Monday, March 30, 2009

Uncle Jimmy

Dan's uncle, James Nuttall, died this past weekend. He lived in Pakistan and was a priest in the Dominican order. Dan's mother, aunt and brother flew to Pakistan to visit him - a trip that was accelerated when we learned that he was failing quickly after having a stroke several weeks ago. Fortunately, they arrived before he died and were able to say hello before having to say good-bye. From the small amount of news filtering out to us back here, it sounds like he was surrounded by people who loved and appreciated him. He was buried there - his home for many decades.

Uncle Jimmy, as everyone I know called him so I called him that too, was a rare person to meet. A true Bodhisattva. When I thought about the times I met him, I realized that they hardly numbered a dozen, if that. Yet somehow his influence was huge. He was completely ordinary and thus completely extraordinary. He lived fearlessly.

Uncle Jimmy worked tirelessly for peace in big and small ways: at conferences with world leaders and in everyday conversations. Some might remember that, a couple of weeks after 9/11/01, a church in Pakistan was bombed and several people were killed. It was Uncle Jimmy's church. By coincidence, his scheduled service had been re-scheduled, so the bombs that were intended for him and his fellow worshippers fell on others. The incident made international news and he was interviewed by the Boston Globe, which would be his hometown newspaper had he stayed where he grew up. His response was to condemn the bombing but also to caution that we might get confused if we started sending out our own bombs in response. Who would be the terrorist then? Not surprisingly, he wasn't interviewed much after that quote.

There are so many more stories about Uncle Jim, most of them ending in a big laugh.

I don't know what it was like to have a person like Jimmy as one's brother or actual uncle, but I feel very lucky to have made his acquaintance. He is already sorely missed.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Mojo No Go

Last week I received a call from David at Lion Brand (do I flinch ever so slightly when I see his number come up on my phone? would it sound ungrateful to answer a timid yes?). He wants to add a plane with a banner over the skyline. We had played around with different ideas for something over the skyline earlier. Sono made an amazing Pale Male that was to carry a banner in its beak but that didn't go over well for reasons I am still not sure about. Then we talked about a sun and clouds but that never really sounded like it would look appropriate. Nothing seemed quite right so we left it empty and I thought we had put it behind us. But ring ring went the phone and next thing I know, I was crocheting a biplane: something old fashioned and distinctly NOT reminiscent of 9/11.

Or rather, I was not crocheting a biplane. My mojo had totally left me.

You see, I was spinning up a storm, adding new yarns to my etsy shop every day and thoroughly enjoying my time behind the wheel. And my mom was visiting for her 82nd birthday. We weren't doing a whole lot since, at 82, she isn't up for all the walking and hiking that go along with a day in Manhattan, but still, somehow the days were flying past and still no biplane. I made several false starts, each looking worse than the next. I played with the idea of actually confessing my inadequacy to David and bowing out of the project. But that seemed like fading at the last, most important, moment, so I perservered.

Finally, this morning, a biplane seems to be emerging my yarn and hook. No pictures yet, but this one is a keeper.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Yarn Theory at PS.122

I am thrilled to invite you all to the upcoming exhibition, Yarn Theory, at PS.122 in Manhattan (150 Second Ave at East 9th Street). Curated by Martha Lewis and Karen Eubel, the exhibition will be up from April 25th to May 17th. It includes some amazing artists working with yarn.

The Knitted Mile will be featured as the hallway installation. No, the hallway isn't that will be, well, come by and see what it will be!

I don't have specifics about the opening, but I know there are some guerilla actions planned. Hmmm....maybe I should bring my wheel?

Dye Day Afternoon

On Wednesday, we spent the day with our friends Sono and Zen. The children engaged in a five-hour pillow fight (when they weren't lighting things on fire - those kooky kids!) while Sono and I hit the dye pots. Sono took the intimidation out of indigo dyeing, making it seem not only do-able but easy. My only regret was that I didn't bring over more fleece.

Here we have a 12-harness loom being used as a display area for fleece. I hope it will have other uses soon, but for now, that is a good one.

A sampling of the indigo results. What magic! Indigo works to dye the fleece or yarn or fabric only after it is taken out of the pot - it turns colour right before your eyes. I see why there is much lore around indigo. For some lovely photos of an all-natural 100% homegrown indigo experiment, click here. We didn't ferment our men's urine for weeks nor grow our own indigo. No, we just put some of the pre-ground indigo in the pot along with two other powders and the magic was ours for the taking. The other way sounds very fun and I hope to do it someday, but in the meantime, this was pretty good too.

This lovely orange colour came from over-dyeing some fleece that I dyed yellow last summer (onion skins with a tin mordant) in an Indian madder. I likes it!

This was lac - probably the least successful of our experiments, but nice on these mohair locks.

In a moment of pure inspiration at the last moment, Sono made up a pot of tumeric dye and overdyed some of the fleece that had been in the indigo - the best green ever achieved to date from natural dyes. Remember that one!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Guerilla Spinning

Yesterday evening I spun on the #7 train for the first as part of my project, Spindle 7. Not sure why I have been holding back from actually doing it...ok, I know why. I am a little scared that my spindle skills are so poor that I will just look like a fool and, damn it, I am shy! I had one of those "why do I do this to myself" moments when I question why I conjure up projects designed, as if by architects, to make myself uncomfortable. I could just be sitting at home spinning happily, but nooooo, I have to go out and make a spectacle of myself.

Every project requires that I get that thought process over and done with.

Then, I took out my spindle and fleece and started to spin. Once I got started, it was ok. I deliberately chose yesterday evening because I knew the #7 would not be crowded heading into Manhattan at 6:45 p.m. And it wasn't. I didn't try to make lots of eye contact but there weren't too many eyes to contact anyway. I did notice a distinct change in atmosphere once we hit Manhattan at Grand Central. Then I definitely got a couple of WTF looks.

Let'em riot! Guerilla spinners, are you ready??

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Stroke of Insight

Although I may be the last person to discover this video, it is worth watching more than once if you have already seen it. Neuroscientist, Jill Bolte Taylor, describes her experience having a stroke. I found it fascinating that her description of experiencing the world solely through her right brain uses almost the exact same language found in Buddhism and in the Yoga Sutra to describe samadhi. I have no idea how familiar she was with those descriptions prior to her stroke, nor afterwards, but the similarities are striking.

Monday, March 16, 2009


Finnian and I can often lock horns. A friend once suggested it was because we were too much alike. I scoffed at that. And yet.

One thing that is guaranteed to get my blood pumping is seeing Finnian sitting in front of the computer, looking at Lego sets and watching Lego videos for hours (did you know there are such things? Go look for yourself, I refuse to make a link!). The vastness of the internets is lost on Finnian: he only wants to look at the Lego website and watch and re-watch these videos and play the games, and all the other garbage designed to make children desire their products. It infuriates me.

I have tried lecturing about how it is all a set up by Lego to get him to buy things. I have tried telling him that sitting in front of a computer for hours is how come Americans are so unhealthy (this never goes over well because he can turn the table so easily on this point). I try to convince him that, if he must spend hours on the computer, then please make it productive time - write a story! edit videos! practice your typing! remember those Italian lessons?! But nothing works. It is only Legos that he wants.

And he does want them. The website's purpose is fully realized because it causes him to lust after Lego sets. The child who can hardly be bothered to memorize the times tables can describe in intimate detail the various benefits and unique attributes of Lego sets that, I suspect, employees of Lego would struggle with. I should mention at this point that Finnian has accumulated many, many Legos over the years. Gifts, donations and trades have resulted in thousands of tiny pieces of plastic all over our house. As someone who is regularly stepping on Legos in my bare feet and vacuuming them up (by mistake, I swear!), it can be a little hard to take to hear Finnian say, "but I don't have good pieces" as a reason why he should buy more.

Lately, the lust for Legos has been building. Finnian has been bemoaning his lack of funds to purchase these desired sets. He has realized that I absolutely refuse to buy any more. Finn was quite jealous to see that Lucy profited from my need for knit building covers by her knitting two of them and receiving a nice little sum in return. He tried to knit, but his skills are a little behind Lucy's and he quickly realized it wasn't worth it.

Then one day last week he asked me, in passing, if I ever needed any wool carded for my yarn. I answered in the affirmative - enthusiastically in the affirmative. Would I pay him for it? Yes! Well, here is a child who would stay in his pajamas all day and night until they fell from him in tatters rather than bother to change his clothes, a child who will complain about having to leave the house to attend a program he actually wants to attend, a child who, on surface, is not what some might call full of self-motivation and initiative. But don't be fooled, people. By that magic word, yes, Finnian was set ablaze with motivation. When we returned home after our Friday activities, he pulled out the carder and got straight to work. Lucy, not one to see others getting something she is not, quickly joined him. By evening's end, I owed them $13 ($.50/batt). Over the weekend, another $30 worth of batts were made. Granted not all the batts are created equal and not all are ones I might have made, but that makes it more fun, in my opinion - a bit of a challenge to work with.

So, Finnian got his beloved Lego sets.

I got my batts and made some yarn.

And we both satisfied, if ever so briefly, our desires.

Friday, March 13, 2009

I Would Drink Jon Stewart's Bath Water...

Why is it that the only person in America capable of asking the important questions, and not letting people wiggle out of taking responsibliity, is a comedian? There is definitely something weird about that. But, I am so grateful for that one person. (P.S. I couldn't find the direct link, so this is the intro with a link to the real interview...please stick with it - it is worth it!)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Zoned Manufacturing

Patti was correct! The big ol'thing is a 12 harness Leclerc loom, purchased for $500 and large enough to house a family of 12 if needed.

Promptly at 9 am, the truck arrived.

There were two huge cartons - one of which was so large and so heavy that the delivery man and I almost could not get it into the house (not a good sign!) but we did manage.

Much packing material was removed. No comment about Finn and Lucy still being in their jammies at 9:30 am. Let's just say life for homeschoolers is very, very good.

We decided to wait until Dan got home to unwrap the final layers of blankets. Few know that Dan has an Associates Degree from the Fashion Institute of Technology in textile design. In his case, this means weaving. Although, as he likes to say, he never spent a day in the industry, it clearly all came rushing back to him as he started identifying the part and explaining what they do. Here he is measuring the reed to see the ppi (picks?pics?pixs? per inch).

The loom has 14 treadles and 12 harnesses. It will do just about everything and certainly far more than I have ever imagined, particularly since I have never really imagined owning a loom. Yet somehow, when it was all unwrapped, I started imagining. It does look tempting!

By some fluke of city bureaucracy, our house, indeed our block, is zoned manufacturing rather than residential. After looking around our living room last night - spinning wheels, carder, loom, I thought that it might actually be a good thing.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

This Big Ol'Thing

A big thing is arriving today - anytime between 9 am and 2 pm.  This big thing, arranged courtesy of the blogless Janine, was among those things that can be categorized as "a bargain too good to pass up".  Although as people living in a teeny, tiny Sunnyside house, we debated long and hard about this particular bargain because even a bargain too good to pass up can take up too much floor space.  

It was like when you pass something amazing, truly amazing, on the street that someone else is throwing away and you just can't believe anyone in their right mind would throw away something so amazing, and then you realize that you have no where to put it and you have to walk on by, hoping that someone else will take it.  Oh bitter, bitter New York reality!

But we threw caution (and floor space) to the wind and said "yes" and today, this big thing arrives from Wisconsin, purchased for about 1/10th of what it is valued at, shipped at considerably more than what we paid for it, and soon to occupy valuable real estate in our living room.  

Wish us luck!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


More pottery from our class at Greenwich House (I am loving the blue wash with dark celadon glaze combo):

More hats for Helen's hat project.  Since I couldn't find the exact link to explain her project, I will briefly explain it here.  Helen made her daughter's boyfriend a hat in his college's colours.  He loved it.  Then he told her about the children in his school who don't have hats - they are all boys around age 12, from disadvantaged families and all have special needs.  I think I am remembering correctly that he is the physical ed. teacher and takes them outdoors in all weather.  Next thing, Helen was volunteering to make hats for all the students, which turned out to be 84 in number.  

Now, Helen is a hat expert and makes hats for the sheer pleasure of hat making, so the number, while large, was not completely daunting.  Still, a dozen hats into the project and she asked for some help.  I had not been able to help given the cartons of yarn in my living room earmarked for other purposes.  But finally, I found myself still with a carton of yarn and no particular project, so I made up four hats for Helen's project.  And I happen to have a 12 yo boy handy to model them, even if his response to my asking him if he will model them for me was "how much will you pay me?"  sheesh!  Back view, apparently, was available for free.

Finnian also provided aesthetic assistance, recommending colours that he felt would not shame a 12 yo boy if seen in public, hence the subdued tones.

Type A Ain't All It's Cracked Up To Be

This morning as the alarm went off at 5 am, I shut it off and decided I was going to sleep in and not even feel guilty about it. I have decided to give myself a break - no deadlines, no goals, no "to-do" lists. I am resting and enjoying what is right in front of me: children, lots of yarn and fleece (godhelpme, I did just order another 10lb box from Sheep Shed!), and plenty of good things to cook and bake.

Ok, Dan is bugging me about getting my tax stuff in order, but other than that...

Monday, March 09, 2009

To Move or Not To Move

This weekend I attended a workshop with David Williams, who is the only person to have been taught the complete ashtanga yoga series from Sri Pattabhi Jois, as it was taught to him from Krishnamacharya, and so on backwards for 5000 years (or so). Check out David's website - he is an intense guy while at the same time full of a kind of hippie spirit that I find very appealing. And just for some jaw-dropping fun, look at his slide show of the advanced series.

Here is a picture of David teaching that I took off his website...I didn't take any pictures this weekend.

Now that he is approaching his 60th year, he is traveling the world sharing his knowledge and teaching ashtanga so that everyone who wants to can do it and can do it with injury until death comes and takes them. If you are familiar with ashtanga then you know that it is famous for being physically challenging and for instructors who make harsh adjustments to get students into positions. Not surprisingly, many people end up injured and stop practicing yoga altogether. David's whole point is that this is not necessary and, in fact, counterproductive. He teaches the primary and secondary series with lots of modifications and options that truly does makes it accessible to anyone who wants to take the time to learn it.

His other big point is that yoga is meditation. It was so exciting to be in a class where that was the primary goal for the practice. His criticism of most yoga classes as being exercises based on yoga is so right on. I have been hesitant to teach from this point of view (that yoga is meditation) because of a fear that people would not like it or some other thing because I was offering up something too strange and different from what everyone else is offering. This weekend gave me a boost of confidence to do what I really think is correct and teach from the point of view that I really believe in.

On Saturday morning, David led us through the entire primary series without stopping (after two evenings of talking and leading us with many stops and starts through it to explain it in detail). His promise that we would feel better than when we started was fulfilled, but it was the clarity of mind that was so exhilarating. I felt a lot like I did right after finishing a three-day sesshin: everything looked crystal clear, unclouded by thoughts to make it otherwise.

It got me thinking about how Zen could mesh with yoga, wondering if they can and, if so, how. Until this weekend, I hadn't found anyone who is really talking about it in those terms.

Cushion or mat? Do we really have to choose?

Wednesday, March 04, 2009


The Lion Brand window is finished (they are making some changes to suit their needs, but if there was ever a time for the phrase "let it go" it is now). I have been having moments of near panic when I think I should be working on something: quick! the deadline is near! Then I realize, no, I have no deadline, I can knit whatever I want. Hell, I could even spin! Talk about wild naked partying - yesterday I got out my handpainted merino/tencel blend and really let loose. And you know nothing spells "lost weekend of sensuous pleasures" like merino. Whoa!

But this is a G-rated blog, so I will only say that you gots to spin it thin, baby, or not at all. Make it last.

Yet, there was a another potential deadline looming. The Martha Stewart Show people had been discussing with me the possibility of knitting a piece for an upcoming show that will be all about knitting. It had come down to knitting some covers for palm trees that will bracket a fashion show of knitwear. I would get a mention, be invited to sit in the audience and a link would be made to my website on their website.

A person far wiser than me said recently, just point yourself in the direction you want to go and see what happens. These have been my guiding words lately. And the more I thought about this whole Martha thing, the more I thought that it was not pointing me in the direction I want to go. I understood that it was, in some ways, the chance of a lifetime to open doors and connect and create avenues of work and income. I knew it and they surely knew it. But was it pointing in the right direction? Again and again, I kept coming up with the answer, "no".

Nothing against Martha! She is, in many ways, amazing. I admire her resiliency and I give the woman credit for promoting a handmade lifestyle. It is that I don't want more work covering things in knitting. I have done that. I think I have quite fully explored that. I love my past projects but the key word here is past. I am looking at other ideas now and I want time to explore them. Knitting, and all handwork, will likely always have a strong presence in my work because it is how I think about the world, but I want to be free to not use them as well. Even if it means be less sought-after or not sought-after at all.

Pointed in the direction I want to go...

Monday, March 02, 2009

I (Heart) NY

When the alarm went off at 5 am this morning, I was a little dismayed to see quite so much snow on the ground. Normally, I would be rejoicing but this morning, it was nothing but trouble. Fortunately, by the time I had finished my early morning activities (I am trying to up my zazen time to somewhat informally participate in the spring ango), the avenue had been plowed and the snow had slowed a bit. By 7 am, it was not impossible to imagine driving a carload of handknit city into Manhattan.

Then, we did more than just imagine it, we did it.

We were met by the lovely Patty, the Lion Brand Studio manager, her assistant, Michelle, and two people from the Martha Stewart show. They were filming the de-installation of the old window display and the installation of the new one. I was much relieved to know that it was just image gathering for the real visit from Martha to happen later this week. I may or may not be left on the cutting room floor, which is something of a relief. To be sure, it is not all modesty and humility that makes me wish to be left out of the picture. I have real issues about using that particular venue as a promotion for my work. I know this window display is a commercial job but I addressed it like I would any other project. How could I not? But working with a yarn company that has been generous and supportive of my work and holds an ethic and vision that seems good for people and the environment (they are making more organic and recycled products, their shop is green architecture...), is one thing. Shilling my work on Martha Stewart is quite another (to whom? and why?).

But enough about Martha! To the window!

I had a moment of panic as I realized that the whole thing needed to be lifted up about 10" in order for it to be visible from the street to its best advantage.

Trying not to panic, I managed to quickly create a platform from some cardboard boxes and two pieces of fibre board that were left over from the previous window. Fortunately, I had brought along extra materials that covered the boxes and make it look intentional. Actually, it made it better since it meant the East River really sits below the FDR Drive.

But that moment when my stomach sank and fear began to creep in...would any project be complete without it?

The ground was laid. The East River filled in (and seagulls added).

The FDR Drive was installed (with taxis and a garbage truck). Then, the buildings were added. An executive decision was made that we would not slavishly follow actual geography so as to better feature the most prominent, well-known buildings, which was wise.

Pigeons and squirrels took up residence...

and flowers began to bloom.

It's a lovely day in the neighborhood!

Come on by and check it out: Lion Brand Yarn Studio, 34 West 15th Street (between 5th/6th Aves.)