Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Natural Woman: The Feminine Side of Yoga

I've banned myself from the yoga studio for the duration of this cold. I'm not feeling much like practising asanas at the moment, but that doesn't mean I can't engage in yoga studies. I have a stack of unread texts on yoga - it's time to tackle some of them.

Last winter, when I mentioned my annoyance at the apparent lack of female yoginis in the yoga record, Colin told me about Geeta Iyengar, B.K.S Iyengar's daughter.  Like her father, Geeta Iyengar was beset with health problems from an early age.  After a hospital stay when she was ten years old, as she faced a long list of medications and a steady decline, her father gave her an ultimatum - "embrace Yoga," or accept her life as it was until death came calling.  Geeta accepted the challenge.  At first, her practice was irregular (sound familiar?), but eventually, she devoted herself to yoga.  In 1990, she published a yoga text, "Yoga: A Gem for Women," outlining a course of study designed for aspiring yoginis.

Ms. Iyengar is convinced that yoga is ideal for women and that it is particularly suited to people over 40, a time when the body's natural healing powers tend to decline.  Ms. Iyengar combines her knowledge of Ayurveda with yoga, adapting poses for significant stages in life, including menstruation, pregnancy/childbirth and menopause.  She includes chapters on theory, anatomy and asanas, including a large section of photographs in which her sister demonstrates poses throughout her own pregnancy. 

"Yoga: A Gem for Women,"  is an excellent guide for women who are interested in pursuing a deeper practice.  The explanations are clear, concise and easy to follow.  I recommend this "gem" to any yoga practitioner.


Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Sounds of Silence

I'm still voiceless, but I've reached the annoyance stage of my cold.  I'm frustrated because I can't go to yoga or meditation classes and irritated that every outing seems to bring on a coughing fit.  I'm tired of sleeping on the couch.  (Morris is tired of this, too.  Most dogs comfort their people in times of illness; however, Morris chooses to grumble and growl whenever my coughing spells disturb his beauty rest during the night.)  Colds tend to appear and disappear in the same fashion, so my grumpiness is a sign that I'm getting better.

Being parked on the couch is not all bad.  I can meditate and I'm well enough to knit and organize.  I've spent the past while thinking about some of the goods I'll have for sale at True Knit 6 next month.  I haven't participated in a sale for a very long time, so I'm unsure of my market, but I've decided to make things which I'd be happy keeping or giving to others.  The knitting has been a meditation of its own, because I'm mindful of my materials, my designs and my work, as I apply "best effort" to each piece.  Since I can't talk, I have to rely on my own judgement on whether a piece is working, rather than turning to others for their opinions.  (That will come later.)

Knitting alone in silence, no radio, certainly no television, no distractions other than the occasional mandatory Morris woofings and visits from Mickey, is soothing.  Nothing interrupts my focus on the yarn sliding through my fingers, the steady rhythm of stitches moving from needle to needle, the shaping of whatever garment is currently in the making. I'm reminded of why I do this, of the comfort to be found in fibre twisted on spindles, in the simplicity of yarn on sticks.


A Sneak Peek

Monday, 26 November 2012

Voiceless: On the Value of Silence

I have a cold.  It crept into my life last Tuesday evening when I noticed that I was, well, snarky during meditation class.  (Sorry, Scott!)  I spent the next morning sneezing and sputtering.  By Friday, the nasty little bug was in full control of my respiratory system. With the help of large doses of hand sanitizer, tissue and Vitamin C, I muddled my way through two knitting classes on Saturday afternoon, in which I talked non-stop for over 4 hours.

Silly me.  By the time I arrived home, my voice was gone.  Completely, totally non-existent - not a whisper of sound could I make.  I'm sure the idea of me not talking was a shock to my family and friends, who are used to having their ears soothed by my dulcet tones, but it was tougher yet for me.  The thing is, I babble.  To the dog, to the cat, to Mr. DD, to myself. (I've also been known to sing, but we'll leave that one alone.)  I run ideas through my words, as many of us do.  I speak in a stream of consciousness style, where I make great leaps from subject to subject, using my own internal logic which often baffles others.  The possibility of me, not talking, is a rare event.

In most cases, speech is automatic. We talk, not necessarily to communicate, but simply to fill the space.  Silence is referred to as "dead air," something to be avoided.  When we're talking, we often don't hear, because we're forming our next string of words in our heads. We interrupt others (a bad habit of mine), because we anticipate what they'll say or because we assume that whatever we want to express is more important.  We don't mean to be rude, but that's how we can present ourselves.  The opportunity for real communication is lost.

I decided to take advantage of my situation.  If my voice was gone, if I could not talk, then I would be mindful of not talking.  What I learned is that, when words come with difficulty or not at all, they are more precious.  Unable to speak without making my throat feel worse, I found myself weighing the value of every word.  Was this comment really necessary?  Did my initial reaction to someone's words require a response, especially if I took exception to it?  Was I paying attention to what was actually being said?  I discovered that silence made me more thoughtful, more aware of the value of other ideas, of the enjoyment to be found when two people sit together in a room sharing the quiet, one knitting, the other reading, in peace.

If you're not used to sitting in silence with others, I recommend you try it, preferably without succumbing to a virus.  When we engage in active silence, it truly does become a virtue.

As a bonus, I was reminded that extended quiet stimulates creativity; ideas for knitting are coming fast and furious.  Now where is that pencil and paper when I need it?



Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Twisted Tales: About Cables, Part 3

Basic stockinette stitch cables are simple to knit, but the reverse side of the fabric is not particularly attractive.  This isn’t a problem in a sweater or a hat, where the wrong side isn’t displayed.  If you want a reversible fabric for scarves or wraps, there’s a simple solution to the right side/wrong side issue: work the cables over a reversible pattern.  Cables can be worked over any flexible reversible pattern-garter stitch, seed stitch and ribbing are all good choices for reversible cables.  In the class sampler, we transition from our basic cables into a K2, P2 rib cable.  We are still working our stitches out of sequence, but now, we are knitting two stitches or purling two stitches in the cable itself, according to the pattern directions.  The result is a fabric which is attractive (although different) on both sides.

As cables become more complex, the instructions for knitting them can be lengthy. Because you are an intelligent knitter, you will soon be thinking, “If only there was a way to work cables by following a picture.”  And, because you are a clever knitter, you are right; there is an easier way to design cables patterns, using charts drawn out on knitters’ graph paper. Theresa Sternersen discusses cable charts briefly in Part 2 of her article on cables in  Barbara Walker’s Charted Knitting Designs goes into much greater detail about working from and designing your own charted patterns.  

Giant Embossed Plait Swatch, from Barbara Walker's Second Treasury of Knitting,  p. 180.  One of my cable samples  for Level II of the Master Hand Knitting Certificate (TKGA).

So there you have it-some basic ways to work cables.  Once you have knitted your sampler band, you can leave it as is, seam up the cast on and cast off edges and use it as a head band, or continue on to picking up stitches and knitting a hat.  If you leave the band as a swatch, I recommend labelling each section and keeping both the pattern and the sampler in a notebook for future reference.  Whatever you decide, calculate your gauge, wash and block the fabric, measure the swatch again, so that you will know what you liked and what you would change the next time you venture into cable knitting.


Sunday, 18 November 2012

Twisted Tales: About Cables, Part 2

Blue Cable Knit Pattern Texture - Free High Resolution Photo
Public Domain Photograph of Cable Knitting

Basic cables are formed by deliberately working stitches out of sequence.  The greater the number of stitches worked in a cable, the denser the fabric.  Conventionally, basic cables are worked on a background of purl stitches (and sometimes, seed stitch).  Combined with the correct yarn choice, this flat background makes the cables pop, so that they are the focus of your knitting.

In the class sampler, we are working a band of sample cables.  The cables are made using a base of 6 stockinette stitches surrounded by P2, K2 ribbing.  Because we want purl stitches on either side of the cables, our right side row begins with P2, K2, P2.  The 6 stockinette stitches are in the middle and the band ends with P2, K2, P2.  Our pattern is worked only on those middle 6 stitches; everything else remains as ribbing.

In order to see how cables are formed, you can begin by working twisted stitches, pairs of stitches in which the second stitch on the left hand needle is knitted before the first stitch on the left hand needle.  To produce a twist to the right, you knit the second stitch on the left hand needle through the front, just as you would normally.  You then swing your right hand needle tip around to knit the first stitch from the left hand needle and slip the two knitted stitches from the left hand needle.  Be careful not to work both stitches at once and to go into each stitch as you work it, not between.

A twist to the left is made by knitting into the second stitch on the left hand needle from the back and then knitting the first stitch on the left hand needle from the front, then slipping both worked stitches from the left hand needle.

Simple, yes?  Technically, twisted stitches are not considered to be cables because they can be worked in a variety of ways to produce fabric in a class of its own.  They are an easy way to transition into true cables, which involve the same principle of working groups of stitches on the left hand needle before the first set of stitches on the left hand needle. 

Once you have tried some twisted stitches, you’re ready to begin knitting simple stockinette cables.  I’ve included two links here to help you.  Theresa Stenersen has written an excellent article on cables which was published in the Winter 2007 issue of Knitty.  You can find the article by clicking here.  

Eunny Jang, from Interweave Press, demonstrates knitting a basic cable in the YouTube clip below.  Note that Eunny recommends using a singles yarn and, while singles will work in cables (I used one for my hat), I don’t advise choosing singles for your first cables because the yarn tends to split easily.

There are other excellent articles and videos on knitting cables.  Have a look around on the ‘Net,  try things out for yourself and, most of all, have fun!


Friday, 16 November 2012

Twisted Tales: About Cables, Part 1

My Knitting 102 students are interested in learning to work cables, so I've designed a sampler which will move through twisted stitches, to basic cables and on to reversible cables.  Since I'm not fond of swatching, I've turned the sampler into an accessory. Although the cable band is the most important part of the project, this sample can also become a headband or a hat, depending upon the pace of each knitter.  Since the hat is at the test phase, I don't have a photo.  Sample Hat #1 is currently in the washing machine, to see how the fabric felts.  Sample #2 is quite nice, but a change in gauge resulted in a beanie, not an over-the-ears hat.  Sample Hat #3 will be knit in a different fibre than the first two hats (a commercial wool/soy yarn).  Eventually, I'll make a hand spun version for myself.

Do you sense a theme here?  While I'm reluctant to knit swatches, I do sample-it's just that my samples turn into "things."  Sometimes these things work, sometimes not, but I'm happy to spend the time playing with the yarns.  Knowing (or at least having a strong intuition) about how a given yarn will behave as fabric is the first part of successful sampling for a satisfying project, so let's talk about yarn for cabled fabric.

Western tastes in yarns these days run to soft and, often, softly spun and lightly plied, yarns.  We associate luxury and warmth with soft and we often want that softness in the form of fibres other than wool.  There's nothing wrong with going for touch appeal; however, sometimes a soft yarn, especially if it has a halo or is spun from fibre less durable than wool, isn't the best choice for our fabric.

Simply put, cabled fabric is knitted by deliberately moving stitches out of order.  Cables produce dense, warm knitting.  The focus is on the cables and, while we may not always want the cable stitches to be bold, using a firm, plied yarn in a solid (or nearly solid) colour helps the cables to "pop."  Wool, with its natural elasticity, can make twisting those cables easier, especially for a novice.  Wool also helps to hide some of the inconsistencies which can occur when we are moving our stitches over, back and forth, as cables require.  That elasticity, something which other natural fibres such as alpaca, silk and cotton lack, means that a wool fabric which shrinks or stretches can be wetted and returned to its original shape and size.  Wool blocks well, so that minor corrections in gauge are easy, which isn't the case with most synthetics, whose properties are set in the knitting. 

Using a strongly variegated or textured yarn tends to obscure cable stitches.  If you're going to the effort of knitting those cables, don't you want to show them off?  A smooth yarn in a solid, light colour will do that. If your yarn is too dark, it will be difficult to see the intricacy of those stitches.  If you're working cables for the first time, catching your mistakes early is more difficult if the yarn is very dark. Cables in a darker yarn can be dramatic, but if you're not sure of your pattern or your cabling skills, err on the side of using a lighter yarn.  Although I've knit a luxurious reversible cabled scarf from kid mohair and silk yarn, the experience wasn't among the most enjoyable knitting I've done, because the silk was slippery, so stitches tended to fall off the needles and the fuzzy mohair made tinking difficult.  The yarn combination felt wonderful, but I'm not sure the cabling was worth the effort-I would have been better off, in terms of time and frustration, to knit my fabric in simple ribbing. 

The sample below is from the sweater I designed for Level 3 of my Master Certificate in Hand Knitting (TKGA).  The yarn I used was a hand spun 3 ply yarn in Merino wool with a strand of commercial silk noil. Since Merino is a softer, less durable wool, I felted the yarn to make it stronger and then dyed my yarn in an indigo vat.  Imagine my surprise when the silk came out pink, rather than the lighter blue I expected.  In hindsight, I should have started over, because even that bit of pink in the yarn doesn't emphasize the cables as strongly as I had planned.  Still, the sweater is 20 years old, with nary a pill to be found.  It's also sadly out of date-think big, bulky and squarish, with saddle shoulders-so it spends most of its time in my cedar chest, dreaming of its glory days, no doubt.  Perhaps it's time I knit it a mate, a sturdy, slimmer little number, in a solid colour:


Friday, 9 November 2012

Let It Snow! How to Keep Busy in a Snow Storm

We're under a "Heavy Snowfall Warning," with accumulations of up to 20 cm of the stuff, so it's a good day to stay inside and work on cozy things.  I have some preparations to do for my knitting classes tomorrow and I'm going to play with this:

The blue disc is a clever device, given to me by Gwen Powell, who holds a Certificate of Excellence in Handspinning and whose little black dress was a highlight of the SOAR fashion show.  I didn't get a photo of the dress, but, if you're on Ravelry, you can see it by clicking here.  (Gwen looks pretty hot, herself.)

That little plastic disc is a wpi tool, a protractor for measuring angle of twist and a thickness gauge for your yarn.  Slip the dowel through the centre hole and the device becomes a top or bottom whorl spindle:

Just how smart is that?  Gwen is just one of many talented people I met at SOAR who generously donated time and tools to make SOAR a wonderful experience.  And for that, I am most grateful.


Saturday, 3 November 2012

Amy: A SOAR Wrap

Amy was inspired by two people I met at SOAR: Amy Tyler, who gave a great 3 day workshop, Spin/Knit Nexus, and Amy Clarke-Moore, who worked above and beyond the call of duty to keep SOAR running smoothly.

I started the wrap using my hand spun 2 ply natural black alpaca with flecks of silk noil mixed through it, a yarn I’d brought with me to SOAR, just in case I ran out of yarn (hahahahaha!).  I spun the designer yarn in Amy’s class, using wool roving she supplied.  Although we were to spin samples for our notebook, I decided to spin the yarns (which Amy T. named, “pill bugs,” “snarls,” “wraps” and “marls”) into one unit.  I had 50 metres of the designer yarn and an unknown amount of the alpaca, for a total weight of 150 grams.  The gauge is approximately 3 stitches per inch/2.5 cm. but can be varied to suit your yarns and the amounts you have on hand.

This small wrap fits under your coat for warmth in the winter or works as a wrap for chilly evenings indoors.  You can wear it with the ends in front, the looped section at your neck with the ends hanging down the back or over one shoulder.  If you use a designer yarn, as I did here, you can wear it with the wild sections on the outside, or turn it inside out for a more sedate look.

The pattern is very simple: a long rectangle, with a finished length of approximately 50 inches/125 cm. and a width of about 8.5 inches/21-22 cm.  Main Yarn (A) alternates with Designer Yarn (B).  A is worked in various stitches, while B is worked in stockinette stitch throughout.


Using Main Yarn (A)-in this wrap, the alpaca/silk and appropriate circular needle to give gauge, cast on 151 stitches.  Knit 1 inch/2.5 cm in garter stitch, changing yarns after a wrong side row (WS).
Change to B and knit approximately .75 inches/2 cm. in stockinette stitch.

With A, knit 4 rows seed stitch. (Knit 1, Purl 1 every row.)
With B, knit .75 inches/2 cm. in stockinette.
With A, knit 1.5 inches/3.25 cm. in garter stitch.
With B, knit .5 inches/1.25 cm. in stockinette.
With A, K1, *yo, K2tog,* for 2 inches.
With B, knit 4 rows in stockinette.
With A, knit .5 inches/1.25 cm. in seed stitch.
With B, knit .5 inches/1.25 cm. in stockinette.
With A, knit 1 inch/2.5 cm. in garter stitch.

Bind off all stitches loosely in pattern.  Wash in a no rinse wool wash product and block flat to dry.

Fold this fabric lengthwise in half (to approximately 25 inches/63 cm.).  Beginning at ends opposite loop formed by the fold, and using an invisible seaming stitch (I used mattress), sew the long ends of the fabric for about 12 inches/30 cm.

Wear with pride!

©d. behm 2012

Friday, 2 November 2012

Just Came Back: SOAR Adventures, The Saga Continues

Jeannine Glaves is an enthusiastic, talented spinner, with a passion for the unusual.  (Her poetry-woven inkle band spanned a good section of the Granlibakken ballroom during the Saturday evening fashion show.)  Here she is, explaining the finer points of spinning Easter nest plastic straw on Saturday morning:

You read that correctly.  In Spinning from Jeannine's Grab Bag, we spun everything from that straw, to tinsel, silk ties, fabric, shredded US currency and FedEx bags made of Tyvex. Jeannine wants spinners to have fun.  We certainly did, although, most people graciously returned the Easter egg straw to Jeannine's stash.  Jeannine reminded  us that play and creativity with our fibres is at least as important as all that technical knowledge we collect.

My last retreat workshop was with Jacey Boggs.  I was dead-tired by Saturday afternoon, but Jacey inspired me with her technical skills and precise explanations of techniques.  She has the best method for transitioning spinners through short forward draft, short backward draft, spinning from the fold to long draw that I have ever heard.  Any spinner who came into that room thinking long draw was impossible soon discovered otherwise.

Jacey is warm and friendly, full of new ideas and very, very pleased about the first eggs from her chickens.

So there you have it, a few impressions from SOAR.  You have to be there to appreciate the wonders of it all.  There are people from everywhere, fibres of all types, from silk to alpaca, to llama to cotton to ?  Coleen N.'s "reeled silk sampler" was one of the hits at SOAR:

Other spinners and fibre artists took a more light-hearted approach.  Here is Anne, in her felted llama ears which she wore through the week:

There were the spin-ins, silent and live auctions, the hand spun gallery and the vendors to explore.  It's difficult to imagine, but I didn't buy an ounce of fibre or a skein of yarn.  I chose instead to buy special spindles, hand woven bags from Peruvian weavers and spinning equipment.  Not that I came home without fibres; the teachers supplied us well and I won an ounce of Paco-vicuna fibre as a door prize from SOAR vendors, Jefferson Farms Natural Fibers.

There was a private dinner held for SOAR Scholarship recipients and the SOAR scholarship committee members, along with the SOAR Interweave staff members.  I learned that, in addition to my scholarship, I had been selected as the 2012 Evitt Scholar.  This award is chosen by Gisela Evitt, who, along with her late husband, Bill, established the SOAR scholarship.  The Evitt Scholar is given on the basis of one's past and future contributions to teaching fibre arts.  Teaching is my passion, so I was most honoured at Gisela's choice.

Thank you to everyone who made SOAR the great experience it was.  Amy Clarke-Moore was tireless in taking care of people. Interweave staff members Liz Good, Maggie Reinhold, Anne Merrow, and a host of others whose names escape me, kept SOAR running smoothly, no easy task with that many participants.  The Granlibakken staff was always friendly and accommodating, sorting out reservations, shuttling us to classes, cleaning rooms and feeding us.  (The food was spectacular!)  I hope to attend SOAR again one day, to learn and to meet with friends, old and new.


Thursday, 1 November 2012

Just Came Back: Notes from SOAR, Part One

I flew in from Reno last Sunday and boy, are my arms tired!  Although Hurricane Sandy didn't affect the Western USA, the Denver airport ran out of planes because so many were stranded in the storm.  I came home on a tiny puddle jumper, so small that my Victoria wheel didn't fit in the overhead rack and had to come home as regular baggage.  (She made it safe and sound, although TSA decided to search my other bag, dumped out my acetaminophen tablets, closed the jar and threw the pills back in the suitcase.  Everywhere. Hmmm.)

I'm safely home, unlike my sister and brother-in-law, who are stranded in the Eastern USA, trying to sort out flights after their vacation.  They are fine, although many others are not. My heart goes out to everyone affected by Sandy.

SOAR was wonderful.  I've never been at a conference with 350+ spinners and fibre artists, all passionate about their work.  I saw beautiful things and met great people, both teachers and students.

One of my SOAR goals was to study the teaching methods of people with whom I hadn't taken classes.  I took Amy Tyler's 3 day workshop, Spin/Knit Nexus as my first class. Although I suffered a bit from altitude sickness for the first few days and wasn't entirely on the ball, I enjoyed Amy's class.  Amy knows her technical skills, but she spins more intuitively, using samples to visually check her twist and grist.  One of the exercises we had to do was to duplicate a yarn which Amy had spun and dyed, using a roving she dyed to match.  Here are the results, which were displayed in the workshop show on Wednesday evening.  The small bag I made is to the right, just below Ricki's well-organized notebook.  (My notebook is not quite so complete!)

Maggie Casey was very gracious in sharing her knowledge about teaching beginning spindle spinners.  Several people came to class and announced that this was their last go-round with spindles; by the end of the 3 hour session, Maggie had everyone in love with spindles:

Michael Cook (Wormspit) knows a lot about silk.  He's a big, friendly guy who makes silk reeling look easy, although I discovered my passion is making mawata (silk hankies).  I'll leave the reeling to Michael and Coleen:

 Fifty metres of my reeled silk, twisted on a toy wheel spindle:

Making mawata:

I'll share the rest of my adventures in Part Two, but I'll close by saying that I never thought I'd be in California for my first blizzard of the season.  On Monday morning, we woke up to discover we were snowed in, with over two feet of the stuff falling during the evening and early morning and more to come.  Interstates were closed, cell phone and internet service was patchy and some people couldn't get into the resort, but for those of us who were there, it was a lovely place to be stranded, spinning, knitting, swapping fibre tales and eating (and we did eat!  Very, very well.):