Monday, December 29, 2008

2009 New Word Selected - "Priorities"

For my long time readers, you know the drill by now. Each year, I pick a word that will guide the year ahead, and hopefully help shape it. My word last year was "awareness" and I think it really helped me change a few bad habits and improve some of my relationships. Awareness naturally leads to several outcomes: 1) change; 2) acceptance or 3) release.

In the fall, I was considering picking the word "Release" for this year - because frankly 2008 has been a pretty crappy year for many people, including myself. The awareness I practiced last year seemed to lead me to getting rid of some "hangers on" in my life that had lingered a bit too long and were dragging me down. You know, some fringe relatives, toxic people and self-made ways of relating to people that just weren't working any more. So toward fall of last year, I started releasing some of those old, dead situations and thought patterns - including an old vision of "me" that was stuck in feeling fat, dumpy and middle aged.

I am still in that process of release - and am planning on symbolically releasing those things - especially on New Year's Eve. But Release for a whole year seemed daunting to me, and frankly a bit scary. I don't think I'm ready for a whole year of that quite yet.

At any rate, as I was contemplating the new year, and during my morning meditation, a new word popped into my head like a new friend walking in the door - PRIORITIES. That is the word which will guide 2009.

Why? Being a big naval gazer and goal setter, I already have some general priorities established. They've stayed pretty constant for a few years now - but those priorities too often get shoved aside and not LIVED on a daily basis. I get so caught up in putting out the daily fires, and just doing whatever maintanence activities are needed for survival that I fail to do the really important things that will have the greatest impact on my life.

So last year's awareness has led me to the realization that my priorities are too often sidelined - the big rocks in my life have too often been displaced by the small rocks and sand of daily existence.

Right now, I'm in the process of emptying out that terrarium of "my life" and selecting the big rocks that will go in first - then the other stuff can filter in around what really matters. Does that make sense?

What will your word be for this year?

Is anyone else ready to release 2008? Whew - I'm getting this bad-ass year's hat and coat right now - ready to close the door on it.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas - The Gift of Friends

Okay, it's Christmas it's not usually my favorite holiday - but this year, I've remembered how very blessed I am with friends. I've been working overtime a lot and hadn't had time to check the mail. Imagine my surprise when I opened up my mailbox today to find a gift - a very special gift from a very special friend, LynnH, of ColorJoy!!!

I've been blessed to find some of my most cherished people over the Internet. Around 2003, after discovering/rediscovering the wonderful world of knitting, I happened upon a wonderful knitting blog by a very colorful and joy-filled person named Lynn. She is beautiful, creative, a talented designer, artist, dancer not to mention a delightful musician and writer. I admire the fact that she has so many talents - any one of which a person would be glad to possess - but she has many. I started reading her ColorJoy blog five years ago, and even with a plethera of blogs now available, hers remains one of my all-time favorites.

One of Lynn's designs I've always loved is her ColorJoy Stole. Well, now she's has a new pattern out called Party Stole. Guess what? She made one for me and sent it in the mail. You can see me enjoying it on a Christmas Day, and I do indeed feel wrapped in joy and warmth.

I have been blessed with some special relatives, but friends like Lynn remind me that friends surround me - even one like her whom I've never even met (in person). If you have a chance - drop by her blog, check out her music (1920's style) and take a peek at her projects and patterns.

It's cliche but so true that friends are some of our greatest gifts. Now back to my stole and a warm cup of tea. Yum!!! I'm curling up with a very good book called MIDDLESEX and sitting by the fire for a while.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Boot Toppers

The next IG (Instant Gratification) project comes to you from Kristin Knits: 27 Designs for Playing With Color. Specifically, the Boot Toppers on page 68. They are SO CUTE and have the added benefit of being 1) fast and 2) easy - my two favorite criteria for knitted projects when I'm in this frame of mind. If you're still looking for last minute gift ideas, these boot toppers would fit the bill perfectly. They could be made in a day (for fast knitters) or two (for slower knitters like me)- and you could put them on all sorts of boots, both casual and dressy. I just finished mine and I love them. I will probably try to make another set for my mother to match her new green boots.

I was so excited about this idea for boot toppers that I went out the other day and bought a pair of women's fashion work boots (Mudd brand) just so I can have something to put the boot toppers on!!! You could actually put these on any kind of boot, including the tall dressier boot.

The boot toppers are knit using two-color Fair Isle knitting (but it's really Beginner Fair Isle) and then you embellish with just a bit of duplicate stitch to make it look more complicated than it really is. Yarn used was Julia yarn, again, which is apparently produced by Kristin Nichols, author of Kristin Knits. She has produced a set of yarn in this Julia line so that the colors all go together. I love her sense of color.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Daughter's Birthday Celebration

Hard to believe that my daughter turns 17 today! And on top of that, it's a snow day - we're both off from school/work.

It's a lovely snow - a downright beautiful, light fluffy snow that really DOES put me in the holiday spirit. In fact, it looks like a lifesize snow globe outside.

Days such as this are unique and rare. A blessed winter day.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Window of Relief

I was all set to work yesterday (Saturday) but due to a computer application being on the fritz, my overtime was unexpectedly called off. Yippeee! So Saturday I had a day off to visit the knitting peeps, do a bit of holiday/birthday shopping. And Saturday night, we spent a wonderful evening with Kay and her family.

You see her here, clowning around with her new marino/roving "wig" ala 1700's. We opened the big box of roving I ordered from Sheepshed Fibers and we had fun playing with it a bit on my drum carder. The roving she's wearing is from a grab bag of fibers, but the best of the lot was the $7.95 white roving mill ends that were wonderfully soft merino. It is great! We're both planning on expermenting with dyeing that roving and seeing what yarn we can spin up with it.

We made a lovely blue/green bat and a pink/burgandy batch with some other roving I had in the closet. Kay had already worked with drum carders when she went to Yarn School a couple of years ago. I think she'll be getting one soon - maybe even for Christmas? Here's hoping.

Ever since I started to spin last summer - I've become obsessed with making my own yarn in all aspects, the spinning, dyeing, carding. I am just beginning this exploration but it's so much fun. Mostly, I've been reading and studying, but I've been buying crockpots at thrift stores, so don't be surprised if you soon see me venturing into dyeing as well.

Here's some lovely silk I've been spinning from the silk yankies we bought at Yarn Barn last week.

If only there were enough hours in the day to practice all the things I'd love to do better.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

It's December again - and instead of "Merry Merry Christmas/Hannukah" I find myself groaning each morning as I wake up counting down the days until it is all over and I can breathe again.

Not only is there Hannukah and Christmas (we sort of half-heartedly celebrate both), but there's also my daughter and husband's birthdays as well as my grandmother's and 6 friend's birthdays.

And I've been working overtime at work to the point where I feel even more rushed and stressed. In short, for me this is NOT the most wonderful time of the year. (Yes, I'm extremely thankful to HAVE a job, and the overtime money is much appreciated, but right now, the time crunch is overshadowing everything else).

When I am time-pressed the most, that's when I realize how very much I rely on knitting and spinning to release the tension and provide relaxation. When I don't have time to even finish knitting a pair of boot toppers (my current project sitting by the wayside), then I get very frustrated and cranky. Instant gratification projects shouldn't stretch out over two weeks, should they? And when my brain is too fried to even knit simple ribbing, it's a signal something's gotta give.

I think this is an especially dismal and stressful season in 2008 in particular, with all the financial worries in the country and the world. No one can be completely sure that they'll even have a job in January.

Sorry to gripe - but the blogging helps me sort of unload and express it. In spite of the stress, I know that I and all of you too, will get through this okay. We'll have time to spend with friends and love ones and maybe instead of feeling out of control and helpless for all we can't BUY, perhaps we can share what has become increasingly precious - a little bit of time and companionship.

I feel most sorry for those single mothers and fathers out there, many of whom I work with, who feel special pressure to produce, at the very least, a decent Christmas for their kids, with very little money to do it.

Here's hoping things get better soon. And 2008 is almost over. Can I hear a "yippee" from the peanut gallery?

Monday, December 08, 2008

A Spinning We Will Go

On Saturday, my friend Kay and I took a "More Spinning" (Intermedidate Spinning) class at Yarn Barn, taught by Cindy Harberger. All I can say is "Wow, what an intense, information-packed 4 hours." Maybe it is because I am a kinesthetic (hands on) learner, but having an experienced spinning teacher beside me guiding the way while I try different techniques is an excellent way for me to learn.

We started by spinning using our own intrinsic method and style for about half an hour while she went around the room observing each of us and writing up a little index card describing our current style, with suggestions on how to improve both the technique and ergonomics of our current spinning method. It may sound scary being critiqued on one's spinning, but it was very nonjudgmental, friendly, and with all the best intentions - to help us become better and more talented spinners. And I've seen such improvement in my spinning from the first session with her, two months ago, to now.

Last time, she suggested that the posture I was using to spin might eventually cause pain in my right hip - and she was right, I'd already begun to experience mild hip pain, but with her suggestion on sitting differently, I've been able to spin in total comfort for the past two months.

She analyzed my current style as "Short draw, but allowing draught against twist." What this means is that I do a short draw, but I occasionally take my hand off of contact with the fiber, which causes a nubbiness or unevenness that can be solved by keeping my hands in constant contact with the fiber. We practiced this new way of spinning short draw, and it produced much smoother yarn. But now I know that if I ever want that nubbiness, how to produce it.

We practiced modified long draw and true long draw, which she says that very few people do a TRUE long draw, but it can be very effective for some types of fibers. Kay was able to perfect both the modified long draw and long draw very well. I think her natural style is modified long draw.

Treadling: medium fast. As with everything else, I tend to do it a little faster than I probably need to. The teacher suggested that I slow the pace of my treadling just a bit. She says that we live our lives at such a fast pace, that it sometimes transfers over into our spinning - but in fact our "real life" should mimic our spinning pace - medium paced and relaxed most of the time.

We discussed woolen vs. worsted weight yarn, and how to produce both. She says that most spinners do a combination such as semi-woolen or semi-worsted. Two yarns can appear to be the same thickness, yet the weight and handling characteristics of each can be quite different, depending on how it was spun.

Worsted yarns - extremely strong, smooth and durable, are produced from parallel fibers. You can get this effect by aligning the fibers by using hand carders, in particular, and creating a little "rolag" out of the fiber. We learned how to do this, and at first, I couldn't do it very well. Because I am left handed, I was getting my handedness confused. But Jane, another student in the class, helped orient me and practiced with me, which helped so much. By the time we made a second rolag, it turned out much better.

Woolen yarns, on the other hand, are made from randomly oriented fibers and they are soft, warmer (because they incororate more insolated air space) and not as hard-wearing as worsteds.

Clarification from Cindy the Instructor: True worsted is prepared only from combed fibers and spun and plied butt to tip. Rolag preparation is used to create woolen yarns. Rolags rolled in the conventional way (as we practiced) creates a preparation that has the fibers at perpendicular to the orifice. Worsted spinning requires fibers to be "in parallel" with the orifice.

We then moved on to learning about and spinning many different fibers from our "goody bag." We learned that Merino would made a great woolen-spun yarn. It was easy to spin.

Cotton - 1" staple length and very hard to spin because of short fibers, you would best use the smallest/fastest ratio on your wheel, and treadle fast! When we worked with it, my cotton kept breaking off, and I finally gave up. I don't like cotton anyway.

Flax - use a lot of twist, dampen fiber to make it more smooth to spin. She suggests wearing a belt when you spin it, or use a distaff to put the fiber through.

Mohair - comes from a goat, very shiny and has a halo. It is best spun from the fold.

Cashmere (we didn't practice spinning this) but did you know that some cashmere is raised in Texas and some in Mongolia? So next time you buy cashmere fiber, find out which is it. The Mongolian cashmere is softer, more luxurious fleece.

Alpaca - 3 -5" staple length. the fiber has a hollow core (creating good insolution) so this fiber is not only extremely soft but is WARM. It's best spun from the fold. Some people are allergic to this fiber. Suri is the best and most expensive Alpaca.

Silk - yum!! We spun this and everyone loved it. Of course, silk worms produce silk. The teacher told us about these wonderful "silk hankies" which is a packet of silk you can buy at Yarn Barn, where one $18 package contains at least 10 hankies and gives you quite a bit of silk at a much better price than if you just buy the fiber itself. These were GORGEOUS and Kay and I both are planning on trying our hand at spinning that lovely silk. Maybe we can make a little purse or something out of it. The one thing Cindy warned us about is that silk is rather inflexible fiber, so one wouldn't want to knit something like a sweater out of pure silk. But using a blend of silk with wool would work well. Also, some Art Yarns are spun with chunks of silk thrown in.

So now you see why my head is exploding with knowledge. For you Yarnies out there (nonspinners that is), I hope you weren't too bored with my in-depth coverage of this class, but I want to save the info on here to refer back to later.

Recommending Reading:
The Essentials of Hand Spinning by Mabel Ross, excellent explanation of hand carding. Ross was like the Elizabeth Zimmermann of spinning and was the mentor for our spinning instructor.

The Alden Amos Big Book of Handspinning