Sunday, May 1, 2011

Cities with Fiber

Cities with fiber... I don't claim that this list is in any way comprehensive or anything even close. Not at all! It's totally based on only the fact that these are cities that have been popping up continuously. There are only two here, for starters, because they offer a nice parallel, and happen to have the same name.

The first one is Portland, ME. I've never even been there! So this is completely presumptuous of me ––though I have been to Maine a bunch of time. BUT! Portland seems to be a hidden gem. Maine is full of small-scale sheep breeders and fiber farmers, including of course the wonderful people I bought my fleece from, Nash Island Wool and the Starcroft Fiber Mill. The Common Ground Fair does a wonderful job of supporting not only farmers in general, but fiber producers specifically (check out the amazing, HUGE fiber tent if you're ever in Unity, ME for the fair). It seems that Portland is a center of crafty people making things by hand, like the folks at Quince & Co., who make beautiful yarn and design awesome patterns. Check out their blog here. Eli Phant is kinda neat, too. And here, oh cool, is the Portland Fiber Gallery and Weaving Studio! Then there are the people who have the best of both worlds, Stephanie and May, who write on real paper and online from both Portland, ME and Portland, OR (crafty center of the left coast). Look at their offerings (feast you eyes) here.

When I was in Portland, OR this winter I didn't have much of a chance to explore the crafty side of the city. We were, honestly, to busy eating and book ogling at Powell's Books (which is definitely not to be discounted as a virtuous activity, especially when it drizzles, rains, and drizzles again, followed by fog, and more drizzle, as it does in PDX). I did have the chance to visit two neat stores, Bolt (fabric) and the knitting store next door to it (sorry, the name escapes me), both on Alberta Street, which is anyway already über-hip and trendy. That just goes to show: craftiness is so in, it almost hurts. Coming from here, I still often feel like we're still on the less trendy and more utilitarian side of the crafty spectrum. Both sides are good places to be, though honestly, I prefer to make things that work, can get dirty, left out on a fencepost (though this is extreme for a handmade thing, even by my farm-type standards), patched up, embellished, forgotten, and re-loved again in a whole new decade (Timeless, perhaps?).
What I love about Portland, OR is the colourful, vibrant, almost explosive love for all things crafty. Like the Land Gallery, which isn't strictly craft focused, but is stocked with neat t-shirts printed with West Coat witticisms, indie letterpress cards, chapbooks, zines, and other treasures and trinkets.  They support indie artists and crafters, which isn't only über-hip, but is also über-cool and über-essential if small-scale, kitchen-table type artists and artisans are meant to survive and thrive (and we mean for them to do both).
Another thing that seems to have turned into an institutions is Craftywonderland. I've never been, and I only barely spotted the pop-up store through a rainy window on the Portland MAX this winter ––my Portlander friend Hannah would be more of an authority.

Portland and Portland are two of the obvious cities, I suppose. I want to give a nod to everyone and everything in between, too. Handmade Nation does a better job of this than I do, most definitely.

I also love people who live on islands and raise small flocks of excellent heritage sheep breeds. Maybe I love them because I wouldn't mind being one of them myself.

In the meanwhile, I'm just about to assemble another sweater! Here's a sneak peek at the pieces. It does look odd this way, doesn't it? Soon to be worn, in the last few days of cool spring...

A sea of daffodils for you! 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

It's been a while!

Yes, it has been a while. With spring, which does seem to be here ––judging by the almost flowering daffodils outside the house, and the almost bursting buds on the maples–– I've gotten more and more busy. This season also means, of course, the end of a semester (Did you think I was going to say the end of an era? Not quite!) and a scramble to get things done before the summer sets in. As I write this, Mother Nature is gently mocking me. Spring? Ah well, a few snowflakes won't make too much of a difference. It's been incredibly windy and rainy and cold here the last two days or so, nevertheless, we've definitely crossed the hump into another season. The lambs are all there now, so many, black ones, brown ones, white ones. Our sows are ready to burst ––we're waiting for piglets at any moment. And the chicks, just in time for Easter, are enjoying the heat of a heatlamp, and an occasional sunny day. 

I finished the vest! I must admit it was a little while ago ––so I've gotten many good wearing out of it already! I have a bunch of yarn left, and honestly didn't spend an exorbitant amount of time spinning. That is to say, making your own woolens isn't really as time consuming as  you might think. Yes, it is definitely faster to buy a sweater, and I won't try to argue with that, but if you have somewhere to raise a few sheep, consider the benefits of doing so. Sheep manure for the garden, possibly meat from lambs, fiber (especially low-cost if you learn to shear by yourself), a fossil-fuel free lawnmower. And with the cost of wool on the rise... maybe it IS time to buy some sheep? 

I'm still figuring out buttons. I'd like to put maybe one or two, not a whole row's worth, and I'd like to make them myself. My clay buttons turned out to be a bit too heavy for the weight of wool I spun, so Plan B is to find some nice dry apple wood, and cut some thin "cookies" from it, drill two holes, sand then shiny, and ta dah! Buttons! Here's an idea of what I'd like to make (as usual, Etsy provides). And here's the vest in action. 

The second I finished the vest I started on my next project. Did I tell you that we go two wonderful Rowan pattern books in our library? Well, we did! So I started knitting a loose v-neck sweater from the British Sheep Breeds book with some heathered green yarn I had left over from another project. I'm almost done, just one more sleeve to go. I can't wait to wear it! 

With that hot on the needles, I also started an embroidery. My first since the 1st grade, it I remember correctly. I'm embroidering flowers and birds: a chipping sparrow, a robbin, and a black-capped chickadee. It's a lot more work that I thought it was ––but fun, too! 

Marsh marigolds

This will be a bunchberry ––red berried still to come.

I'll leave you with just a few more pictures of our beautiful honey bees making full use of the first "crop" of flowers. They've received so much admiration of the past two weeks or so ––it's wonderful to see people clustered around the flowers, watching the honeybees do their thing. They've still got to make to through some mean weather, but at this rate, they should be tough enough. Fingers crossed!! 

Have a great end of the week! 

Sunday, April 3, 2011


We had another spring snowfall. 

So I stayed indoors and started sewing. 

Denim and snowberries became...

...a tote bag with pockets...

...and another bag with long straps. 

Also a slightly off-kilter fairy princess embracing the world. 

Then the weather turned. 

So I went for a walk.

Have a laughter-filled week! 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Under the Fence, catch the sheep, back you go and off you leap!

Can you figure out what all that means?

Here is, finally, the promised update on the vest-project. The back is done! One of the front panels is done! And the second front panel, the one with the button-holes, is underway. Unfortunately, being more of a piecemeal kind of knitter, I'm just about out of yarn. A few more rows on this last panel and then ––zip! There's a bobbin full of singles waiting for a mate, so I'll start spinning it up today, hopefully ply, block, ready to knit by the weekend. I know that, generally, the more virtuous aim is to gather all the necessary materials for a project beforehand, but I have to say that this way, spinning a bit here, dyeing there, making buttons, and so on, offers a pleasant diversity of tasks. I tend to get distracted by new ideas easily, so this bit-by-bit building of something has been working well for me. Luckily, I also have a huge fleece. If I were doing a project like this one with a more limited supply of wool, it may serve me to be slightly more fastidious in my planning.

This back panel isn't blocked, so think away the rumples and unevenness!

Green = onion skins, blue = indigo

Front panel No. 1! 

I've been harping on about spring in, oh, the last two or three posts, I think, so I'll spare you for now. I'll just say that, no, spring has not sprung yet, but we are expecting the temperatures to climb at least a little bit this week. Fingers crossed.

I have a plastic bag of scraps sitting on top of my closet, waiting to be put to use. All of these have been dyed with plants ––even the pink, that's lichen dye! The brown is black walnut, the blue is indigo, yellows are goldenrod or onion skin, and purple is alkanet.

Here are some little treats hanging about on my desk.

Most of these balls of yarn were wound on a handy thing called a nøstepinne. A nøstepinne is  nifty little Norwegian knitting tool that you can use to wind a ball of yarn with a centre-pull. It's basically a stick (the "pinne" part) that winds a nest, or a ball, (the "nøst" part). It takes longer than a ball-winder, but it's fun to use, and you can take it anywhere because it's so small. I'd like to carve one, someday. 


And, for a last hurrah, check this out (click in the video labeled "Alison Friday knitting on Swedish TV"). It's a Swedish talk show with LIVE KNITTING! What could be better. All right ––don't watch the whole thing, it'll bore you half to death, but do note the candles burning off on one side, and the general awesomeness of this. (My secret motive: I am trying to learn Swedish, since I'll be in Sweden this summer, so what could be better than learning endless Swedish knitting terminology, right?)

Have a fantastic week! 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

I've spied some snowdrops

I had to change the header picture of the blog. Yesterday I went out into the brilliant late winter (dare I say early spring?) sunshine and it felt so much more like summer was coming fast. The sky, as you can see, was brilliant. Our new solar panels were cranking! Take a look at this one, it's huge: 

I did knit busily over the break last week, but only finished the back of the vest. So it's on to parts 2 and 3 shortly, and I'm spinning up some more yarn for them practically as we speak. Pictures coming soon! 
In my blog browsing, I came across a real gem yesterday. If you love dyeing with plants, you've probably heard of Jenny Dean, or read her book, Wild Colour, or read something that was inspired by her excellent work. Im any case, apparently she's very up to the times and even has a blog with lots of good advice and stories about dyeing and collecting dye plants around her home in Sussex. 

Here are a few more pictures for you. More on the knitty-gritty coming shortly! 

Snow drops... at mum's. Alas, not here ––though there are a few
poking their little heads out along the wall of the house,
where it's nice and warm. 

Brilliant sunshine and snow on evergreens. 

The field in the sun. 


Have a sunny weekend!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Needles and how it's knitting.

We've still got plenty of snow here, and even after a night of rain, the snow started up again, going strong. We all thought we smelled spring last night, but this morning presented us, yet again, with mountains, trees, and fields blanketed in white. It's almost mid-March now, it ought to be spring, oughtn't it? 

Snow drifts prevail. 

Well, before cabin fever really sinks its teeth into me, I'm off to visit my mother for a week. And hoping to come back to signs of spring. Do you hear that, weather gods? 

She'd like spring, too. Fresh grass, anyone? 

I recently read about needle sizes somewhere. I've always wondered why, say, a size 8 needle is a size 8 needle. Is it totally arbitrary? Or did it make sense to someone at some point? 
Turns out, it actually makes perfect sense. At least, it used to before we got so fancy with our yarns sizes. Here's the deal: until about fifty years ago, there were standards weights for yarn. This meant that any 4-ply yarn was the exact same weight as any other 4-ply, and any 8-ply was the same weight as any other 8-ply, and so on and so forth. Needle sizes were simply gauged to knit up the ply number they corresponded to. So a number 8 needle was for knitting 8-ply yarn. Smart, huh? What's more, 1 skein of yarn used to measure exactly 109 meters. Not so anymore. 

Ahh, simpler times, right?  

Speaking of knitting (haha!), I started to knit the Hiker's Waistcoat, and knit myself into such a frenzy that I almost finished the entire back panel in one day. Here are some glamour shots!

The stripes are onion skin (green/yellow) and indigo (blue) dye. 

Sunset knitting. 

Get all your bobbins in a row. 

Have a beautiful weekend!