Apr 4, 2016

Mindful Knitting

Many years ago, my mother and I attended a talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh in Denver. My memory in most things is pretty terrible (let me tell you about how little I remember from going to see the His Holiness the Dalai Lama speak...), so the only things I remember are some rather excellent chanting by a group of Buddhist nuns and a discussion of dishwashing and tooth-brushing. Seriously, my memory is crap.

Dishwashing and tooth-brushing seems an odd recollection, not to mention an odd topic, but it revolved around mindfulness. I am by no means an expert in this, but this is what I took away from it: When you are doing dishes, don't be thinking about how much you hate it, or what you will do next, or what you wish you were doing, or whether or not you have clean underwear for tomorrow. The same goes for brushing our teeth - don't stare into the mirror wondering how it is possible that your pores look like they could store a Buick in them. To be mindful is to live in each moment. When you are washing the dishes, focus on washing the dishes - the feel of the soap and the water, the look of the crusted on lasagna. When brushing your teeth, focus on the action of running that toothbrush across each tooth, the toothpaste suds in your mouth, the bristles on your gums. Live in each moment. Keep your mind in each moment.

It is tough to do consistently, but trying it in just one mundane task and you realize he's on to something. The task seems less onerous, it feels more important, and you lose that feeling of regret/sadness/anger that you weren't doing something else. Pro tip: smartphones make this so damn hard to do (although one could make an argument for mindful candy crush).

There is a peace that comes with mindfulness, and Thich Nhat Hanh says that this is the true path to happiness.

"The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it."
--Thich Nhat Hanh

My favorite activity to apply mindfulness to is knitting. Too often, I am knitting while (insert any activity ever here). Watching TV, at the movie theater, at a sports game, driving (in the passenger seat, natch), waiting in lines, having coffee at a cafe, hiking, etc. My mind is not fully focused on either my knitting or the other activity, and as such, is not fully in the moment. Ok, I'm not going to stop multitasking with knitting - I get twitchy just sitting and doing nothing in front of the idiot box. However, it is really rewarding on occasion to just knit. Not only knit while doing nothing else, but to really focus on my knitting. I try to be attentive to the feel of the needles in my hands, the yarn slipping over my tension finger, the beauty in the repetition of the needle going into the stitch, grabbing the yarn, pulling it through, slipping the stitch off, the sound of the gentle click of the needles, the color and texture of the yarn. I don't think about how much further I have to go before I can join sleeves, or what project I want to work on next, or ponder whether or not I can justify buying more of the yarn. I focus on the moment, on the knitting.

It is surprisingly difficult, but also incredibly rewarding. It does create peace and a sense of happiness, but (and here you see why I am not a great student of mindfulness) it also results in getting far more accomplished than normal. I am far more efficient a knitter when being mindful than when not, and that is reason enough to give mindful knitting a go!

Mar 21, 2016

Social Media + No Impulse Control = BUY ALL THE FLEECES

I fell down.

I had 7 fleeces in my possession that need spinning. SEVEN. Now I have nine. But I swear: it's not my fault! Instagram is to blame. Also Facebook.

It is shearing time across the country, and with shearing comes photos of fleeces on social media. As it turns out, if a photo of gorgeous fleeces get posted, I am forced to whip out my credit card and go to town.

This was the first one. Ranching Traditions posted some pics on Instagram of their sickeningly gorgeous Targhee/Rambouillet fleeces. Thought it wouldn't hurt to look at their website a bit. One 9lb fleece later... sigh.

What I love about Ranching Traditions is that they have their wool graded, and include a bunch of information in their online shop, so you know what you are getting, which is tricky to do in online fleece purchasing. Plus they have some great deals on fleeces with shorter staple-lengths (I atoned for my sins by enabling a friend into one of those - sinners love company).

Two days later, one of my favorite Rhinebeck vendors posted pics from the shearing of their Finn flock. So this happened:

I regret nothing. The color of this fleece is so beautiful, and that crimp... oh that crimp! This is from Point of View Farm (if you want a grey fleece, you have to email), and it is by far the cleanest fleece I've ever purchased. It is AH-MAZE-ING.

Ok, so now I have nine fleeces. The Targhee/Rambouillet is already boxed up and about to be mailed to the mill. I am going to have it washed/carded/spun into a 3-ply worsted, which I will use for dyeing fun. I'm not a monster, though. I did grab a few handfuls before boxing it up for spinning purposes. I washed the locks, and having been flicking them open.

fluffy little clouds of soft

I am spinning them up on my little Jenkins finch, with no real plan for what yarn it will become (2-ply maybe? n-ply? we'll see!). This is purely pleasure-spinning:

The Finn is in the process of being washed, and I will drop it off with a mill when I head down to The Fiber Event at Greencastle next month (before which I will hopefully muster some impulse-control and not bring my total number of fleeces into the double-digits). It will be carded into roving and filed under "fleeces to be spun."

My name is nelago, and I have a problem. 

Mar 15, 2016

Boiled Bugs

In an effort to level-up in the world of fiber-crazy, I've taken up dyeing. I am enthralled with natural dyes. The colors have a rich, earthy beauty, and the dyes and process are as close as I will ever get to a bubbling cauldron of eyes-of-newt and toes of frog. The chief-enabler of this house (surprisingly not me!) and his mother gifted me my cauldron and fire for Christmas:

also good for boiling children
This weekend I finally got my shit together and worked on some potions. I gathered up some unloved, undyed yarns in my stash and experimented. I chose two skeins of Gulf Coast Native, one skein of alpaca/cormo/mohair, one skein of grey Jacob, and a skein of lightish-grey angora/corriedale (about 50/50). After mordanting in alum, I dyed one skein of the GCN and the Jacob with pomegranate rind first. Kahki-ed them up a little. It actually gave the Jacob a bit of a green tinge. Then came the bugs.

Cochineal, to be exact. Wicked fun to grind up - they really produce the most beautiful fuchsia-red when their little bodies are pulverized. The smell I could do without. Not exactly a bad smell, but not all that pleasant. Made me glad I was doing most of the dyeing outside. In trying to work out what percentage of weight of fiber of cochineal to add, all I can say is my research left me clueless. The suggestions ranged from 3-8% to 30%. That is a HUGE difference. I ended up going with 11%, and judging by how much dye is left in the pot, I think the 3-8% was probably right. The book that gave me 30% is dead to me. Anyway, here is the result:


1. The angora/corriedale: turned a delightful grape color - so very different from the rest. The ties all came off on this one in the pot, too, which was a valuable lesson in knot-tying. The darling husband spent a few hours untangling the spaghetti, because he is the very best. I'm surprisingly pleased with this skein
2. The alpaca/cormo/mohair: This wasn't a keeper to begin with, because mohair (impulse fiber fest purchase - I didn't read the label, just threw my money at the lady). Lovely color, will make a nice gift
3 & 4.  The Gulf Coast Native. One the left, the skein dyed with pomegranate first. Love both of these!
5. My true love, the gorgeous Jacob that had been dyed in the pomegranate first. Holy shit it is amazing (and sadly a little cut off in this photo). This will be made into cabled mittens very very soon.

I am delighted how each skein is totally different, and really very pleased with how they turned out. Lessons learned: don't trust that fucking book that told me 30%, tie the skeins well, weigh before scouring (I had to let them dry, weigh, and then re-wet), always do bugs outside.

I'm already plotting further dyeing fun, using handspun. Next up: logwood and then woad. Just have to spin the stuff first...