Monday, December 28, 2009

Sheep Shearing and Sonatas

I recently came across this story on the sheep shearing course at New Mexico State University:

In addition to being a pretty cool video for fiber enthusiasts, it brought a childhood memory rushing vividly back.  Now, I'm pretty much a city mouse at this point in my life, but this was not always true.  My family moved around quite a bit when I was a child, and when I was seven we landed in the great, and exceedingly beautiful, state of Vermont for a period of about three years. 

My parents are from very urban areas in northern New Jersey, but they always found a way to plant their little family (Mom, Dad, and two kids) in places very different from their home cities of Newark and East Orange.  I actually never lived in a proper city until I moved to Philadelphia just before starting college.  Even in New York where I went to high school, my family had lived on a dirt road.

When we first arrived in Vermont our house was still being built, so we holed up for a time in a ski resort.  I can still feel my mother's anxiety as she tried to maneuver up and down the mountain (with a 7- and 9-year-old in tow) during our first New England winter.  But we had all come to appreciate each move as a new adventure.  We finally got set up in our new house in the tiny (even by Vermont standards) town of Underhill at the base of the mighty Mt. Mansfield.  It was there that my brother and I first strapped on cross-country skis - a gift from Santa, I believe - and skiied around our snowy, moonlit yard that first Christmas Eve.  In Vemont I learned to ride the neighbors horses, drive a snow mobile, tap a maple tree, alpine ski,  to make granola.  There were snow ball fights, cow patty fights (you don't want to know), snow forts, milk straight from the cow . . . yeah, a real Vermont life.

It was also in Vermont that I learned to play piano.  I can't say why, but when I was about six I started asking my mother for piano lessons.  Mind you, we didn't have a piano.  Needless to say, Mom was a little reluctant.  Even the cheapest of pianos is not cheap.  But I was persistent.  So, after a couple of years of begging, Mom, who loved her kids way too much, took a job to get her daughter a piano.  I was ecstatic.  And a little wary.  Afterall, Mom, who loved her kids way too much, told me that the day I decided to quit playing this hard-earned instrument was the day she would break all of my little fingers.

So, when I was about nine, the lessons started.  My brother (two years my senior) also started taking lessons, but later switched to the trumpet.  I can't remember the name of my first piano teacher.  But I do remember that she was very kind and patient.  She baked delicious treats from scratch.  She lived in a beautiful, rustic-modern Vermont house.  And she raised sheep on the acres of beautiful land surrounding that beautiful house.

To get to my piano teacher's house, I would take the yellow school bus directly from my tiny elementary school, and Mom would pick me up afterward.  One lesson day, I got off the bus at the piano teacher's house only to learn that there would be no piano lesson that day.  That lesson happened to fall on sheep shearing day.  And, on a sheep farm, shearing takes precedence over tinkling ivories.  That was the first time I had seen a sheep (actually a whole bunch of sheep) being shorn.  I remember petting the sheep who seemed fairly calm, but a little annoyed by the whole process.  I remember sticking my hands in the oily, fresh-shorn wool.  I remember thinking all of this was pretty cool.  But not so out of the ordinary.  Afterall, I was a country kid.  My closest friend was the daughter of a dairy farmer. 

But, as I look back, I am able to appreciate what a special time those years spent in Vermont were.  It was there that I gained a love of nature born from intimate, daily contact.  Snow.  More snow.  Spring rain.  Firy autumn leaves.  Crystal clear creeks.  Murky ponds.  Elegant white birch trees.  All manner of woodland creatures.  Fresh garden vegetables.  Pure maple syrup.  Fiddle-head ferns.  Beautiful things taken for granted.  Finally special to me after so many years of city living. 

Now, how to get back . . .

Saturday, December 19, 2009

It's Just A Little Snow

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Don't Quit Your Day Job?

Interesting article in the NYT about using Etsy to make a living off your hand-crafted stuff:

"Fashion & Style

HOOKED ON DESIGN Yokoo Gibran, in her Oatmeal Soopascarf, started a business on Etsy.

That Hobby Looks Like a Lot of Work


Published: December 17, 2009

These days, the fantasy of building a career on Etsy, an eBay of the do-it-yourself movement, is not just the stuff of dreams."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

First Deadly Sin

Let me first say that I'm still kicking myself for not getting any photos of the season's first snow in the Nation's capital last week.  I grew up in the great Northeast, so I have a profound appreciation for the white stuff.  I always find the first snow to be really exciting - especially here, where we don't get that much of it.  Don't know what it is, but there's just nothing like it.
Okay, enough of that.

I think I'm in danger of heading off to Hell.  If, in fact, my pride will send me there.

When I look at the things I make - knitted, handspun, baked - I beam inside (and out, my friends would probably freely tell you) with pride.  When I first started spinning I would show each tiny "skein" of yarn that I spun to my friend and say, "Look!  Can you believe I made this?"  I would then expect praise that some might consider to be all out of proportion to the accomplishment.  At some point my friend asked me, "Are we going to have to rejoice every time you make a skein of yarn?"  My response, of course, was "Yes."  And why wouldn't we?!  This spinning thing was huge!  I sensed a whole world opening up. 

I have to admit that I'm still really proud of the first thing I knitted from my own handspun yarn.  The yarn was a merino single spun on my first drop spindle.  And the neckwarmer was an improvised knit.

Handspun Neckwarmer

I've been accused more than once of getting too excited about the little things.  I'm too amused by the things my kitties do every day.  I love my own food waaay too much.  The first snow of the season literally makes me want to dance in the street.  A co-worker's joy at having finally, at around the age of 50, decided that it is okay not to chemically straighten her hair nearly brought me to tears.  "I just feel so free!" she told me.  How could I not be moved? 

I may use the phrase "How freakin' cool is that?" a little more often than other people "d'un certain age."  I even appreciate when other people get excited about stuff.  Last week on the season finale of the awesome reality show "The Amazing Race" (which I get excited about each and every Sunday evening), one of the winners described the experience of racing around the world with her boyfriend in the pursuit of adventure, bragging rights, and a million dollars, as "neat."  She might have said "really neat."  I don't recall exactly.  The point is I just loved that she used that word.  It seems a small thing, but I see "neat" as a word whose power lies in it's innocuousness and simplicity.  I mean, really, who uses that word to describe an experience like racing around the world (on television, no less)?  Kids, that's who.  And people who are not afraid to admit that there are still a few new things to see in the world.  "Neat" - It harks back to youth and a simpler time.  Things that are neat are fresh and cool, new and different, fun and wondrous on a simplistic, human scale.

But, please, forgive me for my digressions.  (ahem.)  Pride.

Right now I am so proud that as of yesterday I sold my 16th item in my Etsy shop, I just don't know what to do with myself.  And my friends, knowing me as they do, have been duly complimentary, and rejoiceful (is that even a word?)  Thanks, guys!

I am also ridiculously proud of my first sewing project.  Back in September I bought a really nifty sewing machine as a birthday present to myself.  I was sooo excited!  I was ready to take classes because I was gonna' be makin' quilts, and those simple, flowy, natural, organic, linen-y clothes that they charge way too much for in what I like to call the "erstwhile-hippy-ladies-who-lunch" boutiques.  I was going to make pillows and comforters and skirts, and all kinds of stuff.  As of last week I had not even turned the machine on.  I had, however, watched the dvd that came with it and read the manual pretty much from cover to cover.  I felt that I would certainly be ready to sew, whenever I got ready to sew.

So, finally, I pulled the machine out of the closet, and the box.  I plugged in all the stuff (power, control foot pedal thingy).  I wound a bobbin.  I adjusted my stitch settings.  And I sewed.  On my new machine (that had not been used since I bought it).  And I made something! Something beautiful and tres useful. 

I sewed my first pillow cover.  Yay!!  From a sort of irridescent, lightish-weight, denim-y, cotton fabric (i'm not yet versed in the jargon of this craft, but I carefully hand-selected this fabric).  Without a pattern.  (dang, I'm clever!)  It has an envelope-type opening in the back.  No buttons.  No zippers.  Maybe I will add a strip of velcro to the opening to assist with keeping it shut once the ("20 x "20) pillow is inserted.  But at this point, I'm thinking "no."  The last thing to do with this pillow cover was to hand-stitch a square of handknit fabric - knit from two of my own handspun yarns - to the front. 

Handspun in the Rough
Handspun in the Rough

Oh, I agonized over this. Truth be told, I procrastinated out of fear of messing it up. Sewing - with a machine, or by hand - is new and scary to me.





But I overcame the fear. And now I have a really neat (if I may say so) hand-made pillow cover.


Mesa 4


I am so excited. And proud.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

From the Wheel: Nicholas

First, let me thank my father for my new camera.  My first digital SLR.  Thanks, Dad!

Second, here's the latest offering from my awesome wheel.  Nicolas began as a BFL (my favorite) roving from Miss Babs - creator of beautiful colourways.  I am so excited about this wonderfully soft, 2-ply yarn.  The saturated-but-soft colors inspired the name - they remind me of old-timey Christmases when St. Nicholas was still delivering holiday treasures.





Now, what to make?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Beaded "Woodland"

flyngmunky has created her first handspun beaded yarn!  It's spun from superwash merino and alpaca roving, plied with a natural, organic cotton on which I strung glass, bone, and brass beads.  I love it, but it's the result of a lot of work and a number of false starts.  

This one will NOT be for sale in my Etsy shop.  
I'm just waiting for it to tell me what it wants to be . . .

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Spinner's Creed

This is my wheel.  There are many like it, but this one is mine.

My wheel is my best friend.  It is my life.  I must master it as I master my life.

My wheel, without me, is useless.  Without my wheel, I am useless.

My wheel is human, even as I, because it is my life.  Thus, I will learn it as a sister.  I will learn its weakness, its strength, its parts, its accessories, its treadles and its flyer.

I will keep my wheel clean and ready, even as I am clean and ready.

We will become part of each other. 

adapted from "The Rifleman's Creed"

Monday, December 7, 2009

Aaaah. BFL

Originally uploaded by flyngmunky

I am in love with the little Bluefaced Leicester sheep!  This is, hands down, my favorite fiber to spin.   I have spun a lot of the much-beloved  merino, and I do really like it; don't get me wrong.   But there is something about BFL.

The yarns are so very soft.   I love putting the rovings and the finished against my face just to feel the softness.  And it is extremely easy to spin.   Like butter.  Unless I'm trying to create a thicker yarn, I don't even feel the need to pre-draft the BFL rovings.

So, here's the latest BFL yarn from my wheel - Paradee:


Yum, yum, yum.


Unfortunately (for me, anyway) this one has just been posted in my Etsy shop.   I'll miss you, Paradee!

Not A Proper Post

I know this does not constitute a proper, complete blog post, but I came across this photo of a tiny marmoset on Flickr, and he(?) is just so cute!

Marmoset monkey

And, as you may have guessed, I love monkeys.

Monday, November 30, 2009


I just thought I'd put it out there, now.  At some point in the (possibly near) future there will be some blogging about my kitties (yeah, they're grown.  so?).  There, it's out.

My cats will not be blogging themselves.  And  I will not be dedicating my entire blog to my cats.  Are my kitties blog-worthy?  I don't know.  But, since this is my blog, and I don't have to follow anyone's rules, and I love my kitties, I think it's okay to give them just a post or two.

So, to my two readers: I apologize sincerely in advance.

But don't worry; no kitties today.  Today I'm just sharing my newest tool of the trade, and what I've done with it.  If I haven't mentioned it before, I heart tools.  Screwdrivers, power drills, detail sanders.  I don't know how it came to be, but Home Depot is my favorite store.  The stuff they have there is great.  But all the tools at "the Depot" don't hold a candle to the tools of the fiber trade: knitting needles, crochet hooks, row counters, stitch markers, tape measures that look like sheep, spinning wheels, drop spindles, niddy noddies, skein winders, hand carders, wpi (wraps per inch) tools that look like sheep . . . and all the other tools a fiber lover might need (or not.  really, who are we kidding with some of this stuff?).  I love them all.

So, about my latest acquisition:

Up to this point the bulk of my handspun yarns have been 2-ply with a smattering of singles and Navajo-plied yarns.  I really wanted to be able to make a "regular" 3-ply yarn.  So, I purchased the Ashford Competition tensioned lazy kate. 


My first (and, 'til now, only) lazy kate was the one that came with my spinning wheel.  A simple, but serviceable tool that held two bobbins and had no tensioning.  It was not uncommon early on in my journey of learning to spin that I would get a good ply job going only to find that my yarn was spinning back on an uncontrolled bobbin, or that one single had gotten twisted around the bobbin holding the other. 

Now, I had pretty much learned to control these issues.  But, I was still after the three-ply yarn.  One solution is Navajo-plying (or chain plying).  I think this technique is brilliant, and it can be used to create beautiful yarn from one single.  It is also a wonderful method to use when you want to retain the original color changes of a spun single in the plied yarn.  But I still wanted the capability to do a "regular" 3-ply yarn.

So, I got the new lazy kate in the mail last week and started spinning singles for my first "true" 3-ply yarn.  The Ashford "Competition" is a nice little tool.  It is small with a low profile, but it's very stable - no worries about tipping while plying.  It's also very portable as it is designed to be easily dismantled and reassembled.  And the adjustable tensioning set-up works fantastically.  I'm not quite sure how I got along without this for all this time!


The roving I chose was over 5oz. of 100% BFL (Blue-faced Leicester) hand-dyed by Ceereese1.  I spun up three skinnyish singles, then plied them with wonderful ease from bobbins parked on my new lazy kate.  I think the result - about 300 yds. of DK weight 3-ply yarn - is just beautiful to behold (though my photos kinda' suck), and even more beautiful to hold, and pet, and squish!



This yarn will be posted for sale in my Etsy shop this evening.  (sniff.  sniff.  i'll miss it.)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

I'm not hosting Thanksgiving, but I'm having a super domestic day before heading out to celebrate and stuff myself with the family.  My contribution this year is fantastic (if I may say so) hand-made chocolate chip cookies.

I love these things.  So simple, but sooo delicious.  If only they would come up with internet tasting . . .

This year, I tweaked the recipe a little bit by adding a smidge of fresh grated nutmeg and by using a combination of semi-sweet chocolate and Ghirardelli 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate.  Yu-um!

 I also got the chance to take some photos of my latest offerings from the wheel:
Cobbler (because it reminded me of mixed berry cobbler) is a delicious Navajo-plied BFL yarn spun from a roving dyed by C*EYE*BER Fiber and purchased at my favorite LYS.  I love working with BFL.  It is super easy to spin, and the end product is crazy-soft.

And Summer Squash - another 2-ply BFL yarn spun from a roving painted by and purchased from TheFiberDenn.  I will be (reluctantly) posting this yarn for sale in my Etsy shop.
[UPDATE:  Summer Squash is on its way to its new owner in Australia.  Godspeed, Squash.]

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


I don't remember the last time I cried in the movie theatre - prior to Sunday evening, that is. I finally forced myself to go see the movie Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire, which I was reluctant to see because of the weighty subject matter: the protagonist is a poor, illiterate, obese, black, teenager, who is pregnant - for the second time - by her father.  Yikes.  And damn.  How could this be entertainment?

But films, not movies, are not just about entertainment, are they?  "Precious" is no mere movie.  Following the story of the title character, Claireese Precious Jones (played by newcomer Gabourney Sidibe), made me weep for all the little girls that suffer at the hands of those who are expected to love and protect them.  As I watched, I couldn't help but think of the case of little Shaniya,  who was raped and murdered after her mother sold her to pay off a drug debt.

This film was painful to watch.  As Precious' mother, ironically named Mary (and played by actress/comedian Mo'Nique), explains how she allowed her child to come to this ugly place in the world, I felt sick.  I, at once, hated and pitied this woman who, in her desperation to keep a man, allowed that man to brutalize her child -- and blamed the child for taking her man.  It made me wonder how she came to inhabit her own very ugly place in the world.

As we meet Precious she is clearly hanging on by a very weak thread - an active, and very necessary fantasy life.  It is not until her second pregnancy forces her from her regular public middle school (which she attends though she is 16 years old) into the Each One Teach One "alternative" school that she gets thrown a rope.  Her new teacher, Blue Rain, played by the ridiculously beautiful Paula Patton, sees the beauty and promise in this forgotten child.

"Precious" forces the viewer to consider a host of issues that are laying waste to our youth - poverty, appalling parenting, violence, poor education, neglect, lack of nutrition.  But I think that at its core, this is a film about redemption, and the ability of one person to make a difference in the life of another.  When it comes to love and caring, a little can go a very long way, even in the midst of horrifying circumstances.

This film moved me in a way that none has in a very long time.  The performances are phenomenal, and I will not soon forget them.  I had no idea Mo'Nique had it in her - this lovable funnywoman brought the detestable and pathetic Mary to life.  I saw Mariah Carey (in the role of a tough social worker) as a person for the first time, rather than just a super star.  And Gabbie Sidibe is a revelation.  With some films I want mostly to know what happens.  This film was beautifully shot to create a profound sense of realism (even with the fantasy sequences).  It was difficult and beautiful to look at all at once, and I just wanted to watch it.

On a closing note:  We have come to expect evil from strangers, even against the most innocent and vulnerable members of society.  My hope is that we will ever be surprised and outraged at the evil parents do to their own, Precious children.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Gettin' Busy

Now that the hat, my first project that was started and completed this season, is done, I feel ready to move on to other pursuits.  The hat has gotten me over my inertia and indecision.  So, let's see where we're going.  First, I've started a baby blanket for one of the soon-to-be-born twins of a co-worker.  Okay, they're not due until April, but I want to make sure I give myself plenty of time to get the baby's gifts done.  The blanket I'm working on now is a more traditional log cabin than the moderne I just completed.  And instead of garter stitch, I'm working it in seed stitch.  I'll post pics later.

Second, I'm working on my first reversible cable scarf.  I knit a cable scarf several years ago, and it was my last one until now; I hate scarves that are not reversible.  This one is being knit in some more of my own handspun - a super-soft, squishy, two-ply merino in a chocolate brown so deep I had to name the yarn "Profond" (that's French for "deep").  The Manitou Passage scarf pattern is super simple (right up my alley) and lovely.  (click here to learn about the source of this pattern's name)  Anyhoo, even at just a couple of inches long, I love it already.

Third, I'm gonna' do a bit of spinning.  On Friday, at my favorite LYS's late-into-the-nite, "Friday the 13th" sale, I purchased a really beautiful braid of hand-dyed BFL made by a local (Baltimore) company.  If I'm not mistaken, it's crying out to be skinny and smooth.  Potentially Navajo-plied.  We'll see . . .

Fourth, and finally for now, I purchased a gorgeous skein of hand-painted yarn at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival back in May that I have not turned into anything, yet.  This too is a local product, hand-
dyed by local fiber artist extraordinaire, Janet Stollnitz of Silver Spring Looms.  It's a little less than 500 yds. of sumptuous, mohair and wool (55/45), in gorgeous, saturated colors.


I do feel compelled to finally work some entrelac -- I've experimented with the technique, but have failed to do an actual project.  But this yarn is screaming super-luxe scarf - to be a dramatic accent piece to an all-black ensemble.  Besides, I really don't like the look of entrelac's rear.


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