. Piles of things to be darned, half-knit swatches, notes from long ago phone calls abound. I need to tidy up, because my office is near the guest room and may turn into an impromptu bedroom for a small elementary school aged friend who is visiting soon with her parents.

Yesterday, when I began to think about cleaning, I came upon my very favorite length of straight needles. (Short-- like me!) To give you an idea of scale, the set with the row counter on it are about 7 inches long.

It was warm, so I put up my hair with another pair of needles while thinking about things.

I knit another swatch. Top photo...with handspun, that is a size #2(2.75mm) needle with three ply handspun. Skinny yarn!

I took some time to remember why I liked these needles in my hands.

Today, I took a walk in the sunshine to the hardware store and the grocery store. All of a sudden, as I hefted my (reusable) bag of groceries over my shoulder, a sweater design came to mind. That doesn't mean I have to rush off and sketch it, or knit it, or even swatch it...

but it's nice to know those ideas are still there. It just seems like those little musings are more like cats than dogs. Like cats, they don't usually come when called.

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

spinning to keep up

My life has been a little busy lately. (Who am I kidding? It's been NUTS around here!)

Since my last post, house guests #2 and 3 have come and gone. I'm doing my best to keep track of things, and here's the running total:
Resident Student=house guest #1--She is here all summer and so far is fitting in nicely.

House guests 2&3: Relatives who have never been to Manitoba and who needed a lot of, umm, kind hospitality. (Southerners, read between the lines here and you'll get that!)

House guests 4,5,&6?: Coming in a week and a half...I think. Note to self--check on that.

House guests 7 and 8 will come separately, in July. It feels a bit like I'm running a bed and breakfast sometimes!

Meanwhile, I've started teaching a graduate course in writing at the U. of Manitoba. The first section of this course, running in June and July, is full and I understand a second section in August may fill as well.

Did I mention the editing job that needs to be complete by the end of July? (or preferably, mid-July?)

When evening comes, if I have the luxury of sitting down for a few moments, I don't seem to have the mental energy to design or knit much. Instead, I've been spinning or occasionally doing simple weaving.

It has been mostly cold and damp so I have had no struggle with the notion of wool work in warm weather. In order to answer a commenter's question, (sorry this isn't more personal!) I'll explain that, we don't really live on a rise. The prairie, where we live, is flat flat flat. I think we're likely only a few inches higher ground here than right by the river. I particularly chose a house a little bit away from the river. Even so? We've had a lot of rain here and there's really no place for it to go, so the floodway is still open to divert some of the flooding. I'm dreaming of sunny skies and drier conditions. My basement (fingers crossed) is still dry.

In the meanwhile, I find spinning a fair bit is very calming! I have a project going on every floor of my house at the moment.
Top photo is a SpindleWood spindle with little balls of handspun alpaca and silk in my living room.

Second photo is handspun naturally gray Romney wool and mohair on my antique Canadian Production Wheel.

Third photo is a scarf on my loom with a silk aqua colored warp, black mill-end rovings, and handspun, hand-dyed rose colored wool singles.

Last photo is a part of my spinning library with a bobbin of this handcombed wool. I'm now making a 3 ply yarn with it. Pretty nice for a fleece full of burrs, don't you think?

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Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Sometimes it rains

...and you don't realize you're in the middle of something bigger than a rain storm. When I wrote my last post, I was saying ...ok, we had a little rain here. I was maybe understating the situation. Winnipeg was on the national--and then international-- news. I know this because my sister-in-law in Virginia emailed to ask if we'd been flooded out.

So far? No problems at our house, and we have a lovely sunny day right now. That's good, because over 500 homes in the area (and many more unreported ones) are busy taking all the ruined stuff out their basements. HERE is a photo of what things looked like.

It's supposed to rain again starting tomorrow. Uh Oh.

The student that is visiting here has been exploring our connections. In April of 2007, we both went to hear the Yarn Harlot speak in Lexington, Kentucky. Last night, our resident student looked up the Yarn Harlot's blog post from that day. Take a wander over there...and you'll see, first, a photo of a woman in a bright blue v-neck top, holding up stripey socks. Our Resident Student is the red head to her left in the photo. (No, we didn't know each other yet.)

Keep scrolling down, and you'll see a photo of me in a bright red wool sweater. It made sense when leaving my home in the cool early morning to make the 2 hour drive. It was darn warm when I arrived in Lexington. Here's what Stephanie aka Yarn Harlot said:
Who I know in from the internet and was trying her best to look like a Canadian (that was the plan...right Joanne?) wearing her very best woolies. Fabulous socks...yes? (It was hot in Kentucky. Joanne looked - besides fantastic, like I always do...warm.)

Note: the Fabulous Socks are available here in case they distracted you.

Anyhow, at the time of that event, I had no idea that I was yearning to live in Canada. Now I do live here! I also had no idea that Resident Student would become one of the Professor's research students, and eventually live on the third floor of my house while visiting Canada.

Connections are sometimes a long time in the making, huh? It took years (and a persistent undergrad) to see the long strands of yarn that connect all these events!

Here's the kicker. Back when I was undergraduate at Cornell, I often thought they'd made a mistake in accepting me. It was sometimes such a struggle--I felt stretched sometimes academically. One cold and dark Saturday evening, I promised myself that if I studied at the library for a couple of hours, I'd let myself go out afterwards. As I trudged to the library, I looked up. In every single window, at each library desk, I saw a student studying. It turned out sometimes everyone else felt the way I did. I wasn't alone in feeling like maybe I wasn't good enough to be there...and that I needed to study on Saturday nights.

Today I got an email from a student intern at the Cornell Alumni News. She asked if she could interview me for the magazine. I was so excited and surprised! Good thing I was sitting down. Apparently, 15 years after graduation, I am worth interviewing. Wow.

If I had to rate all this? Living in Canada, not having a flood at my house, or this interview? I'd be hard pressed to say which connection is best.

Nah. Just thought about it. Probably not having a flood is best.

Too bad it's going to rain again soon. I am just hoping to avoid a flood...

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