Sunday, October 31, 2010

Mostly Sanity and A Little Fear

In a moment of madness, we decided to attend Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity. I actually don't fully agree with his message of moderation when it comes to political views but I am a huge fan of his in general. Plus we have been wanting to get back to Washington for several years. It was enough of an excuse to spend a weekend there together as a family.

Plus, it was fun to be part of something that was generally positive in a time of heavy negativity.

On the ride down on Friday, we realized we were not alone. Many cars also traveling on 95 South sported rallying cries, such as this one - "Sanity or Bust".

We joined the crowds at the Metro station - many with funny signs that I didn't photograph..."Give peace and quiet a chance" is the only one I remember at the moment. There was a definite feeling of festivity in the air. Plus, I got in a few rows on Lucy's sweater. It was all good.

The crowds just kept coming. We found a spot that, at first, seemed far from the action but within a half-hour, we realized we were deep in the centre of things. People were quiet and respectful, but it was a little scary. And more people were coming - as far as the eye could see up the side streets. At a certain point, Dan and I decided we needed to get out of there - it was just too scary, especially with Finn and Lucy. It took a good twenty minutes to get to the edge of the crowd.

We did see some good signs.

We decided to take the whole thing over the Smithsonian Museum of American History. It contains something that I have wanted to see for years - Julia Child's kitchen.

Lucy shares my love of Julia Child.

Talk about occupying the ground you stand on...Julia Child is such an inspiration to me. I got a little teary-eyed watching the videos.

And Finnian made sure we got to see Kermit.

We also took in the Vietnam War memorial for the first time and the Lincoln Memorial - both very affecting given our current national situation with two wars and a highly divisive culture that splits, in large part, along racial and economic lines.

Washington DC has such a different feeling from, say, Ottawa. Several of the signs we saw yesterday said things about "taking it down a notch". I think it is safe to say that we will be seriously taking it down a notch in a couple of weeks as we head for our northern home. There is a lot of sanity in Canada. And that is why we love it so. Yet, it was good to experience all the craziness that is the USA too. Seeing all those thousands and thousands of people, all rallying around the cause of being was very reassuring.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Ebb and Flow

Our house has been abuzz with art making. Finnian has been working on creating a portfolio of 10-15 works that he can show to the two high schools where he is interested in applying. Although he has many drawings and part of a graphic novel he started, they want to see a diversity of media as well as examples of working from life and from imagination.

We have added watercolour and acrylic painting to our repertoire. Everyone has been getting in on the act.

It has been very fun to talk with Finnian (and Lucy) about ideas and techniques in art making. And fascinating to see how he absorbs what he hears and looks at and analyzes. Unfortunately, I may have botched up his chance to find out if he really wants to go to high school by missing an important deadline. We may be able to work around it and I do hope we can. As I mentioned, I am not especially interested in Finnian going to high school but I am especially interested in him making that choice himself. My lack of awareness of bureaucratic deadlines is definitely NOT a good reason to keep homeschooling.

So we proceed as if all is going ahead as we might wish it.

Say, with this, for example.

This is the icelandic lamb/baby alpaca fleece I purchased at Rhinebeck. A subtle, beautiful skein that is actually quite soft. I spun it two-ply, mostly lace weight.

See? (I always wanted to include one of these look-at-how-thin-I-can-spin shots.) This might be a gift but I need to do a little more inquiring of the recipient to be sure it will be a useful gift and not a pointless gift.

And there is this:

Lucy's sweater, such as I was able to knit on two subway rides yesterday. The pattern calls for 4" of ribbing. Seriously? I am a great proponent of Elizabeth Zimmerman's rule of knitting ribbing for as long as you can stand it. Four inches is about 1.5" longer than I can stand it. I have 3" here. I may have to look at the photographs again and see if it will look too weird to stop here. I mean, c'mon.

And this:

A hat in progress, made with more islandsweet yarn. I am so in love with this yarn that I am sharing out the knitting like it was candy.

And I want to remind you that I will be teaching a three-week workshop on natural dyeing and spindle spinning at Wave Hill beginning next Friday, November 5th. It will run for three consecutive Fridays from 10 am to 1 pm. The cost is $130 for the three weeks, all materials provided, including a top whorl spindle that you will be able to keep as your very own.

Join me! Because when I am not screwing up my children's future, I do love sharing the wonders of dyeing and spinning with others.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Reluctant Talent Handler

We have been on something of a 30 Rock binge. We don't own a functioning television - we missed the digital change over completely. But we do watch things on the computer and somewhere along the line we bumped into 30 Rock. I know it is in something like it's 6th season, but did you know it is this really funny show starring Tina Fey? Really! I recommend it.

The downside seems to be that my hat model has started acting a little too much like Jenna, the self-absorbed and difficult actor that Liz (Tina Fey) has to coax and flatter to get her to do anything.

Example A:

For this hat, I was mocked not just by Lucy but by, well, by everyone in my family for making a hat that was silly looking. Then I noticed many people at the Sheep and Wool Festival wearing hats not dissimilar to this one. Only mine was made with hand dyed, handspun yarn made by islandsweet so it is extra special and fabulous. Sheesh!

Her Royal Highniness agreed to a couple of pictures. This hat is now at Calico Juno on City Island.

Example #2:

This one is made from yarn I purchased from Fall Creek Fibers. My hat model was very reluctant so I only have this slightly blurry one. Let's call it arty. Hmph.

Things perked up when we headed to Knitty City to purchase yarn for our model's birthday sweater, however. We decided to make the Central Park Hoodie. I mean, 1,000 people on ravelry can't be wrong - right?

We went with the suggested yarn in a lovely deep and tweedy red.

I took advantage of Knitty City's excellent Cascade 220 collection to stock up on yarn to finish my Ontario section of Knitting Sprawl. After letting it sit in a box for several months while the bitter taste of failure faded from my mouth, I cracked open the box to see if it was as bad as I remembered. What I found was a project that isn't a total failure, just incomplete. And I am feeling pretty excited to finish it.

Even the talent handler should be allowed her moment of drama, and to have said moment soothed by the purchase of some lovely yarn.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Spindle 7 - The Movie

Normally I would not post two times in one day - my life just isn't that exciting. But today is different! I want to share this with you immediately:

Spindle 7, the movie, is now live!

It will be embedded on my website soon but it will not be available for capture by others (sorry!). But please feel free to share the link.

I am very pleased with the result. The amazing camera work was done by Marcia Connolly, filmmaker extraordinaire from Toronto. She ruined a pair of jeans in pursuit of the best shots, even if it meant crawling around on the subway floor. Also, as a person with a much more extroverted personality, she pushed me to have yet one more encounter, even when I was ready to run off the train and cower in a corner somewhere. The editing was done by Susan Forste. She also did the interview that resulted in all of the voice over. I know for a fact that she is looking for new projects.

I hope you like it as much as I do.

Talkity, Talk, Talk

On Wednesday evening, I gave a presentation to an undergraduate class at NYU, in the photography department. It was a class called Processes and Practices (or something like that) led by a friend and artist, Erika DeVries. Although photography is peripheral to my work, I am heavily into process over product so Erika thought it might be good for her students to see it. She also asked me to teach a little yoga practice at the beginning, which was kind of fun - we only did a small amount of asana since most people really were not dressed for it and the floor was less than clean. Then we did nadi shodana, a pranayama exercise and a very brief meditation.

After their bodies and minds were primed, I started blathering about my work. Maybe I shouldn't say blathering but I often feel a little nauseous after giving talks about my work, which leads me to believe it might not be so good to spend that much time talking about myself. In any case, talk I did. It was a four-hour class! I chose projects that were especially process oriented - The House Museum, The Knitted Mile, Spindle 7, House Study/Handmade, Knitting Sprawl and Unconditional Yes. See my website for information if you are curious.

The students were lively and asked great questions. Erika had asked them to read the first chapter of the wonderful book titled The Gift by Lewis Hyde in preparation for my visit. So they were definitely keyed into my explorations of gift culture and of the whole notion of giving freely. As photographers, they were a little taken aback by such object-less work, or work in which the results disappear. But I could see some were intrigued. After my talk, I participated in looking at the student's work-in-progress. They are all making semester-long projects. As someone who received a "D" in photography in art school, I definitely don't pretend to understand the technical side of taking pictures so I was a little out of my league there. I was so impressed at how they shared their thoughts about each other's work openly, honestly and constructively. It was really refreshing and encouraging to see their work, feel their energy, and be immersed in that atmosphere.

There were some surprises too. One woman who spent my whole talk looking at the clock and yawning, came up to me afterwards and made a point of thanking me and asking if I teach yoga somewhere nearby. It was a good reminder that you can't know how your work will affect someone. Isn't that one of the great mysteries (and attractions) of making art?

And so this isn't a totally text-only entry, here is a photograph I dug out from my House Museum files for the talk.

It was from 2007, when a group of local residents worked with Marlene MacCallum to create photographic installations in THM. Dorothy King from the local CBC radio station is interviewing Midge Jones, one of the residents. Now that I am looking at this picture again, I realize what a photographic nightmare it is - back lit and poorly framed. No wonder one of the students asked me if I ever considered using photography to document my projects - disasters such as this clearly didn't count as "photography" in his book!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

These Little Town Blues

Last night, we attended an open house at Frank Sinatra High School in Long Island City. It is a high school that specializes in the arts, including visual arts. Finnian is considering applying for their 2011 grade 9 class. We saw several performances - musical, dance, theatrical, vocal. They also had an exhibition of art works by students in the main lobby.

While I am not especially happy about the prospect of Finnian going to high school, I recognize that it is his choice. He seems to be taking a good approach to it - he will make a decision if and when he actually gets in.

The high school was founded by Tony Bennett (yes, THAT Tony Bennett) so we also saw a short video of Tony talking about why he created it. It is public school, but receives additional funding through other sources courtesy of Tony. Somehow all of this brings up an ancient memory of Dan's when he was working in the photo department check-out booth at Cooper Union in his student days. Tony Bennett was playing in the Great Hall and someone managed to snag leftover chicken from the food spread that had been set out. All evening, as people came and went, checking out photo equipment, they would offer students "chicken. Tony sent it up. It's Tony's chicken."

Frank Sinatra High School may be the biggest piece of Tony's chicken yet.

It is competitive to get into this school. Last year over 300 people applied for 32 slots. Based on the work on exhibition last night, I would say Finnian has the skills to get in. He has to prepare a portfolio of 10-20 works and go for an audition (bascally a drawing test and some writing) in a couple of weeks. We have been drawing and talking about various ideas related to drawing and other 2D techniques. For once my skills actually match his questions!

I ordered a book that contained drawings that radically changed my life when I was a teenager.

It is thrilling to be able to share these drawings with Finnian and see how they are exciting him too.

PS. When I checked in to my etsy shop this morning, I was delighted to discover that someone had decided that my hefty 600 yd skein was worth the price tag I had put on it. Two other skeins also found new homes. I guess you just never know!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Edge of a Wooden Sword

Question for you. If you are Serious Artist, would you have an etsy shop selling handspun yarn? If you were Tackling the Big Issues of the Day, would you be knitting and selling hats in various shops? If you were On the Cutting Edge, would you teach yoga and spend inordinate amounts of time chopping vegetables and cleaning bathrooms at your local Zen centre? Would even wondering about that call into question your Serious Artist Street Cred?

Ah, f*ck it. Let'em riot.

So, I made a contact at the Sunnyside Gardens Craft Fair a couple of weekends ago. I only sold two skeins of yarn that day. Despite being part of New York City, Queens has another standard of what constitutes a good price range for handmade goods and my yarn and hats are not in it. In any case, I met a woman with a boutique, Calico Juno, on City Island who loved my hats. We have worked out a deal and I am sending her a box of hats today. Although they have been getting lots of hits on etsy, my hats have always been a bit of a hard sell there, so it is good to have another option in New York for them. I also sell them through Devon House, the Craft Council shop in St. John's (although at the moment, I don't think they have any).

I also have uploaded four skeins of yarn that I made for the craft fair. You may remember this one:

It turned out to be 600 yds! I fear it is almost too big. I have priced it rather high but considering the hours, nay, days I spent working on it....pennies, my dears, pennies.

This is merino, 240 yds. I called it Psychedelic for obvious reasons. I deliberately made it not rainbow sequenced. I think it would knit up into something pretty wonderful, if you have the cajones to wear it.

These two are both superwash merino spun from some Lorna's Lace fleece that I got from a destash sale at Taos Sunflower.

And now back to my Cutting Edge life...

Monday, October 18, 2010

Of Sheep and More Sheep

The New York Sheep and Wool Festival in pictures (and some narration).

The wonderful, yet still blogless Janine. And her husband, Raj. And Lucy. Janine is wearing a vest she made from three Icelandic pelts with the result that she looked like a little Icelandic sheep running around. She was so cute even Lucy kept saying, "You are so cute!" Janine had entered a number of handspun skeins and three handmade dress shirts into the competitions. She took home many ribbons but we all puzzled over some of the decisions. There must be skills that we aren't aware of because many of the first prize winners so. In any case, we had a short visit with Janine and Raj because they were off to pick up two goats they were buying and driving back to Wisconsin in the back of their Toyota Corolla. Yes, they were driving for 18 hours with two goats in the back of their small sedan. After many jokes about how they could fool B&B owners by telling them it was just them and their two kids for the night, we left them to their business. There's definitely a youtube video in there somewhere.

We then met up with Patti and her lovely family. Patti has a new blog btw. This makes me very happy since I was just not getting enough information about Patti in her few pithy Facebook entries.

Together, we went off and looked at sheep.

And goats (these are angora goats from whom we get mohair).

And bunnies (these are angora bunnies from whom we get angora).

Then it was time to watch the sheep shearer. This is my favourite part of the festival. This guy is just so incredible with the sheep - they are like butter in his hands.

The resulting fleece (a Shetland), weighing about 5 lbs.

There were llamas too.

And yes, I did buy a few things.

This is some Icelandic lamb blended with baby alpaca from Frelsi Farm. I love this farm's fleece and since the only time I can find it is at Rhinebeck, I felt justified in buy a good amount. Plus the owner of the farm looks ever so slightly like my friend Shawn, so that makes it extra nice. La la la, just a little magical thinking to add a dash of sugar to an already sweet thing.

Some merino in colours that I was strangely attracted to considering I don't usually like them. Suddenly Lucy's sweater went from being one made from Lion Brand/Maker Faire leftovers to a handspun merino creation. Fortunately that impulse faded once we got home.

This is some merino/tencel in colours that are a little more my usual style.

So, you see, I was very restrained. Dan even said, "you have more bags in the car, right?" when we got home Saturday evening. No, my dear! Just a tiny stone will be added to the mountain...

Friday, October 15, 2010

I Vow, Well Except For....

Many days, at some point in the day, I make a vow to put an end to desires (among other things). Of course this is more complicated that it might first seem because such an idea is really quite complex. It also is complicated because desire is what fuels the culture we live in - our economy is completely based on consumption, to take one example. So, to look at that vow even within its most obvious meaning is to fly in the face of what surrounds us everyday.

I am thinking about this because tomorrow Lucy and I are heading to Rhinebeck for the New York Sheep and Wool Festival - the annual lovefest for people with fibre-y persuasions. Normally, I hate shopping. Shopping for clothes is a trial I would eagerly live without. Even shopping for groceries is not something I would put in my Top 10, nay, 50 or 100 favourite activities. I prefer not to, as Bartleby would say.

But yarn and fibre....

I have been known.

This year, however, I have taken a good, hard look at my stash, not to mention what I know I have stored up in Newfoundland - cough, cough - two houses, two stashes - cough, cough. It's sad, really. I know my stash is tiny compared to some but it is looking mighty big to me these days. We won't talk about Dan's references to "mountains" or even "piles". He is quite accommodating, really.

So this year, my vow is to enjoy the day, the sheep, and the amazing sweaters everyone will be wearing. And especially to enjoy the opportunity to visit with several friends from afar who I rarely get to see other than at Rhinebeck. As for the dazzling array of wool and yarn and tools, equipment, and books....well, I won't say I won't buy anything but moderation will be key.

After all, I do need some needles for that sweater Lucy wants me to make her, and possibly the yarn too....

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Giving and Receiving

I had a reprieve with my gift socks. Of course, this came after I made most of the second sock in less than two days - certainly a record breaker for me. It gives me time to re-work the big toe since, with surreptitious surveillance of the recipient's feet, I have observed his big toe to be rather long. They came out to be more fraternal than I expected - I was actually trying to make them match since they are a gift but I was fooled by the yarn. Personally, I like fraternal, but I know others may not find it so charming.

The socks are a gift for my teacher. When I sat tangaryo as part of becoming his student, I was supposed to give him a gift. I say "supposed" to because this information was not conveyed to me until the process was already underway. I never quite was able to let go of the fact that I had to scramble and quickly make a small drawing as a gift. It just didn't feel right to me even as I knew he didn't mind and, no doubt, has probably long forgotten. So, I suppose these socks are as much about making me feel better as they are about keeping his feet warm for the coming winter. A gift going in two directions? Less of a gift? Imperfect gift? Bah! They're done.

Today also is Lucy's 12th birthday. Apparently she insists on becoming a smart, compassionate young woman, full of grace. Happy birthday my dear!

This is for you and every 12 year old girl.

Monday, October 11, 2010

One Down

One half of the gift socks finished. My first attempt at tabi socks. I think the big toe might be a little short but I might wait and see if the recipient needs adjustments before actually making the adjustments. I discovered that, optimally, I need to have the second sock finished by Wednesday evening. We'll see how optimal I can be.

Friday, October 08, 2010

A Wicked Good Time

Totally digging this trippy photo of my product (as they say in the business) in the late afternoon sun. Rather less than I imagined I had, actually. But no worries - it is a low pressure event. If you should find yourself in the Sunnyside neighborhood of Queens tomorrow, then head over to Sunnyside Gardens Park and visit. There also will be Oktoberfest happening, which I believe includes beer, and a pumpkin patch for the little ones. Festivities start at noon and go until 5 p.m. Even the weather looks promising!

Monday, October 04, 2010

Fly Me to the Moon...

Check out the Lion Brand Yarn blog post and slide show about the rocket yarn bomb...!

Of Yarn and Dharma Encounters

Back from sesshin (What? Another one? Yes, and please may I have more? Soon?). Before I left, I finished up the yarn that I had been working on. As expected, it isn't at all what I expected.

It is a big skein - well over 400 yds although I haven't actually counted up the yardage yet.

Have to say that it isn't one that I would reach for if given a choice but it is pretty. Since it will be joining my other yarns at the craft fair here in Sunnyside this weekend, it doesn't matter if it isn't my favourite. It may be someone else's favourite. Or favorite.

I also came back from sesshin with a bit of a cold. While it was somewhat of a drag to be less than perfectly healthy while sitting, it did reveal to me that it is possible to be fully engaged in sesshin while sick. Yes, you can sit still with a runny nose! No governments fell, no mountains toppled, no lives were lost. No, just some drippy snot ran down my face and then I wiped it away. Frankly, that is good to know.

As a natural enthusiast, I wish that everyone could experience sesshin - its challenges and delights. But I know it isn't something that can be forced. One either comes to it or not. On Sunday morning, my job was to be the front door greeter when the Temple was open for its regular Sunday program. If someone comes for the first time, I show them where to go, and as people come in late, I squeeze them in quietly after the program begins. After they receive beginning instruction upstairs, newcomers come back down to the zendo for the dharma talk given by the teacher, monastic or senior student. Yesterday, it was a special occasion - for the first time at the Temple, the teacher held a dharma combat, or as they more gently called it, a dharma encounter. In it, students line up and ask the teacher questions based on the topic he states at the beginning. In this case, it was about upaya or skillful means. It is an opportunity to get a glimpse of how people practice and how the teacher responds to each student individually. And also a chance to challenge the teacher in a way, even as he is challenging the students.

I have only seen it once before and both times it was an amazing thing - to see how others engage the teacher and to witness his remarkable ability to respond with clarity and deep compassion (and if you think that means he is always nice, please reconsider what compassion may mean). To me, to be able to witness this was like I was being handed the biggest and best gift ever. Then I looked around at the new people to see how they were absorbing what was happening. Some were fairly spellbound, clearly moved by what was happening. Some were anxious, obviously having trouble sitting still for so long. And some looked rather bored and like they couldn't wait to get the hell out of there. And so it is. What is to some a mind blowing experience is to others a bone-ass weird freak show.

And then it ended and we all went home.