Sunday, June 27, 2010

Featuring Feet

I spent three days last week at the photo shoot for my upcoming book, tentatively titled Designing Handknitted Socks. As much as I’d like to take credit for all the amazing socks that will be included in this book, I’m even happier to report that most of the socks were knitted by true sock divas, including Cookie A, Cat Bordhi, Nancy Bush, Evelyn Clark, and Anna Zilboorg. I don’t want to let the cat entirely out of the bag (or handknitted sock) so I’m not going to reveal all of the designers just yet.

Photo shoots can be grueling in the best of circumstances, but socks add their own hurdles. For one, feet are as far away from the head as they can be. That makes it hard to include the rest of the body in the image if the socks are to be the focus. Second, there just aren’t many ways to photograph feet that look natural. The challenge is to come up with images that are interesting, inviting, and informative.

Thanks to Joe Hancock’s ability to get down and dirty, I think the images for this book will be creative and fun. Here are a few photos I took of Joe taking photos. This is one shoot where I might have liked to be a model.

Thanks to Joe Hancock’s willingness to get down and dirty, I think the images for this book will be creative and fun. Here are a few photos I took of Joe taking photos. This is one shoot where I might have liked to be a model.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Dumb Luck

For the past 9 months, our 17-year-old son Alex has been preparing to volunteer in Nicaragua this summer through a program called Amigos de las Americas. The organization has paired teens with community-based initiatives in Central America for well over 40 years. Alex has attended monthly meetings since last October and the entire family has volunteered for fundraising, which included selling and delivering(!) 190 20-lb boxes of oranges and grapefruit.

Alex was scheduled to leave today. Or so we thought. Around noon yesterday I got a phone call from the other Denver-based volunteer assigned to Nicaragua. She was at the airport wondering where to meet us. This is the stuff of nightmares—Alex had misread his ticket and we were all a day off. Fortunately, Alex was at home, but still in bed. I woke him up and after a panic-filled 15 minutes, he was packed and we were on our way to the airport. Miraculously, we made it in time. I figure that the universe must really want him to be in Nicaragua this summer or one of many variables would have misaligned and he would have missed the flight.

I had planned to take a photo of him as he walked down the causeway to the plane, but, well, I forgot my camera in the hustle. So, with very little fanfare, my first-born has taken off to the wilds of a third-world country to teach English and (we think) help train villagers in water purification. When he returns in mid-August, he’ll be 18 years old and a legal adult. Is it trite to wonder where the time has gone?

I was a wreck by the time I got home from the airport. First, I treated myself to a big piece of carrot cake leftover from Father’s Day dinner.

Then, I calmed myself by spinning on my new Maggie spindle.

I'm still a wreck 24 hours later; I probably won't recover until he returns in August.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Tour of Brown Sheep Company

This week a few friends and I played hooky and took a tour of Brown Sheep Company in Mitchell, Nebraska. None of us had toured a big operation before. It was impressive. The wool (all from sheep in neighboring states) is washed, cleaned, and carded in a mill in South Carolina, then sent to Nebraska to be blended, spun, dyed, and wound into perfect balls or skeins.

Our tour guide, Donna, took us through the mill where we got to see each step of the process. For privacy reasons, cameras are not allowed in the mill so you'll have to believe me when I say that the machines are big and noisy, but impressive in their speed and efficiency. I can't remember how much yarn is produced in a day, but it looked like about twenty 5-pound skeins were processed at a time at each station. Something like 500 pounds of yarn can be vat-dyed at a time -- they were dyeing a nice dark red the day we were there. The all-around best selling color is black (go figure), followed by white, cream, and gray. We didn't think to ask what was the most popular dyed color.

You probably know that dyeing takes a lot of water. After a couple of years of research, the company has installed a state-of-the-art water filtration system. They are able to remove the dye particulates from a dyebath, then store the hot water to use again for the next bath, even if it's a different color.

The final stage of production is attaching the ball bands. This is probably what impressed me the most about the operation. After all those perfectly calibrated machines and processes, a person examines each ball or skein is individually examined before putting on the ball band. Except for the Lamb's Pride bands (which are secured with a machine), each band is manually taped around the ball. When we questioned this labor-intensive process, Donna told us that it was the best way to ensure quality. If there is a knot or if the ball looks less than perfect in any way, it goes into the "seconds" pile.

And where do those "seconds" go? The mill has it's own yarn shop where they are sold by the pound at a significantly reduced price. You or I wouldn't be able to tell what's "wrong" with these skeins, but Donna says that's because they work so hard to maintain the highest quality possible. In addition to balls that have visible knots, you can also buy yarns where the dye is a little off. So, we loaded up. That's Donna at the counter and packing our yarn in bags.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Estes Park Wool Market

The annual Estes Park Wool Market was last weekend. Normally, it’s deathly hot during this weekend, which typically coincides with Father’s Day. This year, it was cold (40 degrees Fahrenheit) and rainy (rivers are close to flood stage). Except for four very drippy yaks in a mud-soaked pen, I didn’t see any livestock outside. The food vendors, however, were trying to stay warm and dry under large tents. I bought a delicious crepe with blue cheese, spinach, and walnuts that I covered with a couple of napkins until I could find cover.

But I digress.

The real reason I went was to pick out the perfect spindle, now that I’ve caught the spinning bug. I made a beeline to the Magpie Woodworks both where I’d been informed that I’d find the finest spindles ever made. In addition to spindles, they offer handcrafted niddy-noddies, nostepide,  sewing needle holders, bowls, and other things I couldn’t identify. I chose a perfectly balanced top-whorl spindle made of cherry. It spins forever without a single wobble.

Once I had the spindle, I asked the esteemed Maggie Casey (who happened to be at the Shuttles, Spindles, and Skeins booth—she’s co-owner, doncha know) to point out appropriate fiber for a newbie like me. I picked up 4 ounces of handdyed superwash merino from Bonkers Handmade Originals (definitely a pair of socks), 2 ounces of a silk/camel blend from Skaska Designs (a lace scarf once I learn to spin thin enough), and 2 ounces of Australian Bond Sheep from Gleason’s Fine Woolies, which I spun before I thought to take a photo. This is destined to be a pair of fingerless mitts. Now I'm kicking myself for not getting one of the magpie hand-carved bowls to use as a backdrop for it all.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Touching the Sun

Of the many essays in Knitting Green, Touching the Sun Through Fiber is the most meditative. It is written by Carmen S. Hall, a dear personal friend and sometime spiritual mentor. Carmen doesn’t have her own blog, so I’ve invited her to share her thoughts on how she “touches the sun” through knitting.
Here's Carmen:
My family and I just finished driving from Colorado to Cape Cod. I, of course, brought along a knitting project to pass some of the hours, but this project was not planned with my usual attention to detail . . . and it didn’t take long for me to realize that this lack of attention was precisely what enabled me to have a sun-touching knitting experience.  
Normally, I spend a lot of time selecting the fiber with which to knit. I then spend a lot of time selecting just the right shade. Then, I agonize over selection of just the right pattern. Finally, I studiously analyze the gauge swatch to make sure the needles are exactly the right size. At last, I’m ready to cast on.
My recent travel project involved none of this prep work. In fact, yarn and pattern were selected rather blindly. If you’ve ever had the good fortune to travel to Taos, New Mexico, you may have met Martie Moreno, owner of the Taos Sunflower, which has morphed into the Taos Sunflower Too on Etsy. If not, you can get to know Martie through her blog at I could write several pages on Martie’s humanity and explosive creativity—simply knowing that her footprints are set on this planet at the same time as mine gives me deep comfort. Recently, Marty posted about some of her handspun: “I don’t know how to begin to tell you about this skein. It was my passion for an entire week. I have approximately 28 hours spinning and plying time invested in it, and my goal was to try to spin something close to a lace weight, just for the fun of it.” With that introduction, I honestly didn’t care what the yarn looked like—I knew it would be full of seriously good juju and I bought it on impulse. 
A week later, I happened to be celebrating a dear friend’s 50th birthday along with a group of amazing friends (including Ann Budd). We visited a local yarn shop together and were having one of those rare and wonderful times possible only amongst true friends and confidantes. At the shop, I saw a pattern for a    lace shawl (called Traveling Woman and designed by Liz Abinante and available at and without so much as a close examination, I paid the copy costs and put it in my bag. Then, with only a cursory gauge swatch, I started knitting the described pattern with Martie’s yarn. 

I immediately understood that I was creating something special—I was touching Martie’s spirit at the same time as I was surrounded by women who mean so much to me. It was a powerful sense of time shared with people who bless my life and, I realized, I was knitting this very experience! No doubt, this shawl is destined to be one of my favorite projects…ever. I’m glad it’s still on the needles and, like a favorite book, I’ll be sad to see it come to a close. However, I rest easy in the knowledge that I can touch a beautiful spinner and deeply treasured friends and can wrap myself in this kind of warmth and goodness whenever needed. Yes, I am touching the sun.  --Carmen S. Hall

Saturday, June 5, 2010

More on Knitting Green is sponsoring a 10-Day Blog Tour of Knitting Green, which will include stops with many of the book essayists and contributors. The timing couldn't be better.

A couple of days ago, my sister called to rave about Knitting Green. The idea for Knitting Green came about when she visited and we mused about what my next book might be. Initially, we focused on the projects--things like shopping bags to replace paper or plastic bags; kitchen cloths to replace paper towels; and of course, sweaters, shawls, socks, and scarves to replace turning up the heat. But as the book took shape, I wanted to include something about the ecological dilemmas surrounding the yarn itself, similar to the issues brought up in The Omnivore's Dilemma, in which Michael Pollan investigates the carbon footprint of four very different meals.

Although she leaned to knit before I did, my sister didn’t take to it in the same way and I'll wager she hasn’t picked up needles for a couple of decades. But I was interested to hear that even as a non-knitter, she found the book interesting and informative. Besides pointing out her favorite projects (ones that I suspect she hopes I’ll knit for her), she was most enthusiastic about the articles. Like a lot of people, she hadn’t given much thought to the “greenness” of knitting other than the idea that it was more ecologically sound to make something yourself than buy it a big box store. Before reading Clara Parkes’ essay The Gray of Green, she hadn’t considered that yarn itself has a carbon footprint, which can vary greatly depending on how the fiber was raised, processed, and distributed. I don’t think she’ll ever look at bamboo fiber the same, and she'll certainly expect me to know the origin of the yarn in anything I knit her from now on. She found Pam Allen’s essay The Meaning of Organic equally enlightening. With so many regulatory hoops to jump through, it’s no wonder organic yarns cost a bit more. And she felt that Kristen Nicholas's article Ode to Sheep is essential reading for anyone who gets lamb (or any other meat) wrapped in plastic and styrofoam at the grocery store.

I encourage you to digest the other educational articles in Knitting Green as well. In Darlene Hayes’s article It’s All About the Color, you’ll learn about the joys and pitfalls of natural dyes. A Shop Owner’s Dilemma by Lisa R. Myers offers insight to the practical limitations of running an environmentally conscious shop and explains how you can help your local yarn shop grow in a green direction.

For lighter reading, Sandi Wiseheart considers the difficulties inherent in eco-friendly knitting in It’s Not Easy Knitting Green; Carmen S. Hall offers a meditative look at how natural fibers connect her to past generations of knitters and bring her closer to inner peace in Touching the Sun Through Fiber; former earth-mother Kristeen Griffin-Grimes muses about the days before electricity and there was no time to knit for fun in Knitting Stone-Age Style; and Amy R. Singer suggests ways to use leftover yarn in earth-friendly ways in Too Much of a Good Thing?

For more ecological food for thought, I invite you to join the Knitting Green Blog Tour (sponsored by, where you'll hear from many of the book’s essayists and contributing designers in the days to come. Click on their names and visit them on the dates below:
June 6: Kristeen Griffin-Grimes (Knitting Stone-Age Style, page 109; Caterina Wrap, page 110)
June 7: Kristen TenDyke (Soap Nut Vessels, page 22)
June 8: Mags Kandis (Paris Recycled, page 142)
June 9: Cecily Glowik MacDonald (Solstice Skirt, page 18)
June 10: Veronik Avery (All-(North) American Hoodie, page 50)
June 11: Kimberly Hansen (Knitting enthusiast and reviewer)
June 12: Sandi Wiseheart (It's Not Easy Knitting Green, page 67)
June 13: Carmen Hall (Touching the Sun through Fiber, page 89; Carmen doesn't have her own blog so you'll visit her via Ann Budd)
June 14: Katie Himmelberg (Eco Vest, page 14; Better Baby Rattle, page 56)

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Happy Ever After

What you’re about to read is a true story, and like a fairy tale, it has a happy ending.

Last September, while on my annual retreat to Taos and Santa Fe with some of my best knitting buddies, I bought some Marianne Isager yarn to make the Sugar jacket from Marianne’s recent book, Classic Knits. In fact, four of us bought the same yarn (but in different colors) to make the same sweater. I bought extra yarn so I could extend the body beyond my thickening mid-section. We called it the Sugar Jacket Challenge. I lovingly placed the yarn in my to-get-to-next basket while I caught up with other work.

As luck would have it, I got busy and still hadn’t started at the end of October. But as in all fairy tales, fate interfered. In November, I attended Clara Parkes’s Knitter’s Review Retreat in western Massachusetts. One of the requirements was that we each bring a new project to start for ourselves on the last day of the retreat. I resisted the urge to take a pair of socks that were under a deadline and instead, I packed the Isager pattern and yarn in my carry-on bag.

Come Sunday morning, Clara gathered us for some concluding words. Because it was Massachusetts—and therefore because she could—Clara surprised us by conducting a group ceremony to join each of us to our new project in blissful matrimony. We repeated words of commitment and vowed to remain true to our projects to their completion, giving them our dutiful attention and forsaking all other projects (within reason) along the way. Then to seal the union, we cast on our stitches and had “witnesses” (read that anyone else in the room) knit a few stitches of recognition and confirmation.

Despite the hilarity of the situation, I found that this gave the Sugar jacket special significance to me. Not only did I buy the yarn with my closest friends, but I started the project in the most wonderful of environments—a weekend retreat with new-found best friends. I can’t remember everyone who knitted a few stitches on the body of my jacket(I wish I had kept notes), but they included Clara herself, Kathryn Alexander, Melanie Falick, and Anne Hanson.

When I returned home, I continued to give the Sugar jacket as much attention as I could. And I finished just in time to wear it while teaching at Midwest Masters in Neenah, Wisconsin in April. Since then, I’ve worn the sweater most every cool day (and there have been a lot of them this spring). I don’t know when I’ve been so pleased with a garment. If fact, I expect we’ll be happy together for a very long time (though now that I see a photo of it on me, I suspect the sweater will start looking for a more flattering partner).