There's a Monkey on My Back

Miriam-Webster describes the word "obsessive" as, "thinking about something or someone too much or in a way that is not normal". I'm not really sure who gets to decide what's a "normal" way or amount to think about something or someone, but I get the gist so I can roll with it. They describe the word "compulsive" as, "caused by a desire that is too strong to resist : impossible to stop or control" and, "very interesting". I have been (not falsely) accused of being a little of both obsessive and compulsive. I don't mind. I take it as a compliment, especially the bit about "very interesting". Why thank you, I like to think so. But I don't know that there's anything particularly special or unusual (i.e., not "normal") about it. I think that I probably share this distinction with most of you fiberistas. We have our own special word to describe it - "stash". So I'm sure most of you will understand the drive to think about something in a way that is not normal (and here I'll add "for non-fiberistas" to the definition) I'm also pretty sure that "desire that is too strong to resist" is something that you not only understand but have experienced and enjoy. Of course you do. Just look in your closet. Yarn, yarn, yarn! You know it. I know it. The clothes that should be hanging in there but instead are on the treadmill know it. I'm not judging, I'm just saying. You might as well own your compulsion.

I have another compulsion besides fiber and yarn. Its kind of secret so I hope you'll be as non-judgmental of it as I am of your stash (and mine). Its office supplies. Specifically writing tools and paper. Ever since I learned to hold a crayon I've just been madly attracted to tools that make marks and the stuff you mark upon. This came in very handy when I was in art school. Perhaps I should say that art school came in handy as it allowed me to indulge my little secret. But I don't paint any more and my drawing is pretty limited to patterns and  designs so its kind of rare that I go to a store that has this type of candy. Understandably I thought I had the addiction under control. That is until my recent visit to my Besty, Madame Huff pictured below in front of one of her most clever designs and books.

Noted author, relentlessly talented designer, and evil enabling super genius, Mary Scott Huff. Cute but dangerous.

Noted author, relentlessly talented designer, and evil enabling super genius, Mary Scott Huff. Cute but dangerous.

 

One morning I was sitting at her desk, kvetching about its poor ergonomics I'm sure  (will she never listen to me?), when I discovered an artsy little container filled with fountain pens sitting beside the computer. Beads of sweat formed on my brow. Then I started to worry, no panic. I have this thing under control, right? I don't need to touch them. I have my own fountain pen and while its one of my favorite things I am its master, not the other way around. I don't need to see what its like to use another fountain pen.

So Huff says with faux innocence, "I see you've noticed my fountain pens. Do you like them?" More beads of sweat. "How about my (pause) mechanical pencils?", she said breathlessly.  If she had a mustache like Simon Legree she'd have stroked it. She knew she'd hit a nerve. And I knew I was about to be tied to the railroad tracks unless Dudley Dooright were to come along. "Have you ever shopped on the Goulet Pens website?" she purred. "How about Levenger or Jetpen?" The next thing I remember we were on the couch our hands filled with iPads which we feverishly stroked while looking lustfully at page after page of pen and paper porn. I'm not going to lie, it was heady. But I resisted and walked away with my dignity and wallet intact. 

So this week I'm minding my own business knitting on a sweater and using my mechanical pencil to update a chart, as I always do, when suddenly the pencil breaks. Totally broken -  beyond repair. It was an inexpensive but effective pencil and I got years of service from it, so no tears really. But then I realized I'd need to replace it. My hands got clammy. There are those damn beads of sweat again. There must be another way. I'll use a wooden pencil. I have one on the desk. I sprinted the two feet from my chair to the desk and grabbed it. Holding it with just the right amount of grip I moved it across my chart. It dragged clumsily.  It's body, too thin for my manly grip, lacked contour and caused my hand to strain. It's eraser, hard and smudgy gave me no satisfaction when I made a correction. This wasn't fun! Who was I kidding? This was never going to work. "Its me, not you, pencil. You see, there was another." And it must be replaced. I knew I had to go inside the belly of the beast - the art supply store.

Loins girded I set off this morning after a hearty breakfast for Flax Art and Design which is  one of my favorite store of all time. I felt they knew I was coming, too, and they were ready. Entering the store the first thing I encountered was a huge case of fountain pens and mechanical pencils. More beads of sweat. ("You can handle this".) I was sure I'd be dead in the water. ("You're in control") Putty in their hands ("The power is in the moment!"). But then suddenly, not just pens. Look at this wall of ink!

Just a portion of the wall of ink at Flax. I can't breathe, OMG, I can't breathe!

Just a portion of the wall of ink at Flax. I can't breathe, OMG, I can't breathe!

Through the kindness and expertise of these two talented and knowledgeable folks I manged to emerge with just want I needed.

Lani (left) and Stephanie (right) know everything in the world about pens, ink, and paper. They totally rock!

Lani (left) and Stephanie (right) know everything in the world about pens, ink, and paper. They totally rock!

Okay, more than I needed. But it could have been so much worse. And tell me you could resist this fountain pen and pencil. And as the theme was red I was in for some Noodler's Red Black ink as well. Delicious!

I used a red mechanical pencil throughout grad school and ever since. So glad they had the Kerry in red!

I used a red mechanical pencil throughout grad school and ever since. So glad they had the Kerry in red!

Now, what in the world has this to do with knitting? Everything! Tools inspire us to work. They are a part of the very experience of every part of knitting. Tools need to be comfortable to work with and, in my not so humble opinion, joyous to hold and use. They need to excite you. I'm sorry, but I won't apologize for not compromising on this and I hope you won't either! Everything from your needles to your stitch markers should be things that you enjoy. I'm not saying form over function (necessarily) but I will go down crying that if you don't love what you're working with then you shouldn't be using it because you won't enjoy the work. Nothing is more dissatisfying than knitting with needles that don't feel good in your hand. Or yarn that doesn't drape or display stitches as you wish it to. Why would you bother? Its the same with writing instruments, ball winders, bags, everything! In my mind, there are things you can skimp on with an eye toward economizing, but tools that I plan to spend time with are not among them. (I feel similarly about chocolate and wine. Life's short - enjoy!) And since I'm an accidental writer of sorts I get to have nice writing tools, too.

So with that in mind you can look forward to some posts in the future about Carson's favorite fiber tools and supplies. And if you have a favorite fiber tool - or writing implement - won't you share it with us in the Comments section below?

Until then, Knit Comfy!

Knitting allows me to experience the joy of other hand workers products. Ergo I Knit.

The Rest of It; or, My Endless Summer

Truth be told, Labor Day bums me out a little. It signals the impending end of summer, fewer sunlit hours in the day, and reminds me that winter lurks not far away. It all just gets me a bit melancholy. Perhaps its the vestiges of a childhood-dread for back-to-school. Unlike summer autumn and winter feel so dutiful. A time full of preparing for the dark and cold, not at all like the carefree spirit and light of summer. Now, I live in California so I can hardly call the my winters cold and dark, but I did grown up in New England and these things get engrained in a person. You'd think that as a knitter I'd be excited about winter but honestly, not so much. Its rarely too warm to wear knits in San Francisco. Given my bleak perspective wouldn't it make sense to squeeze out the last sweet juices of summer by doing something big and fun for Labor Day?  You'd think. But somehow, at least for the last few years, my Labor Day weekends have not been spent with any fanfare.

My friend and former neighbor Tom, however, has taken a different approach to the long weekend. For six years he's been attending the West Coast Men's Fall Knitting Retreat, held these last seven years at the Dumas Bay Centre on the Puget Sound in Washington. Tom would return from the retreat each year to regale me with stories of how beautiful the location is, telling me how much fun I'd missed and encouraging me to join him the next year.  So enthusiastic were his reports that last year even his partner, who is not a yarniac at all, went with him to see what all the commotion was about. Tom wasn't the only one coaxing me. Mike Wade, a.k.a. WonderMike of Fiber Beat fame and also a pal of mine, has organized this event for years. Whenever I'd see Mike (which isn't often enough despite living across the bay from each other) we'd decide that this was the year. But when fall rolled around it always seemed like there was a competing priority. You know how it goes.  The combination of a continent between me and Tom, and Mike's announcement that he would no longer be organizing the event made me realize that this year I had to go.

And so I did! And of course, these guys were right. Where to begin?

Welcome to the 2014 Men's Fall Knitting Retreat!

Welcome to the 2014 Men's Fall Knitting Retreat!

Walking into the meeting room we were greeted by a wall of beautiful pottery created by one of our fellows, Charan Sachar, of Creative With Clay. Charan takes his inspiration from embroidered Indian fabric and his work is simply beautiful. I labored (no pun intended) over the weekend to decide which piece I'd take home. Of course that meant four pieces ended up in my bag, one of which now sits with me at my desk when I'm writing. Did I mention Charan makes yarn bowls, too? Its all over my holiday list.

One of the beautiful tankards I purchased from Charan.

One of the beautiful tankards I purchased from Charan.

The retreat location is just gorgeous. The Dumas Bay Centre is literally on the Puget Sound and the gathering room overlooks it with full windowed walls. The cost of the retreat includes all your meals which brought delight to the palate and woe to the waist line. Each day had planned activities for those who wanted to attend and if you didn't, no problem. This was truly a retreat- an amazingly peaceful time to be off the grid and spend time knitting - with men.

Now, dear Female Reader, please don't be offended by my enthusiasm about this. I love knitting with my gal pals and I always will. But believe it or not I've never done it before with guys. At least not with this many at one time. Knit, I mean. What were you thinking? There were 30-plus guys from all over the country and Canada in attendance. All with amazing projects on their needles and a willingness to share skills and talents. Everything from Niebling to double knitting; mosaic to shadow knitting. And there was more than just knitting, too. You'd have seen men crocheting, tatting, card weaving and spinning.  It was inspiring and affirming. And when we weren't knitting or eating you might have found us at Skacel's Marker's Mercantile. If you haven't been to the Mercantile its a must-do the next time you're in the Seattle area. If the yarn doesn't get you the gluten-free pastries will. Karin and her staff will surely greet you with a great big smile and a wealth of knowledge. We were there to buy fiber for our indigo dipping extravaganza which happened on Saturday of the retreat.

Kathy Hattori of Botanical Colors was on hand to give us a lesson in Shibori and prepare vats of indigo for yarn and tee shirt dyeing.

Kathy shows us how to create a Nigerian Shibori effect.

Kathy shows us how to create a Nigerian Shibori effect.

Saturday was a drizzly, grey day which set a perfect atmosphere for our drying hanks of yarn.

Mood indigo. I'm sorry, but it was!

Mood indigo. I'm sorry, but it was!

My lace weight Merino/silk hung to dry.

My lace weight Merino/silk hung to dry.

I am so smitten with this yarn! I carry it around the house with me just to look at it. It likes to go for car rides. It's allowed at work and in public buildings and I take it there. It will be great to have a garment made of it but I don't think I'll get tired of just looking at it any time soon. I also dyed a skein of lace weight 100% Merino (equally gorgeous) which I'll knit up first. I'd love to have it done for the Knitter's Review Retreat but there's lots to do before then so no promises.

There's lots of tradition among the MFKR community and I love this bit especially - there is an Ashford Traditional wheel that comes to the retreat with the sole purpose of seducing some unsuspecting (or not) man into the web of spinning. The wheel goes home with that person or persons, as was the case this year, so they can learn more about spinning before buying their first wheel. How cool is that! The wheel bit hard this year. Two naturals were in our midst and by the end of the weekend they were hooked. Fortunately, they're a couple so the wheel went home to two spinners this time. I can hardly wait to see what they learn this year and what they will bring to next year's retreat.

How fortunate for them, and indeed all of us, that we were visited by Judith Mackenzie! Judith gave a talk on this history of textiles as well as a spinning demonstration. She didn't need to persuade these guys to become spinners, but she certainly sealed the deal.  And in Judith's ever gracious manner she gave them a lesson. What an entree into spinning, lucky ducks.

 It was sad to say good-bye on Sunday morning but alas, life beckons and there's lots to do. And that's a good thing, even in the absence of long sunny days. I have an amazing fall in store! Have you checked my teaching schedule? Pretty sweet. Kind of like summer.

Men's Knitting Retreats are held in other areas of the country and throughout the year. Check out their website to see if there's one handy to you. 

Knitting teaches male knitters to be true to themselves, to challenge fear and convention. Ergo, I knit.

 

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

I live near an elementary school. Like many buildings in San Francisco the school is built into a hill. Its a sort of woodsy hill at the back of the school and there are trails going down the hill through the woods to the playground. Every weekday morning when Lily and I are out for our walk we see the smallies on their way to school.

Oh yeah! A stick! Sweet. So glad I got up today.

Oh yeah! A stick! Sweet. So glad I got up today.

Along our route we see the kids usually take the trails to the schoolyard. I love watching the morning rituals that the families have. The trails present these families with what I'd consider to be milestone moments in child rearing. Sometimes I can tell that its really hard for the moms or dads to let that little one walk down the hill alone. Sometimes you can tell that lessons in independence and separation are being learned. Sometimes you can tell that the child has passed the time when its cool for mom or dad to walk down the hill with them ("Stay there! You're embarrassing me.") And sometimes you see a parent walk just out of their child's line of sight and watch them get all the way down to the school. Its a great and affirming to see these acts of love first thing in the morning. I have to admit that I sort of miss them when they're gone for the summer even though its a quieter morning when they're gone.

This week they returned and with them came the nice weather. Kids in San Francisco get a foggy, windy summer. The nice weather comes in late August and September. I was thinking that if I were a kid I'd be really bummed out if the nice weather finally returned and I have to spend the day in a classroom. I can say this because I'm bummed that I have to spend these nice days in a windowless office. Yes, windowless. Such are the tender mercies that keep me from knowing what I'm missing outside.

Its been a long time since I was a kid the ages these children are but I do remember that summer vacation was the absolute best time of year. It seems to me that today's children don't get as much summer vacation as I did and I find that a little sad. What could have been sweeter than sleeping in late on a summer morning after staying up late the night before. On a "school night" thank you very much!

We as a culture do not seem to value rest. We're driven to be productive and some how that got translated into meaning you can't have any down time. An ergonomic dilemma! Being productive is fine but it comes at a cost which seems to not enter the equation sufficiently. Our muscles, brains, and mind need to rest so that they can recharge for the next event. Failing to allow this rest compromises personal health and safety because our bodies regenerate during our rest cycle. Our muscle tissue regeneration requires a cycle of inactivity. During this cycle cellular damage is repaired. The repair process is catalyzed by inflammation within the tissue. Its important to let the tissue complete the full cycle so that its ready for new work and physical challenge. If it doesn't get the full cycle we are setting ourselves up for injury. Its a little like sending an injured athlete back into the game before she's fully healed. Odds are pretty good that she'll be injured further and perhaps more severely.

I know this stuff and yet I must admit that I'm really not good at taking time off. I work full time at my day job.When I get home from that I work on writing projects, class development, pattern design, and other things that allow me to bring classes and information to you. I'm not saying this to sound like a martyr but just to say that there's not a lot of down time in my house. Even my vacation time from the day job is spent teaching throughout the year. So its was a big deal for me to say that I was going to take some time off this summer and just relax. Not once, but twice.

Some friends of mine told me about a spinning retreat that Judith McKenzie was teaching at a beautiful and secluded area just outside of Portland, Oregon. The event was all about spinning "luxury fibers". How could you go wrong? I was totally on board, To really gild the lily I decided that I'd crash for a few days with my Bestie, Madam Huff and her family on both ends of the trip. I should tell you that I had made a vow at the start of the year that I wouldn't buy any fiber this year because my little apartment is about to burst with what I have already. But how could anyone resist these?

Baby camel, Merino, and silk. Two bumps, please.

Baby camel, Merino, and silk. Two bumps, please.

Or how about this?

Cobalt and teal angora and merino blend. I spun a sample of self-striping yarn which you see around it.

Cobalt and teal angora and merino blend. I spun a sample of self-striping yarn which you see around it.

But wait, there's more!

50/50 baby alpaca and silk. 3 bumps artfully put up to look like flowers by Mary Reynolds.

50/50 baby alpaca and silk. 3 bumps artfully put up to look like flowers by Mary Reynolds.

Judith dyed all of these except the angora. Her colors are always so beautiful I could weep. I've become beyond smitten with this sort of acid green-yellow lately and I'm working on a cowl that I'll show you soon of the same color. Fortunately it's happy with my go-to blues which I don't think I'll ever get tired of.

Just so you don't think it was just a shopping event here are some samples I spun.

Luxury fiber sample skeins -everything from silk, suri, and yak to camel, cashmere and quivut.

Luxury fiber sample skeins -everything from silk, suri, and yak to camel, cashmere and quivut.

If that wasn't fun enough I got to hang with the Huffs again after the spinning retreat. We took a trip to Mt. St. Helens which was nothing short of breath taking.

You can imagine the once-upon-a-time peak fitting atop Mt. St. Helens.

You can imagine the once-upon-a-time peak fitting atop Mt. St. Helens.

This is an inspiring and beautiful place. So many colors and textures that I'd love to see in a sweater design (check out my "Inspiration" page for more photos). Mary and I saw a new butterfly that had just emerged from its chrysalis.

Newly emerged and drying its wings. Welcome, butterfly!

Newly emerged and drying its wings. Welcome, butterfly!

And what trip would be complete without an elk burger?

No thanks, but the Hufflets enjoyed one.

No thanks, but the Hufflets enjoyed one.

I love summer! And best of all, I'm taking another trip!

A perfect summer day spent with dear friends.

A perfect summer day spent with dear friends.

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