Wednesday, 23 March 2011

The Persistence of Memory

Lots of Randomness for you today.

We've been taking French lessons for a month now. It's one of those really conversational classes that meet in a new location each week so you can talk about your surroundings and learn more real-life applications. It works sometimes, other times it's distracting and hard to piece together what's in your head. I like the instructor and enough people dropped out right away to make it more of a private lesson. I love it when that happens.

Last night we met at the Time Warner Center in Columbus Circle so we can talk about clothing and purchasing things. It's a giant upscale mall Manhattan style...really expensive restaurants that takes weeks to get reservations, European shops where you can spend many thousands of dollars on a handbag, and usually some sort of large-scale original artwork where a normal mall might have a penny fountain and topiaries. Also, the Jazz at Lincoln Center concert hall is integrated into the mall, so you can catch a concert here as well. I'll get to more on the artwork in a second.

I walked up from my office after work. I happened to have the little point and shoot camera in my hand when I noticed a phenomenon that I just had to capture.

It's the absolute agony and stress of trying to hail a cab at rush hour, which coincides with the time when all the cab drivers head back to the depots for shift change.

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I saw it so many times on my walk. I think I have myself a new photo project. This woman was getting especially cranky- she started to pace around and shoot death glares to all the occupied cabs zooming up Madison Ave without her.

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I was getting kind of stressed out just watching her. Maybe this isn't such a good thing for me to peruse.

At the TWC, the artwork they currently have on display are Dali-inspired (and apparently, Dali-approved) bronzes.

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Also, they have a couple of enormous permanent Botero bronzes. I read something recently (in the New Yorker maybe?) about how they have to re-bronze the male's naughty bits every few months because passer-bys find them irresistible to touch.

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I would highly recommend checking out the Dalis if you are in the area. There are 16 sculptures total, plus original paintings as well.

During the night, the city got a slushy wet coating of snow.

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It's pretty and it will either be be gone or gross by the end of the day.

The fresh burst of late winter means I am not so foolish knitting a heavy woolen sweater right now, right? I have a few projects on the needles, all of them complicated and requiring quiet time and no glass of wine to foul things up. I compensated by casting on for another Turn a Square hat with the other half a skein of Noro and Shelter so I have something to do on my commute.

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After a day, it's nearly finished. It's a bit further on in the skein than the last hat, so the stripes are much less subtle and it looks completely different.

I've also been spinning up the Shetland fleece:
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I have three full bobbins spun up so far, and a slightly noticeable dent in the enormous pile fleece that has been living in my spinning basket. There is hope that I will be reclaiming some floor space back for regular use soon.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Craft Beer Festival

Over the weekend, we headed to Manhattan for a Craft Beer and Food festival. I am still not a beer drinker, but I don't mind trying a couple sips here and there. I was more excited about the food.

I do have to say, the beer wall was impressive. They had over 60 beers on tap to sample.

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As with all of these beer events, the people pulling the taps seemed happy and friendly. There were also a lot of homebrewers there to chat with.

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One guy sold his car to buy his homebrew system. I'm going to pretend like I didn't hear that.

Biercraft had a booth- this is where I'm forced to stop by every week to pick up the pork share from The Piggery, and buy some nice cheese and chocolates as well. They had some sort of beer-bong like contraption that was infusing the beer with extra hops before pouring.

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Hops are in the same family of plants as hemp. The beer being soaked in the hop-bong ended up tasting like skunky pot in the least pleasant way possible. Some people really like their hops.

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There was some really amazing food- Smoked brisket from Mexicue, shrimp rolls from Luke's Lobster, bacon brittle from South Houston, frites from the Frites and Meats truck, Cheese from Murray's, some lovely pate from D'orsay Just wow. We fasted beforehand and I didn't have to eat again until the next day.

After a couple hours, everyone was walking around glassy-eyed and jolly. I can totally get into this hedonistic beer culture, but if I could just brown bag a glass or wine while I'm walking around, I'd be much happier. I left the event noshed out and very sober.

Just coincidentally, there was a bead show going on at the pavilion next door. What luck! I ended up getting some really cool vintage Lucite beads from The Beadin' Path from Freeport, Me. I'll have to take some pictures of them because they are amazing. I found the rest of the vendors kind of ho-hum and nothing special, but it's mostly because I work very close to the bead district and the majority of the vendors were New York based. I've been beading quiet a bit lately and I've been really happy with my creations.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Happy Equinox!

Yesterday was the Vernal Equinox- the real deal telltale that Spring is finally here. As I write this, the snow is falling outside my window. Rude! Ah, well. It felt like spring yesterday.

What a better way to spend a lazy early-spring Sunday than to go for one of our epic walks. Generally when the weather is nice (but before it gets too hot and the motorcycle starts begging us to get out of town) we go on a lot of these epic walks on the weekend. It involves picking a neighborhood we haven't been to all winter and walking around all day long, finding good places to eat and drink. It's all about being a little lazy about getting nowhere in a hurry. I'm especially happy if these epic walks involve a little bit of nature along with food and culture. I find odd places to get my nature on in the city. While the parks can be more of a human zoo on the weekends, I find that Green-wood Cemetery fits the bill nicely.

It's an enormous place, and perhaps the most isolated you could feel in New York. You get rare silences and so much open space- you can actually see the sky! We walked around for two hours and bumped into just 3 other people the entire time. Usually that's a recipe for a mugging, but I've never felt anything but perfectly safe there. Even with the threat of it being ground zero for a Zombie Apocalypse, I love to meander around the various tombs and check out the notables who rest there. Boss Tweed, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Leonard Bernstein are all buried there.

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It's got a lot of huge old trees and overgrown shrubs, making it a great place to see a few birds that aren't pigeons or house sparrows.

The magnolia trees looked like they had another week to go before they explode in bloom. It's good to get out before foliage obscures the residence of the trees.

There were Robins everywhere. Dozens of them.

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I've always seen lots of red tail hawks in Greenwood, but this time we only spotted one. Most of them migrate south for winter, so it might be a little early for them yet. I know they've recently released a red-tail that was rehabbed from an injury into Green-wood, so this might just be him.

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I have a love/hate thing going on with the Mockingbird. The urban variety tends to mimic all sorts of car alarms, sirens and cell phone ring tones. Also, the males will sing all night long in the springtime until they find a mate. Annoying! Maybe you should try a more subtle, croonerly approach to woo the ladies.

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We also saw a couple of woodpeckers.

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I love to watch them propel themselves up the tree using their tail and their sharp claws.

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There were also a lot of tiny nuthatches, which usually let gravity do the work and propel themselves down the tree upside down, combing the bark for bugs and grubs with their needle-like beak.

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I loved the way this tree had roots stretching down a steep hill. It looked so regal and stately.

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Well, that was exhausting.

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When the shadows got long and a chill settled in, we headed back home through Sunset Park, where the balloons are especially elegant.

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Also, I spied this interesting diorama in a front yard:

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The Paul Revere statues add a somewhat modernist touch.

The street vendors are starting to take up their corners again. This woman was frying up plantains, which smelled heavenly and sweet.

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There are lots of great places to eat in the neighborhood- we ended up getting tamales and tacos at our favorite standby. They were a perfect way to fuel the last mile of our walk home. The margarita didn't hurt, either.

It's been such a harsh winter, which makes it especially gratifying to get some sunshine time.

Thursday, 17 March 2011


Last October at Rhinebeck, I fell in love with a fleece. This fleece was very large and very greasy, but the color and the crimp and the softness combined got me to throw my wallet down anyway.

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I love the fact that they included a picture of the sheep with the fleece. She's pretty.

There are plenty of really good merino for spinning available commercially, but it's rare to find such a beautiful moorit color anywhere. Merinos, along with other breeds, have been selectively bred to be white. That way, they can get consistent dye lots in the textile industry. It's hard to find naturally colored sheep fleeces unless you really seek them out, and I do. This is my white whale of a fleece. Except it is creamy brown.

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It took a ton of washing to get this clean, and I lost about 30% of the weight once the grease was gone. She was wearing a coat, so it was remarkably clean and free of dirt and bits of plants that sheep pick up as they graze.

She had the most perfectly gorgeous fleece I've ever seen.

A fleece this size was going to take me weeks to process and months to spin. I was looking forward to it wholeheartedly- I love processing my own fleece and enjoy the project from start to finish if it's a nice fleece. This was the plan until I got wind of a sale at Zellinger's. It was too good of a deal to pass up, so I packed the fleece in a big box, included my order instructions and sent it off for someone else to deal with.

Wool processing mills are notoriously slow at turnaround time (many of my friends are just getting their processed fleeces in the mail that they had sent off when they were at Rhinebeck) so I had this really large window before this would make its way back to me. Five months sounded reasonable- I'm in no hurry and it's not like I'm running out of fleece in the meantime.

Imagine my surprise that a mere 5 weeks later, an absolutely enormous box arrived with the UPS man. What? I'm not expecting anything. This can't be right- what would show up my door in a box that comes up past my hip? I am tall, by the way.

Oh. It's You. I wasn't expecting You so soon.

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Didn't I just get a Shetland fleece processed at Loop a couple days ago? Once you turn a fleece into roving or batts, you can no longer pack it down solid and shove it into space bags and vacuum out all the air and hide it. Once it gets nice and fluffed up, you are stuck with it in that bloated state. Unless you want to ruin it. Which you don't.

Anyway. I will sing the praises of Zellinger's. Not only were they super fast and extremely affordable- I paid $43 for 8lbs, which came back to me about 6lbs- but they also did a wonderful job. They washed it one more time for me and the roving is perfect, with hardly a nep to be found. I couldn't have done a better job if I painstakingly combed it lock by lock.

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Someone has some spinning to do.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Brooklyn Flea

I can not think of a better way to spend a Sunday morning than to rifle through treasures and tchotchkes and junk at the Brooklyn Flea.

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It is currently still in its winter quarters in the old Williamsburg Savings Bank (which is the tallest skyscraper in Brooklyn). It's a grand old light-filled space. If you care to crane your neck, there are gorgeous tile murals on the vaulted ceilings.

I only bought food items, but they did have some sweet vintage dresses, unique framed prints and lots and lots of jewelry. It's much higher quality than most fleas, and it has a lot of Etsy-type vendors. You probably won't get too many steals, but I think you could find some really unique gifts and home decor items. It's fun to wander around with friends and point out particularly cute or hideous things.

Starting in April, it will move back to it's home on a school playground in Fort Green. Totally uninspiring architecture on the blacktop, but having everything outside is nice as well and feels more like a flea market that I know from my youth. You know the ones where you feel like you might actually have real fleas, or maybe even lice afterward? And there are lots of airbrushed eagles and harley davidson logos and knock-off Ray Bans for $5. Yeah, there's none of that at the Brooklyn Flea unless it's one of those ironic hipster things.

Speaking of Etsy, I am cleaning out some old stock to make room for the new...Everything in my Etsy store is currently 25% off when you use the coupon code "MARCH" when you check out. I have mostly yarn left, but there is still some roving and silk caps to spin as well.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Loop Spin-In and the Shetland Who Wants to Be Pretty

A couple weekends ago, a bunch of us headed up to the Loop studio for her monthly spin-in. It's always nice to have a chatty afternoon spinning with friends.

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I brought along a Shetland fleece that I had bought at Rhinebeck a couple years ago to have processed.

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It was a nice fleece from Longfield Farm, but I wasn't so inspired by it to really get into it. I've been finding that if I feel a fleece is just okay and nothing special, I tend to be unenthusiastic about doing anything with it and it just sits there. It's mostly gray with some brown spots and had a lot of cross-fibering- there were no real clean locks coming out and the fiber had the appearance that it had already been carded while the sheep was still wearing it. It's been hiding packed down in a space bag for over a year now and I've been dreaming of either making it beautiful or giving it away the next chance I got. So I dug around in my stash and pulled up a lot of silk that I had dyed in peaches and blues- both bombyx and tussah. A little more digging found something else I wasn't so enthusiastic about spinning- Angora rabbit fiber. This drastically reduced the amount of fiber I had in my big bag of carding scraps- bits of leftovers or dye jobs that I'm not happy with that I incorporate into batts when I am carding.

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Everything gets loaded up onto the belt of the carding machine and fluffed up. The fleece is on the bottom, the silk and angora on top. I actually did this in 3 batches, so this is just the first third of what we did.

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A touch of a button sets the machine in motion. All the different sized drums pull the fiber in, blend it all together, and then spit it out as roving.

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It's magic. What comes out is airy, so much softer and gorgeous. Steph the Loop Lady is really a glitter girl, so as an additional bonus, it picked up quite a bit of glitter leftover from previous carding sessions on the machine. Let's call it a patina and go with it.

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I brought this in to the studio packed into a space bag with all the air sucked out, but I left with it in a huge 20-gallon trash bag. It's so fluffed and airy, and it's really quite fun to spin as soon as the machine spits it out. In fact, I'm getting a little bit nostalgic thinking of spinning it right now while I'm stuck in the office.

The addition of silk really did me some favors here. Shetland can be very silky in texture, but if it's not a fine, soft fleece then it can be kind of "grabby" when you are spinning it. The silk added a subtle pop of color throughout the fleece and it now drafts like butter. I spun up a tiny sample and I'm in love. The total weight came out just under 2 lbs. Depending on my spinning, I could possibly squeeze a sweater out of this. The angora will give the final yarn a slight bloom. I'm suspicious of using any at all...did I ever tell you my purple angora sweater story? I will soon, promise....but just that tiny bit of it doesn't seem so bad at all.

It will have to wait though- I have much plying to do before I start another big spinning project. I have to free up some bobbins from both my wheels and finish a few other projects. I'm currently plying my gorgeous cormo from Foxhill Farm. That should take no time at all...I just need to sit down at home, throw a movie on the projector and get it done. Except I'm almost never home during the week, so plying time is a rarity. I also need to ply the final two bobbins of singles from my BFL fleece.

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I already have 3 skeins of it spun up and plied, all of them over 240 yards a piece. It's very rustic- lots of beautiful lumps and bumps with this yarn no matter how hard I tried. So I stopped trying and let it be, and I'm pretty happy with it. It's worsted weight, and once I have the final bobbins finished up, I will have enough for a sweater. I have a pattern in my head that I am in the process of getting down on graph paper. It's going to be warm and cozy, with a small amount of Noro worked in to give it just a small pop of color.

I also got something that UPS brought me last week that is slightly traumatizing me, but that is a story for another day...

Monday, 14 March 2011

FO: Turn a Square

Oooh boy. I have lots of catching up to do. This has been a winter of constantly being sick, or in the process of getting sick. Those who know me well know that I never, ever, ever get as much as a sniffle most winters and plow right through whatever bug is going around. Not so much this winter. So there is a nice dose of Schadenfreude for you.

Let me tell you about my co-workers for a second (you know I don't like to mix my work life in with anything else, but it's good back story). I work in a sales department, which attracts the kind of people that are competitive in everything that they do, including gift-giving. I use this to my advantage as much as possible, especially around the holidays. If they want to assign their love for me with a cash value, I'm okay with this. If they want to put a little more thought into to get in my good graces and get me a nice fat gift certificate to an upscale yarn boutique, I wouldn't say no. They also tend to stock my personal bar with top-shelf goodness that will keep me warm and happy year-round.

So off to Purl Soho I marched on a bitter cold January day, with my freshly printed gift certificate in hand. It's a beautiful store with equally "beautiful people" clientele, all of them ready to drop a small fortune on a sweater's worth of cashmere. You have a rather unsettled feeling in that shop that the sheep that produce the wool for their yarn somehow produce no poo at all, and are a magic breed of sheep that have the ability to fly at night when no one is watching. It's priced accordingly.

I picked up a sweater's worth of thyme-green Merino and some Brooklyn Tweed Shelter, a new yarn that everyone has been buzzing about.

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It's not particularly soft, but it's an interesting blend of Columbia and Tarhgee wools, which makes it very lofty and bouncy. It's rustically spun woolen-style, with lots of interesting neps spun in for texture and a heathered effect. Jared Flood has been blogging about the whole wool-into-yarn process on his blog recently. It's fascinating and I recommend checking it out.

I used some of the pretty brown color, Nest, to make a hat.

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I choose the "Turn a Square" pattern, which, appropriately enough, is a Jared Flood pattern. I dug out a skein of Noro Silk Garden that was leftover from a coat I made a couple years ago to use as stripes. The results:

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The stripes are very subtle. I love it. Best of all, this took me all of 3 days worth of commuting from start to finish.

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He's already worn it a bunch, hence that slightly rumpled look. The requisite guy hat must be able to be crumpled down and shoved into a pocket, and it fits that need quite well. It's a good guy-beanie shape with the square top. It's cozy and warm and already looks like a favorite.

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I did a jogless stripe technique to make the seam less visible. You can still see it though.

The best part is that this barely used half a skein of each, so there is definitely enough yarn leftover to make a second one. I did enjoy working with the Shelter. However, I found that when I tinked back to fix a mistake, the yarn would sometimes come unspun completely and break. It spit-splices really well, so it's not bad to fix. Just a bit troublesome that it does that.

The specs: I'm a super-loose knitter so I had to go down several needle sizes in order to get a hat that fit. I used US 3 needles for the ribbing and US 5 for the main part of the hat. I only used about 70 yards of the solid brown Shelter, and even less that with the Silk Garden, making this a great hat if you have scraps to use up. The pattern was well-written and simple.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Spinning Stuff

I'm looking forward to the weekend, if only because I have some dedicated spinning time worked in. I made the mistake of getting more than one spinning project going at the same time, which means very little will get done on either one of them and it ties up my bobbins for plying. This is the hazard of having two wheels...if something gets boring, the temptation to switch to another is too great.

I did finish with some Creatively Dyed roving.


It was 4 oz of a bamboo/wool blend. I didn't think too hard about it and just let it spin.

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Because the bamboo wasn't blended into the roving all that well, I ended up with a handful of white bamboo while I spun, which didn't take the dye. I tried to keep it integrated with the wool, but in some places I failed. It also helped mute the colors a bit so I didn't end up with too obvious of the candy-cane stripe effect. It's chunky weight, 2ply and about 62 yards total. A cowl, perhaps?

I also plied up the BFL fleece that I've been spinning forever now. No pictures yet. So far, I have 3 huge skeins of heavy worsted/aran weight 2-ply, about 250 yards a skein. I need to fill two more bobbins with singes in order to get enough for a sweater. It's brown. I am bored.

I am also spinning up my Foxfire Farm Cormo on the Majacraft Gem. I love my folds down tiny, weighs 10 lbs, travels easy, and it is incredibly versatile. It's my favorite for spinning lace- I feel like I have a ton of control over what I'm doing. I find that lace on my big Kromski Minstrel is a bit trickier- I get a lot more breaks and the wheel is a bit slower to respond than the Gem. I try to keep the lace projects to the Gem, and the bigger sweater projects to the Minstrel.

I'm spinning the Cormo woolen, from the fold, laceweight. It's only 4 oz, but you can really stretch out your spinning time when you are spinning lace. The fiber is minimally processed, so you can see and feel the crimp in the fiber. It really has a lot of spring and bounce to it. I'm pretty sure I'll be decimating this booth at Rhinebeck next year.