Wednesday, November 26, 2008

No Present Like the Time

So much going on, so little blogging!

First of all, I just had to share this. Standing in Starbucks waiting for an extra-hot soy latte, I glanced over at the shelves with their merchandise and spotted this:

Yup, a cable-knit coffee mug!! Needless to say I bought the two on the shelf. The perfect mug for the coffee-addict knitter! (Now I just need a couple more for company...hint, hint!)

The Christmas decorations in the Starbucks stores are also fibrey this year--balls of glittery green yarn arranged with red glass balls. And there is a poster with a knitted background. Knitting meets lattes--Utopia at last!

So, we're home from the big city and settling in for the next few weeks. The weather has been unseasonably warm, but there is a good layer of snow on the ground to spur on the Christmas knitting. As usual, I am freaking out at the number of planned projects, but I have kept it relatively simple this year. No fair-isle sweaters or elaborate shawls (not that anyone on my Christmas list is much of a shawl-wearer), so there will be a minimal amount of midnight knitting, I hope.

I often ponder the whole handcrafted thing at this time of year. With all the commercials telling me that what they really want is cell phones and big-screen TVs, I am madly knitting gifts for my family and friends. Why?

This began as a necessity back in the days when I had small children and a limited budget. A pair of handmade mitts or a scarf were reasonably affordable, and tucked in with some home made cookies, kind of unique and personal. Then it became tradition, and people would start hinting at Thanksgiving about the hat or sweater they might like to get for Christmas. They still do, so I know the gifts are appreciated.

Over the years, there have been several mad Christmas Eve collar-knitting sessions, and a few boxes of yarn presented as "some assembly required" gifts. But all in all, I love knitting the bulk of my Christmas gifts. And no matter what the commercials try and tell me about the "perfect gift", my hands are busy making something to keep someone warm and cozy. No matter how many tales of knitters who slave for months to have their gift greeted with "oh, is that all", I know that my gifts are useful and (usually) appreciated. It's kind of my job to spin and knit, so I sometimes feel like I am stealing office supplies and giving them as gifts, but then I realize that I could be selling these things, but that I have given them to someone who is special to me.

Case in point, the Skelly Socks. A few months ago, I ran a little competition amongst some friends to name our local knitting community, with a pair of handknit socks for the prize. The knitters didn't pick any of the suggestions my friends gave, but the entertainment value of this group of hilarious women competing for a humble pair of socks was priceless. I decided to surprise them each with a pair of socks on their birthdays (though after the first birthday, the surprise factor was somewhat ....gone). I had culled color preferences and shoe sizes, so I bought various sock yarns and spun a few others. And I always have time to knit a sock or two. Karen got handpainted purple and black socks, Ruth got hot pink superwash merino, and Lisa...well, Lisa got Skelly Socks.

The body of the sock is mostly basic black Kroy sock yarn, but the skellies are handspun Corriedale top from Louet held together with Aurelia Wool's Retro Topaz Corriedale blended top while drafting, then Navajo plied to make a sturdy sock yarn. The color combo was inspired by Halloween, rich and autumnal.

And I am happy to say that I made waaay too much yarn, and have enough to knit another pair of socks! For me! Mwahahaha!

As I knit and spin things for others, like the socks, or the current Christmas list, I think about the person I am knitting/spinning/weaving for. I could be making a piece on commission, or selling these things on Etsy, but I'm making them for the people who make my life better. I can afford to go out and buy stuff now, but I still knit for friends and family. I am giving the gift of my time and skill, wrapped in warm thoughts and good wishes. It makes me feel like my time was well spent. Which is more than I can say about my money sometimes.

Now don't get me wrong, I will also be buying gifts. And I do not judge others who buy gifts for me--I know that time and thought have gone into their choices too. But I have also been granted a gift--the ability to create--and I want to share that with others. That's why I teach, and that's why I give handcrafted gifts.

Plus, it gives me an excuse to stay home on cold, wintery days and knit. And now that Starbucks has embraced the glory of knitting, can the rest of the world be far behind?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Whoa! What happened there? Last time I looked, it was the beginning of October and I was preparing for a trip to Vancouver. Then I woke up this morning and it's mid-November. How the hell did that happen?

Well, I suppose that if I think about it, I can account for some of it....
I finished up the selection process for the workshops for Fibre Week 2009 before we left for holidays. Let me tell you, this is a tough job! There were so many fabulous proposals and so few spaces, it gave me a sleepless night or two. I think the line-up is very interesting--watch the Fibre Week website for information as it becomes available.
Then it was off to Vancouver for 10 days. Long story short: Fabulous trip! We did the touristy things, like visit the Vancouver Aquarium and Stanley Park, as well as just relaxing with Lexi. We attended her graduation from Blanche MacDonald and celebrated with a fabulous seafood and sparkling wine dinner. The weather driving through the mountains was brilliant, and we had a very scenic drive. And, of course, there was much car knitting done... a scarf for Brendan. Two skeins of Arequipa held together throughout, and following The Yarn Harlot's one-row scarf pattern. Mindless enough for in the car, but pretty cool results!
And a pair of flip-top mittens for my Mom. The yarn for these is a handspun semi-woolen Merino/Suri alpaca/silk worsted weight that I spun from combing waste left after blending the same fibres on the hackles. The Merino and Suri were white tops, and the silk was a handpainted sliver, so there was a subtle pastel stripe throughout the yarn....

...and the mitts are super soft and smooth. Mmmmmm....
The pattern is one that I have memorized and knit so many times that I can't even remember the source--possibly an old Paton's booklet from the '80's. Pretty much my "standard" mitten.

I also worked on a top-down sweater in Mirasol Miski (baby llama), but it is currently on hold because I changed my mind part way through and needed to order some more yarn to finish it. I finally tracked down the right color this week, so I should get that one back on the needles next week and blog the whole sordid tale when it's done.

There was also a really swell pair of skeleton socks that didn't get photographed before they were given as a birthday gift. Lisa has promised me pics, so more on those later, too.

We got home from those adventures the week before Halloween, so we just rolled straight into party preparations. We always do a big haunt and party, but time and knee constraints made us trim things a bit this time around. We still managed to have our haunted house set up by Wednesday, and the weather was spectacular! We had far fewer kids than we have ever had, but it was a nice evening, with time to chat with neighbors and a relaxed move into our party. Much lower key than in a lot of past years, but just right for a road-weary household still trying to get our feet under us.

You will note that the creepy lady on the right is wearing a handspun and handknit shawl, made from last year's Halloween-inspired yarn.
This is what it looks like in the daylight. A very simple triangle shawl...
with a spooky skull-beaded fringe to add a Halloweeny touch! Very cozy and it made the evening of lurking outside quite enjoyable, not to mention stylish!
The next evening was the Keyano College Foundation's Gala, and Steve surprised my with tickets. Aside from the fact that this led to a wardrobe crisis and an emergency shopping trip, it was a fantastic evening! Plenty of good food, free champagne, hob-nobbing, all topped by a live performance by Randy Bachman. It's pretty fun to sip champagne and eat duck breast while grooving to vintage Guess Who in an evening gown! Definitely not something I do every weekend!
Once I came back down to earth, and got the house cleaned up from the Halloween bash, I had spinning to finish up....
...including a little side trip into insanity! This is a merino multi-colored top single, spun soft and slubby and then coiled around a cotton core. Not my usual smooth, skinny yarn at all, but much fun to make. The only problem is, I have no idea what to do with it now. I guess I'll just look at it and admire how cool it is for now!
So now I'm making "practical" yarns--sock yarn on the Schacht, lace-weight bison on the Kromski and a worsted Merino/cashmere blend on the Ashford. The Christmas knitting has begun, and will soon probably consume the better part of my days. The weather has finally turned wintery up here, with plenty of snow and ice, so I have had a wonderful excuse to lay low and spin and knit all day, then make a pot of soup for supper.
There is a lot of spinning in my future, as potential teaching jobs are beginning to pile up for next summer. Samples to be made, and ideas that have been floating through my brain to be actualized. There's never enough time! If some one can tell me where it all goes, I'd really appreciate it--I need to go and get a bit of the past month back!