30 January 2010

Experimental mohair

One of my aerospace friends has a farm. His wife is a nurse practitioner in north Georgia near the Georgia-Tennessee-North Carolina line. They have a lovely home up there and many acres of land. The Nurse is also a spinner and crafter, and owns goats. Many, many goats of different colors, sizes, and ages. On a visit and rafting trip up there in the summer of 2008, they gave me some shed goat hair.

It is pretty neat to have fiber from a live animal you've actually met. I'm still working my way through the white fiber, and may or may not be able to spin it. I have used a little of it to very good effect as clouds on some Dungeons and Dragons miniatures. It has a lot of dirt and field bits in it and some of it is matted to the point of being felted. I need to find a really super scour. I was able to work more readily with the fiber from a goat named Cleopatra. She's a very pretty goat and her fiber is mostly brown, although she has black guard hairs. In this case, I washed the fibers twice and carded them three times in order to clean them enough to spin. This was a very labor intensive process, which I eventually broke down into only a few minutes each day. Towards the end of it, I developed a technique that was a cross between carding and combing, but using the hand cards. One of the washings used baby shampoo, and that did seem to bring up a nice luster on the fibers. Although the black guard hairs are a little rough, I left them in because I like the subtle interest they add.

The spinning challenge was that these were short fibers, only 1-2 inches in length. Short fibers have to be spun with more twist to hold them together. When it comes to yarn, I usually prefer fluff over drape, which means I want less twist not more. My solution for this fiber came when I read about core spinning (pages 98-101) in Amy King Spin Control. What I did wasn't true core spinning, which involves catching loose fibers around a core fiber as that fiber is spun. Instead, I caught the fiber as I plied.

I bought two spools of Coats & Clark Dual Duty thread color 8530 at my local big box craft store. I ran each spool separately through the wheel to give it just a little more twist. Then I put the two spools on the lazy kate and plied the two threads together in the opposite direction -- in other words, taking out the extra twist I just added to make it ply. Once that was established, then I started holding fluffy bits of mohair in the drafting triangle as the two threads came together. At first I got novelty yarn, which is what you get when spinning experiments go awry. But as I got used to it, I got better at spinning a smooth yarn that still retains the fluff of mohair. I didn't exactly turn straw into gold, but let's say I turned it into stainless steel. This is definitely one of those spinning techniques that requires a wheel. You need one hand to ply and one hand to hold the fluff, so it wouldn't work with a drop spindle unless you've established a peculiar association with Doc Ock.

I don't yet have a project planned for this. I have about 120 yards, although the first few yards are a little rough. Let's say a solid 100 yards with extra to spare. It does still smell like goat, even after two baths and setting the twist with steam. And let me add here that setting the twist with steam is a great idea. I'm still not that great at plying, but steam setting is very good at taking the extra twist out so that I have a balanced yarn. I'm using an old aluminum noodle pot that I've had since graduate school. I don't even remember how I got it, I just know it was somebody's cast-off item and therefore free. Good deal!

29 January 2010

A Trip to the Mannings

During the Christmas holiday, the Cuddly Hubby and I went to visit my family in Pennsylvania. We drove up the weekend before Christmas, which was just after the big snowstorm. On the drive north I was wondering if this was such a swell idea -- why hadn't I promised to come visit during a warm weather holiday? But it all worked out very well. Big credit to the state of Virginia, as those folks really know how to clear snow off I-95. And thanks to Audible for the members' free 3.5 hour recording of Tim Curry reading Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Between the clear expressway and the good listening, we made our best time ever from Georgia to Virginia.
For Christmas my mother took me on a surprise trip out to The Mannings. This was a totally awesome Christmas present! My sister and grandmother came along as well, so we got to spend nice time together. The Mannings is a shop out in East Berlin, Pennsylvania that offers classes and materials for knitting, spinning, and weaving. The shop is located between Gettysburg and York a little ways off old route 30. I was glad we took our picturesque outing in my mother's SUV, as there was still snow on the ground. You'll have to go back a one-lane farm road, but it is well worth it! There was a very fine stock of books, yarn, and knitting and spinning supplies. Rarely do you find so many spinning wheels and weaving looms in one place. They had a Louet Jane loom in stock, and I have to admit it is very tempting if I decide to expand into weaving. But that's for another year. My mother gave me a generous gift certificate and I had no trouble spending it and beyond. Some of the things I bought or that my mom bought for me:

  • Color in Spinning by Deb Menz
  • Omas Strickgeheimnisse by Erika Eichenseer, Erika Grill, & Betta Kron
  • Wild Fibers Winter 2009-2010 issue
  • two 4 ounce Louet Northern Lights rovings
  • two half-ounce bags of crystal metallic fiber
  • a cotton sampler kit (at right)
  • an exotic fibers sampler kit
  • quilted tote bag made by a local Lancaster Amish woman
  • one skein Araucanía Ranco solid, to make gloves for the Cuddly Hubby
  • one skein Berroco Bonsai, to stabilize my Coldwater Creek ruana
  • Oat Couture Curlicue Coverlet pattern, to make a shawl for my mother
  • seven skeins Crystal Palace Mini Mochi, for Mom's shawl

You can bet that a trip to The Mannings will be part of my itinerary on future trips to visit family.

The other place I already make a point to visit is Uncommon Threads at 294 W Market Street in downtown York near the historic Golden Plough Tavern at 159 W Market Street. The tavern is where the Articles of Confederation were signed, legally turning the 13 British colonies into the United States of America. This is also an easy place to visit from The Mannings, as Market Street is what old route 30 becomes when it is inside the city. Owner Beth Lutz also has a local alpaca farm. Uncommon Threads is not a large shop, but very good choices have been made about what to stock. I bought three very clever buttons from Zippy Pins. I also found a real bargain in the back of the shop. There was a large basket of loose roving. I suspect some of it was leftovers from practice or class. It was marked at $1 an ounce. I bought all the royal blue, more than 14 ounces of it. There was also a little bit of light blue with it, which should be fun for practicing carding. I think it will coordinate very nicely with that Louet Northern Lights roving.

So, if you find yourself in Pennsylvania near Gettysburg or York, be sure to sample the local fiber offerings.

24 January 2010

It's a good day here

I just came back from the Deluxe Panda Nightcrawler program at ZooAtlanta. Nightcrawlers is one of the oldest after-hours education programs in the country. On this program we got to learn about pandas, make enrichment for the pandas, and then have a behind the scenes encounter with the pandas. Cameras aren't allowed behind the scenes at the zoo, so I don't have any pictures of myself or anyone else in the party feeding biscuits to Lun Lun. I also don't have pictures of all the cool panda gear various participants were wearing. Most of the twelve of us were local, but Lola came all the way from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and another family flew in from Fort Worth, Texas. All of us are afflicted with Obsessive Panda Disorder, but none of us seemed to be in any hurry to be cured.

But, I am very fortunate the bag of straw and scent that I assembled and painted was given to Lun Lun and Xi Lan. I scented the straw with banana flavor. The photograph is Lun Lun investigating it. The video is Xi Lan having a fine time with it:

(Please ignore the background audio -- I haven't yet figured out how to delete it.)

My apologies that I was not more on the ball. Yang Yang also got an enrichment bag and did a fine job of tearing it up and rolling around and just being the wonderful, silly bear so many of us have come to love. Alas, I took blurry photographs and should have just shot video.

A big thank-you to all the nice people at the zoo, including Carvel who was our guide, and panda keepers Kate and J.T. who were very accommodating of us disrupting their routine.

Then I drove home back to the "real world" and realized that Saturday's mail was still in the box. So I went to get it and, oh my, my Master Knitter revisions were back already. Gulp.

I passed Level 1. :-)

I'm going to go watch some playoff football now. Glee! Happy dance!

15 January 2010

And another new name on the list

I've also added "And So It Goes . . ." from local knitter, teacher, and designer Laura. On Ravelry she's Angelfire212 and has designed Skolnick. Skolnick is a pair of fingerless gloves with a guitar design on the palm. There is a beautiful cable pattern on the back.

Laura had me test knit these for her last year. The process was fun, and funny. She gave me all the directions and a chart and I was ready to start. Then I realized I wasn't sure what the chart meant. And I couldn't figure it out. Finally, I asked. Laura had given me everything except the chart key. You can bet that complicated cable and the duplicate stitch made a whole lot more sense with the chart explained. This is why you need someone to check your work -- because the gremlins get in it at night and do odd things.

Laura has nicely placed the increases for the thumb opening so that the thumb gusset grows out the the side of the cable. This was a fun project. And it doesn't take a whole skein, so it is also good for partial bits, stash, and handspun. And the swirly cable pattern is a delight.

14 January 2010

The Knitter & Artist awaits the apology

The Cuddly Hubby left the 2 November 2009 Newsweek out for me to read. He kindly turns down the corners of articles I might find interesting. Obviously, it has been a busy time recently, since we're ten weeks behind. In this particular issue, Cuddly Hubby has marked a column by George F. Will entitled, "Magnificence Democratized." It requires a response.
The article is about Antony Gormley's Fourth Plinth project in Trafalgar Square. If you listen to Brenda Dayne's Cast On podcast, you'll recall how excited and thrilled Brenda was to get to be one of the plinthers. For 100 days, 24 hours a day, each hour a different person got to be up on the plinth. Over the course of the summer, 2400 ordinary people each got one hour of fame. Participants were free to do whatever they wanted. Some made political statements. Some performed. Some did ordinary things. And some knit.

Mr. Will derides this democratization of achievement. Clearly, he is bothered -- possibly offended -- by the idea of literally putting ordinary people and their activities on a pedestal. But what bothers me as both an artist and a knitter, is that he uses knitting not once but twice in his article as an example of the banal.

"Some plinthers, as they were called, just sat and knitted."

"One purpose of his Trafalgar Square project was to make 'artist' a classification from which no one can escape because everything, even just sitting and knitting, is an expressive activity, and therefore 'performance art.'"

For his offense against knitting, it is tempting to put a curse on Mr. Will, that he may never again know the comforts of a warm muffler, thick mittens, or properly fitting socks; and that all his extremities may be chilly even in the warmth of August. But curses aren't nice, so I shall leave that as a mere fantasy.

Perhaps Mr. Will is unaware of how much joy the Fourth Plinth project brought? If a significant descriptor of art is that it affects our emotions, then the project certainly succeeded. I enjoyed listening to Brenda Dayne's podcast partly because she was so thrilled and so happy. That is a wonderful sort of joy. And it was a very public joy that was shared with her listeners as well as the people who were in Trafalgar Square to witness it. I suspect that many other plinthers had similar joyous experiences. In the middle of a very un-joyous 2009, I think this is rather wonderful and humane achievement.

But Mr. Will also is concerned about the definition of heroism and fame. "Can something that is valued because it is scarce -- say, fame or heroism -- be declared ubiquitous without becoming banal?"

The Women's Studies major in me is ready to rip up that bait. Mr. Will, of course, is using the common male definitions of military or political achievement. Saving lives, saving civilization, making life better for thousands or millions of people is absolutely heroic and worthy of accolades. But Mr. Will is forgetting the core of heroism -- putting the needs of others before oneself. Many of the Great Acts of Heroism involve putting a life in jeopardy so that another may be saved. But each day, every one of us gets 24 hours. How do we spend it? We'll never get it back, and each hour, each minute, each second must be spent in turn. When we spend that time on another or with another, we've spent a precious resource. And we may not spend it by saving a life, but we may spend it in a way that makes another life a little better.

And so, to remind Mr. Will and others out there, let me write down some of the Great Things about knitting.

  • You can express your interest in the mathematical genius of the universe in the way patterns are created, or in the geometry of a single line becoming any possible three-dimensional shape. (Can someone please send Mr. Will a knitted Kline bottle?)
  • You can express your own personal creativity -- knitting can be a playground for your soul. You can achieve the tremendous satisfaction of bringing something beautiful into the world.
  • You can express your love to someone in a way that is gentle and warm and functional and that will go with them. You can turn intangible love into a tangible object. You can wear something knitted by a long-dead aunt or grandmother, and still feel that love across the years and beyond the pale.

For one summer, Great Britain celebrated not the rare people and rare acts of the past that made civilization as it is, but the common people and common acts of the present that make civilization happen every day. I ask you, Mr. Will, was that such a horrible way to spend a summer?

06 January 2010

A New Name on the List

Just wanted ya'all to notice that I added Jenna's blog "Yarn Stylist" to my list at right. This is the famous Jenna the Yarn Pimp. She hasn't written all that many posts, but I have hope that she'll get back to it because Jenna is hilarious. And smart. And crafty -- both definitions. And because we really need a post about the great green dress monster.

05 January 2010

Best Panda Viewing

We have been "enjoying" uncommonly cold weather here in the ATL. Nearly every day this new year has been clear and beautiful and COLD. It is uncommon for us to have days that aren't above freezing, much less several in a row. And the meteorologists have mentioned the four-letter "s" word for Thursday. At least this should cut into the bug population for next summer.

11 December 2009 -- Mei Lan looking fabulous even while napping.

One of the upsides to this weather, besides the opportunity to wear your warmest knitted clothes with pride, is that this is panda weather! I haven't been to San Diego Zoo, but I've been to Memphis and National Zoo and talked to people who have been to San Diego. From what I can tell, the best panda viewing in the United States is right here in Grant Park. Visitors can get closer to the pandas than in Washington or San Diego and there are more pandas here than in Memphis. (After visiting Memphis, I am pretty sure their exhibit design is based on ZooAtlanta's.) So, why go view the zoo in this weather?

Pandas are always on exhibit. There is always at least one panda in the dayrooms or in the outdoor enclosures. During the summer, Yang Yang was often behind the scenes because it was too warm outside and there are only two dayrooms. But during the autumn and winter, there are some days when all four pandas, Mom, Dad, big sister, and little brother are on exhibit. (At left is Xi Lan, after climbing to the top.)

The zoo isn't crowded in the cold. This is particularly great if you are an adult panda fanatic. In the summertime, there are lots of families and children and it can be hard as an adult to get a good spot. Parents sometimes look at you unkindly, not realizing that you've waited 45 minutes to finally get a mostly-unobstructed view. Or folks don't always recognize that someone has made a special trip from a great distance. But in the winter, you can have the pandas all to yourself or nearly so.

This is also a great time to meet other panda fanatics. Only the true panda aficionados will hang out. And it is wonderful to hear the stories the docents or other panda fans can tell.

If you enjoy photography, it is much easier to get good photographs on these quiet, uncrowded winter days. If pandas are in the yards, then you don't even have the glare of glass. And if they are inside, there are fewer fingerprints on the glass because there are both fewer children in the zoo and because they are wearing mittens and gloves. (At right is Yang Yang, thoroughly involved in a meal, viewed through the glass. Yes, he was that close to me, with just the glass between us.)

One of my favorite memories of Mei Lan as a cub is from a cool winter morning. There were about half a dozen people watching her, all of us spread out enough not to interfere with each other, all of us with a good view of the action, and all of us with a camera of some kind, from my pocket digital to a SLR with zoom telephoto lens to a video recorder. It was early in the day, so there was just the quiet munching of a happy panda cracking her breakfast bamboo and the whispering whirring of the panda paparazzi recording her every move.

Lun Lun and Xi Lan -- like mother, like son.

And speaking of Miss Mei -- this month is your last chance to see her unless you plan to visit Chengdu yourself. She's nearly grown up and is about ready to go charm the young male pandas at the breeding center. Little brother Xi Lan is beginning to wean from Lun Lun and will soon be housed separately. So if you want to see Miss Mei or if you want to see interactions between Lun Lun and Xi Lan together, get thee down to the zoo pronto! And if you are a real over the top fan, there is a special super-deluxe panda nightcrawler program on 23 January.

One last note, many of the animals at ZooAtlanta are African species who are not on exhibit in the cooler weather. If you have another favorite critter, be sure to ask the folks at the front gate. They do a very good job of knowing what is and isn't out, or what will be out later as the day warms up, and they can assist you to make sure you'll know what to expect and where to find the best animal action.