30 October 2009

A Day in the Garden

For various reasons, I really needed to have a good day yesterday. And as the Henry Moore exhibition and the Scarecrows in the Garden wrap up this weekend, I thought Thursday would be a good day to get myself down to Piedmont Park. So that's what I did.

I got down there about 10 AM, late enough to avoid the morning traffic. For those of you not in the Atlanta area, there is major construction in midtown where the 14th street exit used to be and will someday be again. Consequently, driving in midtown is not for the easily flustered. Half of what you knew about navigating no longer applies. And the Cuddly Hubby was away on a business trip, so the Garmin was with him. I read the maps and took the back way in on North Avenue, left turn onto Piedmont and on up to the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

The scarecrows never fail to delight. It is always worth the hassle to go into the city to see them. I know that citizens of New York and Los Angeles like to think of themselves as the most creative people in the Unites States, but between Dragon*Con and the Scarecrows in the Garden, I can show a lot of proof that Atlanta is full of clever and creative minds. There were plenty of good/bad? puns in the scarecrow names. One entry had several crow-themed dvds, such as Dra-crow-la. Another featured Julia Child making Crow-kill St. Jacques. Several schools had entries, including a large (8 foot? 10 foot?) dragon made from flattened soda pop cans. Many, many scarecrows incorporated recycled materials. One scarecrow had a wheelbarrow full of "flowers" made from plastic water bottles and aluminum cans that had been cut up with tin snips. Atlanta Knitting Guild had a scarecrow a couple years ago. I like to think that "Oz" may not be in Atlanta anymore, but he is certainly not forgotten. (Oz now "lives" at the American Textile History Museum.) Not forgotten when there are entries like Ba Ba Ba:
This scare-sheep was created by the Visitor Services Team at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. The head is made from wrapped yarn. The sheep sports a knitted beret and a knitted scarf. It is surprising, too, how well the knitting holds up out of doors for a month. Several scarecrows that used papier-maché had not fared well during this abnormally wet October.

I also liked this entry for how well the robe was decorated:
My apologies to whoever entered it, as I forgot to record the name. I do recall it was one of the local schools. I very much like the play of shape on this robe, as well as the contrast in value between the more open center and the darker stripes on the sleeves. And these is something very late-Matisse-like about it. Nice use of positive and negative shapes, too.

And speaking of using positive and negative shapes, the Henry Moore sculptures were definitely worth a look as well. My favorite of the exhibition is Large Two Forms, which is displayed over by the aquatic plant pond. I didn't take a picture of it because it is far too complex for that. This is a truly three-dimensional sculpture, very different from every side and even at different distances. You would have to shoot video to even begin to get a sense of why this is a strong work of art. I think it is among the best sculptures I've ever seen, certainly among the best at fully exploiting the three-dimensional nature of sculpture.

I stayed until about 1 PM, then headed out of the city. I know better than to wait until after 3 PM, which is when the evening rush begins. (On Fridays, it begins at noon.) If you go to the garden, do be aware that the new parking deck is very convenient at a price. It cost me nearly $7 to park for about three hours. On the other hand, the Atlanta Botanical Garden continues to grow as a wonderful Atlanta amenity. I initially became a member for the orchids, which I still adore. The Japanese Garden is also a favorite of mine. But there are many other wonderful settings including a rose garden, a bog garden (carnivorous plants!), and the conservatory. Next year Atlanta Botanical Garden plans to open an edible plant garden, a cascades garden, and a canopy walk through the Storza woods. I am thinking a canopy walk in the autumn colors would be a real treat, indeed!

23 October 2009

The First Skein

The first skein on the spinning wheel is completed. I followed Jenna's recommendation and started off with a 4-ounce roving of Blueface Leister from Gale's Art. Gale is a local dyer and member of Atlanta Knitting Guild. Plus, her work is just dang gone fine. You don't have to twist my arm to get me to buy her rovings. The colorway is deep blue sea, which is a nice analogous colorway of blue-greens, blues, cool purple, and a little warm green the color of kelp. The roving is also a chocolate swirl roving, which means that it incorporates both white and black wool. Although the black wool does dull the colors a little, it also adds a richness of tone that makes the final yarn more interesting and worth the effort.

I followed advice from both Jenna the Yarn Pimp and Lydia the Spinning Goddess. Lydia reminded me that I should breath every half hour or so, as I was tense at learning the new skill. I also followed this advice by spinning only a little at a time, for just an hour or until that particular segment of the roving was completed. I figured that spinning a little at a time over several days would be as good and maybe better than trying to spin a whole lot all at once.

Jenna helped me pick out the roving. Then she showed me how to split it up. In this case, I divided it longways (vertically, as opposed to crosswise) into eight parts. If I planned to spin a three-ply yarn, then I would have divided it into three, six, or nine parts. So beginners, before you start dividing roving, decide how many plys you want in the final yarn.

Picture at left is six of the eight small rovings. After dividing the main roving into eight parts, each piece was gently wound up into a ball.

Jenna also told me to predraft. Predrafting is gently tugging on the roving or batt to thin it out. This makes it easier to spin, as you draft less at the wheel. Don't predraft too much, as you do need to draft a little as you spin. For a new spinner, predrafting keeps your hands from being overwhelmed by having too much to do with too much fiber. Predrafting and dividing also have an effect on color. If I had divided the roving only into two instead of into eighths and predrafted it to the same thickness, each stripe of color would have appeared in the final yarn for a much greater distance. Or I could have predrafted half the yarn to have long color changes, but divided the other half and predrafted to have shorter changes. This would produce a lot of mixing between colors in the final yarn. There are choices about how the colors in the final yarn will behave, and you make those decisions as you divide and predraft.

Picture at left: a predrafted roving. Notice how thin and ephemeral it appears when compared to the previous picture. Since I did not spin all four ounces on one day, I stored the small rovings in the previous stage -- divided and rolled into balls but not predrafted. I didn't predraft a small roving until I was ready to spin it. Because I was learning, it took me about 60-90 minutes to predraft and spin one small roving. So my overall process was divide roving, roll small rovings into balls, predraft one small roving, spin it, come back another day, predraft another small roving, spin it, repeat as needed.

The direction in which you feed each small roving also affects the color. This particular roving had blue at the "top" end and purple at the "bottom" end, so each of the eight small rovings had a blue end and a purple end. Since I was producing a two-ply yarn, I decided to spin four small rovings onto one bobbin and the other four onto another bobbin. Again, I made a decision about color. I could have started all four small rovings at the blue "top" end, spinning all of them beginning with blue, proceeding through the color changes, and ending with purple. Instead, I started roving #1 at the blue end. This meant that roving #1 ended at purple. Now I turned roving #2 around and began with the purple "bottom" end. Roving #3 began again at blue. Roving #4 began at purple. In this way, I alternated the color progression. I spun rovings #5 through #8 the same way. I could have mixed things up further by spinning purple, blue, purple, blue, but I was concerned that in the plying stage I would get too much color mixing and dull the colors to an uninteresting point.

I now had two bobbins, both with colors spun in the same direction. (In the picture, the first bobbin is on the left, the second on the right.) Next I put them on the lazy kate and plied them together onto one bobbin. Because they were both spun in the same color progression, I expected to get a lot of plain area in which the same color plied with itself but also some more interesting areas where two different colors plied together. As a new spinner, my two bobbins didn't come out even. That was hardly surprising. But the colors in the skein did come out as planned. I got a nice mix of plain areas and multi-colored areas.

The major downside of this first skein is that the plying is very uneven. Some areas plied together nicely, and others are very, very loose. Jenna had suggested getting a rhythm -- a certain number of treadles per arm length. I thought I had a consistent rhythm, but I think I didn't put in enough twist. So I have more to learn with the "easy" plying part of the process. After it was all plied, I adjusted my standing swift to the "two-yard" position and wound the new yarn off the bobbin into a skein. I threw a couple of ties around the skein. Then I put the yarn in my nice large aluminum steaming pot and let the yarn steam for 5-10 minutes to set the twist. Although I'm not happy with my plying skills, Jenna did point out that my finished yarn is balanced. And from the number of rounds on the swift, I think I got a little over 100 yards. It does have a nice fluffy, scrunchable texture.

And a side note about something else I learned: Do not wear velvet skirts while you spin. The delicate predrafted roving tends to get caught on the surface of the skirt. The smooth silk skirts work much better at the wheel because the roving will not catch.

And Jenna, being the yarn and spinning pimp that she is, then loaned me a copy of Deb Menz's book Color in Spinning. If you are wondering why oh why would anybody want to spend this kind of time and effort when there are so many great yarns you can just buy, read Deb's book. She shows how you can spend even more time on the preparation of the fiber, but how that can pay off in fabulous color harmonies and complex relationships that you won't find on the store shelves.

19 October 2009

The Bed is Crowded Again

On the second of July, two furry critters came to our house to foster. I've been referring to them as "Bruce's cats" because that's who they were. Jenna the Yarn Pimp just smiles at me and reminds me that they aren't Bruce's cats anymore.

Patty, Bruce's sister, has not yet made a final decision. But the boys have been here for more than 100 days. For the first month, they hid in the basement. From Brûlée's clever choice of hiding spots, I could tell he was the criminal mastermind. Vincent just looks good on the wanted posters. Brûlée tended to hide on the bottom shelf of the holiday decorations or on a three-quarter-filled shelf of books. He would lurk behind the Star Wars novels, and then come out to have his nose and forehead rubbed if he deemed it safe enough. Vincent would cower in the corner, figuring that with his dark fur, he would just blend in and become invisible. He doesn't so much blend in as resemble a cat-shaped quantum singularity -- a vaguely cat-shaped darkness. I referred to him as the special-ops ninja. And when he ran from cover to cover, he slinked across the floor with his tail low in very good imitation of an alien face hugger.

After the Wisconsin trip, a dear friend gave me a Feliway diffuser. I set that up in the kitchen. I moved the food bowl up the stairs every couple days until the cats had to go through the pet door and into the kitchen if they wanted to eat. Brûlée started coming upstairs and tentatively exploring. Vincent continued to hide. But Vincent is a very food-oriented animal, particularly when it comes to tuna fish. Every couple days, I would leave a plate of tuna somewhere on the kitchen floor. It would mysteriously clean itself!

Brûlée and I hit it off pretty well. He isn't Copernicus, but he could be a first or second cousin. His coloring is similar but not identical. He is just a little more stocky and his eyes are just a little more widely-spaced, but it is easy to mistake him for The Dude. He has the athleticism, intelligence, and curiosity that I loved about Copernicus, although he is not interested in acquiring minions or developing his own cult. And he has a beautiful, soft, thick, scrumptious coat. As Brûlée becomes more and more comfortable with us, he is less and less worried about getting in trouble. He freely explores. He freely demonstrates his skills both in athletics and in the deadly arts. And he freely attacks the plant in the living room. I don't know what that plant said or did to Brûlée, but it had better make amends soon. Brûlée also hates avian miscreants, and is very good at tearing feathers out of the cat toys. And he loves dangly cat toys. I may need to make something with fringe just so he can attack it.

By September, Brûlée was no longer living in the basement. He was hanging out upstairs and even sleeping in the bedroom. He was waking us up in the morning and sometimes sleeping in bed with us at night. And he was doing this adorable bit where he walks over and then rolls sideways on the floor as an invitation to have his cheeks, nose, and forehead scratched. (In airplane terms, he loses roll control.) Vincent was wondering about his buddy's absence, and began to appear upstairs more and more, always with a very tentative posture and always disappearing down the cat door at the first unfamiliar sound. While he was living in the basement, I had put a fleece blanket in his favorite corner. I didn't want him sleeping on the cold floor all the time. When the flooding occurred, we got a little bit of water in our basement. The blanket got wet, so I ran it through the washer and dryer, then folded it and left it on top of the washer along with some dirty laundry that was waiting for a full load. I discovered Vincent a few days later, sleeping on as much of the blanket as he could uncover. Poor thing! And neither cat claimed either Sophia's pet bed or Copernicus' hidey-hole. So I moved the pet bed to the studio, where it affords a nice view of the bird feeder. And I put the fleece blanket over the pet bed. Vincent quickly figured out this was a special place meant for him.

So between the fleece blanket and the tuna fish, Vincent decided that maybe he wasn't in a prisoner of war camp after all. Neither cat reminds me of Sophia, with her what's-in-it-for-me attitude. Vincent reminds me of Figgy, a Himalayan cat that belonged to my mother for seventeen years. Figgy was a delicate little sweet fluff ball, but not very bright. Like the song from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, all she was was lovely. Vincent has a higher intelligence than Figgy, but he is basically just a big sweet lovely fluff ball. He will come up and press his rather pointy nose against your hand in an attempt to get you to pet him. And then he looks up with his sweet pointy face and bright little eyes like a Muppet. I believe Bruce acquired him on the vet trip when Brûlée was still a kitten. I'm sure that Vincent was little more than a puffball of a tribble. But Vincent is also pretty good about commands and gestures. He knows "come" as a gesture, as well as "hop down" and "hop up." But he does not seem to understand the commands as well if they are only verbal -- he needs the gesture to complete the cue.

Vincent has become "The Big Vince," "da Vincy," "Mr. Black Velvet," "The Big Black Love Machine," or simply "The Blob." Brûlée is the "Sweet Boy" or "Mr. Chaos" or "the Red Paws of Trouble."

And so, over the course of three months, our home is reaching a new normal that in some important ways resembles the old. I still miss Copernicus and Sophia. But now I find that Brûlée and Vincent seem to be where I am. If I sit on the couch to knit, I am quickly greeted. Vincent has taken to sleeping on my end of the couch. One night he was almost in my lap before I had finished getting comfortable, he was so eager to cuddle. Brûlée seems a little jealous at times, so I need to keep reminding him that he's a fine fellow. Sometimes he'll be next to me on the couch, but other times he is in gargoyle position on the bar, which affords him a predator's-eye view of the living room. And in the past week, Vincent has finally started joining us upstairs at bedtime. So just as the chilly autumn weather begins, our bed is warm and crowded again.

15 October 2009

Opening a New Door

At the beginning of October, Cuddly Hubby and I celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary. And the gift I got will count through our anniversary, Yuletide, Valentine's day, and my birthday in the spring.

The box still had the paperwork on the outside indicating where it passed through customs. The paperwork identifies the place of origin as Tauranga, New Zealand, and the value is listed in NZ$. The blue label in the upper right indicates it came by air rather than cargo freighter. The big white "ATL" label further indicates the shipment came into the country at LAX and then arrived at ATL on the 4th of August. I can't help wondering about the interesting things customs officials must see on the job. For some reason, I get misty-eyed thinking about the distance this package traveled, crossing from eastern to western hemisphere and southern to northern hemisphere on its way to my home, leaving winter in New Zealand for high summer in Atlanta. And it sat quietly in the back room of The Whole Nine Yarns for a couple months before the gift-giving occasion arrived.

Of course, when I opened the box, what I saw was this:

And then the next layer was this:

After an afternoon of slowly and carefully following the instructions -- good ones, but I'd have been comfortable with more diagrams -- it looks like this:

Yes, that's a Majacraft Rose. Someplace with more sheep that people is likely to be just the place to find a fine spinning wheel. Several friends, including Jenna the Yarn Pimp, have been encouraging me down this path. I'm truly not sure what I'm going to spin on this, but I have heard many knitters speak of how understanding yarn through spinning has made them better knitters. So a certain amount of this I am doing on faith that it will make me a better designer. And although there are a number of more budget-friendly wheels available, I wanted something well made and versatile. And this one is just that. It is very well-made and well-balanced. It comes with two different flyers, two different whorls, four bobbins, and a lazy kate. It is a double-treadle design with scotch tension. And it folds and has an integrated handle to make it easy to transport.

I'm starting off with 4oz of Blueface Leister from local dyer Gale Evans of Gale's Art. Jenna helped me pick it out on Monday "spin night" at the shop. Lydia, who is a fabulous teacher, helped me get going. And the other spinners were all very encouraging. Pictures to follow later, I am sure.

06 October 2009


Last Friday I took an all-day workshop with Candace Eisner Strick. The workshop was sponsored by Atlanta Knitting Guild. One of my favorite things about the guild is the superstars the guild invites once or twice a year to come visit and teach workshops. Candace also teaches at STITCHES. She was here for STITCHES South 2009 and she will be back again for STITCHES South 2010. Alas, she won't be teaching Strickmuster (Austrian traveling stitches) at STITCHES South 2010. She is teaching The Art of Knitting Backwards, Thumbing the Purl, Tradition!, The Ripple Effect, Kumihimo, and 2 by 2. And she did show us a little of Thumbing the Purl. If you knit Continental, seriously consider that class.

I already have in my library the three Lisl Fanderl Bäuerliches Stricken books. I think I bought them at Main Street Yarns in Watkinsville sometime during the past five years. Not sure. At any rate, they are apparently now out of print and hard to find so I am all the more fortunate to have splurged on them when I did. Yes, they are all in German. But they have charts! (At this point, I am wondering what it says about my knitting obsession that I have knitting books in German and Japanese. At least I've studied German in both high school and college.)

Candace's class has been a big help because now I have some idea what those charts are telling me to do. Often they are telling me to do two things at once. One is to twist the knitted stitches by working them through the back of the loop. The other is to cross stitches over each other. The Austrian way of working these is to twist all the stitches the same way, whether they are traveling left or right. Candace taught us how to twist one way for the left and a different way for the right. This makes the charts a wee bit more challenging to work, but it also produces beautifully symmetrical and mirrored designs. If you are comfortable working make 1 left and make 1 right, you should be able to catch on to this technique. If you aren't yet familiar with that sort of mirroring, the process may be a bit daunting.

Not only was Candace's class great fun, but she had many, many samples that she passed around the room. The class was worth it for the eye candy alone. These are really beautiful designs and a lovely technique. I could see some sort of Lord of the Rings elvish socks knit with this technique, as it allows for rather delicate intertwining of motifs.

And one last thing about the swatch -- you'll notice it is on double-pointed needles. Candace has you put the same number of stitches on all three needles. In this way, you are knitting each pattern row three times or, as she says, you have three chances to practice and make it work. I thought this was a rather novel and clever way to teach a technique. Also, while it does not violate the laws of physics to work these stitches back and forth, they are challenging enough in the round without further complicating the matter.

05 October 2009

The Panda Fanatic Goes Ape

Those of you who know me well know that I have passions other than knitting. Pandas is one of those. I love pandas. Our local pair, Lun Lun and Yang Yang, do not look alike to me. I can often tell the difference between them in photographs. I haven't spent enough time around Mei Lan or Xi Lan, but they're good cubs, too.

If you live in Atlanta, then you may have heard talk about the zoo's latest fundraising effort. Cuddly Hubby and I already gave, rather generously, back in the summer. I'm almost sorry we did then, because now the zoo is running a charity auction. So I've been over on that site today, looking at all the great panda-fanatic goodies that I'd be bidding on if we hadn't already given. They include:
a photo diary of Mei Lan
commemorative silk embroidery
commemorative banners
a behind the scenes tour for four
Xi Lan paw prints
a tower of chocolaty goodies

And there are some things that just warm your heart. Two children -- local? I don't know -- have taken the time to create a pretty good origami mother and cub panda pair.

Or an only-in-Atlanta item, commemorative Coca-Cola bottles. If you live here, the connection of Coca-Cola to anything Atlanta makes sense.

There are also numerous packages of tickets to various Atlanta attractions. Hey, if you're going to visit them anyway, might as well make your money count twice.

And there are zoo-specific special items, like Keeper for a Day packages; animal encounters with elephants, giraffes, or rhinoceros; or elephant art. (I'd be more interested in the elephant paintings were it not that I already have some ZooAtlanta animal art in my living room. Thanks, Onyx!) I can tell you from my docent experiences, the behind-the-scenes encounters with the animals are great experiences.

As time moves us towards the end of 2009, we also move towards the traditional giving season. The auction is open until 31 October. If you like having pandas in Atlanta, I hope you'll be able to contribute at least a little to the effort to keep Lun Lun and Yang Yang here for another five years. After all, these wonderful first ten years have gone by all too quickly.