Music, Mending, and Lambtown

Even though I remain really reluctant to embrace the season of apples, squash, and soup, October has gotten off to a truly terrific start. The first weekend was full of so much fun that Wyatt skipped school on Friday so we could fit it all in. And then last week, I published my fourth knitting pattern. More about that in next week's post, but meanwhile, YAY ME.

Last weekend was Wyatt's most anticipated annual musical event: Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. We went on Friday before things got too crazy. This is us (actually Wyatt and my knitting, I guess) outside the gates for the concert for middle-schoolers on Friday morning. The music at the festival was great, but the highlight for me this year was watching Wyatt make friends with a four-year old and a three-year old near us at one of the stages—he gave them pony rides on his back, and then they all had a dance party. As if all of that goodness wasn't enough to make a winning Friday, we ended the day on an even higher note after we picked up my friend Debbie at the BART station. We spent the late afternoon and evening with her playing Trouble (which she had brought for Wyatt), making and eating pizzas, and catching up. 

On Saturday, I attended Katrina Rodabaugh's Sashiko Mending Workshop at Handcraft Studio School in El Cerrito. Bonus: Maja came too. I have been waiting for this workshop since June when I found Katrina's work and she promised me in an email that she'd be back in the Bay Area to teach in the fall. True to her word, I got to learn from her in person. She spoke about her journey into slow fashion and the reasons why it's important to disrupt the cycle of fast fashion's trends whenever we can. I loved the books and resources she brought to share. "Sustainable fashion" can be challenging, as I learned in my own little way last year making Wyatt's elephant costume. (Read about that here and here.) During the mending workshop, we hand-stitched a tea quilt (which is thinner and smaller than a potholder, but bigger than a coaster), learned methods of mending, and we witnessed how some simple stitches by our own hands made our patch jobs look beautiful and intentional. Some might even say our embroidery was on-trend. The stack of clothes I need to mend is now one pair of jeans shorter, and I have the confidence and know-how to tackle the rest. Now all I need to do is make the time . . . mending has this way of staying at the bottom of my list of things to do.

Sunday was Lambtown! All three of us went this time, and this year, Lambtown had all the things Wyatt had been looking forward to (music, petting zoo, pony rides, cooking demonstrations), along with a new attractions: a train he could ride on with or without his parents and an interactive farm equipment display. The sheepdog competition was very entertaining, and I learned that Marc knows A LOT about sheepdog trials. (The things a person can hold back in a long-term, committed relationship never fail to surprise me.) We visited with Brooke at the Sincere Sheep booth, where she had displayed my patterns beautifully, and I stopped in to see Kira of Kira K. Designs just next door. Wyatt got to watch carding and blending again at Dreamy Goat Design Studio, and I learned about Shaggy Bear Farms in Scio, Oregon, where they specialize in rare sheep (and their fiber).

I added Gotland and East Friesian roving to the collection of different rovings I have been spinning into yarn. I'm planning to knit all my beginner yarn into a modern, log-cabin style, sampler blanket. My stash of handspun yarn is slowly growing. Here's the stash so far:



Craft Pals

Christmas is over. Soon we will put away for another year the tree and all its ornaments, as well as the lights that we have draped around various windows in our house. And soon, Wyatt may stop asking every day whether any boxes arrived for him.

Getting letters, cards, and fun surprises in the mail is so thrilling. The holidays brought us a fat stack of beautiful cards, many parcels, and fortunately, extra exuberance from our mail carrier, Roberto. One of the most special gifts that arrived at our house this year was for Wyatt, from his friend, Benjamin, who just turned six. Benjamin made Wyatt a needle-felted toadstool:

This most marvelous creation was the latest in an ongoing informal craft exchange that sprang up over the last year or so. The boys have never met, but Benjamin's mother, Sarah, and I became friends through a book club I joined when I moved to San Francisco. Sarah and her husband moved back to South Carolina before Benjamin was born, but Sarah and I have stayed in touch through social media and email. Sarah's cooking, canning, knitting, writing, and her joy and frustration in wrangling life's chaos inspire me.

The exchange began with homemade marshmallows. In October 2014, Wyatt and I decided to make marshmallows. I posted about it online, as one does, and Sarah commented that she wished she had some herself, but having made them in the past, she was in no hurry to experience the process (the smell, really) again any time soon. Our marshmallows turned out well, and because marshmallows are best shared, we sent Sarah and Benjamin a bag of them.

A few weeks later, Benjamin sent Wyatt a tin of homemade pumpkin pie spice. It smelled heavenly. We used it to make pumpkin custard. The tin has long been empty, and the label is a little stained with vanilla extract. But we keep the tin because it was such a fun gift, it smells good, and we might even refill it one day.

Once the spice was gone, we thought and thought about what we could make for Benjamin. Wyatt decided on hand-rolled beeswax candles. Wyatt rolled, I mailed, and Benjamin loved. The day Benjamin received the box, Sarah sent us a photograph of him enjoying his dinner by candelight. 

Some time went by, and then one day there was a surprise parcel for Wyatt. Benjamin had made him a garland of felted balls. Benjamin explained in the accompanying card that the balls reminded him of planets. Wyatt was delighted and immediately asked if he could hang the garland in his room. It hung on his toddler bed for awhile, and when he moved to his big bed, we hung it over the window. The garland arrived wrapped securely (and untangled!) around a toilet paper tube that Benjamin had painted. Wyatt kept that tube, too.

This summer, we made some felted soap for Benjamin.

We went to Rainbow Grocery and bought some soap that smells like creamsicles taste, and we set about giving that soap a woolen jacket.

Wyatt wrapped the soap in wool roving, and we knotted the roving-wrapped bar in a nylon stocking. He rubbed the bar of soap in as hot water as he could stand, and then dipped it in cold water, and then went back to rubbing it in hot water, then cold water, then back to hot. The bubbles grew thicker and thicker as we worked on the soap for about ten minutes. The wool shrank and felted to the shape of the soap. We let the soap dry so we could pack it for mailing. (Wyatt made a bar of soap for himself, too, because why not?) Wyatt thought Benjamin's soap (the blue one) looked like a map of England, so we mentioned that in the card.

Around the same time as we felted the soap, I finished knitting a lace scarf from teal alpaca yarn. I sent the scarf to Sarah. She's worthy of hand-knit gifts any day, but at that time she was extra deserving, having recently given birth to Benjamin's little brother and having just gone back to school for a master's degree. The scarf seemed like something she would enjoy when the weather grew colder.

A couple of weeks ago, Benjamin sent Wyatt the excellent toadstool and a handmade autumn-themed card. Sarah told me she painted the tree and Benjamin added the leaves with a q-tip.

The timing of this gift couldn't have been better. Just two days before the gift arrived, Wyatt had been cross-examining me about why, OH WHY! could he not do needle felting? I have no idea why needle felting occurred to him. It's not like I had ever done needle felting myself. We didn't even have any tools for it. I told him he could do it when he was older because of the needles. He might stab himself, and stabbed, bleeding fingers would feel very bad. He was unmoved by my explanation. When he learned that Benjamin had made the toadstool himself, he immediately confronted me with the reason why it was totally appropriate for him to start needle felting: "Benjamin does it!" After marveling at the toadstool for an entire afternoon, Wyatt carefully re-wrapped it in its golden tissue paper and placed it in his basket, saving it for when we got our Christmas tree. We shopped for needle felting tools the next day.

Once we had our tools, and then our replacement tools because some needles broke, we made Benjamin a needle felted ornament. Wyatt was very clear that it needed to be made of hearts.

He was careful to have me write in the accompanying card that Benjamin could put the ornament on his Christmas tree, but he didn't have to. We also sent some caramel popcorn clusters because the only thing nicer than sending Sarah the recipe was to send the popcorn itself.

There are so many reasons why I love this little exchange of treats and crafts, not the least of which is the way it sprang up so spontaneously. There has never been any pressure to send anything, never mind by any particular date. It's just really fun. We've also made some pretty great items with our boys. I am mystified why crafts are so often considered and almost always marketed as an activity for girls. After all, who among us wouldn't enjoy a good roving-stabbing from time to time? Seeing Sarah and Benjamin's creativity has inspired us to try new crafts. And the joy and appreciation that Wyatt has in receiving something that his friend has made for him, a couple of thousand miles away, with his very own hands, is truly wonderful. 




My First Handspun Yarn

It took me a few weeks to finish the work I needed to do on the yarn I spun in Massachusetts, but now it's done. Isn't it pretty?

The item that kept from from finishing this project sooner was a niddy-noddy. I know. It's a silly sounding name, and as far as I have found, there is no other word for the device.  I looked to buy one locally, but I couldn't find one, so it was Etsy to the rescue. Here is the niddy-noddy I bought. And this is what it looked like with my yarn wound around it. 



The purpose of a niddy-noddy is to allow you to wind yarn, stretching it out at the same time you're measuring it. For example, I used a two-yard noddy-noddy, and when I was done winding my yarn, I counted the loops (33 loops), so I knew I had 66 yards of yarn.

I let the yarn sit on the niddy-noddy overnight.






The next day, I tied the loops together it in four places with undyed yarn (to avoid any color transfer), and then it was time to wash it. The spinning we did during my class was "in the grease," so the wool had never been washed. Here's what the yarn looked like going into the basin:

I washed the yarn four times, gently, in lukewarm water with a little bit of liquid laundry soap. The first three washes, the water was full, and I mean full, of lanolin. The water turned a deep brown. By the third and fourth washes, the sticks and twigs had started to float out of the yarn and the water was less and less brown. Here is what the third wash looked like:


By the fourth wash, the water looked pretty clear, so I knew I was done. I rolled the yarn in a bath towel to get most of the water out, and then I hung the yarn to dry over a doorknob in our laundry area, with the basin under it to catch the drips.


Even though the yarn is at best, inconsistently spun, I'm pretty happy with my first effort. I'm not sure what I'll make with it yet, but I'm happy that I have so much to work with.

Drop Spindles and Spinning Wheels

"Oh, that's great yarn you made! Mom. When are you getting a spinning wheel? Soon, yes!? But I do NOT like the smell of that wool. I know what the problem is: maybe they didn't filter it?"

Wyatt and I are just returning from ten days at my parents' house in Massachusetts. That's a new personal record for all of us. In addition to our crab apple jelly/jam concocting, we enjoyed an amazing day trip to Wingaersheek Beach with friends, blueberry picking, and visits with family. Most days, though, Wyatt stuck himself firmly to his grandparents in the morning and took the day from there. He did some work in the wood shop and garden, emptied the wading pool with water shooters, did construction projects in the sand box, tirelessly assisted in mowing the lawn on the riding lawnmower, helped with errands, and chased the dog around the yard.

My parents' place is pretty terrific, especially when you're four, and it's summertime. As an adult, I recognize I am really fortunate to have grown up there. At the same time, I vividly recall how I couldn't wait get out of my hometown, go somewhere far away, and do something awesome.

More than a month before we were scheduled to leave, I was looking at the ten days blocked-out on our calendar, and I noticed a teenager's scowl beginning to tug at the corners of my mouth. I realized I was having a tough time shaking my view of our destination as "boring." I wondered if I could plan a way to experience or learn something new while I was visiting. I started to think about New England, New Englanders, and the pleasant attributes make the people and area special. During the weeks leading up to our trip, Wyatt began to comment on all the things he was looking forward to seeing, including all of the "forests." To him, there are forests everywhere, including on the side of all the roads. 

I began to think about open space, forests and then farms, and I started to research whether there were any hyper-local farms or yarns I could check-out while I was in town. I didn't find any.* I next considered attending a fiber-related workshop. A few online searches later, I found Sheila Bosworth, who works only minutes away from my parents' house, and the Fiber Loft just down the road in Harvard. Suddenly I knew what I wanted to do: I wanted to learn to spin wool in New England.

I contacted Sheila and the Fiber Loft, and both of them had good news: they would teach me to spin! Sheila would lend me a bobbin and teach me the drop spindle technique, and the Fiber Loft had room for me in a day-long beginning wheel spinning workshop. Fortunately, my parents were up for some extended grandchild time, so I was free to make plans.


My first lesson was with Sheila. I knew I was in great hands when she looked at my first wonky yarn attempt and told me, "Oh my! Look at that! You've made bouclé! I can't even do that anymore. People pay good money for artistic yarn like that." She gave me wonderfully attentive instruction, as well as little spinning mantras to say to myself to help with bringing the right amount of wool to the spindle. I bought one of her gorgeous spindles, and I left with the intention to follow her admonition to practice for 15 minutes a day.



My second lesson was just over a week later, at the Fiber Loft, with Ann Corbey. Our class was a group of four women (we all arrived solo), and none of us had ever spun wool before. Ann brought us fleece from her sheep, Lydia. 

We started with Lydia's skirted, unwashed fleece, and we learned to card it.

Once we had carded the fleece into rolags, Ann showed us how to spin it "in the grease." We worked with Lydia's wool from 10:00 am until 4:00 pm. The time flew, we all chatted, learned, messed-up, and fixed our mistakes. I left with a ball of pretty good looking handspun wool and a deep admiration for Ann and her gracious, fun approach to teaching. It was magical to watch my fingers feed fluffy rolags of wool I had just carded into a wheel I was powering with my foot and have yarn come out the other end. Bonus: my hands got a lanolin treatment. 


I was hoping I'd have fun with these lessons, but I wasn't expecting I'd love spinning or be any good at it. I certainly wasn't expecting to leave these lessons plotting how I might find a reasonably price, pre-owned, (double treadle?) Louët spinning wheel so I could take up yet another craft. But I do love it, and I am plotting. In the meantime, I have my little drop-spindle to keep me busy.

My next task will be washing and blocking my yarn...

*I'm convinced there are plenty of little local farms to visit, but the farms are not commercial enough to bother with a website.