knitting at the ranch

Posted on Posted in book reviews/events

it really is all that.

you can set up your skein winder on the arm of the bench and crank away while soaking up the vista. then leave it there for several days cuz someone else might enjoy it too. now that’s living.

i hadn’t been to new mexico for a very long time and when lauren baldwin contacted me about the possibility of teaching at a retreat there, i was excited. knitting at the ranch is a relaxed yearly getaway which began four years ago with a small group of knitters local to albuquerque

which has grown now to include knitters from various parts of the USA. this was the first year they invited a teacher to do a workshop for the event and i was thrilled to be asked to do it.

the event takes place at ghost ranch in abiquiu, about two hours north of albuquerque. the spectacular red hills, vast sky, and desert quietude provide the perfect environment for the retreat. lest you get the wrong idea, though, this group event is far from a monk-like experience. these knitters are fun (well, aren’t we all??).

i began my trip west very early thursday morning. kim and i got up well before daybreak to make our flights out of canton (did i mention that i got up at around 3:30 am no less than three times in six days? i know some people do that a lot, but not me. not ever. it was totally worth it, though).

i arrived in chicago at around 6:30 where there was a good starbucks just outside my arrival gate, ready to serve up the caffeine i needed. once fortified, i set out to find my connecting gate and was treated to nice surprise at the first turn

this is what i love about big-city airports—just when all you can think about is how this connection can get screwed up, they hand you new york. it’s a lego exhibit promoting wind-generated energy (though i did not manage to make a mental connection between the statue of liberty and windmills, she was holding one in this exhibit; maybe it was just a height thing?)

i couldn’t take my eyes off the lego draping in her robes—what grace, what elegance . . .
there were smaller pieces, too

of astounding workmanship. ok, enough pictures of those, let’s get to new mexico. i have to mention here that i was extremely nervous about everything concerning this trip—it was my first time taking the show on the road, so to speak, and i had no idea what to expect, really.

everything went swimmingly on the flight which was good, since i was scheduled to be at village wools by 2 pm to lay out a trunk show. here i was greeted with about the largest yarn shop i have seen since patternworks closed their store in poughkeepsie. unfortunately, i was too nervous to think to take photos so you’ll have to click on the link to see it.

besides a huge sales floor packed with all manner of yarns and supplies, they also have a very large weaving studio, a large dye room in which the results of a recent natural dyeing exhibit were laid out, and a meeting/classroom. and have i mentioned the staff? they are warm and sweet and very knowledgeable. it is the yarn shops of our dreams, really.

i exhibited a number of my shawls and scarves and was on hand to talk to customers and answer questions all afternoon there (i’m really sorry about not getting photos—especially the naturally-dyed skeins from the state fair—i’m a blogging flunky i guess).

lauren came to pick me up in the early evening and we headed north for the ranch. i wasn’t very good driving company as i kept falling asleep but i did manage, at least, not to snore while i was at it. when we arrived, lauren had me step out of the car just inside the gate to see the sky and it was magnificent. so many stars—even the milky way was visible out there.

much as i appreciated that, i needed to sleep. the accommodations at the ranch are wonderfully simple, spacious, and comfortable, just the way i like ’em. everything important was provided, and nothing more—perfect. by the next morning i was completely refreshed and ready to go at 5 am. one thing though—it’s mighty dark out there at that hour, so i sat in my room and knit for a while to calm myself

i finished the brown mitt and worked on the sock i am creating for the fearless fibers sock club (no photo yet). once it was somewhat-light i headed to breakfast which is served cafeteria-style in the cantina

this was the view out my door. the rooms all open onto the porch and offer a nice alternative to the carpet-and wallpaper-nightmare view you might find in a hotel. plus—get this—the rooms don’t have locks. you can leave the door wide open to let the fresh air in through the screen and go about your business all day—just like you would want it to be every day, everywhere. it’s all about respect and consideration; i love that.

the many residence buildings are small and set apart on the property so that there is a lot of privacy; everything is connected by trails and dirt roads with the main buildings grouped below in a single compound. there are infinite directions in which to walk and one can take a different sort of walk or hike every morning if one liked (and i liked—kim, i walked every day there).

we weren’t starting the workshop til 1 pm so i had the morning to spend exploring and later, getting to know the early arrival participants. first, i opted to walk down into box canyon toward kitchen mesa

the day was warm and exceptionally brilliant once the sun got up over the mountains. nights are cool-to-cold so you have to pack smart. i noticed a lot of shawls everywhere i went in NM—it’s the perfect all-weather garment (ok, i admit i only went to the yarn shop and the knitting retreat, but i feel it’s fair to count the airport, the coffee shop, and the restaurants, too).

anyway, to get back to the scenery, i think i spent that whole first walk swinging my head from side to side so as not to miss anything

there is just so much beauty and variety (see? they have autumn foliage too)

this is my church; this is what makes my heart expand with joy. i was so happy to be in it, and so aware of how precious a gift we have here

as i neared the mesa the true size of it began to reveal itself

the colors of the rock layers became more distinct and separate, reminding me a little bit (in a way) of torrey pines in la jolla, CA.

then, suddenly, i was standing right under it

well. nothing more to say, right?
just past this spot there was one big round rock to which i was inexplicably attracted

no other round ones anywhere nearby at all. huh.
at this point i decided i ought to get back for a much-needed shower and to see if there was anything i could do to help set up.

the trail back was bordered on each side by thickets of sage (well, i think that’s what is is) and scrub cactus. the hill leading up to our housing unit reminded me suddenly that i was at a completely different altitude. though i don’t suffer much from altitude changes and jet lag in general, that first morning it kicked my butt a little. heh. by the next day i was acclimated well enough, but it took me by surprise at first.

(at this point, my camera battery died and i realized i was not carrying a fresh one, so i switched to my iPhone camera for the rest of the trip. there aren’t any settings or buttons to “help” with taking photos, i think it did ok and it sure beats no pictures at all.)

by this time, knitters were arriving by the carful and a joyful noise was sounding in the meeting room.

coffee was brewing (NM knitters are serious about that—so many people brought their own coffee and espresso makers, i thought i’d died and gone to heaven), snacks were set out,

(the chiplotle brownies were especially yummy) and sounds of reunions filled the room. i spread out the trunk show around the fireplace

but couldn’t get far enough back for a really good photo angle (but you know what they look like).
there were two yarn vendors with luscious offerings

heather, from shivaya naturals, drove down from colorado to participate in the event with her photographer-buddy stacyZ. heather provided the yarn for the first samples of spiraluscious, which was to be the project for the workshop.

let’s just say that a feeding frenzy ensued as soon as heather started opening the bins she toted in. i would even venture to say that she got rushed by a clamoring crowd. i don’t think she minded a bit though—everyone pitched in to tag yarn and sort things out (once they staked out and claimed in no uncertain terms what they wanted of course, heh.)

more yarn was supplied by gudy of strandavarious, who arrived a little later in the day

gudy is a dyer local to albuquerque who produces unique skeins of variegated yarn in a variety of fiber blends, including alpaca lace, merino/silk fingering yarn, merino worsted, merino/silk laceweight, and merino laceweight. her yarn can be purchased at village wools or by contacting her through her site.

for the retreat workshop i chose a skein of gudy’s merino/silk fingering weight yarn in an array of greens to knit my spiraluscious

the piece in browns and oranges is her wool/nylon sock blend that i picked up at the shop for the sunday class. it was hard to tell in the skein how it would knit up but it’s wonderful—like a swirl of falling leaves blown about by the wind.

i’m in love. i lost the ticket that says how many yards are on it, but i’m hoping to have enough left over for a short pair of socks, or maybe a pair with contrasting toes and heels. it’s a nice wooly yarn that should make cozy socks.

gudy is also a designer and brought some of her own pieces to exhibit

(please excuse the fact that we all pawed over them and made a mess). aren’t they lovely?

soon, everyone found a comfy place to settle in and we all got to work.

as if all that excitement wasn’t enough, ann hood (center, above) and her friend mary (above right) joined us for the weekend. ann is writing a story for girlfriend getaways magazine about the retreat which should appear next fall (so if this looks like a trip you want to take next year, make reservations early).

along with them came a photography team, of course, but we all suffered along gladly . . . they were actually wonderful. the photographer, amanda, is a new knitter (who learned to bind off on friday evening) and her assistant, seth, sat himself down to learn right then and there, he was so intrigued (either that, or he was totally freaked and running for safety from the men’s wellness group sharing the ranch over this weekend)

on friday we worked through the first two parts of the pattern during a three-hour class. we didn’t finished the body section but we got far enough along that everyone could work on their own

which they did, far into the evening. oh, we did other things too, like talk and fool around. there was show and tell, and lots of wine and chocolate. once again i fell into bed at a much earlier hour than usual and woke up well before the sun (aftter twelve days of this, i might be a changed person).

i knit in my room til it was light enough to go for another walk, followed by a quick breakfast—class started a lot earlier on saturday so as to leave the afternoon free for a field trip.

i saw this lizard log on the way down to the cantina on the second morning—i thought you’d like it.

saturday’s class was mostly filled with learning to do a knitted-on edge. i expected this to be challenging for those who had not done one before—and it was—but as we say in our LYS, “nobody cried”. everyone seemed to pick the technique up pretty smoothly, in fact and i’m hoping that they will be able to navigate it easily on their own at home.

i love this photo—in it are heather and stacy (front), margaret, my buddy near the window, who revealed what might be a tendency toward stalking, but also is a great traveling companion and conversationalist so it balances fine for me, and lauren in the back who organized this amazing weekend. connie, who is an artist is also there but i manged to cut her head off and now we can’t admire her . . .

as i said, the afternoon was reserved for a field trip to tierra wools in the small village of los ojos, NM. tierra wools is a spinning, dyeing, and weaving workshop that produces rugs, clothing, yarn and other articles used in the home. but not just any rugs

one enters the workshop through the store, which faces the street and is immediately struck by the fact that something incredible is going on here

the wool that is spun on the premises and used in the rugs and blankets woven here is churro, a soft, long fiber from a rare sheep breed that is produced locally and regionally through a project aimed at replenishing the population of this once-endangered breed.

the rugs are positively luxurious—tightly woven and soft, made of richly-handpainted yarns, they are individually crafted and signed by the makers. i decided i’m saving up for one, starting right now.

it’s either going to be turquoise, like this one, or gray (surprise). sigh. i have time to decide.
i almost did succumb to a pair of charcoal pillows or a sheepskin for david

but then realized that would put me behind on the rug so i got a grip on myself.
after a short introduction to the workshop’s history and operating principles,

we soon moved to the back of the place where we entered a magical world indeed and forgot all about giving in to the temptations of shopping (momentarily, at least)

sophia was our guide into the labyrinth that is the pulsing heart of the workshop—the fiber studios. you thought the store was good? never mind . . . this part is great

ok, i will admit right up front that i know nothing about looms, but there were at least six of these giants in the weaving studio and my guess is that they’re of an impressive type because those rugs you saw above come out of them.

the light in here glows and is full; you feel you are in a sanctuary (this is my church too. just sayin’).
and sophia is the pope.

sophia walked our group through all the stages of the shop’s production. in the weaving studio, she was working on a rug in which she uses the yarns created by the beginning spinners (she says she cannot let anything go to waste). it is beautiful . . .

as is everything created here. talk about making something good enough to put in the fair—these fiber artists do it every day and have the medals to prove it.

next we passed into the dye studios in the very back of the building (dyers, you may want to grab a glass of wine here, or at the very least, a drool rag—quick).

there are black walnuts on a drying table in the entryway

this is the view into the depth of the dyeworks. skeins of singles hang there blocking—i really liked the way they rigged that up.

these rooms are where we truly see sophia in her element

among pots of what she lovingly calls her “stinky stuff”. ok, pause here for the dyers in the group—you have got to see the cooking setup they have

sophia explains about soaking and cooking natural plant materials while showing us a pot of practically-putrid black walnuts

we all inhale deeply and agree that yes, it stinks. but that’s not the best, she crows . . .

just look at the rot floating on top of my indigo pot—i’ve added urea and all sorts of other stuff now and it’s really stinking. she stands back with smug satisfaction as we all take a polite whiff and nod, tears springing to our eyes—we smile adoringly and nod back.

she has us completely within her power at this point.

next she guides us through the materials they use in the dye process, a combination of natural dyestuffs collected locally or ordered from distributors. these they cook on site

and include nuts, berries, plants, and insects. they also use some commercially-produced dyes, but it wasn’t explained exactly what type or processes they use with those.

here is some chamisa drying in the furthest back room

(still using the iPhone camera BTW—i can’t believe all these photos came out; the light was very dim throughout this space here)

next sophia talks to us about the yarn (i know—you’ve been dying out there, but here we are at last)

these are some handspun skeins in their natural state. the yarns produced onsite are singles from the churro wool i mentioned earlier. they basically offer one weight that is equivalent to a worsted.

they also dye on plied yarn spun for them by green mountain spinnery and darned if i can remember the fiber content but i believe the wool is from new mexico (one of these days i’ll learn to take notes, i guess; i keep thinking it’s more natural to just write from my head but maybe i do need prompting on the details . . .).

sophia has a really great collection of test pieces in jars that i wanted to shove my hand into

but i resisted

you didn’t think i’d leave you without a closeup did you? here are some drying skeins that have been dyed with indigo, walnut, and chamisa. once they leave the hanging rack they will join the collection in the shop

where we were gently herded like lambs to the slaughter (how could you not buy at least a skein after that?). actually, i resisted reluctantly but successfully, keeping my future rug in mind—i’m going for the big daddy of purchases. some day.

outside in the bright sun we explored the village a little more

the wool works runs a guest house where one can stay while taking classes or enjoying the region. further along there is the tire recycling shop

where they make these great rubber mats—the kind that last forever

the afternoon passed quickly—it was time to get back for our dinner at abiquiu inn, where we were treated to a variety of local dishes creatively prepared and served. there i ate the best corn cakes i ever had—bar none. i kept eating them, too (pats stomach). i wish i had the recipe . . .

meanwhile, back at the ranch . . . hahaha, i’ve always wanted to use that phrase in a context where it actually applied . . . the knitters who had not joined us for dinner (in order to buy more yarn) were busily finishing neckwarmers and socializing.

when we returned we were treated to a reading by ann hood from her book, the knitting circle. we lazily socialized and knitted long into the evening. i kept putting off my packing because i didn’t want it to end, but finally i folded each shawl and placed it in my carry-on bag—i had to be up early the next day again to move on back to albuquerue and meet some different knitters for redux of the same class.

did i take pictures?? no! what a doofus.
well, maybe next time—suffice it to say that a lovely dozen women surrounded me for six hours of lace knitting and all went home with smiles on their faces, which left me happy, too.

i flew home immediately after the class and finished my butternut scarf while traveling. i’m hoping to block it and write the pattern tomorrow

as i knit, i started getting really excited to see david. with no cell phone or internet for five days, we did not have a chance to talk except for one time—in the parking lot of tierra wools i had FOUR bars on my cell, so i grabbed the opportunity to talk to him.

i’m thinking that it’s because i was in a magic place—check this out

see that bar of blue light running straight back into that shed door?
land of enchantment indeed.

37 thoughts on “knitting at the ranch

  1. That’s the place! Bless you, Anne — I’ve been trying to remember for almost 11 years; Tierra Wools is the place where I bought the yarn that I made Rick a vest out of (eight years after buying it; I wasn’t a knitter when I was there, I just knew I needed that wool). Heh. I can’t tell you how excited I am to be reminded. The pictures are fabulous, and I absolutely understand what you mean about places like that, with the light like that, being your church. Yes, indeedy.

  2. OK, so it’s midnight thirty and tears of joy and homesickness and longing run down my cheeks. New Mexico is truly the Land of Enchantment, one I miss greatly. Yes, church.

  3. I didn’t make it up to Tierra Wools while I was in New Mexico earlier in October, but, I did go to the Taos Wool Festival. It was great fun. I left NM in 1983 and had said since then that I would never move back; however, after my recent visit, I have changed my mind. Maybe when I retire. Your pictures around Ghost Ranch were beautiful. Yes, New Mexico is the Land of Enchantment.

  4. Oh,oh,oh! Soooo jealous! But now I am prompted to get out the wool I bought at Tierra Wools in July ’07 and start to work on some thick socks. It is cold out tonight and my tootsies are freezing, even in home-made socks.

  5. Okay, I am so proud of you for becoming the walking maniac!!! Yahoo!!! And the blue bar – creepysville. hahaha. Wow Anne, looks like such a fun trip. Thanks for sharing – so glad you got the iPhone camera squared away. You’re such a techno-queen!

  6. So that’s what you were doing while I slept in every morning . . . well I slept past 5 a.m. anyway! Great photos — with the iPhone, too! Thanks again for coming, Anne. We all had such a wonderful time with you. And there is nothing on earth quite like seeing an Anne Hanson shawl in person. Kinda like touching the sacred cloth — speaking of church. =)

  7. What a sacred place!! Thanks you for going to the trouble of downloading all of these pictures. They’re fantastic. I love the tour of Tierra Wools. Unbelievably gorgeous rugs. I’m sure you were transformed, in some way, after this journey! Thank you for sharing.

  8. Please tell me they do the retreat every year. Cuz if so, I am SO there next fall! Wonder if you could bring your horse too…….

  9. Wow, did this make me homesick! We’ve been in New Orleans for 10 years, but I spent most of my adult life in Colorado. We vacationed in New Mexico at every opportunity. I could smell the sage just looking at the photos. I hope you ate some New Mexican green chile. The elixer of the gods.

  10. Love the desert pics. They bring back some fond childhood memories. My dad used to take us camping in that part of the country when my brother & I were kids. It’s still beautiful!

  11. Ohhhh, that is how paradise should be!
    Such beautiful landscape, such wonderful yarn, and playing around with all the colours…
    I think I might join your church for all of this.

    Thank you for sharing the pictures and feelings.

  12. I missed you while you were away, but I’m delighted to share this wonderful experience via your photos and story telling. Glad you had such a great time.

  13. I always love reading your blog but today it was so good that I realized half way through it that I wasn’t blinking and my eyes were dry and hurting. I was so taken away by the pictures and the story of such an awesome weekend that my eyes were glued to the monitor. Wow! It sounds like you and all the ladies had sooooo much fun! What an wonderful place. I must go there someday…maybe the conference too. Thanks for sharing the experience.

  14. I love New Mexico. My husband grew up there, and we usually take a road trip out there every other year. It’s so different from my Pacific Northwest, I almost feel like it’s another planet. The distances can certainly be deceiving, can’t they?

  15. Wow, those are lovely pictures of the landscape.

    I sounds like you’re having a really wonderful trip.

  16. Oh. Wow. I want to move there. Now.

    I guess it’s a good thing that David didn’t go with you, or you’d never want to leave!

  17. I’m so bummed Anne, I totally missed the trunk show! For some reason I was thinking it was the Thursday after the retreat, and then I saw your post and I realized, GASP I missed it!

    Although, I had forgotten about an orchestra dress rehearsal that I had that evening, so I don’t think I would have even made it if I was smart enough to remember to put it on the calendar. This thesis is really sucking the life out of me these days.

    So sorry I didn’t get to meet up w/ you, but it sounds like you had a wonderful time at the retreat! I’m bound and determined to get to Rhinebeck next Fall, so perhaps we can see each other then!

  18. Thanks for sharing Anne. We missed your blog while you were gone but the story and pics made it seem like a reunion of the best sort. The fates smiled on you and we’ve benefitted as a result. I look forward to seeing the patterns that result from NM.

  19. Holy Crap! What a post! You must be exhausted after that one! Seriously, thanks for such a detailed account. Now go knit, you’ve earned it 🙂

  20. Lorraine and Rosemary said so articulately what I am trying to say. So I’ll just say thank you for sharing your travels, I had a wonderful virtual visit to Rhinebeck and the ranch. And the iPhone photos were excellent!

    I hope you you feel energized and at the same time happy to be home. Can we look forward to a southwestern theme in future designs?

  21. What a wonderful trip you must have had!!! I’m drooling over all your pictures!!! Such fun!!! And what an experience to enjoy such beautiful things; scenery, wool, creativity….etc!!!

  22. Wow! I agree, New Mexico is a church — such a spiritual place — and you were at the altar. What an amazing finale to Rhinebeck.

  23. Wow…the only thing I can say is W.O.W…what an incredible experience for you! The huge dyeing pots, the looms….I would so love to have been there!

  24. I’ve lived in northern New Mexico and your post brought back wonderful memories. Tierra Wools is a gem.

    Next time you’re in the area, visit Echo Amphitheater – just down the road from Ghost Ranch.

    And do you have a favorite – red or green?

    Truly enchanting.

  25. Great (iPhone) photos of a great place. Like Nolaboard, I could smell the sagebrush. Well, at least until I got to the photos of natural dyeing and started smelling that wonderfully stinky process that used to happen in my kitchen. Thanks for letting us tag along virtually. The water/fall-colors-with-sun-peeking-through photo – wow.

    After two such fabulous trips back-to-back, you’ll have plenty of memories and inspiration to carry you into winter and beyond.

  26. you definitely need to add travel writer to your many talents — what a GREAT post (and I discovered a few new yarns to look at, too!)


  27. Oooooohhhhh…..more pretty scenery! And pretty fiber and pretty rugs. I’ve had a hankering to learn to weave since I was little – my dad had a co-worker who wove and we got to see her looms one time. Unfortunately, I don’t see having time or space for another hobby anytime in the near future!

  28. Oh may god Anne, that is such a beautiful trip you went on. Everything, from the landscapes to wool, so beautiful, and place I wouldn’t want to leave. Your very lucky and thank you for sharing your experience.

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