Saturday, April 26, 2014

Necessity is the mother of invention, They say

Just this week I got up the nerve to resume work on my green Timberline cardigan. I am not daunted by the cabling; that's a joy to perform. Remembering the increases up the sleeve is easy enough to solve by marking each increase row with a locking stitch marker. I haven't gotten anywhere near the finishing yet, so that's no problem. So why have I let it languish?

The primary cause of my procrastination on this sweater during the last few months' extended wintery weather has mostly been the need to juggle six cantaloupe-sized balls of yarn. I adore the handdyed yarns of Briar Rose Fibers, and I'm sure this is going to be smashing when it's completed, so figuring this out is worth my while. The handdyed nature of the color requires that I rotate through all six skeins all the way through the sweater to keep colors blended. When I put the project down, it requires being placed in a bag to keep things reasonably tidy. So how do I ensure that I keep rotating each ball through the mix, especially the ones that have notably lighter or darker tones in them?

I think I have figured out a way to make it easier to manage. My first thought was to place them each in bags. This would minimize disturbance of the individual cakes as they are transferred to and from  the storage bag. But I don't want plastic bags making everything noisy or the awkward sizing and shape of gallon-sized zip-storage bags. These mondo cakes don't fit in quart-sized bags; I checked. And even if I had enough project bags that fit these skeins, they are all being used for random socks and shawls and cowls.

But I have plenty of hats! The cakes fit quite nicely in their own respective hats, and I even have enough on hand that I could separate them into two categories; three of the more highly-variegated skeins have been assigned to ribbed, worsted-weight hats, and the more consistent skeins have been relegated to the fingering weight, stockinette hats. I am most concerned about the regular employment of the highly-variegated skeins, and the colors of the ribbed hats is easy to sequence according to "rainbow order."

I realize that this is not really anything new, but for me it was a bit of a brainstorm, and I figured it's as good a time as any to send a springtime hello. Maryland Sheep and Wool is just around the corner! I'm looking forward to meeting up with some friends old and new, including the dyer of the Dorset braids I recently spun. By the way, I think I neglected to show you how the second skein turned out:

I'm very pleased with the results and look forward to getting my hands on some more wool from Fuzzyfrog when I see her. The part of this skein I most enjoyed was originally my least favorite bit - there are some parts in the plied yarn where the orange twists with the sea-foamy color; seeing the colors mix surprised me with how pleasing they turned out together. I guess that's one of the things that makes spinning with hand-painted fiber so delightful. This 4-ounce skein came out to 270 yards; the spinning is a definite improvement over the previous skein. I might have to take up spinning again!

If you live in the area and have been waffling on the fence about going to your first fiber festival, I strongly encourage you to give Maryland Sheep and Wool a go. It is about so much more than knitting or crocheting, and I find that returning each year gives me the opportunity to interact with the wool/fiber community and processes in new ways.  There's my plug in a nutshell.

Keep your eyes peeled, as I have a couple yarn process-related blog entries I want to share with you in the near future. Till then, happy knitting and spinning!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

April FO Parade

It's time to show you what I've been up to!

Two fish hats, waiting to make their grand debut at Maryland Sheep and Wool:

The green and orange yarns are custom handdyes by Chris at Briar Rose Fibers. You've heard me rave about her before, so I'll just say that the yarn base is a very nice 100% Targhee wool. And the eyes are knit from dear Marr Haven.

And here's my skein of Dorset:

It's rather squishy and stretchy.

In keeping with the theme of handspun and Marr Haven, I finally got around to using the full length of my rainbow handspun from last summer's Tour de Fleece:

The knitting was simple enough that I used it to help me through the second day of the Academy Awards Best Film Nominees marathon at the movie theater. It was a really fun way to watch the movies, and when things became a bit tense or overwhelming I could focus on tinking in the dark. When the lights came up after each film, I enjoyed seeing my progress as the gradient progressed. What pretty fiber. Thanks, Jaqi!

I also tried my hand at knitting some baby items:

And if that wasn't enough cotton for this wool-lover, I also have been working on some dishcloths. This one makes dishwashing a bit easier, because I love the colors - so much, in fact, that I am repeating it. 

When I was visiting with my dad a couple weeks back, he confided to me that he needs more dishcloths knit up, as he finds them to be superior to the ones he has purchased at the store. It turns out that they are more substantial, prettier, and resist stains much better than the store-bought rags. I'm happy to oblige. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Coping With and Creating Stress

Well, hello there!

How is your little corner of the world? I've seen a pretty busy time at work. It's been one thing after another, and while stress has been my frequent companion, I've found some things that are helping me through.

There are the small things in life to cheer us; my work with people suffering from various mental and physical limitations has trained me to make much of these things. This latte with a shot of toasted marshmallow flavoring is all the better because of the love literally poured into it. I fear it may come across as a bit twee, but for a person feeling like their world has fallen apart, this would be the cup of coffee I'd like to offer him or her.

Spinning has been a source of stress for me; I broke my precious Golding spindle (which, by the way, is so great that it kinda spoiled me for other spindles), and I've just not had a great relationship with my wheel. It turns out that I just don't know much about spinning, especially on a wheel. My partner has been much more successful at getting comfortable on the wheel, and recently he started spinning up some Dorset. Did I mention that I have a bit of a fixation on Dorset this year? I bought two lovely braids from Miranda at the Garden State sheep and wool fest last fall, and have been dying to take them for a spin. The intake on my Louet has been so strong that I just couldn't make it work with the long draw technique Miranda recommended. But seeing my hunny spinning Dorset gave me the courage to try yet again, and this time I found a happy place. (Fortune cookie say: Sometimes it helps to have someone to come alongside you to show you it can be done.)

Part of the solution for making my Louet work for me has been in a bit of rather convoluted lacing, which really isn't so bad once I get the rhythm. It does reduce the pull on the fiber enough that I can relax my grip on the fiber and let it draft itself.

Another key is to avoid spinning so thin that it breaks. That makes the whole process a hot mess. So when I backed up, stopped trying to be a hero or a purist, and let the drafting technique be whatever works, spinning became soothing again.

And I finished the braid, at last! There are three ounces on that bobbin; maybe today I will find time to ply it up.  While letting this bobbin rest, I broke out the braid that I've been afraid to mess up, and it's been going so much better, now that I have a sort of rhythm going. It's a pretty grey with shots of oranges, yellows and greens spaced out over its length.

Ain't it lovely? The colorway is called "Cat's Eyes" and as I was spinning my cat kept me company out on the stoop. It turns out that this braid pretty closely resembles my cat's coloring, which made me like it even more. For someone who professes to not be much of an animal lover, I've certainly got a soft spot for this tiger.

A couple weeks ago, after a particularly stressful day at work, I brought along a liquid assistant to knit night. You would think between having my favorite drink and being surrounded by friends and knitting, I would be able to find a positive outlet for my anxiety. Instead, I just felt cranky and wound up, trying not to be too much of a burden to everyone and being unable to take comfort in my knitting.

The next evening, I chose not to medicate myself with more liquor, and instead of my usual activity, I sat in a corner and read a book entitled The Relaxation Response. As the book described creating space to become still and quiet, this little guy crept up in my lap and demanded my full attention.

Soon I found myself just being still and paying attention to the purring of my cat, feeling his weight on my legs and his softness under my fingers. We stayed in that space together for a while, and that evening was just what the doctor ordered. It reminded me of the afternoon I spent at Wunsapana Farm, chilling with the llamas and waiting quietly for them to come to me.

Studying harp therapy is all about bringing relaxation, and it has come at a good time for me. My current work situation has demanded that I learn to embrace stress as something that does not quickly subside, and I need to learn some new ways to cope and renew. Knitting and spinning can at times become sources of stress, rather than the solution. Sometimes my fiber craft is so driven by a desire to finish something or to always be productive that I find that I am not stopping to be quiet. This past half year or so, I have made conscious decisions to reclaim my wool play as a place where I can enjoy being creative and whimsical, rather than being deadline-driven and demands-oriented. Sure, it's not a money-making venture right now, but it's a happy place, and right now that's what I need.  But sometimes even the needles need to stop clicking for a while, so I can take stock of things and just be present in the moment.

Am I still knitting? You bet I am. Some gifts, a fair amount of cotton, some delicious wool bases (including Targhee, Perendale, and Dorset), some practical items, and some knits just for the heck of it. But I'll save those for later. For now, happy knitting, spinning, and finding your way to stop and be quiet.