Thursday, January 28, 2010

Why Whine about Winter?

You know, a lot of people complain about the winter weather. Especially in Maine. I admit, I do my fair share of it. And I look forward with great enthusiasm to the advent of spring. I love to see the forsythia forcing buds on unusually warm winter days, or the willow tree developing a haze of yellow as their buds tease us with a hope of warmer days ahead.
But I have to admit I like the cold weather. I'm a hibernator of sorts. I love hour long afternaps, letting the book I'm reading drop out of my hands as I doze off. I can remember late afternoon at work when I would have given a full day's wages for a cat nap. And I even like having a legitimate excuse, It's too stormy out, I'll have to stay in, to work long hours as a practicing fiber artist. The mesmeric work of knitting and spinning is so suited to short sleepy winter days.

I consider myself lucky to be able to share my fiber projects with a passionate group of handcrafters here in Washington. We are a core group of 7 or 8 who get together weekly to knit, crochet, spin, weave, hook rugs, sew, sketch, whatever. The creative output is inspiring. Kathy's hooked rugs, Sue's imaginative recycling of felted woolens into purses, etuis, and more. And of course shared culinary tidbits eg. Carol's meringue cookies. I tried to justify these as the protein requirement (they are practically all egg white) for my breakfast, but I think the sugar content negates any legitimacy to that claim. Even for me that would be a stretch.

Kate's weaving. What can I say about that tea towel. I hope no wet or dirty dish ever comes face to face with that piece of art work. I totally embrace the whole Bauhaus thing--form follows function, etc. but this.....calling it a towel doesn't do it justice.

Karen's sculptural knit bird houses modeled after swallows nests are intriguing. She's acting as a mentor/collaborator with a 12-year old student on this project. Amazing! I can't wait to see it on exhibit.

Janet is not only one of the most prolific crocheters I know, she amazed me by learning to spin on a wheel in about 1 week (before Christmas) so she could hand card then spin sheep's wool blended with fur from her Keshon dog into yarn for a scarf for her daughter & granddaughter. I highly doubted, when I was coaching her, that she could master the skills to spin that stuff and the make the scarves. Before the holidays? Good luck. But I re-visited one of life's lessons with new emphasis, Never underestimate the resolve of fiber artists. Pull it off she did. Skillfully. We bartered fresh eggs from her chickens for spinning lessons, and I'm still repeating the rewards of that exchange. Plus, stories of her chickens, neighbor's marauding dogs, coyote kills with photographic evidence hold me rapt with both awe and frightful amazement. I am horrified by these tales, yet can't wait to hear more.
And then there's Yvonne. The quiet one in our group. But boy does she know alot about goats. Her male goats--"bucks" she calls them--recently won a New England or Northeastern award for something like best in show. The cashmere she brushes from her goats spins up into the most luscious fiber. I have yet to spin this stuff of my fiber dreams. I value it like fiber gold and am a little hesitant to get it near my wheel. I bought a Golding drop spindle at the MOFGA Fair last September specially balanced for fine fiber spinning like cashmere and quiviut, thinking that would move me forward, but, as yet, I am still lacking the confidence to try it. Another day perhaps for cashmere.

Right now I'm making potholders. Yup, potholders. Just like when I was 8 years old. Same old chipped red metal loom. Same type of cotton potholder loops. But the colors are scrumptious. And the results are, well, very functional. A nod to the Bauhaus.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Mother's Day Magic

I have always loved to sew. Since my first class in 6th grade where we learn to sew a straight line on a piece white ruled paper.

Our first true project was a pin cushion with real cedar smelling sawdust stuffed into it. If you didn't have your pin cushion with you every sewing class you didn't sew. I guess that sewing teacher had picked up way too many straight pins off the floor.

My mother was a sewer, as was my grandmother. My daughters sew, and both own sewing machines. I think I inherited a gene for sewing. I love the look of those vintage Singer sewing machines. You know, the glossy black ones, with gold leaf lettering, and if you are lucky, some fancy metal decoration on the side plate. I have a treadle sewing machine (non electric) that works like a dream. I bought it when I was 21 & living in New Mexico. I dragged it home to NYC after a brief stint as a hippie in Albuquerque. I also own a 1927 portable singer that became mine when the woman I was renting my East 10th Street apartment from in the late '60's left for Esalen in California and bequeathed all her belongings in that apartment to us lucky sub-letters. It has travelled with me over the past 30 years. I have used it now and then, and even though it never sewed in reverse, it has sewed well. Until last Thanksgiving. I was sewing up a kitchy holiday apron when the motor started to run sluggish. I looked at it--a compact small black motor visible at the back of the machine, likely bakelite, and noticed a crack in the black housing, and a missing screw. I tried to jury rig the motor with cardboard shims so that I could finish the sewing project. I figured I could find a repalcement screw at Liberty Tool in Liberty, Maine (they seem to have all things in the vintage hardware category). And there is usually some hardware seeker there willing to tell you just what you need and how to use it. I knew I would have to make a repair sooner or later.

Well later came this Mother's Day. I felt I was needing a mission to save me from feeling pathetic with my daughters being 100's of miles away in NYC. I called a neighbor who had told me she knew of a sewing machine repair place nearby. But she and her husband have 10 children and numerous grandchildren between them, and I wasn't surprised when she didn't answer. I left a message, but didn't expect to hear back from here anytime soon. I headed for the internet and google-ed "vintage sewing machine repair Maine". Why not. A long list popped up. I checked out the first listing and it looked great but was in Alabama. This didn't look hopeful. I decided to try one more listing and bingo! Klaus Heimann, Midcoast Energy Systems, Route 1, Damariscotta Me, (next to Reunion Station Restaurant)(207) (only 15 miles from us) came up.

"Hey honey," I cooed to my husband. "Want to take a ride to Damariscotta? We could drive down the peninsula for lobster." I told him about the sewing machine repair guy on the way and he was amenable. He had to be. It was Mother's Day and I was the mother who made him a father. I packed the somewhat weighty Singer portable into the back seat of the car, and we set out to the repair shop.

As we got closer, I decided we better call to make sure Klaus was going to be home. It was Sunday, and Mother's Day, and maybe he had a mother too. As a matter of fact we were minutes away when I reached him on the phone. "Hello. Is this Klaus?" I asked. Klaus, with the accent to go along with that name, answered, "yes, I repair sewing machines. Where are you?" I think he meant, where in the world are you, but I was able to astound him with "I think I'm in your driveway." "Oh", he answered evenly, "do you have the machine with you?"

My husband carried the machine up to Klaus's compact workshop/apartment. There were numerous sewing machines around. One looked very much like mine. Without wasting a lot of time on chit-chat Klaus identified the problem. The motor was cracked and the plate covering for the bobbin was missing. He said he could do the repair. And since he didn't have much room, he would have it done in 24 hours. Now it was my turn to be astounded. This is unheard of where I come from (NJ). I expected to hear mutterings about ordering parts... not going to be easy.... maybe a couple of weeks.... hours of labor, etc. I left, delightfully hopeful, with my husband. Reassured the machine was in good hands, we went for our lobsters.

When we got home at about 5 pm that afternoon there was a message on my phone answer machine. It was Klaus. Uh, oh, I thought to myself. I new this was too good to be true. I returned the call and it was good news. Klaus said the machine was finished, he was able to use parts from a machine he had on hand. He said he made a new key to replace the missing one that opened the bentwood case, he replaced the bobbin cover plate, he replaced the malfunctioning bobbin winder, and the motor. It was when he described the repaired machine as a "working vintage masterpiece" that I could imagine dollar signs rolling in my eye sockets like in a Looney Toons cartoon. This was going to be expensive. "When can you pick it up?"

He said he was an early riser and wanted to know when we could pick up the machine the next day. I suggested 10:30 am wanting to give him some time, and he said "No. I want to work on my boat, how about 9 am." So, 9 am next day my husband and I arrived at his door. I'm was a little worried that he might have slapped a new motor on my black beauty. I've seen that done on vintage machines offered at tag sales. It looks awful. But not to worry. The motor was exactly like the original broken one. The repairs were flawless. The machine was in fact a working vintage master piece. And best of all, it cost $116 parts and labor included.

We walked out of Klaus's shop, my husband carrying the machine, looking like the cat that swallowed the canary. "Can you believe it," he said. "That would have cost $500 anyplace else!". In his mind, this was too good to be true! He loves a good deal. In my mind, I couldn't wait to get home and see how it worked. I wasn't disappointed. It sounds great when it runs. It purrs but like a sewing machine. It's inspired me to pick up the pieces of a quilt I had struggled to finish for years and finish it. I've named the quilt "Out of the Blue". Acknowledging not only the colors used, but as an homage to the fortuitous encounter with Klaus Heimann.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Spring has sprung

May 1st here in Washington and I can't figure out what has been going on weatherwise. The snow is gone, the lake has thawed and we've had what, summer weather for a couple of days? Daytime temperatures near 80 degrees. Windows open, sweaters shed, and lawn furniture dusted off. Not that I'm complaining.......

(photo) Manure deal goin' down on nearby Black Locust Farm

Listened to "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver on tape. Truly inspiring. And what a treat listening to the author read her work in that drawly southern voice of hers. The website dedicated to this book is full of great info

My neighbor and very knowledgeable sustainable gardening guru, Sharon, has led 4 of us local wanna-bes clammering for more and more ways to enrich the soil, boost the harvest, protect the environment to attend weekly sessions at her house. Best lessons learned:
Throw away your rototiller! New think has it that leaving what's there is best, ammending on top of the soil rules and, what's in the ground is good and needs to be nourished--bugs, micro-organisms, bacteria and all.
Manure is something to be sought after. High on my priority list: cultivating friendships with neighbors who can supply the stuff. Don't share this info with too many people or there will be none left for you!
Dried up autumn leaves are a good thing. Gold in fact. Remember those landscapers who used large portable annoyingly loud blowing tools strapped to their backs to blow perfectly good shredded leaves from the lawn to the the street? Fools! That's the stuff mulch dreams are made of. Remember the real estate mantra location, location, location? Compost, compost, compost. There's just never enough of the stuff. And think of the dollars that can be saved by creating your own. Almost everything is fair game for the compost pile. What was commonly called garbage when I was a child can now be called compost. We're just about fighting over old newspapers up here to use in the garden. The wiley white beared attendant at Washington Recycling Center has got to be scratching his head and wondering why these women are asking for permission to dive into the recylced newspaper dumpster to take newspapers away! Why? Compost! Layered gardening!
Seed catalogues take priority over any NY Times best seller. Seductive color images of the best vegetables and flowers you could possible cultivate. And detailed information about how to plant, when to plant, how to heal.
It's never too early to start a garden in Maine. Indoors that is. My Wal-Mart spade didn't dent the top of the soil in my garden because the ground was still frozen rock hard. But fellow classmates dazzled me with descriptions of heating lamps, night vigils over new green shoots, the perfect organic potting soil for starting seedlings (must have sea kelp in it) best recycled containers for sprouts, and planting schedules. Oh my. So little time with so much to do especially with such a short growing season in Maine. Yikes.

Looking to Thoreau to justify a modest start, I plan to simplify. Keeping my goals small and hopefully achieveable. Two 4x4 feet spaces will contain my household garden. I can expand next spring if I want/need to based on lessons learned this year. I will layer newspaper, compost, soil and mulch right over (yes, Lenny) the grass, and plant there. I will continue to amend the soil over the growing season and pray for worms. I may even buy worns, the red kind, that eat faster than the fat guy at a pie eating contest to work on my very own compost. I will buy already sturdy early plants to sink into this newly prepared gardern. And I will work toward becoming a locovore, buying and eating what is produced locally, if not from my garden, lovingly by real people, not corporate farmers, within a 100 mile radius. Thank god for the amazing Farmers Markets here in Maine.

Not to take away from all the enthusiasm out there about home gardens done naturally, I have to confess that I am truly a flower gardener at heart. I will plant as much space as I can in annuals that I can cut and bring inside. I look forward to the black eyed susans that will line the path to the lake, and the hollyhocks growing against our red shed. I plan to grown sunflowers, the big ones. for the first time. I even bought a packet of seeds that are called Flowers to Attract Beneficials to the Garden. Good bugs and bees that is. Who will help to feed the birds and bats and keep bad bugs at bay. Its all in the balance, you see. Then no need for serious assualt on any bugs--well maybe Japanese beetles or black flies. But even they have their role in the big scheme of things. We'll see. I just learned from an email that my David Austen roses have been sent by Fed Ex and are due any day now. Can't wait for those!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Something to Cowl about


I'm loving this cowl!!!! My daugter, Emily, put it on, played with it, twisted it, and wore it the last 4 days she was us here this August. Until she wore it home to Brooklyn. It's been unusually cool & rainy for August & it works great as a chillchaser.

I love the idea of something that drapes this beautifully and keeps the chest and neck warm without the additional bulk of a second sweater. And how great is it that you can flip it up and use it as a hood when it cold or raining.

It knits ups so fast, and doesn't require constant attention. You establish a rhythm and can totally get lost in the zen of knitting, a good thing. It's been perfect for knitting on long drives here in Maine--of course' I'm not doing the driving. My husband is. I can pretty much enjoy the surroundings and just check in visually with the knitting every once in a while. Ok, so sometimes I knit past the starting point marker on my circular #6, and then have to rip out, but it's all about the process in knitting, right?

I've knit this one in a pale tan DK llama silk commercial blend you see in the images.
I'm working a number of permutations of this pattern. I'm trying it in another shade of the Llama silk, and have just spun some orange-y cotton from Halcyon Yarns

and plied with a soft, shine-y gold silk/wool blend yarn.
I think it will look great.

Orange cotton & gold wool/silk in the basket, waiting for me to spin, and, a sample of the yarn spun then plyed on the wheel.

Sample swatches: Knit side and purl side

So here are the instructions for this cowl.

Using #6 24" circular needles, cast on 145 stitches using a DK weight yarn. Join into a circle and *knit 3 rounds, purl 6 rounds*. Repeat between *'s a total of 11-12 times, ending with purl 6 rounds. This is a very flexible pattern. You can make this as long as you want. Try it on to see how you like the drape and Voila!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Guatemalan Brown

I'm having so much fun working with this brown fiber from Guatemala. A gift from my daughter after she returned from her recent trip there. The yarn was spun very tightly but plyed loosely (2 ply) and then wound tightly into a ball when I got it. I couldn't help buy wonder what hands where had worked with this before. Erica says the fiber is called "Brown Cotton" Gossypium Mexicanum, "Ixcaco" (in Mayan dialect--historically used in the creation of Mayan ceremonial garments), and "Cuyuscate" (Spanish).
I had been saving a pattern from a recent issue of Interweave Knits Magazine for the perfect yarn . A really lovely scarf with an unusual lace pattern and unique construction. When I had this South American yarn in my hands, I knew it was a good match.
You can see what happened (before sample) when I started to knit with it. They say a picture is worth thousand words. Take a look. You'll see what I mean........
Click to play guatemalan brown
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Friday, March 21, 2008

Spring Has Sprung!

That's it! Winter is over (officially now that it is March 21). And we are going to act like it is spring. Long walks outside. Keeping an eye open for courageous early spring flowers. Packing away bulky winter clothes until next winter.

However. ......That doesn't mean we won't be knitting. We're not that crazy! And socks always seem like the perfect project for spring & summer. Portable, small, discrete enough to be knit in inconspicuously at church or at a crowded meeting. And perfect for spectator sports events.
So here are a few of our new favorites.

Lace knitting pattern on leg made with Ranco hand-dyed sock yarn from KFI
Tube Socks (no heel or gusset!) made with worsted weight Nature Wool from KFI. Pattern from Knitscene Spring 2008)

Interested? Join us this March & April at our Spring Sock Hop

Mondays 2- 6 pm Downtown at 55 Whitney Avenue (203-776-9276)
Wednesdays 5 – 7:30 pm in Westville 910 Whalley Avenue (203-389-3369)
Now through the end of April

This is how it works.....
If you already knit socks and are interested in learning advanced sock knitting skills, like, socks on 2 circulars, knitting 2 socks at the same time, Magic Loop sock knitting, knitting lace & other advanced sock patterns, Cat Bordhi sock knitting techniques (for those truly skillful knitters looking for a challenge) to name a few, join us. Mini sessions are between $5-$15 based on the skill to be learned.
If you are clueless about sock knitting but know knitting basics—how to knit & purl easily—you are ready to learn sock knitting. Our Beginning Sock Class ($35) is 4 sessions scheduled at your convenience during the Spring Sock Hop days & hours.