Monday, 28 February 2011

In Spite of the Snow...

Spring is coming. I know it's Ottawa, and we're not going to have 'the flowers that bloom in the Spring, tra-la' for at least a month yet and more likely two. But after three months of snow, I'll take what I can get. We've passed the point where you only know intellectually that spring is coming, and gotten to where you can feel the difference in the weather. The temperatures are regularly up to around the freezing mark now, and before this morning's snow/ice pellets, there was bare ground around my building. The birds are more cheerful, the lilac buds are swelling...
And all of a sudden the cat wants out for an extra walk every morning.

In other news, the first skein of cria fleece is plied, gorgeous and heavy. The bag doesn't look like I've made a dent, though, so I'm going to get a lot of yarn out of it.
And I baked myself an apple cake, which is what I had for breakfast today. I feel it was a productive weekend.

Friday, 25 February 2011

More colorwork

Last spring, I was visiting Toronto, and made a point of going to Romni and buying some wool - it took some work, but I came out with the supplies for Eunny Jang's Autumn Rose sweater (and nothing else!). Nearly a year later, I've finally started knitting it, and I am loving it so far.
Oddly enough, my souvenir yarn from a second trip in January (from Lettuce Knit) is also on the needles, becoming Pamina socks (Ravlink). And neither is suitable for taking out knitting in coffeeshops. Le sigh.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Possibly Irreverent

Ever notice how on occasion you learn something new, and it promptly crops up in multiple places afterwards? I’ve been reading Gibbon’s “History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” lately. I came across a mention of it in Dickens’ novel “Our Mutual Friend”, and was just waiting for a chance to take the whole whack (5 volumes) out of the library. Sounds horrifically dull, right? I suppose it could be, but I’m actually finding it very interesting, and Gibbon is clear (despite being 18th C.), balanced, and humorous in places (the mental image of St. Martin who apparently “…mistook (much as Don Quixote might have) an innocuous funeral for an idolatrous procession and imprudently committed a miracle.”, for example). Anyway, mixed up in the history is a good deal on the spread of Christianity at the time, and its effects on society, along with a commentary on what a lot of these bishops and saints were actually like, and the arguments they got into about points of doctrine, and the political cross-over, etc.

Now, I don’t take most organized religion seriously anyway, but I think I would be even less inclined to now. The week after I started reading this, I had to go to my grandmother’s funeral. And the one part of me was, of course, crying through the service, but the other half was looking at the words of bits like the Nicene Creed and remembering the image of a bunch of reverend holy fathers duking it out and how often the ‘right’ version was the one the emperor supported or the one whose faction was more bloodthirsty. Charming idea for something that was supposed to be a religion of peace and love – and this was only a few hundred years AD. (The same irreverent bit of me was verifying the stereotypes that a) apparently French and Irish blood does mean you’re related to half the town and b) the Irish cousins were identifiable as the ones who smelled as if they’d had a drink beforehand.)

The second thing I ran across that related to Gibbon was at the Weaving Guild meeting.  I found a whole book on Coptic and Eastern Mediterranean textiles from 300-600 AD. And was stunned. Tapestry pieces in beautiful intricate patterns and many colors, looking almost painted. Tunic decorations so detailed that probably only the guy wearing them saw everything. I mean, who now would not just stripe a sleeve but make the stripe with animals and vines woven into the pattern? And this at a time when the empire had been split in two and was getting overrun by outside tribes like the Goths, who took advantage of the indolence of the Romans and the factions within the government. A time when the arts were going downhill, and even on a good day you still had to spin everything on a spindle and weave it on a pretty basic loom. Simply amazing. 

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Cria Lace

A neighbor of my parents, Joanne, is raising alpacas. She got a bunch of last year’s shearing spun at a mill, but her cria fleece (from the baby alpacas) was not sufficient to do a batch there. Guess who gets to spin it? Yup, me. Spinning on shares - she gets some of the finished stuff, and I get some. It’s a lovely blend of fawn shades – I love the colors in alpacas. This is my set-up for picking it over – second cuts to remove, and a bunch of hay and stuff. I suspect baby alpacas, like any other kids, play with their food and get into all sorts of things they shouldn’t.
 I’m spinning it fine, aiming for laceweight or thereabouts. (The wheel, if you’re curious, is the Hitchhiker from Merlin Tree. Great size for travel, I take it on the bus.)

Takes forever to fill a bobbin, but I know exactly what I’m doing with my share if I have enough yardage. Olga's Indiski Shawl. It was in Piecework Magazine a while back, in an article on Russian lace knitting, and I fell in love. This is just the excuse I need to stick to the spinning long enough.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Hey, hey, hey, Snowflake,

My pretty little snowflake…
Last year I made my aunt a pair of gloves for Christmas, in cream and teal cashmere/silk yarn. She has fairly large hands, and I had to use just a little of a second ball of each color. My hands are significantly smaller, so I figured I could get a pair of gloves for myself out of the leftovers. And I looked at the colors, and could picture snowflakes, drifting down, lacy and soft. The cuff got swatched and ripped out a few times, I covered half a sheet of graph paper with pattern possibilities…and then it got passed over for a while in favour of more immediate things, like thesis writing and defense, a couple baby showers, fall Fairs, and Christmas gifts. But I promised myself I would get back to it, and I did, and it’s even still cold enough that I can wear them for a month or so. It never would have happened if not for electronic graph paper, though. Don’t know why I never set it up before.
I am terribly happy with my Snowflake gloves, if I do say so. I had thought white snowflakes on blue, but since I had more white, I used that as background, and I like it. And I was worried that the long floats would affect the texture, but blocking evened that out. I even made the pinky sit a bit lower than the rest of the fingers, as that’s what my hands do, and the result is a very nicely fitted glove. The draft of the pattern is written, even, and as soon as I get a few people to test it, I’m going to publish it. Because they’re just that pretty.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Scrapbooking, old style

I’m still always kind of amazed at how easy it is to research things and store information now, with internet and flash drives and what have you. I suspect there are people out there now who have never had to use a card catalog.
            Despite the ease of digital pictures, and other new media, storing memories in the form of scrapbooking is still popular. Now it does seem to be almost an art form, with books on the subject and an array of papers and ornamentation to choose from. I have a couple scrapbooks of my own, but they are in no way ornamental – dog-eared old sketch books which serve mostly as collecting points for things like sheet music, stories, and jokes, collected from various sources over time.
            A few generations back, scrapbooks also served as places to store clippings from magazines and newspapers. Family births and deaths. Hometown news and events. Serial stories. Recipes, household hints, and patterns. The books themselves might be school exercise books, or recycled from another use. And they are fascinating to look at. I have a few treasured ones from different sources. One is an unlined copybook, dated 1934, with newspaper clippings from the Toronto Daily Star of a series on Charles Dickens’ love letters. How could I resist buying it, having read all of Dickens over at least twice?
A second copybook is rather special, coming from my hometown, and it is filled with clipping of quilt patterns from what was apparently a regular column, most glued but a few pinned into the book. The quilt blocks sketched in each column, and the language of the writing, suggest the 20’s or 30’s to me. The sketches are good enough that I could draft my own patterns from them, and readers could also write in to get full-sized patterns. I do wonder occasionally what the editors would say if I tried to do that this much later – a temptation I also have when looking at old magazine ads sometimes.

The third scrapbook I have is, I think, my favorite. It was given to me by a friend who quilts, who knew I would appreciate it, and I am still in awe that she was able to give it away. This one is not a copybook, but a recycled milk record book. In between the clippings, and on a page which was accidentally skipped, you can read the dates and quantities of milk from someone’s farm - written in the 1880’s. When the record was no longer needed, I suppose the thrifty housewife appropriated it for her own use. The clippings in this book are knit and crochet patterns, mostly, and show a variety of fonts and layouts. The shape of a pattern for a knit jacket suggests something around the turn of the century, with that very noticeable droop to the waist, very Edwardian. There are edgings and doilies (or D’Oyleys, it seems), baby bonnets, stockings, household items…you name it. Absolutely a fascinating read. I haven’t tried any of the patterns yet, but I am looking forward to it. And sometime I would love to see if it would be legal for me to make a scanned version of these available to the general public – I suspect it might be a little tangled, due to the fact that few of the patterns have any indication of their source.        

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

An Introduction to Wayside

I never realized how hard it is to pick a name for a blog. Some people just seem to be good at names – for shops, on-line games, blogs, houses, whatever. Maybe it’s a talent and maybe it requires practice. I like the idea of having one name suitable for several purposes, but to find something that fits me, and could equally be blog, shop, or house/farm, so as not to be too confusing? I love the idea of naming your place, like you see in England.
Anyway, I thought, and leafed through books of quotations, and poetry, and whatnot. But nothing spoke to me until I got to Longfellow. I love Longfellow, have since I discovered ‘Evangeline’ and ‘Hiawatha’ years ago. I have a beautiful old edition I dip into every so often, and this time, looking for something else, I came across his encomium on Robert Burns, and the verse,

‘Touched by his hand, the wayside weed
Becomes a flower; the lowliest reed
Beside the stream
 Is clothed in beauty; gorse and grass
And heather, where his footsteps pass,
The brighter seem.’

            And it is a lovely notion – of beauty (and worth) being, as it were, in how something is perceived or presented. Especially ‘weeds’. I have an affinity for that part, being into natural dyes, and learning the uses of herbs and plants, and ‘weed’ is so dependent on your perspective. Me, I like having a patch of nettles. Sure they sting. But they are also very useful. I have socks dyed grey-green with nettle, and I am bound to say a cream of nettle soup is very tasty and full of vitamins, although I think next time I’ll strain the leaves out; they’re a little hairy for my liking. Nettles are also supposed to make good compost accelerators, and the stems will yield a bast fiber similar to linen for spinning. Why wouldn’t you want nettles around?
            Wayside. It suggests somewhere quiet and relaxed. Off the beaten path, maybe overlooked. Not showy, but having potential and value nevertheless if you can see it. A place I would like to live in, and an idea I would love to share with people.