Saturday, December 27, 2008

Celebrating the Wren Boys or no Boxing Day for me!

While many Americans have heard of Boxing Day (a holiday in Canada, the UK and other British Commonwealths, etc.),
St. Stephen's Day and the Wren Boys are less familiar. An Irish custom, that is still celebrated in some rural areas is raucous, and joyful, while Boxing Day, traditionally a day for charity, now is the big post-Christmas shopping day. Watch this wonderful video from 1979 I found on YouTube.

I love having my house decked out for the holidays. I collect nativity scenes - most are from Latin America- and now have around 40. I am running out of places to put them all. Many have a story such as the Venezuelan one I have of 3 carved figures. When
I went to Venezuela in 1998, I arrived on New Year's Eve at the airport in Caracus. My friends weren't there to meet me because they thought the date I said I would be leaving was the date I was arriving. And they couldn't get a car to come and pick me up. I ran into a young British woman who had no Venezuelan money and needed to buy a phone card to call her brother. I lent her my phone card, and she made her call. I went looking for a taxi and the taxi driver asked me for something like 50,ooo Bolivars which I quickly calculated was $150. I told him that my son and I would sleep on the sidewalk at the airport before I paid him and that $150 was what I had paid to get all the way from Washington DC and stormed off (luckily I am fluent in cursing and insulting in Spanish). I ran into the British woman who said her brother was coming in a taxi and I could ride with them into Caracus. The taxi arrived and was a falling apart 1960 something Chevy station wagon and the driver looked about 80 years old. I didn't think we'd make it as the car chugged over the mountains into Caracus while out the window we could see fires burning on the hillsides in the shanty towns above us as we drove through the night. The kind driver found a decent, but inexpensive hotel for my son and I and I paid only about $30 for the ride.

The next day we flew to
Merida, a city in the Venezuelan Andes. I loved being there during the Christmas season. My friend, who is a geologist and artist, had nativity scenes all over the house, and it inspired me to create a similar atmosphere every year since then. I already had a few nativity scenes, but for the past 10 years have gone a little nuts. I visited several workshops with my friend when I found the Mary and Joseph. The artist hadn't finished the Baby Jesus, but promised to have it done in a couple of days. My friend's husband drove back to his workshop and got it for me as promised. My favorite one is a Brazilian nativity from Northeast Brazil - the first two pictures show it. The Venezuelan one is shown in the picture at the end of the second row with Joseph in lilac robes, and Mary in blue.

I knit almost all the gifts I gave this Christmas, except I did buy stuff for my son. I knit for him too - A Turn a Square hat, the Jason Flood pattern. But got a lot less done than I wanted. Next year I should start my holiday knitting earlier, or continue working on some projects like this Picks Up Sticks Poinsettia Wreath I bought in
2007. Still have a big stash to slog through, and would like to make a New Year's resolution to buy no yarn until Maryland Sheep and Wool

Saturday, November 29, 2008


This month of November I took three trips out of town in three weeks - Milwaukee, Boston, and Chile. I got back from Chile on Tuesday after an overnight 9 1/2 hour flight to Atlanta, then another 6 hours til I was home. Thankfully (really) some good friends invited us over for Thanksgiving dinner sooooo I didn't have to cook. Tuesday I slept most the day, Wednesday bought rutabagas and a pumpkin pie and supervised bringing down Christmas decorations from the attic, and went to the movies. Thursday was the holiday of course; Friday I got up early to go to the auto mechanic, then stayed home and avoided Black Friday til I left for Sit and Spin at A Tangled Skein. While at ATS I bought Nancy Bush's new book Knitted Lace of Estonia. Today, Saturday, I started unloading some of the Christmas boxes. I collect nativity scenes, mostly Latin American, and started putting them out. This afternoon I had a crochet class at ATS, and on the way home stopped at Vertigo Books, bought a pile of books, all for me, to support a local retailer.

I am editing this post to include some pictures from Chile. My students raised $400 and I brought a suitcase full of children's books (in Spanish of course) to the school for the deaf in Santiago, where my friend Lucia is Director. I had one day of sightseeing and we went to Valparaiso, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We visited one of Pablo Neruda's houses Sebastiana (he has 3). Neruda, a Nobel Prize Winner, is one of my favorite poets, and his Memoirs (or in Spanish, Confieso Que He Vivido) and ate seafood in a crowded local (not tourist) restaurant.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Stitches - The Good, the Bad and the....

During the summer I signed up for 2 classes at Stitches East, but this weekend I only went to one (more on that later). I had a good time in the Marketplace. Shopping was fun with friendly vendors and I bought: - 3 skeins of Habu silk mohair (40% silk; 60% mohair) in a dusty purple (last 3 skeins); 186 yards for $8.65 - 2 skeins of Lisa Souza : 1 skein Sock! Merino (superwash 4 ounces 560 yards, $18) in Lapland, and a skein of Baby Alpace Lace in Petraglyph (6 0z., 1500 yds, $34) - a cute Christmas sock yarn set with a skein of red, white, pink, green sock yarn with a mini skein of red yarn for toes and heels ($21) and a Thrum Mittens kit from Fleece Artist ($28.95) from a Worcester, MA based business Yarn4Socks - 3 patterns - 2 cards of sheep buttons from Black Water Abbey total damage : around $175. When I have time, I'll take pictures and add them to my Ravelry stash.

My class experience was ok. The instructor was excellent, well organized, the right amount of teaching. but there were 30 people in the class. It was very hard to see with us sitting in rows at tables. At the stash wall, I met an instructor who said she had come all the way from the west coast to teach. She said teaching a couple of classes, covers her costs of coming to Stitches. All teachers get the same travel stipend which doesn't cover their actual cost. Makes me wonder - hmmm - 30 students x $75 - and only a small part of that goes to the instructor. I know putting on this kind of production is costly, but... I wouldn't have signed up for classes if I had stopped to think how big they might be, and the implications class size had on learning new techniques.
So today was a beautiful sunny day. I was supposed to go back to Stitches to an afternoon workshop. I drove to Baltimore to drop off my friend Becky who
came from Pittsburgh to go Stitches. I decided not to go to my afternoon class and instead went to Hampden and Lovely Yarns. I bought 6 skeins of red and green yarn (Cascade, and Berroco Ultra Alpaca) and with my Stitches badge was given a gift which was a big yarn tote basket! I was awed - and happy I had make the trip. Then I had blueberry pancakes for lunch at Cafe Hon.
A final note - I used some of the yarn I dyed indigo at the Golden Gate Fiber Camp to knit a scarf/shawl for a project sending scarves to girls in Pakistan. Here is the posting about the successful scarf drive and a photo taken of mine - it's the indigo colored one on the left.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Buying local

Local bookstores have had difficulty competing with big box stores for years, and more recently, online businesses such as Amazon. Just this month Olsson's, a local chain, closed its doors. The local list of casualties for the past year also includes
  • A Likely Story Bookstore, a beloved children’s bookshop
  • Chapters Literary Bookstore suspended business, but hopes to make a comeback
  • Karibu Books, offering books by and for people of African descent
  • Candida’s World of Books
Vertigo Books , in College Park, is in trouble. I go there a few times a year as College Park is off the beaten path for me.
I read in the Washington Post this week that public libraries are busier than ever, as people go to the library instead of buying books. Now that tax revenues are down, libraries will have to cut back. I have made a conscious effort to get books at the library and cut back on my book buying for the last couple of years. I read a lot of mysteries and now that a mass market paperback averages $6.99 and up, I buy fewer of those. These days, I tend to save my book buying money for books I am likely to hold on to.

Like LYS's I can't imagine not having bookstores to browse in.
Look at these - most interesting bookstores in the world.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Blame Lime & Violet

Lime & Violet's
Daily Chum features different Etsy shops everyday in a feature they call ESotD (and I have no idea why it's called that). So last week I succumbed and bought lace weight yarn from Blarney Yarns. I loved the name, and even more I loved the idea of 800 yards of lace weight for $16 - so I bought two! One purple and One Sea Grass green
They came neatly wrapped with a lovely handwritten note and a small sample skein of pink dahlia!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Casting on

Since my unsuccessful attempt to learn provisional cast ons, I had wished someone would teach a class in various kinds of cast ons. Well when I saw that one of my LYS's Woolwinders in Rockville was offering just such a class, I told myself, I couldn't pass it up.
Today, October 26th, Cathy Cea taught the class. We learned severn cast ons (that are many more), and I learned the provisional cast on. Yay! Another cast on technique I will be adding to my sock knitting repertoire is the Twisted German cast on. It's stretchy making it perfect for socks and other cast on edges that we want to be stretchy. There are some good videos on You Tube and other sites, to see these techniques. But there is nothing better than direct instruction.
The Knit Witch demonstrates the twisted German cast on on YouTube.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Staying afloat in hard times

Just this week, I was chatting with my friend Martha via email (she's been on the road ) about the closing of ArtFibers in San Francisco. On their blog, ArtFibers summarize the reasons their store on Sutter St. is closing (lease is up, gas prices, etc.), and commented on the state of the yarn business in general (lots of options, hard to stand out). This statement particularly hit me:
Yarn is a durable treasure, easily stashed, abundant. New web tools allow people to engage in 'stash sharing', extending the usefulness of what is on hand. If no yarn sold in the next year nobody would be without a project.

I have friends who earn their living through crafts. They live in Maine; Hillary is a weaver and Mark is a potter. They do a select number of crafts fairs each year. This is not an easy way to make a living, and the cost of gas has had an impact on the artisans expenses, and attendance. The public pays $8 to $10 to get in to spend money. This August I went up to the League of NH Crafts Fair in Lake Sunapee to see them. Word was that business was OK, but down.

This has led me to think a lot about the current economy, the need to cut back on spending, while at the same time trying to keep local artisans and my LYS's in business. After reading Barbara Kingsolver's
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle this summer, I have expanded my awareness of buying local, and noticed what choices I have to do so. If I ask myself would I be happy buying all my yarn, fiber goodies, and books online, or in large chain stores, the answer is a clear no. If I ask myself if I have enough yarn to keep me knitting for a couple of years, again the answer is yes.
approach perhaps I should focus on would be to try to shop more locally knowing it is important for keeping my LYS's open, and when I can, support local artisans, who enrich our community so much. This holiday season, I will be more aware of reducing my purchases, get by without lots of holiday consumables, and making purchases that contribute to others' well being.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Tiaras, books, and anarchists

In 2006, one sunny Sunday in October, my friend Linda, who lives in Silver Spring, and I were at a local fall festival. There was ethnic food, ethnic crafts, diverse musicans and vendors, but we noticed that there was little diversity amongst the attendees. In a way, it felt as though exotic foods, the people selling them, and exotic crafts were on display - kind of like a museum. We decided to cut out and drive to Baltimore's Book Festival. The event was full of diverse folks enjoying themselves, not just on display, in contrast to the one we'd left.
We have returned for the past two years, each time enjoying ourselves even more! Last year, we joined a tour of Mt. Vernon Writers' homes. This year,we went on Sunday, Sept. 27th. There was a Radical Book Fair tent! Most of the vendors were young, tattooed, anarchist types :), and I bought several birthday presents for my son.We drank pink champagne and got plastic tiaras from the Sweet Potato Queen, and to top off the day, we went to Greek Town for fried calimari (Linda) and moussaka (me).

Rescuing handmade objects

My friend Amy O'Neill Houck is a rescuer of handmade knitted and crocheted objects that end up in thrift stores. She had blogged about it (sorry can't find the entry), and recently moved from Takoma Park, MD to Cordova, Alaska. I wonder if there are thrift stores in Cordova?
So a week or so ago, when a friend of my son's came over wearing a crocheted poncho she bought in a local thrift store, I had to take a picture!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

knitting as soul soothing

Today my son Camilo is 24 years old. Today we went to a wake to say goodbye to his friend, Josh, who was killed in a shooting in the U Street neighborhood of Washington DC last Sunday. Josh was a tall, 22 year old, handsome, goofy, loyal friend, and Camilo had known him since they were in second grade. For the past few years, he had been living with his father in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, where he will be buried. But he came back often to see his mother and sister, and of course, his friends.
After an hour overwrought with emotion, I went to the car to wait for my son, so he could be with his friends. I had my knitting with me, and once again discovered the comfort that knitting brings.
Josh, que descanses en paz.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Swell Season in Pittsburgh

The weekend of September 20-22nd I headed up to Pittsburgh. I had tickets to see Swell Season with my college buddy (and knitting buddy too!) Becky. They were playing at Pittburgh's Byham Theater, a beautiful restored 1904 theater in Pittsburgh's Cultural District (which didn't exist in our college days at Carnegie Mellon).

I will quote some of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette review by Scott Mervis:

"Hansard has Bono-sized talent and charisma but with a straight-from-the-heart intimacy and playful sense of humor you don't get from his compatriot in U2.

The set was a dynamic mix of musicians coming and going, starting with Hansard and Irglova setting the tone with a sublime duet of Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic" and then going right into Oscar winner "Falling Slowly," their harmonies as delicate and beautiful and as a male and female voice can be. He has the warmth and rasp of Cat Stevens, while she's like a shyer, gentler Sinead O'Connor.

With The Frames on stage for songs like "The Moon" and "When Your Mind's Made Up," the sound took on the epic quality of Radiohead.

Hansard was just as powerful stripped down to his acoustic guitar with the hole in it. For "Say It to Me Now," he stepped to the tip of the stage and belted out the emotionally charged song as he'd do it on the street, with no amplification. Before doing "Back Broke" and "Leave," the talkative Hansard joked of the songs being about "feeling like you're in a place where you can't get any worse -- which is kind of what we do." He balanced those angry breakup songs with "Happiness" -- more of a resigned breakup song, offering his lover his blessing."

My third time seeing SS, and I'll go again!!

While in Pittsburgh, Becky and I went to a new yarn store Natural Stitches. This is a great store with so much yarn! And they have an entire wall of Cascade yarn - which you can see in the top picture on their website.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Fight against Alzheimer's Disease

A dear friend of mine who lives in Boston, Maritza, is very involved in the fight against Alzheimer's Disease. She is the busy mother of three young boys, but finds time to work to further education and research on this disease.
Many of us know individuals with this disease. Some of us have family members we are caring for. These days there are many demands on our compassion and pocketbooks, but I find it easiest to choose to help when a friend is involved.
Here is a link to her donation page.


I have signed up for a 2 session drop spindle class at my LYS A Tangled Skein. I have come to understand my fiber arts learning style which is : I don't get it right away (and may even seem to really make a mess of things), but after persevering, I get it. I was having difficulty with my twist that kept moving up before it should. Then I figured it out. But I haven't done my practice this weekend.

Some of my friends, as well as my classmates, have warned me that I won't be able to stop at drop spindles, and will have to get a wheel. I don't have the space (and $$$) for a spinning wheel, and because there are so many lucious fibers out there as well as a neverending supply of beautiful batts in creative colors, I don't want to go there:)
Here's an example from Lime & Violet's Daily Chum called Macabre batts. See what I mean??? A whole new realm of fibery things to buy!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Estonian Lace Knitting at GGFI

My afternoons at the GGFi were devoted to learning the art of Estonian lace knitting with Nancy Bush. Nancy is passionate about Estonian lace, but equally passionate about the people, and the country. Sometimes, outsiders adopt the techniques of an art form of a country, without any deep or abiding feeling about the people, culture, or country that produced the art.
I have met many foreigners in Ireland eager to show off their mastery of Irish music on various instruments, who seem to lack passion for the country, its people, and the culture. They seem more interested in showing that they can play the music with more technical perfection than the natives. But in my mind, they fall flat, because they lack passion, and humanity. The Irish are often unimpressed by technical prowess, when the performer fails to also demonstrate a passion for the music.
The antithesis of this kind of cultural tourist, are people who recognize that it is not possible to appreciate the art form without being passionate as well about the people, culture and country that produced them. Nancy Bush is driven to document the history of Estonian lace knitting, and to teach the form to others. She is deeply committed not only to the artform, but to the women who produce it.
During the six days, we worked on three projects, and learned various techniques including : a traditional Haapsalu Sall (shawl) with a “knitting on” lace edge border, an Estonian Lilly of the Valley lace sampler with a sewn-on border, and a small Estonian triangular shawl. The techniques we learned were making nupps (a kind of bobble that can include from 2 to 7 or more stitches), a special triple stitch for K3tog, sewn on borders, a stretchy knitted cast on, and a special Estonian cast off.
Nancy brought many examples of shawls from Estonia. She also brought shawls she had knit for her upcoming book Knitted Lace of Estonia. I won’t include any pictures of these as the book hasn’t come out yet. It is due in October.

It took me time to master the techniques, so day one of any project, I made many mistakes. But by day two on the project, I was beginning to master the knitting, and feeling good. Some of my classmates were frustrated, but they also persevered and managed to finally produce. I haven’t blocked my projects yet, but should do it soon, and take pictures.

I bought 2 skeins of Darlene’s new Nature’s Palette lace weight silk and merino yarn in white. It is 660 yards, and 30% silk and 70% merino to make the Estonian Triangular Summer Shawl in the current (summer 08) issue of Piecework.