Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Sockual Heeling

Okay, that's an atrocious pun, even for me, but it's cold and damp here and I need to maintain my sense of humour, no matter how badly I may express it.  (Despite the cold, it's still a lovely day.):

On to the source of the bad punnery: Many years ago, I was fortunate enough to have a pair of my hand spun, hand knit socks included in SpinOff magazine.  I was fairly new to sock knitting at the time, so I was full of great wisdom and words of advice.  I was the only person included in the article who talked about darning socks and only to boast casually that "I had yet to darn a pair of my hand knit socks."

From that day on, the sock knitting goddesses had me in their sights.  Every pair of socks I knit managed to gather holes in a very short space of time.  Worse yet, the holes developed just beyond every reinforced area I worked, usually just past the heel or right at the heel turning.  I darned, I patched, I cursed.  I tried a few different things with my spinning and knitting, but returned to my habitual ways, with the same results-one definition of insanity.

Years later, along came Ravelry and its spinning groups.  In threads and forums, great debates ensue as to what makes the perfect sock yarn.  Some people insist that sock yarn must be 3 plies or more, while others claim that a singles can work just as well.  "Merino and Blue-faced Leicester are great for socks," say some.  "Not so," say others. "You must use Romney or Corriedale, or . . . ."

Last year, finally fed up with mending socks, I decided to run an experiment on my own sock yarns.  I spun yarn for two pair of socks, plied and knit them at the same time, then subjected them to a year of regular wear, which for me, means hard use in shoes and boots year round.  I machine wash my socks, but air dry them.

The yarn for both pairs were spindle spun Z.  I spindle plied the yarn S for the striped pair and plied S with a wheel for the other pair.  I don't count twists per inch, but I put a lot of twist into these yarns. ("Barbed wire" was my comment in my original notes.)  The finished yarns average about 18 wpi (wraps per inch).  The striped pair was knitted toe up on 2 mm needles, with a gauge of about 6 stitches per inch.  The heathered pair was also knitted on 2 mm needles, top down, with a gauge of 6.5 stitches per inch.  The striped pair was spun from commercial wool top (possibly Romney).  The other yarns were 3 plied from a singles of mohair/wool/silk roving, a singles of wool roving and a singles of silk roving.  I finished both yarns by washing them in hot and cold baths, giving them some serious whacking and drying them without blocking.

These are the socks as of May 2011.  (I can't post a photo, for some reason, so please follow the link.)  And these are the socks as of yesterday.  Click and zoom if you want a closer view:

Both pair are wearing very well.  The heathered pair pills slightly, due to the fibre preparation (roving) and the wool content.  (I had thought that the pills were from the mohair, but closer inspection indicates that they come from the wool with some mohair bits, perhaps.)  The striped pair looks like new, which is remarkable, given my track record. I attribute that to the fact that I put much more twist in spindle yarns than I do when I'm working on the wheel.  (I think wheels are so quick that I get caught up in their speed and forget to pay attention to the yarn I'm making.) There are no signs of holes in heels or elsewhere.  Both pairs feel firm, harder than most socks feel, but they're comfortable and not itchy.  They're like cushions for the feet.

My conclusions from this small study are nothing earth-shaking.  The "best" sock yarn depends upon fibre choice, preparation, spinning and plying techniques.  If you want your socks to wear well, choose a tougher fibre, use commercial top or combed fibres, add plenty of twist when spinning and plying (Western spinners tend to under spin and ply their yarns), and knit the socks tightly.

Lessons learned:

1.  When something isn't working, change it.
2.  Experiment.
3.  Pay attention.
4.  Never, ever boast that you've yet to darn a pair of socks!

(If you're interested in more yarn experiments, head over to wanderskopos's blog.  She's a great source of thoughtful and entertaining tests of hand spun yarns and wonderful knitting.)

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Isn't She Lovely?

Meet Frankenbike:

Mr. DD assembled her for me from a stash of old bicycles he has at the farm.  I mentioned that it would be nice to have a bike to pedal around the lake, as a change of pace from walking the paths.  Off he went with Morris, brought back the necessary parts and had the bike together in a couple of days.  (He is a mechanical genius in a way that my mechanically dyslexic self will never understand.)

She has several gears, but only one speed-slow-which suits me just fine.  I hadn't ridden a bike in at least 10 or 15 years, so I approached my first ride with trepidation, walking Frankie over to the bike path, looking both ways before I crossed the street.

It's true that you never forget how to ride a bike. I did have to be careful, proceeding with caution, slowing down on slopes and just paying attention. I had a grin on my face throughout the ride-the source, I think, of all the smiles and greetings I received from other travellers on the bike path.  Perhaps they were simply thinking that it was really sweet to see an old lady on her bike.  No matter.  I was a beginner again.  It was wonderful.

The best way to show our love is through action.  The best gifts aren't expensive, but the thought behind them makes them priceless.  Mr. DD gave me both when he built Frankie.  (I did buy him fudge at the Cathedral Village Street Fair!)

A warm thanks, too, to Morris, who rode shotgun out to the farm and is seen here, guarding his Kong from all invaders who might venture into the backyard:

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Iris: A Meditation Wrap

I've been making a series of meditation wraps over the last few years.  The primary purpose of these pieces is mindfulness, but I've discovered that working them improves my focus and my fibre skills.  I finished Iris yesterday.  Here she is on the needles:

Before blocking:

And after:

iris is named for her colour, which is more violet than it appears here.  She's also named for the GooGoo Dolls song. 

I found the yarn at the back of a bin.  There was one ball, weighing about 55 grams, no record of the date spun nor the yardage.  (Lesson:  Label your yarn when you store it!)  I spun it years ago, I'm sure.  My current spinning is more casual, far less consistent and certainly not as fine.

I thought the yarn would be perfect for a meditation piece in a simple lace.  With no idea of the yardage, it would be easy enough to cast on, knit until I ran out of yarn and not be tempted to focus on the "project."  (I could have skeined and measured the yarn, but where's the fun in that?)  This piece is small, but large enough to protect me from the chilly night air.

I'm pleased with this little thing, so I offer the pattern here for you.  It's a very easy, one row lace pattern, perfect for meditation or for beginning knitters.  No dogs were harmed in the making of Iris, although Morris nearly came to a bad end when he thought it might be a good joke to steal the scarf when I was photographing it.  He was mistaken.


50 grams 3 ply hand spun Samoyed dog hair yarn, Z spun/S plied, 24 wpi.  Rowan’s KidSilk Haze or similar yarn is a suitable substitute.  (20 sts over 4 inches/10 cm on 4 mm needles.  210 metres/229 yards per 25 gram ball.)
1—60 cm/24 inch circular needle or a pair of straights in a size to achieve gauge.  I used a 4 mm circular Addi.
Blocking Pins (lots of them!)
Gauge:  Approximately 16 sts over 10 cm/4 inches in lace pattern, unblocked.  14 sts over 10 cm/4 inches blocked.  Unblocked piece measured 29 x 94 cm/11.5 x 37 inches.  Blocked piece measures 33 cm x 122 cm/13 x 48 inches.
Note:  My standard border for meditation wraps is garter stitch.  In this piece, the K2 at the beginning and end of the lace causes the border to fold to the back of the work.  This fold blocked out on my wrap, but take the time to wash and block a sample of your yarn before knitting your wrap.
I used all the hand spun Samoyed yarn I had available.  You may knit your wrap to any width or length.  Be sure to buy sufficient yarn to complete the project.

Lace Pattern:  (Adapted from Jan Eaton’s Knitted Lace, Shell Pattern, p. 71.  Multiple of 7+2 sts.)
Row 1:  Knit
Row 2:  Purl
Row 3:  K2, *yo, p1, p3tog, p1, yo, k2, repeat from *
Row 4:  Purl
Using knitted cast on, cast on 47 stitches (37 for lace section, 5 for each edge).
Knit 10 rows (5 ridges) garter stitch, placing a marker after the first 5 sts and before the last 5 sts to mark the edges.  On a RS row, begin the lace pattern over the 37 sts between the markers, keeping the edges in garter stitch.  There is only 1 pattern row, on RS row 3.
Knit in pattern until you are approximately 2.5 cm/1 inch short of your unblocked length, ending after Row 1 of the pattern on a RS row.
Knit 10 rows (5 ridges) in garter stitch, removing the stitch markers before you bind off.  End on a RS row and bind off loosely.  I used Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Sewn Cast-Off, from Knitting Without Tears:
Break your yarn, leaving about 3 times the width of your piece.
Thread this yarn into a blunt tapestry needle.  Hold the work on the knitting needle in your left hand.  Your yarn and tapestry needle are at the right end of the work.
*Slip the tapestry needle and yarn through the first 2 sts on the knitting needle, pull the yarn through.
Slip the tapestry needle and yarn back through the first stitch as if to knit.  Pull the yarn through and slip that first stitch off the knitting needle.*  Repeat from * to * until there is 1 stitch remaining.  Pull the yarn through this stitch as if to knit and fasten off.
Darn in all ends.  Wash the wrap in a no rinse wool wash product.  Roll the wrap in a towel to remove excess moisture.  Block the wrap to size.
(The silver shawl pin was a gift from a friend who purchased it in Asia.)

©Deborah Behm 2011

Monday, 23 May 2011

Spinal Tap: A Meditation

Western philosophies tend to view events and time as linear; both philosophy and science search for a point where things began.  Past, present and future move in sequence to an end point.  Eastern philosophies are inclined to cyclical perspectives.  Time is a wheel.  The world and its populace move through cycles of events (or eventful cycles) with high and low points but with no defined beginning or end.  The different perspectives are often thought to be oppositional, but both ways can help to order our world.  To reconcile the two, we need only think of spinning and the yarns we make.

How do you think of yarn?  That piece of string can be laid out in a (more or less) straight line, with its beginning and end clearly apparent.  The yarn came from fibres.  It will become "something" in the future.  That something will wear out.

Z spun/S plied 2 ply wool

At the same time, hand spun yarns function as circles-tubes or spirals, bundles of fibres made stronger by twisting together.  Fibres, which were something else before they were fibres, move together around one another to become yarn.  That yarn becomes a skein which may or may not be worked into a project, but at some point, it will break down and return to the Earth where it will become. . . ?  Yarn, like everything else, has both beginning and end.  It is also part of a cyclical process of change:

Z twist Romney singles

All of this is a roundabout (!) way of leading you to a simple meditation on the spine.  The spine also possesses dual nature-it is the most important "line" of bone and nerves in the body.  That "line" is a series of stacked rings supporting tubes of cords which control our nervous system and our mobility.  The spine is a wonderful thing which we take for granted until our backs begin to ache.

As spinners, our spines take a lot of abuse.  We slouch at the wheel; we bend awkwardly while drafting fibres.  We curve inward as we card, spin and work with our fibres. Without sufficient, proper movement, we stiffen and have trouble moving through the things we love. It is worth the effort to pay attention to our spines.

Sit comfortably on the floor or in a chair.  (The seat of the chair should just touch the backs of your knees when you're standing, so that your feet rest comfortably on the floor when you sit, knees bent at right angles.)  Close your eyes.  Draw attention to your spine and how it feels now. 

Picture each vertebra stacked evenly upon the next, from the sacrum (tailbone) up through the neck where it meets the skull.  Slide both shoulder blades back and down along the spine.  Imagine a string attached to the crown of your head pulling your spine up without strain, each vertebra moving slightly apart from the next, until your spine is fully extended.  Your chin should be tucked slightly in towards your throat to avoid hyper extending the neck.  Note the difference between your natural seated position and an attentive spinal posture.  Move in and out of these 2 positions for a few minutes, noting all changes, but not naming or judging them.

Resume an attentive spinal posture.  Bring your hands behind you with a hand on either side of the spine.  Rub and press along both sides of the spine (not along the vertebrae themselves), moving from the sacrum to as high as you can reach.  Make gentle fists and tap them along your spine, paying special attention to tender areas.

Move your hands over your shoulders and continue pressing and rubbing along your spine from your neck along your shoulders and down.  Don't worry if you discover spots you can't reach.

Still with eyes closed, place your hands in your lap.  Maintain spinal awareness and sit quietly for a few moments.  Note the changes in your back and spine.  Open your eyes.  Sit for a moment before continuing with your daily routine.

You can use spinal practice as a meditation apart from daily activities.  It is also a beneficial posture to work with while you are spinning or enjoying other fibre work.  Mindful spinal posture keeps the the spine aligned, neither slouched forward nor bending backwards.  Your spine follows its natural curvature which allows you to spin comfortably without muscle strain.  Periodically rubbing, pressing and tapping along the spine give you the breaks many fibre people neglect and help keep your spinning stress free.

As in any practice, take care, work gently and do no harm.  Move through cycles of spinal awareness and appreciate that line of bones giving support to your body.  Then, go spin some circles!

Z spun/S plied Romney
Variegated single with solid coloured single

Sunday, 22 May 2011

It's the End of the World

I walked around the lake this morning.  The sky was overcast, enough to keep the air cool, just enough that the sun broke through when we needed a burst of warmth.  The wind pushed sailboats across the water, but it only tried to take my hat once or twice:

This guy was singing:

The geese were out and about with their babies, joining the humans winding their ways around the lake path:

It wasn't a bad start to a day that wasn't supposed to happen.  Certain people had pinned the world's end to occur yesterday, at 6 p.m. local time via earthquake and mass destruction.  I won't provide links, because I think this person has had too much publicity.  It is harmful to entice others to shed themselves of worldly goods and await Rapture, especially when you have made millions of dollars from their contributions to your cause.  There are those for whom the world did end yesterday.  I'm sorry for that and don't want to minimize the suffering of those who are truly Left Behind.

On the other hand, such a bold prediction of doom begs for a bit of fun.  Most of us decided that, if it was our last day, we wouldn't rush to clean our houses.  (There were a few dissenters.  I was not among them.)  I was hoping that the Big Event would co-ordinate with the Zombie Apocalypse, as this would provide an opportunity for me to test the Zombie Preparedness Kit I'm putting together for my next Rav swap.  I rushed to the Liquor Store on the way home from work and bought an expensive Italian organic white wine.  I thought it would come in handy whatever the outcome of the prediction; unfortunately I was too tired to untwist the bottle cap in celebration.

End of Time predictions can give us pause.  They give us an opportunity to focus on what we would do if we knew this was our last day.  I used the reflection as a meditative exercise.  As the day passed and I kept busy spinning, knitting, shifting yarns, helping people in the store and visiting with other fibre enthusiasts, I tried to be aware of how I would most like to spend this final moment.  My conclusion-I want to do exactly what I'm doing now, surrounded by people I know and love, who share my interests or who don't, but love me anyway.  The life I have now is the best life.  That's a pretty good thought to hold as we march to the end of time.

If only we can keep the Earth going for a few days more, I'll have time finish "Iris," (details may or may not be forthcoming), sample that wine and enjoy the joke Mr. DD just told me:

What did Buddha say to the hot dog vendor?
Make me One with everything.

Enjoy the NOW. 

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The Value of Knowing: Choosing a Yoga/Meditation Teacher and Practice

I did a headstand in Monday night’s yoga class. More accurately, I did a forearm stand. It was modified; I needed two spotters and a wall. I shrieked coming in and out of the pose, but up I went.  It’s a pose I thought I’d never do again, but I did and I’m still enjoying the pleasure of the achievement.

Sometimes, we don't know which way is up.

I would not have attempted this inversion had I not trusted my teacher and my assistants.  Practising yoga or meditation with someone untrained or unskilled as a teacher, no matter how good their intentions, can lead to physical and emotional harm.  People have said to me, “I took a yoga class once and I hurt my back/shoulder/neck. . . .”  They’re not easily persuaded that poor instruction, not yoga itself, was the problem.  Most of them have never attempted yoga again.
Let’s discuss some of the things I think are important to consider when beginning a yoga or meditation practice.  The criteria here are mine alone, but they come from discussions with other practitioners, experiences in a variety of classes and my current practice.  The descriptions of yoga and meditation are limited and are to be used only as a starting point for your journey.
Just as meditation is not “relaxation spelled differently, (Kabatt-Zinn)” yoga does not translate as “something popular” or “what we enjoy doing.” Much as I love them, spinning, knitting and other fibre arts are not “the new yoga,” nor are they meditation.  The skills and tools we develop in practising our fibre arts can be used to develop meditation skills and our perspective on yoga, but calming down or relaxing while you are spinning does not mean you are meditating. 

Yoga (meaning “yoke” or “union,” usually considered as union of body and mind) developed through various traditions in India.  It is associated with Hinduism and Buddhism, but it is also aligned to practices out of Asia and elsewhere.  Meditation is found in many traditions, religions and philosophies.  My practice of mindfulness meditation is a process of learning to accept the NOW, and appreciating things as they are.  Meditation can be part of a yoga practice or separate from it.  For me, the best yoga and meditation practices are inclusive, available to anyone no matter what your philosophy or state of well-being.
I avoid practices which appear divisive.  One which comes to mind is “Holy Yoga.”  My problem with this current offering and its siblings is that it implies that only a Western, Christian-based practice can be “holy.”  (Ask yourself:  “What is the opposite of ‘Holy Yoga?’”)  Intentional or not, this is dismissive of the thousands-year-old Eastern practices at the heart of yoga and meditation.  This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t attend such classes.  Just be aware that all worthwhile yoga/meditation practices have, at their core, respect for a vast array of spiritual traditions.
Choosing the right fit for you among the many schools and philosophies of yoga/meditation will involve research and experimentation.   Yoga/meditation is practise, doing.  The best way to find what works is to attend classes.  Look for a studio offering a variety of classes or a “sampler” class of different yoga styles.
A good instructor will be well-trained, thoughtful, and open to working with your abilities.  She will be looking to improve her skills and challenge you to push your limits.  She will not insist that you do anything that puts you at risk, nor should she teach beyond her limits.  She should be willing to share her training and credentials.  A good yoga/meditation teacher does not necessarily require decades of training, experience and paper work, but I would avoid anyone who claims to be certified after attending a weekend workshop and/or who does not practice on a regular basis.  Think of it this way—would you be comfortable with a spinning teacher who claimed to be accredited after a few days using a spindle or wheel?  Yoga and meditation work on mind and body; you wouldn’t (I hope) give yourself over to a doctor with a week’s training, no matter how many papers she had on her wall.  Approach yoga and meditation with the same thoughtfulness you’d give to anything else affecting your wellbeing.  (Mindfulness meditation practitioners often recommend that you don’t speak of your own practice for the first five years.  This allows time to develop your philosophy and practice before you involve others.)
At the same time, you owe it to a teacher to be honest about your limitations, both physical and emotional.  Teachers aren’t mind readers and certain practices must be done carefully or not at all by some people.  (E.g. Inversions are not recommended for those with blood pressure issues requiring medical attention.  Meditation can help depression, but can also deepen the problem if not properly practised.)  NEVER abandon medical treatment in favour of yoga or meditation.  If a teacher suggests that yoga/meditation alone will cure you of a serious medical ailment such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, etc., do not stay with that teacher if she insists you leave your doctors behind.
It may seem like a daunting task to find the right teacher and practice, but there is also truth to the idea that when you are ready, the teacher will appear.  If you can’t find one in real life, there are useful guides to be found in books, CD’s, DVD’s and the internet.  Don’t let the lack of teachers or classes prevent you from practice.  Do a bit of exploration and then Begin, gently.  Learn to stand in Tadasana.  Sit quietly for ten minutes a day.  One day, if you need it, you will learn to stand on your head.  Or not.  Take care.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Pleasant Valley Sunday

Dora Mushka wanted to do a practice run of the class she'll be teaching at Olds College, Alberta during Fibre Week.  Susie, Lindsay, Sara and I packed up wheels, fibre and lunch and headed to Lumsden for a Sunday of spinning.

Dora instructing with Lindsay and Susie in the background

 Along with Cheryl, Marybelle, Meegan and Wendy, we spent the day blending and spinning colour samples and designer/art yarns:

That neon green background really highlights the yarns!

The class is designed for beginning spinners, so I assumed I'd be tagging along for the fun of it.  "Pride goeth before a fall" and all that-I hadn't spun on my Louet Victoria in over a year and had forgotten just how fast that wheel spins.  I spent the morning muttering under my breath as I produced a stack of overtwisted samples so energized that they could run marathons even after a good washing and whacking.

The afternoon went more smoothly.  We moved to textured yarns, practising long draw, chain plying and spinning cables.  We made garnetted, slubbed and wrapped yarns.  I produced a tussah silk/wool/alpaca cabled yarn heavy enough to work as an (elegant) dog leash, a pretty blue wool yarn garnetted with spring colours, a vibrant soysilk/wool chain plied skein and a very loosely spun long draw singles of wool and alpaca:

I came home, tired but happy.  After finishing my samples and leaving them to dry, I fulfilled my wifely duties by watching Survivor Finale and Vancouver in the hockey playoffs.  I also completed this:

I knit the summer scarf from spindle spun wool/silk/alpaca fibres from Fleece Artist.  The freeform crochet trim was worked in hand spun cochineal-dyed silk and hand spun emerald soysilk.  The scarf looked incomplete until I added the trim, which reminded me to keep design in mind, even for such a simple thing.  A bit of thoughtful planning can make the difference between producing a piece of cloth and making a unique accessory.  There is a bit of asymmetry here, in the trim and its placement, just enough to make me smile when I remember the making of this piece:

The scarf and my samples are reminders of sunny, warm pleasant hours of spinning and friendship in the Qu'appelle Valley.  What more could you ask of a day?

Sara, Marybelle and Wendy



Wednesday, 11 May 2011

What Do the Mountains Call Themselves? Musings on Fibre Terminology

Every summer when I was growing up, we'd pack up the car and head out on holiday to a park somewhere.  Usually we'd stay in the province, but sometimes my parents would decide on an excursion through the Rockie mountains.  On the drive, we'd be expected to learn the names of the most prominent peaks and their elevations.  We'd stay in cabins along the way, taking long walks, noting the characteristics of flora and fauna on the trails.

Upon reflection, I realize that this was a way to preserve some semblance of sanity in a group of 7 children and 2 adults travelling thousands of miles on rough roads in a station wagon.  (On shorter trips, we'd sometimes include my sister's godfather, "Uncle" Hugh, the family dog and my best friend.  I've no idea how this was accomplished except that it involved a lack of seat belts, a stash of Archie and Superman comics and a now legendary blue plastic potty.)

I learned a lot while travelling this way-including a lifelong passion for solitude!-but it wasn't the facts and figures that stayed with me through time.  In fact, my favourite remembered walk occurred in Waterton National Park, when my Dad and a family friend decide to give my Mom and her friend a break by taking the older children on a hike.  A short, spontaneous walk with no particular agenda turned in an hours-long climb up the mountain trail and back.  Two men set out with 4 or 5 small children in tow-I was the oldest at about 10 years old-no food, no water, no proper gear.  As an adult, I shudder at the foolishness of the impulse, but what I remember of that day was a sense of wonder at the beauty of the trail, the variety of wildlife calmly noting our passing and the remarkable silence of small humans as we trudged up the trail.  At the end of the path, we came to a glacier-fed mountain lake.  I've never seen anything so clear or felt water so cold.  The shear drop down the lake bed was a terrific danger, but Dad and Mr. O'G. watched carefully as we children lay on our bellies and caught rainbow trout with bits of string and a safety pin.  I was mesmerized by the shimmering colours of the fish flashing through the lake ripples.  Proudly, we tied up our catch in bandannas and headed back down the mountain to face the scolding Dad and Mr. O'G. received for scaring the wits out of our mothers.  I've never enjoyed an outing or a meal of fish as I did that day.

I don't remember the specifics of what we saw on that walk.  The names and details of mountains, plants and birds are long gone.  Memories come in flashes, watercolours of what we experience.  It's those larger pictures that give us joy.

Clouds East of Kelowna

 On my recent trip to the mountains, I forgot to look for signs and notes of what humans have named.  I saw mountain goats and sheep, antelope, coyotes, hosts of birds with blue tufted heads and huge neon yellow flowers pushing out of the marshes and ditches.  The minutia of these things no longer concern me.  Instead, I'm caught in the beauty of the moment, the flash of a creature (what was that?) as we drive past, the terrifying greatness of a collapsing rock face, streams of water racing down the mountains, along with snow, dirty white drifts of spring snow catching the sunlight in the mountain air. 

What, you ask, does this have to do with spinning, fibres and the terminology we apply to it?  Lately, I've been watching the growing Western fascination with spinning and the naming of techniques applied to the craft.  I'm amused, because when I learned to spin, our terminology was more limited.  We knew rolags, batts, roving, top and sliver.  We understood woollen and worsted, long draw, Paula Simmons's "point of contact" and inch worm techniques.  People like Mabel Ross, Peter Teal, and Allen Fannin promoted precision, measurement and industrial applications to hand spinning, but most spinners simply did what they needed to do to get the yarns they wanted.  I soaked up as much knowledge as I could from books and other spinners.  I was and remain in awe of friends who spin cobweb yarns to precise grist, but mostly, I just spin.

Now, I see intense discussions on long draw, supported long draw, American sliding long draw, short forward draw and many other terms.  While I'm impressed with the earnest desire for knowledge, I'm caught off guard by spinners who are afraid to spin unless they know the "proper" terms for what they're doing, with precise details as to how to do them.  They want to spin the right way, and, as a result, they sometimes get stuck before they get started.  They worry about wasting fibres, wasting time, wasting money on a hobby.  They question and question, forgetting that spinning, art and craft, is doing, not knowing.

Just as I sometimes missed the experience of our holiday adventures by focusing on the details of things, spinners who bind themselves too closely to the fine print can miss the wonders of the craft.  (Feel free to insert the obligatory, "Can't see the forest for the trees" cliche here.)  The terms we invented to help explain, clarify and order our actions can bury us in the details.  We need to take time just to act, to do, to spin.

We don't know what the mountains call themselves.  At heart, it doesn't matter what we call things or how we try to claim them in the naming.  The beauty and the wonder of life, our actions and our presence in the world doesn't lie in how we describe them.  Our joy comes from our interactions, experiences as they occur and our memories of them.

The next time you find yourself worrying about what fibre is best suited to the "sliding backwards while standing on one leg mid length draw," go sit at your wheel.  Pick up your spindle.  Just spin.

Or take a hike.  Breathe and just BE.  Hold the experience of your craft to your heart and enjoy the moment.  Years from now, it will be what you best remember.

Mountain Memories, May 2011, Ink and Watercolour

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Simple Comforts

We returned home after a trip to Kelowna to see our kids.  Matt was heading out to tree plant; there were birthdays to celebrate, so we packed our gear and set out on a two day drive through the Rockies:

Morris did remarkably well, considering this was twice as long as he'd spent on the road in his life.  He slept while we were driving and was (mostly) quiet in the motel.  Once we arrived, he went wild with delight upon seeing his kids.  He immediately chased one of Ali's cats up a walnut tree, much to the dismay of Helena, the cat foster mom next door.

Heidi, the shy one

Chloe, after her tree rescue

Once we sorted out living arrangements-cats upstairs, Morris on the ground floor-things went more smoothly, although Morrie was too excited to be let off leash most of the time, even at the dog park or in the backyard.  He was content to spend his time being adored.

I set up in a small spare bedroom upstairs in the old house.  I had an air mattress with sleeping bag and hand spun, handwoven wool blanket, my suitcase, books, painting gear, fibre projects and a yoga mat.  For nearly two weeks, those few things were all I had to keep me occupied, apart from my family, our walks and the beautiful spring weather.  It was wonderful:

I came to awareness of how much we are tied to material things, our preoccupation with gadgets and goods which keep us busy, but inactive.  I am no different-I love my computer, my mp3 player, my stuff.  When it comes to shopping, I'm in with the best of them, especially if shopping involves fibres, art supplies, bags or shoes.  I did my share of consuming on our holiday, but the best times I've had in years were the moments spent in that tiny room, listening to the hum and buzz of family coming and going, engaging in intense discussions about life with my grown children and Mr. DD and generally, just Being.

The fibre and art work I did while away was simple. Much time was spent frogging planned projects.  What I did finish was nothing remarkable-an easy Moebius cowl in garter and seed stitch, in sky-coloured bamboo ribbon yarns, some meditation spinning and a small scarf whose pattern I've been meaning to write down since I knit it as a sample for Golden Willow a while back.  I took along the original sample, knit in Louisa Harding's Mulberry Silk.  I knit a second sample in a 4 ply cable hand spun bombyx silk yarn, in a vibrant colour I dyed years ago with Lanaset dyes.

Off the body, the scarf doesn't look like much.  It's one long swatch in a variety of patterns moving from easy lace to stockinette to K1 P1 ribbing and back again.  The original piece was designed to demonstrate what beginning knitters could do with one ball of this yarn.

The scarf improves when worn.  The silk is elegant enough to dress up a coat-here's the hand spun version paired up with my dress coat:

It's simple and light enough to tuck under a jacket for extra warmth.  I used it to protect my neck against the warm rays of the Kelowna sun.  The scarf came in handy as a headband when I needed to ward off the chill mountain air.  It reminds me of the easy pleasures I enjoyed on our vacation.  That's pretty fair value for such a little thing.  With this in mind, I present you with:

 Louisa's Simple Comfort Scarf

I used 39 grams of the 50 gram ball of LH Mulberry Silk.  This yarn is 100% silk, 136 yards/124 metres per 50 gram ball.  The recommended needle size is 4 mm for a gauge of 22 stitches per 10 cm.  I used 3 mm needles for a gauge of 7.5 stitches over the stockinette section. The finished scarf is approximately 40 inches/102 cm long. Scarf width varies from 4.5 inches/12 cm to 2.25 inches/6 cm.  Buy enough yarn to complete the project.

The hand spun version used 36 grams of a 4 ply cabled bombyx silk yarn, 16 wraps per inch.  The finished hand spun version was 44 inches/112 cm long.  Width varies from 4 inches/10 cm to 2.25 inches/6 cm.

Loosely cast on 25 sts.  (I used knitted cast on for the Mulberry scarf; crochet cast on for the hand spun.)

Work in garter stitch (knit every row) for 6 rows or 3 ridges.  Begin the Lace Section on a Right Side row:

Lace:  Every row:  K1, *yo, K2tog,* repeat from * to * for 10 to 12 inches (25-30 cm).

Knit 6 rows in garter stitch.  Begin the Stockinette Section: 
Row 1 (RS):  Knit across the row.
Row 2:   K3, Purl 19 sts, K3.

Work in pattern for 3 inches/7.5 cm.  k 6 rows (3 ridges) garter stitch.  Begin the Ribbing Section: 
Row 1:  K1, P1 across the row, end K1.
Row 2:  P1, K1 across the row, end P1.

Work in pattern for 8 inches/20 cm.

Reverse the sections to complete the scarf, ending with 6 rows (3 ridges) of garter stitch.  Bind off loosely.

Darn in ends and hand wash your scarf in a no rinse wool wash product.  Block it by pinning along each section to size.  Let dry completely.