Monthly Archives

February 2017

Introducing Allison Barnes

As you know, I’ve self-declared 2017 the Year of the Indie Dyer and made a commitment to support and partner with the talented fiber artists I have met through this space. Allison Barnes hales from a land far from me, yet somehow magically connected through international shipping: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Allison and I are currently collaborating on a project. She supplied the yarn (100% merino wool worsted in Alpine Pansy). I am working on a bright and cheery cowl design to be released this spring.

It is with great pleasure that I introduce you to Allison Barnes today, in her own words.

Enjoy.

I never intended to become an artist. In fact I was most interested in Math and Science growing up. I have a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology and a Diploma in Hydrogeology/Environmental Science. I worked for a Consulting firm as an Environmental Scientist for five years before having my son. But the path to where I am now makes sense as I look back…

I’ve always been interested in creative pursuits. I used to do large scale paintings of cute woodland animals on the exterior walls of the buildings on my parent’s lake property. My mom taught me how to crochet afghans when I was in University and I think all of my friends received a blanket for their birthday. Later on I became interested in decorating wood pieces with glass mosaic tiles and gifted many mosaic mirrors to my favourite people. I opened up my Etsy shop and sold a few mosaic pieces there before moving on to new things. I dabbled in photography.

When my son was born, we used cloth diapers. I became interested in using wool as a natural, breathable diaper cover. I purchased a few hand knit and recycled wool diaper covers and loved them so much I decided to bring out the sewing machine I was gifted as a wedding shower gift but had never touched. I re-learned how to sew (not having sewn since my Home Economics class in Grade 7) and started making diaper covers for my son. I decided to try listing some for sale in my Etsy shop and on my Facebook page and I did really well! That ship sailed as I became interested in sewing new things. I made necktie clutches, sun hats, children’s shorts and skirts. You name it; I tried it!

Along with my sewing I re-taught myself to crochet. I wanted my son to have all the cute hats that I kept seeing on social media. I made one and posted a photo and started getting orders from friends and family. I was busy. Really busy. Crochet was and still is my go-to for relaxation and a creative outlet. One day I came across a friend who was looking to de-stash some handspun yarn. I was curious. To sweeten the deal, my friend offered to provide a crochet pattern for free to use with the handpsun yarn.

This was my first taste of handspun thick and thin yarn. It was confusing at first. I couldn’t see where the “V” at the top of the stitch was because of the variation in thickness of the yarn. Eventually it became intuitive and I loved feeling that gorgeous merino yarn in my hands. I wanted more. I wanted to learn to spin my own yarn.

One day I took the plunge and ordered a drop spindle and some roving online. I didn’t start right away – I had to work up to convince myself to start.

It was daunting.

I watched video after video then finally tried spinning. They say to practice for 10 minutes every day – it sure helped. I was terrible at first. Eventually I got better and was able to produce usable yarn. I was spinning thick and thin yarn on a drop spindle but was annoyed that I could not produce enough in one go. I looked for spinning wheel classes and was so excited when I found one at my local Weavers Guild. By this point spinning came naturally since I had been using a drop spindle for about 6 months. After the class was complete I met a lady at the guild who sold me one of her spinning wheels. I couldn’t believe my luck!

I had been collecting indie-dyed roving (it was my favourite) and spun it all. It was getting expensive for me to keep this up. A dear friend of mine said “Hey, why not dye your own roving?” She pointed me in the direction of some YouTube videos and I researched for weeks before ordering roving and dyes and finally tried dyeing in a crockpot and IT WORKED! I dyed all the roving. I began selling my roving and handspun yarn more and more, and selling my crocheted and knit items less and less. One day I ran out of roving. I really had the urge to dye something while I was waiting for more roving to arrive and that same dear friend said “have you thought of dyeing yarn?” I had not! I went to my local craft store in search of some undyed 100% wool yarn, skeined it, and hand-painted it. IT WAS AMAZING! I bought more and dyed more. I was taking orders for hand-dyed yarn! I searched out places to buy bare yarn wholesale and found a Canadian mill, which is where I’ve been sourcing my undyed yarn and roving from since 2015.My techniques have evolved, my skill has blossomed, and I’m just the happiest girl in the world dyeing yarn and roving in my little dungeon of a dye room in the basement of my home. I am now a full-time dyer and occasionally get time to spin yarn for my Etsy shop. I sell at markets throughout the year and have my yarn in a small yarn shop called Alberta Yarn Project. I still sew from time to time, making knitting bags to keep your projects in, and sewing for my family. I’m still trying to figure out a good balance between work, home, and family – but who isn’t?

Where to find Allison:

Etsy:  www.allisonbcollection.etsy.com

No, It’s Not Secretly Fall

Unless you live south of the equator.

Which I don’t.

I simply don’t plan well. That’s all.

I used to be a good planner. I even own a planner. Several actually. I just haven’t been able to properly apply good use of said planner(s).

I basically live in chaos, but that’s okay.
This cowl (knit in Spincycle Independence) was my New Year’s knit. At the time, my stash was light. This had been on the to-knit list since fall (whoops), so I just went for it.

Aimless knitter over here. Hand in the air! That’s me!

First: I LOVED this yarn. It was my first Spincycle test drive. Cool stuff. Thick and thin, which I like. Similar to hand spun, but not. Groovy company. It checked all my boxes. I was truly sad when I cast off. Maybe the Easter Bunny will bring me some more.

Easter Bunny? Hello, are you out there???

The design: wear long or, as I prefer, loop to wear short and snuggly. This project FLEW off my needles and was done in NO TIME at all. I found this to be immensely satisfying. It’s a solid Worsted weight, so this thing’s no joke. It would get you through a blizzard.

Or gale force winds.

Just saying.As for the colors, well…clearly they are screaming FALL!  This is classic me given the fact we are in the dead of winter (SNOW visible out all my windows), although spring is creeping in (daffodils also abundant).

Apparently I am living in a state of Seasonal Confusion. Yes, you can check the Handbook of Psychological Disorders for the details on that one. It’s a Real Thing.

I totally made that up. It’s not a real thing. At least, I don’t think so.

I am going to be patient and wait until the Actual North American Fall season to release this pattern. What do you think? 

Hey, before I forget, did you know Craftsy is having a BIG SALE this weekend (Friday-Sunday)??? 50% off knitting kits and supplies. You’re welcome. Wink.

My Fingers Are Tingling With Excitement

If we knew each other in Real Life (not Internet Life), I would tell you how little knitting I’ve been able to do lately.

It’s just been nuts.

I’ve been working the usual three days/week before taking a day to frantically catch up on laundry and dishes, remember what my kid looks like (he’s growing and changing so quickly!), and spend some time just being Mom. Sometimes I am cranky. Sometimes I an upbeat. Reed probably can’t keep track of which version of Mom is coming or going. There’s just no predicting, although I am more likely to be grumpy if I am cleaning. I have come to realize that cleaning up other people’s messes (and possibly my own) really affects my disposition.

After a day at home, it’s drive, drive, drive and paint, paint, paint. We’ve been fixing up a house an hour from our own home. It’s a long story, but basically I can’t wait for it to be over. HGTV make it all look too fun and easy. I will admit I do like the fixing and improving, but week after week… Well, it’s just too much. There’s no break.

And I miss Reed.

And yarn.

I figure I have another few weeks to slog out. Fingers crossed.

The painting and such has greatly impacted my knitting time. I come home too tired to lift a finger. Whatever energy I do have goes toward feeding Reed, bathing Reed, and reading bedtime stories.

That’s it.

Boring and busy all at once.

It’s hard to have a vision for your life and know it just has to wait for a while. There just isn’t time.

I have been making baby steps toward other things that are important to me (exercise not included). I finally swatched up this lovely worsted yarn from the Allison Barnes collection. Allison is an indie dyer I am partnering with, hailing from the great land of Canada. I look forward to sharing more of her story with you soon. She calls this shade Mountain Pansier, which is a perfectly fitting name for the speckles of purple, green, and yellow in this wool.

It’s just so springy and bright that it makes my heart bleat like a little wooly sheep! My swatch dried with so much loft that I almost couldn’t believe it. I am itching to cast on this project…hopefully this week.

More crossed fingers.

In other earth shattering knitting updates, I FINALLY finished the pom pom for Reed’s hat (eh hem, Super Mom!), successfully completed by first proper provisional cast on, and finished my third cowl of the year.

Of course I am behind on pattern writing, photography, and posting.

Soon enough.

It’s been a very wet winter out here in Northern California, and I can’t imagine the upcoming spring will be much drier. All the same, I’ve already noticed the days are getting incrementally longer, even if the skies are drab grey.

At least they aren’t pitch black.

On the coast, trees are flowering. Hyacinths are blooming and tulips are swelling.

(I’ll be complaining about my pollen allergies before you know it!)

I know we’ve turned the corner on the dark days.

Even though it just might snow tonight and I apparently have a new unspoken policy about not going outside if it is cold out.

I simply won’t do it.

I will, however, endure. And knit.

I just can’t help myself otherwise.

Solution to Too Many Scraps: A Leftovers Cowl

In our house, I am the primary consumer of leftovers.

I attribute this to at least an extra ten pounds of, well, squish.

Reed won’t even LOOK at leftovers in the fridge. The thought of eating something two days in a row is unfathomable to him, lest it be cookies or cake.

This leaves me with two options: eat it myself or share it with the chickens.

It kills me to see all my hard work in the kitchen and expensive organic groceries/home grown veggies go to waste, so I of course eat the leftovers myself.

Being a mom is hard work.

Leftovers aside, I have spent the past three days subsisting solely on Kozy Shack* chocolate pudding in a bowl with a banana. Usually I do the chocolate-berry combo, but I am still on a banana kick after Panama (where the bananas actually taste like bananas and not cardboard) and thus am pretending the imported bananas taste better than they actually do. The chocolate helps.

Would it be so bad if I fed Reed chocolate pudding and bananas for dinner every night too?  This would save me so much cooking time!

Hmmm.

You wouldn’t judge me, would you?

When it comes to yarn, I realized I suffer from the same overwhelming urge to Use It All Up.

And thus arrived the day when I realized my stash had three skeins of new yarn alongside three baskets of leftovers.

It was a little disproportionate.**

(Also disproportionate: my exercise time to knitting time ratio.)

On the bright side, I’ve done a reasonable job keeping the scraps organized and labeled, like with like. (Extra chocolate pudding as a reward for me!)

I gathered up my large Ziploc of Madelinetosh Pashmina worsted, collected from a handful of projects over the past couple of years, and decided to knit a cowl.

I never would have actually bought these colors to knit into the same project. I’m no color mastermind, but I don’t think they coordinate particularly well and better choices surely could be made for a colorwork project.

You know what I thought to myself?

Good enough!

Good enough it was! I just started knitting and making stripes! Easy peasy. I wish I would have transitioned the first big blue chunk differently into the first big rosey red chunk, but my vision adjusted as I knit.

Here’s the thing: I love this cowl. It is so stinking soft and snuggly and knit from one of my all-time favorite yarns. Who doesn’t need a wool-silk-cashmere blend cozied up around their neck?

I mean, seriously!

I have been wearing this cowl day in and day out. I even wear it when I do house work or the dishes (which is like 85% of my life).

Other project pluses:

— I finally learned how to knit stripes in the round.

— I switched up cowl shapes…usually I knit thin and long cowls, so they can be looped and twice. This time I went with the narrow and tall shape, which I almost prefer.

— It didn’t cost me (an additional) penny!

And….it used up all of my scraps! One bag down. Another half dozen or so to go!

 

*Have you tried this stuff?!?! The container boasts it is gluten free and kosher, two important qualities in any dessert. (Wink of sarcasm…)

**Scrap yarn blankets have absolutely NO appeal to me. ‘Nough said.

Dispatch: Panama

Of all the joys that come with vacationing somewhere warm in the dead of winter, my favorite was spending so many consecutive days uninterrupted with Reed. No work for mom. No school for him. No just as soon as I finish the dishes. Or, yep, after as I switch the laundry…let me feed the chickens first…heavens, have you seen the state of our TOILET?!?!

Nope.

It was just Reed every day, all day.

Which was mostly amazing.

I wish there was a job where I could travel around the world and knit. With Reed, of course. Although I don’t think he’d like that job quite as much. I could tell two weeks away from home was a bit much for him. He was ready to head back to the dreary north long before I was.

There are few things I enjoy more than traveling with my knitting.

I packed three projects and finished nothing.

I did knit a bit almost every day, but not like I would have if I were at home, staying up late binging on TV while everyone else slept. Our schedule was different than it normally is at home, and we were all crammed into a single hotel room the entire trip. No late nights alone for mom.

I guess I exchanged yarn fumes for sun fumes.

And a few cocktail fumes. But nothing too boozy as to cause errors in my stitch count.

Reed had so many firsts. First time on a horse. First time jumping in waves. First time riding a boogie board. First time snorkeling. First big boat ride. First time out of the country.

He was one lucky kid-o!I loved all the sunsets and sunrises and tried to catch them all. I had hoped to see more monkeys but was only lucky enough to see two. I guess Costa Rica has Panama beat on the monkey front.

It was so amazing being WARM all the time. My fingers felt great! I am destined to live somewhere tropical. If only they can get rid of all those horrid tropical diseases first…
I was struck by how undeveloped so much of Panama is, at least the parts I saw. There are so many miles and miles of, well, not much. Just Panama. Fields with cows. Beach towns waiting to boom. Waves.

And lots of sea shells. Reed and I collected our fair share.
I will admit it’s nice to be home. As much as I delighted in two plus weeks of not cooking a SINGLE meal (rejoice!), eating at restaurants got old. Since I’ve been home, it’s been such a blur of long work days that I STILL haven’t cooked anything (except pancakes and such for Reed), but I know it will happen soon.

Also happening: ten loads of laundry. Sheesh!

Yes, I still have my knitting projects to finish (you probably already got bored of seeing them over and over again on Instagram while I was gone…), but I know they too will get their turn. Soon, I hope.

Dispatch: Daien @ Beloved Yarn

Given I am currently preoccupied with my own little vacation in paradise, and FURTHER GIVEN this is the Year of the Indie Dyer, I have brought you a guest post from a knitter, dyer, and fiber artist after my own heart. Daien dyes her Beloved Yarn in –wait for it– Hawaii! She already knows I am moving in. I have espoused  previously in this space my not-so-secret desire to move to Hawaii and open a yarn shop. (When I casually mentioned this idea to the purveyor at my own little yarn shop, she gave me one of those YOU ARE CRAZY looks…)  I am glad (jealous!) Daien has found a way to make yarn and Hawaii work! Her yarn is thoughtfully crafted, and I am proud to be able to share her story with you in this space. Enjoy!

This passionate, all consuming, devoted obsession I have with knitting and yarn, when did it start? I recall a fascination with twigs and leaves that began in childhood, coupled with a curiosity that led me to explore the far reaches of gardens and fields, as well as the dusty cobwebbed corners of attics and basements, always looking for, and usually finding, unexpected treasures. Then one day I discovered an unfinished pair of argyle socks hidden in a box found tucked away in my grandparent’s garage. I remember running into the house to find my grandmother, and asking her if I could keep them. She let me have the entire box, with all it’s contents, and I felt as if I’d been given the Crown Jewels. From that moment on I was completely and utterly enchanted with knitting. The thin bone needles and gossamer yarn appeared as magical allies, inspiring a love of the craft that has deepened into amazing realms over the years, present today as a deceptively deep and completely encompassing meditative endeavor.

An avid reader as a girl, my young mind fell in love with traditional practices; shepherding, woolgathering, spinning, dyeing, weaving, and knitting. It become apparent that there was a time when learning a craft or art was as easy as asking a grandmother or grandfather, or someone nearby, to ‘teach us how.’ In many parts of the world this still happens; time honored traditions are lovingly passed down father to son, mother to daughter, so on and so forth. Although she didn’t knit, my own grandmother was an extraordinary seamstress, and taught me how to sew on an old black Singer sewing machine. I can still see her hands helping mine guide the fabric under the presser foot, as I learned how different weights of fabric called for different weights of thread, and sometimes even different needles. Over the years, under her loving and patient tutelage, this translated into being able to discern the proper tools for different tasks, even those that seemingly had nothing to do with fabric and fiber. She wove life lessons into her sewing instructions, and through her gentle kindness she helped to soften my fiery nature.

 Later, as I pursued a university education, I fell back on my love of knitting to fund my way through school, working in a knitting and needlepoint shop selling yarns and fibers, designing sweaters, and teaching weekly knitting classes. It never occurred to me to take this up as my primary occupation until years later. After raising children, I had a brief opportunity to raise two sheep, a mother and daughter, delighting in their comic adventures. The raw wool they provided led to learning how to clean and card from the members of a local hand weaver’s guild, where I also fulfilled a long held desire to learn how to spin yarn on both a spindle and spinning wheel. Using some beautiful purchased wool and silk, I spun a gossamer lace yarn, dyed it to match mosses and ferns growing in the back yard, then knit it into Carol Feller’s Trousseau shawl for a beloved friend in England. From start to finish, a childhood dream come true!

Today, when I take a moment to contemplate the magical role of thread and yarn, it becomes apparent that even though we no longer need to engage in the traditional crafts of our great grandmothers and grandfathers, doing so can provide us with many surprising benefits. When I pick up an antique bone crochet hook, or a pair of highly polished stainless steel knitting needles, start my wheel spinning, or warp a loom, there is an immediate connection with another craftsman. Pick up a skein of natural fiber yarn and we’re looped into the land. Cotton and linen root us to bountiful plants. Wool, alpaca, cashmere, angora and camel connect us to animals who are loved and cared for, who walk the land under a vast sky, providing us with rich and beautiful fibers to clothe and warm our bodies. For me, all of this serves to slow my mind and bring me into the present moment, as I find knitting, weaving, spinning and crocheting to innately be deeply meditative endeavors.

 Over the years I’ve taught many a person to knit, and have always loved the connections made, the joy experienced, and the outstanding hand-made items produced. But there is more that goes on than meets the eye, and for me that is where the real magic happens. As with all ancient arts, these traditions and skills have a silent language, power, and potency that are mystically veiled, and only revealed through years of practice. As they should be. Many initiated knitters, crocheters, weavers and spinners know whereof I speak. But in the everyday world, these things aren’t spoken of; they’re revealed slowly over time, and through experience, until they’ve been woven into our skin and bones, and are simply known.

This is most visible to me when I’m working on a project and then suddenly realize that something is wrong. The stitch count is off, or it’s obvious that even though I thought I was paying attention to the  pattern, it’s equally obvious that I must have been off with the faeries. Knitting in hand, there is the opportunity to gaze at the past by examining the stitches, to see motion and intention made visible by the trail of yarn locked into interwoven loops and whorls. Then, doing what isn’t possible in the everyday world, I can undo the past, destroy and uncreate my mistake, and rework it up to perfection. I often think that this corresponds to some area of my life, some karmic pattern or habit that I’ve been able to absolve through my love and practice of knitting. Needles and yarn drop me into a place of mystery, allow me to tap into the amazing world of shared ancestral wisdom and joy, accessing that which in reality cannot be taught, only willingly caught.

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