Thursday, February 21, 2008

Wanna Buy a Yarn Shop?

Friend and fellow Tuesday Night Knitter Mary Jane Watkins has asked me to post the following message on my blog, and as sad as I am for her that she's facing such a transition, I will happily do whatever I can to help her out. So, feel free to spread the word:


  • email:
  • web:
  • *

    Sunday, February 17, 2008

    Fear of Plying

    Since my last post about my drop spindle collection, I've acquired few more, which I need to blog about at some point, just so I'll have some documentation for my own memory as to where I got them, and what they're made of, etc. It's truly become a serious collection, with no end it sight, so it seems. I daydream longingly about a couple of gorgeous one-of-a-kind vintage Goldings that go for as much as some wheels. Still haven't found the justification to get one of those, but I haven't forgotten about them, either!

    One of my more recent acquisitions is this Jenkins Turkish made from Amboyna Burl:

    pretty, no?
    (and nope, I've not heard of that wood before, either)

    After having relative success with my various top whorl spindles, this Turkish was a definite departure, and therefore had a bit of a learning curve, especially as I found very little decent information online about how to spin with one of these. I ended up ordering Wanda Jenkins' "Learn to Spin with a Turkish" book & DVD, and the book itself was good enough to where I was able to figure out what I needed to do. Never did have to watch the DVD....

    The learning curve with the Turkish involves the fact that the "whorl" (really the two cross arms) is on the bottom, and there is no hook. Instead one must use a leader yarn and tie a half-hitch, and that took some practice to get the hang of doing smoothly. The nice thing about Jenkins' Turkish spindles is that they have a little nubbin at the top of the shaft so that the half-hitch doesn't slide off until you want it to. These spindles are not only beautiful, but also very well made, incredibly balanced, and spin for ages, so if you're in the market for a Turkish spindle, I'd highly recommend a Jenkins. Their customer service is superb, as well -- I dealt directly with Wanda Jenkins, and she was kind enough to email back and forth with me several times to answer a few of my questions. As seems to be the case for a lot of these mom & pop spindle-making operations, Wanda is the spinner & fiber artist, her husband Ed is the master woodworker. You can't help but have a quality product with that kind of partnership.

    The cool thing about a Turkish spindle is that as you wind on your spun singles yarn around the cross arms , you create a center-pull ball that is ready to ply or knit with right then and there. This went a long way in helping me get over another learning curve, namely, plying.

    When I was giving my friend Rita her drop spindle lesson a few weeks ago, she teased me that I kept buying spindles because I hadn't yet figured how to ply, and needed new spindles to spin up new yarn once the old ones got full. Well, she wasn't far off. I'd plied yarn on a spinning wheel, but never on a spindle, and for some reason, I had a mental block when it came to spindle plying. It wasn't that I didn't know how. I've been reading up on it and talking to everyone I could about the subject, and could speak intelligently about at least three different ways of plying spindle-spun yarn. I was just afraid to try it -- afraid I'd make a big tangled mess that would frustrate me so much that I'd be permanently turned off of my adored newfound hobby.

    But, finally, once I mastered spinning singles on the Turkish spindle, I decided I wanted to use it for plying up two other spindles full of singles yarn -- it just seems so well suited for that.

    Before I could ply up those other spindles of yarns, however, I needed to decide what to do with the tee-tiny little practice ball of singles already on the Turkish -- I hated to waste it. Since it was already a center-pull ball, why not ply that to itself? And that is what I did.

    To ply my little center-pull ball, I decided to use my Louet top whorl student spindle instead, (top left in this photo), and I just made sure I had it spinning counter-clockwise (S-twist), since the singles were originally spun clockwise (Z-twist).

    Here's the resulting tee-tiny hank of 2-ply yarn, all 8 yards of it:

    what d'ya think -- fingering weight?

    After I plied that tiny ball of yarn, I was just so proud of myself that I had to take pictures, including the obligatory dime-with-yarn photo. (I never knew how much of pain those damn dime photos are!) The fiber, by the way, is a little sample that came with the Turkish spindle, and according to the receipt, it's Crown Mountain Farms Corriedale pencil roving in their "Azure" colorway, (which doesn't appear to be currently available on their website). I'm a big fan of CMF's pencil roving, so was delighted to get another nice sample to play with.

    I still haven't gotten around to actually plying up the other two spindles of singles, as was my original intention -- that will have to wait for another day.

    And my days are about to become quite full, as tomorrow I start a brand-spanking new job, right here in River City. After 2½ years of self-employment and 8 years of working for people in cities other than my own, I've decided to take a job working for The Man -- the kind of job with a commute and benefits and orientation and evaluations and a dress code. I'm a little daunted by the thought of all that structure again -- I may find myself bristling against it. Here's hoping I don't freak out and run screaming from the building on my first day.

    Speaking of a dress code -- how much of a nightmare is the phrase "business casual"? Enough to strike terror in the heart of this fashion-challenged gal. My entire wardrobe consists either of consultant clothes (way-too-formal suits and dresses), or homeless-wear (sweats & t-shirts). Not much in between. So I found myself having to hit a few department stores recently, to try and fill in some gaps. I met with decent success at Talbots and Dillards; Macys and Saks were a total bust. I may try Nordstroms if I can work my way over to Short Pump tomorrow after orientation. I need some decent shoes, too, and Saxon's purports to carry the odd sizes that'll fit my Fred Flintstone feet.

    And speaking of orientation, I've got a boat-load of paperwork they want filled out before tomorrow's first day activities, so I guess I can't avoid it any longer -- better get to it.


    (Doesn't seem fair that my first day is on a federal holiday. And so, the griping begins...).

    Tuesday, February 12, 2008

    Go Dukes!

    I am an alumnus of James Madison University who happens to have:
    • 2 brothers
    • 2 sisters
    • 1 brother-in-law
    • 2 sisters-in-law
    who also attended that same fine school. Therefore, it's no stretch of the imagination to believe that we were all quite beside ourselves when the oldest grandchild decided to attend our fine alma mater, home of the Purple and Gold.

    So, I've been wanting to knit my freshman nephew D. a hat to wear around campus, and I finally finished and mailed it to him last week. (See -- I still knit on rare occasions, when not completely consumed by the drop spindle!)

    Anyway, here be the hat:

    my same basic formula, just different colors

    • Yarn:
    • * Main: Elann Peruvian Uros Aran (50/50 wool/llama) in "Dusky Purple" (#1012), ~100 yards
    • * Stripes: Elann Peruvian Uros Aran in "Mayan Gold" (#1190), ~20 yards
    • Gauge: 4 stitches per inch
    • Needles: U.S. size 8 (5 mm) Clover bamboo 7" DPNs
    • Pattern: cast on 88 stitches, join in the round, K2,P2 every round for ~1-2", then knit every round for ~4", add stripes where desired; decrease & finish according to Super Simple Hat Calculator
    • Size: ~22" circumference
    • Recipient: Nephew D., freshman at JMU

    College boy plays snares on the marching band drumline, and last fall they had a "band parents weekend", so a bunch of his JMU-alum aunts and uncles (myself included) horned in on the day to watch the band warm up before the Towson football game.

    Here's a little taste of the warm-up:

    (Feedblitz email subscribers go here to see video.)

    This proud Auntie shot lots more video, but won't bore you with it here.

    She will, however, bore you with a few more photos:

    the proud parents

    I love the following photo because I inadvertently captured the proud papa, (white hat), grandpapa, (green hat), and (bored) cousin (wrapped in brown blanket) in the background:

    And yes, he already has a JMU hat, but it's not lovingly handmade by his aunt. So there.

    Here's a little bit of the football game:

    JMU won

    Halftime show:

    Here's the best part -- the JMU Marching Band will be performing in this year's Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. Guess where I'll be on the 4th Thursday in November? Anyone know any good places to stay along the parade route? :-)

    Sunday, February 10, 2008

    Saturday with Friends & Yarn


    Last Saturday, some knitting friends and I participated in a little yarn crawl about an hour east of Richmond. Linda, Issy, Sheddy, and myself met at a local Starbucks, and Linda drove, while my GPS ("Nigel") and I navigated, and Sheddy & Issy provided entertaining commentary from the back seat.

    Within an hour we had arrived at our destination:

    Sheddy, Linda & Issy

    -- none other than the fabulous Knitting Sisters yarn shop in Williamsburg, VA. I'd never been to that shop before, and had heard nothing but good things, so was eager to check out their offerings.

    Shortly after our arrival we met up with two more knitting friends:

    Robin H. & Pam

    Shortly after their arrival, another knitting friend, Jennifer, joined us, and while some of us sat and knit in Knitting Sisters' comfy knitting chairs:

    Pam, Linda & Jennifer

    ...others of us shopped their lovely wares:

    They carry a lovely assortment of yarns, and I think if I'd been left to my own devices, I might have put a hurtin' on their inventory, but with the distraction of friends and conversation, I was able to resist, and left there empty-handed. I'll definitely be back there, though, next chance I get!

    I couldn't resist capturing a little video of the sheepy cuckoo clock they have on the wall. Check it out:

    (Feedblitz email subscribers go here to see video)

    On our way back to the car, we walked by a home & garden shop with this gorgeous bench out front:

    I love garden benches, and weather-proof concrete is surely tempting, if ridiculously heavy, (and probably outrageously pricey). It's fun to dream, though.

    After we left Knitting Sisters, we decided to eat lunch at Old Chickahominy House:

    They were fairly busy and couldn't seat us right away, but no matter -- we were able to browse their lovely gift shop while we waited:

    Lunch was delicious. I had a basic cheeseburger and a piece of chocolate pie for dessert; others in our group raved about the traditional Brunswick Stew, ham biscuits and coconut pie they were served.

    Afterwards, Jennifer made a scruffy friend in the parking lot:

    The next stop on our journey was Coordinated Colors yarn shop in Yorktown, (click link at your own risk; it's a very busy website), which has a fairly unassuming exterior:

    Inside, we were amazed at the quantity and variety of yarns carried in this shop, where you might find Red Heart in the same aisle right next to the Lily Chin. We all agreed that she carried many yarns we had never heard of; her sock yarn selection was incredible. The store owner told us that she donates much of her discontinued yarns to charity, so if you're a charity knitter, give her a call -- she said she's happy to box up yarns sitting idle in her warehouse and send them on to someplace where they can do some good.

    I admired this particular entrelac triangular shawl that was on display:

    with a very interesting fringe:

    I believe Linda purchased the pattern for this shawl, which was knit with a Jojoland yarn. Seems like Noro Kureyon or Silk Garden would work well for it, too....

    But again, I left another yarn shop empty-handed. (What's wrong with me? I don't know, except that I think I'm currently a little disgusted with the size of my yarn stash, and am also currently in more of a fiber and drop spindle purchasing mindset.... Look out Maryland Sheep & Wool!)

    After leaving Coordinated Colors, we made another stop, this time at Trader Joe's in Newport News, a first-time visit to this grocery chain for many of us. What an interesting place! They were jam-packed with pre-Super Bowl shoppers, but the checkout lines moved quickly. I managed to grab a few yummy items (granola, chocolate-covered blueberries, sweet potato chips, etc.), which I've been munching on all week. Word is that there's a Trader Joe's coming to Short Pump, (which might as well be Newport News, as far as this southside gal is concerned), but it's a nice store, so I'd be happy to shop there again next time I'm near one.

    After we left Trader Joe's, we hopped in our cars and went on our way home, but made one last stop to hit the ladies room:

    ...and look who was going through the drive-thru at the same time:

    Fun times, everyone! Let's do it again!

    Tuesday, February 05, 2008

    I don't mean to be reclusive...

    ...but sometimes I'm just quiet.

    I'm an introvert, after all, which is why I really don't mind living alone. When I'm working from home, much of my week is spent in quiet solitude, save for the occasional cooing over one cat or another who wants attention. (Single female, lives alone, two cats, knits, gardens -- could I be any more of a cliché?)

    Sometimes I get so caught up in my introverted ways that I get out of the habit of blogging. But I do have several things I want to blog about, and hope to accomplish that in the next few days. Right now, however, I thought I'd take a moment to write about where I've been this evening.

    I have a small group of friends whom I've known for almost 20 years. When our schedules have allowed, we meet weekly around one friend's kitchen table, to share our joys, weep over sorrows and pray together over ongoing concerns. One friend is retired, one is an accountant, one is a school nurse.

    I hadn't seen these friends in months -- we all got busy last summer and just hadn't had a chance to meet in ages. In early December, Linda, the nurse, invited us for a Christmas dinner at her house, but that was hastily postponed after she learned that her only son had been wounded in Iraq. He's now stateside at Walter Reed and recuperating amazingly well, due in no small part to the prayers and good will of many, many folks.

    Tonight, Linda was finally ready to host that postponed Christmas dinner, and it was such a joy to see these women I have known and loved for so long, but hadn't seen in months. We picked up right where we left off, and at one point this evening I looked around the dinner table, feeling incredibly blessed, thinking about how long we've known each other, all the things we've carried each other through, and how blessed I was to have that bond.

    As we came through the front door tonight and hugged each other hello, Linda couldn't wait to tell us the latest news about this brave son of hers, who just a few weeks ago had made the difficult decision to allow surgeons to amputate his severely damaged leg. Linda told us that today he walked his first few steps on a prosthesis, unaided. His rapid recovery and incredibly high spirits have amazed and inspired friends, family and doctors alike. Again, I feel blessed to be a witness to such a miracle, when by all accounts he should not have even survived the explosion of that IED, the same explosion that took the life of one of his buddies.

    As much as I hated missing my fiber friends at knit night tonight, it sure was wonderful to get to see these other friends, and be reminded of how much they mean to me. Here's hoping we'll be able to get back into our regular weekly meeting schedule around the kitchen table. But don't worry, TNK'ers, I'll make sure it's not on Tuesday nights -- you're stuck with me! :-)