Dec 18, 2014

An Ode to VM

VM (not to be confused with VD, although both can cause itchiness) seems to cause serious disgust in knitters and spinner (and probably anyone else working with wool). VM, to the uninitiated, stands for vegetable matter, and is a term used to describe the bits of hay, grass, unknown non-wooly substances once might find in yarn or fiber. For the most part, these bits can be easily picked out as you knit or spin. Sometimes (mostly in fiber or fleeces), you might encounter an excessive amount of VM that, while still can be picked out, makes working with that particular bit of fluff far too difficult. This post isn't about those cases (and yes, avoid yarn/fiber/fleece if it has more VM than fluff!).

This post is about those "rustic" yarns and fibers that have just that little bit of VM. I seem to have been working with those types of yarns for several projects in a row now, and I find myself in love. Now, I know that this isn't the common view - a quick browse of comments about the yarn used in Blaithin found people rather displeased about the presence of VM, and it is something I think people see as anathema to the softy soft wool of their dreams.

To me, VM is a reminder that wool comes from living, breathing, hay-eating, straw-sleeping-in creatures. It is easy to forget that (wool) yarn started out growing on relatively-filthy farm animals once it has been transformed into smooth, clean, sproingy, bright turquoise sock yarn (or other such creations). The presence of VM serves as a tactile and visual marker for both the origin of your yarn and the journey on which it has been.

See those sheep? Those are happy Shetland sheep, hanging out on a cliff full of dirt and grass. The VM that might remain in their wool after processing tells the story of where that wool has been - in this case, on a cliff overlooking the North Sea - and I love it. Yeah, it's a little bit of extra effort to pick it out, and yeah it can disrupt the flow of my knitting a little bit, but it is a disruption that forces me to connect with the origins of the wool that brings such joy to my life. This disruption is even more welcome when I know exactly the farm on which the sheep was raised, the people who put their hearts and souls into caring for those sheep and/or the mill which turned that greasy, dirty, lived-in wool into the yarn on my needles. We are all connected, and the VM is like a little love note from one link in the chain to another.

In completely unrelated news, I either need to figure out a toe-extension for my sock blocker or I need to chop off some of my dad's toes. Men's size 13 socks are not for the week of heart, but the toe flopping off the end of a blocker does get the creative juices flowing:

Nov 18, 2014

Never Say Never, Yet Again

In my last post about Rhinebeck (sort of), I am here to share yet another "I swore I would never do this, and now do it and love it" experience.

Once upon a time, I swore I would never knit socks. I now knit socks. That transitioned into never knitting sweaters. I now knit sweaters. I switched tactics and went with never weaving. I now weave. That became never spinning. Boy did I fall down that rabbit hole. But I was adamant that my spinning would ONLY happen on a wheel, never a spindle. Why? I was convinced that I couldn't do it, that it was slow, and inefficient and that it would be boring. 

You would think that I would have seen what happened next coming from a mile away. You'd be wrong. Here's how the totally predictable sequence of events went down: 

On occasion, a lovely woman in my knitting group brings her spindle. She is usually spinning on a turkish spindle, whose cop (the ball of newly spun string that hangs out on the spindle) is pure, organized sunshine. Watching her winding a cop on a turkish spindle with precision was slowly drawing me to the dark side. 

From Simply Notable's excellent guide to winding a cop
So I started investigating. Being the fiber snob that I am, I went for the best. I started stalking the Jenkins Yarn Tools site, you know, for science. Keep in mind, at this point I still have never ever attempted to spin on a spindle (if you don't count one failed attempt at using a Navajo spindle, which I don't). By the time I went to Rhinebeck, I still had never spun on a spindle, and I still hadn't taken the leap into purchasing one. So what happened next was of course inevitable. As if fate had arranged the vendor locations herself, my very first stop (the stall with the used hand cards for which I made a bee-line) was opposite a vendor with a small table of Jenkins turkish spindles. I bought two. 

On the left, a wee Kuchulu, whose tininess seduced me. On the right, a more robust - but still relatively small - Lark. As you can see, I waisted no time in testing it out. I'll be honest, I about crapped my pants at how easy it is for me to spin on these things. A large part of that is that I am not a true beginner. I know how to draft and deal with fiber, so my mind was free to concentrate on making sure the spindle was spinning around properly (and since these are basically the Maseratis of spindles, that required very little brain power). 

What was even more surprising, though, is how unequivocally fucking FUN spinning on a spindle is! Sure, it takes a little longer than using a wheel, but what it lacks in speed it makes up for in meditative bliss. There is something so very calming and zen about spindle spinning. Spinning on a wheel certainly elicits those same feelings, but to a lesser degree. I can't explain why, but when I am spinning on these spindles, all is right in the world. 

Using some samples of Finn fiber a kind woman gave us at Rhinebeck, I spun and plied some fingering weight on the Lark. I then used the bone knitting needles I purchased there to knit up a little sock ornament.

It's a wee Rhinebeck sock. 

I am now spinning up some lace singles out of Fiber Optic Yarns merino/silk gradient in Steampunk

How can you look at that cop and not want one of your very own? Pure. Bliss. 

Nov 6, 2014

Rhinebeck Rant

Disclaimer: This is the logic portion of this post. I totally understand and rationally believe that everyone is free to do whatever the hell makes them happy (within reason - no breaking in to steal my stash, people!). You don't have to do anything a certain way. There is no correct way to knit, no "appropriate" amount of yarn/fiber to have in your stash, no sanctioned method of enjoying a festival. I get this, and believe this. This post is less on the rational, more on the emotional side of things, where strong feelings take over reason, locking it in the basement while throwing a kegger in my brain. 

Here's the thing about Rhinebeck. The festival highlights farmers, breeds/animals and fiber arts. Any given year, you know that you will be able to see sheep/alpaca/llamas/goats/bunnies, you will be able to talk with the people who raise and shear fiber animals, mill, spin and dye fiber/yarn, and create beautiful objects inspired by or made with all things fiber, you will have the opportunity to take workshops with amazing teachers to learn a new skill or hone your craft, you will be surrounded by people who are just as obsessed (and sometimes more so) about all things fiber, and you will be able to buy so very many products related to fiber arts. For most of us, it's an event that requires planning, time and money. Even if you are lucky enough to live within driving distance, it still requires planning, time and money (just less of all of the above). As a result, you would think that a priority would be to take full advantage of the short amount of time you have to experience Rhinebeck.

So when I see people post in the "show your haul" Rhinebeck thread on Ravelry that they went in, purchased four skeins of yarn from a dyer who sells her stuff online, and that's basically it, I lose it a little. When I see a string of photos showing people's "hauls" that are almost entirely stuff from such dyers, I lose it a lot. When I read that a person didn't even go into the barns (the majority of which is NOT the fancy-pants dyers that everyone gets their panties in a wad over - think individual farms, rare breeds, mills), I lose it completely. Don't get me wrong, those fancy-pants dyers are amazing, their yarn/fiber is super incredible, and you can bet your ass I have plenty of it in my stash. I am not suggesting people shouldn't shop there at the festival (hello, did you see my giant purchase from O-Wool?). I don't have a problem with that. I do have a problem with people ignoring everything else.

People who make a beeline for Miss Babs (for example), spend all their money there, maybe buy some maple cotton candy and call it a day? You're doing it wrong. You are missing the chance to source your knitting/spinning material straight from the people who raise the sheep (or other animals). You're missing the opportunity to buy yarn/fiber with a story and people behind it, that you often cannot find online (or requires extra special searching abilities to do so). Even if you don't buy anything, skipping the barns is like skipping the whole point of the festival. If you leave Rhinebeck without petting a sheep, you fail. If you leave Rhinebeck still believing that "good yarn" can only = "super soft, pretty-colored yarn," you fail. No, not everyone is required to buy, knit/spin with, love the non-fine wools. You should, however, be required to 1. know that they exist, 2. know that they have qualities which make them better than fine wools in various circumstances, 3. know that people lovingly raise and preserve them, and 4. know that wool straight from the farm is different (better) than wool from some unknown mill that may or may not be sourcing all its soft stuff from China. It takes very little effort to learn these things at Rhinebeck.

On the one hand, I get that the relatively small self-selecting group of people showing off their haul is probably more prone to seeking out the "must have" unicorn-fart yarn, coveting it and showing it off, and that the majority of people visiting Rhinebeck don't play that game. On the other hand, when I see that same group tapping into their grumpy, petty, entitled personas to disparage those same makers they covet for not having enough available to meet their specific desires, for not taking up even more booths to offer more stuff/reduce traffic, for not getting the festival organizers to make it ALL about them... I am left with a strong desire to shove that fancy-pants yarn up their asses and respectfully request that they find something better to do with their time next year.

Yes, these people will always exist. No, there is nothing I can (or should?) do to change them. Yes, they will always make my blood boil. And yes, I should probably just let it go. I mean, let's be honest, I spend most of my time in the barns, so keeping all those people occupied in the buildings helps keep traffic down where I am, but still. I can't shake this urge to scream "YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG."

Time to go release reason from the basement prison so it can clean up all the red solo cups and vomit.

Oct 30, 2014

Rhinebeck - Part 2 (AKA the goods)

This is the part where I admit to the world what a piggy I was at Rhinebeck. The important thing, for me, is that I regret absolutely nothing. I saved my ass off for Rhinebeck (even taking shifts bottling booze at a local distillery - I know, how sad for me), ended up with a pretty ridiculous budget, and spent every penny of it (ok, a wee bit over, but that's to be expected, right?). I will not apologize for my large budget, nor will I apologize for my purchases. I am fully aware that I am a piggy, but rather than feel bad about it, I'm just going to own it.

The goods (mostly):

The wool blankets were not only a great deal, but a bit of a necessity, as it got chilly at night and there weren't enough blankets at our rental. The pelt is a gift for my mom, and that along with about 27lb of bone-in lamb legs (not pictured) and a wool pillow (currently residing on my bed, improving my sleep) came from the absolutely charming folks at Point of View Farm, who raise Finn sheep. The hand-woven tea towel on top of the blankets is also a gift for my mom. From the same vendor, I found a lovely hand-woven white baby blanket, which will go to a friend soon enough (not pictured). There are a couple of skeins of yarn kind of tucked away in the photos, also gifts. Other tidbits: porcelain buttons with thistles on them from Melissa Jean, a skein of mill ends Socks that Rock (destined to become socks for the brother-in-law), some natural white alpaca (which will become, appropriately enough, a Squish Me Cap), bone DPNS, a lo-lo bar in pink grapefruit, and some used hand cards. The shoes are from Black Oak Wool Co., and revolutionized my Rhinebeck experience on day 2. Bought them in the morning (two of my friends also bought some), wore them for the rest of the day.... like walking on clouds. Absolute bliss. They will become a yearly purchase.

Let's talk about all that yarn. My other favorite vendor, beside Point of View, was The Ross Farm. They specialize in raising heritage and rare breeds - including Leicester Longwools, Romney, Jacob, Shetland, Cheviot, Cotswold and possibly others I can't recall at this time. This alone endears me to them. Every breed of sheep has a unique type of wool, and exploring the wide world of wool is just plain fun. Each is suited to different preparation, spinning, and purposes, and that's what makes wool such an adventure, and such a versatile fiber. Anyone who works to preserve and advance the more rare breeds is a winner in my book. That Amy and her husband are so fucking friendly and fun is just icing on the cake. I bought two of their yarns: worsted-weight 100% Jacob (SO DELISH) and bulky 100% Leicester Longwool (the two piles of grey in the photo: Jacob on the left, LL in the middle). The Jacob will be a cabled sweater (Fisherman's Daughter), the LL will make up the majority of a Cowichan-inspired jacket (Rockaway). I am so stinking eager to work with both. The Ross Farm is good people, and I am really pleased to throw my money at them.

Between the two piles of grey is some more Jacob I picked up from the Jacob Conservancy booth. I absolutely love Jacobs. They are by far the most interesting-looking sheep. They are naturally piebald, usually white with black, but sometimes white with brown, and they tend to have a shitload of horns (up to 6!). If I ever have a farm, you can bet your ass it'll be populated by Jacobs.

photo from the Jacob Sheep Breeders Association

The pile of red is Legacy Bulky yarn from O-Wool, destined for a Tonks's Togs, or maybe a different cabled sweater. I have trouble believing that a massive (you know, size Fluffy), heavy, cabled sweater that is not seamed will hold up. I can just see it sag like crazy, and that would be heartbreaking. We'll see. The yarn is 100% organic merino, and what's not to love about that?

A few things didn't make it into the picture, namely the bowl I got from Jennie the Potter:

same bowl as in the first photo
I visited her booth on Sunday, when it had been pretty well picked-over. I'm not one for standing in long lines, especially when my time is limited, so I did not even go near her booth on Saturday! This bowl just made my heart sing. A cow, in a scarf. I fucking adore it.

Last, but certainly not least, my purchases from Going Gnome. I could easily have spent my entire budget in her booth. I don't even have the words to express how awesome these guys are. Luckily, the photos speak for themselves.

The two spindles in the main photo of my haul will be discussed in a future post. I know I promised a rant, but this post is long enough, and full of joy, so I'll save that for next time :)

Oct 24, 2014


Rhinebeck. For the uninitiated: the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival, held in Rhinebeck, NY. For knitters, spinners, crocheters, fiber enthusiasts, sheep aficionados it is known merely as "Rhinebeck". Also, as heaven. Where we go to shop, pet, ogle, covet, occasionally throw elbows, and find just a moment of zen in our fibery lives - a zen we share with tens of thousands of fellow wackos.

This was my second year, and it turned out about the same as my first: demolished my budget, got high on lanolin, came back with a million ideas, and failed to take as many photos as I desired. I was fortunate to share the experience with five friends and a shockingly well-behaved baby. Rhinebeck truly is better with friends! Friends make the 12-14 hour drive not only bearable, but at times fun. Friends allow you to relive the experience over and over without fear of divorce-for-reasons-of-she-won't-shut-up-about-Rhinebeck. Friends mean enabling. Each evening, we would have a group show-and-tell, where we would inevitably end up with grabby hands and make plans for more buying the next day (or online, or the next year, or xmas lists...). Friends are key.

So. Rhinebeck.

First things first: the sweater. The Rhinebeck sweater seems to be one of two things: a hand-knit you pulled out all the stops on - your masterpiece, the best piece of knitting of the year, etc., or it is a hand-knit you started with just barely enough time to finish for Rhinebeck. Sometimes it is both! Needless to say, Rhinebeck is a parade of amazing hand-knits of which each maker is incredibly and justifiably proud. I wish people were always this proud and exuberant about their work, but unfortunately, there are still people in this world who don't get it, and who fail to show the appropriate amount of awe and wonder in the presence of hand-knits for those proud feelings to be sustainable forever and always. This year, I wore last year's sheep vest on Saturday, primarily because it is my official fiber festival hand-knit (it has sheep and balls of yarn on it. c'mon.), but also because it was in the upper 60s, and really not sweater weather. Sunday (lower 50s) saw my official Rhinebeck Sweater. It is Blaithin by Kate Davies, knit in Donegal Yarns Soft Donegal, and it is absolutely lovely. I've been wearing it basically every day since.

 I cannot say enough good things about both the pattern and the resultant sweater. I fucking love it. The ceramic buttons are from MerryButtons and I adore them. I did do a little bit of a mod on the colorwork, where it begins/ends to create a less abrupt start. Oh, and the badass t-shirt? A great woman in my knitting group designed it, and yes those are Doritos trailing out the window. Our Rhinebeck roadtrip was officially (not officially) sponsored by Doritos.

But Rhinebeck is more than just a non-stop parade of wonderful woolen wonders. There are sheep!

So many sheep. None of which came home with me, per a foolish agreement with the husband. I totally could've fit a couple in the prius. Two Shetlands or one Cotswold, for sure. Next year...

There were also about a million amazing vendors. I don't even understand the people who come home with a few skeins of yarn and that's it, but that's a rant for another time (next post!). As already stated, I didn't take nearly enough photographs, so this is a tiny peek at the awesomeness that are the vendors at Rhinebeck:

 I did, however, take a crap ton of photos of the amazing felted gnomes from Going Gnome. This should surprise exactly no one.

 JUST LOOK AT THAT RED BEARD. I could easily have spent my entire budget in that booth. I did come home with a gnome and a rock monster, but they are feeling quite lonely. I have a sneaking suspicion that one of her kits will end up on my xmas list this year. Because I need another hobby.

I left Rhinebeck minus a big wad of cash, plus memories, loads of yarn and goodies, and a yearning for next year's fest to not be quite so far away. I'll show off all the yarn, spindles, gnomes, and other assorted purchases in the next post, along with my promised rant about people who ARE DOING IT WRONG. (I know, I know... everyone is different, blah blah blah).