Archive for 2006

coming clean

Friday, December 29th, 2006

i am lucky enough to have a wonderful workroom in my house, equipped for all my fiber activities.

which i haven’t used much for the last couple of months. why??

because it has looked like this, pretty much since i got back from rhinebeck.

so messy, i could hardly stand to walk in there without tripping (ok, well, yeah, i AM a klutz, totally, clutter or not—but still). it’s not a huge room, and there is a lot of equipment in there, so any messiness feels like a lot. it’s hard for me to work if i have to step over things, or if it feels like the walls are closing in on me. when my spinning wheel must be squeezed into a small leftover circle in the middle,

i find it distracting to spin, feeling as if i should be cleaning instead. especially with this staring me in the face—this is all the fiber that has migrated to my studio during 2006

now, most of this was not purchased by me, but “inherited” one way or another. i was intent this year on NOT buying much fiber, and truly, i did not get much in terms of volume. i went for small amounts of higher-end things that i had not spun before, like beatifully dyed silk, some luxury blends, and some exotic fibers. that, obviously, did not deter the enablers around me, and i seem to have ended the year with waaay more than i could spin up before year’s end.

oh, and then there is my desk (my temporary desk until the other one is ready to be installed).

i have a terrible persistent book habit which i can’t help but feed regularly, especially if there are books available about knitting history, or ethnic knitting styles—i’m a total freak for that stuff. and, after a few years of being on austerity budget (the house is sucking up a lot of our dollar resources), i found this year that i had a little extra money to invest in my library.

but even i know that piling books on every horizontal surface in tall stacks does not a “library” make.
and my big work table, of which i am so enamored (i feel this is pure luxury, in terms of finally having enough space to accommodate it)—littered with crap (not the carder, of course)

all this and the fact that there has been yarn scattered ALL over the place for months now, and so many projects in progress that it makes my head spin just to try and count them.
ugh.

how do things get so out of control like this? i am not by nature a messy person—i like neatness and order, and have always felt that, especially in my work areas, order leads to efficiency. there is nothing so pleasing while i am deeply focused on making something, than to put out my hand blindly and have it land right on the scissor i want, or the oil bottle, or the darning needle.

i do not want to grab onto a pile of dusty yarns scraps at that moment, nor feel the crunch of discarded yarn labels, or lay onto an empty packet of DPNs, when what i want is a full one. and i am not SO strict—i do believe that a little bit of creative disorder is simply a side effect of productive activity, and i can live with that.

but deep down, i fear the urge to let go completely and revert to some feral state where wool, books, projects, and knitting ephemera (among other things in this house) pile up and up, creating an ever-taller cage that eventually i will not be able to negotiate, and i will be like one of those people they find dead, having been crushed by a falling pile of stuff in their own home. (yes, i see that this may be an exaggerated, anxious, fear that is pretty much unfounded—but it feels, nevertheless, like it is nipping at my heels).

the other deep fear that i have is the fear of Just Too Much. i have always have trouble knowing when enough is enough. i have vascillated widely between being very poor and being quite comfortable, and then back again, between having no space and then lots, between having no choice, and having too many. i want to support small business, specialty producers, and great book publishers. but in that, i can sometimes end up with Just Too Much. having too much—thatis, more than i can use in a reasonable amount of time—is a terrible side effect of a higher standard of living, when there are so many people that have not enough.

the upshot of all this whining is that i find i need to clean up, take stock, and set some rules for the coming year (oh let’s face it, i should set rules of restriction for the next 5 years, but it’s all about baby steps right?).

so, yesterday i got to work on cleanup. and now my room at least is one that i want to go into

surfaces have been cleared of junk (though, as you can see, the book storage is still a dilemma for
the moment).

yarn has all been put away, and miraculously still fits inside the closet.
(now i am going to show you the yarn closet and i don’t want to hear ONE peep about it—you can rag on me for my yarn stash all you want, but remember—42 YEARS—this is not the result of a mere few years of stashing; this is a lifetime of it.)

it feels great to be able to breathe in that room again. there is a lot more to do in there—i have to figure out what to do with the fiber still. for one thing i need some more boxes. i insist now on clear boxes for fiber and yarn storage—no more having boxes which i can’t see into.

as i worked yesterday i thought about the rules i wanted to try to follow for the coming year:

  • i will Knit From MY Stash this year—i’d like to at least get it down to last year’s level. i used a LOT of my stash this year, but i also replaced that yarn with other things. i can support the small producers i know and love by showing off completed projects made with their yarn that is already in my stash.
  • i will MOST DEFINITELY spin from my stash this year as well—before it eats me alive. there is just WAY too much fiber for one person to have at once in this house. i have definite plans to go back to rhinebeck in the fall, where i may indulge again in small amounts of things, but no fleeces, and no purchases of quantity.
  • i will purposefully avoid all SALES. sales can be a downfall for me, even though i rarely get something i REALLY wanted before is saw it on sale. this must stop; it is useless and wasteful.
  • ditto for swapping and helping friends de-stash. i have to be careful about taking what’s offered to me; sometimes i take things because i can’t bear to think that they might be thrown out otherwise (and who actually “throws out” yarn or fiber??). this goal is more liquid, however, as i do have friends with whom i engage in a healthy kind of swapping or give-and-take. i will promise myself to be a lot more careful.
  • i will temper my book buying a bit, but probably not that much. i can most certainly do without buying designer sweater books. i bought few this year after a long hiatus, and i have to say, i don’t use them enough. i rarely knit from books—i prefer volumes about history, design, and pattern. and, my experience tells me that i should buy those books when they are available, because they are often published in small runs that are not repeated. go back “later” to buy them and they are gone, only to be found on ebay for double the price.
  • and lastly, i do not need more needles. i bought a bunch this year, mostly to try, but i still migrate to my favorites—addi circs and inox DPNs for regular wool yarns, ebony and rosewoods for lace yarns—and i have plenty of those in all sizes i think.

so that’s the plan. i’ve done it before, and i can do it again. i figure that these will be a few of the benefits of my plan—it wouldn’t be a good plan if i did not see benefits and/or payoffs.

  • i can give more to special, worthy causes that truly help others. these organizations often make my dollars stretch wa-a-ay further than a mere ball of yarn.
  • spending isn’t a big problem of mine, but if i spend less, there will be more resources for working on other pursuits—like our dreams (and our retirement).
    our jobs make a lot more sense when we feel like they are enabling us to work toward personal goals as well as furthering our employers’ goals, and not just meeting expenses.
  • i could take classes—i would love that! some of the festivals are great opportunities to get knowledge from people who i would not otherwise have access to in ohio.
  • i’ll have more time to focus on what i’m doing, too. without the distraction of looking at new products, deciding what to buy, and then shopping for it—not to mention how new baubles distract me from what i intended to work on—i can knit and spin more with what i have.
  • space.
    we moved from a city apartment to a house in order to have more space, not more junk. in my heart, i revel in a room that is mostly empy, with light pouring into unobstructed windows, diving under furniture, and over polished wood and rich wool fabrics. see any room in that picture for clutter and junk? heh. me neither.

i feel pretty good about these goals, but over the remaining days of 2006, i may add to them or modify slightly—i’m not sure i covered everything. oh yeah—i didn’t. i haven’t dragged out all the WIPs and sorted them yet. that will have to be tomorrow’s “coming clean” post . . .

there is knitting too, though it is mostly more clogs. i seem to be in a clog time warp. it just seems efficient to get all the clogs i want to make out of the way while i’m on a roll, and you know i never do anything in a small way. so i’m making myself a few pair and some for david and the house (we keep a basket of them by the door for guests, who are always so great about taking their shoes off at the door, even though we don’t ask it. for that, they get nice cushy clogs to wear . . .). and trust me, i am working completely from my stash on every pair. scout’s honor.

these are handspun alpaca. the fiber was ultra soft and poofy, but had a lot of junk in it. so i spun it up bulky with an eye for wearing it on my feet, and then hand-dyed it, though obviously not evenly . . . i made one pair a couple of years ago with it and they are toasty indeed, but worn-out now. so these are the replacements.

and, though i don’t deserve a reward just for straightening up my house, having this arrive in the mail today makes me feel like i’m getting some positive reinforcement.

believe me, my mouth is watering—can’t wait to dig into it.
so, when knitters DO take over the owrld, will we get these books on CD d’ya think? can’t you just imagine it—knitting or spinning and having someone tell you the story of hap shawls, in depth . . .

about that desk

Wednesday, December 27th, 2006

yes, it’s really wonderful! it sat in my parents attic all my life, sort of igored and abused. after my father died, and my mom was moving, she asked me if i wanted it. then she told me my great (or great-great) uncle had made it by hand and willed it to MY dad when he died. well, of course then i scooped it up, despite its sorry shape. it has pieces missing and the finish was darkened to the point where you couldn’t see the wood. plus, my brothers had used it to paint models for years and years—a disaster!

i can’t WAIT to show it to my mom now! i just need for david to finish the top half so as to really stun her with it. once we got a closer look, we realized that it is made out of a wide variety of woods (apparently my great uncle was a woodworker by trade—it looks like he used some much-loved leftovers in it, the way a quilter might do with a variety of precious fabrics).

and we decided on a rubbed wax finish—we’ve used it elsewhere in the house, such as the dyn-o-mite ceiling in our office (i get to look at this every day as much as i want!)

did i mention that david is a house artist? he is.
we worked on the design of this together, but he masterminded the planning and installation.
it is made completely out of 1/4-inch birch-face plywood, attached at three varying heights, and is finished with three different shades of wax. the cool lighting is a grouping of home depot’s cheapest fixtures, but they are nice, heavy glass.

we also used the wax finsh on some furniture he made for the TV room (i giggle every time i think about us having an actual “TV room”, especially when i remember living in a 500-sq-ft commercial space that doubled as my working studio—the bathroom was the hallway to the front door; the “bedroom” was a loft bed). this room adjoins our bedroom and it’s where we go to relax late at night; we are extreme night owls, we never get up there til at least midnight, but we do use it all the time.

anyway, it’s one of the few rooms in the house that is done, so it’s a sort of haven to us.
(for anyone who is new here, we are involved in the never-ending renovation of an 90-year-old dump money pit home).
david made this incredible bank of cabinets for the room, to give us some much-needed storage space (since our bedroom has 5 doors, a window and a fireplace, there is little room for even a bed, much less dressers).

sorry about the weirdly grainy photo—it’s nighttime here. these wrap around two walls of the room and store a LOT of stuff. he also transformed these thrift-store chairs from awful to awesome

i picked these up for about $25 and they were covered with a sticky, dirty finish. some upholstery shampoo, a light sanding, and some wax made them glow.

and soon, that thin, nasty, scratchy rug we have in the room will be history. while i was at rhinebeck, i had a talk with donna foley of Four Directions Weaving. i had seen her rugs before, woven with Lincoln long locks, and loved them. and now we have ordered one—i am SO excited. i got a sample in the mail from her yesterday of the fleece she has chosen, based on my description of the room

there will be a lot more of the dark brown in the finished rug—isn’t it rich? and trust me, it’s soft as well. those colors are gonna look great with the wood and the fabric in the drapes, which we found in a vintage fabric shop in philly a couple of years back

it’s hand silk-screened and it’s gorgeous. we took all they had, and though i would have like to make one more panel for those windows, we are thrilled with what we got (oh yeah, i sew too, but these days, only for the house . . .).

and, in case you were wondering, there is a little kitting. i finally settled in to making some much-needed clogs for myself.

i’m going to make a couple of pairs actually, in case one felts funny (hey, it happens . . .), and also becasue i wear them almost exclusively in winter. i’m knitting with some chunky weight wool that i bought from the zeilinger’s booth at wooster. sometimes this yarn felts great, and sometimes not—we’ll see. why i choose this project to live on the edge is beyond me . .

i lolled

Tuesday, December 26th, 2006

oh, it was a nice holiday around here.
i was so relaxed i forgot myself, and didn’t blog, and didn’t cook—we decided that a soup meal would be a great follow-up to the feasting of sunday night, even though we had planned for baked ziti. keeping it spare seemed to do the christmas eve feast better justice. so we pulled some ribollita (bean soup with greens and bread) from the freezer and didn’t stress.

but wow, i canNOT have so much time to myself and nothing to do . . .
by 4 pm i was pacing. i should have cooked for today, but i didn’t think of it. instead i worked (and reworked) most of the day on this

it’s not my favorite, but my niece will love it. it will appeal to her liberace streak . . . and i have a felted hat i made last year that will go with it.

i worked on the black mitts, too and got those pretty far along

they seem a little big (meaning, they fit me great), but i think they’ll be fine. and i finished the london beanie. this one stumped me. i did it the way the pattern read, but it was really bunchy on top, like a tomato.

there were so many decreases at the end. it looked funny, both on and off, and it didn’t look as long as the one in the picture, either. it was too late at night to call debbie to see if i had made a mistake.

so i just ripped it out at the top and put a plain knit round in between the decrease rounds, but i’m still not sure if it’s right . . .
however i DO like it a lot, and i might make one for me—it’s just a plain old hat, but it’s nice and small. and since i have the tiniest adult head on earth (20.5″), it’s been hard to find a hat pattern that fits. even this one will need to be shortened.

i’m just a pinhead.

so, anyway, then there was gift opening to be done, which i had looked forward to ever since that enormous (and heavy) box appeared under the tree on the 23rd. david got his gift a while back since i had to order it way ahead—a subscription for an italian cycling magazine. now, i know david would never buy me an appliance as a gift, and honestly there wasn’t anything i’d requested, so it was a big mystery, and finally last evening i got to open the mystery box

the national geographic is from may, 1988. i don’t know how he unearthed it, but i love it. check out that guy’s outfit! can you imagine someone strolling into starbuck’s with that on? i always have to chuckle a little at the costumes you see on the street from year to year, when people are trying to be “different” in a new way—the real innovations in dress are nothing to do with that . . .

and then there is that BIG book—did you notice it? quite honestly, i didn’t know they made book this big (when i expressed this, david said simply, “well, it’s a special book”—he’s nothing if not understated). i put a dime on it for scale—see it there, up near andy’s head? and it weighs—i kid you not—well over 12 pounds. i don’t know exactly how much because my trustly kitchen scale only goes up to twelve. it’s a lotta book.

i have a huge collection of art books, which i love to lay around looking at whenever i can, or use for research on just about any question i can think of. right now they are all in boxes waiting for our third floor to be done, so we can have a library up there. this will be a star addition—i love it, and previously did not have a really comprehensive book about andy warhol. this one has a lot of photos that were featured in a recent, 3-part documentary we saw on PBS about him.

and then, see that funny contraption behind the magazine? that is a yarn meter that david made for me—whoop! i always sorta wanted one, but also thought it might be excessive to purchase a tool like that. i love it that he made me one . . .

my mom sent me some money, which i used to purchase another book. i have been trying for a while to find more information on hap shawls, but it’s scarce. then the other day, Knitterguy talked about a brand-new book on just this subject—Shetland Hap Shawls ~ Then & Now by sharon miller—JUST what i was looking for, a complete coverage of the topic. i ran right over there (er, as much as one can do virtually) and ordered a copy.

david also began refinishing my father’s massive secretary desk, which will eventually go into my work room and provide some sorely-needed additional shelf-and-storage space. it has a whole other half that goes on top—about 4 feet high, with shelves and glass doors. it was built by my father’s uncle and passed to him, and then to me. this is the bottom half, sanded down.

we are trying to decide if it should be stained (the wood is quite dark, and was previously stained almost-black), or get a painted finish, something scandinavian and creamy-light, with a little gray rubbed into the seams. i’m afraid if it is stained it will overwhelm almost any room by looking dark and forbidding, the way it did in our house growing up. maybe if it’s lighter it will be friendlier?

but then, we are both such suckers for old wood, and there are those burlwood panels on the
doors . . . what to do, what to do??

feast of fishes

Sunday, December 24th, 2006

well, finally, it’s christmas eve—my favorite day of the year, in terms of food. i love thanksgiving, but not for the food. for me, this is the best food holiday.

all that knitting i’ve been doing?
just something to do while i wait for this night to arrive. i used the time well, thinking about what i’d make while i knit away, planning how i’d fix this or that, and what i should do when so as to have the meal done AND enjoy our guests.

i got up early (but not too) and did a few things around the house to finally get the holiday in gear. i dunno why, but for me, christmas week is the real kickoff of the season, and starting too early doesn’t do it justice. preferably, the tree goes up on the 23rd, but since we now have an artificial tree, it has been up for longer. david surprised me one night by putting it up while i was at class. as i rode my bike down the last hill, i could see our lights and our tree winking in the windows—that was really cool. i’m such a kid.

but then, it never got decorated.
yeah, i just couldn’t get into it. so today i opened the boxes of ornaments and got going.
i trimmed the tree

and got the toys arranged around the bottom

i love these guys! all the characters from “rudolph”, my favorite christmas show growing up.
there’s a big package under the tree with my name on it—i can’t WAIT to see what’s inside, but since i love surprises, i will wait til christmas morning to find out . . .

the stockings got hung

these are socks i knit way back in the 90s, for the book knitting in america. they were designed by nancy bush, and illustrated how different a color pattern could look when worked with the same colors switched around. they didn’t make it into the book, but another pair i knit from the same pattern did.

i cleared the coffee table of all the knitting muck

my knitting was calling, but i was good.
anyway, there was tons more to do before evening.

Christmas Eve was traditionally a day of “fasting” for catholics. but of course, the words italian and fasting, really do not belong together in any sentence. and those wonderful italians, well, they found a way around that rule.

and oh, what a workaround it is!
all my life, my family celebrated this night with feasting. the feast of the seven fishes is our christmas eve tradition, along with millions of oither italians, and italian-americans.

actually, i found this article in the pittsburgh post-gazette that explains the christmas eve feast perfectly—it pretty much tells it verbatim the way my mother would explain it.

Italy celebrates Christmas Eve with the Feast of the Seven Fishes, a meatless meal honoring the wait, La Vigilia de Natale, leading up to the midnight birth of the baby Jesus. Meatless it is, but joyless it isn’t.

Centuries have refined this triumphal but homey cavalcade of seafood dishes that draws on the bounty of the Boot’s long coastline and fuels a boisterous party over many hours among family and friends. The seven fishes used in the celebration are popularly thought to reflect the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church, or some say that it symbolizes the seven days it took our lord to create the world.

The components are age-old. Choose any seven: anchovies and sardines, dried salt cod and eels, squid and octopus, shrimp, mussels, oysters and clams. And there are plenty of pasta and vegetable dishes, finishing always with the family’s signature sweets and, until recently, a walk to midnight Mass.

The buildup to this holiday is year-long, and the offerings at this meal often include components the family has produced through the year from the garden, the dairy, and the oven. It is a meal that is anticipated with relish all the year through as a reward for hard work and good living.

i find it fascinating, comforting, and a source of joy that people all over the world, who are somehow linked to italy in some way, are gathering pretty much the same way on this one night.

every year i cook some kind of meal for christmas eve that is tied to my family history. in NYC, we would have a gathering of friends and offer the ritual dinner to them. or, i would head home to be with my family.

for the past few years, being somewhat new to this area, david and i celebrated alone. but this year, we are having friends in once again who have not been party to this meal before.

i started friday afternoon with a trip to the italian grocery to pick up a list of ingredients. when i got home, i set the bacala (salt-dried codfish) to soak.

yesterday, i made the calamari sauce

and the pan-fried smelts

and pulled some stuffed peppers out from the freezer that i’d earmarked for this dinner

i did fit in a little knitting last night. i started a london beanie for my 14-year-old nephew

in mission falls 1840 wool, which is a long-time favorite yarn—mmm.
and worked on another black mitt

for this pair i stuck with the ribbed cuff—i decided that it was a good choice, and since i had one whole mitt done this way, less ripping and re-knitting for me.

then, this afternoon i did the finishing-up for the dinner party. the antipasti are prepared and marinating; the flavors should be extraordinary by dinnertime.

the bacala is waiting on the back porch (my second fridge in winter) ready to go into the oven

all that’s left is for our guests to arrive. then we’ll break bread, boil pasta, and raise a glass.
tutti a tavalo a mangare—salut!