Thursday, May 31, 2007

MA Sheep and Wool

Last week, I was too lazy to take pictures--this week, I've taken pictures but am too lazy to write. I can't wait to see how I'm lazy next week!

Anyway, after two other fiber festivals plus the sale at Webs in the last month, I thought I was pretty much yarned out by the time we went to the Massachusetts festival. It was somewhat bigger than the CT festival, but for some reason nothing was really speaking to me except the Angora bunnies. But I was happy to wander around with my SnB buddies and window shop (stall shop?). Just as I was congratulating myself on my restraint, I found some roving. I told myself it was too orange and nearly headed towards the car before coming back to buy it. But look--it's the very same colors as one of my current projects--which I never thought was too orange.

Since I noticed this, and realized that I'm going to have about half of the skein (Schaefer's Andrea, in Elena Piscopia) when I'm done with my lacy Argosy (currently in unphotogenic blob form), I've been thinking about plying them together, if the roving (100% merino, from the Sheep Shed) still looks like the Andrea when it's spun into a single. Since the Andrea is already a 2-ply, I think I need to spin the single in the same direction as the Andreas was plied, so I'm spinning both of them in the opposite direction when I ply them together? I have a vague recollection of seeing a blog entry a while back about plying handspun with commercial yarn, so maybe I'll try to track that down.

A little lace scarf from the same vendor also spoke to me, so I bought 4 ounces of the roving it was made from: merino and tencel in a colorway which might be called lavender tweed. But that one barely made it in the front door before I started spinning it up (I did stop for dinner, but just barely)! I think I have about 80 yards, which seems like a lot less than the scarf must have taken (even though I started with the same weight of roving). I think I may be spinning more tightly than I need to and squishing too much fiber into too little space. But it's very soft, so maybe I'm not? Or maybe scarves take less yarn than I think? I read somewhere that handspun tends to work on larger needles than a similar weight commercial yarn would, so maybe that's it.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Weekend, part 2: Bloomin' Metric

On Sunday, Kevin and I drove down to Norwalk to participate in a bike tour called the Bloomin' Metric (it's kind of making me cringe to type that apostrophe instead of a g, but I'll persevere). Unlike a race, this was (theoretically) non-competitive. It wasn't timed, and there wasn't an official start time, although I'm sure there were groups of people racing with each other, and many people trying to beat their times from previous years.

Kevin and I had much simpler goals: avoid disaster. We tried to do this ride last year, but less than 20 miles in, Kevin went around a corner too fast, slipped on some wet pavement, and flew off the road. Amazingly, he missed a sign and landed in the grass just short of a stone wall, so he was basically fine but a little bit bruised and scraped up. His bike, on the other hand, was only semi-rideable--he ended up needing to replace his front wheel. However, we were determined (and we'd forgotten to bring a cell phone, so we couldn't call the race organizers for a ride... although someone probably would have loaned us a phone if we'd thought of asking), so we figured out the shortest way back to the beginning of the race, and rode back that way.

This time, we both stayed on our bikes, I managed to detach my feet when I wanted to and keep them in when I didn't, and we did the whole thing (there are 3 possible distances: 25 miles, 75K/about 46 miles, and 100K/about 62 miles--we picked the 100K course). It turned out to be much hillier than I expected, and a million people passed us going up hill, but it was mostly fun.

We started early, when it was still cloudy and raining on and off, so once the day warmed up we had a lot of extra clothes. It's better to have extra clothes to take off than to be freezing the whole way, but we do need to figure out the whole clothes thing a little better. We're good at dressing to run in different temperatures, but you're going so much faster on a bike that it seems like you'd get cold from the wind and we tend to over-bundle. And I still barely believe that I run enough to justify running clothes, so it'll be years before I accept that I'd really use biking clothes (at least I accepted right away that gel bike shorts were a necessity). And as I mentioned, several things (twigs? nuts? rocks dropped by squirrels? small flying saucers?) hit me in the face.

I knit a tiny bit as we waited in line to check in and pick up our maps, and in the car there and back, to make up for missing SnB.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Weekend, part 1: Webs

Since not staring at yarn felt so strange last weekend, it was really a relief to go to the Webs sale on Saturday with some of the SnBers! We stopped at the Yarn Garden's anniversary sale on the way up. I was sure I'd been there, but it turned out that I was thinking of somewhere else, because the store was new to me. We weren't there for yet long (just long enough for a lightweight arbor over the front door to fall on me, and not because I knocked it over either! I really have the worst ability to attract falling object--during our bike ride on Sunday, 2 nuts or twigs or somethings fell out of the trees and hit me in the face! There were a lot of trees, but it seems statistically unlikely that I'd be hit by two falling things, doesn't it?)

Anyway--I survived the attack of the killer arbor, but didn't buy anything at Yarn Garden, because I still have (or rather, had) most of the Webs gift certificate my former coworkers gave me as a good bye present when I moved down here. A sale and a gift certificate--what could be better? I used a little bit of the certificate right after they gave it to me, to buy one of the Walker stitch pattern treasuries, and I'd been thinking about using the rest for some chunky alpaca, either Misti Alpaca Chunky Baby Alpaca or Plymouth baby Alpaca Grande, to make a turtleneck vest from an old Rebecca magazine.

I've made the vest twice before, once because I liked it one someone's blog, and then because it turned out to be really useful. When I made the first vest, I didn't expect to wear it--I'm way too lazy to wear what is clearly a decorative garment (if you actually need to keep your torso warm, what about your arms?). But it was quick, and I had the yarn, so why not? It turns out it's just the right amount of warm, especially since it covers my neck. So I made a second one.

Sadly, vest #1 is getting kind of pilly now (and it seems to attract fuzz from other clothes, so its pills don't even match). I'd been thinking about making a new brown vest, perhaps in alpaca, since it's so pet-able, but too warm for an entire sweater. However, after much waffling, I decided to skip the alpaca in favor of some chocolate-y brown Rowan Big Wool.

Chunky chocolate-y brown knitting seems to be a theme lately, since I've been working on a design for Schaefer Yarns using Esperanza in one of the new colors, Julia Child. I'm not sure what their plans for the design are, so I don't want to show what it really looks like. But look at the fabric behind the Big Wool--yum! They sent five skeins, but I suspect my sample will take less than three, because they're gigantic. To keep the chocolate knitting under control, I'll finish this sweater before I work on the vest.

My second Webs purchase was 10 skeins of Debbie Bliss Cotton Cashmere. There was some waffling about this yarn too, because the color looks like a dusty lavender outside, but then entirely gray inside. Which wouldn't be a problem, except that I made a silvery gray picovoli a while back, and I was thinking about something similar. But the less dusty lavender was too lavender, and none of the other colors spoke to me, so I stuck with the dusty lavender (which looks entirely dusty and not at all lavender in this picture, I see), and I'll make something with short or 3/4 length sleeves.

In other knitting news, I finished the socks I was designing for Schaefer Yarn, and am still slogging away on my lacy Argosy... it's a great design, but for some reason we're just not clicking (it's not you, it's me), so I have to pay an awful lot of attention for such a repetative stitch pattern. As a result, it's going slowly (and photographs badly). I thought for a second that I was somehow half done, but then I remembered that it's just the long side is half the length I want--the short side is still short (the pattern is worked on the diagonal). It'll be great, but in the meantime...

Next time, day 2 of the weekend, in which I bike a long way, and am hit by falling somethings.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Seven Random Things

So, the rules say that you're supposed to tag 7 more people, but the people who tagged me also tagged everyone I can thing of to tag (or at least everyone who might play along) so I'm going to skip the tagging part, and go right to the random:

1. My random noise issue involves pounding, banging and knocking sounds--I've obviously read too many books about police states (or I have a guilty conscience?), because my first instinct when I hear a banging noise is that the KBG/NKVD/FSB is about to break down the door to take me to the gulag. It's worse when the noise wakes me up.

2. As a result, I knock really, really, really quietly on people's doors--I regularly knock so quietly that no one inside can hear me, and I have to call to let them know I'm there. Without the cell phone, I'd probably still be standing on a doorstep somewhere.

3. I caught something called Fifth Disease when I was in elementary school. All I remember about it was that it made my face incredibly itchy, and that the medicine which was supposed to stop the itching tasted like cinnamon. (Looking at that description, that's basically all there is to the disease for most people, although not everyone needs anti-itch medicine.) It's called fifth disease because it's the fifth rash-causing illness that kids used to get, but doctors no longer know what the fourth disease even was.

[It's the next day, because it turns out I think of random, internet-appropriate things much more slowly than I expected. Good thing I decided not to try to tag 7 people, or I'd never post this list!]

4. Back to 2 for a second: I used to listen to my stereo so quietly that my college roommate once came into our room when I was listening to music (without headphones) and turned on her stereo. She's the sweetest, most considerate person ever, so I'm absolutely certain she just hadn't heard my music.

5. I tend to read the same books over and over, especially the ones I own and know well (although I do also read new books, I swear). It's like visiting friends (even though they're often strange, dysfunctional friends who probably wouldn't like me much if they knew me back). What's funny is that 2 of the books I reread the most often (Smilla's Sense of Snow, by Peter Hoeg and Einstein's Dreams, by Alan Lightman, I don't even own. I regularly check Smilla out of the library, and I used to have Einstein's Dreams, but I gave it to a friend.

6. I read Einstein's Dreams (a series of very short pieces about the dreams Einstein had while he was developing the theory of relativity--each one is about a world with a different nature of time, but I swear it's much better and less geeky than that just sounded!) when I was sad or worried about something, and just didn't want to think about whatever it was any longer. It's a short book, and when I finished I always felt as though my brain had just been washed thoroughly: as if my mind was empty, very clean, and slightly tired, but at least not thinking about the worrisome thing any longer. Kind of like it a long run (and a shower) for the brain. It sounds crazy, but the friend I loaned it to felt the same way after he read it.

7. Smilla's Sense of Snow, on the other hand, I love partly because I covet Smilla's wardrobe (and for other reasons too, of course: how separate she is from the society she has to live in, the way she belongs somewhere she can't be, the descriptions of snow, the characters, the plot...). But the clothes thing is kind of shallow, huh?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Playing Outside

So, I was in colorguard in high school. One year, our routine required us to drop suddenly into a kneeling position. I don't know what the rest of the guard did, but I dropped hard onto my knees every time, and spent the whole season with dramatic bruises on my knees. When I went to the doctor's office that year, she inquired about my bruises, then explained that she's always happy to see a few scraps or bruises on little kids' knees, since it means they're running around outside, instead of just watching TV. (The she suggested that I might want to try knees pads.)

And my Andover doctor (who I loved, and who knew how much I run and bike outside), once told me after examining my pasty skin for unusual moles or freckles that it was OK to go outside from time to time without wearing SPF 873 sunscreen--I didn't want to be so obsessed with avoiding sun damage that I gave myself a vitamin D deficiency.

The good news is that they'd both be proud of me after this weekend... I have an interesting assortment of scraps and bruises on my legs (admittedly, some are from wearing slippery shoes to work and falling over spontaneously, but the rest are from learning how to use clipless pedals on my bike and falling over spontaneously), and some decidedly pink areas on my shoulders and back, from biking 50-some miles. (For actual information about the ride, and a picture of clipless pedals--which seem to me to have clips--visit Kevin's blog.)

Friday, May 11, 2007

Maryland Sheep and Wool

I'm such a bad wool festival attendee! Not only did I not take any pictures (although Kevin tried to make up for my poor blogging skills by taking pictures of me as I waffled about some sock yarn), but I only made 2 fiber-y purchases, and one was for someone else!

Kevin and I left for MD at the crack of dawn on Saturday morning. Incredibly, our scheme of getting through New York and Philly before they got traffic-y worked, and the worst traffic we saw in the last mile or so, when the knitters backed up at a couple of stoplights on the way to the fairgrounds. I knit the whole way, except for a brief nap, because I was trying to make an emergency sweater for a stuffed bunny named Cookie, whose person has been having a rough time recently. So I started a cardigan for Cookie as we left and finished it up as we arrived at the fairgrounds. (Note to self: next time you knit a sweater for a bunny, take pictures!)

Kevin dropped me off at the fairgrounds and went off to bike (53 miles, as it turned out), and I went in to meet up with the SnBers. After several phone calls we found each other, and wandered around shopping for most of the afternoon. I missed the frenzied shopping for Socks that Rock and Koigu, so the grounds were only moderately crowded (I heard a woman telling the hotel staff on Sunday that there had been 100,000 people there the day before, but Wikipedia says there are usually about 60,000... and remember, that's spread over the whole festival, and not everyone goes both days). I found some sock yarn for my sockapalooza pal (who was going to receive socks made from Anne, till I discovered that she prefers socks without any nylon), from a vendor called the Barefoot Spinner. I also contemplated some roving from that booth--a pretty rusty orange color, with brown bits--but I waffled a great deal, and when I finally decided to buy it (Sunday at lunch time) it was gone.

For a while, it looked like I might come home with just the one skein of sock yarn but then last thing on Sunday (about 2, because we had to be back at work Monday morning), I found some roving that looked like me: a mixture of purple, deep blue, and black. The little silvery-grey bump is the merino and silk from the CT festival. I had this idea that including them both would provide some scale, but it doesn't help much, does it? The big one is the size of a watermelon, and the small one is a bit larger than a grapefruit.

The big adventure of the weekend was Kevin's credit card. At about 4 on Saturday, I took out my phone to call Kevin and discovered that he'd been calling me all afternoon. I called him back, and it turned out that he'd lost his credit card while biking, and needed me to call the credit card company and cancel it (I also have a card for that account, so I had the 800 number and the account number). I tried, but the credit card people wouldn't let me--since Kevin signed up for the account, only he can cancel it (there goes that plan!).

As I tried to call Kevin back, I heard his name over the PA system. We went to the information tent, and discovered his credit card--in a zip lock bag with some money. Weirder and weirder, I thought--that's how he carries his credit card when he's biking, but how had the bag gotten from his bike to the fair? As far as I knew, he left the grounds after dropping me off, drove to the hotel, and biked near there.

When I talked to Kevin again, it turned out that he'd actually biked back over to the fairgrounds in the middle of the afternoon, to see if I wanted to have a fried snack. he called, but I never heard my phone--and in the process of taking his phone out, he'd dropped the zip lock bag. The nice knitters returned it with money intact (probably imagining a panicked knitter without yarn money, not a dehydrated biker without Gatorade funds). Fortunately, his keys hadn't fallen out of his bag, so he was able to get back in the car, and once he picked me up he got his credit card back too.

Sunday was much less eventful--after running near the hotel, we went to the fairgrounds for lunch. Over Labor Day, Kevin, his parents and I go to the Canfield Fair, and all we do there is eat and plan what to eat next, so even as Kevin and I had First Lunch (ribbon chips) we thought about Second Lunch (lamb stew for Kevin and funnel cake for me), and tried to decide whether there was time for dessert (soft serve ice cream) before we had to hit the road. In between these important decisions, we wandered and I waffled and finally bought the purple-y blue roving--a pound, with the idea that if I spin well enough, I could make a vest, or maybe a 3/4 sleeve sweater.

The way back was traffic-y, and took ages longer than the way there. Kevin drove, while I napped and worked on my sock and Argosy wrap. We had a moment of navigational brilliance in NYC--there was construction on 95, of course, and traffic was crawling along. We noticed that we were right near the parkway we'd biked on during the biathlon, so we decided to exit 95 and drive on the parkway around the traffic. Incredibly, we didn't get lost (we have a GPS for the car, so maybe that's not so impressive... although we did deviate from the route it suggested), and when we got back on 95, the traffic was back to normal.

I'd been thinking about brining my wheel to the festival, but left it at home thinking I wouldn't use it. I probably wouldn't have, but I really missed it after looking at all that wool. I started spinning the second we got home--not my new roving through, because I'm trying to be good, but the blue roving I bought a while back. I've kept working with it since then, and it's not going well--the staples seem to be kind of short, and there are these weird clumps (plus more vegetable matter than I'm used to). So the singles and yarn (I've turned some into 2-ply yarn) are pretty bumpy and uneven--and I can't tell how much of the bumpiness is me, and how much is the roving.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Pictures of Sicily

Being the laziest blogger of all time, I still haven't taken pictures of my Maryland purchases. But Kevin added a couple of pictures from our bike trip to my last post. (What are the chances that he'll photograph my new yarn and roving, and then spontaneously write about it?)

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Answers... some to questions no one even asked!

So... The bike tour of Sicily: Kevin had a meeting on the island of Siracusa in December 2004 (which is off the southeast coast of Sicily--here's a map). I skipped most of the meeting, but I joined him afterwards, and we spend 5 days biking around that corner of Sicily, staying in a different small hotel each night. It was essentially self-guided--the tour organizers made the hotel reservations, provided the bikes, transported our bags, and gave us maps and cue sheets, but we were on our own during the day.

We biked between 20 and 30 miles each day, which left plenty of time to stop and wander through villages on the way. I don't remember off the top of my head everywhere we went, but definitely to Ragusa, Pozzallo, and Pachino (map). They're all on the southeast tip--it felt like we were going on these epic journeys, but actually we barely left Siracusa! What was nice about the bikes (vs. traveling by car) was that we could actually see things well enough to stop--then they could leave the bikes anywhere to explore. We went to one town at the base of a mountain/hill and ended up biking up the mountain as far as we could, on these tiny little streets that kept getting narrower and narrower. They barely felt wide enough for one of us on a bike, but every so often we'd come upon a courtyard with a car parked in it!

Once the road got too steep to bike, we pushed our bikes, then locked them up and left them when the road turned to stairs. At the very top of the hill, we scrambled up a path to an abandoned church, and then to the ruins of some kind of building (with sheep wandering around). The church had clearly been unused for a while--it had been stripped nearly bare, then graffiti-ed. But some kind of restoration was underway--gates had been put up in the doors to prevent further damage, some of the rubble had been cleared away, and some of the walls repaired and painted with primer. Since we were so high up, the view was impressive--all the way down to the little town, with the oldest buildings at the base of the hill (some apparently carved into the hill) separated from each other by, tiny, narrow streets, then blending into newer suburbs further away. (To make up for this, it poured on the next to last day, when we had to bike along the edge of a highway.)

The strangest thing was the bike to the southern-most point in Europe, past Pachino. We set off from a resort town (nearly empty because it was the off season), biking along the coast of the Mediterranean. The road turned inland, and we passed through farms, then back towards the water. By the time we got to the southern--most point, everything was deserted, although clearly set up for many visitors: vacant summer cottages, shuttered restaurants, empty parking lots. It actually got a little creepy after a while, because nothing seemed to have been tidied at the end of the summer season, so it looked like everyone had left in a hurry, in the middle of something.

Because it was the off season, we definitely stood out. In one town, after we checked into our hotel and went out to find food, a man came up to us and asked if we were the tourists! We said yes, and he tried to convince us to stay in his hotel instead. He was very polite, but it was a little odd that he knew about us to soon after we'd arrived (we were probably still wearing our biking clothes, on top of "looking American," so actually recognizing us can't have been that hard! But how did he know we were there at all?)

I have no idea why batts are called batts, or why there are 2 Ts. Maybe from batting (like the kind that goes in quilts), although that doesn't really help--and it seems more likely that batting evolved from batts, rather than vice versa. Regardless, batts are sheets of wool with the fibers going in all directions, while roving is strips of wool with the fibers aligned length-wise.

Like Heidi, I think there were probably equal amounts of yarn and fiber at CT sheep and wool. None of the yarn really jumped out at me as something, although both Heidi and Suzy found yarn they'd been looking for. For which they'd been looking, I mean. I was also trying not to buy yarn, since I have kind of a backlog of yarn that I want to knit immediately, but several things that I need to knit first. And I don't add fiber to the yarn mileage total (now about 6.6 miles, with 1.6 miles of diligent knitting in April counteracted by my Socks that Rock shipment and several skeins of Anne from Schaefer yarn... even though I don't count the skeins meant for specific designs, I still have to count the other skeins that evidently fell into the package when no one was looking) till it's spun, so the roving and batt don't count yet. And there's that other woolly event coming up this weekend!

And the question no one asked, answered by a receipt I found in my wallet: the mystery roving is from Times Remembered (no website, evidently), and it's merino and silk.

Busy Weekend

Once again, I have pictures that are still on my camera... Emily, Heidi, Suzy and I went to the Connecticut Sheep, Wool & Fiber Festival (the vendor brochure probably gives the best idea of the festival) most of the day on Saturday, then Kevin and I did a biathlon on Sunday.

The festival was fun--smaller, which was nice (even though I usually have a reasonable sense of direction and a good memory, the times I've gone to Rhinebeck I lose track of where I've been and what I've seen, and constantly think I'm missing things), but with a good assortment of vendors. I bought some silvery-grey roving from some nice people whose name I've forgotten. I think it's a blend of merino and silk, but it's possible it's merino and tencel (clearly, I need to plan ahead for blogging! I should also confess that my pictures are of my new fiber at home... possibly in a bowl above the fireplace... not at the festival, because of this same need to plan ahead). Anyway--it's very soft and slightly shimmery. I like to imagine I'll spin it into something fine enough and consistent enough to knit lace, but that may be beyond me for a while.

I also bought a gorgeous red and purple batt from Grafton Fibers. Unlike The Most Famous Grafton Batt Ever, mine doesn't have a progression of colors, but is red and purple mixed together throughout. I'm trying to expand my spinning horizons from blue, purple and green, so the red seemed like progress.

And Heidi and I took a spinning workshop--which turned out to be just the 2 of us, plus a number of spinners who didn't have their wheels. We were definitely the newest spinners by a lot, and it was a bit intimidating, probably because I'm a wimp about being watched. (Ask Kevin about my conviction that every child in Sicily was staring at me personally when we were on a bike tour there... the last kid to look (stare!) at me in the airport before the return flight nearly made me cry. It's possible that I needed a snack.) But I'm glad to have seen cable and Navajo plying in person, and to have seen someone else spin--I'm still new enough that each additional person I see spin seems to improve my spinning dramatically. I wasn't crazy about cable plying, or about the yarn I made--it seemed really squished and flat, somehow, even though it had 4 plies (I've mostly made 2 ply yarns before, and usually more plies makes the yarn more round). It's possible that I just really overspun mine.

Navajo plying went better. I've tried it on my own, but felt like I wasn't starting right. It's similar to crocheting, so I started with a slip knot, which felt like it might be frowned on my real spinners. But it turns out that's what you actually do!

Sunday, Kevin and I left the house in the middle of the night (OK, the very early morning) to drive into the Bronx for a biathlon. (There's an animated map here.) The race started in Orchard Beach Park, and the run portions (it went 3 mile run, 20 mile bike, 3 mile run) were mostly on this paved boardwalk near the water. Very pretty, but the pavers were uneven, and running was kind of tricky. I actually spent a fair bit of time on the bike thinking how horrible it would be to do the second run (since it's even harder to run on an uneven surface when you're tried), but it wasn't quite as horrible as I expected. The bike was on Hutchinson River Parkway--they closed the northbound side--which was mostly nice and smooth. And pretty straight, except where we were actually turning around.

And most amazing of all--I went faster than I expected instead of slower!

I get nervous before races (and feel silly for getting nervous, since I'm average to slow), so I like to knit. This time, I worked on my Hill Country Socks. I finally finished them last Monday night, just in time to count them for April on the Sock-a-Month KAL. And Monday at work I finished my multidirectional scarf, with just inches of yarn to spare. OK... this post is turning into a novel.