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Monday, November 25, 2013


Oh, look what the mail lady brought! A few years ago I bought some dark fleece (a Sally Bill Special!) from Lopez Island Fibers, but I never got around to having it processed. Then, this year, I got some white and some light gray (also Sally Bills), and I sent all three of them of to Taylored Fibers in Quilcene, WA. Today, the resulting roving arrived. Each color produced 3-4 luscious, squishy, still a tiny bit sheepy rolls roving. (It was 13.1 lbs. of raw fleece. I think I got around 9.5-10 back. I need to weigh it on something more nuanced than a bathroom scale.) I'm not sure my spinning skills are up to the quality of the fleece, but there are three sheep to whom I owe my best effort. That's a lot of roving, right? So exciting!


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Same Only Different

I have long been wanting to add some heavier weight yarns to the Fleur de Fiber roster. A few challenges stood in my way. The highest hurdle is that I have limits to the amount of one yarn I can dye at one time. That means it can be a challenge to dye a sweater's worth in one go. (It's not impossible, just a bit challenging.) 

I think I've found some heavier-weight yarns I like well enough to move forward. One of the most exciting things about them is that they are grown, processed and milled in the US. I love that. As a fiber lover, I realistically know that the medium I love has environmental impacts. We all love superwash yarns. They're great for socks, baby things, and the like. Superwash takes dye in a way that makes it shine. You can get subtle shading effects that are impossible in untreated fiber. It all makes good sense. Think of superwash like hair conditioner, which smoothes the scales on your hair and creates a sleeker surface to reflect light, only in a longer-lasting fashion. (Be aware, though, when washing your superwash garments, it is a process, and it can--eventually--wear off if you wash your garments a lot. I still hand wash most garments, and if I do machine wash, I do it on delicate, in cold, with the same wool wash I use to wash and rinse dyed yarns. Better safe than sorry, and while it's a bit more work, compared to the work I put into knitting my garments, it's a drop in the bucket. But I digress.) Superwash is a chemical process. I have no idea what it is, and I've been told almost all of it happens in China. (Even yarn grown and spun here, if it's superwash, probably took a round trip cruise to China.) I will still love--and dye--yarns that come from other places, but if I can find quality products closer to home, it feels good. (I try to do some due diligence, but it isn't easy or transparent. One of the most interesting things I ever heard was that the "Buy Local" label doesn't tell the whole story. The example was lamb. New Zealand lamb could have a smaller carbon footprint than lamb grown a few states away, depending on what they're fed, how much irrigation is required, etc. we can drive ourselves mad trying to figure it all out.)

At a little test, this week I will be listing fraternal twin skeins in the etsy store. One is natural white, one natural gray. They go in the pot together, and they take the color quite differently. Some pairs are very contrasted, others are closer, but they are fun paired in striped garments. I am writing up a simple hat pattern that makes great use of the twins' uniqueness. Plus, you can get 2-3 hats (depending on size) for the pair! 


Saturday, October 26, 2013

Fallen and Boiled

Fall arrived here with a vengeance. I was holding out on turning on the boiler as long as I could. Then I got a nasty 24-hour bug--the fever and chills kind. As soon as I was able to rouse myself to get to the thermostat, I flipped the switch. Heat, glorious heat, bubbled forth from the radiators for two days, then nothing. We'd already had the boiler serviced, and even though we knew she was on her last legs, the tech thought we could get another year, maybe two. Ahem. So, we went without heat for two days waiting for service. I watched the temperature drop and drop until this morning, when it was actually warmer outside than inside. (I was wearing many, many layers of fleece and knitwear, and I know I looked ridiculous, but I was glad to have it. i was also glad for the hot water bottle that I tucked next to my poor cat, who was not the least bit pleased by the chilly turn in his environment.) To make along story short, we have a new boiler, and got rid of not one, but two, old ones. (The old, original cast iron boiler was still down there, and it had to go. It was in the way and time marches forward. Ciao, baby.) 

When things were chilly,  in an attempt to generate as much heat as possible, I cooked and oven roasted things most of the day. I made a curried pumpkin, acorn squash, butternut squash, apple, coconut soup that was pretty wonderful. I roasted the sugar pie pumpkins, and they yielded a good helping of seeds, so I tried a recipe that called for boiling them for ten minutes before roasting them. When you stir a pot full of pumpkin seeds, they line up quite prettily, wouldn't you agree? 

They didn't get crispy like I'd hoped, and I blame the boiling or the fact that I baked them on parchment paper, so I'll have to try it again without the paper. More experimentation is needed. Fortunately, it's pumpkin season!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Itchy and Scratchy

I am not the Simps0ns fan that my husband is, but the pets' names have always cracked me up, so I co-opted them for this post.

As part of the giant stash categorization project, I am making a discovery: I am leaning toward the rough stuff. I think I can track it back to the Rise of the Icelandic Sweater a few years ago, when Lopi started arriving at the house in boxes and envelopes. (Don't know how they got my address...) Then, when I went to Finland and Estonia, aside from the yarns used for Haapsalu Shawls (which doesn't come from Estonia anymore, anyway), all of the yarns I got were hearty, rustic ones. I got Finnish wools from Rihivilla in Helsinki, both in natural and naturally dyed colors. I picked up some Aade (very much like or perhaps the same as Kauni) in Estonia, as well as some unlabeled yarn in gorgeous, saturated shades from a vendor at the White Lady Days Festival. There are still bits of VM in that, but it doesn't bother me at all. I also got some small skeins of naturally dyed wool from Villjandi at a shop in Tallinn. All of them are deliciously crunchy, scrunchy, and rustic. Some of them still even smell sheepy. Yum. 

In case there's any curiosity about it, the sheepiest thing discovered in the stash dive is some Peace Fleece. Whoo, baby, that stuff is still redolent with eau de barnyard. 

One thing Cat Bordhi does at her retreats is invite Debbie and Maxine of Island Fibers over to set up shop for an afternoon. They weave, spin, dye, knit, and sell fabulous yarns and fibers. I have a bit of a collection from them. In a previous year, I bought a sweater quantity of worsted weight for an Icelandic-style sweater. I also got some dark Sally Bill special fleece. This year, I added to the fleece collection with some white and tan Sally Bill, which is all going to a processor in Washington to be turned into roving. I also picked up sport weight yarn to make Gudrun Johnston's Bressay Dress


I need to get this stash project done so I can get back to knitting!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Chicago Woman Crushed in Basement, Pictures at 10

So, I have a lot things on the to-do list in my head, not the least of which is to stash wrangle. Not everything is "stashed" on Ravelry, and some of what is stashed isn't photographed or isn't properly identified as to location. I'd love to get that fixed. If I do, it would help me to stash shop more efficiently. I know that I probably have just the right yarn for almost any project right downstairs, but I have either forgotten about it or can't locate it. There was a time when I knew it all, where it came from, when I got it, etc. That time has passed. It also means that some pretty great yarns are finding their way to the "Will sell or Trade" page. Seriously, some pretty wonderful stuff, like Socks That Rock and a bunch if indie dyer things. It's not that I dislike them (well, I bought them, didn't I?!), but I know I will never get to them. Someone else should have a crack. I wish I were organizing the containers more strategically, but I am in "get it done" mode, which applies to photos, as well. Quick and dirty. I may go back and refine at a later date, once the beast is tamed. There is one tippy stack of tubs taller than I am at the moment, and, under the right (wrong?) circumstances, my demise, should it occur, could be reported as a freak accident on the 6 o'clock news.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Many Happy Returns

On Saturday I returned from my last scheduled trip of the year. (At first I was excited about having a stretch of time at home, but, three days later, I am already getting eager to put something else on my calendar!) This was my fifth annual trip to San Juan Island for one of Cat Bordhi's knitting retreats. 

The journey started with a day in Seattle. I know Seattle has a horrid reputation for being a rainy, dreary place, and while it does rain, it doesn't usually RAIN. (The Killing, much as I loved the show, was more than a little liberal with its rain machines, and has helped contribute to the misinformation.) Well, just to prove me wrong, it was a record-breaking day of precipitation, quashing some plans to run about. I did, however, get to see my friend, David, and deliver these sweaters for his new fraternal twin baby girls. I dyed and knit them with my own Fleur de Fiber Amelie, a merino and silk blend. They're so squishy and soft that I used the leftover green and purple yarn to make myself a striped Hitchhiker, which served me well on the trip.

Cat's retreat was, as always, a lot of fun. This year her focus was Felfs, which are knit, felted footwear. I made a pair using local wool from the San Juan Islands, and I love them. Since the e-book hasn't been published yet, I will wait to post a picture. I really like them, and plan to craft multiple pairs. They are so fast and fun to make--great gift knitting for others, or yourself.

On Wednesday, six of us went out on a whale watch on the Peregrine with Captain Jim Maya and naturalist Jeanne Hyde. I'd gone out with them before, and they really are fantastic. They both know the area very well, and they are passionate about the wildlife. Two years ago, we saw 37 different whales, each identifiable by their dorsal fins and saddle patches, and we thought that was a blue ribbon day. This time, we saw all three resident pods, 81 Orcas! We were also joined by two humpbacks as well as some Dall's porpoises. There was a point at which there were whales in every direction. It was fabulous. Since Captain Jim only takes six passengers, it is a very intimate, personal experience, and if you are ever on the island, look him up. He's listed as Maya's Westside Charters.

It was rainy and gray most of the first three days, but Thursday was quite lovely, and I spent some time lying in the sun on the dock at the resort. The government shutdown closed the park and beach I had planned to go to, so this was the next best thing.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Get Out of Town

Three kinds of soup made and refrigerated or frozen. Check. Dark chocolate espresso brownies baked. Check. Sandwich makings in deli drawer. Check. Yard mowed. Check. House cleaned. Che....well, not so much. 

I love to travel, but I hate to get ready to go. I never get things to where I want them. The floors are dirty. The dining room table has become the Chicago outpost of Alabama Chanin's studio, by the looks of it. The yarn/TV room is a disaster. Oh, well. This is my last (scheduled) trip of the year, so maybe I will get organized when I get back. Of course, I never like to not have a trip on the horizon, so we will see!

I am looking forward to days by the lake, evenings by a fire, trips on ferries, hiking in woods, dinner with friends, knitting (or not), walking on the beach, and so on. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013


...for winter...for departure...for whatever comes next.

One of the biggest challenges of life in the city is finding good, qualified, professional service people. It is one of the advantages that people living in smaller places have over us city-dwellers, I think. (My friends in Pennsylvania, where I grew up, seem to have a much easier time getting plumbers and electricians to show up than I do, but maybe that's anecdotal.) I spent all of yesterday afternoon waiting for a heating tech who wasn't coming. When I called, at the end of the time window I was given, it was clear I was being stood up. After several calls, we rescheduled for this morning. The guy came early--frankly, every bit as annoying as being late when you're not ready. I literally ran down he stairs with one shoe on (untied) and the other in-hand. The good news, though, is that he thinks we can eke out another year, maybe two, with our boiler. We shall see if that holds true come January!

On Saturday, I will be headed out to Washington. I travel a fair amount, and sometimes I get organized enough to have food prepped for my husband. Today I am cooking up big pots of mushroom barley soup and vegetarian chili. (Vegetarian options are good, because when I am gone, he is likely to eat three things: pepperoni pizza, orange beef, and steak.) I'll put a few containers in the fridge and the rest in the freezer and he can take what he wants. I also promised him a batch of extra dark chocolate espresso brownies. 

Mushroom Barley Soup

Last night's soup was a big hit. I am (almost always) loose about recipes, and big on improvisation. One of my favorite things to play around with is a roasted soup. Last night I peeled, cut up, and roasted the following at 400F:

3 medium sweet potatoes
1 medium onion
6 or 7 large carrots
5 garlic cloves
1 Honeycrisp apple
All tossed in a few tablespoons of olive oil and a little bit of kosher salt.

When they were soft and beginning to caramelize, I transferred them to a stockpot. I added three boxes of stock (two chicken and one vegetable, because that's what was in the pantry), two teaspoons of sweet curry powder, and a good amount of black pepper. I used a stick blender to purée it until mostly smooth. I tasted and added a bit more salt. When it was heated through, I served the soup with a dollop of sour cream (one could use creme fraiche or even Greek yogurt) and a drizzle of roasted pumpkin seed oil. Walnut oil would also be good. If I had had pears instead of apples, or squash instead of sweet potatoes, I would have used them. I tend to have root vegetables on hand at this time of year, and they make a great base to start with.

The afternoon will be consumed with packing, prepping my travel projects, and maybe some cuddling with my cat, Pitch. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


I need several more lifetimes to do and see all of the things as I want to. I wish I'd have come to this realization sooner in my life, but there are several well-worn adages that address that very issue for good reason. 

I am about to head out to the Pacific Northwest for another workshop with Cat Bordhi. I am dithering about which projects to take, how many needles, etc. Since I have been bitten hard by the sewing bug, I also prepped an Alabama Chanin project to take along, a bucket hat. Today I printed out the pattern and stencil, cut the stencil into Mylar using a hot knife (a trickier process than I anticipated), cut the fabric, mixed up my fabric paint, and stenciled the pieces. 

I decided I wanted the stenciling to have a soft edge, so I sprayed the surface with water after I applied paint. I would try some other things next time, but I can work with this for now. If I am lucky, I will be wearing my new hat by the time I return.

This has been a year jam packed with baby knits, and at least one more to go since I found out my cousin is having a boy in January. Yesterday I sewed on the buttons for a pair of cardis for fraternal twin girls. I wanted the sweaters to refer to one another, so I used the blue stripes on both, and I chose buttons in the opposite colors for each. I wish the green buttons were truer to the yarn color, but they were the best I could find. The yarn is mine, Fleur de Fiber Amelie, a merino and silk blend. I know...why did I do that to the girls' moms?! They are soft and squishy and quite delicious, though, so I hope they don't mind the extra care of gentle washing and drying flat.

The house is full of the smell of roasting carrots, sweet potatoes, onions, garlic and apples, which will be whirled into soup. Fall is definitely in the air here. I always hope for a long, warm autumn, because, frankly, Chicago winters and springs (when we get them) can be dreadful. Really, fall is the only season I can count on enjoying. I'd feel more kindly toward summer if we had central air, but this summer, it got up into the mid-90s in parts of my house. Fortunately, we won't have to worry about that again for some months. It's always nice if it's mild through Halloween. Fingers crossed.
I am trying a new app for blogging. It's been more challenging to find one that permits picture sizing and links than one would expect. We'll see how it goes. The Blogger app was not helpful at all, and since I use my iPad more than the laptop these days, I need to find a good solution.

Running Stitches

Well, it's happened again. Months have passed. Things have happened that would have made great blog material, but I squandered many an opportunity. Sigh.

This past weekend I made my second trip of 2013 to Alabama. Up until now, I'd really only spent time in western AL, specifically Tuscaloosa, plus a few jaunts to Montgomery and Birmingham. This was my first foray to northern AL and the towns of Florence, Tuscumbia, and Muscle Shoals. I hope it won't be my last.

My relationship with Alabama, like many relationships, is complicated. I first went down there for grad school, but realized that, since I wasn't interested in teaching, the program I was in wasn't a good fit. By the time I left, 10 months after arriving, I had developed a lasting interest in southern folk art, a passion for barbecue, and a deep, abiding love of greens: collards, mustard, etc. I'd also gained a deeper understanding of Southern attitudes, culture, and history. Complicated. Conflicted. Compelling.

Photo: My small collection of (mostly) southern face jugs. I find them quirky and charming. My husband finds them...not so charming.

I travelled to Florence specifically to take a one-day workshop at The Factory, the home base of Alabama Chanin. I have been a fan of Natalie Chanin's work for years, having first seen her years ago at an annual art festival in Northport, AL. This spring, I took a two-hour workshop with her at the Southern Makers inaugural event. After that teaser, I was eager for more, and I signed up for the workshop at the studio. (I would love to do the weekend workshop that is, coincidentally, happening on my birthday weekend. Hmmmm...) The Factory was what I hoped it would be: brimming with beautiful things, inspirational, and fun. The day flew. I want to make all. the. things.

I didn't have a lot of time for sightseeing, but I did get to do a bit of shopping in Florence. I quite liked the town's yarn store, Unraveled, and The Wine Seller was a great find. I got some sale t-shirts at Billy Reid to cut up for some Alabama Chanin-inspired projects. I drove by the legendary Fame Recording Studio in Muscle Shoals, and W.C. Handy's and Helen Keller's birthplaces. I fell in love with the pulled pork sandwich topped with hot slaw at Bunyan's Bar-b-que, and paid my respects to the departed canine souls at the Coon Dog Cemetery. 

If you're curious about hot slaw (which is the spicier, sassier Southern sister of Pennsylvania Dutch Pepper Cabbage), try this one:
I am headed out to the grocery store for the ingredients this afternoon!

A lesson I learn repeatedly on my travels is that there are interesting things everywhere you care to look. I love the quirky, odd, off-beat, unique, one-of-a-kind things you find if you wander far enough. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Chicken Backs

At the age of 47, I am so very lucky to still have three of my grandparents alive and in relatively good health. (One of my grandfathers died with Alzheimer's 20 years ago.) My paternal grandmother is in a home, but she has a private room, gets around with the help of her cane or walker despite having fallen and broken her neck a few months ago. Seriously. At 88. Pretty amazing. I would say she's sticking around to spite some people, but she is the last of 14 children, so not too many people left to spite. My other grandparents are in their own home, still keep a vegetable garden, watch my cousin's 4-year-old, and, on a regular basis, crack me up.

Just this week, grandma sent a thank you letter for the hydrangea I sent for Mother's Day. Her letters are very stream-of-consciousness, with details missing that she assumes I already know or that my mom has filled me in on. Usually, neither is true, and the letters jump from non sequitur to non sequitur. This one was great:

Paragraph of cute stories of their great-granddaughter, Cora, helping in the garden. And then...
 "Aunt Betty (my great aunt) has a problem. They are telling her she needs a new toilet, but I don't believe them."

Another cute story of 4-year-old Cora telling my grandfather that he's too old to drive, even if it is for ice cream.

I have no idea how Aunt Betty's plumbing issues got in there, or why grandma fancies herself a plumbing detective, but that was all the information I was given. It made  me, my husband, and my mom, to whom I read the letter, laugh and laugh.

So, how do we get to chicken backs? Grandma was never one to waste. If we had a chicken barbecue, she would eat the backs while the rest of us got the legs. Nothing could go to waste. We once took a day trip to Great Adventure in New Jersey. After, we stopped at a diner and we bought a coconut cream pie to take home. Unfortunately, the baker forgot to add the sugar. None. This thing had no taste. Grandma could not let the food go to waste, and she ate that pie anyway. Quilts that were worn got new tops and were used as the batting for the subsequent incarnation. Usable clothing scraps were saved to be turned into patches for future quilts, or knee patches, or, rags, if that's all they were good for. Grandma never got the newest or best or first choice of anything, and I have never heard her complain much about it. So how does this apply to me? My life is very different from my grandma's. She left school in sixth grade and cleaned houses. I went to college, and even some graduate school, and I have been lucky to be able to hire people to help clean my house, on occasion. (I have deep seated psychological blocks about it--it is a huge guilt trigger for me.) Grandma has always lived within a few mile (12, maybe) radius. She was a farm wife who drove a tractor, but never a car. She has never had a dishwasher. She still has a manual wringer washtub to wash clothing. I have lived all over the place, driven in some of the most chaotic city traffic in the country, and my house had two sets of washers and dryers. And I would be a sad girl without my dishwasher.

Oh, chicken backs, yes, the chicken backs...So, now that I dye my own yarns, what do I knit with? The odd skeins, the ones with knots, the ones that aren't quite right. The ones no one else should have. I knit with the chicken back skeins. In the end, though, the things I make are just as lovely. So the color isn't what I originally planned, or I have to weave in some extra ends because of a knot or and under-plied section. Tomorrow the cutest little baby sweater is going to warm a new arrival in Estonia.
And, I am knitting myself a sweater with an entire weird batch of skeins. The color just came out all wrong--not bad, just not what it was supposed to be. I have gotten more compliments on it than almost any other colorway. Maybe I'll call it Chicken Back.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Who Am I?!

When I was in junior high, we had to take home ec. I was on a different path; I wanted bright lights and big cities, even then. I wasn't interested in those things my mom and grandmothers did: sewing, quilting, embroidery, gardening, cooking. I viewed them as weights holding me back. (Shop class, however, got my seal of approval. Go figure.) I never finished my home ec skirt, and I really didn't care.

Fast forward to college, where I was pursuing a theatre degree. We were required to put in mandatory crew hours, either in props, costumes, scene shop, etc. I tried hard enough to not annoy my costume teacher, primarily because I really respected her, but it was clear I did better in the scene shop. I learned to read scenic drawings, and I was given the role of crew chief my freshman year. I feigned toughness, and would climb huge A-frame ladders that were crowned with a vertical portion that went straight up, all the while hauling a lighting instrument with one hand. When I hit my mark, I would hook my leg around a rung, pull my wrench from my pocket, and hang the light. When I was done, I'd skitter back down and do it again.  I helped assemble rolling scaffolding that would become my workplace for weeks as I headed a paint crew. I ran band saws and table saws and miter saws, and, for the most part, I liked it.

Meanwhile, back in June Cleaverville, by necessity, my cooking skills were called upon. It was like they had always lurked under the surface. I came from a make-it-from-scratch background. TV Dinners were a rare treat. Brownies, cookies, and cakes did not come from boxes.  My talent in the kitchen is something that just emerged one day, like a hibernating bear, and I have put it to good use.

As I navigated my way through my arts career, I sought respite outside of the stresses of work. While no one in my family knitted (one grandma dabbled in crochet), knitting was always calling me. My neighbors (Pakistani girls who had been taught by an aunt who was Swiss and who married into the family) taught me a cast on and knit. I couldn't purl and I couldn't bind off. Finally, when I was in my late 20s and living in Chicago, I took a class that led me down the path to stash and fiber content and color, color, color.

I dabbled in hand stitching every now and again, but nothing serious. A few months ago, I became aware of the work of Richard Saja and his whimsical toile pieces. I was smitten. Starting with Vegas Elvis (meets Our Lady of Guadalupe) eating a big piece of bacon, I am creating my own Rock and Roll Toile of Fame. Elvis has left the embroidery hoops, and Bruce and the Big Man are on deck. David Bowie, Jack Black, and Annie Lennox await their turns in the wings.

Just recently, my focus has shifted to sewing...machine sewing. I had a Singer sewing machine (the treadle kind in a lovely wooden cabinet) that was in my bedroom during my teen years. When my parents split, mom moved some things to her parents' for safe-keeping, and unlike the hoarders found in her progeny, my grandmother strips away all but the necessary, and she gave the sewing machine to her brother, who gave it to his wife whom he later divorced, and she subsequently sold the machine out of the family. All the while, my grandmother had no idea how much I wanted the old Singer. At the time, I was living my life touring the country doing theater, so there was no place for me to keep it. After it became clear that my great-grandma's machine was never coming back, I set out looking for one that was similar, which I finally found an antique shop just a few blocks from my house. It's not the same, but it's close, and the price was reasonable. Now it's become my sewing totem.  Ever since it was delivered, I have been amassing patterns and fabric at a mad pace. I wash and iron the pieces, I sort, I cut, I sort some more. I have yet to sew (my electric Singer machine needs to move upstairs), but I have big plans.

Friday, April 12, 2013

I (heart) the Internet

So, as I wrote in my last post (way back in February!), I am subject to enthusiasms. I get on kicks. One of them for at least a year is an interest in traditional Icelandic lopapeysa. I have been pinning pictures and queueing patterns, and collecting Lopi and Lopi-esque yarns with the intention of making a stack of them. I took Ragga Eriksdottir's Craftsy class online (yea! knitting class sitting in bed in my pajamas!). I hope to vacation in Iceland with my husband, both of us sporting new sweaters. (2014, I'm looking at you.) The other night, I stumbled on a sweater I hadn't seen before and, when I added it to my Ravelry queue, I noticed that it was out-of-print in both publications in which it had appeared. So, off I set to the place of finding all things unfindable, Ebay. The Lopi gods were smiling upon me because the first, and I mean first, item that came up in my search was a book in which it was published. I could not hit the Buy It Now button fast enough. It arrived today, and although there is no publication date, the photo styling screams the 80s. This was confirmed by the only mark I have come across in the book so far, a note next to one of the patterns that says "Henry 1986." I presume Henry got one fabulous sweater more than 20 years ago. I wonder if he still has it.

This booklet is actually packed with designs I love. I could happily knit through the whole thing. Um, yeah, I'd better get on that. 2014 isn't all that far away...

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


Not too long ago, I developed a renewed interest in embroidery. I did some as a kid, but it never grabbed hold of me in a significant way. My mother was an avid cross-stitcher, and there were often threaded needles stuck into the arms of the couch where she had last been sitting, so you had to be wary. As of late, I have wanted to do more embroidery projects, whether it be stitching a pocket on an apron or embellishing a knit piece. I blame Natalie Chanin. Her techniques are so appealing and addictive and her aesthetic is compelling. I want everything to be reverse applique. I did some projects using her methodology a few years ago, and I think I am gearing up for some more.

As is my wont, I have been gathering my "props." I didn't really have a stash of embroidery floss, so I went about collecting some. Now I have a dilemma. I would like to keep the floss neat, clean and organized, and they are so pretty in their little skeins, see?

Winding the floss on these little plastic bobbins and putting them in this plastic box may be orderly, but it is so...plastic.

My mom has a big, wooden DMC box with little drawers, and while it works for her, I don't think it offers the visibility I would like. I want to be able to see all my colors without having to search through drawers. Winding the threads onto the bobbins is tedious, but not nearly as tedious as getting a knot when you pull out an end from skein the wrong way or, if you are being really fastidious, removing the labels, pulling out your desired length, then wiggling the labels back onto the skein. And it is a good TV watching project.  

I recently ordered (today!) some handwoven, hand dyed cotton fabric from A Verb for Keeping Warm out in Oakland, CA. I like them so very much, and I wish I could shop there in person and take classes with them on a regular basis. Alas, with 2/3 of the country between us, I have to rely on mail orders and their newsletter to get my fix. The fabrics are striped, and I am envisioning some inclusion of stitchery to make something special. I don't know what, don't know when, but when I decide, I will let you know.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

The Rest of the Story

Oh, and I almost forgot. I also had eye surgery in November, which also accounts for some of my absence. It was altogether unpleasant (one of the bonus side effects: motion sickness), and unfortunately, was not quite successful. I am facing the possibility of a repeat on one eye sometime in the future, but it requires some serious consideration. I did not tolerate some of the anesthesia and/or pain meds well, which contributed to the overall misery following the surgery. And it was no fun. And it might not work-- again. And it took longer for my eyes to heal than I expected. And my eyes itched like crazy for weeks. And I hate IVs. But, I also hate the issue I would like to correct, so it's a toss-up.

So, back to swag! When I was in Tallinn, I visited two yarn shops. One was packed to the gills with imported novelty yarn. Now, I don't want to get all yarn snobby here--novelty yarn has its place if you want to make fuzzy monster feet baby booties--but I was not about to drag furry nylon home in my already bulging bags. The other shop was tucked in to a little street very near the opera house. They had a tiny loft where they kept the "local" goods: some yarn that looked a lot like Kauni (which was no where to be found on my stops) or Aade, which is very Kauni-like. (Lots of "handicraft" or gift shops had some yarn and often some felting wool. If they had yarn, it was always Aade, but they might only have a colorway or three.) This was similar and may, in fact, be Aade. (It was not labelled.)

I also picked up some naturally colored wool that the clerk told me was produced in a small mill locally. At least that's what I think she said. Her English was limited, though it far, far surpassed my measly six words of Estonian (four of which I have since forgotten.)

In an interesting coincidence, I found some naturally dyed yarn in a lovely handicraft shop (one of my favorites) that was make in Viljandi. I purchased several skeins, as well as a pair of lovely hand knit mittens (knit with the same yarn) and the book Ornamented Journey. The yarn was actually dyed by a friend of my friend, and we tried at the last minute to arrange for me to travel to Viljandi to see her operation, but it didn't work out. Next time!

I also picked up a copy of Designs and Patterns from Muhu Island. Hoo boy. It is a huge book in every way--size, weight, and content. It is so exquisite. I hemmed and hawed since it was so large, and I knew that I would be schlepping it around all day in Haapsalu, again the next day when I walked from my hotel to the train station, in Tallinn on the tram to my next hotel, and home to the US, but after I visited the table the third time (and the woman working the table gave me that nervous smile that told me I was verging on stalker weirdness), I decided to take the plunge. You should read Kate Davies's synopsis here because she captures its essence well.

So if you're keeping track, you will note that I was, by the end of my visit, quite a pack mule: all the yarn in the last two posts, the two books described (plus a copy of Ornamented Journey in Estonian, which I bought before I saw an English translation later), as well as a lovely, lovely cookbook my friends gave me, written by the owner of the cafe I dined at three times in Haapsalu. Yes, it was that good, and it was charming as all get-out, and if I could transport it--and the darling waiter who, by my third visit was giving me the same look as the book lady--here to my neighborhood, I would.) Plus there were chocolates, textiles, domino sets that featured knitting motifs, juniper utensils and cutting boards, a juniper wood mug (it was a "thing" so I got one), sleeves from a super cool store called Naiiv, some fancy schmancy stockings from designer Kristina Viirpalu, and three Haapsalu shawls. (I will try to get photos of the shawls that do them justice. Maybe this week, when it's supposed to get a little warmer again.) I was masterful in my packing, both in planning ahead to allow room and in getting it all back home without having to pay extra bag or overweight fees! A number of the items were holiday gifts, so I'd gotten a good jump on my Christmas shopping. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Gone Girl

And then, POOF!, she was gone. Wow, where did the time go? I guess other things just got in the way: dyeing, travelling, house guests, the holidays, and now it's almost Valentine's Day.

One of the big things that happened in my blogging absence was that my yarn was featured in Anne Hanson's Fall Into Full Color Club. The yarn she selected was Aries Oceanus, and the colorway was a grayish, blueish, reddish, greenish, iridescent purple called Abalone. It was a multi-step dyeing process, so there was a good deal of depth to the color. It was a lot of fun to do, but it was also quite challenging. 700 skeins is a lot of skeins when you are the only Yarn Zombie in the Craft Dungeon! It was so nice to get such great feedback from Anne's club members, and it was an amazing opportunity to get Fleur de Fiber into so many new hands.

So, I know I promised swag pictures from the trip. So, remember how I mentioned that within four hours of landing I found a city bus to my hotel, took a shower, figured out how to get to the harbor on the tram, and had Finnish wool in hand? This is what I got. There is a mitten kit and some sundry skeins from the vendor at the outdoor craft market that happens--get this--every day down by the harbor. I hear it even goes on in winter, so long as the crafters can set up. These are some hardy people, but I was happy to be there buying wool in summer, thank you very much. I am from the northeast and I live in Chicago, so I am average hardy for a resident of the Lower 48, but I prefer not to do outdoor shopping in winter if it can be avoided.

On my second day in Helsinki (my only full day, actually), I found a yarn shop down by the harbor in a little mini-mall of shops geared to tourists. I picked up these two skeins of hand dyed yarn. Helsinki is very, very expensive, and I remember thinking that these were pretty spendy, but I don't remember what I paid. It was at least 25% more than you would expect to pay in the US, but it was vacation yarn, and that doesn't count, right?
The next yarn acquisition was in Haapsalu. There was a yarn vendor at the street fair, and she had these thick, squishy, sheepy skeins of yarns for sale. The colors were heart-breakingly saturated. I have it on good authority that the Nancies (Bush and Marchand) also stashed some. In Haapsalu, I also bought some lace yarn. It doesn't photograph particularly well, and, frankly, is not all that exciting. It is yarn that is about what it becomes, not what it is. Also, the yarn used to make the shawls isn't from Estonia. I could have passed it over as there is already some stashed, but I was there, it was there, and, well... (To be continued...)