Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Tis the Season

A lot of people get a little overwhelmed at this time of year. There seems to be a lot of pressure to make December 25 the perfectly decorated perfect day for perfect families. So many people around me are making themselves crazy trying to decorate, bake, craft, gather and shop that it is beginning to get scary.

I actually love the Christmas season. I have more or less drawn a line and refuse to cross it. I set a budget for gifts and stick to it (which is more than I can say for the spousal unit!). I do the baking for my household as well as my parents and my father-in-law, but I love baking. It relaxes me. I decorate the house, but we have reached that point where we have so many decorations and so little space that it takes about a day to get everything but the tree in place. And our tree is not exactly a designer masterpiece--the kids decorate it with cherished ornaments that have accumulated over the past 25 Christmases--and that's the way we like it here. And, best of all, I have an excuse to knit.

I know a lot of knitters find Christmas knitting stressful (deadlines are a bitch) or under-appreciated by the giftees after all that work, but I am lucky enough to have a family who actually enjoy warm fuzzies. My mother, hubby, and kids are all big fans of handknits. My father-in-law recently proudly told me that he still wears the toque I knit him a couple of years ago--it's warmer and more durable than any store-bought hat he's ever had. I've learned over the years that mittens and hats are always appreciated, and that you can give the same person handknit socks three years in a row without them finding it dull.

This year, I find myself with a lot of odd balls left over after all the little projects ( why is it that almost every pattern takes 1 and 1/4 balls of yarn?), so I have decided that my project over the actual week of Christmas will be to turn these 3/4 balls into hats for the homeless. Relatively mindless knitting, "free" materials, and giving back to the community. What could be more Christmassy than that?

I hope your Christmas knitting is bringing you joy. Fleece on Earth, good wool to all!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Yay! Pictures!

I've sorta been putting off blogging lately because our camera has been missing. It's not that I don't have anything interesting to say, but pictures are sooo much more fun. Well, the camera showed up a truly bizarre spot, too. So without further ado--pictures.

Orlando sez: No knitting for you!

What the picture doesn't show is that he actually has his paws wound into the skeins and his nose burrowed in. Orlando loooooves wool and is always looking for a woolly nest to snooze in. He is also fond of chewing on handknit wool socks and mittens, which is not nearly so cute and charming. The yarn is the angora/merino blend that I spun up over the weekend for a hat and gloves for my daughter, then dyed yesterday. I was going for "coral", but I think I got "melon", but it meets with approval, so it's all good.

Since I was already making a mess, I decided to handpaint the yarn that I bought for my sister's Christmas gift.

The bottom yarn is from Silver Valley Fibres and is a beaded lopi. The top skein is a handspun looped boucle that I made a few weeks ago, and will serve as a contrast collar band. I love the colors (the picture doesn't do them justice!) and I may have to find another gift for my sister if it knits up as nicely as I think it will!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Global Warming My Asterisk!

It's cold.

Well, duh! I live in a northern community. It's November. You do the math.

Still, it's pretty tough to get up in the morning and get going when it is -35C outside and we have had a couple of feet of snowfall over the past week and a half. The roads are icy and there are a lot of newcomers to town who have never had to contend with these conditions. It's scary out there.

On the other hand, I spent the weekend blending and spinning a lovely angora and merino blend yarn for a Christmas gift, knitting on a woolly vest and a pair of mittens. The cold gives me an excuse to stay home and play with fibre, and who am I to complain about that? And my family is benefitting from my productivity. Everybody is warm in toques and mittens and scarves that I have spun/knit/woven, and if that doesn't warm the heart of a spinner, what will?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Catching Up

Where did October go?

Treasure Island wrapped up two weeks ago with a weekend of sold-out performances. We had waaaay too much fun...

I got to have awesome pirate teeth for my set changing costume, but they were eventually given to another actor, who couldn't speak in them. I think they suited me much better!

Director extrordinaire, Vern Theissen; Stage Management Goddess, Lauren Thomas; and Designer Genius Marissa Kochanski.

Long John Silver (Ross Jacobs) suffered a bit of a wardrobe malfunction on closing night. It was even scarier in person.

There are actual production pics available, but I have been too busy to run out and buy the disk. I suspect this will be as good as it gets for the old blog. It was great to work with such a young cast, but I really felt my age by the end of the run!

I rested and knitted for a day, then the Halloween preparations began. Halloween is a big deal around the old homestead, with two parties and a home haunt (pics to come when I find the camera!) We are finally more or less recovered from that mayhem and enjoying the breather before the madness of the holiday season begins.

On the spinning front: I churned out 500 yards of 2-ply painted silk for a boucle this week--the mohair singles is on the wheel as I type this. We've had our first big dump of snow overnight, so I have no excuse to do anything but spin. Yay!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

I Love October

I love October. I think it is my favorite time of the year, and this October is the best one yet, thanks to our friend El Nino. I have a picture of the begonias blooming in my garden on October 3 that I wanted to share, but the camera cable seems to be mafunctioning and I can't upload it. Suffice it to say, begonias in October are pretty rare here in the Canadian sub-arctic, but the weather has been so nice that most of my flowers are still blooming!

There are other reasons I love October:
  • The colors!! The leaves on the poplar, maple and aspen trees around here are spectacular this time of year. (More pics trapped in the camera!)
  • Cool nights, warm days. The sun always peeks out, even on the rainiest days, and warms things up. And no snow yet (touch wood!)
  • Thanksgiving. Big turkey feast, the family all together---mmmm.
  • Sweater weather. Or shawl weather. Or wrist-warmer weather. Or any other excuse to haul out the handknits.
  • Maple machiattos are back at Starbucks!!
  • And last but not least-HALLOWEEN!!!! The planning has begun, skulls and cobwebs are beginning to appear around the house. Costumes are being planned and sewn. Skeletons are being dragged out of closets. Hee, hee, heee!

Now to get my camera fixed--or replaced!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Avast Ye Swabs!

Today is International Talk Like A Pirate Day! Break out the grog!

In observation of this auspicious occasion, I have decided to cast on the Pirate Queen's Booty Bag from This bag will come in handy to haul my knitting around while I am in Keyano Theatre's production of Treasure Island. I play Jim Hawkins' mother, so I appear in the first 20 minutes of the play, then sit backstage knitting until the last 5 minutes. The director may use me for set changes and so forth in between, but nothing so far. The cast is mostly 16-20 years old, with the exception of two other actors, including poster-boy Norm above, and our director is the amazing Vern Thiessen from Edmonton. Great energy, lots of fun, and nowhere near the number of lines I had to learn for Southern Belle. Yarrrr!

Meanwhile, I am still chugging away at my Highland Triangle shawl. I've had a couple of delightful frogging days, but seem to have things back under control. I also have a "mindless" shawl project on the go--mostly stockinette with an occasional lace row for interest. That one is also getting perilously close to being finished, so I am on the hunt for new inspiration. Christmas knitting, perhaps...

I am also very happy to be back working on my in-depth study. I am working on samples, and now that everyone is back to school I have the time to really focus. I am up to 6 out of 16 samples completed, but I am beginning to suspect that I made more work for myself than I needed to. I am spinning 100g of each type of yarn because I am not only making the samples for my book, but a sock from each yarn. The socks will then be worn for a week by testers and rated for comfort, warmth and durability. Sixteen socks, all handspun, the blending and preparation, the notes, the testing...what was I thinking?!? Always the overachiever.

Shiver me timbers and hoist the Jolly Roger! I'm off to knit!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

I love it when the universe conspires to give you what you need, even when you don't know what that is...

Life has been even more hectic around here than usual, with Steve changing jobs, kids going back to school, me gearing up to go back to work at the art gallery (under less than ideal conditions), HWSDA board commitments, my father's illness, an incomplete in-depth study and Treasure Island rehearsals. Then last week, I got hit with a kidney stone. Ouch.

I spent the better part of the weekend drugged and snoozing, but when I was awake, I pondered the pace of my life. I had hoped to have a quiet fall, travelling down to Edmonton to spend some time with my parents, sewing elaborate Halloween costumes, playing theatre Diva, and getting my in-depth finished. Instead, I had set up an insane schedule of work, volunteering and paperwork for other people. No wonder my kidney got cranky.

Then, in an hour yesterday, it all let go. The president of the HWSDA board called to express her concern over my prolonged silence. It's not that I have been avoiding my duties, just that I have had little to no time to communicate with the other board members. She graciously offered my the opportunity to step down, and I took it. One extra pressure removed. Then, not even twenty minutes later, I was informed that the art gallery job was suspended until after the political issues that were going to create such stress for me were resolved. Reprieve. So the frantic month that I was dreading has suddenly slowed down to an almost manageable pace again. All I had to do was answer my phone.

Thank you universe. Now I"d better get to work on that in-depth!

Monday, September 04, 2006

Catching My Breath

It's been a whirlwind of activity on the old homestead the last couple of weeks, and I am enjoying the first quiet morning since I can't remember when. The family is all out enjoying their last day of summer freedom, and I get some quiet spinning time. Ahhhh!

Sandwiched between a trip to Edmonton to see family and the beginning of rehearsals for Treasure Island, I managed to have the dye day from hell. Nothing worked out as planned--pleasing results, yes, but not quite as expected, or repeatable. I suspect it was because of a cool wind blowing that kept my dyepot from ever achieving an even temperature. Or old dye stock. Or both.

Anyhoo, I overdyed the raspberry pink shawl yarn from the last post with a purple that struck unevenly and has given me a bit of a handpainted look. Then I did a rainbow dyed BFL top, that came out lovely. I decided to exhaust the pot and wound up with another rainbow dyed top (Polworth), even though I had blended the colors and carefully reset the pot. Some of the results:

Not too shabby, and the rainbow dyed colors happen to match the colors of the fabric that I bought for my Halloween costume, though I have my doubts about getting it spun up and woven into anything by then. I already have a silk on the Schacht and some merinoX/silk on the Traveller, and in-depth study yarns to make. I guess I should be glad that my creative urge is up and running at full capacity, but now I need to figure out how to make a 28-hour day!

Today, though, I spin and knit and breathe.

Thursday, August 17, 2006


I mentioned in the last post that I had finished two shawls and here they are!

Shawl #1 is knit sideways in garter stitch using three different yarns, including the Hideously Expensive Skein that I bought out in Nanaimo in April. The other two yarns are different colors of a commercial mohair and silk blend. The photo doesn't really do it justice--there are dozens of different textures and colors in the yarns and it wears like a dream!

Shawl #2 is the Sheep Shawl from the Vogue On the Go Shawl book. Mostly nylon novelty yarn, with the black bits being Paton's Decor. I love the little tails and feet! And it's super warm.

Lots of therapeutic garter stitch and my hand is pretty much back to normal for strength and dexterity. I still have to rest it a lot, but I think I'm ready for something a wee bit more challenging...

The next shawl. My first spinning after the cast came off, it is an angora/Rambouillet blend, spun woollen to a medium weight. I dyed it this afternoon and will cast on Cheryl Oberle's Highland Triangle Shawl as soon as it is dry. It's a little pinker than my usual color range allows, sort of a dusty fuchsia, but I'm breaking out of my color rut!

Friday, August 11, 2006

That's Showbiz, Kids

After a couple of really productive weeks fibre-wise, my energy has been diverted once again.

I managed to spin up a lovely batch of Silver Valley Fibres's Rambouillet/angora blend sliver into a lofty yarn for a warm shawl, knit up the Sheep Shawl from Vogue's Knitting on the Go shawl book, and cut and resize another rectangular shawl into more manageable proportions before I was drawn by the lure of the stage...

I will be appearing in a production of Christopher Durang's For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls this weekend at our local theatre and arts festival, interPLAY. The play is a one-act parody of The Glass Menagerie, and I play the mother, Amanda, who swings from sweet Southern charm to raving maniac and back again throughout the half hour of the show. The cast also included Jonathan Pretty as Lawrence (Laura in TGM), Tim Cooper as Tom, and Sylvie Gaudet as the Feminine Caller.

In between rehearsals, I have been working with the Odd-Lot Puppeteers on their works for the festival. I gave a dye workshop for them in early July dealing with coloring fleece and foam for puppet construction, and then I got drawn in as a seamstress, sewing "skins" for several of the characters in their show Skeleton on the Run.

If I survive the weekend, I will have two weeks of peace before I go into rehearsals for Keyano Theatre's production of Treasure Island. I'm Jim Hawkins' mother, so I get ten minutes at the beginning of the show on stage, then two hours of backstage knitting til I come back into the picture. Yay! I foresee a few pairs of socks coming out of that venture. Hmmm, where's my Christmas list?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

How About a Hand for the Little Lady?

I've been a little delinquent in the blogging department--but I have a good excuse. No the dog did not eat my computer...

I had been struggling with wrist pain and stiffness since I broke my scaphoid back in September, 2005. After months of pain and drugs, I finally opted for surgery to repair what we thought was a swollen tendon. At the end of April, I had a deQuervain's release surgery performed. Simple surgery, under a local. In theory. The tourniquet released, filling the surgical field with blood and the surgeon nicked the tendon. I was put under and had a tendon repair done, resulting in 3 weeks in a full cast.

Fine. The cast came off and all seemed fine for about two days, then I bumped my hand on the back of a chair. Agonizing pain, and the sensation of something crawling under my skin. My thumb went limp and wouldn't move. The day before the May long weekend. As we were leaving to go visit my parents out of town.

The next Tuesday, I saw the surgeon, who informed me that the tendon had detatched completely and that the only way to regain use of my thumb was to have another surgery. Swell. Two days later, I had a two and a half hour tendon repair. The surgeon found scarring in the tendon from way back at the break, as well as damage from his surgical boo-boo. There were even tendon shreds in my wrist joint. I woke up with this on my hand.

Note the lovely bruising. This is basically the same cast that I had had for the previous three and a half weeks, but with more padding on the thumb. Immobilized for another 4 weeks. Yup. I got the last splint off on the Tuesday morning before Olds College Fibre Week. I drove to Olds on Friday, took a spinning workshop with Carol Rhoades on Saturday and Sunday, demoed the Ashford Knitter's Loom on Tuesday and have not stopped spinning, weaving, or knitting since.

I am still going to physio and will be for some time. My thumb is still stiff and I have lost a fair bit of muscle mass in the entire hand and lower arm, but I'm coming back. Fortunately for me, knitting is one of the recommended exercises for recovery from wrist and hand injuries. I do have this lovely scar to remind me of the whole thing.

Not too pretty, but I can use my hand again. Nothing makes you as conscious of what is precious to you more than losing it.

Speaking of which, the same day that I was told that I needed a second surgery, my father was diagnosed with Stage IV metastatic lung cancer. But that's a whole other post.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Long time, no blog. I have been so busy for the last couple of months that even 15 minutes at the computer seems like a luxury right now. Since the last entry I have: taken down the community artists' show in the gallery; put up a photo and text essay exhibit; built costumes and uphostered furniture for Beauty and the Beast; worked to plan and oversee a student show in the gallery; planned and executed a week-long trip to Disneyland for 9 people from 3 different cities; taken down the photo essay and replaced it with 8 pieces of "some assembly required" sculptural work; designed and built a set for a childrens' theatre production; spun two sample sock yarns and knitted said socks; spun and plied 2 oz. of cashmere into 680 yds of yarn; handpainted said yarn and designed the lace pattern; knit another pair of socks; celebrated Ground Hog Day, Valentines Day, Family Day, Steve's birthday, St. Patricks Day and good report cards. And tried valiantly to keep up with laundry, meals, keeping the house relatively tidy and doing dishes by hand because the 20-year-old dishwasher finally gave up the ghost. Who has time to type?

Well, today is the first day of relative calm and it is my hope to keep it that way. There will be busier times ahead--I still have my art gallery job until the end of May--but the times in between will be a little less intense. I have learned this cool new word--no. Let's see how long I can keep that up! Two, three days, tops, I figure. :>)

And now for today's rant:

We live in a boomtown. Thar's oil sands in them thar hills! We have work camps that house 10,000 transient workers, and now camps are going to be built inside our city limits to house more people who drive up on Sunday and leave town on Thursday and contribute nothing to our community. A 30-year-old three-bedroom bungalow sells for half a million dollars. Our emergency ward is packed with people from out of town with headcolds. Our streets are busy and rutted because of the volume of traffic, not to mention the heavy equipment constantly moving through town. We have barroom brawls and drug busts and assaults on an hourly basis. And now the violence has hit home.

Brendan was walking back to his dorm after running to the convenience store across the street for a cold drink on Saturday night and was accosted by a teenager with brass knuckles. He was hit in the eye area, but, thank God, his eye was spared. His whole upper face is cut and bruised, but he seems otherwise to be physically okay.

But now, three days later, my 6'4" son is afraid to leave his dorm room. He has pain and horrible swelling around his eyes and sinuses. He spent 6 1/2 hours in emerg yesterday before a doctor could see him. Campus security and the local constabulary are overburdened and will probably never catch the kid who did this to him. And I feel so helpless.

Brendan is an adult, living on his own, though in the same community as us. He's perfectly capable of looking after himself. This was a random, and relatively minor, when you consider what could have happened, incident. Friends, teachers, neighbors, have all come out of the woodwork to help and support. We are blessed, even in this episode of senseless violence. But the rage it there, too. The sense that if we lived in a more stable community, this would not have happened. Of course, that is not true--kids are angry and disenfrachised and becoming alarmingly violent everywhere--but up here, it just seems to be magnified by the isolation, the transient population, and the stupidity of the get-rich-quick mentality.

In talking to Brendan, we have both come to the conclusion that these things happen. Do we let them defeat us? No. We stop and consider what is important to us. And we live our lives.

For me, that means family and fibre. The two things that tend to get back-burnered first when a paying gig calls. What's that about? So it is time to make a new resolution to keep the two Fs at the top of my priority list. I have lots of other stuff to do, but today, I spin.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Waaaay Too Philosophical

I need to get more proficient with a camera....I have three projects in final stages or finished and I'm too lazy or busy to photograph them and post them here! Okay, too busy. I have a Gallery turn-around starting on Monday that will take me six days, and I have four days to do it in. I just signed a contract with Keyano Theatre to make draperies for their upcoming production of Beauty and the Beast, which they need done by last week. And I'm supposed to be going to a spinning retreat on Vancouver Island in February and can't get a flight out of godforsaken Fort McMurray unless I am willing to be out of town for 8 days. And the usual kids, household, husband distractions. I am not the first to express this, but I think it's time to be cloned.

Okay, so the projects: a wool, llama and silk scarf came off the rigid heddle loom this week. It was sort of a stash clean-up thing that worked out fairly well. Still needs to be washed and blocked, but it's there. I also used up most of the very woollen yarn that I spun from a blend 3 left-over batches of dyed Romney locks in a pair of mittens. These need to be lightly felted, then some embroidery to pretty them up. I have spun two sample yarns for my Master Spinners in-depth study (more on that in another post) and a I have two-thirds of a watchcap for Steve on the needles. That's just this week--and I complain that I have no time for fibre in my life!

A really interesting concept came my way last night as I was socializing with some of the Theatre folk. The Artistic Director is a stage combat expert, and he was comparing fight moves to weaving and spinning. We got going with the concept and came up the the idea of the Weaving Warrior--from his perspective, using textile techniques to illustrate the careful layering and interplay of actors in combat; from my perspective, using combat techniques to illustrate the importance of body mechanics and movement in textile creation. Very high-concept, not likely to happen, but I was intrigued by the easy inter-relation between such seemingly diverse arts.

It seems that there is a lot of debate over what constitutes art and what is craft, and whether either is important in modern times. But when you are with people who actually work in the field, that debate becomes moot. Sitting with an actor, a director, a designer and the technical staff of a small theatre company, I was just a fellow artist. My boss at the Art Gallery is an art historian for the most part, yet she accepts that I consider what I do to be both art and craft--or as she calls it "fine craft", which is her compromise between "real art" that hangs on walls and beautiful objects made using ancient techniques once necessary for survival but now redundant. One of the artists currently exhibiting in the gallery spent some time discussing the narrowness of the labels placed on the work that we do. Her current work as a painter is based upon the structure and design elements of Middle Eastern and Indian rugs. There are no labels or boundaries or boxes; we all embrace the urge to create.

Elbert Hubbard, an American publisher from around the turn of the 20th Century gives me the best definition ever of art:

"Art is not a thing, it is a way."

I think I'll have that tattooed on my butt. There's room.

Friday, January 20, 2006

In Praise of Natural Fibres

It's cold where I live. We are quite used to having two or three weeks of -45 Celsius around this time of year, though this year, we have been spoiled by a warm winter. Until today. I woke up to -30 Celcius and ice fog. A bit of a shock after -5 or 10, but not entirely unexpected for Fort McMurray.

So, in order to walk the two blocks to physio this morning, I layered up in: thermaply long johns, cotton socks, handknit wool socks, jeans, a cotton tee shirt, a handknit alpaca sweater, a wool coat, a handspun and handknit angora and merino blend hooded scarf, wool-lined leather gloves and handspun and handknit cashmere half-gloves. I did not feel cold at all, though my eyelashed and bangs frosted up something fierce.

And as I was walking, I realized that only my longjohns were not made of natural fibres. I'm not really sure what "thermaply" is--I've had these longjohns for about 10 years now, so the packaging is long gone, but that what the tag in the back says they are made of.

I am a fibre snob--make no mistake. I love my merino, my cashmere, my camelid fibres. But this morning, I am especially grateful that I have access to, and the skill to use, these marvelous gifts from our furry friends. I am proud that I was able to create a warm cocoon to protect myself from the elements. My snobbery has been vindicated.

About a year ago, I was advised by a salesperson in a fairly high-end ladies' fashion store that the wool pants that I was purchasing were on sale because "no one wants wool anymore--it's so hard to look after". Rubbish. I throw my wool in the washing machine (cold wash, gentle cycle!). I have pieces that I knitted 20 years ago that still look new and keep me warmer than all those scratchy, pilly acrylic things that have come and gone over those 20 years. I love my warm woollies! I want wool. And alpaca. And cashmere (especially cashmere!). And lowly, humble cotton to protect my tender skin from the itchier woolly bits.

Do yourself a favor and wear wool. And cotton. And cashmere (especially cashmere!).

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Creeping Into Cyberspace

Well, this is it. I am creeping onto the information highway.

I'm not really opposed to technology, but I have always sort of suspected that the internet is a place for people with too much time on their hands. And that blogs were the territory of the angst-ridden or those prone to bizarre rants. Recent experience has shown me otherwise--I have also discovered the blogs of thoughtful and insightful individuals, filled with useful fibre information, ideas and inspiration. We shall see if I fall into the angst and rant category, or the thoughtful....only time will tell.

A little framework for this thing: I am a fibre artist who works primarily as a handspinner and custom knitting designer. I also dabble in weaving, felting, beading and soft sculptural techniques. These activities have defined my life for the past 20 years, and in recent years have become an actual career. I also work as the Art Gallery Coordinator for the Visual Arts department of the local college.

Then in September of 2005, I fractured my wrist and dislocated my knee in a bizarre acting accident. I was immobilized for about 2 weeks, and had my left arm and hand in a cast for 2 months. I also developed a wee post-traumatic stress problem--my office is about 20 feet from where I was injured and I could not go to work without having panic attacks-- and was referred for counselling by the nurse at the college.

So, off I go to counselling. I have had to do some pretty drastic things to get over the fear that I will be injured if I walk out my door, but I can put in a day's work without bursting into tears or suffering chest pain. I'm still not so happy in crowds, but then I never did like line-ups and large clusters of humanity. So therapy is working. However, my therapist pointed out that I seem rather apologetic about what I do with my time and suggested that I start to speak openly about my work to people outside of my small community of spinners and fibre fanatics. This is step one.

It was very traumatic to lose the use of one hand when so much of my life had revolved around working with my hands for so long. I have a new perspective on what fibre and textile work means to me, and I have promised myself that fibre will not be shoved to the back burner when "more important" things come along. Yes, I do have a steady paying gig at the art gallery, but it is only 20 hours a week. That leaves 148 hours every week. Take out time for sleep and food, and that still leaves a lot of time that could be spent on fibre. And now that I know how crazy I get when I can't work with my hands, I have to cherish every second that I can spend doing it.

I've taken enough time away from fibre already--back to the real whorl.