Saturday, November 29, 2008

you never know...

So far, it's been a wonderful holiday weekend. I've gotten to sleep late (8:30 is the equivalent of sleeping til noon in my world!) and I've had time to knit and rest. My Thanksgiving meal on Thursday night was wonderful--good food and two good friends to share it with us. The best compliments happened then: One friend didn't feel well, but he came anyhow, explaining that eating a good meal with us was as good a medicine as he could imagine. My other friend told us it was the best Thanksgiving she'd had in many years. She even complimented Harry and Sally, the dogs, on their good behavior. (HAH! I think she had too much wine...)

The odd thing about my saffron O-wool knitting project is that I'm nearly addicted to it. My bottom has been pasted to the couch for longer than usual! This allowed for reflection...even as I polished my new Great Wheel with beeswax and orange oil, even as I cooked, I thought about it. Many of my projects don't feel this way. I focus on owning the sweater at the end, finishing the sample for a knitting design, sending off the knitted present. While I always like knitting, I don't always like the projects I knit!

I can't predict this ahead...I can't look at the yarn/concept/pattern and say "This one will be a joy." I just can't tell. Today, I happen to be blogging on an older computer, with older photos to cruise. A year ago, in November, I was knitting this. A Finn/crossed with something else wool sheep breed, very soft, that I spun up relatively lofty and bulky.

It took a while, but it became this shawl colored sweater. I've won the sweater once or twice this year. In retrospect, I remember I loved spinning this yarn. The slip stitch sweater pieces were pure joy. I struggled mightily on how to do the collar. And so far? The knitting itself gives me more pleasure than the sweater. The sweater? It's just not as compelling to wear as that spinning and knitting was!

In comparison, there are these two sweaters that I knit in graduate school. I wrote about this for The Inside Loop's first issue. The handspun began as odds and ends I dumped into a dyepot or two. I was freezing all the time in our drafty old house (we couldn't afford insulation or high heat bills) and these sweaters were knit up quickly in 2000. These-one a blue roll neck, the other a scarlet boat neck--are not masterpieces. Warm and bulky, with a sweatshirt shape, they are comforting... parts of my wardrobe that I pull out again and again. I don't remember knitting them to be enjoyable. I can't remember knitting the blue one at all! This happens to me. Hey, I knit a lot! The scarlet sweater was knit second. I remember knitting all too well, for sad reasons--I was knitting it when my mother-in-law, z"l, died. Yet, it's a sweater I gravitate towards even now.

The more I knit, (and you can substitute in here cooking/gardening/dyeing/spinning/anything with an end product as well as a process), the more I realize that it's a crap shoot. What we enjoy may be the process of creation, and it may be the product. It's like, say, Thanksgiving dinner. Good food is important, but so is the company, the weather, and myriad other things we can't control. We can throw seeds into a garden, tend it carefully--but you just can't control the weather. It's up to me (up to us?) to try hard. It might just come out ok. The process might be fun in itself. That might be good enough to focus on...cause you just never know.

In other news: I'm almost afraid to mention it, phew phew phew (I'm getting superstitious) my baby nephew is making slow improvements again.

My heart goes out to the people of Mumbai who've lost loved ones this week. The tragedy felt very close to home when I heard of a young rabbi and his wife who were killed. They worked hard to provide home hospitality to Jewish visitors to Mumbai...just two among many, Hindu, Christian, Muslim, who died. May their memory be a blessing.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008


On Sunday, my professor went out to the garden to do some therapeutic digging. (this time of the semester, anything other than work is therapeutic. Sleeping and eating are popular hobbies, too...)

He came back in grinning. His bucket was full to brimming with Jerusalem Artichokes. These are also called sunchokes--they're a root vegetable. They are a kind of sunflower and we're treated to enormous towering plants with little flowers up top in the fall. The glory is in the roots--roasted with potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips and carrots, they're a great addition to the fall and winter supper table. I make soup from them too. We've grown them for years.

They're very healthy because of the inulin, a source of fructose that diabetics can tolerate. Alas, it appears that for some reason, my body isn't tolerating them so well this fall! I will try eating them again and see if it was a one off, or whether I always get stomach cramps and other unpleasant stinky side effects... This little digestion issue, of course, coincides with the one year when we've got the best harvest of these roots that we've ever had! It figures. 20 lbs of a root veggie I can't eat?!

We're settling in for a few days of togetherness around here. To my surprise, for the first time this winter (after 3 full years together), my dogs Harry and Sally are not just sharing the couch, but edging closer and closer to sitting next to each other. This leaves more room for the humans on the couch--and the dog toys. :) I'm hoping that in future years, they will cuddle up so that there's actually room for the rest of us on the furniture!

I've been spending a lot of time knitting--it's amazing how some projects become both addictive and's a good way to wile away the hours while I'm waiting to hear more about my new nephew in the hospital. I read with interest about all the colors that attract you to your knitting. Natural shades, blues, greens and purples...these all sounded like logical and tempting hues. They are, in fact, colors I've knit with often. I never would have thought that this saffron shade would get me so excited. In fact, if I'd been choosing colors for me to wear, or anything other than a sample for a book (which needs to be bright to photograph well, and contrast with the other colors in the book) I wouldn't likely have chosen this shade. However, I'm in love! I think it's a testament to how important exploration is in our knitting (and in life). We won't know what tickles us pink-hah- until we actually try it out for ourselves. Better yet, it looks just like butternut squash soup, pumpkin pie, and fall leaves. No wonder why I like it so much this time of year!

I'm not sure if I'll squeeze in another post before Thursday--or if you'll have time to read it--so if you're celebrating Thanksgiving this week, have a happy one! Enjoy! Partake of some orange food and think of knitting! Wishing you all good things... :) Joanne

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Friday, November 21, 2008

wooly pleasures

Writing for a living can be a little anti-climatic. For instance, by the time an article comes out, I'm off and working on something entirely different. It's (very) delayed gratification! However, this week I've two publications to share:

The Inside Loop's new issue has loads of good patterns, article: I Knit My Winter Coat .

The Winter '08 issue of Interweave Knits also happens to have an article in it that I wrote (back in August) about the history of tweed.

Hope you like these articles!

Good things going down in the work department-- I'm also now knitting another sample for book #2 in this spicy shade of saffron...really yummy stuff. The yarn is nice to work with, a smooth "vanilla" wool, but the color attracts me in a way I hadn't expected. It's remarkably alluring stuff! It's hard for me to put down the knitting and write things since I started this new project a couple of days ago.

The other parts of life are not quite so cheery at the moment. My baby nephew had a rather sudden second surgery on his stomach yesterday and it was a tough day. He has had some difficult setbacks. The odds haven't been in his favor, and it looks like he'll have a lot more healing time (in neo-natal intensive care at the hospital) ahead of him. Thanks to all of the folk who commented/emailed me yesterday and offered me distractions while I waited to hear how things went. It was a long wait until he got out of surgery, and not great news last night when it was over. I've been so grateful for all the comments, emails, and phone calls from unexpected sources! Thank you. (Yes, getting a phone call from the UK on a weekday afternoon stunned me for a bit. Then I settled right in for a good chat with a woman friend...just an ocean away!)

Do you find that knitting with certain colors really excites you? How do you celebrate delayed gratification experiences?

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Inside Out

Well, it's killing me, this "don't show any knitting" on a knitting blog thing. Yet, while I am busy at work on book #2, I'm not supposed to show you (that is, 'publish') anything to my blog. I'm saving those publishing rights for my--ahem--publisher. Note: that's the link to book #1, and I'm now working on book #2, but you know what I mean...

However, it struck me that if you see something inside out, before it's finished or blocked or anything like that, is it a fair representation of anything at all? No. So, I present you--the wrong side of one of the projects. (I know, you're thinking--the woman's lost it, like I want to see the backside of anything in graphic detail?) Well, it's just that it, err, looked very good to me.

My grandmother and mother taught me that the back of my needlework should always look tidy and neat. It should look as good as the right side. I shouldn't be embarrassed to turn it inside out if necessary. (because sometimes, socks and sweaters are indeed turned wrong side out.) In this case? I almost wish this were the front. I mean, take a slip stitch pattern and work neatly and whew, check this baby out! (now you know the truth. I also like going to baseball games just to watch those players' bums in the tight fitting uniforms and do the YMCA song...) Backsides. Wrong side out. I'm telling you. HOT.

Now, since there isn't much content here, I add this other bit of food news. Here is a photo of my wintertime lettuce garden bed. Since my garden is sheltered and these are hearty greens, I'll get a salad or two out of here for a while to come yet. I also have some nice green onions, a radish or two, some collards and kale and some Jerusalem Artichokes to dig.

Yet, in the dead of winter, most of us rely on grocery store produce...out of season and from out of state/out of the country. Check out this very interesting section of Gourmet Magazine, Politics of the Plate, to understand why we definitely should NOT be buying those bags of pre-washed greens. (E-coli, anyone? Habitat destruction? Bacteria gone amok?) Whew! Looks like another sound reason (#152?!) for buying local produce, in season. No need to turn our insides out... is there?

So, what do you think? Is the wrong side of knitting really the back side? (wink wink) Do you feel the need to make your wrong side neat? How about buying greens in winter? I like hearing what you have to say!

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

1,000 miles

Yesterday, as we drove to Frankfort, Kentucky, I realized that despite my best efforts to avoid cars and anything to do with driving places? I was yet again piling on the miles. That would be over 1000 miles in the car this week!

A few months ago, I was asked to contribute writing to a project that the Kentucky Arts Council organized. It became the Kentucky Quilt Trails program, complete with a book you can purchase. In this book, you can see photos of barns in Kentucky, covered in community-painted traditional quilt patterns. You can read snippets of writing about quilts, Kentucky, and barns. While the public art that this project has inspired around the state is fabulous.. for me, I decided this week that best of all, you don't have to ride in a car to see any of it! Just buy the book!

I was invited to sign copies of the book at the Kentucky Book Fair in Frankfort. Sure, I said! What's 150 miles each way for a good cause? Luckily, the professor agreed to come along and drive. It was rainy, cold, and 5 hours in the car. The good parts? This was my first time signing any books at all and it was fun! Also? We found a great Lebanese restaurant so I was full and happy on the drive home. I even knitted a little, between long moments of staring into space.

Nancy was 100% right about this week's activities. I baked six loaves of bread. (4 challah, pictured, 2 whole wheat, hard crusted beauties of at least a lb a piece.) I've also felt a little "toasted" Annmarie mentioned in the comments..long drives can do that.

My new nephew is doing better now, after a week of pretty rough complications from surgery. Still in neo-natal ICU, still struggling with the basics and being fed through an IV mostly, but he's off the ventilator and his mom got to hold him yesterday. That's huge. (Obviously all those thoughts and prayers are helping! Thank you!)

I'm slowly getting to know my great wheel, which requires some practice. I carded up some Shetland wool and every day or so, I spend a few quality moments spinning. It's not great yarn yet, but I'm ok with it... that takes practice with any new wheel. In the meanwhile? It's meditative time with a lot of walking back and forth. (nowhere near 1000 miles, although gosh knows I need the exercise.)

Best of all, this new wheel is safe and well-situated in my guest room...a well-lit and cheerful place.

Can you imagine any better amenity for spinning guests? Do you think I'll have a waiting list for houseguests? :)

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

keeping it up

Honey, I'm home....
On Sunday, I left my parents' house at 7 am Eastern Time and I drove. I drove a route with lots of rest stops. It was a clear day,I snacked on food I'd brought, got gas when necessary, and kept driving. I'd said I would stop at Knoxville, TN, but when I got to the Knoxville area at 2:30 in the afternoon, I decided I didn't want to spend another day on the road. After about 715 miles and a little before 6 pm Central Time, I was home. Harry and Sally, the dogs, were darn glad to see me, and the professor kindly carried in everything, fed me, and scooped me off the floor and into bed just in time. I've definitely never driven that far in one day before, but with autumn colors, a good audiobook, NPR and some grit and determination? It can be done.

Yesterday I got my belongings situated, cooked, and nested. I'd forgotten how nice my own house was! (One can forget this while sleeping in your parents' basement...even when the guestroom is comfortable!)

My nephew has complications from his surgery and is likely to be in the hospital for at least 2 weeks more-maybe longer.

Geek Knitter (look, I'm quoting you again!) said she wished there was more that she could do. A lot of wonderful people have asked that. Here are a few helpful things to consider if someone is having a family crisis:
1) Reach out. Most people in the midst of a terrible situation are unable to see beyond the next few hours or days. Don't call once and be done with it. Write notes, ask if they need things, and keep contacting them every few days just so they know you care. Your comments on my blog and emails have done this for me, thank you so much!
2) Maintain support. Bad illness, etc. doesn't end after the first week. See if there is a way you can offer food/friendship/a break long after the first wave of people have gone home. Sometimes this means babysitting, walking a dog, washing dishes or sitting at the hospital waiting room. You may not be doing something glamorous. So what? still helps.
3) Reach further. See if you can help other people affected by the crisis. In my case, I was gone for 2 weeks--and one kind friend took the professor out to dinner and helped pick up some groceries from a local farm for him. It would have been great if others had reached out to him a bit. Two weeks is a long time for absentminded professors on their own. :)
4) Do research. Sometimes your expertise is necessary. My best friend couldn't help out physically but she could offer medical information. Bear in mind that the people in need might not be ready to hear what you've found out--be patient but available, and keep the information on a back burner.
5) Unfounded optimism is not always useful. Serious complications require somber responses. In this case, we know some have been well-intentioned and sent baby gifts but that's hard right now...(a placemat with the baby's name on it seems sweet but is tough to cope with when the kid is going to be eating via feeding tube for the foreseeable future.)

OK, I've been depressing enough. Now, one positive thing to do right now... Build community. Reach out to others, offer them meals,coffee, favors and friendship when times are good. Without those communities, we are lost when things get bad.

Deb very kindly reached out and gave me this award. It couldn't have come at a better time.

The Uber (synonym to Super) Amazing Blog Award is a blog award given to sites who:
~inspire you
~make you smile and laugh
~maybe gives you amazing information
~is a great read
~has an amazing design
~and any other reasons you can think of that makes them Uber amazing!
The rules of this award are:
*put the logo on your blog or post.
*Nominate at least 5 blogs or more that for you are Uber Amazing!
*Let them know that they have received this Uber Amazing award by commenting on their blog.
*Share the love and link to this post and to the person you received your award from.

Here are some people who I want to honor with this award.

River Rim (Cyndy's photos and posts are inspiring, informational, and downright calming.)

Weebug Knits (Marti, your creativity is stunning. Thanks for sharing your daily life with me!)

Independent Stitch (Deb's informational posts, detail, and patience often give me the extra bit of background I need. Plus, she expresses the difficulties of a freelance work life with true grace under pressure.)

Spin Dye Knit (Alison's daily dose of love, care, and faith in humanity is wrapped up in stories that I've come to rely on. Thank you for your friendship and for that dose of idealism!)

Sheep to Shawl (Donna's posts are informative and provocative. Sometimes she pushes my buttons about things that I need to think about further--whether it's fiber, politics or religion. I appreciate her candor and intellect.)

There are many other blogs I get something fabulous from reading, but I'm going to try to get back to a normal routine. It's probably time for me to get some work done!

Have more suggestions for helping others in a time of need? Know some uberamazing blogs? Ever driven 715 miles in a day? Talk about it here, please!

Saturday, November 08, 2008


Early tomorrow, my yellowmobile will take me across the mountains and back towards Kentucky. My new nephew had his one month birthday yesterday while undergoing surgery. He is still in the neo-natal intensive care unit and we're not exactly sure when he'll be able to come home. I'll be back to help out again, but for now, my visit is coming to an end.

In the meanwhile, my older, almost 3 year old nephew Nate and I had time to get to know one another. He's let me know that my car is his favorite and that he doesn't like Kentucky. (because I have to go back there to my dogs and the professor...) I've also created a monster--my nephew now refuses to take even a very short car ride without listening to the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Actually, he thinks that only two tunes "count" as the Carolina Chocolate Drops....Memphis Shakedown and Corn Bread and Butter Beans. The adults in the family can all sing Corn Bread and Butter Beans and when the kazoo starts up in Memphis Shakedown for the 15th time, sometimes the adults look like they will kill me. :) Oops!

Nate also loves to drive, and in this he joins my dad. My parents have two is a Miata and the other is a 1965 Triumph Spitfire my dad has restored. Of course, Nate can't ride in either, because he needs to sit in the back seat of a car with a car seat. Instead, he likes to spend a lot of time "driving" the convertibles right in the garage. In the last week, we've spent hours driving. He is the fastest driver I know. He tells me to get into the car, buckle up, and then we "go" places. The ice cream store, the milkshake store (separate destinations), the museum, the airport, his house, his friend's house, --you name it, we've been his imagination, of course. Aunties can get tired getting in and out of the convertible for over an hour in a cold garage, but not my nephew. His imagination is on fire!

This brings me right back to my last post. It's been so exciting to see this dream come true--a smart, hopeful, capable person of color elected U.S. president. It's also a spark to the imagination of so many children who now believe that they too can one day aspire to the heights of the presidency. Now, I'd like to dream about, say, 2016--when we'll see a woman become president. A person can dream, right?!

I'll be back--likely with more stories--in a few days when I've made the long journey (700+ miles) home.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


I couldn't possibly miss a chance to say this, everyone else has. (The "spin" put in those TV commercials in a swing state like Virginia is just amazing, btw, it lacks all relevance to's been an interesting experience, being in this state for this particular election.) If you live in the US and are a citizen:
PLEASE VOTE. Yes, you can!! *

This post is titled "spin" for more than a reason. First, my blog's called "yarn spinner" because, well, I spin yarn; I'm a handspinner. I even write about spinning, but I rarely get all technical, so if you're looking for that, alas, my blog isn't it. (I probably could get technical, I've won awards for my spinning, but, you know, I'm just not that excited about going that instructional routine in this venue; I think we often overthink things anyway, spinning can be intuitive if we allow it to be.)

I also spin a yarn or two--tell stories. For me, the title has a couple meanings. Yet, until last night, I never thought about the relevance of political spin.

Car spin. Yup. My cheerful yellowmobile (as my nephew calls it) Aztek has been making a moaning sound out of its back end that sounds like Moaning Myrtle from Harry Potter. My dad's an automotive engineer, so he got to the problem, found the service bulletin for this, and .... the way to fix it hardly passes the laugh test. We imagined how the GM engineer who dreamed this up must have been ribbed in the office for weeks. Basically, my car's rear differential needed more grease to be distributed to stop the moaning. (It's all wheel drive, and I mostly use the front differential for, say, road driving.) Without some fun ice/snow or off-road driving, that rear differential gets out of shape.
After a few other checks, the bulletin recommends:
1) Drive car for 20 minutes to warm it up.
2) Turn left in a tight circle for 5 minutes.
3) Turn right in a tight circle for 5 minutes.
4) Repeat #2 and 3.

My father and I did this last night. We predicted that I might ralph all over the place just riding in a car going in circles. We predicted it wouldn't fix things. In fact, for the first 10 minutes (#2 &3) the moaning continued, unabated. Then, as we continued to spin, around and around in a dark parking lot, no kidding, first the frequency changed and then poor Moaning Myrtle mostly disappeared, right back down into my rear differential where she belongs. A whole new kind of spinning, huh? (and no, I didn't get sick on my shoes... not once!)

In an attempt to restore comic relief, I thought I'd bring you that new form of spinning. No way I could do anything (like knit?) but concentrate on the road ahead while we did it, though.

*You may notice a subtle endorsement up there...yup, you heard it. I support the right of fiber arts bloggers to express themselves as they choose on their own blogs...politics, ideas, etc. That sometimes includes deleting inappropriate anonymous comments, as you notice I have to do every now and again. My blog is a place to visit with my friends--and if you choose to post, I invite you to use your name and join the conversation. In my cyber parlor, we're all sitting around with our tea and cakes, knitting needles or spinning wheels, and having a good chat. If you seek attention, negative posts won't get you very far here.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

day by day

Things with my new nephew are--very slowly--improving. Antibiotics seem to be working for his pneumonia, and I got to hold him for the first time today. He is by no means out of the woods, and potentially scheduled for a surgery sometime before he leaves the hospital...but I'll take a very small bit of hopeful news when I can get it.

I'm so grateful for all the prayer, nice comments, emails, etc. that you've been sending. I may not have gotten back to each of you, and I'm sorry. Thanks so much for cheering us on through this. It really helps.

Now, while all this is happening, I've been busy working on book #2--mostly knitting samples and working on patterns. I've been doing a little writing but it can be hard to concentrate. For the most part, Fiber Gathering seems to be out of my hands now. It's both wonderfully freeing and scary...since there is no way to fix anything anymore! The books will be available in March, but guess what I found online here at Wiley's website?

I've pasted an image for you to see here--for the larger pdf, follow the link and check it out. This is a part of the publicity for the book. (pretty cool, huh?!)

I've also finished my first spun and plied skein from the great wheel. It's nothing special--just cheviot wool, but it was thrilling to finish that first skein.

Say hey down here in the comments, ok? I love hearing from you if you're reading all this drama.