Monday, June 29, 2009

Hey Lady, Is that a beaver on your head?

Or are you just happy to see me?

Handknit hat made from uncarded 
BFL/Icelandic fleece spun straight from the bag.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Knitting Sprawl - The Schedule

It has been very gratifying over the past couple of days to encounter such a warm reception to this project. Many times when I have solicited participants for my projects I run up against a brick wall again and again, so to be embraced so warmly is really quite surprising and wonderful. Thank you.

Here is a very loose schedule, which I hope to tighten up as things progress:

Mid-August - St. John's (and when I mention a major city, I really mean just outside of that city)
early Sept - possibly Halifax
Sept 14 -19 - Montreal (NOTE: Still looking for connections in Montreal! S'il vous plait?)
Sept 20 - 28 - Toronto (Have connections in Peterborough, and Waterloo/Wellington. Maybe Sioux Lookout, but I have to look at the map)
late winter/early spring 2010 - Vancouver area

So there are some gaps - I am hoping to get to Calgary and Winnipeg and maybe Saskatoon.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Knitting Sprawl

After several weeks of leisurely gardening, dyeing, spinning and knitting, it is time to get down to brass tacks. I have a big project to get underway and the time to do it is now.

Knitting Sprawl is an idea that has been cooking in my head for a couple of years. It comes from some ideas that came up during the time The House Museum was active and I was thinking about what makes a community and how new development affects ideas surrounding the notion of community. This was coupled with observations made about my sister's experience moving into a new development in Massachusetts. She began with an idea that this would be her family's dream home, something completely their own from Day 1. Unfortunately, they had all sorts of troubles from Day 1 and the dream was, at times, a nightmare. I wondered how many others have had that experience.

Using my sister as a guinea pig, we went up to her house and stayed for several days while I photographed and made some videotapes. Click here for my youtube debut.

Also, I started collecting aerial photographs taken of various suburbs with a notion to translate them into knitting patterns. My first attempts were technical failures, but I didn't give up on the idea. In fact, as time went on, the whole project seemed to be becoming more of a collection of ideas and projects that sprawled across the horizon like so many McMansions.

I knew that to carry out all these ideas I need to be able to travel around and speak with people and knit and take pictures.

Enter the Canada Council. They placed their faith in me with a generous project grant so that I can travel across Canada, meet with people, knit and take pictures.

It makes the most sense to start in the east and work westward, so in August, we will travel to just outside of St. John's with the goal of connecting with people. And when I say "people" what I mean is "knitters". Knitters already tend to get together and talk about things, so it seems natural to tap into this readymade network. My purpose is to stimulate conversation about the communities where people live: what do they love? what do they hate? and especially to ask the question "where/what do you think the center is in your community?"

I have already learned that the topic is filled with regional differences and subtleties. I have already learned that I should never, ever call Mount Pearl a suburb of St. John's. And I never, ever will, I swear! It has set me thinking that perhaps each region needs it's own knit or needlework project in response.

But perhaps I have said enough already.

Do you live near to St. John's? Would you be willing to host a knit together in August? Do you live in another region of Canada and want to participate? Please let me know - thehousemuseum(at)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Done with Devotion

Just about every week, we head to the Corner Brook Public Library.  This is a real treat for us since our local library in Queens is, sad to say, the pits and we have given up using it.  Some people in town here mock the CB library but we soak it up.  Finn and Lucy gather piles of books and cram in lots and lots of reading.  We read in NYC too, but this is that great, sometimes completely random, experience of taking chances on books that you have never heard of that only a library can offer.

I love wandering around the non-fiction shelves and especially the Newfoundland and Labrador section.  There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of self-published memoirs and biographies.  Some of them are absolutely unreadable but occasionally you hit a real gem.  I always check out their knitting section despite that I have only seen one new book in about five years of looking.  This last time, however, I wandered a little further and squatted down near the floor and found a huge, coffee table book (maybe could be used AS the coffee table) called "Beyond Craft: The Art Fiber" by Mildred Constantine and Jack Lenore Larson (1972).  

What a find!

It has a somewhat breathless introductory essay that is charming for its enthusiasm, which runs along the lines of: people working with fibers have changed the world!  Art will never be the same!  Then it features a bio and photographs of work by artists from around the world.  The biographies are occasionally hilarious in a real 1970s way:  "The Jacobis are a swinging couple..."  and use language that I am glad to see has gone the way of the dodo:  "...Wilhelmina Fruytier is a tall, handsome woman..."

Much of the work featured has a very dated look to it but some of the work has transcended its time period and still resonates.  I have been googling some of the names to see if they are still working but many seem to be lost to history.  I guess art wasn't changed forever.

One person whose work stood out was Lenore Tawney.  She only just recently died at age 100.  Here is a link to her obituary in the New York Times.  I highly recommend reading to the end. 

at work in her New York City studio in 1958
photograph by David Attie.

Friday, June 19, 2009


"Breathing does not express anything; one's work should be like breathing, essential to just being"

Anni Albers

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Covering Up Down Under

There is an interesting project afoot. It is far, far away from Newfoundland, however.

No, it is not a stunning scarf for Ms. Sodia Pop.

It's Art, baby!

Grrl+Dog, otherwise known as Denise, is creating an installation for the entryway of the National Gallery of Australia and has asked for contributions of knitting. As a true believer in what-goes-around-comes-around, I eagerly volunteered to make a piece. The instructions on her blog (which is really wonderful - go and read it and soak up the great colour!) said to make the piece 8" x 55". A later communication, which I seem to have totally ignored, said 25cm x 25 cm.

I hope this ok, Denise! Fold it, cut it, toss it aside. The good intention was there....

And now we all have to keep our fingers cross that it will reach its far away destination by the deadline.

Go fair scarf/Art! Take thee to Oz!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Cat-friendly Environment

For about a year, I have had a number of little skeins of black handspun hanging around.  Too small to list on etsy and too difficult to photograph even if I wanted to list them there.  Black always looks like a washed out brown or a shapeless lump on etsy, as I have learned through bitter experience.  So what to do with my growing pile of little black skeins?

Make a Kitty Cat Hat!

modeled by the gorgeous Marta. 

It is available in my etsy shop.  Meow.

And the amazing weather continues.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Good Day to Dye

Two glorious days of sunshine in a row.  A thing rarely encountered.

I took advantage of the sunshine (still quite cool, however) to test some new dyes.  I first saw Greener Shades, an organic acid dye that uses no heavy metals, at Rhinebeck.  All the people, sheep, fleece and yarn were so overwhelming in that fantastic, Rhinebeck-y way that I could hardly even begin to think about dyeing so I just made note and walked past their booth.  

Later I did think about it.  Plant dyes are still my favourites (is anything more witchy than boiling up a cauldron of twigs and leaves?  I think not.).  But there are some colours that are very difficult to achieve and plus, I like to experiment.  

I purchased the starter kit, which has 1/2 oz. of each colour they sell.  It arrived and that 1/2 oz looked so miniscule that I wondered about their claim that I could dye 13 lbs of wool with this kit.

Oh ye of little faith!

This stuff is powerful.

I dyed much more than the 3/4 lb that I imagined I would get - some fleece took up the dye more intensely than others.  I over-dyed some of my vast stock of yellow fleece to get some really nice greens.  I still have a pot of fleece sitting out to see how it does over time in the sun.

Definitely a different experience from the plant dyes, but I am impressed.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Impermanence: Proof Positive

One of my yoga teachers asked us what happened to the images our eyes take in - where do they go?  How real can what we see be if we can't really say what happens to those images.  One of my fellow teacher trainees had his existential crisis right on the spot.

But it is a question I think about, especially when I think about how we hold our past in us.   Where exactly is it?  And if we can't say where or even what it is, why is it so powerful?  What are we holding on to, exactly?

I thought about this when one of my best friends from high school whom I have just recently re-connected with via facebook (see, it does have some redeeming qualities) sent me this photo c. 1986.

So young, so chubby-cheeked!  But long gone.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Come Knit with Us!

On Saturday we will be participating in World Wide Knit in Public Day here in Corner Brook.  Along with 200 other groups around the world, knitters, spinners, and crocheters of all ages and abilities will step out of their usual knitting environment and knit together.  

We will gather at the gazebo on the Majestic Lawn at 1 p.m.  If the rain makes it too unbearable, we will find another place to hang out.  But don't sweat it - just come join us!

Lasagna and other Gardening Adventures

Fortunately for us, the gardening season in Newfoundland is slow to start.  I always fear that I have missed all the deadlines but really, no worries there.  It is still snowing in Labrador and we have had frost warnings for most of the week.  I asked a woman working in a greenhouse if I was too late to plant peas from seed and she laughed at me, "Winter just ended my dear!"  

I have some seeds and some onions to get in the ground.  No potatoes this year - couldn't find any seed potatoes.  Oh well, our neighbor will just have to buy his own this fall instead of stealing ours.

My lasagna beds from last year were full of dandelions and thistles but I weeded them and made one more bed and began to get some seedlings planted.  I am ever hopeful we will be able to actually reap the harvest this year.  It feels like nothing short of victory to get delicious vegetables out of the rocks that go around pretending to be soil here.

It can be overwhelming, however.  My non-lasagna bed that I spent three years just digging rocks out of and adding compost to is looking pretty nice - loaded with fat earthworms.  But the rocks keep coming and the alder trees encroach a little further every year.  I was nearly in tears after one particularly back-breaking weeding session.  It just felt so impossible to carve out a little space of controlled growth amid all this wild landscape.  I used to wonder at why people here would go to such trouble to cut down so many trees and put in a lawn around their house.  A lawn, for chrissakes!  Lawns are like deserts when it comes to local ecology.  I despair over lawns.

Yet, yesterday I finally understood.  This place is so intensely wild that to let everything just be as it is, right up to your front door would be an act of great courage or maybe insanity.  It's simply too much.

Perhaps all this is just me trying to justify that I finally broke down and purchased, used, and fell in love with, a lawn mower.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Special Hats

I love hats.  I love making hats.  I love that one skein of funky handspun yarn can make a funky, handspun hat.  

I make a lot of these hats but they have not been good sellers in my etsy shop.  I haven't figured out the right way to get them out into the world.  But perhaps I have finally tapped into a way.  One of our stops on our trip to pick up wool on Tuesday was at Neddie's Harbour Inn, an upscale inn on Bonne Bay in Gros Morne.  The owners asked me and Shawn to bring some of our wares for them to sell to their guests.  We each carried up some skeins of yarn and a few knitted items.  Since my inventory is next to nil at the moment, I quickly knit and crocheted up two hats using some yarn I purchased from a woman named Monte in New Mexico.  I love her yarns and I loved making these hats.  

Happily, the people at Neddie's Harbour Inn liked them too.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Heritage Wool

Yesterday, Shawn and I headed down the Northern Peninsula to Daniel's Harbour - about a 2.5 hour drive from Corner Brook.  To get there, we have to drive through Gros Morne, a World Heritage Site and National Park.  It is jaw-dropping beautiful, even with the grey, foggy weather.  Besides the amazing scenery, Gros Morne is famous for being home to many, many moose and it did not disappoint.

This was but one of the four moose we spotted on our drive (we also saw a fox with a rabbit in its jaws dash in to the bush).  This guy looks like a teenager who has just been kicked out of the house by his mom in his second summer - she has a new baby to care for so now this one is on is his own.  Later we saw a mother and very young baby - the smallest moose I have ever seen yet still the size of a pony.  It never fails to amaze to see these huge, awkward yet beautiful animals.

We were heading to Daniel's Harbour to collect 20 lbs of washed, uncarded wool from Newfoundland sheep raised there.  Well, we weren't collecting the wool directly from the sheep.  We were collecting it from a woman named Kay who runs a store in Daniel's Harbour and is a fellow fibre enthusiast.  

Shawn and I have been on the hunt for local wool for over a year now and this is our first success.  And what a success - the wool is gorgeous.  I might compare it to Shetland in qualities - not as fine as merino, not like Icelandic, nor as rough as Coopworth.  I spun a little on a spindle Kay had and it was definitely a keeper.  We are all looking forward to making yarn that we can say is 100% Newfoundand - Newfoundland wool, Newfoundland dyes, Newfoundland spun.  I think we are almost there.

Kay seemed to be happy to encounter two people who understood her excitement about all things wooly.  She said that her neighbors had started looking at her as if she had two heads with all her wool-related activities.  But we had a moment of true understanding - just smiling at each other.  We understand Kay, it's going to be alright.  And then Shawn and I gave her lots of tips for her new etsy shop (please check it out - she has wonderful, traditional Newfoundland knitted products).  

We gave her our dandelion dye recipe and we admired her many items for sale.

The yarn you see here is made from the same wool as we purchased yesterday.  Kay has it processed and dyed in PEI.  

Kay has gorgeous sweaters as well as quilts made by women in the community.  If you are passing through Daniel's Harbour, stop in and check it all out.  Her place is called "The Store" same as her etsy shop.

It is hard not to mention that yesterday, the temperatures were in the mid-40sF (around 5C).  It was quite windy as well.  In other words, it was COLD!  Hard to believe it is mid-June but then again, every year is like this - winter coats until the very end of June when you are just about to give up all hope of summer arriving.  It will, but it sure is short.

Here are some pictures of Daniel's Harbour.  A compelling place in its landscape, natural and otherwise.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

I Love Uncle Scrooge

Over at Monkey Mind, James reminds us that today is Donald Duck's birthday.  I can never think about Donald and his family without thinking about this scene from Wilt Stillman's Last Days of Disco.

I'm no kindergarten teacher.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Sourdough Zazen

One lovely, if sometimes tricky, aspect of life in Gillams is the lack of schedule.  No racing out the door (mostly), few deadlines, and plenty of time to take on the things that are easy to push to the side when the day is filled with activities requiring hour-long subway rides and packed lunches.

One of the things that I lost along the way in the fall was my bread baking.  I could squeeze in the occasional focaccia but my sourdough starter was a non-starter.   It was rare that we enjoyed the delicious, unbeatable taste of homemade sourdough bread.

No so in Gilliams.  One of my first tasks was getting a new starter going.  Making a sourdough starter from scratch is quite simple but the number of ways it can go astray appear to be limitless, as I have learned through experience again and again.  So it is always with a little bit of wonder that I mix that first 1/2 cup of flour and 1/2 cup of water together.  
What will happen?  

One thing I have learned is that, even if it gets side tracked for a time, it will work out eventually.  Bread will happen, even if it is a good deal later than I had hoped or imagined.

Are you reading the metaphors for sitting zazen yet?

It is hard not to get metaphorical when dealing with sourdough.  Or zazen for that matter.

I am thinking metaphorically along these lines is because two of my friends and I are starting a sitting meditation group this summer and we have been discussing how to do it.  It turns out that my practice is the most "traditional" in that I am specifically attached to a Zen Center and following a specific tradition while my friends follow the teachings of a well-known Zen master but in a much more informal way.  

It also turns out that some might regard my practice as somewhat strict, although since I consider myself to be such a beginner it is hard not to laugh at applying this description to what I am up to.  I can appreciate, however, that what I am up to isn't for everyone and could even scare some people off.  So we are working out a sitting program that will be welcoming to all who might be curious without making them feel like they have entered something so foreign to their experience as to be completely off-putting.  

I think it is going to work out just fine, even if it doesn't evolve exactly as I might imagine.  

And it is so exciting to have a group to sit with, in whatever manner.  There is something so wonderful and powerful and mysterious in it.

We will just sit and let things ferment for a while.  Yum.

And here is a simple sourdough recipe, for those of a less metaphorical bent:

Begin by mixing 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup water together in a non-metal bowl large enough to hold at least four cups.  Let sit for 24 hours coved in plastic wrap (a damp cloth will work too but it has to be kept damp).  The next day, give the mixture a stir and add another 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 cup water and mix well.  Cover and let sit for 24 hours.  Repeat for another two days - you should notice bubbling and a fermenting smell that is not unpleasant.  If you start to get an unpleasant smell, dump out most of the starter and begin again using only about 2 TB of your original starter.

Once your starter is nice and bubbly and appears to be rising and falling with your additions of flour/water, you are ready to use it.  The night before you plan to bake, add 1 cup of flour to your starter.  It will lose its watery quality and become thicker - like a thick pancake batter.  Cover and let sit overnight (at least 8 hours).  In the morning, you should notice that it has risen and fallen and be very bubbly.  Stir it down and put all but about 2-3TB in a large mixing bowl.

To the remaining starter, add 1 cup flour and 1 cup water, mix well and cover.  If you don't plan on using it again within 48 hours, put it in the fridge where it will keep for a good long time.  You can re-activate it as above by adding flour/water the night before you plan to bake.

To the starter in the bowl, add 2 cups warm water.  Stir well.  Slowly begin to add flour, stirring it in completely as you add about 1/2 cup at a time.  After 1 1/2 cups have been added, add a TB of salt and stir well.  Continue to add flour until the dough begins to come away from the sides of the bowl.  Now, spread some flour on your counter top or kneading board and dump the dough out.  Knead while adding flour, but not too much - it should still be a little sticky.  When the dough is soft and resisiliant (like a baby's bottom!), then clean your mixing bowl, butter it up and put the dough in it.  Cover with a damp cloth and let sit for 2 hours.  It should double in size, approximately.  

After two hours are up, dump it out onto your counter again, knead and divide in two.  Let sit for 1/2 hour.  Then put into your bread pans (or floured bread baskets) and let rise for another two hours.  Pre-heat oven to 425F in the last 20 minutes or so of rising time.  After two hours, put the bread in the oven and let back for approx. 30 minutes.  May take longer or less time, depending on whether the bread is baking in a pan or freeform, etc..  Some people like to spritz the oven with water 3X during the first 9 minutes of baking, others like to put a pan of water on the bottom of the oven.  Both are intended to give a crispier crust.  

Try it out and see what you like.  Bread will happen, even if it isn't what you expected.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

This Little Piggy...

Corner Brook inaugurated their Farmer's Market yesterday in grand style. The weather was perfect, the crowds plenty, the music excellent, and everyone was happy.

Our West Coast Craft Collective started out with two tables, but quickly grew to three to accommodate all our wares. Response was enthusiastic. It is clear that many people have been longing for something like this for many years. Congratulations to all who made it happen - and a huge thank you.

In foreground, hats and eco-bracelets by Knix Hand Knits.

Here we have felted soaps and boxes by ShannonAnn and fused glass garden birds by 
Urve Manuel at Stone's Throw Glassworks.

I didn't have much to sell myself, but happily most everyone else was selling at a nice pace. Plus it was simply nice to spend some time with the other people who make things here on the West Coast. Such a lovely group of people.

My small basket of yarn along with some Islandsweet knitting needles and yarn.

The market will pick up again on July 11 and continue weekly through October as produce comes in. This was just a kick-off event to generate some interest. I think it worked!

Friday, June 05, 2009

A Natural, Zesty Enterprise

Many dandelions were gathered yesterday - about 1/2 lb of flowers. I boiled them for about 1/2 hour then simmered for another 1/2 hour. The smell was not for those with allergies - just a word of warning. I strained out the flowers and added about 20 pennies to the pot. I had heard that the copper in pennies could serve as a mordant if you just drop them in the dye pot, so I took my chances. Then, a quick scan of our cupboards revealed some alum, so I put in about 2 TB, maybe a little more than that. It was all a bit hit or miss. While I admire those who can take on their dyeing with a scientific attention to detail, for me it is like drawing a straight line. I just can't do it, even when it is what I set out to do.

Anyhoo, I simmered 1/2 lb of BFL fleece and some mohair locks for about 1/2 hour, then let the pot cool off the stove. Voila! (The colour is actually much more intensely yellow than this photograph indicates - for some reason yellow is so difficult to photograph accurately).

The colour is especially welcome because all my dyed fleece is still in transit and I have had only white, morrit and black to work with as I prepare some yarns for the first ever Farmer's Market in Corner Brook this Saturday. The West Coast Craft Collective, as we are unofficially called, will have a table of wares. Islandsweet will be there, as will Knix Hand Knits, along with some others as well. Stop by any time from 10 am to 2 p.m. and say hello!

But back to the limited did inspire a very late entry to the etsyFAST team's May Challenge (is this a weekday?). The challenge was to make something based on a movie. One of my all-time, #1 favourite movies is The Big Lebowski. Pure genius, every minute of it. I made a yarn based on the Dude's sweater. If you are not familiar with the movie, I urge you to see it, but do not let a first viewing put you off. It often takes about three times to really understand the many layers of subtle nuance. My brother-in-law, who is completing his Ph.D. dissertation in education as we speak, has compared it to Shakespeare with a straight face.

What in God's holy name am I blathering about? Well, I'll tell you what I am blathering

I also made a super twisty yarn using a Border Leicester/Alpaca blend. Both are in my etsy shop, or stop by the Farmer's Market on Saturday.

This is a yarn that is made from two bobbins of singles that Lucy spun and never did anything with. After making a couple skeins of my limited palette, I was jonesing for some colour (where my kool aid at?) and I found these two bobbins. Desperate, I asked Lucy if I could ply them together, come what may. She agreed, although I am not sure if she is selling this skein or not. It was actually very inspiring to take more chances with colour - the random plying experience worked out so beautifully.

I happily await my packages of dyed wool. Please come soon!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Throughout Space and Time

Somehow defying space and time, I am sitting on the couch in Gillams. Never left, it seems. Or so it especially seemed as we arrived to find our dear, dear friend Olive in the house, making a fire in the woodstove and setting up a delicious, homemade lunch so that we felt not only welcomed but as if we never left.

Each year our trip back takes on a new flavour. Last year I remember it was one of hardship - the house had encountered difficulties over the winter and it was hard to turn the wheels that had to be turned to make improvements.  Everything generally felt like it was slightly off. This year, however, has been much more dreamlike. It truly feels like we just popped away for a weekend and now we are back with only that slight jog in between. Of course, that jog was much more than a weekend and it boggles my mind to think of all the activities we managed to cram into those nine months in New York.

Then, there are things like seasons that help confuse us and suggest that we have breached the time/space continuum. Here is Sunnyside on May 27th:

Here is Gillams on May 30th:

Things are rapidly getting greener, but it is clear that, if anything, we have been moving backwards in time.

As if to add to that sense, here are Finn and Lucy exploring an ancient relic from days long past...

They were quite amused by this quaint antiquity.

Here they are slightly less amused, as it is about 10 p.m. on Friday while we wait to board the overnight ferry in North Sydney, NS, after 12 hours in the car.  I won't even post the picture of Dan.  It would be near impossible to even whisper the word "amused" at his shadow at that point.  He was not a happy traveler.

The cafeteria in the ferry terminal.  There was something so....I modern about it all.  

For myself, I was cheered up greatly upon arriving at the ferry terminal, despite North Sydney being one of the most depressing cities on earth.  It was the first time we saw license plates from Newfoundland and Labrador and the first time there were clusters of people standing around talking and laughing, speaking Newfoundese, as Finn calls it.  Ahhhhh....home at last!

The requisite pictures of the Tim Hortons in Port aux Basques.  We gladly stopped there in the morning after the ferry across and slurped up our steeped tea and coffee.  Never has fast food caffeine tasted so good.  (And thank you, Helen, for your explanation of caffeine from my previous post.  I knew I could count on you!)

A typical day in Port aux Basques.  We saw an RV in line for the ferry in North Sydney that was called "The Sun Seeker," giving us many laughs.  If it's sun yer after b'y, I'd turn around right quick!  Of course, that isn't really true, as the sun is shining brightly today.  But it was cold and rainy the whole trip north, so we had a more jaded attitude at that point.

Speaking of jaded attitudes....

One lovely new development in our absence has been a weekly get-together of knitters at a new cafe in Corner Brook.  Lucy and I eagerly attended this week's gathering, where an amazing lace shawl - with bead work! - was displayed.  Fourteen knitters showed up.  We had local tea and homemade sweets to supplement our conversation and knitting. Very nice.  Very, very nice.

And today, I am experimenting with dyeing with dandelions, among other activities.  From a resource perspective, it seems like a sustainable idea.